Krakust swam quickly towards the figure that had thrown a fishing spear at him. As he did so the creature threw another one. It glanced off of Krakust’s arm, taking a chunk of flesh with it. Grunting in pain he continued forward towards the creature. He was finally close enough to make it out. It was a large, blue-green, anthropomorphic frog. He hadn’t seen anything like it before, all he knew was that it had attacked him first. He swam faster and, before the creature could throw another spear, he buried his dagger deep into one of its large eyes. He pulled the dagger back and slashed the throat of the frogman. A thick, black sludge seeped out of the wounds and into the water. Krakust backed away from the substance then turned to continue the swim downward.
Ember was having a hard time keeping up with Krakust. Foxes were not designed to swim under water and she had to fight against her buoyancy with paws that wanted to push her towards the surface. The close call with the first spear did not help and she floated upwards quite a ways. She tried her hardest to keep up with Krakust, who didn’t seem to notice, or didn’t care, that she was falling behind. Looking around at the rocky walls of the deep pool she decided that it might be better to push off them to get downward momentum. She swam to one and tried pushing off of it. It certainly was faster than swimming by itself, but not very much.
Slow down! I can’t keep up! She tried to communicate telepathically with Krakust, but he didn’t seem to hear her. Shast!
Krakust continued to swim downward. After a long swim he saw the bottom of the pool expand into and underwater cavern. The heat from the water was increasing. It wasn’t uncomfortably hot yet, but he expected it would get much warmer the farther down he went. Glancing around he noticed another frog creature guarding an underwater cave. He oriented his body to swim that way when he realized Ember wasn’t with him. He looked up to see her slowly making her way toward him. Well, the sentry hasn’t noticed me yet, I’ll wait for her to catch up.
Pushing off the walls took a lot of Ember’s concentration. She pushed off the wall again and realized there was no more wall below her. She looked around frantically and noticed Krakust waiting for her. With a sigh of relief that released bubbles into the water she began swimming toward him. He nodded at her then turned to swim in another direction. Well, at least he waited for me before going out of sight. Ember made her short legs work all the more to try to keep up with the orc. How did Helena get this deep? I certainly would’ve drowned by now without the potion Krakust had. Ember shook her head. No, don’t think about that. She must be fine.
The frog creature finally turned to face Krakust, but it was too late. He was already reaching out with his dagger to kill the sentry. The same black substance from before oozed out of the creature and Krakust once again made sure not to swim through it. He swam into the cave and up into an air pocket. He heard the distant sound of struggling and almost ran towards it before remembering Ember was still behind him. “Probably should’ve brought the dwarf with me except he would sink like a stone.” He muttered softly to himself.
After a few moments Ember surfaced and made her way out of the water. She shook herself dry and looked around, confused. “Aren’t we below the water level?”
“Keep your voice down,” Krakust said softly. “This is an air pocket and it’s probably not very big.” A scream echoed down the narrow passageway as if to punctuate his point. “We might want to get a move on.”
“Agreed.” Ember started padding quickly down the passage, not waiting for Krakust. She poked her head around a nearby blind corner then pulled it back. By this point Krakust had caught up with her. “Helena is tied up and looks unconscious. There’s two of the frog things with her.”
Krakust nodded. “I can take them. The other ones were pretty weak.” He took a moment to focus, then his muscles became move defined and his blood vessels stuck out slightly. “Here we go.” He rounded the corner and lunged at one of the two frog men.
Following behind Ember saw the other frog man shoving something into Helena’s mouth then turned to attack Krakust. She ran forward to Helena to see what it was.
A pink object changed color to match Helena’s tongue. Helena’s eyes went wide as the thing ripped her tongue out and attached itself to the stump. She then passed out again.
Ember turned to see Krakust finish off the second frog creature by smashing its head in with his pick hammer. “Quick!” She yelled. “Helena’s tongue was replaced by a parasite!” She pointed at the slab of pink flesh on the ground with her snout. “You need to cut it out!”
“What?” Krakust looked at the flesh. “If I do that she won’t be able to talk.”
“Just do it!”
“Fine.” He pulled his dagger out and wiped it off on his leg. “Here goes.”
Donaar jumped onto the raft and gripped a femur tightly with his left hand. With his right he started passing out the potions of acid resistance. “Here, chug them and we might make it out of this alive!”
Sorley and Lourek each took one of the potions and downed them swiftly then gripped onto the raft.
“Here it comes!”
The wave crashed into the bone raft and the three creatures holding onto it were covered in acid. There was about a half a centimeter invisible barrier keeping the acid from touching their skin. The kobold above didn’t have that luxury and he appeared to be having a hard time holding onto the piece of debris.
Orby, Sorley thought at the elemental, can you push that creature closer to us?
It’s called a kobold, since you don’t seem to know what it is. Orby replied. I could, but the acid would hurt me. As long as I stay part of you it won’t affect me.
Sorley mumbled something to himself then grabbed a handful of flour from a sack he had tied to his waist. He then threw the flour toward the kobold. The flour imploded halfway between the two groups causing them to get closer to eachother.
“What are you doing?” Lourek yelled. “We’re already in a precarious position! Don’t make it worse!”
Throwing another handful of flour Sorley responded, “this isn’t going to make it any worse. In fact it might make the wave smaller.” The flour imploded again, taking some of the acid with it where ever it was going.
– – –
On the surface of the hot spring the serpent’s face contorted and it started coughing and hacking. Lukren and Evryn backed away from the serpent as it began to thrash about wildly. It was yelling something in draconic, but Lukren didn’t understand the language.
The serpent yelled in draconic again then started to calm down.
With a last string of draconic the serpent shot water into the air then dipped beneath the surface of the water and disappeared from Lukren’s sight. “Great,” he muttered, “now it’ll be even harder for them to get out.”
– – –
Just as Sorley was close enough to reach out and grab the kobold the entire belly of the beast convulsed and the feeling of weightlessness came over him. “Quick! Grab on!”
Seeing the outstretched hand the kobold pushed off of his piece of debris and grabbed onto Sorley’s forearm. “Thank!”
The grip was so tight that the kobold’s claws broke Sorley’s skin in places, but he held on all the tighter in response. If he could save this innocent life maybe he could save others. Not like his parents had, sacrificing their lives, but surviving another day to save more. By the time the stomach acid had settled down his arm was oozing blood from several places and the kobold was unconscious. Carefully pulling the kobold onto the raft Sorley grabbed the tattered pieces of his tunic and wrapped some strips around his arm.
“Will he be okay?” Sorley asked Donaar.
“I’m not sure.” Donaar placed a hand over the kobold’s nose. “I feel his breathing, so possibly.” The dragonkin looked around. “Is there someplace we can land this raft?”
Lourek pointed at a distant pile of debris. “That looks as good a place as any.” He pulled an arm from the raft and started using it as an oar. “Only one way to find out.”
The raft slowly made its way to the isle of debris in the sea of stomach acid. The surface of the debris above the acid was by no means dry when they got there, but it was better than their raft. The acid immunity potions were starting to wear off and the acid was beginning to sting their eyes. By the time they disembarked from the raft the skin of Sorley and Lourek was starting to burn.
“Those scales sure come in handy. Another barrier before you start getting burnt.” Lourek motioned at Donaar. “Though, I suspect it’s worse once the acid gets through them.”
“I don’t want to find out.” Donaar threw the kobold over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “We need to get out of here, and soon.”
Sorley pulled the pouch of flour off his hip and threw it into the stomach acid. “That’s ruined now. The acid got absorbed by it.” He started sifting through some of the debris that was piled up. “Maybe I can find some bone to grind into powder. Needs to be mostly unaffected by the acid, though.”
“Don’t worry about that right now. I think there’s something buried over there.” Lourek pointed at a piece of carved stone protruding from the pile. “Maybe it’s something more immediately useful.”
With a shrug Sorley walked towards the gray stone. Upon closer inspection it appeared to be part of a portal. Seeing that it could in fact be a way out Sorley started digging frantically only to discover it was shattered into various large pieces. He pulled up as many as he could and started arranging them.
“Well,” Donaar asked as he gently set the kobold down, “is it anything we can use?”
“Not if it’s as broken as it appears,” commented Lourek.
