"Tell me again why we have to go to the Teeth?" Hrada mumbled to his sister as they stumbled along through the darkness of the river valley.
Warrada groaned: her brother was becoming seriously annoying. "Because, you idiot, the final pieces for our plan are there!"
She stumbled in the slippery mud of the riverbank. This was not the way it was supposed to happen! Thanks to Yaki and the other bothersome fools of Naroom, she and Hrada had been forced to flee the tree city in darkness. Hardly the victorious leave-taking she had imagined! Still, they had managed to accomplish what they had set out to do. The old historian had been rummaging through the ancient texts of the Great Library for weeks and weeks. Finally, he had discovered the ancient spell Warrada had desired, a spell that would allow her to create the ultimate weapon of chaosóthe Nightmare Construct. There was but one more element needed to finalize their creation. She only hoped that her contact in the Teeth would actually deliver on his promises, even though she had no intentions of honoring her promises to him!
"But? began Hrada.
"Shut up!" snapped Warrada, unable to bear more of her siblingís inane questions. When it came to raw power, her brother had his uses, but he was certainly one of the most annoying magi to ever walk the face of the moon.
She stroked the large amulet she wore about her throat, a special little something she had picked up in the vaults of the Great Library. She enjoyed the astonishing coolness of the stone beneath her fingers as she eyed her brother in the dim light. Soon, she would be rid of him as well! She snorted and resumed her rapid pace. Behind her, Hrada maintained his silence, entertaining his own dark thoughts concerning the eventual fate his bossy sister.
The Twins struggled onward through the night, their El-lit flight taking them closer and closer to the forbidding range of Kybarís Teeth with every step.
He waited in silence, the wild beating of his heart drowning out the sound of the snow-laden wind as it tore past the entrance to the small metal building that housed his forge. Soon, they will be here. The pebble in his hand grew warm as he unconsciously turned it over and over. Soon, my own rightful rise to power will begin. The metal walls of the smithy rattled and creaked with the force of the snowstorm, but he knew it would hold. His eyes surveyed the darkness of the canyon that sheltered his small sanctuary from the worst of the gale. The canyon floor was littered about with various scraps of metal, odds and ends of rusted junk jutting up raggedly from the pristine white snow. Soon. The wind howled on, oblivious of the shadowy figure huddled in the depths of the forgeís entrance.
The past three days of endless running had drained the Twins of their reserves of energy, but at last their goal was in sight. Warrada pointed through the snow, guiding her brotherís gaze. "There!" she said through chattering teeth. Hrada squinted, seeing the outlines of a rough building nestled between the rough stone walls of a small canyon.
Dim orange light spilled from the round windows of the smithy, as black smoke spewed upward from one of the many crooked smokestacks emerging from the ramshackle roof. "Thatís where weíre going?" Hrada asked numbly, too cold to mention that the place certainly didnít look like it could offer the final pieces to their grand plan. Actually, it looked more as if it were about to fall in upon itself at any moment. Still, the promise of warmth and shelter from the storm kept his weary feet falling one before the other as he followed his sister toward the entrance.
A shadow was waiting for them, filling the doorway with its bulk. Unsure, Hrada looked to his sister, but he saw that she was smiling. It was one of her more evil smiles. He shuddered.
"Hello, dear friend," Warrada crooned, her voice dripping with poisoned honey. Whatís she up to? Hrada wondered.
The shadow dipped its head and muttered, "Maíam." Then the large man backed into the smithy, holding out his arm in an invitation to enter. Warm air spilled from the open door and Hrada crossed the threshold eagerly. Inside, the air was hot from the fires burning brightly in the forge, and smelled of sulfur and hot iron. Scattered about the large room were various worktables, each piled high with scrap metal and various tools of the smith trade.
The huge man shut the door firmly as his guests entered, blocking out the storm. Hrada eyed him suspiciously. He doesnít look corrupted, were his first thoughts as he took in the Kybariteís features. The man was enormous. Not so very tall, as simply wide. Bulging with overdeveloped muscles from neck to toe, his head seemed almost ludicrously small. He watched in amazement as his sister sidled up to the big magi, practically slithering up his huge torso, to plant a tiny kiss on his ruddy cheek.
"My dear dear Tílok. Iím so happy to see you again." Warradaís sultry voice washed over the big man, as he blushed furiously and looked very pleased.
"IÖI have what you asked for," Tílok stammered.
Warrada practically purred, stroking one long green nail up the length of Tílokís arm. "Oooooh, I just knew you were the man for the job!"
