Chapter 5

The castle echoed with Venger's cries of anger and frustration. Nothing dared to go up to the tower, not even Shadow Demon had the courage to stay when the Arch-Mage was in this mood.

LOVE!

Such a meaningless and trivial emotion, how could it cause so much trouble?

Venger screamed out in frustration once again. He was failing! Everything he tried failed. There was no antidote to be found, his perfect Curse, his beautiful Curse was too finely crafted. This Curse would suck the life out of him. Once caught, there was no escape. How could this happen?

'Damn you, Dragon!' he shouted. The thin glass of the windows shook at the sound of his voice.

His hatred for the Ranger burned above the deep pain from the Curse. It was no comfort that the Ranger and his Thief were doomed as well.

Finally, the Arch-Mage slumped down on his throne. The excruciating waves of emotion were reaching him even here, in the heart of his empire! He sat with his arms limp, and his hands resting upturned beside him on the throne, struggling against the unpredictable surges of regret.

Time was running out and it would be foolish not to recognise the obvious. Estaria was correct, there was only one way to deal with this situation. With the Dragon gone, the Curse would be less powerful, less persuasive and weak enough for him to break free. Damn that Dragon! He should have killed her when he'd had the chance. And damn that Ranger too!

But now the decision was made, it was foolish to delay. He summoned the Nightmare, and mounted, his heart growing heavier at the though of returning to the Temple, the source of his pain.

'Take me to the Temple!' he growled in its ear.

The sooner this was done, the better. Then he could turn his thoughts to revenge.

Once I am free, he though, I must find a way of punishing the children!

Venger gave a grim smile. Even if he had to go and pull the Ranger out of there himself, he would make them pay!

He urged his dark steed faster.

==============

'NOOOOOO!' shouted the Barbarian.

Thoughts of Sheila were gone, thoughts of the Curse were gone. His mind was filled with anger. That lyin', cheatin' Dragon! It had eaten Clara! It had swallowed her whole!

He hadn't given up his Club, Terri's Pendant, just so the Dragon could have lunch!

'No one eats my friends and gets away with it!' he bellowed.

His anger was overpowering. And this time there were no older sisters around to try and control him. He stood for a second, wondering how he could hurt the Dragon.

It had to PAY!

The Dragon stood there above him, unmoving, its eyes closed, almost as if it wanted him to attack. But he didn't have his Club! He looked around for a weapon, but there was nothing in the hall that he could use. The rage was building, he had to hurt that creature, not matter how.

Bobby ran up to it, small arms flailing, hitting the scaly legs with as much force as he could. The Dragon didn't even notice.

He gave a low, guttural scream of frustration, punching Estaria again. She still didn't move. His hands were sore and bleeding, and the heat from the scales was burning his fists, but he didn't stop.

Bobby lashed out at the Dragon again and again, until he could barely lift his arms. Then, slowly, he slid down to the floor, exhausted. Tears of disappointment and rage ran down his face.

Clara was gone, the Curse was still active, he'd lost his Pendant and the Club, and he hadn't been able to save Sheila or his friends. He had been wrong about Dungeonmaster's riddle! Hank would never have got it wrong.

Bobby gave a miserable sob. He had failed.

The sound of footsteps behind him cut through his despair. Bobby turned, desperately hoping to see one of his friends, perhaps Hank, or even Eric.

The sight almost made him choke, and he stared with a mix of fear and anguish. This was as bad as things could get.

It was Venger!

For a few moments, Bobby braced himself for the worst. He had no Club and he had no hope of escape. But where would he go anyway?

Estaria had noticed the newcomer too. For the first time in many minutes she moved, as if she was waking from a heavy sleep.

The Arch-Mage stood there, black wings half-closed and his head bowed down, and he didn't notice the Barbarian crouched on the floor under the Dragon. Bobby frowned. The Arch-Mage didn't look so good.

With a careless flick of her paw, Estaria sent the Barbarian skittering backwards across the floor, so there was nothing between her and Venger. Bobby hit the far wall with a clunk that knocked his Viking helmet askew.

Venger straightened, looking up to Estaria with a look that could have killed.

