It had been hours since words had been exchanged between the two girls and their guide. Yaki was leading them somewhere, but he was tight-lipped about where and insisted that they merely follow him through the forest.
Rounding a particularly large tree trunk, the girls stopped dead in their tracks. Up ahead the trees became gnarled and foreboding, reaching for them with twisted branches and rotten hollows that looked like gaping maws. A few steps in front of them stood Yaki, with his back to them and his hooded head held low. “It gets worse closer to Vash,? the Corestalker’s voice seemed different under the hood, distant and raspy, “luckily we are not going too much farther ?yet.? Grej lifted a hand as if to ask a question, but the cloaked figure of their guide was already moving off into the trees before them. She glanced at Ulk, her warrior’s eyes filled with worry. Ulk smiled back at her beloved friend reassuringly, knowing that Grej’s worry was not for their safety but for that of Yaki.
“No, no, NO! Like this!? Trug slammed his forehead into that of his Mushroom Hyren. The hyren stumbled back a few feet and shook its head before dropping low with a feral looking grin. Wrasslin?/i> has always been the hyren’s favorite game. The assembled eebits, however, were mortified at how painful that just looked.
With a giggle, Chayla watched Trug try to ‘edjicate?her ‘critters?on how to fight. He had been at it for about an hour, and still called them Baby Furoks. ? She was trying to decide if it was his bushy eyebrows or his repeated head trauma that made his eyesight so poor, even for an Underling. “Put yer back into it, make ‘em feel it in their bones!? Trug howled at the hesitant eebits while fighting off a hyren-headlock. Chayla again exploded into a storm of giggling; holding her sides and leaning back on the stump she had been watching from.
Turning to face each other, two of the Naroomian’s Eebits readied to follow Trug’s instruction. With tight grimaces on their furry little faces, the Eebits slammed their heads together ?and with a toy-like squeak, promptly popped themselves right back to the dream plane. Feeling her energy disperse slightly, Chayla was slowly brought out of her fit of laughter. “C’mon little ones, thank grandpa Trug and come with me.? She moved to round up the mewling Eebits, sweeping over them with motherly eyes. “I think we’ve had enough fun here. Let’s go help Poad with the food!? An explosion of peeps and chitters sounded from the Eebits excitement ? food was their favorite word. Each rushing over to Trug in turn, the bouncing “Baby Furoks?chimed squeaky thanks to the Underling. Smiling with a clenched jaw, his cheek being forced against the cool earth by a mushroomy forearm, Trug watched the bounding Eebits dash off after Chayla.
“Leave some a the food fer me, ya little fuzzballs—HEY, NO BITING!? Trug’s hyren had taken the opportunity to seize the upper hand, and sharp pain cut the Underling’s goodbye short.
Surrounded by an excited mass of brown fur, Chayla passed a solemn Sorreah. The Arderian had only been here for a few days and it was already obvious that he disliked Trug’s company. “I hope he fares better against your usurpers than he does against his own hyren.? Sorreah’s voice played across Chayla’s ears like a finely tuned instrument. It was soothing, deep and calm ?the voice of an educated man. Turning her head over her shoulder, Chayla chanced a glance at the dirt-caked old Underling. He was grinning like a fool while exchanging playful blows with the purple Mushroom Hyren. “He may seem harmless,?a smile played across her lips as she turned her eyes back to the fine-featured Arderian, “but they’d better not make him ornery. They wouldn’t like him when he’s ornery.?/div>
Poad wiped sweat from his brow with his splattered apron and looked around his ‘kitchen.? Taking in the sights of the warcamp’s mess-tent for the thousandth time, Poad sighed. Hearing the hiss of the dish cooking behind him, he focused on what he does best.
“Hand me the—“ without him having to finish, his Flying Hinko dropped a vial of spice into his outstretched hand. He and Pepper had been cooking together for quite some time, and she often knew what he wanted before he did.
