Deep into the Cursed Woods travels the diverse band of people. Their guide is the tatooed Tova, a man from the barbarian lands of Akrindor who has made his home in the ancient city of Dramen Del. Behind them they leave a city preparing for battle.
Over half a million barbarians now unified under one banner are preparing to march on the city. They are led by a new king, Kan-Zenith. Should Dramen Del fall, there will be nothing to stop their rampage through the lands of Brudic and into Corvel. This is something this warband will not allow to happen while they live.
At the Westgate, Dreznat looked into the forebidding trees. Shaking her head she came to a very difficult decision. Slowly, taking the double headed battle axe out she turned to the group. "I want to come with you but I think it is best I stay here for a time in Dramen Del. Ganom might need some protection and I can give it to him. There are many things I need to think about right now."
Looking at Dril she presented the crystalline weapon to him. "Take this. I think you will need it more than me." With small hands Dril reached up and took the large axe. By some turn of magic, the great hanji-shah began to diminish, growing smaller in size before everyone's amazed eyes. In moments it was just the right size to be used by an ill-tempered sprig.
With Tova in the lead they left the magnficent city behind. Dreznat stood there, pale, waifish, watching them as they vanished one by one into the shadows beneath the twisted and gnarled trees of the Cursed Woods.
Tova is still a bit upset with his encounter with the drunken guards. It hurts him that people he has lived with for so long would have turned on him so quickly. Sensing this in the rugged human Maurice speaks softly to him. "People get stupid when they are afraid."
Not pausing at all, but loping along like a great hunting beast. Tova doesn't even turn his head. "I just wonder who sent them? I know where the Red Priests are. Lots of bad stuff is here in the Cursed Woods. I have seen cat and dog people. Things that would turn you white."
Chuckling gently Maurice looks at his leaf-green arm. "Really?"
In a serious tone Tova turns back. "There is evil here. Be careful what you eat. My people are superstitious, as am I. Have your priestess bless it."
It is warm, around eighty degrees. There are nasty trees and nastier bugs. In a line they head northward, Tova carefully scanning the terrain. He says little. "One mission. One goal." Branches snag on clothes, twisting vines, red ground. It is a small and difficult trail, but everyone keeps up. As the day passes to night they locate a good place to rest.
"We make camp here," says Tova.
No fire is made, there are too many unpleasant things that might come their way if they see the light. Jinx sits and washes her face clean with a damp cloth. She gazes around at the approaching darkness with her piercing green eyes.
Tova mixes up some colored paste and begins to paint it on his body. Quietly and deliberately he soon paints himself green, black, and white. Sitting nearby Alex watches him, quizically. "What is he doing?"
"Getting in disguise," replies the unbalanced but optimistic orc.
Tova looks around cautiously while applying his camoflauge. "We're in danger. There is a Mountain Spirit nearby. It eats people."
Alric flitters down and lands on Jinx's shoulder. "I checked the area out some and didn't see anything. At least anything dangerous that I could tell."
Tova points to a spot. "Look a the rocks, up the trail? See the holes on the rock face? Claw holes. One has been here recently. It is shapeless and eats people. It may follow us, a spirit of the mist. Fejenod is it's name. They are usually alone. The wind will pick up before they strike. Best to not get too comfortable in the woods. In a few days we'll get to a dwarf village that raises sheep. We can rest and get supplies too." There is a tone in his voice that indicates real fear for this barbarian.
As in times before some stay awake to make sure they have at least someone keeping prepared. This is a very dangerous place after all. Maurice to take the first watch along with Tova. Methos and Dril the second. Alex and Alric take the third.
Alric the pixie nestles next to Jinx and sleeps comfortably on the softness of her bosom. Until he has to get up he is more than happy to rest where he is at.
The night passes without incident. There are small insects that hum and murmer out in the darkness as well as a few rustlings of the wind. Each person on watch is alert, keeping their senses keen on their surrounding. Tonight goes by peacefully.
Another day passes as they travel onward, towards their destination with the Red Priests. The forest becomes more entangled, and often they have to climb up and over rocky outcroppings. The branches merge so fully overhead only shafts of bluish light makes it down to the gloomy forest floor below. It is warm here, humid, very uncomfortable.