'So your cage was not strong enough,' he said quietly. 'This Dragon form was not sufficient. But I will still destroy you! And you have no one willing to take your place!'

The Dragon didn't reply. She merely stood, watching.

'I will not break my Curse, Dragon!' continued Venger. 'But I will ensure that you are unable to control my fate! With you gone, I can and will be FREE!'

This time Estaria did move. She turned to face the Arch-Mage, flexing her claws and let out a long, low growl.

'You should not meddle with the Power of Love!' she said sternly, her voice echoing around the hall. 'It is far greater than you can ever understand!'

Venger shook his head and raised his hands, fireballs forming at his fingertips.

'I should have done this long ago, Estaria! It was a moment of weakness. I should never have let you live.'

The fireball struck Estaria on the chest, the magic fires racing up her sides and wings. The Dragon reared back once more, her black figure contrasting with the scarlet flames. There was a soft hiss as the magic fizzed around her. She stood still, as the flames rose round her. Venger looked on, his expression pitiless.

From his vantage point against the wall, Bobby watched with a mix of fear and anger. He had wanted to be the one who had defeated the Dragon. It had eaten one of his friends!

But what did it matter, now?

His Club was gone, the Pendant was gone and he had no way to break the Curse, even if he could defeat Venger. The Arch-Mage would kill them all, probably. Or worse, just leave them to be eaten by the Curse…

Bobby shuddered, tears running down his cheeks. What a way to go. He had never believed that they would die in the Realm. He had wanted to go home, to see him family, to see Terri. This was not how it was supposed to end.

He watched as the flames rose round the Dragon's head, and the huge black body, started to crumble. A movement caught his attention, close to the ground. Something was moving!

The Barbarian pushed himself up, holding the wall for support, his mouth wide open. A small figure was walked out of the flames, the Dragon's body crumbled around it.

There was a gurgling gasp from Venger, but Bobby didn't turn round, he kept staring at the figure. Light shimmered around the human in the flames, and Bobby had to squint to make out any features. It was a young girl.

Bobby blinked, then blinked again and rubbed his eyes.

It was Clara!

He blinked once more, but it was still Clara, standing out more clearly as the flames died down around her. She was wearing long, purple robes that swished behind her like a river. In her hand she held a short, black Sceptre in the shape of a striking dragon, with bright rubies for eyes. She turned away from Bobby, towards the Arch-mage. Bobby followed the gaze, far surprised to do much else. Venger's face was contorted with anger and fear.

'This cannot be!' he said unsteadily. 'You cannot…You must not…NO!'

The young girl lifted the Sceptre and said loudly:

'Behold: the Temple of Love!'

The instant the last word had left her lips the Sceptre blazed with light that seared into the back of Bobby's eyes, and a pulse of magic swept out like a lazy flash of lightning.

The building began to shake.

The magic swept forward in a shimmering wall, engulfing Venger first, who cried out in impotent fury. The Arch-Mage thrashed around, but was unable to free himself from the magic's grip. He let out a long, pain-filled howl.

Bobby braced himself as the magic moved towards him, unsure what to expect. It curled gently round him like a blanket, as cosy as a freshly made bed. He smiled in surprise, letting the magic sooth him. The pain in his hands lifted, the worry and the fear faded. It was going to be OK!

His eyes closed as he relaxed. It was going to be OK…

The Barbarian had no idea how long he stood there, basking in the refreshing power of the magic. But eventually the floor trembled one last time then everything was still.

Bobby opened his eyes and looked around in amazement.

Light flooded in from the windows. The walls were brightly coloured in reds, blues and greens, a riot of chaotic colours that hurt his head after all that grey. Above him the walls stretched up, the colours weaving in and out, all the way to a painfully white ceiling high above. As he drew breath, he could smell the clean, fresh scent of newly cut grass on a spring afternoon.

Clara was standing in front of him. The Sceptre in her hand seemed to be winking at him.

She turned to Venger and pointed.

'Leave this place!' she said, her voice full of authority. 'This Temple it MY home now.'

