Any feedback please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org - if you don't like the story, e-mail me instead of adding me to some other stupid mailing list, I get enough of those anyway.
As I said in my last post, this is going to be the last chapter to go into the _Nifty Archive_, the full story _will_ be available, though, from my website at http://winterblade.hypermart.net
The group quickly follow Jeremy as he walked to the top of the stairs, once there, he turned back to the group. "Be ready, if things go badly we may have to fight." With that, Jeremy turned and pushed the doors open. Light flooded in to the stairway, and the group sat there, blinking. The goblins did likewise, weapons in hand, pondering the arrival of the group. One amongst the goblins stood taller than the rest, looked meaner than the rest, and commanded the rest, in the guttural language, "Kill them, kill them all."
*Defend yourselves!* Morandus shouted into their minds before the goblins overtook the party. Once again, Jeremy felt the adrenaline enter his system. He pulled his sword from its scabbard and lobbed off the head of a nearby goblin all in one fluid stroke. Shouting a battle cry, he quickly engaged another two oponents, and was soon too embroiled in the melee to notice much else.
Meanwhile David was having problems of his own. He had completed a series of thrusts of his pike, combined with some kicks and punches, and had slain another goblin, when he came face to face with the tall commander of the goblins. This, however, was no goblin. In his mind Wintereagle screamed, *David, watch out, that's an Ogrin! They have skill beyond imagining and are ruthless killers.* The Ogrin grunted a challenge, "Defend yourself, pathetic human, make this worth my while."
David quickly took hold of the shaft of his pike and stood there defiantly. The Ogrin smiled wickedly, and pulled two swords of odd design from sheathes on his back. David admired the craftsmanship of the blades, and realized that they were sharp enough to easily slice through even his heavy plate mail. He could tell from the Ogrin's movements that not even Wintereagle would have been able to best the creature alone, but he had to try. "Bring it on," was all he said, accepting the challenge.
Wintereagle screamed again, *No!*
The Ogrin's grin grew even broader, and it gestured briefly with one of his swords. In a large circle about the combatants, a ring of glowing energy formed and encased David and the Ogrin. The energy flashed briefly and quickly formed into a dome, cutting off all sound from outside. David blanched in fear, now he was cut off from all aide. He steadied the hold on his pike, and then quickly launched into an all out assault on the Ogrin. The Ogrin, without moving from his chosen ground, parried the blows from the pike effortlessly, and launched into an attack of its own.
Outside the dome, the battle still raged, though each combatant was down to his or her last foe. The remaining enemies, taking in the death toll, soon fled before the fearsome party. It was then that Jeremy discovered his lover's plight. "David!" he screamed as the Ogrin slashed furiously at David, who had now been reduced to a frantic defense. It was soon obvious to the bystanders that David would loose, as he was already bleeding from many cuts the vicious Ogrin blades had inflicted through his armor. David's fate was sealed as he brought his pike up to fend off a, final, incoming slash. The sword arced down, almost in slow motion, as David held the pike, sideways, in front of himself. The cold metal, glowing in the light from the dome of energy, made contact with the wooden pike shaft. The runes on the pike flared up instantly, and an ominous rending sound filled the dome. David felt the pike crumble to dust in his hands, as Wintereagle screamed in agony. As the last grain of the disintegrated pike fell to the ground, Wintereagle's mental scream subsided and with a blinding flash of light, David stood in the clothes he had been in when he entered the realm. The Ogrin smiled triumphantly as David stood there with horror written plainly on his face. The group outside the dome could not hear it, but the Ogrin laughed, and snarled a message, "Only human... feel proud, boy, you lasted longer than I had thought. Now, though, you die." With a final maniacal laugh, the Ogrin pulled out another sword, this one blazed with a sickening purple energy. It swung the blade over its head, and quickly brought it down. When the blade made contact with David, David screamed out in agony, as a burning sensation rushed through his body and mind. He felt a strange vertigo, then, nothing.
