Night ofthe Black Cat/Children of the Golden Flame

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Night ofthe Black Cat/Children of the Golden Flame

MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

04 Feb 2009, 02:30 #1

This is the first story in a series I've been doing on Marvel. Hope you guys like it. I'll post others as I finish them.


"Night of the Black Cat"

High on the rooftop of the Cathedral of the Sky Father, the black-clad figure waited in the shadow of the church's bell tower, as silent and still as one of the cathedral's angelic statues. The sun had just sunk below the skyline, bathing the city of Yarmin in a red-and-gold glow.
On the streets below, the citizens of the great capital went about their evening business, closing shops and heading home, completely unaware of the living statue crouched high above them in the deepening shadows. A soft rustling movement came from inside a large pack beside the silent figure. Two small, furry faces with large pointed ears, bright green eyes, and long whiskers beside their twitching noses peeked out.
"Not yet, my friends," whispered the ebon-clothed woman softly, absently stroking each cat's head in turn. She had dressed for the hunt, her tight-fitting breeches and silk tunic tucked into soft leather boots and a narrow belt with several pouches attatched, all in black. As if in answer to her words, the little black female nuzzled her hand and purred. Though slightly smaller than her white-furred sibling, Yang was the more dominant over her ever-curious brother Yin. They had been named for their uncanny resemblance to the amulets often worn by emissaries from the far-off and mysterious Chianzhou Empire.
Felicia Delagato had come upon the pair one day while engaged in her favorite past-time of stealing from the homes of some of the greediest of the wealthy class of Dons, or aristocratic land-owners. They had been huddled forlornly against the body of their dead mother, mewing pitifully from hunger. she had been struck by their singularly unusual markings, each with a large spot of the opposite color on their heads. As a follower of the goddess Pashutsa, who was a patron goddess of cats, women, and those who lived by their wits and stealth, Felicia had known instantly that Pashutsa had guided her to them.
At last she spotted her quarry exiting a small shop with a faded sign over the door that read simply "Curios". He was a tall, middle-aged man with dark hair and a well-trimmed fu-manchu beard, wearing the black robes common to judges, priests of evil gods, or mages dealing in the darker magical arts. His name was Julio Ramon Valdez, and like her, he was a member of the landed aristocracy, a noble Don. Unlike most of his peers, however, he apparently made his wealth through shady business practices, extortion, and criminal networks. There were even rumors that he performed many unnatural magical experiments using the vile practices of necromancy and transmutation. He was known as a skilled alchemist as well.
That was why Felicia had been waiting for him; she had seen a vision- sent by the goddess herself- that Valdez had somehow captured a cat-lord named Felix, a being of the Outer Planes where the gods made their domains. The cat-lord was one of Pashutsa's favored servants. Now it was Felicia's task to free him and all the other victims of the sorcerer's evil experiments, and to steal a powerful artifact that he was using to control Felix.
She waited until he had reached the end of the narrow street, then picked up her pack and used the silver feather-fall ring she wore to dropp safely to the ground some fifty feet below. Once there, she pulled her invisibility cloak- no self-respecting thief should be without one of these, she thought- out of the bag and put it on.
Soon the man arrived at an inn, and gestured to a raggedly dressed stable-boy. The scruffy lad ran into the stable, and came back leading a huge black horse fearfully- and with good reason. Each time the beast's hooves struck the ground, a wisp of dark smoke rose up, and left scorch marks on the ground. Smoke issued from its flared nostrils as well, and the stallion's eyes blazed with a crimson glow unnatural in any earthly steed.
A nightmare- so the rumers are true, thought Felicia, recalling what she knew of the demonic steeds. Yin had poked his head out of the pack again, sniffing intently at a butcher's as she passed; the cat caught a whiff of the nightmare's scent. He hissed and growled in warning, his hackles raised. Felicia paused. Valdez had turned, half in his saddle, toward the sound. she waited breathlessly, afraid he would detect her through the magic of her cloak. At last he, sat down atop his demonic mount and rode toward the edge of the city. Felicia watched him ride off, and wondered how she was going to get into his home to search for the cat-lord. She certainly couldn't follow him on foot, but trailing him on horse-back would give her presence away. What to do? She saw the scorch marks on the ground, and decided that perhaps following him was not the best solution after all. All she needed was to get inside his hacienda to free Felix; if, perchance, she were invited there- so much the better.
Of course, she thought, suddenly smiling. What kind of "cat" would I be if I did not know how to use my wiles to get what I want?
Felicia turned on her heels and raced back to the inn. She ducked into a dark alcove, and quickly pulled a long skirt out of her pack, putting it on over her breeches, and letting her long black hair fall free from the braid she had put it in earlier. It simply would not do to have a daughter of one of Yarmin's most prominent families identified as a notorious burgler, even if the city watch and the officials who were charged with protecting the people HAD become corrupt and uncaring. She snorted in disgust as she retrieved her own horse from the stable.
The Republic is being run by a petty little tyrant with no spine, the true power is held by a ruthless wizard who is rarely even seen by day and bullies poor farmers into selling their daughters as "payment" for taxes, and the Republican Guard is being led by a bunch of cursed Death Knights! Who has time to worry about one thief? she wondered. She did find it strangely satisfying to sneak into the villas of those very same officials and rob them blind, only to give nearly all the profits to the various temples of the city. After all, what need had she for the spoils? Far better that it provide some small comfort to those most in need. with the stories she had heard of the Presidente's new advisor and his supposed habits, the city and its people needed all the comfort she could give. Valdez was simply one more example of the depths to which the once-glorious Republic had sunk.
By the time she reached her own home, it was full dark, and most of the servants had gone to their quarters for the night. That suited Felicia's purpose just fine. She took care of her horse, then crept into the walled garden, and silently approached a large statue of Sorden Sky Father, the ruler and father of all the gods, and turned the eagle on top of his lightening staff. The statue began to move, making a soft scraping sound as it slid aside to reveal a deep hole with a narrow wooden ladder leading down beneath the garden.
Felicia climbed down the ladder into the darkness with practiced ease, until her feet touched the earthen floor of the cavern below. She found the lever to replace the statue and light the tunnel by instinct, and smiled to herself. No one in her family knew about this secret lair. Only one other soul in all the world was aware of it's existance- her trusted servant Anna. And she was deaf and mute, so would never tell. Felicia's father had rescued the girl from a marauding band of goblins that had slaughtered her tribe when she was very young, and had raised her as a companion for his two daughters, even changing her name from the tribal Torawey. Felicia had liked the pretty plains girl instantly, and she and Anna had been fast friends ever since.
Felicia entered the large cavern that served as her training ground and secret sanctuary, and set down her pack to let Yin and Yang out. The two sleek cats stretched and yawned when they emerged, and went straight to a large bowl of chicken and cream that Anna had thoughtfully left for them. Then the pair watched as their mistress went through her daily routine of running through the elaborate maze of ropes, stakes, beams, and other obstacles that she used to hone her skills. She knew there were plenty of thieves in Yarmin who were perfectly content to simply be common cut-purses and con-artists, but she preferred the challenge of the burgler's way. She had taught herself acrobatics, lock-picking, and even how to recognize and disable traps and alarms.
The last skill would no doubt be of vital importance when she attempted to free Felix from his prison- assuming she could even find him. She wondered why the goddess had chosen her for this task, as she had never had any prior personal contact with Pashutsa before. Would not one of her own priestesses be better for such a daring rescue? Then she remembered that the goddess was fond of favoring those who made their own way, and decided that Pashutsa must know best how to aid her followers. After all, she reasoned, who would know better how to aid a cat than another cat?
After she had finished her regimine, she cautiously made her way up a narrow flight of steps through a passage that led into the back of the hacienda's store-room. She checked a peep-hole to be sure no one was outside the hidden passage to see her, then slid a panel in the wall aside to emerge behind a stack of ale barrels. She crossed the small room and came out in the kitchen- only to find Anna waiting for her with a look of mock disapproval, and a mischievous glint in her eyes. The tribes-girl shook her head, then handed her a plate with a few leftover slices of ham and a hunk of bread.
Felicia took it, grinning. She had known her friend would be waiting up for her to return from her latest caper. She sat down to the carving table, and began to eat as Anna poured her a cup of sweet wine. The servant was plainly curious to know what she had been up to, but was content to wait until she was ready to tell her.
Soon, she had finished the simple meal, and began to sign to Anna in their own secret language about what she had learned. The plains girl frowned on learning that Valdez had garnered the services of a nightmare, for she knew that such beasts only served the most evil of mortals. Then she asked in their private sign-language, how Felicia intended to free the cat-lord. Felicia smiled, and mimed out a rather suggestive ploy. That sent the tribal girl into peals of silent laughter. She knew very well how mant wealthy young sons had tried in vain to court the lovely younger Delagato daughter. Felicia's sister Isabella was already married, and only her lack of a suitor kept Felicia in her family's ancestral home- which was precisely how she liked it, at least for now.
At last she let Anna take her plate and glass, and Felicia went upstairs to her luxurious bedchamber to undress and get some sleep. for tomorrow would begin the first stage of her plan to carry out her goddess's wishes.
Early the next morning, she awoke to a knock on her door. She quickly put on a dressing gown and robe, and opened the door to find her sister Isabella standing there with a disapproving look.
"So, I see you finally made it home in one piece? I am surprised you were not accosted by some brigand staying out so late. And what WERE you doing, anyway? I suppose you were out on one of your charity missions again?" she asked sarcastically. Anna slipped into the room behind her, and began setting out her mistress's wardrobe for the day.
"Must you always be so nosy, sister? You cluck like a mother hen!" Felicia said, rolling her eyes. She began to change into her day-dress with Anna's help, the young plains girl helping her into the tight corset and voluminous petticoats.
"No answer to that? Well, I can't say I'm surprised. Disappointed, perhaps, but not surprised. You know, dear, people are starting to talk. I've heard rumors that you have been seen in some rather unsavory parts of the city. Are you keeping a secret affair with some commoner? Or simply giving it out to anyone who will pay?"
Felicia whirled on the older woman. "How dare you! I have NO interest in ANY man! At least none that live in THIS moral sinkhole of a city. No, sister, I don't expect you to understand, but I have MUCH higher standards than that. I don't go running to the first man to come sniffing around after my inheritance, nor do I play those political and business games you seem to enjoy so much."
Isabella gaped at the verbal slap in the face. "Well, in that case, I would suggest you start ACTING more like a proper lady should! Running around in breeches instead of skirts, riding astride like a man- it's disgraceful!"
"No, sister, letting the poor and weak suffer while we live in excess is disgraceful. You should do more than just give alms at the temple once a nine-day, and act more like the upstanding citizen you pretend to be, instead of making back-room deals with thieves and letcherous beuroctrats."
Isabella opened her mouth to make a retort, but Felicia swept past her, slamming the door behind her to end the conversation. She fumed with righteous indignation. Affair, indeed. Though, she supposed it made sense that people might think she was involved in some illicit, torrid romance or other such nonsense. But she had YET to find a man worthy of her attentions. For honestly, what man in his right mind would get involved with a woman who spent her nights slinking through other people's homes and businesses as a burgler, to aid the poor and oppressed masses?
<Now, find me a man who has similar interests, and then maybe I'll be persuaded to fling myself at his feet like some swooning dove!> She giggled to herself at the mental image as she headed for the kitchen. As always, the cook, Renaldo, had prepared a wonderful morning repast, with pears, cheese, a flakey bread, and eggs with bits of ham and exotic spices rolled in. She made a sort of sandwich out of the fare, grabbed one of the pears, and a glass of fresh milk from her family's dairy barn, and went out to enjoy the morning sun.
Soon enough, Anna came out after her, and signed to ask what she wanted to do for the day. Felicia grinned. I wish to write a letter to ask for a dinner invitation, she signed back. She did not know what kind of man Valdez was, beyond his obvious interests in the dark arts and his wealth, so she planned to simply inquire of him as to the possibility of a future partnership, and let the man take it as he would. If he was anything like the rumors said, she had no doubt he would rise to the bait.
She went out to feed and groom her horse- for that was one task that she allowed no one else to perform- and then went inside to her father's large study and composed the letter. Once it was signed and sealed, she sent for a courier to take it to Valdez, then settled down to her usual daily routine of needle-point (which she secretly hated), practicing the lyre (another thing she desipsed) and walkiing in the garden. The last was something she actually enjoyed, often getting down in the dirt right alongside the gardener to weed or plant flowers and herbs. She strolled past the herb patch, and saw a clump of cat-mint. She smiled to herself, and plucked a few sprigs, hiding them in her corset. These would come in handy later.After her walk, Felicia decided it was time for her daily ride to inspect her family's holdings. Normally this would be a task for the eldest son, but Don Paulo had no sons, and since Isabella had no interest in the day-to- day workings of her own ranchero, it fell to Felicia to do it. Not that she minded, of course. She often enjoyed these rides, roaming far across the vast pasture-lands thatcomprised most of the Delagato lands. The rest was mainly orchards and vinyards, with a large plot for growing maize, potatoes, and cabbages.
The Delagatos were known for raising some of the finest cattle and horses in all the Republic. Their vinyards, too, were famous for sweet, rich wines. Isabella was content to leave the running of such endeavors to the chief steward, Ignacio Sebastiano, but not Felicia. It was chiefly through her efforts and care that their lands continued to prosper.
She spent much of the afternoon out with the vaqueros, helping to bring in and brand the previous spring's calves. By the time she returned home, it was growing dark, and she was hot and dirty. anna had anticipated her needs, and had a hot bath and fresh dressing-gown ready when she arrived. soon enough, it was time for a hearty meal of veal, spiced potatoes, soft rolls, and a bowl of hot soup made from vegetables from the garden.
It was during dinner that the courier arrived with a message for Felicia.
She took one look at the seal on the letter he handed her, and smiled to herself. So, she thought, he has decided to answer already. Quickly she tore open the seal, and read the letter. It was just as she had thought. Valdez had more than risen to the bait- he had swallowed it, hook, line, and sinker.
The letter asked, in oh-so-polite tones, for her to accept an invitation to dinner the following evening, and for permission to request a suit. Felicia might have laughed out loud had she not been sitting at the dinner table, with her sister's eyes and those of her stuffy fop of a husband on her. Even Anna stood waiting in anticipation, obviously anxious to "hear" the full account of what was written. She could read as well as Felicia could, but that fact was a secret known only to the two of them. Isabella would no doubt have had fits if she knew her sister was teaching the servants to read and write.
"So, who is it from, dear? What does it say?" Isabella finally broke the silence of the table to ask.
"It is from Don Julio Ramon. It seems he would like to invite me to his hacienda for dinner tomorrow. Oh, yes, and there is something about a possible proposal, as well." She addedthe last part rather flippantly, as though it was of little importance. Which, naturally, it wasn't, since she had no intention of taking him up on anything other than the dinner offer.
Isabella stared in shock. "Well! It's rather unseemly to go visiting a man- even a Don- without a chaperone! So, sister, dear, what are you going to do?"
"I think I shall go. If it upsets you so much, then surely it will be an interesting evening!" She smiled viciously at her older sibling, to make sure the jab didn't go unnoticed.
"Ah! Such impertinance! It's no wonder you're still a senioritta with THAT attitude! No man in his right mind would wish to marry such a hellion!"
"Humph. I agree. My dear, if you plan to go on acting so un-ladylike, you will never find yourself a husband to support you." The normally silent seniore Bernardo Esperanzo spoke up, once again reminding Felicia why she HADN'T married. She rolled her eyes. She knew very well that her sister's marriage was only a matter of convenience. Bernanrdo seemed to have much more interest in the stablehands than in his own wife.
"Excuse, me, sister, but I believe I'll take my repast in the kitchen. The company there is much more to my liking." She picked up her plate, and left the pair gaping after her. She could almost hear Anna laughing to herself as the servant followed along behind her.
Early the next morning, she woke and hurried down to her secret sanctuary, barely even taking the time to dress. As she'd expected, Anna was waiting for her, with her black thief's attire neatly folded next to her small pack of tools and magical items. It had taken months of careful searching to find them- a small key that could magically change to open any lock that wasn't specifically warded against it, her invisibility cloak, a bracelet with a charm that could enlarge to a full sized short sword, two healing potions and a vial of poison antidote. Her boots could be made to leave no tracks, and the gloves enhanced her already prodigious dexterity.
She made certain all was ready, then slipped everything on, and went through her routine blindfolded, paying special attention to the traps, while Yin and Yang looked on with typical feline impartiallity. Once, the little black female mewed when she was about to step on a trigger-plate that she had forgotten about, and Felicia smiled at the cat's simple warning. <Well done, my friend. You were paying attention.>
She continued the regimen until she was certain she could navigate anything Valdez might have lying in wait, then snuck back up to her room to put on her best gown for the evening. Thankfully, Isabella and Bernardo were away on another of their extravagant shopping trips, so she had the entire hacienda to herself. She slipped her favorite pair of daggers into her boots, her feather-fall ring and the charm bracelet on her hands, and for a final touch, another ring which would mask the magic of all her equipment- she knew better than to let a powerful sorcerer learn that she was wearing a virtual arsenal of magic!
After that, there was little to do but wait for the Don's carriage to arrive for her. She had hidden her pack beneth her petticoats, but for once, decided against taking her two furry companions along on the caper. Against a man like Valdez, she felt they would surely be killed, should he uncover her true intentions; Felicia simply could not bear for them to be harmed. At last the carraige arrived, and it was with great anticipation that she entered it and began the long ride to his home.
Much later, the carriage finally arrived at the hacienda of Don Julio. Felicia checked quickly to be sure her tools and items were well hidden beneath her gown, then stepped out onto the drive of the estate. His home was imposing, to say the least. It was not a hacienda in the usual sense, being built more like one of the watchtowers on the walls that surrounded the capital city. It was fully four flights tall, with windows only on the upper two levels. It was built square, with only one entrance, and that was guarded not by men, but by four wemics.
Felicia frowned at the sight of them. Wemics were a race of leonine "centaurs" with the upper torsos of humanoids, and the lower bodies of huge, powerful lions. They lived out on the vast plains, and generally avoided contact with humans or other races. She wondered if these were mercenaries, but a quick look at the band around each one's neck proved otherwise. Slaves, then. She grimaced. This was yet another crime for which Valdez had to pay.
Although slavery of non-humans was not illegal, it was generally looked down on by everyone but the Presidente and his new Vizier. Felicia shuddered; that man gave her the creeps, for no particular reason she could discern. She had only ever seen him once, but that was more than enough. Felicia steeled herself, and strode up to the huge front doors. The wemics glared at her as she passed, their slightly feline faces clearly showing their hatred of humans, but did not challenge her. She followed the servant inside, to a large hallway that was decorated only sparingly. She saw little if anything to indicate that this was someone's home. No doubt Valdez spent his fortune on his experiments. She had seen no evidence of the nightmare mount from before, and no stable, either. He must have dismissed the beast on arrival, or it had been on loan from another master.
The servant led her into a room to the right, which turned out to be a stately, if somewhat unfashionable dining room. At least the man was savvy enough to keep up appearances for guests. There was a long table in the center of the room, a few worn tapestries and paintings on the walls, and tall candelabras in each corner. A smaller door to her left at the far end of the room led to what must be the kitchen. She was itching to explore the house and learn where Felix might be held, but her host was already seated at one end of the table, waiting for her. She his her distaste and annoyance. The man hadn't the decency to greet her in the foyer? How rude, she thought. She delivered a polite curtsy, and moved to the chair that the servant held out for her.
"Ah, greetings, seniorita Delagato. I was most pleased to recieve your letter, though I admit to being puzzled. Why this interest, seniorita?"
Felicia put on her best fake smile, and gave him a little nod. "Well, it seems my sister is urging me to find a suitor, and of course, only the best family will do. I had heard that you were single, and thought it might be a good match. And if you don't mind my saying it, your home could use a woman's touch. It is not seemly for a man to live alone in such a big place- it is isolated and cold, Don Julio."
The man laughed, a chilling sound. He had changed his dark robes for a more acceptable formal jacket and pantaloons, but still there was no mistaking the aura of evil that surrounded him. Nor did she miss the two rings on his right hand, and the symbol of Crinos that hung half-hidden beneath his jacket. They practically oozed auras of magic.
Crinos. Suddenly this made a great deal more sense. He was the dark god of evil were-creatures and those who followed the path of violence and blood. His symbol, an eclipsed or dark moon, was feared by most- almost as much as those of Zellanos and Zoranna, the most powerful of the Dark Gods. If Valdez followed Crinos, he was a cruel and cunning man, indeed.
"Well put, my dear. You are correct, of course. I am flattered that you thought of me. I don't recall ever having met your family personally, but now is as good a time as any to remedy that. Please, tell me a bit about yourself while we dine, seniorita."
She breathed a sigh of relief. One hurdle down. Now that she had his interest, she needed to gain a bit of his trust, to discover where the cat-lord was imprisoned. Felicia pretended to be shy, batting her eyes coyly as she began to eat. She hoped he was buying her performance- the digust she felt for this oily devil was almost more than she could stand. Even being in the same room with him made her want to shove one of her daggers in his gut. Yet she had to at least pretend to be interested in him, or she might never complete her sworn task.
"Please, Don Julio, there is nothing to tell! I am simply what you see, a woman in need of a man. Actually, I was hoping to learn more about yourself. I saw those wemics by the front doors- are there many banditos about, that you should need such guards?"
She waited, giving him a look as much as to say that she was worried about his safety. Get him to talk about himself- flatter his ego; that was the key to gaining what she needed, Felicia knew. She had already discened that he was vain and arrogant. No doubt he assumed she was nothing more than some foolish, swooning maiden that he could easily seduce. Ha, let us see who is the one to be seduced, Valdez, she thought.
"Ah, my dear, it is nothing to be concerned with. They have been with my family for some years- it was my father who first hired them, may he rest in peace. But do not fear, my lady, you are perfectly safe here."
Enslaved, you mean, she thought with a surge of hate. Nevertheless, she only smiled, and continued her meal in silence for a few moments. But she was increasingly aware of his gaze upon her; she glanced up, to find that he was watching her intently. Had she made some mistake? Did he suspect something? She met his gaze, and smiled innocently.
At last he spoke. "Tell me, seniorita, what truly brings to here. It is not merely a desire for a liason- it is clear you simply wanted a pretext to visit me. So what, pray tell, do you really want?" His eyes seemed to bore right into her, and for an instant she panicked, thinking he must have some magic to read her mind and learn her true intent. Then she composed herself, and quick as any cat, used her wits to turn the game back in her favor. If wiles did not work, why not try candor?
"Very well, sir. You are most astute. The truth is, I have heard the rumors of your- pardon my saying it- peculiar- interests. I, too, have similar interests, and was curious to see if the stories were true. Perhaps I can be of assistance to you. For a price, of course."
There, if she could not use his libido to get what she wanted, she would use his greed and power-lust. That should certainly catch his attention.
The man laughed. It was a cold, dark sound, but one of genuine amusement. She smiled to herself, knowing she had at last found his weakness.
"Well, that is a surprise, my dear! I suspected you had come for some sort of parley, but I could not be certain. Very well, then, what did you have in mind, seniorita? What sort of assistance could you possibly be to me, hmm?"
She gave him her most devilish smile, and chuckled. She might loathe the man on principle, but she had to admit he was a worthy opponent. She decided to go straight for the kill, let him hang himself by telling him the truth- that she was the notorious "Gato Negro".
"I can get into places you could not, Don Julio, and I am quite adept at 'aquiring' items of value or importance to myself or others. Anything you want, I can get, without anyone the wiser."
He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, then smiled darkly.
"So, it is you then. The 'Gato Negro' is a bored, spoiled lady of the court? Ha! How marvelous! What would be your angle, then? Obviously, you do not do it for the money- so why, then? And what do you want from me?"
She grinned. "Oh, so you have heard of me then? I'm flattered. I had heard you were a recluse who never bothered with gossip or politics. It's for the challenge, of course. And the sheer entertainment of knowing I can walk around right under the very noses of the Watch and they would never suspect someone of my station, much less a woman. What I want from you, dear Don, is to learn your Art. I'm certain that I could do so much more, with even a tiny bit of magical expertise. And in return, I could use my skills to acquire anything you might desire- one way or another."
She waited for him to take the bait. Would this ruse work? It had to. She watched him closely to determine whether he was interested in her offer. Slowly, he nodded, and she was rewarded with that same sinister smile.
"Indeed. Your offer is intriguing, my dear. But, you must understand that a man of my- talents- must be careful in whom to trust. How may I be certain you do not simply intend to rob me blind as you have done to so many others?"
She laughed outright at his paranoia. "Please, senor! If I did, would I have told you who I was? That would be most foolish, don't you think?"
"Perhaps. Or you might have some trick for making me forget, or to hide the deed from detection until it is too late to do anything about it."
She shook her head. Obviously, Valdez had much to hide himself, or he would not be so suspicious. She decided to make the offer too tempting to pass up.
"Well, my original request still stands, senor. A more- permanent- arrangement, perhaps?"
Now he seemed to perk up. "What do you suggest, my lady?"
She gave him her most seductive smile, practically purring her response.
"Oh, Don Julio, I think you know what I mean. I would like a tour of your workshop, and in return, I shall give you a taste of things to come. And believe me, senor, I can be quite accomodating!"
He looked her up and down then, not even bothering to conceal the letcherous leer on his face. "Very well, then. I suppose it would do no harm to let you see what you are getting into. You are not easily frightend, I trust?"
"Oh, no. In fact, you might be rather surprised how difficult it is to frighten me!" To herself, she added, as soon as I learn where you have Felix, you may be surprised by a great deal more than that, you snake.
He rang a small bell, and a servant entered to clear away the remains of their meal. "Very well, my dear- let me show you your future!"
He led her back into the main corridor, then back toward the entrance. She was puzzled at first, until he entered a room just past the front doors, on the opposite side. It was obviously some sort of gaurd post, having only a small table, and a pair of weapon racks, with a large mat laid out over most of the floor, presumably for practice. He kicked aside the mat, revealing a large trap-door beneath. With a wave of his hand and a single word, the door unlocked itself and swung open. Felicia gasped in amazement. He smirked.
"Something wrong, seniorita?"
She grinned devilishly. "Oh, no, Don Julio! If I could do that, imagine how much easier my little hobby would be! Ohh, the things I could do then!"
He laughed in agreement, and with another simple spell, lit a torch on the wall at the bottom of a flight of stairs below. They descended into the hidden basement, into a short, wide passage. Their were two sets of double doors on one side, another pair at the end, and a single door on the left, near the other end.
Felicia took careful note of the layout, should she need it later. He led her first to the single door, where he took a key out of his pocket and unlocked it.
"Why do you not simply use another spell?" she asked.
"I will give you your first lesson now. Magic is not something to be wasted, seniorita. The spells I used a moment ago are simple, but each one requires a certain amount of my power. The more I use on minor magics, the less I would have at my call if urgent need should arise."
"Ah, I see." She made a quick note of the information, and immediately began thinking of ways to trick him into wasting yet more of his power.

