Sheigan was a poor, wretched little town, barely clinging
onto the fringes of civilization. It was a refuge for vagrants,
outcasts, and criminals, receiving all whom the four winds blew
its way without question. Adventurers from all across the land
found their way here, and there was never a lack of tall tales or
the latest news from the world beyond. The village ranked as one
of the closest communities to the Enchanted Forest, and therefore
could not boast of a stable population aside from the handful of
folks who ran the inns and bars. Everybody else was passing
through, leaving their garbage behind to rot in the filthy
was Lowak’s kind of town. He wandered its alleys by day and by
night, clad in dark rags from head to toe – the better to hide
in the gloom. A splendid (stolen) dagger hung concealed on his
belt, but it was more accustomed to cutting purses than throats.
His feet fell silently as he slid from shadow to shadow, always
unseen, always alert, always with an escape plan; his sharp
intellect continuously analyzing every inch of his surroundings.
midnight-black hair fell in stark contrast against his abnormally
pale skin (due to lack of sunlight), making it seem even darker.
Enough strands of that hair dangled over his big, oval eyes –
also black – that it was a wonder he was able to see.Black hair: a rarity in northern Lossi. In fact, the only
humans on Lossi with black hair were the south-dwelling
descendants of the fallen Tashari Empire. Having squandered away
all their resources and turning their once-verdant lands into a
barren desert, they now lived as feral nomads, raiding trader
caravans, border towns, and each other. Thus they came to be known
as Marauders, and any person suspected of having Maraudean blood
was ostracized by light-haired society. Often these outcasts were
forced to survive by dubious means. Lowak’s black hair made him
all the more recognizable, and all the more feared.
Lowak rarely stayed in one place for too long out of pure boredom,
he found that Sheigan always had fresh pockets to pick. More
importantly, authorities from the central government never dared
dirty their feet in Sheigan’s muck. Which was a good thing,
because Lowak was the most wanted thief in all of the Forestside
Kingdom – and proud of it.
that he was in desperate need of hiding places; he could hide just
about anywhere. He could be in the same room and nobody would know
it; if anybody caught glimpse of him, it was by his will alone. No
secret was safe from him; there was no house that he could not
break into, no lock that he could not pick, no trap that he could
not disarm, no operation that he could not infiltrate, no place
that he did not have access to. And all in the Forestside Kingdom
had to live with that blatant reality hanging over their heads at
be sure, many wanted him dead – many powerful thief guilds, many
wealthy businessmen, anxious merchants, disgraced soldiers; the
list went on. And in truth, many had tried. Even Lowak accepted
the fact that if they managed to corner him, he would not be able
to defend himself. But frankly, he didn’t care, because he never
had to fight – they simply couldn’t find him. The lucky ones
just came back empty handed, but those he particularly disliked
were subjected to degrading pranks and came back with their
of course, was well aware that he had recently acquired a new and
more dangerous nemesis – Kadro the Wanderer, the legendary
mercenary/bounty hunter/warrior extraordinaire. The same bounty
hunter who had personally tracked down and reunited the scattered
members of the Riverside Kingdom’s royal family – a most
daunting task indeed.
challenge promised to be particularly interesting for it pitted
the best thief in the land against the best swordsman in the land.
Needless to say, Lowak was quite looking forward to showing the
pompous oversized tin can exactly who was in control of this
relationship. For starters, he followed Kadro around town, taking
pleasure in the full knowledge that his target was completely
unsuspecting of his presence.
ambled through the streets of Sheigan with a proud, confident
gait. He had short, dirty blond hair, chiseled features, and the
scruffy beginnings of a beard and mustache patching his face,
making him appear older and dumber than he really was. His
sky-blue eyes were hardened by years of disillusionment with
humanity. Kadro wore his trademark flashy metal breastplate over
the fancy attire of a noble on the go, including a flamboyant cape
that wafted dramatically in the wind. But all that cloth masked a
further layer of light chain mail padded underneath by yet another
layer of cloth; sure it wasn’t very comfortable, but it was
protection. And if his reputation wouldn’t be enough to
intimidate the gutter trash to stay out of his way, then the sword
fastened to his belt would suffice.
had just arrived in Sheigan from Freon, where the rich leader of
an influential thief guild had offered him a handsome reward for
Lowak’s retrieval. It was understandable: Lowak had been a part
of that guild until him and the leader had experienced some
methodical differences, after which the kid was thrown out of the
guild to presumably die on the streets. But things did not work
out as planned and now a fourteen-year-old boy was undermining the
had heard the horror stories of those who attempted the task
before him. He moved like a phantom, they said, there one moment,
gone the next. Blink once and you’ll lose him, they claimed. He
patiently listened to their tales, but inside he knew them to be
fools. Treating the boy as a ghost rather than a being of flesh
and blood, bah! No wonder they failed.
firmly believed that the key to capturing his intended target was
to acknowledge that it was indeed a human being – complete with
thoughts, feelings, and weaknesses. A bounty hunter should know
his prey better than the prey knows itself. Know everything about
its past to better understand how it shaped the present. Above
all, it was important to discern its motivation.
