Introductory Notes by Inudaughter

For the last few months, I have been aiding a friend of mine to co-author a story based on a video game called Heroes of Might and Magic Five. It is a strategy game based on a fantasy world. Within it, wood-dwelling Sylvan Elves, cave-dwelling Dark- Elves, Dwarves, Humans, Wizards, Demons, and undead Necromancers war with one another or coexist in precarious balance. The actual words of this story are those of my friend, thus there is much less recklessness in the wording. There is a great difference between our literary styles. However, I did assist with the plotwriting, some character development, and major and minor editing. I only hope you may enjoy this story.

In The World of Prisoners

By Faceless-Dragon and Inudaughter

I struggled to keep my footing as I was dragged backwards up stone stairs; not to try escape the minotaur strong men that held me, but to control my body gracefully enough to avoid injury. The grips of the bull men felt like steel clamps, so painful and cold that when we finally reached the top of the stairs, it was to my relief when they threw me on to the floor. I sat at the feet of the elfin women who I correctly presumed to be the mistress of the bull men, responsible for my less than mannerly treatment. The Elfin lady looked down at me more ways than one, but my primary concern was not her, but the men I sailed with to arrive at her castle.

My name is Abraham, I hail from Al-Safir capital of the silver cities. By trade I am a merchant, but I am also a scholar and an explorer. Before my journey began I convinced none other than the great archmage Saladin, the first of the circle, to finance my expedition to the kingdom of the dark elves. I tried to seduce the archmage with wild promises of finding gold and spells to enrich his kingdom, at very little risk to the silver cities. At first the archmage dismissed my proposition, for he did not believe any kingdom but his own could house anything worth his while. But then I told him frightening tales of our enemies, the necromancers, striking gold and spells before his kingdom.

Hoping to gain great fortune I set sail for an island ruled by the dark elves, planning to be the first to sell them wonders for which I was certain their culture was too primitive to have on their own. But like many plans mine went astray. What I thought would be a simple business venture would become the greatest adventure in a life already full of adventures. I would make my closest friends, I would fall in love, and I would see the historic rise of a people that would prove to be anything but primitive, all in a place that I thought would be nothing, but a foot note in my life story.

This is the story of the greatest journey I ever had, but unfortunately it begins tragically. Many of the men I took with me died of an illness on the way to the dark elf lands, and when we finally docked on the dark elf shores we were taken prisoner. My men and I armed ourselves with swords and battle spells in the case we were greeted with hostility, but the dark elves came upon us in the night like wraiths. They were so quick and stealthy that they had their knives on our throats before we could even unsheathe our swords or utter a magical verse. Somehow they must have surmised I was heading the expedition for it pleased them to separate me from my crew, and I was left at the feet of a dark elf lady to worry of my fellow adventures.

"What trash have you slaves brought me hmm?" the lady asked with haughtiness that dark elf women were famous for. "Look up at me fool!" The woman snapped as she kicked my chin to force my gaze upwards. "And make sure you look at my face not my crouch, tempting as it is to do otherwise." The lady did not dress like one who wanted people to avert their eyes from her crotch. Quite to the contrary her uncovered hair, stomach, and legs suggested she was one who earned coin with her body, not that I was foolish enough to say so in my position.

Still on the floor reeling from the kick the woman seemed to be tallest being I had ever seen. Pain and captors aside I was paralyzed by the sheer boldness of the dominatrix before me, for after a life time of seeing wonders I had never before seen a woman assault a living man much less seek to command one, but she was only just beginning. "Tell me your name, origin and reason for trespassing," the bold lady demanded.

Before being brought to the castle I had considered carefully what to present to a dark elf authority, but in my nervous state I forgot it all, and could only stutter a response as I sat up and crossed my legs. "Well my lady…please forgive my trespass…my crew and I did not mean to…" There was a loud thunder like clap as the woman stomped her high heel inches from my privates. "Less words dark one. I just want answers!" The woman snapped. At the time I knew not why she called me 'dark one' but the crack in the stone floor that formed from the impact of her stomp was the clearest warning not to dawdle any further with my answers.

"I am Abraham of Al Safir come to sell magical artifacts amongst other items, please do not hurt me! " I shook with trepidation, as my body tensed anticipating pain, and my mind imagined a hundred nightmares in a second, every one of which involved my precious stones. Then just at the moment when I feared I would lose all chance of having children, a preverbal guardian angel flew to my rescue.

"My lady…pant…it may be unwise to hurt him." The 'angel' said as she rushed in from another door. The woman, which I call angelic was actually another dark elf woman, her words of mercy were a miracle to me. Like the elf woman that held me captive this new lady had a find curved figure that made her a stunning beauty, but she did not need to flaunt it with bare skin or hair. Instead she adorned herself in black that allowed her to fade into the background, covered her head with a hood and wrapped herself in a cloak. In sharp contrast to her mistress the angelic elf demonstrated a modesty that any good woman should have.

"How could it possibly be unwise to hurt this trash Roanna?" demanded the lady still eyeing my most precious stones. When the girl looked at me and the minotaurs she became very quiet, she ran up to her mistress and mumbled something that I was unable to make out."Is she saying something that she wants to keep secret from me?" I wondered to myself.

"Speak louder Roanna," the mistress ordered. It is worthy of note that elves, dark and wood, have better hearing than humans. The fact that the mistress did hear not Roanna showed that I was not going deaf.

"The spies from the Phoenix hand... they talked with the crew…they…say these humans are harmless…and…may know many spells we could use my lady." Roanna finished her quiet stuttering and mumbling with a forced bow, as if she hoped it make up for the fact she avoided eye contact the whole time. But my interest perked at the word 'crew' and even with the preverbal knife on my throat I felt a sudden surge of audacity.

"My crew!" I yelled out. "What have you done with them?!" I inquired. Roanna gave me a swift pitying look, but the moment I noticed she suddenly turned her eyes away, avoiding eye contact with me as she did with her mistress. That mistress in contrast seemed to force eye contact swerving her head so that no matter where I looked her emerald eyes would peer directly into mine.

The dominatrix gave one last tap on the floor, and then lifted the knife off my throat as it were and showed me her back as she walked to her granite desk. Sighing as she sat down the lady demanded, "know that your crew is alive, but for now I won't tell you anything else. I will have Roanna escort you to a room as opposed to a prison cell, but before that there is one thing I am curious about."

My pupils must have dilated at the mention of the word prison, for I concluded that she only mentioned it because it was where my crew was. Not wanting to be thrown in prison myself I decided to be compliant with the lady's line of questioning. "What do you do you wish to know my lady?" I asked completely unprepared for the question headed for me.

"Why is your skin so dark?" the lady asked. I cocked an eye brow as I suddenly realized why she bestowed upon me the name 'dark one'. She went on saying, "I've heard of people being tan and even brown, but your skin is nearly black, like the color of a starless night, to say nothing of your smudged nose."

Everything the lady had said about my skin and face blindsided me, for I had never before gave my racial features any thought before that day. But I did my best to answer her. "Honestly I do not know why my skin is like this. I never gave it any thought, because in Al-Safir it is common to see, white people, tan people, brown people, black people, even blue people if you count the gins. This is all to say nothing of the Elvin peoples and even orc peoples who come to trade. I suppose my dark skin might have something to do with me growing up close to the equator. Where I was born originally, far, far to the south of Al-Safir it is normal for people to be black as I am, and for us to have 'smudged noses'."

The mistress nodded at my response, but still eyed me, nay my skin with fascination. "Not sure what you mean by an 'equator' but it is no matter." She said. "Roanna take him to a room. Since he is a weakling from the wizard lands, I don't think we will need the minators to guard him. Still watch your back and post a guard at his door," she commanded.

