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Apr 30, 14 2:21 AM
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Ginga 10/30/2014 7:29 PM
30 man garrosh hc... only 2 people got MC'd... so 2 max
kord 10/30/2014 8:03 AM
At least the chatbox is working again
kord 10/30/2014 8:02 AM
i would hope that it's configuration rather than coding. My old guild used to use a different system and I had control of it as an officer (as I think you did Ent). Was ok to work with
Entileah 10/29/2014 6:37 PM
depends on how its coded and how the server interacts with host and such i could have a look but not sure how this site works codeing wise
kord 10/28/2014 8:09 AM
Not sure who is man enough (or woman enough) for that job.
Ginga 10/28/2014 5:45 AM
it's been odd for some time now... needs someone to mess about with it i think
kord 10/27/2014 7:50 PM
FYI, BattleNet was giving queue times of 10 - 30 minutes tonight. running wow.exe or wow-64.exe directly worked immediately for me
kord 10/27/2014 7:49 PM
Thre is something odd with the website. I can edit things I shouldn't be able to on the home page, and can't post to chat from the homepage, only from the main Forums page
Jay 10/27/2014 3:13 PM
its up to ~35 minutes now...
Ulver 10/27/2014 3:00 PM
If not, for everyone that hasnt started Bnet. Preparrrrre
 
 

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Stories 
Stories : HomeThe Tuesday Story
The Tuesday Story by Baltazhar83
Chapters
Introduction
The Adventure Begins
The Invisible Riddler
The Jailer
Mysterious Fog
Clouds Lifted
The Departed
One Last Dance
The Rabid Traveller
Verses of the Heart
Dying Embers
Madness in the Moonlight
Preparations
Sparks of the Savage
Torn Away
The Breach
Out of the Frying Pan...
Rising of the Princess
Darkness Progresses
Reunited
The Truth Uncovered
Clash of the Tight Ones
A Royal Pain in the...
On Swift Wings
Through Shaman Eyes
Ancient Medicine Unrav...
The Sound of War Drums
Everything started when I was bored at work one day, a Tuesday as luck would have it, so I started making up a story. It includes events and characters from the Aspiration EU guild.
As the story is based on Aspiration events and characters, it will lack a lot if you don't know or know of the characters involved on beforehand. Further more there are comments in the thread posts on the forum that does add a lot as well - Take it as an interactive story.

If you want to learn more about Aspiration, you can visit our website at http://aspiration.guildportal.com

I started the first post of the thread like this:

So, I'm going to make a story. What kind of story? Not sure yet. Does it include famous people? Hmm, never thought of that, could be fun to throw in some Aspiration members.

Okay, first we need a setting for our story. How about a world of molesting machines and cyborgs? No, too much like Pain's basement. What about a medieval fantasy world then, like WoW? Great idea!
Secondly, we need a main character we can pull through some adventures. It has so be a really notable person, so people can remember and relate better. What about the new Mistress Draema? No, I can't imitate a girl, that'd just end up silly. What about Mordar then? No, he's Swedish, that'll never work. Bladedance then? Hmm.. Youthful, cheerful, an odd British fellow, perfect!

Now we just need a crook, an evil villain to plot something against our hero. A dragon perhaps? Nah, too used. What then, a goblin? No, not dangerous enough. Perhaps we should tell them just yet, to avoid ruining the surprise. Definitely. Sounds like we're prep'ed and ready to go then...
 
Chapter 1 : The Adventure Begins
Beams of sunlight shone through the foggy glass of the window, when Bladedance's eyes slowly opened. In the distant he could hear faint muttering of the marketplace, and the smith's booming voice laughing.
He was quite cheerful, the school was closed on Sundays, so he had the whole day for adventuring the wilds. When he realised this, he jumped out of his bed, into his clothes, grabbed his trusty backpack and ran down stairs. On the kitchen table was a small bowl of steaming hot porridge. His favorite! He quickly sat down and began to eat when he noticed his mother was in the kitchen too. Her eyes beamed at him, when she, a bit startled, heard him. His whole face was smiling at the thought of the day he had planned for himself.
A few minutes later he had gulped down his breakfast, and had nearly flown out the door before his mother could stop him.
"Where are you going young man?" she asked kindly. Looking over his shoulder he replied "I'm going to explore the world, mother!", and he ran out and closed the door behind him.

His mother stood briefly for a moment, staring at the door. "I just hope he doesn't get into trouble, I wouldn't want anything to happen to him" she said to herself. She was usually worried about him, she cared for him very much. Ever since his parent was unsuccessful in giving him a brother, they had been overprotective.
She took the bowl he had used, and cleaned it as if the slightest breeze had made it new again, inch by inch. His mother, Eef, was a very graceful and kind woman.

Storming over the front yard and through the fence gate, Bladedance nearly knocked his father out cold. With a clang of metal they both fell to the ground. Somewhat confused his father looked around and saw his son. "What's the rush?" he smirked. "Sorry father, I was in a hurry to go explore the world!" answered Bladedance panting. They started getting to their feet and Bladedance looked at the ground, at all the plates of armor he had knocked out of his fathers hands. "Don't worry about them, I can handle this myself. Go have fun, son." said Haturod, and started to collect the plates of armor from the ground. He was uncertain, but this he heard a "Thanks dad", before Bladedance had disappeared into the forest.
"Crazy kid..." he thought to himself, as he got up and steered towards the front door.

Once he had run for 20 minutes into the forest, he started slowing down. He could hear the birds singing everywhere, the thin beams of sunlight getting through the thick branches above, and absolutely no people  as far as the eye could see. The forest was bright green this time of year, as if everything was decorated with small glowing lights. There were even rumors about this forest, that some parts of it had never been explored before. This was his goal, to see uncharted lands.
After a while he strayed away from the path, into the darker parts of the forest.

As he wandered in the forest, dodging twigs and branches in his way, the forest seemed to thicken and the sound of birds slowly faded away. The light had almost vanished completely now, like it did at dusk.
From his backpack he drew a small wooden sword his father had made for him. Fighting imaginary creatures, he ventured still deeper into the forest.
He didn't know for how long he had walked, but amidst the dark surroundings, he thought he could see a bright clearing up ahead. Keeping his sword at the ready, he increased his pace. The clearing slit into focus as he got closer. There was still dead silence, but at least there was sunlight. In the edge of the clearing he paused, and scanned the bright patch of forest. There was grass all over, a small sparkling stream and a large boulder. He entered the clearing and began exploring. The boulder was nice and warm, the water was fresh and cold, and the grass was more soft than the wool of a lamb.
Briefly after lying on the boulder, staring into the sky, he heard a voice.

"What are you doing in my clearing? In my forest?". Bladedance jumped to his feet and pointed his sword at the man in front of him. The man looked old, very old, and was a bit ragged looking. "Who.. who are you?!" Bladedance almost cried. His heart was racing. "I am the Keeper of this forest, of this clearing. Who are you then, might I ask?" he said, not a trace of kindness in his voice.
"I.. I'm.. Bladedance, an explorer from the village" he panted. "I see. Bladedance, what an unusual name for a boy. Well then, Bladedance, do you know the consequences your actions of violating my grove will cost you?" said the man, more angrily. "What? Wha.. I never meant to.. You can't mean you would really harm a child!" said Bladedance, fright clearly overwhelming him.
"I guess you are right, it would be indecent to just dispose of a child. Alright, you can live, if you can pass the Trail of the Woodlands. No questions, do it or die!" he said. "But.. Yes sir.." Bladedance replied nervously.
The Keeper pulled an object from his torn robes, and presented it to the scared boy. He observed it for a moment. It looked like a claw. What was he supposed to do with the claw? Duel in a fight? The claw looked like it could be useful in combat, but there were things he's rather have, more powerful things. A bottle perhaps?
"Take it! Take it and your trial will start. Remember, be prepared for anything, as if a giant mental puppeteer was in the sky, controlling the events around you." he said.
Bladedance put his shaking hands on the claw, and took it. "What now? What's going to happen?" he asked Protius the Keeper. He had a still look about him now, and he calmly replied "Now my boy, now your adventure awaits you."
His vision began to swim around, slide in and out of focus. He could hardly make out Protius against the dark forest wall, and everything went black. Bladedance's body hit the soft grass, and he was no longer conscious.

 
Chapter 2 : The Invisible Riddler
As the world slowly slid into focus, Bladedance tried to sit up straight. This was surprisingly difficult, as if his elbows was glued to the ground. Eventually he got up, and with a hand on his head to stop the world spinning, he looked around.
The light was dim, the air was moist and still, and he noticed he was no longer on the grassy patch in the forest. He was... someplace new?

The stone floor was cold as ice, and he got to his feet as quickly as his body would take him. There were no windows in this room, only small slits and cracks in the wall, which only allowed a tiny amount of light to get in. Even the walls and ceiling was made of large, crude stone bricks. This was not at all what Bladedance had expected, he felt most unwelcome. He looked around for a door, but there seemed to be none. Besides some chains on the wall, and some dusty bones on the wall, the room was empty.
Suddenly he heard a faint tapping sound, as if someone was banging a cane on the wall in a room besides his. He tried locating the origin of the tapping, and found it to come from within one of the walls. He tried knocking back, but hammering with his bare hands, made no sound. He remembered his wooden sword and without thinking he jammed his hand, over his shoulder into his backpack. Surprisingly he found his was no longer wearing his backpack. Where was it?
He instantly scanned the room, and to his astonishment he spotted it in a dimly lit corner. He snatched it from the floor, and examined it's contents. It was all there.
He pulled out the sword, and went back to the spot on the wall where the knock had been. He knocked hard twice, and waited. Two faint knocks greeted his ears from the other side, and then a mumbled voice spoke.
"What can run but never walks, has a mouth but never talks, has a head but never weeps, has a bed but never sleeps?"
Was this his test, to answer this riddle? He thought long and hard, to come up with an answer, but nothing he could think of fitted all the clues.


Hmm, that is quite a riddle. What's the answer? Well I can't tell you, otherwise it wouldn't be a riddle, now would it?
But what if he can't figure it out? Will he die? No, we can't have our hero die, but we can't make it easy on him either. What about making him interact with the audience? Great idea!

Can anyone in the audience help Bladedance solving this riddle?

 
Chapter 3 : The Jailer
"I got it! The answer is a river!" Bladedance exclaimed suddenly. When he thought about it, the answer was really simple.
"That is... correct" mumbled the voice behind the wall, and there was a sound of wheels turning and metal bars moving. The piece of wall from which the voice had emerged from, began to shake and move towards him. Like a heavy stone, it grinded across the floor, leaving an open doorway in it's place.

In the doorway stood a dark haired man that calmly said "Welcome to your freedom young man, you are captive no more." and he continued "As the jailer of this basement dungeon, I shall answer three questions, should you have any. After than, you are on your own".
Before Bladedance had absorbed what the man had said, he heard himself asking "Who are you?". A split second later, he wished he could take it back. In the same monotonous voice as before, the jailer replied "They call me Painlasombra, jailer and lord of this basement. You have two questions left.".
"I see..." Bladedance said, and thought what would be the perfect question to ask. He wouldn't want to waste his last two, as he did his first. "How do I complete this trial I am on?" he asked confidently. This could hardly be considered as wasting a question.
Answering with a sigh, as if he would rather be fed to rabid bears, Painlasombra answered "You must complete the tasks at hand, to complete the trial. That is all."
A bit upset about the misunderstanding of his question, he felt there would come no good of starting an argument with his man. He calmed his temper a bit, and thought of the last question. He thought of the claw that Protius had given him, and was unsure what to do with it. Perhaps it would be useful to know it's magical properties, if any. "What special properties does this claw have?" has asked as he presented the claw to the jailer.
"The claw you are holding, origins from a rare winged basilisk. It is said to be able to create a path where none is to be had, and it's to be used with care. The claw can supposedly overcome any challenge, but turns to dust when in contact with glass. I know nothing more of this object." he ended briefly. "Now I have answered your questions, and will escort you out of my basement."

When Bladedance entered the hallway where Painlasombra stood, he saw a long narrow hallway. Along the corridor walls there were small windows with bars, obviously this would be more prison cells.
As the two walked down the hallway, Bladedance looked through the bars into the cells they passed. There was some very strange things going on down here, and he was glad he was leaving.
In one cell he saw a beautiful woman dressed in satin spanking a robed man that was chained to the wall with the words "That'll teach you to treat your Mistress correctly! Spanking is what you get, spanking is what you deserve!". In another cell he saw some rather miserable looking creatures. One looked like a human, just very small. He was wearing robes, had a large green mohawk and around him lay empty potion bottles scattered along with a dead imp. He was shaking franticly while he checked all the bottles. "There must be more... I must have potions, they can't be empty! Not all of them!" he muttered loudly while continuing his chase for a bottle with any content.
"Is he okay? He seems a bit ill." said Bladedance to the jailer. The jailer peaked into the cell and said "Oh that. Don't mind it, it's just Crazy".

At the end of the hallway was a staircase, leading steeply up. At the end of the long staircase, was a wooden door. Painlasombra opened it and looked at the boy. "Out you go, you are free".
Bladedance barely got both feet outside before the door slammed behind him. He looked around, but there was a impenetrable fog surround the area. He couldn't see an inch in front of him.

 
Chapter 4 : Mysterious Fog
The air outside was dense, filled with a pearly mist. Unlike his mother, this was hard to penetrate.
Looking around didn't resolve in any clues as to where he was. He couldn't even see his feet without lifting them up. He took a cautious step in what he thought to be a straight line away from the door he had just left. The ground beneath him seemed solid as a pavement, and he continued the success by taking a few more steps straight ahead. Still, nothing to spot past the fog in any direction. He started walking slowly in the direction he was determined to keep, and he could begin to see something on the other side of the fog. A dark shape, that became more clear for each step. He saw the shape was a door, very much like the one he had just left. Had he been going in circles?

He tried opening the door, but it was locked. He had no choice but to venture the mist once more. The same result greeted him, as he lay his eyes on the door once more. It was still locked.
Cleverly he took out the claw, and scratched the wooden door, to give it a mark. As the claw ran across the door, a high pitched screeching noise cut through the air. He stopped dead, covered his ears and looked behind him. There was nothing there, and the sound had subsided and everything was quiet. Checking the scratch on the door, he started walking into the fog. After a few minutes, the door came into sight.
There was no scratch on this door, but there was small traces of repairs. Just along the lines he had just made. Determined to get out, he started refreshing the repaired cuts on the door, and this time, make them even deeper. The screeching he had almost forgotten, now started anew, louder than before. He put one ear to his shoulder, covered the other with his free hand, and kept clawing the door. He could barely hold on to the claw, as his entire body shook from the wailing sound. When he thought the cut was deep enough, he stopped, falling to the ground exhausted. The screeching quickly subsided once more, but he swore he could still here a faint wimpering. If his ears decided to bleed, he wouldn't hold it against them, because that sound was horrible.

Slowly he got to his feet again, still clutching the claw in his hand. The scratch on the door very clear this time, and could not easily be repaired. A bit staggering, he started walking through the mist. It seemed further than before, but he eventually reached the door again. At first sight it looked as if the door had gotten minor repairs, but at a closer looked, this wasn't your common repairs. The door had regenerated itself, and it was bleeding too! There were still some ooze slowly running down its surface, thick and sparkling green. A bit frightened, as well as desperate, he quickly took off his pants, getting ready for the action of a lifetime.

He tied them around his head, to cover his ears. He grabbed the claw with both hands and started swiping ferociously at the door. The high pitched noise started again, it sounded like painful, unworldly screams. Wooden splinters flew around him as he shredded the door. He was almost all the way through the door here and there. There claw sure was efficient.
"Stop! Please stop! You win, I give up!" a tiny voice shouted. He could barely hear it over his own heartbeat pumping away, but he stopped chopping, and looked around. A small path was clear through the fog. He could see the ground in a straight line, at the end of which stood a small creature, looking at him, sobbing.
It was no more than 3 feet tall, furry, big puppy eyes and whiskers. Its clothes were very strange. It wore worn sandals, glistening red pants, a bright yellow skirt, what looked to be an admirals jacket with medals, and pirate hat.
Still a bit upset about all he had just been through, Bladedance sneared "Who are you? What do you want? Answer me!".
"Don't hurt me! I can't take anymore! I will tell you everything, just don't hurt me." it panicked and began coughing for air.