To the group watching, the blade arced down and engulfed David in a purple flame. When the flame dissipated, David was no more. "No!" Jeremy screamed, as waves of agony ripped his heart asunder. He pounded his fists on the globe of energy in front of him. Soon, however, Taryn mentally shook him out of his misery, and for good cause too. As Jeremy looked up, the globe disappeared, and nothing more separated him and the Ogrin. No longer having conscious control of his body, Jeremy felt new strength surge into him as he leapt forward. The Ogrin tried to raise its swords in time, but was no match for the rage-induced speed Jeremy had been infused with. Again moving in slow motion Jeremy brought the spirit sword up and made a wide arc in front of him, slicing at neck level. He didn't stop his motion there, though, he let the sword continue its downward spiraling arc around himself, before slicing upwards with the blade. The sword caught in the middle of the Ogrin's chest. His upward motion stopped, Jeremy leaned his weight against the blade, driving it in to the hilt in the foul Ogrin. After a moment of pause, Jeremy wrenched the sword free from the creature, and looked upon what he had done. The severed head of the beast lay where it had rolled, nearly four feet away, its expression one of sheer terror. The rest of the body had fallen on the ground, where it burst into a bluish flame, consumed, it seemed, by Taryn's wrath. The rest of the group looked on with mingled expressions of horror and sadness.
Tyler was the first to rush to Jeremy's side. It was a good thing too, for as Jeremy sheathed the flaming sword, all his strength left him, and he crumbled into Tyler's arms. "Oh god, he's gone. I've lost him forever," Jeremy moaned. At the sound, the rest of the group regained their senses and ran to Jeremy's side as well. They quickly gathered around him and offered their presence. The world, though, it seems, wasn't done with their trial. From the woods outside the goblin encampment, a howling sound came, and was soon joined by other voices.
Shaun quickly took control of the group, "Wolves, we've got to move." The group, relying upon Shaun to lead them, now that Jeremy was crumpled in on himself, quickly gathered their packs. Tyler was about to shoulder his, when Shaun placed his hand upon Tyler's. "Here, let me." Shaun said, and nodded at Jeremy, "You get him." Sue went over and retrieved David's pack, and Crystal moved to take Jeremy's. Tyler hooked an arm under Jeremy and pulled the nearly limp form of his friend upright. Tyler then moved under Jeremy's left shoulder and placed an arm around Jeremy's waist.
With everybody ready to go, Shaun moved to the edge of the clearing and started following a barely visible trail through the woods. Unbeknownst to the group, Morandus and Laen were communicating with him and giving him directions that they had obtained in a joint effort. Morandus had used a small spell of concentrated earth magic to open a telepathic link with the woodland creatures. Laen had then used that link, and his talent at speaking with the animals, to 'ask for directions' as he put it. Shaun wasted no time in following their directions, and had quickly put some distance between the battlefield and the depleted party.
Most of the intrepid adventurers didn't notice the trek, so profound was their grief, both for their lost companion, David, and for his heartbroken lover, Jeremy. Shaun was the only one who kept his mind on the task, though not for lack of grief. He constantly had to blink away tears and his thoughts constantly dwelled on the pair of lovers he had befriended. 'I can't believe David is really gone. He always was the practical jokester of our little band, but we all loved him for all his commenting and his annoyances', Shaun thought, and his thoughts continued like that, with the occasional pause for direction from Laen, up until they hit the wall. Shaun didn't know what it was, at first, but then it became apparent that it was a large wooden palisade wall. From its top, three stories up, torches gleamed and illuminated the otherwise dark forest. Shaun suddenly realized he hadn't even noticed it turning into night, his thoughts were so encompassing. He looked back at the beleaguered group trailing in his wake, and moved towards a nearby tower in the wooden wall.
"Hail there!" Shaun yelled up at the guard in the tower, who jumped at his voice. Shaun was careful to inflect a medieval wording to his speech.
"Ho there wanderer... wanderers! What brings you to Hovar'thi, and coming from such a vile place as that wood?" the guard asked, doing nothing to hide the suspicions in his voice.
"We seek shelter, and a friend we were told would meet us here. As for our method of arrival, we would not have tarried in the forest but alas, we had little choice. A dragon forced us to take an unexpected detour through the catacombs of the Temple of the Moon." Shaun yelled his answer up to the guard, and then added, at Kavil's prompting, "We were sent by the Archon Daeron."
"The Archon sent you! Praise be to the light, that is a different story altogether. Quickly, come along the wall to the Southern gate. I'll tell the Guard Captain of your arrival!" The guard could be seen climbing down a ladder on the other side of the palisade.
