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Dragon Stories Part II


Kevin B. Duxbury

A Time of Sorrow

It was a dismal time for the land. Once again evil had shed its darkness, and the inhabitants of the island found themselves abducted into slavery. This time, it was at the hand of an evil knight named Dreadtar and was carried out by his Dark Army. He was an enormous man, bearing huge muscular arms and a broad chest. When he walked, it was as though the earth trembled with every step.

None had ever seen his face, for it was encased in an intimidating helm decorated with the teeth and horns of some unfortunate creature. His soul piercing eyes stared eerily through the narrow slit of his helm. His chest was encased in a subdued breast plate formed to complement his build, while his legs and feet were covered with leather trousers, armored plates, and massive boots. His arms were bare with the exception of armored plates on each wrist. He took pleasure in the stares he would receive whenever he crossed his enormous arms and flexed his muscles. Across his back he had sheathed a long two-handed sword. Its long, subdued blade had killed many in the hands of Dreadtar. Alone, Dreadtar was a dangerous and threatening foe, and yet the company he kept made him all the more dangerous. Where ever Dreadtar went, the red dragon went.

Reedex was a large red dragon, and his cold, evil heart made him a dangerous enemy. He was an extremely intelligent dragon and very capable of using magic, but he saw no point in wasting time with spells when flesh could be torn from bone so easily. The sight of his blood-red hide and enormous size put fear into the hearts of most. And for those few in the past who had challenged him, they were met with fierce teeth, razor sharp claws, enormous wings, and no mercy. To the demihumans of the land, all seemed lost. No one, they thought, could ever challenge these two.

“Report!” Dreadtar ordered.

He sat authoritatively in his throne which had been forcibly carved by the dwarves to bear skulls and monsters. Surrounding the evil knight were the elegantly carved walls of what had once been a dwarven church, but had been boldly converted to serve as his throne room. Reedex lay lazily behind the throne, his head and tail wrapping around its base.

“My lord,” a voice broke the silence.

Barter, Dreadtar’s highest ranking officer, spoke first. In many ways his armor and mannerisms resembled that of Dreadtar himself, and although much smaller than Reedex, Barter also kept a red dragon for a companion. There were many jokes among the ranks of the foot soldiers relating to Barter as being the “wanna-be-Dreadtar.” Nevertheless, Barter was Dreadtar’s most loyal officer, or so he thought. Barter had spent many hours planning Dreadtar’s murder which would then give him total command of the dark army.

“We have pushed the dwarves of this mountain day and night to produce for you the finest weapons and armor for the incoming recruits. I am ready for them, my lord.” Barter bowed then took a step back.

“My lord,” the next voice spoke.

Teterrag stood tall in his black subdued armor, his helm only covering his eyes. A fine plume made of horse hair dangled down the back of his helm and around his shoulders.

“Although the elves were resistant at first, your fine army under my command quickly brought them to order. They are fishing the streams and trapping in the woods under my control. Soon there will be an abundance of meat for the troops.”

Teterrag was unique in that his mount was a black dragon. Although his dragon was unintelligent and could not speak, he had an aggressive attitude which made him even more dangerous.

“My lord,” a final voice spoke.

Raltin, the youngest and smallest of Dreadtar’s officers, stood proudly in his finely engraved blue armor, his head completely hidden by his jousting helm.

“The puny halflings were no match for your army and they quickly complied. They are working hard in the fields to bring in a harvest of grains and vegetables for the troops. They will not fail you, so long as they are enslaved to me.”

Raltin also kept a smaller red dragon for company. His dragon was somewhat intelligent, but was more violent than literate.

Dreadtar scanned his officers menacingly. “Speak, Witch,” he finally bellowed.

There was an eerie silence as a dark figure stepped from an unlit corner. Verica was one of the oldest evil magic-users in the land, and although she was very powerful, time was taking its toll on her. Like her memory, her powers were fading with every passing day. She was dressed in a deathly black robe, the hood covering her white hair and face. Her golden eyes glowed eerily from underneath her hood. In her bone thin, aging hand she held a small crystal ball.

“The crystal tells all, my lord,” her voice cracked. “You shall rule this land with an iron fist and your armies shall grow. Soon you will have the strength and power to move your armies to Karameikos, and you shall conquer that land. Once you have taken Karameikos your armies will grow even stronger! Then, the world shall be yours for the taking. In time, all will bow down before you. Your future is bright, my lord. None shall ever challenge you!”

But the old witch had forgotten about the basic flaw that all crystal balls carried. If one did not concentrate hard enough, the crystal would show them what they wanted to see, rather than the true future.

“You put too much faith in that old witch,” Reedex hissed. “Wars have a way of turning on those who are overconfident.”

But the dragon’s words fell upon deaf ears. Dreadtar, convinced that none would ever challenge him, crossed his massive arms and leaned back in his throne.

“None shall challenge me,” he grumbled to himself, or so he thought.

Kellvo stood atop a small hill overlooking the land, the same hill his greatest grandfather Darriac once stood upon. Spring had come, and the land seemed to come back to life after the long, harsh winter. But Kellvo knew that for the enslaved people of this land, it was just another day of sorrow and misery. Kellvo stood tall and slender, his long hair blowing gently in the wind. He wore modest clothes, a hemp coat, a plain cloak, cotton trousers, and leather boots. To look at him one might think he was just another peasant, and not the overwhelmingly powerful magic-user that he was.

But the power of his magic could not compare to the power of his heart, for he cared for his fellow person more than was comprehensible to the average man. Kellvo’s complexity only started with his love for the average man, however. Although he was an all powerful magic-user, he did not believe in magic. He felt that magic was nothing more than power of the mind and mixing the right ingredients to create a reaction. Regardless of what he believed, he was very powerful, and a foe to be reckoned with. He looked over the land in deep thought.

“It has been three months since we received word,” a soft voice said, breaking the silence. “When will it start?”

Fai, Kellvo’s loving wife and most faithful companion, walked to his side and took his arm. Her petite figure was dressed fairly in a modest coat, cotton trousers, a warm cloak, and plain boots. Her long hair reached her waist and moved gracefully in the wind. But she too was not what she seemed, for her magic was as powerful as Kellvo’s.

“These three months have been so hard,” Kellvo said softly. “For every day that passes another demihuman is tortured or killed. But if we rush into this, if we are impatient, we will lose this battle and all hope will be lost.” Kellvo grasped the ends of the two leather strings he wore around his neck. At the end of one was a blue star medallion encircled with gold, and at the end of the other was the pot of what was once a fine smoking pipe carved of bone. It resembled that of a wise man wearing a long beard and mustache. “Do you think they’re watching?” Kellvo asked as he looked upon the items.

“I think they always are,” Fai answered gently. She held up an amulet which resembled the sun with a dark blue gem in the center. It was once a very powerful magic item, but as time passed its powers were drained. It served now only as a piece of jewelry, a momento which Fai kept close to her heart to remind her of her greatest grandfather Marjac.

“So...,” she asked sensing Kellvo’s discomfort. “When will it start?” Kellvo sighed. “Today we will call a meeting with the other members. If all is in place, we will begin tomorrow.”

Fai looked upon her husband with a sorrowful smile. She could feel the stress and worry that was building up within him, and she understood. What Kellvo took upon himself to do was going to change this land forever. Win or lose, there would be those who would not live to see the outcome. She reached into her pouch and pulled out a large green gem, then closed her eyes and began to concentrate.

Kijo fell hard to the ground, his chest aching from the last blow he had received. He rose slowly to his feet, wiping the blood from his mouth, and examining the fresh dent in his breastplate. He recovered his sword, then turned slowly to face his enemy.

“A lucky strike, Dragon,” he grumbled. “But you will not be so lucky again.”

The blue dragon Kijo faced was easily three times his size. His blue scales, white mane, and long white horns shone brilliantly in the afternoon sun. The dragon lowered his head and growled, revealing hundreds of razor sharp teeth. He clawed at the ground with his deadly claws, then began to crouch down like a cat about to pounce. Kijo straightened his back, his eyes wide with dread.

“Oh no,” Kijo mumbled to himself as he lowered his sword.

The dragon lunged forward extending his front claws and latched onto Kijo’s shoulders, slamming him to the ground and pinning him. Kijo fell with a roar of pain, his sword flying from his hand. The dragon lowered his head to Kijo’s, then snorted in his face.

“Ugh,” he cried in disgust. “By the true God. Have you been eating sheep again?”

The dragon smiled then released Kijo from his uncomfortable position. He slowly rose to his feet, brushing the dirt from his clothes and armor. The big dragon began rubbing his head on Kijo’s side like a loving kitten, almost pushing him over.

“Merfrin, merfrin,” the dragon mumbled through his jowls.

A gentle laugh came from beside them.

“I’m glad you find this amusing,” Kijo said with a smile.

Aleena sat upon a large boulder laughing at her husband and the dragon as they played. She was a beautiful woman with long blond hair, fair skin, and dazzling hazel eyes. Aleena, like her greatest grandfather Aniston, was a healer and dedicated her life to helping others. Her love for the common man was matched only by her love for the true God, the root of her incredible healing powers. But besides these traits, she was also an excellent fighter. She held her own well with the mace and shield, much to the envy of Kijo.

Kijo’s heart was as big and bold as that of his greatest grandfather Baretec, and he truly felt that if his greatest grandfather were here today, he would be proud of all he had done. Kijo did not fit the description of what a normal fighter would be. His long black hair fell around a face of kindness and light blue eyes of caring, and although he was tall, he did not have the muscular build nor the razor sharp reflexes that most fighters had. He did, however, have patience. He studied long and hard with the two-handed sword until he had mastered the weapon, and became the finest swordsman in all the land.

Kijo and Aleena had traveled together for many years and were more than just husband and wife, they were comrades.

Kijo’s companion Orex was actually a sapphire dragon, a rare breed of gemstone dragon. His blue scales shone like fine gems in the bright sunlight. Unlike the blue dragons who were unpredictable, the sapphire dragons were lawful, faithful companions. Kijo trusted this dragon with his life. Orex was not an intelligent dragon and could not speak or use spells, but his deep facial expressions and the movements of his large body were easy for Kijo to understand. They communicated well.

Aleena felt a soft vibration in her pouch. She reached into it, pulled out a large green gem, then closed her eyes and began to concentrate.

“Who calls us?” Kijo asked after a moment.

