Chapter 7

"So…" I started. "Before I go in is there anything that I must know so that the dragons do not attack me?" I asked.

"Yes," she stated. "Don't play tag with their babies. They get confused when you do that."

I laughed at Roanna's joke. "I saw that, but seriously, what do I…" Before I could finish speaking we had entered the den and what I saw filled me with awe. I saw great row upon row of dragon couples in their nest. All the couples had offspring which they constantly licked. Every now and then dragons would fly in carrying large carcasses of beasts that I did not recognize. The carcasses were shred into pieces and fed to the offspring.

"Wow," I said in awe. "I have never seen so many dragons in one place. No, I have never seen so many dragons period."

Roanna nodded. "Dragons are the one thing we have more of than any of the other dark elf clans. We don't have a big army, or a lot of land or even a lot of gold, but dragons come from all over and gather here."

"How did you get so many dragons to gather here?" I asked.

"Watch," was Roanna's only response. The dragon keeper looked to her right and then her left. She found a dragon that had a small wound on its foot presumably from grappling with dangerous prey. Roanna walked up to the creature, and because I followed she had to reassure the animal I was not dangerous. A ball of fire magically formed in her hand. Then she shocked me by placing the fire upon the dragon's wound. I expected the dragon to cry out in pain, but instead the wound healed.

"Magic that normally hurts heals these dragons." Roanna stated. " I don't know why this happens, but I had this ability for as long as I can remember."

I looked on, stunned, as the dragon gently stroked Roanna's head with its own, a clear show of affection, and perhaps, gratitude. I was silent for a moment as I was both amazed at Roanna's talent to turn destructive magic into healing magic, and at the relationship she had formed with these powerful beasts. "Roanna that's amazing!" I said out loud. Forgetting myself I threw an arm around her. When I noticed she blushed and went stiff I lowered my arm, and cleared my throat awkwardly. "Can you heal people as well with your magic?"

"No." Roanna replied as she let her head fall in shame. "Only the black dragons can be healed by my magic. So you can see my magic isn't that good."

I was taken aback by the Roanna's self doubt. "On the contrary," I countered, "what you can do is astounding and provides no reason for you to hang your head in shame. Indeed any ability to heal is wonderful." As I spoke, the black dragon Roanna had just healed gave a pitying moan as though it desired to raise her spirits.

"But there are many others that need healing too. We have medical tents, but usually when someone is really injured or really sick all we can do is watch them die. I love dragons, but I wish I could do something about other people too."

What Roanna said sounded very tragic, but I had the very suggestion I needed to raise her from sadness. "Have you considered studying light magic?" I asked. "Light magic was invented almost entirely for healing."

"No one here knows any light magic spells." Roanna responded.

I smiled, for even if my homeland had nothing to offer the matriarch, my homeland could certainly give something to Roanna. "In my home land we have volumes of books on white magic." The Elvin angel lifted her head.

"Really?"

"Yes" I trumpeted proudly. "And there are dozens if not hundreds of wizards who can teach you light magic. Indeed I can introduce you to one."

"Well…" Roanna began shyly. "That's nice, but I wouldn't want you going though all the trouble for me."

"Ha!" I laughed. "You think I like watching people die?" I asked, and of course I was rhetorical. "It would be my pleasure to find you a tutor. Besides I must prove myself useful to your mistress somehow." I suddenly felt my own spirits fall, "Though I do not know if your mistress would find that useful enough to keep me from being a slave to that powerful dark elf lady," I noted with a heavy heart. "To be truthful it seems that your mistress' primary concern is killing, and since I am not a weapons dealer I have little to offer."

"I know it is hard not to think ill of the mistress in your position." Roanna admitted. "But there are many dangerous things outside this fiefdom, Dwarves, untamed cave beast, there are even rumors of demons in the volcanic caverns to the east of us. But whatever dangers are out there the mistress dedicates her life to protecting us from them and we are very grateful of that. And we believe that the mistress' cause of uniting the dark clans is a just one, one worth fighting and maybe even…dying for." I had doubt at the notion that there were demons lucking in the volcanic caverns or anywhere else for that matter. Demons haven't been sighted in decades after all. Still Roanna's point was made clear.

"Besides…" Roanna continued, "She had it tough growing up."

"Ah yes, you were going to tell me where you first found her."

Roanna solemnly walked to one of dragon nest. "I was very young, barely older than a child when I first came across the mistress. But she was not the mistress then. Then she was only a child herself." Roanna gulped, as she placed her hand on some of the hay that made up the dragon's nest. "She was very thin because the dragon mother did not cook the meat well with her fire breath. She also had many scratches from grappling with the dragon offspring for food."

"Why was she amongst the dragons?" I inquired. "Can she heal dragons like you?"

Roanna shook her head. "She was brought here as part of a bargain made by her family. The mistress was to gain great magical power from the dragons, but the price she was to pay was her sanity. I am one of the few people that can talk with the dragons for prolonged periods and keep my sanity. But the girl I saw in that nest wasn't like me; she was like most people who would go mad just by being the presence of dragons for a long time. Worse yet she was talking to the dragons. This was causing her to become terrorized with constant nightmares- illusions of her own death and the death of others, even if the dragons did not mean to make her see such things."

"The dragons can speak and…take your sanity?" I asked. A chill went down my spine as I looked to the beasts, which were already fearsome, in a new and even more dreadful light. Roanna did not answer my question verbally she simply kept her solemn face, and continued with her story.

"As their healer I asked the dragons to spare the child's mind. The girl's dragon mother told me the child was named Sinatara and the dragons told me that she had constant nightmares and heard voices that did not exist. After hearing this I lost hope. I was certain the girl could not to be helped. But then the dragon mother told me that I should help her, and she gave me a prophecy, which I will never forget." Roanna took a moment of silence for quoting the dragon's prophecy clearly deserved great reverence to her. "The dragon mother said, 'This child is not to be a daughter of dragons, but a child of the elements. You must help her and make her your younger and older sister. When she is of age she will be married to all the dark elf people and in the end they shall be her only family."

Unlike Roanna I thought the prophecy said nothing except that child Sinatara, being a 'child of the elements' liked to play outside. At the time I was certain the prophecy was but a parlor trick; confusing and cryptic words that allowed the dragon to say she was correct no matter what happened. I kept quiet on the matter however. There was simply no point in insulting Roanna's faith. However I did ask, "Is the dragon mother you mentioned here amongst us?" I looked amongst the dragon suspecting that anyone of them could have been the dragon Roanna mentioned. The dragons for their part simply looked back with apparent disinterest, but it was interesting to note that all the dragons did look at me, insignificant as I was.

"No." Roanna responded. "That dragon was a very special dragon. Different from the ones here." I let Roanna continue her story. "I took Sinatara home." Roanna continued. "My parents were not pleased, but when I explained the prophecy of the black dragon they allowed me to help her. I remember so many sleepless nights, where nightmares kept her awake. Sometimes the child would wake up thinking she was covered in blood or being eaten alive by worms. Sinatara even tried to kill herself. " Roanna seemed reserved, but I could not help but put my hand on her back to comfort her.

"It must have been hard." Roanna placed her hand on mine.

"It was hard." She agreed. "But by protecting her, by comforting her, by being with her through every nightmare, and every ghastly hallucination I was very slowly able to heal her. Day by day all of Sinatara's bad thoughts faded away. I was afraid that Sinatara might relapse when she met her family again."

"You mean the same family that wished to feed her mind to the dragons?" I asked with a hint of righteous anger. I made sure what I said could be heard by the nearby dragons; for if they were going to look at me I wanted them to see that I thought they too were somewhat in the wrong.

"The same family." Roanna stated. "Sinatara tried to talk with her mother and some of her siblings, but their minds had been destroyed too. Sinatara's mother even called Sinatara a traitor and threw rocks at her, and the rest of her family simply turned their backs on her."

"I can imagine that would be devastating." I acknowledged.

Roanna nodded, "I thought for sure Sinatara would relapse, and she was hurt, but she recovered quickly…very quickly. The very next day she became the youngest person to master the elemental vision ability, and when she was first enrolled in a school to learn how to become a shadow witch she scored at the top of her class. In sparing matches involving magic fighting or whip fighting it was never a question of whether Sinatara would win, but how many minutes her opponent would last."

At its mention I became curious as to what elemental vision was, but I quickly found myself too engrossed in Roanna's tale to remember it.

"When our clan was attacked by clan Nightshard, Sinatara recruited some freelancing spies and blood furies, Kythosa and Vaythose amongst them, and led a successful counter attack. Years later when our clan leader died, Sinatara entered herself and a small army into a tournament to become clan leader herself. Because of her association with the disgraced Sinatar family, me and the spies and blood furies that we recruited earlier were the only ones who supported her. But even though we were heavily outnumbered, we were able to defeat all of our enemies in part because Sinatara had mastered the elements more completely than any other dark elf before her. Far from being hindered by her hardships, Sinatara seemed to be strengthened by them."

