Also by Feldspar Chilox:
Tears of Tyrra Book 1: Memoirs of the Crimson Dwarf
The Tears of Tyrra
Memoirs of the Azure Elf
by Feldspar Forgehammer Chilox
Black Axe Press
Copyright All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
To Cyrus Burnheart, and all my friends in Dalantia
I hummed a tune to myself as I worked. No, not at the forge. I had given that up years ago. Instead, my skills had turned to taking weapons forged by others and enchanted them to make them strike with greater effectiveness. Right now, I sat inside the Circle of Ancient Harmonics in the ruins of the Hoylean Library in New Antracit’usia.
I held a small knife in my hand. I flipped it around to inspect it, a three-inch blade, worthless for battle, too pitted and dirty to cut a steak, with a thin black wooden handle. It was carved with designs and the handle was capped with an orange stone. It was the kind of knife carried by the Shallan tribe, the barbarians who followed the snake spirit, with the kind of gemstone favored by the Dalantian gypsies of House Kris’alis. This circle, I now knew, had become the home of the former owner of this knife, His Majesty Denezaro Dalantano, the first Ilio of Dalantia. My suggestions for the restructuring of Dalantian government had allowed him to rise to the crown and lead the whole nation, but he did no leading now. He was dead, killed by his own people acting under his own orders. He had transcended his gypsy form and become first a Timeflyer, one of the creatures that had shown us the secrets of the Ancient Magicks, and then a Star Chamber, the ultimate manifestation of the Timeflyer, a creature that appeared as a field of stars that resonated to the tones created by a harmonicist who sang or played the tunes of Ancient Harmonics. This had been his knife while he lived in gypsy form. Now I held it in my hands, and with a few careful swipes I finished carving the new reed for my chanter, the instrument I used to make the tones to which the circle would respond.
The tune I hummed now came from a book I had found in the library, but there was no danger of me being whisked away to another time or place by the circle’s magick. The cards were not in place. I remembered a time that the music was the only tool a harmonicist needed to activate the circle, and a charged focus would carry you to whenever or wherever the tune aligned, but the shifts in the timeline had changed the magic and now symbols were required in each of the nine points of the star in the harmonic circle. Whether this was a natural evolution of the magic, or if it was a safeguard put in place by the star chambers to prevent further tampering, I could not say, but it certainly made the calculations more difficult, and I had seen a number of skilled casters give up on the Ancient Magicks, and fewer and fewer travelers passed through the star chamber. I welcomed the change. If no one had traveled back and tampered with the timeline, we would have been saved countless worries, and so many would still live. Even now, the war raged on. Here in New Antracit’usia and in the barbarian lands above us, portals opened randomly between our world and an alternate Tyrra in which Ky’lo Antracit’us, the most hated and feared man in the history of Dalantia, still lived.
Putting down the knife, I gently placed the reed in the chanter and tested a few notes. It played clearly, and this reed would make a suitable replacement for the one that Sir Alex had lost on his own adventure to set things right. I returned the chanter to my bag and pulled out my book of debts and grudges that also served as a personal journal. I stared at the cover for a moment, at the Golden Phoenix I had drawn there, with the lightning sun above it and the Chilox rune beneath, a reminder of the three groups that held my oath of service. I traced my fingers over the sun.
The reddening light outside told me that the artificial sun of New Antracit’usia was setting, timed to set with the actual celestial orb that threw light on the surface above. Yes, the Order of the Sun had built the enormous magical lantern that traveled across the ceiling of the obsidian cavern each day. Only once had it failed to rise. When the Spider Queen’s forces had controlled the city, they had managed to keep it sequestered for a day, but when the combined armies of gypsies, barbarians, wild elves, and dark elves broke through the enemy lines, the lantern resumed its daily trek. This lightning sun reminded me of the power that the Order had once wielded, but now it wielded nothing, a broken mess of dark elves and gypsies that knew little of the heritage that symbol represented.
Flipping open the book, I turned to the ‘A’s. There, on the column marked “debts” a name was scratched out. I knew still what was illegible there, the same name that appeared on the opposite column as the target of a grudge, Ca’os Antracit’us, former leader of the Order of the Sun, there scratched out too, because the grudge had been fulfilled.
And just under him, the name Ky’lo Antracit’us. The man who had brought major war to Dalantia twice. If gypsies kept books of grudges as the dwarves did, Ky’lo’s name would likely appear in each and every one of them. I still thought of myself as a Stonewood Dwarf, and still followed my people’s customs, even though my beard would not grow longer than an inch and my pointed ears betrayed my new elven race. I often kept them covered, not because I was ashamed of being an elf—after all, the Chilox Clan bloodline contained a healthy infusion of elven blood—but because I missed my dwarven appearance. I sometimes thought of hiring an Earth formalist to change me back, but the thought made me think of my own magic, the Celestial magic that came so easily to me now, when once it had been so tiring to cast. The sickness, too, which had plagued me so often in my old body seemed dormant now, though the pain of it still occasionally drifted to the surface
I flipped through a few more pages and came across a debt I owed to Senta Turkv’os. Who would have guessed a year ago that she would be serving Dalantia as Ilia? Sure, Senta was a born leader, having discovered Ky’lo’s plan and taking up her brother’s banner to defeat the Deceptionist, but more than a year ago, the body of Senta, then the Elder of House Turkv’os and the Chief Elder of the Council of Elders, had been found, apparently dead due to some unknown poison. Denezaro Kris’alis had taken over as Chief Elder, and would later be crowned as the nations first monarch since the death of Dalanto, the ancestral father of these gypsies. Only a recent discovery by Lucian Snillor allowed the Elders affected by this poison to regain their lives, having been placed into a deep coma in which they appeared dead. I heard that Senta was only now regaining her faculty of speech, and Denezaro hadn’t exactly left the nation in the best shape. The war raging against the other Dalantia, the distrust of the nobles, the talk of rebellion that has only started to die down, all of these made it a heavy crown to bear.
