Into the Darklands

By Michele Elaine Wilson © 2004

"Sean, I swear you are the most difficult patient I have ever had to deal with! Now get back into bed immediately!" Kira demanded as she glared at her twin brother. She was a tiny lady, a little over five feet, with red hair and blue eyes. She wasn't intimidated by the fact that her twin was close to seven feet tall and two hundred fifty pounds, all of it muscle.

Sean was sitting at the window looking out. He had been fighting a nasty lung infection for a couple of weeks and was getting tired of staying in bed. He was a wandering Bard and the forced inactivity was driving him crazy. Kira was a Master Healer the same as their mother but she had their father's explosive temperament. Sean loved her dearly but found her to be very bossy at times.

A tall slender woman entered the room. She had an ethereal beauty that was breath taking. Her silver blond hair was braided and hung down to her ankles and her eyes were of the palest blue. Queen Niri was the High Queen of the Elves. She was also the mother of the two redheads who were glaring at each other.

"Mother can't you make him go to bed?" Kira asked at the same time Sean was asking, "Mother can't you make her stop ordering me to go to bed?"

Queen Niri laughed and said, "hush you two. Kira take this tea and brew some for your brother and lace it with honey. Sean come away from the window and I'll let you sit up in bed and tell me a story."

Kira took the package from their mother and went over to the wood stove and started brewing the tea. Sean came back to bed and got in but continued to sit up. His mother tucked the blankets around him and kissed him on the forehead.

Queen Niri never had trouble getting her children to do what she wanted them to do. Her husband, the White Mage, often found himself at odds with the dozen children they had produced. He was frequently heard to mutter that his wife had to be using a very subtle kind of magic that he wasn't familiar with in order to get their brood to behave.

"What type of story would ye like to hear, Mum?" Sean asked.

"I like any story you tell, Sean," the Queen replied with a smile. "You are my favorite Bard."

"Okay," Sean said, "this be a story about never giving up."

 

The battle was fought with a ferocity that defied imagination. Both sides strove hour after bloody hour to gain the advantage that would allow them to win this battle in a war that had raged for milleniums. This battle took place in the lands bordering the Southern Wastes and the fire-ravaged borderlands were covered with a thick black cloud of smoke and soot. The air crackled with the energy of magic, both white and black, and the backlash of white magic from the Source of Light and black magic from the Well of Darkness made it difficult for both sides to operate.

The Border Lords in the North had finally learned to put aside their petty squabbles and unite, along with the White Mage, to pursue their common enemy. The White Mageís army had hunted the forces of the Dark One, whose creatures had been harrying those lands that were closest to the border between Caledonia and the Southern Wastes. The forces in the North, lead by General Brand, had decided to strike hard in the enemyís own backyard. With the Border Lords finally uniting in a common purpose, the General had the forces necessary to launch an offensive against the enemy in his own lands. The large attack force had brought out three of the Dark Oneís minions to lead the counter attack. For the Dark One the number thirteen was sacred and he would surround himself with only twelve trusted minions at one time. He would absorb these beings into himself and their actions would be controlled by their evil master. These twilight beings shared in the Dark Oneís power however the price of failure was grim for the Dark One was capricious and would withdraw favor without notice leaving the souls of the beings he had absorbed to suffer eternal damnation in the Well of Darkness.

 

The man was becoming weary. For too many hours he had been swinging his big broadsword and he was fighting several wounds along with the fatigue. Still the opponents kept coming and he was beginning to think that he was going to have to defeat the entire beserker army by himself since they kept coming at him one after another. Suddenly an explosion threw everyone to the ground and a huge fireball of light blinded both sides. The screams that followed were deafening.

It took several minutes for the man's head to clear and for him to be able to see and hear with any definition. The battle had stopped. He sat up and looked around for the enemy and what he saw made his stomach churn. Many of the followers of the Dark One were creatures of darkness and the flash of white light had burned them to a crisp. Others had been driven to madness as the light was the antitheses of their normal world of darkness and they could not endure its brilliance. Most of the Dark Oneís troops were trying to flee. These were beings of limited intelligence and they needed strong leaders to keep them in line. Their leaders had disappeared and in their place were pools of decayed liquid that formed as their bodies dissolved. The Dark One had withdrawn his protection and the beings that had been absorbed into him were released and as their souls were torn away, their bodies became the true decay that they really were. The screams of their damned souls echoed across the battleground and would haunt the dreams of many for years to come.