My eyes bulged and I nodded to show I was nothing short of impressed by what Roanna told me about Sinatara. Defeating an army larger than yours and mastering elemental magic were not an easy tasks as I knew from experience. But I still did not feel I had enough knowledge of her to earn my keep. So I thought of some questions. "I see why Sinatara is so haughty and carries herself with such confidence." I explained. "But why does she care so much about uniting the dark elf people? And why is she so impressed with this hero 'Raelag'?"

Roanna took a moment to think on my question, for the best I concluded for it seemed the dragons, like myself, were watching her to see that she said. "Well…" She began. "By being divided the dark elf people weaken themselves, and make themselves vulnerable to our common enemies but…I don't think that's what you are truly asking." Roanna was nothing if not shy and astute. "After Sinatara was rejected by her true family she buried herself in her magical, and historical studies. She studied many things, but for some reason she studied the dark elf leaders that worked to unite the dark elf people the most. She studies Raelag more than anyone else, perhaps because he was the closest to being successful but…if what her dragon mother said is true then…maybe she's compensating for being rejected by her family."

I nodded, and then asked, "Do you know why it has been so difficult to unite the dark elf peoples?" When I asked the question I had hoped I would find out something that would allow me to be useful in Sinatara's quest. But Roanna only shook her head and said, "Sinatara works so hard to unite us, if only our goddess Malassa would give her guidance." Roanna let her head fall and her eyes close as though she were making a kind of prayer.

I had many more questions, and I wished I could have stayed longer, but I could not deny that I had stayed too long already and had much work to do. With hesitation, I begrudgingly declared, "I must go now for I have much to do to prepare for my presentation for the mistress."

"I understand." Roanna responded.

Without thinking I wrested my hand on Roanna's shoulder and expressed my gratitude for telling me about Sinatara, "Thank you for informing me about Sinatara's life. I am certain I will find the information useful somehow."

Roanna nodded and went on with her prayer. I started to walk out of the dragon den, but then I thought of a question. "One last thing before I take my leave, since you dragons are able to speak." I declared. I turned not to Roanna but to the collection of dragons behind her. "Why would you dragons make such a cruel bargain, one that did so much damage to an innocent girl's mind?"

The dragons said nothing at first, but what I said was enough to rouse Roanna out of her prayer. "Be careful." She warned softly. Then I heard a whisper behind me, and in my ear.

"I will tell you." The voice said. I shot around for the voice was familiar.

"Phylilis?!" I yelled out. But alas there was no one behind me but a mother dragon stroking its pup with its front foot. Then I heard another familiar whisper.

"Thanks for taking me down the second time. I would have done the same for you buddy," said the voice of my old friend Mohadi. By now it was clear that the voices were really coming from the dragons. For no logical reason when I realized where the voices came from it suddenly reminded me of the nightmare I had the night before and it repeated its self in my mind's eye, those this time I had no fear of it.

"Damn your mother! Always giving away my hard earned money!" My father said. For there in front of me, all of a sudden, was my father.

"You are not here father." I insisted. "The dragon is doing this!"

As though he ignored my statement he snapped, "You're too much like your mother. At some point you have to figure out what you are going to do to make money!"

"I make a lot of money!" I argued bitterly. "I have tons of gold in my name."

Then from behind me I saw Phyllis hanging her head in sorrow, and unwilling to face me, just like the very last time I saw her. She then opened a door and said simply, "I am sorry Abraham, but I must go."

"But Phyllis…" I called out running after her, but before I could say anything else, a bone hand grabbed my shoulder and there was darkness all around me.

"I care too much for my daughter to let her marry a poor man." Lying on the stone floor I could see the litch that had pulled me down. He had the voice of Phyllis' father. "You're a fool thinking you can be with someone as beautiful as her. You belong with us!"

'Us' quickly proved to be skeletal hands reaching up from the ground. "No!" I shouted. I scrambled to get to my feet to escape the undead beings rising out of the ground. "I have made a great fortune! I do not belong here, I do not belong here!" Suddenly there was another hand on my shoulder, but the hand did not belong to a litch or to anyone from the troubled parts of my past. It belonged to Roanna.

Then there was one last echo of a distant whisper that came from nowhere. It said in a feminine but cryptic tone, "We break minds to make our servants into weapons, for we must be foxes to recognize traps and lions to frighten away wolves."

Disoriented I examined my surroundings while trying to keep my balance. I was back in reality, in the dragon den I had originally entered, for Roanna had pulled me out of the illusions.

"Are you alright?" Roanna asked in concern.

"Yes…I think so." I said shakily, for somehow I had walked to within 3 meters of the dragon I wished to speak too and the mighty beast stared into my eyes as if it were looking into my soul, which it must have to create such illusions.

"We'll your safe now, but it would be a good idea to leave, before your mind is affected anymore." Roanna noted. "We will meet again later."

I nodded in agreement. "Yes I hope we can see each other again as well." Still shaken I walked out barely noticing that Roanna went back to prayer.

"The moment I left the den I wanted to take a few seconds to collect myself before I prepared my presentation. Even as an adult, hardened by many horrific sights, I could barely stand the mental assault by the black dragon. I did not dare contemplate of what their illusions could do to the tender mind of a small child.

I was about to sit down against a wall to rest, but it was not to be, for one of Kythosa's female cadets suddenly ran up to me gasping , and inquired "Mr. Nightskin where were you?" The girl had proved to be the most polite dark elf I met at the time, with the exception of Roanna, but I could ill afford to dwell on that fact.

"In the dragon's den. Why? Does someone need me?" I asked.

"The mistress has decided she wants you to conduct your presentation now, not tomorrow." At that moment my mouth dropped and all I could think was, "Oh no."

Chapter 8

"Forgive me (gasp) for being so late (gasp) mistress, this change in time (gasp) was wholly unexpected." I ran to the office of the mistress as fast as I could and as such my gasping lungs made so had to rest my hands on the top of my legs to stand. Gasping I raised on hand just high enough to point one of the Minotaur guards standing beside Sinatara. "I see you brought body guards this time, it must be you heard about how I showed off my powers to Kythosa. I am not such a weakling after…."

"What are you selling me Nightskin? Tell me quickly for if I could afford to wait I would have had this presentation tomorrow." Sinatara Interrupted abruptly, but calmly. I scratched my head nervously, for the matriarch was never one to deny and after Roanna told me of her true strength I believed that more than ever.

"Of course. Well…" I hobbled nervously in to the room with my wares. I could feel myself stumbling, but I could not afford to stumble for if I was to keep my freedom. Not only did I have to convince the Elvin lady that I could I provide her quality products for her money, but I had to convince her that I my products were of such a great value that it was worth taking on a more powerful dark elf lord to protect my freedom so she could get them. By far it was the hardest sale I ever had to make especially since I failed to take the time to organize my wares.

But no matter the difficulty ahead of me I could not fail, for even if I got a second chance from my last mistake, there would be no third chances. This was it, do or die.

"As I mentioned before I am not normally a weapon's dealer, but since you are in a unique situation there is something I can provide. Let me show you some of the weapons that I originally brought for self-defense."

I was about to go shuffling when the mistress suddenly blurted out, "We confiscated them." I cocked an eye brow in surprise, but I really should not have as taking my weapons would make sense if they were going to keep me and my crew hostage.

"Then you should know that those blades are made of steel of the finest quality." I noted. Out of habit I looked to Sinatara's face for wisdom of whether she accepted my statement of fact. As expected I found nothing on her marble, stone face. However any sales man worth their salt knows to always remain upbeat and positive so I kept up my smile. "The steel comes from my homeland, and no one knows why it is of such fine quality, but not even the dwarves can mine anything better." I declared proudly.

"Our steel is fine." Was Sinatara's curt response. "Next item Nightskin."

I did not find it surprising that the mistress was unimpressed by great quality steel for she was unimpressed with everything else. But I could not make any mistakes, and sounding discouraged would be a mistake. Instead I had to think. I did not have any other weapons, but perhaps since Sinatara was so militant, there was an item that could be used as a weapon even if it was not originally made to do so. Then I thought of something. "It is just as well you turn down my blades my mistress, because I think I have items more befitting of brilliant magic users like ourselves. You see like your people my people are dedicated to the mystic arts, the world's greatest schools of magic are in my country and…"

"Less sales pitch, and more items." Sinatara interrupted impatiently. I saw then that I already made a mistake at a time when I could not make any mistakes, but thought that perhaps I could recover.

"Of course." I responded. I stepped into the room with my items. "The item I want to show you is….is…" I felt around for what I was looking for, shuffling things out of the way. I quickly found I had to say something I did not truly wish to say such an impatient and powerful lady. "One moment please." I said. I did not have time to organize my wares, so I could not at a moment's notice pick out the items I wanted to present. Yet another mistake was being made, and as a consequence I felt a pair of angry and impatient eyes on my back, my punishment for being disorganized. When I found the item I was looking for I turned around hoping the first emotion I saw on Sinatara's face would not be anger.