Turning pages again, I came across a grudge for Zweno Opalis. Crossed out once, then added again. Crossed out a second time, and added a third. I had fulfilled this grudge, but Zweno had returned when the Masked Ones had messed with the eternal graveyards, bringing back some of Dalantia’s worst denizens. Then, even though Zweno had been defeated again, Poli Rub’eus’ manipulation of time had brought him back again. This time, he still eluded justice.
So much had happened since my return to Dalantia, and so much of our hope for the future remained entwined with the events in the past. My thoughts drifted back to the chance meeting that led me here to Dalantia.
Out of Reason
Follow me to Op'lucet
Crimson Forgehammer of Ironfist Forge - 582
Lift, Lu Opalis, your face. You're brooding o'er the old disgrace
Em. D EmThat Zwen' Opalis stormed your place and drove you to the treesEm. D
He said victory was sure; the eldership he'd secure
Em. D EmUntil he met at gates of lore with Burnheart and his mateys
BmCurse and swear white-gemmed laird
DBurnheart will do and Row will dare
BmBlack Opalis have a care
D. EmFallen is your par'pet
BmUp with halberd out with sword
DOn we'll go for this new lord
BmCy Burnheart has giv'n the word,
D. EmFollow me to Op'lucet
See the swords of Zweno taunt; they're flashing o'er Lu's auld hauntSee all the children of Dalant' beneath our fighting bannerRooster of the fighting stock, would you let Opalis cockCrow out upon Dalanto's rock- fly up and teach him manners.
From Akv'r'ucet to Vil'krist town, Cy Burnheart becomes renown
Let all the trumpets sound for Cyrus and his mateysSword is drawn and curse is said and now for black Opalis' headWe'll send it over, dripping red, to 'Bitha and her ladies.
In the spring of 582, I traveled with my cousin Josef, as I had for many years, crafting armor while he sold the weapons and tools that he had made. We followed the adventurers who bought our wares, and that spring we found ourselves in the town of Caulder, in what is now the Barony of Simoondale. After helping set up Josef’s workshop, I took my leave and went to the tavern for a bite to eat and to drum up some business.
I sat down at the bar and drank half a flagon myself while I awaited my promised chicken and bread. I scanned the patrons, looking for the most likely candidates to need the services of a smith. My eyes settled on one man, a human as tall as a bear with shoulders as wide as a carthorse. He wore no armor, probably because of his size.
The giant of a man roared with laughter when I offered to make him some armor. He slapped the table so hard the plates jumped with excitement.
“You call yourself an armorsmith?” he bellowed and laughed again. “Ho ho ha ha ha! That’s the worst armor I’ve ever seen!” He pointed at my leather jerkin. He was right. The vest hung poorly from my shoulders, and my repeated attempts to repair it had left it looking worn and haggard. Several straps hung worthlessly limp from the sides of the vest, and it barely fit me any longer, being truthfully made for a beardling, and I had been taking in a few too many pastries on our travels, but, my, what a good cook Josef’s wife Lorin was, and where did this man get off insulting my craft when he would be hard pressed to find anyone who would offer to make a hauberk large enough for him. Before I or he knew it, I had drawn my axe and thunked its heavy blade into the table between us.
He stared at it, wide-eyed. Then the corners of his mouth slid up again, and his chest shook with another laugh.
“Ha ha! That's enough to scare the piss outta ya! Buy this dwarf a beer.” He tossed a silver coin to the barmaid and motioned for me to sit down.
I slid into the seat and pried my weapon out of the wood of the table. The maid brought two tankards of dark ale, and the man almost finished his in a single drink.
“So, how much for a ring mail hauberk?” he asked, wiping the foam from his mustache with his sleeve.
“Two gold,” I said, “for a man your size.”
He laughed again.
“Fair enough. And your cousin, he'll make a blade?”
“He has many fine swords already made.”
He nodded and finished the rest of his beer.
“Well met, then. My name is Robert Row.” He reached across the table, and we clasped arms in greeting.
“I am Crimson Forgehammer of Ironfist Forge,” I said.
“Ironfist Forge? Is it a fine place?”
“A finer stink-hole I've never seen, Robert.”
“Ha ha ho! I won't be visiting there, then. I am in search of adventure, Crimson. Are you an adventurer?”
“I must admit, I am not.”
“Well, you should be. I am looking for a few to accompany me on my travels.”
“Where are you headed?”
He leaned in close and whispered, “I have heard of a place south of Dylleria where the hills are filled with jewels.”
“Surely ’tis a wives tale.”
“No, I understand the wives down there don’t have tails.” He laughed heartily at his own joke and sprayed me with spittle and beer.
The next day, I bid farewell to Josef and Lorin and her fine pastries and joined Robert Row on the road to Dylleria. Robert made a good travel companion, and the days passed quickly. At night, we camped off the road and took turns watching for bandits. Robert snored terribly, and I had no trouble staying awake through my watch. Soon, we found ourselves on an old, overgrown trail south from Dylleria. Robert worried that we would be followed, so we swapped our travel time and slept in the day. On our third night, we ran into trouble.
We saw the body of a man lying in the middle of the path. Robert bent down to check the man's wounds, but the man spun to the side and raised a weapon. The other bandits struck quickly. A crossbow bolt buried itself in my shoulder, and three humans jumped out of the brush and raced toward us.
“With mystic force I web you,” Robert said, throwing a spell at the man who had been lying in the road. The spell missed, but Robert followed it up with another that made the man’s wicked looking cleaver explode in his hands. Robert charged up to him and stuck his own sword through the man’s stomach.
