By Michele Elaine Wilson © 2005
Sean was angry. His normally twinkling blue eyes were flashing as he rushed down the corridor of the Rainbow Palace. One of the redheads he could easily live up to the reputation that hair color had for temper. He was heading towards his father's study when a flash of light temporarily blinded him. After a moment his sight cleared and he looked around him and saw that he was in a forest glade.
"Mother!" Sean bellowed.
"You don't have to shout dear I'm right here," Queen Niri said softly.
Sean turned around and glared at his mother. "What do you think you are doing?" he demanded. "I need to see father."
"I don't think that would be a good idea, Sean," his mother replied.
"Now listen mother," Sean started to say.
A "shush" gesture from the Queen made it impossible for him to continue to speak.
"As I said that would not be a good idea at this time," Queen Niri said again. "I don't think it would be wise to aggravate your father any more then he is right now. I certainly don't feel inclined to referee another fight between you two. Now come along and behave yourself."
A fuming Sean followed his mother as she led the way towards her favorite garden. As the eldest of her twelve children he was well aware just how powerful his mother could be. She was the High Queen of the Elves and one of the most powerful beings in existence. His father was the current White Mage and was the most powerful practitioner of white magic that derived from the Source of Light. Sean was a Bard by profession although he was also a fierce warrior like all of his kind.
Queen Niri led her son towards one of the benches in her garden and gestured for him to sit down. A table with food and wine appeared next to him.
"Now I will let you speak but only in your capacity as a Bard," Queen Niri said with a smile.
Sean heaved a big sigh and picked up a goblet of wine and took a large drink. "Okay what type of story do ye want to hear?" he asked his mother.
"I would like a story that shows both strength in mind and body," Queen Niri answered.
"All right," Sean said, "this be a story about different types of strength."
The man was in the thick of battle with fierce fighters coming at him in a steady stream. His large broadsword hacked away at his opponents. The sword was Nuadias, one of the named elfin swords, and was given to the man by his Queen.
"At your back," a voice called out. The man quickly looked around and saw his brother Brendan had popped into existence and was positioned behind him.
"Thanks I can use the help," the man called back. Brendan was one of the finest swordsmen in the land and the man could think of no one that he would rather have fighting with him. Brendan had the named elfin sword, Lughian, and the sword became an extension of the man when he fought.
The two men fought steadily for almost an hour. The stream of enemies slowed and finally stopped and the two of them slumped with fatigue. Looking around they realized that the battle was over and that the victory had gone to their side this time.
"I don't think we can do this much longer, Brendan," the man said. "There has to be a way of securing this part of the country and then going after the Dark One in his own lands."
"There may be," Brendan said as he wiped the sweat from his eyes. He was a couple of years younger then the man and took more after the forest elf side of the family being shorter and more slender than his big brother who took after the mountain elf side of the family. Brendan's hair was a reddish gold and his eyes were a blue-green.
"You are up to something, Brendan," the man said sternly.
Brendan laughed and clapped his brother on the back and said, "You are so suspicious big brother."
"Gee I wonder why?" the man said with a grin. "It wouldn't have anything to do with a certain someone showing up on a rescue mission would it?"
"Couldn't possibly," Brendan said as he grinned back at his brother.
The two men walked back towards their camp. As they walked the man tried to remember what he had been told about his brother's recent activities. He knew Brendan had been away from the Rainbow Castle for a couple of months and he thought he had been in the Mystic Forest.
"Have you seen mother lately, Brendan?" the man asked.
"Not for a while," Brendan replied. "You?"
"Not really," the man replied. "I saw her briefly about a week ago. I can't place my finger on it but there was something strange about how she was acting."
"She has seemed preoccupied for a couple of months now," Brendan said. "She has had Cassie with her and that usually means she is planning something."
Their younger sister, Cassandra, had the gift of foreseeing. The problem was that she could see multiple timelines. Sometimes it was difficult to see which visions applied to their situation. Cassie had come to Brendan a few months ago when the man's life was in danger. Later the man had asked her about Brendan's future but Cassie said she couldn't see it and that for some reason Brendan's future was blocked from her sight. The man had asked their father about it but the White Mage didn't know the answer explaining that not all magic was knowable through the Source of Light.
The man was a Bard, which made him a teacher in Caledonia. He knew that the three ancient races of elves, unicorns and dragons brought magic to the worlds outside of the Mystic Realms. In the mortal worlds the Source of Light governed white magic and the Well of Darkness was the major repository of evil magic. In the realms of the immortals only pure untainted magic could exist and any creature that strayed towards the darkness was cast out.
"Have ye talked to Cassie lately?" the man asked.
Brendan shrugged his shoulders and said, "I saw her right before she popped over to see mother. She seemed distracted and I figured mother had her working on something. She has spent a lot of time with Kira lately."
"That is another one who is up to something," the man said.
Brendan laughed and said, "Really big brother I think you are becoming paranoid. Not everyone is conspiring against you."
The man returned the laugh. "I don't think they are after me I just think they are up to something and so does Dad," he replied.
"That's what happens after you become White Mage. You have so much to do because of your duty to the Source of Light that you don't have time to follow the workings of the Mystic Council," Brendan said.
The man stopped and turned to his brother in surprise. "I didn't know you were involved with that Council," he said.
Brendan shrugged his shoulders again. "Oh I only know what grandfather says," he replied.
Brendan had been named after their mother's father. King Brendan rarely ventured outside of the Mystic Forest any more. His daughter Niri had taken over as head of the elves when her father had finally wearied of the fight against the Dark One. He had withdrawn to the heart of the immortal lands. Of all the grandchildren he got along best with his namesake and Bronwyn their youngest sister. The man respected him but found him to be much too crotchety to be around for any length of time.
"How is he?" the man asked.
"He hasn't changed a bit," Brendan said with a grin.
As the two men came closer to the center of the White Mage's camp they saw that a conference was taking place. Queen Niri was there along with Master Khigh and Queen Maeve. Master Khigh was the closest thing the dragons had as a leader. Dragons were solitary creatures by nature and didn't tend to congregate together very often. The big surprise was Queen Maeve as she rarely ventured outside the Mystic Forest. She had been head of the unicorns for time immemorial. She not only founded the healing arts and the Healer's Guild, that her daughter Rhiannon now headed, she was also the founder of the warrior unicorns. Rhiannon's mate Brand headed the White Mage's army.
The two men looked at each other in surprise. "What is going on?" Brendan asked his brother.
"I don't know," the man replied. "I have never seen the three of them together on a battlefield before. Usually one or two of them stay in the safety of the Mystic Forest."
There was a flash of light and the two men suddenly found themselves next to their mother. "You look tired and I thought I'd save you the walk," Queen Niri said with a smile.
"Uh, thanks, I think," the man said. "Brendan and I were just saying that it is rare to see all three of you on a battlefield. I thought it was the policy that at least one of the heads of the three ancients had to be in the safety of the Mystic Realms in times like these."
Queen Maeve turned to Master Khigh and said with a laugh, "I think there are times when you teach your bards too well."
The ancient dragon looked over at the man and replied, "Well he always was one on my best students."
"All of this is nice," Brendan said, "but it still doesn't answer the question of why all three of you are here."
"Things are safe enough at the moment children," Queen Niri answered.
"This battle actually went very well, " General Brand said. "It helps that the Dark Oneís generals are new to working with him. They aren't as efficient as a couple of his other generals were."
"Both of the Councils have been meeting and we are going to try something, that if we are successful, should help us in the fight against the Dark One," the White Mage said.
Brendan and the man looked at each other. "All right," the man said, "what do we need to do this time?"
"And how dangerous is it going to be?" Brendan added.
Queen Niri laughed and said, "Come along you two. You are the last ones we need."
There was another flash of light and the man and Brendan found themselves in the heart of the Mystic Realm. The two men gave a bow to the man standing in front of them. He was their maternal grandfather, King Brendan.
"Sir," said the man, "it has been a long time. I hope that things are well with you."
King Brendan was a tall thin man with gray hair and blazing blue eyes. He was richly dressed as befit his status. He looked over at his grandsons with a slight smile on his lips.
"Iím well enough young man," he said. "I take it the two of you managed to come through unscathed from that last battle?"
"Relatively, Grandfather," Brendan answered.
The King looked over at his grandson and a cut that was bleeding from his forehead. "That come from an enemy or did you forget your brother had a longer reach then you?" he asked.
"Now Grandfather," the man said, "Brendan and I are very adept at fighting back to back. We never get in each otherís way. Even an elf can get hurt when there are too many enemies coming at him at one time. We did come through with only minor injuries."
"Humph," the King replied and turning to his daughter he said, "with a mouth like that it is no wonder he fights with that husband of yours."
Queen Niri laughed and hugged her father and said, "You try so hard to make me believe you are tough as nails but I know better, Daddy."
The King laughed and hugged her back and whispered, "Donít let anyone else know okay?"
"Come along everybody, "Queen Maeve said, "we can eat and relax as we go over what needs to be done."
The Queen of the unicorns led the group over to a clearing where others were resting and having their mid-day meal. Rhiannon was there with three of her children, the twins Lyr and Pwyl who fought along side their father General Brand, and her youngest daughter Deirdre who was a Healer. Queen Niriís oldest daughter Kira was here and she was also a Healer. The one main surprise was a young jade green and gold dragon who answered to the name of Mei-Lin. Mei-Lin was Master Khighís granddaughter and it had been a couple of years since either man had seen her.
"Daddy!" a golden hair child called out as she ran up to the man.
"Hi, darling," the man said as he scooped her up in his arms and gave her a big hug.
"Paddy and I have been playing hide and go poof," Crystal said.
The man looked over at the baby unicorn who had just popped in. His name was Padraig and he was the infant son of Rhiannon and General Brand. He was highly unusual among unicorns being snow white and male. Almost all white unicorns were female.
"Hi, Paddy," the man said with a smile.
"Hi," Paddy giggled. "Crystal is a good poofer."
The man laughed. Hide and go poof was one of the games children played when they were learning to teleport. The object was for one person to hide and the others to go find them but the person that hid could teleport or "poof", as it was known to children, if another person got close. If the seeker could catch sight of where the hider was visualizing before s/he teleported and catch them as they teleported in then the hider became the seeker. It was a simple childrenís game but taught some basic teleporting skills in a fun way.
"Why donít you two youngsters go with Master Po and he will tell you a new story," said Master Khigh. The dragon nodded towards a third dragon who was standing on the edge of the glade.
"Okay, come on Crystal Iíll race you," Paddy called as he took off running. Crystal gave the man a quick kiss and jumped from his arms and headed off after the baby unicorn.
"Living proof that youth and energy are wasted on the young," said King Brendan with a laugh.
"Now Grandfather you were once that age yourself," Kira said with a smile.
"Nonsense, I was born old and crotchety," the King growled. The man and Brendan had to turn away to hide their smiles.
Brendan and the man went over to where Kira was sitting and sat down by their sister. "What are you up to Sis?" the man asked.
"Oh about mid chest on you big guy," Kira answered with a laugh.
The man heaved a big sigh.
"You would give her an opening like that wouldnít you?" Brendan said.
Cassandra came into the clearing and walked up to her mother and whispered in her ear. Her youngest sibling, Bronwyn, accompanied her. Cassie was tall and slender like their mother and had blond hair and ice blue eyes. Bronwyn was very tiny with waist length pale blond hair and light blue eyes. Of the twelve children of Queen Niri and the White Mage, she most resembled their mother in looks. If anyone wanted to know what Bronwyn would look like as an adult they only had to look at her mother.
"Thank you dear," Queen Niri replied to Cassandra. "Everything is in readiness. Master Khigh would you do the honors and start?"
The ancient red/gold dragon came over to the center of the glade and made himself comfortable. Everyone else sat down on the grass in a semi-circle around Master Khigh so that he could see everyone.
"The Mystic Council and the Tuathan Council have been meeting together to address the problem of the Dark Oneís continual excursions into the Northern part of Caledonia. We would like to push him back to the Southern Wastes and take the fight to his part of the world for a change." Master Khigh paused to make sure he had everyoneís attention. Seeing that everyone was hanging on his every word he smiled and continued. "We have a plan of action but it will need the framework laid out by you youngsters. Each of you who will be going on this quest has certain talents that will be needed if this is to succeed. All three of the ancient races will be represented. We have two unicorn warriors," and he nodded towards Pwyl and Lyr, "two elfin warriors," and he nodded towards the man and Brendan, "two Healers with unique talents," and he nodded towards Kira and Deirdre, "and one young dragon who had sense enough to listen to her grandfather without arguing too much." Master Khigh looked over at Mei-Lin and chuckled. It was well known that the feisty young dragon was very strong willed and argumentative when crossed. She was also extremely intelligent.
