"Records reveal that Koraz was not alone in his murders. He had a great many underlings who he called the faceless. Koraz would become complacent with killing and send his faceless out to do the dirty work."
From The One History of Illuria
By The Council of Prophecies
Pithian reached behind a large blue hued tapestry and pulled a small hidden lever revealing a secret door in the brick wall behind his altar. The wall was constructed of solid bricks, but this entrance was built separately and on a sliding rail. Pithian pushed the wall inwards, exposing a stone staircase leading downwards to a sub-level of the temple. He looked back at Gelvin and waved for him to follow him down to the depths.
Gelvin always knew that there were secret parts of the temple. He had even found a few hidden compartments throughout the years, but he never imagined that there was an entire chamber below the structure itself. Gelvin cautiously followed Pithian down the stairwell that was illuminated by some kind of strange glow. The glow hung in the air like a thick smoke and Gelvin recalled the mists of the forest he used to see early in the morning. There was no evidence of any torches or lanterns so Gelvin assumed that the dark yellow iridescence was of a magical origin.
"I built this chamber years ago when I first found this temple.
Down here is where I keep most of the artifacts that saved my life at one time or another," Pithian said as they reached the bottom of the staircase.
Pithian was not very old for a human and Gelvin wondered, "How much does he have to hide? Pithian hasn't been adventuring as long as I've known him."
Gelvin stepped onto the cold dirt floor and was taken aback by the incredible sight. This large earthen chamber was filled with a sea of gold, jewels, and weapons. The glowing light along the stairs was not magical, but the dull radiance of the treasure Pithian kept hidden from the outside world. Gelvin realized that Pithian must have done a lot of adventuring before they met.
"Master, if anyone finds out of this horde they will surely kill you and steal it," Gelvin said as he looked at the radiating fortune.
Pithian chuckled and looked back at Gelvin, "First they'd have to kill me. Besides nobody knows it is here. This treasure is what I accumulated through years of questing, before I came across you. Remember the sword I told you about, the Defender?"
Gelvin had heard Pithian speak of the blade before. Pithian told him stories of its magical powers to guard the being of its owner. "Of course, you told me many times how it saved your life."
Pithian picked up a longsword in a black scabbard and threw it over to Gelvin. "Now it is yours."
Gelvin snatched the sword out of the air and looked at it with a shocked expression on his face. Gelvin had always assumed that Pithian no longer possessed the sword, or else he would keep it with him at all times. As Gelvin examined it more closely he realized it was the same silver sword Pithian was wearing the day he met him. It was an unblemished blade with three blue jewels fixed in the hilt. It shined brightly and Gelvin saw his distorted face reflecting back at him in the metal. He felt uncomfortable even holding the sword of his mentor, let alone wielding it in battle. "Master, I cannot...."
"Keep the sword. I had planned to give it to you soon anyway," Pithian responded and Gelvin felt a little more comfortable with the idea. "It will serve you well in your forthcoming adventure." Gelvin stopped examining the sword with that statement and he looked up at his master.
Pithian had expected this question eventually and had already prepared an answer. "Murder is never an act to be revered Gelvin. But we do live in violent times and any wise man must be prepared to do battle when the moment comes. Death is sometimes the only way to destroy evil. I have battled many men and beasts through the years and only regretted my actions once, but that is a story for another time. Come, I have one other weapon for you." Gelvin wasn't sure if he agreed with Pithian, but he was content to consider his argument for a while. Gelvin stood closely behind Pithian as he dug through his piles of gold. After a moment or two Pithian stopped searching and pulled a massive black hammer out from under a swelling pile of red and green jewels.
Gelvin had never seen a hammer as large as this one and he knew immediately that it must be used for battle. The hammer was placed on a short notched staff and the giant blocked head was blunted on every side. Pithian handed it to Gelvin and, despite its enormous weight, he held it high to admire the quality of the iron. "What is this hammer for, Master?"
"Don't you know?" Pithian asked rhetorically.
"I know it is a war hammer, but is it special?" Gelvin asked as
he rubbed his palm across the large flat head and felt the coldness of the iron run up his arm.