The Arch-Mage tried to move forward, but he couldn't. He tried to cast a spell, but nothing happened. He glared at the two children.

'You are in a place where evil fears to dwell!' said Clara sternly. 'Leave!'

For a moment, Venger hesitated. Then he turned regally and marched out of the door.

She turned back to the Barbarian and smiled, a smile he remembered from the City of Amoran, the first time they'd met.

'I thought you were goin' home!' he said finally.

'She is home, Barbarian,' said a familiar voice beside him. 'The Temple is her home now.'

'Dungeonmaster!'

'Greetings Barbarian.' He turned and bowed to the girl. 'And greetings to you, Clara-Estaria.'

The girl bowed back to Dungeonmaster, much to Bobby's surprise. She looked to Bobby.

'I am the Keeper of the Temple, Barbarian.'

'But the Dragon?' asked Bobby in confusion, looking from one person to the other. 'What's happened?'

'The Dragon has gone,' said Dungeonmaster with a sigh. 'Her long wait for a replacement has ended and she is at peace. The Temple can once more become a place of joy and happiness.'

Dungeonmaster placed a hand on Bobby's shoulder.

'You have done well, young Barbarian. Because of your sacrifices, this Temple is cleansed. No more unfortunate travellers will be caught here and the City of Amoran can thrive and grow once more.'

'But…' started Bobby. There were so many questions, which one should he ask first. His brain seemed to jam up and instead he just stood there, looking confused.

Dungeonmaster didn't seem to notice. He sighed sadly.

'But she has gone, once and for all.'

The old man smiled reassuringly at the new Keeper.

'The Temple has been cleansed,' he said. 'That is all that matters now.'

'But you were eaten!' blurted out Bobby. 'I definitely saw you bein' eaten!'

The new Keeper gave a grin.

'I guess Estaria thought that was the best way to start the transformation. She still wasn't free, then. Only Venger could have released her.'

The girl looked at Dungeonmaster, who continued.

'And once Venger tried to destroy the Dragon, the Exchange of Authority could occur.'

'Did you know what was gonna happen?' Bobby asked Clara.

'The Dragon did tell me,' said Clara. 'She looked me in the eye, then asked.'

'And…' prompted the Barbarian.

'And I said 'yes', silly!'

'But how?' asked Bobby, with a whine worthy of Eric.

'The Keeper was trapped until someone came to take her place,' said Dungeonmaster. 'Clara-Estaria has done that. When the Temple had a new Keeper, with the full Keeper's powers, she was able to break to Curse, once and for all.'

'But you told us to break the Curse!'

The old man smiled at Bobby.

'No, Barbarian. I told you to find a curse-breaker in Amoran, and you did. You brought someone willing to take the reigns of power in the Temple, someone strong enough to control the magic.'

'Oh, that reminds me!' said Clara with a start. 'These are yours, Barbarian, along with my grateful thanks.'

Her hands glowed and then Bobby gave a whoop of joy. His Club was back in his hand and he gave it an experimental swing. In his other hand was Terri's Pendant. He looked first at Dungeonmaster, then back to the new Keeper, confused.

'The magic within in the Club and the Pendant was enough to power our transformation,' she said. 'What we borrowed, I have returned.'

He looked at the Pendant, filled with relief. He still had the chance to get home.

There was a sudden scuffing noise from the door, and Bobby glanced up.

'Diana! Presto!' he shouted. 'UNI!'

The Barbarian ran forward, engulfing his unicorn in a huge hug. Then he stood up and hugged both the Magician and the Acrobat in turn. Both were looking at the interior of the Temple with similar expressions of astonishment.

'I thought I'd never see you guys again!' said the Barbarian.

Uni scampered energetically around him, getting mud all over the floor. As Clara and Dungeonmaster approached Uni turned and sniffed Clara, then nuzzled against her leg, begging to be petted.

The two newcomers looked at Clara and Dungeonmaster in surprise.
'I think we missed all the fun, Presto!' said Diana lightly. She looked like she had spent the night in a dustbin. Her eyes were red, and she was covered in mud, but she was smiling. The Magician nodded in agreement. He didn't look much better.