Sorley pulled his grimoire from his pack. The cover appeared to be a little damp, but he quickly wiped it off. Undoing the buckle on the cover he flipped to a blank page. “It’s not very helpful right now, no, but I think it could be important.” He pulled a quill and a stoppered bottle of ink out. “I’m going to sketch it. It appears to be a teleportation circle or a summoning circle. Could be either at this point. I’ll do some research on it later when we aren’t in this situation.”
“Wait, could you teleport us out of here?” Lourek stood on a piece of debris to look over Sorley’s shoulder. “I’m no expert, but if you’ve been somewhere before it should be simple, right?”
“Simple?” Sorley paused from his sketch. “Teleportation is an exact science. There’s no simple about it.”
“What about a portal? You said one brought you here to Domhan. Could you make a smaller one to jump to a point you remember here?”
“That would be better if I could see where I was going. Not very possible from where we are. If I get anything wrong,” Sorley resumed sketching the magic circle, “we could end up in the wrong place in pieces.”
The kobold opened its eyes and looked around weakly. “Where Kefderent now?”
Donaar turned to the kobold. “What’s Kefderent?”
“I Kefderent. Of Kef Clan.” The kobold slowly stood up. “Me sore, but alive.”
With a smile Sorley finished the sketch and turned to the kobold. “Hi, Kefderent. I’m Sorley Aelfson.”
“I’m Donaar ‘Shield Biter’ Thruuvth a knight of the Order of Defenders. The dwarf is Lourek.” Donaar motioned at Lourek.
“Aye, nice to make your acquaintance.” Lourek turned back to Sorley. “Well, will you at least try to make a portal?”
Sighing, Sorley took a seat on a piece of the magic circle he had pulled from the detritus. “I’ll need to commune with Gormaliev first. I’ve never cast anything that complicated before.” He folded his legs and fell into a trance. As he did so Orby floated out of him.
I can’t be part of that conversation. Orby thought to Donaar and Lourek. Is there anything I can do for the two of you?
Krakust shrugged. “If I hadn’t killed him he would’ve killed me.” Sitting down he smiled. “And if I couldn’t defend myself there I would have given up any claims to return to my tribe. Even if I had Helena and Sorley with me.”
“Which you never will, not as slaves.” Helena stood and started walking away. “I’m going to find a smaller pool to relax in. Yell for me if you need anything.”
Ember got back to her feet and trotted after Helena. “I’ll keep an eye out for you.”
Walking swiftly Helena found a secluded pool and stripped to her underclothes. “Keep watch for me and when I’m done you can have a turn.” She slowly lowered herself into the warm water and let out a sigh of relief. Sinking under the water she realized that she couldn’t feel the bottom of the pool. Before she could start swimming back up to the surface something grabbed her by the foot and pulled her under.
Walking back and forth Ember heard some splashing then bubbles break the surface of the pool. Thinking nothing of it she waited a minute before checking on Helena. She peered over at the hotspring only to see nobody in the water. “Helena! Where are you? This is no time to play games, you know.” Ember looked around for Helena and found no tracks and no scent to follow. “This isn’t good.” She turned and scampered back to Krakust and Lukren.
The two were passing their alcohol back and forth when Ember ran back into sight. “Help! Helena is missing!”
“Again?” Lukren jumped to his feet. “Where was she?”
“She disappeared under the water, I think. I couldn’t find a trail of any kind.”
Krakust got to his feet and pulled a compass from his pack. “I can find her with this.” He focused on the compass and pointed in the direction of the pool she had chosen. “This way to start. He glanced at Ember and Evryn. “Evryn, stay here. I’ll go with the fox.”
With a short wine Evryn curled up near Lukren.
“Well, uh, sorry about earlier Evryn.” Lukren said.
Evryn snorted softly and looked at the gaping mouth of the serpent.
“She’ll forgive you eventually.” Krakust said over his shoulder. “At the very least she’ll keep you safe cause I told her to.”
Ember scurried behind Krakust as the green orc hurried towards the pool. When they arrived at it he circled it multiple times. “She’s below the surface, I think.” He glanced up at the sky. “She’s certainly not above us. The sky is oddly clear today.” He began to remove his armor, making sure to keep his pickhammer and dagger on him then pulled a potion out of his pack. “I only have one of these, and I was hoping I wouldn’t need it.” He chugged most of the potion then held it out for Ember to drink. “It’ll allow us to breathe underwater.”
“I guess since you drank first I shouldn’t worry too much about it.” Ember drank the small amount of liquid remaining in the bottle.
With a grunt of approval Krakust dove into the pool, head first. As he went under he saw a jutting rock barely miss his face. Probably shouldn’t do that again. He used the momentum to swim swiftly downward. As he passed what appeared to be the half-way point of the depths a fishing spear flew past his left ear and he turned to see it barely miss Ember as well. He readied his dagger, the pickhammer was too big for underwater use, and swam towards his assailant.
– – –
The two kobolds lunged repeatedly at Lourek and Sorley. They connected a few times but only left minor scratches and bruises.
“How long,” Sorley said between dodges, “until we can dispatch them?”
Donaar looked across the board, remembering where the pawns were before. “Now isn’t a bad time.”
With a grunt Lourek swung his short-swords and heavily damaged on of the kobolds. Immediately after the swing Sorley shot a bolt of energy at the same kobold, dropping it.
“No!” The spirit of the mage cried out. “You’ve blocked my king in!”
“And with this outstanding move I’ll get you into checkmate.” Donaar moved a rook in to check the mage’s king. “Checkmate.”
“Wait.” The spirit looked over the chessboard. “Shast! You’ve won, sir knight.” The spirit bowed. “What is it that you want?”
“Help us get out of this place,” Donaar motioned at the belly of the serpent, “safe and sound.”
The spirit smiled and produced three potions from under the table. “These are potions of acid immunity. Use them well.” Then the spirit disappeared.
“I’m not sure how to use these yet.” Donaar picked up the potions and put them in his satchel. “Let’s continue in the direction Lourek was heading and think about it.” He motioned for Lourek to move on when he realized the second kobold had stopped attacking and was looking around, confused. “Oh,” Donaar said in draconic, “I thought you would be returned home after I won.”
The kobold turned to face Donaar, its metallic scales the same color as Donaar’s. “I need go home,” it said in broken common. “Where here?”
“Uhh…the belly of a serpent…” Donaar said hesitantly. “We’re trying to escape.”
“I help escape you help me.” The kobold pointed in the direction Lourek was heading. “Me be advance scout.” It scampered off and out of sight.
“We won’t see that thing again, will we?” Sorley asked, watching it disappear.
“Most likely, yeah.” Donaar shrugged. “I can only hope it doesn’t try to swim in the bile.”
The belly of the beast rumbled and a wave of acidic bile rolled towards the characters in the direction they were heading. The kobold was riding the wave by holding onto a piece of debris.
“Quickly!” Lourek yelled. “Get on the bone raft!” He pointed at the thing he had found earlier and everyone ran for it.
“Hey, Daren. Can you stay a little later tonight? I need some help restocking the shelves.” Cal pulled a cart of boxes from the storage room. “Just got that new RPG lineup in. I’ll start rearranging now if you’re cool manning the register by yourself.”
“Yeah, no problem. I’m feeling
a lot better now. Mom won’t let me leave home without that drink powder.”
Cal started restacking some
board games. “When’s that storm gonna pass, you think? I’m getting a buzz in
the back of my head.”
A customer entered the store
and walked up to the counter. “So, I was wondering if you guys have an RPG
night. You know where people show up to join or run campaigns or one-shot
“We tried a few times but there
wasn’t much interest, so we stopped advertising it.” Daren looked over at Cal.
“Hey, Cal. He wants to know if we have an RPG night.”
Setting down the games he was
rearranging Cal made his way to the counter. “Game master or player?”
Cal had decided to completely
rearrange the store, not just the stock. “You can stay really late, right? It’s
Friday.” He started lifting one end of a shelf.
“Yeah, I have no plans.” Daren
grabbed the other end of the shelf and followed Cal’s lead to the corner of the
store. “I was wondering what you know about werewolves, though.”
“Always carry silverware. Not
the cheap stuff, the actual silver stuff.” Cal chuckled. “Joking aside, that
depends on what kind of werewolf. I’ve never met a real one, so I don’t know
anything first hand.”
Daren nodded as they set the
shelf down. “Yeah. My grimoire’s fairly non-specific on what myths and legends
are true, and what ones aren’t.”