Pithian stood up from the floor and smiled as he replied, "It is thunder from the sky, it is iron forged in a star, and it is the bane of all beasts larger then men. It is called the Giant Killer," Pithian stated as a riddle. The hammer's name made its purpose obvious, but Pithian tended to use evasive language to keep Gelvin on his toes. Gelvin smiled at the riddle, even though it was an easy one, because it was a form of affection from Pithian. Gelvin thought about his favorite riddle, which asked where a pit can be surrounded by soft fur. The answer is in a peach. But Gelvin's thoughts quickly returned to the hammer as it weighted down on his arm.
"I have never held a tool so heavy," Gelvin said as he compared the hammer's mass to that of the sword.
"It is more than a simple tool Gelvin. A wizard, long since dead, forged this hammer to drive the giants away from his land. Legend says that the wizard took the Giant Killer into battle early one morning and by the time the sun rose the next day, the ground could not be seen because of the dead bodies stacked and strewn about." Gelvin wanted to hear more about the wizard but Pithian was already busy searching for something else. Eventually, he handed Gelvin a black leather back strap and belt to fasten his arsenal onto and then took him back to the main part of the temple.
"Who is Koraz?" Gelvin asked as they slowly ascended the stairs.
Pithian did not turn around but replied in stride, "Koraz is a
legendary master assassin who nobody has seen in many years. I have heard that he is a director of chaos and evil. That he kills for fun and wreaks havoc for pleasure."
"If nobody has seen him for years, how does King Zendon know that he exists?"
"He doesn't," Pithian replied sharply as they reached the top of the stairs.
Gelvin thought, "I wonder if that's how all kings rule? By guessing and chasing legends."
"It is time for you to join the others Gelvin," Pithian said as he placed his hand on Gelvin's shoulder where it met his neck.
"Before I leave master, tell me, why did you suggest I go on this adventure?"
"It is your destiny Gelvin. I would not have trained you for so many years if it were not for a higher purpose. I knew this day would come and it is your turn to learn the lessons of life that can only be found through exploration. You will grow and mature in ways I could never teach you. You will also learn more of what it means to be a Spriteleng. Koraz, whether he is real or not, presents an interesting challenge and I feel that Zendon is in for more than he bargained. You will become a leader and savior in this quest. Go now, I await your return."
With that final message Gelvin exited the temple and looked back as Grizon shut the doors. As he stared back at the memory provoking building, Gelvin wondered whether or not he would ever see his adopted home again. He genuinely hoped so.
Gelvin walked through the roads of Caledan towards the castle in the center of the city. It was a typically busy day in the streets, with dirty peasants begging for food and well dressed merchants trying to sell their goods. Everyone stared at Gelvin as he passed and he was well aware of it.
"Can't you find something better to do," he thought as he quickened his pace. Gelvin had come to expect gawks from humans who had never seen Spritelengs, but still, he never got used to it.
Gelvin stared up at the castle as he continued to walk towards it. It was a beautiful structure made of thick gray stones. One huge tower caught Gelvin's eye, because it was the largest and the most prominent. It jutted out of the citadel from the center and towered above all of Caledan. Gelvin thought, "I wonder what the world looks like from up there?" Sometime soon, he would find out.
Gelvin approached the outskirts of the King's castle and instantly realized that he was the last member of the group to arrive. Gelvin walked into a small dusty courtyard surrounded by the smooth stones of the castle wall, and he looked at his new companions. Thraxus and three other humans already had their packs on and appeared ready to embark.
Thraxus placed his hands on his hips and looked towards the approaching Spriteleng. "Its about time you got here. Grab a pack and lets get going," he barked. Gelvin picked up the final brown leather pack and looked at the provisions inside it. It contained mostly what Gelvin expected: some dried meat (not at all the quality Gelvin was accustomed to), eggs wrapped in a thick cloth, water (though Spritelengs drank very little), a thinly twined piece of rope, a blanket, flint, and a small rust encrusted lantern. "Get your pack on Spriteleng!" Thraxus berated impatiently.