Each person there realizes just how dangerous the Cursed Woods can be. There is no idle banter, no unneccessary talking. There is a look of grim determination in everyone's eyes (except for maybe Alric who can buzz easily around). The forest gives a very good deterrant for anyone ever wanting to come this way. A perfect place to be if you don't want visitors.
At dusk they settle down again, this time by a small stream cutting snake-like through the gnarled vegetation. Everyone is cautious about drinking from it, and it is used mostly just to clean up. The water is refreshing cold, probably coming down from some cool mountain top.
Taking the hanji-shah off his back, Dril looks at it and takes a few mock swings. He has only a vague idea of how to use such a weapon. Glancing over to Tova he gets an idea. "Know how to use an axe? Could you learn me?"
Tova nods his head slowly, the camoflauge on his body still there. "I can show you. Not now though, it is not the time. Later in the dwarf village."
The group rests, taking their normal watches. Several times the wind turns cold and blows in slow to hard, each time the person on watch wonders if this is Tova's monster. Each time it fades into nothingness. Once, Maurice looks up and sees a small, glittering light high in the branches of the trees. It dances for just a moment as if controlled by some sort of intelligence and then disappears.
The next day they travel onward, foot by foot, through briars and branches in the gloomy lower level of the forest. Ahead the path opens up, the trail leading downward into a ravine. On either side are towering trees but some cold blue sky can be seen above. Tova stops, raises a hand, his eyes gazing intently ahead, his brow furrowed.
"We're in trouble!" Quickly, Tova drops to a knee and opens up one of his packs that he has been carrying. Drawing out a dozen glazed stones he sets them in a circular pattern. "Get inside, the circle will protect us!" he yells, fear in his voice. Immediately everyone gets within what he has set up, making it rather crowded.
There is a distant howl and the wind starts gusting up. A whirlwind comes rolling down from ahead, picking up rocks, leaves, and branches into it's swirling form. A pair of malicious, red eyes appear as well as a yawning mouth of shadow. This semi-tangible elemental of air comes howling towards them as fast as a charging lion. "The Fejenod!"
"Begone foul spirit!" Yells Maurice, barely audible in the unceasing roar. His crystalline scimitar now glowing from the close proximity of such tangible evil.
Small rocks and specks of dirt pelt them like the bites of stinging insects. The strength of the wind becomes unimaginable before the barely humanoid form of swirling matter. With a small yelp Alric is ripped from Jinx's shoulder where he had been hanging on for dear life. Trying to grab him she also is blown off balance. Like a bad comedy Maurice tries to help Jinx, and he too goes tumbling head over heels out of the protective circle.
The whirling monster of air reaches a tornado-like appendage across the 'protective' barrier Tova had set up. Electrical sparks jump from it, the act seemingly causing it pain. Roaring it hesitates for an instant before pressing it's attack. Methos falls backwards, avoiding the slashing appendage. Barely he keeps from landing on his back.
Rolling to his side Maurice stabs upwards with the bloodsword. It feels as though he is striking a hurricane, nearly knocking the blade from his powerful hands. Nearby Alex slashes with her twin blades, the impact of her blades on the fejenod slapping her away.
Alric changes form into that of an eagle, hoping to get away to a better vantage point. The air-creature swipes at him, the blow barely missing the shapechanged pixie. Turning his eagle talons form a complex magical pattern and a blast of energy goes impacting into the center mass of the roaring thing.
Jinx, Alex, Methos, Dril, and Maurice all strike at the fejenod with their magical and enchanted weapons. Only Tova keeps his face to the ground. Each blow that connects nearly knocks them away. Doggedly they don't let up. Their steel disrupts the form of the monster and it soon spins madly into a mere whirl of air. The rocks and other bits that it had sucked up to make it's form now fly about harmlessly. Where it 'dies,' there is but a shadow on the ground and the fading howl of it's existence soon fades to silence.
No one is hurt, just a little dirtied by all that has happend. They continue on, and a feeling that they are being watched intensifies. However this is a very dangerous place, and all know that many horrors lurk within the recesses of the woods. The fejenod was just one of them. Tova seems the most disturbed, wondering why his enchanted rocks did not stop the mist-creature.
