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Friday, June 30, 2017

Before The Dawn

Bumbles open the pack that held their precious portal stones. They were running out of the hard to find commodity. He lifted one of the black stone triangles, as he shifted it back and forth in his hand, a rainbow of colors awoke within the stone teasing of the far-off destinations that awaited one if you just used the right incantations. “We need to figure out in which direction the guardians headed, otherwise the portal stones are useless. When will Diewen and Zirede be back from questioning their contacts?” he asked as he re-wrapped the stones and placed them back in his pouch.

Nilla barely glanced at him as she pulled the bandage from her sister’s wound. She did her best to cleanse the raw, infected area before placing the healing poultice they had procured from a healer on their way to Bluelyn. She said a prayer to the Goddess, before wrapping it once more. “They will be here soon. Rest while you can. We won’t be able to rest much once we get under way, have you seen the skies over the mountains? That is our master at work. The guardians are there somewhere.”

Bumbles went to the window of their small room casting his gaze toward the mountain that only the day before had been alive with summer colors. Now the only green remaining were the bahaj trees that dotted the stark landscape. A huge ominous cloud circling the peaks and obscuring the views of the farthest mountain tops. He felt a cold, shiver run down his back, ending right at the white tip on his tail. “Are you trying to tell me we are heading up into that?” Another shiver took hold. “Is the master trying to punish us or kill us? I wonder which he truly wishes to do.”

He moved away from the window and went to take a seat next to Nilla. In a rare show of friendship, Nilla leaned into his arms and he wasn’t surprised when he felt her answering shiver roll down her back.

Max had found a cave that was big enough for the gang and their horses. He had begun a fire once he had found enough timber that had found its way into the interior of the cave. He knew he would have to search for more once the others arrived, but for now, he sat and soaked up the meager warmth offered by the nascent flame.

Soon he heard the voices of the others and went outside to guide them towards where he was. As they came trudging up, he scowled at Bo as he carried CeCe inside the cave. Azereus patted him on the back, filling him in as they followed the others inside. “Miss CeCe got turned around in the blowing snow and must have tripped. We found her unconscious against a very nasty looking rock. I think in their battle, the rock won.”

Neko ran ahead of Bo to get a bedroll made out before the fire for Bo to lay CeCe on. Bo nodded at him as he bent on one knee to gently place her on the blankets. Neko went to reach to help him but withdrew quickly when Bo growled low in his throat at him. The others stopped well out of his swinging range identifying the mating growl for what it was. No one would be able to come near CeCe while she was injured, her mate would nurse her.

Dominic moved over where Neko knelt in the shadows watching his sister’s mate care for her. His claws kept opening and closing in his agitation. He had always taken care of her when she was hurt, now someone new had replaced him. He was having a hard time accepting this. Dom watched him for a couple of minutes before asking in a voice lowered so that his brother couldn’t hear. “Dude? When did the mating occur? We’ve all been stuck together like peas in a pod forever. Did you know about it?” Dom pulled in a hasty gulp at the injured, angry look turned his way.

“No! You would at least think they would warn us, you know how us guys are around our mates. Any one of us could have set off a territorial dispute for just touching innocently.” He turned to look back at the mated couple. “Why couldn’t they wait until this was all over. It was too dangerous for them to do right now. If something happens to one, it happens to both now. Their incarnations are linked.” He shook his head sadly, a huge lump forming in his chest at the thought of losing his sister.

When a Felis mated they bound their life forces together ensuring that they would incarnate through each cycle together in tandem. If one mate was killed out of their incarnation year, they were dead for all the rest. And so was their mate. Both CeCe and Bo were only in their second incarnation which in and of itself spoke of their love. Most Felis couples waited until the fourth. Neko’s concern was with the fact that Bo was a warrior born and bred if he was killed in battle, CeCe would die at the exact moment he did.

Dom listened to the concern in his friend’s voice, but he was also watching as Bo placed both of his hands on either side of CeCe’s face, and bent his head as if in prayer. Dom took that moment to look around and noticed that Az and Donny were watching him too. The only one oblivious was Neko. “Hey, bro, I understand. And I’m a bit hurt too but this makes us family in all ways now. I have a funny question. With CeCe’s healing mojo she has going on now, won’t that help them both? And doesn’t it look like Bo is offering her some of his go-go juice to heal?”

Neko’s head swung up and he watched closely for any sign that CeCe might be drawing from what her mate was offering. He saw that the rest of the gang had thought the same thing as Dominic. The only one who appeared confused was Max.

The door burst open as Zirede and Diewen came into the small room the thieves were staying in. They seemed to be in good moods, which gave Nilla hope that they had found out where the guardians were heading. She received her answer quickly. “We had to buy a few rounds but we know not only were the guardians head but that it is where we will find the master’s treasure.” Zirede boasted as he swung Nilla up and around. Obviously, he had imbibed more than just a few rounds.