"As you might remember from your studies at the time that the Dark One came into power he supplanted some others who were drawn towards evil. Some of them went over to him and others just withdrew from the battle. We think some of those who withdrew might be interested in fighting the Dark One for us," Master Khigh said.
"Sir," the man asked, "how could we trust them?"
"I didnít say anything about trusting them, young man," Master Khigh replied. "They can be used for our purposes as long as we remember they canít be trusted. Their hatred for the Dark One can be asset in our favor."
"Master Khigh," Kira asked, "how are we supposed to convince these beings to switch sides?"
"They donít have to switch sides they just need to fight the Dark One for us," the dragon replied.
"What can we promise them to entice them to fight on our side?" Brendan asked.
"I think we may have to wait until we meet them," Deirdre said. "I would imagine each would have their own point of persuasion."
"That is one of the reasons you are going, Deirdre," Master Khigh said. "You have the insight into the way minds work."
"Grandfather," Mei-Lin asked, "I know we also had allies that use to fight for us. What about them, can we get them to help us again?"
"I can answer that young lady," King Brendan replied. "Some of us have fought evil for so long that we are mentally and psychically exhausted from the efforts and need to recharge our minds and spirits. We just donít have the strength left for the daily fight. We are still available for consultation and we do try and keep up with the Councils but you members of the younger generations are going to have to take over the day to day efforts. Having said that there are some who have turned away from the fight against evil and everything else who could be of assistance. Enough time has elapsed for them that they may, and I stress the word may, be persuaded to help us again. Each will have to be approached differently which is why all three races and the major talents are represented."
"Make no mistake," Master Khigh continued, "this is not an easy task that you have before you. It will take strength in mind, body and will to achieve your goals."
"There will be many dangers," Queen Niri added. "It wasnít an easy decision for us to decide to send you on this journey. You will have to rely on yourselves this time because it would be much too dangerous for us to aid you. Each of you will be given an amulet by me that will put you in touch with Cassandra and Bronwyn. The two girls will be hidden from you and everyone else. They will be in a place of safety and you can not betray their location by contacting them through these amulets because they have a very special magic imbued in them that will block all attempts at tracing their recipients. The girls will use their talents to help you choose the correct paths to take. Cassandra will be able to see various timelines based on what information you give her and Bronwyn will be able to visualize those timelines and show them to you."
"There may be situations where all of you will have to fight physically. That was one of the reasons for the heavy emphasis of warriors, however, Kira, Deirdre and Mei-Lin have also been taught fighting skills so they will be able to hold their own in a battle," Queen Maeve said.
Kira laughed at the surprised look on her twinís face. "Donít worry about me," she told the man, "Grandfather is an excellent teacher when it comes to sword work."
"Besides Healers know more then you could possible dream of," said Deirdre as she smiled at her grandmother Queen Maeve.
The twins Pwyl and Lyr looked at each other. "I donít think we want to know what she means by that," Lyr said.
The meeting lasted well into the evening as the elders answered as many of the questions that the young people had as possible. Some of the questions had no answers. They went over names of beings on both sides that they considered worth while to try and contact and where these beings might be found. Queen Niri gave the seven of them the special amulets and Cassandra and Bronwyn demonstrated how they would work.
The seven made their preparations for the long trip. They kept supplies to the minimum because those could be replenished along the way. They needed to be able to travel light. They discussed all the options that were available to them and finally decided on their first destination. Shortly after midnight they all turned in for the night to get the rest they would need to start out on what could very well prove to be a hazardous journey.
The following morning the seven of them headed out of the Mystic Forest towards their first destination. The three elves were mounted on horseback. The man was on his big roan horse named Sunset and Brendan was on Midnight, a horse that few beings could handle. Both horses were veterans of hellrides. Normally when they were travelling, the magic wielders would use normal interfaces that allowed them to travel between time and space to get to where they were going without having to spend the enormous amount of time that normal travel would take. It could cut days, months or even years off of travel time. There was another way of manipulating interfaces called a hellride where you traveled through the nightmare realm of unreality. It took a lot of nerve and an unusual animal to get through a ride like that. It was only used in emergencies when time was of the essence and you had to get somewhere in the quickest time possible.
Kiraís horse was a palomino named Sunrise. The man often kidded his sister that her horse had to be the mellowest animal that ever lived as nothing fazed the beautiful little mare. Brendan kidded his sister that the mare would probably sleep walk through a hellride. Mei-Lin decided to walk on this first leg of their journey. Later when it became necessary to scope out territory from the air she would fly. Both the man and Brendan were shape shifters and could also change into winged forms if they had to.
"Mei-Lin what exactly are we looking for at the Bazaar Canton?" Kira asked.
"I am hoping to get a lead on the whereabouts of an old friend of Grandfathers. Master Kwan lived for many years in a land called China on the planet referred to as Earth. While there he became interested in a mystic religion called Taoism. I think he may be able to give us an insight into the mind of one of the ancients we need to try and contact and convince that person to help us out or at least to give us some valuable information," the dragon replied.
"If you are talking about Corwin I thought that he left with the Tuatha Dť Danann when they left ancient Ireland," Brendan said.
"He did but he diverted towards China instead of returning to the Mystic Realms. He believed that there were answers on ancient Earth that could help us fight the evil that was brewing," Mei-Lin replied. "He was always fascinated by the ancient arts as practiced by those people who inhabited the planet called Earth. He also studied in its lands named Africa and America."
"Why the Bazaar Canton though Mei-Lin?" the man asked.
"Master Kwan has a dragonís interest in jewels," Mei-Lin answered.
"And the Bazaar Canton is the best place in the multiverse to look for jewels," Deirdre said with a laugh.
It took all of that day and most of the second to come near to their destination. They decided that they would stop for the night and come to the Bazaar rested. The Bazaar was frequented by beings of all different types and species and they came from many different worlds. It had a reputation for being a place where you could find anything you wanted but not all of it was benevolent. There were many mercenaries for hire there and you had to watch your step. It could be a very dangerous place.
"I strongly feel that we should set up the wards at their highest capacity," Deirdre said.
"I agree," Kira replied.
"If the twins will hold the center then Iíll take the air and the four of you can take the corners," Mei-Lin instructed. As it was the strongest combination available the others quickly agreed.
Pwyl and Lyr stood in the center of the place they chose for their camp and faced outwards. Kira took the North position, the man took the South position, Brendan took the East position and Deirdre took the West position. Mei-Lin took to the air and hovered over the twins.
Brendan faced the East and said, "I thank you for the fire that warms the worlds" and the ward flared with a red light. The man faced the South and said, "I thank you for the earth that nourishes the worlds" and the ward flared with a green light. Deirdre faced the West and said, "I thank you for the metals that strengthen the worlds" and the ward flared with a yellow light. Kira faced the North and said, "I thank you for the waters that give life to the worlds" and the ward flared with a blue light. Pwl and Lyr moved in a circle and gathered the four lights and sent them spiraling upwards towards Mei-Lin. Mei-Lin caught the four lights from the wards and inhaled the lights. She blended the lights together and blew them back out as a white light that spread over the area in a dome that nothing could penetrate that could cause them any harm.
The travelers settled down and after caring for the horses they had their own meal. They rested after the meal and chatted about the days events and the problems they were sure to face on this mission.
"Has anyone been to the Bazaar recently?" Lyr asked.
"I was there a couple of months ago on an errand for father," Brendan replied. "He was trying to find a trader that might have some information on Baron Chapmanís son."
"Did you find your trader?" Kira asked.
"Yes but unfortunately he had no knowledge of what could have happened to Aaron," Brendan replied.
Aaron Chapman had left his fatherís house one evening to meet some friends at the local Inn for dinner but he had never shown up at the Inn and he was never heard from again. There was never a ransom note and no one knew what had happened to the young man. He had disappeared without a trace.
While the others were talking the man was using the amulet Queen Niri had given them to contact his younger sisters and at that moment he managed to reach Cassandra. "Cassie," he asked, "do you have any sight that could lead us to discovering where Aaron Chapman might be?"
"I have looked but all I see is darkness," Cassandra replied. "In all lines though he is alive. I can see in multiple lines that you will need to rescue him. I canít tell why but there is something that makes it very important to rescue Aaron as soon as possible."
"Is there anything else you can tell us?" the man asked.
"Unfortunately, no," Cassie said. "I wish I knew more but the time lines are so confusing right now. Maybe when you get closer to rescuing him something will reveal itself."
Early the next morning the group entered the Bazaar Canton. After much discussion they had decided to split into groups and stagger their entrance into the Bazaar so that they arrived at different times and from different directions. Mei-Lin joked that she was big enough to be a group by herself and that even a complete fool wouldnít try and harass someone who could turn them into a charcoal briquette. Since everyone in the group was a telepath they were able to synchronize their life crystals so that they could communicate with each other without any other telepaths, who may be in the vicinity, "over hearing" them.
The two sets of twins split up with Pwyl and Kira entering the Bazaar first. The next pairing was Brendan and Deirdre. The man and Lyr entered third and Mei-Lin was last, but, as she made sure everyone realized, not the least.
"Why donít we try over at booths for the healing herbs, Pwyl?" Kira asked. "According to Master Khigh there is a great interest in herbs in the Chinese culture. We may be able to find some information on Master Kwan there."
"That is a good idea, Kira," Pwyl replied. "I believe Deirdre was planning on heading towards the Healerís Guild to ask around. My twin and yours were heading towards one of the weaponís dealers."
"And Mei-Lin," said Kira, "was going to see if she can use her position as Master Khighís granddaughter to get some of the dragons to open up and answer some of her questions."
"And if that doesnít work," Pwyl laughed, "she will probably do a little judicious flirting. She is considered to be quite beautiful by dragon standards."
"Well you know the old phrase," Kira replied with a giggle," if youíve got it flaunt it."
"Deirdre," Brendan asked," do you know why your Grandmother hasnít retired yet? She has been at this as long as my Grandfather had been before he retired and I know he was really drained when he turned things over to mother but then in addition to being the High King of the Elves he was also the White Mage. Your Grandmother did double duty though as the founder of the Healerís Guild and as the head of the warrior unicorns."
Deirdre was quiet for a moment as she thought over the question. "Iím not certain but I think there is more to your Grandfatherís retirement then any of us know. After all, in addition to Grandmother, Master Khigh is still active from that time. Granted he is a dragon and we all know how long lived they are and how loath dragons are to settle down in any one place, let alone retire. I do think however that he would find retirement too boring. The only thing my Grandmother ever said about your Grandfather was that there are some injuries that can never heal. I donít think she was talking about a physical injury though."
"That makes sense," Brendan said, "I have always been closest to Grandfather since I was named after him but I donít think that even I really know him. I have always felt a sadness about him though as if he were carrying a great burden of pain."
"What ever happened goes back to the time of the Dark Oneís coming into existence," Deirdre said. "Your mother was very young then and my mother was Paddyís age. The full knowledge of what went on then has not been passed down to us yet. Maybe in time we will be told but not until the Elders think we need to know."
The man and Lyr were looking over some of the throwing knives at the booth of an elfin friend. "So big guy," Erik said, "what brings you so far from home other then the fact that my knives are the best to be had anywhere in the multiverse?"
"Well short stuff," the man laughed, "it is such a relief to know that you are as modest as ever."
The two men had been friends for many years and often kidded each other about their respective sizes. The man took after the huge mountain elves and Erik was from the smaller forest elves. Lyr just shook his head as the two elves bantered back and forth.
Mei-Lin had curled up in front of an very old dragon named Chang. She was being uncharacteristically quiet and listened carefully as Master Chang finished a long story about ancient China.
"That was a fascinating story, Master," Mei-Lin said when the dragon finished.
"It isnít often that I get a chance to tell the whole story young lady," Master Chang replied. "Usually the young ones, yourself excluded of course, are too impatient to listen to a long story."
"My Grandfather taught me the importance of patience," Mei-Lin replied. "He always says that one should never skip over any bits in a story just to get to the end because sometimes it is the bits in the center that give you the information you need."
"Ah Master Khigh is a wise dragon," Master Chang chuckled. "How is the old guy? I havenít seen him in ages."
"I donít think Grandfather has changed in ages," Mei-Lin giggled. "He is still as mysterious as ever."
Kira was deep in conversation with a tiny woman from a planet that was mostly water. In the rainy season what land there was was under water. As a result the inhabitants had gills as well as external breathing apparatuses. Her fingers and toes could retract into their webbing much as a cat could retract its claws. Pwyl had stepped back to let the two women have some privacy in their conversation.
