Chapter 1

 

The Elves were at peace. 

It had not always been so.  The Black Mage, Daektoch, had brought to bear upon them hordes of Trolls, and for the entire course of that war, the race had teetered on the brink of annihilation.  Then, the Elves' most formidable weapon had been the longbow and pike.  For centuries, they had lived simple lives as farmers and fishers, their magic dormant; now, they wielded power and might at will.  After the last war, Daektoch, presumably fatally injured, had disappeared.  Magic, like wildfire, had re-awakened in the Elven population and the Kingdom had evolved into a near utopia.

Meanwhile, Daektoch hovered in the Netherworld where he had subsisted for the past ten cycles of the sun as time is counted in the land of the living.  It was a place of darkness and untold evil: for him, a place of comfort.  This is where he dwelt at times when he needed to mend from injuries.  His last battle, that against the Dark Queen, the Queen of the Elves, had left him nearly unable to inhabit the shell that was referred to as his body; he still was unsure that he would be able to return to it.  His servants waited and watched over the mage's external shell, keeping it safe; they had once been human wizards; they were now transmuted into wraiths.

Cocooned in protective spells, the Black Mage's time in the Netherworld had proven quite interesting however, allowing him to discover and become familiar with those that populated it.  These were the spirits of those who had not been able to make the Final Journey, some of them very ancient beings; many of them had lived before the existence of present time Elves, Humans, and Dwarves.  Some were beings of great power and evil.  Among these, Daektoch found solace during his convalescing.

At long last, Daektoch roused from his slumbers, renewed, strengthened, full of bile and gall: feeling his old self again.  From the top of the volcanic Mount Bahal, in his scrying glass, he surveyed the land.  Heros, to the east, was still prosperous, a city that was his; he swayed its unwitting leaders to his will and whim.  Breezon, his vexation, was still there.  The Trolls in the Blue Mountains had gone back to their typical animalistic existence; without his constant control to conform them to his will, they quickly reverted to their primal ways.  To the south, the Dwarves still scurried about their mountain, like ants on their mound.

Looking further south, to the land that the Elves inhabited, the Elves whom he hated vehemently.…  Suddenly, Daektoch let out a cry, falling away from the scrying glass, blinded by the brilliance of an aura of a glistening-white magic.  Slowly, the dark wizard approached the glass, shielding his eyes from the awful purity. 

It finally had happened!  Daektoch gaped in horror and disbelief.  The Elves had restored the Kingdom and, with it, the magic in its fullness, in spite of the mage's best attempts.  Rage took hold of him, as it so often did when things did not go his way.  This time, his anger propelled him well beyond the brink of sanity and into a raving madness, never to return. Calling one of his servants to himself, he caught it by the throat, within the powerful grip of an incantation, transforming the wraith into a hideous bat-like creature; it was as large as a horse and pitch-black.  Its great leathery wingspread was almost two lengths longer than its body, and there were short, taloned, hand-like appendages at the center joint of each wing.  Its face was grotesque, even worse than a real bat's.  Daektoch flung himself onto its back, twisting a handful of wiry hair about his hand.  The creature waddled to the cave's entrance, took wing with powerful stokes of its nearly transparent, hide-like appendages and raced south. 

He would kill them!  He would kill them all!  He would no longer use subtlety; he would finish this in a face-to-face confrontation.  He would destroy the Elves and free himself from their annoyance forever.

The Black mage sped toward the Kingdom of the Elves; he was possessed by a murderous and reckless fury.

 

This course of the sun, King Jerhad, his wife Andreanna, Kendra his daughter of fourteen cycles of age, and Rolann his son of six cycles of age, strolled about one of the high gardens situated in the Royal Quarters of the castle.  It was a polished marble patio with a beautiful ornamental columned railing that had been a part of the original mountain; the castle was not pieced together with quarried stone, but the Dwarves had sculpted it from the mount's very bone as one piece.  There were large marble urns extending from the floor growing indescribably beautiful, and wonderfully scented flowers and fruit bearing plants.  The view of the city was fabulous, and beyond the northern wall, there was a narrow plain, and then, the picturesque Coastal Range that decorated the background as if painted by an artist.