Valdez led her into a long, narrow room, with enormous bookcases on three of the cold, bare walls. and what appeared to be a small laboratory at the end furthest from the door. Felicia gazed around with an appraising eye, making quick note of anything that might be used to her advantage later. But there was no sign of Felix. Where was he keeping the Cat Lord, and how could he imprison a being who was in direct service to a goddess? She pretended to be suitably impressed, so that her enemy would not catch on to the ploy.
"Oh, this is quite amazing, senor! But I had thought your library was upstairs?"
He laughed darkly. "That one is mainly for show. This is my private collection. And this is where your studies will begin, seniorita. But come- there is more I wish to show you, now that we will be partners- and, I trust, so much more?"
He gave her a blatantly letcherous leer, and it was all Felicia could do to feign attraction to the man's evil presence. Ugh, what a pig! Never in a hundred years, you filthy-minded orc-spawn! She thought, disgusted.
They stepped back into the corridor, and he took another key and opened the set of doors at the end of the hallway. Valdez spoke a word, and the torches in the large room beyond lit up at his command. When she entered the room, Felicia barely managed to suppress her squeal of outrage. The room was one huge kennel, with cages of varying sizes built right into the walls, all of them with stone particions and solid steel or adamantine bars and gates. Inside the cages- a baker's dozen in all- were an array of creatures, all of them feline of one sort or another. The largest, and closest held a huge manticore, a pitiful-looking beast which was losing its mane and had ribs poking out from lack of adequate food. In the next two cages languished a pair of snake-tailed nonafels, thier once gleaming black coats turned dull, the nine snakes that formed their tails lying weakly, barely moving. Along the opposite wall were two cages with cheetahs it them. Her heart was cruched to see the proud beasts wimpering forlornly, unable to do much more than pace in their confined space. At the far end, a double-stacked row of cages held a group of the small winged cats known as tressyms, thier feathered wings drooping and losing their once soft plumage. One of them mewed pitifully at her.
The last two cages held what could only be a pair of Caith Shee, the rare elven cats. But these two were obviously under some sort of magical containment that prevented them from using their natural invisibility and enlargement abilities.
"Senor? What is this? I seem to be in some sort of menagerie!"
"Ah, these are some of my experimental subjects, my dear. Perhaps when your training has progressed, I might allow you to assist me with my work. You see, I have a patron who is very interested in using the abilities of these creatures, and he pays me rather well for my work."
Now she didn't even have to pretend to be interested. Suddenly, he had her full attention.
"Oh? Who is this patron, Don? Perhaps I might like to make some similar arrangement?"
He laughed, and the sound sent a shiver running through her. "I am not yet at liberty to say, my dear. Let us merely say he is both powerful and dangerous. You would be wise to keep what you have seen here secret. This is only a part of my work here. The rest is in the other two rooms. Come, I will show you."
He brought her back out into the corridor again, and moved to stand before the two doors opposite the stairs. Again, he opend the doors and spoke the command to light the torches. And once again, Felicia had to use all her will to restrain herself from strangling the man for his audacity.
The room was similar in size to the previous one, but with fewer cages. Here were a pair of large cages in the center of one wall, with a door leading to another room beyond. The two cages were currently occupied by a mated pair of griffons, but they were in as sorry a state as all the other creatures he had captured. The remaining cages- all situated along the right-hand wall- contained what she identified as a kirre, with its distinctive brownish tiger-striped coat, spiked tail, and long horns on the head, a dark, oddly glowing beast that she only belatedly realized was an actual hellcat, and two black, six-legged puma-sized animals with long tentacles sprouting from their shoulders that ended in spiked clubs.
Displacers? By Pashuta's paw! He has more dangerous creatures in here than a party of monster-hunters would ever dare encounter!
Felicia noticed a large case of shelves at the other end of the room, that held assorted containers that she assumed held food or substances to control the monstrous felines. She heard him chuckle, and realized that she had let her guard drop for a moment. She quickly recovered, and turned to him with a look if simpering admiration.
"Why, this is simply amazing! I have never seen so many magical beasts in one place! You even managed to capture a hellcat? No mean feat, senor!"
The man gave her a sly grin. "Well, in all honesty, Seniorita, I did not go out and catch them myself. I pay men to do that. But keeping them caged- well, that is a difficult task, as you said. Would you like to see my prize specimen? I'm sure you will be most impressed with this one!"
"Ah, you have more? Don Julio, just when I think you have no surprises left for me, you prove me wrong. Tell me, will I be able to control such creatures too?"
He made a slight shrug, and smiled. "Perhaps, in time, if you prove to have the talent for spellcraft. But it is a difficult art to master my dear. Are you certain you have the head for it? Or the stomach, for that matter?"
She stood straight, and gazed steadily into his cold dark eyes.
"Oh, yes, senor. I have the stomach for much more than you might imagine."
He seemed satisfied with her response, and led her to the other door.
"Then let me show you what I have been working on. I hope you are not squeamish about experimenting with intelligent creatures."
"Like the manticore in the other room? Not at all."
Now he laughed darkly again, opening the door. "No, I was referring to him." He pointed to a large circle on the floor at the far end of what was most certainly his main workroom, in which sat a lone figure.
He sat in the center of the circle, with his legs propped up, his head down on his arms crossed over them. Felicia could see that his skin was dusky, almost black, and he wore what had once been an elegant black shirt and vest, with leggings to match, and soft black boots. Even his hair was black, though it was long and rather unkempt. She knew without doubt though, even before he lifted his head to look at her, that his eyes would be green-gold, with the slitted-pupils of a cat.


Felicia took an involuntary step toward the circle. The room contained a couple of bookcases, a table with strange magical equipment and bottles on it, and what appeared to be a large stone altar at the far end, near the circle. It was black, but covered with rust-colored stains. Blood? She blanched, realizing that the fiend had been making sacrifices to his dark god, perhaps murdering innocents. She gazed at the weakened Felix- for she had no doubt it was him- her mind racing to find some way to free him.
Suddenly she felt something warm against her neck. She whirled, to find that Valdez had come up close to her; his lips were just inches from her ear, as he inhaled her perfume.
"Excting, is it not? To be this close to true genious?"
She wanted desperately to get away from him, but steeled herself to play the part she had chosen. "Senor, I'm not certain I know what you mean? What is it you are doing here?"
He laughed, and it sent chills through her. "Seniorita, welcome to my world. This is where I shall create the warriors for my patron's army- an army of creatures with the powers of those beasts you saw. And he is the key to controlling them. When I unlock the secret of his gifts, I shall use it to command my creations to take over this land, and to expand our empire all the way from the Borian Mountains in the west, to the Silverwood in the east, and as far as Deepvale and the Arian Desert. We will be unstoppable."
Now she understood his plan, if not who was the master behind it. Felicia was determined more than ever to free the Cat Lord and put a stop to this madness. She moved toward the circle; Felix's eyes followed her warily, clouded with fear and dull from dispair. She saw burn marks on his clawed hands, and the clothes had been singed away in places. What had that monster done to him?
She reached out a hand toward the outter edge of the ring, when She felt a strong hand gripping her shoulder to jerk her back.
"I would not do that if I were you, my lady. That barrier is most deadly. If you are wondering how I can keep him chained within a simple circle, I assure you, he cannot escape. Observe."
He strode to a small cabinet near the worktable, and brought out a tiny, mewing tressym kitten from a cage within. He held it by its scruff, and approached the circle. She heard a low, angry growl from Felix, and was surprised to see that he had taken a hybrid form, that was somewhere between human ad a large panther. She watched in horror as Valdez tossed the young tressym at Felix, chuckling cruelly as if taunting him. But it never passed the barrier. In the instant the kitten crossed over the circle's edge, it was incinerated, and all that was left was a scattering of ash that floated to the floor.
Felicia gasped. Felix snarled, his green eyes filled with rage at the callous murder of one of his kin. She heard him speak, in a deep, feral voice that was barely human. "You'll pay for that when my goddess comes for me, b@&#036;t@rd!"
Don Julio laughed. "I doubt that. Your goddess is a weak thing compared to the power of Crinos. And have you forgotten I hold this?"
He grabbed a large rod from the table, and held it out before him toward the Cat Lord. It was made of onyx and silver, covered in strange runes, with a silver cat's head with emerald eyes at one end. Felix seemed to flinch, and suddenly cowered in the circle's center.
"Ah, yes. Now you remember. I am your Master. I could make you throw yourself at that barrier if I wished it so. Do not cross me again, beast."
Then he turned to Felicia. "Forgive me, my dear. Sorry you had to see that little display, but these creatures must learn respect for their superiors. Don't you agree?"
She gulped, and tried to feign indifference. But she'd seen enough. Now was the time to end the charade. "Actually, senor, I rather agree with Felix there. You will pay, Don Julio. For you see, you seem to have forgotten whom you are dealing with. Did you never even wonder why I call myself 'el Gato Negro'?"
In an instant, she had called up the sword from the charm on her wrist. Quick as her namesake, she whirled on the sorcerer and tried to knock the rod from his hand with it. Yet he was fast, too. He stepped back just in time to avoid losing his hand, though not without losing some blood. A rip had appeared in his sleeve, and a line of red welled on the arm beneath. He cursed.
"Agh! Wench, you'll regret that! I should have known you were nothing but a tretcherous harlot! Now you die!"
With that, he pointed a finger at her, and uttered a few words. Felicia sprang, just barely avoiding the purplish ray of energy that crackled from his finger, blasting the wall behind her. She glanced back, to see that it had left a scorch mark on the stone.
She looked around frantically, searching for anything that might help her. She laped at Valdez, her silvery blade flashing in the torch-light. She tried to attack him again, but he managed to hold her off with the rod, blocking her attack. He whispered a string of strange words, his hand clenching into a claw-like grip, and suddenly she felt invisible talons raking her back. She cried out, and dodged to one side, only to discover nothing there. Valdez merely laughed.
Inside the circle, Felix paced, growling in frustration. He was still in his hybrid state, his hands tipped with sharp claws, and his teeth elongated into fangs. He wanted to tear the sorcerer to pieces, but was prevented by the circle from reaching him.


Valdez laughed evilly. "You are no match for my power, woman. I was so hoping we could join forces, my dear, but, alas, now I shall simply have to kill you. You've seen far too much. And my Lord does not tolerate interlopers."
Felicia snarled. "You'll have to do better than that, Julio. Why don't you fight me like a man, instead of hiding behind your magic?"
He laughed again. "I don't need my sorcery to kill you. All I need is this!" He held up the rod, and spoke the strange opening command again. Form the other rooms, she heard the ominous sound of numerous gates opening.
"Come, my pets! I call you now to feast on the flesh of this intruder!" Felicia turned around, only to see the two dispalcers, the kirre, and the hellcat, as well as two strange shadowy beasts she had not even realized were in the room with her. They had apparently been hiding in the shadows of two cages in the main laboratory that she had taken to be empty. It was only the flickering flames of the hellcat that made them visible now. She blanched, knowing she had no chance against so many of the dangerous magical felines.
Then one of the displacers pounced at her. Felicia found herself knocked backward, toward the circle. She landed on the floor, the displacer on top of her, its huge head bearing down near her neck. Then it stopped, and began to sniff. She lay frozen, as it suddenly changed behavior, and began purring loudly, nuzzling and pawing at her bodice.


Felicia was stunned. What had happened? The displacer continued the odd behavior, and she suddenly remembered the catnip she had hidden in her bodice earlier. I'm saved by catnip? she thought, amused. Of course, that still left all the other creatures to deal with.
She pulled the sprigs out, and the beast began swatting playfully at her hand like a giant kitten to get at them. The others had begun to approach as well, but the first displacer held them off with a low growl and a slap from one of its long tentacle-clubs. Then the hellcat came close, and its heat caused the displacer to back away. Felicia held the sprigs out toward the demonic feline, praying that it, too would be affected. One of the shadowy creatures pounced in front of it, and hissed. Then it, too, began acting like some huge playful kitten as it rubbed its head against the sprigs. A chill ran up through her hand as it did so, and her hand passed right through it. It was only partially corporeal, having no more substance than water.
Now it was Felix's turn to laugh. "Well done, my lady! You managed to bring with you the one charm against any attack!
She glanced at him. "I did not intend it that way, but who am I to complain, if it works?"
Suddenly, an angry snarl came from Valdez "Curse you, woman! I will kill you myself!" With that, he let loose with another spell, this one a ball of dark, crackling energy that seemed to pull all the warmth from around her, and left Felicia feeling weakened. The animals seemed to feel it, as well, and shrunk back from near the sphere. One of the displacers backed too close to the circle around Felix, and its right tentacle touched the barrier. The cat let out a wail of pain, and the tentacl whiped back missing its spiked club. Blood dripped from the wound.
"You'll have to do better than that!" With a surge of her remaining strength, Felicia did the one thing he had not expected- she rolled underneath the ball, so close that she could feel the power of it freezing her skin, and slashed out at his feet. The surprised sorcerer was forced against the wall, unbalanced. He lowered the rod, and Felicia darted out the door and around the corner past the two griffons, who were too large to enter the spell room. They let out surprised squaks as she dashed past them. She opened her hidden pack, and reached in to pull out the cloak. She threw it on, and suddenly vanished from the griffons' view. Now, shrouded by the cloak's invisibility, she slunk silently back into the room. Valdez had managed to regain control over the animals, and had banished the strange magical shpere.
"Well, it seems that your would-be rescuer has lost her mettle! Foolish woman to think she could best me! But I shall bring her back, and make of her a sacrifice to Crinos!"
Felicia watched as he approached the door, then removed her cloak as she made a flying kick at him.
"Think again, monster!"
He was so startled he could not even react as her kick knocked him backward, causing him to trip over the kirre, which had been following behind him. Instinctively it swiped at him with a huge paw, and he tumbled to the floor- directly against the magical barrier.



Felicia siezed the opportunity. In an instant, she was on him, her sword swiping at his chest. She was startled when it seemed to bounce off, as if it had struck some sort of barrier. She let out a curse.
Valdez laughed, in spite of being only inches from the deadly circle. But Felicia suddenly grinned, realizing she had him in the most compromising position possible.
"Laugh at this, sorcerer!" And with that, she stomped at his groin. She knew it would do no more to him than her sword had, but she was counting on his instinctive male reaction to recoil. He did not disappoint.
He tried to roll away from her, only to have one arm cross the line of the circle, vaporizing it in an instant! He howled in pain, but Felicia barely noticed. For as his blood flowed out from the wounded stump of his arm, it touched the barrier, and sizzled, but where it touched, the lines and symbols disappeared. A moment later, the invisible barrier seemed to flare brightly into view, then dissipated with an almost blinding flash of light that brought yowls of pain from the two shadowy felines, and a yell of triumph from Felix. With a roar of utter rage, he landed atop his former captor, and with one swipe of a clawed hand, tore through the Don's magical protection. The next swipe tore through his throat, and Valdez's screams were silenced. But the Cat Lord did not stop there. He slashed wildly, until Valdez was little more than a bloody mess on the floor. In moments, the starving animals, smelling the blood, fell upon his remains.
Felicia blanched. That is a terrible way to die, she thought. Fitting, but still terrible. She watched as the Cat Lord slowly reverted back to his human form, finally composing himself.
"Forgive me, my lady. That was rather- unseemly of me. Imensely satisfiying, though." He smiled to himself as he watched the magical cats devouring what was left of Don Julio. Then he stepped over to the corpse and picked up the rod Valdez had carried. He held it almost reverently, as if it were a great treasure.
"This should never have been allowed to fall into hands such as those. I wonder how he was able to acuire it?"
Felicia wiped her blade on the sorcerer's pantalloons, before recalling it back to its charm state. "What is it?"
"A holy relic of Pashutsa's priests. They are called rods of the cat. They are rare, and this one was obviously stolen from a temple. I must return it to my goddess. She will know what to do with it."
He turned to Felicia, and bowed deeply. He managed to look noble and dignified, in spite of being weak, disheveled, and covered in gore. "Thank you, my lady. If not for you, I would be imprisoned still. Surely the Mother Cat smiles on you."
She chuckled. "Well, she does tend to look favorably on those who make their own luck. You are most welcome, friend. Tell me, what will become of these poor creatures? They cannot be left here."
Felix strode over to the cabinet, and pulled out the cage Valdez had taken the young tressym from. Inside were two more of the winged kittens. He handed her the cage, and snapped his fingers. Instantly, all the animals in the room raised their heads expectantly. As one, they all padded quietly over to his side.
"Trust me when I say, dear lady, that they will be well cared for. I shall take them with me when I return to my home plane. The kittens are yours to care for. As for the rest, you may take whatever you like from this place. In fact, there are a number of objects that will most certainly aid your cause, my lady."
That brought her up. "I'm curious- Don Julio mentioned that he was working for someone else, but he did not say who. Do you know?"
Felix nodded darkly. "Yes. I heard him speaking to someone through a mirror. I heard him call the man 'Your Eminence'. I believe his name was Angelo Delacruz?"
At that, Felicia gasped. "The Presidente's new Vizier? Impossible! Why would he be working with scum like Valdez?"
Perhaps because of something else I overheard. Valdez called him 'Lord Daywalker'. No doubt you are aware that my kind are nearly immortal. We live for hundreds of years, and in my time I have learned many things in my travels for the goddess. I have heard that term used only twice before. 'Lord Daywalker' is the title taken by the wearer of a certain ring. That ring has only one purpose- it is useless to anyone but a vampire, for it was created to make its wearer immune to a vampires weaknesses to sunlight and fire. It has other powers as well, or so I'm told, but the Ring of the Daywalker is a powerful artifact, and if this Vizier of yours holds it, then he is most certainly a vampire of great power."
Felicia frowned. "That would explain a few things that I have heard. Thank you, Felix. I know what I must do now. I shall work to bring him down, whatever it takes."
He laughed. "Well said, my lady. I am in your debt- take this, and if ever you have need of me, speak my name as you press the gem."
He handed her a small silver pin in the shape of a cat's pawprint, then bowed as the felines- even the ones from the other room, and the two griffons and manticor just outside the door- all gathered round close to him. He spoke a word, and then all of them disappeared in a blue flash of light. Felicia was left wondering what to do. Then she spied one of Valdez's spellbooks open on a table, and smiled. What better way to fight a sorcerer than with magic? She knew of a friendly mage from the local wizard's guild who just might be willing to help her.

The End?
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

04 Feb 2009, 23:06 #2

Well, hope everyone enjoyed the first story. The next one is coming up now!


