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|Author||The Chronicles of skunder|
|To the players of LordsWM.com.|
This thread will be updated weekly or more often if I get the chance. I have decided to keep it Locked so that only the story is told here, but for those who wish to comment on it (suggestions, praise, hate, etc), I will be opening another topic in Off-game forum to discuss this one – entitled ‘Discussion: The Chronicles of Skunder’.
|She sat in cold infinite darkness, some distance from the dim light provided by the fading embers of the fire.|
For hours she had been reading from the ‘Inexia Altolus’ – ancient scrolls describing her people’s first encounters with the other races of the realms. It was her purpose - what she had always done. As a Keeper of Knowledge, or Eireologos amongst the Elven people, Au’Zhriel was considered an enlightened one, one who was given special honor amongst the elves. She had been trained in the ways of the past historians, memorizing great tales and moments of her people’s history; always giving special care to noting details she would use to memorize when retelling those tales. Though scrolls and books could be printed, it was both custom and law to have the information known by the Keepers, so that even if all the scrolls of the world were destroyed one could still tell the tale in full. Another part of her duty as an historian was to choose an acolyte, one who would take up her task when her days on this world had ended. As of yet, she had not chosen such a person.
When she had at last finished reading the ‘Inexia Altolus’ she thought about this neglect to her duty, though this time with greater intensity. The training of a new Keeper was time consuming and draining; she would need to find someone soon. She began to consider who the likely candidate might be, running through the names of the praised youths throughout the Elven villages.
As she had pondered these thoughts she noticed something strange in the air of the forest – silence, despite the normal song birds and whispering of the trees she was used to. A new worry gripped her heart then.
Before she could even rise, strange shapes had taken form inside her small cottage, shapes that materialized from nothingness. Her gasps and disbelief could not repel the creatures that were conjured all around her – imps and demons of incredible horror and cruelty. Two very large demons stood above her, terrifying her with dripping fangs and razor sharp claws. Suddenly the door burst open and a form stood there commanding the creatures in a harsh foreign tongue.
With little more than anguished screams, Au’Zhriel, eldest of the Keepers, watched as the creatures rampaged through her home, throwing the sacred and ancient scrolls of her people’s history into the fireplace. Then, in her last moments, she watched with fear as the figure made its way towards her, a wicked smile spread across his face. She closed her eyes, breathed in, and exhaled – with her thoughts intently focused on the last being she had been thinking of.
She sat in cold infinite darkness, some distance from the dim light provided by the fading embers of the fire.
The elven youth sat within his chambers reading a sacred text, a common task given to all of the would-be Keepers. It was quite extensive, containing the entire story of the first war between the surface elves and their dark cousins of the under-earth. Though most at his young age would abhor such a grueling assignment he found it comforting. To him, it was nice to know the solidarity of the past – it never changed, never wavered, and never held judgments or biases against the reader. These scrolls were tools of understanding, which helped to understand the past and thus not make the same mistakes in the future.
The same could not be said of people however. They were filled with harsh criticisms and differing opinions, and it was infinitely harder to understand the whims of other people.
Even as he thought about it, his sister proved these things even between the two of them. She was in the same small chamber as him; standing in front of a full sized mirror, twirling around in a dress their parents had recently bought her. She hummed happily, as she eyed herself in the reflection - oblivious to the arduous task before him.
He had finally had enough. “Could you stop that noise?” Zyanya turned, startled from her twirling and daydreaming. Her brow creased and the tips of her long elven ears went red. Seeing the look on her face he realized it had sounded harsher than even he had wanted.
The two were the only children of their house, and though he was older by a full eight years, they were constantly at odds with one another. Their disputes would often turn to yelling matches until one or the other went too far. It usually ended in the same way.
This time Zyanya wouldn’t wait for it to escalate. “She began to cry out. “Mother! Father!”
Instantly he jumped up, laying the scroll on the seat as he rose. Like those who doused fires that got too far out of control he found himself just trying to calm her down before her wrath spread. “Alright, alright, you don’t have to call them. It’s okay. Hum your stupid tune, what do I care?”
With her hands on her sides, waving her hips back and forth she gave her brother a full toothed smile to further rub it in. Despite her ridiculous look even in the beautiful dress, she had won again.
Sneering, he turned to his chair to resume his studies. He had taken only a few steps when a blinding flash and deafening noise sent him to his knees. With his hands covering his face he screamed out in sheer pain.
Zyanya jumped back again, thinking her brother had tricked her and was trying to scare her, until she saw him crumpled on the floor, shaking and in obvious pain. She stood there panicked, not knowing what to do. He couldn’t see her reaction, he couldn’t see anything – there was only the pain. It felt as if his mind was expanding though his head did not; he was sure it soon would just explode.
Then as quickly as it came, it had ended.
When the noise and shaking had stopped Zyanya dropped to her brother’s side grabbing his shoulders and looked into his face. Even now his eyes were distant, his face a blank expression. It was as if he was so deep in thought he couldn’t see, hear, or even be apart of the world around him.
Then he blinked. He grabbed hold of his sister, his eyes wide with an unexplainable horror. “It was the Death-Vision Zyanya.”
Even at her young age she had heard of Death-Visions. This ability of the elves allowed them to impart their entire memory to a single being when they died but at the cost of their own life.
“Who was it? Who sent you the Death-Vision?” Zyanya whispered to her brother.
“Keepers,” he answered vaguely. Though Keepers used this tactic when they died, it was not the most desirable means of imparting their knowledge. Of course it allowed their memory to be saved and given to another, but there were risks in this.
“Keepers? Which ones? Who died?” She pleaded.
