|Legend of Rintasha LoR1
Author: LittleFireDragon PM
When the group discovers the remains of a female elf's camp and journal, they find themselves tangled up with evil wolf men called Dark Ones and four legendary orbs of power. Pairings: CaleXOCRated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Words: 17,930 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 7 - Follows: 1 - Published: 06-20-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5153231
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: This was my first fanfic. Don't judge too harshly, please! I'd go back and make it better, because it kinda sucks in retrospect, but I'm just too lazy.
Ten years prior to the events of Looking for Group….
A female elf dressed entirely in dragon scales dipped her quill in ink, about to write another entry in her journal. She'd been just inside the cave for weeks, waiting for her father and his band of warriors to arrive, and they were very, very late. Rintasha sighed and pushed the golden hair away from her eyes, fixed her ponytail, and held the pen just above the paper, when her pet suddenly shrieked and unfolded his wings. The giant bat that had been hanging from the ceiling dropped down and started flying in circles around his master.
"What is it, Mortanos?" She set the quill down next to her open journal, stood, and drew her sword and her dagger. She stealthily turned around the corner, and gasped. A small army stood before her, a good fifty or so men and dark-furred beasts.
"'Ello, elfy…." One growled, catching a glimpse of her.
Rintasha burst out of her cave with a battle-roar, Mortanos in tow. She fought valiantly; many warriors fell, but there were too many. A blade struck the girl through the chest, and she fell to the ground. As she died, her last breath escaped her lips and whispered a spell. Her body turned to golden smoke and entered her sword, which had fallen from her hand and landed behind a rock without being noticed. There it lay, for a decade, with the blood-spattered remains of a journal and a camp.
Ten years later.
"Hey, guys, look at this," Cale called over his shoulder, "I found a journal. Or… what's left of a journal…"
"That's nice," Richard said, as he set fire to a passing beetle, obviously not caring. Benny and Pella came over to see what the elf had in his hands. He opened the worn book to halfway and flipped gently through the pages till he came to something legible, which he read aloud.
"Ranger's Log, 14th of… uh, can't read the date.
Food supplies are running low, and I'm down to three flasks of water. My father should have been here days ago with the warriors. I don't know what's keeping him, but I told him I would guard the mine with my life until he returned with the mercenaries. I am the only one here, and I've been able to fend off attacks with my arrows and sword, but soon my quiver will be empty. I cannot go hunting for food or gathering supplies to make more arrows, and if Father does not return soon, I am surely done for," Cale read.
"Whoa. Whoever this Rintasha was, she was dedicated," he muttered, frowning slightly. "I wonder what happened to her…"
"Probably died. Most likely she starved," Benny sighed. Cale flipped through some more pages, and continued reading.
"This is probably about a week later, unless she wrote her entries irregularly…
I've been forced to turn to eating my bat's food. There's but one flask of water left, for the two of us. Oh, father, where are you? I may die for this noble cause without ever raising a blade. How many innocents will die for my lack of planning? How many will perish for need of tools that could have been forged from the contents of this mine? If only I had brought more supplies. I shall not last much longer. Father, I have failed you!" The elf turned the page and a small gasp escaped his lips.
"What's wrong?" Pella asked, one eyebrow raised.
Cale hesitated and then sighed. "That was the last entry, but, that isn't why I gasped…. Take a look at the page after it." He stood up and faced his friends, holding out the open book, which had blood spattered across it. "Rintasha didn't starve, at least not if this is her blood, and I think it is. Poor girl…"
He set the book down, and started to move when something caught his eye. He wandered over, knelt, and picked up a sword with elegant green spiral designs on the blade. He gasped again, and held the sword up.
"This must be her sword…!" the elf whispered. He smiled rather tragically. "I… think I'll keep this…" he said. He looked around, and tore a piece of a tattered tarp off the remains of a structure, tied the strip to his belt, and used the loop as a makeshift sheath for his new weapon.
The group camped for the night in that cave, and Cale leaned against a rock, reading slowly through the journal with fascination, trying to make out the smudged letters. Pella set up a fire in a small pit that had a few rocks and some charcoal in it to begin with.
"You alright there, Cale? You're acting a little…. Odd," Benny said.
"Yeah…. It's just that Rintasha was the last person to camp here, who knows how many years ago! And the more I read, the more I … connect with her… and it's just sending shivers down my spine, is all… I wish I'd actually met her. I mean, she thinks- err, thought, just like me! Another elf who wanted to be a hero… And to be camping where she did, perhaps two, three decades ago…" Cale shivered visibly. Benny and Pella nodded in understanding.
"I don't understand why you're suddenly obsessed with a dead girl," Richard stated matter-of-factly. The elf opened his mouth to object but decided it would be better to remain silent. Instead, he slumped down against the rock he'd been leaning on, and just finished his thought aloud.
"I wonder how long ago she lived!" he mused, smiling sadly and looking thoughtfully into the darkness. He yawned and turned on his side, and before long, he was asleep.
Cale's sleep was not quiet or restful for much of the night. He drifted in and out of dreams. He was fighting in a cave. He saw snippets of a battle, like pieces of subconscious memories. He alone fought for his life and for the lives of others, consistently through the night, though he continually awoke in a cold sweat. In the last dream of the night, he heard a female voice.
"Help me, Cale'anon…"
He snapped awake and sat up with a quiet yelp. Benny raised her head.
"Yeah, I'm fine, I'm fine… Just…. A nightmare…"
"You've been acting very strange ever since we found that journal."
The elf shook his head and lay down again. His sleep was dreamless for the rest of the night, and the next few days as well.
The group spent several days traveling. There were a few small skirmishes, but nothing serious. Cale noted that using Rintasha's sword was much easier than using his own. He felt like an ally was guiding him. He thought nothing of it, until the day she spoke to him in battle.
"Cale'anon, behind you!" a disembodied voice said. Cale spun around just in time to see an arrow flying at him. He dodged, and attacked the archer. He looked around him when he got the chance, but neither of his female friends were close enough to have shouted the warning.
"Hrm…" He continued fighting. It was only when the battle was over that he realized what had happened.
"Well done. You fight well," the voice said.
The elf gasped. "You!" he looked at the sword with reverence, fear, and awe.
"Say what?" Pella asked.
"I think he's lost his marbles," Richard mused.
"Rintasha! She's been talking to me, through the sword! It's just that I didn't realize who it was until just now!"
The others looked skeptical. Cale gave them a withered look. "You… you can't hear her, can you….?"
"Nope," Benny replied.
"I swear," the elf whimpered, "I'm not going insane! Look, if we could put Richard in a gem, why can't Rintasha be in a sword?"
"You're a smart one, Cale'anon," Rintasha whispered, "And you can call me Rin. If you want, I mean."
He looked back at the sword. "And you don't have to call me Cale'anon. You can call me Cale…"
"Oh, great, so he's talking to a dead girl in a sword. And you thought a warlock in a gem was odd," Richard said to Benny and Pella. Cale simply sighed and put his hand on his face.
"Where's Richard?" Cale asked, noting the absence of the warlock.
"Probably off wreaking havoc," Benny said with a shrug.
The truth of the matter was, Richard was indeed wreaking havoc. And it would be the most important havoc-wreaking of his un-life.
"The people are screaming. The buildings are burning. Richard is a very satisfied warlock," he said to himself, "save for that I'm still bored…" And then it caught his eye, a sparkling orb of crimson. He put out the flames around it, reached into the hole that had been burnt into the wall, and picked up the orb. Immediately upon entering his hand, it began to glow.
"Oh, yay, glowing orb. How dare you defy my wrath!" Richard glared at the orb. Inside it, very fine, sparkling, glowing powder began to take the form of a flaming bird which flew endlessly in the center of the sphere. Richard looked at it boredly. He tried to set it on fire. It wouldn't burn. Agitated, he threw it against the ground. It didn't shatter. The warlock picked it up, looked at it for a minute, then smacked it repeatedly with all his might against a wall. He broke a large chunk of stone off the wall, but the crystal orb wasn't even scratched.
"How unfortunate. I'll have to figure out how to destroy you later," Richard muttered. He snorted and put the three inch diameter sphere in his pocket.
Cale spent much of his free time conversing with Rin through the sword, and looking stupid from any outsider's point of view.
"Rin…. How did you die? Were you… murdered?" He asked.
Rintasha hesitated. "I died in battle – an ambush. The Dark Ones were after the contents of the mine. If they did not take my sword, though, I doubt they found what they were looking for."
"Who are the Dark Ones? What were they looking for?"
"You ask a lot of questions. The Dark Ones are… well, they are hard to explain; put simply, they are wolf-men. They were looking for the Orb. This Orb is powerful, a component of the Dragon's Eye."
"The Dragon's Eye?"
"It's too hard for me to explain with words. Cale, you must find a way to my time, ten years ago. If you can save my life, and bring me to your time… I might be able to better explain, maybe even help you in your quest. If you don't, you and your friends may be in danger. But I will explain that later."
"I'd do just about anything to help my friends – and you. As far as I know you're the only other livi- err, existing, member of my race who thinks like me." He stood and looked around. Richard was leaning against a wall.
"I do enjoy hearing you talk to her. It makes you seem even more insane than you usually are," he remarked.
Cale sighed. "Richard's commentary aside, we need to figure out a way to open a portal to Rin's time," he said with a tone of authority, "If we don't, she says we could be in danger."
"Do we have to?" Richard whimpered, "I like watching you make a fool of yourself, talking to a sword…"
"You be quick to trust a girl who's been dead for who knows how long… She could be misleadin' you," Pella pointed out.
"Just a decade. And I trust her because… because… I don't know…" Cale frowned.
"It's worth a shot," Benny said, "we need all the help we can get. These are hard times. But how do you suggest we go about opening a portal to just the right time?"
The elf was struck silent.
"Ahh," the dwarf pointed into the bushes, "maybe there be things we'd best worry about before that?"
A wolf-like face with glowing red eyes peered out at them and snarled.
"Elf. Hand over the sword… and your deaths will be quick and merciful," the Dark One hissed, stepping out of the bushes and rising to its full height. It stood on its hind legs, much taller than anyone in the group. The dark grey fur covered thickly muscled limbs, save for the leathery purple wings. Matching horns curved back from its head, the same length as the red claws that sprouted from each finger. The tail of the creature was more like a demon's than a wolf's.
"Where's the fun in that?" Richard asked. The Dark One flung a spear right through him, which proceeded to pin Cale to a tree by his cloak.
Four gems. Fire, water, earth, air.