Jerhad was a typical Elf in appearance.  He was tall, slender, and quite handsome.  He had long, fine and flowing golden-blonde hair that, as most males, he wore tied back in a tail.  His eyes were the distinct Elven brilliant, sky-blue color.  The Elvish appearance was not that far off from Humans', other than the sharply angulated, almond-shaped eyes and lobless, pointed ears.      

Jerhad had just finished reviewing the new proposals being negotiated with the Dwarves for the trade of grain in exchange for their services in stonework.  The last payments to the Dwarves for the building of the outer wall were coming to an end soon.  The newer city wall was a beautiful sparkling white structure.  It was really only ornamental in purpose, for none would dare attack the Elves in light of their present tremendous military and magical might It was constructed to the majestic height of thirty five paces and width of twenty paces.  Well within the city stood the original, much smaller, gray-stone bulwark, which had finally encompassed the entire village.  It had been the site of fierce battles; it still stood as a memorial to those who had labored and battled for Mildra. 

The negotiations with the Dwarves were all but a formality; the Elves would have gladly supplied the Dwarves at no cost with all the grain they could use, forever.  The Elves' debt of gratitude to the Dwarves for their sacrifice and aid rendered in assisting in defending the Elves against the Trolls in the last war was counted as priceless.  However, HeartStone, son of GladdenStone, King of the Dwarves in Dolan, the Dwarf mountain and home, would not hear of receiving grain for free.  Besides, that would rob the Dwarves of the stonework, one of their true loves next to mining for riches.  The Dwarves were not about to tolerate that! 

And so, as his custom was, after a morning of business (for even in a kingdom of magic there was much to attend to), having had a light meal of fruit, breads and honey, Jerhad went to the high gardens, from where he could see the entire city, and spent time with his family.  As they walked about watching the children's play, Jerhad reached out and touched Andreanna on the arm, cocking his head as if listening; he had found that he could share his magic with her if in direct contact, allowing her to experience in part what he heard, sensed or saw.

"Listen!  esord*!  Something is coming from the north, and fast."

"Children, come to me at once," spoke Andreanna.  "Shall I alert the Guard?"

"No.  Lehland is Captain of this watch.  He possesses esord; he will have heard."  Though without known enemies at this time, the Elves had taken the lesson learned at bitter cost by the ancient Druids, and they kept a vigilant guard and strong army at the ready.  The Druids had come to near extinction at the hands of a then unknown enemy, Daektoch, the Black Mage.

It was not long before a dark speck appeared over the horizon, racing toward them.

"What is it, Jerhad?  Whatever it is, it's sure aggravating licri and balat within me," said Andreanna.  licri, strength or might, and balat, destruction, were two of the Queen's powers. balat was unique in that it was a combination of White and Black magic (both of the Arts), a death curse that Daektoch had hexed her with and Faerie magic in the form of argentus the Earthen element of magic; all had fused and blended with her own innate ability, which she had inherited.  She was three-quarter human and one-quarter Elven blood.  Combined with licri, the result was balat, a terrible intensity of destructive power; Andreanna was a force to be reckoned with.

"O ye gods in the heavens," exclaimed Jerhad, his power identifying the intruder.  "It's Daektoch.  He's back!"  Though a formidable opponent to the Black Mage, Andreanna instinctively let out a gasp and clutched at Jerhad's arm.  For a moment, he very thought of the mage still struck terror within her heart after the imprisonment and cruel treatment she had received at his hands, which had almost lead to her death.

"Call the guard, Jerhad," she insisted.

"No, my dove, it's alright.  I can handle him.  Actually, you could handle him even easier.  Calm yourself," he spoke softly to her, touching his forehead above her ear and whispering words of acrch to her.  The magic surged through her, quieting her agitation and fear.

She smiled and turned to him, a tear in her eyes, "Thanks, I'll be alright."

Again, Jerhad focused on the wizard of the Black Arts who neared the city.  Pointing at the mage, Jerhad released a weak bolt of the magic of balan, purification, at the flying beast.  Daektoch and Jerhad had fought in the past; but that was when Jerhad had first come into his magic.  His power had matured since then.

"That ought to get his attention," he smiled, as the putrid beast screeched in pain and revulsion, at being touched by balan.