I clutched my injured shoulder. The pain almost overwhelmed me, but I managed to pull the bolt out of the muscle, watching blood and tissue come out through the hole that the point had ripped through my skin. I squinted in anguish, but clenched my teeth and stood, drawing my axe from the frog on my side, just in time, for a bandit had closed the distance between us.
Robert stood surrounded by the other two, but he had drawn his second sword, and held one foe off with this shortsword in his left hand while he attacked the other with the longsword in his right. His quick flurry of strikes confused the man, and Robert landed several blows on him before he succumbed to his wounds.
I parried the machete that struck at me, and twisted my axe around to pull his blade aside and open him up. Then I slashed at him, but the man jumped back, and I missed him. He hacked at my leg, but I was ready for that move, and a simple step back prevented injury. This brazen move left his arm low and open, and I chopped down on it, cutting him badly. He screamed, and I used the opportunity to strike again, cutting open his jaw and splattering the dirt with blood. He slumped and fell.
I turned to see Robert lay the final strike on his opponent, but the man hooked him with his staff behind his leg. Robert and the bandit both landed hard in the dirt.
A fifth man, a gypsy by his manner of dress, unseen by us before leapt from a tree branch and landed over Robert. The blade of his rapier pointed directly at Robert’s heart. I hoped the hauberk I had made would protect him.
“I am Cyrus Burnheart, and you are traveling through my territory.”
“Oh ho! Are you a lord, Cyrus?” Robert asked, unafraid at the sword poking him in the chest.
“I regret that I am no lord.”
“Then I refuse to believe that this is your territory.” The human gently pushed the blade aside. “And your men won’t be helping you any longer.” He pointed at the bodies that littered the road.
“Those weren’t my men,” Cyrus said, grinning. “Those were the bandits I was tracking.” He lowered his sword. “So, I guess I don’t have to charge you the toll, since you found them for me.” He sheathed the blade and reached out a hand to help Robert up.
Cyrus took us to a little cabin far from the main trail and treated us to soup and a citrusy liquor that he, like all gypsies, simply called “hooch”.
“I don’t see too many other people around here,” he said, slopping some of the stew into a bowl for himself. “Bandits on occasion, but I either hunt them down or they find it unprofitable to rob the few people who travel through these hills. What brings you along the Path of Sorrow?”
“We’re adventurers,” Robert said, “looking for damsels in distress, beasts to slay, and rich cowards who need brave men like us to work for them. Well, a brave man like me and a pansy like Crimson.” He laughed heartily and took another drink of hooch as I glared at him in the way we always did.
“Well, I’m afraid you won’t find the type of adventure you’re used to. Dalantia is at war. It’s truly a mess in my homeland.”
“Sometimes war is the best time for adventure,” said Robert.
“Sounds dangerous,” I said.
“Ha ha! Come on, Crimson, you’re not afraid of a few gypsies, are you?”
“The Pass of Sorrow is much too dangerous,” said Cyrus. “I know of another way into Dalantia, which should keep us hidden from Ky’lo’s armies.”
The three of us ventured across narrow mountain paths and along trails through thick forests for several days. We burned no fires for warmth or light, afraid that the warring clans might see them or the smoke, and rested only briefly in the mornings and evenings, never settling in one place long enough for a full night’s sleep.
We made it into territory that Cyrus considered safe, and we could travel more openly, though this land had been ravaged by battle as well. Farms burnt to the ground and broken wagons and siege engines lined our path, and we passed no survivors along the way.
At last, we saw fires and banners upon a hill top, and we moved closer to learn more. The banners proclaimed the army to be the men of Lu Opalis, Elder and Bandoleer of the Dalantian Great House Opalis. Cyrus confirmed that these men would be friendly, and we approached the encampment.
They did indeed welcome us into the camp, though many of them stared strangely at me or asked me a host of questions, for they had never seen a dwarf before. I, too, asked my curiosity, for these gypsies kept a strange tradition. They wore gems, mostly white gems, embedded in their faces, in all manner of patterns. Elder Lu introduced us to his wife Abitha, who gave us food and drink. When we had been well fed, Lu told us of his plight.
“My forces marched north to do battle with the Black Deceiver, and I with them,” he said. “We joined with the armies of Kris’alis and Akvar’us, and met with some success, but a messenger rode to me at the battlefield and told me of the dark treachery that awaited me back at home. One of my best warriors, a swordsman named Zweno, left behind to guard the people of Opalucet, took the opportunity to strike against me. He has usurped my lands and claims my title for his own. I am glad to have a few more warriors like you to accompany us on our way to reclaim the town.”
“Oh, we’re not planning—” I began.
Robert interrupted me, his eye on a maiden of House Turkv’os that accompanied Abitha. “We’re not planning to fight without pay, my dwarven friend means to say.”
I looked over at him, wondering at his game. I had no wish to fight this gypsy’s battle for him.
“Of course,” said Lu, “I wouldn’t dream of asking you to fight without reward.”
At nightfall, we accompanied the troop to the forested hills just outside of Opalucet, and there we hid our approach with branches cut from the trees of the forest. Robert found his way over to the maiden he had seen before. Following him, I managed to hear a bit of their conversation.
“So, you wear blue gems in your face, but these other gypsies wear white. Why is that?”
“I am a Turkv’os, m’lord,” she said. “So, I wear dark blue to show my family loyalty.”
“I am nobody’s lord, my dear. Please, call me Robert.”
“I’m sorry, m’lord. I am Melissa, Melissa Turkv’os.”
“Ha ha! Well met. Anyway, so the people of Opalis wear white gems?”
“Yes,” she said. “All gypsies of the Great Houses of Dalantia wear the gems of their family.”
“Interesting,” said Robert. “How many Great Houses are there?”
“Ten, but if my lady Senta Turkv’os has her way, there will be only nine.”