Roanna said nothing and bowed, as was her habit. With a wave of her hand Roanna dismissed the minotaurs and walked to the door she originally came. With no other orders to determine my next move I looked into the frightening emerald eyes of the mistress again. I pointed to Roanna and began to asked, "do I...?"

Interrupting me the mistress stated, "yes you follow her, dumbass." Under any other circumstances I would have found the comment rude, but at the time I was just grateful she did not turn me into a eunuch. So I kept quiet and just ran to Roanna as though I were her dog.

The elf woman I followed led me through hall ways about four people wide, their ceiling lit by crystals that would glow for reasons I was to find out later. Roanna and I passed several people, amongst them elf men who walked passed us silently with so much as looking in my direction. Minators were also encountered, and though they appeared intimidating with crossed brows permanently etched into their heads, they also gave me no trouble, and one of them even gave me what I assumed to be a mannerly nod.

The relatively courteous behavior of the minators did not surprise me, for I had known many minators in Al-Safir and all of them were of loyal and respectful character. Though Minators are apparently brutish their reputation as savage man eaters has always been undeserved. Rather minators are like gentle giants, who will respect those who respect them. The fact that two minators manhandled me earlier did not change my mind, as they were simply being loyal to their master as is their nature. Besides as Roanna escorted me to my room I would encounter much more fearsome beast.

As Roanna and I marched I was subjected to cussing and boisterous laughter, and when we turned a corner we saw the culprits; two crimson haired elf women so scantily clad that only the bottom of their legs and their most private areas were covered.

When the women saw me one shushed the other, and they both eyed me like they had some sort of plan for me. My muscles tensed, anticipating at any moment they would execute a plan of fowl nature. Then just as I was about to walk by the two women, one of them deliberately veered to her left so as to have her shoulder impact mine. I had expected something of the sort, and yet it was me who broke his stance at the impact, and was forced to grip my shoulder in pain. I kept walking, but I could hear the woman laughing at my expense. One of them even yelled back, "Fucking pansy. Why don't you find a real man and be his bitch?!" The crimson haired woman's insult seemed more true than I would have like to admit, she did after all shove me aside with such ease.

Not in any position to defend my honor, I gritted my teeth to suppress my anger, and kept the nursing of my shoulder to less than fifteen seconds, less I advertise my humiliation to any other that walked by. Roanna suddenly stopped, and without turning around she began speaking. "Are you…" There was silence for several seconds.

"Hmmm?" I responded to coax out the rest of what Roanna had to say.

"Are you okay Abraham?"

Because of her gentle and quite voice interpreting Roanna's mumbling took very careful listening, and then a moment of thinking to derive what she said from the context of our situation. "Oh no I am well," I responded. Not proficient in the art of deception I feared she would see though my attempt to appear strong, and she did.

"May I see?" she asked as she turned to face my shoulder, but certainly not my eyes. I peeled away my robe so she could glimpse my shoulder. Without carefully examining my shoulder she placed her hand on it. At first her hand was warm like a mother's embrace, but then suddenly it became cold as she used magic to form ice upon the afflicted area This action would have amazed some, but I had come from a land of wizards and magic, and so the minor ice spell failed to surprise or impresses me. I was more concerned with seeing Roanna's face as her bangs and aversion of eye contact made such a sight unlikely. I hoped that her tending of my minor injury would provide an opportunity to see the elf woman's ever elusive visage, but she had completed her task too quickly for such an opportunity to appear.

"Ah thank you," I said expressing my gratitude. "This will surely help the swelling." My healer did not respond, she only started walking again. Normally her silence would have been my cue to respond in kind, but alone in a place where the men ignored me and the women were mostly hostile, my escort was the only one I could communicate with at all.

"Well I see the women here do not see me as a lady's man. I am not their type I suppose." I gulped for I was certain that my desperate attempt at a joke fell flat.

"We are going outside now," was Roanna's only response.

"Ah ok. Well I must admit that the women here are very strong. Those woman we encountered earlier had shoulders as hard as stone and your mistress," I paused briefly as we stepped outside and I took in my surroundings, "she is strong enough to crack stone."

Having walked 'outside' my words started to take on a slight echo. Though Roanna called the area we were in 'outside' all we really did was walk into another, albeit larger, cave cavern. Though it was true this cavern was large enough to house several buildings and the minor palace the mistress worked in, the capital building of Al-Safir was significantly more spacious, so as far as I concerned 'outside' was simply another closed space.

"What a pleasant cave," I complimented, not knowing what else to say about it. Roanna for her part did not seem to know what to say in response. Struggling to strike some kind of conversation I looked frantically for something interesting to break the ice. It was difficult, because the town seemed absent of activity, but I did find something.

"Wow! Is that multi-headed animal over there a hydra?!" Sure enough there was a three headed, longed necked beast in the distance that was even taller than an elephant. Several dark elf men and woman pulled on the chains around its necks, apparently in an attempt to bring it under their control. "I have seen many mystical beast, but never a hydra before. Having several heads truly makes it one of the more interesting animals I have seen."

"Hydras are a pain," Roanna responded. "The more heads they have the more of a pain they are."

"I see." I said, and I did not mean it as a figure of speech. I could see that even the dark elf women, for all their strength, were having difficulty preventing the hydra heads from biting each other. Having failed to strike a conversation about hydras I looked for other inspiration. "That statue, is it of a dark elf man?" I asked pointing to a statue of a person I was certain to be a dark elf man with dark hair riding a two legged lizard-like beast.

There was silence. I concluded at first I failed again to strike any kind of conversation, but then after a moment, my escort said something. "He was Raelag. My mistress reveres him." She said.

"Raelag?" I inquired. "So even your mistress can have reverence for a man hmm? What did he do to deserve such an honor?"

"Raelag brought the dark elf people together, even if it was only for a short time. He is the only one my mistress reveres." I nodded so as to show respect for the apparent dark elf hero. I ceased my attempts to converse and eventually we reached the building where I would be housed. Roanna showed me to a room.

"This is where you will stay for the night." She explained. "Mistress was kind to put you here instead of a prison." With all due respect to Roanna and the mistress I did not see how the room was different from a prison cell. It was a small, dark, stone room with no windows. The room was better than a prison cell only in so far as it had no rats. "When you want dark just put the sheet over the glow crystal." My hostess pointed to the 'lamp' as it were.

I lay upon the bed, also known as a stone table with a mattress, and blanket. I said simply, "Thank you," and gave a polite nod. Roanna stood in the doorway silently for a moment and then stated, "I will talk to mistress about being kinder to you." With that Roanna closed the stone door. I took off my robe and threw it on the crystal and tried my best to get to sleep.

Chapter Two

Lying on that stone slab there were three things that kept me awake, not including the fact I was lying on a stone slab. The first was the constant blood curdling roars and hisses of cave beast. I did not know anything of the animals that lived in caves, so every alien and beastly call caused my imagination to go wild with frightening scenarios of getting eaten alive. Sometimes when I was startled by a sudden and mysterious roar I would shoot up off the slab with cold sweat on my brow and ask, "What is that?!" For a while the guard was silent. I assumed he was silent because he was frightened himself until he lost his temper and finally answered my question,

"Let's put it this way asshole!" The guard hissed. "If there's something dangerous lurking around here, I will leave you to get eaten to save my own skin, and since there's nothing you can do about it, you might as well shut the fuck up and go to sleep!" The guard's voice was so raspy that one might have thought he was part snake, and I was shocked and appalled by his bluntness. However I did lye back down, taking some comfort in the fact he had not yet left.

