The Great Relic Robbery, Part 1
By Phillip Tavel and Edward Bolme

Where did Qwade come from?
Read Weapons of Darkness, Part 3
How did Qwade get here?
Read The Unwanted, Part 5

Bria felt a tremor in the water, a shockwave of impact that resounded beneath the waves. Rising to the surface, she stuck her head above the water to see if she could find out what had happened. There, in the distance, she saw a magical battle taking place on the high arcing bridge that crossed from Naroom to the Spirals. Flames licked across the bridge, and tiny figures, unidentifiable at this distance, dreamed up creatures that fought across the dangerous landmark.

She dived back under the waves and swam vigorously up the freshwater river to see who was fighting. As she drew closer, she heard a faint voice, burbly beneath the water, a timid, high-pitched voice that she hadnít heard for years and years.

"Ow," it said. "Ow ow ow ow. Ow ow ow ow ow. Somebody make it stop hurting. Now ow ow ow ow."

"Qwade?" she asked herself, at once incredulous and excited. She swam faster, and there, ahead and above, she saw him. The sun silhouetted him on the surface of the water; his long tentacles spread out like an anemone. Bria winced; judging by his spread-eagled stance, it looked like he had belly-flopped into the river.

She moved up to him, tentatively reaching out one hand. She'd had such a crush on him when they were children, all those years ago, yet she was surprised to have all those feelings return at once like a flood of eels. She stroked his jawbone just behind his mask. "Qwade? Is it really you?"

His eyes opened immediately, flaring with inner power. "Of course it is," he said with a deep, powerful voice, utterly different from the thin, tremulous voice she had heard a moment ago. He flexed his arms, rippling his muscles, and clenched his hand into a fist. "I am the real Qwade," he rumbled, "and, at last, I am in control."

He seized Bria around the waist with one tentacle, his muscles as hard as steel, but holding her as gently as a bed of bubbles.

"You've have grown up, my dear," he said. "I like the change."

"Me, too," gushed Bria, her heart pounding. Suddenly she blushed. "That is, I never thought you cared about me," she said.

"That will change," promised Qwade. "Now tell me, Bria, what does your heart desire most of all?" He moved closer, his eyes glowing from behind his iron mask.

* * * * *

"Stolen?!" Barak's thunderous voice echoed as he smashed through the large doors to his throne chamber. Carefully dodging the massive doors as they flew away from Barak's fists, Valkan repeated his message.

"The Scroll of Fire was stolen from our repository. Sir," Valkan added with a slight bow as Barak wheeled on him. Barak trembled with rage, rubbing his brow and breathing heavily.

"VAL--" Barak started with a heave and a shout, but he caught himself, took a deep breath and began again. "Valkan, what do we know for sure?" Valkan retreated a few steps, wary in the face of Barak's fury. Although Barak would never hurt anyone without serious provocation, that never stopped him from being downright intimidating, especially to someone of Valkan's small stature.

"All we know is that someone broke into the repository and took the Scroll of Fire, along with most of the other relics that were not out being used. There is no sign of who did it. The how is easy, they just ripped the door out of the wall. When, is sometime in the past day. Because everyone has been so busy with the problem in the Weave with the Shadow Magi, and keeping track of all the ruckus in Naroom, the repository wasn't being watched properly." Valkan finished his report and stepped back. "What shall we do?"

Barak again rubbed his forehead. "One thing is for certain, and that is that this act can not go unpunished, especially now. In these troubled times, we cannot afford to look weak and disorganized. Valkan, what are we doing to learn who the culprit was?"

"Ven and Raega are trying to see what clues they can..." Valkan trailed off as an approaching noise stole his attention. Ven and Raega came charging in, with Ven holding something in his outstretched arm.

"Have you discovered who has done this?" spat Barak.

"We do not know who exactly, but we know they came from Orothe. We found this piece of karak claw lodged in the wall," Ven reported. "Also, we found traces of water and a few scales that were probably shed when some of the traps fired."