Daektoch rolled the flying fiend as if in some necessary evasive maneuver and plummeted toward the garden.  A slobbering, raving madman he jumped from the beast, his winged servant soaring back up into the sky.  Flames erupted from the mage's outstretched hands as he rushed Jerhad, intent on destroying the Elven King once and for all.  Jerhad caught the ball of flame that sought to envelope him and his family, pressed it between his palms, and then, released it as a wisp of smoke.

Daektoch stopped in his tracks!  His jaw fell slack.  Again, he raised himself and, with fire dancing about his hands and arms, rushed Jerhad.  But the King simply lifted his arm, palm extended forward, and with a force of magic, the Elf paralyzed the mage where he stood.  Jerhad drove him back to a stone wall and pressed the mage against it, leaving his face distorted with the strength of the enchantment that was thrust against him.  The mage's magic was suppressed; even his voice was not heard as he raged against the Elf.

"The question now is, what do we do with him?" said Jerhad.

"Step aside, I know exactly what to do," said Andreanna coming around to stand before Jerhad, who, taking hold of her arm, used her momentum to walk her right back to where she had started.

"Now listen to me," he laughed.  "Give me a few heartbeats, my hot-headed Queen."

"He who hesitates is lost, Elf Boy."  That was her name for him when her "fire" was ignited.  "Kill him now before he does something…."

"I have him secured, my dove."

She turned an evil eye up at her mate, at being called "my dove". Normally, she liked it; Jerhad had picked up the habit of using the term from Mordock the Giant's addressing of his mate, Kassandra.

"I'll dove you…," she spat.

Then, more firmly, he insisted, "Andreanna!"  She backed down, unlike former times when she would spit fire rather than concede to anything or anyone.

"The nature of the magic of igini forbids killing him and requires giving him a chance to change," said Jerhad.

"What?  Are you crazy?  He's here to kill us and you want to give him a second chance?"

He smiled at her.  "To quote a Druid I once knew, 'I see that she hast lost none of her fire'."

She pushed at him a bit as to make somewhat of a show of strength, she being his equal in natural vigor; but he cheated and borrowed from licri and stood his ground.  Finally, she yielded.  "Alright, what do you want to say, my King?" she said rolling her eyes…almost imperceptibly.

"igini, not me.  To remain in her vital essence, the magic requires that we try."

"Alright!" she said, now more like a pouting child; submission did not become her.  "What do we do with it?"

"I don't know?  Let's see if Morlah's about and see what he has to say." 

Suddenly, Rolann charged the mage, sparks flying about on his fingertips.  Jerhad managed to catch the boy by the collar and swung him into Andreanna's arms.  Kendra rolled her eyes as only an older sister could.  The Prince slipped from his mother's grasp and stood at Jerhad's side, looking like a Moor Cat searching for a fight.

"A bit too much like his mother, that one, if you ask me," said a dismayed King.  "Rolann, I want you to open a 'window' to seilstri for me, please." seilstri was the name of the Druid castle-fortification in Parintia.  The name in ancient Elvish meant knowledge or learning, for the Druid keep had once been a renowned center of learning and instruction.

The child lifted his hand, finger pointing, and drew a rough oval in the air before them, about the size that an adult female could have easily walked through.  Daektoch continued his silent rage.  The air where the oval was traced became like water reflecting the sun, and as the ellipse was completed, its entire surface glistened.  After the window had shimmered for a heartbeat, the scene of a young male, a human male, with quill in hand, frantically writing on a parchment, came into view.  The human, Quiveron, looked from one book to another, and then, passionately wrote again.  Suddenly, his eyebrows knotted as if he were trying to figure something out.  His face relaxed, he smiled and he looked right up at them through the window.

"Ahh, Prince Rolann.  What an honor!  What brings you to seilstri?"  Quiveron was one of the scribes at the Druid's keep who also had the task of watching the window.  The Druids had it that there was one solitary place within the keep that a window could be established to the outside.

"My daddy wants to talk to Morlah."

Jerhad stepped into view of the window so that the scribe could see him.          "Greetings, Quiveron.  How are you?  How's that knee of yours?"

"Your Majesty!"  Quiveron said with a bow.

"Oh, come on, Quiveron!  How many times do I need to tell you to call me Jerhad?"

"Just a few more, Sire," said the scribe with a wink.