"I am a nizzgit, that's what we're called anyway. We lure weary adventurers into our trap, setting up an unsettling atmosphere where you can seemingly never exit. Once they have been wandering for a week, without finding an exit, they usually die. We hoard their belongings and eat them." it said breathing heavily. "We make our illusions by magic, but it is a part of ourselves we use, because it is who we are. It's a dangerous life to live when someone with a weapon comes along, starting to tear up the facade." is said more slowly, as if it was falling a sleep. Although it was going to eat him, Bladedance couldn't help feeling sorry for the creature.
"Do you have a name?" he asked politely, watching the nizzgit slowly dropping to one knee, yawning faintly. With it's voice going more quiet, it replied "Yes, I do have a name. You can call me Taw". "Taw? What an unusual name..." Bladedance mumbled to himself. "It's short for Julie" said the nizzgit quietly as it started to lay down slowly, coughing softly.
"Are you tired? Are you alright?" Bladedance asked, starting to worry about the little bugger.
Being at a distance with the fog surround them, his vision of Taw had been a little fuzzy. As he hurried over to it, he now realised that the red glistening pants under the yellow skirt, wasn't pants at all. It was blood.

 
Chapter 5 : Clouds Lifted
"Julie? Julie are you still with me?!" Bladedance cried out, "Julie! I didn't mean to... Wake up!". Tears started rolling down his chins and he tried to shake life into the small nizzgit lying on the ground. His mind was racing, solutions, possibilities, could he do anything? He searched his backpack frantic, perhaps he had something useful in it. He started pulling item after item up, gave it a quick look, and discarded it on the ground besides him. Wooden sword, that wouldn't do much good. The claw, that actually started this mess in the first place. A woolen blanket, "Mom must have pack this while I wasn't looking. She's always looking out for me, but try not to show it too much..." he thought to himself. How he missed her right now, she'd surely know what to do. He could find nothing in the backpack that could help the poor creature. He lay the blanket over it and held it in his arms to keep it warm. Julie was almost completely limp now. Tears still streaming down his face, he silently apologized for what he'd done. The nizzgit didn't react, still lying in his arms with it's eyes closed, only breathing softly now. The nizzgit gave a small jerk, took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. It was motionless.

The fog vanished in a second, and the door he had seen earlier was no where to be seen. It looked like the border between a forest and mountains.
He sat a few minutes with the body of Julie in his arms, still holding a firm grip. He couldn't get himself to let go. If he let go, that would mean the small creature was dead, and he didn't want it to be. Why did he have to scratch that stupid door in the first place. Finally, he faced the facts, and slowly lay Julie onto the ground, still wrapped in the blanket. He wanted to make a proper funeral, but he had no shovel to dig a whole. "Dad told me of the northern tribes, burning their dead. That would be an honorable way to go too." he thought, and was instantly certain that this would be his next course of action.

He didn't wander too far away, just inside the forest to gather some fire wood. A small tree would be perfect, and when he found one he took out the claw and started chopping. With each stroke his heart sank deeper into his stomach, and after three chops, he had to give up. He couldn't bear it, not after what the claw just did to Julie. On the verge of tears again, he apologised to the tree, and began gathering twigs and braches from the forest floor.
Not long passed before he came back to where the nizzgit lay, waiting, dead, with a large stack of twigs. Thanks to his father, he knew how to use flint and tinder to lit a fire, and quickly got it going. He built a bed of branches and lifted Julie on top of it, still wrapped in the blanket. He took a small log from the lit fire, and started torching the bed with Julie on it. While he did so, he chanted some goodbyes he just made up, trying his very best to make them sound like a real prayer.
Within a minute, the fire had grapped hold of the blanket as well as the bed, and started eating it away. He stood on the hard mountain surface, just watching, his eyes sparkling with water.

Bladedance noticed it was beginning to get dark, and he didn't want to stay near burial for the night. It was a bit creepy when he thought of it, and distancing the incident would do him good as well. He traveled by the edge of the forest and the mountain until it was too dark to see. He had brought some of the fire wood from the funeral, lit a campfire and ate some food he had found in his backpack earlier. With a full stomach, although still very depressed about his adventurous Sunday, he lay down on a small patch of moss on the ground. As the fire cackled and snapped, he fell asleep.

 
Chapter 6 : The Departed
With a sudden loud crack, Bladedance sat up before his eyes had opened. Although they most of all wanted to stay shut, and lie down again, he kept them open. Peering the landscape in the early morning ours didn't help him much, it was still too dark to see properly. The campfire was vaguely alive, so he threw the last stack of branches into the fire. Another loud crack sounded, and the ground around him was bright green for a split second, and then faded back to normal. He looked around for the source of the light, but he will quite alone. He kept a watchful eye for a few more minutes, but nothing happened. Trying to mentally prepare himself for an attack, he fell asleep again.
Crack! Bladedance jumped to his feet with his wooden sword at the ready and both his facial expression and voice said "Aha!". Still no one anywhere near. He couldn't sleep anymore, that was certain. He had to find out who was playing tricks on him.

Packing the flint and tinder, along with some other 'could-be' useful objects into his backpack, he got ready for the next light there would appear. He stood watching the surroundings, and he could feel every muscle in his body aching. The patch of moss wasn't as good as his bed at home. Home... He hadn't been home for a very long time now. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Haturod, must be worried sick by now, looking everywhere for him. He really wanted to go home now, this adventure was a bit more th... Crack! A sparkling bright green light covered the morning sky. Everything was momentarily blazing with a green glow. Although startled by the loud noise, he didn't feel scared of this thing, whatever it was. He suddenly remembered something his father told him one. Was thing something called 'works of fire'? The nobles and royal used it during celebrations, but he had never seen it with his own eyes. Fast paced he started heading towards the origin of the light.

He ran several hundred feet over the mountain, past boulders and rocks, trying not to fall. Following the forest border at first, he started running further away from the forest, into the mountains. It was still very dark, but he had to find the source of the light before he forgot where it was. After running a few minutes he slowly stopped panting. He stood still, scouting the skies for signs of more lights. A loud bang and everything was once again lighted green. Bladedance gasped and leapt backwards from the edge he had just noticed now. If the light was shot straight upwards, they were coming from somewhere down there. He crawled closer to the edge, and peaked over the edge. It was hard to tell there even was a bottom to this valley. He tried throwing a small stone down, and listen intently for the sound of it hitting the bottom.
As he lay flat on the stomach feeling the upwards breeze from the valley lift his hair, he thought about how to get down the cliff.

"Lost something down there?" said a kind voice behind him. He froze, adrenaline starting flood into his veins. He rolled around on his back, and looked up at the stranger. Some ten feet away stood a man, slim and tall, with an elegant grace about him, smiling while he said "Oh, sorry if I startled you. I had no intention to do so.". Bladedance sat up slowly, and he started to calm down. There was nothing threatening about this person, more like a best friend he just hadn't met until now.
"Err... You did actually a bit, I thought I was alone out here." said Bladedance and the stranger just smiled at him. "Well there aren't many people out here, let alone at this dim hour of the morning." he replied.
He was dressed in a leather armor, had a bow on his back along with a quiver of arrows and two sheathed daggers in his belt. "Want a hand?" asked the stranger as Bladedance was getting to his feet. "No thanks, I got it." the still somewhat surprised boy answered.
"Did you like the fireworks? I reckon that's what you were looking for?". "Fireworks, that's the name!" Bladedance thought to himself and replied "Yes I very much did. It is a bit noisy, but it is very pretty.". Once he had gotten to his feet, he took a closer look at the man. He looked like a normal non-fairytale person, but there was something about his ears. They were pointy, and not rounded like normal ears. "I'm an elf." said the stranger, catching the inquisitive looks the boy threw at him. "We elves have pointy ears and are most commonly wood folk. We do sleep like 'normal' people, the reason I am out here is that I'm preparing something for tonight." the elf summarized to satisfy the now gaping and staring boy. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to... I wasn't trying to... I'm Bladedance." said the boy and stretched out his hand towards the elf, who looked at it for a moment. Grabbing the outstretched hand and shaking it, the elf replied "Good to meet you, I am Jason, but you can call me Jayth. Most do.". They shook for a few moments, looking at eachother.

"What are you preparing for? The reason you were out here I mean..." asked Bladedance. "Well, I am preparing my last goodbyes. The forest has always been my home, but I want to see more of the world. I want to say a proper goodbye to my clan, or 'guild' as you humans call it, so tonight I have prepared a farewell party before I take my leave. That's why I was trying out the fireworks too." the elf said with a trace for sorrow in his voice.
"It must be hard to make such a decision, let alone leaving everyone that cares for you. Have the elders in your village not made any objections?" he asked, hoping that all guilds had an elder or two. "They have tried talking me out of it, but I'm too young and stupid to understand that the right thing to do it stay here with my clan (editor's comment). I stand by my decision to leave." said Jayth, with an extra grain of sadness in his voice.
"But listen, enough about that. You should come celebrate with us tonight! I'll introduce you to my clan, and we'll have a merry time and you can continue your traveling tomorrow. I won't take no for an answer, now let's go." said the elf firmly, and started moving towards the forest. Happy about the invitation, and the outlook of 'safe adventures' and a bed to sleep in, he happily replied "I would love to!".

The two of them traveled through the forest for some time, while talking about Bladedance's origin and his Trial, and the party on the night to come.
"So you see my dilemma, but I'm glad you could give me some helpful advice." he said to the elf, who replied "You are most welcome young man. We are almost there now, not far left.".
"If you don't mind me asking" Bladedance started and held his breath for a second, "The place your are traveling to. What are you going to do while there? Do you have a special lady waiting?". "What, a lady? No, I don't have one of those yet. We do things a little different than humans when it comes to 'love' I believe you call it. And what I plan to do once there? How best to sum it up..." Jayth paused for a moment looking at the edge of the clan's camp. "I am going to strap my feet to a wooden plank and throw myself out over snowy mountainsides.".
Bladedance stopped dead in his tracks, and accidentally yelled at the elf "WHAT?! Are you completely mental?!"

 
Chapter 7 : One Last Dance
Bladedance was amazed by the count of members coming forth to celebrate this farewell with Jayth. He was surely a valued member of the guild, and some of the elves were crying silently before the party had even begun.
Jayth started out with a short speech, thanking everyone for coming, and that was would miss everyone terrible. And just as Bladedance didn't think this could be anymore depressing, the elf changed his tone of voice and began anew "Now then, let's have some fun!".
The evening involved clever riddles and hide and seek games, where Jayth would hide himself in strange locations throughout his homeland, and the party would try to decipher the riddle to his location. Laughs were had and prizes were awarded for the winners.
Bladedance didn't participate in the events, but looked at the fun from the sidelines. This was more than enough for him, he had a lot of strange customs and very oddly dressed people to take in at once. He noticed on person particularly, who according to his understanding was Jayth's brother. His name was Rolas, but they looked nothing alike. Nothing at all in fact. Rolas was sturdy built, broad shoulders, and... well then there was the fact he was blue, had hooves and a squid on his face. Luckily for the curious boy, in the mass of party guests, no one saw his feeble, constant stare at Rolas, and he got a quite good look.
While everyone was chasing riddles, the blue 'elf-brother' was judging the contest, making sure no one cheated.
All this time Bladedance observed, and at the end of the party, he figured it out. Why the two acclaimed brothers were so different.
Jayth had a calm nature, what wasn't exactly how you could describe Rolas as he, when no one was near, throw bolts of lightning out in all directions to hit and bounce on the peaceful wildlife. And then there was the appearance that separated them as well. "Rolas must be adopted" Bladedance thought to himself, "There is no other explanation".

The late evening hours began to fade and it was nearly midnight. The mood at the party was still lifted and cheerful, until Jayth silenced everyone. He thanked them for their participation, and started a minor monologue about how much he would miss them all, and that he did not expect come back ever again. Among the crowd there was muttering and and a few shouted questions where heard. "Do you plan on destroy your soul after you leave us?" to which Jayth replied "No I will not do that, but I will never again be attached to this soul, but perhaps a relative of mine will". Still more muttering broke out and another voice asked "Will you still be in contact, by Woodland Hawk mail carrier?" and he, in the calmest voice, answered "Yes, I will let you know how I am doing".
The crowd went silent as Jayth was nearing the end of his goodbye speech, and began hugging everyone farewell. People kneeled in his honor, saluted him, hugged and cried their best wishes to him. In what felt like a heartbeat, he was gone. Gone forever.

After a few minutes of quiet talk, the party began scattering up, going to their houses and turning off the lights. Bladedance noticed a man he had seen all evening in the camp, a face that seemed familiar. He kept watching the man until he closed the door to his house. When looking at the distinctive house, it seems slightly bigger than the others, and had massive antlers on the roof. He had to remember to look for the man when light once again dawned on the world, although it seemed very far away right now.
Even though he had just met Mr. Jayth, he felt very sad inside. It was indeed like a best friend he had just met, but then lost in one and the same day. He could really use a hug from mother Eef right now, and hear her voice tell him "It's alright dear, he isn't really gone forever. He will come back and you two can start the friendship you didn't get to have". He look around the camp and saw that almost everyone had gone to sleep, except for a few people patrolling the guild's camp. He very quietly let out a few sobs, and headed towards the tent he had gotten for the night.

As he lay in his tent, he couldn't help focusing on the bad things that had happened. So far he had no real joyous memories of this Trial of his. In the few moments before dozing off, he remembered the sunny Sunday which was long gone, and his loving parents. He was asleep.

A loud voice spoke outside his tent. Feeling quite well rested, he got up and stuck his head out of the tent to see who was summoning him. There was a man in shiny metal armor, reflecting sun beams everywhere. "Waaauw" thought Bladedance as he got out of the tent without removing his gaze from the knightly figure in front of him. The man spoke "Well met young Bladedance. I am Mordar, Warrior and protector of this clan. The Keeper has asked me to take you with me. I have some business in the forest". "The... Keeper?" Bladedance asked looking puzzled. "Oh right, you would probably use the term 'Guild Master'. Here he is known as Keeper of the forest and of our clan." Mordar explained. "Before we go out, I think we should get you some food, so if you please escort me to my house, I have a meal waiting for you there." and he started laughing as he said "And I can't promise it's worth eating, my children have made it". Bladedance started smiling and followed the metal man. The house was clean and neat, and sure enough there was a big bowl of porridge. He sat down and started eating. It tasted delicious, just like his mother used to make it. "How is it?" asked Mordar, looking at the boy eating faster than you would expect. "It's... good..." Bladedance said with the mouth full of his breakfast. While he was finishing his meal, a girl that was barely younger than him entered the room. He stopped chewing and kept staring, moving his head in whatever direction she went in the room. "Ahem!" coughed Mordar, and gave Bladedance a mean look. "Shall we get moving, there is no point in wasting time here" he said quickly, and got up and walk out the door while making quite sure that boy followed him. Just before Bladedance walked out the front door again, he called inside "Thank you for breakfast!".

"Do you have any weapons? It's a dangerous mission we're on." Mordar said, and boy pulled out his wooden sword and the claw. At the sight of the claw, the knight gave a vague leap backwards. "I... I think we'll deposit this claw in the Keeper's custody for now, and get you a real weapon instead" said Mordar and sped off in direction of the large building with the antlers on the roof. He came back and quickly found a short sword. It looked very much like the one he already had, except his was wooden. He passionately on the new sword, he was very excited. He wondered what this mission could be, and if there were fighting involved in it. Perhaps they would slay a dragon? That would be v... "Are you ready to go?" he said and looked down on the boy, who was interrupted in his daydreams and replied "Uhm.. yes, I'm ready, Mr. Mordar".

 
Chapter 8 : The Rabid Traveller
As they started walking out of the camp and into the forest everyone started to cheer behind him. Quiet startled he gave a slight jump and turned around. The camp had gathered in a crowd around something. He could only get glimps of what was beyond the crowd.
There was two large hourglasses on a small pedestal, one filled with red liquid and the other with blue. The hourglass with the blue liquid contained more than the one with the red, as if there had been a contest of sorts. A man stood by the hourglasses, dressed in fine robes and spoke up, although Bladedance could only hear a fraction of it over the crowd. "It seems we have a winner, which ... I know he will do great ... and thanks to both contestants." the man said. The voice sounded familiar and Bladedance tried seeing who this man was. The man he had recognized from yesterday was in the center of the crowd, alongside two other people he thought familiar. He gasped slightly and thought to himself "I know that man in the dress robes! He had ragged clothes the last time, this makes no sense! What is going on here?"
A big arm swung around Bladedance's shoulders and forced him to walk out of the camp. Mordar walked besides him with his arm around his shoulders, and said in a calm but cheerful voice "This matter doesn't concern you. Youth, always so curious, but I'm afraid this is clan business. Now let's not dwell on what does not concern us, and attend to the things that do.".

