© 1999 Eric Case, all rights reserved Please
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This story, and all my others are now available @ http://thebookcase.tripod.com - The BookCASE. There are also additional references for this story (ie: maps, pictures, translations, an more detailed information in general) on Nastradia's shelf.
Arden stepped into the room frantic now as he heard Corbren beating against the door to Jarin and Joshia's room just down the hall. Verdan was nowhere to be seen so Arden ran back to the hall and over next to Corbren. Arden drew his sword over his head once again and shattered his second door of the day. He burst into the room and immediately reacted to the darkly dressed intruders. Jarin and Joshia were standing against the far wall as Arden brutally slaughtered the three hooded figures in front of them. Two other darkly robed men lay dead on the floor where they had fallen to the boys. "I want the boys with Corbren in a safe room with no windows!" Arden bellowed as he dashed back to Verdan's room. Arden ran to the window and looked out into the night. He could sense Verdan was still alive but knew the boy was afraid and in pain.
* * *
"This is gonna be really bad!" Verdan had said as he rose to his feet. The window shattered inwards, and the boy was caught completely off guard. He cursed himself inwardly for being so distracted when he knew Mordak would still be after him. Verdan also knew the forest of Borundine was not safe from Mordak since the boy himself had studied how best to infiltrate the forest coming through Maul, as well as how to effectively eliminate the Elvin defenses.
As the shards of glass hit the floor everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. Dark robed figures entered the room through the window. Mordak's assassins. They were the elite trained equivalent of the old honor guards of Fengal's rule. The guards jumped to their feet and drew their swords but the assassins of Mordak were too well prepared and made a quick kill of one guard and tied the other before he could recoil from his first swing. Verdan tried casting his sheen but couldn't concentrate enough to overpower the assassins dispels.
Verdan whipped out his little dagger as they came closer and stabbed one of his assailants before he was bound and knocked to the floor where the assassin he had stabbed kicked him several times. "Little brat!" the man cursed him angrily. Verdan was then dragged out of the window and lowered to the ground below.
Below awaited several other men and also standing there was what Verdan feared more than anyone.. well almost anyone. One of Mordak's minataurs towered over the frightened boy. "You're in so much trouble," the boy shouted through his fear. The beast lowered it's head so that it's face with it's reeking breath was just inches from Verdan's. It smiled smelling the boy's fear.
"It is you who are in trouble Verdan," came a familiar voice to the boy.
"Kazrahk!" Verdan said with disgust.
"The master was very angry when you left," Kazrahk said as he approached Verdan. "He sent me all this way to get you back!" He slapped the boy hard. "I hate this forest!"
"It's too bad you're going to die here!" Verdan said defiantly to Kazrahk's laughter. "You like slapping a boy with his hands tied? Free me and we'll see!"
"I don't think so boy.. Mordak wishes to have you returned in one piece. He intends to deal with you.. personally," Kazrahk said smiling wickedly at the boy.
"Too bad you won't be bringing.." Verdan's sentence was cut short as the minataur grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and lifted him into the air. The group headed off back to the Caves of Maul, and left the remaining assassins to kill whomever they pleased.
* * *
Arden was standing at the window of Verdan's room when he felt a strong hand grip his shoulder. he turned expecting to see Corbren, but instead standing there was a strange looking elf. Most elves were pale skinned and slight in stature, but this figure stood as tall and thick as Arden, and had dark skin. His head was bald with the exception of his eyebrows that raised upwards as they extended from the center of his brow, and his moustache that ran down the sides of his mouth to his chin. What was most striking was his skin. This man resembled an elf, but his skin.. it was dark like the skin of the northern Akifrans. Then there was the other thing, that something special. The twinkling around him, and Arden instantly recognized him as a Kayan.
"I am Riahlos," he said sternly. "I saw your young friend carried off."
"To where?!" Arden asked quickly.
"I know not for sure, but by the direction I would say to the Caves of Maul," Riahlos answered in his composed tone. "They were the assassins of Mordak. With them followed a minotaur the size and girth of which I have not before seen."