With a low growl, Barak stood up and began pacing his chamber. Raega, Ven and Valkan all looked at each other, wondering what Barak's reaction would be. Violent? Yeah, they were pretty sure of that. Decisive? Of course. As they were exchanging glances, Barak turned to them with an all-too-calm expression on his face.

"If it was Orothe, I think I may know who in particular. A conversation that I had a while back makes me confident that we will find what has been stolen in the Orothean Vault of Knowledge.

"Valkan, prepare for a fight. Get Gar and Magam together. Ven, Raega, I want you along as well. Cald will be thought weak if we don't respond to this outrage. Orothe must answer for this crime, and we will reclaim what is ours," Barak said, glaring at the three Calders.

"Yes sir!" Valkan snapped. He, Ven and Raega turned and left, quickly putting distance between themselves and the warlord behind them. As they reached the end of the corridor and began to part, Valkan spoke to the other two, "Whoever did this, they will soon find out that they chose the wrong region to mess with. I'll see you at the docks."

Ven and Raega nodded soberly as they hurried to make their preparations.

* * * * *

In a forgotten part of the ruins, somewhat near the Orothean Vault of Knowledge, two figures moved in the shadows.

"I can't believe we did it," squealed Bria in childish delight.

"I told you that you could have whatever you want, and that I can make much more happen," Qwade replied in a deep, hypnotic tone. He glided over to her and took her in his arms. She sank willingly into his embrace, enveloped by his tentacles and entranced by his glowing eyes. "You desire the relics of the Moonlands--as you should, for only someone of your power should wield them--and we have taken the first step toward acquiring them all." Qwade looked down into Bria's warm and inviting eyes. He spun her away as if they were dancing, the tip of one of his tentacles wrapping seductively about her slender waist. "If you believe in me, together we can gather all of the power of the Moonlands. You will look so beautiful with them arrayed all about you."

Qwade turned from Bria and slithered slowly away. Under his breath he said to himself, "And once I have what I need, I will guarantee that you get to do whatever you want, my love." His smile filled with malice.

Bria moved up behind him and asked, "Won't the Calders come looking for their relics? And won't the others?"

Qwade looked at her with disdain for the fear that she was showing, but his mask hid it from her. He spoke in a reasonable voice, saying, "Barak was corrupted by his journey through the geyser. Believe me, I know that, for I only narrowly escaped that fate myself. I also know that he was already looking to plunder the Vault of Knowledge. If the Calders dare show their faces here, tell Mobis these things, and he will stop any advances. Meanwhile, we shall move the contents of the Vault somewhere safe."

"Nowhere is safer than the Vault."

"When a corrupted Barak comes knocking, nowhere is safe," said Qwade grimly. "Nowhere?but in your hands, Bria. You alone can keep the Orothean relics safe from the hands of fire."

"Yes, that's perfect," Bria beamed. She flitted away from him, talking to herself about all the treasures that she would one day own. Her eyes roamed lovingly across the strong muscular surfaces of Quade's tentacles. "I'm so glad you're back my love. I always hoped you would return one day and notice me. My world is complete with you here."

Qwade grinned and responded in a silky voice, "Complete? Not yet, my dear, but then, neither is your collection. But soon it will be."

* * * * *

"The Scroll of Fire was stolen?" said a surprised Kolte. "Serves them right, those arrogant hot-heads."

Gia looked at the gathered Magi with a serious expression. "For what they've done to the Weave, they deserve to have their relics plundered!"

"I heard that it was someone from Orothe that did it, and that the Calders are fuming over it," said Scyalla.

Bo'Ahsa paused, pondering an idea. She bounced it around for a moment, thought, and then spoke, "Maybe we should help the Orotheans out a little--you know, give some payback to Cald?"

Gia nodded, obviously pleased with Bo'Ahsa's decisive words. "Indeed, my dear, that seems like an excellent idea."

