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The Dragons' Legacy

 

LEGENDS OF KALDA

THE DRAGONS

LEGACY

TALES OF THE AMULET · I

DAN ZANGARI

ROBERT ZANGARI

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Copyright 2012 LOK Publishing

All Rights Reserved

Also available at all major retailers in hardcover and trade paperback

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Distributed by Shakespir

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite e-book retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

ISBN 13: 978-0-9979598-4-0

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Visit our web site at http://www.legendsofkalda.com/

 

TALES OF THE AMULET

THE DRAGON’S LEGACY

THE ELVEN SECRET

THE MAGESAGENDA

TREACHERY IN THE KINGDOM

 

SHORT STORIES

THE LAST BARSIONIST

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Contents

Prologue

1: In the Beginning…

2: An Uprising

3: Opportunity

4: Voyage

5: Draco Isola

6: Warrens

7: Deception

8: Battle

9: Reversal

10: Return

11: Clandestine Homecoming

12: Conquest

13: Consequences

14: Reformation

15: Clues

16: The Baron of Sereth

Epilogue

Ilnari’s Charge

Glossary

Author’s Afterword

Special Offer

About the Authors

Other titles by the Authors

Connect with the Authors

Illustrations

Kalda World Map

Soroth Map

Dragon’s Isle Map

 

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Dedicated to Belinda, a loving wife and mother, which with her devotion and encouragement made this work possible

 

Prologue

 

On a remote island in the south eastern ocean of the world of Kalda, an expedition searches through the ruins of an ancient people. At first glance, the ruins are a cluster of finely chiseled stone buildings along the foothills, with half of the structures built into the rocky range.

Along the borders of the ruins, several men dressed in tanned clothing, long sleeved tunics, and pants, search through debris.

From the west, two tall and burly men walk side by side toward the explorers investigating the ruins. Each of them are clad in chain-linked armor, yet one older than the other.

The elder man is past middle-aged and stands slightly shorter than his companion. Two weapons are sheathed along his belt, both as long as a man’s forearm, while a large sheathed sword hangs upon his younger companion’s back.

“Krindal,” the older man calls out as he nears the excavation site, “I hope your men haven’t ventured too far.”

Roused by the beckoning, an old man looks up, dressed in a dark robe commonly worn by wielders of necrotic magic. His wrinkled eyes stare at the two armor-clad men as he steps around the explorers, all the while clearing his throat.

“No…” the old necromancer calls out. “Not too far, Cornar.”

“Good,” Cornar states as he and his younger companion near the old necromancer.

“The buildings seem to go into the mountain,” Krindal continues. “Which confirms what we found in Klindala. If the rest of our prior findings are true, then the caverns below will take awhile to search. We will be out here while you and your warriors secure the inner parts.”

“Very well,” Cornar nods his head, stopping several steps away from the old necromancer.

While taking a deep breath Cornar studies the ruins, then glances back toward the direction he had come with his companion. A dark sky in the west accompanies a slight breeze, heralding a coming storm.

“Kalder, gather the others,” Cornar commands the younger man beside him.

“Right away, Cor,” Kalder complies, walking back toward the western shore.

Once Kalder leaves, Cornar returns his gaze to the ruins and walks past the explorers. While probing deeper into the ancient structures, he cautiously grasps the hilts of his weapons. As an experienced warrior and battle-hardened adventurer, Cornar could instinctively recognize a potentially dangerous situation.

After a moment, the aged warrior reaches a large circular courtyard; the ancient buildings are worn but their beautiful detail shows through the extensive weathering. He looks across the courtyard, and sees part of its circumference carved into the mountainside.

Perhaps it’s that way… Cornar wonders while vigilantly studying the buildings carved into the mountain, his green eyes warily searching for any indigenous life.

Several minutes pass without incident until Kalder returns with nine others, all clad in armor with weapons hoisted around their waists and upon their backs.

Cornar solemnly looks at each of them then clears his throat, “We’ll split up into groups of four; except for myself, Kalder and Midar. Krindal thinks there could be a maze of catacombs within the mountains. Be careful; we don’t know what creatures could lurk inside these ruins.”

As the warriors divided into three groups, a young man a half a head shorter than Cornar approaches him. This third warrior, Midar, is dressed in similar armor with a single sheathed sword hanging from his waist; he slyly grins and his brown hair sways in the light breeze.

Once organized, each groups walks separately toward the buildings protruding from the mountains, diligently searching the ruins for a passageway into the supposed hewn chambers.

  • * * * *

Two hours have passed since the band of exploring warriors discovered the inner depths of the ruins. The buildings’ interiors seamlessly continue into the mountains, creating an illusion that the ruins are a natural part of the landscape, though manmade. Dim light pours from the carved stone walls and ceilings, signs of channeled magic coursing through the ruins. The ancient catacombs within the mountain are mostly intact except for an occasional broken wall or a collapsed section of ceiling.

In one of the deep sections of the hewn labyrinth, Cornar guardedly leads Kalder and Midar through the catacombs, weapons drawn.

As they reach the corner of an intersecting corridor, moist fresh air wisps through the deserted hallway and across the three warriors’ faces.

“That smells like the ocean breeze,” Midar comments in a whisper.

“How is that possible?” Kalder mutters.

“I don’t know,” Cornar whispers while carefully rounding the corner, his emerald eyes dart to his right.

Farther in that direction, a beam of sunlight pours into the corridor from an adjacent alcove.

Cornar stops and motions to the others, signaling he will move across the alcove and for the others to stay on their side of the opening.

The aged warrior silently edges to the corner of the alcove. Kalder follows but waits as Cornar darts across the niche, stealing a glance to a chamber beyond the alcove.

“Something broke through that room’s the outer wall,” Cornar whispers; he glances to Kalder and Midar, both struck with surprised confusion. After studying his men he continues, “I’m going inside.”

Cornar cautiously steps into the alcove and moves through it toward an open doorway into a large chamber, roughly sixty feet by forty feet and standing two stories in height. Opposite the doorway a hole allows a view to the sea along the island’s eastern shore. It is late in the afternoon, and the sun is setting, falling in its typical pattern to the east. Portions of the broken wall litter the ground, while pieces of jagged stone are impaled into the walls.

A plain, waist-high, squared stone pillar situated in the middle of the room draws Cornar’s attention.

Satisfied with the lack of danger, Cornar sheaths his weapons and steps toward the pillar.

The warrior walks partway around it and notices a large crack along the surface hidden from the doorway; a dark hole marks the center of the fracture, nearly the thickness of a finger.

Cornar kneels and grazes his hand over the gray smooth cool surface but stops as he touches the gash’s edge, wondering, What could have cracked this–

In response to Cornar’s touch, four shallow grooves magically take shape, forming a square upon the pillar’s fractured face. Once the shape is complete, a greenish-gray light starts to glow from within the grooves. In an instant, the light cuts along the center of the outline.

Amid the mystical illumination, Cornar swiftly stands and steps backward while worry smears across his face, It’s trapped–

A soft hum interrupts the warrior’s thoughts and the two sections of stone within the light recess into the pillar, then violently slide apart, revealing a darkened hollow space.

Cornar slowly exhales while peering into the pillar; he sees five red scroll cases with porous surfaces along with two thick books, all covered in thick dust and cobwebs.

“Are you alright?” Midar worriedly demands from the doorway.

“Yes,” Cornar replies and kneels, further inspecting the items within the hidden chamber. One of the scroll cases has a small rupture, but the other cases are intact. The two volumes have worn bindings and covers with a layer of dust lining the edges of the pages.

Intrigued by the objects, Cornar focuses on the edge of the opening drawing one of his weapons from their sheath; a short sword.

With his sword in hand, Cornar edges the blade through the opening. He wiggles his sword, lightly knocking it against the stony interior, odd… no traps.

Satisfied with his findings, Cornar sheathes his weapon and grabs the top book. It’s front cover is plain with no markings. He turns the book’s binding toward himself and sees a simple numeral in the common language of Kalda, “Two”.

Curiously, Cornar opens the book. Dust fills the air as the pages come loose from each other and the smell of decay tingles the warrior’s nostrils. To Cornar’s astonishment the pages are miraculously preserved, filled with text written in the common tongue of Kalda; the words “war” and “dragons” stand out on many of the pages.

Intrigued by the text, the warrior glances over the pages until he sees a hand-drawn depiction of a strangely crafted amulet; seven sharp prongs protrude from its main body and three long scaled claws at its base grasp a black polished sphere. Between the seven prongs rests a finely cut red gem with many sides.

On the page beside the diagram, a line from a paragraph catches the warrior’s eye: “Thus the enemies of the Kaldean Alliance were halted. With the Au’misha’k, properly translated into our language as ‘the amulet of draconic control’, Cheserith’s armies were defeated in a matter of a few years. The power of the amulet was enough to beguile the strongest of the crimson tyrants…”

With the book still opened in his hands, Cornar looks out the opening and to the sky. The power to control dragons? And texts supporting the legends of the ‘dragon war’? I can’t even imagine what they would do with it; even if it’s true. He nods his head resolutely, making an instinctive decision. Either way, I can’t let them have it. I need to get this to–

“Cor,” Kalder interrupts from behind the eldest warrior. “What did you find?”

Closing the book and sharply toward his subordinate in the doorway, Cornar firmly replies, “Nothing.”

 

 

1

In the Beginning…

 

A light evening breeze rustles through the trees of a dense forest on the island of Soroth on a cool fall night. Throughout the woodland canopy the light of Kalda’s two moons shine through and illuminate a dirt pathway.

A man on horseback quickly travels along the path, just over middle-aged years. His short gray hair and matching goatee shrouds his olive complexion. Sapphire blue eyes squint against the wind rushing past his face.

He is dressed in a dark garb of black tunic and breeches with matching leather boots and gloves. A short dagger bounces at his waist, a weapon that was almost never used.

“Insolence,” he curses angrily to himself as his horse gallops through the woodland. “They’ll pay for their defiance.”

A moment later, a large circular clearing opens up before him; it houses an old but lavish estate and a tall gray tower behind the dwelling. An expanse of grassy lawn surrounds the front and sides of the estate which extends several hundred feet to the curving tree line. Directly behind the dwelling is a stone wall made of materials identical to the tower. The wall sprawls out in a straight line to the edge of the forest, separating the tower and the estate home.

The rider kicks the sides of his horse at the sight of the buildings and the steed charges down the path; it turns from dirt to stone at the edge of the clearing and ends to the left of the estate at a metal gate housed within a wall.

As the horse and his rider approach the estate, the rider pulls back tightly on the reigns and the horse rears on its hind legs, letting out a loud whinny.

Once the horse comes to a stop, the rider dismounts and tosses the reigns; he stands and proudly shows his tall and slender build. His piercing sapphire eyes scan the lawn on either side of the path he just traveled and he begins to grow cautious. With a wary gaze, the rider raises his right hand to shoulder height then slowly opens his palm.

Satisfied with the emptiness of the lawn, the rider looks to the left of the estate, towards the stables opposite the path. Within the stables is a brown horse tied to a post.

“Good…” the word oozes from the rider’s mouth.

“Master Iltar!”

The man turns abruptly at the call of his name while lowering his right hand.

“Welcome home,” the estate’s groomsman exclaims as he exits the estate and moves toward Iltar and his horse.

“How long has he been here?” Iltar asks as his sapphire eyes continues to scan the expanse in front of the home with suspicion.

The groomsman hesitates before timidly answering, “Most of the evening.”

Without a word, Iltar turns from the lawn and looks toward the tower, peering over the gateway within the stone wall. He notices a light shining from a window on the third story of the tower.

While staring at the window Iltar walks farther along the stone path leading directly to the gate; it and the gray granite-like wall are set back from the home a short distance. From the gate, the rest of the property behind the wall can be seen: A neatly manicured lawn surrounded by similar walls which arc and mimic the curving of the tree line; the walls completely hem in the rear part of the estate’s grounds. A straight stone path leads directly from the gate to the tower in the center of the secluded grounds.

The tower’s entrance is tucked within an alcove, creating a small portico deep enough to stand inside of it. Two narrowing steps lead up to the recessed entrance.

As Iltar enters the walled part of his forest estate, two guards stationed at the tower’s entrance come to attention. They diligently wait to open its doors for their employer.

“Master Iltar, you have a guest,” the guard on the left states as Iltar approaches the steps. “Co–”

“I can see that,” Iltar snarls as he steps into the covered portico. “I’ve been expecting him.”

“Of course,” the guardsman hurriedly replies, bowing his head and holding the door open.

Iltar enters the first floor of the tower and descends two steps into an open room that encompasses all of the tower’s first floor. A single circular stairwell marks the center of the space.

“Those fools have been nothing but an annoyance,” Iltar whispers as he ascends the stairs to the second floor with determination. “The children of Soroth have grown petty and lack discipline.”

Iltar shakes his head as he arrives on the second story to a vacant room which covers almost three fourths of the floor.

He sighs while walking from the stairs to a set of double doors to the right along the center of the wall. The doors are already partially opened and Iltar swings them completely open, revealing a messy study. Within is a large table with many books and rolled scrolls scattered upon its surface, some of which are spilling onto the floor. There are also several wooden and fabric high-back chairs scattered about, and a row of half empty bookshelves sit along the wall opposite the doors.

Taking no thought of the mess, Iltar strides directly to the bookcases. They are divided into four sections, slightly wider than shoulder width, and sectioned off by thick pieces of ornately cut wooden molding.

Iltar heads to the section furthest to his right and pulls at several books. One by one, the books hang partway off the shelves, suspended by mechanical means. As Iltar pulls on the last book a clicking sound resonates from the shelf.

Iltar presses at a lip along the molding and the bookcase moves forward, then slides away, revealing a small chamber with a curving wall. It leads to a landing that houses the base of a stairwell leading to the third floor.

With a determined stride, Iltar steps through the secret door and ascends the second stairwell to a small anteroom with two doorways, one in front of the landing and the other to the stair’s right.

Iltar clears his throat as he reaches for the door on the right. He opens the door and enters a brightly-lit study; it is very similar to the one below but with bookcases lining the walls on either side of the doorway. Two large glowing orbs sit atop tall pedestals on opposite sides of the study. In stark contrast to its twin below, the study is in pristine order; bookshelves are neatly organized, some of which hold jars of various sizes and rows of scroll cases.

“Welcome my friend,” calls Iltar’s guest from a beautifully crafted high-back armchair at a table in the center of the room.

The guest’s round face is tanned from days in the sun. Thick brown hair and a short beard of the same coloring accent his complexion. His deep-set green eyes flash as he smiles with anticipation at Iltar, their color exaggerated by the dark green tunic and pants.

“You sure took your time getting here,” the guest chuckles, rising to his feet. He stands eye-level with Iltar but is of a more muscular build.

“I had to deal with some business in the city, Cor,” Iltar snaps as he walks into the study.

“Oh?” Cornar asks then continues with intrigue and excited anticipation, “I thought you would be eager to see what I had sent you word about?”

Iltar growls and shakes his head as he retells his frustrations, “Stupid acolytes! They think just because they can control a little power that gives them the right to dictate to the council. I had to teach them a lesson, one they won’t soon forget!”

“I hope you didn’t kill any of them…” Cornar puts his hands on his hips and shakes his head. “New necromancers are becoming hard to find.”

“No Cornar,” Iltar sternly stares at his guest. “I killed no one, however they may wish I had. Those insolent fools have a long way to go before becoming true necromancers, and they had better learn to respect their wiser elders… or else.”

Cornar chuckles and grins widely, “When you were a young necromancer you were just like them.”

“One difference,” Iltar barks and raises a finger to his guest, “I was powerful and smart enough not to get into a public altercation with the council.”

“Yes,” Cornar quells his laughter, “That’s true. You did things behind closed doors, very effectively I might add.”

“With your help,” Iltar grunts and finally releases a small chuckle, then walks toward the left side of the table in the center of the room. He comes to a high-back armchair identical to the one Cornar had been sitting in and pulls it away from the table.

As Iltar sits he notices two books and some red scroll cases to his left near the end of the table. The necromancer raises his brow in curiosity as he nestles himself into the lush fabric covering the soft cushioning of the chair.

“So, what is so secret that warrants us meeting in private and at this late in the evening?” Iltar asks as he moves his eyes back to Cornar.

With a smile upon his face, Cornar moves to his chair and sits. “As you know we have been sailing around the Forbidden Sea for the last several months, trying to find the island of legend; the Isle of the Ancient Ones.”

“Yes, I know of the expedition,” Iltar’s tone grows heavy with agitation. “Did you find an island? Is that your important information?

“If so, and that’s all you have then you will suffer the same fate as those acolytes–”

“Just calm down and listen,” Cornar slams his hand on the table, he leans forward with a stern expression yet his eyes still show his excitement. “Yes, we found the island, but that’s not what’s important.”

Iltar folds his arms with disgust, but continues listening to Cornar.

“What is important is what we found on the island. Rather, something I found. I didn’t show them to anyone, but smuggled them away. I knew you would know how important this discovery was, the council would just argue and debate over it, or perhaps worse.”

Iltar raises a brow at Cornar then looks at the seven foreign objects on the table and back to his guest. “What about Krindal? Are you sure he doesn’t suspect you found something?”

“No,” Cornar shakes his head and grins again. “I used my men to distract him while I snuck these aboard the ship.” Cornar motions with his hands at the books and scroll cases on the table. “My men didn’t completely see what I had either. Nor would they say anything if they did.”

“I’m intrigued,” Iltar admits as he relaxes and rests his hands on the chair’s arms. “Go on with this discovery of yours.”

“I found several scrolls and two books. The books tell the history of the war between the mythical platinum dragons and the other dragon breeds. Apparently these other breeds were evil chromatic dragons, along with metallic–”

“I know about this legend Cor! I was taught it in my youth. Get on wit–”

“Patience, Iltar,” Cornar snaps back and shakes his head at the necromancer in front of him, “Did those youthful tales ever talk about how the war ended? How the platinum dragons were able to defeat the other dragons, once and for all?”

“Not really. There was something about a magical artifact that the platinum dragons created that defeated their foes. Other stories attribute the victory to the aide that men and elves gave the platinum dragons. I think the latter is just stuff made up by humans and elves to appease themselves, though.

“Why? Did you find the reason the platinum beasts won?”

“Yes, I did,” Cornar’s grin turns to a wide smile. “In the books it tells a story much like the first one you mentioned. It appeared to be a generalized history of the events surrounding the war, including maps of the ancient world. The books read as if they were part of a public record. The most intriguing point of the literature was the mention that the platinum dragons developed magical devices that helped them win.

“There’s not much more said in the books, but the two scrolls I could read give more detail. The first scroll stated that the platinum dragons created a means to open a portal between worlds. They wanted to exile the warring dragons from Kalda–”

“That’s incredible!” Iltar bursts with excitement while leaning forward. “Does it say how they did it?”

“Well… not exactly how. It said they used magic on rogulin crystals to transform them into a unique stone, called the Tethering Stone. It vaguely describes the ritual and the materials for it.”

“So they sent the evil dragons to other worlds…?” Iltar grazes his hand over his gray facial hair. “That’s incredible!”

“Yea,” Cornar nods and adjusts himself in his chair. “But there was an even more remarkable find in the second scroll.

“It explained that the most aggressive dragons were the red dragons. In fact the scroll stated these were the only dragons the platinum dragons truly feared. After all, they were the dragons that started the war in the first place, enticing the others to ally with them and attack the platinum dragons. From what I read, these red dragons were deceptive and diabolical; I’m sure you would have enjoyed their company.”

“I know I would have,” Iltar sneers. “Is there more?”

“Yes. The scroll also talks about a second magical device; an amulet crafted by the platinum dragons called the Amulet of Draconic Control. Its key component was a red ruby, called the Ruby of Lish. When the ruby was inserted into the amulet the wearer could completely control red dragons.”

“If they could control the red dragons why did they need to exile them?”

“The scrolls are not specific,” Cornar shrugs and shakes his head. “Although I gather that the control was difficult and it took a great deal of concentration to command a large group of dragons. I guess the influence would work just long enough for the platinum dragons to open the portal to the other world and send the dragons through it.”

“Do the scrolls state where this amulet is located?”

“Not in what I can read. There are three other scrolls with writing I cannot decipher. That is another reason I brought these to you. It looks like elven text. I know you can read many forms of elvish and I thought you might be able to read the writing. It may shed more light on this amulet and where to find it. Perhaps an adventure is in store,” Cornar smiles as he speaks those last words.

“You were wise to bring them to me. Leave them here and I will study them. Thank you my friend. I apologize for my harsh words earlier. I was still in a foul mood,” Iltar gives his guest a twisted smile.

“No offense taken. I knew you would be glad to hear about what I brought back,” Cornar slowly rises to his feet. “I will take my leave of you now. Karenna and I will be staying at our home in the city for the next few days if you have further need of me.

“Good evening, Iltar,” Cornar bows and walks to the door.

“Good night, Cornar. Remember do not speak of this to anyone,” the necromancer speaks flatly, but his eyes are fierce. “If I am satisfied, you will be well rewarded.”

Amused by the necromancer’s remark, Cornar nods his head and leaves the room through the same door Iltar entered.

Cornar’s footsteps trail down the stairwell and once they fade completely Iltar whispers with a faint chuckle, “The power to control dragons…”

After a moment, Iltar takes a deep breath and arrogantly straightens himself up in his chair. He turns around to the bookcase behind him and grabs a handful of polished black stones; then after placing them on the table he grabs the nearest scroll case and holds it in his hands. His fingers graze across the porous texture.

“Let’s see which one you are,” Iltar muses and opens the case. He pulls out a rolled parchment that is perfectly preserved. The necromancer gently sets the scroll on the table and carefully unravels it.

After a moment, writing in the common language of Kalda comes into view.

“That’s not it,” Iltar sighs and re-rolls the scroll, placing it back in its case.

He grabs the next nearest scroll case and discovers a smaller roll than the first he had handled. The necromancer cautiously unrolls the old parchment onto the table.

Within a moment, portions of a map come into view. It is an atlas of Kalda, the topography of old cities and various landforms are familiar to the necromancer, although marked in an elvish script.

What are those? Iltar’s attention is caught by two red dots: one in the southern hemisphere toward the middle of the map by a familiar island called Merdan and the second in the Western Sea by an island.

Locations of the amulet perhaps?” he wonders.

Iltar focuses on the island on the western part of the map and slowly speaks the words as he translates them, “Draco Isola… the dragon’s island.”

Well that makes sense, Iltar furrows his brow as he thinks, But why Merdan?

Did Balden ever talk about dragons? Iltar wonders about one of his former apprentices, a native of the island and raised in the city of Keth. He always spoke about that forsaken elven city, Merda. But its long been haunted by undead… or so the stories say. And Balden often daydreamed of liberating it, Iltar chuckles and shakes his head.

Iltar had often thought Balden naïve and foolhardy, yet heroic; traits that reminded him of himself during his youth.

“But what significance does a deathly place like Merda have to be singled out.” he asks aloud, exasperated. And when did the stories start about the undead? The chilling question gave him pause.

I must look up more information about that with the Order of Histories later.

Iltar takes another look at the map and notices faint writing under the dragon’s isle. He quickly turns around to grab a magnifying lens from the bookshelf and focuses it on the island.

Dralin… death” Iltar wonders and scrunches his nose as he translates the elven words. Or burial ground? Could this mean that this island is a graveyard for the dragons? Or a battle site? Intriguing…

While musing on the thought, Iltar sets the magnifying lens down beside the map and picks up a third scroll case.

It is dented in several places and has a small hole on one of its sides. The necromancer opens the lid and gently slides the scroll out. A small flake of parchment falls from the scroll and Iltar immediately stops his pull. He slowly sets the case down next to the map and resumes gently tugging on the old parchment.

Pieces of the scroll fall to the table’s surface as Iltar painstakingly removes the rolled parchment and sets its main body on the tabletop. Much of the scroll is broken up, and its pieces are partially faded.

Iltar lets out a low growl, but takes a deep breath to control his frustration. As he lets out his breath he mutters, “Cornar must have damaged this when he first inspected it.”

With a steady hand, Iltar rolls out the damaged parchment and secures it with four of the small polished weights. He then examines the pieces of the scroll that had broken off during his removal of the old parchment from its case.

A labored sigh leaves Iltar’s lips, and he turns around, grabbing a pair of small metal tweezers from the shelf behind him. As he turns back around Iltar shakes his head and mutters, “This is going to take some time.”

  • * * * *

After an hour of meticulously reconstructing the scroll, Iltar stands up and takes a deep breath. He studies the scroll for a moment and shakes his head.

The elvish writing is faint in many places and parts of the scroll are completely missing; however, there are some letters of words and parts of sentences that are legible. He begins his translation with the most visible parts of the elvish writing.

“ ‘Herein l… most … map of K…’ Kalda I assume. ‘Upon this … locations of the … and … signified … marks, dotted … by … Merdan and … Isola.’

“ ‘First Draco Isola, a site … battle…e tide of the Thousand … where the A…a’k was fir… used. However, in … times th… dragons of Kalda come … end of their days to rest … to join … the Creator of All.’ ”

“So it is a burial ground,” Iltar exclaims triumphantly and continues verbally translating the scroll.

“ ‘There is a large cave near the center of the island and a tunnel leads through the mountains to the…’ hmm, perhaps interior? ‘There are cliffs and crags surrounding the perimeter of the island. The only way … island is at beach above the ma… args along the shore.’ ”

“Interesting…” Iltar smiles and raises his brow. “A treasure map of sorts, how intriguing.”

“ ‘Within the sacred…lies the secrets to obtaining…the Au’mi… However the…kept by a guardian. … here is hidden, so that … needed, the amu… dragon… can be reforged.’ ”

Perhaps within a secret vault or store room, Iltar wonders. It would make sense to hide such a powerful weapon and have some sort of sentinel to watch over it. The amulet must be on that island.

Iltar returns to the text and is met with a faded portion of the scroll. He skips beyond the lighter writing and continues to read another section.

“ ‘At Merda the secrets are hidden.’ Hmm what is this? Oh I see the red dot on the other map. ‘It is the location of…’ of what?” Iltar shouts, shaking his head in frustration and muttering, “Why does this section have to be so decayed?”

“ ‘…other information as…’ What other information?”

Iltar slams his hand on the armrest of his chair. After taking a deep breath, he continues reading. The rest of the scroll concerning Merda is worn or has parchment missing, rendering the latter part of the section devoid of useful information.

The rest of the scroll is completely faded, and Iltar returns to the middle section of the scroll to search for clues by use of the magnifying lens.

After several moments of reading and re-reading Iltar can make out a few words.

“ ‘The s….’ stone perhaps? ‘…is essential to completing the amulet, without it the metal jewelry is useless. With a shi…, one can transverse the…to the realms of exile. However this knowledge was also hidden away after the last of the chromatic brutes were banished…deep in a place where only the platinum dragons would know. Fearing that a remnant of loyal…the Lords of Metal separated…of understanding away. This was done to create a reserve of knowledge and resources if the main reliquary were to be…knowledge lost among the keepers of dragonkind.’ ”

Iltar puts down the magnifying lens and sighs in frustration over the deteriorating knowledge of the dragons and their magical powers.

“This middle passage is too vague!” he mutters irritably. “What is it talking about? The ruby or that tethering stone?”

At that moment, fatigue overcomes Iltar. He takes a deep breath, stands and places his hands on either side of the table. The tired necromancer closes his eyes and rests them for a moment.

A thought pierces through his exhaustion, I can’t take these anywhere, they’re too fragile.

Iltar straightens up and brings his palms to his face. He rests his eyes within the balls of his hands as he thinks, It’s best to copy them to fresh parchment so I do not damage them any further. Especially since I will need to take them with me on this journey.

A fiendish smile smirks across Iltar’s face and he turns to the bookcase behind him, grabbing several blank scrolls.

With red-rimmed eyes and a shaky hand Iltar returns to the table and painstakingly copying the scrolls onto the blank parchments.

Once Iltar finishes his work he relaxes in his chair with a sigh. A glimmer of light catches his attention from out of the corner of his eye. He turns to the window of his study and sees the dawn breaking over the horizon.

“It took me all night?” Iltar chuckles and rests his head against the soft fabric of his high-back chair; his strength leaves him and Iltar suddenly falls asleep.

 

2

An Uprising

 

Several hours later, Iltar is awakened by the sound of repeated pounding on his study door. Jarred from his sleep, the necromancer wearily rises and crosses to the door. Iltar smacks his lips and tiredly leans his shoulder against the hard surface, then asks with groggy caution, “Who is it?”

“Cornar! There’s trouble in the city. It’s the acolytes. They’ve started a rebellion!”

“What? What are you talking about?” Iltar pauses and sighs; he swings the door open and growls, “Get in here!”

Standing just beyond the doorway is his guest from the night before, but without his beard. Cornar is dressed in a light gray garb with two weapons sheathed at his waist.

Iltar takes a deep breath then turns from the door, his head hanging from fatigue. The necromancer returns to his seat and slumps while resting his head against the high-back padding.

“Start from the beginning,” the words trail off as Iltar narrows his eyes at Cornar, who walks across the room. “I’m still waking up…”

Cornar stops next to the chair he occupied the night before and says, “As you know, my home in the city is near the hall of the Necrotic Order. This morning I was up early, getting ready for a horseback ride with my wife. We left our home and rode toward the northern gate, passing the guild hall. As we rode closer to the compound I heard the sounds of battle. I told Karenna to go back to the house, then I got off my horse and crept near the gate, where I could see the front of the hall. The guards were being killed in the courtyard by the acolytes and hired mercenaries.

“I wasn’t about to interfere but I continued to creep over to see what was happening. Another set of apprentices and mercenaries were pressing their way through the main doors.

“After the apprentices killed the guards I got on my horse and came straight here.”

“I should have killed them!” Iltar’s anger shows through his groggy state. “How dare they? It’s stupid of them to attack the guild and defy the council. They must know they’ll be punished!”

“We ought to get over there and figure out what is happening. There’s no telling what damage they could do,” Cornar urges, obviously worried, then impatiently snaps, “Are you just going to sit here and rest?”

Looking up at Cornar with tired red eyes, Iltar responds, “I was up all night reading these scrolls. I’m in no mood to deal with those children,” he grunts while waving his hand dismissively.

Cornar sighs and patiently replies, “Well, they’ve killed all the guards while storming the building, they must have a sizable force.

“If we have to I’ll organize my men, but it will take time and by then it could be too late. I say we’ll be more effective at quelling them if just the two of us go in there, like old times.”

The thought of battles from their youth brings a sense of excitement to Iltar and he finally sits up in attention. “Well you’ve convinced me; that does, at least, sound entertaining. And the council would be suspicious of me not appearing this morning when there was an attack… But first we’ll need to secure the treasure you delivered. It will take a while, especially with this scroll,” Iltar points to the parchment lying in pieces on the center of the table.

Cornar hesitates while furrowing his brow; he had wanted to leave immediately but Iltar’s logic was sound. These scrolls were important and such things shouldn’t be left unsecured. Cornar nods his assent and moves closer to the table.

Iltar rises from his chair, painstakingly examining the elven literature in front of him, attempting to find the best way to re-roll the damaged scroll.

Meanwhile, Cornar turns his attention to the world map, examining it.

“Interesting,” Cornar remarks. “I’ve never seen this island before.”

“Which?” Iltar asks without looking up from the aged material on the table.

“The one in the northern hemisphere with the red dot…” Cornar says in a trailing voice while carefully rolling it into its case.

“Ah, Draco Isola. Yes, it was new to me as well,” Iltar says as he carefully rolls the edge of the scroll nearest to him.

The two men continue to store the scrolls within their individual cases and, after an hour of meticulous labor, the relics are carefully tucked away.

Once finished, Cornar briskly walks to the window of Iltar’s study and shouts down to the guards at the tower’s entrance, “Delrin, Jalim! Make ready Iltar’s horse! And be quick about it!”

Amid the shouting, Iltar busily places the old cases into the chest under the table. Upon opening the chest, its contents reveal the most sacred belongings of the necromancer.

Turning from the window, Cornar glances at the various items within the knee-high lockbox. Several of the objects catch his attention, and he reminisces when they were discovered by himself and his friend. Iltar was less hardened then; though tragedy had stung him from youth that time of his life was more jovial than the present.

As Cornar moves to exit the room, thoughts of his old friend still lingering in his mind.

After depositing the scrolls and books, Iltar gently puts the lid on and spins a dome-shaped dial, locking the container. He takes one final step of precaution and casts a quick spell that seals the chest from any outside probing.

As Cornar reaches the door of the study, Iltar rises to his feet and follows him. With haste, the two men descend into the lower floors of Iltar’s barren tower, and out into the brisk late summer morning.

“You know, this could be beneficial,” Iltar slyly muses as the two men pass through the gateway separating the tower’s grounds from the rest of the estate.

“I don’t see how,” Cornar says doubtfully. Shaking his head, he continues to speculate on Iltar’s words. “If you wanted to become head of the council perhaps,” Cornar says as he climbs on his horse, which had been tied to the gate of Iltar’s tower.

The same groomsman from the night before stands quietly near the gate, holding the reins of the necromancer’s black horse.

Casually, Iltar accepts the reigns and climbs atop his steed.

“I should probably enhance our horses?” Iltar raises his brow while adjusting in his saddle.

“That’s obvious,” Cornar retorts and turns his steed around to face the stone path leading to the forest.

Positioned squarely in his saddle, Iltar stretches both his hands toward his and Cornar’s horses and then utters words of the magical tongue among the men of Kalda; beautiful words strung together in an incantation. As Iltar speaks, white magic gathers in his hands; the particles of light that dance beyond his palms wisps toward the horses, wrapping around their legs in a tight fashion before seeping beneath their skin. Both horses

Once the magic penetrates his steed, Cornar blazes past the necromancer, riding with sheer determination down the stone way leading into the forest.

Chuckling at Cornar’s enthusiastic jolt, Iltar kicks the sides of his steed, causing the horse to bolt past the groomsman.

The groomsman stumbles back in surprise and falls to the ground, agitatedly staring at Iltar as he and Cornar disappear into the woodland.

  • * * * *

The road to Soroth is a wide and winding dirt path, carved through the forests of the island. Many paths diverge off the dirt highway to various estates and manors concealed in the forest. Much like Iltar’s, those residences are often home to the darker events of Soroth.

Iltar’s estate, formerly that of his parents and before that his mother’s parents, is nestled deep inside the island. A typical ride from the city to his home takes roughly an hour, but at magically enhanced speeds the trip is much faster.

Soroth, the city, is on the south eastern part of the landmass. Its port surrounds the city on two sides and is a major focal point of the mid-sized municipality. Unlike other cities on Kalda, Soroth is of smaller than average size, but is still large enough to be considered a major port on the world’s designated trade routes.

Midway to the city, Iltar’s champion steed catches Cornar and his brown beauty. Cornar’s horses were known for their almost perfect features. At a young age he had married a woman who was set on breeding the animals for shows on the mainland. However, she was not known for exerting her horses’ riding capabilities.

For Iltar he found this method of breeding pointless, and in a gesture of boastfulness he pushes his horse just past Cornar’s along the Sorothian road.

Once he reaches a full length ahead of Cornar, Iltar slows the gallop of his horse slightly to come even to match Cornar’s steed. The two horses gallop side by side until the woodland’s edge, and Iltar glimpses Cornar grinding his teeth in annoyance.

As they break the edge of the forest, Soroth’s buildings come into view. Both men focus on a group of gray stone buildings, all standing above the rest of the city’s short skyline; the Necrotic Order’s guild hall.

With determination, the duo press their steeds toward the city, and onto the rebellion.

Soon after entering the city, Cornar and Iltar near the hall of the Necrotic Order; a complex of buildings interconnected and surrounded by walls rising a story and a half from the ground.

A small crowd has formed just outside the walls of the guild’s hall at a large gate made of metal rods; however, the group of people pay no attention to the two men approaching the gateway.

“Go!” Iltar shouts at his horse, who hesitates near the people at the gate.

Startled, the people clear a path for Iltar and Cornar, who is closely following the necromancer.

Both men boldly ride their horses into the courtyard, turning on a path leading to stables left of the gate.

Once inside the stable, Iltar and Cornar swiftly dismount their steeds and quickly secure them; Iltar with a stern and firm hand, Cornar gentle and caring.

The necromancer emerges from the stables first, and studies the magical abode. The Necrotic Order of Soroth’s bastion squarely covers four city blocks. Each of the structures, and the walls surrounding them, are entirely made of gray granite-like stone called, galstra.

Iltar focuses on the main building, which houses the order’s council chambers and offices, standing four stories tall. Windows line only the upper level while a single double-door entrance marks the center of the northern side of the building. A path that leads straight from the main gate of the magical complex.

Usually several sets of guards patrol from the gate to the main entrance and throughout the courtyard, but not today; all is silent.

Cornar steps beside Iltar and both men glance at each other; without a word, they warily cross the grass onto the path leading to the doors of the main building.

Gasps fill the air behind them, but neither spare a glance to the onlookers.

The two companions pass several dead bodies near the building’s doors, some with blood pooling around them; others lay silently, killed by the acolytes’ deadly magic. An awful stench reaches Cornar and Iltar’s nostrils, but both stomach it with barely a grimace. Death’s decaying odor was all too familiar to them.

Side by side, both men enter the threshold into the necromancers and other magic wielder’s domain. Directly in front of them is an ornate foyer, with smooth galstra walls and flooring. Toward the south of the hall is a grand stairwell which opens before them and towering windows behind that illuminate the room. A majestic crimson carpet flows from the doorway toward the wide corridor that further opens up into the grand hall and ultimately up the stairs. However, this path is not the course the intimidating duo chooses.

Stepping cautiously, Cornar leads the pair along the right of the entry into a corridor running along the exterior of the building.

As they creep down the hall, Cornar, with as much silence as possible, unsheathes his weapons. In his left hand is his preferred weapon of choice: a large dagger with serrated edges, which by some standards may be called a short sword. The polished metal glistens slightly in the light of the magical orbs lining the hall.

In his right hand is a short sword, its slightly longer than his forearm and razor sharp on both edges.

Cornar’s skill with both weapons are unrivaled in Soroth. For as long as he could remember, warfare was a focal point of his life; his father trained him to use those weapons since his youth.

But this is not all, Cornar is vastly proficiency with various weapons and hand-to-hand combat; this coupled with years of experience and strategic knowledge make him a deadly warrior, even in his mid-fifties.

Over the last thirty years, Cornar had developed one of the most rigorous combat training regimens on Soroth. His skills were renown and attracted many men and women. His pupils often became body guards for the Sorothian nobles while others joined the ranks of the Sorothian Navy, the Guardians of Soroth and the Soroth City Watch; however, some joined his private band of adventurers and accompanied him and Iltar on their many exploits.

At the end of the hall they come to a tight spiral staircase, wide enough for only two men to walk abreast; they quickly ascend to the next floor.

Upon reaching the landing they discover more dead guards and several acolytes strewn throughout the corridor, which they ignore.

The necromancer and warrior continue up the stairs to the third and then the fourth and final floor; more bodies litter the steps at the top of the stairs and the adjoining landing.

The landing opens up to two halls which run along the north and west sides of the building, paralleling the outer walls. Windows, waist-high to ceiling, line both corridors, allowing ample morning light to illuminate the hallways.

Both Iltar and Cornar move down the western corridor, cat-like in their gait, carefully stepping over the bodies of the dead. After a moment, they arrives at two large, ornate wooden doors pulled tightly shut, positioned midway down the hall.

Iltar leans forward slightly while Cornar presses an ear against the doors. Muffled voices converse beyond the beautifully carved wooden slabs, their words garbled and faint.

Cornar motions they should charge into the room, but Iltar stretches out his palm to stop him.

Shaking his head, Iltar motions around Cornar further down the hall to the south, urging his friend to continue.

Cornar gives him a perplexed look and turns, noticing a single door situated close to the far end of the corridor. The warrior nods his head once, then steps even more cautiously than before toward it.

Again, the companions press their ears against the carved wooden slab.

Hearing nothing, Iltar nods and whispers, “Let’s go in.”

The necromancer’s wrinkled hand grasps the silver knob, slowly turning it. Pressing his free palm against the door, Iltar pulls back slightly on the knob, ensuring the door opens in silence.

Once opened, Iltar leads his companion through to an anteroom, which is nothing more than a small study. A modest chair sits in the corner, along with a circular table, no larger than an average dinner plate.

As they step into the room, Cornar lowers his guard with a puzzled expression across his face, about to speak.

Iltar motions hurriedly for him to close the door, and the warrior stops to shut it quietly.

After closing the door, Cornar whispers, “What are we doing here?”

Ignoring the warrior, Iltar leans his ear against a bookcase close to the back of the room. He nods his head and grins.

“We need to get into the council chambers,” Cornar demands again, slightly louder. “What are you doing?”

Still at the bookcase, Iltar pulls on several of the books. In response, the bookcase releases itself from the wall and moves to the left. It shifts completely in front of the bookcase beside it, revealing a narrow passageway.

Iltar smiles at Cornar while pointing to the opening and whispers, “This is much better than barging through the doors. And I thought you would have asked me earlier if there was a secret passage.”

“You could have warned me,” Cornar scowls.

“You didn’t ask,” Iltar smirks while he steps over the small lip of stone and into the passageway.

They follow the hidden corridor until it turns left along the council chamber’s eastern wall, ending shortly thereafter; a small doorway marks the end of the passageway on the duo’s left.

For the third time, both men listen through a door, Cornar directly behind Iltar. This time though, they hear a faint conversation.

“Pagus, I tell you, someone will come to investigate. And what about Master Iltar? The City Watch is not stupid, you know.”

“I have it under control,” a cocky voice responds, “We needed to be quick to catch these old fools off guard. Now that we have control of the council we can dictate terms. They will not dare storm this place for fear of us killing the pompous bastards. Besides, my father’s influence will stay their hand for a time.

“As for Iltar, he’s probably off conducting some experiment as we speak; he doesn’t care about this council anyway.”

“Pagus, we need to place guards at the entrance,” a third voice interjects. “Anyone, especially Iltar, can walk right in…”

“We are guarding this chamber,” Pagus snaps. “I don’t care if they have access to the rest of the building. The Council Chambers can only be entered from these main doors.”

After listening to the argument a while longer, Iltar turns to Cornar and whispers, “I only hear three of them. Pagus and his chums, no doubt.”

Cornar pulls Iltar from the door and whispers, “There’s bound to be more. When they rushed the main building there were at least forty men. Besides, there were no acolytes outside and only a handful of dead ones the way up here; plus several others that were not guards nor your guild’s apprentices.”

Iltar nods then slowly speculates, “Maybe twenty or thirty. Let’s move back toward that anteroom and prepare ourselves.”

Retreating to what they deem a safer distance, near the passageway’s entrance, Iltar whispers the words to a magical incantation.

Dark purple and black magic wisps from Iltar’s hands and surrounds Cornar’s weapon; the magical particles seep into the blades, causing them to glow.

After the weapons are enhanced, Iltar utters another incantation and a vivid green mist surrounds Cornar, covering his body in a faint hue.

Cornar examines his weapons and gives the necromancer a wistful smile; throughout his many adventures with Iltar, Cornar developed methods to maximize both their strengths, and such magical augmentation was one such strategy.

With Cornar sufficiently empowered by his magic, Iltar turns his attention to himself. Without an incantation, a black cloud seethes from the necromancer’s pores, as if releasing itself from inside his body. As the blackness thickens, it violently separates from Iltar’s body and creates a protective barrier around him.

Feeling invigorated, Iltar firmly commands, “Cor, open the door and rush them. I’ll deal with Pagus.”

Smiling grimly, Cornar nods his head and grips his weapons tightly, “Let the fun begin.”

Back at the hidden door, Cornar quietly cracks it open. He steals a glance into the room and notices the three acolytes with their backs towards the passageway. Seeing this, the warrior’s smile turns to a wide grin.

Without hesitation, Cornar quickly slips through the tight opening. He glimpses twenty others toward the back of the chambers: a mixture of the other acolytes, hired brawlers and thugs wielding an assortment of weapons. They are scattered around the room, with the majority near the council chamber’s doors; its entrance is barricaded with an elegant long rectangular table and several matching chairs, the only pieces of furniture in the room.

Cornar bounds across the short space between him and what seems to be the three ringleaders of the revolt. Counting on the distance of the others to give him time to deal with them.

The nearest of the three acolytes notices Cornar out of the corner of his eye and turns, but not quick enough to evade the experienced warrior’s advance. Cornar’s serrated dagger sings through the air and grates through the young man’s neck.

Quickly circling around the dying apprentice, Cornar comes into reach of the middle acolyte, Pagus. He swings his elbow and forcefully strikes his second victim in the face, just as he turns toward Cornar. Stunned by the blow, Pagus falls backward to the ground.

Meanwhile, Iltar steps through the door, violently swinging it open the rest of the way. The wooden door, with its false rock surface, bounces against the wall. Upon its hidden side, particles of black magic dissolve the wood from Iltar’s touch.

Arrogantly striding into the room, Iltar recites the words to a spell; orange light gathers in his right hand and he flicks his wrist toward the third leading acolyte. The orange magic lashes out from Iltar’s palm in the form of a cord and wraps around his neck.

“No!” the acolyte gasps in agony as the magic weakens him, draining his life.

The cord rapidly pulses and the young man convulses, eyes rolling to the back of his head, then lifelessly collapses backward onto the stone floor.

While Iltar siphons the acolyte’s living energies, Cornar recoils from his rotating motion. With the blade in his right hand, he quickly slices through the initial acolyte’s torso, severing him in half. Cornar yanks his serrated dagger from the dying acolyte’s neck and turns to face the remaining rebel forces turning to face him. As the acolyte’s body falls to the ground his blood spills across the cold stone floor.

“What in the name of–” exclaims Pagus, but is interrupted as his friend’s torso hits the stone floor next to him. Pagus, the instigator of the entire revolt, looks up from the floor to see Iltar glowing in raw demonic power.

“M-M-Master I-Iltar…” Pagus stammers in horror as he gazes upon the necromancer, shrouded in a dark dissolving sphere of invulnerability.

Black waves ripple across the surface of the protective magic as Iltar steps forward.

Pagus pales visibly at the sight of the magic. With his arms outstretched, he trembles as he tries to push himself up from the floor; however, he falls forward weakly and partially kneels in fear before Iltar.

“And I thought you were ready to see the greater secrets of our Order after your demands last night,” Iltar sneers.

Stopping just in front of Pagus’s hand, Iltar looks at him with one final disdainful glance. “Well, regardless of your ability you will see and experience them.”

Iltar stretches forth his left hand. Without incantation, black magic seethes from his palm, gathering beyond his fingertips in the form of a ball.

“I will privy you to something that not even those on the council have witnessed. I call it a globe of darkness,” Iltar chuckles. “You should feel privileged!”

As Iltar taunts the young acolyte, several arrows from the hired thugs fly from the door. The arrows, along with a magical orb of arcane power and an acidic bolt, collide against Iltar’s shielding sphere. The assault cause the globe to violently ripple; the magic dissipates while the arrows turn to dust.

Ignoring the assault, Iltar focuses solely on the once defiant acolyte before him. The necromancer flicks his left hand, thrusting the globe of darkness toward Pagus.

The small black sphere flies from the protective barrier, like a fish leaping from the ocean’s surface, striking Pagus’s back.

Pagus screams in excruciating agony as the globe of darkness spreads across his body, dissolving every part it touches.

Amid the wailing, Iltar coldly smirks, “Now you have what you sought so eagerly. Unfortunately, you won’t appreciate the lesson.”

Iltar flicks his right wrist in a beckoning motion and the orange magic leaves his first victim through his chest, racing back into a ball just beyond the necromancer’s open hand. Closing his grasp around the orange sphere, Iltar takes a deep invigorating breath, and absorbs it through his pores.

While Iltar toys with Pagus, Cornar bounds across the room. Several bolts of acidic magic race toward him but the masterful warrior tumbles forward, rolling upon the stone floor. The magic sails over him and he swiftly rises back up upon his feet, resuming his dash.

Not more than a leap and bound forward, two more bolts of red magic fly toward the warrior; Cornar swings his weapons in arcing motions in front of him, one after the other. With perfect timing, the bolts of magic impact upon the purple light surrounding his weapons and he precisely deflects them across the room.

As Cornar charges, three of the hired mercenaries leap from the doors to intercept him; however, one of the errant bolts races toward an advancing mercenary. It burns a hole through his chest and knocks him to the floor.

Another bolt of magic races toward Cornar, but he effortlessly dodges it and clashes with the two surviving hirelings, swiftly parrying their blows. The black magic enhancing his weapons cankering his opponent’s blades.

Cornar darts to his left and with his short sword in his right hand. He thrusts it through the chain-linked armor protecting the mercenary’s chest.

Recovering from the warrior’s parry, the other mercenary strikes at Cornar once again. However, Cornar deftly evades the blow and swings his serrated dagger. It grates through the mercenary’s armor-clad arm, messily severing it below the elbow. Without hesitation, Cornar kicks the hireling back, and he falls to the floor, screaming in excruciating pain.

As the mercenary lands upon the stony floor, two masses of green magic flies at Cornar from the acolytes guarding the bound council members.

Noticing the magic, Cornar dodges one, but a part of the second mass wraps around his left arm. Green tentacles burst from the mass, attaching to the warrior’s arm and the stone floor. Within an instant, the magic quickly pulls Cornar down and ensnares him.

“Everyone after him!” a mercenary calls out from near the doors. “Don’t you know who that is?! We’ll all have to gang up on him!”

Cornar remains calm and quickly glances to the barricaded doors, seeing nine mercenaries darting toward him.

With his free hand, Cornar efficiently hacks at the magical tentacles securing him to the ground. His magically enhanced sword cuts through the green tentacles and swiftly severs the bond. After several swings, Cornar frees himself from the mass and rolls over his right shoulder, away from the mass and the advancing mercenaries.

As the warrior recovers from his tumble, he rises up on his rear foot and forward knee; at the same time, three more crimson magical orbs race through the air at him.

Cornar swings his weapons to deflect two of the orbs but is struck in the chest by the third, knocking him off balance and onto his back; his protective green barrier flickering from the magical friction.

Falling to the floor, Cornar notices the mercenaries have come within reach and are encircling him. From the ground, he swings his weapons at the legs of the nearest hireling, cutting across the mercenary’s thigh, dropping him to the floor.

The other eight mercenaries engage Cornar in a furious bout while Cornar is on his back; he tirelessly parries their weapons while kicking their knees, temporarily repelling his foes.

Amid the melee, several bolts of acidic magic arc through the air over the mercenaries toward Cornar, mentally redirected by the acolytes controlling them.

Cursing inwardly, Cornar recoils his serrated dagger, swatting at the plummeting bolt. Miraculously, it ricochets off the weapon’s edge and into the face of a hireling to his right. The acidic magic quickly burns through the mercenary’s skin, and he drops to the stone floor.

Still in danger, Cornar swings his weapons, using his dagger to parry another blow and his sword to swat another bolt. However, Cornar misses and two of the acidic bolts impact upon his chest, stunning him with their force, but luckily not breaking through his protective barrier.

As Cornar gasps for air and struggles to deflect the oncoming blows, several of the mercenaries’ weapons strike the warrior in the chest, but the haze of green magic prevents them from piercing his flesh.

While Cornar defends himself from the eight mercenaries in the center of the room, Iltar briefly survey’s the battle before him: Two acolytes and two hesitant mercenaries stand by the barricaded doors while four acolytes guard the council members to Iltar’s right. The latter four have been primarily flinging magic at Cornar.

Each of the senior necromancers are bound by shining white cords and similarly shimmering scarves wrapped around their mouths. Iltar recognizes them as elven cords and scarves. These magically composed materials were said to have been created by the western elves. Historically they have been used by non-magic wielders to subdue magical creatures or to suppress mages. The fabrics are often smuggled from the mainland and sold on secret markets, one such market was often in commerce in Soroth.

Deciding that Cornar has the most pressing need, Iltar stretches out his left hand and utters the words to a spell. Green magic flows around his hand, growing into a cluster very similar to that which had ensnared Cornar.

As the magic grows within his grasp, Iltar notices the barrier around Cornar is flickering and dimming; the hired mercenaries strike the warrior repeatedly, weakening the protective barrier. However, Cornar continues to defend himself; kicking his opponents away and parrying their weapons. Iltar watches amid his incantation as the magic protecting his friend completely vanishes and the mercenary nearest to the necromancer raises his axe high in the air.

At this moment the magic coalesces and Iltar splays his fingers wide, sending the magic through the black sphere surrounding himself. Green tentacles speeds toward the mercenaries surrounding his old friend.

“Die, Cornar!” a mercenary shouts, swinging his weapon toward the warrior’s shoulder. However, as the axe falls toward it is grasped by the thick green tentacles.

The magic rips the weapon, then the mercenary and three others from around Cornar; the four men let out startled cries and swing their weapons at the ensnaring tentacles. They struggle to no avail while the magic slowly drag them across the floor.

Cornar throws himself across the floor through the opening in a rolling motion and rises back onto his feet. He swiftly engages the remaining four mercenaries in a rapid assault. He kicks one hireling away, giving him enough of a chance to stab another of his opponents in the stomach.

With only two of the hired thugs left standing in front of him, Cornar mercilessly cuts through their defenses, dropping both to the ground.

The mercenary Cornar had kicked away gets back on his feet and readies himself in an aggressive stance.

“You’re a fool,” Cornar remarks and shakes his head.

Cornar twirls both his weapons, preparing as the mercenary lunges forward and lets out a cry meant to intimidate him.

As the hireling comes within reach of Cornar, the warrior executes a beautiful flurry of movement: Cornar’s serrated dagger digs diagonally across the mercenary’s chest, tearing through his leathery armor, which is nothing more than thin parchment for Cornar’s magically enhanced weapons. He quickly cuts through the mercenary’s thigh with his short sword, then slices and grates his weapons across the hireling’s arms, all this happening in a flash.

Cornar twirls around the mercenary and the hireling falls to the stone floor in pieces. The warrior notices the other six acolytes, each uttering incantations with their eyes focused on him.

Meanwhile, Iltar slowly pulls the four hirelings in his magical grasp toward his black protective sphere; however, he stops short of dissolving them against his corrosive sphere.

Iltar steps past the three dead acolytes, noticing the two young mages at the doors, each mustering white dispelling magic.

The necromancer furrows his brow and quickly utters the words to a spell; reddish light gathers in Iltar’s right hand and five orbs of arcane power take shape.

At this same moment, the acolytes thrust their dispelling magic toward the entangled mercenaries; however, Iltar hurls his arcane orbs toward the white particles to intercept. Two of the arcane orbs strike the dispelling magic over Cornar’s head and nullifies the magical effect; while the other three whiz toward the acolytes and erupt against their shoulders, maiming both of them.

Seeing the acolytes mangled by Iltar’s magic, the two remaining mercenaries by the doors begin to hastily throw aside the chairs barricading the council chamber’s entrance.

“You can’t leave!” Iltar shouts with a cackle then utters the words to another spell, gathering a graze haze in his right hand.

The necromancer finishes his spell just as the mercenaries push the table out of the way of the doorway.

With a dark laugh, Iltar hurls the gray haze across the room. It races past the mercenaries and erupts against the door, causing a dust-like cloud to form. The enthralling vapor wisps into the mercenaries and maimed acolytes mouths, noses and ears.

All four confederates exude dreadful screams as the magic fills their bodies and twists their minds with visions of horrifying and debilitating illusions.

At this same moment, Cornar twists around his last mercenary opponent, darting toward the remaining four acolytes guarding the council members. Each of them are still uttering incantations as Cornar reaches them.

With precision, the warrior briskly executes the nearest acolyte, severing his head with his short sword. A split second later he stabs the next nearest in the heart.

Frightened by Cornar’s deathly advance, the remaining two acolytes quickly scurry across the room to put distance between themselves and their foe.

“This little rebellion is finished,” Iltar shouts and steps toward the four mercenaries still in his magical grasp. He motions with left forefinger and the mercenary who had nearly severed Cornar’s shoulder races toward him, quickly dragged by the magical tentacle.

The mercenary wails as he flies into the necromancer’s corrosive barrier, completely dissolving to dust; not even his clothing or armor is remains.

Iltar slowly strides toward the remaining three hirelings, and as he does each of them let out shrieks of terror while attempting to escape the magical grasp. He continues his gait forward, and the three mercenaries resume their struggling, but are eventually pulled toward the sphere and devoured by it in part.

The remaining two acolytes slowly back up, moving toward the rear of the room on the opposite side where Cornar and Iltar had entered. They utter incantations to muster forth acidic and flaming magics and hurl the coalesced spells at Cornar.

Anticipating this, the warrior swiftly deflects the magics and slowly advances, as a lion does with his prey; the errant magic flies from his blades, impacting against the walls and the ceilings.

“Finish them already Cor!” Iltar shouts.

With his focus on the acolytes, Cornar stoically beckons, “You can give up.”

“No, no, no…” an acolyte responds, his gaze darting between Cornar and Iltar.

“They’ll torture us,” the other acolyte timidly interjects. “I’d rather die!”

“So be it,” Cornar sighs, dashing forward and swiftly closing the gap between him and the acolytes. He stabs his serrated dagger into the ribcage of the acolyte on his left while severing the arm of the other on his right. He quickly spins around, bringing the weapons back toward his chest. Cornar rapidly extends his arms as he raises his weapons to shoulder height, grating and slicing his tools of death through the necks of both students of the dark arts.

With the battle finished, Cornar walks back toward the six bound members of the council. He looks at each of them, still calm in the wake of the horrible battle.

As Cornar reaches the one closest to him he kneels down and tiresomely says, “Let me free you, Grandmaster Alacor.” The warrior then unties the knots in both the elven cords and the scarf.

“Thank you, Cornar,” Alacor responds with half-hearted gratitude. He is a tall and lanky man with dark skin. His white hair has flecks of gray throughout and his hazel-blue eyes sternly gaze at the warrior.

“My pleasure,” Cornar unenthusiastically answers and frees the next nearest member of the council.

Iltar relinquishes his protective barrier, causing the sphere around him to dissipate and finally break down into the mist it once was. The black cloud then seeps back into Iltar’s skin. With the magic relinquished, Iltar steps toward Cornar and the other members of the council.

“What of the others?” Iltar demands in disgust as he reaches the other council members. “Are these all the rebels?”

“No, there were more,” Alacor responds stiffly. “They went to detain the remaining guards. About ten, maybe more if I recall correctly.”

Pointing at the two writhing acolytes and the mercenaries by the doors the grandmaster asks Iltar, “And what do you have in mind for them?”

“I’ll show you,” Iltar retorts as he abruptly turns towards the door.

The enraged necromancer stretches out his hands, uttering a quick incantation. A pale-blue charge builds between his palms in seconds. A burst of lightning instantly surges through the last two of the mercenaries, their clothing and armor bursting into flame.

Fire then leaps from the mercenaries and onto the rebel mages’ garments. Both mages frantically roll on the floor, partially out of overwhelming fear and in effort to douse the flames.

Several of the council members chuckle at the sight and Iltar steps near Cornar.

“When they stop rolling around Cor, kill them,” Iltar whispers to his friend. Turning back around, the necromancer addresses the council members. “We need to find the others and put a stop to this nonsense. Where did they go?”

“To the guard’s chambers on the lower floors,” Alacor, the leader of the council responds, then shakes his head slowly. “You had the power of surprise over these, but they will hear us coming as we descend to the barracks. And they will give us a warm reception. I’m sure you’re almost exhausted from this battle.”

Giving Alacor a condescending glance, Iltar coldly states, “There’s only one way in or out of the basement.”

“Yes, you’re right… I see,” Alacor rubs his clean-shaven chin. He glances warily at Cornar, who grunts and moves to the wounded acolytes as they finish putting out the flames. The warrior stabs each through the heart. As Cornar pulls his dagger and sword from their chests their screams which had filled the air die out.

“Well then, you need not attack them,” Iltar explains with exaggerated patience. “You can just seal them in and wait for them to get hungry. They are young and undisciplined. They won’t last for long in a sealed windowless dungeon.” Iltar’s lips curl in a cruel smile.

Nodding in agreement, the newly freed members of the council exit the decimated chambers through the passageway their rescuers entered, with Alacor pompously leading his six brethren and Cornar. From there they descend to the main level of the edifice. They pass through the large foyer, which to their surprise has remained spotless from battle.

The six necromancers and lone warrior move eastward, through a hall just off the grand foyer. At the end of the hall, they turn a corner and come to the doorway leading to the guard’s barracks.

Upon reaching the entrance to the guard’s section of the lower levels, Alacor recites the words to muster forth a transmutive magic. Beige-gray particles wisps from his hands and seeps into the doorway, binding the hinges, frame and door into one solid mass. The magical transformation gives off a soft hum as the components fuse into solid stone.

“Now if we had any surviving guards we could set them at the door,” Iltar says during the mystical incantation.

“We will need to hire fresh blood,” Melnor, one of the council members interjects as Alacor finishes the incantation, sealing the rebel acolytes within the guard’s barracks.

“If you don’t mind,” Cornar speaks up, “I can set several of my men here until you recruit replacements.”

“That will do,” Alacor turns to the lone warrior, “Thank you again, Cornar. My predecessor always spoke highly of your prowess in combat, and now I know why.”

While he speaks as one accustomed to being superior to all others, it was still high praise from one of his stature, and Alacor bows his head to him.

Cornar’s eyes widen at the unusual show of respect, and cordially replies, “It is my pleasure, and obligation. I wouldn’t have been so successful in all my endeavors if it wasn’t for this Order and its members.” He glances to Iltar then continues in a formal tone, “I should have two of my men here within half an hour.”

“Excellent; instruct them to inform me when our foolish children break,” Alacor says the last with a twist of anger. “I will be here within our grand hall until they do.”

Alacor presses his way through his brethren and heads back towards the main foyer. The others council members follow him, except Iltar, each taking their time and allowing each other to walk alone whithersoever they willed.

Once the six other council members leave, Iltar and Cornar quietly converse at the sealed doorway.

“Part of me wants to burst down there and kill them!” Iltar snarls, looking at the door. “Just to spite Alacor.”

“I’m sure you could,” Cornar smiles tiredly at his lifelong friend. He reaches out his arm and wraps it around Iltar’s shoulders. “You’re not feeble like those old fools. However, this was your plan to begin with, so it would look rather contrary to break in there, now.”

Iltar chuckles and glances to Cornar with a more relaxed grin and says, “We’ll let them stew in their fear, then.”

With that said, the two companions follow the others into the grand foyer. Cornar notices that the doors to the courtyard are still opened, along with a crowd that has grown since they entered.

“I better find some of my men,” Cornar says and walks toward the building’s entrance. “Are you going to stay?”

“No,” Iltar grumbles, following Cornar. “I want to sleep.”

With no further exchange, they steps out the main doors and into the courtyard, where the late morning sun hangs almost midway through the clear sky. Its beams are enough to cause the deadly duo to squint as they step down the stairs and across the courtyard.

Gasps and cheers erupt from the crowd outside the gates as they see Iltar and Cornar emerge from the main building of the guild.

The necromancer shakes his head in response and the two companions continue down the path toward the entry of the Necrotic Order’s establishment.

“You know, this was fun. I wouldn’t mind doing this more often,” Cornar says with a smile, looking at Iltar then back to the crowd. He waves at them, signifying that everything is fine. “It’s almost like old times.”

With a smile provoked by other thoughts Iltar responds, “Perhaps I can arrange that for you my friend.” Iltar chuckles as Cornar continues to woo the crowd.

After a moment they near the gates and the deadly duo turns to their right to walk down the narrow path to the stables. Both men are deep in thought: Cornar thinking of the events that has just transpired and what would need to happen to help the necromancers of Soroth recover. Iltar, however, was drawn elsewhere, to a broken map and secrets of a hidden power.

They walk in silence, untying their horses solemnly and riding to the gate in like manner.

At the gate, the men and women outside the walls of the Necrotic Order move aside, and without any further acknowledgement to the crowd, Iltar and Cornar canter their steeds toward the west.

Before they approach the intersecting roadway lining the order’s complex, Cornar turns to his friend, “I probably will not be here for the rest of the day, nor the next several days. My wife will undoubtedly want to hide away from this mess in the country side.”

“Very well, I will most likely call on you soon,” Iltar says absentmindedly as he continues to look ahead.

Cornar nods farewell and turns down the road to their left, leaving Iltar alone on the road leading to the city’s northern entrance.

As he moves toward the northern gates of the city, the necromancer’s mind reflects on the events of the previous night and the sudden wakening of the morning. Cornar’s observations of the map continued to ring in his ear.

“Draco Isola… I’ve never seen this island before.”

Neither had Iltar, and the mysteries of the elven text continue to haunt the necromancer’s mind. What secrets are on this Dragon’s Isle? And what of Merda? Could it be so simple that all the parts of the amulet were in both of those places?

 

3

Opportunity

 

“What’s that sound?” one of the more senior acolytes queries in response to a faint humming noise; he glances at each of his fellow acolytes, who have shocked expressions across their faces.

“I don’t know, Agen,” one of his companions responds.

“You two,” Agen points at two of the younger acolytes, boys of teenage years. “Go check what is happening.”

The acolytes obey and run out of the barracks, listening for the sound. They enter the anteroom of the guard’s chambers, passing the empty desk which once held an officer. Both apprentices climb the stairwell to the small landing where just beyond is the doorway to the main floor.

The first boy who reaches the door grasps the silver knob. To his surprise, the mechanism is solid. His face pales as he turns to his companion.

“What, Tigan, is it locked?” the other asks.

Silently shaking his head, Tigan backs away from the door. He slumps against the wall, feeling hopeless. Agen would kill them for delivering this news, but then again, their doom was assured.

Pushing Tigan, the second boy grasps the handle and attempts to jar it loose. With his physical efforts thwarted, he turns to his magic. He rubs his smooth chin and queries aloud, “How did that unlock spell go…?”

After deliberating, he casts a spell upon the handle but the unlocking magic has no effect on the intricately sealed door. Trying his luck, the young man attempts to fiddle with the door, but is stopped by its solid nature.

Sighing and shaking his head, the second boy grabs Tigan, who is still in shock. They descend back to the other acolytes who are watching the bound guards they took captive with summoned magical cords.

“The door to the main floor is sealed shut!” the calmer of the two boys shouts as they enter the room.

“What?!” Agen demands, stomping on the stone floor.

“Could the council have escaped and sealed us in here?” one of the other acolytes asks.

“We had them bound with elven cords,” Agen snarls. “Every chronicle and story I’ve ever read says they are impossible to break free from. Someone must have come from outside. I knew we should have blocked the main doors!”

“Did you try to unlock the door?” another of the acolytes asks

“Yes, but the spell didn’t work,” the one who had attempted the feat replies.

“Maybe we should surrender…” Tigan frightened by the implications of the solid door speaks up from his shock.

“Yea, if it’s really the council, what else can we do?” another stammers.

“You fools!” Agen snaps at them. “Haven’t you learned anything? The council will torture and kill us if we try to surrender! You three!” he points to the oldest of the lot. “Come with me, perhaps the four of us can break down the door.”

With that said, the four acolytes go up to the sealed door and try their hand at removing the spell, to no avail.

