Author: LittleFireDragon PM
Sequel to Tunnels. When the magic in Gamlon goes away and a horrifying undead dragon raids a village, Tavor and friends once again set out to defend their kingdom, making a startling discovery. Pairings: None.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Suspense - Words: 15,774 - Favs: 1 - Published: 06-20-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5153268
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Beautiful music filled the castle. An elf with sleek black hair, streaked with silver, sat at a piano, hands gliding gracefully over the keys. He was completely relaxed by the music, until his semi-trance-like state was broken by a wail.
"Tavor!" came the voice of a young girl, "Luna won't play with me!"
The Prince rose one eyebrow and sighed, turning to his sister. She had a bright orange dragon about the size of a cat in her arms, holding it just below its front legs, so that everything below that point hung limply and everything above it was squished up against the poor dragon's head, its forelegs sticking straight out in front of it. The look on its face said 'Help me, Tavor! This kid is killing me!'
"Don't hold her like that, Leena! You're going to hurt her!" the young man said, standing to take the dragon from his sister. He'd bought Luna's egg as a gift for Leena on her fourth birthday, as a playmate, but really she belonged to the Prince, as he was the one who had raised her. Sometimes he even took her into battle with him, since she had the ability to drain magic and redirect it into her master, which was useful since Tavor was not a mage, and couldn't cast spells otherwise. The girl whimpered as her brother took the orange creature from her. Luna scrambled for Tavor's shoulder as soon as he laid hands on her, a priceless expression on her face, something suggesting 'Thank you, thank you, thank you, oh Gods, thank you!'
The Princess looked at her brother, who smiled down at her, and gently said, "I know you don't mean her any harm, but you have to be careful with Luna. She's fragile."
"What's fragile mean?"
"Easy to break."
"So Luna can get broken?"
Tavor sighed. Here came the chain of questions. He tried his best to answer his inquisitive sister's questions. Meanwhile, Luna slipped out of his arms and slinked away, hopping out the window and flying a little ways away. She landed in a forest and began poking around. She knew the turtles had to be around there somewhere. She'd always gotten along well with turtles, for reasons unknown. But today, there were no turtles. Instead, an elf in black and crimson robes stood nearby. He was gaunt, with shoulder-length brown hair.
"Come here, little dragon…"
Luna cocked her head, blinking her bright blue eyes at him. He knelt and held out a palm-sized bowl with dark red liquid in it, about the consistency of syrup. After a moment she trotted over to him, flicking her tail. He moved the bowl a bit closer to her; she pulled back a bit, before sniffing it. It seemed okay… She lapped up the sweet, sticky substance. When the bowl was empty, the man smiled and stood. He turned and left.
"Tavor, I think Luna's sick…" the Princess said, looking at the dragon that lay on top the piano.
"She's probably tired."
"She's been like this for a long time…"
Tavor sighed and walked over. "Hey, there, Luna," he said, scratching the dragon's head. She didn't respond, and that concerned her owner. "Hrm. Well, let's give her a day. If she's this way tomorrow, I'll see about taking her to a vet."
The following day, Luna was still slow and lethargic. Tavor mounted his favorite white stallion, with his limp dragon in one arm. He rode down the path to the town.
Some girls squealed "Oh my gosh! So cute!"
The handsome Prince briefly wondered whether they meant him or his dragon, but nodded to the girls (he couldn't wave with both hands busy). He dismounted and tied his horse to a post, carrying Luna into the veterinarian's office.
"Something wrong with the royal pet, my Prince?" The vet asked. Tavor placed Luna on the table and began to explain her strangely lackluster behavior.
"Say, magician, how about we make a deal. I'll sell it to you for half price!" the brown-haired elf in red and black said. He held up the crimson crystal. "It's just what you need! Trust me, it'll pay for itself in no time!"
The performing wizard thought for a moment, before handing the man some coins and taking the blood-red gem.
"Heh, many thanks," the scrawny elf said, taking the coins.
Tavor leaned against the wall and looked out the window, waiting for the vet to bring Luna back out. A magician was performing outside, juggling fireballs and whatnot. The Prince watched with half-interest, until something strange caught his attention. The mage's spells suddenly began to sputter out. Tavor frowned in confusion and focused his full attention on the clearly embarrassed wizard, who was no longer able to cast spells.
"That's odd… even apprentices don't run out of magic that fast, I thought… Huh."
"My Prince," said the veterinarian, "There's nothing wrong with your dragon physically. She's not ill."
"Err, no… it's worrying… you see… her magic is depleted."
"What?" Tavor turned and looked at the magician. Something was not right.
Tavor yawned and stretched. He blinked sleepily, got up, and changed into his normal clothes. He combed through his silky black hair with his fingers in a halfhearted attempt to make it look acceptable, and went down the stairs. His sister was playing a simple board game with a familiar red-haired elven woman in a blue and white dress.
"Allissya?" Tavor said, "You need to stop coming here so early."
"On the contrary," she replied, "I think it is you who must stop getting up so late!"
"Touché." He hesitated. "Allissya, some strange things have been going on…"
"No, not like that. Just… strange. I'd like to talk to you about them…"
"Because I trust you. Leena, entertain yourself for a while, okay?"
"Aww, alright…" the girl whimpered. Tavor motioned for his red haired friend to follow him. They wandered outside.
"Allissya. Have you noticed anything strange going on with the magic around you? Luna, my dragon, recently lost all her magic. And then I saw a performing wizard whose magic fizzled out in the middle of a show."
"Come to think of it, one of my friends is a mage in training, and she was complaining about how her spellcasting has become more difficult…"
A huge dark shadow passed over them, with a gust of wind. Tavor pushed his hair away from his face, looking up to the sky with an expression of shock. "What in the nine hells was that?"
"There!" Allissya cried out, pointing. A massive, white, dragonlike creature was moving swiftly toward the nearby town. Tavor was on his feet immediately. He darted into the castle, up the stairs, and into his room. He changed into his armor as swifly as he could, took up his sword and an extra, and returned to his ally. He gave her the sword and grabbed his friend's wrist and pulled her to the stables, where he mounted his stallion. Allissya hopped onto the chestnut mare next to it, and they were galloping to the village in an instant. It was already burning! A towering drakolich was terrorizing the citizens. Men were calling out for help, women were screaming, children crying! The undead dragon snapped its jaws down on a building, breaking the roof's support beams like toothpicks.
"Oh my gods!" The Prince said, eyes wide.
"Help us, Prince!" the people screamed. Tavor stood there, helpless. He had no idea how to fight a drakolich! Would his sword harm its massive bones? No, he thought, I've no time to worry about tactics! The people need me! He tugged his reins and charged toward the skeletal beast. He yelled at it, trying to get its attention off the teenage boy it was about to kill.
"Hey, here, ugly! Pick on someone of your own ability! Come and get me!" he taunted, leaping from his horse. The dragon's skull swung toward him. "Come on! Give me your best shot, brute!" He waved his arms, making as much of a fuss as he could. Cowering citizens stared at him, praying that his tactic would work, praying that he would be able to fight off this monster that was so much mightier than him.
The drakolich breathed a tongue of flame at him, which he narrowly dodged.
"Is that the best you can do?" He backed away inconspicuously, trying to keep the undead monster's attention on him and draw it away from the boy. It snapped its massive jaws at him, and he slammed his sword into the fragile bone in the roof of its mouth. It pulled back with a roar, sitting up on its hind legs, flapping the great wings which were the only parts of its body that still had flesh on them. It was furious! Tavor looked frantically for a weak spot. He knew there was no way to kill it but to break it into so many pieces that it could no longer function, and this was not an option. No, he had to strike only a few places. He could not kill it but he could force it to flee. Allissya backed him up.
"Unable to fight me alone, elf?" it hissed in a raspy, gravely, disembodied voice, "None shall stand to the might of Sephura and live! Foolish mortals, who dares defy me?"
"I, Prince Tavor of Gamlon, defy you, Sephura!" the knight retorted, making a slashing motion at her, not with the intention of actually harming her, but rather to just look defiant. That was his tactic; it was all a bluff to make him look like a formidable opponent, even though he was hardly better off than the peasants in such a fight.
"And I, Lady Knight Allissya, stand at his side!"
"Fools!" the great drakolich hissed, swiping at them with her claws. Tavor blocked the blow with his blade, slicing off one of her toes. Allissya came around from the side to attack the vulnerable wing, but the undead dragoness saw her coming! She snapped her bony tail around and sent the lady knight flying into a building. The fate of the town, and possibly of Gamlon, was in Tavor's hands. He saw his crumpled companion, and lashed out at the dragoness. Sephura was forced back. Finally, the drakolich turned and took flight. She circled over the town a few times, calling down to the Prince.
"You've not seen the last of me! My Master will prevail!"
Tavor watched as it flew away, then turned to the fallen Allissya. He knelt.
"Allissya! Are you alright?"
The girl moaned, then slowly sat up, rubbing her head. She suddenly blinked and exclaimed, "You did it! You chased it away!"
Slowly, the people were coming out and praising Tavor's bravery, especially the LOFT members, who squealed over him. He let them all praise him for a while before leaving with Allissya.
"Friend, prepare for another adventure. Get your armor. I'm going to find Adelleh."
