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Dragon Stories - Part I


Kevin B. Duxbury

Dedication: To My Fallen Comrades

Darriac’s Army

In the dragon tongue, my name is pronounced, “Act harte teterrag rak trotog merogta.” Literally translated, it means, “One who tells the true stories.” The story of my life is a very... long story. I remember a time long forgotten to this world. A time of dragons and magic. Of knights and wizards. Of wars, and hope. So how is it that I came to be in your company? That is a story in itself. When I was but a young man of twenty-two, I was married to a young magic-user named Doriono. She was a feisty one, and I loved the fire in her spirit. One day while I was in  town, I came across an old childhood friend named Sonja. We stopped at a local inn and talked about the old days while sipping some wine. Doriono entered the inn and was enraged to see me with such a beautiful woman. Her fiery spirit which I had been so much in love with was now turned against me. That’s when she began to conjure a spell.

“You dare to disrespect me this way!” She screamed.

She turned Sonja into a bird.

“Enjoy your life of a thousand deaths,” she said, then put a curse on me far worse than anything I could have ever imagined. You see, now for every thousand years that pass, I age only a year. I can be fatally wounded, but I will only find myself fully healed and breathing again shortly after. The only death I can die that will bring me eternal peace is that of old age. Today, I am sixty-two. But enough of my sad story. Let me tell you another. A story of hope...

The dark clouds hung low, and death lurked everywhere. Even the land itself seemed as though it had died, having been torn apart by the destruction of war. The fields were covered with the bodies of goblins, kobolds, and humans, brutally hacked apart by one another. To look at this battlefield through a stranger’s eyes, one would think this battle ended in a stalemate, with the last two delivering the final fatal blow to one another. But there was a victor, one man who still stood over all, and his name was Darriac. He stood atop a small hill overlooking the land he had just conquered. His bright armor was stained with the blood of his enemy,  and his elegant cape was cut to ribbons. Behind him stood maybe a hundred men, the remains of what was once his powerful army. But he still looked over the land with a smirk on his face.

“Victory,” he said to himself.

“You call this a victory, old man?” Marjac’s eerie face stared coldly from beneath the dark hood of his royal blue robe. “You have but a hundred men left of the thousands that you brought.”

“Your magic worked well here today, Marjac,” Darriac said with a smile.

“I suggest you stay with that. You know nothing of victory on the battle field.”

“Please,” Marjac said coldly. “Enlighten me.”

Darriac swung his large two-handed sword onto his shoulder and walked proudly. “For the first time in many years, these men knew freedom. They picked up arms and fought to take back the land that was rightfully theirs. They fought their captors who once bullied them and took away their pride. They took back their freedom! I cannot think of a better way to die.”

“I’m sure their wives and children would have preferred old age,” Marjac said sadly.

Marjac’s words were drowned out by the sound of beating hoofs. A young rider, covered with blood and sweat, galloped his horse up the hill, dismounted, then bowed before his king.

“Arise my son. What news do you bring me?” Darriac asked.

“I bring you news from the west, my king,” the boy said, gasping for air. “Our armies were victorious! Though greatly outnumbered, they fought like lions and slaughtered the beasts. The west is ours!”

“Excellent, my dear boy!” The king said with a happy tone. “Now go and fetch yourself some water and rest.”

With that, another rider approached. He dismounted his horse and knelt before his king.

“Arise boy,” Darriac said, giving Marjac a smirking glance. “What news have you for me?”

“I have news of the east, my king. Though the ogre armies were bigger and stronger than our own, they could not douse the spirits of our men. We cut them down and took our land!” Although he tried, the young rider could not give his report without a smile and a look of pride.

“You have done well, my boy. Now go, refresh yourself and rest,” Darriac turned to Marjac with a smile. “You see Marjac, we are winning!”

“A word with you, Darriac,” Marjac said quietly.

Darriac and Marjac had been friends for a long time. They both knew that “a word” meant in private. They walked together, away from the troops. Marjac spoke almost in a whisper.

“I have used the crystals, Darriac. I have seen the future.” His voice was serious. “The crystals are never wrong. We will all die here, tonight.”

Darriac’s face showed a look of concern. “But how can that be?” He said through a fake smile. “We’ve already taken the land to the east and west, and our armies were far more outnumbered there than our ones in the north and south.”

“Maltar is a powerful magic user, far more powerful than myself,” Marjac said. “There is no predicting what trickery he may lower himself to.”

Darriac stroked his graying beard. “Then I will promise you this,” he said. “If either of our armies in the north or south are not victorious, and if I do not have definite proof of Maltar’s death, then we will leave this land. We will regroup, restore
our troops and supplies, and attack another day.”

“These terms I agree to,” Marjac said with a smile of relief. He extended his hand.
The two friends shook hands with a strong grip. In their world nothing was more important, more worthy, than a man's word. A rider approached them, then dismounted his horse. His sleeve was soaked with blood, and his arm badly wounded. Slowly, in his weakened state, he tried to kneel before his king.

“Stay standing, my son,” Darriac bellowed. “What news have you for me?”

“I have news of the north, my king,” he said in a weakened voice. “Our armies were victorious! We have taken the north!”

“Wonderful!” Darriac said with glee. “But tell me my boy, why did they send you to bring me this message, in your weakened state?”

“Our healer was killed, my king, and because I was bleeding the most, they sent me in hopes that your personal cleric could see me.”

“By all means, my lad,” Darriac said as he turned to face the camp. “Aniston!” He yelled. A man wearing white robes and bearing no armor turned. “We have a boy here in need of your healing powers.”

Aniston scurried down the hill to the boy. “My,” he said as he examined the boy’s arm. “Your wound is deep. Come, I have plenty of healing potions in my tent.” He took the soldier by his strong arm and gently escorted him up the hill.

“Thank you, my old friend,” Darriac said, waving one hand.

Aniston nodded. Like Marjac, Aniston had been a friend to Darriac longer than he could remember. Darriac’s heart felt warm when he thought about the closeness he had to his friends. But for now his heart was filled with concern, for there was one still not accounted for. Baretec, Darriac’s greatest fighter and very close friend, was still fighting in the south where it was rumored that Maltar was fighting. The minutes seemed like hours, the hours like days. Darriac sat at a large table salvaged from some nearby ruins, with his chin in one hand and a small blue crystal in the other. He could no longer hide his concern as he stared into the crystal. The small remains of his armies from the north, east, and west had already returned, but still no word from the south. Marjac sat beside him.

“Can you look into this crystal, Marjac,” Darriac said in a worried tone. “And tell me if Baretec is still alive?”

Marjac took the crystal and examined it briefly.

“No,” he said coldly.

Darriac turned and raised his head. “Well, why not?”

“Because,” Marjac said, then smiled. “This is not a crystal. It is only cheap glass.”
In all his misery and concern, Darriac still cracked an honest smile.

“Look!” a voice cried from a small tower. “An army, moving in from the south!”

Darriac and Marjac rose to their feet. The troops on the hill, wounded and not, picked up their arms.

“Marjac, my friend,” Darriac said in a low tone. “I hope it is not already too late.”

The army was a small one. Nevertheless, it was coming straight at them. The voice from the tower broke the eerie silence once again, this time with a sound of glee.

“They’re friendlies! I see the colors! I see the colors!”

Darriac strained his eyes, then smiled. The blue and gold flag, the colors of his armies, waved torn and dirty but proud. Next to the flag bearer, he could make out Baretec’s huge frame, and could see the gimp in his stride that he knew him for.

“Ha ha,” Darriac said with glee. “We are victorious!”

“So long as Maltar is dead,” Marjac said, but he still could not hide his smile as he watched his old friend walk up the hillside.

Baretec’s army was small, not even a third of what he had left with. But even in its small numbers, Baretec’s army was still more fascinating than any this world had ever seen. For within his ranks marched humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings, all marching and fighting together without prejudice for one another. It was truly a glorious sight.

Darriac and Marjac walked down the hill to greet their old friend with Aniston quickly catching up from behind.

“Greetings, my old friend,” Darriac called with cheer in his voice.

“And what news do you bring me of the south?”

“I bring you great news from the south, old friend,” Baretec’s voice bellowed. “We fought hard, we fought well, and we took the land!”

The marching army cheered, and the four old friends hugged each other warmly.