Arden took a deep breath. He couldn't panic.. panicking would only make the situation worse. "You.. Can you take me there?" Arden asked as he developed his plans in his mind.
"I will," Riahlos answered.
"Arden!" Came the gravelly voice of Orion.
"They have come, and have taken the boy," Riahlos interjected.
Orion looked at him as he sauntered into the room. "To the caves?" Orion asked bluntly.
Orion looked Arden square in the eyes. "Choose who of your company will join us," he said as his voice grew deeper. Orion was already changing as rage at the invasion of his lands set his transformation into motion.
"Corbren!" Arden called. A moment later Corbren entered the room followed by Jarin and Joshia. Jarin gasped at the sight of Orion who was now nearing is battle-ready state. Horns had sprung from his head, and he had grown in height. He left the room followed by Riahlos. "Corbren, you're coming with us."
"Can we come too?" Joshia asked quickly.
"No, you'll be safe here for now. I'm not losing anyone else tonight," Arden said quickly. He placed a hand on Joshia's shoulder. "Your time to fight will come young one," he said, his voice with a more tender tone. Joshia looked up into Arden's eyes and smiled despite his wish not to. He wanted to fight, but if Arden said this wasn't his time, then he knew it wasn't.
Arden roughed up Joshia's hair, winked at Jarin, and followed Orion and Riahlos down the hallway and stairs to the door that exited closest to the Verdan's window. There was now a gathered group of Elvin soldiers armed and ready, and Orion lifted his hunting horn to his mouth. The horn let forth a blast that seemed to stop the storm dead in it's tracks. The birds that had been sheltering in the trees took flight, and the creatures of the forest seemed to come alive from their static state. With that, the wild hunt was on, and the elves made their way through the forest quickly following the tracks. Corbren drew his axe and held it over his head as he ran bellowing into the night. Orion was like a wild stag running through his wood in search of those who had violated the sanctity of his castle.
Arden could feel Verdan's presence growing stronger as they neared the boy. Arden now increased his own pace and overtook the leaders of the pack. He was in full stride now as he jumped fallen logs, and side-stepped past trees. Arden came into a large clearing where the Caves of Maul stood as a rocky outcropping. In the center of the clearing standing before the cave's entrance stood the minotaur Riahlos had spoken of. The creature stooped and bellowed. Arden didn't slow his pace but drew his sword, and ran full speed at the creature who began running towards Arden with his head lowered. Arden let out a loud cry as he reached the creature and stepped to the side and swung down violently at the beast and cleanly severed it's head from it's neck and shoulders. The body was still standing so Arden kicked it to the ground and brought his sword down into the creatures back piercing it's heart.
Arden lifted his gaze to the cave as the rain pelted down on him creating rivers running down the sides of his face. His mouth was open as set his mind on saving Jarin. Orion had told him about the Caves of Maul that run from the forest all the way back to Ardun. If they got Verdan into the caves and Arden couldn't find him, nothing would stop them from taking the boy back to Mordak. Lightning flashed as Orion entered the clearing followed by his elves. Corbren and Riahlos ran to Arden's side as hoardes of orcs and beast men came from the cave entrance. "We have to go in after him," Arden said clenching his teeth.
"We'll have to fight through these first," Riahlos said frowning at the approaching enemies.
Arden shrugged his shoulders, cast his cloak off, and bared his teeth. "I haven't fought my way through an enemy in a few weeks! Sounds like fun to me," and with that Arden ran forward hacking himself a path to the cave's entrance.
* * *
Verdan squirmed as he was carried quickly through the forest. Out of the night came a blast so loud the earth beneath the group shook. Their pace quickened, and Arden knew the hunt must be on, and soon Arden would come for him. He was surprised when they broke into a clearing. In it's center stood a rock outcropping and Verdan knew these were the Caves of Maul.
