|Tunnels: The Tale of Tavor T1
Author: LittleFireDragon PM
Frightening things have been happening in Gamlon. Is it the Vulii? Or something more sinister? Prince Tavor and his long-lost best friend investigate and find they've gotten into deep trouble... Pairings: None.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Horror - Words: 14,404 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 2 - Published: 06-20-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5153247
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The King of Gamlon was having lunch with two guests, a lord and a lady. A maid wearing a tattered brown robe and no shoes or socks walked over and poured more wine for them.
"It is good to have you back, Lord and Lady Taberthii. It has been far too long," the maid said.
"It is good to be back in Gamlon," Lord Taberthii replied, "but, if I may ask, my King, where is the young prince? It's been so many years since we last saw him."
The King looked at the maid.
"Well m'Lord," she said, "Prince Tavor is upstairs, presumably telling ghost stories to his sister. He's quite the storyteller, m'Lord. I keep telling him he should have his works published, but he'll have none of it."
"I wonder if we should tell him we're in town?" Lady Taberthii asked, "He might want to know our daughter is back after all these years. They were such friends when they were little."
The King laughed. "Lady Taberthii, I am sure Tavor does not even remember Allissya. He was merely a child when she left. Besides, if he does remember her, it might pain him to know how she lost her memories."
"True enough I suppose, my King."
Tavor was kneeling by his little sister's bed. "And they still say, every fifteen years, when the moon is full, and the sky is cloudy, the Highwayman's ghost comes riding along the coach roads, still seeking to end his eternal suffering, for when the dying unicorn said that he would never rest in peace, she meant her curse in more ways than one."
Leena shivered, but grinned in delight. She loved her brother's stories.
"Tavor, what if the highwayman comes to get me?"
Tavor ruffled his sister's hair and smiled. "He won't. I'll always protect you, Leena. I have to go now. I have a jousting match in a few minutes." He stood, picked up his lance, slung it over his back, and walked down to the door. "Father, I'm going to my jousting match! I'll be back later!" He picked up his helmet, put it under his arm, strolled over to the stables and opened the door. He patted the white horse on the snout. "Hey there. You ready, pal?"
He mounted the horse and pulled it into a gallop toward the jousting ring. He slowed to a trot as he entered the ring. He turned to his right and waved at the LOFT members. LOFT (League Of Fangirls of Tavor) was a small fanclub. He never understood what they thought was so great about him, but always made them happy by waving at them. It made life much easier for him that they always sat in the same spot. He then put his helmet on as trumpets blared, signaling the start of the jousting match.
"Just barely on time, as usual," Tavor laughed to himself. He lowered his lance and waiting for the word. He heard his name being chanted by the LOFT members in their little corner.
"Charge!" came the voice.
Tavor and the other man passed – quite literally – like jousting knights. He turned, and this time hit his opponent, knocking him to the ground. This continued for about 5 rounds, when the Prince was declared the winner. Tavor took off his helmet and put it under his arm, smiling and waving to the crowd. He began to walk out, when a girl in the crowd, among the LOFT members, caught his eye. He froze on the spot, took a few steps back, and looked at her. He blinked a few times, and walked over to them. The volume and pitch of their voices increased as he got nearer. He only looked at the one who had caught his attention. Tavor frowned and looked perplexed as he examined her from head to toe. Red hair in a long braid, teal eyes, a familiar expression. It all reminded him of a distant memory. She coughed lightly and spoke, "Is something wrong my Prince?" Her friends giggled and looked at her enviously. Tavor looked startled at the voice and the small wheezing cough. It had to be her!
He raised one eyebrow. Incredulously and somewhat cautiously, but also hopefully, he asked, "…. Allissya?"
"He knows your name!" the other girls squealed quietly.
"You know my name?"
Tavor looked away in disappointment. "… Oh… You're not Allissya Taberthii, then… Sorry…"
"You know my full name?" the girl squealed, then had a coughing fit.
He looked at her again. "It… It has to be! It is you! I know it has to be you! Allissya? Don't you remember me? I can't be talking to the wrong girl; nobody else has that little cough, that hair, those eyes! It has to be you… right?"
"My Prince… I… was not aware that I knew you."
Tavor was devastated. "I… I see…"
"Perhaps I did know you!" she said gleefully, "You see… I lost all my memories some time ago."
He gasped. "So that's why you stopped writing to me! I tracked you all the way across Gamlon, Allissya! I tracked you as you moved from one home to another, and then one day you moved, and I couldn't find you. I never heard from you again. You'd lost your memories?"
"All of this is news to me," Allissya said. Her eyes were glittering, like the other LOFT members' eyes. It dawned painfully on Tavor that his best childhood friend was now nothing more than a fangirl. He tilted his head back and looked at the sky. Nobody but his closest friends and family knew that he only did so when he was trying not to cry.
"I… I'm sorry, Allissya. You're not the girl I once knew…" Tavor walked away, his head angled up toward the sky, to keep the tears from falling from his eyes. He blinked them back.
"Why didn't anyone tell me…." He muttered to himself as he rode slowly home, "All these years spent wondering what ever happened to her… and now this? She was my best friend… and nobody told me…" He stabled his horse and entered the castle he lived in.
"Welcome home, son," the King said.
"…. Why didn't you tell me?" Tavor asked, a tear rolling down his cheek.
"Tell you what, Tavor?" his father asked, concerned.
"About Allissya. You should have told me! I've spent all this time wondering what happened to her… and today I met her. She didn't remember me! Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because I didn't want to cause you unnecessary pain. I thought by the time you met her again you would have forgotten about her."
Tavor nodded slowly, wiping the tear from his cheek, regaining his composure. "I see. Thank you, father… I just… would have preferred to have known."
"It's fine." He walked away. Nothing in his eyes or expression would suggest pain or sorrow. He turned a corner, pressed a specific stone in the wall, and waited while part of the wall slid open. He entered the torch-lit hall, closing the secret door behind him. He walked through the hidden passageway, into his personal base. It was his favorite hidden room. There were many in his castle, but this was his favorite. He'd set up several book cases and a writing desk in the room. Books were scattered randomly across the floor, along with piles of papers. They were his writings. He kept it mostly secret that he was a writer. Whenever he published anything, he did it anonymously, and without telling his family, though he rarely gave any of his stories to a publisher in the first place. Many of them were finished and then left to gather dust here, only ever told to Leena. Tavor sat down at his desk, reflecting on childhood memories of Allissya. He bit his lip, but did not feel the tightness in his throat that he would if he were going to cry. He sighed, picked up a quill, dipped it in ink, and began to write down the story he'd told his sister earlier.
Tavor yawned and stretched. He got slowly out of bed, changed into his normal clothes, and went downstairs. Much to his surprise, he had a visitor that morning.
"Allissya?" he said, blinking in surprise.
"Hello Prince Tavor! You seemed upset yesterday, so I came to see if you were alright. The maid let me in because she seemed to know me."
"I was upset. You would be too if your own best friend had forgotten who you were."
"I was your best friend?"
"When we were little, yes."
"I'm sorry! For forgetting you, I mean."
"Not a problem. It wasn't your fault anyway. And please don't call me Prince Tavor. You always just called me by my name, back then…"
"Alright. If you want to be friends again…" the girl trailed off.
Tavor nodded with a tragic smile. "Of course."
The bittersweet reunion was interrupted by a cry of "Tavvy!"
"Gack! Oomph!" Tavor said, as he found himself on the receiving end of a flying tackle-hug from an undead priestess sporting green goggles, "Good morning Adelleh. Can you please let go? Unlike you I actually need to breath," he said, trying to pry the skeletal hands off of him. Adelleh let go and looked at the shocked Allissya.
"Hi!" the walking corpse exclaimed with enthusiasm. Tavor couldn't help but laugh. He explained, "This is Adelleh. She's another friend of mine. An unlikely friendship, I know, but she's entertaining. You never knew her. She lives in the tunnels under the castle," he turned to Adelleh, "speaking of which, what are you doing up here? I thought you didn't like sunlight?"
Adelleh waved a cookie. "Adelleh can has cookie!"
Tavor snickered, "I see."
The priestess slinked away back to her underground lair. Tavor turned to Allissya with a grin and shook his head.
"If I may ask, Pr- Tavor, how did you make friends with her?"
"It's a long, long story," he said, lost in thought, "Right now I'm sort of trying to figure out how to explain the things you used to know…"
"Of course. That's a good place to start. There are plenty of hidden passageways in this castle. I know almost all of them by heart."