“It’s Fai,” Aleena answered. “Kellvo wants us to meet him at Darriac Point,” she continued, rising to her feet.

The two mounted onto Orex’s back. He spun half a turn, opened his giant wings, then leaped from the ground, flying into the afternoon sun.

“I hope this is it,” Lurana said softly, a tremor in her voice. “I don’t know how much more of this I can bear.”

“I know, my love, Hal said pulling her close. “I know.”

They crossed the vast plains together, walking with the graceful stride that was common among the elves. The gentle wind blew through their long dark hair, revealing their smooth elven features and slightly pointed ears.

Their earth-toned garments blended well with the environment around them. At 325 years old, Hal and Lurana were considered young adults by elven standards, but their adventures on the mainland had given them much experience with magic and weapons. By human standards, they were considered masters. But in all their adventuring and travel, nothing could have prepared them for what they'd endured. For the last few months, Hal and Lurana had been hiding in the woods just outside their home village.

They watched in horror as their loved ones were forced into slavery by the Dark Army, unable to act for fear of being captured themselves. Lurana wrapped her arms around her husband’s waist and pulled herself close as they walked. Their undying love for one another was the greatest treasure they had ever found in their adventures, and it was that undying love that kept them sane in these horrible times.

Their walk was concluded at the base of a small hill. They stopped and took a deep, calming breath. Lurana wrapped herself with her cloak, shivering from nervousness more than from the cool breeze, then wiped a tear from her eye.

“Do you think he can do it?” She asked, looking on Hal with sorrowful eyes.

Hal looked up the hill with a confident smile. “I know he can.”

Kellvo and Fai waited patiently atop Darriac Point, now joined by their friends Kijo and Aleena, and the enormous Vermithrex. Vermithrex was a huge gold dragon, with a head easily the size of two men, and wings that seemed to shade the entire island. His golden scales shone brilliantly in the sun, while the black scales on his chest and around his eyes gave him a menacing look. His long black horns and sharp black claws reflected the sun like giant subdued swords and daggers. From his enormous neck there hung a long black mane which shimmered like a dark waterfall in the gentle afternoon breeze. Kellvo and the dragon were as close as two companions could be. Kellvo respected the dragon for his age and wisdom, and Vermithrex respected Kellvo for his love of all creatures and his clear mind.

Many years had passed since Kellvo and Fai discovered the dragon. While adventuring in some hidden caves in a far away land, Kellvo and Fai came upon a magical scroll which read, “Whomever holds this scroll holds the slave dragon and all its powers.” On that day, Kellvo recited the magic words and Vermithrex appeared. Their hearts filled with terror.

Vermithrex’s feet were chained with magic chains so he could not walk, his wings were tied with magic rope so he could not fly, and his mouth was clamped with a magic clamp so he could not roar. Fai broke into tears and Kellvo went into a rage. Using his magic, Kellvo broke the chains and freed the dragon’s feet, cut the rope and freed the dragon’s wings, and broke the clamp and freed the dragon’s jaw. Kellvo spoke boldly on that day.

“In exchange for your freedom I ask only one thing of you Dragon, that you be free! Do not consider yourself in debt to me, for I have only done what was right and what had to be done.”

From that day forward, Vermithrex and Kellvo were the greatest of friends, and Fai loved her husband all the more. They talked casually amongst each other, trying to think of other things to lighten their spirits, even if just for a moment. Their conversations were interrupted by the arrival of two more of their comrades.

Astain, Aleena’s younger half sister, walked gracefully to the top of the hill. Her  facial features looked much like her sister’s, but her long black hair and slightly taller build reminded her that she was a half sister. Gifts from the father she had never known. But there was still a very thin line of Aniston’s blood flowing through her veins. Like her half sister, Astain had a big heart. She was a great healer, with a strong bond with the true God. Her plate mail armor shone brightly in the sun, pulled slightly lower on one shoulder from the menacing two-handed war hammer slung across her back. She looked over her shoulder and smiled.

“Hurry up little man, we don’t have all day.” Her voice was soft and soothing.

“I’d like to see you cross five miles with these little legs,” a voice grumbled. “Maybe then you wouldn’t be in such a hurry!”

A large disgusting dwarf waddled up the hill behind her. He was truly a grotesque sight. His long matted hair was plagued with lice, what teeth he had were crooked and rotting, his poked-out eye was unbandaged and oozing, and his big hands were soiled and covered with warts. His clothing was dirty and smelled of rats, a perfect complement to the dwarf himself. The group tried to hide their smirks and giggles.

“I thought you were going to use a disguise?” Fai said with a smile.

The group couldn’t help but to laugh.

“Oh that’s very funny,” the dwarf said sarcastically. “Always quick with the tongue, aren’t you Lady!”

“Why don’t you transform to your true self, my brother?” Kellvo asked through a laugh.

“I can only use the spell once per day. How will I change back?” The dwarf explained.

“Change back to your true self,” Fai said. “I will use my spell to transform you back into your disguise.”

“Aw, bless you Fai,” the dwarf said with a smile.

He folded his hands and closed his eyes in concentration. Small sparks of gold began to appear and circle around him. As they increased in number they began circling faster, and the dwarf’s body began to stretch. His nappy hair and beard became short and neat. His facial features took human form, and his poked eye was replaced with a sparkling blue one that matched the other. His torn, soiled clothes transformed into the fine white robes of a lawful magic-user. The golden sparks flickered, then vanished.

Astain’s eyes lit up at the sight of her husband back in his true, handsome form.

“That is so much better,” he said. “That foul smell was beginning to make me nauseous.”

“It’s good to see you again,” Kellvo said with a smile.

“You too, my brother,” Centurion answered.

The two gave each other a strong brotherly hug.

Centurion was also a powerful magic-user, almost equal his older brother, however his beliefs in magic were very different. Centurion believed in the powers of magic and wore the traditional white robes which announced his lawfulness. He did not believe that magic was merely mixing the right potions and the power of the mind. He believed that some things were never meant to be explained. But the brothers did not let their personal beliefs come between them. Their bond was strong, and they were a powerful combination.

“They’re here,” Fai announced.

The group turned to see Hal and Lurana as they topped the hill and greeted them with warm hugs. The group felt for the two elves, for their task was the hardest of them all. When word reached the mainland about the island being taken over, Hal and Lurana rushed to protect their precious village, but they were too late. The Dark Army had already enslaved the entire village. But Hal and Lurana were very experienced fighters, and very skilled in blending with their surroundings. Hiding in the woods and observing their village, they served as Kellvo’s eyes and ears which would enable him to plan the attack that would free their village.

“We are all here,” Kellvo finally spoke. “Let us begin.”

The group moved to an area on the hill where a large map lay unrolled on the ground, a stone on each of its four corners to keep it in place. They sat comfortably around the map, while Vermithrex observed from over their shoulders.

“Tell me, my wife,” Kellvo said. “What news do you bring from the plains in the north?”

“The captain of this army was wise and has taken every weapon and piece of armor the halflings had.” Fai’s voice was soft and sorrowful.

“I will have to overtake this branch of the Dark Army with my troops alone. Our numbers are even, but my troops have better fighting skills. We will liberate the village.”

“And what of the dragon?” Kellvo asked with concern.

“My spy has revealed to me that Teterrag, as well as the other dragon captains, have taken their beasts to the dwarven mines to report their progress and discuss future plans with Dreadtar himself. They are not due back for three nights.”

“Very good,” Kellvo said. The information was very pleasing to him.

“Tell me, my brother,” he then said. “What news do you bring from the dwarven mines in the north-west?”

“The Ogre lieutenants have been lazy and have not actually seen the completed suits of armor,” Centurion explained. “Rather they have taken the word of our spy to be true. They think that the armor has been made to their specifications, when it has actually been made to ours. The armor is ready and waiting.”

“And what of the dwarves themselves?” Kellvo asked.

“Slavery is never kind, and punishments are swift,” Centurion answered, his eyes dropping to the ground. “But the dwarves are holding up as well as they can. They are eager for this battle and to avenge the deaths of their fallen comrades.”

“And so they shall,” Kellvo said softly. He looked on the elves with sympathetic eyes. “Hal, Lurana, what news do you bring from your village in the south-west?”

Lurana sat numb, her mind drifting elsewhere. Hal spoke for the both of them. “The villagers still have bows and arrows for hunting, and good knives for butchering, but their armor has been taken and they are greatly outnumbered. They know that if they were to attack now they would be slaughtered, so they are waiting patiently for our reinforcements. When you do attack, they will take to the trees and provide you with arrows from the sky. We cannot wait much longer though. The beatings and the killings are thinning our village fast, and soon we’ll have no one left to fight.”

“Our time is at hand, my friend,” Kellvo said reassuringly. “You will not have to wait much longer. Kijo, please tell me the status of our army.”

“The troops are fully assembled and camped on the east side of the island,” Kijo said with pride. “Their morale is high and they are ready and eager for this fight.”

Kellvo too, felt proud. The army that the group had put together was their greatest accomplishment ever. It was made of men and women of all races who were pure of heart and sound of mind. On the mainland, the group had a small territory where all these people lived. It was a good land.

The soil was good for crops, there was an abundance of water, and the wildlife made for excellent hunting, but they were surrounded by less ethical kingdoms who were constantly trying to take their land. With the help of the group and their vast experience, they trained the villagers and formed them into a well organized, dedicated army. In times of trouble, they fought hard and fought well. They did not fight for money. They fought to protect their families and the land that was rightfully theirs.

They fought for freedom, and there was no greater cause throughout the land. Kellvo spread the news of an island that was living in slavery, captured by a dark army. He told them of how the inhabitants of this island so desperately needed their help to free them from this evil army. In return, they would all be welcome to live and share this wonderful island with the locals, in peace and harmony. The villagers were quick to comply. They gathered their families and packed a mere few belongings, then boarded the ships for their departure to the new land.

“Vermithrex,” Kellvo said. “Please tell me what news you bring from the sky.”

The dragon shook his large head and neck much like a horse would, waving his long mane in the gentle breeze. “There are two warships approaching from the west carrying fresh recruits. Due to the shallow waters in the north, they will have no choice but to land at the south docks. A small army will escort them by foot to the dwarven mines in the north to receive their armor and weapons.” His eyes narrowed as he lowered his big head closer to the group. “These ships are big Kellvo, much bigger than ours, and they carry many a beast. They should arrive late in the morning tomorrow.”