Tavor waited, atop his stallion, with Adelleh at his side on her own black horse. Allissya returned, riding her mare, in a suit of armor and a blue cape, just like the other knights of Gamlon, except that her armor had been specially made for her more feminine form. She'd been properly trained as a warrior now, and more than just her impromptu instruction in the way of the sword with Tavor in the forest on their previous adventure. They spoke not a word to one another. They didn't need to speak. They all had the same chilling thoughts. A drakolich was terrifying indeed, but this one was merely a servant. Its master was a powerful necromancer indeed, and surely he had many more minions if he was powerful enough to control Sephura. Most disturbingly, none of them had known such a thing existed so close. Clearly, if the drakolich had just revealed herself, it was the beginning of an invasion.
After a while of riding, they began to discuss tactics.
"What are we going to do, Tavor?"
"I don't know… I was thinking we'd hunt down the drakolich and deal with her first."
"But she's probably the most powerful part of whatever force we're facing!"
"Besides her master. She's merely a pawn! Who knows what we're up against? I tell you this much, the Army of Gamlon will get involved."
"Then why don't we go after the master first?"
"Think about that, Allissya. He would still have the drakolich backing him up. Do we really want to be fighting both at once? No, we have to strike at his strongest backup, weakening his reinforcements. Then we have to strike at him, to send his lower minions into a state of disarray. Then the Army can get involved."
"Right…" Allissya nodded, then said, "Do you think the Highwayman had anything to do with this?"
"I haven't any idea, friend. I haven't any idea…"
They stopped at every town they came across, asking the citizens if they'd seen or heard of the drakolich, and where it had gone. Following the directions of each town, they tracked their undead foe. Dusk came as they wandered through a forest, toward the Misty Gorge.
"This could be a bad idea," Tavor muttered. Mild haze, in addition to fading light, made it harder to see. Strange sounds echoed around them.
"Adelleh no likeh."
"Neither do I, friend…"
At last, they came to the ravine itself. A long bridge stretched across it, none too steady. Both elves gulped nervously.
"Dismount," the Prince said, getting off his horse and leading it toward the bridge. The last sliver of sunlight vanished over the horizon, leaving the sky a thick indigo color. He walked carefully out on the precarious bridge that was no more than a series of ropes and wooden boards. Thankfully, there were no gaps in the boards, nor was there any wind to shake the terrifying path. Tavor glanced down by accident and froze in fear for a moment, before forcing himself to look up and keep going. The drop was a long one, and at the bottom was a thick fog through which the young Prince could barely see a river. He could feel his heart pounding. He glanced back over his shoulder; his friends were following him, and this gave him the slightest reassurance.
Suddenly Adelleh's horse whinnied and started moving around, shaking the bridge. Tavor clung to the rope at the side. He gasped and held his breath, frozen by terror. Allissya turned to see what had spooked the horse, and screamed. The steeds bolted and ran to the other side of the bridge, causing it to swing violently. The elves and their undead friend clung to the ropes and tried not to fall. Tavor turned his head and gasped. Things had just gotten a whole lot scarier.
Three moaning, mindless zombies were advancing from behind them. The heroes had no choice but to fight on the swinging deathtrap that was the bridge.
"Weapons at the ready!" Tavor commanded, drawing his sword. Allissya mimicked his action, and Adelleh followed with her mace. The zombies were quickly upon them. Adelleh was the first to lunge, babbling nonsense as she beat frantically at her opponent. Allissya parried her zombie's attacks with her sword, but it was moving too quickly for her to attempt any blows of her own. The leader of the zombies went straight for Tavor. Unlike its allies, it was armed with a sword of its own. It groaned as it swung the blade with surprising speed. Tavor took a step back, blocking the blow. He lunged a few times, forcing the zombie back the way it had come, before it took advantage of a pause when the Prince attempted a more powerful strike. It slammed its sword into his upper arm, but luckily his chain mail rendered the cutting edge of the weapon harmless, though the force of the blow was still powerful enough to cause him to hesitate. The zombie now had the upper hand. The bridge was swinging wildly. Tavor backed away quickly, unable to make any attacks while fending off the flurry of blows from the undead's sword. It was trying to force him sideways, to where only a rope prevented him from falling to his death. He knew he must keep the ropes to his sides at all costs. The zombie saw that it was making no progress and started angling its attacks down, until Tavor fell backwards. He attempted to scoot backwards while still parrying the sword blows, until he ended up on his back. The zombie lifted its sword. Tavor suddenly rolled forward, between the bony legs, and leapt to his feet behind it. He put his hand on the rope for a moment to steady himself, before spinning around. The zombie had also turned, but now the knight had the upper hand! He beat the ghoul back until he had a chance to grab its neck. He swung it around and threw it over the cliff. A moan echoed from the canyon, getting softer rapidly. Tavor turned. His friends were still locked in combat.
He rushed forward to aid Allissya, but she didn't need his help; she'd already sliced an arm off her foe. The zombie made feeble attempts to attack her with its remaining claw, which she dodged with able agility and impressive speed. She ducked under its second attack and cut into its stomach, all the way through. It fell into two halves. Allissya kicked them off the edge of the bridge.
Adelleh had given up on using her mace, and had put it back on her belt. She and the other zombie were crouched, going at each other with their claws. The warrior priestess caught the other zombie across the shoulder, spinning it around. She stood up to her full height as golden light swirled around her bony hands. With a gibberish battle cry, she called down a spear of radiance that impaled her foe. It disintegrated into black dust at her feet.
Tavor's heart was still pounding, but he managed to act calm and collected. "Well done… Let's go find our horses before they wander too far. And keep alert. There may be more undead around."
"Here it is. Sephura's cave…" Tavor muttered. Now that they were actually there, it dawned on him that he only had the vaguest idea of a strategy in mind, and no idea if it would work. He shook his head. He needed confidence. The Prince drew his sword and dismounted. He tied his horse to a tree and walked toward the cave. It was time to face the drakolich.
There she sat, fiery red eyes glaring out at them. "Fools!"
Tavor said nothing, he merely pointed his sword at her and gave a challenging glare. He was ready to fight.
Sephura lunged. "You'll not get the better of me this time, mortal!" She roared as her skeletal jaws clamped shut inches from the Prince's shoulder. He stabbed at her skull, but got the angle wrong. His sword slid off her snout. She turned to bite him when a blow to the shoulder blade from Allissya distracted her. She spun around, smacking Tavor with her tail in the process. He gasped for air and stood. He ran toward a wall, leapt up, and kicked off the wall, onto the drakolich's back. He began slashing at the rotted wing membrane. Sephura screamed in rage, rearing back and trying to throw the knight to the ground. She was struck in the rib cage by a spear of light from Adelleh.
"Big skelly leave Tavvy 'lone!"
The undead dragoness replied with a shriek and lunged forward, ignoring the Prince on her back. Tavor attempted to stand on her shoulders and stab her through the top of the head, but her neck was too long. Suddenly the skull whipped around to the side, and Tavor found himself looking Sephura in the eye sockets before a blast of fire hit him! He fell to the ground.
"Tavor!" Allissya screamed.
The Prince opened his eyes. Miraculously, he was unharmed! He looked at his undead ally. Light magic still swirled around her, revealing a deep power he'd never known she'd had! Adelleh was now angry, and making her angry was not an easy task. She now babbled furiously, flinging light magic this way and that, unleashing her full potential. The drakolich realized her opponents were more powerful than she had expected. Combined, the three of them were nearly a match for her. But not quite. She reared up, then lunged forward, breathing black fire at the priestess, consuming her. Adelleh gurgled something nonsensical and fell to the ground, stunned.
Tavor darted forward and tried to slam his sword up through Sephura's mouth and into her skull. Attack the skull: that was all he knew to do. It was either that or slice the body up so badly the enchantment could no longer hold it together, and his sword wouldn't do that. Sephura was too fast; she headbutted the elf, slamming him against a wall. He slumped to the ground as Adelleh had, in a daze. Allissya was the only one left standing, and now at a severe disadvantage. She had a sudden idea. She grabbed the drakolich's hind leg and hung on while the beast spun around wildly in a futile attempt to get at her. The lady elf held on with one hand while using her sword in the other to attempt to saw the limb off. It was hard, with Sephura stamping and stomping, spinning and generally moving around violently. Finally the dragoness kicked the girl off and she, too, crashed to the ground. She rubbed her head, then opened her eyes. The drakolich was coming straight at her!
A sword flew through the air and narrowly missed Sephura's head!
"Leave Allissya alone; I'm the one you want!" Tavor yelled. He was on his feet again, but now disarmed! Still, he looked heroic and defiant standing there. The drakolich turned and stalked toward him, her bones rattling against one another, her disembodied voice snarling. If she'd still had salivary glands, she would have been foaming at the mouth. Tavor suddenly realized that though he'd just saved his friend, he had no way of saving himself. He pressed himself up against a wall, grinning fearfully. He laughed nervously.
"Uh, w-wait, Sephura! Uh… Don't dragons like riddles and logic games? Uh…"
Sephura stopped and turned her head slightly sideways, as if to get a better look at the elf. "Riddles? What are you getting at, mortal?"
