Lynn walked through the North Forest with the raven as his
guide. His usual white attire was gone, replaced by a resilient
black tunic and pants. With Elvina awake and trailing behind him,
he hid his white hair under the hood of a dark green cloak. It was
nearly impossible to tell him apart from the forest shadows.
Lynn realized that he was right, Acora powers were useless inside
Aloquin’s psychic barrier. Here one had to rely solely on the
five physical senses, and though his were alert as ever, the dark
elf still couldn’t help feeling tense, wary, and even scared –
feelings unknown to him for centuries. The North Forest seemed an
unfamiliar and threatening place where the raven was his only
eyes. There was no hint of nostalgia on his mind, coming back only
reaffirmed his original decision to leave. But he would play
Aloquin’s game again, as he did hundreds of years before, when
he helped Dinictis defeat him.
Lynn turned to the raven, “Take me to Raven’s contact.”
Keramis sat on a stone ledge in the family cave, surveying
the scene below as the bonfire was being lit and barrels of wine
were rolled in from the back rooms. Suddenly a raven flew into the
main chamber. It made several circles around the cave before
settling onto his head. Keramis took the bird off his head,
straightaway recognizing it to be his cousin’s pet. He watched
it push off his fingers and flutter onto the arm of a person
standing in the hallway leading into the room. The elf hopped off
the ledge and approached the hooded figure cautiously, hands
resting on his daggers.
are Raven’s contact?” the stranger asked, looking Keramis up
and down before throwing back his hood.
Acora Lynn??” Keramis nearly fell over backwards, “Are you
told Jason to go home,” Lynn slid back his cape to reveal
Lynn! Welcome to our cave!” Keramis bowed, “Keramis, fifth
rank, at your service.”
be blunt,” Lynn’s sharp eyes darted about warily, “I need
your help in getting Raven and Lakai out of Kayintas.”
and you get Raven and Lakai out of Kayintas?” Keramis asked,
hoping the Acora was joking.
Lynn clarified, “But if we get at least five high ranks
together, us included, I believe it is possible. Do you know
anybody who may be willing to help?”
Keramis nodded, still doubtful of the feasibility of the dark
elf’s harebrained plan. He motioned for Lynn to follow,
“Lianna and Karaci are here now, they will probably want to
elf led Lynn through the back corridors, towards the sound of
giggling and rustling of leaves. The tunnel opened into a cavern
lit by a single torch, where Lianna and Karaci were rolling around
on the floor, their bodies wrapped around each other and their
lips locked in an amorous kiss. Keramis coughed to attract
attention and they swiftly sat up.
were just playing,” Lianna grinned mischievously, picking leaves
out of Karaci’s downy-soft hair.
that…?” Karaci asked, peering at Lynn through the dimness.
it is,” Keramis confirmed, walking past to light a second torch.
Lynn bowed to Lianna, “Karaci,” Lynn bowed to Karaci, “I am
and Karaci stared at him in awe.
looking for people to get Raven and Laika out of Kayintas,”
Keramis said, sitting down on the ground.
felt uncertain regarding Lynn’s brash plan, but only Karaci
found the courage to contradict the Acora. “Even Keramis’
cave, Lynn’s cave, and all the karaci combined won’t be enough
to defeat the entire Kayintas army,” he objected, “And any
survivors would be hunted down and killed.”
it won’t be the entire Kayintas army,” Keramis corrected,
“They live in their own caves, and there is only so many of them
actually in Kayintas at a time.”
am not here to raise an army,” Lynn interjected, “The four of
us would be enough and Raven would make five.”
four of us against Kayintas?” Lianna chuckled, “You’re
are afraid, and you have good reason to be,” Lynn speedily
explained, trying to win their support, “You know why you are
afraid? Because you are thinking ‘Me against the Kayintas army?
They can easily kill me.’ But the Kayintas army will not be
thinking ‘We can easily kill them because we outnumber them.’