The man slowly stood up and looked around him. His eyes strained to find the person he was looking for, the White Mage. The enemy had driven them apart early in the battle and he had been too busy fighting for his life to try and find him. The man didn't have the energy left to teleport and started to walk towards the various groups of beings from the White Mage's army. He walked for over an hour talking to his fellow fighters and trying to find the White Mage. No one had seen him recently.

A tall man with reddish gold hair and blue-green eyes came towards him. He was the man's brother, Brendan. Brendan had a large bloodstain on his shoulder and his left arm was strapped down to his body. "Is the old man with you?" Brendan asked as soon as he got near.

"No, we got separated hours ago. The last time I saw him he was with Seamus," the man replied.

"Seamus was felled by a poisoned arrow and the Healers are fighting to save his life. The old man got him to safety and then teleported someplace. We were hoping he would be with you," Brendan said.

"I had a beserker army coming at me and couldn't keep an eye on him," the man replied. "He has to be around here somewhere, let's look for him together."

It was close to midnight before the various factions of the White Mage's army were all gathered together in one place and they had come to the realization that the White Mage was missing. A council of war was held in the middle of camp and was presided over by General Brand, a fierce warrior unicorn, who commanded the White Mage's army. Brand was jet-black with platinum horn and hooves and flashing gray eyes. The General had been badly injured and was lying on the ground. Next to him was a white unicorn wearing Healer's blue. Her name was Rhiannon and she was the head of the Healer's Guild and Brand's wife. General Brand was careful to follow his wifeís instructions and knew that he had to obey Rhiannon's orders or she would teleport him back to the infirmary at the Rainbow Castle because no one, including the White Mage, could overrule the medical orders of the head of the Healer's Guild.

"Queen Niri" said General Brand, "is at the Fountain of Truth in the Mystic Forest. She can tell the White Mage is alive but he is shielding so heavily that it appears that he is using all of his powers to protect himself. From the brief glimpse she got, she could tell that he was enveloped by white magic but he is residing in a place of darkness. According to what she has seen, and with her experience in fighting this evil over the centuries, she believes that the White Mage has been captured by the Dark One. Her advisors agree with her."

This announcement brought forth a storm of dismay. Arguments broke out and questions were yelled out creating such a din that no one could hear themselves think.

"Quiet!" Rhiannon ordered and glared at the assembly. "If you do not maintain order so that this meeting is conducted in the shortest possible time I will declare this meeting adjourned until morning. My patient needs to rest and I will not allow a long meeting."

The noise subsided immediately. No one was willing to anger the Head of the Healerís Guild. She had too many of her people on the field, all of whom were very proficient at rendering an uncooperative patient unconscious.

"When do we go after the White Mage?" the man asked when the silence was complete.

"Right now no one is going anywhere," Rhiannon said. "None of you are in any shape to do anything more tonight. The White Mage is in no danger."

"How can you say that when he is in the hands of the most evil creature there is?" Brendan exclaimed. "We have to rescue him!"

"Hush child," a gentle voice said. A huge red-gold dragon emerged into the firelight. In appearance he looked similar to the Chinese dragons of a planet called Earth except for the fact that he had wings. His name was Master Khigh and he was thought to be one of the wisest and perhaps one of the oldest dragons alive. He was considered ancient even among his kind. He was known to be one of Queen Niriís most trusted advisors.

"Master Khigh," the man said, "we are honored by your presence and beg the benefit of your wisdom. My heart tells me that Brendan is right. We must rescue the White Mage. He can not be allowed to languish in the clutches of the Dark One."

"Of course he must be rescued child," Master Khigh said, "but it will do no good to rush around without a plan. The Source will protect him until we can get him out. He is too strong to be defeated easily."

The ancient dragon looked around at the company of elves, humans, unicorns, dwarfs and other species and said, "I have been a teacher to all of you and I would think that at least one of you would have remembered that I taught you that evil triumphs only for a short time and that good will eventually win out. It is time for calm rational thought. Let us pool all of the information we have and come up with a viable plan for rescuing our fearless leader."

