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4Eyes
8th Aug 2002, 17:54
Well, here it is then...the long awaited latest chapter in the MAS#2 story...hope you like it.


Chapter 12-2: The town outside time
By 4Eyes

The next morning dawned with a brilliant sunshine. Darkling climbed out of his tent and yawned once, then stretched. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and was surprised to see that Darius was already awake and astride Rage.

‘I thought you’d never wake up.’ Darius said.

‘Didn’t you sleep at all?’ Darkling asked, surprised. He still found the idea of travelling with the Necromancer strange, and couldn’t seem to get used to it.

‘Sleep? Why should I?’

‘Well, maybe because everyone does?’

‘Everyone except me.’ was the simple answer.

Seeing that this conversation wasn’t going anywhere, Darkling decided to wake up the others. He walked over to the other tents and began rousing them. One by one, the others appeared from their tents.

After they all had a quick breakfast, consisting of bread made by Dweeble and a healthy cup of Millicent’s milk, they started breaking up the camp in order to continue their trek.

Ilone and Darla were loading their supplies in the wagon, while Darkling and Harold were checking the horses.

Reldon approached the two men and took Darkling aside for a moment. ‘Where do we go now?’ he asked.

‘I don’t know. Why don’t you ask Darius? He said he knew where Orvellus’ Castle is located.’

‘All right, I’ll do that.’ Reldon said

As he approached the necromancer from behind, Darius suddenly spoke, without even turning. ‘What is it, Jester?’

‘Umm, you said you know how to find Orvellus’Castle?’ Reldon said, somewhat surprised that Darius knew he was approaching.

‘Yes, I do.’

‘So, where do we go?’ Reldon said, pulling out the map he had ‘borrowed’ from Harold.

‘You can put the map away again. The place where we are going isn’t on it.’ Darius said.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Just like I said. The place isn’t on the map.’

‘But why?’ Reldon asked, his curiosity piqued.

‘Why don’t we join the others, that way I only have to explain it once.’ Darius said.

- - -

It was about an hour later, and all the preparations had been made; they could leave at any time. As they all mounted, Darius spoke to them. ‘Listen up. The place we are going to travel to is a town called Trubad.’

Seeing Harold reach for his now ‘returned’ map, both he and Reldon said. ’Don’t bother with the map. You won’t find the town on it.’

The others looked at Darius in surprise. ‘Let me explain. The town of Trubad is located in the Windol Valley, which is right beside the Stormcrag Peak, on which Orvellus built his castle. He then cast a spell to hide the town and the castle from mortal eyes. Only the Dragon Gods, the Mage Adepts and those born in the town can find it. Once found, anyone who travels with someone who CAN find the town can see it.’

'So you mean to say that...' Reldon let the question hang.

'Yes. I was born in Trubad. Just minutes before Orvellus cast the most horrible spell one can imagine.'

'What kind of spell was that?' Darla asked from the rear of the group.

‘I might as well tell you, because if I don’t, you’ll all keep pestering me about it. He cast a Dweomer that made time ‘stop’ in such a way that the people in Trubad will live the same day over and over again. Every morning they wake up, go through their lives like any normal day, then go to bed again, only to wake up in the morning to relive the same day as before. The villagers don’t know what’s happening, because they forget everything they did the day before.’

Gasps were heard from all around as the true horror of the spell dawned on them. Aurora, once again perching on Loopy’s head, actually fell off in shocked surprise. Loopy stuck his paw out and catched the little fairy dragon before she could hit the ground.

Ilone was the first to speak. ‘But why would he do that?’

‘Because he’s mad. Genius, but mad. Orvellus wasn’t always mad, of course, otherwise he wouldn’t have become a Mage Adept. However, the solitude of his existence and the fact that he watched all his friends and loved ones die all around him drove him mad. He wanted to ‘stop death’ in a way, and that’s why he cast the spell, condemning the villagers to a fate worse than death.’

‘But why don’t they just leave?’ Dweeble asked.

‘They can’t. Even if they travel the entire day, they would still be under the effect of the spell when they retire for the night. The next morning, they wake up in their beds, not knowing they tried to leave the valley the day before.'

‘But if you were born there, how come you managed to leave?’ Reldon asked.