"Behold…" I drum rolled. "The robe of Sur-Issues." I walked over to the mistress presenting the robe for her to hold, a move the prompted the minotaur to ready their battle axes. It would be risky to let a man with battle experience approach their master after all. Sinatara halted the approach of her guards with a wave of her hand, and accepted the item just as I had hoped she would.

"This robe is not considered a weapon in my nation for is usually used to enhance the casting of peaceful magic. But by wearing this robe all your magic spells will be empowered whether the spells be used for war or peace."

I watched with satisfaction as the matriarch unfolded the robe. It is not always the case, but very often when a customer is allowed to hold an item they tend to be more likely to think it should be their's and therefore more apt to purchase it. The magical artifact Sinatara held was exeedingly valuable. No doubt, I thought, it would be useful to a magic user like her, and I could obtain even more such artifacts. I guessed it actually fortunate that I did not have those items with me however, because now she would have to keep me out of slavery to if I were to obtain those items.

"Though this robe is a great artifact it is really just a taste of what I can offer. If you desire I can get artifacts that are made specifically to enhance your elemental magic and to a much greater degree than the robe would." I offered.

I let the matriarch hold a sample of the artifacts that could be made in my homeland, then tantalize her with the possibility of getting items that enhance the elemental magic, which she enjoys using. It was the best plan I could come up with, and since magical artifacts of this sort were not made in the dark elf lands or anywhere else other than my homeland I was certain it would work. But there was a fatal flaw.

"This is a good artifact, but we can already make artifacts like this," noted my customer from hell. My mouth dropped like a stone at what she said. In all my years, in all of my travels never before had I encountered a civilization other than my own advanced enough to make magical artifacts. Occasionally, on the black market, thieves would compete with the Silver Cities by stealing the artifacts which my nation made and selling them. But besides thieves I had assumed my homeland had a monopoly on such items. The mistress went on to say, "I did not know there were artifacts that could enhance elemental magic specifically, but I will put in a request to local artificer." With blatant indifference, Sinatara tossed the great artifact aside, with all the reverence that one would have for a mere bath robe.

The items that I had anticipated would be most valuable to Sinatara had now been cast aside. Since those suberb artifacts did not tempt her, I was certain that all the items I had would be nothing but garbage to her. All that I could do was grasp for straws, and hope the sheer variety of interesting trinkets would be enough sell her on preserving my freedom.

"Very well then…on to the next item then." I tried to hide my despair, but through my hesitation my despair was leaking out. I feared it may be the final nail upon my coffin. "This next brilliant invention is the pendulum clock. It is a more accurate time piece than a sundial and can function above ground or below," I announced getting back into my sale's man flow. "You see, all you do is open the cupboard underneath and then just nudge the pendulum like so and…" My flow was interrupted by a tapping sound. It was coming from behind me, but I did not need to turn to know what the sound was. I knew it was Sinatara's first show of emotion in my presence; the impatient tapping of her finger upon her desk.

The tapping unnerved me, so I reached in my pocket and griped the orb of mystical marble that I had placed there. Somehow, griping the orb, which had been a part of many found memories, helped calm me, and remaining calm was something I most certainly needed to do. "…just like that, you have a timing device that requires no sun, no magic and no other effort on your part. Now my next item…" There was more I could have said in favor of the pendulum clock, but clearly the mistress was unimpressed with the clock so moving on to the next item quickly was mandatory. "…I have these rolls of fine silks, from the Naga island kingdom far to the east." I caressed the silk gently to show that touching the silk was nothing, but a pleasurable experience. "Please feel for yourself what fine fabric this is." Of all the items I wanted the mistress to touch this was at the top of the list. At my offer the mistress accepted the silk into to her arms. She caressed it slowly as I did, and I was certain she enjoyed it to.

"This silk…" As she spoke the mistress even went so far as to rub the silk around her neck, slowly and sensuously enjoying its smooth and inviting texture. "I like it, but no fabric is so fine that I would fight Maydonna for it." Sinatara acknowledged as she slapped the silk on her desk. I thought I was finally making headway for I at least found something that she enjoyed, but then what she said next stole away my new found hope. "This should not be dragged out any longer; you clearly have nothing worth fighting for. Minators…"

"Wait!" I pleaded. As far as I knew the mistress was correct, I did not have anything that would be worth a battle, but I did not desire to surrender. "It will not take long, please give me this chance." The minotaur tensed at their matriarch's word, ready to take me away. However Sinatara gave the signal to allow me to continue. I was getting another chance, but Sinatara leaned back in her chair, and from studying customers many a time I knew that was a sure sign her mind was made up, that I was but delaying an inevitable loss of my freedom. But delay I would, albeit nervously.

"Well the next item is…" on my way to the next item I bumped my elbow against the pendulum clock, I would have showed pain, except I had to grab I the clock quickly before it tipped over entirely. I grabbed the time piece just in time to prevent its fall, but I had made a gaff that I could not afford to make, and so nervous sweat began to bead on my forehead. I gulped and once again gripped the orb in my pocket.

"This next…product." My nervousness was once again revealing itself in my hesitation and damaging my ability to present my merchandise. I did my best to force my feelings down. "This next item is a most perfect map of the world…" I rested my hands on a spherical object, thinking that perhaps maybe I could again find my flow again. "This map is called a globe and it…"

"The world is flat." Sinatara interrupted.

I started to explain to the mistress why it is known that the world is round, a process also known as digging yourself into a deeper hole. "Actually it is known by examining the earth's shadow on the moon during a lunar eclipse, that the earth is… "

"The world is flat dumbass." Even the minotaur rolled their eyes at me at the mention that the earth being round. Even if I was correct in the earth being round, I had made a fool of myself. It was surprising that the mistress did not take me away right then, I suspect that the only reason she did not was because the silk, which she still held, was calming her nerves preventing her patience from wearing thin.

"My…my… apologies." My own shattered nerves were making it hard to think strait. "Well, on to the next item." I was in hot water, and I could not decide what item to show next. I randomly picked up a sheet of paper.

"But this is… this is…" I did not know what it was until unrolled it. "This a schismatic for a city water pump."

"I am not interested in that now, just as I was not interested in it when you first mentioned it." Sinatara snapped. Another damning mistake on my part, for I was trapped in a vicious cycle of mistake and nervousness, each contributing to the other.

"Well I…I" Just then I turned around and impacted the pendulum clock and this time it did fall over. I cringed when it landed on the stone floor with a loud crash. "uhhhhh." That mistake was the last straw. "Take this dumb ass away, we'll throw away all his junk later." Sinatara commanded

"Wait!" I pleaded again, this time to no avail, for the minotaur marched forward and swept me off the floor by my arms. The process of taking me off my feet pulled my hand from my pocket and forced me to let go of my orb of precious memories. "No!" I yelled. I thought for sure my freedom was gone, and the orb of such found memories was flying away from me, but then, a miracle happened.

"Ahhhh!" Sinatara yelled out suddenly as she jumped out of her seat. Sinatara's reaction was enough to stop the minotaur as they looked back to their mistress out of concern. The mistress' mouth had dropped wide open in shock, but more disturbingly her wide surprised eyes suddenly lost their pupils and iris, and became entirely white. Up to now Sinatara had been mostly un-reactive, and so I scoured the room for something that might be significant enough to arouse such a powerful reaction from one so stoic. The only thing unusual was the small bit of mystical marble on the floor.

"This orb." To my surprise the lady began to cautiously approach it. Thus far the matriarch was irreverent to everything except Raelag and the unity of the dark elves. But somehow she found it necessary to approach this tiny little pebble, which I thought was only valuable to me, slowly and respectfully as though it were an artifact of worship. "The magic from this orb…" she began and then stopped. She then kneeled and gradually reached down to grip stone between her thumb and pointing finger. "…is amazing" Sinatara continued.

The mistress was correct in the fact there was some magic resonating from the orb, I had no idea how she would have known it. "How do you know there is magic in it?" I asked. The mistress was too enthralled to respond, but I got an answer to my question from an unexpected source.

"She has her elemental vision activated." Vaythose said. I looked to my right and low and behold there was Vaythose.

"Where did you come from?" I inquired in surprise.

"Oh I've been here the whole time you been here. The boss asked me to come here in case you did something stupid and the minotaur failed to stop you. You just didn't see me because I was invisible."

Anticipating that I didn't believe him he made himself disappear in an instant and then reappear to prove me wrong. "I see or rather I do not, but why are the lady's eyes white?"

Vaythose then explained "When a dark elf warlock gets those white on white eyes, it means they're using their elemental vision that allows them to see the primary elements within things and people."

I gasped at what he said. "I have heard of this, there are four elements water, fire, earth, and air, which make up everything, but there is a theory amongst the mystics in my nation that at any given time one of the elements can be dominant in a given object or life form. According to the theory, even a ball of fire could have the water element in it, and even wind might have earth in it."

"Well. That theory's true, and some well trained elves can see those elements." Vaythose explained.

