Tales of Strange Adventures

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Home Index of Tales of Strange Adventures

"Call of the Dragon, Part I"

"Call of the Dragon, Part II"

"Ruins and Hopes"

"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3

"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4

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"Childhood of a Fighter"

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"The Pledge" Cornell #5

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"The Rock of Discontent"

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"A Tale of the Gods"

"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6

"Life's Values"

"Tangled Elves"

"The Pilgrims' Trial and Faith"


  by Marc H. Wyman & Chris Bogues


 They journeyed on, all five of them. For a few hours they stayed on the path that the three young people from Clearspring had taken, then Markesh pointed to a map he had been carrying and explained that they had to go through the uncut forest. It had proved easier than any of them thought, for Vobul’s powerful arms made short work of any obstacles such as branches or trees.

It was no more than a few miles to their destination when Koyson announced that it was time to lie down for the night. Neither of the Clearspring folks agreed, but the dwarf simply sat down and refused to move. “Ain’t no question o’ bein’ able to walk a couple more minutes,” he muttered. “It’s about conservin’ yer strengths at the right time. Ye couldnae do any good if ye reached that temple o’yers tonight, it’s way too dark. So ye’d better rest up, an’ tomorrow ye’ll be good as new.”

Markesh slowly nodded. He absolutely wanted to see the temple as soon as possible, but still… It would be better in the daytime. Willett only shrugged and joined the dwarf on the ground, ready to unpack his blanket for the night.

On the other hand, Ha’el’s eyes fired up. “You’re only lazy, dwarf! If your stubby legs can’t carry you any further, let the furrag carry you!”

“My what?!” Koyson shouted – and abruptly quieted down, glaring at her dangerously. “Yer spankin’ sounds ever more pleasant, gal.”

Not leaving the half-elf time to reply, Vobul said, “This is still a ratpeople area. Guards need to be posted at night. I suggest that you take first watch, Ha’el.” He motioned to the young men and said, “You should gather firewood now while I will fetch us some meat.” With that he suddenly vanished into the forest, eight feet of furrag gone within the blink of an eye.

Koyson calmly folded his legs and yawned. “Ratpeople ain’t good at sneakin’, Ha’el. Ye’d best watch out for’em squeaky noises. Sound like an owl what’s drunk on liquor. Got that, gal?”

She didn’t answer. Angrily she pulled her sword from its scabbard and took a stance some three yards away from the dwarf, staring intensely at the forest.




Ha’el’s anger lasted a long while. After a few minutes the furrag had returned with the carcass of a deer, one leg suspicously missing, but the rest all wound up on the spit over their by now assembled fire. The others went to sleep after feasting on their meal, Markesh apparently famished even though having had at least as big a meal that morning.

At first she kept staring at the dim shadows of the forest with her fullest attention. The fire kept throwing shadows that to her eyes looked just like ratpeople about to leap at her. For moments, she could see clearly the outlines of the short bodies, the hindlegs of raw power, the stubby arms, and the long, cruel snouts – then they vanished, and she realized that nothing had been there.

Had the attack upset her that much?

It couldn’t be! All her life, as long as she could remember, she had been training to be a warrior, just like her mother. Father had never approved, not really. Oh, yes, he had given her a wooden sword on her sixth birthday, with that dour smile of his. Ha’el had laughed and gleefully proceeded to play with the sword for hours. She had fallen asleep with it in her hands, and the next morning discovered that it was put safely on the table next to her bed. (Not to mention that a blanket was draped over her as well.)

Of course Mother had never taught her anything. How could she? C’rinn Des’Epaes had only stayed in Clearspring until her daughter was weaned, then she had gone her own way, leaving Estebin Morhawk, her supposed husband, behind to care for the child. Father had never spoken much about that time. With good reason, Ha’el supposed. She remembered the early years, when Father had been an outcast in Clearspring.

She hadn’t understood any of it at the time. All she knew was that none of the other children were allowed to play with her, that parents kept dragging them away, shouting strange things about dirty blue killers. To her, it had been cruel, but on the other hand, she had Father all for herself. All those marvelous stories he told her at night, the stories she took to her sleep and dreamed about! They still followed her to this day, especially those that featured her mother. How Father met her, how they fell in love, and how they slew the emperor dragon.

