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23. Chapter 23

Kyle Aarons%s's Photo   Kyle Aarons, 07 Jan 2011

"I have no clue what to do now." Kandric stated as he spit out another mouthful of the dragon’s blood. He poured the water skin over his head and shook it violently as he leapt off the body of the dead green dragon. As he did so he sent drops of water thinned dragon blood splattering everywhere. "Well, this is about the most disgusting thing I could ever imagine.”

Zeltoss held up his hand, “Careful Kandric! Keep your sword away from the bulge under its neck. Its poisonous gas is still in there!”

Kandric quickly stepped forward and glanced back. It took only a couple of seconds to spot the area Zeltoss had warned him about. “Wow, I was way too close, Thanks Zel!”

“Us Mystics have to learn dragon parts.” Zeltoss grinned, “But I never thought it would come in handy.”

“My dad always said you just never know when an item of knowledge will come in handy. He was big on me and my sisters learning as much about different things as possible.” Lorethorn added as he started to shake off the fear of an encounter almost no one would believe he had lived through even if he told them.

“He had a very valid point.” Kandric nodded in agreement, “My teacher’s most often spoken line was the most valuable thing in the world was knowledge, because everything else could be taken away.”

Kandric caught his breath as he looked over the carnage the four of them had left in their wake over the last half an hour or so and then back to the massive cave in. He paused and glanced down at his own blood coated arms and hands then over to his new friends. As he did so he couldn’t help but to notice all three of them had blood spatter of countless fallen enemies all over them and their weapons dripped with the gore of battle.

Taking a deep breath he walked around a couple of minutes and looked at the dozens of dead bodies littering the cavern floor. As the full impact of what the aftermath of a real battle was hit him he knelt and puked.”

Lorthorn moved up, “Teacher Kandric?”

Kandric held up a hand as he took a swig of his own water skin and spit it out. “I will be fine. Just give me a minute.”

“Dragon blood.” Seldnat grunted.

Kandric forced himself to swallow some bile as he stood, “Only partially my friend.”  He stopped as it dawned on him the others didn’t even realize what all four of them had just done. “Guys, I did not do this alone. Look around, see what we have done. Look your weapons. Look at your own clothing. Look at each other. I did not do all of this. We did.”

Kandric watched the other three stop and take a look around. One by one the color drained from their faces as they started to move around the dead. A few times they paused to examine a spot where a creature had fallen mortally wounded, but must not have been completely dead. The death of the dragon had done the same for them as it had for Zeltoss and to a lesser extent the other three. The difference was, they fled in absolute terror.

Kandric nodded as the eyes of the other three come up to meet his. As they did so, he could see a mixture of the awe and horror he was feeling. “Not exactly all glorious is it?”

Seldnat shook his head, “Me killed lots a thing, but no notice it be like after. How me not see this before?”

Lorthorn nodded over at the Halforc boy, “Yea, but I don’t get it. We’re just a bunch of kids. How did we do all of this?”

Zeltoss pointed at Kandric, “He led us and we have learned how to be a team. All these creatures could have overwhelmed us, but they didn’t use the teamwork we did and I never saw one of the cover the back of another like we all did countless times. They were crazy or insane the way they attacked us!”

“They were desperate and wanting the reward they would have gotten for a kill or capture,” Kandric responded.  “They would have gotten gold and power beyond dreams if they had dropped one of us while their very lives would have been forfeit if this dragon had gotten a single scratch. Now, however, those who survived are going to be hunted down like rabid dogs by everything the Green Dragons can throw at them. This will cause those who survived to be marked for a torturous execution or worse. This was a Green Dragon Great female, the rarest and most precious type of dragon in the world.”

Seldnat gulped, “What ‘bout we den teach’r?”

Kandric shrugged, “I honestly don’t know. If they find out who we are I am sure they will want our heads. On the other hand it will be tough for them to find out who did this and they will be very afraid of us if they do. As far as I know this is the first time since at least the great Dragon wars that a Great female has been killed and it may be the first time since the Mythling wars that a non-dragon has killed a great female.”

Kandric activated his necklace’s ability to get him clean. As he did so, all signs of combat vanished from his skin and clothing. However, the extra magic from the dragon’s death augmented this power, cleaning the other three’s clothing and bodies as well. As this happened, Kandric felt some of his force get sucked out of his ring. He shook his head to clear it.

Lorthorn looked down at his clothing and weapon noticing all traces of dirt were gone and his weapon looked cleaned and oiled, “Nice trick Teacher!”

“Yea, but it wasn’t supposed to do this.” Kandric turned to face Zeltoss. “Zel, no spell tossing for a while; magic is going nuts down here right now!”

“I’m betting Rylop and the others are going a bit nuts right now too,” Lorethorn snickered as he glanced toward the little cut out section that had been the guard post with the air shaft.

Seldnat grinned, “Yea, me bet dis whole hill be goin’ nuts thanks ta teach’r Kandric!”

***

The Alphar scouts helped locate the entrance Kandric had entered allowing Duke Mathard and his Garm force quickly push into the caves within Bloody Rock. The expert miners with him quickly picked up the trail and followed it. Less than an hour in, the trail of death and destruction left behind started some quiet conversations within the Garm force, but Duke Mathard put a stop to the discussions. His single goal was to locate the young Alphar Prince and rescue him.

Still he had to wonder if this was really going to turn out to be a rescue mission. The trail of dead Morg, Hobgoblins, Green Dragonlings and Black Dragonlings was truly astonishing. The deeper they moved several facts started to take shape. First and probably most surprising was the fact the bodies had yet to be taken care of. This all but assured Mathard and his men the Alphar Prince was still on the loose, since once captured or killed the next duty would be to clean up the mess.

Second, and almost as surprising, was the lack of resistance. Even after a full hour they had yet to face serious opposition. A through search of each area had turned up a handful of Morg and Hobgoblins, most of them young or female and just trying to hide and ride out the assault. Duke Mathard used supplies found to hog tie any who surrendered without resistance. Any who ran or tried to fight were added to the high body count within the labyrinth known as Bloody Rock.

Finally the lead scout moved through another cavern littered with looted bodies and knelt, “The trail grows cold here my lord. They were here, but did not go further.”

Duke Mathard moved up and glanced around. “Did they gate themselves out?”

A sorcerer came up shaking his heard, “No my lord. There have been no spells of such power cast here in quite some time, if ever. The flow of magic is steady. Actually there are some protections to prevent such spells, not good ones, but they are in place. It is almost as if a considerable amount of effort has been put in over the past 100 years or so to give this whole place some protections against scrying and gating types of magic. The scrying protections are actually very good.”

A second Miner and scout moved around the cavern looking over the dead. “These bodies have been stripped of far more gear than most of the others. They may have started running low on supplies or had a serious injury and decided to halt their attack. One way or the other they turned around here.”

Mathard frowned, “They did not leave. We would have stumbled right on them, so they must have taken a side passage.”

The lead scout rolled his eyes, “Then they took a real small offshoot somewhere and took enough time to clean their boots of blood and let them dry, because we would have spotted them otherwise. They could be anywhere.”

A deep booming voice cascaded through the cavern, “My scouts concurred hours ago. What brings the Garm out of their self imposed exile?”

Duke Mathard spun in the direction of his voice. In his heart he already knew what he would see, but even as prepared as he thought he was, he could feel his throat tighten and his eyes bug out as the head of Blathamort, king of all Black Dragons, came into view.

Time seemed to stop as the vibrations of each footfall of the gigantic dragon shook through the Duke and his troops. Several fell, while others took a knee. Duke Mathard had to remind himself to breath as he wondered how many of his force had dropped to the ground out of fear and how many had actually fallen do to the continuing tremors cause by the movement of the dragon king. The Duke slid his feet further apart to absorb the shock to his whole body as he took in the full terrifying beauty of Blathamort.

Meter by meter the midnight black scales came into view, the very light seemed to be partially absorbed making the cavern dimmer, to where even shadows seemed to flee the presence of the monster. As Duke Mathard gazed on, the smell in the cave changed as several of his Garm warriors soiled their loincloths well before all 85 meters of black scaled serpent came into view. Even the teeth were dark as a cloudy moonless night sky and the eye Mathard could see was as cold and dark as the emptiness of a hole. Adding to the effect was the sounds of the protective scales around the nose moving to allow the passage of vast amounts of air into and out of the serpent’s lungs. An eerie whistling sound almost as a storm blown wind echoed over the heavy breathing of the entire Garm force.

Still even as imposing as Blathamort was Mathard noticed something those under him did not. It was not much, but truth be told it was just enough to give Duke Mathard a spark of hope. A smile crept on to his lips as he bowed to show some respect, “King, our mission here is straight forward. We are here to retrieve a young Alphar Prince who got in over his head while exploring the area. It was felt we would be a better choice than the Alphar since there is considerable iron within this place. If you would be kind enough to allow us to find him and escort the boy and those with him out of this cavern there will be no need for further violence.”

Blathamort let out a deep growling sigh, knocking over a trio of still standing Garm. His head moved from side to side looking over the 100 plus heavily armed and armored high dwarves, most of whom were shaking off their initial terror and starting to get ready for combat. With a nod of his head he motioned for three score of Dragonlings to move forward to show he was not alone in this fight.

The silence, even momentary, gave Duke Mathard some pause. The very fact Blathamort didn’t instantly refuse said way more then words would have. Having a large Dragonling force move up in a display of force reveled even more. This massive beast was worried. Mathard glanced up slightly once again catching sight of a graying edge to many of Blathamort’s face and neck scales and a slight trembling to his right front hip as he moved. It was clear this massive beast was getting old and although it would never admit it, the thought of a fight with such a skilled force seemed to be giving him some pause.

Even as the silence persisted many of the Garm warriors behind him slowly stated moving away from each other and getting shields ready to block the rain of acid that they were certain would come out of the giant dragon’s mouth at any moment. The further apart they were the harder it would be for Blathamort to kill or injure large numbers in a first volley of acid and spells.

Just as Blathamort was about to reply, the whole cavern shook followed moments later by an incredible burst of magic. Blathamort jerked his head and screamed in a mixture of rage and outright terror. Suddenly the King of all Black Dragons didn’t look quite so old as he spun his entire body and charged down the passageway he had come. Over a third of his Dragonlings were physically knocked to the ground, some seriously wounded by the radical flight of their King. Two of the Garm warriors were instantly killed as they were tail whipped into the side of the cavern. Those who didn’t understand Blathamort’s words didn’t really need to as the tone of the order allowed most of the Garm to understand even though the actually words escaped them. Even in its most rudimentary translation the message was crystal clear. “Kill them all!”

Duke Mathard didn’t have the luxury of trying to comprehend what had just occurred. Instead he took the fight to the totally off balance elite Dragonling force. He picked out one dressed in the fanciest of armor and hurled his axe into its face as he shouted out in Garm, “Front lines take down any who lead first. Crossbowman, finish off those wounded and down before they can recover!”

One of the Garm Officers slammed his short sword into the gut of one of the Dragonlings in front of him, “What just happened my lord?”

Mathard used his off hand to stick a dagger into the neck of a Dragonling trying to get back to its feet after the flight of its king as he replied, “Something powerful enough to scare a dragon; what more needs to be said!”


Throughout the cave Garm forces took full advantage of the violent and unexpected exit of Blathamort. Most of the Dragonlings didn’t get a single breath off before they fell. Those who did found their breath weapons defected by prepared warriors with large shields. Still the screams of pain from a few Garm echoed through the cavern as acid splattering off of shields dripped onto hands and faces of a few unlucky warriors.

Less than five minutes of combat was all the Garm needed to secure the cavern. A few Dragonlings remained being lead by a rather young looking Dragonling officer in black chain armor with obsidian shoulder boards. He glared at Duke Mathard as he and the few survivors were surrounded by Garm. He spoke in Dwarvin as he motioned for those with him to lower their weapons while he moved forward with a raised mace. “Do you have any idea what the one you are here to retrieve just did?”

Mathard shook his head, “No, but I am sure I will find out soon enough.” He then pointed to his lead sorcerer, “Take him alive, Healthmen, Channelers and Shamen move up and take care of our wounded. Everyone break out water skins and wash off weapons, shields and other gear hit by acid. Re-supply water from the pool on the far side of this cavern. We need to secure the area, find out what happened, and get back on track to rescue the prince.”