“She is the leader of your people?”
“Yes, since her brother was killed in battle, she is the eldest of my people, so she has become Elder and leader of House Turkv’os.”
“Hrm… the oldest among you becomes leader. That is very different from my land, where people are chosen for their bloodlines or bravery.”
“Well, to be fair,” Melissa said, “our leaders must be of noble blood. They must be descendants of the ten sons of Dalanto, the founder of our people. It is for those sons that the Great Houses are named, and from them that they were born.”
“So, why are you not with your lady now? Why are you here with Opalis?”
“My people take on a nine-year apprenticeship as children, and are often sent away for each year of their schooling. I am completing my ninth year among the Opalis. I have been apprenticing to the Swordmasters’ Guild under the greatest swordsman in all of Dalantia.”
“Oh? Who is that?”
This must have surprised Robert as much as it surprised me. He paused a good while before he continued.
“So, you join Lu against your master?”
“Lu Opalis is the rightful elder of House Opalis. In this dark time, most of all, we must uphold the laws set forth by Dalanto.”
“I have heard talk of many dark things in Dalantia. What is the main cause of the distress in your nation?”
“The elder of the Great House Antracit’us has deceived us all. With enchantment and trickery, he disguised his soldiers as the warriors of other clans. The houses warred amongst each other, until Senta discovered the treachery. Now, nine of the Great Houses have united against Ky’lo Antracit’us. That is where Lu’s men fought until I rode to them to tell them of Zweno’s opportunistic treason.”
“You warned the elder?”
“Yes, I was the one who warned him,” Melissa said, “and I will be the one who kills Zweno.” She sounded so sincere and angry in her final words that I warned myself never to cross Melissa Turkv’os.
Lu planned with his men to storm the city at first light, but Robert and Melissa had formed another plan, and Cyrus and I joined them outside the camp.
“Melissa knows a way into the citadel that she thinks will be unguarded,” Robert explained. “A small group of us, meaning us four, should be able to sneak in this way just before dawn and kill the snake at its head.”
We snuck along the ridge and across the field to a tavern on the outskirts of town.
“Let me do the talking,” Melissa warned. “These people know me, but they won’t be fond of strangers.”
I pulled my hood up to cover as much of my face as I could, and Robert did the same. Then, we followed Melissa into the White Bear Inn.
Not many people patronized the tavern at this late time of night, but a few gypsies sat at tables and mumbled to each other over their glasses of hooch. Melissa motioned for us to stay at a table by the door while she went to speak to the innkeeper.
A rough looking man barged into the pub and knocked a tray from a server's grasp. Everyone looked up briefly and grew silent, then hung their heads to avoid the man's eyes.
I looked over at Cy and Robert, both of whom clutched the handles of their weapons tightly. The brigand stomped up to the bar.
“I’ve come to collect taxes for King Zweno, wench,” he said.
“I ain’t your wench, and Zweno’s no king,” the barmaid proclaimed.
“I’ll make you pay for that, you sniveling pig,” growled the man.
Melissa threw off her cloak and spun around. Her sword pointed neatly at the man’s chest, unwavering, and the look in her eye pierced him with the same strength of steel.
“I’d like to see you try,” the Turkv’os said.
The man put his fingers to his lips and whistled. Several armed men pushed through the door. Cyrus leapt from his seat and sealed the bar on the door, then he and Robert jumped into position, their weapons pointed at the thugs.
Melissa winked at the first man, and his face grew red. He reached for his sword, but she cut him down before he could unsheathe it.
A man lunged at Cyrus with a club, but Cy cleanly deflected it and elbowed him in the face. I threw my tankard at another, and he fell when it slammed into his head. Robert disarmed one man with a spell, then twisted to battle another. Melissa, having run the length of the inn in a moment’s time, bent backwards to avoid a thug’s knife, then raised her blade just in time to block his second attack. She kicked him in the chest, sending him sprawling across the floor. I drew my axe and hacked at one of the men, but he jumped back, and my overreaching pulled me down. His boot met my face, and I spun to the floor, the tavern fading to black around me.
“He’s coming around,” Robert’s voice greeted me as I awoke. He stood over me, his healing hands bringing me back to health by closing up my wounds. “That was the quickest I’ve ever seen a dwarf fall.” He laughed and reached out a hand to help me to my feet.
“Well,” said Cyrus, “we managed to get the lot of them without his help.” I looked around at the destruction. Everything in the tavern had been overturned in the battle.
“This way,” Melissa said, and she led us behind the bar, where she lifted a trap door, revealing steps leading down. We traveled through the tunnel in darkness and silence, but soon reached a doorway and stairs that led up into the stone citadel.
We heard guards walking through the hall, so we ducked into a side passage and hid until they had passed. Melissa peeked around the corner, then waved for us to follow her down the hallway. We saw ahead a room guarded by several Opalis soldiers. Melissa gestured for us to slow our sneaky approach, and we prepared our weapons. Robert prepared his magick, then nodded that he was ready.
We charged at the soldiers, and fought them bravely for several minutes. Afterwards, bodies the littered the floor and Robert made sure to heal all of us. We grabbed the keys from one of the guards, and unlocked the door before us. Only Zweno stood inside.
“Ha ha ha! If it isn’t little Melissa Turk’vos, my young apprentice,” he gloated. “And you’ve brought some friends with you. Isn’t that sweet.”
“Not as sweet as your death at my hands, Zweno,” Melissa retorted.
“Very well, young lady. I challenge you to single combat, trial by dagger, to the death.” The duel was the highest of Dalantian law, the deadly custom that allowed any gypsy of the Great Houses to challenge another, and Melissa, like many Dalanti, carried a dagger for the purpose. She withdrew it now, a simple blade, but of the maximum length allowed for this tradition. Zweno pulled his own dagger from within his cloak, a fancy and dainty knife. The thin blade crept out of the golden, jeweled scabbard.