Five heroes. The Resourceful, the Wise, the Noble, the Strong.
But only in the hands of the Righteous will the four become one.
Thus it was written,
And thus shall be done.
Cale tugged at the spear, but it was lodged deep in the tree. He tugged at his cloak until it tore. Richard got over the surprise of being impaled yet again, and looked up.
"That was a bad idea, puppy," he said. He started casting a fire spell, "For Pony!"
Two more Dark Ones and three humans dressed in dark robes and masks stepped out of the bushes. Pella began attacking the humans, while Benny stood back and healed. Cale and Rin fought "together", the girl urging her friend on and shouting warnings.
Cale turned, but the Dark One had him pinned before he could do anything. He laughed darkly and resorted to the last trick up his sleeve. "Sooba, come!"
The panther took little time, and as the wolf man raised a paw to end the life of the wincing elf, the great cat tackled him off. Cale flipped to his feet. He narrowly dodged the falling Dark One that Pella had hacked a leg off of. Richard laughed in delight as the remaining human ran around screaming about fire before falling over.
"I love the smell of charred human in the morning!"
The only foe still standing was the first Dark One. The elf took aim with an arrow, and fired it directly at the wolf-man's throat. It bounced off, much to Cale's shock. The Dark One laughed.
"You think you can defeat Gruffohr that easily?" he asked. He moved, and the fur on his neck parted enough to reveal a collar of black metal and red runes. Benny came out of seemingly nowhere and stabbed the Dark One through the back. Gruffohr disintegrated and his collar fell to the ground.
Cale smiled. "Well done."
"Aww, it's over already? I haven't gotten my slaughtering for the day done yet…" Richard complained.
The elf knelt and picked up the collar. He dropped it with a yell and clutched his hand, wincing. "It burned me! It burned a hole right through my skin!" He looked at his hand, which was bleeding. Benny sighed and started casting a healing spell on him. Richard walked over and picked up the collar. He examined it, played with it a bit, and set fire to it.
"Now it might burn your hand right off, Pinky! Can I test that theory?"
"Absolutely not," Cale replied indignantly, "But at least you can handle the stupid thing without damaging yourself…"
"The collar is magic, obviously. Maybe if your warlock friend drains the magic from it and redirects it into his own spell, he might be able to open a portal?"
"Good idea Rin. Richard, she says to take the magic from the collar and use it to make a portal to her time."
"Say the magic phrase," Richard said, positively brimming with glee.
Cale sighed. "Richard rules all, I bow before his might. Now will you please open the portal?"
"Alright… because I'm feeling less murderous today..."
"And when," Benny asked, "did 'Richard rules all, I bow before his might' become the magic phrase?"
"Yesterday… when he set my cape on fire repeatedly and I had to beg him to stop…" the elf muttered. "Anyway just open the portal…"
Richard started casting a spell. "Interesting. It's much easier now that I drained the magic from that overgrown dog's necklace. Note to self, kill more puppies."
A blue rift in the fabric of reality opened. Cale looked into it and took a deep breath. "Rintasha… here I come."
"I won't know you Cale," she whispered.
"W-what do you mean, you won't know me?"
His companions gave him an odd look. He waved his hand at them and shook his head, and Benny nodded, which seemed to be enough for the others.
"In my time I haven't met you yet. Once you bring me back to your time, I'll remember everything. Go now, before the portal closes!"
He nodded, motioned to his friends to follow, and stepped through.
The cave was dark, but familiar. They were deeper inside than they had ventured in their own time. Cale lead the way forward, until they found Rin. The regal elf was about the same age as Cale. His jaw dropped. Benny waved a hand in front of his face and tried to hold in her snickering. The elf did not react at all. The cleric sighed quietly and shut Cale's mouth for him.
"You shouldn't gawk slack-jawed like that," she whispered, "It's not becoming." She bit her tongue to keep from laughing. Cale blinked a few times and shook his head as if snapping out of a trance.
"Nothin'," Pella whispered, also trying to hold in her laughter.
The lady elf looked up from her writing. "Who's there?" She put a hand on her sword hilt. Cale regained his normal attitude.
"You don't need to fear us, Rin… I feel strange introducing myself again, but… I'm Cale…"
"Again? Do I… know you?"
"Ye- well, uh, no, uh, sort of… You will know us… Uh, look, Rintasha, we have to get out of here now! You're not going to believe what I'm going to say, but, we're from the future, and we need your help! If you don't come through the portal with us now, you'll be killed and I don't think I could handl-"
"Too late! Rintasha, Cale, look out!" Benny shouted, pointing at the entrance of the cave. Both elves spun around.
"Dark Ones!" they said, in perfect unison.
Dark Ones, indeed, and their human followers, all dressed in black. Rintasha pulled out a bow and arrow.
"Rintasha no! You'll be killed!" Cale yelled, "We have to go through the portal now!"
"The portal is closed Cale," Richard said smugly, "I'll need to get my daily dose of slaughter before I can reopen it!"
"… Then, so be it. Another battle it is." Cale narrowed his eyes and drew his sword, suddenly realizing that he was back down to two, and had to go back to his own blades. "Oh, stupid, stupid Cale'anon! What did you think would happen to Rin's sword if you went back in time? Of course it's in her hands now!" He unsheathed his own second blade. He looked up and blinked in surprise. A shocking number of his foes were dead already, and Rintasha was mowing the lines down with arrows. She couldn't hold them off forever though, and soon dropped the bow in favor of a green and silver sword and a blood red dagger. With a battle-roar like a snarling dragon she charged forward, followed by Pella. Cale darted forward and fought right by her side.
"You'd lose this battle alone, Rin, but I- we won't let that happen!"
"Good to know, stra- Cale," she replied, slashing at her foes with surprising skill. "You call that fighting?" she taunted the Dark Ones, "I'll show you fighting!"
Benny stood back and fought off anything that attacked her, throwing the occasional heal to Cale, Rin, and Pella. Richard was laughing like the maniac he was, and setting fire to half a dozen people at a time. Instead of being pushed back as she would have been alone, Rin and Cale, with Pella backing them up, pushed back against the Dark Ones, driving them slowly back the way they came, blades flashing the whole way out of the cave. The wolf men and their followers would not back down, and their numbers were dropping steadily to the five heroes. There were only a few left.
"We're winning!" Pella called, "Keep going!"
Finally, the small army was down to one, an archer who had previously not been able to shoot, for fear of hitting his own allies. He took aim at Cale and fired the arrow.
"Cale, look out!" Benny warned, but the elf was too slow! It was Rin's turn to snatch an arrow from the sky. She grabbed it when it was mere inches from Cale's throat, dropped it, and ran at the archer, plunging her sword into him with a dramatic battle cry. Cale put his fist in the air and cheered. Pella and Benny echoed the cheer. Rin turned around with a grin and mimicked the fist thrust.
Richard whimpered, "It's over already?"
"You're great fighters, all of you," Rin said.
"Thanks. You are too!" Cale replied with a smile, "Now let's get back to our own time. Rin, you're just going to have to trust us on this one. Richard, open the portal, please…" the elf continued.
Richard looked at the dead bodies littering the ground. "Do I have to? I quite like the ambience here."
Rintasha looked at Cale in confusion. "I don't understand. Who are you? I mean, I know your name but… How do you know me? What's all this about a portal to the future?"
He sighed. "It… It's a long story… It'll all make sense to you when you come through the portal…" He put his fist over his heart, "I promise, you can trust me! If you don't…" he trailed off with a frown and bit his lip.
"This is for your sake as well as ours," Benny said. Cale nodded and remained silent, looking at the girl pleadingly. Rintasha looked into each of their eyes, except Richard, who was working on opening the portal. She nodded. Cale's face immediately lit up and he grinned broadly.
"Alright then. Guys, let's go back where we belong," he said, smiling at each of his friends in turn.
"Portal's ready," Richard announced. Pella and Benny stepped through, but Cale waited for Rin. He let her go through first, and followed quickly after. Richard went through last.
"Do you remember me now, Rintasha?"
Rintasha blinked, then smiled, "I remember you, Cale'anon. Thank you."
He could do nothing but smile back broadly. Benny nudged Pella.
"Is it just me," she whispered, "or has Cale fallen in love?" She snickered.
"Aye, I think so," the dwarf replied with an amused grin.
"Hmmm… I wonder how he would react if I set her on fire…" Richard muttered.
"When did you get here? I didn't see you. And don't you dare…" Benny replied, her voice raising to its normal volume.
"Don't dare do what?" Cale asked.
"Set-" Richard began.
"Nothing!" the two females said quickly. The elves looked at them blankly but said nothing. Richard was brimming with glee.
"Oh, the fun I shall have… the fun I shall have…" He wandered away, laughing quietly to himself, plotting a whole host of new ways to irritate his elven friend.
"Where's my bat?" Rintasha suddenly asked.
"I… think I saw him get killed," Benny said apologetically.
"It… It's alright…." Rin said somewhat sadly, "It was his time…"
Cale patted her comfortingly on the shoulder, "I know we're hardly replacements, but you have new allies, now…"
Rin nodded, "Yeah. Thank you… All of you."
"Not a problem."
"Okay Rin, so give us the details," Cale said, "What's this 'Dragon's Eye', why are the Dark Ones after the orbs, what do the orbs do, and why do we care?"
Rintasha leaned closer to the campfire and ran her fingers through her hair a few times. "You ask a lot of questions."
"It's kinda his thing," Richard said.
"Well, Cale, the Dragon's Eye is a magical gem, or, it would be. Four elemental orbs, when in the right hands, will merge into the crystal in the center of the Eye. The mine I was guarding contains a very, very rare metal called Lightsteel. Lightsteel can be made into wands, especially healing rods, and swords of great power, and also, the rim of the fabled Eye. Whoever controls the Eye, controls the ancient and noble green dragon, Uru. Also, the mine contains one of the orbs, but I was not able to locate it.
You see," Rin continued, "you were in danger, because the Dark Ones are aware that I know something they don't, and didn't realize that when they kille- would have killed me. They were aware that you had found my enchanted – or cursed, depending on how you look at it – sword, and they were willing to kill you for it. All of you. You stand a better chance if I'm alive. Then, not only do you have another ally, but they would only need to capture me, instead of killing you all."
"I won't let them," Cale said, "I'd rather they kill me than capture you. Mostly for the sake of the knowledge you have, of course," he added quickly, glancing around.
"You just keep telling yourself that!" Benny teased.
"What's that supposed to mean?" the elf responded angrily.