The two of them wandered along a small path and the forest seemed to go on forever. The windy trail led them on, and Bladedance asked "Mr. Mordar, you still haven't told me what our task is?". Mordar looked at the boy smiling and said "We need to travel to the heart of the forest, because that's the only pla...". A loud crash of brambles and bushes moving interrupted him, and onto the path jumped a short man, with a wild look about him. Looked like a human, but he was only half the size, hair and beard black as the night and skin pale as if he was dead. His mouth was foaming and in his hands was a big mace. He screamed something at them in a language Bladedance did not understand and started to charge them. Mordar drew his sword and signaled the boy to stay back as he ran towards the rabid dwarf. Mordar swung his sword but missed, and before he could move, the huge force of the mace had hit him in the side, swept off the trail and the loud and distinctive sound of plate armor vs earth and bushes could be heard from the forest. Bladedance looked with panic towards here Mordar had vanished into the thick forest. Nothing was there, neither sight nor sound. The dwarf stood for a moment looking into the forest as well, but decided he might as well go for the boy. Threateningly he began walk towards the boy, who had started to whimper a little now. Courageously against his will, Bladedance drew the sword Mordar had given him and pointed it towards the dwarf. He started running towards the mace wielding barbarian in front of him, ready to inflict as much pain as possible. "I caught him off guard!" Bladedance thought to himself, as the dwarf was too slow and didn't get time to swing the mace. He was at close quarters, and with both hand around the sword, he jabbed it into the stomach of the dwarf. It went in as easily as a knife through butter, all the way to the shaft. Horrified by the feelings of flesh and bone being torn asunder he let go and stepped backwards. The dwarf stopped dead in his tracks, and looked down on his chest. Momentarily bewildered, as if he couldn't believe it, he just stood looking down. He pulled the sword out of his chest and cast it aside. There was a lot of blood on the ground by now, but the wound seemed to close rapidly. The dwarf began to charge towards Bladedance, who now had no weapon. The raised mace came closer and what felt like mere inches from certain death, a voice spoke and the dwarf stopped dead in his tracks.

"That's enough Zeather, we've had our fun I believe" said Mordar as he came out of the bushes. The dwarf lowered the mace and turned around towards Mordar and said accusingly "He stabbed me in the chest! He bloody stabbed me!". Mordar laughed "Lucky you don't bruise like a peach then". Bladedance stood gaping and staring at the two, his head almost ready to explode. "Wha.. WHAT THE?! You know this short man?!" the boy demanded, sounding very angry. They turned theirs eyes to him, and Mordar walked over to him and bent down. "Listen kiddo, I'm sorry. We play these pranks on eachother all the time, and I just thought it would be fun involving you in them. Let me introduce you". Mordar continued "This is Zeather, he is a member of our clan. He is a dwarf, a short and stout people. He has been raiding a dragon lair the last few days, so he is on his way back to the camp". Bladedance stood inspecting the dwarf for a moment, when Zeather stretched his hand towards him. "Pleased to meet you Bladedance, it's nice to finally meet you" said Zeather, with a smile on his lips. Bladedance shook his has and asked puzzled "Nice to finally meet me? Did you know I was coming?". Zeather gave Mordar a questioning look and then answered "Well, yes. We've been told that... Yauch!". Zeather gave a howl as if someone had kicked him on the shin with a plate boot, and based on Mordar's look of 'shhh!', that was probably the case. The dwarf start mumbling something in another language and padded his shin. "Anyway" the dwarf continued "Do you have news about the vote in the camp? Can't wait to hear the results". Mordar patted the dwarf on the back and they walked a few steps towards the path that lead to the camp and he could hear Mordar saying something in a low voice. "It was very exciting, but he can't... kiddo... so the new... you could say it's a real pain... haha" and they stopped talking. Bladedance was beginning to get annoyed by all this secrecy, he wanted to know!

Mordar bad the dwarf farewell, and walked to Bladedance again. "A nice man he is, although a bit thick headed at times" Mordar said cheerfully and continued "Pick up your sword and let's get going. It's not far now." Bladedance collected his bloody weapon from the ground, used some leaves to clean the worst blood and sheathed it.
They walked along the path once more for a short time, and then took a turn, leaving the trail and ventured into the forest. Towards the heart of the forest.

 
Chapter 9 : Verses of the Heart
The grove was thick and nearly impenetrable. They jumped logs and ducked under branches for a few minutes until Bladedance got an idea. He drew his sword and started cutting his way through the forest. With the first cut Mordar turned around and said in his usual polite tone "Don't do that, it's no way to treat the forest. There are greater things at work here than what can be seen". "Oh... Okay sir, I'm sorry" the boy said while looking down at the cut branches at his feet. He sheathed his sword with a feeling of guilt and Mordar said "Don't worry about it, the forest will easily recover". They started moving forward again, and Bladedance looked back at the newly cut twigs on the ground, and to his amazement, there were not there. Instead a rich variety of flowers had instantly replaced them, and the branches he cut had regrown and now blossomed in a bright pink color. How was this possible? He saw that Mordar now was far ahead, so he ran to catch up.
An hour passed by, the two of them kept walking through the thick forest. They crossed small streams of water and minor clearings, everything looked so peaceful now. "We are there now, please be quiet" Mordar said in a whisper and Bladedance nodded. They walked into a large clearing where a giant oak tree stood in it's center. It was taller than any other tree, and it's trunk was thicker than a a tower. Carved into the tree was strange symbols, like runes of magic. The tree was covered all over, except for a door at it's roots. A human couldn't enter without having to crawl inside.

"Okay, let me fill you in on what we are doing here" Mordar whispered back to Bladedance, and he continued "The clan has a yearly tradition, where a clan member and a ... erm. Anyway, I need your help on this one. Inside is a grumpy gnome that has the acorns, which we seek. She speaks in riddles and verses, and and expect to be answered in the same way. A right answer gives an acorn, and wrong one... Well let's not think about that". Bladedance looked horrified at him "What if I really bad? Perhaps you should talk with her instead?". Mordar smiled kindly as always and calmly explain "I have been here before, so I can't talk with her. She won't listen to me. I'm sure you'll do fine. Go knock the door three times". The boy looked more pale than ever and was about to object further when Mordar interrupted "No time for questions, this is tradition. Now go on" and gave him a push towards the door.
Throwing nervous looks over his shoulder towards the warrior, Bladedance walked towards the door. He knocked three times.

A female voice, as elegant and graceful as the song of the surrounding birds, spoke "A knock, a knock, on my door I did hear, I wonder who comes knocking this time of year?". Bladedance's voice tremored as it spoke "Errh.. it is I, it is I, who wishes to talk, can you come out to... go for a walk?". "Go for a walk? He didn't want to go for a walk, but it was the only rhyming thing he could think of" he stood thinking when he heard the voice speak once from from inside. "You know the rules, legend and lore, keep it up, you, I implore" she spoke and the door opened. A tiny woman stood before him, in green sparkling robes. She was not very tall, even shorter than Zeather who he had met previously. She didn't look grumpy, although there was a mist of mysticism about her. Something gave him chills down his spine.
It felt as if she saw right through him, like she knew everything about him.
She spoke once more "Acorns be the prize of our game, but first, tell my your name" and he quickly replied "This one who in the forest prance, is named Bladedance". She nodded and continued "From what clan to you hail? Hurry up, I haven't got all day!". Thinking for a moment the boy answered "I hail from neither clan nor tribe, from a distant land I did stride". The gnome looked approvingly at him, as if measuring him she said "You fear me not which is wise, I am no foe that wants your demise. They call me the witch that rose from hell, truth in place I am Anoriell. Now acquainted, riddle me this, Shall you dare to give me a kiss?". Slightly panicking about such a question, Bladedance heard himself say "No.. No thanks.. I'd rather not.." while be backed away slowly. Everything next happened in mere seconds.

The previous sunny sky instantly turned to dark threatening clouds, thunder rolled across the heavens. It was dark as night, only the runes on the tree shone bright teal and Anoriell's eyes glowed with fire, her hands turning to flames. "WHAT?!" she screamed at him, and her voice wasn't very enchanting anymore. Tall pillars of fire sprang from the ground in the border of the clearing, thick as trees, incinerating everything that touched them. Bladedance stumbled over a rock and fell to the ground while backing away from the witch. She slowly walked towards him, as he quickly look around. Mordar was nowhere to be seen. She was right besides him now, and with a deep and unnatural voice she spoke "Even if foretold, you shall not defeat me. I will change the future to my liking, and that doesn't include you living to fulfill the prediction that was made". Out of thin air she conjured a staff, covered in flame with a dragon head carved into the burning wood. "A small boy, defeat me? It's almost pathetic!" sounded the voice, which now echoed through the forest. In the bright orange light of the massive flame pillars surrounding them, Bladedance could see Anoriell's eyes gleefully looking down on him with an evil smile. Her teeth was sharp like a crocodile's, not human at all. "Goodbye little worm!" she laughed as she pointed the carved dragon head on the staff at him. The temperature began to rise quickly, and a sea of flames emerged from it's mouth. The flames began to swim towards.

 
Chapter 10 : Dying Embers
The searing flames from the dragon staff was inches from his face, and Bladedance closed his eyes tightly and covered his face. He could feel the fire lick his sleeves, the heat was unbearable.
Suddenly, everything went cold. Like an instant freezing breeze, the heat was gone. He uncovered his eyes and opened them to get a peak at what was going on. Behind him the wall of fire had been breached by a tiny woman, keeping a constant gust of icy winds focused on the gnome in front of him. The wind not only interrupted the pillars of fire surrounding the clearing, they also pushed back the flames emerging from the staff. "Come here boy! Run to safety!" yelled the short woman, still keeping the icy winds emerging from her, directed at the gnome wielding the dragon staff.
Bladedance rolled to his stomach and started crawling towards his savior, with a unworldly roar of fury coming from Anoriell behind him. He was almost at the edge of where the wall of flame waited to reappear when the winds died out, when he noticed the short woman channeling the spell. "Hurry up, I can't hold it much longer!" she yelled at him. She looked just like Anoriell, like a clone. This wasn't just regular twins, this was unnervingly alike. Confounded and surprised, he stood up with no idea what to do. "Is this another of Mordar's pranks?" he barely managed to think to himself, before reality snapped back into focus. The chilly hurricane winds he were now standing in, threw him backwards, past the fiery Anoriell and into the large runed oak. With a loud thud he fell to the ground, his back aching and the breath knocked thoroughly out of him.

With the few glimpses he caught of the scene, he saw the wall of fire had burst alive once again, as the cold winds subsided. For a split second he caught the eyes of the tiny woman on the other side of the fire, and she looked utterly miserable, but then the pillars of flame blocked her out again.
His back was pulsing with pain and he could barely move. Anoriell turned towards him and walked a bit closer. "It is inevitable, you shall perish here and now" she said in an almost polite tone.
Anew she raised the dragon staff and Bladedance saw the familiar sparks in it's mouth appearing. Deafening all else, the sound of a war horn rang throughout the forest. The still fiery gnome looked bewildered for a moment, and scanned the ring of fire for any breaches. All had gone quiet again, and they were all alone.
She turned her gaze towards the boy lying on the ground in front of her, and raised her staff again. If Bladedance had blinked, he would have missed it. An arrow pierced the fire, hit the head of the dragon staff, and pinned it to the tree. It took a second for the woman to know the staff had been knocked out of her hands, and the boy saw to his amazement that the fire was breached again. This time the tiny woman from before kept the winds directed at the ground, to make the gap as large as possible. Behind her was an elf with a bow aimed directly at Anoriell. Around the two, the air crackled with green sparks, and one by one more people appeared from the sparks. From what Bladedance could see, there was at least 20 of them now. Among the crowd he saw Mordar, sending him a confident smile.

At the front of the crowd he saw the familiar man from the camp, still dressed in the fine robes from the gathering earlier. He was holding aloft a huge horn, and began to blow. The sound was massive, and the rest of the clan surrounding him started to run through the gap in the flames, towards the gnome. Another arrow came flying towards Anoriell, but as soon as it hit her, it incinerated instantly, not even leaving a mark.
Amazed by this heroic rescue, Bladedance looked at the familiar faces he could recognize. Protius the Keeper with the horn in his hands, Painlasombra the Jailer who now appeared to be a master marksman, Mordar running to his aid, the rabid dwarf Zeather, and many more. Spells, arrows and glowing weapons lighted up the scene, as they all went for the flaming gnome.
Just before the first swing of a sword hit her, a globe of fire appeared around her, and all attacks simply bounced off without leaving a scratch. That is, until the Zeather came flying through the air with his two-handed mace held above his head, slamming it into the fire shield protecting her. A deep crack appeared in it's surface, and with a look of pure hate, the gnome shot a ball of fire at the dwarf. He was knocked into the air, and out of sight. Yet more dents had begun to show in her protection spell, and with a more booming voice than ever she yelled "Enough!".
A flash of blinding light came out of nowhere, and all her attackers were knocked several yards back, piling on eachother and hitting nearby trees. Even Bladedance who was still lying down, got lifted into the air by the blast, and sent flying away from Anoriell. He landed near the edge of the clearing, opposite the others. Quickly looking up he saw the small gnome's hands turning into large claws, clothes was replaced with shiny scales, wings started emerging from her back and her face turned into a long neck and head. It was a dragon, that much he knew.

Looking at the clan members that was injured and surely doomed now, he saw green flashes of light appearing on them all in turn, and they started getting up. Burn marks and bleeding wounds seemed to vanish instantly as they got to their feet, and he noticed a very odd tree standing among their ranks. It seemed to be alive, and healing them all.
With another loud roar, a colossal river of fire emerged from the dragon's mouth, and covered the ones that had failed to get out of the way. Still more flashes of green swept over the hurt clan members, and a voice boomed atop the commotion. "Hey! Scale face, over here!" said a man in glowing bright armor. He was positioned in another corner of the clearing, away from everyone else. The dragon hissed, ran towards him and started snapping it's massive jaws at him. Even with the monstrous force of the dragon against his shield, he stood his ground. The earth around him started glowing and he kept the dragon's attention away from the others.
As more of the party got to their feet, they dived into the battle once more, heading for the gargantuan beast. Green lights kept flashing at both the man with the shield, and the others in turn, and the living tree stood there casting spell after spell. By now the dragon had gotten several deep cuts and wounds, and it was bleeding slightly. In fure it swiped it's tail across the ground, and several clan members got knocked backwards. Without showing effort, the beast stretched it's wings towards the sky, and then pushed the rapidly towards the ground.

In mere seconds the dragon had risen several feet into the air, and the gust of wind from it's lift off, made even the man with the shield fall over. Still flapping it's wings, the dragon rose higher, and started flying away. It's voice could be heard clearly eventhough it was far away by now "You cannot stop me, the boy's death is inevitable!".
Everything went quiet, as if someone had muted the volume. Everyone stood there, looking at eachother, and at Protius, who was approaching Bladedance.
"I think we owe you an explanation, young man" he said, but with a kind a slightly drunk northeastern English accent. "Anoriell, can you take us back to the camp please?" he asked, and the woman looking just like the gnome in the tree, answered in a kind voice "Of course Keeper", and she started casting a spell.

 
Chapter 11 : Madness in the Moonlight
When Bladedance entered the portal, it was a cold tinkling sensation that swept him. Like being under water for a split second, without getting cold or wet. As his face emerged on the other side, the camp that he knew quickly fell into place. It was late evening, and the moon was full. It gave everything a magical light, and you didn't need torches to see where you were going. Apparently using a portal does use some hours, although it seems instant Bladedance thought to himself.
The rest of the clan members was going through as well, and the empty center of the camp rapidly filled up with casual talk and muttering, as people were heading to their houses.
Protius the Keeper softly grabbed his arm and said "Follow me please" and the two headed through the crowd towards the large hut. When Bladedance thought about it, it did make sense that the Keeper had a slightly taller house, with antlers as top. He did wonder if the Guild Master was almighty and omniscient, like a form of deity. He would try remember asking that when they had a moment together.

The door was opened and Protius stood alongside the boy in the opening. He looked puzzled at first, but then slightly annoyed. The living room was filled with trees of different shapes and sizes. You could see there was a table with chairs, a desk and other furniture too, but the trees was tightly crammed in there. "Would he bloody give it a rest!" Protius yelled in annoyance, although he didn't sound too angry. "I take it these trees are not supposed to be here?" the boy asked, looking around once more. "No! No.. They're not.." the Keeper calmly explained and kept going "Do you remember seeing a living tree in the forest earlier? That's one of our druids, Moonwell. He's been on a long journey, but has recently returned. And apparently he needs an outlet for his insane ideas and pranks, so this is what I get. A living room packed with trees. I wonder how he got them all in here so fast though...". Bladedance smirked and asked "So he does this all the time? It must be a pain to move all those trees every time?". The Keeper looked at the boy and couldn't help smiling himself "It's not the same each time, it's differs. You never know what crazy stunt he'll pull next. Last week he had planted choking vines in pots around my bed during the night, it took me 2 hours to get myself out of bed that morning. And I believe Mordar's armor got replaced with painted bark not too long ago. Snapped like a twig during training, and it's a family heirloom. He was heartbroken for about 10 seconds, at which point he just wanted to choke Moonwell". Bladedance gave a laugh, "Sounds like fun to me, but if you don't like it, why haven't you said something to this Moonwell?" he asked Protius. "Well.. To be honest, I still haven't been able to prove it's him. He's a very sneaky git" he replied and looked around suspiciously at the trees. "But I'll try to devise a cunning plan, because this has got to stop. Will you help me move these please? They aren't heavy, they're masowood-trees." said the Keeper.