Agen drives them to keep at it, persistant in his belief that the four of them, with their combined intellect, can open the door. After all, they were some of the few who had secretly found manuscripts of spells deep within the archives while their masters had been away; learning that which was forbidden to them by those who instructed them in the dark arts. With their combined power, Agen truly believes they can break the door open.

However, their efforts drag on with no results, and Agen begins to truly worry after several days’ effort. Their rebellion has left them in the concealed parts of the Necrotic Order’s hall with little food and no way to track time. His hold over the other acolytes grows tenuous, and Agen does not think he can command them much longer. As he sits, his own brooding thoughts consume him while the other acolytes talk quietly to each other.

“Look, none of us want to go through the tortures of the council,” an older acolyte says. “We know they will put us through excruciating pain, and then we’ll die. I say we should commit suicide. We’re going to die anyway. This way we deny the council the pleasure of our painful deaths.” He lets the words sink in, looking around at the others who seem to have also come to terms with the reality before them.

“He’s right,” Agen responds, surprising the others. “We can make sure we die with the least amount of suffering.”

The weight of the decision settles on the group heavily. If Agen agreed it was the only way, then they truly must have no hope.

“How…?” a young acolyte utters with trepidation.

Agen spots several of the guards’ weapons on the far side of the underground chamber.

“We could kill each other with magic,” Agen replies to the bleak question. “Or use some of those weapons.”

“Weapons, I’ll take the weapons!” several of the boys cry out.

“If there are no objections…” Agen looks around at the other nine acolytes. Fear fills the eyes of the younger ones at the thought of death, but everyone nods affirmatively; they all knew there were worse things than death.

“Then it’s decided,” Agen sighs, motioning for the weapons.

One of the elder acolytes rises from the floor and retrieves several daggers and short swords from the weapon rack near the back of the wall.

With the weapons dispersed, the young man who retrieved the tools of their demise fearfully gazes at his dagger. Silence hangs over the room until Agen urges, “Now!”

The acolyte breathes deeply, tightly shuts his eyes and stabs his chest. He groans and falls to the floor, his blood draining from his chest.

Unnerved by the suicide, the young men stare at their friend’s corpse. After several moments, one of the other older acolytes takes the dagger from his chest and passes it to the youngest of the group.

Tigan timidly reaches for the dagger, trembling as he grasps it. Blood spatters from the drenched weapon as the young adolescent attempts to hold it firm in his hands.

Seeing the hesitation, the acolyte who handed Tigan the dagger quietly moves behind him, steadying his grip. With a deep breath, both press the dagger deep into Tigan’s heart, and he slumps into the elder acolytes arms.

Amid Tigan’s assisted suicide, the rest of the young acolytes use the other weapons to relinquish their lives.

Agen and the acolyte who had helped Tigan are the last to kill themselves. They shamefully stare at each other and simultaneously stab themselves in their chests, falling over and joining the others lying in a circle on the stone floor.

With the students of necromancy dead, the conjured cords binding the guards fade. They stumble out of the beds, lack of mobility over the past few days making their limbs weak.

The guard nearest the adjoining doorway leans against the opening. He sorrowfully stares at the dead boys and the blood draining from their bodies into a pool upon the floor; their lives had been wasted chasing after foolish ambitions.

The others stumble past him, but one of the senior ranking guards wraps his arm around his shoulder, ushering him past the horrific scene.

“I’ll be glad once we get out of here, Arelo!” the guard says to his superior escorting him.

“I know what you mean,” Arelo, the senior officer, shakes his head. Once at the stairs he adds, “I wasn’t sure if they would take us with them or not. They must have been too busy thinking about their own hides to deal with us.”

After Arelo’s speculation, the other guards pound on the sealed door, shouting phrases, “Let us out! It’s us, the guards!” and “Open the door!”

Meanwhile, the men enlisted by Cornar hear the muffled shouts.

They are both tall, of a strong build, and in their mid-twenties. One has straight brown hair reaching past his ears and matching brown eyes while the other has hazel-gray eyes and very short blonde hair.

Both men quizzically study each other then the brown-haired warrior commands, “Cordel, go find Grandmaster Alacor.”

“Right away, Midar,” Cordel nods and hurries off.

Several minutes later Alacor and several other council members arrive at the locked door. The leader of the necromancers utters the words of a spell to undo the magical hold. A similar hum, much like before, resounds from the door. The door flies open and the captive guards hurry out of their quarters-turned-prison.

“Where are the rebels?” Alacor asks impatiently.

“They’re all dead,” Arelo answers. “They stabbed themselves.”

“Cowards!” Jalel, another from the council, vehemently exclaims.

“Yes, they were cowards, my brother,” Alacor affirms. “But they knew what fate awaited them. I’m not surprised.” With that said, the grandmaster of the Necrotic Order turns to Cornar’s men. “Get them out of there. Take them outside the city and burn their bodies.”

  • * * * *

The following evening, the council gathers in their chambers. Signs of the battle scar the room, and a faint smell of deathly decay lingers.

Within the center of the space, the seven necromancers are seated around their ornate table; Alacor sits at their head upon an elaborate seat resembling a throne while the other six are seated in less pretentious chairs.

Having his own agenda, Iltar quietly sits at the right side of the table, between Velkor and Kallan. He intently listens to the conversation between the aforementioned council members and Melnor and Toroth.

“As we saw with this latest batch of students,” Toroth speaks up from Alacor’s immediate left, “One of the most prominent flaws was their overzealous thirst for knowledge.”

“That’s true,” Velkor replies methodically from Iltar’s left. “This hunger led them to discover aspects of our magical discipline that should have been reserved for later instruction.”

“I believe it was their age that played a major factor,” Kallan speaks up, who is seated on Iltar’s right. “The majority of them were all young adults or adolescences. And they already had a privileged attitude about them that inhibited our control.”

“I agree, we took on too many of these students, and all because we were too eager to fill our ranks. And now we are right where we started.” Melnor completes the argument from the far side of the table.

“Are there any suggestions from the body as to what our next step should be?” Alacor asks, looking at each of the other necromancers around the table.

Clearing his throat, Iltar leans forward and boldly interjects, “My brothers, I believe we should exercise some restraint in rebuilding our Order. Soroth lacks in the breed of children we need. I don’t just mean children of age, but those willing to be called children of necromancy.

Iltar carefully chooses his next words, knowing he must make the council feel that they’re in control of the coming decision. “Remember, this is a very large world and there are other places where we can look to find new apprentices and acolytes. I believe our approach should be slow and meticulous, just as the spider catches the fly in her web. Does she leap at her prey? No, she gently glides toward her victim and wraps them up carefully. We must catch our new recruits in a similar fashion.

“Now I put forth a question that might give us a solution: How old were we when we became a part of this Order?”

Intrigued, Melnor speaks up, “We were still children, some of us orphans.” Several of them nod at the answer catching Iltar’s false vision.

“Iltar is right,” Alacor interjects. “We need the kind of students that we can manipulate, and young adults do not qualify for such privileges. Are there any other suggestions to be brought before the council?”

The council members glance around the table; they each shake their head, satisfied with the recommended action.

“Then a vote must be taken,” the grandmaster commands. “Since Iltar has proposed this, I say we allow him to lead an expedition to find new apprentices. We shall give you full jurisdiction over the proceedings of your doings, and access to the treasury. We give you one week to devise a course of action. Those in favor signify it.”

In a unanimous motion, the members of the council extend their right hands directly out in front of them, acknowledging their approval for the action. Iltar smiles to himself, careful to keep his pleased satisfaction from showing on his face.

“It is decided,” Alacor rises from his chair. “We shall convene in one week.”

With that said, each of the other six necromancers stand and bow to each other before leaving the room.

  • * * * *

Several minutes later, Iltar steps out into the cool evening air. A storm is brewing to the west, and the necromancer grunts at the prospect of rain.

He mutters to himself, “It’s times like this I wish the road through the forest was paved, like the streets of the city.”

Amid his foul mood, Iltar quickly crosses the courtyard of the guild hall and down the path to the stables.

Once upon his steed, Iltar darts through the narrow path and the opened metal gateway.

The necromancer gallops his horse through the empty streets of the city, riding east toward the northernmost part of Soroth’s waterfront. With the coming storm, many of the citizens of the city have retired to their homes or other places of resort, much like Iltar is about to do himself.

Over half an hour later, Iltar’s steed gallops through the city’s northeastern square; it houses the northern most pier, a shipyard, and is home to one of the most notorious taverns on the island. This section of the city is on a small neck of land that protrudes out from the main part of the island.

Upon reaching the fabled tavern, Iltar abruptly stops his steed, causing him to rear upon his hind legs. Such theatrical entrances were something Iltar enjoyed. In a way, the attention he attracted made up for the lack of it as a child. Although he rarely acknowledged it, it was something he craved deeply.

After tying his horse to the metal posts outside the tavern, Iltar walks around to the left of the building. He passes a sign with its name, The Sea Vistonia. Beyond the sign is the entry way of the restaurant that overlooks the northern shore, splitting the view between the forest to the west and the sea to the east. He opens one of the thick double doors and nonchalantly walks inside the tavern.

The sounds of music and chatter rush at him as he steps forward into the waiting area. On busy nights patrons were often obliged to wait outside and enjoy the view while their tables were prepared; however, tonight is not one of those nights. Few people wait in the entry lounge, and only half of the tables are full in the large room beyond the entry.

After a moment of waiting, Iltar notices a young hostess approaching from the bar opposite the entry; she had been away from her duties and her embarrassment is apparent as she approaches. She knew better than to keep customers with Iltar’s appearance waiting.

“H-How many are with you?” the young woman asks, flustered as she looks at Iltar with slight trepidation.

“My friends are most likely seated as we speak, I’ll look for them myself,” the necromancer states coldly as he walks by the young girl.

“Yes… Yes sir,” the hostess stammers from behind him.

With that said, Iltar ambles through the center of the tavern, meticulously scanning the large room. He doesn’t recognize his friends’ faces, so he continues to the east of the building through a wide hall, passing a corridor leading to the kitchen and a set of stairs ascending to the establishment’s second floor.

Over the years the tavern has grown in its popularity, which warranted an expansion. Another room, much like the first but without a bar, is partially full. This room has become a favorite for many of the taverns patrons, due to the views from the windows and the sounds of the sea that can be heard from time to time.

A familiar face catches Iltar’s eye to his left, and he continues to the booth. The enclosure is large enough to seat several people on each side of the glossy wood table. Deep red fabric, with colorful designs of gold, dark green and brown threads adorn the crimson cushions.

Three man sit at the booth, each in their early fifties and show signs of wrinkles around their eyes and highlights of gray in their hair. They wear casual attire, much like Iltar. Their light chatter continuing as he approaches, and Iltar nonchalantly sits beside the man on the left bench. The other two sit across the table, one much shorter than the other.

“…I tell you. If it wasn’t for that crazy old man we wouldn’t be here today!” the short man squeaks out in a high-pitched voice, sitting in the corner opposite of Iltar. This short man has a slender jawline with light brown hair with a sharp nose that dots his face. His hazel eyes try to focus on the men around him but shift from side to side.

“Sure, Hagen,” the tall man across from Iltar responds. “But we all know it was Igan here who got us out of that mess.” He points to the man beside the necromancer.

“Okay Hex…” Hagen drunkenly admits. “Igan had the strategy but the old man was the one who executed the plan… and greetings Iltar,” the short man nods his head with a platonic smile for their new guest.

Iltar nods and relaxes. Although he doesn’t admit it, he relishes these times with Cornar and these men, his only true friends. The members of the council are mere acquaintances when compared to them.

“So we’re just missing Amendal…” Hagen muses, looking around. Then with a smile he exclaims, “I love that old codger!”

“How much has he been drinking?” Iltar asks bemused.

“The usual,” Igan responds and glances at Iltar. “Just one drink.”

Igan is of average height, a thick build and light brown hair with eyes of the same color. His bare face is slightly rounded and currently shows no amusement for the conversation at hand.

“Yes, the illusionist can’t hold his liquor!” Hex quips. He is almost as tall as Iltar and has light blonde hair with dull blue-gray eyes. He is the most slender of the four men.

“That’s not true…” Hagen turns to Hex and gives him a sullied look. “Waiter!”

Hagen waves his hand in the air attempting to grab the young man’s attention from across the room, who is serving warm meals to a young couple. However, Hagen’s shout doesn’t carry over the chatter in the large room.

“Good luck,” Hex chuckles, then he and Igan jovially continue to berate their friend.

Amid the banter, Iltar notices Hagen’s demeanor changing; the short man swallows hard and crosses his eyes in an attempt to focus on the corridor Iltar had previously traversed.

Furrowing his brow, Iltar turns around and notices a shrouded figure who slowly enters the large space.

The hooded man, dressed in a black robe and a cowl made of the same material, saunters through the dining chamber. His face is hidden from view, and the light of the lanterns do not penetrate the shadows cast upon his face.

A smile spreads across Iltar’s face as he turns back to face the others and he chuckles softly. Out of the corner of his eyes, Iltar watches as the figure approaches him and his friends; the stranger’s facial features still blackened by the clothing.

A hand raises from the figures side and points at the table. “Is there room?” a deep voice bellows from beneath the cowl.

“Of course. Sit down Amendal,” Iltar says as he moves slightly closer to Igan.

The old man, nearly twenty years older than the necromancer, removes his cowl and sits down on the cushioned bench. Amendal has a neatly trimmed beard and short hair. His long face is wrinkled and shows his age. Yet his green eyes are alert and vibrant, still full of youth.

“We were just talking about you, old man,” Hex says from across the table.

“Oh, I hope it wasn’t anything…” the newcomer pauses while looking around the table, “Insulting.”

“I was just reminiscing of the time you saved us while we were exploring the ruins of Karthar,” Hagen remarks, slightly slurring his words.

The oldest of the friendly quintet looks at the drunken man in the corner with a raised brow, “When was that…?”

“See,” Hex looks at Hagen, “He doesn’t remember, just give the credit to Igan.”

With a blank stare Hagen looks around at the four others and says, “Maybe he’s going senile.”

Iltar attempts to hold back the laughter, but it bursts through his stern composure. Hex and Igan follow suit and the table erupts with the sounds of humor. Even Amendal chuckles.

“You better stop spreading that story Hagen,” Amendal says through the others’ laughter. “It would be bad if people discovered I was soft in my younger years.”

Hearing the words, the others laugh even harder at Amendal’s remarks.

After the laughter settles, Hex speaks up, “This is great! If we only had Cornar here it’d be just like old times.”

“Where is Cornar?” Igan asks, “I would have thought he’d come. Didn’t you ask him, Iltar?”

“He’s busy tonight,” Iltar replies flatly.

“That’s a pity,” Hagen says, looking down at his empty mug.

“What? That mug or the lack of Cornar’s presence?” Hex jests and continues laughing.

“Both…”

Amid the exchange, Iltar looks around Amendal, searching for someone to wait on them.

Noticing the necromancer’s probing glance, Amendal shakes his head. “Just because it is a stormy night, it doesn’t mean you have to cut your staff.” He turns away from the table and waves his hands in the open space just beyond the fabric bench, softly uttering a magical incantation.

“Oh no…” Hagen trails off, noticing Amendal’s spell casting.

Yellow magic wisps together, forming a waist-high oval shape just in front of the old man. Amendal continues to wave his hands and finishes reciting the incantation.

Iltar sits back and folds his arms, patiently waiting for Amendal to finish.

“I hope you’re not conjuring something to eat,” Igan leans forward, looking at the opening golden portal.

“Like that time outside Durash!” Hagen exclaims.

“Exactly,” Igan grunts, disgust forming upon his face.

Amendal was one of the oldest conjurers on Soroth and well versed in the magical discipline. Much like Iltar, he spent most of his time in seclusion within his woodland estate, conjuring creatures and testing the limits of his concentration.

The others watch intently as the old man finishes his spell. They wait in anticipation for what is about to come forth. Amendal was known for his unstable mental state, and when he conjured creatures without prior planning it often resulted in unusual and disturbing twists.

After several moments, a creature emerges from the mystical vortex, about the height of an average man’s torso, covered in dark skin. It flutters in the air, flapping its spotted transparent wings. The creature turns around to face Amendal and the rest of the men at the booth.

Its bottom half is snake-like; a tail curls as the being dances in the air. Above the waist the creature is similar to a human, with a chest, arms and hands. The head of the twisted being is round, with a snout much like a sea horse and eyes that are small and black. At the end of the snout, the lips curl and the creature articulates with its long tongue.

“What is your bidding, Master?” the creature asks in a high pitch tone.

“Fench, I’m hungry! Get the chef to prepare our meals. I want my usual. And grab another drink for Hagen, whatever he was having, I’m sure you can smell it.”

“Yes, Master,” the creature bobs and buzzes off through the corridor adjoining the two rooms of the tavern.

“Have I ever conjured something to eat?” Amendal turns to the others in reply, annoyed by the previous question.

“No… but you’re crazy enough to try it,” Hex shoots back in a questioning tone.

“That is one ugly fairy…” Hagen says, looking at his empty mug.

“It’s not like you haven’t seen him before,” Hex laughs and elbows Hagen in the chest.

After several moments, Fench with another large mug, filled to the brim. The liquid contents spills over as the creature sets it on the glossy table in front of Hagen, and the conjuration smiles with his strange lips.

“I also brought these, Master, for your friends,” in the creature’s other hand he holds several stretched parchments on thin wooden planks, menus of the tavern’s services.

“Master Iltar,” Fench hands the menu to the necromancer, and Iltar returns a ungrateful gesture. The conjuration distributes the menus in quick succession, then hovers beside his master.

“Thank you, Fench,” Amendal states curtly.

A moment later, a hurried young man stumbles to the table, “I’m sorry, sirs, there are few of us today. I will take your orders to the kitchen if you’re ready.”

The men order their respective meals and resume their jovial conversation, recalling various exploits they undertook throughout the years.

Outside, the storm continues to brew. Iltar and his friends’ booth allows for a perfect view of the tempest. Iltar muses to himself, This is the ideal setting for my request tonight. And they’re already reminiscing about adventure…

A quarter of an hour later, the waiter promptly returns with their meals. The cuisine is masterfully prepared, well cooked and neatly organized in a fashion pleasant to the eye; this tavern was a favorite of theirs for a reason.

As they eat, the evening’s conversation shifts to the events which transpired in the city the last several days.

“It really is a tragedy,” Hagen says between swallows, “The revolt within the Order could cripple all of our livelihoods.”

“Speak for yourself, Hagen,” Igan responds. “Most of mine and Hex’s apprentices have come from people we know, or who have personally sought us out.”

“Still, it casts a bad shadow on us wizards,” Hex interjects. “The rebellion has the potential to ruin the Order.”

Iltar sits quietly and listens, waiting for just the right moment to spring his plot. He is pleased as it falls right into his lap.

“That’s what happens when a group of necromancers take over and rename your guild,” Amendal mumbles through his teeth, his mouth partially full of food. “Fifty years ago this incident wouldn’t have even occurred, let alone taken root.”

“Fifty years ago we were still sucking for our mothers’ milk,” Hagen spurts, laughing.

Raising his brow at the drunken mage, Amendal continues, “In those days each seat of the Sorothian Magical Order’s council occupied a head of each school of magic. No offense Iltar.” Amendal glances at his friend beside him, “But those in charge do not know how to maintain the Order.” The old man takes a deep swallow before continuing his rare logical speech.

“First of all, they allowed themselves to be captured. I heard that several of them were napping when the incident occurred! And the acolytes with their mercenaries burst right into their chambers and bound them. Does no one keep their doors trapped anymore?!” Amendal shakes his head at the thought.

“If that were fifty years ago, the council members would have posted guards in and outside their rooms, plus have their doors magically locked. And even if they could get in, it would prove fatal. In those days the masters of magic kept many spells actively in motion about them, even as they slept!”

“Amendal has a point,” Iltar says, “And things will change.”

“What do you mean?” Hex asks, looking toward the man who has said little all night. “What has the council decided?”

Iltar can’t help but smile and chuckle. “They’ve put me in charge of leading an expedition to seek out new acolytes. It was my idea of course, so naturally I was given the charge.

“I have been thinking of the details as we’ve sat here, and as Amendal was speaking,” he gestures to the eldest mage, “It dawned on me! If we are to rebuild the Order, and I don’t mean recapture its former glory, not yet at least, we need to diversify our teachings.”

The four other men nod their heads, catching Iltar’s point.

The necromancer looks carefully at each of them, feeling an uncharacteristic spike of nerves. Was he really going to con his oldest friends into his own designs? Yes, he knew he would. He needed them.

“I need the four of you to come with me, to help me rebuild our Order–”

“An adventure!” Hagen gasps with drunken excitement.

Iltar smirks a smile, stares at Hagen for a moment then continues, “And find new apprentices, not just those suitable for necromancy.

“I can use an arcanist,” Iltar looks to Igan then to Hex, “And an elementalist. You both represent the wizarding arts and are quite expert in your disciplines. And another illusionist,” Iltar adds, looking to Hagen. “New apprentices will need to see someone such as yourself, Hagen. And of course,” the necromancer glances to Amendal, “We must show off our best conjurer.”

“In one week I will appear before the council with the details of the journey. If you need, I will authorize a share of the expenses of the trip to go to you,” Iltar remains solemn, and the others seriously contemplate his offer.

“I don’t need a new apprentice,” Amendal raises his voice, as if the thought of a new student angers him.

Turning to his friend, Iltar attempts to pacify him, “You don’t have to have an apprentice Amendal, just help us find new students.”

“I have had two apprentices for forty years! Even though they are masters of conjuration, they are still my apprentices, and I will not take anymore!” the old man stubbornly folds his arms and furrows his brow.

Slightly annoyed at his friend’s instability Iltar replies, “That’s fine, but will you come with us?”

“I might…” Amendal’s green emeralds stare almost distraught into Iltar’s sapphire eyes, “Scare them.”

“Then you scare them. Consider it a way of filtering out the weak.” Iltar mollifies the old man and looks to his other three friends. “What about the rest of y–”

“More brandleberry wine?” the waiter interrupts.

Iltar looks at the boy, feeling disgust, but makes an effort to remain calm and extends his glass past Amendal.

Hagen, Hex, and Igan ponder on Iltar’s request as the boy pours the wine for them. After he leaves, they continue contemplating. They hesitate to answer, but the thoughts of traveling with Iltar again are enough to push them to answer positively. For many years, from their youth to just a decade ago, each of them had the privilege of exploring some part of the world with Iltar. The necromancer had left a legacy behind him, and it was this memory that stirred their answers.

“Yes,” Hex replies, looking at Iltar with a sense of loyalty.

“Count me in,” Igan states, putting his hand on Iltar’s shoulder.

“I guess so,” Hagen says with a smile.

Iltar turns to Amendal, who is still folding his arms. Sometimes Amendal’s condition made him childlike, stubborn, rude, sporadic, impatient, and full of surprises.

“Well?” the necromancer asks slowly, nudging the old conjurer with his elbow.

“Fine, I’ll go.”

“Then it’s settled,” Iltar says with a smile. “I don’t know when we will leave, I will probably give that task to Cornar. He–”

“Cornar’s coming?” Hagen interrupts excitedly, “Aw, this is going to be great!”

“Yes, he is coming, as well as several of his men; and I intend for it to be better than great,” Iltar remarks with a smile.

  • * * * *

Later that evening, as Iltar relaxes in his study within his tower, he hears the galloping of a horse. Roused with excitement, the necromancer rises from his chair and pulls the window’s curtains aside, looking beyond the stone wall surrounding his tower.

The two moons of Kalda, still in their full phases, shine down and illuminate the grounds of Iltar’s estate. A lone man gently gets off his horse, and Iltar’s groomsman takes the horse into the stables. The man, dressed in a dark brown garb briskly treads across the stone pathway from the wall’s gate to the tower’s entrance. Iltar can see him salute, undoubtedly to the guards posted as sentinels. The sound of the tower’s doors opening and closing reach Iltar’s ears and he slowly paces back to his seat.

Moments after relaxing himself against the soft velvet high back chair, a firm knock raps against the door to the study.

“Come in,” Iltar calls.

The door opens, and Cornar steps through the threshold of the doorway. He closes the wooden door and takes the seat in front of Iltar. The table that had held the contents discovered by Cornar is all cleared away, and the inlayed stone surface dully reflects the light of both the magical orbs in the room.

“I apologize for being late,” Cornar says as he leans forward, “Karenna was keeping me busy.”

Iltar gives a chuckle, still leaning back, “Does she suspect something?”

“She always knows when I’m about to embark on an adventure,” Cornar sighs, shaking his head. “I don’t know what I do. Perhaps she can just sense it in the air.”

Cornar also relaxes back in his chair, both men tired from their labors.

“So, how do you plan to find more apprentices?” Cornar breaks the silence.

“I won’t,” Iltar shakes his head. “I have no intention of looking for more young would-be-rebels.”

“What? Ah, I see, a ruse–”

“Cornar, no interjection,” Iltar interrupts his loyal friend. “Let me speak. You just listen.”

Scowling, Cornar sits sullenly in his chair.

“Oh, my friend, don’t be angry. You are the only one I trust with the details of our journey.”

“What are the details, then?” Cornar asks, attempting to be aloof.

“The Dragon’s Isle is the key. While we waited for those foolish youths to kill themselves, I continued my research with the texts you delivered. From what I could deduce from the scrolls and the books, the amulet must be there, or at least part of it. Either the amulet or the ruby. The elvish scroll said there was a protector or a guardian on the island. I don’t know what it is, but there is something there. It was only barely referenced in the scroll, with half the reference missing. The books said that the island was not only the dragon’s burial ground, but also the site of a great battle during the dragon wars: the place where the amulet was first used. And who knows what other artifacts could be there!

“Perhaps we shall find a caretaker, or even a dragon there that will give us a clue. The guardian might in fact be a platinum dragon! Think of it! We’ll be the first men to see a dragon in hundreds of years… beside Amendal.”

Cornar raises his brow then interjects, “Amendal went crazy on that expedition. I doubt he really saw a dragon.”

Iltar chuckles then continues, “Whatever the guardian is, we will extract the amulet’s secrets from it, and how to travel between worlds.

“But anything else we find on Draco Isola will be valuable beyond measure! Cornar, a great treasure awaits us there, greater than anything we’ve discovered. I need your help, my friend. The council’s mission is the best way to conceal this adventure.” Iltar’s eyes alight with a fire of his vision. He eagerly stares at Cornar with more excitement than his friend has seen from him in years.

Cornar sits up straighter in his chair and looks at Iltar with wide eyes. “That’s quite ambitious. Do you think you can keep that hidden from the council?”

“Of course,” Iltar retorts arrogantly, stifled by his friend’s lack of initial enthusiasm. “I have recruited our loyal friends. They don’t know the truth, yet. I garnered their assistance with a false story, needing their aid to find new students of the arts, not just necromancy. And the others going along won’t know what we are doing until we get to our destination, including your men. Once we return no one will be able to do anything about it.”

“The only problem is that nowhere does it state in any of the scrolls we have where the stone to travel between worlds is located. A piece of the amulet appears to be on the dragon’s island, but nothing about the stone.”

“Doesn’t that worry you?” Cornar asks with sincere concern, “That we may find the amulet but without the red dragons it’s worthless, right?”

“Yes that is true. But if the stone is not on the island there should at least be a clue to its whereabouts. These scrolls seem to hint that the amulet and the magic to travel between worlds was not broken apart to be hidden forever; we are being pointed to a secret treasure that wants to be found.”

Cornar stares hard at Iltar. He knew Iltar would embark on this adventure with or without his aid, and the thought of his old friend pursuing this quest alone was not something Cornar could permit.

“I’ll help,” Cornar stoically states, “But I hope you’re right. Otherwise, when we return with no apprentices, and with the crew and the company telling tall tales of dragons! How will you deal with that?”

“When and if that time comes,” Iltar waggles his finger. “Alacor and the others are no match for my power. For now we need to outfit this expedition.”

4

Voyage

 

Seven days later, on an evening much clearer than his last excursion, Iltar rides through the woodland path toward the city of Soroth. His horse canters at a scene-watchers pace, but for Iltar it gives him time to recount his pre-planned rhetoric for the council. The necromancer is dressed in a dull black tunic, and matching pants. Black leather boots and gloves shield his extremities, his usual attire for travel.

As the city comes into view, Iltar pays no attention to the vista but focuses on pressing forward along the dirt highway.

Waiting near the gates of the city is the familiar face Cornar. The warrior sits comfortably in the saddle atop his brown stallion, and as Iltar approaches, Cornar turns his steed to follow his friend.

“Greetings, Iltar,” Cornar says bringing his horse to a canter to match Iltar.

“Are all the preparations finished, Cor?” Iltar asks, still looking straight ahead.

Sensing his friend’s aloof mood the warrior replies, “Yes, my men are ready. However, we will be short one; my nephew cannot make this trip, but you already know that.

“And our friend Kenard will gladly pilot the ship. It took some convincing, but the owner of the Farling will let us use it, at least for this voyage.”

Farling will do, I suppose,” Iltar ponders, “But why aren’t we using the White Duchess?”

“Well,” Cornar sighs, “It’s impounded.”

Taken aback, Iltar shakes his head, “What happened?”

“Kenard didn’t say,” Cornar turns to Iltar, “Perhaps he’ll tell you.”

“And what of the crew? Is Kenard bringing his men?”

“Not all of them; some booked passage away to other places when he lost his ship.

“And, of course, our usual band of thieving misfits is joining us.” Cornar’s enthusiasm for this last lot is lacking. Their ringleader had often butted heads with Cornar, especially in prior adventures.

Humored by Cornar’s mention of the thieves, Iltar asks, “Just, Tilthan and Nath, right? I know Sharon is with your nephew.”

“No, they’re bringing along someone new; a man named Nemral. Someone both Tilthan and Nath know from Klath.”

“Can he be trusted?” Iltar stops and amends his statement, “Well, I know the others can’t, but his loyalty can at least be bought, I take it?”

“It sounds like it,” Cornar shrugs and continues with his explanation. “I met with Tilthan and told him we were on a mission from the council, a secret mission, and that the details of the endeavor should not be discussed until we reached our destination. He made it seem like Nemral would comply.”

“Good,” Iltar says curtly. “But does this Nemral have those items which would make him truly useful?”

“Yes,” Cornar replies. “Nemral knew Cedath; it sounded like he had bought a pair of lenses and a cloak from him just before his death.”

“Probably Cedath’s things,” Iltar nods his head. “You don’t see many cloaks like that, or lenses for that matter. I can imagine it cost this Nemral quite a bit of coin.

“And our magically adept friends are bringing their apprentices, except for Hagen.”

“This will be almost like old times,” Cornar remarks.

“Yes…” Iltar agrees, trailing off.

The two men continue to ride together in silence until they reach the gates of Iltar’s destination. They bid each other farewell, and Iltar casually guides his horse inside then down the path to the stables.

  • * * * *

As Iltar reaches the council chambers he notices death’s stench is finally gone and there appears to be no more signs of battle. The room itself has been repaired; the damage caused by the rebel’s errant magic was smoothed over by a substance native to Kalda that could mimic the appearance of stone. It was often used in the maintenance of many stone structures around the world.

Iltar takes his usual seat on the left of the council table. He looks around the table and raises his brow, noticing he is not the last to arrive.

After several minutes Jalel, the youngest member of the council enters, taking his seat across from Iltar.

With all their members at the table, Alacor rises and greets them.

“My brothers, welcome,” Alacor extends his hands toward the six other necromancers, and they each bow their heads in return. “I have very high hopes for tonight. Tomorrow, a glorious new day will dawn upon our Order. Master Iltar, the floor is yours.” He speaks the last to Iltar as he sits in his elaborate chair.

“Indeed, tomorrow will be glorious,” Iltar starts his speech. He restrains his hopes for his own glory and power and focuses instead on the lie he is about to spin.

“These past few days I have meditated on the cause of our plight, and also counseled with men I deem to be wise; men whom I have often looked to for solutions to other dilemmas.

“One man, whom many of us hold in high esteem, Amendal Aramein, brought the pages of the past to my attention. Now, I do not mean my suggestion as a complete reformation,” Iltar placating extends his hand, seeing some of the members frown. “But only as a suggestion to rekindle our former glory.

“In the days before our tenure here at our Order, the council was balanced among the seven schools of magic. That is not practical for our time,” Iltar interjects, shrugging off the notion of reforming the Necrotic Order. “However, it came to me that if we are to rebuild our great Order, we must also include other schools of magic in our posterity’s education.”

Hearing Iltar’s words, several of the members of the council fold their arms, physically rejecting the notion. However, Iltar expected this, and he continues in a vein he hopes they will be open to.

“Necromancy, the source of our power, is supreme. It shall reign supreme among the newer members of our Order. But they shall have other influences at first. By offering more, we can gather more, and without incurring too many followers than the six of us can handle.

“I myself was not introduced into the magical arts solely by necromancy. The illusionary art was my initial training; yet, I realized at a young age that true power was held in necromancy.”

Across the table, Melnor and Jalel ease their defensive composure and lean forward, intrigued by Iltar’s speech.

“Therefore, in an effort to broaden our potential, I have chosen to take several of this island’s finest mages with me. I will use their wisdom and experience in choosing the right candidates for our order.

“In the mean time, I propose a task for the rest of you to undertake: choose men, or even women, versed in the other schools of magical arts. When I return with a flock they shall be ready to nouris–”

“I hope this is not a means to establish an unequal power base within the Order, Iltar,” Jalel speaks up, interrupting Iltar’s address. “I would hate for this to be a seed of nepotism, planted in order to gain control of the council at some future time.”

Deliberately hesitating, Iltar glances at the younger council member; Jalel himself was a product of the same act he accused Iltar of plotting. For he was brought to the brotherhood of the council on account of being the younger brother of Alacor, several years ago.

“I assure you,” Iltar clears his throat, “My friends, masterful as they are at their individual crafts, have no desire for the council.”

Looking directly at Jalel, Iltar says in a calm assuring voice, “And I thought after these many years you would have known me by now, Jalel. To think I would bring someone onto the council because they are close to me? I do not operate by such cowardice.”

The other council members quietly observe Iltar; though his words are calm, all knew his comments were an indirect attack upon the leader of their guild.

For many years Iltar had considered Alacor weaker than himself in the arts and assumed that his true strength was only in politics. His rise to the council was much like his younger brother. His meager talents were boastfully elevated by his former master. The latter had been a standing member of the council for many years and had earned his right through true tests of power. It was a time right before the magical disciplines became unbalance within the Order.

Quickly breezing over the tension, Iltar continues. “I have no intention of usurping this council.” These words, at least, Iltar speaks truthfully. The council is too small for Iltar’s ambition, and like all other things in his life, is a mere stepping-stone in his search for power.

“With these men, I intend to first search the surrounding islands. After this initial sweep, we will move on to the mainland, and perhaps some of the other islands in that vicinity.

“I have booked a ship, the Farling, and hired Captain Joselin Kenard, pending your approval, to sail us to our destinations. Cornar and several of his men will also accompany us. However, Cornar and his men will provide for themselves for this journey. Thus the only dependants for this trip will be the crew, myself and the other four mages. I estimate we shall be gone for several months. If needed I will use my own fortune to help finance the voyage, at least for my needs and those of my friends I convinced to come along.”

With his proposal concluded, and Jalel sufficiently cowed, Iltar sits in his chair. From across the table he notices Melnor chuckling; his face showing his belief in Iltar’s last statement. Iltar knew it rang true to Melnor, and he hopes his belief will add a sense of seriousness to his proposition.

“Is there any amendment to be made Iltar’s plan?” Alacor asks, leaning back in his chair.

“No,” Melnor responds quickly. “I move for a formality.”

“Is there a second?” Alacor looks to the other four necromancers.

On Alacor’s left, Toroth, who had remained silent nods his head in affirmation and Iltar feels a modicum of relief; he hadn’t realized his apprehension about the acceptance of his proposal until it was no longer in danger.

“Then it’s decided. Iltar, meet with the keeper of the treasury to finalize the funding of the expedition,” Alacor commands and continues with the meeting.

Ignoring what he deems, trivial matters, Iltar’s mind is taken elsewhere. He muses, This was the easy part. Keeping the true nature of my expedition, and any subsequent trips concealed from the other six members of the council will be another matter altogether.

  • * * * *

The next morning, just an hour after sunrise, the crew of the Farling gathers at the south eastern most pier of Soroth’s docks. Dark clouds had gathered earlier that morning, and the port city was shrouded in a dull gray sky.

The crew had been gathered by Cornar from different parts of the island and the neighboring satellite landmasses; except for Kenard and the handful of seamen loyal to him. Those hired were a hard lot, eager for adventure. Cornar knows this, and although he gave no details, he hinted at the possibility. However, none of them truly comprehended the journey before them, and when the adventure becomes a reality they can easily be silenced with payment.

At the far end of the wharf, near the bottom of a gangway Captain Kenard stands, gazing upon the vessel with his blue eyes. He is of middling height, with shoulder-length blonde hair with a thick streak of gray. High cheek bones, and slender features highlight his face, though a thin beard appears to have been shaved only several days earlier. His loose gray and white clothing rustles in the breeze.

Joselin Kenard was a hard man, both inside and out. Throughout most of his life he had sailed the seas between Soroth and the mainland. At the time of this expedition he had no ship of his own, due to his own mistakes. Kenard was a smuggler and a pirate, but those were not the reasons his ship was taken from him. These vocations were quietly looked over, and for the right price, permitted within Soroth, along with other nefarious practices.

“Captain Kenard,” a shrouded figure, dressed in a black robe and cowl, calls out from farther up the walkway of the pier. “Does it meet with your approval?”

Turning to face the figure, the captain steals a glance under the cowl and recognizes his features. “Of course, Master Iltar! It’s a fine vessel. Are the armaments needed? Cornar didn’t tell me we would face anything at sea…”

“One never knows, especially where we are going,” Iltar responds as he reaches the captain’s side. “Uncharted waters… you can never be too careful.”

“Humph! Tor and Klis are not uncharted…” Kenard narrows his eyes at Iltar, but then relaxes. If nothing else, he trusted Iltar’s wit; if the necromancer thought they might need them then they should probably have them. “Well we had better be going. We don’t want to lose the morning breeze.” Captain Kenard turns and quickly boards the ship across the gangway.

“Tell me, Captain, what happened to your ship?” Iltar asks as he follows Kenard up the gangway and onto the deck of the Farling.

Laughing and shaking his head, Kenard responds, “Magistrate Rosten decided to up the fee for my last shipment,” he says disgustedly. “And since I had already paid most of my expenses with the commissions I had made I was short his additional tax.”

“So he had your ship impounded?”

“Exactly!” Kenard turns to Iltar and waggles his index finger.

“What a pity,” Iltar says with a total lack of sympathy.

“And to make matters worse, the fee continues to rise for every day I leave the ship in their care,” the captain spits on the deck. “I fear I shall never sail with her again.”

“I wouldn’t count on that,” Iltar says with a sly smile, and walks across the deck of the Farling to the stairwell leading to the lower reaches of the ship. Before he descends he gives a single order, “And, Captain, after everyone is aboard, sail around the island till we are out of sight of the city, then head northward.”

“As you wish,” Kenard calls out and continues to examine the ship.

The Farling measures eighty feet from stem to stern; it is comparable to one of the mid-sized ships of the Sorothian Navy. It houses four decks, two below and one above the main deck on the aft third of the vessel. Three masts line the center of the ship, each with three large sails. The armaments mentioned earlier by the captain were four cannons, two at the bow and two along the aft of the vessel.

Shortly after Iltar boards the ship, the mages of his company arrive at the wharf where the Farling is docked.

Amendal is the first to come aboard the Farling, shrouded in his typical black robes. The old conjurer had always sought to portray a deathly appearance. Fear was his greatest ally, but his appearance was not the only eerie aspect about him. He had been known within Iltar’s order for his impressive ability to summon the most monstrous of creatures. He keeps a battalion of the creatures at his home in the deep forests of the island.

Amendal’s two apprentices, who were grown men themselves and masters of the conjuration arts, are also dressed in charcoal robes. They walk behind their former master. The eldest, who was only a few years younger than Iltar, is a tall man named Lorith. He is heavy enough to create a stark contrast with the other, who is short and very thin. However both men have similar shades of auburn hair. The younger, Dith, has just finished his trials and is in his mid-twenties.

Igan and Hex, and their apprentices Tinal and Renal, respectively, and Hagen cheerfully arrive several minutes after Amendal.

Hagen had met up with the quartet earlier that morning, because he hated traveling by himself. Since Hagen was without the company of his former apprentice, Hem, who was off on an errand from the council that started several weeks prior, he was in need of company.

Both Tinal and Renal were of the same age, taking up their training of the magical arts in their youth. Their parents, although not related, had known of their two wizardly masters and their exploits, many of which were undertaken with Iltar and Cornar. It was this fame that drove the two families to petition Igan and Hex to take their sons as apprentices. After all, powerful mages can bring affluence to a family.

The last mage to join them is Clodin, a necromancer in his early thirties, and Iltar’s first apprentice. To Iltar he was like a younger brother, something Iltar had never experienced. Clodin was an average man in appearance and in his magical abilities, but he could be trusted, and this trait would easily outbalance his weaknesses in the coming voyage.

After Clodin boards the vessel, a loud and rowdy commotion draws the crew and mages’ attention. Further down the pier, three men, apparently drunk, sing out of key as they stumble toward the ship’s gangway.

Hagen and Igan, who are standing on the vessel’s portside, notice the trio walking towards the Farling, and briefly look at each other with disappointment.

“Great,” Hagen sarcastically says in his typical high-pitched voice. “The thieves… This is going to be a long trip.” He pushes off the portside rail and walks toward the stairwell to the lower decks.

Focusing on the three men across the rail, Igan raises his brow as they stumbling onto the gangway. The thieving troupe established by Tilthan had expanded from him and his friend from youth, Nath, to a young woman named Sharon and this new individual which he didn’t recognize.

“It appears you already have your sea legs, Tilthan,” the wizard sarcastically remarks, frowning in annoyance.

“Igan!” Tilthan drunkenly cries from the center of the trio. The thief is dressed in a dark velvet tunic, and matching pants, a simple pack bounces at his side as he walks. He has short brown hair and dark brown eyes with a thin face. Under each of his arms are the shoulders of his thieving companions.

“It’s about time,” Tilthan continues. “We haven’t had an adventure together, in… well, forever! What has it been, four years?”

“I wish,” Igan responds with his arms folded. “Try two and a half.”

“Really?” Tilthan leaves the company of his compatriots and walks forward. “Either way, it’s good to see you.”

“I don’t know if I can say the same, Tilthan,” Igan responds matter-of-factly.

“C’mon,” Tilthan slaps the wizard on the arm, “You’ll warm back up to me. We’ll have so much fun doing… whatever we’re doing.”

Why are they here? Igan wonders. His mind race about the true nature of their expedition. If we’re to find apprentices why would we need thieves? Iltar only brings Tilthan and his little band along for dire adventures. Something is amiss.

Shaking off the thoughts, Igan narrows his eyes at Tilthan. “You really don’t know?”

“Nah,” Tilthan waves his hand drunkenly. “You know Cornar, he rarely tells you what’s going on until you’re right in the heat of it! Wait… that’s Iltar, but you know what I mean.” Tilthan turns around and exaggeratedly walks toward his two friends trying to keep his balance.

Nath, the other thief Igan recognizes steps backward, letting Tilthan slip and fall on the wooden deck. He laughs at his friend, who struggles to get up. Nath is of a similar build as Tilthan but with lighter brown hair and hazel eyes. Both thieves are shorter than average but very agile. Each are strong for their size and have often come in handy during previous adventures.

The third thief chuckles at the scene and folds his arms. He is slightly taller than the other two and is of a thicker build. Thick black hair waves atop his head. Upon his face are brown freckles, light skin and a thin nose. Blue eyes flash amid his amusement.

After a short while, Nath helps his friend up from the deck. The three thieves stumble below deck to find their quarters, singing along the way.

Once the thieves leave, Igan leans back against the rail and lets his thoughts overtake him again. I suppose I will have to wait until Cor arrives to find out what is really going on.

Igan waits for half an hour, and watches as Cornar arrives with his men, twenty experienced warriors, all trained by Cornar himself.

Each of these men are fiercely loyal to Cornar; after all he often shared his wealth with them on excursions which they participated. Cornar is not greedy, and understood that to make progress he had to elevate those around him.

Many of Cornar’s men pull several carts, carrying food and other supplies for the long voyage. Cornar stands to the side of the gangway as his men unload the newly purchased goods, directing them where to place the supplies.

Once the supplies are emptied from the cart, Cornar ascends the gangway onto the Farling’s main deck.

“Everything is in order, Cor,” a middle-aged man greets the older as he steps onto the main deck. He is a little taller than Cornar, and of a sturdy muscular build. His short light brown hair, is neatly combed. His hazel eyes are sharp, with a thin jaw line and narrow chin accentuating his features.

“Thank you, Kalder,” Cornar responds, patting Kalder’s shoulder and walking toward the vessel’s aft.

Igan watches the elder warrior and whistles in a pattern used as a signal by Cornar and the others.

Hearing the signal, Cornar turns with a smile and walks toward the wizard shouting, “Igan, my friend!”

“Cor,” the wizard grins and steps forward to give his friend a quick embrace.

“It looks as if we’re prepared for war,” Igan remarks pointedly. “What with your warriors and the thieves down below. I was under the impression that this expedition was a simple recruitment procedure.”

“Well, you can never be too cautious,” Cornar responds vaguely, “We don’t know who we might encounter while Iltar and the rest of you work your magic.”

“But the thieves… Iltar has never brought them along for a mission like this.”

“Maybe Iltar wants to steal some babies,” Cornar laughs. “I have other things to take care of before we leave, but let’s talk later.”

Nodding his head, Igan returns to the rail, deep in thought. He had known Iltar for many years and knew he was up to something, especially since no one had had a chance to discuss the details of the trip. It must be much bigger than rebuilding the Order, the wizard thinks to himself. Iltar surely can’t care that much about helping the council, especially with all that’s transpired over the years. Could this be–

“Prepare to depart!” Kenard yells from the helm, located to the aft and above Igan, jarring the wizard from his thoughts.

With the captain’s orders, the crew raises the ship’s anchors, and unfurls the sails.

Amid their actions, Igan holds the rail, enjoying the view of the shipyard and the city. The pier is empty, with no other activity in the area besides the creaking ship gliding into the sea.

  • * * * *

Later that day, a light wrapping at the door to the captain’s quarters calls Captain Kenard’s attention. He looks up from his desk, having been studying the sea charts of the region.

“Com–”

The door opens and Iltar slips in before the captain can finish his word. The old necromancer, still dressed in his dark robes, walks toward Kenard, and pulls a chair up to the captain’s side. Kenard was used to Iltar’s behavior, and the necromancer’s forwardness was often expected.

“How much has Cornar told you of our voyage?”

“Not much,” the captain leans back in his chair.

“Good, I will give you more details later; but we are to sail to this island,” Iltar pulls a scroll from his robes, the same that he copied the night before the rebellion.

“I cannot tell you much, but prior to our little incident within the Order a discovery came to our attention.”

The words pique the captain’s interest, and he leans in closer to see the scroll.

“Cornar is the only other man that knows the details, so keep your mouth shut, and you’ll be greatly rewarded.” Iltar’s eyes narrow at the captain.

Kenard can tell this is a very serious matter by Iltar’s expression, his veiled threat and promise. Rarely did the necromancer employ each means to motivate his hired help.

“This is a duplicate of a map that was delivered to the leader of my Order. From what I can tell it was drawn to scale. The last several days I’ve been comparing it with charts much like those.” He points to the ones sprawled across the polished wooden table. “If I am right, it will take us five days to reach it. This is our true destination,” Iltar states emphatically.

Kenard takes the parchment from Iltar’s hands and examines it. He glance to the necromancer and quips, “If it’s five days, it can’t be uncharted waters, can it?”

Iltar grins in amusement, the only reply he gives to Kenard’s jab at his remark before they boarded the Farling.

Kenard turns to the table, clearing the magnified charts to reveal a larger map of Kalda. He sets Iltar’s redrawn map next to the artistic portrait of the world, comparing the two.

“By Heleron’s name!” Kenard gasps, “It looks to be the same latitude as Merath… But there’s nothing there!”

The captain’s blue eyes stare at Iltar’s cold ones. There is a deathly determination about the necromancer.

“I believe the island slightly west of Soroth,” Iltar says. “There’s a strong current that flows northward; I’ve sailed it once while going to the Desolate lands.”

After several seconds of silence the necromancer asks, “Can you calculate the coordinates?”

“It might take me a moment, but sure.”

Amid the captain’s calculations, Iltar clasps his hands together, watching as the captain hastily measures the map. Kenard’s large hands tower over the parchment, creating shadows like massive storms.

The captain’s expertise shows through his quick calculations and steady hands. This reaffirms to Iltar that he made the right choice when placing Kenard in charge of the vessel.

“All right, I think I have it, they are–”

Iltar interrupts the captain by handing him a small sheet of crisp parchment, two numbers are all that rest upon its face. With the waxy sheet in the captain’s hand, Iltar rises from his chair and walks to the door.

Captain Kenard looks at the small sheet and laughs, “Typical.”

“Well?” Iltar asks before opening the door.

“They’re about right. Almost spot on, actually,” the captain replies, still leaning over the maps from his chair.

Iltar partially chuckles and with an arrogant smile quickly opens the door and strides out of the quarters.

  • * * * *

The early morning on the seventh day of their voyage is clear, and the ocean surface spreads as far as the eye can see.

Atop the highest mast of the ship a crewman of Captain Kenard’s crew nestles in for a shift that he deems will become long.

Several hours past sunrise, a faint speck appears in the distant sea. The crewman in the roost leans forward, pulling a thin cone-shaped cylinder made of gray metal from a pocket in the small lookout, a spyglass. He rotates the large end of the magnifying lens while pressing the smaller end to his right eye. He sees a span of dark gray rock in the distance through the misty lens.

The seaman quickly puts down the spyglass and roughly calculates the appropriate course change. He then shouts down to the upper deck of the vessel, “Captain! Land twelve degrees to port!”

Kenard’s first mate is at the wheel; he turns to the captain behind him, anticipating the order.

As the words reach Kenard he turns to the log book on the small bench near the helm’s wheel. After finishing the notation, Kenard nods to his first mate saying, “Go ahead, Cadru.”

The ship nears the island in a few hours with slight turbulence. As they approach the island in the distance, pockets of air erupt beneath the ship, causing the vessel to rock from side to side.

In response to the choppy waters, Iltar and many of the other mages come topside. Iltar walks to the ship’s starboard rail, holding on tightly while gliding to the raised forecastle, with Hagen and Hex following closely;

Once at the Farling’s bow, the mages stare at the island in the distance. It is fairly large, and the southern tip, an area covered with black jagged rock, heralds a grand view. Just beyond the rocky landscape the land rises. The eastern side of the island is walled with trees which prevent any view beyond the shore. Further ahead of the woodlands tower grayish-white peaks.

“Incredible,” Hex remarks at the sight. He turns to Hagen, raising his brow in surprise.

“Iltar, now that we’re here are you going to tell us what is going on?” Hagen squeaks, looking up at the necromancer; the illusionist stands almost half a head shorter than Iltar.

A burst from beneath the ship jolts the three men, and Iltar waits for a calm to answer. “Not yet. When we get ashore.”

“The air around the island is unusually warm for the sea this far north,” Hex comments as the ship presses forward.

Hagen answers Hex’s speculation with his own, and Iltar pushes past them back along the starboard rail. He looks to the quarterdeck and shouts, “Captain, a word!”

The necromancer descends the stairs and enters the captain’s quarters; once inside, another burst from the choppy waters rocks the ships, causing Iltar to stumble. However, he braces himself against the wall and continues to the table.

“Yes?” Captain Kenard asks as he walks into his quarters and shuts the door, knowing Iltar would only come in here for a private conversation. He walks across the room with no trouble, and Iltar suppresses a surge of envy.

“Let me tell you more about this island, come closer.”

Once the captain reaches Iltar’s side, both men look down at another hand-drawn map under Iltar’s hands.

“In the literature that accompanied this map, it made a note that there was only one way on to the island.” Pointing halfway up the small island and to its right on the map, he continues, “There’s a stretch of beach, approximately two thousand phineals wide. The text I read said it was the only safe place to anchor a ship, and judging by these violent waters I expect it will worsen as we get closer to the island.” (Now a phineal is a little under a foot and a half, or seventeen inches or forty three centimeters.)

Joselin nods his head in affirmation, “Yes, its increased in frequency and intensity since we spotted the island. I wouldn’t be surprised if the forces beneath us tear the ship apart.”

“It makes me wonder, with this increased heat, if we are atop a underwater volcano, or at least above pockets of one,” Iltar reflects.

“I’m going to slow the ship, I’d hate for us to snap apart trying to reach the island, and I’ll inform my crew of the beach.”

Kenard steps away and carefully walks to the doorway of his cabin; however before he leaves Iltar calls out to him.

“I will be taking this with me,” Iltar says, grabbing the maps and wraps them into a roll. “I need to plan our trip ashore.”

Kenard nods still focused on keeping his balance.

For the next several hours, the Farling slowly follows the eastern coastline. The black rocks they’d seen cover the entire southern tip in the form of crags that spire from the surf all along the eastern shore.

Dusk approaches when the lookout finally sights the beach mentioned by the captain. It was just as Iltar had described: a sandy beach only two thousand phineals long. The paradisiacal surf is nestled into a bay, where the rising forest ridge and the rocky crags meet. As the Farling glides into the shallow bay the turbulence ceases.

Members of the crew and the expedition alike come on deck and gather on the port side of the vessel. The calmed water and warm air are a welcome sight from the week-long journey.

At the helm, Kenard guides the ship into a suitable spot and lowers the anchor into the crystal blue water. There is a certain peace about the scene, a serenity that echoes from the vista. All aboard seem to feel it.

“Captain,” one of the crewman calls from the port rail. “Mind if we take a few of us to the shore?”

“I’d counsel against it,” Cornar quickly interjects. “There’s no telling what inhabits this island, or whether that pretty picture ahead of us is dangerous.”

Within the crowd, Iltar fights a similar excitement but calls out to the crowd, “Cornar is right! With nightfall approaching fast there’s no telling what dangers we would incur by simply being there.” He thinks to himself, And any injuries would just draw more attention when we would arrive back at Soroth, whenever that will be.

Kenard hollers, “I agree, and I don’t want to lose anyone. We’re shorthanded as it is.”

Disappointed, the crewman and several others lean against the rail and gaze off into the tropical scene.

“Cor,” Iltar leans toward the warrior, “Let’s plan out the land excursion tonight so we can get underway in the morning. I don’t want to waste any time.”

“Very well,” Cornar answers and continues gazing at the awe-inspiring view. “I’ll be down to your quarters shortly. I assume that’s where you want to meet?”

“Yes.”

  • * * * *

Half an hour later, Cornar joins Iltar in his cabin below deck. It is a small room, large enough for a bed and small table with a chair. The low ceiling rises just above Iltar’s head. The décor is sparse and the tiny chamber is windowless. Both men stand over the table containing the two maps.

The second map, that covers the right half of the atlas of Kalda, is a larger picture of the island just beyond the ship’s hull. It’s hand drawn and is sketched in a similar manner as the depiction beneath it.

“Here is what we know,” Iltar says, looking at the two maps. “This is the only point of access to the island’s interior, and there are mountains surrounding the entire northern half.”

Cornar looks at the second sheet of parchment, squinting at the drawing, “Where is this from? Is this from the second book I delivered to you?”

“Correct, there wasn’t much about the geography of the island in the books. Just this map and an account of the battle over the island and why the dragon’s hold the place sacred.”

“Did the scrolls say what is beyond the beach?” Cornar asks in a hopeful tone.

“Well, I don’t know what is between here and the mountains,” Iltar looks up at his friend next to him. “However, I do know that the scroll mentioned a cave that leads through the mountains. I worry that there could be a collapse or some other deformation since the scroll was written. That would be an unfortunate end to our journey. But either way these mountains are shielding the northern half of the island. That must be where the amulet, or pieces of it, are located.”

Studying his friend’s determined look, Cornar remarks, “Let’s hope your worries are ill-founded. Regardless, we are walking into a very dangerous place. Which reminds me, have you told the others the real intent of our little expedition?”

“Not yet, Cor,” Iltar shakes his head. “I am waiting until we get ashore.”

“You’re stalling. Why? Why not just tell them we are looking for an important artifact you found out about when you were studying these scrolls?” Cornar asks, pointing at Iltar’s trunk on the floor next to the bed. “They’re trusted friends, they’ll understand the need to keep it quiet from the council.”

“Holding back the truth, huh Cornar?” Iltar smiles.

“Of course. You will tell them everything eventually anyway. Those men are loyal to you; well, perhaps not the thieves, but the others are. They are definitely not power hungry. Hagen, by far, furthers from such ambition,” Cornar chuckles. He catches Iltar gazing in the distance beyond the ship’s hull and prods him with an elbow.

“True,” Iltar’s eyes narrow in thought. “And what about you, Cor?”

“Ha! I’m one of your most loyal friends. Maybe your only true friend!” He sees Iltar’s probing gaze and asks, “Right?” Cornar tilts his head toward Iltar, searching for a reassuring gesture while adding, “I’ve always been beside you, ever since our first brawl in that alley forty years ago. We’ve been abandoned, betrayed, and conspired against – How could you doubt me now? Besides, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

“You may lose your life to any one of the dangers we face, or if we are caught before we can secure the amulet you’ll face the council’s wrath. And we have never talked about afterwards have we? What do you expect?” Iltar asks the last in all seriousness.

“We’ve endured much together, and to be clear, I don’t expect that we’ll be caught. However, if we are I know you well enough to rest assured that you’ll be able to talk yourself out of it. If not, we won’t fail like the acolytes.

“As to what I expect. Nothing much, just some principality I can rule myself. I’m not an overly ambitious man. I realize I don’t have the cunning to rule a large kingdom, but a duchy would be nice. That’s all, really.”

“And you think I would be able to do that for you?” Iltar chuckles softly.

“Sure! You want to control the red dragons and rule the world, don’t you?” Iltar looks shocked that Cornar guessed his end means, and the warrior snorts, “I told you, I’m you’re trusted friend. You can’t hid things like that from me. Your plan doesn’t bother me. There’s always someone else in charge. That’s why I brought the scrolls to you instead of delivering them to Krindal and Alacor; a world ruled by them wouldn’t be suitable for my family and my men.

“Besides, in the aftermath, there should be a place I can lay claim. And it will be easy being your friend. I can always threaten the disobedient with retribution from the crimson terrors if they don’t obey or pay me what I ask.”

“You have it all figured out, don’t you Cor?” Iltar’s chuckles turn to hearty laughter. “Alright, that’s just fine with me. I was hoping you would want to be my chief general. But ruling your own land works too. Of course, before we day dream too much, we need to accomplish the task at hand.

“Before you go, tonight, think over what the best course of action would be once we get on that island. Tomorrow will come soon so it should be off to bed with both of us; we set off early.”

“Very well, Iltar, good night.” Cornar gives a roguish grin before silently leaving the cabin.

As he stands alone in his quarters, Iltar muses on what his friend had to say, more on what was not said, but understood between them. Iltar knows the council will have to kill them, or at least try to, if they fail. But the rewards are too great not to risk. He contends himself with knowing Cornar is also willing to risk his life for this great chance at power as he puts out his lamp.

5

Draco Isola

 

Angry shouts, rapid footfalls and an abrupt rocking of the ship awaken Iltar, and he sits up, cursing in his dark cabin. More rapid footfalls echo from the main deck above his quarters and Iltar hastily jumps out of bed. As he does so, the door to his cabin swings open.

“Quick!” Cornar shouts as he briefly sticks his head in the cabin, “To the main deck! We’re being attacked!”

Iltar darts through the door and quickly follows after Cornar, as the warrior gracefully draws his weapons. They run through the corridor and ascend the steps to the Farling’s main deck.

Once topside, Cornar rushes toward the center mast, quickly searching the skies.

Furrowing his brow, Iltar stops and calmly, but quickly, looks around the main deck: three of the crewmen, including Kenard’s first mate, are running from the raised forecastle to the portside rail with harpoons and spare lines used for the sails. Near the center mast, Dith, Tinal and Renal are laughing at the crewmen, pointing at them in hysterical amusement.

“Cadru, what is going on?!” Iltar shouts, looking to the other mages and the crewmen.

“We’re being attacked!” the first mate bellows as he knots the line to a harpoon. “A pride of salcions just came out of the crags and they’re ramming the ship!”

Iltar growls and steps across the rocking deck to the portside rail. He looks over the edge and sees the salcions, a violent aquatic breed of sea mammals. Their skin is a silky yellow-gray, with it mostly loose around their faces and necks, which gives them a mane-like appearance. Around their mane of skin are rows of gills that allow them to breath underwater. They vary in size from two phineals to five phineals in length. Their bodies are thick with four large fin-like appendages.

The beasts ram ship with the tops of their heads in an effort to break the hull.

Iltar shakes his head at the sight and several of the crewmen throw their harpoons into the water and quickly reel them back aboard the ship.

“We have to stop them!” one of the crewman cries out emphatically as he throws a harpoon into the water.

Amid the rocking of the ship, Iltar looks back to the younger, bemused mages at the center mast and with a raised brow he shouts at them, “You know they have a chance of breaching the hull! Get over here! There are too many for the crew to handle!”

Iltar then turns around and grabs the rail with his left hand. As he steadies himself, Iltar raises his right hand into the air, uttering the words to an incantation.

Swirling red magic clusters around Iltar’s open palm. He thrusts the crimson cloud into the water at the nearest creature, and the mammal immediately succumbs to the mind numbing effects. The magic stops the salcion, dazing it. It becomes delirious from the spell, and its eyes roll backwards as the heat from within slowly destroys its ability to act.

As Iltar’s cloud hits the water, Tinal and Renal both launch a flurry of magical bolts and arrows at the pride, arcane and flame spells shoot respectively. The creatures they strike cry out in pain, and several die immediately from the magical assault. Among the dead is the largest bull, and the bulky creature floats limply just off the hull.

Iltar hastily utters another incantation and in his right hand a swirling cloud of black and gray particles takes shape; a hallucinating spell. Immediately after it forms, Iltar thrusts it toward the pride. The magic loudly shrieks as it crashes into the water. The salcions succumb to the magic, squealing horrifically while hastily swimming away from the Farling.

“Leave!” Iltar snarls, waving his hand in a dismissing motion. He watches their retreat, but this attention is drawn by the captain’s voice.

“Thank you for saving the ship!” Captain Kenard hollers from the first deck above the main. “We need to keep a close watch for those beasts’ return. I hope you were not planning on taking all your people ashore, Master Iltar?”

“I suppose we could leave some behind to guard the ship,” Iltar replies, glancing across the rail. He watches as the salcions take camp on the nearby rocky outcroppings, along the southwest part of the bay, directly where the crags and sandy beach meet.

“Salcions won’t be too much trouble for even the less experienced mages,” Iltar glances at Tinal, Dith, and Renal, who had lazily stood by earlier.

Clapping draw’s Iltar’s attention and he hears Cornar calling, “Well, I guess you taught those beasts a lesson they won’t soon forget.”

The necromancer turns and looks sharply at the warrior, who is leaning against the center mast with his arms folded. “I didn’t see you throwing any harpoons.”

“I thought it was a much greater threat than salcions; besides, I didn’t want to get in your way,” Cornar laughs and shrugs, pushing himself off the mast. He crosses the main deck but Iltar beckons firmly.

“Wait my friend, we need to discuss the makeup of our shore party.”

Cornar stops and nods his head, noticing Hagen and Igan ascending the stairs to the main deck.

“Hagen, Igan,” Iltar call to them, “Come with us.”

The four companions move across the main deck and arrange themselves at the ship’s bow; sitting on several sacks of dry beans and rice.

Looking around to make sure none of the crew is in earshot, Iltar quietly speaks up, “We will need to leave some of our party aboard to guard the ship from any attack. Who knows what other beasts might be nearby? You three, along with Hex and Amendal are the only ones I trust with the details of our quest, so I need you to come. But, I want to bring one other mage, I don’t care which.”

“What are we to expect?” Igan asks with impatience. “We’re obviously not searching for apprentices.”

Iltar looks around again and sighs before answering in a hushed voice, “Dragons.”

“What?!” Hagen squeals, his eyes widen and his jaw drops slightly.

Igan looks at Hagen, then to Cornar, and finally Iltar. He notices the warrior has no reaction to the answer and deduces he already knows the true nature of the journey.

“I think Lorith will do,” Igan states calmly.

“Good,” Iltar nods at Igan, grateful for his lack of questions. “Now Cor, how many men do you want to take with us?”

Cornar thinks for a moment and rubs his hair-covered chin, rustling through the short bristles. “I’ll bring Kalder, Nordal, Aron, Hemrin, and Shen, and I’ll see what others are willing to go.”

“Twenty should be enough. I’ll have all the thieves accompany us as well, that leaves rooms for five more of your men, Cornar.” Iltar looks at the rest of the group to see if they have any objections.

“We have already lost part of the morning. When are we going ashore?” Hagen asks, in his high squeaky voice. The mornings are always cruel to the illusionist in that way.

Cornar winces at the sound and looks to Iltar for an answer, joining both mages already staring intently at the necromancer.

“We need to leave today. We cannot waste another day aboard this ship. Let’s get our provisions ready and be off within the hour,” Iltar says, then stands to walk from the forecastle. “I need to pack some things.”

  • * * * *

An hour and a half later, the entire party is gathered on the main deck near the starboard rail. Beyond the rail are two long boats hoisted alongside the Farling; each are filled with food, tents, armor, and an assortment of bows and close quarter weapons for Cornar’s men.

The crew lowers the long boats, then the mages, warriors, and the descend into the vessels by way of rope netting. Once in the boats, the warriors push them away from the ship and row ashore, while those left behind on the Farling quietly watch.

In one of the boats, Cornar barks his orders as they near the sandy surf, “When we land, grab the nearest supplies and provisions then pile them on the beach. Hagen divide the supplies accordingly!”

As the long boats break upon the surf, the warriors, mages and thieves disembark the vessels from their bow, each carrying supplies. One by one the members of the expedition drop the provisions and supplies in a cluster several phineals past the surf; once relieved, they return to the vessels and continue to unload them.

Amid the unloading, Iltar climbs out of the second boat with only a small brown pack at his side. The necromancer walks along the beach and past Hagen who is dividing the supplies.

Iltar removes the map of the island from within his pack and studies the area surrounding the bay. As he looks at the cartography a dotted line appears, running from the beach towards the mountains. Once inland, the line turns due north. Iltar shakes his head, and the line disappears.

Watching, Igan steps up next to his long-time friend and looks at the partially opened map. He then looks forward into the dense tropical forest beyond the shore and speaks, “Well, we’re here. Do you care to elaborate on what the plan is?”

Looking around at the group still gathering the supplies together, Iltar whispers, “Grab the other mages.”

Igan turns and lets out a whistle while Iltar walks toward the tree line, still clutching the map in his hands.

