Upon receiving Raven’s first transmission, Queen Dinictis
decided to take the next step in her plan. She left the Crystal
Castle, teleporting to the West Forest to the awe of peasants and
nobility alike. She was the single unifying element of the four
sovereign forests – the ancient ancestor through whom all
Caldorian life was tied, the Goddess, and the link to the Earth
sought to join the three free forests under a common cause; she
wanted to raise a mighty army to tackle Aloquin’s formidable
North Forest forces. The Goddess visited each forest in turn,
appealing to the technological superiority and studious
organization of the West, the powerful magics and wisdom of the
East, and the stealth tactics and dragon allies of the South.
spirit of unity was rekindled and all of Caldora was busy in
preparation for the coming war.
The Nastran Army flocked to the plazas to train, arranging
in perfectly parallel rows and practicing their moves in flawless
unison. Lowborn slaves ran to and fro carrying materials for armor
and weaponry, while other commoners labored arduously in the
midday heat creating them. Armed soldiers patrolled the roads,
keeping order and making sure everyone was on task. Dinictis tried
her best to appear neutral to the oppression surrounding her as
she strolled through the sunny streets with Acleito, discussing
the upcoming battle.
was the Chief Commander of the Nastran Army. He rose to the
position at a suspiciously young age, but more than made up for
that by the positive influence he had on the morale of troops and
slaves alike. Nevertheless, he was the object of much gossip among
the senior officers. They said he was so favored because he was
the unacknowledged son of the Kanitezi himself, and Dinictis knew
this to be true. The Kanitezi – the all-powerful emperor of the
West Forest – was only expected to associate with humans as his
successor could only be of pure human blood. But he had spent a
brief yet delightful time with a beautiful elven maiden, and they
decided to commemorate the occasion with a child. The Kanitezi
promised his son a life filled with blessings as long as she told
him his father died defending the Forest.
looked entirely human; only his striking violet eyes and carefree
demeanor betrayed his elven heritage. His hair was a sandy blond,
streaked with ruddy highlights – a unique shade that he bore
with pride, wearing it in a distinctly Lossian style: with two
braids hanging on either side of his face. In fact, nothing about
the Chief Commander was ordinary. His sheltered life has prompted
him to surround himself with exotic things to appease his
adventurous spirit. The twin faery metal scimitars he carried were
imbued with enchantments: one with faery sight to see through
illusion, the other with elven sight to see in dark. His magical
plate mail, forged to be light as chain, glistened under the hot
sun but did not burn him, for it stayed a comfortable temperature
in both cold and heat. His shield accelerated the healing of its
wielder, his gauntlets gave him superior aim, and his boots
endowed him with extraordinary speed. About the only thing Acleito
did not have was a helmet since it messed up his hair.
North Foresters are mighty warriors,” Dinictis said in all
worries, my Queen,” he replied with confidence, “We are
superior to them in every way.”
wise commander never underestimates their opponent,” she chided
make it a point to learn about other cultures,” Acleito assured
her, slightly hurt by such a remark, “While Trellion was here, I
questioned him about the ways of his kin, and I must say they are
quite backwards. Why, the best of them don’t even wear armor!”
he put in with a light laugh.
slave walking by tripped and fell, spilling her load of iron
scraps on the floor. Acleito’s boots got him there in time to
catch her before she hit the ground. He helped the woman to her
feet and assisted her in picking up the metal bits. The grateful
slave bowed low and rushed off to resume her duties.
brought a smile to the troubled Queen’s face, for she knew that
Acleito had a good heart and was glad to have him leader of the
West Forest armies. The Commander received a stern glare for the
deed from an older officer, however, which he tried to match but
failed simply because he was incapable of looking sufficiently
angry. Shrugging off the tension, he went back to Dinictis.
on the other hand,” Acleito continued, picking up where he left
off, “Have armor, archers, martial training, horses, catapults,
weapons crafted by the best blacksmiths in the land–”
how do you suggest we bring horses and catapults into the North
Forest?” Dinictis asked with a wry grin.