“And what of Maltar?” Darriac asked, this time in a quieter, more concerned tone.

“I’ll let the lad tell you,” Baretec said with a smile. He reached into the ranks and pulled out a young elf, still in his early hundreds. Nervously, he knelt before his king, his eyes wide.

“Arise, my boy,” Darriac said. “Tell me what you have to tell.”

“My king, the battle around us was furious. I was scared.” The elf’s voice was soothing in tone, but shaking. “As I looked up from the battle, I noticed Maltar standing upon a rock. Lightning and fire were shooting from his hands. He was killing so many, but he didn’t think to watch his back.”

The elf clenched his fists, trying to control his fear as he relived the recent memory. “I walked right up behind him and...lopped his head off.” He looked up, making eye contact with his king for the first time.

Marjac steeped forward. “Let me see your blade, young elf,” he said calmly.

The elf drew his sword. The section of blade which had cut into the evil magic-user was badly blackened and corroded.

“Acid for blood,” Marjac said with a smirk. “Maltar’s last act of defiance, should he be killed.”

“But tell me, my lad,” Darriac asked. “What proof do you have for me that Maltar is truly dead?”

“His body melted, my king, so we could bring you no part of it.” The tension in his voice began to fade. “But as my sword cut through his neck, it caught onto this, and it wrapped around my blade.”

The elf held out a golden medallion on a bright silver chain, unscathed by Maltar’s acid blood. The medallion resembled the sun, with a dark red jewel in the center. Marjac’s eyes widened.

“The Amulet of Spells,” Marjac said with amazement. “So that is where he got so much of his power.”

“Please sir, take it,” the elf said, handing the medallion to Marjac.

“I can sense its magical power, and it is far above my own.” Marjac took the medallion from the elf’s shaking hand and examined it. He glanced at Darriac, who was looking closely at him.

“Maltar would never have let this be taken from him while he was alive,” Marjac said with confidence. “He is truly dead.”

As Marjac examined the medallion closer, the dark red jewel began to fade, and turned a bright, brilliant blue.

“It is in the hands of good, now,” Marjac said with a smile.

Darriac bore a huge smile. “You, my boy,” he said putting his hand on the young elf’s shoulder. “Have shown great courage in the face of danger. You overcame your fear during a desperate moment, and single-handedly destroyed one of the most evil, most dangerous magic-users this land has ever known. For that, I am awarding you the Medal of Honor and Courage.”

The troops gasped, and the elf’s eyes widened. The Medal of Honor and Courage was the highest medal awarded, and it could only be awarded by the king.

“What is your name my boy?” Darriac bellowed.

The elf stuttered, “Hatha...Hathalanious, my king.”

“From this day forward,” Darriac shouted as he turned and faced his surrounding troops. “The land to the south shall be called ‘The Hathalanious Plains.’”

The troops cheered, and Hathalanious stumbled back and smiled, shocked by all that was happening to him.

“There is more, my friend,” Baretec shouted over the noise of the troops.

Darriac turned to face him. The troops silenced.

“To the south-east,” Baretec continued. “We found a small piece of land that had not been scathed by this cruel war. The trees were lush and bore sweet, ripe plums.”

“I like plums,” Darriac said, his mouth watering with anticipation.

Baretec smiled. “We picked as many as we could carry, old friend.”

The troops parted, and ten men stepped forward carrying sacks and crates of the sweet fruit.

“Baretec,” Darriac said with a grin. “Place some men around the camp for guard and make sure they are relieved often. Tonight, we celebrate!”

The armies cheered and crowded around each other, the sergeants trying desperately to keep their troops in order. Darriac and Marjac walked off together.

“Well, my old friend,” Darriac said quietly. “What have you to say now about our victory?”

“I don’t understand,” Marjac said with confusion. “The crystals are never wrong! Please Darriac, tell the troops to keep their weapons by their sides and the guards to stay alert. I fear the worst is yet to come.”

Night fell, and the sky which seemed as though it could not grow darker, did. But the troops were happy. They feasted on their rationed food, and the plums were plenty in number. Every man received two. Darriac sat at the large table with his three closest friends, and the head rulers from the elven, dwarven, and halfling clans. At the end of the table sat Hathalanious, their honored guest for the evening. His smile was broad, for he was truly happy. They ate and laughed merrily together, except Marjac. He ate quietly, still thinking hard about the crystals.

“Gentlemen, I would like to propose a toast,” Baretec said, rising to his feet and holding his cup in the air. “We do not follow our king because of his birthright as king. We follow him because his heart is good and pure. He saw a land that was torn apart by hatred and slavery and said, ‘This is where I shall establish my kingdom, and there shall be freedom.’”

Those at the table smiled and nodded in agreement.

Baretec continued, “But he not only taught us to live together, he taught us to fight together, and that is why we are victorious today.” He held his cup high. “To King Darriac!”

The others held their cups up with a series of responses, then drank. Next, the elven ruler stood.

“Gentlemen, I would like to propose a toast,” the graying elf began.

“For countless generations we have been taught to hate the humans. Then five years ago Darriac came to our clan, unarmed and with only his three friends,” he gestured toward Marjac, Aniston, and Baretec. “We thought he must be mad, but he spoke with words of wisdom, love, and hope. Because of him, we are free of this wretched land. Free to live our lives without fear, and to live in this land together in harmony. Thank you, my king.” He raised his cup high, “To King Darriac!”

The others responded more loudly this time, and drank from their cups. The ruler of the halfling clan took the next toast. He stood on his chair; the large table still stood higher than his waist.

“Gentlemen,” he said, extending his cup with his short arm. “I would like to propose a toast. The halfling clans are probably the smallest race of humanoids this world has ever seen. As a result of this, we are often looked on with pity, as if we need help to survive. This is insulting to us.” Then he began to smile. “But five years ago a man came to our village, and rather than offering pity, he asked for our help. He asked us to help fight a war against those who once enslaved our people, and would free the land. Thank you sir, not only for respecting our dignity, but for giving it back. To King Darriac!”

The group responded again, and drank from their cups. Darriac sat in his big chair smiling, a tear forming in his eye.

“Darriac,” Baretec spoke. “I know how you so hate praise for yourself, but you are so worthy of it. I ask you please, to sit through just one more toast. Drumtum has something he would like to share with us all.”

Darriac closed his eyes and nodded in compliance. The leader of the dwarven clan stood, the table came to his chest.

“Like the halflings,” he began, his voice low and grumbling. “Our village was often raided, and members of our clan put into slavery. Five years ago however, things were set to change. A man came to us requesting our skills to form fine weapons, then he asked us to pick them up and use them to help fight the vile enemy that once ruined our livelihood. The colors of this army would be blue and gold, but it had no coat of arms, so I took the liberty of casting these.” He held up a hand full of medallions on black leather strings. The medallions resembled a star, made of fine blue glass and trimmed with gold. He continued, “The star shape itself represents the stars of the heavens, which we have often looked upon in hopes of a better day. The top, bottom, left, and right points of the star represent the races, human, elven, dwarves, and halfling, which fought together to find this peace. The small points between the long points represent the healing powers of the clerics and the magic of the magic users, which were also brought together in the name of freedom. The center circle of the star represents the land which we share together and rightfully hold. The gold which holds all these pieces together,” his voice softened. “Represents the true God, who holds us all together.”

Darriac wiped away a tear. There were many words spoken by the dwarf which touched his heart, but none so much as those of the true God. In this realm there were many gods and many different beliefs. And there were many who would go to war over their beliefs, all in the name of their gods. But the religious leaders of Darriac’s kingdom spoke of only one god. It was the god whose name outdated history and creation. The god whose name was the same as his title. The true God. They preached that it did not matter what you called the true God or how you worshipped him, for he would honor all who believed in him. And they preached strongly against those who would criticize or wage war against another belief based solely on their differences. It was his faith in the true God that Darriac believed, gave him the strength to persevere through many a troubling time.

“Hand them out my good man, for they truly represent who we are,” he said happily. “From this day forward, this shall be our most honored Coat of Arms.”

The dwarf walked around the large table giving the first medallion to Darriac and his three friends, then to each of the demihumans to include himself. Darriac, desperate to change the conversation, gave Hathalanious a sudden stare.

“My boy,” Darriac bellowed. “Surely you’re not going to leave the best part of your meal on your plate?”

Hathalanious’ plate was clean, except for the two plums which were untouched.