The boy looked deeply into her eyes and answered b
|The boy looked deeply into her eyes and answered both her question and the reason for his great fear. “All of them. The Keepers are all dead.” |
Zyanya stared without blinking, her thoughts in shock and disbelief all the same. Questions and uncertainty raced to her mind. Why? Who? How?
Her brother was moving now, collecting a few items from a nearby cabinet, grabbing his cloak and swiftly fastening it in place. She called out to him, “Skyn’Da?”
He turned to her, a firm resolve in his young elven eyes. She was still on the floor where she had cradled him. He fell to her side now, “Zyanya I have to go. The Keepers – their words are swimming in my thoughts. They warn me to go. But you have to save the others! Get Mother and Father, those nearby. Tell them we are under attack. To hide, to prepare themselves if they must...”
“I...I’m coming wi…with you.” Zyanya stammered, just trying to get the words out.
“No! Zyanya listen to me. Someone must warn the others. Do this for me. I’ll be okay, but I need to know you’re all alright.” They caught each other’s eyes; a battle ensued to see whose will was stronger. In time, Zyanya looked down, blinking. After giving her a quick kiss on the forehead Skyn’Da rose and left the cottage. Moments later Zyanya raised the alarm, telling her parents what had happened.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Skyn’Da raced through the woods, trees whishing past him in haste. Even in the dark hours of night the elves were unimpeded by the normal obstacles of nature. This comfort spurred him on, even as the dark omens of the Keepers’ deaths continued to haunt him.
The visions were clear. The entire lifetimes’ of the Keepers were held in his mind, kept fresh, as if he had himself lived their very lives. A dozen pasts now swam in his mind and though the truth seemed surreal, one thing was sure, they were leading him onward even in their deaths.
One question still haunted him. Why had they chosen him? He wasn’t even a true acolyte yet, he had never been initiated. Then it dawned on him. The other acolytes would be with their Masters – the Keepers. This meant the other acolytes would have been killed also. He had been chosen out of necessity – he was all that was left.
Skyn’Da climbed the final hill heading out of the valley. Looking back he hoped his village was alert and preparing for the danger he had warned his sister about. Either that or they’d be in disbelief of the entire ordeal and wandering the woods in search of him.
They mattered little, his task was set before him. He turned back, looking over the crest of the hill, knowing he couldn’t return.
Through the dark night Skyn’Da trudged along, with his thoughts drifting to the village he had left behind to the dangers which surely awaited him. Still the visions of the Keepers kept him moving, their whispers telling him to seek out the great council. It would be a hard two days travel from his remote home to what could be considered the capitol of the elven people.
He continued on until the darkness and long trek became too much for him. He lay at the foot of one of the tall trees of the woods and quickly drifted off. How long he was out for he didn’t know, but when he awoke he realized quickly it was to dire circumstances. With his elven eyes he could just pierce the darkness, noting three forms moving through the underbrush. They were small and reddish, having twisted faces and cruel claws. He remembered them from the visions of the Keepers. Even deeper memories identified them as imps – mischievous creatures of the underworld. And they were coming his way.
As they neared, Skyn’da slowly reached for his bag and removed a short sword he had placed there just before leaving his home. Silently he worked to remove the blade from its sheath even as the closest of the imps nearly fell upon him. Skyn’Da leapt up slashing the creature with a double-handed strike. A long gash appeared across its chest from the downward stroke. It gave a vicious growl then fell to the ground. The other two creatures started forward, cornering the youth against the tree he had been sleeping under. Their small wings flapped while they came closer with arched backs and claws extended.
Skyn’da pushed himself up against the tree, trying to gain higher ground against the imps. Standing just outside his range they shrieked and sprung at the elf. Skyn’Da was quicker. He slashed again, removing the hand of the creature to his left. It retreated backwards grasping its mutilated wrist. The other however slammed into Skyn’Da, with claws raking the soft flesh on his thigh. Skyn’Da screamed out and fell to the ground. The imp scurried forward and leapt into the air, trying to pin the larger elf down. Whether luck or instinct Skyn’Da’s blade turned and raised at the oncoming imp. The foul thing pierced himself on the upheld blade, sinking deeply into the creature’s gut. It crashed to the ground, blade still hilt deep inside his stomach.
Skyn’Da rose wide eyed and panting momentarily forgetting the third imp – the one with the missing hand. He whirled around only to find the small form fleeing with his wings supplying extra gusts as it made its retreat.
After bandaging the wound to his leg the young elf gathered his belongings, removing the sword and wiping its blade on the dead form. He had to move on, knowing the retreating imp would return – possibly with more of the foul creatures. He was mistaken.
Just as he made his way from his small camp a sound rang out in the woods, echoing in the silence of the trees and chilling him to the bone. It was followed by another, then another. They were the howls of wolves, though he had never heard such an unnatural call, nor could he find it in the memories of the Keepers.
Daylight broke and the young elf was still running to his destination. The howls of the bestial wolves seemed to follow him throughout the night, but he always managed to stay ahead of them. He accounted this to his familiarity with the land. He knew with certainty that these foul creatures were not native to this place while he had traveled these lands often, hunting in and running messages between the villages.
The lack of sleep was finally wearing on him, slowing his senses and alertness. Ahead he knew was the bridge which connected the lands of the north and south, and this would lead him to the central elven town, the largest in all of the Blooming Glade. There he would find councilmen and elders who could prepare for the oncoming attacks.
He nearly walked right up to the large wooden frame before even seeing the dark creatures crouched on and around the bridge. More than a dozen forms sat huddled there, confident that their prey would not be able to escape. Almost half were the reddish imps he had encountered the night before, but the others were massive wolves – demonic hounds of the infernal lands. They looked as large mounds of hair both thick and tangled, with eyes piercing like reddish coals, burning with hatred.