"I see you two ran into each other," the King said, smiling, "I thought it would do you both some good to reintroduce you."
"Good day, my King!" Allissya said with a curtsy. She brushed some dirt off her simple blue skirt and white shirt.
"You've grown a lot since I saw you last," Tavor's father told the girl, chuckling lightly.
Allissya nodded, not sure what to say.
"I'll leave you to continue talking," he said, "I have things to attend to. Tavor, perhaps you should show her some of the tunnels?"
"Right," the Prince said, turning back to his childhood friend. He led her to one of the hidden doors. "When we were little, we used to play hide and seek in these passages," he laughed, "but father didn't want us getting lost." He opened the wall up, showing her around his writing room. She picked up a pile of papers and looked through them.
"You're a writer," she said.
"Yeah… I really don't show the stories to anyone but my sister, though…"
"So how many tunnels are there?" Allissya asked. She was beginning to get used to being in her hero's presence, and starting to become connected to him on a personal level.
"Well… It depends how you define what separates one tunnel from another. A lot of them connect with one another in strange, convoluted ways. There are some that lead to rooms. Some are perfectly straight and just lead from one point in the castle to another. Others seem to have no purpose that I can discern. Some of them even pop up in random places around Gamlon, possibly even farther. I haven't explored the full length of some of the longer tunnels, but I know almost every one of them in the general area of my home," he explained, leading her along some of the more interesting passages, stopping at one downward sloping tunnel to point it out, "except that one. It's full of water, and I'm not going to even try to…" he trailed off, then changed the subject, "I should probably take you back into the normal parts of the castle. You could get lost down here if you got separated from me."
"Yeah… You know, it's strange, knowing that you know me, but not remembering you…" the girl mused, mostly to herself.
Tavor nodded, "The more I talk to you, the more I realize how much I've forgotten about you, too…" He turned rather suddenly down a side passage.
"Is… this the way we came in?" Allissya asked, confused.
"No, but it's faster," the Prince replied, "sorry, I'll try not to move so suddenly, I'm used to being able to dart down any which way I choose. It comes in handy sometimes, if I don't want to be found, to be able to just pop up anywhere in the castle."
"I imagine so. You said Adelleh lives down here?"
"Not here, no. She lives in the deeper tunnels. The bottom layer. I don't go down there much, save to visit her. Frankly, they're not useful or interesting."
A cold gust of air passed them.
"What was that?" Allissya asked.
"I… am not sure," Tavor said, glancing around rather nervously, "That's never happened before… Maybe father opened one of the other passages. He knows a couple of them."
He pulled a torch holder, and the wall he'd led her to opened. They stepped out into the dining hall.
After a while of getting to know Tavor for the second time, Allissya went back home. Leena started demanding that her brother tell her a story, so the Prince sighed and tried to come up with something. He decided to continue the story of the ghostly highwayman from the day before, which had been inspired by a legend he'd heard somewhere.
"Well, Leena, do you want to hear more about the Highwayman from yesterday?"
"Hm… I didn't tell you why he killed the unicorn or what he did to her, did I?"
"He wanted her horn. A unicorn's horn, called an alicorn, can be powdered and mixed with mud to create gold. The greedy Highwayman ignored the warnings of the mystic, blinded by his desire for wealth. He waited by the coach road every night for years, killing anyone who was unlucky enough to be heading that way after moonrise and couldn't answer his question: Where do I find a unicorn? For years, nobody could answer his question, and he killed them all, taking their money," Tavor wove the story as he went, occasionally going back to the original folk tale for impromptu solutions to minor cases of writer's block, "until the day a thin man with one silver eye rode down that trail.
'Halt,' said the Highwayman, 'tell me or die, do you know where the unicorns are?'
And the man calmly said, 'Go far to the west until you meet the sea. Ride south to the rock shaped like a dragon. Climb the rock and leap into the dragon's mouth. You will find yourself in a cave. Follow the cave until you come out in a forest. Tap thrice on the first tree you look at, and a unicorn will come out of hiding.'
But the Highwayman was an evil person, and he killed the man anyway, before riding along the path he'd been given. He did find the unicorn, and from there you know the rest of the story. He killed her and took her horn, and she cursed him as she lay dying there. He did get the gold coins, but when he touched them they turned to blood. And not just the gold he made from the horn, either. Any gold he ever touched immediately turned into blood in his hands. He could never sleep, not one wink for the rest of his life. He went insane and threw himself off a cliff and into the sea, but he still rides along the coach road, killing anyone he comes across, taking their gold, but it always turns to blood, always."
The princess shuddered and hugged her brother. Tavor began to wonder if maybe he'd gotten a bit too detailed in his ghost story, but what was done, was done.
That night, with pouring rain outside, and wind creating eerie whistling sounds in the trees, Tavor awoke to hear sniffling sounds from his sister's room. He got up, tapped on the door lightly, and heard her gasp.
"Leena, are you awake?" he whispered.
"Tavor!" the Princess whined, "I had a bad dream!"
The Prince sighed and opened the door, walked quietly in, and sat down on her bed. She hugged him tightly.
"What happened?" he asked, regretting telling her the story.
"I had a dream about the highwayman and a unicorn with a hole in her head!" Leena cried. Both of them froze with a small gasp when a haunting sound echoed faintly outside. A hollow whinny pierced the air, along with what sounded almost like insane cackling. Leena started crying, and even Tavor was nervous.
"Shh, it's just a falling tree branch or thunder or something startling the horses," he assured her. But at the back of his subconscious, there was a nagging sense that this was, in fact, not the case.
Tavor and Allissya were kneeling by a set of odd tracks.
"They look like horse tracks, but they're obviously from cloven hooves… too big to belong to a deer," Tavor muttered, "Something strange is going on around here, Allissya…"
"What do you mean?"
"Odd sounds in the night. Mysterious hoofprints. Cold wind in the tunnels."
Allissya nodded. The Prince rose to his feet, frowning slightly, and looked around. He turned and started walking back to the castle. His friend followed.
"But how? There have been no massive bandit attacks in Gamlon for a long time," they heard the King say to a messenger.
"Father?" Tavor asked.
"Oh, Tavor," his father said, "I didn't see you there."
"What's going on?"
"There was an attack on a village in the middle of the night, many people were killed… I can't believe the peace has been broken."
The Prince's eyes widened and his face went pale. "Father… Last night Leena woke up from a nightmare, and I went to her room to comfort her. There were some strange sounds scaring her… and Allissya and I just discovered odd hoofprints in the forest."
"I am not sure, but I think there's a connection, and I'd like to try to track down the cause of all this strangeness. Father, may I take a horse and start investigating?"
The King hesitated. Finally, he sighed. "Very well, Tavor. Be careful, son. Good luck to you."
"Could I come with you?" Allissya suddenly asked.
"What?" the Prince replied, somewhat startled, "You? Come with me? Allissya, it will be dangerous…"
"I know. But I want to prove I'm worth something. I want to do something important for once! Can I come with you?"
"… Ask your parents. If they say yes, I have no reason to say you can't. Hurry though. I'll be leaving later today."
Allissya hurried home, while Tavor went to his room. He put on his armor, helmet, and cape. He buckled his sheath-belt on, pulled the sword part way out, looked at it for a moment, and resheathed it. He was quite literally a knight in shining armor. He walked to his sister's room, opened the door and peeked in.
"Tavor! Why are you dressed in your armor? Are you going jousting again?" the Princess asked, putting down the book she was reading and hopping off of her bed, smiling up at her brother.
He hesitated, visibly troubled. "No, Leena. Bad things are happening in Gamlon, and I'm going away for what could be a very long time. I'm going to try to make things right again, okay?"
Leena frowned. "Big brother, you'll come back, won't you?"
Tavor opened his mouth to speak, but the words caught in his throat. He swallowed and blinked a few times. "Uh… yeah. Of course I'll come back. I'll always protect you."
Leena bit her lip and nodded. She ran over to her brother and he knelt to accept her hug. She flung her arms around him, and he hugged her tightly, swallowing back the tension in his throat.
"Goodbye, Leena. Stay safe. The maid will be here to tell you stories until I come back."
"She's not as good of a storyteller as you, Tavor! Come back soon," the girl said, burying her face in his shoulder.
"I'll try," the young Prince said, letting go of his sister and standing up. He held himself proudly as he walked to the stables, but his eyes told a different story than his pose.