“So be it,” Kellvo said stroking his chin in deep thought. He stood and allowed himself a better view of the map and let his mind drift in thought.

“Oh what a wonderful land this will be,” his thought to himself.

The island was easily three times the size of their territory on the mainland, reaching over 150 miles from east to west and almost 80 miles from north to south. Uncountable miles of rolling hills and plains provided lush soil for crops and an abundance of wildlife for hunting. The huge central lake and branching rivers provided good fresh water and fish, and would allow them to build far inland. To the west, the island sloped gently upward into an enormous plateau covered with thick pines and ending in jagged cliffs that dropped into the ocean. But the location of this island was by far its greatest asset. At well over 600 miles from the mainland, an approaching enemy could be spotted days before touching shore, only to find miles of terrain to cross before reaching the new village.

“There will be peace,” he thought to himself. “But not before there is war.” His mind returned to the present.

“Our time has come,” Kellvo finally spoke. “There will not come a better opportunity for us to begin our attack.” Holding a thin stick in one hand, he put a knee by the side of the map. “At present our numbers to the Dark Army’s could not be more equal. But our troops have better fighting skills, stronger hearts, and their faith in the true God, and that will give them the advantage.”

He looked upon the group with serious eyes. “Our attacks will have to be swift, and very effective.” He began pointing at locations on the map as he spoke. “Late tonight both our ships will set sail and travel from the east side of the island around to the south. I want soldiers only on these boats. The children and their mothers will remain at the camp. I want both ships to anchor here, just east of this patch of woods. Kijo, I want you to  bring your troops ashore and hide in the woods. When the escort army comes to meet the new recruits, attack them!”

Kijo's face bore an anxious smirk.

“At that time, Aleena,” Kellvo continued. “Your vessel will be empty except for its crew. I want you to continue sailing west until you reach this point. Astain, your vessel will still contain Hal and Lurana’s army. I want you to continue sailing west and anchor just south of the base of the great plateau. Hal and Lurana, here you will take your troops ashore and move them up the mountain and attack toward your village from the east side.”

Hal’s face twisted slightly with anger. Thoughts of his village and the horrible things the Dark Army had brought upon them flooded his mind. He took a deep breath. “It shall be done,” Hal said calmly.

Kellvo nodded, then continued. “Astain, at that time your vessel will also be empty except for its crew. I want you to sail south and meet Aleena at the same point. Your ship is much faster than Aleena’s which will give you the time you need to make the longer journey. Hal, you must get your troops off the vessel as quickly as possible. Do not delay, for it is imperative that these two meet on time. Aleena, Astain, when you do meet, the two enemy vessels will be in the same waters. Astain, I want you to attack them from the north, and I want Aleena to attack from the east. These enemy vessels must not complete their journey.”

Aleena and Astain’s eyes met, their stomachs turning nervously. They had been on many great adventures and fought in many battles, but never on such a large scale. There was much weight on their shoulders this time.

Kellvo took a drink from his waterskin to quench his dry throat, then continued. “Fai, at first light I want you to move your army west to the halfling village and attack from the east side. The plains will not offer you much cover and a surprise attack will be very difficult. They will probably spot your troops and have their defenses ready.”

“Do not worry yourself, my husband,” Fai said with a grin. “‘Tis nothing a little creative magic cannot make up for.”

Kellvo smiled broadly. Fai’s cleverness was just another of a long list of traits that he loved about her. He truly believed that she could move the stars if she put her mind to it.

“Centurion,” Kellvo spoke again. “At first light I want you to begin the liberation in the mines. But first, we must find a way to rid the caves of Dreadtar, his captains, and especially the dragons.”

“I will create a diversion just outside the woods that will draw the captains and the dragons away,” Centurion said casually. “It will not be difficult.”

“Very well,” Kellvo answered. “Once the dragons are well away, begin your attack with both the dwarves and the armor. Your fight will be a more difficult one, my brother. The small tunnels and low light will not be to either side's advantage. The dwarves are accustomed to these conditions, but are in a weakened state. The armor will adapt themselves to the conditions, but it will take a little time. Take care, my brother.”

Centurion bowed appreciatively.

“This, my friends, will bring us to what may be the final battle,” Kellvo continued. “With the captains away, the armies will lack their best leadership. With our even numbers, better fighting skills, and faith in the true God, I believe that we will be victorious in each of these battles.

“When the enemy sees that they are being defeated, many will try to evade. Let them. An enemy with the option to run will not fight as furiously as one that has no escape.” Kellvo pointed to a section of plains at the base of the great plateau. “Our spies have informed us that if there were such an event, the troops would move to this location to regroup and reorganize.”

The eyes of the group widened, and Aleena let go a gasp.

“That is just west of Darriac Point... here!” Hal said with surprise.

“Yes,” Kellvo answered. “I want you all to give the evading troops about half a day’s lead. Use that time to tend to your own needs, then follow. The enemy troops should arrive at their assembly area at dusk and I suspect that Dreadtar will work through the night reassembling his army. That will give us a the opportunity to get some rest. After nightfall, I want Kijo and Hal to meet here, about three miles south of Dreadtar’s regrouping area, and set camp for the night. As well, I want Centurion and Fai to meet here, just three miles north of the regrouping area. At dawn, we will move our troops to the outskirts of Dreadtar’s area. There, we will  offer him one last alternative, surrender or death.”

Kellvo sensed the tension in the group as they twisted and shifted uneasily. Never before had they taken on such a large burden, and yet they knew that this was one that could not be ignored. For them, there was no choice. This burden had to be met, and this land had to be made free.

“Our spies have been a great asset to us,” Kellvo continued. “And I want them to be kept safe. You will know them by the red cloths which they will have tied to their helms. When you see them, pull them into your ranks and let them fight with us. Our time has come, my friends.”

With that, the group stood and pulled their matching blue star medallions from under their shirts. Some were the ancient ones, others were reproductions, but their meanings were all the same. They stood shoulder to shoulder, their bodies forming a circle with all their hands joined in the center.

“As Members of the Star, we stand here today to continue where our greatest grandfathers left off,” Kellvo said proudly. “May the true God be with us and make this land free.”

The circle broke and the friends began hugging one another and wishing good luck and Godspeed. Kellvo at last found himself speaking one-on-one with Hal.

“Hal my friend,” Kellvo said with a smile as they strolled together. “I want to thank you for sharing your knowledge about the history of this land. Knowing what happened during the first war will be much to our advantage.”

“Think nothing of it, my friend,” Hal said cheerfully. “I was glad to be of service.”

“Please tell me, Hal,” Kellvo inquired. “How is it that you know so much about Darriac and his army?”

“There were many books,” Hal answered. “I must have read them all.”

“That’s very interesting,” Kellvo said rubbing his chin. “For I thought the elves did not record history in books or scrolls, but rather by word of mouth passed on from generation to generation. Oh well, it matters not. Tell me Hathalanious, was it your father or your grandfather who was head of the Elven Army during the war.”

“It was my father. He...” Hal froze in his tracks, his eyes wide with shock. He looked upon Kellvo’s face only to see a pleasant smile looking back at him. “How did you know?” Hal asked quietly.

“I can do simple math, my friend,” Kellvo said patting Hal on his shoulders. “Our greatest grandfathers fought that war only 150 years ago, and you would have been a young adult by human standards. Not only were you old enough to fight in that war, but you did. You have a veteran’s eyes, Hal. I can see your pain whenever you tell the story.”

“It has never gotten easier to tell,” Hal said bowing his head. “On the mainland, my name went down in history as a coward, the one who hid from battle and lived to tell the tale. I knew then that someday I would have children of my own, and I did not want them growing up with the burden of having a coward’s name. I disappeared for about fifty years, then returned to the mainland with a new name.”

“Do not worry, my old friend,” Kellvo said. “Your true name will be remembered as a hero... in both wars.”

Hal smiled broadly. “I’m worried about you and Fai. Magic-users are not know for surviving long when blades are swinging. Will you two be safe on your own?”

“There is nothing to fear, my friend,” Kellvo said calmly. “We will have our guardians by our sides. We will be quite safe.”

The group said their final farewells to one another, then departed.

The ocean shimmered a brilliant red as the evening sun set. Kijo watched from the east shore as the lifeboats, packed full with troops, paddled their way to deeper waters toward the awaiting anchored ships. He wondered to himself if any of the troops had noticed the beautiful sunset, and wondered if it would be their last. Kijo then wondered to himself if it would be his last. He pulled his wife close and rubbed his dragon’s big head. How thankful he was for all the blessings in his life, and he prayed that the true God would continue to let him live it.

A Time of Battles



“My lord...”

Dreadtar uprighted himself in his throne, startled from his deep sleep. Before him stood a small goblin soldier, bleeding from his brow and supporting his broken arm.

“I said I did not want to be disturbed,” Dreadtar bellowed angrily. “Get out!”

“My lord,” the goblin whimpered. “There is someone at the front entrance to see you.”

“I will see no one! Tell the guards to chase him away!” He ordered.

“I cannot, my lord,” the goblin said quietly. “He ate the guards.”

Dreadtar stormed down the narrow corridor with five armed guards and the broken messenger following close behind. Anger and fury swelled within his veins. The knight clenched his fists tightly as he approached the main entrance of the dwarven cave, eager to face the one who would defy him so. Dreadtar thrust the large doors open with all his strength, smashing them on the outside walls, only to find himself standing in the darkness, face to face with a large green dragon.

The dragon was easily five times the size of Dreadtar. His dark green scales and yellow belly bore scars of many battles, and his enormous jaws were not capable of holding his hundreds of piercing teeth. The dragon lay calmly on his belly in front of the cave entrance, fanning himself with his half folded wings.

Humbleness overcame Dreadtar. All around him lay twisted armor plates, blood-soaked clothing, and broken meat-striped bones. The stunned messenger continued to walk forward into the woods, still in shock from the horror he had already witnessed. Hiding his emotions, Dreadtar quickly gathered himself.

“Who gave you the right to kill my guards,” Dreadtar bellowed, swallowing his fear. “And what business do you seek with me?”

The shaken guards around him were amazed at Dreadtar’s daring and confidence. The dragon narrowed his cold yellow eyes and lowered his head slightly.