"Nothing. Nothing at all…"
"I don't mean to interrupt the fun, but did you say something about elemental orbs?" Richard asked, making himself useful for a change.
"Fire, water, earth, and air. They supposedly glow when the one destined to find them touches them – but they can be forged into the dragon's eye regardless of whether they glow. Or so the story goes."
Richard pulled the red orb out of his pocket. "I tried to destroy it. It resisted everything I threw at it!" he whimpered, looking almost afraid of the object that he had failed to even scratch the pure beauty of.
"The orb of fire! Richard! Well done!"
"Heh, orb of fire? Suits pyro-dick," Cale snickered.
"Hm?" Rin looked at him with her head tilted to one side.
"That leaves only three orbs," Benny said, "We're one fourth of the way done."
Cale stared at the phoenix that glowed inside the red orb. "Are all the orbs this beautiful, Rin?"
"Supposedly. They say the Dragon's Eye is even more beautiful. In fact, they say that if you hold it to your heart while flying on a dragon's back – that's a story for another day."
"I hate when you do that," Cale sighed.
Rintasha grinned in a mix of antagonism and affection. "I know you do. I like driving you up the wall."
"You're not the only one, Rin," Richard pointed out.
Cale cleared his throat. "Anyway! Rin, where are the other orbs? I know one is in your cave; that leaves two to find."
"Well, we can't go after the one in the cave just yet. The Dark Ones will be waiting for us. I don't know where the others are though. I'm sure we'll find them if we're supposed to, though."
Unbeknownst to our heroes, a Dark One was watching their every move. He knew, if he waited long enough, they'd lead him right to the Orbs… All he had to do was lead them into his trap…
Pella leapt to her feet. "I saw something!" She pointed into the forest.
Fools, they're walking right into my trap… All I have to do is give them a little bait, the Dark One thought. He let out a soft growl and ran through the bushes, making sure to be noisy. He ran on all fours, loping along, then stopped in a secure area and waited for the dwarf to lead her friends on a "hunt" that would hopefully take them to an Orb.
She did exactly what he wanted her to. The group was in motion very quickly, chasing after the wolf man. They came to a stop near the old fox's den that the beast hid in.
"He can't have gone far," Cale said, looking around with his hand on his sword hilt. Richard joined in the search, if only because finding the Dark One would mean he would get to burn something. Benny prodded various bushes with her staff in hopes of scaring out anything hiding within them. Rintasha walked with her head up, looking into the trees to avoid an attack from above. She passed a particularly large tree, tripped, and fell right into Cale's arms.
Benny couldn't help but tease, "Oh, aren't you lucky, Cale?"
"I don't know what you mean," he lied, letting go of Rin, who had steadied herself.
"Oh, I think you know what I mean! You just won't admit it."
"I'm not in love with her!" the elf replied angrily.
"Did I say you were?" the cleric replied with a wink. Cale realized his mistake and blushed. Rintasha decided to ignore the whole thing.
"Hey, look at this!" Pella called. She was kneeling near where Rin had tripped. She brushed the dirt away from a broken tile. The dwarf looked up at the giant tree, walked over, and examined it. She ripped some bark and moss off.
"Aha! Just as I thought," she said, grinning, "a hidden door. It be a dwarven one too!"
"Abandoned, apparently… if it's had time for that much plant life to grow over it…" Cale pointed out. Pella ripped the rest of the bark off and put her full weight against the door. It slowly opened.
"Richard, can you hold a fireball or something and lead the way? It's dark in there," Cale said.
"Say the magic phrase," Richard commanded.
"What? Not in front of Rin!" he whimpered.
"Yes, in front of Rin," the warlock replied, about to burst with glee.
The elf sighed, "Alright! Richard rules all, I bow before his might! Now will you please just light the way for us?" He glanced at the female elf, who was snickering at him. He sighed in exasperation.
Cale was too irritated to speak. He simply glared silently at Richard as the undead man conjured a fireball, ducked down to fit in the small tunnel, and entered. His allies followed.
Gradually the tunnel widened out so the non-dwarven members of the group could stand up straight, and no longer had to walk in single file.
"Something feels wrong," Benny muttered.
Richard suddenly stopped, knelt, and picked up a white object. He turned to the group and exclaimed joyfully, "Look what I found!"
It was a skull.
"Maybe there be a reason this place is abandoned…" Pella said, looking around cautiously.
"Let me see the skull," Rin said. Richard handed it to her, completely calm. The girl examined it. She touched the side of the braincase, "Look here, this is the kind of hole that comes from an arrow… Who could have fired an arrow down here?"
Richard started walking forward; there was a clicking sound, and several arrows lodged themselves in him. He looked down. "Again?"
"Of course! The tunnel is booby-trapped!" Benny exclaimed.
"I'll go forth then," Rin offered, "I can probably slip around most of the traps."
"No, you won't," Cale replied instantly, with a tone of finality, "Pella will go. This is a dwarven tunnel with – presumably – dwarven traps, and besides, she's smaller than us and therefore less likely to trigger anything."
"He be right, Rin," Pella agreed, "I'll go. I'll need a torch though."
Rintasha pulled an arrow from her quiver and a small bottle of tar from her pocket. "Never know when this will come in handy, but I always keep it with me for this kind of thing." She dipped the shaft of the arrow in the tar and handed it to Richard. He ignited it and gave it to Pella, who started forward, watching very carefully, stepping slowly.
"Good luck, friend," Cale muttered with genuine concern. However, no matter how much he worried about his friends, he wasn't willing to let Rin risk her life attempting to get around booby-traps.
Pella worked her way through the tunnel. She stepped only on tiles that were highly unlikely to be trapped, and watched for arrow holes, sandbags, and hidden axes. She dismantled as many traps as she could, avoiding most of the others. She stepped on a tile that proved to be a trigger at one point, and ducked to avoid the flamethrower. After a moment she stood and continued. Eventually she came to a natural room. A tangle of roots wove in and out of the walls. She held up the torch and looked around.
There was a small lump in the center of the room. Carefully avoiding triggering any traps, she made her way over to it, narrowly missing a hidden pit. She knelt before the knot of roots. Something glittered within, reflecting the torchlight. Pella pulled the roots apart and picked up the glittering green Orb. It immediately began to glow, and fine, glowing green dust inside took the shape of a unicorn that ran in the middle of the orb, getting nowhere. She grinned and made her way back to the others.
"Pella?" Benny called, seeing a dim flame in the distance.
"On my way," came the reply. Eventually the dwarf reached the group. She held up the orb.
"Ohh! Good job, Pella!" Cale said with a grin.
"Earth orb. How fitting for a dwarf," Rintasha said, "Let's get out of here." She started to lead the way out, but Cale stopped her.
"Richard will go first, in case there are traps on the way out that we missed on the way here."
"What am I, a meat shield?" Richard asked, sounding insulted.
"Yes, now go," the elf replied flatly.
The group sat around the campfire in the middle of their clearing in the forest. Rin was off getting water from a stream. When Pella and Benny were deep in conversation, and Richard was distracted, Cale slipped silently away. He walked to the river, where Rin was sitting in the grass. He stood next to her.
"Hello… Rin, you alright? Why aren't you coming back to the camp?"
"Oh, hello Cale," she said, looking at the stars, "I was just thinking."
"If you want me to leave…"
Cale sat down next to her and looked at the night sky.
"Have you ever flown, Cale?" the girl asked suddenly.
"Flown?" He looked at her and blinked in confusion.
"Like, on a dragon…"
"I guess it would be," he muttered. After an awkward silence, he tried to strike up conversation, "Hard to believe we have half of the orbs. You think we're really the ones who are supposed to find them all?"
"They've been glowing, haven't they?"
"I guess you're right. But how do you know, we're supposed to find the last two?"
"Because it makes sense. And we only need to find one more, we know where the last one is."
"I thought you said you weren't in love with her?" a familiar voice called from behind them. Richard was leaning against a tree.
"H-how long have you been there? And I'm not in love with her!" Cale said, glaring at the warlock.
"Then why are you two looking at the stars together?"
"We were talking."
"Just shut up, Dick."
Rintasha yelped. Her hair was on fire. Cale reached forward and put out the fire with his hand, automatically putting his other hand on her shoulder. He froze when he realized how awkward the pose was.
"Um… right, then," he said, letting go of Rin and pretending nothing had happened.
Richard wandered off, snickering.
There was a long, awkward pause, before the girl thanked Cale, and they both silently returned to the camp, not looking at eachother.
"Awww," Benny taunted, "were you two off-"
"Don't. Say. Anything!" Cale yelled, pointing at her. He sighed, "Sorry. Just irritated at Richard is all… I don't feel like putting up with your taunts…"
Morning came. Cale awoke suddenly when he caught fire. Richard was sitting next to him, looking quite amused as his elven ally sat up with a yelp and put the fire out. He burst out laughing when the elf looked at him and blinked stupidly, as though not sure what had just happened.
"'Bout time you woke up. You've been sleeping so deep we were starting to worry you were dead," Benny laughed.
Cale rubbed his head and mumbled, "I was dreaming…" He yawned, stretched, and stood. He wandered over to the remains of the fire.
"Morning, Cale. Want an apple?" Rin asked. She tossed one to him.
"Thanks. So… Orbs. Discuss," Cale said, sitting down.
"We have half of them," Benny said, "earth and fire. We need air and water."
"Well one of them is in my cave, I'm not sure which. Probably air, since water wouldn't make sense," Rin said, as she bit into her apple.
Cale nodded, eating his apple as well. He finished and tossed the core aside. "Well, we should probably look for the water orb in the sea. It would only make sense."
"The sea be huge, Cale," Pella pointed out.
"I know," the elf replied, "but I just have a feeling… Maybe we should try to find Captain Tah'vraay? She could help."
"You're willing to go romping across the whole ocean because of a 'feeling'?" Benny said incredulously.
"If we're the ones destined to find it," Rintasha said, "then we'll simply stumble upon it. Fate will take us to it, if we're supposed to have it at all. I think we should trust Cale's instincts. But who's this Tah'vraay?"
"She's a - … I'm not exactly sure what she is, actually," Cale said, "I guess it would be best to describe her as a Dark Elf. She's blue, with white hair… You know the kind of thing I'm talking about?"
"Well, you'll see when we meet her," Pella said.
"I've never been sailing before," Rin said with excitement.
"Then this will be a new experience for you," Cale replied, with a smile.
They trekked on for miles, to the edge of the forest, across the broad plains. The wind was blowing, not too hard, but enough to make the elves' capes flap and flow regally.