The lout who approached Kira had obviously had too much to drink. "Hey pretty lady," he slurred, "how Ďbout youse and I go have somfing to eat and get to knows each other better?"
Kira turned to look at the man and said calmly, "I have no interest in going anywhere with you. Please leave. " She turned her back to the man in order to continue her conversation with the herb seller.
"Hey," the man said belligerently, "Iím talking to youse!"
Suddenly the man was facing an angry black unicorn whose horn was pressing against his chest. Another horn was pressing against his back.
"All my brother and I have to do is each take a step forward and you will be a shish-kebob," Pwyl said.
The man gulped and said nothing.
"Hey you Ďcorns," one of his drunken friends yelled, " youse leave my friend alone. You can bleed too you know." Suddenly he felt a strong arm holding him tightly around his chest and a knife was pressing against his throat.
"So can you," the man said softly as he looked over at Brendan who had his sword out and pointed towards the chest of the third drunk, and at Deirdre whose horn was glowing, and at Mei-Lin who was emitting little jets of flame while smiling. "Iíll tell you what I am going to do. Iím a reasonable man so Iím going to release you and my friends will release your drunken friends and all of you will disappear and not bother any of us again. My friends and I will be at this Bazaar all day and we arenít going to see the three of you again are we? Donít nod your head with a knife at your throat it may accidentally be slit so just answer out loud so that we can all hear you."
"Nope you wonít see us," the man squeaked. "We are leaving."
Pwyl and Lyr stepped back from their prisoner, the man lowered his knife and gave his person a shove as Brendan lowered his sword. The three drunks were feeling remarkably sober as they ran towards the nearest exit.
"Okay that was an interesting experience," Deirdre said. "Why donít we get something to eat and pool the information that we have gathered so far?"
"Iíll join you shortly," Kira said, "however, I would like my twin to stay with me for a moment though. It is important."
The man raised an eyebrow as he looked over at his sister. The others agreed to meet them at one of the main dining areas and they left the two alone with the trader.
"Betrell, this is my twin brother," Kira said. "Betrell is the foster mother of a friend of yours and recognized me from a description you had given him. My brother is the one for whom you have the message."
"Ah I can see that," Betrell said, "since he fits the description that Nikos gave me."
"Youíre Nikosí foster mother?" the man asked. "I havenít seen him in several months. He had mentioned that he was brought up by traders of course but I wasnít aware that he came here."
"Nikos is the son of a dear friend," Betrell answered. "When his mother died I finished raising him here at the Bazaar since he wouldnít be able to live on my world in the rainy season. Any way he sensed that you may be this way and wanted me to give you something. He figured it would be the quickest way to get it to you."
The trader turned her back to the man and pulled out a note that she had tucked between her breasts. Turning back around she smiled as she handed it to the man. "I was told that it was important to give this to you, and only to you, and I was to be sure to let no one else see it," Betrell said.
"Thank you," the man replied politely. He read the note and with a worried frown he put into the pouch her carried at his waist.
"Bad news?" Kira asked.
"Letís just say disturbing news, Kira," the man replied. "Madam," he said to Betrell with a bow, "thank you for keeping this safe. Tell Nikos he has my gratitude and give him this. Tell him if he ever needs my help to hold it at eye level and to look into it and call my name. I will answer his call as soon as I am able to."
The man gave Betrell and small yellow crystal. It was used among the elves to contact one of their kind when that personís help was needed. The crystals were keyed in such a way that they would only contact the person who gave the crystal out. The crystals were rarely used as they contained a very potent magic and if they fell into the wrong hands might prove to be dangerous to the giver.
Kira finished her purchase and the two left the herb traderís booth. When they were far enough away that they couldnít be overheard she stopped and grabbed her brotherís arm. "What was that all about?" she asked. "I have never seen you give one of those to someone other than our kind."
"Actually he is part elf," the man said. "Nikos has done me favors before and this time he has taken a considerable risk to get this to me. He is deserving of the crystal." He refused to say more and soon they came to the huge food tent and joined the rest of the group. The man was silent as they ate. The seven had chosen a corner of the tent and Brendan had taken the added precaution of putting up a spell that kept the sound of their voices from being overheard by anyone else.
"Why donít you let us know what is going on?" Kira asked softly as she put her hand on her twinís arm.
"Before I tell you about the note I received a short while ago," the man started, "I need to know what any of you know about a mercenary known as Tarek."
"He is for sale to the highest bidder," Brendan said. "Even among those with no honor he is considered bad news. He literally sold his Grandmother on the slave market."
"I have heard rumors," Mei-Lin continued, "that he has been bought by the Dark One but no one knows what that one wants him for."
The man sighed and said, "Well it looks like one of the things he may have wanted him for was kidnapping."
"Aaron Chapman?" Deirdre asked.
"It appears to be so," the man replied. "A very brave trader I know named Nikos was at an Inn called The Lighthouse when he overheard some men talking about the kidnapping of the son of some "titled guy" that Tarek had engineered. Nikos knows Baron Chapman since he supplies him with different goods and he knew that the Baronís son Aaron was missing. Nikos followed these guys when they left the Inn to see if he could learn more from them. It was a very dangerous thing to do. He heard enough to convince him that the boy who had been kidnapped was Aaron but unfortunately he discovered that these men knew little else. He found out that the boy had been snatched and a black bag was thrown over his head as he was led away. The scum were laughing because the boy was crying because he was scared of the dark. He had heard that Dad was looking for information about the boy. Nikos is part elf and sensed that I would be coming this way so he left the message with his foster mother. He guessed that this would be the quickest way to get the information to me and I could either act on it or get it to Dad."
"Aaron once slipped and fell into an underground cave," Deirdre said. "He was a very young child at the time. The ground he was walking on was soft from the heavy rain and it gave way under him. He wasnít badly hurt physically but the only light was from the small opening over head and he had no way of getting out. No one knew where he was and when night came it was totally black where he was imprisoned. It wasnít until the next morning that he was found. He was catatonic with fear at that point. Mother, Grandmother, Shannon and I had to work for months to help him heal to the point where he could be left alone. Shannon spent the better part of a year with him. To this day he canít abide being in the dark by himself." Shannon was Deirdreís sister and her specialty was mental healing.
"Cassie said that she kept seeing him in the dark," Kira said. "We need to find him before his mind breaks completely."
"What I canít understand is why anyone would want him?" Mei-Lin asked. "There has been no ransom notes so it canít be money that someone is after. He is just a youth so there canít be anything he knows that would be of value to anyone."
"Maybe it isnít what he knows but who he is that is important," said Lyr.
"His fatherís lands are a buffer between Baron Agronskyís lands and the lands leading to the Rainbow Palace," Pwyl continued.
"Baron Agronsky has had more than his share of fighting the Dark One," Lyr finished.
"I know Baron Chapman very well and he has done his part in fighting the Dark One. Baron Chapman would never betray us," Deirdre said emphatically, "not even to save his son!"
"No he wouldnít," Brendan said soothingly, "but as the twins have said his lands are a buffer. We know how tied up Agronsky is with fighting and it isnít beyond the realm of possibility that someone could get through to Chapmanís lands. If someone were set on a spy mission he could avoid the fighting, knowing that Agronsky doesnít have the manpower to keep track of every part of his lands, and he could then slip into Chapmanís lands."
"And with Chapman being so worried about his son," the man said, "the spy could find that security isnít the tightest there since Chapman is using resources, and rightly so, to find his son."
"Cassandra is right," Mei-Lin said, "it is important for us to find Aaron not only for the boyís sake but also for his fatherís sake. Baron Chapman needs to be able to focus his attention on keeping his lands secure and he canít do that until his son is home safe and sound."
"Did the note give you any idea where Tarek might have taken the boy?" Brendan asked.
"Unfortunately no," the man replied, "but we are in the perfect place to ask questions. Tarek has been seen here on many occasions and his master might have recruited him here. Letís ask around and see what we can find out. We can meet back where we started from this morning say two hours before sunset." The seven of them again split into groups and asked around the Bazaar for information that might lead them to the hated mercenary.
Later that evening they sat under the stars. They had decided to get several interfaces away from the Bazaar Canton. They had again taken the precaution of setting up the strongest wards possible believing that the combination of wards and distance was the best defense against possible troublemakers finding them.
They had with them two guests, Master Kwan and Corwin. Master Kwan had arrived as Mei-Lin was getting ready to leave and the two had a joyful reunion. It turned out that he had been planning on visiting his friend Corwin who, unbeknownst to the seven travelers, was staying at the Bazaar Canton. They found him and persuaded him to accompany them. The adventurers explained what was going on and why they were looking for them. They were hoping that the two of them might have some answers to questions they had. Master Khigh and King Brendan had especially urged the seven to find Master Kwan and Corwin. The two promised to travel with the adventurers for a short while and answer as many of their questions as they could.
"I think it is really funny that old Angus couldnít figure out where I was at," Corwin said with a chuckle.
"Now be fair, Uncle Corwin," Kira said, "you know how busy Dad is as White Mage."
Corwin laughed and threw a kiss at his niece. Corwin was the older brother of their fatherís mother and even though that made him their great uncle he would only answer to uncle claiming the great part made him feel too old.
"Ah I know little red but that doesnít mean I canít give him a bad time," Corwin replied with a hearty laugh.
"Why donít you tell the children what you have been studying my friend? I think it may have a bearing on what they are trying to do," Master Kwan said.
"Zombies," Corwin replied.
"Ugh," said Mei-Lin, "why would you want to study those disgusting things?"
"Because, little one," Master Kwan answered, "if you are going to fight the Dark One you need to know how to defeat his creatures and he has been experimenting with creating a zombie army to fight for him. He is using up his resources at an alarming rate and he needs more bodies. The creatures had already been killed fighting for him so he might as well use their bodies too. Waste not want not as they say."
"Well that certainly gives a sick meaning to the words double duty. Even in death they canít escape him," the man said.
"Does this mean that we are going to have to face Hoffman, Reichman and some of the others again?" Brendan asked.
"Donít worry, son," Corwin said. "Those who have been absorbed into him and then released are beyond reanimation. What you will be facing are the beings that have recently died that he can get to and reanimate before too much decay sets in."
"I know that zombies have no soul and are pretty much mindless," Kira said. "What would be the real use of them? They couldnít make good warriors."
"They can infect others and if they go against our people they can turn them into zombies," Corwin answered. "I have spent a lot of time studying with the experts and I can teach you and Deirdre how to unanimate them."
"Wait just a minute," the man said with his brow furrowing into a frown, "you are not going to put my sister in that kind of danger. You can teach the rest of us too."
"Steady on big brother," Brendan said, "I have a feeling that this is a Healer thing and that Kira and Deirdre are somehow immune to the zombieís effect. Am I right?"
"Very good Brendan," Master Kwan replied. "Between them the two young ladies have the talent needed to stop the zombies. It is a Healerís talent however and not something that the rest of you can do. Your job will be to protect them so that they can affect the unanimation."
"Wonít he just animate more?" Mei-Lin asked.
"Not if you eliminate the one who is helping him," Corwin answered.
"Eliminate or turn?" Deirdre asked.
"This one can not be turned child," Master Kwan said. "This one has been driven out of his homeland because of his evil. He is a willing servant of the Dark One. This one you will need to kill. I can put you on the path however of someone who can help you. She is very powerful and a good friend. Iíll send a message to her asking her to keep a look out for you."
Much of the rest of the night was spent with the seven younger people asking questions and the two Elders answering them. Master Kwan was able to explain some of the ancient history in the battle of good and evil and how some of this could be of benefit to them now. He also had a couple of suggestions on who to look up. Corwin told them of some of the things he discovered about the ancient magic used on the planet Earth. He also taught them some of the ancient Earth beliefs about the interconnectedness of all things and how those beliefs could help them in fighting the evil that they were facing. He also had suggestions on who to look up and how to find them.
Morning found the seven traveling together by themselves again. Master Kwan and Corwin had left the seven with their blessings and best wishes and the two old friends departed debating philosophy. During their evening contact Cassandra and Bronwyn had shown them several different paths that they could take and after much discussion everyone finally decided the best course of action was to track down a man who had fought against King Brendan but who had withdrawn after the Dark One gained supremacy over evil. Master Kwan and Corwin told them what they knew about the man and made some suggestions on how to find him.
"Deirdre," Kira asked, "why were you so insistent on us tracking down Roth before we do anything else?"