No, it would take time and significant outside force to achieve
that kind of organization. Every individual in the Kayintas army
will be thinking ‘Me against the high ranks? They can easily
kill me.’ This fundamental individualist mentality that is so
ingrained in the North Forest consciousness is the only thing that
we have going for us. But intimidation is a very effective
is not a war,” Lynn stressed, “This is a rescue mission. We go
in, grab what we can, and get out!”
are the Acora,” Karaci reasoned, “If you say it will work,
then it must work.”
powers don’t work here,” Lynn reluctantly confessed, “I have
no way of knowing whether or not this will work. In truth, I
don’t even know if any of us will come out alive. But I am
willing to try, and if any of you wish to come along it will be
out of your own free will.”
followed a silence that Lynn mistook for unwillingness.
Raven?” Keramis spoke up, “I’ll go. I swore to Shalaya
I’ll guard him with my life.” Raven was his cousin through
Shalaya, and blood ties were not to be taken lightly.
sick of feeling powerless over anything that Aloquin does,” Lianna
growled, gripping her whip, “I can only live in denial
for so long.”
rather have my body die than let my spirit wither a little every
day,” Karaci joined in, “We don’t have much to lose.”
must also get Lakai,” Lynn smiled in relief, “He’s a
powerful psychic probe and a dangerous weapon in Aloquin’s
hands. Besides, the East Forest faeries would never give me peace
if we didn’t.”
will we recognize him?” Karaci asked.
human blond kid, probably well guarded, can’t miss him.”
was much feasting in Kayintas this day. Brightly lit torches lined
the walls of the main chamber. A long, crudely-made table was laid
out with various meats and liquor which were rapidly being gobbled
up by the disorderly horde of Aloquin’s minions. The god himself
waited patiently, eyeing the stretch of rope that hung down from
an opening in the ceiling. A large wooden cage was brought in from
one of the back corridors by Kranti, Beyati, Kentabri, and a few
no-ranks. The crowd fell silent when they saw Raven inside.
cue, Aloquin rose up from his throne. “Friends!” he shouted as
the cage was being hooked onto the rope over the table, “Today
we begin preparations for the war for dominion! And to mark this
momentous occasion,” he waved a hand towards the cage, “You
will watch your former first rank die for our cause!
left him to heal for a few days,” the wizard smirked, “I
needed him healthy for the spell.”
crowd, many of whom had their share of kicks at Raven, snickered
derisively. Kranti, Beyati, and the no-ranks who brought in the
cage took a seat around the banquet table.
must leave to prepare now,” Aloquin pulled on Lakai’s chain,
“But I will be back soon!” Signaling for Kentabri to follow,
he disappeared into the back corridors. The group resumed its
drunken revelries – a noise so deafening that it was difficult
to tell if there was festivity or battle.
flew into the cave as a faint twinkle of light. She looked around,
spotted the cage, zipped over to it, and easily fit between the
bars. “Get up! Be ready!” she buzzed around the half-elf’s
head, “They’ll get you out!”
Raven could ask who, the faery had flown away. He peeked out
through the bars only to get food pelted at him. Seeing nothing,
he sat back and waited. Abruptly the half-elf felt the cage shake
ever so slightly as something slid down the length of the rope and
dropped lightly onto the top of his confines.
cut the base of the rope with a single swipe of his dagger and the
cage came crashing onto the table. Lianna and Karaci landed on the
table as well. Kicking away the top of the cage, Karaci handed
Raven the sword. Raven clasped the weapon, grinning, his eyes
gleaming with bloodlust. The half-elf ran the blade through an orc
sitting nearby and sent him hurtling into Kranti, who was just
beginning to scramble onto the table. Lianna lashed her whip
across the stunned company as Keramis and Karaci kicked them out
of their chairs.
crowd panicked and ran, some for their weapons but most for the
exit. Beyati timidly backed up against the wall, then dashed into
the back corridors. Kranti threw the dead orc aside and got up
only to be trampled by the stampeding mob. The throng screeched to
a halt at the sight of a cloaked figure blocking the exit.
threw off his cloak and held up a fist. “I am Acora Lynn,” he
eyed the terrified crowd, “Faster, better, and know your every
move before you think it!”
the creatures scampered backwards over each other and scattered
throughout the cave, climbing up the walls to reach the windows
and running for the corridors.