She also remembered hearing about the twin birth. Ha’el had been fourteen then, only beginning to learn about the secrets of life. Clearly the villagers had to be talking about twins, born by a single mother, she thought and wanted to find out everything. Confusingly they kept speaking about two mothers, so she snuck into every one of the houses mentioned to take a look at the babies. She had already been good at sneaking, so none of the parents ever knew she was there.

Twin birth. The present-day Ha’el chuckled slightly. The villagers had meant that two children had been born on the same day, within an hour of each other. It had taken her younger self months to understand it, but by that time she had already found herself caring about the two babies. Two boys who were practically raised together. The people of Clearspring thought the twin birth a sign that the gods had meant the two to be together.

Well, if that had been the intent of the gods, they had gotten more than their share. From the first moment that the toddlers were allowed into the streets, a blue-skinned guardian angel watched over them. The parents had tried chasing her away at first, never with much success, and finally they had allowed Ha’el near the children. They were too young to have ever heard about elves, about the incarnations of evil that they were, and the two boys happily accepted their new playmate – although their playing at first consisted mostly of riding on her back.

It became so natural for the twin-born boys to be seen with their half-elven companion that slowly the wall around Ha’el and Father broke down. People accepted them, and on her sixteenth birthday Ha’el was stunned to receive a gift from the parents of both the boys, a blue-silvery dress that suited her perfectly. It wasn’t the gift that surprised her, not even the expense that the parents had gone to – she simply had never before received presents from anyone except Father.

Life was changing for her. No longer was Father the only person in her life, now there were two other persons, and thanks to them, the world – or at least the village of Clearspring – truly entered her awareness.

Markesh and Willett had been her first friends. To be honest, they were her only friends. Not for lack of trying, on either part. There had been enough boys in the village interested in her from a certain point onward, and she had also tried to start friendships with girls. (And boys, she sighed remembering. Father never found out, and Ha’el just as quickly discovered that life in this regard wasn’t easy at all.) But Markesh and Willett… Even today she hadn’t found a way to describe her relationship to them.

Willett was so infuriatingly sure of himself! She remembered how he had cried when he had to leave for the wizard tower, and she recalled her own hot tears. But there were always the summers that they spent together, not to forget the joyous times around the winter solstice. And every time he had grown more convinced of his own might – yet there had never been a single moment of doubt that Markesh and Ha’el were the only people in his life he cared about.

And Markesh… He had always been in the village. When Sage Urquart opened the shrine, inviting all children to attend his school, he had quickly moved to the top of the class, exceeding Ha’el easily. She’d been upset – after all she was fourteen years older. Then Urquart asked him to become a novice, giving him extra schooling that took him away for so long each day.

Ha’el had been alone for the first time since the twin birth. Willett at the tower, Markesh at the shrine, there didn’t seem to be anything left for her to do. Well, she had decided, then she would take up her own schooling and become a warrior, after all. She dug up the old sword, carved a wood shield for herself, and all the time that Markesh spent with Urquart she spent wielding her mock-up weapons.

But all of that paled compared to the evenings that Markesh came to her and eagerly told her of all the new things he had learned that day. After a while she realized that she was truly proud of Markesh. Proud in a way that she didn’t fully understand.

She still didn’t. Standing guard over the camp, listening to the snores of the men (including the noisy, earthshattering sounds of the furrag), she wondered whether it was all worth it. Going to that mythical temple they’d never seen, finding that magiscribe device – or scroll or whatever – and connecting Clearspring with the world.

Markesh was sure it was. This quest, it was burning in him like a fire. The passion to improve the life of Clearspring. The passion to do the right thing.

Even if it meant taking that ugly, obnoxious dwarf along.

Markesh’s passion was so dear to her, she wondered. His pleas, they always cut straight to her heart. Why? she wondered, staring at the dark forest – and gave a start when something heavy touched her shoulders.

“Your watch is over, little one,” Vobul whispered. “It is time for you to sleep.”

Ha’el blinked, then nodded and joined the others at the fire.