 Jerhad laughed, "Look at that, Andreanna, a Druid with a sense of humor."  Andreanna was not up to laughing just yet.   

"And, the knee is fine.  Thine healers art wonderful!"

"Quiveron, is Morlah about?"

"Morlah…," he said, running his finger down a list on a parchment that he produced from a drawer.  "Hmmmm…no, he is still in the Sleep Chambers.  Not expected to awake for some time unless one of his triggers doest alert him."

"Hmmmm. I'm surprised he's not up and screaming.  Let me speak to the Overseer then, please."

"Yes.  That I canst do."

Quiveron turned in his chair and opened a window of his own, which those in Mildra could not see into for the angle at which it was placed to them.

"Master Filinhoff, King Jerhad wouldst speak with thee," spoke Quiveron.  "Oh, yes, of course…immediately."  Turning to the Elves again he said with a courteous bow of the head, "It was nice to see thee, Sire…My Queen… Prince Rolann….  Oh!  And art thou there also Princess?  Mine apologies….  Here let me get thee to the overseer.  Ja speed."  He reached out and took the edge of the window that he had opened and brought it to face the prince's.  Then, when the two were but a span apart, they fused together and Master Filinhoff became visible.

The Overseer was an old man, with a bald crown and the hair from the sides of his head thin, long and white.  He was very skinny, and had a long, white beard, wore long, dark robes and had spectacles pinched onto his hawkish nose.  The area behind the human was dark.  Stacked deeply all about him on a table were hoards of books and parchments, implying that he was at his usual pastime, his studies in the archives.

"Jerhad…Andreanna!  What a pleasant surprise to see thee.  But I am sure that this is not a social visit.  How canst I assist thee?"

"Look at what we have," said Jerhad turning the window to take in Daektoch, who was beginning to run out of steam.

"Oh, my!  A nasty one at that.  What willst thou do with him?'

"I don't know.  That's why we came to you," stated the Elven King.

"Hmmm.  That is a good question, then, is it not?  Ah, yes…look at that; see his skin, like hardened leather.  That is what living solely off of the magic of the Arts doest to one.  Yes…hmmm….  And look at those eyes…within.  Yes, yes.  Ah, but for a chance to study it in detail.  But no, far too dangerous to bring here!  Hmmm…yes. 

"Well there art only two things that canst be done, really.  One, kill it.  Two, release it.  Thou, being under the reigning influence of the magic igini, must release it.  If it were the age of balan, thou couldst purify it, which in his case wouldst kill him," the Overseer chuckled.

"I see.  I'm sort of back to where I started," said the King.

"Well, no helping that.  Yes…those eyes…got to go….  Oh yes, at the end of my tenor as Overseer of seilstri, I wouldst hope to come live with the Elves to the end of my times.  I willst not use the Druid Sleep anymore.  Quite unnatural for one to live so long."

"Yes," said Jerhad.  "Absolutely!  We'd love to have you.  We'll prepare a room between the libraries and the kitchen."

"Oh, yes," added Andreanna, "I know just the one.  It has large windows, lots of light for your reading.  It would be wonderful to see you again…."

"Very well, then.  I shall make it a commitment.  …Something about those eyes….  Well, Ja speed."  His window vanished leaving a white blank surface on the prince's, which then disappeared.

"Jerhad, you can't," began Andreanna.

"We must."

"You can't."

"We must."

"You can't!  You can't!" she demanded, with a stomp of her foot.

"We must!  You decide then," he said touching her arm.  "You look into igini and tell me what to do."

Her head dropped, and she turned her back to him as she perceived the intent of the Earthen magic's essence.  "We'll live to regret it," she said.   "We might," said Jerhad.  Rolann appeared as if he were ready to charge the mage again.  Jerhad took him by the collar once more and maneuvered him to his sister.  "Would you please keep an eye on him?" 

"He doesn't listen to me!" Kendra spat, exasperated as only an elder sister could be.

"Rolann, stay with your sister!" commanded the King.  The boy's head dropped.

"You never let me have any fun!"  He followed his sister and sat on a nearby bench.

Jerhad turned to Andreanna.  "Well?"

"Let him go, then.  I think I have an extra 'I told you so' lying around here somewhere.  I'll get it ready."  Just then, four of the King's Guard rushed onto the garden.  Jerhad raised his hand and stopped them.