"Rin, last night, you said something about flying on a dragon," Cale said over his shoulder.
"Well, Cale," she replied, "I was once a dragon rider. A few years before my… the day that would have been my demise… I flew a dragon, a white one, but he was killed in battle."
He looked her over. "You're wearing dragon scales, I'd assume you were a dragon slayer, not a dragon rider."
"I was both. Some dragons are evil, but some are good. You of all people should understand that, Cale. You, the good elf."
"Well, I'm not the only good elf. You are too," he pointed out with a smile, "It's good to not be alone in my thinking anymore. I'm glad I found your journal."
They came upon the sea, and stood upon the beach. The water reflected the midday sun in a brilliant show of sparkles.
"Well, Mr. Gut Feeling, how do you suggest we find Captain Tah'vraay?" Benny asked expectantly.
"Ahhhhh…. That's… something I… didn't think through," Cale said, grinning with embarrassment.
"Oh, if only I had a dragon or a gryphon or something! If only… I could search from the sky!" Rintasha said in aggravation. She suddenly gasped. "Cale, behind you!"
He spun around. A familiar Dark One reared up. Cale's eyes widened.
"But, how – we killed you! How is this possible?"
"You cannot defeat Gruffohr that easily, elf!" the wolf man laughed, "Give me the orbs!"
"I'll give you my life before I give you the orbs!" Rintasha screamed, drawing her blades.
"And I'll die before I let you touch her!" Cale yelled, standing in front of Rin, his cape blowing in the wind, both swords held up, his armor glinting from the light being reflected off the sea. He looked heroic for a change.
"If you want to kill Cale, you'll have to go through all of us! You won't get the orbs till our bodies lie bloodied on this beach!" Benny added.
Gruffohr took a step back. He snarled, but realized he was in the middle of a five against one fight. Sheer numbers forced him back. Cale kept coming forward toward him, driving him away from Rin, who followed Cale, her blades also at the ready. Benny and Pella came at him from the side, trying to force him into the sea. Richard built a wall of fire behind him. Gruffohr was trapped. He had no choice but to lash out. With a swipe of his mighty paw, the ten foot tall wolf man sent Cale flying across the beach. He landed, rolled, and lay perfectly still, facing away from his allies, cape wrapped around him.
"Cale!" Rintasha screamed.
Tears flowing from her eyes, she charged at the Dark One with a battle scream that echoed off trees and cliffs, like a dying dragon's call. Gruffohr tried to swipe her but she was a wall of blades and fury, slicing his paw clean off before attempting to stab him. Gruffohr leapt over her and ran away.
"You've not seen the last of me!"
Rintasha ran over to Cale's body. She turned him onto his back. There were shallow claw marks torn through his armor and into his chest, but it appeared to have been the impact that did the damage. She started crying uncontrollably.
"He's… dead! No, Cale, why? Why?"
Benny began to sob as well. Pella bit her lip. Even Richard looked saddened.
"Rin…" Benny said in a broken voice, "Do the orbs have special powers…?"
"Why does it matter?" Rin said darkly.
"We have the earth orb… the orb of life…" Pella said.
Rintasha gasped. "Give it to me!"
Pella handed it over.
"Oh, please, please, let this work! Cale, please, don't be gone forever! Please…" Rintasha held the earth orb with both hands, the dancing unicorn glittering inside. She looked into it sadly, and placed it on Cale's chest, then gently lifted his hands and put them on the orb. Nothing happened.
"No… No!" She began to cry again. A teardrop fell on the orb. It flashed and sparkled. Cale's eyes opened.
"Wha-…." He muttered, and wincing, he lifted himself up to a sitting position.
"Cale! You're alive!" Rintasha cried and flung her arms around him. She began crying on his shoulder. He blushed.
"Cale!" Benny said in delight, "I can't believe it worked! You're alive!"
"What… what happened?" He rubbed his head. Rin let go of him, smiling, tears still flowing down her cheeks.
"You were killed protecting Rin. The earth orb revived you when her tears fell on it."
Cale looked at Rin, and though he winced as he raised his hand, he wiped the tears gently from her face, with a weak smile.
"I can't be dead yet. You still need me."
Rin nodded. "Yes, Cale, we do."
Cale awoke. It felt good to be in a bed, something he was not used to. It was very lucky that he was wounded not far from a port town, where he could recover. Benny had been doing too much healing lately and her magic was too depleted to effectively mend the elf's injuries, so his friends brought him to the village. He tried not to breathe too deeply; it caused him too much pain, and besides, with the bandages wrapped tight around his torso, it was hard to move much anyway. He looked around tiredly. His cape was hanging from a hook on the wall, there was a small table next to him with a glass of water, but otherwise, the room was empty; Richard was off wreaking havoc, Pella was still at the forge attempting to repair Cale's broken armor, Benny was presumably getting water, and Rin was likely off hunting. He looked out the large, open window at his side, watching the people passing by. A familiar girl walked by the window, and Cale smiled weakly. A few moments later she entered the room.
"You're finally awake," Rintasha said with a smile, "good. How are you feeling, Cale?" She sat at the foot of the bed, facing the window, but looking at him.
"Well," Cale mumbled, "my whole body hurts like you wouldn't believe… I feel like I was run over by a herd of horses… How long was I out?"
"Three days," she told him, "you passed out shortly after we got here."
"Three days….?" He replied incredulously. He tried to sit up and gasped with pain.
"Don't strain yourself! We're in no hurry… You rest."
Cale sighed as he relaxed again and closed his eyes. Rin got off the foot of his bed and he heard her walk away.
"Rintasha," he said quickly, "what town is this?"
"Tyne. Now, you get some rest. You need to be strong for our journey. We've come so far, but we still have a long way to go."
Cale hesitated, smiling a bit. "Yeah…" He listened as Rin quietly shut the door behind her. A few moments later he heard her outside the window.
"Oh, hello Benny. I was just checking on Cale. He's awake now, but still weak."
"That's good," the cleric answered, "though the timing is rather bad. Tah'vraay is in town. She just docked."
"Yes. She'll be setting sail again tomorrow. We have to go with her now, or not go at all."
"I'll stay behind and take care of Cale. You, Richard, and Pella go with Tah'vraay and look for the orb," Rin offered.
"I hate to split the group up," Benny protested.
"We have to. We can't leave him here alone! And we need to look for the other orb."
"How do you know this wasn't fate's way of telling us we're not supposed to get the other orbs?"
There was a pause.
"Go, Benny…" Cale said, struggling to raise his voice enough to be heard outside the window. He winced at the pain it caused him, turned his head toward them, and looked at them as seriously as he could in his predicament.
"But-" the cleric began, walking over to the window.
"Just go. I shouldn't be weighing you down. Continue without me, and come back when you have the orb… Don't make me talk any more. It hurts to talk…" the elf said, turning his head away from her and closing his eyes again, "Let me sleep…"
"… Alright, Cale. You rest," Benny said gently, "I'll see you when I get back. Take good care of him, Rin."
"Of course," the elven girl replied, "Good luck."
"Goodbye. And luck to you too."
Tah'vraay snorted with disgust and looked at Benny with obvious dislike.
"Just let us board your ship and go with you until you return to Tyne!" the cleric said in irritation. She held up a bag of gold coins, "It will be worth it."
"What are you looking for anyway?"
"An orb in the sea."
"In the sea?" Tah'vraay laughed, "The sea is gigantic!"
"So be the land," Pella pointed out, "and we have two orbs already."
"And what," the Captain snickered, "is so special about these orbs?"
"That's none of your business," Richard said, "You're irritating me and that's not smart. Perhaps if I heat things up a bit, you'd be persuaded to let us come along for the ride…" He held a fireball. Benny blinked at him, surprised that he cared about their current goal, but decided not to question a blessing.
Rintasha opened the door slowly and whispered, "Good morning… Cale, you awake?"
"Yeah," the reply was dragged out of the tired elf.
"I brought you some fruit…"
"Thanks. Not hungry…"
"Alright. Pella gave me your armor before she left. It's fixed. It's over here on the table when you're strong enough…"
There was the sound of metal armor being placed on a table in the general area of the door. Footsteps came nearer, and Cale opened his eyes. Rin put a bowl of fruit on the table next to him.
"They're on the ship then…?" he asked.
"Yes, they left a few hours ago. Are you feeling better?"
"Good," Rintasha said with a smile, sitting on the foot of the bed again.
"I had a horrible dream," the injured elf suddenly said.
"I dreamt they were on the ship… There were storms, and Tah'vraay was trying to kill Benny…" Cale muttered, his eyes closed. He shuddered a bit and winced in pain.
"That is a horrible dream… But hush, it was only a nightmare. I'm sure they're alright."
"You don't know Tah'vraay…"
"Benny has Pella and Richard with her. She's fine."
"If you say so…"
Rin stood and walked over to the side of the bed, where she knelt and ran her fingers gently through Cale's hair.
"Not much else to do…" he smiled weakly.
"I'll be outside. If you need me, just yell. I won't wander far."
Richard stood at the bow, staring out to sea. Benny walked up behind him.
"Richard, why did you back me up? That was unlike you."
"Because I like this adventure. I feel odd saying this, but I care about finding the orbs. If only because I get to burn things. But there's more to it than that."
"I had no idea you were so deep, Richard… I thought you just liked to set things on fire…" She yelped and started jumping around. She put out the fire on her foot. "I spoke too soon…" She glared at him. He laughed and walked away.
"Kelpies ho!" someone yelled from the crow's nest.
"Sailors, at the ready!" Tah'vraay called as she slid down one of the ropes.
"What's a kelpie?" Pella asked.
"I don't know!" Benny replied. She rushed to the edge of the ship. The water was swarming with what appeared to be merhorses at first glance.
"I don't see what the fuss be about," Pella said.
One of the merhorses let out a piercing whinny and leapt out of the water. It was not the beautiful creature they were expecting. Its tail was spiny and slimy, and the horse part of it looked malnourished, almost skeletal. The eye sockets were empty and the mouth was bristling with razor sharp teeth.
"Oh my gods!" the cleric exclaimed. A sailor ran around handing out bottles of blue liquid.
"Water breathing potions, all! We be goin' in!" Tah'vraay yelled as she drank the liquid and leapt into the water with her sword. There was a frenzy around her and the water filled with blood. Pella and Benny grabbed potions and joined her in the water; Richard dove in without a potion.
The water was churning, Kelpies swarmed around the heroes with supernatural speed, their hollow cries filling the water like screams of the dead.