paused in thought.
can’t,” the goddess explained, “You can’t bring horses and
catapults into the north forest. The vegetation is too thick and
the ground is too rough to bring in catapults, and on horses
you’ll be sitting ducks. No,” she told him, “You will be
riding the dragons of the South Forest. And your weapons are of no
use, either. You will be given faery metal weapons, fashioned by
the smiths of the East Forest. This is a team effort,” she
wanted to say something but was at a loss for words.
of their main advantage is numbers,” Dinictis went on, “The
Forestside army will undoubtedly fight alongside Kayintas.”
may be a lot of them but they have no organization or strategy
like we do,” he asserted, “They fight as individuals while we
are a unified force. That is our strength!”
will not be that simple,” the Queen said dourly, “You’ll be
fighting on Aloquin’s terms, with the Warrior Spirit ensuring
are the only deity we could ever need on our side, my Lady,”
Acleito beamed her a wide smile.
goddess returned the smile, and gazed deeply into his eyes.
“Have you ever been to war?” she asked, not so much to get an
answer – for she knew it – but to get him to think.
the Commander wavered, “No, I can’t say I have.”
not all glory and valor,” Dinictis replied vaguely, “We are
fighting for our future, we can’t afford to take risks.” It
was painful to realize that she is most likely sending young
innocents to their deaths in her name. Figuring she had held the
proposition off long enough, she added, “Arm the slaves.”
Acleito gawked at her in disbelief.
them, and train them,” she repeated, “All will have a chance
to defend their homes.”
do it!” the Queen ordered and disappeared, leaving Acleito alone
to ponder the implications of such a drastic overturning of the
hierarchy. The slaves far outnumbered both the soldiers and
nobility in the West Forest. Given armor and weapons they were
sure to rebel. And even if they didn’t, he feared that the
commoners might undermine the solidarity of the existing army, and
that the tension between the classes might compromise cooperation
war may begin before it has even started,” he muttered.
The elves put on their hoods once again as they neared the
city of Freon. Lowak donned his hood as well, for a significant
number of folks would recognize him in these parts. The group
walked their horses into town and immediately started looking for
first impulse was to plead with them for the thief, to offer them
riches galore in exchange for him; but he did not want to make a
scene. Such behavior would attract unwanted attention, and would
send every rogue in town vying for a chance to apprehend the kid.
At the very least it would make Kadro look pathetic, for it was
common knowledge that he was sent after the boy. Therefore, much
to Keramis and Lowak’s relief, he parted with the group upon
was often described as a den of thieves, swindlers, and
opportunists – and it lived up to the claim. Though a form of
organized government did exist here, it was merely an extension of
the underground mafia’s supreme power, answering only to the
needs of the black market. The city was a labyrinth of dark
alleys, ominous dead ends, and seemingly abandoned warehouses.
Solid, stone buildings lined the street, unlike the mud-and-straw
hovels of Sheigan. Shifty roadside merchants flaunted their wares
from the shadows, and cloaked figures watched them with dubious
six of them had no problems finding an inn. It was moderately
better than their Sheigan accommodations, but a far cry from
luxury. The first floor of the building housed a small bar whose
noise filtered through the ceiling to the chambers above. Their
room arrangements in the Bed n’ Beer Inn were the same as in
Shadywood – Raven with Keramis, Lianna with Lakai, and the
ever-watchful Sylvia with Lowak.
followed them through the streets and all the way to the tavern.