Kadro did his homework! He was quick to deduce that Lowak’s
prime incentive was boredom – boredom stemming from pride, for
why else would he play mind games with those sent after him except
to show off his superiority? And where else would a bored thief go
except a place like Sheigan? Kadro smiled smugly to himself; he
had it all figured out, he always did. He even worked out a
strategy for capturing the arrogant little brat. He would not go
looking for him at all. No, he’d let Lowak come to him! And then
he’d teach that black-haired desert-spawn a lesson. For he was
Kadro! The best swordsman in all of Lossi! The greatest bounty
hunter in all of Lossi! The highest-paid mercenary in all of Lossi!
thoughts were muffled as his cape got pulled over his face and
yanked forward. He retained his balance, but felt a light breeze
pass by his waist. The mercenary furiously fumbled with the
material and managed to throw the fabric back over his head in
time to see a dark figure sprinting away. Growling, he drew his
sword and charged after, but lost his footing in the sludge and
skidded across it hectically until finally splashing into the mud.
Rubbing his eyes, Kadro watched dumbfounded as the kid disappeared
into a dark alley with a mocking laugh.
clambered out of the dirt on his hands and knees and dashed into
the alleyway, cursing all the while. Not surprisingly, he found no
trace of the boy.
hell!!” he howled, kicking over a nearby garbage can.
a mounting sense of dread, Kadro felt about his waist to find no
trace of his money pouch. So much for bed and breakfast.
herded a fraction of the Kayintas army through the damp, torchlit
caverns that lead to Aloquin’s chamber. Orcs, goblins, elves,
and gnolls crowded into the laboratory, gawking at the crystals,
gems, and metals that lined the walls. They barely restrained the
urge to touch or grab at them under threat of death, a poignant
reminder of which was the hawk-eyed Kentabri standing poised in
the middle of the room with his staff drawn.
came naturally to his chameleon race, the tamunid stood perfectly
still, the only movement about him being his eyes darting back and
forth to scan the area. When he saw Kranti position himself at the
exit and noted that the troops were crammed in as tightly as they
could be packed, Kentabri relaxed his stance, took out a crystal
shard given to him by Aloquin, and whispered into it.
delay, a swirling vortex of energy appeared beside him. He stood
attentively before it, watching as the rippling image of Aloquin
came into view from within; his hands crossed, with Onedia leaning
playfully on his shoulder.
now?” the wizard asked rhetorically, his voice distant and thin
due to interplanar distortion, “Alright, throw a rock in or
nodded his assent, extracted a pebble he had gathered earlier, and
threw it into the portal.
hand shot up reflexively to catch it. “Good, good,” the wizard
muttered, tossing the pebble in his palm. “Now, throw in a live
one,” he added matter-of-factly.
stared at the wizard for a moment, then turned and locked eyes
with Kranti, in response to which the half-were grinned and
promptly grabbed hold of the nearest goblin. The pitiful thing
shrieked and clawed at his captor but to no avail. The throng
parted to make way for the half-were, looking on curiously as he
dragged the creature to the center of the laboratory.
and Onedia wisely stepped aside as Kranti hurled the test subject
through the dimensional doorway. The goblin’s terrified screams
faded as he entered the vortex, reforming only when he came
stumbling into the Dark Fortress on the other side. After taking a
good look around and making sure his body was still intact, his
screams changed to elated laughter.
wave of awed murmurs swept across the onlookers.
looked to Aloquin with a smug smile. The wizard had doubted the
reliability of trickster mirrors – interdimensional doorways
perfected by her clever minions since the dawn of time –
believing the scattering and reassembling of reality fatal to
mortals. Then again he never took anything at face value, and
tested all that he lacked first-hand experience with.
returned the smile, quite proud of her handiwork. “Send in the
rest!” he shouted into the portal.
was satisfied with the day’s exploits, but the game had just
begun; the next step after personal humiliation was public
humiliation. He followed the mercenary around for the rest of the
day, as Kadro did his best to scrape the drying mud off his armor
and pick it out of his hair. By nightfall they had arrived at the
Lossi there existed a time-honored tradition of storytelling, in
which it was customary for listeners to compliment the narrator
with hard currency as well as verbal praise. Having many a tale to
tell, Kadro didn’t mind taking advantage of an opportunity to
make up for lost cash. He sat comfortably reclined in a chair,
swigging down jug after jug of beer while recounting his many
adventures to the crowd of curious spectators gathered around him.
was certain they all knew who he was – Kadro always made sure
everybody in a twenty-foot radius knew who he was – and what
better way to embarrass the warrior than by stealing from right
under his nose. Surely if word got out that a tavern in Kadro’s
custody got robbed, it would put a damper on his reputation.
entered the tavern in the midst of a rowdy bunch of drunkards, and
sneaked into the shade of the back walls. He did not have to put
in much effort, for the bar was dimly lit by flickering
candlelight, and the people were all distracted by either
Kadro’s story or their own private business. But still, he knew
that Kadro was watching for anything out of the ordinary so it was
wiser to be cautious. Perfectly blending with the shadows, Lowak
crept from one empty table to another, carefully making his way to
was nearly upon it when something else caught his eye, something a
pickpocket like him could never resist. It was an emerald –
bigger than any he had ever seen – peeking out from inside a
stuffed bag presumably filled with more of the like. He gazed at
it in wonder, hypnotized by the way it glimmered in the soft
light; his original intent flew straight out of his head as his
focus switched to this new, more important agenda.
could see that the holder of the bag was a youthful-looking fellow
slighter bigger than himself, playfully chatting with the
dark-haired woman sitting next to him. He moved away from the
wall, edging closer to the man from the side. It seemed like an
easy target; the clamor of the bar, the muted illumination, and
the female distraction were all in his favor.