As they spoke, the teachings of Master Khigh were remembered and discussed. He had taught them that the lair of the Dark One was shrouded in mystery. No one had ever discovered exactly where it was located although there were several hints, which would narrow down the site's true location. It was known that it was in the heart of the Southern Wastes and it was also believed that the Dark One was able to move his hideout if it became necessary.

The land in the South had once been fair but had been blighted by the evil of the Dark One and his followers when they fled a fierce battle in the dawn of history. What vegetation existed there was usually poisonous and the air had the stink of death and decay. The ground was frequently in an upheaval and threw up clouds of noxious fumes and rotting earth. The native inhabitants had mutated into hideous abominations that were only parodies of natural life forms and had become mirrors of evil depravity. All that had once been good and beautiful had been leached out and poisoned by the evil that made up the Dark One's twisted and perverted world.

As General Brand and the leaders of the White Mage's army talked and planned, the man sat on the ground and held a young girl on his lap. Her name was Bronwyn and she had come through a gate that Queen Niri had opened up leading from the Mystic Forest to the battleground. She brought gifts from the High Queen of the Elves to aid in healing and in the rescue of the Queenís husband, the White Mage. Bronwyn's magic was in visualization and earlier she had shown them what the Queen had discovered in her search for the White Mage. She would return to the Queen with the final plans for his rescue.

Master Khigh led the discussion down the paths that would be most likely to produce results. He listened to everything that was said and asked many questions. Everyone involved knew that the final decision would come from the ancient dragon. It would be folly to have a being of his intelligence there and not take his advice. General Brand led the White Mageís army but he had the wisdom to know when to defer to anotherís expertise. Finally Master Khigh told the assembled group that he was going to need some time to think by himself and he wandered away from the camp. They could see his shadowed form at the edge of the camp as he lay in perfect stillness. The camp settled in for the night and the Healers ministered to their patients. Everyone knew that you never hurried a dragon and Master Khigh would let them know when he had formulated the plan they would use. It was towards dawn when he finally stirred and came back to the council area.

General Brand stood up and looked at the Master Teacher. "You have a plan for us venerable sir?" he asked.

"I have reviewed milleniumís worth of information and I believe I know where the White Mage is being kept captive," Master Khigh said.

"Then we will march our force towards there without delay," General Brand replied.

"You will do nothing of the sort impetuous youth," Master Khigh said. "You will create as many sorties in as many different places as you can manage that are away from the site. You will keep the Dark One's forces so busy that they will be unable to come to his immediate aide if needed. That will leave the party to rescue the White Mage free to act unobserved."

"How many will be in the party to rescue him?" the man asked.

"Just you," the dragon replied with a smile.

Many different voices broke into loud shouts and the venerable dragon let the sounds roll over him like water off of a duck. Finally the noise subsided as the proponents realized that Master Khigh was not trying to answer them. When silence finally reigned he spoke, "it is not necessary to send more than one person to rescue the White Mage. We need one man who is a shapeshifter because he will need that ability in order to get inside of the lair. With the amulet given us by the Queen that person will be able to extend his shapeshifting to cover the Mage and convert him to the same form he is in. This is important because the White Mage is not a true shapeshifter. The beauty of this plan is that the Dark One is going to expect a huge army and won't be looking for one man."

The man wasnít really surprised that he was chosen for this dangerous mission. He had been on many quests that were equally as hazardous to life and limb but still he had to ask and looked up with a heavy sigh and said, "Why me? There are other shapeshifters."

"That is true however it will take more than shapeshifting ability," Master Khigh said. "It will take courage, determination and a stubbornness to rival the White Mage's. Anyone who has listened to the screaming matches you two get into knows that you rival him for sheer bullheadedness. You may find it hard to believe but he does have a great deal of respect for you and your abilities."

The man looked skeptical and muttered, "yeah, right."

 

It took three days for all of the plans to be laid. During that time the Healers worked round the clock to accelerate healing in those who had been injured in the battle. The man spent much of his time with Master Khigh. No one knew for certain how old the dragon was but several generations had remembered his being around Caledonia in times of need. There were some who thought that he might be one of the original dwellers of the land and even predated the arrival of the elves. Master Khigh was not inclined to give out the information that could have answered these questions and he maintained that some knowledge was better off kept to oneself.

On the day he was to leave the man spent time with his brothers. "You will be careful won't you?" Seamus asked in a weak voice. The slim golden haired man was still very ill but the Healers believed that his life was no longer in danger. He was the younger brother of the man but in looks and temperament was like their forest elf mother rather then the larger and infinitely more boisterous mountain elf relatives on their father's side.