I thought you can’t-” Elvina began to ask the dark elf.
was bluffing,” he grinned, running into the cave.
whipped at the running swarm while Karaci hurled chairs in their
path and Keramis tossed throwing knives at their backs. Raven
didn’t miss this chance for payback. The half-elf swung his
sword with extraordinary precision, hacking into the side of a
goblin and lifting it straight off the ground. He kicked the
squirming creature off his blade and into a wall. Twirling around,
his sword cleaved into the skull of a gnoll, shattering bone and
spraying fresh blood onto his tattered tunic. He shoved the body
into a nearby orc and impaled them both on the spikes of the split
Lynn called to the half-elf, who turned to him, astounded. “We
have to go,” the Acora tugged on his hand, “Now.”
stared at him, speechless.
the half-elf finally shook his head, “I have to get Aurora.”
Pulling his hand out of the dark elf’s grasp, he dashed for the
inner passageways. Lynn threw up his hands in frustration but
couldn’t help following. The Acora knew Raven to be one of the
very few people in Caldora who went into battle praying for an
honorable death, so this suicidal behavior was not overly
surprising. The mentality did, however, make the half-elf a
relentless and deadly opponent, for an honorable death required
being slain at the culmination of one’s efforts.
managed to get up in time to see Keramis, Lianna, and Karaci run
for the back tunnels.
within the cavernous maze of Kayintas, Aloquin managed to set up
what would be most properly called a laboratory. A rainbow of
crystals, gems, and metals lined the walls, sparkling in the
candlelight. It was here that he fashioned various magical
devices, and combined ingredients for some of his more elaborate
spells. The wizard sat in meditation, stirring the cup of
Raven’s blood with his finger while chanting a cyclical
sat in the corner, aimlessly staring at the floor. Kentabri stood
outside the entryway, staring aimlessly into space. Beyati ran for
the door and was cut short by the tamunid’s staff.
under attack!” the orc panted.
withdrew his staff.
who?” Aloquin asked, snapping out of his trance and grabbing
Keramis, Karaci,” Beyati recounted, “A-and Raven is out!”
him out of here,” Aloquin told Kentabri as he handed him
tamunid bowed low in acknowledgement.
rushed into the room. “They’re in the tunnels!” he said
between gasps, “Intruders are in the tunnels!”
are you both here??” the god asked annoyed, “Who’s fighting
the invaders? Nevermind! Kranti! Beyati! Go with Kentabri and
guard Lakai! I’ll take care of the main room. Go, go, go!” he
snatched the cup of blood and lock of hair.
raced through the tunnels in wolf form, hot on the trail of a
human scent. Lianna and Karaci tried their best to keep up with
him. His lead wrapped around a bend after which he came to a
sudden stop. Kranti, Beyati, and Kentabri ambled across a torchlit
cavern with many intersections. Keramis had no doubt that the
unarmed human blond kid being towed along on a leash was Lakai.
guarded,” Keramis grumbled, changing back into an elf.
and Karaci groaned dolefully.
divide this up by rank,” Karaci whispered, “I can take Beyati,
no problem. Keramis, you distract Kranti. Kentabri only has one
free hand so it should be easier for Lianna to get Lakai.”
fight him,” Karaci clarified, “You’re the best dodger in the
North Forest, distract him long enough for us to get Lakai.”
to each other in agreement, they set the plan in motion.
and Karaci engaged in a long and passionate kiss, reaffirming
their love for one another. Lianna then drew her weapons and
Karaci turned invisible. Keramis leaped into the middle of the
room, his daggers out and ready.
considerate of Raven and Lynn to leave me a plaything,” Kranti
smirked, unsheathing his two-hander. He swung it down at Keramis,
but the elf nimbly stepped away. The half-were reacted by veering
his sword sideways in the direction Keramis had moved, but the elf
merely jumped over the blade.