Thraxus was not naturally mean spirited, but seeing as how his king asked him to seek out the most brutal killer ever known in these lands, his obtuse manner was quite explainable. Gelvin was even more impressed by Thraxus' size outside of the temple. Compared to the other three humans in the group, Thraxus was a giant, wearing thick black leather armor and carrying that enormous iron sword on his back. Thraxus, like most big men Gelvin had met, did not keep his thick brown beard very clean. His hair was already stringy and sweaty from standing in the sun a few moments. Gelvin wondered if big men were required to have a beard and after looking at the disgusting dirt and hair caught on Thraxus' face, Gelvin was delighted that Spritelengs could not grow such repulsive things.
"You must be Gelvin," said a robed man standing behind Thraxus.
He approached Gelvin to shake his hand. "I am Flynton the magician at your service. I am a member of the King's court." Flynton was an average fellow, just shorter than Gelvin, with a very agreeable voice. He had acorn brown hair and wore small round spectacles that hung on the end of his nose. His long robe was colored royal blue and Gelvin became convinced that Flynton would surely trip over the hanging garment before the day was out. Flynton smiled as he extended a hand to Gelvin. Gelvin smiled back and decided he liked this man already.
"A magician? I've never met a magician," Gelvin said in complete honesty.
"And I've never met a Spriteleng before. I saw one once, but he did not talk." Or at least the Spriteleng's slaver wouldn't let him, but Flynton decided to omit this minor detail. Gelvin did not have much to say to Flynton because he was too busy admiring his robe. It was a fine garment, not as nice as Pithian's silk though, and it matched Flynton's boots in color.
Gelvin was surprised that Flynton did not have a weapon on his back though. Gelvin thought, "Perhaps this quest won't be as dangerous as I feared." Then Flynton pulled back his robe to put his hands on his thin brown belt and exposed a shortsword attached to his waist. "Danger ahead," Gelvin thought in silence.
"I assume you've met Thraxus," Flynton continued, in an attempt to break Gelvin's silence. "My short friend here is Slade Quickhand," Flynton said as he opened his palm towards the shortest member of the group. Gelvin looked at Slade, dressed entirely in black cloth with mischief flickering in his eyes, and knew exactly what he was.
"I didn't know the king kept thieves in his court," Gelvin said and Flynton laughed.
"I'm not a part of the King's court. I just do favors for him from time to time," Slade said and turned away from Gelvin. Gelvin felt bad, because he didn't mean to embarrass Slade, but merely to acquaint himself with the thief.
"Ignore him Gelvin," Flynton said as he waved Slade aside. "The fifth member of our cadre is young Fyndon Oakhart. Try not to confuse our names please." Fyndon was thin, short, and wore a green hood covering his face. Gelvin was surprised when he pulled the hood back though, because he was not a he. He was a she.
"Nice to meet you Gelvin," she said extending an ivory white hand. "Many of my best friends are Spritelengs. I hope to count you among them."
"I do too," Gelvin responded as he shook her hand. Fyndon really wasn't all that young, but sixteen years of age did make her the baby of the group. She had long blond hair pulled behind her neck, which reminded Gelvin of Pithian, and a gentle look to her face. He wondered why the king would send a woman to perform such a dirty act as murder. Then it occurred to him that there must be a special reason. "What do you do?" Gelvin asked promptly realizing that it was a very ridiculous sounding question.
"I am here to help us with the forest," Fyndon said very plainly. Her voice was like a beautiful bird singing in the night and Gelvin hoped she would talk more because it was better than listening to the hoarse roar of Thraxus. She continued, "I have much experience with nature and Thraxus says that we will be spending a good deal of time outdoors on this quest." Gelvin recognized that Fyndon did not have the appearance of someone who had lived in a city. Her voice, her face, everything about her seemed unspoiled by the filthy metropolis around them.
"So now we all know each other. Let's get moving so we can make some distance before dark," Thraxus insisted as he handed out small scrolls of beige paper to each member of the group. Gelvin looked at the seal on his, but he did not recognize the symbol. It was a red eagle, but much larger than any bird. "These are important documents," Thraxus bellowed to make sure he had their attention. "Lord Kenyson has prepared these scrolls that will allow us to travel through his land unmolested. Each of us has one in case we are separated."
