Raven woke up in a sitting position, his hands and feet
shackled to a stone wall by relatively long chains. The only light
in the cavern filtered through a small window on the opposite
side. The cave was damp and cool, with drops of water dripping
audibly from the ceiling. To quench his thirst, the half elf
tilted back and caught the droplets that kept dribbling onto the
top of his head. Then he stared into the darkness, listening to
the trickling water.
drifted into a reverie about the incident with the forest dragon,
playing it over and over again in his mind. He knew the attack was
coming; he heard it, he was ready for it. He thought about how
easily he could have used the momentum of the dragon’s charge to
cleanly cut through its skull, or sidestep it and counter with a
neck-snapping backswing, or just plain dodge the lunge altogether.
But one fraction of a second could make the difference between
that and… if only Jason hadn’t been there.
snapped out of his daydream at the sound of approaching footsteps.
He cocked his head to the side and stared expectantly at the
the half-were named after the great dragon, strode into the room,
his heavy two-handed sword dangling at his side. He was covered in
velvety, tawny fur from head to toe, topped with an orange mane.
He was not a lion or a human, but permanently stuck somewhere in
between of the transformation from one to the other.
well, well,” Kranti paced around the prisoner, eyes glowing
amber, “You’re finally awake. Hope you rested well because I
will personally make sure that the remainder of your stay here
will be a waking nightmare!”
walked into the room and leaned on his staff, only visible as an
odd, gray blur due to his camouflage.
stopped pacing, drew his sword and swung it at Raven, stopping it
abruptly at his chest, “I can kill you right now!”
half-elf didn’t flinch.
you can’t,” Kentabri batted Kranti’s sword to the side with
his staff, “And Aloquin sent me here to make sure you
forced himself to grin spitefully.
Kranti appealed to his friend, “I hoped you, of all people,
twirled his staff into its sheath on his back.
were there when he slaughtered my army, ruined my reputation,
stole my rank!” Kranti raved, aligning his sword with Raven’s
throat, “Killed Seinga!!”
killed herself,” Raven said evenly.
up!” Kranti roared, drawing blood with his weapon. Sensing a
hand on his sword arm, Kranti bared his fangs and growled at
Kentabri, then he threw the sword aside. The half-were flexed his
fingers and unsheathed his claws, “I guess this will do.”
lunged at Raven, viciously cutting away at his arms and torso.
Raven closed his eyes, feeling the flow of blood under his torn
shirt, wincing with every stinging swipe. The half-were slashed
him across the cheek.
are so fragile,” Kranti purred, licking the blood off his claws.
lifted his head to flash him an icy glare.
grabbed the half-elf by the collar of his shirt and pulled him up
to his nose, hissing, “You will learn to fear me, elf.” He
proceeded to knee Raven in the stomach, followed that up with an
elbow to his back, and another to his ribs. A numbing uppercut
sent the half-elf cracking against the wall, and was succeeded by
a torrent of kicks and punches quicker than his dazed
consciousness could discern.
tamunid took a step back, knowing he could not restrain Kranti and
at a loss of what to do. He turned to see Aloquin enter the room,
dragging the whimpering Lakai along on a leash. His servant woman
peeked around the edge of the doorway worriedly. Kentabri started
making wordless gestures of helplessness but the god raised a hand
to calm him.
woah, woah!” Aloquin zapped Kranti into a wall, “My
prisoner, not your prisoner!” Raven slumped to the ground,
gagging and coughing up blood. “Ugh, what a mess,” the wizard
walked up to him and nudged him with his foot, “Trellia, clean
servant girl rushed in, gently lifting Raven off the ground and
resting him against the wall. She brushed the hair from his face
and wiped the blood off with the sleeve of her white dress.
Kentabri helped the half-were to his feet.
said you can play with him, Kranti,” Aloquin said coolly, “Not
of the corner of his eye, Raven watched Kentabri lead a limping
Kranti away through the door. The servant girl bent down to mop
the blood mixing with water off the floor with the sleeves and
skirt of her gown. Lakai crawled sniveling into a corner.
stared curiously at the half-elf for quite some time. Raven laid
back against the wall, keeping his movements to a minimum due to
exhaustion and pain. “You know, Raven,” the god rubbed his
chin, “I like knowing as much as I can about both my followers
and my prisoners. Now, there is something odd about you, and I
can’t quite pinpoint what it is. However, I have ways of finding
out,” he tugged on the leash, “Lakai, look inside him, tell me
what you see.”
cautiously moved over to Raven and put a trembling hand on the
half-elf’s arm. Flinching, he pulled his hand away but one look
at Aloquin showed that he meant for him to continue. Lakai closed
his eyes tightly and clasped Raven’s arm, feeling a rush of
excruciating pain shoot through his body.