“No one gives me rights, Evil Knight. I do as I please.” The dragon’s hiss was cold and haunting. “I am called Gorter in your tongue, and I am hear to warn you…”

“I know of the army about to attack, if that is what you seek reward for,” Dreadtar interrupted boldly. “I have spies in all their ranks, and I am quite ready for them. Now be gone! There is no reward for you here.”

“Oh you have spies in all their ranks, do you?” The dragon hissed. “Tell me, what spy do you have in the ranks of the army to the north?”

Dreadtar’s expression dropped, although none could see it under his helm. “There is no army to the north. You lie seeking reward!”

“I have more treasure than you could ever comprehend,” Gorter yelled impatiently. “Your puny rewards mean nothing to me! And I assure you there is an army to the north, a very special army. They wear dark hooded robes and never reveal their faces. They carry fine weapons, and they are well disciplined. Never before have I seen such an army.”

“Why are you here, Dragon?” Dreadtar asked humbly. “You do not have adequate troops in the north to deal with this army,”

Gorter said calmly. “I will eliminate it for you.”

“And your price?” Dreadtar inquired.

“The dark woods to the east shall be mine, and neither you nor your troops shall ever enter them!” the dragon demanded.

Dreadtar crossed his massive arms in a moment’s thought. He wondered what was hiding in the dark woods that could be of such importance to this dragon. Nevertheless, Dreadtar knew he was in a bind. He would need the dragons help. “The dark woods shall be yours,” Dreadtar said.

Gorter spread his giant wings and spun half a turn. “They shall be dead by morning,” he hissed, then leapt into the sky, leaving the guards choking in his dust.

The two ships moved slowly through the calm waters with the rising sun to their sterns and their sails blown full with the gentle morning wind. Aleena’s ship, the “Avenger” as it was called, was a typical looking war ship. It’s short stocky build and two masts with large square sails made it clumsy to maneuver. But when combat was upon them, its massive ram, three light catapults, and numerous ballistas made it a dangerous foe. Astain’s ship however, was truly magnificent. At just short of 200 feet long, the “Freedom” was long and narrow, designed specifically for fast sailing. Its eight massive triangular sails were attached to three masts which seemed to touch the sky. There were no ships in all the seas as magnificent, or as fast as this one.

Kijo stood tensely on the bow of the Avenger, the small patch of woods where his troops would be landing was well in sight. How, he wondered, did his troops sleep so well on the journey here the day before battle. He was not aware of the little touch of magic which Kellvo had put on the ship to assure the troops were well rested for the long day ahead. He felt the soft touch of Aleena’s hand on his neck. He turned and looked into her sorrowful eyes.

“What is it, my love?” he asked calmly.

A tear fell from her eye as she pulled herself close to him. “Please be careful,” she wept. “It will be so dangerous for you.”

“Do not fear, Aleena,” Kijo said reassuringly as he stroked her golden hair. “I have fought in many battles and have always...”

“None like this,” Aleena cried. “This is a war! There will be many enemies, and dragons! You will be fighting men on dragons!”

Kijo could not deny that he had fought no true battles from the back of a flying dragon. He had practiced many a time, but practice was never the same as a true fight.

“You too must be safe, my love,” Kijo finally spoke. “The thought of you drowning out here has given me great worry.”

Aleena smiled as she looked upon her husband. The love between warriors was always hard on the heart. Fighting battles, and yet worrying about the one they loved at the same time was a heavy burden. She stared with awe as she noticed a gold speck in the sky coming towards them.

“Kijo,” she spoke. “It’s Vermithrex.”

The huge dragon lowered himself from the sky, struggling to hover his large body adjacent to the ship. The rising sun reflected brilliantly off his golden scales.

“There has been a change of plans,” the dragon bellowed.

“A change,” Kijo said in awe. “Why?”

“How many short were you in your ranks last night?” Vermithrex asked.

“I was short six, but fear not. Deserters will be dealt with fairly,” Kijo responded.

“It was just as Kellvo predicted,” Vermithrex said to himself with a grin. “They were not deserters,” he said loudly. “They were spies!”

The emotion of rage was easily seen in Kijo’s face, and the veins in his body swelled. The thought that he was deceived, that there were internal sources trying to foil their plans, made his blood burn. Aleena stood quietly in shock.

“Do not worry, Knight,” Vermithrex said calmly. “Kellvo has predicted this and has made some changes. The army assigned to escort the new recruits is waiting in the woods to ambush you. Do not land your troops on the east side of the woods but rather on the west side and face your troops to the east. There you will wait for a sign, then begin your attack.”

Kijo grew furious at the thought of his beloved troops nearly becoming the victims of an ambush.

“What will be the sign?” he demanded.

“You will know it,” the dragon said with a smirk. “Let it be known to Hal and Lurana that the army that controls their village has moved all their defenses to the east. They must move their troops beyond their village without being noticed, then attack from the west.”

“It will be done,” Kijo said boldly.

“Remember Knight, we have spies in their ranks as well,” Vermithrex reminded him. “Their markings have changed, however. They now where blue and gold cloths on the wrists of their sword hands. Protect them, Knight. It is because of them that we know all that we know.”

Kijo gave a nod.

“Godspeed to you Knight. I will see you on the morrow,” Vermithrex said with confidence.

“Godspeed,” Kijo returned.

Vermithrex, tired from hovering his massive body, flapped his wings full and pulled himself high into the sky above. He caught a strong wind then glided toward the island.

Fai pulled her cloak around her chilled body. The rising sun had not yet warmed the earth, and the gentle breeze made her shiver. The dark blue war paint spread across her eyes felt cold and icy. To one side there marched the mysterious secret army, wrapped in plain burlap robes and dark hoods. They walked with complete silence, swords and polearms in hand, in two long files that seemed to reach the ocean.

“A few more hours, Boy,” she said nervously, wishing the journey was over. “And the battle will be upon us.”

Cat, Fai’s beloved and trusted guardian, walked protectively close to her side. Cat was a most magnificent beast. Resembling a giant mountain lion, Cat was forged from a magic metal that shone like platinum in the morning sun, and his eyes were of magic pearls which would change color with his mood. At present they glowed a pleasant gold. His massive paws left deep impressions in the ground while his long tail with its spiked mace tip drifted easily back and forth. When Cat fought, he fought violently.

Taller than a horse and weighing three times as much, any who would threaten Fai would be met with massive metal claws, dagger like teeth, and a swinging spiked mace tail. There was nothing Cat wouldn’t do to protect his master.  He gave a metallic growl in protest. The large saddlebags loaded down with halfling weapons and armor were beginning to grow heavy.

“I know Boy,” Fai said with a smile. “We’ll be dropping that load soon.”

Cat stopped suddenly and rose his massive head, his ears perked.

“What is it, Boy?” Fai asked with concern. Cat spun half a turn and looked to the sky, then gave a chilling metallic roar. Fai looked to the sky in horror to see a huge green dragon swooping down at her.

“Dragon!” she screamed to her troops. “Dragon to the south!”

The troops began to scatter, but Fai’s warning came far too late. Gorter’s jaws opened wide as he bellowed an immense cloud of deadly chlorine gas, the force of which blew the troops to the ground. Their robes flapped violently with the dragon’s wind, exposing arms and legs made of branches and torsos made of logs. Fai tried desperately to outrun the blast, but was overtaken by the deadly cloud. She fell to her hands and knees, choking on the noxious gas. Fai felt pressure on her ribs as she was lifted from the ground, then the earth below her began to move. The air became clean. She took deep breaths, cooling her burning lungs with the soothing air. Fai fell to the ground landing on her side, only to find Cat standing protectively over her.

Gorter looked to the ground in frustration as the wooden troops scrambled to their feet. “Animations!” he sneered. The dragon was all too familiar with this spell. It gave a powerful magic-user the ability to create servants from inanimate objects to do as the creator pleased. In this case, it was to serve as soldiers.

“I’ve not seen magic such as this in a hundred years,” the dragon bellowed. “I will smash them like insects!”

Fai watched as the dragon circled for another pass. She knew he would not use his breath weapon again. “Company,” she commanded. “Prepare for a dragon’s smash!”

The troops quickly formed. Thirty of them stood in even rows to form a solid square, weapons sheathed, arms to their sides. The remaining troops formed a large circle around them, weapons at the ready. Gorter dove from the sky, his wings whistling in the wind. He bellowed a victorious roar as he rotated his massive body just moments before impact, then smashed the animated soldiers into the ground. Fai closed her eyes and covered her ears, trying desperately to block out Gorter’s blood chilling scream.

A pain, more agonizing than any the dragon had ever known, flashed through his body. He sprang like a startled cat, landing on his side and crushing yet more of the troops in the outer circle. Pain flashed through Gorter again, this time from his side. He howled and rolled to his opposite side. He looked to his bloody claws in horror at the sharpened wooden shafts that pierced them, their lifeless wooden limbs dangling. Where there should have been heads, these animations were sharpened to a point, a perfect counter against a dragon’s smash. His belly and side had been punctured more times than he cared to know by the sharpened torsos of the animations. Fear overcame him. He knew his wounds were serious, and the outer circle was closing upon him.

The dragon slashed desperately with his wounded claws and his massive tail, snapping the animations like twigs, but their numbers were too great. Shots of pain flashed through Gorter as swords and polearms were thrust into his hide. Fai looked only for a moment, then turned her head, unable to witness the horror of the beast being slowly killed. Finally, a fatal blow struck him. Gorter felt a sharp pain below his jaw and felt the warm blood from his neck spray on his face. A calmness came to him.

“Animations act as their creators act,” Gorter thought to himself. “A lawful creature will not attack an enemy that does not fight.”

He let his claws and tail fall to the ground. He cringed as the stinging blows continued, but began to slow. Through his blood filled eyes he saw the animations backing away, weapons still at the ready. They observed the dying dragon for a moment, then stood erect and awaited their next order.

“Please,” Gorter said to a god he’d never spoken to before. “Make it quick.”

The blood cleared from his eyes. He no longer saw the army of animations, the magic-user, or the platinum battle cat. He saw only the rolling plains and the tall grass blowing gently in the wind, a beauty he had never noticed until now. Gorter closed his eyes, and died.

Kijo watched over the shimmering ocean as the last of the lifeboats rowed their way to shore. He looked down the rope ladder that led to one remaining lifeboat, full except for one seat which was reserved for him. His heart ached with sadness.