'Dungeonmaster! What's going on?' asked Presto. 'What did we miss?'

'I think the Barbarian would be better at explaining than me,' said Dungeonmaster modestly.

But Bobby was suddenly distracted by another thought.

'Where's my sister?' asked Bobby, starting towards one of the other doors. 'We've gotta find her! Where's Sheila?'

'Yeah,' said Diana, 'and where's Hank?'

Dungeonmaster just smiled.

==============

Oddly, it took a few second to realise what he was doing.

It felt like a beautiful dream. His mind was filled with a whirl of emotions and desires, and all he wanted to do was keep kissing this wonderful, beautiful girl for the rest of eternity.

Kissing?

He was kissing someone?

He was kissing…

Then it struck him.

He was kissing Sheila!

He was really kissing Sheila!

The familiar doubts reappeared instantly. He shouldn't, he mustn't, not while they were stuck in the Realm, it was too much of a risk, it was too dangerous.

This had to stop.

He pulled away from her brusquely, and the spell was broken. They stared at each other, his face burning as red as Sheila's. And she watched every move he made with those cat-green eyes.

Nothing in the Realm, before or after, ever compared to the acute discomfort of those next few seconds.

He swore at himself, anger replacing the guilt and embarrassment. He had taken advantage of her, he had let his guard down. How could he have been so stupid!

Before she could speak, before she could tell him how disappointed she was, or how uncomfortable, or anything like that, he jumped up from the floor. Instinctively, he grabbed his Bow as he stood.

She just looked back up at him, the Cloak now clutched to her chest. Were those tears in her eyes? Is this what he had brought her too?

He turned away from her gaze, to ashamed to look her in the face. How could he have been so weak? How could he have taken advantage of her in such an underhand way? He had pictured them together so many times before, but never like this. Had he forced himself on her, when she was at her most vulnerable? What a jerk he was, and worse…

Thankfully, something green by the doorway attracted the Ranger's attention.

'Hey, look!' he said, trying to sound casual. 'It's Presto's Hat!'

He rushed forward and picked up the Hat. Beside it was the Javelin. He lifted that too.

'Look at these! I wonder how they got here?'

Sheila was looking at him, her eyes wide. He gulped, unable to return her stare, guilt washing through him again. This was awful.

'We'd better find the others,' he muttered, looking at the floor.

Slowly, Sheila pulled her Cloak round her neck once again. Her face was still flushed, and she kept looking up at him. She hadn't said a word.

He let her precede him through the door, out into the halls. He looked at the vibrant colours intently, anything to keep him from looking at the Thief.

Neither spoke as they walked through the rooms and, somehow, they both knew where they were going. The Temple seemed so different, apart from the colour change. It was obvious that the Curse had been broken, but how? And what had happened to the rest of the gang?

These thoughts almost kept his mind of Sheila while they retraced their steps back to the entrance hall.

Finally they opened the last door, and reappeared in the entrance hall, only recognisable as such by the open door to the outside. The others were there.

The Thief went through first. The Ranger stood behind her as Bobby ran up, engulfing her in a huge hug that almost knocked her over. Hank smiled weakly at the others; Diana and Presto, Dungeonmaster and a girl in purple robes that he didn't recognise.

'You're OK, sis!' exclaimed Bobby, overjoyed and not letting go.

Sheila tried to nod.

'I'm sorry I was mean to you,' said the Barbarian meekly. Sheila just hugged him more tightly.

'I'm fine,' she replied, 'I'm so pleased to see you!'

The relief in her voice was painful to hear, so Hank quickly moved away from her.

He handed the Hat and the Javelin back to their owners.

'Hey, thanks Hank!' said Presto. 'Where'd you find it?'

Hank gave a noncommittal shrug.

'It was inside the Temple, just lying around.'

'Weird!' said Presto. 'Wonder how it got there!' He gave Hank another smile. 'I shoulda' known you would find it!'

Dungeonmaster walked slowly up to the Ranger and the others. He looked up at them happily with a proud, paternal look on his face.

'You have all done well, my young pupils. Each one of you helped break the Curse and restore the balance. Each one of you suffered the burden of you memories, and the trial of your love, and now your sacrifice has been rewarded.'