Robert took Melissa’s cloak, and the two combatants began to circle one another and make feints, trying to catch each other off-guard. Zweno struck first, slicing across Melissa’s chain shirt, but the armor held. Then Melissa countered, ripping Zweno's sleeve, which blossomed with red.
“First blood, Master,” Melissa said.
“But I will have the last,” cried Zweno, stepping in and slicing down with his right hand. Melissa blocked it with her wrist, but now we saw the empty hand. He had switched the blade into his left, and he brought the knife across her stomach, tearing through Melissa’s armor and spilling her blood on the floor.
She stepped back, and Robert stepped forward to offer assistance, but she waved him off.
“By Dalantian law, nobody may interfere with the duel once it has begun,” said the Opalis.
“By Dalantian law, you are a criminal,” replied Cyrus, but the duel continued as each slashed and dodged, struck and parried.
Melissa stumbled, and Zweno, seeing the opening, cut a new wound across her arm. She responded with a thrust, stabbing him in the leg. He ignored the pain and spun away. They circled each other once more.
Melissa feinted, and the swordmaster took the bait, stepping in to slash her open arm, but she dropped to the ground and threw out her leg, sweeping his feet out from under him. Zweno landed and rolled, avoiding the downward strike that his apprentice threw at him.
He twirled instantly to his feet and shot a thrust where Melissa stood, but she was gone. Flipping through the air above him, she kicked off the rafter above and landed on her feet behind the man, her knife hand already in motion to strike him, but he had anticipated this trick and dodged the attack easily by dropping to his knees and spinning aside. His blade whipped out and caught Melissa in the hand.
She dropped her knife.
In a moment, she regained her wits and cartwheeled back, out of reach of Zweno’s next strike. Melissa leapt in the air, and kicked her master over. His own blade spun from his open hand, and Melissa dove for it, but he caught her and they wrestled on the ground, each reaching toward the knife. Zweno reached it first, and he stabbed viciously at Melissa’s face, but she grabbed his arm and they tumbled across the floor, fighting for the upper hand.
Melissa opened her mouth wide and bit into Zweno’s wrist. He screamed in fury, and let go of the bejeweled hilt. Melissa kicked him off of her and rolled onto her knees beside him. With a final strike, the battle was over. The usurper had been vanquished.
As Robert tended Melissa’s wounds, Cyrus and I went to the windows to look out upon the morning battle that raged outside. In a short time, we knew that Zweno had suffered his final death, for his body failed to dissipate. Melissa took his sword, a magickal blade that bound itself to her spirit when she touched it.
Cyrus helped me carry the body of the swordmaster to the ramparts, and he shouted over the sounds of battle.
“The usurper is no more! Zweno Opalis is dead!” With a mighty heave, he threw the body from the parapet. The rebels, disheartened by their leader’s demise, quickly surrendered.
Cyrus stopped me at the doorway to the elder’s quarters, and we stared at Robert and Melissa, who’s reverie had been interrupted by a masked figure.
“His name is Lokuso,” Cyrus explained. “He is a spirit who appears at times of great import. We must hear what he speaks.”
As we approached, I watched the mask’s mouth open as if it had been grafted to the figure’s face.
“Time… it is time… a stitch in time saves nine… and our stitch will save twice nine…” The masked figure moved in stutters and fits, and its voice melodically filled the room with jingling. “Twice nine is nine… but eight must be saved first…” Then its face looked directly at each of us. “You must come with me to the beginning… you are my chosen… my champions four…”
Melissa and Cyrus stepped forward at once.
“We will follow you, Lokuso,” each intoned.
I watched Robert hesitate, but he had been stricken with Melissa’s beauty, and he, too, stepped forward. I could not stand by while they risked their lives on this spirit’s mission, so in the end, I stepped forward as well.
The room warped around us and turned dark. Twinkling stars sparked into existence in every direction. Lokuso waved his hand, and the stars spun about. Then, he chose one of them, and pulled on it. Its light covered us and brightly lit the air around us. In a flash, we stood upon a battlefield.
Eight armies wheeled around each other, some in formation, but mostly intermixed and fighting like the savages they were. We saw here the armies of the eight tribes, standing on the brink of extincting one another.
The whole battlefield shook with the loudest thunder I had ever heard. The sky grew dark, and massive black clouds covered the whole of it. Lightning rose from where Lokuso stood and split the clouds above us.
The chieftains of each tribe came forward, and Lokuso spoke with them, warning them of a great disaster that would befall the land if they did not join together, telling them, at last, the Tribe of Eight Fires must be born and they must fight against the beings of dream and reason that would soon plague them.
Within hours, the barbarians and wild elves had stopped all disagreement and chosen a High Chieftain. The importance of doing so became clear when the nightmares came that evening. Beings built from their worst, most hidden, most personal, terrors filled their hearts with fear, but still they fought valiantly against them, and against the tentacled beasts of reason that attacked during the day.
Lokuso had, however, led the four of us far from the battlefield. We passed into rocky crags and descended into the depths through a cave, all the while fighting the same tentacled beasts that slew the tribesmen. The caverns led us deep into the bowels of the hills, and I watched Robert's eye light up with glee at the crystals growing on all surfaces, but we could not enjoy it for long. Another wave of the tentacles crawled toward us. As long as we kept them away from us, they seemed easy to fight, but, if they had the chance, they would burrow into a person’s mind and take control of him or her. If that happened, only knocking the person unconcious or a Sleep spell would free them from the influence of the beast.
When we reached the depths, Lokuso appeared to us again and explained that we would each face a challenge that would test our very natures. When we asked for more information about the challenges, he simply disappeared, leaving us with more questions than answers.