Dashing a bit of the spice onto a sizzling skillet, the mustache-sporting little chef looked over his shoulder and locked his gaze onto a sealed box on the top shelf of his makeshift pantry. Sniffling a little spice out of his nose, he grimaced. “I hope I got enough of the Sauce out before we left Vash. We ended up with more mouths than I expected.? Putting the spice down, Poad began thinking aloud, as he often did while cooking. “Hmm. The old man, Ohk, Chay, Zajan, Woot,…uh…that girly dude from Arderial, the bottomless stomach from Underneath??Poad trailed off, recounting the allies that had joined their struggle against the Core invaders. Pepper whistled sharply at her companion, her face scrunching into a chastising frown. Poad cut her off swiftly, “I know, I know. Yaki will be back by the time it is ready. He—just doesn’t eat much anymore. Ya? know?? Rubbing the back of his head, Poad looked up at Pepper while she perched on top of a coat rack that was being used as a utensil-holder. Her frown softened when she saw the concern play across his normally cheerful eyes.
At that, the tent-flap moved aside, revealing a beaming Chayla and a veritable army of Eebits.
“Heya, Poad. Need any help with the feast? I brought taste-testers!?/div>
Grej and Ulk were beginning to think Yaki was lost. They had been walking in circles for at least an hour and were seemingly no closer to ‘wherever?than they started from.
“Um, Yaki?? Ulk hazarded the question timidly. “Why have we been, um, been walking in circles?? She awaited his response tentatively.
Grej, however, bore a Kybarite’s patience. “We’re lost??/div>
Yaki turned a slit pair of glowing green eyes to the two of them. He seemed to be looking through them, and his answer came after a couple of very long seconds. “No, not lost. Losing someone.? His tone was not short as much as it was careful. It was then that the two realized that he was not looking through them, but past them.
“We are actually, very close. Gotta be careful ‘round here, sister.? His jovial tone returned, but was much more repressed than before. Nodding to Grej in an attempt to allay her frustration, he turned and swept aside some unseen curtain hanging in the air beside him. On the other side, green grass and healthy trees could be seen in the light of morning. “Ladies first.?/div>
Zajan and Ohk were whistling two completely different tunes as they set up a table for the morning feast. Slight smiles dimly lit their faces at the Corestalker’s approach.
“Whom have you brought to our humble abode??asked Ohk smiling at Ulk and Grej as he put the last chair in place.
Answering for Yaki came the powerful voice of Orwin. “Why, he brings us the Underwarden and—“ obviously trying to place Grej’s face Orwin trailed distantly, and soon a warm smile belied his failure to place her.
Stepping foreword, the Kybarite stood as tall as she could in an attempt to match the towering Elder’s posture. “Grej, of Kybar’s Teeth. I have come by the will of Targ’n to aid our messenger.?/div>
“Messenger?? Orwin’s voice was heavy with concern.
“He did not make it to you.? Turning a pained look to Yaki, and then back to Orwin, Grej continued. “He fell in the forests, taken by living shadows.?/div>
With a heavy sigh, Orwin moved to the largest of the chairs surrounding the great table. Others were moving to the table as well, from all corners of the warcamp. The only Magi who moved away from the gathering was Yaki. His cloak was silently moving toward the edge of the clearing where the three of them had entered. Ulk started to follow, but was stayed by the arm of Orwin.
“He has his own way, child. He will be fine.? The Elder’s voice was calming, but Ulk still wondered about the Tracker’s visage. The green tint and glowing eyes reminded her of her crèche sister, Ogar, and the nightmare that plagued her some time ago. Though she trusted Yaki, the thought was disturbing indeed.
Orwin’s voice broke Ulk’s sorrowful reverie. “Please, young ladies, join our meal. You look hungry and we may have a way to help your missing friend.?/div>
Nodding distractedly, Ulk took a seat next to Grej as a diminutive, mustache-sporting Magi exited a nearby tent calling loudly: “Soup’s on!?/div>
Peering out the window of the well-furnished study, Hrada surveyed the courtyard below. Rain had begun falling upon Vash Naroom this afternoon and had carried well into the evening, and his warriors that still gathered in the courtyard stirred pride in the young warlord. “Assemble my soldiers. The time for our conquest of all the Moonlands is near.? He spoke to the scene below him, as if they could hear his maniacal ramblings.
