Heart of Darkness

by Michele Elaine Wilson © 1999

It was one of the fiercest storms to hit in many years. The torrential rain was punctured with loud crashes of thunder and lightening that turned the night into day. In a large room up near the top of the Rainbow Castle, the family sat around the fire, thankful that they were not outside braving the elements. A brilliant flash of lightening struck, illuminating the room.

"Oh my!" Bronwyn exclaimed, "that was too close for my liking." Bronwyn was a tiny girl with waist length blond hair and pale blue eyes. She was the youngest of twelve children. Her sweet nature and gentle ways made her the favorite of everyone. She giggled and said, "I guess Iím a bit of a coward when it comes to storms. I think someone would have to be awfully brave, though, to be out in this one."

At that moment the door opened and a huge bear of a man came in. He was close to seven feet tall and two hundred fifty pounds of solid muscle. He took off a heavy cloak and wearily strode over towards the fire. His flame red hair and beard were dripping with water and his bright blue eyes looked tired.

"Sean!" Bronwyn cried as she rushed over to him. "Youíre back!"

"Hold it squirt, Iím soaking wet," Sean said with a laugh.

"I donít care, Iím so happy to see you," and with that Bronwyn threw herself in his arms and gave him a big hug.

Sean picked her up and gave her a bear hug and a big kiss. "Good to see you too little one."

Putting his baby sister down he looked over at Queen Niri and smiled. "I donít suppose," he said in a deep voice, "that himself is around?"

"Himself," she laughed, "has about as much sense as you do and is out in this storm. He and General Brand are meeting with some of the border lords."

"Figures," Sean sighed.

"Sit down by the fire and drink this." The speaker was dressed in Healer blue. She was a little over five feet and had flame red hair like Sean and her name was Kira.

Sean threw back his head and laughed. "Imperious little thing arenít ye? And what if I donít feel like taking orders from ye, Sis?"

Kira stood on tiptoes and whispered something in the big manís ear. She laughed at the surprised expression on his face. "They have a name for that ye know, itís called blackmail," Sean laughed. He sat down and took the warm wine she handed him.

Another loud clap of thunder brought a squeak from Bronwyn.

"Come here squirt," Sean said to her. Bronwyn rushed over to her big brother. He picked her up and sat her on his lap. "Why donít I tell ye a story to take your mind off of this storm. There are worse things then a storm ye know. This be a story about a terrible darkness."

 

Sometimes it takes only a small thing to set a man on the road to evil. There was in this land a man by the name of Lev Trocken. He had been born to wealthy parents and was a long hoped for only child. He was spoiled by his elderly parents who doted on their son. In time he inherited all of their lands and wealth, and in his own way he had loved them, and missed them after they died. His father had set things up so well for him, though, that Lev was able to continue to live an easy life without having to work for it.

Lev was a handsome man with dark blond hair and blue eyes. He was considered the prime catch for marriage minded ladies in his homeland. He flirted with many of the prettiest ladies but could never seem to make up his mind which one he wanted to settle down with.

It happened that one year a band of wanderers came through the land that Lev called home. Among this band was a dark eyed beauty named Rose who captivated Lev and all the other young men in the town. To be fair to her, she didnít actually do anything to make these men fall for her, it was just that her beauty was more than most men could resist. She was tall for a girl and had waist length black hair that shone like ebony in the moonlight. One young man was heard to say that a man could get lost in her dark brown eyes. She combined her exceptional looks with a saucy personality and a keen intelligence.

"I donít understand why you turned my offer down, Rose. Iím the richest man in the land and I would gladly give you anything your heart desires." Lev had been trying to persuade Rose to marry him for weeks.

Rose looked up from her weaving with a smile. "Lev, I am flattered by your offer but Iím just not the type to settle down in one place. Iím a wanderer. My people have traveled for thousands of years. To tie us down would be to kill us, and all that makes us what we are would be destroyed. Thank you for your offer of marriage but my answer has to be, no."

Lev took his leave with good grace, but in the privacy of his manor, he brooded with an increasing anger. He knew about the wanderers but still he wanted this woman like he had wanted nothing else in his life. He wanted her not only as his wife, but he wanted to posses her completely. His parents had denied him nothing and he wasnít about to let this woman deny him herself.

