By Michele Elaine Wilson © 2003
Sean was sitting underneath a large shade tree surrounded by children. As a Bard one of his duties in his home world of Caledonia was to teach. A huge red headed man with twinkling blue eyes and an infectious grin, he was a favorite of the children. His mother claimed that it was because he was a big kid himself. The group of children were a mixed bunch with young unicorns, elves, humans, dwarfs, and even a baby dragon. Crystal, a half-elfin child, claimed the seat of honor, Sean's lap. He had adopted her a few months earlier. When he was away from home, the little golden haired child lived with his twin sister, Kira.
"Now as ye know," said Sean, "the three ancient races are the high elves, the dragons, and the unicorns and these three are responsible for introducing magic to the worlds. They once were seen on many worlds but, for the most part, have now withdrawn beyond time to their own realm of the Mystic Forest . You still see some of them and their descendants on other worlds, mainly here on Caledonia. On many other worlds they are now only known in myths and stories."
"They still do magic though don't they Daddy?" Crystal asked.
"Aye, that they do little one," Sean said and looked down at his daughter and smiled. He was still getting use to the idea of having a child of his own. She was an orphan and he had been thrilled when Crystal had asked if he would be her daddy. When she got older he would take her with him on his travels but for now his twin watched her when he had to be gone. Kira had four boys of her own and loved having a little girl around for a change.
"Ye have all been very good today and learned your lessons well and I think a story would be a good reward for ye," Sean said with a laugh as the children gave a cheer and settled down comfortably to listen. They loved his stories.
"Now this be a story about not ignoring people," Sean began.
The man stood at the window looking out over the palace grounds. He was dressed for travel and his great sword, Nuadias, hung in its sheaf down his back. It was one of the elfin swords of legend, forged in the Mystic Mountains by an ancient race of dwarfs. The man had little fear of the blade ever being stolen as it was keyed to him and him alone. Any thief trying to take it from him would find his flesh burning as the blade became the red hot metal it was forged from. If the man were to die then the blade would revert back to the fires from which it was forged until the Queen of the Elves gave the blade to another.
"Are you listening to me?" the White Mage asked. He was propped up in bed and his face showed the ravages of the pain he was in from his injuries.
"Aye, of course I'm listening," the man replied.
"You must be careful!" the White Mage demanded.
"Ye can take it that I'll be a lot more careful then you were," the man snapped back. "It was a foolish thing trying to go after the shard yourself into a land of warriors. Magic will only protect you so far, ye know. Sometimes ye have to have a sword in your hand."
The White Mage glared at the man. He knew he was going to have to send him after the shard and that his skill as a swordsman would probably be needed. Still it was a very dangerous assignment and he had angered the man's mother with his plans.
"Look as ruler of this land and as," the White Mage began.
"The main guardian of the Source of Light on this world," the man interrupted, "it is your responsibility to guard the physical manifestations of the Source and with the shattering of the crystal at the Near East Citadel and one of the invaders making off with one of the crystal's shards you need to recover the shard from the enemy so that it does not fall into the hands of the Dark One and so that the crystal may be healed. It doesn't mean, however, that ye need to do this by yourself! You have a huge army, you have agents and most of all ye have me and the Source knows you have sent me on enough errands of this kind."
"Are you quite finished young man!" the White Mage roared.
"No I'm not!" the man roared back. "I've had all the instructions I need. There is nothing else ye can tell me and I would like to be on me way."
A white unicorn wearing a mantel in Healer's blue popped into the room. "Enough you two," she said, for the unicorn was Rhiannon, the Head of the Healer's Guild. Rhiannon walked over to where the White Mage was sitting and a light shone from her horn and the light gently pushed the mage so that he was lying down. "It is time for sleep," she said.
The White Mage struggled for a moment but not even he, with his vast skills in magic, could overcome the command of a Master Healer. He fell into an immediate and deep sleep. The unicorn smiled and turned to the man and said, "go before he wakes. He needs his sleep and I can keep him under long enough for you to be away. Be careful. This quest almost proved to be his death and I don't want to think what would happen if the Queen were to lose you."