"We knew he was about, we just didn't know where he had landed because his beast flew off…and you didn't call," said Lehland, Captain of the King's Guard.

"It's alright, Lehland.  I know.  I have it under control."  The three other guards took up positions around the mage.

"What are you going to do with him?" asked the Captain.

"Release him."

"Release…?  Oh, I see…," said the Captain.

"Do you?" inquired the King.

"Yes, Sire, I do.  You remember; I also possess igini."

Jerhad turned to Daektoch who finally appeared to grasp the situation that he was in, though he had no concept that they were discussing his release.  What he understood was that he was powerless against these damned Elves; their strength had become far too great for him.

"Daektoch, I am setting you free," said Jerhad as he released the power holding the mage.  "If I ever see you again, I will kill you.  If you ever harm Human, Troll, Gnome, Dwarf or Elf, I will hunt you down and kill you.  Do you understand?"

The mage looked about like a cornered beast, eyes darting from face to face, as it began to register in his demented mind that he was being set free.

He nodded.

"Call your beast and get out of here.  Fast!"  The mage looked about at the sky, and within heartbeats, the hideous creature came in, flying below the horizon towards them.

"Kendra," said the King.  "Would you be so kind as to assist the wizard onto his bat, so he can go home?"  Kendra nodded, pointed to the mage, and lifted him into the air, his arms and legs flailing about; she dropped him onto his servant's back as it flew by.

"Remember!" spoke Jerhad after him.

"He won't!" protested Andreanna, sulking.

Jerhad turned to her, "We did what was right by the magic.  Better to suffer those consequences, than to suffer the consequences of going against the magic's essence."

"I know," she mumbled.  "But I don't have to like it."

"You should."

"I hate it when you're right."

"No.  You hate it when you're wrong," he laughed.

 

Chapter 2

 

Within the bowels of Mount Bahal, in his lair, Daektoch raged endlessly; his anger was pure.  His insanity was complete.  Two of his servants stood at the entrance.  With a blaze of flame thrown from his hands, he fried them to a crisp.  He blasted at the walls of the volcanic labyrinth.  He tore holes through the stone.  His ravings went on for spans of the sun's course.

Suddenly, he stopped, listening.  He heard it again, the faint sound of movement as if of leather upon leather.  Silence.  Then, he heard it again, like leather on leather, from the depths of the volcano's shaft.  After that, the distinct sound of a gigantic wing unfolding, and afterward, the other.

It's Him!!!  He's awake!!!

 The rush of air, the thunder of great wings beating powerfully, and last of all, the deafening roar that rocked the mountain, caused Daektoch to fall back in horror.  Greensmorld the exemplification, the grandfather of all Dragons, was awake.  Daektoch backed into a corner, cowering.  He remained there for the next six risings of the sun.

Greensmorld was a Dragon, a four-legged serpent, winged, scaled and taloned.  And he was big!  Sixty paces in length, five thousand stones in weight.  There had never been a larger, stronger or meaner Dragon.  One thousand cycles of the sun he had slept in the depths of Mount Bahal in the comfort of Bahal's refreshing, bubbling lava's heat.  This course of the sun, he had, his hunger beginning to stir again, been rudely awakened by someone raising a racket in his mountain.

The Dragon rose up into the air, up to the clouds, the sun glistening on his scaled hide as he turned and flew east.  What a glorious sleep that had been.  The heat from the lava had greatly invigorated him.  The first to notice him were the inhabitants of Breezon, the foreboding of his presence announced his coming.  Terror filled the hearts of the city's inhabitants, who swiftly cleared the streets; but Greensmorld was not really interested in human flesh.  Like the Trolls, human flesh was last on his diet.  Instead, he headed to the Blue Mountains, the breeding ground of his favorite food.  Ah, for a belly-full of Trolls!

The Dragons of this world were a superiorly intelligent species, not like the horse-like variety of some worlds that were of low intelligence, tamable, trainable, predictable, and without magic.  In centuries past, this world had had a large population of Dragons, but as Fate turned her hand, they had become all but extinct now.  Greensmorld knew of a few surviving Dragons living under similar circumstances on other continents.  But in Frontmire, he was the last.  For now, he would enjoy being the only one, at least until the throws of mating were upon him.

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