“I beg your pardon, my king,” he spoke smoothly. “But fresh plums give me the hives.”

Darriac laughed out loud, “The warrior elf who would destroy this world's most evil magic-user, can be taken out by a plum?”

Everyone seated at the table laughed out loud, and Hathalanious along with them.

“Never mind then, my boy,” Darriac leaned forward and spoke. “I have an important mission for you, one of great honor.”

“Anything, my king,” Hathalanious said, somewhat surprised.

“I need you to ride your mount to the south docks and tell the ship's captain of our victory,” Darriac couldn’t help but to smile. “Tell him to prepare the ship to sail back to the mainland and to be ready by midday to receive the wounded. I will send a list of what supplies he needs to bring back to us.”

The elf rose from his seat, then bowed. “I shall be back by sunrise, my king.”

“Go, brave Soldier of the Star,” Darriac said proudly.

The whole table looked up, but none so quickly as Hathalanious. His smile was broad as he ran to his horse.

“Soldiers of the Star,” Baretec said to himself, stroking his chin. All were pleased.

The night came quickly, and the exhausted troops laid their heads down to rest. The dark clouds of war hung low in the sky, blocking out even the brightest star. The moon was full, but only an eerie purple glow in the clouds gave proof that there was any moon at all. The camp was surrounded by darkness. The guards could barely see to the ends of their swords, yet they kept watch diligently. Somewhere in the night, Death was creeping.

Darriac woke to a wrenching pain in his gut. It startled him at first. He felt as though a dagger had been stuck in his gut. The pain ceased. He scanned the interior of his tent with his eyes in confusion.

“What kind of attack is this?” He thought to himself.

The pain returned, this time feeling as though his insides were being torn out. He tried to sit, but doubled over in pain, his hands on his gut. His face cringed, then eased. The pain had stopped.

“Poison,” he said to himself grimly.

He remembered a time in his early manhood when he was preparing to take his place by his father's side and rule the kingdom. Fearing that someone might attempt to assassinate his good friend, Marjac gave Darriac small doses of poison, slightly increasing the dosage each time until Darriac had built a strong immunity to it. Darriac was capable of drinking a cup of cobra venom as if it were rain water. But this, this was far worse than anything he had ever endured. He turned himself on his cot, then slowly rose to his feet. He took his robe from a hook on the center support in his tent, and warped himself with it, then slid his feet into a pair of slippers. He pushed aside the flap to his tent, and stepped into the darkness.

The camp was silent. The two guards posted outside Darriac’s tent were now lying on the ground, crunched over as if they had died in intense pain.

“By the true God,” Darriac said to himself, then the horrific pain returned to his gut. He bent over in pain, his face grimacing, as he reached for the back of a chair just outside his tent. He sat in the old chair and leaned back as the pain slowly faded, then opened his eyes again. He scanned the darkness to find only the horses stirring. All of his guards lay dead.

“But how?” He thought to himself. He belched, and the sweet taste of plums and a rancid taste of acid came to his mouth.

“The plums,” he said to himself as he coughed through a smile. “He poisoned the plums through the trees. Maltar, you clever bast...” the pain returned, and he bent forward. The pain lasted only a few seconds, then faded. Darriac took a breath,
then leaned back in his chair.

“I’m sorry, my friends,” he said raising his eyes to the sky. A small hole appeared in the clouds, allowing Darriac to see only a few stars. “I hope you all died peacefully in your sleep.”

He reached into the pocket of his robe and pulled out his favorite smoking pipe. It was carved of bone, the pot resembling that of an old wise man with a long beard and mustache. He reached into his other pocket and removed a small leather pouch of tobacco. He took a pinch of tobacco and began stuffing the pot, then pulled a small flint stone and a piece of steel. He sparked the stone, and the tobacco began to smolder. He took a couple of puffs, then watched the smoke rise peacefully. The aroma was wonderful.

“And to think, Marjac,” Darriac smiled to himself. “You thought smoking was bad for me.”

A strong pain flashed through his gut. His vision blurred, then cleared again. Before him stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her skin was light, and glowing. She wore a simple yet elegant gown, white as the purest snow. Her wings, her amazing wings, spread wide and revealed every perfect feather. Her whole being glowed with a warm, peaceful brilliance.

“Your time here is done, Darriac,” she said with a voice so soothing. “It is time to go.”

Darriac felt a calmness and peace about himself like he had never known before.

“So that is what the voice of an angel sounds like,” he said with a peaceful smile. “Wonderful.” She smiled. “My lady,” he spoke softly. “I’ve so much more to do here...”

“In time, Darriac,” her voice glowed. “Someone will continue where you left off, and this will be a good place.”

“Please tell me my lady, before we go,” he asked. “Will my children see this land free?”

“No,” she said.

“What about my grandchildren?” he asked.

“No,” she said.

“My great grandchildren?” he asked raising his eyebrows.

“No,” she said finally, slowly turning her head and smiling. “But their grandchildren shall, and it will be everything you’d hoped for. Would you like to see?”

“Oh yes,” he said anxiously. “Very much.”

She floated around to his side and bent down as if to tell him a secret, then put one hand in front of his eyes. Around her hand he could only see the darkness of the war torn land. But through her translucent hand, he could see lush green grass, thick forests, and in the distance, a small town. Smoke rose gently from the small chimneys, and he could just make out the people, people of all races, walking around together. Darriac smiled.

She stood straight, and extended her glowing hand. “It’s time to go,” she said smiling.

Satisfied with all he had seen, Darriac smiled and took her hand. His arm glowed much like her own. He took one last look at the camp but only saw himself still sitting in his chair, his pipe smoldering in his hand and a look of peace on his face.

The sun rose early that morning, its red glow lit up the bottoms of the now breaking up clouds of war. The silence of the camp was broken by the sound of an approaching horse. Hathalanious had returned. His horse galloped up the hill to the king’s tent where it turned half a turn, then Hathalanious dismounted. He knelt before his king.

“I have returned, my king,” he said as he rose. A chill ran down Hathalanious’ spine as he realized that he had risen before his king had given him permission. “The captain said the ship shall be ready by midday,” he continued.

Darriac did not answer.

“My king?” Hathalanious said.

Darriac did not answer.

“My king?” Hathalanious spoke loudly.

He reached forward and touched Darriac’s hand, feeling the coldness of death. He looked about the camp frantically, noticing for the first time all the fallen soldiers, then dropped to his knees. “Oh, my king,” he whimpered, his heart full of anguish. He remained still for what seemed like an eternity, then a fire lit in his heart.

“This land is free,” Hathalanious said quietly to himself. He looked upon his former king. “This land is free, my king,” Hathalanious said with excitement. “And all must know!”

He rose to his feet, then gently removed the blue star medallion from Darriac’s neck. “I shall travel this land and bring word to all its villages that they are free, then I will go to your father’s kingdom on the mainland. I will tell him of your great victory. Perhaps he will send an army to continue where we have fallen.”

Hathalanious took his eyes off his king, and began studying the various tents scattered about the camp. He went from tent to tent, finding Darriac’s dearest friends as well as the clans’ leaders, and gently removed the blue star medallions from them. He then returned to his king and knelt before him. In one hand he held each of the blue star medallions, and in the other, the Amulet of Spells.

“I shall tell all of your families,” he said quietly. “If the hearts of your children are as compassionate as your own, they will surely continue where we have left off.”

With the hand holding the Amulet of Spells, Hathalanious leaned forward and gently removed the pipe from Darriac’s hand. “I shall see that these go to your families as well,” he said. Hathalanious bowed his head low. “Farewell, my king,” he said sorrowfully. He rose to his feet and pushed out his chest. His hair blew freely in the wind as he took one last look at King Darriac, still resting peacefully in his chair. He placed the items in a pouch on his side, mounted his horse, then rode off into the sunrise.

The Journey of Hathalanious


Hathalanious rode for what seemed like days, stopping first at the familiar south docks. He told the ship’s captain of the sad news and asked that he sail without him. Hathalanious told the captain that he had fallen upon a quest, and that he would return to the mainland soon. They bid each other farewell, then went their separate ways.