Tavor waited for Allissya, holding the reins of three horses, one white, another brown, the last black. She arrived, a bag of provisions slung over one shoulder, a simple sword at her side. He handed her the reins of the brown horse, then led her and the horses to a place where the earth around the castle sunk down. He ran his hand along the stones, tapped one, and then pushed it, and part of the wall slid open.
"Why are we going down there?" the girl asked.
"I'm going to grab Adelleh on the way out. She could come in handy," Tavor said. He turned and looked at his friend very seriously, "I have a feeling that this whole thing has something to do with the undead, besides, we need a healer. As crazy as Adelleh is, she is a healer."
The Prince led the animals and the elf through the semi-dark passage.
"Adelleh," he yelled, his voice echoing.
"Yes, hi, hi!" came the reply.
"We need you!" Tavor shouted as he continued through the tunnel. Eventually they came to a point where two tunnels merged, and the undead priestess was waiting for them, wearing not only her goggles but a silvery hood that matched her robe. He gave her the reins of the black horse.
"Pony!" she said in delight.
Allissya gave Tavor an odd look as they continued on, and whispered, "Are you sure this was a good idea?"
"Pft, no," he replied, "but she's better than nothing. As long as she does what I tell her to, she won't cause much trouble. If nothing else, she can provide the occasional laugh in what I think will be an otherwise serious journey."
They came to the end of the tunnel, just outside of a small town. Tavor got onto his horse and his friends followed his example, and the three of them rode to the town. Once they found their way to a road, they stayed on it. As they passed through the market, some members of LOFT made their easily recognizable fangirl squeals. Tavor waved at them and smiled. He couldn't help but catch some of their conversation.
"Is he going off to war somewhere?"
"I think he's going after whatever attacked that town!"
"What a hero!"
Amused, he snickered and shook his head. He turned to his elven companion. Allissya was looking at the fans.
"It feels like forever since I was just a member of LOFT; a distant unreality. Now it feels like I've been your best friend forever, even though I only met you again a couple days back."
"Well I still consider you a close friend, and it's good to have you back," he said with a smile, then looked back to the road. "So what do you make of it all? The hoofprints and sounds I mean."
"I haven't got a clue. I'm content to just follow you on this and help with whatever you need," she answered.
"Adelleh has seen bad things in her tunnels," the priestess suddenly piped up.
"Hm? What kind of bad things?" the Prince asked, one eyebrow raised.
He sighed and muttered, "Well, aren't you helpful…"
The sun was setting. The three adventurers rode their horses along the edge of a small valley.
"Nightfall is soon. Be on your guard," Tavor said, "but until then, enjoy the sunset." He smiled over his shoulder at his friends.
"Where exactly are you taking us, Tavor?" Allissya asked.
"Antuon. The town that was attacked. We're going straight to the source, to rip this weed out by the roots before it can grow too large. Hopefully we'll be able to figure out what's going on, before it's too late."
"You really think we can solve this problem? Just the three of us?"
"I think so, yes," the Prince replied, "and even if we can't, we can at least find out what the problem is so the army of Gamlon can deal with it."
"The army will really deal with a little problem like this?"
"A little problem, I don't think that's quite the right phrase. If it's too big for us to deal with, it's a huge problem indeed."
"You certainly don't lack confidence."
"Isn't that one of the things you LOFTers praise me for?" he said, grinning over his shoulder jokingly. He glanced to the sunset. The sun was but a sliver on the horizon. He regained a serious expression and tone, but wasn't cold about it. "Be wary, when darkness falls, the hunters may become the hunted. Adelleh, you take the first night shift, alright?"
The moon rose. The air cooled. The previously warm and friendly atmosphere turned cold and foreboding. The stars were not glittering, rather, they were hidden by dark clouds, from which only the foggy moon peeked out, coldly bathing the world in eerie veils of shadow and lines of damp silver.
"Adelleh hear some things," the undead woman said, her eyes glowing faintly yellow, in a somewhat creepy way, under her hood. The horses shook their heads a bit in their sleep, rustling their bridles against the trees they were tied to.
"Mm, wha…?" Tavor mumbled, half asleep. He opened his eyes. He became alert fairly quickly, and soon realized what Adelleh was talking about. He moved over to where Allissya was sleeping and shook her shoulder.
"Wake up," he whispered, putting a hand on his sword hilt.
"What..?" she said, sitting up and blinking slowly.
"Shhh!" He looked around. "Hoofbeats, or something like hoofbeats," he whispered, looking around, "there!" The Prince pointed into the darkness. A few spots of faint green light were moving around in the darkness. They stayed close together and moved in a rather circular way, but as a whole they moved forward at a rather high speed. Fortunately, the eerie lights were not coming any closer. Tavor thought he saw a dark shape moving with them but he couldn't tell.
Allissya coughed weakly. The lights stopped moving. The girl gasped a bit and put a hand on Tavor's shoulder. The Prince froze, hardly daring to breathe. Very, very quietly, he whispered, "Don't… move…"
They remained perfectly still, perfectly silent. The lights continued moving, the sound of clopping hooves continued. The lights flickered and slowly faded into the fog. Neither elf got a wink of sleep for the rest of the night.
When a sliver of sunlight peeked out over the mountains, Tavor let out a sigh of relief. He slumped against the tree he'd been leaning on, shut his eyes, and relaxed for a few minutes. Morning had come at last. They were safe.
He suddenly opened his eyes, looking perfectly serious. "Allissya, are you awake?"
"Didn't sleep at all since those strange lights came. Too spooked. Were you scared, Tavor?"
"I'll admit it: I was terrified. The trick though, is to not let your fear get to you."
She nodded. Somehow she'd expected him to say something like that. He stood up.
"I'm going to go investigate where those lights were last night. Something evil is out here, something unnatural. The attack on the town… whatever it was, it wasn't a bandit, that's for sure." Tavor picked up his helmet and put it on, then stood. Allissya also got up and followed him. Adelleh stayed put, playing with a passing beetle.
The elves knelt where the green lights had been. Tavor put his hand to a print in the ground. "Cloven hooves. Just like the tracks by my home… Green lights and cloven hooves. It doesn't make any sense! What animal has hooves like a deer, the size of a horse, and has glowing green spots that move?" He stood and looked in the direction the tracks were headed. "We have to follow it. There's no other way to find out what it is."
"Why didn't you try to find out last night, when it was there?"
"To do so would have been suicide," the Prince pointed out, "The animal is obviously nocturnal, as well as supernatural. Had I confronted it there, in its natural surroundings – the night – I would have gotten us both killed."
Allissya nodded and looked at the tracks. "Tavor… the leaves are burnt."
"Look at the fallen leaves in the hoofprints. They're burnt."
"This just keeps getting stranger! What could it possibly be?" Tavor asked in obvious bewilderment, "The more I learn, the more confused I get!"
"Let's go back to the horses. Mount up and follow the tracks…"
They untied the horses and climbed atop the creatures.
"Adelleh, come on."
"It's actually quite beautiful out this morning," Allissya said, as they galloped through the edge of the slightly foggy forest lit with dawn light, Tavor leading them along the tracks. Suddenly he pulled his horse to a halt. "What's wrong?" the girl asked.
"They… stopped. The tracks just stop here… as though the creature vanished into thin air…"
"Maybe only for to exist at the nights?" Adelleh suggested.
"I doubt it only exists at night, Adelleh. But, I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case. It's strange enough as it is, existing only after nightfall wouldn't really be much more impressive."
Adelleh was too distracted by a passing butterfly to pay any attention to her dark-haired elven friend. "Oooh, butterfly!"
Tavor sighed and put his hand on his face. Suddenly he jerked his head up, muscles tense, glancing around. The sounds of animal feet thumping against the ground came steadily closer. They were still distant when the elf noticed them. He raised his hand to silence his friends.
"Draktors?" he whispered. Draktors were exotic beasts sometimes used by the Vulii as mounts, resembling dragons but bipedal and wiry, creatures that we might say bear a resemblance to raptors with small wings, fin-like ears, and small horns on the back of the head. An arrow struck him a glancing blow across the shoulder; he spun around. "It's an ambush! Vulii bandits!"
He caught sight of three of them on their vicious steeds. He leapt from his horse, ordering his allies to do the same: "No man or woman on horseback can ever win a fight with a man mounted on a draktor! Fight on foot, it's our only hope!"