“Put me down, you fool,” she said as she beat on his shoulders. “You’ll awaken your mate and that would not do either one of you any good.” Nilla threw a cuff at Zirede’s ear before he finally set her back down on her feet. “So where do we find our prey? We leave at first light. Bumbles have the Portal stone ready for our trip. So where will the portal be taking us? Where will this finally come to an end?”

Zirede sobered at the mention of his mate and went to check on her. Nilla felt sorrow for taking away his small moment of joy. She had but a moment to contemplate it before turning to Diewen, “Where is the wonderful place that holds the all-powerful Triad? Where shall we lay our heads to rest tomorrow night?” Diewen had brought a wineskin back with him, and he gathered cups for the crew. He smiled as he watched Nilla dance from foot to foot waiting for his answer.

“You may not be so excited once you learn our destination. We are headed for a very haunted place. There may be a reason that no one goes there, and why the Triad was hidden there.” He stopped to take a drink and gestured to the others that they do the same. “We will step from the portal on the cliffs that hold Black Barrow.”  He stepped away from the table just in time to save getting wine spat in his face. He was wearing a sly smile, as he caught the faint flicker of fear that crossed each of his comrade's faces.

He finished his drink and went to where he had made his bed for the night. “I suggest that you all get some sleep. Tomorrow will see the end of our quest. I think we may need to be rested against the guardians and what they bring to battle with. He then turned his back to the room and covered his head.  His mind going back to the last encounter with their adversaries. The rest of the group finished the wine, the same memories coming to plague their thoughts, as well as those of the tales of Black Barrow.

It seemed to take forever before a small glow began where Bo’s hands rested against CeCe’s cheeks. He had been rubbing her whiskers not even realizing it. He just kept repeating a litany of “please don’t leave, not so soon. Wake up my love, wake up.” His eyes were closed as if in prayer, so he was unaware until the heat he had been feeling finally penetrated his thoughts. He opened his eyes and watched as the wound on her head seemed to sew itself together. The jagged edges smoothed out before the fur once again covered it as if it had never been there. That was his last view before darkness claimed him, and he slept.

Max stood staring at what he had just witnessed, his mouth hanging open. “What- what the hell was that? Is he dead? Am I going crazy?” He just kept jabbering about it until Donny came over to him and took some pity on him.

“He’s cool, just taking a nap. You’re not any crazier now than when you hired on with us. And CeCe has a gift that heals. She just kinda borrows a bit of mojo from whoever might be touching her, that was the big guy over there snoring with his head in her lap.” Donny patted Max on the shoulder before making his way to his pack to make himself comfortable for the night. “They’ll both be fine come morning.” Were his final words before settling into sleep. Max remained where he was for a bit, before finding his own troubled sleep.

As night settled over the town of Bluelyn and the cave in the mountains, neither group knew what the new day would hold or how it would change all their lives.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Into The Storm

Azereus cast his eyes over the once verdant plain, but overnight it seemed to have died and now all that remained was drab, brown tufts of grass. Small boulders decorated the plain laying testament to the fact that they were deep in the mountains. He cocked his head listening waiting for some sound, but it was silent. Not even the birds felt the need to sing on such a forlorn morning.

He felt a presence just as Bo clapped him on the shoulder. He noticed that Max was tagging along behind him. “This feels un-natural. It isn’t the time of the year for the grass to grow brown. The deer will have little to forage if this goes on. He covered his eyes with his hand as he looked up toward the sky. “I think we are headed for some nasty weather. And if my aching old bones are any indication it’s going to be one hell of a storm.” He dropped his arm, rubbing at an old battle injury.

Bo studied the sky as well. The clouds seemed to roll like the waves on the ocean. The differing shades of gray the ebb and flow of the heavens. “What do you think Max? You are more accustomed to the weather up here; do you think this is normal for this time of year?” He watched as Max seemed to sniff the air, as he contemplated ominous sky.

“This being the mountains anything is possible; my suggestion is we travel as far as we can today before whatever this is bringing comes. Then we find someplace safe to weather it out. I do not like the thought of being trapped out in the open, but maybe with luck, we can make it to some caves before it gets too bad.” Max turned after taking one last look at the roiling cloud banks. “Let’s get the others and get moving.”

It began to snow shortly after the gang started on the trail heading ever closer to Black Barrow. First, it was just a light sprinkling of the fluffy looking ice crystals, collecting in their fur to melt when met with their body heat, but soon it seemed the weather gods opened the sky and it began to snow in earnest. The gang stopped to don their warmest clothing, hoping that they reached the caves soon.
 It wasn’t long before visibility had dropped to barely being able to see the one who rode next to you.

The sky so dark and the snow falling at such a rapid rate. The world had become a snow-carpeted landscape. The animals that they saw scurrying to find shelter from the elements. It was getting more difficult for the horses to walk as the snow rose higher. Bo called them to a halt, “At the rate, it is snowing, we need to dismount and lead the horses. How far are we from the caves, Max? We need to find shelter, there is rain mixing in with the snow and the temperature is dropping.”