heard the whistle of a whip coming towards his wrist and quickly
caught it with his staff, yanking hard when it coiled around the
stick. Lianna let the whip go. She ran forward and skid under the
arm that held Lakai’s chain, kicking at the tamunid’s elbow as
she did so. Kentabri stopped her foot with his staff and spun it
clockwise to strike at her head, but she blocked it with her short
sword. Grabbing the handle of her whip, Lianna wrenched it free
from the staff, the barbs leaving visible dents in the wood. Both
her weapons now in hand, she rolled a safe distance away and
turned to face her opponent.
and Lianna glared at each other.
didn’t dare move for fear of becoming an obstacle.
stood trying to decide which of his two comrades he should help in
order to gain the most praise for the least injury. But before he
could make up his mind, the orc intercepted a powerful dual-foot
kick to the chest that disrupted his train of thought. Beyati
struggled to block the phantom attacker but to no avail. Karaci
boldly hammered away at the orc with no concern for strategy
deftly dodged and parried every sword maneuver Kranti could
muster. Growling in frustration, the half-were threw his weapon
aside and pulled out his claws. “Fight me, elf!!” he snarled,
swiping at Keramis’ legs with his foot. The elf flipped
backwards, breaking into a sideways roll as his foe’s other foot
smashed into the ground where he landed.
are afraid!” Kranti taunted, exploding into a frenzy of rapid
kicks and punches, “Because you know I can beat you to a
glowered at him hatefully, gripping his daggers tighter. He
gritted his teeth and forced himself to keep focus, to never let
his concentration waver from his defensive tactics, for it was no
lie that a single one of the half-were’s mighty blows could
render him completely helpless.
do you know why?” Kranti slashed diagonally with his claws which
Keramis evaded by leaning away, “Because you are weak, elf! You
always were weak and always will be weak!” The half-were punched
out with his other fist, but Keramis ducked down just in time,
“And for the rest of your pathetic life all you will ever know
how to do is run away!
Kranti teased, kicking out with a side snap.
a wolf!!” the elf scowled, baring his fangs. He grabbed the
half-were’s leg and swept his own foot hard into Kranti’s
support leg, dropping him to the ground. Keramis twisted his
dagger into a stabbing position and plunged it at the fallen
slow,” Kranti sneered. He caught Keramis’ hand and used the
momentum to toss him overhead and roughly into the floor. Grabbing
the disoriented elf by the collar of his tunic, he proceeded to
ram him violently into a nearby wall, where he elbowed him in the
side, and kneed him in the stomach. His dazed victim was too weak
to fight back and easily overpowered.
saw that Keramis was in trouble. He threw down Beyati and jumped
at Kranti, wrapping an arm around his throat in a headlock. Kranti
hissed and let go of the elf, who crumpled limply to the ground.
barely conscious, Keramis felt himself being pulled along the
floor and something wooden being placed across his neck,
threatening to snap it if he moved. Opening his eyes, he saw
Kentabri, who was looking off to the side at Lianna, silently
warning her not to do anything stupid.
thrashed about wildly trying to unhook the invisible assailant. He
clawed at a distance from his throat he realized that he drew
blood. Taking the hint, the half-were sank his fangs into tangible
flesh and lashed his head back to hit something solid. He slammed
his back brutally into a wall over and over again and, feeling the
grip weakening, pressed hard against the stone, grinding his
adversary into the rock. Karaci lost the focus needed to stay
invisible and dropped to the ground.
you think that’s enough, Kranti?” Kentabri interrupted, eyeing
Kranti quaintly replied. The half-were closed in on his prey and
dug his claws deep into Karaci’s abdomen. Karaci uttered an
involuntary cry of pain as Kranti cut upwards, lifting him up the
wall with sheer force and shredding through organs and tissue. But
the pain did not last long, for Karaci died almost instantly,
still held aloft by the half-were’s sharp claws. “This is
enough,” Kranti asserted.
watched in horror from the shadows. Kranti may as well have
slashed through her being and tore out her heart, for she felt
every excruciating moment like the pain was her own. Lianna stifled a forlorn gasp, clutching her hair and shaking her head in
vehement denial. She refused to believe that her love, who just
minutes ago was alive and well beside her, could so suddenly and
so gruesomely be ripped from her life.
looked on helplessly as his worst enemy killed his best friend,
his body quaking with rage and his eyes welling with angry tears.