As he stared on, not knowing what to do, one of the imps hopped forward. He was missing one of his hands up to the wrist. The thing hissed wickedly, confident now that the wolfish creatures stood behind him. Several other imps made their way forward, crouching for a leaping strike.
Courage failed. Skyn’Da had failed. His mind could picture the forms of the Keepers, slaughtered by demonic monsters. And here were more, lounging in his homeland as if it were their own. He knew now that his people would share the fate of the aged historians.
More of the reddish imps moved forward, circling their prey before attacking. Still the hellish dogs hadn’t moved. They were waiting. Just as the youth realized this, a dense cloud appeared on the center of the bridge, a form materializing from the twisting tendrils of grayish smoke. A lithe body stepped out from the thick gases, tall and feminine despite a few unnerving characteristics. Her body was nearly exposed, revealing a bright red skin from the curled horns on her head to her large blackened hooves. A set of leathery wings furled upon her back appeared much like a cape slung upon her shoulders. Even the young elf could see the attractiveness within her - a wickedly, twisted beauty.
She stepped forward now, her hooves sounding loudly on the bridge’s wooden beams. Next to her the wolfhounds gathered, growling softly as they made their way to their captive. She approached the edge of the bridge and with a fanged smile asked, “Why so frightened child? And where are you headed to in such a rush?” The imps nearby laughed wickedly.
Skyn’Da finally raised the courage to speak, “You...you killed the Keepers. You invaded our lands. You…”
“Oh, not I child. See, we must all follow orders. Even I.” She touched her clawed hand, pointing to her exposed chest. Her hand drifted towards Skyn’Da pointing, palm of her hand facing upwards. “Now tell me, how do you know of the Keeper’s deaths?”
He was struck by a sudden tinge of fear and uncertainty. One that she understood. He had known too soon, been sent before he could have known otherwise. She knew. “You’re one of them.” And she knew what had to be done. “Kill him, he is an acolyte!”
|The imps sprawled forward, wings flapping and claws upheld. The wolfhounds behind them jumped into action, growling with terrible fangs. The first of the imps leapt into the air, its single raking claw aimed at the elf’s throat. He turned his head just in time to see a half dozen arrows come speeding out of the forest behind him. They landed with deadly accuracy, killing the creature before it had even touched the ground.|
Around him a surge of panic spread through the ranks of demons as the woods sprang to life. Forms moved out from the shadows of tree trunks, and bushes morphed into well disguised soldiers bearing twin sabers. The Einlindi – warriors of the woods, keepers of the forest.
Skyn’Da watched with avid fear as the two forces collided. The forest keepers rushed in with blades dancing in breathtaking patterns as another volley of arrows was loosed from hidden bowmen behind them. The imps crumbled to the ground with numerous arrows sticking out from their red skinned bodies. The elven swordsmen charged pass their corpses. Hellish wolves sprang forward, their eyes red and fangs deadly sharp.
Skyn’Da stood stunned as the first elf twirled his twin blades effortlessly through the air, letting them span out in wide arches before pulling them back around his head several times. He then sent his body into a full spin and with the momentum brought the two down on the skull of the first of the wolves. It resisted – for only a second – then fell with a heavy thud. The other elves found their opponents now, meeting sword with claw, and grace with bestial strength.
From the edge of the bridge a bright light appeared and quickly whisked away from the devilish woman standing there. The fiery light engulfed a nearby elf, searing flesh and choking back his cries in black smoke. Another elf nearby cast a horrified look to his dying kinsman, making the mistake of neglecting his enemy. The wolfhound sprang, his fangs biting deep into the soft flesh of the elf’s neck. It continued to bite down long after it knew its prey was dead. Another stood up on its two great hind legs, attempting to bring his massive body down upon the frail looking elf. The swordsman was faster. With expert accuracy he pierced once into the abomination’s underside, cracking through several ribs. Then bringing his second sword spinning around his body cleanly slicing the creature’s stomach open with a devastating cleave. It let out a pitiful sound then lurched to the side.
The elves now began to outnumber their opponents, quickly felling the few remaining wolves. Still the demoness upon the bridge continued to rain fiery doom upon the elven forces, igniting cloth and flesh alike with her blasts. The elf leading the charge with dazzling maneuvers cut down the last of the wolfhounds guarding the bridge, burying one of his blades deeply into the creature’s chest. With a single blade he slowly moved forward to the demoness, his chest rising with even breaths.
She stood her ground, smiling with a wicked but fearful grin. “This means nothing. Your people are still doomed!”
The lead elf spoke, “Then why do I sense fear upon you Demon?” He inched closer.
She replied, “I fear no man of this world. I only fear the rebuke of my masters in the Infernal Circle. But you will soon know this fear as well.” The she struck out.
She thrust her hand, hurling a fiery blast towards him. The nimble elf ducked and rolled, coming up just to her side. As he finished the roll he came up gripping his sword in both hands. He sliced into her side, striking the bone at her hip. She leaned forward bending over and grasping the wound. The elf pushed up coming to his feet in a fluid motion, then spinning he brought his weapon down on the back of her neck. Her head stared up at him from the wooden planks of the bridge, capturing both fear and wrath in that final stare of death.
Skyn’Da stood in the magnificent courtyard of the elven town. It was surrounded by the largest of trees, acting as massive pillars to the open sky, though covered with a clear, crystalline-domed ceiling. It was held there by ancient charms which grafted the crystal into the trees themselves. On its top, vines and branches crept along its surface, making the ceiling appear as if it were simply apart of the forest.
The elven youth stared upward, amazed at the beauty of the structure, still somewhat dazed by the events of the last few days. After the battle at the bridge and hearing that Skyn’Da was indeed the last of the Keepers, the soldiers there had escorted him to the capitol town. They arrived without further troubles, and in that time he learned that there had been many attacks by the demonic forces in other parts of the elven woods as well. It seemed the young elf was correct, and war was upon the entire woodland people.