Max dug out his compass from underneath the layers of clothes he wore and took a bearing. He studied the disappearing landmarks and pointed in the direction they needed to go. “If my calculations are correct, we’re not far now. You can see that we are riding through more outcroppings, I’d say within the hour we should be there.” He tucked his compass back under the safety of his clothing and dismounted his horse. He ran his hand over the mare’s muzzle to wipe away the snow collecting there.

Everyone began dismounting and were soon on their way heading for what they hoped would give them refuge from what was swiftly becoming a blizzard. CeCe was trudging along, the snow so deep now that her short stride was making her lift her legs higher with each step. She was feeling so tired. She was soaked through to her fur, and icicles had formed on her eyelashes and the tips of her whiskers. She didn’t even want to talk about how cold her tail was. She was afraid if someone bumped it, it might break off.

She was so intent on just placing one foot in front of the other, she never noticed that the males had worked their way further away from her. She had looked up, to see where they were at when the trail suddenly gave way and she went tumbling down a small hill. Her arm was wrenched as she worked to free her hand from the mare’s reins so that she wouldn’t be dragging the horse or worse the horse come tumbling down on top of her.

The wind had picked up while they had been walking, and now it blew so hard that it made it difficult to hear any sound but it. As she continued falling, her exclamation of surprise when she fell, had been swallowed by the thunderous wind. The ground under the snow was filled with many jagged rocks, and even through the layers of clothing, her body took a beating. Her decline came to a sudden halt when her body slammed against a rough-edged boulder. Her head slamming against one of the edges. Tearing open a huge gash between her eye and ear. The white of the snow underneath her soon turned crimson as her blood ran from her wound.

As the circle of red grew, CeCe lay as still as death. Not too far from her lay the darkened openings like dark eyes watching her unconscious form. The caves were clustered in and around the area. Some provided homes for the animals who dwelt in there. Others were cold, empty caverns winding deep within the heart of the mountain. The little mare had fared better than her mistress, while she had stumbled a bit down the hill, she had regained her footing and now stood ground tied to the spot near where they had fallen.

Max held up his hand to bring the group to a halt, as the others came up to him, he pointed down a small incline toward what could be barely made out as cave openings. “We need to get down there. The horses can’t go any further, and in truth neither can I. We need to get warm and out of these wet clothes. Come on, let’s get a move on.” He pulled his horse's reins to get the poor beast moving once again and started down the hill.

Bo turned to ask how CeCe was doing only then realizing that she was nowhere to be found. He studied the path they had just taken, already there was no sign that they had passed through the undisturbed snow. “Hey…guys… where’s CeCe?” he queried those near him. He handed the reins of his horse to Donny before walking back the way they had come. “Where is she? She was just beside me…” he stopped to think when he had last looked over to check the small bundled figure.

“Dammit, we need to find her! She can’t be that far.” He started calling her name. “Come on, help me!” his voice had taken on a panicked tone. Neko by this time was heading back the way they had come, sweeping the area, praying for a sight of his sister.  He started calling her name as well, hoping that she would be able to hear them above the roaring wind.

Dominic came running up next to Bo and reached out to stop him. “Max told me he is going ahead to find a cave and get it ready. That way once we find CeCe we’ll have a warm place to bring her.” Bo just shook his head in agreement as he continued his search. Dominic took up the search and worked to keep the others in his sight as he went.

It was while he was tracking where the guys were, that Dominic began to wonder if the weird long-range vision he had experienced before would work again. He stopped and chose the figure of his twin to focus on. With his and Donny’s coloring, they blended the best into the snow storm. The grays, blacks, and whites echoing the surrounding perfectly. He cleared his mind and trained his eyes on his brother, as he looked he noticed that he was indeed seeing Donny clearer with each second.

He had trained his sight to the point he could see individual hairs on his brother’s face when he turned and began to scan the surrounding area. He fell into a zone, where he was aware of the others, but his vision was picking up the most innocuous animal. As he slipped further into The Sight, he began to see heat signatures. “Cool, this ought to make it a bit easier.” He said to himself as his gaze swept the terrain.

He found her horse not long after that, the poor mare had at least been smart enough to move around a bit from becoming frozen where she stood. Dominic came up beside her, running his hands down her withers brushing the built-up snow as he did. “Where’s your mistress?” he questioned the pretty mare. Dom began to study the area around the horse trying to figure out why CeCe would have abandoned her. His vision expanded he noticed the disturbed snow. He followed the trail, leading the mare behind him. He would have missed her completely but for the dark blue of her cloak and the circle of frozen blood under her.