Once several phineals away, Iltar turns around and waits for the other four mages to join him. Hagen is last, having traded positions with Lorith in portioning out the rest of the cargo.

With each of them gathered around, Iltar takes in a deep breath, “It’s finally time to let the four of you in on this mission. I don’t trust Kenard’s new deckhands, and I couldn’t tell any of you in Soroth, in case they were watching.” Iltar says the last with sincerity. Alacor’s predecessor had spied on other council members in the past and Iltar’s friends knew it.

“Prior to the acolytes’ rebellion a matter of great importance came to the council’s attention: knowledge of an ancient artifact had been uncovered. In fact it was Cornar and Krindal who unearthed the information.” He nods his head at the warrior in the distance. “However, we’re not here on the council’s errand.”

“Intriguing,” Amendal strokes his neatly trimmed gray beard.

“So the artifact is here?” Hex asks flatly, skeptically motioning to the island.

“A piece of it. There are two locations noted, but this was the nearest to us. I hope that we’ll find some answers to its mystery,” Iltar says earnestly. “Then we will know exactly where to look.”

“What sort of artifact are we talking about?” Igan queries. “You mentioned there were dragons here.”

“Dragons?” Hex’s eyes widen.

“Possibly,” Iltar concedes. “It’s something that turned the tide of the ancient war between the three great races of our world.” Iltar eyes each of them before continuing. “We are looking for an amulet and a ruby. Combined, their power controlled red dragons and enabled the wearer to exercise complete dominion over them.”

“You’re kidding,” Hex snorts with derision, “Iltar, have you lost your mind?”

“He’s even worse than Amendal!” Hagen agrees, shaking his head.

“No one is worse than me!” the old conjurer retorts with a flare of jealousy.

“So, there are dragons and artifacts here?” Igan asks seriously. “Is this where they went all those years ago?”

“That I don’t know, but this is a tomb,” Iltar plays the scholar. “I know that for certain. The elven map, that was discovered, and the scroll with it, identified this place as the dragon’s burial grounds. What that entails exactly, we’ll soon find out.

“But it’s not just the amulet we’re after; the scrolls explained how that fabled war ended. Exile to other worlds; the red dragons were sent to the stars. Another reason we’re here is to find out what we can concerning a magical stone that can open a portal to another world.”

“Iltar,” Hagen interrupts, stepping closer. “What have you been drinking? Because I want some!” the illusionist bursts into laughter, drawing the others’ attention across the sandy beach.

Hagen quells his laughter then says, “There are no red dragons here, nor anywhere on Kalda. Every breed is said to be extinct except perhaps the platinums, but even they are said to be gone.”

The three other mages look at Hagen with annoyance. Their faces show that they’re receptive to Iltar’s belief in the story, though it seems farfetched for them.

“So, what does the council want with this… artifact?” Amendal asks, motioning with his hands.

“Well, Alacor wants the amulet for his own reasons. Most likely political in nature. We all know that man doesn’t value relics or true power,” Iltar continues with disgust, “There’s no telling what he would do with it. The other members I’m sure have their own ambitions.”

“If that menthak gets it he’ll destroy more than just our precious Order!” Amendal shouts with strong disgust, flailing his hands in the air while growling, “Why did you have to save him Iltar?!”

“Quiet, Amendal,” Iltar motions an opened hand toward the old conjurer.

“What are your intentions, Iltar?” Hex asks solemnly.

“I intend to get it before they do. You all know me. Of course I crave power, but am I always selfish with it?”

The mages each shake their heads and Iltar continues explaining the council’s fictitious plan, “Alacor would most likely bring the dragons to our world and destroy it, shifting every which way. Turning on his allies when he sees a gain, and then saving those who were his enemies just moments beforehand. That unsteadiness will only do irreversible damage.

“Order, stability, consistency. If someone were to have that power they need to exercise those qualities.”

“Iltar, what do we get out of it for helping you?” Igan asks as he folds his arms. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t help you.”

“Straight to the point as always, Igan,” Iltar smiles. “I’m not thinking of the trite isles of Kalda. There has to be other worlds out there. Who knows that the lights in the sky are not some distant planets with vast cultures and civilizations.”

Returning his gaze from the sky, Iltar looks at each of them and solemnly, “Do you want to rule a world?”

“Twisted… and generous,” Amendal remarks with a cackle.

“I can’t be on every world at once,” Iltar says, matter-of-factly.

“Well, that is a tall order…” Hex gapes “But you’ve never let us down in the past.”

The others nod their heads in agreement.

“So the acolyte’s story was a farce?” Hagen asks with a bobbling motion of his head.

“Not quite,” Iltar scratches his cheek. “The council sent me out to find acolytes, but they are also planning an expedition here. The other members could have already sent their own groups of men ahead.” He glances to the warriors. “No matter, though, we can discuss this later; we need to focus on the task at hand before we can plan our kingdoms. Seems our companions are ready.”

The partial truth was enough to settle Iltar’s mind. Using the council as he did served to his advantage if things were to go awry. He knew the mages with him would back him to death before letting Alacor or any other members of the Order’s council gain control over the amulet.

With their private meeting concluded, each of the four senior mages spread out across the sandy beach, and grab their share of the supplies, all except Iltar.

Once everyone is together, Cornar addresses the expedition in a raised voice.

“We don’t know exactly what is on this island, but we need to reach those mountains,” the warrior points to the peaks just over the tree line. “A credible source hints at a cave at the base, somewhere in the center of the rocky range. Since there are probably no trails or paths, we will need to carve our own.”

“Aren’t you worried about more indigenous wildlife ambushing us?” a slim but muscular warriors asks from the crowd. His brown eyes look worried, but he stands firm. He cocks his head awaiting an answer, and his wavy brown hair bounces. Experience over the last decade, and Cornar’s tutelage has instilled a healthy sense of danger.

“Paranoid, Nordal?” Tilthan jests from the edge of the group with a chuckle.

“I highly doubt any animals or other creatures are here,” Iltar interrupts.

“We are not likely to encounter anything until we pass the mountains,” Cornar cautions his men while looking at Iltar. “Kalder, lead the way. Spread out five men abreast and cut a path through the forest.”

The small band of men walk past Cornar and into the tropical forest. Trees sparsely line the beach, thirty phineals away from the waters lightly crashing tide, allowing the men to step through into the much denser foliage.

As Cornar and his men file into the tropical forest, the thieves gather their packs, saving the lightest of the supplies for themselves. The leader of the small band, Tilthan, grabs the lightest of them all. Slinging the pack over his left shoulder he swaggers across the sandy beach.

“This is perfect, like paradise here,” the master thief comments on the scene.

“Yea… and the prison of the damned to the west as your neighbor,” Nath responds to his friend’s comments with a laugh, pointing to the crags.

“Damn you! Why do you have to stifle my daydreams…?”

Hearing the conversation, Iltar turns to the two chatting thieves and glares, fierce enough to pierce their souls; however, Nath is the only one to glimpse the necromancer’s eyes and quickly turns, lowering his head.

Tilthan ignorantly continues forward and jestingly supervises Cornar’s men, placing his hands on his hips. The thief stands behind Nordal who is several steps ahead of him, clearing the forest floor.

“Doing good, Nordal,” Tilthan calls out from his cocky pose. “Keep swinging that blade.”

As he speaks, a tingling sensation creeps along the thief’s neck. He cocks his head and notices Iltar walking towards him. Tilthan freezes for a moment and attempts to straighten his back and look busy.

“Get to work, I’m not hiring you to admire the view,” Iltar snaps.

“Yes, sir!” Tilthan swallows tightly as Iltar moves past him. Once the necromancer is ahead of him, the thief rolls his eyes and steps into the trees whispering, “The things I do for gold…”

  • * * * *

Kalder leads the hearty men through the lush dense jungle forest. There is very little wildlife, and the forest is devoid of most insects that inhabit the other tropical parts of Kalda. The silence of the uninhabited forces puts them on edge.

Their pace is slow, and the heat of the day slowly wears on the men clearing the path. An hour after leaving the shore, they have only traveled three grand phineals; the sum of one thousand phineals, abbreviated on signs or in conversation as “G.P.”

On the far left of Kalder, one of the younger warriors cuts the vegetation with swift strokes, exaggerating the blows in an effort to cut through cleanly. With his next stroke, he swings his sword and impacts the blade against one of the larger tropical trees. The blade quickly recoils back toward Nordal, who is on the other side of him; sounding off a resonating, high-pitch clang.

The young warrior quickly stops his blade from cutting into his companion. Intrigued, he stops and looks at the tree that forcefully repelled his blade. The bark’s surface shows a single cut, and the warrior turns to examine the trunk.

“Watch where you swing that thing, Hemrin,” Nordal says jovially, glancing to the younger man. “Now, what was that sound?”

The other members of Iltar’s expedition stop and edge closer, curiously; the tang of Hemrin’s blade had also alerted them to the strange discovery.

“Do that again,” Cornar urges seriously as he walks up the path, pushing his way through the mages and thieves in front of him.

Hemrin strikes the tree again, slightly higher than the initial gash. As he controls the recoiling blade, a second cut appears in the bark, slightly delayed. Cornar notices the odd reaction and folds his arms.

“That sounds like stone,” Kalder observes from the head of the party.

“It does,” Cornar’s eyes narrow in suspicion.

Iltar steps forward and peers over Cornar’s shoulder.

“Hagen,” Iltar turns to the short illusionist. “Cast some dispelling magic.”

Clearing his throat, Hagen moves toward the mysterious tree; once near it, he scoops his hand in the air in a circular motion. He utters the words of a greater dispelling magic, and white particles cluster in his palm. As he finishes the incantation, the illusionist raises his hand above his head and extends it toward the mysterious tree.

As the white magic touches the bark the tree twists and contorts, shifting unnaturally until it vanishes. In its place stands a tall, pale gray, stone-like pylon, a phineal taller than most of the men’s’ heads.

Iltar moves around Cornar, stepping toward the newly discovered relic, and Hemrin cautiously backs away as Iltar approaches; the necromancer’s dreadful reputation was enough to cause most men to stay at arm’s length.

Standing in front of the pylon, Iltar brushes his hand against the gray surface, which is cool to the touch. Several gems are inlayed around the mid-section of the southern face. A familiar writing is also etched into the surface above each of the gems, and the letters glow with a faint blue hew.

“Elvish…” the word quietly leaves Iltar’s lips.

“Puzzling,” Iltar mutters with intrigue then thinks. Without my elvish translation texts it will be hard to accurately understand this correctly…

The necromancer strokes his facial hair then mutters, “Ecadu Rin Talim. That might be it.”

“Might?!” Tilthan cries out from the rear of the crowd, “You better be sure!”

Hearing the outburst, Cornar glares over his shoulder at Tilthan in annoyance.

Meanwhile, Iltar furrows his brow as he examines the rest of the texts. He hesitantly reaches forward to the gem on the right, a golden orange color, and presses against it. The gem silently depresses, and the scene around the expedition suddenly transforms.

Beneath Kalder and the other four leading warriors’ feet, the ground shifts in shape. Some of the debris they cut through and tossed aside vanishes, clearly part of the illusion that had just been disabled. The ground also gives way, causing the men to fall and lose their footing. What had once been full of dirt and tropical weeds was now a pale gray, stone-like surface. The vegetation around the edge of the stone-like substance is repelled, shown by the plants and their extremities leaning away from it.

The pylon the stone-like path spreads east and west of the pylon, with identical pylons marking the way about every twenty phineals; the path eventually turning northwest. Between each of the pylons are solid rectangular sections of the gray stone-like material.

“I wonder what other surprises we’ll encounter,” Cornar remarks.

Ignoring the shared shock, Iltar looks west. His eyes narrow and he steps forward, pushing his way past the warriors in the middle of the ancient elven roadway. As Iltar presses forward, Kalder with Cornar follow close behind. The other seventeen members of the party step onto the stone mystery and slowly, while admiring the elven path, follow Iltar and the two other men of war.

Ahead and out of earshot of the rest of the expedition, Cornar comments on the twist of events, “Don’t you find it strange that this path exists, Iltar? It looks like it was only constructed days ago…”

“The elven scrolls were meant as a guide to restore the amulet, not hide it,” the necromancer reminds his friend, still hurrying along the path. “The elves must have put this here for easy access to the tunnel through the mountains. When they did it, though, I don’t know, since the scrolls were written a thousand years ago.” Iltar points to the ground. “Look at the plants…”

After briskly following the path for the space of an hour and a half, the three leading men emerge from the dense trees onto a large plain that stretches out before them. In the distance, the mountains run east to west, stretching across the plain in either direction.

Once everyone emerges from the forest, the group stops at the woodland’s edge to eat a small lunch of cold food.

While the rest are eating, Iltar rechecks the map against the landscape before him: the towering gray-white mountains in the distance spread in both directions, as per the map.

Iltar glances back to the path, which ends exactly on the tree line. How could I envision that path? It can’t be coincidence. Before consulting the map he shakes his head, then discreetly walks to Cornar, who is sitting with the rest of his men along the tree line.

“I’m not sure where we are on this map,” Iltar says quietly as he crouches with a sigh. “Nor where the cave might be… Although something inside me says the path is the key.”

“It could be,” Cornar nods his head. “I say we keep our heading in line with the path’s end. Perhaps it’ll get us close to the cave. If not it’ll we’ll at least have had a good start. Let me see the map.” The warrior reaches out and grabs the unrolled parchment from the necromancer. After a moment of study, Cornar continues his speculation.

“If this map is drawn to scale, then judging from the distance we’ve traveled so far and the distance across the plain, we have another half day’s journey ahead of us.”

“Yes, it looks that way doesn’t it?” Iltar says, looking over the map with Cornar. “What do you think? Stay here in the shelter of the trees, and send scouts throughout the afternoon?”

“We still have some time before dark. The sky is clear and there was one full moon last night. Hopefully tonight will be clear and we should be able to see during the night. I wonder…”

“Spit it out man!”

“Okay…” Cornar smiles. “We should rest here until dark. Rotate guards and have everyone else sleep. Get up after dark and cross the plain at night. There should be enough moonlight to make the plain visible and illuminate the mountains so we don’t get turned around. I don’t like to move over an open plain in broad daylight, especially if there’s any possibility of dragons watching the plain from the mountains. Our clothing is dark enough that we won’t be easily seen at night. Once we reach the foothills we can rest until morning.”

“Now, that sounds like a good idea. I’ll let the others know.” Iltar stands so that the rest of the expedition can see him.

“Everyone listen! Cornar has suggested a plan for proceeding further, and I agree. We will sleep here the rest of the day and cross the plain at night. We’ll rotate guards two at a time, for three hour shifts.”

There are nods and grunts to Iltar’s announcement, and the majority of the expedition soon finish their cold meal. Afterward, Cornar’s men clear areas in the dense forest edge on either side of the elven pathway for shelter. Due to the small size and number of pockets of leveled land, the camp spreads across the tree line. Cornar and Kalder both volunteer to take the first watch.

Within a matter of minutes most of the expedition is fast asleep. The early start with the salcions, the fighting through the brush, and the change in weather is enough to sap the strength of the mages and some of the warriors. However, Tilthan and his fellow thieves are enjoying a game of chance instead of sleeping. Their light laughter is heard by the two warriors sitting as sentinels near the pylon marking the elven pathway.

Kalder and Cornar sit quietly, each lost in thought. They stare into the distance as if gazing through the mountains and envisioning what is beyond them.

  • * * * *

Late in the evening, Cornar is awoken at arm’s length by one of his men. The aged warrior snaps awake, pushing himself up with one hand and the other grasping his serrated dagger. The warrior who had woken his teacher and leader steps back with a grin on his face.

“Grasil,” Cornar grunts and blinks once, looking at the warrior.

“The sun went down about half an hour ago,” Grasil calmly informs Cornar.

Both of Kalda’s moons illuminate the ground, just as Cornar thought. The nearest moon over head is full and shines bright. Cornar takes in a deep breath of cool tropical air before addressing the warrior.

“Wake those on the other side of the path,” Cornar instructs Grasil.

Both men silently move away from Cornar’s bedding. The elder warrior turns eastward and proceeds from tent to tent, waking the inhabitants.

Soon, every member of the expedition is awake and disassembling their camp. Cornar’s men are efficient and swiftly repack their tents and other sleeping gear.

As they prepare to leave, Iltar joins Cornar’s side at the mouth of the pathway, where the warrior is holding a circular compass; it is illuminated by the night lights, and Cornar adjusts the heading to be aligned with the stone path.

While Cornar is plotting their course, Iltar silently stares at the shadowy mountainside.

“Do you see that peak?” Cornar interrupts his reverie, pointing directly in front of him and Iltar. “We want to go just to the left of it.”

Cornar steps in front of the necromancer, noting the heading in a hushed whisper to himself. After a moment the warrior turns around and whistles to the others, gathering the rest of the party together and informing them of their heading.

“Nordal and Shen, I want both of you carving directions in the ground alongside the main group,” Cornar’s tone is firm and commanding. “The rest of you will follow myself and Iltar. We’ll keep with the elven path’s heading. That peak,” he turns and extends his arm toward the same mountain top he showed Iltar, “Will be our other guide. Aron, you are in charge of watching that peak. I believe the exact heading of the path leads just to the left of that mountain top; but we can adjust our course to the left once we get to the foothills of the mountain. And someone mark that pylon.”

With compass in hand, Cornar turns, checking the heading, and then strides forward and commands, “Let’s go!”

As the party moves, Shen and Nordal carve directional arrows in the ground beside the party, their swords starting together at the point and then spreading out.

Throughout the night the group travels quietly. Many of them had been on previous expeditions that required stealthy travel, and crossing this plain did not differ from any of those other occasions.

Several times Cornar stops the group and motions for one of the thieves to scout ahead into the dips and small craters that dot their path to the mountainside. The discoveries are uneventful, though, and the party presses onward to the rising peaks.

After four hours of traveling in the dark, the party reaches the rising foothills of the towering mountains. The two moons of Kalda are still high overhead, and they shed light on the southern face of the mountains.

Amid the moonlight they can see that almost exactly to the left of the peak they had been following is a darkened silhouette of a large cavern. The gaping hole sits just above the foothills, at the base of the steep surface. At this distance, over two grand phineals, the cave looms large.

Iltar moves a little forward ahead of the party and up along the rising ground. Satisfaction and anticipation spread across his face as he thinks, The cave, it’s here! Perhaps it houses a great dragon–

“Iltar!” Cornar calls out in a hushed voice. “We need to wait. Many of us are tired from the trek. Let’s find a place to hide out for the night.”

Standing above his companions, Iltar turns back with hesitation.

“Why not go into that cave?” Tilthan asks. The thief and his compatriots had been kept in the dark, and their ignorance prompted the unanswerable question. “It seems strange that you want to camp out here, Cornar… Surely it will be safer in there than being out in the open.”

“I doubt that,” Cornar responds, turning from the thief to survey the area.

The foothills of the mountains are lined with large gray boulders, big enough to conceal one or two men. Around the foothills the land is devoid of trees or any other large vegetation that could conceal them. A beaten path leads from the cave, with strange markings depressed within it, resembling tracks of an enormous creature.

“These rocks should do,” Cornar suggests to the rest of the expedition, pointing away from the suspicious path.

“Everyone settle in,” Cornar commands. “And try to stay quiet.”

  • * * * *

The next morning, light beats upon the party’s faces as the Kaldean sun rises from the west. The light rustles many from their rest, including Iltar. Cornar is still fast asleep, but one of his men warily awakes their champion leader.

Tilthan and Nemral are among those woken by the sunlight and both walk toward the path to examine the large prints in the dirt.

“Enjoy your meal, but be quick about it,” Iltar hurries the men camped around him, then strides along the foothills to join the two thieves examining the tracks.

“Iltar…” Tilthan looks up to the necromancer. The thief points to the strange prints in the ground and continues with a raised brow, “What is that?”

In the daylight the tracks are far more prominent. The prints, each unique and separate, have a contouring feature to them. From the onlookers’ view, the tracks move away from the mountain.

“Whatever created these must be huge,” Nemral remarks as he surveys the tracks. “Doesn’t it seem strange that these two different types of tracks are so close together?”

The tracks themselves are over seven phineals in length each, easily longer than a man is tall. The nearest of the pair is bulky, with three individual toe marks protruding from what look like the heel and arch of the creature. Ahead and to the right is another type of track, shallower than the other. At first glance, it looks like a palm of a human, but enlarged many times; however, only four finger-like-impressions spread from the palm section of the print.

“That one almost looks like a deformed giant hand,” Tilthan remarks at the set with four separate finger-like indentations. “I’ve never seen anything like this…” the thief looks back and forth at both of the pairs of prints and continues to speculate. “I wonder if this is one creature. If you look at it, the prints seem to be consistent for quite a ways down the path,” Tilthan points off into the plain from where they had come. “Like it was running from the cave.”

Unsettled by the tracks, Iltar wonders Are these prints of a dragon? Their artistic renderings were based on pure speculation. These look different than any dragon claw I’ve ever seen. But, why are they leading away from the cavern?

Shaking the thoughts aside, Iltar returns to the main group spread among the rocks of the foothills.

The necromancer’s sapphire eyes scan the rest of the party, many of whom are eating their cold morning meal. Hagen and Hex are huddled behind a rock eating their food together. Iltar looks past them to Igan, who is sitting alone.

Without a word, the necromancer strides to the lone wizard and sits down next to Igan.

Igan offers him a bowl of food from the sack beside him, and Iltar accepts, meticulously placing the food in his mouth.

“So, are those dragon tracks?” Igan asks, looking forward over the plain they crossed the previous night.

“I… don’t know,” Iltar replies, sighs and looking down at his bowl. “It could be, but the tracks are leading away from the mountains, not to them.”

Suddenly, Iltar remembers a passage from the elven scroll, “The guardian.” The necromancer’s eyes widen but he shakes himself, regaining his composure. He had not paid much attention to that line in the scrolls, but instead substituted it for a simple answer, due to the scroll’s missing pieces. The guardian is probably just a dragon to watch over the secret knowledge, but

“Your food isn’t going to get any colder,” Cornar quips from a boulder near the wizard and necromancer.

Jarred from his thoughts, Iltar looks to his friend, who is cleaning out his bowl and putting it back into his pack. Once his pack is secure, the brawny warrior crouches toward the two mages.

“I think we should let Tilthan and his friends do a little work,” Cornar looks back to the thieves who are still examining the prints. “Did you figure out what that was? Are those dragon tracks?”

“No,” Iltar shakes his head. “Tilthan thinks it was a creature running from the cave.” Looking up at his friend he genuinely asks, “Wouldn’t a dragon just fly out?”

“You have a point there, Iltar,” Igan concedes. “Tell me, what else haven’t you told us about this island that you know?”

“Nothing.” Iltar says with sincerity.

“Then I agree,” Igan looks at Cornar. “Send in the thieves.”

With that said, the warrior briskly steps away from the two mages who return to eating their food in deep thought; each thinking of what lurks behind the shadows of the cave.

Once down the path, Cornar steps up to Tilthan and Nemral, addressing them quietly, “It’s time for you two to scout out that cave. I suggest you use your cloaks.”

“You don’t think what made these,” Tilthan points to the tracks, “Is still in there, do you? Is that why you didn’t want to stay in there last night?”

Grinning grimly, Cornar chuckles and shakes his head then steps away from the thieves saying, “Just check it out and return to us with what you find.”

“Well,” Nemral shrugs as he looks to Tilthan. “It’s what we’re getting paid to do.”

Nemral reaches for his small pack and swings it around in front of his waist. The thief opens the sack and pulls a shimmering cloth from within that glistens in the early morning light; one end is gathered with a golden cord running through the fabric. At the tips of the cord are a latch and binding. The thief takes his cloak into one hand then pulls a pair of silver-rimmed spectacles out and places them on his face.

The thief readjusts his pack and wraps the shimmering cloth around his shoulders, latching the golden cord together. In an instant he disappears from sight.

“Why don’t the mages go in,” Tilthan mutters, opens his pack to reveal a similarly shimmering fabric. He reaches into the pack and pulls out a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles and places them on his face.

“Because they don’t have our cloaks or lenses,” Nemral remarks from his invisible cloak. “Besides, we’re more agile.”

“Ugh,” Tilthan spits out then wraps his cloak around his shoulders and disappears in like manner.

Both thieves silently and invisibly enter the cavern with Tilthan leading the way; through their lenses they can see each other’s faint outlines.

The cavern towers over one hundred phineals in height, and is even wider. Light pours into the cave for quite a way inside and illuminates its entrance and the floor beyond it. As both thieves press forward, there is a deathly silence about the cavern; they notice a lack of any sort of life, plant or animal.

Tilthan leads the two even deeper into the cavern, and their eyes slowly adjust to the darkened area. The cave still looms large, twisting and turning, until the cavern opens into a grand chamber.

The two thieves stare at the breath taking view. Several beams of light illuminate the hollowed space from holes in the cavern’s ceiling. On the opposite side of the earthen room lies the answer to their quandary about the path.

From beneath his cloak, Tilthan’s eyes widen. In front of him lays a creature like nothing he had ever before seen. Nearly one hundred phineals in length, the beast is spread across the cool rocky surface, slumbering. Heavy breathing billows the surrounding air.

One of the creature’s front arms is out stretched with four long fingers, with one extended; the finger twitches, causing the large claw on its end to scrape across the rocky floor, piercing the thieves’ ears. The other arm remains coiled near its chest.

Along the creature’s rear, on the side nearest to the thieves, the hind leg is curled. The heel rests on the stone floor, with three large toe-like-phalanges accompanied by thick black claw.

The light from the ceiling dimly illuminates the light brown leathery texture of the creature’s skin. Boulder-sized warts line its exposed hide and rise up and down as the creature breathes. A carapace covers its back, full of two rows of protruding spikes that continue until the carapace ends midway along the tail of the creature. The light gently reflects from the hardened surface, further illuminating the large cavern. The tail, which is as long as its body, is elegantly stretched out and has deep creases where the skin of the beast had been pressed together.

At the opposite end, the creature’s head is adorned with two large antenna-like spikes, both differing from the other spikes along its carapace. The lower jaw of the beast protrudes, exposing its razor sharp teeth. Its eyelids are tightly shut, but the thieves see its eyes rapidly moving under the enveloping skin.

After recovering from their shock and examining the creature, both Tilthan and Nemral creep into the cavern, surveying the dome-like chamber. The walls are smooth and look as though they were made that way, instead of created naturally.

A dark spot in the cavern wall catches Tilthan’s attention; it is nearly opposite of the men but as long as one and a half of the creature’s length away from the slumbering beast. The senior thief motions for Nemral to follow him then he slowly and silently crosses the smooth floor. Upon reaching the opening Tilthan steps through it, happy to not be directly in the presence of the beast.

This second tunnel is much smaller than the first, about the size of a large hallway in any large building on Kalda. It’s wide enough, though, to hold several men abreast. Both thieves continue through the smaller passageway until the light from the larger cavern fades. Seeing that they are concealed in darkness, Tilthan motions for Nemral to turn back.

The two thieves quickly return and report to Iltar and the others; they signal their approach with a brief whistle that only their leader hears.

“Well we found out what made those,” Tilthan states as he wistfully appears from his cloak, startling half the warriors and a few of the mages. “There is a big, ugly,” he states the next word with emphasis, “Monster in there. It was at least one hundred phineals in length, with a shell and spikes. It was sleeping, but it still looked hideous.”

“That doesn’t sound like a dragon Iltar!” Hagen blurts out.

The necromancer glares at his illusionist friend, making him flush in embarrassment, and continues to listen to Tilthan’s assessment of the cavern.

“We found a… wait, what?” Tilthan leans forward, looking at Hagen and then back to Iltar, “Dragons? I don’t suppose you were planning on telling us–” The thief pauses and puts out his hand as if to stop Iltar’s words. “Wait! If you tell me you gotta pay me more! I was hired to just disable traps and scout things out, not soak up information.”

Iltar turns his menacing glare to face the thief.

“Forget it, forget it!” Tilthan says hurriedly, waving his hands as if trying to dismiss his earlier words.

“We did find another tunnel,” Nemral speaks up, “Smaller than this one, but I could feel a slight breeze, so it might lead to the mountain’s northern face. It was nearly on the opposite side of the larger tunnel’s entrance, past the creature’s lair.”

“That sounds like what we’re looking for,” Cornar chimes in from behind Iltar. “What was it like in those other tunnels?”

“Dark,” Tilthan responds, catching Iltar’s glare again. “But if the mages use their magic they can light the way. There is light coming from the main cavern but it faded quickly in the other tunnel.”

“Light?” Iltar says surprised. “Strange…” the word trails off, and he is lost in thought over the scrolls once again.

“Do you think we’ll wake the creature if we walk past it?” Cornar asks.

“I don’t know,” Nemral responds, “It was making a lot of noises, what with its breathing and scratching the ground with one of its claws and all.”

“Regardless,” Amendal clears his throat, “We should go in invisible. Pairs of three, like we usually do.”

“I agree, Iltar?” Cornar asks.

“Fine,” he responds, still in thought.

The party splits into groups of three, except for Cornar, Iltar and the thieves. Once gathered the mages cast their concealing magic, and the small groups of men vanish from the foothills of the mountains. They make their way into the large cavern and into the deeper reaches of the mountain.

After ten minutes of calmly walking through the gigantic tunnel, the cavern holding the beast comes into view. Several gasps are heard from the party, but are quickly muffled. The beams of light illuminate the creature as before and Iltar recognizes the monstrosity from tomes of various creatures, real and fictional, that he had studied throughout his life.

Leaning to Cornar, who is veiled by Iltar’s concealing magic, he whispers, “That’s a tarrasque.”

“They exist…!” Amendal’s voice whispers in awestruck admiration from behind.

“And that means what?” Cornar whispers in reply.

“According to legend, the creatures are nearly unstoppable. In ancient times they were supposed to have destroyed many cities on the now Desolate Lands. Many texts I’ve read suggest they were tools used in the dragon wars–”

“Then we need to keep moving,” Cornar interrupts Iltar’s explanation and grabs his friend.

With no further exchange, the men quickly makes their way to the dark tunnel directly in front of them.

As the two leaders are halfway to the second tunnel, a loud pounding resonates within the cavern.

Turning, Iltar looks back to see the nostrils on the beast twitch, and the tarrasque stirs from its decade-long slumber. The enormous monstrosity pushes itself up on its left side, holding itself up with its left arm and leg. It slowly raises its right leg and swings around to face the invisible men. Upon the creature’s snout its nostrils continue to expand and contract more violently than in its slumber.

“No!” Iltar growls and he can feel Cornar tugging at him.

“Run!” Cornar emphatically shouts to the necromancer and the others.

The tarrasque directly faces the hurrying invisible party, whose rapid footfalls can now be heard dashing across the litter-less floor.

A deafening roar bellows from the creature’s open mouth in response to Cornar’s command.

Iltar looks back once again and notices sharp teeth lining the beast’s upper and lower jaws, along with a tongue lashing from its mouth. It steps through the beams of light toward the invisible men. Its arms hang low in front of its belly, which is covered by small rows of needle like forms of tough skin.

A moment later, Cornar and Iltar race through the small opening and turn around after dashing twenty phineals inside the smaller tunnel. Breathing deeply, Iltar relinquishes their concealing magic; at the same time, rapid footfalls from his companions echo within the small tunnel.

Just as the leading members of the party emerge from the magic, the tarrasque slams its left hand on the ground just outside the opening. It screams another horrifying bellow, while those trapped in the enormous chamber can be heard running in the opposite direction.

The other claw of the beast quickly reaches out and grabs one of Cornar’s men between its forefinger and thumb. The grasp is enough to break the warrior’s invisibility, and the creature opens its jaws wider, tossing its victim upon its tongue. Its maw quickly shuts, trapping the doomed warrior. Agonizing cries pierce through the creature’s teeth as the warrior is shredded into pieces.

Still in the cavern and now visible, two of the warriors who had been with Hex and Amendal stand in fear. Standing in fear, they watch the beast horrifically consume their comrade in arms.

The tarrasque turns to face the two warriors left in its colossal cavern. It briefly gazes at its prey trembling beneath it, then in a suddenly lunges forward, spreading its arms outward. Its head quickly descends upon the closest warrior, the enormous jaws entrapping its next victim.

Still shaking, the third warrior runs through the cavern and out from whence they came.

As it swallows the second warrior, the tarrasque straightens its back, standing almost erect. It turns toward the fleeing warrior, completely faces the larger opening leading to the southern part of the island.

Seeing its next victim stumbling away, the monster of legend raises its shoulders and the muscles of its back press against the hardened carapace. Loud rumbles of seething rage bellow from the creature’s throat.

Still bellowing, it leans forward and stretches out its left hand. As its palm touches the stone floor it pushes off with its two back legs, galloping on all fours through the opening; as it dashes it lets out an earth shattering yelp that causes a tremor within the caverns.

Meanwhile, Lorith, and the two warriors with him emerge from the cave and dash down the beaten path leading to the plain.

“How did that thing see us?” one of the warriors questions through his panting breath.

“I don’t know,” Lorith responds. “Maybe it can smell us… or the magic.”

“We need to split up,” Hemrin yells as they continue down the path. “That will give each of us a chance to survive. I’ll go to the left. You two, go another way. Try to meet back up at the beach.”

Soon after the three men make it back out into the open plain, the tarrasque emerges from the mouth of the cavern. It stops briefly, searching the landscape for its prey. The monstrous creature lets out another bellowing cry and bolts to the right of the mountain side. It dashes on all fours, spraying the surrounding area with dirt and large rocks dislodged from the trampled ground.

 

6

Warrens

 

Deathly screams fill the concealed expedition’s ears as they listen from the small tunnel. Their companion’s last wails cease soon after the tarrasque grinds their bodies against its teeth.

“Everyone stay right where you are,” Iltar states calmly. “We’re safe in here; I don’t think the beast can reach us.”

In the other chamber, a bellowing roar pierces rock and flesh. Iltar and the others stumble from the vibration of the tarrasque’s thunderous gait out of the cavern.

After several seconds of silence, deep breaths of relief echo about the corridor, and one of Cornar’s men is the first to break it.

“What are we going to do about the others?” Grasil shakily asks and swallows hard. “Can’t we kill that thing?”

“No… I don’t think so,” Iltar says with a hint of defeat in his voice while rising from the ground. He doesn’t like admitting something might be more powerful than himself.

“Why in Heleron’s name did that thing come after us?!” Cornar demands, anger resounding in his words.

“Well,” Tilthan interjects, “Maybe someone made too much noise as they were walking…”

“Don’t start with me, Tilthan…” Cornar warns, swearing and looking for the thief. Shifting his focus, Cornar calls out, “Who all is here?”

After several shouts and some tallying the group is accounted for: fourteen out of the twenty men made it through, including all the thieves, and the mages except Lorith. The lone conjurer, the warriors with him, both warriors that had been with Hex and one of the warriors with Amendal are missing, or in the belly of the tarrasque; the survivors try not to think about the last possibility.

“Hex, we need some light,” Iltar calls out, hoping to divert their focus from the lost members of the party.

“Alright…” The wizard utters the words to a magical incantation, and in the middle of the tunnel, at about the waistline of the men, a light shines in the darkness and rises to their eye level. The source itself is invisible, as Hex has not removed his cloaking spell, but the effect shines through and illuminates the cavern.

“Good, we should keep moving,” Iltar calls out as he re-conceals himself and Cornar.

The sounds of footsteps as the party follows the hovering light deeper into the long and winding passageway. After traveling in silence for a time, the expedition reaches a branch in the tunnel, widely forking to the left and right.

“Tilthan, Nath, go search either side,” Cornar calls out from the front of the men. “Go as far as you can and then return.”

Not even a minute passes before a soft signaling whistle bounces off the tunnel’s walls to the party’s right; jarring the waiting members of the expedition.

“Well?” Iltar asks impatiently.

“We definitely don’t want to go that way…” Nath warily sighs. “There are some creatures down there. I couldn’t tell what they were, but they made a strange chirping sound.”

“Odd…” Iltar remarks. “Then we better start down the other side.”

Still invisible, the expedition presses through the left branch. The cavern is full of twists and turns with very few straight portions.

As they move through the tunnel Iltar hopes to himself that passage is uneventful. He thinks it most likely is, since Tilthan has not returned. Those creatures Nath heard worry him, though. Could they be eurbrids or traylx? But those are native to the Kaldean mainland, and none of the subterranean had never migrated to the islands.

“We need to watch our backs,” Iltar whispers, deciding not trust that they would not be followed.

“I’ve been doing that, Master Iltar,” Kalder says from the rear in a hushed tone. “As long as those creatures don’t have lightening reflexes, we’ll be fine.”

Iltar nods in satisfaction, and soon another whistle echoes gently against the cavern walls. The party halts, and the moving beams of light are stilled, shining motionlessly on the stone surfaces.

“There was light up ahead,” Tilthan states as he approaches Hex’s light. “I didn’t go outside, but I’d say the mouth of the cavern is just a few minutes away at a brisk walk.”

“Excellent! I want you, Nath, and Nemral to check the area outside… We might have company behind us, though, so if you hear battle, race back here. Understood?” Iltar’s tone is sternness.

“Perfectly, let’s go boys,” Tilthan jaunts.

“Look who’s talking…” Nath mutters under his breath, chafing at being called a boy.

The thieves’ hasty footfalls lightly echo off the tunnel and fade into silence while the rest of the party cautiously presses forward in the comfort of Hex’s light.

“Wait,” Kalder anxiously whispers. The party has only taken a handful of steps before the warrior stops them. “Do you hear that?”

The men stop and turn around, facing whence they came. The sound of scurrying claws upon the stone floor echoes along the tunnel. Suddenly, bursts of light illuminate the cavern behind them, pulsing every dozen seconds.

“Tralyx!” Kalder shouts, unsheathing his weapon hoisted upon his back and dropping his pack.

“Whoa! Wa-wait! Tralyx hu-here?” Hagen stammers. “How did they get across the water?”

“We don’t have time for that now!” Kalder shouts from the rear and dashes down the tunnel. Three others can be heard rushing forward with him.

“Drop our invisibility!” Cornar barks at the same moment the mages do the very thing. They were experienced in this sort of melee, and Cornar’s orders were hardly needed for the experienced mages.

“Shen, Grasil,” Cornar shouts again. “Stay back to protect the mages.”

Cornar, Kalder, Nordal, and Aron start running back along the earthen corridor toward the traylx. However, in that same instant a bright flash erupts around the corner.

The blinding light causes the warriors to stop and shield their eyes. Temporary spots of blackness fill their vision, but they can see the sources of the light emerging from around the tunnel’s bend.

Eight creatures, standing at chest height of an average man, move along eight legs, four appendages on each side ending in three-pronged claws. The two forward most limbs and the two farthest in the back are half the size of the four in the middle, each with three joints.

The creatures are insect-like, with slim upper bodies that flow out to a much wider part of its lower and rear end in the shape of an egg. As they move along all eight legs, the upper part of their chest above their shoulders stands erect.

Their heads resemble a curving horn, with the tip curving upward at the rear. The traylxs’ faces are ovoid shaped, with sharp mandibles and six black eyes. Small antenna sparely line the crowns of their heads, ascending to the curving tip.

Patches of shimmering brown-yellow skin lines the entire length of their fronts and underbellies. The rest of their bodies are covered in dark brown scales.

Just as the warrior’s recover from the initial flash, another burst of light erupts from the leading tralyx’s chest.

Upon seeing the warriors, the tralyx rear up on their four middle legs. They raise their two front legs and snap their claws together in unison.

Kalder is the first to come within weapon’s reach of the tralyx. As he does, the leading creature lets out a chirping yell, its mandibles splaying, ready to seize upon the warrior now standing almost a phineal shorter than the rearing giant insect.

Taking no thought of the creature’s attempt at intimidation, Kalder swings his large sword, dismembering the traylx’s front left arm. A thick orange liquid drips from the severed limb as it hits the ground. Kalder continues his dash forward and slices diagonally, separating the creature’s upper torso from the rest of its body. The tralyx lets out a dying gasp as it falls to the ground in three pieces.

Aron and Nordal reach Kalder’s side as he lands the death blow on the lead traylx. Each warrior leap toward one of the two creatures on either side of the dead one. They engage in a swift melee with the tralyx, grappling the forward limbs with their free hands and using their swords to slay them by repeatedly stabbing and cutting.

Cornar is the last of the warriors to reach the fray, and as he does, he and Kalder rush forward together.

Meanwhile, Igan and Hex utter magical incantations of arcane and elemental magics, respectively.

In front of Igan’s hands, a large orb of pink-red magic forms; with what seems like an effortless motion, he hurls the arcane ball of energy toward the head of the creature behind the one fighting Nordal. Upon impact, the magic completely ruptures the tralyx’s head, and the creature’s headless corpse falls sideways.

Just beyond Hex’s palm, a flaming dart takes shape; in similar demeanor to Igan, he throws the flaming projectile toward the tralyx battling Aron. With incredible speed, the fiery dart pierces its head and ignites it, causing the giant insect to step backward and then fall in the same direction.

Both creatures attacked by the wizards fall to the ground as Cornar and Kalder engage the remaining three tralyx.

Kalder’s opponent rears back, raising up on its four back limbs to strike at the warrior with its forward four claws. He parries and strikes with precision, severing the attacking arms. Within seconds, Kalder levels the tralyx to the ground.

At the same time, Cornar engages the last two creatures. He moves quickly between the two giant insects, striking one with his serrated dagger and the other with his short sword. He dances between the two tralyx, cutting their limbs to stop their blows.

As Cornar digs his serrated dagger into the chest of the creature on his left, the tralyx on his right flees; frightened after seeing the other six of its small swarm slain by Iltar’s expedition.

Without one of its limbs, the fleeing tralyx quickly scurries back down the tunnel, disappearing from view.

Cornar ignores the fleeing traylx and swings his short sword, cutting through the large head of the left tralyx, then retracts his weapons. The over-sized tralyx falls to the ground and Cornar looks down the winding tunnel, but does not pursue his fleeing foe.

Once the seven tralyx fall, the warriors fling the orange blood from their weapons and briefly survey the remains of the large insects.

“I’ve never seen them that big before,” Aron remarks.

“They’re normally half that size,” Nordal says.

“Quite unusual,” Cornar agrees as he leads the others back toward the mages and the two warriors near them. “Definitely the largest I’ve encountered. Perhaps it’s this island.”

All the while, Iltar had stood there studying the creatures and pondering about what has transpired thus far on the island. He had not been worried, knowing the traylx were nothing Cornar and his men couldn’t handle. With his arms folded he watches the warriors’ return to him and the other members of the party.

“Now that they’re dead,” Hagen squeaks out. “How did they get here?”

“Someone or something might have brought them here,” Igan postulates as he takes a deep calming breath from the short-lived ordeal.

“Well, I was wondering when we would be challenged.” Iltar says with a satisfied smile.

“Challenged?” Nordal quizzically asks. “What do you call that gigantic monster earlier?”

“A minor distraction, just a distraction. If everyone were quicker, we all could have made it through the tunnel. It was wide enough for at least five people to go through at once, but it seemed everyone was going in single file or by twos. It was just a game of speed, we never were really in any danger.”

Cornar approaches the necromancer, and looks further along the tunnel and growls, “What I want to know is why didn’t it waken when the thieves walked by and into this tunnel?”

“Maybe it smelt something we had,” Hagen interjects.

“Perhaps,” Amendal jumps into the forum, “Although it could have smelled our raw magic, and we were covered in it. From what I understand of the thieves’ cloaks, those veils are more refined than what we can muster.”

“Between you,” Hagen points at Amendal, “And Iltar, I don’t know who is crazier. Creatures that smell magic? C’mon, Amendal, is there really such a thing?”

Light laughter erupts from the mages, and some of the warriors. Hagen’s odd sense of humor had always softened the tone of the most dangerous adventures, and it was warmly received in this one.

“What now, Iltar?” Cornar inquires anxiously. “That thing may get friends and come back, so we best not stay here chatting for long.”

“Of course, Cor. Let’s follow the tunnel out and see if we can find those cowardly thieves we sent to scout ahead.”

With that said, the expedition travels down the tunnel, completely visible, until they see light coming from ahead. Three silhouettes darken the tunnel’s exit.

Iltar shakes his head at the sight, but he wasn’t surprised they hadn’t come back to help.

“You missed quite a battle back there,” Cornar quips as they meet up with the thieves.

“Yeah, we heard,” Tilthan responds. “But they were just giant insects.”

“Right, no loot huh?” Cornar retorts in annoyance. “It wasn’t worth it to you to help, I’m guessing?”

The thieves stare blankly at the warrior and Iltar breaks the tense silence. “Let’s get going. We have more important things to do than bick–”

A loud sound, like the rushing of wind, roars past the tunnel and interrupts Iltar. Each of the members of the expedition turn to the mouth of the tunnel in surprise.

“What’s that noise?” Tilthan turns and asks Iltar.

“I’m not sure. I’ve never heard anything like that. Why don’t you go out and check?” Iltar suggests dryly, pointing toward the sound as he stares at the thief.

With a raised brow and a sigh, Tilthan throws his cloak around himself; he latches the cloak and disappears from sight.

“I better find something valuable,” the master thief grumbles as he exits the tunnel and steps out into the northern mountainside.

At the mouth of the cavern, Tilthan sees a switchback path to the right of the opening that descends into a valley, with only two sways before it straightens out. Ignoring the path, Tilthan continues to the right beyond the trail and onto the outcroppings of rock that line the northern face of the towering mountains. He glances above and examines the steep mountainside where the mouth of the cavern is housed.

As he moves along the foothills, Tilthan scans the area from left to right. The mountains continue in both directions, cradling the tropical valley on all sides. Directly to the north the foothills slope toward a lush plain. In the distance to the north, the flat ground vanishes into the horizon. A dense forest of tropical trees begins several hundred phineals to the northeast of the thief’s perching.

As he turns from the trees, Tilthan’s eyes catch movement upon a cliff just to his right and above him. Seeing the movement, the thief jerks backward in surprise, almost falling off the rock completely, but he catches himself with one hand. With his other arm he pulls himself back atop the boulder.

My eyes must be playing tricks on me, Tilthan humorously thinks to himself. I thought that was a loose boulder falling.

Tilthan focuses on the cliff; specifically at a dull white-gray bulging shape. Just as he is about to confirm it was his imagination, the movement happens again.

The shape moves, the sight before him becomes majestic, striking him with awe and terror.

Gigantic wings spread open, revealing a paler white-gray under belly. Strong arms stretch outward with splaying claws, a thin webbing visible between the dull scaled fingers. Each of the fingers are tipped with obsidian talons. A long neck stretches up toward the sky, holding high its head with an elegantly long snout. Upon the crown of its head, several horns reach backward in a beautiful curve.

Still gazing at the sight in front of him, Tilthan realizes he’s been holding his breath and takes a deep gasp as the majestic creature rises on its hind legs. It stands upon four-pronged feet, with smaller talons lining the outer side of the beast’s legs, midway between the first and second joint of the thick limb.

The sound of the beast’s tail whipping against the mountainside reaches Tilthan’s ears, followed by the creaking of the scales covering the great serpent’s body. Once erect, the majestic being takes to flight. The same sound, like the rushing of wind, fills the mountainside; similar to what had been heard from within the cave.

As the creature soars into the morning light, sunlight glistens off its body; it soars through the clear blue sky, quickly fading from sight.

“I-it can’t be,” the thief mutters, recognizing the creature from stories of his youth, which all children on Kalda had been told. “A dragon!”

Once Tilthan recovers himself, he looks closer around the base of the mountains. He notices three other dragons outside the tunnel. They blend in perfectly with the landscape. Besides the one he first saw, one is lying on the ground to the right of the mouth of the cave, another sits to his left on a large boulder. The scales of both are dull, and have lost their metallic luster.

The third dragon lies at the base of the foothills, which Tilthan estimates to be over two grand phineals away. This last is fully awake and surveying the land to the north. Its scales brightly glisten in the light of the sun.

Carefully, Tilthan climbs down from the rock, ever watchful for any movement on the part of the dragons; however, they are unstirred by his movements.

Boy… I’m sure glad I have this cloak!

Once upon the path, the thief quietly retraces his steps back to the tunnel’s entrance.

Inside the mouth of the cave, Tilthan removes his cloak, and hustles over to Iltar, motioning for the others to back away from the tunnel’s opening.

“Iltar,” Tilthan whispers with excitement. “You won’t believe this, but there are three dragons out there! Dragons! Just like you didn’t tell me earlier… That noise we heard was the beating of their wings!”

The warriors, mages and the other two thieves gaze at each other with wide eyes while Iltar smiles with anticipation.

“One flew off while I was outside,” Tilthan continues, “But there are still three others laying on the ground out there. The nearest two were fast asleep and look really old. Well, I think they’re old because their scales are dull, but maybe their scales aren’t like normal metal? I don’t know!”

“How far away are they?” Cornar asks in a whisper as he steps close to the thief.

“A few hundred phineals or so; the third is almost two G.P. away. I doubt they can hear us.”

“Three dragons you say?” Iltar confirms the thief’s report and studies Tilthan’s face intently. “What color are they?”

“They are all a dull white-gray,” Tilthan answers. “Like platinum, but blending in with the mountains. In fact, I almost didn’t see them.”

“Hmmm,” Iltar smiles then mutters, “How fortunate.”

“Now what?” Cornar whispers to Iltar. “And do the mages know?”

“Yes,” Iltar answers in exasperation, “Give me a moment.”

The necromancer paces back and forth briefly then turns around to address the others. “Now that we’re here I can tell you the true purpose of this voyage. We are here to locate an ancient draconic relic, one of great power. Where exactly it’s located on this island, I do not know.

“These dragons, however, might know where it’s hidden.”

“You don’t really think they’ll tell us where, do you?” Nordal asks skeptically.

Igan clears his throat and speaks up, “From what you’ve said, I doubt they’ll want to divulge any information of its whereabouts.”

“Let’s think about this,” Iltar motions his hands towards the others then looks to Cornar. “We should set a guard further down the tunnel.”

“Of course,” the warrior answers. He looks around and spies the old conjurer. “Amendal, come with me. Aron, Nordal you too.”

“Finally!” Amendal cackles and rubs his hands together. “My pretties can come out to play.”

As the warriors and the conjurer move back down the tunnel, Iltar steps closer to the mouth of the cave and sits. He gazes out into the blue sky and wonders. Three dragons should not be too much for us to handle; and, like Igan said, they probably won’t be forthcoming. Using magic will most likely provoke them to battle, so I need another way…

A while later, Cornar and Amendal return to the others, who are resting against the cool walls of the cave.

“Cor,” Iltar calls out, “Come here.”

The warrior carefully steps around the resting members of their expedition and heads to Iltar’s side.

Once Cornar is near Iltar whispers, “I need to make these dragons trust me; go out there under the guise of a simple and weak mage.”

“Do you think that’s wise?” Igan asks as he steps behind Cornar, followed by Hex and Hagen.

“Igan’s right,” Hagen squeaks. “What if they see through your lie?!”

“Don’t you remember that fable?” Hex asks. “Where the army was stilled by the dragon’s gaze.”

“I’ve heard stories they can put you to sleep with a word!” Hagen adds hastily.

“Enough,” Iltar shakes his head. “I agree we don’t know what we’re up against. All we know about these beasts comes from fables; but remember, fables are always exaggerated.

“Now, I have a plan,” Iltar says pauses to make sure they’re listening calmly. “One that will require you to watch for my signal.”

Cornar and the mages fold their arms as they listen to Iltar’s plot, “I’ll make it appear that I am truly alone and defenseless. Then, perhaps, they will let their guard down and I can meticulously extract what knowledge I need from them.”

“Or they may kill you on the spot,” Cornar retorts dryly.

“Yes,” Amendal pipes up and leans close to Iltar, “You’d be a fresh and tasty meal.”

Iltar recoils slightly from Amendal, unsure if he’s joking, but then is drawn back into the conversation.

“Even if they tell you everything you want to know, what makes you think they’ll let you leave?” Igan asks seriously.

“Because that’s where we come in,” Cornar interjects and shakes his head. “An ambush.”

“What!?” Hagen gasps, ghastly turning to Cornar.

“Exactly,” Iltar grins. “We probably won’t get everything I need without magic. So when we are ready, or if it looks like things are going awry, I will signal you. Hagen I need your pack. When we’re ready I will turn my head toward the cave, set the pack down and pull something out of it. Exactly those movements, got it?”

“Understood,” Cornar nods his head.

“This is great…” Hagen sorrowfully glances to Igan and Hex. “We’re going to die, I know it! We know nothing about how they fight. I mean, they can fly and they’re huge. What if they deflect our magic, or –”

“Hagen!” Iltar growls. “Silence! Between Amendal and myself, I know we can kill those beasts. With his conjurations and my darkness they will succumb to us. Besides we have the element of surprise.”

Stung by the rebuke, Hagen turns away and moves to grab his pack.

“Here, Cor,” Iltar says and un-slings his small bag from his shoulders, handing it to the warrior. “Keep it safe.”

Cornar nods his head, and Hagen sullenly hands his pack to Iltar.

“Be watching,” Iltar instructs as he puts the pack on his back. “I don’t know how long this will take.” Leaving his warning hanging in the air, Iltar turns away from the others and steps up to the mouth of the cave.

Cornar and the mages watch as Iltar leaves and the warrior turns to the short illusionist, wrapping his arm around his shoulder.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Igan states with a sigh. “Iltar’s being too arrogant.”

“Let’s just go back through the tunnel,” Hagen suggests.

Ignoring Hagen, Cornar stares out the cave’s mouth and stoically says, “We need to devise a battle strategy. Let’s get to it.”

7

Deception

 

Running out of the cave, Iltar clumsily stumbling on the first curve and falls on the weaving path. He gets up and starts down the earthen winding pathway that soon straightens out. The necromancer knows the dragons are there, but he ignores them, aloofly looking off into the sprawling valley that stretches as far as he can see. Iltar stops about halfway down the now straightened path, still within sight of the tunnel and his friends.

Looking around with feigned confusion, he notices the dragons who are now to his left and right. His eyes grow wide with genuine amazement.

“Incredible,” Iltar mutters then looks further into the valley and stares directly at the dragon two grand phineals away.

“That one is huge!” Iltar exclaims. “It looks to be as large if not larger than the tarrasque…”

Hearing Iltar, the other two dragons nearest him wake from their slumber. Both majestic beings turn their heads to face the muttering necromancer, then briefly look at each other.

The one on the left slowly climbs down from the enormous boulder it was sitting upon and lumbers toward Iltar, while the other rises from near the trees and takes to flight.

Soaring through the air, the dragon descends in a swoop and spreads its wings, covering the sky and casting large shadows; it rapidly flaps its wings as it descends, causing strong gusts of wind that force the necromancer to the ground. It lands upon its hind legs and gently settles in front of Iltar.

The dragon stretches its elegant neck high into the air, tilting its head toward the necromancer.

“Intriguing,” the dragon states with a deep bellowing voice in the common language of Kalda. “A human here.

“What are you doing on this island?” the dragon asks Iltar with genuine sincerity.

“M-m-monsters… i-in the cave!” Iltar says in a shaky voice, “Th-there… there i-is a huge b-beast killing everyone!” Iltar frantically exclaims, pointing a shaking hand back to the cave.

As Iltar answers the dragon, the second majestic creature steps close to the other, saying in a higher voice than the first, “The tarrasque, you poor thing.”

Iltar furrows his brow as he looks at the second dragon thinking to himself, A female… interesting.

Turning to the dragon next to her, the second dragon addresses the first, “The Rilum’ama must have been too much for him.”

“What?” Iltar squeezes the word shakily.

“It is the guardian and caretaker of this place,” the female dragon answers calmly, “Rilum’ama is what you would call it in our tongue. And let me introduce myself, I am Ar’ismal’tur.”

“Yes, quite impressive isn’t it?” the first dragon asks. “Tell me, what do you think of it my human friend?”

Iltar feigns a look of horror, “It… it killed all but a few of us, then…” the words trail off, “We were attacked by swarms of overgrown tralyx. I’m the only one to survive,” Iltar buries his head in his hands, feigning remorse.

“That’s quite unfortunate,” the first dragon says seriously. “We have had nothing to eat for hours, and I’ve grown tired of tralyx. Your companions would have made a good meal. You, on the other hand, look scrawny and tough.”

Iltar’s eyes widen in genuine shock. Perhaps Amendal was right. His mind races with possible ways to defend himself, and he takes one step backward, steadying himself.

“Don’t talk that way to him, Xil’gault’nirl!” Ar’ismal’tur pushes the first dragon to the ground with her front legs. “Can’t you see he’s terrified!”

Laughing, Xil’gault’nirl recovers from the blow. He shakes the dirt out from beneath his scales and continues to address Iltar, “Now back to my first question, what are you doing here human? Conquer your dread and answer me!” the last phrase bellows from his mouth and the dragon leans his giant snout toward Iltar.

Looking past Xil’gault’nirl, Iltar can see the other dragon in the distance examining up at them. Hearing the exchange, it slowly stands and lumbers toward them.

Returning his gaze to Xil’gault’nirl, the necromancer swallows and answers.

“We came here to your island looking for an ancient artifact. I don’t really know what it is, I’m just one of the mages hired to come along to enhance the soldiers. But,” Iltar looks at his feet with feigning embarrassment, “I overheard the leader talking to another about a manuscript found on another island. It told of an artifact, an amulet with a ruby that is very powerful,” Iltar pauses, then finishes in a hurry. “The grandmaster of my guild wants the amulet. He sent an expedition here to find it and return it to him.”

Once Iltar finishes his explanation, both dragons look at each other; their features strain and Ar’ismal’tur utters several sharp sounds. Xil’gault’nirl replies back with similar noises. The sounds startle the necromancer, and he struggles to focus on them.

Amid what appears to Iltar to be a sharp exchange, Xil’gault’nirl abruptly stops, sensing the third dragon approaching from the plain. He looks behind, then returns his gaze to Iltar. “What a pity. You forfeited your lives coming here. I advise that you escape while you still can.”

With that Xil’gault’nirl rears up on his hind legs and rises into the air, forcing Iltar to the ground.

As her companion takes flight, Ar’ismal’tur turns and faces the third dragon who has nearly reached them.

Iltar can’t be sure of Ar’ismal’tur’s body language, but he thinks he sees contempt and anger in her visage for the creature approaching.

Suddenly, Ar’ismal’tur stretches out her neck, extending her large snout and bearing her teeth. She lets out a sharp, deafening shrill that startles Iltar. The majestic being that had appeared so gentle had in an instant become hostile, as if defending Iltar from the approaching dragon.

Pausing with a defiant expression upon its scaled features, the third dragon stares directly at Ar’ismal’tur with cold eyes.

Ar’ismal’tur shrieks inaudible sharp sounds in reply to the third’s gaze.

Wincing at the rigid sounds, Iltar quickly covers his ears.

From the sky, similar sharp sounds echo from Xil’gault’nirl, circling above the necromancer and the two other dragons.

Still locked in a gaze with the newcomer, Ar’ismal’tur repeats the same sharp sounds she had shrieked before then growls loudly.

“Trifle not with this, vik’sha, little one,” Ar’ismal’tur looks to Iltar, then rises upon her hind legs. She flaps her wings, taking to flight and joining Xil’gault’nirl in the air.

Both old dragons circle once before flying a short distance to the west. As they land they rest their scaled bodies upon the stony ground but are watchful of Iltar and the mysterious third dragon, who diabolically chuckles while approaching Iltar.

“Vik’sha,” the large dragon contemptuously bellows. “I loathe that derogatory slur. I am, Anken’mar!” His deep voice resonates off the mountainside.

Iltar jumps at the resounding declaration, raising a hand to his face, as if shielding himself. He stammers, “I-I was saying to the others–”

“I heard your pathetic tale,” Anken’mar interrupts with dismissive arrogance. “You’re searching for the Au’misha’k, how amusing. You’ve wasted your time and your friends’ insignificant lives!”

“Why is that?” Iltar asks, genuinely surprised at the estranged dragon.

“That for which you seek is not here on this island. It never has been here, fool,” Anken’mar cackles and sits in front of the necromancer.

Shocked by the revelation, Iltar struggles to hide his anger. He assumes a posture mixed with concern and fear, using both emotions to mask his anger.

Inwardly, Iltar kicks himself, I was foolish to think it would be so easy; what a cruel turn of fate. No matter, I still have my plan and he obviously knows where the amulet is.

Deciding to continue with his ruse, Iltar shakes his head and moans. He plops down on the ground, sitting cross-legged in front of the dragon. He keeps his head down and eyes focused on the ground, quickly thinking of his next step.

“I almost feel sorry for you, mage… You come all this way, lose all your friends, and for what? For nothing me thinks!” Anken’mar chuckles. “Almost, but, you’re a human and undeserving of such pity!”

Iltar feigns grief as he looks back up at Anken’mar, “So the amulet is not here on the island then? I don’t understand. The manuscripts described this island, even how to find it. What a cruel trick!” Iltar moans loudly.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Anken’mar says with bored disgust, looking toward the other dragons to his right. “The Au’misha’k is a powerful device that needed to be kept hidden. It was secreted away so no one could claim its power.

“Nor do I believe anyone ever wrote where to find it. If they did, it was to trick treasure seekers, like you, into falling prey to this island and its horrors.”

Furrowing his brow in surprise, Iltar wonders to himself, Could the elvish scrolls have really just been a trick, or do the dragons not know of their existence? It would be a strange turn of events; however, Iltar quickly quells his confusion and focuses on the ruse at hand.

“We should have known. One of the others, an experienced man of war, said this was too easy… too easy! ‘Find a map and manuscripts that lead directly to an island with treasure, too easy,’ too easy indeed!” the necromancer fakes his incredulity. Looking up to the dragon he asks, “Has anyone else ever come looking for the amulet?”

“Here? No, you are the first not of our kind to come to this place. And quite possibly the last, too,” Anken’mar smiles evilly, unveiling his long sharp teeth in an intimidating sneer.

“Ah but you are wrong,” Iltar shakes his finger, attempting to appear hopeful. “When we don’t return our grandmaster will send others. And in greater number.”

“Then they will die like you and your friends.”

“So are you going to kill me then?”

“No!” Anken’mar gasps between chuckles. “I won’t kill you. But I will send you back into the tunnel, and you’ll find your fate there.”

Iltar gives Anken’mar a quizzical look then glances back at the tunnel entrance, but quickly turns to face him.

“Well, if the amulet isn’t here then why do the manuscripts say it’s here? I think you’re lying to me.”

“Why would I waste my time lying to a human? I told you the amulet is not here on this island. Who know why the manuscripts you claim your people found told of it being here in the first place. I didn’t write the thing.”

“It must be here. You’re here, and you must be guarding it. Why woul–”

“Guarding?!” Anken’mar bellows, arcing his neck forward and bringing his snout near Iltar. “I guard nothing for them!”

Genuinely frightened at the dragon’s outburst, Iltar backward falls upon the path.

Anken’mar recoils his snout and arrogantly sits up, raising his scaled snout into the air.

“B-b-but,” Iltar continues, shaken, “W-why would there be a beast like th-that horrible monster? W-why is it guarding the entrance to the tunnel leading to this valley if the amulet is not here?

“We sent two men back to the ship when we discovered that monstrosity. If we don’t return by nightfall, the ship will return home and bring more soldiers and mages. The secret of the amulet is already uncovered. My people will come back in greater numbers until we find it.”

“As I said before,” Anken’mar’s eyes narrow at Iltar’s logic, “They will all die.”

“Ah but I think not. I was able to get past the monster and make it here. Don’t you think others will also be able to do the same?”

“Then they will leave empty handed. As I told you, the amulet is not here!” the dragon emphatically reaffirms the statement.

Slightly frustrated Iltar continues, “Fine, if I’m to die here at least tell me something about the amulet. This ignorance is maddening!”

“Ha! Then perhaps I’ll let you go mad before you die, human. Or better yet, I will tell you something… Something that will truly drive you mad.” Anken’mar lowers his head slightly and curves his neck. “Something that no one else will know because you won’t be alive to tell them.”

Finally, Iltar thinks, pleased.

“No, I don’t think I want to know,” Iltar says aloud, waving his hands and closing his eyes as if changing his mind. “If you don’t tell me then maybe I’ll have a chance to get out of here alive. But if you have to kill me after telling me, I don’t think I want to know anything after all.”

The necromancer stands up and walks backwards to the tunnel.

In response, Anken’mar raises up on all fours and pounds the ground with his forward claws, shaking the ground and causing the Iltar to fall.

Rolling over onto his back, Iltar looks up to see the great serpentine beast stepping forward. Anken’mar towers over the necromancer and quickly lowers his large snout just above Iltar. Putrid odors from Anken’mar’s breath wash against Iltar’s face and the stench drives him to try and scurry away further up the path; however, the gigantic dragon lightly pins Iltar to the ground.

“You leave when I say you can leave!” Anken’mar’s words hiss with anger, accompanied by his vile breath. “You are my pet!”

Struggling for air, Iltar angrily looks away and coughs.

“Do not dare to attempt that again! You will stay and entertain me.” Anken’mar’s tone is full of contempt.

“I suppose I don’t have a choice,” Iltar sighs and coughs again.

“That’s right,” Anken’mar sneers, “It has been a long time since I’ve had any sport and I’m miserably bored. So hapless one, you have the pleasure to serve me, your serpentine god.”

“Can I at least get up… my lord?,” Iltar feigns submissiveness and dips his head, looking at the dragon’s nostril.

Not the eyes, Iltar thinks. Throughout his youth, Iltar had read enough stories to know never to look a dragon directly in the eyes. According to legend, a dragon’s stare is said to enthrall, and whoever was caught gazing into their eyes would have their thoughts penetrated. Having his mind laid before the dragon like food before a hungered beggar is not a pleasing thought to Iltar.

“I promise,” Iltar grunts. “I won’t try to run back into the tunnel.”

“I suppose I can do that,” Anken’mar lifts his head, freeing Iltar from his grasp.

The necromancer cautiously pushes himself up and sits with his legs crossed in front of the dragon.

“I really don’t want to kill you, human. Even though you are a human, and as such are an inferior breed of animal.”

“Thanks, I appreciate that,” Iltar replies sarcastically.

“See, that’s why I don’t want to kill you. You have some gall. No one speaks to a dragon like that, especially a dragon such as myself! No one who wants to live that is…”

“But I’m going to die,” Iltar responds carefully, choosing the words he hopes will amuse Anken’mar more. “So what does it matter if I make you mad? The sooner you kill me the better off I’ll be.”

“Oh, but if you truly enrage me your death will be very slow and painful. None of that breathing fire bit, or eating you whole. We rarely do that sort of thing, anyway. No, I would use some of my digestive acid on you. I can spit up small quantities. Just enough to dissolve a foot, leg or arm. Whatever extremity you care for the most.” The dragon lowers his snout and attempts to gaze into the necromancer’s eyes. “It can be very painful physically and mentally, watching your own hand corroded by acid. But you haven’t enraged me. In fact, you are a quite amusing specimen, for a human.”

Thinking, Iltar reevaluates his situation, This dragon is not what I expected; completely different than the tales my father told me of platinum dragons. Seeing much more of himself in the beast than the tales of altruistic platinums had led him to believe, he decides to use their similarities to his advantage.