They started carrying out the trees to the edge of the camp. Even though they were tall and thick as a man, even Bladedance could carry two at a time. Some of the other clan members helped out, and it didn't take long for the to rid the room of trees. In the aftermath stood Bladedance and Protius and looked around. There was dirt and leaves everywhere.
"I'll just find a broom to clean this mess up" said Protius, and went into the next room. The boy stood looking around and noticed there was tree just outside the living room windows. And it was shaking as if someone was sawing in it. As he got closer to the window he could hear a faint snorting giggle, and realized that this was no tree. This was a druid having a lot of fun. Protius entered the room again, and the boy turned to him and said "I think your witty druid is standing outside the window, laughing..." but when he looked again, the tree wasn't there. As there had never been a tree, not even footprints to reveal anything.
"It's okay, don't worry yourself about it" said Protius, as he saw the inspecting look the boy gave out the window.
The mess got cleaned up and they sat down at the table. Protius straightened up and looked at the boy in a serious manner.

"Okay, listen up. I think it's time you understand what's going on here. First of all, your parents have been informed about your location, and that we will take care of you for the time being. They agreed to that, and you will see them when you go home. So hopefully that's one less thing to worry about. Now secondly, I know things have seemed a bit strange, on which account I just wanted to explain about Anoriell first. The dragon had taken her shape, to get to you easily, as it knew of our yearly tradition. Luckily she wasn't home, and when she saw the fire, tried to help. And the rest that encounter, I think you know." he said, and paused for a moment giving the boy a chance to absorb it all. "Another thing I reckon you wonder about, is why you have seen many of the people you saw in the jail with Painlasombra here in the ca..." he was interrupted my a door opening with great haste.

In the doorway was the man in shining armor Bladedance had noticed at the forest clearing. He who had held his ground against the strength of a dragon. He looked panting, and just stood there looking for a moment.
Protius the Keeper got to his feet with a worried look. "Ginga, what's wrong?" he said in a demanding tone.
Ginga, still panting slightly, feebly said "The tracking party we sent out to trail the dragon was assaulted by a large band of Grukks! Rich in numbers like we've never seen before. They are most likely rallying, but we don't know why. Some we found injured, and others are missing. We are hoping they were taking captive and are still alive."
Protius looked down at the table for a moment and said "Damn...", and then he looked straight at the man in the doorway "Ginga, prepare the men. We leave tonight!".
Ginga saluted and said "Sir!", and he ran out the door again.

Protius looked at the boy "I'm afraid the explanation will have to wait, but you will have it eventually. You must be hungry, I know Mordar has asked me if you could stay with him, so I suggest you go over there. Dinner should be ready any moment". "But.. uuuh..." Bladedance found himself saying, everything had happened so fast. Protius followed him to the door, and sent him in the direction of Mordar's house. Still very confused, his brain working overtime trying to understand what, where, when and why. He knocked on the door to the house.

 
Chapter 12 : Preparations
Bladedance didn't hear the rallying of people behind him, readying themselves for battle, while he stood outside Mordar's door. The wheels just kept turning in his head, to make these turn of events make sense. "How did Protius know how to contact my parents? And if Painlasombra the Jailer is here, are the rest of the captives here too? They are bound to be dangerous, otherwise they wouldn't be locked up.." his thoughts were interrupted by the light flooding from the now open door in front of him. In the doorway stood Mr. Mordar, smiling as always. "I was expecting you to pop up sooner or later" he said with a grin to the young boy, "Come inside, we have just started eating".
They went inside, and the door closed shut once more.

In the center of the camp stood Ginga, a hansom man, in a shining full plate armor, overviewing the other clan members as they were preparing. In a clear voice he yelled "Remember to stock up before we leave. Get your equipment repaired and bring potions!". One by one the clan members lined up in front of him, as they were ready. Not many minutes passed before everyone stood in formation. Ginga looked at them approvingly, and he noticed Protius approaching. "Well done Ginga, you are a fine Officer indeed" he said as he looked at Ginga, and turn to address the other clan members. "The situation is dire, many that was in the scouting party we dispatched earlier, has gone missing. We have found 3 injured in the woods, but we are missing two - Short Z and Big D. We must venture out to save our brother and siste... Yes, Paste?". Protius looked at a man among the ranks who was waving his hand rapidly in the air, but stopped as the Keeper addressed him. "I have been away for a while, which I'm sure you all know. But who is 'Short Z' and 'Big D' exactly?" has asked, and a breeze of giggles and dirty looks flew through the ranks. Everything fell silent as Ginga cleared his throat and gave mean looks to anyone still talking, as Protius spoke up "Short Z is our valued Officer Zorrin, and Big D...". He paused, looking around for a second and continued "..is Draema, Mage of the Clan". Another gust of giggles swept across the lined up clan members, and Ginga once again calmed the commotion down. The only one among the ranks not finding this funny, was Paste, whose hand had shot up into the air again, waving more than before. Protius tried resuming his speech "... and it's important that w... Yes Paste?" he stopped himself when noticing the waving hand. "Uhm, yes, errm.. Sir, why are they named Short Z and Big D?" Paste asked wondering.
The Keeper looked a bit bewildered at him, expressing no wish to elaborate this matter further at the moment. "Zorrin is a dwarf, thus he is short..." he explained matter-of-factly, and hesitated a bit, thinking. "And Draema is a Draenai, and thus tall" Protius hurried on, and another breeze of snorts and suppressed giggles infected the ranks. Paste looked a bit puzzled about this amusement, but finally accepted this as the actual explanation, as his hand didn't instantly shoot into the air again.
Protius finished his speech, and as the group of clan members began to exit the village, the mood was still cheerful. Jokes and puns could still be heard in whispers between the members, "I'm just saying, that's one epic chest I'd like to enchant, if you know what I mean".

Bladedance stood looking out at the warband leaving the camp. He had a full stomach and was nice and cozy inside Mordar's house. How he wished he could go with them, and be heroic. He wasn't sure that he'd be a great help, but he would try. Ofcourse he hadn't been any help against the dragon. And what did the dragon mean when it said he wouldn't fulfill the prediction? All these question he had to think about, and yet so little time to do the actual thinking.
As he stood staring blankly after the clan members leaving for the Grukk camp, shrouded in his own thoughts, he felt a poke. He looked over his shoulder, and saw Mordar's daughter smiling at him. "Would you like a hot bath? You look awfully tired and a bit dirty" she giggled kindly, and gently started dragging him upstairs. A bit confused, he followed, but threw a look over his shoulder, out into the darkness. He did hope that no guild members got hurt in the fight with the Grukks.

 
Chapter 13 : Sparks of the Savage
Walking along a big path, lead by Ginga, the formation of clan members moved through the forest. The morale was high, and there was a constant mutter about what the night would bring. According to the moon, there were still a few hours to midnight, so they would have the benefit of darkness against the Grukks.
After walking an hour or so, they came to a halt, and Ginga turned to the flock. In a low but clear voice he spoke "Okay, we need to be very quite from now on out. We are entering the more savage part of this forest now, and dangers lurk everywhere. My biggest concern is the Zeni Giants, that feed at night, when all else sleeps. Tread carefully, and don't make too much noise. Oh, and should you see lights outside the reach of our torches, let me know. It could indicate Pit Lurkers. Now, let's move". A questioning hand shot into the air as Ginga finished, but was taken down again quickly, when Paste saw the 'are you kidding me' look in Ginga's face. They started moving forwards across a small bridge, that separated the savage part of the woods, with the rest.

Not long after the cross into the more dangerous parts of the forest, the path quickly narrowed down and was soon reduced to nothing but a slim trail used by the animals. It was obvious that not many dared venture here. To avoid making noises by breaking brances in their way, they filed in a single line formation, and trotted still forwards. The talking and muttering had stopped completely, and the only thing giving them away was the light from the torches they needed, to see the way.
"Down!" Ginga yelled all of a sudden, and as one they all kneeled down and lowered their heads, scouting around for the cause of this. Not many yards ahead of them, was a particle of light, floating around in mid air. Seemingly unattached to anything, it moved around, but seemed reluctant to fly off. While they sat quietly, watching the dancing light, another one appeared, and yet another. The three lights flickered around eachother for a bit, and the slowly started moving in separate directions. Two of them headed off the trail in each direction, but the last came towards them. Slowly, dancing it came closer. A whisper were sent down the line, "Prepare your weapons".

Before the whisper had reached the last person, Painlasombra had quickly and silently jumped to his feet, with his bow aimed at the light. In an instant, an arrow was fired and he had duck down again. It was hard to see the arrow in the dark, but the light had started to twist and turn, and then, it fell quickly towards the ground beneath it, as it became more vaguely lit. It was gone.
No one said anything, as if everyone was waiting for some sort of reaction. Nothing seemed to happen.
A good few minutes passed without anyone moving, when Ginga gave the signal to move forward again. Everyone got to their feet, but as Paste prepared to follow Painlasombra in front of him, he was blinded.

As if staring into the sun, he covered his eyes and looked away. A ghostlight had appeared right between him and Painlasombra, flaring brighter than before. The line of people was broken into two, divided where the light was. Still not able to see well, Paste was rubbing his eyes, but felt a hand grab his collar and pull him away. The earth started to shake around him, Painlasombra, and Moonwell, who was trying to pull him away. For a split second they could all hear a deep growling sound, and then the earth burst open. What looked to be a pit of teeth, rose from the ground, as the worm stretched itself into the cold night air. The light was still floating where it had before, and revealed the colossal worm rising yard by yard from the ground. It's light brown thick hide reflecting the light, the growling sound was a lot louder than before.
The sound of weapons being drawn and clanking metal could be heard, as everyone prepared for the fight at hand. Ginga's desperate voice shouted "Out of the way! It will eat him alive!" as he tried pushing himself through the mixture of branches and people between him and the Pit Lurker.
Moonwell was still clutching Paste's collar and tried dragging him away, but he was too heavy when he didn't walk but just stood there rubbing his eyes franticly. "Paste, you have to move! This way!" Moonwell yelled at him, but he didn't seem to react to it at all.
The worm had stopped rising into the air, and probably measured around 30 feet in height now, with a mouth of razors that could swallow a horse easily.

The light from the worm was still floating 5 feet above the ground, and began pulsating slightly. Arrows and spells from Painlasombra and Anoriell had begun to light up the dark like fireworks, impacting on the worm, who didn't seem to be bothered by it. "Move! Out of the way, I need to..." Ginga's voice could be heard, as he was still trying to get past the rest of clan members between him Paste. The pulsating light from the worm started increasing slightly in brightness, as the chaotic situation went on. Paste, still rubbing his eyes, trying to wipe them and cursing loudly, had started to flash green as spell after spell from Moonwell hit him. No attempts the tree made, seemed to remove this almost paralysing effect.
The pulsating light suddenly gave a bright and blinding flash that even lit up the thick forest for a second, and then went dark again. No one could see a thing, the world had gone from sight. Everyone stood still, trying to focus or at least see a bit of what was happening.

Like a small earthquake, everything shook and Moonwell was knocked back into Zeather who was standing behind him. Many fell down due to the magnitude of the quake, but after a few seconds, it seemed to get distant. The trembling earth shook less and less. Everything was quiet now, and no one spoke, but stood still trying to get their vision back. What had happened?

 
Chapter 14 : Torn Away
Soon everyone started to get their vision back, as the world slid into focus for each clan member, one by one. Getting a quick overview of the chaotic scenario, Painlasombra got to his feet. On his side of the hole dividing the path, everyone seemed okay and getting to their feet with their vision intact. On the far side of the hole, things seemed to have taken a much worse turn. Most of them were scattered, and a few walking back into the path, apparently having being flung into the woods. A small pile of what looked to be dead clan members, lay just beyond the small crater. On top, and short man wearing a very dented plate armor, underneath him was a tree that was moving slightly, as if the wind blew it's branches. Moonwell pushed the gnome off him, and unsteadily got to his roots. Underneath him, a black haired dwarf lay, motionless. Like the gnome, Zeather was unconscious.

People hurried over to attend to the three hurt members. A few stumbled in the darkness, but everyone eventually came to their aid. The gnome, Paste, and Zeather were both lying lifeless. Moonwell was doing poorly, and was missing chunks of bark here and there, and traces of fluids was trickling down his trunk from the wounds. Around the three injured, all members of the party was now gathered in a circle, either standing in silence or supplying bandages to help. "Can I pass please? I believe I can be of assistance" a kind female voice was heard. As the crowd broke apart, the beautifully robed woman could be seen. Waleria walked up to the wounded tree, and started chanting. Her eyes flared and her hands started to glow. Bright sparks shot through the air, bursting to all sides, affecting the entire crowd. Bruises started to vanish, small cuts closed up and even the bark on Moonwell, started to regrow instantly. No one said anything, but just bathed in the glory of the bright and cheerful light, sparkling in the night. Everyone had a warm and loving feeling inside, as Waleria chanted her verses.
After a few minutes, the chanting stopped again. Everything went quiet and pitch black.

"Thank you for that Waleria" said Protius after a few moments of silence. "Moonwell, can you help Waleria trying to get these two to their feet again?" he asked the tree, while pointing at the bodies of Zeather and Paste. The tree nodded curtly, and both the priest and the druid started waving their hands in patterns, drawing clear lines of magic in the night.
"Pain, quick scounting of nearby dangers. Anoriell, torches. Ginga, get us into formation again" Protius said firmly. "Sir!" Painlasombra responded loudly, and hastened into the woods. "As you wish, Keeper" Anoriell said, and started conjuring not only torches, but food and water as well. A few moments passed where the Keeper stood staring blankly, waiting for the third answer, but it never came. He started wondering, and looked quickly around. Ginga was no where to be seen. "Has anyone seen Ginga?" he called out, but only a murmur of "No I haven't..." and "He was here a minute ago..." could be heard. "Did anyone see what happened to him?" Protius asked, once the talk had settled again. "I think I recall what happened" said a groggy voice, and the Keeper noticed that Paste had gotten on his feet again. Still struggling to stand, and with a hand on his head, he started explaining. "Just as the worm blinded us, Ginga had launched himself into the air, to save me. Without seeing much there after, I felt his body tackle me, and send me flying into Moonwell. My bet is that the worm didn't react to this, but just launched itself at the place where I was standing. Where Ginga lay after pushing me out of the way" he finished with a trace of sadness in his voice. He continued, now starting to sulk a bit "I could hear a surprised scream of pain, and a plate armor crumbling like tin foil. He was unbuffed, and unprepared".

With the greatest sigh in the world, Protius looked up once more, at his loyal clan members. "Losing Ginga like this, I believe none of us had ever dreamt of. He was a valued member of our clan, and shall be remembered as the finest among us, for as long as the Aspiration flag still dances in the winds" he said, and bowed his head to show his last respects. No one said a word, and even the critters of the forest had gone silent.
After a few moments, Protius gathered himself, eyes still sparkling in the torchlight, and he cleared his throat. "We still have to save our fellow clan members, as we set out to do. Let's do so swiftly, and without casualties" he said in a confident voice.
As he gave the signal, they all began moving along the trail again, leaving behind the crater in the ground, and the sorrow that it had caused them.

 
Chapter 15 : The Breach
Morale deprived and weary, the party continued along the trail. Everything was dark, and everything was quiet. Low sobs could be heard every now and then, originating from different party members. No one was pleased with this outcome, and fighting the Grukks seemed like an unbearable challenge on top of Ginga's unkind fate.
"We are getting close now, be prepared" Protius whispered, as they all walked silently along the forest path. "Sir! Look!" outbursted Painlasombra, and pointed in the trails direction. Deeper in the forest, huge flashes of light could be seen, and the echoing sounds of explosions reached their ears. "That's the camp! Something's not right!" Protius said as he raised his hand into the air. He quickly lowered it pointing at the lights and sounds ahead, and yelled with all his might "Aspiration, charge!".
Clan member after clan member flew past him, sprinting faster than ever. Even Zeather and Paste was able to keep up, adrenaline pumping in their veins. Protius soon followed his herd, and ran as fast as his legs would carry him, towards the Grukks camp.