He spent the night in the bar, pondering on how he could seize the
boy. They were already in Freon, it couldn’t get any more
convenient than that! Sure he could just go to Germane, his
employer and head of the dominant thief guild, explain the
situation, and request a band of ruffians for assistance, or even
a small army if need be – Germane would spare no expense for
that was not Kadro’s style. This was his prey, his
triumph, his glory! And he was not about to share the
credit with a partner, a posse, or an entire legion. When
recounting his record of deeds, he would like to list the capture
of the greatest thief on Lossi as one of them. It was a matter of
principle and of pride.
down the mug of ale, Kadro banged the cup against the counter to
summon the bartender/innkeeper of the place. Utilizing the power
of his repute, he demanded to be shown a list of the guests and
which rooms they were staying in. Then, feigning frustration, he
requested a room for the night. The innkeeper, striving to please
the famed hero, gave him the skeleton key of the inn and told him
to pick out any room he liked; Kadro gladly accepted the offer.
made his way through the drunken haze of the bar and up the
tenuous staircase that led to the second floor, where the
tavern’s hubbub was muffled by a sturdy stone floor padded with
wooden boards. Stalking through a hallway flanked by numbered
doors, he searched for one engraved with a seven.
did not take him long to find it, and he verified the validity of
the room by looking through the keyhole to see a dark-haired girl
sitting by a pile of rags. Kadro fitted the skeleton key into the
keyhole and slowly turned the knob when the lock clicked. The door
creaked open on rusty hinges as he stepped inside the chamber.
Sylvia’s eyes were already fixed on him intently, but she made
no movement against him. Detaching his gaze from her spellbinding
stare, he drew his sword and looked around the room for his
whatever reason, Lowak preferred sleeping on the floor to sleeping
on a bed, and the bounty hunter was quick to discern that the pile
of rags by Sylvia was, in fact, the kid. She watched calmly as
Kadro marched across the room, grabbed hold of his collar, and
yanked him up so that his feet barely dangled off the ground.
to run now, boy,” the mercenary sneered.
awoke with a startled gasp, frantically biting and kicking at the
man, but only got slammed against the wall in reply. Just as Kadro
brought the dazed thief back up to his face, he felt a sharp chill
surge through his veins and found it painful to move.
eyes shifted to Sylvia, who rose wobbly to her feet and twiddled
her index finger forebodingly. Kadro entertained the thought of
running her through with his sword, but was certain that any
sudden movements would burst his blood vessels. In truth, wondered
if his sword would have any effect on her at all.
were heard outside the door before Keramis, Raven, and Lianna rushed into the room, with Lakai close behind them.
in the–?” Keramis blurted out.
turned slightly to face them, trying to sound as confident as he
could under the circumstances. “Give me one good reason,” he
pressed his blade against Lowak’s neck, “Why I shouldn’t
slit his throat here and now.”
about two good reasons?” Keramis pulled out his daggers.
Raven unsheathed his sword.
Lianna lashed out her whip.
clenched her fists and the muscles in Kadro’s hands contracted;
he dropped both his weapon and his hostage out of pure agony.
Lowak ran to Keramis’ side and glowered at the bounty hunter
from a safer distance.
regained his composure, and his sword, when Sylvia withdrew the
icy venom. “Look, just give me the boy,” he muttered, flexing
his hands carefully, “If I inform Germane that you’re
harboring his quarry, every assassin for miles will be hunting for
you!” Realizing this may not be a sufficiently perilous threat
for them, he quickly added, “And if I reveal your true
identities, whatever cover you have been working for till now will
be blown beyond recognition!”
if I kill you here and now,” Keramis scoffed through a toothy
grin, “Who will hear you?”
hung his head in agreement with that line of logic. Certain that
they were competing with him for Germane’s reward, he tried
appealing to them in a different way. “I can give you gold and
silver! Enough money for all four of you to never want of anything
ever again!” he exclaimed in all sincerity, for he valued
reputation and deeds far more than any tangible riches.
do you want him so badly?” Lianna inquired, “Surely not for
some stolen change.”
change? What?” Kadro blinked at her in confusion, clearly caught
off guard, then glared at Lowak, his face flushed with
embarrassment, “NO! No, nothing like that!”
examined them for a few moments, “Y-you mean you really don’t
know who he is?”
he’s only the most notorious thief in all of Lossi!” Kadro
broke the tension with a hearty laugh and sheathed his sword.
eyes turned to Lowak, who shrugged sheepishly.
bounty on his head is a king’s treasure!” the mercenary
winked, “It seems they are more apt to give the money away
willingly than have it stolen.”
was hired by the good folks of Freon to bring him to justice,”
Kadro leaned casually against the wall.
notorious thief in Lossi, you say?” Keramis asked.
right – no house he can not break into, no lock he can not pick,
no trap he can not disarm, etcetera, etcetera,” Kadro nodded,
“Or so the saying goes.”
house?” Keramis’ eyes glinted with mischief.