“Worry not, my love,” Kijo said as he pulled Aleena close. “The true God is watching over us, and we will be together again.”

It was times such as these when Kijo’s mind would begin to wander. “I could retire,” he would think to himself. “I could buy some land and become a farmer. I could live a life without threats or danger and always be close to the woman I so love.” But these thoughts were always interrupted by his heart. He knew he had a calling. It was his destiny in life to fight evil and help the good.

Aleena held Kijo tight, then kissed him quickly.

“Watch yourself,” she said through hidden tears. “And I will see you on the morrow.”

Kijo smiled broadly, touched Aleena’s hair one last time, then began his descent to the awaiting boat.

“I love you!” She cried as he reached the boat.

“I love you too,” Kijo smiled back.

He pushed off the side of the massive ship and the rowers began paddling toward the shore. Kijo knelt at the bow of the small boat, staring intently into the small patch of woods ahead. If there was an army hiding within those woods, he could not see it. His concentration was broken by an eerie howl from the shore beyond. Orex clawed anxiously at the sand beneath his feet. His armor shone brilliantly in the morning sun as he rocked his huge torso back and forth with excitement. Kijo smiled broadly. Orex, realizing that his rider had spotted him, began rocking faster and let loose another joyful howl.

“Merfren, merfren,” the young dragon mumbled excitedly.

Because of his massive size, Orex could not sail in the ships with the other troops. Kijo had no choice but to saddle and armor his dragon the night before, then allow him to fly to the grouping area on his own. Now all was right with Orex, for he would soon be rejoined with his faithful friend.

As the lifeboat reached the shore the troops quickly jumped from their seats and joined their fellow soldiers. Kijo looked upon the army with pride. The three long rows of troops seemed to reach the horizon. To the front stood the infantry, tall and proud, bearing their blue braided cords on their right arms. Their long swords and polished armor and shields shone brilliantly in the early morning sun. In the center stood the cavalry, sitting high in their saddles, bearing green cords and long spears.

The vital areas of the horses were well armored, and they were draped with fine blue and gold linens. To the rear stood the archers, wearing their red cords and yielding finely crafted long bows. The multiracial army of men and women radiated with pride. They were well disciplined, well trained, and very ready for this fight for freedom.

“Let me see the Major Sergeants,” Kijo ordered.

From the ranks, a man and a woman stepped forward. They did not wear the uniform armor of the troops. In fact, their armor and clothing suggested that they were from a far away land, one of darkness and evil.

Kepler stood tall, his black subdued chain mail armor showing no reflection of the sun. His complexion was very light, and his short hair very dark.

Beside him stood his wife and companion, Luna. She was tall, standing only a few inches shorter than her husband, and her long brown hair and black leather armor gave her a very intimidating appearance. However these two were not what they seamed. They were actually Paladins, the most lawful and honorable of fighters, who had dedicated their lives to traveling the Darklands and protecting the innocent from its evils. They too had a trace of the greatest grandfathers’ blood within their veins, but they would not be joining the elite group of the Members of the Star until their quest in the Darklands was complete.

The bond between Kepler and Luna was a strong one. Their position as Major Sergeant was intended for only one person,  however they insisted to Kellvo that they hold the position together. Kellvo, knowing true love himself, obliged them. “Yes, Master Sergeant,” Kepler responded.

“What is the status of the troops?” Kijo inquired.

“The troops are formed and ready. The horses are still cold and shaken from their swim from the ships to shore, but they are warming even as we speak.”

“Excellent!” Kijo exclaimed. “Your efforts are beyond price.”

“Please tell me, Master Sergeant,” Luna spoke in a gentle voice. “When will we begin our attack?”

“The attack will begin when we receive the sign,” Kijo answered.

“And how will we know this sign?” Luna asked.

Kijo looked to the sky with great concern. “I believe that is it,” he said coldly.

The silence of the forest was broken by the sounds of grunts, growls, and thundering footsteps as the ambush party twisted and wove its way through the large trees. The large ogre leader took long, monstrous steps, much to the disliking of the smaller orcs, goblins, and kobolds who were forced to run.

“That idiot, Dreadtar,” the ogre grumbled to himself. “Sent us to the wrong side of the forest.”

“I see them!” A goblin soldier said in a loud whisper.

The ogre held up a fist, signaling his beasts to stop. The forest became quiet again. He strained his eyes to see through the thick forest, then smiled an evil smile as he spotted the shiny armor of his enemy gleaming in the morning sun.

“They are beyond arrow range,” the ogre said to himself, stroking his chin. “We must draw them closer.”

A rustling from above interrupted his thoughts. The distracted army began looking to the treetops as a small group of birds went into frenzy.

Soon, the rustle developed into a roar, and the entire forest around them came to life. Rodents appeared from the ground and the trees and ran for the edge of the wood line. Panicked birds rustled the trees as they flew into the sky.

“Dru…dru…dru…,” a panicked goblin stuttered, pointing to the sky.

“Dragon!” He finally screamed in a bone chilling rage.

Vermithrex dove from the sky bellowing immense fire and smoke from his jaws. The woods were set ablaze, as well as the small branch off the evil Dark Army. Blood curdling screams echoed throughout the forest as the horrid beasts were painfully burned to death. Those not set afire ran in a panic to the edge of the woods.

“No, you fools,” the ogre leader bellowed. “Go back! Go back!”

However, the undisciplined and panic-stricken beasts would not listen and continued running directly into Kijo’s awaiting army.

Kijo watched from the open planes as Vermithrex made his deadly attack. The nervous horses stomped the ground uneasily causing their armor to clank at the joints. The troops watched tensely as thick gray smoke bellowed from the woods. A beast emerged from the smoke, coughing and sucking in the cool clean air, then another emerged, then another. One by one the beasts emerged, staggered and delirious. They spotted Kijo’s army and froze. The Dark Army was greatly outnumbered. The ogre leader stepped forward, raised his sword, and then screamed an ogre war chant. One by one, the remaining orcs, goblins, and kobolds joined in the chants, screaming and waving their swords.

“Kepler, Luna,” Kijo said calmly. “We cannot risk harming the horses this early in the battle, and we need to save our arrows. Send only the infantry.”

“Yes, Master Sergeant,” Kepler responded. Kepler and Luna walked to the front of the line and drew their swords. “Infantry,” Kepler shouted, his sword held high. “Follow me! Attack!”

The troops moved forward at a moderate pace, their swords and shields ready, the adrenaline building within them. The ogre captain gave an evil, eager smile. “Attack!” He shouted. “Attack!”

The ground trembled beneath the pounding feet of the two opposing armies. As the distance between them became smaller they began running faster. A low roar came from the mouths of Kepler’s infantry, slowly rising into a cry of domination as they neared their enemy. The gap closed, and blades began to swing. Kepler and Luna dealt the first fatal blows, dropping two goblin soldiers in cries of pain. They quickly picked two new targets, then dropped them too. Their blows were quick, accurate, and fatal.

The two armies crashed together, engulfing each other in a rage that could only be found in war. The plains echoed with sounds of steel meeting steel and blood chilling screams of pain. But the screams were not of Kijo’s army. The small branch of the Dark Army was outnumbered, under skilled, and slowly but surely being hacked to pieces. Only one stood a fair chance.

The large ogre captain was approached by an infantryman half his size. He smiled eagerly as he swung his huge two-handed sword at his tiny target. But the infantryman did not allow his fears to grab him. Spinning a full turn, he dodged the ogre’s blow and landed one of his own. The ogre let go a yelp at the stinging pain in his side just below his breastplate. Frustrated, the ogre raised his massive sword high above his head, then brought it down with all his strength on the infantry man’s awaiting shield. The force was great, and the soldier was knocked to the ground. He scrambled desperately to get to his feet, but the huge ogre was already straddling him, his sword inverted and ready to pierce the soldier’s armor.

The ogre screamed and staggered backwards, his gruesome face twisted with pain. He turned to find one of his own, a kobold soldier, standing with a blood-smeared dagger in his hand, and a blue and gold cloth dangling from his wrist.

“You traitor,” the ogre growled. “I will cut you to pieces and eat your bones!”

He raised his sword over his shoulder, ready to deal a fatal blow. There was a loud metal clank, then an intense pain. The ogre fell to the ground. His legs had became lifeless, and his spine burned with pain. The infantryman straddled the ogre captain, inverted his sword, then drove it through the ogre’s armor and into his heart. The ogre went limp, his face in the dirt.

The infantryman looked into the eyes of the kobold, his dog like face half scorched by the fire. The kobold smiled, then spoke. “We are friends for life.”

The battle began to fade as the soldiers of the Dark Army continued to fall. Some ran to the woods, feeling their chances against the burning inferno were better than facing their well trained enemy. Those who chose to continue fighting died quickly. Kepler’s infantry stood tensely on the battlefield, their swords and armor splattered with blood, awaiting the next enemy that would challenge them, but there were none. The air smelled of smoke and spilled bowels. The once beautiful plain was now soaked with blood and littered with crumpled bodies, lost weapons, and severed limbs.

Kepler and Luna moved to the center of the field where all could see them. Luna stood tall, her face and hair spattered with blood. She thrust her blood-stained sword high into the air. “Victory is ours!” She cried.

At the same moment of Kijo’s first battle, another was brewing. A grotesque one-eyed dwarf wove his way through the dimly lit halls of the dwarven caves. The ogre lieutenant following cursed and swore as he bumped his head on the low ceiling. They came to a thick wooden door with a large brass knob and lock. The dwarf inserted a large key, turned it three times, then pushed the heavy door open. He stepped aside and gestured for the ogre lieutenant to enter.

“Your armor awaits you, my lord,” the dwarf grumbled.

The ogre lieutenant pushed passed the dwarf with an eager smile, but his expression quickly changed when he entered the massive room. Within its walls he found hundreds of suits of armor, made to human specifications. The suits sat properly in long rows on finely crafted wooden benches, each suit tinted blue and bearing a blue and gold star on its breastplate. The ogre walked farther into the room, his fists clenched tightly in anger.

“What is this?” The ogre screamed. “What is this? This is not the armor you were instructed to build! These will never fit our troops!” He continued as he drew his sword. “Your worthless life has just ended!”

The ogre turned, only to find a tall man dressed in fine white robes standing quietly behind him.

“That is odd,” Centurion spoke calmly. “For I am feeling quite well.”

