The mercenary woke up with a pounding headache. Finding
himself in his bed he assumed that he was brought here after
blacking out in the tavern. All he remembered past that was a very
lucid, very disturbing, very bad dream. It was almost as if he
experienced it like an observer instead of having full rational
control of his own being; this worried him. Now that he was awake
it all seemed rather hazy, and he thought it best to let the dream
fade away with the light of dawn. But upon sitting up, he saw
crimson stains on the bed sheets. Brushing a hand across his face,
Kadro gaped in horror at the flakes of dried blood that clung to
it and a chilling nausea washed over him as he understood that it
had been no dream.
bounty hunter was still in denial as he hurried to gather his
things, but every glance at the bloodstained bed reminded him that
he had sunk to an all-new low. Prostitutes and blood money was one
thing, but what happened last night out-stepped all his enduring
rules of conduct. He could not bear to show his face in this town
again, not even to offer an apology. Cautiously he tiptoed out of
his room and snuck by the scene of Keramis groveling at the feet
of the Tsuna Council, giving them all the gems he had left and
apologizing for him. The mercenary crept farther, out of the house
and through the earthen streets until he was well out of the
Lianna, Keramis, and Lakai met up with Sylvia and Lowak on the
outskirts of the hamlet. Lianna and Keramis each told their side
of the story, and Lowak nearly fainted at the thought of what his
adversary was capable of. Lakai appealed to his friends on
Kadro’s behalf, explaining that it was his fault that the man
got possessed, and how they shouldn’t judge him too severely
based on actions he never meant to commit. But the boy knew that
Trellion alone saw things his way, and though he could not read
the undead, Sylvia’s satisfied grin gave him the impression that
this was in part her fault, too.
Kadro finally mustered the courage to rejoin the group he was
greeted by a round of dubious looks. Raven eyed him curiously as
he walked past the company and mounted his horse. The rest
followed suit and they all jointly rode off without a word. So it
was the entire day.
knew he needed something to redeem himself. And though the most
logical thing to do would be to apologize, he had another idea: he
would shift the resentment from himself to Lowak.
Jason and Lynn had returned from their quest to gather
shards of the Crystals of Power and the King had a brand new
dagger to show for it, melded together right out of the crystal
pieces. He called it Caldor’s Fang, for it resembled a
crudely-cut dragon tooth which one gripped at the widest end and
struck with the sharp tip. Jason was now practicing with it up and
down the halls of the Crystal Castle.
that blade is of the same essence as your talisman,” Lynn
shouted to him from across the room.
know, I know,” Jason repeated what the Acora had warned him
about years before, “And any mortal it touches instantly drops
dead, got it.”
the Earth Dragon Caldor!” the dark elf added.
the King called back, “I wouldn’t worry so much, Lynn. I am
the Keeper of the Crystals for how long now? And I didn’t bring
the world to an end yet!” He twirled around to find himself face
to face with Dinictis.
there, sweetie,” the Queen moved his weapon hand away, wrapped
her arm about his neck, and leaned in to kiss him, “Careful
where you point that thing.”
Dini,” he smiled, too used to her popping in and out of the
castle all day to offer any formal salutations, “It’s just a
dagger made from the Crystals of Power,” Dinictis corrected.
and that makes it special somehow, huh,” Jason said, admiring
the way the veins of color that coursed through its crystalline
depths caught the light which shone down through the ceiling,
“But nobody has bothered to tell me why, so I think you owe me
an explanation, hmm?”
you had to do was ask, darling,” she cooed.
what’s the big deal?” the King inquired.
dagger has the power to harm gods,” the goddess answered.
gasped and hid the dagger behind his back.
kill, but harm,” Dinictis quickly clarified, “You will need to
use it on Aloquin.”
fighting Aloquin?” he blinked in surprise.
she replied, “As helpful as that would be, it’s too risky.
However, you will need to find a way to get close to him
and stab him.”
is that all?” Jason asked with obvious sarcasm.
honey,” Dinictis told him, “But that’s the only way to
reclaim your immortality. If you make direct contact with him
using the Crystals of Power, you could will it back inside you
through the Channel Crystal.”
you’ll need to stab him,” Lynn grinned.
alright,” Jason played along, still hoping this was some kind of
joke, “You could distract him, while I find a way to get close
to him. But, wouldn’t his army get in the way?”
don’t think that will be an issue,” Lynn said with a sly
Lianna, Lakai, and Kadro stayed overnight
at the next available village, while Sylvia and Lowak got to camp
outside again. Regardless how far he was from the bounty hunter,
Lowak refused to sleep. The Trickster Queen tried to lull him with
whimsical reveries, but though he knew she was more than capable
of protecting him from all harm he was still scared out of his
too, could not sleep – he was afraid of what dreams may bring.