He waved his hand round at the glorious Temple.

'Do you see what you have helped to create?' he asked. 'This Temple will stand for thousands of years, its power giving hope to the Realm, thanks to you!'

The kids looked round at each other, with wide smiles.

Hank frowned as he listened to Dungeonmaster talk. Suffered the burden of your memories? His friends had all suffered, while he was making out with Sheila? While he had been gratifying his carnal desires, the others had suffered?

He looked at Diana and Presto carefully. Both looked as if they had spent the previous few hours crying. The red eyes, the streaks through the mud on their faces, Bobby as well, and his hands were red with small cuts on them across the knuckles.

The Ranger felt his stomach knot. What had happened while he was away?

They had to get away from this awful place.

He was about to say something when Dungeonmaster spoke instead.

'Young Pupils, not all of you have met the new Keeper of this Temple.' He smiled proudly up at the girl beside him. 'This is Clara-Estaria, the Keeper of the Temple of Love.'

Clara bowed at them.

'Thank you all for your help,' she said with a smile.

Hank couldn't suppress a small shudder, unable to stand being thanked, (yes thanked!) for taking advantage of Sheila and for leaving his friends to suffer! The desire to leave increased.

'Glad we could help,' he forced himself to say, with an empty smile. 'We should get going. There's a long way to go before nightfall.'

The others all looked crestfallen, particularly Diana and Presto. Even Uni looked plaintively up at him.

'Aw, Hank!' said Bobby. 'Do we HAVE to go right now?'

'You are welcome to stay for the night, young ones,' said Clara. 'Stay and enjoy rest as my guests.'

The others looked hopeful, but Hank replied:

'No, thank you. I think we have spent enough time here. We should go.'

Both Diana and Presto gave audible sighs.

'C'mon Hank,' said Diana, 'How often are we offered free lodgings! And there's no mud! We all need baths too!'

Hank hesitated. There was nothing in the world he wanted more than to leave right now, mud or no mud. He could hardly stand to be in the Temple any longer, it made his skin crawl.

'We shouldn't stay,' he said cautiously. All the other kids signed with obvious disappointment. Hank closed his eyes, and sighed inwardly. They all wanted to stay so badly. Perhaps they deserved a rest. Dungeonmaster said they suffered. It was selfish of him to drag them away.

Presto and Diana certainly looked rough, red eyes, muddy clothes and tear-streaked faces.  Who knows what they had gone through to break the Curse while he and Sheila were…

'Oh!' he said abruptly, deliberately breaking his train of thought. 'Oh, OK then guys, I guess we can stay for one night!'

Everyone cheered. Uni gave a high-pitched bray of excitement.

'Whoopee!' bellowed Bobby, waving his Club around dangerously. 'Baths and food, and beds! No camping! No berries!'

'Hey,' said Presto suddenly, looking around. 'Where's Eric!'

Hank looked round. Sure enough, Eric was missing. That's just typical! thought Hank.

'The Cavalier will join us shortly,' said Dungeonmaster. 'He is walking back to the Temple at this very moment.'

'Where is he?' asked Diana. 'Trust Eric to miss the fun too, and the suffering!'

'No, Acrobat, you have all suffered,' admonished Dungeonmaster gently. 'Some more than others, that is all.'

Diana gave an angry huff.

'But couldn't you just bring him here,' asked Presto. 'You know, teleport or something? Maybe I should try.'

He reached for his Hat.

'No, Magician,' said Dungeonmaster firmly. 'The Cavalier will return when he is ready.'

'Yeah, don't!' said Diana, 'Eric obviously needs the exercise!'

The others sniggered, but a nasty, cold feeling struck Hank. All this talk of suffering and memories made him feel unsettled. There was always the possibility that Eric had remembered about THAT. The Cavalier never talked about it, but he would still remember, wouldn't he?

Hank stopped himself. Death was not a subject he wanted to think about at the moment. None of the others knew, as he had only told Sheila, but she was just concerned with Bobby.