"I'll be careful, Master Rhiannon," the man said and he quietly slipped from the room.
In the stable the man placed the bags with his provisions for the trip onto a big roan horse named Sunset. He used no saddle or bridle, though, as he didn't need either one to ride the horse. Sunset was a special breed of horse that lived in harmony with elves and the man was of elfin stock. To all other races the horses were wild and untamable.
"We will need to ride like the wind, Sunset," the man said. "We have a long and dangerous trip before us. I don't mind telling ye I don't like this whole thing. If it could prove that dangerous to the old man then I don't know how we are going to prevail but we must do our best."
The horse turned around and looked at the man with wise eyes. He gave a toss of his head and walked smartly out of the stable. He was use to his friend's moods, for the man was his friend and not his master. These elfin reared horses tolerated no masters and it was a rare joy to have one that would consent to be your friend. The man and horse had been together for many years and the horse would tolerate no other rider except for the man's twin and Queen Niri, the High Queen of the Elves. The Queen could ride any horse because even the wildest animal quietly did her bidding.
The man felt it was prudent to put as much space between him and the Rainbow Castle as possible. He loved the old man but at times he found it impossible to be near him. He knew that the two of them fought so much because they were too much alike. They were both strong willed and liked to have their own way. It was one of the reasons he had become a Bard because it gave him a legitimate reason for being away so much.
Man and horse spent several hours riding towards their destination. The man manipulated the magical interfaces to bring him closer to the wild lands of the East where the shard had been taken. Towards evening they came to an Inn called The Lighthouse for it was the last dwelling before the moors and kept a judicious watch over those dangerous lands. As usual the place was crowded but the man was known to be a Bard and they happily made room for him. Bards seldom had to pay for room or meals as these were traded for performances and this evening was no exception. The man drew his harp from his pack and enthralled the listeners with songs and stories from distant lands. Finally he begged off for a while and sat near the fire and applied himself to a hearty meal and a large tankard of ale. He had keen hearing and listened to the conversations around him.
"I heard tell that his head was torn clear off and was found three feet from his body." The speaker was a travelling merchant. He was a large tough looking man. Unlike their soft city counterparts, the men that sold on the road were a dangerous breed. They were fearless fighters and robbers rarely tried to ply their trade with them. "Mark my words there are foul beasts roving in the Eastern lands at the moment. I'm no coward, and I'll beat any man who says I am unto an inch of his life, but I'll not sell my wares there until something is done," the merchant continued.
The man walked over to where the merchant was sitting and introduced himself. The merchant, whose name was Nikos, gladly made room at his table for the man. "I liked your story about forcing those beings to be responsible for their machines," Nikos said. "That is one of the problems with this world, there are too many people who will not take responsibility for what they should."
"Aye, unfortunately that is true," the man replied.
"Tell me," Nikos asked, "you are a Bard and you hear things. I heard a rumor that the White Mage was killed. I hope that isn't true for he is a man who takes his responsibility seriously."
"Fortunately," the man answered, "that is one rumor that isn't true, although, he was seriously injured. I hear tell that the Head of the Healer's Guild, the unicorn Rhiannon, is personally taking care of him and that he is expected to make a full recovery."
Nikos leaned closer to the man and whispered, "I once saw her husband, General Brand, and I'll tell you she must be one tough filly to be married to that one. I'm sure glad he is on our side and not his." Like many men he would not name the foul being from the South and merely nodded his head in that direction.
"Aye he is from a long line of warrior unicorns and I'll tell you I can think of few others that I would rather have at me back in a fight," the man said with a smile.
"So what brings you this way?" Nikos asked. "If you want a piece of advice I'd warn you that the way you are heading is very treacherous and you'd be best avoiding it."
"I wish I could but unfortunately I have a responsibility that I can't shirk that leads me in that direction but I would be grateful for any information that you could give me about what is going on in the lands to the East," the man answered.