My eyes bulged at the thought of what Vaythose said. "If what you say is true then she would see the elemental magic in the mystical marble. Then what she must be seeing must be absolutely…"

I was interrupted, but Sinatara said what I was going to. "Amazing." She said. "This stone has all the elements, but they are fused in to one." The mistress explained distantly. "The elements are flowing through me, through everything around me, like they were the blood that everything has." Without ever tearing her gaze away from the orb the mistress asked me. "What is this substance?"

"Mystical marble." I replied. "It's a very valuable magical stone from my country." Actually the stone was cheap and abundant in my country, even if it was a luxury in the past. In fact the stone was so worthless to my people, that it had not once occurred to me that anyone could value it. But for someone who could see the elements like Sinatara, for someone obsessed with the elements, an orb of mystic marble would be a most perfect item.

Of course since the mistress valued the marble so much I did not tell her that the marble could be purchased at any random shop in the Silver Cities. It was better for my freedom that she thought that only I could get it for her.

"Hold this." Sinatara said abruptly as she forced the orb into Vaythose's hand. "This 'mystical marble will be tested." The mistress stated.

I was silent for a second, as the mistress closed her eyes, and inhaled as though she were going into a state of deep concentration. "Uh…If I may ask…" I started. "How are you going to test…" My question was answered before I finished it, by a ring of purple lights flowing around her body. As she took another breath I noted, "Ah you're going to cast an elemental spell, you know when wizards in my faction cast a spell blue lights form around, WOW!" Suddenly the floor around the mistress erupted into several rings of violet energy, the floor and the castle began to vibrate violently as though there were an earth quake. When I saw wizards in my country cast a spell a small amount of pink or blue energy would around form around their arm and that was all. But the blinding energy I saw before me was to precede something far more powerful than the spells the wizards cast.

The mistress clenched her fist and then with lightning forming around her head she shot a great ball of fire out of her window far into the distance. The fire ball hit a rock and caused an explosion that could have easily destroyed a house maybe even two. What was especially astounding is that I had seen the fire ball spell cast before by wizards in my nation. But when they cast it, it was not nearly as powerful as when Sinatara cast it. It was the most effective casting of a spell I had seen up to that point, but the truth was I had seen nothing yet.

With energy still circling around her Sinatara ordered, "Throw me the orb." Without hesitation Vaythose tossed the marble, which Sinatara then caught with one hand. When she obtained the stone, another circle of energy erupted, this time from the ceiling. The effect was to make a cage of magical energy. Then the energy formed around the matriarch and reached both the ceiling and the floor then surged once more. The lady then tossed the orb out the window then shot it with the fire ball. The fire ball pushed the orb along its tergectory and when it hit another distant area the explosion was much larger than the first. I was left speechless.

"Can you get me more of this?" The Matriarch inquired.

With hesitation I responded, "Yes…Matriarch."

The mistress cracked a smile, the first one I had ever seen on her face. It was a kind of evil grin, a grin that sent chills down my spine even as it meant that I gave her reason to secure my freedom. She then said. "Welcome to the clan…Abraham"

Chapter 9

"Will that be all?" The servant asked me as I surveyed my new, more finely decorated, guest room.

"Yes, that will be all." I responded. The servant, who was not a Minotaur soldier, not a reptile elf, and certainly not a rude and crude man-woman, but a trained and professional servant, bowed her head and backed out of the room. The moment I heard the "click" of the room door latching I threw myself upon the mattress and its soft cotton blankets. How wonderful it was to finally have a true servant who was trained to know how to talk and treat her master, and what a magnificent thing it was to have a real room with a carpet, a dresser, decoration, and a bed where I could comfortably rest.

Though the temptation to lie back and sleep was great, I only allowed myself a moment of rest, because convincing Sinatara to protect me from slavery was a victory just large enough to deserve celebration. Besides there was a culture I desired to study, and the way to kill two birds with one stone was to go to the market and sample some of the exotic foods. With not another moment wasted, I went off to sampling. Anyone I encountered I greeted with a nod and a wave, and due to my feeling of accomplishment it did not bother me that they failed to greet me in return.

As I came upon the town square I found myself in a rather empty place, for most of the dark elves had done their shopping earlier in the day, and those that had not had become curious and awed onlookers to the crater from Sinatara's enhanced fireball spell. It was a shame to see no dark elves shopping, really. One can learn a lot about a culture by observing the trades its people make, but at least there were no lines at the shops and vendors.

While there were many stalls to choose from I knew exactly what food I wanted to purchase and which stall to get it from. I placed coins on the counter and confidently requested, "Scorpion on a stick please." The stall owner did not look in my direction at first, for even if he was at his stall he was another awed onlooker of Sinatara's work. "Excuse me sir." I said to pull the dark elf merchant out of his trance.

"Oh! Sorry. Hold on a moment." The stall owner went about cooking me a "Scorpion" on a great grill. "That was quite a blast don't you think?" The merchant chief asked me.

"It was," I acknowledged casually.

"Gah!" The stall owner responded, surprised that I could speak so calmly about the event. "Did you see even see those fireballs?"

I laughed at the stall owner's question. "Do you jest? I helped cause the second blast." I boasted. "The mistress used one of my products to make her spell more powerful."

"Geez. First you go around shooting random rocks, and then you get the mistress to do it. You're a recipe for disaster you know?" The elf stall owner smiled and chuckled slightly to show he was not entirely serious about his criticism.

"I have been known to shake up the places I visit, but do not worry my friend, I promise to do more to build the town than to destroy it."

"Well, that's assuring. Here's your scorpion."

"Thank you. Have a good day." I gleefully accepted the cooked creature not despite, but because it was so bizarre; bizarre foods are after all an adventure and I do so love adventures, dangerous and risky as they are.

Before I sat down, I purchased several exotic and edible plants along with a dish made of rice and the meat of a cave beast. I found a bench and as I examined the foods I purchased I noted that most of the dark elf food was awfully green for a people that lived underground. There was not a shred of doubt that they had yet to become true cave creatures.

While I did concentrate to note the taste of the foods I ate, I also took the time to consider carefully the true measure of my victory and my next course of action. Though proud of my victory, a more sobering look revealed that all I truly did was persuade Sinatara to try and convince a more powerful lord to not accept me as a slave. My freedom therefore was hardly assured. But then again, I did get myself better accommodation with my salesmanship and I was sure I did the same for my crew, where ever they were. But then the crack of a whip filled the air, and when I turned into the direction from which it came I saw a line of men and Minotaur carrying buckets of water under pressure of the lash.

I honed my attention to a disheveled and filthy man from out of the crowd of slaves and saw part of what I thought to be a familiar face. Disquieted, I shot up off the bench as I yelled out in anquish, "John?!" John was one of my crew members, an architect I knew from the Unicorn Empire. I thought perhaps he had been made a slave through miscommunication. Confident that I had sufficient leverage with the mistress to take the man from out under the lash, I marched toward him asking "John is that you?" I dropped my hand on the man's shoulder and turned him so he could face me. That was how I found the man was not the John I knew from my crew.

The man gasped in surprise of my action. His otherwise tired and lifeless eyes grew wide at me for that reason. "Oh my apologies." I said. "I thought you were someone else." With that statement there was loud snorting and grunting as an armored Minotaur cracked his whip in the air. "Oh. I am sorry." I said stumbling out of the slave taskmaster's way.

Once I was out of the way, the taskmaster herded the slaves along their original path. More slaves, some Minotaur and some human, came and they too were hastened with the threat of the whip. I swallowed hard at the sight, for even though I had seen many slaves at work in my homeland, the new possibility that I might be one of them weighed heavily on me. The worst was when I locked eyes with some of my fellow humans, for they looked at me as such an oddity. "Who was this privileged man?" they must have wondered. "How can he have rounded ears and still have such privilege as to not be under a whip." The contemplation of such thoughts filled my heart with guilt for my own freedom.

I sighed deeply as I still wondered where my crew was and walked back to my bench. I found myself sighing still one more time when I saw I had dropped my scorpion on the ground in my rush to talk to the man who was not my friend. I sighted a public rubbish barrel to throw the dirtied creature in, and on my way there I heard a voice that I knew from before. I turned around to see a friendly face.

"Roanna!" I called out. A short distance I saw Roanna struggling to carry several heavy bags on each arm. She would put all of her delicate frame into lifting the bags, carry them for a short distance and then she would have to stop a moment to pant and rest. I ran to my thus-far-only friend amongst the dark elves saying, "Hold on. I will help."

The exhausted elf panted a few more times and then let the bags fall. "Oh. Thank you (pant) it would take me forever to get home (pant) without you." I lifted the bags that fell to her left and took note of the various items in them ranging from clothes, to food stuffs, to stone carvings, to pottery, some jewels, even a bouquet of flowers.

"No wonder your difficulty." I began "Why are you carrying so many items?"