Hathalanious rode for the remainder of the day and well into the night, stopping to rest only for the sake of his horse. They slept for a mere few hours, then continued north at first light. Late that morning Hathalanious arrived at the halfling village. It was a quaint little village, with several small stone houses surrounded by many well harvested fields. The roofs of the homes were not more than five feet high, as they were built by halflings for their own needs. The little village still bore many scars from the war the day before.

Hathalanious was not prepared for what he saw when he arrived. The inhabitants of the village were mostly women and their children, along with a few elders who were too old to fight. Those who served were now in the hands of the true God. He went straight to the Sheriff, the head elder of the halfling clan. In the privacy of the sheriff’s home, Hathalanious told him of their victory, and their defeat. He left him with the blue star medallion and asked that it be given to the children of the halfling soldier who had worn it so briefly. With that, they bid each other a sorrowful farewell, and Hathalanious rode on.

He rode west, heading for the forest. Before him, far in the distance, the land rose into a huge mountain. It rose over a thousand feet and ended in a jagged cliff which fell into the ocean. Somewhere hidden deep within the forest were the caves and mines of the dwarves.

Hathalanious reached the woods just as the sun began to set behind the enormous mountain. Because of the dwarves short build, and the fact that they used mules rather than horses, the branches of the overhead trees hung low and forced the taller elf to dismount his ride. He led his horse down the winding trail, reaching the base of the mountain well after darkness.

He was greeted by two dwarven guards, dressed in platemale armor and bearing  long polearms. Hathalanious stated his business, and was immediately escorted to the dwarven lord’s chambers. Painfully, Hathalanious relived his last few days as he told the elderly dwarf of the past events. The dwarven lord was overwhelmed with mixed emotions. Freedom was finally theirs, but at a great cost. Again, Hathalanious presented a blue star medallion and asked that it be given to the family of their fallen leader. He tried to bid the dwarven lord farewell, but the lord would not hear of it. Hathalanious was visibly exhausted, and the old dwarf insisted that he spend the night.

Hathalanious slept well that night. He awoke not knowing the time, for the small guest room he had stayed in was deep within the dwarven caves and had no windows. He washed, gathered his belongings, then followed the twisting corridors to the main entrance. He squinted as his eyes adjusted to the late morning sun. From a nearby stable Hathalanious’ horse whinnied and grumbled as he spotted his owner. He had been well feed, well watered, and nicely groomed by one of the dwarven stable keepers. Hathalanious led his horse from the stable, closing the small gate as he exited. Before him a small, unreadable sign pointed to a trail leading to the south-west.  Hathalanious did not need to read the old weathered sign, for he knew this trail well. It was the elven trail, and it would lead him home. He mounted his horse, bid farewell to the dwarves, then rode off into the dense woods.

The afternoon sun shone brightly, warming the land below. But deep in the forest, the air was cool and pleasant. Hathalanious looked to the trees above at the small beams of sunlight which penetrated the thick foliage. Life bloomed all around him. Squirrels and chipmunks moved about busily, while the birds above chirped and sang their melodic songs. The aroma of the pines and the moist ground overwhelmed the elf’s senses, reminding him of how much he loved his homeland.

The narrow, winding trail was very unforgiving on both horse and rider. They came upon a small stream and stopped to rest. Hathalanious’ horse slurped the cold water from the stream, while he himself sat against a tree and sipped water from his waterskin. He watched the birds above him leap from branch to branch, and thought of all that had come to pass. He thought back to the day when he  first enlisted in Darriac’s army, how he picked up an issued sword from a pile just like thousands of others had. And yet here he sat, alone, on a quest to bring word to all that their freedom had been won.

“How did someone of such unimportance get to be in such a position?” He thought to himself. His horse blew through his nostrils in the cool water and hoofed at the  ground. Hathalanious rested his head against the tree and closed his eyes. He meditated momentarily, listening to the sounds of the forest. The trickling of the stream, the songs of the birds, and the gentile whisper of the breeze blowing through the trees all came together in perfect harmony, bringing a calm to the elf’s mind and soul. He raised his head after a long moment, then looked to his horse.

“Come on , Boy,” he said, breaking the silence. “If we keep going we should be home by nightfall.” He took his horse by the reins, but the fatigued animal threw his head back in protest. Hathalanious smiled. “All right, old fellow,” he said, rubbing his horse’s chin. “We shall both walk.” Hathalanious took the reins in his hand and led his horse down the winding trail.

It was late. The stars had been out for some time, and the moon shone brightly above. Hathalanious continued leading his horse down the now wider trail which twisted around the massive trees of the Ancient Woods. The trees of this forest were the oldest and largest of any in the known world, dating back centuries and towering hundreds of feet high. Hathalanious stopped and looked about the forest floor, then let go a pleasant sigh. An elf, wearing leather armor and a sheathed sword, stepped out of the darkness.

“Hathalanious,” the elf said casually. “It’s good to see you.”

“Hello Ethicus,” he said to his childhood friend. “It’s good to be home.”

Hathalanious looked to the woods overhead. Above them, high within the safety of the trees, the elven village flourished. Numerous well crafted cabins were supported by the enormous branches of the trees and connected by a network of fine bridges and walkways. Hathalanious looked upon his home and smiled broadly.

The elves were a very unique race in that they believed in being one with nature and her magic. They lived in harmony with the ancient trees, disturbing as little as possible. The cabins and bridges were built of materials taken from their surroundings which gave the village a very natural look.

“I must see the Lord Wizard,” Hathalanious said humbly.

“In the morning, my friend,” the elf responded. “It is obvious that you have been traveling for some time, and you should rest.”

“I bring news of the war,” Hathalanious said quietly. “I must see him tonight.”

Ethicus took the horse's reins from Hathalanious. “Very well then,” he said. “Please, let me tend to your horse.”

Hathalanious patted the tired animal on his back as Ethicus led him to the stables deep within the darkness. Hathalanious crossed the forest floor and approached the most massive of the ancient trees. Spiraling up the tree's enormous trunk were finely crafted stairs leading to a humble, but slightly more elegant cabin. Within the windows, a dim light flickered.

Hathalanious looked up toward the cabin and sighed, then began climbing the long flight of stairs. Standing outside the door of the cabin was a young eleven guard. Hathalanious approached him.

“I seek an audience with the Lord Wizard,” he said calmly. “Is he awake?”

“Whom shall I say is calling?” the young elf asked.

“Hathalanious of Darriac’s army,” he responded.

The young elf’s face lit up with surprise. “Yes, Sire,” he responded.

Hathalanious was caught off guard. “Sire” was a title given only to elven fighters who were veterans of combat, and the title now applied to him.

The elven guard knocked lightly on the cabin door, then entered. A moment later the door reopened. The elven guard steeped out of the cabin and took his post. Standing within the doorway was an elderly elf wearing a fine robe.

“Come in, my son,” the old elf said. “Guard, see that we are not disturbed.”

The Lord Wizard led Hathalanious into his home and gently closed the door. Within the comfort of the Lord Wizard’s cabin Hathalanious told him the wonderful news of their newly won freedom, and of the tragic loss of Darriac’s magnificent army. Hathalanious wept sorrowful tears as he relived his memories one more time. The Lord Wizard, being a veteran himself, let go a single tear as he felt the young elf’s pain. Once all that needed to be told had been told, the elderly elf bid Hathalanious to return to his own cabin. He requested that Hathalanious speak to no one about the war on his way, for there would be a formal village meeting in the morning. As
Hathalanious left the small cabin he noticed the young guard still standing erect, but now with a river of tears running down his face.

“Forgive me for listening, Sire” the young elf whispered.

“It’s okay,” Hathalanious said, looking into the painful eyes of the guard. They hugged each other tightly.

“I’ve lost my father,” the young elf gasped.

“As have I,” Hathalanious replied.

He crossed a series of bridges spanning high above the forest floor, until he finally reached his own cabin. He quietly opened the wooden door and stared into the darkness. His elven vision quickly responded, showing him the outlines of the furniture within the cabin. He walked toward the back of the cabin to the stacked beds where he and his younger sister slept, but she was not in her bed. He turned and went through a narrow doorway into his parents’ room. There he found his mother sleeping peacefully, his sister in her arms. He returned to his own bed and removed his grungy, tattered clothes. He washed his hands and face from a small basin, then laid down on his own familiar bed. He fell asleep the moment his head
rested on his pillow.

Hathalanious woke suddenly as his younger sister pounced down on him. “Mother, Mother,” she cried with glee. “Hathalanious is home!”