"Of course. Ye should know that I'm the careful sort," the man said with a grin. He ignored the snort and laughter that came from Brendan who was sitting on the other side of Seamus' bed. "Besides the Master will accompany me for much of the journey. By the time I get to where I'm going he should have instructed me in every contingency that could possibly arise."

The troops dispersed at dawn and the man watched them go. He knew that General Brand was going to do a three prong attack where he and his twin sons Pwyl and Lyr would each lead part of the army. Because of the threeís ability to communicate telepathically and teleport instantly to wherever they needed to be the enemy would be confused and find it difficult to mount an effective defense.

The man stood on the hill with Master Khigh and watched the troops disburse. He was a huge man but standing next to the dragon he looked very small.

"I don't mind telling ye Master that I'm scared," the man said.

"Good. That shows true wisdom," the dragon replied. "Only a fool would go into a situation like this unafraid."

"What are my chances of pulling this off?" the man asked.

"Slim at best," said the dragon with a chuckle, "which is much better than none at all."

The man glared at him.

The man shapeshifted into the form of a dragon and together he and Master Khigh took to the air. Their destination was generally known but the actual location of the Well of Darkness and the lair of the Dark One shifted and they would need to search carefully for the clues that would lead to their final destination.

Normal speech was impossible while flying but the man had the ability to communicate telepathically. He was pure elf and his kind had perfected nonverbal communication in the distant past of their existence. Dragons had always preferred telepathy to the spoken word maintaining that it was a more honest way of speaking for the oral sounds could be masked to hide true meaning where thought could not.

## Master, ## the man asked, ## why are we looking for fire? ##

## Because little one, ## the dragon replied, ## like other things in life fire has a dual nature. Its warmth can keep a being alive in the frozen months. It can make food that would be inedible into something that provides life-keeping nourishment. It can turn the darkness into light however fire can also be a weapon of destruction. Nature sometimes throws up fire from her bowels and destroys the land around her. Lightning strikes can destroy a forest and cause untold death and destruction. In the hands of evil fire can be used to burn and kill. The Dark One dwells in a place where fire is the destroyer not the life-bringer. ##

## Will I need to go through the fire to reach the White Mage? ## the man asked.

## I have always found salamanders to be the most fascinating of creatures, ## Master Khigh replied.

The man sighed, ## Ye never were good at giving yes or no answers. ##

The dragon chuckled, ## So why would I want to make things easy for you children? ##

## Master Khigh, in case you haven't noticed, I haven't been a child for a long time, ## the man said.

## Son, when you are my age, your father is still a child, ## Master Khigh replied.

## How old are you? ## the man asked.

## Older than I care to think about, ## the dragon replied.

## Do you date back before the coming of the Dark One? ## the man asked.

## Long before then, child. I think you have asked enough impertinent questions about my age and now it is time for you to pay attention. Do you see that mountain in the distance? The one with the lava flowing freely? ## Master Khigh asked.

## I see it but for some reason it doesn't look normal, ## the man replied.

## As far as I can tell the lava doesn't flow from the inside, ## Master Khigh said.

## But Master you told us that lava was molten rock that came from inside of the earth and that volcanoes threw that molten rock up in explosions, ## the man said sounding puzzled.

## That makes this a very interesting phenomena doesn't it? ## Master Khigh said with a chuckle. ## Head over towards those cliffs. We should be able to observe the phenomena without being spotted ourselves. ##

The two dragons landed on the rocky precipice and the man shifted back to his humanoid form. The two of them looked over at the mountain. Lava covered the entire face of the mountain and flowed into a lava lake at the base.

"I have never seen a lake of lava before," the man said. "I don't see an opening however, how do you enter?"

"I believe you will find that the opening is beneath the surface of the lava lake," Master Khigh replied.

"Okay that explains the salamander remark," the man said with a laugh.

"You always were one of my brighter pupils," the dragon replied.

"Who was your brightest pupil, Master Khigh?" the man asked.

"That is a very difficult question," the ancient dragon answered, "but if I had to choose I would say your grandfather, King Brendan, whom your brother is named after. A most remarkable mind that one has. He and your mother are very much alike." Master Khigh looked over at the mountain with a smile on his face.