The lead Garm sorcerer cast a powerful electric shock on the armor of the Dragonling with the dark black chain suit causing the creature to jerk and twitch before falling unconscious on the floor of the cave. The spell seemed to gather strength rather than diminish. Arcs of electrical energy started to flair around the armor, partially welding parts of the metal together. Finally the astonished Sorcerer had to use extra force to cut the flow of his own spell he fell to a knee exhausted by the sudden outburst of a spell beyond what he should have been able to cast.

“Oh, that isn’t right.” Duke Mathard growled as he knelt next to his lead sorcerer with a great deal of concern. “Spell casters, magic is off, use low power spells because they seem to be flaring at the moment!”

The Duke’s Captain of the Guard moved up and knelt next to the Duke and Sorcerer. “I have to wonder if this Alphar prince didn’t rescue us instead of the other way around my Lord.”

Duke Mathard glanced over as the last seven Dragonlings dropped their already lowered weapons as their final leader fell. “Your thoughts and mine are on the same paths.” He then pointed at the fallen leader, “Did we accidentally kill him?”

One of the warriors moved over to the leader and got a shock off the armor as he checked on him, “No my lord, he is alive. His breathing is not very strong and he has some bad burns on his scales from the spell, but it appears he will live. It also looks like he chipped several teeth as he was jerking inside the armor.”

Mathard nodded as he glanced over to some of his other warriors who were waiting on a decision on what to do with those who surrendered. “Spare them, but chain them. Have a few of our walking wounded take them and our seriously injured out to the Alphar for proper and full attention. Also grab the leader, and tend to him. He is coming with us, so muzzle him. Kill any who are too badly wounded to take up to the Alphar or show any desire to resist. Chain the rest. I want none of these creatures to escape. I am going to take our fastest scouts and follow. We must get to the Prince before he does!”

The Duke’s Captain of the Guard stood and started point to those under him to get the Duke’s orders moving, “This prince must be quite impressive.”

Duke Mathard managed a smile noting only six of his number had been killed and only a dozen wounded badly enough to need to head topside. He pointed to ten of his best warriors and two of his top scouts to start tracking Blathamort’s hurried exit. Before he turned to join them he glanced back to his guard captain. “Something tells me everyone here will be thanking this Alphar Prince Kandric.”

***

Senole led Rylop and the others back to the passage Kandric and the others had taken down into the depths of Bloody Rock. The young Dwarf had no problem picking out land marks, some of the more obvious ones he pointed out to the small group, but gave up in short order as he realized the untrained eyes of those he was leading could not tell what he was trying to show them unless he spent time to explain and time was simply something he didn’t have.

Rylop glanced as he realized the speed at which they were moving created a great deal of sound. “Half this hill is goin’ ta be able to hear us.”

“I don’t think it it’ll matter none, sir.” Senole stated with a great deal of concern in his voice. “When I left them, there were lots of voices closing in on them. With the huge rumbling we heard and felt, I bet Teacher Kandric caused a cave in. Everyone in this whole section had to have heard it!”

“Yea, well, I just hope they ain’t under tons a rock 'er nothin’.” Rylop stated showing growing nervousness. “Without him...” His voice trailed off as the sounds of a deeply enraged powerful voice seemed to echo around him.

Senole’s eyes grew wide as he pointed to the vent shaft, “It’s coming from where they went.”

Rylop moved over to the sharply downward sloping tube and looked down “What in the name of the gods is that?”

“I’m not sure, but it sounds really pissed!” Karvock, the adult Healthman, spoke up as he moved forward to look down the tube. “It sound like it is speaking in Elvish.”

“Somehow, I don’t think they is under any rocks.” Senole snickered as he kicked the still staked rope down the vent so everyone could climb down.

Before anyone could respond the cavern shook violently enough to knock down almost everyone in the group. Rylop, who happened to be looking down the vent, ended up falling in. Only his large size coupled with his armor saved him from falling all the way down. On the other hand he slid over three meters before getting stuck. “OH Crap! Pull me up!”

Just as several of the kids moved up to haul him out with the help of the rope another tremor caused the ground, then the walls, and finally the roof to start vibrating. Several kids knelt while others staggered around desperately trying to keep their footing. The few with shields put them over their heads to deflect stones as they started to fall from above.

Everyone felt and some could even taste a building of power as a few small sections of the natural cavern started to crack. Suddenly Rylop shot out of the vent tube as if catapulted. He fell to the ground about thirty meters away only to see a massive wave of dark green magical energy erupt out of the tube and ripple across everyone. Those who had managed to stay standing were flung to the ground while several of those who had taken a knee were blown back away from the vent shaft. Wave after wave of green light washed over the terrified group.

Just as quickly as it started, it stopped. Rylop did a quick assessment, and found much to his amazement that he was not injured. In fact he was totally healed and fully refreshed. Glancing around he noted the phenomenon was not limited to him. Everyone seemed to be testing formerly injured body parts.

The glow coins which provided light for the group were also affected. The normal golden light was gone, replaced by a greenish tinge, almost spooky glow. As he shook his head and got back to his feet, he glanced back over to the shaft, “What in the name of the gods did you do Kandric?”

***

Vondum glanced over the map in Monarch’s command tent with a sigh, “Are you sure you want Kandric to gate us to the south of Everone? We will be right in the middle of contested territory.”

Monarch snorted, “Yes and I know you will. Had you not been so concerned with killing off my forces you would have been here for the meeting where we talked over the best way to help the Lizardmen. I had originally planned to move you in by ship, compliments of a pair of Warlords of Morden and head up stream and move from the villages of the Applewood forest, but since your young friend says he can put you anywhere, this will be even better. You will be able to fan out and hit supply points and totally disrupt reinforcements.

“They will have to do one of two things. First, and by far the least damaging for them would be to pull troops off the front lines to deal with the threat in their rear. If they do this victory will be impossible for them but it will also keep their homeland strong. If they do pull forces away from their homeland, then you will move through the Valley of Lorb and into the Marshes of Ponna and hook up with the Lizardmen reinforcements and crush all stupid enough to follow you. This will be a death trap for them and may just weaken the Black Dragon Homeland enough to force Bandurlok to pull all his forces back home which would give me this area without having to fight him for endless years.

If they do pull troops from their homeland, which I think they will, you will head to the north side of the river just before you enter the Valley of Lorb. Once there look for a hill shaped much like a horse head. You will find a small detachment of Illorcs who can guide you, but even then the path they will take you down is far from safe.”

Monarch pointed with a stick to the single most wild lands below the Silver Spine Mountains. “You will certainly loose forces on the trip, but so will they and once through the valley they will be in an area I have spent years and thousands of silver to create some secure spots. I have over ten thousand Lizardmen troops and more than double those forces of my Illorcs plus all the needed non-combatant support. Bandurlok’s forces would never make it out alive.”

Vondum shook his head, “And how many good warriors did you loose just trying to get through the valley?”

Monarch glanced over, “More than I care to admit but I also lost a huge number just getting a couple areas secured in the marshes. Over 95% remains terribly wild and dangerous but I still lost less than Bandurlok did when he tried and failed to secure a base in the Deathland Mountains and about as many as each of us lost fighting in the shadow of the Missing Finger Mountain. If acid breath would just let go of past grudges we would both be a great deal happier, more powerful and certainly a great deal wealthier.”

Vondum couldn’t help but chuckle, “He’s a dragon prince, and unless I miss my guess, if you would have made concessions when you first screwed him over, took his flag ship and captured the crew including me, the whole matter would have been nothing more than a single payback on his part, but nooooo not you. You had to not only take out his entire command, capture all of his junior officers and toss them overboard, but also purposefully scuttle his personal ship after you looted it right down to the food stores. You knew who it belonged to, there is no doubt. And like it or not, he knows it from me and a few other survivors. Before you tossed me and my slave over the side I heard the captain repeatedly telling you the dire repercussions of what you were doing.”

Monarch took a large bite out of the dagger bore steak, a smile creeping over his features. “Yea, well, his constant crying and warnings were the reasons he lost his head. A real captain would have defended the ship with a little more vigor and cried a lot less once it was lost. Besides, for a Warrior Dragon, he was actually quite cowardly. Hell all four of them were. The Dragonlings and the other crew killed far more of my boarders than the Dragons did. Matter of fact you killed more than any of the four dragons did. You really were on track to be a superior officer for him.”

Vondum chewed on his lip as he thought back to the day of the attack by a quintet of Morden ships. Two didn’t make it to boarding range; one other was burning and listing to the starboard as a few survivors started a boarding action out of desperation more than desire to take the ship.

This action gave the last two ships an opening and they took it. The largest of the surviving ships rammed into the aft end and brigands poured onto the Dragon’s Claw. The final ship waited and sailed around to the far side of the burning and listing ship. This action went basically unnoticed as the Dragons and Dragonlings focused on clearing the ship of a huge number of boarders.

Vondum, on the other hand, did see what was going on and lead a makeshift counter attack. He took a detachment of junior officers and crew onto the burning ship, waited for the last ship to secure itself and the further waited while attackers moved over the deck of the burning ship and onto Bandurlok’s ship.

As soon as the way was clear, Vondum lead his small force on a counter boarding action. His initial attack was devastating; he and those under him killed a good fifty crew. Victory turned to defeat when a hoard of Illorcs spilled onto the upper deck. As Vondum finally tossed down his sword and ordered the others to surrender, the deck was coated in blood, in some areas it was pooled to the point were footfalls in the blood created a splash.

The fifteen remaining under him were tied while he was allowed to remain standing. They were taken to the Dragon’s Claw where they saw their captain beheaded followed by the other three warrior dragons and the handful of surviving Dragonlings. Finally each of the survivors was given a chance to refute their allegiance to Bandurlok. Only Vondum and a quintet of others refused. Those who did disavow their support to the Black Dragon Homeland were led below never to be seen again. Those who refused were given their gear and any personal belongings, which meant Vondum was given his slave, armor, and swords before being untied and literally dropped into a damaged lifeboat.

“I only had those who refused to drop their allegiance to Bandurlok and the Black Dragon Homeland pushed over the side. You had a choice. Speaking of which, you never have withdrawn your pledge of service to the Black Dragon Homeland.”

Vondum’s gaze never wavered as he stared over at Monarch, “And I never will. My word is the most important thing I have to give. My pact as a member of the Black Dragon Military was for six years, and I did everything required of me for those six years including being stranded beyond the sight of land by you. We barely made it to one of the sinking ships and got just enough supplies to fashion a raft. Your people were not quite as eager to pick it clean since it was already starting to roll so we also got some food, water and other equipment.

“For three weeks we drifted, got badly sunburned, and were close to death when we spotted a small island and managed to paddle toward it. Once there we commandeered a small sailing ship and forced the survivors to take us back to the mainland.

“The only reason one of us sitting here did not die from the hand of the other is the fact I was unable to locate you before my six years of service terminated. You stole a large part of Bandurlok’s personal treasure and then spat on his face after the fact by killing off most of the crew. There are some things you simply can’t expect an officer in his military or the dragon prince to forgive you for.”

Monarch shook his head, “Yea, well other than the dragons and senior Dragonlings, the others were simply stranded on a small uncharted isle we found about a week later. I was a junior captain for Morden, and had to show them I was up to their standards but I did not, could not, kill such a hard core group of warriors. Of course after the victory I took the loot and decided to go my own way. Do you have any idea of how much I ended up with even after paying my cut to my warlord?”

“Probably over a hundred million silver. We had a great deal of magical treasure and pay for much of the troops fighting on the islands. If it had not been for the magic of your capture you would have never been able to move up here as a major power let alone go into the Marshes of Ponna to establish your secret base. Bandurlok’s forces fighting on the isles were basically routed because of your actions too, by the way.”

“If I said I was sorry I’d be lying; he has given me nothing but grief.”

“You started it Monarch.” Vondum grinned for a moment then pointed down at the map changing the subject back to matters at hand. “It still amazes me you got anyone through the valley. To be honest I do not look forward to having to go through the deepest parts of the gorge to get there.”