It happened that there was a fierce storm that night and it kept everyone inside. Morning showed a considerable number of trees that were down and a lot of clean up that needed to be done. It was well into the day before Lev was able to leave his home and travel into town. He went over to the outskirts of the south side of town where the wanderers had been camping, only to find that they had left in the night. No one had seen them go and no one had remembered them saying anything about leaving. The storm had washed away all traces of their tracks.

Lev was furious that the woman he wanted had escaped from him. He kept the anger inside, however, and announced a couple of days later that he was going to be traveling for a while. He was planning to see a bit of the world he laughed, before he had to settle down into being a stodgy old landowner.

Lev searched for many months but he could find no trace of the band of wanderers. It was as if they had disappeared from the face of the earth. Finally, he returned to his homeland and appeared to settle down. He took no wife, however, and there were stories of strange visitors to his manor house.

 

It was a couple of years later that the man came to the Inn. He was a big man and was a Bard by trade. It had been a few years since he had stopped by last and he was greeted by the Innkeeper with a hearty handshake and a warm welcome.

"Now you are sight for sore eyes," the Innkeeper said. "It has been much too long since you graced us with your presence. I hope you have a parcel of new songs and stories for us because, once word gets out that you are back, this place is going to be packed with a very demanding audience."

"Well, Tom, I dare say I could come up with a story or two if pressed," the man said with a grin. "How have things been around here?"

"Well, to tell you the truth, things have been a bit difficult for a couple of years now. There isnít anything specific that we can point to, but, there have been problems in the land." Tom came over to where the man had seated himself and brought a couple of tankards of beer for the two of them. He settled down with a sigh.

"It is good to get off of my feet for a spell," the Innkeeper said.

"Now what sort of troubles have ye been having?" the man asked.

"Well for the last couple of years there seems to have been more sickness in this land," Tom said. "It isnít just the physical illnesses, although there has been that, but there seems to be a sickness of the soul as well. People arenít as happy as they once were. It feels like there is a blanket over the whole area that is darkening our lives." Tom looked over at the man and shrugged. "I just donít know how to explain it. It is a lot of little things that just seem to be more important then they should be. Ah, Iím making a muddle of this."

The man leaned over and placed his hand on his friendís arm and said, "take it easy, Tom. Iím getting the gist of what ye are saying. Why donít I take a look around and see what I can come up with? Maybe a fresh pair of eyes can find something that ye can not."

Tom smiled with relief and replied, "thank you, my friend. I knew I could count on you."

After settling his pack in his room and taking lunch, the man went out into the town. He was greeted by the townspeople who seemed genuinely pleased to see him. He soon had a crowd of children surrounding him and clamoring for a story.

"All right now, Iíll tell ye a short story, but ye must promise to let me talk to the grownups when Iím done," said the man as he settled next to the old tree that sat in the center of town and the children sat on the grass in a semicircle around him. Truth to tell, there were more then a few adults who stopped what they were doing to listen to the man. The knoll soon rang with squeals of delight as the man told a story about a supposedly fierce dragon that had Ďkidnappedí the town Healer.

As the man was engaged in telling his story, Lev Trocken came out of the town store where he had been buying supplies. Lev looked over to where the man was sitting and frowned. When he was a child, he loved the Bards that passed through the town but he found that, lately, they irritated him. They asked too many questions. He remembered this particular Bard as being more than a little too inquisitive, in his opinion. He hurried away towards his horse and was soon heading back towards his manor house.

Back in his personal chambers, Lev sat staring out the window. His manservant, Tyler, was setting out his lunch for him.

"That Bard is back, Tyler. I wonder what he is doing here after this length of time?" Lev asked.

"My understanding, sir, is that they have a regular circuit that they make," Tyler answered, "so they will be back every few years to the same place. If it is the Bard I think you mean, however, I believe he is a spy for the White Mage." Tyler observed the start in his master with a slight smile. Tyler was a small undistinguished man. He made no impression on people and was therefore overlooked by all. He had made himself indispensable to Lev Trocken.

"Iíve heard his stories, though, so I know he is a real Bard," Lev exclaimed.