The Ranger watched at the Thief smile and hug her brother again. Every time he looked at her he felt guilt, and embarrassment. But that was as far as it went. And he suddenly realised what was different: something was missing.

He had liked her from the first instant they'd met, years ago. And earlier today her had been prepared to die for her.

When they were together in the Temple, he had felt something pure, something perfect. It was the most intimate and innocent emotion he could imagine. Each time her saw her he was reminded of what they had shared, and they could never be there again. And every time he looked, he just felt numb. It was gone. There was nothing, no feelings at all, as if his emotions had been burned out of him. A sacrifice: that's what Dungeonmaster had said.

He had been willing to give anything for her: Had he given up their love?

The others were all smiles and happiness, and talked excitedly about what had happened. Bobby was telling them what had happened, how he and Eric had gone to Amoran, sparing no detail.

Hank wasn't listening properly. It wasn't that he didn't want to, but he couldn't keep him mind off Sheila and their kiss. The Barbarian was obviously enjoying all the attention, and didn't let any of the others get a word in edgeways. The Keeper suddenly held up her Sceptre.

'Perhaps we would be more comfortable in one of the other chambers,' said Clara loudly, interrupting Bobby as he was demonstrating how he had been wading through the mud outside.

They looked at Hank, and he nodded. The Keeper moved towards one of the doorways, and the others followed, with Bobby starting his story again.

'Are you going to…' started Hank, looking for their guide. But Dungeonmaster had gone. He sighed. 'I guess not then!' and turned to followed the others.

Clara led them through the maze of corridors, the Barbarian talking all the while. The others were smiling and joking once again, listening eagerly to Bobby's story.

They stopped in a small anteroom and slumped into the chairs that were there. As the Barbarian continued his story, Hank could help thinking about the Thief again, getting more and more frustrated. Reliving the event was not helping anyone. It would be better to forget, and hope Sheila did the same. He couldn't keep doing…

'Hey,' interrupted a familiar voice behind them, 'nice of you to wait for me, guys! My feet are killing me!'

'Eric!' they all exclaimed, looking back to the door.

'Good job you guys left a trail of mud for me to follow, or I'd never have found you in this place!'

The Cavalier gave a tired smile. He was a lot muddier than Hank remembered, and looking very tired.

'Better late than never, huh!'

Bobby rushed up to him, and much to everyone's surprise gave the Cavalier a big hug. Eric looked happily down at the Barbarian.

'You seemed to do OK, Squirt!'

Bobby gave Eric a proud smile.

'It was neat, Eric!' said the Barbarian. 'We broke the Curse! The Dragon ate Clara and then she changed into the Keeper!'

The Cavalier walked up to Clara, looking in surprise at her robes and the Sceptre.

'That's a nice Sceptre you've found,' he said. 'I think I saw one of those in Tiffany's once!'

'Er-ic!' said Bobby.

The Cavalier looked round at the disapproving faces of his friends.

'What!' he said innocently.

'Oh, ignore him!' said Diana. 'C'mon Bobby, tell us more!'

The Barbarian was more than willing to oblige, and eagerly started talking again. Eric didn't say much, not even to tease Bobby when the opportunity arose. The Cavalier joined in the party atmosphere, but with less enthusiasm than the others. And it was obvious to Hank that Eric didn't want to stay either.

That was surprising. Was this the same Cavalier that had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, from a soft bed and a free meal? And there was something else, the mournful way Eric that looked at Sheila and her brother that made him very uneasy.

But he didn't dwell on it for long. At every available opportunity, the Ranger's mind went back to the kiss. He couldn't help it, it was almost as if he couldn't think of anything else while he was in the Temple. Not even his friends could free his mind. And every time he though it was over, he would catch a glimpse of red hair or lilac Cloak, and he would start to think about it all over again.

Hank barely noticed as the new Keeper guided them to separate rooms, and showed them their beds. He didn't care about baths or mud or clean clothes. He didn't even watch were he was going, the wonders of the Temple left him cold. Not even the promise of food helped clear his mind.

The kiss was all he could think about. He was willing to sacrifice himself for her, he would have done anything for her. But he had sacrificed their love. How could they ever go back to what they'd had bef…

'Hank?'