First to reach the forest edge, was Anoriell. Despite her short legs, her ability to blink, came in handy at such times. She looked around to see what was going on.
The forest came to a stop, and a large clearing presented itself. There was camp with small, poorly made, wooden huts and a couple of campfires, with some deer roasting on it. In the center of the clearing, was a small mountainous hill, with a large entrance that seemed to lead underground. There was hordes of Grukks running around the camp, seemingly panicking, while the commanders were trying to calm the situation.
Grukks were foul being, of low intelligence. Measuring around 4 feet in height, they were covered in brown scales and fur, with a pig-like snout, and otherwise a humanoid body. They were very unclean, ragged looking, and the smell was easily carried to the forest edge. The commanders were easy to notice, because they were all wearing some sort of oversized hat. One had an old admiral's hat, another something that looked like a Mexican sombrero, and the last had cleverly made a huge branch stick to his hair, making him twice as tall if you counted the extension.
Anoriell noticed how the commanders were getting the Grukks back in line one by one, making sure they were all armed. Their weapons weren't impressive, clubs, pitchforks and rusty swords for the most part of it, but they had the numbers to overrun even a small castle.

A loud bang sounded and echoed from within the cave entrance, along with a flash of bright light blue. All clan members had now reached Anoriell, and were all standing, gazing at the cave entrance. A few screams of anguish could be heard, along with some yelling and grunting.
"Let's move quickly, Zorrin and Draema might be gravely injured due to whatever is attacking the Grukks! Go for the commanders, I'll keep the horde of Grukks away. Wal, Moon, keep everyone alive!" Protius said, and vanished in a cloud of mist. Where he had just stood, was now a giant bear, roaring with fury, making both Grukks and commanders look in their direction.
The Keeper ran towards the nearest pack of Grukks, hate sparking in his eyes. Clawing one of them to shreds before it had time to react, all nearby Grukks flocked towards him, as the commanders shouted orders to them.
The commander wearing the sombrero yelled angrily at a group of Grukks, and started pointing at the clan members still standing in the edge of the clearing behind Protius. Just as his pointing finger went in the direction of the party, an arrow splintered his skull, sending him flying back onto the ground. Lifeless, dead. Painlasombra loaded another arrow onto his bow, and sent one of the Grukks to the afterlife. The remaining Grukks that witnessed their commander's fall, panicked and fled towards the forest. Most of them fell to the hailstorm of arrows, before they reached the safety of the trees.
The commander wearing the admiral's hat, was not only shouting orders, but it's hands were lit with blue flames, molding it into a ball and shot it towards the hunter. As it hit Painlasombra square in the chest, he was lifted off his feet, and into the trunk of a tree. As the healing spells from Moonwell and Waleria flashed across his limp body, he fell to the ground, blue flames still licking his armor.

Anoriell quickly conjured up several bright sparks and shot them towards the commander wearing the admiral's hat. When he was hit by the first round of magic missiles, he started trying to dodge them, but they were homing for him. While under heavy fire from the mage, he started ducking behind other Grukks, having them take the hits. "I can't get him from here!" cried Anoriell to the rest of the party, and a female voice replied "I'll get him!".
Dalaina ran as fast as she could, along the edge of the clearing, trying to get an angle on the commander hiding behind his minions. He hadn't notice her at all, and once she was in position for a clear shot, she started casting a spell. Her hands were flaming for a while, after which she released the spell. A huge carpet of incinerating flames, twisted across the ground towards the commander. It was moving slowly, but steadily towards it's target. A Grukk that was on it's way to reach Protius, accidentally ran into the flames, and was disintegrated instantly, the flames still twisting along. The commander wearing the admiral's hat, quickly stood up, threw a spell in the diretion of Anoriell, and ducked back down again. Too late he noticed the flames coming his way, and the wave of fire hit him, and swam into his body, vanishing completely.
Paralysed, wide eyed and frozen on the spot, the commander had a blank stare. After a few moments, and hollow pop sound issues, as his body was torn asunder from the inside, large flames rising from his molested corpse. Dalaina grinned.

The spell shot towards Anoriell was poorly aimed, and instead of hitting it's intended target, Waleria was pinned to the ground, yellow static sparks issuing from her body. She could not blink, even if she wanted to. Slightly moaning in pain, she lay completely still, staring into the night sky. Moonwell quickly turned his roots to face her, and tried to remove her paralysis. His spells were still ticking away on Protius, who had, with the aid of Zeather, Paste and the rest, gotten almost all the Grukks cleared. The last commander with the branch on his head, gathered some nearby minions, and fled into the cave.

As the last Grukk fell, the party gathered up to treat their injuries, now that the option had presented itself. Painlasombra was still passed out, small blue flames still burning his clothes. Waleria pinned to the ground, now appearing not to be able to breathe any more, Moonwell standing besides her, doing what he could to remove the paralysis.
The members unable to help with the healing, sat down to recover their strength, when an earth trembling explosion was heard, a howl of pain and a wave of blood spilled from the cave entrance, in the centre of the clearing.

 
Chapter 16 : Out of the Frying Pan...
Everyone stood up quickly, and stared at the cave entrance.  The wave of blood poured and splashed onto the ground covering quite a large area.  No one said a word, except Waleria who was still moaning in pain, gasping for breath as the paralysis got worse.  From the cave, at a fast running pace, came something absolutely covered in blood, with a large branch in it's hair.  "The last commander!" yelled Dalaina and quickly fired a spell at it.  At the same time Anoriell sent a flash of sparks through the air, towards the enemy.  The bloodcovered commander didn't speak a word, but just kept running straight for them.  It deflected the two spells easily, as it kept it's heading towards them.  "Wait!" it yelled, and threw the branch annoyed on the ground.  "It's me! Draema!" she yelled, as she ran towards them still.  Now that they knew, they noticed that she was indeed taller than a Grukk and not nearly as furry.

From the cave entrance a deep roar sounded, and it was lit into flames in a heartbeat.  A burst of flames emerged from it's hollow depths, and was shot in a cone in the direction of Draema, and the party.  The jet of fire shot out with such force, that Draema was knocked over when it hit her.  Horrorstruck the party stood, just outside the range of the flames and looked at the Draenai as she fell to the ground, enveloped in the fire.
"Moon, we need healing over here!" Protius yelled over the sound of the flames burning the air away.  "I can't leave Waleria, she'll die!" he answered, as he kept trying to remove the disease that had hit her.  The Keeper looked around and said "Anoriell, can you hold off the fire while we pull her out?".  The gnome gazed at him for a blink of an eye, and said "Ofcourse!" as she began summoning the chilly winds.
Within seconds a strong gust of cold wind emitted from her hands, and she directed it at the flames.  Able to push them a bit back, she took at step forward to push them further back.  There was still a couple of yards until she reached Draema, but she kept walking forward at a steady pace.  The further she got, the harder it became, as the flames grew more intense.  A few feet before she reached the unconscious female, her foot slipped, and she was knocked back with a tremendous force, and collided with the rest of the party.  Landing somewhat softly on Zeather she got up, "It's too strong Keeper, I can't push them back".
Protius looked worried - Useful advice would be worth everything at this point.

Through the jet of flames, they could vaguely see the body of their clan member, who was traced with heavy burn marks, and the smell of roasted flesh hit their nostrils.  Draema tried lifting an arm, but quickly gave up as the pain of the fire burning her was too intense.  She wanted to scream, but couldn't.  She was lying still, keeping her eyes shot to avoid the painful heat tearing in her eyes.
Suddenly a silhouette of small creature could be seen running in the fire, from the cave entrance.  It seemed to not mind the flames at all, and just ran untroubled towards them in the heavy jet of flames.  It was too short to be a Grukk, but definately hairy enough.  It was surrounded by a globe, that kept out both heat and fire, enabling it to move unhindered.  It stopped as it neared Draema, and started channeling magic.  With a loud crack, all fire seemed to vanish in an area around the lifeless draenai, and burn marks, soot, and even her clothes, seemed to restore itself instantly.  The flames quickly returned and covered her up again, but dwarf channeled more magic.  A protective shell appeared around Draema, and she sat up.  She felt... fine.  The small man started running towards her once more, and as he ran past her, he grabbed a hold of her arm, dragging her along.  Both Zorrin and Draema came flying out of the fire as their protective bubbles burst and they smashed uncontrolled into the party.  Zorrin sat up quickly, a bit confused after the collision.  He looked around, and smiled at the friendly faces gazing upon them both.  "Are you okay??" asked Protius worried and Zorrin calmly replied "At the moment yes.  Lucky we both landed on Zeather, otherwise that could have really hurt..".  Moonwell looked alarmed at Zorrin and accidentally yelled "Could you help me here please?!".

"Huh? Oh yes, ofcourse!" Zorrin replied as he noticed the paralysed priest, and the hunter still burning like a candle, with magical blue flames.  His hands started glowing brightly as he mumbled words for a spell.
Waleria sat up quickly, and gasped for air.  Painlasombra started moving slightly, and as the flames died out, he opened his eyes slowly.  He looked around and noticed Zorrin and Draema both covered in blood, happy faces of their clan, and the huge burst of fire, burning from the cave.
"How long was I out? You rescued them already?" he asked groggy, and everyone started laughing.

Without warning, the jet of flames subsided and a echoing female voice could be heard from the cave, booming across the forest, "You shall not get away that easily!".  Somewhat startled, the party all looked at the sooted entrance in the middle of the clearing.  The shape of a hooded figure walked slowly out of the cave entrance.  Burned corpses, crusted blood and dirt, all leapt aside where it walked. "So, you have friends to help you now. No matter..." it spoke in a clear female voice.

 
Chapter 17 : Rising of the Princess
The sun had started rising, and the early rays shone reassuringly down upon the forest clearing. The ground was moist from the morning dew, and a thin mist hung in the air. The clan members standing in the edge of the clearing, all exhausted from the night's events, said nothing. Eventhough they were in a poor condition, they were all focused on the hooded figure in the cave.
As she walked out into the beams of sun, she nearly glowed. She was wearing exquisite black silk robes, with a embroidered pattern of gold and jewels. The hood covered her face, so none of the clan members see her properly, but they could all clearly hear her. "I require you to hand over both Zorrin and Draema to me, I have need of them. If you refuse, the consequences will be severe" she spoke, now having stopped walking. She raised her hand and from underneath the long smooth sleeve of the robe appeared a finger, pale and breathtaking as the full moon. "Them, hand them over and you shall be unharmed" she said, calm as ever.

The Keeper walked in front of the rest of the clan member, as to block her line of sight, making her look at him. Confident he said "We may be worn out and injured, but we would never abandon any clan member. Now who are you, and why do you want Zorrin and Draema?". Quickly her hand dropped to her side again, the sleeve covering it once more. Protius didn't move a muscle, but kept stared determined at the seemingly empty hood of the black robe. "Protius, you are noble as ever. I am sad that you don't recognize me, have I been away that long? It's... me." she spoke softly, as she slowly lifted down her hood. As if everything happened in slowmotion, all the clan members stared as the hood slid down, revealing the woman in front of them. Pale and perfect skin, sparkling white eyes, and silvery blond hair. Protius gasped, "A.. Aramei?".
Her eyes sparkled gleefully at this recognition, and gave a faint smirk. "Yes old man, it is I. On my leave from the clan, I came across research of ancient powers, lying dormant. As you can see I have made quite an effort to gather these Grukks, putting this plan into motion. I am not prepared to let you spoil this for me, the whole world will benefit from this!" she told enthusiastically. With a dumstruck stare Protius exclaimed "Aramei are you sure you are fully awa..". "Silence! I am perfectly aware of what I'm doing. This could be our path to peace and prosperity in this forest, for the first time in 600 years! It's is not a chance that I will let pass me by, and neither you nor anyone else will stand in my way. For this to work, I do require a massive amount of energy, and Zorrin is the best healer in these woods, and Draema the best mage. Both wielding more energy than anyone else".
Protius looking more and more horrified about the thought of possible consequences as Aramei explained, he gathered himself. "You know, if it's the most powerful mage you seek, I think you are forgetting about Ba..". "Enough! No more talk!" she yelled, and she quickly knelt down, touching the ground with both hands, on either side of her.

The earth started ripling from where her hands touched it, and as the waves emitted, the fallen Grukks that lay everywhere, started moving again. They slowly began to rise, as the clan members stood in awe of what happened before their eyes. Even severed limbs slid across the ground and attached to their owner, and one by one, the Grukk army rose again. They lined up infront of Aramei, as she got to her feet again. With an evil grin, she looked Protius dead in the eyes and cheerfully said "Well? Shall we?".
Zorrin quickly got the clan members into positions, they stood ready. Waiting.
As she gave the signal, the horde of Grukks began to run towards the party, all yelling "Hail Princess Aramei!".

 
Chapter 18 : Darkness Progresses
As the hordes of Grukks trampled closer, Zorrin gave the command to charge. His voice seemed to vanish in the hundreds of thundering feet running towards them, but all the clan members heard him, and knew what had to be done.

The clash between them was epic, and the forest echoed with the sound of metal against metal, screams of pain and war cries.
As the legion of Grukks collided with the clan members, everything happened simultaneously.

At least seven or eight Grukks headed straight towards Protius, who in his bear shape was taunting as many as he could. The first two to get close to him got mauled to death instantly, but the remainder kept him busy for a while. Shortly after he took the first blow, he started flashing up in bright yellow, and behind him Zorrin was healing away. The deep cuts in the thick bear pelt slowly closed up one by one, leaving the hide intact as before.
Anoriell fired spell after spell at the Grukks that were running towards her. Blood splattered onto the ground as they nearly exploded from the force or her magic bolts. She kept them at a distance to start with, but their numbers were too massive and she did get a lot of attention when they saw her potential destructive force. She was swarmed and although Waleria did her best to keep the mage alive, her health was declining rapidly.
A loud roar sounded, and Anoriell noticed Painlasombra's pet leaping through the air, and at least a dozen arrows flying past it. One Grukk got pounced and ripped to shreds, while the other foes near Anoriell were struck with arrows of massive force. Not only did they fall dead to the ground, they also got knocked several feet sideways due to the blow.
With Anoriell nearly incapacitated, Painlasombra became very popular. Flocks of Grukks ran towards him, and he started rapidly firing arrows at them. The first one reaching him body tackled him, pushing him backwards and onto the ground. He expected the hard ground to hurt as he fell down, but strangely it didn't. It was soft, almost like landing on a cushion. With him lying down, a Grukk sitting on him beating him up with a stick and even more on their way to join the beating, he was in a bad position to do anything.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a Grukk charging him with a spear and jumping towards him with both hands on the spear, ready to jab him. A fraction of a second before it hit him, he rolled to the side, making the spear miss him by inches. He quickly looked back at the spear wielding Grukk, and he saw that it might have missed him, but it had caught Zeather square in the chest. Zeather's eyes were widened and staring into the sky, blood pouring onto the ground. Painlasombra gasped at the sight of his fellow clan member in this state - Had zeather really left the clan?
The Grukks near them got disintegrated by demonic flames emitted from Dalaina's hands, and she came running towards them. Zeather started flashing bright green as Moonwell started healing him, and the wounds started closing a bit, but not as much as usual. Still healing away, Moonwell thought to himself "Whoa, these bleeding wounds must reduce healing by 90%!".

Aramei stood still as before, just watching the fight, without helping at all. It seemed like the Grukks were still in massive numbers, and she smiled at the thought of victory. Behind her, silent as a shadow, Draema appeared out of thin air. Invisible she had snuck around the battle, for an attack of opportunity. Trying not to breath or move, she looked at Aramei to see if she had spotted the surprise to come. It didn't seem to be the case.
Aramei was standing overlooking the battle as ever, a slight chuckle starting from the smell of victory. Draema cast an instant spell, hitting Aramei in the back, knocking her over on the ground. Aramei rolled on to her back to look at her assailant, giving a satisfied smile when she saw who it was. "Draema.. Aren't you the clever girl." she said with a faint smirk on her lips, while looking at the mage staring down at her. "This has to end, I can't watch this go on and not take action! People are dying!" she nearly cried in desperation, as she started casting a spell. Her hand flared up with blue lights while she mumbled an incantation. Aramei lay completely still on the ground, just looking at her, still smiling faintly.
As Draema lifted her hands to the sky to cast the spell, she felt an immense force hitting her back pinning her to the ground. She lay on her stomach, dirt in her face, the failed spell still fizzling from her hands, looking around confused. Aramei calmly got to her feet and said "I was beginning to worry Twinkles, but you got here just in time". Draema notices massive sets of claws and scales on either side of her head, she had been incapacitated underneath the hand of a dragon.
The huge dragon spoke in a deep and growly voice "I'm sorry Princess, I ran into... Complications. I take it this is one of them?". "That is one of them, the other is the short fat guy over there." she said and pointed a finger a Zorrin, "Go fetch him and take them away to safety".
"As you wish Your Majesty." spoke the dragon, and with a leap and a single flap of the wings, leapt across the battlefield, Draema now clutched in it's grasp.