From one corner of the courtyard Skyn’Da could nearly overhear the whisperings of the six councilors. They were chosen from each of the elven tribes and held office in the town. Gladestel, the eldest of them, was pointing to Skyn’Da now, as they each had done repeatedly throughout their lengthy conversation. From his distance though he was still unable to make out the words he was saying.
“They are discussing what to do with you,” the voice came from behind him, followed by the soft measured steps which came up next to him. Guilm, the Forest Keeper who had led the charge against the demons at the bridge looked down with a solemn expression. Skyn’Da merely nodded his head, knowing his fate was in the councilors’ hands.
Guilm continued. “Most likely they will hide you away until this is over – until the threat is gone.” Standing next to him made him appear less dangerous than the furious warrior that had so recently cut down those demonic hordes. He seemed as any other person he had met, wearing a simple dark cloak, with green and brown accents on the under portion of the fine cloth. A simple leather vest protected his torso, while tight thick leggings further camouflaged his body while within the woodland brush. Of course the two dancing blades were at his sides, resting until they need be called upon.
“But why would they need to hide me?” Skyn’Da had yet to realize the truth of the knowledge he now held.
Another voice sounded behind him, feminine and melodic, “You are precious to us. You alone know the stories of our past – in detail. If they got a hold of you, it would be a tragic loss to our people.” Janneria stepped up to his other side now. Her long golden hair was kept in long braids, accented by flowers of the woods and hair ties made of nothing more than tightly bound wicker. Her face was exquisitely beautiful, and Skyn’Da found it hard to look away from her, and even harder to continue to stare. Over her shoulder was slung her weapon of choice, a long bow with a score quiver which she wore with a warrior’s ease. She had been at the battle, though well covered in the shadows of the trees. Skyn’Da learned that it had been her arrow that had first struck the one-handed imp.
|As one, the councilors turned and made their way to the trio, stopping just a few arms’ lengths from them. Gladestel spoke first, giving a slight bow to Guilm and Janneria. “Again, the council wishes to thank you for your aide of bringing young Skyn’Da to us. You have done an immeasurable service to your people.” The two bowed, lower even than Gladestel. Then the aged elf looked to Skyn’Da. “For you young Keeper, we have no easy solution, as you are neither bound by nor safe from the actions of these…creatures. It seems the former Keepers have found it necessary to give you their knowledge, and in so doing have made you apart of this. Why that is we have yet to discover.”|
Akkarin, one of the other councilors spoke up now, “Just the same, you can not be allowed to return to your village as your safety could not be made certain.” Akkarin was a well respected elder, even amongst the councilors. He represented the elves of the Thymber Woods, whose lineage was as near as noble as Gladestel.
A third councilor spoke after a moment of silence. “You will stay here, under the protection of the city and the council.” The councilor, Balkaan, was from a tribe of the farthest province of their lands, and as such he was the wildest looking of the councilors. Skyn’Da found he couldn’t meet his intense gaze. The councilors nodded and sounded their approval. He seemed to intimidate even them with his savage appearance and manner.
After a long moment Skyn’Da looked to Guilm and the councilors, purposely avoiding the eye of Balkaan. “You…you said you don’t know why the Keepers might have chosen me, but I think I know why.” The councilors all seemed to visibly lean forward. Skyn’Da continued, appearing as if looking far into the distance, speaking as if from a dream. “I ...remember… something. A gift…given by the wizards of Thurlmolan…a book…from long ago…written at the end of the age of demons. The Chazr Daemonium!”
Akkrain gasped, excitedly grabbing the robes of the nearby councilmen. “He has seen a vision – of one of the very ancient Keepers!” He leaned over to Skyn’Da, “What else? What else does it show? What do you know of the book?”
Skyn’Da snapped out of the memory, seeing now how very close Akkrain had moved to him. “There’s nothing else. He never read it. It was stored in the library.”
Akkrain addressed the councilors, “This is great news! We need only read this book and surely it will provide the answer we’re looking for.” He looked to Gladestel for support.
The elder elf nodded. “It seems the Keepers were right when they chose you Skyn’Da. We will study this book and find how to save our people at last.”
“But Gladestel, there is no reason why we must all waste away in the library while these dangers persist.” Akkrain pleaded. “Surely it requires no more than just one …”
The wild elf Balkaan mocked, “Flee to your books then Akkrain while the rest of us defend our homeland.”
Gladestel shot Balkaan a displeased look but then agreed with Akkrain, gesturing him to go to the library immediately. Then turning to Guilm he said, “Take the young Keeper to one of the nearby cottages? Keep a constant watch over him and make sure he has everything that he might require.” The warrior’s deep bow was answer enough.
As the Forest Keeper and Janneria walked him away, Skyn’Da looked back to see the stern expression of Balkaan still upon him, his unblinking eyes following him to the nearby cottage.
Skyn’Da woke from a fitful sleep, sweat dampening his brow. A form stood above him appearing dark as the light streaming through the window silhouetted his form. He pulled back, envisioning the creatures which haunted his nights. The comforting voice of Guilm calmed him though, pulling him from the last throes of sleep. He placed a wet cloth upon his forehead, washing away the sweat and bad dreams just the same. A slight move to the side of the small room revealed Janneria where just before Skyn’Da swore he had seen no one. He marveled at her ability to blend into nearly any surroundings.
Though the sun had already risen they had let him sleep. Only when he had begun to show signs of nightmares did they decide to wake him. Looking up at Guilm now, he noticed the first signs of weariness on the warrior’s face. Apparently he had stayed up all night to watch over him. The warrior sensed Skyn’Da studying him and quickly withdrew.