The Ranger jumped at the sound of Bobby's voice, and looked round in confusion. He was sitting in a big, brightly-lit feasting hall at a long table. Diana and Sheila were whispering together by the huge fireplace at the far end, Eric nearby, staring off into space. Presto and Clara were standing talking by one of the doors.

'Hank!' repeated Bobby. At his side Uni gave an inquisitive whine.

The Ranger looked at the Barbarian questioningly, too disorientated to speak.

'Hey, Hank, you OK? You haven't said anything for ages.'

The Ranger nodded, with as much of a smile as he could find.

Bobby paused, looking uncomfortable. Hank knew he was being selfish, he couldn't sit and brood, the others needed him. Standing up, he gave the young boy a big, proper smile.

'Bobby,' he said. 'You know, I'm really proud of you!'

The Barbarian blushed, but it was obvious that he had been dying for some praise from the Ranger.

'Aw, it was easy,' he said, swinging his Club over his shoulder. Uni scampered happily off towards Sheila. Could they go back to how it was before?

Bobby turned to look across the room, but he didn't look at his sister, he looked at Eric. Hank braced himself, fearing another outburst of temper directed at the unfortunate Cavalier.

'How long have you known Eric?' asked Bobby, out of the blue.

Hank frowned, with a nasty feeling in his heart. There was something in Bobby's tone that made him nervous. For the first time in hours he focused on someone other than Sheila. He might not want to think about the kiss, but that didn't mean he wanted to gossip about Eric either.

And what could he say anyway? That the Cavalier's brother had been swept out to sea and drowned as Eric watched, injured and helpless, from the shoreline? How was Bobby going to react to THAT piece of joyful information!

The Barbarian was waiting for an answer. The Ranger caught his breath abruptly and shivered. Please let it be something else, please.

'Why do you ask?' he said carefully.

Bobby lowered his voice, and asked the question that Hank dreaded.

'Who's Michael?'

FINIS

====================

Next: Only Heroes Make it Home.

During the search for the Rainbow Orchid, the kids meet another group of adventurers also searching for a way home. Can they cooperate for long enough to use the Orchid? Venger has a plan to ensure they don't!

Author Notes:

1/ On other people's work.

This story was initially thought up while I was reading Zak's 'All's Fair in Love and War.' It has changed a great deal since then, but it was still the first spark, so thanks to her. Also from that story was the idea that Venger torches forests and defenceless villages when he's bored. Oooo, he is just so evil!

The title, a lot of the imagery, and some of the actual lines, are from the song 'Temple of Love' by the Sisters of Mercy.

Eric's surname was originally thought up by Victoria Bishop, (But I can't remember which story).

Shiran's Steel-Dragon habits are from the D&D monster guide, which is a great source of all sorts of stuff for the kids to stumble upon! I was very impressed with the idea of a Steel Dragon liking humans so much that it lived with them. It was just too good an idea to pass up! (And it is Dungeons and DRAGONS after all!)

I also know of the D&D 'theory' of dragon types, but none of them fitted what was needed for the Keeper of the Temple, so I made one up. I suppose the Obsidian Dragon would be technically be a Gem Dragon, which are neutral.

Sometime in the '80s the production company of the D&D Cartoon made some adventure game-books to tie into the Cartoon. One of them had a brother for Eric, called Michael, so I borrowed the name. I don't know what happened in the game-books, but I think it's safe to say that it was nothing like what is implied in this story.

2/ On Any Other Competent Business.

I know this isn't the place, but I have to say I really, really hate spy-ware and I am sick of Explorer crashing because of it. There.

That last one isn't so relevant now, but I still really, really hate spy-ware, especially when you have to reinstall Windows because it's corrupted your hard drive.

I hadn't realised there were so many Hank/Sheila shippers out there! I might not have started this story if I'd known…

3/ On Grateful Thanks

Much lovely, succulent, concentrated and profound thanks goes to EVERYONE who has stuck with this right to the end. Extra special thanks goes to those thoughtful enough to review (and keep reviewing) this story. Every single review has helped!