"It's like piranhas, only worse!" Benny exclaimed, thrusting her staff into a kelpie's skull-like head. Pella swung her axe around, chopping pieces off the horses.
Richard caught one and rode it through the water, blowing up all other kelpies he came by. In the swirl of bubbles and blood, his allies didn't notice that the cursed sea horse carried Richard deeper and deeper into the water, toward a shipwreck.
Benny beat the kelpies away from her with her staff. She screamed as sharp fangs sank into her shoulder. Pella came from behind and lopped off the head of the offending beast.
"Where be the warlock?"
"Richard!" yelled Benny.
"Don't let them get away," Tah'vraay yelled, "they're going deeper! Kill the last of the wretched beasts or they'll be back for more blood!"
Benny and Pella started swimming down, out of the cloud of blood and confusion.
"Richard! Where are you?" the dwarf yelled. An explosion answered her call. Bits of kelpie came floating up, as well as old rotted pieces of wood. At last they came to a shipwreck. Blood was pouring out from inside. Sailors were all around, fighting kelpies. A sailor's arm floated by Pella.
"This is a horror story!" Benny cried in shock. She swam toward the ship, yelling, "Richard! Richard, where are you?"
Mad cackling answered her. She swam through the rooms in the wrecked pirate ship, searching for the undead warlock. A kelpie flew out of the room to her right and came at her with jaws open. She ducked, spun, and stabbed it with her staff. It squealed as blood poured out of its side. The cleric tackled it into the room from whence it came and pushed it under a rusted cannon. She smacked its head to stun it and put all of her strength into flipping the cannon. It swung around and landed on the kelpie with a satisfying crunch. A blue object caught her eye. She swam over and grabbed a dull blue ball from the pile of cannonballs. It lit up in her hand. A swarm of bubble like particles swirled inside it and formed a sea serpent which swam in the middle of the orb. She grinned, but screamed in shock as a second kelpie ripped the staff from her hand. She turned, helpless. The aquatic horror doubled around and swam at her with a piercing cry, jaws wide. She winced and prepared to die, when the horse burst into flames, even in the water!
"Only I get to kill my friends," Richard yelled from the doorway, bubbles and blood swirling around him.
"Richard!" Benny cried out, "I've never been so happy to see you!"
Richard ignored her and swam away, setting fire to another kelpie, cackling madly. "I am death!"
"Fall back! The potions will wear off soon!" Tah'vraay yelled from outside.
Benny gasped and swam after Richard to the exit. He continued blowing up the last few kelpies but the cleric swam straight as an arrow to the surface. "Pella!"
"I be coming!" the dwarf cried, blood trailing from her leg just as it trailed from Benny's shoulder.
They were almost at the surface when they felt the effects of the potions wear off. They burst through the water and gasped for air, coughing madly. The sea had grown stormy since they had gone under. Tah'vraay was already back on the boat. She tossed a rope down. Pella and Benny climbed up out of the water, Richard following quickly after. The boat was rocking madly, the clouds above crackled with thunder, the seas churned madly.
"I have the orb, Pella!" Benny said triumphantly. She held up the sapphire sphere.
"Orb?" Tah'vraay said, grinning evilly at her, "I'm afraid it's mine now!"
"What?" Benny said.
"Hand it over!" the Captain demanded, pointing her bloodied sword at Benny and grinning.
The dark-skinned elf laughed. She slashed at the cleric, who parried with her staff.
"Glad I didn't forget this!"
"Consider yourself lucky! Your death will be slower because of it!"
Richard started casting a fire spell.
"No, Richard!" Benny screamed, "You'll set the whole ship ablaze!"
Richard stopped and switched to ice. He started casting a frostbolt, but he was tackled by a crew member. He flung her off of him.
"Nobody tackles Richard!"
The crewmember, a bipedal dragon-looking creature, bared her teeth at him and started circling around. She proved an effective distraction. Tah'vraay was clear to attack Benny. She lifted her sword into the air as lightning struck the sea not far away. She tried to plunge it into the cleric, but Pella tackled her and threw her across the deck. The Captain hit a wall with a loud thud and sunk to the ground. The ship rocked as a particularly large wave crashed over the side. Tah'vraay leapt to her feet and charged at the dwarf, who'd been disoriented by the shaking of the boat. She easily threw Pella overboard.
"Pella!" Benny screamed, "This does it, Tah'vraay, you're going down with the ship!" She bared her teeth and gave a battle cry. She kicked a crewmember to the ground, stabbed him with her staff, took his sword and used it against the Captain's blade. Benny caught the dark elf's sword with her own and disarmed her foe. She was about to end Tah'vraay's life when another huge wave hit the ship. Benny and the elf both fell down. Pella was tossed back onto the ship; she'd been hanging onto the side! The captain's sword slid down the deck and into the sea.
"No!" she screamed.
Benny clambered to her feet and held her sword above Tah'vraay's neck, her teeth bared.
"Wait! I surrender! I surrender!" Tah'vraay begged, "I'll take you back to town, just don't kill me!"
"Why shouldn't I?"
"Because I'm the only one who can get you back to Tyne!"
"Grrr, alright! Take us back, now!"
The ship docked. Benny had stood behind Tah'vraay the whole way, sword against the dark elf's neck. She got on to the dock, not once taking her eyes off her enemy. Pella and Richard followed.
"That was quite entertaining," Richard said gleefully.
They walked over to the building Cale was resting in.
"Rin?" Pella said quietly, to avoid waking the injured elf.
"I'm here," Rintasha said, "What happened to you?"
"Oh, not much. We just got nearly eaten by undead sea horses, found the third orb, almost got murdered by that traitorous Tah'vraay, nearly went down with the ship in a storm…" Benny said sarcastically, with a shrug.
"Tah'vraay attacked you? C-Cale told me… he had a nightmare… that she was trying to kill you…"
"… That is quite odd… Hm. Is he awake?"
"No… Let him sleep. We'll tell him in the morning. And good job. May I see the third orb?"
Benny held up the glittering blue orb. "I admit it. Cale was right," she said.
"Twice," Rin pointed out, "His dream predicted what was going to happen to you. We should trust his instincts, like I said."
Benny nodded thoughtfully.
Cale yawned and slowly opened his eyes. He slowly became aware of his surroundings. It slowly dawned upon his fuzzy, half-awake brain that he was wearing fresh bandages.
"How do you do it?" Rin asked. She was sitting at the foot of his bed. He'd grown used to having her there.
"Wha- oh… Good morning, Rintasha," he said, "How do I do what?"
"Sleep for days like that."
"How long was I out this time?"
"Two days. You were so deep in sleep that Benny could put new bandages on you without waking you. How do you feel?"
"Uh… not too bad, actually. Still very sore… I think I'll stay in bed for a while longer."
"Alright. Benny has the third orb," she said, smiling.
"That's right," the cleric said, entering. Her shoulder was bandaged.
Cale smiled. "Well done!"
"And your dream was surprisingly accurate," Rintasha pointed out, "Tah'vraay turned on Benny and tried to kill her."
Cale gasped quietly.
"Fighting her was nothing after the kelpies that Richard, Pella, and I fought off."
"What's a kelpie?" the elves asked in unison.
"You don't want to know. Let's say it's why my shoulder is bandaged and leave it at that. But don't worry about it."
"Alright, I won't," Cale said. He yawned and shut his eyes.
"I'm going to go hunting. It's been a while since I've had meat," Rin said.
She left, and Benny replaced Cale's water with a fresh glass in case he got thirsty, and also left.
The elf opened his eyes. He looked out the window. The sun was setting, and the sky was a show of colors, red and purple and orange.
"I think it's about time I try to get up. I've kept the others waiting long enough…"
He stood slowly. It still hurt to move but it was more a dull ache than a sharp pain. He put his shirt on over the bandages, got his cloak off the hook and put it on. He stretched a bit, loosening his aching muscles. He opened the door and peered out.
"Cale! Good to see you're feeling better!" Benny said.
"Yeah. Thanks. I'm going to go get some fresh air," he said, smiling.
"You do that. It'll do you good."
He left the building and wandered down to the beach. A solitary figure was sitting on the sand, looking out to sea.
She turned toward him. Everything about her was highlighted by the light of the setting sun, her hair and eyes glittered with the reflections of the sea. She smiled.
"Cale! How are you feeling?"
"… Great," he said, grinning broadly back. He walked over and sat next to her. "How are you?"
"Good. I'm happy to see you're feeling better," she said, and gently hugged him. The pain it caused him was by far outweighed by his joy. He hugged her back. She looked into his eyes with a smile. They were mere inches apart. Cale wasn't really sure what was happening, but he was overwhelmed by pure happiness.
Suddenly he burst into flames, yelped and fell over backwards, flailing his arms. The impact of his body against the sand put out the fire.
"Can't you just feel the burning love?" Richard said, laughing like a maniac.
"Richard!" Cale yelled, leaping to his feet and running at the warlock, his hands outstretched as if he wanted to rip Richard's throat out. Richard ran around laughing, with Cale chasing him in a murderous rage. "I'm not in love with her!" he insisted.
"You just keep telling yourself that," Richard cackled.
Rin simply sat there, watching with shock and mild amusement.
Richard disappeared into the forest. Cale stood there on the beach, panting and looking furious.
"Calm down, before you hurt yourself," Rin said, as calmly as ever.
Cale sighed, "Too late."
"Let's go back to town then." She smiled a bit, reached out, tugged his hand lightly before letting go, as she started to walk towards Tyne. She hesitated and looked over her shoulder at him. They both stopped, looked at the setting sun for a moment, and then walked along the beach back to the port town, side by side.
The group remained in Tyne for several days. Cale had wanted to continue on, but Rin and Benny insisted that they remain in town until the elf had fully healed, and he had reluctantly agreed.
"Ow," Cale whined, laughing for some reason, "don't touch there, that hurts!"
Benny ignored him and continued to examine his wounds, "You're healing well. I don't think you'll need to wear bandages anymore."
"Good, they make it hard to breath." He stood and retrieved his shirt and cloak and put them on. He looked out the window in agitation. "Does this mean we can continue our journey?"
"Not just yet. Calm down, will you? You need to be strong if we're to find the last orb."
"But we can't afford to wait! The Dark Ones could already have it in their filthy claws!" the elf said angrily, his fist clenched, though it was clear his fury was not directed at the cleric.
"But we have the other three so it doesn't matter! If they have it we can take it from them! It's useless unless they have all four," she pointed out.
"Benny, you know the orbs each have their own powers! If the earth orb revived me when I was killed, imagine what the air orb could do! And in the hands of evil…"
"We will wait three days. Is that alright?"