"Of course he is a real Bard, sir, but can you think of a better informant then a Bard?" Tyler said. "They are welcomed everywhere. They travel everywhere. They are trained to remember. Iíve heard that the White Mage uses them all the time." Tyler handed Lev a goblet of wine. "I wouldnít worry though, sir, Iím sure he is no danger to one such as yourself."

"I suppose I should go into town tonight and listen to him at the Inn," Lev said with a whine in his voice. "Everyone is sure to be there and it might look odd if Iím absent." Lev didnít look happy at the prospect.

"I think that is an excellent idea, sir," Tyler said with a smirk.

 

That night the Inn was jammed packed with people all wanting to hear the Bard. It had been a few years since he was there last and they were anxious to hear stories of his travels. This particular Bard seemed to travel a great deal to foreign shores and his stories of exotic lands captivated them.

Lev sat near the back, by the door, with a few of the people that lived in the manor house with him. He had meet these people during his travels and brought them home for a visit. They were still visiting a couple of years later. Lev was polite to those who greeted him but didnít encourage conversation and after a while people left him alone with his entourage.

The man was just finishing up a particularly funny story about a creature called a leprechaun. The story had been punctuated with a couple of rousing songs that had the people clapping along. Tom, the Innkeeper, thought he hadnít seen the people this happy in years.

"Heís in good form tonight isnít he, Tom?" his wife Mary asked.

"Aye, that he is. I donít know how he does it; he has been going like that for almost three hours. If he doesnít call for a break after this story Iíll call one for him," Tom replied.

"We will be able to make those repairs to the roof with the proceeds of this trip of his. I havenít seen this many people since, I donít know when," Mary said giving her husband a smile and kiss.

"He wetted their appetites with his stories to the kids this afternoon. He is a crowd-pleaser all right," Tom replied with an answering smile.

At that moment the man finished the story to a loud round of applause. The man bowed and grinned at the audience and said, "ah you guys are really great! However it has come to me attention that while Iíve been up hear entertaining ye that ye have gotten way ahead of me in the drinks department. Now we canít be having that, so Iím going to be taking a break to wet me whistle, and Iíll be back up here on stage in a wee bit."

The man left to another round of applause and headed over towards the bar. Tom had a large tankard of cold beer waiting for him.

"You are wonderful," Mary said as she gave the man a kiss on the cheek. She lifted her tray and headed out with drink orders for the crowd.

"I hope ye realize that you are a lucky man, Tom," the man said as he followed Mary with his eyes. "She is a wonderful woman."

"That she is, as she reminds me every day," Tom said with a laugh. "So what have you found out?" He became very serious.

"Well there is a darkness, but Iím not real sure where it comes from. I have me suspicions, of course, but Iíll have to ask someone who would know better than I would. After all Iím just a Bard," the man said with a shrug.

"Just a Bard my ah," Tom looked up at his frowning wife who had returned for another tray of drinks, "eye."

The man just smiled.

 

After the bar closed for the evening, the man sat by the window in his room looking out. It had been a long day and he was weary. He loved entertaining like he did tonight and never regretted his choice to be a Bard but still, performances like this eveningís, took a lot out of him. He was close to dozing when he heard a knock on the door.

"Come in," he roused himself to say.

"You have a visitor," Mary said. She stepped aside to let in an elderly lady. "Your Aunt has called to see you."

"Thank ye, Mary," the man said and came over and looked at the woman as Mary left. "Me, Aunt!" he laughed. "I never know what to expect from ye. I suppose he put ye up to this."

A musical laugh accompanied a shimmer that surrounded the elderly lady. Soon a young raven-hair beauty was standing in her place. "Well he did suggest that I might want to go in a disguise that wouldnít cause too much attention. Your Aunt seemed like a good idea" she said.

"Rose, none of me real Aunties look like little old ladies," the man replied. "They are all either robust from me Dadís side, or tall and delicate looking from me Momís, but all of them are elves and donít look anywhere near their age." The man gave Rose a big hug.

"Is that the best you can do big boy?" Rose asked with a smile and gave him a resounding kiss that took his breath away.

"Whoa lady, ye are going to make me forget why Iím here in a minute," the man said with a laugh.