this day, Lowak had chosen the wrong guy to pick on.
could not have possibly known that he was dealing with a fighter
from the North Forest – trained to distinguish the slightest
sound and motion, and equipped with acute elven sight that allowed
him to see the room clear as day.
hood being pulled up just enough to cover his ears, Keramis saw
Lowak separate from the wall and come towards him out of the
corner of his eye. What impressed him most was that this human
made no sound as he walked; no small feat when judged by elven
ears. Granted the level of lighting when perceived by human
vision, he admitted that the advance was flawless. But as much as
he admired the human’s skill, Keramis was not about to let him
steal his precious gemstones.
elf’s hand shot out to intercept the thief’s and latched about
his wrist. Lowak cried out in pain as his hand was twisted and
jerked forwards, forcing him to stumble out of the shadows. For an
instant, their eyes met – Lowak’s stupefied stare with Keramis’
complacent grin – and time seemed to slow down. But then the
boy’s eyes widened as he heard a racket from the opposite side
of the room.
entire tavern had hushed and was looking at them now; Kadro was
stomping over the tables towards them, shoving away any who stood
in his path. Lowak frantically struggled to tear away from the
elf’s iron grip, but to no avail.
Keramis whispered thoughtfully, pulling Lowak’s hood over his
face and drawing him into a headlock. The elf then faced Kadro,
who was already marching towards him across the wooden floor.
me the kid,” the mercenary said sternly.
Keramis replied, feeling Lowak’s trembling fingers about his
don’t think we’ve been formally introduced, I am Kadro the
Wanderer,” he paused for effect, becoming a bit perturbed when
the name drew no reaction, “That kid is a thief, and I can bring
him to the proper authorities,” Kadro’s hand went to his sword
hilt, “So unless you want to join him, little boy, I suggest you
do as I say.”
the werewolf hissed, his eyes flashing bright amber, “Boy?!”
he scowled, his teeth elongating. If at first glance Keramis did
not seem intimidating, one look into his flaming eyes when enraged
would abruptly overturn that notion. Kadro’s mouth dropped open
slightly and his hand slipped from the handle; for a second he
thought he saw fangs, then promptly blamed it on the liquor.
“I’ll show you lit–” Keramis snarled, but Lianna cut him
off by clasping her palm over his lips. He restrained himself from
biting into her hand, glaring at Kadro with utter contempt.
let out a nervous chuckle.
moved between them. “Please excuse my son’s manners,” he
bowed to Kadro, “It is his first time off the farm and he does
not know the ways of the city.”
me the kid,” the bounty hunter demanded of him.
looked questioningly to his cousin, then slowly turned back to
Kadro, “I’m afraid I can’t do that. My son is intent on
eyes cooled, and Lianna took her palm off his mouth.
dare challenge the best swordsman on Lossi?!” the warrior
growled, unsheathing his sword, livid that some peasant had the
nerve to defy someone of his stature.
am not looking to start a fight,” Raven answered evenly.
late for that!” Kadro barked back as he lunged at the half-elf
with a downward hack.
sidestepped the move and drew his own sword. He let his enemy
lead, responding only with a series of blocks and parries, trying
to get a feel for the fighting style. The adversary was indeed
skilled, but he was drunk, and what’s more, he was a Lossian
human. This put him at a definite disadvantage versus the
Caldorian half-elf. All beings on Caldor were descended from the
Earth Dragon itself, inheriting reptilian reflexes superior to
those of their warm-blooded neighbors. Caldorian fighters moved
like the serpent; each slash the quickness of a snake’s strike
– even faster for it was honed beyond inborn talent.
with the rhythm of his opponent’s maneuvers, Raven riposted one
of Kadro’s attacks, pushing him backwards. The tide turned when
Trellion lashed out at the mercenary in a blur of blinding speed.
Kadro gasped in awe as he tried desperately to block the swift,
fluid motions of the faery metal sword with his relatively clumsy
and heavy steel one. He lasted an impressively long time, until he
tried to dodge and the half-elf’s blade cut across his arm,
grazing against the chain mail underneath the cloth. Raven frowned
– armor was considered cowardly in the North Forest – and
rebounded with a succession of slashes faster than human vision
could discern. Overwhelmed by the rush, the dazed warrior felt his
weapon fly out of his hand and himself be knocked to the ground.
Kadro’s vision regained focus on the form looming above him,
holding him at swordpoint.
vision of the sword gouging into his victim’s throat flashed
before the half-elf’s eyes, and though normally he would act
upon that impulse without a second thought, he now found the idea
unsettling – not to mention inappropriate in such a setting.
“The boy stays with us,” Raven asserted in his usual soft,
nodded weakly, looking around for his blade.
were drunk,” Raven smiled dryly, bordering on apologetic, as he
reached out a hand to the human and brought him to his feet. “We
will be leaving now,” he bowed to Kadro again and handed him the
long sword, then motioned for his friends to follow. Figuring
things couldn’t look any more conspicuous than they already did,
Keramis gave the bartender a chunk of amethyst to pay for the
drinks. The four of them quietly exited the tavern, Keramis
dragging Lowak along by the wrist.
eyed them as they left, flashing Lowak a threatening grin that the
boy answered with a cocky smirk. His newfound company had
humiliated the mercenary more than he ever could, though he could
not deny that the humiliation was mutual. The bar broke out in
scandalous murmurs when the door closed.
dusted himself off and slid the sword into its sheath.