After the uneventful night, they were roused by Vobul’s happy crunching down on raw bones. The three youngsters rose and stared in wonder – and not a little bit of horror – at the furrag, covered once more with blood, as he chomped down on the half devoured carcass of a pig.

Koyson on the other hand pulled the blanket over his head, muttering inaudibly for a while before he launched himself to his feet. “Can’t ye ever let anyone sleep?!” he yelled. “An’ where do ye find’em pigs all the time? Ye’d think an entire generation was fillin’ yer stomach!”

“There’s always,” Vobul paused to stuff a giant piece of meat into his snout, munching it joyously, “room for another one.”

“Ugh,” the dwarf grunted, then snapped at the other ones, “Don’t ye just be gapin’ like a kid on ‘is first tour o’the shafts! Pack the bags!”

Willett and Ha’el hastened to follow his orders, quickly grabbing their gear and stuffing it into their backpacks – while Markesh stared in amazement at the sight of Vobul. A moment passed, then the furrag became aware of the novice priest’s attention and tore a slice off the remaining carcass with dark claws popping out of his fingers.

“Would you like some?” he asked graciously, offering the bloody piece to Markesh.

The novice swallowed drily. “Gotta pack!” he screamed with near terror, hurrying to join his friends.

Vobul shrugged, looked at the meat quizzically before dropping it into his mouth. “Can’t find anything wrong with it,” he wondered while his jaws reduced the meat in moments.

A few minutes later they were on their way towards the temple, the furrag leading the way. He had spent a short while preening himself, licking the blood off his fur with obvious delight, and now he was his old white-furred self, albeit rather wet looking. It made no difference to the branches and trees that found themselves torn off or uprooted to carve a path through the dense forest.

The land was sloping slightly, Koyson noted, and the slope was starting to get steeper. Markesh’s map seemed to be leading them towards a hill. Trebonshire Forest was mostly flat, still a goodly way off from the Secula Mountains, which meant that a hill was rather unusual. And valuable since it was easier to defend. Those ancient Darawk priests must have held quite some sway with the local lords, the dwarf thought, to have been allotted such a prized location for their academy.

He was walking in the rear, keeping an eye on the forest behind them. An assault by ratpeople was unlikely, he figured. Their party was too big, and Vobul’s presence was usually a sure-fire protection. But there were other dangers in Trebonshire Forest. Orc tribes might be in the vicinity, ranging out from their ancestral homes in the mountain chains. Bandits might have their lairs here, well off from the roads and path that the highwaymen preyed on. Not to mention some of the animal dangers. A week earlier Vobul and he had stumbled across two clawvoles, digging a nest kennel – Koyson’s right leg instantly smarted from the gash that the female had opened. He hadn’t been happy to slay the beast, pregnant as it was, but clawvoles never let up. They pursued anyone for miles, often tunneling underground and shooting out of the ground unexpectedly.

So there was plenty to divert his attention from the actual path they were following. That at least was no cause of trouble to the dwarf. In the couple of months he had journeyed along with the furrag, he had come to instinctively trust Vobul’s eyes – and nose – as much as his own.

“It can’t be much further,” Markesh said after a little while. The hill had grown steep and rocky by now, the trees growing far enough apart that Vobul needed no longer uprooting any obstacles. A few bushes dotted the landscape, some mossy grass followed what looked to be ancient pathways leading up the slope. One or two of those old roads now sported a fully grown, old tree, which they clambered past with little effort.

Koyson had to admit he was getting excited. Oh, he didn’t care much for temples, and that magiscribe idea of the kids seemed quite ridiculous to him. But their eagerness was infectious – Markesh and Ha’el both with glowing eyes, and even the supposedly self-sufficient Willett now walked with a spring in his step.

“There!” Markesh suddenly shouted and scampered up the hill for a better view. “There it is! Isn’t it marvelous? The great old academy of Darawk, the temple of knowledge! The towers of observation, the study chambers. And there, the campus plaza with the steles! Oh, wonderful Lord of Knowledge, it is beautiful!”

Well, it better be, Koyson thought as he followed the others to the top of the hill where the three youngsters were staring in astonishment at the building looming over them.