"Children of the Golden Flame"

Prologue


The elven woman ran through the forest with all the speed her slender legs could muster. She barely noticed the tree branches that whipped across her arms and legs, intent only on escaping from the mob that chased behind. A tiny wail came from the pack on her back; she held tighter to the bundle in her arms, knowing three lives depended on her ability to outrun the horde of hunters that followed. Behind her, she could hear the roar of a dragon. She made a silent prayer to Elrinya, thanking the goddess for Goldflame's intervention.
Suddenly an elven male appeared in front of her. She screamed as he raised his sword to strike; then a huge golden shape crashed through the trees to her left. The woman fell back in surprise, as the dragon's head reared back, its mouth open in a roar of rage.
"Run, beloved! I shall protect you!" Goldflame rumbled, his voice echoing across the forest. "Go, Ryella- I will find you later!" He lashed out with his tail, sending the elf sprawling to the ground.
Ryella turned and ran, without even looking back. "Elrinya protect us," she whispered, glancing gown at the tiny gold-skinned infant she held. "Hold on, little ones- we'll be safe soon."
The elf-woman ran for what seemed like hours, until she colapsed from exhaustion. She fell to the ground, guarding the precious bundle in her arms, and the one in her backpack as well. "Hush little ones, we're safe now."
Ryella pulled the pack off her shoulders, gently taking the second infant into her arms with its sibling. They were twins- a boy and a girl. They had the innate beauty of their mother's people, but there were several obvious differences. The greatest of these was their golden skin; this marked them both as wholly unlike their elfen ancestors, as did their strange, reptillian blue eyes, and the two tiny horns on their foreheads.These traits the infants had inherited from their father, the wyrm who even now held off Ryella's persuers. Goldflame had fallen for the elven priestess while travelling near the forest city of Aquillia, disguised as one of her race. Although rare, it was not unheard of for dragons- particularly the wise and benevelant metallics- to take a humanoid form and observe what they often termed "the lesser races".
So had it been for Ryella and her paramour. Although she had not known his true nature at first, the young priestess had long suspected him of being something more than what he first claimed. So it came as little surprise when he had at last admitted the truth. It was not until her children were born that the full impact had hit her- that both she and her children were now considered traitors to her own people, simply for the crime of loving an outsider.
She gazed down at the tiny bundles, quiet now that the danger had passed; her brow furrowed at the thought of such arrogance from her own race. Evidently it was perfectly fine to enter into an alliance with the humans who shared their land, but not to form relationships with other races. She had even heard rumors that the dreaded Dark Banishing rite had been used again. The rite was the ultimate punishment for those considered enemies of the Silver Alliance.
She brushed a lock of silver hair from her face, shuddering at the thought of being forced to undergo such a humiliating form of exile- to be forever transformed into one of the drow, the hated dark elves. That was why she had fled. The Council of Elders had deemed her transgression high enough to warrent the rite, but Goldflame had larned of it in time to help her escape, and now she was being hunted by her own countrymen, to drag her back or kill her.
Ryella sighed, and rose to begin her long trek away from the only home she had ever known. She did not know where she would go, nor did she have anything but the few belongings she had been able to throw in her pack as she fled. All she had was her faith in Elrinya, and the hope that her love would be with her soon.

Eighty years later....

The sun was nearing its zenith when the two elves rode through the gates into the walled city of Almin. The pair drew more than a few stares, as elves were generally rare visitors to the city; in any case, this particular pair of elves were most unusual specimens of their race- a fact readily notable by thier gold-tinted skin, tall stature, and sapphire, slit-pupiled eyes.
The woman sat astride a tall grey mare, her bright blue cloak ruffling lightly in the gentle breeze. She had left the hood down to let her luxuriously long silver hair flow free. Two golden locks hung braided against her face with bright red firehawk feathers woven in, contrasting with the shimmery silver. She wore a white silk shirt beneath a vest and matching skirt of soft blue lambskin, with a belt from which hung several small pouches. A set of pan-pipes hung from a string around her neck. She would be considered beautiful by the standards of most any race, but perhaps what drew the most eyes to her were the two tiny horns that occasionally peeked out from beneath the hair on her forehead.
The male was much like his companion, but larger of build, with his argent hair cropped short in an almost military fashion, save for the two locks of gold that matched those of the female. He rode a palomino stallion that tossed its head and snorted as if anxious to run free and kick up its heels. He had an ornate lute strapped across his back, and a longsword sheathed at his hip. Perhaps most unsual, the elf wore a breastplate of shining mithril, engraved with a crown encircling a lightning bolt and a staff. Several people whispered as they passed, wondering aloud at the sight of an elf wearing the symbol of Sorden's holy paladins. It was well known that only a true knight of the Order of the Crown was allowed to even possess anything with the symbol of the Sky Father's highest order. It was rare enough for anyone to be admitted, but an elf? That was nigh unheard of.
"They are staring again, sister," he said softly, riding close beside the female. "Perhaps we should keep moving. I've never been overly fond of humans anyway."
"Brother, you surprise me. You will worship their gods, but distain the people themselves? You sound like those snooty kinsmen back in the Whisperwood. They turned us away without so much as a second thought. Besides, we have been traveling for weeks, and I for one could use a good meal and a bath. There will never be a place where we are not a novelty at the very least, so really, one place is as good as the next. We stop here."
He turned to her, one brow arched in surprise. "Vala, whence comes this sudden authority? You know I'm older, so technically, it should be my call."
She laughed. "Palaxendor! Do not throw that old arguement at me! You are older by mere minutes, and I am not a child! I say we stop because I am tired of living on the road. You can do what you will, brother dear, but I will go no further!"
She pointed to a large tavern just ahaed on the street. The place took up almost half a block on its own, with a large painted sign above the door advertising it as the White Hart. She stopped when they reached it, and dismounted, as a young boy in sweaty clothes who smelled of horses and clover grass approached cautiously.
"'Ello, milady! Stable your mount?" She smiled to him, nodding.
"Yes, please. We will be staying for a while. Is this a reputable establishment? And do you know of anyone needing help? We seek employment."
The boy nodded, staring in wonder at her. She noticed in particular that he could not seem to keep his eyes off of her horns. Well, at least he doesn't seem frightened, she mused.
"Yes, milady. Me master has been needing some hands for serving the patrons, and maybe to keep them in line. You can ask inside, if you're interested."
"Thank you." She handed him the reins, and waited for Palax to do the same. He reluctantly did so, then strode ahead of her into the tavern, without so much as a word. She shook her head in annoyance- for all that they were twins, the two were as different as night and day in temperment. Palax had received more than an even share of their father's dominating presense and air of superiority, while Vala had taken more after their mother, with all the grace and geniality for which elves were so well-known.
Vala followed him inside, wondering if they had at last found a city where they might find a home of their own. Ever since they had come of age, that had been her wish. That, and a mate, of course. Living in confinement in a remote corner of the Blackstone Mountains with only their parents and an old blind dwarf for company had been dificult for her, to say the least. Goldflame doted on his children, but she had always chafed under his over-protective wings. Even when in his elven form, their father had refused to allow them far from his lair.
Inside the tavern, she was pleasantly greeted by the aroma of cooking meat and bread. Already there were several patrons seated around the large main room, most of them obviously locals, with one or two merchant-types near the counter, where a middle-aged man with a portly build and rough beard was cleaning mugs. All eyes turned on the pair, and the room fell silent for a moment.
Palax approached the bar, where the man had paused in his task. "Pardon me, sirrah, are you the owner?"
"Might be, stranger. What's yer business?" The balding man answered.
"My sister and I are seeking employment and a place to stay."
The man looked the pair over closely. Palax noted how his gaze lingered on the polished breastplate and long sword, even more than on his peculiar appearance.
"Sordenite?" the man asked pointedly.
"Order of the Silver Crown," Palax responded with a slight bow. The Sky Father's holy order were welcomed almost everywhere, he knew.
The older man nodded. "Temple's right off the town square, if you're headed there. I imagine they'd put you up no charge."
Palax shook his head, frowning. "We don't seek charity. The stableboy mentioned you need help. I can cook and keep order for you, and Vala can clean and serve patrons. And we both can entertain your customers, as well. What say you, sirrah?"
The owner seemed to ponder for a moment. "Long way from Silverwood, stranger. Last time I saw any elves with silver hair and blue eyes, was years ago- and that was a Cursed One and his half-breed child. Most of the Tel Quessir we get around here are from the Whisperwood."
Palax looked around uneasily. "Yes, well- dark elves are always trouble. I assure you we have no wish to cause such."
The owner nodded. "Spoken like a true Sordenite. alright, I'll hire you both on a trial run.Name's Lanthor Yavorro. I'll pay you in room and board, plus six gilder a month each. Fair enough?"
Palax glanced at his sister; Vala nodded silently. He had already calculated the wage, which was a little over two argen a day. Not much, but certainly adequate, since their main expenses were already covered. He reached out to grasp the other man's hand to seal the deal.
"Palexendor Seyr Quirin, sirrah. My sister is Vala, as I mentioned. You are not Almimi, are you?"
The balding owner laughed. "Mirrealan, actually. If you don't mind a bit of curiousity, you two don't look full-blood Tel Quessir. That why you're so far from home?"
The golden elf grimaced. "We HAVE no home. And yes,that would be one reason. We are seeking a place to settle- and possibly word of others like ourselves. Our father once told us of a place rumored to exist that is said to be a haven for those like us."
Lanthor nodded sagely, understanding that the elf's heritage was not a subject he wished to discuss. "Yery well. You may take the last two rooms upstairs. They're small, but better than the stable. You can start this evening once you've settled in."
And so the twins began their life in Almin. The White Hart was the largest and most well-known tavern in the city, and within only a few weeks of working for Yavorro, the two had become popular among the residents, both for their service, and their reputation as performers. On slow nights, they would sit on stools in a corner by the hearth, singing and playing their instruments. Vala would play her rosewood pipes, Palax on his ebony lute. He was a master on the strings, and both had marvelous voices- a trait inherited from their mother, who aside from being a preistess of Elrinya, had also been a talented spellsinger.
Vala, especially, had inherited her gift of song magic, and would occasionally use it to subtly enhance their performances.
For his part, Lanthor was well-pleased by the increase in profits brought be the gold-skinned siblings. What had first begun as curiousity among the people soon grew into respect and admiration- even more so once it was known that Palax gave a good portion of his earnings to Sorden's temple, and that both siblings spent time helping the less fortunate residents of the city. Vala often gave left-over food to the beggars who wnadered the streets. Of course, there were those few who viewed the pair with suspicion or outright derision, but they were few. Some of the more boorish customers might comment on the twins' appearance, but these were uncommon incidents, and Lanthor usually asked the ruder ones to leave.
It wasn't until the day, several months later, that another elf walked into the White Hart that there was any real trouble. He was average-looking for an elf, much like any other member of his race, with his long reddish-gold hair tied into a tail at his neck, wearing the usual greens and browns of the denisens of Whisperwood. His cloak was dark green, and barely hid the short sword strapped at his side. Vala was in the kitchen, and Palax had his back turned, cleaning some mugs. The elf strode up to the bar, seeing Palax's silvery hair, apparently intending to order a drink from his kinsman. The other did not notice the color of Palax's hands in the dim light.
Then the half-gold tuned around, hearing his approach. There was a heart-beat of silence as the startled newcomer realized what sort of being he was gazing at- then Vala emerged from the kitchen, and chaos erupted.
"Half-breed abominations! Tannos take you both!"
Vala gasped, nearly dropping the tray she carried; her brother said nothing, but set down the cup and rag in his hands with a cold stare at the stranger.
"Dosst n'ner elandil, essan'ner n'taurnnost huan!" (You are less thann half, nameless lowborn dog!) The newcomer growled, staring at the two in disgust.
"I think you should take you business elsewhere, Cala'Quessir." Palax stepped purposefully around the counter.
"Dhaeraow-nost!" (Traitor-born) The elf spat, his tone full of venom.
Vala came toward the stranger, cautious, but puzzled. "Tuulo manke tuli sina delotha?"(From where comes this hatred?) she asked, setting the trayon a near-by table.
He turned to her with a sneer. "I despise ANY who deal with infernal dragons! Your very EXISTANCE profanes the blood of my noble race!"
Palax raised his hands in a calming gesture, though he was fast loosing patience with this stranger. "Surely you can see we were born of a gold. The noble and silvers have been friends to the Tel 'Quessiri from time immemorial."
"Fool! They are no better than a red! Arrogant, greedy, self-serving tyrants, all of them! They take what they please and destroy whatever is left- and you are the unholy spawn that PROVES it! To the Abyss with you, abominations!"
So saying, he moved on Vala. She backed away, into the main room, keeping the tables between herself and the enraged elf. He advanced on her, but kept one eye on Palax all the while. By this time, Lanthor had emerged from one of the upstairs rooms. Palax pulled his blade from its place beneath the counter, as the stranger removed his cloak, one hand going to his blade. Palax dashed to put himself between Vala and the stranger, determined to protect his sister. Chairs overturned as people hastily tried to clear the tavern for the inevitable fight. Metal sang, as the antagonists drew their swords.
Palax held his almost casually, hoping to appear an easy target. His code said no knight must ever strike first; that did not mean he could not strike last, however. He barely noted the mad scramble for the door and stairs as the patrons tried to escape to a safe distance. Only Vala, Lanthor, and a few of the regular customers were left in the tavern proper- all the rest had either run up the stairs to watch from the rails, or outside, where several were peering in through the one large window. A few others stood outside the open door.
"Pray to your god for mercy, half-breed B@&#036;t@rd!" yelled the elf, lunging for Palax's chest. The golden elf parried the blow easily, then swept his sword in a vicious arc toward the other's head. The stranger ducked under the swing, only to come back with a lightening-quick swipe at Palax's legs. The half-gold continued his arc, barely managing to block the hit. He leapt back, nimble as a cat, bringing his sword to bear once more, as his opponent tried to thrust at his chest again- only to be met by Palax's blade.
The two antagonists fought for several minutes, their swords flashing, steel clashing against mithril. The battle soon moved toward the stairs at the back of the room; Palax was slowly force back by his opponent's ferocity. His skill was greater, but his foe was driven by hate, which made his speed all the more dangerous. Palax soon realized that unless he used his innate gift for magic, he would almost surely be cut down.
Thus be began to sing, soft at first, but with rising confidence. It was an ancient elven battle-song, interwoven with a counter-point tune in draconic. The song's magic bolstered his strength and courage, and sped his blade. And none too soon, for he was already being driven up the stairs.
The stranger noticed the change in his opponent almost immediately. He felt the half-dragon's strikes speeding up to match the tempo of the song, and he snarled in fury.
"Trickery! Nandor, lle cali n'una cylys! Codol adel templa? (Coward, you have no honor! Hiding behind magic?) Manke naa dolle kaano?" (Where is you valor?)
Palax did not answer. He merely continued his song. Besides, he had noticed that his foe's sword-arm moved far too quickly to be natural. He had a suspicion that he was not the only one using magic in this fight. No doubt his opponent had some sort of magical object granting him greater speed.
The elf growled in frustration. He bakced off long enough to grab a tankard from the nearest table, then pressed his attack again, and threw it at Palax. The half-dragon ducked aside, only to be caught off-guard by the other's true attack. He barely raised his blade to block in time, and stumbled on the stairs in the process. The stranger siezed the advantage, thrusting at the half-gold's unprotected arm. Palax felt pain rip through his arm as a ribbon of crimson appeared from a tear in his sleeve. It interrupted his song, ending the magic.
Desperate now, he kicked out at the other's face from his higher vantage on the stairs. The elf jerked back, giving Palax tiime to recover his footing. He leapt over the railing, and charged full on from his adversary's flank. The unexpected move caught the stranger off-guard, and he had no time to defend himself from the full weight of the rushing paladin. They tumbled together into a table, their bulk breaking it to kindling as they fell in a heap on top of it. The newcomer dropped his sword, but Palax held onto his, and punched the other across the jaw. He leapt back to his feet as his foe lay dazed amid the wreckage, and held his weapon pointed at the elf's throat.
"Lle lava?" (Do you yield?) he asked harshly, panting from the struggle. His stern expression left no room for doubt that he would kill the other if neccessary.
The stranger grimaced. "Go ahead, half-blood- kill me. Show them what you truly are."
Palax shook his head sadly. "I am saddened that one of my kin should be so blind. We are no threat to anyone, save those who would do us harm. Besides, it is against my code to kill an unarmed and helpless being. You say I have no honor? Who was it that tried to kill an unarmed woman just a moment ago? You disgrace our people."
Now Vala stepped forth. She saw that her brother's sword-arm was wavering ever so slightly. She realized that he was losing a great deal of blood from his wound; no doubt the stranger had hit a major vessel. She became worried, and moved near him, about to suggest he let her tend him.
"What is your name, Cala'Quessir? I would know whom it is that wishes me dead."
"I am Gatheriel Nimithil, mal'loki-melar (derogitory- gold dragon-lover). My family was killed by one of your so-called 'noble' golds. Have you ever seen a dragon-rage? I have. And I will not rest until every last wyrm in Anterris is dead."
Palax shook his head, and gave the elf a dark laugh. "Then your rest will not come for a long time, kinsman. You should give up such a mad quest." He wavered just a little, and the other saw and took advantage. He rolled aside, grabbing his own weapon, and was back on his feet in a flash. Palax was barely able to block the blow that came slashing across his middle, his arm driven down by the force of his opponent's renewed attack.
"Your answer, huan, is no. I do NOT yield!"
Vala decided she had had enough. She was willing to let her brother defend her, but certainly not to die for her. She calmly raised her hands, and began to wave them in the gestures for a spell, as she intoned a low chant in her father's ancient tongue. It was a spell to hold a being in place, binding them from harming others. The elf had a startled look for a moment as he realized what she was doing, then began to fight her charm. He strained his will against hers; they seemed evenly matched for a moment, until Palax stepped forth and ended the struggle rather decicively- he punched out at Gatheriel, knocking him out cold.
"Brother, I could have subdued him myself." She chided, with a hint of amusement.
"Perhaps, but he seemed uncommonly well-able to resist. I thought it best not to give him that chance, sister dear. At least this way, he will be of no more threat." And then he buckled, and fell, losing consciousness himself.


Vala was at his side in a heartbeat. She glanced around, seeing the tavern patrons standing there gawking, and barked orders. "You- Moralli, was it? Go get the City Watch. Tell them to take this troublemaker to the gaol. And be quick about it. Lanthor, would you kindly bring some bandages? And someone go get a healer!"
Meanwhile, she tried to do what she could for her wounded brother. She chanted a quick spell of healing, and felt his breathing settle into something resembling normalcy. It wasn't much, but would at least be enough to stop the bleeding. True healing was beyond her meager experience, however.
The portly owner soon returned with some bandages, which he handed to the dragon-woman. She pulled open Palax's shirt, and gasped at the sight of the long gash that marred the lean-muscled bicep. She began to wrap it, even as the Watch finally arrived.
"What happened here?" asked one of the officers. He was clad in the lightly-armored garb typical of the Watch, with the Almini Republic sysmbol of an eagle with a spear clenched in its talons on the short cape.
"We were attacked by this stranger. came after me, but my brother defended me. I believe his weapon or some other item on him may be magical- he seemed much too fast to be natural."
The officer sighed. "Very well. But we will need to speak to you both when he is well enough."
"Of course."
Later, after Palax had been seen by a healer from the Temple of Myrnos, they were led by the officer- a young man with the hawkish nose and thick black hair typical of the Almini people whom Vala had learned was named Leonardu Callitus- to the office of the Magistrate. She had to help her brother along, as he was still a bit weak from the bllod-loss. No amount of healing would solve that, only time and rest.
When they arrived, they were greeted by a stern-looking man of middle age, his raven hair cut short in the official fashion, sprinkled through with grey. He wore the blood-red robes of his office, and a large medallion that Vala was sure held some sort of enchantment- most likely to discern truth.
"So, I understand there was some trouble today. We have been tolerant of you both, as it is policy to keep our lands open to peaceful immigrants of all peoples, but this goes beyond simple fisticuffs. An armed battle in a place of business? Shameful."
Vala grimaced, but her brother simply took the upbraiding stoicly. He seemed almost ashamed to have survived the fight, although, knowing him, it was not far from the truth. She knew well that he abhored unneccessary violence, holding to his code of honor and virtue as if his life depended on it.
"Forgive us, Your Eminence. It seems the man who attacked had a grudge against those who, ah, are associated with Wyrms."
The Magistrate frowned. "Yes, we know. He has already been questioned in the gaol, and claims he is a dragon-slayer. I had his weapon examined, and it is enspelled to kill creatures of draconic blood." He paused at the gasps from the siblings. "However- and let me be perfectly clear on this- that was no excuse for drawing a weopn in a public business. He is guilty as well, and shall be punished accordingly. And while I appreciate the fact that you managed to avoid blood-shed yourself, that does not mean we can let this go, even if it WAS to protect another. Knight or not, you should never have resorted to that. In fact, you should have known better, since you are a Sordenite. I would have expected better of a member of that order."
Palax nodded. "Yes, I know. It was- foolish. I will take whatever punishment you see fit, sirrah. I make no excuses."
The older man laughed. "Good! That's what I like to hear. Rather contrite, aren't we? Well, tehn, here is your sentence. There have been rumors of late that the pirate-lords of Argonia have been preparing for some kind of attack on out lands along the coast. This is nothing new- they raid all the time, pillaging whatever they can- but this time, our spies believe there is something more going on. Recently, a party of dark elves was seen riding west toward the Hinlands. There were only four, and reports say they appear to be merely passing through, but it was clear they are searching for something. They have left several dead in their wake, and witnesses claim they are searching for a dak elf male who supposedly passed through some weeks ago. And there is more- a lone female was also sighted, a few days later, headed in the same direction. SHE left more than just a few dead. This one seems more dangerous than the others put together- I've heard that she left an entire inn in flames, with everyone inside gutted. I want this stopped. You will bring these Drow back, dead or alive, to pay for their crimes. I can't think of a more fitting atonement. Can you?"
Vala was outraged. "You are banishing us from the city? And sending us to do the work of the Republican Guard, as well?"
The man shhok his head. "Do not misunderstand. Palax is free to return once the task is complete- and you, my dear, are perfectly free to stay. I said nothing about sending you on this mission. You were not to blame for the mishap, even if you were partly its cause. No, this is for Palax to do. Of course, if you wish to accompany him, that is fine, too."
The gold elf considered. "Your own men have been unable to accomplish the task, I take it."
The Magistrate nodded. "The ones I've sent after them have been slaughtered- by the female. But somehow, I think you might have better luck. Anyone who can take down a dragon-slayer without even putting a scratch on him deserves respect. But make no mistake, I want her HEAD!"
Palax held out his hand to the man. "Very well, consider it my honor to serve." He bowed slightly. Vala started to protest, but one look at her brother stopped her short. She knew that look. He never made a promise he did not intend to keep.
They left the next morning, and set out on the road. The dark elves had last been seen near the town of Torrino. If the reports were to be believed, they had taken a path that would skirt the northern edge of the Red Desert, and lead eventually to the halfling town of Homedale. Three hours into the journey, the twins came to the bridge over the Florian River. Vala brought her mount alongside his. She gazed out over the fertile fields and vineyards that the region was so famous for, and sighed.
“Brother, why exactly are we doing this? I understand that you wish to atone for your transgression, but don’t you think the Magistrate was being a bit- harsh?”
“Sister, it is a matter of honor. A knight must never strike out in anger, and besides, we have lived among these people long enough to know the laws. I could not claim ignorance for an excuse for ignoring the restriction against using weapons in a place of business. Perhaps if he had challenged me in the Coliseum, that would have been one thing- but in an inn, with civilians in harm’s way? I broke more than a law, Vala. I broke my own code. I could not call myself a Knight of the Silver Crown in truth with such a mark on my honor.”
She shook her head. She had known it would somehow come back to that. “No, I suppose not. Still, it seems a fool’s errand. These dark elves were traveling toward the border, and by all accounts, had no intention of remaining in this region. So why are we LEAVING the Republic to chase them down, only to return later with them? Might as well have simply left altogether.”
“Would you prefer to let them slaughter more innocents, and do nothing? I for one, am bound to protect the weak, and uphold justice. Surely you can agree to that?”
“No, of course not! I hold as much respect for what’s right as you; I simply feel- used, I suppose. I have this nagging feeling that we are being sent on an impossible mission. You don’t suppose they merely wanted to be rid of us, do you? It would be so easy to do, merely by sending us on a suicide mission. And who would ever miss us?”
Palax laughed. “Sister, I am surprised at you! How could you even suggest such a thing?”
Vala rode on, but found she had no real answer. “I suppose you’re right. Perhaps I’ve just seen so much bigotry I’ve come to expect it. Forgive me, brother. I’m being foolish.”
“Take heart, Vala. The Almini are mainly open and forthright people. At least they have accepted us here. Even our own kinsmen would not do as much.”
They rode on in silence, their horses trotting contentedly past field after field of lush crops tended by simple farmers, or vast orchards of fruit trees in the full growth of summer. Past the rows of grapes that made the spectacular wines the Republic exported to so much of the world. Vala did not bring up the subject again, and yet she had her doubts about their task. She had not wanted to go, yet she knew, even as Palax did, that she could never let her brother go alone. They were family, but more than that, they shared a special bond as twins that none could ever understand.
Three days passed before they finally rode into Torrino. The town was not so large or wealthy as Almin itself, but still prosperous, and with a population that would have qualified it as a city in many other lands. It was pretty, with many large villas and parks, rows of sturdy stone and wood homes with tile roofs, and trees lining the streets. And statues. The people of the Republic seemed to love their statues. Almin had them in abundance, but here, nearer the foothills of the Blackstone Mountains, they were everywhere. Statues of gods, heroes of the past, animals, even public figures. Even the local tavern had a pair of marble statues at its entrance.
The pair stopped at the tavern- its sign proclaiming it the Satyr’s Horn- and tethered their horses. They planned to stay only long enough for a meal and to seek more information about the drow they sought. Inside, they found a small but cozy mead hall, with a full stage at one end, and a door leading back to a row of rooms to the left. The bar and kitchen were on the right. At the moment, the place seemed relatively empty, even for late afternoon, though that did not seem to deter the three exotic-looking women dancing on the stage. Vala studied them for a moment. From their dress and features, she would have guessed them for Simarans. She watched the suggestive dance for a moment, then followed her brother over to the bar, where a tall, mustachioed man with a hawkish nose and tiny, pig-like eyes was pouring a drink for a patron. Or had been, until the two entered. Now he stood with the bottle still partially tilted, staring at them warily. In fact, everyone in the tavern was staring at them, save the three dancers, who were too far away to see them properly, and could not have seen past the lights on their stage at any rate.
“Here we go again, brother,” she murmured softly, so that only Palax’s keen elven ears could hear. He chuckled.
They approached the man behind the bar, and Palax bowed slightly. “Forgive the intrusion, sirrah, but we’d like a meal, if it’s not too much trouble. And perhaps some information, as well.”
The man eyed the pair, going from one to the other and back again. “Depends on what kind of information you’re looking for.”
“Dark elves.” was all Palax said. At that, the man took a step back, dropping the bottle with a fearful look; everyone within ear-shot suddenly turned to stare at him with hard expressions or utter shock. The man who was drinking at the bar nearly choked.
“What would you be wantin’ with THOSE bastards?” the barkeeper asked coldly.
“We are hunting them. I was charged by the Magistrate of Almin himself to look into the recent trouble in this area, and to bring them back to the capital to pay for their crimes.”
The bartender visibly relaxed. Suddenly the hard stares changed, into what might almost be considered welcoming looks, if not for the hint of suspicion behind them.
“Well, then, what would you be wantin’ to know?” asked the tall man.
“When did they come though, how many, and do you know where they went?” Palax rattled off the questions rapidly.
Vala rolled her eyes. Her brother could be a bit tactless at times. “Palax, dear, please don’t be such a brute. Really, brother, you could stand to lean some manners- humph, knight, indeed!” She turned to the man with a warm smile. “What my over-eager sibling meant was how long ago did they pass here?”
“About a week ago. They CLAIMED they were searching for a friend of theirs who had gone missing. They wanted to know if he’d come this way, and didn’t seem too happy when I wouldn’t tell them anything. Threatened to gut me, they did, and might have, too, if half the town watch hadn’t been in here at the time. I didn’t like the looks of any of them.”
“How many were there?” she asked.
“Three.” The man said simply. “There was another one who came in couple of days later. A female, but not like the others. She was- scary. Wicked cold looking. Not as dark, either. A half-breed, by my way of thinking. Had black hair, with three silver streaks in it. Wore a peculiar kind of blue armor, like scales of some kind, with a white shirt under, and a red sash around her waist. She had these copper-colored boots and gloves, too.”
Palax looked at his sister. Copper? There was only one creature whose hide could make boots that color. She nodded, and his jaw clenched in anger. Not as horrifying a thought as killing a gold, but an evil act none-the-less. The dark elf wench would pay for that, as well.
“Do you have any idea where they went?” Vala asked. She was more than a little angry herself, now. It was possible the drow had not killed the wyrm herself, but not likely. Vala was willing to bet the boots and gloves were trophies.
“Well, they took off toward the Hinlands after one of the Watch mentioned throwing their friend out of town at the West Gate a couple of weeks earlier. I remember that fella- a young one, dressed pretty fancy, but a dark elf’s a dark elf, no matter how you dandy him up. HE claimed he was just looking for a place to stay, and tried to get me to let him perform up on the stage, but I wasn’t havin’ it.”
“I see.” Palax scowled. He wondered if he was expected to go after the other one as well. The Magistrate had said nothing about that one, but if he was involved with the others, perhaps he had better deal with that one as well.
"Well then, can you tell us what happened to him? Perhaps someone saw where he went" Palax asked. He was anxious to be on his way. Truthfully, he wanted nothing so much as to be done with this task. He had begun to wonder himself if they were being sent on a suicide mission. Still, it was his duty to protect and aid those in need, and to bring evil-doers to swift justice. And these dark elves certainly seemed such.
The man looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded. "Might be the Watch Captain knows where the scoudrel went. He was on duty that day, and was one of the ones who escorted the fellow to the edge of town."
"And where might we find him?" Vala queried.
"He comes in here every day around six for dinner, after his duties are done. Should be in this afternoon."
Palax sighed in annoyance. That meant waiting. Why couldn't the Magistrate have given him a simpler task? He could think of several that would have been acceptable.