"Uh… a deal!" Tavor said, then suddenly speaking fluently again, though nervously, "Yes, a deal! You tell me your best riddle! Your very hardest one! If I guess correctly, you let us go. If I guess wrong, you can… you can do to me what you please, and let only my companions go." He gulped and grinned nervously, hoping against all hope the drakolich would accept his offer. There was a terrifying silence as Sephura pondered. It had been ages since a desperate would-be-dragonslayer had asked her to tell a riddle. She enjoyed watching mortals try to solve her riddles, some of which were not all that hard but quite imposing under pressure, and then killing them when they were wrong. None had asked her for a riddle since before her death. Finally, she pulled what was left of the flesh around the back of her mouth into a smirk.
"Very well then, Prince Tavor of Gamlon. Let's play a game then, shall we? I will tell you a riddle, the answer to which is a color. I will bring you six of my potions. If you come to the correct conclusion to the riddle, and drink the correct potion, it will aid you on your quest, whatever that quest may be," the drakolich said, sitting down, "and the others… will kill you!"
The Prince gulped nervously. "I agree under one condition."
"And that is?"
"Regardless of my decision or fate, my friends will be let free. I'm willing to sacrifice myself for them, and I will if I have to."
The drakolich hesitated. Finally, she spat, "Bah! Fine! Only because nobody has played a riddle game with me for centuries!"
"Let's have your riddle then, Sephura."
Sephura turned, but kept one eye on them as she retrieved six flasks, each a different color, then laid them out in front of him. "Six monster slayers lived in six houses (one red, one orange, one yellow, one green, one blue, one purple) and slew six different beasts. The slayers were an Elf, a Human, a Centaur, a Dwarf, an Undead, and a Minotaur. None lived in the same color house or slew the same monster. The monsters that were killed were a harpy, a chimera, a dragon, a werewolf, a basilisk, and a cyclops.
Only the Elf and the Centaur use bows.
None of the slayers killed a monster whose name begins with the same letter as their own race.
The dwarf hates the color blue.
The harpy was killed by an arrow.
The elf did not kill the werewolf or the basilisk
The cyclops was slain by the man who lived in the purple house.
There are hoofprints leading to the dead dragon.
The elf prefers warm colors.
The basilisk's gaze will kill any living creature that looks directly into its eyes. No mirrors were used.
The creature the centaur killed had the same number of letters in its name as his race, minus one.
The human lives in a red house.
The man who slew the basilisk lives in the orange house.
The dragonslayer does not live in a green house.
The dwarf did not kill anything whose name starts with a C.
The human slew something that went upon four legs.
What is the color of the house of the man who killed the dragon? That is the color of the potion you must take. Do not speak, only choose."
For a long time, there was silence. The undead dragoness was positively giddy at Tavor's obvious distress. He was sweating and glancing around nervously. It was all very amusing to her. Finally, he regained his composure, gulped, and selected the blue flask. Allissya held her breath as Tavor uncorked the bottle. He glanced at her, then looked straight ahead. He gulped, then drank the contents of the flask. Immediately he fell to his knees, clutching his throat and choking violently as the liquid fire raged down his throat.
"Tavor?" Allissya rushed to her friend's side. He was choking violently, eyes unfocused.
The Prince was not aware of anything around him, or that he was choking. He was falling, falling into an endless black, and then there was a burst of light. He was not himself, he was a disembodied spirit. He saw a great tower, crumbling, ancient. An elf in black and crimson robes waved a hand over a dead body. Black fog surrounded the corpse, and it rose up, newly zombified. The elf was a necromancer, and judging by his features – harsher than the elves of Gamlon – he was of the Vulii. His vision suddenly changed with another flash of light. A dark-haired knight in spiked black armor was bowing his head before this Vulii necromancer. There was an aura of evil about them both. Another flash of light; an elf, – maybe two? The number was hard to discern in the darkness – locked in a dungeon.
Then Tavor snapped back to reality. Allissya was shaking him. He gasped for air, in a cold sweat. He panted.
"What a pity," Sephura muttered, "you chose wisely. You are clever, very clever, Prince Tavor of Gamlon. I suppose I have to let you go now. What a pity. I would have enjoyed watching my poisons take effect. But a deal is a deal. Sadly."
The elves turned to each other and smiled in disbelief and relief. The friends embraced for a moment and then stood.
"Tavvy dead?" Adelleh asked, clearly completely lost.
"Nope," the Prince replied.
"Get gone, all of you," the drakolich hissed, "before I change my mind and go back on my word!"
The three heroes fled quickly. After they were done celebrating that they were still alive, Allissya turned to Tavor. "Well done, Sir Valiant Idiot."
"Alright," the Prince said, "I made a huge mistake back there. I underestimated my foe and it nearly cost me my life – and more importantly it nearly cost you your life. I… I'm sorry…" He hung his head in shame.
"It's alright, Tavor, I forgive you! I'm just glad we're all alive!"
They all mounted up and wandered some ways away to set up camp. It was already dark. Adelleh made a fire while the elves discussed the events in the cave.
"You were completely unresponsive while you were choking."
"I was choking?"
There was dead silence, before Allissya finally spoke. "You were…. Unconscious… yet not…"
"I guess so. I was having a… a… vision…"
"Yeah… It was really strange. A crumbling tower, a Vulii necromancer, and a... black-haired knight in black armor. Bowing to him. Whoever this black knight is, I think we'll be facing off against him at some point…"
"Did you see anything else?"
"An elf, maybe more than one, locked in a dungeon. Couldn't see clearly and then you pulled me out of the trance before I could make sense of it…"
"Well, Tavor? What should we do?" Allissya asked the following morning. Tavor simply stared blankly.
"I… I don't know!"
"You… don't know…?" The girl was shocked that Tavor, of all people, was clueless. Whenever she needed someone who knew what he was doing, she turned to her Prince. And now, even he didn't know what to do.
"All I can think of is to go after that necromancer in my vision… but that's out of the question," Tavor said, looking troubled. He put his face in his hands and sighed. "After what happened at Sephura's cave… I'm not sure… With the failure back there, I doubt we'll have any success against her master. If that even is her master! I… I just don't know!"
His friends were silent. They had never seen Tavor crack under the pressure of leadership.
"T-Tavor…?" the female elf said, slowly.
"Just… Just leave me be! I need some time to think!" the Prince snapped, standing, with his head angled down. He walked away without once looking either of his friends in the eye. He trudged through the forest, not lifting his head. Finally, when he felt he was far enough away, he collapsed against a tree, folded his arms on his knees, and put his head down on his arms.
"What use am I? I'm only a hazard to my friends. What kind of Prince am I?" He muttered, "And now when they need me, I let them down… What use am I?"
He felt a hand on his shoulder. The despairing Prince lifted his head; a concerned, narrow, lightly freckled face was peering back at him, framed by red hair and accented by teal eyes.
"Tavor, what's wrong? This isn't like you at all! It isn't like you to be emotional and easy to break! You're usually so strong, such a leader… This isn't like you!"
The disheartened elf did not reply for a moment. Finally he sat up into his usual, confident posture, and said, "You're right… This isn't like me at all… I… don't know what got into me… This has just put so much stress on me…"
Allissya nodded understandingly. "I can understand that. You must be under a lot of stress all the time, being the heir to the throne… It must be stressful. Everyone expects so much from you, as their Prince. And then when you can't live up to their expectations, it can be painful…"
"Yeah…" Tavor sighed.
"You don't need to worry about that with Adelleh and me. We like you for who you are. We will always like you for who you are. We won't think any less of you if you mess up a bit here and there. After all, you're only an elf…"
Tavor nodded slowly. "Thanks..." After a moment he said, "Sometimes… it all kinda… gets to me… 'See if you can talk to the Prince. He'll know what to do' at every political dilemma. All the people staring up at me expectantly on the battlefield or in the face of danger… 'Help us, Prince' after every disaster or attack. And sometimes I think… 'What if I can't?'"
"One or two mistakes or shortcomings here and there don't make you a bad leader, Tavor."
"But the thing about being the Prince is… When I screw up… I do it on a grand scale… It… It can take quite a toll on me, sometimes…" he said, his voice breaking for a split second. He blinked rapidly for a moment. Allissya knew that look. He'd emotionally weakened for a fraction of a second, and he was blinking back tears. "And I can't talk about it either… I need to appear strong to my people… That's part of why I write, to vent my feelings, because I can't talk about them."
"You can talk to me."
"… Thanks… You are a gift from the gods, Allissya. I'm glad I have a friend like you!" he said, his voice once again breaking. This time he didn't bother to blink back the tears and they welled up in his eyes. This time, they were tears of joy and thankfulness.
"You're never alone, Tavor."
He smiled at her and nodded. She hugged her best friend for a moment, and then stood. "I'm going back to camp, now. You can stay here if you like, or you can come back with me."
Tavor nodded and stood, having pulled himself together again.
"Well… I think we should start heading toward the necromancer's tower."
"Do you know where it is?"
"Vaguely," Tavor said, drawing a simple map in the dirt. He circled a tower he'd drawn. "I got a general sense of location while under the effects of the potion. Right here, is the tower. There's Sephura's lair, and here we are, at the X. It's a few days journey, even mounted. Though I didn't notice at the time, I did see many undead around the tower," he said, placing several lines representing blocks of undead defenders around the turret, "except here." The Prince pointed to a gap. "We need to travel along here, then veer off over here," the elf continued, drawing a line in the dirt from the X toward the tower, changing directions with his words, "and go around here. We can strike from over here, where there is little to no defense, but of course, we'd have to scout the area first. The key to this mission is stealth. An all out raid would be sure to fail. We need to get in with as little fuss as possible, take care of the leader – by himself, he shouldn't be much of a problem, especially if we catch him off guard – and get out again, without drawing attention. Without their leader, the undead armies will be severely weakened."