I d-don’t think-” Lakai pleaded.
think, just do,” the wizard snapped at him, “What do you
see…” Lakai had a hard time sorting out the jumble of images
and emotions that flooded into his mind with the constant
sensation of prickly thorns gouging into his palm, “I can’t
see anything! It’s too painful!!”
see pain!” Aloquin exclaimed.
Pain!! And more pain!!!” Lakai howled, shuddering.
he searched through memories of a deserting father, of being sent
away from the mother, of existence as a ridiculed outcast,
“F-fear of r-rejection… of trust, of attachment.
Lakai saw pillars of flame. Exploring further, he heard screams,
and saw people running in terror, “War?” saw the body of a
mutilated girl in the rubble, “…Death… Anger, rage,
watched the boy closely.
saw visions of battlefields littered with bodies, “It’s
deeper,” Aloquin prompted.
silhouette of a person standing amidst the carnage,
“There’s…” brandishing a sword, “There’s
what??” Aloquin demanded.
he saw rivers of blood gush over the battlefield, picking up
strewn body parts, coming together in a circle, a moat. The bones
of the slain gathered together to form a skeletal castle and
something else…” Lakai’s voice was no more than a trembling
whisper. The clouds in the sky began to churn wildly, “I think
we should stop now…”
deeper!” Aloquin said firmly.
heavens rained blood. Lakai shook his head anxiously “I really
think we should stop now!” A flash of lightning illuminated the
figure of a man at the castle gates.
next burst of lightning placed Lakai face to face with that man.
His skin was charred black, his crimson hair billowed in the wind,
and the war paint on his face was drawn with blood. He grinned
menacingly, revealing jagged, gleaming white teeth. Lakai stumbled
backwards, gawking at the monstrosity.
is mine, boy!” the man hissed, whipping out two shining serrated
blades and clanging them together. His eyes burned red with
bloodlust. Guessing his next move, Lakai frantically scrambled up
and dashed the other way. Sure enough, the being charged straight
watched baffled as Lakai broke out in spasms of hysterical
screaming on the floor. He scraped at the ground, shrieking and
kicking at anybody who came near him. Raven tore his arm away. The
boy backpedaled into a wall wide-eyed, trying to catch his breath.
the wizard muttered.
bit her lip.
then,” Aloquin smiled nonchalantly, “I guess we should be
going now.” He pulled on Lakai’s leash.
hurried over to Lakai, helping him up and supporting him as he,
she, and Aloquin left the cell.
watched them leave, then turned back to stare into the blackness
of the room, listening to a silence only broken by the faint hum
of running water. Suddenly he heard a caw and lifted his gaze to
the window. His raven was perched on the edge of it, watching him.
The half-elf managed a smile at the sight of his dear friend but
knew this was no time for sentimentality.
lead Jason out of the forest, he sent a mental request. The
raven cawed in acknowledgement and flew into the woods beyond the
window. Raven was left alone again. He knew he was in Kayintas.
Jason wandered aimlessly through the forest. Every rustle,
creak, and growl he heard sent chills down his spine. For the
first time since he set foot in the North Forest he felt afraid,
very afraid. He had no weapons, Raven was nowhere to be found, and
the growing number of fires sparking up in the distance told him
it was night.
is silly,” Jason laughed nervously to himself, “I’ve been
inside Caldor itself, how could this be any wor-” he stumbled
and fell face-first onto the rocky floor. Chastising himself for
his ability to trip over level ground, he looked back to see the
sheen of a blade. It was a slender, lightweight two-handed sword
made of faery metal which he immediately recognized to be
Raven’s. The King frowned at the implications: the half-elf
never left his sword – he slept with it!
heard a caw from overhead and looked up to see a raven sitting in
the branches above. It fluttered over to a branch farther away and
cawed again. The King identified it as none other than Raven’s
own bird and, lacking anything better to do, decided to follow it.