“Drunk,” he said under his breath, silencing the whispering
onlookers with his harsh gaze before marching out the door. He
would not be thwarted that easily.
Lianna, Keramis, and Lowak met up with Sylvia and
Lakai outside. The former explained Lowak’s presence, and the
latter were happy to inform the rest that they had found a
suitable inn for the night.
Shadywood Inn lay hidden away in the calmer part of town. It was
by no means extravagant, but it was cozy and blocked out the
stench of the street. The quarters were small, consisting of a
snug bed and a cupboard beside it for a change of clothes. Keramis
bought several rooms for the night for the price of a sapphire. No
questions were asked, for the people of Sheigan believed it was
jointly beneficial for all to keep to their own affairs.
from the long day’s walk, they each retired to their chambers.
Except for Keramis, who personally led Lowak to his room where he
finally released the boy’s wrist. Lowak scrambled into a dark
corner and sat down on the floor, staring out at his captor with
more curiosity than fear. Already plotting his escape, the
thief’s eyes subtly darted about every crack and bend, lastly
noting a window over the bed.
wouldn’t try that if I were you,” Keramis moved in closer to
swallowed and looked away.
is that bounty hunter after you?” the elf asked.
stole his pocket change,” Lowak mumbled, restraining a snicker.
swordsman on Lossi,” Keramis reiterated Kadro’s words, “Must
have much money, huh?”
yes,” the boy’s eyes sparked excitedly.
good,” Keramis’ mouth widened into a pleased smile, “We will
need Lossian currency to pay for our lodging, provisions,
transport, and anything else we may need. Paying with jewels is a
little suspect, don’t you think?”
started to protest, but only sighed and stared at the ground.
steals from me, from any of us, understand?” Keramis said in a
more serious tone, raising the thief’s face to meet his own.
right,” Lowak returned the intensity of his gaze, “I say sorry
and give you the money, then will you let me go?”
the elf replied, “We are traveling to Iyutel and need you as a
guide. You seem like the type who knows your way around.”
makes you think I’ll help you?” the boy smirked.
if you don’t,” his captor told him severely, “I will take
you to Kadro myself.” He let him go and began to stroll out of
Lowak called after, unable to hold back the question any longer.
froze in place.
Lowak hesitated, “How did you see me? What did I do wrong? I
elf shook his head and turned around. He pulled off his hood and
tossed back his fiery auburn hair to reveal pointed ears.
dug his fingers into the floorboards and wedged into the corner as
far as he could. He had heard stories of these supernatural beings
– the capricious Sidhe of the Haunted Forest who could strike a
man dead for the slightest offence. The outskirts of the woods
were abandoned for fear of such menacing shadows slinking out of
the forest at night to cause mischief in their wake. He wanted to
apologize, to plead for his life, but was left speechless with
look like you don’t see much open sunlight,” Keramis said,
walking towards him, “Neither do I. I come from a very, very
dark place where the sky is a carpet of leaves. That is why I can
see in the night as well as in the day. Your only error was
ignorance of that simple fact.
human with such skill,” he took the boy’s hand and examined it
with a hint of envy, “I’m impressed. You see, I’m a bit of a
thief myself,” he locked eyes with Lowak and smiled, “It takes
a thief to catch a thief – something Kadro does not
door opened with a creak as Sylvia’s ghostly figure came into
the room and staggered over to the bed.
is your name, boy?” Keramis asked him.
he answered truthfully, believing lying was futile.
meet Sylvia,” the elf introduced the girl, “She does not eat,
she does not sleep, and she does not blink. She will be watching
you for the night.” With those words he strode out the door and
left the two of them alone. They sat there in silence, the
Trickster Queen’s gaze boring deep into his soul.
Lowak,” Sylvia spoke up, moving closer to him, “Want to see a
magic trick?” She opened her mouth wider than he thought
humanely possible and slid her fingers, then the entire arm down
her throat and dug around within. Grabbing onto something, she
slowly extracted her hand, holding a wriggling trickster in her
shrank away with a frightened gasp.
was not the trick,” Sylvia giggled, unclenching her fist to
reveal the bud of a rosy flower. Lowak watched as the petals
gradually opened, exposing a lovely faery curled up within. The
being got to her feet and fluttered her intricate gossamer wings
to shake off the pearly dew. She stretched and yawned, then her
delicate form began to flay back and forth in a mesmerizing dance.
The faery wore garments of luminous rainbow that trailed her
hypnotic movements in swirls of color and light.
fear replaced with wonder, Lowak stretched out his hand to touch
the being, to make sure she was real. She danced onto his finger,
light as air, and wrapped her limbs about his hand, climbing it as
one does a rope. Though he was too entranced by the vision to know
when the transformation took place, Lowak presently found himself
staring into the impassive eyes of a snake coiled around his arm;
its slit tongue licked at his clothing and its rattle shook
forebodingly. He shrieked and jumped up, trying desperately to
brush the serpent off. It fell with a disgruntled hiss, changed
into a screeching bat in mid air and fluttered out the window.
and danger,” Sylvia tilted her head in amusement, “Things are
not always what they seem.”