* * * * *

"Emec! Emec! Where are you?" Ullig shouted. "Come out, come out, wherever you are! Emec! This is urgent for Kybar's sake! I need to speak to you!" She stomped around corners, peering into caves and staring up the cliffs, looking for the old Ringsmith.

"Yes, yes, what is it?" Emec finally replied as he emerged grouchily from a cave.

"We've been robbed!" Ullig blurted.

"What!?" Emec shot back in stunned disbelief. Ullig just stood there, bouncing her head up and down and staring with wide eyes at Emec. He composed himself and tried again. "What do you mean, 'robbed'? What's missing?"

"Just name it," spat Ullig. "I had to go to the storage caves to retrieve my slingshot, and it was gone. Also missing was... well, everything else that was magic!"

Emec was in shock. Nothing like this had ever happened before. However, considering all the trouble that was brewing, what with Cald and Shadow Magi roaming the Weave, the Dark Twins' seizure of Naroom and the Great Library, the Shadow Magi encroaching on the foothills of the Teeth, and the unprecedented struggle between Bograth and Paradwyn, times were certainly volatile.

"Does Targ'n know?" Emec asked.

"He's with most of the others, making sure that we don't get surprised from below by any Shadow Magi. There was talk that some Core Magi were spotted near the crossroads. What should we do?"

Emec thought for a moment, but not much was coming to mind. "We are going to need to find out what happened, and go after those responsible. We can't sit back and do nothing. If the Magi of the Core should attack, we will need those relics for our defense!"

* * * * *

Deep within the northern reaches of the Great Forest of Naroom, Wence and Ebylon awaited word of the fight around Vash Naroom. Ebylon had received a call for help from his friend Wence, and decided that for all the times Wence had been there for him, he had to return the favor.

Wence and Ebylon bristled as they heard something coming toward them through the woods. "What is it?" whispered Wence to Ebylon. Ebylon just shrugged.

The two Magi prepared themselves for whatever might emerge, readied their rings and steadied their nerves. With an explosion of branches, twigs, leaves and dirt, Voda came spilling out of the jungle and tumbled onto the ground in front of Ebylon and Wence. They blinked, looked at each other, raised their eyebrows questioningly and helped the young Magi up off the ground.

"What are you doing here?" asked Ebylon.

Catching his breath, holding his hands on his knees, Voda responded, "Heard?Cald?attacking?" Ebylon and Wence sat Voda down on a log and handed him a flask of water to drink from.

"Thank you," Voda gasped in between huge gulps of water. He settled down and caught his breath. "Ebylon, we have word that Cald is coming to attack us, and we need you to come back and help."

Wence looked at Voda disbelievingly and asked, "Why would Cald be attacking you?" Voda just shrugged. "Mobis doesnít know either, but he pointed out that Barak did go into the geyser after Tryn. Maybe something happened to Barak while he was in the geyser?" Their expressions sobered as they pondered the evidence.

Wence gripped Ebylon's shoulder. "My friend, thank you for coming to my aid, but it seems like you need to get back and help your own people out now. I will wait for Yaki. We'll meet up again soon."

"I'm sorry I have to depart but thanks for understanding. Good luck, and I will come back as soon as I am able." Ebylon embraced his friend and turned to join Voda in an urgent return to their home beneath the sea.

* * * * *

Flanked by saldarits, a stern group of Calder Magi moved toward Oscent-Mar, looking for the Vault.

"I got a message from Gar," said Valkan. "He said that some relics have been stolen from the Teeth, as well."

"Really?" asked Barak. "Excellent. It's been a very long time since any region has moved against another like we are now. This action will be unpopular, at least at first. But we will show our strength and our resolve, and when we return whatever other relics we find in the hands of the Orotheans to the proper owners, I think we'll find we have a lot more support."

"Get ready, people," said Magam. "Raega's signaling. We're there."


What happens next? Read Part 2 "Break-in"

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