"Three days? …Well, alright. Three days. But no more than three! As soon as we're awake on the fourth morning, we leave!"
"It's a deal."
Three days passed quickly. Cale opened his eyes, sat up, and walked into the entry room of the building they were staying in.
"Benny. It's been three days."
Rin and Pella looked at the cleric, waiting for explanation.
"… Alright. A deal is a deal. We leave right after breakfast."
Cale walked over to the table and sat down.
"Aren't you going to eat?" Rin asked.
"Not hungry. Too busy thinking."
"That's a new one," Richard said, "I didn't know you were capable of thinking."
"So what were you thinking about?" Pella asked, attempting to force the conversation away from an argument.
"His girlfriend, most likely," Richard snickered.
"She's not my girlfriend," Cale replied flatly, "Anyway, I was thinking of the orbs. There's only one left. Once we find it, the Dark Ones will be even more aggressive toward us. Or they might anyway, if they find it on their own. But it's safer with us, so we need to get our hands on it as quickly as possible."
There was a general murmur of agreement at the table.
"I'm ready to go when you are," Richard said, "Looking for more orbs means I get to burn things."
Cale looked at the ladies at the table expectantly.
"Oh come now, Cale, don't look at us like that!" Rin said, standing up, "I'm ready."
Benny and Pella looked at each other and stood with silent nods.
"Alright. Let's go then," Cale said, already heading for the door.
"Impatient isn't he?" Rin laughed.
"Very," Benny sighed.
The walk was a long one, and took several days. On the second day of the journey, as they crossed a vast, dreary plain, Rintasha pointed to the horizon. Cale squinted in an attempt to see what she was pointing out through the mild fog.
"What is it?" Benny asked.
"Looks like a castle of some sort," Cale said.
"It is," Rin said. Indeed, now that the others knew what they were looking for, they could make out an ominous castle on the mountains in front of them. "That is the home of the Dark Ones. We're going to try to stay as far from it as we can. The ground there is stained with blood, their dungeons reek of carcasses. Or so I've been told. Very few enter and come out alive."
"I like the sound of that," Richard said.
A raven cawed somewhere. Cale shuddered. He looked at the sky. It was cloudy and grey, but not as though it was going to rain. He considered asking Rin why she had to point the castle out when the atmosphere was at its creepiest, but thought better of looking like a wimp.
In time the fog cleared, then the clouds. They camped at the edge of a familiar forest.
"We be close," Pella said.
Cale nodded, staring into the fire – staring through it, really. He was only half paying attention. "It feels like so long ago," he muttered, "this is where it all began… It feels like half a year, but it's been less than two weeks…"
"Yeah," Benny agreed.
"I feel like I've known you all forever," Rin said, also staring at the fire.
"Yeah," Cale muttered.
Benny yawned. "We should get some sleep."
Richard waved his hand and the fire went out. The group settled down for the night. None of them saw the dark figure in the bushes. None of them noticed the Dark One that was watching them, waiting for them to find the orb. None of them saw the creature with dully glowing red eyes – and a missing paw.
The five heroes continued their journey through the forest until at last, they came upon a cave. Rintasha was the first to enter. She looked around at the ruins of her camp and shuddered.
"Hey look, your journal!" Cale said, pointing to a small book. He knelt down and picked up the book, flipping reverently through the pages, rereading his favorite entries with a content smile. His grin broadened when he looked at the page after the last entry. There was no blood. He looked at the other elf with a smile.
"Last time I read this book, it was all I had to know you by. I thought you were a noble, honorable, brave girl. And I have only been proven correct, time and time again." He stood and handed the journal to Rin. "This is yours."
She smiled and accepted the book. She looked around and found the ink bottle. She forced the jar open for the first time in ten years, looked around, found a twig that would work well enough as a pen, and dipped it into the ink. She turned to the very last page of the journal and wrote.
Met Cale'anon Vatay, the most amazing elf in existence. Also met Richard the Strong, Benny the Wise, and Pella the Resourceful. I am the luckiest girl in the world.
She read her new entry to her friends, with a smile. Cale blushed faintly. Everyone had a good laugh.
Rintasha dipped one of her arrows into the little bottle of tar she kept with her and asked Richard to ignite it, then led them down the tunnel.
"Pella. You are a smith, yes?"
"I be a dwarf. Of course I be a smith."
"Good. This is a lightsteel mine. Gruffohr is obviously too evil to die normally. We'll need a more powerful weapon."
Cale snapped his fingers and pointed at Rin with a large smile. "Lightsteel sword! Right? You said lightsteel could make very powerful swords. Is this what you meant?"
"Good memory, Cale. Yes, there's a makeshift forge further down the mine. It was abandoned even when I camped here and we'll need to clean it up. I'm sure the mine has been mostly stripped of the precious metal but we can still search." She led them into a smaller tunnel off to the side, hardly noticeable. Eventually they came to an old, dusty forge. There were some ancient torches on the wall, which Rintasha ignited with her own torch. She then lit the main fire in the pit that was once used for heating metals. Suddenly the room was aglow with the warm light of fire.
"Pella, Benny, Richard, can you clean this place up?" Cale asked, "Rin, can we go look for the lightsteel? Better to be doing both things at once so that we're not wasting time."
"Right," she replied.
"Say the magic phrase," Richard commanded.
Cale whimpered. "Must I?"
"Alright….. Richard rules all, I bow before his might!"
"Okay, I'll help clean the old forge up."
"Thank you…" Cale muttered bitterly. The two elves continued down the tunnel. "What does lightsteel look like, Rin?"
"It looks like gold, only lighter in color, and it glows faintly. Should be easy to see it. This place has been stripped of the metal though, for that very reason. We need to go deeper than they did."
"Alright. Are we going to dig, or what?"
"No, not exactly. We just need to locate the smaller tunnels and squeeze into them. Like this one." She pointed to a hole barely wide enough for her to fit through.
"I don't know if I can fit in there, Rin." He laughed.
"Well, I guess you could…" He looked her over from head to toe, "You have a slim figure…" Cale suddenly realized the double meaning of what he'd said. "I mean, uh, you could, uh, fit in there easily! I mean, as opposed to my relatively broad shoulders… Like, you can fit into narrower places-" he frantically tried to explain.
Rintasha laughed. "I know what you meant, Cale! No need to freak out."
"Heh." Cale looked thoroughly embarrassed.
"Anyway, I'm sure, if you turn sideways, you could fit in there, you'd just need to- Uh, just watch what I do and copy my movements."
She turned sideways, bent her shoulders a bit, and turned her head to the side. She was barely able to squeeze between the rocks. After a moment she said, "It's wider in here. Come on."
Cale turned and tried to copy Rin. He was not as flexible, nor as thinly built, but he was able to barely get through. He looked around. They were in a medium sized, round cave. The elf turned to the side and knelt, tapping at the wall with a smile on his face. "Here! They didn't get in here. Look!" He pointed to the glowing pale gold metal in the wall. "There's so much of it!"
"It was a very rich mine."
"I guess so!"
Rintasha examined the wall, then grabbed the chunk of lightsteel that protruded from the wall. She put her feet against the wall and pulled. There was a small rumbling and the loose stone crumbled around the lump of metal. Rin fell backwards and landed in Cale's arms. She smiled awkwardly and steadied herself. She looked at the metal in her hands. It was a very large chunk, but not particularly heavy. "It's light in more ways than one," she said with a laugh, "It should be enough to forge a sword." She turned, and then gasped, smiling broadly. "Cale, look!"
He turned to see what she was looking at. There was a semicircular pit in the ground, shaped roughly like a U. There was a small piece of rock jutting out of the wall on the other side of the pit. On it was a white orb. Rintasha set the lightsteel on the floor, walked over to the pit, and looked down. A small rock fell down in front of her feet. Cale listened. After a few minutes there was a faint clatter at the bottom.
"It's deep," he said, peering down into the dark, gaping hole in front of them.
"We need to get the orb," Rin said. She got down on her knees and stretched one arm out toward the orb. She stretched too far and nearly lost her balance. Cale grabbed her by the waist to keep her from falling. She looked over her shoulder at him.
"Don't worry," he assured her with a smile, "I won't let you fall." He loosened his grip on her waist, so that it was gentle but still firm. She stretched her whole body forward over the ravine and reached for the orb. Her fingers were mere inches away. She grunted as she stretched as far as she could.
"Almost… got it… so… close!"
Cale bit his lip and leaned slightly forward, so that she could reach a bit farther. He didn't like having her in such a precarious position, where she could easily fall.
"Got it!" she said, pulling back quickly and collapsing into his arms. He smiled at her, and she looked up with him with a triumphant smirk. She held up the orb, which was now glowing white. Inside it, little flecks of light swirled and sparkled, and took the form of a gryphon. Cale hugged the girl tightly.
"Great job, Rin!"
"I couldn't have done this without you," she laughed.
"Aren't you two love birds supposed to be gathering metal?" Richard's voice echoed through the chamber. The two elves, still embracing, turned. The warlock's head was poking in through the narrow tunnel.
"I'm not in love with her! This seriously isn't what it looks like!" Cale said angrily.
"We found the orb," Rin said, in a futile attempt to change the topic.
"Good job. Now stop hugging and bring the lightsteel back to Pella," Richard ordered.
Cale glared at him. The elf picked up the chunk of metal and squeezed back into the main tunnel, Rin following him. There was a sudden scream from ahead of them. They quickened their pace to a run.
"Benny!" Cale yelled. He knew that scream.
Benny was swinging a flaming torch at a Dark One. It was a small one, barely taller than Richard. There was barking from the entrance.
"They know! They've found us, they know where we are!" Cale cried out. He dropped the lightsteel and ran toward the wolf man with his swords raised. He plunged them through the back of the beast. "We have to get to the entrance, now! If we stay here they'll have us backed against a wall and we'll be trapped! Move, now!" he ordered. They ran to the entrance, where Dark Ones were already beginning to fill the cave. They snarled and loped toward the heroes.
"Charge!" the elf gave the order, pointing his sword at the wolf men, "For Honor and Glory!"
The sounds of battle erupted into the caverns. For a second time in those ten years, the mines bore witness to a fateful fight between a warlock, a cleric, a dwarf, two elves, and a small army of wolf men.
Rin fought as she had before, by Cale's side. Richard turned the cavern into a blazing inferno. There was smoke and fire everywhere. Benny used her staff as an effective weapon, Pella backing her up, slashing madly. Cale had done this before, and confidence, as well as the desire to protect Rin, swelled up in his heart. He fought with fury and pride like never before. He cut his way through the enemy legions, once again pushing the Dark Ones back, out of the mine! Rintasha fought with the same feelings beating strong in her heart.