“Don’t be so melodramatic, brother.? Warrada chided him cooly from her seat in a luxurious reading chair. “I have said before, our victory will not be sealed with strength of arms ?but by an ancient power you can hold in the palm of your hand.?/div>
“I am well aware of your intention to use the secrets of the library, sis—“ Hrada dismissively interjected, “but what’s the harm in having strength of arms??/div>
“No harm at all, Hrada. Just don’t get too attached to them.?/div>
“Speaking of your secret, how is Evu coming along??/div>
“Patience Hrada, the old fool will finish the translations sometime tonight.?/div>
Grumbling under his breath, Hrada began to pace in front of the window. “Patience is so ?so boring. He had better finish soon, or he will feel my wrath.?/div>
Warrada rolled her eyes, her pown patience with her brother’s impatience was wearing very thin. “Patience pays, dear brother. Let the bumbling librarian finish this one last task and then you may do as you wish with him. I will have all I need within those scrolls.?/div>
The rain fell heavier outside as Hrada returned to his vantage at the large window. Aside from he and his sister’s residence, and the courtyard below, only two lights pierced the evening in Vash Naroom. One was across the courtyard; the librarian’s old home poured soft yellow light into the street from a simple little window. The other was high in the warlords view, distant through the trees of the great city. It was the light of the detentionary, where Morag spent countless hours interrogating the prisoners.
“The old specter is at it again.? Hrada chuckled as his eyes wandered to the distant light. “I wonder who is under the blade this time??/div>
“Does it matter?? Warrada mused as she picked up a book and began to flip through it. “Either he breaks them, or they suffer until he does. Either way, you will be happy, won’t you, brother??/div>
“Actually, I prefer that he doesn’t break them any time soon, now that you mention it.?/div>
Kazm groaned unintelligibly as Tiller rushed to Zannah’s side. The young lady had railed against the bars of their prison in an attempt to get to Pruitt, but she found herself recovering on the floor from a magical backlash instead.
Morag hovered low, as if the specter was kneeling while he studied his captives. With the intent eyes of a scientist, the ancient Core Magi peered at Zannah and her two cellmates. Tiller tried to tend to Zannah’s wounds and give her a steady place to rest, while Kazm lie comatose in a pile of fractured and buckling wings.
“Young lady, though I am amused by your feeble attempts, I am curious as to how many more times you plan on throwing yourself against my magic.?/div>
“At least one more.? Zannah’s voice was quivering from the pain shooting through her limbs. Her perfect hair was marred and dingy, limply lying over her bruised face. Tiller, who bore similar bruises, was holding her head up from the floor in his strong hands. “Laugh it up, monster. My shift starts next, and I hit a LOT harder.?/div>
“Indeed. I appreciate your warning. I shall have to adjust the flow of energy through this remarkable spell.? Returning to a ‘standing?height, Morag ran a gauntleted hand along the bars of the Gilded Cage. The corrupted spell served the old Magi well in keeping his prisoners in place, and he was pleased with its rapid acceptance of the wicked Core energy that he had used to create it. “Remarkable how close everything is to accepting the Core, is it not?? Turning back to his current experiment, Morag rested glowing eyes on a battered Pruitt. “Your spells are not even your own anymore, and how easy it was to take them. Tsk, tsk. How much longer do you think you can resist it, yourself??/div>
Firmly held to the wall by shadowy, magical claws, Pruitt glared at Morag from a tear-streaked face. “As long as it takes, you old Nodj.? Her voice was weak, but her heart had a few good hours of resistance left ?and she hoped against hope that he would get bored with her by then.
“Your impudence is only eclipsed by your beauty, young Ringsmith. And the Core will soon wear that away as well.? Morag raised his hands to resume pouring the negative energies of the Core into the young Naroomi, but something stayed his hand.
Morag was lost deep in thought, as if in a trance or listening to something only he could hear. And then, as suddenly as it struck him it was gone.
Turning on an ephemeral heel, the old Magi abruptly and glided swiftly to the exit. “It seems that you have won a moment of reprieve, Miss. We will meet again.? With that Morag drifted into the night, leaving his work behind.
It is time, old friend. Morag’s thoughts were not entirely his own as he crept like a sinister mist through the walkways of Vash Naroom. A shadow hung over the great forest city, and the old Magi could sense it. Something sets its forces against us, Morag thought, it is time indeed.