"Iím not sure if I can explain it but something Grandmother said has been bothering me ever since we started this trip," Deirdre replied. "She was talking about the battle between your Grandfather and Roth. When your Grandfather defeated him he could have very easily killed him but didnít and when I asked her if it was mercy that had stayed his hand she said no but she wouldnít say what it was. She said if I ever met him I would understand. I have the strongest feeling that this man Roth will be able to help us now. It is just a hunch."
"Your hunches have never proved to be wrong in the past, Deirdre," Kira said softly.
"Grandfather wonít talk about what happened back then," Brendan said, "but he did say something about how you could destroy something that was flawed but that you couldnít destroy something that was maimed."
"Mei-Lin what did your Grandfather have to say about Roth?" the man asked.
The young dragon was flying over head and projected her thought telepathically, ## All he would say was to follow my instincts. ##
"Oh great," grumbled Pwyl, "follow your instincts."
"Iíll let you know when the time is right," Lyr added.
"You donít need to know that to do your job," said Pwyl.
"That is an impertinent question," continued Lyr.
"And do the two of you ever let just one speak without finishing each otherís sentences?" Deirdre laughed.
"Boy am I glad that Iím big boyís twin. Could you imagine him as identical twins? One of him can drive you nuts and two of him would be more then poor father could bear," Kira giggled.
"I always wanted to be an only child meself," the man chuckled. "You made that totally impossible, Sis. "
"If you were an only child who would watch your back?" Brendan said with a grin.
It took five days before the group was able to discover where Roth had hidden himself and his family. The land was very isolated yet it did provide everything that the few people who inhabited it needed to survive. As they entered the land everyone in the group felt on edge as if something wasnít quite right but no one could put a finger on what it was that they found disturbing. All of them felt that it would be best if they finished their task here and got out as quickly as possible. After much discussion the group decided that it would be best for the three elves to make the initial contact.
"Go away!" Roth raged as the man knocked on his door. "We donít want anything you have to offer."
"How do you know if you donít open the door and see who is here?" Kira asked.
The door was flung open and an old man stood there glaring at them. He started to say something but suddenly his mouth shut and he turned very pale and he looked like he was going to faint. The man and Brendan grabbed him by the arms and led him over to a chair and helped him to sit down.
"Why canít he leave me in peace?" the old man said as he looked wildly at the three elves. "He won. He destroyed me wasnít that enough for him? You are his I can tell by looking at you. Why wonít he leave me alone?"
Kira walked over and knelt by the man. "Roth you destroyed yourself," she said softly. "You could have stayed on the path of goodness but you strayed onto the way of evil and refused to leave it. You canít blame our Grandfather for what happened to you."
"You donít understand," Roth said in a shaky voice. "You couldnít possibly know what was going on inside of me."
"Grandfather," came a young voice, "there are unicorns and a dragon outside. May I please go see them? Iíve never seen real ones before."
A young boy of about seven was standing in the doorway of a room that was obviously used as a bedroom. He was very pale and wore a nightgown.
"Ciaran," Roth said, "you mustnít get out of bed."
Roth looked down at Kira and said, "You wear the Healerís blue. My grandson has been very ill and nothing seems to help. I know I have no right to ask help from my kind after what I have done but the boy is innocent. He is the last of my kind here. He is innocent please canít you do something?" Tears trickled down the old manís face.
"Iíll try. Deirdre is also a Healer. May she enter?" Kira asked.
Roth nodded his head yes. Deirdre came in answer to Kiraís telepathic call. The two Healers spent a long time with the boy in the boyís room and when they returned Roth told them to keep their answers to themselves until after the child was asleep. At the childís urging Roth invited the elves to join them for dinner. The unicorns and dragon decided to take their meal outside under a shade tree.
The child quickly became attached to the man. He was thrilled when he found out the man was a Bard and asked him lots of questions about places that he been. The man cheerfully answered the boys questions. Even Roth listened as he told about some of the people he had met and the things he had seen. Later that evening Ciaran asked the man if he would tell him a story.
"Just a short one because it is getting late and ye need your sleep," the man replied. He placed the child on his lap. "This be a story about the miracle of love."
Once upon a time there was a little boy who lived in a pretty cottage. The little boyís room faced a beautiful garden. He would sit in his window seat and watch the butterflies as they flitted from flower to flower. The little boy thought that the butterflies were the prettiest things he had ever seen. One day a beautiful black and orange butterfly came and sat on the windowsill. "Hello little boy. I often see you sitting inside looking out at us. Why donít you come out and play?" the butterfly said.
"Oh I canít," said the little boy. "I canít walk good and I tire so easily. My mother says I need to stay inside."
The butterfly flew inside the little boyís room and sat on the dresser. He could see that the little boy was crippled and could only move around with the aid of crutches. "I understand," said the butterfly. "We could still be friends though if you would like."
"I would like that," said the boy," I have never had a friend. How come you can talk? I didnít know butterflies could talk."
"That is because I am the Monarch butterfly and King of my kind," the butterfly said. "I am magical."
The boy smiled. "Oh how wonderful!" he exclaimed. "I know someone who is magical."
The butterfly came back day after day to see the boy. He could tell that the boy was very ill. The Monarch butterfly would tell the boy tales of places he had seen. The boy loved the butterflyís stories.
As time passed the boy became weaker and weaker and there came a time when he could no longer get out of bed. One afternoon after the boy had fallen asleep the butterfly went in search of the boyís mother. She was sitting at the kitchen table with her head on her arms and tears streaming down her cheeks. The butterfly landed softly on her arm. The woman lifted her head and looked down at the butterfly.
"You are the one who has been talking to my son arenít you?" she asked the butterfly.
"Yes I have," the butterfly replied. "You know he is dying donít you?"
"I know," she answered. "His life has been so hard. He was born crippled and never had the chance to do things little boys should do. His father walked out because he couldnít cope with a son that wasnít perfect."
"Do you believe in magic?" the butterfly asked.
"I never did before but then my son kept talking about this magical butterfly and I wanted to believe for his sake," the mother said.
"I can tell you love your child," the butterfly said. "Do you love him enough to let him go?"
"Death will take him soon," the mother said. "Do you have something better to offer?"
"I do but I will need to take him far away from here and you will never see him again," the butterfly said, "but it is the only place where he will be able to live."
"Where will you take him?" the woman asked.
"The place where butterflies live forever in peace and beauty," the Monarch butterfly answered.
"Take him," the woman said softly.
"You will be lonely without him," the butterfly said. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, Iím sure. If I knew he was happy and well then those memories will sustain me through my loneliness," the woman said.
The butterfly flew up and gently touched the womanís cheek. The woman would say in the years that followed that she had been kissed by the butterfly.
The butterfly flew into the boyís room and landed on his hand. The boy woke and smiled weakly.
"Your mother said you could come with me," the butterfly said.
The boy looked over towards the doorway where his mother stood. She smiled at him and said, "Go with him my love."
The boy smiled back at her. "What do I need to do?" he asked the butterfly.
"Nothing, just follow me," the butterfly replied. As the butterfly left the boyís hand the boy turned into a beautiful butterfly. The Monarch butterfly led the new butterfly out the window and they flew to a land that was so beautiful that it has become the land of dreams.
"So you see," the man said, "the love that the mother had for her son was what set him free."
"Wow," said Ciaran. "What a beautiful story. Donít you think that was a beautiful story Grandfather?"
ĎYes Ciaran, it is a very beautiful story," Roth said. "Now the hour is late and you must get to bed."
"Iíll take him," the man said and he carried the child into his little room closing the door behind them.
Roth went over to the fire and with the poker he set about fixing it for the night. "He canít be healed can he?" he asked with his back to the two Healers.
"This place is poison for our kind," Kira answered. "It is why your wife, son and daughter-in-law died. What I donít understand is why you are still alive."
"There were seven other children before Ciaran and they all wasted away too," Roth said. "I wish I were with them but the child needs me."
"Why did you go over to the side of evil?" Brendan asked quietly.
"I really donít know," Roth replied. "I really donít know," he said again softly. "Your namesake made sure it couldnít happen again but I donít know what he did or why he didnít kill me when he had the chance."
There was silence in the room for a long time after that. The man came out and said, "The child is asleep. Mei-Lin came to the window and told him a dragonís tale. He was ready to sleep by the time she reached the end."
Roth was silent for a few moments more. "Take him with you," he suddenly said.
"He is an innocent. You must see that! King Brendan burned out all knowledge of the way to the Mystic Forest so I can never return but surely he wouldnít begrudge a child. Ask him please, as King of the Elves he can grant the boy entrance."
"Our mother reigns now," Kira said. "Grandfather gave the ruling of the elves over to her and the Source picked our father as White Mage."
"Which child did your Grandfather choose?" Roth asked in surprise.
"Niri," Brendan answered.
"Ah yes she was the golden child," Roth said. "Please leave me. I must think. There is room for all of you, including that young dragon, in the harvest building. I must think."
It was after midnight when Roth walked up to the harvest building. Deirdre was standing at the doorway.
"Do you know what he did to me?" Roth asked her.
"I have an idea," Deirdre replied. "It would take both Kira and I to know for sure."
"Get her then and come with me," Roth said. "You can bring his namesake if you would feel safer but not the others."
Deirdre went over to where Kira was sleeping and gently woke her up. "We are needed," she whispered to her. She turned to go over to where Brendan was only to discover that he was up and buckling on his sword.
"Will that be necessary?" she asked.
"I donít know," Brendan replied, "but I am not going to take any chances."
The three made their way over to where Roth was waiting for them. He had chosen a place away from the house where the boy would not be able to see them if he awoke.
Kira placed herself behind Roth and gently put her hands on both shoulders. Her life crystal was pulsing and a white light came from it and enclosed Roth completely. Gradually Roth could feel his heart slowing and he could tell when it stopped. The only thing he could feel functioning was his consciousness and gradually that slipped away too.
"I put him in complete stasis, Deirdre," Kira said. "I donít think Grandfather would want him to know what is going on."
A light came from Deirdreís horn and it pierced Rothís body. Slowly the two Healers traced the path of the spell woven by King Brendan in the distant past. Some time later they withdrew and led Roth back towards the house and his bed. He followed their commands and lay down and was fast asleep before they left the room.
Brendan was waiting for them outside the harvest building. "So that is why he didnít kill him," he said to the two Healers.
Deirdre and Kira looked at each other in surprise and then back at Brendan.
"What did you see?" Deirdre asked.
"A flaw in his soul. A flaw that he was born with," Brendan answered. "I remember Master Khigh saying that some people were born predisposed towards evil just the way some were born predisposed towards good. It is not something they had a choice about it is just that the balance between good and evil is constantly fighting to remain in an equilibrium and sometimes the innocent get caught in the battle."
"Grandfather would not kill someone who was maimed," Kira said softly. "He blocked him from ever returning because that evil can not be allowed to exist in the Mystic Realms. It also explains why his family died but not him. This place is a place of evil and it leached away at the souls of his family who did not have the flaw that he has. He is right and the boy is innocent and must be taken away or he too will die."
The following morning Roth came and spoke to the seven. "Iíll make a deal with you," he said, "I will help you find the young man you are looking for and you will get my grandson to a place of safety and somewhere he can live like the rest of our kind. A life for a life. It is a fair deal."
"How do we know you will keep your end of the bargain?" the man asked.
"Because we will have your grandson where you will never find him," Mei-Lin said as she looked at Roth. "We take him to a place of our choosing and you will see him only after you fulfil your part of the bargain."
"Mei-Lin!" Deirdre said with shock in her voice, "we canít hold a child hostage!"
"Yes we can," Brendan said, "and that is what Roth intended all along. He wants the child to be safe and to live like a normal elf. We want Aaron Chapman back and a way to defeat the Dark One. Donít you see this is the only way he can trust himself not to give into the evil? The child has to be held hostage to his behavior."
"Dee-Dee it is the only way," Pwyl said as he nuzzled his sisterís face.
The man slipped away and contacted his little sisters and explained what was happening. The girls had checked with their mother and came back and explained that there was a way that they could take the child. Ciaran would be perfectly safe with them and Roth could not get near the child until they released him.
A short while later Ciaran joined them in the harvest building. He was so excited to be with the elves, unicorns and dragon. Roth had told the child that he was going on a journey and that he would see many beautiful things. The child had asked if he would see Monarch butterflies and the man assured him that he would.
The man was holding the child in his arms and the others formed a circle around him. All of them focused on the amulets that Queen Niri had given them. A picture formed in front of the man and those assembled could see Cassandra and Bronwyn.
"Is this the child?" Cassandra asked.