Another night passes by. All those who take watch do so, prepared for another sudden assault from one of these semi-corporeal entitities. Most of them feel as though something is watching them from the distant shadows. The dawn arrives and they travel onward.
At noon they break out of the twisting forest and look back on it's vast expanse. The Cursed Wood seems to go on forever. Ahead of them they see their path going onward, into an area that looks like it might have been shaped by some intelligent hand. "We are near the dwarf village," says Tova, still somewhat nervous.
Soon they are looking down into a slight canyon. Carved steps lead the way down, square and blocky, of definite dwarven design. Ahead is a small village, a dozen pitiful structures surrounded by grassy grazing lands. The place seems to be incredibly run down, with many of the wooden homes in very poor shape. Sheep dot the landscape near the village, happily munching away while they are tended to by their stout herders.
Four chain-armored warriors break away from the town and approach. They have axes and shields at the ready and seem prepared for battle. They speak in their native tongue, a language which sadly none but Tova know. He talks to them for a bit before turning to the group. "They want us to leave. They do not like strangers."
Rubbing his aching eyepatch, Dril just shrugs. "Great."
The barbarian's face splits into a grin. "The mist spirits have been attacking them repeatedly. Eight of their warriors brothers have fallen over the past few nights. I told them that there is one less for them to worry about now. Having heard that they have changed their minds and wish us to stay!"
"Okay!" says Alric, clapping his hands merrily.
The dwarves still seem very cautious, but there is a look of relief and lingering fear on their faces. They are not overtly hospitable, but seem much kinder that they have heard the strange group has slain one of their foes.
As they enter into the small village, many of the homes here are seen to be obviously abandoned. Doors and windows look blasted open, and a few dirty faces of children and women look at them from places of hiding. These are not dwarves that are doing well. In fact they seem to be almost resigned to their doom.
From the other side, moving silently through the forest, comes a white robed human. He is tall, muscular, but not much else can be seen beneath. Pulling his hood back he shows his face, eyes quite curious and distant. "Greetings. I am Teider."
"I am Alric," blurts out the hyper-kinetic pixie.
The man nods slowly, eyes glancing the whole group over. "I know who you all are. I have been watching. The High One has sent me. I am from the Brotherhood of the Scarlet Rose."
A discussion is then held for the better part of an hour with Teider and they speak of many things. He tells them that the Brotherhood are peaceful folk and that they abhor violence. Teider believes the mist creatures to be just natural beings, and that are only doing what they are compelled to do. Maurice doesn't believe that of course and says so. There is talk of the natural order of things, sheep, good, evil, saving the dwarves, and much more.
At the end of the talk Maurice folds his big arms across his chest. "The monkey with the biggest bone usually wins."
Teider blinks twice and then shakes his head as if he is confused.
An old, long-bearded and wrinkled dwarven elder invites everyone (through Tova) to come and stay at his home. His name is Dean Aramen, and he is the leader of all that is left of this diminishing outpost. At his home he prepares mutton and some vegetables in a large steel cauldron for everyone to eat.
Sitting down on the earthern floor the food is served. A tad bland but still much better than the trail rations they have been having for the past few days. Looking up over his bowl of stew, Maurice asks "Why are the dwarves here? Your people don't seem to be doing so well."
Back and forth Tova translates. The old dwarf huffs some but talks. There has been a long rivalry between them and the humans of Dramen Del. Long ago they had a great conflict with them which resulted in them coming here. However, even though they did live in the Cursed Woods, life has been good for them. Until recently.
Last month the mist spirits appeared and attacked in force. At first they battled them, but lost warrior after warrior. So many have been lost they are certain that it would soon be the end of all. There are not enough to make it safely out of the Cursed Woods now. The Brotherhood of the Scarlet Rose could help, but they only watch and do nothing.
The talk then turns to them leaving here to find refuge in Brudic, that they would be protected by the group as they went. The elder Dean Aramen nods sagely. "We will think about it."