‘That is Mother Goody’s handiwork. She tried to stop Orvellus before he cast the spell, but without success. Instead, she snuck into the village and took me, only a little baby boy at the time, from my house. She had just left town when Orvellus began his spell.’

The silence that followed Darius’ explanation hung heavily in the air. After several minutes, Darius said ‘Don’t you think we ought to be going now? It will be at least three days of steady travel before we reach Trubad.’

- - -

Their journey was uneventful, and on the morning of the fourth day, they crested a hill and saw the town of Trubad, lying in the valley before them.

The town looked just like any other town, peaceful and serene. The red-tiled roofs, with their stone chimneys breathing out small puffs of smoke gave the town a homey atmosphere. As they rode down the hill into the town, the villagers looked up from their dayly tasks in surprise.

‘Let’s see if we can find an inn or tavern. We have almost depleted our supply of rations and I think a good healthy meal won’t hurt anyone.’ Darkling said. The others agreed and they rode on.

After perhaps two minutes, they heard a strange sound from a house on the left. As they neared, it became clear that someone was crying. At that sound, Darius stiffened in his saddle and looked about uneasily.

‘Shouldn’t we help whoever is crying so loudly?’ Darla asked.

‘What is the point?’ Darius said, a bit more sternly than he’d intended. ‘She’ll have forgotten your help come tomorrow, and she’ll just start crying again.’

‘I knew you were cold, but I hadn’t expected you to be this heartless.’ Darla accused.

‘Look, I just don’t want to go in there, all right?’ Darius said, a mixed expression of fear and pain on his face.

‘What can be so bad in there that has a man as powerful as you so afraid?’ Reldon said, noticing the look on Darius’ face.

Darius stiffened his shoulders and sat up straight in his saddle. ‘My mother.’ He whispered.

‘WHAT??’ Darla exclaimed. ‘But that should be all the more reason to go in there. Don’t you want to see her after all this time?’

‘No, I don’t. Don’t you understand? She’s been crying day after day for over 400 years now. Every morning she wakes up to find my crib empty and despair comes over her. And what for? Only because Mother Goody felt she had to take me away. My mother doesn’t know that I’ve grown up, let alone what I’ve become. I don’t want her to see me like this. She would never understand. I do not act out of coldheartedness, but rather the opposite. Now can we please move along?’

‘I’m sorry, I misunderstood you.’ Darla said, feeling somewhat ashamed. Perhaps there is more to that Necromancer I initially thought.

- - -

‘Excuse me, sir,’ Ilone asked the driver of an approaching ox-cart, ‘but could you please direct us to the nearest inn or tavern?’

The driver gruffly answered and told them where to go. Several minutes later, they all dismounted in front of the inn. ‘Why don’t you wait out here while we arrange our stay?’ Darkling said. Then he, Harold and Reldon entered the front door of the Inn, a sturdy building made of bricks and three stories high.

The innkeeper looked up from his desk in surprise. ‘Travelers...You are a rare sight. We don’t see many of your kind here. Tell me how I can be of assistance.’

‘Thank you, my good man. My name is Count Darkling Cole of Faraway, We would like rooms for our party, and a good meal for tonight. We’d also like to purchase lodgings for our horses, a cow, a mule and a dragon.

‘Uh, sir, Count Darkling, did you say a dragon?’ The Innkeeper's voice was skeptical. ‘You didn't say horses, a mule, a cow and a small dragon? I must have misheard. Could you have possibly said horses, a mule, a cow and a small wagon?’

‘Well, we have a wagon, too, actually, but no, I did say a dragon. It’s quite small, actually, slightly larger than a horse, and very gentle. A thick bed of straw in a regular horse stall will do him just fine for one night.’ Darkling said matter-of-factly, as if wanting to purchase lodgings for a dragon was something seen every day.

The innkeeper swallowed visibly, then said ‘Very well, sir. I will make the necessary preparations.’

‘Thank you, my good man, I believe these coins should easily cover your expenses.’ Darkling said as he slipped a small pouch over the table.

After the animals had been taken care of, and their belongings transported to their rooms, they all went into the common room for a nice meal and a good drink. They had all agreed on the plan to spend the night here, then begin their trek to the top of the Stormcrag Peak early the next morning. Weary from the long journey, they were glad they could relax for a bit. Their minds at ease, they didn’t expect any trouble. However, trouble would soon find them…


Let me know what you think,

4Eyes (Reldon Brimstone)

vakusuma
8th Aug 2002, 18:03
Groundhog Day! :D



Well, I'm glad that we're starting again :) I've always been fond of this story, and I want to write for it some more...