The ogre froze in fear, immediately recognizing the robes of a lawful magic-user. He lunged forward at the wizard, knowing he had only one chance to pierce his heart. His blow was deflected by another sword, and the large ogre stumbled back. Before him stood one of the suits of armor, sword at the ready. Frustrated and scared, the ogre swung his blade at his new enemy only to have his blade deflected again. This time however, an intense pain flashed through the ogre’s gut. Paralyzed, he fell forward and latched onto the shoulders of the armor. He looked down in horror only to see the hilt of his enemy’s sword protruding from his belly. With his last bit of life he pushed open the visor of the armor’s helm, and found it empty. The armor pulled its sword from the ogre’s gut, allowing him to fall to the floor.

“Star Knights,” Centurion spoke boldly. “We must rid these caves of this enemy rubbish. Start from the deepest corridors and push them out the front entrances. Those who resist will be destroyed. Those who do not will be allowed to escape. Now stand, Star Knights. Go forth and rid these caves of evil.”

The empty suits of armor rose to their feet, then in a single file, walked into the halls and corridors. The clanking of steel on steel and screams of pain and horror could be heard almost immediately.

Dreadtar sat high in his saddle upon Reedex’s back. The dragon growled and clawed at the ground uneasily, feeling suspicious with the present situation. Behind Dreadtar were his three dragon riders, Barter, Teterrag, and Raltin, all sitting tall on the backs of their dragons. Before them stood an enormous Giant Redwood. The great tree was hundreds of feet tall, and its giant limbs seemed to extend for miles.

“Who are you,” Dreadtar bellowed. “And why have you sent for me and my officers?”

“Well it would be a little difficult for me to come to you, wouldn’t it now?” the large tree bellowed with an enormous grin. “I am the Tree of All Knowing. I am the oldest living thing on this island, and I know everything. I know the past, I know the present, and I know the future. I know your future Dreadtar, and it is not good.”

“You know nothing, Tree,” Dreadtar bellowed. “My army is more powerful than ever and grows stronger every day. Soon I will move my troops to the mainland where, one by one, I will conquer the lands until I have taken the world. Nothing can stop me!”

“So says the old witch, Verica,” the tree responded. “Her days left in this world are not many, and her mind is fading.”

Dreadtar fell silent. How the tree knew the name of his witch baffled him, and made him uneasy.

“What do you know of my future?” Dreadtar demanded.

“You army will be crushed under the fists of Kellvo and the Members of the Star. You will be wiped from this land and your name shall be forgotten,” the tree bellowed.

“Impossible,” Dreadtar screamed. “I have had spies in their ranks for years! I know their every move!”

“Then you know,” the tree continued with a grin. “That as we speak, your ambush party is being destroyed, the dwarven mines are being rid of your troops, and the halfling village is about to be liberated?”

Dreadtar’s veins swelled with rage. With a roar of anger he drew a spear from his saddle and heaved it at the old tree. But the tree just smiled as the spear passed harmlessly through him.

“You know, Dreadtar,” the tree said calmly. “Your weakest enemy will always be the inexperienced magic-user, but your worst enemy will be the most powerful ones.”

With that, the tree turned into a fine green mist, then faded away.

“I knew it!” Reedex roared angrily. “It was a trick! Your armies are now being attacked without their highest leadership! They will be slaughtered!”

“Enough!” Dreadtar shouted, slapping the dragon with the flat of his sword. “Quickly, get back to your posts! Get back to your posts!”

The enormous dragons turned and separated from one another, allowing space for each to open their giant wings. In a huge cloud of dust the evil knights and dragons took to the air, anxious to find what was left of their posts.

The small branch of the Dark Army kept watch diligently as the sun rose higher into the sky. The entire branch had been moved to the east side of the small halfling village. Gorter’s painful cries had been heard for miles, and the small army took it as a warning of something greater to come.

The large ogre captain paced nervously among his line of troops. The village seemed deserted. Its residents had all been tied, gagged, and locked in their homes, leaving only the goblins, orcs, and kobolds to stir. They knelt low in the tall grass, waiting for whatever was coming. A rustling was heard in the distance, and the troops became tense.

“Captain,” a kobold said in a loud whisper. “I hear something to our front!”

The large ogre hurried over to the kobold’s position and took a knee. He looked over the tall grass across the plains, but saw nothing.

“There is nothing there,” the ogre complained.

“I know Captain, but I know I heard something,” the kobold exclaimed.

The ogre stood, looking far into the distance. He noticed the tall grass moving, but there was no wind. “What madness is this?” he said to himself. He stared intently at the moving grass, then an image came to him.

Slowly, figures became visible. They looked like translucent people, and one very large mountain lion. He continued to stare in confusion, then the invisibility spell wore off and Fai’s troops were upon him. “Attack!” The ogre yelled in a panic. “Attack!”

“Go!” Fai commanded as she motioned to her troops.

The animations broke off into two groups and began closing in on the village. The animations were greatly out numbered as a result of Gorter’s attack, and even their superior skills could not even the odds. Fai let loose the only thing that could.
“Cat,” she cried. “Go!”

Cat hunched down like a cat about to attack a mouse, then let loose. His enormous claws dug deep into the earth, and with lightning speed he was upon them. The evil beasts screamed with horror at the sight of the huge battlecat lunging at them. Cat went into a rage, and Fai had to turn her head as the beasts were savagely ripped to pieces. Their blood chilling cries could barely be heard over Cat’s metallic roar. She looked only for a second and saw Cat violently shaking his head with a beast locked in his jaws. When the beast stopped screaming, Cat threw him across the village, then grabbed another. The village echoed with the clanking of metal on metal, and screams of pain and rage.

Fai quickly moved herself away from the battle as magic-users were not known for lasting long when swords were swinging. As she watched the battle, a young goblin fighting with great skill caught her eye. With a sword in each hand he spun, dodged, stabbed, and slashed, dropping his enemy one by one with quick and accurate blows.

But this goblin was not fighting the animations, he was fighting his own.

“You worthless traitor! I will... ahhhhh!” a goblin screamed as the skilled goblin slashed his belly.

Fai looked closer and noticed a gold and blue cloth dangling from his wrist. She bore a smile, but it quickly faded. Although the goblin was skilled, more and more of the Dark Army soldiers became aware of him.

Suddenly, he had four upon him. He continued to fight with all his will, but their numbers were too great. Fai gasped as one of the small orcs scored a stab in the goblin's kidney. He let go a scream, then another blade pierced his stomach. He fell to his hands and knees, then the enemy troops closed on him. The evil beasts repeatedly stabbed and beat the goblin spy, showing no mercy.

“No!” Fai cried in horror. She waved her hand and four magical arrows shot from her sleeve, piercing the bodies of the four beasts. They grabbed at the arrows lodged into their torsos as they twisted and fell. She ran to the fallen spy, now lying on his back. She knelt by his side and touched his face. His face was unlike any goblin she had ever seen, for it was not twisted and grotesque like most. His face was smooth, soft, and gentle.

“My lady,” he gurgled.

“Rest, my friend. I will get you a healer,” Fai said with a shaky tone.

“No,” the goblin said with a smile. “It is too late. My wounds are serious. But I shall pass in peace, for your beautiful face will be the last thing I see. Tell me, my lady, is there room in the true God’s heaven for goblins?”

“Of course there is,” Fai said through tears and a smile. “The true God sees only your heart, and yours is good and pure.”

The goblin smiled, then his head fell back and he died. Fai jumped as a hand touched her shoulder. One of her animations stood above her. It pointed across the village with its wooden arm. Fai stood to see the village cleared of their enemy, the majority of them running across the fields heading west. Around her were the slashed bodies of enemy troops and blood stained grass.

“Reorganize the troops,” she ordered. “Then find the villagers and free them.”

The animation obediently moved on.

Fai then froze. Cat’s mouth and claws were covered with blood, and his eyes were an eerie, deathly black. He approached Fai as if he were stalking her, then let go an evil growl. He stopped, stood straight, then his eyes turned a pleasant gold. Fai let go her breath. The silence was broken by the sounds of happy voices. The local halflings ran into the sunlight, greeting the animations as if they were alive.

“God bless ya, my lady,” a female halfling cried as she kissed Fai’s hand. “You have saved us all.”

“‘Tis not ended yet, my love,” Fai said. “Where is your Sheriff?”

“I am here, my lady,” an older halfling spoke.

“We must reorganize,” Fai said anxiously. “I have but a third of my army left, and I will need every soul who is skilled with a blade and willing to fight. There are new weapons and armor hidden for you off the trail.”

“Our service is yours,” the halfling said with pride.

The sun had risen full, removing the chill from the air and warming the land below. Out at sea Aleena wrapped herself in her cloak, chilled from the still cool air on the water. The morning winds had picked up, and the Avenger chopped through the sea, its sails full. Aleena stared intently through a small telescope at the two black specks approaching her from the west. She then scanned to the north, spotting her half-sister, her ship moving with full speed from the north. The battle would be upon them soon, and Aleena’s stomach turned. A vibration in her pouch distracted her. She pulled out the large green gem, closed her eyes, and concentrated.

“Aleena,” Astain’s voice shouted within her head. “There is an additional warship accompanying these two!”

Aleena rose the telescope back to her eye and scanned the sea nervously. She held the gem tightly and concentrated. “I see only two,” she said within her own mind.

“It’s hiding behind the first warship,” Astain thought back. “And it is huge. It bears many weapons and hundreds more beasts.”

“Help is on its way,” Kellvo’s voice interrupted. “Continue with your mission. That third ship will be gone before it reaches you.”

Aleena lowered her telescope. Although she trusted Kellvo with all her heart, the fear remained within her.

Kellvo stood atop Darriac Point, a large green gem held firmly in his hand. “I do not like using these methods,” he said quietly.

“I understand, Kellvo,” Vermithrex said. “The most noble of warriors are those who show mercy for their enemy, but often war does not permit it. This is one of those times, Kellvo. If I do not destroy that third ship, Aleena and Astain will be overrun. Their battle will be lost, and they will die horrible deaths.”

“Then we haven’t a choice,” Kellvo said, a firmness about his face. “Go forth and do what you must. Be careful, my old friend.”

Vermithrex rose to his feet and spun half a turn, unfolding his massive wings. “You too, take care, Kellvo. Are you sure that old dog of yours will be sufficient for your protection?” He asked with a grin.