While they are talking after dinner, Alric looks curiously at Tova's protective rocks and tries to figure out how to reproduce them. They did seem to work against the creature in the previous attack. Eventually he realizes the rocks are not magical at all, but merely made of lead.
With the discussions over it is time to go outside into the dimming light. Dean Aramen has told them that the mist spririts attack erratically, but at night. The entire group checks their armor and weapons and goes to the seemingly deserted town to wait.
As the sun sets in the west, hidden by the rocky terrain and gnarled trees of the woods, the group splits up. It is decided that it would be best if they were in different parts of the village, more able to protect any direction the enemy might come. Maurice, Alex, Methos are at one side, Jinx, Dril, and Tova arre at the other. Alric stays hovering in the middle, ready to go either way.
The cloak of night covers the sky and as it does the wind starts up, blowing in seemingly from everywhere. Jinx looks this way and that, feeling that eyes are watching. Swords, axes, and prepped spells are readied for whatever wicked thing that might come this way. A few moments pass as the winds increase, becoming a whirling, howling gale.
Leaves, branches, small rocks and dirt begin spinning madly at three points, at either end of the village and from one of the sheep pens towards the center. Within this malevolent tornadoes glowing red eyes blink to awareness, and a swirling maw of a mouth begins it's droning scream. The mist demons have arrived.
Alric decides to fly high, weaving spells to transform himself into a majestic eagle. He flaps his strangely large wings now and gets far above those below. He turns and tries to blast one of the living maelstroms with an aimed spell but it fizzles. Perhaps he is too disoriented as a bird of prey now, instead of being a normal buzzing pixie.
The winds strike everyone violently and Dril gets knocked back, the crystalline bloodaxe in his hands. Jinx also is spun to the ground, her blue robe whipping in the powerful current. Tova falls to his knees, terrified of the semi-tangible creature whirling towards them. Just as one approaches them, Dril reaches to his belt and brings out his pistol. With a pull of the trigger he shoots the monster and the lead bullet sends a ripple through it's form. Incredibly it shrieks even louder than before!
Jinx rises to her feet and swings with all her might, connecting with her staff. The creature responds in kind and rakes it's funnel-claws across her chest and sends the priestess tumbling wildly to the earth. In his hand the hanji-shah glows blue, and Dril hears a whisper in his mind: "Fight in the name of Averness!" The sprig swings from his prone position, his axe feeling like it is chopping into gelid soup as he hits.
Seeing Jinx go down and the courage of the sprig drives Tova to action. He battles back his fear and stands, hacking with his own sword at the raging cloud of howling hate. Though it was a good blow, the speed of the thing is so great it moves away from the blade.
Badly bloodied and hurt, Jinx dodges another attack from the mist creature and strikes upwards with her metallic staff. It spears through the whirling creature's middle and it instantly fades into nothingness, destroyed.
At the other side of town a mist creature comes bellowing at Maurice, Alex, and Methos. The human spellcaster extends his hand, works some metaphysical formula in his mind and fireblasts the monster. It speeds on, shrugging off most of the spell. Faster than the eye can follow it moves towards Alex who strikes at it and misses. However it plunges an appendage across her chest lifting her high into the air before slamming her with bone-breaking force to the ground in the space of a heartbeat.
Leaping through the air Maurice roars, seeing Alex taking such a powerful hit. He strikes with his blue-glowing scimitar, cutting nothing but air. It swipes at him, ripping him along his legs and then raking his chest. His face twists into a green mask of rage, gnashing his teeth. Back and forth he strikes with the glowing hanji-shah again and again.
Racing up Methos lunges with his shortsword, but the creature evades and in turn slashes deep gashes across the man's face. The shock of the hit sends Methos back, immediately casting a curative enchantment to repair his bloody injuries.
Fighting back the searing red pain in her chest, Alex gets to her feet once more and in a blur she slashes a graceful pattern with her katanas. A blade in each of her hands finds the creature that hurt her, stabbing them into it's storming form. Wounded, the ever-roaring mist creature spins towards her and once more gives her a devastating strike with it's tornado-like arm. Alex cries in pain and is flung through the air like a doll, swords flying from her.