Kadro folded his hands behind his head, “Why he was even rumored
to have escaped from the Forestside Castle at a mere eight years
of age!” He mentioned the story deliberately, steering the
entire conversation to this precise point.
eyes turned back to Lowak, who was cowering in a corner.
keeping him,” Keramis said in a conclusive tone, wrapping an arm
around the thief.
was not hard to put two and two together: a group traveling to the
capital, interested in Lowak’s knowledge of the castle…
“What business do you have in Onedia’s castle?” Kadro
demanded, “Tell me!” but they paid no attention to him, “I
can tell you more about the boy! I know how he thinks, how he
feels, I know him better than he knows himself. As unpredictable
as the wind, he is! You need me!”
dismissed the offer with a disdainful chuckle and began walking
Lowak out of the room, Lianna and Raven behind him.
follow you!” Kadro insisted in vain, “That boy is mine and I
will be in your shadow until you give him to me!”
couldn’t bear to watch them leave and knew he had to act now.
Since the rest of the team seemed so tolerant of the ‘dark
ones’, he saw Kadro as his sole safeguard against them. Though
Lakai could tune into Lowak’s thoughts and emotions, he found
them to be quite erratic and unstable. A man who knew the workings
of the thief’s mind was an asset he could not let slip past.
Lakai tugged on Raven’s shirt, “No, he’s right, we need
him.” His companions looked at him in surprise. “I-I mean, he
already knows too much anyways! We can’t just let him go like
Lakai put a hand on the elf’s dagger, looking visibly
distressed, “No, no, no killing! That won’t do any of us any
good. He can help us! Why let such an opportunity go to waste? We
can work something out, I’m sure!”
was a long, awkward pause. Though he resented the fact, this was
one of the very few times in his life that Kadro found himself at
the whim of another. He looked from Keramis’ mocking scowl,
Lowak’s absolute terror, to Sylvia’s giddy anticipation, and Lianna’s dubious frown, from Lakai’s pleading, to Trellion’s
reluctance, trying to scour some hint of an answer in their
it would make you feel better, Lakai,” Raven tentatively replied
after scanning the others’ faces.
decided to discuss the matter over a few drinks, so they went
downstairs and bought some bottles of ale. Coming back to the
privacy of Sylvia and Lowak’s chamber (strategically positioned
between their other two rooms), they all sat in a circle on the
floor while Raven briefly summarized the mission as best he could
without revealing too much. Lakai, Sylvia, and Lowak were hearing
much of the details of the operation for the first time.
told about the happenings in Caldora: about Aloquin’s return and
his cravings for dominion, about the tidings of war and the havoc
it has wrought. Stressing the worldwide connotations of the
events, he disclosed Onedia as the Mistress of Illusions, allied
with Aloquin and acting as the extension of his influence on Lossi,
presenting this as clear evidence that Aloquin’s covetous gaze
fell not only on Caldora, but the Lossi mainland as well. Raven
relayed the cursing and liberation of the Enchanted Forest, and
concluded the speech by explaining that the next task put before
him, Lianna, and Keramis was to dismantle whatever trap was set by
Onedia in the astral castle.
the rumors are true, the bitch is a witch!” Kadro burst into a
bout of drunken laughter, “Well if you think the six of you can
break into the Forestside Castle just like that,” he snapped his
fingers, “You have another thing coming!”
tilted his head back and poured a jug of ale down his throat.
you help us?” Lakai inquired of the mercenary.
help you?” Kadro mocked, “You expect me to join a woman,” Lianna
crossed her arms, “A thief,” Lowak flashed a cynical
smirk from the shadows, “A werewolf,” Keramis put aside the
jug and snarled as his eyes flared bright amber, “And… And
Lord knows what else?!” he waved a hand towards Sylvia.
forcing you to,” Keramis reminded him with a low growl.