Tílok looked bashfully at the floor," Aww. It was nothin? really. Old Targín didnít suspect a thing!" The big man chuckled, a deep rumbling sound, like the calm beginnings of a massive landslide. "Itís just like I was sayiníÖthat old man ainít competent to be the leader of the Teeth. The Teeth needs a strong leader like me!"
Warrada gazed upon the huge Kybarite through demurely lowered lashes. What a dolt! she thought to herself. This big oaf actually thinks heís leadership material!
Belying her private thoughts, her words emerged like silken folds, wrapping and binding the gullible magi to her will, "Ahh, it is only too true, my dear strong Tílok. And soon, when I hold the whole of the moon in the palm of my hand, you shall be my most trusted general. It will be as I promisedóyou shall command the armies of the Teeth in my name."
"Hey!" blurted out Hrada, "Donít you mean we? When we hold the moon in our palms?" Warradaís eyes lashed out toward her brother, sending silent daggers his way. He bit his tongue, his mind awhirl with questions. Just what is her game?
Tílok looked curiously toward Hrada for a moment, seeming to notice him for the first time. But then his gaze was drawn back to Warrada and all other thoughts and questions visibly fled from his pale face.
Warrada drew closer to the big magi. Tílok was all but holding his breath in the excitement of her proximity. "Now, my big strong, general, may I see the relic you have brought for me?"
"With pleasure, maíam," gushed Tílok. He lifted one meaty fist and turned it over before her, opening his thick fingers to reveal a smallish oval rock. Warradaís long fingers curled slowly over the stone, lifting it from the feverish heat of Tílokís palm.
"Thatís it?" yelled Hrada, unable to keep silent. "That little rock is what we trudged through all the mud, the quido swarms and the snow for?" He braced himself for the force of his sisterís wrath. But instead of yelling at him as she usually did, she turned to him with her malicious smile, sending chills up his spine. By the ancestors, he thought for the millionth time, she gives me the creeps!
"This little stone invokes Kybarís Fang, one of the oldest and most powerful relics in the Moonlands. It holds the power of an entire living mountain." Warrada moved closer to her brother as she spoke. Soon, he could feel her fetid breath upon his chin. He backed up a bit, finding himself against one of the rusty metal walls of the smithy. Her teeth gleamed a sickly yellow against her dark green lips as she spoke, thrusting her glowing eyes up to meet his own. "This little stone shall become the life and breath of my? she paused and licked her lips, "ourÖNightmare Construct!"
Warrada whirled away to address both men at once. Hrada released the breath he had been holding. "And with the Nightmare Construct, we shall bring the Moonlands to its knees and not even Rayje himself will be able to stand against us!" Her eyes gleamed with a feral light as she gazed into the air, envisioning her glorious victory; as her hand tightly clutched the amulet she wore at her throat.
Tílok, obviously overcome with awe, had fallen to one knee to kneel before Warrada, gazing up at her with a look of rapt attention on his face. Hrada, on the other hand, merely narrowed his eyes and watched his sisterís typical theatrics with growing disgust. What a drama queen! His sibling rivalry had blossomed over the past few weeks into full-blown hatred of his Twin. Patience, patience, he told himself. Sheíll make her fatal mistake sooner or later, and then I will be the one getting in the last word for a change! I will put her in her proper place! Thoughts of seeing his sister humbled before him cheered Hrada considerably and his spine straightened as he began to look forward to bringing their plan to fruition.
"Well thenÖletís get on with it!" he said to his sister, dispelling her faraway gaze.
She smiled back at him, "Thatís the spirit, brother of mine!" Warrada turned to Tílok. "And the frame? Is it ready?"
Tílokís eyes gleamed with pride as he answered. "Indeed it is, maíam. Iíve even polished it for you." He turned and lifted a cloth-covered bundle from a nearby worktable. He removed the cloth to reveal a beautifully wrought metallic object, formed in the shape of two adjoining circles. Here and there, recessed holes had been set into the frameís shiny golden surface, their rims gleaming with polished scrolls and curlicues. Where the circles joined, an elaborate cage of golden wires spiraled gracefully up from the surface. At the top, there was a strange looking bracket that seemed to Hrada to be oddly out of place with the rest of the design. Tílok offered the object up for Warradaís inspection.
She took it in her hands, running her fingers lovingly over the shining surface. "It looks just as the diagram showed it!" she breathed, obviously highly pleased. Now Hrada recognized the object, having seen his sister and old Evu pouring over a diagram of this very device for long hours at a time in the depths of the Great Library.