Monarch took a sip of wine and pushed back from the table signaling he was done with the meal. Even has he continued to talk servants moved forward to clear his dishes. “Do I detect some concern for your young scout? Will he be able to handle the valley?”

Vondum rolled his eyes, “You’re shooting at the wrong target. He will have every bit as good of a chance as me. It’s your people I‘m worried about. One thing I can tell you about Kandric is he has the heart of a…” Vondum stopped in mid sentence as the whole feel of the tent changed and the flames on all the candles flickered from yellowish to greenish. Vondum could actually feel the change in the flow of magic around him as it shifted.

Moments later gale force winds buffeted the command tent and the sounds of tents falling down, equipment being blown around and even a few cries of pain as debris slammed into Illorcs causing everything from minor to serious injuries.

Vondum’s hand shot down to his blade as he spoke, “What in the name of the gods just happened.”

Monarch tossed up a protection field as he saw his command tent start to shred around him. Everything from tree braches to rocks bounced off of the domed magical barrier as he looked around. He paused taking a moment to look at the flow within the fabric of what he pulled his sorcerer powers from before speaking, “The gods had nothing to do with it; whatever is going on is coming from the realms of mortals. I have never felt or seen anything like this, but whatever happened has dumped a vast quantity of raw magic into the world and the event was close by. My guess is it will be a few minutes before it levels out and things return to normal.”

Vondum frowned as he stood muttering under his breath.

“Our redheaded friend?” Monarch spoke, making it sound as much like a statement as a question.

“Your guess is mine as well.” Vondum cracked his neck as he rolled his head. He paused to stretch before he grabbed his gear and started securing it.

As Monarch stood a pair of Illorc guards rushed into the remnants of what used to be a very nice tent. The lead one didn’t even bow as he nervously spoke, “Lord Monarch, Bloody Rock just glowed green!”

Vondum felt a chill go down his spine, “What part of it?”

“Sir, I don’t think you get it, Bloody Rock just turned green!”

The second guard spoke up, “It was the whole mountain sir, every cave, crack and crevasse gushed out green energy.

Vondum glanced at Monarch, “Guess where my young scout went.”

“Oh, gee, let me take a shot at this, Bloody Rock?” Monarch rolled his eyes as he pointed to one of the servants. “Grab my battle gear and assemble a full elite battalion. This needs to be investigated in force.”

Both Vondum and Monarch glanced over at the table as the flames on the candles flashed a bright green before going out. Around the tent all the lamps went out one after another leaving them in the dark. Even the powerful protection spell shattered under the final magical assault.

Monarch’s hand suddenly glowed giving everyone in the tent remnants some light. “I have to say, if your scout is behind this he has done something beyond what I can fathom, for even the campfires and my own fireplace went out and the magical lights are all green!”

“Oh, I have very little doubt. Very few could cause this kind of mess and only one of them I know of is inside Bloody Rock.” Vondum grumbled as one of the servants helped him secure his armor.

Monarch frowned deeply. “The power inside the boy is astonishing, but this is so for beyond anything I have experienced, I find it hard to believe a boy could have been behind it.

Vondum snickered despite the situation, “He is not just a boy; he is Kandric.”

***

Anettie stayed close to the Pantherling as he led them down a path Anettie had to admit she would have a hard time finding in the full light of day let alone at night. “Sir please slow down. Jormund is having a hard time keeping up carrying all of your friend’s gear.

Grunn glanced back with a slightly miffed look. “You know for Swordsmen students you two do not show much promise.”

Anettie bit her lip and said nothing, knowing the Pantherling was basically correct. A swordsman, even a young student should be able to go for more than a full day carrying a full load at the slow speeds they were moving. The fact she was barely able to keep up carrying her own stuff with a broken arm said more about herself and her fellow student than she cared to admit. She knew a broken arm alone should not be an excuse for such poor endurance.

Anettie moved over to Jormund and grabbed some of the extra gear he was carrying. She dumped out the water from the extra water skins and put the long sword over her back

Jormund, on the other hand, frowned deeply, “What are you talkin’ about?”

Anettie shifted her own gear to get everything as comfortable as possible while shaking her head. “What do you think Teacher Saslara would say ‘bout us right now?”

Jormund started to say something, but the look on the Patherling’s face stopped him. He moved over to a rock and dropped everything so he could also better secure what he was carrying. Suddenly dim light of night radically changed as the dark outline of bloody rock appeared in the darkness. Every cave leading out of the large hill burst forth with green light. One cave sent out a blast of green light right toward them.

Grunn moved quickly, knocking both Anettie and Jormund to the ground, “Stay down little ones!”

Wave after wave of magical energies flowed over them creating a gale force wind for over a minute, several trees snapped, and tree branches fell all around them. Even a few large stones were picked up and tossed over their heads as Grunn held the two students down behind the large rock Jormund had put his gear on.

As it ended Grunn stood and brushed off his fur. “Green, not black. Very troubling.”

Anettie rolled off to the side gripping her arm for a moment before she realized it no longer hurt. Confused she poked at it then glanced back to the Pantherling who was still staring at bloody rock. “Whatever it was made my arm better sir.”

Jormund stood looking around in some dismay as he realized all of the gear he had put on the rock had blown all over the forest. “Your friend is going to be very mad at me!”

Grunn’s attention focused back on the kids realizing all the gear on the rock had been blown away in the magical explosion, “Spread out. Just find his dagger and pack. The rest he can live without. We need to get to camp now!”

“Why? What happened?” Anettie asked as she unwrapped her splinted arm and tested it, finding it had indeed been healed.

Grunn spun to face the two kids, “For the first time since the Dragon Wars a great dragon, in this case a green one, has just been killed by something other than natural means or dragon combat. We are not talking about a Dragonling, a Warrior Dragon, or even a True Dragon, but the real thing. Soon, very soon, friends of this Great Dragon will come wanting to know what happened and why. At the same time those tasked to guarding and protecting this dead dragon will flee out of Bloody Rock because they failed and their lives are now forfeit. In other words in a matter of hours, if not less, this whole area is going to be full of those hunting down those who failed and those who failed trying to rob, pillage, and loot so they have the coin to get as far away as possible.”

Jormund looked skyward noticing the stars seemed a bit brighter as if the sky had been cleared by the weird green storm. His voice dripped with sarcasm as he half grunted. “Thanks Teacher Kandric.”

***

Jamon nodded to the two man patrol as he carried a load of dishes. The men returned the nod but paused to see what he was up to.

Jamon didn’t hesitate; he moved over and knelt next to Conth while putting down large heavy stack of dishes. As he unlocked the shackle holding his cousin to the post he kept his voice low and didn’t look in his direction. “Vondum is at some sort of meeting until very late so Sy was able to make some extra food. We each took enough so there would be some left on each plate, but not enough for anyone else to take much notice. This will also give you a chance to get cleaned up and get some water.”

Jamon then locked the shackle which had been attached to the post to Conth’s free leg and stood. He spoke up so Vondum’s guards could hear, “You have one hour to wash those and get them back into the hut before you get locked up here again for the night. Use fresh water from the well. You better be back here before the camp fire goes out.” For emphasis he pointed to the central camp fire where the other slaves were working on various tasks and enjoying the heat.

Conth looked over the stack of plates each containing some half eaten meat stuffed rolls. A brief look of disgust faded as the smell of the food made his stomach rumble. He bowed. As he did so he hung his head and grunted out a whispered, “Thanks.”

Jamon kept his head turned away from Conth as he reached down to stroke the fur of his new pet. With his mouth hidden he lowered his voice again, “When you get a chance thank Sy, he is the one who arranged all of this. There is also some heavier dry cloths behind the bush next to the well. It’s the best we could do without Vondum noticing. Make sure you put some dirt on them so they match what you are wearing now.”

Conth took a quick glance around noting the two guards had moved off, continuing their patrol of the Swamp Slums and the area being cleared for the fortress. “Do you know what I can do to get back on Vondum’s good side?”

“Good side?” Jamon looked over at his cousin with a shake of his head. “You have to be kidding.”

Conth’s shoulders slumped and his head sagged, “I can’t live like this!”

Jamon nervously glanced around then sighed as he realized no one was around to see the outburst. The last thing he wanted was to hit Conth again or worse yet whip him, but he was prepared to do either and he knew it. As this realization dawned on him, he paused and thought over the time he had recently spent around the man. As he did so, a sudden inspiration came to him.

His eyes returned to Conth with a sternness he didn’t realize he had in him until now. “You don’t have much choice. You live like he lets you or you die.”

“If I die he’ll bring me back, just like he threatened to do with Porma."

“Probably.” Jamon couldn’t help it, he snickered. “Dieing is way too easy a way out.”

“So what do I do?” Conth pleaded softly.

“To be honest, it’ll be really tough. You started off on the wrong foot with him. His whole life revolves around strength of body and mind. You didn’t show either. You are acting like spoiled little girl. You whine and bitch instead of just doing what you are told. Making maters worse you have continued to try to make your life as easy as you could figure out how. The whole strategy is wrong, cause the more he sees you try to get off easy the more he despises you. He sees you as a weak, lazy and worthless piece of trash. The more I think it over, the more I see he actually believes what he is doing will make you a better person.”

Conth thought this over as he started eating some of the food left on the plates since no one who cared was watching. Between bites of food he looked up. “How do I fix it?”

“I wish I knew.” Jamon shook his head, “Your best bet may be to be really polite and ask Sy. He is way nicer than Vondum and does a lot behind the scenes to make life a little easier on all the slaves. Just remember where the food you are inhaling came from.”

Conth didn’t reply until he had crammed the last of the food he could easily get off the plates into his mouth not fully realizing just how hungry he had been. Going over a full day with nothing had left him far hungrier and desperate than he had thought possible. The fact the food was half eaten and getting cold didn’t make it any less edible after all. Finally he started gathering the dishes so he could wash them. “I just wish…”

His words were cut off as the outline of Bloody Rock suddenly became visible in the darkness, bathed in an eerie green light. Moments later the green seemed to blossom as if the whole small mountain had exploded.

It took only seconds for the effects to get to the Swamp Slums. The first wave of green energy knocked Jamon on his butt and flung Conth back into the post he had just been released from. As the two boys looked up they noticed all the fires had a green tinge and were being fanned by gale force winds.

The second wave of power caused the flames to flair and started more then a few buildings on fire. Fortunately the flames didn’t last long as a third wave of green magic snuffed all the fires out.

Still, the damage was pretty heavy in the Swamp Slums as a few poorly constructed huts completely crumpled under the sudden torrents of wind while others lost sections of roofs or sustained other types of damage. One of the few to weather the magical storm was the one Sy had rebuilt for Kandric’s mom, Kaylaria.

Terrified and confused voices came from every direction as Jamon picked himself up and looked around, “What the hell was that?”

Kaylaria came out of the front door and activated a jeweled pendant bathing the area in a soft orangish glow, but tinted with a bit of green. “Watch your tongue young one. She took a deep breath, “Besides, Hell had nothing to do with it young man. This was a mortal caused phenomenon, but what I cannot say. All I know is my daughter felt the effects worse then I did. It knocked her out. Are you two boys OK?”

Conth shook his head to clear it. As he did so he realized the slashes from the repeated whip blows had all healed. “Better than I was, I think ma’am. I’m all healed up.”

Sy appeared from the area being cleared for the fortress looking nervous. Seeing Jamon and Conth he took a deep breath. “Good, you two are in one piece. As a now I’m takin’ control a you, Conth. Fer the time bein’ you be off the post.” He paused and nodded to Kaylaria. “Nice pin.”

Kaylaria managed a smile, “I find it a real pleasure to be able to use gear I have not touched in decades. I just have to wonder what caused this.”

“Your son. No one else can cause this kind of mess.” Jamon answered without any hesitation.

Sy nodded, “I’d have ta say the boy be right.” He then used a spark autospell to re-ignite the main camp fire. As he did so he and those around him were startled to find the spell went off with zeal, as a gushing of flame poured out of Sy’s extended hand. Sy backed off and found he had to shake his hand to cut off the flow of power. “Whoa! That ain’t right!”