Clearing his throat, Iltar speaks up, “Why don’t you want to kill me? I thought you said earlier that I would die here?”

“Yes, so you shall,” Anken’mar coldly states. “But I didn’t say when. You may even grow old here, like the rest of us. Like me,” he looks at Xil’gault’nirl and Ar’ismal’tur in disgust, who are now fast asleep. The anger in his voice swells as he continues.

“You see? All they want to do is sleep, how boring. No conversation, I don’t think I’ve had a real conversation with anyone for at least a hundred years. So you see, I think I’ll keep you around for stimulating interaction,” Anken’mar sadistically grins.

Iltar grins inwardly, thinking how fortunate it is that this dragon actually wants to converse with him. He might actually be able to get all the information they need without putting himself and the others in danger. He hopes the others do not lose their patience.

Turning his full attention to the dragon, Iltar picks up the conversation with some basic questions:

“How long have you been on this island?”

“Oh… about three hundred and fifty years I think. You lose count after so long.”

“Why did you come here? Is this where all the dragons live now?”

“You’re suddenly full of questions,” Anken’mar remarks, twisting his head around Iltar, as if the new view would give him added insight.

“You said you wanted a conversation. I thought you wouldn’t mind telling me about this island and why you are here.”

“I don’t mind, but first I want to hear about where you come from. I have seen nothing of the world since I came here.”

“Oh, alright. I can tell you about myself.” Iltar complies, spinning a lie. “My name is Alacor…” Iltar says with a tone of disappointment, “I come from a meager family in Soroth…”

After his false introduction, Iltar tells the beast the some truths about the islands he comes from but, little of his personal life is accurate. The necromancer says that he is an illusionist, a deception calculated to make it seem that Iltar is more neutral in his moral alignment; though, there have been some wicked ones in the past. He also tells of a fictitious war between two kingdoms on the main continent: the city nation of Kildath and the Kingdom of Los. He uses this war as the reason they were sent to look for the amulet, in order to keep it from either of the two nations. He tells Anken’mar that his guild of mages since become a good organization, dedicated to keeping the peace; in addition, the islands of Soroth have since had a revolutionary change for better morality.

During Iltar’s fictional retelling of history, he and Anken’mar move farther away from the cave and the switchback path, taking up a comfortable position near where the dragon was resting earlier that day.

After several hours, Iltar finishes relating his false stories. Anken’mar asks questions about some of the details he related concerning the Kingdom of Los. But Iltar had put enough truths in his story so he would not be trapped into contradicting himself. He’s almost caught once when Anken’mar asks for details about the war, attempting to discover who had influenced it; that matter appears to be of great interest to him. Iltar tells him that he might have gotten some specifics muddled; after all, he’s a lowly mage and isn’t often given specifics about wars and battles. The dragon seems satisfied with Iltar’s story, yet disappointed in not knowing the particular details.

Once Iltar finishes answering Anken’mar’s questions, he speaks up, “Now, oh mighty Lord of Metal, will you answer my questions from before?”

“Lord of Metal?” Anken’mar chuckles in a pleased tone, “Interesting use of terms, my pet. Yes, I will answer you.”

Excited, Iltar fights to hold back his many questions and still his composure. He knows he must be careful so as not to rouse suspicion.

“This place,” Anken’mar looks around before continuing, “Is a sacred land. Thousands of years ago a great battle was wrought in the skies. Crimson and Platinum clashed, and their bodies littered this valley’s floor. It was a battle that crippled the true rulers of dragonkind.

“Platinum dragons come here to this island when they are old, to die alongside those that fought valiantly… usually.”

Iltar tries hard to keep his composure at this point and ponders to himself, “They come here to die? So the scroll was correct. This is the dragon burial ground, and the story of the battle did in reality happened.”

“Usually?” the conspiring necromancer interrupts, “What do you mean by that?”

“That’s not why I’m here. If I had come here to die of old age I wouldn’t have been here for over three hundred and fifty years now would I?”

“Then, why are you here?”

“I’m a prisoner, just like you, albeit for different reasons. I was exiled here. Exiled and cursed because I sought what the draconic leaders, the Ril’Sha, had deemed forbidden.”

Intrigued, Iltar nods his head and prods, “I didn’t know dragons did that sort of thing, exiling and cursings I mean.”

“They don’t,” Anken’mar hisses. “I was an exception. I believe dragons should rule the world, like we did anciently. The Ril’Sha, believe we need to stay aloof and not directly interfere in human and elven affairs; they cower in their frozen caves, cut off from the rest of Kalda.”

“We are the strongest beings on this planet! It is our right to govern!” Anken’mar cries passionately, raising himself upon his hind legs to full height. He then lets out a loud, sharp, bellowing roar.

Xil’gault’nirl and Ar’ismal’tur stir from their slumber, glancing at the exiled dragon with annoyance. However, they nestle themselves back upon the rocky ground almost immediately thereafter.

“Do you see what I mean? I can’t even provoke these pathetic excuses for dragons when I call out a rallying cry!”

“So why don’t you just fly away?” Iltar asks innocently. “Go somewhere else, some place they can’t find you?”

Chuckling darkly, Anken’mar his nearest wings, showing Iltar their underside: Long scars run from the wingpit to the wingtip.

“Do you see these scars? They removed certain muscles, muscles that a dragon needs to fly. I have limited use of my wings, but I can’t fly off this island.”

“That’s terrible! So you are right, you are trapped here just like me,” Iltar feigns indignation.

“I am. But now I have you to keep me entertained,” Anken’mar lies down, resting his head beside the necromancer. Silence settles over the two malevolent beings as the day continues.

After a short time, Iltar muses aloud to get the dragon talking again, “So, this is the dragons’ graveyard? What’s that monster for, then? The others said it was a guardian and caretaker. Why would the scrolls we found indicate that the amulet is on this island, Draco Isola? It was written in a way that made it seem like the amulet and some ruby were meant to be found again, or so I heard…. It just doesn’t make sense,” Iltar continues with frustration, partially heartfelt.

“It makes perfect sense,” Anken’mar chuckles, “And I’m amused by your persistence in the matter.”

“What do you mean?”

Turning his nearest eye to the necromancer Anken’mar explains, “First of all. If you were really trying to hide something would you record where it was really located? Or would you lead someone on a chase that took them to the least likely place?”

Iltar sighs then thinks, Why does he believe the scrolls are not true? Perhaps he is right, but no; there is something on this island, there must be! After all, he was exiled.

“I get it,” Iltar shouts and raises a hand in the air. “Whoever wrote the scrolls wanted to ensure the amulet’s safety by leaving false clues to lead them here and face that monster, a trap.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying…You are not so dumb, for a human.”

“Well then tell me this, oh wise Lord of Metal, if the amulet is so well hidden why did whoever wrote the scrolls feel the need to plant false clues?”

“Do you realize what language the scrolls were written?”

“Elvish?” Iltar asks with some uneasiness. “But how did you know?”

“By the name you called this island. Now do you understand?” Anken’mar asks, prodding Iltar to find his own answers.

“The amulet was hidden by the elves then? Some place where the elves either live or lived.”

Laughing at Iltar’s logic, Anken’mar asks “Hidden by them? No… but you’re doing superb, little mage! Now, what are the places where the elves either live or have lived?”

“Hmm, they live in their secluded cities on the western coast now. But they used to live all over, they even had a stronghold on the Isle of Merdan, right? I have heard that the place is haunted now,” Iltar hopes mentioning the other location on the elven map might prompt further insight into the truth of the scrolls.

“Ah, yes I remember it clearly, the great metropolis of Merda and its majestic pyramid fortress. The elves were very proud of it; impregnable they thought. It was,” the dragon sneers, “Until their pride was stripped away.”

“You obviously don’t like the elves.”

“No I do not. They elevated themselves above us dragons, and men too. Now what has become of them? Sniveling cowards, trapped inside their towering tombs.”

“What happened to the city?”

“Undead rule the city now. The elves and their arrogant naiveté,” Anken’mar grumbles. “They thought they were invincible, but they were brought to their knees. Now the conniving creatures are slaves, and that island nation is no more, ruled by a Ma’lisha; a being that was once a man. He lives on in a twisted form of immortality, worshiping a deity as demented as he.”

“Huh?” Iltar genuinely queries, “A mali-what?”

Chuckling, Anken’mar responds, “That is what his kind are called in my divine tongue. You humans commonly misconceive them as vampires; the latter are merely lesser beings of their creation.”

“Oh,” Iltar slowly nods his head, grateful that his expedition had not gone to Merda first. “So are you telling me the amulet was hidden with the elves at Merda?” Iltar asks casually, trying to hide his excitement.

“Did I say that?” Anken’mar smiles grimly. “No, I didn’t say that.”

“No, you didn’t, but I guessed it. Am I right?”

“You may be right, or perhaps you are dead wrong,” Anken’mar replies menacingly.

“I guess it really doesn’t matter does it?” Iltar backs off. “But what about the monster here; isn’t it guarding something important?” Iltar hopes that prodding at the tarrasque’s purpose will prompt some answer about the island’s importance, “I’m stuck here with no way off this island. It would be nice to know before I die if I am right or wrong about this place and the amulet.”

“Ha! You are a crafty one, illusionist. That thing guards nothing concerning the Au’misha’k. Maybe one day before you die I will let you know those answers.”

“Very well, you win,” Iltar replies in a sullied tone. “I’m tired and need some sleep. After all, it’s getting dark.”

With that said, Iltar removes a blanket from Hagen’s pack. Using the sack as a pillow he lays down to sleep, looking toward Anken’mar and the vista beyond the great serpent.

An hour passes and Iltar pretends to drift into slumber; in that time, the two older dragons move back near the spots where they were initially resting when Tilthan spotted them.

As his captor lets out heavy breathing, Iltar watches the large dragon, ensuring he is asleep. Once satisfied, Iltar slowly gets up and proceeds to the cave, motioning for Cornar to stand down whatever assault he has prepared.

Cornar emerges from the tunnel’s mouth with bow in hand with an arrow strung. He patiently waits and watches as his longtime companion in adventure strides up the switchback path.

“You know,” Cornar whispers as Iltar nears him, “I almost misread your actions earlier, but then I remembered you’re not one to be sloppy with your signals.”

“I know where the amulet is hidden,” Iltar’s face beams with satisfaction. “It’s on the Isle of Merdan.”

“Can you be sure, Iltar? This dragon could be playing games with you.”

“I’m sure enough; however, I would like to get more information from him. I still haven’t unraveled the mystery of the ruby, nor have I brought up the activating spell for the amulet, or the tethering stone.

“But after conversing with that beast, I think I misread or mistranslated part of the elven scroll. There has to be something here. Why else would there be a dot on the map?”

Cornar simply shrugs.

“Gather the rest and get ready to attack,” Iltar says in an impatient tone. “These two in front are old and we should dispatch them first. Then we can concentrate on the larger one. He can’t fly so it shouldn’t be too hard to take him. But I want him alive, Cornar. Also, be careful of his spit; it’s acidic and very corrosive, or so he says.”

“Understood,” Cornar nods. “I’ll get the others and we will surprise these hapless beasts.” He vanishes into the tunnel, leaving Iltar alone to watch the sleeping dragons..

Once Cornar reaches the rest of his and Iltar’s band, each of the men anxiously look at him.

“Iltar has finally finished conversing with the dragon. There are only three near here, all fast asleep. We can kill the two old ones nearest us, but Iltar wants the larger one, the one he’ll be standing by, to be kept alive. If any of you kill him, I’m sure Iltar will find a painful way for you to endure the rest of your days.”

 

8

Battle

 

Twilight falls upon the now peaceful island of dragonkind; the night sky dimly lit by the moons. A cool breeze descends from the mountain tops, filling the valley with a comfortable temperature.

Surveying the scene before him, Iltar folds his arms and whispers, “This is an evening to remember.”

Cornar and the other thirteen members of the expedition can be heard emerging from the tunnel, and Iltar turns to face them. Each of them but Cornar have various levels of anxiety showing on their faces.

Once outside the cave, Cornar nods to Iltar, then turns to face the others. The aged warrior raises his hand with his forefinger extended, motioning toward the dragon on their right, Xil’gault’nirl, who is farther up the mountainside than earlier that day.

He raises his hand again, with two fingers extended, and points toward Ar’ismal’tur on their left, below the foothills.

After receiving their orders, the men separate themselves into two parties, except Cornar and Iltar. Both men walk side-by-side down the switchback trail toward Anken’mar, but stop midway between the dragon and the tunnel

Just as before, when the duo had taken on the rebel apprentices, Iltar prepares them for the coming battle. Iltar whispers the words to bring forth a green protective aura around Cornar. The dark green hue swirls in two directions around the warrior, spreading all over his body.

He utters another incantation and gray particles jump from his palm, quickly swirling around Cornar before striking his body, painlessly penetrating his skin.

Lastly and without incantation, Iltar musters a black mist from within his pores. The black magic swirls into the quiver strapped upon Cornar’s back, magically enhancing the arrows. In like manner, both of the weapons at Cornar’s side glow with the same dark substance.

Sufficiently enhanced, the warrior draws an arrow, and rests it in his bow; its tip glowing with a black magical light.

Iltar then turns his attention to himself. Black magic seethes from his pours and envelopes his body, forming his necrotic sphere of invulnerability. He splays his hands and two globes of darkness from beyond his palms. Once formed, the globes of darkness leave his hands and circle his body, softly humming.

Meanwhile, the rest of the expedition divides up almost evenly: Kalder, Nordal and Tilthan stand next to each other in front of Hagen and Hex, focus on Xil’gault’nirl. The brash warriors and the cunning thief notch their bows, their tips aiming at the dragon’s eyelids that have lost their protective scales. Tilthan pulls four arrows from his quiver, each with small fletching that prevents them from touching each other while notched in the thief’s bow.

On the other end of the switchback path, Aron, Shen, Grasil, Nath and Nemral stand ready in front of Igan.

White particles wisp from Hagen’s hands, encircling the warriors and thieves, enhancing their physical capacities.

Igan and Hex both whisper identical incantations, mustering forth a variation of barsion magic, a magic of purely protective properties. Both wizards enshroud themselves in magical barriers imbued with defensive arcane and elemental properties, respectively; similar to Iltar’s necrotic sphere of protection.

Once the protective magics take shape, the two wizards utter incantations to their devastating spells and the warriors pull back their arrows.

Amid the preparation, Amendal sits in deep concentration at the cave’s mouth. His hands tightly pressed together, and his eyes fixated on the ground. The old conjurer mouths the words of multiple spells, causing three shimmering portals to form near each of the sleeping dragons.

It is at this moment the silence of twilight turns to pandemonium.

Arrows sing through the air toward the sleeping beasts as the mystical gateways fully open. Ar’ismal’tur is woken abruptly by the arrows’ music, evading all but one of the metallic shafts; however, Xil’gault’nirl is not so lucky.

The assault from Kalder and his companions’ arrows pierce Xil’gault’nirl eyes, rendering him blind. The old dragon thrashes around, letting out a bellowing roar while reaching his front claws towards his face.

Behind the warriors and thief, Hex finishes his spell, bringing forth a ball of fire that hovers over the first group’s heads. With both of his hands above his head, Hex hurls the flaming magic toward Xil’gault’nirl. Flame streams from the orb of fire as it flies through the air. Within seconds it crashes against the dragon’s scales, and the burning heat consumes the hardened serpentine skin on contact.

Tilthan, Nordal and Kalder continue their barrage of arrows. Some of the metallic projectiles bounce off Xil’gault’nirl’s scales, but others penetrate his exposed skin, where scales had fallen off from old age.

By this time, the portal near Xil’gault’nirl is fully formed and a gargantuan creature steps through it. As the conjured creature emerges, it takes its first step on the draconic isle, which rumbles the ground. Once fully through, the monolithic conjuration looks at Xil’gault’nirl. The creature is formed out of hot solid magma, standing over twenty phineals tall. Its form is humanoid, with rippling magmatic muscles. Hot liquid streams line the creature’s creases, exuding fire as the conjured creature flexes and moves. The magma elemental moves forward, with slow motions at first, toward the thrashing dragon.

Aware only through hearing, Xil’gault’nirl rolls over on his belly and pushes himself from the ground. Sensing the conjuration from its heat, the dragon opens his gaping jaw, utters a strange sharp sound, and lets loose his breath.

Blue magical fire rushes from Xil’gault’nirl’s open maw and hits the conjured monstrosity. The freezing breath cools part of the creature’s stomach, but the chilling vapor doesn’t stop its advance. The elemental pushes forward, moving faster than at first, and crashes into Xil’gault’nirl, tackling him to the ground.

Both dragon and conjuration struggle, reeling to and fro. The conjured creature’s iced side slowly melts, further fueling its fiery rage. As they wrestle for control, the elemental grabs hold of Xil’gault’nirl’s neck with one of its flaming hands and it swiftly punches with the other, crashing its flaming fist across the dragon’s snout.

Amid the bout, Hex finishes another incantation, unleashing a dozen fiery bolts into the air. They race toward Xil’gault’nirl, arcing around Amendal’s conjuration.

Each of the fiery projectiles penetrate the dragon’s scales, burning through the metal-like covering and further weakening the old dragon; thus allowing Amendal’s conjuration to overpower the platinum serpent and suppress him to the ground.

Fearlessly, Kalder and Nordal drop their bows and draw their swords. They race side by side toward Xil’gault’nirl and the conjuration; their abilities greatly enhanced by Hagen’s magic.

Noticing the two warriors approaching, the creature moves beside Xil’gault’nirl and pummeling his back.

Soft moans leave Xil’gault’nirl’s mouth as the two warriors arrive, his large head tilted to his left.

Kalder moves in a circular pattern around the right side of the dragon’s snout and then leaps on top of it; the enhancing magic helps him clear the height. Once atop the dragon, Kalder reaches high in the air and leaps across the snout, twirling his great claymore. With the blade facing down and Kalder in motion, the warrior leaps from the scaled snout and lowers the blade with himself, putting his entire weight into the blow. The sword cuts deep into the dragon’s head with the energy of Kalder’s falling body.

At the same time, Nordal rushes toward the other side of the dragon’s head and pierces behind his eye.

Struck by the weapons, Xil’gault’nirl lets out a blood curdling scream before suddenly falling silent. Kalder is knocked off balance as the dragon jolts his last movement in pain. Nordal lets go of his weapon and pushes himself away as the dragon rolls his head towards the warrior, leaving Nordal’s weapon irretrievable.

Sensing Xil’gault’nirl’s death, the elemental moves off to assist the others. Both warriors follow the conjured creature’s movements with their eyes. To their surprise, the sight is not favorable.

Meanwhile, Tilthan turns to the illusionist behind him and shouts, “I need some more arrows. Summon me some, and make sure they have a kick to them!”

  • * * * *

With one arrow piercing her eye, Ar’ismal’tur rears back on her hind legs and spreads open her wings. She rapidly flaps them towards the five men re-notching their bows and releasing their arrows. The strong gusts are enough to deflect the sailing arrows and knock the men to the ground.

“You fools!” Ar’ismal’tur roars in the common tongue, “Do you even comprehend what you’re doing?!”

Puzzled that the dragon speaks their language, the warriors and thieves pause before regaining their composure and continuing their assault.

The second portal summoned forth by Amendal fully opens and a second magma colossus steps through to join the battle, ambling toward Ar’ismal’tur.

Meanwhile, near the cave, a frosty cloud of blue magic gathers in front and above Igan. Shards of ice take form in the cloud, about half the size of an average man. The cloud thins and icy shafts speed toward the dragon.

Seeing the magic, the female serpent quickly retaliates and lets loose a wave of fire from her mouth. As the ice shards race towards her, the fire from her maw meets them, and the magical projectiles turn to a vapor in the inferno. The flame quickly spreads toward the party and the advancing combatants hastily move out of its way.

Aron, Shen, and the thieves retreat to the southeast of the dragon and the now charging conjuration, close to where Igan had launched his icy assault. However, Grasil is not as fortunate as the others in his escape.

With incredible speed, the dragon fire engulfs Grasil’s body. The warrior throws himself to the ground, but is quickly consumed by the raging magical fire. He tries to scream in agony but the flames quench the surrounding air, suffocating and burning him in his final moment.

Seeing his spell thwarted, Igan’s eyes narrow at the dragon, who is now tightly engaged with the magma behemoth.

Amid an exchange of blows, the female dragon attempts to take flight, but the heavy creature latches on to one of her hind legs and pulls her to the ground. With one hand, the magma giant swiftly thrusts its strong arm down and backward, causing the dragon to crash to the rocky foothills. It further presses her to the ground with blows and grapples.

With this scene playing out before him, Igan closes his eyes and deeply concentrates on his next incantation, one which demands great control and magical ability. Red and pink magical particles swarm about in front of Igan’s outstretched hands as if he were grasping a giant ball. The light of the magic shines brightly in the darkened landscape, illuminating the area around the masterful wizard. Individual clusters take shape between his hands. The magical blots dance in circular patterns, leaving a trail of light in their wake, like comets in the night sky. Hundreds of individual concentrations of magic dance between Igan’s hands.

The wizard’s eyes flash open, staring directly at the struggling dragon. He takes a final breath of determination before unleashing a masterpiece of magical energy, of the likes he has never performed in such abundance. The wizard retracts his hands, then pushes them high into the air, causing the swarm of magical orbs to fly up and forward.

The armada of blazing magic races toward the dragon and its magmatic assailant. As it nears the dragon, the horde splits into four clusters. The upper two groups of orbs cross each other, perfectly missing one another. They reach a pivotal height and then crash towards the dragon, weaving around each other in a beautiful pattern. One after another they collide into the dragon’s exposed underbelly.

Screams of pain resound from the dragon as she reels in agony from the magma creature’s tumultuous crushing blows and Igan’s magic.

With his gaze tightly fixed on the scene ahead, Igan consciously commands the remaining orbs to weave in and around the two combatants; his brow furrows as he senses the impact of the projectiles. From his view, the orbs dance through the air like magnificent crimson fireflies, and one-by-one hurls them down at tremendous speeds.

Out of her injured eye, Ar’ismal’tur can faintly see Igan; tears brim in her lids from pain and sorrow.

In this moment, Ar’ismal’tur jars the magmatic conjuration loose with wild kicks and thrashing arms.

Still on the ground with the magical orbs impacting upon her body, the dragon stretches out her nearest claw towards Igan. Sharp and rigid vocals roll off her tongue, words of the ancient draconic magical language. A cluster of violet magic rapidly forms at the tip of her extended claw. Almost as soon as it gathers, the ray of purple light beams toward Igan.

The magical ray shatters the wizard’s globe of protection instantly and pierces his chest. At this moment, Xil’gault’nirl dies at the others hands.

Hagen and Hex turn and see their longtime friend in his final moment of glory as he masterfully controlled the hundreds of magical orbs. To their astonishment, and to the astonishment of the other men near the wizard, Igan falls backward. A hole has burned through his chest from the dragon’s disintegrating magic, leaving a trail of ash strewn behind Igan’s falling body. Igan’s face is frozen in the moment he realized his demise, and before he touches the ground he is gone from life to death.

“Igan!” Hex cries out.

“No!” Hagen gasps, looking to the now errant magic in the sky.

As Igan’s body collapses, so too does his control over the remaining magical orbs circling Ar’ismal’tur. The uncontrolled magic spirals off into various directions: Some of the orbs impact upon the ground, colliding into the stone surface of the mountains. Others fly into the two creatures on the foothills. Several stream across the sky, while the rest whiz by the conjuration rushing to the west to assist its magmatic sibling.

Staring at the horrific sight, Hagen and Hex utter the words to bring forth a dispelling magic. White particles of light gather in their hands and they quickly fling the dispelling magic toward the raining arcane orbs, doing their best to dispel the rogue magic with accuracy before more of their party are injured.

With the wizard vanquished, Ar’ismal’tur turns her full attention to the magma conjuration attacking her. Arrows fly at her from the warriors and thieves in the distance, but they are of little concern to her. She claws at the towering behemoth and kicks out one of its legs, causing it to stumble.

The dragon uses the opening to roll forward; her hind legs take hold of the rocky ground and she pushes herself up and on top of the conjuration. The advance causes Amendal’s colossal minion to lean back and fall to the ground, creating a tremor that shakes the area immediately around the magma monster.

With her foe beneath her, the dragon takes to flight, but is intercepted by the conjured magma golem who slew Xil’gault’nirl. Both collide in the air, and the weight of the summoned behemoth pulls Ar’ismal’tur to the foothills.

Recovering from the dragon’s push, the conjuration that had been initially fighting the female dragon leaps to its feet; it races toward the majestic beast, who has just been knocked to her back.

Pinning the dragon to the ground, the reinforcing conjuration stomps on the dragon’s left wing. The weight is enough to crush the muscles and bones of the dragon’s flapping appendage, crippling it. The fervent heat, coupled with the grinding motion from the creature’s foot, causes the dragon to cry out in pain.

Amid the screams, the dragon’s initial foe reaches her. The conjuration leaps upon her other wing, bearing its entire weight down on it.

Seeing this, Kalder shouts to the remaining members of the expedition, rallying them to follow him. The remaining four warriors, and the two thieves, Nemral and Nath dash behind Kalder.

The warriors and thieves ready their weapons as they rush toward Ar’ismal’tur, which has been knocked even further away than where she had been resting. Sounds of cracking bones and scales fill the air as the two magma monsters tower over the motionless dragon. Each of the men run around the debris created by the battle and eventually reach the scene.

Ar’ismal’tur looks at her attackers, too weak to retaliate and too full of sorrow to kill anymore of the humans. Her head rests against the rock and dirt ground of the foothills, gazing at the men coming to deliver her deathblows. The dragon’s expressions are completely un-interpretable by the rushing men, who only see a creature of immense size and power.

Kalder is the first to reach her, with his blade covered in the blood of her former mate.

As the warriors and thieves approach, the dragon closes her eyes and waits.

Sounds of grinding metal against Ar’ismal’tur’s scales fills the air as the blood covered claymore races into her skull. The other men surround her head, and strike similar blows. In her final breath, Ar’ismal’tur expresses her final excruciating pain in a deathly scream, but is abruptly silenced.

With Ar’ismal’tur defeated the warriors and thieves pull their bloodied weapons from her corpse. They turn to face the scene between Iltar’s former captor and their two leaders.

“Remember,” Kalder calls out, “We’re to subdue that one; not kill it.” The warrior points to Anken’mar battling Cornar, the third elemental and another strange creation of transmutive magic.

  • * * * *

In unison with the other thieves and warriors, Cornar’s magically enhanced arrow speeds from his bow and pierces Anken’mar’s eye. The sting of Iltar’s magic mixed with Cornar’s arrow instantly stir the dragon from his slumber.

“You… you tricked me!” Anken’mar shouts, with no apparent sign of pain from the arrow piercing his eye. He quickly rises upon all fours and faces his foes in a defiant posture. “Now you’ve enraged me!”

Iltar gazes up at the dragon with a devilish grin through the necrotic sphere of protection. The two globes of darkness dance around the necromancer’s protective barrier.

Cornar launches several more arrows at Anken’mar, but the towering beast quickly swats them away with his front claws.

Anken’mar rears on his hind legs, bellowing a roar; he swiftly snaps his head forward, which propels globs of putrid yellow acidic liquid from his throat.

Throwing himself to his right, Cornar quickly moves out of the acid’s way. He gracefully recovers from tumble and regains his footing. In one swift movement, Cornar notches two arrows into his bow and lets them loose.

Simultaneously with Cornar’s evasion, steam and crackling sounds pierce the air as Anken’mar’s acidic spit attempts to break through Iltar’s protective barrier. The vapor grows larger as the acid is eaten away by an even more corrosive power; all the while, Iltar raises his hand toward the acid and reinforces the barrier with more dark magic from his finger tips.

Swatting Cornar’s arrows again, Anken’mar rushes forward to attack the warrior. He closes in but with Iltar’s magic Cornar easily dodges his attempts to swipe him with his front claws. Both dance a fierce battle, with Cornar moving away and then below Anken’mar, taking any opportunity to cut the dragon with his dagger and sword. However, even the magically enchanted weapons barely slice through the hardened metallic scales.

With his friend evading and distracting Anken’mar, Iltar turns his attention to dealing with the dragon in a less direct route. He kneels and spreads his hand toward the dirt just beyond his protective magic, uttering an incantation. Gray-brown magic wisps into the ground, causing the earthen floor to quake.

Behind Iltar, the portal created by Amendal fully opens, and the third magical conjuration slowly steps through, just as the others. Once it emerges from the mystical gateway, it looks down, noticing Iltar within his necrotic barrier. The magma behemoth steps forward, stepping on either side of Iltar. Heat from the creature’s molten skin shimmers off of Iltar’s water-like sphere of protection, and the necromancer pays no attention to the behemoth stepping over him.

Hearing the footfalls, Anken’mar glances back toward the mountainside, noticing the conjuration slowly stepping toward him.

“Now this is sporting!” Anken’mar shouts gleefully, and continues to swat at Cornar, catching the warrior by the leg with one of his talons.

Anken’mar pins Cornar to the ground and the warrior frantically cuts at the dragon’s massive claw. Thankfully, the green protective magic surrounding Cornar seeps beneath the dragon’s scales, sending a stinging sensation rapidly along his grip.

“I haven’t felt this spell in ages,” Anken’mar snarls as his grip tightens and Cornar lets out a agonizing scream. “It’s so painful, but I have not heard the popping of a human’s bones in–”

Suddenly, the dragon jolted backward by the tail, yanked by Amendal’s conjuration. The jolt causes Anken’mar to let go of the warrior and Cornar rolls to his side and backward onto his feet.

Once freed, the warrior eyes his bow to his left from whence he came and dashes to recover his weapon.

Meanwhile, anger and rage fill Anken’mar’s visage as he glares back at the summoned creature with his only eye; his injured eye rapidly degenerating from the magic carried by Cornar’s initial arrow.

With precision, Anken’mar quickly spins and thrusts its massive claw into the conjuration’s head.

Thrust downward by the dragon’s force, the conjuration bends over, but tightly holds Anken’mar’s tail.

Enraged, Anken’mar continues his furious blows, striking multiple times a second against the magma behemoth’s shoulder. Amid his strikes, he lets loose a bellowing roar. In the blink of an eye, a cracking sound echoes from the giant conjured creature and Anken’mar severs the hardened magma arm.

Undaunted, the conjuration holds against the attack and focuses on subduing Anken’mar with its remaining arm. It reels back in a straightened position as the dragon briefly stops his assault to grab the creature’s smoldering detached arm.

“Agonizing flame!” Anken’mar shouts with the molten forearm of the conjuration in his grasp. “How invigorating!” He pays no attention to the burning pain, as it only fuels his anger. Snarling sounds of hate burst from his scowling maw as he resumes the assault with its own limb, striking with finesse.

Just as Anken’mar resumes his assault on the magma conjuration, Cornar reaches his bow. With two arrows still in the quiver on his back, the warrior grabs one of them. He swiftly notches it in his bow and takes aim at the great dragon’s side.

Anken’mar is too busy with the gargantuan magmatic to care about what he deems his smaller, more inferior opponents. With this opportunity, Cornar sends the necrotic drenched arrow flying between the dragon’s scales, causing the dragon to shift his focus.

“Which of you wield the Ko’delish?!” Anken’mar cries, stopping his assault against the conjuration. He turns to face both Cornar and Iltar, the latter still kneeling. A large skeletal creature huddles in front of Iltar, fused together by transmutive magic.

“You,” Anken’mar snarls, looking at Iltar. “You are no illusionist!”

An arrow sails through the air from the south, further behind the necromancer and warrior.

Seeing the arrow, Anken’mar swiftly swats it out of the air with his free claw; but as the arrow erupts into a fireball of magical flame, engulfing his claw and blinding his vision.

A second arrow flies through the air immediately thereafter, piercing through the flame and explodes against Anken’mar’s neck.

Seeing the success of the fiery attack launched from behind him, Cornar grabs the last remaining arrow in his quiver, notches it in his bow and lets it loose. The magically drenched arrow penetrates Anken’mar’s underbelly, causing him to cry out in a mixture of fury and pain.

“Have the qui’sha forsaken their master’s mandate and granted their power to a mortal?!” Anken’mar growls while recovering from the blow.

As the dragon howls, Iltar rises from the ground. With his transmutive spell complete, the huddled skeletal creature rises from the dirt. The bones of the creature ignite in a black and gray magical aura. The gigantic transmuted creature stands almost to the height of the magma conjuration. Once erect, the skeleton rushes toward Anken’mar.

From behind the protective sphere, Iltar smiles grimly. He raises his brow and the two globes of darkness dispatch themselves from their orbit, like rogue planets violently freed from their star’s gravity. They race past the skeletal creation of dirt and impact on Anken’mar’s claws. The eroding magic slowly eats away at the great serpentine’s scales. Each infected metallic plate decomposes and exposes the dragon’s skin underneath, but both globes of darkness dissipate before they can dissolve the dragon’s flesh.

Surprise and pain spread across Anken’mar’s snout as he stares at Iltar. Suddenly the great serpent utters sharp sounds in the draconic language.

“Cho’k su’zak Cho’k!”

Ignorant of the shout’s meaning, Iltar slowly walks toward the dragon.

“No!” Anken’mar snarls and regains his composure. As he does so, the skeletal transmutive creature reaches him and grabs the conjuration’s severed arm. The skeleton strikes its fist into Anken’mar’s face but the dragon quickly retaliates.

As the transmutation and the dragon exchange blows, Iltar briskly walks forward and loudly speaks an incantation. A bolt of magical lightning races from his hands and through the necrotic sphere, rippling the surface of the protective barrier as it leaves Iltar’s palm. It surges straight for Anken’mar and causes him to buckle, allowing the transmutive creature to grasp the dragon in a tight grip.

Iltar quickly darts to his right, where Anken’mar’s side comes into view. The necromancer continues his magical assault by uttering another incantation; a wave of orange light lashes through the watery globe and flies into the dragon’s side.

“A necromancer!” Anken’mar painfully shouts as the two large creatures hold him in place. “How clever of you…” He winces in further pain as Iltar’s life-draining magic reaches deep into his body. It penetrates his scales and seeps into his skin, and then into the tissue below the natural armor.

Anger and frustration form upon Anken’mar’s snout as the small band overpowers him. He drops the severed magma limb and strikes the arm of the transmutive creature grappling him, jarring it loose. Anken’mar unleashes a flurry of strikes against the magical minions with his front claws and his hind legs, alternating legs keep his balance. However, the creatures hold their own against the dragon.

A second volley of magical arrows pierces Anken’mar’s side with the same explosive power as the other arrows, allowing the transmutation and the conjuration to re-grapple the exiled beast.

Standing near Iltar with weapons drawn, Cornar looks back into the trees toward the south east and sees a short figure kneeling on the ground, poised with his bow. As the arrow leaves the bow, the man lowers the weapon and reaches behind him. With his face clearly visible, Cornar recognizes Tilthan and laughs. The thief rarely got involved in a battle.

Amid the thief’s volley of arrows, Iltar continues casting his spells; several bolts of acid fly from the darkened watery sphere, striking Anken’mar’s right side, further weakening him. Nevertheless, the great serpent continues his fervent attacks against his large foes.

At that same moment, rumbling footfalls echo from behind Iltar. Both conjurations who slew the old dragons run past him on either side, shaking the ground as they bound toward Anken’mar.

The dragon lets out a raging roar as the two reinforcing magma giants approach. One of them leaps through the air and tackles Anken’mar, slightly jarring him from his two captors; yet the skeletal being and the wounded magma conjuration follow the dragon’s tumble. The last conjuration steps on top of its wounded companion and over to the other side of the dragon.

Each of the creatures firmly plant themselves around Anken’mar. The two reinforcing elementals grab his arms with one of their magma heated hands while using the other to force him to the ground. Iltar’s skeletal conjuration releases its grip from the severed limb and thrusts both of its hands down on the dragon’s head.

Kalder and the others arrive on the scene in time to behold their triumph against Anken’mar, yet neither Tilthan nor Amendal are with them. The warriors and thieves stop beside Iltar and gaze at the subdued dragon in awe, amazed at their accomplishment.

Still encased in his protective necrotic sphere, Iltar steps toward Anken’mar. He notices the beast’s left eye is completely missing, and all that is left is an empty socket of rotting flesh.

 

9

Reversal

 

Stepping close to Anken’mar’s head, Iltar stares at his decaying eye socket and laughs, “Well, Lord of Metal, you’re certainly not as powerful and intelligent as you though.”

“I’m impressed, human,” the dragon snarls, his head pressed against the ground. “Your small band is quite strong; however, if I wasn’t cursed, you would have all perished!” The last of his words seethe with anger. “It took many of the strongest dragons to enslave me, and not even my former mentor, one of the greatest of all dragonkind, could wrest me by himself.

“You have your victory; kill me and cherish it, for both will be short lived.”

Puzzled at the last remark Iltar asks, “What does that mean, ‘both will be short lived’?”

“Oh,” Anken’mar glares, “Now look who’s less intelligent.”

Insulted, Iltar’s face twists with rage, “I am the one in control; you bow to me!” Further angered, the necromancer shouts the words to an incantation.

The others watch as Iltar’s anger erupts. For the first time they see that whatever transpired must have been hard for the necromancer to endure, and he was finally letting his emotions loose.

“You will answer my questions!” Iltar shouts, and gray magical particles swirl around his palm. The magic leaps from his protective sphere and then into the dragon’s forehead.

“You won’t… get… any answers,” Anken’mar struggles as the magic seeps into his mind.

“Oh, but I will…” Iltar’s protective barrier fades. “I will.”

With that said, Iltar reaches his hand out and squeezes it shut. The necromancer smiles at his captor-turned-captive and says, “Now we can get to the true purpose of our meeting… finally.

“I will ask you some questions, and you will answer them.”

“You may not like the answers, human.”

“I’ll be the judge of that. Now first, is the amulet on Merdan?”

Anken’mar struggles but cannot resist the controlling magic in his cursed and weakened state. “Yes, the metallic housing is on the Isle of Merdan.”

“Good…” Iltar oozes the word. He turns to Cornar, who has just reached his side, and gives the warrior a smug smile. “Now we are getting somewhere.

“Where on Merdan?”

“The Fortress City of Merda. It used to be kept by the elves, under order from the Ril’Sha, the draconic council, in the deepest reaches of the fortress. Now I don’t know where he keeps it…”

“Who keeps it?” Iltar snaps.

“The Devourer. He has it now,” Anken’mar lets out a throaty laugh at the thought, still in some control of his actions. “He will consume you, just as he did the armies of men and elves.”

Cornar looks at Iltar with confusion. He senses his friend’s anxiety, which doesn’t help ease his own, but he turns back to the dragon without comment.

Ignoring Anken’mar’s musing, Iltar continues his interrogation, “Where are the other parts of the amulet? The ruby and the activating spell?”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Anken’mar grunts, attempting to move his head to face Iltar, but his neck gives way under the weight of the skeletal creature’s push. “I heard the scroll once rested with a group of humans; but that Order has since been destroyed… It could be anywhere.”

Iltar folds his arms and looks into the night sky, thinking that maybe all the work they went through to subdue this beast was useless.

After several moments of silent contemplation Iltar returns his attention to the dragon. “Who knows how to use the completed amulet, and who knows where all the pieces are located?”

“I don’t know…” Anken’mar pauses. “The Ril’Sha? Their pathetic leader? Take your pick, human. Remember, I’m a fugitive, and before my exile I didn’t spend much time with the other platinum dragons.”

“You are infuriating!” Iltar yells. “I should have killed you instead of one of those older dragons, perhaps they could have answered my questions.”

“Finally, you are right about one thing, human… the first you dispatched was the same who exiled me; he would have had much more of the information you seek.”

Iltar eyes widen, but then he realizes his mind control spell is slowly loosing effect.

“Your spell is wearing thin, Alacor…” Anken’mar chuckles.

Turning to Iltar, Cornar asks with a raised brow, “You told him your name was Alacor? You must really hate that bastard.”

“Humph,” Iltar grumbles before asking his final question. “This is the last thing I’ll ask you, beast. How do I travel to other worlds? And where is the stone talked about by the elves that enables me to do so?”

“The shiz’nak? You think there’s just one?” Anken’mar continues to chuckle. “And why would we dragons hide something we so readily use? Your spell is gone, necromancer. I am free of your bonds!”

At that moment, the dragon forces his head up and jolts the skeletal creature away. He opens his jaws and lets out a loud screeching scream; a rallying cry like he demonstrated earlier, but much louder.

“And now you’ll die!” Anken’mar cackles. “A fate deserving your species!”

Amid Anken’mar’s cackle, he turns to face Iltar and the two beings lock gazes. The dragon’s last remaining eye reflects the light of one of Kalda’s moons, making it clearly visible to Iltar. It shines a beautiful gray with flecks of red and black spiraling from the pupil to the edge of the iris. As he focuses on Iltar, the dragon’s black abyssal aperture expands, shifting the strains of black and red to compress.

For a moment, time stands still as the dragon and necromancer lock gazes. A sense of overwhelming fear consumes Iltar, partially his own, but most of it flowing emotions from Anken’mar: anger, arrogance, condescension and utter disgust for the necromancer.

A faint sharp screech in the distance interrupts their gaze, drawing Anken’mar’s attention. He turns to face it, severing the stare; nevertheless, a strange feeling lingers within Iltar’s mind.

Hearing the faint screech to the north, the members of Iltar’s expedition turn to face the sound as well. The evening is well into dusk, and the party cannot see far into the valley.

Regaining his composure, Iltar mentally commands his skeletal minion to grab hold of the dragon’s head and force it back down to the ground.

Just as Anken’mar’s head is pinned again, Kalder rushes forward; his bloodied weapon held by both hands and the blade raised high above his head to the right.

“Wait!” Iltar calls out, and the warrior stops just before the dragon’s snout. “I want the pleasure,” Iltar angrily steps forward and takes the weapon from Kalder’s hands.

Turning to the dragon Iltar declares, “Before you die, I want you who really killed you. I am Iltar, an unrivaled necromancer and the next ruler over your kind!”

“I know who and what you are,” Anken’mar states coldly while glaring at Iltar. “Unspoken One.”

With one boney hand still on Anken’mar’s head, as well as its entire weight, the skeletal creature reaches down, and lifts Iltar to his snout. The necromancer rushes forward and with one swift stroke, pierces the dragon with Kalder’s claymore.

Anken’mar attempts to let out a dying scream, but he’s muffled by the skeletal creature holding his snout with its boney hand.

Iltar stares at Anken’mar, examining his large eye, which is flickering, but it abruptly stops. His last eye rests in stillness; the surrounding scales trapped in a frozen expression of contempt.

Grunting, Iltar climbs off, landing on the dirt and causing a cloud of dust to billow beneath him.

“We need to go,” Cornar urges his friend frankly. Turning to the others, he commands, “Get back to the cave, quickly!”

Kalder rushes forward to retrieve his sword, and the skeletal creature pulls it from the dragon’s skull, handing it to the warrior. Shaking his head, Kalder grabs his bloodied weapon of death and chases after the others that are now running back up the path to the cave.

While the party flees, Iltar’s minion dims in hew. The bone-like mass loses cohesion, and the re-purposed dirt falls to the ground in a pile over the dragon’s head and in front of him.

As Iltar makes his way up to the cave entrance, he notices the body of his friend, Igan, lying lifeless on the ground. Igan’s mouth is barely opened and his eyes stare up into the night sky. Shock and frustration over his ally’s death threaten to overwhelm him, but he quickly shakes it away and hastily scales the switchback path. Cornar follows behind him, and both men are the last to enter the safety of the tunnel.

They pass Amendal, who is still sitting cross-legged at the threshold. Cornar darts past him and further into the tunnel while Iltar leans toward the old conjurer.

“Amendal,” Iltar barks, “We have to go! Dismiss them!”

Iltar looks to the north and sees the three monstrosities still pinning the dragon to the ground. The necromancer gazes into the sky above them and sees three shimmering specks, each growing in size. A moment later, the sound of rushing wind faintly fills the valley.

Great… More dragons, Iltar worriedly thinks to himself.

Still in a focused state, the old conjurer remains on the floor.

Growling, Iltar reaches down and grabs Amendal from under his arms and pulls him deeper within the cave, jarring him from his concentration.

“That’s it?” Amendal mumbles and looks around, stumbling to his feet. “We’re not going to kill more?”

Once they’re deeper inside the tunnel, Iltar lets go of Amendal. The necromancer briefly watches as the other members of the expedition quickly gather their gear and prepar to move back through the cavern.

“Cornar,” Iltar calls out, “Come here.”

The leading warrior barking orders and makes his way over to Iltar’s side.

“It looks like there’re three more after us,” Iltar whispers as Cornar steps closer to the necromancer.

The duo edges back toward the mouth of the cave and looks at the scene before them: The three creatures Amendal conjured are uncontrollably roaming upon the plain. In the sky above them, both men can make out the forms of dragons soaring toward the conjurations.

Two of the dragons descend and hover over the magma creatures. They immediately dispatch the conjurations with a sharp sound and point of their large talons. Yellow portals instantly appear over each and pull the magmatic creatures through the mystical thresholds. With the elemental conjurations, gone these same two dragons descend and investigate the great serpent Iltar had just slain moments ago.

Iltar and Cornar can hear the third dragon circling around, his wings creating large gusts of wind that wisp across the mouth of the tunnel.

Glancing to Cornar, the necromancer creeps forward then looks upward without stepping outside the cave. He notices the dragon moving away from the mountains, gliding back toward the other two while looking around the foothills. Without landing, the third dragon ascends into the air, flying overhead and disappearing over the mountains, the sound of its wings fading rapidly

Cornar silently shakes his head at Iltar, concern on his face, while Iltar widens his eyes and sighs; each contemplate the precarious situation they’ve plunged themselves and their friends into.

Iltar turns around and walks to the others, regaining his composure of leadership, “We must make our way back out the same way we came. When we get to the lair of the tarrasque we will send the thieves through to scout.”

“What about the remaining tralyx?” Nordal asks.

“We will deal with them if they show themselves,” Cornar replies. “The one that ran is still nursing its wounds, and I doubt it will bring others at our approach.”

“Let’s hope so,” Hagen stammers.

“Amendal, where are those creatures you conjured?” Cornar looks around the darkened cave.

“They’re ahead. I will send them further into the cave to block any tralyx while we make our escape.”

“Kalder, stay in the rear with me!” Cornar commands.

“Yes, Cor!”

With all orders given, Iltar moves about the tunnel and searches for his small bag, the only object left on the tunnel’s floor.

Hex utters an incantation to bring forth a magical ball of light to illuminate the tunnel; a source of pure magic that suspends itself in a vibrant sphere near the wizard’s shoulders.

“Hurry,” Iltar says as he secures his pack. “We don’t have time to waste!”

The party hastily departs, following Iltar back through the rocky passageway. With quicker speed than before, the expedition arrives at the branch in the cave leading to the tarrasque’s lair.

Once the group reaches the colossal cavern’s entrance, Iltar motions for them to stop.

The necromancer turns back and says in a hushed voice, “Two of you thieves check the cave and the tunnel for signs of the monster.”

Nath and Nemral wrap their cloaks about themselves and quietly enter the lair.

Meanwhile, Cornar turns and looks at Tilthan, who is in the middle of the group leaning against the stone surface of the small tunnel. “Too tired to go take a look, huh?”

After several seconds, Tilthan realizes the comment was directed to him, and he looks back to Cornar. “I was shooting magical arrows at a dragon… Do you know how nerve-racking it is handling those things? They can go off in your face!”

Several of the warriors chuckle at the thief’s comments, and Cornar just shakes his head. A while later the two thieves return.

“We saw nothing of the beast,” Nath reports to the necromancer. “It must still be outside. We heard some faint sounds as we walked near the entrance, but when I looked outside I couldn’t see it.”

“Let’s all move over to the entrance and have a look outside,” Iltar says as he moves to cross the large cave and motions the others to follow.

While moving across the dustless floor, the necromancer notices that the light seeping into the massive chasm is still beaming as it did earlier that day.

They arrive at the southern mouth of the enormous cave and the necromancer motions for the same two thieves to scout the southern plain. They quickly exit the cave and move down the beaten path, undoubtedly created by the creature in past rampages.

After several minutes the party faintly hears the noise of the tarrasque coming from the west of the large valley, but it’s nowhere to be seen.

Nath gives a soft whistle as he un-shrouds himself near the others, appearing as he walks toward them into the shelter of the cavern. “I couldn’t see it, and it sounds even fainter than before. The thing must be heading west. I think we should bolt across the plain and down that elven path.”

Iltar’s eyes narrow in thought as he considers Nath’s report. Suddenly, after several seconds of silence, the thought hits him. The food! None of the thieves were carrying food in their packs. Perhaps that attracted it.

“Iltar,” Cornar nudges his friend, “What are you waiting for? We have to get out of here, now!” the words have a sense of urgency that only Iltar notices.

“Empty your packs of food,” Iltar says as he looks out into the valley, “And lets travel in pairs. We can’t all stay together, it’s too dangerous. We will split up and meet back at the beach. I trust you all know how to get back to the trail leading to the coastline?” Iltar turns back and looks each man in the eye to get an answer.

In unison, they all nod their heads in the affirmative.

“You thieves can go separately. I don’t think the monster will hear or see us. If we run, we can get across this plain in an hour and a half, then another hour down to the beach. After that, we will be on the Farling and heading home.

“We have four mages and five warriors, so pair up. Cornar you’re with me as usual.” Iltar snaps out the orders quickly, motioning down at the path then to the west.

“We will go in stages. The thieves go first, wait a little while then Hagen you go next. Hex wait a couple minutes then you go. Amendal, you go after them. Cornar and I will bring up the rear.”

“If we run while we’re invisible, we’ll still give ourselves away,” Hagen retorts.

“Just do it!” Iltar looks at the illusionist with a frustrated glare and thinks to himself, The tarrasque is not what I intend to be invisible from. A dragon cannot hear us running while it soars above.

The three thieves immediately cover themselves with their cloaks and vanish into the night. Their running footsteps lightly sounding from the ground.

In turn, each of the four mages cast their invisibility magics just before their dash into the open plain. Hagen is the first, and Nordal grabs his shoulder, then both vanish. The sounds of their pounding feet on the dirt fades as they run into the night.

One by one, each of the remaining pairs are veiled in concealing magic and vanish into the dark. Hex, Shen, and Aron follow Hagen and Nordal’s lead. Several minutes after, Amendal and Kalder hurry across the plain.

Iltar and Cornar wait several minutes before they leave. As they wait, Iltar ties a rope between himself and his friend. He neglected to tell the others to do the same, and he silently swears to himself. The necromancer releases a deep sigh and then covers both he and his friend in the invisibility magic.

“Cor, let’s go.”

  • * * * *

Almost an hour after the last of their company departs the monstrous cavern, the three thieves see the gray elven pylon and a single sword marking the spot, protruding from the ground.

Tilthan laughs a cackle of victory as they approach. However, once upon the path, the sound of their footfalls gives off a unique and impressionable noise.

While they run, each of the three thieves notice a difference in the elven roadway from the previous day.

Green light emanates from small gems lining the base of each of the pylons, just enough to illuminate the path; yet the light is dim enough so it doesn’t break through the tropical canopy.

Less than another hour of running, the three thieves reach the shore. Tilthan is the first to remove his cloak. He kneels down in the sand and laughs with relief. Both Nemral and Nath breathe heavy as they take off their shrouds and collapse in the sand to the right of their friend.

“Do you realize we are the greatest sneaks to walk this world of ours?” Tilthan says to the other two men, each looking at the dark blue bay before them.

“And this is our reward,” Nath looks out to the still water, “A brief moment in paradise.”

“I can’t believe we just did all that!” Nemral gasps happily.

The three thieves relax from the adventurous ordeal and gaze into the night sky. One of Kalda’s moons reflects off the clear bay, and paints a picturesque scene. Tilthan reaches into his small pack and pulls out a flask, taking a sip as they wait for the others.

While the three thieves admire the vista, they hear a sound from their left. They turn toward the noise, and see Hagen and Nordal appear out of nothing. The illusionist immediately plops on the sand as he appears, exhausted from the ordeal.

With flask in hand, Tilthan bursts into uncontrollable laughter.

Nordal grins at the hysterical thieves, who have all struck laughter on Tilthan’s cue. The warrior drops his pack and slowly walks across the sand to Tilthan’s side.

“Do you have any more of that?” the new arrival asks.

“Of course! Anything for a fellow dragon-slayer!” the drunken thief shoves the flask into Nordal’s hands.

Several minutes later Hex, Shen, and Aron appear, then, following a similar interval, Amendal and Kalder.

The group gathers around Tilthan, and each takes a sip of the flask provided by the thief; after which, they patiently wait for Iltar and Cornar to arrive.

Meanwhile, upon the plain between the mountains and the forest, the noise of the tarrasque faintly reaches Iltar and Cornar’s ears. Paying no thought to the sound, they dash along the carved path the warrior’s men had etched the night before.

“Cor,” Iltar pants between breaths, “Have you seen that dragon?”

“No… but I haven’t been looking,” the warrior breathes back.

“I need to rest,” Iltar pants as he pulls on the rope.

“No resting, we have to keep going. Are you out of shape?”

“This isn’t like old times,” Iltar sullenly retorts. “We’re no longer prime subjects of our youth.”

Cornar chuckles, “Speak for yourself!”

“At least slow down.”

“Fine,” Cornar slows his pace and grumbles good-naturedly, “But if either of those things comes after us I’m leaving you behind.”

After a quarter of an hour at a slower pace, the two men can see the trees separating them from the beach. The pylon and the sword are still where they had been just the prior evening.

As they approach the elven monolith, Iltar remarks, “Interesting, I didn’t think it would still be visible. Maybe it takes awhile to activate again.”

“Perhaps you have to touch those gems to trigger the illusion,” Cornar adds to the speculation. “Either way, I’m glad it’s still here.”

Once they pass close enough, Cornar grabs the sword from the ground and takes it in hand. He holds on to it for a while before casting it off the path and into the brush beyond the elven roadway.

“I’ve never seen such small light stones,” Iltar remarks, the scholar in him intrigued. “Too bad I can’t take one with me.”

“Now you’re sounding like Amendal,” Cornar laughs. “Old age I guess!”

“Be grateful I’m fond of you, Cor…”

They continue to jog lightly down the path, still friendly berating each other as they press through the forest and toward the beach.

After another hour and a half they arrive, exhausted from the run. Iltar removes their invisibility shortly before arriving at the path’s portal to the coast, allowing Cornar to emerges visible from the trees. He waves to the men gathered at the beach and walks from the shore’s eastern edge toward them.

Iltar stops short of emerging and stays behind to study the last pylon before the sandy beach. This pillar, much like the one examined by Iltar previously, has gems glowing with a distinctive hew inherent to their color. Blue light softly pulses from the elven script as it did before, but more pronounced now than in the daylight. After studying the pylon, Iltar gently presses the inlayed gem on the right.

Beneath him the ground pushes him up, raising Iltar from the stone roadway. He looks down and sees the magical force shifting in shape and color, contorting to match the ground on either side of the path. The necromancer looks to where he and Cornar had just previously come from to see a similar change taking place.

Iltar takes a deep breath and nods, Good, no one can tell we came through here.

After turning and walking through the rest of the brush between him and the sand, Iltar emerges to find Cornar barking orders. The warrior yells for the men to move the boats into the water. Wrapped in his black robe with his cowl over his head, Iltar walks along the beach to the survivors’ of the expedition. The cool air is chillier tonight than it had been the night before, and it’s enough to cause him to shiver.

Both longboats are tipped right-side-up and shoved into the water’s edge when Iltar reaches the rest of the expedition. Aron, Shen and Hagen are weighed down by the aftermath of emotion from the ordeal of the past two days; each are solemnly sitting upon the sand.

“Listen up!” Iltar shouts as he nears the others. “None of you speak to anyone about what occurred here, not to anyone aboard the ship, nor in Soroth. If I hear that anything about this expedition have fallen to other ears, I will painfully torture you for the remainder of your days; which I will ensure to be long after I seize you!”

“Why?” Tilthan drunkenly slurs from the nearest boat. “This is the greatest adventure I’ve ever been on! I’m a dragon-slayer!”

Iltar glares menacingly at Tilthan and the thief quickly leans back against the stern of the small craft, attempting to look sober.

“You’re so callus Tilthan,” Aron shakes his head and woefully pulls himself up from the sand. “Our friends died.”

“We didn’t even bury them,” Hagen remarks as he looks at the sandy surf.

“Quit your sniveling!” Iltar scowls at the illusionist on the sandy beach to his left and behind him.

“He was your friend too!” Hagen snaps back, raising his head to look at Iltar.

The necromancer’s eyes narrow as he meets the illusionist’s gaze, but surprisingly, Hagen does not back down. Iltar quickly turns away and looks at the peaceful bay. Hagen wasn’t the only one who had feelings of remorse over the losses in the party.

Iltar’s mind races back to the scene of Igan laying on the foothills. The necromancer somberly closes his eyes and lowers his head. Taking a deep breath, he turns to face Hagen who is still looking up to him for some kind of response.

“Yes… he was, and that’s why we have to keep going,” Iltar sternly replies.

“You fools!” Cornar calls out. “Get in! Unless you want to stay behind to be devoured by that monster!”

Iltar and the others who were still trapped in remembering the lives the island had claimed walk toward the last boat left on the shore. The first longboat has already pushed off and is well on its way to the Farling, which is anchored in the middle of the bay.

In the distance, Iltar can clearly see the rope ladders lower from the Farling, and the others climbing aboard the larger vessel.

The sounds of cheers echo from the ship and dance across the water’s edge to the second boat filled with men both beaten and sorrowful. Hearing their comrades aboard the ship lifts the spirits a little of those in the second vessel.

Cornar rows the small craft just beyond the first toward the mother ship’s aft, and a similar netting is dropped.

The remaining members of the expedition slowly climb the ropes to the Farling’s main deck. A sense of joy and relief fills the atmosphere of the vessel. Despite their losses there was still a spirit of comradery.

“Cornar!” Kalder calls out as the aged warrior and necromancer ascend the woven ladder. “Look what we found!”

On the deck, Cornar leans forward and narrows his eyes. Under the masts of the ship, dim lanterns illuminate the vessel’s main deck. Standing next to Kalder is a younger man of similar stature with a smug smile.

“Hemrin!” Cornar calls out with surprise. “You sly bastard! How did you get past that monster?”

Both warriors quickly step across the deck and embrace with a tight hug.

“Lorith, Kander, and myself ran back out of the cavern just as that monster was stirring. We managed to make it out of that large tunnel, then we split up, running in different directions from the cave. I… I guess I was the only one that survived,” sadness forms across the young warrior’s face as he recounts the tale. He pushes through it to ask, “So, what did you find?”

Cornar glances to Iltar then back to the sole survivor of the nightmarish encounter. “Perhaps I will tell you later. We’ve all had a rough time.”

With that said, Cornar takes Hemrin under his arm and walks away.

As the warriors step away, Iltar continues to look around the deck. He methodically counts the survivors of the island. Only thirteen of the men have returned from the twenty that when ashore.

The sight of Hex and Tinal catches Iltar’s eye. It appears Hex has just shared the news about the death of the young wizard’s master. Tinal solemnly walks away and to the rail where he gazes into the clear blue water. Hex catches Iltar’s glance and sadly returns a gaze before going his own way about the ship.

The rest of the men are conversing with each other about the dealings of the island. Hemrin had spread the word about the gigantic creature roaming the land. From the surrounding conversations, Iltar gathers that the tarrasque had chased the others first, and when it finally turned to Hemrin the warrior had already reached the tree line. Their second hand account made it seem like the creature wouldn’t proceed into the trees, but shadowed the warrior until he reached the elven path.

This was not a turn of events Iltar was expecting and proved to only complicate the matter of keeping the details of this voyage a secret. With that thought, the necromancer turns to find the captain who is standing on the upper deck above him.

“Kenard!” Iltar calls out. “Take us back to Soroth.”

“Fine, but I might need to borrow that map to get us back home,” the captain leans over the rail and looks down at the necromancer shrouded in his robe and cowl.

“Fine. Come get it,” Iltar motions and walks toward the stairwell to the lower deck.

Shaking his head, Kenard watches as his irritable client disappears below deck. The captain turns and spits on the upper deck, then looking to his first mate says, “I’ll be glad to be out of these forsaken waters.”

“It sounded like quite the adventure,” Cadru responds seriously. “But I’m glad I didn’t go ashore.”

Meanwhile, Iltar enters his windowless cabin. Once inside his room, the necromancer removes the rolled map of the island from his small bag and pulls out the chest from under the table. Kneeling down in front of it, Iltar fiddles with the mechanical lock and utters the simple word to dispel the magical barring. Just as it opens a brief knock penetrates the room.

“Come in,” Iltar calls out as he pulls the rolled parchment of the Kaldean atlas from a scroll case within the chest. He quickly places the map of the island inside the case and shuts the chest to conceal the other contents.

Turning around, Iltar sees Captain Kenard standing in the opened doorway with a look of irritation about him. “Are you going to tell me what happened?”

“No,” Iltar replies shortly as he hands the map to the middle-aged swashbuckler.

“Humph,” Kenard shakes his head at the secretive necromancer in front of him.

“If you play along captain, I will make it worth your while,” Iltar waggles his forefinger while raising his eyebrow meaningfully

“So, what do you want me to tell my crew?” the captain asks, slightly exasperated.

“Nothing… Yet.”

Kenard’s lips twist in annoyance, but he silently turns from the doorway and walks down the vessel’s inner passageway toward the main deck.

Still deep in thought, Iltar closes the door quietly and retires to the small bed in the cabin. A small light stone hanging from the ceiling dimly lights the room. It sways as the ship turns and moves through the water; Iltar, however, doesn’t notice the light’s movement.

Your guess is as good as mine,’ what a worthless creature, Iltar thinks.

He mutters to himself while pacing his cabin, “Well at least I know where the amulet is hidden. Hopefully there will be further clues there that point the way to the ruby.

“And the activating scroll… I wish there was more readily available text on the history of organizations, let alone Kalda in general.”

Looking at the chest next to him, Iltar continues to think to himself, Maybe there’s something in the books I missed. It’ll have to wait till tomorrow, though.

Iltar reaches for the light stone. He removes it from its hanging housing, and drops the small illuminating stone into an open compartment near the doorway, slightly smaller than the necromancer’s hands. As he closes the lid the cabin darkens, with only faint beams of light breaking through the seams of the compartment.

With the light vanquished, Iltar lies down and falls asleep, still dressed in his dark robes.

  • * * * *

Early the next morning Iltar awakens to the darkened cabin. The necromancer gropes his way toward the compartment containing the light stone and opens it, spilling light into the room.

Once he removes and re-secures the light stone in the ceiling mount, Iltar sits back down on the cushion of the bed. He rubs his arms, realizing they must be clear of the tropical island for it to be so cool.

Turning to the chest, Iltar leans forward and opens its to view its contents. Along its left side are the scroll cases containing the original texts delivered to him by Cornar, as well as their copies.

“Which one is the worn scroll?” Iltar tiredly asks himself and silently recounts which case contains which scroll.

After a moment, the necromancer pulls one of the cases out and opens it, revealing one of the handwritten copies. Iltar leans back as he unrolls the scroll and rereads the transcribed material. His sapphire eyes are drawn back to several incomplete elven sentences: “The s…. is essential to completing the amulet, without it the metal jewelry is useless. With a shi…”

A smile forms across the necromancer’s face as he realizes what the text is saying. “Shiz’nak…” the strange word leaves his mouth. “I thought it was referring to the ruby, that ‘the stone is essential,’ with the ruby as the stone. However, none of the references in the books or the other scrolls refer to the Ruby of Lish as a stone.”

Iltar leans back against the wall adjacent to the bed. He rests his arms and lays the parchment against his thighs. The weight of this adventure becomes even heavier than before upon Iltar’s shoulders. With this new discovery in his mind, he rises from the bed and walks to the door.

 

10

Return

 

Inside the galley of the Farling, Hagen and Hex quietly converse about their ordeal on the Dragon’s Isle; the illusionist and wizard are the only ones in the room, sitting at a table on the far portside of the galley. A magically lit lantern lights the galley providing the only source of illumination.

Looking down at his glass of ale, Hagen continues, “It just doesn’t seem like Iltar really cares about any of us anymore. There wasn’t any sign of danger when that dragon died. We could have just picked up Igan’s body and buried him on the other side of the mountains.”

“I don’t think that dragon was playing us for fools when he let out that last screech,” Hex theorizes, trying to justify the situation. “No… I’m sure there were others that heard it. Don’t you remember hearing that faint sound to the north?”

“I don’t know…” Hagen throws his hands in the air. “I am sure we are all expendable to Iltar, and he’ll most likely drag us along until we’re all dead.”

“What are you saying Hagen? It’s too late to back out now.” The wizard stares at his friend as the sun breaks the watery horizon to the west. Beams of light stream through the port side windows of the galley as he continues, “The council will most likely torture and kill you for aiding Iltar. It’s best we stay with him, that way we at least have a chance to survive.

“Besides,” Hex consoles as he straightens in his chair, “None of us knew the capabilities of the dragons. I don’t think Iltar was counting on any of us dying. That island threw several surprises in our faces.”

After a moment of silence between the two mages, the door to the galley opens.

Shrouded in his robe, Iltar walks across the room and as he sees them remarks, “You two are up early for breakfast.”

“We never slept,” Hex answers with his cup in hand. “But I’m guessing by those words you did.”

“Yes, I did,” Iltar responds. “It was an exhausting ordeal.”

Hagen sulks in silence as Iltar draws closer to the pair. He struggles to hide his emotions, purposely averting his gaze from the necromancer’s approach.

“You’re still upset,” Iltar observes as he pulls a chair up to the table and sits down between the two mages.

“Of course I’m upset!” Hagen snaps, still looking at the table. “I saw one of my dearest friends struck down by a fowl beast! And you didn’t care one bit. You left him there to be eaten by those things.”

“I didn’t see you try to pick him up,” Iltar says shortly. “We were all running for our lives.”

“Why? Because Cornar said so?” Hagen finally looks up from his glass, defiant. “I’m tired of taking orders.”

“Well, none of us said you couldn’t grab him,” Iltar remarks while looking at his friend with some sympathy.

“I guess you’re right… I’m as guilty as the rest of you.”

“To your other point, Hagen… I don’t think those dragons would feast on his corpse. They seemed accepting of my presence when I first stumbled across them. The one that killed Igan was even protective of me at first,” Iltar pauses, glancing to both mages before continuing. “It really shows how much we don’t know of those beasts.”

Through his tiredness Hex perks up, “So were we in any danger when we fled? I saw you and Cor looking out the mouth of the tunnel. What did you see?”

Observing Hex’s eagerness, Iltar takes a deep breath; he looks at his two friends, whose faces yearn for the answer.

“Three more dragons,” Iltar nods his head. “Two circled around the ones we killed while another flew over head. That’s why I wanted us to travel back invisible. The tarrasque wasn’t my concern.”

“That makes sense now,” Hex says, still sitting upright in his chair. “Did you see the dragon? I mean after we got out of the cave.”