Hathalanious’ sister was everything an adolescent elf should be. Although she was over eighty years old, she had the little body and immaturity of a human eight-year-old.

Their mother walked quickly into the room, wrapping herself in a modest robe. She smiled broadly as she touched her son's face and kissed his cheeks. “I’m so happy you are home,” his mother said. “Tell me, how is your father?”

The joy within Hathalanious’ heart was quickly lost. He sat his mother and sister beside him on his bed. Placing his arms around them, he told them with tears of their father's untimely death. They held each other tightly, and wept.

That afternoon the Lord Wizard called for a village meeting. There, on the forest floor, the entire village gathered and the Lord Wizard told all there was to tell. The village was quiet. Their freedom had been won, but at a great price paid by many.

Hathalanious stayed in his village for a few days, resting and recovering from all that had happened to him in the days prior. On the second day of his stay the three villages, the halflings, the dwarves, and the elves, came together and went to the sight of Darriac’s fallen army. There, they gathered up the fallen members of their own clans and returned them to their home villages for burial. Of those who were from the mainland and could not be identified, their bodies were cremated and the ashes cast into the ocean in a very respectable and honorable ceremony. The day was marked as a day of mourning and a day of remembrance for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, so that the living could be free. On the third day, Hathalanious bid his family and friends farewell, then continued with his quest.

He followed the gentle stream east, which would take him away from his village and out of the forest. Once in the grasslands, he rode south toward the coast. Hathalanious’ horse walked briskly across the open plains, thankful to be away from the treacherous woodland trails. Early that evening, Hathalanious arrived at a small dock known only by the elves. There he found only a few small boats, and a single cabin. Smoke climbed gently from the tin smokestack, and the smell of a hearty stew filled the air.

“Greetings, brother elf,” a voice called, stepping out from the small cabin. “What would be your business on this fine evening?”

Hathalanious turned to see a young elf, about his age, approaching him. “Greetings,” he said in return as he dismounted his horse. “I seek shelter for the night and a boat for the morning.”

“We have both,” the elf said with a smile. “And what would be your destination in the morning?”

“Karameikos,” Hathalanious answered.

The elf raised an eyebrow. “The mainland?” he asked, awestruck.

Hathalanious nodded.

“Alone?” The elf asked again with the same tone.

“Indeed,” Hathalanious confirmed.

“Have you ever sailed so far on your own before?” He asked with doubt in his voice.

“I’ve sailed far, but never so far as this,” Hathalanious responded without concern.

The elf stared at Hathalanious again, this time in frustration. None that he knew of had ever attempted such a long journey alone. “And how do you think you’ll make it all the way to the mainland having never sailed so far before?” The elf asked impatiently.

“I’ve done much these last days,” he answered in a tired voice. “Most of which I never knew I was capable.”

The elf looked away, ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. “Uh, I’ll need a deposit on the boat then,” he said finally.

“I have very little money,” Hathalanious said, rubbing his animal’s nose. “Will my horse do?”

The elf looked at him in awe. An elf’s bond between he and his horse was very strong.

“Tell me, my brother,” the elf implied. “What is so important about your journey that you would leave your horse as a deposit?”

“I am a messenger for King Darriac, and I must bring word of the war to his father on the mainland,” Hathalanious said, never taking his eyes off his horse.

The elf shook his head and smiled.

“Surely you will need your ride when you get there,” the elf said. “There will be no charge for the boat, and I will give you one with enough cargo space for your animal. Please, come in. There is still warm food, and your lodging will also be free of charge.”

Hathalanious smiled, and shook the elf’s hand. He ate that night with three other elves, all of whom were employed to maintain the docks and boats. They told stories and laughed at one another. Hathalanious enjoyed the pleasant reminder of what it was like to laugh.

That morning he loaded his horse into the small boat along with some supplies, then pushed off from the dock. He caught the strong current that took him around the west side of the island, then set sail north destined for the mainland.

The sea was calm, but the winds were strong. Hathalanious sailed gracefully across the water, constantly checking his nautical charts and watching the sun to assure his course was true. It would take a full day and a full night to reach Karameikos, but he welcomed the time to sit and gather his thoughts.

“Sailing is so tranquil,” the young elf thought to himself. “I should have been born a sea elf.”

His animal, however, would beg to differ. He stomped his hooves nervously on the floor of the cargo hold, looking up at his rider through the open hatch.

“Be at ease, my faithful friend,” Hathalanious said with a smile. “All is well. By this time tomorrow we will be back on solid ground.”

The sun descended into the ocean, and one by one the stars began to show. Hathalanious, feeling drowsy, stood from his seat by the rudder and began to walk the deck. He knew he must stay awake the entire night. To fall asleep would mean the boat could drift off course, and only the true God knew where he would end up then. He walked to the front of the boat and looked down the cargo hatch. His horse had calmed himself and was half asleep. Hathalanious leaned forward on the bow and looked over the ocean. The full moon shone brightly, illuminating the night sky and making it appear a dark blue. For the first time in months his mind felt at ease, and his soul at peace. He took a deep breath of the ocean air and exhaled, releasing the last of his tension and worries into the night.

The morning came sooner than Hathalanious had expected, and to his surprise, he arrived right on course at the docks of Karameikos. The dock master directed him to tie down, then began questioning Hathalanious about his cargo and business. When he told him of his mission to see the king, the dock master waived the dock fee, then assisted Hathalanious in unloading his horse. Hathalanious led his horse over the wooden docks and onto solid ground, then gave the animal a rub on his nose.

“We shall stop for a good breakfast, my friend,” he said to his horse. “Then we have another long day's ride ahead.”

He led his horse to the first inn he saw, tied his lead rope to the railing, then went inside for a good meal. Hathalanious left the inn unsatisfied and offended. The service was rude, his food was not prepared the way he requested, and he was constantly refereed to as “Elf.” He had grown accustomed to the fair treatment he had received in Darriac’s army, where everyone was considered equal. But Darriac’s wonderful dream had not spread to this part of the world yet. He mounted his ride and followed the small road into the woods, destined for the castle of Darriac’s father.

Hathalanious’ ride to the castle was peaceful and without incident. As he rode, he admired the beauty of the forest, the wonderful aroma of the trees, and the soothing sounds of the birds.

“I could never be a sea elf,” he decided, for he loved the forest so. The wilderness was his home, and where he naturally belonged. He reached the end of the woods just as the sun touched the treetops. As he rode into the clearing he could see the magnificent castle that was the home of Darriac’s father. It stood high upon a hilltop; its tallest tower looked as though it were touching Heaven. The red setting sun made the side of the castle glow, while the opposite side cast a huge shadow down the hillside.

“This must be the place,” Hathalanious thought nervously.

He rubbed his horse’s neck, then urged him forward. “Only about another hour or so from here,” he said, encouraging his ride.

A cold chill ran down his spine. Something about being on horseback suddenly felt very wrong. He turned his ride back into the woods. He dismounted, then pulled a long section of rope from his saddle bag and tied his horse off to a tree.

“Stay here, boy,” he said stroking his animal's neck. “I shall be back for you in the morning.”

The horse began grazing from the grass below without protest.

What would have only taken an hour by horse took Hathalanious three on foot. He reached the castle well after dark. In the darkness, the once beautiful castle now looked eerie, and evil. He was greeted well before reaching the castle walls by two guards dressed in light armor and red overlays.

“State your business, Elf,” one of them grumbled, his polearm at the ready.

“I seek an audience with the king,” Hathalanious said, hiding his nervousness well.

“And why should King Merrac want to see an elf?” The guard demanded. At least now Hathalanious knew this king’s name.

“I bring a message for him from his son, King Darriac, from the war of the island,” he said with confidence.

The guard raised an eyebrow, surprised by the elf’s’ response.

“Dartog,” the guard yelled over his shoulder to a guard at the main gate. “Get word to the king that there is a messenger here from King Darriac.”

The gate guard showed a look of surprise, then knocked on the gate frantically. A small peek door opened, and a face peered out of it. Hathalanious could see the guard talking with the gatekeeper, his arms flapping about nervously. Apparently they were taking this elf seriously.

“Turn around,” the guard grumbled to Hathalanious. “And raise your hands.”