"Cassie this is Ciaran," the man said. "Ciaran these are two more of my sisters. The older one is Cassandra, but we call her Cassie, and the younger one is Bronwyn. You are going to be staying with them for a while."
"Is Grandfather coming?" Ciaran asked.
"No Ciaran, your Grandfather canít come," Cassandra said, "since he is going to be helping my brother and sister and their friends. You will be parted for a little while but you will love it here Iím sure. Bronwyn and I have so many things to show you. Wonít you please come and see us?"
Ciaran looked at the man shyly. "You will have a great time with them I promise," the man said.
Ciaran gave the man a hug and the man held Ciaran out towards the image of his sister. Cassandra reached out and the child was suddenly in her arms. "We will take good care of him," she said as the image disappeared.
"If any of the creatures are still alive that would be willing to help defeat him," Roth said, "then Cariben would be that creature. He had studied black magic on many worlds and before the Dark One gained supremacy Cariben had quite a following. He would do anything to cause that one trouble."
"Do you know where to find him?" the man asked.
"I have a good idea. He too decided to hide where that one would not look," Roth replied.
"What is his price?" Mei-Lin asked.
"Courage," Roth answered.
"Explain what you mean," Brendan said.
Roth looked over at Brendan and was silent for several moments. Finally he said, "You are so much like him." He shivered as if a sudden cold wind had chilled him.
"Cariben is protected by a creature he enticed away from a distant planet. I believe in one of its incarnations it was called a hydra," Roth explained. "This particular one is very dangerous and protects her Master well. You will need to immobilize eight of her heads before you can deal with the main one. You must be careful not to let her breathe on you because her breath is poisonous and even you will die. It is only through the main head that this creature can be killed if you know what to do."
"What do we need to do?" Pwyl demanded.
"Her immortality," Deirdre said, "you want us to withdraw her immortality."
"How can you do something like that?" Lyr asked.
"She knows," Mei-Lin said looking at Kira. "It was something that Stefan learned how to do and something he taught your mother. Queen Niri knows how to remove the essence that makes an elf immortal doesnít she? And I believe he taught you also."
"Stefan was looking for a way to heal an illness that had been inflicted on our people by the Dark One," Kira said softly. "Unfortunately the only thing that could be done was to remove their immortality and to allow the person to die the real death. The illness was so horrible that the victims begged to die. There was no other way."
The man walked over and put his arms around his sister and held her close to him. "After that he withdrew into the Mystic Forest until a little red head stole his heart and healed it," he said. "Stefan did what he had to do to end suffering."
It took three days for Roth to settle everything and get ready to leave with the seven. A suitable horse was the main stumbling block but finally a blacksmith was persuaded to sell them one. Mei-Lin happened to have a couple of very nice jewels available that went far in convincing the blacksmith that he really didnít need the brown stallion after all.
Roth was fairly quiet for the duration of the journey speaking only to give directions when needed. It took almost a week to come close to their destination. The group made their camp one interface away from where they wanted to be and in addition to the wards they also kept a watch.
Roth came up to the man while the man was on watch.
"I understand that you are a Bard," Roth said.
"Yes, I am," the man replied.
"Did you plan the butterfly story in order to persuade me to help you?" Roth asked.
"No I didnít," the man answered. "I could tell your grandson was very ill and I wanted to tell him a story that would give him hope."
"The mother loved her son enough to give him up. Are you sure you were not hoping that by telling the story that I would do the same?" Roth asked.
"Actually," the man said, "the story was for the child but I knew you would hear. I wasnít hoping you would be willing to give the boy up. I knew you would. The child was the only thing you had left that you loved and you would do anything to help him. That is why you didnít want Kira or Deirdre to say anything in front of him because you knew he would die soon unless we could find a way to save him."
"I wasted all the love in my life," Roth said softly. "I couldnít fight the evil inside of me. The King gave me every chance but I couldnít stop giving into it. My family should have stayed in the Mystic Forest but they loved me enough to come into exile with me. I chose that place because the Dark One couldnít find me there."
"Deirdre thinks that the good that emanated from your family kept the Dark One from knowing where you were," the man explained. "He senses evil and is drawn to it. I believe you also played a part in keeping him away. I think you may have been more successful in fighting evil then you realize."
"I would hope that the love I was given," Roth said sadly, "would have redeemed me some what."
"I think you redeemed yourself," the man replied.
The next morning Brendan and the man shape shifted into dragon form and Mei-Lin, Brendan and the man took to the air and flew high over Caribenís Keep. The place was isolated and the ground surrounding it was desolate. There was one entrance and the door appeared to be open. They communicated telepathically since the air would tear the spoken word away.
## Either he is expecting someone, ## Mei-Lin said, ## or he knows he has nothing to fear. ##
## Probably the latter, ## Brendan replied.
## Do you see the hydra? ## the man asked.
## No but there appears to be a large covered pit in the center of the courtyard, ## Mei-Lin replied. ## It would be a perfect place for her hide. ##
## I would suggest that we go ahead and enter and try our luck, ## Mei-Lin said. ## We donít have anything to lose. ##
## Do you think we should take Roth with us? ## Brendan asked
## No, ## the man answered. ## He should stay with the horses until we deal with the hydra. ##
The three landed and the two men reverted back into their elfin forms.
"It looks safe to go ahead with our plans," the man said.
"Are you going to do the eagle or the dragon?" Kira asked the man.
"I think the eagle would be the most maneuverable for me Sis," the man said. "I can do a big enough eagle that you can ride me safely."
"Okay we should start now," Lyr said. It had been decided that Lyr and Pwl, who were their fatherís most trusted lieutenants and had the most experience in leading battles, would be the ones to plan and lead this battle against the hydra.
The attack would be two prong with the two warrior unicorns coming in first. They would be joined from the air by the dragon and elves. Once they got to the place where the hydra was Brendan would revert back to elfin form because they needed his sword work. He was skilled enough to damage the heads but to not remove them because two more would grow in the place of a removed head. The man would stay in flying form with Kira on his back until she was safely delivered and then revert back to his natural form. Deirdre would teleport in as soon as the battle started. Her job was to stop any attempt to heal the hydra and to help Kira by immobilizing the main head long enough for Kiraís magic to penetrate. Roth would stay with the horses and when the signal came he would join them for their talks with Cariben.
Brendan and the man reverted back to eagle form and with Kira on his back the man and his brother took to the air with Mei-Lin. Roth kept hold of the horses and stayed behind a large group of rocks that let him peek over and see into the keep. The three unicorns took off and soon reached a stone cairn and stopped.
"Okay Deirdre," Pwyl said, "you wait here until we signal."
"Iíll be ready," Deirdre answered. "Be careful as you can."
Pwyl and Lyr walked into the courtyard and stopped a short distance away from the covered pit. They knew that their presence had been detected. They also knew that Mei-Lin was overhead along with the elves. They stood still and waited. A loud hissing sound was heard from the pit and the cover slid open. The hydra slowly emerged from the pit. The huge serpent had one head in the middle and eight others surrounding that head. The heads swayed and hissed in a hypnotic rhythm.
"Why do you dare come to thisssssssss placcccccce warriorsssssss?" the hydra hissed.
"We are going to see your Master," Lyr answered calmly.
"No one ssssssees him," she hissed.
"We will," Pwyl said.
"Who ssssssspawned you? You look familiar," the hydra said.
"General Brand is our sire and Master Healer Rhiannon our dame," Lyr replied.
"Maeveíssssss daughter?" the hydra said and pulled back.
"You know our Grandmother?" Lyr asked.
Instead on answering two of the heads made to strike. The twins easily sidestepped the attempt and raked their horns down the stalks holding the heads. Suddenly a large eagle swooped down and raked the stalk of a third head. The eagle landed and quickly transformed into Brendan whose sword was already out and cutting at another stalk.
A blast of fire engulfed one of the heads that was trying to strike at Pwyl and Mei-Lin joined in the fray. She rose and dove easily eluding the heads that were trying to find her. A large red eagle landed and Kira jumped off its back and stood next to Deirdre who had materialized near the wall.
"Iíll start with the spell to try and immobilize the main head," Deirdre said. "Are you close enough to see into her and find what you need?"
"I think so," Kira replied, "but they need to get those other heads out of the way because Iíll need a clear path to that main head."
The man reverted back to elfin form and he and his brother fought as a team on either side of a head. Pwyl and Lyr formed a second team. Mei-Lin kept up the air attack. All five were teleporters and they used that skill to pop in and out causing further confusion for the heads. Every time the heads tried to breathe out their poisonous fumes they found that the intended victim had teleported to another location. It was a fast and furious battle but the hydra was badly out matched. The combatants were careful not to sever the heads but aimed all their attacks at the stalks. The stalks were starting to droop because of the number of wounds they sustained and the heads were lolling around because their support wasnít there.
"I have it," Kira suddenly said. "Get everyone away from there."
Deirdre gave the signal and everyone teleported away at the same time.
"Who are you?" the main head screamed as she sensed Kiraís probe.
"King Brendanís granddaughter," Kira replied and with a mental twist she destroyed the gift of immortality. With the immortality no longer there the natural decay of time was released from stasis and the hydra turned to dust.
"I really wish you hadnít done that. Monsters are so hard to find these days." The voice came from an elegantly dressed demon who had decided on a humanoid form. "Let me see we have Queen Maeveís spawn, King Brendanís spawn and donít tell me," he said as Mei-Lin landed, "Master Khighís, correct?"
"I suppose I could lie and say Grandfather sends his greetings," Mei-Lin said with a smile, "but we both know that wouldnít be true."
"His curses I would believe," the demon said. "I suppose it would be too much to hope for that you kids are just out for a bit of monster hunting and will now go away and leave me in peace."
"Yes, Cariben, that would be too much to hope for in your case," Roth said as he rode in.
"And I suppose I have Ďyouí to thank for leading them here?" Cariben asked.
"I think you might want to hear them out Cariben. It might actually be worth your while," Roth replied.
"Oh they stink of goodness, Roth," Cariben said, "what could they possible have to offer me that would be worth my precious time?"
"Revenge," Mei-Lin said sweetly. "A chance to cause a great deal of trouble to an old enemy without endangering yourself."
Cariben turned and glared at the young dragon. "Has anyone ever told you how irritating I found your Grandfather?"
"I believe Grandfather did mention something of the kind," Mei-Lin said.
"Well you did show a great deal of courage facing the hydra like that. I admire courage. Oh I suppose you all had better come in and Iíll hear you out. That is all I promise however," Cariben snarled, "nothing else."
As the others were talking Deirdre was sending probes to check for any other dangers. "There are no other traps," Deirdre said. "I have done a thorough probe. He depended on the hydra for protection. She had never let him down."
"Until now," Cariben said as he walked away from them.
They all entered through a huge door and Cariben lead them to a massive chamber. He seated himself on an ornate chair that looked very much like a throne. He gestured for the humanoid forms to find themselves chairs if they wished.
"So," Cariben asked, "just what is it that you think you can persuade me to do?"
"Grandfather seems to think that the idea of leaving this place and coming to a place where you can harry and torment the Dark One just might appeal to your rather perverted sense of humor," Mei-Lin said in a voice dripping with honey.
"You are just a little female version of your Grandfather Khigh arenít you?" Cariben asked with a sigh. "So what did he name you? In fact it would be polite if all of you gave me your names."
"My name is Mei-Lin and these are my friends," Mei-Lin went through and introduced everyone to the demon. He looked a little surprised when introduced to Brendan.
"I always thought that among the ancients that the name of the ruler wasnít given to a child unless the ruler was no longer among the living," Cariben said. "Iím sure I would have heard if King Brendan had died."
"Grandfather is very much alive," Brendan answered, "however he gave the ruling of the elves over to our mother before I was born. Actually the name can be bestowed on a child if the ruler is no longer in power."
"Did he retain the office of the White Mage?" the demon asked.
"Our father was chosen as the new White Mage when Grandfather gave up that title also," Kira answered.
"Brendan chose his daughter Niri to rule the elves and Niriís husband Angus is White Mage," Roth said.
"Interesting," Cariben replied. "So the Source didnít split it up again. Very interesting."
"Would ye care to explain what ye mean by that?" the man asked.
"Your Grandfather was a surprising choice for White Mage since he was already King of the Elves. The Source had never chosen one of the ruling ancients for that position before and with the choice of your father, after your mother had been named Queen of the Elves, it kept it essentially together for only the second time in recorded history," Roth answered. Cariben had remained deep in thought.
"Angus is White Mage," Cariben muttered. "That would explain a lot of things."
"Are you interested in hearing more of Grandfatherís proposition?" Mei-Lin asked.