At best he would be plagued by nightmares, at worst he was a
danger to himself and others. Restless and alone, he left his
quarters and wandered out into the fields where he sat on a dewy
hillock and stared emptily at the horizon.
mixed with anxiety; as a result of the utter emotional turmoil of
the last few days, he did not know who he was anymore. It was in
times like these that one was capable of turning their lives
completely around. He knew because he had been through this
before. Seven years ago he had become the person he was prior to
meeting these foreigners, and now it seemed he had changed again,
only for the worse. The warrior clenched his teeth in frustration;
was he powerless to stop the downward spiral?
is a beautiful morning,” Raven remarked politely, his elven
voice as gentle as a whisper on the wind.
did not dare to look behind him. He did not speak a word for over
a day and couldn’t get anything past the lump in his throat.
did not pressure him to, and quietly sat a short distance away to
wait for sunrise. To him, watching darkness fade as the first rays
of light pierced the horizon was a truly comforting experience.
Aurora’s name meant ‘dawn,’ and by basking in its warmth, he
felt as if she was right beside him. It reminded Raven how she had
rescued him from the pits of despair and opened a fresh chapter in
his life. He drew strength from that memory.
Kadro, however, the new day brought nothing but the promise of
loathing from his peers. He knew he deserved every bit of it, but
this was simply unbearable. The mercenary would much rather set
out alone to see where his new life would lead him than face the
stinging ridicule of those who had the misfortune of seeing him in
such a state. But he was too stubborn to quit. He longed to stay
and prove himself better than that, for he knew that if he left,
what little remained of his true character would surely die.
never imagined I could get so drunk,” Kadro heard himself say.
turned to look at the bounty hunter.
swear,” he met the half-elf’s icy gaze, “I swear by my
heart, by my soul, and all the honor that I hold sacred, that I
never meant for that to happen!” Kadro looked away and closed
his eyes tightly, “Or maybe I did, I don’t know. You must
excuse me, I don’t know much of anything anymore, the past few
days have been… Well I don’t suppose it’s my place to ask
for sympathy. The girl – she’s alright though, yes?” he
looked up with misty eyes.
nodded back and nervously ran his fingers through his hair. There
was a long moment of tense silence. Raven did not speak for he
would rather listen, but the mercenary misconstrued the
half-elf’s quietness for reproach. Growing discouraged, he saw
no other option open to him but to leave. “I don’t belong
here,” Kadro shook his head, beginning to stand up, “I would
only hinder your mission.”
an attitude like that you’ll only get possessed again,” Raven
train of melodramatic musings came to a screeching halt.
“What?” he asked.
Trellion clarified, “It dulls your willpower and leaves you open
do you mean ‘again’?” Kadro rephrased the question, “I was
possessed before? When?!”
night you attacked that girl,” Raven explained, “You were
human stared at him, speechless, with a renewed glimmer of hope in
his eyes. Could it be true? Was it not him in the tavern that
night? Could he still get through this ordeal with his dignity
intact? He felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off his
were possessed by a trickster,” Trellion told him, “But that
does not erase your responsibility for what happened.”
no, of course not!” Kadro agreed emphatically, “I cannot
change the past. But I can atone for it by making them pay for
what they did!”
are going up against the Mistress of Illusions herself,” Raven
said, rising from the ground, “I’m sure you’ll get your
believe you me!” Kadro insisted, “I have dealt with their kind
before, and I will make it my personal duty to send every
trickster I find back to the abysmal realms from which they
for now, we must train,” Trellion smiled and stretched out his
hand to the warrior in the North Forest gesture of tentative
smiled back and shook the hand gladly, feeling somewhat accepted
once more. They walked further out into the cornfield and drew
their weapons in preparation for a friendly spar.
me, elf,” the mercenary inquired, “Why did you come out here
today? Why do you care?”
was possessed once,” Raven replied, his eyes trailing along the
length of his sword, which gleamed crimson with the rosy light of
dawn, “By the god of war.”