Allissya nodded. "See, didn't I tell you, you had it in you!"
Tavor smiled and nodded.
"Tavvy back to the normals!" Adelleh said gleefully.
"Tavvy wants cookie?" the undead said, pulling a cookie out of seemingly nowhere.
"How long have you had that?" The Prince exclaimed. The two elves looked at one another and started laughing hysterically.
The three heroes rode along a path for quite some time.
"Something's wrong," Tavor said, glancing around nervously. Almost as soon as he spoke, a bolt of dark magic flew past his head. The Prince swore as he tried to turn his horse back but it was too late. A wall of black fire flew up before him. His stallion reared up and whinnied, throwing its rider to the ground. Tavor was on his feet in an instant. Allissya and Adelleh joined him on the ground. The lich in gold and black robes raised its hand calmly; Allissya flew backwards and skidded along the ground. Tavor came around from the side and put his sword through the lich, but it merely turned to smoke and blew away. Tavor looked from side to side, then spun around. The lich had materialized behind him. He gasped. The lich groaned and the Prince was suddenly shackled with incorporeal purple chains. He felt his energy being drained, and then a blast of golden light erupted from the lock on his restraints. The chains fell away. Tavor's sword was up in front of him instantly. He looked the lich in the eye socket challengingly. Allissya's speech had given him confidence; he would not, could not lose! Golden fire engulfed his blade. He turned to Adelleh. She had light swirling around her again. The Prince spun around again. Allissya stood at his side, her sword also glowing. Tavor stabbed at the lich, this time inflicting a wound. A spear of light impaled the undead dark-mage, but the monster simply healed its wounds.
"My gods, it can regenerate!" the dark-haired elf cried out. He was stunned for a moment, and the lich took advantage of this. A blast of dark energy threw the knight against a tree. Black fire erupted around the undead, knocking Allissya to the ground as well. Tavor tried to stand, but his leg was injured, possibly broken. He could not get up!
"Adelleh! Give him your best shot!"
Allissya ran over to Tavor as her undead ally distracted their foe. She dragged him to the other side of the tree in a desperate attempt to get him out of harm's way. The Prince leaned out and peered around the tree, as did his friend. Adelleh was throwing spears of light, using light shields to block the darkness bolts. It was awesome to watch, the shadow and the radiance clashing there as the two undead spellcasters flung their magic around. Adelleh took a shadowbolt to the arm. Babbling furiously, she responded in kind with a double-spear attack! The flaming spears of golden luminance pinned the lich to a tree. It was unable to teleport out with light magic holding it in place. Adelleh's claws were glowing now, light swirled around them. She ran forward and, one talon at a time, swiped her dark counterpart across the chest. Her light-enforced, razor-sharp claws sliced right through the lich's dark form, cutting it into pieces. With a nonsensical cry, the priestess raised her hands into the air; a massive lance of light formed in her hands. She thrust it right through the dark-mage's skull. The lich let out a dying scream and Adelleh turned to her friends, victorious.
"My gods, Adelleh! You were awesome!" Tavor exclaimed, forgetting all about the pain in his leg.
"Adelleh is be priestess. Is for to blow up bad zombie," the undead stated, as though it should be obvious. She grinned crazily, her green goggles glinting, her greenish hair hanging in front of her face.
There was much laughter.
"Uh… could you heal my leg please?"
The three of them continued riding along the path. The sun was starting to fall low in the sky, lighting the forest up with tones of gold.
"Adelleh," Tavor said to his undead friend, who had a cookie in her mouth, "I had no idea you were so powerful!"
"Afewwa awfuf fur veen fawufoof," she said around the cookie.
"What did she say?" Allissya asked.
"Uh, she lost me at 'awfuf'."
Adelleh took the cookie out of her mouth. "Adelleh always for been powerful."
The red-haired elf turned to her royal companion. "I thought you knew all about Adelleh?"
"Well… we never really discussed her past. I never thought of it, to tell the truth," Tavor said, "Adelleh, who were you? How did you die? More importantly, why are you undead now? After what you did back there, I suddenly want to know."
"Adelleh was priestess. Old Gamlon. Long time go. Fight bad mage. Fire. Wake up."
"Oh!" Tavor exclaimed, looking at her as though in a totally new light, "You're much older than I thought! You were alive during the burning of Gamlon? That was…. Generations ago!"
"Whoa… She was around way back then? My great grandparents weren't even born yet!"
"And she died in the fire that destroyed Old Gamlon… When the Vulii warlocks attacked… Back when they had just begun to act hostilely toward Gamlon… That's… a bit chilling… I had no idea Adelleh was so ancient…"
"And she was cursed by the warlocks?"
"That's what I got from what she said… Cursed, and then burned… And that probably damaged her brain, which explains quite a bit."
"Well… I for one, have a newfound respect for our undead friend here."
"As do I… Tell me, Adelleh. What was Old Gamlon like?"
"Prettyful. Lotta fountains. Prettyful fountains."
Tavor laughed and shook his head, knowing better than to try to pry more information from her.
They camped for the night. They were near the edge of the forest. The air was faintly salty. Tavor and Allissya had their usual argument about who would take the night shift. Tavor, of course, wanted to do the noble thing and watch over his friends, but Allissya took her usual logical approach and argued that while Adelleh didn't need sleep, the young Prince did. After almost half an hour of debate, the redhead gave in. Tavor took the night shift. He kept himself awake by pulling a piece of parchment out of his horse's saddlebag, along with a quill and some ink, and he began writing a song.
When the sun is gone,
When it seems there will be no dawn,
Look into the sky where the dark begins its rule.
Life, forever cruel,
Needs our tears, its power to fuel.
Hides its truth inside, look above into the stars.
Let your heart fly free with the truth of the stars above!
Let your soul fly free with the truth.
For as long as the stars shine above in the sky,
Dawn will again come soon.
He sang his newly-written song softly under his breath. Allissya stirred quietly, then spoke, startling him.
"Your singing voice is wonderful, but your poetry sucks. And you lost the rhyme scheme about halfway through."
Tavor blinked a few times. "I thought you were asleep…"
"And yes, my poetry is horrible. There's a reason I stick to prose. When I'm making a speech I actually sound like I know what I'm talking about. And I do, most of the time."
Both elves had a good laugh.
After they had eaten, the elves tracked down their undead friend and set off on their way. Allissya noted the air getting saltier and cool breezes more common.
"We're going toward an ocean?"
"Unfortunately," Tavor sighed, "Luckily for me, we don't have to cross it."
They rode onward, eventually leaving the forest and riding along the edge, close to where dirt shifted into sand. As long as they weren't too close, Tavor didn't seem too unnerved by the water. The sun was still low in the pink and gold sky. The atmosphere was actually quite enjoyable. As the sun climbed higher in the sky, the heroes rode on in silence, until the redhead elf pointed something out.
"What's what?" Tavor asked, trying to see what she was pointing to.
"That… there… look…" Allissya stopped, dismounted, and tied up her horse.
"Allissya, we can't just go looking at every little thing we see. We're on a mission here."
"I know… but…"
Tavor sighed and tied his horse to a tree as well. He followed his friend as she wandered onto the beach. As they got closer to the mysterious object, it became clear that it was an elf-like creature. She was tall and slender. Her skin was pale azure; her hair was a deep navy blue, wavy and long, coming down to halfway down her back. She was dressed in a robe that appeared to be made of seaweed, coral, and pearls, with a matching crown. She was wearing no shoes, and walked delicately along the sand, wading a bit in the water, bending down now and then to pick up a shell.
"Hello," Allissya said softly.
The water-elf turned around with a gasp. Her eyes had no pupils, but the irises were like deep sapphires of sorrow.
"What… is she?" Tavor whispered, blinking in surprise and staring at the strange creature. He'd never seen anything like her, and was quite curious.
"She's a naiad. Haven't you ever heard of a naiad?" his red-haired companion whispered back, "Well, I guess you don't have a lot to do with the ocean, so…"
"Gee, why do you think that could be?"
The naiad looked at them both for a long time, gazing into them with her deep eyes. "What do you want?" she said in a quiet, melodious voice, darkened by pain.
"Is… something wrong?" Tavor asked, noting the tone of her voice.
"Everything is wrong…"
"What do you mean?"
"I… I shall show you, I suppose," the naiad said, turning away from them and walking delicately, somberly, down the coast. The two true elves followed her, their undead friend in tow.
"Who are you?" The Prince asked.
"I am Ahune…" was the nymph's only reply. They walked on in silence, until another blue object came into view. It was another water spirit, this one a handsome male. He was lying on the ground, his eyes closed. His beautiful blue skin was slightly shriveled. Ahune looked at him for a long time; finally a single tear fell from her cheek as she dropped to her knees. She cradled the dead water sprite in her arms.
"My Nereus… My poor Nereus…!"