"Indeed I am. This may actually turn out to be quite interesting," Cariben said with a smile.
"You were very successful at one time in persuading others to join you. Grandfather is betting that you havenít lost that power of persuasion. What he is proposing is that you relocate to a place in the South where you can set up a base to harass the Dark One," Mei-Lin explained.
"Is he causing too many problems in the North for you?" Cariben asked.
"From what I have heard they can handle him in the North but they need someone of your caliber Cariben to conduct a campaign against him from his homeland," Roth said.
"Whatís in it for me?" Cariben asked.
"Oh not much just an exquisite secret base patrolled by some rogue dragons that will keep you supplied with the jewels you love most and the satisfaction of knowing that you will be tormenting your enemy," Mei-Lin said with a smile.
"He is your enemy too," Cariben replied.
"There is enough of him for all of us to consider him an enemy," Brendan said.
"What makes you think that I wonít try and usurp the Dark Oneís place?" Cariben asked.
"If you could have done that you would have a long time ago," Roth said. "You and I both know that we canít defeat him. We can however, as these youngsters say, harry him and make him miserable."
"True," Cariben sighed. "Letís say I agree, just for arguments sake, I havenít said yes mind you. What exactly is your Grandfatherís plan to keep me in line young Mei-Lin?"
"I do believe I mentioned the words Ďrogue dragonsí," Mei-Lin replied.
"Just checking. So what exactly do you see me doing?" Cariben asked.
"We were thinking along the lines of spying, turning his spies against him, recruiting the increasingly uneasy Southerners to actually make raids against him, maybe even some mercenary strikes, little devious nasty surprises of that sort," Mei-Lin said. "You are so good at such things that Iím sure when you put your mind to it the possibilities will come flooding to you."
"Khigh must be so proud of you," Cariben said as he rose and bowed to Mei-Lin.
Mei-Lin just smiled.
"Well life has been boring and since you removed my playmate I might as well try something new," Cariben said, "on one condition however, if I get bored with harassing you allow me to come back here in peace."
"I donít think there will be any problems with that," Mei-Lin replied.
Later that night when the man was alone he was contacted by Cassandra.
"Cassie is something wrong?" the man asked.
"No but there is a path that you must take immediately," Cassandra answered. "Something has happened that has caused the need for you to contact an ancient elf named Anghard. She is suddenly in every time line that I see. Mother is sending Stefan to your location. He is doing a hellride and should be there by morning. You are to leave Roth and Cariben to him and all of you are to leave as soon as possible after Stefan gets there."
"Cassie is there any indication as to what is going on?" the man asked.
"No," she replied, "but you must leave this one to Deirdre to handle. The only thing I can sense is that she is the catalyst."
"Okay," the man said, "we can certainly do that. Do you have any idea where we go from there?"
Cassie gave one of her rare giggles, "Not a clue big brother."
"Oh well weíve winged it this far we can wing it some more," the man sighed.
"Dragon wings or eagle wings?" Bronwyn asked of her shape shifting brother.
"You little one are in for a tickle attack when I get home," the man said with a laugh. He left both of his younger sisters in the middle of giggle fits.
Later that night he told the others what was going on.
"I donít understand," Deirdre said, "I have never heard of Anghard. Who is she? Why is she important? Didnít Cassandra have any clues as to what I need to do when I get there?"
"The only thing she knows," said the man, "is that when we get there you will see what needs to be done or said."
"Does anyone remember anything about an Anghard?" Kira asked.
"The only thing I can recall is from one of Grandfatherís stories and it is a line about ĎAnghard fought bravely against the mighty foe and vanquished him and withdrawing with her kin she removed herself from historyí," Mei-Lin said. "That line was the only time she was mentioned as far as I remember. I didnít ask him anything when he said the line because it was a long story and there were so many questions I had that I didnít want to interrupt him to ask him about her."
"We might want to ask Stefan when he gets here," Kira said, "if she is from the elder time then he might know who she is." Everyone agreed that that would be the best course of action.
Early the following morning Stefan arrived to a jubilant Kira throwing her arms around him.
"Iíve missed you so much," Kira said. "This has really been an adventure but Iíll be glad when I can come back home. How are the boys? How is Crystal? How are mother and father? What is happening?"
Stefan started laughing. "Whoa slow down my love. I can only answer one question at a time. All of the children are fine as are your parents and everyone else. Iíll be glad when you are home too because I miss you very much. As to what is going on we will have to catch up on all of that at another time. Letís just say that there is a lot going on and you and your twin and the others are vital to what is happening."
"Iím just afraid that I may not be able to do everything properly for us to succeed, Stefan," Kira said. "I donít want to let us down."
"Stefan please tell that sister of mine that she is more then holding up her end of things on this mission," the man said. "She seems to listen to you better then to any of us."
"Hello my brother," Stefan said. "I know Kira is doing everything right. After all I am part of the Mystic Council and Cassie and Bronwyn are keeping us informed of what is happening. Donít worry my love," he said to Kira, "it is normal to have fears when doing something like this. It is the ability to use that fear to sharpen all of your senses that will give you the courage to fight and win over any adversity."
Kira sighed and looked up at her husband and said with a smile, "You always know the right thing to say."
"Come on inside you two," the man said with a laugh. "Mei-Lin is getting along too well with Cariben."
"You do know that is was her Grandfather Khigh who defeated Cariben donít you?" Stefan asked.
"No I didnít," the man said in surprise. "No wonder she knew the exact right things to say although I think we all sensed something was going on and we took our lead from her."
"One of the reasons that the seven of you were chosen," Stefan said, "is the fact that you are such good friends, in addition to two sets of siblings of course, and that you work naturally as a team. You do sense each others feelings and a great deal of what is happening and will happen depends on all of you being able to sense the right path to take and all of you working together."
"Before we go in can you tell us what you know about Anghard?" Kira asked.
"Not in this place I canít however I have left the story with Cassie and Bronwyn," Stefan replied.
Cariben looked up in surprise when Kira and her twin entered the room with Stefan.
"You!" Cariben said in surprise. "I heard you had withdrawn."
"It is interesting to see you again also, Cariben," Stefan replied, "and you Roth."
"Stefan," Roth said, "Iím not sure I want to say it is good to see you again after our last meeting however I will say I am relieved to see you back in the world. It needs you."
"I hadnít planned on coming back," Stefan said as he looked down at Kira and smiled, "however things transpired that I never expected that convinced me to return."
"I take it this lovely lady?" Cariben asked.
"Is my wife and the mother of my four sons," Stefan answered.
"Well I am impressed," Cariben said. "I have been host to Khighís granddaughter and Stefanís wife. So what, other than the charms of this red headed beauty, brings you to my humble domain?"
"I am your guide to where you and Roth are going," Stefan answered.
"Oh tell me you arenít going to deprive me of the company of the feisty little dragon," Cariben said with a laugh.
"Iím afraid so," Stefan said with a smile. "The feisty Mei-Lin and her companions have a task before them that needs to be completed. I can assure you that you will meet again and you can try and see if you can outwit Ďthisí dragon. Personally since she is a female replication of her esteemed Grandfather Khigh Iím putting my money on her."
"Oh my dear Stefan," Cariben laughed, "Iíd bet on her myself. I havenít had such an engaging battle of wits since the last time I saw Khigh."
"Where are we going?" Roth finally asked.
"Iíll know when we get there," Stefan replied. "Things are in motion right now and the future is very fluid. We will travel at whatever pace is needed to eventually get to our final destination. The Queen is my contact and she will give the directions as we go along."
"Will I get a chance to meet the grown up golden child?" Cariben asked.
Stefan laughed, "Believe me Cariben, Queen Niri is looking forward to meeting you."
The seven companions left a couple of hours later. They rode for several hours before they stopped to rest the horses and take some refreshment themselves.
"Iím worried about Stefan being alone with those two," Kira said.
"Trust us on this Kira," Pwyl said, "Stefan is in no danger."
"Cariben and Roth however," Lyr continued, "will have to watch their steps."
"Grandmother had always said that it was too bad Stefan was born an elf rather than a unicorn," Deirdre said. "She says he is one of the most dangerous beings in existence and would have loved to have him as a warrior unicorn."
"Stefan is a good and loving man," Kira said hotly.
"Kira," the man said, "donít get upset. No one is saying he isnít a good man. In fact he is one of the mainstays of goodness for the Source of Light. He is however very dangerous to cross because he is such a champion of goodness and such a terrible foe to evil. He has knowledge that we can not begin to fathom."
"Your husband," Mei-Lin said, "contributed so much to the art of healing that we forget that he is a major player on the Mystic Council. He has caused or contributed to the defeat of so many creatures of evil. He is very feared by the Dark One. Grandfather says that the Dark One barely escaped from your husband at the beginning and if events hadnít transpired the way they did then he would have been defeated and stopped by Stefan."
"According to Grandmother," Deirdre continued, "the Dark One inflicted the illness that could have wiped out all our peoples, elves, unicorns and dragons, and Stefan had the choice of either continuing to pursue the Dark One or return and try and save the people. She had done everything she could and all those with the gift of foreseeing saw that Stefan was the only one who could save them. The Council decided that it was better to have to continue and fight the Dark One, even though they knew it was going to be a very long fight, then allow so many to die."
"He doesnít speak much about those times, " Kira said softly. "The memories bring him a great deal of pain."
After the horses had rested they continued on their journey. It would take them seven days before they came to a place where it was safe to use the interfaces to where they needed to go.
"We are going to a favorite place of mine on the planet Earth called Ireland," the man said. "I am timing it so that we arrive at a time and place where we wonít be detected. From the information Stefan provided through the girls I know where we need to be. There are many of these stone circles throughout the Celtic lands but I strongly believe this is the one we need."
"How is this stone circle going to help us find Anghard?" Kira asked. "From what the girls said I donít think she will be among the peoples of the outside world."
"No, sheís not," the man replied, "but we are arriving during an event know as a lunar eclipse and when that happens the circle will open a portal to where we need to go. Youíll see when we get there."
It was coming up to midnight and the group watched an ancient circle of stones. They could see the moon shrinking as the earth came between the sun and the moon and its shadow darkened the moon.
"Watch the circle for it will brighten," the man said, "and be ready to move when the moon is totally gone. We have a very short window to get where we want to go."
At the moment of total eclipse the seven moved forward and entered into the glowing light in the middle of the stone circle. They could see a land lit by daylight and of great beauty inside the glowing circle of light. They felt a barrier as they entered but they were easily able to push through it.
"What was that?" Lyr asked.
"A barrier to keep non-magic users out," Deirdre replied. "It is a special kind of warding."
They stopped and looked around them. The land was fair and green and it looked to be late Spring there. The land they had just left was in the throes of winter. As they looked around they could see a path that lead to a good size hill.
"Who we want is on the other side of that hill," the man said. "It follows an old story that I heard as a child. Gallen had referred to the Ďland of fairyí and told how these rings worked."
"Well you havenít steered us wrong yet," Pwyl said.
"Yes he has but that was when he was trying to win the game of Seekers at the last fair," Kira said with a laugh.
"Well you know what they say Sis," the man laughed."
"All is fair in love and Seekers," the rest chorused.
It took a couple of hours to reach their destination but the land was so peaceful and beautiful that they didnít hurry. The cottage they came to was surrounded by colorful flowers. A woman had their back to them and was working on the garden when they came up. "You can just go back," she said without turning around. "You canít have him."
"You must be Anghard," Deirdre said.
"Why must I be young lady?" the woman said as she turned around. She appeared to be of middle age and was still beautiful.
"Because you are just as my husband described you," Kira replied.
"And who might you husband be?" the woman asked.
"Stefan," answered Kira.
The woman was silent for several minutes. The others kept quiet seeing that she was deep in thought. They watched as her eyes filled with tears.
"Stefan did everything he could to help him," the woman finally said. "Yes I am Anghard. I take it Stefan told you where to find me?"
"He told us what he knew and I figured out the rest," the man said.
"Introduce yourselves to me and tell me your parentage please," Anghard said. The man did as she asked. She invited them to take their rest and some refreshments. A short while later they all sat under a large tree along with a man that Anghard had introduced as her brother, Blackrock. The man was soft spoken and reminded them of Stefan in some ways.
"Blackrock is a very unusual name for an elf," Deirdre said.
"Iím not sure where it comes from," Blackrock replied. "I really donít remember much of anything before I came here. I do have nightmares of a battle but on awakening I canít remember much about the dreams."
"Maybe that is for the best my dear brother," Anghard said.
"Perhaps but I sometimes feel that there are things that I need to remember and canít and that makes me sad," Blackrock said.
