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CALDORA: Chapter 13: The Gathering Storm

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The Gathering Storm  

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            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 Dragon Caldor.

            Dinictis 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.

            The 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.

            Acleito 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.

            Acleito 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.

            “The North Foresters are mighty warriors,” Dinictis said in all seriousness.

            “No worries, my Queen,” he replied with confidence, “We are superior to them in every way.”

            “A wise commander never underestimates their opponent,” she chided him.

            “I 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.

            A 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.

            This 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.

            “We, 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–”

            “And how do you suggest we bring horses and catapults into the North Forest?” Dinictis asked with a wry grin.

            Acleito paused in thought.

            “You 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 reminded him.

            Acleito wanted to say something but was at a loss for words.

            “One of their main advantage is numbers,” Dinictis went on, “The Forestside army will undoubtedly fight alongside Kayintas.”

            “There 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!”

            “It will not be that simple,” the Queen said dourly, “You’ll be fighting on Aloquin’s terms, with the Warrior Spirit ensuring their victory.”

            “You are the only deity we could ever need on our side, my Lady,” Acleito beamed her a wide smile.

            The 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.

            “Well,” the Commander wavered, “No, I can’t say I have.”

            “It’s 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.”

            “What?” Acleito gawked at her in disbelief.

            “Arm them, and train them,” she repeated, “All will have a chance to defend their homes.”


            “Just 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 in battle.

            “The 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 an inn.

Kadro’s 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 arrival.

            Freon 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 eyes.

            The 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.

            Kadro 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 Lowak’s retrieval.

            But 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.

            Gulping 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.

            He 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.

It 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 objective.

For 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.

“Nowhere to run now, boy,” the mercenary sneered.

Lowak 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.

His 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.

Footsteps were heard outside the door before Keramis, Raven, and Lianna rushed into the room, with Lakai close behind them.

“What in the–?” Keramis blurted out.

Kadro 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.”

“How about two good reasons?” Keramis pulled out his daggers.

“Three,” Raven unsheathed his sword.

“Four,” Lianna lashed out her whip.

Sylvia 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.

Kadro 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!”

“And if I kill you here and now,” Keramis scoffed through a toothy grin, “Who will hear you?”

Kadro 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.

“Why do you want him so badly?” Lianna inquired, “Surely not for some stolen change.”

“Stolen 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!”

“Then why?”

Kadro examined them for a few moments, “Y-you mean you really don’t know who he is?”


“Well he’s only the most notorious thief in all of Lossi!” Kadro broke the tension with a hearty laugh and sheathed his sword.

All eyes turned to Lowak, who shrugged sheepishly.

“The 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.”

“They?” Lianna frowned.

“I was hired by the good folks of Freon to bring him to justice,” Kadro leaned casually against the wall.

“Most notorious thief in Lossi, you say?” Keramis asked.

“That’s 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.”

“Any house?” Keramis’ eyes glinted with mischief.

“Aye,” 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.

All eyes turned back to Lowak, who was cowering in a corner.

“We’re keeping him,” Keramis said in a conclusive tone, wrapping an arm around the thief.

It 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!”

Keramis dismissed the offer with a disdainful chuckle and began walking Lowak out of the room, Lianna and Raven behind him.

“I’ll follow you!” Kadro insisted in vain, “That boy is mine and I will be in your shadow until you give him to me!”

Lakai 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.

“No,” 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 that!”

“You’re right,” Keramis nodded, wicked grin returning, “We should kill him.”

“No!” 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!”

There 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 expressions.

“If it would make you feel better, Lakai,” Raven tentatively replied after scanning the others’ faces.

*          *            *

They 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.

Raven 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.

“So 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!”

Keramis tilted his head back and poured a jug of ale down his throat.

“Can you help us?” Lakai inquired of the mercenary.

“Me 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.

“Nobody’s forcing you to,” Keramis reminded him with a low growl.

“Can I talk to him alone for a few minutes?” Lakai begged the others.

His 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.

“My name is Lakai,” he took the swordsman’s hand to focus concentration, “And, like the rest my party, I am not what I seem.”

Kadro eyed him suspiciously.

“I 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.

“I 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.

“It so happens that we are going on this mission for our friends and for our families and–”

“And why, pray tell, do you think I would help this dour world?” Kadro snapped back with faltering sarcasm.

“This 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 distrust.”

Kadro glared at him spitefully.

“Come 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!

“I 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!”

Kadro 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.

“Don’t call me a coward,” he said quietly, slowly leaning back in his chair.

Lakai merely sniffled in reply.

“Why are you crying?” Kadro mumbled.

“I 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.”

Kadro gave a compliant nod.

*          *            *

Songbirds 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.

Jason let out an exasperated sigh and hopped off the throne, “Where is she now?!”

“Raising an army in Nastra,” Lynn said evenly, retaining his concentration.

“She 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!”

“You help in different ways,” the Acora opened his eyes with serene grace.

“How am I helping by being stuck in the Castle?!” Jason exclaimed.

Lynn shook his head, then met the King’s perturbed gaze with a disarming smile, “I understand Keramis taught you a bit of swordplay.”

“Yes,” Jason lit up proudly, “Err, daggerplay, I mean, dagger–.. dagger… B-but don’t try to change the subject!”

“And 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.

But 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.

With 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.

“Now a new task lays before us,” the Acora continued, “We must collect more crystal shards and fuse them into a magical dagger.”

Jason 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.

“No,” Lynn said matter-of-factly.

“But–!” Jason started to protest the impracticality of time.

“Don’t worry,” the dark elf assured him, “We have swift transport.”

As 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 in anticipation.

“After you,” Lynn told the King, gesturing at the door.

Jason yielded with a resigned shrug and proceeded towards the entrance.

Zelin’s 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.

            As 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.

            The 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 to cooperate!”

            Waves of murmuring spread through the crowd.

            “If 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!”

            The crowd hushed.

            “If you agree to these conditions, come!!” he shouted, motioning to them with his hands.

At 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.



Copyright © 2003 by Yumeni www.twilightvisions.com. All rights reserved.
Revised: 27 Jan 2013 22:59:03 -0700 .



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