Elsewhere, in a small thicket near a farm lying on the western frontier of the Republic, a figure huddled against the fierce wind that had blown up. It was mid-day, the worst time for his kind- the brilliant sun was at its highest, nearly blinding to his light-sensitive eyes. Like all of his people, he was more used to the deep darkness of the caverns and tunnels of the Underdark. Of course, there were many who made frequent foreys to the surface on raids, and on the pirating ships that made his father's fearsome fleet, but Lothir was not one of them. He had spent most of his life guarded and confined to the "safe" confines of Argos Hall. He knew only too well that there were many who would have cheerfully murdered him, simply for being the heir to the infamous "Pirate King" Aldan E'Terrin'dar, the current ruler of Argonia's wild and dangerous shores.
Lothir sat under the shade of the thicket, dejected, hungry, and lost. Alone. He had never been truly on his own before, save for a few secret outings when he'd been able to sneak away from his bodyguards- those silent, humorless thugs his father paid well to watch him at all times. He had snuck from their watchfull eyes once at the Bazaar of Terrillis, and had quite a lark evading them throughthe stalls and shops. Aside from that, his only real entertainment- the only thing that had ever kept him from sinking into a pit of despair- was attending the neirrdiarras, the wild, decadent dances his people were so fond of. Those parties usually devolved into mindless orgies, but he never complained.
Lothir loved the music, wild, pulsing, thrilling. And the dancing, of course. He had mastered the art as no other, always being the last one to leave the floor on those crazed competitions. His father had had him drilled in swordplay and armed combat, of course, but he had truly excelled at the art of the battledance. With a blade in each hand, in the throws of his dervish-like dance of death, he was nearly untouchable.
Not that it made any difference now. He had left that world of cruelty and treatchery behind, and he refused to ever go back. He would rather starve out here in the harsh light of the surface world. Being a pawn in the political games of his parents galled him. He wanted his own life, away from the petty house wars and back-stabbing of his people. His blue eyes, so different from most dark elves, had seen HER. The female who had danced naked in the moonlight- the one with the silver hair and the voice like a starlit night. He had known her instatly, and it had almost made him weep to think that she had appeared before HIM. The Dark Lady, the Moondancer. Elistarrya.
That vision, seen one night when he had snuck to the forests above the cavern of Argos Hall, was all that kept him going out here. Most of his kind revered another goddess, the evil Lady of Venom. Lothrenya, the Queen of Spiders and Death. Thinking of her dark worship always made him shudder. He hated the sacrifices, the torture, the thirst for power at any cost. His own heart yearned for something more. Something he could not name, but had always needed.
Lothir took out his prized possession, a silver flute he'd "borrowed" from the deepest vaults beneath Argos Hall, and played a sad tune; the song came from somewhere within, unknown and unheard until that moment. A heartsong, it was sometimes called. The bardic arts were not unknown to the drow, but most of their music was discordant, harsh, and pounding, like their own souls. His was different. Lothir had heard whispers from time to time, of drow who had simply abandoned their Houses, gone off alone. More than likely, they, too, had heard another call.
A shadow passed overhead, and he looked up from beneath his hooded cloak. Dark clouds had begun to gather. He groaned inwardly. Now he would soon be hungry AND wet. Rain was something head never needed to contened with in the deep caverns of home. At first, he had rejoiced at such a novelty, but now, with no shelter, no food, and the harsh reality of a life on the road alone facing him, the young drow was beginning to feel doubt and hopelessness set in.
Lothir turned his gaze on the nearby farm, wondering if he could seek shelter in the small barn. Perhaps he could find something to eat, as well, he thought, his stomach reminding him audibly that he'd not eaten in nearly two days. Not since that twit had tossed him out of the tavern in the last town he'd tried to enter. His common speech was broken, at best, but he had asked the owner for a meal and perhaps some sort of employment. The young drow rose, mentally cusing himself for not bringing more coins with him, and even more so for letting some damned pickpocket steal his purse in Almin. Life on the surface was much harder than he'd ever imagined.
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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MsMarvelDuckie
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Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

13 Apr 2009, 22:13 #3

Several miles away, near another farm, four other pairs of eyes saw the approaching storm as well. Unlike their quarry, these eyes were the hue and hardness of amber. One of the quartet was over five and a half feet tall and weighed one hundred thirty pounds- small by human standards, perhaps, but a giant among the normally smaller and slender drow. He wore no armor, nothing at all above the waist, in fact. Even more unusual was the fact that though he carried a sword which would have seemed large and unweildly even to a large human, he wore it at his back as if he'd been born with it there.
"Damn this toplander weather," he said in his native tongue. The others agreed.
"Balzrin, perpas we should wait out the storm in that dwelling; he cannot be too far ahead, and he will most certainly not go far once it starts raining. Our horses will catch him in no time at all." The second drow, a lean fellow with his head shaved down both sides to leave a narrow strip of long white hair down the middle, was dressed all in dark grey studded leathers, with a pair of kuhkri daggers sheathed at his hips.
"Don't be a fool, Dirlyth. If we stop now, the storm will wash away his trail. do you wish to go back and tell King Aldan that we lost the prince over a little RAIN?! Do you truly hate your head so much you are that eager to part with it?" Oneof the otherschided him. He was a tall drow, his stark white hair cropped short save for a small tail at the back. He carried a short sword at his side, and a bow slung across his back, with a quiver of distinctive arrows- black with red and green fletchings. He was the tracker of the group, sarcastic and cynical even for a race known for such traits.
"No,"replied Dirlyth, "but even you must realize he has no idea where his path is taking him, Rilkin. The fool boy is headed straight into the Red Desert. We at least know that nuch, thanks to the map I stole from that merchant twit in Torrino. we WILL find the prince, make no mistake."
"Yes, but he will be dead inside a week, if he goes into the desert, unless we find him first," chimed Kurindra, the cleric and only female in the group. If the others appeared intimidating, she looked deceptively harmless. Petite and lovely, with her snowy tresses in a girlish braid woven through with strands of silfer thread that contrasted with the black and blood-red of her robes. Her only obvious weapons were a dagger that resembled a spider, with the body for the hilt and the legs arranged into four pairs of long, thin blades around the sharp fans of the head, and a whip that looked uncomfortably like a long, coiled scorpion's tail, complete with a stinger at the end.
"Enough," said Balzrin. "The thief is right. Lothir is only a half-day ahead of us, and on foot. We'll find him long before he reaches the desert, rain or no rain. we stop here. I'm hungry, and that farm surely has provisions we can use."
"Agreed." added Dirlyth sourly. "But I am not a thief. I am a privateer and an officer in the Argonian Imperial Navy- and i SHOULD be on my ship."
Rilkin snorted. "In other words, a pirate. that makes you a thief, no matter what you wish to call it." Kurindra chuckled her agreement.
The four turned their mounts toward the distant farmhouse, where a woman and a teen-aged boy were tending a large garden. Minutes later, the fuor drow were seated comfortably around a table in the house, while the first clap of thunder brought rain pouring down onto the corpses of the two in the garden.

Lothir huddled in the leaky, drafty barn, more miserable than ever. Not only was hesoaked, but the only food he'd found was some half-rotted vegetables slopped into a pig trough. He didn't dare try sneaking into the garden for something, as he'd learned the hard way that being caught stealing vegetables generally led to being pelted with stones and chased with pitchforks. Even in the rain, he had been too afraid someone might see him. So he still had nothing to eat.
He sat in the hayloft, staring down dully at the two cows and trio of pigs below, and pulled out his ebonwood lute. He strummed a little, knowing the sound of the storm and the distance from the house would drown out the sounds. He let the rain beating on the roof show him the song. The animals looked up toward the sound, pausing while they ate. The rain fell harder, quickening the song, and he smiled to see the pigs wagging their curly tails in time. At least here i have an appreciative audience, he mused.
He continued to play for a few moments, gazing out through the loft's window at the storm. Soon, a small scraping noise below caught his attention, and he glanced over at the ladder to see what it was. He was met by a pair of large, innocent green eyes peeking over the ladder's top rung. A small child- a human girl of no more than six- was watching him with rapt fascination. He stopped dead, striking a dischordant note. Fear of this discovery froze him in place.
"That's a pretty song. Where did you learn it?" she asked, climbing up to sit beside him in the loft. Lothir stared in silence. The little girl had her raven hair tied into little braided pig-tails, and wore a simple peasant's dress. She had no doubt come from the house, but was she alone? All he needed now was to be trapped up here by an angry human. No doubt if they saw him, they would think he intended to harm the girl.
"Oh, you're an elf! You don't look like the ones in the city, though. Are you a chocolate elf? I like chocolate. I only get to have it at the Summer Festival, though. There's a man in a funny hat who comes from a long way and sells candy and lots of good stuff at the Festival. He's real nice; he lets all the kids have a piece. I liked your song. Did someone teach it to you?"
Finally Lothir spoke, whilethe girl scooted closer to him. Her eyes were wide with wonder at the sight of this stranger.
"No, I- I made it up. No one has ever heard or played it before."
She stared in astonishment. "You did? Just now? What's it called? I'm Talaria. What's your name?"
The drow had to smile, in spite of himself. He understood now, that the child was too young to know anything about dark elves. Too young to be afraid. Such innocent trust would never be possible at home. The blood-thirsty ways of his people would have quickly killed it.
"It doesn't have a name yet. I- I am Lothir. But please don't tell anyone about me. I'm not supposed to be here. The adults would be angry." He wondered if the girl's parents were looking for her. He wanted to bolt down the ladder and far away from the farm, but his need for companionship, even from a child, kept him rooted to the spot.
Her head bobbed up and down, black pig-tails framing a wide, mischievous grin. "I know- it's a secret! I like secrets. Like when I sneak outside to play in the rain. That's how I heard you. Momma hates when I play in the rain. She says I must be part nixie. Do you know what a nixie is?"
He shook his head. The girl was outside without permission? That meant she might be missed at any moment. "No, I've never heard of nixies. You shouldn't be here. I can't stay if someone finds me here- they'll make me leave." Or worse, he thought. Every instinct urged him to flee, but the rain and the little girl's trusting company made him want to stay, no matter the danger.
She continued as if she didn't hear him. "Nixies are water sprites. They live in lakes and streams, and they love rain. They're real pretty. Don't worry, I'll keep your secret!, Besides, I don't mind if you stay- it's all wet out!" She giggled. At that moment, as if to complain, his stomach let out an audible gurgle of hunger. The child looked at him, and giggled again.
"Your belly rumbled- you should eat. It's almost dinner time!"
Lothir shook his head sadly. "I don't have anything."
The girl's face crinkled in a frown. "Oh. Momma's making dinner- maybe she'll let you have some! I'll go ask!" She started to get up. In a panic, he grabbed her tiny hand.
"No! It's a secret, remember?"
"Oh! Sorry, I almost forgot! I know- there's some tomatoes and carrots in the garden. I can get you some. And maybe a potato, too! They arne't very good unless you cook them, though." She wrinkled her nose in distaste.
Lothir sighed. "That's alright. I'll eat almost anything right now. I was even tempted to join the pigs down there."
"Eat with pigs? Eww!" she squealed, and hopped over to the ladder. she was down it before he could even protest, shimmying like a monkey. The girl hit the ground running, and soon disappeared off toward the garden beyond the house. Lothir settled back, wondering if he should wait for her to come back, or leave while he had the chance.
"This is hopeless," he said to himself. "I never should have left. What in the Nine Hells am I even doing here? No food, nowhere to go, and no one to even care whether I live or die. I was miserable at home, but at least there I wasn't starving."
He closed his eyes, leaning against the rough wooden planks of the loft. Where other elves entered a state of deep meditation to rest, his own race actually needed sleep. It was part of their curse, a punishment for the long-ago trechery of turning on their light-skinned kin. Even now, those of the surface elves who commited heinous crimes against their fellows were still sometimes submitted to the Dark Banishment, transformed into ebon-skinned drow by a circle of High Priests.
His father had been one of those, an unrepentant thief and murderer, whose ambition and greed had led to his being exiled as a traitor. Lothir had been born not long after Lord Aldan had gained control of the largest and most dangerous fleet of pirate ships the Eastern Sea had ever seen. The so-called "Pirate King" was ruthless, cunning, and trusted few, not even his Lady Consort, Lothir's mother. His one heir was nothing more to him than a means to secure that power, the first prince of what had become the most powerful and feared House in Argonia.
After a few minutes, the young drow heard footsteps outside; he sat up with a start, expecting any moment to be discovered. But the steps were those of a child. The girl had returned, as promised. He glanced down over the side of the loft, to see her trying to climb with one hand while holding up her skirt as a sort of make-shift sack in the other. She slipped half-way, and would have fallen had he not reach down with lightening-quick relflexes to catch her. He hauled her up, and she looked at him in awe at the rescue.
"You're really fast! I never saw anyone move like that before."
He chuckled. "Then you should see me dance, little one. That was nothing." She opened up her skirt and he saw that she had, indeed, brought back several vegetables from the garden, and even a few other things as well. A half-loaf of bread, a small wedge of cheese, and even a few strips of dried beef. She handed him the bread and cheese, and set the rest on his lap, keeping a small tomato for herself.
"Here. I sort of borrowed these from Momma. She was to busy to even notice!" she grinned impishly. "You dance? Like at the Festival? I like to watch all the big girls dance with the boys, but I'd never dance with one. Yuck. Boys are mean. They always try to pull my hair."
He chuckled as he took . "That's not so bad. Where I came from, everyone is mean. And they do far worse things than pull hair." He gazed at her thoughtfully for a moment, watching her eat the squishy red fruit, dribbling juice and seeds down her chin. He thought of such a fragile, innocent soul at home, and shuddered. No, this child would never have survived in the hell he'd been born to. The only reason he had lived to adulthood himself was the fact that his rank and guarded seclusion from others had kept him relatively safe from the daggers and poisons of his peers.
"Talaria, I want you to do something for me. I want you to promise that if you ever see another elf like me, to run and hide quickly. Do not let them find you, no matter what. Promise."
She cocked her head up at him, puzzled. "Why? You're nice. Why would I need to hide from an elf? Momma says they protect the woods from things like orcs and green dragons."
He sighed. "Because most- chocolate elves are NOT nice. Most of them would hurt you and your family. That's why I- ran away. My family was VERY mean. Very bad. They hurt people, even each other. Do you know what evil is?"
She nodded slowly. "It's what bad people are. Momma says there are evil gods who do really bad things, like make plagues and destroy whole cities."
"Yes, and the people who pray to those gods are just as bad, little one. Most of my people are like that. They pray to the bad gods. So if you ever see another one like me, you must hide until they are gone."
"Oh. Alright. I promise." she said seriously. Lothir sat back and tore into the bread, hunger suddenly overcoming even his concern over the child's safety. He doubted she would ever see another dark elf so far from the shores of the Eastern Sea. no raiding party had ever come this far. but still he had felt some need to protect such innocence from future harm. He could not bear the thought of an innocent life cut so brutally short by a misplaced trust.
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

13 Apr 2009, 22:15 #4

Vala and her brother were still waiting for the Watch Captain when they heard the first crash of thunder. The both looked toward the two large windowsat the front of the tavern, to see rain beginning to pour down.
"Oh, Hells," muttered Palax, his mouth curving down into a frown.
"Well, brother, perhaps we should see about a room for the night, It looks as though we will be her for a while." Vala chuckled. She was well aware of how impatient he was to continue the hunt. "Perhaps this is Sorden's way of testing you," she quipped.
He glanced over at his twin, glaring daggers in her direction. "If so, I am NOT amused. The gods can be a capricious lot. Then again, this couls simply be some random storm. Not every storm is his work. Or have you forgotten the Storm Lord Torrinis?"
She shrugged. "No, but it seems sort of apropos, somehow, that this should happen when we are on YOUR quest. Just the sort of thing a god would put in our path."
So they waited. And waited. The rain fell on, and by the time the sun had set, they had already eaten their evening meal of weak stew and hard bread. Vala had wisely decided to pay for two rooms for the night, as it did not appear the rain would let up anytime soon. They were both getting restless when the lean, wiry man in military uniform finally entered the tavern, to the greetings of several of the patrons. Vala had all but given up watching the three dancers perform their art for the third time. She wondered if they ever got tired of dancing for a bunch of unappreciative yokels, since there didn't seem to be much interest from the townsfolk in the tavern.
Palax rose when he saw the man arrive, and strode over to meet him as he sat down at a table near the dancers. The weasel-faced Watchman began to rise again when he saw the gold elf approach, one hand on the hilt of his sword, but Palax raised one hand in a gesture of peace, and gave a slight bow of respect.
"Be at ease, sirrah. I was told you might have information I need. You are the Watch Captain, are you not?"
The man nodded, his eyes never leaving Palax's slitted ones, though his hand left his blade to motion over a serving girl. She hurried over with a flagon of ale, then beat a hasty retreat, obviously used to serving him.
"Who wishes to know?" the Watchman answered, taking a swig of his drink. He watched Vala approach to stand beside her twin, and onw brow raised as if in question.
"I am Palexendor Seyr Quirin, son of Aurignis of clan Aurianaurak, and Knight of the Silver Crown. I heard you had some recent troubles with drow; I was sent here from Almin to bring them to justice. The Magistrate there was most anxious for their capture."
The Watchman scowled. "Quite an introduction, milord. Your name means nothing to me, and the title only slightly more so. I've never cared much for the airs those holy orders put on. But our troubles are gone, along with the drow. I personally threw one out of the gates only a week ago. He made a show of being innocent and harmless, to be sure. But even here, we know that his kind are dangerous. I sent him running toward the western border with a few bolts from my crossbow. Moved rather quick, that one. And I tossed his four friends out two days later, at sword-point along with half the Watch."
"Then do you know where they are now?" Vala asked.
"And you are?" he said pointedly. It was obvious this human did not trust outsiders.
"Vala Seyr Quirin, good sirrah. Palax is my brother. And though he sometimes forgets his manners, we do appreciate anything you can tell us about where they went."
"Don't know. Don't care, as long as it's away from our lands. I hope they all died out in the desert. But they would likely give the vultures indigestion." He shrugged, and took another pull from his drink. Vala sighed, realizing there was little more they could get from the surly human. Still, something tugged at her. Something about all of this seemed- off, somehow.
"What of the first one? What did he want here? Surely there must have been some reason he came this far."
"I didn't particularly care enough to ask, milady. All I know is the black devil was begging Tertian to let him on the stage with his girls there to earn a few coins. A thief, if you ask me. Dressed too fancy for a common begger, but the fool didn't seem to have a copper to his name, if he even HAD a name."
"Thank you, Captain. you have been most- helpful." Palax turned and left, going back to his own table. Vala gave the man a nod, and followed. When they sat down again, she gave her brother a disapproving look.
"That was rather curt of you, Palax. Why the sudden lack of courtesy?"
"These fools can't or won't help us. I'd venture they aren't overly fond of outsiders in general, or Sordenites either, for that matter. But tell me Vala, why this interest in one dark elf?"
She shook her head, puzzled. "Honestly, I'm not certain myself. But what we've heard doesn't seem to make much sense. If that one is with the others, why does it sound as though he is lost? And though they claimed they were looking for their friend, somehow I get the feeling he doesn't WANT to be found. In which case, I seriously doubt he is a friend of theirs at all. And what about that female? I've heard nothing else of her. There are too many questions here."
"Agreed. Perhaps when we find them, we will answer some of them. Meanwhile, sister, I think I will enjoy what is left of the evening with a warm bath and a good night's sleep. Goodnight."
He rose, and went to look for the serving girl to draw up some water. Vala sighed. it was going to be a long night.