I talk to him alone for a few minutes?” Lakai begged the others.
friends left for their own rooms with acquiescent shrugs, Lowak
and Sylvia coming with Lianna. Kadro considered it insulting to
speak with anybody except who he deemed leader, but he also had to
admit that he could ascertain no true head in the group. In any
case, he did owe the kid a favor for possibly saving his life.
name is Lakai,” he took the swordsman’s hand to focus
concentration, “And, like the rest my party, I am not what I
eyed him suspiciously.
am human, just like you,” Lakai assured him with a
cheerful smile, “But I was raised by the Sidhe of the Enchanted
Forest, and later by the faeries of the East Forest. From them I
received psychic gifts of telepathy and empathy.” He felt
Kadro’s emotional defenses shoot up and figured he should get to
the point before the warrior had a chance to react.
know about you,” Lakai met the bounty hunter’s gaze, “I know
you have good left inside you no matter how much the world has
hurt or disappointed you, and no matter how much you try to hide
it,” he peered deeper into his eyes, “I know that deep down in
your heart you still hope for redemption, still long for the world
to prove to you that it can be better; that there are still those
out there who are honorable, kind, and do good for goodness’
sake instead of putting on a devious farce for their own benefit.
so happens that we are going on this mission for our friends and
for our families and–”
why, pray tell, do you think I would help this dour world?”
Kadro snapped back with faltering sarcasm.
world is a direct result of Onedia’s rule,” Lakai pointed out,
“She is no less than the Goddess of Illusions herself, and has
cursed the land with death, pain, and sorrow. It is her
oppression that splits friendships, creates orphans, and promotes
glared at him spitefully.
with us!” the boy implored, tears gathering in his eyes from the
intense emotional flux, “You can tell yourself that you’re
coming only to seize Lowak in the end, but know that the reward
will be far greater than that – this is your path to salvation!
know who you are,” Lakai believed he was getting through to him,
felt it, “You were naïve, but switching to the other extreme is
not the answer. This is not who you are, Kadro! You think you
found a way to face the world, to escape it? But you are only
walling yourself in like a coward!”
ripped his hand out of Lakai’s grasp and raised it threateningly
as the boy ducked away in fright. He almost brought it down to
strike the insolent child, but promptly restrained himself.
call me a coward,” he said quietly, slowly leaning back in his
merely sniffled in reply.
are you crying?” Kadro mumbled.
am crying for you,” Lakai looked up at him, “For who you are
and what you have become,” he wiped his eyes, “No matter how
much the world has hurt you and no matter how much wrongs you did,
all can still be set right if you truly want to. Come with us,”
he managed a smile, “On a noble quest just like in the olden
times. Come save your land from this curse, and you will forever
be remembered as an honorable hero.”
gave a compliant nod.
chirped pleasantly as they fluttered between the rainbow shafts of
sunlight that filtered down through the crystalline dome of the
royal gardens. Elvina darted from tree to tree, keeping an eye on
Lynn, who rested comfortably in the shade of a drooping willow.
Jason sat quietly on his throne, deep in thought, but the
monologue of the King’s mind was not silent to the Acora. It
took great skill to meditate despite this distraction, and Lynn
had centuries of experience.
let out an exasperated sigh and hopped off the throne, “Where is
an army in Nastra,” Lynn said evenly, retaining his
is never home anymore!” the King paced back and forth anxiously.