Shaun just shook his head at the guard's vehemence and led the party along the wall. Soon a large gate, flanked by another two towers, loomed up ahead. The gate was open, and a small contingent of people met the party there. Four of them were obviously plain guards, who moved, weaponless, out to the party to relieve them of their packs. The other three, however, bore closer inspection. Shaun gazed upon two women and a man, and noted their gaze. The first woman was dressed in full plate mail, and showed signs of long training with weaponry. From a badge at her shoulder, it became apparent that this was the Guard Captain of Hovar'thi. Shaun's gaze moved on, noting that distinction. He now looked upon the central figure of the three, a man who appeared hastily dressed in some official looking robes. His balding head shone brightly in the torchlight, and Shaun noted some scars and a faint hint of a lean in the man's stance. Finally, Shaun's gaze rested upon the final figure of the group. A woman, about the same age as the other two, dressed in the garb of a commoner, though she didn't display any signs of hard labor. Finishing his inspections, Shaun waited for one of the group to speak. He didn't have long to wait.
The man was the first to speak, "Let me be brief. I am Magistrate Eldan, the woman to my left," he said, motioning to the woman in plate mail, "is Guard Captain Eisla, and the woman to my right is Dover, the local innkeeper and owner of the Silver Song Inn and Tavern. I realize that you must all be tired, so I'll allow you all to retire there momentarily. I know that Daeron sent you; he contacted me immediately after your departure, though he had implied that it would be three or four days before you got here, not the three fourths of a day it took you. I was told to look for his symbol amongst you, I assume one of you has it..." the Magistrate's voice trailed off in question as he looked at the assembled group.
Shaun, looking puzzled and worried, replied, "He gave us no symbol to identify ourselves with. We only knew of a name to contact here in Hovar'thi... a woman named Anari."
The Magistrate brightened at Shaun's response. "Well done, I knew Daeron sent no symbol with you, but J'tari would figure us to be too untrusting of each other so as to require such measures be taken. Now, I'll turn you all over to Eisla and Dover. Eisla will see to it that your gear is taken to the Inn, and Dover will see to it that you are." At this, Eldan smiled, nodded at the two women, then to the group itself, and walked off. Shaun noted that Eldan walked with a limp in his right leg.
"Well, lets get you dearies off to my place so that you can sleep and eat, probably in that order too," Dover said, while ushering them forward. As they walked with her, Tyler still supporting Jeremy, and Eisla and her guards trailing with the gear, Dover moved near Shaun and whispered a question, "I was told to arrange four rooms for you, but meals for six... I assumed this meant that four of you would be pairing off into rooms, and two would sleep alone. Now, however, I only count five people, where's the sixth?" Tears welled up in Shaun's eyes at this, and Dover could already tell the answer, "Oh dear, you're all so young to be dealing with that, and so soon on this quest too." At this, she looked over her shoulder and nodding at Jeremy, continued, "It was his partner, too, wasn't it?" Shaun only nodded at this, and was relieved from further questioning by the sudden appearance of a doorway. Quickly the group filed into the common room of the inn and tavern. Dover spoke to the group again, "Are any of you hungry, or do you just want to get some sleep?" She was met with various yawns, and the near catatonic state that Jeremy had sunk into. Nodding, she led the way out of the common room and up onto the second floor of the inn, pointing out the set of four rooms she had set aside for the group's use. Sue gratefully took the first one, but not before ascertaining the way to the bathing room. Shaun and Crystal took the second room, though not before giving a last glance at Jeremy, still clinging to Tyler. Dover looked at the grief stricken youth, and spoke to his mainstay, "Take the next room, it has a large enough bed for the both of you, and it looks like he still needs you."
Tyler nodded in agreement, "Thanks, for the lodging, and the food. We can't pay you, though."
Dover smiled at this, "Lad, if you five protect us against J'tari, that's payment enough." With that, she made shooing motions with her hands and Tyler maneuvered himself and Jeremy through the third door.
After laying Jeremy onto the bed, he spoke, "Jeremy... I'm so sorry. I know that David meant everything to you. We all feel his loss, but none of us can know how much you grieve for him." Tyler lay next to Jeremy, hoping that his friend would pull through this tragedy.
Jeremy blinked slowly, and turned towards Tyler, "David was my world, our love was my life. Through his touch, I breathed, and his kiss was the only food I needed. Now... he's gone... and I can never look into his eyes and see his love." Jeremy finished with a sob, and crumpled again into Tyler, who quickly wrapped his arms about his friend.
Jeremy cried himself to sleep that night, but sleep never came for Tyler, as confusing emotions battered against his mind. He had always known that he was gay, but Jeremy had always had David. He had been alone, and he never cared that he was, because the one he loved was Jeremy. Yet, Jeremy had David, and so he could never have Jeremy. Now David was gone, and he had to step in and be Jeremy's love instead. He didn't know why he knew that, but he knew that if he didn't, Jeremy would die out of the depression David's death created. So he spent the night with Jeremy wrapped in his embrace, his arms and his love.