Verdan was carried into the cave by two of the high assassins of Mordak while the Minotaur stood guard outside. Verdan knew of the plans for these caves but didn't know they had been completed already. He could sense the magic coming from them and though he fought against it, a feeling of hopelessness set in as he was taken down into the cave. They followed a tunnel that wound down, and down, deeper into the earth. They went through a small doorway into a brightly lit room. Kazrahk pushed Verdan into a chair where the boy sat looking up at his captor.
"Scared?" Kazrahk asked in his snickering tone.
"Free my hands," Verdan said simply. "I stung you before, but I have a lot more where that little shock I gave you in Ardun came from."
"Now Verdan," Kazrahk said patronizingly. "You know I can't free your hands.. do it yourself if you're so clever.
"There's no need," Verdan answered flatly. "Arden is coming for me."
"Then let him come!" Kazrahk said growing angry at the mention of Arden's name. He slapped Verdan across the face again leaving a red hand print.
"Tros Maul. Mea krie te!" Verdan shouted angrily with tears stinging his eyes.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Kazrahk said impatiently.
"Don't speak Kayan huh? Sihnua fihn anda ak te?" Verdan continued in his Kayan speech.
"Speak in common tongue! What did you say?" Kazrahk was angry now and drew his hand back ready to slap the boy if he didn't start talking.
"I said 'drop dead, I hate you'. Then I asked what kind of wizard are you to not know how to speak Kayan?"
Kazrahk scowled at the boy. "We're being attacked!" Came the stressed voice of one of the assassins. "Arden's come for the boy, and half the wood elf army is with him!"
Kazrahk turned to talk to the assassin and became engrossed in an argument about what to do. Verdan seized the opportunity to work his hands so that his right palm was over the cord binding his hands together. He closed his eyes and concentrated to focus just enough sheen into his palm to cut through the rope. A few seconds later his hands were free and he leapt from his seat. "Hey! STOP!" Kazrahk's voice was filled with anger as Verdan ran out the nearest door to the little interrogation room, and around the corner. He heard loud footsteps coming from behind him and realized they were hooves hitting the ground and he spun around to see another minotaur coming towards him.
Verdan reacted quickly pointing his open palm towards the advancing enemy. The burst that came forth illuminated the tunnel for hundreds of feet in each direction as the minotaur simply burst into a puff of gray smoke and some charred dust on the ground. Verdan turned again to run and aside from his limping from where he had been kicked back in his room, and reached a fork in his path. "Oh please oh please let Arden be coming for me!" He thought to himself. He took the path to the left, but soon found that it descended further into the earth. He turned to run back to the small room with the fork and as he rounded the corner to take the other path he ran smack into a broad chest. Verdan was sent sprawling back onto the hard stone floor and covered his head in fear sobbing out of fear, and the hopelessness that had set in.
The boy felt strange though. There was no malice of any kind, and as two gentle hands took him under the arms he opened his eyes and saw him. "Arden!" He cried as he burst into tears holding tightly to Arden.
Arden wrapped his left arm around the boy's back holding him close and rested his cheek on the top of the boy's head. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah but Kazrahk's after me, and there was a minotaur down there, and there are trolls here too, I can smell them.." The boy whimpered. At that moment Kazrahk burst through the tunnel leading down to the room where Verdan had been held captive only moments ago.
Arden bared his teeth and spat. "Arden!" came Kazrahk's voice nearly in a high-pitched squeal. "How nice to see you here!" he said as he turned to run. Arden switched his sword to the other hand and reached out with his right hand to snag Kazrahk's hood. He spun him around and slammed him against the wall knocking him unconscious.
"That'll have to do for now," Arden said hoarsely. He guided Verdan towards the tunnel he had come down through. Verdan was limping and Arden lifted him lightly into his left arm. He ran quickly up the tunnel until he neared the entrance of the cave where Riahlos was standing waiting for him.
"He's here!" Riahlos shouted back to someone behind him. "Quick come on," he called to Arden who quickened his pace. They reached the opening and hit the grass outside running. Verdan saw Queen Ariana standing with three other Elvin mages as they began chanting a verse over and over. He looked back to the cave. Flames shot from the opening like a firing cannon, then the entire rocky outcropping seemed to fold in on itself like a closing mouth. Then the opposite way to which it had been planned to appear, the rocks sank back into the ground and the trees laying on either side of it stood and covered over the brown earth left bare.