The second thing that kept me awake was the constant loud cussing, boisterous laughter, and shrieking of dark elf women. Sometimes a woman's cussing was correlated with the roar of a beast, presumably because an Elvin woman was trying to get a beast under control. Usually however the women yelled in slurred drunkenness for no obvious reason at all. One woman actually inexplicable kicked my door so hard that when I looked at it I expected to see a crack. The guard tried to whisper to her to leave, but then she vomited. "Dam it! You vomited all over the place! I can't leave my station, someone get a rag and some water!" I could not help, but wonder if perhaps such boisterous behavior was the result of allowing women so much freedom. I considered perhaps women in the silver cities might be just as boisterous and dangerous if they had such freedom.

Eventually the woman's yelling stopped, and so did the sounds of beast, but even so there was still one more thing to keep me awake; constant worry. Most of all I worried about my crew. Where were they, were they well? I was certain that their treatment could not have been better than mine, what if was worse? My crew trusted me, and yet I led them to a people even more xenophobic and aggressive than the war like orcs.

Moreover I took no small risk by coming to the dark elves without befriending a native first. Whenever I went on a trading mission to a new land I always took the time to partner with a native to serve as a guide first. With a native partner one can navigate a culture safely, avoiding its taboos, its most dangerous members, and one can find the products a culture is most willing to buy. I partnered with a native to trade with the wood elves, the dwarfs, and the unicorn empire, everyone on the continent of Asha except the dark elves.

I could not find a dark elf in Al-Safir and in my arrogance I was certain I could interact with the dark elves just by reading a few books. It would have been one thing if I was the only one, who paid for my mistake, but I took other good men with me and for that I could not easily forgive myself. All I could do at the time was lie in my cell and worry with great regret for ever coming to the dark elf lands. I thought to myself again and again, "I wish I never came here. I wish I never came here."

After many times regretting the decision to come to the dark elf lands my mind began to wander. Out of the blue I found myself pondering what my mother would have thought of my choices. Perhaps she would chide me and remind me that my greed finally got the better of me as she predicted. Though at the same time I always knew my mother to be one who cared for everyone, for she helped found many charities, and she always told me I should do the same.

My mother's words were always kind, but they seemed so hollow, for everything she did depended on my father's money, my father's home, my father's good will and he said as much. "Look at her waste time helping moochers." He would say. "There's nothing practical with what she does, she's not making money I'm making money and she burning my hard earned income away!" my father would lament. "Don't be impractical like your mother Abraham, forget high minded ideals, and just earn money." He instructed me. Being a naïve boy at the time my father's words seemed cruel, and yet they rang true. I wanted to dedicate myself to something greater as my mother hoped I would, but found myself being a merchant like my father perhaps finally to be consumed by greed.

Letting my hands fall to my side I unintentionally felt my pocket, which housed an item that would bring back still more memories. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a necklace with a blue orb of shimmering marble. Letting the orb roll in my hand I recalled a time when I was young and in love.

"Here I bought you a little something." I remembered saying.

Though I was in a cold prison, my memories were so vivid I could feel the warmth of bright sun, and the misty droplets of the fountain where I once sat. And even though I was alone in the prison I could perfectly see my first love, Phyllis sitting beside me as she did when I gave the necklace to her. "Oooh. What's this?" Phyllis asked as I handed her the necklace.

"An orb of mystical marble." I said. "I know it is not much, but I hope you enjoy it." I was not lying when I said the mystical marble was not much, for even though it was valuable in the past for its ability to enhance elemental magic, it had since become so simple to manufacture that you could get it almost anywhere. Nevertheless I saw Phyllis' black eyes light up when I placed the marble in her hand.

"Oh this is so nice. Thank you Abraham." It was the thought that counted at the time, a very fortunate thing considering, I had a very limited budget in those days as a student. Still she would not keep the gift, and instead gave it back to me as my only memento of her, and as my only kind distraction from being in a prison.

I cannot recall when I finally fell asleep. Only that my memories slowly transformed into a dream, a dream of dancing with my first love, in a golden palace, to beautiful music. But in this dreams the golden palace melted away into a battle field littered with the dead friends I knew from my days at war, and the musicians would turn to into moving skeletons hungry for flesh. I blasted the skeletons away with magic, and though I knew I should turn to check on my love the dream its self would not allow it. Then my comrades, the ones who fought side by side with me for over a year, rose up as Zombies and poltergeist.

I blasted the poltergeist first as I would have in life, as they could prevent me from using magic if I did not act swiftly enough. Knowing that the zombies were friends no more I cut them down with my sword and it was then I could finally turn to face Phillies. I was just in time to see her stabbed in the back with a wraith's scythe. I shouted her name and fell to my knees holding her rapidly cooling body in my hands. Then just as she breathed her last breath, and her body was ice cold, she opened her mouth, she rose with her mouth wide open, and I woke up screaming the name of the creature I feared more than any other.

"Vampire!" I hollered.

Chapter 3

"For the last time. Shut up in there!" Hissed the snake like voice outside the door. I was in no mood to pick fights with reptile elves and so I fell back into bed. I would have fallen back to sleep, but a voice outside so disturbed me that I thought my skin would crawl off my body.

"Actually it's time for him to wake up Vaythouse." Said the semi-famine voice outside my cell.

"Oh thank Malassa." Remarked the guard Vaythouse. "Babysitting this whiny little bitch is the worse job the boss ever gave me, and to put icing on the shit cake one of the blood maidens strategically chose the front of this cell to vomit." Though I took exception to the comment "whiny bitch" I could feel sympathy for the guard outside. But my main focus was on the woman speaking outside my door, because I met her before; she was much more mannerly to the guard than she was to me.

"Yup, I heard that." She said. "The cadets do have trouble holding their licker, but don't worry she'll get what she deserves."

"Hmph good." Was the man's only response to the woman's assurance, for his mind was elsewhere. "Damn the 'Phoenix hand'." Vaythouse snapped. "Ever since they came along the boss has been giving me all the shit jobs, and won't promote me above scout. I got all the skills of a pro assassin for Malarsa's sake!"

"Come on now, you did botch that last hit, and let's face it you can't do all the stuff the 'Phoenix Hand' does."

Vaythouse grumbled apparently defeated. I wondered so much what the "Phoenix hand" was that I almost forgot my contempt for the woman outside; that is until she came inside.

"It's morning Night-Skin, so get up," she ordered, "or else I will have to lift you up so we can butt shoulders again." The woman could have fooled me about it being morning or night, for I had not seen the sun since I was brought into the caves. But at any rate the woman who had impacted my shoulder stood in the door to my cell.

"Night-Skin?" I inquired.

"Boss says your name is Night-Skin now whether you like it or not." The broche woman responded.

I huffed in contempt. "Where is Roanna?" I inquired, as she was the only one who I desired to escort me.

"She's busy doing important things." I huffed again, but I decided to set a small trap of words.

"Could your mistress have at least sent a minotaur to fetch me?" The woman scoffed, but it was no matter for the trap was set.

"Boss has them doing something else." A sly smile formed on my face because with her statement my trap was sprung.

"So then unlike minotaur slaves you are unimportant enough to come and fetch me." The woman stepped forward, delving deep into my personal space.

"Watch it weak boy, cause if I put you down again you may not get up." The woman threatened.

"You better listen to her," said the guard at the door. "Because the beast that made you pee your pants last night don't have anything on my sister Kythosa here."

At that moment I felt like slitting the woman's brother's throat for revealing such a weakness to my rival.

"What? He peed his pants?"

"No not really. But he was crying about the beast making…"

With a furry I had not felt since the journey I interrupted and snapped, "Do you really think your mistress desires to be kept waiting for so long?!"