The raven switched branches again and again; Jason hoped it was
heading north. They were making rapid progress until they heard a
hungry growl from behind a copse of trees to their right.
bulbous ogre thundered onto the scene, beating one fist on its
chest and waving a spiked club in the air with the other.
stopped dead in his tracks, knowing he had to think fast. “I
order you to step aside,” he commanded, “In the name of the
King of Caldora!”
ogre roared and swung its club in his direction.
worth a try,” Jason mumbled, rolling to the side. He brought up
his newfound weapon defensively. The ogre raised the club,
snarling, and turned to strike at Jason again.
caught sight of a glint of silver in the foliage. A shadow swooped
down from the trees, sliced across the ogre’s back, and pushed
off of it to leap back into the branches. The ogre wailed in pain,
whirling around and pawing at its injured back. The same being
somersaulted down again and scored a double kick on the ogre’s
head. Anchoring two daggers in the ogre’s shoulders, the being
slid down its torso, ending the cut in a crisscross slash at its
abdomen and jumping away as its intestines spilled onto the floor.
At the same time a barbed whip coiled around the ogre’s neck and
was swiftly withdrawn, tearing it open. The ogre felt sluggishly
for its throat before tumbling lifelessly to the ground.
King blinked and lowered the sword.
sheathed his daggers and shrugged casually at Jason. “They
don’t call it the Forest of Big Birds for nothing,” the elf
leather-clad woman swung down from the trees on her barbed whip.
Her eyes were the deep blue of the evening sky and her bouncing,
curly black hair had an indigo luster to it. “Good evening, King
Jason,” she curtsied, “I am Lianna, sixth rank of the North
I am Karaci, seventh rank of the North Forest,” Karaci
materialized beside her and bowed low to Jason. His hair was as
smoky-gray as his large, rounded eyes, but his face was young and
handsome as befitting his age. His voice was light and airy, and
his very presence had a calming effect on the psyche. Karaci was
the leader of the karaci people, a humanoid race that could turn
invisible at will.
Jason said looking from Keramis to Lianna to Karaci to Lianna who
winked at him. He then pointed to the bird, “This raven was
leading me somewhere.”
you out of the forest,” Karaci corrected.
no offence to the bird,” Keramis grinned at the raven, “But we
felt that you needed a more intimidating escort.” The elf fixed
his gaze on Raven’s sword.
found this,” Jason explained regarding the sword, his company
becoming notably uneasy at its mention, “Where’s Raven? I
Kayintas,” Keramis interrupted.
prisoner,” Karaci clarified.
we have to go get him out!” Jason stuck the sword in the ground.
only way we can be of any use to him is if you go back to the
Crystal Castle and get help,” Lianna smiled sadly, fastening the
whip to her belt beside the faery metal short sword sheathed at
can lead you to where this forest borders the Open Field, will you
find your way from there?” Karaci asked.
nodded, picking up the sword.
Raven was rudely awakened by a sharp pain in his ribs.
Looking up groggily, he saw the forms of Kranti and Beyati come
into focus before him. A handful of no-ranks fanned out behind
morning, cousin,” Beyati sneered. The orc was a traitor to his
family cave and one of the very few people who actually benefited
from the Kranti-Raven War.
and I had a talk,” the half-were said through a tight grin,
“And he showed me that there are many fates worse than death.
Now I would like to show them to you.
is knowing that you have no help,” Kranti punched Raven in the
hope,” Kranti hit him across the side of his head.
pulled the half-elf up to his face, baring his teeth, “And no
mercy.” Kranti kneed him in the groin and sent him smashing into
the wall with a powerful roundhouse kick before dropping him to
the ground. Beyati smirked, adding a kick of his own.
no-ranks stood back watching the orc and the half-were kick and
punch and bash Raven with sadistic zeal. Gaining confidence, they
crept out from the background and joined in, biting, clawing, and
jumping on the hapless prisoner, savoring this opportunity to
pound on such a renowned opponent. Raven felt the pain of fresh
wounds mingling with the throbbing of yesterday’s; the only
thing he could do was close his eyes and hope to be knocked
abruptly rushed into the room, carrying a golden chalice and a
knife. Everybody scurried out of his way. The wizard knelt down by
Raven and jerked his head back roughly by the hair, placing the
cup to the half-elf’s lips.
No blood?” Aloquin frowned, slamming the back of Raven’s head
into the wall several times until the cup collected enough of the
blood that trickled from his mouth. The god cut a lock of the
half-elf’s hair with his knife and rushed out of the room,
absently shouting back “Carry on!”
and Beyati exchanged perplexed glances, then resumed the beating.
The no-ranks followed their example.
did you need his blood and hair, again?” Kentabri asked Aloquin
as they walked through the tunnels.