In a dark corner of the tavern, a figure sat watching the pair silently. The grizzled old man rose from his seat, passing by the captain, and followed the serving girl to the back. Once out of sight of prying eyes, he grabbed her from behind, covering her mouth with a deceptively strong hand. He dragged her into a small storage room, and slid a dagger out of the sleeve of his dirty grey robe, slitting her throat. The stranger chuckled, and with a word, dropped the spell he had been using to disguise his true form.
Where once stood a haggard old man, now was a young dark elf woman a bit over five feet in height, with dusky grey skin and hair an unusual shade of jet black shot with silvery streaks. Her violet eyes were hard and cold as amethyst chips. She wore a white silk tunic beneath a shirt of blue scale armor, a pair of copper-hued boots and gloves, and a strange, double-handled sword sheathed at her side.
"So, brother, you came this far. I would not have expceted you to survive this long away from the eyes of your protectors. Father underestimated your cleverness. But I haven't. I WILL hunt you down, foolish prince. And I will drag you back to Lady Ardra kicking and screaming if need be." Her lips curled in a cruel smile, as she dragged the body of the human to a corner, tossing several bags of flour over it to hide it.
She muttered a simple incantation, and all traces of the woman's blood disappeared from the dagger, the floor, and her clothes. She pulled out a small mirror from her pack, a pinch of silver dust, and whispered the words of another spell. In an instant, her appearance changed to that of the dead serving girl.
Lothir spent the next few hours playing his lute and singing for Talaria, while the young girl curled up beside him to listen. it didn't matter that he sang in his native tongue- she seemed enchated by the very sound. by the time he realized the rain had almost stopped, she had fallen asleep, her head nestled beneath his arm with his cloak pulled up around her. He wondered what to do for a moment, then heard a woman's voice calling the child's name.
He gently shook her awake; she looked up at him sleepily, rubbing her eyes.
"Talaria, your mother is calling you. you'd better go before she gets angry."
"Oh!" she exclaimed, and hopped up to rush over to the ladder. "I have to go have dinner now, but I'll bring you some later!"
"Thank you, little one- and remember, it's our little secret."
"Oh, right! Shh!" She held up a finger to her lips, giggling before she climbed down and ran out into the muddy yard to meet the woman standing near the small house. They went in together, and he settled back to wait for night.
A little while later she returned with a large cooked potato, another piece of cheese, and a large slice of ham all wrapped in a cloth. There was even a small piece of some kind of pie filled with tart, dark berries, still warm. To Lothir's still hungry eyes, it was a veritable feast.
"Here you go, sir elf. I have to go back inside now, but I'll come back out and see you tomorrow. Good night!" She grinned, handing him the cloth-wrapped treasure, then dashed back toward the house.
Lothir gave a little sigh, then stepped out off of the loft to the ground, letting his inborn gift of levitation slow the descent to land lightly on his feet. He stayed in the shadows of the barn, slinging the lute across his back before patting one of the placid cows on her glossy black hide.
"No, little one, you won't see me again," he whispered into the gathering dusk. He knew it was too dangerous to stay there.
He crept along a near-by fence, until he had passed the house and reached the garden beyond. He hated the thought of stealing, but he knew he would have to eat again, and even with what the little girl had given him, who knew when or if he would find anything else? Lothir already knew himself to be a poor hunter. So he plucked a few vegetables from the large garden, and set out on the narrow road once more.
He'd walked for nearly two hours when he realized that the road had become nothing but a faint trail through tall grass, with miles of nothing but open ground and a stunted trees. Finally he stopped; his sharp elven vision had shown him that if he continued this path, he would soon lose sight of civilization altogether. There was nothing to do but turn back.
It was several hours later when he came upon a farm he remembered passing early that morning. But this time, something made him pause. With the storm's passing, a bright half-moon and a smaller but nearly full one had risen, to reveal two large shapes on the ground in a small field.
Lying among what looked to be rows of cabbages, were two lumps that his heat-sensitive darkvision told him could only be bodies. He scowled at the sight; from the looks of them, they had been cooling for most of the day.
He crept cautiously to the corpses, wondering what could have killed them. When he reached them, the answer chilled his blood. One was a middle-aged human womanwho had obviously benn slashed repeatedly with a pair of sharp blade. The other, a teen-aged male human, had three very distinctive arrows in his back.
"No," he whispered. Lothir knew what the arrows meant. They were more than weapons, they were a calling-card. They belonged to a member of the League of the Venomed Dagger, the organization of thieves and cutthroats that made up most of Argonia's military might.The Leaue had begun as a simple guild headed by his father. Now it was the single most powerful coalition of noble drow houses in the island empire of his birth. The young drow's stomach sank. Daggers. Here. He looked toward the small house, and saw a light inside. Silently he snuck closer, keeping out of sight of the single shuttered window. He didn't want to chance someone catching sight of the red glow of his darkvision. He reached th ehouse, and slowly made his way along the wall, until he found a crack to peer though. What he saw confirmed his worst fears. Dark elves. His own kind, but these were not simple travelers like himself. If they had come this far, they were looking for something, and he suddenly had a sinking feeling he knew WHAT.
So his father had sent agents after him, then. It was only blind luck that he had stumbled on them before they caught him. Yet forewarned was forearmed, and now at least he knew they were here. His icy gaze narrowed, realizing he had the advantage now.
Swiftly he made his way to a barn near the house, not much different from the one he had left. Inside, he found four horses. He grinned wickedly, and quickly went to work disabling their means of persuit. In a matter of minutes, three of the animals were hobbled, all of their shoes loosened. He cut the straps on their saddles and bridles, and even took the saddle bags from one, filling them with food from a small canning and smoking house built onto the side of the barn. Then he readied the last horse, and set the others loose to scatter as he hopped onto its back.
By that time, the occupants of the house had heard the commotion, and came out to investigate. He rode toward the road, calling out in his native tongue as he did, "Tell my father to send better agents next time!"
Helaughed as he galloped off back down the road to Torrino, the sounds of their curses following him.

Palax grumbled in annoyance as he went looking for the serving girl to fill his bath. He'd seen her wander off to the back of the tavern more than an hour earlier, but though he had gone back to ask if it was ready, the large copper tub remained empty, and the girl was nowhere to be found. He asked after her to the man at the counter, but he'd not seen her either. Several patrons were becoming agitated by that time. Thier cups were empty, and no drinks were forthcoming. Finally, one of the dancers said she had seen the server going to the rear with an old man, and had later seen the girl slip out to the stable behind the building, where she had readied a large black horse none of them remembered seeing before.
It wasn't until Vala thought to ask where the old man had gone that he truly became worried. Suddenly, Palax had a feeling of foreboding, as if there were some important clue missing. He began going through the entire building from front to back, much to the consternation of the Watch Captain, who considered it his job to investigate such things, and soon joined him.
Palax opened a door to a small store-room, and glanced around quickly; he might have simply moved on, had his keen eyes not been drawn to a large dark stain on the bottom of a bag of flour in a far corner. He called for a lantern, and rushed over to the pile of sacks, where he began tossing them aside one after another. The Captain entered behind him with the lantern, and cursed when he saw the red stain on the bags and floor beneath them. He staggered back when Palax moved another to reveal a spill of light brown hair and a slender arm. The gold elf moved the last two sacks, and there under them was the body of the woman. Vala and several others had come to see what was going on; she gasped, one of the dancers cried out in horror, and the owner swore an oath.
Palax looked up at the Captain, his golden features unnaturally pale, his expression grim. "It seems you have a murderer loose in your town, sirrah." The other man could only nod in mute agreement.
Then Vala spoke. "If she is here, how did the see her leave? And where is the old man?"
He stood, and examined the room more closely. There was no sign of struggle, and no one had heard any screams. He looked at the body. The only sign of violence was her slashed throat, which could explain the lack of any cry. He noticed something else, too. The mark ran from the left to right, which told him two things- first, the assailant was right-handed, and second, she had been taken from behind.
"She never saw her killer," he stated flatly. He must have slit her throat from behind, with a hand over her mouth, perhaps. Yet that still does not tell us WHO." He whirled on the dancer. "Are you certain you saw the server leave?"
"Y-yes. She walked right past me on her way to the stable. I had to go out to the- you know- and I saw her getting on a black horse. It looked mean, like no horse I've ever seen. Viscious, even."
something seemt to set off an alarm in his mind about that. "Did its eyes seem to glow red?" She nodded. "Damn. Nightmare. This just became worse than a simple murder."
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

14 Apr 2009, 22:16 #5

Vala watched as he fairly flew past her on his way out to the stable, then followed, along with the Watchman and the others. When he reached it, he stopped, searching on the ground. sure enough, they all saw what he pointed at- a set of large hoofprints seemingly scorched right into the ground, leading out onto the street toward the edge of town.
"You see- we are dealing with a sorcerer. He must have summoned the beast to make his escape." He grimaced at the thought of taking on a user of dark magic.
"No, brother. SHE summoned it. I have been wondering why some old man would kill an innocent woman, and it occured to me that in all of this, there is one thing that has been missing- that female drow. No one has seen her; it's as if she disappeared altogether. Yet we know the others came through here. If she is here for the same reason they are, then where did she go? I think she was here the entire time- right under our noses. She must have been using magic to disguise herself."
Palax paused in his pacing, and stared at her, agape. "Vala, by the gods you may be right. But that would mean- what FOOLS we've been! I remember now; that old man was in the corner, near the Captain's table. He- no, SHE- must have been listening to our conversation! And she killed the server to keep us from noticing what she was doing there. In all the confusion of searching for that girl, she had plenty of time to get away. The witch was HERE, and we didn't even KNOW it!" He swore, and the others took a step back, as a few faint wisps of smoke curled from his lips, his eyes blazing with the faintest hint of blue fire.
Vala knew that look. He was fit to explode, and hadn't even noticed that his draconic heritage was beginning to show. They had learned years ago to control that particular trait, as releasing a gout of fiery breath often proved rather destructive, not to mention frightening to those around them. She started to say something to him, but then realized it would do no good. When he got angry, there was usually nothing to do but wait until it passed. It was his own version of a dragon-rage. While it might not be as devastating as the real thing, she new better than to get in its way. A natural resistance to heat and flame only went so far. And she had no desire to fight her own brother to subdue his rage.
It was the Watch Captain who made the mistake of trying to intervene. "Calm yourself, milord! We will find that murdering witch, whatever form she takes. No one commits such crimes in my city and escapes justice. Not on my Watch."
"CALM DOWN?! Fool! That sorcerous B%&#036;&# killed a woman for no better reason than that she COULD, and under our very noses! She is making folls of us BOTH!" At that, Palax let loose with a burst of flame that singed the man's brows and beard, and would have set him alight had he been standing closer. The Captain staggered back with a cry of surprise; everyone else suddenly looked at the young gold elf as if he were some kind of monster- which, in a way, he was. Even Palax himself looked startled by his own outburst, and suddenly clamped a hand over his mouth, his anger turning to horrified shock in an instant.
Vala sighed. "Now you've done it, brother. Can you not just ONCE rein in that temper of yours? This sort of thing is precisely why we have never stayed in one place for more than a year or two. Get hold of yourself." And she cuffed him one across his cheek, leaving him scowling, but silent.

She galloped until she was out of sight of the city before slowing to a trot. Morganna let her disguise drop, chuckling to herself over the cleverness of her ploy. Let the fools run around chasing after shadows, while she watched from afar and made then dance like puppets on strings. Nothing gave her more pleasure than bending others to her whims, save perhaps killing. There was more blood on her hands than on those of even most drow priests, which was actually something of an accomplishment, all things considered. It was for that reason that she was deemed unfit as Aldan's heir, nevermind that she was older. That- and the fact that she was the b@&#036;t@rd child of a slave woman.
Her mother had been a silver elf woman taken captive on on of his earliest raids, used and then tossed aside once he became bored with her. Morganna had been the result, and she hated her mother's weakness and kind-hearted ways. Her faith in soft-hearted gods had not done her any good, nor had it saved her from the altar of the Queen of Venom. Morganna had long ago decided that no one would ever use HER in such a way. She became strong, learning the ways of combat and magic, ruthlessly persuing power to the point of obsession. And hatred, of course. She hated anyone or anything she percieved as weak. Her first kill had been a tutor who made her angry, at the young age (for a drow) of twelve. Most didn't kill their first enemies until they were at least twenty. But she found she had a liking for the sight and sounds of the dying. She enjoyed inflicting pain and suffereing, almost as much as she enjoyed- well, for her, they were one and the same, more often than not. None of her lovers ever survived the encounter.
Morganna reined in her demonic steed, pondering what her next move should be. Of course that idiot knight and his sibling would come after her eventually. Let them come. She would kill them as she had done the Republican soldiers who had followed her north from the abby at Briarcliff. she decided to follow the road west. The human had said her brother had gone that way. She thought of his comment about shooting after the drow with his crossbow, and made a mental note to go back and kill the man after she had found the young prince. Her only real problem, as she saw it, was what to do with him once she HAD him.
There were three options, any one of which could lead her to greater power. The first, of course, was simply to return him to the "loving" care of their father. Though it was Lady Ardra who had sent her affter the errant prince, Morganna could just as easily turn on her arrogant step-mother and expose the Lady consort's plan to turn the heir into her own political pawn. She could also give him over to his mother, as promised, and simply collect the pay Lady Ardra had offered. With it, Morganna knew she could build her own base of power. She already had two powerful allies- a necromancer from Thorndale in the kingdomw of Deepvale far to the west beyond the Great Arian Desert, and Helstrom, a red dragon who was, by all accounts, one of the fifteen members of the Council of Ancients. The Council was a group of the oldest surviving wyrms of each race- gem, chromatic, and mettalic, alike- who met every fifty years to discuss matters of importance to their respective races.Only one dargon of each color was allowed into their circle, and Helstrom was one of the oldest, biggest, and most powerful. With those two as allies, Morganna was certain she could take control over all Argonia.
Her third option- and the one mosr pleasing to her, personally- was to kill her brother and claim his place in their father's favor. Naturally, it would have to be done in a way that could not be traced to her. Her fahter's pet clerics had a habit oflearning the truth in such matters unless the victim was unaware of his killer's identity and no evidence could be found.
But that was a problem for later. First she had to find her brother. She took out a small compass, and a lock of Lothir's hair that Ardra had given her (taken when he was still very young, and occasionally used to threaten him with being transformed into a drider as punishment if he disobeyed), and chanted a spell of location. She had come as far as she could on her own, now it was time for her spellcraft to take over.

It took the four agents more than an hour to retrieve the scattered horses, and another hour to fix the loose shoes and find new straps for the saddles and bridles. Then came the arguement over who would ride double to make up for the missing horse. In the end, Dirlyth and Kurindra doubled up, as they were the two lightest members. Neither was especially happy with the arrangement, as the two shared a hatred for each other that bordered on homicidal.
they had ridden several miles without sighting their quarry, when Rilkin called a halt. At first, the others ignored him, but then he shouted that the trail had left the road.
"It seems our rabbit thinks himself a fox," he said, pointing to a faint trail through the grass and brush toward the south-east.
"I'm going to gut that little cur for taking my horse," hissed Kurindra, "and then I will watch him writhe in agony until he is nearly dead before I heal him!" From in front of her, Dirlyth let out a wicked laugh.
"Best not let King Aldan find out, or he'd have your entrails as food for his tunnel lizards!" he said gleefully. "and in the name of Mordos, do not clutch so tight, wench!"
She snarled at him, and punched him in the side. "Mind your tongue when you speak to a High Priestess of the Venom Queeen, knave, lest I cut it out!"
Rilkin sighed. "Are you two quite finished? Our quarry is getting away, in case you've forgotten."
Balzrin did not even wait for the others; he simply turned his mount to follow the new track, galloping off without a word. Rilkin took off after him; after a dark glance back at Kurindra, Dirlyth spurred his mount and followed suit.
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

24 Apr 2009, 20:17 #6

Palax stood embarrassed at his outburst. He bowed apologetically. "Forgive me- that was purely accidental, I assure you," he said. The man continued to stare at him in fear; Vala felt it wise to distract him.
"Sirrah, the drow woman is getting further away by the minute. We should go after her!"
The watch Captain shook his head, ignoring her words. He looked from one to the other, still unwilling to believe what had happened. "What in the Nine Hells ARE you two?!" he growled.
"We are only what see, Captain," answered the young knight. "Our situation is- complicated."
"Pffah! Monstrous- that's what you are."
At the moment, neither Vala nor her brother cared to argue the point. They were more concerned with finding the drow.
"That is not important now- or do you not wish to avenge that woman in there?" Palax pointed back into the tavern. The Watchman glared for a long moment, then ordered one of the patrons gathered to tell the garrison to muster four soldiers and a scout, and to ready his horse and meet him outside the tavern. "This isn't over, outsider," he snapped, going back in to supervise the removal of the dead woman's body.
"We never even knew her name- how sad." Vala mused, as the corpse was being carried out.
"Trivella," answered the innkeeper absently. "I hope you DO find that murdering b&#036;%&@#. I got nothin' against half-bloods- Hells, my great-aunt married her self a hill dwarf!" Vala chuckled in spite of herself at the thought of such a union.
In no time at all, they were mounted and ready, and when the soldiers joined the trio, they set out at full speed, the moons lighting their way. The trail wasn't hard to follow; all they needed to do was look for the scorched hoof-prints in the earth. They barely even needed the scout's tracking skills, using them only when the tracks crossed water or rocky ground, and even then only if it was too wide to see where they continued on the other side. By sunrise, they were far from the city, and moving quickly. Once the sun rose, they made even better time, the burned tracks easily visible.
They kept a steady pace all through the morning, and into the afternoon. Vala had long since grown tired of Palax and the Captain- whom the others called Francello- trying to one-up each other on who could follow the trail better. She felt disgusted by both of them, seeing their pointless competition for the macho posturing it was. For if there was one trait her brother shared with his draconic forebearers, it was an inborn sense of superiority over all other beings; she tended to think of him as a benign despot, lording his physical prowess and lofty morals over those around him- though of course, she knew better.
Her mind kept wandering back to the conversation in the tavern. She wondered again what was the connection between the woman and the others. So far as she could tell, they all seemed intent on finding the young male. But why? Clearly he either had something they wanted, or had done something to anger them. Then again, she had always heard that drow generally CAME that way. And with memories measured in centuries, they had the patience as well as the cunning to follow an enemy to the ends of the world if need be.
They thundered on until late in the day, hard on the trail of their foe. Even a fence across their path did not deter the party; their mounts cleared the obstacle with ease, and continued without a moment's hesitation.

Lothir rode hard all through the night, not daring to rest even for a moment. He knew they were only a few hours behind, at best. He had already decided against returning to Torrino. After his last chilly reception in that city, he had no desire to be chased out at crossbow point again. He wondered where else he could go; Whisperwood was right out- with all the drow incursions the high elves there had endured, he would likely be shot full of arrows on sight.
Where, then? One direction seemed as good as another, so long as he could find food and shelter. He turned south, cutting through verdant fields and vineyards. Even when his mount became too tired to run, he did not stop. He kept moving, eating on the back of his horse, and straining hard to stay awake. More than once, he crossed small streams and then doubled back to splash along in the water for a time, hoping to obscure his trail. It was the next afternoon when he discovered that his way south was blocked by a huge lake. He paused only a moment, then urged the horse on into the water, only turning when it was up to the animal's knees. He rode east, since it seems the more likely direction to go. He rode along that way for some time, keeping to the shoreline but never leaving the water. Eventually, he found himselfe passing a fenceline that went right to the water's edge. A few dozen yards further on, he saw something that made him laugh out loud, and give a silent prayer of thanks to Elistarrya. A herd of well-kept horses was grazing near the lake; a devious gleam lit his azure gaze, as he pulled a couple of carrots from his pack, clucking softly to the herd.
As expected, they all crowded around his own mount at the sight of the treats. He chose the largest of them, and slid from his own mount onto it, leading the other by its rains while he guided his new mount with hands and feet- and the occasional bite of carrot. In this way he led them all to a small copse of trees far from the lake, with green pasture all around. He hoped the mix of tracks and the change in the other animal's weight would confuse his persuers and give him time to rest. So he led them into the trees, then leaned over to remove the saddle and bridle from his first horse. He tossed the whole lot over his shoulders, then used his innate levitation to shoot straight up into the nearest large tree. Let them try to figure this out, he thought. Once the horses had mingled enough, they won't have any idea which track they were following. and i'd wager those animals will have moved far from here by then.
So he settled down between two branches to sleep, while the horses grazed contentedly. If he had known what was coming his way, he would have just grabbed another horse and continued his flight.