Both of the dark elf siblings looked at me for a second, apparently sizing me up since I finally decided to show spine. The gaze was actually familiar, for orcs gave me the same provocative, but nevertheless respectful look when I insulted one of them. It is a strange irony in orc culture, and to a lesser extent dwarf culture, that a carefully timed insult can actually gain more respect than constant compliments, because it shows courage. At the time I could tell clearly that orcs and dark elves had this in common, still I knew less is more in such circumstances.

After a moment of staring Kythosa spoke. "He's getting hot and bothered about this Vaythouse. He-he." The woman put on sly smile, as though I might be more "fun" than she originally supposed. "No the boss doesn't want to be kept waiting too long, Nightskin. Come on," the despicable woman said as she turned her back on me. As I started to walk away I thought to leave Vaythouse one last show of spine.

"Do not fail another assassination attempt while I am gone and maybe you will be promoted in a few decades," I said as I turned to walk away. I expected him to be surprised that I had heard his conversation earlier, and for him to throw a fit as he seemed wanton to do. Instead it would be me that would become surprised and angry.

"This Scout and his men didn't fail to capture you and your crew!" He yelled back.

"What?!" I snapped. I was unable to say anything else to Vanthouse for his sister had yanked on my collar to pulled me away, and Vanthose turned away from me, slinking into the shadows like the snake that I thought he was. Kythosa let go of my collar a moment later for I turned to follow her as she desired.

As I walked out of the building I was held captive, I would have under normal circumstances, noticed that the dark elf town had become a more active place, as dark elves woke up to work, and trade. However that so called "morning" I had a mind that was one track. "Your bother said he captured my crew. Does he know where they are?" Kythosa responded with a wall of silence. "Do you know where my crew is? Can you at least tell me if they are alive?!" I demanded.

For a moment there was still more silence until Kythosa said plainly, "For such a smart guy it's taken you a long time to figure out you don't call the shots here." With that it was me that fell silent. I once again worried about my crew, but with nothing else to calm my worries I began to notice the bustling community in which I walked.

The people of the town were clearly of peasant class as all their clothing was drab, dirty, and covered in patches. In addition people were only buying basic foods and clothes at the bazaar stalls, a clear sign of poverty. It is worthy of note that peasant woman covered much of their flesh, in contrast to the upper class who went almost completely bare skinned. Such is unlike most other societies where the upper classes go out of their way to drape themselves in layers upon layers of fine fabric in order to show off their wealth.

Despite their apparent poverty some of the peasants did have beast of burden to carry what luggage they had. These beasts were not typical mules and horses however, rather they seemed to be like lizards that did not sprawl, and bobbed their heads like birds. The beast varied greatly in size, shape and color and some of them had ornate crest, like some birds do to attract mates. Some of the beast walked on two legs, others walked on four and still others would walk on two or four legs depending on how much weight they carried. Several of the beasts had spikes on their tails and backs and one animal had a shell on its back and a ball of bone at the end of its tail. All of beast made dreadfully sounding roars and howls. Without a doubt they were the monsters that had frightened me the night before, and yet all of them were completely harmless. Clearly Vaythose did have good reason to mock my cowardice the night before.

One animal that was conspicuously absent from the town streets was the hydra. All the books I read on the dark elf people talked at length about hydra, and how they are used for work and war like elephants in the silver cities. In fact I would not ever see any of the hydra being used for labor like elephants and they were much more rare than the other reptile beast in the town. I concluded that Roanna's words about the multi-headed beast being a "pain" must have rang as true to the peasants as they did to her. It was when I concluded that Roanna and the peasants had the same sentiments about hydra that I began to think about her.

"Kythosa" I began. "I have a question for you."

"What?" she responded curtly.

"You mentioned earlier that Roanna was doing something important."

"Yeah I did." Kythosa's voice raised in pitch and tone as though I said something to alarm her slightly.

"Well I noticed she dressed more modestly than you or your mistress, and that she did not carry any weaponry."

"Yeah so?" she responded.

"So then clearly she is not the head noble of your clan, and she is not a soldier," I noted.

"Just ask already!" Kythosa snapped.

I was surprised by the woman's impatience, for in my own culture conversation is an art, and it is polite to reach points in a sophisticated, roundabout manner. I found out then that the dark elves, like orcs and dwarfs, were the opposite of my own society and preferred things as direct as possible.

"Is Roanna a priestess?" I asked.

"Damn you took that long just to ask that?" she said. I kept silent patiently waiting for her to answer. "Why are you asking?" Kythosa asked with a hint of suspicion in her voice.

"No reason really." I conceded. "I simply desire to understand how things work here."

"Uh-huh." Kythosa said apparently unconvinced. "You really seemed to be coveting Roanna. It's kind of creepy really."

I laughed at her remark. Kythosa's statement would have caused me embarrassment normally, but her suspicion of me instead caused me worry. I tried to reassure the woman I followed, to alleviate some of the tension between us.

"Oh. Uhhh- it's nothing really. To be honest Roanna is the only one who has treated me with any manners since I arrived here, and since I did trespass I greatly appreciate it."

"I see." Kythosa said skeptically

"You know as important as Roanna is to your culture she is very humble. I find that very admirable." I complimented. "She is very shy. I am not sure what that means here, but where I am from it too is an admirable quality amongst women. "

We finally reached the castle of Kythosa's mistress, and when we were at the door we stopped. I thought my escort was going to open the door, but instead she shot around and stated, "Let's get one thing strait Nightskin." The woman stomped forward and once again leaned into my personal space, and twisted her head to make sure I was looking deep in her angry, predatory eyes. "Roanna is the kindest, most wonderful person I've ever known and you're a cowardly, greedy, selfish little worm." The words were insulting, but they meant nothing to me, for I stood though enough battles to prove my bravery, and my father taught me greed and selfishness could be positive attributes. It was what Kythosa said next that truly burned my heart.

"And any cowardly, greedy, selfish little worm, who led his own crew into a war zone to sell trinkets, will never be good enough for a great person like Roanna." I stood brave and tall resisting the abuse as well as I could, but then she made the most disheartening statement of all. "Oh and speaking of your crew…," she began, "you have no right to mention them again, because even if we dark elves captured them, your crew is in prison because of your reckless leadership more than anything else."

Though I kept a brave face, the woman had struck a nerve. It was true that I did not know the dark elves were at war, and it was true I did not capture the crew myself, but their fates were still on my head. As I mentioned earlier the crew trusted me to lead them safely, and I did not even bother to deeply study the place I wanted to lead them. Kythosa seemed like an evil woman at the time, but she spoke the truth; I led my crew into a dungeon.

Kythosa had me wait outside the door, while she went into it first. I know not why I was left outside, but it gave me a moment to dwell on my mistake. Dwell I did, and soon I was called to talk to the mistress.

Chapter 4

"Alright Kythosa you can go now, but later I want to inspect your cadets." Said the mistress.

"Yes boss." Kythosa responded as she bowed. The warrior woman walked off leavening me alone to be scrutinized by her "boss"

"You have no guards with you." I noted.

"That's no way to say hello." Was her curt response.

"My apologies." I bowed my head as a way to acknowledge that this time it was me that had forgotten their manners. "How do you do my lady?" I asked.

"Fine. Anyways I imprisoned you and crew because I thought you may be connected to the humans we're fighting. But my scouts tell me otherwise, so therefore your fate is as follows..."

Many questions entered my mind as the mistress spoke; was she going to let go of my crew now that she knew I was harmless, who was she at war with, where was my merchandise? In one fell swoop she would answer all my questions but one.