Keramis, Lianna, and Lakai, Lowak did not sleep that night. The
Trickster Queen entertained him with elaborate illusions crafted
from the stuff of his wildest dreams. He was scared at first, but
as soon as he understood that she did not intend to kill him he
even came to enjoy her company.
laid back restlessly on his bed for a long while; it was times
like these that made him miss the company of his raven. But
eventually he, too, drifted off to sleep.
six of them left Shadywood Inn in the morning. After buying
several horses, they proceeded out the southern gates of Sheigan.
Since no steed would carry Sylvia, they had to walk the horses a
ways from town to avoid attracting attention before mounting them
and riding off at full gallop along the standard southwestern
trade route. Raven, Lianna, and Lakai rode alone, Lowak rode with
Keramis, and Sylvia trailed effortlessly behind them on trickster
were headed for the city of Freon, which Lowak reluctantly
admitted to being the next best stop on their way to the capital.
A scenic vista of seasoned farmland sprawled out before them, and
from time to time they encountered lone farmhouses on either side
of the road. Rolling fields of ripening corn stretched from
horizon to horizon, bending their heads in the gentle winds that
swept across the prairie. A serene silence pervaded the terrain,
broken only by the sound of the breeze as it brushed against
distant wind chimes. But after traveling through it for the entire
day, the landscape was starting to seem a bit bland.
and Sylvia exchanged playful looks out of pure boredom. Lakai
watched the two with apprehension, keeping his distance from the
‘dark ones,’ as he privately labeled them, by riding closer to
Lianna. It was no secret that he did not like or trust either of
them, disclosing that fact rather often to Raven.
grinning, nodded her head in the faery boy’s direction and Lowak
knowingly returned her grin. As if on cue, they both turned to
stare back at Lakai. The darkness inherent in their gaze sent
waves of coldness through him, forcing him to shudder and look
away. “It’s growing dark,” Lakai told the group, “And the
horses are getting tired.”
should start setting up camp,” Lianna echoed his sentiment,
signaling for her mare to stop.
drove the horses off the road, into a fallow patch of land flanked
by cornstalks, and dismounted. Equipment was set in a pile at one
end of the clearing and Lakai led the horses to the other end,
instructing them to stay by the camp. Keramis and Lianna began
building a fire, and unpacked some of the endless supply of food
from their backpacks. Sylvia crouched on the ground, keeping an
eye on Lowak.
sat on a nearby boulder, meticulously polishing his faery sword.
He watched the sun set over the golden cornfields, painting them
in the afterglow of dusk. Just before the last glimmer of light
disappeared beyond the horizon, he heard the rustling of leaves
behind him. Instinctively, Raven twirled around and lunged at the
vegetation sword-first. There came a clang of metal as his blade
was batted aside and a humanoid form jumped away defensively.
are you doing here?” Raven withdrew his sword and took a step
first, ask questions later?” Kadro sheathed his sword and
stepped forward through the foliage.
glowered at him from under his hood.
and Lianna rushed to the commotion.
could be out here for many reasons. I could be hunting bandits,
robbers, and thieves,” Kadro said slyly, “The better question
would be what are you doing here?” he eyed Raven closely,
“It’s not wise to wander the wilderness at night.”
are but a simple peasant family on our way to Freon so that we may
reach the capital and start a new life,” Keramis droned in
doesn’t take the greatest bounty hunter on Lossi to deduce that
you are no ordinary peasants!” Kadro snapped back.
it seems,” Keramis smirked, but the warrior ignored his sarcasm.
look like a damn Marauder,” Kadro pointed at Raven, “you look
like a cheap whore,” he pointed at Lianna, “and there’s no
chance in hell that’s your son!” he pointed at Keramis.
Trellion asked, an obviously puzzled expression on his face though
he vaguely recognized that the comment was meant as an insult.
Marauder!” Kadro paced over to Raven, mistaking the surprised
look for a confirmation, “You think that hood can conceal the
blackness of your hair?” Trellion, not used to others
approaching him so boldly, was too shocked to react in time as
Kadro’s hand thrust forward and pulled off his hood.
mercenary reeled away, gaping at the pointed ears in astonishment.
Raven stared back at him with his typically impassive expression,
trained to mask the slightest weakness – his gaze always
piercing, icy, and imposing.
elf,” Kadro said after a few moments, trying his best to hide
his fear. “I should’ve known,” he shifted his eyes to
Keramis, who also removed his hood.
was a long interval of awkward silence and rigid stares.
there’s safety in numbers,” Kadro managed a nonchalant smile,
“It so happens that I’m going to Freon, as well. Maybe we can
two elves’ stance relaxed a bit.
indeed was he that Lianna did not know what a cheap whore was.
“Seems like a reasonable offer,” she smiled back, trying to be
friendly, though in truth she liked him no more than any other
recent addition to their party.
nodded to Lianna and walked off towards the fire.
did not please Keramis one bit. Nevertheless, Lianna had
consented, and he was not one to argue with a female. “Until we
get to Freon,” the elf growled and stomped away.
bring your horse here and we can put her with the others,” Lianna
suggested, but Kadro ignored her. By all accounts she
looked human, and the only Maraudean feature about her was her
dark hair. It fell in curls, however, not straight like a
Marauder’s. This could only mean that she was the spawn of a
forbidden union between a ‘true’ human and a raven-haired
raider of the southern deserts.
noted that she was not the only human here, for there was a blond
boy tending to the horses, smiling at him amiably. As he strode
further into the camp, he passed a frail dark-haired girl sitting
in the grass; she followed him curiously with her big dark eyes.