The Construction Frame! Now he too moved in to inspect the handiwork of the mountain smith. So this shall be the beginning of our Construct! The strange bracket at the top kept catching his eye. Funny, though, I donít remember that being on the picture. He shrugged. Now that there goal was do close he shivered in anticipation, forgetting his agitation with his sister. His eyes met Warradaís and she nodded. "This is it," she said. "Itís time!" Her voice was quivering with excitement.
Warrada laid the frame upon a table and opened the leather satchel she had carried from Naroom. She withdrew a handful of shining animite stones of varying shapes and sizes. These she began fitting into the frame in their corresponding holes. Each was a perfect fit. The she took the stone she had referred to as Kybarís Fang and gently placed it within the delicate golden cage at the junction of the circles. This too, was a perfect fit.
"The ultimate combination of ancient relic-making sciences and modern animite invocation theory!" Warradaís eyes glittered feverishly as she picked the frame back up and headed for the door. "Letís not waste any more time! Hurry!" With that, she plunged out into the snowy night, her prize held like a shield before her. Tílok shambled obediently after her as Hrada watched. Somethingís not right here, he thought to himself, although he couldnít exactly put his finger on what was troubling him. Maybe Warrada is right, he told himself. Maybe I do worry too much! Shrugging again, he followed the others back out into the snowstorm, pulling his tattered cloak tightly about himself once more.
Outside, the wind had calmed although the snow was still falling heavily. Hrada watched as Tílok assisted Warrada in placing the construction frame upon a slight ledge in one of the sheer rock walls of the canyon. "Now, stand back, my brave general," Warrada crooned to her captive pet. "This might be a littleÖumÖdynamic!"
Tílok obediently shuffled backward, his rapt gaze never leaving Warrada. Hrada rolled his eyes and shook his head, almost feeling pity for the poor dolt. Warrada stepped up to the frame and extended a single finger. She closed her eyes and sent forth a trickle of energy, flooding the animite stones one by one. The stones began to glow in multi-colored brilliance, as Warrada stepped back to join the others. The animite illuminated the metal of the frame, as if it were burning from within. This fiery glow crept inward, toward the stone that held the secret of Kybarís Fang. Slowly, the Fang stone began glow along with the others and the ground began to tremble with a sudden uprising of raw power. The Construct began to form.
Great sheaves of rock pulled away from the canyon wall, filling the air with powdered rock that swirled between the falling snowflakes. The bits of rusted junk littering the canyon floor trembled and swayed, some bucking violently against the icy ground that held them, others resonating like tremendous gongs. With a terrible wrenching moan, the ramshackle forge began to buckle and sway: its haphazard smokestacks leaning toward the brilliantly glowing construction frame. Now the odds and ends of rusty refuse came free of the clinging earth and sailed toward the light.
Tílok cried out in dismay as his entire smithy came apart with the scream of rending metal, all pulled toward the blinding nova that had become of the frame. The ground continued to pitch and buckle violently, great cracks appearing across the snow-covered surface. Dust filled the air along with a mighty roar that echoed and echoed throughout the canyon and the towering mountain peaks beyond. Tílok fell to his knees; hands trying to cover his ears and shield his eyes at the same time. Hrada, too, was shaken by the sheer power of the magic his sister had unleashed. In the midst of it all, Warrada stood like a statue, unmoving, absorbing the power and glory of the scene before her. Soon, the light had filled the canyon and seemed to consume everything within before it vanished with a sudden finality that left all three observers gasping in shock.
As the dust settled, it soon became apparent that the canyon had been scoured clean of all non-living matter. Even massive sections of the stony walls were missing. Of the smithy, there was no signójust a smooth expanse of clean rock where it had once stood. Even the snow had vanished!
Now, towering above the three magi, stood a terrible giant. Arms, legs, torso and head were formed of the miscellaneous scraps it had drawn from the smithy and the surrounding canyon. In the gaps between its armored joints, the dull glow of cooling molten rock could be seen. A sulfurous smell filled the air.
"Whoa!" exclaimed Tílok. "ThatÖthat was the most amazing magic I have ever seen!" He turned to Warrada, his eyes filled with reverence. He fell to one knee before her, "My life is yours. I beg to be your humble servant!"
Oh, please! thought Hrada, rolling his eyes again. He looked up at the towering construct. It was impressive, he had to admitóbut it wasnít quite as impressive as he had been led to believe it would be.