Only taking moments to gather his most prized possessions, Morag fled into the night. Old loyalties ran strong in the withered veins of the spectral Magi, and lies told to children were now to be cast aside. Let the Twins deal with this coming storm. As he descended into the forest below, a dark sneer contorted his hood-hidden face. They have made their bed, and it is time they lay in it.
With that, the Magi vanished into the darkness ?leaving behind his ‘allies?and their precious Vash Naroom.
Trug peered out of a dimly glowing rip in the air, floating in the middle of the small house. The room was full of surreal shapes, natural furniture that once grew as part of the Naroomi home ?now twisted and perverted mockeries of their former beauty. It did not help that the light from Trug’s spell was a flickering and sickly yellow. It was still raining outside and its gentle sound echoed around in the small home.
“All clear,?he called back into the glowing tunnel behind him, “let’s go.?/div>
Passing through the Hidden Door last, Sorreah crouched behind a thorny end table and nodded to Trug while whispering: “Nice spell.?/div>
“Why thankee, little lady.? Trug said with a measure of pride.
“Little la—“ Sorreah blustered, but he was sternly silenced.
“Shh!? Ulk hissed, motioning for everyone to get down.
A few moments later, a pair of green-skinned Magi walked by the front door of the small home, making jokes about Togoth’s shoes as they strolled ?oblivious to the fact that the entire resistance, minus one Corestalker, was hiding within. After a few moments, the two passed and everyone resumed breathing.
“I could have taken them,?Woot stammered, “it was only two ?and Fuzz would have had my back.? Chayla nodded eagerly in response to her friend’s boast.
“Calm down, you two,?Orwin’s voice seemed booming even when whispering. “Victory against them was not the concern. For now we have surprise.? The two younger Magi nodded in deference to Orwin’s wisdom, both inwardly angered at their rashness.
Ulk turned to the Arderian, who looked a bit odd without his guide-wings, “How many do they have, Sorreah??/div>
His melodic voice, still discordant with anger over Trug’s words, was sharp and uncharacteristic. “I counted at least fifteen walking the streets when I flew over.?/div>
“Any we know?? Poad cut in quickly.
“I did not see faces I recognize.?/div>
Zajan wrinkled his old nose. “How many Shadows could there be? One’s we don’t recognize??/div>
Softly, Orwin’s whisper silenced the troupe. “The Core is more sinister than any of us can imagine. There is bound to be much that it has done that we have not even dreamed of yet.? All eyes were on Orwin, each Magi reflecting on recent events and how life had changed so much because of Agram and the Twins.
“Sounds like good news to me.? Trug’s raspy voice split the silence like a very dull knife.
“Why??came the response from a few of them at once.
Under furry, fungal eyebrows the Engineer from Underneath rolled his eyes. “If we don’t know ‘em, we won’t feel bad thumpin?on ‘em.? Trug said, as if it was the obvious answer. Chayla and Ulk giggled as the rest collectively sighed. The girls sobered up quickly as they remembered where they were.
Trying to focus the nervous Magi, Woot simply asked: “What now??/div>
“Lotta good surprise did us…” Woot flipped backward over an overturned fruit stand. Ducking behind it for cover, he looked over at Fuzz, or Chayla, as everyone else called her. She was holding her own but it looked like she could use some Wasperines.
“Yer just bitter ‘cause you didn’t get the first baddie.? Trug fired his voice across the walkway with a ‘quit yer whinin? tone.
The three of them had been holding this intersection for at least thrity minutes now, but down the way a mustering force of Magi could be seen.
“What’re we going to do about them?? Chayla called over the din of growling Wasperines, Eebits and thunder.
“Entirely the wrong attitude.? Ohk shouted from behind them, “You should be asking ‘what’re they going to do about us?’” The walkway began to shudder under heavy footfalls as a massive wooden Carillion lumbered past the three pinned Magi at break-neck speed. Soon after, Sorreah sped past in the air, riding upon some unknown wind. “Ohk and I will hold them back,?the Arderian shouted as he passed, “you rally with Poad to the East - Orwin has disappeared and the spear-head is collapsing.?/div>
Woot nodded to the sky-warrior and then to his best friend; Chayla was already covering Trug’s retreat. “You think this is going to go on all night?? Woot struggled to be heard over the trumpeting of the Carillion’s trunk.