"Why would we get separated?" Gelvin, ignorant of the problems wrought with quests, thought to himself.
"Just show it to any of Lord Kenyson's forces and they should grant you passage," Thraxus continued. "Any questions?" Everyone looked at each other but nobody said anything. Slade's expression seemed to say let's just get on with it and Thraxus was only happy to oblige, "Good, then let's get moving." Thraxus started down the main road towards the south and the others followed. Eventually they exited the city and continued to follow the stone laid road south, towards the domains of Kenyson. Their journey had begun.
Once outside of Caledan, the road changed from stone to packed earth. But Gelvin didn't seem to mind. As he marched down the wide well traveled road, he looked up at the sky and estimated that they had two hours of sunlight left. The sun was sinking in the west and streaks of pink and purple slowly filled the late afternoon sky. He anxiously awaited the darkness because it was mostly clear and he wanted to engage in his favorite hobby: star watching.
As the sun slowly disappeared, Gelvin and his companions passed a few traveling merchants in horse drawn carts and the occasional grassy field or silent pond. For the most part though, the brown dirt road was surrounded by thinly grouped trees and a few scattered granite rocks. Not exactly what Gelvin or Fyndon thought of as a forest, but it seemed to be a rural wilderness to urban men like Slade and Flynton. The light wind stirred the dirt road and it began to irritate Gelvin's eyes. "Exploration indeed," Gelvin thought to himself as his eyes began to water. He didn't feel like he was learning much yet and he needed a diversion from the, up until then, fatuous journey.
To pass the time until nightfall Gelvin decided to converse with his new friends (or at least he hoped they would all become friends). After all, he had spent most of his life in a long since destroyed village and the temple of a recluse. He was curious about these new humans and what they were really like.
"How do you know the king, Fyndon?" Gelvin asked as he quickened his pace to keep up with the swiftly walking woman.
"I don't really. The King once did a favor for my father and now I am repaying it."
"Are Spritelengs always this inquisitive?" Slade asked as he butted in on the conversation. Slade did not intend to sound rude (he thought he was making a funny joke), but his crass manners did not appeal to Gelvin at all.
"No, they just don't have anything to hide like you do Slade," Fyndon retorted before Gelvin could stand up for himself. Gelvin wished she hadn't spoken for him, but it didn't matter after the fact. She turned her head back towards Gelvin and continued her story, "Years ago a builder planned to construct a stone bridge in the forest east of Caledan where my father lived. He begged the king to stop the builder for fear that his work might disrupt our happy community. The king respected my father's power so he insisted that the builder work further downstream." The tale intrigued Gelvin because he wondered what power Fyndon's father wielded. Perhaps it was like Pithian's extra senses he imagined.
"What power did your father have?" Gelvin asked, hoping to learn more about Fyndon's strange heritage.
"Here I'll show you," Fyndon said and she put her hands to her mouth. She made a squawking sound like an animal, but unlike anything Gelvin had ever heard. She squawked again and a small white feathered bird flew out of a small nearby tree and landed on her hand.
Gelvin was shocked by the display. It was a beautiful bird with a full chest of feathers. Gelvin wondered how she did it and then he realized what the squawking was, "You can talk to animals?!"
"Of course, I am a Comwen."
"A Caw-went?" Gelvin muttered as he tried to pronounce the new
"A Comwen," Thraxus said. "You know, a person who communes with animals."
"Incredible! Are there more like you?" Gelvin asked with a huge smile. He had never seen something so remarkable outside of a wizard. Of course, Gelvin did not have much experience and he did not know that Comwens were as common as Spritelengs, if one knew where to look.
"Yes, of course there are Gelvin. I even know a few Spritelengs who are Comwens." Gelvin's face brightened at the idea that he could speak with animals as well. He had always wanted to ask a hawk what it felt like to soar through the sky or to ask a snake why it shed its skin.