By the fourth time they had backtracked to a stream to pick up the trail again, the hunters were becoming annoyed. Kurindra, especially, had begun to lose patience with Rilkin's tracking skills. The situation came to a head as they stopped yett again for him to examine another false trail.
"More of your incompetance! You are supposed to be this great tracker, and yet STILL he eludes us! Fool!"
"And where would you be without my skills, Lady Kurindra?" he replied acidly.
"Likely I would have already caught up with him. All you seem to have accomplished is to cause us to cross the same stream THREE times!"
"Oh, of course, Mistress! After all, I am only a lowly male- how foolish of me to forget." His sarcastic response brought a snicker from the thief. Even Balzrin had to hide a smirk.
Kurindra either missed the meaning of his tone, or chose to ignore it. Instead, she answered with all the imperiousness of one who has communed with gods, only to find other mortals lacking.
"You are indeed- see that it does not happen again. now find the trail quickly, lest I call down a curse upon you!"
The tracker exchanged a dark look with Dirlyth, much as if to ask why they were following an arrogant, obnoxious female who so far had been nothing but a hindrance. The other gave him a wicked smile, one hand on the hilt of one of his kukris, as though seeking Rilkin's acquiescens. Rilkin rose, shaking his head. "He's craftier than I would have expected. It's almost as if he is playing with us."
"Well, I grow tired of the game. Let us bring an end to it, shall we?" Balzrin said, his tone hard. They continued on, until, later that afternoon, they finally came to the edge of the lake. Rilkin folloed the trail right down into the water, where it seemed to end.
"What now?" asked Dirlyth. He, more than any of the others, understood that without something to follow, they were sitting dead in the water, so to speak.
"He must have followed the shore; the question is- which direction did he take?" the tracker seemed perplexed. The stiff breeze had whipped up little waves that had washed away nearly all signs of Lothir's passing through the water, so Rilkin was forced to seek other clues- a few broken stems of water plants, an overturned stone, a crushed shell. At last he decided the prince had followed the shore east.
"I believe I know which way he went," he said, getting back on his horse. So it went, until they passed a fence that ran to the lake's edge. By then, their mounts were too tired to go on, so he called a halt. it was late afternoon by then, and and even Kurindra was too tired to argue.

Morganna rode all night and most of the day, the compass pointing unerringly to the south-east. She could see whenever he moved off his course, for the compass would follow his movements. When it finally ceased wavering and pointed in one single direction, she smiled to herself. she knew she had him, for he had stopped moving, no doubt to rest.
When she saw the fence ahead, she didn't pause; she simply urged the nightmare to jump it, and continued on. Eventually she came upon a lafge herd of earthly horses grazing peasfully. Her moun'ts demonic aura frightened the herd into a stampede, but she didn't care. She rode right past them, the compass finally coming to point back behind her as she passed through a small thicket.
She turned around, puzzled, and changed her direction again when the needle swung back again. Suspicious, she made a circle around the area the needle seemed to point to, and noticed that it was centered on one tree in particular. She looked up; even so, she almost missed him, bundled as he was in his green cloak high among the thick foliage, nestled between two huge branches. Clever, little brother, she thought with a dark smile.
She drew her weapon, a peculiar sword that appeared to be two blades side-by-side, joined at their hilts by the guard. she pressed a small gem on one side, and they came apart into two separate, identical blades with hilts made of polished bone wrapped in blood-red leather. Then she snapped the ends together, and was now holding a blade-staff. She whispered a simple incantation to levitate up to him- being only half-drow, she lacked the natural magical gifts her brother possessed- and poked his chest lightly with the tip of one blade.
He came awake slowly at first, disoriented and blinking in the harsh glare of the late-afternoon sun, for he'd slept for only little more than an hour. He saw the weapon pointed at him and his gaze followed it up to the wielder. He let out a startled yelp, nearly falling from his perch.
"Hello, Lothir. Lady Ardra is most upset with you."
"M- Morg-" he began, petrified. Of ALL the people in the world, she was the last he had ever expected- or wanted- to see again.
"Yes, brother dear. Surprised to see me?" she teased, smiling wickedly. He tried to rise, but became entangled in his cloak, and this time he DID fall. Only the strap of his lute catching on a lower branch saved him from hitting the ground below. He dangled helplessly for a moment before regaining his senses enough to use his levitation while he attempted to untangle himself. Morganna, growing impatient, floated lower and cut through the branch like butter, then yanked him down with her as she sank to the ground.
"Do not try to run. You are worth more to me alive, but I'm certain I could bring back you animated corpse and still get paid."
He stopped in the middle of dislodging the remains of the branch from his instrument, and stared at her. He began to seriously wonder if she had finally lost whatever sanity she once had. But one look at her cool, expressionless face told him she meant every word.
"I'll pay you more to just forget you ever saw me, sister," he lied.
"Hardly!" she laughed. "I know damn well you haven't a single copper to your name!"
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

29 Apr 2009, 01:32 #7

"Not here, perhaps, but I know how to get into the vaults at home unseen. You could take what you like, and no one would be the wiser."
She laughed again, but it was a cold sound. "Fool, I've known how to do that for years! Did you think I didn't know you took that silly flute father had in there?"
Lothir groaned inwardly. Just how secret WAS that passage, anyway?

Rilkin was the first to hear the distant rumble. He thought at first it might be thunder, but one look at the cloudless sky dissuaded him of that. Then Balzrin heard it too.
"Riders- out here?" the big drow asked of no one in particular.
"At least a half-dozen, by the sound," answered the tracker.
"Who could possibly be out racing about at this time of day?" asked Dirlyth.
"Hunters, no doubt," said Kurindra, and she went back to preening her hair with the brush she always insisted on carrying, as though it meant nothing to her.
"Hunters? Of what, my Lady? There is no game here!" scoffed the thief. Though the sorce was too far away to see even for them, he could tell that the riders were in a great hurry. Even thier own horses heard the sound and grew excited.
"They hunt FOXES, do they not?" she replied flippantly, then said no more.
"What say you, Ril?" Dirlyth asked the other, for he had seen his troubled expression.
"They are approaching, or at least passing near. Perhaps someone found the bodies of those people on that farm and alerted the local militia. We should be ready." Rilkin answered.
"Do you think we will see battle?" inquired Balzrin. He seemed excited by the prospect. All through their journey, he had been restless; the warrior was used to the clash of weapons, the roar of the crowds in the stands of the Arena of Terrillis, the rush of combat. He reveled in the blood and screams of his foes. When he fought in the gladiatorial bouts, none could stand against his berzerker rage. As a low-born warrior, without a noble's rank and privilage, the fame and glory of the games was all the prestige and honor he could hope to achieve. Perhaps in time he could even begin to establish his own House, with the wealth earned from his winnings.
"If they come here, more fools they," said Kurindra absently." As a High Priestess of Lothrenya, she felt slighted for having been sent along on this simple retrieval mission. She knew well that her only real reason for being ordered to accompany the others was that as a priestess, she had access to the spells that kept their weapons whole in the light of the surface world. Drow weapons and armor, though finely crafted and powerful, were made from special materials found only deep within the earth- materials that degraded swiftly on the surface world. In truth, one of the few claims to power held by Lothrenya's clergy was that they alone could cast the spells that prevented such items from disintegrating when exposed to sunlight. Kurindra knew she was here mainly to maintain the blades of the others, justas Aldan's ships always carried a priestess on their raids, though there they often served other purposes as well. That she was seen as nothing more than a tool on this mission rankled her- even more so since Dirlyth seemed intent on reminding her of it at every opportunity.
Then in the distance, they could make out the shapes of several horses and riders; they could see the capes of nearly a half-dozen of Torrino's Watchmen, as well as two strangers whose hair glinted silvery in the late-afternoon sun.
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

20 May 2009, 00:59 #8

"By Lothrenya's eighth leg, they are T'puuli Darthien! (Silver Elves)" exclaimed the thief, his hands going to his kukris almost reflexively. If there was one thing he enjoyed, it was killing surface elves; his House, Mori'hal'dar(Darkmoon), was one of the oldest drow clans still in existance, tracing its roots back even before the Sundering Times when they had turned to dark gods and fought against the other clans of the Duskwood. To take vengence on the hated surface dwellers for calling down the Dark Curse on their ancestors was the highest honor of his House. He wanted to go after them.
"so they are," nodded Rilkin. he did not truly care what the fools of Torrino were doing here, though he was curious. He wondered again if they had discovered the dead farmers. If so, it would not have been difficult to trace the killers. Yet for some reason, the humans seemed more intent on their course, which seemed much further north of his band. Were they pursuing the prince as well, then?
"They are definitely after something, though I'm a half-wit deep gnome if I can discern what it is," he said finally.
"You're a half-wit deep gnome anyway," scoffed Dirlyth sarcastically. Kurindra uncoiled her whip and made a warning lash at the rogue.
"Whatever it is, they are none of our concern, all that matters is finding Lothir," she said matter-of-factly.
"Unless THEY find him first," commented Balzrin, voicing what Rilkin had been thinking.
"He's right. If those idiot humans find him, they would likely skewer him on the spot, and then how would we get paid?" Rilkin replied.
"Lady Kurindra could always try to resurrect the little cur," quipped Dirlyth.
She sent him a look of pure hate. "Lothrenya does not grant such power lightly, you idiot. THAT would require a sacrifice; perhaps I could offer YOU!"
"Try it witch, and see who gets killed- it will NOT be me, I assure you!" he spat at her.
"You fools can do as you will- I'm going after those riders. If they find the boy before we do, we would have nothing to take back to Aldan but a corpse. And I for one do NOT wish to incur his wrath!" Balzrin strode to his mount, threw on its saddle, and paused only to cinch it before leaping to its back. the others exchanged glances, then dashed to do the same. In moments they were off, spurring their already tired horses after the distant band.

Lothir eyes his sibling warily. He'd been naive to think he could run from his scheming family. How long had she been hunting him? "I do not wish to fight you, Morganna. But know this- I WILL NOT go back to that hell we live in. I would rather die out here than return to that gods-forsaken place."
She sneered, her blade-staff coming up to bear mere inches from his chest. "I can ARRANGE that, brother dear- in fact, I would actually prefer it to dragging your pathetic carcass home. But your mother DID give me a task to complete, and I do not intend to fail."
He took a few steps back, ready for anything. He knew his sister well enough to be wary- she was capable of anything he could imagine, and probably more. He pulled a pair of daggers from their sheaths in his boots, then uttered a command word that transformed them into a pair of matched sabres. He saw her smile darkly, her own weapon crackling to life with dark purplish energy as she awakened the sentient blades' bloodlust.
Lothir wasn't quite certain which of them moved to strike first. Suddenly they were both moving with a blur of flashing metal, the sounds ringing through the thicket like the shrieks of a demonic chorus. He lunged, parried, dodged, and slashed at her, his blades singing as he struck again and again, only to meet a whirling wall of steel from her spinning bladestaff. He knew what she was doing- fighting defensively to wear him down and make him waste his energy so that she could move in once he had exhausted himself- a sound strategy considering he was already fatigued from lack of rest since having left the barn the day before.
He backed off, realizing he would get nowhere this way. Morganna merely smirked at him, bringing her weapon to bear. "My turn, little brother," she hissed. She swung in a vicious arc at his head, and Lothir staggered backward even as he raised one of his sabres to block. He was too tired to continue the battle, so he did the only thing he could think of- he chanted a quick spell, and suddenly disappeared from view. He wasted not time, but simply turned and ran. He knew she could cast spells to see through his invisibility; he ran through the thicket as fast as he could, searching for a means of escape, but none seemed forthcoming.
He heard her frustrated curse behind him. He whipped around behind a large tree to catch his breath, though he knew it was only a matter of time before she found him again, and he was fast running out of tricks.
"There is nowhere for you to run and nowhere you can hide from me, foolish prince. You ARE going home, willing or no!"
He resisted the urge to shout "never", knowing such defiance would only give away his position and hasten the inevitable. Then he saw his salvation- one of the horses that had scattered on Morganna's approach hadcircled back toward the copse, and now stood within a few easy steps. He had dropped the saddle when their fight began, but he still had the bags and bridle over his shoulders, along with his lute and pack strapped to his back. Lothir dashed to its side and tossed the bridle over the startled animal's head, forgetting for the moment that he was invisible. He let the spell drop, and threw the bags on its back, leaping up behind them just as Morganna came out of the trees. He heard her angry curse, but ignored her, urging it to a full run as he made good his escape.
Or at least, he attempted to. He'd gone less than fifty yards when he heard the ominous sound of her voice raised in an arcane shout. He turned in time to see a bolt of glowing green energy streaking toward him. He raised his arms and shut his eyes with a cry of terror, certain his mad sibling had decided to kill him after all.
So sure was he that he was about to die that he was doubly surprised when he heard an agonized shriek from his mount, which reared up suddenly beneath him. He slid off its flanks with a startled yelp, hitting the ground so hard his breath was knocked from him. There was a crunch beneath him, but it was largely drowned out by the horse's dying screams. Lothir looked up in time to see the animal stagger backward, still reared on its haunches, and topple over sideways on top of him with a final shrill scream. He felt a sharp crack from his right ankle as the bulk of the dying horse landed on his legs, pinning him. The horse had a gaping hole in its left side; the residue of Morganna's acid bolt still smoked and sizzled as it ate through the beast's flesh.
The young drow struggled futilly, hearing her cold laughter as she came toward him. and then he heard another sound- a distant rumble to the west, like thunder on the horizon. Lovely, he trhought grimly- I'm trapped, injured, and now it's going to rain. How much worse can this possible get?
He glanced in the direction of the sound; his last thought before he finally succumbed to the pain and exhaustion was to wonder where his father had dredged up so many mercenaries, for he saw not one, but two bands of riders galloping hell-bent- straight for Morganna and himself. Then he slid down into darkness.

The scout, a seasoned warrior named Darius, was first to spot the drow woman and her latest victim. He shouted a warning to the others, who looked to where he pointed in time to see a cloaked figure leaping bareback on a large bay, riding hard away from a petite woman in blue armor, her long black hair and dark skin clearlt visible. They saw her raise a hand, and watched in horror as a streak of sickly green light shot from her hand and hit the horse. The terrified rider fell, with the animal rearing and falling over on its hapless rider.
"Damn that murdering b@%&&#036;#!" roared Francello. Vala was inclined to agree. The drow woman was more ruthless and cruel than even the Magistrate had guessed. Vala had a sudden urge to let loose her fire-breath and incinerate the woman.
Then the witch saw them, and a moment later something large and glowing appeared in her hand. She threw it, and Palax suddenly yelled "Look out- fireball!"
They barely managed to steer their horses out of the way as it landed in their midst with an explosive blast of flames. Even so, one of the soldiers was caught in it, and he and his mount were engulfed in flames. Vala was appalled at the viciousness of the attack.
The attack seemed to further incense Captain Francello, who charged on with a curse so vile even the roughest sailor would have blanched on hearing it. Vala saw the woman begin another spell, and had only a moment's notice before a volley of nearly a half-dozen streaks of magical forse flew from her fingers at them. Vala put up her hand and closed it into a fist, uttering the only counterspell she knew, and the sizzling blue streaks fizzled into nothing.
"What in Hells was that?" cried Darius.
"Magic missiles!" she called back. "I dispelled them!"
"Glad I am that you ar on our side, milady!" he replied. He knocked an arrow to his bow and shot it toward their fow. Vala thought certain it would strike true, but instead it seemed to bounce off some invisible barrier and landed in the grass.
"Cursed spellcasters! Hang the lot of them!" raged Francello. Vala did not bother pointing out that without her own magic he might already be dead.
Then the drow woman turned and ran back into the trees; a moment later, she appeared again, riding a huge black horse that seemed to snort fire. She turned and wheeled her mount to the east, with the party closing fast.
Vala saw that they were approaching the fallen rider; she was torn between aiding the stranger or going after the drow. After a moment's hseitation, her compassion won out, and she brought her mount to a halt.
"Palax! He's hurt- we have to help this man!" she yelled to her twin. He turned his steed, and watched anxiously as Captain Francello and the others continued the chase.
"Vala, we have no tme- she must PAY for what she's done!"
"And would you allow an innocent to die by doing nothing?!" she shot back. He grimaced, but came back.
"Alright. But as soon as we've helped this human, we help them take her down!" he said vehemantly.
Vala dropped to the ground and ran to the fallen stranger. It was only when she came close and saw a wisp of white poking out of the hood that she paused. Then she looked at the rider's hands. They were black as coal, and slender and delicate as any elf's; strangely, an ornate sabre was clutched in each, as though in a desperation that not even being thrown from a horse could break.
She knelt close, and moved the hood away from the unconsious stranger's face. She gasped at the sight of the youthful, handsome ebony features. She gazed down on a face that seemed both intelligent and innocent, with high, arched brows, narrow jaw and a wide, full mouth, and long, delicately-pointed ears framed by a mane of long white locks pulled back at the neck with a blue silk ribbon.
So this is who they are all searching for? she wondered. He appeared to have fallen on something hard, so she carefully lifted his head and shoulders into her lap to remove what she thought was a charred log. Instead she found the shattered remains of what had recently been a finely-crafted ebonwood lute. now, however, the bowl was smashed in, and the neck snapped in two. Its highly polished face had been etched in silver with designs of elven women dancing with swords, and full moons. Clearly it was a cherished possession. She gazed once more at its owner and felt a pang of sympathy. No doubt he would miss it.
Palax had been anxiously watching the horizon; he had not yet seen the stranger's face. "Sister, I believe we may soon have unwanted company. There are three horses coming this way."
"Brother, help me get him out from under this horse! We'll take him with us if we have to!" she exclaimed. She gathered the young drow's belongings and tied the bags and instrument to her own mount. She didn't know why she kept the broken lute, but somehow sensed it was important.
"Fine, but let us hurry! I've a bad feeling about those riders..." The trio was still over a league away, but they were closing fast. He strode over to his sister's side, still watching the approaching party; then he glanced down and saw her searching the stranger for the sheaths to his blades, with a puzzled expression. He was about to ask what she was doing, when he noticed the stranger's face. He stopped cold.
"What is THIS?! THIS is your 'innocent'? He's ONE of them!" The gold elf roared, pulling out his sword.
"Palax! He's injured- what would you have me DO?!" she yelled accusingly.
"Leave him to ROT! One less drow to deal with!"
She stared at her twin, shocked. Where was his duty now? "What of your code? 'To denfend and aid those in need'? Those WERE the words of the oath you took, were they not? You KNOW I'm right!"
Palax was about to retort, but realized he had no answer. She had him dead to rights, and he knew it. "Very well, but I do not like this. This will only bring trouble." He strode over to the dead animal's side and stuck his blade in the ground, then pushed the horse in one great heave, rolling it off the drow easily. Vala, for her part, was still pondering the mystery of the twin sabres. Where were the scabbards? She knelt low over the senseless drow, and began feeling under him to see if they might be beneath him.
It was then that Lothir finally opened his eyes. He saw a strange elven female leaning over him, his swords beside her as she felt him over, most likely looking for his coin pouch. His blue eyes blazed with fury; he swiftly reached out to grasp one of his sabres, and grabbed her arm, yanking her down on top of him as he brought the edge of the weapon to her throat.
"You chose the wrong day to rob someone, thieving coward. Now hand over whatever you took." he snarled. Lothir decided he'd had enough abuse this day. All he wanted was to be left in peace, but it seemed even strangers were harrassing him now. And where was his sister?
Vala looked into the dark elf's eyes. She sensed anger, to be sure, but also fear. His hand trembled ever so slightly as he held the sword to her throat, as though he had never made such a threat before and was merely hoping to intimidate and bluff her into believing him dangerous.
"Easy, friend. I am not trying to rob you. I wish to help you, if you will let me go." She spoke with calm assurance, and lay her hand on his, as he lowered the blade slightly.
"Vala!" her twin suddenly shouted, seeing the dark elf threatening her. He yanked his sword from the ground, and held it pointed at the young drow's nose. "Release her, dhaeraow. This is your only warning."
Lothir studdied the pair, warily assessing what sort of threat they might be. Were they more agents of his father? He didn'tthink so. The woman seemed sincere, but the male was obviously hostile. "Where is Morganna? Who are you?" he asked hesitantly. He slowly lowered his sabre, releasing the strange gold-skinned woman. He tried to get up, but a sharp pain shot up his leg, and he stifled a cry, realizing he was helpless.
Vala saw him wince, and began to feel his leg. She removed the boot, frowning for a moment when he gasped in pain. She puzzled for a moment over the empty dagger sheath, then looked up at her brother. "Palax, this ankle is broken, and my healing spells are not strong enough to repair it. Help me."
"I will do no such thing," the knight replied. "I told you he was dangerous- he just threatened to kill you. And now you expect me to HELP him?!"
"I CAN hear you, darthiri," Lothir spat angrily. He'd hated it when his parents spoke of him as if he were not present, and he hated it now when the elf male did it. He tried to pull himself up, but his leg buckled beneath him, and he stifled a cry, going down to one knee, his blades held out before him in a feeble defence.
"Don't try to stand, you will make it worse," said Vala, moving to his side. She gave her brother a glare, then began a simple healing spell. A warm glow suffused his foot; after a few moments, the pain subsided to a dull ache. "That will have to do for now, but don't put too much weight on it. It still needs to heal more."
"I- thank you, fair lady. But you still have not answered my questions," he said putting his boot back on. He thought of shrinking his blades back down to their dagger form, but one look at the dark glare the male kept shooting at him changed his mind. He looked around, saw the charred remains of a man and horse in the field, and the blackened crater just behind them, and his face went ashen. He'd seen his sister throw fireballs before.
"Morganna did that? Where is she?"
Palax whirled on the drow. "Morganna? You KNOW that witch?" he asked, his tone full of venom.
Lothir stared at him mutely, uncertain what to say.
"ANSWER me!" Palax roared. Tendrils of smoke escaped his breath once again, and the drow flinched.
"Palaxendor! Enough, brother- can't you see he's frightened enough already?"
The knight paused. He knew she was genuinely annoyed with him- it was the only time she ever used his full name.
"DO you know her?" Vala asked the stranger. He looked down, unable to meet her gaze. He nodded slowly.
"I- yes. She is my sister," he whispered.
Both twins stared, wide-eyed. "Sister?!" asked Vala, stunned.
"Half-sister," he ammended. Lothir had noticed the tiny horns on both siblings, and suddenly realized they were what his people called dragon-born. He had heard such beings existed, but never thought he would see one, much less two. He wondered what they had to do with Morganna- but a look at the cold fury of the male told him all he really needed to know. They were hunting her, and he could guess why. No doubt his sister had committed yet another atrocity, and they were out to make her pay.
"Vala, bring him. Tie him up if he won't come quietly. The magistrate told us to bring these dark elves to Almin to face justice- we'll start with him." Palax strode to his steed, and began pulling a length of rope from his pack.
"For what crime?" Lothir asked, suddenly furious. This dragon-born elf was fast becoming a nuisance.
"That will be decided later. Now let's go, sister."
"And exactly where are we going?" she asked, annoyed.
"To rejoin Captain Francello and the others. We're going after that witch." He started to get back on his horse, when the drow grabbed him by the arm.
"There were others with you? If they went after Morganna, they are already dead."
"What makes you so certain of that? I don't trust you, drow." Palax shook off his hand, and made a move toward him with the rope.
Lothir backed away, his sabres held ready. He was at a disadvantage, to be sure, but even without his blade-dance, he was a more than competant fighter. He was certain he could hold off the over-zealous warrior.
"I know my sister. She would never run from a fight- she enjoys killing too much. If she retreated, it was only so she could set a trap for your friends. Consider yourselves lucky you did not go after her, or you would be dead now."
Palax lowered the rope, uncertain whether to believe the young dark elf. At last, he let out a growl of frustration. "Alright- but you ARE coming with us. Since you know her so well, you can help us capture her."
Lothir said nothing, but turned to the woman. She shrugged, and helped him to her mount.
"Why is she here? Why are those others here? Did you anger them somehow?" she asked, still full of questions that needed answering.
He sighed. "They are here for me. My father must have sent the others- I imagine he is not pleased that his only heir went missing. It would seem Argonia's First House needs its prince more than HE needs his HOUSE."
Palax shot the dark elf a narrow look. First House? There was only one that could make that claim, he knew. He suddenly had a VERY good idea who this stranger was.
"Who ARE you, then?" Vala asked. "You haven't told us your name."
"Yes, DROW- DO tell us your name!" Palax said evenly.
"I am- Lothir, of no house worth mentioning. I have abandoned my homeland and its vile ways, and hope never to see either again."
Palax moved his horse close to Vala's as she got up in front of the drow. "No house worth mentioning? surely you must have some family pride? Why don't you SAY it, or perhaps I should!" He gave the dark elf a smile that told him he knew exactly why he was hiding his identity.
Finally their ebon-skinned companion let out a sigh. "So be it then. My name is Lothir Ustdalharn E'Terrin'dar. Does that satisfy you, 'lokiutinu'?(dragonson)?"
Vala gasped on hearing the name; her brother merely nodded. "I had suspected as much. I remember our mother telling us about the last time the Dark Banishing curse was used, and on WHOM."
Vala turned in her saddle to meet Lothir's gaze, but he only turned away. "So, then- the infamous 'King' Aldan...?"
"Is my father. Believe me, I did not CHOOSE to be born into that disgraced name."
They urged their mounts to the east, following the trail of the soldiers. Lothir dreaded what they would find, for he knew all too well what sort of things his evil sibling was capable of. As they rode, the stern-faced knight continued grilling him, as though seeking a reason to put his sword through Lothir's heart.
"And why are you HERE? Do you realize what sort of trouble you have brought to this land with your petty squabbles? I should hang you now and save the Magistrate the effort."
Lothir decided he'd had enough. He still held his blades,. "Is that a CHALLENGE, 'urradol'(hothead)? If so, I would be happy to duel you right here. How DARE you judge me for the sins of others? I did not ask you to get involved in my affairs- nevermind that I only learned of their presence last night, and Morganna's only a short while ago!"
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