The first challenge presented itself soon enough. A frightening sight appeared before us. It stood seven feet tall in the form of a man, but its face, bloated and swollen, swarmed with serpentine tentacles. It possessed no hands. Instead, hundreds of tendrils writhed from the sleeves of its robes. Cyrus’s first impulse made him charge at the creature, but it held up a tentacled limb and he stopped in his tracks, held in place as if by an invisible anchor.
Four heroes sent by the son of dream and reason. The voice filled our minds and boomed in our heads. Four challenges set for thee. Succeed in the challenges, and we shall honor our bargain with Lokuso. I and my children shall leave Dalantia. Fail in any task, however, and Dalantia shall be ours. The challenges begin. Now.
Zweno Opalis charged into the cavern. Before any of us could respond, we froze. Melissa, only, remained capable of movement. She ducked to avoid the swordmaster’s blade, and he tumbled over her. She lunged at him with her sword, which appeared in her hand like lightning. The blades ricocheted off one another, blasting fire and smoke between them. Zweno leapt over Melissa, his sword flashing downward as he soared, but she dropped and rolled, her blade ready where he would land. He smashed down on her weapon with his own, and more sparks and smoke flew from the impact. Their blades bounced off each other with such speed and fury that the whole chamber filled with a thick haze.
When the smoke cleared, Zweno stood over her, laughing uproariously at her demise.
Melissa Turkv’os has shown bravery and skill, the voice echoed in our skulls. The second challenge begins.
“No!” shouted Robert, and, freed from the magickal binding, he ran to hold Melissa in his arms. “This can’t be happening! Come back to me, Melissa!” Tears flowed from his eyes and splashed onto her face.
Her eyes opened, and the apparition of Zweno vanished.
You have shown your true character, Robert Row. You have shown true compassion. The third challenge begins.
A game board and bench appeared before us, and Cyrus and I looked at each other. He shrugged. I shrugged back. Finally, I sat down. A white knight moved forward on the board, seemingly of its own will. I countered by moving a black foot soldier, trying to free my sorcerer. The knight jumped forward again and cut down my foot soldier. The board and I traded moves until only one black piece remained. Had I just lost this challenge? Would I be the reason these creatures flooded into Tyrra?
“I must concede,” I said sadly as I toppled my own king piece.
You have shown humility, Crimson Forgehammer. The fourth challenge begins.
In the blink of an eye, Robert sat across a table from Cyrus. Two silver chalices appeared on the table between them.
One of these cups contains a deadly poison. All of the wine from both cups must be drunk. Each man may only drink from one chalice.
Robert reached for the cup in front of him, but Cyrus grabbed his hand.
“Wait,” the gypsy said. “Let’s think about this. If you drink that and it is poisoned, you’ll die.”
“And if it isn’t, you’ll have to drink yours, and you’ll die.”
They stared at each other.
“What if we pour one cup into the other, then we’ll know it’s poison,” said Robert. “Then one of us will drink it. He’ll only drink from one cup, and all of the wine will be drunk.”
“Good idea,” said Cyrus, then his eyes grew wide. He pointed behind Robert. “Unless that tentacle gets you first.”
Robert turned, but saw nothing there. Meanwhile, Cyrus poured the wine into one chalice and drank it down quickly. The poison took hold, and he dropped to the ground.
Cyrus Burnheart has shown true friendship through his sacrifice. The challenges are complete. My kind will go from Tyrra... for now.
Lokuso appeared before us once more, and he took up the body of Cyrus Burnheart. Sorrow filled his eyes, but he used his magick to return us to our own time, and the three of us halfheartedly joined the celebrations with Lu’s men.
I journeyed back north to return to Elysia, but Robert and Melissa headed west on their own. Later, I would hear that they had a son, Alex.
Out of Light
Freetown (now Oilios), Kingdom of Dalantia
I found the rumors interesting, that a library of ancient design had mysteriously appeared in the new “Freetown” of Dalantia. So, upon my next opportunity, I took leave of my family in Stonewood and made the journey again to the gypsy lands.
The Dalantian Council of Elders had built this town upon the ruins of Antracit’usia and called it Freetown because they welcomed people of all races to the city. In turn, many people from other lands came to Freetown to trade with the Dalanti. Some dark business had passed at the town’s inception, and a fight between two elders, Poli Rub’eus and Denezaro Kris’alis, had ended in the exile of the Rub’eus elder, but the gypsies had always been eager to celebrate the light and put darkness behind them. This situation was no different.
Several days later, I found myself in Freetown, and I quickly made new friends. Among them, the boisterous Crie’ Kris’alis Snillor, Ambassador to the Lands of Avalon, and Argyll Stonewolf, Chieftain of the Stonewolf clan of barbarians. The three of us quickly became acquainted over many draughts in the tavern, and soon I also befriended Argyll’s son, Gorm.
On one evening, Gorm and I left the tavern to explore the area from which the rumors had sprung, and we found a pit in the ground, where members of the Sorcerer’s Guild had been digging to find ancient artifacts. The workers had left, but their tools remained, scattered about in absence of reason. I cast an Illumination spell, and we descended the steep, rough-hewn stairs to the base of the pit.
The halls led further down into the deeps, and we fended off many large spiders. We came at last to the largest room that had been discovered, the library itself. Crafted from white marble, the building had suffered much in the passing of the ages. Columns, which had once proudly lifted the ceiling, and stone beams, which had gloriously spanned the archways, now littered the floor in shameful disgrace.
Stepping carefully over the fallen stones, I found the corner that had housed the Harmonic Circle, the focus of the library. A thick coat of dust covered the floor, but I swept this away to reveal the circle, and within it the nine pointed star of the Hoyleans. I pulled my chanter from my bag and played a few bars of a familiar tune. The circle began to glow with a faint green light, and I heard a whisper in my mind.