Nikos leaned back and looked over the man. The man was large and carried his blade on his back. After a moment he replied, "well you look like you can really use that sword and I dare tell that you will find need of it if you must go on. The blade is ancient elfin and you have the look of a mountain elf so you might be able to make it okay."
The man was silent.
Nikos laughed and said, "I've got some elfin blood in me and recognize one of the great swords when I see it and the runes don't hide from one with the blood in them. Your secret is safe with me. I think we are the only two with the blood in us in this room."
The man realized that Nikos was not speaking out loud. He wasn't kidding when he said he had elfin blood for only one with the ancient blood in them could mind speak in that manner.
## The blade is Nuadias and was given to me by the Queen herself, ## the man mind spoke back. Out loud he asked, "What is there in the East now? I heard you say something about a man with his head torn off."
"Well," said Nikos, "I dare say that Charles deserved what he got. He was a greedy and vicious bastard and probably tried to swindle those creatures. They look like orcs but they have more intelligence then the average orc, which makes them doubly dangerous. They have only recently appeared. No one knows why they are there but rumor has it that they want something for their foul Master. What it may be I don't know and frankly don't want to know. They have a few humans that they report to but the handlers keep in the background."
"What it is must not reach their Master," said the man. "The mercenaries of Carthais, are they in league with these creatures?"
"The Carthinians would sell their own grandmothers if the price were right," answered Nikos.
"And the Carthinian grandmothers are just as vicious and would soon be free and robbing their purchasers of life and gold," the man said with a laugh.
Nikos returned the laugh. ''At the moment" he said, "they are allies but the minute it looks like they might be defeated, the Carthinians will turn and run. Still Baron Agronsky is sending his troops against them and I have heard rumors that he is getting help from the unicorns.''
''Very interesting,'' the man replied.
The two men spent the rest of the evening talking and trading gossip. The man was called on to sing and tell more stories and gladly did so to the enthusiasm of Inn's patrons.
Finally the man was able to retire to his room and, after setting the wards, immediately fell into a deep sleep. He was awakened in the darkest part of the night. He could see before him a tall woman dressed in white with pale silver-blond hair that cascaded to her feet. She was standing in a forest glen and held one of the great crystals in her hands.
"My lady," the man said.
"I will not tell you to be careful for others have done that," the woman said in a low melodic voice. She was Queen Niri, the High Queen of the Elves. "This is an extremely dangerous mission that you are on as you are well aware. Keep the sword with you always. As Nuada fought in the dark times and was invincible so the son Nuadias will serve you well. Do not hide the crystal that it bears!"
"But my lady the crystal marks it as an high elfin sword. Won't it be dangerous to let the enemy know?" the man asked.
"The Dark One knows that we are his enemy," the Queen replied.
"He knows that our current people are his enemies, how can he not with the White Mage being of elfin blood, but I thought the ancient ones were hidden from him," the man said.
"My child, we have fought him from the first. We may prefer our own world but we do still keep track of the worlds in the time of man. Now do as I ask," she commanded. The High Queen of the Elves looked at the man sternly.
"When have I ever disobeyed you my lady?" the man asked with a smile.
Queen Niri looked at the man and returned the smile and said, "you tried very infrequently if I recall. Now obey me in this!"
The man watched as she vanished from sight. With a sigh he turned his eyes towards the corner where his sword was leaning. He said a few words in high elfin and the spell that blocked the crystal from mortal sight was lifted. The sword shone with a pale blue light and the crystal pulsated in the pommel. He was uneasy with the sword being visible for what it really was but he had learned never to disobey his Queen.
Early morning found the man on the path through the moors that would lead him towards the hills bordering the lands between the Carthais holdings and the holdings of Baron Agronsky. The Baron commanded a fierce people and they fought bravely against the Dark One. The man knew he could count on help from that quarter if he needed it.