Verdan turned his head back to Arden's face. "Thank you," he said with a quaking voice as he began to shake. The whole experience had been too much for the boy and he sobbed into Arden's shoulder. "I knew you'd come but I was still scared," Verdan whispered into Arden's neck. Arden held the boy in his arms rocking the boy gently.
"I'm sorry Verdan.. I'll never let anyone steal you from me again," Arden said softly to the boy. He was concentrating hard on relaxing Verdan.
Verdan could hear Arden's heart beating steadily. It's soft rhythm was soothing as the boy listened. He yawned. "I'm a little sleepy now," he said softly closing his eyes. The warm embrace of Arden's strong arms was all the boy needed to feel complete safety and security.
"Sleep then Verdan," Arden said continuing soft soothing sound of his voice. He surrounded the boy with a warm energy. Riahlos approached Arden and spoke of the events but things seemed distant to his ears. Everything slowed down as he began to breath more deeply, and soon sleep came for Verdan as exhaustion from his ordeal caught up with him.
The battle between the elves and beast men was waning as one by one the enemy was picked off and the storm over head dissipated. Arden looked up to the heavens as they came into view. The stars shone brilliantly down on the forest as the clouds receded back to the north west. Mordak had been defeated for today.
* * *
Verdan awoke feeling rejuvenated and contented. Before he even opened his eyes or considered his location he knew Arden was very near and he opened his eyes to find himself wrapped in a gorthoc pelt on Arden's lap in a room within the wood-elf castle. His forehead was resting against Arden's chin and he reached up and planted a gentle kiss on Arden's jaw-line.
"Hi Arden," he said softly.
Arden's breath hitched and a tear ran down his cheak. When Arden had been banished from his own kingdom he hadn't cried. The people had spoken of this often until it had been made an offense to speak the exiled prince's name aloud. "Are you okay?"
"I'm so sorry," Arden said in a quavering voice barely above a whisper.
"Sorry for what?" Verdan asked rubbing a gentle hand on Arden's chest.
"I let them get to you," Arden said in the same weak voice. "I almost lost you.. I love you so much Verdan and I thought I had lost you!"
"You didn't lose me, you saved me! I'm here and I'm okay."
Arden ran a gentle finger down the boy's right cheek where he had been hit several times and caressed the purple bruise with his thumb. "I don't know what I'd do if anything ever happened to you-"
"Promise me something," Verdan said growing suddenly serious.
"What is it?" Arden asked.
"Arden you're the Wigami, and there is more to this world for you, than just me. You're on a quest for justice, and at the end of it all.. some of us may not be there." Arden looked down into the boy's eyes which were solemn and his face was stern. "If something happens to me you have to move on Arden. You have to finish this."
"No Arden let me finish!" Verdan said quickly cutting him off. "This whole group is headed to the mountain now and when we get there the resistance will be nothing short of colossal if I know Mordak as well as I think I do. You can't spend all of your time defending me Arden. I am on this quest to assist you.. not the other way around. You are the Wigami Arden."
The boy's words sank in. "Verdan," he began slowly considering each word carefully. "I know I am the Wigami, and I know that I have a job to do for all of Nastradia before I can rest but I've been alone since my teacher died almost three years ago, and even he was only a teacher. The closest person to a companion and friend I had even before that was you. Since the day you were born and were named for me I've loved you, and though the feelings have changed and deepened you are a part of me today as you were a month ago when you were in Ardun, and as you will be a month from now when we are returning to the Feudal lands. If something were to happen to you, it would be better that Mordak cast himself into a pit of fire than to be the one responsible and have me seeking him out. The quest is mine and I will face it and have accepted it. Without you though, my days of K'arthra will be a torment, not the time of happiness and joy it should be."