Later that evening Anghard came in search of Deirdre and Kira. She found the two of them sorting herbs from Anghardís garden that they had been given permission to gather.
"Good evening, Anghard," Deirdre said. "These herbs will help us so much in our healing. Thank you."
"You are welcome," Anghard replied. "Stefan tried to help my brother but at the time he was so badly injured that the only choice he had was to block the damage since it was too great to heal. I brought him here so he could rest and recover in peace."
"You told us there was a fierce battle and that our forces were overwhelmed by the Dark Oneís troops," Deirdre said. "I remember Grandmother talking about the Battle of Multus. There were many lives lost that day and many acts of bravery."
"I donít want him to remember," Anghard said fiercely.
"Do you have the right to make that decision for him?" Deirdre asked.
"I rescued him after he slew the wyvern," Anghard said. "I brought him here and nursed him back to health!"
"I am sure he is very grateful for that," Deirdre replied, "but you can sense his unhappiness with the memory loss."
"I would rather have him unhappy then dead," Anghard answered. "I would think you would say the same of your brothers."
"Pwyl and Lyr have their own lives," Deirdre said. "Both Kira and I dread that a day may come when we have to try and save the lives of one of our brothers and we will not have the skills to do so but neither one of us could, or would, stop them from doing their part in fighting the evil we all face. They have chosen to fight and we can only support them the best we can. It doesnít mean that we donít love them and want them safe but we know that they have to follow their own paths."
"The Bard," Kira said, "is my twin. If he dies a part of me dies also."
"Anghard you saved his life," Deirdre said, "and you healed his body. This not knowing is hurting his soul shouldnít you let that be healed also?"
"What would I do," Anghard cried, "if when he remembers he wants to go back and fight again?"
"You let him," Deirdre said softly, "and you let him go with all your love and prayers. You canít live his life for him."
"All of us have loved ones," Kira said, "and all of us worry about them but as a mother I know that you have to be prepared to let them go. Right now my husband is with Cariben and Roth and I am scared to death for his safety but I have to trust that he will be protected."
"You have to trust in the Source of Light," Deirdre said. "It is our best protection in the lands of time. It doesnít mean there isnít danger. Any of us can die when we are in the outside world but you have to weigh the chance of death with the need to fight evil. We all have a part to play. You did so much that you can choose to withdraw and the decision is yours to make regarding your life but Blackrock must have that same right to choose for his own life."
The next morning Blackrock lay on the grass under the shade of the large tree. He was in deep stasis and Deirdre and Kira were on either side of him. Both Healers had their life crystals out and the light from those crystals illuminated Blackrock and he glowed with the soft blue light that indicated healing was in process. Anghard sat next to Kira and watched silently. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying during the night but she was calm this morning.
"I will say this for your husband he does the most complicated paths I have ever encountered," Deirdre said.
"I remember as a child one of our tutors would give us a maze and we had to try and find the way to the center," Kira replied. "As we got older the mazes became more and more complicated. I never thought I would see a maze more difficult then those but this spellís pathway is the most complicated I have ever seen."
"Can you trace it?" Anghard asked softly.
"I think that together Deirdre and I can," Kira replied. "It appears that Stefan healed a major head injury and rerouted the thought patterns to go around the damaged parts that could not be fixed."
"Kira," Deirdre said excitedly, "look! Can you see the place where he has placed a block?"
Kira looked carefully through the crystal she was holding at eye level. She allowed herself to go into a deep trance as she probed the blockage. After several minutes she sighed and looked over at Anghard.
"Stefan put a block that isolated memories," Kira explained. "He expected that someday a Healer would come along that could remove the block. He left instructions for that person explaining what would need to be done. He also said that this block was only to be removed if Blackrock was fully healed and wanted to remember again. The memories are painful, Stefan said, and the choice has to be your brotherís to make."
"Bring him out of stasis and we will ask him then," Anghard said. "I owe him that choice."
During the rest of the day and well into evening Blackrock listened as the man told him the story of the fight between good and evil. He spoke of battles won and battles lost. He spoke of courage and cowardice. He told tales of hope and tales of heartache. Finally Blackrock asked to be left alone to think and everyone retired for the evening.
The following morning Blackrock had Kira and Deirdre remove the block to his memories. The memories flooded back of battles fought and cherished friends dying. As he remembered tears flowed down his face.
"The first Blackrock came from the world you call Earth," Blackrock said. "He was a shaman or holy man for his tribe. He taught me about what they called spirit guides. His was a dolphin and the dolphinís wisdom was knowledge of the sea and understanding the power of rhythm in your life. It represented change, wisdom, balance, harmony, communication skills, freedom and trust. The dolphin guided him in his life and he would go into trances and speak with his guide. I make no pretense of understanding exactly what was going on but Blackrock was one of the wisest and bravest man I had ever known. He left his world to come with me to help fight evil. He was my closest friend.
"On the day of the Battle of Multus he was slain by the wyvern. I held him in my arms and he left me with his blessings and told me that we were as brothers and that his spirit guide would also be mine if I wished. I took his name as a tribute to one of the finest beings I had ever know. As he died I felt something enter into my mind but suddenly the wyvern was upon me and I had to fight for my life. Do you know what happened?" Blackrock asked.
"There appears to be a foreign memory in your mind," Kira said, "and I believe it may be the knowledge of how to reach the spirit guide."
"That would explain his telling me that we would never be truly parted," Blackrock said. He was silent for several minutes. He finally turned to his sister and said, "Anghard I can never thank you enough for your loving care but I need to go back with them. Please try and understand."
Anghard reached over and placed her hand gently on her brotherís arm and said, "You do what you have to do my dear brother. I have had enough solitude for a while but I donít want to enter the world of time. If the Queen will allow I think Iíll go stay in the Mystic Forest with our kind."
"Iím sure mother would not object to your coming and staying in our realm," the man said. "Our Grandfather is still alive and he would enjoy seeing you again Iím sure."
"I remember your Grandfather as being a very handsome man," Anghard said with a smile.
"Well I suppose I could be considered prejudiced in the matter," Kira replied, "but I still think he is a handsome man."
The following morning Anghard held open the gate and the eight of them went through. They quickly found an interface and excited the planet known as Earth. They traveled for several days until one evening they made camp under Caledonian skies.
"Iím not sure if I completely understand what the girls were showing us," Blackrock said, "but the places that they are showing to us all appear to be around a place in the South that I am familiar with, or I should say was familiar with, as the South appears to have changed greatly."
"Most of the South has been changed for the worst by the Dark One," the man replied. "The Dark One fled to the South because the major citadels of the Source of Light are here in the North and we could draw on their strength in fighting him. When he entered the South the few citadels that were down there disappeared from those lands. As you are aware on this planet the temperate climates and lands are in the North and the South is fairly arid and the seas down there have a very high salt content. Much of the land is unexplored and the Dark One found that to his liking. There were more places he could hide where he could consolidate his power. His rivals either perished in their fight against him or gave up and left. He has turned a land that was fairly inhospitable to start with into a wasteland that only beings who have mutated can survive living there."
"This place you speak of," Deirdre asked, "could it have places that would be dark where they could hide someone?"
"If it is the place I am thinking of," Blackrock said, "then there is a system of caves and underground caverns that can be used for that purpose."
"The place has bad juju," said a little woman who was seated leaning against Mei-Lin. She had given her name as Mother Ivory. Before he left Corwin had told the man that he should make a trip to find this woman because she would be invaluable to them in their fight. She was very tiny with skin that was almost a blue-black. Her eyes were of the darkest brown and her hair was white. She told them her name came from her hair that had turned white at a very young age. As she put it she went from being "ebony to ivory". Her face was covered with wrinkles and her skin had the thinness that old age brought. She told them that she didnít know how old she was since there never had been a birth certificate for her and no one knew for sure what the year was when she had been born.
"Do you think you can counteract the bad juju, Mother?" Mei-Lin asked.
"I can try, my beauty," Mother Ivory replied. "If that man is part of the evil there then it is my sacred duty to oppose him. He caused much suffering among my people before we were able to drive him out. From what you tell me he is serving a master of untold evil."
"The Dark One managed to concentrate evil into a form from which he could challenge the Source of Light," the man said. "We call the thing he draws power from the Well of Darkness."
"Very bad juju as opposed to those life crystals you all wear which is good juju," Mother Ivory said.
Earlier that evening she had explained her beliefs in the interconnectedness of all things. Mother Ivory, Blackrock and Mei-Lin had then spent several hours talking about the similarities and differences between the ancient beliefs of Taoism, voodoo and shamanism as it was practiced by the indigenous people of the North American continent of Earth. Finally they had broken off the conversation to eat and rest. They were seated near a fire and were enjoying its warmth and the companionship they felt for each other and their two new friends.
"Mother," Kira asked, "how did you come to hear about the White Mage? Was it through Uncle Corwin?"
"No dear," Mother Ivory answered, "ages ago one of my ancestors was actually chosen to be White Mage. It is a knowledge that is passed down only to one person in each generation of the family. The one who is chosen is the one who is willing to devote his or her life to the forces of good and actively against the forces of evil. That is why your Uncle Corwin came to me originally. He knew I was the one in my generation that knew of the White Mage and he could speak freely to me. I am the link between your world and mine."
"Who is taking your place on Earth?" the man asked.
"My youngest son," Mother Ivory replied. "I knew from the time he was in my womb that he would be the one. Noah was a joy to teach. He absorbed knowledge like a sponge. He has the most even temperament of anyone I have ever known. He has a brilliant mind and several degrees but he came back home to help his people to lead a better life. He puts his learning to use."
Mother Ivory had been fascinated as they had set the wards for the evening. She had quickly bonded with Mei-Lin and the young dragon explained how she had absorbed the lights from the wards and blended them into one. When they settled down to sleep the old lady snuggled next to the young dragon.
Mother Ivory was nervous about riding a horse. When she had been a young girl a riding accident had left her terrified of being on horseback. Her horse had suddenly bolted and it had taken all her strength not to fall off. The horse had run for almost a mile before someone had been able to come along side of it and stop its wild flight. Mei-Lin had always been very aware of her position as Master Khighís granddaughter and the dignity that the position deserved. As a result everyone was surprised when Mei-Lin volunteered to let the woman ride on her. The man had rigged up some straps and had gotten warm clothing for Mother Ivory to wear for when the dragon needed to take to the air. It was during one of those flights that the woman had felt what she called "a soul overwhelmed with fear." Mei-Lin had asked the group to halt early for a meal so that the situation could be discussed.
"It is a child crying with no one to hear," Mother Ivory said. "There is fear and torment in those cries. The child is alone and no one hears his cries."
"There is a series of rocky crags in the area which could lead to underground caverns," Mei-Lin added.
"There is also a compound not too far away and we can not tell whether it is in use or not," the man contributed.
Pwyl and Lyr were looking towards a place on the ground that had been cleared to make a "tablet" that could be written on. The lights from their horns were making marks and a map was starting to form of the area surrounding them.
"Mother Ivory can you pinpoint where you heard the child crying?" Lyr asked.
"It felt like it was coming from here," the old lady said and pointed towards the middle of rocky crags.
"Okay the compound is over in this direction," Pwyl commented and he marked the spot on their map.
"We are going to have to split up," Blackrock said. "If this compound is indeed where the Dark One is experimenting with zombies then we have to see if we can destroy this experiment before he starts using it as a weapon against us. We also need to get the boy away from his prison."
"No," said Brendan, "we canít split the Healers up if we are dealing with the zombies."
"There is another way," Kira said softly. "Blackrock show my twin how to reach your spirit guide. Once he knows how to get there he and Deirdre can go down and get Aaron. The child knows Deirdre and she should be able to comfort him enough that he will go with my brother. My brother can transport the boy to where your spirit guide is and your guide can watch him while we all deal with whatever is in that compound."
"Would your dolphin be willing to watch the boy?" the man asked.
"There is only one way to find out, my friend, letís ask him," Blackrock replied.
The man and Blackrock sat facing each other. Both men stared at the manís life crystal as it pulsed with a soft green light. Gradually everything disappeared except for the light. The men found themselves on the shore of a beautiful blue sea. A crystal mountain rose from the sea and a strong beam of light came from the center of the mountain and went straight up and pierced the sky. A dolphin leapt for joy into the air and came back down into the water. He swam over to the men and standing on his tail he greeted them.
"It has been so long since my friend Blackrock has come to see me," the dolphin said.
"I am not the one you are thinking of," Blackrock replied.