God of War?!” Kadro exclaimed, “Who lives in a castle made of
human bones, which is decorated with human entrails, surrounded by
a moat filled with human blood–?”
half-elf’s steely gaze warned him not to question the matter
each got into their fighting stances and waited to see who would
strike first. The bounty hunter got impatient and resolved to take
the initiative by charging Trellion. Raven had anticipated this
and casually sidestepped the attack. Kadro spun around, his sword
veering in a sideways slash only to be deflected by the
met the onslaught with a relaxed, defensive style. The rhythmic
clanging of metal was like music to his soul. When he was
sufficiently warmed up, he decided to make a gradual transition to
offense, so that there was a balanced amount of attacks between
them. Kadro had his own shield now, and was able to block his
opponent’s thrusts with relative ease. This went on for some
time until Raven picked up the pace, his sword swings becoming
progressively faster, forcing the mercenary to adapt a more
defensive approach. He was testing how ready the warrior was for
the true intensity of North Forest battle, and so far he was
fairly impressed – this human could pose a challenge to the high
didn’t share the half-elf’s sentiments. The shift in speed put
him on the receiving end of some very rapid slashes, and he was
not faring all that well. He was being driven backwards by
unyielding sword thrusts – a spot he was finding himself in much
too often for his liking nowadays. But he would not be beaten so
easily this time, even if it meant resorting to less respectable
methods. Kadro didn’t have much room to maneuver, however, which
restricted him to using the most basic of tactics – so basic
they had no chance of success against a knowledgeable opponent,
but under the given circumstances were worth a try anyway.
parried one of Raven’s thrusts with his long sword and bounced
off the riposte that followed with exaggerated force, his weapon
out wide and his shield drooping. Trellion was unable to resist
his opponent’s seemingly helpless posture, and launched a
reckless hack at the staggering human. Kadro regained his balance
instantly and used his shield to sweep his adversary’s sword
aside as he came in with his own, scoring a hit on the half-elf
with the flat of his blade.
was that?” Raven demanded, jumping away.
was what?” Kadro asked.
no way you could have possibly done that from your position!”
called feigning,” said the bounty hunter.
called cheating!” Trellion shot back indignantly.
mercenary stared at him, puzzled. “Good Lord, elf!” he
exclaimed in amazement, “Your culture lives and breathes battle
and you never heard of feigning?!”
fighter confident in his skills does not rely on deception for
victory,” Raven recited the code of the high ranks, which
condemned armor and trickery.
how perfectly selfish of you,” Kadro teased, “I don’t know
about your society, but in ours it’s not always that simple.
Sometimes you have something to protect!”
radiant face flashed through Trellion’s mind. “What do you
have to protect?” the half-elf smirked.
paused to scour through his reasons. He’d say women but they
betrayed him, he’d say values but they backfired on him, he’d
say civilization but it abandoned him. “Myself!” the mercenary
that’s not selfish?” Raven scoffed.
laughed at the jibe, and they crossed swords again.
At the core of the Dark Fortress lay a chamber so vast it
could swallow the entire physical castle whole. In the center was
a spinning portal that pulsed like a steady heartbeat, it’s soft
light illuminating the crevices of the domed ceiling. It was a
rift in time and space, a window to another world. More precisely,
it was a gateway to the land of the dying Earth Dragon, and
Aloquin could stare into it for hours on end, the prismic light of
the vortex reflecting in his crazed eyes.
demise tugged at his soul. He sensed his bond to the elder dragon
and felt its life force slowly ebbing away as its offspring gained
in strength. He sensed the young dragon inside the old. The
hatchling was nearly mature enough to be born, and he felt how it
screeched and thrashed wildly in its reckless attempts to break
free. Through his twisted perceptions, Aloquin believed the
ferocity to be aimed at him. But he knew he was safe, he knew he
had overcome that grim fate, and knew that it would be here where
he could reverse his destiny by hurling his twin into the portal
in his stead. He knew and he was gloating.
sat in the background, watching. She had hoped that building the
astral citadel would make him take notice of her, bring them
closer together, give them an opportunity to spend more time with
each other. But the wizard remained as distant as always. Aloquin
had a cold, callous beauty about him: as magnificent as an icicle
sparkling in the sun, and just as harsh.