Kaylaria frowned, “Magic has been heightened here. I recommend not casting for an hour or two until it settles down. There is no way my son could have done this!”

“Believe what you will.” Sy stated as he stared right at Kaylaria, “We don’t see him like you do though.” He turned to look back at Conth and Jamon, “Right now we have other things to worry about. I have no idea what just happened, but there be major damage all over da place. Jamon, gather them slaves and see if’n anyone be trapped in them busted up shacks. Conth, you’re with me.”

Conth’s eyes went wide with concern. “Doing what?”

Jamon turned and smacked his cousin with enough force to emphasize his words and remind him of his current station in life. “This is exactly what we were just talking about. You do what he tells you as best as you possibly can and keep trying till you either hurt yourself or get it done.”

Conth’s hand stated to clench into a fist, but Sy moved up quickly. He almost snarled as he grabbed Conth’s chin turning the boy’s head forcefully so he could look him in the eyes. “Kid, don’t get stupid on us again. There be a good reason Jamon now be da lead slave and you’re down ta to the crap spot out a all them others. Don’ be stupid and end up havin’ ta get another set a beatin’s.

Conth held up his hands, “I’m sorry!”

“You’ll be a lot more sorry if’n ya don’t start simply obeyin’.”

Jamon shrugged, “He just don’t get it, Sy. All his stupid games are not helping.” He turned away and called out to the other slaves to come to him so he could get a head count and get some sort of search going. As he waited, he glanced back toward Bloody Rock, noting the whole outline still had a light greenish glow to it. “Maybe you are sorry, Conth, but not as sorry as those inside the mountain probably are. If it was this bad out here it must have been horrible in there.”

Sy kept his hand grip tight on Conth’s chin. “No, me bet this brat here has it worse. All them kids had something goin’ for em.”

“What kids?” Kaylaria asked not understanding where the big Warrior adept was going with his thoughts.

Sy grinned as he picked up Conth by his jaw and flung him to the ground. “The kids from the Swordsman school are on a field trip hunting Hobs out there.”

“So?”

“Who ya think be leadin’ the Slome school in der right now.”

Jamon couldn’t help but snicker as he saw the Elvin woman’s face go blank. “My owner is leading them Ma’am.”

Astonishment and more than a bit of fear entered her voice as she whispered, “Then it really was him?”

“I’d bet me life on it.” Sy nodded, “You still see a young boy when you look at him. Most a the rest a us see a terrifyingly powerful and crafty opponent.”

“Is he really as good as you have all made him out to be?” Kaylaria’s voice showed continued skepticism.

Jamon ignored his cousin’s whimpers of pain as he smiled. “No Ma’am. He’s better than any of us have said.”

“There is no way…” Kaylaria started but stopped as she noticed a pair of Vondum’s guards along with Sy, Jamon, and even Conth were staring at her with eyes saying they all knew differently. She once again started to speak but no words seemed adequate.

Finally Sy snickered, “Like it er not there ain’t a bein’ looking at you who ain’t sure this was the work of yer Kandric.”

***

The massive Silver Dragon nodded to his guest, “So young Pantherling, what could be so urgent you bypass your clan leadership and use the Gate Stone to come see me?”

Anex took a knee and stayed with his head looking to the floor, “Prince Millen, the young Halfelf is inside Bloody Rock.”

The Silver Dragon Price twisted his head and looked down with some amusement. “Son, he will not get very far. King Blathamort’s forces will crush him and we will no longer have to concern ourselves with this child, no matter how promising he may have been.”

Anex refused to back down risking staring the prince in the eyes, “My liege, you are incorrect. We have first hand information from two who went in with him. He has gone deep into the old fortress and has killed Dragonlings, Morg and Hobgoblins too numerous for the two students with him to count.”

Prince Millen looked over at his guards with more than a skeptical eye. The shrugs he received from the Dragonlings made him grin. “Even if this is so, and I believe it is because I know you are a young mind master and could easily glean the truth behind the words of mere students, I fail to see a problem. If this youngster can do real damage to Black Dragonling forces I cannot help but to be happy about it.”

“My liege,” Anex’s voice trembled, “If it was just Blathamort’s forces I would not have used the Gate Stone. However, the boy and girl both insisted this Kandric has killed as many Green Dragonlings as Black.”

The mood within the silver coated chamber changed instantly. The six Silver Dragonlings’ heads jerked to look at Prince Millen and the Prince’s smile faded. “They What!?!” His voice boomed creating a series of echoes. “Are you certain?”

“I am. The boy we found had pulled the teeth of one of the dead greens and showed us. The girl had scales of both Black and Green in a captured pouch. I saw them as Healthman Grunn tended to her broken arm. It was then I lied to them, telling them I was gong to go to Vondum. Instead I went to the gate to get word to you.”

A pair of Silver Warrior Dragons scampered into the room, responding to the sudden outburst. “My prince, is everything alright?”

Prince Millen stared down at the young Pantherling then to the larger of the two Warrior Dragons who had spoken. “I was just getting things organized to send a force up there. I want you two to drop whatever duties you had been assigned. As of now I want the two of you to gather a full troop of my personal elite Dragonlings and let this young Pantherling be their scout. I want to know what is going on inside of Bloody…”

His words seemed to halt in his throat as the silver cauldrons lighting the palace room flickered for an instant. The magic guarding the palace flared, but not enough to prevent the silver flames from having a greenish tinge for a few moments.

Prince Millen staggered back and shook his head. He glanced around the room as if confused for a few moments. The Warrior Dragons also seemed shaken by the unexpected event, but they recovered more quickly then the Prince. Both quickly moved to his side to see if he was alright.

The enormous Silver Dragon stretched his wings and rolled his head, sending all but the warrior dragons sprawling to the silver floor. Even Anex, who had been kneeling, had to roll into a ball and tumble with the massive gust of wind generated by the wings. Millen gave his head one last shake making a loud sound as his scales smacked against each other. “Belay those orders! I want a full company of our Palace Guardian Dragonlings ready to gate to Bloody Rock within the hour.” He then turned to stare at the warrior dragons, I also expect you both to lead them. My father and I need a force there to not only find out what is going on, but also to show we are not going to let Blathamort go unchecked!”

“My liege,” Anex spoke as he stood at the far side of the room, “what just happened?”

A combination of Prince Millen’s words and the fact he spoke them in a whisper sent a shiver up the spine of every creature in the room. “A Green Great female has just been killed. So intense was her fear in her last moments she projected an image as she died. I was able to pull out of the explosion of magic with my Mindmaster talents. I guess I should have paid a bit more attention to the warnings sent by your uncle, since the vision I just got was of a red haired Halfelf child plunging downward with a sword in his hand toward her head. It was the last thing she saw.”

Anax felt his eyes nearly bug out, “A Great Green fell to a sword in the hand of the child?”

“Not just a child,” Prince Millen’s gaze moved to focus on Anex, “The boy your uncle warned me to keep an eye on. Words I did not heed seriously enough. The greens are now down to two or at most three great females because of this mysterious child. Since they are unlikely to have so much as a clue as to who was behind this, they will blindly strike out at anything and everything in their quest for vengeance. It is now my task, my duty to draw a line in the sand so they see there is something standing between them and the countless beings they will attempt to step on as they try to figure out what happened and who caused the death of one of their most precious resources.”

Prince Millen then turned to one the Dragonling guards. “Send a messenger to inform our Blue allies of what we are doing and what we know, but under no circumstances do I want the name of or description of this child revealed. Because of this, I want you to send a messenger who has never heard of this child so it cannot be pried out of him if he should be pressed for details. We need to do everything in our power to keep the identity of this boy secret for as long as we can.”

He then looked over at the warrior dragons. “If possible, bring the red headed Half Elf to see me, but don’t push it. If he can kill a heavily guarded great dragon, you two would not be more than a light workout for this Kandric.”

***

Captain Pontarious made a quick series of rounds, checking on all aspects of the Thunder Rapids. The barge was doing well and making far better time then it should be making. The river currents aided by the magical sails were moving the ship at a dangerous clip, but for some reason the river itself seemed to be aiding the journey, as the currents constantly pushed it into the deepest and safest channels in the river.

He made his way aft to inspect repairs to damage done to the deck from the pirate attack. He nodded in satisfaction as the only signs it had happened at all was a slightly different shade to the color of the planking. He knelt to examine it, thinking of a way to make a potion to make all the wood the same color as he did so.

“The work looks pretty good sir.” Conner’s voice came out from behind him.

Captain Pontarious spun and took a deep breath as he saw Conner perched up on a couple of top side crates, “You are too damned quiet for your own good son.”

“It comes with my training sir.”

Pontarious stood and frowned, “Shouldn’t you be down below enjoying Sharris’ introduction into the Primary Echelon? It was you who managed to get her there after all.”

“It is her time, not mine. All your spell casters wanted to talk to me instead of her so I left.”

“She’s just a kid. They are there to show support not to be part of the party. This is for her and the other kids. Besides, it doesn’t surprise me so many want to talk to you. Your knowledge of spell casting seems to be better than anyone in my crew including me. I have yet to see this special autospell the crew keeps telling me about, but it really made quite an impression.”

Conner gave a resigned sigh as he sat on the edge of the crate, “OK, I’ll show ya.”

Pontarious held up a hand to stop him. “Conner, I was not asking. I was simply commenting. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, nor am I trying to get something from you. They are your spells and your knowledge. No one has a right to demand you show them. If they want it, they can offer you money.”

“So why aren’t you down there sir?”

“I made my appearance, which is what is expected from me. Sometimes the life as a captain of a ship demands I keep a certain distance from most of the crew. I need to have and keep authority in order to be effective in running my ship. This means I need to let the crew have fun without me looking over their shoulder. Sometimes being a captain means I end up being a little lonely. You, however, should be down there as a member of the crew.”

“Ya, well I don’t fit into the world of kids or adults. No adult is gunna totally get past the fact I am a kid, and no kid can look at me without first looking at my abilities. Sharris is fun cause she wants to learn, and some of the crew are starting ta realize I can hold my own with not just combat but with adult talk which is great, but something just doesn’t feel right about either. I don’t think I’ll ever belong nowhere.”

“Your brother fits in just fine with those he is with.”

“Better than I do, for sure.” Conner glanced up skyward, “But he has some problems too. For some reason he is better with adults then I am, but sometimes he hated it when he was put in charge of the forge because some of the apprentices were actually older than he is. He told me more than once it just didn’t seem fair.”

Pontarious patted Conner’s leg, “I cannot profess to have any knowledge of what it is to be so skilled, but I can tell you it was no treat being the lowest of the low in a large household. I was the only slave on the estate for almost twelve years. Sometimes life is not easy, but it could have been worse.”

“You are so skilled.” Conner snorted, “As a matter of fact I have never seen a Mystic with your skills. Your schooling must have been quite something.”

Pontarious paused for a second then decided the best way to attempt to break through some of barriers the boy protected himself with was to go into details he had spent the second half of his life trying to forget. “Yea, the Black Dragon Palace training lab was certainly top notch.”

The results were instant as the words caused the normally unreadable face to show absolute shock and astonishment, “The what?”

Pontarious winced slightly at the memories of the evil place before he slowly nodded, “I was a slave and a trainee in one of the richest and most brutal places known, the Black Dragon Palace.”

Conner’s normally heavily guarded features fractured as he gazed deeply into Pontarious’ eyes. “As in the Obsidian Fortress?”

Pontarious shuttered involuntarily as part of him remembered the feel of the whips across is back. “Yea, that would be the place. You know of it?”

Conner shrugged, “Kind’a. My step-dad would threaten to take us there when we were really bad. We used to think it was a joke until his son, my oldest step-brother, Kedded, threw a rock at a wagon which caused the driver to almost crash.

My step-dad got so mad at Kedded he grabbed him and handed him to a guard telling the guy to see if the Obsidian Fortress wanted him. Kedded was brought back by the guard a few hours later saying we’d hear from them. We all thought it was still a joke, but shortly after dark a large dark hooded thing pounded on our door while loudly offering 750 silver for Kedded. My step-dad let the beast in and it dropped its hood revealing it was a Black Dragonling. I think we all wet our pants, as it walked around and examined each of us offering anywhere from 500 to 2500 silver for each of us. My step-dad looked shaken, but finally declined the offer saying it wouldn’t be enough. He then paid it money for its trouble for stopping by. It didn’t look happy, but it did say the offer would stand if he ever changed his mind and there would be a bonus if he sold more than one of us.