Now with less than half the items to carry on her own, Roanna's frail, slender arms lifted the rest of the bags with little difficulty. "Well…I was doing some shopping when a whole bunch of people suddenly started giving me gifts."

I cocked an eyebrow at what Roanna said, and since I had lost count of all the times I cocked an eyebrow at what a dark elf said it was the 1000th time for all I knew. "Well it is fine that the population is so generous to you." I conceded. "But why so many gifts? Are they marriage proposals?" I joked. Admittedly humor was never my strongest talent, but Roanna nevertheless chuckled at my statement.

"No they're not. It's just whenever something goes right for people they credit my prayer."

"Your payer?"

"Yes. Besides healing the dragons my job is pretty much to pray for the good fortune of others. When things go right they thank me with whatever gifts they can get me. Plus they give me gifts for blessing their babies." As I suspected Roanna was a priestess, and a very powerful one at that. The only other place I knew where the religious elite would be given more gifts was in the Unicorn Empire. However Roanna was different than the unicorn priest in that her followers gave her gifts willingly, in contrast to the unicorn empire priest who coerced gifts out of their followers.

"I see." I said to demonstrate my understanding.

Roanna then asked, "Can we sit down for a moment?" I could not have been more glad that she asked.

"Of course, of course." I said, affectionately placing my arm on Roanna's shoulders to gently guide her to my seat. "I have a place set up. Oh do you mind if I get a scorpion first?"

"Not at all." Roanna responded. I was barely able to contain my excitement at Roanna's request to sit with me. I was so much like an excited child it that it would be embarrassing to think about.

"Do you want one too?" I offered.

"Yes please," the Elvin priestess said in response.

I dashed to the scorpion stand and thanks to the stand owner being more attentive I was able to quickly acquire two adventures on a stick.

"There you are." I said offering the creature as she sat down.

"This is the first time I ever eaten this creature," I told Roanna.

"Really?" Roanna asked. "Don't you have scorpions on the surface?"

"We do." I acknowledged. "But the scorpions there are different. They have crab claws and stinging tails. They taste like wood and you have to cook them carefully or at least cut off the tail lest you be afflicted with their poison."

At my description of surface scorpions it became Roanna's turn to cock an eyebrow. "Scorpions with tails?" She repeated questioningly.

"Exactly." I stated. Then I proceeded to bite into the creature, an action that proved to be quite mistaken. "Ouch!" I yelled out. "My teeth." I said nursing my mouth. "This shell is like metal armor."

Roanna chuckled and stated, "Well of course you're going to hurt your teeth if you bite scorpion shell. It's like trying to bite crab shell." A questioning look then formed on Roanna's face. "You do have crabs on the surface right?"

"Of course." I said still recovering my injured tooth, which to my good fortune was not cracked.

"Do the crabs have tails?" Roanna then asked. I did not answer her question.

"Kythosa bit right through this," I protested. "How did she do it?"

Roanna' chuckled yet again. "Kythosa is very strong, even her jaws. She can bite through walnuts." My eyes bulged at the rather impressive feat. I was going to ask how the rest of us were to eat a cave scorpion, but Roanna proceeded to tell me before I did so.

"All you do is hold it like this." Roanna griped the creature by the thorax as she instructed me. "Then you just push the stick up like so and the meat bursts out of the mouth." Actually the mandibles of the animal were pushed right out, as the white meat from within surged out. "And then…" She continued. "You eat the meat off the stick, and you can pull the legs off and suck the meat out of them."

I found the process of eating the creature as strange as the creature itself, though that did not discourage me from attempting to make a meal of the small monster. "I cannot get it out." I lamented.

"Here, let me help you or else you'll..." Though I appreciated my new friend's offer I could not help but keep trying. Such proved to be another mistake with this very strange food.

"I think I almost got it…Oh no!" With one last good shove I pushed the meat too hard causing much of it to fly out and fall to the ground. "Damn these scorpions are a challenge to eat!"

Roanna giggled. "I tried to warn you."

"Oh this creature cannot possibly be worth it!"

"Oh, don't worry." Roanna assured. "Have some of mine." She offered. Handing me her scorpion I licked away some of the flakey, snow white, meat. I rolled the meat in my mouth to taste all sides of it, and then slowly chewed it carefully, contemplating the taste thoroughly.

"Not as fishy as crab." I noted. "Yet it does not have the wood-like taste of scorpion on the surface…." I thought about the taste some more, searching my memory for something that tasted similar. Yet even with all the minutes I spent I could not really place the taste and I could only say it was, "Good. I like it though I cannot really compare the taste to anything I have had before. It is, gamey I suppose."

There was a second of silence before Roanna asked, "Does it always take you so long to taste things?"

"Of course." I proclaimed. "When I taste another culture's food I do not want to just ram it down my throat. Instead I want to truly enjoy and appreciate it or at the very least truly know it. In fact I learn all aspects of a new culture that way."

Roanna was slow to respond to my statement, as she often was. But then she asked a question that was hard to answer. "What is like to travel so much?" The first thought that came to my mind when she asked the question was that the question was of the height of absurdity. Luckily I too was slow to respond, and hence I had plenty of time to see the hidden merit in the question.

"Every place I go seems peculiar and all the people outside of my homeland seem to act in ways beyond my comprehension. But after time passes, I find I have much to talk about with the peoples of all cultures. Even if we all have different governments and different cultures, we can all talk about the trades we are in, we can all talk about our families, and we can even talk of our troubles with love, for these things are everywhere." I found myself leaning back in my bench as I looked up. "When you cut away the shallow surface you find that wherever you go the people are people and the sky is the sky." Staring at the ceiling I corrected myself. "Well here the sky is not the sky, but people are still people."

Roanna looked up with me and then stated. "I have never even seen the sky."

Even if Roanna was a dark elf I was surprised by what she said. "Really?" I asked.

Roanna nodded and said, "I haven't done much traveling. I have been to Maydonna's city and I used to live in a cave cavern north from here, but other than that I have never lived outside this cave." The girl's head sank as the unhappiness weighed heavily on her as well.

My heart sank for Roanna when she mentioned being in the same cave for her the entirety of her life. "You poor thing." I lamented for her. "We need to get you out of here. In fact…" I leaned forward and let my arm fall around the angelic elf's shoulders. "When things are sorted out with Maydonna I promise you that I will show you all of the other countries I have visited."

My damsel's head rose and her eyes lit up."What? You can do that? Is it really that easy?"

I gave a single strong and forceful nod, "It is. I have friends from one end to the earth to other, and plenty of money. The entire world is yours to explore and admire." I then leaned forward a little more and said "Just like that." I snapped my fingers to bring my point home.

"Oh thank you so much. I can't wait!" The excited girl said.

"We will start with my homeland so you can learn white magic." I stated.

"That would be fun, but…there is one thing I want to do first." Roanna said rather nervously while tapping her two for fingers together.

"Oh? And what is that?" I asked while being visibly intrigued.

"You're going to think this silly but…I really want to see an apple tree."

"An apple tree? That can be easily be arranged. I can show you places where they have acres and acres of apple trees. But why would you desire to see something as humble as an apple tree?"

"I thought you would find it silly."

"No no not at all!" I insisted, fearful that I may have frightened Roanna into being reserved. "I just wonder that is all."

Roanna nodded and then explained. "Even though I had never been to the surface, my father used to work on the surface as a farm hand, before we had a lot of slaves. And sometimes, as a special treat for being well-behaved my father would bring me down an apple. And I always be so happy that I would jump for joy because I just loved them."

I cannot say I appreciated fully Roanna's love for apples, as I could obtain a ton of apples by simply going to the Unicorn Empire or the Dwarven Lands. Besides there was a stand that sold apples in caves she lived in. It occurred to me however that to her there was more to these apples than simply their sweet taste. Nevertheless I asked, "Can you go back to your old home in the north and gather apples there?"

Roanna shook her head. "That cave was taken by Dwarves in a war, and when settlers came we had to move."

"I see." I said sadly. There was yet another moment of sad silence. Then Roanna let her body fall into mine. I was taken aback by the gesture, but I did not resist it. I simply relaxed and let my arm fall around her. I do not know how long Roanna was in my embrace, but it was a long time. There seemed to be no words for the moment we were together, for it seemed each other's touch was too comfortable for words and they would simply ruin things. But all good things much come to an end.

"I had better go." Roanna said rising up.

"Very well," I agreed.

"But will you walk with me?" she asked.

"Of course," I declared as I stood up myself. As Roanna and I walked we talked and laughed about nothing important enough to remember, which I suppose added magic to the situation. But then we came across the stand selling apples, and what I did next was only natural.

Without even mentioning anything to Roanna I ordered, "One apple please."

As I dropped my coins and griped the fruit Roanna asked, "You like apples too?" She asked.

"I do." I responded, but then I offered the apple to her and said, "But I do not desire an apple now." The gift was not accepted immediately. To the contrary the recipient gently pushed the apple away as she blushed red like the apple itself.

"Oh no I couldn't. I wouldn't know what to give in return," she pleaded.