Kentabri, energy!” the wizard beamed.
can get energy from his blood?”
Aloquin told him, “These are merely the ingredients for an
energy drain spell!”
do you need energy at all?” Kentabri inquired.
ask too many questions,” Aloquin snapped back, casting a
penetrating glare on the tamunid.
swallowed and fell silent.
they are harmless enough,” the god laughed, “You see, me and
Dinictis are twins, complete equals. But I am exerting much of my
innate energy to uphold a psychic barrier, among various other
things. If she was to come here – and I intend her to eventually
– I would be at a grave disadvantage, and we can’t have that.
Therefore, I need to create an energy reserve.”
nodded, “But can’t you just drain some of our soldiers? That
would give you more energy than Raven ever could.”
no, no,” Aloquin shook his head and proceeded to explain a very
basic magical concept, “No matter how much same temperature
water one may pour into a bucket, it will still stay the same
temperature. I need energy of a certain intensity. And this Raven
of yours has energy of an intensity I never seen before in a
Raven hung limply off the wall, supported by unyielding
chains. Time seemed to stand still in the empty darkness of the
cell, measured only by the intervals between pangs of pain. The
boredom was so prevalent the half-elf almost wished Kranti and his
goons would come back to beat on him some more, or at least render
him unconscious to pass the time. He didn’t have anything to eat
or drink for two days and no longer had the strength to lean back
and catch the dripping water.
took him a few moments to register that somebody had lifted his
head and poured water down his throat. Slowly opening his eyes,
Raven saw the servant woman from the other day watching him,
brought food and water,” she said, feeding him a spoonful of
squashed berries and washing it down with a cup of cool water. She
wet a piece of cloth and wiped the dried blood off his arms, face,
and where it matted his hair.
figured you’d be cold, so I brought a blanket,” she smiled,
wrapping the blanket about him. Be it from bloodloss or the chill
of the room, Raven realized that he was indeed shivering, though
he did not notice it until he felt the warmth of the cloth.
Raven,” she hugged him, “It’s so horrible knowing this is
the most I can do for you!” Feeling his heart beating wildly,
she pulled away.
don’t have to be afraid of me,” she cooed, “Don’t you know
who I am?”
are you?” Raven slurred.
she answered. He peered at her with a hazy sense of recognition.
Even in humanoid form she shone with an ethereal glow, and gave
off an essence that he remembered as being the only stability in
his life. Trellia’s face lit up with hope, “You always came to
me for solace, for peace of mind, for solitude. I never turned you
away, never judged you but always supported you, always let you
know that you are loved and cared for-”
forest?” Raven stammered.
The spirit of the forest, the life of the forest!” Trellia
laughed, “Call me what you will, but I would rather you call me
Raven faltered, turning away to hide the tears gathering in his
always came to me for comfort and you still can now,” Aurora
whispered, pulling him close in a warm embrace. She held him the
whole night as he wept mixed tears of joy and despair. And for
just a little while nothing else in the world mattered – not
Aloquin, or Kranti, or his failed mission – except this one
moment that seemed to stretch on for eternity.
dawn his breathing became more steady and rhythmic, and she knew
he had fallen asleep in her arms. Laying him back against the
wall, she tucked the blanket tightly around him and hurried off to
start her daily chores.
walked briskly across the Open Field with the raven perched on his
shoulder. He kept his course by following the gigantic spires that
protruded from the ground along the spine of the Earth Dragon. By
the dawn of the second day he saw a silhouette on the horizon
walking towards him, and at midday The King met up with a rather
are you doing here? I was just going–” Jason gawked.
know,” the Acora answered.
we have to go help–” Jason began.
am,” Lynn nodded gravely, “But you have to go back to the
Crystal Castle. Dinictis misses you.”
I have to-”
to me,” the dark elf put both his hands on Jason’s shoulders,
“Why do you think Dinictis is not here? Don’t you think she
wants to help, too? We can’t have you two running in there
without knowing what Aloquin’s plans are. It is not that she or
you can’t help – you can and you will help! But we know it is
not time for that yet and we need to keep both of you safe until
it is. You have done all you could! Go home knowing that.”
knew that Jason would give in to the reasoning, especially now
that he started doubting the wisdom of going to the North Forest
in the first place.
need his sword,” Lynn held out a hand, “And his raven to show
me the way.”
reluctantly gave him Raven’s sword and the bird flew to Lynn’s
arm. Lynn bowed to the King and continued heading north, Elvina
sleeping curled up snugly in the hood of his cloak.