Trug shot by at a speed that looked unnatural for a squat old man, laughing as he went. “The best fights do, Wootie-boy, the best fights do!?/div>
Slipping quickly through the open window, Yaki dropped to the floor without a sound. Glad to be out of the rain, Yaki hurriedly looked around. The light had long since burned out in this chamber, but his sight no longer failed him in darkness.
Creeping across the floor, prowling like a beast, the Corestalker made his way to the edge of the Gilded Cage. His glowing eyes narrowed on one of the prisoners inside.
Tiller had been resting, trying to regain enough strength to struggle with the bars again. But something out there was moving ?and Tiller could only guess at what it could be. He smelled something wet, and heard shifting but a few feet away. Placing a hand on Zannah’s chest, he felt it rise and fall slowly ?she was still sleeping. The groan in the corner signaled that the Kybarite was not awake yet, so there was someone new here. Then he saw the eyes.
Paying no heed to the stirring Magi, Yaki moved away from the cell to stand in front of the woman still pinned to the wall. His glowing eyes shone a pale green light from under his hood, illuminating her features slightly. For a few moments he studied her carefully, unsure of how to go about freeing her from the magical bonds that held her. His heart beat in anxiety, as he had a sudden uncomfortable memory of the nightmare he’d had about Tryn being in dire danger, just a few nights past. Although he was sure it had only been a terrible dream, it had solidified his resolve to help his friends in whatever manner possible and in all haste. Now, here he was. He moved to place his hands upon the dark claws holding Pruitt against the wall ?and then something struck him in the back of the head.
“Get away from her, now.? Tiller was standing in the darkness, ready to throw his remaining boot. “I can see your eyes. Back off, or else.?/div>
The glowing eyes turned to meet Tiller’s. “Relax, brother, this is a jailbreak, oh yeah.?/div>
As Tiller dropped his boot, speechless, a whimpering voice came from in front of the Corestalker. “Yaki?? Pruitt was squinting, trying to see in the soft green light.
“Yeah, Pru, I’m here.? Yaki began wrenching at the shadowy claws holding her to the wall. They would not move.
“What happened to your eyes??/div>
“It’s complicated, baby.?/div>
“Something’s is, what is it??/div>
“Don’t move.? Yaki grasped the shadowy claws and forced himself to remember how he had absorbed the magic of the Dark Twins, reaching again with a hungry soul toward the forces sustaining these restraints. With a rich, crackling sound the claws burned away with black flames that seemed to retreat into Yaki’s waiting hands. Pruitt slumped, wearily embracing him and barely managing to hold herself up.
With one arm, Yaki steadied Pruitt ?and with the other he touched the bars of the Gilded Cage and absorbed them as well. Soon Tiller fumbled his way to the lamp, relighting it clumsily. In a burst of yellow light, color washed over the room and revealed the prisoner’s savior.
Yaki’s face was hidden deep within his hood, and eerie green eyes still peered out from his dimly lit face. Pruitt cried happily against his chest, caring of nothing in the world but his presence.
Tiller’s voice was filled with apprehension. “Yaki, you ?didn’t ?did you??/div>
Sniffling, Pruitt slowly turned her face so that she could see Yaki’s; her happiness eagerly being consumed by confusion. But he turned away before she could lay eyes upon him.
“Tiller, take her and the others. Orwin is taking back the city.?/div>
Pruitt raised her voice, which now quivered with fear. “Yaki, why won’t you look at me??/div>
The Corestalker brushed passed her towards the door. “There’s something I gotta do.?/div>
Tears choking her voice, Pruitt cried “Yaki??/div>
“Tiller, keep her safe.? And the rain soaked figure dashed out into the stormy night.
“Sorreah, I am surprised at how big you’ve gotten.? The Arderial Shadow Magi spread his leathery guide-wings. “I hardly recognize you.?/div>
“It’s only fair then,?a smirk found itself on Sorreah’s lips, “because I don’t remember you at all.? Dodging a corrupted ayebaw, Sorreah readied to dive low ?he was an excellent flyer, and it was a waste of his skills to fight in open air. The trees and buildings would make this a much more desirable fight.