Dom ran to the small snow-covered heap, he started yelling for the others to join him. While he waited he started brushing the snow off the Mithralian Queen. Neko and Donny arrived about the same time with Bo and Azereus arriving seconds later. “She’s hurt,” Dominic stated as Bo bent down beside him. Bo pushed the hood of CeCe’s cloak away from her face to see the jagged wound.

“We need to get her to the caves. We can worry about her injuries once there.” Bo stated as he scooped his love up into his arms. He frowned at how cold she felt. “It appears she found the caves before any of us.” He said indicating with his head the caves spotting the landscape. “Quickly now! Let’s find the one Max has made shelter in.” He rose slowly with his beloved and started carefully heading towards the caves. Praying they found Max soon.

“I’m way ahead of you, bro. I’m using my eagle eyes to locate him now. Follow me.” Dominic called over his shoulder as he took off heading in a specific direction. Azereus gave Bo one those looks that spoke of the eagerness of youth. Bo figured he would put his faith in the brother who had found CeCe in this wintry expanse.

Amerak stood at the window, his eyes a strange opalescent color. His lips moved whispering words in an ancient dialect long forgotten but by few. His hands moving in a series of twists and turns, a soft glow emanating from them. In the corner, a glass globe filled with the vision of the blizzard overtaking the Tlaqix Mountains. His hands came to a stop, and as the glow faded, his eyes returned to their usual malevolent color. Laughing an evil deep-throated laugh he walked toward the globe. “Yes, that should do nicely at slowing the guardians down so that my band of thieves can finish their job.” He ran his hand lightly over the stormy view. “Soon guardians, you’ll be gone and the Triad will be mine.”

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Next Move

Artwork by Jongmin Ahn

Nilla and Paevia found where the others had made camp inside the walls of Amerak’s fortress. Zirede sat tending his still injured wife. She was weak and had gained a rattling cough that had settled deep in her chest. Her worst wound was one made by an arrow. It had punctured her right side and the arrowhead and buried itself deep in her tissues. Zirede knew as well as the others that such wounds were almost always fatal. The fact that Rauwyn clung to life was a testament to her strength of will. It was one of the many traits that had drawn him to her.

When Nilla and Paevia had entered their overcrowded tent, he barely noticed. He had removed Rau’s bandage and was looking at the ghastly sight before him.  They had tried as gently as possible to cut the arrow from her body, but end the end it had been decided that they would have to push it all the way through. To pull out the jagged arrowhead would have caused more internal injury, so pushing had been their only option. The entry wound had festered and a sickly yellowish-green pus rose from the puncture point. The smell of infection so strong that it quickly permeated to every corner of the small tent.

Zirede felt the tears gather in the corner of his eyes as he began to wipe as gently as possible around the wound. He frowned at the blood that seeped out with the pus. What should have been a bright red, was a deep brown. Some of the smelly discharge had matted in her fur and he grimaced for her as he worked to clean it. “I’m so sorry, love. I hate to do this. I know it hurts you so much. Would that I could take your place I would in a heartbeat.” His tears flowed a bit more freely, and he didn’t see her hand come up to caress his wet cheek.

In a pain filled voice, she said with a slight grimace. “Nay, my dearling, I couldn’t bear for you to be in my place. You take such excellent care of me. I will get better, and it will all be because of your love that I do. Your love, and that of my sister.” She stopped as a coughing fit took her voice and breath. Zirede watched the wound as she coughed noting that the brown sludge that had replaced her blood pumped out a little quicker. He rushed to cover the wound to stop her from bleeding out.

The coughing subsided and Nilla brought a cup of fresh water for her to drink. Zirede lifted Rau’s head a bit higher so she could drink her fill without fear of choking. When she pushed the cup away, he handed it back to Nilla before turning to finish bandaging his mat’s wounds. “Never fear then, love, for I will adore you until the end of time and beyond. Our incarnations have only begun together, we are not done yet.” He spoke to her of his plans for their future as he finished cleaning and bandaging the exit would on her back. Her little energy sapped, she slipped into a deep sleep. Where even then the pain chased her, indicated by the slight frown on her pale features.

Bumbles came through the tent flap with his arms full of firewood. When everyone turned to look at him, he gave them a blank look and said, “what? I’m not leaving it outside. This place is full of thieves.”  He couldn’t stop the blush when everybody started laughing. Blustering a bit, he continued, “You know what I mean. There are so many Felis here that wood is at a premium. At this point, I think a mother would kill her son for his peg leg. If we’re to have wood for a fire to keep Rauwyn warm then it needs to be stored in here with us.” Bumbles headed to an uncluttered corner and dropped his load, then went to his pack to search for his canteen.

Diewen watched his compatriots with a bemused smile on his elfin face. “Was our master pleased with our gift?” he asked of the returning pair. “What has he contracted us to do next? Slaughter someone’s elder while they watch, kidnap the Queen? Amerak never asks anything nice or easy.” He waited for an answer by grabbing his knife and a piece of driftwood. He had already begun carving something into the wood, and he returned to it now.