Turning the creature plunges it's semi-tangible arm into Maurice's torso, ripping through the leather armor of Ara of the Seven Winds. However now it is close, and glaring into it's red eyes, the crazed orc stabs the bloodsword between them to the hilt. The eyes blink once as does it's mostly immaterial form and soon is completely gone. Panting, Maurice watches it fade and then turns to the badly wounded Alex.
Alric hurls energy bolts and fire blasts again and again at the remaining creature. It whirls up to attack him and he creatively turns his body into that of a lead pixie. The weight of his new form drives him downwards, going right through the mist demon. Lead seem to have a devastating effect to them and it indeed does work. It roars and sparks viciously as the lead-pixie falls, totally disrupting the creature.
In his current form, Alric is stuck that way for a few moments. However he is pleased to realize that he had destroyed his enemy with magic and cleverness.
Cradling Alex in his arms Maurice looks down and sees the awful wounds she has. Her shirt is ripped to shreds and jagged sticks and rocks are lodged up beneath her skin. Blood oozes from the painful injuries. "Look at me, Alex, look into my eyes. Don't look down." The red haired elf is barely concious, slipping into shock.
Coming over Dril sees how badly hurt she is and gives her a healing mushroom to eat. She takes it in her mouth and swallows, soon drifting to sleep. Maurice carries her gently over to Dean Aramen's home. Once there he puts her onto a blanket on the floor and takes off her shredded and bloodied clothes, stripping her down.
Both Dril and Jinx come over and tend to her wounds in tandem. Very carefully they remove all the bits of rock and wood that shouldn't be there and use their magics to heal the damage that is done. Cleaning her skin with water and cloth they know that she will have scars there for the rest of her life. The whole while Maurice looks on, grateful to both of them for their help in aiding the injured Alex.
After they are done working on her, Dril goes outside and retrieves her swords. He sees Alric there, returning to his normal pixie-self instead of being a lead statue.
"They are allergic to lead!" exclaims the joyful pixie. "Did you see me explode that one?"
Dril says nothing and just shakes his head.
Outside Methos sees that the white garbed Teider watched the entire battle, having kept his distance. "Why didn't you help us?" he asks.
Moving his arms out, palms down, Teider gives a small smile. "We do our best to stay neutral in all things. I would have helped you if I could. When you are ready I will guide you to the High One so you can meet with him."
The evening passes and Dean Araman gets some more drinks for everyone. As it turns out, he does indeed speak the common tongue. All about, they can tell that the dwarves here are happy, pleased that these monsters that have been killing them have finally themselves been destroyed.
It is decided to wait another day, giving Alex time to heal more fully. She will certainly be sore come the morning. Dean Aramen agrees that once the group meets with the Red Priests, the entire village would be ready to follow them out of the Cursed Woods into Brudic.
The wizend, old dwarf looks in a bit of awe at everyone there, sitting on the floor inside his home. "Since my childhood I've never seen anything like you. You are like the heroes of old. In these dark days we need such heroes. Your faith is strong but even then you may not survive. When darkness comes, embrace the light for it will save your souls. Good luck to you and thank you for your help."
On the morning of the second day Alex is able to move about, her vicious wounds having turned into ugly, purple scars. Maurice doesn't mind them at all, trying to cheer her up with his usual friendly attitude. However, beneath the pleased exterior, he wants to get out of the Cursed Woods as soon as he can. He hates this place, for it has already cost him dearly and he wants to pay nothing more.
Teider comes and guides them north. The land is rocky and covered with scrub brush. Burrs and nettles stick to clothing and hair, but they push on through the inhospitable vegetation. In a few hours they get to a high point, and can see the Cursed Woods spread out below in all directions. Above is a great building on a stone peak with only one way to get into it. It is their destination. At it's base is a wooden lift attached to ropes and pulleys, the only way to get to the structure on top other than by flight.
Taking a deep breath, Tova points to it. "That is the monastary of the Brotherhood of the Scarlet Rose."
Teider turns to the group, he looks the group over and sees they are weary. "Would you care to rest for an evening before I take you up? You can recover in the Sacred Circle." He then guides everyone into a circular clearing surrounded by irregular shaped rocks forming a rough circle. In the center of this place is a stone pedestal.