“One thing I know is that
wolf’s bane should repel them and that they transform under a full moon. Other
than that, some legends have proto-werewolves that wear wolf’s skin to control
their transformation. Either those werewolves are actually shape shifters or
they used the skin to temporarily cut themselves from the moon cycle.” Cal
moved over to the next shelf. “Let’s put that one on the other side.” He
grabbed one end while Daren grabbed the other.
“Why the sudden interest in werewolves?
I can feel a faint presence on you. The taste of werewolf is faint, but it’s
there…along with something else stronger.” Cal almost dropped the shelf and
carefully set it down. His eyes were wide. “Who have you been talking to?”
Daren set the shelf down. “Just
some new kids at school. Why?”
“I feel the trace of vampires
on you. Two different kinds though I can’t quite tell which. One’s a blood
vampire, but the other…”
“Wait, other kinds of vampires?
I’ve only heard of the one kind. What’re the others? Hold on a sec.” Daren
jogged to the employee’s room and grabbed his grimoire and a pen then jogged
Cal had started moving some of
the smaller items in the shop. “Oh, gonna take some notes?”
“There’s nothing in here about
other types of vampires. If there are others I should write it down.”
“Okay. According to various
myths there’s some vampire-like creatures that feed off things other than
blood. They have all the other characteristics that are commonly attributed to
vampires. Undead as in reanimated, fast, able to persuade others easily. All
the minor powers and the ability to live forever if they are undisturbed. Also,
vampires aren’t affected by garlic. They are affected by aloe, though.”
“What other things can they
“Let’s see, life-force is one.
It’s different from blood sucking because those fed upon by blood suckers
aren’t necessarily made weaker by it.” Cal sat down in one of the chairs.
“Another is a psychic vampire. They can feed off the thoughts or the emotions
of others. If they are around a lot of people they can go unnoticed for
extended periods of time, but if they feed off only a few then those people
become emotionless husks.”
Daren was furiously writing in
his grimoire. “Emotionless husks. Do they feed actively like blood drinking
“The life-force ones do, but
the psychic vampires feed automatically. Also, unlike the other two they don’t
become physically sluggish if they overeat, they become mentally sluggish.
Though I’ve never heard of a psychic vampire overeating on purpose I suppose
“How do they accidentally
overeat? That doesn’t make sense.”
“If they are around trauma they
can absorb too much of the emotion. I’ve seen it-“ Cal caught himself. “I can’t
talk about that, though. Anything else before we move more shelves?”
Daren set his grimoire down on
the counter. “No, not if you won’t talk about the things you’ve seen. Let’s
move some more shelves.”
“The new kids are what?!” Neta Medakus was brewing in the
basement when Daren told her what Cal said. “Are you still planning on talking
with them on Sunday?”
Daren nodded. “If they were
going to do something they could do it at any moment. You know that.”
“I’m coming with. I’ll get the
Neta pulled two spray bottles
from a shelf. One was labeled wolf’s bane and the other was labeled aloe.
“These spray bottles.” She motioned at the small, three-inch-tall bottles with
press sprayers on them.
Daren stared at them for a
moment. “That’s what those are for?”
“Yes, protection. I expect that
if they were too deviant that the council would do something about it, but just
in case I’ll put spray bottles around the house.”
“Hey, you haven’t heard from
dad lately, have you? I have questions that I want to ask him.”
Neta smiled sadly. “I haven’t.
I’ll ask Octavianus if he can get ahold of him for you though. We talked
“Octavianus? Why were you
talking with him?”
“He’s trying to get me on the
council. I’m not even a warlocke, I’m just an herbalist. I don’t know his full
reasons, never could read that vampire.” Neta sighed. “It would make it easier
to get in contact with Darek though.”
“It’d be his seat, right? Kind
of a temporary member?”
“Maybe. Octavianus wants to
keep me on when your father gets back, but I don’t know about that. For now,
let’s focus on what to do for Sunday.”
Cal was playing with his
rottweiler, Shanta, on Sunday when he felt three presences getting closer.
Shaking his head, he looked at Shanta. “Well, girl. If we’re done playing round
up with the cows we should go check on Daren. It seems his friends from down
the lane are visiting.”
Shanta barked happily.
“Yes, you’ll get to see Daren.
Let’s go.” Cal connected Shasta’s leash and started walking down the driveway.
“Don’t let me forget to grain the cows on the way back.”
Shanta started walking down the
driveway and onto the road. She was walking so fast Cal had to jog to keep
himself from being pulled over.
“Whoa, girl. We don’t need to
go this fast. Calm down.”
Neta and Daren were waiting in
a clearing in the small forested area behind the house. Sara, Jayse, and John
walked into the clearing and were surprised to see Neta there too.
“Who’s that?” John asked as he
walked closer. “I didn’t think you were inviting anyone.”
“I’m his mother, Neta.”
“Ah, are you a warlocke then?”
Jayse asked, walking forward with Sara.
“Just an herbalist, I’m afraid.
Though that means I know how to deal with your kind.” Neta pulled out the spray
bottles. “I came armed in case anything funky happens.”
As she said this Shanta came
running up the path and tackled Daren. She was yipping playfully.
“Sorry, I couldn’t keep up, so
I let her off the leash.” Cal was able to get out between pants. “I’ll just sit
down over here and catch my breath.” He dropped down onto the grass in lotus
“Shanta, get off me! I’ll get
you a treat, just let me stand up.”
Barking happily Shanta licked
Daren’s face and removed her paws from his chest. Then she sat on her haunches,
waiting for the dog treat.
“Here,” Daren pulled a bit of
jerky out of his pocket and gave it to Shanta, “and next time don’t tackle me.”
Shanta took the stiff jerky and
started chewing on it, content for the moment.
“So, who’s that?” John motioned
“I’m Cal Stver, Daren’s boss. I
came over for a surprise visit. Shanta loves Daren for some reason.” Cal stood
up. “I just think he’s a lazy employee, even if he works late on Fridays.” He
noticed Daren was carrying his grimoire. “If I’m interrupting something
important then I can come back later. Shanta won’t leave for at least an hour
Jayse perked up. “Stver? I know
that from somewhere…where do I know that name from?”
“It’s an old Armenian family.
If he’s from the American branch, there’s no problems.” Sara patted Jayse on
the shoulder. “Nothing’s wrong here.”
“No, it’s something else. One
of the boxes…Stver, you’re coming with me. We’ll be right back.”
Before Neta could even think
about using the spray bottle Jayse and Cal disappeared. Shanta whined softly.
“He’ll be right back, girl.
Don’t worry.” Daren looked at Sara. “He will be right back, right?”
Sara sighed. “I think so. I
have no idea what he was talking about.”
“Some of the boxes came last
night,” John said. “The ones from Hilsonville. I’m not sure which ones though.”
“As long as he doesn’t forget
to tell Erik he’s bringing someone in the house. Erik hates it when Jayse does
stuff like this without telling him.”
“Erik?” Daren asked, “I thought
you three lived alone.”
“We have to have a fake
guardian. Jayse is pretending to be a Junior. I don’t know why.” John sighed.
“Well, back to the conversation at hand. I want to break from the moon cycle.
What do I need to do to gain that sort of trust from you?”
“Daren,” Neta stared into
John’s eyes, “can you do that? You’ve never done anything that complicated.”
John didn’t break eye contact
with Neta. “A Medakus warlocke can do it. I know your line, and I know the
original name of your line. If there’s a spell that can be cast, a Medakus can
“You say you go by Ainsley. Will the council know of you by that name?” “No, but if you ask Andali Windspeaker if he vouches for John, son of Thomas I assure you he will.”
Around the pool Ember, Lukren, Helena, Drakust, and Evryn sat
“Are you sure I shouldn’t go join them?” Ember asked, as
she stood and began pacing in a circle around Helena. Her red fox fur standing
out against the white snow.
Evryn snorted softly and rested her ice wolf head on Krakust’s
lap. The orc patted her head and turned to look at Lukren, who was periodically
drinking from a flask. “I assume you don’t want to share that?”
“What would you have to drink about? One of my kin is inside
a serpent. I think only the dwarf should be drunk, anyway.” He took another
swig, and a bit of ale spilled onto his unkempt beard.
Helena stood and motioned for the flask. Her sky elf skin
blending into the background of snow. “Well, may I have a drink?”