Days passed, and Lowak still could not sleep. They walked
and walked but he remained awake. The mercenary’s actions have
shaken the reality of his situation into him. Never before had he
seriously considered the notion of actually being returned to
Germane until now. And yet here he was, unable to escape,
traveling in the same party as the bounty hunter hired to retrieve
were nearly at Iyutel; the city’s spires were already visible on
the horizon. And when their business there was over, what then?
What would happen to him? Lowak kept nodding off on his horse but
the knowledge that his nemesis was riding close by did not allow
him to rest. He saw Raven take out a crystal and whisper into it
something about their arrival at the capital, and noted how the
elves donned their hoods. In no time at all they were passing
through the city gates.
group led their horses through brightly colored streets lined with
crafts stores and vendors, and teeming with noisy people. Keramis
was quick to pull the hood over the dazed thief’s head, but
Lowak didn’t notice. He didn’t notice that he was stumbling,
and didn’t even notice that he was being supported by Sylvia.
But it was only a matter of time before his body gave out and he
swooned, falling into the arms of the Trickster Queen.
thing,” Lianna sighed pitifully, “We better find an inn
glowered at Kadro.
tossed back his cape and tugged on his horse.
scanned the marketplace for an inn of some sort.
felt a very large, very ominous presence around, but attributed it
The door creaked open on rusty hinges, revealing a room lit
by flickering torches. Lowak was hauled inside by armed thugs,
crying and pleading for mercy with his guild master – the man he
had come to see as a father. But Germane paid no attention and
marched on ahead. He could not afford to simply throw him out into
the streets, the boy was much too valuable and too sought-after to
had been here before; the place reeked of blood and death. He was
led past torture devices of every shape and form, many of them
currently in use. Bloodshot eyes stared at him from the vault of
an iron maiden, he heard the moans of some poor soul being
stretched on the rack, the gurgled gasps of a woman being drowned
in boiling water, and could smell the burning flesh of a traitor
being subjected to fire.
was being steered towards an iron coffin, and he knew its uses
well. One would be left there to die of starvation, with live
wasps, tarantulas, centipedes and other such things being let
through the air holes from time to time. Eating those would keep
one alive a bit longer. A more lenient alternative was to be fried
inside it and have it over with swiftly. Germane’s thugs dumped
the boy violently into the casket and slammed the lid shut.
screamed some of the most heart-wrenching cries the guild leader
had ever heard. He shrieked until he lost his voice, banged on the
walls until his hands bled, and scraped at the coffin until rust
was embedded deep under his fingernails, but nobody came or cared.
awoke with a shudder, finding himself in a darkened room. Sylvia
watched from the shadows as the thief took a few unsteady steps
towards her, obviously still not recovered from the flashback.
he said in a quivering voice, putting his hands on her shoulders,
“We-we have to go, we can’t stay here any longer.”
Trickster Queen cocked her head quizzically to the side.
wants to kill me,” Lowak whispered, his darting eyes wide with
fear. He bent Sylvia down to a crouch and sat down beside her.
“But don’t worry,” he hugged himself and started to rock
back and forth, “I’ll figure something out. We can live on the
street and steal anything we need, right? We won’t have to rely
on anybody, won’t have anybody telling us what to do. I know
some abandoned houses. Sure they’ve got rats, but they’ve got
to live somewhere, too, right?”
will be alright, sister, I promise!” he clutched her hand, “We
just have to leave, and go far, far away. If Germane finds us
again, he’ll do something much worse, and then who’ll look
after you? Now come on, I know a way out.”
pulled her along towards the door, opening it to see Lianna,
Raven, and Keramis huddled around on the other side, staring down
at him curiously. This city housed grander inns and the group was
able to afford a place with several rooms.
going on here?” Lianna asked, holding up a lighted candle.