“Of course not, boy, that is what bad dreams are for. To keep you from remembering.? The Shadow Magi anticipated Sorreah’s retreat and quickly surrounded him with lazily bobbing Arboll Stalkers. “There is no escape this time, boy.? Pointing a crooked finger, the Shadow Magi shouted “Detonate!?/div>
“Wha—I told you fools to destroy him.? Glaring at his creatures indignantly, the Shadow Magi turned a hateful stare to a chuckling Sorreah. “How—“
“A new trick I have been working on. Handy, isn’t it??/div>
Poad bolted passed Woot’s line of slavering Wasperines, finding a place to slide to a stop just inside a quaint little shop. Taking a moment to catch his breath, the little innkeeper tried to convince himself that everything was going to be fine. Orwin knows what he is doing, between gulps of breath he began to look around, Hey, I used to buy my clothes here!
Outside, things were not going well. “Trug! Where’s Woot?? Chayla was frantically searching the cityscape for a sign of her friend.
“He went ta?help Poad ?next block over!? Trug was in a fistfight with a dryte fiend and was a bit hard pressed to talk. “Don’t go runnin?after ‘im, there’s four Magi cuttin?us off!?/div>
“What?? Chayla could barely hear Trug over the thunder and shockwaves exploding above ?she took a moment to hope that Sorreah was doing all right.
?i>RUMBLE—go after him! There’s?i>BANG?/i>ahead!?/div>
“Okay, I’m gonna go help Woot!? And Chayla began running toward her friend.
Without even looking, Trug yelled back at her. “Huh??/div>
With a good solid head butt, Trug managed to back the dryte fiend off long enough to get a look at Chayla ?just as she was lifted from her feet by the tendrils of a koil. “CHAYLA!? Trug cried as he dashed toward the melee. Unfortunately it looked like a pair of wudges would get there first.
Grej ducked under the swing of a shadow vinoc as she readied the giant hammer. “Sure am glad Emec forgot to ask for this back!? She let out a single ‘HA!?as she bashed the shadow vinoc in the head with the ancient Relic.
“What is that thing?? Ulk asked as she sent a little extra energy out to the Korrits watching their back.
“Dunno, really. They say it was Kybar’s though.? She swung again, this time crushing a dark vellup between the hammer and someone’s chimney. It was getting harder and harder to hang on to it during this downpour.
“You can’t be serious!?Ulk’s voice was full of wonder, “Can I sketch it before you take it back?? Rocks began to shower on the heads of Shadow Magi down the walkway as Ulk wove her hands lazily in the air.
“Well, I hit a rock hyren with it once, and it didn’t break. So I am pretty sure it is Kybar’s Hammer.? An evil weebo exploded into animite shards beneath the hammer as Grej brushed a stray lock of hair out of her eyes.
“You’ve never seen a rock hyren in your—“ Ulk was interrupted by Grej’s astonished stare. “What??/div>
Grej just pointed off in the distance; on another platform there was a bizarre sphere of energy gathering. “Isn’t that where Poad and Orwin are??/div>
Ulk turned and squinted her eyes. “Yeah, and didn’t Woot, ‘Fuzz?an?Trug—“
Grej smashed one of Ulk’s korrits that had been corrupted. “Sorry, I had to ?what is it??/div>
Ulk swallowed hard.
Trug barked at the koil. “Put ‘er down.?/div>
With a sinister smirk, the koil leaned Chayla closer to the hungry wudges; who until now could not jump high enough to reach her.
“Ya blasted koil! Put…her…down!?/div>
The koil started to drop her above the wudges, catching her at the last minute. Chayla began to feint as the Core creature toyed with her.
Trug could already feel his veins throbbing. “You don’t wanna make me ornery! Bad things happen.? Each step he took towards the koil began to shake the platform that this section of Vash Naroom rested on.
A pair of spindly Shadow Magi stepped out from the corner they were hiding behind. “Why should my koil listen to you, old man?? The more ugly of the two spat his words like they tasted bad. “Koil, drop her.?/div>
The koil tried to let go but found itself moving slower. A white sphere of energy flared from Trug’s body, and spread to cover most of this city-platform. In an instant, all that could be heard was Trug’s voice.