"Just like old times, huh Cale!" she yelled, stabbing a Dark One.
"Yeah! Just like old times!" he replied, slashing two wolf men at once as they came at him from both sides.
"And just like before, victory will be ours!" Benny yelled.
"For Pony!" Richard roared, setting a new line of wolf men ablaze. Smoke filled the air. Cale couldn't see where his partner was. He trusted that she was able to fight on her own, and continued his attack. She fought her way farther and farther out. When Cale caught a glimpse of her, he realized with a start how far away she was. He stabbed the wolf beast that blocked his path to her. It fell, he leapt over it. Rintasha screamed. A Dark One had grabbed her and was holding her so she couldn't attack.
"Rintasha!" Cale yelled, starting to run toward her. He was struck in the chest by an arrow and crumpled to the ground.
"Cale?" Benny yelled.
Cale got up onto his knees and one hand. He ripped the arrow from his chest.
"It's alright, it didn't hit any vital organs!" he yelled, leaping to his feet, despite the blood seeping out of his armor, "Rin!"
"Cale! Help me!" the captured elf screamed. She was farther away. The Dark One was carrying her away. It howled, and the rest of the wolf men turned and ran after it. Cale chased them, but no elf is as fast as a Dark One. He couldn't catch them. He stared in their direction with wide eyes and the same look of horror and guilt as when he had killed that child, so long ago. He fell to his knees, staring into space.
"Rin…tasha….." he whispered. He sobbed. "How could… how could I fail you? It's my fault! I wasn't strong enough to save you! What use am I? Rintasha, no… I would have given anything…"
"And you say you're not in love with her," Richard said.
Benny punched the warlock and glared at him. "Now is not the time for such remarks, Richard!"
Cale continued to sob. He threw back his head and let out a cry of pure agony and sorrow that echoed through the forest and the mine.
Benny didn't say anything when the elf came out of the forest where the group had been sleeping. She didn't even look at him for more than a moment. She felt too guilty seeing him that way. His head was angled down, his hair hanging in front of his eyes, shrouding them in shadow. He had not spoken a word since Rin had been taken away. He walked over silently and sat down without looking at anyone or saying anything. He took out his swords, one at a time, picked up a rock, and started sharpening both blades, slowly. He kept at it for hours.
"Cale, I know you're hurting…. But…" Benny began, placing a hand on his shoulder. He did not look at her, but went on sharpening his swords. "We have to go on."
"What use is it," Cale said darkly. His voice was thick with anger and sorrow; it sounded broken, as though he were going to cry. "She had the last orb. There's no hope now. And even if there was hope… I couldn't feel it. Not now."
"But you didn't see them kill her! She might be alive still. In fact, she probably is! They're using her as bait, Cale. They wouldn't dare harm her. Not until they had the other orbs."
Cale's head jerked up. "You're right." His eyes were burning with anger. "Let me at them. I'll give them everything I've got! Let them dare fight me now!" He sharpened his blades even more quickly. When he lightly touched the edge, his finger started to bleed. He stood.
"Cale… I've never seen you so eager to fight!"
Cale looked at the cleric. He spoke in a voice the likes of which they'd never heard. It was a deep, dangerous growl that sounded as though it were being dragged from the very depths of his soul through gritted teeth.
"They have Rin. I'm going to rescue her, or die trying. I have to. I will."
His eyes were glimmering with determination. His armor, bloodstained, shimmered. His cape flowed regally.
"I'm going, now."
"But nothing. You stay here. I'm going to their castle… alone."
"What?" Pella cried out.
"You heard me. If you come with me, we'll be giving them just what they want – a chance to take the other orbs. I'm the only one here without an orb. Therefore I'm the only one who can go save Rin. I have to do this, Pella, Benny… For Rin. For myself. For all I stand for. Stay here. If I don't come back, take care of Sooba. Farewell." He turned, his cape billowing behind him as he walked toward the ominous towers on the horizon.
"Good luck, Cale… Good luck," Benny said, both sorrowful and full of pride.
The elf stood looking up at the dark castle towering above him. He was not afraid. He looked at the walls. The stones were worn and jagged enough that he could climb them.
"It would be best to climb the walls. Then I could start at the top of the castle and work my way down… That way I don't have to fight my way up to Rin if she's at the top, and I'd be going down anyway after I've rescued her," he muttered. He looked around. There was a single Dark One near the entrance to the castle. The entryway seemed the best place to start climbing. Cale slipped over to the wall, slinking along it, silently, blades at the ready. With a swift and soundless motion he killed the wolf man before it could howl for help. He then sheathed his swords and started climbing up the jagged rocky wall. The wind picked up a bit, flapping his cape. He scaled the fortress wall with single-minded determination. He glanced down and realized how high up he was. His stomach tightened and his eyes widened. Cale gulped and made sure his grip was firm as he continued on.
The elf found himself at a window. He peered inside, and, seeing no living beings, stealthily entered the building through it. He looked both ways, hands on his sword hilts. He slipped around the corner, peering into each room he came by, narrowly avoiding being caught several times. He worked his way down each story of the building, slowly, checking everywhere. Cale darted along a hallway on the third floor, every sense focused on locating Rin. He heard something and froze. The thumping of paws came steadily nearer. He gasped quietly and swung himself into a shadowy corner that was probably originally intended to hold a candle stand. He had to force himself to stay there when the two Dark Ones walked by, dragging a limp elf with them. It was Rin. She was conscious but her struggles had apparently drained the strength from her. Or, that's how it appeared at first glance…
There was a black collar around her neck, with glowing red runes. Cale struggled to not burst out of his hiding place in a whirl of rage and blades. No, he had to wait. Wait, plan, and strike when the wolf men were defenseless. He followed, darting between shadows, watching their every move. They turned and dragged the limp Rintasha into a room. Cale slipped into a hole in the wall, pulling his cape around him to keep hidden. He waited till the wolf men exited the room. Rin was not with them. He slipped behind them, now that he had no fear of injuring her, he was free to stab them both in the back. They crumpled to the ground without a sound. Cale'anon peered around the corner into the room they had come out of. Rintasha was shackled to the wall. She was limp, her eyes blank.
His eyes widened; for a moment he thought she was dead. But she was still breathing. He ran in. "Rintasha!" he whispered urgently. She did not reply. She didn't seem to realize he was there. He looked around; seeing no enemies, he reached forward and hurriedly unlatched the collar. It burned his hands slightly, but he had been quick enough that they hadn't caused his palms to bleed. Somehow, Rin's neck was unharmed by the collar. Her eyes immediately focused and she gasped.
"Cale! Cale, I'm so-"
"Shhhh," he whispered, putting a finger to her lips to quiet her, "you'll alert them to my presence!"
"I'm so glad to see you," she whispered.
"Let me tell you I've never been so glad to see anyone in my whole life," Cale whispered back with a tone of urgency, "now where's the orb?"
"In the bag tied to my belt."
He untied the bag and removed the orb. He held it close to the iron cuffs that chained Rin's hands to the wall.
"How do you work these things! Come on, come on! We need your power, orb, use air to unlock these thing! Please!" he whispered, feeling exceedingly foolish. There was a sudden blast of air, and the shackle unlatched. One wrist was free! Cale put the orb to the other band and it too unlocked. He dropped the orb back into the bag and put it back on her belt, before giving her a quick hug and grabbing her hand.
"Come on! We have to get out of here!"
He guided her, holding her hand the whole way. He was even more alert now that his mistakes could cost Rin's life, and he took her quickly through corridor after corridor. He turned a corner and saw a Dark One. He yanked her wrist as he quickly slipped into the dark corner he'd had before. He pulled her close to his chest and wrapped his cape around them both to prevent the glitter of their armor from drawing attention. He could feel her breathing quickly; each breath against his neck made him aware of his own frantic heartbeat and fast breathing. The Dark One passed without noticing the elves. Rin freed herself from Cale's arms, pulled her bow from her back and an arrow from her quiver, aimed, and silently shot the wolf man through the back of the skull. She and Cale ran the rest of the way down and approached the entry hall. Thudding paws stopped them in their tracks and they flattened themselves into a small nook. Again, Cale put his cape protectively around Rin, even though it would do little good. He was doing it mostly to comfort and reassure her. But when a massive black-furred Dark One with one paw missing walked by, Rintasha had to restrain her friend to keep him from flinging himself at the beast in a murderous rage.
"Cale, don't! You'll get us both killed!" she whispered into his ear, and he stopped instantly. His teeth were gritted and his hands clenched into fists. After Gruffohr had passed, they darted out. Once they were beyond the castle grounds, and no longer had to step stealthily, they broke into a full out run. Cale led the way back to the camp, forgetting to let go of Rin's hand. When they saw fire they almost yelled with joy. They skidded to a halt.
"Cale! Rintasha!" Benny said, "You did it! I knew you could do it, Cale!" She cheered, and Pella joined in cheering. Richard set Cale's hair on fire, but he put it out without even yelling at the warlock. He was too overjoyed. He hugged Rin tightly. He then turned to the dwarf.
"Pella. Did you forge the sword?"
"Aye." She pointed to a beautiful sword. It was golden and shone like sunlight. "I've dubbed it Sunblade."
"The Sunblade…" Cale said, picking it up and thrusting it into the sky, "Victory is within our reach! For Honor and Justice!"
The others were asleep. The elves were too shocked by the day's events to sleep. Cale leaned against a log and looked at the stars. Rintasha sat by his side, eventually leaning against him, resting her hand on his chest, laying her head on his shoulder. He smiled a bit and put his arms around her. They stayed that way the whole night, eventually dozing off in that position, much to the amusement, the following morning, of Benny, Pella, and Richard.
"They're pathetically cute," Benny snickered.
"Should I set them on fire?" Richard asked.
"…. Nah. Let them stay that way. They deserve it, after all they went through," Pella said with a smile.
"So, Rin, how do we get this Dragon's Eye?"
"I… don't know… exactly… Pella made the rim for it out of lightsteel, but…" She put her air orb down on the ground. Benny pulled the water orb out and put it next to it. Richard put the fire orb next to that, and Pella put the earth orb by that.