After he righted himself he began to ask, “I hope that your dreams were of no great…”
The sounds of rushed padded feet could be heard, then the door swung open. In that short time, Guilm seized his twin blades, and moved to the door in one graceful motion. When the intruder burst through he was received with one saber firmly under his neck, while the other wavered just a second from a deadly cleaving strike.
Guilm lowered his blades.
With eyes stark with terror, the elven messenger breathed heavily, holding his throat and checking for blood that never appeared. He stammered out, “Th…the c-c-councilors wish to see you.” With that he gave a fearful look to Guilm then exited with haste.
Janneria moved to his side, “I got the impression that he meant all of us.”
“Yeah, me too,” Guilm had yet to sheath his blades.
* * * * * *
|When the three arrived in the courtyard once again, the councilors were circled about in the mid-morning light. Many other elves of high importance were gathered there as well, though within the outskirts of the large pillar-like trees.|
As the three entered, all eyes turned to them and the circle of councilors unfurled to stand in a straight line. Gladestel spoke first once again, “Ah, at last. We have good news! The book you described; Akkarin was able to find it amongst some very ancient tombs…some dating nearly as far back as a thousand years. And what more, he has found news of what must be done.” With that he stepped back and motioned for Akkarin to speak.
Akkarin wore a proud smile as he stepped forward, though weariness too had crept in around his eyes from a long sleepless night. “Young Keeper, the Chazr Daemonium does indeed give us news on what must be done – and you will find your fate is wrapped tightly with its message!”
Skyn’Da’s jaw slackened slightly and he involuntarily took a step back. The strong hand of Guilm held him then urged him forward to address the council. Skyn’Da was frightened, more now than he had been when facing the wolfhounds and imps. No one would save him now from the tension of speaking before the entire courtyard. Not even his saviors could pull him out of this.
He gulped, and shuffled his feet forward, then at last asked, “Wh-what must I do?”
The crowd of elven nobles murmured and moved about with whisperings and exclamations of bravery and danger. Akkarin quieted them with a loud, “This is what must be done!” He pulled a handful of large parchments from a lectern nearby. They were newly scribed, the ink probably still slightly wet from use. It was common for scribes and historians to rewrite the portions of books and scrolls they would recite from – especially those being extremely fragile or ancient.
He repeated, “These notes describe what must be done, as stated from the Chazr Daemonium! They say that prophecy states that one day these vile creatures would return to us, that they would one day bring ruin upon us! And that there is but one way to stop them.” The audience stood spellbound, waiting for whatever might be able to redeem them.
Akkarin continued, “Long ago a Final Battle occurred between Elf and Man versus Demon, which concluded with the demons being sent back to their fiery home. But during that battle some of the Keepers were present, witnesses of the great horrors that occurred. The Chazr Daemonium - written by Human Wizards of long ago - recounts this, and foretells that one of the Keepers would have to return to the site of this battle. This Keeper, it says, will be able to undo the works of these villainous creatures!”
The eyes of the audience and council fell upon the young elf. He merely fumbled with his hands, suddenly feeling vastly unprepared for the responsibilities of being a Keeper.
The three elves exited the tree line, climbing upward onto the hills which skirted the Blooming Glade. There was a certain hesitation within the three, as they came out of the thick brush and exited their homeland.
Reaching the hill top, they could see a large plain stretched out with small hillocks throughout. In the far distance, a mountain range spanned the entire eastern view, though seemingly an entire world away.
Guilm cleared his throat to speak, never stopping his long stride, “These lands belong to the two kingdoms of the humans. To the north,” he pointed, “is Larklan, their kingdom is based on principles of a rigid Knighthood. They are neither friend nor foe, so we simply avoid interaction with them.” He pointed to the south now, “To the south is Thurlmolan – a kingdom ruled by wizards. Only on rare occasion do the elves associate with wizards due to their obsession with the arcane.”
Skyn’Da called upon the memories of the Keepers. Some he found he could call upon at command, others he was forced to concentrate very hard just to remember the slightest detail. The present thought was fresh in his mind, and had been foremost on his mind since the three had set out. “Our destination lies only a short distance inside of the border of Thurlmolan.”
Skyn’Da couldn’t help but think about the task given to him, wondering if he could even accomplish it. After Akkarin explained that the Chazr Daemonium said a Keeper would find the way to solve the demon attacks Skyn’Da had volunteered to go. The council had also agreed that a large force of elves would undoubtedly be found, and thought to be an invading force into either of the human kingdoms. They had instead decided to send the three. Both Guilm and Janneria were masters within their art. Guilm fought with a grace and force unrivaled by many of the Forest Keepers, and Janneria’s arrows rarely missed their mark. With the two warrior elves, Skyn’Da was considered to be in the most capable hands short of a battalion of soldiers leading the way.
The three headed into the plains now, staying as well hidden as the treeless landscape could offer. The waist high weeds and small hills provided some cover from scouts they knew would be along the Larklan border. Though even in their lands, the humans were far disadvantaged. The keen hearing and far-seeing eyes of the elves allowed them to dodge the few scout patrols that happened on their way. They knew being captured would slow or end their present quest.
Larklan fell behind them and the kingdom of wizards drew itself before them. The border was accented with rockier lands and strewn stone amidst the rolling hills. A winding road appeared from behind a row of stone outcroppings, leading no doubt to the capitol of the wizards’ home. The road seemed to turn into nothing more than a dirt path upon entering Larklan, signifying the lack of relationship between the two kingdoms of humans. It was well known that both despised the other, the knights distrustful of wizards for their crafty and scheming spell work, and the wizards’ hate of the unapologetic attitude to their rigid code of honor. Though they weren’t at open war, there were long withstanding grievances between the two.