Verdan's heart ached with love at the depth of Arden's words, then he thought a moment on the last. "But K'arthra means retirement does it not? What of the kingship of Ardun?" Verdan asked softly.
"I intend only to restore order to the Ardent Kingdom," Arden said with a smile.
"Reform the empire?" Verdan asked raising his eyebrows with a smile.
"Exactly. Once that's taken care of I'll leave the tasks of running the country to you. I'm a leader of military forces, not of peacetime. I've never lived a peaceful life. I've never known the prospect of governing without war anywhere but at home in Akifra for a short time, but even then Ardun hung over my head and I knew it was just a matter of time before I was called upon. I plan to hand the kingdom over to you," Arden said with a wink and a smile.
"To me?" Verdan asked excitedly.
"Yes to you. We'll return control to the chamber of counsel at the head of which you will sit with Jarin and Joshia at each hand if they'll take the job. I'll handle matters dealing with the military and safety of the Kingdom, and the counsel with representatives from the lands of the empire will ballot on decisions and act accordingly." Arden explained to the boy who's face showed a flash of happiness at Arden's plans. "I will have the final say of passing or Vito, but it will be the counsel who's decisions will matter most."
"It'll be glorious," he said sitting up straddling Arden's lap in his excitement. He looked around the room to make sure they were alone and noted the shut and locked door as well as the shuttered and locked windows. "We started something back in Kara Azure and didn't have the chance to finish it.. Do you think we can before we leave the forest? I'm sorta too tired tonight, but staying one extra night tomorrow couldn't be too bad could it?"
"We'll be staying in the forest a senight Verdan," Arden said softly bringing his hands up to the boy's sides just below his armpits. "We have plenty of time for that and we'll take it at any speed you're comfortable, as far and at what pace you want to go."
Verdan smiled and kissed Arden gently on the lips. No energy was exchanged this time as the tired boy was too week to focus, and Arden didn't want to start something that could weaken Verdan. They settled on cuddling in the chair and simply sat together holding each other tightly and soaking up the heat from the fireplace.
* * *
Jarin and Joshia were caught in a passionate embrace. The two had held out for a long time, but the actions of the night with them both nearly losing their lives pushed them over the edge. The danger and excitement of it all had the boys worked up and after a quick exchange of glances they were quickly kissing one another passionately.
* * *
"The book!" Verdan said snapping out of his relaxed state.
"What?" Arden asked opening his eyes.
"When I was in the room, before they came I was reading a book. It was titled "The Truth of the Ages" and chronicled the life of the first Wigami. It had much to say about the prophesy of the Shakai, though it was written in Kayan script."
"I've read that book before," Arden said relaxing slightly.
"No Arden let me finish.. there were pages inserted that had been written in some runic form. It wasn't Elvin, or Northman, or Dwarvin.. this much I know for sure. There was a picture Arden.. a picture of the Kerdaas Ka Wighos, but the script didn't even look like a wizard's script. There were a couple of other pictures too.. strange pictures.. One of them was a sunrise that looked.. well anyway the text was strange and I couldn't read it."
"Shaman?" Arden tossed out a possibility.
Verdan giggled. "I can read some Shaman too Arden. This was unlike anything I've ever seen before. It was written in a golden ink too."
"Sounds like we should have a look don't you think?"
"Yeah, I think it's a good idea," Verdan said softly as he stood up. "Ow!" Verdan said nearly falling over.
"Are you okay?" Arden asked steadying the boy.
"Yeah, my side just hurts a little.. I'll be fine."
Arden stood and lifted Verdan lightly into his arms. "I'll carry you," he said softly holding the boy to him. Arden carried the boy in one arm as he traveled through the halls to the room with the broken door. As Arden walked, he placed his left hand on Verdan's side where it ached and allowed just a little magical energy to flow into the boy. Verdan felt the pain in his side begin to tickle, then itch, and then it disappeared altogether in no more than a couple of minutes!