Kellvo turned to look at the giant dire wolf sleeping lazily on his back in the warm sun. Dire was large, even for a dire wolf, but time was catching up with him. Light gray hairs had formed around his eyes and mouth, and he was not as fast as he had been in his younger years. But he and Kellvo had been together since Dire was a pup, and they had shared many great adventures together. Dire was faithful. He had never left Kellvo’s side in times of danger, and was willing to give his life to protect him.

“Oh don’t worry about him,” Kellvo said with a smile. “His senses are still sharp.”

With that, Vermithrex took a mighty leap and caught the wind with his massive wings.

Astain watched tensely from the deck of the Freedom as the enemy ships came closer into view. Figures scrambled about the decks preparing weapons and sails for battle. From what Astain could tell, her ship had not been spotted. “Moltres,” Astain called out.

“Yes, Major Sergeant,” the master armorer responded. The middle aged man, wearing a graying beard and worn leather armor, scurried across the deck.

“They seem to be centering their attack on Aleena and her ship, I believe we shall have the element of surprise,” Astain said. Her tone was calm though her stomach was turning. “Prepare your weapons. I want to concentrate our attack on that warship closest to us. Assure that your first attacks are precise. We need to do as much damage to that ship as we can before it turns on us.”

“I will aim the catapult myself,” Moltres said with confidence. “And that ship will sink.”

Aleena stood nervously on the bow of the Avenger. The distance between her and the enemy ships had closed quickly. She could now make out the crews’ twisted faces and hear their intimidating war chants. The third ship had revealed itself, and the three formed a column heading straight for the Avenger. The ships were massive, all bigger than her own, and the decks were so packed with beasts that they barely had room to move about. Aleena decided at that moment that ramming was not an option, and that both her and Astain had to avoid being rammed at all costs. With both their ships sailing with only their minimum crews, they had no way to fight off the beasts if they were to jump aboard.

“What ever you’ve planned, Kellvo,” she said to herself. “I hope it comes soon.”

Aleena had no sooner finished her thought when an ear-piercing roar engulfed her ship. Vermithrex flashed past the Avenger like a meteor, almost clipping the tallest mast. He then laid fire on the deck of the third war ship, setting it ablaze from bow to stern. Aleena gasped in horror. The beasts of the Dark Army screamed blood chilling screams of agony as they were set aflame. They fought frantically amongst each other, trying desperately to reach the sides of the ship. Burning bodies fell and  hissed as they plunged into the cold ocean. Below deck, the beasts screamed in panic as they tried to claw their way through the ship’s thick hull, the fire sucking their precious air away from them.

Both the crews from Aleena and Astain’s ships stared in shock at the engulfed ship, the flames reaching as high as it's highest mast. Vermithrex banked south, then hovered himself well in view of the remaining ships. All eyes locked onto him.

Astain awoke from her trance. “He’s distracting them,” she whispered to herself. The Freedom was still sailing fast, approaching the enemy ships from their port sides unnoticed.

“Moltres,” she screamed. “Begin the attack!”

Moltres ran to the bow where a large catapult stood ready, its beam pulled back and its bowl loaded with a large boulder. Moltres put his eye to a very technical sight he had designed himself, then centered the crosswires on the enemy ship. “Three degrees left,” he instructed the catapult crew.

“And two more notches tension!” The team of three began turning a series of wheels, causing the catapult to turn, while the fourth pulled at a long lever, lowering the beam ever so slightly.

“Good, right there! Now stand by,” Moltres ordered. A halfling held firmly to a rope attached to the release mechanism. “And... loose!”

The halfling pulled hard on the rope, the beam whipped upright, and the boulder hurled through the air. Moltres watched intently as the boulder smashed into the hull of the enemy ship just below the water line.

“Perfect!” Moltres cried. “Quickly, reload, reload!”

From below the decks of the wounded warship, goblins, orcs, and kobolds screamed in panic as the icy water rushed through the ship's hull.

“Quiet, you fools,” a large ogre captain commanded. “Stop your whimpering and block that hole!”

A second boulder smashed its way into the ship, crushing five and allowing the water to flow. The panic-stricken beasts began climbing over one another trying to reach the stairs to the upper decks. Another boulder smashed its way through the ship's hull, then another.

From the upper deck the ship’s ogre captain bellowed orders in frustration. “Turn about, turn about! Prepare those weapons!” He pushed his way across the crowded deck to the port side and looked over the railing. He moaned in dismay at the sight of the four gaping holes in the hull of his ship.

Aleena watched with hope in her heart as Astain’s crew continued to pummel the enemy ship with boulder after boulder. Her attention was quickly drawn to a splash toward the front of her ship, its mist spraying over the deck. “What was that?” she asked herself.

“Major Sergeant,” a voice called from the crow’s nest. “Catapult shot to our port, close to the bow!”

Aleena ran to the port where three catapults sat loaded and ready.

“Gerff,” she called to her master armorer. “What’s happening?”

A heavy dwarf wearing a long beard and banded armor turned. “They're lobbing stones at us, my lady,” the dwarf said in amazement.

“But how can that be?” Aleena exclaimed. “We’re nowhere close to being within range!”

A second boulder lobbed toward the ship, this one smashing the catapult on the port side and sending Aleena and her crew diving for cover.

“I don’t know how they’re doing it,” the dwarf grumbled as he pushed sections of splintered lumber off his body. “But they are, and we won’t last long if we don’t do something soon.”

“How much closer do you need to be to hit them with ours?” Aleena asked anxiously.

“About 300 feet, my lady,” Gerff answered.

Without another word Aleena turned and ran back to the poop deck. “Captain,” she ordered to a large man behind the ship’s wheel. “Take us starboard about ten degrees. We need to get close enough to that ship to use our catapults without exposing them.”

“Yes, Major Sergeant,” the captain responded. He began bellowing orders to the crew. Sails began to drop, booms began to swing, and the massive ship began turning to the north. Another boulder smashed into the ship, crushing a section of railing and splintering the deck on the port side, but causing no serious damage.

Astain watched the damaged enemy ship intently as it now faced her head on. The laboring ship leaned painfully to its port side as it continued to take in water. Another shot lobbed off their bow and fell deep within the deck of the enemy ship, it’s front mast shaking as it took a direct hit. Two catapults from the sinking ship loosed their shots. Astain watched with concern, but the leaning of the enemy ship made it difficult for the Dark Army crews to aim the clumsy weapons. The shots plunged harmlessly into the ocean.

“Moltres,” Astain shouted across the deck. “How long until that ship will sink?”

“Too long,” Moltres cried back. “We need to take out their sails, but I can’t do it fast enough by hitting their masts. I need to use flaming grapeshot, my lady.”

Astain stood quiet for a moment; the nauseating smell of the burning beasts still lingered in the air. Destroying enemy by fire was strongly opposed by the Members of the Star, and was to be used only when absolutely necessary. In this war, it had already been too often necessary.

“You may use fire,” Astain authorized. “Forgive me, my Lord,” she said quietly, her  eyes to the sky.

The catapult crew began dumping buckets full of small stones into the catapult’s bowl, then poured a barrel of thick oil over them.

“Ready,” the halfling called out as he secured his rope. Moltres continued looking intently through his sight. “Light the stones,” he ordered, and the oil was set ablaze. “And... loose!”

The catapult beam stood erect, and the hundreds of burning stones launched toward the enemy ship. Astain watched intently as the stones pelted the ship's sails, setting them ablaze. The numerous small fires began to spread, joining one another until the sails were completely engulfed. The wounded ship began to slow as the wind passed through the burning sails. Within moments the sails were gone, and the enemy ship was dead in the water. The crew of the Freedom cried a victorious cheer as the big ship continued to lean, its crew scrambling for the too few lifeboats.

With the enemy ship well within range, Aleena’s two remaining catapult crews began frantically lobbing shots. Gerff cheered aloud as his well-aimed stone smashed into one of the three enemy catapults. Aleena watched intently, her ship becoming far closer to the enemy than was comfortable for her.

“Captain,” Aleena spoke. “We must avoid contact with that ship at all costs. We cannot let them board us.”

“Yes, Major Sergeant,” the captain responded. “My lady, there is something burning on their deck.”

Aleena spun to face the port and rose her telescope to her eye. She quickly spotted the burning pot of a loaded catapult aimed directly at her.

“Gerff,” she screamed. “They’re going to use fire on us!”

The enemy catapult’s beam stood erect, and the flaming boulder lobbed toward them.

“Take cover!” Gerff screamed.

The flaming shot smashed into the deck just short of the front mast, splintering the deck and setting it ablaze.

“All hands, all hands,” Aleena ordered. “Put that fire out! Gerff, take out that catapult!”

“My lady,” the captain interrupted. “We won’t last long against that. Their ship is faster than our own, and I can continue to evade them for only so long. We must do something.”

Aleena stared at the enemy ship for a short moment, studying its tall masts and giant sails. “Captain,” she said anxiously. “Our only chance of winning this is to take out their sails. Move the ship into position for a ram, I want to hit them bow to bow.”

The captain looked upon Aleena with an eager smile. “I take it we’ll be using the secret weapon, my lady?”

“It is our only chance Captain, and we’ve only one pass to make it work,” Aleena spoke softly, desperation in her eyes.

“One pass is all I require,” the captain said reassuringly.

Again the captain began bellowing orders as he turned the ship's wheel. Sails drooped and booms swung, and the Avenger began to turn. A flash of light caught Aleena’s eye as the enemy crew lit the bowl of another catapult shot.

“Gerff!” Aleena shouted.

The dwarf paid her no mind and continued looking through his sight. He held his short arm above his head, paused, then dropped it. The Avenger’s catapult launched a huge boulder toward the enemy ship. The boulder soared gracefully over the sea then smashed into the enemy catapult, its burning oil spilling about and setting the deck ablaze. Gerff turned to Aleena and smiled, then took a deep bow.

“We are ready, my lady,” the captain said calmly.

Aleena looked toward the huge enemy warship, its enormous bow breaking the water as it pushed its way forward. Although the Avenger had a stronger wind to its sails, Aleena knew that the bow of her ship would be reduced to splinters if she were to ram. She held nervously to the railing on the poop deck.

“All hands, all hands,” the captain bellowed. “Find something sturdy and hold tight. We’ve a little surprise for all of you.” The captain wore a broad smile.