“After that whenever our step-dad threatened us with the Obsidian Fortress we stopped doing whatever it was we had been doing. To this day every time I hear about the place the first thing I think about is the dark black eyes, child size shackles hanging over its shoulder, and horrible breath of that Dragonling as its claw ran down my forehead. My step brother kept saying dad had planned it, but none of us wanted to take the chance, not even Kedded.”

Pontarious closed his eyes and took a deep breath, “I can assure you, it was not staged. The offer was real, and with the prices the Dragonling offered, it is equally clear it had magically determined most of you were trainable, at least one of you very much so. Do you remember how much he offered for each of you?”

Conner shuddered and shook his head, “I don’t remember all the prices, but I know it said I’d have fetched 2300 silver.” Conner’s eyes suddenly flashed as pieces fit into place for him, “That tingling feeling as the claw ran down my head was the first time I felt a spell being used against me!”

Pontarious nodded slowly, “It sounds like most of you were too young to formally test, but it could still test to see if you were trainable and how much innate magic was in your blood. It probably opened your talents and allowed your innate magic to erupt a bit earlier than it would have naturally.”

Conner used his own knowledge of magic to fill in the rest. “It wasn’t his spell, it was my own magic defiance I felt. It must have purposefully cast very low power spells to see if we had any magical power to fight the spell then slowly increased it to see just how strong it was.” Conner nodded, “And you are correct, I started casting autospells shortly after, the Dragonling must have activated it by pushing against my natural magic defiance!”

“Very good.” Pontarious praised Conner’s insights while trying to forget the nightmares of the place being discussed. “The Dragonling was probably a Sorcerer, so not only could it test how strong of a natural defiance you had, it could look into the magic surrounding you and see what type of magic it was. Do you remember who would have fetched the top price from…”

Pontarious’ words got stuck in his throat as the sails on the Thunder Rapids puffed all the way out followed moment latter by a huge lurch as the barge suddenly picked up speed. Only Conner’s lightning fast reflexes prevented both of them from falling overboard as his sect warrior training took over. His feet went wide and his left hand grabbed the rail as his right hand managed to snag the totally unprepared stumbling captain.

Just as both were getting normal footing the sails went totally slack. Pontarious looked up at the sails with confusion. “What…” Once again his words were cut off as the sails smacked a couple of times before fully inflating to their normal magical state.

Conner staggered as if whatever had messed with the sails had done the same to him. He dropped to a knee and put his hands up to his head.

Pontarious knelt next to him, “Son? Are you alright?”

Conner reached out and gripped the captain’s arm and shook his head. “It just got very hot!”

Pontarious cringed as he felt his skin start to burn where Conner was holding him. The years of torment within the Black Dragon palace allowed the man to ignore the pain as he looked over Conner. As he did so he could see the boy’s clothing was starting to smoke. He wasted no time casting a dampen autospell, but it too went a bit wild. Instead of a light mist coming out to make Conner’s clothing damp the spell sucked out the force required to cast a Primary Echelon spell. A burst of water fired out of his extended hand, drenching the boy and knocking him flat.

“What the hell was that!” Conner shouted as he leapt to his feet and dropped into a fighting stance.

Pontarious stood dumbfounded looking as his hand. “I have no clue. I…” His words trailed off as no explanation could be found.

Conner shook his head sending water spraying from his hair. He glared at the captain for a moment then frowned as he saw the red lightly blistering burn mark in the exact shape of his hand on the captain’s arm. His eyes went wide as he touched his clothing, noting spots were burned though. He gulped. “I was starting to burn you!”

Pontarious nodded slowly, noting the some light steam coming off the boy in front of him. “Not Just my skin, you were starting to burn everything! Are you feeling better now?”

Conner took a step back and glanced down where he had been kneeling. Where his knee had been, the deck showed some charring and there was a hole in his pant leg. He gulped. “I think so, but I don’t know what happened to your sails or me!”

Pontarious tore his eyes from Conner for a moment and glanced toward the large mast noting both sets of cloth were fully inflated as they normally should be. “The sails were made by dragons and I paid a fortune for them. In the years I have had them I have never seen anything like this before. Are you sure you are unhurt?”

Conner took in a deep breath, “Yea, I think so. If anything I feel stronger. Something very weird just happened. We ought ’a get below to make sure no one was badly injured and to check to make sure there ain’t no extra damage to the sections we still have to fix.”
 

“I agree, but I want you to stay around me or someone else for a few days until we know you are not going to burn up on us or something.”

Conner started to make his way down, but stopped, “I think this had something to do with the flow of magic cause I have all my force back, and I should still be at only about half. Maybe we passed through a focal point or something. “

“It’s possible,” Pontarious hesitated, “but I have never heard of one so strong before. Of course my own spell went off violently so it could have been. Either way, my orders stand. I want you around someone at all times for the next couple of days at least!”

“You’re the Captain, but I’ll need someone up here with me to help repair your deck… again.” Conner managed to grin. He then paused. “Just in case you still want to know, the Dragonling offered the most for my baby half-brother, Kandric.”

***

Aster knelt next to Shade and hugged his beloved pet to get rid of some of his frustration. “I don’t how I can see what you see, smell smoke through your nose, feel the wet grass under your paws, and even taste the fresh blood of the Dagger Boar you and shade brought down, yet cannot hear a sound through these fuzzy ears. It’s driving me nuts.”

Shade whined and nuzzled Aster, as if understanding everything the boy said. It then looked up and let out a soft howl, getting the attention of Dart and Frost. Walking around Aster, Shade pawed at Aster’s ear then nuzzled up to Frost.

Aster frowned as he tried to understand what his pet was trying to tell him. Fortunately Pocet, who was watching, spoke up, “I think it wants you to listen through Frost.”

Shade instantly wagged his tail and bounded over to Pocet giving the Swordsman a huge wet lick.

Aster giggled as Pocet whipped Shade’s drool off his face, “I never knew you are part animal adept too.”

“No, I just think you have grown so frustrated you’ve lost focus. Give it a try, somehow I think Shade has an idea.”

“He is way smarter than even the Lizardmen gave him credit for.” Aster responded as he moved closer to Frost and concentrated on the magic within himself. It took only moment for him to move some of it too his ears. Manipulating the magic had become easier with each attempt, but making the breakthrough with animal magic hearing seemed an insurmountable task.

This time things were different, however. For as he focused on Frost, Shade started a howl, the tone had been one Aster had taught his pet to alert others to danger. As Aster heard this, he realized it didn’t sound the same to Frost at all, but it did mean the same thing. Suddenly he let go of the magic and found he was indeed hearing though Frost’s ears.

As this happened, his past failures made sense. He had spent days trying to hear sound through his perceptions of the world, not his pets. The other senses were easier, as the base perceptions were identical. Wet grass was wet grass and meant moisture, smoke was smoke and meant there was a fire, blood was blood and meant the meat was uncooked, and a tree still looked like a tree and was perceived as a tree even if it was lower to the ground or looked at from fifty meters above.

Sound was not so clear cut. It was processed differently by all his pets. It was almost like having to understand a foreign language. Even the past tricks of trying to break a stick had not been understood in the same way by each pet. Since all three animals were watching him as he broke it, they took it in different ways. For Shade, it was his owner’s frustration, for Dart it was dryness, and for Frost it was dead wood. Even though they all heard a sound, it meant completely different things. Making matters worse, it was understood as a sound they needed to ignore as all three animals tried to listen for threats, food or important commands.

The howling sound, however, was recognized as a threat for Aster as well as Frost and Dart. So even as all three of them turned to look at Shade to see what was wrong, the final piece of understanding fell into place for Aster. Aster shook his head softly as he realized all this time he had been trying to think of what it should sound like instead of what it meant to each pet.

As his understanding of this last piece of the puzzle of Primary Echelon Animal Magic fit snugly into place with the rest of what he had learned he smiled, “Thanks Shade!”

Once again, the sounds he heard through Frost’s ears were of his voice, but the meaning was more like ‘Shade is good’, instead of gratitude in the way Aster meant.

Sagall moved up and put her arms gently around Aster and kissed him on the top of the head. “Well done young man. Now you know what you need to do, all you have to do is get comfortable with it before we move on to the next step.”

Aster forced himself not to tense up as Segall pulled him closer into her. A deal was a deal. Still he could not help but feel some revulsion over having to get close to her. Memories of the Slome orphanage returned. As it did so the another kiss to his head switched his thoughts away from being with a woman to how he first learned much of what would be required to make money at the orphanage. He shivered at the memory.

It had been a chilly fall day and the work harvesting crops for a nearby farmer had left all the kids near exhaustion, still as the seventy plus boys and girls entered their long bunkhouses there was a strong hint of the rapidly approaching winter in the air.

The single fire place in the center of the building Aster had been living in for almost seven months was not lit like normal but unlike the average evening the air was uncomfortably cool. Several of the older ones shook their heads as it was noticed by some of the newer kids the small cage holding the fire wood was locked and the tools, including the flint and steel was also secured deep within the cage. Finally the oldest and most senior orphan, a teen by the name of Haboc stood up and told everyone to shut up.

Quickly everyone fell in silent, as Haboc was not only seen as a leader but was clearly one of the toughest kids in the orphanage. It was well known most of the staff was somewhat afraid of him and a few of the guards had been working with him for over three years in hopes of turning him into a trained Swordsman and junior guard. It was widely known both inside and outside the orphanage, the second Haboc reached age of ascension he would became a guilded Warrior Adept and city guard.

He called everyone over and told them to sit. This was the first time Aster had seen any kind of meeting organized by one of the kids so he quickly moved up and took a seat on a nearby bed. As he did so most of the others were following suit. The only ones who did not were kids who had been there for quite some time and seemed to know what was going to be said.

Haboc looked over the twenty or so boys to make sure everyone was listening. He kind of snarled as he started speaking. “Many of ya has been though a winter er two and should know this, but fer those a ya who can’t think back ta last year, let’s get this straight. Wood cost coin.

“The headmaster ain’t gunna light the fire with his wood till it get real cold and it ain’t even close ta real cold yet. We all has just a few choices. First, ya deal with what we gets and keeps yer mouths shut er some us older one ‘ll shut yer traps for ya or gives ya something to really yap about.

“Second, ya find a ways to make coin and them who pitch in the bunkhouse firewood pool get bunks close ta the fire and them who don’t gets further away. The more ya pitch in the better yer choice. Last winter we had a fire almost every night, year before only about every other night. The harder ya works ta get coins the better yer spot and the happier all a us ‘ll be at night. Me’ll tells ya right now, I be getting’ some good coin from da guards so me’ll be chipin’ in. But it ain’t cold ‘nough yet for me to waste no coin. But when it do, me’ll be stayin’ warmer then some of the rest of ya. Cause me’ll be sleepin right there!” he pointed to a bunk fairly close to the fireplace yet far enough away not to be right next to it.

“Third, and me thinks all a us seasoned orphans will tell ya, ya gots to find a way ta gets yourselfs some coin so ya all can gets some warm blankets and clothing. We ain’t gunna gets more than a extra blanket and a coat if we be lucky. Ya all will wants more but ya got ta finds a way to buy it. Remember, we’ll all still have ta work outside and it gets real cold with what the headmaster hands out.

Just so all ya all understands, any of ya steal er try to Black Dragon a kid out a what them buy fer themself, you’ll learn a whole new meanin’ ta the word pain. Plus, a few of us ‘ll leave ya in a heap in the streets with nothin’. And I do mean nothin’!” As he finished he looked right at a kid who was standing in the far back.

As Aster looked over he saw a kid who had been a total outcast for the entire time he had been at the orphanage. So shunned was the boy, Aster had not even learned the boy’s name. The one time Aster moved to talk to the boy, an older kid had had stopped him with a shake of his head and quickly pulled him away and made Aster sit at his table to eat. Nothing more had been said.