Good chapter.

BTW, rest of the story can be found at http://www.geocities.com/stalker_n/

I'm willing to write next if nobody volunteers... :)

Dell
8th Aug 2002, 18:59
Very good pick up after all this time. You did your research on the story for sure! I love the part about the mother of Darius crying endlessly through the days for four hundred years....how cruel to have condemned her to that endless suffereing, even though she doesn't remember the day before.

Nice twist. But was it wise for them to stay overnight in that town? How will the innkeeper deal with that situation? He will wake up to find them there.....and not remember how they got there because he hasn't lived it yet?

How can that be?

Nightstalker
8th Aug 2002, 22:58
That might pose a problem for the next writer...Speaking of it who will take the next part up? Someone from the other group perhaps...

Sorry but I won't just now I have the MAS 3 to deal with right now, and I like to one story at the time.

I'll try to get this chapter up on the site A.S.A.P. I'll also include the revised and new profiles on the page.

Oh 4Eyes...if you have the time, please check the plotting section on The Edge of Dreams.

BTW Great chapter. And nice and short...A great reboot ;) for this story.

Nightstalker.

Nightstalker
9th Aug 2002, 07:42
Chapter 12-2 and new and revised character profiles uploaded.

Nightstalker

Amazeroth
15th Aug 2002, 19:39
Neat chapter, 4eyes, I also like the idea of the spell that rewinds time a lot... however this might be even more of a problem than Dell mentioned. If the spell does, indeed, rewind time, won't the party wake up a day's travel away from the town, not knowing they've already been there (in fact they haven't, with time rewound), travel there, rest for the night and the whole thing will start over? In other words, if they did this, they would also succumb to the effect of the spell, no?

Anyway, I also love this story, but sadly, with only Otaku in my writer's group, it is, frankly, too much of a hassle for me to continue. Unless at least one other writer found for group 2, I won't continue writing for it.

vakusuma
20th Aug 2002, 06:43
Oh well...

Now that I'm back on the wheel, I think I can start thinking about the next episode...

4Eyes
20th Aug 2002, 07:02
Good luck, Vak.

Dell
20th Aug 2002, 08:57
Glad you're back, Vakusuma! Now you get to figure out how to have our heroes avoid or circumvent this time warping spell!

In my heart I believe Darius would not have walked them into that town if he had no method of getting around the spell. It just doesn't make sense because HE is the expert on it, is he not?

And never forget a minute that both Mother Goody AND Darkling's mother are keeping very close tabs on our people. Getting that Scrying Tool is the object of this whole long adventure, isn't it...or is it?

Nightstalker
22nd Aug 2002, 18:29
Maybe Mother Goody told Darius how to get around the spell. Or maybe the spell doesn't affect them because it had been cast long ago.

Nightstalker.

4Eyes
23rd Aug 2002, 06:38
Just a thought that occurred to me just now.

Perhaps Darius is the ONLY person affected by the spell. It was initially cast on the inhabitants of Trubad, and Darius was one until a few minutes before the spell was cast. A spell of such magnitude would require a lot of preparation time, so Orvellus must have started his spell way before Mother Goody stole Darius. I think he'd start right after Mother Goody visited him and try to stop him. He'd want to finish his spell before she'd have the chance to interfere.

Might give the story a nice twist...what do you think?

vakusuma
23rd Aug 2002, 06:50
Huh. My brains are twisting even more violently now...

Nightstalker
18th Sep 2002, 10:10
He vakusuma,

Where is your chapter?

Nightstalker.

vakusuma
23rd Nov 2002, 02:06
Bumping with the same chapter I posted on the other topic.

Chapter 12-3
The Missing Ingredient of the Milky Gemstone

When Reldon made his way down to the common room the next day, he was only slightly surprised to find out that the rest of the party was already eating breakfast downstairs. What struck him as the oddest, however, was the way the innkeeper was staring at him. As he walked past the bewildered man, his sharp ears briefly caught the man muttering under his breath, “A count, a creepy man, pretty ladies, gnomes… and now a jester, coming out of nowhere. What next? Dragons?”