The two ships continued lobbing shots at each other as the distance between them continued to close. Gerff dropped his arm again and the beam of his catapult stood erect, but the stress of battle had weakened the massive weapon, causing the frame to snap. The shot flew wildly, missing its target and falling harmlessly into the icy waters. Gerff cursed as he threw his helmet at the disabled weapon, then ordered his crew to assist the others on their last remaining catapult. Two shots from the Dark Army’s ship hit low on the Avenger’s bow and sent tremors throughout the entire vessel. Aleena watched intently as the soldiers of the Dark Army began pushing their way to the bow of their ship, eager to board the moment the two ships collided. She looked back nervously to her captain.

“Just a few moments more, my lady,” the captain said, sensing her tension.

Aleena looked back to the enemy ship. The small branch of the Dark Army bellowed chants of war as they waved their weapons intimidatingly. She could almost make out their twisted faces.

“Now, my lady,” the captain bellowed. “Now!”

Aleena held strongly to the railing, her eyes shut tight and her lips curling as she summoned the magic of the Avenger. “Fly,” she commanded. “Fly!”

The massive ship began rocking from bow to stern, much to the bewilderment of its crew. The bow sank deeper into the icy water with every turn, splashing the catapult crews who held desperately to the ships’ railing. Then, with one final thrust, the Avenger rose from the water like a giant whale, but continued to fly. The beasts of the Dark Army scrambled in panic as the flying ship leveled off and continued forward. The catapult crews loosed their shots in a last attempt to stop the magical ship, creating two fresh holes in its hull, but doing nothing to break its path.

The panicked beasts began jumping overboard as the bottom of the Avenger’s hull smashed through the railing of the enemy ship, crushing its catapults and splintering the deck. The Avenger continued on, reaching the first mast and snapping it like a twig. Ropes gave way, and the massive sail fell into the ocean. The ogre captain watched in awe as the second mast was splintered, then screamed and jumped overboard as the Avenger smashed through the poop deck, taking with it the steering wheel and rudders. Aleena looked back as the ship completed its pass. The enemy ship was in ruins, and the ocean was littered with timber and panicked beasts. They held helplessly to fragments of their defeated ship, trying desperately to stay afloat.

The Avenger slowly descended and settled gently into the cold sea.

From the deck of the Freedom, Astain and her crew cheered aloud at the sight they had just seen. With the defeat of the third enemy war ship, the battle at sea had been won. She rose her telescope and began scanning the waters. The three ships of the Dark Army drifted helplessly as they began their long journey to the bottom of the sea, their sails collapsed and their decks and hulls destroyed. The waters were littered with debris and the bodies of beasts, some drowned and some burned. Screams of panic filled the air as the surviving beasts fought over lifeboats and pieces of floating debris. The smell of smoke and burning flesh turned Astain’s stomach. She turned her attention to her sister’s ship and noticed the crew running  about.

A man emerged from the lower decks and ran to Aleena, his clothing  drenched. She watched as Aleena fumbled with something in her hands, then felt a vibration in her pouch. She pulled the large green gem and closed her eyes in concentration. Aleena’s voice spoke in her head. “We’re sinking.”

Deep within the forest of the elves, all was quiet. The spy from the Dark Army had successfully returned to the elven village and warned his commander of an army that would be attacking them from the east. The Ogre captain had the elven slaves tied, gagged, and tucked away, then moved all his troops to the east side of the village into defensive positions.

“Let them try to take this village,” the ogre captain grumbled to himself. “I will slaughter them like pigs!”

On the west side of the village five guards remained, watching the woods diligently. Two orcs huddled together nervously behind a large fallen tree.

“Do you see anything?” one snorted to the other.

The second wrinkled his pig-like nose. “No,” he grunted.

Deep in the woods the sound of a stick snapping broke the silence, and the two orcs ducked behind the fallen tree.

“What was that?” the paranoid beast whispered.

Without answering, the second slowly raised his head above the tree, his crossbow cocked and ready. He scanned the woods, then slowly rose some more, exposing his neck and shoulders. There was a twang in the woods, a whip in the air, and the orc lunged back. He fell to the ground kicking in pain, grabbing at the crossbow bolt which had pierced his voice box. The first orc looked upon the beast in horror, then ran in fear. Keeping low he scurried along the length of the tree, crossbow in hand, then stopped at the exposed roots. He swallowed hard, then slowly peered around the tree. Before him stood a huge man. His clothes were of forest green and brown, and his face smeared with green paint. His thick leather armor was darkly  tanned and bore a symbol of a large black star. The man drew back his huge fist, then clobbered the beast, rendering him unconscious.

The ogre captain looked to the west side of the village, trying to locate the source of the ruckus he had heard. He grunted and dismissed it as nothing.

“Stay alert, you runts,” he grumbled. “The enemy is near, I can feel it.”

A hail of crossbow bolts whipped through the air, sinking deep into the backs of several beasts. Their howls and screams echoed throughout the forest. The ogre captain spun half a turn, his sword drawn, only to find himself facing an entire army of elves and humans. Their earth toned clothing and paint smeared faces blended perfectly with the forest, and their tanned leather armor allowed them to move in absolute silence. But the time for moving silently was now over.

“Attack!” Hal shouted.

Hal’s army rushed through the village, screaming a war cry as they charged their confused and stunned enemy.

“Turn about,” the ogre captain screamed with urgency. “Turn about! They’re attacking from behind!”

The beasts turned and loosed the bolts from their crossbows wildly, dropping only two from Hal’s army. No sooner did they drop their bows and draw their swords and the battle was upon them. The sounds of metal on metal and screams of pain and rage echoed throughout the forest as the furious battle began. For the elves, this battle was quite personal. A third of the Dark Army, panic stricken by the sight and ferocity of the camouflaged army, jumped the barricades and began running wildly into the woods.

“Attack!” Lurana screamed.

The forest to the east came to life as Lurana’s army revealed themselves and charged toward the village. The deserting beasts screamed in fright and scattered throughout the woods. They ran like fools, leaving behind a trail of discarded weapons and shields.

“Let them go,” Lurana ordered. “The battle is up there!”

Lurana’s army continued its charge, meeting its opposition with a fury found only in war. The Dark Army fought frantically, finding themselves trapped in the midst of their enemy.

The huge ogre captain fought diligently, using not only his sword, but his massive fists and feet as well. Soldier after soldier was met with skillfully placed slashes, punches, and kicks which sent them tumbling to the ground in pain. Hal approached the beast with his sword at the ready, and anger in his heart.

“Surrender your army now, or die!” Hal exclaimed.

The ogre laughed out loud, then took on a vicious face. “I will kill you slowly, Elf. Very slowly.”

“I was hoping you would resist,” Hal said, the anger swelling within him.

“As was I!” A smooth voice exclaimed from behind the beast. The ogre captain turned calmly to face Lurana. She threw down her shield and gripped her heavy sword with both hands.

“Finally,” the ogre grumbled. “A bit of a challenge.”

He threw down his sword, then smiled evilly as he drew an enormous two-handed sword from his back. Its blade was longer than Hal himself, and its subdued hilt was finely crafted. He maneuvered the blade skillfully about his body, then held it at the ready.

“Now you die,” the ogre growled.

Hal lunged at the beast, but his blade was skillfully deflected. Hal quickly dropped and rolled, dodging the ogre’s strike which would have easily cut him in two. Lurana gave a war cry and rushed the beast from behind, but her blade was stopped by his huge armored wrist. The ogre swung his leg and swept Lurana’s feet, sending her to the ground, then kicked her hard in the ribs. Lurana gave a gasp as her small body was sent tumbling, the wind knocked out of her. The ogre turned back to Hal and raised the massive sword above his head, eager to deal the final blow.

“So much for a challenge,” the ogre said with an evil smile.

Hal spun a full turn, whipping his blade and deeply slashed the ogre’s exposed belly. The ogre gurgled, choking on his own blood as he clutched his wound. Within his hand he held his own intestines. Lurana, still gathering her breath, scrambled to her feet and rushed the beast from behind. She thrust her blade into his kidney, not stopping until her hilt met flesh. The ogre twisted and fell to one knee, his face grimacing with pain as his organs spilled from his wounds. Hal took one final slash,  cutting the beast’s throat and sending him to the ground. The two elves stood calmly together over the mangled ogre captain and watched as the blood poured from his wounds.

The forest fell silent. Despite the ferocity of the battle, it was over quickly. The Dark Army had suffered a great loss to the stealthy Army of the Star. But the leather armor of the soldiers which gave them their silence also left them vulnerable to blades. Many had been struck. Hal and Lurana’s trances were broken by a young fighter.

“Master Sergeants,” he said out of breath. “The battle has been won, but we have many wounded.”

“Tell the wounded to drink their healing potions,” Hal commanded. “Then gather up a team and find the villagers. Tell the healers we need them here right away.”

“Yes, Master Sergeant,” the soldier said, then moved quickly. Lurana placed her arm around Hal’s waist. He looked down at her, and for the first time in a long time, saw her smile.

“We did it,” she said, her smile growing. She threw her arms around Hal’s neck and squeezed him tightly. “We did it!”

The Avenger and the Freedom floated calmly together, side by side on the big blue ocean. The crew of the Avenger had crossed over to the Freedom, Aleena being the last. Vermithrex swooped down from the sky and hovered beside Aleena’s crippled ship.

“I don’t understand, Vermithrex,” Aleena exclaimed. “It’s a magical ship. Why are we sinking?”

“It is an old ship, my lady,” Vermithrex explained. “Centuries older than yourself. Its magic has been exhausted.”

“But can’t Kellvo refurbish its’ magic?” She asked desperately.

The emotion in Aleena’s voice reminded Vermithrex just how precious the old ship was to her. Aleena had spent much of her life on the decks of the Avenger. She and Kijo had been married on the old ship, and they had planned to sail around the world. But now, so many wonderful memories and so many future dreams were slowly sinking.

“I’m afraid that even Kellvo does not have those powers,” he said.

“There are few magic ships left in this world. This one has served us well. It is time to say good-bye.”

“I don’t want to let it go,” Aleena said, a tear running down her cheek.

“Come, my love,” Vermithrex said softly. “It is time to go.”

Aleena squeezed the railing of her ship tightly, then bent over and kissed the wooden side. She crossed the deck and stepped over the railing and onto the Freedom, then into the waiting arms of her half-sister.

Part Three

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