"Okay, Iíll be good," Rose said with a musical laugh, "whether you can manage is another story."

She went over to the table and sat down. She shrugged off her cloak and sighed as she stretched out her legs.

The man walked over and poured her a glass of wine and sat down across from her. "Did he tell ye what this was all about?" he asked.

"Not really," Rose answered. "He wanted to know why I turned down Lev Trockenís marriage proposal. He said you would have more information for me when I got here, but that I should take care not to appear in my normal form while I was here." Rose sipped at her wine and looked over at the man expectantly.

"Why donít ye start by telling me why ye turned Trocken down," the man said.

"I could be flippant and say that spoiled brats are not my type but there was more to it then that," Rose said. "He seems an okay person when you first meet him but after a while there is a nagging suspicion that something isnít quite right. You know that I can see into the future. Many of my kind can. I couldnít see with Lev, however, and that bothered me."

"He had no future?" the man asked.

"No," replied Rose, "I couldnít see with him. There was a darkness that I couldnít penetrate. I could see flares of anger and a predisposition towards cruelty but I could see little else. It was as if someone, or something, had thrown a blanket of darkness over him and his future."

"Is that why you and your people fled in the night?" the man asked.

"Partly," Rose answered, "and partly because we were contacted by the White Mage who needed us to travel someplace for him." She laughed at the surprised expression on the manís face. "You Bards arenít the only ones he uses to gather information you know. We can be just as innocent looking as you can. People expect us to be exotic and strange, so it is a perfect cover for us nosing around."

The man was silent for a moment as he thought this information over. "Aye, I can see that," he finally said. "We do have common ancestors, so there should be enough people in any one clan to set up a relay of information to him. He could learn a lot that way."

"There has been a fair amount of interspecies mingling among my type but there is still enough new elfin blood coming in to keep the talents going. Iím almost three quarters elf myself," Rose said and looked over at him and smiled.

"And your point?" the man said with a grin.

"We will discuss that later, big boy," Rose said as she saluted him with her glass of wine. "Now it is your turn, what is going on here?"

"As Iím sure you know, if ye are working for the old man," the man answered, "the Dark One has been making small forays into the border regions again. I know this place is a bit far North for him but he does want an information center closer to the seat of power. We have noticed a darkness settling in over this area. It is nothing large, as yet, but still we need to find out what is going on and shut it down if we can. We are hoping to do this without any of the locals here being aware." The man got up and started pacing the room.

"A few of the more perceptive locals have noticed the problem, like the Innkeeper here," the man continued. "I have been chatting up the people since I got here and there is a definite unease. No one could be specific but a lot of them feel it. Whatever it is, it appears to have started right about the time that you left. Something happened then that was a catalyst and Iím hoping you might be able to help me determine what it was."

"Iím afraid I canít be much help to you," Rose replied. "Other than the refusal to marry the richest man in the valley, nothing happened. I canít see the Dark One taking a personal interest in someone who is as unimportant in the scheme of things as Lev Trocken."

"I canít either but he left here right after you and your people did," the man said. "He has been strangely reluctant to say where he went during that time and he did return with a house full of guests who are still there after all this time." The man continued his pacing. "It isnít much, but it is all weíve got at the moment."

Rose got up and went over to the man and put her arms around him leaning her head against his strong back. She said softly, "maybe so big boy but it is late and you have had a long day. Why donít you wrestle with this particular problem in the morning?"

"Youíre right, it has been a long day," the man said. "We should probably make arrangements for a place for you to stay." The man turned around and gave her a hug.

"Iím staying right here. If an old aunt canít be safe with her favorite nephew, then where can she be safe?" Rose asked with a laugh.

"Now I know the old man didnít put you up to this!" the man said and laughed and picked her up and dropped her on the bed. "Well, Auntie, ye may be safe with me but safe from me may be another story."

 

Lev Trocken angrily sent the servant girl away. She was well paid to sleep with him. He had been very rough tonight and she was more than happy to leave and attend to her bruises.

Tyler came in with a large carafe of wine. "I saw the girl leave and figured you could use some refreshment, sir," he said with a smirk. "If the girl isnít acceptable maybe we should look for another."

"I canít find the one I want!" Lev screamed as he threw the glass against the wall. The red wine dripped down the wall like blood.