Though he saw Lowak crouching behind her, Kadro restrained himself
from showing any interest in the thief, and proceeded in the
direction of the campfire. In his mind, he had already decided who
the leader of this group was, and would pay heed only to him.
joined Raven by the bonfire. The half-elf acknowledged the
mercenary’s presence with brief eye contact, and then continued
feeding the fire dry twigs and strips of corn leaves. He gazed
vacantly into the flames, stirring the glowing embers with the tip
of his sword.
know,” Kadro attempted to make conversation, “It is not every
day that a peasant walks into a bar and defeats the greatest
swordsman on Lossi – drunk or not.”
looked up at him from the fire.
is one reason I knew something was amiss,” he chuckled amiably.
forced a smile.
are very skilled, elf,” Kadro elbowed him teasingly, “I’m
sorry, what do they call you?”
Raven winced from the touch, suppressing a reflexive urge to break
the man’s arm in half. Flashes of violent imagery still haunted
him over the most mundane actions.
met, Trellion,” Kadro grinned, “Got any tips for a fellow
tips,” the human prodded, “How do you train? Where do you
was trained in the North Forest of Caldora,” Raven peeled
another leaf off a cornstalk and tossed it into the fire, “There
are no gyms, no breaks, and no dummies,” the half-elf cast a
severe gaze on Kadro, “Training is all day, all night, on live
targets. You live, or you die,” he made a cutthroat gesture.
kind of armor do you use? What kind of horses do you ride?”
is for cowards,” Raven looked over Kadro’s chain mail attire,
“It is heavy, stiff, and noisy. A true warrior need not hide
from his foes like a turtle. We do not ride horses in the North
Forest, they leave you exposed and vulnerable; we rely on
see,” Kadro said in the politest tone he could muster, “We
come from different worlds.” And on that note their conversation
reverted to silence.
descended upon the land like a dark shroud. Most of the camp was
fast asleep, except for Lowak, who found it hard to sleep with
Kadro around, Sylvia, who was watching Lowak, and Raven, who was
simply not sleepy. The stars twinkled brightly in the cloudless
sky, and the waning moon’s light limed the cornfields in silver.
the distance they heard the sound of screeching akin to a group of
bats. Raven and Lowak glanced in the direction of the noise to see
a stormcloud coming towards them, so black that the night sky
almost looked indigo in comparison. Sylvia only smiled.
Wild Hunt,” Lowak’s voice trembled as he spoke.
Host,” Sylvia beamed, latching her hand onto Lowak’s wrist as
he stumbled backwards in a desperate effort to run away.
what?” Keramis looked up groggily.
Host, the Host, the Host!” the Trickster Queen jumped giddily up
and down, “Everybody gather round me!”
bustled about, waking up the camp. Keramis grabbed Lakai, who was
wide awake and staring at the approaching horde paralyzed with
fear. The shrieking was rapidly getting closer, mixed with the
erratic beating of bat wings. Raven, Keramis, Lakai, Lowak, Lianna,
and Kadro all huddled about Sylvia.
throng was nearly upon them, near enough to distinguish the nature
of the creatures that formed it. The Trickster Queen knew them to
be the Dark Sidhe, the nobles of the Unseelie Court: beautiful,
ebon-skinned entities with malicious eyes that crackled like
electricity and hair like wild streaks of lightning. These demonic
riders were mounted on midnight-black stallions with flaming red
orbs, whose hoofbeats were like claps of thunder. Nightmarish
beings swarmed around them, pelting the camp with the skulls and
bones of those ill-fated to encounter the Rade.
her companions looked away in terror, Sylvia welcomed the Host
with open arms. She screamed greetings and praises into the
howling squall, laughing in ecstasy as the denizens of the
Unseelie Court washed over her. The group was enveloped in sheer
darkness, with deafening wails and fierce cackling ringing in
their ears. But as suddenly as the Host came, it was gone,
harmlessly passing over them and riding off into the night,
continuing their hellish procession over the countryside.
camp fell asleep out of exhaustion, trusting in Sylvia to keep
since the interdimensional gates were opened the Dark Fortress was
overrun by the North Forest army. By Aloquin’s orders, segments
of the Kayintas forces were to alternate spending time in the
astral castle. The dragon embryo was growing by the day and the
eve of the final battle was fast approaching. The troops were here
to get used to their surroundings so that they may be accustomed
to the astral castle when that time comes. They crawled into every
nook and cranny, familiarizing themselves with the pervading
presence of the tricksters and with what fluid ease these beings
could alter the fabric of the palace. They learned to synchronize
their own movements with those of the castle for more effective
military strategies. With a legion of tricksters at their side,
everything seemed so easy, so effortless, that any thought of
defeat had completely flown their minds.
now crowded the main hall, reveling in their impending triumph and
even acting civil towards one another. The room had been
transformed into a lavish lounge, complete with illusory armchairs
and sofas courtesy of the Mistress of Illusions herself.
Unfortunately, the North Foresters had never heard of pillows or
cushions, and some were more content ripping the furnishings to
shreds or playing pillow fights instead of using them for their
intended purposes. Among the gathered were two half-elves from
Traiyu’s cave – a cave known for its inhabitants’ bright
blond locks, light eyes, and tanned skin darker than their hair.
you glad we joined the Kayintas army?” Ni’Atami asked Kowhani
for the umpteenth time, “I never even dreamed that Aloquin had
something like this up his sleeve! And yet here we are, partaking
in the luxuries of the gods!”
was half-elf and half goblin, an uncommon cross indeed. But upon
closer inspection, one would have to wonder why there were not
more like him. His elven mother took great care in designing him.