Tavor, touched by the poor naiad's loss, tried to blink back the tears, but they had welled up too quickly and fell down his cheeks. Allissya had no luck stopping her own tears from flowing either. Even Adelleh sniffled.
"What happened here?" the Prince asked.
"All our magic," Ahune whispered in a broken voice, "gone… I couldn't heal him… The… The sharks got him!" She started crying uncontrollably, clutching her dead lover to her chest. The movement revealed a bloody bite in the corpse's side.
"The magic is gone?" the dark-haired elf asked. He turned to Allissya. "This doesn't sound good… It's happening to them too? I have a feeling that necromancer has something to do with it…" He'd managed to stop the tears, but his lip was still quivering. The Prince turned to Adelleh. "Can you revive him?"
"No good," the priestess said with a sniffle, "too long gone. No good."
Ahune placed the shells she'd gathered on Nereus's coral crown.
Tavor had once again pulled himself together (he rarely cried for more than a few moments). He was simply gazing sadly at the poor naiad. "Allissya… we have to right this wrong. All that was happening back in Gamlon was bad enough… but this is it. I've seen enough…"
His friends nodded in solemn agreement, gazing at the piteously sobbing water nymph.
"Take heart, good Ahune… We'll see that the man responsible for the loss of your magic – and by extension, the loss of Nereus – is brought to justice."
The elves were sitting by their campfire. Neither of them was on guard duty. Adelleh was not yet keeping full watch, as her friends were still awake and the fire still burning. It was a grave error to let their guard down. Out of nowhere, a vampire sprung from the darkness, with all the silence of a shadow. It was an ugly thing, shriveled, pale, dry. Tavor managed to draw his blade and get it up enough to keep the fangs from piercing his neck. He caught the vampire's gut with his foot and managed to hold it back, even as it struggled to claw at him and tried to bite him. He had to get it off of him! The Prince lowered his leg for just a moment, bringing the vampire within range for a split second. It lunged! The elf kicked suddenly; the fangs touched his throat but did not pierce it, as the vampire was flung away. Tavor leapt to his feet and glanced around quickly. His allies were also battle ready, facing off with their own enemies.
Allissya was agilely dodging a bulky undead troll's axe, unable to get close enough to land a blow of her own. It was all she could do to keep from backing down; she knew it mustn't reach her Prince's back! She was a warrior, and it was her duty, both as his friend, and as his favored knight, to protect him, and the entire royal family, with her life, unless he requested otherwise. She could not back down! She ducked under the blows, spun away from the swipes, leapt over shots aimed at her legs. The lady knight kept circling her foe, keeping it distracted and unable to attack.
Adelleh was having a staff battle with a banshee. The horrific teal woman in tattered, bloodstained white robes wielded her rod of shadow with skill, but Adelleh's ability with her light-spear was better! The priestess babbled something and, using her spear to catch the banshee's staff, pulled it out of one of the spirit's hands and nearly disarmed her foe! The banshee's reflexes were quick; she spun her stave around behind her back and caught it with her other hand, confusing Adelleh. She struck the undead priestess with a powerful blow across the arm. She then rammed her rod into Adelleh's gut, knocking her down. Adelleh let her light spear dissipate, raising one hand. Another spear flew down out of the sky and impaled her foe! The banshee was not yet defeated, shockingly. It beat at the priestess as she dragged herself to her feet.
It was all Tavor could do to keep his bloodsucking opponent away from his neck. One bite from those fangs would seal his fate, the fate of his friends, and possibly the fate of Gamlon. He kept slashing at the bloodsucker, but his blade was doing no damage; it was not made of solid silver, nor was it a wooden stake or light weapon. Tavor was no vampire slayer.
"Adelleh, help me!"
The priestess was locked in battle. She suddenly spun and stabbed her foe with her light spear. She raised one hand and conjured a second spear, which she threw to Tavor. The Prince caught it. Armed with a light weapon, he could harm the vampire!
The troll zombie caught Allissya by the leg and pulled her feet out from under her. She slammed to the ground. The lady knight rolled to the side as the troll brought his axe down where she had been a moment before.
Tavor slammed his new light weapon into the vampire's heart. Defeated, the bloodsucker collapsed and disintegrated. Adelleh's radiance spear wouldn't last long in the hands of a non-priest though, and Tavor had to switch back to his sword as the lance dissipated. He went to the aid of his redhead friend, and the two elves, working together, wore the troll down slowly.
Adelleh's hands glowed again as she swiped at the banshee, who kept blocking her with the shadow stave. The screaming spirit knocked her feet out from under her and brought her staff down with great force. A shield of light flashed over the silver-robed undead on the ground; the banshee's blow was reflected by a light replica of the dark staff, moving in an identical and opposite manner. The force of the blow that was intended for Adelleh turned and inflicted itself on its wielder. The banshee was on the ground, the priestess was on her feet! A light spear in hand, Adelleh skewered her foe, blowing it into oblivion.
All three heroes were now ganged up on the massive troll.
"Thanks for keeping this thing busy, Allissya!" Tavor said, lunging at the troll's arm with his sword.
"Not a problem!"
The troll zombie brought its axe down in front of the redhead knight, missing her narrowly. Tavor lunged forward and sliced its arm off. Roaring, it began to swing its remaining arm toward him, but Allissya thrust her own blade into it, through the bottom of the skull. It collapsed with a loud thud.
The blood spattered heroes looked around them.
"They grow stronger," the Prince observed thoughtfully.
"Here we are," Tavor said, the next night. The moon was full, but it was mostly hidden behind the necromancer's tower, a dark, foreboding, black mass that filled the sky with despair…
The heroes entered the tower, silently sneaking around all the guards with expert skill. Tavor's vision had taught him more than anyone would normally know about the tower, and allowed them easy passage. They reached the necromancer's room itself. There was a general hesitation.
"Are we going to run in and just stab him or what?" Allissya whispered.
"No," Tavor said, "just follow me…"
The redhead raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Tavor opened the door and stepped in. Rather than sneaking up on the necromancer, he stopped, folded his arms over his chest, and cleared his throat. The gaunt, brown-haired Vulii necromancer in his crimson and black spun around with a look of shock on his face. He lifted a hand which began to glow black.
"Wait," the young Prince said, calmly. He grinned nastily, his eyes glinting darkly. "I've come… to join you."
"Wha?" Adelleh screamed. Allissya was too shocked to speak, her eyes were wide. Tavor spun around and violently struck the priestess with such force that he sent her flying to the ground. She looked stunned, and whimpered.
"Silence!" He yelled at her. He then turned back to the necromancer. "I've seen the power you control. I understand the true path of the elven. I've come here to join the Vulii and to join you. I want some of that power for myself!" He said, grinning greedily and clenching one hand into a fist in front of him, as if grasping victory itself.
"T-Tavor…. How could you…?" Allissya asked. The Prince ignored her.
"You would betray your friends?" The necromancer asked, smiling.
"Even her?" The Vulii pointed at Allissya. Tavor turned to her and snorted disdainfully.
"Her? Pft, I don't care about her. She's served her purpose. Go ahead and lock her up." He grinned evilly. "She'll be the first one I raise into undeath!"
"You traitor!" the female elf whispered furiously, "Gamlon will have your hide! And you, their Prince! Disgusting!"
Tavor grinned. "Worry not. Gamlon will fall long before they can get their hands on my hide. Conquest is the true path!"
"I trusted you!"
The black-haired elf waved his hand dismissively. "Lock her up," he said, casually. He then smiled eagerly, darkly. "I'm ready to learn the dark magic you've mastered. I'm ready."
The necromancer grinned. The Prince of Gamlon had defected to his side! Clearly, the boy's hunger for power and willingness to turn on his "friends" made him the perfect potential apprentice. "Alright then, Tavor. I am Abba'don. And you, you might just be the apprentice I've been looking for."
"Then by all means, let us get started."
"Forsake the armor of Gamlon. Take up the uniform of the Army of Death." Abba'don conjured a suit of pitch black plate armor, with spikes on the shoulders and knees, complete with a black cape. He held it out to Tavor. The Prince grinned evilly and left the room. Moments later he returned in armor as dark as his hair.
Tavor was the Black Knight.
The bars slammed shut. Allissya was in a state of shock for a few minutes, and then, she broke down.
"I can't believe he'd do this to me! I trusted him! I trusted him! How could you do this, Tavor? How could you?"
She began to cry uncontrollably. She had nobody to talk to. Tavor had gone, quite literally, to the dark side and was attempting to break Adelleh in as his slave, since she was already undead. And soon, he would kill her and raise her into undeath as well. Her heart ached at the idea. Her best friend's hand wielding the dagger of her death. How could Tavor do that to her? Why would he do that? What would it feel like to be his mindless undead servant. The tears flowed freely. Tavor had betrayed her in the worst way imaginable, and now she was waiting for him to kill her. She had no hope, no will. Even the strong-minded, previously-unbreakable Allissya was shattered, and spun into a pit of depression.
Tavor grinned as the power of necromancy surged through him. A day had passed. He had just reanimated his first corpse: a rat. Abba'don was teaching him how to control the cadavers he raised into undeath.
To reanimate a body was the most powerful thing the Prince had experience. It was both sickening and addictive. Raising the rat had nearly made him retch, but it also made him giddy with power. As an apprentice necromancer, he spent hours dabbling in alchemy, brewing sick, twisted potions. As days passed, he stopped reanimating rats and moved on to rabbits.