“No. Cor and I both looked as we ran, but we didn’t hear the flapping of its wings. I don’t think it followed us.”

“I hope not,” Hagen interjects. “It’d probably try to kill us for finding out their secrets.”

“I don’t think so,” Iltar responds thoughtfully. “I got the impression that the majority of the dragons on this world are not malevolent creatures; with the exception of that one I dealt with.”

As the others fall silent in thought, Iltar feels his stomach growl and rises from his chair, turning to the empty bar near the aft of the galley.

“There is some quance and some dried meat and cheese left from last night’s meal,” Hex calls out as he turns to look at Iltar shuffling around the bar.

Iltar winces at the thought of the hardened, preserved bread, but he steps through to the other side and searches for the remaining food. As he looks, the two men inquire about their next step of the tremendous journey.

“Where are we headed? It seems like we’re sailing south,” Hex asks while facing the necromancer.

“Yes, we’re headed south; I want to resupply in Soroth,” Iltar calls out from behind the bar. He busily cuts the dried meat and hard cheese.

“You’re kidding,” Hagen gasps in distress. “What about the council?! No… if what you told us is true, why are we headed back there? They’ll see we don’t have any apprentices! We’re all going to die!”

The short illusionist puts his hands on either side of his head and leans over the table, wondering why he agreed to trust Iltar so blindly.

“Don’t worry about the council,” Iltar says, maneuvering around the bar and back toward the two men.

Taking his seat Iltar continues, “They weren’t expecting us back this early anyway. Now, I have a plan, but I don’t want to discuss it here where anyone can come right in and overhear it.”

With stein in hand, the necromancer takes a sip of the ale and then breaks apart the cheese and quance. He places the two foods together with the dried meat, then puts them delicately into his mouth. All the while, the two other mages look at him.

“Then what,” Hagen asks, more a statement than a question.

“Merdan, more specifically Merda. That is the only solid lead the dragon gave us,” Iltar says between swallows.

“You get even crazier and crazier Iltar,” Hagen leans forward. Looking to Hex he reaffirms his earlier statement, “We are all expendable!”

Iltar raises his brow and looks at the illusionist but continues to put the clumps of meat, cheese and hard bread into his mouth. Hex leans back, observing Iltar’s reaction.

Still looking at Hex, Hagen continues, “That place is haunted! Then there’s what the dragon said about some Devourer!” Turning to Iltar he demands, “You’re not really thinking about going there, are you?”

Watching Iltar silently staring at Hagen while chewing his morning meal, Hex responds, “You’ve heard too many horror stories Hagen. Merda isn’t haunted.”

The wizard leans forward and pokes Hagen, who is still leaning over the table. The push gently nudges the illusionist back into his seat.

“I’m serious!” Hagen stares solemnly at Hex, seeking support. “You know as well as I that the place is cursed. If it wasn’t, why doesn’t anyone live there anymore? What happened to the elves? The only inhabitants are on the western side of the island, across the mountains that divide the island in half. No one goes to Merda, no one,” Hagen spits out the last sentence.

After finishing his meal, Iltar finally speaks up, “Okay. You can stay home. I’m going to Merda, and this time I’m bringing as many people as I can. I’m sure Hem will be happy to take your place.”

Sensing the previous failure on the island still lingering about the two other mages, Iltar continues, “Besides, we would have overpowered those dragons with less casualties if we brought everyone with us. Even if Lorith had made it through the tarrasque’s lair we would have had a better outcome.

“I am going to go,” Iltar rises from the table. “But later I want to talk with both of you and Amendal. We will wait till later in the day when the others are awake… And the two of you need some rest.”

Once Iltar leaves the galley, Hagen and Hex continue their conversation in the now sunlit room.

“See,” Hagen motions with his hands toward the table with his palms facing upwards, “He wants to go to Merda, he doesn’t care about what dangers we face. All he’s after is that damn amulet!” Hagen tries to not shout the words.

“Iltar promised that we would be well rewarded for aiding him in this venture. But he also said there would be risks,” the wizard reminds Hagen. “You know we always face dangers on these adventures.”

“We’ve seen plenty of danger so far, don’t you think? What with the monster, three platinum dragons, and losing several of our companions? We have nothing in return,” Hagen replies tersely.

“Hagen, you didn’t think this would be easy did you?” Hex tries to reason with his friend. “We ran into a setback, that’s all,” he says the last with emphasis. “We need to stay the course with Iltar. Has he ever steered us wrong in previous adventures?”

“No he hasn’t, but this is not like anything we’ve been through together. Now he doesn’t care who is put in danger or who may die along the way. And I don’t like the idea of going to Merda. Hex, that place has a curse upon it, I tell you.”

“It may very well have a curse, but you know that Iltar doesn’t go blindly into any situation if he can help it. He will prepare all he can before leaving for Merdan. I have confidence in him.”

“All Iltar cares about is Iltar. We are all expendable. I’m going to rest.”

With that said Hagen gets up from his chair and walks out of the room, leaving Hex alone.

  • * * * *

Morning light bathes the main deck of the Farling as Iltar ascends the stairs. The fresh air brings a welcome relief from the stuffiness of the lower decks.

As he walks across the deck, Iltar’s mind turns to new thoughts, and he decides, the council is the most pressing matter for two reasons: to solidify the story told to his friends and to further ensure no meddling in his affairs; which will most likely require greater assistance and a greater force of men.

Iltar steps to the raised forecastle, contemplating his next course of action. The members of Kenard’s crew knew to stay away from him, but his companions who would most likely be waking soon, and will undoubtedly attempt to strike up a conversation; thus, being at the front of the vessel would allow him ample time to gather his thoughts.

Pacing back and forth along the forecastle, Iltar’s mind reflects back to his companion’s opinions voiced on the island. Amendal was very adamant about the corruption in the council. A group of necromancers had not and would not produce favorable results for the Order.

Staring across the bowsprit of the ship, Iltar’s eyes narrow at the distant horizon, as if focusing on his island days away. Suddenly, the necromancer’s eyes widen in enlightenment.

“I know what must be done,” Iltar mutters and a smile forms across his face, one that continues to spread until his teeth are exposed in a wide grin. His demented glee manifests in a faint chuckle, then diabolical laughter. “And I am going to enjoy it.”

Iltar regains his stern composure and scans the main deck, wondering, Now Cor, where are you?

Iltar had always relied on his friend to reflect his thoughts in a clearer way. The warrior’s intellect had helped Iltar throughout many occasions in the past; there was a time in particular when he needed to deal with a now-dead member of the council who had been obstinate with the newly elected necromancer. Cornar was able to look at both sides of the situation and divine a clear path forward for Iltar to take. This helped Iltar accomplish a compromise without losing face. In addition, Cornar’s experiences have cultivated a great deal of wisdom, a trait Iltar finds extremely useful, especially in this coming dilemma.

Iltar sees his friend, sleep against a sack of beans propped up along the portside rail. The necromancer warily approaches, and then kicks the warrior’s foot, but that doesn’t rouse him. With slight hesitancy, Iltar quickly reaches down and shakes his friend’s shoulder.

“Cor, wake up!” Iltar sternly demands and straightens up, hastily moving backwards several steps away from his friend. He knows what will happen if the warrior wakes up with someone directly in his face. A member of the City Watch did that once; Cornar was startled and struck the officer in the face, which resulted in the jumpy sleeper spending the following week in jail.

Feeling the motion, Cornar wakes with a start. “What–Oh,” Cornar groggily shakes his head. “You need to be careful waking me up like that,” Cornar warns and rises to his feet to face his friend.

“I stepped back,” Iltar retorts, then looks around the main deck. “I’m sorry to interrupt your nap, but we need to talk.”

Iltar notices several deckhands within earshot and the captain at the helm above them.

“Not here I imagine?” Cornar notices Iltar looking about the deck.

“No, not here. Let’s go below to my cabin.” The necromancer moves toward the stairs leading to the lower deck of the vessel.

Knowing that whatever Iltar has to say is important, Cornar silently acquiesces and follows after him.

Both Iltar and Cornar quietly descend the steps and walk through the corridors that eventually lead to Iltar’s small quarters. Once they are in the cabin, Iltar closes and locks the door, motioning for his friend to sit.

Moving across the small cabin, Cornar sits in the only chair against the outer hull while Iltar moves toward the bed. Both warrior and necromancer face each other diagonally across the room.

As they take their seats, Iltar speaks up, “In order for us to move forward there are some necessary steps that need to be taken.” Iltar adjusts himself and leans against the wall; his head relaxes comfortably as he continues his proposal and dilemma. “I told the others that the council had discovered the writings; that you and Krindal found them, but they were intending to send an expedition sometime in the future. Also, that we went to the Dragon’s Isle out of my attempting to beat them to discovering it. They still think that the mission to recruit more students was valid from the council, and that we disobeyed that order by having gone to the island.”

“So, you are playing two lies,” Cornar says as he looks at his friend with a smile.

“Yes I am, but I only plan to live one.”

“I can only guess which,” Cornar says sarcastically, leaning forward and looking to his friend. “I have a feeling I know where this is going, but, how are you going to deal with implicating Krindal?”

“Krindal has since left on another expedition,” Iltar calmly explains. “One that is taking him to the far side of the world to lands that have since become barren. I don’t expect him to return for a very long time. When he left, Krindal informed the council he was planning on being gone for at least a year and provisioned a ship for that. This was just before we set sail.”

Shaking his head Cornar says, “You’re taking some risk there. What if Krindal returns sooner?”

“That doesn’t matter. But we’ll deal with that when and if that time comes. By then I will have already positioned myself so that no one can stop me.”

“What do you mean by that?” Cornar asks, still leaning forward.

A grim smile spreads across Iltar’s face as he tells his friend the generalized idea, “Eliminate the council…”

Cornar’s eyes widen, “Don’t you think that’s too much?”

“No. That’s how I plan to resolve the two lies into one!” Iltar says excitedly. “You see, you and I are the only ones who know the truth. You came to me, and not to the constantly debating council. But I’ve told everyone that you and Krindal discovered those ancient texts, implying that you delivered them to the council, which is a likely action. Technically they should be notified of such things, then the Order of Histories.

“However, the historians of Soroth weren’t notified. An act that would surely prove an uproar,” Iltar smirks and continues. “What I’ve told the others plays perfectly into why we will move against them. That and the incident with the acolytes.

“They are a dangerous group of men that needs to be eliminated; especially Alacor. They are men that secretly conspire for gain at the expense of the nation.”

“So you will appear to be the hero of Soroth…” Cornar says thoughtfully. “When we come forward to the public I will say you convinced me to confess and expose their maniacal plot.”

Cornar strokes his chin, slowly think through the plan. He rustles the whiskers on his face that have grown into a thick beard. Often on previous adventures, the warrior had left his facial hair untrimmed. Why, Iltar never quite knew, and his friend never said.

“Kenard was given a secret charter,” Cornar continues. “Even though we put the crew and expedition together, the council was giving the orders from behind their chambers. You knew the secret mission, as did I, since I had found the ancient texts. We gathered men that we knew would be loyal to us and our charge; after all, we are some of the most notorious adventurers in Soroth.”

“Good,” Iltar nods his head then asks with narrowed eyes, “Do you think Kenard will play along with it? I’ve never truly trusted that pirate.”

“Promise him his ship,” Cornar states plainly. “He will comply.”

“Alright…” Iltar thinks it over in his head. “So, according to our new cumulative lie, the three of us knew the truth. The council masked the expedition with a search for apprentices.

“I told the others Alacor wanted it for political power, something that could be easily believable for most citizens of Soroth,” Iltar adds.

“What about the other council members?” Cornar asks. “What is their motive for following Alacor?”

“Power, influence. Most of them were brought on the council by Alacor, for a share in furthering their own dominions. A play off of what I have promised to my friends once I obtain the amulet.”

“That sounds probable…” Cornar thinks the false events over in his head. “We need to silence them quickly,” the warrior continues. “That will be the hardest part. But we can use Midar and Cordel, both of them are still acting as guards for the Order.”

“I’ll leave the strategizing to you, my friend,” Iltar smiles, happy that his intention was welcomed by Cornar.

“Once they are dead, we can reveal ‘the truth’,” the necromancer continues. “We will need to plant the original scrolls and the books in Alacor’s chambers within the Order’s hall. I will keep the copies of them, so I can continue to reference them. The books will be out of our reach, but I don’t believe they contain any further useful information. However, I’ll read through them once more before we return home.”

“What are we going to tell the citizens of Soroth concerning the island?” Cornar asks, looking at every possible angle in making the lie as real and believable as possible.

“We will tell them a variation of the truth, but none of the answers we found. That primitive creatures attacked us, and the dragons could not speak. No one has seen a dragon, so they can’t really fight us on that point.”

“What about the others?” Cornar asks, thinking of the mages aboard.

“They all have motives to help see this through, and when it comes down to it, they are doing their duty to protect Soroth. Hagen can be the most prominent one expressing those views to the public; earlier he voiced how dangerous it was and questioned if it was worth it. We can say we all felt that to some degree. Hex might sway either way, I can tell he finds the journey intriguing and wants to press on, but is still weary of it. Amendal… all he wants is to destroy the council. All of our friends exhibit a portion of what we need to accomplish this and cover our tracks in further orchestrating this expedition.”

Leaning back and staring at the ceiling, Cornar adds, “My men will go along with whatever I say. Tilthan will kill for treasure, and his jackals will follow him. He doesn’t even know why he’s here, or who the originator of his orders is, so we can easily string him along.”

Still smiling, Iltar remarks on his friend’s attitude, “You seem very eager and willing to do this Cor, a little more than I initially expected.”

Shifting his gaze from the ceiling to the necromancer across the room, Cornar gives him a level gaze, “I have my life on the line, as well as my family’s. I’ll kill to protect them, you know that. Returning to Soroth is a deathtrap at this point; for me and them.”

Iltar nods his head and they both continue to contemplate their new goal in silence. After several moments Cornar gets up from the small seat and walks toward the door.

“All this scheming has given me an appetite. I’m going to see if our chef has prepared anything in the galley,” Cornar says as he unlocks the door and shuts it behind him.

Cornar’s worries linger in Iltar’s mind as he continues to think over the lie. He knows Cornar is right, this really is a deathtrap; but it is necessary to spring it and destroy it now rather than later. The turn of events on the island proved more devastating than Iltar had planned, and now the lack of information only adds to their need to return to Soroth.

Iltar curses to himself in frustration. Contrary to what Hagen may believe, Iltar does not like putting his loyal companions in serious unknown danger. He had hoped the dragon would unravel the entire mystery of the ancient weapon, taking out most of the work for him. But that wasn’t the case, Iltar fumes. That beast only gave me information I could have determined myself! His only definite answer had been confirming that the amulet was on Merda and not Draco Isola. The most frustrating part of the puzzle was the vague clue about the activating scroll, “…‘the scroll once rested with a group of humans, but that Order has since been destroyed’…” It could be anywhere.

Still sitting on the bed, Iltar leans forward and pulls his chest from under the table. As he opens the heavy lid, the words from the dragon echo in his mind about the texts being fake. Iltar quickly pushes the thought away, though.

Creating fake texts for the purpose of misleading treasure-seekers millennia later makes no sense. I must have misread the scrolls. Nodding to himself, Iltar decides to continue looking for clues on the missing order of men instead of worrying about forgeries.

Clearing his mind, Iltar reaches down for the first book and nestles himself back into the corner on top of his bed. He opens the hard leather cover, revealing the tome’s title page: “The Thousand Years War. A narrative compilation by Dusel Nadim, Volume One.”

Giving it only a quick glance, Iltar flips through to the preface.

  • * * * *

Later that afternoon, a light rapping at the door calls Iltar’s attention away from the ancient tome in his hands. Putting it aside, the necromancer swings his feet out of bed and walks over to the door, unlatching the lock.

“Yes?” Iltar grumbles.

“The others want to talk,” Cornar’s voice muffles through the wooden door.

Iltar slowly opens the door and looks at his friend with a raised brow, “About what? Our plan?” The irritation leaves his voice as he takes interest.

“It seems so. Hagen and Hex said you wanted to speak to them later today. I just ran into them while they were each on their way to the galley. They must have been sleeping all morning,” Cornar chuckles.

“We’ll use Kenard’s quarters. Eventually I want to talk to him and Tilthan, but I want the five of us to speak alone first,” Iltar turns from the doorway. He reaches for the book on the bed and places it in the opened chest, then locks it.

They walk single file through the narrow passageway. Cornar leads the way as they make their way to the galley and the stairwell leading to the main deck, where Iltar stops to poke his head into the galley. The necromancer sees Hagen and motions for him to follow from the galley’s doorway.

Once the mages reach the stairs, they can hear Cornar on the main deck hollering up to the captain, who is busy with his men at the helm.

“Where’s Hex?” Iltar asks Hagen as he ascends the steps.

“I don’t know,” Hagen responds, still holding food in his hands. “I think he’s probably on the main deck.”

“Well, find him, and get Amendal while you’re at it. We’ll meet in the captain’s quarters.”

As the two mages emerge onto the main deck, a lively commotion reaches their ears: Several of Cornar’s men are sparring on the quarterdeck with their bare fists while others watch, including Hex. The two warriors, Hemrin and Shen, are rapidly exchanging blows as their companions eagerly cheer for them.

Iltar raises his brow and shakes his head at the scene.

“There he is,” Hagen says with his mouth partially full and rushes past Iltar to Hex’s side, who has his back turned to the aft of the ship.

Hagen taps the wizard on the shoulder and motions with his head toward Iltar.

At this same moment, Kenard comes around the corner into the covered landing that leads below to his quarters. He fumbles about with a key ring as he passes Iltar, Cornar close behind him.

As Cornar passes, Iltar turns and follows the two men down the narrow passageway to the captain’s quarters.

The captain opens the door and is the first to step inside his cabin. He stands with the door on the inside of his quarters, holding it open with one hand.

“Thank you,” Cornar responds and walks past Kenard, looking for a place to sit.

“I want to talk to you later,” Iltar commands in a hushed voice. “Make yourself available.”

“As you wish,” the captain responds sarcastically. He shakes his head while Iltar is not looking and leaves the two men alone, letting go of the door, causing it to swing shut from the rocking of the vessel.

Soon after, Hex enters the room. The initial two men have already occupied the only chairs in the space, which leaves the wizard to choose the next best seat, the captain’s bed.

Hagen and Amendal come in together and separately move to either side of the room. The illusionist walks over near Cornar, still holding the food he took from the galley. Amendal eyes the bed as he closes the door and moves to sit on the opposite side from where Hex patiently sits. The oldest mage presses down on the cushion with both hands and then reclines back, folding his arms across his chest.

Seeing that everyone is comfortable and ready, Iltar looks at each man in the room before speaking, “Things have not gone according to plan. I hoped that the dragon we captured would give us more information; however, he gave us little more than what the council and myself discovered in the scrolls.

“He did, however, confirm that the amulet was in Merda, which was the other location marked on our elven map. That, accompanied by the loss of seven of our men to the island’s dangers, have truly set us back. I see no other course than to return to Soro–”

“You told us that already,” Hagen interrupts with his mouth half full. “What’s this plan you mentioned this morning concerning the council?”

“Quiet Hagen,” Hex interjects from the bed. “Let Iltar finish.”

“Each of those men are a threat to all of us, and to those closest to us,” Iltar looks to Cornar, the only man in the cabin with a family. “There is no doubt that when we return they will interrogate me. Their immediate suspicions will be that I took us to the Dragon’s Isle, which would be correct.

“Then they would hunt everyone down who was with me. We can only imagine what would happen to them.”

Iltar pauses and lets the image sit in their minds before continuing. He can tell each of his friends are considering the implications of his words, except for Cornar, who already knows where this meeting is headed.

“So I gathered you here to decide what to do. Returning to Soroth is our only choice if we are to succeed. Even though our charter could allow us to hide out in several port cities, we would only be giving the council more time to search the island we just left and Merda; not to mention those necromancers would know exactly where to find us. Then our adventure will be for naught and the men that died would have lost their lives in vain.”

“But how would they know we were on the island?” Amendal sits up and looks at Iltar, as if stirring from a nap.

“There were other dragons that saw us,” Cornar speaks up. “Iltar and I saw them from the mouth of the cave, and one flew over the mountain range. I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw the ship in the bay; however whether they would ever encounter and divulge that information to another expedition is purely chance. But it’s not something I want to leave open in our defense.”

“Why do we have to go back to Soroth?” Hagen asks, “Why not someplace else, what’s so important there?”

“First, and most importantly, we still need to go to Merda,” Iltar explains. “I know little about that place, nor did I have enough time to conduct a thorough research before we left on this trip. Like I said, I was planning on the dragon giving us more information.

“Second, we need more men. Men that will be loyal to us and not stab us in the back, so to speak. Those men are on Soroth. One of whom is, in fact, a half-elvish former apprentice of mine. He grew up in Keth, and his mother is an elf from Merdan. She probably is not old enough to have lived in the city Merda, but that connection might be benefi–”

“Why didn’t you bring him along in the first place?!” Amendal sputters angrily. “Were you even thinking when you put this expedition together?!”

Iltar laughs at the old conjurer who immediately resumes resting on the bed with pillows propped under his head. “If I could, I would have brought Balden. Unfortunately, he is employed by the Baron of Sereth. And it’s well known that the baron has a tight grasp on those he employs. Balden cannot even leave his castle until his contract is up, which is roughly thirty years from now.”

Hex’s eyes narrow at Iltar. “I can only imagine what you have in store for him, dear friend…” the wizard rubs his chin as he continues to stare at Iltar. “You’re thinking of an offensive aren’t you?”

“Whoa!” Hagen spits out the last of the food in his mouth, “You’re saying kill the council?!” he looks down at Iltar and then to Cornar beside him. The warrior looks up at him and returns a simple smile.

“Yes!” Amendal cries out as he sits up in the bed, a fire burning in his eyes. “I want those fools to wither in pain until they die!”

“Eliminate the council,” Iltar states calmly. “With them dead, I will be the sole survivor and the head of the Order.”

“What do you intend to do with that?” Hagen asks skeptically.

“Restore balance,” Iltar looks up to the illusionist who is putting his bowl down on the table covered in sea charts. “Do you remember what Amendal told us that night in the tavern? He said that each seat of the council occupied only one master of each of the magical arts–”

“Finally, I can rip them limb from limb!” the crazed conjure interrupts Iltar, playing out an imagined scene with his hands.

Ignoring Amendal’s rambling, Iltar continues, “We can once again have a council representing all disciplines. Not only will we be doing Soroth and the Order a favor, but we will ensure our safety and allow us ample time to prepare to go to Merda. I will storm that place with an army if I must.

“By returning to Soroth and eliminating the council, we keep ourselves safe and ensure further expeditions. I don’t know how long it will take, but we will set out again to reclaim the amulet in its entirety.”

“But, how are we going to kill the council and get away with it?” Hex asks. “I mean, it’s a good idea, but I don’t see how it can be done.”

“I’m leaving that up to Cornar, but we’ll have to get them all together. It’ll be the best way eliminate all of them. Once we arrive, the council will summon me to our chambers. That is where we should strike.

“As far as getting away with it, all we must do is tell the authorities what we will tell Kenard and the others of the expedition. The evidence is already inside our Order’s halls. But before we move forward, I need to know that the four of you are with me on this.”

“I am,” Cornar responds resolutely.

“We’ve come this far,” Hex puts his hands on his knees and leans forward. “I can’t just back out now.”

Cackling on the bed, Amendal is clearly enjoying the thoughts of destroying the men that corrupted the Order he had been a part of for most of his life.

“Amendal?” Iltar asks, jarring the old man from his imagination.

“Of course! We must make this vessel go faster!”

“Well, Hagen?” Iltar asks, the only hesitant member.

“If I don’t go along with you I’m dead. If I do, I’ll probably die in Merda with the rest of you…” the illusionist says in his high pitched voice. “So, yes I’ll help.”

“Excellent,” Iltar smiles. “Now, we just need the captain and Tilthan to agree to our plot.”

“And if they don’t,” Hagen squeaks out, “Does that mean we’ll throw them overboard?”

The other mages laugh at Hagen’s sarcasm while Cornar, also chuckling, rises from his seat in anticipation of Iltar’s forthcoming request to gather the other men. The warrior opens the door and steps into the covered corridor, hollering for the captain.

After several minutes Cornar and Captain Kenard enter the room. Kenard closes the door, anticipating that what they have to say to him is important.

“Please come and sit down,” Iltar motions to the seat beside him.

Kenard steps forward and sits, slightly tense.

“I’m guessing this is important, since all of you are gathered here,” Kenard observes, examining each of the mages.

“Smart man,” Hagen quips quietly as Iltar relates the purpose of their journey.

He tells Kenard the same story he told the mages on the beach; how the council found a record of a powerful artifact, and how Iltar sought to beat the others at finding it. He also relates their plight and the importance of returning to Soroth, while emphasizing the danger he and his crew would be in.

“There you have it Captain! Now, I propose that you work with us. However, what we tell the citizens of Soroth will differ from the truth I have just told you.

“Everyone else aboard who is not in this room doesn’t know what really happened. They thought we were going on a trip to find apprentices. What we will tell them and the rest of the people in Soroth is that the council gave you, Cornar, and myself a secret mission, masked by finding apprentices. We were given a fake charter to travel to the mainland. While we were out on this expedition, all of us had a change of heart. The council’s plot would only bring war to Soroth, and destroy our nation. We decided to expose the council, due to the dangerousness of the task they charged to us.

“All you have to do, Captain is follow corroborate our story.”

“What if I refuse?” Kenard asks, assuming a bargaining stance.

“Then I’m afraid you won’t be getting your ship back. I will ensure that the Magistrate Rosten always keeps the bail of the White Duchess above your reach,” Iltar lets the words sink in before continuing.

“If you play along, though, I will release your ship from the impound. I will be the head of the council, and I will have more authority and power; power that will enable me to free your ship.”

Captain Kenard’s lips twist as he thinks over the proposal. Having his ship back would mean a great deal to him. With hesitation he asks, “What else, Iltar? There has to be something to this bargain that you’re not saying.”

“Let us use your ship. Of course, we will pay you for any future trips,” Iltar offers, leaning forward while eyeing Kenard, expecting an answer.

“You have a deal,” the captain barks, rising from the chair. “Now I must get back to the helm. Just tell me when to talk and I will.”

With the captain gone, the rest of the men sit in silence. Each are deep in thought as they contemplate their situation. Only one more member of their expedition’s help is required for them to put their plan into motion.

Without any command from Iltar, Cornar leaves the room again and after a moment returns with the leading thief.

“Okay… what’s going on?” Tilthan asks cautiously as he enters the room and looks around at the four mages.

Cornar shuts the door, and the sound startles the thief. He immediately raises his hands to his face, his palms facing the others.

“Whatever it is, I didn’t do it!” Tilthan swallows hard as he looks at the mages, all giving him stiff looks. “Really, I’m telling the truth!”

“How do you feel about assassinations, Tilthan?” Iltar asks quietly. His eyes narrow at the thief.

“Phew, I thought you guys were looking for someone to blame for the mess in the galley!” Tilthan breathes a sigh of relief. He then straightens up and with a changed demeanor asks, “Who do you need me to kill?”

“We need you to help us eliminate the council of the Necrotic Order, all except myself of course,” Iltar grins malevolently. “Cornar will tell you what to do exactly, but we need to know if you and your friends will assist us.”

“Why? Are they getting in the way of the treasure we’re after?” the thief asks, oblivious concerning the true nature of their expedition. He had not been within earshot of the dragon during Iltar’s interrogation.

“Yes,” Iltar goes along with the thief’s worries. “They threaten the continuation of this expedition, my friend. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to lose out on your share of the treasure…”

“Alright, we’re in! But I want to get paid an additional sum for my time, and for each head I take off!”

“Don’t worry, you will. Now leave us,” Iltar dismisses him, then waits for Tilthan to hurry out the door before he continues.

“Once Cornar formulates a plan we will meet again, but for now I think we should inform the others of our intentions. I want everyone to be onboard with us.”

“What do we tell them?” Hex asks

“Tell them what we told Kenard. Make it clear that the council is a threat to their lives, and that they will be safe with me.”

With that said, each of the conspiring companions quietly leaves the room, heading back to their respective quarters or returning to the amusement on deck.

Iltar walks down the passageway to his cabin and unlocks the door. Once inside his small chambers, Iltar unlocks the chest and removes the old tome, ready to continue reviewing its contents in search for clues that would point to that mysterious ancient order.

  • * * * *

After several days Iltar and Cornar meet again to discuss their upcoming coup of the council. Both men talk quietly as they sit in Iltar’s cabin, in the same positions as they had in earlier visits. On the table is a sheet of parchment with a hand drawn depiction of the Necrotic Order’s council chamber. Various lines and circles are drawn on the floor plan, indicating positions for the attackers.

Iltar sits in his bed near the table, memorizing the diagram and carefully tracing it with his finger.

“I believe this plan of attack will minimize the casualties on our end,” Cornar says as he leans back against the wall and closes his eyes briefly.

“You look tired, my friend,” Iltar remarks as he looks up from the table. “We will be near Soroth tomorrow, you should relax the remainder of the day.”

Chuckling, Cornar responds, “It’s not like I will be doing much when we arrive.” The warrior looks at his friend across the table with one opened eye. The other is closed but twitches from exhaution.

“All that remains is planting the evidence,” Iltar continues as he looks at his friend. “Do Kalder and Tilthan know their parts?”

“Kalder does, but I figured I’d let you tell Tilthan.” Cornar leans forward from the wall and pushes himself away from it. “I’ll grab both of them.”

With a grunt, Cornar heaves himself up from his seat and exits the room, leaving Iltar alone. The necromancer muses over their plot, a twisted smile forming on his face. Soon, I will have control over the Order and freedom to search for the amulet and the tethering stone.

Several minutes later, Cornar, followed by Kalder and Tilthan, walk into Iltar’s quarters. With the four of them, the small cabin becomes cramped and almost intolerable.

“Okay,” Tilthan breathes deep and rubs his hands together, “Who am I killing?”

“There is a slight change in plans my thieving friend,” Iltar says from the bed, his leg stretched across it to allow enough room for the others to stand. “According to Cornar’s strategy, you and Kalder will execute the most vital part of this usurping. No one is to know the actual truth. That includes anyone on board that’s not in this room,” Iltar pauses and opens his palm out in front of him.

Without incantation, a swirling black mist of magic forms into a globe that hovers over his relaxed hand. It glows with a deathly light, and small clouds of black dissolving dust swirl within the magic. The magic gives off a sense of dread that knots the other men’s stomachs; even Cornar can feel it.

“If either of you tell the real truth,” a severe glower crosses his face as he looks at them, “You will endure a very painful existence with one of these eating away at your body.”

“Umm,” Tilthan interrupts, “The less I know the better, just tell me what to do and I’ll forget it. Don’t even tell me why I’m doing it either!”

“I’m as loyal to you as Cornar, Master Iltar,” Kalder stoically states. “I would never betray you.”

“Good. If you want to know the reasons behind this, Kalder, you can ask Cornar. He’ll tell you something that we haven’t told the others, nor do we plan to. And Tilthan, if you hint to the others that what we have said concerning the council and our initial mission are not completely accurate, you will die.”

“I’ve heard nothing you said,” Tilthan shakes his hands in front of his chest, “I’m not even here right now.”

“Now for your task,” Iltar closes his hand and the globe of darkness vanishes, the magic sinking back into his pores. Motioning to the chest at the edge of the bed, Iltar adds, “In there are five red scroll cases and two old books. They will need to be planted in Alacor’s chambers in the Order’s main hall. The two of you will stay with the ship while the others leave in the small boats. Kenard will pilot the ship and dock, and then you will disembark. Tilthan,” Iltar looks at the thief, “You will need to take one of your friend’s cloaks for Kalder.”

The thief nods in the affirmative while Iltar continues.

“Both of you will be guided to his chambers in the guild hall. While the rest of us are dealing with the council, the two of you will make sure the evidence is secured. You will need to re-lock the doors, but you’re good at that Tilthan, I don’t have to tell you,” Iltar’s eyes narrow at the thief. “Once the others are off the Farling, you will come get the scrolls and books; they’ll be the only things left in this room. Now go, and don’t fail me.”

Without a word, the two warriors and thief clear out of the room and leave Iltar alone.

The necromancer turns in the bed and adjusts himself, staring at the ceiling. His mind races over the texts he has immersed himself in the last four days.

The books held no trace of an organization that would have been trusted intimately by the dragons. Iltar closes his eyes and slows his breathing; trying to let go of his frustrations, letting the gentle sway of the ship put him to sleep.

  • * * * *

The next morning, the crewman in the roost spots land in the horizon to the south west. He calls down to the crewman at the helm while another descends to the lower deck, rushing to the captain’s quarters.

“Captain Kenard!” the crewman shouts as he bursts through the doorway. “We’ve spotted Sereth! We’re home!”

From his bed, Kenard sits up and faces the man in his doorway, “Good! I’ll be at the helm shortly. Go awake Iltar and Cornar, tell them we are close.”

Soon, the entire expedition and every crewman of the Farling are on deck looking to the south. A speck of land grows in the distance, and the first island spotted is now to the west, looming large.

Slightly inland on that island, a castle looms over the forest covering the eastern shore. It is made of a dull gray stone and has three towers that spire from the top of the main keep.

Iltar looks at the castle and makes a silent oath, Balden, I’ll come for you soon.

“We should be near Soroth and your excursion point in just over an hour,” Captain Kenard shouts from behind the rail of the upper deck

Turning to the bow, Iltar faintly sees their island home in the distance. The wrinkles around his eyes thicken as his focus penetrates the nearing land. A twisted smile, one that seems to come to him more often these days, forms across his face.

From over his shoulder, Iltar can hear Cornar shouting to the others, “Load the craft!”

11

Clandestine Homecoming

 

The island of Soroth fills the vista before the Farling as it turns to follow the shore of the island. To the west, Soroth stretches far beyond the horizon. Fall is setting in, with many groups of trees turning colors. The northern side of the island is covered in a dense forest, which conceals many houses and estates.

“Quarter to starboard!” Captain Kenard calls out from near the helm, informing the crew and the passengers of the impending turn.

A lone figure remains at the bow of the ship, his black robe and cowl shroud him, but his silhouette is well recognized among the crew and his companions.

Cornar is the last of the men to climb into the longboats on the portside in preparation. The deck is clear except for the figure at the bow.

The Farling moves along the northern coast until it rounds the north eastern tip of the island. In the distance, Soroth’s northernmost pier faintly comes into view; although the rest of the city is still concealed behind the forest.

The ship continues traveling along the shore, but slows at Kenard’s command near the woodland’s edge; the trees barely conceal the Farling from sight of the buildings near the northern harbor. At his call, the anchor is lowered and the large vessel rocks back and forth until it comes to a rest.

“Lower the boats!” the captain commands without raising his voice, and three of the four smaller vessels descend into the water.

One-by-one, the small craft are rowed to the rocky shore. Between the crags near the forest’s southern edge is a small beach, just twice as wide as each of the small vessels. The first boat gently slides along the brown sand and embanks on the wet ground.

Cornar and Nordal immediately jump out on either side while the others in the vessel move to the bow and follow the two warriors.

With everyone but the crewman piloting the longboat on shore, the last two men push the small vessel back into the water and it rows back to the Farling. Both other longboat do the same, and the small army of twenty men, excluding the shrouded figure, Kalder, and Tilthan, set foot on Sorothian soil.

Once the three small boats are brought alongside the Farling and hoisted against the hull, Kenard calls for the anchor to be lifted. As the anchor rises from the water, the vessel continues southward. The captain steers the ship himself as he moves the vessel further eastward to comply with the traffic laws of the Sorothian harbors.

The Farling passes the eastern docks, and they are mostly full. It is a busy day along the harbors; the peak influx of trade occurring just several days after Iltar’s expedition departed Soroth. This time of year brings a great deal of trade to the small island. Crops are imported from the surrounding islands, as well as the western coastal cities of the mainland.

Almost a quarter of an hour later, the Farling rounds the southeastern tip of the island, nearing the main port they had left only two weeks prior.

An empty wharf near the western part of the main harbor catches Kenard’s eye, and he steers the ship toward it. As the ship drifts, several other trading vessels leave the harbor and pass the Farling on either side.

Nonchalantly holding the helm, Kenard calls out, “Drop anchors!” The captain smiles as he turns to his first mate next to him. “Now Cadru, we sit back and relax. Soon, we’ll have the Duchess back.”

Meanwhile, at the bow, the shrouded figure turns and walks toward the vessel’s portside rail. He waits patiently as the crewmen move the gangway from the deck to the opening on the portside rail and extend it across to the pier. All the while, the ship gently rocks in the waves caused by other vessels moving about in the harbor.

After several minutes of being docked, Kalder’s voice speaks from out of nothingness behind the cloaked figure, “We’re both here, Master Iltar.”

“Stay close, and don’t bump into anyone,” Iltar sternly whispers from under the hood of the robe.

Just as the three men, two concealed from sight, descend the gangway a hurried man comes running down the pier.

“You can’t moor here! This wharf is reserved for the Traveling Sentinel!” the man breathes heavy as he reaches the vessel.

Walking around the man, Iltar gives him a hard look. He recognizes him as the harbormaster. A shrewd man who was meticulous at keeping his port in perfect order.

“Then you’ll have to take that up with Captain Kenard,” the necromancer says from under the cowl.

“Kenard?” the harbormaster snorts. “He’s out to the mainland. I don’t know who you are, but you need to move your vessel now!”

Hearing the commotion, Captain Kenard steps down the ladder to the main deck and walks toward the portside rail. Leaning over it he shouts, “Is there a problem, Harbormaster?”

“You!” the harbormaster cries out, jaw dropping in surprise. “Why are you back? I was told you left with a ship full of men! Where are they?”

“Dead,” the necromancer coldly states from behind, making the frenzied man jump. “I’m the sole survivor. Surely you know who I am.”

The harbormaster swallows hard as he recognizes Iltar. “Yes… I believe so. You’re on the council of the Necrotic Order. Forgive me, Sir.”

“Good, now that you finally realize who I am, send a runner to gather the Order’s council members. I am headed there at once,” the shrouded necromancer says dismissively, quickly walking past the harbormaster, who is still standing on the pier attempting to piece things together.

“I’m guessing you want me to move this ship?” Kenard calls over the rail sarcastically.

The harbormaster lets out a breath, as if letting out steam, “Yes! Move your ship and wait beyond the docking routes. We’ll send someone for you when a wharf becomes available.”

With that said the harbormaster follows the shrouded figure down the pier waving his hands in frustration.

Meanwhile, Kenard laughs hysterically as he turns to several of the crewmen standing near him. He struggles to muster a word but motions for his first mate at the helm to move the ship.

  • * * * *

The late morning sun beats upon Cornar and the others standing on the shore. To the east, the Farling drifts away and into deeper waters.

“Now that everyone is here, we’ll break up into groups. The seven of you,” Cornar points to the mages, “Cast your invisibility spells, and make sure yourself and two others are covered. Stay close to each other, my men will lead the way to my home. From there we will regroup and continue with our plan.”

A moment later, the members of the expedition vanish from the shoreline, and the light patter of their footsteps sound their way up the rocky shore into the forest. From there they head southward across the small plain dividing the city of Soroth from the vast trees that cover the rest of the island.

After a quarter of an hour, they reach the city’s northeastern most square; the same which houses the Sea Vistonia, the tavern visited by Iltar and the others three weeks prior.

The square is busy now, filled with horses, carriages, and many affluent citizens. It was customary for most of the Sorothian upper class to visit the tavern for all their daily meals. After all, it was the chief notable attraction of the square, and well known throughout the entire island.

On the northeast corner of the square, between the fabled restaurant on the east and a market building to the north, is an opening in the city wall. The stone hedge neatly stops short of the rocky coast. It was removed by request of the notorious tavern’s owner because it blocked the view to the shore and the sea beyond it. He called it a hindrance to the atmosphere they were attempting to create outside the establishment.

Taking advantage of this, Cornar and the others make their way into the city by this small gap. The invisible warriors, mages, and thieves travel through the alleys between buildings as they make their way to their leader’s home.

With quiet expertise, the expedition reaches Cornar’s urban estate.

The aged warrior’s home is nestled along a street not far from the northern walls of the city, several blocks east of the Necrotic Order’s guild hall.

The home is surrounded by a brown cement wall with hints of dull orange. A large circular gateway sits in the middle of the barrier just beyond the walkway, separating the property from the street.

Seeing only a few people in the area, Cornar edges up to the metal gate. Being cautious of the squeaking hinge, he gently guides it open. By unseen means, the gate opens then the light sound of footfalls patter through it.

Within the estate’s walls is a beautiful garden, dotted with several trees, one to the left and the other two along the right. The leaves of the trees are still green, and the scene shows no hint of the cooling weather.

An oval fountain marks the center of the garden, between the doorway to the home and the gateway to the street.

From the gate, a stone path branches off in two directions; one runs along the wall and back toward the stables at the rear of the abode. The other leads to the fountain, circling it before paving the way to the home.

The warrior’s beautiful two-story home sits squarely at the property’s center; nearly square in shape, its second sit story over only the home’s left and rear sides. A circular tower rises a story and a half above the sloping roof at the home’s front and right side.

The home shares the same color as the exterior walls surrounding the garden, but with off-white highlights in the various window frames.

Once within the walls of his city estate, Cornar, remaining invisible, feels his way past those around him. He walks up to the raised and covered entry of his home, then heads to the side-by-side wood and fogged glass doors that lead into the edifice.

Cornar silently swings the door on the right side open, then creeps into a spacious foyer.

The foyer’s walls are a golden beige with streaks and dots of white accent them, giving the illusion of large stone slabs. Directly opposite of the doors, a partially curved stairwell leads to the second floor; it straightens out near the top, running parallel to the door. The foyer’s ceiling vaults to the top of the second story, allowing a view to the main doors from the hallway adjacent to the stairs.

On either side of the foyer, two opened doorways lead to rooms adjacent to the entry hall. To the right of the doors is a squared lounge with an enclosed circular stairway leading to the tower. Opposite the lounge is a larger room with several ornate chairs and sofas. This second room’s color is distinctly different than the entry and small lounge, with peach toned stone texturing covering the walls throughout.

Cornar and the others invisibly move toward the peach room, and the warrior notices his maid busily dusting a hutch and mirror on the wall. She is short and youthful, with shoulder length golden blonde hair and dressed in worn clothing; a custom most women from Soroth embrace when cleaning a home.

Hearing the sound of wood popping within the foyer, the maid abruptly turns, seeing the home’s door open. Eyes widening, she moves to investigate it, but abruptly bounces into an invisible man. She lets out a soft shriek of fear, prompting the men in the room to quickly drop their invisibility.

“Nilia,” Cornar gently calls, moving across the large parlor, “Calm down. Everything is fine.”

“Master Cornar, what’s going on?” Nilia exhales shakily, her pale green eyes darting to each of the remaining members of their expedition. She moves cautiously around the men in front of her toward Cornar. “You were not due home for weeks.”

“We’ve returned early,” Cornar replies, putting his hands on her shoulders to calm her. “We have urgent business with the council of the Necrotic Order. I need you to go get Midar and Cordel. Tell them there’s an emergency at the house.”

“Okay…” Nilia agrees hesitantly, still confused.

“Don’t tell them I’m here; just get them to come back with you. And be quick!”

Nodding her head, Nilia pushes past the men and some move out of her way. She runs out the door, leaving it wide open.

Cornar motions for Aron to shut the door and the party breaks up between the three rooms. The aged warrior hears faint footsteps on the stairs to his tower; he turns to look at the enclosed stair, but doesn’t see the source of the footsteps.

Meanwhile, within the larger room, both thieves are admiring the décor of the space. The fabrics of the sofas and chairs are from Arbath, a city almost halfway around the world. Their fabrics have thick stripes of golds and reds with small and large oval-shaped designs lining the center of the stripes. The wood is ornately carved in a way that resembles the waves of the oceans.

In front of where Nilia had been standing is a high cabinet with similar shapes carved into the edges of it; above the cabinet is a mirror with a wooden frame that matches the seating and storage pieces of the room.

“Don’t even think about touching anything!” Cornar calls out to the thieves, partially in jest, but knowing that they might have the gall to try.

“We’re just admiring…” Nath says, rolling his eyes as he sits on the sofa. “You have a beautiful place, Cornar.”

“Thank you,” the warrior says curtly, turning toward at the room’s rear leading to a dining hall. “Now, is there any food…?”

After peaking his head into the room Cornar quickly turns back with disappointment.

The other eighteen men, minus the one who had ascended into Cornar’s private study, are scattered about the three rooms: The majority of the mages are congregated in the smaller parlor where they are briefly scanning their host’s collection of literature. Cornar’s men are resting on the chairs or standing watch at the home’s entry. Thin but tall panes of windows line the entry door, and two of the warriors, one on each side, watch the gateway.

Pacing between the three rooms, Cornar carefully watches his companions; partially out of concern for his family’s things, as well as ensuring everyone who disembarked the ship is with them.

“They’re coming,” Aron whispers from the doors, aiming the announcement to Cornar.

Through the panes, the warriors see Nilia running through the garden, still shocked from her employer’s mysterious appearance and quest. Not far behind her are the two warriors, Midar and Cordel.

A moment later, Nilia opens one of the large doors and stumbles into the foyer; the two warriors following immediately behind her. Once they’re inside, Aron closes the door.

Midar and Cordel look at Cornar with confusion; their mentor standing near the stairs to the second floor of the home.

“Why are you back?” Midar asks in bewilderment.

“I can’t tell you everything right now,” Cornar sternly shakes his head. “We have to hurry. Iltar is planning on killing the council and we need your help.”

“What?!” Cordel cries out. “You two saved them just three weeks ago!”

Ignoring the outburst, Cornar continues, “We need to sneak inside the main hall. Our entire party here,” he motions to the men around him, “Will go up to the council chambers. However, we’re not doing that until all members of the council are gathered. Iltar is sending word for them to meet as soon as possible. Once the other six are there, you’ll signal to Nemral, who will be concealed by his cloak just beyond the gates. That will require the both of you to be stationed outside, can you do that?”

“Yes,” Midar replies hesitantly; he trusts Cornar and knows the warrior would only resort to such a ploy under dire circumstances. “I’ll tell the captain of the guard I want some fresh air. I’ve been inside all day as it is.”

“Excellent. And we need you to open the doors so we can sneak in. How many of the council members have you seen?”

“Two,” Midar states then looks to Cordel for confirmation, and the latter silently nods his head. “Alacor and Jalel. I haven’t seen any of the others in several days.”

“Fine, I won’t keep you long in case you might miss them. Iltar should arrive shortly. Before you go, how many guards are there on duty?”

“Five, besides us,” Cordel responds.

“Good, go and Nemral will be behind you,” Cornar looks to the large parlor and motions for the thief to come forward. He repeats the orders he gave his men, and the thief vanishes beneath his cloak before leaving the home.

As the two warriors leave, Cornar sits on the stairwell, letting out a deep breath while relaxing against the hard step.

“What’s going on?” Nilia asks as she steps near Cornar and leans against the wall.

“Iltar is planning to overthrow the Necrotic Order,” Cornar replies, smugly smiling at Nilia. Their corruption ends today. Perhaps you will be able to learn the ways of conjuration once and for all. Necromancy won’t be the only art taught there after today.”

  • * * * *

Midar and Cordel run out of the gates to Cornar’s city estate, their weapons bouncing against their thighs. They run for three Sorothian blocks before nearing the mages’ guild hall.

Once near the Necrotic Order’s northeast corner, they see a familiar figure shrouded robe and cowl. The warriors stop as they notice Iltar’s sapphire eyes sharply staring at them, having heard their weapons clanging.

“Master Iltar!” Midar exclaims, feigning astonishment. “I’m surprised to see you.” He motions with his eyes back toward Cornar’s residence.

“Escort me to my Order’s hall my, young friends,” Iltar calmly beckons beneath the shadows of his cowl.

The two warriors nod and walk ahead of Iltar toward the Necrotic Order’s main entrance. The gates are open, with two guards stationed at the main building’s large doors. All is silent, except for Iltar and the others’ footfalls that sound against the stone path.

“Inform the council that I have returned,” Iltar shouts to the guard on the left, who quickly opens the door respective to him. “And with grave news.”

The guard nods and quickly steps through the doorway, moving toward the grand foyer.

“I’ll relieve you,” Midar says to the other guard and opens the other door, allowing Iltar and his invisible companions to enter.

Without a word, the guard nods his head and enters the building, making his way to the grand foyer and the guard’s barracks.

Alone with his coconspirators, Iltar stops at the entryway, glancing over his shoulders, then to Midar and Cordel.

“I must attend to something in my office. Then I will see the others. Make sure no one leaves.”

“Yes, Master Iltar,” Midar and Cordel say in unison.

With that said, Iltar walks inside his Order’s main hall, moving down the corridor to the grand foyer. The aforementioned space rises three stories and is lined with the same granite-like stone as the outside of the building. Pillars surround the edges of the gigantic room, supporting the upper floors and the rails of the balcony of the northern second story lounge. Crimson furniture lines the northern corners of the room. They are positioned around two pairs of double doors on either side of the northern walls of the grand foyer. Once those seats were occupied by students eager to learn the magical arts of Kalda; however, they had since become empty and silent over the years leading to Alacor’s predecessor’s ascendency to the guild master’s seat of the Sorothian Magical Order; a name which had since been stricken.

The shrouded necromancer quickly walks across the center path, lined with a red carpet that shares a similar texture and shade as the furniture.

Straight ahead, on the south side of the foyer, a wide stone stairwell rises several steps short of one story and leads to a landing; the landing sprawls half the width of the foyer, with two short pairs of steps on either side that lead to landings adjoining corridors on the second floor. The area under the stairs and the landing are exposed, supported by four pillars, larger than the ones that line the walls of the foyer. Along the southern wall are towering glass panes, both above and below the stairwell. At the top and center of the wall, a single circular glass window houses the Kaldean equivalents of the letters “N”, “O”, “S”. The “S” and “N” over lap each other within the “O”.

Iltar moves up the stairs, turning to his right and walking across the landing, and the subsequent steps before entering an adjoining corridor.

“We’re close,” the necromancer whispers.

Several steps inside the corridor, Iltar passes a small hall on his left but continues forward. Immediately after, the corridor curves. On the left side of the larger circular wall are a pair of double doors.

“That’s Alacor’s chambers,” Iltar points as he passes the doors. “Plant the text wherever you see fit.”

Without hesitation, Iltar continues forward down the hall, which straightens out. After passing several doors, he turns to the left down a short hall that intersects the corridor lining the west walls of the building.

Turning north to his right, Iltar walks straightway for the series of stairs, the same he and Cornar ascended when saving the council.

Once Iltar reaches the stairs, he stops and points to his right down another intersecting corridor. “There’s an area where you can wait. It’s a lounge. You’ll be able to look here and down into the grand foyer, go.”

He waits, hearing Kalder and Tilthan’s faint footsteps moving fading down the hall. Once the hall is silent, the shrouded figure ascends the steps.

Atop the highest floor, Iltar sees two members of the council: both Alacor and his younger brother, Jalel, hurriedly walk to the council chamber’s doors.

The elder necromancer opens the door and allows his younger brother to enter; onlookers might see this as brotherly affection, but Iltar knew Alacor was not one to enter a room before another, especially after this most recent revolt.

As Alacor holds the door open, he glimpses the shrouded figure quizzically narrow his eyes..

“Iltar,” Alacor calls out. “What happened? You look miserable.”

Approaching the doorway and the Order’s grandmaster, the plotting necromancer keeps his head low, averting his gaze from probing eyes.

“It was terrible… I-I will tell you when the others gather,” Iltar mumbles as he slides through the doorway, careful not to brush against Alacor or either of the doors.

Still at the doors, Alacor’s brow furrows as he watches Iltar walk to his chair. The grandmaster then looks to his brother, who has already taken his seat.

“I was told you are the sole survivor,” Alacor says sternly while entering the council chambers. He walks around the table and takes his seat. He demands, “At least preface what occurred.”

Still covered by his cowl, Iltar stares at the table without a response. He forces his physical features to convey a sense of horrified shock.

“It must have been horrendous for you,” Jalel says mockingly. “I can’t believe I would have lived to see the mighty Iltar seized by fear,” he laughs lightly.

Alacor looks at his brother with an irritated gaze, then back to Iltar with a more intrigued expression. He’d never seen the man like this before, either. The three necromancers sit in silence, waiting for their fellow member of the council to speak.

After the space of an hour the last member of the council arrives, Kallan. He walks into the room, looking at Iltar, then to the other five men. Still at the doors Kallan asks while closing, “What’s happened? What did you encounter that was so powerful to leave you the sole survivor?”

The door shuts and silence fills the council chambers.

Raising his head, Iltar looks up to Kallan then to every other member of the Necrotic Order’s presiding authority. “Sit Kallan… and I will relate the plight.”

  • * * * *

As Kallan was joining his brethren, each of the wooden and glass doors of Cornar’s home swing open.

Alarmed, the aged warrior rises from the step he’s resting on, hastily darting past Nilia who is standing to his right. Cornar swiftly draws his serrated dagger and quickly drops into a defensive stance. Throughout the home the sound of other metal grinds as weapons are unsheathed.

In the middle of the foyer, Nemral appears from his concealing cloak. Shocked, the thief looks at Cornar and the other men who have quickly surrounded him with their weapons.

“Nemral…” Cornar lets out the breath gathered in his lungs and shakes his head while sheathing his weapon. “When you come back like that you need to give us the signal.”

“I’m sorry, I forgot,” Nemral sighs and scratches his head. “This is my first job with all of you. I guess it’ll take me some time to get used to how you work. I thought you’d know it was me when I opened the door.”

Amid the thief’s explanation, Aron and Shen close the doors so that their conversation doesn’t reach the ears of those passing by in the street.

“Be glad we didn’t strike,” Nordal states frankly from the doorway of the large parlor.

“Listen,” Cornar beckons while in front of the thief then recites the signal. He whistles, rising in pitch at first then descending below and back up at a pitch between the two. “Don’t forget it,” he pats the thief on the shoulder and gives him a quick, tight grip to emphasize the point.

With that said, Cornar addresses the members of the expedition scattered between the rooms.

“The council is gathered in their chambers. Group up with the men you traveled with through the city. Once we get outside the council chambers, we will take up our positions. My men will be with me outside the chamber’s doors, as well as the three wizards and Hagen. Both of you thieves,” Cornar looks at Nemral and Nath, the latter standing near the large parlor’s doorway, “Will watch the two corridors leading to the western hall where we will stand. Nordal, you’ll be with Amendal, Dith, and Clodin.

“Nilia,” the leading warrior turns to face the young woman still leaning against the wall. “I want you to lead us out. Act like you heard something within the street, leaving the doors and the gates open. I will be the last one out, and I will tap on the stone wall twice, then you can go back inside the house. Don’t go anywhere until I’ve returned.”

The young woman silently nods her head nervously.

“Let’s move!”

At Cornar’s command, the warriors reassemble themselves around the mages. The words of the invisibility spells echo about the room from the six mages, and they all vanish from sight.

Swallowing hard, Nilia steps forward, edging her way through the magically concealed men. She opens the door and briskly walks down the path, focusing her attention on an imaginary noise to the north. Just as planned, she runs to the gate and opens it, then stands just beyond the path separating the street from the walls of Cornar’s estate.

After several seconds a small tap on the stone catches her ear, and she turns to face it. She takes a deep breath and closes the gate then rushes back inside Cornar’s home.

Meanwhile, the gates of the Necrotic Order are still opened as they were when Midar and Cordel escorted Iltar and his invisible companions. The street outside the guild hall has little traffic, making it easier for the clandestine siege to occur.

Still at their posts outside, Midar and Cordel stand at the doors of the main building of the magical complex; their familiar faces bring a smile to Cornar’s invisible face.

At the head of the invisible convoy a soft whistle, exactly like the one Cornar had demonstrated minutes before, bounces off the granite-like surface of the edifice’s exterior.

Midar grins at the sound and moves to open the door on the left, while Cordel opens the one on the right. Both warriors hold the doors open while the small army creeps inside the building.

The patter of the invisible expedition’s footfalls lightly sound through the vacant entry corridor and into the grand foyer.

After a moment, another whistle trails off down the corridor to the west, then Midar and Cordel close the doors and follow their invisible friends.

12

Conquest

 

Kallan warily saunters across the council room, his footsteps echo off the stone. He sits in his ornate, high-back chair across from Jalel and beside Iltar.

“We are all gathered,” Alacor says, directing his words to Iltar. “You are among friends, remove your cowl,” the last has a tone of command to it.

From beneath the cowl, Iltar’s sapphire eyes are bright and glisten with a strange light. The jeweled eyes stare deep into Alacor’s, who looks back with a growing impatience.

“Well?!” Alacor pounds his fist on the table. “Speak!”

A smile forms across Iltar’s shrouded face and he chuckles, “It is good to see all of you together…”

“Quit stalling Iltar!” Jalel demands as he stands from his seat

“Such impatience,” Iltar spits out. “You never would have become a member of this council if it wasn’t for your brother!” Iltar’s eyes narrow and his lips twist in hatred.

Kallan and Velkor lean back, shocked by Iltar’s accusation. Everyone knew of Iltar’s displeasure when Jalel joined the Order’s council, but no one thought he would accuse Alacor of nepotism outright.

“Enough!” Alacor shouts, attempting to restore order. “Sit down Jalel! Iltar,” he demands in a tone devoid of sympathy. “You will explain your plight!”

“Oh, it is not my plight,” Iltar chuckles and glances to Alacor then looks around at the others as he continues to speak. “A little over two weeks ago we set sail. Instead of sailing to Tor, we traveled northward. Kenard took us almost as far as Merath, to an uncharted island. The waters surrounding the island were extremely turbulent; with an inexperienced captain and crew it would have surely torn the ship apart. After half a day of slow traveling, Kenard piloted us to a small beach, a bay that looked like paradise.

“The day after we reached the bay, twenty of us, including myself, went ashore. We traveled for a day into the interior of the island, where we encountered creatures of legend.” Iltar pauses, then says the next with a tone of sarcasm, “The great platinum dragons.”

The necromancers around the table are full of mixed emotion at this revelation: some gasp, other look intrigued, but Jalel and Alacor face twist in frustration and confusion.

Iltar grins while looking at his fellow council members, then continues retelling the tale.

“But that isn’t the best part. Three weeks prior to today I was delivered a set of scrolls and books by a man who is very loyal to me. In fact they were found on the so called ‘Isle of the Ancient Ones.’ It was within those texts I uncovered the island’s location we journeyed to, the Dragon’s Isle. The scrolls chronicled how the dragon’s won that ancient civil war between themselves as well as describing two artifacts that were the principle sources of their victory: An amulet that has the power to control chromatic dragons, a stone that can tether worlds together, called by the dragons, ‘shiz’nak.’ According to the scrolls, the amulet was scattered and remains hidden… but not for long.”

“You are insane!” Toroth interrupts Iltar vehemently, throwing his hands in the air. “Why are we listening to this?”

Ignoring the outburst, Iltar continues, “We captured a dragon, and he revealed the amulet’s location. Soon I will overthrow worlds with an army of the most powerful creatures at my beck and whim.

“However, six obstacles are still in my way,” Iltar looks around at the others.

“You.”

Enraged, Alacor violently rises from his chair and slams both of his open hands on the table, “Iltar! I hereby stricken you from our council! We will have you imprisoned and tortured the remainder of your days!”

Still sitting and shrouded by his cowl, Iltar turns to face Alacor, “Stricken from the council?” The necromancer bursts into laughter, “I am the council!”

Laughter cackles from underneath the necromancer’s cowl as the others hurriedly get up from their chairs and back away, readying themselves for battle.

In anger, Jalel lifts his hand into the air and utters an incantation. A ball of green magic swirls in his palm. The magical mass inside thickens, creating a sphere of acid that attempts to ooze out but is contained by the necromancer’s magic. Once it forms, Jalel hurls it at Iltar’s head.

Iltar laughs louder as the acidic magic races toward his face, but instead of erupting against his skin it flies through him, colliding against the chair and eroding the fabric.

Unscathed from the magical assault, the image of Iltar continues laughing, his humorous uproar only heightened by Jalel’s failure.

“You all are fools,” Iltar’s voice echoes through the small circular room in the tower of Cornar’s estate, and then within the council chambers where his perfect magical duplication of himself is sitting. “Have you forgotten I was trained as an illusionist?

“This is why you are not fit to lead. You are weak, stupid, and cowardly! After today the Order will be mine. I will restore it to its former glory. No longer will necromancy be the only magical art taught here. For having too many necromancers in one place together will only prove chaos! That is not what I need in order to accomplish my designs,” Iltar’s voice echoes in two places at once.

As Iltar’s illusion speaks to the council, several of them try to open the doors into the hallway. Kallan and Velkor both grasp for the metal knobs but quickly snatch their hands away.

“It’s frozen!” Kallan shouts and looks back to Alacor.

Each of the six council members briefly look to each other, then quickly move toward the rear of the room, heading for the secret door and the hidden passageway. Amid their dash, Iltar continues to goad his former brethren.

“Imbeciles, I can’t believe it!” Iltar’s illusion laughs as the six necromancers reach the hidden door and struggle to open it. “You were captured twice in a month’s time. I will make sure your failures are recorded in history. ‘The six leading necromancers of the Necrotic Order of Soroth that were captured by acolytes, and then by one of their own members.’ Truly pathetic!”

“You will not get away with this Iltar,” Jalel shouts from the rear of the necromancers gathered at the door. “We will find you wherever you are!”

“Oh but I will,” the illusion mocks as Alacor and Toroth crack open the secret door. “And, fair warning, you don’t want to go that way! Besides, I’m coming to you.”

Once the door opens, the light from the council room spills into the hidden passageway. To the fleeing necromancers’ surprise, it’s blocked by a large and dark humanoid creature crouched in the short tunnel. As the creature moves forward, a strong putrid stench fills the room.

Toroth catches the brunt of the fumes, and he quickly runs away from the uncovered threshold. The afflicted council member stumbles to the ground, violently convulsing and expunging his bowels.

Amid Toroth’s vomiting, each of the other five necromancers hurriedly back up from the blocked doorway, as two large, gray finger-like prongs reach from the shadows and grab the edge of the hidden door frame. Bracing itself against the frame, the creature pulls itself through the opening.

Emerging into the light, the necromancers see the creature’s arms, covered in gray skin that glistens from a film of moisture. Rows of large pores contract and expand line it limbs, making a slopping sound as they pulse.

As it moves forward, a large foot-like appendage stomps on the stone floor. It has two similar prong-shaped phalanges connected to a large trunk-like foot, and a retracting heel that helps the creature balance.

The creature’s gray silky head emerges into the light; it is slightly oval with a jaw that’s longer than a typical human’s, and has a strange mouth that opens at five points rather than two. Besides the strange gray lips that line the mouth, the rest of the creature’s face is devoid of features; where the nose and eyes would be expected is only a semi-flat surface that shallowly curves as it runs to either side of the face. Two sharp grooves on either side of its head run to the back of the cranium, starting from where the temples of a typical human skull would be. Two small holes, slightly different from the others are positioned on either side of its head; each have a ridge that lines the rear side of the holes and assist in capturing sound.

Once in the room, the creature stands erect, almost a phineal and a half above the necromancers. It is of a thick, muscular build with strong limbs. Large pores line each of the creature’s appendages, inside and out. Several rows of similar pores wrap around its torso, placed along its ribcage.

Upon its inner thighs and on its chest near its shoulders are four large slits in the skin that are pulled shut; the skin around the slits is wrinkled and shows signs of stretching. The slits violently open and the odor in the corridor spills into the room.

Still moving away, the remaining members of the council cover their noses and utter the words to cast protective magics about themselves.

With the necromancer’s retreating, the creature opens its five-pointed mouth and a large forked gray-pink tongue slithers out. This tentacle-like appendage also has the same pores as its skin. The tissue of the organ is moist and warm, giving off heat as it moves out of the creature’s throat; it reaches over two phineals in length from the creature’s lips.

Ambling into the room in a wide stance, the creature leans forward with its arms outstretched. Its tongue flails every which way as it searches for the necromancers. Its hands angrily squeeze and expand its three prong like fingers, which are much like its feet but with a third phalange on the lower part of its palm, acting as a thumb. In the center of the palm is another slit just like the ones on its chest and legs.

“Oh, come now!” Iltar’s illusion taunts the others. “You can’t be afraid of a mage’s parasite; you’re the governors of the Necrotic Order! Strike it down!” The illusion laughs at his estranged brothers of magic.

Amid Iltar’s goading remarks, several more figures move in the darkness of the secret passage, and two more magical devourers enter the room. These creatures are known among students of the magical arts as mage’s parasites; because of their ability to absorb magic. Even deadly energies from magic wielders can be reconstituted back into another form of destructive power.

Seeing the additional mage’s parasites, Alacor cries out, “Summon something!”

In response, Melnor and Kallan quickly dash back across the room. Once near the doors they utter incantations that musters forth golden light, opening mystical portals to summon minions. Not only had the two been adept in necromancy, but they were well versed conjurers.

“The two of you are no match for Amendal Aramein,” Iltar’s illusion grins at the necromancers who are busy casting spells to defend themselves. “That’s right not all of my men died on the Dragon’s Isle… I still have twenty one left of the twenty eight that went with me, and they’re all here.”

Jalel angrily shouts a magical incantation, quickly gathering a white cluster of magic together in his hands. After a moment, he hurls it at Iltar’s illusion, dispelling the magical image.

  • * * * *

“Humph,” Iltar grumbles within Cornar’s tower study. “I wondered how long it would take them to dispel my illusion.”

Letting out a heavy sigh, Iltar rises from the only chair in Cornar’s study and turns to the circular staircase at the room’s edge. The warrior had since converted the small tower to a private chamber, but in earlier times it was home to a mage’s study to conduct arcane research. Needless to say, the circular room was charred and damaged from his experiments.

A moment later, Iltar quietly descends from the study. He walks into the small lounge where Nilia is sitting on a couch near a window, biting her nails and lost in thought.

“Aren’t you supposed to be cleaning?” the necromancer questions the maid.

“Master Iltar!” the young woman jumps at his presence. “Master Cornar said you were meeting with the council. I thought…”

“I was,” Iltar diabolically grins then walks toward the foyer. “And soon they’ll be dead.”

Squirming at the thought, Nilia struggles to muster the courage to ask another question before Iltar leaves the home, “So does this mean you’re going to fix the Order? Like how it was before?”

Standing at the doors, Iltar turns back toward the lounge and his vibrant sapphire eyes stare at the young maid; she timidly looks down near the necromancer’s feet in response.

Recalling the maid’s childhood desire to be a conjurer, Iltar sees an opportunity to further his plans of obtaining power.

“Yes, spread the word that the Necrotic Order of Soroth is no more, and old ways are being restored. What they were doing was dangerous, and they used a false expedition to fuel their own designs.” Feeding the lie to the innocent mind Iltar continues, “Tomorrow marks a new dawn, the Sorothian Magical Order is reborn!”