When the three first sighted the road they thought to cross it and then follow a stone wall that it intersected. This idea was short-lived. Just as they started to rise from the thick brush where they had been spying, Janneria sighted movement farther ahead on the road. Four creatures of humanoid shape, though much larger than any man, slowly walked from side to side guarding the road from trespassers. Their bodies appeared to be covered in metal, and their slow halting movements suggested the metal wasn’t merely armor – it was their very skin.
|A memory flash appeared to Skyn’Da, of one of the earlier Keeper’s encounters with these creatures. “They are Golems,” he whispered, “Servants of the wizards, but they have no real minds of their own.” Guilm digested this then responded, “Then I doubt they will be likely to allow us to pass. We will find another way.” He scanned the area noting a rugged path that bent and twisted its way through a canyon-like passage. He nodded to it then moved forward low to the ground, ensuring that the inhuman golems wouldn’t see him.|
The canyon walls rose up shortly after entering, making the passage now appear as a massive inescapable hallway. The stone was dark with many sharp, jutting crevices along its surface. Little grew in this place, as only the toughest and well set plants could manage to find enough dirt to lay their roots. The eerie and alien environment began to wear on the elves as they longed for their glade behind the hills. It was then that they heard the noises.
Far ahead, voices carried through to the elves echoing slightly around them. After a few long moments Guilm looked perplexed to the others, “Poetry?” Janneria only nodded, not understanding how such beautiful words could be spoken in such a dismal place. Together they moved forward more cautiously.
They worked their way through the zigzagging canyon, at last turning a final bend. To their surprise they saw two humans casually resting on a blanket laid out on the rock strewn ground. Off to the side, a pair of horses halfheartedly chewed on some of the sparsely growing dry plants. Of the two figures they could see a brown haired man leaning on his elbow, legs outstretched while staring up at a woman also resting on the blanket. The man was dressed in a fine suit of rich leather, with light barding worn for protection. His helm was laid on the corner of the blanket, but his sword was still sheathed at his side. The woman was dressed in an elegant but travel worthy blue dress. Sheer lace wrapped her arms down to the wrist and also around the neck. Her black wavy hair shadowed her porcelain like face, while her blue eyes dazzled while peering into the man’s.
The man was speaking, reciting a poem, using his one free hand to extenuate the words with feeling. It was quite lengthy and filled with events of his valor, and to what extents of danger he would overcome to win the lady’s hand. He spoke the last two lines, letting the words resound by the canyon acoustics.
“…Cyrallin, Cyrallin of the heavens, more beautiful than the stars.
Does thou know how I look up at thee in longing?”
The woman blushed, turning her head to the side, and away from the direction where the three sat huddled against the wall.
Guilm whispered, “This is our only way. I’m going to move forward, to see if I can get by. Otherwise we will know their intentions.” Before Janneria could protest, he had moved along the wall, coming out into the open. The woman’s head was still turned away, and the man’s back was facing them. Guilm continued moving, creeping quietly along the wall. He made it halfway to where the horses were tethered when the woman’s head turned back. She was about to say something to the man, but the words stuck in her throat. Instead her eyes grew wide and mouth slumped open – a scream about to emit.
|Guilm was not expecting what came next. He braced himself for the piercing scream he thought would come. Instead, her eyes locked with his, then she brought her hand up. Somehow a small rod had appeared there. A blue ray shot out from the wand whizzing past Guilm’s head and blasting into the stone behind him with a terrible noise. Small fragments of rock shot out, striking Guilm on the back of his neck and shoulder.|
The two humans were rising now, and Guilm realized with gratitude that the woman’s shot had been deflected. Janneria had managed to release an arrow just in time, striking the woman’s weapon and throwing off her shot. The man squared up with Guilm, while the two women stared at each other from across the canyon sides, wand and bow poised for striking once more.
Long moments passed as the four combatants stared at their opponents; no words were exchanged causing the tension to build fiercely. Fearing what might come next, Skyn’Da leapt forward, screaming, “Stop! Stop!” All four started, and then returned to their battle stance, thinking the other would be soon to strike. Skyn’Da continued, “We are not looking for a battle. We just wish to pass.”
The woman spoke first in defense, “Those wishing passage don’t take the Canyon Pass, nor do they attempt to ambush those they meet!”
Janneria insisted, “We did not come to harm you, we only wished to pass by without incident.”
The knight spoke up. “That is why your fellow there was heading towards the horses? No doubt they would sell for a pretty coin back in your elven bogs.”
The elves only now realized that, though purely coincidentally, Guilm had been heading in the exact direction of the horses. Of course they were tethered close to the continuing passage of the canyon.
Janneria shook her head, “We are not thieves, and we did not come to harm you! Whether you believe us or not is not our concern, and if you will not delay us further then we will carry on.”
The knight and wizardess looked at one another then back at the elven pair. The woman spoke, “You can not simply pass into my land – there are matters of … security, at risk here.”
Guilm shot back, “Our only concern is that our people are dying while we linger here arguing with you.”
The woman’s white cheeks flushed, and she seemed at the point of unleashing magic or her anger. Suddenly her gaze drifted upwards, to the stone walls above Guilm. The others followed her gaze questioningly.
As one they gave curious looks to one another, and then back at the wall. Halfway up the expanse of the wall there was a small tunnel. Peering down at them from the tunnel was a small creature of dark skin and pointed twisted ears. Its entire eyes were of a dark blue color, and looked down at them with a menacing stare.
The elves heard the woman whisper to her companion, “Gremlins. Where there’s one there’s sure to be…” Too late. The others began to show themselves.
The small framed creatures appeared all around now, popping out of tunnels that before seemed as only solid rock. Others appeared on the ground, blocking their escape on both sides. They held short, thick clubs and hobbled slightly making a terrible clacking noise as they ambled forward.