"That's nothing Gelvin," Flynton interrupted. He was always eager to impress a new audience. "Watch this." Flynton pulled a shiny red gem out of his pocket from under his robe. It looked like a ruby of some kind, but finer than any jewel Gelvin had ever seen. It's dark red color and incredibly detailed cut made it almost hypnotizing to look at. Before Gelvin could become too enthralled though, Flynton put his index finger against the stone and pulled it away sharply. A line of fading red color streaked across the air, following Flynton's finger from the ruby. The magician began to make small spirals in the air and the red line spiraled larger and brighter. Flynton stopped abruptly and the line exploded into a small, yet dazzling, shower of silver stars. The bright explosion scared away the bird on Fyndon's hand and almost blinded Gelvin.
"Very impressive Flynton," Gelvin said as he rubbed his startled eyes. "How did you do that?" he asked as the magician pocketed his red stone.
"Ah, that is the secret of my magic."
"Not much of a secret," Slade interjected again. "I've seen that
amateur trick in every bar I've visited." Again Slade did not endear himself to the others, but he could not help his bothersome nature.
"Don't you mean every bar you've been chased out of," Thraxus said and everyone laughed, except of course Slade. He simply grunted and walked faster to escape the jeers of his companions.
As the others continued to laugh, Thraxus abruptly stopped dead in his tracks and held both of his arms out as far as they could stretch. Thraxus had a wingspan as large as the giant eagles of the north, but far more menacing. His feet sunk into the road as though they were taking root and everyone behind him halted. Gelvin had no idea what was going on but was quick enough, and curious enough, to be the first to ask, "What is it Thraxus?"
"Don't move. I smell something. Kinda smells like an ogre but someone else too."
Gelvin took a deep breath to calm himself because he had read about ogres in one of Pithian's books. They were horribly large beasts with razor sharp fangs and breath like death. He never imagined that he would have the chance to meet one up close.
"Wherever you are come out. I can smell you and I'm certain we outnumber you," Thraxus said in an authoritative manner as he slowly reached over his shoulder and drew his gigantic sword. "We don't want any trouble with you." Thraxus loved to fight, but he hated ambushes and that thought had already crossed his mind as he tightened his grip on the weapon.
"Then you shall not have it," a voice responded to Thraxus' command. Thraxus moved like lightning to the side of the road where he heard the confident and clear voice. Behind a small trove of trees there stood a short man in gray clothes with a long white beard. Next to him was a putrid ogre. The ogre was as big as Thraxus and had sickly pale skin, almost the same color as Gelvin, smattered with thick patches of black hair. He smelled terrible, like spoiled meat, and Gelvin wondered if that odor was some secret weapon of ogres. "We have no wish to confront you," the short man said as he straightened his glasses on the end of his pointed nose. He and the ogre approached the road and Gelvin realized just how minute this man was. Barely four paces tall, he was the size of a dwarf, but obviously a human. He did not have a dwarf's length of beard, nor the brash impoliteness.
"If you wish to avoid battle then just stop where you are. I hate ogres," Thraxus commanded in his most menacing voice.
"Ma-bee I hates you back ug-lee," the ogre said as his keeper held him back with an oaken staff he carried in his withered left hand. Thraxus tightened his grip on his sword as he already began to determine how he would attack the pair.
Gelvin and the others had never encountered an ogre, but they all knew that they were not supposed to be able to speak. Gelvin felt nervous and thought that maybe they were dealing with an unnatural beast. "What trickery is this?" Fyndon shouted as she also drew her weapon. A small dagger with a beautifully carved wooden handle.
"Put your weapons away. We are travelers. We go south," the short man said in a raspy yet clear voice. Gelvin immediately distrusted him but he was not sure why. Perhaps the odor of the vile ogre clouded his thoughts.
"How can that ogre speak?" Gelvin questioned. "That's not typical for a beast."
"This is a special ogre. My ogre!" the old man shouted. "I taught him many things. Do not be afraid, it will not hurt you. I am Narus and the ogre is Tong." For Gelvin, Narus' assurances didn't relieve his concerns. The ogre looked menacing as its teeth pushed out of its gigantic jaw. Gelvin feared that a monster that size could swallow his head in one gulp.