Tyler replaced the glass of wine in Levís hand and said soothingly, "we will find her, sir. We have many people looking for her. She canít disappear forever you know."

"But when will that be," Lev whined. "Iíve been so patient and you promised me her." Lev walked over to the window and looked out. "I know I would be happy with her. None of these other women make me happy. Maybe I should send the whole lot over to that Bard. Maybe they would make him happy." He giggled as he drank the whole glass of wine in one large gulp.

Tyler appeared at his side and refilled the glass. He was use to his masterís whining and tuned him out. "I donít think that will be necessary," he said to Lev, "from the way the ladies were looking at him tonight, I imagine he could have his pick of bedmates." It was too bad, Tyler thought, that the Bard was able to put wards up because he would have loved to know with whom the man was sleeping with tonight. It would be a nice little bit of information to know and, providing it was one of the high born ladies, it could provide a tidy piece of blackmail money.

 

It was about an hour before dawn when the man felt someone shaking his shoulder. "Come on and wake up. I donít have much time and we need to talk," a manís voice said.

The man wiped the sleep from his eyes and looked over as the old man walked over to the window. He knew that the White Mage was one of the few beings who could pierce the security of the wards. He rolled over to look at the woman sleeping by his side.

"Donít worry," the White Mage said, "she will stay asleep. Just get over here."

The man sighed and wrapped a robe around him and walked on over to the table and sat down. "It couldnít wait until morning?" he asked with a yawn.

"No," the White Mage said sternly, "now listen carefully. There has been an explosion somewhere in the Dark Oneís lair. We donít know what happened but ripples of instability have been coming out from the Darklands. His regular line of communications may be down for a while and we will have to use this time properly if we are to try and identify some of his agents. They are going to have to use extraordinary methods to contact him and that means we need to be watching for black magic." The White Mage stopped pacing long enough to come over to the man. "I know how you feel, son and I wish I didnít have to ask you to deal with black magic again, after what happened the last time. I have no one else and there is an agent of the Dark One here. That I know for certain now. We got that information back from our agent right before the explosion. The girl will be able to help, but she isnít nearly skilled enough to handle it by herself."

The man remained silent. The White Mage stood next to him and waited. He knew he couldnít rush the man.

"All right, Iíll do what I can," the man said softly, "I dinnae like it though." The man looked up and reached for the old manís hand. The White Mage took his hand and squeezed it.

"I know, son, I know," the White Mage murmured. "Here I have something that will help you." He reached down and took the crystal that the man was wearing in his hands. The White Mage was the only other person other than the High Queen of the Elves and the manís twin sister who could touch the crystal that was keyed to the man without either harming himself or harming the man. "Close your eyes tight."

There was a bright flash of green light that the man could see even through tightly closed eyes. The crystal glowed with a brilliant light for a moment and then returned to its normal state.

"Okay, open your eyes," the White Mage ordered.

"What was that!" the man exclaimed.

"That, my dear boy, was a very powerful spell," the White Mage said smugly. "If you come into the presence of black magic that could cause you mortal harm, the spell will enclose you in a living flame from the Source of Light and it will keep you safe." The White Mage looked down at the man with a smile. "Just a simple little spell that I came up with one evening when I had nothing better to do."

"Iíd hate to see what ye come up with when ye have better things to do, sir," the man said with a wary look in his eyes.

"Why donít you crawl back into bed with that lovely young lady and get some more sleep," the White Mage said with a chuckle. "I have a feeling that today will be an extremely difficult day for all concerned." The White Mage gathered his cloak around him. "It is probably a waste of breath, knowing you, but be careful!" and with that last order he disappeared.

With a sigh the man got up and wearily went back over to the bed. Bending down he kissed Rose on the forehead. He walked over to where his clothes were laying and got dressed. "Black magic," he muttered. "Heís sending me out to deal with black magic and he thinks I can sleep? Sometimes I think the old man is getting daft."

 

Mary found the man sitting by the large fireplace in the bar. "Couldnít sleep?" she asked as she handed him a large mug of coffee.

"No," the man replied. "Mary, how much do ye know about Lev Trocken? I saw him last night, but it seemed to me, that he kept pretty much to himself and his group of friends. I must say that I wasnít terribly impressed with that lot."