"You need not give me anything in return, it's a gift and a small one at that." I countered. "Besides I could perhaps benefit from your prayer." I said with a warm smile.

Despite my argument and comforting smile Roanna still treated my apple akin to forbidden fruit. "Well…The prayer thing is uhhh…I really don't know." I was about to say something but then Roanna finally surrendered to the apple. "Ok I will accept it." As I handed her the apple she suddenly stipulated, "But let me get you something too."

"If you like." I stated with indifference, for to me giving her an apple was as much a gift to me as to her and hence as far as I was concerned she owed me nothing. Nevertheless Roanna searched the stands to find a present of worth equal to an apple.

The girl approached a stand and after some talking and an exchange of coins Roanna returned with something in her hand. "Here I want you to have this."

I let Roanna's gift fall into the palm of my hand and asked, "What is this?"

"It's a glow in the dark crystal on a necklace." She responded happily. The little inscription can't really be read by anyone, but they say it protects people from evil."

"Truly?"

"Well I don't know but…at least you will be able to see in the dark now."

I smiled at the remark, and responded with my own. As I lifted the small brass chain over my head and let it fall upon my neck I said, "With this I shall remember you always, in darkness or light. Thank you."

Roanna gasped. "You like it? I am so glad you do." I smiled and after complimenting the gift we walked back to Roanna's home, which turned out to be a special room in Sinatara's castle. We said our goodbyes, and anticipated happily seeing each other again. However as I walked away from Roanna's room and her castle I heard a voice that I anticipated slightly less happily.

"I don't quite know how you got an angel like Roanna to like small fry like you." Kythosa said from behind me. I turned to face where she stood, on a ledge about 12 feet up.

"What? Were you spying on me?" I inquired demanding information. Kythosa jumped off the ledge and landed on her feet. Considering the stone floor she landed on I would have to conclude the act would have broken the legs of a normal man. But Kythosa stood right back up unfazed.

"Don't worry, I didn't see much." She responded. Then she pointed her knife at me said, "But you better know you're fucking lucky for being able to talk with Roanna you understand?"

"I do," I replied while trying and failing to hide my resentment. "I know not why it is any business of yours however."

"Guess it ain't." Kythosa acknowledged. "But neither you or Roanna are going to get much play time tomorrow, because the boss has lots of important work for you. Lots. So get to her office early tomorrow." With that Kythosa turned her back on me and I was left to wonder about a very important question. "How do I know when tomorrow is when I cannot even see the sun?"

Chapter 10.

"Tell me again how you know the time?" I asked my servant as she escorted me to Sintara's office.

The servant gave a hasty response. "The crystals, you don't have enough time for me to say any more than that master Abraham."

I nodded. "Very well." Like the servant I too was in a rush not to keep the mistress waiting, in fact the servant rushed because I did. When I reached the door to Sinatara's office I stopped. "How do I look? Presentable?" I asked the servant.

"Indeed sir," she replied abruptly, more out of haste than out of rudeness.

"Good. Now before I go in I should know the name of the one who serves me," I noted.

"I am called 'Sinatara's Natalie. Now go!'

With that the "Natalie" that belonged to Sinatara opened the door and pushed me into the room. When I arrived I looked up to see Vaythouse, Kythosa and Sinatara all staring in my direction.

"Good morning." I said, "It is morning correct?" I asked.

"It is." Sinatara stated in her characteristic abrupt manner. "But my servant brought you here late. Worry not however…" The matriarch pulled out a whip. "She will be punished accordingly."

"That is quite alright! Really it is my fault. I got up late because I am still not used to sleeping and wakening without the guidance of the sun and…"

"Enough time has been wasted!" Sinatara snapped as she wiped out and unrolled a map. "Enemies are at the gates."

I gulped. "Enemies?" I asked as I approached the map.

Vaythose responded by explaining, "Our so called ally Maydonna has been amassing and marching troops to our border even as we send troops to help her put down a rebellion in her colony of Timberwood." As he spoke Vaythose rubbed his chin in concentration. "The enemy had their positions well guarded by counter agents; making it impossible to obtain exact information on the number and kinds of troops they're sending but…"

Kythosa interrupted Vaythose by noting, "Actually the guys at the Phoenix hand got that info and drew it on the map. They said it was easy." I looked up from the map at the name "Phoenix hand". I heard the name several times since arriving in the dark elf caves and yet still did not know who they were.

Vaythose grumbled, "Well the god damn Phoenix hand wouldn't have checked if I didn't spot the army moving first!"

I cleared my throat for attention. When all eyes pointed towards me I asked, "Who are the Phoenix hand?"

Not surprisingly Vaythose was the first to answer. "They're nothing special. There a bunch of arrogant, snobby, fucking pricks!" Vaythose snapped.

Attempting to navigate though Vaythose's envy I noted, "I see, but that does not really tell me…"

"They're a secret society of spies, really good fucking spies and assassins." Kythosa responded speedily.

"The very best." Sinatara clarified. "They scour all the clans for the very best agents and recruit them."

"I see." I replied. "Are they a more reliable ally than Maydonna then?" I asked.

"Hell no!" Vaythose shot back. "They say they want to unite the clans like the boss, but they're a secret society, so no one outside their group really knows what they want. Even the captured ones kill themselves before any information can be beaten out of them." I would not have believed Vaythose except the silence from Sinatara and Kaythosa confirmed that there was more to his statement than his jealously.

"Their intentions are unknown." Sinatara confessed. "But we are the weakest clan in Ygg-Chall and without their strategic use of espionage, assassination, and sabotage we would have been conquered by one of the other clans."

The contradictions of the situation described silenced me by making me dumbfounded. One so called "ally" that was preparing to attack and another that could not be trusted. To make the situation even stranger was that Sinatara hoped to unite the dark elves when she could barely keep her own clan alive. As far as I could tell at the time the best thing Sinatara could do for unity was simply surrender the sovereignty of her clan, yet she was working very hard to avoid doing so. I was in no place to question the Matriarch however, so when I found the words I simply asked "What do you desire from me then?"

"We want you to make a fool of yourself when we present you to Maydonna." Sinatara stated bluntly. "That way Maydonna will not desire you as a slave and will not obtain your technology."

Kythosa elaborated by saying, "Yeah it's not that we care about you or anything. It's just we figure that if Maydonna is already way stronger than us, and if your forced to give your tech to her instead of to us then we're really screwed."

I grumbled at what Kaythosa said, even if I knew it was true even before she told me. But I referred to the matter at hand and asked, "Act like a fool? Is there really no other way to dissuade Lady Maydonna from owning me?"

"No." The Matriarch snapped. "Now act like a fool in front of us," she then ordered.

Vaythose commented, "Shouldn't be too much of a stretch since you were a fool for coming here, and been a fool ever since."

I grumbled again, but I concluded that being humiliated was better than being enslaved. So I sighed and began my "fool" act. "Duhhhh I'm Abraham. How is that?"

"Lame." Kaythosa said. "It's pretty obvious you're faking."

"Not to mention Maydonna knows your smart enough to be a captain." Vaythose noted.

"Hmmm." I put my finger to my chin as I thought of another idea. "Perhaps if I met Maydonna while drunk." I suggested. "Though I do not greatly enjoy drink, surly it would prove me to be an unworthy slave." All three members of my audience gave me skeptical looks.

"I am not sure." Sinatara began hesitantly. "She might just ask to wait until you aren't drunk."

I nodded in response, and then thought to myself, "What was it that dark elves found particularly foolish?"Even if I have been a fool since arriving in the dark elf land I had gotten so used to trying to impress dark elves that I forgotten how to make them unimpressed. Then I snapped my fingers when a light went on in my head. "I am Abraham." I began in a light almost effeminate voice. "I am on trip to sail around the world to prove it's round. Uh-huh." I gave an exaggerated nod to complete the effect of being a stupid man with no masculinity.

Kythosa clapped her hands and declared, "That's perfect!"

"Thank you….I suppose." I replied hesitantly not really certain if I should express gratitude for being complimented on acting like a fool.

"Now it probably won't come to this…" Vaythose began. Chills went up my spine when Vaythose started talking for I anticipated something ominous was going to come out of his mouth. "…but if for someone reason Maydonna still thinks you're a good slave we have a plan to rescue you. But as a catch you have to help us do some espionage."

"A plan to rescue me? That sounds excellent." I implored, "What is it?"

"I can tell you it later, but for now know that you can feel safe, because I came up with the plan myself." Vaythose pointed to himself as he let a proud smirk form across his face. Suddenly it seemed much less excellent that there was a plan to rescue me. "So what is this espionage that you desire me to play a part in should I fail to dissuade lady Maydonna to enslave me?" I asked.

As always Sinatara explained my duties concisely and quickly. "We want you to help find out why Maydonna has found the confidence to attack us."

"With all due respect Lady Sinatara is it not obvious?" I inquired. "Your clan is weak and Maydonna's is strong, surly this must have been only a matter of time."