"If it is all the same to you Narus, we will be on our way," Thraxus said, still not quite ready to sheath his sword.
"Tong and I will go with you. I see you are walking south as well."
"We prefer to travel alone," Thraxus barked at the short man.
"Come now, I'm sure a man of my experience could be of some
help to you. I hate to walk without the company of others. Tell me what I can do for you and it will be done."
"Tell us where we can find Koraz," Flynton said jokingly. He did not expect a weary old man to know what he was talking about, but still Thraxus stared at the magician with antipathy. He considered their mission to be of the utmost secrecy and he did not want to inform strangers he did not trust.
"Ah, you seek Koraz, father of all assassins and leader of a faceless many," Narus said with an animated face, enticing the adventurers to ask more. Gelvin was shocked that Narus had heard of Koraz and he began to consider what a strange coincidence they had stumbled upon.
"What do you know of Koraz?" Thraxus asked anxiously as he put away his sword.
"I know many things. Follow me and I will tell you more."
Thraxus and the others followed Narus and Tong as they continued their journey south, this time using the road instead of the shrubbery.
Gelvin had always been fond of plays on words, because Pithian used them in his riddles. Narus' language and words piqued Gelvin's curiosity as he tried to understand what the little man meant. Despite his reservations he could not resist asking Narus, "What are the faceless many you spoke of?"
"The faceless many are the followers of Koraz. He is not alone.
He has an army of assassins who follow him to the death. They are called the faceless many because nobody knows who they are. Anyone can be an agent of Koraz. Thus, his assassins have no faces." Again Gelvin felt concern creeping in at the back of his mind. Why did this man so conveniently know of Koraz? How did he hear this story about the faceless? And why would he want to travel with people so hostile towards him? Before Gelvin could get the answers to these questions though, a horde of goblins chose that opportune time to interrupt the conversation.
Suddenly from the short trees and the concealing rocks a small group of disgustingly vile goblins, drool falling from their pink lips and crude knives glinting in their hands, jumped into the road and attacked without warning. Goblins were disgusting little creatures with pear shaped bodies covered in coarse hair. They spoke a language of grunts and ugghs which few people outside of their clans could translate. They had pug noses and large floppy ears which gave them a comical appearance, but there was nothing humorous about them. Goblins were known for their guile and hatred of all things not goblin.
Gelvin swiftly drew his Defender but not quickly enough. Before he raised the sword one of the nasty goblins sliced him across the hand with a blade. Gelvin winced in pain and stared at the blood welling up below the hilt of his sword. Almost instantly another snarling fang toothed goblin was on him. The rotund little monster lunged at him with his knife, aiming straight for Gelvin's heart. Fear and panic was all Gelvin felt, but his Defender rose at the last instant to knock the goblin to the ground. Gelvin was not even sure if he had acted on instinct or if the sword had raised itself. Nevertheless, it had saved his life, and not for the last time.
A third goblin, this one with brown fur and wildly raging red eyes, charged at Gelvin but by then he had recovered some of his senses. He side stepped the lunging beast and pushed it to the ground, knocking it unconscious and causing a small puff of dust to rise into the air. Gelvin quickly gathered himself and surveyed the situation. Thraxus was crushing the much smaller goblins, breaking open their skulls and creating a pile of dead bodies soaked in blood at his feet. Slade was surprisingly ferocious and used his quickness to avoid the snarling beasts and stab at them with his silvery dagger. Flynton and Fyndon were barely holding their own against a goblin each when Gelvin noticed that none of the monsters dared to approach Narus or Tong. Gelvin wasn't sure who to help because this was the first real combat he had ever experienced. His heart raced and his senses became sensitive to everything around him. Adrenaline filled his blood and he began to breathe much more rapidly. Before Gelvin could decide what to do next though, Narus eliminated the threat.
He stepped forward and struck his small wooden staff on the ground. It resonated like a wind chime and Gelvin thought he felt the ground quake slightly. Narus shouted cants at the goblins in languages Gelvin did not recognize. Certainly they sounded magical, or at least mysterious, and Gelvin hoped the powerful words would end the fray because his hand still stung. Narus finished the cants by saying 'Tobah! Tobah! Tobah!' repeatedly and there was a blinding flash of red light. Moments later, when Gelvin regained his sight, the goblins had all disappeared. Even their dead carcasses were gone.