The clan members were busy fighting the hordes of Grukks, that now had diminished in numbers. Except for Zeather, no one had sustained more than a few minor bruises and cuts. Amazingly, no one had noticed the huge red dragon landing, and now leaping towards them. The Grukks did indeed do their job well, and the three Grukk commanders had stopped yelling orders and had joined the fight.
Zorrin was putting flash after flash on Protius, who still had more than his fair share of Grukks to deal with. Everyone was really having their hands full, there were just too many.

Clan members and Grukks alike were knocked over - They forgot all about fighting each other for a moment, just lying on the ground looking at the huge, red and scaly beast that stood in their midst. Before anyone could react, it has plucked Zorrin from the ground into it's free hand, and with a giant flap of it's wings, had sped upwards and vanished over the tree tops. Protius looked at this happening in horror, got to his feet and yelled in horror "Aspi's, it's time to finish this. Now!".
Before the Grukks had realised the dragon was gone, all the clan members had started flaring with different shapes and colours above their heads. It seemed like they had all been renewed, once more ready to fight again. Luckily the Grukks were slow in their reaction, and more than half of them were instantly killed on the spot, before getting up. Even the Grukk commanders with the sombrero and the one that used to have a branch were killed during this uproar.

Aramei noticed the turn of the tide, and started to show a slight frown of anger which didn't suit her. She cast a quick spell, and her dark silken robes emitted a green flare from within. She started drawing symbols in a circle around herself, using her finger in the dirt, every now and then looking at the fight. She was in a hurry, hardly any Grukks were left and Protius more than anyone had his eyes focused on her. Fury sparkling from within, as his hatred rose.
Having completed three quarters of the circle around her, the last Grukk fell. Speeding like a bullet Protius charged towards her - He was followed by Anoriell, Painlasombra, Dalaina and Moonwell, while Waleria stood at Zeather's side, trying desperately to stabilise him. "Aramei you shall pay for what you have done!" he yelled, as he closed in on her, the rest of the clan failing to keep up with him.
Protius was only yards away and leapt towards her, his massive bear jaw readied for the kill. In mid air, a yard before he reached her, he was stopped by a wall of metal and the familiar voice of a man yelling "NOO!" rang in his head.

Dazed by the blow to the head, Protius looked up from the flat of his back. Before him, looking down, he saw Ginga. His armour was dented, scratched, torn up and covered in dirt and blood, but there he was. Standing tall and proud as ever, but panting slightly with deep puncture wounds in his chest and legs.
"Ginga.. What..." Protius started, but was speechless. The other clan members had stopped dead in their tracks at the sight of him, and even Aramei who stood behind him was looking puzzled.
Ginga didn't seem to notice her, but kept facing the clan members. He spoke firmly "Ara, get out of here...". Aramei looked at him "Ginga? What.. I...?" she said in a soft and puzzled voice. He sharply cut across her "Now! There is no time for discussion, finish your ritual and go to safety!".
Aramei quickly started completing the circle of symbols in the dirt. For each symbol made, the circle started to glow brighter and brighter, up until the point where she finished the last. Silvery mist started to cover her while she gave them all a concerned look.
Ginga didn't turn to look at her, he kept his stance. Before she was covered completely she heard Ginga speak in a saddened tone "Protius I'm sorry, but I can't let you hurt her. I... love her...", and then she vanished.

 
Chapter 19 : Reunited
"Ginga I am... speechless" Protius exclaimed, as he slowly got to his feet. With a sad expression in his face, Ginga stared down at his feet. "I know it seems sudden, and got even worse with my unfortunately disappearing, but I have longed for Aramei's touch in secret for as long as I can remember. Even she has been unknowing of these feelings until now, and what the future brings I cannot tell. A man can only dream...".
Most of the clan members stood completely still, mouths wide open in astonishment. Not even the usual whispers could be heard, everyone had fallen completely silent. Protius looked with concern at Ginga and said "We shall have a talk about this in private, right now we need to return to the camp at heal our wounds and regroup. Luckily travelling in daylight rids us of risk of further Pit Lurkers. Let's move!".

There was a wave of silent sighs among the other clan members as Protius gave the order. Everyone was dying to know more about Ginga now, he would definately be the talk of the month. They all headed back towards the edge of the clearing where Waleria had gotten Zeather to his feet. With a smirk Painlasombra looked at Zeather and said "So, the cushion is still with us, wonderful! My feet are really tired you see, and I could use a rest by now...". With a spiteful, but loving look Zeather stared at Painlasombra, who just passed him by while whistling an innocent tune. The mood lightened as both Anoriell and Ginga laughed at this. Even though the loss of Draema and Zorrin was again tormenting them, seeing the early morning sun and feeling it's heat, helped a lot. After a few minutes they were heading towards the camp again on the path in the forest, when Zeather stopped dead in his tracks. "Ginga?! Where did you come from?! Thank the Gods you're alive!" he yelled in amazement. Quick as always Anoriell replied "The day the Pit Lurkers learn how to use a can opener, will be a sad day in history..". Ginga gave her a wink of approval and he started telling them what had happened as they all walked on.

Bits and pieces of his story could be heard far away, as the volume increased with the cheerful spirit of the party. "A million razor sharp teeth..", "dragged for miles and miles..." and "nearly digested, but managed to crack it's skull apart from the inside..". Everyone was amazed by Ginga's achievement, and was applauding at the end of his tale, patting his back and cheering him on.

MEANWHILE IN THE CLAN CAMP.

"Good morning Mr. Mordar" Bladedance said as he came down the stairs, "I slept like a rock!". "Glad to hear it" Mordar cheerfully replied as he walked around in the living room sorting some travel parchments. Mordar's daughter who had almost just gotten up herself said "Bladedance, do you want some breakfast? I am making some for myself as well and I thought...". It was hard to tell in the intense morning sun, but she was blushing slightly. As the thick git he was around her, he replied "Uuhrr.. Yeah sure...", instantly regretting his impolite manners.
Mordar looked at the two staring at each other, neither or them moving or speaking. "Bladedance, I have some good news for you. You have guests arriving shortly" he said to break up their staring behaviour. "Huh? Really? But.. for me?" Bladedance said as he returned to reality again. "Aye, they should arrive shortly. Get some breakfast and I'm sure everything should be timed well" Mordar said and continued to look in a book called '1000 fiery alcoholic drinks!'.

Breakfast seemed to last two hours for the two youngsters that sat gazing at each other, while eating their breakfast. Suddenly it knocked on the door.
"I'll get it" said Mordar with a grunt, looking at the two turtle doves. The creak of the door could be heard and then mumbled voices. Bladedance was listening intently, but couldn't make out the words of the conversation. The voices did seem familiar though.
As he finished his breakfast Mordar came back in with a beaming face "Bladedance, your guests have arrived". As he looked at Mordar, he could see two people appearing behind Mordar's broad shoulders. This made no sense, but he was absolutely thrilled. "Mom?! Dad?!" he yelled as he flung himself across the table and into their arms. "My son!" Eef said in a low whisper and tears of joys trickled down her cheeks, while Haturod hugged them both in his strong arms.

 
Chapter 20 : The Truth Uncovered
Guest writer, anonymous

All of the clan were glad to see Ginga back among them, all except one.  Protius was deeply troubled. Still not fully back to his old self, the essence of the bear still lingered.  Its keen senses alert to something it could not fully understand. This creature looked and smelled like Ginga but there was something else, something not in balance.  Regaining his composure Protius remained alert and watchful while the clan moved slowly back to their encampment.  The journey back was uneventful and all were glad to be safe, for now.

Mordar was hurrying people about and getting the wounded some much need treatment when Anoriell caught his eye.  She was sitting quite still amid all the bustle of the camp and this concerned him.  Dropping a small tent he was carrying he approached her and noticed she was deep in thought. “Penny for them?” he quipped.  She looked up and then looked away. “What is it girl?” he asked, “What troubles you?” “I’m worried about Protius” she said “He’s on edge and I’ve seen that look in his eyes before.” “Can you talk to him Mordar please? I know he listens to you.”  Mordar shifted his balance slightly so he could view the area where Protius and Ginga were seen to be talking.  He too could see the set of his leader’s shoulders, his tight lips and clenched jaw line.  “I'd better act fast” he said.  Striding purposely over to the two would be combatants he placed a firm hand on Ginga’s shoulder, “GINGA you old bugger how are you?” he said.  Ginga mumbled a vague reply then Mordar turned to Protius.  “If I can have a moment of your time Protius?” “There are matters that need your urgent attention”.

Snapped out of his watchful state Protius followed Mordar to where Anoriell was sitting. She shifted uncomfortably as they approached.  “Do you sense it to?” Protius asked. “Yes” she said meekly.  “I felt something was wrong as we travelled homeward, It’s like there’s Ginga and something else in the same space at the same time.  I hope you don’t mind but I slipped away from the group and teleported off to visit someone, he should be arriving shortly.”   “We must be ready for anything.” Protius said.  “Mordar, that lad who’s staying with you, can he be trusted?” “Yes” Mordar replied “Just not with my daughter.” “I have a task for him.” Said Protius “Give him this note and ask him to take it here.” Protius took out a small map from his pocket and jabbed his finger at a small encampment on the banks of the river. Mordar looked up from the map with a cautious look and said “You really want to involve him in this?” “We have no choice, he has the skills we need to uncover the truth”.

Mordar headed off to his house hoping the distraction of the lads parents would keep his daughter safe for a few more hours at least. Protius turned to Anoriell and said “Will you go and see if Waleria is free and bring her over.  I need her wisdom on this and her skills.”  Panting slightly Mordar arrived with the message from Protius.  Seeing his daughter intact he bade the family over and gave them the news. Neither Haturod nor Tuerluna were happy at having their son sent off on a dangerous errand. So much so that Haturod demanded he be the one to go. Mordar placed a steady hand on Haturod’s shoulder and said, ”After all he’s been though I doubt there’s much danger left for him to find.” “The journey to the encampment is short and on safe paths.”  With that he gave the note and map to Bladedance and told him to hurry.

“What’s up Protius?” asked Waleria as she drew closer to where he was waiting.  “Have you noticed anything odd or different about Ginga since his return to us?” he asked.  “Nothing to unusual” she said.  “Apart from his manner.” “Having just escaped the inards of a fierce beast I guess I would be more chatty and jovial too.” “There is that I suppose,” said Protius, ”but I sensed something just after the battle and I need to act fast.” “There are forces at work here I need to counter and with Zorrin gone I have to use other means.”

Mordar emerged from his home to the sound of leathery wings beating frantically to slow a hasty decent. Unfortunately the owner of the drake had misjudged the tree line and was now picking bits of twig and leaves from his cloak while his mount tried to fold up its wings and look for some rodent snack scurrying past.  Both Painlasombra and Dalania had hastened to the scene at hearing the crash and were smirking at the new comer. “When will those beasts ever get the hang of a power decent!“ he said. “Three months of training and he still gets stuck going over mountains if I leave him to his self.”  

Dalania walked forward as the new comer removed his helm. “Hello Rustig, Anoriell said you would be dropping in and I guess she was right.” “What are you doing here?” Painlasombra said, as he moved forward and shook the Knights hand. “I was asked to come by a friend who just popped in earlier.” He said. “She was concerned about Ginga and gave me the news of recent events.”   

Modar gave a nod to Rustig as he moved back to where Protius was sitting in conversation with Anoriell and Waleria. “It must be fast.” He heard Protius say. “We will only have a moment to trace it to the source once it begins.”  “Rustig will buy us some time Protius” Anoriell said “but can you count on your request being accepted?  Will he come?”  “I have faith in him returning,” said Protius “he will not fail me.” “Waleria start your preparations for the ritual, we only get one shot at this and should we fail Ginga will be lost to us forever.”

As Waleria and Anoriell departed, Mordar moved closer to Protius and said “What part if any do I have in your plan?” Protius sat down heavily and for the first time Mordar noticed a sadness in the eyes of the keeper. “Mordar when the times comes you must step forward and restore calm.“  “But surely that’s your Job Protius.”  Mordar said, a little faster than he would have liked.  “Very soon Mordar,  I must force Ginga into single combat for the right to stay and I’m not sure I’ll still be standing at its finish.”

Waleria was chanting quietly to herself as Rustig neared, she looked up and smiled “Anoriell is over there grabbing some mana potions, just in case” she said.  “Can you really do what she thinks you can?”  “I only have once before and that was not on a fellow Knight.” He said.  “If he sees it coming he will be able to stop it.”  “Then let’s hope Protius’s plan works for all our sakes.”  She said.

It was at that moment Bladedance chose to arrive back in camp.  He hurried over to Protius and Mordar.  “Mr Mordar” he said. “I went to the cabin but there was no one there so I left the note under an empty bottle on the table.  I hope that’s okay?” Mordar looked at Protius who stood up and walked over to the lad.  “Was there anything else on the table?” he said.  “Just a sharpening stone and some oily cloths Mr Protius.”  Protius was deep in thought for a moment. “Mordar see the lad to safety and then seek out Waleria and the others and ask them to make ready.”

 
Chapter 21 : Clash of the Tight Ones
Guest writer, anonymous

The sun was just starting to set bathing the camp in the long shadows of twilight when Protius made his way over to where Ginga stood recounting his tale to the clan. “And then with the last of my strength I cleaved the head of the beast and staggered forward from its lifeless maw.  Each step an agony as I sucked in great lung fulls of blessed air.”  The crowd was cheering and Protius had to shout to make himself heard above the growing noise. “OH REALLY” he yelled. Ginga tensed for a moment, relaxed his shoulders then turned to face him. “Ah Protius I see you are keen to hear of my adventures” he said smiling with a lopsided grin. “Indeed I am” said Protius. “I wonder if you could enlighten us all on how you survived the corrosive juices of the pit lurker.” Your armour bears the marks of many impacts and bites yet no traces of acid corrosion!”  “Ah I see senility is finally caching up with you old man” Ginga said as he turned, grinning at the gathered crowd.  “Have you been falling asleep face down on your table again?” he smirked.

“We all grow old Ginga and yes some of my reactions are a little slower these days but my mind and eyes are as sharp as ever.”  As you have not given an answer to my first question I will ask only one more.”  The clan sensing something was wrong started to put some distance between themselves and their leaders. Soon a large circle formed around them.  “Ask your question then old man” Ginga spat.  Protius, ever watchful had seen Ginga’s hand drop slowly to the hilt of his sword and was ready. “Can you tell me then Ginga, Old Friend”, Protius let the last part of the sentence hang in the dwindling light for maximum effect. “Why is it your left hand now reaches for your sword and not your right?”

In an instant Ginga withdrew his blade and laughed as he raised it skyward. “Your time has come old man.  For when the sun rises again your eyes will not see it. Lowering his visor into place, he ran towards Protius, his feet thundering over the forest floor. At that same instant Protius completed chanting his spell. His bones and skin were stretching, sinews and muscle bulking his frame. His face elongated under great pressure and he let out an agonising scream which turned into a deafening roar as the bear spirit took him.

He charged forward at ferocious speed and crashed into Ginga’s shield. Ginga braced and bore the huge weight, his feet rutting the forest floor. Huge paws deflected blow after blow from Ginga’s lightning fast attacks. Time after time Ginga’s shield bore the scars of rows of razor sharp teeth and claws.  The ground burned and seethed as each tried to gain the advantage. Purple fire spewed forth from Protius only to be countered by Ginga’s incantations. Majestic symbols formed above Protius and were sent crashing down upon him blasting and scorching his body. Cool waves of regenerating power flowed forth and doused the flames each time.  Each was looking to find a weakness in the others strategy. They broke apart and began circling each other.

Protius reared up on his hind legs and roared. Fur and claws shrank back and were replaced by sprouting feathers, the great bear jaw distorted and formed into a curved beak.  Two huge horns sprang forth from the head of the creature and once where the great bear had stood a huge horned owl now took its place.

Ginga was quick to react; dropping his shield and sword he withdrew a huge blade from it's sheath on his back.  Raising it high above his head he lunged at Protius.  In an instant, huge roots surged skyward grabbing and holding Ginga fast.  Protius was making small intricate movements with the tips of his wings and it seemed for a moment the Moon had descended into camp. Then a blinding explosion of raw power crashed down onto Ginga’s struggling form tearing the helm from his head.  The blast was so intense it destroyed the roots holding him and he surged forward into a hail of green death.  His body wracked with pain, he stumbled for a moment before the onslaught.  Seeing his advantage Protius pressed home the attack. Great currents of air formed around Ginga’s ravaged body and tossed him high into the air.  Protius began the incantation of the stars and just as the winds abated he brought down a colossal bolt of pure starlight which smashed Ginga’s body to the earth inside a flaming crater.  The clan looked on horrified.