The path between the pools of viscous earth, that sucked down and drowned those foolish enough to stray, commanded the attention of the man and horse. The mists were thick and hid them from the sight of any enemies. It also hid the landmarks he needed to navigate. Finally the man had to stop and tune the crystal in the sword towards the shard he was searching for hoping that there were no other life crystals in the vicinity to give a false signal. He had muted his own to keep it from interfering.
As he and Sunset made their way slowly through the moors he went over in his mind what he knew.
The Source of Light manifested itself in Citadels dotted over the Northern Hemisphere of the world he knew as Caledonia. These Citadels contained living crystals that were conduits to the Source's white magic. The office of the White Mage was the main guardian for the Source of Light and s/he lead the fight against the Dark One and his Well of Darkness. Once the whole of Caledonia had Citadels but the defection of the being now known as the Dark One from the path of Light lead to the disappearance of the Citadels in the Southern hemisphere after the Dark One made those lands his and turned those fair lands as foul as himself.
The man wore a life crystal around his neck and those crystals, like the one in his sword, were the domain of the high elves under the guidance of Queen Niri, the High Queen of the Elves. These crystals were thought to be from the original crystals discovered by the three ancient races in the dawn of time and adapted by them for their use. It is believed that the original power from those crystals was used to activate the Citadels but the truth had passed out of all knowledge when the ancients withdrew from the realm of man to their own world beyond time.
The Citadel near the Eastern border had suffered a direct attack from the Dark One and its crystal was shattered. The forces of the White Mage were able to protect the shattered crystal except for one small shard which had been taken by a thief during the battle. It was known that the thief had headed towards the holdings of Carthais in hopes of selling the relic. He was too stupid to realize what he really had and it was easy for a more clever thief to kill him and take the shard. This new thief knew enough to contact an agent of the Dark One to negotiate a sale. True to his treacherous nature the Dark One sent his agents to find the thief at the same time as he tried to negotiate for the sale. Fortunately for the White Mage the thief had no honor and expected the double cross and kept himself well hidden so the Dark One did not have the precious shard in his grasp.
While the man was on another mission, the White Mage decided that he was going to go after the shard by himself. His army, under General Brand, was busily engaged in an all out effort to drive the Dark One's forces back across the borders into the Darklands. The White Mage's effort ended in near tragedy and it was only through the intervention of the Healer unicorn Deirdre that he was found and rescued. Deirdre had been visiting her grandmother in the Mystic Forest when her grandmother sensed the attack on the White Mage which would have been fatal had she not dispatched the young unicorn and held the path open so that Deirdre could transport the White Mage to safety and healing.
It was towards mid-afternoon that the man first heard the sounds of battle. The mists were lifting and he had come to the hills that marked the beginning of Baron Agronsky's lands. Slipping off his big roan horse the man crept to the summit of one of the hills and looked down. The battle below was being fought hand to hand. The Baron's men were fierce fighters but they were out numbered by the Dark One's forces. The foul creatures were orc-like but appeared to be better fighters then the orcs who were normally used as cannon fodder by the Dark One. The man tried to zero in on where the shard was and realized he was going to have to fight his way over to the caves on the left perimeter of the battle.
The man slipped back down to where Sunset was waiting. "I'll have to go alone," he told the huge horse, "come if I call."
The man drew his broadsword and quietly creeping around the hill he snuck up on a group of creatures who were battling the Baron's men. He joined the fray and with his sword singing he helped the small group of men defeat the monsters.
One of the Baron's men came over to the man and bowed slightly. "We thank you for your help," said Sven, "as always you fight bravely."
The man acknowledged the compliment with a nod of his head and said, "I need to retrieve something for the White Mage in one of those caves. I could use your help in fighting me way over there."
"It is always a privilege to fight alongside yourself, my Prince," Sven replied, "lead and we will follow."
The man ignored the use of his title. He never used it himself and preferred being called "Bard".
The small group of men fought towards the caves that was the man's destination. The going was slow and they had to fight for every inch of ground. At one point they heard the trumpet of the warrior unicorns.