"What happened to the goblins?" Gelvin thought as his eyes widened in disbelief.
"That is a powerful magic Narus," Flynton said with great respect.
"Study my magic someday boy, and you might learn."
"I thank you Narus the wizard," Thraxus said extending his hand
in friendship, much to Gelvin's surprise. "We could use your help in our travels south. There is safety in numbers, should the goblins return." With that offer Narus joined the group and Gelvin did not feel it was his place to ask his prying questions of the man who had just saved them all. Gelvin was not yet confident of his instincts with the newly acquainted humans. He would have told Pithian about his suspicions, but Gelvin wasn't sure if any of these humans would listen to him. Still, he decided to keep a watchful eye on the old man. When Gelvin looked deep into his eyes something disturbed him and made him constantly wary.
The party of travelers continued south until nightfall. Fyndon gave Gelvin a special leaf to treat his wound with. He wrapped the wet green leaf around his hand and felt a soothing sensation. She told him to keep it on there until morning and his hand would probably be healed.
As soon as the sun had completely set, the group found a small clearing among the trees to the side of the road. There was an oasis of clear green grass between the trees that gave the travelers just enough room to build a camp. The ground was dry and the firewood abundant, so Thraxus felt confident that this area would be a safe refuge for the night. He gave everyone assignments to make camp for the night. Quickly they built a fire and were eating their dinners. It was some kind of foul soup cooked from the dried meat and Gelvin had to hold his breath to choke it down. It tasted like a sweaty neck scarf, boiled in a pot of snake venom. "I've had better food cooked by a frog," Gelvin imagined as he wrinkled his nose when he held the bowl to his mouth.
The humans carried on their custom of conversation at dinner, but Gelvin simply looked up at the stars. He had always been fascinated by the bright constellations and the shooting streaks of red across the sea of white dancing lights. Pithian told him that the Gods lived among the stars and watched the people of Illuria to help them in their times of need. Gelvin always watched the sky hoping one day that he might catch a glimpse of one of those Gods staring back. Star watching reminded Gelvin of his family and the flood, but he did not let those memories ruin the one hobby he took great pleasure in.
"...and the bartender said, 'The goat doesn't work here anymore!'"
Gelvin heard Slade telling the end of a joke and everyone laughed. Gelvin tried to laugh also, as though he had been paying close attention. Really he never understood the concept of humor. For Spritelengs it just seemed trivial. Gelvin tried to tell jokes to conform with other humans, but he was rarely funny.
"It has been an exciting day," Narus declared as he stood up and stretched. "I thank you for letting me walk with you. Now I think we should get some rest so we can get an early start. Tong and I will get more firewood and then I will tell him to watch over us while we sleep." Narus and Tong got up and walked away from the fire together to the surrounding trees. Everyone else began to unroll their blankets from their packs and prepare for bed. Everyone that is except Gelvin.
It seems that Narus, like most humans, did not know about Spritelengs and their sensitive hearing. Even though they were standing some twenty paces away from the camp, Gelvin could faintly hear Narus tell Tong, "Wait until they are all asleep. Then we take them. Go after the big one first."
Gelvin was too tired to become panicked but he was instantly concerned. He rolled over to Thraxus and whispered in his ear, "I don't want to alarm everyone because maybe I misunderstand humans like Narus, but I heard him tell Tong to do something to us once we're asleep. Did I misunderstand?" Gelvin thought perhaps Narus was planning another human joke.
"Probably not," Thraxus whispered back as an expression of concern and tension filled his face. Thraxus was quick to recognize trouble and he created a hasty plan. "Don't alert the others. I never trusted Narus and I expected something like this. I am going to feign sleep. You do the same and in a few minutes make up some excuse to leave camp. Wait behind the trees and then follow my lead." Gelvin wanted to ask more about Thraxus' plan, but there was no time because Narus and Tong quickly returned with more wood. He was happy to know that he was not the only one who suspected Narus though. Gelvin concluded that Thraxus, as the leader of the King's elite guard, must have some sense of such things after all.