“Sure, sure.” Lukren handed the flask over. “It’s almost
With a swift motion Helena chugged down the remainder of
the flask. “Ah, that’s not as good as wine, but it definitely has a kick.”
Krakust stared at Lukren for a moment then pulled a bottle
of whiskey out of his pack. “Here.” He handed it to Lukren.
“Uhh…thanks.” The dwarf took the bottle and started
– – –
Sorley and Lourek watched as Donaar the dragonkin started
playing chess against the spirit of an ancient mage. His magnetite colored
stales reflected the dim light emanating from the bowels of the great serpent.
Turning to Sorley, Lourek stroked his braded dwarven
beard. “So, how exactly is this game played?”
The human Sorley scratched his hairless face idly. “Well,
the goal is to capture the opponent’s king. It’s the piece with the cross on
the top of it. Different types of pieces do different things. Pawns, the short
ones, can only move forward directly, or diagonally to capture other pieces for
“So, it’s a war strategy game where both sides are equal
and have the same resources?”
“Yes, I suppose that’s exactly what it is.” Sorley shrugged.
“I’m not very good at it myself.” He turned his attention back to the game
slowly advancing. “He seems to be doing fairly well from what I know.”
“Well,” the mage’s spirit said, “looks like your friends
are bored. Let’s give them something to play with, shall we?” The spirit waved
its incorporeal arms and two goblins appeared near Sorley and Lourek, weapons
The goblins said something in a language they couldn’t
understand and ran forward. Meanwhile, on the chess board, two pawns, one from
each player’s side, disappeared from the board.
The spirit shrugged. “I have to keep the game balanced.”
– – –
The serpent closed its mouth and laughed. “Oh, I forgot how well that mage
played his games. Well, it seems your friends are in a combat situation. They
should be fine, though. The old mage isn’t up to his full strength these days.”
Helena quickly translated the words of the serpent to the
others. “I don’t think they’ll have a problem. When Orby is enhancing Sorley, he
seems to have better tricks up his sleeve. I’d never heard of that before, but that’s
how he was able to defeat you in the cavern.” She nodded at Krakust.
“That explains a lot. What is Orby, anyway?” Krakust took
the whiskey back from Lukren and took a swig before giving it back.
Ember pawed at Evryn then curled up next to her. “Orby’s a
light elemental. He’s Helena’s familiar.”
“I see. I’d never heard of a light elemental before now.
Then again, the orcs aren’t really known for their grasp of the arcane.”
“No, we aren’t, are we brother?” A voice echoed from the
forest surrounding the hot springs.
“Who goes there!” Lukren jumped to his feet, instantly
sober, wielding his short sword.
Two orcs stepped out from the edge of the forest.
One spoke up. “Those sent to check that Krakust is doing
“You don’t seem to be doing that, now, do you?” The other
Krakust stood up and Evryn pushed Ember away so she could
do the same. “That’s not very honorable of the chieftain to send someone to
watch after one of their greatest warriors.”
“You were an exception,” the second orc said. “The
chieftain doesn’t doubt you, but the elders have worries about you.”
Krakust raised his dagger, the only weapon he had on his
person. “You defy the chieftain and say I
am not doing my task?” His eyes became bloodshot and the veins on his arms
stood out against his green skin. “I will defend the chieftain’s name since you
soil it behind his back!” He stormed forward and stabbed at the second orc, his
rage forcing his face into a scowl. “Traitors are to be killed!” He dug the
dagger into the orc’s arm, let go of it, and pulled the pickhammer from his opponent’s
back. He then kicked the orc backward into a tree with enough force to dislodge
a large amount of snow. The snow dropped onto the surprised orc’s head with a
loud thwump. Krakust turned to the first orc. “Well?!”
The first orc looked at Krakust with a searching
expression. “Explar evost?”
“Epro, brother.” Krakust responded.
The first orc took his war hammer from his own back and
crushed the second orc’s skull in himself. “I will tell the chieftain your
travel goes well.”
The rage drained from Krakust and he relaxed. “I’ll be
keeping the pickhammer.”
“I would expect no less, cheiflein.”
Krakust walked over and pulled his dagger from the dead
orc’s arm then turned and walked back to Helena and Lukren. Putting his dagger
in its sheath and strapping the pickhammer to his back.
“What in bloody Darkfall was that about?” Lukren put his
short sword away.
“Something you might call kingdom politics.” Krakust sat
down next to Evryn who was already lying down again.
– – –
Sorley let out a purplish-blue blast of fire at the first
goblin, who convulsed and fell over in a smoldering heap. “They’re pawns. They
seem to be pretty weak.”
Lourek nodded and pulled his daggers from his back. He
threw both of them at the goblin, slaying it where it stood.
“Whoa, really? That’s too complicated! We were supposed to just be playing chess!” Donaar shouted in surprise. The two pawns that had disappeared reappeared on the board. “Guys, if he does that again, play with them for a while! That ruined my next move!”
Grimm let go of the vampire Patrick and fell back in a
defensive position in front of Cerdic. Veron was up and running away from the
confrontation. He knew he couldn’t help and motioned for Cerdic to follow.
With a small shake of his head, indicating he wasn’t going
to leave, Cerdic watched Jeremy as he started to cast a spell. The geometric
shapes forming in the air in front of his waving hands reminded Cerdic of the
residual shapes on the tire, and they were aimed directly at Eric’s center of
mass. Without hesitation Cerdic yelled, “look out!” and tackled Eric to the
ground. The magic went over the two of them and hit a nearby fence post, reducing
it to ash.
Eric looked at the fence post and back at Cerdic. “Uh,
thanks…how did you…?”
“Later, Eric!” Henry yelled. “We need to deal with Jeremy
Cerdic rolled off Eric and helped him to his feet. “He’s
using some sort of aging magic. Be careful.”
“I see that now…my only question is, how did you? But
Henry is right. We have a more immediate concern.” Eric moved his left hand and
gripped his grimoire with his right. As he made motions Cerdic saw a barrier
appear in front of Eric. It covered his body, but his arms were on the outside.
He decided that was so Eric could cast through the barrier.
“Grimm. Be careful.” Cerdic turned and joined Veron behind
a nearby rock.
Giving a small bark of recognition, Grimm tried to bite Jeremy
in the leg, but Jeremy was prepared. He sent a blast of energy at Grimm then
turned to ward off a spell from Henry. Grimm was pushed back towards the rock
Veron and Cerdic were hiding behind and stood there, menacingly.
Veron nudged Cerdic. “Jeremy is a powerful warlock. Grimm
probably wouldn’t be able to get into his inner defense. Let’s just watch.”
Henry grabbed his grimoire from his side and flipped it
open. He turned to a page near the middle and cast a spell on Patrick, the now
prone vampire. Tendrils of dark energy erupted from the ground and bound him in
place. “We shouldn’t have to worry about you recovering, now.” He turned
towards Jeremy. “Two on one, do you think you can take both of us?”
“Maybe. Let’s find out.” Jeremy grabbed his grimoire and opened
it to the last page, then he stuck his arm elbow deep into the page. When he
pulled his arm back out it was covered in dark black ink, and he held a strange
bone in his hand. “The bone of a great old one, broken.” He snapped the bone
and Cerdic saw a rush of shapeless energy engulf Jeremy. “Blood of the warlock,
freshly spilled.” He took a bone fragment and stabbed it deep into his forearm.
“We need to stop him!” Eric yelled at Henry. “Hit him with
everything you have!”
“Okay!” Henry began making exaggerated motions with his hands.
“Veron! Run!” He shot a deep red mass of energy at Jeremy. Cerdic noticed, as
he turned to run, that the geometry was jagged and unfinished. It seemed to him
that the spell was not yet perfected, like Henry was still working on it.
As the mass of energy splashed into Jeremy the energy surrounding
him dissipated it into his surroundings. A deep gash appeared in the ground in
front of and to the sides of where he was standing. “Impressive. I didn’t know
you had spells that would kill, Aelfson.”
With Jeremy’s attention on Henry, Eric attempted to shoot
smaller, more precise spells at the energy surrounding their foe. He was
casting many small, slightly different iterations trying to see what would get
through his shield.
“Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Just after blood of warlock
freshly spilled.” Jeremy stuck his arm back into the page of his grimoire and
pulled a wand from it. “Wand of wizard, ground to dust.” He cast a spell on the
wand and it started to disintegrate, leaving a small pile in the palm of his
hand. “Ingested for power unleashed on good.” He swallowed the pile of dust
with a slight cough then strode over to his vampire companion. “Sorry, Pat, but
I need you to hold still.”
One of the small missile spells Eric had been pounding the
energy with broke through. The green flames it was sporting burned up Jeremy’s
arm for a moment. “Dragonfire spells! They break through!”
“Shast!” Henry began flipping through his grimoire. “I
have one in here somewhere.”
Eric began mumbling something in Latin and moving his arm in
very specific, practiced ways. “Draco,” was the last word he mumbled as he shot
a green ball at Jeremy.
Laughing hysterically Jeremy reached up and grabbed the
ball of dragonfire. “Oh, yes. It breaks through, but I knew it would. I have
wards against dragonfire all over my body, Eric!” He gripped the bone in his
other hand. “With the bone of Bugg-Shash I sacrifice this vampire and call you
forth again!” He began moving the bone down towards Patrick’s prone form when
an arrow flew through the air and shot the bone from his hand. It landed in the
dirt a few feet away.
In surprise and anger Jeremy looked up to see Cerdic
holding a small crossbow tied to his wrist.
“Where was that?” Veron looked at Cerdic’s arm. “You definitely
didn’t have that before.
“Parting gift from Tibdast. Said I would know when to use
it.” Cerdic loaded another bolt into the crossbow. “Apparently that energy
doesn’t protect you from mundane weapons.”
“I was with you the whole time. When did he give you that?”
Cerdic shrugged. “Remember when we went out to the car?
You went outside first, and he came back and gave it to me.”
“Mundane weapons, eh?” Henry smiled broadly and pulled three
throwing knives from his jacket. “Perfect.” He tossed the three knives at once
and they buried into Jeremy’s right chest, shredding his lung.
“Stupid treefting Usual!” Jeremy shouted as he started
coughing up blood. He took a few steps away from Patrick then fell backwards.
Eric nodded at Cerdic. “Good job. You have a good head on
your shoulders.” He walked over to Patrick. “Well, let’s see what the council
wants to do with you and your friend, shall we?”
Patrick said something intelligible.
Henry cautiously approached Jeremy, who was still coughing
up blood. “Is the energy gone?”
With a glance Cerdic saw the energy was dissipating into
the ground. “It will be soon. Give it a moment.”
“I wasn’t asking you, but you seem to know what you’re
saying.” Henry waited a few seconds then approached the warlock. “We’ll get
that lung fixed up at the council hall. Let’s go.” He carefully picked Jeremy
up and teleported immediately.
Eric shook his head. “I’ll be going too. I’ll send a car to
pick you two up…” He looked at Veron’s car for the first time since the spells
started slinging around. “Uh…and I’ll see about replacing that.” The back-passenger
door fell off the car. It was the last door still on it, and the rest of the
car was covered in dents and burns.
“Great. I guess I better get my stuff out of it.”
– – –
Veron was able to talk the driver into giving him the car
and teleporting back to where he had come from and was currently sitting behind
the wheel of a sleek black car with tinted windows. “This is a nice car. I’m
pretty sure it’s also warded up.”
“Yeah, it seems to be.” Cerdic looked around the car and
saw a lot of overlapping triangles and squares.
“What do you mean?”
Cerdic shrugged. “I started seeing things. I think it has
something to do with Grimm.”
With a nod of understanding Veron took a right turn on the
road. “Yeah, bonding with a supernatural creature can do things, for sure.
Never heard of a Usual having the Eyes of the Magus, though.” He paused. “You do
have a bond with a church grim, though. That’s extremely unusual for anyone,
especially a Usual.”
“It’s starting to sound like I may not be a Usual.” Cerdic said, jokingly.
“You jest, but that may just be true. I think we need to take a short detour.”
It was a cold morning. The pickup keys were in the ignition
and Daren tossed his bag in the back. He slipped into the driver’s seat and
turned the keys. The truck didn’t start. It made a clicking noise and Daren hit
his head against the top of the steering wheel in exasperation. “I guess I’m
He got out of the pickup and pulled his bag from the bed. He
walked to the street and looked up and down before he started to cross. As he
did so he saw the school bus coming. “Sweet, the bus hasn’t gone by yet!”
The school bus pulled up, Woodfalls Oregon School District
stood out in black text against the yellow of the paintjob. The bus driver
slowed the bus and stopped in front of the driveway. He waved at Daren to
Daren walked up the steps onto the bus and nodded at the
“Truck won’t start?”
“Yeah, cold snap got the battery. I was lucky you hadn’t
gone by yet.”
“I guess it’s a good thing I’m behind schedule today. Find a
Walking down the aisle Daren sat down in a group of empty
benches and tried to avoid the stares. He had only ridden the bus a few times
in the last two years. He was glad he was the last stop on the route. As the
thought of him being the last stop passed through his mind the bus stopped at
the bottom of the hill and three students boarded.
Daren looked over at one of the other students on the bus
who was staring at his phone. “Who’re they?”
“I don’t know, they’re new. It’s the first time the bus
stopped here.” The student never looked up from his phone.
The three students filed back to where Daren was and sat in
the empty seats. They all looked like seniors or juniors.
“Hello,” Daren said, “I’m Daren.”
The two boys muttered their hellos but didn’t offer their
names. The girl didn’t even say hello. The rest of the bus ride to the high
school was uneventful.
Daren walked into his first period chemistry class. He
shuffled by Mr. Hans and took his regular stool. He put his bag on the stool
next to his and pulled out his textbook just as the tardy bell rang.
“Good morning class. We have a new student today.” Mr. Hans
sounded excited if only to get the attention of his students. “Let’s welcome
Ms…uh.” He looked down at his attendance sheet. “Ah, Ms. Sara Ainsley to our
There was a half-hearted round of applause.
Mr. Hans nodded. “Yes, why don’t you introduce yourself?” He
motioned Sara to step forward.
Sara was somewhat short for a senior and had dyed her waist
length hair crimson. “You already know I’m Sara I guess. Uh, I’m from Hilsonville,
Washington. It’s kinda in the middle of nowhere in northern Washington.”
“Yes, good. I usually ask favorite colors. My guess is red.”
“I have no idea what makes you think that.” Her voice was
Mr. Hans ignored the sarcasm. “Well, let’s get you assigned
a lab partner.” He looked down at his seating chart. “Mr. Medakus, I’m sorry
but your solitude has ended.”
Daren sighed and pulled his bag off the stool next to him.
As he did so he forgot it was open and all the contents went spilling onto the
floor. He looked at the bag in surprise for a moment before he reacted and
started picking things up. The first things he grabbed were the baggies of
spiders and quickly shoved them in the bag before anyone could register what
they were. Then he started grabbing the more mundane looking objects.
A hand reached down and started helping Daren pick up the
contents of his bag. He looked up and saw Sara helping him. “Thanks.”
She picked up his grimoire and shoved it in the bag. “You
should always grab your journal
first.” She continued to help him clean up.
“Okay, now that we’ve cleaned up our messes we can get to
work.” Mr. Hans booted up the projector and started the class.
During his third period PE class Daren noticed one of the
other students who had gotten on the bus at the bottom of the hill. The PE
teacher did a brief introduction.
“This is John Ainsley. He moved here from Hilsonville,
Washington. Now, let’s get out of this gym and onto the track. I want to see
some leg movement out there today!” Mrs. Carson looked ready to go. “I’ll be
joining you on the track today. Anyone who can lap me gets extra credit.”
Daren jogged around the track, getting his heartbeat up, but
not much more. He watched as John quickly lapped Mrs. Carson then when he came
back around to Daren he slowed to his speed.
“I need all the extra credit I can get. Don’t you?” The
question seemed rhetorical. He held out his hand. “I’m John Ainsley. You are?”
Daren jogged sideways to shake the hand. “I’m Daren Medakus.
You seemed uninterested in my name this morning on the bus.”
“I’m not a morning person. Sara definitely isn’t either, but
in-between classes she mentioned your journal,
so I thought I’d introduce myself when I had a chance.” John slowed to a walk.
“Let’s talk, shall we?”
Daren slowed and looked at him. “I don’t know why the two of
you keep saying journal like that. What do you want to talk about?”