Tavor threw back his head and cackled, pointing at the skeletal rabbit. "That's the most ridiculously sorry thing I've ever seen!"
"Today, rabbits, my dear apprentice. Tomorrow, dogs. After that, horses. Finally, you will get a taste of true necromancy. You can stab that pathetic whelp in the dungeon and raise her as your first proper slave."
"And I cannot wait," the Black Knight said with a twisted grin.
Dark magic swirled around Tavor as he cast his most powerful necromantic spell yet. The rotting corpse of the horse before him rose to its feet and looked him in the eye.
"Well done, Tavor. This is your new mount. Go ahead. Name him."
"Any cursed steed needs a name through which his master can summon him. You will keep him in the plane of Pandemonium. No stables needed."
Tavor grinned darkly and looked at the zombified horse. "How convenient. Well then, Shadowfiend, you are mine to control!"
The Black Knight sighed and boredly put his hand out, muttering a spell of banishing. He'd done it no less than twenty times before. He yawned as the horse faded out. "Into Pandemonium you go now…" he muttered boredly.
"That is all for today, Tavor. You are dismissed."
Tavor bowed respectfully. Something deep inside made him twitch slightly. He ignored it. "What will we be doing tomorrow, praytell?"
"Ah," Abba'don said with a smile, patting his apprentice on the spiked shoulder, "tomorrow you get your first taste of real necromancy! You get to slaughter that pathetic knave that's locked in the dungeon, and raise her into undeath. Of course, after that is when I was planning to attack Gamlon. The Army of Death will burn the wretched town!"
Tavor smiled slightly and nodded. He bowed again and walked out of the room.
"Hey there, Tavor," a female vulii said. It was Eifa, one of the higher ranked officers of the Army of Death, despite her relatively young age – not that much older than Tavor himself. She'd taken quite a liking to the Prince, much to his dismay. His shoulders slumped slightly at the sight of the silver-haired woman, all clad in her black leather with silver chains and embroidery. Her flaming, stone-looking demon-dog sat at her feet, its teeth bared as usual, even though it was not openly hostile to Tavor. The Prince hated that dog with a passion.
"Uh, hello Eifa…" He tried to think up an excuse to not talk to her, but alas, he could not.
"Are you excited about tomorrow's raid? I am," the chatty woman said, brushing her prematurely grey hair out of her eyes.
"It will feel good, won't it? To see ol' Gamlon burn, at last."
"Yeah…" the Black Knight said slowly, still trying to think up a reason to leave.
"Something wrong, there, Tavor?" Eifa hissed, stepping forward and putting her hand on his arm. Oh gods, here she goes again… Tavor thought, rolling his eyes and shying away from her touch. "Oooh, sweetie, don't be that way!" the officer said, batting her creepy red eyes.
"Ahhhh, I have to uh… get back to a potion I had brewing, uh, before it uh, spills over or something, bye!" The dark-haired knight said, all in one breath, as he beat a hasty retreat.
Tavor lay on his bed, still in his armor, hands behind his head, deep in thought. Tomorrow was supposed to be the day he'd kill his friend. Her voice echoed in his mind: 'You're never alone, Tavor.'
Tomorrow was the day the Vulii would attack Gamlon. The Black Knight remembered his father's words, some time ago: 'I'm proud of you, son. You'll be a great ruler of Gamlon some day.'
He continued to think. Finally, he stood, after the activity level in the tower had died down. He fetched Adelleh, went down the spiral staircase, all the way down to the dungeon. He looked at the keys in his hand. The Prince checked every cell in the dungeon, till at last, he came to a red-haired elf locked away, facing away from him.
"Pst!" he hissed at her.
She turned and glared at him. "Come to finish me off then, have you Tavor? I hate you! I hate you, you pathetic, traitorous, stupid-"
"Shh!" he whispered urgently, "I'm not supposed to be here! I'm gonna get you out of here, Allissya! I'll explain everything once we've made our escape! I know it's hard to trust me, after what I did, but I'm begging you, please! You've got to believe me!"
"Wh-wha?" Allissya said, blinking in surprise.
"We need to get out of here!" her dark-armored friend repeated, unlocking her cell. "Come on! No time to explain!" He led her up and out toward the exit. He froze suddenly. "Hide yourself! Someone's coming! Adelleh, just play along!" he whispered.
Eifa came strolling around a corner, her hellhound in tow. Tavor raised his voice as he shook Adelleh violently.
"You mindless, pathetic excuse for an undead! What kind of servant are you? Fool! I told you, I needed kelpie ears, frog's intestines, and vampire bat fangs! And you bring me this?" He pretended to throw something furiously to the floor, stepped on the "object", and shot a small bolt of black fire at the spot where it supposedly was. "You wretched creature! Harpy toenails indeed…"
Adelleh cowered as Tavor struck her.
"Having some troubles with your slave, there, Tavor?" Eifa asked.
"Yeah," he snorted, glaring at Adelleh.
"The trouble is, you don't understand how to discipline them properly. I suppose it's the fault of your being raised in that vile Gamlon," the ranger-warlock stated, her obvious sense of superiority showing.
"Yes. The people of my former nation are weak," Tavor agreed. Your ego is showing, he thought.
"You do it like this, Sweetie," the officer stated, walking over to Adelleh to demonstrate how to properly discipline a minion. She took her glove off and whipped the priestess brutally with it several times, then put it back on, and muttered a spell. Adelleh fell to the ground, twitching. Tavor tried to not look shocked, and attempted with some success to actually pull off an amused look!
"That should teach her. Thank you," he said. He bowed respectfully to Eifa. Will you just go away? he mentally moaned. Then an idea dawned on him, a risky one, but worth a try. He silently attempted a minor mind control spell on Eifa's demon dog. He felt a bit of control over the animal, not much, but it would allow him to perform the one action he needed.
The hellhound, under Tavor's control, sniffed the ground, looked up, and growled in the direction opposite Allissya. The Black Knight then dropped the spell immediately. It was incredibly draining, but he'd become a very good actor in his time in the tower, and was able to pretend to not be tired.
"What is it, shnookums?" the officer said to her pet, patting him. She turned to Tavor. "I should probably see what that was about. See you tomorrow, Sweetie!" She winked at the Prince. He rolled his eyes.
"See you tomorrow…" he muttered. On the battlefield, the Prince mentally added. After she'd turned the corner, Tavor motioned for his friends to follow. They quickly reached the door. They were out!
Tavor returned from the forest, dressed in his normal armor again, the armor of Gamlon. He looked very, very troubled, now that he no longer had to hide it. He fell to his knees before his friends.
"I… I'm sorry for… everything I did… We needed a man on the inside. We needed the information. I had to do terrible, evil things to avoid blowing my cover… I apologize for hurting you, Adelleh, and… I apologize for… what I did to you, Allissya… I didn't tell you what I was up to, because I knew that if your reaction seemed even a bit off, I'd look suspicious…
I had to hurt you both, I had to wield unspeakably evil magic, I had to fake a hatred of my own beloved country…
And I… I… Can you ever forgive me?" The Prince raised his head and looked pleadingly up at his friends. Were there tears welling up in his eyes? None of them could tell, not even Tavor himself. The poor knight felt too shocked and shattered. He felt betrayed… Betrayed by himself… Guilt was eating at his heart painfully.
"Tavor… I was wrong to think you'd really turned on us… I feel so horrible now… I'm sorry for everything I said to you…"
"No… I'm the one who should be ashamed…. You only did exactly what I wanted you to do… But I…" He looked down again, still on his knees. "I did evil things… And… I have to confess to you…. I almost did join them, for real… The dark magic they control was… horrible… You saw what I could do… What I wish I'd never learned… The dark power… I felt sick when I used it, but it was… so addictive…
I raised innocent creatures into undeath. I created monsters. I learned to control other people's minds, though only with the slightest influence. I… pretended to hate Gamlon… It… It was treason, Allissya… Though faked… Treason against Gamlon..."
"It wasn't treason, Tavor… your allegiance never changed."
"I-I'm not so sure about that… I… may have lost myself for a short time…" He looked up, grief and guilt in his eyes. "No… You're right…
But the fact remains… I did horrible things. I learned to do evil things, and will know how to do them for a long time… Even if I don't use them, the truth is that I still have these immoral, dark skills… I learned horrible magics," the Prince said, trembling visibly as he sat there on the ground, leaning on his hands, head hung in shame, sleek hair dangling in front of his eyes, "M-magics I never want to use, ever again!"
Allissya knelt next to him as he let out a single sob and a sorrowful sigh. She put her hand on his shaking shoulder. "It's alright Tavor… I know what you did was hard on you… But it was all false. You shouldn't feel guilty about it. That wasn't you doing any of that. It was all false."
Tavor lifted his head, moved his legs so his knees were up in front of him, and folded his arms on them. He brushed his hair out of his eyes and behind his ears with his fingers. The Prince sighed. "I suppose you're right. Allissya…. Thank you… I don't know what I'd do without you. You're the best friend anyone has ever had."
The redhead smiled and nodded. "We all need friends to turn to when times are rough. No matter whether we're peasants or princes."