“That’s it, now I’m ornery.?/div>
SLAM! The sound startled Evu, and the scroll he was writing upon rolled up in front of him. The twins had just entered the librarian’s old home, and had nearly broken the door off its hinges in the process.
“How could I let you talk me into running?? Hrada’s voice was sharp between each heavy breath. Never before had he dared to be this harsh with his sister.
“Brother,? Warrada slithered up to her twin, placing a gentle hand on his heaving chest, “Vash Naroom will fall. Togoth’s buffoons cannot hold it for much longer and we have much more important tasks at hand.? She sauntered away from the quaking warlord and leaned against the table where Evu sat working.
“How can I take all of the Moonlands if I cannot hold one city?? Hrada was glaring at his sister, furious that he was nearing failure.
“By using your mind, Hrada. Or more accurately, mine.? Warrada beamed with arrogance as her brother’s visage softened.
“What have you been up to all this time, Warrada? How can you be so proud when all we have done is crumbling around us??/div>
“Ha-haha-ha-haHA!? Evu’s outburst startled both of the twins, who quickly snapped their faces to see what had happened.
“I’ve finished, my lady. I told you I could remember.? Evu burst into maniacal chuckling as he rolled up the scroll he had been writing on and handed it to Warrada.
“Excellent, Evu. Now ?go and help hold the line, my brother and I have some planning to do.? Warrada’s voice was commanding, sending chills down Hrada’s spine. Evu nodded once and gathered up his things with a befuddled haste.
Hrada could only watch in anticipation as Evu shuffled out the door and into the night. With a near-audible creaking, his head slowly swiveled to face his sister. “He will surely fall ?is it wise to send our librarian to his doom?? Warrada answered her brother with a laugh.
“The old fool is useless to us now, Hrada. I hold in my hand what we took this wretched city for in the first place.?/div>
Taking a single step forward, Hrada suspiciously narrowed his eyes. “And what is that, dear sister??/div>
“Plans, brother. Instructions for building the most wonderful of creations ?and they are all ours.? Her slight smile almost hinted at true joy, but Hrada knew she was incapable of such an emotion. “Tell me sister, what is this thing you intend to build??/div>
“In due time, Hrada. For now, we must get out of Vash Naroom.?/div>
“If we leave by way of the training grounds, we will avoid most of the fighting.?/div>
Warrada purred as she passed her twin. “Excellent idea, Hrada ?that is why you are in charge.?/div>
Hrada took his sister’s hand, hoisting her up onto the rocky edifice. The gray stones had an eerie cast to them, as the first shades of morning bled across the sky. The clouds had parted; leaving a dreary blue-purple sky that made whites whiter and darks darker. “Come sis, a couple jumps down and we are in the training grounds.?/div>
Hopping from outcropping to statue, the twins swiftly descended the stone wall of the training grounds. Hrada came to a stop right behind his sister, and let out a small grunt, as she didn’t continue to move. “I almost—“
Then he saw why she had stopped in her tracks. Ahead of them stood a single Magi, wrapped in a rain-drenched cloak with his back to them. His stature was familiar, but they could see none of his features save for a gloved hand lingering on a blackened scar in the rock wall.
“Friend or foe, stranger?? Warrada called to the cloaked figure confidently.
No answer came from the Magi.
“You risk death if you bar our path.? Hrada chimed in childishly.
“You risk death if you walk that path.? The stranger answered.
Warrada’s head tilted slightly, the voice seemed familiar. Hrada however, merely took offense to the impudent tone.
“Do you know who I am? I am Hrada, Warlord and Conqueror of Naroom! You dare address me that way??/div>
The cloaked Magi turned slowly, and green eyes blazed brightly as he lowered his hood. Warrada’s face lit up in scheming delight. “Why Yaki, you’ve come back to us.? With a sultry purr in her voice, she sauntered up to the Corestalker. “You’ve taken care of yourself.? Warrada ran a finger down Yaki’s chest seductively.