"Good night all," Narus said and he laid down. Flynton, Fyndon, and Slade were all asleep very quickly because it had been a tiring day. Thraxus and Gelvin were more anxious though. Gelvin had never practiced being covert when he trained with Pithian and his nervousness grew with each passing moment. His weariness was replaced by a building rush of adrenaline. Gelvin's hand began to quiver and he quickly put it between his thighs to keep it still.
It had only been a few moments when Gelvin, through his cracked eyelids, saw Tong slowly reach for his wooden spear. Gelvin jumped up, out of breath and Thraxus and Narus sat up from the ground as well. "What's wrong Gelvin?" Narus asked as the Spriteleng's heart raced.
"Tell them you need to relieve yourself," Thraxus thought to himself, hoping they had not lost any element of surprise in his plan. Gelvin was a terrible liar though, and in the heat of the moment he simply blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
"I'm uh, uh, going to get more firewood," Gelvin said even though the fire was still high and burning hotly. Gelvin quickly walked behind the nearest trees. It would have been a good excuse if Tong and Narus had not just collected so much wood. Once he was out of Narus' line of sight, Gelvin turned back towards the camp and gripped a tree trunk. He prayed that his justification had not cost Thraxus his plan or their lives. Gelvin gripped the tree tightly and took deep breaths to slow his throbbing pulse.
"I should have told the others," Gelvin thought to himself as he began to doubt Thraxus' plan.
"Strange boy," Narus said as he looked at Thraxus. The wizard suspected that something was amiss.
"Yes he is," Thraxus responded as he reached down to the small wooden ankh he always wore around his neck. He began to rub it slowly between his thumb and forefinger. Narus noticed Thraxus' action and he squinted at him. It was a known fact that blessed crosses could hold minor magical powers. Often these crosses could instinctually help its wearer determine if someone be friend or foe. Unfortunately for Thraxus, Narus knew this trick all to well. His eyes seethed with rage as the small wizard jumped to his feet and grabbed his staff.
Tong grunted and rushed at Thraxus, who barely made it to his feet in time. He grabbed Tong by the wrists and stopped his charge, but left himself open to an attack from Narus. The wizard smiled devilishly as he reached far back with his staff and prepared to swing it into Thraxus' ribs when Gelvin jumped out from behind the trees. The Spriteleng tackled Narus, moments before he could strike Thraxus with the oaken staff of magic. The others awakened at the sound of battle and were thrown into instant confusion. They gathered themselves and quickly got to their feet.
Gelvin jumped up to help Thraxus and Narus scowled because knew that the battle was lost without his element of surprise. As Gelvin added his strength to press on the ogres' broad wrists, Narus waved his staff back and forth in the air and the wind, which had been calm all day, suddenly became strong. Narus' hair whipped back and forth in the howling wind and he shouted, "I warn you, do not go south. Death awaits you there!" With that proclamation, Narus struck his staff on the ground and he and Tong disappeared in a flash of white light.
"What just happened?" Flynton pleaded in a confused desperate tone.
"Koraz just sent us the first of his faceless many," Thraxus said
and he sat back down. No one else said anything and eventually laid back down to go to sleep. Gelvin laid down on his blanket and wondered, "Does Narus work for Koraz?" Then he rolled his head on its side and saw Thraxus standing next to the fire with the point of his sword pressed into the ground. Slowly, Gelvin fell asleep.
Thraxus stood guard for the rest of the night.
In the writer's own words:
"My name is Allen Woods. I am a 22 year old writer from Nashville Tennessee who enjoys writing adjectives, adverbs, the occassional noun, and science fiction. I am an affiliate member of the HWA. I have written two dozen short stories, some of which have been published in "Pablo Lennis", "Art:Mag", "Lost Worlds", and "Pleiades". I am finfishing work on a novel length space opera and I encourage readers to give me feedback via e-mail: NAAllen@aol.com"
Return to the Aphelion main page.