The dwarf’s own eyes widened in amazement as well, but for a quite different reason.

The structure didn’t look like any Darawk temple he had ever seen before. It was ancient, decrepit, moss growing nearly everywhere; none of the walls was left intact, its stones had been ripped apart by the wind, scattered on the ground. But Koyson would have gladly eaten one of those stones, if this had once served the divine lord of knowledge.

Though Darawk’s academies definitely held less interest to him than the temples devoted to Alyssa (they always had marvelous ale and food; the other pleasures offered there were none of his concern for there were no dwarven priestesses), he had noticed a couple of them in the last twelve years of travelling across the land. What Markesh had called the towers of observation looked very much like turrets to Koyson, with embrasures well suited to longbowmen. The walls were sturdy, made of solid, dark rock – from the Secola Mountains, if he caught the scent right, probably the south flank of Mt. Dunkelberg. And the supposed plaza, a wedge-shaped, flat area in front of the walls… In case of an assault, it naturally funneled the attackers into a column that was easy to pick off by the archers from the embrasures. Not to mention that the walls bulged considerably over that column, grooves opening out of the bulges every two or three feet. They were perfectly placed to pour hot oil over any assailants, while the curvature of each groove protected the defender.

“Call me a hopeless pessimist,” he muttered loud enough for everyone to hear, “but this looks more like a fortress than a temple.”

Markesh shook his head forcefully. “It cannot be! This is where the elders said Darawk’s temple is!”

“Still looks like a fortress,” Koyson grumbled, taking one more look at the dark ruin ahead of him, and carefully loosened the axe in his belt.



The wood of the gate had rotted away. Skeletized strips of rusty metal hang in grooves, the only remains of the gate. Vobul gave them a slight push, and they crumbled out of their holdings, fell apart as they dropped to the ground.

Beyond was a small courtyard that once had probably born a wooden roof. Some beams still remained, precariously crooked as if they were about to come crashing down. Grass grew on the ground, lush and rich. One or two bushes had found their perfect niches to catch the sunlight, and a small appletree stood a few yards behind the gate.

The group slowly entered, Markesh hastening about to look for any inscriptions on the walls or any markings, while Koyson walked over to the appletree. Its branches started well above his head, so he said, “Willett, could ye please fetch me one o’them apples?”

The wizard, standing closest, nodded and started to walk over – then he stopped and grinned mischievously. Koyson was frowning with sudden terror as he noted Willett mumbling something under his breath and making a cutting gesture with his right hand.

Something whirred above Koyson’s head, and when he looked up – two dozen apples rained down on him.

Ha’el laughed at the sight of the dwarf screaming at the assault. Koyson found little mirthful about it which he immediately told the wizard in unmistakable terms.

“Sorry,” Willett chuckled. “I’ve miscalculated the power of the spell. It’s a new one, I just made it up a few days ago.”

“A new spell?” Koyson yelled exasperatedly. “Meanin’ ye could hae cut off me head rather than the apples?!”

Willett shook his head forcefully. “Absolutely not! I know magic.”

“Sure ye do, an’ sure I’m gonna –“

“Koyson!” Vobul called from further down the courtyard. “Please give me a hand with this.”

The dwarf shot an angry glance at the wizard that promised an extensive conversation at a later time, then he walked over to the furrag who was standing in front of the interior gate. Or what apparently had once been the gate. Blocks of stone from the wall above had fallen down before it; one had smashed the wood, lying crooked on top of the other blocks. “Too heavy for ye, eh?” Koyson grinned. “That I could live long enough t’see this day!”

Vobul grimaced, shoving his lower jaw forward and exposing unpleasantly many of his teeth. “It’s not too heavy for me. But I would like to know if the work is worth the effort. There might be more debris beyond, and we should perhaps find an easier way in.”

“An’ what do ye propose I should do? If ye recall, ye’re a wee bit taller than –“

The furrag sighed noisily, reached down and plucked the dwarf up with both hands. Koyson struggled mightily, but quickly found himself straddling the top stone block, some ten feet above the ground. He turned carefully around, said, “Ye’re really enjoying this kind o’thing, ain’t ye?”