There was yet another silent moment, and then Kythosa leaned back against the wall and said, "Our alliance with the Phoenix Hand and clan Nightshard has deterred Maydonna from attacking us for years." Kythosa was not her usual confident self. She crossed her arms, and let her eyes fall to the floor and she did not bellow her words as she usually did. "Now nothing seems to stop her, not assassination attempts, not our alliance with Nightshard, not even fanning the flames of revolt in Timberwood seems to help."

My eyes bulged at what Kythosa said. "Wait a second. Do you mean to tell me that the revolt that you are helping Maydonna put down is actually one that you encouraged?"

"Well…" Vaythose began as his eyes became shifty. "Me and my fellow scouts may have mentioned something about history's successful slave revolts that gave them a little push in that direction." Vaythose smiled.

Regaining some of her confidence Kythosa also smiled and said, "And my troops may have been a little lax in guarding the weapons cache I brought there to Timberwood."

Kythosa and Vaythose chuckled while I was simply flabbergasted. This dark elf web seemed to only get more tangled. "Could it be that Nightshard might be secretly betraying you?" I asked.

"Not likely." Sinatara answered. "Nightshard will betray us eventually. But we borrowed coin from them, and have not paid back all of it yet. We certainly could not pay it all back if we were conqured. Besides Nightshard wants us to spend the money we borrowed from them on public works so my town is better developed when they do conquer me."

"They hope to fatten the pig, I see. Alliances really do mean nothing amongst dark elves?" I noted. "We are in a tenuous situation."

Sinatara brought her elbows on to the table as she interlinked her fingers. "It need not be so tenuous Abraham. It all depends..." I looked into the eyes of the mistress, which never seemed to warm or soften. She leaned forward and inquired, "When can you get me the elemental marble, and at what cost?"

I smiled, for I did ever like discussing business. "It will take at least 6 months to deliver it here by boat and will cost you 1 ounce of gold for every 100 pounds of marble." I explained. Definitely a fair deal for me considering I would often buy the material with coins of copper "If however you are in a hurry then you will have to talk to certain members of my crew."

"Which ones?" The Matriarch demanded.

"The blue ones." I said back, with minimal commentary as was the tradition of dark elves. "They are called 'jins' and if you work with them they can cast a summoning spell that can bring the blocks to you instantly, but there is an even greater cost to that and not just in gold." Sinatara silently peered into my eyes, her way of inviting me to continue. "It will cost you knowledge, your memories." I explained cryptically.

My audience for a moment was silenced by my statement then Vaythose asked, "Which memories?"

"Most likely your mistress would forget the things she learned later in life, but any knowledge she has could be lost." I warned.

"Damn that is steep," Kythosa stated with wide eyes.

"And I may yet pay this steep cost," Sinatara said. "For now however assume that we will have the marble delivered via boat at 200 pounds per ounce of gold."

My smirk grew. The haggling was on even if it was subtle. As fun as the game was, however I was keen to cut it short as there was other work for us all to do. "With all due respect lady Sinatara, you misheard me. You would need two ounces of gold for 200 pounds. And I was sure to offer you a fair price since my fate is intertwined with yours."

"Since your fate is intertwined with mine 1 ounce of gold buys 200 pounds of marble. If you lose money at that price then consider the loss the price for your freedom from Maydonna."

Outwardly I let my smile disappear. I bowed respectfully. "You drive a hard bargain Mistress Sinatara. But your words are true." I lamented. Though I seemed forlorn at loosing the haggling battle so easily, it took effort to hide my smile, for far from taking a loss I was going to make a 400 percent profit. Little did the Matriarch know that I finally had one up on her.

"Glad you understand. We should leave now." The mistress said as she rose from her chair. When Sinatara rose, Vaythose and Kythosa stood strait and at attention. "Get the mounts, Vaythose." Without a word Vaythose rushed out the door presumably to carry out Sinatara's wish. "Abraham…" Sinatara began. "If you desire your freedom, you are going to have to be the one who drives a hard bargain." I nodded in response, and even though my previous successes had given me confidence I gulped. "But look on the bright side Nightskin. You will finally see your crew again."

Chapter 11

"And you intend to ride that beast!?" I yelled out to Kythosa in shock. "That beast looks like it will buck you off and feed upon your flesh." Sure enough the brave dark elf woman held the reins of a bulky, two legged, lizard like creature, with long serrated teeth, log like muscular legs, and curved claws as big as knives.

"Bofo?" Kythosa asked as she stroked the head of her beast. "Bofo wouldn't eat me, we go way back." Kythosa then lifted her figure on to the saddle of "Bofo". Looking into the fearsome and apparently permanently angry eyes of the monster I was absolutely baffled how any human could dare be friendly with it much less have the courage to ride it. "Even if they are big they aren't as easy to piss off as those giant, flat faced, rat things you brought on you ship." I knew not what creatures Kythosa spoke of and communicated such with a perplexed look. "You know those little critters that rip at people's hands." When the dark elf showed me the scars on the back of her hand it suddenly occurred to me what "rats" she spoke of.

"Oh." I said in sudden realization. "Those are animals are called cats, and they are not related to rats. In fact they were brought upon our ships to hunt rats."

"Well whatever!" Kythosa snapped. "They're little monsters." I laughed, for cats were rarely monsters to me. "Even those little critters don't compare to the thing that the boss rides though."

I started to ask, "What does she…" Anticipating my question Kythosa pointed to a windowed building, where many heads would be biting each other if only they were not restrained with chains and stone harnesses. "She rides a Hydra?" Just as I asked the question a hydra was being guided out of the building by minotaur and strong women. The heads of these hydra did not snap at each other, but each one looked to different directions, and whenever the beast tried to move it would move in some direction that none of the heads looked. "How could anyone ride that beast. It looks like it cannot even control where it goes without brutes to force its three heads to face forward." Indeed the hydra did not move forward until the minotaur trainers finally pulled its three heads to them.

"Well…"Kythosa began. "I don't know how to tame those beast but…" Kythosa looked in the direction of another cave cavern, from which a great six headed beast came marching in our direction. As the mighty animal approached I could feel vibrations every time its heavy pillar like legs touched the earth, and as it got closer I could truly appreciate the enormity of the animal which was even greater than an Elephant's. What was more amazing was that the heads of the hydra all pointed in one direction without any guides, indeed their movements were so well synchronized that from the side they appeared to be one head.

When they great hydra was in front of me there was a loud crack of a whip in the air and as though driven by one mind all the heads of the hydra bowed before me. I could then see that "one mind" rise up from her cushioned throne on the back of the hydra and she cat-walked down the necks of the animal as though they were a ramp and a stage. "The city of Halad is several days journey from here." Sinatara told me while standing tall with a foot on each of the center heads of the hydra. "You will be traveling in a supply wagon with your crew, and if anyone ask you are just another slave, understand?" I nodded for I was too impressed with the mistress and the huge beast she controlled to actually speak. "My Hydra will be pulling the wagon so follow me to it." I gave another nod to acknowledge what she said.

The mistress then turned her back on me as she strutted up the ramp that was her steed's necks. When at her throne she cracked her whip in the air, and in response the heads of the beast rose again driven by one mind, or at least by one whip. As the hydra and its six heads turned away Kythosa explained, "There has never been anyone, not even Raelag who could control the many heads of a Hydra as well as the boss does." The dark elf woman then declared with great reverence, "That's why…I know the boss is going to unite all the dark elf clans, even if her clan is the weakest." With that Kythosa took the reins of her mount and followed after her great matriarch and I followed after her.

I found the wagon with my crew being guarded my warrior women dressed like Kythosa. But before entering I wondered to myself how my crew members would receive me. I had hoped that they would greet me warmly after so many days of separation and hardship but also feared they would resent me for leading them into that hardship. But however much my old friends wanted to see me I greatly desired to see them, so I sighed away my ambivalence and advanced to the wagon. When I explained who I was to the warrior women guards, they guided me into the wagon and that is where I finally found members of my crew.

Unfortunately the crew members in the wagon did not find me right away, because they all had their heads fallen in shame. Seeing them in such shape I feared the worse. As I sat on the bench one of the warrior women ordered, "Show me your wrist." When I lifted my wrist one of the woman cuffed them in chains, but this did not bother me for I knew it was just for show, and besides the sounds caused one of my crew to peek out a glance from their face-burying knees.

"Abraham?" The man said as his head rose to face me. The rest of the crew began lifting their heads as well.

"John?" I asked back. I obtained full view of his face and knew I had found my jolly old friend and as I hoped he held no grudge. Though it should be noted that in all my years of knowing him John was always first to forgive.

"Oh thank goodness it's you!" John announced. So elated was he to see me that he forgot his chains and impulsively tried to rise up and embrace me.

When the tension on the chains stopped him one of the female guards reprimanded, "Sit down." As she pushed John down into the stool.

His excitement to see me unabated John announced. "Look! Abraham has returned." John's announcement was more an expression of his excitement than a true announcement for by now it was already clear to the crew that I had returned.