“Nice try Old man.” said Ginga as he emerged from the smouldering crater his body surrounded with a golden glow.  “Now it’s my turn.” Protius noticed the small flecks of foam forming at the corners of Ginga’s mouth.  He knew this would soon be over.  With Ginga protected in this way there was nothing he could do but wait.  He smiled to himself and beckoned Ginga forward with the tips of his feathers.

Raging at the insult Ginga charged forward and drove his blade into the side of Protius. The force of the blow lifted him from his feet and sent him crashing down to the earth, blood gushing from the deep wound.  Ginga circled the stricken keeper his eyes ablaze with battle lust, white foam now ran from the corners of his mouth.  He dismissed his protective aura and screamed in triumph “They are mine now Old man. You have failed completely.”

It was at this moment that Waleria and Rustig struck.  A nimbus of pure golden light erupted from Rustig’s out stretched hand and enveloped Ginga. For a moment his image seemed to shimmer. “NOW”, screamed Anoriell as Waleria began the ritual of control. Three bright globes raced towards the shimmering form of Ginga, passing easily through Rustig’s Hand of Protection spell and struck him around the head. Ginga grabbed his head and fell to his knees writhing in pain and confusion, yet through this he could hear Waleria's soothing voice in his head, suggestive and friendly.  As the three globes of control were spinning around his head, three additional globes came flying into the nimbus containing Ginga, and a battle for control arose.

 “Another priest, close by!" yelled Waleria breathlessly as she fought to counter the energies recoiling back to her. “Find him quickly! I can’t hold this for long.” Painlasombra leapt forward driving his hands deep into the earth. His breathing slowed to a stop as every fibre of his being searched for the assailant. A slight movement to the Northwest of the camp.  “Northwest!", he screamed grabbing his bow and sending out a flare.  As the clan surged forward to where his flare had fallen visions of their worst nightmares sprang forth in their minds.  In fear and panic they broke in all directions each looking to escape their torment.

A dark figure strode forward from the light of the flare and laughed. His voice boomed across the clearing, “He is ours you fools.  Your leader lies dying and you cower before me.  Now you will know fear and suffering.  Now you will know despair. Flee, flee for your very lives for none may stand before me and live.” He withdrew a small slender wand from within his robes and raising his arms he shouted “Know this Aspiration your time is at and en... Urrghhh.”  The sentence was left unfinished as a fountain of dark blood erupted from the chest of the robed figure. He looked down to see six inches of steel protruding through his robe. He tried to turn and see his attacker only to find there was no one there. “Can’t be” he said as he slumped to the ground dead.

As the fear spell wore off the clan gathered around the corpse of the priest. Anoriell was the first to speak “Protius had faith in you and you proved him right” She said to the air in front of her.  “Who are you talking to?” said a voice from behind them.  As they all turned they saw a masked man kneeling beside Protius. “Looks like the old man’s been overdoing it again I see” he said removing his mask and flashing them a wry smile.  “Perhaps one of you healing types would care to tend to him and another go and see if Ginga’s ok” he said.  “With all those balls bouncing around his head when he wakes up he’s going to have the worst headache this side of Feralas.”

Mordar seeing his moment, stepped forward “Ok, the shows over people. Get the camp secured and post sentries, it’s going to be a long night, Waleria, can you tend to Protius and Moonwell can you see to Ginga please.  I know you all have questions but they can wait till morning.  In the mean time I need to have a word with Umbra if he would be so kind”.  Umbra looked up from Protius and grinned “I’ll be along presently Mordar.  Just making sure the old bugger is ok.”  Mordar strode off leaving Waleria and Umbra with Protius.  “Looks bad” said Umbra.  “Just give me a few hours with him and I’ll have him back on his feet again.” she said.  “Would you two mind not having a conversation about me as if I was not here.” Protius protested.  Umbra looked down at the Keeper and raised a mocking eyebrow. “How could you be sure?” he asked.  “I could have been travelling again and then where would you be?”  Protius smiled and tried to shift his weight but the glare he got from Waleria quickly changed his mind.  “How is Ginga?” Protius asked, as Waleria began another healing ritual.  “It’s just as well you knocked his helm off” said Umbra. “I dread to think what would have happened if those balls tried to fight inside his head.”  “Do you have the note?” asked Protius.  Umbra fished inside his tunic and withdrew the note and grinned as he read it again ‘GINGA OWES ME 300 GOLD AND I AIM TO COLLECT TONIGHT’  “You knew I would have to watch you try and get your money back” he smiled.  “Protius you are one tight fisted old bastard aren’t you!”  Protius smiled weakly. “Best get off to Mordar’s and have a chat about recent events Umbra.” Protius said.  “Now that we have Ginga back we may find a clue as to what happened to Zorrin and Draema.”

 
Chapter 22 : A Royal Pain in the...

"Eef and Haturod, I will have to ask you to go outside for a moment" Mordar's voice interrupted their conversation with their son. "And you too sweetheart" he said looking at his daughter. Without objections they quietly headed out the front door. Mordar sat down at the big oak table in the living room, and only moments later Umbra came in the door. He closed it behind him and went into the living room and sat down opposite Mordar.
It had been so long since he was here last, and yet everything was as he remembered them. He hadn't thought about it at all, but now he felt how much he missed the place. Mordar, Protius, everyone, the camp, the chats, everything...

"I'm glad to see your return Umbra" said Mordar in a very official voice, "And with perfect timing as well". Umbra smirked slightly and responded in his casual low voice, "The old man wouldn't have wanted it any differently - I might be the most dependable unpredictable person around these parts".
With a somewhat loud commotion outside, they continued to talk for another hour, about the recent events.

Outside Ginga slowly got to his feet, still holding his hands to his head. "This must be the worst headache on this side of Feralas" he thought to himself as Moonwell helped him up. "What has happened?" he asked while looking around the still spinning camp. He could see many stares switching from looking at him, to looking at where Waleria was sitting. "Who's that lying there? Oh no.. Don't tell me it's... Holy shit!" he said before he could think about it. Is Protius okay? What happened to him?!" he demanded, looking around at anyone who had their eyes on him.

"You fought him, and you both got wounded quite badly. You were mindcontrolled by evil forces, and that's why you can't remember anything" said Anoriell softly. "Don't worry, Protius will be just fine" she continued, "Waleria is a very capable healer, and I don't think there's anything she can't..." she stopped at the yell.

"Moonwell, could you come over here! Hurry!" shouted Waleria as she kept performing rituals on the wounded Keeper. Unrooting and running, Moonwell quickly came to Waleria's side. "What's wrong?" he panted slightly and looked down at the deep wound in Protius' side. "It just won't heal! I've tried all the poison and disease cures I can think of, but it looks very infected" Waleria sobbed desperately. "Perhaps it's a curse, allow me to have a look Waleria" said Moonwell calmingly and bent his branches over the bleeding old man on the ground before him. "Nothing happens... what is this sorcery?!" the druid gasped, as his attempt to remove the curse failed.

Mordar and Umbra came out to the centre of the camp and saw to their disbelief that Protius was still lying down, bleeding. A circle of concerned Clan members had gathered around him, and everyone able to heal was giving him their utmost attention. Even Ginga was standing there looking rather nervous despite his poor condition.

MEANWHILE

"What do you mean he failed?!" snarled Princess Aramei at Lightcrawler as he had given her the bad news. "I... I'm sorry Milady, but he died by the hands of Umbra. There was nothing I could do..." he apologised, but she was not satisfied. "If this is the sort of news I can expect you to deliver, I might as well behead you now!" she yelled at him. "P.. please don't! I shall not disappoint you again Milady!" he cowered as he bowed his head.

She looked thoughtful for a moment and then asked him mockingly "Did you remember to enchant Ginga's sword as I told you?". "Yes, yes Milady, I did! There is no chance they'll get that old geezer Protius cured before it's late. Good riddance I say, that man was a walking tomb stone anyway" Lightcrawler giggled at the thought. Princess Aramei had a slight frown now, a feeling of uncomfort washed over her at those words. "Silence! No one shall talk about Proius the Keeper as long as I live - he might be ancient and a fool, but a great man nonetheless". She paused for a moment, and then continued in a quiet voice "A shame he needs to go, but it's the only way".

"Lightcrawler, when you're done cowering go see to the prisoners".


 
Chapter 23 : On Swift Wings
"You don't have to do this, you can still choose another side of this war!" the short bearded man called as druid walked past. "Listen to me please" he continued, "I know you're new in this land but you are most welcome in the camp. Aspiration would be most pleased to have you, I am sure of it".
"Zorrin give it a rest, you are better off saving your breath than trying to communicate with this maggot of a druid!" Draema said while giving Lightcrawler a look of contempt. "The clan will come to our aid as they have done before. They will not stop until we are found!" she started yelling at Lightcrawler that was seemingly adjusting something with a wrench.

They couldn't make out what the device was, it was well covered with a big piece of cloth. If only they could get another angle on it, then perhaps they could see more. Unfortunately, their cage wouldn't allow them to move all too much.

Lightcrawler spoke in a low, but clear voice, "They will look for you until you are dead, then they will stop and mourn. Life goes on, don't think the world revolves around you". His eyes didn't leave the bolt he was tightening, and soon after he was done and covered the device up again. "Interesting isn't it?" he smiled as he noticed Draema and Zorrin's eager eyes, trying to see what the cloth kept from their eyes. At this comment they started looking around the room instead, pretending they hadn't even noticed whatever he was talking about.

Lightcrawler quietly walked over to the cage that contained the two clan members. In a hushed whisper he said to them "Listen, I'm sorry that I have to do this. Trust me I would prefer not to, but I don't have a choice". He looked nervously around for anyone listening in. "I can't tell you what the plan is for you two, because honestly I don't know".
Zorrin spoke quickly and in a low voice he asked "What has happened to you? Are you spellbound by magic? The dark Princess Aramei is known to be a good sorceress when it comes to powerful spells". Before Zorrin could finish, the druid had started shaking his head, "No, no it wasn't her. That's the odd thing. I think it's a curse, and a powerful one too. Sometimes it even causes my mind to disconnect completely, only to work again a few minutes later. Now I don't know much about it, but I think the Princess hinted that I had been cursed by someone called Ba..." - a sharp voice cut across him before he could finish.

"You filthy maggot! You are talking to the prisoners now?!" Princess Aramei shouted furiously, her nostrils flaring at the sight of them, "It looks like we need to refresh your 'medication'". After this initial shock of her sudden presence, they noticed she had a limp night elven man dangling from her left hand. "If I see you doing anything remotely like that again Lightcrawler, I can promise you that you won't even be able to crawl into the light after I'm done with you! Now put this one in the cage next to them, our scouts picked him up earlier", she said still with anger echoing in her speech. She threw the limp man in Lightcrawlers direction, without the slightest effort. With a thud he hit the ground before the druid, who took him by the feet and dragged him into the cell. "Good, now lock him up and come with me. I have a task for you" she shouted at him, and walked out the room. He quickly locked the cage and followed his Princess.

MEANWHILE

"Mordar would you follow me please" Waleria asked him polite but sharply, as she walked away from the gathering crowd. When they were out of earshot of everyone else, Waleria gave Mordar a very concerning look. "I have this bad feeling in my gut, a feeling that tells me Protius will not make it" she said, her eyes glistening as they filled with tears. Mordar gave her a big hug, "Don't give in to the bad thoughts, we have to keep the faith" he said, still holding her in his arms. "Perhaps one of the other clan members would have a suggestion, we need to find a way of asking them without alarming the Keeper too much" he said while letting go of Waleria.
"Is that so?" said a cheerful voice that didn't seem to have an owner. They looked confused around for a bit, until Mordar with a look of great realisation said "Would you stop doing that Umbra?". Smiling Umbra appeared before them "Sorry mate, couldn't help myself. It never stops to amuse me". They stood quietly looking at each other for a few moments, thinking about the same thing.

"You know..." started Umbra, "There might be hope still for the old geezer. You see, there is this shaman living up in the northern mountains". First there was joy in Waleria and Mordar's eyes at the good news, but then Waleria frowned slightly and said "But the northern mountains are several days away from here, Protius won't stay around for that long". Realising this, Mordar started looking sad as well.
Umbra's face kept it's slight mischievous grin as he said "I know, but I have a plan. You see, we have something which is a huge advantage when it comes to speed". He nodded towards the big drake that was chained up easily visible behind the trees. "Rustig's drake..." asked Mordar and looked thoughtful for a moment. With his everlasting smile Umbra continued, "Exactly! We have Rustig, the dragon tamer of the west, right here in our own camp. The lad's gotten quite a reputation for himself, and I think he's more than capable of helping us out."

Waleria went back to attending to Protius, and see if she could ease his suffering. Umbra pretended nothing was out of the ordinary, which he apparently did best by seeing just how close he could sneak to Rustigs drake without being spotted. Meanwhile Mordar quietly pulled Rustig aside into his house, and started filling him in on the details Umbra had described.

Never had the camp centre been so crowded, and yet so quiet. Everyone was looking at Protius, as Haturod and Ginga slowly lifted him up to take him inside. Anoriell and Waleria had watery eyes, Pain was taking a keen interest in his bow string to avoid getting too upset, and even Zeather the cushion was wetting his big black beard in sorrow. "Not only are Zorrin and Draema missing, now the Keepers life is hanging in the balance as well" said Dalaina, not a trace of joy in his voice.

Moonwell looked at the group following the Keeper, when he noticed that Umbra was limping his way out of the forest, his armour slightly ripped and burnt. "Guess that was too close" he said, while smiling at Moonwell, who stared at him in disbelief.

 
Chapter 24 : Through Shaman Eyes
Everyone gathered in the hospital quarters, around the sick bed of the Keeper. Considering his condition, he looked quite happy but exhausted.
The door creaked open and Mordar came in without making too much noise. Just before he managed to close the door, a loud roar from the drake sounded from outside. They heard the sound of huge wings taking off and witnessed at least one tree uproot. All looked at Mordar with a startled expression, so he calmly explained that it was just Rustig going on an errand, then he closed the door. Now that he had everyone's attention (thanks to Rustig), he looked at them all and raised his voice slightly. "Let's all give Protius a rest, while Waleria and Moonwell do what they can to keep his spirits up and his alcohol levels non-existant - however impossible that proves to be". Everyone smiled briefly at this joke, until reality was upon them once more. "I believe it's time for supper, and I'm sure that Chef Anoriell is willing to serve something absolutely delicious. Let's go to the mess hall". Slowly and as quietly as possible, people began heading to the door in an orderly fashion.

Within minutes everyone had gathered in the mess hall.  Mordar stood at the end of the long table, where Protius would normally be seated. The big table was packed with food, and more appeared to be popping out of thin air, as Anoriell kept conjuring.
"I have a few messages that I need to share with you, so let me have a few minutes to make these announcements, before we eat. As you know, Rustig took off not long ago and he is currently trying to get help for the Keeper. I can't tell you if it'll be a success, but the odds are looking good", Mordar continued, and with a kind smile on his face said. "Bladedance will be leaving us, his parents has now come to escort him home", he nodded in Eef and Haturod's direction. Bladedance let out a big sigh. Did this mean that his adventure had ended? He had mixed feelings. It had been exciting with the danger, but the comfort of home also sounded appealing. His parents rubbed his shoulders on either side of him, smiling proudly at him.
Mordar continued, "and if you think that Zorrin and Draema are forgotten, think again. It's been decided at the forum that we will ensure to get Protius better, before attempting a rescue of our missing members. Thank you for listening and I hope you all enjoy your m...". Interrupted by the door to the mess hall being slammed open, Mordar stopped abruptly. A women in torn and dirty white rags stood in the doorway, bleeding from cuts and on her arms and legs. Barely able to stand from exhaustion, she gasped for air as she said "They.. took him! He... Helikaeon, my husb... taken... I tried..." and she collapsed in the doorway of the mess hall.

With the swift grace of an elven arrow, Rustig's drake (which he called Emily) pierced through the clouds faster than anything else in the sky that day. He had to reach the northern mountains as fast as he could, as it was the only hope Protius had left. Rustig had to keep his divine shield up at all times while flying at this speed, just to avoid his bones being instantly pulverised by the sheer force of the air.
After a few hours, he could finally see the snowy peaks of the northern mountains. Now he just had to figure out how to find this shaman he was looking for. Within half an hour he got lucky, and saw a small trail of smoke rising quietly up from a small, flat area of a mountain side. He flew down and landed his drake near the small campfire, whilst making the surrounding mountains echo with the thud of the landing. Rustig jumped off Emily, gently patted her nose and started walking towards a stranger that was sitting by the campfire.