"You will explain all your skill sets to me, present the items you wish to sell to me, and then I will present you and your crew to Lady Maydonia to see if she wants to keep any of you as slaves. Your items have been stockpiled in the room to your left. Any questions?"

The statement of the mistress answered my questions and yet left me with many more, but I was so flabbergasted by the suggestion that we might be sold into slavery that I couldn't speak.

"Slav…slavery?" I managed to stutter out.

"Yes, though she might not accept you, and I may try to talk her into allowing you to keep your freedom if you have something very valuable to me. Both scenarios are extremely unlikely however." My chest quaked from my beating heart, and nervous sweat had already started to trickle from my forehead. "Now tell me all of your past work experience." The mistress ordered.

I took a deep breath. I needed too in order to think under the pressure. Knowing the impatience of the dark elf people I knew that the mistress wanted to me to respond immediately, but at the same time I knew I needed to collect myself or else I would speak mere nonsense. "Forgive me." I began. "To be frank the possibility of slavery was a lot for me to accept." The mistress did not respond, she only continued to peer into my eyes though it felt as if she was peering into my very soul.

This was one instance where I could make no mistakes, for if I led my crew into slavery I could never forgive myself. Under the pressure of a thousand oceans I began to list all the things that had earned me gold in my life.

"My experience with work began in my father's business where I would help him organize caravans to guide people through the desert of my homeland. My main duties were to feed camels and help them deliver their offspring, but my father also had me keep records of all his patrons' orders. While working for my father, he had me learn reading and writing, and later he sent me to study mathematics at the University of Al-Safir where I graduated 20th in a class of 110."

I had a dim hope that the mistress had somehow known of the University of Al-Safir, for it was a prestigious and selective school that impressed all who had heard of it. But since her face was still as stiff as stone I concluded she had not, after all as far as I knew no dark elf had ever been to the silver cities. Nevertheless I would not allow myself to be discouraged for I had hope that I would say something to impress her soon.

"After graduating from the university I returned to my father's business, but only briefly before I joined the wizard's army and fought in the Heresh Cane war. During that conflict I spent two years fighting as a battle mage against necromancers and orcs."

Since she was from a warrior people I had assumed that the dark elf lady would have many questions for me after I mentioned my time in battle, and would be pleasantly surprised. In truth the lady did not appear surprised at all and had but one question. "Did you fight alongside Sylvan elves?" she asked with a slight rise in her tone.

Her question was the one I feared the most, for Sylvan elves I knew were the bitterest of rivals to dark elves and I thought for certain the mistress would sell me into slavery if she knew I fought alongside the Sylvan elves. At the same time I knew I could not lie for it would not be difficult to research the war to find what I did.

"It is true I was required to fight alongside the Sylvan people, and the Griffin Empire to defeat armies of undead and orcs. But late in the war the Sylvan did change sides. So the Wizard armies fought against them." It was too my relief that the mistress showed no reaction, for it meant that the response to her question did not condemn me to slavery. It may have helped that I did not mention that I refused to reenlist, on the grounds that I did not desire to fight my Sylvan elf friends.

Eagerly desiring to get into a stride I continued my verbal resume, acting carefully to pick out my proudest moments. "After completing my service in the wizard's army I began transversesing the world as a merchant of one sort another. I began by selling glass and mirrors to the orcs, and then I moved on to selling sugar and spices to the Griffin Empire, and after that my product was iron, which I sold to the people of my homeland, and finally a government contracting company, which built water pumps and aqueducts so cities could have running water. Whatever business I was in my basic plan was always the same; to buy products where they're abundant, sell them where they are rare and then when others learn of the same plan, I sell my business and start another before competition is too fierce. It is a simple plan, but one proven to be of great success, one that has connected me to all of the peoples of Asha. My name has been made good all over using my business plan."

Sitting before dark elf judgment, I had hoped that I could protect myself by listing all of my great achievements without any more difficult questions hurting my stride. However it was not to be, for the matriarch had one more great enemy, and she had a trick to make sure I told the truth of my relationship to them.

"What was your public works company called, when did you start it, and when did you leave it?" The dark elf lady asked curtly.

In my pride and arrogance I had assumed that the lady asked about my public works company because as a kind of government official herself she had taken interest in it. I had failed to realize the lady was setting up a trap and so fell into it by answering her question without hesitation. "The company is called Aquarius Public Service Company." I explained "I started it three years ago and technically I still own it, though I hired others to mange it in my absence. I can talk to them about installing an aqueduct and water pump if you are interested." I offered. I expected the lady's eyes to light up and for her to say "I would be interested." But that is not what happened.

"My spies have noticed water wheels in dwarf caves with your company's name on them, their construction began a sometime after you started your company." My heart nearly leaped out of my chest at the mention of being associated with the other great arch nemesis of the dark elves. It was obvious that strong business ties to the dwarves had been revealed, but I decided to play dumb and toy with the truth just in case she had reason to be unsure.

"Well my lady..." I began with hesitation. "Aquarius is a very large company with many customers; even as the owner I cannot keep track of all the trans…" The matriarch said nothing, and did not change her facial expression, but I could nevertheless feel myself being unconvincing, and I could sense my futile attempt of deception was digging me into a deeper hole. But I was too desperate to avoid slavery to give up; I had to defend myself somehow and I did.

"You cannot hold it against me that I did business with dwarves!" I yelled out due to sheer desperation. Due to the same desperation I ended up ranting "I am a merchant, I sell to everyone, and I cannot choose sides. I partnered with an orc man to sell mirrors and glass to his people while both of our peoples were at war. It does not mean I was on the side of the orcs, it means I am a merchant and I must be neutral. It would be one thing if I sold the weapons that the dwarfs used to kill your people, but I have never been a death dealer! I have only sold items that enrich people's lives!"

When my rant was over I regretted giving it, for yelling at the dark elf lady could have only brought me closer to slavery, and my heart sank as my mind went wild with visions of a slave overseer's whip. I would get a reprieve however for that moment a dark elf man waltzed in. The man said nothing, but somehow his entrance was a signal for the matriarch to rise out of her chair and start walking to the door.

With her back to me and on her way out the door she said to me, "You may try and run away if you please... though you won't get far. Come back tomorrow if you choose not to. Oh, and Nightskin…you have been a death dealer. You just don't know it."

With that the lady and the mysterious man left, and as sat their alone. I could feel my heart sink and I could feel myself in chains.

Chapter 5

"A line is forming," noted the stall owner as I searched through his selection of apparently edible plants. Though the stall owner was being polite I could sense impatience oozing out of him.

After I was dismissed by the matriarch I had realized that I had had nothing to eat since arriving in the dark elf lands. If I had any hope of redeeming myself I would had to have eaten something to have the clear mind in which to do so.

"I will just take a few apples," I said as I handed him reddish/greenish fruits for him to bag. When I gave me back the fruit I handed him some metallic coins to complete the transaction. I was in a mood too melancholy to ponder how the stall owner got fruits when he lived deep underground. If I was not so melancholy I would have also purchased some of the odd plants I did not recognize; exotic foods are part of the joy of venturing to other lands after all.

I simply found the nearest stone slab of a bench and sat on it. The slab was hardly the most comfortable place to sit, but at least I was finally able to eat and I had a peaceful place for my thoughts to come from.

"Anyone else would have been overjoyed to have me work for them with my credentials." I thought. "Why not the matriarch?" And if my credentials did not impress her than what would?" I wondered. To me the lady's interview process seemed arbitrary, and I could not really seem to pin down what she desired from me. Though there was one consistency in what the matriarch wanted. She seemed hell bent on defeating the dwarves and Sylvan, in fact from the interview she did not seem to care about anything else. I realized then it would have better if I was a death dealer for I would have had something to offer her.