Hathalanious did as he was told. The guard laid down his polearm, then reached around Hathalanious’ waist and removed his weapons belt. He roughly patted down Hathalanious’ clothes, not missing even an inch. He then reached deep into Hathalanious’ pouch, pulling from it the blue star medallions and the Amulet of Spells.

“What are these?” The guard growled.

“They are awards I earned during the war,” Hathalanious responded.

“What is this one for?” the guard demanded, holding up the Amulet of Spells.

“Honor and Courage,” he responded without hesitation.

The young elf was impressed himself by with how well he could lie under pressure.

“This is not the Medal of Honor and Courage!” the guard said angrily, holding it in front of the elf’s face.

“I fight in a different army, for another king,” Hathalanious said calmly. “Perhaps ours look different from yours.”

The guard stuffed the medallions back into the elf’s pouch. He finished his search, but left Hathalanious feeling foolish with his arms still in the air. He heard the large door behind him creak open, and footsteps approach him. One guard whispered into another's ear.

“Let’s go, Elf,” Hathalanious heard an unfamiliar voice say. He turned to see the gate guard holding his weapons belt.

“Follow me,” he said, motioning toward the castle with his head. He was in.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” Hathalanious said with a cocky smile. “Good night, gentlemen.”

The guards could only snarl.

The guard led Hathalanious through the massive gate, which was opened only enough to let one man pass at a time. Just beyond the wall stood the castle and the heavily guarded courtyard. He followed the guard through a small door into the castle, then through a maze of hallways, corridors, and stairs. Their journey ended in front of a small door, so small that even Hathalanious had to duck to clear it. On the other side was a huge, elegant hallway and a set of tall double doors.

“Mind your manners when you speak to the king, Elf,” the guard warned him.

Hathalanious couldn’t help but snicker at the guard, who tried to sound authoritative with his childish voice. He pushed one of the doors open, flooding the hall with a brilliant light. Hathalanious walked into the most elegant room he had ever seen in his hundred and seventy-five years of life. The walls seemed to be lined with gold. Fine carpet lay on the floor and reached from wall to wall. Every direction he looked he saw elegant paintings and statues. And though there were no torches, the room was brightly lit, as if by magic. Directly ahead of him, almost to the back wall, sat King Merrac in an enormous gold throne. The guard and Hathalanious walked forward, and knelt before him.

“Arise,” he said, his voice echoing throughout the chamber. “State your business.”
His tone suggested boredom.

“A messenger, my lord,” the guard replied. “Sent from your son, King Darriac.”

“You may go,” the king said to the guard, maintaining his tone.

The guard bowed, then posted himself by the chamber door.

“What message do you bring me, Elf?” The king asked.

Hathalanious wondered if this were his only tone. “My Lord,” he said bowing. “I am Hathalanious, Warrior Elf and Soldier of the Star. I fought for King Darriac in the Island War. My Lord, is there somewhere private we can talk?”

“There is nothing you cannot tell me here in my chamber,” the king said. “Go on.”

“My lord,” he began, his heart beating hard with the anticipation of having to tell the story once again. “Although greatly outnumbered, King Darriac’s armies were victorious. The land was taken in his name, and the evil Maltar was destroyed.”

He paused, looking down at his feet.

“And...” the king said.

Hathalanious struggled, trying not to choke on his own words. “My lord,” he continued. “Maltar’s evil magic continued on even after his death. He destroyed the remainder of King Darriac’s armies.”

“And what of my son?” The king asked, still showing no emotion.

Hathalanious’ vision blurred as his eyes filled with tears. “He also perished,” Hathalanious said, his voice full of sorrow.

“I...see,” the king said very quietly, showing his first signs of emotion, however so slight. “And tell me, Elf,” he continued. “How is it that you survived?”

“King Darriac sent me to the docks about half a day away when the final attack occurred,” he explained. “I must have been beyond the range of Maltar’s spell.”

“Or perhaps you were hiding,” the king accused, leaning forward in his throne. “And when the battle was over, you slipped away. Tell me, Elf, did you come here seeking a reward?”

Anger filled Hathalanious’ heart. “I assure you, I did not,” he replied, trying hard to control his tone.

The king leaned back in his throne and stroked his chin. “Hmm,” he said in thought, then finally broke the silence. “For now, I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you are telling the truth. You will stay in one of my guest rooms until this matter is investigated, and I will make a decision then. I should warn you, Elf,” he concluded, “The penalty for cowardliness in battle is not a pleasant one.”

Hathalanious nodded, too offended and outraged to say even a word.

“Guard,” the king called. “Take him to one of the guest rooms and post yourself outside his door until morning.”

“Yes my lord,” the guard responded.

They bowed, and left the chamber together. Hathalanious felt the warm tears forming in his eyes as he thought of his beloved King Darriac once more. He was escorted down a series of long, dark hallways until they finally reached the guest room. The guard pushed open the large wooden door. Hathalanious was quite impressed. The furniture was of fine quality, there was a large canopy bed against one wall, and an amazing stained glass window in another.

No sooner did Hathalanious step inside to admire the room, than the guard shut the door and locked it from the outside. Hathalanius cracked a smile. “This doesn’t look promising,” he thought to himself.

Knowing the guard was still posted outside the door, Hathalanious carefully opened the stained glass window and looked down the castle wall. The large stones in the wall had much space between them, making it an easy wall for an elf to scale. Below, within the darkness, lay the courtyard and the gate he had come in. The guards talked noisily amongst themselves, paying no mind to the darkness around them.

Hathalanious began to think. Looking back into the room, he noticed a small desk with a quill, a pot of ink, and some fine paper. He pulled the remaining blue star medallions from his pouch, along with the pipe and the Amulet of Spells, and laid them neatly on the desk. He dipped the quill into the pot, and began to write.

“Sir, these treasures belonged to King Darriac, Marjac, Baretec, and Aniston. Please see that they are passed on to their families.” He gently returned the quill to its holder, then walked to the window. He took one last look at the large wooden door, sighed, then threw his leg over the window sill and began his descent to the courtyard floor. He scaled the wall with ease and moved with the silence of a thief, his movements concealed within the darkness of the night. As he stepped to the ground he turned to face the gate and noticed the guards hadn’t changed shifts yet.

“This could be difficult,” he thought to himself.

He pulled his hood over his head, hoping to hide his elven features, then began walking to the gate.

“Maybe they won’t notice me,” he thought.

“Where do you think you're going, Elf?” The guard grumbled.

“Or maybe they will.”

Hathalanious gave a look of disgust. “They say I am not worthy of sleeping within these castle walls,” Hathalanious said angrily.

“No elf is,” the guard said as he began opening the gate. “Now get out of here before we have to wash the cobblestones on which you stand.”

He walked through the gate and began following the trail down the hill.

“The air is clearing already,” the guard said in a sarcastic voice.

The other guards laughed. Hathalanious stopped and turned to face his taunters, then removed a cheap copper bracelet from his wrist. “I almost forgot,” he said in good cheer. “The Wizard Marjac asked me to give this to King Merrac. He said it possesses great magical powers and will bring him much good luck. Would you be so kind as to give it to him for me?”

The guard snatched the bracelet from Hathalanious and examined it. Smirking, he turned and walked toward the castle, delighted with an opportunity to be noticed by the king.

“Good night to you, gentlemen,” Hathalanious said and waved. He turned and began walking calmly down the hill until he could no longer see the guards, then ran like the wind, laughing to himself.

“They’ll be cleaning the king’s stables for a month when he hears they let me pass,” he thought to himself. Hathalanious laughed all the way to the woods. He found his horse still tied in the forest, much of the grass around him eaten.

“Hello, old boy,” he said out of breath. “We’ve not much time.” He mounted his ride, turning him onto the trail, then galloped into the woods. He reached the docks by early morning and, to his surprise, found that his boat had been cleaned and his supplies restocked.

“Compliments of the king’s dock master,” a young dock worker said. “No charge.”

Hathalanious smiled. He reached into his pouch and pulled a gold piece. “At least someone appreciates what I am doing. Thank you,” he said, handing the coin to the dock worker.

“Thank you, sir!” the boy said, his eyes wide as he took the coin.

Hathalanious loaded his horse onto the small vessel and began preparing his sail as the dock worker untied the boat from the dock. “I think I’ll go home for now,” he thought to himself. “Until I can figure what it is I’m supposed to do next.”