“Good morning Reldon,” Darkling managed a small amused smile as the jester approached, his bright clothes jingling as he did so. He paused to devour a piece of bacon from his fork before continuing. “Oh, and don’t mind the poor man. He has indeed never seen a man as colorful as you are before.”

Reldon looked at him quizzically before the meaning of the words dawned on him. “The Dweomer,” he said.

A small chuckle was heard as Darius straightened himself on his chair, his robes rustling. The man formerly known as Darque didn’t seem to eat much. “Imagine,” he said softly. “One day, you decided to sleep in despair because no one’s coming to the inn. The next morning, you have a crowd coming from your rooms and attacking the breakfast table, leaving nothing, not even a drop of milk.” His head moved slightly at Darla, who raised her eyebrows dangerously at him as she took another sip off her glass of warm milk. “The people today are going to see strangers coming out of the inn, walking out as if nothing has happened. This is going to be the most talked event of the day… until tonight, of course.” While the necromancer chuckled again, this time the chuckle seemed subdued.

“I can see how it’s going to be a problem,” Ilone said as she carefully sliced the omelet with her knife. Beside her, Harold grunted in agreement as he chewed on his piece of bacon. The old man giggled as he picked on his breakfast, not even bothering to use the silverware, but said nothing.

“Whatever. This place gives me the creeps though,” Dweeble grumbled as he wiped the ale froth from his lips. Despite the hour, the gnome has indulged himself with a mug of ale. He belched contentedly as he continued, “Eat your share, my friend, so that we can get out of this cursed town.”

Rather slowly, Reldon sat down and began to eat in silence. After a while, he looked up at Darkling. “I’ve been rather concerned with Aurora.”

Darkling’s eyebrows shot up. “My, but that’s a new one,” he exclaimed as he reached for another piece of bacon on the middle plate. He growled softly as his hand snatched at empty air; Harold has beaten him to the last piece. “This is the first time anyone has expressed concern over her.”

Reldon bit down the obvious remark as he said slowly, “Aurora has always been a spirited fairy dragon. And now, she’s taken to perching quietly on Loopy’s head. I have to admit that I kinda missed her antics already. This silence does not become her.”

“Maybe she’s still afraid of Coda,” Harold suggested.

“It’s more than that,” Reldon sighed. “Coda has tried to kill us three times now.” As he spoke, his eyes involuntarily glanced at Darius, but the necromancer’s expression didn’t change. His fists did clench involuntarily, however. “Every time we defeated Coda, she wasn’t too much affected even though his very presence struck fear on all of us. But only as we traveled after we defeated him for the third time, she became increasingly sullen…”

“I noticed,” Darla said quietly. “I must admit that I didn’t feel it before, but I’ve been missing her company. Her constant chattering has been conspicuously absent.” The Amazon had been mostly quiet ever since she regained consciousness after the fight. It was during their journey to Trubad that she had finally opened her eyes, but she had insisted that she couldn’t even remember casting the supposedly ancient telekinesis spell. She seemed like she had experienced something regardless, something that she didn’t like.

Darkling looked around as the others nodded their head. “I guess so,” he said finally. “I’ve noticed that the incomprehensible buzzing sound around my head had ceased around several days ago.” Uncomfortable with the sudden hard look that everyone was giving him, he continued hastily. “Reldon, you seemed to be able to communicate better with her. Why don’t you talk to her as we continued up to the castle today?”

The jester nodded, the bells on his cap making a jingling sound as he did so. “I hope it wasn’t anything serious,” he said.

Darla stood up and picked up her gears from the floor. “I’m going to the inn stable to check on Millicent, Loopy, Vanity, Sigmund and Rage,” she announced as she started walking to the door, past the gawking innkeeper. “I sure hope they know how to take care of dragons around here,” she added just before she closed the door behind her.

Reldon could faintly hear the innkeeper muttering again as he stared after the departing Amazon. “Dragons! Under the roof of my stable! Light strike me for expecting one!”

-----------------------------

“Wake up, you fool,” Hage growled as he tried to shake the alchemist awake.

Thane pushed the mage’s hand away absently as he mumbled, “I’ll say, Sarina, I like your touch, but… are you sure that it’s alright for us to do this?”