"No one is to tell the truth," Mary said disgustedly. "They came back with Lev from his travels and decided to stay. There isnít a one of them that would do a lick of work if you asked them to. They just live off of him. I remember Levís parents and they were such sweet old people and it makes me mad to think that these men are living off of the hard work of those two fine people and of course Lev does the same thing. Old Ewan had set things up so that the boy never did have to work and if you ask me that was a big mistake. That spoiled brat could use the experience of putting in a hard days work." Mary stood with her hands on her hips and a frown on her face.

"I take it ye donít care much for him?" the man asked.

"I have no use for him," Mary replied. "I was brought up to give an honest days work. I donít cater to a man sitting around carousing all day like Lev does with that lot. It just isnít right. Well, enough of that unpleasant subject. Breakfast will be ready shortly." She leaned over and gave him a hug. "It is good to see you again."

The man smiled as he watched her walk away. He thought that Mary was one of the kindest, most caring people he had ever met. You could always count on her if you had problems and her common sense was valued in the town. The man took the coffee and walked over to the door and sipping the hot brew he watched the sun come up. He suddenly shivered and quickly putting down his cup he drew the crystal from underneath his shirt. The crystal beat with a light that mirrored his heartbeat. He turned to look at Rose, back in her old lady disguise, who had just come into the room. "I donít like the feel of this at all," he said to her. "I can sense the presence of the Well of Darkness close by. The Dark One does not allow artifacts from that to travel unless he is sure that his agent can not be turned. We are facing a powerful evil here."

"Can the White Mage help us?" Rose asked.

"We are on our own for this one, luv," the man said, "he is stretched thin right now and we are all he has in this area." The man walked over to her and put his arms around her. "It will be all right. I can handle most of this by meself but Iíll need you to keep a watch out for me and warn me of danger."

"Iíll try," Rose replied. She leaned her head on his shoulder. "Promise you wonít try and go for the artifact." When the man made no reply she looked at him with fire in her eyes. "Donít be daft! You canít do that it is much too dangerous!"

"Iíll have to try," the man sighed. "The artifact must be not be allowed to stay here. It is generating the darkness that is oppressing the land and it turns everything it touches into a wasteland. That canít be allowed to happen here."

"Sometimes you drive me crazy!" Rose said and pushed away from the man and angrily rushed out of the room.

"Care to tell me what that was all about?" Tom asked as he entered the room with a tray of food.

"Donít ask," the man replied.

After breakfast the man decided to walk around the town. He was stopped every few feet by people telling him how much they enjoyed his performance at the Inn the night before. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry since there was a storm front coming in.

"Looks to be a big one," Martin the blacksmith noted. "The air has been brewing for days and when it hits it will hit hard."

The man spent most of the day wandering the entire town, talking to people, and trying to get a sense of the presence of the artifact. Occasionally, he would spot Rose, in her aunt disguise, doing the same thing. Finally sensing that the artifact wasnít in town, he walked over to where Lev Trocken lived. He stood a ways away from the house and looked towards it. He felt very uneasy. He sent a gentle probe into the house to see if he could pinpoint the source of his unease. He felt the blast coming towards him, but before he could react, the crystal flared into life engulfing him inside of a green flame. He felt no heat from the fire. He edged away from the house and ran for the safety of the woods. The flames died as he reached the bend in the road. "There. It is definitely in that house," he panted

 

Rose was sitting at the table in the manís room. The two of them had met in the room after lunch with the story that his aunt was tired and needed her rest. They knew that Mary would not let anyone disturb them.

"I donít think what you are looking for is in town," Rose said quietly. "I still think you are daft to go for it but I know you well enough to try and talk you out of it."

The man reached over and clasped her hand and said, "thanks but I know where it is. Iím going to set you up in here with a viewing glass. You will have to help me keep watch for danger while I look for the artifact."

"How are you going to handle the artifact if you find it? That thing is dangerous!" Rose exclaimed.

"Iíll put it in here" the man said and took out a leather pouch. "It is lined with silk and has a containment spell on it. It will stop the magic from leaking out long enough for me to get it to safety and to someone who can handle it."