Yaki watched her stalk around him like a predator claiming her territory. She sighed contentedly, “I knew you would come around and realize what a mistake you made. Come with us, and together we can make the Moonlands pay for all of your suffering.?/div>
“My suffering?? Yaki looked down at Warrada scathingly. “I think I’m gonna?run out of twins well before we even get to my suffering.?/div>
Warrada tensed, but it was too late. A streaking backhand smashed into her jaw, sending her sprawling to the ground. Before Hrada could react, Yaki had leapt toward him and unleashed a column of rippling force, driving the warlord back and through an ancient statue.
“You have made a dire mistake, Tracker. One you will pay for with your life.? Warrada stood slowly, letting some of her darkest essence trickle into her ring. Shadowy tendrils leaked from her clenched fist down onto the ground, coalescing into a blanket of darkness that spread into the shape of a dark creature.
Hrada however, was not that prepared. Standing from the crumbling wreckage of the statue, he was barely able to find his feet before Yaki was upon him.
Rays of Morning Light
Orwin was moving swiftly from platform to ground, ground to platform. The twins had left the fight during the night and he had to find them. He had to find them and stop them! He had been searching for hours ?well after the battle had evolved into a series of skirmishes using oranragan war tactics. Coming to a bridge that must have been damaged in the fighting, Orwin summoned a leaf hyren to fly him across the chasm; and that is when he saw the blast.
Yaki was standing within a smoldering crater, nearly singed beyond recognition, his attacker cackled above him. Ordering his hyren to spirit him to the training grounds, Orwin began digging through his pack.
“Why in El’s name won’t you DIE!?!? Hrada placed a hand on his sister’s shoulder to be able to stand. She was still cackling madly after the attack from her dark ayebaw.
Yaki began a slow climb from the crater that the ayebaw’s implosion created. “I can’t die. Not before you. Bring the pain, Treestump, Yaki’s ready ?oh yeeeaaaah.? Dark fire flickered on Yaki’s shoulders, growing until it encompassed his whole torso. As it spread, his tunic, his cloak and his gauntlets mended until he appeared just as he did before the battle began. “You ready for round two??/div>
Warrada moved in front of her brother. “You rest, dear. I will handle this insolent cur.? She had barely flexed a muscle in the first hour of fighting, whereas it had taken all the strength Yaki had to return to his feet after the attack of the dark ayebaw. Yaki knew he couldn’t win; he just needed to hold out long enough.
The leaf hyren landed just outside the training grounds and Orwin dismissed his old friend back to the Dream Plane. With old bones crying for rest, he started to spur himself to action. Swiftly, Orwin ?Yaki needs you. Pulling a gossamer mantle from his bag, the Elder of Naroom frantically tried to don the mystical garment as he ran.
“Where are you going, old man?? Searching the underbrush for its source, Orwin recognized the intoxicating tone. With nothing to be found, he blinked hard and shook his head. It couldn’t be her, the Elder chided himself, she would have found the resistance if she was still in Naroom.
“Oh, it’s me.? The voice laughed sensually. “You aren’t hearing things, old man.?/div>
Orwin spun in time to see a massive silhouette move slowly from the tree line. With a shaggy coat, black as night, antlers covered in whispy gray Firds, strode the mighty Darkwood Furok. Orwin had only seen two of these monstrous creatures in 3000 years and he was sure they were one and the same ?the very beast that stood before him. Ever since Sperri earned her first Furok ring she has dreamt of forging this majestic creature’s animite; and it looked like she had finally managed it! Perhaps this was the explanation for her absence.
“Sperri, where are you girl? Yaki needs our help!? Orwin looked around frantically for the Friend of Furoks. What he beheld, however, is not what he expected.
A pale woman, with bandaged arms and legs, wearing a tattered cape stood before him. Burning white light leaked from the hood of her cape and her intoxicating voice stirred darker feelings than ever before. “You should be more concerned with helping yourself right now, old man. You are in much more danger than he.?/div>
The Shadow Firds atop the Darkwood Furok’s antlers took flight and perched upon Sperri’s shoulders. She reached up to entangle one hand within the shaggy mane of her new creature. “I found him, Orwin. And my new power gave me the strength to command him. Would you like to see what the juggernaught of Naroom can do??/div>
…to be continued
What happens next? Read Part 5 "Misty Morning"
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