Warrada turned to her brother, eyes on fire with triumph. "Well?" she prompted him.
"UmmÖvery cool, but? he hesitated, knowing she was going to have a fit with his next words.
"But what?" she said, her voice descending into the warning tones of imminent danger.
"Well? it isnít as big as I thought it would be. I mean, it isnít as big as Rayjeís Construct." He stepped back and prepared to defend himself if his sister launched herself at him.
Instead, she surprised him again, in that creepy way she had. Warrada began to laugh. She sauntered over to him and placed a sisterly arm about his shoulders, making him deeply suspicious. She leaned over and whispered in his ear, her free hand fondling the big gaudy amulet she wore at her throat, "Thatís because it isnít finished yetÖnot quite." She giggled as she ripped the amulet from around her neck, its golden chain swinging wildly.
Turning to the construct, Warrada lifted her hand and beckoned the metal giant toward her. "Come to me!" she called in a voice that brooked no argument. Instantly, the huge construct took a single step and lowered itself to one kneeóechoing the much smaller form of Tílok. She approached the great form and held the amulet up to its armored breast, where the shape of the construction frame was embedded in the metal surface. She smiled up into the smoldering eyes of her creation as she snapped the amulet into its place in the bracket at the top of the frame. It instantly became infused with a fiendish crimson glow. The ends of the dangling golden chain writhed with a life of their own as they grew longer and thicker, lashing the air with broken ends that had suddenly grown into nasty barbed claws.
Hrada was surprised; he had heard nothing about this part of the spell. "Whatís that?" he asked. "Is that supposed to make it stronger?"
Warrada turned, her eyes trailing from his to the still kneeling form of Tílok. Her lips curled in a horrifying sneer. "It will, dear brother, it will," she hissed, her words eerily calm and filled with portent. Hrada began to be very nervous, stepping back a pace. Warrada placed one hand on the massive armored foot that stood next to her. The construct stood, towering over the three magi below, the golden tentacle-chains still swaying through the air before it, as if in search of something.
"The construct will be complete," she began, leveling her gaze at her brother, " as soon as it feeds." She tapped the metal foot once, and suddenly the golden chains lashed out, the barbed claws snagging both Hrada and Tílok in the flicker of an eye. Hrada heard a strangled yelp from the surprised Tílok, even as he shouted out, "No! Warrada! What are you doing?"
"Just cleaning up after myself," she called back. And then the golden chains began to glow and Hrada felt his energy?i>all of his energyóbeing rapidly drained. No! This canít be happening! And then he lost consciousness.
Warrada sat inside her comfortable observation dome within the head of her towering Nightmare Construct, gazing down at the two tiny forms on the ground far below: the drained husks of her erstwhile brother and her amusing little pawn, Tílok. She had no idea if they would survive the draining or notÖnor did she care. They were insignificant now.
She fondly stroked the now gleaming black metal of her greatest creation. The construct had rapidly grown in both size and strength as it drained its first two victims of their energy. Now, she had the ultimate weapon in her power. She would seize the Moon by its throat and bring it to its knees before her!
But first, she had a battle to win. This time, she knew, it would not be fought merely against the pathetic Naroomi. No, this time, she would have to face and defeat the armies of every region upon the moon! Even now, as she viewed the Moonlands through the magically enhanced eyes of the construct, she could see the armies gathering, ready to march against her. Fools! They have no idea what theyíre up against! She laughed aloud, pleased to hear the sounds of her enjoyment echoing within the hollow spaces of the construct. I will steal their energy as they come, growing bigger and bigger until nothing can ever withstand my power! And after I have subjugated every last living being upon the surface, Iíll claw my way into the very heart of the moon and tear Agram screaming from his nice, safe prison. He, too, will bow down before me! She laughed again, and this time it went on for a very long time.
At last her half-crazed power madness began to ebb and she started to think along more practical lines. After all, the battle was not over yet. She eyed the walls of the canyon, which seemed small now, and then the towering peaks of the mountains beyond. This is no place to wage my final battle. I will seek a proper site for the battle that will change the history of the Moonlands forever!
With a silent command, Warrada guided the Nightmare Construct out of the narrow canyon and set forth to seek the perfect place to engage her enemies. As the thudding footsteps of the great construct faded into far away echoes, the snow began to fall again between the rocky walls of the canyon. The two forms lying broken on the rock below began to disappear under a soft blanket of clean white snow.
What happens next? Read Part 2 "Revelations"
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