Adelleh finally proved that she actually could carry her weight in battle, striking the Vulii who came near her with a mace or her bony claws, babbling gibberish the whole time. Tavor fought skillfully, but Allissya wasn't doing so well. She was untrained in combat and was barely able to defend herself against the swinging blades, gnashing teeth, and gut-ripping talons. The Prince glanced to his side and saw the trouble she was in, but was unable to aid her; a draktor had him cornered. The agile beast had lost its rider already, but it was thirsting for elven blood, just as it had been trained by both its instincts and the evil race that rode it. Allissya fell to the ground, crying out for help. Tavor glanced back and forth between her and the draktor. Suddenly an idea dawned on him. He stopped fending off the creature's blows, took a talon slash to the side of the face, and just as the monster lunged at his throat he thrust his sword into the roof of its mouth. He ripped the blade out as the reptile dropped to the floor, charged at the man who was raising his sword to end the life of the now disarmed lady on the ground, and with a shout of defiance, slammed his sword into the bandit's gut. He looked around at the six corpses on the ground and sheathed his sword. He wiped the blood – Vulii, draktor, and his own – from his face.
"I should have realized from the start that you'd be a horrible fighter," he said, with a touch of bitterness, looking sideways at the sulking girl, then added in a more friendly and apologetic tone, "no offense meant, of course. I just should have made the connection. You're a woman, and you've never been on an adventure, so of course you wouldn't know how to fight. It wouldn't – and shouldn't – be expected of you. I should have thought of that sooner so I could have trained you. Looks like we'll have to get started on that, I guess."
The Prince easily parried the girl's blow and disarmed her with a flick of his blade. "Better, but you're still no warrior. You're holding the sword wrong," he said, kneeling to pick up her sword, then handing it to her, "It's not a knife, you hold it differently. You want to put your fingers around it like this, but don't try to strangle it," he explained, gently correcting her grip on the sword's hilt. "Try again now."
Allissya made a stabbing motion toward Tavor's side, but he blocked her. He raised his eyebrows, smiling and encouraging her, "Good, good! A bit of confidence there, and agility. You'll need both. Well done, coming at my weak side like that. You have a knack for finding my weak spots, you know that? But I'm a trained warrior; I know my weak points too, and how to defend them," he said with a wink, "so don't worry about it if you can't beat me. You're doing very well for a beginner! And besides, Vulii bandits are not Tavor: even if you never defeat me, you should be more than a match for them, with a bit of training." He grinned jokingly at her. He took his helmet off. "Come on. That's enough for today. Let's set up a fire. I'll keep it burning all night. We'll be safer if we have light."
"Tavor, you didn't sleep at all last night. You even look tired. You've got dark shadows under your eyes. Let Adelleh keep the fire."
"No, she took her shift last night. I know she doesn't have to sleep, being dead and everything, but it isn't right to make her keep watch all night for as long as we're out here."
"You can take night watch tomorrow. Get some sleep tonight," Allissya begged. Though she was now his friend, at heart she was still a bit of a fangirl. Either way, she cared deeply about him, for such is the power of strong friendship and adoration.
"Well… If you insist. Alright. Just tonight though. Tomorrow night, I take the night watch," he said with a smile, nodding.
That night, as the young Prince lay with his head against a log, he struggled to stay awake, in case there was something in the forest threatening his friends. It was difficult to stay awake, with the warmth and soothing light of the fire by his side, the stars glittering above, and the still, cool night air. He remembered what Allissya had said to him, though, and thought to himself, 'You know, it can't hurt. Why not? I could use some sleep'. He smiled, shut his eyes, and quickly fell asleep. It was the first good rest he'd had in several days, much needed, and much deserved.
The day passed with little traveling, and much training. The girl's skill with a sword improved greatly throughout the day, and the priestess had time to goof off.
"If we're going to be chasing this thing, we want to be able to fight. Training is our first priority right now," Tavor had explained. Now, as night fell, he stood watch. Adelleh, finally free to do what she wished at night, attempted to climb a few trees, unsuccessfully. As long as she was quiet about it, the elves did not mind her antics. Tavor dutifully watched the horizon, scanning the forest for any suspicious movement, leaning against a tree, his arms folded over his chest, helmet hanging on a tree branch next to him so it was there if he needed it. He suddenly squinted into the darkness. The spooky green lights were back, as were the faint sounds of hooves. Tavor motioned for Adelleh to freeze and she obeyed. He put his helmet on, silently walked over to Allissya, shook her shoulder, and whispered to her.
"Allissya! Wake up… the lights are back."
Her eyes fluttered open as she sat up, and looked around warily. The Prince pointed into the darkness. He continued, his voice a low whisper, "I'm going to try to go closer. We need to figure out what that is. If I'm not back in ten minutes, run awa-"
"Oh no you don't," she interrupted, not taking her eyes off the lights, "I'm going to follow you."
"… Alright, but stay behind me and be silent!"
The two elves stalked silently through the forest, stepping very carefully through the foggy night. The slightest rustle of leaves, the smallest crack of a twig, could give them away and cost them their lives. Every single motion meant the difference between life and death. The closer they got to the lights, the more they could see of whatever was glowing as it moved slowly through the dark mist, the faster their hearts beat. They hid behind a tree. The elves leaned out a bit from behind their hiding place, straining to see what creature had been haunting them. It was a horrific sight.
A semi-skeletal, ghostly horse with a bloody hole in the middle of its forehead was wandering slowly through the hazy forest, a rider on its back. The lights were coming from the cloven hooves, which seemed to be the only part of the creature with any real, tangible substance, though a ghostly, flickering, green flame glowed dimly around each one. Tavor's eyes were drawn to the gaping hole in the skull that slowly oozed blood. In life, this creature had been no horse. Then, his gaze wandered to the rider, an elf of mist and haze, dressed in tattered, bloody clothes. The hands that held the reins of the zombified unicorn were covered in blood. The eyes of the spirit elf faintly glowed with the same evil green fire as the hooves of his gruesome steed.
The Prince turned away, flattening himself against the tree, his eyes wide, his face pale. Thoughts frantically raced through his mind. 'Oh my Gods… The legend was true. My story was closer to reality than I thought! How is this possible? Why did it only appear just recently? Will I ever go home alive? What about Leena?'
He motioned for Allissya to follow him. She, too, had a look of absolute horror on her face. He took her by the hand and led her away from the ghostly Highwayman as quickly as he could without making a sound.
Allissya tripped and fell to the ground with a thud. Both elves gasped. Tavor pulled his friend back to her feet as the Highwayman and his hideous mount saw them.
"Run for it!" the Prince commanded, breaking into a full retreat at top speed, Allissya close behind him. She let out a weak cough but ignored the burning in her lungs and kept chasing after her friend.
"Adelleh, get on your horse now!" the dark-haired elf yelled as he approached the camp. The undead monster chasing them was gaining quickly with unnatural speed. The elves leapt over a fallen log, rushed to their horses, and with shaking hands quickly untied them and jumped hurriedly onto their backs. Immediately they snapped the reins and urged their mounts into a top-speed gallop away from the camp. They were quickly out of the forest and on the open plains, cold, foggy air whipping through their hair and their horses' manes, snapping Tavor's cape about violently. They raced along in the light of the cold moon. The Prince turned to look at their pursuer.
"What? This isn't possible! These are the best horses in all of Gamlon, at top speed, and he's still gaining on us?" He urged his horse to go faster, but the stallion was giving it all he had.
They skidded to a halt at the edge of a cliff.
"Oh my Gods…" Tavor whispered, looking at the sheer drop in front of him. A golden light suddenly whirled around his horse, then his allies', one at a time.
"For to jump now!" Adelleh urged, trying to get her horse to go off the cliff.
"What? We can't jump off! That's suicide!"
"For to jump now!" the priestess repeated urgently. Tavor glanced over his shoulder at the Highwayman that was nearly upon them.
"Spell only for to last so long," his undead ally explained hurriedly, before finally forcing her horse to jump. Tavor looked behind him, then understood what Adelleh was trying to tell him.
"Jump!" he yelled, snapping his reins and digging his heels into the horse's side. It reared, whinnied, and jumped forward, off the cliff, followed quickly by Allissya on her mare.
They floated! They fell slowly through the air, a relief to the elves, expected by the priestess, and quite a frightening experience for the horses. Adelleh had cast a slow fall spell! The priestess turned, stuck her tongue out, and waved at the Highwayman who stood dumbfounded at the edge of the cliff.