Nilla scowled at the Rex, he had an innate way of getting her ire up and today after the audience with Amerak the Ass, she snapped at Diewen. “Our job remains as it has been from the start to find the Queen’s questers. Only the little apprentice pulled a fast one on us, his rescuers were those we sought all along. Now our master is seething at our not putting an end to them.” She had been pacing the small walk space of the tent; her tail swishing in her agitation. A few times the inhabitants had to duck to keep from getting swatted with it.

“He has charged us to track down our enemy and see their quest put to an end. If we fail, then he will see to our end. After watching what he did to the small one for his master’s deceit, I can tell you I would rather find our enemy and bring their heads to Amerak on a platter.” Nilla watched her crew as what she said sunk in. Her thoughts were still on the small, broken heap crumpled by the gilded cage. The ancient mystics hand reaching out toward it, yet unable to reach. She was tired. Tired of all the death, and fighting to survive. She barely remembered a time when she and her sister hadn’t had to fight tooth and claw to survive. Try as she might she couldn’t shake this deep sense of sorrow engulfing her.

What Nilla had said about the apprentice must have finally got Zirede’s attention, “wait, you said after what he did to the apprentice. What did the wizard do to the small one?” His question brought everyone’s attention to Nilla. “The ones who wounded my Rauwyn and killed Quillan are our prey. How did our paths cross in such a way? We were intent on the apprentice at that point.” Zirede had risen to take over Nilla’s pacing, which in the small confines made the tall male monopolize the space.

“I need some air. Let’s step outside.” Nilla said in the suddenly confining space.
She slipped through the canvas flap that covered the round opening in the tent wall. She stopped to take a breath of the acrid air that smell of too many bodies being crammed into a small area. She was surprised that the tents weren’t set one upon another. All around campfires were being built to prepare the evening meals. Soon the mingled smell of spices joined with the mélange of odors that hung in a cloud over the fortress.

The rest of her band slowly made their way out of the tent, with Zirede bringing up the rear. He had stopped to make sure Rauwyn was resting peacefully before going out to the others. “So, we search for our attackers, who just happen to be the queen’s champions. This must be the most twisted turn of events. I guess we should figure out in which way they were heading when we stole back the apprentice. Is the small one still alive?” Zirede asked Nilla as he moved to stand where he could hear Rauwyn if she called for him, but also keep an eye on the strangers moving all around them.

Nilla took up a position beside him and watched as Brambles began to build their fire for the night. Paevia was digging around in her rucksack, and let out a small affirmative grunt when she found what she was looking for. “I have no idea if the apprentice lives. Amerak in a fit of rage began shaking him and then flung him at the cage he held the old one in. You could hear his bones snapping. It was the most sickening sound I’ve ever heard. I wanted to check on him, but he was just too angry to do anything to get his attention. Especially since in his eyes we had failed already not once, but twice. So, which way do you think the queen’s group have gone in? We need to find them now.”

Zirede seemed to be considering where they had found the apprentice among his protectors. It had once been populated by the ancients but there wasn’t much in the way of towns or villages that would hold the kind of information the questers would require. It was Diewen who spoke up with a possible place to start. If my memory is working right, it seems like there was a town that wasn’t far from where we located them. It is one of the few outposts along the trade route heading that deep into the mountains.” He stopped looking off into the distance. “the name of the place escapes me, but I will look at our maps and see if I can locate it.”

He finished as he stepped back into the tent, leaving the rest to settle around the fire and wait for Paevia to work her magic on their meager rations. Nilla reminded herself that they would need to re-supply before leaving the fortress.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Calm Before The Storm

Nilla fought down the gorge she felt in the back of her throat, at seeing the small crumpled bundle next to the cage. She wanted to go to him but she knew better than to move in that direction. Paevia must have known what she was thinking because she grasped the sleeve of her tunic. “Come, we need to leave. He has issued his orders. Do you want to make him angrier? Do you want to join the kit? There’s nothing to be done for him, but we can survive. Come Nilla.”

Nilla allowed herself to be pulled out of the audience room. The courtiers were becoming agitated and had started to mill around. “Enough!! Either find your place or be out of my sight!” came the booming voice of Amerak. He had taken a seat on his throne and sat glowering at Shénmei. The mystic, however, took no notice as he was trying to examine his apprentice through the bars of his cage. “If he isn’t dead, worry not, old one. He shall soon be. The price you pay for playing me a fool.” Was growled from the throne.

Amerak motioned guard forward and gave him orders. “Take this... this ancient pile of worthless flesh from my sight, you might as well toss the little piece of garbage in with him to remind him of what happens to those who anger me. Go.” The guard gave a smart salute and after motioning a couple other guards to join him they slowly wheeled the cage with the squeaky wheel back the way it had come. One of the guards grabbed up the bundle that was Spooks, making note of the low moan that came from the small kit.