Hage shot the sleeping alchemist a dirty look. He looked around and found a bucket, then filled it with water from a trough nearby. Without hesitation, he dumped the content of the bucket over the sleeping alchemist. Icy cold water splashed brutally at the alchemist’s unprotected face.

With a yell and a splutter, the alchemist sprang up and glared indignantly. His indignant look quickly faded, however, replaced by chagrin and fear as his eyes met the mage’s. Hage’s expression has made it clear that the mage was not at all pleased. Nonetheless, Thane protested mildly as he wiped the water off his face, “I was so close, boss. Do you know how hard it is to know a woman like Sarina? And do you realize that she has come this close to showing me her birthmark? She has never shown any man that one before, because well, it’s on her…”

The glare that the mage was giving him spoke volumes. “I don’t care about your fantasies, Thane. Sarina isn’t real. I am. And you won’t like my touch, believe me,” the mage spoke with quiet menace. Thane gulped.

Perhaps it was the stable and its occupants that had irritated the mage. They have followed Darius’ party to this small village last night. Trubad has looked like any ordinary village, but not to Hage. He had instantly recognized the effect of the Dweomer. Unless you were born in the village, you would never have seen the village. Unless you were a Mage Adept, of course. But while Hage had only been a Mage Competent, his ability had been close to that of an Adept’s. Thane, however, had needed a lot of explanations on the peculiar nature of this village, most of which went over his head. Such a small village Trubad has been, however, that there was only one inn in the entire town. Rather than taking their chances with Darius’ party, Hage had decided to sneak into the inn’s stable, stable their mounts, and slept there instead. The party’s animals were stabled there, of course, but Hage had paid careful attention especially to the small dragon, and the fairy dragon sleeping by him. None of the party recognize him by sight, but dragons have this uncanny ability to detect magical powers… sometimes. Hage had tried his best to mask his aura from Loopy and Aurora, and tried not to do any magic around the animals. He even had concealed the two stripes of red that he usually displayed. He had spent a sleepless night trying to maintain the mask around himself, catching very light sleep in the process. Unlike that fool Thane, of course, who slept like a big baby. His snores didn’t help matter either.

After glaring at the subdued alchemist for a while longer, Hage said quietly, “It’s early in the morning. We have to leave the stable before they return to pick up their animals. It’s best not to attract any more attention than we have to.” As he said that, however, the black stallion on one of the stalls opened his eyes and stared at him. Hage inadvertently weaved the mask tighter around him. He immediately realized that the stallion was a magical beast… capable of detecting magic even better than dragons. Hage silently berated himself for not noticing the nature of the necromancer’s steed earlier.

“But it’s so early,” Thane protested. His nose was wrinkled as if he smelled something, and his eyes momentarily widened.

“We have to get out of here, Thane, and now,” Hage growled. “They can come any time.”

“One moment, boss,” Thane’s voice sounded strangely distant. “I smelled something.”

“What are you smelling, you idiot?” Hage yelled. “Manure? Damn it, man, this is a stable! Of course you’d smell manure and animals!”

“Do you remember what I said about the magical gemstones, boss? The ones that you hired me for, the formula of which has been missing a critical ingredient?”

“Yes,” Hage crossly folded his arms together. “But I don’t see…”

“It’s here, boss,” Thane said excitedly. “It’s in this stable somewhere.”

Hage looked around impatiently. “All I see around here is some dumb animals!” he exclaimed, flinging his hands up. The dragon wasn’t awake yet, but he snorted in his sleep. The fairy dragon slept on. The black stallion continued to stare at him unblinking with disturbingly intelligent eyes, however.

But this time, Thane seemed to enter a trance. “It’s as pure as the morning air. It’s as delicious as honey. It’s… it’s…” he made a face as his nose wrinkled again, and suddenly he turned and pointed at the cow. “Milk! Milk from a certain bovine variety!” Thane smiled triumphantly. “I just knew that it smelled familiar! It smelled just right!”

Hage had noticed the cow nestling quietly in one of the stalls. How had one ended in here instead of out there on the pasture, he did not know, but the cow had appeared ordinary in every respect. Hage couldn’t sense anything magical in the cow. “You’re joking,” Hage said slowly. “This is just an ordinary cow. I’m pretty sure that you’ve drank milk several time in the tower. What makes you think that this particular cow can produce the particular milk that you’re looking for?”