Aster couldn’t help but see the kid’s reaction even as deep in the shadows as he was. Everyone even glancing his direction could see the kid visibly quake in fear. The ten or eleven year old backed further into the corner and sat on his secluded bunk and put his head between his knees to avoid seeing everyone’s stares.

Haboc snorted, “That ought to give ya greenies a clue as to what Tyillis done ta get banished from the rest a us. He’ll get ta rejoin us if’n he keeps controlled and silent till the spring, so him only gots a few more moons. Then we forgets what happen last winter and worry what happen this winter. Anyways, the other thing ya may wants ta get used to is sleepin’ with a bunk mate. Ain’t no shame no time and it sure aint no shame ta it durin’ the winter.”

Haboc stood, “In’f ya haven’t figured out how to make coin yet then see me er one of the other older ones, but don’t ask unless yer ready ta learn.” He stretched and looked around the bunkhouse. Making sure everyone was paying attention. “It be bath night, so get yer butts to the bath room and change out of yer cloths while yer at it. Someone’s stuff is startin’ to stink and none of us want ta smell ya er your cloths no more!”

Aster peeked over at one of the new boys who everyone knew was the guilty party. A glance around told Aster the rest of the kids knew this as well as a few of the older ones glared at the youngster and smashed their fists into open palms as a clear warning. Another quick look around told Aster the boy, although fully embarrassed by the thought of a public bath, had received the message loud and clear as he gulped. Many grinned while others let out relieved sighs as the kid stood to head out to the bath house for first time in two and a half weeks since he had arrived. A couple of the older ones towered over him as he gathered up all his smelly stuff and almost ran out toward the small bath house.

Satisfied nods along with a couple of grins from the older boys told Aster the matter would be dropped as long as the new kid continued to keep himself and his clothing clean. Aster breathed a bit of a relived sigh as the kid was bunked very close to him.

Haboc, much to his credit, noticed Aster’s reaction. He patted Aster on the shoulder, “Don’t worry none Elf. We all know it sucks ta have ta smell someone else all night every night.”

Aster was somewhat surprised to hear Haboc speaking to him. In the entire time he had been in the bunkhouse, the boy had only spoken to him a pair of times. The first was to give him a light threat about not eating all of his food, and the second was to move him to a bunk further away from a kid who had started to pick on him. Although nothing more was said about the second incident, the older boy in question had ended up with a nasty black eye the very next day.

Aster looked up to the huge older boy, “Thank you.”

“Not a problem Elf. You’ve actually done great for a new kid. None a us have done a thing ta keep ya in line, and ya work hard for yer size.” Haboc stated to turn away but stopped, “This be yer first winter, ya gots any questions?”

Aster chewed on his lip for a moment, “I guess I just want to know how to make coin.”

Another older boy paused and put his hand on Aster’s shoulder, “Don’t ask unless you’re ready to learn kid. We give no second chances.”

Aster could tell the two older boys were serious and were giving him a chance to back out, but he also knew working outside in the winter with orphanage provided clothing would be next to unbearable. “I have to find out sometime.”

Jom sighed and shrugged. “OK, But once we start this there is no backing out.”

“Last chance Elf.” Haboc half growled as if hoping Aster would forget the whole thing.

Aster showed wisdom of years as he answered. “Look, I may be small and young in age equivalent years, but I’m actually older than you. I know I can’t work outside or in the loom room where there is only one fireplace without better winter stuff. Since I’m small and young I’ll end up in the back of loom room far from the fire almost every day and I’ll freeze.

Jom backed off as he clearly deferred to Haboc.

Haboc waited to see if anyone else was interested. Noting all the other new kids were heading out to the bath house he pointed to Jom, “OK.”

Jom rolled his eyes, “Once it gets colder you’ll have more takers. At least this one is smart enough to know what is coming.” He then turned to stare straight at Aster. “You’ve seen others get some copper right?”

Aster nodded, “Uh huh, but I don’t get it. Most of them leave at night, miss work and are here when we get back from work. Sometimes adults come and get them from the work we are doing and they come back later, sometimes not till the next day. Sometimes it looks like they are hurt when I see them again too.”

Haboc motioned for Aster to sit across from them then turned to one of the other older boys who was kind of hanging back, “Martal, let Kopponic know to tell the headmaster ta open the side door.”

Martal frowned for a moment then suddenly nodded, “Got ya. Ya wants me to tell him to keep everyone a bit longer too?”

Jom responded. “Yea, let him know this be for one of the good ones though. We also need you make sure the new brat scrubs completely. Give him some personal attention so he understands the next time we won’t be so nice.”

Martal gave what looked to be a half wave and half salute, “Me thinks he got it, but no prob. I’ll give him a bit more attention then he’ll want.”

Aster sat but looked out nervously toward the rest of the kids rapidly exiting the bunkhouse. Not only was he nervous about what was going to happen, this was the first time he had seen the inner workings of the bunkhouse. It never occurred to him just how much the older kids ran the place.

“Elf look at me and don’t worry none.” Haboc commanded. “This ain’t a bad thing and we’ll get it over as quick as possible and you’ll still get a bath and fresh cloths.” Haboc waited until they were alone then stood. “Elf, there ain’t no easy way to learn this, but me showin’ ya is way better than throwin’ ya to the wolves.”

“Huh?” Aster started to stand.

Haboc moved up and gently yet forcefully pushed Aster back down. “Elf, you asked, so you’re gunna find out. It may seem nasty or bad, but it ain’t and me’ll be as gentle as possible.”

Aster gulped but had seen Haboc stick up for younger ones a few times and heard the boy was pretty protective of most of those in ”his” bunkhouse.

Haboc sighed and relaxed as he saw Aster obey. “Already a good start Elf, cause doin’ what yer told is exactly what ya got to do ta make good coin.”

Haboc surveyed the inside of the long building, making sure no one extra was lingering before he pointed at Aster. “Take off everything.”

Aster frowned deeply, but did as instructed. He paused once he was down to his loincloth, but a bit of a glare and a wagging finger from Haboc made it clear he was to fully strip. He did so and shivered as the cold of the late fall night started to make its presence known.

“Very good.” Haboc stated with total sincerity. “Just continue to do what yer told and it’ll be over quick.” He stepped up, undid his rope belt and dropped his pants.

Aster looked up confused.

“OK, Elf, here is the deal. There be beings in Slome who like kids and they’ll pay fer time with em… With us. What we have ta do is make em happy and do what they want, this is the most common way. Undo my loincloth.”

Aster’s eyes went wide, but Haboc didn’t let him think about it. Instead the older boy lightly slapped Aster, just enough to leave a red cheek and glared, “Elf, I said take off my loincloth!”

The shock and fear of being struck by a kid he was already afraid of caused Aster to obey. With trembling fingers he untied the loincloth as quickly as he could manage and let it fall to the ground.

“Good.” Haboc softened just slightly, “Now take what is in front of you in your hand and lightly play with it and then I wants ya ta start licking it.”

Aster felt momentarily panicked, but the sight of the boy’s hand going upward to ready another slap caused him to comply. At first Haboc simply let Aster’s hand roam over his jewels. After a few minutes he made Aster lean in a bit and use his tongue to lightly touch his enlarging young man tool. Finally after a couple more minutes he demanded more, then even more. Eventually Aster cringed as he heard the boy tell him to take it all the way into his mouth. The second he had the tip beyond his teeth Haboc grabbed Aster’s head and pulled gently forcing the rock hard rod fully into his mouth.

Aster tried to struggle, but found someone had grabbed his hands and were holding them tightly behind his back.

“That’s Jom, and he ain’t gunna hurt you none either, he’s just makin’ sure you don’t hurt me er you. Once yer calm he’ll start playin’ with you the way you did to me and the way some adults will want ta do to you.”

Aster felt his hands pulled together and felt someone sit right behind him. Jom’s voice spoke softly. “Don’t ya dare bite him kid. Just accept it and let him help ya take it. For now I’m just going to hold your wrists together so you don’t struggle too much and accidentally bite him. I’m also going to use my other hand to touch every part of you. If you do bite or try to fight us we will have to hurt you very bad and turn you into another Tyillis, neither of us want you to end up like him so just do what he tells you.”

Haboc looked down and lightly kissed Aster on the top of the head. Even though he was being forced into this Aster could tell the older boy’s affections were real and a large part of the older boy felt horrible about what he was doing. “Me knows ya be small and young, so this ain’t gunna be easy. Just nod a bit so me knows ya understands.”

At first Aster though he was going to get sick, but he managed to nod just a little. Tears started to flow as he felt the boy pull on his head, forcing him to take more into his already full mouth. As it hit the back of his throat he gagged.

Haboc backed off just enough to calm Aster. As he did so he used his thumbs to gently wipe some of the tears, “Look Elf, part of me hates doin’ this. But trust me, getting it from one a us first be far better then some adult who just wants ta gets what they wants.”

He paused and looked straight into Asters eyes, “The next part is the worst, so get ready and no matter what don’t bite. I know yer jaw be startin’ ta hurt, but we ain’t done here. Next time me pull swallow and breath through yer nose. We’ll keep doin’ it till ya gets it, so the sooner ya learn how ta do this the sooner it’ll be over. Blink twice when yer ready.”

Aster was pretty much powerless to do anything but obey. After a long pause he blinked twice and tried to ready himself. The second he felt the boy’s rod push deep into his throat he struggled to breath and stated to shake.

Instantly Jom locked his grip tight on his arms and his other hand put a bit of pressure on Aster’s exposed boyhood. The pain was just enough to remind him not bite down. Haboc backed off waving a finger in warning. “No teeth Elf, no matter what else you are thinking about, remember, no teeth. Blink when you are ready to try this again.”

Four times Aster tried to control himself as his jaw started to ache more and more. Finally he managed to swallow the large intruder and breath though his nose as his throat was invaded a bit further. A couple of minutes later he felt Haboc spasm a number of times and felt his stomach get fuller. Haboc backed off, but ordered Aster to lick his tool totally clean before he withdrew totally.”

As Aster leaned forward and cried he felt Haboc give him a hug and once again kissed him on top of his head. “Don’t upchuck. Adults don’t like that none.”

Jom didn’t release Aster’s arms but still helped to comfort and praise him as Aster slowly regained composure, forcing himself to swallow what was trying to come up a couple of times.

Once Aster’s breath returned to normal Haboc back away. “You done good so far Elf.” He stated as he looked over to Jom and nodded.

Aster looked up as the words struck him. “So far?”

Jom leaned forward and whispered into Aster’s ear. “Now comes the worst part and it is going to hurt some. Do not yell or we’ll have to put cloth in your mouth. Most of the adults hate when we yell and scream. Just grit your teeth and follow what we tell you.”

Aster closed his eyes and nodded knowing there was nothing he could do or say to change what was going to happen. Either kid could force him to do what he wanted to do by themselves, let alone both of them.

Jom gave Aster a quick kiss behind the ear. “We’ll make this as quick as we can.” Before Aster could respond Jom pushed up on Aster’s still held wrists forcing the boy in front of him forward. The second his head hit the bed he used his free hand to insert finger into the boy’s exposed rear. Aster gasped in pain…

Aster found himself still being held by Sagell as he opened his eyes and jerked wildly as the memory seemed to be literally ripped from him. Pain filled his head as his hearing link to Frost seemed to go wild. He leaned forward and gripped his ears trying to block out some of the sound.

Unknown to Aster, Sagell, Pocet, Sardan and the others were equally preoccupied as the forest’s animals all seemed to get startled at the same time.

Birds took fight, rodents darted out of their holes, a nearby Frost Elk let out a loud bellow and a distant Saber Bear roared.

Aster’s and Sagell’s pets were not immune. Rage’s neck fur stood straight up as the huge cat backed up toward Sagell and growled a warning. Stealth let out a shriek and rolled thrashing on the ground. Shade turned into a shadow and snarled at the air, Dart took to the sky with a wicked screech. Finally Frost turned icy cold and reared up on it back legs slashing wildly with its front talons at the sudden blowing wind.

Pocet and Sardan pulled weapons as Sagell rapidly moved to her pets’ sides. The others all scrambled for weapons and turned their backs toward one another and looked outside of the camp for dangers

Aster fell to his knees as he severed the link to Frost’s ears. “What was that sound!” As his knees hit the ground, the snow around him seemed to harden and waves of icy cold radiated outward. Everyone within twenty meters was forced to back away.