The journey back to the dungeon was a long torturous one for Shénmei. He felt the life force of his apprentice ebbing. He tried to concentrate on building his strength for when they were once again in his cell. He hoped he had enough power to help the young one. His own body was under-nourished and the guards had been given orders to beat the whereabouts of the gang out of him. He feared there just wasn’t enough left to save Spooks. He truly wished that the Mithralian Queen was in his presence. Her healing powers were sorely needed.

The Mithralian Queen had just entered the twin’s bedchamber as Max held out a bow she had never seen before. She heard him ask “where did you find Death’s Whisper?” and watched as all eyes in the room trained on him. She watched as Dominic crossed the room in a few short strides and pulled the bow from Max’s hands.  The glare he gave the poor fellow made CeCe wince.

“I have no idea what this Death’s Whisper is you speak of, but you are manhandling my new bow. Good thing I found it seeing how it seems my old one is ruined.” Dominic held up the broken remains of his beloved bow. “I have had this bow for years, yet in one misstep it is rendered useless.” He shouldered past Max to have a seat on his bed. He gently placed the pieces beside him before pulling his pack to him.

Max moved away from the volatile young Felis. “Death’s Whisper is the name of your new bow. It has been lost for a long time. Some say that the mystics stole it from the body of its last owner to hold until a new guardian was found.” Max took a moment to let what he said sink in. He wet his lips suddenly parched. “Might I have a sip of water?” he asked those standing in the room.

Azereus reached for his belt and tossed a wineskin that he had scored earlier in the day. “Here, would you like some wine. You said, guardian. Guardian of what? Just how long has it been missing?” he asked as Max caught the proffered drink. “Why is it called Death’s Whisper, or do you know?” Az continued to question the guide.

Dominic had removed his supplies and was working to remove the dirt and grime from the nooks and crannies. As the dirt came away, the engraved runes started to stand out more. What he had thought was a dark wood turned out to be a lighter shade. As he held it close to the light it appeared to be the cognac color of the Taxis tree. It made this bow very rare for there was few of the Taxis left. He stopped to search in his pack for a moment before pulling a small bottle of oil from its depths.

He put a small amount of the oil on a fresh rag and began to work it into the striking bow. “Well, it wasn’t mystics that I got it from but scroungers. It was buried in a junk tent with ruined and useless weapons. I don’t think it is this fabled bow of which you speak.” As it always did, working on his bow always calmed his restless spirit. As he continued to work the oil in, his mind opened and he could have sworn the bow was speaking to him.

Max and the others watched as Dom’s ministrations revealed a thing of great beauty. CeCe thought to herself “How can something so beautiful, carry such a bad name or be so deadly?” She looked towards Max waiting for him to continue his story, she noticed he appeared to need a nudge to begin again. “Max, you were telling us about this weapon’s history. Who was the first to carry such a glorious weapon of war?” she prompted.

Max took another sip before continuing his story. “The Guardian was none other than the first personal guard to the Pantheri Prince, who later became the first King of the Pantheri. It is said it has been passed from father to son, if said son swears to serve as guard to the prince’s. If the son refused then it was passed to the one who took the guards place.” Max paused, and saw he had everyone’s attention.

“According to legend Death’s Whisper cannot miss its target. Its aim is true. When the Pantheri king fell, it was said his guard had been slain defending him. When the raiders returned though the guard and the royal family were missing. The only thing to attest to the death of the Pantheri King was his head taken by his slayer.” Max lifted the wineskin back to his lips and drank more of the sweet wine.

Max noticed the others casting glances at each other. He didn’t understand what the significance was to what he had said but something he had said had caused a stir. He watched as the black furred male they had said was named Neko came over to sit next to Dom on the bed. He thought the male had the look of one of the fabled warriors but everyone knew they were extinct. The Pantheri queen and her son had disappeared with her husband’s guard never to be seen again. Surely if the son had lived he would have sought to reclaim his heritage.

Bo had been listening to the tale, but seemed lost in thought. “It seems like it has found a new home, if it is indeed this fabled bow. I think Dom would agree that it matters not if it’s aim is true. I think we should all get some rest, we should be leaving at first light. The weather can be a bit unpredictable if I remember right, the closer we will get to Black Barrow. I assume you have quarters for the night Max?” he said as he walked over to CeCe and they both made their way to the door.

Max looked around to see the others were taking Bo’s advice so he went over to Azereus and handed him his wineskin. “here ya go. Sorry, I think I may have drained it. If you’d like I will gladly replace it, if you follow me below to the tavern.” By this time Bo and CeCe had left the room, Az took the wineskin and made to follow.

“That’s okay, I think I am going to go crash. The thought of a nice soft mattress for the night is my goal. I’ll let you repay me later, how does that sound?” Az asked as he walked out into the hall with Max following close behind.