20 May 2009, 01:00 #9

Vala interrupted them before things got any more heated. "Please, stop this. Let us find Francello and his men." She hoped they would see reason, but it seemed a losing battle. The two men seemed more intent on their battle of wills than dealing with the true threat. She glanced back behind them, to see that the horsemen Palax had noticed earlier were now only a few hundred yards away, and closing fast.
"Come brother, we have no time to lose!" she yelled, and spurred her horse into a hard gallop. Palax was forced to do the same, just to remain with her. The drow prince clutched her tightly with one hand, his swords in the other; he glanced behind once, and uttered a curse in his native tongue that made her ears burn, even without understanding what he'd said.
"That sounded utterly vile," she called back to him as they rode. "What did you just say?"
"Trust me, my lady, you don't want to know- besides, I'm actually not even certain one could DO that with a mind flayer!"
She chuckled, suddenly getting an idea of what his curse had entailed. "I'll take your word for it!" she shouted back.
As he had predicted, it did not take long to find Captain Francello and his soldiers- mainly because the Watchmen were all in pieces, scattered across a field, as though some beast had torn them apart. The trio stopped and dismounted quickly; Vala looked around in utter horror at the carnage before her.
"By the gods- how could one woman do all this?"
"She's insane. She enjoys torture and killing, and she's quite inventive. I've seen her do far worse. These men were lucky- their deaths were fairly quick." Lothir stared grimly at the gristly scene- the blood-stained grass, the bodies eviscerated or headless, the marks of dark magic on them. He wanted to vomit. D@mn her, he thought. He felt a cold rage begin to creep over him, a dark urge to flay his sister alive for all that she'd done. Only once before had he desired to kill another being, when he had lost his one true love and friend in the land of his birth. He knew Ravyn would be as sickened by what her daughter had done as he was.
"You've seen her do this before?" Vala asked, unbelieving. She had seen some dark shadow pass over his face. Vala wondered what sort of horrors he had seen; she had seen some long-buried pain in his eyes when he'd threatened her, but only now began to understand its cause.
He nodded. "And now you know why I left," he said quietly. "I could not live in the midst of such atrocities any longer. If I had stayed, I would have either been sacrificed when they learned the truth of my heart, or i would have eventually become like them. Either way, it would have destroyed me."
They looked around, but the woman was nowhere to be seen. all they could see was a set of hoofprints burned into the ground, that seemed to have circled back toward the direction they had come from.
Unfortunately, that was the least of their worries at the moment. For their persuers were now almost upon them- and now Vala saw that they were the missing band of dark elves. Her brother pulled out his sword, even as one of the drow loosed an arro at him. Fortunately, Palax had just downed the contents of a small bottle- a potion that hardened his skin into the armored hide of a true dragon, which no ordinary weapon could pierce or cut. The potion had been one of two, a gift from Goldflame to his children. The other was in Vala's own pack. She saw the wisdom of his action, and plucked the other one out and drank it quickly. Instantly her skin turned into gleaming golden scales.
"I don't suppose you have another of those, do you?" Lothir said wryly. The golden-skinned woman shook her head. "Well, I'll just have to avoid getting hit, then," he quipped, grinning. He heard her soft chuckle as she readied to meet the approaching threat.
Then the second drow threw several small darts at Vala. They had no more effect than the arrow; Palax saw the darts fly at his sister, and charged with a roar that would have impressed even their mighty father.
"Rather short-tempered, your brother is, milady!" Lothir noted.
"You have no idea," she replied flatly, as the female who rode behind the dart-thrower pulled out a rod that was topped by a spider. A strange purple light erupted from it, and suddenly Vala and Lothir were covered in some glowing silvery strands that made it almost impossible to move.
"Ugh, d@mned clerics and their webs!" He spat, as he tried to cut through the strands holding him. fortunately, his blades were enchanted to cut through almost anything, even stone, so he was free in a matter of seconds. He moved to cut Vala loose, but was surprised to find her already tearing through the strands with her bare hands, her small, sharp claws rending the webs with ease.
"I would ask if you needed help, my lady, but it appears not. How-?"
She gave him an arch glance as she pulled the last strands loose. "One of the advantages of our parentage- great strength, and these," she said jovially, holding up one hand.
Meanwhile, Palax had charged right into the middle of tthe drow party. He slashed at the one who had thrown the darts, cutting his saddle loose. Then the one with the bow drew a sword from his side and leapt off his mount atthe knight. Palax stepped back, even as the female spoke a few strange words and waved her hand. Suddenly the area in which Palax stood was black as a moonless night.
"D@amned clerics," Lothir muttered again, and moved toward the fight. He knew the tactic they had used- surround their enemy with darkness, and make the kill while he groped blindly. But Vala held him back with a grim smile.
"do not fear; they are fools to think that will do any good. did you not know that dragons can see in the dark as well as any drow?"
He luahged, then reached back for his lute, only to find it gone. "Wha- what happened to my instrument?!" he exclaimed frantically.
Vala stared at him, confused. "Why are you concerned with that NOW?" she asked.
"I NEED it! My spells rely on music- without it, they have no power!" he said anxiously.Vala paused, not certain how to break the news. "Oh- that could be a problem. it was broken when you fell. I'm sorry," she replied. Now she understood why it had seemed important. Was he a true spellsinger, then?
By now, the big drow had entered the fray. The two companions could hear the sounds of clashing blades within the dark globe surrounding Palax. Vala chanted a spell for light, and set it within the dark area, causing it to blink out into nothing. She heard the cleric curse, and drew her own slender rapier. This time it was Lothir's turn to hold her back.
"No- do not fight them. you would be killed- that one is a rager- I've seen him in the Arena in Terrillis. This should be MY fight."
So saying, he rushed toward the knight, who was fending off the three males, and slammed into the wiry one with the kukris just as he was about to stab Palax in the back. Lothir had seen the tell-tale glow of some enchantment on the blades, and knew they would pierce the dragon-born's flesh as easily as if he had not drunk the potion.
"Why don't you try fighting with honor of a change, rath'argh(coward)?" he shouted at the other drow. He was answered by a snarl of fury from the thief.
Palax glanced over at the young dark elf, surprised that he had come to his aid. "I still do not trust you, Mori Quessir, but I thank you for the help," he said grudgingly.
"Ha! you can save your thanks for later, scale-face! I've had my fill of these pieces of goliblith(goblindung)!"
He moved to attack the thief, ignoring the pain in his ankle; then he heard the cleric shout to the others.
"Kill the outsiders, but do not harm the prince! Aldan would have our heads!"
"Vith dos, elg'caress(#%&&#036; you, B&%#&#036;)! I will have your heads MYSELF!" he shouted back, as he blocked an attack from the one with the oversized sword. "My, what a large blade you have, friend-compensating, are you?" he taunted, trying to draw their attention to himself. He knew well enough that they didn't dare hurt HIM, but Palax had no such assurance.
He sang a quick rhyme, then suddenly let out a high, keening note that seemed to split the air around him, stunning all four of their opponents. The sound spoiled the cleric's latest spell in mid-casting. Even Palax seemed slightly affected, though he was quick to take advantage of the distraction to strike at the largest drow. His blade bit deep into the warrior's leg; unfortunately, it only seemed to enrage him, and the dark elf seemed suddenly to become twice as strong and fast.
"THAT was a mistake, my friend! You've just driven him into a battle-rage!" Lothir shouted to his golden-skinned companion.
Palax glanced at his new comrade, and suddenly grinned viciously. "Really? Well then, let us see how he fares against a DRAGON'S rage!" He let out a roar of pure fury, and in an instant the two enraged eleves were fighting like demons, their blows ringing loudly across the field, mvoing faster than should have been possible.
Lothir turned his attention back to the other two, knowing the half-dragon's enhanced hide would protect him. "Now where was I...?" he muttered absently. His ankle had already begun to ache, but he didn't care. The other two were advancing on Vala, who was in the middle of a spell-battle with the High Priestess. The one with the kukris was circling behind her for another attempt at back-stabbing, while the remaining male came from the side.
"I don't tjink so, knaves- it's not NICE to ness with a lady," Lothir growled as he moved between them and the elf-woman. They hesitated, unwilling to attack him directly, and he suddenly gave them a wicked grin. "You think my father's wrath is something to fear- you should see MINE."
With that, he began t o sing a dark elven war anthem, and quickly fell into the dark bliss of a battledance. He moved in time to the cadence of the song, which began to build in tempo, as his hands and feet did the same. The two fell back slightly, surprised at the new tactic. They glanced at each other, then back to the young prince. They both saw the strange look of ecstatic madness in his eyes, and they faltered.
Lothir never seemed to notice. He was already lost in the deadly dance, advancing like a whirlwind on the two. Then the tracker moved to strike at him, and suddenly the battle was on. The thief took courage from his companion, and dove in as well. Neither realized their mistake.
Vala heard the warsong, and paused to stare, gaping at the change in the young drow. He seemed to have become something else entirely, his expression one of mad joy mixed with cold focus. She shuddered, as she watched him moving like a tornado, never in one place for more than a moment, shifting direction in an instant, only to come back at his opponents from an entirely new direction, then leave the ground as he spun in mid-air, coming down to continue the wild dance as the two struggled to block or dodge his attacks.
Even the priestess had stopped in mid-spell, gazing at the young prince in terror. "You FOOLS! why did you allow him to enter the zhassu'aco lil'alure (literally "wildwind dance"- a dervish dance)?! He will not stop now unless we KILL him!"
dirlyth snarled as he fended off a flurry of blows from the suddenly very deadly younger drow. "NOW she tells us- spider-kissing COW!" He fought desperately, for the first time wishing he had never accepted the mission to retrieve the lost heir. And it occured to him, at that moment, that they should have let him STAY lost.
Rilkin was faring no better against the deadly blur of flesh and steel that was before him. The boy was the eye at the center of a whiling cyclone of blades- and Rilkin was in its path. He fell back, trying to keep out of reach of the maelstrom that was Lothir. Even with Dirlyth aiding him, he could barely keep the prince from slicing him to ribbons.
Vala saw the two retreating, and decided it was time to press the attack. She called on her remaining magic to summon a large fist of pure magical force that slammed into the tracker from behind, knocking him off his feet. He looked up in time to see the blur of a sabre slicing the air toward him; then a line of red appeared across his neck, and his severed head fell and rolled into the grass, still wearing an expression of shock.
Dirlyth saw his ally fall, and ran. He heard Kurindra shouting angrily behind him, but he didn't care. Let the b&#036;%&# deal with capturing Lothir herself. He had a ship to go back to, and had no intention of meeting death at the hand of a mere whelp. He vaulted onto his horse, giving the High Priestess a rude gesture as he galloped toward the east.
It was at that moment that Palax's potion wore off; then Vala's faded a moment later. The raging dark elf swung another mighty blow- and nearly cut the young knight in half. Only the timely intervention of Vala's magical fist swinging around to slam him back, ruining the blow meant for her brother's ribs, kept Palax from death. He struck back, wounding the drow, but Balzrin kept coming, hardly seeming to notice his wounds in the frenzy of the battle-rage.
Then Lothir leapt in, his blue eyes feverish with the uninhibited rush of excitement of his own kind of frenzy. He was dimly aware of a sharp crack from his already injured ankle, but the pain was drowned in the madness that had taken him. He seemed to attack from a dozen directions at once, his hands moving so fast even the rager could barely keep up. When Palax rejoined the fight a moment later, the big dark elf was outmatched, and after he missed a swing at the young prince when Lothir suddenly reversed his direction, he was met by a swing from Palax that split his jaw. An instant later, two sabres slashed crosswise down his chest- and the warrior fell in four large pieces.
Meanwhile, Vala had raced to take down the female. She saw the cleric holding a strange whip that looked like some sort of giant scorpion tail, and paused warily. Vala moved cautiosly, her rapier up to defend. The High Priestess sent a bolt of red light toward her; Vala dodged it, but was caught by surprise by the crack of her whip. It stung her left thigh, and she staggered under the pain, her magical fist fizzling as she lost concentration. A moment later, she realized the true danger from the peculiar whip, for the venom had already begun to take effect. She took a step toward the cleric, then her rapier slipped from her hand, and she fell, unconcious.
Her two companions saw, and moved on the drow as one. Kurindra realized her mistake, and called up a large elemental from the earth. It rose up directly in front of Palax, swatting at him as if he was a fly. Lothir merely slashed at it in a flurry of blows on his way to the drow woman. Kurindra cracked her whip at him, but he was moving too fast and unpredictably to strike. In seconds, he had reached her. In desperation, she cojured a whirling barrier of blades, ttry to keep him from getting close enough to strike. While the elemental wore down the knight, she watched as the young prince tried to fight his way through the blade barrier. Just then the elemental slammed a rocky fist into Palax's chest, throwing him back and knocking him out.
But Lothir was not going to be denied. He was lost in the throes of the dance, his song fueling the battle-ecstasy that was both beautiful and frightening in its lethal art. One by one, the blades that made up Kurindra's final defence began to fall, shattered. Soon there were too few left, and even as she shouted atthe elemental to defend her, he broke through; a heartbeat later, the elemental crumbled back into dirt and stones as its mistress was skewered by a pair of sabres.
At last, with all his enemies fallen or fled, Lothir slowed to a stop and began to slowly come to his senses. He was dripping with sweat, heaving with exhaustion, and his ankle throbbed from over-exertion. He gazed around at the battlefield, and was horrified. Had he truly done all this? Never before had he taken a life; his hands had never known the stain of another's blood- until now. He began to tremble, suddenly overcome with remorse. To practice his deadly art in a training room was one thing, but to actually use it in combat? He had never known how truly devistating it could be before now.
Then he saw Vala lying on the ground. He threw down his sabres and rushed to her side, kneeling by her worriedly. "My Lady, are you alright? Please, wake up!" He shook her, but to no avail. The poison in her veins had left her utterly senseless. He whispered a silent prayer to Elistarrya, hoping it would soon wear off.
"How sweet, brother. Almost as sweet as your rediculous affection for Ravyn." He froze at the sound of his sister's voice. He tried to rise, and made it only half-way to his feet before his injured one gave out. He gasped from the pain, and looked around to find- nothing. She was nowhere to be seen.
"You see, Lothir? I can play this game, too!" she laughed, from somewhaere nearby. Invisible. He swore under his breath as he realized she had probably never left the battle, and had merely been watching while the others wore him and his companions down so she could move in for the kill. He tried to rise again, but faltered; his ankle was too weak to support him, and there was no way he could fight.
He stumbeld again, only to hear her laughing again. Then a faint clink of metal was his only warning before something hit him hard on the head. last thing he saw was Morganna blinking back into view with a smirk, then darkness took him.
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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Joined: 27 Nov 2007, 17:07

20 May 2009, 09:10 #10

Read this last night just didn`t have time to comment.


Nicely crafted Ducks!
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

20 May 2009, 17:40 #11

Thank ye. Now comes the nasty part- How's he gettin out of it, and what's to become of Vala and Palax? Bwahahahaha....
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

01 Jun 2009, 22:39 #12

Palax looked around, shaking his head, then belatedly realized he was missing the coin pouch from his belt. He began to search around, and then saw that all of the corpses- both soldiers and dark elves alike- had been looted. He cursed, causing Vala to turn to him with a questioning glance.
"Brother? What is it?" she asked.
"That coniving black devil has robbed us blind! No doubt he is miles away by now, laughing at how he tricked us! STILL think he is an innocent?!" he spat, as he picked up his sword from where it had fallen. Vala said nothing, only sighed and picked up her own rapier.
Then something on the ground caught her eye. A small round object, shiny and flat. She picked it up, and beheld a small compass, much like the ones used by sailors. Only this one did not seem to be pointing in the proper direction. Where the needle should have pointed North, it was steadfastly directed south-east.
She wondered if it was defective, and examined it more closely. That was when she noticed the wisps of white hair wound around the base of the pointer as if caught there. Had it belonged to him? She pondered the mystery for a moment, then whistled to her horse. The grey mare heard and trotted over from where she had been grazing contentedly, and Vala walked a few steps to meet her.
And then she saw them. Two blades, gleaming in the twilight glow. Sabres. She picked one up, for the first time truly examining it. They were identical, each a work of stunning craftmanship, with a hilt in the shape of a nude elven female holding a sword beneath a pommel shaped like a full moon, with a narrow hand-guard in the form of twining ivy vines that curved down from the tang, curling back out just before meeting the pommel. The eyes were amethysts, and the moons were large round pieces of real moonstone, milky white and perfectly flawless. Each blade had intricate knotwork etched down one side, and an inscription down the other, written in elven. One said Valor, the other, Honor.
"Palax? I don't think he left on his own. Look- these were his, were they not?"
Her twin turned to glance at them and shrugged. "What does it matter? Vala, see if you can round up the other horses. Perhaps one of them has a blanket or something we can use to wrap the bodies in. These men deserve a decent burial." He said, sweeping a hand out to indicate the fallen soldiers.
"Brother, did you not hear me? We've seen nothing of that woman- the one he called Morganna. I don't think he would have left these behind if he had left of his own free will. I believe she took him."
"Good. The sooner we are rid of them, the better- though I would dearly like to carve out her murderous heart."
She stared at him, appalled, as she put the compass and the two swords in the bags on her horse's saddle. Never had she been so furious with her brother, and he suddenly glanced her way, sensing her ire through the link they shared as twins.
"Vala, surely you don't intend to go after them on your own. What would it accomplish? We were sent here to put a stop to their killing, not get involved in some family dispute."
He had managed to entice one of the other horses to him with a handful of grass, and now he was pulling a bedroll off its back. He spread it out on the ground and began carrying the remains of Francello and his men over to it. When he had wrapped up what he could of the first three bodies- for some of them were missing limbs and even their heads, making identifying what went to whom difficult- he tied up the blanket and heaved it onto the horse.
"I don't care, Palax. Something inside tells me that that young man is in desperate need of our help. And I for one do not intend to stand by and let an innocent life be destroyed- even a dark elf. Are you coming?"
She had mounted her steed, and sat waiting for him, with an arch look for her stubborn sibling.
He gazed from Vala to the carnage all around, and sighed. He knew that once she had gotten something into her head, it was nearly impossible to dissuade her.
"Alright. But first we MUST go back to Torrino to tell them what happened here. And it will go much more quickly if you help me." He shook his head, wondering how he had let her talk him into rescuing a blasted dark elf.
"Done!" she exclaimed, and took off at a trot to go catch the wandering mounts of the other soldiers. Twenty minutes later, they had bundled up all the remains, and Palax had even taken the heads of the three dead drow- as proof of completing his mission, he'd said- and rode hard back to Torrino.

They arrived late the next afternoon, their mounts lathered with sweat, and dragging their hooves from sheer exhaustion. Palax wasted no time. He headed straight for the barracks of the Watch, leading the three other horses they'd managed to catch, laden with their gristly burden.
A young recruit stopped them at the gate. "Hold, sirrah! What business have you?"
"I wish to see the man in charge here. I have urgent news that cannot wait." The young knight said, with all the authority he could muster in his tired, injured state.
"That would be Leiutenant Crassius. What is the nature of the business?"
"It concerns the party sent out a few days ago with Captain Francello. I was with them."
Suddenly a new voice spoke up from behind Palax on the street. "What is all this?"
Palax turned in his saddle to see a tall, barrel-chested man with a full beard and a sharp chin and nose, his uniform crisp and well maintained. The gold elf dismounted, and gave the man a formal bow, wincing from the pain in his ribs.
"And you are?" he asked politely.
"I would be Leiutenant Crassius. I am in charge of the Watch until Captain Francello returns."
Palax nodded, grimacing. "I thought as much. I'm afraid you're going to be in chage much longer than you might wish, good sir- Francello and the others who went with him are dead."
Both soldiers gasped in shock "WHAT?!" bellowed Crassius.
"We found those d@mned drow- but one of them was a mage, and she slaughtered them. The only reason we are still here to tell of it is that we stopped to render aid to one of her earlier victims, and were separated from the soldiers. However, we did manage to slay all but one of the others. Thier heads are in a bag on my horse, if you need proof."
"All but one? And what happened to that one?"
"He fled the battle, and we haven't yet found him. I thought it best to return here first to bring you the news."
The bearded man nodded. "Very well, sirrah. We thank you. Unfortunately, I cannot spare any more men to go with you, so you're on your own this time. I hope you catch those murdering scum and avenge the good Captain. Did you at lest kill the mage?"
"No. She also managed to escape. But rest assured, I WILL find them both- and make her pay for heer crimes."
So saying, he gave the reins of the other three horses to the recruit, and led his own mount toward the inn, where Vala had agreed to meet him. He found her inside, anxiously waiting for him.
"Well?" she asked expectantly.
"They took the news about as well as I expected. We should rest here, and start out in the morning." He answered wearily. Then he saw that look in her eyes, and shook his head, holding up a hand before she could speak.
"I know what you are going to say, sister- and no- we cannot leave now. Our horses are too tired to continue, and so am I. I can barely even breathe with these injured ribs, sister. We MUST rest, or we will do no one any good."
"And what happens to him in the meanwhile, Palax?" she said urgently.
"We don't even know where she took him, Vala. How do you expect to find them?" he queried, trying to get her to see reason.
"Actually, I think I do. I found this in the field, and I think it may be how SHE found him." she said, pulling out the compass.
He took it, and looked it over for a moment. "What makes you so certain of that?" he asked, handing it back.
"The hairs. I think it may have been enchanted to locate him. If she used it, so can we. And it seems to point back to Almin- which makes sense, if she plans to take him back to Argonia. They would have to pass that way to get there."
He had no ready answer for that, and frowned. "Alright, but let us at least wait until moring. If we keep going now, the horses will likely drop dead."
Vala started to retort, but changed her mind. She knew he was right. She only hoped the young drow would survive long enough for them to rescue him.