At first glance the half-elf appeared completely elven, if a bit
shorter. The only differences were his pointy teeth and sharp,
poisonous claws. His larger amber eyes matched his mane of golden
hair and his bigger, wider ears were pierced with copper earrings
decorated with magical inscriptions. Ni’Atami’s goblin
ancestry was much more obvious from his less visible attributes.
Greedy and opportunistic by nature, he could jump higher than any
elf and possessed superior sight and hearing, able to perceive and
mimic high-pitched goblin whistles that eluded his elven cousins.
would’ve thought that we’d see the day? With Aloquin’s
comes to those who the Warrior Spirit favors,” Kowhani, the
ever-zealous disciple of Yugashii, swiftly corrected him. She was
only one-fourth elf, the rest being human. But from that modest
reserve of elven blood she had inherited night vision,
extraordinary dexterity, and a feral beauty. Her straight, yellow
hair fell in bangs over her forehead, curled up at her cheekbones,
and cascaded behind her to the waist. Strands of it were pulled
back from both sides and tied together in a loose knot, held in
place by a handy throwing knife. Blond hair was a rarity on
Caldora, so Kowhani took great care of it and flaunted it with
an army of tricksters couldn’t hurt, though, right?”
Ni’Atami laughed agreeably.
lips widened in one of her trademark broad grins, though he could
never tell if it was genuine or sarcastic.
is victory,” the half-goblin continued with conviction, “I
don’t really care how we attain it, be it by gods or tricksters
or both, I only care that we do attain it,” Ni’Atami
reclined back into a heap of soft pillows, “And when we are
victorious, things will change around here; we will no longer be
no-ranks.” He let out a contented sigh and looked up to the
ceiling, “Yes, with victory comes power, and nobody will be able
to look down upon us after that.”
this talk of power made Kowhani’s eyes drift from her
partner’s face to his sword hilts – a pair of curved, faery-metal
blades given to Ni’Atami by the faeries themselves. Kowhani had
always been jealous of that gift, knowing full well that she had
no chance of receiving any faery favors due to her warlike nature.
It seemed she was doomed to drag around a hefty, iron sword for
the rest of her days – which would be few indeed if she had to
fight with the thing for much longer. The iron left an odd,
metallic taste in her mouth thanks to her elven heritage, and she
was uncomfortable with its techniques for she had always
envisioned herself excelling at dual-weapon combat.
a follower of Yugashii, Kowhani knew that true power had nothing
to do with what others thought of you, but rather with how
proficient you were when put to the test in battle. Few in the
North Forest had earned faery metal weapons from the faeries, and
if she was to challenge anybody of true skill for some, her
awkward swings with the heavy two-hander would surely spell her
situation was no different, though he was completely oblivious to
the fact. Kowhani never did understand how he always managed to do
everything in his power to keep himself from expressing his true
potential. He only wound up entangling himself in the motions of
the wondrous twin blades he now bore, making him come off clumsier
than he actually was. He was really proud of them, though, and saw
them as a symbol of his status. This only proved to her that he
did not yet realize that power does not reside within a weapon,
but in the skill of its wielder. Kowhani had always thought he’d
be better off using daggers – like his friend Keramis – or his
tainted claws alone.
they were both functioning at far below their respective
look, it’s your boyfriend,” Ni’Atami teased, nodding at the
form of Yugashii marching deliberately across the crowded room.
eyes went wide as she snapped out of her reverie and looked
like he’s in a hurry, too,” the half-goblin remarked.
couldn’t repress an excited gasp as she caught glimpse of
Yugashii just before he disappeared into an adjoining hallway.
Without a second thought, the woman ran after him, leaving
Ni’Atami alone to ponder what just happened. He narrowed his
eyes and twitched his ears in irritation, issuing forth a low
goblinoid growl at what he saw as his competitor for the girl’s
attention. But there was nothing to be done about it, nor did he
want to leave his bed of pillows.
walked in a straight line; the tricksters that permeated the walls
parted to make a tunnel before him, knowing that he would cut his
own way through them otherwise. Kowhani did her best to keep up
with the brooding war god. The Warrior Spirit knew she was behind
him, but paid no attention, believing her to be yet another one of
the annoying groupies who have been pestering him for gifts and
blessings ever since he had revealed his identity to the Kayintas
my Lord,” Kowhani panted, “please wait.”
will do you no good, fool,” Yugashii spat back, never breaking
know,” she conceded, expecting nothing less from her deity,
“But I must speak with you.”
are you to be bothering me?” he scoffed, still not
joined Aloquin because of you, I lived my whole life in your
name,” the half-elf sprinted ahead of him, blocking his path.