“Mendacium interius veritas. We Ainsley’s aren’t that kind of family, but we know a few.”
The phrase wasn’t quite pronounced right, and by John’s second sentence Daren knew why. “Well, just so we know where we stand, veritas interius mendacium.”
“Don’t they always, though?” John asked in a way that
expected a specific response.
Daren shook his head. “Dad never told me the other half of
that line. Said I wasn’t ready.”
A smiled appeared on John’s face. “Just answer it how you
feel it should be answered, then. I want to know.”
“I’ve always thought the answer was ‘so is reality’.” Daren
stopped in his tracks, an inquisitive look on his face.
John stopped and walked back to him. “What’s wrong?”
Shaking his head Daren started walking again. “Why am I so
trusting of you? There’s students passing by us. Any one of them could know and
be an enemy of the council. If we want to talk about this…”
The school bell chimed, interrupting Daren.
“We can talk this weekend at your place or ours. Let me know
on the bus. I have need of your…skills.”
John started walking toward the gym. “That is, if you are willing to help an
old dog out.”
“I actually have a job after school. We should talk at
At lunch Daren was reading his grimoire. He was sitting with
his back to the lunchroom wall so that nobody could see the thaumatish written
inside. The book was open to a section on supernatural dogs. Black dogs had
always fascinated him, especially the church grim which seemed to be the only
inherently good one. This time, however he was looking into humanoid creatures
that were related in some form to dogs. John had said he had need of his skills
if he wanted to help an old dog. That phrase is what caused him to investigate
A lunch tray connected with the table Daren was at, causing
him to look up over the lip of the grimoire.
“Is this seat taken?” The last one of the students that had
gotten on the bus that morning was asking.
Daren noticed the two Ainsleys waiting beside him. “Ah, the
last Ainsley I assume?”
“I’ll take that as a no.” The three Ainsleys sat down.
Putting the grimoire away Daren stared at his sack lunch. He
didn’t feel hungry, but he started to eat mechanically. If he didn’t eat now
he’d never make it through sixth period.
“So,” Daren asked between bites, “what do you want to talk
about? Wolf related topics? Or perhaps the moon?”
John grinned. “See, Jayse? I told you that saying old dog
The black-haired boy nodded. “I stand corrected. Nice to
meet you, Daren. I’m Jayse.” He went back to shoving food in his mouth and
swallowing without tasting it.
Sara shook her head. “Jayse, I know it’s hard for you, but
you can at least pretend you’re actually eating.”
“You guys want to talk here, or somewhere else. I can make
it hard for people to understand us if you want, but that doesn’t always work
out.” Daren took another bite of his sandwich then added a blue and orange
powder to his water bottle.
“If there’s somewhere else to talk that’d be best.”
“Okay, Jayse. Where do you recommend?”
“The forested area behind your house. After school.”
“Jayse, I told you Daren has work after school.” John took
Jayse’s chocolate milk. “You won’t appreciate this. Why’d you even get
“Right. It’s getting a little hard for me to concentrate in
here. I’m going for a walk.” Jayse gave his dessert to John and left with his
Sara shook her head. “Don’t worry about him. It’s a little
too crowded in here is all.” She pushed her dessert over to Daren. “Do you want
“Sure. So, we should talk this weekend then. Does that sound
“It does, but it’s a full moon Saturday. How about Sunday?”
Daren looked at John. “You’re still tied down on that then?
If you need my help with that I need to get to know you a little more. Now I
know what you want, and that’s no small thing.”
“Well, up until now I didn’t care. Something’s come up, though, and I need to be a little more in control of some things.” “John, be careful. We can talk about that Sunday.” Sara picked up her food tray. “Well, see you then.”
Lourek awoke deep in the bowels of a large beast. He heard
the beast’s voice echo around. He couldn’t understand it, but he assumed it was
in draconic. “Well, this is just wonderful. I take a dip in the hot springs and
I end up in the belly of a serpent without my armor or weapons.”
Taking a look around Lourek realized he was on a small
island in the serpent’s stomach. The pile was made of undigested bones, the
remains of armor, and acid-damaged weapons. With a mighty sigh he sifted
through part of the pile and found a damaged short sword.
Swinging the sword a few times, Lourek nodded. “Well, it’s
better than nothing.” His voice echoed through the cavernous stomach. He
thought back to all the stories he had heard growing up of heroes. None that he
could remember involved anyone being swallowed by a serpent. “Probably because
nobody ever survived to tell the tale.” He muttered to the large, stench-filled
– – –
Lukren edged to the water and pulled his armor and Lourek’s
armor and weapons away. “Ok, let me put on my armor and we can talk about what
“I think my friend Donaar should try speaking with the
serpent. It does speak draconic, right?” Krakust motioned at the hematite
With a shrug Donaar sheathed his sword. “It wouldn’t hurt.”
Helena nodded then said something to Donaar in a language
that sounded like deep growls with grating consonants.
A similar sounding string of words responded to Helena.
Then, in common, Donaar addressed the group. “I think Helena might be a little
better at this. She knows more about serpents than I, and she obviously speaks
draconic very well.”
“Well, I don’t see why not.” Sorley nodded at Helena. “I
assume you want to do this?”
“Of course.” Helena approached the edge of the pool and
called out in draconic. “Serpent,
I seek a moot with you.”
Rising from the pool, a large brass colored serpent sprayed
warm water into the air. “Speak,
elf of the sky.”
“I am Helena
Dabaetodh, a dracomage. I wish to know what you want in return for spitting up
our dwarven friend you have swallowed.” Helena did the same intricate
bow she had done for Donaar earlier.
The serpent laughed a large, booming, mirth-filled sound
echoing in the hot spring clearing. “Once
swallowed you must find your own way out. If you wish to enter and help him you
may, or you may send him items you think will help. There is nothing you can do
for me to just spit him up.”
With a deep sigh Helena nodded. “Very well, I shall commune with my companions and we
shall decide what to do.”
time. I believe he landed on, ahem, dry land.” With that the serpent
coiled back into the water but kept his head near the shore. “Toss in anything or enter. Anything
that goes in my mouth will be swallowed.” The serpent opened his maw and
Donaar was already telling the others what the serpent had
said when Helena returned. “So, I think we should send him his weapons and
armor first, then decide what else we wish to do.”
“Agreed.” Lukren took the bundle of armor with Lourek’s
items and tossed it into the serpent’s mouth. At once the serpent reared its
head up and swallowed. Then it lowered its head, resuming the open maw
– – –
Lourek had just found an old, tattered raft made of
something that seemed to resist the serpent’s stomach bile when he felt a
rumble and a package landed next to him with a loud thump. He looked at the
bundle in shock and realized that it was his armor and items.
“By the gods, they’re making deals with the beast! What are
they thinking?” Lourek took the armor and donned it, strapping his daggers to
his side and putting the bag on his back. “Well, I’m grateful none the less.”
Lourek climbed onto the raft and saw a long pole cobbled together with bones
with sinew used as twine. “Looks like it’s time to move.”
– – –
“I’m definitely offering to go in there to help…Lourek was
it?” Donaar looked to Lukren for confirmation.
“Yes, it’s Lourek.”
“But if I go in alone, then he will probably see me as a
threat.” Donaar scanned the other’s faces. “Who else is willing?”
Sorley shrugged. “I’ll go.” He looked at Ember. “You stay here,
Helena nodded. “Orby will go with you. I’ll keep an eye on
Ember out here.”
“Ok, as long as you have someone looking out for your back,
I guess.” Ember shook her head, her red fur reflecting the sunlight. “I just
don’t like the idea of you or anyone going in there.”
“Well, it’s decided.” Sorley held a hand towards Orby. “Let’s
go, shall we?”
Orby floated over and flowed into Sorley’s hand. This still
feels weird, but Helena obviously trusts you to let this happen twice.
I guess so. Sorley smiled at Helena. “Thanks.” He turned
and nodded to Donaar, his face more serious. “Let’s go, dragonkin.”
With a curt nod Donaar approached the serpent, Sorley in
tow. They climbed up onto the beast’s tongue and felt what all food feels. The
sensation of being completely swallowed.
– – –
Lourek reached a new island of bone and undigested food. He looked
around and saw a pedestal with a few runes. “Well, let’s take a look, shall we?”