Lowak breathed, gawking at them in disbelief, “No, it can’t
were you talking to?” the woman peered behind him.
was…” he looked back at Sylvia, confused, “To my… My…”
sister,” Kadro stepped forward, “Who froze to death years
ago.” His chance to humiliate the boy came right on schedule.
recoiled from the sight of the bounty hunter.
must’ve screwed with his head more than I thought,” the
mercenary said with a disdainful laugh, “Living for this long
with no human contact whatsoever, hiding from the sun, paranoid
beyond all reason. I tried to warn you – that kid has
Lianna frowned with concern.
grabbed the thief and pulled him up to his face, “Your
sister’s dead, you deluded twit!”
shook his head in denial.
the warrior jerked him roughly, “Dead!! Because of you! If you
hadn’t angered your psychotic guild master, you wouldn’t be
out on the streets in the middle of winter! If you hadn’t
neglected her and only thought about your own wretched self, maybe
stolen her a damn blanket, she might still be alive today!”
that’s not how it–” the boy insisted, only to get shoved to
the ground. Lowak glared back at the man with such hatred, but it
did not last, for his eyes welled up with tears. He fell to his
knees, his body convulsing in uncontrollable sobs. Pounding his
fists into the ground, he screamed a word barely decipherable as
‘NO’ over and over again.
backed away, completely unprepared for this reaction.
Keramis carefully knelt by the boy, but he was inconsolable,
batting aside all his attempts at comforting him. The elf did not
give up, however, and stayed by him while the others left. His
heart reached out to the wretched, forsaken, trodden-upon creature
before him. An emotional hedgehog that lashed out at anyone who
tried to touch him. Lowak reminded him of how he could have turned
out had nobody shown him kindness and believed in him when he
lacked the will to believe in himself. He grabbed past Lowak’s
pathetic efforts to push him away and drew him into a warm, tight
embrace. Lowak fought back and resisted all he could but Keramis
wouldn’t let go.
The thief kicked and
clawed and punched until all his energy was spent and all his
defenses melted away. He clenched his fists around the elf’s
tunic and broke down crying until his eyes ran dry. Keramis gently
stroked his hair and whispered, “whenever you feel lost, remember
this moment and know that you are not alone.” For
once in his life Lowak felt safe in the arms of another and
allowed himself to trust that the elf’s kind words were sincere.
He sensed his eyelids growing heavy, and ever so slowly he drifted
off to sleep in Keramis’ lap.
“Shall I take
him to his room?” Sylvia croaked.
Keramis told her, “I barely got him to sleep as it is. I think
we’ll manage without your watch for tonight.”
Queen gave a nonchalant shrug and floated out the door.
Afraid of waking
the boy, Keramis didn’t risk moving from his spot and ended up
falling asleep on the floor.
Lowak walked through clouds of green tinted mist. It was
cold, and he noted vapor escape his mouth as he breathed. All
around he could see nothing but fog, made luminous by frozen
droplets of water that twinkled like minute stars. He did not know
where he was going, but he was following a haunting whisper that
beckoned to him by name. It led the thief to a large chunk of
solid ice suspended in mid air. Within it was a little girl, her
image distorted by uneven folds of ice. She had hair black as
raven feathers, and her face was frozen in an expression of
extreme sadness. He instantly recognized her as his younger
she spoke, her voice like tinkling icicles, “Why did you let me
die? You were supposed to look after me.”
was at a loss for words. He felt tears rimming his eyes but they
froze on his eyelashes. The boy stretched out a trembling hand
towards her, but as soon as his fingertips touched the ice, it
shattered into a million tiny pieces.
awoke with a start, his heartbeat racing. Still shivering from the
cold, the thief sat up to examine his surroundings. He saw Keramis
curled up on the floor – how could he let himself fall asleep in
that elf’s lap? Did he fool him into thinking that he cared for
him, that he could trust him!? Trust! Lowak’s whole being held
sheer contempt for that word! The more somebody showed him they
cared, the more suspicious of them he became. If his sister and he
were to die tomorrow, who would care?
was he here at all? Did these people truly expect him to believe
that they would protect him from the bounty hunter? How gullible
did they think he was?! It was no secret that the faery boy bore
no love for him and favored Kadro instead. They only needed him to
infiltrate the castle, and past that he would have outlived his
usefulness. Lakai must have convinced the mercenary to tag along
by promising to hand him over when that happened. And then he
would be taken back to his guild master. Germane’s claim of
kicking him out of the guild was a lie told to cover up the
embarrassing truth of a child escaping his most closely guarded
premises. He had no wish to find out what the guild would do to
him to avenge that disgrace. He could not go back, he would not go
back! Who would take care of his sister once he’s gone?
the thief decided, he would betray them before they could betray
him. With a broadening sneer, he realized that the ever-vigilant
undead Queen was not here to watch him. Lowak slipped out of the
inn making no sound and headed for the Forestside Castle.