"Are you the shaman of the northern mo.." Rustig paused and looked at the stranger. He looked nothing like a shaman, to his knowledge at least. It was a man with long golden hair, in big plate armour, and surely not a shaman. The stranger calmly got to his feet "Blimey!" he exclaimed, "if it isn't the Dragon Tamer of the West! Pleasure to meet you mate, absolute pleasure". He took Rustig's hand and shook it using both of his own. Speechless as this greeting, Rustig just stood there saying nothing, staring dumbfounded at the stranger, who didn't seem to notice his temporary paralysis. "Anderk's the name mate, my friends know me as Ad, so feel free to call me whatever you want, absolute pleasure!" he continued, still shaking Rustig's hand.
"Are you the shaman of the northern mountains?" Rustig asked slightly confused as he got his hand back, whilst looking at the heavily armoured man. "No mate, can't take the credit for that one, you're looking for my brother" Anderk said cheerfully, and looked at a small cave entrance in the mountain side not far from the camp fire. "Hey, Kaz! He's here!" Anderk yelled loudly towards the cave entrance, and after a few seconds a man appeared from the dark.

Whilst stepping outside Rustig could see that he looked quite pale, and had some ragged looking robes on. His hair was a mess and he looked slightly dirty. This could definitely be the hermit shaman from the northern mountains. Rustig stretched out his hand to shake his, but Kaz didn't accept it. He just looked at Rustig, and started to inspect him from all angles while walking around him. "You're late! And I honestly thought the great Dragon Tamer of the West would be taller than this" Kaz said with a chuckle. Rustig started to turn around to keep an eye on the shaman, to see what he was up to.
"The name is Kazim, Kaz for short, and I'm not really a shaman. I've just gotten the nick name due to some abilities I have. I knew you were coming, just thought you would have come a bit earlier really. Now then, let's skip the pleasantries and get to the point. You are here because your Kee..." the earth started shaking violently, and in the horizon a huge pillar of light rose to the sky. It was a clear blue and white colour and formed a pedestal that connected the earth and the sky. Both Rustig and Anderk looked startled as the beam appeared, with a force that was big enough to shake the very core of the mountain. Kazim looked at it quickly and then sighed "There goes the first, soon the pure blue and white colour will turn to a dark red...". Within seconds after Kazim had said this, the pillar turned from bright and powerful, to dark blood red. Anyone within a thousand miles would be able to see this.

Bonus content:

A FEW DAYS EARLIER

Kazim was meditating on a small pile of blankets, which layed upon the cold mountain floor. This was how his foresight worked best. Anderk was watching him for a bit, but decided to go out and see if he could catch dinner. He hadn't had the best luck these last few days, but they kept going without too many worries on that account.
Kazim started jerking his head slightly, as if someone was poking him with a stick. His mind started flooding with images, visions of what was to come. His jaw dropped and his eyes opened widely. There were no pupils to be seen when he was in this state, his eyeballs were bright white and glowing in the dark cave.

"You like your juice don't you my little petling" a woman laughed, as a man kneeling in front of her shivered. She was channeling some magic on him, he was chuckling slightly and said "Your Majesty is too kind". She looked down at him "You're a good servant Lightcrawler, just a bit uncontrollable at times". The scene vanished and a new one replaced it.

"Wha.. What are you doing?!" a draenai woman screamed as Lightcrawler pulled her from the cage. "And you stay in there, shorty" the druid laughed at a dwarf, who was pinned to the floor by entangling vines. A night elf man in a cage next to the dwarf was shouting too "Where am I?! Hey, let her go!", although Lightcrawler didn't seem to notice. Once more the scene dissolved, and another vision formed.

A big machine, huge in fact, in the middle of the room. The draenai woman was strapped on to it, and appeared to be exhausted from struggling. On top of the machine was a huge white diamond, that sparkled in the light. "This might hurt a bit" said the woman who owned Lightcrawler. She turned around to face dark haired woman standing behind her, "Jarisi, make sure he does his job right. We need that diamond recharged, no matter how much blood we must spill". A thick mist began covering the scene now and in a brief glimpse he saw the machine shooting a huge beam of light towards the sky, through the hole in the ceiling. The draenai woman started screaming in pain and her blood veins began surfacing, only to burst open. The beam turned more and more red, as she became motionless. Everything was dark now.

Kazim came to his senses, a horrified expression on his face. He hoped that Rustig would arrive soon, there was not much time.

 
Chapter 25 : Ancient Medicine Unraveled
"Unchain her and take her down from the Illuminator" Jarisi commanded Light, who didn't dare oppose her. She wasn't as terrifying as the dark Princess herself, but had a good mentor. He started loosening the noisy chains.
With a thud the lifeless Draema hit the floor, as the chains that had kept her strapped to the device were  removed. No one said a word.
Both Zorrin and Helikaeon looked petrified, with mouths wide open. This inhumanity was unspeakable. After a few seconds Zorrin's tears started trickling down his bearded cheeks. He lowered his head, and sobbed quietly into the palms of his hands. Helikaeon sank quietly to the floor. He didn't even know this Draema, and by the looks of it he never would.

"We're going to die down here aren't we?" Helikaeon asked Zorrin, who was starting to control his sobbing slightly. "Despair is upon us at the moment my friend, but we must not give up hope" the dwarf answered him. "They'll come looking for us though" Zorrin said in a matter-of-fact tone. Trying to forget about what just happened to Draema, the two started exchanging stories within a fleeting moment. "You two stop talking! Lightcrawler, drag the used one out of here. Quickly now, come on!" Jarisi commanded as she left the room.

MEANWHILE

"Emily!" yelled Rustig at the drake, making it turn its great head to look at him. "Come over here girl, we have to make great haste today my dear" he continued. The drake started to come closer to the three. Anderk had trouble keeping his giggles silent, as he heard Rustig talking to the drake as if it was his girlfriend. The giggling problem was quickly fixed by Kazim who gave Anderk a very hard nudge in the ribs, at which he started coughing instead while getting his breath back.
"Anderk I'm afraid Emily can only carry two people on her back, so you will have to stay he.." Rustig paused as Kazim had suddenly vanished. "What about these, surely they'll hold on tight" Kazim said from behind Rustig. They turned to look at the ragged man standing under the drake, knocking on its claws with his knuckles. Emily didn't seem to mind Kazim examining her at all, she just seemed to like the attention. Rustig looked speechless as he had never tried having someone carried in the grip of the claws. "Don't worry" said Kazim calmly, "Anderk has tried worse, we have this dice game you see…". "Don't I have a say in this?" Anderk objected when Kaz started talking about this as if he wasn't there. "Of course you don't, now let's fly!" the shaman quickly replied, and started getting his things before Anderk could object even more.

It was becoming late, and the sun was setting. Luckily drakes have excellent night vision, so travelling now wasn't going to be a problem. They set off and reached the Aspiration camp at some point into the night.

Anderk hit the ground with a large thud as the huge drake dropped him, then landed nearby. "Thank you Emily, you're the best drake a man could want" Rustig whispered to Emily, and the drake licked his hand. Kazim quickly looked around to make sure Anderk was out of earshot for this comment, and luckily he was only just getting on his feet a few yards away.
"Kazim you go see Waleria in the house right there, she'll fill you in" Rustig said in a hushed voice. Kazim nodded and ran off. He knew more than he let believe it seemed. "Anderk, when you get up we'll go and talk to Mordar. He's the head of the clan for the time being, until Keeper Protius recovers". Anderk got his plate-wearing body off the ground, scowled at Emily for the landing, and then followed Rustig.

On the way to Mordar’s house they met Painlasombra and Ginga, who were on camp site patrol duty for the night. The two didn't waste time, because they were almost done with a cunning plan to rescue Zorrin and Draema. They both greeted Rustig and Anderk while passing, but sent strange looks at Anderk who definitely didn't look anything like a shaman.
Rustig knocked at the door of Mordar's house. Within seconds the door quickly swung open and with a slight panic in his voice Mordar said "Rustig, great to see you again. I take it you found the shaman from the Northern Mountains? Was he able to... Who are you?" he quite rudely interrupted himself while pointing confused at Anderk. "I am Anderk the Mighty, Slayer of the Behemoth" Anderk quickly replied and both Mordar and Rustig gave him a very doubtful look. "I beg your pardon? You're not the Slayer of the Behemoth, that was Bal..." Rustig started, but Anderk quickly added "Awwh alright, that wasn't me. I just wanted a fancy title too".
For a second there was silence until Mordar said "Come in you two and tell me what's happened".

"... and we're all out of ideas" Waleria finished explaining Kazim. "I see" said Kazim, looking down at the Keeper. Protius' skin was pale, had started to create vague miscoloured spots and he was breathing very slowly now. "Have you tried Zandia root?" Kazim asked Waleria. "Wha..what? Of course not, a few drops are enough to kill a dragon!" she exclaimed loudly. "That’s only if you don't know the recipe. You have do to it in very precise measured amounts, and it can actually cure most known spells and curses" Kaz said calmly. Kaz filled Wal in on the materials he needed.
Waleria put her head out the door, scouting around the camp. "Hey, Pain!" she called out, Pain and Ginga came running. "Could you fetch us some of that Zandia root I told you to stay away from? We need it very quickly, and I know you're the fastest forest strider of us all." she asked Pain, who was nodding throughout the question to show he'd understood it all. Without a word he ran off into the forest. "Remember to wear gloves while picking it up!" Waleria called after him.

After a few hours it was beginning to become daybreak. The birds in the forest had slowly started up their voices as Pain came running back into the camp area. He went into the hospital quarters where Protius, Waleria and Kazim were, and put a satchel on the table. Hardly able to speak a word because he had been running for hours, he still managed to mutter "Here.. all I could find.. hope.. enough". "Thank you Pain" Waleria said. Kazim quickly grabbed the satchel, put his bare hands into it and pulled out some Zandia root. Waleria’s jaw dropped and before she started yelling at him for not wearing gloves but he calmly said "Don't worry dear. I've grown resistant over the years. I will remain unaffected".

The sun started climbing on the sky and the Aspiration camp once more came to life. They all noticed that Rustig's drake was back in the camp, and started talking among themselves. No one had gotten any updates, but apparently things had been underway while they were sleeping. Mordar, Rustig and Anderk came out and all eyes turned to them instantly. Anderk and Rustig got startled by the sudden attention, but Mordar just took a step forward. "Rustig has returned with the shaman from the Northern Mountains, who is currently helping Waleria to find a possible cure for the Keeper. Rustig also brought the pleasant company of the shaman's brother, Anderk. They will both be staying in our camp for at least a few days to come, and we will do our best to make them feel welcome. When I know more about Protius’ status, I will update you" Mordar’s voice boomed across the camp. Everyone nodded and started muttering amongst themselves.

"Why can't I update them myself" asked Protius quietly, while leaning heavily against both Waleria and Kazim to keep standing. Even though he didn't talk very loud, everything went quiet. Even the birds of the forest seemed to have gone silent for a while. "I might need to hibernate for a week, but I will be back before you know it" he said smiling, and politely asked Wal and Kaz to escort him back inside again. The door closed behind them and no one said a word.
In a unanimous explosion of cheering, the whole camp site came to life again.

 
Chapter 26 : The Sound of War Drums
Her eyes opened and after a few seconds the room had stopped spinning. Swaithe was conscious again and looked around the hospital quarters. Besides Waleria, Kazim and Protius it seemed deserted. When Kazim noticed her eyes were open, he walked to her bed.
"How are you feeling?" he asked quietly. Still not completely with it, Swaithe answered "I'm... okay I think. Heli! Where's Helikaeon?!". She started getting to her feet and Kazim caught her in his arms as her legs gave way. "Easy now, we don't want to rush anything" he said calmly while lifting her back into bed. "Drink this and you'll be fresh as a daisy in an hour or so" he spoke as he gave her a small vial of green liquid. She quickly drank it, it tasted foul.
"Nice to see you awake again Miss...?" said Protius from the bed across from Swaithe. "Uhm... Swaithe" she replied. "Nice to meet you Swaithe - I am Protius the Keeper and this is Waleria and Kazim, both most capable healers" he replied.
"What happened to you?" Kazim asked while giving Swaithe a concerned look and she started telling about how they were ambushed travelling through the forest.

After half an hour of talking the hospital slowly opened and the head of Mordar popped in. "Good to see you're recovering Protius. I merely wanted to inform that Ginga and Painlasombra have planned a rescue operation so we'll be off in a few hours. I would suggest that you stay in bed for the time being and recover". "Thank you for the information Mordar - and alas I wish my body could carry me, but I think you are right. I must stay here", Protius replied. "At least I have company now" he said and smiled towards Swaithe. Feeling quite rude Mordar quickly introduced himself before he bade them farewell.

"Ginga, are the men ready?" Mordar asked. "Indeed they are, everyone's ready and waiting for your orders. Let's go rescue Zorrin, Draema and this Helikaeon" Ginga responded firmly.
Mordar walked slowly back and forth in front of the Aspiration Clan members that were equipped for battle. "Our Keeper Protius will not be joining us for expedition, but by the time we triumphantly come back he will be on his feet again. Today we will travel to the fortress of the dark Princess Aramei, where we shall reclaim our lost comrades and vanquish this evil for good! She may or may not know we are coming, so we must prepare for absolutely anything" he spoke after which he paused for a second.
"The fortress lies on the other side of the spinebreaker mountains to the far south west and unfortunately we can't teleport as the Princess has ensured that there are powerful spells in place to keep us out. Remember! We fight at the sides of clan members that would die for us as we for them. This is something the enemy lacks, so let's show them what Aspiration is capable of!" he finished in a loud and victorius voice. Everyone cheered at this and soon after Anoriell started summoning a portal. The fight could begin any minute now.

MEANWHILE

"So they're coming through the spinebreaker mountains... a bold move against a knowing opponent. They still have no clue that we have a spy in their midst." Princess Aramei smirked while looking towards the mountains. "Jarisi, form a warband of Grukks and Ogres and start moving. Prepare an ambush for them as they pass through those mountains - just in case it's needed" Aramei commanded. Jarisi saluted her and rushed off.
"The fools, they don't know anything. I'm doing this for their sake too!" she started saying to herself. "If we don't get the Illuminator charged up - at whatever horrible cost it may be - then all will be lost! The vision of Manaahn's return was so clear and is still carved into my mind. If he returns while we're unprepared, he will crush us all. That bloody old fool Protius, why doesn't he see this?!" she said almost gasping for air.

"Do you know what this is all about?" Helikaeon asked Zorrin. "I'm not too sure, but this device seems to need human sacrifices to charge up. What it does when charged I wouldn't dare think about - it can't be good though" the dwarf replied shaking his head.
"You know..." said the night elf, "I don't think this Princess Aramei is as evil as everyone is led to believe. I wonder what her grand scheme with this whole thing is". Zorrin looked bewildered at him "Not as evil?! She has killed an innocent person and plans on killing the both of us too! I've known her for years - she was a part of the Aspiration Clan once. Never expected her to stray from the path of light though". "But what if" Helikaeon started, "she is sacrificing a few to save us all? Would you not be able to justify a few casualties if it meant that Aspiration could live beyond it's 5th year? Would you not agree that having a handful die is better than having everyone die?".
"I suppose I would, but..." Zorrin stopped talking. "How do you know so much about Aspiration all of a sudden? How do you know we're just beyond our 5th year? And you seem so sure that Princess Aramei isn't evil? Who are you!?" he said demandingly.

"I am Helikaeon of the Volcanic Islands" answered the warrior in a more confident tone. "My better half and I were called here by the Princess - but it's not an evil task we have at hand little one. As the Princess would also know, Manaahn has announced his return from the Chaos Realm. Sadly for us all, he was not banished forever as we first hoped during The Second War" he said and looking down.
"I... I do not believe it. If this in fact the case we are all in serious trouble" said Zorrin horrified at the news. Helikaeon gave him a sympathetic look, "I am sorry that your mage friend had to be sacrificed for the cause, but it was the only way. We needed arcane energy to charge the Illuminator to give us a fighting chance - it will hopefully weaken him enough to win us a victory. We have been trying to capture the rogue wizard Bal..." - "Stop your yapping!" Light yelled harshly at the two caged men. "Give it a rest Light" said Helikaeon to the druid, and he opened his own cage which had apparently never been locked. "Our hope was that you could help us set things right, unite us against the coming threat" said the night elf to Zorrin.
"You were never meant to be sacrificed, we merely needed to inform you of the situation in a 'subtle' way" Helikaeon explained while stretching his back after coming out of the small cage.

 
 

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