When they entered the room, Arden set the boy down gently, leaving a hand on the boy to steady him in case he nearly fell again. Verdan was steady now and took a moment to look around the room. He shivered recalling the previous night. Verdan looked at the window which had now grown over with limbs and branches and was nearly sealed. He looked back to Arden, as if to make sure he was still there, then proceeded to his pile of blankets and picked up the book solemnly.
As Verdan lifted the book a group of loose pages fell to the floor. Arden came to the boy's side and picked up the pages examining the writing. "Those are the ones I was telling you about," Verdan said softly.
Arden leafed through the loose pages. They weren't from the same book and were not even of the same character, ink, or even paper. This paper was thicker.. richer. Arden held the pages to his nose and inhaled and instantly his mind turned back to his time spent in Akifra. Arden examined the scrolling text on one page and inhaled the scent again closing his eyes. "This paper is from Akifra," he said pensively. Then something caught his eye. The writing - he had seen it before. He had seen the character, and seen the artistic form in which it was written.
It was an ancient Akifran form, based on the Kayan alphabet that had been taught to many Akifrans during the exodus from the northern lands during the dark ages directly after the fall of the Ardent Kingdom. Many had blamed the Kaya and their ways for the kingdom's fall, since in many of the pagan religions, their "practices" were illegal and punishable by death. In most cities, towns, and villages, those who were of Kayan descent, hid their traits as best they could, and any of the practices they partook were kept very private. It was of course perfectly legal for a councilman to take a boy to his chambers, or for a man to do with a slave boy, or runaway as he pleased, but interactions between grown men, was strictly forbidden.
"How do you know it's from Akifra Arden?" Verdan repeated his question bringing Arden out of his thoughts.
"I've seen this hand before," Arden said pensively then looked at Verdan. "There's an old man.. a priest who wrote in this language and character. I never learned to read it because it was more complex than even shaman but simple in it's meanings."
"Can you read any of it?" Verdan asked.
Arden flipped through pages scanning a few familiar symbols when he came to a picture that stopped him dead. Arden looked at the picture dumbfounded, and his face showed his astonishment. On the paper he held in his hand was the image of a hill with three trees, and the sun rising behind them, that had been in his visions many times before. "What is it?" Verdan asked him.
"I saw this in a dream I had, the second night after I arrived in the Feudal Territories," Arden said quietly as if he was speaking to himself, more than to the boy.
Arden held the page so Verdan could see. "The Épćuch of the Wigami," Verdan commented dully.
"The what?" Arden asked raising an eyebrow.
"It's a picture symbolizing the birth of the spirit of righteousness in the first Wigami.. I've never seen it, but read about it. What's it doing with some old Akifran manuscript?"
"It probably arrived in Akifra during the exodus from the Kayrasuna," Arden said ponderingly.
"What's that?" Verdan asked.
"Kayrasuna?" Arden asked. Verdan nodded. "The Kayrasuna was all of the lands friendly to the Kaya before the so-called dark age began."
"But the darkest times are still ahead," Verdan said quietly.
"That they are Verdan," Arden said forming new plans in his head. "I think we should travel to Akifra," Arden said suddenly.
"Yes.. seek out the old priest. Mordak is heavily on us right now. He's undoubtedly preparing an army to keep us out of Cragen. If I return to Akifra, I can raise an army there. Here people are too fearful or too corrupt."
"Akifra's a big place Arden.. do you think we can find this priest if he's still alive?"
"Definitely," Arden said with a tone growing in strength. "Mordak expects us to go North, but we will head south. Verdan I have to go to the royal chamber to talk to the king and queen." He stopped and looked at the boy who looked fearful for a moment before composing himself. "I want you to come with me, so while we're there remember your place. Okay?"
Verdan's face broke into a beautiful smile. "Okay, speak when spoken too."
"Remember, that's not how things are with me Verdan, and within our group you are equal to any adult. Here, though, you are viewed as an underling even though you possess more ability than most of the powerful mages of the court."
"Don't worry about it Arden; I know."
Arden wrapped his arms around Verdan and gave him a gentle hug. "How's your side?" he asked. After Verdan said it was okay, they left the room with the book in hand, and headed to the royal chamber.