"Yes!" Tavor yelled, a feeling of victory surging through him, "Way to go, Adelleh!" He raised a fist in the air and cheered.
"I thought she was insane? That was a pretty smart move," Allissya said.
"She is insane! That doesn't mean she's stupid," Tavor said, with a grin. He looked around him at the land below bathed in moonlight. "This is the most amazing thing I've ever seen or done! For all intents and purposes, we're flying!" Suddenly the cold and frightening night seemed a lot more inviting and beautiful as they glided down on invisible wings. At last they landed, far, far away from the cliff and the Highwayman.
"That was incredible!" the red-haired elf exclaimed, looking around with a huge grin on her face.
Tavor suddenly looked serious. "Except that I no longer have any idea where we are…" He shook his head. "Come on, let's go. I'm not sure where I'm taking us, but farther away from the Highwayman can't be anything but good," he said, lightly tugging his reins, beginning to head away from the cliff, toward a distant hill. His friends obediently followed. Tavor had an air of command about him that they respected, even when he didn't have a clue where he was going.
"How far are we going, Tavor?" Allissya said, speeding up to ride by his side, turning to look at him curiously.
"We'll stop at that hill. By that time we'll be far enough away from him, I think," he replied with confidence, looking straight ahead and holding himself with dignity, even after the hellish situation they'd just been in.
"But how will we get back to Gamlon? When will we go back to Gamlon?"
"We'll head back as soon as possible. I admit it; I underestimated our foe by a long shot. Father will know what to do, though. And don't worry about getting home. I'll deal with that tomorrow."
They reached the top of the hill and halted their tired mounts. They dismounted and the horses lay down in the cool grass.
"Adelleh… Good job up there. Thank you," Tavor said, turning to his undead friend, who had a huge grin on her face.
"Not problems, Tavvy!" she replied.
Allissya snickered, lying down on the grass. "Heh, Tavvy. Can I call you that too, Tavvy?"
"Aww," she said in obviously fake disappointment.
Both elves laughed. Tavor stood watch for a while, before handing the shift over to Adelleh and lying down to get some sleep. He smiled a bit in his sleep. His dreams were of sweet memories and of a childhood friendship renewed.
Allissya woke. The wind was blowing very gently through the grass and the small flowers that dotted the field. The sky was pink and gold with the rising sun sitting on the horizon. She sat up and looked around. The horses were grazing, Adelleh was chasing a butterfly. Tavor was standing at the very top of the hill, looking toward the rising sun, cape rustling lightly in the breeze, arms folded over his chest. The girl smiled at him. It was no wonder LOFT existed. She stood, walked over beside him and stared in the same direction as the Prince.
"Today we head back to Gamlon, right?" she asked.
"Of course," he replied, "and if you're ready now, we can get moving immediately. I already had breakfast so…"
She nodded. "Mmhm. I'm not hungry this morning."
"Then let's go," Tavor said, then raised his voice and called for Adelleh, as he walked over to the grazing horses and mounted his white stallion, hanging his helmet from part of the saddle rather than wearing it. He looked around a bit.
"Gamlon is that way," he said, starting off in the indicated direction.
"Tavor?" Allissya asked, climbing atop the chestnut mare and following him. Adelleh tagged along behind silently.
"Yes?" the Prince answered.
"How do you know the way? I thought you didn't know where we were."
"I don't know where we are," he said, smiling at her over his shoulder, "but I have a sixth sense. An internal compass of sorts, I guess. It always points to Gamlon. No matter where in the world I am, I always know the way to Gamlon, even when I don't know where I am. Always. I can feel it in my bones like some ancient and deep rooted instinct."
Allissya nodded and looked at him in admiration. After a moment she said, "Want to speed up? Just for the fun of it?"
"Alright," he replied with a smile, bringing his horse to a semi-slow and graceful canter. Together, the three of them rode across the stunning fields as the golden light of the rising sun shone on them. They were all glad to be alive, and glad to be in the company of such beloved friends. Tavor led a path as straight as an arrow, for he did indeed have a sixth sense. He knew not how far he would have to lead his allies, or what obstacles might block their path, but knew in his heart which way he had to go.
They crested the top of the hill. Allissya rode ahead to see from the top of it. She froze.
"Oh… Tavor…." She whispered.
"What? What is it?" he asked, a sinking feeling somewhere deep within. He rode up to the top of the hill. As soon as he could see over, his jaw dropped.
"Oh my Gods…"
"You say you know where you're going…?"
"I never said I knew what would bar our path… only the direction we had to move in…"
The two elves and their undead companion simply stood there on their horses. In front of them was something Tavor could not have possibly imagined would block their path. For there, just down the slope, was a small sea.
"We're going to have to sail across," Allissya said.
Tavor frowned. "Perhaps we could go…" he looked around. The water stretched on forever both ways. He sighed. "You're right. We'll have to sail across. We must have taken a long route before, and we can't go back now…" He looked along the shore. "There, a port. We'll catch a boat and sail to the other side."
They rode to the port town and asked around about the first boat to the other side. They were eventually directed to Captain Alwarria, an unusual dark elf with green hair rather than white. Her ship was a large one, with blood red sails. They spoke to the Captain about boarding her ship and she gladly let them aboard.
"I've heard a great deal about you, Prince Tavor! You are very welcome on my ship."
"Uh, yeah… thanks…" Tavor said, and muttered something about hating sailing.
"Are you a pirate?" Allissya asked. It was a reasonable question. Captain Alwarria was dressed in a simple white shirt, red pants, black boots up to her knees, a short red cape, and a red hat with a skull and crossbones on it. There was a cutlass at her side.
"Well, yes. I suppose you could say I'm a pirate," the dark elf replied, "but I only steal from the Vulii. You are my allies and I wouldn't think of turning on you!"
"Good to hear…" Tavor muttered as they set sail.
Allissya giggled. "You're looking a bit green around the gills there, Tavor!"
The Prince did indeed look a bit ill, if not downright seasick.
"Uh, yeah…" he muttered, staying as close to the center of the boat as he could.
Alwarria stared out to sea. "I should have known better than to try to sail today…"
"What?" the red-haired elf asked.
"Red sky in morning, Sailor's warning. The sea's getting choppy…"
"Oh, lovely…" the Prince whimpered.
It didn't take long for the choppy waves to become a full blown storm. Tavor, for once, looked truly frightened. A huge wave crashed over the deck; Alwarria braced herself against the water.
"Oh my Gods," the dark-haired elf muttered under his breath. The boat was tilted sideways as another wave hit it. The Prince slid to one side of the boat. He clung to the rail of the ship, completely soaked. Another wave hit the boat; he and Allissya were both flung into the water. The girl immediately started swimming toward the boat, despite the waves battering her. She noticed suddenly that Tavor was not following her. He was desperately attempting to tread water, a look of absolute terror in his eyes!
"Help!" he yelled, coughing, "I ca-" He was cut off as a wave went over his head. He burst out of the water again a moment later, splashing wildly. "I can't swim!"
Tavor went under the water with a strangled cry for help. In the swirling water around him, he frantically scrambled in an attempt to get back to the surface. He was too panicked to move in a controlled manner, and only sunk farther into the sea. He was running out of air, and getting farther from the surface.
"Tavor?" Allissya yelled. He did not come back up. Adelleh came to the edge of the ship that was rocking in the stormy sea, tossing a rope over the edge. The red-haired elf grabbed one end but did not climb. Instead she dove! Through the swirl of confusion, she saw a knight limply hanging in the water, sinking toward the bottom. She swam faster toward the unconscious Prince, driving herself against the rough currents of the angry sea. She grabbed Tavor by the arm and pulled him to the surface. She tied the rope around her waist, put her arms around her limp friend, and called up to Adelleh. The priestess and the pirate pulled on the rope, lifting the two soaked elves out of the sea, even as the occasional wave burst over the edge of the boat. Allissya lay Tavor on the deck of the ship and untied the rope from her waist. She started pushing on the unconscious Prince's chest, trying to get him to start breathing again.
"Come on, Tavor! After all you've been through you can't possibly let a mere ocean take you from Gamlon! Come on, breathe, Tavor, breathe!"
