Into the Fire

Into the Fire

By Joe Gensweider

Alone he sat, at the most secluded table in the tavern. The man in black: black robe, black cowl hiding the features of his face. Everyone in the tavern could tell that he was a seasoned traveler, all he wanted was food, drink, and a bed. Then, in the morning, he would be gone, back on the road, back to whatever he was searching for.

The doors of the small tavern swung open and a young woman rushed in, bringing the cold winter air in with her. She was screaming frantically.

"Help! Oh, please, someone help me!"

All eyes in the tavern turned to look at the young woman, all except the traveler. He did not even flinch, he only took a sip of ale from his clay cup. Some of the men came to her aid, swords, or dirks, or bows drawn and ready. Most men would gladly give up their lives for a beautiful woman, most men.

A few moments later, six rouges barged into the quaint little tavern. Two men with shortswords charged the leather clad, bearded men. Both were stopped short by the swift blade of the first man. After these two had been so easily disposed of, the other men backed off.

The lead rouge said, "Well, Sharshili, you thieving scrap of meat. We have caught up with you at last, not so cocky now that we are not drugged, eh?"

"Please, one of you brave men, help me," the woman whimpered.

The black clad man stood. He did not know why he wanted to aid this woman. It was not because he hoped for repayment, it was probably because he had gone too long without the adventure of battle. He removed his cowl and said, "Leave the tavern now, alive, or in a few moments, dead."

"Ah, is this a challenge, little man?" asked the leader.

"If you wish to call it so."

"Okay then, let's dance," said the rouge.

He leapt forward, his long sword extended in front of him. This rush was supposed to catch the black clothed man off guard, it did not. The cloaked man side-stepped at the last moment, and as the rouge landed, he pulled a katana with a gleaming blade from his robe. Before the rouge even thought about turning around, he had a blade protruding from his stomach.

The other ruffians now charged at the warrior who had slain their leader. The black draped man threw his katana at the leader of the vicious pack, hitting him squarely in the chest. He then drew a magnificent broadsword from his garments. The first man who petitioned the warrior approached with sword swinging downward at the brave fighter, who easily blocked this strike with his broadsword. Then he plunged another katana, from deep within his cloaked person, into the manıs stomach.

The next two men who stepped forward both carried massive battle axes. He blocked their first strikes, one with each sword. He then abandoned the swords and pulled two dirks from either cuff. The attackers were surprised by the warriorıs gall, and they stood staring dumbly as the warrior stabbed the knives through their hearts.

The last rouge stood at the other end of the tavern by the doors. He was hurriedly reloading his double barreled crossbow. The brave warrior hadnıt even noticed the archers first shots. He charged the rouge, dodging both crossbow bolts, and four arrows from a regular bow before the archer final found his mark. The black clad warrior had been hit in the left shoulder, but alas, he kept charging the final rouge, who was now desperately pleading with the warrior. But the traveler did hear the manıs words and as he closed in, he drew the arrow out of his shoulder, and when he reached the doomed archer, he stabbed the arrow into the manıs throat.

After the battle was done, the black clad traveler sat at the nearest table and began cauterize the wound on his shoulder. He first used a small instrument to clean to wound, then he poured a potion from a small bottle that would disinfect the wound, and finally he used a hot poker from the fire place to seal the wound.

All in the tavern were amazed by the manıs resolve. During the whole process, he had not uttered so much as a peep, nor had he broken a sweat, and he was not breathing heavily now.

He got up from the wooden chair, bowed to the lady whom he had just assisted, then retrieved his weapons, and finally he recovered himself, except for the cowl. Before he returned to his meal, he stopped by the broken and rusted mirror by the bar and examined his face. His unruly hair was long and jet black, some it was braided and draped over long, pointy ears. His cheek bones were high and his nose long. His skin color was dark gray, and his eyes were the blackest feature of his taut face, yet, hidden in the recesses of those pools of pure darkness was a faint, simmering spot of light, a reminder a long dead splendor.

He sat down at his table and was joined presently by the young woman whose life he had saved. She said, "Hello, my name is Sharshili Nightweaver. I wanted to thank you for coming to my aid when no one else would. However shall I repay you?"