“Please look inside!” Vobul exploded. He wasn’t a nice sight, so Koyson quickly turned back and crept towards the cracks between the gate’s rim and the blocking stone. He had to stretch his head a good ways to get a decent look through them.

“Don’t look like there’s much blockin’ the other side,” he said, glancing down at first. Not much sunlight reached into that place, dim and murky twilight that took Koyson’s eyes a few moments to adjust. Fortunately a dwarf was designed for dim places such as mineshafts. A bit later, therefore, he could see the inside almost as clearly as the courtyard, and…

He suddenly rocked back and wiped his forehead. “Great dweorgh! Markesh,” he said slowly, “if that’s a temple, they practiced some pretty strange rites here.”



That, the others found out after Vobul and Koyson had cleared the stone from the gateway, was rather an understatement. The inside was a large hall that had been decorated with paintings and mosaics on the two stories high walls. Little remained of them but strips and pieces hanging loosely about. Two spiral staircases made of stone twirled their way up on the far side of the hall, presumably to the towers on that side. There had been a lot of furniture in this hall at some point, probably tables, chairs and such like. None of the visitors had the slightest chance of recognizing even one of them by the broken, scattered pieces.

Yet it hadn’t been the wear and tear of time alone that had broken the furniture.

The battle probably had helped, too.

For a battle had been waged in this hall, as the skeletons proved that lay all over the floor. Koyson stopped counting after the first dozen. Some of them still wore tatters of clothes, some pieces of rusty armor, and some still had a blade stuck between their ribs. A few seemed to be locked in wrestling grips, skeleton hands clasped around skeleton necks.

There was little to indicate whether anyone had won the battle. If so, the victor had been hurt too much that they could have taken their dead with them as they departed the object of their fight.

“What… happened here?” Markesh wondered, his eyes strangely dead as he stumbled through the hall, glancing everywhere and seeing no sign at all of the bright academy of Darawk he had been seeking.

Koyson frowned as he bent down and wrested a blade from one of the skeletons. The bones of its fingers were brittle, crumbling under the dwarf’s touch. “This here looks like a Tonomai scimitar. I’d say they razed the place five hundred years ago, durin’ their invasion. That ‘plaza’ o’yers outside must hae been littered with corpses, too, but I guess that animals got at’em an’ scattered the bones all across the hill.”

“Which means,” Ha’el said coldly, “no secret of the magiscribe. We came here for nothing at all.”

Off to the side Willett was examining one of the skeletons, trying to determine how exactly the man had died centuries earlier. At Ha’el’s words he calmly looked up and shrugged, “Oh, don’t say that, Ellie. There might be lots of interesting things around here. Some might even help Clearspring!”

“And how would a bunch of skeletons help our village? Or some rusty swords? Sweet Maidoyú, what do you think our parents will say? The bloody dwarf was right! This was a silly idea from the beginning! Markesh, this has never been a Darawk temple, and we’re leaving!”

Imperiously she waved the novice priest to the exit, but the boy was too engrossed in deciphering the insignia on the armor of one of the skeletons. “Markesh,” Ha’el repeated, a bit more softly.

“Just a minute,” the novice answered. “I think this was a member of the Falken family. You remember, the ones who protected our ancestors during the Unholy Assault? Maybe here is the answer to what has happened to them, all those years ago!”

“Oh, Markesh,” she sighed, “what use is that to us today?”

“But… it’s knowledge! Knowledge is power,” he protested. “A few hours more won’t change anything!”

Soon the three young people were engrossed in an avid discussion of whether to stay or leave right away, while Koyson cast a doubtful glance towards the furrag. Vobul’s mighty shoulders heaved. “Let them work it out,” he said softly.

Well, there wasn’t much to work out as far as the dwarf was concerned. This had once been a fortress, and the skeletons were not the nicest thing to see. But there might be some treasures in here, provided they weren’t looted a long time ago. A couple of doors led out of the hall, into other parts of the castle, and once the kids had come to some kind of conclusion, he’d be heading that way regardless of their decision. The hall held little to concern him, ancient swords and shields, broken tables, broken whatevers, rustling bones and…

Rustling bones?