Cale looked at them. "Nothing's happening. Maybe we need to put them in the rim." He picked them all up. As soon as all four were in his arms they all flashed brilliantly. Cale shut his eyes tightly and looked away. When he looked back, he was holding not four, but one. It was pearly and iridescent. It glowed in all the colors of the rainbow, but could be described best under the term "white". There was no creature in this one, in fact, it was not even see-through. A collective gasp of awe rose from the group. Cale held it up. He felt its raw power coursing through him like pure light in his veins. He put it in the rim, and with a flash of light it fused with the rim, which was a ring of lightsteel with runes in it representing the four elements.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Cale said softly, "I give you the Dragon's Eye."
An image began to form in the Dragon's Eye. Faintly, a vision of a massive, scaly, green head formed. The eye of the creature snapped open. The huge animal stood. A deep, regal voice echoed from within the gem.
"The time has come. I have awoken. Let there be war! Let the Dark Ones burn in the flames of Righteousness! Dragonmasters, I come to you."
The dragon spread its wings and leapt into the sky. The vision faded.
"Tell me," Cale said, "You all saw and heard a dragon in there. Tell me, I'm not going insane."
"I heard it too, but yes, Cale, you have gone insane," Richard said, "but that's a completely unrelated topic."
They all stared expectantly at the sky. A giant "bird" rose up over the mountains in the distance and flew toward them.
"And here he comes," Rintasha said, hand above her eyes to shield them from the bright sunlight, as she stared at the oncoming creature, "Uru the Mighty!"
They could hear the powerful wingbeats as Uru approached. He landed in front of them with a loud thud that shook the earth. He was tall, noble, and proud. Emerald scales glittered on his skin, the massive muscles rippling beneath them with every move. His neck was long and held a proud head at the end. Long horns curved back from his skull, partially hidden behind regal fin-like ears. A small crest of webbed spines ran from the top of his head to halfway down his neck. Massive wings were folded at his side, shimmering. A long tail tipped with an arrow balanced the muscular neck. Lion-like paws with silvery razor-sharp claws completed the awe-inspiring visage of the mighty green dragon.
"You have come far and done much. You, Pella the Resourceful, Benn'joon the Wise, Rintasha Dragonblade the Noble, and Richard the Strong, gathered the hidden orbs that were scattered long ago," the powerful creature said. He turned to Cale, "and you, Cale'anon Vatay the Righteous, made the four into one. Your wish is my command."
"Uh, I don't think I'm ready for so much power," Cale said, eyes wide with awe, "besides, Rin's the dragon rider, not me!"
"We can fly him together," the lady elf said, "But we'll need a special saddle and a bridle. We could forge them from lightsteel, if Pella's up to it."
"Of course I be up to it."
"Then let's get the measurements and I'll sketch what we need. Cale, we'll be in the mine. We'll need plenty of leather too."
"Alright. Sooba, come!"
A panther stalked out of the forest after a few minutes, looking meek and scraggly compared to the massive reptile that lay in the clearing, head raised to the sky. The cat's ears flattened, its head lowered submissively in the presence of the dragon. It followed its elven master unquestioningly into the forest as he went hunting for sickly or injured animals to put out of their misery and gather leather from.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group walked to the mine, their heads held high. They knew no fear, not with Uru stalking along behind them, as tall as the trees. As massive as he was, he was lithe and easily slid between the vegetation in the woods, with his head lowered under the canopy. He was notably stealthy, able to move without shaking the ground much. He lay down at the entrance to the cavern, his watchful eye guarding the place where his tiny partners worked. Rintasha climbed over him, measuring his chest, neck, and jaws. She tore an empty page from her journal, placed it on a smooth rock, and began to sketch a double-saddle, reins, and a bridle for the dragon. She labeled every dimension, every material. She handed the page to Pella, who set to work as soon as Benny and Rin started bringing materials. Cale eventually returned with Sooba, holding up strips of animal hide. He placed them in front of the dragon and went to a stream to clean off the blood that had spattered over him. The dragon blew faint, semi-warm flames over the strips, drying them and making them into leather in a matter of minutes rather than days. Eventually Pella brought forth the saddle and the metal parts of the bridle. She had added a few visual details and polished it all. Rintasha put the leather parts in place, and the whole thing was hooked onto Uru. It looked nothing short of spectacular. Cale looked at the Sunblade, then at the dragon.
"The time for judgment is here," the elf said, "the time for action, the time for justice. We strike at sunset." He looked to the sky; it was beginning to turn red and purple. "Soon, friends. Soon. Issue the challenge, Uru."
"As you wish, Cale'anon," the dragon said, rising. He threw back his head and roared. Birds flew from the trees in a panic, and the cry echoed for miles. "Dark Ones, hear me! Ready your armies! The time has come!"
Rintasha mounted the dragon, sitting in the front saddle, taking the reins in her hands. Cale hopped up behind her, Sunblade sheathed. Uru began to walk.
"Cale, they say if you hold the Eye to your heart while flying a dragon, you will see the most beautiful thing in the world," Rintasha said, "I hear that the very stars glitter in the rivers and every blade of grass is a streak of vibrant light, to anyone who gains the Dragon's Sight from the Eye, for as long as they fly. Do you want to try? I warn you though, they say that anyone who sees this true beauty will never be the same, that they'll only see the world as dull and ugly forever more, and may even kill themselves over it. I'm not going to try… Do you want to?"
"No, Rin. I've already seen true beauty," he smiled.
"I've seen you, and that's enough for me."
"… Thank you," she answered slowly, smiling and faintly blushing.
Uru had broken into a gallop, his wings spread. "Prepare to fly." He leapt up into the air, beating the mighty wings, rising higher and higher into the sky.
Cale let out a whoop and a cheer. "I'm flying on a dragon!" He yelled, laughing.
The sun was setting, and legions of wolf men were gathering on the ground below. Uru roared again. Cale heard Richard yell from below, "For Pony!"
Part of the mass of black below burst into flames.
"Tonight we set the sky ablaze!" Cale yelled, "Charge!"
He saw Benny and Pella charge from behind Richard.
"Cale, you are strapped to the saddle, right?" Rin asked, steering the great dragon through the sky with expert skill.
"Then you're still safe if you're using both hands to fire arrows at them!"
"Right!" Cale began firing arrows down into the army below. The Dark Ones responded in kind by following Cale's suggestion of setting the sky ablaze. A myriad of flaming arrows flew up, arched over, and began to fall toward the dragon.
"Hold on!" Rin yelled, pulling Uru into a dive. They hurtled toward the ground; Uru opened his jaws as he pulled up at the last minute, leaving a wall of flames to rival Richard's in his wake. They circled above the battlefield. Cale continued to fire arrows, picking holes randomly into the black mass below them, watching as his three ground-bound allies cut a gash into the legions of Dark Ones. Rin guided the dragon through the sky with agility and aptitude, dodging projectiles, diving, spinning, looping, burning massive holes into the forces below.
"Battle from dragonback is the Dance of the Sky," she said, grinning.
"Well then you're a very good dancer," Cale replied, firing an arrow.
Uru suddenly roared and swerved to the side. His wing was on fire!
"We've been hit! Cale, I can't fly a dragon with an arrow in his wing!" Rintasha cried urgently, "You'll need to get the arrow out!"
"What?" he replied incredulously.
"Uru, try to soar! Don't flap your wings! You hear me? Don't! Flap! Cale, crawl out on his wing and remove the arrow! Now!"
Cale unlatched the belt keeping him on the saddle, "But what if I fall?"
"Don't worry about that! Do it or we'll both be killed!"
Cale stood, hair and cape blowing in the wind. The dragon continued to soar with wings outstretched.
"Hurry, Cale'anon Vatay! I can't soar for long! I must flap my wings or perish!" Uru called, turning his head to look at the elves on his back.
Cale walked carefully along the dragon's back, balancing. He crawled out on the wing of the dragon. He gasped and his stomach clenched when the dragon tilted to the side. Uru moved his head and tail the other way to compensate for the elf.
"Cale, hurry!" Rin yelled.
Cale moved along the dragon's wing until he reached a bloody hole with an arrow through it. He grabbed it and ripped it out of the wing. Uru roared and lurched to the side. Cale lost his grip and fell.
The world seemed to slow. For some reason, he felt no fear, only a sinking acceptance. "I'm going to die," he muttered without emotion. And then he saw a green dragon, diving like a bird of prey. Uru dove past him, under him. He landed gently in the saddle and the dragon pulled up.
"Told you I was a skilled dragon rider!" Rin called over her shoulder.
"Ace flying, Rin! You! Are! Amazing!"
"Brilliant work on the wing there! You're the bravest man I know!"
"Thanks!" Cale returned to firing arrows. The number of Dark Ones was beginning to get so small that Uru could no longer breath fire without fear of setting Benny, Pella, and Richard ablaze as well.
"As you command, Rintasha!" The dragon landed with a heavy thud. The elves leapt from his back, blades at the ready, and began to slash their way through the wolf men. Uru attacked with his teeth, claws, and tail.
"For Justice!" Cale roared, sword raised. For the third time, he and Rin fought side by side, slaughtering the dark furred monsters. He saw, in the midst of the battle, a Dark One with a missing paw. He let out a battle roar and charged at the wolf man at top speed, Sunblade held high!
The wolf man turned to Cale. With his remaining paw he tried to swipe the elf, but he was too quick! He ducked under the paw, raised the Sunblade and thrust it forward, through Gruffohr's heart, with a yell. There was a mighty flash of light and a furious howl pierced the air. The light faded. The sword was stuck all the way through the wolf man, hilt at the chest, tip glowing on the other side of the Dark One. The wound began to glow golden, and the golden light spread out like a shockwave through the fur, until the beast was nothing more than light. He burst into flames, then shattered into a thousand pieces, destroyed forever! The remaining Dark Ones attempted to flee, but were burnt to ashes by either Richard or Uru.
Cale thrust his fist into the air and yelled, "Victory is ours!"
His allies echoed the cheer. "Victory!"
Cale and his friends gathered by the forest. They set up camp. The stars looked brilliant in the sky that night. Rintasha had wandered off to a hill. After a lull in the conversation around the campfire, Cale stood and walked to the same hill. He sat by Rin, looking at the stars with her.
"Well," he said, "It's all over now. I guess… that means… we don't have to stick together anymore," his voice was full of sorrow.
"No," she replied softly, "we don't."
"Then I guess this is goodbye…"
Rin put her arms around his neck, smiled at him, and said, "I'm not going anywhere, Cale."
He put his arms around her waist in confusion. "I thought you said…"
"I only said we don't have to stick together anymore. That doesn't mean we can't."
Cale smiled broadly. They looked at the moon for a moment, then turned to each other, and kissed.
XXX THE ENDXXX