“I am Kowhani of Traiyu’s cave!” she answered boldly with a
came to a halt and looked her up and down. Smiling smugly, he
turned and placed his hands on the wall. The stone melted away in
a shower of shimmering light. “Come then, Kowhani of Traiyu,”
he said as he stepped across the threshold of the doorway that
appeared in front of him.
is such an honor to finally meet you,” she began, but her voice
trailed off in awe of the room. She stood on an outcropping of a
yawning, circular pit that extended above and below as far as the
eye could see, its limits – if it had any – obscured by dark
gloom. Discs of rock hovered in midair all around, presumably
serving as stepping-stones to the main mass of earth in the
middle, upon which was Aurora seated on her simple bed with a
large mirror beside her.
leaped straight onto the discs and hopped from one to the other
with habitual ease, reaching the central island in no time. Once
she had composed herself and gathered up her courage, Kowhani
scrambled after him and cautiously replicated the Warrior
Spirit’s trail across the floating discs.
this is where you keep her,” she said, stepping onto the main
platform, “Quite an intimidating prison.”
designed it myself,” he smiled darkly.
can she not just walk away along the stones?” Kowhani smirked.
discs are only stationary when I wish them to be,” Yugashii
assured her cryptically, “And even if she does somehow get
across, the door can only be opened by Raven and myself.”
bet she couldn’t get across if she tried!” the girl added with
a mocking laugh in Trellia’s direction, “She who tends to the
green things of the woods while the ground runs red with the blood
of her children!” Aurora met her gaze with a defiant glare, so
Kowhani faced the war god again, “Truly you are the
rightful god of this forest; she is nothing.”
does not gain my favor by flattery,” Yugashii told her, “Say
what you will and be done with it.”
who chooses her over you does not deserve you and is a waste of
your time,” she replied with brash bluntness, “I don’t think
it suits you to chase after weaklings.”
Warrior Spirit snarled menacingly as his eyes flashed crimson.
sorry, my Lord,” Kowhani dropped to her knees and bowed lowed at
his feet, “I just don’t understand why you want somebody that
does not appreciate you,” she paused, raising her head to looked
up into his blazing red eyes which shone like hot coals, “When
there are so many who would kill for such an honor.”
locked stares and an interval of awkward silence followed. It did
not take long for the war god’s eyes to cool, however.
have said what you must, you may leave now,” Yugashii commanded
in a not-so-subtle tone. He watched her scurry away, bowing with
every step, and rush out the door. Aurora eyed him suspiciously,
but he waved her away, pulled up a chair and sat opposite the
mirror to contemplate his own reflection.
truth was that he wanted Raven just because – just because he
couldn't stand it when something was forcibly taken away from him,
just because he did not get his way, just because he said so. This
was an ego thing, really: he didn't like being bested by a mortal
– it was embarrassing. These were not very good reasons, and he
knew it, but he was very determined once he set his mind on
something. Any failure to achieve his goals was a gaping weakness
that he could not allow.
biggest and most pressing reason was obvious from the form he now
bore. The Warrior Spirit – an ageless, universal entity without
limits or bounds – was trapped in a physical replica of his own
avatar. He did not quite know how this happened. Perhaps he got
too attached to the material plane, to the physical sensation of
his blades slicing into the flesh of another, and now took on the
appearance most familiar to him. If this was so, then maybe Raven
was key to reclaiming his true power.
the same, he was beginning to wonder what kind of resolution a
reunion with Raven would bring. He could not deny that after
Trellion disciplined himself to restrain many of the god’s
violent outbursts Yugashii was forced to retreat into his host’s
unconscious mind where he lay unthinking and dormant, with less
freedom than even now. And how much he had neglected over those
years! How many other followers he had abandoned for the sweet
taste of blood spilt firsthand!
magic mirror before him was imbued with the power to let him see
any place he wished. At the Warrior Spirit’s command, his
reflection within it swirled and disappeared. An overhead view of
a bustling desert scene sprawled out in its place. Little human
figures were carrying supplies from one colorful tent to another,
tending to their horses, and training with various weapons. These
were the hardy, savage people of the scorching desert heat who
outsiders labeled Marauders. They had originally worshipped
Siyanna, the Lossian goddess of the light, pleasure, and warfare,
but over time their worship of her was perverted to that of a male
deity honored for his warlike aspects alone. In effect, they were
worshipping the war god, and were some of his fiercest followers.
was one problem, however: they had further distorted his own
worship to exclude females, debasing them to the status of whores
and slaves. This was not the way of Yugashii, his path was open to
all brave enough to tread it. As far he was concerned, they were
denying him potential followers. Indeed, Nexus came from Maraudean
society and had generated a large following of her own for those
who had nowhere else to turn. Such strong women would be an
invaluable asset to his own repertoire of devotees. If he was not
around to point them in the right direction, they would forever be
stuck at half their own potential.
was true: the world needed him, Yugashii decided. But he needed
elves stirred as the first rays of dawn warmed their sensitive
eyes, and the rest of the camp awoke to prepare breakfast. Lowak
groaned and turned away from the sunlight, still making up for two
days’ sleep. Lakai fed the horses and made sure they were not
too shaken up by last night’s ordeal. Kadro went to look for his
own horse, his mood souring considerably when he discovered her
partial remains scattered across the field.
then shifted his attention to the sound of clanging metal and
followed it, finding Raven and Keramis sparring playfully amid the
cornstalks. Kadro watched them from afar, awed by the speed and
grace of their smooth movements that did not seem to adhere to any
style he had seen before. They carried on for several minutes,
until Raven finally managed to pin Keramis to the ground. The elf
laughed and shoved the sword aside, teasing how the tables would
turn if they fought in the trees. Trellion smirked, helped him to
his feet, and they both headed back to camp.
everybody had a bite to eat, the group started packing for the
second half of their journey to Freon. Kadro agreed to ride with
Lakai and they set course southwards again.