With that said, the necromancer opens the wooden and glass doors, stepping out into the fall afternoon air.

Still lost in thought, the young woman bites her nails and watches Iltar walk down the path; the necromancer covers his head with his cowl once he reaches the gates of Cornar’s estate. Nilia’s eyes continue to follow him until Iltar disappears from view behind the estate’s wall.

Within the quiet streets of Soroth, Iltar walks to the hall of his Order. The thoughts of triumph fill his mind prematurely as he envisions himself building a grand Order that will one day be at his disposal, if need be.

After several minutes he arrives at the open gates of the magical complex; the courtyard leading to the main doors is empty and silent.

Once at the doors, Iltar’s aged hands reach for the large handles and opens them. A deathly silence lingers in the air as he enters the building.

Iltar proceeds into the grand foyer, mimicking the path his personal illusion walked over an hour ago. His quick gait takes him across the red velvet carpet and up the stairs. As he ascends the right section of the grand stair, Iltar looks to the opened second story lounge. Raising his hand, he signals for Tilthan and Kalder.

Once atop the second floor, Iltar strides through the corridor containing the offices, following it as it curves; however, he stops at the doors to Alacor’s chambers.

After several seconds, Iltar hears the rushing sound of footsteps.

“Kalder, Tilthan, do your job, then meet the others above on the fourth floor. Kill any guards if they discover you and we will dispose of them privily.”

With his instructions given, Iltar walks down the corridor, leaving the two men to do their work.

“Understood, Master Iltar,” Kalder whispers underneath his borrowed cloak as the necromancer walks away.

After a short while, Iltar ascends the stairwell to the fourth floor, seeing the members of his expedition busily maintaining the hold on the doors to the council chambers. At the sight of his companions, Iltar lets out the signaling whistle used among his band.

The necromancer walks past Nath, who is standing at the corner where the north and west corridors intersect; the thief briefly glances to Iltar then resumes his scanning of the northern hall and the stairs Iltar had just ascended.

Nearing his companions, Iltar removes his cowl and casually steps toward Cornar, who is pacing back and forth between the warriors and the mages securing the door.

“Finally you decide to show,” Cornar says as his friend draws near. “I was beginning to wonder if you were just going to watch through your illusion.”

“They took a while to dispel it…” Iltar chuckles. “But I wouldn’t miss killing them for anything.”

With that said, Iltar glances near the doors where Hagen, Hex, Tinal and Renal are completely focused on maintaining the magic sealing the doors. The three wizards have pooled their magical prowess together to form a dense sheet of ice that has encased the doors and frozen them shut. Magical ice has seeped into the cracks of the doors and sealed the threshold to become air tight. The illusionist is assisting by using a spell to hold the hinges and knobs in place. Their focus is intensely honed on maintaining the door until they receive the word that the men inside are dead.

“I’m going in,” Iltar says as he walks toward the anteroom south of the council chambers. “When they’re dead I’ll emerge from the secret passage.”

Upon entering the passageway, Iltar sees Nordal standing watch near the door. Behind the warrior, Amendal and Dith are poised in concentrating postures on the floor opposite the wall of the bookshelves and the hidden doorway. Clodin stands just in front of them and glances to Iltar with a simple nod of the head.

“Stop your conjuring,” Iltar commands coolly. “I’m going in there to finish them off myself!”

“Toroth and Velkor are already dead,” Amendal says through his trance-like stare.

“How pathetic,” Iltar disgustedly comments as he steps through the doorway.

A hellish pandemonium reaches Iltar’s ears as he moves through the secret passageway. The hidden door is swung wide open and Iltar can see the mages’ parasites attacking the remaining necromancers and their own conjured minions.

The council’s minions are somewhat humanoid with reptilian features, including a tail. They stand shorter than the average height of a man and have a strong ivory exoskeleton that lines their limbs. The bones along their arms are jagged and come to razor-sharp points. Beneath the exterior bones is a dull red scaly skin.

Scattered about the room, the table and chairs have been tossed aside and wildly propped against the walls of the council chambers.

Several of the mages’ parasites conjured by Amendal are lying dead on the floor, cut in pieces from the razor-like minions summoned by the two necromancers. The mage’s parasites’ purple blood fills the cracks in the floor and runs along the grooves between the stone slabs.

On the far north side of the room, Jalel and Alacor are quickly casting acid spells. Several of the conjured minions of the other two necromancers act as a barrier between them and the parasitic monstrosities.

As the acidic bolts fly through the room, the mage’s parasites swat the magics out of the air with their tentacle tongues, absorbing them through the large pores in their slithery organs. Once the magic is absorbed, the conjured creatures faintly glow with a yellowish-green hue that increases as they further absorb more of the magic.

After consumption the magic, the mage’s parasites unleash the re-purposed acid through the slits in their palms, flinging it at the conjured minions; however, their skin continues to glowing.

While observing the battle, Iltar seethes the black magical mist from beneath his pores and his necrotic sphere of protection takes shape.

“That’s surprising,” Iltar laughs as he steps into the council chambers. “I didn’t think he was intelligent enough to attempt to overload them.”

Iltar’s attention is drawn to the doors, where Kallan continues to focus on bringing additional creatures through the golden portals.

Seeing this, Iltar raises both of his hands to eye level and splays his fingers in a wide gripping gesture; without incantation, the black magic from within his body swirls above his palms into two globes of darkness. Once they form, Iltar hurls the dissolving magic toward Kallan and the usurping necromancer utters an incantation.

With incredible speed, the globes of darkness collide with the summoning necromancer’s green protective barrier, which is a form of barsion magic mixed with acidic and pestilent mystical energies. The protective sphere flickers as Iltar’s magic breaks apart the barsion-bound particles, distracting Kallan briefly from maintaining focused control over his conjured minions.

In that moment, one of the conjured parasites breaches the wall of the summoned minions. It wildly darts through the opening and reaches Kallan and his magical barrier.

Once in arm’s reach, the mage’s parasite flails its tongue across the protective magic and absorbs part of it. Almost immediately after it digests part of the acidic barsion, the conjured parasite unleashes similar magic through its palms, further weakening Kallan’s protective sphere.

At this same time, two of the mage’s parasites breach the minions protecting Alacor and Jalel. They dash forward and thrust their arms into Jalel’s protective barrier, siphoning the magic and weaken the protection. Each of the creatures’ slits in their torsos open, exuding a putrid stench, crippling Jalel.

Having finished another incantation, green magical tentacles rush from Iltar’s dark sphere. The magic races toward twelve of the thirty-some-odd minions guarding Kallan and Melnor, grasping the creatures and pulling them toward Iltar’s decaying barrier.

As the entangled minions are dragged toward Iltar, several of the mage’s parasites dart through the opening and thrust themselves into the magic protecting the two summoning necromancers. The conjured parasites siphon the mingled barsion and acidic magics, and then re-purpose the destructive energies as acidic orbs, hurling them at the summoned minions.

While the fray intensifies at the doors, Iltar turns his attention to Alacor and his brother. The usurping necromancer quickly brings his left hand toward his chest and utters another incantation.

All the while, each of Melnor and Kallan’s entangled conjured minions are quickly pulled toward Iltar’s necrotic sphere of protection. The nearest minion hits the black barrier and turns to dust. Seeing this, the other entangled conjurations shriek and struggle to break free of Iltar’s hold to no avail.

Meanwhile, more green tentacles lash out from Iltar’s palm and grasp a majority of the minions protecting Alacor and Jalel. He pulls his newly entangled victims around the mage’s parasites and into his dissolving barrier.

With his free hand, Iltar raises it above his head and utters another incantation. Yellow-green magic wisps together, coalescing into a large sphere of acidic magic that presses against the inside of the necrotic sphere of protection.

As Iltar’s magic coalesces, several of the glowing mage’s parasites rush toward Alacor.

However, the grandmaster of the Necrotic Order unleashes a flurry of acidic orbs that strike Amendal and Dith’s conjurations. The parasites glow brightly and stumble to the ground, overwhelmed by Alacor’s magical assault.

At this moment, Iltar notices the barsion magic around Jalel fading. He hurls the large swirling sphere of acid toward the younger council member; the sphere is much larger than the one Jalel flung at his illusion earlier.

Iltar’s magic crashes against Jalel’s fading barrier and parts of it break apart and fly onto the younger necromancer’s leg.

Jalel lets out an agonizing scream, and he gives way before the spell, collapsing to the stone floor.

Just before Jalel lands on the ground, the nearest of the mage’s parasites lowers itself and reaches forward with its large tongue; the slithery organ swiftly wraps around his chest and partially around his neck.

In complete terror and pain, Jalel screams and thrashes about as he tries to break free of the towering gray horror.

Once Jalel is in its grasp, the conjured parasite’s straightens up, dangling the necromancer above the floor; the creature gently slides the forked pars of its tongue along the necromancer’s neck and jaw, leaving warm secretions upon his skin.

Further scanning the battle, Iltar quickly glances to the doors, where Amendal and Dith’s conjurations have stripped the magic protecting Kallan and Melnor. Both necromancers are grasped in similar manner to Jalel; the mage’s parasites holding them have their backs turned to the doors, using Kallan and Melnor as shields from the conjured minions.

“Perfect!” Iltar practically purrs, then he swiftly and elegantly utters the words of an incantation. White-blue magic dances between his opened palms. However, as the magic gathers, Iltar can hear Alacor mustering forth a spell much akin to the one unleashed by Igan before his demise on the Dragon’s Isle.

Iltar glances to his right, noticing a plethora of small acidic orbs dancing around Alacor; they grow in intensity with each passing second.

“Impressive,” Iltar mutters, unleashing the magic in his hands.

Streaks of magical lightening instantly dart from Iltar’s palms and into his necrotic sphere of protection, gathering black particles as it moves. The magical lightening, mingled with the dissolving particles, instantly flies across the room and strikes the two summoning necromancers in the chest with a thunderous roar. In an instant, the lightening penetrates their parasitic captors.

Kallan and Melnor become limp without a cry, and Iltar’s black magic erodes their chests, dissolving their clothes, skin, and other bodily tissues, spreading out in a pattern from the point of impact. With their demise, their conjured minions fearfully disengage from the mage’s parasites battling them.

At that same moment, the mage’s parasites holding the limp necromancers glow a white-blue hue; they drop the lifeless corpses in their grasp and rapidly extend their arms. With twisted smiles upon their five pointed lips, the parasites aim their hands toward the uncontrolled reptilian minions and release Iltar’s perfectly repurposed magic.

The usurping necromancer grins and cackles at the sight of his former brethren’s lifeless corpses, but his diabolical glee is cut short. The black magic around him flickers as a plethora of Alacor’s acidic projectiles impact upon the necrotic sphere.

“Amendal! Dith!” Iltar calls out frantically, stretching his hands toward his protective barrier.

Alacor’s magic continues bombarding Iltar’s necrotic sphere of protection, causing it to flicker and weaken.

With a snarl across his face, Iltar seethes black magic from his pores to reinforce the barrier. As the mist leaves his body, four of the eight surviving mage’s parasites come to his aid. However, the assaulting spell from Alacor shatters Iltar’s protection, despite their help.

Surprise, Iltar instantly throws himself backward reflexively. As he falls, the four mage’s parasites around him swat the acidic orbs, catching most of them. However, two of the acidic magical projectiles race past the parasites and down upon Iltar.

With the black dissolving particles in his grasp, Iltar quickly throws his hands toward the whizzing orbs, catching them against his eroding mist.

Iltar lets out a rage-induced yell as he fights the push of the acidic magic. In that moment, more of the black mist seethes from every pore of his body, bathing him in a deathly hue.

Amid his defensive efforts, Iltar glances to his right and notices several other orbs plummeting just a fraction of a phineal above the stone floor. The magic veers, flying toward him and weaving between the mage’s parasites’ legs.

Just as the weaving projectiles come within arm’s reach of Iltar, the mist around his body violently expands; each of the orbs penetrate the mist and rapidly shrink in size, but not before striking Iltar’s robe. The acidic magic pierces his tunic and burns his skin. All this happening within a second.

Iltar lets out a pained cry as the wave of black mist continues forming into a new necrotic sphere of protection.

Meanwhile, each of the four mage’s parasites around him brightly glow a vibrant putrid-green and wobble before collapse.

“How dare you?!” Iltar yells and rises to his feet, immediately looking toward Alacor.

The grandmaster of the Necrotic Order has fallen to his knees, heavily gasping for air.

Iltar quickly glances to the fallen mage’s parasites with narrowed eyes. The large pores along their body uncontrollably twitch. Purple blood drips from the slits in their palms onto the stone floor, the flow gradually increasing and it pools beneath the dying conjurations.

“I didn’t know you had that in you,” Iltar angrily snarls. He opens his right hand and seethes his black magic, swirling it around in his palm to form a globe of darkness.

Once it takes shape, Iltar walks across the room toward Alacor, stepping over the bodies of the dead conjurations that decay in the wake of his dissolving sphere of protection.

Throughout the rest of the room, the melee between the mage’s parasites and the conjured minions ceases; the last of the summoned reptilian creatures is struck down by two of the conjured parasites.

With their foes vanquished, both surviving mage’s parasites wildly dash across the council chambers, leaping over the dead bodies and past Iltar. They swiftly dart to Alacor, still kneeling upon the stone floor.

“I’ll enjoy killing you,” Iltar states as he stops in front of Alacor’s fading protective spell, siphoned by the mage’s parasites. “But not before you see your pathetic younger brother wither before my power!”

“Please, Iltar,” Alacor begs and tiredly blinks as the magic fades about him. “We… can serve… you.”

“How pathetic!” Iltar condescendingly growls to Alacor, then gently flicks his right hand toward Jalel.

The globe of darkness glides to Jalel’s face and slowly dissolves the outer layer of his skin.

“Hold him,” Iltar commands the creature then turns to Alacor and sinisterly barks, “Do you see that? I’ll let you watch how his tanned complexion turns a dull gray, then how the magic will eat away to his sinews and finally his skull.”

Looking up to Iltar, Alacor tiredly mutters as he struggles to rise to his feet, “Iltar… Cho’k su’za… Cho’k!” He falls to the ground, laying almost prostrate before the dark necromancer.

“What?” Iltar angrily furrows his brow. He recalls the strange words, shouted by Anken’mar during their bout on the Dragon’s Isle, but quickly dismisses the recollection.

“Please, Iltar!” Jalel cries out from the loosening grip of the magical parasite, “Let me go! Let me live, I’ll do anything to serve you! I will help you with whatever you need!”

“Silence, fool!” Iltar shoots a glance to Jalel.

Jalel’s plea only strengthens Iltar’s hatred for him and he mentally pushes the globe deeper into his face. The younger necromancer screams in agony as the magic slowly rips apart his flesh.

“Please… stop this Iltar!” Alacor cries between panting breaths. “You’ve already won. You bested us, please let us live… we… we can arrange something!”

“Arrange something?!” Iltar yells, incredulous. “I, I am in control here. I say when I want to arrange something!”

Iltar reaches down toward Alacor and lessens the density of his black destructive protection. With its dissolving power eased, the demonic sphere envelopes part of the grandmaster’s body, including his arm nearest Iltar. The dominant necromancer grabs the slowly withering arm as Alacor cries out in agony.

Holding the decaying limb by the wrist, Iltar leans forward and shouts, “I am the council! I decide your fates! Today I am your god!”

Hatred fills Iltar’s face as he menacingly glares at Alacor who is facing away, still in pain.

“Look at me!” Iltar bellows, “Look at me!”

As hate rages across his face, Iltar rises from the ground and rips Alacor’s withered arm from his body. The Necrotic Order’s grandmaster howls as Iltar moves back.

The dark and demented necromancer, filled with rage-induced pleasure, holds his former superior’s decayed left arm, which has been reduced to bone and a few rotting sinews.

With a pleased expression upon his face, Iltar tosses the limb, watching Alacor rock back and forth on the ground, as if shaking the pain from his body. The left side of Alacor’s torso and part of his leg are decayed from the dissolving barrier. Tears stream down his face as he looks to his brother, who himself is in great agony.

“Before I let you die, I will give you the privilege of watching your pathetic brother slowly fade away at my hands. But first I want to give you something… something I wanted to give you since we were boys.”

Iltar stretches out his palm and a small swirl of yellow-green magic gracefully forms. He lets it loose, and it continues to grow and take shape. It floats near Alacor and rests over his waist. Fully formed, the ball of liquid slowly loses cohesion and drips. A droplet falls below Alacor’s waist and splashes against his robe as he continues to roll from the pain. The acidic magic slowly eats away at the fibrous material and rolls along his bare skin down to his groin. The added pain only builds the old necromancer’s pleading screams. He attempts to roll away from the hovering orb, but Iltar catches view of the attempt.

“Stay!” Iltar shouts at the top of his lungs and he yells the words to another incantation. Swirling green magical particles wisp from his hands and wraps around Alacor; the magic fully forms and the green tentacles grip Alacor and bind him to the ground, placing his most delicate parts beneath Iltar’s torturing magic.

“That’s better,” Iltar sneers in a sinister tone. He then turns to the grappled younger necromancer, who barely stands on his feet in order to avoid suffocation from the mage’s parasite.

“Now for you…”

13

Consequences

 

Several hours have passed since Iltar secretly entered the chambers where the last members of the council would meet their demise. In the hallway outside, the men who had helped lay siege to the inner sanctum of Sorothian magic hear the last dying wail of Alacor, the former leader of the now dead Necrotic Order.

Once it’s quiet, the four mages who were sealing the doors take deep breaths of relief.

“Finally, it’s over,” Hagen gasps as he slumps down against the wall across from the doors, exhausted from both the toll of wielding the magic as well as the weight of his emotions. He hides in the shadow cast by the lower part of the wall beneath the windows.

“Iltar hasn’t come out yet,” Cornar turns to the illusionist.

“Yes…” Hagen sighs. “But he’s dead. Just like the last one we heard stop screaming, it was exactly the same.”

“Well…” a sly voice calls out from Cornar’s right, toward the northern part of the hall. “We all know Iltar. He’s probably caused the man to pass out and we’ll hear more screams shortly.”

“You sound like you’re looking forward to that, Tilthan,” Cornar turns his head and looks at the thief standing alone at the far end of the corridor.

Tilthan shrugs at Cornar’s accusation of sadism, then quips, “That’s what happens when you work for a guy that’s twisted and sadistic; it rubs off on you.”

Cornar shakes his head while some of the others chuckle at the remark, but they are interrupted by footsteps from behind them.

Iltar emerges from the anteroom adjoining the council hall, and strides toward the warriors and mages in the hallway. Nordal, Clodin, and Dith follow close behind him.

“Someone get the guards to clean up that mess!” Iltar exclaims, exultant.

“Midar,” Cornar says while looking over his shoulder to Iltar. “Go get the captain of the guard. Tell him it’s finished.”

Iltar’s eyes narrow at Cornar’s last comment and then asks, “I take it a patrol came by?”

“Yes,” Cornar answers. “We captured them. Hagen summoned some ropes, and we bound them. Soon after that, Captain Arelo appeared. I told him to go back to the guard’s quarters and wait for you, then we released the guards on the same conditions.”

“Good,” Iltar approves. “I’m ready to get out of here. I’m hungry and tired of this place.”

With that said, Iltar pushes his way past Cornar and through the crowd just beyond the warrior.

The three wizards and the one illusionist look at the necromancer but he pays no attention to them.

Once Iltar passes, Hex motions for the other mages who had been helping him to relinquish the magic binding the door. As they do so, the rest of the band follows Iltar down the spiral staircases to the first floor.

Cornar notices Amendal is not with them and shouts, “Amendal we’re leaving!” He takes a sweeping glance around the corridor then proceeds to the stairs.

Just as Cornar reaches the highest step, Amendal emerges from the doors leading to the council chambers, and the warrior turns to wait for the eldest member of their band.

“I spat on their faces!” Amendal cackles with diabolical glee.

Grimly grinning, Cornar shakes his head and the two men descend the stairs; the rest of their party having already descended that flight of stairs.

Meanwhile, on the first floor, Iltar strides toward the main doors and the necromancer can hear footsteps from the grand foyer. He takes a deep breath, preparing himself for his deceptive demeanor.

As they near the intersection of the hall and the grand foyer, Iltar turns to the others and motions for them to follow him. Just as he rounds the corner, Midar and the captain of the guard almost bump into him.

“There,” Iltar points to where the two men had just come from. “I’m tired and we’ll talk while I sit.”

With no regard for the two men, Iltar pushes them aside. He makes his way to the small sitting area on his left, choosing one of several high-back chairs positioned squarely at the northeast corner of the foyer. The backs of the chairs and sofas are aligned with the runners of carpet leading to the underground guard house and the grand stairwell.

After he sits down, Iltar stares the three story tall galstra walls and focuses on the ceiling carved from the same rock.

“Captain Arelo, the council is dead. I killed them,” Iltar closes his eyes and holds out one of his opened palms toward the captain. “They were conspiring to overthrow the Sorothian government, then eventually do the same to other cities across the world.” Iltar stops and waits to see if the captain will believe his story.

After several seconds of silence, Arelo speaks up, “How do I know you’re telling the truth? You could have killed them to advance yourself to the head of this Order, which consists of only you, now.”

Still with his eyes closed, Iltar smiles and resumes, “Send for the City Watch, have them search our buildings. There is evidence here that will prove my story true. You see Captain, a matter of great attention came to the council about one month ago. There were scrolls and books discovered on an expedition that were delivered to us. Those texts contained a legend of a powerful artifact that could control dragons–”

“Master Iltar?!” Arelo loudly interrupts, “There are no dragons around, they don’t exist!”

“Quiet!” Iltar snarls, his eyes still closed. “If you would remain silent you wouldn’t be confused!

“The scrolls also told of an island; it was written in elvish, but from the translation we discovered it was a graveyard. I, along with Cornar, were tasked with putting together a secret mission, using the guise of recruiting more acolytes, to seek out the island.

“We found it, but it proved to be a dangerous place. We lost seven of the twenty people that went ashore with us and we came back with nothing to show.

“I called this meeting to inform the council what transpired, but when they learned what happened, they tried to kill me. However, I came prepared, knowing they would punish myself and everyone who was with me. We only defended ourselves.”

“Then why did you take so long up there?” the captain asks, still suspicious of Iltar’s story.

“Because I was trying to get the location of the evidence’s out of them, you fool!” Iltar abruptly opens his eyes and looks hard at the man in front of him.

Arelo sternly studies Iltar, not believing the necromancer’s reasoning.

“Look,” Iltar retorts. “Those fools were too dangerous to be left alive, and the texts should be destroyed. There is no point sending more men to their deaths over a falsity.”

Captain Arelo’s eyes narrow then he turns to Midar, “Go summon the City Watch. They’ll get to the bottom of this.”

  • * * * *

After the space of ten minutes, the nearest members of the City Watch arrive; like in any other city on Kalda, the watchmen are sworn protectors of the people, enforcing civil order within their jurisdictions. Some of their ranks ensure the people’s safety while others investigate crimes.

Soon after, more watchmen arrive. They set their own guards at the guild’s outer gate, while others investigate the main building or interrogate Iltar’s men.

The story all the members of Iltar’s expedition share is the same, with only slight variations from their personal perspectives. Each recalls they were told they were going on a mission to recruit new apprentices, not just students for the necrotic arts, but other schools of magic as well.

However, after a seven day journey they arrived on some unknown island and came back fewer in number. Each of them recounts what Iltar had told them concerning the council’s secret, and then relayed their subsequent arrival and actions on Soroth. For the bulk of the men, what they were told was perceived as truth, and they parrot it with sincerity.

However, those that went ashore and survived the encounter with the tarrasque do not disclose the events on the island’s interior; nor do they mention any truth about the three dragons they fought, except to say they were unintelligent animals.

Iltar is the last to be questioned; he sits in the small office on the northwest side of the grand foyer. It’s a room once used for interviewing those who wished to become a part of the magical brotherhood.

Opposite Iltar stands a high ranking officer of the City Watch in charge of the interrogations, a discerner; a rank with the responsibility to oversee investigations into crimes. They prepare evidence of any nature to present before the judicial authorities.

The discerner is a tall muscular man, standing slightly higher than Iltar. His hair is short but wavy, and is a light brown color with dashes of gray. He wears the traditional garb of the watchmen: a charcoal tunic and pants with three thin yellow stripes along the sides of the pant leg and the long sleeves of the tunic. His clothes are thick due to the multiple layers of cloth and metal woven together to create a protective garb that commands respect and authority.

Various items adorn his belt; on his left hangs a pair of metal bindings used for restraints, and a short metallic rod running the length of his right thigh to his knee. A sheathed short sword hanging on the opposite side, its ornate hilt of silver bears the mark of the City Watch: a serpent wrapped around a straight double-sided sword rising out of the water, contained within an oval.

One question after another, Iltar patiently replies to the discerner.

“Tell me again, why did you murder them?” the discerner demands with his arms folded.

“I already told you, Brandir,” Iltar shakes his head, “They were a threat to all of Soroth. And like I said before, we were defending ourselves. It would have been an inevitable battle. We simply made the choice that would limit the loss of life.”

“On your end, perhaps!” Discerner Brandir retorts, slamming his hands on the table and violently leaning into Iltar’s face. “What my men found did not look like self-defense! Bodies mangled by deadly magic, men twisted and deformed in ways no one should ever see! You tortured those men before they died.”

“You don’t understand,” Iltar’s tone is filled with annoyance toward the watchman’s sense of justice. “Perhaps your mind is too small to comprehend what I’m trying to tell you. They wanted a power that would plunge our people into destruction,” Iltar feigns sincerity towards the citizens of Soroth. “Those men had to be stopped.”

“So you’re telling me you did us a service?” Brandir laughs. “How do I know you didn’t try this beforehand? Maybe you enticed the acolytes to rebellion? Then when they failed, you killed all of them to erase any trace of your involvement. No matter how you try to spin it, you committed murder.”

“Then why didn’t I kill the council when the acolytes held them?” Iltar’s shakes his head. “It’s no different. They were bound and barricaded in the council chambers. You’re theory is flawed. Just admit it… I’m telling the truth.”

Brandir’s control over his anger wanes and it shows through his features. He turns away and lets out a deep breath as if expunging his emotions from his body.

“You necromancers are nothing but trouble,” Brandir grumbles with his back toward Iltar.

“That’s why they needed to be eliminated!” Iltar throws his hands in the air. “Don’t you see we share the same opinion? Like I said before, I am reconstituting the guild’s affairs. It will be restored to its original framework with a new and varied council.”

“But it will still be controlled by a necromancer…” Brandir mutters in annoyance.

“Perhaps,” Iltar leans back in the chair. “Perhaps not. That is for the new council to decide.” Further anticipating the watchman’s thoughts, Iltar continues, “Even if I would have gone straight to the local authorities there would have been a terrible power struggle. Alacor would have struck out against anyone who was in his way in order to silence me.

“And if they would have survived they would have sent more men to their deaths.

“None of them, none of them,” Iltar repeats with a firmer tone, “Believed me about what happened on that island. You can search the Farling, Cornar’s house, and this building. We found no artifact.”

“Your friend said the same thing,” Brandir says, referring to Cornar. He turns to Iltar, but before he can speak the door opens.

“Discerner Brandir!” a young watchman calls out from the open doorway. “We found scrolls and books that match what the man described to us!”

“Bring them here,” Brandir commands, and the young watchman runs out of the room.

After several moments of silence, two other City Watchmen enter the room, carrying a large trunk. They set it on the ground near the chair where Brandir was sitting. The senior watchman kneels by the chair’s armrest and lifts the unlocked lid.

Iltar sits back and watches as the contents of the chest are revealed. Among the stash of scroll cases are five crimson, porous textured boxes familiar to Iltar, as well as the two worn books.

So that’s where they put them, Iltar thinks to himself. It had taken the City Watch quite a while to find the ‘evidence’ planted by Tilthan and Kalder; enough time for each of the twenty-one other men to be questioned by several discerners.

Amid Iltar’s thoughts, the watchmen in front of him discuss their discovery, then Brandir turns to the necromancer.

“Are these what you were talking about?” Discerner Brandir points to the five odd scroll cases and the two old books; they were lying next to several other cases and tomes of a newer nature.

“Yes…” the mastermind of the entire affair leans forward. “Those are the texts, at least the books. He could have put the scrolls in other cases, but those are the cases.”

Another watchman enters the room and pulls Brandir aside, whispering into his ear. The watchmen who brought the chest are busy removing the contents and placing everything, including the five objects of note, on the desk just in front of the two chairs.

“My men say they can’t find any notation about scrolls or any tangible discovery from that expedition several months ago,” Brandir states, then asks, “Care to explain that? And what of this Krindal that gave this report, where is he?”

Irritated by the senior watchman’s questions, Iltar sighs and takes a moment to respond. “They were trying to keep a secret. Why would we record such a thing in any of the notes of our meeting? And Krindal was sent on another expedition that would take over a year. I am the only other person who knows the source of these things.”

“And that’s what disturbs me,” Brandir says as he walks out of the room.

Iltar turns to watch the men who are carefully opening the scroll cases and discovering the contents within them. While watching, Iltar thinks, I hope they’ll be clumsy enough to damage the scrolls further. The more illegible the better.

After several minutes of waiting, Brandir returns, removing his metal restraints. He boldly steps to Iltar and firmly commands,

“You’re coming with me. We are going to pay a visit to the governor.”

  • * * * *

After a quarter of an hour, Iltar, Brandir, and four other members of the City Watch, arrive at the governor’s manor; a grand estate that comprises the main capitol building of Soroth and the governor’s home. The capitol houses all the highest ranking officials’ offices for each of the Sorothian branches of government, including the City Watch.

The government complex sits in the south central part of the city, elevated from the streets around it by a manmade mound.

Around the borders of the Governor’s Manor, galstra walls tower eight phineals above the raised ground. Their height added to the mound equals sixteen phineals along the northern border, and even higher along the other three sides, due to the sloping landscape of the city down to the shore.

Along the northern wall of the complex is the entrance: a gateway made of metallic rods and rests at the bottom of a gradual slope, whose base shares the same elevation as the street.

At the outer and inner areas of the gate stand four guards. They are members of the Guardians of Soroth; an organization responsible for protecting civil officials and many government structures. They are clad in thick brown-plated armor that covers their entire bodies. Multiple pieces shield their more vital parts, allowing unimpeded mobility with their limbs. Their helmets are oval, round in the back and pointed in the lower front section.

Each of the four guards stalwartly hold long staff-like weapons, much like a halberd, called fanisars. At the weapon’s top is a thick curved blade with etchings of Soroth’s culture engraved on its sides. At the bottom is a long metal shaft that rounds out at the base of the weapon. These weapons were of elven origin, but throughout time the rest of Kalda adopted these tools of war to be wielded by men who act as sentinels.

“We’re here to see Governor Riner,” Discerner Brandir informs the guards at the gate.

Without speaking a word, the two outer sentinels nod their heads and reach for the gate, pulling each of the large gates open. While their counterparts open the gate, the guards behind the metallic rod threshold stand in their still sentinel positions.

Passing the guards, Brandir and the other watchmen silently escort Iltar up the sloping path toward a circular roadway, wide enough for two side-by-side horse-drawn carriages to rest beside each other.

In the center of the circular roadway, a large round fountain towers with female figures climbing a blossoming tree, spouting water from their mouths.

Directly beyond the circular road is the capitol building; it is rectangular in shape, with curved corners protruding on all four ends. The structure stands six stories tall, the last three within a smaller rectangular shape above the larger base floors. The building is elegant in architecture with beautiful galstra columns and decorative carvings of trees and leafs.

A towering ornate portico, rising three stories high, protrudes from the building. On either side, two rows of three columns, four phineals thick, support the portico’s barreled ceiling and lead to the building’s main doors.

Eight guards stand watch within the portico, stationed by each of the columns and by the doors.

At the right of the circle, a single roadway is paved in front of the building and wraps around to the estate behind the edifice on the southern side. The rest of the grounds are open, spreading in all directions from the buildings; the entire government compound covers twelve city blocks, four across and three deep.

As Iltar and his captors reach the portico, the guards stationed there move to open the doors.

Brandir simply nods to the guards, grabbing Iltar’s arm to escort him through the opened doorway and into the capitol building’s enormous foyer.

The room spans the entire depth of the building and towers three stories tall with each floor above expanding the foyer’s openness. Several rows of halls line the sides of the room, each separating to various offices of a single branch of Soroth’s government. Guards stand on either end of the openings along the room, clad in the same brown armor as the sentinels outside the capitol building. The interior of the room is filled with dark wood, gold trim and polished galstra. Four golden leafed stone pillars are placed midway between the center of the room and the outer edge of the first floor. The stone floor is a polished dark gray and gives a dim reflection of the room and its occupants.

At the southern end lies two curving staircases, wide enough for large amounts of traffic going to and from the second floor. They meet at their middle points and then curve in opposite directions to long landings that connect them to the second floor balconies. Walkways line the edge of the second tier balconies, and beyond them are straight stairwells leading to the third floor, rising from the north to the south. The third floor balcony is identical to the second, but its stairs lead to the fourth floor following an opposite direction.

“Let go of my arm,” Iltar snarls as Brandir escorts him across the foyer.

“You are in no position to make demands,” the discerner retorts, leading Iltar and the other watchmen up the right circular staircase to that side of the three-story foyer.

After a short while, they ascend the stairs to the fourth floor; once upon the fourth floor, they enter a wide corridor with a stairwell leading to the fifth story on the opposite side of the hallway. The stairs’ base is aligned with the top of the stairwell leading from the third floor.

Discerner Brandir quickly leads Iltar and the other City Watchman across the corridor and to the base of the stairs, ascending it in like manner.

Atop the fifth floor is an open room, with two circular staircases at the north end, just wide enough for three men to walk abreast. The steps are covered in a crimson carpet with lavender designs, and guarded by four sentinels, their weapons crossed in front of the stairwells’ bases.

Large windows line both north and south walls of the room. The mid-afternoon light shines through the northern panes, causing the stairs leading to the highest floor to cast a shadow.

Walking toward the stairs, Brandir boldly states, “I am taking this man to see the governor. Move aside.”

“By what order?” the guard to their left demands with his deep voice, his face concealed by his helmet.

“This man has committed a heinous crime, and the situation is delicate enough to require Governor Riner’s assistance,” Brandir’s voice rises, attempting to intimidate the guard. “Now let us through!”

The questioning Guardian of Soroth lowers his head toward Iltar and asks without retracting his bladed staff, “What has Master Iltar done?”

Although his face is covered, his voice stirs a memory within Iltar’s mind. Menal! Yes, Menal Asterin. I’ve known him since he was a child. Iltar smiles at Cornar’s former student, grateful for his hesitance with Brandir.

“You’re not the governor!” Brandir barks. “Now get out of our way or I will have you imprisoned for obstructing due justice!”

Menal pauses for a moment, but then pulls back his extended weapon, allowing them to pass.

Without hesitation Brandir ascends the stairs, Iltar still in his grasp; the necromancer grins widely as he looks to Menal but is quickly pulled up the stairs by the discerner.

Atop the circular stair is a vacant hall with two double doors leading to a concealed room.

Tugging on the necromancer, the discerner briskly leads his captive along the wall and down a hall on the outer edge of the sixth floor. At the end of the hall is a small waiting area on the south west corner of the floor.

Within the waiting area, a middle-aged man sits at a desk perusing a ledger, the governor’s aid.

Clearing his throat, Brandir jars the aid’s attention, who looks up at the five men. His eyes narrow at Discerner Brandir, then they shift to Iltar.

“What are you doing here?” the aid demands.

“I have come on a matter of urgent business concerning the emergency at the Necrotic Order,” Brandir responds.

“Very well. I’ll inform the governor you’re here.” The aid rises from his reception desk and walks into a hall that runs along the northern wall of the small waiting area.

Iltar glances down the corridor as he leaves; the aid walks halfway down the hall before turning to a pair of doors on the southern wall, which he opens and steps through. Further down the hall, Iltar can see an identical room to the one he’s standing in on the opposite end of the hallway.

Soon after, the aid emerges from the room and motions for the others to enter the governor’s office.

Brandir forcefully tugs on the necromancer’s arm, and the five men follow the aid into the office.

The governor’s chambers are large, and rectangular in shape, just like the rest of the building. On the southern wall three large windows allow a view of the city and the harbors along the coast. Just in front of the panes is an ornate desk where Governor Riner sits.

He is a middle-age man dressed in a fancy formal tunic of greens and browns. Slightly overweight, his neck is thick and his cheeks slightly puffed. Neatly trimmed brown hair covers his head, with the same color of thin eyebrows and a thick mustache that spreads the entire length of his upper lip. With both hands on the desk, he looks up to the six men entering the room. His dark brown eyes narrow and wrinkles form around his lids as he examines each of the men. He glance back and forth between Iltar and Brandir.

“I’ve only received a brief explanation of what occurred,” Governor Riner cautiously states as the watchmen and their captive approach the desk. “Please, enlighten me.”

“Governor Riner,” Discerner Brandir lets go of Iltar and steps forward. He bows then states, “Iltar murdered his fellow members of the Necrotic Order’s council. He claims it was out of self-defense and to help save Soroth from impending doom.”

“Interesting,” the governor chuckles then asks skeptically, “What was this doom?”

“Release me, and I’ll explain,” Iltar snarls impatiently. Brandir’s method was unorthodox, and Iltar knew he was overstepping his bounds by keeping him restrained.

“That is not likely,” Brandir glances over his shoulder to the necromancer and continues. “He said they were after an ancient power to control dragons. We did find some scrolls and books in Alacor’s chambers, but I left before my men could fully examine them. Those texts do appeared to be ancient. However, Iltar also claims he’s–”

A loud thud interrupts Brandir, and the discerner turns to face the sound. The bindings holding Iltar’s hands lay on the floor, partially eroded by his dissolving black mist.

More of the black magical particles flare from Iltar’s wrist and wrap around his body. He sternly suggests to Brandir, “Next time, you should listen.”

Each of the watchmen slowly back away from Iltar, lowering in defensive postures as he is bathed in a black hue. In an instant, the magic violently erupts into a necrotic sphere of protection.

From within the magic, Iltar furiously stares into Brandir’s eyes, causing the officer of the City Watch to freeze temporarily.

At this same moment, Iltar utters the words to a magical incantation. Green particles swirl in his palms and he quickly thrusts the forming spell toward Discerner Brandir. Magical tentacles wrap around the discerner while Iltar flicks his left hand, causing the magic to stretch to the wall, swiftly pulling Brandir and binding him in place.

“Back away and you won’t wither in my presence,” Iltar says while looking at Riner, yet aiming his command to watchmen. “Now!”

Iltar turns to face the ones on his left and they hurriedly back away from the raging necromancer.

“Good…” Iltar sighs, and the black protecting sphere of magic fades swirling back into his body. “Show respect for your savior.”

“You are out of line, Iltar!” Brandir shouts from the wall, tightly entangled by the necromancer’s magic.

“Don’t talk, Discerner,” Iltar pauses and stretches his opened left hand to Brandir, then slowly grasps it shut. “It’ll only make it worse.”

The green magic tightens around Brandir, causing him to suck in his breath.

With Brandir subdued, Iltar turns his attention to the governor.

“Now, Governor Riner, I will tell you what occurred.”

Nodding in the affirmative, the governor warily sits back and listens. He knows Iltar’s reputation. Though his actions are overstepping legal bounds, enforcing a punishment now would only ensue chaos that could threaten his life.

“Alacor was seeking to bring war to Soroth, and commit acts of treason. But, before I say more I need to retell the events that have transpired.

“Almost a month ago the members of the Necrotic Order’s council received scrolls and books from an newly returned expedition. This was the night after the acolyte’s rebellion, mind you.

“After long study that night it was discovered that the texts confirmed many of the old legends about the war among the various breeds of dragonkind. It also gave details about ancient artifacts used to win the war, and an amulet with a ruby and a stone to travel to other worlds. This device had the power to control dragons and banish them.

“With the acolytes’ rebellion fresh in our minds, it pushed some of the council members to a decision. Rebuild the order, or go find this artifact. Alacor and the other three of his supporters voted to go in search of the amulet, myself and Kallan did not agree; I thought it absurd. Alacor wanted an expedition organized, and since I had the most ties to individuals vital a journey like this, I was compelled by them to prepare the expedition.

“Everyone was gathered under the guise of recruiting new apprentices. Then we set sail for the island identified in the scrolls as Draco Isola, or the dragon’s burial grounds. Captain Kenard, the man who commanded the Farling, was given secret orders he was instructed to open and burn. Him and I are the only two to witness what he did.

“Shortly after we arrived on the island, we lost several men to a tarrasque, a wild magical beast. We made it past the thing, though, finding safety in the island’s interior, or so we thought,” Iltar pauses, preparing to discount the validity of the texts found in Alacor’s chambers.

“We stumbled across creatures that looked like dragons, but they were unintelligent, nothing more than animals, albeit strong animals at that. We searched the island for a day and found nothing, no ancient hiding place of ancient relics, nothing.

“I believe,” Iltar parrots Anken’mar’s words, “That those texts were a wild story; crafted by elves to lure treasure hungry-men to that island to face their doom. Those dragons showed no signs of intelligence. In fact, having gone to the island makes me question the validity of the dragon war legend. Perhaps it was just a tale spun by elves or men to create an image of superior beings. There was no amulet, there is no amulet as far as I’m concerned. And the idea of traveling to other worlds is absurd!

“While on our journey, I told the other senior mages that came with me what the trip was really about. After fleeing the island, we all decided that we needed to bring to light the truth about this ordeal; however, we knew that the council would kill us in secret. Once we were out of the way, they would send more men, and continue to do so until they got their way.

“We arrived back in Soroth today. I reported to the council and brought my men with me, but kept up the guise that they had perished to protect them. All of us, the twenty-two that survived, having lost seven, were there waiting outside the room to stand as witnesses of the pointlessness of the expedition and to attack if need be.

“Unfortunately, but not completely unexpected, the meeting became ugly. None of them believed me, and those that were leery of Alacor’s plot now embraced it. I stood alone.

“Alacor declared I would be imprisoned within the Order and tortured until death, along with everyone who went with me. Then he confirmed what I feared, another expedition would be sent to the island. It was then we attacked, preemptively. I knew that if they couldn’t be swayed it would be the only alternative to escape with our lives.

“Eventually, I did torture them to find out where the information was hidden, but Alacor never revealed their location. They were too dangerous to be left alive; attempting to try them under the law would have only brought greater destruction to our city and its people.”

“That’s an interesting story, Iltar…” Governor Riner responds, leaning back in his chair. “But I fail to see treason, or the willful intent?”

The governor asks the last in reference to Sorothian law, where willful intent to commit treason is punishable by death and deemed on par with the act.

“He wanted to over throw our nation’s government by using the dragons to take control by force. Soroth would be their test. After conquering our island he wished to expand his empire across the rest of the world. And those complicit with him were promised to rule over their own kingdoms under him.”

The explanation sinks in as Governor Riner thinks over Iltar’s allegations. With a worried expression across his face, Riner stands and walks to the windows behind his chair.

As the governor looks out over the southern part of the city, he mutters, “That seems likely…”

Riner knew Alacor was a cunning man that often attempted to interfere with political matters. As the head of the Necrotic Order, Alacor was afforded a position on the region of Soroth’s ruling council. He was a guest to the political meetings held in the chambers opposite the governor’s office. He had voiced his opinions in political matters at every meeting.

A moment of silence passes before Iltar puts forth his intentions to Riner. “Now that they’re gone, I plan to reconstitute the old mage’s guild. As the only surviving member of the Necrotic Order of Soroth, I plan on restoring it to its former institution as the Sorothian Magical Order. My first task is to rebuild the council with masters from each discipline. Second, we will gather those skilled in those specific arts to become teachers of the Order. Third, and last, we will open the doors of the Order to the citizens of Soroth and its neighboring islands.”

“You’ll what…?” Governor Riner asks, turning from the window in shock. He looks to Brandir who is still pinned against the wall. “You really are looking out for the best interests of the guild and the people of Soroth?”

For now, Iltar thinks to himself. A stable guild is not a requirement for Iltar’s plan, but rebuilding it helps solidifies his deception.

From the wall, Brandir speaks up, “Perhaps I misjudged you… but you still need to put me down.”

Without looking at Brandir, Iltar waves his hand in a dismissing motion. Each magical tentacle binding the discerner loosens and then break apart into particles of light, causing Brandir to fall to the floor.

As the magic vanishes, Governor Riner returns to gazing out the large window, thinking over what the necromancer had told him while Iltar patiently waits for a response.

After several minutes of silence, the governor speaks up, “Iltar, I dismiss the accusations of murder.”

Riner turns around to face the necromancer, “I will let you go, for now. That evidence,” the governor looks to Brandir, “I would like to see it. And bring someone that can read Elvish.”

“Thank you, good governor. I’ll take my leave of you, then,” the necromancer turns and walks back toward the doors, passing the four other city watchmen who quickly recoil away from him.

“Wait!” Governor Riner calls out. “I’ll have you watched, Iltar. If you do anything that deviates from what you’ve told me you intend to do, or if these texts you said have anything different in them, I will have you punished.”

“Very well,” Iltar says while standing at the doors. “You can send for me after you’ve studied them if you wish. And as far as that spot Alacor occupied in the political table, strike me from it; I hate politics.”

The necromancer pulls the doors open and steps through, leaving them to sway on their hinges.

Behind him, Iltar can hear the voices of Governor Riner and Discerner Brandir discussing the incident and his tale. Their voices fade as Iltar enters the small waiting room with the governor’s assistant.

Perfect, Iltar thinks, pleased as he retraces his steps along the hall outside the governor’s office. With his ruse is set, all he needs to do is wait before he can slip away to Merda. He’s sure that after his tale has been spread no one would want to head to either of the places on the elven map. Knowing Riner will summon him again, he begins to make plans to continue with this deception at the subsequent meetings, thereby thwarting other attempts to find and re-forge the amulet.

Dusk has settled in over Soroth as Iltar reaches the circular staircases that descend below the top floor of the capital building. As he reaches the bottom of the stair, Iltar turns to the familiar guard on his right.

“Menal,” Iltar addresses the armor-clad man, “Will you escort me to the gates?”

“Yes, Master Iltar,” the guard relaxes from his sentinel stance and waits for the necromancer to walk between him and the other guard before joining Iltar’s side.

As the two men walk back through the capital building, Iltar relates the same false story he had just told Riner. Menal quietly listens to the details of the adventure on the Dragon’s Isle and the subsequent usurping by Iltar. Once they reach the long road between the fountain and the outer gates the necromancer gives Menal a suggestion.

“You should talk with Cornar. There is another matter of importance he will want to discuss with you,” Iltar stops speaking as the two men come into earshot of the guards at the gate.

“I will,” Menal responds and halts, “I must return to my post. I am glad you and Cor are unharmed. Travel home safely.”

  • * * * *

The triumphant necromancer walks the darkening streets of the city, still in his battle-torn robe with his cowl over his shoulders. He travels northward and makes several turns along streets to the east, zigzagging his way to the structure of the now Sorothian Magical Order.

Outside the Order’s buildings, a large crowd has gathered. Members of the City Watch stand outside the closed gate. Red cords have been strung across the gates, indicating a scene under quarantined investigation. There is a commotion within the crowd, and Iltar can discern that the people gathered are demanding to know what is happening at the magical compound.

As Iltar steps closer, several of the people turn and recognize him. One man points and shouts to the others, “Look! He’s a member of the council, maybe he knows!”

Still walking forward, Iltar grins but quickly regains a serious composure. He stops just beyond the questioning mob and addresses them.

“Citizens of Soroth, today marks the beginning of a rebirth. No longer will the corrupt necromancers shackle the students of this once great magical order. The Necrotic Order of Soroth died today!” Iltar takes a deep breath before continuing. “And tomorrow, as the sun rises in the west, so too will a new order, the Sorothian Magical Order!”

Many of the onlookers stare quietly as the necromancer in front of them lets the words sink into their minds. That name had not been mentioned in over three decades; most of the younger generation listening had no idea what the name meant.

“As the last surviving member of the former organization, I hereby publicly disband it, and I now announce the reformation of our ancient order. Soon,” Iltar points at the gates wrapped in red cords, “These gates will be opened to anyone who desires to be a student of any magical discipline. No longer will caste or creed dictate ones access to learn the magical arts, nor will necromancy prevail.”

Cheers erupt from the crowd, and others stand in amazement at Iltar’s declaration. Some speak amongst themselves of the possibilities of this new change.

Amid the cheers, Iltar looks directly at the gate with the two watchmen and pushes his way forward.

As the necromancer moves through the mass of bodies, several reach for him in a gesture of gratitude. Grateful cries penetrate his ears, along with other queries as to the nature of the change, and when they will allow new students into the order. Iltar ignores them and continues to move through the crowd.

“Where are the other men that were detained?” Iltar shouts over the crowd as he reaches the two watchmen.

“We released them not long before you arrived. I believe they went that way,” the watchman on the left points in an easterly direction.

Narrowing his eyes, and without any words of gratitude for the two watchmen, Iltar moves along the magical order’s gates to the wall of its northern border. However, the crowd shifts and follows, their questions still ringing in his ears.

Reluctantly, Iltar stops. Irritation shrouds his face, but slowly fades as he takes a step to turn and face the crowd. Exercising restraint was not something the necromancer was used to doing.

“Soon, all your questions will be answered. I’m sure the governor will make an address. As to when we will open our doors, it will be some time. We need to gather those that are able to teach their arts. Perhaps as little as a week or as long as months, but the faster knowledge of this change gets around, the sooner we will attract those needed to revitalize the Order.”

With that said Iltar turns and quickly leaves. The same frustration covers his face again, and he dons his cowl to hide his fury of emotions building within him.

After several minutes of walking, Iltar reaches Cornar’s city estate; the gates are closed, but from the archway Iltar can see movement from within the home.

Opening the metal gate, the necromancer steps in and closes it behind him. His pace is quick as he treads across the stone walkway to the estate’s covered porch.

As Iltar approaches the porch, the doors open from within and the necromancer steps through. Drunken chatter about the entire ordeal fills the two rooms and the connecting foyer as he enters.

With his emotions reaching a crescendo, Iltar grabs the door’s edge and slams it forcefully with the man on the other side still grasping the handle.

At the crashing sound, the chatter ceases and Iltar’s rotten mood fills the air.

“I was wondering when you would show up,” Cornar calls out from the hall in front and to the right of the main doorway, carrying a platter of tall glasses filled with a pale-blue alcoholic beverage.

“Care for one?” the warrior asks as he approaches his life-long friend.

Iltar reaches forward and grabs a glass, swallowing most of its contents.

“It was that bad?”

“The fool had the audacity to bind me and deliver me to the governor like some trophy,” Iltar snarls. “I swear, one day I will make him pay for that indenture!

“Now, is everyone here?”

“Yes, we all came back together… I figured you would want to talk to us.”

Still standing by the door, Iltar swallows hard before speaking, “All of you,” the necromancer snaps, “Listen up! The City Watch will be observing all of you closely. Be careful what you say, and how you say it, especially those of you who went ashore. If people ask for details, don’t give them any; reinforce that it was a nightmarish place you want to forget. From here on out, make yourselves available to Cornar and myself. You can all go, except for Hagen, Hex and Amendal.”

Cornar’s eyes narrow, anticipating that Iltar wants to talk to them in private. Knowing that some of the men won’t want to leave their host’s collection of liquor just yet, the warrior motions for Iltar to follow him. Cornar hands the drink platter to Shen, who is standing in the doorway next to the parlor by the stairs.

Each of the individual mages Iltar called for walk into the foyer, holding their drinks in hand.

“Let’s talk elsewhere,” Cornar says and leads the quartet of magic wielders to the upper levels of his home.

Atop the second floor a hallway runs the width of the home, and several doors line the wall opposite the stairs. The warrior moves to the one immediately to the right of the landing and opens it; beyond the door is an average bedroom suite, with a large window on the right that has seating along the sill.

One by one, Iltar and his coconspirators enter the bedroom.

Hagen is the last to enter, shutting the door behind him. The illusionist smiles drunkenly as he moves into the room and sits on the edge of the bed next to Amendal.

Standing at the window, Iltar folds his arms and holds the tall glass with his higher hand while addressing the others, “It seems the governor bought the story. He had me released on good intentions, but they will be watching my every step. We need to continue to whisper disaster about the island and Merda.”

“What do we do now?” Hex asks, standing next to Cornar along the exterior wall of the room.

“We rebuild the order. I want to gather more information about Merda and get Balden released. After things are in place here, we can slip away. How, I’m not sure yet, but we will use Kenard’s ship. Perhaps something will come up we can use to our advantage.”

“So,” Hagen squeaks out drunkenly. “Do I get to be on the council?”

“Of course not,” Iltar chuckles. “I need my most capable mages with me when we go to Merda. And making a council member of anyone that went with me to the island would look suspicious. We need to find six mages, each a master of the separate magical arts to fill the council seats. A wizard, illusionist, conjurer, transmuter, barsionist, and arpranist. For now, we’ll have them instruct the new students that will flood our doors, but eventually we will need to find others adept enough to teach our masses.”

“Where are you going to find masters of the last two schools?” Hagen asks with a hiccup. “I don’t know of any that have stayed here on Soroth.”

“Do you want us to go find them, Iltar?” Hex offers.

“Actually, yes,” the necromancer turns to the wizard. “That will help greatly. Once we receive demands for those schools of magic we can compile a list. We can use that to help motivate those men and women to return to Soroth.”

“Amendal,” Iltar turns to the old conjurer, “I want to speak with your brother, Arintil. I would like him to be the first member of the council.”

The old conjurer nods his head and responds, “Good, I’m glad you didn’t ask me…”

Iltar gives the old man a grim smile and continues laying out his plans to the others in the room. “I intend to ask Baekal to join the council as well. I hope she accepts,” Iltar sighs as he thinks about facing her. Igan’s death could distant her, but he would rather have someone he know that hates him rather than someone unknown.

“Good luck with that,” Hagen squeaks out, tucking his chin into his chest.

“Do you want me to do anything, Iltar?” Cornar asks. “Anything in particular, I mean.”

“Besides gathering more men, no. Menal will be coming to speak with you. Perhaps you can conscript him for the journey.”

Addressing the rest generally, Iltar continues, “I want the five of us to meet in private like this as we progress towards our next expedition. If anything surfaces among the tasks you’re undertaking, you will summon all of us together so we can meet here. The cue will be that Cornar plans on hosting drinks at his estate.

“Hagen, I want you to help Hex in finding teachers and the last four council members. Deliver me a list of known persons that have left the islands within three days. Amendal, take a new apprentice, I –”

“No!” the old conjurer barks from the bed. “I will not take another apprentice!”

“You senile fool, quiet down!” Iltar barks through clenched teeth. “Remember, there are others down below. As the leader of our guild I order you to take a new apprentice. That young girl down there wants to be a conjurer, and you will teach her.”

“I don’t instruct women…” the old conjurer trails off as he looks to the ceiling and attempts to ignore Iltar in a childish way.

“She will be a good student, Amendal,” Cornar consoles. “Nilia is a dedicated woman.”

“I want you to teach her so she can help in rebuilding the Order,” Iltar states. “She could be the first of many new acolytes and training her in the magical arts will help further our recruitment. She will eagerly publish her ‘wonderful experiences’ throughout the city. In addition, I already told her she could become a conjurer, and I don’t want this new reputation I’ve created for myself to become tarnished.”

Grumbling, the old conjurer reluctantly concedes, “Fine! But I’m only teaching her within the walls of the Order.”

“You’re not going to take her home?” Hagen asks as he looks at his empty glass with disappointment, then to the old conjurer seated next to him.

“I don’t want to give her the wrong impression; after all, I am a handsome man,” Amendal states proudly, quickly changing his mood from annoyed to boastful.

Hex tries to holds back his laughter, but it’s not dammed for long. Soon, all the men are laughing at Amendal’s comment, helping break Iltar’s foul mood, and the necromancer places his glass on the sill.

Still chuckling, Cornar walks across the room and to the door, “I take it we’re done?”

Iltar nods and Cornar opens the door.

Outside the bedroom the warrior leans over the rail and shouts, “Nilia! Come up here.”

From the larger parlor, the young maid emerges with a similar serving platter to what Cornar had been carrying, “Yes?”

“You can leave that down there,” Cornar says and leans back. He stretches his arms and lets out a long exhale of breath.

A moment later, Nilia rushes up the stairs in a light jog. Her pale green eyes widen, not knowing what her employer will ask of her.

As she reaches the landing, she rounds the post and steps into the opened hall. Cornar motions for her to enter the doorway to her right. With some trepidation, she moves forward with the warrior behind her.

Once both are inside, Cornar closes the door. The senior mages stare at the young woman, with Amendal’s comments still lingering in their minds and their amusement still on their faces.

“Young woman,” Amendal says in a very stern and strict tone while he stands from the bed. He walks towards Nilia, and Cornar gently resting a comforting hand on her shoulder. “By order of the Grandmaster of the Sorothian Magical Order, I take you as my apprentice in the conjuration arts.”

Shocked by the announcement, Nilia’s eyes widen even more and her jaw droops. She turns to Cornar behind her, who shares in her excitement; he nods, confirming the crazy old man’s words.

“You’re the first student of this new Order Nilia,” Iltar declares with a weighty tone. “Take it seriously, and be proud of this selection.”

As she recovers from the surprise, the young woman turns to Cornar and gives him a warm embrace. Tears brim the lids of her eyes as she looks up to Cornar with an elated smile.

“Now you can do what you’ve always wanted,” Cornar says as he looks down at the girl.

“Thank you!” Nilia gushes, she lets go of Cornar and reaches out to Amendal to hug him.

“Wait!” the old conjurer backs up, almost stumbling on the bed. “You must never touch your new master in such a way… it would not be appropriate.”

Slightly confused, Nilia looks to the others in the room.

“Don’t worry,” Iltar rises from his seat on the window sill, “He’s crazy. There is no rule for such things.”

“Oh,” the young woman looks down at the ground with a smile. “Thank you, Master Iltar… I mean, Grandmaster Iltar,” Nilia steps forward and gives Iltar a hug, resting her head against the necromancer’s chest.

With one arm, he hesitantly embraces her back; Iltar’s lack of sociability with the opposite sex had left him perplexedly at arm’s length for almost all interactions with them. This, coupled with gratitude, was very foreign to the necromancer.

Amid the embrace, Iltar looks across the room to Cornar, who bursts into comical laughter; his emerald eyes flash, amused by Iltar’s awkwardness.

Iltar pulls away from Nilia and grumbles, “Well, that’s enough of that. We have much work to do.”

14

Reformation

 

Later that evening, Iltar rides across the moonlit dirt road within Soroth’s vast forest with one of Cornar’s brown horses. His trunk containing the copies of the scrolls and his most valuable possessions is strapped to the back of the horse’s saddle; it bounces as the necromancer speeds through the woodland at magically enhanced speeds.

“Finally,” Iltar sighs as his borrowed horse gallops through the woodland’s edge surrounding his estate.

A grim smile forms upon Iltar’s face as his family’s old home and his tower come into view; without decreasing speed, Iltar bolts toward the section of stone roadway between the home and the stables.

The necromancer abruptly stops the horse, and it lets out a loud nicker and neigh that pierces the air.

As Iltar dismounts from Cornar’s brown beauty, his servants hurriedly come out from the side entrance of the home; his groomsman and his maid.

“Master Iltar, you’re home?!” the groomsman cries out in surprise as he grabs the reigns of the horse, “We didn’t expect you back so soon.”

“Do I ever tell you when I will return?” Iltar says irritably, exhausted from the day’s ordeals.

“No, of course not sir,” the groomsman mutters as he grabs the horse by the reigns. “I will deliver the chest to your study promptly.”

Iltar sighs tiredly and watches as the groomsman guides the horse to the stables, gently talking to the horse and calling him by name.

“Master Iltar,” the maid beckons.

Turning toward the doorway of the estate, Iltar tiredly glances to the maid who is stepping toward her employer; she is a woman of plain features with dull brown hair that is pulled back.

Once at his side, she asks, “Do you need anything?”

“Yes, clean clothes and some food,” Iltar grumbles as he walks toward the gates of his tower.

The maid hurriedly follows Iltar to the metal gates and rushes to push them open before he reaches them. She eyes her employer with a look of uncertainty as she walks side-by-side with Iltar into the tower and they ascend the three flights of stairs together.

Once in the anteroom atop the third floor, the necromancer removes a key from his robe; he unlocks the doorway in front of the top stair adjacent to his study, the same where he and Cornar plotted.

Upon entering the room, Iltar moves immediately to the far circular wall where a stairwell curves along it, leading to the fourth floor of the tower. The room they cross takes up over one fourth of the third floor; it is a sitting room with a fireplace on the wall next to the doorway. Throughout the space are luxurious pieces of furniture, akin to those found in Cornar’s city estate.

The stairs to the fourth floor open into a semi-circular bedchamber. It takes up nearly half of the floor and houses a large, lavish bed situated against the straight wall of the space. Opposite of the bed and near the only window in the room is a deep high-back chair and end table. On either side of the bed are two doors, evenly positioned between the corners where the curving wall meets the bed’s edge.

As Iltar reaches the fourth floor, he removes his battle-worn robe and tosses it on the ground.

“You can get rid of that,” he says while crossing the room, moving around the bed and toward the far doorway.

“I can mend it–”

“No!” Iltar snarls. “Just get rid of it!”

“As you wish,” the maid reluctantly states then says, “I’ll have your fresh clothes on your bed.”

As the maid says the last, Iltar reaches the far doorway and passes through it, entering a room covered mostly in gray stone.

Once inside, the necromancer removes his clothes and walks naked toward a stone alcove tucked into the far corner of the room. Standing at the niche’s entrance, Iltar touches a stone that protrudes from a wall in the alcove and turns it. As he does so, water drips from small holes recessed into the ceiling and Iltar steps into the stone enclosure.

When he built the tower, Iltar had constructed a means to pull water from the well of his estate and store it within the fifth floor of the structure. By magical means, from devices he had found in previous adventures, the water is pumped through metal pipes. This method of moving water was common among Kalda, but not so much by magic.

After cleaning himself, Iltar quietly retires to his bed chamber within his tower and struggles to fall asleep. Despite his success that day, it is a restless night, full of nightmares and vivid life-like dreams.

He tosses and turns as countless battles are fought in his mind. Their combatants are the dragons of legend, both breeds of platinum and red. Iltar watches from a detached view as the battles culminate, and sees himself riding atop a red dragon, leading his vast army into battle through the sky.

His view shifts from spectator to participant as a new scene plays out in his dream: In the distance in front of him, a platinum dragon appears, flying through the air at great speed. It abruptly stops by spreading its wings, filling Iltar’s vision.

In response, the crimson-scaled steed upon which Iltar is riding slows his flight and the two creatures collide.

As the majestic dragons grapple each other, the platinum dragon wraps its head around the neck of its opponent, nearing Iltar at the base of the crimson behemoth’s neck.

The platinum dragon’s nearest eye fixates on Iltar, blinking once. Within the dragon’s gray iris, flecks of red and black twist in a swirling pattern as the dragon’s pupil expands.

Caught by the dragon’s eye, Iltar no longer feels anything; the gaze of the gigantic dragon strips him of his freedom, both mentally and physically, and he helplessly watches the horrific scene.

Particles of magical energy cluster into the aperture of the gigantic eye, stretching and expanding the iris’ swirls. The pupil shrinks into almost nothingness and then, in an instant, it violently expands; rays of magical energy erupt, racing to the necromancer and blinding Iltar’s vision in a brilliant display of white light.

The platinum dragon fervently shouts with virtuous zeal, “Your reign of terror ends now!”

Violently awaking, Iltar’s sapphire eyes flash, and he abruptly sits up within his bed, gasping heavily. He clutches his chest and leans forward, bracing himself with his other free hand.

“Too real…” Iltar mutters and groans. “That eye, i-it’s like that beast’s from the island. Although this one’s gaze was full of malice… This one, though.”

Iltar shakes off the thought, taking a deep breath. He warily examines himself: His body is covered in sweat, and beads of the liquid drip down his extended arm. It is already well past sunrise and the Kaldean sun beams through the closed glass panes of the window of Iltar’s bedroom.

After several moments of deep breathing, Iltar gathers his wits and tosses the covers of his bed aside, muttering to himself, “It was just a dream. What have I to fear from a night’s vision?”

Damp garments stick to Iltar’s skin as he moves himself off the bed.

Soft gray fur slippers await the necromancer’s feet, and Iltar gently slides into them. He steps toward the chair and the small end table where a tray containing warm but cooling pastries and some orange fruit native to the isle of Soroth await him; the fruit resembles an apple but with a lightly fuzz-covered skin, called a furnapel.

Iltar eagerly grabs a pastry. His brow relaxing as he chews on the baked food; however, the sweet taste of the delicately prepared bread does not distract his mind from the lingering nightmare.

A moment later, Iltar takes the last pastry and one of the fruits in hand then heads for his study on the third story of his tower.

Once inside, a smile spreads across Iltar’s face; the spotless room is a welcomed sight. Stepping forward, Iltar sets his food on the table, then continues forward to the closed window and opens it. Fresh fall air fills the room as the two panes of glass swing outward.

“Belsina!” Iltar calls out from the window and waits.

He soon hears a door opening from the estate. His maid quickly dashes to the gate, opens it and hurries along the stone path toward the tower.

“Yes, Master Iltar?” Belsina replies promptly once near the tower, stopping almost directly beneath the window. Iltar had never been one to yell orders across the grassy expanse to the estate.

“Send Delrin into the city and go with him. Tell him to take Cornar’s horse back and to seek out two men at the Order of Histories, Kilan and Midal. I want them here now, tell them to drop everything.”

With only a nod of the head, the plain maid runs back across the stone path leading to the gate and disappears into the stables.

Turning away from the window, Iltar sighs and moves to the chair on the right of the table; he slumps into the seat and grabs the pastry. The flakes break apart as he bites down and some linger on his goatee.

Through the window, the sounds of horses galloping away reach Iltar’s ears, and he smiles and nods in satisfaction.

  • * * * *

A little over two hours later, the sound of rushing horses reaches the necromancer’s ears again. Iltar’s attention is drawn away from a thick leather bound tome in his hands, in which he carefully marks the current page with a velvet strand. Closing the book with the two ends of the material hanging out from both top and bottom, the necromancer sets it on the table and moves to the window.

Two men dressed in tan clothing walk across the stone path towards the tower.

“They took long enough,” Iltar snarls as he returns to the chair and sits down, slowly tapping his fingers on the leather tome.

After a moment, several rapid knocks at the door alert him of their presence and he replies impatiently, “Come in!”

The door opens and Kilan and Midal enter the study. They are of average height, shorter than Iltar, with short dark hair and gray strands. Kilan’s face is clean shaven while Midal has a long mustache that curves around his lips down to his chin; it ends in a point with two small leather clasps binding each strand of hair together. Both of their olive complexions are wrinkled with age. Kilan’s eyes are a dull blue and Midal’s are a vibrant green.

“I’d ask you to sit but there is only one chair,” Iltar muses. “I have a certain task for each of you.

“Kilan, I want to know everything you can find about the isle of Merdan and the city of Merda. I want to know when it was settled, and everything about that place to the present time.”