He was afraid she was going to say that. He answered, "There is no need to repay me, Sharshili, it was my pleasure. You can call me Laun Belldock."

"From Rhyment, I presume by your features," Sharshili said.

"Correct," Laun said.

"Then, if you are a Rhymentian, you surely must love adventure and a challenge?" Sharshili asked.

"That is also correct," Laun said.

"Then I have a proposition to make. The only reason I am letting you in on this is because you helped me," she said, then she added with a half-smile on her beautiful face, "And I could use someone strong like you."

"Continue," the Rhymentian said.

"West of this tavern lies the Mavbok Forest, and there according to legend, is the famous temple of Nagıcoble. It is said that in this temple the very laws of the universe can be bent and twisted in any way. I wish to go to this temple so I can learn the secrets of alchemy, so I can be rich. You can use the power if the temple for whatever you want," the woman said.

"Would it be possible to travel through time in this temple?" Laun asked, eyes widening and exhibiting their faint splendor.

"They say that anything is possible inside the temple," Sharshili said.

"Who says?"

"All that have been to the temple say these things are possible," Sharshili explained.

There was a long silence as Laun contemplated the woman's offer while chewing on the wing of a small game bird. Sharshili fidgeted anxiously until finally, the stone faced man spoke, "Yes, I think I will accompany you to the temple. We will leave in the morning."

"Thank you sir, you will not regret this decision. In the morning it is, at dawn. Weıll meet down here," Sharshili said, "Sleep well, brave warrior."

Laun was up with the sun the next morning. Sharshili was down some time later, she was obviously disturbed by Laun rising before her. Nevertheless, the young woman led the way to the stable, where only two horses rested. The first was a jet black mare, the latter was a bright white stallion, and it was sleeping next to a massive woodland wolf. When Sharshili saw the wolf she cried out in terror.

"Donıt worry. That is my pet, Lyhnar. He will not harm you, he is quite tame. Shall we begin our journey?" the warrior said.

But the young woman simply stood in terror, staring at the wolf with a dominantly gray coat of fur, spotted occasionally by white. When Lyhnar growled, Sharshili jumped and Laun scolded the animal.

Finally, after a long silence the woman said, "Yes. Let us begin our journey."

Both riders saddled up, and as the sun began to climb to its throne high in the sky, they set out seeking the temple of Nagıcoble.

They rode all day across fields of blue and red grass, and by midday they had reached Mavbok forest. They stopped to rest, then continued until dusk was but a memory and the stars filled the entire expanse of the night sky. When Laun found a small creek, he followed it to a clearing, where he set up camp and started a fire. He cooked a meal and after the eating was done, Sharshili encouraged the Rhymentian to talk about his past.

"Tell me about yourself Laun Belldock, why does your name sound familiar?" she asked.

"My family has ruled the greatest city-state in Rhyment, Chothlif, for the past millennium. My father was Yeman Belldock XX. Five years ago he died and I was to take over his throne," the man told her.

"Why did you not take his throne?"

"It was because of the way my father died. He died peacefully in his sleep, and that is not the way he would have died. He would have died in battle, or while he was hunting, but not in his sleep. Then his entire war counsel, six of the toughest warriors in Rhyment, died, also in their beds. I decided to investigate, and what I found disgusted me. It was my power hungry younger brother behind the deaths."

"As soon as I found out about my wicked brotherıs plan, he declared war on the state, and since he was a high general, many soldiers followed his lead. My armies stopped the assault, but not before Jicnceıs assassins could kill my mother, and the love of my life, Eabie." "I became uncontrollably angry. My rage got the best of me, and when Jicnce fled from the kingdom, I followed. Six full moons later I found him hiding in a barn. I brutally killed him, my own flesh and blood, then I returned to Chothlif to take up the mantle of emperor. But, alas, without my queen, or my mother to give me advice, I could not bear to live in that city. So, I left my dead loverıs brother, who was my best friend, Yimish, in charge of the empire. I left to wander the world, in search of something, I still am not quite sure what I am searching for, but I have been searching for it for the past five winters and I have not yet found it," the rightful emperor of Chothlif explained, painfully.

"I know your race prides themselves on their fighting prowess, but you displayed an exceptional fighting ability back at the tavern," Sharshili said.