Frost leapt over to Aster’s side, pushing its massive beak and head into Aster’s ribs while Dart circled the camp as Shade darted to Aster and passed right though him before becoming solid again. The wild in its eyes told of its own confusion and fear. Even Shade’s thick coat didn’t seem to give it enough protection as it fought its instincts not to back up.

Stealth rolled over and snarled, letting out a cloud of steam as it did so. “Death! It was the sound of death!”

Sagell put her arm around her beloved Fairy Dragon, “Death? What are you talking about Stealth?”

Stealth clawed at the ground and shook as if trying to rid itself of the lingering feeling. As it did so it looked straight over to Aster who was finally able to calm. As he did so the waves of cold dropped off, but it left him coated in a sheen of ice.

It took a few more seconds for Aster realize he was shivering. As he did so Shade and Frost moved up next to him protectively. Dart still stayed airborne as if too afraid to land, however.

Stealth kind of snarled, as it kept its eyes squarely on Aster, “The power came to you! It was your blood line!”

Pocet took a protective step toward Aster, “Could you be a little less angry and a little more forthcoming with information?”

Stealth let out a large bust of steam out though its nostrils. It paced around for a few minutes and slashed its claws into a tree to vent the last of its frustration and anger. Finally it turned back toward the group. “I will explain but you must start packing. We need to get clear of this area fast!”

Sardan wasted no time as he sheathed his blade, “Boys, forget about everything you were doing and pack up! I want to be clear of this campsite an hour ago!”

He paused to watch the youngsters scramble to start packing before turning his attention to Stealth. “Let us hear this then.”

Stealth glanced around nervously, but calmed even more as it saw the fresh campsite was already starting to get broken down. “Very well. First, you have to understand I am not a full dragon, but I am dragon kin. Dragons cannot exist without magic and magic cannot exist without us. We are magic and magic is us.

“Because of this inseparable link, when we die there is a shift within magic. Normally this is a small, almost unnoticeable shift. If I were to die only those within a few meters of me would notice anything. It might manifest itself as a replenishment of casting magic, a healing of a few minor wounds, or even the re-growth of a lost limb.

“When larger dragon kin die the effects are more grand. For example, let us say you killed a warrior dragon. Upon its last breath those very close would gain real power, be healed totally, and or have their magical energies replenished. Those within twenty to fifty meters would probably all get healed, gain some minor powers and get some magical energies back. Those out to about one hundred meters would at the very lest get some healing.

“At the same time the flow of magic within a league or two would not flow properly for a few hours. Some spells would have a better chance of misfiring while other may be augmented for damage, duration or both. Low echelon casters may even suffer some overflow as they cast their spells as they may come out too powerful for them to handle. It is no different for magical weapons. Many would not behave as expected either.

“The actual slayer of the dragon, however, is certain to absorb some of this power. Many tales exist of some crazy effects. Some even say the reason some of the current gods were able to become so powerful is they fought and killed dragons. This is almost certainly true for Rovnar, as he was famed for killing three true red dragons who had allied with the Mythlings during the Mythling Wars. The reds had sacked Rovnar’s kingdom and all but wiped out his village.

“It is also believed his siblings received some of this overflow, as they gained great power shortly after Rovnar’s Red Rampage.  His younger sister was pretty young, but texts and stories say she started casting Primary Echelon spells only weeks after word of Rovnar’s victory in the Applewood Forest became known.

“The only exceptions to this release of magical energies are natural death and dragon combat. A dragon can kill another dragon with little effect as long as the dragon doing the slaying is as powerful or more powerful then the one being killed. The reason for this is unknown to me, but I can assure you it is true.”

Sardan made a shrugging motion, “Very interesting, but what does this have to do with our Aster here.”

Stealth made a slight snarl, “Because a dragon just died, not a mere Dragonling, a dragon kin like me, a warrior dragon, or even a true dragon of the type Rovnar defeated. Oh, no, nothing so minor. What just died was a Great Dragon, and a top notch one at that, possibly even one of the most precious types of Great Dragons known, a female.”

Aster managed to pull himself up with a helping hand from Pocet. Still he pushed his hands into his throbbing temples and his clothing crackled with the sounds of ice. “So?”

“SO?” Stealth next to shouted, “SO some of this backlash of energy flowed into you! I heard the magic scream as it searched for you and felt its passing as it pinpointed you and flowed into you. Those who can track this type of magic will start trying to trace it, and it will lead them to the spot were the magic found its destination. Right here!”

“Conner killed a dragon?” Aster asked in astonishment.

“I think not.” Stealth responded, “It came from up north, your half brother is east and south of us if he is still on the barge and unless he gated or teleported, there is no way he could be as far north as this magic came from.”

Sardan looked toward the north, “Then it must have been your other half brother.”

Aster let out a long breath as he sorted though his thoughts, “So let me get this straight. This lost brother of mine not only gained favor with the gods and sent us help far beyond anything I could ever imagine; he also killed a great dragon?”

“Unless you have another brother or sister capable of killing a dragon.” Pocet snickered, “But somehow I kind of doubt it.”

Aster tossed up his arms, “I wouldn’t know, but from what Conner told me, the common thread is our mom and there was no one else. So if I do have another brother or sister he or she would be far too young.”

Stealth hissed in annoyance, “Who in the name of the gods does this brother of yours think he is?”

Sardan clucked out a slight laugh, “I only met the boy once, but I’d say he thinks he is Kandric.”

***

Glaster glanced down the nearby alley as dusk fell over the town. A slight snap of his fingers caused an eruption of sparks to cascade into the ground as he stared straight at a young ruffian who had been trying to shadow him.

He shook his head in warning as the young man’s eyes went wide at the open display of magic. Just as quickly as he had appeared the figure stepped back into the deep shadows and vanished from sight. The only thing left was the sounds of his hurried flight as running footsteps faded into the growing shadows.

Glaster rolled his eyes, knowing the teen was probably just one more refugee trying to find a way to eat. At least the lad had shown some skill backed with enough brains to know a warning when he saw one. Glaster hoped he had scared the boy badly enough to keep him from making an attempt on someone else, but he doubted it. If the kid needed food and money as bad as the clothing he wore indicated, he would certainly try his hand on someone else.

Glaster shrugged to himself. After what the boys in his caravan had dealt with, Glaster cared little about the town or its inhabitants. The fact the Prince and Duke’s son had appeared to be merchants, not royalty, didn’t matter at all. What did matter was the fact lowly peasant brats had assaulted members of a higher cast and had not been punished for it. The jailing of his two charges only added insult to the injury.

He continued his trek into the poorer areas of the town, noting many of the businesses were closing early and more than a few had had pooled money to hire night guards. Almost every block containing multiple businesses had at least one armed guard watching over things, most had two.

Briefly he frowned, as he realized just how much danger he was putting the Prince and the others in. They were still over two weeks from getting to the edges of the fighting, but the effects of the war were being felt here to the point were city guards were no longer enough to ensure the safety of businesses. This meant caravans were certainly watched for weaknesses.

His thoughts were interrupted as Perth’s father came into view. The man’s eyes narrowed as he glanced around. “Where’s me boy?”

Glaster raised an eyebrow but forced his voice to stay calm, hiding how much he detested having someone so low as a beggar speak to him in such a way. “Your son is fine good sir. He is in the company of one of my people who is starting to teach him the art of reading.”

“Me want a see him!”

Glaster put on the best calming smile he could, “To bring him with me would not be fair to him sir. He needs to forget about his former home and concentrate on his future. Neither one of us would want to remind him of the home he cannot go back to so soon into his new life now would we?”

The man pulled at his ragged clothing and sighed. He paused to wipe away a tear before slowly nodding, “Me guesses yer right.”

“Of course I am.” Glaster stated confidently, knowing a bit of gloating on his part would remind the man in front of him who he was dealing with. “Now, since you are here I gather you are ready to put out your mark and make this official?”

Perth’s father looked deep into Glaster’s eyes as if trying to stare him down. Less than half a minute pasted before the man broke eye contact and looked down at the ground. “Will me ever see me boy again?”

“In a few years he will no longer be under contract to me and can return here if he wishes. Until then, no. I have no reason for him to look to you for guidance or protection. He is mine and those duties are also mine. Besides, I have no desire for him to be reminded of his low birth rank. He will be a merchant or better and must forget about this life until he becomes one.” Glaster hardened, “Now stop wasting my precious time.”

“You’ll get yer way, but me thinks me found what ya were wantin’ me to.”

“So soon?” Glaster asked showing some astonishment.

The man shrugged. “Me think so. Ya gunna hold yer deal?”

Glaster frowned deeply, “My word is better than most people’s signed agreements. Now do you have something for me or not?”

Perth’s father momentarily clenched his hands into fists but a single glance at the man in front of him was all it took to realize he had no chance. His head sunk further, almost touching his chest as he slowly nodded. “Yea me do.”

Glaster cocked his head to the side, clearly astonished to hear of a possible breakthrough so soon. “Such information would be as valuable to you as it would be for me. Please continue.”

Perth’s father took a deep breath, “Dis boy, him have long dark hair, carry a blade, gots grey er blue eyes, one a different color then da other?”

“Yes.” Glaster stated with a great deal more interest.

“Good, den me know me gots whats ya wants.”

The man made eye contact again, “Him go in ta the camp other side a river. Real mean, some a dem even say rude. Ask all sorts a question, him do, but no one tell him nothin’ at first. But den him see dark skin elf lookin at kid chain ta post wit food just outa reach. The dark skinned one teased da kid by eatin’ right in front of the chained one.

“Your boy go all wobbly leg and hide, him do. Me hear him wet pants, pee all down him leg him did.” Perth’s dad managed a light grin as he saw Glaster frown, but quickly looked down as he saw anger flash in his eyes.

“Anyway, yer boy hide behind tree und change then come back. Him go back over ta chained one, but owner stop him. Yer boy get mad. Offer pay coin to feed boy, not happen. Him get even more mad, but backs away and hide when him see dark elf girl. Yer boy scaredy cat a dark uns me hears. Old guy me talks ta says him think yer boy peed himself all over again.”

Perth’s dad flashed another grin but knew he better not push his luck. He continued without showing how pleased he was to get under Glaster’s skin a little. “But it not matter none cause yer boy not like what him see with chained one.

“Cause somethin’ changes like. Yer boy get sneaky like. Couple a guys say him no longer mean neither. Him talk ta a couple a kids and pay for roll of food. Pay other boy ta get it to chained one. He den talk ta owner so other boy feed chained one. Pay a couple others ta throw snow at owner horse so guard has ta chase em off. Owner not see cause yer boy keep him talk, pay fer some wood stuff him sell.

“Me talks ta lots a folk. Them in camp say first time chained boy eat in days. Many of them happy and tell yer boy all sorts a stuff. Him be nicer too. That’s what me hear anyhow. Many says same thing er close ‘nough to it ta check what me first gets told anyway.”

Glaster paused as he looked at the man in front of him. At first he was surprised and a little skeptical of the report. For a mere beggar the man had found out a great deal in very little time, but as he mentally slid the pieces around in his mind they started to fall into place. The healed whip mark on Zoldon’s back showed he had undergone some serious torment, starving was a common form of torture when dealing with children. The fear of a dark elf was an interesting twist, but Drow were infamous for pushing their young by force casting, something Zoldon had been forced to do if his dreams were to be believed, and Glaster firmly believed them.

Glaster shook off these thoughts, “Very well done. Anything else?”

“Yea. Yer kid get mad when him see man take whip ta the slave. Me hears the guy’s tent burned shortly after yer boy leave. Couple a kids say yer boy throw spell on the edge caused it ta start too, but me no sure ‘bout them two brats cause guards think dem two done the fire cause it start long after yer boy leave.”

Glaster smiled and twirled his finger sending down a trickle of sparks in a spiral, not enough to instantly start a fire, but enough to cause something to start to smolder then ignite. It was an Autospell he had taught Zoldon and Mylan both. “Don’t be so sure my good man.”