My thoughts were interrupted by a small child who's staring distracted me. I looked left and right to see if the child was looking at someone else, and then I realized he was looking at my "unusual" skin color; it was not the first time a child found my skin strange. I assumed that like all children, the elf child would be distracted by making a funny face. By sticking my tongue out I was able to prove my theory in the affirmative, or so I deduced by the boy chuckling.

I was about to make another strange face, when the boy's mother came up to him and said, "Stay away from him, he looks like he has something wrong with him." There was no way I could convince the mother I was safe to be around, but a certain other someone at that very moment would do that for me, even if it was the very last person I wished to speak to.

"Don't worry ma'am," Kythosa assured. "He's harmless, just watch." Kythosa than demonstrated her point with a light smack upside my head.

"Would you stop being so physical?!" I demanded. My question was answered in the negative when she started to push me lightly.

"See?" She said ignoring my complaints."You can touch him all you want you won't catch anything and he won't fight back."

I grumbled at Kythosa's remark, but I was not about to start a brawl in front of a child, and besides she did teach the mother that I was not dangerous.

"I see," said the mother chuckling. "We'll see you later then." The mother walked away, and the child waved and said, "Good bye, Mr. Darkman."

Naturally I waved at the child, but I then turned to address the returned nuisance. "So why have you come to bother me now Kythosa? Your mistress said she did not want to see me again until tomorrow."

"Huh!" Kythosa scoffed. "I'm bothering you because you stole my seat. I don't like that." Not willing to move me the woman sat on the bench next to me. In her hand she held a stick that skewered some sort of spider like creature. "Scorpion on a stick," she began. "My fav' food. Bet you don't have anything tasty like this on the surface."

Kythosa's definition of scorpion was certainly different from mine. The creature on a the stick looked like a hideous cross between, a tailless scorpion, a tarantula and a crab, completed with spiked arms the likes of which I had never seen. The shell of the creature appeared to be as hard as the carapace of a crab, so I was surprised to hear the loud crunch of Kythosa biting right thought it.

I then admitted with no regret, "no I cannot say I have seen any such animal on the surface." So engrossed was the woman with her 'scorpion' that she did not respond, she just munched the disgusting creature down, spiked pinchers and all. When she gulped down the last bit of creature she stated, "rumor has it that you don't have much to offer from the surface world."

"If only because the dark elf people here have very different taste than us surface dwellers," I noted thinking of the creature Kythosa just ate that would be rejected everywhere else, and of my rejected resume which would be accepted everywhere else. "Your mistress only seemed to be thinking of Dwarves and Sylvan elves. Every question she asked concerned only them, but you are not at war with them now. I would have known from being with the dwarves."

"Either of those bastered asshole people could attack us at anytime! We got to be on guard at all times or those monsters will wipe us off the face of the earth, or totally enslave us. It's why even the civilians have military training."

Neither the Sylvan elves nor the dwarves seemed like the kind of people that would try to massacre or enslave a whole race. What really struck me was the military training of peasants. "Wait…you mean the store owner that I just bought apples from, and the woman just here with her child, they….

"Could kick your ass so fast your head spin and fall off," Kythosa interrupted. She then clarified, "not that they're good enough to be full-time professional soldiers like me. I've been training since I was as young as that kid you saw earlier, in the boss's official army." Kythosa put her hand on her chest, for clearly to her the "official army" was something to be very proud of and pointed out for.

"I see," I said. I realized then that as annoying as Kythosa was she could perhaps provide insights into the mind of her boss. "And who does your mistress train you and the peasants to fight against if not the Sylvan and the dwarves?" I inquired. "You did mention this was a 'war zone'."

"The humans of Timberwood." Kythosa stated. "You see lady Maydonna, who's the lord of Tolthsa, a few days walk from here, owns a human city on the surface called Timberwood. The humans up there are rebelling so we been training troops to help Maydonna put the rebels down."

My interest perked at the name "Maydonna". "Oh yes. The same woman that your mistress said she would send me too if I were not useful to her. Is she an ally of yours then?"

Kythosa grumbled at my question. "Not really," she said hesitantly. Clearly my question was deceptively simple. "The boss and Maydonna have completely different ways of viewing things. The boss wants to unite all the clans under one rule like Raelag did." Kythosa pointed to the tall, handsome, statue of a man riding a two legged lizard. "Maydonna on the other hand wants the clans to be independent of each other, but Maydonna is the more powerful lord by far so we have to kind of go along with what she wants."

I see I said looking at the statue. Just then another elf woman ran up to Kythosa. "Sergeant," she said. She would have said more except she was panting too much. "I ran...gasp...five laps...gasp...around the town…gasp...may I rest and…gasp...eat now?" The girl looked liked she would pass out too quickly to eat. From her rose red face, and how she constantly held her forehead she looked to be suffering from a severe headache.

Despite the girl's condition Kythosa was in no mood to be merciful. "Actually I think you missed a lap," the 'sergeant' noted.

"But I counted them! I did the right amount I swear!"

"Nope, you missed one, do five more," Kythosa said matter-of-factly.

"But…But by the time I am done, lunch break will be over and I wouldn't have eaten," the girl pleaded.

"Well, you should have counted your laps better. Off you go now."

"But…"

"No butts. Off you go now."

Kythosa waved the girl away and with that the girl started her laps again. For my part it was crystal clear that this was not typical military training.

"Lucky for me I do not drink alcohol," I said. "I would not want to accidently loose my liquor around your brother."

Kythosa smiled, "No you would not, because your punishment would be way worse than…hey wait, you don't drink?!"

As Kythosa's reaction turned to shock I smiled and explained, "though some people drink where I am from it is often looked down upon, for it clouds the mind and prevents us from acquiring knowledge. But you know I did make an exception for the dwarfs. If you do not drink with them you will never get anywhere."

Kythosa laughed. "Ha-hah! Yeah that sounds like them, they got to be the world's hardest drinkers."

"They are. More than the people of the Unicorn empire, more than the orcs, more than anyone. Even their religious ceremonies revolve around drinking. Everything is drinking to them," I said. I did not mean too, but the moment Kythosa laughed I had realized we reached a repore of some kind and by mocking the dwarves I was nurturing it. It was the first time I did so since arriving in the dark elf caves.

The dark elf soldier then explained, "well we would let you get away with not drinking if you really insist."

"If I managed to stay here, but that does not seem likely," I confessed.

"Ah, come on Nightskin! We need warriors. People in the deserts must know something about fighting or weapon making or something."

I turned to Kythosa and made sure to look her right in the eyes as that seemed so very important in dark elf culture. "I've happened to have been a soldier."

By looking in Kythosa's sapphire eyes I could see the disbelief in them. "What? You?"

"Yes." I insisted. "I saw action as a battle mage. I fought for two years."

Kythosa laughed at me. "But you seem like such a wimp." She said without hesitation. I was not insulted, in fact I smiled for I knew the joke was on her. "Ok, ok." Kythosa stood up. "Prove it…by taking a swing at me."

Punching Kythosa was not actually how I desired to show my battle skill so I stood up and boasted. "I can do better than that."

"Oh I doubt that." Kythosa responded again pushing me away lightly as she seemed wanton to do, but even this did not make my smile disappear.

"I suggest you step aside Kythosa, I would not want to kill you." Kythosa cocked an eyebrow and smiled.

"Oh you think you're suddenly a tough guy now huh? All this time you been a wuss and now you expect me to get out of the way?" I did not respond to the dark elf soldier with words, for I was finally understanding how to talk to dark elves and it was not with kind diplomatic words. "What are you doing Nightskin? Starting some sort of dance hmm? You going to…whoa.." I was not dancing, rather I was concentrating and when she saw the grayish blue energy forming at my hand, her taunting stopped as I knew it would.