The man silently watched the ancient dragon. He remembered the White Mage remarking that the most dangerous thing in the world was a smiling dragon. The two settled down and observed the mountain for over an hour in silence. It became clear that no one was approaching the site.

"I think it is safe to say that the Dark One is too occupied to deal with any of his followers right now," Master Khigh said. "I believe all of his attention is bent on trying to get through the White Mage's defenses. They are too evenly matched at this point in time for him to do so however and this should give us the opening we need to get in. That creature will be too stubborn to realize he canít succeed and his attention will not be where it should."

"What do you mean by we sir? I didn't think you were coming in with me?" the man replied.

"No child Iím not coming inside with you. I plan on holding open a corridor so that you and the White Mage can make a safe retreat," said Master Khigh.

"Okay so letís see if Iíve got this correct. I get in, alert the White Mage to my presence, get through his defenses, help him change into a salamander, and find the corridor to you and get him out. Right?" the man asked.

"Right! As that darling little Crystal would say, it's a piece of cake," the dragon said and gave a quite wicked sounding chuckle.

"Have you ever heard the one about not trusting a smiling dragon?" the man asked.

"Nonsense, child, you can trust a smiling dragon. It is the ones who laugh that you need to worry about," the dragon replied.

A short time latter the man found himself at the lava lake. He had never shapeshifted into a salamander before and he was finding it strange that he could actually go near the flames without being burned. As a child he had been taught to respect fire and never to touch it and here he was swimming through it. Master Khigh had remarked that his hair was the perfect color for him to be a salamander. Queen Niri's amulet had morphed into a patch on his chest.

The man came out of the lava lake into a tunnel. He followed the tunnel to a cavern. The light that came from the cavern was an eerie black light that was actually an almost weird purple color. The only white light came from a large sphere on the edge of a pool. The light would have been blinding without the protective covering over the manís eyes that had allowed him to crawl through fire. For the denizens of the Dark One the light was painful and they tried to keep as far away from it as they could.

Inside the cavern was a large oily pool that absorbed any light that hit it. In the middle of the pool was the creature that the man had fought all his adult life but had never seen in the flesh. The sight was the most horrifying vision that he had ever seen. He knew that the Dark One absorbed beings into himself but the reality was even more appalling then he could imagine. Seated on an obsidian throne was a large sea serpent. The central head had a vaguely human looking face that to the manís surprise was not hideously ugly as he thought it would be but instead was almost beautiful in a disturbing way. It was a cold face with no shred of humanity and it was all the more frightening because of that absence. It was a face that could and would continue to do anything to get ahead no matter who or what he had to destroy in the process. It was the face of a being that was never troubled by a conscience.

Surrounding the main head were twelve stalks. On nine of the stalks were heads of beings who had allowed themselves to be absorbed by the Dark One. The empty stalks were where the three beings that were in the recent battle had been. The Dark One had abruptly withdrawn his protection and the three had found their bodies decaying. Their souls had been plunged into the Well of Darkness where they faced an eternity of torment. In spite of the horrors that faced them if they failed there were three more men standing in front of the Dark One waiting for the dubious honor of being part of him.

"Do you swear fealty to me?" the Dark One hissed.

The three men answered "yes."

"Your lives belong to me!" the Dark One continued. "Without me you are nothing! You will do my bidding! You will obey me in all things! You will worship me above all else!" The Dark One leaned over and faced the first candidate. Suddenly he struck out and sunk his fangs in the man's neck. The victim fell to the ground writhing in agony as the poison spread throughout his body. After several minutes of torment the victim lay still. A mist came out of the open mouth and drifted over to one of the headless stumps surrounding the Dark One. As the mist coalesced it formed a head with the face of the man lying on the ground. As the face became solid the body on the ground rose and stood facing its master. There was no life in the body. It had become a creature whose life had been replaced with an animated death. The man shuddered as he watched the horrible ritual being performed.

The man used the distraction to make his way over to the sphere of white light. The amulet from the High Queen of the Elves allowed him to enter the sphere of white magic. He assumed his true shape and looked at the White Mage.

"I wondered who would come after me," the White Mage said.

"You should have known that I would be involved," said the man.

"You usually are involved in the most dangerous quests. So who came up with the plan?" the White Mage asked.

"Master Khigh," the man answered.

