"Call of the Dragon, Part I"
"Call of the Dragon, Part II"
"Ruins and Hopes"
"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3
"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4
"Childhood of a Fighter"
"The Pledge" Cornell #5
"The Rock of Discontent"
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"A Tale of the Gods"
"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6
"The Pilgrims' Trial and Faith"
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.
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
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.
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
what?!” Koyson shouted – and
abruptly quieted down, glaring at her dangerously. “Yer spankin’
sounds ever more pleasant, gal.”
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.
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?”
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
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.
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.
the attack upset her that much?
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.)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
if it meant taking that ugly, obnoxious dwarf along.
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.
watch is over, little one,” Vobul whispered. “It is time for you to
blinked, then nodded and joined the others at the fire.
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.
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!”
always,” Vobul paused to stuff a giant piece of meat into his snout,
munching it joyously, “room for another one.”
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!”
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.
you like some?” he asked graciously, offering the bloody piece to
novice swallowed drily. “Gotta pack!” he screamed with near terror,
hurrying to join his friends.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
dwarf’s own eyes widened in amazement as well, but for a quite different
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.
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.
me a hopeless pessimist,” he muttered loud enough for everyone to hear,
“but this looks more like a fortress than a temple.”
shook his head forcefully. “It cannot be! This is where the elders said
Darawk’s temple is!”
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.
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
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.
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?”
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.
whirred above Koyson’s head, and when he looked up – two dozen apples
rained down on him.
laughed at the sight of the dwarf screaming at the assault. Koyson found
little mirthful about it which he immediately told the wizard in
Willett chuckled. “I’ve miscalculated the power of the spell. It’s a
new one, I just made it up a few days ago.”
new spell?” Koyson yelled
exasperatedly. “Meanin’ ye could hae cut off me head rather than the
shook his head forcefully. “Absolutely not! I know
ye do, an’ sure I’m gonna –“
Vobul called from further down the courtyard. “Please give me a hand
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!”
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
what do ye propose I should do? If ye recall, ye’re a wee bit taller
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
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.
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,
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.”
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.
it hadn’t been the wear and tear of time alone that had broken the
battle probably had helped, too.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
means,” Ha’el said coldly, “no secret of the magiscribe. We came
here for nothing at all.”
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
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!”
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.
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!”
Markesh,” she sighed, “what use is that to us today?”
it’s knowledge! Knowledge is power,” he protested. “A few hours more
won’t change anything!”
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
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
staircase! Get to the right staircase!” Vobul’s voice thundered
through the hall, easily piercing the clangor.
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
Vobul shouted again.
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!”
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.
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.
Koyson, stay down!”
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
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.
skeletons around him were headless, their skulls splintering as they hit
the ground, only moments before the remaining bones fell apart.
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.
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.
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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