Rose shuddered. "It gives me the creeps just to think that you would have that thing near you. It is part of the Well of Darkness!"

"And this," the man said touching the pulsating crystal he wore, "is part of the Source of Light. Iíll trust in its protection."

The man took a basin of water and placed it on the table in front of Rose. He placed his crystal into the water and said some words in high elfin. The water took on a green glow that matched the color of the crystalís light. When Rose looked into the water she saw a picture of the room with herself looking into the water.

"Weird," she laughed.

"At the moment," the man said, "you are seeing exactly what I am seeing. When I get to where I will want you to watch, the scene will stay put and not move with me. All ye need to do is warn me if you see anyone coming."

"How do I do that?" Rose asked.

"Just think it and I will hear you," the man replied.

The man quietly slipped out of the Inn for in spite of his huge size he could be very quiet and inconspicuous when the need arose. He had put the spell-enhanced bag on a leather thong that he tied around his neck. He found a secluded spot and slowly his form began to change as he morphed into a large red eagle. Spreading his wings, he took to the air. He spent a few minutes soaring and diving to get use to the feel of flying again. Back in the room Rose laughed as she saw the scene through his eagle eyes. Finally the man turned towards the manor house that Lev Trocken called home.

 

Lev Trocken awoke with a terrible hangover. He knew that he was drinking much too much lately but everything was getting him down. He wasnít happy. He was bored with his friends and wished they would go home. He sat up in his bed and clutched his aching head. Where was Tyler? The man should have been here with that foul tasting drink of his that at least managed to take away the worst of the hangover.

Stumbling out of bed he went over to window and the pitcher that was sitting on the table there. He saw that there was still some wine left from last nightís binge and decided that maybe that would help his head more then Tylerís concoction.

Up in his small room Tyler was busy with preparations of his own. He needed to contact his master and nothing he had tried was working. It wasnít like the Master to be out of contact for this long. He needed to know what to do with that meddlesome Bard. That man had been asking entirely too many questions. The flare from the artifact this morning had to be a reaction to a probe from the Bard. He had seen that the man was pure elf when he searched his aura last night. He has one of those crystals so he has to be powerful. Tyler could see the White Mageís hand in this and that worried him. He looked over at the mirror and saw that Lev was awake.

"Let the fool fend for himself this morning," Tyler growled. "He grows tiresome."

Outside the manor the eagle circled high overhead. ## Iíll need to get inside Rose. Were you ever here? Do ye know which rooms would be Levís quarters? ## the eagle-man thought.

## He is on the bottom floor, in the left hand corner. He fears heights and refused to take upstairs quarters, ## the lady replied.

The man landed quickly behind the chicken coop. The chickens were not happy to see him and became even more upset when he changed into a large tabby cat. The cat looked at the chickens and swished his tail at them but other then that he ignored them and sauntered towards the house and the back door. He quietly surveyed the area, and when a servant opened the door to enter the main house, he dashed between her feet and ran on down the hallway, ignoring her curses at him.

The cat came to the door which marked the entrance to Levís quarters. Extending his senses he could tell that the man was alone. Quickly he morphed back into his human form and with a warning to Rose to watch the corridor, he silently slipped into the room. He could see Lev sitting at the window with a wineglass in his hand.

The man was upon him before Lev had a chance to react. Lev found himself being held firmly with a hand clamped over his mouth. "Not a sound out of you or Iíll break your neck," the man hissed. "I want some information from you and you will tell me what I want to know. You will speak quietly and make no alarm and you will tell me everything. Do ye understand me?"

Lev shook his head yes. The man removed his hand from Levís mouth. Lev started shaking so bad that the wine spilled over him.

"Now in your travels ye met someone who came from the South. I have keened your companions and that sorry lot doesnít contain him so Iíve concluded it must be a new staff member. Am I right?" the man asked.

"Yes," Lev whispered. "Tyler wanted to work up North and I hired him. There is nothing wrong with me hiring a new servant."

"There is if he is an agent of the Dark One," the man said angrily and reached over and grabbed Lev by the throat. "What did he promise you?"

"Rose," Lev gasped. "He promised me Rose."