That should have been him impaled on Kranti’s claws had Karaci
not stepped in, and the elf would have gladly taken his place –
his friend was a far greater loss than he would have been. Karaci
was the leader of an entire tribe of people, and would be missed
by many, whereas Keramis was unable to make close attachments with
others ever since… Bitter memories washed over him as he shot a
hateful gaze at the tamunid.
was no less shocked by the half-were’s brash actions. He lowered
his head and let Lakai’s chain slip from his hands.
this the best you can do?!” Kranti bellowed into thin air. He
thrust Karaci’s corpse aside and turned to face Keramis.
ran to Lianna and tugged on her skirt – the intensity of emotion
he was bombarded with from a distance was strong enough without
needing to amplify them through direct contact. Even bleary-eyed
the woman realized what was offered to her; she would not let
Karaci’s death be in vain. Grabbing Lakai and his leash, Lianna poured all her anguish into the formation of a blazing fireball.
She launched it into the chamber and it exploded in a cloud of
room quickly filled up with a suffocating smog. Through the
confusing din of spasmodic coughing, Kentabri raised Keramis to
his feet and pushed him towards Lianna. The elf did not stop to
question his luck and scrambled blindly towards her. Lianna clenched his hand and the three dashed back through the web of
earthen tunnels towards the entrance. They sprinted across the
nearly empty main chamber and escaped into the safety of the
the smoke cleared, Kranti and Beyati saw Kentabri rolling on the
ground, moaning in pain. Looking around some more, they noticed
that Keramis was gone, and so was Lakai.
happened??” Kranti demanded.
girl!” Kentabri groaned, “She hit me over the head in all the
to the entrance!” Kranti ordered, “Organize the soldiers and
block the exit! I don’t want anything leaving or entering
Kayintas until Aloquin gets there!”
half-were gave Kentabri a dubious glare before running off after
and Lynn hurried through the corridors. The half-elf stopped to
look in every cavern they passed, frantically searching for
Aurora. He knew his way around from long before, when he had to
fight Kranti in these very passages. Lynn had lost hope of finding
anything except an armed barricade on their way out, but knew that
he would not be able to get the half-elf to leave otherwise.
last Raven spotted a bright shadow in the alcove of one of the
rooms and ran in. Aurora got up from scrubbing the floor and gaped
at him in fright; he did not realize that he was soaked in blood.
Upon closer inspection she recognized that the blood was not his
and cautiously came nearer.
have to get out of here,” Raven said, taking her hand.
you shouldn’t have come for me,” she begged, “I can’t
leave. You need to go before Aloquin finds you!”
can’t you leave?” Raven asked.
enchanted iron choker,” she explained, moving the tresses of
blond hair from her neck, “It blocks my magic and keeps me
inside the boundaries of Kayintas.”
stepped back at a loss.
can only be removed by another god,” she said softly.
stared at her, miserable and defeated. He was prepared to stay
with her in these dreary halls and die in a futile attempt to make
Aloquin take off the damned choker; that would be an honorable
death, would it not? No it wouldn’t. The half-elf turned
pleadingly to Lynn.
it off, Raven,” the Acora smiled favorably.
peered at him skeptically, then slowly shifted his gaze back to
Aurora and looked deeply into her emerald eyes. Though every
rational thought in his mind told him that Lynn must be mocking
him, the half-elf was pulled by an undeniable longing as he
reached out with trembling hands to the forest spirit’s choker;
he had to at least try. To his amazement, it snapped open at his
slightest touch. Aurora could feel the magic return to her as her
body pulsed with renewed power. Raven laughed in disbelief and
enfolded her in a joyful hug that she happily returned.
have to go now,” Lynn interjected.