"I have always wanted to be better than everybody else, at everything. I have studied with every master swordsman, master archer, and master fighter I could find, and now I am probably the best fighter in the world. At least, I have never found anyone who has given me much challenge," Laun answered.

"Iım no expert in fighting, but your main advantage in the bar seemed to be your speed," Sharshili commented.

"Yes, it has always been a Rhymentian tradition," the wanderer said, pulling his broadsword form its scabbard at his side, "to never carry a sword that has a hand guard on it. Hand guards do nothing but slow you down."

The Rhymentian king leapt up from the log he was seated upon and demonstrated his swords exceptional speed for the lady.

"What are the markings on your weapon?" the woman asked indicating to the blade.

"This is Crestbearer," Laun said, hold the blade up to the firelight, "It has been in my family since the first Belldock, long ago. Each emperor of Chothlif has had a different crest, and every crest is carved into this blade. Mine was carved on the night before I went after my brother."

"What is your crest?"

"In the background there is a sun disk, in the foreground there is a battle between a dog and a small dragon," the man said, showing the blade to the woman, "The depiction is from a story that my mother used to tell my brother and me, long ago."

There was a long silence as Laun recalled his troubled past and Sharshili gazed at the majestic weapon of death. The silence was interrupted by Lyhnar, who came crashing through the underbrush, game bird in his wide spread jaws. He avoided the woman and ran straight to Laun, who patted the huge animal on the head, and gladly accepted the present.

"We need rest," Laun said, then he put a few more logs on the fire and stretched out on his bed roll.

Over the next few days, Laun and Sharshili traveled many more miles through the dense forest of Mavbok. Every evening the pair would converse idly, Sharshili asked most of the questions and Laun usually supplied the woman with the answers. But he rarely asked any questions of his own, he scarcely learned a thing about the woman.

Finally, a fortnight after their journey began, they reached the legendary temple of Nagıcoble. From the outside, it appeared to be nothing but a ruined sanctuary, it was overgrown with vines and part of the limestone wall was stained with the blood of forest creatures. But, judging from the first room in the temple, the inside was going to be spectacular. The front hall was lined with gold and ivory and jade statues of all sorts of creatures, and the floor was carved from pure silver.

Sharshili strangely took the lead once they were inside of the temple. She lead Laun through the maze of rooms as if she had lived there all of her life. Laun was a bit suspicious, but he had trusted her thus far, why not follow a while longer and see what happens. Another curious occurrence was the fact that his loyal wolf had not followed him inside the temple.

After some time, they emerged from a small corridor into an expansive room. The room was filled with statues, these made of clay. The statues seemed to be centered around a tremendous crest on the floor. The crest appeared to be a picture of a massive sphere, with many tentacles protruding from its body, and a wide, gaping mouth.

Behind him Laun heard the loud rush of released energy, then an undistinguishable voice said, "You fell right into my trap, puny Rhymentian. I am not a feeble woman, but a priest of the Nagıcoble cult. And you, brave warrior, are to be our next sacrifice to our lord."

All around him the clay statues began waking from immobile sleep. That was the last thing he saw for a long time for a dart from Sharshili, or whoever it was, had pierced his neck, and he slipped into unconsciousness.

Laun woke days later, in the bottom of a dungeon. He was chained to the walls and he had long, thin, hollow spikes sticking out of nearly every major vein and artery in his body. His stomach told him that he had not eaten since he had entered the temple, but his throat told him that his captorıs had given him water.

He had not been awake long when the door to the dungeon was violently swung open and a light that blinded Laun flooded the room. A hideous being stepped into the small dungeon room. It appeared that the creature was once human, but now its skin was transparent and you could see cold black blood traveling through its veins. Its ears, eyes, and nose were all oddly misplaced.

The creature cackled in a hoarse voice that sounded as if it had not been used in a great many years. It said, "Come, Rhymentian, we must offer your life force to the great Nagıcoble. Then you will be one of us. You are lucky, a chosen one of Nagıcoble."

Laun found that he could not speak. If he had been able to he wasnıt sure what he would have said. With the help of the creature he struggled up to a standing position, then the disfigured guard led him up a long flight of stairs, to the huge room that Laun had been in previously.