His eyes snapped open and he coughed up seawater, gasping for air. He lifted himself up onto his arms, lower body still lying on the deck, eyes wide as he panted, slipping into occasional coughing fits. The boat was still rolling wildly on the sea. The Captain and her crew were back to trying to keep the ship afloat. Allissya gave a small shriek as another large wave flew over the edge of the boat and crashed over their heads. She and Adelleh grabbed Tavor's arms and pulled him to his feet. The three of them ran as fast as they could in their condition to a door, rushing below deck where they couldn't be swept back into the foaming sea. They entered the first room they saw. Tavor collapsed onto the bed, panting, still coughing a bit of seawater up.
"Are you alright?" Allissya asked.
"For someone who nearly drowned, yeah, I'm pretty good," the Prince replied. They could feel the boat rocking and it was making Tavor sick, not so much physically as mentally.
"Tavor, why didn't you tell us you couldn't swim?" Allissya asked in disbelief.
Tavor turned slightly red. "Well, I didn't think it would be stormy and I thought I'd be safe on the boat! I didn't see any reason to tell you I couldn't swim, because, quite frankly, it's embarrassing! 'Hi, I'm the Prince of Gamlon, I'm a knight on a quest to save my kingdom from an unspeakably evil ghost, I'm well loved back home to the point of having a small fanclub, and by the way, I never learned how to swim!' It's just awkward to admit it," he said, blushing.
"Why Tavvy not can swim?" Adelleh asked, obviously not caring that she was soaked quite literally to the bone.
"Well… If you haven't noticed," the Prince replied, attempting to maintain his dignity despite the ridiculous situation and the fact that he was absolutely drenched, "there are no very large bodies of water close to Gamlon, this sea being probably the closest. I never really had a reason to learn to swim… But it's still embarrassing that I didn't!"
"If you'd just told us," Allissya said, quite gently and in an understanding tone, "we would have gladly ridden the long way around, even if it would take several days longer."
"Like I said, I saw no reason to admit to it… Besides, I felt I needed to face my fear. I'm terrified of sailing. I didn't know it would almost kill me," Tavor said, no longer blushing.
"That was very brave of you to want to face your fear, but it was an entirely rational fear and I understand completely."
"Well, what's done is done. We're already at sea. We're going to complete the voyage. Just don't expect me to come out above the deck until we're docked…"
"I don't blame you!" Allissya said with a laugh. The semi-violent rocking of the ship had calmed, unnoticed by the trio. The boat sailed onward through the now-calm sea as though nothing had happened.
They sailed for a few days, Tavor not coming above deck even once for the rest of the voyage. He remained stubbornly in the cabin the entire time.
"My King," a knight said, kneeling before the wise ruler, "there have been reports of scattered bands of Vulii."
"Hm…" the King muttered, deep in thought, "so perhaps they did attack Antuon. Any word from or sign of my son?"
"No, your Highness, no signs of Prince Tavor or his friend. Last we heard they were riding away from Gamlon."
Tavor's father nodded solemnly and dismissed the knight.
Allissya opened the door. "Tavor, we just docked. You can come out now."
"Oh, hallelujah!" the Prince exclaimed, and he left the boat as quickly as he physically could. His female companions laughed a bit at his hasty retreat as they guided the horses down from the ship and into the town. They mounted their trusted steeds and prepared to continue their journey, but froze at an unmistakable squeal. The LOFT members were at it again.
"The farther I go from Gamlon," Tavor calmly observed, "the more obsessive they get." He signed autographs for the girls who'd rushed up to see him. After it was all over with, he tried to gently explain to them that he had to leave on a very important mission. They were not happy to let him go. With a chuckle and a sigh, he turned his horse toward home, and continued riding along toward the edge of town.
"You never question them," Allissya laughed.
"Do not question the fangirl," Tavor stated wisely, "for the more you learn, the less you understand. They're like Adelleh in that sense, I suppose."
"Adelleh for to wants cookie!" the priestess said enthusiastically, grinning at the elves, who both started laughing.
"Point proven," the Prince said, smiling. The smile vanished as he saw a wanted poster. He halted his horse and examined the poster. "Vulii," he muttered, "more bandits?"
"Only a few, according to the poster," Allissya pointed out, "I doubt there were enough to have been the ones to attack Antuon. I'm sure it was the ghost, Tavor, I'm sure of it."
"I am of a similar opinion," Tavor said under his breath, "but I'm beginning to question what I thought I knew…"
"Well, at any rate," the girl replied, "with all you've taught me, and all we've been through, the three of us, mere bandits can't stand in our way."
Tavor nodded. He tugged his reins and they were off again, talking idly about what had become of the knight's helmet, which had mysteriously vanished while on the ship. As they left town and followed the road through the forest, in the direction that the Prince swore Gamlon was in, they were blissfully unaware of the sound of hooves and reptilian feet.
"There he is. Gamlon will surely surrender if we hold their next ruler captive," the Vulii elf said to his ally, "Imagine the riches we could get our hands on, from their ransom money, and the reward from our own land for causing the surrender of those wretched, stubborn elves."
An arrow struck Tavor's stallion. It reared; the young Prince fell to the ground. More Vulii projectiles whizzed through the air, spooking the horses. Adelleh was struck but it didn't seem to cause her any pain. Allissya leapt down from the panicked mare, sword drawn. Tavor was back on his feet, glaring around him, sword in hand.
"Come out and fight like men, you cowards!" he challenged. He looked to his side where the undead priestess was fighting with a Vulii bandit who'd fallen from the tree. Their cover broken, the evil elves made themselves visible. There were only a few, but against three lone warriors of Gamlon (of which only one had been trained for combat properly), they were still a formidable force. They formed a circle around them, some with arrows at the ready, others with swords, two on horseback, one on a draktor, the rest on foot. Tavor and Allissya were back to back, semi-crouched, glaring around defiantly.
"Give us your gold, come quietly, and we won't harm you – much!" the draktor-mounted Vulii said.
"You'll never take us alive!" Tavor growled. An arrow flew past his neck, barely missing his throat.
"Oh, but we will."
The Prince grinned nastily. "If you need us alive so badly, your threats are meaningless, because you couldn't kill us anyway," he pointed out cleverly.
The Vulii were silent for a moment. They had not expected that. One on horseback turned to the apparent leader. "We don't have to keep them alive, do we? We could just tell the people of Gamlon they are and they'll pay the ransom money anyway! And then we'll kill them. The people, I mean."
"You are despicable," Tavor snarled through gritted teeth. He dully noticed that Adelleh was missing. He resisted the urge to grin when he realized that they had one more trick up their sleeve. This trick was hiding in the trees.
"Surrender, Prince," the Vulii leader ordered, pointing his sword at Tavor.
"I do not understand what you mean by 'surrender'," he said with a sarcastic grin, "please define it?"
"Tavor, don't push your luck!" Allissya whispered.
And then Adelleh jumped down on the bandit leader with a gibberish battle cry, knocking him off his draktor. The reptile raged and started moving around, snapping wildly at nothing in particular. The priestess tugged at the reins, violently forcing the creature every which way. The Vulii scattered.
"For Gamlon!" Tavor yelled, charging at the routed bandits, striking courage into the heart of his friend. She too joined the fray, fighting with more skill than ever before. There was chaos all around. Some of the Vulii managed to compose themselves and counterattacked, but they quickly fell to the elven blades and traitorous lizard's jaws. The draktor flung Adelleh off its back, turning on her, blood flying off the razor-like teeth. Allissya stabbed it through the skull. Tavor had his sword against the throat of the Vulii captain.
"The tables have turned," he said, "now tell me! Tell me everything you and your band of scum have been up to! Was it you who raided Antuon?"
"I've attacked a lot of cities, and your precious Antuon was not one of them!" the bandit growled.
"Why have you grown so bold in recent times?"
The Vulii leader remained silent. Tavor pressed his sword against the evil elf's throat a little harder. "Talk!" he commanded.
"We've been forced to. Not that we dislike raiding your filthy nation. It's just that we've had more reason to do so, and more often."
"And why is that?"
"Some creature has been stealing our gold and killing our people. No doubt a dirty spy of yours."
Tavor raised an eyebrow. So the Highwayman had been attacking the Vulii as well? Wasn't an enemy of your enemy your friend? But the Vulii were enemies as well.
"No, but I think I know what you're talking about…" the Prince said, debating whether to let the elf go. He glanced at Allissya. He looked back at the bandit with slightly softened eyes, and lowered his sword. "Now go!" he yelled harshly, "Go on, get out of here, before I change my mind and kill you!"
The bandit leapt to his feet and scrambled away.
"I wonder if I'll regret that," Tavor muttered.