"That was what I was afraid of," the White Mage sighed. "We have an unprecedented chance to study the enemy in his own lair. I doubt, however, that will sway our esteemed dragon."

"Don't be daft!" the man said angrily, "you have to get out of here. That creature wants to destroy you!"

"I am more than a match for him, young man," snapped the White Mage.

"Well your ego certainly is," the man snapped back.

"Don't be impertinent! I have learned much in the last few days that will help us in our battle against this creature. Now I intend to make the most of my chances to gather information to help our cause," the White Mage declared.

"You are going to get out of here while the Dark One is busy," the man said angrily.

"Listen here young man I am still the ruler of Caledonia and you take your orders from me," said the White Mage.

"I have orders from Master Khigh to get you out of here and I intend to follow those orders whether you like it or not," the man roared.

Suddenly the White Mage crumbled and the man caught him as he fell. Brendan was standing there with his sword in his hand. "Master Khigh didn't think he would come willingly," he said.

"What did you do?" the man asked.

"Let's just say he is going to have a bit of a headache when he comes to," Brendan said.

"Where did you come from?" the man asked.

"Look, ask questions later. Use the amulet and transform him and you two get out of here. Master Khigh has the corridor open," Brendan said.

The man shook his head and said the words to activate the amulet. The amulet started to glow and the light encompassed the unconscious White Mage. Brendan helped to get the White Mage across the man's back.

"Okay now shift and get going," the younger man said. "I'll follow you."

The man glared at his brother. "You and Master Khigh have some explaining to do" he growled. The man shapeshifted back into the salamander form and the White Mage changed along with him.

 

## Come on Brendan shift with us, ## the man said.

"You go I have something else to do first," Brendan replied.

## Come on child, ## Master Khigh said to the man, ## I can't hold this corridor open indefinitely. ##

The man started up the tunnel that was being magically held open by the dragon. He turned to look for his brother and saw him materialize next to the Dark One. With his sword in hand Brendan swung at the heads surrounding the Dark One. He had cut off two of them before the evil creature could react. Brendan teleported in and out so rapidly that he was a blur as his sword slashed off the heads of the Dark One's minions.

The man swore to himself and started to go back to his brother when he hit a solid barrier.

## No child, ## Master Khigh commanded, ## bring the White Mage to me! ##

The man was torn between helping his brother and rescuing the White Mage. He heard a scream of rage and suddenly found himself enveloped in a sulfurous smoke. With stinging eyes he pushed through the smoke towards the end of the corridor where Master Khigh waited. As he ran he noticed another salamander running next to him.

As he reached the dragon he suddenly found himself being changed into dragon form. Master Khigh was one of the few beings who could force a shapeshifting change on another at will. The man launched himself into the air flying beside Master Khigh and a smaller dragon that he knew was his brother Brendan. The three dragons flew towards the Northern Lands of Caledonia.

The man was furious when they finally landed and turned to the ancient dragon. "You lied to me!" he roared. "You said that this mission only required one man. You said nothing about putting my brother's life in danger."

"Now just a minute," said Brendan. "You aren't the only one fighting this war. I have done my part also."

"No one is questioning your courage Brendan," said the man. "What I am questioning is why I wasn't told the truth!"

"I didn't lie to you," said Master Khigh calmly. "I only needed one person to rescue the White Mage. I needed Brendan for an entirely different reason. I have always hoped that one day a chance would present itself and we could put the Dark One in a position where he would have to recruit a whole new cadre of minions. I knew an exceptional swordsman would be able to lop off all twelve heads."

"It is too bad that we couldn't get the Dark One too," said Brendan.

"I know child but he wasn't really there," said Master Khigh. "He would never put himself in the way of danger. He knows his minions would betray anyone to get power. So why would he trust his real self near them?"

"Wait a minute I saw him bite that man on the neck," said the man.

"He reached through the dimensions to get there," replied Master Khigh, "but the rest of the time he was a mere projection."

 

"So you see," said Sean, "Master Khigh never gave up hope of dealing the Dark One a serious blow."

"Yes dear," said Queen Niri, "Master Khigh is an incredible being.

She kissed her son on the forehead and covered him with the blankets. The tea was doing its job and Sean was soon asleep. She left his twin sister Kira to look after him and left the room.

"Master Khigh," she said softly, "is an incredibly devious being."

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