Crimson… Friend… The voice, I recognized as my friend Cyrus Burnheart, and I gasped to hear it.
“Cyrus?” I called.
Crimson, I need your help.
“Whatever you should ask, my friend.”
Gorm looked at me strangely, to be talking to myself.
Follow the path, Crimson. I looked up and saw the green glow strike up in another chamber. I pushed past the barbarian to find the side room.
“Uh… Feldspar…” Gorm said behind me. I turned to see he had drawn his sword and brandished it at someone or something that approached. An arrow whistled in the darkness and thunked into the barbarian’s shield.
“What is it?”
“Skeletons!” And I could see them now, the skeletal warriors, animated by dark magick, marching against us. I filled my right hand with the magick of the stars, and drew my own sword with my left. Gorm hacked at the nearest creature, and several good blows left its skull in pieces. I fired off a spell which stuck another being in place so it could not harm Gorm as he moved to attack another foe.
I spun around to find the source of the glow, and it revealed the sign of a sun that had been carved in the marble floor.
“The Order of the Sun,” I said with a glance back at the battle raging behind me. Gorm, losing ground, backed into the chamber in which I now stood.
“It’s a dead end,” I told him. “There’s no escape.”
“I call upon the Earth to destroy undead,” he shouted, throwing his own spell at the walking dead, one of which exploded when the spell hit it. “Then we will die here,” he said.
I prepared myself for a final stand, stepping back onto the seal of the sun. My heel clunked heavily on the hollow stone.
Hollow? I kicked against the floor, making the same echo in the chamber below.
“Hold them off a little longer,” I told the barbarian. “I think I found something.”
I reached into the crevices of the seal, then drew my dagger to pry out the ray of the star. As I had surmised, the missing piece revealed an open chamber beneath. While Gorm battled the monsters, I pulled aside the other pieces, unhiding a staircase leading deeper into the complex.
I drew the element of stone to my fingertips and threw it several times into the fray to smash against the skeletons. Between my magick and Gorm’s sword, we opened a gap in the line of undead, allowing us to run down the steps.
When we reached the bottom, a gate slammed shut behind us, thankfully blocking the progress of the creatures, but frighteningly locking us within the catacombs. We had no choice but to press on through the tunnel at the base of the stairwell.
The tunnel became smaller as we pushed on, and soon we crawled on our hands and knees to get through. I hastened our progress, eager to find where the sign of the sun would lead us, and Gorm followed behind. The passageway was trapped, and several times we had to flatten ourselves to the ground to avoid bolts fired from the walls, or Gorm had to use his healing to keep me going after magick had overcome me.
We came at last to an open chamber. Torches within the room burst to life at our entrance, revealing a large stone sarcophagus. Upon the side, I read the words “Herein Lies the Body of the First Hero of Lokuso, Lord Cyrus Burnheart, Who Defeated the Beast of Reason, Who Toppled the Usurper of Opalucet.”
I stepped close to the grave, and knelt before it. Gorm stood behind me.
“Lord Cyrus, my friend,” I said, holding my blade before me in salute.
With a crack, the stone of the sarcophagus burst open, and a hand reached out from the grave. The skin of the hand, dark and cracked, stretched across the bones like leather. The hand twitched, then groped around the wall of the marble box.
Gorm stepped back in horror, and I stood up, worried about what might come from the tomb. A crack appeared along the side of the sarcophagus, and then it exploded outward along the fault, showering us with dust and rubble. When the dust cloud cleared, there stood before us the mummified form of Cyrus Burnheart, his leathery mouth grinning at us with corroded teeth, his jacket hanging in tatters from his bony shoulders. He clutched a pocked and rusted sword that now he raised above his head.
I barely got my own blade up to parry the massive blow, which knocked me to the ground. Gorm leapt over me and slammed his shield into the creature’s jaw, then chopped at him, but Cyrus easily deflected the strike, and made his own counterstrike.
The room filled with the sounds of steel against steel as the two combatants moved around each other with strikes and parries. Gorm slashed low and his sword bit into Cyrus’s ankle. The creature roared and slammed the hilt of his weapon into the barbarian’s shoulder. Gorm stumbled, momentarily losing his balance, and the creature turned back to me.
I drew up my magick and fired a Flame Bolt spell at him. He bellowed with rage, and I felt the fear well up inside of me. Gorm, too, looked at me with such wide-eyed fear that I had never seen on the face of a barbarian. I rolled out of the way of Cryus’s next strike and ran for the archway through which we had come.
Around the corner, I slumped against the wall and breathed heavily, catching my nerves. Gorm lay on the floor next to me, still worried that the creature would come around the corner. After a few minutes of heavy breathing, I felt brave enough to look around the corner. The glowing red eyes of our foe were nowhere in sight.
“Let’s go,” I said. “If we use our wits, we can beat him.”
With a nod, Gorm fixed his shield strap, readying it for the return to battle. We both drew our magick to us and prepared our spells. I handed Gorm a bottle, and he downed its contents. It was a healing elixir, and his strength returned to normal. We renewed our protective spells.
We charged down the hall, screaming at the creature, and slid to a stop directly in front of him.
“I call upon the Earth to harm undead.” Gorm threw the spell at Cyrus, and it struck him, covering his chest with a green glow that quickly disappeared into him. Cyrus bellowed again, but this time our protective spells flashed brightly, and we were saved from the effect of the creature’s fearsome spell.
Cyrus whipped his blade at the barbarian, but he overreached, leaving his right side open. Gorm struck downward, splitting open the corpse’s skin on that side. With a roar, the creature spun around, and his sword stabbed beneath Gorm’s shield, but the Magic Armor spell protected him by turning the blade at the last moment.