Az and Max took notice as Bo and CeCe disappeared into her room. “It even looks like I will have a chance to get to sleep before Bo comes in and starts snoring.” Max chuckled at the face Az made when he talked about Bo’s snoring. “Goodnight Max, may the goddess keep you this night.” Az said as he entered his chamber. Max nodded his head and waved as he headed toward the stairs.

“Goddess protect you and yours. Until tomorrow then.” Was said as he reached the first step. As he made his way down to the main floor and headed towards the tavern, he thought of the strange group he had hired on with. “Something tells me Max, my boy, that this should be an interesting trip.” He went up to the bar and order an ale while taking a seat. He figured a nightcap was called for before he turned in for the night.

Above stairs in the twin’s chamber, Donny looked over at the two heads bent over the task of restoring the bow. While Dominic worked on the bow itself, Neko work on the sinew that would become the drawstring. “Don’t’ you guys think it’s kinda funny,” Donny sat forward before continuing. “How Dom comes to own a bow that is said to have belonged to someone who was close to a Pantheri Prince? It’s like it knew where to go. And what’s up with us finding these new weapons and such? Do you think anyone else will be gifted?” He watched as the two on the bed stopped to think about what he had said.

Dominic was the first to answer. “Honestly I don’t know. I’m not even sure I believe the tale that guy told us. He may be working some angle we don’t understand yet. All I can tell you is it seems like the bow is speaking to me. I am just trying to learn it’s language. Is that how you felt when you found your staff?” he questioned Donny.

Donny picked up his staff which never seemed to be far from him. As he ran his hands up and down the rune covered shaft, his head tilted to the side as if he was listening. “Yeah, it is a bit like that. The more time I spend with it the more I seem to understand it, if that make a lick of sense. I left it in here when I took my bath earlier and found that I missed being near it. It has become something like a companion to me.”

 While he was speaking he had moved to his bed and after standing the staff in the corner, he pulled back the bed covers. “It will be interesting to see if any more weapons or relics end up in our grasp. For now, I think I’m going to sleep. Goodnight guys.” He said as he climbed under the covers. He turned so that his back was to the light, and soon the only sound to be heard was a gentle snore.

Dominic and Neko worked on the bow into the early morning hours. Finally, Neko climbed to his feet, and stretched. “I think you have a bow to do you justice. And if the tale is true, I couldn’t think of anyone better qualified to bear it than you my friend.” Dom stood also and they clasped forearms and then Dom followed Neko to the door.

“I feel it is where it belongs too. And truth be told. I think the tale is true. The whole time we have been working side by side, I have felt at peace and the bow has, and yes, I know it’s strange, but it has been at peace too. Like it knows it is back where it belongs.” Neko studied Dom’s face and saw what he was saying reflected in his eyes.

“I’m glad. I have a feeling we are going to need all the help we can get as we finish this quest. See you at breakfast, sleep well brother.” Neko headed down the hall stopping at his door. He looked back to see the door close on the twin’s room. He entered the room he shared with CeCe to find her curled in a small ball in her bed.

 She had kicked her cover off, so he went over, and pulled it back up to cover her. His heart always did a small flip when he watched his sister sleep. She was so small and dainty, but awake, her personality made you forget that. He bent over, and placed a gentle kiss on her brow before turning towards his own bed and sleep.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Mystic Revelations

Elsewhere Nilla and her wily band had made it back to the fortress Amerak called home. Usually only one or two of them ventured to the place but Amerak had called for all his minions to report to the castle. While Zirede and the others found them a place to rest along the bailey walls. Nilla and Paevia took the bound apprentice to their master. Nilla was ready to be done with the little mystic and all his cryptic words he had been letting slip every time they had removed his gag.

One of Amerak’s big burly guards led them into an expansive room where a large throne sat at the end. There were clusters of different Felis factions standing around whispering amongst themselves. Only a few lifted their head to watch as the guard kept pushing the trio toward the throne. Nilla had met the old mage several times but she had never seen this room before. She felt under-dressed in her simple tunic when compared to the jeweled robes adorning many of the waiting guests.

The guard called them to a halt right before they could step on a large circle mosaic placed not too far from the throne. He commanded them to bow. Nilla saw Paevia begin to balk at this command but quickly caught her attention and made her remain docile. They didn’t need to draw Amerak’s wrath any more than they already had.  Somewhere a deep sounding bell began to ring. An expectant hush fell over the crowd as they began to form two lines one on the left and one on the right of the throne.

The ringing bell fell silent and Nilla heard a strange squeaking sound behind her. She couldn’t stop herself from turning to see what was making the unexpected sound. Coming slowly up the aisle created by the separated courtiers was a wheeled cage. On each corner of the cage, a grisly red stone shone with a crimson glow. Nilla turned her vision inward to see what was held within and was shocked to see an aged and wizened old Felis. He wore the robes of a mystic, although they were so dirty and bloody it was hard to tell anymore.