As he approached, he heard a distant scream. “Well, it seems I’m not the only
unfortunate soul in here.” Looking around he tried to locate where the sound
was coming from. It was approaching rapidly from somewhere. By the time he
thought to look up he didn’t have time to move out of the way. Donaar and
Sorley landed on top of him.
“Sorry, Lourek. Once we started falling, we couldn’t steer.”
Sorley helped Donaar off Lourek and then reached out a hand to help the dwarf
up. “This is Donaar, a dragonkin that’s willing to help.”
Shaking his head Lourek offered a hand. “I’m Lourek, but I
don’t know who would’ve been dumb enough to come down here, there’s no way out
“Don’t worry,” Donaar said, “we made no deals with the
serpent. He said if we wished to help, he would send us down here. He acts like
people have survived this before.”
“Well, if there were people who got out alive…there weren’t
very many of them.” Lourek motioned at the surface of bones they were standing
on. “Pretty much a million to one odds.”
Sorley nodded. “Oh, Orby’s here too by the way.”
“Right.” Lourek looked back at the pedestal. “I was about to
examine the runes on this. Looks like some sort of puzzle.”
The group walked, or floated, over to the pedestal. The
three natives to Domhan seemed confused by the carvings.
“Almost looks elvish, but not as flowing.” Donaar traced the
side of the pedestal. “Anyone read elvish?”
Sorley chuckled lightly. “It’s in English. My native tongue.
Let me take a look.” He approached the pedestal. On the edges there was a
single sentence. “It says, ‘Capture the king, let not your king be captured’.
Does anyone know how to play chess?”
As Sorley said chess the top of the pedestal flipped, and
chess pieces appeared. On the opposite side of the pedestal a man in green
robes appeared. “Welcome, traveler. This is my magic chess board. If you win a
game against me, I will give you a great boon. But if you lose, you will battle
for my amusement.”
“What boons might you grant us?” Donaar eyed the figure. “You
are but the shadow of a great mage. You are not here.”
“I am not, but a piece of my soul is. I can enchant armor
and weapons or give you a clue on how to get out of here.” The figure swept his
arms wide. “If you win ask, and I may be able to give.”
Donaar stepped forward. “I know a thing or two about chess. Let’s have a go.”
Srathek didn’t like being in
human form. Humans were the weakest of creatures he could appear as, but that
was the only creature that was on Earth. Sighing to himself he approached a
non-descript warehouse in Blackpool, Lancashire. The warehouse seemed
abandoned, but Srathek knew better. This was likely a base for the Guardians of
Humanity council. One of the few still guarded by people who listened for
With a swift knock on the door
Srathek stated the passphrase. “May Gormaliev not calculate against you.”
The door opened slowly. “And
may The Calculating turn her schemes away from you, as well. Enter.”
Srathek walked into the
warehouse. “I believe Shane is waiting for me. I’m Stan.”
“Yes, he is. Down the hall,
third door on the right, Stan.” The guard closed the door and locked it before
sitting back down behind a set of monitors watching the exterior of the
“I see you’ve added cameras to
The guard grunted an
affirmative then motioned back to the hallway.
Shrugging Srathek walked down
the hall. “Third door on the right…ah, here we go.” He knocked on the door in
rapid succession, three knocks. “It’s Stan.”
The door opened so fast it
practically flew off the hinges. “Stan? I thought you weren’t being serious
about meeting here!”
Srathek looked amusedly at
Shane. “My, my Shane. You sure set the appointment, though.”
Shane pushed his round glasses
back onto his face and brushed his long, sweaty, black hair to one side. “I was
making the precaution. Do you want to go for a walk, perhaps?”
“That would probably be best,
Shane.” Srathek looked him up and down. “You look like you need the sun.”
Cerdic and Veron sat at a
petrol station in the town of Hurst Green. They were waiting for the tank to
fill and Cerdic was polishing off a hamburger.
“So, we’re just going to drive
back down to Rawtenstall, then?” Cerdic fed the last bite of the hamburger to
Veron sighed. “Yes, we are. We
need to get you back to your handler and the railroad may be compromised. You
remember the hyb-” He caught himself and looked around to see if anyone was
listening. “The guy you met on the train?”
“He may have been working for
Albrite. We can’t be too careful.” Veron paid for the petrol and started the
car back up. “Let’s get going. Southward bound.”
Cerdic shrugged in the left
seat. “Aren’t you supposed to be in school, or something?”
An annoyed expression crossed
Veron’s face. “First, it’s summer, and second no. I finished school and am a full-time
“Well, don’t you need to be on
your assignment, then?” Cerdic said sheepishly.
“I guess they think I don’t
need to worry about it.” Veron shrugged. “Let’s just get you home and back to
work, shall we?”
Veron and Cerdic sat on the
shoulder of a country road next to the car. Grimm sat nearby, watching the
road, though there weren’t any cars in sight. The back-right tire was flat, and
the spare tire was on the road. The jack kit was lying open without a spanner
in the kit.
“Well, I could have sworn I
kept a spanner in there.” Veron leaned against the car. “My phone died and
yours doesn’t have service. Man, we’re so lucky.”
“I know, I know.” Cerdic
checked his phone again. “I just have the wrong carrier, I guess. Do you think
your phone is charged up now?”
“Doubtful. It doesn’t turn on
until it’s at 20% or more battery.”
With a sigh Cerdic stood again.
“I’m going to take a look at that tire. Something’s bothering me about it.”
Veron shrugged and patted Grimm
on the head. “He’s a strange one, you know. Maybe you should bond with me
Grimm cocked his head to the
side and barked lightly.
“Yeah, yeah. I know. Gormaliev
didn’t make a pact with me for a reason.” He slumped a little. “Don’t know why,
but she has her reasons.”
Cerdic looked over the flat
tire. When he looked at the right angle, he could see some sort of collection
of triangles slowly fading away. They seemed to be made of shadows. Shrugging,
Cerdic pulled on the rubber of the tire. It flaked away, as if it had become
brittle. With a tug the rubber ripped from the wheel and Cerdic was able to see
the inside of the tire. The tube was torn to shreds, but the inside of the tire
had score marks all along it perpendicular to the rotation. He picked up the
rubber and walked back over to Veron.
“Hey, Veron. Does this look
like a normal flat to you?”
“What?” Veron stood and looked
at the rubber Cerdic was holding. “Is that flaking off?”
Cerdic flicked the side of the
tire and rubber flakes fell to the ground. “Yeah, I think we’ve been
“That’s not good. Looks like
necrotic magics.” Veron pulled an amulet out of his trouser pocket. “This is an
emergency amulet. Do I need to use it?”
“There’s another thing, I saw
something. It looked li-” Cerdic was cut off as a series of popping sounds went
“Shast!” Veron gripped the
amulet and said something that sounded latin. “Help will be here soon. Keep
your head down until then.” He dragged Cerdic down and around the car. He
reached up and pulled a sheet from the back of the car. “Umbra,” he whispered
as he pulled the fabric over Grimm, Cerdic, and himself.
The fabric was see-through from
the inside, but Cerdic could have sworn the fabric was tan like the interior of
A pair of feet worked their way
around the car and when the person came into view Cerdic put a hand over his
mouth to keep himself from gasping. He was a lanky with sunglasses, and blood
streaming from his mouth.
“Pah, the local wildlife taste
disgusting. Too bad we have orders not to feast on the targets.’
“Do you see them?”
“Nah, there’s nothing over
here. Did Shane know who they were, exactly?”
A burly man came around the
other end of the car. “Uh, a pactless Aelfson and a Usual.” He froze mid-step.
“Grak! They activated an emergency amulet. Someone’s coming.”
“Well, let’s hurry, then. They
must be cloaked. I’ll try sniffing for them.”
The burly man sighed. “And why,
pray tell, were you not already doing that, dear vampire?”
With a sigh the vampire sniffed
the air. “Because I still had the smell of my meal in my nostrils…they have a
dog with them.” He walked right next to Cerdic, Veron, and Grimm. “Should be
right here.” He groped in the air over their heads. “Odd.”
Rolling his eyes, the burly man
started to bring back his leg as if to kick. He never completed the action, as
a new set of popping noises surprised the man. “Quick, let’s get out of here.”