A gentle breeze caught his sail and pulled him out into the calm sea. Within a few hours, Hathalanious could no longer see the mainland, and he felt safe. The gentle rocking of the boat and the warm sun on his face made him tired. “I should stand,” he thought to himself. But the exhaustion from the last two days had overwhelmed him. Hathalanious drifted off into a deep, comfortable sleep, and was lost at sea.

A Cry for Help

And so it was that the land was free, but that freedom was fragile. For without the protection of Darriac’s army, the island and its inhabitants were vulnerable. The clans discussed uniting together, but even with their combined strength, their numbers were still too few when compared to the evil forces that would challenge them. They chose instead, to remain hidden in their home territories. The elves lived happily in the forests to the west, while the dwarves resided in the caves in the north-west. The halflings were probably the most vulnerable, still living in the open plains to the north. And with the secrecy of their lives, there came seclusion. The widows and children of Darriac, Marjac, and Aniston never did meet the widows and children of the clan leaders, and Darriac’s dream of what could be slowly faded with time.

Generations passed, and the clans managed to maintain their fragile peace. Often trips were made to the mainland for supplies that the land could not provide, but these trips were only made as necessary, and in secret. While on the mainland they kept themselves hidden under hooded cloaks, and never discussed their business with strangers. When their supplies were gathered, they would load their boats and slip out into the darkness of the night. Their land was precious to them, and they were not taking any chances of it being discovered. Then one dark night, their worst fears came to be.

The night was cool and dark, but not all were sleeping. Nine figures hidden under hooded cloaks moved about the docks loading supplies onto a small boat. They were three elves, three dwarves, and three halflings, but one could only tell by their sizes. Their faces were well hidden in the shadows of their hoods. A dock worker approached one of the taller figures.

“You’ll be settin’ sail late tonight then, will ya mate?” The young man asked.

“Yes,” the figure answered, his voice low and cold.

“Uh, all right then,” the boy said, confused by the figure’s unfriendly reply. “That will be four gold and three silver for the dock rental.”

The figure fumbled under his cloak, then handed the dock worker his money due. The boy lowered his head trying see the figure’s face, but the figure turned quickly and avoided his glance.

“So uh, where will you be headin’?” the boy prodded, trying to make conversation.

“The Isle of Dread to catch a Triceratops,” the figure said in an annoyed tone.

Hearing the sarcasm in his voice, the dock worker turned and headed back to his shack.

“What an ogre,” he said to himself.

The nine figures finished loading their supplies, pushed off from the dock, and disappeared into the darkness of the sea.

The journey was long and slow. The sun rose and set, and they sailed well into the following night, never taking their eyes off the stern. During the day they could see all the way to the horizon, but by night they could barely see the water below them. Convinced that they had not been followed, they took time to relax and sailed at ease.

They arrived at the docks of their homeland just as the sun began to rise above the horizon. The familiar smell of home brought warmth to their hearts. Each traveler was greeted by fellow members of their clans who brought horses and wagons to take the goods back to their villages. The sun had almost risen completely above the horizon as they finished unloading the ship. The group was startled as a wooden crate fell from the deck and smashed on the dock. Broken wood and glass littered the dock, and fine wine ran off into the ocean.

“Be careful, you oaf,” one of the dwarves yelled. “And pay attention to what you're doing! Are you trying to smash my head?”

One of the halflings on the deck stood frozen in fear.

“Hagar, my boy,” the dwarf said with concern. “What is it, lad?” The dwarf walked to the end of the dock, clearing the ship’s hull. His mouth fell open, and he too froze with fear. Ships, many ships, were approaching from the north. But these were not supply ships, or even passenger ships. They were ships of war, painted black and bearing huge black sails. It was obvious to the dwarf right away that this was not a courtesy visit.

“We’ve been followed,” the dwarf whispered to himself. He broke his trance. “We’ve been followed!” he screamed, running frantically back to the shore. “Sound the alarm, we’ve been followed!”

The elves ran to the shore.

“Oh dear God, no,” an elf whispered.

“Quickly,” the dwarf repeated. “Sound the alarm!”

The elf ran back to one of the wagons and began fumbling through a small sack under its seat. From the sack he pulled a small wand, then ran into a clearing. He pointed the wand skyward and began chanting words in a magic tongue. The wand began to glow a brilliant gold, then howled as a ball of energy rushed toward the sky. The elf lowered the wand and continued staring skyward. There was a crack like the loudest thunder and a brilliant red explosion filled the sky, casting hundreds of sparkling flares.

The thunder was heard over the entire island, and panic stricken demihumans looked to the sky. Deep within the Ancient Woods, a young elf standing on a high bridge stared with awe at the red burst.

“The alarm,” he whispered to himself. “The alarm!” He then yelled across the tree tops, “Tell the elders, the alarm has sounded!”

Meanwhile the halflings had already taken action. Their plan was to evacuate their precious village and take cover in the woods to the east.

Their small scout party had already left, and the remaining clan members moved quickly, gathering only what they could carry. Their mules hissed and whined nervously as the halflings hastily loaded their backs with vital supplies.

To the northwest, the dwarves were preparing the defenses of their cave, carefully concealing all the entrances, and hiding any proof that they were there at all.

“Farewell, my friends,” a dwarf grumbled from a small opening in the mountain. “Godspeed to you.”

The small party of five waved back, then began following the trail to the north. Their mission was simple, but the task would be difficult. They were to meet a party of halflings at the north docks where they would load onto separate boats. They would then take different routes back to the mainland in search of the descendants of Darriac and his closest friends. It was their only hope.

The journey to the docks seemed like days to the dwarves, but in reality it had taken less than three hours. There they found three halflings scrunched down, hiding behind a bush. One of them motioned to the dwarves to stay low and come quickly. The dwarves moved swiftly through the brush to their friends.

“What is it, lads?” The first dwarf asked as he reached the party. “Well, I’m pretty sure the alarm was for that over there,” the halfling answered and pointed toward the ocean.

The dwarf looked over the bush in horror at the huge black war ship floating out at sea. Although it was more than three miles out, it was still a deadly menace. The halfling continued.

“I figure we can sneak out to the boats, and untie them without being seen. Once we push off, we’ll split up and head for the mainland. He can only follow one of us, and we should be able to outrun that beast.”

The dwarf stroked his beard in thought.

“It’s a good plan,” the dwarf grumbled. “And it’s our only plan.”

They ran low to their awaiting boats and began untying them from the dock. No sooner did they raise their sails, then the black beast began turning towards them.

“They’ve seen us already!” The halfling yelled.

“Godspeed to you,” the dwarf yelled back. “We’ll see you on the mainland.”

“Godspeed to you all,” the halfling returned with a wave.

The small boats pulled swiftly from the docks, then split up. Both ships realized then that they had greatly underestimated their enemy. The great black ship picked the dwarven boat as its first target, then quickly moved in.

“Can’t we go any faster?” The dwarf demanded.

“The sails are full,” another answered.

“Get the crossbows then,” he ordered. “And those flasks of oil. We’ll send some flaming bolts their way and try to burn their sails. That should slow them down!”

One of the dwarves opened a chest at the bow of the ship and began handing out crossbows and bolts, while another emptied the flasks of oil into an iron pot. He then pulled some steel and flint, struck the two together, and set the oil ablaze. The distance between them and the black monster was closing. The dwarves dipped their bolts into the burning oil, notched them on their crossbows, and took careful aim. There was a whip in the air, and one of the dwarves was thrust back. The others looked on him with terror as he scrambled in pain, a long ballista bolt protruding from his chest. He gasped one last time, then lay still. Another bolt struck the wall of the ship hard, its deadly bared tip protruding by their knees.

“Loose your bolts, lads,” the dwarf cried. “Aim for their sails!”

Their crossbow strings twanged, but the bolts fell short, and were extinguished in the cold sea.

Another ballista bolt tore through their sail, then plunged into the ocean.

“Don’t give up lads,” the dwarf cried. “Notch another bolt!”

They began loading their crossbows. A loud thump came from the enemy ship, and the arm of a catapult stood erect. A huge boulder snapped their mast and tore out their bow. Their ship began to take on water quickly as it slowed to a dead stop. The already wounded sail fell over the oil pot, catching flame quickly. The dwarf loosed his bolt. Again the bolt fell short, but this one made it to their deck. The dwarf sneered as he heard an enemy shriek with pain.