Perth’s father’s jaw dropped as he noticed the hot sparks lying on the street. “Me see magic before, but nothin’ like dat! Ya never say nothin’!”

Glaster snickered. “Some spells don’t need verbal components. My students know many of them and so, soon, will Perth.”

“Me boy a spell thrower?”

“In a way yes. Your son tested to have Warrior Adept talents. He will become one of the world’s elite over the next five years.” Glaster pulled out a scroll and a small chunk of coal. “All you have to do is make your mark and he will become my apprentice and servant until the age of 15.”

The man slowly took hold of the coal and started to press it to the paper scarcely believing his oldest son would be getting real training. He paused and glanced up. “And me young’ans?”

“I will drop off the money at the school before high sun tomorrow. It is the one just south of the river, just beyond the grove. You can also go there to collect the money I owe you. They will keep it there for you so no one can steal it. You may want to consider buying a small hut close by, there are some for only 20 to 40 sliver in the area with a yearly tax of just a couple of silver. You could break out of your beggar cast and become a low peasant. I will also arrange for you to get a job there as a grounds keeper for a copper a day if you would like.”

The man nodded eagerly and glanced up in surprise, “Me done good, huh?”

Glaster started to say something then stopped as the direction of the wind suddenly switched from blowing from the south to blowing from the north. At the same time the clouds parted and exposed the moon which took on a green tinge casting an eerie light over the growing darkness.

Glaster’s hand slid down to his blade as he looked around and slipped into the Spirit realms. Once there he saw nothing out of the ordinary so he figured it had to be something mortal. He frowned but quickly returned to his body before it collapsed on the ground.

“You did a fantastic job, far more than I expected.” Glaster started to turn away but stopped, “Would you like me to add in some money so they can teach you to read as well?”

The man grinned and nodded showing rotten teeth but glanced up at the moon with a bewildered look. “Me would like ta learn ta read sir.”

“Excellent. I will pay a fee for you as well then. You have earned it and Perth deserves to be from a higher cast than a beggar. In the mean time, I want you to go back to your children and watch over them tonight,” Glaster dug into his pack and handed the man one of his back up Daggers of Light. “Take this as an extra gift and use it if you have to. Something is seriously amiss.”

“Me notice, me do. Moon is wrong. I take care of me young’ans.” He took a look at the magic dagger with awe, “How me get this back ta ya?”

“You don’t. It is yours. Learn how to use it. I will pay a small side fee for the guard at the school will teach you more than the basics, but only use it for defense or a light source. Now go to your children. I do not like the feel of this!”

Perth’s father quickly put an ‘X’ on the bottom of the scroll and handed it over. “Take good care of me oldest.”

Glaster nodded and watched the man hurry away. He rolled up at the scroll he pulled his blade as the feeling of magic started tasting sour. He frowned as he noticed the hot sparks he cast minutes ago had not gone out and were now a weird green in color. He stamped them out as he took an oath aloud to himself. “I will treat and protect Perth just as I did Kandric.”

***

Kandric sheathed his sword as he smiled at Lorethorn. “Something tells me this will reach a bit further than this mountain.”

“YOU HAVE NO IDEA YOUNG PRINCE!” A deep powerful booming voice sounded from the other side of the cave-in. So powerful was the voice it was almost as if the huge cave-in was not blocking it.

“What in the hells was that?!?” Lorethorn yelped out as he scampered behind Kandric.

Kandric glanced up and noticed the rocks starting to glow and bulge as if becoming a giant bubble. “Down Now! Get cover behind the body!”

Lorethorn dove followed almost instantly by Kandric. Zeltoss and Seldnat were only a second behind. As the boys all covered their heads and used the massive green body and left wing as cover the rocks seemed to explode. Hunks of lava hot rocks spilled across the cavern, some so hot they burned deep into the body of the former great female dragon.  

Kandric waited until he was sure the fiery rock storm was over before he poked his head out from behind the dragon’s carcass. As he did so he found himself face to face with a midnight black mass easily twice the overall size of dragon he had just defeated. His jaw fell open and his knees buckled. If it hadn’t been for the green mass next to him he would have fallen flat on his face. As it was he slid down the side of the carcass and dropped into a kneeling position.

Behind him Lorthorn passed out because he was too afraid to breath and Zeltoss threw up from shear terror. Seldnat did slightly better as he managed to stand, but he did bite off a large hunk of his own lip as the full magnitude of Blathamort become visible.

Kandric could swear he could feel the pitch black eyes burning into the top of his head as he fought to find a voice. Finally he managed to squeak out an explanation, “She attacked us lord dragon.”

Blathamort looked at the carcass in disbelief, “Where are the ones who killed her?”

Kandric glanced up in surprise, but as his eyes met the Black Dragon king he felt the magic and power contained within the beast and was forced to look away. “Lord dragon, I alone killed her.”

Blathamort’s front leg shot out. Claws extended around Kandric and closed all the way around him. “PRINCE CHILD, DO NOT TOY WITH ME! I could kill you with a simple closing of my claw and I am in no mood for games!”

Seldnat forced his jaw to unclench. As he did so the flow of blood from the bit off section of his lower lip started dripping down his chin. “Him did kill er! Him no play game!”

Zeltoss, angered at the accusation of a lie, also found his voice as he spat out the last of the bile from his mouth, “It was his sword and his alone! We only assisted in killing of the guards!”

Kandric tried to say something, wanted the others to run or at the very least let him take the blame so they could live but the wind was knocked out of him as he was tossed like a rag doll into the body of the Green Dragon. As he hit he knew his leg had snapped.

Blathamort snarled dipping a puddle of acid as he did so, “You are children. I will only ask one more time. Who or what killed her?”

Kandric gritted his teeth in pain and looked toward the Black Dragon. As he do did so his eyes fell on the neck of the dead dragon only a few meters from where Blathamort’s head and extended claws were.

Kandric saw the Dragon’s claw raise in the air as it approached Zeltoss and the others. He forced air into his lungs and waited until the creature’s head was right over the Green Dragon’s neck before he whispered an arcane phrase. As he extended his hand he yelled as loud as he could, “ZEL! WIND GUST NOW!”

He didn’t wait. Instead he unleashed a more powerful version of the force punch spell. A razor sharp protrusion of force blasted out of his hand and slammed right where Zeltoss had warned him not to hit with his sword only minutes before.

Magic on a scale Kandric had never felt left gushed out of him puncturing the poisonous gas sack in the green’s neck in multiple places. Kandric shook with rage and pain as he momentarily lost control of his Force Spear spell. In desperation he bit down on his own arm to force the flow of magic to stop.

The effects of the outpouring of magic were devastating. The huge sack of poison gas had not been used at all in decades and thus was totally full. It exploded outward sending chunks of the dragon’s neck muscles, bone, and scales hurling everywhere as the head literally blew off.

Fortunately, the other three boys were behind the carcass and were protected from the shrapnel-like effects of the explosion while Kandric was shielded by the bulk of Blathamort himself. Still Kandric felt a chunk of green dragon scale slice his right arm wide open as he rolled away from the poisonous cloud.

Likewise, Zeltoss, who had reacted to Kandric’s command, was caught slightly exposed as he let go of a wind gust spell. A piece of dragon bone impaled his left hand and a chuck of flesh knocked him flat, breaking a pair of ribs.

Blathamort, on the other hand, was caught totally exposed with a claw up and ready to descend on the boys behind the body of the Green Dragon. Most of the bits of bone, flesh, and scale simply bounced off his iron hard scales, but not all of them. His exposed fore paw was shredded and all the claws on it were ripped loose.

As the pain assaulted him, Blathamort took a deep breath to roar, but all he inhaled was the poison bellowing out of the neck of the female dragon he had sworn to protect. He thrashed wildly trying to find breath that simply wouldn’t come. Making matters worse was the fact the wind gust from Zeltoss had pushed much of the gas cloud back at him which had concentrated it.

Tears rolled out of Kandric’s eyes as he clutched his broken leg, further aggravated by the roll away from Blathamort. Trembling in pain, he managed to straighten it out with a sharp cry of agony. Fighting the urge to pass out, he reached down and held the brake while retching a couple of times as he did so. Still, he knew the battle was not over.

Kandric focused on a spell he was not sure he could cast, but was pretty sure he had advanced far enough to do so after getting the power from the Green Dragon’s death. Another string of magical words escaped his lips as he focused on his target.

Moments later a wave of magic erupted out of Kandric’s extended hands and swirled around Blathamort’s head and neck. Slowly a glowing bubble of force surrounded Blathamort’s whole head. Force continued to flow out of Kandric as he felt himself blacking out. Just as he finally managed to kill the flow of magic to the powerful spell, he figured he was seeing things as a small force of heavily armed Dwarves poured into the room.

The lead Dwarf seemed to point at him as he shouted. “There is the red-headed elf child! By the gods, this was the work of Prince we are here to rescue!”

The last thing Kandric saw before he passed out was the huge head of the Black Dragon crashing into the ground and a new explosion of magic, only this time it was black not green. As he fell he could have sworn he heard the leader of the Dwarves say in single word as if in awe… “Kandric!”

***

Outside of the eyes of mortals and most spirits a small group of beings peered at the swirling mass in the center of the table. Most wore astonished looks. A few clenched their fists as even they felt the latest outpouring of mortal magic.

A Halfling dressed in Red Dragon hide armor with Red Dragon scale reinforcement spun his hands sliding the image backwards so he could once again see the death of the King of Black Dragons. He clutched at the Red Dragon bone hilt of his Eldwar Steel short sword. A bit of jealousy could be heard in his voice as he looked over to an Elvin woman dressed in armor made of petrified wood. “I believe I have just been upstaged by quite a distance.”

The Elvin woman shrugged, “You managed three in four days. He still has one more to get even with you.”

A human man with a flaming headband and golden colored Eldwar Steel chain armor shook his head, “This time I think our slippery fingered friend is correct, which is a rare occasion. He only killed one Great and two true, all red. This boy has taken down two Great, one of them female one of them a king and of different colors all in the span of an hour or so. None of us can claim two Great Dragon victories in one day let alone one hour.”

A Gnome stood off to the side, his stone plate armor glowed with the heat of molten rock. “He is impressive, but without the green’s dead body he would have never have survived Blathamort. I am yet to be convinced, but I am at least thinking those of you who are interested in this child have a right to be. He certainly has attracted my attention and I believe those of you who have been supporting him probably made the right decision.”

A Dwarf with a great axe over his back covered by a spiked shield and wearing full plate armor all made of what appeared to be diamond, stepped up to the table and took a drink of the finest wine known. “Quite a change of heart my hot headed friend. Maybe there is hope for you after all. However, we cannot and must not put all efforts into this impressive child. There are two others with the right blood line who are neck and neck with him and his younger siblings also hold the proper blood lines to make them candidates.”

A human woman rolled her eyes, her chain armor dancing with electrical energies as she moved. “This is all true, but you have just witnessed what I did only weeks ago with an Ice Demon. The boy is a thinker. He uses resources most would never dream about let alone think about in the heat of combat. His use of a spell meant to protect from poisons as a way of containing the cloud to where only Blathamort could breath it is surly something none of us would have thought about, yet he did so with some nasty injuries. I once again will say this with total conviction. I think it is time to become serious about discussing adding another chair at our table.”

The Halfling replayed the full battle, watching the death of both the Green and Black dragons. With a sigh he nodded. “Alright Syria, you have my vote. If we don’t get him it will not be long before the Mythlings become aware of him and try to turn him.”

A Human dressed in a midnight blue robe with the constellations moving slowly across it stepped forward. “I am still more comfortable with his brother, Aster. The boy has a better heart. But no matter what direction we look, the fact remains it is time to add at least one chair to this table and be prepared to help, not hinder, the others form the avatar powers they will certainly gain on their own. The power required to fight them would weaken us at a time when we have finally gained the upper hand.”

A female Halfling, wearing poor looking worker’s clothing, yet carrying a wicked looking staff made of amber coated corn stalks with a small scythe blade on the end looked over at the robed Human and shook her head, “Aster is a good kid, but we don’t want or need a good kid. We want something more, someone who can terrify the likes of Flexla.”

Syria smiled and nodded. “Exactly my original point Veldora. We need Kandric!”


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