Adelleh seemed to finally break out of the shock she'd been in since the end of the battle as an apple fell on her head. She flailed her arms wildly and screamed, "Sky is for falling; I has no glue!"
The elves stared at her blankly for a moment, then burst into hysterical laughter. Tavor was laughing so hard he had to lean against a tree to keep from falling over. Allissya was crying from her laughing fit. Adelleh looked at them blankly.
"Ah, Adelleh. Able to make even the most serious situation ridiculously funny," the Prince said, pulling himself together. He shook his head and grinned.
"My King… another town has been attacked, a closer one than Antuon, in the middle of the night. Many people were robbed and killed, and several buildings were burnt. There is still no sign of the Prince, Sire…"
"This is all very troubling indeed…"
Dusk was setting in as Tavor and his allies approached home.
"What's the matter with you? You seem troubled," Allissya said.
"We haven't seen the Highwayman for quite some time," the dark-haired Prince muttered, thoughtfully.
"Isn't that a good thing?"
"Not necessarily so… If there's a viper in the camp, I'd like to be able to see it…"
The girl nodded, accepting his reply without a word. They came to a town, or the smoldering ruins of one. Many of the buildings were charred and partially destroyed; the townspeople were in shock and grief. Coffins were being closed, graves dug.
"What happened here?" Tavor cried out in shock.
"The middle of the night, something came. Nobody saw what it was. It was horrible, Prince, it was horrible!" an elderly man wailed, "Fire and blood everywhere! It was all so sudden too! Help us, Prince Tavor!"
He simply sat there on his horse, dumbstruck. Finally he nodded. "I think I know what it was…" he said, turning to his friends, "This is what I was talking about when I said that I didn't like how we hadn't been running into him."
"Who is 'he'?" the man asked.
"It's a very, very long story, but rest assured: Gamlon will strike quickly and powerfully; your people will be avenged and the threat dealt with," Tavor stated with confidence. He turned to his friends and whispered under his breath, "somehow."
"Come on, we're very close now. Let's hurry to get back," Allissya said. The Prince nodded at her. They tugged their reins and galloped along the road to Gamlon, a grave aura about them, with even Adelleh looking somewhat solemn.
Their grim disposition put off most of the fangirls who would have otherwise rushed up to see Tavor, who was heading toward the castle with single-minded focus. He and his friends arrived at the stable, put their weary horses inside, and entered the castle.
"Father, I've returned," the Prince called.
"Tavor, good to see you're back, my son," the King said, his heart lifted for a moment, "What news have you?"
The young elves just looked at each other, wondering if their ruler would take them seriously. It was, after all, a rather implausible tale.
"Well… Father, we did discover who was responsible for all of this. The Vulii are more active than usual, yes, but they are not the root of the problem… The story I was telling to Leena before I left was based on a legend I heard somewhere… and the legend is true, it seems," Tavor said.
"So there is a Highwayman?" a child's voice whimpered. The Prince looked down; his sister was tugging on his cape. She looked quite frightened.
"Uh… well," he said, not too comfortable telling his father the grave news in front of the Princess. He swallowed and looked up at the King. "Y-yes. A ghost that – apparently – only exists at night. He rides a gruesome undead unicorn with no horn, with flaming hooves and empty eyes. And he's coming closer to Gamlon. He's the one who attacked Antuon. And he attacked Keramor recently. We need to find some way to destroy the ghost! Allissya, Adelleh, and I… we weren't able to fight back. He chased us for a long time. He's also been attacking the Vulii, causing them to increase the number of raids against us," Tavor continued, quite seriously.
"And night is almost here," Allissya added, "My King, we could fall under attack very soon!"
"If this Highwayman is a ghost, our corporeal weapons will do no good. I will send a messenger to gather the mages of Gamlon. They may not arrive for several days, however. Tavor, if you truly think we'll be under attack, stay with your sister at all times," the King commanded.
"Of course, Father," the young Prince replied with a nod. He turned to his sister. "Don't be afraid, Leena. I'm going to protect you."
"Tavor," Allissya said, "should we go to the tunnels? It seems like it would be a good place to hide! With you with us down there, we'd be practically invincible! Nobody knows the tunnels like you do! We could have a whole army chasing us and they couldn't catch you down there!"
The Prince nodded. "Get some food and water. We're going to be staying in the tunnels for a few days, in all likelihood," he told his redhead friend. He picked his little sister up, putting the side of his cape around her so he could have one hand free to use his sword if he needed it. She hugged him tightly. As long as she was with him, especially in the tunnels, she felt safe. In her mind, Tavor was more than a Prince, more than a skilled warrior. In her mind, he was the essence of heroism itself. But more importantly… he was her big brother.
The dark-haired knight led the way to the tunnels after his friend returned. "You know," he said to Allissya, "I feel sort of guilty… I won't be able to fight against the ghost himself. I feel as though I personally should be on the hilt end of the sword of Justice… But that is not my job," he said, looking down at his sister as they walked through the maze of twisty passages, "my job is to protect Leena. And I'm perfectly happy with that job, because in the end, that's what matters. The mages can handle the ghost. But only I am worthy of protecting the most wonderful little Princess in the world." He smiled and his sister laughed. He turned back to his friends, still smiling. "You know, I always loved ghost stories. I never knew I'd be in one." He laughed a bit, leading them past the water-filled tunnel.
"For to wait," Adelleh said suddenly.
"Hm?" the elves replied, eyebrows raised. Adelleh pointed into the water passage.
"Wait… Is she saying… you've never looked at what's in there!" Allissya said.
"Of course not!" Tavor said, "You know I can't swim!" He blushed faintly for a moment. It was always an embarrassing topic. "What difference would it make anyway? It's probably empty."
"Probably," the red-haired elf pointed out, "but there could be something interesting in there. It could be an exit-entrance tunnel – and you know, since ghosts don't have to breathe, he could probably come in through it if that were the case…"
"So? He could go through a wall too," Tavor countered. He could feel his sister shivering. The subject he was discussing with Allissya was a rather frightening one.
"It could also hold items, unlikely I know, but possible."
"Fine. How do you suggest we search it? I can't swim, and besides, we don't know how long it is. Imagine you swim down there, only to discover that when you need air, there is none to be found. You'd drown."
"I would, yes. Adelleh though, she doesn't need to breathe!"
Tavor nodded. "Alright then. Adelleh, go down there, find out where the tunnel goes. If there are any objects inside, bring them out."
The priestess nodded enthusiastically and dove into the water.
Tavor suddenly looked around rather jerkily, very alert. "Shhh, do you hear that?"
"No, I don- oh my gods…" Allissya said, "hooves! Oh no, do you think he went around them or did he-"
Tavor placed his hand over her mouth, silencing her. He looked around, listening, then motioned silently for her to follow. He moved very swiftly.
"What about Adelleh?" she whispered.
"Shhhh… She'll find us. No more talking…"
He moved around a corner, then gasped quietly, spinning back around the bend, hand over Leena's mouth to keep her from crying out. "He moved!" he mouthed silently to Allissya, "He's that way!" He jerked his head sideways at the corner he'd just attempted to turn, then continued at double-pace the way he'd come.
"How?" Allissya whispered.
"I don't know!" Tavor whispred back, "one moment he was behind us, and the next he- he must have gone through a wall!"
"Then our weapons will be useless, as I thought!"
Leena gasped and pointed. Tavor's eyes widened. He grabbed Allissya's arm and pulled her away at a full run. She looked over her shoulder. The Highwayman was right behind them! Tavor darted this way and that, through the tunnels that he knew by heart. He dove around two corners right next to each other, pressed one of the wall stones, waited a moment, glancing over his shoulder, pulled his friend and sister into the room that had opened up, and shut the wall behind him.
"A hidden door within a hidden passage?" Allissya whispered.
"It won't keep him at bay! He'll walk through it!"
"Not if he doesn't know it's there, now hush before he hears us!" Tavor hissed, putting his hand over Allissya's mouth. Leena was trembling. The Prince patted his sister lightly, trying to comfort her. The sound of hooves clopping around outside struck ice into their veins. Then, there was silence for a few minutes, but it felt like hours. Suddenly Allissya let out a scream. Tavor whipped around. The Highwayman had walked through the wall behind them.
"How did he-?" the Prince exclaimed, "Nevermind that, just run!"
"Why don't you fight him, Tavor?" Leena whimpered, clinging to her brother as he fled.