“Come on lads,” the dwarf cried. “I need your help here!” There was no answer. The dwarf turned to see two of his comrades trapped beneath the burning, sinking sail, and the third trying to tear them free.

“Good God,” the dwarf grumbled. “Keep on them lad, I’ll hold them off.”

Another thump came from the enemy ship. A huge boulder hit the rescuing dwarf’s back, smashing him and his two trapped comrades through the ship's deck and into the icy water.

The dwarf growled in anger. He sent another burning bolt to his enemy. This one hit low on their sail, slowly setting it ablaze. Another ballista bolt punched through the ship's side, catching the dwarf’s knee. He fell to the deck in pain, feeling the cold ocean water soak through his clothes.

Another thump, and another boulder smashed into the dying ship. It turned on its side, dumping the dwarf into the ocean. His wounded knee and the weight of his armor made treading water difficult. He clung desperately to the splintered remains of his small boat, and waited. The huge, menacing ship pulled up slowly along the destroyed ship. The dwarf looked in horror at the twisted smiles and crooked teeth of goblins, kobolds, and orcs. They stood on the deck wearing subdued armor and pointing their plain weapons, laughing at the struggling dwarf. A large ogre wearing detailed subdued armor, pushed his way to the ship’s side. He looked at the dwarf, and smiled.

“I yield to you,” the dwarf cried from the water. This was not a cry for mercy. In a land where battles were fought with honor, a warrior who knew he had been defeated would yield to his opponent, thus ending the fight. But these beasts knew no honor.

The ogre smiled. “Bring him aboard,” he grumbled.

The goblin loaded his ballista with a long bolt with a rope affixed to its tail, then took aim at the dwarf. The dwarf returned a piercing stare, showing no fear.

“Give me the eye-piece,” the captain of the halfling ship ordered. He was handed a short brass telescope. He looked to the stern of their ship, barely able to make out his dwarf friend in the water. He saw the tip of a ballista bolt swing around and point toward the water.

“Oh dear God, no,” the halfling said to himself.

The bolt shot into the water with a splash, and the crew laughed with a laugh that the halflings could not hear. He watched in horror as they pulled the dwarf from the water, the bolt having gone through his chest. He bowed his head in sorrow.

“They’re turning towards us,” one of them said in a quiet voice.

Three elves sat exhausted on the narrow shore at the west side of the island. Behind them was the thousand-foot cliff they had just climbed down.

“We don’t have much time,” one of them said breathing hard. “Which way to the cave?”

“I think it’s this way,” another answered, pointing to the north.

The three staggered to their feet, and began running down the beach at a slow pace.

“Look,” he said after a while. “There’s the rock formation.”

Three large boulders stood oddly stacked.

He began running more quickly, then disappeared through the sand with a splash. The others looked on with confusion. The elf rose to the surface, water splashing up from under the sand.

“It’s an illusion,” he cried, choking on the water. “We’ve found it! The cave should be right there.” He pointed to the cliff wall.

“Well don’t just stand there you oafs, help me out of here!”

They pulled their comrade from the water with amazement, his body seeming to pass through the sand. He staggered to his feet, arranged his clothing, and began probing the ground with his sword. Gently he probed the sand, feeling it resist his sword. He continued probing, inching his way forward until finally, he penetrated the illusion. Running his blade along the edge of the illusion, he walked toward the cliff wall, then stopped.

“It should be right here,” he said.

The elf reached forward with a shivering hand and attempted to touch the cliff wall. To his surprise, his hand passed through it. He looked back to his comrades with a grin.

“We’ve found it.”

The last halfling hung desperately to the bottom of his now capsized boat, shivering in the icy ocean water. His two comrades floated lifeless, their bodies riddled with arrows.

“Bring him aboard!” the ogre commanded.

The goblin snickered with anticipation as he aimed the ballista. “No, you fool!” the ogre shouted, punching the goblin in his head. The goblin fell to the deck unconscious. “I want this one alive. Get the net!”

“You’ll never take me alive!” The halfling yelled, hiding behind his sinking ship.

Two goblins ran to the side of their ship carrying a large net. They heaved the heavy net over the side, landing it across the bottom of the sinking vessel and the surviving halfling. The halfling, however, easily freed himself as they pulled the net aboard. The big ogre growled.

“This is not working,” he complained. “Take a lifeboat and go get him!” A small row-boat and five goblins were lowered into the water. They untied their boat, then began paddling towards the halfling, their smiles baring dirty, crooked teeth. The halfling climbed out of the water and took a stand on the bottom of his boat, his short sword in hand.

“Who will be the first to die?” The halfling demanded as the goblins reached his boat.

One of them carefully stepped onto the halfling’s ship, a small ax in hand.

“Give up, you little twerp,” the goblin grumbled. “You can’t win.”

The goblin charged, only to find the halfling’s sword waiting. With a swift thrust, the halfling stuck the goblin’s gut. He froze in shock, paralyzed with pain. The halfling lowered the hilt of his sword, then thrust it into the goblin’s chest, cutting his heart in two. The goblin fell lifeless into the water.

“Who’s next?” The halfling shouted, waving his blood-stained blade.

A twang was heard from the ship's deck. The halfling felt an intense pain in his shoulder, causing him to lose his grip on his sword. The sword tumbled helplessly off the ship’s hull and into the ocean. He looked over his wounded shoulder, only to see a long arrow protruding from his back. The remaining goblins rushed him, easily overpowering the unarmed halfling.

The elves walked along the narrow ledge into the hidden cave. A magic light illuminated the cavern with a pleasant glow. Sitting in a gentle pool of water was a small river boat. It was long and narrow, bearing no sails. A low animal-hide roof covered the majority of the boat, protecting its deck and passengers from the sun and harsh weather.

“We’ll never make it to Karameikos in this boat,” one of the elves said in frustration. “How will the three of us paddle so far?”

“This boat needs neither oars nor sails,” the elf said as they mounted the boat. “Find a seat and hold yourselves tight.”

Two elves sat at the stern while the third stood on the bow.

“Forward!” The elf commanded.

The boat lunged forward heading out for the open sea.

“It’s a Boat of Undersea,” one elf said to the other. “Wonderful!”

The boat pushed its way through the choppy waters, the strong winds blowing. Two menacing black warships waited patiently for their coming prey. The elves continued forward.

“We’re headed straight for them,” one of the elves gasped. “They’ll smash us to splinters!”

“Relax, my brother,” the lead elf answered. “All is going as planned.”

The gap between the ships lessened. The huge warships opened their sails, the strong wind filling them full, and began to charge the elves’ tiny boat. The elves’ passengers stared on in horror, their eyes wide with fear, as they came within catapult range.

“Hold on, my brothers,” the lead elf shouted.

A thump was heard from the lead warship, a huge boulder lobbed their way.

“Submerge!” the elf shouted.

The elven boat began to rock strongly from bow to stern, building up momentum, then dove beneath the ocean surface. The huge boulder plunged into the sea, missing their stern by mere inches. The elves held tightly to the boats railings, struggling not to be washed overboard as the cold sea water flooded its deck. Then, silence. The boat moved gently under the water.

“There is no need to hold your breath, my brothers,” the lead elf said, his voice muffled by the water. “So long as you remain in contact with the boat, you can breath like a fish.”

Reluctantly, the elves exhaled, then took a deep breath. They smiled in amazement.

The goblin crews gave a victory cheer, having ‘sank’ the elven boat with one shot.

“Move to where the boat sank,” the ogre leader commanded. “I want those scum alive!”

The warships continued their course while the goblin crew eagerly searched the waters. They saw nothing. The elves passed gracefully under the huge warships. The ocean was cold and dark, but safe. They continued their journey under the water until the chill finally met their bones. They knew then that they must surface, or risk succumbing to the cold. The lead elf gave the command and the boat pointed its bow upward. The elves held the railing tight as the water rushed from the deck. The sun was high now and the warmth felt good on their wet flesh. The island was but a speck on the horizon and the menacing warships were nowhere to be seen. The elves began wringing their clothes and spreading them about the deck to dry.

“What now?” One of the elves asked.

“Now we sail to Karameikos,” the lead elf explained. “When we get there, we must search for a small village where we will find the Members of the Star. They will help us.”

“How do we know they will help?” The other asked.

“It’s in their blood,” the elf responded.

Part Two

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