“I don’t know, boss, but I must not pass this chance to study the milk! Light… if only I remembered my alchemist’s tools…” Thane looked around frantically and picked up a stool from the floor. “Gotta have a sample… Boss! Boss! Let me have the bucket!” And he grabbed the bucket from Hage’s hand without waiting for an answer.

“We have to get out of here, you fool,” Hage repeated irritably. “We’ve already dallied in this stable for too damn long.”

Thane, however, strolled at Millicent, who looked at him unblinkingly. He put the stool and bucket down and tried to undo the latch on the stall, muttering, “Must study specimen… now how can this milk be different anyway?”

“Thane, for the last time, let’s get out of here. NOW.” That fool of a man! Hage knew that he couldn’t drag him out with magic… the animals would know his abilities then. And the party. But while he’s old, he’s still surprisingly strong. If necessary, he could still haul the alchemist out of the stable with his bare hands… even though it might involve surgically separating the alchemist from the cow.

The cow mooed just as a cold female voice rang out from the stable door, “And just what the hell do you think you’re doing with our cow?”

Hage froze, and slowly turned around. The Amazon was standing there, her pack on the ground, her hands on her spear. She had entered the stable without making a slightest sound. Worse, while she had magic, she had entered the stable without registering her presence in the mage’s sense of awareness. She was effectively invisible on his heightened senses… and he found it particularly disturbing. He was pretty sure that she would not consciously attempt to shield her aura from him…

Thane smiled. Smiled! “Good morning miss,” the alchemist bowed awkwardly, one of his hands still on the latch. Darla continued to stare coldly, but the alchemist looked unperturbed. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Thane, and I’m an alchemist extraordinaire. I travel the lands in search of the rarest, most treasured alchemist reagents in the land. I am happy to announce to you that your… bovine here… is one capable of producing a reagent that worth kingdoms!” Almost negligently he waved at Hage. “Oh, and this is Hage. He’s with me.”

While Hage was ready to burn with rage, the Amazon looked even colder than usual. “Really,” she said skeptically as she slowly approached the alchemist, ignoring the mage. Her spear was pointing at the floor, but Hage recognized that she could easily skewer either of them in a blink if she needed to. Despite his rage, he shifted nervously. “And pray tell, what kind of reagent are you talking about?”

Thane exaggerated surprise. “Why, milk, of course. What else can a cow produce?” He cleared his throat. “Now I have this nose, you see, and I can smell that your cow can produce milk fit to become one of the prime reagents in my formula.”

“Interesting,” Darla said with a tone that suggested otherwise. She had walked next to Thane, and she was peering suspiciously down at the alchemist’s face. The alchemist wasn’t a small man, and he was just less than a head shorter than Darla, but at that moment he looked like a mouse wriggling under a cat’s paw. “If you think that my cow produces wonderful milk, then what are you trying to do with the latch? You’re not thinking of milking my cow without my permission, are you?”

“Ah…” Thane was momentarily at loss of words, maybe a little cowed by the Amazon’s cool glance, but he recovered fast. “I grew up in the farm, miss, and I guess instinct just took over.” Darla arched an eyebrow, and Thane quickly added, “It’s my childhood’s pastime. I like to milk my father’s cows, and feel their udders on my hands.”

Hage cleared his throat warningly while Darla frowned. “Udder fetish, huh?” she said finally. A small smile, almost a sneer, twitched at the corner of her mouth. “Wouldn’t that an indication of a frustration of not being able to do the same with one’s own kind?”

Thane’s face turned crimson. “Ah… no, miss, you got it all wrong. Really. No problems with women, miss. It’s just a childhood habit, yes. Really, what gave you this idea? I have no problem with women at all! Why, just last night I slept with this wonderful lady named Sarina. She’s really fine looking, you know. Just like you do.” He involuntarily dropped his gaze from her eyes.

Hage winced as a sharp clap, like thunder, broke the silence in the stable. Thane sprawled to the ground hard, grunting. He looked up at Darla now, absolutely mortified. Absently he rubbed the cheek on which Darla had laid her hands upon. Darla’s palm mark was reddening even faster than his face. Blood ran out freely from his nostrils.