"Stand back!" I ordered, and with that I fired off a small comet of magical energy that went right though a giant bolder, and then through a stone wall and then through who knows what. Everyone that could see me stared at me in shock and awe, including Kythosa. For a moment there was silence and shock, Then Kythosa broke the silence.

"Holy hell! You could do that this whole time?!"

"Yes." I stated. "I just chose not too, because I came here for peaceful trade. Besides, it would not have been enough to fight my way out of here." I had a smug smile on my face for I knew what I did was nothing short of impressive even for dark elves. "I can fight with knives and swords as well," I boasted. I was proud of what I did, not because I produced a powerful blast of energy, but because I knew I was finally understanding how to communicate with dark elves, a skill I would need if I wanted to avoid slavery. However I knew better than to let overconfidence get the better of me. "Do you think my battle skills are enough for your mistress to try and prevent me from being Maydonna's slave?" I asked.

"Well…" Kythosa scratched her head nervously. "Maydonna's a much stronger lord, I don't think the boss could afford to keep you from her even with your skills but…don't give up ok?"

I nodded. "I understand." I said.

Kythosa then stated, "Well break is over for me, I got to get back to the cadets, but…"

"Yes?" I responded..

"What's your real name Night-Skin? In case you do end up staying here."

"Abraham," I said with pride. I started to bow, but then Kythosa extended her hand. I gripped her hand, we shook, and I made sure that my eyes looked into hers as I did so.

Chapter 6

After my dramatic and confidence building meeting with Kythosa I rushed back to the room filled with my merchandise to try to select the items that the mistress would be most likely to purchase. I rummaged through the many items and as I did I kept in mind that the mistress two main desires were to eliminate the Sylvan and dwarfs and unity of the dark elves. The trinkets I had brought included but were not limited too; pendulum clocks, containers of sugar, different types of minerals, compasses, magical artifacts, models and schematics of the public works buildings I could make and even pictures of exotic animals which I could bring to the dark elves.

Despite all the many items, I could not find one that would be very useful to the lady's goals. Once again in a pit of despair I sat back and took a deep sigh. To settle myself I brought out the necklace that had so often settled my nerves. The necklace, unlike the orb that made up the end of it, was precious for it brought back many a memory even if some of those memories were painful. Feeling settled I put the cheap necklace back in its box so as not to be distracted by it anymore. I was about to go back to shuffling amongst my belongings when suddenly I noticed some of the objects were moving already.

Some of my merchandise was falling over, as though something was moving behind it. I very cautiously approached the affected area, tiptoeing to the side where I could get a visual angle without getting too close. Before I saw what is causing the ruckus, I heard paper being ripped and light sniffling and then I sighted it. There behind two statues and a box of artifacts I could see a small pearl black, four legged animal, with stubby reptilian legs and wings. For only a second I stared at the animal in wonder, and then I noticed what the creature was tearing apart.

"Hey!" I yelled. The reptile looked up at me, its large eyes and horned he reptilian head revealed to me that it was a baby dragon; wondrous as it was the fact that it was a dragon did not concern me.

"Get away from my papers!" I demanded. At that moment I ran after the little lizard as it scurried away with my most important documents. The dragon pup was not so fast, but its ability to fit through small cervices and though holes in my merchandise gave it a large advantage evading me. But I was determined to regain my document, so I pushed less delicate products aside to take away from the animal's advantage.

I would have had the animal right then and there if it did not push aside my more delicate artifacts, forcing me to have to dive and catch them less they shatter. Momentarily distracted the animal scurried into the hall, putting my artifacts aside I dashed after it. There were dark elves and Minotaur in the halls, and though they may have stared or chuckled at me chasing the dragon, none of them interfered.

The animal led me to a room, and if I had read the signs or even looked at the shape of the room I would have noticed what I was getting into, but I did not, so what happened next shocked me. When I was close enough I leapt to grab the pup's back legs and pulled him towards me, and the pup let go of the documents just as I desired, but by then it was too late.

The floor shook from an impact directly in front of me. I was completely covered by the shadow of a great beast. I did not dare look up for I wanted desperately to believe that the parent of that dragon pup did not stand over me. But several drops of hot saliva fell and singed my skin, providing no doubt as to what fire breathing beast stood above me. Very, very slowly my head cranked its way up to face the monster above me.

There before me were the razor sharp talons of the dragon and about thirteen feet above me I could see angry white on white eyes of the beast, and sharp fangs petruding from its top jaw. The monster roared and I closed my eyes not wanting to see the mouth of beast clamp down upon me. I screamed, but there was no need for once again a guardian angel would save me.

"Isabel!" the voice of the angel called out. "Isabel come." I dared to open my eyes and I saw the dragon look towards a woman walking in my direction. It was Roanna and I was once again grateful for her saving my life. The dragon picked up the dragon pup with her mouth and to my surprise she swallowed the baby. The dragon then leapt behind Roanna, curling its body round her in an affectionate circle. Though most of the beast stood behind Roanna, its tail curled in front of her in a protective fashion. The elf-angel Roanna stroked the head of the dragon in return for its affection.

Rising up I asked, "did that dragon…did she just eat her own offspring?"

The dragon keeper laughed, and responded, "of course not. Female dragons have a pouch in their stomach where they can keep their babies she will vomit her pup back out."

I raised an eyebrow. I had seen dragons before, but had I never heard of them holding their offspring in their stomach. But thanking my savior took precedence over discussing the paternal methods of dragons. Approaching Roanna again I said, "well thank-you for helping me again. I owe you…" The dragon suddenly roared when I got closer to its dark elf companion, and the beast covered more of her with its body as though to protect her.

When I stepped back Roanna reassured the dragon by saying, "It's ok, it's ok. He won't hurt you, he won't hurt you." When the black dragon pulled its head back Roanna praised, "Yes that's a good girl, yes..yes you are." After 30 seconds of reassuring the beast the dark elf angel dragon keeper stated, "Okay, it's safe. Home dragy, home." With that the dragon turned to go back into the great door way to what was apparently its den.

Stepping forward I complimented, "that was astounding. I have never seen anyone have so much command over a dragon before."

"Thank you," Roanna responded as she looked away. Roanna's tendency to avoid eye contact was in sharp contrast to all the other dark elves I had met thus far. I wondered how the other dark elves dealt with her aversion when they always seemed to force eye contact on me. But unlike the matriarch and unlike Kythosa I would not force the issue.

Without any signal from myself Roanna reached to the floor to pick up one of the partially eaten sheets of paper. "Ummm…" she began. "I have…I uh…have one of the sheets of paper the dragon got…I'm sorry it got ripped. I didn't mean for one of the pups to escape. "

"It is alright Roanna," I stated with a confidence that contrasted Roanna's meek demeanor. "Only a corner was taken off this one."

As Roanna handed the sheet to me she noted what my most important document really was. "Oh is this a picture…is this a sketch of your friends?"

I smiled when she guessed correctly what the sketch was. "Yes it is," I confirmed. "This is me posing with some of my comrades in arms during the war." I stated proudly. "On the far left is my friend Mohadi." I pointed to a man heftier than a typical battle mage. "He was a fat man, but only because he ate what he cooked and he cooked very, very well, if you know what I mean." Roanna chuckled at what I said, but before I said anything her attention turned to the man on the far right in the picture.

"Oh my goodness." She announced. "Is that person, is that person…" Roanna did not need to finish her sentence.

"I will not lie, that man is a Sylvan Wood Elf and he is my friend." I stated proudly.