The burly man made motions in the air with his hands and Cerdic saw geometric
shapes forming around it. As the shapes started to intertwine a dagger-like
triangle smashed through them, breaking them to pieces. As the shattered shapes
dissipated two other men circled the car.
“Ah, Jeremy and Patrick.” Eric
said. “What are you doing here?”
“Treeft,” the vampire swore. “I
told you this was a trap, Jer.”
Jeremy sighed. “No, Pat. I told
you to hurry. You were taking your time.”
“Grimm. Bite the vampire, will
you?” Eric looked directly at Grimm, through the fabric.
Breaking out of hiding, with a
snarl, Grimm chomped onto Patrick’s leg. The vampire cried out and started striking
at Grimm. Most of the blows passed right through the grim.
With the fabric moved Cerdic
and Veron were in the open. The second man that had arrived with Eric pulled
the two of them to their feet. “I’m glad you used the amulet. I remember you telling
me once you’d rather die than be rescued by me.”
Veron half-heartedly punched
the man in the shoulder. “Shut up, cuz. Just deal with these guys. Henry won’t
give Eric all the credit, will he?”
“Oh, fine.” Henry made a series
of jerking motions with his hands. “Lux!” A ray of sunlight went directly into
the vampire’s face. Cerdic noticed that the geometry that made up the spell was
also designed to melt his sunglasses, and they did so readily.
With a loud shriek Patrick fell to his knees. “My eyes! My eyes!” He groped at his leg, trying to grip Grimm. “I need blood, now!”
[Author’s Note: I started writing this book…around ten years ago or so? Wow. Anyway, this is the third time I started over writing Mendacium and this is a better draft than the first two, in my opinion. As with the other books and stories here I am working on this wile I post it. Enjoy.]
After school Daren Medakus worked a part-time job at Shadow Trading Cards and Hobbies. The third trimester of his senior year was starting tomorrow, and he was only half paying attention at the register. The shop closed in five minutes and it was empty, so he let his mind wander to his weekend training. Up until recently he had trained with his father every Saturday morning. Now, though, his father was on a long assignment from the council and wouldn’t be back anytime soon.
“Oi, Daren! Pay attention!”
Looking up from his thoughts Daren saw a customer waiting
silently in front of the counter. “Sorry, didn’t hear you.”
The customer put a few card packs and a board game onto the
“Silent, eh?” He started ringing up the items, the customer
still said nothing. “That’ll be thirty-five fifteen.”
The customer handed him a fifty. Daren held it up to the
light to check for the watermark. There was none.
Daren looked over to where Cal was restocking. “Hey, Cal!
Can you double check this for me?”
Cal Stver set down a box of board games and walked to the
counter. “What’s up?”
“Please tell me I’m just blind.” He handed the bill to Cal.
The bill was held up to the light once again. “Yup, you’re
just blind. You want me to ring him up?”
“Yeah, I’m gonna go home.” Daren swapped locations with Cal
and went to the employee room to time out. He picked up his school bag and
walked out the back of the store.
Daren went to get in his pickup and realized his vision was
too blurry to drive. Something was wrong. Very wrong. He pulled out his phone
to call his father the phone dialed but then came back with a busy tone.
Cursing under his breath Daren started to call his mother but stopped and
walked back into the store. Cal had his key in the lock when Daren opened the
“Yo, something wrong?” Cal asked.
“I don’t feel so…” Daren fell forward and Cal caught him,
laying him down gently.
“Well, that’s not good.” Cal pulled out his cell and called
Daren’s mother. She picked up immediately. “Hey, Neta it’s Cal. Daren just
passed out on the floor. You may want to get down here. I’m calling a medic.”
“I’m coming. Don’t call a medic though, I know what’s wrong.
Give him water and something to eat when he wakes up.” Neta hung up the phone
and grabbed a few bottles from the cellar shelf before rushing to get in her
car. “Now he’s gone and done it. Why didn’t he listen to me this morning?”
Daren woke up in a chair in the staff room of Shadow Trading
Cards and Hobbies. Cal sat in front of him with a bottle of water and a snack
“Good morning sleepy head. Your mom’s on the way.” He held
out the water and snack bar. “Your mom said to get you something to eat and
drink. Are you okay?”
“I think so, mom warned me this morning. She said to drink
that brew before I left.” Daren looked for his backpack. “Something about the
flow of energy in the area or something.” The words left his mouth before he
realized who he was talking to.
Cal chuckled. “Yeah, you magical types always slip up around
me. I must just have that kind of face or something.” He held up the snack bar
again. “Eat. I’ll get your grimoire for you.”
Daren took the snack bar and water in stunned silence. How
did Cal know he was looking for his grimoire? How did he even know what a
grimoire was? He opened the snack bar and took a bite. “Tastes vaguely of
aloe…a little weird.”
“Yeah, just had a sample case brought in. I don’t think we
need them for anything, though.” Cal was rummaging through Daren’s messenger
bag. “Ah, grimoire.” He set the book in the seat next to Daren. “So, you aren’t
going to kiss a vampire later, are you? The aloe tends to burn.”
“If I was I’d be taking my life in my hands already.” Daren
finished the bar and drank some of the water. “So, what are you, anyway?”
“Your boss. If you need something more specific than that we
can talk about it later. I think your mom’s here now.” The sound of a car
engine reached the staff room. “I’ll go let her in.” Cal stood up and started
toward the door. “Oh,” he said without turning back to Daren, “if you want to
know more just look up my family. The Stver line is an interesting one. I don’t
know everything myself. I don’t have the resources you probably do.” He left
As soon as Cal was out of sight Daren opened his grimoire to
somewhere in the middle and pulled out a pressed flower. He then turned to a
section near the front and started reading from it. He instantly felt better as
the flower disintegrated and a protective layer of magic surrounded him.
Neta walked into the room and saw Daren’s grimoire open.
“Close that now, young man. You’re in enough trouble as it is.” She got closer
and whispered. “What if Cal found out?”
“He already knew.” Daren closed the grimoire and held his
hand out. “Just give me the potion. My mana’s out of whack.”
Neta sighed and handed two vials of thin powders to him. One
was blue and the other was orange. “Mix it in the water and drink it all. The
blue one is Blue Ash.”
The powder was already mixing into the water. Daren put the
cap on and shook it. “What’s the other?”
“Orange flavoring. Blue Ash tastes terrible.” Neta watched
as Daren started to drink. “Good. I’ll go talk to Cal.”
“Before you do that, do you know anything about the Stver
“They run a cult in Armenia. Cal has no ties to them,
though. I checked”
“I don’t think that’s what he meant when he mentioned his
line. Do they have any abilities?”
Neta shook her head. “If they do you have the thing that
might tell you right there.” She pointed at his grimoire. “That was your
grandfather’s and his grandfather’s and his. Maybe it has something on the
Stver line.” She walked back into the main part of the store.
Daren drank the rest of the water and felt his mana balance
back out. “Stupid mana flux. I thought the report said it was over. Whatever.”
He started to flip through his grimoire. “Hmm…Stver line. Armenia.”
Cal was waiting for Neta behind the store counter busying
himself with some inventory. “Ah, is he doing okay?”
“Who are you?” Neta looked him up and down with menacing
eyes. “How did you know what Daren was?”
“I’m a seeker.”
Relief washed over Neta’s face. “Why didn’t you just tell
“Because I’m not with the council. I technically don’t have
to tell you either.” Cal turned back to the inventory and continued counting.
“Do you have any connections in Armenia I should be worried
Giving up trying to count while having a conversation Cal
walked to the same side of the counter as Neta. “If I did then Daren wouldn’t
be working here, would he?”
“No, he’d be dead.”
Daren walked into the main store room. He didn’t seem to
have caught the last sentence. He was reading aloud from his grimoire. “The
Stver line split into two distinct groups around the time that the Armenian
Apostolic Church was founded. Half the family moved to Europe and eventually to
America while the other half remained in Armenia. The group that moved to
Europe, and eventually America, took a peaceful role in their new home while
the group that remained in Armenia worked against peace. One thing remains the
same, however. Every fifth generation of the Stver line one of the children is
Cal nodded. “That’s right. Who wrote that?”
“My great grandfather. He seems to have had an interest in seekers. There’s a lot of information in here.” Daren thumbed through a few pages and read again. “Only exceptionally strong seekers can sense a warlocke. Most of the seekers of the Stver line are such seekers. Well, that explains that.”