"Tomorrow you will be tested. Within this circle you are safe, nothing will harm you. I will speak to you again." He leaves, going to the lift and is take up into the monastary.
Everyone lays out on the comfortable, carpet of grass. Alex is still sore from the earlier battle, and all agree that it would be a good idea to rest here before they go up. Who knows what manner of bizarre tests the Brotherhood might have them do.
Going around the circle Jinx realizes that there is some sort of energy barrier, keeping them in. Immediately Alric tries to fly through it and gets stunned by a jolt of magic. He tumbles to the green grass, singed. "We're trapped!"
Realizing they are going to be staying there, at least for the night, they all settle in. Alric takes out his miniature mandolin and begins playing some music. Though he is small, he plays very well. Maurice joins in, singing a few merry songs in his deep, gravelly voice. This reverie puts the group into a more relaxed mood.
Of the spell users, they feel a powerful flow of mana here, within this circle of stones. It is something inexplicable, but they know that there is something more here than meets the eye.
Darkness fall as the sun sinks behind the mountains. Overhead the stars come out against the endless canopy of velvet black. They are bright and seem closer than they should be, almost like you could reach out and touch them. The temperature drops, and soon cloaks and blankets are brought out to help ward off the growing chill.
Pulling her blue shawl closer, Jinx goes to the central stone dias. She looks at it in the starlight and sees an image there, one she had not seen before. Slowly her eyes widen in surprise as she realizes what she sees. "Look here."
The group gathers and gazes down on what she is staring at. In the center of the white stone is the image of a carved sword.
"Could it be this easy?" says Maurice. "Could this be the resting place of the Guardian Sword?"
Immediately all the other gray rocks are looked at, and each one also bears a symbol. Jinx knows what they are. "These are the symbols of the dark generals."
Methos sighs, and looks upward into the seemingly ever-brightening stars. "This is not good."
Pulling her magical cloak about her shoulders Alex shudders, thinking of what may be about to happen. "I don't like this, it doesn't feel right."
At the very edge of their perception something appears outside the circle. It is a shadow drawing more shadows to it, drawing them from the other stones. Everyone's eyes are drawn to this, and soon it is darker than the night around it, growing in size with every passing second. At first it is intangible, but slowly takes form.
It appears as a dark giant, wearing engraved, black plate armor, with glowing, hateful eyes of red staring within it's spiked helm. In one gigantic hand is a battle-axe and a jagged sword is in the other.
While the shadows gather to create this thing, the central dias begins to brighten. Soon it is nearly as bright as the sun, driving the darkness away save for the towering, armored shadow. From the light appears a brilliant white blade, floating up from it.
Immediately Methos dives into the light, hand out stretched trying to take hold of the glowing sword. As he does the light envelops him and in a flash of white he stands there, quite changed. Methos now is armored in shimmering plate armor of silver with a winged helmet. The sword is in his hands now, pulsating with magical energy. It is quite a transformation.
"Alex! Get behind me!" roars Maurice. He charges the shadowy giant and strikes at it with his glowing bloodsword. The great enemy easily blocks the frenzied assault with a flick of his gigantic black axe.
Quickly Alric flies upward, leaving an light trail behind him. He extends his hands and works his magic, hoping to blast this new foe with a powerful spell. Something strange happens, perhaps he is panicked, perhaps he just makes a critical mistake, but the casting fails miserably. It loops back in on him with a strange effect, and he tumbles downward to the grass. He flops and screams, feeling as though thousands of little bugs with chewy mandibles are all over him biting. "Graaaa!"
The dark giant steps into the circle and swings a great axe towards the tranformed Methos. Maurice leaps up and tries to block the attack and does so, but the blow drives him back into Methos. There is another flash of light and the orc is gone. Now Methos stands taller, for he has now absorbed another and both are as one. The merged Methos/Maurice slash diagonally with the sword of light, the blade meeting the dark axe in a shower of blue sparks.
Seeing what has happend, Alex suddenly remembers the old dwarf's advise, and cries out "Go towards the light!" She dives at the silvery warrior, adding herself to the ever-growing being. Dril reaches down and grabs the writhing pixie and does the same. Jinx soon follows.