"You are a fool," the man hissed. "It is a worthless promise. No one, including the Dark One, can deliver another person to you. Especially not one who is part elfin."

The man picked Lev up by the nightshirt and slammed him up against the wall. "Now you listen to me, fool. I want to know where Tyler is?"

"I donít know," Lev whimpered. "He didnít come into me this morning."

"Where are his rooms?" the man demanded.

"Upstairs, a couple of flights over me," Lev said.

"You will stay here in this room until it is all over and you will not make a sound. If I hear so much as whimper from this room Iíll come back here and tear you limb from limb. Do I make myself quite clear, fool?" the man demanded.

"Yes," Lev said and he slid down the wall as the man let go of him. He huddled next to the wall with his fist stuffed in his mouth. In disgust, the man turned and left the room.

As silent as a shadow, the man made his way up the stairs to the quarters of the man calling himself Tyler. A quick check told him that he wouldnít be able to force the locks without being noticed. In a tricky and dangerous maneuver he teleported and morphed at the same time. Outside in the air over the manor house, a red eagle came into existence. He circled around and flew where he could look into Tylerís window.

## This is going to be tricky Rose, ## the eagle-man thought. ##In my pack you will find a blue stone inside of a blue suede pouch. It is right on top. If I call for help drop the stone in the water. ## The eagle circled around once more and then dove straight for the window.

Inside the room Tyler was intent on his preparations. On the table in front of him was a small obsidian bowl. It had cracks and chips out of it but it still held the thick oily liquid that he pored into it. With a foul sounding incantation the man waved his hands over the bowl and a sickly purple light started to emit from it and fill the room. In the misty light a picture was starting to form. It was difficult to see clearly but then the creature it was showing was so evil that no sane man wanted see it clearly. The body was that of a large sea snake and there were thirteen malevolent heads swaying from that thick body.

"Master," Tyler said.

The air was rent by the screeching of a large eagle. The eagle knocked over the bowl, which spilled the oily liquid and caused the picture to dissipate.

"No," Tyler yelled as a bolt of fire shot from his fingertips towards the eagle.

The eagle ducked under the flame and dove for Tylerís head. Tyler tried to avoid the razor sharp talons as he rolled out of the way, but he was not quick enough. The eagle racked his face and as a result one of his eyes was hanging from a thread down Tylerís face. With a cry of agony Tyler collapsed in a heap on the floor.

The eagle landed on the table. He carefully placed the obsidian bowl in the leather pouch and, making it secure, he slipped the thongs around his neck. He launched himself from the windowsill and headed back towards the Inn.

 

The man walked quickly into the Inn and went over to the Innkeeper and said, "Tom there has been a bit of an accident over at the manor house. Lev is ill and I imagine that his manservant will turn out to be missing. Maybe you can have someone check into that. I have an emergency at home that I need to attend to you."

Tom looked up with concern in his eyes and replied, "okay friend you get going and Mary will check on Lev. Your Aunt has already left. I hope that things are going to be okay for you at home. Come back when you can."

The storm broke just as the man left the Inn. "It figures," he sighed as he trudged through the driving rain.

 

"So ye see squirt, instead of a human heart the slaves of the Dark One have hearts of darkness and that darkness can spread and infect the innocent." Sean gave his little sister a kiss on the forehead.

"Oh Sean," Bronwyn sighed, "you tell such wonderful stories."

"Thanks little one," Sean said as he gave her a big hug and put her down. Sean found that he couldnít stop yawning. "Ah Kira," he said, "ye drugged the wine."

Kira looked over at her twin brother and laughed.

Queen Niri shooed everyone off to bed. She walked over and settled a blanket over Sean, who was sleeping soundly. She then sat down to wait.

An old man walked into the room several hours later. The storm had finally passed and moonlight streamed into the room and that, and the fire, was the only light. He saw the sleeping red-haired man. He also saw the tall woman with silver blond hair that he knew would reach the floor when undone. Her eyes were of the palest blue and she seemed to glow in the moonlight. He reached into the manís pocket and took out a leather pouch.

"Let him sleep, Angus," the woman said softly.

"My dear, not even I, the White Mage, would dare disobey the Queen of the Elves," he said.

"That is a wise decision," Queen Niri said with a smile.

 

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