heeded his advice, retracing their steps through the network of
tunnels heading for the entrance. Running into the main chamber,
they were met by the entire residential Kayintas army brandishing
drawn weapons. With no other option available, Lynn and Raven
charged straight at them, determined to fight through the living
cartwheeled into the soldiers, snapping their weapon handles with
a series of swift chops by the knife of his hand. Dipping down,
the dark elf did a round sweep to their legs with his foot and
watched the fighters fall over like a string of dominoes. He tread
on top of them and pushed off the ground, flipping through the air
to land a double kick on his next target. Lynn sensed a foe coming
in from behind and swiftly reversed the momentum of his elbow to
thrust it into the throat of the unsuspecting orc. More enemies
rushed at him from all directions, but the Acora was ready for the
onslaught. He batted the wrist of an overhead sword slash aside
with his arm, tripped a reasonably skilled elven opponent with
some fancy footwork, twisted the hand of a goblin to its back,
jabbed it in the side, and shoved it towards its incoming buddies.
stood a ways to the rear, calling up the foliage of the forest to
sprout through the stony floor and bind the hands and feet of the
stumbled onto Kentabri, who held out his staff defensively. Moving
fast, the dark elf kicked into it, breaking it in two. Kentabri
stepped back, twirled the two sticks and dropped them to the
ground. Bowing, he exposed empty hands in a gesture of submission
and rolled out of the way. Lynn then turned to Beyati, who
shrieked and ran away.
ruthlessly cut through the drunken army, clearing it away as one
would forest overgrowth. Anyone who looked into his eyes would
shrink away in terror for they burned with the ravenous bloodlust
of the Warrior Spirit. Dancing around the shoots of vegetation, he
hacked, slashed, and sliced through skin and bone with astonishing
speed and grace, letting nobody in his path crawl away unscathed.
But though the craving for blood of the spirit inside him was
insatiable, his body was beginning to tire.
stepped into his path, roaring and holding up a sword in his
a voice thundered throughout the cave, followed by a gust of wind
that blasted everything in the cavern hard into the walls. It was
strong enough to uproot the entangled soldiers, in some cases
yanking their limbs right out of their sockets and leaving
bloodied stumps still caught in the foliage.
stalked over to the half-elf, pulled him away from the wall, and
sprawled him on the ground. Kneeling down, he dipped the lock of
hair into the cup and drew a circle around them with Raven’s
blood. The wizard put his hands on the half-elf’s chest and
forehead, and lapsed into an intense concentration. A powerful
forcefield sprung up along the border of the circle, forming a
shielding sphere. The god began to steadily drain away Raven’s
lifeforce, breathing it into his own being, and when the half-elf
regained consciousness, he found himself paralyzed and gradually
looked up to watch the spectacle unfolding before her, unable to
find a weakness in the magical barrier. Some of the Kayintas army
began to stir. Lynn shakily got to his feet.
continued sucking up his victim’s energy at a smooth, regular
rate. Raven felt himself losing consciousness again, except that
this time it was not just fading, but literally being ripped out
of him. It was then that the wizard sensed a fierce resistance
coming from deep within Raven’s unconscious. A resistance so
great that it disrupted his concentration, causing his barrier to
waver for just a fraction of a second. But that fraction of a
second was enough time for Aurora to dive at him, pushing him off
Raven and out of the circle. What remained of the barrier was
dashed at Aloquin, bombarding him with a blurred succession of
kicks and punches. Aurora summoned an enormous wall of brambles to
rise from underground, stalling the Kayintas army. She grabbed
Raven and dragged him out through the exit. Lynn landed a
roundhouse kick across the god’s head, then spun about to elbow
him in the ribs. A well-placed punch to the face sent Aloquin
reeling backwards to fall on his rear. Wasting no time, the dark
elf seized Raven’s sword and ran out through the entrance,
leaping into the thick of the forest. The doorway overgrew with
vines behind him.
Aloquin shrieked, calling for the great dragon. The mighty
black-scaled beast stomped in from a large hallway and the wizard
hopped to his feet and mounted its back. “After them!” Aloquin
yelled at the army, “I want them hunted down! All of them!! Kill
Raven! NOW!!” The dragon breathed a stream of singing flame at
the doorway, incinerating the overgrowth, and marched out into the
plodded through the trees, crushing everything in its path. The
ground shuddered with its every step, letting all the forest know
that the great dragon was out of its lair and on the prowl. The
bewildered remnants of the Kayintas army hastened out of the cave
and spread out in disorganized search parties.