The knight smiled and nodded. He turned to the priestess who had been silent the entire time. "Adelleh… Everything I 'taught' you while we were there, you can forget. You're still my friend. I was merely pretending… I… had to…"
"Still Adelleh friend?"
The undead's only response was a huge grin.
"Then… all is mended…?" Tavor said, still looking slightly hurt, but smiling nonetheless.
"Yes," Allissya said.
The dark-haired elf smiled at her and nodded. "Good."
There was a hesitation as the Prince reflected on the more crucial things he'd learned in the tower. "They're going to raid Gamlon tomorrow," he said, standing up, "we need to get moving, now!" the Prince ordered, once again taking command and again becoming the heroic man he had once been, "We need to find the horses; hopefully Adelleh's light magic can solve any problems they might have encountered without us to care for them. We're going to have to gallop for as long as we can before we have to slow down. The longer we delay, the worse Gamlon's chances of resisting are. We need to be ready!"
"You're back to your normal self, Prince Tavor! Good to see it."
"Here pony! Last pony, I has!" Adelleh called, leading a black horse. Miraculously, the animals were in fairly good condition, and any injuries were healed quickly by the priestess.
"Alright! Good job! Come on, we've got no time to spare!" Tavor said, mounting his stallion. He patted its neck, smiling. "Sorry I left you alone so long, buddy."
"You know the way to Gamlon, lead on, Tavor!"
The Prince looked around, then turned his horse and tugged the reins. "That way!"
The three heroes were once again off at a gallop. The swift horses were delighted to be running again, and they carried their riders far and fast. They stopped only at the bridge, where the knights and the priestess dismounted and lead their steeds across the chasm.
"Where are the undead? This place was swarming with them," Allissya asked nervously.
"They're preparing for battle. The whole Army of Death is readying itself to attack Gamlon. That's why we need to keep moving. If we don't arrive in time, our own military won't have time to group itself and we'll surely be doomed. We must hurry; time is of the essence, as they say!"
They all re-mounted and once again adopted a galloping pace. The red-haired knight turned to Tavor, who was riding beside her with an expression of pure focus on his face, his hair blowing in the wind like both of their capes. "Are we mad? It took us – what, weeks? – to get here! We can't possibly get back to Gamlon in a single night!"
The Prince didn't look at her. Instead he looked up at the nearly-full moon, using it to estimate the hour. "We have time. And don't count on that, Allissya! We weren't galloping on the way here, and spent far too much time camping! We're covering ground more quickly than you imagine!"
And so through the night, three horses raced along at near-top speed in the moonlight, a mission of great importance depending on them to cover an imposing distance at a nearly impossible speed.
"There," Tavor suddenly yelled, pointing, "see there on the horizon? There's the top of Gamlon's highest tower! We're almost there!"
"The horses are slowing down, Tavor," the Lady Knight called out.
"I know, I know! But we have to hurry, we need to get there as soon as we can!"
"You're going to kill them! We need to slow down, now! A walking horse is better than one that can't stand up!"
The dark-haired elf bit his lip as he let his stallion slow to a walk. He looked up at the moon anxiously. It's alright, we have plenty of time, he told himself, after all, they won't attack until tomorrow night. It's not like we need the military to be ready by morning. Or do we? Abba'don never stated when they'd attack…
As they approached the gates of Gamlon, they once again broke into a gallop. Some peasants were woken by the thundering of hooves through the street, poking their heads out of windows to see what was going on. Tavor and his friends ignored them. They made a beeline for the stables, tied up the tired horses, and rushed to the castle. Tavor ran up the stairs to wake his father.
"Tavor? What is it? What's wrong?" the King mumbled, sitting up.
"Father, Sire! The Vulii are coming, they'll be here some time within the next day, anywhere between sunrise and midnight! We need to prepare the army at once! They've got many undead and even some warlocks!"
"What? How do you know all this?"
"It's a long story! Long story short, let's just say I pretended to stab my friends in the back, faked joining the Vulii, then stabbed them in the back and rescued my friends."
"My clever boy," the King said proudly, then gained his commanding aura. "Sound the alarm! Ready the army!"
The young Prince, eager to redeem himself – mostly in his own eyes, as all his friends already forgave him – dashed off. Down the stairs he flew, out the door, to the alarm tower. He ran up the stairs and started tugging furiously on the rope. The alarm bell's low dong, dong echoed through Gamlon. After he felt that not a soul in earshot could possibly still be asleep, he darted back down the stairs, back to his stable, mounted a new horse, and tugged the reins. He galloped through the streets, yelling, "The Vulii are coming! We need to be ready by sunrise! All knights report for duty!"
The men of Gamlon were flooding out of buildings, dressed in armor and the signature blue capes. Women and children were peering out the windows. Some of the younger ladies were squealing about how heroic their Prince was, but this was no time to stop and wave. Word of the imminent attack spread like wildfire, largely due to Tavor's moving at a similar pace. As he tore along the streets, warning his people, hair and cape flowing regally, he finally felt redeemed. Just you wait, Abba'don, just you wait! he thought with satisfaction, We're ready for you!
The Army of Gamlon had assembled. The sky was beginning to grow pale.
"I've called you all here because I have learned of an impending attack by the Vulii," Tavor said to the gathered men (and Allissya), riding back and forth in front of them on his newly-armored dapple-grey, "I faked a betrayal of Gamlon in order to 'defect' to the Vulii's side. Once in, I learned of their plans. They're developing a massive undead army. This attack will be like none you've ever defended against before, and likely like none you'll ever defend against again. They have warlocks and necromancers, zombies and banshees, liches and demons, all sorts of horrible things. As far as I could tell, few normal Vulii soldiers will be on the battlefield. You will be fighting monsters, not men, though I suppose the Vulii in general could scarcely be called anything but monsters in the first place!
I know not when the raid will take place, only that it will occur between sunrise and midnight. We therefore must be prepared all day. You are to remain armored and on your guard at all times.
We must all be willing to fight these most horrifying abominations. Some of you will most likely die. If I am proven wrong, it will be the happiest day of my life. But unless some miracle of the gods unfolds on the battlefield, there will be losses. Blood will be shed from both sides, but your courage must not falter. Gamlon must stand." After giving his mini-speech, Tavor looked to the east, where the sky was beginning to turn pink. "The sun rises on our noble nation. If you serve it well, if your hearts are true… it will not set on ruins, but on a proud and strong kingdom. Fight not for me or for the King. Fight for Gamlon."
A soldier thrust his fist into the air, with a cheer of "For Gamlon!" Tavor echoed the cheer, and it proceeded to spread through the Army, until they were all chanting.
A small group of women had gathered at the edges of the main town square, where all of this was taking place. They all had their hands clasped over their hearts, cooing about the bravery of their husbands in the case of the older ones, or of their Prince, in the case of the younger ones. Tavor turned to them and directed a shout of "For Gamlon!" their way, which started them cheering as well. He knew the best path to victory was through the hearts of his people. The battle was half-won.
"Tavor, I was thinking," Allissya began, as she and Tavor stood in the same watch tower, waiting for the Vulii. Tavor's suspicion that the undead would not attack until later was correct. It was midday.
"Oh? Well there's a change from the norm," the Prince replied jokingly, grinning. His friend responded with a light whack upside the head. Tavor laughed. "Alright, so what were you thinking?"
"Did you happen to find out why the magic is going away?"
"I didn't tell you?"
"Abba'don somehow managed to slip in and disguise himself as one of us-" the dark-haired elf started to explain.
"Heh, what goes around comes around," his redhead friend interrupted. Tavor laughed.
"Yeah, really! Anyway, he came disguised as a merchant. He sold trinkets and whatnot and fed magical animals, etc. and then returned to his tower. The things he spread out here in Gamlon apparently suck the magic out of the environment and pull it all back to him. That's how I – not a mage, let me tell you! – managed to cast spells back at the tower. Everyone there had magic being siphoned into them, a weaker version of what Luna does with me on the battlefield. But he was doing it on a massive scale. They have almost all the magic of Gamlon packed into their army now…
"So why could Adelleh still cast spells?"
"Have you ever tried to sell anything to Adelleh?" Tavor laughed, "Besides, she spends a great deal of her time underground."
"Oh! That explains it then!" Allissya said. Suddenly Tavor leaned forward and pointed out over the rail of the watch tower.
"There!" He turned and started tugging the bell's rope.
Tavor gave the word. "Charge!"
The Army of Gamlon and the Army of Death rushed forth, and clashed. Tavor's slashes were so rhythmic that it was as though he were fighting to music, very fast paced music. He cut into and disabled three Vulii with a single swipe of his sword. Gamlon chewed through the weak meat-shield ranks much faster than their foes had expected. The sounds of swords clashing echoed on the field just outside the noble nation as the elite forces of both sides clashed. The handsome, young Prince found himself fighting two elite Vulii warriors at once, and managing to fend them both off, but he couldn't keep at it forever. Allissya came out of nowhere and stabbed one through the side. She then spun around and began fighting her own battle. Adelleh was focusing on undead troops, with a small circle of Gamlon warriors acting as bodyguards to the glass-cannon.