A chill ran down the dwarf’s spine as he focused his eyes on the hall once more. The skeletons were stirring. Bony hands reached for swords, grasped them and… “I think we have a more urgent problem here,” Koyson said and drew his axe.



The axe smashed into the spine of one of the rising skeletons, shattering it into millions of white pieces billowing up like a cloud of dust. Both hands firmly on the handle, Koyson half raised the axe again, swirled it about at hip level, grazing two of the skulls.

“Help!” Markesh screamed, and Koyson spared a brief moment to glance in the direction of the novice. The skeleton he had been inspecting had suddenly raised its arms, grasped the novice and was about to swing him into the waiting blades of other skeletons.

The dwarf jabbed his axe at the nearest undead, unhooking its right leg bone from the hip. It collapsed, and yet another bony creature took its place. One that unfortunately had a better idea of parrying axe blows.

Out of the edges of his eyes he saw Vobul hurrying toward the novice, prying him in a single swipe from the claws of the skeleton. Ha’el cleaved her sword madly about, carving a free circle about her and Willett. Who barely managed to dodge the attacks of the skeletons – and had no weapon of his own.

Koyson ducked under his opponent’s swing, leaped headfirst at its torso. He felt barely any resistance as he crashed through the bones, splintering them instantly. And beyond – pain rushed through his arm, nicked by some other blade. Not enough to stop me! He landed on the ground, dust swishing into his nose, and whirled his axe sideways, blindly aiming where the undead’s blade had been. The axe battered a leg to dust, just as the dwarf scrambled to his own feet – and instantly let himself drop again. Three swords clanged together just where his head had been a second earlier. Koyson clasped his axe close to his chest, rolled sideways as fast as he could, unbalancing a skeleton or two during his wild motions.

“The staircase! Get to the right staircase!” Vobul’s voice thundered through the hall, easily piercing the clangor.

Very funny, Koyson muttered in his mind while he was whirling his axe in as wide an arc as possible above his chest, just to get the room necessary to stand up again. The skeletons were so close, the clicking and clacking of their bones drummed a dreadful rhythm in his ears. And they were rather unimpressed by his axe, avoiding it with lithe motions – just every now and then the blade ate bone, grinding it to dust. And the triumphant grin on the dwarf’s face was smothered when just another skeleton closed the gap.

“Koyson!” Vobul shouted again.

Why don’t ye come here and fetch me yerself? He would have loved to shout that, but his breath lasted barely to yell, “I… bloody… can’t!”

One of the skeletons collapsed, its legs sheared off by the axe. But the undead creature didn’t give up, not when it was on the ground, just in reach of the dwarf. Keeping up the whirl of the blade, Koyson kicked out, just in time, to send the bony torso spinning off.

Its careening must have confused the skeletons, for a small gap opened that wasn’t immediately filled – and he immediately pushed himself into the gap, rolling up to leap to his feet.

“No! Koyson, stay down!”

He dearly wanted to disobey that command, but something grabbed his ankles and violently pulled them back. Facefirst Koyson went down, instinctively kicking back right when he hit the ground and the breath was pressed out of him.

The next moment he felt an airy breeze swooshing just above him, and pieces of bone began to rain down on him, chipped to little more than dust.

The skeletons around him were headless, their skulls splintering as they hit the ground, only moments before the remaining bones fell apart.

That was his chance! But there was still that thing holding on to his ankle – he twisted his upper body around, swinging the axe in a wide arc, and smashed straight into the spine of the legless skeleton. The impact disintegrated the ribcage, ripped the arm apart – yet the fingers were still closed tight around his ankle.

Koyson didn’t care. Without the arm attached, they barely slowed him down as he finally got to his feet, oriented himself and started running toward the staircase. Subconsciously he realized that the rest of the party had already gathered there, but his awareness was otherwise consumed by the flurry of skeletons he crashed into, dodged, skeetered across, leaped over – until he got close enough to the staircase that Vobul’s long arms could pluck him from mid-air during one of his jumps and dropped the dwarf onto the cold stone steps.

“And you complained about my new spell,” Willett cheerfully said next to Koyson. “It worked beautifully with those skeletons, didn’t it? How did you like those apples?”

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