"Because I can't, Leena! My sword is useless against a ghost!" He looked over his shoulder. "My gods, what are we doing? We can't run from that zombie-corn! It outran my best stallion; how are we managing to stay ahead of it?"
"You're keeping him on his toes, Tavor, that's how! Keep darting around like that, you'll keep us alive!" Allissya said, attempting to encourage the dark-haired elf in his failing courage.
"But for how long?" the Prince said over his shoulder, panting as he suddenly darted into a side passage, "I can only keep at this for so long!"
"Keep trying, Tavor! I have faith in you! We all do!"
He nodded, still running, his confidence renewed.
The elves wove a complicated path through the corridors, their primary goal simply to keep the ghost guessing. Tavor's mind was a whirl; he was picturing the entire tunnel system, a mess of doors and halls. He was racing frantically to plot a course through them even as he ran along his path. He had a sudden stroke of genius. Up ahead there was a fork in the road, where the tunnels split like tree branches. He led his friend to it, moved as though to go to the left, then spun and ran to the right. The ghost fell for his feign, galloping down the left tunnel before turning around. It tried to cut its prey off by running through the wall, but on the other side, it came to a series of splits, with no idea where the elves had gone.
An undead figure came rushing out of a hallway to the side, nearly giving the elves a heart attack. It was not the Highwayman. It was Adelleh!
"Adelleh can has found weapons!" the priestess said proudly. Tavor grabbed her rotted wrist and dragged her along with them as they searched for a safe place to hide for a few minutes. He led them through a series of hidden doors that would be very hard to track before stopping and turning to the priestess.
"What did you find, Adelleh?" he panted.
"Adelleh can has weapons," she repeated, holding up two of the oddest weapons he'd ever seen. One was a sword with a blade shaped like frozen flames, semi-transparent. The other was a strange, crystalline bow, with transparent blades at both ends, but with no arrows. Tavor set Leena on the ground and took the bow.
"What good is a bow with no arrows?" he muttered, pulling the string back. To his amazement, an arrow – rather, a spiky bolt of energy – materialized. "Spirit weapons," he whispered. Suddenly he gasped. "Spirit weapons against a spirit! We might just have a chance now! Allissya, take the sword. Adelleh can stand back and heal us; I'll use the bow. Leena, stay behind me!"
They did not need to wait for long. The Highwayman on his ghastly steed came around a corner, eyes ablaze. He had dismounted, as the tunnel was rather low, preventing the ghost from staying atop his steed without placing his head in the ceiling and thus sacrificing his vision. It was exactly what Tavor had wanted to happen. The phantom cackled, pulling a ghostly sword out of a sheath with a horrible scraping sound. The nightmarish undead unicorn let out a hollow whinny, charging forward, master in tow, tattered cape flapping around. Allissya slashed at the beast's chest, it stepped back with a whinny. Green fire like that of its hooves rippled up over its body in a wave until it reached the hole in the forehead, where it condensed into a long spike. The unicorn attempted to use this phantom horn to impale the girl, but her training against Tavor allowed her to block the blows with the spirit sword. They slashed at one another, each occasionally hitting the other, leaving gaping slashes.
At the same time as this madness, the Highwayman was slashing at the dark-haired knight. Tavor dodged with startling agility. He glanced at the only weapon he had that might work at all against the undead monster. He lashed out with the bladed bow, hoping the scimitar-like edging would do damage. It was an awkward weapon, but miraculously, it did damage the elf's foe! The two of them circled around each other, capes accenting their every move, slashing, blocking, stabbing, dodging.
Adelleh was struggling to keep up with the healing her allies needed. Both were being wounded constantly by their grisly foes. She frantically tried to watch both of them at once, heal both of them at once, and she was beginning to fall behind. The priestess was not fast enough to effectively protect her friends!
The Highwayman ducked under Tavor's attack, bringing his sword up to stab the Prince through the throat. He was barely able to use the bow to block the sword, stopping it mere inches from his throat. The knight suddenly turned the bow, forcing his foe to drop the sword. Highwayman disarmed, Tavor used the bow shove the wraith to the ground. He raised the bow up like a sword, preparing to stab with the sword-like end. He brought it down, but before he could even know if he managed to do any damage, hooves came down on him. He fell to the ground with a thump. Opening his eyes, he saw a horrifying equine skull with a blazing phantom horn pointed right at him. Allissya slashed at the horn, cutting halfway through it and forcing the unicorn's head away from the fallen knight. Tavor jumped to his feet as the monstrous animal turned to impale the red-haired elf that had denied it its kill. He brought the side of the bow down on its shoulder. The creature threw its head back and let out a haunting scream, about to turn around and spear him, when Allissya's spirit sword slashed into the throat. Continuing the attack in one fluid motion, she brought the blade around and stabbed right into the chest of the horrific monster. It finally let out a shriek and exploded into green fire. The elves shrunk back as the blazing flames roared in front of them before dying down, leaving no trace of the animal.
"Tavor, help me!" Leena screamed. Her brother spun around. Somehow the girl had moved away from him, and the Highwayman was raising his sword to stab her. Tavor gasped.
"No!" he yelled, pulling the bowstring back. A bolt of jagged purple energy appeared. Tavor released the bow's fury; the spirit arrow flew through the air like a bolt of lightning, striking the phantom through the back, ripping clean through the chest with a flash of purple light. The ghost roared as it dissolved into purple flecks of energy before exploding.
The Prince rushed over to his sister, picked her up, and hugged her.
"Leena, are you alright?"
"You killed it, Tavor!" she said excitedly, "you killed the evil Highwayman!"
Tavor looked around, suddenly realizing the victory they'd just achieved. "So I did," he said with a grin.
"Well done, Tavor! That's my boy," the King said proudly.
"Thank you," the young Prince replied respectfully, "but I would like to make a request, Father…"
"And what is that?"
"I would like to request that Allissya be knighted. She is brave, strong, loyal… She is everything a knight should strive to be. She deserves the title."
"I'm sorry Son, that can't be done."
"Why not?" Tavor asked, blinking in surprise.
"Knighting a woman? It's never been done."
"So?" the Prince replied angrily, "you're saying that the only thing keeping her from being a knight is her gender? She'd make a better knight than some men I've known! And something as minor as gender decides what she can be? That's stupid!"
The King did not reply.
"She fights as well as many men I've seen in battle, if not better. She's honorable and brave, perhaps more-so than I! Furthermore," Tavor continued, "were it not for her, I'd be dead, several times over! She is the ideal knight, and yet, you refuse to give her the title, and because of what? The fact that she's female?"
"Well," Tavor's father muttered thoughtfully, "now that I give it some thought…"
Prince Tavor walked proudly out onto the raised platform in the middle of town, cape flowing regally behind him, newly-polished armor shining in the sunlight. The people of Gamlon were gathered around, a murmur of excitement among the crowd.
"Greetings, my people!" Tavor began, "A great threat has been extinguished in days past, an epic journey undertaken. A legend for future generations has been woven here in the Kingdom of Gamlon. The night-time raids have been mostly brought to an end. A single being of massive power was the root of this problem. It was he who burned your towns and killed your family. While none of us can bring those dead back to our world, the towns can be rebuilt, and it brings me great – if somewhat tragic – pleasure to announce that this being has been slain, his reign of fire and blood brought to a close."
A cheer erupted in the crowds. Tavor smiled and waved to silence them. "Also, I could not have done this without assistance and support from two very good friends, Adelleh the undead priestess being one of them. You are to treat her with kindness despite her form. And the other ally of mine, whom I hold very dear in my heart…" the Prince scanned the crowd, and sighting his red-haired friend among LOFT members, grinned. "Allissya Taberthii, I would like to request that you come up here, please."
A general murmur of excitement rippled through the townsfolk. All eyes were on the young elf. The masses parted to make way for her. She climbed atop the platform.
"Kneel," Tavor commanded, putting his hand on his sword hilt. Allissya knelt before her Prince.
"As your Prince," he said, to both Allissya and the crowd, "and with permission from our King, it is my pleasure to make history on this day." He placed his sword on Allissya's shoulder. "For your strength, your honor, and your courage," he said, before moving the sword to the other shoulder, "I dub thee… the first female knight of Gamlon!"
The crowd was silenced by shock for a moment.
"Rise, Lady Knight Allissya Taberthii, and be strong!" Tavor said, offering the sword to her. She stood and accepted it, her face alight with pure joy. She turned to the crowd and raised the sword triumphantly before handing it back to Tavor.
The people of Gamlon erupted into thunderous applause.