Elves and humans found themselves moving closer together, ignoring their recent argument to face down the danger of a few dozen of the vile looking gremlins.
Guilm pulled Skyn’Da in between the other four, instructing him to not move from there. As the older elf moved into position he brushed the knight, giving him a simple shrug from the recent turn of events. Just then the gremlins surged forward. The creatures’ clacking grew louder now, reverberating off of the stone walls. Their leathery feet moved them closer as those still up above rained down stone projectiles at their targets.
Immediately, the wizardess shouted words in an arcane language. When she finished a blue sphere formed itself around the five of them. The stones from above struck the blue shield, bouncing off without effect. Janneria struck back, testing if her arrows could penetrate the blue shield. She loosed her bow, the arrow passing through the shield unchallenged and carried straight to its target. The gremlin which first appeared above them fell with an awful thud upon contact. She smiled slyly and began picking off the others high above.
The other gremlins had nearly reached the group when the blue sphere surrounded their foes. The front line stopped, awed by the magic before them. Those behind them kept moving however, fumbling over the front line and sending them reeling forward. Just in range for the swords of Guilm and the knight.
Guilm’s blades reached out, slashing at two of the closest gremlins. Each screamed loudly and fell to the ground. The knight followed after, cleaving with his broad blade, and removing the ugly head from the creature’s shoulders. The two warriors looked at each other, sizing one another up, then stepped forward into the next wave of gremlins.
The wizardess held her place, protecting Janneria and Skyn’Da inside the blue sphere. It was like a bubble, reaching to the ground, keeping the stone projectiles of the gremlins from striking them down. As she did this, Janneria ran around her, loosing her bow at the gremlins on the high cliffs. Her arrows seemed to know the soft spots in their leathery little bodies. Many lay slumped up against the rock walls, bleeding from one or more such wounds. Others fell off of the high cliffs, plummeting to the stone strewn ground far below. Skyn’da merely held his ground, his sword raised towards any of the foul creatures which dared enter the blue sphere. Whether scared of the magical sphere, or simply held back by the swordsmen outside it, none had yet entered.
Guilm and the knight spread out within the canyon, swashing a path of gremlin bodies as they did so. After they had fairly separated themselves, a group of six ran towards Guilm with clubs and a voracious scream. He sliced out at one, cutting the club in two. The top of it flew off, striking another standing nearby in the head. It stood dizzy and stunned. Guilm brought his other blade up against another, entering into its belly and slashing upwards. The elf used the weight of the creature to his aide, throwing himself over its shoulder and toppling the gremlin at the same time. Removing his imbedded blade, he turned to find three of the little creatures already coming at him. He crouched low, with arms crossed in front, waiting expectantly for their attack.
|A group of four gremlins circled around the knight, sneering with their sharp teeth and shaking their clubs angrily. The human stood poised, readying himself for the eventual attack. The gremlins took his lack of action as weakness. They charged in. The veteran knight stepped towards the closest foe, bringing his sword down on its weapon arm. It struck above the elbow, severing it by his sheer force. Arm and club fell to the ground. The second fell from a wound to the shoulder; his keen blade slicing through muscle and bone down to mid chest. He kicked the creature off of his blade, and propelling himself backwards with the force, he attacked the creature behind him, slamming the hilt of his weapon into the poor creature’s nose. It burst open and the diminutive foe dropped to his knees clutching his face. The human turned in time to see the fourth barreling down on him, but too slow to block the attack. The gremlin’s club slammed into the side of his leg. He winced but quickly recovered. With a devastating pierce strike he lunged forward. His blade buried itself deep in the ugly creature’s eye socket protruding through the back. He booted the corpse off of his blade and looked around for more of the miniscule foes.|
As the knight peered around, Guilm was still readying for the three oncoming gremlins. They came on with a wicked squeal. Guilm waited, letting them enter within striking range. When they came within arm’s reach he struck out with blinding speed.
His swords were in an ‘X’ formation in front of him, which he quickly brought down and out, removing the head of the middle gremlin with a double bladed stroke. The other two continued their charge, which he used their momentum to his favor. Pivoting on his back leg, he then rolled forward, digging his blades deep into the bellies of his foes. They clutched the sharp steel, falling to opposite sides with horrible gasps. Their weight carried his blades away however, tearing them from his hands. It was then that he noticed the gremlin whose weapon he had hacked into two. It came at him now with a new club and dire rage. Instead of swinging it crashed into the elf, sending both flying backwards. It then brought its club up, aiming for the elf’s head. Letting out a triumphant scream his eyes gleamed with promises of victory…and then stopped mid-swing. A sword burst through its stomach, spraying Guilm with its dark blood. It fell to the side, hoisted upward by the knight.
Few of the gremlins remained now, those who could, managed to escape or simply drag themselves away. Those above, not struck down by Janneria fled into the hidden caves. She and the wizardess looked above for any which might remain. The knight reached out for Guilm, lending a hand to pick him up. As he did a gremlin came up behind him, club aimed for the human’s head, its nose bleeding profusely from where the human had struck him earlier. The knight didn’t have time to turn; though he knew the blow was coming soon.
A swift hacking noise sounded behind the knight. Guilm and the human looked over just in time to see the body of the gremlin slump to the side, a horrible gash pouring out blood between the neck and shoulder. Skyn’Da stood above it, the sword in his hand held firmly dripping the lifeblood of the last of the gremlins.
Elf and Human alike stood together, surrounded by the bodies of the fallen Gremlins. They stared at the carnage, seeing nearly two dozen diminutive forms lying within the black-walled canyon. Then the realization of their situation returned to them.
Janneria was the first to speak, “The gremlins are dead. What happens between us now?”