“That will take awhile, but I will do my best,” Kilan responds confidently. “When do you need it?”

“I have no time constraints, but don’t work at it leisurely,” Iltar waggles his forefinger as he leans forward, staring at the historian with his sapphire eyes. “But I don’t want this to be a priority that will consume your work either. In fact, I want the both of you to undertake this work with some degree of secrecy.”

Both historians glance at each other and raise their brows in response as Iltar reaches beneath the desk.

In the necromancer’s hands are two palm-sized bags; the fabric is tight with outlines of small coins. Iltar sets them down on the wooden table upon the stone inset and looks at both of the historians in silence; after a moment Iltar continues.

“This is a payment for your discretion. When you return I will pay you for the information. Take it,” the necromancer nods his head toward the two bags midway between him and the two historians.

Intrigued, Kilan grabs one of the bags, lightly bouncing it in his hand.

“This is quite generous Iltar,” Kilan says then smiles to Midal. “About enough to subsist upon for nearly half a year. I assume you’re done talking with me?”

“Yes. Now go, and you know what will happen if I discover either of you have talked about this to others,” Iltar looks to Kilan at the door and then to Midal in front of him. “Both of you will regret it for the rest of your lives.”

“There is no need to threaten us Iltar, that’s already implied by your summons,” Kilan remarks as he walks toward the still open doorway.

The necromancer waits as he listens to Kilan’s footsteps fading from the anteroom and down the stairwell. Once satisfied that he cannot hear Iltar’s instructions to Midal, the necromancer continues.

“As for, you my friend,” Iltar motions for Midal to sit, and the scholar with the mustache pulls out the chair and sits down, intently listening to his host. “I have a very important requisition for you. I want specific details, and I don’t care if you have to leave the island to do so.

“Now, here is a list,” Iltar removes a roll of parchment from a bag on the ground next to his chair, handing it to Midal.

Without a word, the historian takes it and slips it into the top of his tunic.

“I have specific questions written on that parchment. I expect detailed answers for each of them. The same charge applies to you. No one is to know what you are researching, and if you have to leave the island do it under a guise of personal venture. Do you understand?”

Midal silently nods his head as Iltar stares deep into his emerald eyes. Without a word, the historian reaches for the sack of coins and holds them tightly as he stands from the table, bowing to the necromancer.

Watching Midal leave the study, Iltar nestles himself into the chair, leaning his head against the high-back cushion.

“Now to face Igan’s wife,” Iltar mutters as he turns his head and looks out the window. “And that foolish P.M.”

  • * * * *

That afternoon, Iltar rides his steed through the edge of the woodland, dressed in his typical black garb of a tunic and breeches. Sight of Soroth’s walls reaches the newly ascended guild leader as he races toward the city; seeing the towering buildings of his new order brings a smile to his face.

Once inside the city gates, Iltar travels south for several minutes and then west to Igan’s home. The gait of his horse is quick and steady as Iltar moves along roads filled with estates similar to Cornar’s; city manors with high walls and homes nestled back from the street.

The necromancer stops and dismounts at a gray gate made of metal and prindelin, a type of tree found on Soroth with gray inner bark. Taking his horse by the reigns, Iltar uses his other hand to open the gate.

To the right of the gateway is a stone peg, about the height of an average man’s waist, buried partway in the ground. Iltar casually ties the reigns of the horse around the two stone rails that branch out at the top of the peg.

With his horse bound, he turns back to close the gate, then walks around the front of his horse and toward the home.

Like the walls outside, the home is made of the same gray stone. The front part of the home is a single story, with an upper level covering the rear half of the dwelling.

An archway, several phineals deep, covers the porch leading to the main entry way of the house.

As Iltar walks up the first of two steps to the covered landing, the door quickly opens and a matured woman stands in the doorway, Baekal. She is shorter than average height, but of a slender build. Her face is thin, with high cheek bones and a pointed chin. Creases mark her face between the edge of her long pointed nose and her thin lips. Long locks of light brown hair rest on her shoulders and part way down her chest. Her dark brown eyes glare at Iltar as he steps closer.

“Get in here!” Baekal scowls in a rumble under her breath.

Without acknowledging her anger, Iltar steps past her into the home’s foyer.

The foyer is an average height for a single story home in Soroth, rising eight phineals tall. In front of Iltar is another hall leading to the back of the home. Midway down that hall and to the right are stairs leading to the upper level.

With her right hand on the edge of the open door, Baekal points to a parlor to Iltar’s right, “There, now!”

Casually nodding his head, Iltar moves toward the parlor; it’s one step below the entry hall with several bookcases adorning the wall opposite of the street-side exterior. Two plain yet elegant ivory-hued sofas line the outer walls, with a low table in front of them.

Once inside, Iltar silently moves to the long seat nearest him and sits; all the while, he listens as Baekal slam the door and walk behind him into the parlor, her silk clothing softly rustle as he takes her seat across from him.

“Where is Igan?” Baekal, her voice trembles. “What happened to my husband, Iltar? I heard that you and the others returned yesterday, why wasn’t he with you?”

“I’m sorry, Baekal…” Iltar pauses as he takes a deep breath, feeling remorse. “Igan was killed on an island the council secretly sent us to. A large beast took him, a dragon we think.”

“Don’t jest with me Iltar,” Baekal’s eyes flare with anger. “You know as well as I those things are just legend!”

“No, I do not jest. Listen to me…” Iltar recounts the false story about the hidden charge him and Cornar were given to discover the Dragon’s Isle and the subsequent need to deal with the council fatally.

After hearing the tale, Baekal sits with her legs crossed on the cushions of the sofa.

Distracted, she repeats, “You’re telling me my husband saved everyone? It sounds like him…” the words trail off as she looks out the window to the walls of her estate. “I hope you made them suffer for sending him to his death.”

“Oh, I did,” Iltar says with a perverse tone. “But I am also here for another reason Baekal. With the council reduced to only myself, I am tasked with rebuilding our Order at the core. You are an accomplished wizard, with powers that exceeds any of those dead fools. Your expertise in the magical arts of arcane and elemental destructive powers is what our Order need.”

Jarred from the thoughts of her husband’s demise, Baekal abruptly turns her head to face Iltar; an expression of focus mixed with sadness over her husband’s loss fills her visage. Tears brim her eyes as she thinks over what Iltar is eluding, and what he had said about her beloved Igan.

“I want you to occupy a seat on the council, Baekal.”

“Why me?” tears stream down Baekal’s face, and she wipes them away as she looks at the necromancer.

“Because you are the wife of one of my dearest friends. I trust you… to an extent. Like I said before, your skill is vital to rebuilding the Order.”

“Who else?” Baekal asks as she looks down at the floor and sniffles slightly.

“Arintil has already accepted. He will oversee the conjuration arts,” Iltar’s eyes squint as he looks out the window to his right. “As for the other seats, I don’t know yet. I will be paying everyone a visit that was recorded as a student and awarded the mark of completion.”

“I’ll do it,” Baekal swallows, looking at Iltar with tear-soaked eyes.

“Good. I have other business to attend to in the city. Within the next several days we will convene as a council,” Iltar rises from the seat and says the next with a strained tone of feigned sympathy. “I know you are mourning, but please try to make it to the meeting. Your presence is needed.”

With that said, Iltar swiftly walks toward the door, opening it and stepping through, leaving Baekal to weep over the loss of her husband.

  • * * * *

In the south-westernmost port of Soroth, Captain Kenard, and some of his crew rowdily enjoy a late afternoon meal and the intoxicating beverages of a tavern. Through many of the southern windows a peaceful view can be seen of the southern sea and a small island in the distance.

Along the tavern’s south wall, Kenard is sitting at a table with his first mate, Cadru, and an additional guest who did not embark on the voyage with Iltar. The trio is feasting on a large fish, baked in spices native to the islands around Soroth.

“Come now, Kenard,” the third man who is short and quite over weight says doubtingly, “You know just as well as anyone. There are no islands up there! People have sailed those seas for hundreds and even thousands of years. You would think that someone would have stumbled on this little island of yours.”

In response, Kenard drunkenly looks at the fat man who is stuffing his face with the filet of the fish. The seasoned flakes rub off the fat man’s lips onto his auburn facial. His ruddy beard is long and has become messy during the meal.

“It was there,” Kenard slurs his words and looks at his friend. He rolls his eyes and reaches for a piece of the fish in front of him. “Do you believe we’re all delusional? There was my crew and twenty two others that returned.”

“Nah…” the fat man responds and waves his hands. “It just sounds so farfetched. If it was that far northward why would there be tropical warmth or sea lions. You know those beasts don’t live in anything but tropical waters.”

“Like I said before, I –”

Kenard is interrupted as the door to the small tavern opens and the room abruptly falls silent. The captain notices the men drinking at the bar have stopped their cheery conversations and are looking toward the entrance with steins in hand. Several of the others who were loudly enjoying a game of cards silently hold their game hands close.

He’s here,” Cadru whispers to Kenard.

The sound of leather boots squeak against the wooden floor and Kenard hesitantly turns to face the tavern’s entrance. The captain drunkenly swallows hard as he watches his nefarious employer, Iltar, step across the tavern and toward him and his two friends.

Once Iltar reaches Kenard’s side he leans forward and whispers, “Come with me, I have some unfinished business with you.”

Kenard wobbles to his feet as he rises from his chair and Iltar straightens in a firm posture. The necromancer’s vibrant blue eyes scan the room. Each of Kenard’s fearfully silent, shocked by his presence and wary that he might assume they have spoken about the voyage.

Smiling inwardly, Iltar turns, leading Kenard out of the tavern, who stumbles as he follows the necromancer toward the door.

Once the captain and necromancer are outside, Iltar asks without looking back, “Do you have a horse?”

“Nope,” Kenard answers, stumbling across a the pier connecting the tavern to the shore.

“Fine, we’ll wal–”

Iltar is interrupted, pushed forward by Kenard bumping into him from behind.

“I guess I still have my sea legs,” Kenard drunkenly quips and hiccups. The strong smell of liquor leaves his lips, tingling Iltar’s nostrils.

“I suppose… but you’re in no shape to ride as it is,” Iltar disgustedly retorts and strides toward to the nearby road, Kenard following closely.

After several minutes of walking, the two men arrive at the Port Affairs building, the main offices for the shipping industry of Soroth. It covers an entire city block and is made from a light brown brick and cement-like material, rising three stories high. Due to the island’s sloping elevation, the southern part of the building is raised to be level with the street to the north. Stairs mark the middle of the southern boundary, leading up to a small garden with trees on either side, and flow toward its entrance.

Both men walk through the manicured area and to the doors, which are raised one step above the garden.

The necromancer and the captain are silent as they enter the foyer; it’s a wide hall spanning the length of the edifice, with rooms on either side. At the end of the hall is an opened area with a straight stairwell against the far wall leading upward. On the second floor there is a similar hall to the first, and an open area just like the one below that houses the stairwell. The only difference is that there is not a second flight of stairs.

On the opposite end of the second story hallway, against the southern wall is a circular staircase that branches off into two directions.

Seeing the deliberate elongated lay out, Iltar shakes his head as the two men walk to the aforementioned stairs.

Atop the third level of the building is a large foyer that stretches away from the stairwell towards the north, with hallways branching off on either side of the space. Dark red walls with golden trim line the room, with similar colored furniture. At the northern end of the foyer are two large doors, carved from dark wood; above the wooden slabs is a metal plate with the words engraved upon its surface, “Office of the Port Magistrate.”

Near the doors is a desk with a short man deeply engrossed in perusing a ledger and other clerical paperwork. He doesn’t notice as Iltar and Kenard ascend the stairs and walk toward him and the doors.

As Iltar walks past the desk, the clerk finally realizes he has two guests and fumbles with the sheets in his hands while attempting to climb out of his seat.

“Wait! You can’t go in there!”

Ignoring the clumsy clerk, Iltar pushes the two double doors open; all the while, the clerk is shouting to Iltar and the captain, “Wait! Wait!”

Bookshelves full of books and rolled parchments line the office walls and corners nearest the doors. Luxurious furniture is positioned around the bookcases that square off those sections of the room.

At the far end of the office is a desk with two short armchairs in front of it, both occupied by men dressed in the garbs of affluent traders.

Behind the desk sits the Magistrate Rosten, a man of average height with light brown stubble covering his face. He has brown hair that hangs down to his shoulders in a neat and straight trim.

“You don’t have an appointment, do you?” the clerk asks in a hushed tone as he hurriedly walks up to Iltar’s side. He tugs the necromancer by the sleeve of his tunic and demands, “You need to wait!”

“I won’t wait for an appointment!” Iltar snarls as he menacingly glances to the clerk; the man rises midway up his chest. The necromancer grabs the hand tugging at his left sleeve and throws it aside.

“You better watch it, Shorty,” Captain Kenard says in a slightly drunken tone. “He’ll kill you in an instant.”

With a surprised look on his face, the short clerk steps back and quickly snaps a response, “You can’t threaten me, I’m a public official!”

Hearing the exchange, Rosten looks across the room at Iltar and Kenard; as he sees the captain he shakes his head in annoyance.

Noticing their host’s shift in focus, the two traders turn to face the intruders.

“I’m busy, come back later,” Rosten says in an irritated tone and returns his gaze to the affluent traders in front of him. “Now where were we?”

The two traders turn in their chairs to face Rosten; all the while, Iltar and Kenard continue to walk forward with the short assistant close behind them.

A scowl spreads across Iltar’s face and he stops several steps behind the two chairs, glaring at the port magistrate. His sapphire eyes jar him from his conversation with the traders.

“I thought I told you I’m busy,” Rosten huffs, flicking his wrist at the intruders. “Now leave!”

With that said, Magistrate Rosten returns his attention to the traders in front of him.

“Don’t ignore me…” Iltar snarls and pulls his right hand back, uttering a magical incantation. Orange magical light gathers in his palm, and he quickly thrusts his hand forward, flicking his wrist. The orange light coalesces into an uncoiling cord of life draining magic, pulses as it races toward Rosten.

Shocked by the assault, Rosten hastily rises and stumbles backward, knocking over his chair; however, his escape is in vain. The cord swiftly wrapping around his neck. He attempts to pull it off but the necromancer quickly steps back with his right foot, pulling his extended arm backward.

Magistrate Rosten flies over his desk and lands at Iltar’s feet, gasping for air and struggling to loosen the cord.

“It’s no use,” Iltar gloats.

The trader on Iltar’s right quickly stands, twirling around his chair. He speedily draws a dagger at his side and lunges toward the necromancer.

With narrowed eyes, Iltar quickly utters another incantation as the trader leaps toward him. The trader quickly closes the gap before Iltar can finish the incantation and he thrusts his dagger toward Iltar’s stomach. Iltar steps backward as it pierces him, shallowly puncturing his skin.

Amid the stabbing, white-blue magic quickly clouds together in Iltar’s left hand as blood drips from his tunic, and the trader recoils to strike again.

Enraged, Iltar thrusts his left hand out to the advancing trader’s shoulder and a streak of lightening races from the magical cloud in his palm.

The lightning strikes the trader as he comes within weapon’s reach of Iltar and he is thrust backward; he twirls in the air as he flies over his chair, landing on the ground near the port magistrate’s desk.

The second trader leans away from Iltar and stammers, “P-please powerful mage… don’t harm me.”

“You ignore me, then you grovel? How pathetic!” Iltar shouts and flicks his left hand toward the trader. A second bolt of electrical energy streaks from the magic in his palm to the trader’s shoulder, dissipating the cloud in the necromancer’s grasp.

The magic jolt quickly knocks the trader out of his chair and he bounces against the front of the desk where he slides to the floor.

“How unfortunate,” Iltar growls and touches his wound with his left hand, then glances to Magistrate Rosten. “I suppose you owe me for this wound.”

The orange cord pulses twice and Rosten cries in agony. Orange magic ripples from Iltar’s hand and wisps to stomach, regenerating his wound.

“You can hold your associate responsible for that,” Iltar chuckles and looks at the man on the floor in front of him. “Now, get up, Magistrate!”

Rosten doesn’t stir, but continues to gasp on the floor, reaching to pull the magical cord from his neck.

“Humph,” Iltar growls then pulls the life draining rope by flinging his hand high into the air, pulling Rosten to his feet. The magic leaves Iltar’s hand, floating in suspension in the air.

“Now, remember this feeling,” the necromancer’s face glows with pleasure while staring at Rosten, whose features contort in dread and pain. “You will do exactly what I say, or else you and everyone you love will suffer a fate far worse than this. My good friend here, Captain Joselin Kenard, needs something you took from him. Do you know what that is?”

Struggling to stand and avoid the magical cord from suffocating him, Rosten nods.

“I couldn’t hear that… you don’t know?” Iltar’s twisted sadistic question is followed by a tightening grip with his right hand that squeezes the port magistrate’s neck, but not enough to fully suffocate him to death.

“Yes…” Rosten softly squeaks.

“Good…” Iltar flicks his hand in dismissal, and the cord slips away from the port magistrate’s neck, slithering back into Iltar’s palm.

Magistrate Rosten collapses to his knees and gasps for air. He warily looks to Iltar and Captain Kenard, both standing over him.

“That was amazing!” Kenard shouts and puts his hand over his head as if containing his excitement.

“You will give the good captain his ship back immediately,” Iltar demands. “Do whatever you need to, but I want his ship back in his hands before the sun sets, or else you will regret it. And don’t even think of going to the authorities over this matter, or I will expose you for the fraud you pulled with the good captain. Do you understand?”

“Y-yes…”

“Well… why are you still on the floor?” Iltar puts his hands on his hips. “I hardly drained any of your precious life. Move!”

Frightened, Rosten struggles to stand. When he finally does, he turns to the two traders who were conducting business with him.

“B-but… you killed them.”

“Ha! Why would I do such a foolish thing? They’re merely unconscious from the jolt,” Iltar shakes his head at the businessman’s naïvity concerning magic.

Rosten stumbles back toward his desk, and his legs give way, causing him to kneel in front of the furniture. He pulls a piece of parchment from the top of the desk and scribbles some writing. After a moment, the port magistrate calls out to the captain as he removes a seal and presses its inked surface on the parchment.

“Kenard… here. Take this to the impound,” Magistrate Rosten motions the hand-written document to the drunken captain who is wobbling forward.

“Thank… you!” Kenard grabs the parchment, rolling it together while walking back to Iltar’s side.

“If you dare try anything like that again, you will regret it, Rosten” Iltar threatens menacingly as he turns around toward the doors.

The short assistant clerk catches Iltar’s eye, cowering behind one of the sofas in the room.

“As for you, keep your mouth shut!” Iltar points at the clerk, who lets out a squeal as he wildly nods his head in the affirmative. “Or you will suffer the same fate as the port magistrate!”

With that said, Iltar briskly walks toward the office’s doors.

“Pleasure doing business with you… as always!” Kenard sarcastically laughs then quickly rushes to catch up to Iltar who is already through the doors and midway to the stairs.

Within minutes the two men are outside the building walking back along the open street to the tavern.

Captain Kenard walks alongside Iltar and examines the parchment, carefully reading and rereading the words. He rubs it, feeling the seal stamped on the parchment.

“I don’t believe it… Iltar, you are amazing!” Kenard calls out and gives the necromancer a tight, drunken hug. “I’ll take you anywhere you need to go!”

“Enough!” Iltar attempts to shake off the second hug he’s had in many days, but Kenard tightens his hold.

“You’re the best employer a sailor could ask for! Thank you, thank you!” the captain finally lets the necromancer go and the two continue to resume their walk back to the tavern in silence.

Once they arrive, Iltar quickly walks to his horse and unties the reigns. He watches Kenard walk toward the door of the tavern and once the captain enters, Iltar can hear the muffled sound of Kenard’s announcement followed by subsequent cheers.

Chuckling, Iltar shakes his head and climbs on top of his black steed.

  • * * * *

Later, Iltar arrives at the north eastern most city square. It is evening by now, and the sun shines through the buildings around the plaza in a warm light from the east.

Iltar’s steed quickly gallops through the square, rounding the edges of the west and north portions until he reaches the opened area just in front of the notorious Sea Vistonia. Several other horses and carriages crowd the eastern part of the square, their riders most assuredly enjoying the hospitality of the establishment.

“There better not be a long wait,” Iltar grumbles, dismounting from his horse.

As Iltar reaches to tie the reigns to a post directly in front of the steed, he feels a tight grip on his upper arm.

With rage burning within him, the necromancer turns in disgust, reigns still in hand. However, he’s taken aback as he sees a very old man, dressed only in a simple wrap of dirty cloth around his waist.

“Oh, kind sir…” the old man trails off in a bereft tone as he holds Iltar’s arm. “I have heard mention of your name in the city the last day, and of your generosity to others. Please, will you spare something that I might eat?”

A look of surprised abhorrence flits across Iltar’s face as he leans back, attempting to break free from the frail man in front of him. However, the grip around Iltar’s arm tightens, squeezing the necromancer in an immovable grasp.

Further surprised, Iltar glances at the old beggar’s hand, and then to his face.

“Would you show charity to me?” the old beggar’s wrinkles thicken as his features express his disparity, and his eyes look into Iltar’s.

As the two men’s gazes meet, Iltar’s eyes lock on to the old man’s dull gray irises. In that same instant, an overwhelming sensation consumes Iltar, rendering him motionless. His mind races back to the nightmare of the morning and the hatred-filled gaze of the dragon a week ago.

The beggar’s pupils expand, as if anticipating Iltar’s answer; however, the old man’s eyes irises shift in shape, swirling around his pupils.

Vivid memories flash in Iltar’s mind, from his earliest memories to his latest exploit with Kenard.

A moment of silence passes between the two men until Iltar finally shakes himself, regaining his composure. He blinks once and notices the beggar’s eyes appear as they had initially.

“What?” Iltar gasps and the beggar relinquishes his grip, yet continues to rests his hand against the necromancer’s arm.

“Would you help me?” the beggar asks again in the same bereft tone.

Without a word, Iltar hurriedly thrusts the old man’s hand away and pushes past the petitioner; in his haste he almost runs across the corner of the square to the raised wooden path leading to the Sea Vistonia’s entrance. Once at the door, he turns his head slightly to see the beggar still standing by his horse and tying the reigns to the post.

Taking a deep breath to regain his composure, Iltar grips the handle of the door leading into the tavern. He quickly opens the heavy wooden door and steps through into the waiting area.

Guests crowd the booths along the edges of the entry lounge.

With a harried expression still across his face, Iltar strides to is a chest-high podium where a middle-aged man acts as the host.

The host briskly smiles at Iltar, motioning for him to come forward but asks with concern, “Are you okay sir? You look frightened, did something happen outside?”

“You-you need to do a better job of keeping street scum out of this square!” Iltar snaps, slowly regaining his typical composure. “There was a man out there begging me to give him something of monetary value!”

The host sighs and walks past the necromancer, pushing his way through the thick doors. His footsteps sounding across the elevated veranda. Having someone slander the restaurant’s reputation was not something he or any of the other employees took lightly. The Sea Vistonia had set a presence of affluence for itself and subsequently the surrounding area.

Several of the guests gasp and mutter alarmed speculations to each other.

A moment later, the host returns with a puzzled expression on his face. “There’s no one there… I didn’t see anyone like that in the square. How long ago was this?” the host asks in a slightly annoyed tone, his brow narrows as he looks at Iltar.

Surprised, Iltar steps out onto the veranda with determination, the host at his side; both quickly walk back toward the square where there is no sign of the old beggar. He had vanished as fast as he had appeared.

“It was just now…” Iltar’s words trail off as he looks around the square. “He was an old cripple, he couldn’t have gone far. He…” the necromancer’s face slowly twists with horror. No! He couldn’t be a drag–

“Now that that is out of the way,” the host interrupts Iltar’s thoughts from the wooden path, “How many are with you?”

Iltar shakily responds while surveying the square, “Just myself, and I want a private table…”

“Very well.”

Still scanning the square, Iltar can hear the host walking back toward the doors leading into the fabled restaurant, leaving Iltar alone at the base of the wooden walkway.

A moment later, Iltar mutters in confusion, “But that story is only a child’s fable; it can’t be. It doesn’t make any sense, how could they take a different form–”

“Iltar?” a sultry voice beckons from his left. “It is you, isn’t it?”

Darting a frazzled glance toward the voice he sees a tall slender woman dressed in pale tan clothing, a woman’s tunic and pants with dark brown boots. Her black hair is puffed up in the front and pulled back into a braid reaching midway down her back. A smooth light skinned complexion covers her thin face, and her chin rounds out with a dimple. Her dim hazel eyes sparkle as she studies the necromancer.

Iltar’s eyes widen as she approaches. There’s the council’s next illusionist.

“My my… it is you,” she bites her lower lip. “You look so old, and even more so with that strained look on your face.”

Iltar chuckles bashfully and shakes his head. He turns aside, thinking of what to say. Gwenyth, I haven’t seen her in so long… She can still make me uncomfortable.

Gwenyth had been a student at the Sorothian Magical Order, prior to its conversion by his preceding necromancers, and was an illusionist. Iltar had always admired her, partially because of her youthful beauty. He had also been drawn to her because of her name, which was shared by Iltar’s mother.

“Still shy I see, like that little boy you once were,” Gwenyth puts one hand on her hip while the other hangs at her side, waiting for Iltar to respond.

Iltar turns back to her and admits, “Well, it has been a very eventful day for me, and seeing you has…” He motions with his wrist, at a loss for words.

“You still are not good with people, are you?” Gwenyth sadly looks at him, her lip pouting at one side. “Well, it was good to see you, Iltar…”

Disappointed, Gwenyth walks toward the Sea Vistonia’s entrance.

Waking from his childish stupor, Iltar loudly beckons, “Wait! I need to speak with you.”

Gwenyth stops midway between Iltar and the tavern’s. She pauses, then turns around surprised. “Wow, it took you over thirty five years to finally get the courage to stop me from walking away?”

“No… it’s not like that,” Iltar stammers.

“Then what is it?” Gwenyth demands, irritated. “I’m hungry.”

“Perhaps we should discuss it over dinner–”

“No!” Gwenyth shakes her head and leans forward. “You’ll tell me right now. Be a man, and quit dancing around it.”

The necromancer takes a deep breath then quickly asks, “Will you take a seat on the council of the Sorothian Magical Order?”

“What?!” Gwenyth gasps, shaking her head. “Iltar, don’t jest about that, stop wasting my time!”

Gwenyth quickly turns and continues to the tavern’s door.

“Stop!” Iltar barks. He marches toward Gwenyth, who has stopped near the doors. “Please, you obviously don’t know what has transpired do you?”

“I suppose not…” Gwenyth turns, raising a eyebrow, then folds her arms. “Enlighten me.”

Iltar narrates the tale of his rise to leadership within the Order, feeding the same lie he and his coconspirators have fed to those they’ve encountered on Soroth. Gwenyth had heard nothing of the ordeal. She lived on one of the remote islands and was visiting Soroth for an annual trade of a farm surplus her and her family grew. Amid the tale, Gwenyth looks at Iltar with genuine interest in his story. After a short while, her arms drop to her sides as she listens intently.

Part way through Iltar’s recounting of events, the host opens the door and steps out. “Sir, your table is ready.”

Glancing to the host, Iltar responds, “Good, and there will be one more joining me.”

The host nods and the two mages walk into the tavern together while Iltar continues to speak. They walk across the large room and move to a secluded booth in the corner of the main dining hall.

“There are others we need to find,” Iltar says as he finishes telling the lie. “With you that will make four of the seven members we need to rebuild the Order.”

“I can’t believe it,” Gwenyth rests the smooth skin of her cheek against her hand. “It’s sad to hear Alacor fate, but I suppose it was for the best.”

“You don’t care for him still, do you?” Iltar asks, leery of the answer.

“For a monster? No, I haven’t felt like that since we were pupils at the Order. Besides, hearing what he intended to do to everyone sickens me. I suppose he always had it in him… I can see it.”

Hearing Gwenyth’s recollection of Alacor’s character gave Iltar pleasant reassurance. His lie had been accepted. However, her admission of not having romantic feelings for Alacor was not what he expected.

Iltar follows along her thoughts, saying, “Finally the Order can be back where it should be. Now that you know the details of these recent events, will you take that seat on the council?”

Flattered, Gwenyth stares at the table and smiles, “Why me?”

Iltar pauses, thinking how to answer the question. “First, I know you. We studied the illusionary arts together. Second, from what I remember you were very skilled. You had a… delicate finesse that… made spells, mystical. Like they should be.”

Gwenyth grins and her hazel eyes slowly look at Iltar, intently studying him. “That’s a strange way of giving a compliment, Iltar.” Her face shows she reconsiders labeling him a boy. She glides her hand toward his and gently clasps his.

Smiling, Gwenyth says, “Yes, I will.”

Iltar sits still, unnerved by Gwenyth’s flirting gesture. For years, he had given up on romance and only sought to further his own power.

Within one day Iltar had successfully recruited three other members to the council; it was enough ensure his deception until the time came for him to resume his search for the Au’misha’k.

15

Clues

 

“Is there any further business to bring to our attention?” Iltar asks from the head of the council table. He sits in his throne like chair in a serious and commanding manner. His sapphire eyes look to each of the men and women in the room.

“I have none,” Baekal answers from the right side of the table.

“No,” Gwenyth states plainly as she leans back in the chair to Iltar’s immediate left.

From Iltar’s right, Arintil responds with the shaking of his head. His hair is completely gray, both atop his head and covering his face. He looks almost identical to his younger brother; however, this older Aramein was mentally sound and wise.

“I do not, Grandmaster Iltar,” an older man sitting next to Gwenyth states in a mild voice. He has dark red hair with highlights of gray, and a beard of the same coloring. His complexion is light with wrinkles on his cheeks and around his eyes.

“Then we are finished. Good evening,” the head of the Order states and leans back in his chair.

One by one, the members of the council rise from their seats and walk toward the doors. Baekal is the first to leave, exiting the room in a hurry.

“I heard you gained six more students, Akrin,” Arintil states as he walks around the table.

“Yes,” the old red haired man answers stands, the top of his head reaching only partway up Arintil’s chest. “I was one of the last transmuters left in Soroth, and now in just over two months’ time there are sixty of us.”

The two men leave together, speaking calmly to each other about the progress of their students.

Meanwhile, Gwenyth also stands but she stops as she looks at Iltar still sitting in his chair; she studies the necromancer and waits for him to notice her.

Once their eyes meet, the female illusionist breaks the silence, “Are you just going to sleep there?”

“No… I’m thinking. That’s all.”

“You’ve been working hard, Iltar, you deserve a break. Look at what you’ve done! Three months ago you were the only mage to walk these halls, and now there are hundreds of students here.”

“Yes… but there’s more to be done,” Iltar grunts as he rises from the chair and ambles toward the doorway.

Following after the necromancer, Gwenyth quickly comes to Iltar’s side and wraps an arm around him.

“You really are different, Iltar,” Gwenyth observes as they walk out of the council chambers and to the stairs. “Whatever happened on that island changed you. I think it was for the better, but I just wish the new you would take interest in me.”

Suddenly, Gwenyth presses her lips against Iltar’s cheek, then walks around him to the right and continues down that corridor, glancing over her shoulder as she walks.

Smiling, Iltar watches as Gwenyth enters another room, pleased that his deception has paid off and those of the Order trust him completely.

Shrugging the thought off, Iltar descends the stairs to the first floor of the Order’s main building, contemplating how to find a way to escape to Merdan.

Once he reaches the first floor, the sounds of chatter echo along the corridor leading to the main doors and the grand foyer of the guild hall. Hearing the people, Iltar dons his cowl.

As the necromancer reaches the opening to the large welcoming room he can see the students of the Order socializing from just beyond the edge of his hood. The lone necromancer turns his back on the scene and walks to the entry where two guards on the inside of the doors pull them open, and Iltar steps through. Over the last several months, with the help of Cornar and his warriors, they had recruited able men and women to provide security for the growing Order.

It is a cool and cloudy winter evening outside, prompting Iltar to wrap his thick black robe around himself. The climate on Soroth and its neighboring islands hardly cool enough to allow snow to fall, but the humid air is enough to chill a man to his bones.

A moment later, the necromancer mounts his black stallion races toward the gates of the magical Order, uttering an incantation. Upon reaching the metal gateway, the necromancer rears his steed upon his hind legs and thrusts the forming green magic onto the gate. Dark green tendrils latch onto the metal rods while flying toward the stone wall, violently pulling the gateway open.

Once open, Iltar kicks the sides of his horse and bolts through the gateway toward the city’s northern entrance. Cold air seeps through his robe as he gallops through the streets of Soroth and onto the highway leading to his country estate.

Upon reaching his home, Iltar looks up to the tower, and sees the lights in the third floor study shining out into the evening. He was not fond of people freely admitting themselves to his private study, other than Cornar, who always sent word to him beforehand. Seeing the lights, Iltar angrily leaps off his horse and stomps across the cold ground to the gates of his tower. He pauses only to opens it abruptly, which causes the gate to swing wildly.

“Master Iltar,” Jalim, the guard at the tower entrance calls out, “Midal of the Order of Histories has come to visit you. He is waiting within–”

“I can see that!” Iltar spits out as he pushes the doors open.

Iltar quickly ascends the circular stairs of the first floor muttering, “Perhaps I should have put a welcoming room here… No matter, I won’t need this tower for much longer.”

Once atop the third floor, Iltar thrusts the door to the private study open, menacingly glaring at Midal sitting in the chair opposite of Iltar’s favored seat.

The old historian turns in alarm and his eyes widen as he sees Iltar’s angered expression.

“I did not touch, nor look at anything, Grandmaster Iltar.”

“Good,” Iltar quickly walks to the chair and pulls it out from under the table. He swiftly sits down and leans forward saying, “I assume you have everything answered?”

“Yes…” Midal says hesitantly, breathing a sigh of relief that Iltar did not berate him, or worse. “And what interesting requests! Why do you want this information, Grandmaster?”

“I paid you to find answers, not question me!” the necromancer angrily stands, using his hands to brace himself as he leans forward. “Now… did you write everything down as I instructed?”

“Yes,” Midal leans back and nods his head. “However, there were some answers that eluded me. For instance, I couldn’t find anything about a “Devourer” in Merda or in any other places in history. I even checked for mythical references to it and still I found nothing. Where ever you heard that title, it has no historical backing by my understanding.

“As far as an ancient organization of humans that held secret knowledge, I could not find any reference to them.”

“I also could not find the sure cause of the fall of Merda. There are rumors, but nothing solid that would point to firm evidence. Werewolves and vampires were two of the legendary causes; but still there was no record in any books of history as to its true abandonment, only that it occurred around four hundred years ago.

“It seems that there were werewolf sightings after the elves re-settled on the western side of the island; but no elves ever gave an explanation to any humans concerning it. Perhaps if one were to go to Keth, they could find an answer.”

“I suppose three unanswered questions are better than all of my inquiries,” Iltar grunts turns to open a small chest. “You can go now,” the necromancer hands a bag of coins to the scholar in front of him.

“Thank you, Grandmaster Iltar,” Midal rises from the table and bows to the necromancer before leaving the room.

“Remember, Midal, do not speak of this to anyone; especially members of the city watch.” Iltar’s eyes burrow into the man’s back as reaches the door.

Glancing over his shoulder, Midal replies, “I’m sure whatever you’ve involved me in is serious. Any confession on my end would be seen as aiding your cause… whatever it is.”

As Midal leaves the tower, Iltar leans back and opens the contents of the scroll the historian had left. The questions Iltar had given Midal and their answers had been rewritten on a different length of parchment. The first of his questions was left a mystery, but the next one referred to the actual extraordinary beings Iltar had encountered on the Dragon’s Isle. Iltar looks past his question and begins reading Midal’s written answers:

“As it is commonly known, dragons were said to have lived on Kalda since the beginning of time, when that is I do not know. They are said to be supernatural. Having many inherent magical abilities. Some sources claim them to be the Heralds of Magic, having ushered in the use of those powers among men.

“The most recent dragon sightings are unclear; much is hearsay and those that claim to have seen a dragon in the past hundred years have no factual basis or proof.

“The latest historically accepted dragon sighting dates back over one thousand years ago, during the revolutionary war against the empire of Karthar.

“Several platinum dragons were seen in the final battle over the now ruins of the grand capital of the empire. However, the surviving dragons disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. The remains of the fallen dragons, which were said to be of the crimson breed, were burned by the victors.”

“Strange,” Iltar mutters, “I’ve never heard of that account.”

Iltar continues to read until he comes to his second of the answered questions which concerned the elves, particularly their ways and application of magic. The path he and the others discovered on the island weighed heavily on his mind. Knowing he would have to enter Merda at some point, Iltar wanted to gain a greater understanding of how elves interacted with the world around them.

“I found that each of various records of personal accounts kept at the Order of Histories have some commonality between them. The men and women who claimed to have seen the elvish cities described them as towering metropolises with buildings that spire high into the sky and sometimes into the clouds. Many claim that the cities of the elves glow at night with a myriad of colors, glistening by intricate light stones.

“There are many stories, attributed as legend, most of which allude to the elves living in lavish comforts; their lives being completely automated. One man claimed to have seen an elvish device which could travel at incredible speeds, speeding through a carved tube; another claimed that elves used inanimate slaves to do their biddings. One tome, written nearly seven hundred years ago, claims that the elves had perfected magic, and embodied the functions of individual magics within devices.

“However, none of these stories have corroborating evidences and many accounts are conflicting. I conclude that many of the stories circulated and recorded are myth, spread around to inspire the people of Kalda, to create a grander society than what we presently exist in.”

“They perfected magic?” Iltar wonders aloud. “That sounds like what Amendal mentioned concerning the thieves’ cloaks and the tarrasque. It also could explain the path; it was able to produce illusionary magic at the simplest touch. If that is the case, how much of those other legends are true? And what powers and treasures could be hidden in Merda?”

After a moment, the necromancer looks to the last of his questions and reads the explanation: “It is rumored that vampires have always walked upon the face of Kalda. Many sources cite that they are pale and hence have the need to drink blood. Some stories, many of which have been used as fictional entertainment, relate that they are immortal.

“There are many accounts that retell the stories of vampires. One of the earliest known myths, a child’s fable in fact, tells of a man named Esmid and is often referred to as the Paled Man Legend.

“According to the tale, this Esmid lived in a cave among nine-legged brown creatures with eyes circling their bodies, called hemolins. Every night, Esmid would emerge from the cave with one of his creatures, which would often rest upon his shoulder as he traveled at night in search of small children. It is commonly had in each of the Esmid tales that he used the hemolins to sniff out the children who had not bathed. He would then capture them and take him or her back to the cave, where the hemolins would feast upon their flesh; but they would leave the blood for Esmid because he had none. Many of the versions claim that the blood of the children revitalized him and brought back color to his skin, which was pale because of his lack of blood.

“This is one of the earliest blood-drinking tales, and since then many more stories have evolved from this nightmarish-fable. Some claim that vampires can only come out at night; although some of the older texts that cite the tale tell of how the trek back to Esmid’s cave lasted many days.

“One account, written two hundred years ago, cites an ancient passage of text found in the desolate lands and recounts the tales of the vampires being birthed by a deity. Although his name was stricken from the inscriptions, it told a general story that this deity begot them in his own image. Other inscriptions in the surrounding area gave more details about the deity, describing it as a being with two male personifications and one female personality…”

“Incredible!” Iltar is genuinely taken aback at the words. “This confirms what that beast was claiming about the Devourer, ‘worshiping a deity that is as demented as he.’ But who is he? Who’s the Devourer?”

Looking further down the parchment, Iltar continues reading, “Of course, everyone knows how to fight one of these fabled beings: strike them in the chest with wood.”

Iltar continues to peruse the parchment, reading more details about the vampires and the various myths and stories associated with them. Once he finishes, the necromancer rolls the scroll tightly and rises from his chair with it in hand. He searches the shelves for an empty case and deposits the information within, then opens the same chest used to hide the elven scrolls and locks it inside.

  • * * * *

Another month passes, and in that time, the council met several times to discuss the growing affairs of the Order. Their acolyte ranks had risen to over four hundred. To Iltar’s surprise, there were many in Soroth that desired to learn the other magical arts that had been stricken from the previous Order’s learning curriculum.

On a cold winter’s day, Iltar sits alone in his private living quarters. The day is cold enough to keep the necromancer in seclusion. A fire, lit by magical means, provides warmth to the stone tower’s interior. Iltar is quietly enjoying a cup of warm tea in a high back chair that almost swallows him. The steam rising from his cup smells of brandleberry, a sweet yet tart smell that tingles the senses in the mouth to tightening. The necromancer is deep in thought, anticipating the rest of the journey he must undertake to unravel the secret of the Au’misha’k.

A light rattling at the door jars Iltar from his daydreaming, and he sets the warm mug of tea on an end table near the chair before rising from his seat.

“Master Iltar,” Belsina’s familiar soft voice creeps through the wooden door. “You have a visitor. Scholar Kilan is here to see you.”

He opens the door anxiously, and upon seeing Belsina and Kilan he motions to his study.

“I was wondering when you would arrive, but you chose a dreadfully cold day,” Iltar remarks and the two men enter the dark private study while Belsina descends the stairs.

“I finished transcribing my research this morning,” Kilan answers while Iltar lights the nears globe. “But I knew you would be eager to see it. After all, it has been almost four months since we met last.”

“Why don’t you summarize what you discovered.” Iltar suggests, sitting in his chair and resting his elbows on the armrests while interlocking his fingers.

“I will start from the beginning; you’ll want to hear it. While I was searching for information, I remembered a trader in Soroth who has a fascination with elven history. He was kind enough to lend me a rare book on the elves. I suppose it was written by a human who had an intimate knowledge of the elves a very long time ago. The tome was very frail, but that’s beside the point.

“The island of Merdan was discovered by an elf of the same name. For reasons I couldn’t find, they settled on the eastern side of the island. From the book and other records we had, I found out the city of Merda was first a grand fortress, but later became a city.

“The trader’s book told of a group of elves left the city of Merath, led by Merdan. After they landed on the island, they never returned. It wasn’t until generations later that the elves of Merda began to trade with outsiders, human and elf alike. They also built the port of Keth. Merda, the city, was over three day’s journey on horseback from the bay. Nothing else was really said of the city, other than it remained in seclusion, and very few people ever saw the elven home and the white pyramid.

“There was not much else here in Soroth, so I journeyed to Keth to see if I could discover a little more about the island. I learned that nine hundred and forty-one years ago a human colony was started on Merdan. A few years after the humans settled, the elves decided to give the port to them. From that point on, all contact with Merda and the elves was kept to visits in the mountains that divide the island in half; there was a small stronghold in a mountain pass, and it was the only way to the other side. Often elves and humans would meet there to discuss any pending need on either side. Unlike the rest of the elves on Kalda, they were willing to help; but, they rarely accepted visitors on their side of the island.

“Nothing of great importance occurred after that until around four hundred years ago. There was a great exodus of elves from the eastern side to the west. Something had gone terribly wrong in Merda. The elves involved in the governing affairs of the city never revealed to the humans the circumstances of their plight.

“However, the more common population of elves, and some of those in their military, circulated stories of the nightmarish horror of what occurred. They told of werewolves and vampires, and how a battle erupted in the city between the two supernatural races. Soon after the stories spread people disappeared, and some were said to have transformed into werewolves.

“Since then, nothing about the city Merda has ever been recorded.

“I assume it was these stories that gave Merda its haunted reputation. Like anything, I’m sure people exaggerated the tale of its downfall.”

Iltar quietly looks down at the table as Kilan finishes his summary. He sees a thin notebook and, motioning to the bound pages, asks, “I suppose those are the details?”

“Yes,” Kilan says as he slides the small book to Iltar.

“That was very illuminating,” Iltar says as he pushes the chair back away from the table and rises, moving behind the chair. Like he had done before with Midal, the necromancer reaches for a bag of coins and hands them to the historian.

“You can leave,” the necromancer says flatly while picking up the book and opens it.

Kilan rises and bows to Iltar before proceeding out the door.

After a moment, Iltar walks back to his private chambers within the tower, notebook in hand. The fire’s warmth wraps around his body and he nestles back into the oversized arm chair to continues reading Kilan’s detailed notes of history.

The greater description Kilan had written was detailed with knowledge of how the people of Keth dealt with the lycanthrope outbreak; magical weapons were used to cut the creatures down and their bodies were burned to ash.

Kilan described the fortress of Merda as a giant white pyramid sitting atop a plateau and surrounded by a vast expanse of grassland. A river separated the fortress and the elven city. Merdan buildings towered high, higher than most buildings in the human world, which matched the tales Midal referred to.

Kilan had also included a map of the island. From the looks of it, and the added detail in his writings, all but the western part of the island was surrounded by rocky ground. Thus the reason the elves built the port of Keth. There was a river that ran from the mountains and through the city of Merda, but the mouth of the waterway emptied to a jagged delta. Forests covered most of the eastern landscape, except for the southern part of that side of the island, which is marked as a vast plain.

Once he finishes studying the details, Iltar closes the bound pages and rises from his chair. He grabs a thick cloak hanging near the doorway and exits of his lofty apartment, then proceeds to the tower’s lowest level.

The harsh cold air stings Iltar’s skin as he walks out of his tower, prompting him to wrap his cloak more tightly around himself as he swiftly strides across the stone path.

Neither of his guards are at their stationed post outside, but that is quite normal for the colder days such as this one, and Iltar is not bothered by their absence.

With cloak wrapping his hand, Iltar opens the gate and jogs to the side door of his parent’s former home. He steps inside and is immediately washed over by a wave of heat.

It had been some time since Iltar last set foot in the home. He had given it to his servants and the two guards that watched his forest estate nearly twenty five years ago. The very smell of the place conjures unwanted memories of Iltar’s childhood that he quickly shuts out of his mind.

While Iltar shaking the thoughts off, Delrin sees him down the corridor leading to the side entry of the home.

“Master Iltar, is there something wrong?” Delrin asks, concerned, walking to his employer.

“No, Delrin,” Iltar replies. “Go into the city and find Cornar. I must speak with him at once.”

“Yes, Master Iltar,” Delrin states as he walks toward his employer and the door. He grabs several pieces of warm clothing then follows the necromancer out of the house.

Iltar swiftly moves for the metal gate while Delrin runs to the stables, hastily dawning his warm cloak and thick coat.

As Iltar nears his tower he hears Delrin galloping his horse down the pathway leading to the forest, and the horses heavy hooves quickly fade into the cold evening.

  • * * * *

Two hours later, the necromancer hears the sound of horses racing toward the secluded estate. He rises from his chair in the third story study and looks out the window facing the tower’s courtyard. He can see Delrin and Cornar dismounting their horses beyond the gate. The former enters the stables with the horses, while the latter by himself continues toward the gateway, opening it and then closing before walking to the tower.

“This is one dreadful night to summon me,” Cornar says as he opens the door to Iltar’s study.

“We will not talk here my friend,” Iltar says and motions for the warrior to exit the room. He pushes past Cornar into the anteroom and opens the door to the private living area.

“Great, someplace warm,” Cornar says as he walks in and rubs his arms in an attempt to warm himself. “I hope you have something hot to drink.”

“Of course, I don’t want my most trusted ally to fall ill and die on the brink of our great quest,” Iltar chuckles, amused by Cornar rattling teeth. He moves to the raised bar and kitchen positioned adjacent to the sitting area in the center of the tower.

The kitchenette is a dark brown in color and large enough to prepare a simple meal or heat water. A small metal apparatus sits on the countertop between the kitchen and the living room.

Once behind the bar, Iltar casts a quick spell that ignites the top of the apparatus. He turns around to a stone sink with a spigot jutting out from the wall and places an empty kettle beneath it.

“Cor,” Iltar says as he turns the lever near the spigot, causing water to flow from it, “We have what we’ve been waiting for. Now, all we must do is devise a way to sneak off to Merda.”

“Oh?” the warrior asks and sits upon the sofa near the fire. “That took them quite some time to compile that information. I hope we have more to go on than our last trip.”

“Don’t worry,” Iltar says as he moves the kettle to the apparatus, “We do. We know that there are vampires and werewolves there, as well as a description of the city and the island’s eastern terrain.”

“At least there won’t be any dragons,” Cornar says sarcastically as he leans his head back and looks up at the stone ceiling.

“Werewolves we can kill,” Iltar says as the pot whistles. “The vampires on the other hand might pose a challenge. I’m still worried about this ‘Devourer.’ Midal couldn’t find anything about him. The only vampire he mentioned by name was the child stealer, Esmid.”

Cornar laughs at the reference and quips, “Like he exists…”

“What do you want to drink?” Iltar asks as he dismisses the magically lit flame with a brief incantation then turns around to grab two mugs from the rear countertop.

“Do you have any messel?”

“Yes,” the host opens a wooden cabinet above him and grabs a bottle of brown powder that he then shovels into both mugs, followed by the boiling water.

The messel Cornar asked for was a popular tea on Kalda. It came from a tree whose inner bark produces a flavorful substance when ground that can be used in cooking meals or teas.

“Vampires…” the word trails off of Cornar’s lips as Iltar steps from the kitchen to the sitting area.

“I suppose we need some wooden stakes to kill them,” Iltar hands his guest the tea and sits in the chair to Cornar’s left. “But why wood? Watch, they’ll die just as easy to our magic.”

“Who knows,” Cornar takes a sip of the messel tea before continuing. “Maybe the wood does something to them. I’ll start acquiring some stakes. What about Merda?”

“The fortress sits atop a plateau above the city. Nothing Kilan wrote said how to get up there. We really don’t have too much information about the layout. I assume we will end up scouting the area for a day or two before we actually advance.”

“Have you figured out how we will slip away?” Cornar asks as he continues to sip on the warm drink. “And does the governor suspect something?”

“No, we will have to put that at the forefront of our attention,” Iltar leans back as he ponders aloud.

“Riner is a fool,” Iltar continues with a sigh. “By the time he realizes the truth we will be far from here. He was so gullible when we met last. The governor really believes that the scrolls were written to kill treasure seekers. I just had to interject some of my own fraudulent analysis to convince him.

“Our escape from the city, though… well perhaps we will be lucky enough to have it drop into our laps.”

  • * * * *

Almost a month and a half later, at the dawn of spring, the leader of the Sorothian Magical Order is quietly reviewing reports at his desk within his private chambers atop the second floor.

Iltar had kept his original quarters rather than moving into the grandmaster’s reserved rooms, mostly out of his distaste for Alacor.

The room is windowless and lit by a single globe-like chandelier hanging in the center of the space. All the furniture and décor in the room was old, but had a typical affluent style of Sorothian craftsmanship. Beside the working table and its chair are two other chairs and several shelves of books on either side of the room.

A loud resounding knock resonates against the door to the private chambers, jarring Iltar from his reading.

“Who is it?” Iltar barks and turns his head toward the door.

“Midar,” the warrior-guard states from beyond the door and the necromancer rises to open it.

“Hex and Hagen have just moored in the southern port,” Midar says calmly. “They sent word ahead that they want to meet with the council immediately.”

“Good, I will head to the council chambers,” Iltar states and steps past the warrior. “Notify the others.”

One by one, each of the members of the council enter the communal chambers. Baekal arrives last and aloofly apologizes for her tardiness. After which, the two mages who requested the summons enter the opened doorway, which shuts behind them by the two guards securing the council chambers.

“Masters of the Order,” Hex stands at the far end of the table and addresses the men and women of the governing body of magic. “We come before you to report and discuss a matter of importance concerning our mission. During our travels we were able to gather five other men to act as teachers for the Order and two potential candidates to fill the Arpranist seat on the council. But that is not why Hagen and myself asked to summon you here.”

The illusionist steps forward as he addresses the Sorothian Magical Order’s council, “My friends, we have located one master of the Barsionary art, but he refused to join us. All others of that school of magic have either died or we could find no trace of them. After several weeks of investigating Master Brantilis’ whereabouts, we traced him to Keth.”

Iltar’s eyes widen as he attempts to hide his excitement and he raises his brow as Hagen speaks.

“We spent a day with him in the city, and he refused to come back with us. He insisted that the leader of the Order come directly. It seemed he thought it could have been a way to entrap him here on Soroth, somehow. Just the idea of returning to Soroth seemed to fill him with trepidation. I believe we need to convince him it is safe to come back here, it seems having Grandmaster Iltar speak with him directly is necessary to achieve that.”

The other members of the council sit in silence as Iltar addresses Hagen’s report. “So you want me to go to Keth? And convince this master to return to Soroth? If he’s going to be that pompous we don’t need him. Forget it!”

“There are no others skilled in that art of magic,” Hex pipes up, only a step behind Hagen. “Unless you want to go to a city like Alath, we’re not going to find someone to fill that seat.”

Furrowing his brow, Iltar sits back in his chair and folds his arms, attempting to act aloof from the idea of traveling to Keth.

“No,” Gwenyth speaks up from next to Iltar, “You should go. Don’t let your pride get in the way. You’ve come so far rebuilding this Order. This man will help ensure that we become complete.”

“Master Gwenyth is correct,” Arintil speaks up on Iltar’s other side. “You need to go.”

“Well is that a motion?” Iltar asks with a raised brow, looking at the two mages on either side of him.

“Yes,” Gwenyth states emphatically with her sultry voice.

“And I second,” Arintil responds.

“Are there any objections beside myself?” Iltar bluffs his hesitation to go. He had lied almost perfectly until now, but seeing the means of escape so readily available almost makes his anxiety break through.

The other two members shake their head in the negative, and Iltar looks only at his two coconspirators. They hide their expressions with silent determination to fulfill their mandate to rebuild the Order.

“Fine,” Iltar sits back and looks away, not looking at anyone around the table. “We will leave in five days. Hex, visit the keeper of the treasury and inform Captain Kenard he will take the both of you and myself back to Keth.”

“See,” Gwenyth reaches out her hand toward Iltar; her long fingers crawl along the stone table top. “You’ll accomplish everything you’ve set out to do. Soon, this Order will be complete.”

Iltar looks down at her hand and laughs lightly, thinking of her naïve but accurate prediction; however, Hex jars him from his mental musing.

“If that is all, we will take our leave of you,” Hex states as he bows. “Good day, masters.”

“Good day,” Hagen bows then looks to Iltar. “And we ran into Cornar. He’s planning on hosting drinks tonight. Try to can make it.”

Intrigued by the cue to meet in secret, Iltar fights to hold back his excitement and while nodding.

With their guests gone, the rest of the council returns to their duties of teaching and overseeing the instruction of the Order’s students.

Iltar is the last one in the room, still sitting in his chair. He takes a deep breath and rubs his hands along the armrests of the grand seat. He has enjoyed his time ruling the council; it was something he’d always wanted to take from Alacor.

But what are Hex and Hagen up to? Could this be our means to leave?

  • * * * *

Later that evening, four of the five men involved in the Necrotic Order’s overthrow all sitting in the upper bedroom of Cornar’s city manor.

Hex enters last, saying, “Sorry I’m late. I was just giving Kenard instructions for our next trip.”

“No matter, my friend, sit down,” Iltar calls out from the window sill he had sat on in their first and subsequent meetings. This was their fourth meeting since the day of the magical revolution. “What I want to know is this: was the story you told legitimate or fake?”

“Parts of it,” Hagen squeaks out between sips of the alcoholic hospitality Cornar had provided.

“There was a Master Brantilis in Keth,” Hex says as he sits on the bed next to Amendal. “The key word, ‘was.’ He died several months ago. However, no one here has any ties to him. Once we found out, we came back here, and on the way we made up the story of him wanting to see you in person. We decided this was not an opportunity we could miss. We were gambling on whether you had the information on Merda yet. Do you?” Hex asks in interest.

“Yes I do. Over the past few months I have received information about Merda from two scholars I hired from the Order of Histories.”

“That was risky,” Hagen hiccups. “Are you sure you can trust them? What with the whole story being public about the scandal the council pulled?”

“They know not to betray me. I’m sure they suspect something, but they accepted payment, and now they are as guilty as we are. Typical Sorothians,” Iltar shrugs as he says the last.

“What did you find out?” Hex asks in an intrigued tone.

“Topography, legends, some facts. It seems vampires and werewolves were involved in Merda’s destruction. Nothing we can’t hand–”

“Vampires!” Hagen spits out the liquor into his clear glass. “See! I told you that place was haunted!”

The four other men look at the illusionist with some degree of annoyance at his outburst. Silence falls on the room as they stare at their short friend who looks at each man before speaking again.

“Wake up!” Hagen cries out. “Vampires! Does that mean nothing to you?!”

“We killed three dragons with fourteen men,” Iltar answers Hagen’s question indirectly. “This time we’re going in with more than double that. Vampires will not stop us.”

“Well,” Hagen sighs, “It was a nice six months of traveling to places all over the world before I die…”

“Quiet, Hagen,” Amendal sighs from the bed. He’s l\ying down with his head propped under a pillow. “Vampires are nothing more than humans that can live a lot longer. This will be like one of our old adventures we had years ago.”

“How long do we have?” Cornar asks from the wall.

“Five days. And when we leave I only want to see Hagen, Hex and myself on board. Everyone else will need to be invisible. In fact, if you sneak on at night it might be better. I want to leave as early as possible.”

“Works for me,” Cornar nods. “We need to decide on a place to meet. The only problem will be my two men at the Order.”

“Easy,” Hagen hiccups again. “Have Iltar take them as guards or escorts.”

Hex raises his brow as he turns to face Hagen, “You’ve been drinking too much. When does Iltar ever have an escort besides going on an adventure? Going to Keth to visit a master doesn’t require guards.”

“I will just discharge them from service, we’ve hired plenty of new guards as it is,” Iltar says, leaning against the casing of the window. Smiling smugly he continues, “It’s simple; I can say Cornar needs them for an expedition he is planning in the next month. It’s not even a lie, is it?”

“Not like one more lie would matter…” Hagen mutters.

“That will work; discharge them in two days. In the meantime I’ll think of something,” the warrior replies as he rubs his bare chin.

“Cor, I want you to inform Tilthan and his gang about the details of our departure. I want them to slip on like the rest of you.”

“What about my apprentice?” Amendal asks and sits up, looking at Iltar.

“Do you mean Nilia?” Iltar asks as he furrows his brow.

“Yes, Nilia, who else?!” the old conjurer shakes his head vigorously, flabbergasted. “I’m not going to just leave her here, am I? She knows we meet up here, and who knows what they will do when they capture her. She’s not strong enough to battle an entire battalion of the City Watch!”

“Bring her,” Cornar says. “She’ll be of help, I’m sure. Just a week ago she summoned a monster that was able to pin me to the ground. Granted I allowed her to summon it, but still, she is gifted.”

“Fine bring her along,” Iltar waves his hand and shakes his head.

“But her training isn’t complete! She might die in Merda!” the old conjurer almost shouts. “I’m not losing another apprentice.”

“Now you’re the one who needs to be quiet…” Hagen smirks as he takes one last swig of the alcohol in his glass.

The other three men laugh at the illusionist’s intoxicated joke and Iltar speaks up, “Then leave her on the ship. You can continue to develop her magical abilities while we go and between the other trips we are sure to make.”

“I suppose this is our last week in Soroth,” Hex states calmly. “Do you have any idea where the ruby, tethering stone and activating scroll are located?”

“No, but I’m sure Merda will have clues. If the dragons were hiding the amulet there, we might be able to find other records. Perhaps we’ll find out if the elves knew anything about the details of traveling between worlds,” Iltar attempts to reassure his cautious but willing friend.

“I thought you mentioned needing to find someone else?” Hagen asks while looking at the necromancer with a drunken stare. “I believe his name started with a ‘B’?”

“Yes, Balden. He is the last piece to our puzzle. I will need to figure out a way to free him from the Baron of Sereth.”

“Good luck with that,” Hagen says sarcastically, then levels a severe look at his host. “Cor, do you have anything else to drink?”

16

The Baron of Sereth

 

Four days later, the ferry that makes a daily trip between Soroth and the Island of Sereth carries an unusual troupe. At the bow of the ship sits Iltar, along with Cornar and several of his trained warriors; Kalder, Midar, Menal and Nordal. Leaning against the rail of the ship is the seventh member of their party, the notorious sneak Tilthan.

It is midmorning and the sea craft is partway to Sereth, where both islands can be seen off the stern and bow. The round trip between the two landmasses is almost six hours on this slower moving craft.

All the while, the men sit silently, waiting for the ferry to reach the western port of the small city.

The city Sereth is a quarter the size of Soroth with a population of roughly fifty one thousand people, including the settlements outside the city. The island itself is narrower at the southern tip and widens to almost three times that size at the northern end. About one third of the way north on the western side is a long peninsula of open land.

Along the south eastern side of the island is a vast forest that covers the rising landscape. Near the southern part of the woodland is a raised spot of land where the stone castle previously seen by Iltar overlooks the city and the sea. From the city a curving path leads up along the rising ground to the gates of the rocky palace.

Sereth has long since been a principality of the nation of Soroth. Its ruling position, the Baron of Sereth, has been its sole governing body. Everyone on the island of Sereth answers to the baron; the position has been occupied by ruthless men throughout the ages, especially at this time. The governor of Soroth and the other officials comprise the island nation’s ruling body have tolerated the baron’s behavior, so as long as he keeps his subjects inline and loyal to Soroth; yet another example of the corrupt way of life among all of Soroth and its neighboring islands.

“Finally,” Kalder says with relief as the port of Sereth comes into view.

“I do hope we’re going to stop to eat before we go on our way?” Tilthan asks, his hands bracing himself against the rail.

“As long as you’re paying,” Nordal glances at Tilthan, expecting an answer.

“That’s not funny,” the thief points a finger at Nordal and shakes his head. “But seriously, I know of a great place just off the dock. At least it was great last time I was here.”

“If it’s not, I’ll have Iltar cut your pay in half,” Cornar leans back as he jests, and the others, including Iltar, laugh.

As the ferry lands, Tilthan leads the small band across the pier, swinging a stuffed large pack over his shoulder, covering one side of his back. Nordal is right behind the thief with the other warriors in tow.

Iltar and Cornar are the last to disembark the ferry. The necromancer dons his cowl, folding his arms against a cool breeze blowing inland.

Just beyond the edge of the pier is a single story building with a steep roof. It is longer than it is wide, with several windows lining its front face.

Tilthan quickly walks up to the two double doors and swings them wide open. The others follow their dramatic companion inside, where he can immediately be heard flirting with the hostess. Cornar shakes his head as he and Iltar move through the threshold of the tavern.

Along the back wall in front of them is a long bar, with an assortment of bottles lining the wall. Throughout the room are plain tables and wooden chairs, many of which are occupied. A moment later, Tilthan motions them to follow him to a table near the rear of the room and to the right of the bar.

After an hour, the seven men finish their meal and cryptically discuss their plot. Once the table is cleared, Tilthan moves the pack to the top of the wooden furniture.

“Well that was good, but not as good as I remembered, though…” The thief looks around at the other men surrounding the circular slab of wood, waiting for their approval of the place.

“Not bad,” Cornar says as he cleans his teeth with a metal toothpick. He wipes it along a cloth and folds the material and the cleaning utensil into a small case, then tucks it into his tunic, the chainmail underneath rattling.

“It was sufficient,” Iltar says coldly, “But now we must move on to more pressing matters.”

Tilthan nods, pounding his open palm on the table to summon the waiter.

A moment later, a waiter strides up to the table to take payment for the meal, and all the men drop several small coins into a wooden platter. Once their meal is paid for, the party somberly exits the establishment.

  • * * * *

After a quarter of an hour, Iltar arrives alone at the gates on the east end of the city that leads to the towering castle atop the rise of land. The path is well guarded, with ten armor-clad sentinels that Iltar can see; each wearing armor similar to those protecting the governor’s manor on Soroth.

“Halt!” the guard nearest to the center of the gateway harshly barks.

“I’ve come to see Baron Cilgan,” the necromancer states coldly. “I am the Grandmaster of the Sorothian Magical Order,”

“He was not expecting anyone today, why are you here?” the initial guard asks as he steps forward to examine Iltar. He motions for two other guards to come to him.

“It is a matter of business between myself and the good Baron–Don’t touch me!” Iltar shouts as the two sentinels motioned for begin frisking their armor clad hands through the necromancer’s robes.

“This is a standard procedure. You know how the Baron is, don’t you?” the first guard asks smugly.

“Yes,” Iltar sullenly grumbles, recounting Baron Cilgan’s paranoia. He was a man of great superstition, constantly searching for spies within the city. The people of Sereth were ever cautious to not say or do anything that might be interpreted by the baron or his agents as seditious.

“He’s unarmed sir,” one of the guards states as he moves back toward the gate.

“You’re free to go, Grandmaster,” the initial guard states as he motions back toward the path beyond the gates, which is lined with tall stone walls on either side.

Annoyed, Iltar shakes his head and slowly strides past the guards, grumbling statements of irritation and frustration concerning their procedure.

Once Iltar is through, the gates close and the sentinels resume positions guarding the threshold to the Serethian palace. The necromancer stops briefly and looks at the area around the gate then moves up the path and towards the castle in a quick manner.

I feel as if I’ve waited an eternity for this, Iltar thinks.

After several minutes of steady walking, Iltar reaches the final curve of the pathway and the palace home to the baron comes into view. The castle is surrounded by an outer wall made of a dull gray stone. Directly in front of the pathway is an iron rod gate with the outline of the baron’s crest in its center; a hawk looking upward with its wings spread.

Beyond the gate, a large moat can be faintly seen, as well as a narrow bridge spanning its boundaries. Another stone wall, slightly taller than the first, lines the inner parts of the moat and encases the castle’s wards.

The castle itself towers over five stories tall, each floor reaching the height of eleven phineals. Three circular towers spire from the highest level of the palace, one near the front gate and two behind on buildings connected to the main edifice by arched bridges. Each points to the sky with their cone shaped tips, atop them waves the flags with the crest of the Baron of Sereth: a dark-green feathered hawk looking upward against a gold background.

Five buildings comprise the entire castle: the main keep is divided into two parts. The forward section is diamond-shaped and rises three stories. A two story hall connects to the keep’s rear. The keep’s rear is circular, twice as wide as the diamond section, rises five stories. Elongated oval arrow slits line the keep’s upper floors, spaced five phineals apart.

Two smaller structures with slanted walls stand closest to the main keep, aligned with its front. The other two buildings are positioned along the center of the rear end of the main keep, and are the bases of the rear towers.

“It seems his paranoia is driving his guards away,” Iltar mutters as he looks at four guardsmen stationed outside the gate leading to the bridge. “Four shouldn’t be too much to handle.”

Iltar slows his pace briefly before he comes within several phineals of the gates and says, “I’m here to see Baron Cilgan. I am Iltar, Grandmaster of the Sorothian Magical Order.”

“You weren’t expected,” the guard nearest Iltar’s left states.

“I know!” the necromancer scowls in response.

The guard stiffens and pauses before moving toward the gate, opening it with one hand.

Iltar waits for a moment, gazing at the sentinel holding the gate open. He rubs his chin thoughtfully through his gray goatee.

After several seconds, the guard averts his gaze and Iltar walks through the gate and onto the bridge spanning the distance between the two walls.

The moat lining the outer and inner walls is fairly large, nearly fifty phineals across. Iltar cannot make out the depth of the water, as it appears darkened and casts an illusion of an ongoing well.