"How did you get them here for this battle, Sven?" The man called out in mid sword swing.
"They actually contacted us," Sven replied. "They wanted to know this new enemy in order to fight them." Sven dispatched another orc during his reply.
The man was busy fighting and didn't have time to look around and see if General Brand and his twin sons Pwyl and Lyr were involved in the battle.
After a strenuous half hour the men reached their destination. There was little fighting here.
"Could I ask ye to watch me back?" the man asked.
"We would be honored," Sven replied.
The man crept up to the opening of the cave where he knew the shard to be. He was able to sneak through the opening but soon came to a magical barrier. He had to admire the thief's resourcefulness. He had gotten hold of a boundary spell that would keep most creatures out. It would take a little time but the man could get through the barrier.
While working on the counter spell the man carefully observed the thief. He had found that the shard made it very difficult for someone nor attuned to it to carry it. He had laid it on a fur blanket on a large altar-like rock.
The thief was facing away from the rock and appeared to be in conversation with someone in front of him. The man looked carefully and realized the man wasn't physically there. Both men were protecting themselves by talking projection to projection. The man chuckled to himself and thought "there is no honor among thieves."
The man decided to use this distraction to his advantage and quietly moved towards where the shard lay. He slipped through the barrier and reached for the shard.
"Thank you, elfling," came a slimy voice. "I needed someone on the Light's side to get near the shard."
As his hand closed on the shard the man spun around with sword in hand in time to see a man dressed all in black. He recognized him as Baron Reichman, one of the Dark One's agents. The man was unable to avoid the sword that was thrust into his chest striking his heart.
"NO!" a woman's voice cut through the air and a blinding flash of light would have blinded everyone in the cave if they had been able to see. All movement had ceased and no one in the cave was aware of any of their senses. Time as we know it had stopped.
A woman in white walked out of the light. She was tall and slender with silver-gold hair that reached her ankles. Her eyes were a piercing ice blue and now held both anger and pain. She was Queen Niri, the High Queen of the Elves.
The Queen reached out for the man as another flash of light jolted the cave. Standing there was a large white unicorn with silver eyes, mane, tail, hooves and horn. Few beings ever saw Queen Maeve, the Queen of the unicorns, as she rarely left the Mystic Forest. Next to her was a red-gold dragon named Master Khigh. No one knew how old Master Khigh was but he was ancient even by elfin or unicorn standards.
Niri turned to face them and said angrily, "he can not have him!"
"Niri," said Master Khigh, "you must release time."
"No," she replied, "he can not have my first born."
"Niri," said Queen Maeve, "you must release time. You can not stop it like this."
"I will do whatever it takes to save my son," Niri replied defiantly. "You can not make me release it."
"My dear child," said Master Khigh, "we won't let him die. Maeve developed the art of magical healing but she can not do her work until you release time."
"His life is being held in balance at the moment by his twin, Niri," said the unicorn Queen. " I need the sword out before I can try and heal his heart."
"Niri, you must let Maeve do what she does best. I need you to help me here," the dragon said. Master Khigh stretched his long neck so that his multifaceted eyes were facing the elfin Queen. "Come child," he said softly, "evil waits for no one and we have a chance to strike a devastating blow at it."
Queen Niri stood with tears streaming down her face. "Very well, " she said quietly. "Please save my child."
Another flash of light lit the room and in the after glow the sword was pulled out of the man's chest but he didn't fall because a petite red headed woman, dressed in Healer's blue was on one side and Queen Maeve was on the other. The sound of hooves echoed on the cave floor as a large roan horse came running in. Sunset stopped by the man and knelt down so the woman could get him on the horse's back. She mounted behind him and the horse rose to his feet.
"Deirdre open the way," Queen Maeve called out.
Suddenly there appeared a vision of a forest glade and in the middle stood a small white unicorn wearing the Healer's mantle. The roan horse stepped through. Queen Maeve turned towards the elfin Queen and said, "we will do everything in our power to save him, Niri," and with that she stepped into the glade and it disappeared.