Sylvia hovered over a deserted cobblestone street lit only
by moonlight. She had a good view of the palace, and could clearly
see the eerie astral citadel looming over the mundane castle. The
enormous mass bulged and collapsed as innumerable trickster bodies
rearranged into fantastic shapes and offshoots in response to the
Trickster Queen’s presence. It was an exhilarating sight to
behold, for her essence was drawn to them as well, and her body
surged with power.
off to the side, her unblinking eyes noticed a human shadow slink
over the wall that surrounded the physical castle. She smiled,
fully knowing who it was, but there would be time enough to worry
Lowak scurried across the courtyard under cover of
darkness, and was now creeping silently through the bowels of the
Forestside Castle. His family had been imprisoned in this place as
part of an accumulating group of traitors to be sent to the
Haunted Forest en masse by order of Queen Onedia. He had managed
to run away with his sister, but was forced to leave his parents
behind. The strange thing about it was that he didn’t blame the
Queen for the way his life turned out. Instead, he blamed his
parents for being inconsiderate enough to join a conspiracy
crusade when they had children to raise. While he knew Onedia was
not a forgiving woman, perhaps she would be willing to make a
thief jogged his memory for recollections of the palace’s
layout, but it was all rather hazy after six years. Still, he
remembered enough to guide him to his destination – the throne
room was just around the next bend. He hoped to have an element of
surprise by sneaking in at night, but something about the castle
seemed different: he kept having this creepy feeling that he was
being watched. Lowak took a slight peek into the room and
reflexively drew back against the wall. The chamber was packed
was fun while it lasted, but you can come out now!” Onedia
sensed his feet tingle at the sound of her voice and move of their
own accord. They marched him across the red carpet and straight
into the center of the room. Upon closer inspection, he saw that
among the soldiers were bizarre, non-human creatures: elves and
goblins, orcs and half-weres. But they were all eclipsed by the
glorious visage of the enthroned Queen.
knew I was coming,” the boy stared at her incredulously.
I did,” she replied, “Although I must admit you know your way
around my palace exceptionally well. How ever did you manage?”
escaped your prisons once before,” Lowak found it impossible to
really?” Onedia frowned, but dismissed the thought with a shrug.
“Either way,” she yawned tiresomely, “For waking me up in
the middle of the night, you better have something amusing to
so exposed in front of so many people was one of Lowak’s
greatest fears, but he did his best to suppress it. “I-I do,”
the thief stuttered.
the goddess shifted to rest her chin in her palm, “Do tell.”
he twiddled his fingers nervously, “I came to inform you of some
spies, or possibly assassins, who want to break into your
being not you?” Onedia scanned him with her penetrating gaze.
Lowak exclaimed, “Not me. I was supposed to lead them inside
on,” she prompted him with a hand gesture.
I tell you,” the thief solicited, “Could I humbly ask for one
thing in return?”
safety of my sister and I,” he requested.
child,” the Queen smiled pleasantly.
are a group of foreigners,” the boy relayed, “But easy enough
to pick out since Kadro the Wanderer is traveling with them.
They’re already in the city, and will probably try to raid this
castle sometime very soon.”
dark figure bent in from the side and whispered something into the
Queen’s ear. Lowak watched as it then leaned back against the
throne and flashed him a dark grin. He couldn’t take his eyes
off that face. Was it a doppelganger or was he hallucinating
Lowak gaped at the half-elf.
war god pointed at himself questioningly.
are you here?” the thief asked.
waltzed past the guards and up to the boy. “Where should I
be?” he inquired.
at the inn,” Lowak wavered, “With the others.”
who am I?” Yugashii questioned, circling him with mounting
interest. This half-elf was the exact physical replica of Trellion.
But some things were off: his manner was too obnoxious, and his
voice too harsh.
are Raven,” the thief replied uncertainly.
God of War threw back his head with laughter. “He’s not
lying!” Yugashii called back to the Queen, his grin widening.