Meanwhile, shortly after sunrise that same day, miles away from Vala and her brother, Lothir awoke with a splitting headache, and a sharp pain in his right foot. He was bound with his hands behind him, wrists and feet tied tightly with strudy ropes. He opened his eyes to find himself in a small room, on a low cot in a corner. Aside from the cot, the room was nearly empty, with only a large chest against the far wall, and a table with a pitcher and basin of water by the one shuttered window.
He wondered where he was, but could tell nothing from his surroundings. He saw his pack lying carelessly atop the chest, beside another one of strudy black leather with a pair of red daggers embroidered on it. He felt a chill run through him. morganna. His last memory was of seeing her standing over him with a large stone in her hand. Apperantly, that stone was what had caused the throbbing ache in his head.
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

04 Jun 2009, 22:15 #13

He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to discern where he was by his other senses. Outside the window, down below, he heard a loud ringing as of something striking solid metal. He knew that sound- a blacksmith's anvil and hammer. Somewhere near the window, he heard pigeons cooing. A merchant was hawking his wares, and he heard the disctinctive sound of wheels and hooves on stone. From beneath the cracks in the wooden floor, he heard the muffled sounds of raucous laughter, music and the clink of mugs. A shrill protest that might have been an irate woman's voice. An inn?
He could smell bread baking, reminding him that he was hungry again; the stale, rank odors of sweat, soil, and gods only knew what else from the tiny cot, and the scent of a wood fire. He caught a whiff of something metallic in the air from gaps in the window shutters, and recognized the smell of a forge. And apparently, a stable near-by as well, from the second draft that came through, carrying the strong odors of hay and dung.
He was in a town of some sort, that much was plain. But where? How long had he been out? He gazed around the room again, hoping to find something that might help him escape, but there was nothing. He tried twisting his wrists within their bonds, but she had tied them much too tight to slip loose. He bent back as far as he could, and tried to untie the ropes around his feet; it was at that moment that he heard footsteps outside the room, and the door opened.
He stopped and looked up, as a strange woman with creamy white skin, long, wavy black hair that had been swept up into an elegant cascade that fell to just below her shoulders, with a perfect figure and piercing green eyes entered the room. She wore a gown of deep burgundy velvet, and a slender gold chain around her neck.
"Well, brother dear, I see you've finally awakened. And just when I was hoping you might just die on your own. I should have hit you harder. Perhaps next time."
"Morganna?" he asked, not quite understanding how this human could be his sister. Then he remembered her fondness for disguise spells. A handy trick to have in lands where drow were unwelcome- and one that he wished he had.
"Who else, fool?" she sneered back, and in her expression he saw the truth. Whatever her outward appearance, nothing could hide that cold, haughty distain for those she felt were inferior. Nothing could disguise the cruel hardness of her soul. It was in her voice, in the way she moved. The steel in her eyes.
"What- what are you going to do to me?" he asked after a long pause. He was almost afraid of the answer, but grim curiosity made him ask anyway.
"Me? Nothing, more's the pity. I am merely here to collect a lost item for Lady Ardra. What SHE does with you after we return is none of my concern. She can string you up and flay you alive for all I care. Come to think of it, I'd enjoy watching that."
He swallowed, knowing she was serious. Knowing his sadistic sibling, she would probably join in. "Where are we?" he asked, his mind racing to find some avenue of escape.
"Almin," she stated simply. "I have business here, so I decided to stop for a while to rest before taking you back. Enjoy your stay, little brother- we'll be home again soon enough." She laughed, but it was a harsh sound, devoid of mirth.
She moved over to the packs, her solid, purposeful strides at odds with the delicate appearance of her disguise. No human lady would move that way, Lothir thought. How could she possibly fool anyone with that rediculous disguise? She looked quite lovely, it was true, but he doubted anyone would be taken in by that for long.
She fished around in her pack for a moment, then pulled out a mirror and the dagger she'd taken from the cleric. She let her spell drop, and suddenly he was staring at his sister as he'd always known her. She held up the mirror, and spoke a simple command. Suddenly, the mirror flashed with a shimmer of light, and he could just see that the reflection in it had changed to show another place entirely.
A face emereged in the mirror, but it was not Morganna's. From his position on the bed, Lothir could not make it out, but the moment he heard the annoyed, impatient voice, he knew who was speaking. His own mother.
"I hope you have good reason for this interruption, Morganna. I was busy preparing a sacrifice for the Temple services tonight."
"Of course, my Lady. I thought you might be pleased to know I have found him. We will be returning to the Hall within a fortnight."
"Why so long? I grow tired of waiting," came the curt reply.
"Forgive me, Lady, but I have other business that cannot wait. It will not take long, though. Once it is done, I will bring him." She made no mention of what manner of business it was, and Lothir noticed that she very carefully did not mention where they were. Was she planning some sort of betrayal? It would be like her, he grimaced.
"Very well. Let me see him- I wish to be certain that he is in one piece. I know how you SO love to play with your quarry."
He saw his sister scowl, and stifled a snicker. Clearly, even his mother didn't trust her. That was comforting to know, though it was probably the only point on which he had ever agreed with his Matron.
"As you wish, Mistress," Morganna brought the mirror over to him, and he saw his mother's face there. For only the second time in his life, he found himself wanting to kill his own mother. She had taken from him the only thing in the world he cared about, and now, seeing her smug smile of satisfaction, he wanted to put his fists through her arrogant face.
"There you are, my son. Have you enjoyed your little foray to the world of light? I assure you, it is the last you will have for quite some time. Your father and I have been far too lenient with you. That ends NOW. When you return home, you will not be allowed anywhere without at least a half-dozen guards with you. It would be unfortunate if some harm were to befall the heir of this House." She left the unspoken threat hanging, and he suddenly decided he'd had enough. If they wanted to keep him locked away like a prisoner in his own life, then there was nothing left but to show them who he truly was, and d@mn the consequences. Better to die true to his own heart than to live a lie in a gilded cage.
"Vith dos, elg'caress!" he snarled. "I HAVE no House. Tell my Father that his blood ends with him. I renounce my House, and you! Go kiss your precious Venom Queen!"
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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Joined: 27 Nov 2007, 17:07

07 Jun 2009, 09:42 #14

Very well done Ducks. You certainly have a good flair with fantasy, I`m glad to see you exploring it!
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

09 Jun 2009, 22:59 #15

Thanks! I've done stuff like this before, but it's been a few years. It's nice to come back to what got me into writing in the first place!
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

09 Jun 2009, 23:50 #16

The look of outrage on her face was almost worth the words that came next.
"A pity. I had hoped you would prove wiser than this. This House must be led by someone who understands what it truly means to be drow. Obviously, you do not. I curse the day I bore you, boy. A daughter would have known her place better. Perhaps we shall soon see. As for you- if this is your choice, then I no longer have need of a son."
Lothir swallowed, suddenly feeling a chill come over him, though the room was quite warm. He knew exactly what she meant.
"Morganna- kill him."
The look in his sister's eyes told him all he needed to know. She had dreamed of this moment for most of her life, and now she had the sanction of the family to do it. And from the way she was holding the blade in her hand, and the expression of demonic glee on her face, he knew she intened it to be slow and agonizing.
"Shall I set the mirror for you to watch, Mistress?" Morganna asked, her cold violet gaze never leaving him.
"Much as I would like to, I must get back to my duties. The Goddess does not like to be kept waiting."
"Of course. Perhaps I will bring back his hide so you can nail it to your temple wall, Mistress."
He heard his mother laugh. "Yes, that would be a fine idea. A reminder to all that NO ONE is immune to her wrath."
Morganna waved a hand over the mirror, and it went blank again. She set it down, and moved over to stand over him, still with that same look of mad anticipation.
She jerked him up by his hair, and he was amazed by the strength in her slender arm. He winced as the jolt sent a sharp pain through his injured leg, but he refused to show fear. Not to her. Not anymore.
It had felt good to say what he had always felt, to give voice to the frustration and sense of outrage that he had never dared express before. Now that it was out, he felt no fear or anger. Only pity for those who could never understand how empty and hollow their lives were. Their hearts were dead, and always had been.
Lothir saw her hand pull back, the deadly spider-blade ready to plunge into his heart. He was ready for it, though. He closed his eyes, waiting for the killing stroke to fall.
It never came. Just as she began to bring the blade down, there came a knock at the door of the room. He fell back to the cot with a grunt of surprise and pain as she let go, cursing at whoever had been foolish enough to interrupt her greatest pleasure.
Lothir watched while she set the dagger on the table, then quickly replaced the spell of disguise that she had used earlier. She opened the door a few inches, a look of supreme annoyance on her now human face.
"This had better be important- I SAID I did not wish to be disturbed!" she snarled.
"Come, my Lady, that is behavior most unbecoming to one of your stature." The voice on the other side of the door was powerful, male, and utterly sinister.
Lothir did not recognize it, and could not see the speaker, but though the voice sounded human, there was a peculiar accent to it that was neither drow nor any of the other races he was familar with. He caught a faint scent of brimstone, and something else that almost reminded him of the riding lizards back home.
"Helstrom, forgive me, my Lord. I did not expect you until tomorrow." His sister was suddenly the image of graciousness. She smiled at the stranger, and gave a little curtsy of respect.
Lothir frowned in confusion. This was completely unlike her. Normally she considered everyone else to be beneath her, in spite of the fact that she was lower than most of the members of their House- including the guards. But this unseen stranger she treated as an equal, perhaps even defered to him. The young drow wondered what sort of individual was capable of earning her respect and courtesy. Only someone she had cause to fear, he was sure. He suddenly had a desire to know who this stranger was.
"I apologize if I am interrupting anything- special, but I had other business to attend as well, so I decided to have our meeting a bit early. Is that a problem?" The voice was smooth, like oil, and just as dark. There was an unspoken air of authority, that said HE was in charge of whatever relationship lay between the two.
"Of course, Helstrom. I was merely dealing with a small family matter- nothing of real importance. I suppose it can wait."
"Family business? might I ask what sort?"
She waved a hand absently. "Killing my brother. Lady Ardra in MOST displeased with him. Let us go downstairs and discuss our alliance. Perhaps you will allow me the pleasure of buying you a drink?"
He laughed, and the sound was far deeper and resonant than it should have been, as if echoing from a huge cavern. "I doubt this establishment has anything that I would find acceptable. Humans with their weak constitutions cannot brew ANYTHING strong enough for MY kind!"
Morganna chuckled. "No, but it is still amusing to watch them try. Would a drought of Dwarfblight suffice?"
"Ah, you know me too well, my dear. Yes, that would do nicely."
She stepped out of the room, and the door closed behind her.
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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Joined: 27 Nov 2007, 17:07

10 Jun 2009, 09:50 #17

Well done!

I didn`t know that fantasy was your first genre Ducks. Its evident you have a great love for it.
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

14 Jun 2009, 20:31 #18

Ha! Absolutely. I cut my reading teeth on Piers Anthony, Joel Silverberg, Christopher Stacheff, and Robert Aspirin, with some Anne McCafferey, too. R.A. Salvatore is another favorite of mine, along with the Weis/Hickman team of Dragonlance. So yeah, I guess I've got some strong roots in the genre.

I really only started in comics because of Strazynski's incredible 9-11 issue of Spidey. I never thought a comic book could be so moving or bring tears to my eyes, but that one did. So did the one right after it, the two issue arc where Aunt May finally found out Peter's secret. I had loved the animated series, and I thought that wrinkle was LOOONG overdue, and he did it so well that I was impressed enough to keep reading the series. just sort of branched out from Spidey to some of the other ones that caught my eye. I guess he got me hooked. Up to then, my only real exposure to the characters of the comic world was in cartoons, which I loved, but never really went much further. Then I found out he writes horror and dark fantasy, too. And Peter David has some excellent fanatsy stories too, so I guess I'm still deep it the genre!
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

20 Jun 2009, 17:37 #19

As soon as Lothir was free, he hobbled over to the chest, and began to rummage through Morganna's travel pack. Please, he thought desperately, let her have what I need. He knew she always carried several potions with her of various kinds; it was only a matter of finding the right one.
Frantically, he searched through the satchel, digging through what seemed and endless number of items, until he came across a small box. He opened it, and inside found an array of herbs, jars of animal parts or minerals, and small bottles and vials of oils, reagents, and strange fluids. There were also several carefully wrapped bottles containing potions. He quickly sorted through them, looking for one that might heal his re-injured foot. The first one he picked up was a sickly greenish-brown, and smelled foul when he opend it. Another was nearly black, and had a greasy scent that he was certain meant it was unsafe. At last he found a bottle of blood-red liquid marked with a symbol of a healer's staff.
Lothir uncorked the small bottle and sniffed cautiously. The liquid had a faintly mettalic scent, but with a sweet and slightly minty hint to it. He shrugged to himself, then closed his eyes and took a deep gulp of it, praying that it was not some sort of poison. Knowing his sister, he would not have put it past her to mislabel her potions to fool others into drinking something deadly.
He waited, and soon brethed a sigh of relief when he felt the tingle of bones knitting back together. He had drunk nearly half the bottle's contents; in moments, all his wounds had healed, and he felt refreshed and strong again. Quickly he grabbed both packs- she might have other useful items in hers, and he had no intention of leaving her with an advantage over him again- and went over to the window, intending to climb out through it and levitate to the ground below.
He had opened the window and was about to put one leg out when a new thought occured to him. Wouldn't it be better to find out who her visitor was, and what she was planning? Lothir grinned to himself, as he thought of how amusing it would be to walk out right past his sister invisibly, and to spy on her besides. Morganna was not the only one who could plot and scheme, after all.
He sang the invocation for the spell, then faded from view. Cautiously he opened the door to the room, and slipped down the short hallway to a set of stairs at the far end. He silently crept down them, though he need hardly have bothered with stealth, since the room below was noisy with patrons, even at this early hour of the day.
His breath caught for a moment when he saw Morganna in her human guise sitting at a table in a shadowy corner with a tall, imposing human male with short, thick black hair, a ruddy complexion, and a beard and mustache that gave him a vaguely menacing look. He wore a blood-red robe with ornate gold trim in flame patterns, and a wicked-looking staff with a dragon's head carved intoone end leaned against the wall beside him.
Lothir stared, wondering who the stranger was, when he caught a glimpse of the man's eyes. For just a moment, they had appeared golden, with the slitted pupils of a reptile. They reminded him of the eyes of those two gold-skinned elves he had met. The young drow gulped, realizing he was looking at something that was not human, no matter how much it might appear to be. He remembered that some dragons were known to change their shape and walk among the races of mortals, and now it seemed he was looking at one of them. A red, if he was any judge of draconic lore. The eyes, the smell of sulfur, the red robes, even the way his voice seemed to resonate as though from a creature many times his size- it all made sense.
Carefully, Lothir crept closer, though he made certain not to come within the disguised wyrm's sense of smell. He knew from the stories he'd heard as a child that the great wyrms could smell far more acutely than any human or elf. He listened closely, his keen hearing picking up thier conversation even amid the noise of the tavern. Fortunately they had picked an out of the way corner, so it was quieter.
"Helstrom, as much as it pleases me to see you, I do wish you had given me warning that you would be arriving early. It is rather inconvenient timing."
The disguised dragon gave a dark chuckle, and turned to look around with a puzzled scowl. For a moment, Lothir thought he might have sensed him, but he merely turned back to Morganna.
"My dear, you should know by now that I do as I please. There is no one in this wretched little world that can do me harm- not even an entire army of mortals could hope to stop me if I chose to lay waste to this place. And now that I think on it, it's been some time since I fed well. It would be rather amusing to watch them run screaming from my true might, don't you think? But I digress; I came to discuss our arrangement."
"Ah, ever to the point, my Lord. What is your concern?" Morganna seemed far more polite and restrained than was normal for her, and Lothir had to smile in spite of himself. If she was consorting with a dragon, it was no wonder! He knew they were the only beings in the world that she respected, both for their size and sheer power. No doubt this one was mighty indeed, even among his kind, for she had slain lesser wyrms single-handedly. Though of course, she only ever killed the kindly metallic ones. She had a hatred for them, seeing their goodness and benevelance as an insult to the power of their kind. She believed that dragons were the pinnacles of creation, godly might made flesh. She even worshipped their creator-god, Quirinaurak, in his darker aspect of the Chromatic Wyrm, Tiamat.
"I am growing impatient, Morganna. When will this plan of yours come to fruition? My time grows short. Even a dragon's life is not infinite, and I am fast running out of ways to extend mine. Without the power we seek, I would be force to seek lichdom to gain immortality. That is not a path I would wish to take. I prefer ascention to godhood"
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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21 Jun 2009, 22:58 #20

Very nice! I really enjoyed the inclusion of the dragon into the tale.
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

22 Jun 2009, 22:17 #21

Haha, yeah, He's one of my game-world's big-bads, so I HAD to include him somehow. And since he and Morganna have a history, I thought it was kind of appropraite. Anywhos, back to the story....



"Of course, Great One. Would not we all?" she laughed heartily, and the invisible young drow found himself wondering what sort of power they were after. Ascention to become a god? He quailed at the very thought of his sadistic half-sister as a goddess. Or this dragon she was consorting with, for that matter. The taint of evil coming from him was almost overwhelming. Lothir felt something hot against his chest, and realized the silver pendant he always wore beneath his tunic was burning to the touch. He pulled it out, and saw that it glowed with a soft white light.
Evil. Elistarrya's symbol was warning him that he was in the prescence of a great evil, though he hardly needed the holy emblem to tell him that. He knew his sister well enough by now to be quite certain that anyone she was on good terms with, human, dragon, or otherwise, would have to be. He placed it back beneath his silk shirt, and decided to make his escape before his spell wore off. Yet he hesitated, hoping to hear more of their plans.
"This place is too crowded, my dear. Should we not conduct our business somewhere more private?" said Helstrom.
"What did you have in mind, mighty Lord?" Morganna said, and from the expression on her face, Lothir could see she had more than just conversation on her mind. He glanced once more at the tall, darkly handsome man, and shuddered. Surely not, he thought, but changed his mind when he saw the sly look on her companion's face. Oh, gods, Lothir thought in disgust. His sister had taken the dragon for a lover? And a red, at that. Than again, it seemed to fit her. He shook his head, and quickly made his way to the door, where he waited a few moments for someone to enter, then dashed out into the bright sun before the tavern door closed.
The brightness of the early morning blinded his sensitive eyes, and it was several seconds before they adjusted well enough to see where he was. As Morganna has said, he was back in almin, with its many temples, villas, and impressive public buildings. He wondered where he should go from here, for he knew his sister would seek him out as soon as she discovered him missing. Especially since he had taken her belongings with his own. Quickly, the young drow ducked into an alley, and hid behind several large crates.
He was just in time, too, for his spell faded a moment later, and left him visible once more. He wondered what to do, for he had no desire to cause a stir among the locals by his appearance. He'd had more than enough trouble on that count. He sighed, then dug through Morganna's satchel again, searching for something to help him.
He almost passed it by in his worried state. He was holding her spellbook in one hand, still trying to think of a solution to his problem, when it hit him. If she could use magic to hide her true form, why couldn't he? He flipped through the pages quickly, thankful she hadn't secured it with some sort of magical trap. After several minutes of study, he found what he was looking for- the very spell she had used on herself. Fortunately, it was fairly simple, and so it was only a minor matter to turn the conventional magic she used into his own special song magic.
Once he was certain it would work, Lothir sang the spell, and concentrated to alter his appearance. The first face that came to his mind was that of the dead human boy he had found at the farm when he had discovered his father's agents. He decided it was as good a disguise as any, since Morganna was not likely to have seen the young man, and would likely never recognize him in such a guise.
After a moment, he stepped back out of the alley, his hood up, and strode down the street. To all eyes who saw him, he was simply anohter citizen, casually going about his business...
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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Joined: 27 Nov 2007, 17:07

23 Jun 2009, 10:05 #22

Well done!
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

23 Jun 2009, 23:09 #23

Miles away, the Vala and her brother rode hard from the town of Torrino. They had spent the night resting in the Satyr's Horn, though her own rest had been uneasy, at best. She still could not help worrying over the fate of the handsome young drow they had met. She knew in her heart that he was different from the others- The pain in his eyes when he spoke of his home had told her all she needed to know.
Vala urged her mount to run faster still, praying they would be able to find him before that evil woman he had called Morganna could drag him off to some unspeakable fate. But was he even still alive? She didn't think the woman would kill her own kin, but with dark elves, one never knew. As far as she knew, the drow woman had simply intended to return the missing prince to his homland, just as the others had been sent to do. Yet something warned Vala that this was different- that her new friend was in grave danger. If even half of what he'd said about the woman was true, it might well be a matter of life and death.
They rode for hours, always keeping their horses at a run, until they were simply too exhausted to go on. They finally stopped a little after mid-day, and let the animals rest and graze while Vala tended to Palax's cracked ribs. She had used most of her healing magic on him already, but it was not enough, for her talents as a healer were not as great as his. Unfortunately, Palax's gift only worked on others, and could not be used for his own injuries, while hers could be used on anyone.
"Vala," he said, after she had done all she could, and they sat quietly having their mid-day meal while the horses rested, "why are you so concerned for that drow? I've never seen you like this before. So- determined."
She shook her head, her silvery mane shimmering in the sunlight. She bruched back the two golden braids that framed her face, a puzzled frown on her lovely features. "I do not know, brother. But when I saw him, something told me he was in trouble and needed my help."
"Hmph. That one IS trouble, if you ask me. Family disputes, marauding drow mercenaries, sadistic murders- he seems to leave a trail of chaos in his wake."
"Palax, that is hardly fair. I don't believe he intends any harm- it is simply poor fortune. Or the will of the gods, if you prefer. I feel as though fate has put us in his path for a reason, that is all."
"So long as that reason is not to get us killed, sister. I hope you know what it is that you are doing." He finished his trail rations, and stood to stretch his legs a bit.
She made no answer, for truthfully, she didn't know any more than he did. She still had no answer an hour later, when they had mounted their steeds to continue the journey back to Almin.
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
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Joined: 27 Nov 2007, 17:07

24 Jun 2009, 09:39 #24

Very nice Duckie. I like that you take the time to add the small details...her moving her hair, him stretching...that really does add a lot to the story and making the reader feel as if they`re in the tale.
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MsMarvelDuckie
Inhuman
Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

24 Jun 2009, 22:04 #25

Thank you. I always like to write it as if I were watching the story in a movie, it just feels more real that way.
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491
Reply
Like