Tavor slashed twice at the man he was fighting, parried a blow, and started to swing again, when the man knocked his feet out from under him. The black-haired knight fell to the ground. He rolled to the side as the Vulii stabbed downward. He leapt to his feet at the man's side and swung his sword around with both hands, not piercing the armor but knocking his foe face-down in the dirt. He brought his sword down through the man's back, but was tackled by a second warrior. He stood, but as soon as he was up, the elite Vulii knocked him down again. Tavor knew only one way to get out of such a situation. He did not try to get up until the man was raising his sword to stab him, when Tavor flipped sideways, kicking the man to the ground and pinning him with his knee. He then jumped up, grabbing the Vulii's sword, stabbed him with it, and spun around just in time to see an undead ogre coming at him with an axe. It was slow to swing and the Prince had only to dodge the blows, using the tip of his blade to attempt to impale his foe. He had a knack for making evasion look like a dance, but it took all his concentration.
Allissya spun around with her sword held straight out. In this whirlwind maneuver, she slit the throats of six Vulii warriors at once! A zombie came at her, but she leapt to the side, grabbed the undead creature by the neck and swung it into three more Vulii. She brought her sword up and stabbed one of the fallen men through the chest, turned, and slashed at the two that were on their feet again. A Gamlon warrior was on his back, parrying various attacks from a banshee. He had no way of attacking her through the torrent of staff-thrusts. Allissya leapt over her ally, bringing her sword down through the back of the banshee's neck, rolling as she hit the ground, and leaping acrobatically onto her feet.
Tavor found himself surrounded. Seven Vulii closed in on him, and for a moment, he thought he was going to die. And then, he saw Luna! The orange dragon was soaring straight toward him.
"Luna!" Tavor yelled, "magic!" The dragoness did as she was ordered, beginning to siphon the concentrated magic out of the invaders and into her master. Tavor, now able to cast spells, set his sword on fire and slashed at the Vulii around him. They burned rather than bled to death. Tavor was now a fiery weapon of righteousness. Until-
"Tavor! You filthy traitor! I should have known you'd be a typical man of Gamlon! Traitor!" a familiar voice said.
"Funny how I've gotten called that a lot, lately, Eifa!" he yelled. The two deadly foes stared into one another's eyes. Eifa pointed at Tavor. Out of nowhere: a flaming dog of stone! Tavor was on his back in the same position he'd been in when trying to fend off the vampire, holding the dog up on his feet, trying to keep the snapping, flaming jaws away from him. He kicked it off just as he had done with the vampire, sending it flying back to hit its master in her chest. Tavor charged at Eifa, ready to get back at her for all the harassment, sword held high! He had not expected her to be as skilled as she was. She disarmed him right away and slashed at him with her barbed swords. He cried out as she leapt into the air, spun, and kicked him in the chest. He was thrown backwards, onto his back. Eifa raised both swords to stab the Prince through the chest.
Adelleh was glowing with magical light. Even she hadn't realized the extent of the power locked within her. She saw her friend in danger. That was the evil woman with grey hair who'd beat her! The priestess screamed in rage. Out of the blue, her entire body flashed with light, and left two huge, feathered wings of pure light on her back, along with a pair of feathery tails. She instinctively knew how to use her mirage-wings, leaping into the sky with a single flap. She conjured a giant spear of light, held it with both hands, and dropped like a stone.
"Finish me!" Tavor growled at Eifa.
"What a pity you turned out to be such a fool, Tavor! We could have done great things together! We could have been such a team!"
"I'd never team up with anyone like you, you daughter of a motherless ogre!"
Eifa screamed in fury as she started bringing her swords down toward the dark-haired elf's chest. Tavor's eyes grew wide as he saw something dropping out of the sky. In a millisecond, the ranger-warlock was impaled all the way through the back to the stomach with a spear of light, Adelleh's huge wings of light spread out behind her. Eifa slumped down, and the priestess was in the sky again with a single bound. She was promptly struck out of the air.
The Vulii reinforcement had arrived. Sephura was there. Tavor suddenly had an idea. He could attempt a spell that he never would have dreamed of otherwise. A spell that required so much power, no trained mage in Gamlon would even have thought of it. But there was so much magic concentrated in the enemy force, that perhaps if the Prince's dragoness siphoned it all into him, he could pull it off!
"Luna! I need all the magic you can get me! Give me everything you've got! I need you, Luna!Don't fail me!"
Luna, circling above, did everything in her power not to drop out of the sky! She was channeling so much magic that her muscles were all attempting to clench up. It was all she could do to keep her wings open and her head up. She was twitching and convulsing in the sky, as magic literally crackled over her skin like electricity. She had to stay up there.
"Hang in there, Luna!" Tavor yelled. He felt the power of a thousand wizards flowing into him, and more magic was coming! There was so much magic in him that his eyes began to glow. "Enough!" he suddenly yelled. He cast the Transformation.
And where the Prince of Gamlon once stood, there was now only a massive black dragon that filled the sky with his wings. A silver streak ran across one eye, and a crest of spines crowned the back of his neck. A deadly stinger tipped his tail. He was power.
Where Tavor the Elf had been, now stood Tavor the Dragon. He threw back his head and roared. Sephura answered with her own roar. The Dragon-Prince flapped his wings and took to the sky for an aerial battle. He watched as Gamlon and the Vulii clashed below him. He and the drakolich chased each other at mindboggling speeds, looping, flipping, zigzagging, occasionally coming right at one another, raking the other dragon with their claws. Sephura flew right at her black foe. Tavor felt the power of fire in his draconic form, and let it out. A huge spurt of flame erupted from his jaws. The drakolich changed course in midair, dodging. She came up behind him and bit into his shoulder. The two dragons plummeted, but Tavor crushed her hip with his tail-spike, freeing himself. With Sephura falling toward the ground and barely able to right herself, he dropped down from directly above her. The Dragon-Prince slammed all four claws into his enemy at once, crushing her! He flew forward, did a backflip-spin and moved straight toward the drakolich, finishing her off with a burst of flame from his mouth. Suddenly, Tavor felt the magic dissipating. He felt his wingbeats growing more and more sluggish. Finally, he closed his eyes, and simply stopped flapping.
A huge cloud of dust flew up around the crater left by the Dragon-Prince as he impacted the ground. He'd fallen on enemy lines, wiping out a good chunk of their fighters, both undead and alive. When the dust settled, there was no dragon, only an unconscious elf lying in a giant crater.
Adelleh, her wings still there, but fading, flew over and landed by the Prince's side. A beam of golden light came down upon him; his eyes snapped open and he was renewed! He stood, picked up the sword of one of his dead comrades, and seeing a form he knew well, froze. A necromancer stood on a hill, dressed in red and black. Abba'don raised his skull-tipped staff, dark magic swirling around him. Tavor snarled. He thrust his sword into the sky and yelled.
He charged! What remained of the Vulii and their undead fought against Gamlon's mostly-intact forces. Out of the corner of his eye, as he charged, Tavor saw an orange dragon ripping a Vulii's eyes out.
"You show 'em, Luna!" he said, with a quick grin, then turned his attention back to the necromancer.
"Abba'don!" He roared, sword held high, running at the man. He brought the sword down on the necromancer's chest – only to be flung backwards by a black explosion. He was on his back, and the necromancer was standing above him. It was only then that the Prince noticed the bottom of the dark wizard's staff was a spearhead. Abba'don spat something about "traitorous whelp" and raised the staff to impale his "apprentice". Tavor did a backflip, landing on his feet with ease. The necromancer slammed his staff into the ground. He yanked on it, trying to pull it out. Tavor took advantage of this, rushing forward in an attempt to stab his nemesis, but Abba'don had his spear-staff out of the ground and parried the blows. He stabbed at the knight's leg, cutting a huge gash. The dark-haired elf ignored it, stabbing at his foe. Abba'don smacked Tavor's side with his staff, knocking the knight quite a ways back. The Prince did a forward roll, leaping up and stabbing forward with the sword in one fluid motion. Abba'don stood there with a sword through his gut. He looked down at Tavor.
"…Treacherous…. Whelp…" he managed to say, before collapsing.
"Thank you, 'Master'," Tavor hissed, pulling his sword out of the Vulii's corpse. The Prince of Gamlon turned. The undead, without their master, looked absolutely confused and lost. They were killed very quickly. The last of the Vulii were either slain or fled. Tavor, still standing on the hill, thrust his sword into the sky.
"Victory for Gamlon!"
In celebration of the victory, the Gamlon Boy's Choir had gathered in the town square to sing the national anthem. It was a pleasant surprise for the returning army, which gathered around the teenage boys. They started clapping to the rhythm.
"The singing is great, but the pianist could use some work," Tavor said to Allissya with a grin. A moment later he said, "And the performance hits rock-bottom in three, two, one…"
As if on cue, the pianist hit a wrong note. Allissya handed the smug-looking Prince a gold coin. "You called it."
Unexpectedly, a boy with black hair turned around and picked up a guitar as the pianist stopped playing. The kid soloed a few lines.
Tavor turned to Allissya and whispered, "That kid just saved the whole performance." The boy more than redeemed the butchered song, as the Choir finished the song. There was silence for a moment, and then everyone burst into cheers. As the Choir dissipated, Tavor walked over to the black-haired kid. He recognized him as the boy he'd rescued from Sephura.
"You were quite possibly the best one up there. Good job! You did our national anthem proud!" The Prince said, patting the kid on the shoulder.
"Thank you, Prince Tavor!" The kid bowed. "And thanks for saving me."
"Not a problem."