The young one that she held onto made to rush toward the cage confirming Nilla suspicions that this was the ancient mystic. “Calm yourself, kit. Or do you wish further harm to come to your master?” she whispered to him as she pushed him down.  She could feel the raw energy of the youth as he fought to control himself as the cage rolled by them and was finally parked to the side of the throne. By now the tension in the room was so thick, it was like a trying to breathe through the smoke. You felt as if you could only draw a deep enough breath then you would be able to breathe freely again. But when you tried you only choked.

When the blast of trumpets sounded, Nilla jumped. She caught Paevia grabbing at her heart and knew she had been caught by surprise also. The personal guards that were always close to Amerak entered the hall from a door to left of the throne, their master in the middle of their phalanx. When they were close to the throne, the guards separated to allow Amerak to step up onto the dais that his throne sat upon.

Amerak turned to look out over his court. He took note of the little thief and her captive. He turned to Shénmei’s cage and gave him an evil smile. In a nonchalant way, he waved his hand to the crowd to relax. “So, I see you have brought me a gift, thief. Bring it closer so I may see my new prize.” Nilla stood and brought Spooks toward the throne. “It seems you have a bad habit of escaping little mystic. Where are your guardians? Have they been vanquished?” This last question Amerak directed toward Nilla. When the young one snickered, Amerak cast a glower toward him before asking the thief again, “you did vanquish your foe. The group who rescued the apprentice no longer draws breath, correct?”

Nilla twisted her hands together, and her ears twitched as she shrank away from the anger in her master voice. Stupid kit. Should have gagged him. “No, master. Our foes still live. We thought capturing the kit was more important to you than ending the lives of a few hero wannabes. Our plan is to go after them once our current mission is finished with you.” Nilla bowed low, praying that Amerak would let this go.

Amerak decided to let the failure slide for the time being. What she said was true. Time was of the essence and he needed to locate the Triad before the Queen’s champions found it. “Fine, thief. Bring me my prize. I want to reacquaint him with his master.” Nilla took a breath she didn’t know she had been holding and pushed the kit toward the imposing figure standing before the huge throne.

Spooks eyes had locked with those of his master has he had been propelled toward the evil that stood before him. In their gaze, they communicated silently with each other. “Have you found the guardians, my child? How goes their quest? Has the eye been unearthed and awakened?” Shénmei voice sounded in Spooks mind. As his apprentice answered his questions a smile lit his face.

“The guardians have indeed awakened the stone and it already is guiding them towards their destiny. With each sunrise, they discover something new within themselves. The weapons have also been awakened and are finding their way into the hands of their masters. They head even know towards the fortress that hides the prize.” The communication was broken when Amerak sensing something shook the kit.

Amerak watched the two mystics and when he figured out they were communicating with each other began to shake the kit. “What do you tell your master? Where is the Triad? Where are the guardians foretold of in the prophecy? Tell me or I will make you both pay dearly.” By this time, he was shaking the kit as if he was a rag doll. “Tell me, Now!”

Nilla and Paevia were alarmed at the way the young one was being treated but knew to draw attention to themselves now would only cause harm to themselves. They each stood holding one another, ready to flee at a moment’s notice. Nilla jerked her head toward the cage when she heard the old mystic begin to laugh. Did he care nothing for his apprentice?

Amerak stopped shaking the kit and glared at his nemesis. “You laugh? How dare you laugh at me? Does the life of this kit mean so little to you?” He drew his knife from its sheath and placed it against the young one’s throat. “I will kill him, and smear his blood from your head to your toes. I will leave his lifeless body hanging from the wall of your prison to remind you that I am not one to laugh at. Do you still feel like laughing old one?” Spooks eyes were big as saucers as he felt the blade cut into his skin. A small tendril of blood escaped down into the collar of his robe.

Shénmei watched the blood and apologized to his apprentice before considering the eyes of the Felis responsible for the destruction of a city and before that a race of fierce warriors. He would never let the mage get his hands on something as powerful as the Triad. Not if he still drew breath. “I dare to laugh because I know you have been defeated. The guardians move ever closer to their prize, while you are busy dallying here with me and mine. Your own thieves have had the guardians within their grasp twice now and missed them. They are the same warriors that saved my apprentice. They will succeed in their quest, and then they will destroy you.”

Amerak looked down at the kit in his hands, then he moved closer to Shénmei’s cage. The two stared into each other’s eyes and what Amerak saw was the truth. He turned toward his little thief. “you have been in the presence of your prey not once but twice? And you let them escape to bring me this?” He stopped to shake the kit again. “I want you out there tracking them down and getting rid of them now!!” With each word, his voice had gotten loud and angrier. “Go! Find the Guardians! Kill them and bring me their heads.” In his disgust, he threw the young apprentice against the cage. The force was so great that you could hear bones breaking before the kit landed in a pile at his master’s feet.