"Nooooo!" Roanna responded "Don't be friends with him!"

I laughed at Roanna's comment. "His name is Draymore, he would leave his unit to tell us stories, and ohhh was he a great story teller, and singer. Plus he knew any rabbit he hunted would taste best when prepared by Mohadi." I laughed at my own comment.

I looked to see how Roanna would respond to me talking so friendly of a wood elf. As usual I had to wait, but out she came with it.

"Ha, ha." Is what Roanna said, not what she laughed. "Look how girly he is."

"What?"

"Wood-Elf men are so girly."

In the Wood Elf's defense I joked, "he only looks girly to you because dark elf women are so manly." I expected Roanna to playfully denounce what I said, and had we known each other longer I would have expected an equally playful elbow jab in my arm. Instead she went deafly quiet, her feelings clearly hurt. "I am sorry. I meant that in jest." I pleaded, so her feelings would recover. To fight the awkward silence I scratched the back of my neck and noted, "it is true that Wood Elves are rather dandy."

When a smile formed on Roanna's face and she chuckled I knew that I had won myself back into her favor. "They really are," she agreed. I was about to speak more on my comrades in arms, when I was asked, "are any of these men part of the crew you came with?" I choked hard, because with the exception of Draymore none of the men had lived.

"No, I am afraid not," I said barring my true emotions on the subject. "But somewhere amongst these all these papers on the floor there is one of my navy men that came with me. I went about fishing for the picture I referred to, examining every sketch. Within all these sketches were my entire life's accomplishments and all of my many relationships. But with one exception all the pictures had one thing in common.

"Hey who's this girl?" Roanna asked as she picked up a sketch. I shot up as I knew she found the sketch that was an exception because it had a woman it. I picked up another sheet and then walked to Roanna to look upon the picture myself. There in the sketch was a woman who's beauty had once stunned me, and whose grace and charm once seduced me.

"Her name is Phyllis," I said. "She was my first love."

"She's very pretty," Roanna noted. With her shining, flowing black hair, her fair skin, and her beautiful smile, I naturally agreed.

"Yes she is," I agreed. "She had a smile as beautiful as the dawn, and whenever we were together we laughed but, I sighed, "it was not to be. At the time I was not very rich. I still depended on my mother and father. In the end Rita's father commanded her to become the 30th wife of a wealthy and powerful vizier."

"30th wife?" Roanna repeated in surprise.

I assumed that Roanna was surprised, because for a vizier thirty wives was not a lot.

"He was only beginning his collection. He was young after all."

"Collection!?" The dark elf responded in horror. I was taken aback, but I suddenly realized that this was not a place where polygamy was practiced.

"Yes. In my country it is accepted to have more than one wife but," I found myself sighing once again, "I only desired one wife and she was taken from me." I let my head fall in defeat.

"Oh, I'm sorry that happened to you," Roanna stated though I noted a slight absence of sincerity in her voice.

I over looked it, and explained, "after that day I swore I would never be poor again and so since then I worked hard to become wealthy trading with almost anyone." Another awkward silence became between us. Then Roanna spoke.

"There's a rumor that says you were willing to trade with the orcs even when your people were at war with them," she stated.

The speed at which rumors disseminated information and for that matter misinformation has always surprised and impressed me. It was why I sometimes used word of mouth as a means of advertizing. "It is true," I admitted. "Business is business as far as I am concerned," I declared. "Besides I did not sell weapons with the orcs, I only sold them glass and mirrors, perfectly innocent."

"Mirrors can be used as a signaling device by armies." Roanna blurted out. Once again I was taken aback. "How?!" I asked.

"Well, Kythosa says that on the surface, there is this bright crystal in the sky that shines for about half the day, and you can reflect the light to signal people," Roanna explained.

I was nothing short of flabbergasted and embarrassed for not knowing earlier that glass could be weaponized. It should have occurred to me that orc ladies were not just buying my mirrors to indulge their vanity. I was then washed over with guilt at the thought that I may have helped kill my fellow countrymen. "We do not know for sure if the orcs used mirrors as weapons, and besides the orcs are a proud people that were fighting for their freedom. Part of the reason I left the army was because my nation's government was trying to enslave them."

I was not certain I believed my own argument, but in my own guilt an important thought came to me. "Your mistress said to me that I was a death dealer even though I have not ever sold weapons." I gave Roanna a second to respond, but she did not so I continued with my question. "Is this the reason why?"

Roanna mulled over my question, considering it carefully. "Knowing the mistress she may have just meant any item can be used as a weapon. It is part of her tragedy that as a warrior mistress that she must consider such things as a fact of life. But…" Roanna left me in suspense for thirty seconds as she seemed wanton to do with her hesitancy.

"She may also have meant that if one has no ideals then they will inevitably do harm. But you will have to ask her…if you can." I nodded to what Roanna said, and I chose to keep such important information in the back of mind, and the front of my mind whenever I would speak to her again. Roanna then asked, "is it true that you will do business with everyone?"

"Not everyone," I responded. My heart began to fill with disdain as I thought of the one people that I would not trade with. "I would never accept so much as a single coin from the necromancers." I declared with what I considered to be righteous condemnation. "Even if they offered me all of the world's gold I would never trade with them."

"Are the necromancers worse than the orcs?" Roanna asked.

I took a deep breath to try and suppress my anger, though I could still feel it seeping out of me. I brought out the picture of me with my comrades in arms. Looking at it I explained, "I cannot ever blame orc soldiers for killing my comrades, just as they cannot blame my fellow soldiers for killing theirs; for killing is what one has to do in war." The picture began to crumple under my angry grip "But is one thing to kill a comrade, it is entirely another to kill your comrade, and then raise them so you have kill them yourself."

The weight of having to kill my own comrades again had hushed us both. I feared the awkwardness might have frightened Roanna away. I smiled to lighten the mood. I was about to say something when Roanna suddenly said, "oh how long have you been there?" I swirled to look behind me, and there was another black dragon, or perhaps the same black dragon I had encountered before. "I think our friend is telling us she and the other dragon wants attention." Roanna explained smiling. "Well, back to work."

It would have been wise for me to go back to work as well. I had a lot of preparations to make if I were going to present my wares to the Dark elf lady. But Roanna was such an angel to me and I desired so much to spend more time with her. I simply had to come up with a reason and to do that I had to buy time. I began by saying, "So I was wondering…" Hesitation allowed me to buy time think of something to ask her to perhaps start a conversation, but I could feel awkwardness seeping from my body. "I had read in a book once that dragons are very important in Dark Elf culture and…" All I could think as I spoke was how smooth I was not. Besides the obvious reasons, books on Dark Elves had proven very unreliable and by citing them I was sure I was making a giant fool of myself. But I kept going. "I was wondering if perhaps you could tell me some things about them, I could provide some service to your dragons. Yeah."

What an idiot I was. I was certain I had truly ruined things and that Roanna would say "no" just to be away from me. But like all dark elves Roanna had a surprise in store for me. "If you knew the mistress better would it help you sell your goods?"

Hesitantly I said, "yes, for ultimately I sell my products to her. The more I know about her the more I can understand what she is willing to purchase." Another surprise awaited me.

"Come Abraham, I will show you where I first met the mistress, when she was just a child." Like one of her dragons I followed her, wondering where she would lead me. But as I followed the black dragon eyed me, and let me proceed before it. I could feel the beast's eyes on my back, and I could have swore I heard my name being whispered, but then I shrugged off the suggestion as mere paranoia. Still the dragon made me nervous as it tailgated me. Taking a deep breath I looked to where I was going, for it was Roanna not the dragon who would have the most to tell me.