I blasted him with another Flame Bolt, and his leathery skin sparked and sizzled. It was enough to distract him again, and Gorm used the opportunity to cleave at his back. Cyrus stumbled and fell, dropping his weapon. The fire extinguished from his eyes as his body tumbled to the floor.
With teary eyes, I lifted the corpse of my friend and carried it back to set it on his tomb.
I jumped back as the body glowed bright red. Flames began to lick up from his back, and soon his whole body blazed with fiery light. We shielded our faces from the heat.
When the fire died down, a pile of ash remained.
Wind blew into the chamber, extinguishing all of the torches. Again, we hid our faces from the elements. The ash blew away from the sarcophagus, and filled the air. I shut my eyes and covered my mouth, but still the ash stuck in my nose and found its way into my tightly clamped eyelids.
The wind stopped blowing, and I brushed the soot from my eyes. Where the ash had blown away, three objects lay, a pin, a fabulous bejeweled key, and a white mask, twin to the mask worn by Lokuso.
Gorm coughed. “What’s next, rain?”
As he said it, I heard a mechanical clunk, and the sound of water splashing onto stone. We both looked over in unison, and saw the stream of water pouring out of a hole in the wall.
I slapped the barbarian on the back.
“You had to say something.”
“What? I just meant that we had fire and air, now we have water.” He looked down at his sopping boots. “All that's left is—”
I jammed my hand across his mouth. Another mechanical clunk echoed in the room, followed by a screech. We looked up. The ceiling ground down toward us. I took my hand from Gorm’s mouth.
“—stone,” he finished.
“We gotta get out of here,” I said.
Gorm nodded and started for the door. I reached over and grabbed the artifacts from the tomb, then rushed over behind him.
“The door is locked,” he shouted over the grinding of the ceiling. “We’re stuck in here.”
I looked around for another way out, but the feeble light of my Illumination spell revealed nothing.
“Slow down, let’s think this through,” I suggested.
“Slow down? Have you looked up lately?” Gorm pointed at the ceiling, now barely a foot above his head.
“There has to be some way out.”
“Why?” he asked. “This whole thing is probably here to kill grave-robbers!”
“Grave-robbers?” I looked down at my pouch where I had stuffed the mask and pin. Running over to the sarcophagus, I looked for somewhere to place the artifacts I had taken.
I pulled apart the already broken wall of the tomb, and stepped back in surprise. A second body, dressed the same as the creature, lay in the sarcophagus. I did not know what to make of it, so I ignored it for the time being, and continued to search for the answer.
I found it, a tiny keyhole, just big enough to fit the bejeweled key. I quickly drew the key from my bag, stumbled with shaky hands to place it in the keyhole, and turned it.
The grinding stopped, as did the water, which now came up to our knees, and the room filled once more with blessed silence. The key, covered in rubies and diamonds and emeralds, glistened in its new home.
“Door’s open,” Gorm said as he sloshed over to me, hunched down beneath the low ceiling.
I heard a gasp from within the tomb. I jumped back.
“Help me,” came the feeble voice from within.
I motioned to Gorm to help me, and we carefully pulled the body from the sarcophagus. The light showed it to be Cyrus.
“Didn’t we just kill him?” the barbarian asked, looking at the man in my arms, clearly breathing, though just barely alive.
“Cyrus?” I gently shook my friend, tears streaming down my face.
“Crimson…” he said weakly, his eyes barely open. “Crimson, the brooch.” I felt in my bag and produced the pin. “Yes, that one…” His head toppled from side to side like a drunkard. “My wife… Sylvia… find her… save her… the spiders…” I looked down at the woman’s face that had been carved into the face of the brooch.
“I will, my friend,” I told him, just as his head lolled to the side. I looked to Gorm, but the barbarian seemed unconcerned by that which passed between old friends. I returned my gaze to Cyrus’s face, and I instantly knew what we needed to do. “We must return to the library.”
“With all those skeletons?”
We sloshed through the remaining water, having receded now to just inches deep, and returned down the twisting passages to the stairway that led to the library. The gate had opened, and skeletal warriors filled the stairwell. I carefully propped the body of Lord Cyrus against the wall and drew my weapon. Then, I pulled a gemstone from my pocket. Nodding to Gorm, who stormed into the fray, I positioned myself where I could see most of the undead.
“I grant myself a boltstorm to throw,” I said, drawing upon the magickal energy within the gemstone, which crumbled in my grasp. Similar to, but stronger and more powerful than, my favored Magic Storm spell, this enchantment allowed me to throw bolts of elemental energy at my opponents so long as I rooted my feet in place. I threw countless orbs of stone energy at the skeletons to crush their bones. Gorm charged up the stairs and took out the others with slashes and hacks from his sword, deftly blocking their own weapons with his shield.
Soon, we found ourselves surrounded by the dust and broken pieces of dozens of fallen skeletons.
I returned to my friend and threw his body over my shoulder, then joined the barbarian on the steps. We carefully tread over fallen columns until we reached the library, and I took Cyrus to the Harmonic Circle. I placed his body inside the circle and put the mask on his face.
“What are you doing?” asked Gorm.
“This is his destiny,” I said. “We must not separate him from that.”
I rummaged in my bag for my chanter, and, finding it, I brought it to my lips to play the tune I had written about our battle with Zweno, a tune that had become a favorite of Cyrus’s. The circle glowed bright green, and the light covered my friend’s body as well. Then, in the blink of an eye, the body disappeared. The circle continued to glow, and I heard my friend’s voice once more.
Thank you, Crimson.
“I will find your wife, Cyrus.”
The glow subsided. Gorm and I made our way out of the library and up the passages that led to the archaeological dig. We climbed the steep stairs, and returned to the tavern. Gorm boasted and drank, but my mood had been darkened by the events that had occurred.