The entity of light now towers over the one of darkness. It's thoughts flow together, their minds blurring, melding. Memories come to them that are not their own. It is terrifying, exhilirating. Together they raise the sword high into the night, like a sliver of the sun pointing to heaven.
Seeing all this Tova cries out in terror. He slinks back, fear gripping him. Before him are two opposites, one of shadow, one of light. Raising his sword for protection he watches the battle unfold.
It is like a war of the gods. The titan of light stabs it's sun blade deeply into the center of the dark giant. It reels from the blow but strikes back, it's axe biting into it's enemies chest. The strength of the attack would have cut a normal man in half, but the titan of light barely even reacts to being hurt.
Once more the dark titan is struck, this time the glowing sword goes up to it's golden hilt, point bursting forth from the dark giant's armored back. There is a kaleidescope of an explosion and the suddenly the shadowy entity breaks apart into seven slithering shadows. Each one goes snaking it's way back to their individual stones, vanishing into them.
That is the last thing the merged-being sees before a tidal wave of unconciousness rolls over them . . .
It is daytime. The sky above is blue and distant birds sing happily. Everyone is on the grass, their seperate and whole selves again. Sitting up they look at each other, wondering if the others had the same peculiar dream. Each one has a vertical cut on their chest, in exactly the same place. They all have strange and random memories still filtering through their minds. All try and discern if what happend was a dream or some sort of twisted reality.
To one side sits Tova, arms across his chest in a defensive manner. There is a look in his eyes that resembles fear as he gazes at his comrades. The superstitious barbarian doesn't know what to think.
On the central dias there are two runes there now, both glowing slightly. One is of a crescent and a circle, and the other is the symbol of the Dark General.
"Was what happend last night . . . real?" asks Alex aloud. She opens her shirt and rubs her bosom, gently checking the injury she has there.
"I think it was," replies Dril, touching his wounded chest as well.
The small pixie looks over at Alex and smiles. "Well we beat the bugs at least! Voot!"
Even though all have the injury, nearly all of them feel good, physically and mentally. They stretch and tentatively check the edge of the circle. Seeing that there is no protective barrier any longer, they head down to a nearby stream to wash and clean up.
Down there Maurice looks at his reflection in the water. His memories are still swirling in his head as he slowly remembers terrible events from long ago. Taking his red scarf from his head he lets it drop. Reaching out with his hand he tries to touch his reflection in the water, gazing into a face he has not seen for a long while.
Nearby Alric sees that Maurice is acting, strangely. Well, more strange than is normal. "What's wrong?" he asks in his chipper voice. "You don't seem to be your elfy self!" Alric's colorful wings buzz merrily as he splashes droplets of water onto his hairless face and head.
"No, not at all," he answers giving a sad, but toothy smile. Slowly he looks to his hanji-shah, the scimitar at his side and over to Dril's axe. He chuckles softly without mirth, splashing his hand into his reflection in the stream.
They look at each other. Each has fragments of what seems to be a strange and distant dream. All wonder if what happend last night was real or just some sort of shared illusion.
The group decides it is time to take the lift up to the monastary on the mountain. It is time now to see Teider and the Brotherhood of the Scarlet Rose. Only Tova chooses to stay back, still badly shaken by all the bizarre events. "I will wait for you for two days. If you are not back by then I am going to leave. What happend last night scared me and I do not wish to get . . . stupid."
Maurice's powerful hands pull the rope and the ascend the lift to the top. Up there they step off, onto an empty courtyard. Before them is the large structure, made of rock, brick and mortar. Teider stands there as well, now wearing white plate armor instead of robes. There is a stern look upon his face as he watches the group.
"Glad you could make it. The High One has charged me to see if you are worthy. Surviving the night was part of the test. Now you must prepare for the next one. Your fate will be for the High One to decide." He motions them forward with an armored hand.
"Once every one hundred years we hold a sacred ritual. Tonight you will be our guests . . ."
TO BE CONTINUED . . . .
Chronicled by Ken Paynter aka...Maurice leChevalier
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