"No you are wrong, the spirit of that Blackrock has been with me ever since the body was left in the land of time, it is the other Blackrock that has been missing," the dolphin said. "You are as much a part of him now as you were in life. You are here though which makes me happy."
"We come asking for help," the man said.
"Ah the child who cries," the dolphin said, "he is this child." A picture rose in front of the dolphin of a young boy of around sixteen who was huddled in a corner. The boy was Aaron Chapman."
"You know the boy?" the man asked in surprise.
"We have sensed his distress and have tried to comfort him," the dolphin answered. "The Jaguar has been trying to teach him moving without fear in the darkness, how to
empower oneself and how to move in unknown places." He is still very distressed but he isnít quite as frightened as he was when they first brought him there."
"May we bring him here?" Blackrock asked.
"Of course you may and we will take good care of him," the dolphin said. "The Bard can bring him."
"By we I take it that the crystal mountain is where me little sisters are and the light is the direct link to the Queen?" The man said.
The dolphin laughed and hopped backwards on his tail, "Smart you are", it tittered to him.
The men suddenly found themselves back sitting on the hard ground at their camp over looking the Southern wastelands.
"Well, that was different," Blackrock said. "He has never done that before."
"What happened?" Brendan asked. "Will the dolphin help?"
"It appears it has already been helping along with other spirit guides," Blackrock said.
"You are being awfully quiet," Kira said to her twin.
"Iíll tell you all about it after this is over," the man said. "I want to check some things with Mother first. The boy is definitely Aaron Chapman though."
"While you were away," Lyr said, "we finalized plans. Whether the boy was Aaron or not we decided that the child had to be rescued. You and Deirdre are to teleport to the location that Mei-Lin will show you. There is no one guarding him so you should be able to slip in and get to him without any problems. The problem appears to be that there is a spell that will alert the enemy if you try and get him out through the cave system. It is risky but you are going to have to teleport him out."
The man and Deirdre looked at each other. "Oh boy that is going to break every rule we were ever taught about teleporting," the man said. "No one tells Dad okay?"
"Agreed," said Kira, "he would have a conniption fit if he knew."
"Deirdre you teleport back to this spot," Pwyl instructed as he pointed to a place on the now completed map, "and you," he said to the man "take the boy to where he will be safe and then rejoin us. If you come back in avian form you should be able to spot us easily."
"Actually all I need to do is home in on Kiraís crystal. I take it you will be moving towards the compound," the man said.
"We need to get closer and to get confirmation one way or the other whether this is where the Dark One is experimenting or not with zombie making," Lyr replied.
"Once we have the boy safe," Mei-Lin said, "do you think it would safe for us to call for help if we need it? If there is a zombie army there I donít relish the thought of the nine of us taking it on by ourselves."
"I would say that we better plan on relying on ourselves for the time being," Pwyl answered. "Until we receive instructions to the contrary we must continue as we have been and assume that we are still on our own and that that the Calvary is not going to be coming over the hill to rescue us."
"Donít worry," the man laughed, "as I found out Brendan makes a pretty good one man Calvary by himself."
The man and Deirdre had gotten the picture from Mei-Linís mind of where they needed to go. It took the better part of an hour for them to discover the correct entrance. They knew they were in the right place when they saw that it had the booby trap that would alert the enemy if someone left the caves.
"I have to admit that it was very clever of them," the man said. "They donít have to expend the manpower to guard the boy and the boy canít leave without them knowing."
"I suggest," Deirdre said, "that we teleport inside to that spot over there where we can see and then walk the rest of the way. It would be too dangerous to teleport while trying to find the correct cavern. I donít relish the idea of misjudging a port and ending up inside solid rock."
"Iím with you all the way on that," the man said.
The two teleported inside and by careful listening they found their way toward the inner cave systems. Deirdre used a soft glow from her horn and the man used his life crystal to project light. Both of them kept the light very dim. They came into a small cavern that had been equipped with food, water and blankets. Huddled into a corner was a boy. The boy jumped up when he heard the two enter and started crying, "Please Iíve already told you I didnít see anything. Please let me go home."
"Aaron it is all right," Deirdre said. "It is Deirdre, you know me. This is the son of the White Mage."
"You are trying to trick me," Aaron cried, "there are no unicorns in these caves."
"Aaron we have come to rescue you," the man said. "We have been looking all over for you and with the help of a friend we finally located where you are being held."
"You arenít illusions," the boy asked tears streaming down his face.
"We are real, Aaron," Deirdre said. "We donít have much time and we need you to trust us. Can you do that?"
The boy mutely shook his head yes. The man walked up to him and put an arm around the boyís shoulder and said, "Aaron I am going to take you somewhere safe for a little while before we return you home. I need you to put your arms around me neck so I can carry ye. Will ye do that?"
Aaron reached up and put his arms around the manís neck as the man gently picked him up.
"Go Deirdre I hear the sound of something coming," the man said, "Iíll meet you as soon as the boy is safe."
Deirdre quickly teleported away and the man followed suit.
The man arrived back at the lake only this time it was to a star filled night sky.
"The daylight would be too much for his eyes," the dolphin said. "We will take good care of him. Go your friends are going to need you. We will keep the boy safe."
"Thank ye Iíll be back for the boy as soon as I can," the man said. He gave Aaron a hug. "You are safe from all harm here Aaron."
The man homed in on his twinís crystal and teleported right into the middle of a battle. "Kira duck," the man called out as his broadsword swung and took the head off of the creature that had crept up behind his sister.
"Thanks," Kira called back as she went towards the creature that was coming straight towards her.
The creatures that were attacking had once been man-like before the water and air had become poisoned in this area. Their bodies had mutated to survive the poisonís effects. They fought for the Dark One because their ancestors had fought for him and the only thing they knew was allegiance to the him.
"Kira try and get back towards the rocks," the man called as he leapt into the fray with his broadsword singing.
"At your back," Brendan called.
"We are going to have to stop meeting like this Brendan," the man called back. The two men fought steadily. The creatures fought fiercely but they were no match for the skilled warriors.
The blaring of a horn caused the creatures to stop fighting and run away from their opponents.
"Donít pursue!" Pwyl called out.
"Regroup!" Lyr commanded.
Mei-Lin landed next to the unicorns and elves. Mother Ivory was on her back.
"The undead are here," Mother Ivory said. "The one I seek is in that building and I need to face him."
"The zombies are our next opponents," Pwyl said. "It is vital to keep the Healers surrounded and safe."
"Mother Ivory if we behead them will that stop them?" Brendan asked.
"It will slow them down but the only way to stop them completely is for these young ladies to yank out their reanimation," Mother Ivory replied.
"Can they be burned up?" Mei-Lin asked.
"Fire could stop them but I need you to get me into that building," the old woman answered. Seeing that the dragon looked a bit disappointed she laughed and petted her on the nose. "You just drop me off and Iíll be okay, my beauty. I may be old but I am not powerless."
Brendan had been watching from a rocky outcrop when suddenly he jumped down. "Go," Brendan yelled. "We have attackers coming at us from two sides."
He helped Mother Ivory quickly get up on Mei-Linís back and the dragon launched herself into the air. Pwyl, Lyr, Brendan, Blackrock and the man formed an outer circle with Deirdre and Kira being in the center.
"Remember to not let them get their mouths on you or you can become like them," Kira warned.
The group was attacked from both sides and they were facing the mutated creatures and the zombies. The creatures tried to keep away from the zombies which gave a slight advantage to the unicorns and elves. Pwyl and Lyr used horns and hooves to attack. The man and Brendan had swords and knives. Blackrock used knives and a short sword to fight with. Anyone that got close also had to deal with Deirdreís horn and Kiraís sword. The two Healers tried to penetrate the zombies and reach the reanimation spells but it was difficult to concentrate when there were so many opponents coming at them. The five warriors were trying hard to push the opponents back so that the Healerís could have some room to work but the going was very tough as they were badly outnumbered. Mei-Lin had rejoined them and was diving and flaming.
"Kira," Deirdre suddenly called out, "remove their water."
Flashes of light came from the crystals that both Healers wore and where the light hit the bodies suddenly shriveled and fell into piles with bones broken open. The Healers knew that almost 66% of the body was water and they were evaporating that water out of their opponents.
The mutated creatures started to fall back as more and more zombies came towards the group. "Stay and fight," a harsh voice called out as regular troops for the Dark One came out from the stockade. They joined the creatures and the zombies. They were trying to keep the zombies moving towards the defenders.
The defenders threw everything they had into the fight. The zombies that got close enough to the swords were beheaded and the unicorns kicked the heads as far away from the bodies that they could. The Healers were pulling out the reanimation as fast as they could. Mei-Lin flamed the zombies as fast as she could.
"I said fight you maggots," one of the soldiers yelled at the mutated creatures. "Youíll feel the whip if you donít."
"I can make you a better offer," the silky smooth voice of Cariben was heard. The weary fighters looked around and coming through the a gap in the rocks was Cariben mounted on a black stead with red eyes. "Fight for them and you will become like those foul creatures. Turn on them and fight for me and I will reward you." A flash of lightening was heard and a brief shower of pure water came over the mutated creatures. It was the first pure water that the creatures had ever seen.
Stefan and Roth came from a different direction. Both dismounted quickly and headed towards the defenders. They also had troops at their back wearing the livery of Baron Agronsky.
"Kira and Deirdre come back towards me," Stefan said. The two Healers moved back towards the rocks until they were next to the Master Healer. "If you others will go after the regular army we can take care of the zombies," he continued.
A sudden clap of thunder brought the materialization of dozens of fighting dragons over head. Coming behind Cariben were fighting unicorns and a small army of men wearing Baron Kaufmanís livery.
Inside the building Mother Ivory calmly walked into the room where an old man was muttering spells. Just as he was about to say the final words that would bring the corpse in front of him back to life the corpse exploded.
"No more, Marius," Mother Ivory said, "it ends here."
The old man spun around and a spell flew from his hands only to meet a counter spell in the middle of the room. The two people stood stock still and all their strength was used to try and get their spell to dominate and destroy the other personís spell.
The fighting outside was furious as the Dark Oneís army went against the White Mageís army. With Cariben promising the mutants pure fresh water they turned and fought against Dark Oneís men. The three Healerís finally had enough protection that they were able to concentrate on the zombies and as they pulled out the reanimation spells those bodies collapsed into decay.
"Stefan is it my imagination or has the number of zombies coming at us diminished?" Kira asked.
"There are no new ones coming at us," Stefan answered.
Inside the building the two opponents were still battling but Mother Ivory was able to push her spell closer and closer towards Marius.
"You forgot the serpent, Marius," Mother Ivory called out. Suddenly her spell formed itself into a huge serpent and struck Marius down.
With the battle over Mother Ivory started to sink to the ground. She had spent all her energy in fighting the man who had caused so much pain and suffering to her people. She had never believed that she would survive the battle. She had confidence that she would defeat Marius but she knew that the toll on her weakened heart would be the end of her too.
There was a flash of light and a woman of ethereal beauty was standing there. "I will not allow it to end like this. You have earned a better place then this to rest and recover," Queen Niri said as she caught the old woman and picked Mother Ivory up as and held her as tenderly as she would a child. There was another flash of light and the two women disappeared.
The battle outside lasted for several hours but the defeat of Marius removed the threat of the zombie army. The three Healers were able to stop the zombies that the dragons didnít burn up and the victory finally went to the White Mageís army.
The Healerís went through the fields trying to find those that needed their help. It was in this way that Stefan came across Roth who sat against a rock with blood staining his shirt.
"Roth let me help you," Stefan said as he knelt by the wounded man.
"No please let it end here Stefan," Roth said weakly.
A flash of light saw King Brendan standing there. "Go and help the others, Stefan," the King said, "I will stay here with him." Stefan bowed his head towards the King and left the two men.
"Iím sorry my King," Roth said.
"You tried your best and in the end you won," King Brendan said.
"Did I?" Roth said as he looked around.
"You redeemed yourself Roth," the King replied.
King Brendan sat next to Roth and held him close. They both knew that for Roth death was a blessing and the King stayed with him until the end came.
"So you see," said Sean, "you can have strength of arms and strength of mind but it is in the heart where the most important strength dwells."
Queen Niri looked over at her eldest son and smiled and said, "I knew from a very early age that you would be a Bard, Sean. You always had such a way with words. You have turned into one of the finest Bards our people has ever had."
Sean didnít say anything but it looked like his normally red beard was turning redder on his cheeks.
"Come," Queen Niri said as she held her hand towards her son. Sean stood at took his motherís hand.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
"Your Grandfather has a story he would like you to tell," said the High Queen of the Elves.
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