Queen Niri brushed the tears away and turned to Baron Reichman. "You have made the biggest mistake of your life," she said ice dripping off of her words.
Baron Reichman tried to back away from the angry woman only to run into the solid bulk of the dragon.
"Second biggest, my dear," said Master Khigh, "his first was becoming one of the thirteen."
Over time the Dark One had learned how to absorb into himself the essence of a being and turning that being into an extension of himself. The shell of the person could still operate above ground but he was physically part of the hideous creature known as the Dark One.
"You will lead us to your Master, worm" said Niri. "Your reward for harming my child will be your betrayal of the Dark One's lair."
The Queen glowed with an unearthly light and that light reached out and enclosed the shaking man. As the light glowed brighter the cave started to disappear.
In another cave the frightened denizens were held motionless by the fury of the being known as the Dark One. The gigantic sea serpent was sitting on a throne in the middle of an oily pool. His main head had long ago become serpentine. Surrounding the main head were twelve smaller human heads. He had discovered that he could only have twelve heads in addition to his own.
Queen Niri, drawing on her immense magical power and with Master Khigh backing her up, pushed the white light harder. They were using the link that Baron Reichman's shell had with the Dark One to enter his stronghold. Her presence into the Dark One's lair was becoming more solid.
"You can not be here Elf Queen!" the Dark One sputtered.
"You forget that we have fought you from the very beginning, foul serpent," she said. "We will never forget your betrayal."
"Your kind withdrew from the affairs of man," the Dark One hissed.
"No, you have just ignored our contributions. We have always been there," Niri replied.
The Dark One hissed and turned towards the head of Baron Reichman. "You are a liability!" Suddenly he lunged and bit off the offending head.
"No!" cried three voices, Baron Reichman, Queen Niri, and Master Khigh.
Baron Reichman disappeared but his screams echoed through both caves. With the Baron no longer attached to the Dark One, Queen Niri and Master Khigh found themselves back in the thief's cave.
"We were so close this time, Master," Niri said sadly.
"There will be other chances, my child," Master Khigh said. "Go home to your children. I'll clean up here."
Niri left in a flash of light. Master Khigh looked around. He saw that the man had taken the shard with him. The thief was in a crumbled heap on the floor and a quick look showed that there was no help for him.
The dragon launched himself into the air as he left the cave's mouth. Circling he found the huge black unicorn who was directing the fight. He landed next to him.
"General Brand concentrate on destroying all of these creatures. The shard is safe," the dragon said." If we get them all here than these will be the last of them. Their creator will make no more."
The warrior unicorn acknowledged the instructions and Master Khigh returned to the air. He commanded the dragons to direct their fire towards the orc-like creatures.
"So children", Sean said, "the most ancient and wisest of all dragons helped finish the battle. He called on his kind as the unicorn General Brand called on his. Queen Niri also had her people there and with the human Baron Agronsky and his men's help, evil was defeated in this battle. The Dark One had concentrated on his human slaves and ignored the fact that he had ancient enemies that could destroy him."
The children cheered as Sean finished his story. Sean rose and looked around him as the children dispersed. Crystal remained behind and holding the big man's hand she led him down the path that led to her favorite swing.
Kira stood next to her mother and watched her twin and Crystal walking away. "Leave it to Sean to bring you a mystery wrapped up in the form of a little child," Kira said. "Are you thinking of sending him to find a source crystal?"
Queen Niri turned to her eldest daughter and smiled and said, "I have no choice. We need to try and find a pure crystal that has never been used. The child should never have been able to use her mother's crystal like she does let alone be able to use everyone else's crystals. We must find her a crystal of her own and I have none that have never been used."
Kira smiled at her mother and said, "And you thought the twelve children you had were a handful. You now have a three year old that could be the child of prophecy."
"It has never happened in the history of magic that anyone could freely use any crystal at hand. She is either the one in the prophecy or the next White Mage," Niri replied. "We should have an interesting few years ahead of us."
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