Darla’s cheek has colored a little, but if she felt embarrassed by Thane’s gawking, she didn’t show it. Almost casually, she slipped her bare hand back into her glove, held by her spear-wielding hand. Her gaze was hard as she glowered at the man sprawling by her feet. “Go, and never show your face again,” she commanded quietly. “I’ve killed people for much less than that. You are an embarrassment. If I ever have to see your face again, I’ll kill you.” She idly twirled her spear on her other hand, but the menace was definite.

Her words succeeded where Hage’s has failed. Thane winced as he scuttled across the floor at Hage, who was unconsciously rubbing his own cheek in sympathy, even though he felt that the alchemist had richly deserved the slap. The mage seized the alchemist by the scruff of his robe, and bodily dragged him across the floor as he beat a hasty retreat to the stable door, with Darla staring after him.

When the pair was out of sight, Darla sighed as she ran a hand through her hair. Then she approached Millicent, who was staring at the door. Calmly, she laid her hand gently on the cow and said, “I hope he hasn’t bothered you too much, Millicent. How goes your night?”

----------------------------------

“A traveling alchemist?” Darius frowned. “I don’t think there had been one during that day.”

“He introduced himself as one,” Darla insisted as she walked beside the necromancer’s steed. The old man had taken control of the wagon while she had related what had happened in the stable.

The party had set off again that morning. They have taken the gently sloping road up the side of the Peak, which would lead to the castle near the top of the peak. They have long left the time-lost village behind. The castle at the moment was invisible, but Darius assured them that the castle would be visible when they get closer to it.

The others have listened intently while Darla told her story, and had exploded with laughter upon hearing the cow thieves’ hasty retreat after she had slapped one of them, hard. But Darius frowned instead.

“A traveling stranger on that day would be extremely rare. Besides, I’ve been back to the village several times now.” His voice tightened slightly. “The traveling alchemist wasn’t around back then.”

“Which means that he has to be an outsider,” the old man surprisingly added in from where he was comfortably guiding the wagon. Within the wagon, Yikalor the orc shifted uneasily. The orc has refused to enter the inn earlier that morning, preferring to sleep in the wagon instead. In fact, they have often forgotten that Yikalor was traveling with them. “An outsider which happened to be in town with us.”

“No way there could be another outsider by us,” grumbled Harold. “Unless the alchemist happened to be born at about the same time as Darius here.”

“Or he could be a mage,” Ilone added. Then she giggled. “But from what I’ve heard, I don’t think that he could be one.”

Darius seemed to be concentrating for a while, but when he spoke, his tone was cautious. “No, it wasn’t. The alchemist was just a regular fool. Rage said that it was the other man instead. The old man is a powerful mage, one who took care to hide his aura from the animals for fear of the dragon, but Rage wasn’t a fool to be taken by the old man. He knew a mage when he saw one, and only the most powerful could’ve found his way into the village.” His eyes narrowed. “And there’s only one thing that a mage of that caliber could’ve done in that village at the same time we were there. Spying on us. Waiting for us to find Orvellus’ castle.”

They looked uneasily at each other. A powerful mage. And the Mage Adept Orvellus waiting on the end of the road. It seemed that they were about to be caught in the middle of a mage war.

“There’s no point trying to hide or deceive them of our intent,” Darkling said slowly from atop Vanity. “We’re almost to our destination now, and the mage - Hage, isn’t it? - must’ve recognized the immediate locale of Orvellus’ castle from the Dweomer spell cast on the village. It’s far too late to turn back… the mage wouldn’t need us to find Orvellus anymore. The only way we can go now is forward… to beat Hage into Orvellus.” His voice became doubtful. “Although, I wouldn’t know what we should do once we get there.”

“Before Orvellus would even grant us an audience, though, we would have to pass a test,” the old man suddenly spoke again, his tone serious. “This will not be a test that we have to face as a group, however. Each of us shall be tested in our own way before Orvellus would let us pass. Yes, even the animals. Whoever failed the test would have to remain behind… while others may proceed. If you are afraid to face the test, speak up now or forever hold your peace.”

The uncomfortable silence descended again. Then Reldon cleared his throat. “I’m personally not afraid. But I’ve talked with Aurora,” he said. “Let’s hear what she has to say.”