In the center of the room the crest had been removed to reveal a pit with a bright light shooting through it. All around the room the hideous creatures stood, singing foreign lyrics to a false-god. In the center of it all was the creature that had appeared to Laun as Sharshili. He was now the most human of all the creatures. He probably was human, his appearance had just been ravaged by the forces of dark magic.

"It is time, Nagıcoble, we have a new sacrifice for you. Please accept this Rhymentian as your next meal," the sorcerer said.

As soon as the magician had said this, the hideous creature that had once been the human wizard Nagıcoble elevated out of the center pit. The creature was a green sphere with scaly skin, and over one hundred tentacles extending from its body. The most startling feature of Nagıcobles appearance was his mouth. It was open as wide as it could possibly go, and all Laun could see was a maelstrom of colors, blues, reds, purples, oranges, whites, and every other imaginable color.

All around the drugged Rhymentian the zombie creatures began chanting, "Into the fire. In to the fire."

Laun felt the spear pierce his back and he knew he was being prodded forward. He also knew that he was not going to die like this. He wasnıt going to be some second rate cultıs next victim. He was dizzy, but in his mind a plan was beginning to take form, but he had to have patience, patience was key.

He was only a few feet away from the beast when he acted. He grabbed the spear of one of the walking dead behind him. He spun around and the zombie was thrown into the mouth of Nagıcoble. He then twisted around and stabbed the other creature with the spear. Unfortunately, this action left Laun open to an attack from the god of this cult.

Nagıcoble lifted Laun high into the air with one of its tentacles. Laun could feel the beast sucking his life force out through its tentacles. While he was high in the air Laun searched the floor of the sacrificial hall for an idea that could help him escape. He saw his weapons, but they couldnıt help in his current battle. His only chance was the spear in his right hand, so with both hope and reluctance he threw the spear at the eye of Nagıcoble.

The spear found its mark and the monstrosity let Laun fall to the ground. As soon as the warrior hit the ground, dazed as he was, he popped up and ran for his weapons. As luck would have it they were wrapped in his cloak and they were right by the exit. When he reached his weapons a few of the zombies attacked him, but he quickly pulled Crestbearer from its hilt and cut through them with ease. Then he clumsily made his way down the corridor leading to freedom.

As he slipped into the shadows provided by the hall he looked back one last time. In the grand hall the figure of Nagıcoble, now on the ground, was swelling to extreme proportions, as if it were about to explode.

After this final look, Laun ducked his head and ran foolishly into the maze. After a few moments the Rhymentian was lost and he could hear Nagıcoble dying and he knew that soon a maelstrom of pure energy would destroy the entire temple. Then Laun heard the faint cries of a howling wolf and he knew that Lyhnar was trying to save him. He followed the cries, forcing himself to walk even though his limbs did not want to, and soon he had found his loyal wolf.

Lyhnar led the rest of the way out of the temple, all the while the raging energy storm became more powerful. Laun followed behind, placing his life in the paws of a predator.

Soon man and beast both shot through the exit to the Mavbok forest. Lyhnar immediately ran in the opposite direction, but Laun had to pull himself on to this faithful stead. The second Laun was in the saddle the adept beast bolted away from the temple.

Only a few moments later the temple exploded, creating an earthquake that brought Laun down from his horse. Only moments after Laun hit the ground he fell into a deep slumber. For many days both wolf and horse watched over their master as he recovered from the drugs of the wizard.

When Laun finally woke, he could barely remember his run in with the cult of Nagıcoble, alas he did not care about what had happened. He was alive and that was all that really mattered. So, like a Rhymentian, he picked himself up, dusted himself off, and set out once again on his never ending quest.

Copyright 1997 by Joe Gensweider You can e-mail Joe at:

About the Author in his own words: "My name is Joe Gensweider, I'm fifteen years old and I live in Yates Center, a very small town in southeast Kansas. I became interested in writing in the second grade and I've been doing it ever since. This is my first fantasy work to be published. I became interested in Sci-Fi and fantasy through Star Wars and I've grown as a reader and a writer ever since. Right now I'm working on several short story series and two novels. I live with my mom and editor, Sharon Suske, my sister, Amy, and three cats and a dog. On weekends, my sister and I visit our dad and lawyer, Leo Gensweider."

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