The humans shared a silent look, and then the knight spoke up looking to Guilm. “You don’t seem to me as petty thieves off to steal horses.” The wizardess interrupted him, “He means to say, you fight well and we are thankful that you were here when these creatures attacked, but it still doesn’t explain what exactly you are doing out of the Glade and in my people’s land?”
Skyn’Da asked, “…But what are you doing out here anyway?”
The woman blushed and the knight simply wrinkled his brow, giving a disapproving look to the youth. The elves quieted, feeling embarrassed for the humans.
At last Guilm spoke up, trying to ease the uncomfortable situation. “Whatever your reasons for being here, we were able to help you. Let us call it even and allow us to travel on our mission.”
The knight stiffened, “But we are not even. If not for me, that gremlin would have bashed your head in. You are still indebted to us.”
Skyn’Da cleared his throat, the others turning to his small frame, “If that is true, sir, then you are also indebted to me.”
The knight’s irritation was evident. “Certainly you don’t believe that you…”
The wizardess cut him off again. “Well played young elf.” She then looked to the others, “I think that this is not going to go anywhere. Therefore I will consent to allow you to enter my lands. Though with my supervision.”
Janneria and Guilm were ready to dispute, but they were cut off. The knight nearly shouted, “Cyrallin! You can’t do this.”
She retorted, “Of course I can Gilric, we are in my lands now.”
The knight looked baffled, and then was struck by a brilliant idea. “Then I will go too …to look after your protection.” He stood assertively.
* * * * * * * * *
|Once they had decided they would all be heading deeper into the land of Thurlmolan they quickly gathered their belongings and made their way. As of yet, Skyn’Da was leading them, his Keeper’s memories recalling the days when a Keeper had last traveled into these lands to oversee the battle between mortal and demon. True, they had diverged into the canyon, and this basically voided his memory, but before joining with the humans the elves had believed they could climb out of it somehow, and get back onto the true path. They had been mistaken. The sharp, formidable rocks prevented escape, and thus they traveled deeper into the canyon and farther from their desired course.|
When they first started off, the wizardess Cyrallin asked, “Alright then, you have my promise of guiding you, so where are we going?”
The two older elves had looked to one another with blank expressions, then down to Skyn’Da. He straightened, feeling that familiar discomfort when others looked to him for answers, then his vision seemed to lose its focus – as if he were recalling something buried deep in memory. “I see the plains give way to stone. Grey rocks thrown about like they were tossed down from the skies. A path leads into them, into the center. It is scorched – blacker than night.”
Cyrallin pondered the cryptic words, one hand to her chin, the other resting on her side. “There is only one such place I know of that matches that description. A land that marks the border of Thurlmolan to the south. It is not frequented by my people very often.”
Janneria asked, “So you can take us then?”
Cyrallin replied, “Of course. I said I would.”
The group wound their way through the black scar known as the Canyon of Rucka, seeing the same sharp black walls tower above them for miles as they walked. The world seemed to them a dreary land, accented by the sliver of blue clouds which rose above them. After some time, the wall to the east began to give way, yielding a rough path out of the fissure. Led by Cyrallin, they took this path and headed into the plains of Thurlmolan. Not far to the south now they could see the stones which Skyn’Da had spoken about.
They followed the line of the canyon, though upon ground level to the east of it, always heading towards their destination. For the most part they were silent, only speaking to exchange their names or when absolutely necessary. Sir Gilric of Larklan and Cyrallin of Thurlmolan trotted together on their horses, whispering and from time to time briskly holding hands from atop their steeds. Janneria and Guilm walked together, few words exchanged between them, caught between emotions. They were tense being in a foreign land and in the open plains, yet the simple beauty and warm sun seemed to calm their spirits. Even Janneria, who had always seemed hard and taciturn was showing signs of being at peace.
|As they traveled, Skyn’Da looked at the jagged black line that was the canyon. Even from on top it appeared as a dismally depressing void. At last he turned from the canyon, looking over to the two humans, and finally broke the silence, “Why were you two even in that place?”|
Gilric looked down disapprovingly from his mount, “That, young one, is none of your business.”
Cyrallin shook her head at Gilric, then more compassionately answered, “It is where we first met – three years ago on this day. I was with a patrol, surveying our land, when we were attacked by rebels. My patrol was nearly killed, and they assumed to take me prisoner for ransom. That was when Sir Gilric appeared. He had been chasing down the rebels from his own land when he came upon us. He saved me.” She gave Gilric a loving glance. “Each year we return there, as a sort of …remembrance.”
Skyn’Da, in all his blissful youthfulness, looked puzzled. “Why?” Despite the situation, Guilm managed a quick smirk and then tried to keep Skyn’Da from pestering them further.
Cyrallin first said to Guilm, “It’s no bother. The boy has done no wrong, he may speak.” Then she turned to Skyn’Da, “Sir Gilric and I are…betrothed.” Skyn’Da had a strange look on his face. She tried to explain, “You know, …engaged.” His expression was unchanged, though Cyrallin looked more worn now then after fighting the gremlins. “We are to be married.”
The young elf answered, “Oh, I know the word. It’s just that…well, Guilm had told me that the knights and wizards hated one another. I was wondering how you were ever going to get married.”
The comment seemed like a slap to the face. Both Cyrallin and Gilric grew quiet, despondent. At last Cyrallin spoke, “It’s true, our people do not accept each other’s cultures. What we plan has little hope in succeeding. This is why we meet out here. We can not be seen with one another - in either one of our homelands.” Gilric sat straight-faced and gruffly on his horse, a slight color coming to his cheeks.
Janneria and Guilm shared a short and knowing glance. It was forbidden for members of the elven soldiery to have such relationships also.
It seemed that the lives and rules of elf and human weren’t that different after all.