Aurora has been perching atop Loopy again. The jester had been talking to her, and apparently she was near tears as she talked. “I’m afraid,” she said simply. Murmurs broke through the party… the lively fairy dragon, afraid? “I’ve heard about Orvellus… and the test that he had set upon the earlier people intent on meeting him. He eschewed companions, and he became increasingly irritated with company, and thus he set the test, but even then a few people made it through his tests. So he decided to hide his castle altogether.” Aurora looked up to the peak as if she could see the castle already. “No one had come out unscathed from the tests. The tests involved something extremely personal with the person… maybe reliving one’s worst fears, or maybe forced to confront an ugly truth from the past. I… my past had been something that I’d rather not recall. It’s more than just an experience. It’s… a question of existence…”

Ilone silently wiped a tear from the dragon’s cheek. “You’ll make it alright, Aurora. I know you will.”

Aurora wasn’t mollified, however. “Unlike yours, however, my fears might just threaten my existence. Fairy dragons have different nature from other dragons. Our continued belief of existence has kept us alive…” and she squeezed her eyes shut, refusing even to think that she didn’t really exist. “Please,” she continued, her voice pleading, “don’t go to Orvellus’ castle.”

In response, Ilone calmly reached out and pinched Aurora on her bottom. Aurora yelped, sending a small stream of fire to the air. “Feels real to me,” Ilone murmured . “We refuse to believe that you don’t exist. Keep that in mind.” Loopy rumbled beneath her in agreement, a deep sympathetic rumble. “If you can’t bear to go on, however, as the old man said, don’t force yourself. You can wait right here.”

Aurora’s eyes widened, her tears stopping. “No,” she whispered. Briefly she glanced at the entire party, who was looking at her with curiosity. “I am bonded to you. I’d rather follow you and risk a certain death than waiting for you to return.” Her voice was small, but there was certain firmness in it.

The old man smiled. “Last chance, Aurora,” he said gently. “Leave while you still can, if you can’t bear to face the test.”

Aurora shook her head defiantly. “No,” she repeated with a firmer voice.

The smile remained as the old man looked up to the castle. “Then, let it begin.”

And immediately a bright white light washed over the party…

------------------------------------

Hage yelped as white light appeared ahead of him. Immediately, the tell-tale magical signature that he had detected from the party vanished.

“The light,” he whispered to Thane, who was still riding beside him, nursing his cheek from time to time. The mustached alchemist was still muttering curses about how the cheek mark from the Amazon had marred his features, although he knew that it wouldn’t last. Worst, Hage had refused to heal him, saying that he deserved the slap. “So, the stories are true.”

“About what, boss?” Thane asked curiously.


“About the test,” Hage whispered. “I’ve read in a book that without exception, all visitors to Orvellus’ castle would be whisked away into the astral plane to relive some of the worst fears from one’s past. This has been to discourage visitors, of course. Not even Mage Adepts were exempt from this. Certainly not us.”

“Are you sure we’ll make it through, boss?” There was a note of anxiety on Thane’s voice. “Please, boss, say that we will. I still need to get my hands on that cow of theirs. My work! My lifetime work is at stake, boss!”

Hage growled. “I’m not sure about you. I will make it, but with your brain filled with feathers as it is, I don’t know whether you can bear to face the test.” His tone, however, wasn’t so sure. “Perhaps, you’ll make it just because you don’t have enough sense to be afraid.”

Thane harrumphed indignantly, but rode on with his head held high. Hage sighed and said, “Any minute now, the test will begin. Ready yourself.”

He felt and watched, almost calmly, as the white light appeared out of nowhere to whisk them away to the astral plane. Inside, a small part of his spirit screamed as he plunged into what must’ve been his doom…

Dell
23rd Nov 2002, 04:08
duh I just posted a reply in the wrong thread...typical Dell stuff. Let me rectify that egregious error.

ahem...no I didn't ... http://chilledunit.tripod.ca/ianim6.gif

4Eyes
23rd Nov 2002, 06:31
Excellent. I'll print it and read it right away.

4Eyes
23rd Nov 2002, 20:24
Excellent job, Vak! A very funny chapter. Especially the scene in the stables had me laughing out loud.

A job well done!

Now, who's next?

vakusuma
24th Nov 2002, 01:20
Thanks :) Well, check the Edge board for Author's notes. I intend to make the next chapter another collective effort.