Stopping abruptly, he walked over to the dark elf and sat down
opposite him. “Why am I not with her?” Jason inquired
pleadingly, “Am I not King? I can’t just sit here and do
nothing! I want to help!”
help in different ways,” the Acora opened his eyes with serene
am I helping by being stuck in the Castle?!” Jason exclaimed.
shook his head, then met the King’s perturbed gaze with a
disarming smile, “I understand Keramis taught you a bit of
Jason lit up proudly, “Err, daggerplay, I mean, dagger–..
dagger… B-but don’t try to change the subject!”
do you remember how you got these, Keeper of the
Crystals?” Lynn pointed at the medallion that hung off Jason’s
neck; ten perfectly cut crystals arranged around and joined by a
single crystal that reflected them all.
these were no ordinary crystals, they were shards of the Crystals
of Power themselves – the colossal meteorites that collided with
the primordial Caldor, sending rivers of the Earth Dragon’s
blood gushing to the surface. It is from those waters that all
life on Caldora sprang, and by those crystals that all life energy
on Caldora was circulated. They embodied the raw forces of the
universe: five Light Crystals for the various forces of creation,
and five Dark Crystals for the various forces of destruction.
Lynn’s guidance, Jason had collected a piece from each of the
ten crystals, and put them together to form the talisman he now
wore. A fragment of the Channel Crystal was placed at the center
to direct the crystals’ power, for they were the ultimate
weapon; the combined forces of light and darkness could neutralize
any mortal being, including Caldor itself, on contact – indeed,
Jason destroyed the Earth Dragon’s embryo using them. Only the
gods could handle their intensity unharmed, and the King’s
divine bloodline alone saved him from instant annihilation.
a new task lays before us,” the Acora continued, “We must
collect more crystal shards and fuse them into a magical
cringed at the thought of going through the tedious,
time-consuming, and dull errand all over again. “C-can’t we
just use these crystal shards?” he stammered.
Lynn said matter-of-factly.
Jason started to protest the impracticality of time.
worry,” the dark elf assured him, “We have swift transport.”
if on cue, something landed on the palace dome with an audible
thud. The King looked up, startled, and saw the distorted visage
of a milk-white stallion staring down at him through the ceiling.
There was no mistaking it, this was Zelin, the ancient and wise
unipeg that oft roamed the East Forest glades. He lightly scraped
at the rooftop with a golden hoof, and flexed his feathery wings
you,” Lynn told the King, gesturing at the door.
yielded with a resigned shrug and proceeded towards the entrance.
muffled neighing was heard as he pushed off the dome and flew
down, landing by the Castle gates.
A huge crowd of commoners gathered at the central plaza of
Nastra this day to receive their weapons. The Chief Commander was
volunteered for the job by the rest of the army on grounds that he
was the least likely to get killed in the process. So there he was
alone, while they all hid in the barracks. The platform he stood
on was like an island in an ocean of slaves, and he had never felt
more vulnerable in his life.
Acleito eyed the multitude from his perch, he hoped that his
supposed good standing among them would not fail him. The fact
that they did not maul him yet was somewhat reassuring. He glanced
at the giant crate of newly made faery metal weapons behind him,
then back at the commoners.
Chief Commander put his Horn of Telepathy to his lips, took a deep
breath and swallowed hard. “As you all know,” he addressed the
slaves, his voice transplanted into their minds, “The Goddess
Dinictis has ordered us to equip you. We will arm you, and we will
train you! But as your Commander and friend, I ask that you not
use this opportunity for civil unrest! This war is far more
important than our petty quarrels, and you must promise me
of murmuring spread through the crowd.
not for me, then do it for our Queen!” Acleito interjected,
casting a solemn glare over his audience, “By accepting these
supplies you give me your word!”
you agree to these conditions, come!!” he shouted, motioning to
them with his hands.
first there was complete silence, but soon the slaves began to
stir. To his relief, the throng moved in an orderly fashion. Most
were grateful for their new privileges, eager to serve their
country, and happy to personally meet the Chief Commander whom
they’ve heard so many positive things about. The event
transpired without incident, and training ensued.