Across the bridge, a view opens up to beautiful garden wards that surround the Serethian palace. A stone path cuts through the wards, leading directly to the keep’s front doors. Two guards open the doors for Iltar without any question, and the necromancer slows his pace slightly as he walks up the stone steps and into the main keep.

Immediately beyond the doors is a large diamond-shaped foyer, rising two stories in height. A large rug mimicking the shape of the walls covers most of the floor and in its center rests a large table with various seating arranged around its sides. Directly in front of the doors is a wide single-story corridor leading to the keep’s rear.

“Welcome,” a male tenor voice calls out.

Iltar turns to his left and watches as a servant rises from a chair, revealing him to be tall and lanky. “I would have greeted you at the door, but I wasn’t aware the Baron was having visitors today. You are?”

“Grandmaster Iltar. I rarely announce myself,” Iltar states coldly. “And when I don’t it means the matter is urgent.”

“Yes-yes,” the tall servant stammers. “I will take you straight to him. Please, follow me.”

The servant quickly leads Iltar across the diamond room toward the wide corridor. Tall windows, rising from waist height to the ceiling, allow a view out into the ward gardens enclosed by the buildings connected to the main keep. It is often the last glimpse of beauty most see when traveling through the castle.

At the end of the corridor, Iltar and the servant enter the large circular portion of the main keep. On the opposite end of the room are the bases of two flights of stairs; both curve along the walls and empty out onto the second floor a quarter of the way around the enormous room.

As Iltar walks through the center of the room, he notices the ceiling above rises three stories and makes a mental note of it while silently following the servant up the left set of stairs. They pass through a curved landing twice the width of the staircase; the landing bridges the top of the stairs and the base of a stairwell leading to the keep’s third floor.

Along the wide landings, dim halls branch off, and do not reveal their depths.

Once Iltar reaches the second story landing, he can see an identical corridor that sits above the one he has just passed through; however, there is a set of stairs at the opposite end, leading to the part of the castle above the entry hall.

A moment later, both men ascend to the third floor from the second circular stairwell. At the top of the second set of stairs, the steps meet at a landing that rounds out over the second floor.

Immediately beyond the third story landing is a dimly lit hallway, illuminated by two light stones housed within golden sconces. This corridor is almost half the size of its two counterparts on the lower levels. After several steps inside the hallway it splits in two, divided by the stairwell leading to the fourth floor and the baron’s throne room.

The necromancer and his escort walk to the end of the corridor before ascending the stairs. Iltar sighs in annoyance at the deliberate elongation of the walk, due to the architecture of the castle.

Atop the stairs leading to the fourth floor is a wide landing, illuminated by two light stones. The fourth story landing’s ceiling and the stairwell leading to it are level with each other.

At the end of the landing are two elaborate black doors. Two large golden rings with round weights at the bottom are positioned shoulder high on the doors.

The servant reaches out for one of the weights, grabs it, and pulls back. With the weight released, it rushes to the door, causing a high pitched reverberating sound to echo within the landing.

After a moment, both doors slowly swing open; the servant steps through first, with Iltar reluctantly moving in behind him.

Slowly entering the throne room, Iltar carefully examines the space which rises two stories in height and is windowless. Six shiny black pillars line the room, three on either side, between the doors Iltar entered and a raised platform containing the throne of the baron. Further behind the throne are two doorways leading to darkened corridors.

Four basins rest along the walls in between the pillars, each burning a hot flame. The air in the chamber is slightly stifling for the necromancer, causing Iltar to cough as he walks down a row designated by a black carpet; the runner spanning the length between the doors and the short stairs up to the throne.

Guards line the throne room as well; two on either side of each pillar, six along the back wall behind the throne, and two at the main doors. Gray tiles, with green flecks and veins make up the floors, walls and ceilings of the chambers.

Iltar’s gaze shifts from his surroundings and focuses on the throne, where Baron Cilgan narrowly glares at the unexpected guest.

Cilgan is a large and burly man with dull blonde wavy hair that is a, accompanied by striking light blue eyes. A short nose marks the center of his face, which is accented by high cheek bones, a clean shaven face, and a light complexion. The baron is dressed in a dark red tunic and pants. Black boots reach midway up his shins along with black gloves of similar material covering his hands.

“Who dares disturb me?” Baron Cilgan shouts from his large ornate throne and leans forward.

“Grandmaster Iltar,” the servant shakes out the name and title.

“Iltar… my you’ve finally become the leader of your Order. No doubt by some fraud,” the burly baron laughs at the thought before continuing. “Why are you here?”

A sinister smile smears across Iltar’s face as he looks up to address the baron, who is sitting almost half his height above him. Iltar notices two mages on either side of the throne room; each are sitting upon chairs atop the raised section, dressed in dark robes.

“I’ve come to take something from you.”

“Oh?” Baron Cilgan laughs aloud, tilting his head back while raising his hands in front of his chest. After he catches his breath he responds with sarcasm, “And what is that?”

“You know perfectly well what I’m talking about,” Iltar states flatly. “I am here to free my apprentice, Balden.”

“You can’t have him!” Cilgan snaps in a bellowing voice. “He is the most expert of my mages in torturing my enemies. They are everywhere, and through him I can sniff them out. He is my hound now, not yours!” the baron practically froths with wrath.

“Release him,” Iltar commands, glaring at the twisted ruler, “Or you and everyone else in this castle will die… slowly.”

“No,” Cilgan shakes his head and motions with his finger toward Iltar.

At the Baron’s pointing gesture, the servant standing by Iltar quickly runs for safety, stumbling toward the doors from whence they entered. The basins of fire lining the throne room erupt and the burning flames rise in a high arc.

Seeing the magical eruption, Iltar’s face twists with frustration and black magic seethes from his entire body. The dissolving mist violently erupts and creates his necrotic sphere of protection just as the flames crash down upon him.

Both magics press against each other, but then after a moment the streams of fire are consumed by the necrotic sphere. However, the fiery beams are replaced by the ever burning magic from the four basins in the chamber.

During the magical outburst, four of the six guards at the rear of the raised section surround the baron to defend him; meanwhile the guards standing by the pillars move to the far walls on either end of the throne room.

Amid the continuous flaming assault, Iltar undauntedly splays his hands and his black magic coalesces just above his palms, forming two globes of darkness.

Just as the two deadly balls of magic form, Iltar flicks his wrists, causing the two globes of darkness to fly from his palms with incredible speed. They scrape along the edges of the pillars nearest the throne, dissolving the stone as they pass.

Within a second, the two globes of darkness strike the mages in the chest, and they scream in agony; the black magic dissolves their torsos and then spreads across the rest of their bodies, turning them to dust.

As they die, the fire in each of the four basins dissipates and specks of magic and ash rise to the air and vanish.

Sinisterly grinning at the baron, the necromancer utters the words to a magical incantation and greenish magic gathers in his hands.

Meanwhile, the guardsman directly to the right of the baron gasps for air and collapses to the ground, struck by an unseen force. Blood spews from his neck onto the floor, and the gray stone turns red.

Immediately thereafter, the two guards in front of the baron are struck and fall to the floor in a similar manner. A second later, the fourth guard to the left is knocked back by an unseen force, thrusting him away from the throne.

All the while, the guards stationed at the rear passageways draw their weapons and defensively turn every which way in search of their invisible assailants.

“You have the worst help,” Tilthan’s sly voice calls out from Baron Cilgan’s right. “Perhaps you could have singed his hairs if your mages shot the magic directly out rather than using that whimsical display of theatrics. Where did you get them anyway, a Sereth city festival?”

“This is impossible!” Baron Cilgan shouts and looks around frantically at the assault launched by Iltar and his invisible companions.

In the center of the throne room, Iltar’s ensnaring tendrils have entangled eight of the guards behind the four pillars nearest the throne.

At this same time, the fourth guard who had rushed to the baron’s side pushes himself up but is quickly struck by a blade between his armor.

Just after the guardsman is slain, Cilgan is thrust out of his throne, rolling forward down the three steps.

“Show yourselves, cowards!” Baron Cilgan’s words echo within the stone chamber as he raises his head from the runner. He glances toward the doors, which fly open from outside the throne room.

Nordal and Midar both charge into the throne room, startling the fleeing servant.

Without hesitation, Midar raises his sword above his head and leaps toward the servant, striking the tall man in the head with the pommel of his weapon.

The lanky servant abruptly falls to the stone floor, leaving both of Cornar’s men free to turn to either side and engage the two guards stationed as doormen.

Both heavily armed sentinels swing their weapons in long exaggerated strokes, but Midar and Nordal evade and parry the blows with their own straight swords with ease.

The four other guards near the doorway pillars rush to aid their comrades fighting the invading warriors, swinging their weapons as they dash forward.

Amidst the distraction of the warrior’s charge, the two remaining guards on the raised area fall to the ground quickly, groaning in anguish. Like their companions, their blood stains the stone tile red.

“Where are you cowards?!” Cilgan shouts as he rises to his feet and looks around, but he is quickly swept out from his sturdy stance by magical means.

The baron falls face-forward to the black runner of carpet. He quickly glances over his shoulder to see Iltar standing with his arms folded. In one hand Iltar grasps the source of the force that leveled him with the floor, the same green magic dragging his guards to their painful demise.

“I’m over here,” Cornar bellows from above Cilgan.

Looking up toward the warrior’s voice, Cilgan can see Cornar appearing from his feet up, slightly to the left of the throne. The warrior is stalwartly holding a shimmering cloak in his hand together with his blood-drenched serrated dagger.

As Cornar emerges from invisibility, the first of the baron’s guards hits the necromancer’s dissolving sphere; his screams echo across the throne room, frightening the others in the necromancer’s grasp, and all let out similar shrieks of terror.

“That is your fate, Cilgan,” Iltar stares at the baron with a twisted expression of pleasure, “Relish it!”

At that same moment, arrows sing through the air from the right of the baron’s throne, toward the four guards rushing to the two intruding warriors. The arrows appear just as they’re heard and fly from the rear of the room, striking each of the four guardsmen. The arrows pierce the neck of one and the exposed portions between the plating of armor on the others.

Meanwhile, Midar, who went to the left, has knocked his foe to the ground and is stabbing the guard in the neck when both of the advancing guardsmen reach him. The warrior turns and with his free hand grabs the fanisar the fallen guard was wielding, using his foot to pry it from his grip.

Midar turns just in time to meet the two guards wounded by the arrows. He swiftly uses his sword and the staff of metal to parry and strike.

After several exchanges of blows and defensive movements, Midar stabs one of the guards he is engaged with in the neck.

The warrior kicks him away as the guard falls to the ground and Midar lunges toward his next opponent, launching a twirling assault with both weapons.

As Midar deals with the advancing guards, the other two guards reach Nordal, but as they do one falls to the ground; the arrow in his neck, taking the life out of him within seconds.

Seeing the other guard approaching, Nordal lowers his shoulder and rams the guard he is dueling, pushing him into the wall.

Nordal then quickly turns and runs to the advancing guard, evading his swings as he moves within arm’s reach of the throne room sentinel.

In an instant, the skilled warrior strikes the guard on either side of the head with his lightly armored forearms. He swiftly spins to his left, lowering his sword in his right hand. He breaks his turn and closes the distance between him and his foe, who is now slightly behind him, by lunging sideways.

While moving, Nordal throws his left arm down and brings it back up to brace his right wrist. With incredible strength, he uses both arms to quickly thrust his blade upward, reaching under the helmet and piercing the guard through his lower jaw.

As the guard knocked to the wall recovers, he runs to Nordal, who has already relinquished the life of the other guardsman.

The lifeless sentinel slumps on the warrior’s blade and Nordal uses his left hand to push him away, unsheathing his sword from the guard’s bloodied neck.

With finesse, Nordal dashes forward and parries the last guard’s weapon as he shuffles to the right; the two weapons cross in front of the guard with Nordal’s on top.

In a swift motion, the intruding warrior swings his armored forearm to the guard’s protected head and knocks him backward, causing his head to reel back. As he does this, Nordal quickly spins to the right, releasing his parrying blade, and following through by swinging his sword in a circular motion parallel to his body. At this moment, the guard’s head bounces forward, exposing the back of his neck; Nordal’s bloodied weapon swiftly circles upward, cutting into the guard’s skin and severing his head just before he lands on the gray tile; all this happening within a second.

As Midar and Nordal deal with the last of the throne room guards, Iltar gloats over the victimized baron. Each of the guards he had entangled has since been dissolved by the destructive magic, and their bodies lay as ash at Iltar’s feet.

“Now Cilgan, you will tell me where Balden is. If you don’t, I’ll dissolve your body from your feet up!”

“You-you planned all this! How did you know the details of this throne room?!” the Baron cries out in astonishment.

“Paranoid and stupid,” Tilthan’s voice sarcastically states from the shadows. The thief removes his cloak and appears at the right of the throne, revealing he was the one who had launched the volley of arrows at the guards.

“We didn’t know,” Cornar chimes in from in front of the throne. “We’re just that skilled. And your men, frankly, are not that good.”

“Suit yourself then…” Iltar states as the binding magic slowly pulls Cilgan toward the necromancer.

“No, you’re not going to do this! If you kill me you won’t make it off this island alive!” Cilgan shouts partially out of fear and arrogance.

“Tilthan is right, you are stupid,” Iltar states, enjoying the situation.

The eyes of the Baron of Sereth widen as he approaches Iltar’s powerful magic. His boots slowly enter the eroding barrier and a burning sensation gnaws at his feet. He lets out a scream as the magic reaches his bare skin, and the pink flesh is slowly turned gray.

“Tell me!” Iltar’s eyes widen as the screaming lord continues moving closer and closer to him.

“Make it stop!” Cilgan wails in an agonizing sob, his voice reaching a higher pitch than before.

“I can make it stop if you just tell me where Balden is. Well?!” Iltar impatiently taps his foot within the magical sphere.

“The lower dungeon! In the southern wing! You get there from the second floor tower! Please, stop it!” the baron’s voice twists with pain.

“Good…” Iltar says, ignoring Baron Cilgan’s screams, who is still being pulled into the sphere. The necromancer dissolves the magic around him and relinquishes his magical grasp on Cilgan, saying, “Secure the room, and let’s move down to the dungeon.”

Iltar walks away and back toward the double doors where Midar and Nordal have just leveled the last guard to the ground.

“Oh,” the necromancer calls out as he strides to the door, “And someone kill him.”

Cornar menacingly glares at Cilgan while he descends the steps and tosses the shimmering cloak to Tilthan. The warrior runs both of his weapons along each other, creating a grinding sound and the blood on them drips onto the black carpet.

Once the warrior reaches Cilgan’s side, Cornar slowly swings his serrated dagger in the air above the baron’s body, from his stomach up to his chest, blood spattering on Cilgan’s face.

“I hate you,” Cornar disgustedly snarls while looking down at Baron Cilgan. He spits on his face, where the warm spit and blood from his guards mingles.

Cornar swiftly rear straight up and thrusts himself forward, stabbing the dagger deep into the baron’s stomach. The warrior’s face turns to a cold stare as the Baron gasps and cries out in pain. Cornar’s green eyes glare with disgust as he grates the serrated blade up Cilgan’s torso, following the same motion he traced earlier above the demented ruler’s body. The warrior snarls as he slowly carves through bone and flesh.

“This is for Ralin,” the words drip with disdain from Cornar’s mouth as he brutally grates the weapon through Cilgan’s body.

The screams of the dying baron fill the room as his executioner meticulously carves him.

As Cornar’s serrated dagger grates through the lungs of the baron, the warrior quickly pulls it from the ruthless ruler who is dying a ruthless death.

Swiftly rising from the ground, Cornar lets out a loud yell and spins; he quickly lowers his other weapon down upon Cilgan’s neck, severing it from his body and choking off his blood filled gasps.

Without a word, Cornar walks away from the scene and toward the doors of the throne room while Tilthan creeps forward to the lifeless decapitated body.

“You don’t suppose he has a treasury do you?” the thief calls out to the warriors and necromancer leaving the throne room.

Receiving no answer, the thief rummages through the baron’s bloodied clothing and finds several items: a key, a fist-sized pouch and a small token. Tilthan quickly puts the key in his pocket then examines the token.

The token is oval in shape, with a gold rim and silver background. Within its center is a raised symbol of a winged creature. Tilthan runs his finger over the raised metal form and feels intricate grooves along the body. He looks closer and recognizes the features of the beast with some surprise. It is a dragon, a red dragon.

Tilthan pauses for a moment, then flips it over, but there are no other visible markings on the emblem. The thief quickly shoves the token into his bag and secures it, then runs after the men already out of the room.

  • * * * *

Outside the castle’s walls, the four guards at the palace entrance hear frantic cry. They each turn and see the castle’s chef waving his arms while running across the bridge.

“The baron’s guests are attacking him! I heard screams from the guards coming from the throne room!”

“Are you sure?” the guard closest to the metallic rod gate demands, abruptly turning to face the servant running toward him.

“Yes, do something!” the chef hurriedly yells as he reaches the gate, out of breath.

“Go inform the captain of the guard in the city. We will go to the towers and light the signals,” the guard commands, opening the gate.

The two guards nearest the gate rush along the bridge, and the chef runs past them. All the while, the two remaining guards stand watch, anticipating their reinforcements and tracing the movements of the chef with their eyes.

As the chef is midway between the gate and the curve in the road, he is abruptly lifted into the air by unseen means. He frantically screams, looking to either side but is quickly thrust to the dirt road, becoming unconscious.

Seeing this, both guards rush to inspect the chef, but they too are knocked to the ground as they near the servant.

As they fall, the sound of swords sing through the air, and each are stabbed by unseen blades. They begin to scream but are silenced by repeated blows.

“Well, that was close,” Kalder’s deep voice sighs from thin air. “I’m glad Tilthan’s gang let us use their cloaks.”

“Most definitely! And I haven’t had this much excitement since before I joined the Guardians of Soroth,” Menal states, shrouded from sight by one of the thieves’ shimmering cloaks. “Let’s hide these bodies, and we should probably tie that one up,” he suggests, referring to the chef.

One-by-one, the invisible warriors lift the lifeless bodies and carry them to the bridge, dumping them in the moat. As the bodies hit the water they sink the bottom of the moat and disappear from sight.

A moment later, they drag the chef along the bridge back toward the castle.

“We need to disable the warning beacons,” Menal says as they cross the bridge. “There are three of them, one in each of the towers. It doesn’t seem like anyone has alerted the men watching them. Despite the fact that Master Iltar and the others must be causing quite a commotion in there.” Menal says the last with a tone of awe.

“Menal, find something to tie this chef up with, then look for the others further inside. I’ll ascend to the tower above us.”

With that said, they drag the chef into the castle.

Once inside, Menal continues to drag the chef to the left side of the diamond shape foyer, while Kalder quickly runs to the rear of the castle.

Dying screams echo through the wide corridor as Kalder hastily runs through it and to the large circular chamber. The last screams reach his ears as he ascends the steps to his right and sees the source of the deathly wails: the two guards that had run inside just a moment before lifelessly lie upon the second story’s southern landing. Iltar stands over them, lowering his hand while sinisterly cackling and watching their bodies erode from his black magic.

The others are not far behind Iltar, most filing onto the third story landing or descending the stairs.

Seeing his companions, Kalder lets out the signaling whistle to alert Iltar and the others to his presence before speaking. “The area outside is clear. Menal is tying up the chef. They haven’t lit any of the signal towers yet. I’m moving to secure the western one above the entrance.”

“Perfect,” Cornar calls out as he leans over the rail of the circular landing on the third floor. “I’ll go to the left and secure that one. There wasn’t a way to the forward-most tower from the throne room; it must be the stairs in the second floor corridor.”

“Understood, Cor,” Kalder calls out, his footfalls echoing from the same corridor Cornar mentioned.

At this same time, Tilthan reaches Cornar and taps him on the back of his shoulder with his knuckles, holding the warrior’s borrowed cloak in his hand. Cornar looks back and swipes the cloak, then shrouds himself.

“Secure the tower on the right, Tilthan,” Cornar says as he invisibly walks down the stairs to their left.

“Fine, but I want to find that treasury, too!” the thief calls out as he dons his cloak and rushes down the other stairwell behind Iltar, Nordal and Midar.

  • * * * *

A few moments later, Iltar presses his way into the underground dungeon of the castle, descending several stairwells inside the southern tower without any interruption. Midar and Nordal are at his side, and the three men enter the first corridor of the lower levels of the castle. A few steps away from the base of the stairs is a wide doorway leading to the dungeon, with both of its doors wide open.

Beyond the doorway, a guard sitting at a table to the left of the door immediately looks up at the three intruders. “What are you doing here?”

“Die!” Iltar shouts as he turns to face the guard, uttering the words of an incantation.

Hearing the spell, Midar moves from the necromancer’s left back toward the doorway. In that same moment, a spray of yellow-green magic bursts from Iltar’s palm, turning into burning acid before it reaches the guard’s face.

Struck by the acidic magic, the sentinel withers in pain as the acid seeps through his skin and he attempts to peel the burning magic away.

With the guard incapacitated, Iltar quickly turns back to the corridor and leaves the guard to die from the acid burning through his skull.

Midar merely glances down at the guard screaming in pain as he passes by to catch up to Nordal and Iltar.

“Balden!” the necromancer calls out as he moves down the hall. “Where is that boy…?” Iltar continues to move down the prison corridor, calling the name of his former apprentice and looking into each of the cell doors as he passes. “Balden! It’s Iltar! Where are you?!

“Balden!”

Frustrated, the necromancer pounds on the door nearest him and Nordal continues onward. Iltar looks back along the corridor then mutters, “Perhaps I shouldn’t have killed–”

“Iltar!” a faint voice abruptly draws the necromancer’s attention, calling out from behind a door further down the hall. “I’m in here!”

Hearing Balden’s cry, Iltar turns around and chases after Nordal who is running toward the half-elf’s beckoning.

“I’m in here!” the masculine voice continues to call out accompanied with pounds against the door.

Nordal is the first to reach the recessed wooden cell door and turns the handle to open it, but to no avail. Seeing that it’s locked, the warrior takes a step back and shouts, “Move away from the door!”

Nordal kicks the door with the heel of his boot, repeatedly forcing his strength and weight into it; the door gives way just as the necromancer reaches the warrior’s side.

Within the cell, sitting atop a small bed against the far wall, is Balden. He is a young half-elf in his mid-twenties dressed in long black robes with long blonde hair down to his shoulders, covering his elven ears. Despite the poor living conditions, his hair is combed neatly and is perfectly straight. He has a thin pointed face and a long pointed nose. His cheeks are thin and their bones are barely visible along his slender face. Balden’s vibrant blue eyes are much like Iltar’s, and they search for his former master; Nordal, who is standing in the doorway, notices them and is genuinely taken aback.

Iltar arrives at the opened doorway and looks at the scene beyond the ruined threshold. When his eyes fall on his former apprentice at the back of the room, the necromancer gives him a rare heartfelt smile. Balden had been like a son to him all those years ago. It was a time when Iltar was not as consumed by achieving power as he is now. The older necromancer shakes his head at the sight of the young half-elf.

“My have you grown,” Iltar trail off with admiration.

Seeing his former master in the magical arts, Balden stands, returning Iltar’s smile in kind while walking toward the doorway. Midar arrives, and the half-elf glances to both warriors.

“I take it this is not a social visit?” Balden asks with a raised brow.

“That’s right,” Nordal states smugly.

“Come,” Iltar states as he reaches forward and motions with his hand for Balden to come near him. “We need to get out of here quickly.”

Once Balden nears, Iltar wraps his arm around his former apprentice’s shoulder and the four of them walk back toward the stairwell ascending from the dungeon.

“I have terminated your contract with Baron Cilgan,” Iltar states calmly.

“How?!” Balden interrupts, almost shouting. He smolders with anger, saying, “The council banished me here to work with that swine for forty years! I can remember their words…”

“My, has your voice deepened,” Iltar smiles before continuing. “But now, I am the council, my young friend.”

“Really?! Tell me what’s going on, Iltar. I don’t hear anything besides the screams of dying men I’m forced to torture for information. You wouldn’t believe the things they made me do when I first began…”

“Oh I’m sure I can,” the necromancer affirms to his former apprentice. “I will attempt to retell everything from several months ago.”

As they quickly walk back through the dungeon, Iltar tells Balden the story of his rise to power, leaving out details he would tell him later in private.

Once the quartet is partway up the stairs leading from the dungeon, a signaling whistle bounces off the stone walls encasing the stairwell.

“Is that the boy you were after?” Tilthan demands from beneath his cloak.

“Yes, this is Bal–”

“Balden! Do you know where the treasury is?” the words excitedly leave the thief’s mouth.

The half-elf looks around for the source of the invisible voice before answering hesitantly, “Yes… its behind the throne room.”

“Ugh… we were just there. Okay, I’ll meet you down at the ferry,” Tilthan states as his voice trails off without the sound of footsteps.

“You better get me something!” Nordal calls and chuckles.

After several minutes, Iltar and his three other companions traverse the diamond foyer and move through the doors at the front of the castle. The afternoon light beams down on the peaceful ward, shining on the faces of the quartet. As they emerge, Balden is the only one that shields his eyes against the brightness of Kalda’s sun.

Once outside, Iltar whistles the signal established by Cornar.

A variation of the tonal pattern replies back, and the three other warriors appear in front of them; Cornar is leaning against the corner of the wall that opens up to the bridge across the moat. Kalder is leaning against the other corner opposite of his mentor and Menal is sitting against the wall further down with his legs stretched out.

“Where is Tilthan?” Cornar asks with impatience.

“Looting the good baron’s horde of treasure,” Nordal chuckles.

Cornar shakes his head and rolls his eyes at the thief’s actions, “Well let’s leave without him.” The warrior notices the newest member of their band. He smiles as he recognizes the half-elf, moving closer to him for a greeting.

“Balden!” Cornar happily smiles as he stretches out his arms and wraps them around the grown half-elf. The two embrace and Cornar runs his hand through Balden’s blonde hair then shakes it out. “My you’ve grown!

“And I’m glad we finally freed you from this place,” Cornar’s words are filled with remorse, as if he had failed once before for someone else.

“Enough nostalgia,” Iltar says anxiously. “Balden, shroud yourself with magic along with Midar and Nordal here.” Then, pointing to the two warriors who had been with him at the time of the young half-elf’s rescue, Iltar warns, “No one should see you leave the path leading to the castle.”

Soon after their reunion outside the castle, each of the warriors disappear under their cloaks or Balden’s magic then walk down the winding path, with Iltar in their lead.

After a few minutes, the necromancer reaches the base of the trail and silently walks toward the gates leading to the city. The guards on the opposite side of the gate notice him and move to open the gate for him. However, Iltar pauses, just as he had when all the other doors opened to allow his invisible companions to pass by unnoticed.

“Your baron is pathetic,” Iltar calls out. “I will see that he is removed from his seat and another placed in his stead.”

“That kind of language is dangerous, stranger,” the guard who addressed Iltar when he first arrived states in a dubious tone. “And the baron’s influence reaches further than this island.”

Iltar simply laughs and then moves through the gate, donning his cowl and walking down the street away from the gateway.

After a quarter of an hour, Iltar arrives at the ferry docks. He stands alone at the edge of the pier, waiting for his companions to join his side.

One by one, the men emerge from between the tight alleys dividing the Serethian buildings. Balden is the last to join Iltar’s side, and the seven companions walk toward the wharf where a ferry boat waits for its final departure of the day.

Each of the members of Iltar’s infiltrating band take their seats near the ferry’s gangway and watch for Tilthan.

Just prior to the boat’s departure the thief hurriedly emerges from between the buildings. The pack used to carry the cloaks and his weapons bulges over his right shoulder while his bow and quiver are strapped above his other arm.

Nordal shakes his head as Tilthan steps aboard the ship and Cornar buries his forehead in his palm.

“What? It’s a bonus!”

Most of the warriors laugh aloud and several passengers on the ship look over to the small group of men with curiosity. Noticing their gaze, Iltar replies with a soul-piercing glare, which causes them to turn away abruptly.

“So, your pack is full, Tilthan,” Cornar states frankly. “Where are you going to put the cloaks?”

Taking a deep breath, Tilthan sets the heavy pack down and looks around at the men in his company before answering, “You can carry them.”

“That means you’re going to pay us for holding them, right?” Nordal looks up at his cunning friend. Both men had a strange but mutual affection for each other and bantered in this manner during times of victory.

“Fine, fine,” Tilthan pushes down on the air in front of him, as if suppressing the cries for money. “We’ll talk more on Soroth.”

 

Epilogue

Later that evening, within the city of Soroth, the shrouded figures of Balden and Iltar walk through an empty street east of the Sorothian Magical Order. Both are dressed in black robes with their cowls donned.

“This city hasn’t changed,” Balden remarks from under his cowl. “In fact, this street looks familiar.”

“Well, Balden, it should,” Iltar states and points with his left hand toward a partially opened round gate housed within a brown cement wall with orange flecks. “There’s Cornar’s estate.”

Both necromancers walk through the gateway and enter the gardens of Cornar’s city home. The moons of Kalda cast shadows behind the trees and other plants that dot the landscaped yard. Once within the walls, Iltar leads the pair along the path and toward the doors of Cornar’s estate.

As Iltar and Balden round the fountain in the center of the path, Balden briefly stops and looks down at the still water within the basin. From the light of the moons, Balden can see his reflection; a sight which he has not seen in many years.

The half-elf leans forward and studies his partially shrouded face in the water. Balden swallows hard and leans forward to see a clearer view, but his attention is jarred by his former master in the magical arts.

“Balden!” Iltar barks from the covered porch. “Get in here.”

Looking up from the water at Iltar’s demanding beckon, Balden moves away from the fountain and toward the doors of Cornar’s home.

Light from burning lanterns shine into the portions of the garden nearest the home through glass in the doorway and windows of the rooms off the foyer. The shadows of those inside the rooms can be seen dancing across the walls.

“Is everyone ready?” Iltar asks as he steps through the doorway.

“Yes,” Cornar answers Iltar and looks out the open door and towards Balden. “My nephew and some of the others went down to the White Duchess before we returned from Sereth.”

“They better not have been seen,” Iltar scowls as Balden reaches his side.

“Hem and Dith were with them,” the warrior answers Iltar, his tone implying the two mages would conceal them. Cornar changes the subject as he looks at Balden. “There’s some food on the dining room table. I’m sure you’re hungry.”

“Yes, thank you Cornar,” Balden replies and steps into the foyer.

The half-elf looks around briefly, remembering the home he had visited often over a decade ago.

Amid his recollection, Balden walks through the left part of the home into the large parlor. To his left, several of the warriors are playing a game of chance with Tilthan and Nath. He glances to the players but moves toward a doorway to his right and into the dining room of Cornar’s home.

Immediately to the right of the table, the young maid-turned-conjurer Nilia is grabbing several empty plates. As she stacks the plates she hears the half-elf’s footsteps coming into the room and she turns to face the doorway. An awestruck expression crosses her face as she gazes at Balden.

“Excuse me,” Balden says as he walks toward the table. He quickly glances for a plate and notices the almost-empty platters of food. Without hesitation, the half elf picks up a plate and the nearest utensil.

“If you want something else I can prepare it for you,” Nilia stammers while watching the half-elf.

“This will do,” Balden says with a smile and glances to Nilia, dishing the food onto his plate. “You don’t need to prepare anything special for me.”

The young woman blushes and smiles at the half-elf. Her pale green eyes pleasantly study Balden as he finishes filling his plate.

“Nilia, it’s time for you to leave,” Cornar says as he enters the dining room with Iltar immediately behind him. “Kalder and Menal are waiting in the foyer.”

“Okay,” Nilia says with slight trepidation, “I’ll clean these first.”

With that said, Nilia steps through a doorway to the right of the room, leaving the two necromancers and warrior alone.

“Where is everyone going?” Balden asks and puts a small handful of food in his mouth.

Iltar smiles with diabolical glee, “Your rescue has greater meaning than you suspect, Balden.”

“I thought you said that you were only able to rescue me because of your ascension to Grandmaster. What’s going on Iltar?”

Cornar looks to Iltar with anticipation and the necromancer nods his head.

The warrior steps out of the room and can be heard telling those in the large parlor to move to another room. Once they are gone Iltar steps closer to Balden.

“Six months ago, Cornar discovered an ancient record written in both elvish and the common tongue. It spoke of a powerful amulet that can control chromatic dragons, red dragons.”

All the while, Balden carefully listens as he continues to eat.

“It is an amulet that is divided into three pieces; an activating scroll, a red ruby and a metallic housing. I need your help to retrieve it and in turn, you will accomplish a dream you have had since your youth.

“We’re leaving tonight, and from what Cornar has told me the rest of our expedition is already aboard Captain Kenard’s ship.”

Furrowing his brow, Balden puts the partially eaten plate on the table and stares hard at Iltar. Silence passes between the two necromancers for a moment before Balden speaks up, asking, “Merda? You’re going to Merda?”

“Yes, Balden,” Iltar continues to smile with a widening grin. “You’ll cleanse your ancestral home and for helping me complete this amulet you will be richly rewarded.”

Balden swallows hard and puts his hand on the nearest chair tucked under the table. The half-elf blinks for a moment as he thinks over Iltar’s words. Merda, home of the White Citadel, was a source of romantic fantasy throughout his youth. For as long as he could remember, Balden dreamed of freeing the eastern side of Merdan from the mysterious evil that had laid claim to it ages ago. And now, that fantasy could become reality.

“Well Balden,” Iltar asks with a raised brow showing his eagerness about the adventure that lay ahead of them. “Will you join us?”

Looking up to his mentor, Balden answers with a resounding exclamation.

“Yes!”

 

 

The End

the search for the Au’misha’k continues

in

Secrets of Merda

h1={color:#000;}.

Ilnari’s Charge

 

 

 

The elven scrolls found by Cornar on the Isle of the Ancient Ones retold the history of the Dragon Wars, giving particular details not found in the two tomes, The Thousand Years War, volumes one and two.

The following are Ilnari’s words, written upon the intact scroll.

  • * * * *

Men and elves of Kalda, hearken to my words and open your minds to the truths that have laid hidden for generations; the beings ascribed to legend and myth exist in reality. Creatures, far more intelligent and powerful than any of us, have claimed this world their own for thousands of generations. These extolled and exalted beings are called in their own tongue, ‘sha’, but we know them in our languages as ‘draco’ and ‘dragon’. Much is uncertain of their origin, for as long as men and elves have lived, the sha have existed and ruled over Kalda.

For tens of millennia, the sha’kalda, the dragons of Kalda, roamed across our world. Thousands of these majestic beings soared through the skies unmolested, and nested upon the mountaintops without disturbance.

Arrayed in a variety of breeds, vastly diverse in color and luster, the dragons distinguished as two families: Mi’na, or metallic and Cru’na, or chromatic. Each family’s specific breeds exhibited their own unique traits and characteristics. The foremost of each family were the Pla’sha and the Lish’sha.

Pla’sha, or the platinum dragons were the most intelligent, wise and charismatic of them all. Lish’sha or the red dragons exhibited the greatest physical strength, and were the most cunning, yet deceptive of their kind.

Both families were governed by a collective body called, the Ril’Sha, consisting of dragons of the highest order from each breed. At their head was the mightiest of all their kind, Ul’Sha, a position that had always been awarded to a platinum dragon.

  • * *

When elves appeared, and men grew in their posterity, the wise platinum dragons forged alliances with each of our kind. They represented the entirety of dragonkind, and generously gave of the low plains of our world for us to lay claim. Over time, the humans were drawn to affection with the platinum dragons and a bond of great friendship sprouted between them. But this led many other breeds onto jealousy, causing a schism within draconic society. The red dragons detested the alliance and friendship with, what they deemed, lowly beings.

Eventually, the platinum dragons enlightened both men and elves of a great unseen power, known in our tongues as magya or magic.

Seven channels, or groupings of power, were taught among the humans and elves; Xa or arcane, Au or destruction, Ke or barsion, Tn or elemental, Om or restoration, Zs or manipulation, Sh or conjuration. Through spoken word, sharp sounding syllables of the draconic language, these powers became manifest.

However, the means of channeling the magic was beyond the comprehension of the elves and humans. Thus, the platinum dragons endeavored to develop a simpler means of mastering this unseen power.

Elvenkind were the first to harness these channels of magic; our kind have always possessed an affinity for these unseen forces but never by the power of spoken word.

However, the humans struggled with the incantations created by the platinum dragons for generations. For many it took years upon years of training the mind and tongue to produce the desired effects of focused magic.

  • * *

About this same time, the tension within the two draconic families erupted, dividing the Ril’Sha. A battle ensued and the Ul’Sha was slain by the red dragon who represented his breed, Cheserith. He took his claim of the Ril’Sha and banished those survivors who stood against him.

As the new Ul’Sha, Cheserith, asserted his right to dominion of Kalda and all beings that inhabited her. In the minds of those who comprised this revolutionized Ril’Sha the abominable notion arose: “Lesser beings need not tread upon her face, for only those who soar through her breath are worthy of her bosom.”

Soon after, those exiled from Cheserith’s Ril’Sha rallied their breeds to restore the affairs of their highest order. This first skirmish led to all out war, and dragonkind was torn asunder forever.

For many years the dragons battled in the skies of Kalda. It was a war which was known throughout the ages as the Thousand Years War; but among the humans of the day, and those thereafter, they called it the Dragon Wars; for dragon fought against dragon. But the dragons were not the only ones affected by this conflict.

Upon learning of Cheserith’s deceit and usurpation of the Ril’Sha, elvenkind and those magically adept humans allied themselves with the metallic dragons who opposed the dominating council. For much of the beginning of the war, human and elf fought side by side their draconic comrades.

For a short time, the alliance of men, elves and dragons prevailed against Cheserith’s Ril’Sha and their collective breeds; but the red dragons in all their cunning and guile turned the tide of the war. They enticed those men who had been aloof; then, within a few years, much of the human realm was organized against what was called, the Kaldean Alliance.

United under an imperial charge, the humans of Kalda blindly followed and to a point, worshiped the dragons which comprised the Ril’Sha. Deified, Cheserith built an empire. His fellow Ril’Sha commanded armies of men who obeyed their every beck and whim. A certain few they elected to manifest their will among humanity. These humans’ minds and bodies were twisted with vile magic, turning mere men into powerful, supernatural and immortal beings; abominable creatures known as Ma’lisha in the draconic tongue or abalimyr in elvish. These abalimyr helped to push back the armies of human, elven and draconic warriors who fought for Kalda’s freedom.

Blood and carnage veiled Kalda for several years as fierce battles raged across the sprawling plains of our world.

With the aid of the platinum and golden dragons, the human and elven warriors were protected and armed with weapons and armor; tools of war which were produced through a blend of magic and metallurgy. One such draconic-crafted weapon was based upon an ancient elven mythos, the fanisar; a bladed staff which can be broken down into three pieces and linked by a woven chain. However, these draconic weapons are bound by channeled magic, and their blades composed of the finest destructive magical energies.

  • * *

Despite all their efforts, those who had fought Cheserith were failing. The ranks of his armies continued to swell years after the Empire’s establishment. This next generation of men had only known life within the Cheserithean Empire, and believed in their false deity’s cause without question.

Eventually, the Kaldean Alliance pulled back to a single place, the newly constructed capitol city of the elves, Kardorth. Many of the great elven cities had been destroyed at the onset and throughout the early years of the war: Melar, Kildath, Torgath, Merath and Milarn.

Through various means of barsionary magic, Kardorth remained unscathed for hundreds of years. Throughout that time the alliance of dragons, elves and humans sought various means to triumph over their adversaries; these strategies and acts produced a desired effect that temporarily lasted but was rendered useless in due time; one of which was a transformative curse that caused great internal turmoil within the Empire.

Eventually, the corrupt Ril’Sha were not satisfied with this level of victory. The war had made many of those dragons bitter, and they desired all that opposed them be eradicated and their blood used as an offering to their living deity. For hundreds of years, the beguiled armies of men encamped Kardorth upon the great river which surrounded the home of the Kaldean Alliance.

  • * *

It wasn’t until nine hundred and twenty three years after the first skirmish that a decisive power was completed: Shiz’nak or the tethering stone. Its power can send one to many of the vast stars that illuminate the night sky of our world.

The tethering stone is a sphere of pure rogulin which has been infused with magic through a rigorous ritual by the Irum’mak’sha; draconic sages who possessed the highest knowledge of each form of magic. Through their joint power they created a means for the stone to bind worlds together by opening a spherical-breach between the two realms. They were the first to traverse this gateway-of-sorts and discovered realms suitable for their intentions of triumph in what seemed to them as an endless war.

Three hundred years passed away since the dragons, humans and elves had left Kardorth’s protective barsion. At that time, they ventured forth to once again battle with the army that besieged their home. At their head was a platinum dragon who held the tethering stone in his grasp. He single handedly plunged himself into the heart of the besieging army and uttered the incantation to bring the tethering stone’s effects to life.

In an instant, a flash of brilliant light engulfed the battlefield and within the sky above the ground floated the breach to a distant barren world. Through the power of the stone, all those within a close vicinity to the breach were pulled toward it, including the dragon who possessed the tethering stone.

Hundreds of dragons and thousands of men were pulled into the breach. On the other side, those drawn through were thrust from the breach. Many of the dragons loyal to the corrupted Ril’Sha attempted to pass back through, but were barred by a form of barsionary magic on that side of the breach. Only the platinum dragon that had tethered the worlds returned, for in his possession was a shard of orange rock, Tel’k’shak or Key of the Stars; it allowed the dragon to return through the barsion magic barring the others.

That battle lasted many days before the besieging army retreated. It was a great day for the Kaldean Alliance, and although many had died upon the vast battlefield there was hope that the war would end.

Many battles followed soon after and when the tethering stone was seen it struck fear into the enemies of freedom.

  • * *

Despite the Kaldean Alliance’s victories, there were some dragons in the Empire that did not fear the powerful stone. However, there were many within the various draconic breeds that sued for peace.

These dragons were motivated out of fear, fear of being exiled to a barren world for the rest of their long lives. They were given the choice to fight alongside the human and elven counterparts or be sent to other lush realms where they could exercise their compulsory desires of domination. These realms were devoid of men and elves, a trait the leaders of the Kaldean Alliance thought necessary. Otherwise, the last thousand years might repeat themselves in a different theater.

After a hundred years, few draconic breeds were left on Kalda; nevertheless, the red dragons remained in abundance. Throughout this passage of time, the crimson tyrants had positioned themselves away from the battlefields and theaters of war. They had controlled their campaign of domination from their secret places, but this would soon change

Without the aid of their draconic masters in battle, the armies of the Empire were slowly weakened. The abalimyr were almost equally matched with the Masters of Twenty and the Cess’nal in battle. This left the humans of the Empire to futilely fend off the onslaught from the rest of the Alliance’s forces.

Eventually the Kaldean Alliance took back the continent which Kardorth is located. They then turned their attention to reclaiming the continent to the southwest, Selgas. The battles for that land were fierce and bloody; the warriors of the Empire fought with a unconquerable zeal. Many fell on each side but not before the most capital parts of the continent were claimed by the Alliance. However, this victory was short lived.

Unknown to the Kaldean Alliance, the red dragons willingly allowed those possessions to fall into their hands. The day after their victory the continent was destroyed by a powerful magic; it dissolved everything in its path and within a few moments the entire continent vanished from the face of Kalda. It was this deception and devastation that provoked the Kaldean Alliance to create the Au’misha’k.

  • * *

The red dragons had proved cunning in their confrontations with the tethering stone. Through their magic they could escape the pull of the breach and avoid exile. This, coupled with Selgas’s destruction, made it clear to the leaders of the Kaldean Alliance that control, unwavering control, would be the only way to achieve peace for Kalda.

In a short amount of time, the draconic sages created the Au’misha’k, otherwise known as the Amulet of Draconic Control. The amulet comprised three parts; the metallic housing, the Ruby of Lish and the activating scroll. At the bottom of the amulet were three claw-like prongs that clutched the tethering stone.

Immediately after the Au’misha’k was completed, a battle was wrought over an island to the west of the ruins of Merath. As the forces of the Alliance and the Empire clashed, the platinum dragon who had wielded the tethering stone in the past unleashed the power of the amulet. Rays of crimson light burst forth and engulfed the island plain and the red dragons in the air all stopped in mid-motion. They plummeted to the ground, unable to act. Using the amulet, the platinum dragon commanded his draconic foes to come to him, and the red dragons were acted upon in such a way which had never been seen. With their wills stripped from them, the red dragons obeyed their platinum dragon master who immediately opened a breach to a distant realm.

For the next couple of years blood and carnage veiled the world. Many of the red dragons were caught in the power of the amulet and exiled to Kalish; the name of the realm where the red dragons were disposed. During the amulet’s construction, the leaders of the Alliance decided upon finding a remote world to send those who had instigated the war; to a realm far from the others they had exiled.

After three years, the Kaldean Alliance triumphed; Cheserith was sealed away by the draconic sages and the last of the chromatic brutes were banished to Kalish, or so the leaders of the Alliance believed.

  • * *

Five millennia have passed since the end of that dreadful war. Peace filled much of that time, but as of late the world has gradually become tainted with ways that once abounded in Cheserith’s Empire. In the last two hundred-and-some odd years I have seen the hearts of men change; slowly turning to base desires of lust, greed and malice. Men have become degenerate, to the point of killing their own brother for the sake of gain. They treat life as if it’s an autumn leaf in the wind. It is this growing evil among humanity that has me concerned.

Thus the reason for this address; I fear that not all of those crimson tyrants were exiled to Kalish. I believe some survived and furtively influence the humans of our day. How many there are I know not, but through my long life I have seen subtle changes that brought an unnatural sundering of the ancient Kaldean Alliance; Elves watch from their towering citadels and cautiously observe their human neighbors. The dragons of Kalda have disappeared for almost ninety years, secluding themselves in the far reaches of our world from the evils of humanity. But there are some of their kind who watch, hoping one day men will return to their former ways; observing if there is more to this changing of heart.

I am Ilnari, a Cess’nal and the former supreme commander of the elven armies of Kardorth.

I have told you of the Au’misha’k and its power, and now I will tell you how to retrieve it so it may be re-forged.

For if a remnant of the Lish’sha exists upon the face of Kalda then I implore you, believe my words and seek the Au’misha’k. It is our only hope for peace.

 

Glossary

 

 

 

A glossary of names, people, places, objects, and terms found in The Dragons’ Legacy. Pronunciations and brief descriptions or definitions included.

 

Abalimyr (AH-bay-le-meer): elvish for “vampire.”

Akrin (ak-RIN): a master transmuter and council member of the reformed Sorothian Magical Order.

Alacor (al-a-CORE): a powerful necromancer, and grandmaster of the Soroth Necrotic Order.

Alath (ah-LATH): the city of mages, located in the Kingdom of Los.

Agen (a-jen): a necromancer acolyte.

Amendal Aramein (ahmn-DAHL ah-RAY-mein): an old conjurer from Soroth well-known for his magical prowess and deranged mental state.

Anken’mar (ayn-KEN-mahr): a platinum dragon exiled to Draco Isola. Also known by the title, vik’sha.

Ar’ismal’tur (ahriss-mahl-THU-er): an old platinum dragon.

Arcane magic: a type of destructive magic, usually wielded by wizards.

Arelo (are-low): the captain of the guard for the Soroth Necrotic Order.

Arpran (are-PRAIN): a type, or channel, or magic that can heal, regenerate, and prolong life.

Arpranist (are-PRAIN-ist): a mage practicing the arpran magical discipline.

Arintil Aramein (air-in-TILL, ah-RAY-mein): an old conjurer from Soroth and Amendal Aramein’s older brother. He occupies the conjurer seat on the Sorothian Magical Order’s council.

Aron (ay-ron): a warrior and trusted member of Cornar’s adventuring band.

Amulet of Draconic Control: an ancient device created by the Irum’mak’sha toward the end of the dragon wars. It consists of three pieces: the metallic housing, the activating scroll, and the Ruby of Lish. It has the power to control red dragons. Coupled with the tethering stone, it can open a one-way portal to other worlds.

Au’misha’k (ow-MI-shoo-k): the draconic name for “Amulet of Draconic Control.”

Balden (BALL-din): a half-elf necromancer trained by Iltar and born in Keth.

Baekal (buh-call): a female elementalist (wizardry sub-discipline), and Igan’s wife.

Barsion (BAR-zhi-ON): a type, or channel, of protective magic used primarily to create defensive barriers, but it can also restrain.

Barsionist (BAR-zhi-ON-ist): a mage practicing the barsion magical discipline.

Belsina (BELL-see-nah): Iltar’s maid.

Brandir (bran-deer): a prominent discerner for the Soroth City Watch, specializing in homicides and crimes committed by mages.

Brandleberry (bran-DULL-berry): a tart berry native to Kalda.

Brantilis (bran-TAL-ess): a barsionist who once lived in Soroth, and a Sarin royal.

Cadru (ka-drew): Captain Kenard’s first mate.

Cedath (cee-DAH-th): a thief who taught Tilthan, Nath and Nemral their adventuring trade.

Cess’nal (CHEZ-nahl): a title designating the most elite elven warriors. It is also the name of a type of armor crafted during the dragon wars.

Cilgan (kill-GAN): the corrupt Baron of Sereth.

City Watch: a civil organization within most cities devoted to keeping the peace. Their ranks include: watchmen and discerners.

Cheserith (chez-err-ITH): the red dragon responsible for enticing the dragon wars (the Thousand Years War).

Cheserithean Empire: The ruling empire during the Thousand Years War, lead by a draconic council consisting of chromatic dragons. It ruled nearly all of Kalda for nearly one thousand years.

Clodin (clow-din): a middle-aged necromancer and former apprentice to Iltar.

Cordel (CORE-dell): a warrior hired to guard the Soroth Necrotic Order, and a pupil of Cornar.

Conjurer: a class of mage specializing in opening magical portals.

Cornar (CORE-nahr): a notorious warrior and adventurer. His signature weapons are a double-bladed short sword and a serrated dagger.

Delrin (DELL-rin): a guard stationed at Iltar’s tower in Soroth.

Discerner: the title for a detective in the City Watch.

Desolate Lands, the: the nickname given to the easternmost continent on Kalda. Much of the continent is covered in sand and littered with weathered ruins.

Devourer, the: a name used to describe the strongest Ma’lisha.

Dith (DI-th): a young conjurer from Soroth, taught by Amendal Aramein.

Draco Isola, Dragon’s Isle: an island in the northwestern hemisphere of Kalda. It was a battle site during the Thousand Years War, and since then been a burial ground for the platinum dragons.

Dusel Nadim (DOO-sel, NAH-deem): the man who wrote the books, The Thousand Years War, Volume 1 & 2 shortly after the dragon wars.

Durash (doo-rah-sh): a small city near the northeast coast of the Kaldean Mainland.

Esmid (ez-MID): a fabled child abductor rumored to be a vampire because he drank his captives’ blood.

Fanisar (fan-uh-see-ur): a bladed staff weapon. Variants exist throughout Kalda among both humans and elves. Typical fanisars in the human realm consist of a single shaft, between three and four feet in length, a curving blade at one end, and a weight at other end; often sphere-shaped.

Fench (FEN-ch): a strange but unique creature conjured by Amendal. He is often mistaken for a fairy because of his transparent wings

Furnapel (fur-nah-pell): an orange fruit covered in fuzz, with flesh resembling an apple.

Galstra (gal-str-ah): a stone variant of granite native to Soroth, often gray.

Grand Phineal: a thousand phineals, a length used for denoting large distances and often abbreviated G.P. on road signs and in conversations.

Grasil (gra-sill): a warrior and trusted member of Cornar’s adventuring band.

Gwenyth (gwhen-ith): a female illusionist from Soroth.

Hagen (hay-gen): a trusted friend to Iltar, distinguished by his high-pitched voice and overly dramatic demeanor. He is an illusionist

Heralds of Magic: mythical beings who brought magic to Kalda. The earliest dragons encountered by humans and elves are rumored to be the heralds

Heleron (hell-ERR-on): a god many to whom Sorothians and sailors pledge faith. His persona is typified as a merman with a trident.

Hemolin (HEE-moh-lin): a mythical creature with nine legs and eyes circling their bodies, said to be brown or black. In some legends they sit upon the shoulders of their masters. They are said to possess the ability to detect decay, and a variant of this is claimed in the Esmid legends: the ability to smell dirty children.

Hemrin (hem-rin): a warrior and trusted member of Cornar’s adventuring band, who has incredible luck.

Hex: one of Iltar’s trusted friends and a wizard specializing in elemental magics.

Igan (eye-gahn): another of Iltar’s trusted allies and a wizard specializing in the arcane sub-discipline of wizardry.

Illusionist: a mage specializing in creating illusions or enhancements.

Ilnari (ILL-nah-ree): an elf who lived during the Karthar Empire. He was Kardorth’s Supreme Commander.

Iltar (ILL-tar): a necromancer from Soroth. He was born to an illusionist named Gwenyth and a Grand Mage from Alath named Adrin.

Irum’mak’sha (ee-room-mahk-shah): draconic title for the twelve dragons holding the highest knowledge of each magical discipline.

Isle of the Ancient Ones: an island from various myths claimed to be the birthplace of humanity on Kalda.

Jalel (jah-lee-el): a necromancer, Alacor’s brother and the youngest member on the Soroth Necrotic Order’s council.

Jalim (jah-leem): a warrior-guard who protects Iltar’s tower in Soroth.

Kalda (call-duh): the world where dragons were birthed.

Kaldean Alliance, the: a union between virtuous humans, elves and dragons, including the platinum, gold and copper breeds. They fought against the Cheserithean Empire.

Kalder (call-deer): a warrior-adventurer, second in command to Cornar. He typically wields a large two-handed sword.

Kalish (cah-lish): the draconic name for the world where the red dragons were banished. It literally translates in Kaldean common as “the red realm.”

Kallan (call-en): a necromancer and council member of the Soroth Necrotic Order.

Karthar: a region along the northeastern continent of the Mainland. Much of it is uninhabited by humans and is a forbidden land decreed by the early kings of Los. The neighboring nations enforce the borders, barring travelers or adventurers from entering the Karthar region.

Karthar Empire, the: an empire which rose to power twelve hundred years before Iltar’s quest to find the Au’misha’k. The empire reigned over the entire continent known as the Mainland until it was overthrown by rebels based in Alath.

Klath (claath): a port city off the Aglin Gulf, located on the Kaldean Mainland in the Kingdom of Los.

Klis (clis): a small nation on the Kaldean Mainland, with a capitol city of the same name.

Kenard, Joselin (KIN-aard): a sea captain hired by Iltar.

Keth: a port city on the Isle of Merdan. Settled after the Karthar Empire’s fall. Originally a port of the elves native to Merda, but the leaders of Merda gave the port to refugees attempting to start anew.

Kilan: a scholar from the Order of Histories, and friend to Iltar.

Kildath (kill-daath): a large city-nation located on the Kaldean Mainland.

Kingdom of Los: the largest of three powerful nations on Kalda; the others being Kildath and the Western Sovereignty. After the fall of the Karthar Empire, the Kingdom ruled all the Kaldean Mainland until the ninth king divided the borders, establishing a new Kildath and the Western Sovereignty. Since then many other nations have sprung from each of the three countries. Established by Dorin, the Mage-King, Los has been a peaceful realm devoted to protecting all humanity.

Klindala (klin-dah-lah): a large island chain off the east coast of the Kaldean Mainland. Ruins cover much of the islands, remnants of the extinct dynasty dating back before the Karthar Empire.

Ko’delish (KOH-dah-leesh): draconic for “darkness.”

Krindal (krin-dahl): an old necromancer archeologist from Soroth.

Lorith (LOHR-ith): a middle-aged conjurer, taught by Amendal, and a member of Iltar’s adventuring band.

Lish’sha (lish-shah): draconic for “red dragon.”

Mage: a general designation for anyone who can wield magic. Mages are often identified by their particular discipline: arpranist, barsionist, conjurer, illusionist, necromancer, transmuter and wizard.

Mages’ Parasite: a humanoid creature whose primary form of sustenance comes from magic. They are gray-skinned with large pores, several inches in diameter, lining their bodies. Long forked tongues absorb the magic and are the primary digestive organ.

Ma’lisha (mah-li-shah): draconic for “immortal demon.” They are the first vampiric beings who came into existence during the Dragon Wars.

Midar (meh-darh): a warrior trained by Cornar, and a temporary guard for the Soroth Necrotic Order.

Midal (meh-dahl): a scholar from the Order of Histories.

Milarn (meh-lahrn): an ancient elven city.

Melar (meh-lahr): an ancient elven city rumored to be on the Mainland.

Melnor (mehl-nore): a necromancer on the Soroth Necrotic Order’s council.

Menal Asterin (MEH-nahl aas-TIR-in): a Guardian of Soroth, trained by Cornar, who protects the Governor of Soroth.

Merda (MUR-dah): an ancient elven city on the eastern side of Merdan.

Merdan (MUR-dahn): an island in the southwest ocean of Kalda, Kalishir Ocean

Messel (meh-sull): a popular tea made from the inner bark of a tree of the same name.

Merath (MEHR-ath): an elven city on the eastern coast of the Kaldean Mainland, one of two remaining elven cities on Kalda.

Nath (nah-TH): a member of Tilthan’s thieving troupe.

Necromancer: a mage specializing in corrosive and manipulative magics.

Nemral (NEHM-rall): a thief, and the newest member of Tilthan’s small band.

Nilia (nil-eeah): a young woman in Cornar’s employ, a maid who always dreamed of being a conjurer.

Nordal (NORE-dahl): a warrior trained by Cornar, and a member of Iltar’s adventuring band. Originally from Klath.

Order of Histories: an organization of scholars from Soroth dedicated to keeping records and cataloging.

Pagus (pah-gus): a necromancer acolyte.

Phineal (PHEN-ee-ahl): the standard length of measurement on Kalda; the equivalent of seventeen and a half inches or forty-three centimeters.

Principality of Soroth: a nation made up of various islands: Soroth, Sereth, Sarn, Silgarn, Seriel, Sorgil, Scagarn, Sogil, Sorti, Sangarn, Scain, Sengarn, Seril, Sargon, Seron, Spilath, Scon, Scagil. Each island has their own democratic system. Representatives from each island sits on a national council arbitrated by the Governor of Soroth.

Prindelin (prin-dell-en): a tree native to Soroth with gray bark.

Quance (qwahn-ce): a hard bread often ate on ships.

Qui’sha (key-shah): draconic for “half breed.”

Renal (rhee-nahl): a young wizard, apprentice to Hex.

Rilum’ama (rhel-oom-ah-mah): draconic for “tarrasque.”

Ril’Sha (reel-SHAH): draconic name for “council.” Anciently, the Ril’Sha was the ruling body of all dragonkind, with a representative from each draconic breed. After the dragon wars, the Ril’Sha consisted of seven to twelve platinum dragons.

Riner (rhee-near): the governor of Soroth.

Rogulin Crystal: a type of blue crystal native to Kalda with magical capabilities. It is exotic matter.

Rosten (roast-in): Soroth’s port magistrate.

Ruby of Lish: twenty-one sided gem made from the body of a red dragon and the key component for the Au’misha’k.

Salcion (SALL-key-on): an aquatic mammal.

Selgas (sehl-gahs): an ancient continent in Kalda’s southwestern hemisphere that has since been destroyed.

Sha (shah): draconic for “dragon.”

Sha’kalda (shah-call-duh): draconic for “dragons of Kalda.”

Sharon: a female thief.

Shiz’nak (shiz-nahk): draconic for, “tethering stone.”

Sereth (sair-eth): Third largest island of the Principality of Soroth, but second in population. Ruled by the Baron of Sereth.

Soroth (SORE-oth): the largest landmass in the island chain comprising the Principality of Soroth. Its largest city shares the same name.

Soroth, Guardians of: an elite guard responsible for protecting Sorothian officials and the royals of the neighboring islands.

Soroth Necrotic Order: the magical society established by Rovin and his brother, Cordis, and lead by a council comprising seven necromancers. It replaced the Sorothian Magical Order during Iltar’s youth.

Sorothian Magical Order: the original magical society established on Soroth, where all forms of magic were taught. It differed from many other orders because of its acceptance of necromancy.

Tarrasque (tahr-seck): an ancient beast rumored to rendering the Desolate Lands uninhabitable. They are creatures of immense power and rival dragons in their physical strength.

Tel’k’shak (tell-kack-shahk): draconic for, “Key of the Stars.” An orange rock with diffusion properties, allowing whoever possess it to pass through barsion magic.

Tethering Stone: a magical object capable of opening a spherical portal to another world, created by the Irum’mak’sha during the dragon wars. Various texts claim it was made from rogulin crystals and imbued with draconic magic. The portals are one-way, encased by barsion magic on the tethered world’s side. In order to cross back and forth one must possess a Tel’k’shak, or Key of the Stars.

Thousand Years War, the: a series of conflicts spanning over a millennium. It began when Cheserith rebelled against his fellow Ril’Sha, seeking to lay claim to his right to rule all Kalda. It brought about a permanent schism between dragonkind. Among men it is commonly known as the “Dragon Wars.”

Tigan (tee-GAHN): a young necromancer acolyte.

Tilthan (till-thaan): a notorious thief from Klath, and leader of small band of thieves.

Tinal (TEE-null): a young wizard taught by Igan.

Tor: a large port city on the Kaldean Mainland, and capitol of the Western Sovereignty.

Torgath (tore-gahth): an ancient elven city.

Toroth (TORE-oth): a necromancer on the Soroth Necrotic Order’s council.

Transmuter: a mage specializing in transforming matter through transmutive magic.

Traylx (tray-licks): a large subterranean insect similar to an ant. Typically half the size of a man, with brown scales. They have eight limbs and often walk on their hind four. Yellow pouches line their underbelly that create bursts of light.

Velkor (vehl-CORE): a necromancer on the Soroth Necrotic Order’s council.

Vik’sha (vick-shah): draconic for “exile.”

Wizard: a mage specializing in destructive elemental and arcane magics.

Xil’gault’nirl (zil-gahlt-neer-el): an old platinum dragon.

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Author’s Afterword

Dan Zangari

 

The idea for what has turned into this series of books, there will be several more to follow, started over twenty years ago. I spent my college years absorbed in the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons™ in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. As a result I would read anything and everything that dealt with fantasy fiction books. After I was married and had my son, Robert, I started thinking of a universe that I could create, not really thinking at the time of putting the stories down on paper. They were more for the enjoyment of me and my young son.

Over the years these stories coalesced into a more organized depiction of the universe and the beginnings of a series that I called at the time the Chronicles of Lorn, after the small continent where they stories revolved. In the early 2000’s I put pen to paper, or more precisely fingers to keyboard, to write storylines for three books. I then drafted chapters of the first book. I showed them to a friend of mine that I worked with, being a full time engineer at the time. She was an author herself which is why I showed them to her, to get her opinion. She read them carefully and made several good recommendations to me on writing style and character development. The biggest suggestion she had was to expand the story line. I had originally planned on writing a trilogy, thinking that would be a good sell. Her suggestion expanded the idea further.

I continued to slowly write over the next four to five years. Robert graduated high school and went on a church service mission for two years. After his return I was still plodding along with these stories, and not making much progress. He expressed interest in helping with ideas and made several great suggestions on added characters and more story lines. Later after he married he sat with me and we outlined an approach to get the books done quicker. I am good at the broad stokes and bright colors approach and he is good at filling in the details. Once we teamed up the ideas and writing picked up at an accelerated pace. We also expanded the initial books from three to four, then to six and finally eight (However it might increase to ten; the further events in this epic story are still being detailed and shaped). The Dragons’ Legacy is the first in this re-titled series, Tales of the Amulet.

One of the other things Robert did was help to clearly define our created universe. Before his intervention I had vague references to earlier places and events. We solidified these with a comprehensive history that leads to other stories that precede this current series. We have defined the origins of the dragons, elves and humans in our universe. You will need to be patient and wait of those books. Another aspect was the creation of a historical timeline that nails down events. This helps when we are referring to past history in any given book so that we are consistent with those events and their dates as they relate to the present time in a story.

Furthermore, stories that progress forward in time from the “present” dates in this series are being developed and follow the storylines of this series and the past history mentioned above. The intent is to weave a tapestry of stories that flows from the beginning of our created universe through thousands of years of fictional history.

The intent of all of these stories are to provide enjoyable reading for those who enjoy not only fantasy but science fiction. As these stories progress several aspects of science are interwoven with the magics found in most fantasy settings. Our intent is to provide a different type of science fantasy that has not been seen before.

 

Dan Zangari

Salt Lake City, 2012

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About the Authors

 

Dan Zangari is the creator of the Legends of Kalda fantasy universe, a work-in-development since the early 1990’s. He received a Bachelor’s of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Southern California and a Masters Degree in Systems Management. His love for science fiction and fantasy prompted the creation of this fantasy universe. When he’s not writing he enjoys reading, watching movies, spending quality time with family and serving in his local church congregation.

Robert Zangari is the co-author of the various books which belong to the Legends of Kalda universe. He studied Bio-Medical Engineering at the University of Utah; however, his love for stories and storytelling took him down a different career path. When he’s not writing he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughters, playing video games, practicing martial arts and immersing himself in a good story

 

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Other titles by the Authors

 

For an up to date list of publications, visit http://www.legendsofkalda.com/books.html

 

Published by LOK Publishing

Tales of the Amulet

Novels

The Elven Secret

Short Stories

The Last Barsionist

 

Novels Coming Soon…

The Mages’ Agenda

Treachery in the Kingdom

The Red Ruby

 

Short Stories Coming Soon…

The Mysterious Assassin

Return of the Elves

The Cleansing of Merda

Assembly of Heroes

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VIP Mailing List

http://www.legendsofkalda.com/newsletter.html

 

LOK Publishing’s Official Website

www.legendsofkalda.com/

 

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To request an Author Appearance for an event, visit http://www.legendsofkalda.com/contact.html

 


The Dragons' Legacy

Several millennia ago a war raged between the factions of dragonkind. With their world ravaged, the Kaldean Alliance forged the Amulet of Draconic Control and the Tethering Stone, and banished their foes other realms, saving Kalda from utter destruction. Fearing the power of the Amulet, the survivors secreted it away. But now knowledge of the Amulet has resurfaced—and in the wrong hands, war could erupt anew. Over the last thousand years, the humans of Kalda have regressed to a medieval realm; magical objects are scarce and outlawed in certain Kingdoms. Though mages are abundant magical items are precious and often tip the balance of power. Thirsty for power, the necromancers of Soroth often send expeditions to the far reaches of Kalda. On one such search to a remote island ancient texts are discovered detailing the ancient dragon war and the Amulet of Draconic Control. Wary of the find, a warrior must decide whether to deliver them to the necromancers or ally with an old friend–the fate of Kalda rests in his hands. An epic tale in a far off mystical land, The Dragons’ Legacy will send you on a riveting ride fraught with adventure, intrigue and wonder.

  • ISBN: 9780997959840
  • Author: LOK Publishing
  • Published: 2016-11-08 07:50:30
  • Words: 111349
The Dragons' Legacy The Dragons' Legacy