Marvelous!” Onedia clapped her hands excitedly, “Something
finally happening on our side of the front! Don’t worry, child,
you’ll get all that was promised you and more!”
boy barely heard her. He was still staring at Trellion’s face;
he never thought he’d have to confront it again. A strange,
sickening feeling gripped at his heart. What had he done? Surely
these people wouldn’t simply give his group a chiding slap on
the wrist and send them away. Had he just sentenced the entire
party to this ignoble death? Keramis, who defended him from Kadro
on several occasions without even knowing who he was; Raven, who
had shielded him from the bounty hunter the first time they met; Lianna, who stood by him when others had given up. Maybe he was
wrong, maybe they really did care, and maybe he had just betrayed
the only friends he had in the world.
more thing,” Lowak spoke up, interrupting Onedia and the Warrior
you possibly, ahh…” the thief hesitated, realizing how
completely ridiculous his request sounded, “Could you… not
kill all of them?”
glanced back at him blankly.
mean,” Lowak quickly added, “You can kill Kadro, and I hope
you kill him slowly. You can even kill Lakai for all I care! But
please spare Keramis.”
raised an eyebrow, eyeing him unfavorably.
don’t know what kind of game you think you’re playing, kid,”
Yugashii said evenly, “But this is war.”
boy frantically searched the room for any hint of support, but
found none. “I’m a thief, not a murderer!” he pleaded.
consider yourself promoted,” the war god smirked.
gazed at him with pure terror. “I understand,” he replied
after a long pause, his face drained of all emotion, “I guess I
should go now.” He bowed to the Queen and turned to leave.
scowled, nodding to the Warrior Spirit.
moved in to obstruct the thief’s path.
gulped, sensing what this meant.
Queen finds you disloyal,” the war god told him, his eyes
blazing crimson, “Can’t let you go that easy.”
feel pity for your friends? How touching,” Onedia said through
an annoyed, tight-lipped smile, looking downright demonic. “Once
a traitor, always a traitor. Throw him in the Pit of Darkness!”
she ordered, “No locks to pick there.”
brainwashed soldiers all jointly began chanting “To The Pit!”
as Yugashii grabbed hold of the boy and dragged him, kicking and
screaming, out of the throne room.
Warrior Spirit towed him through winding hallways, and with every
step Lowak felt the atmosphere become less tangible. The castle
was also growing progressively darker – not in the sense of an
absence of light, this was something much more frightening.
Eventually he gave up resisting, and merely hung onto his captor,
too scared to scream. Onedia had a habit of naming various things
‘dark.’ But the Pit of Darkness was not named so just to sound
ominous, it was quite literally a trickster-infested hellhole
consisting of absolute darkness.
Onedia rushed off to her chambers to tell Aloquin of what
happened. She fixed her hair, put on a bright, shining smile, and
sat in front of the Dark Mirror. It did not take long for the
god’s image to appear after she tapped her crystal.
Queen of the Forestside Kingdom,” Aloquin bowed.
what!” she greeted him giddily.
wizard feigned interest.
one guy that you said looks like the God of War,” Onedia told
him, “He’s here! And so are his friends! Kadro, Lakai, Lianna,
and Kiramis… I think.”
Aloquin perked up, “What are they doing all the way over
to break into my castle, that’s what!” she snickered.
fools!” the wizard couldn’t help but laugh at the prospect of
somebody attempting to sneak into a living mass of trickster eyes.
don’t know if they’re still going to, though,” Onedia sighed
glumly, “I caught the thief that was going to lead them
it a human thief?” he asked.
a human child.”
they’ll try anyway,” Aloquin shook his head, “They started
off without that thief and they planned on finishing. But we can
help them along with some lure perhaps. What would you suggest?”
ball!” the enchantress exclaimed, twirling around as if dancing.
a ball it shall be,” he smiled.
goddess giggled with glee.
wait is nearly complete,” the wizard informed her, “My portal
will be ready in three days. Put out some flyers and prepare your
troops, for that will be the eve of the final battle.”
dipped into another bow, and faded away.
fell back onto her luxurious bed to daydream of the upcoming
masquerade while humming a sweet melody and combing her hair.
The unified forces of Caldora stalked through the twisted
labyrinth of the North Forest. West Forest armies rode fearsome
South Forest dragons, while East Forest faeries rimmed the outer
reaches of the troops, casting a ring of invisibility on all
within their borders. Jason wound up at the center of the crowd,
buffered by royal guards. He prudently cradled his crystalline
dagger and periodically looked to Dinictis, who seemed lost in
thought. Acleito and Lynn, the chief officers of the Caldorian
Army subordinate only to their Queen, kept to the head of the
legion together with their North Forest allies: the Acora’s
ancestral cave, the karaci people, and other formerly neutral
factions. Slowly but surely, they made their way towards Kayintas.