All four of the crew members in the wagon with me expressed gratitude of my return as well as surprise, and curiosity as to where I had been. They excitedly asked question to the likes of, "Where did those elves take you?"

"Are you injured, did you they torture you for info?"

"Did they put you in a dungeon too?"

I embraced the crew members next to me, though my chains made it so we could only give each other half embraces.

"I am well friends, and I've been working so hard to be able to see you all again."

"You certainly look well dressed." My friend Saied noted.

"Yes." I said in agreement. "This formal dress was for my meeting with the matriarch of this land." I was especially glad when Saied greeted me for even his temperament was such that he was most likely to hold a grudge for leading him into disaster, he showed no resentment.

"Really?" my friend Edward asked.

"Indeed. But it seems you have all been receiving less than mannerly hospitality." I noted from their dirty and ragged clothing. "Now that I have some clout with the mistress I can perhaps talk her into improving your treatment. Please friends tell me everything of your stay here."

Suddenly John said something sufficiently ominous that it stole away the happiness in the air. "We have to get out of here." John said as his smiled disappeared and his eyes grew wide with terror, as though he was seeing a terrible past as he spoke. My mouth dropped in surprise.

"Don't be getting any ideas." One of the women warriors threatened as she unsheathed her dagger menacingly. John sighed in response to the warrior woman. I had assumed that after my dealings with Sinatara my crew would become honored guest, and I considered, perhaps that John might have exaggerated the severity of his circumstances. But then I looked to the faces of the other crew members, and they all nodded to what he said.

"Oh my…What happened?" I asked. There was silence as all the eyes of the crew looked to each other as though they were each waiting for someone else to have the courage to volunteer the answer to my question.

"After you were separated from us we were all blinded folded and chained to each other." Edward began hesitantly. "We were led to a dungeon so cold, wet and dark that not even rats inhabited it." The rest of my crew shivered at the description of the dungeon as though its mention caused them to experience the chill again. "When we were blindfolded the only thing that guided us to the prison was the pull on our chains and the constant angry obscenities shouted by the angry witches that lurk down here."

"They insulted our manhood again and again while pushing us." Saied lamented. "When we lashed out to defend ourselves we would get whipped as a punishment." Once again the man shivered as he tried to maneuver to show his scars. With his chains it was difficult to reveal his back, but he managed to twist and let me see the whip scars through the holes in his shirt.

I sighed and acknowledged, "Yes. Dark elf women gave me similar treatment when I first came here." I recalled how Kythosa pushed me about and insulted my manhood. "You just have to earn their respect like you do some men."

John scoffed and said bitterly, "The women must think they're men here, the way they dress the way they fight. They need to know their place in the world." I raised an eyebrow at what John said. I, like my crew, was not terribly found of the lack of modesty amongst dark elf women, but John knew better than to be critical of a people's culture while in their country; you could loose business that way or even end up back in a dungeon. I cleared my throat and motioned my head to the guards to remind John we were in the presence of some of those women who "did not know their place."

"I can imagine being in the dungeon must have been very hard." I said as a way of subtly excusing John for his trespass. "Were you kepted in the dungeon long?" I asked wondering if my dealings with Sinatara helped get them better treatment.

"No." Edward said flatly. "At dawn they brought us to the surface and had us working in rice patties alongside Minotaur."

"What a humiliation," Saied lamented. "Having us do manual labor with beast of burden like we were some kind of, some kind of commoner…slave peasant." Saied shook his head in anger. "I am from a noble family, and a top graduate of Al-Saifr University, but when I told those barbarian women that they simply whipped me."

"Our blood lines and academic achievements do seem lost to them..." I conceded and indeed it was a pity, for few men were as studious and knowledgeable as my old friend Saied. "…if only they tried to gain higher grades than you at the University like I did, they would find you have much useful knowledge. But unfortunately it seems no dark elves have ever even heard of our universities."

"Perhaps we should introduce our universities to the dark elf people." I smiled at what Saied's suggestion, and just as I did there was a click of a harness being connected, no doubt around the chest of Sinatara's great hydra. I heard the mistress command, "March!" and with that our bumpy ride to Halad began.

"Was that just the lady who rules this cave?" Edward asked.

"Indeed it was. Her name is Sinatara and she is on a journey to meet another Elvin lady who is even more powerful than her, named Maydonna. She intends to show us off to Maydonna for if she finds us to be worthy slaves Sinatara must surrender us to her," I explained.

Edward's eyes narrowed. "So this is not the only dark elf fiefdom ruled by a woman. It seems that the dark elf lands are upside down. Though this does prove women weren't commanding us just for the purpose of humiliation, women truly do rule these caves." I cleared my throat conspicuously and again motioned to the guards who sat silently on the bench with us. Edward for his part sighed away his anger as he recalled how to act in another land.

"Humiliation?" I then inquired.

"Yes!" John snapped. "Elrath states men come before women." He declared with no regards for the women next to us or their culture. Later I read from the book of Elrath and consulted an expert, and found that there was no such statement, but then again priest of the Unicorn empire went through great lengths to make sure their followers knew nothing of the actual teaching's of Elrath. But that is for another story. I rested my hand on John's shoulder hoping it would relax him enough so he would not forget himself, and so he would recall how to act now that he was in Ygg-Chall.

"Raj got so sick of the humiliation that he tried to run away." Edward explained

I turned to Raj, and when I did he confirmed what was said about him. "It is true sir. When the guards were distracted, disciplining a lazy minotaur, I made a dash for it. I didn't know where I wanted to go, but I sure wasn't going to let those witches push me around." I smiled for that was Raj as I knew him; a cunning escape artist with street smarts to make him useful for my business, and wit to make him my friend.

I laughed. "It does not seem your defiance paid off this time."

"Those damn bitches caught up to me. Damn. I swear they were as fast as horses." Raj complained.

Edward also laughed. "I can tell you it wasn't impressive seeing you lose a fight to a girl."

"Hey, they were strong. Ok?" Raj said in his own defense.

"Excuses, excuses." Saied said as he playful pushed Raj.

One of the dark elf guards in the wagon caught my attention when she shifted slightly. Since my crew spoke of them in such an unflattering manner I thought perhaps rage was building up in their hearts. However they seemed more focused on making sure we did not try to escape.

"Raj does not lie. The women are strong here." I defended. "But tell me did your condition ever improve? I am sure they should have after I convinced the mistress I had something to offer. "

John shook his head. "No things only got worse." I raised both eyebrows, shocked that at the apparent limits of my influence.

"What? But surely…"

"It wasn't so bad working up in the fresh air, seeing the sun." John explained. "But then they took us back down in to the caves and though the rooms were warmer than the dungeon it was still dark. Our guards mocked us calling us 'guests of honor' as they mistreated us. Worse yet they tried to feed us these disgusting creatures on sticks. The most disgusting spider, crab-like thing you've ever seen…" John pursed his lips at the word "spider". All my crew put on a glum face as they recalled their stay at in the cave rooms. I just slapped my forehead. "Oh how I miss the sun…why do these elves torture us so?" John complained

"They were trying to treat you well," I said out loud.

"What?" My crew in the wagon shot back.

I then went about teaching these four crew members about their misunderstandings of dark elf culture. "In dark elf culture the surface is undesirable, a place for slaves and peasants. By bringing you down to the caves they thought they were being mannerly."

"Well, what about the awful creatures they tried to feed us?" Edward inquired.

"Those are a kind of cave scorpion." I stated. "They are considered a delicacy here. They actually do taste well. Somewhat like crab, but a little…"

"You ate one of those things?!" All four of my crew members asked in shock.

"Clearly your adventurous taste in foods knows no bounds," Saied commented. I smiled at the comment. "But what fools we were for not realizing we were being well treated." Saied laughed at himself, while Raj and Edward kicked themselves by slapping their foreheads. But John had no such reservations.

"Damn these people are mad!" he declared. "Don't be ashamed of yourselves, men, these dark elves are too barbaric to even try to be civilized. We need to get out of here!" John pulled on his chains and that was when one of the dark elf guards, who had been ignoring us to this point, suddenly shot up out of her stool.

"What did I tell you about that kind of escape talk?" the guard said.

"Shut up whore!" John snapped. With that statement I found myself impulsively trying to rise out of my chair, for after all the insults to her people and her gender the guard had an angry look in her eyes that called for blood.

Calling for restraint I said, "Alright everyone be claim. John I will be able to get you out of here, and I know you didn't mean that." I had always known John to be an even tempered jolly man, whose modesty and civility was prefect for travels to other cultures, but somehow being in Ygg-Chall made him angry- even xenophobic; the worst kind of person to bring on a journey to another land.

"Yes I did!" John yelled out imprudently. "God damn it look at you, there's only one reason a woman dresses like you, and it's to earn coin through sex." Amazingly the guard showed restraint, but even the other three crew members looked at the situation in horror; clearly they knew John was being a fool, a very large fool. Then things became even more complicated. Our commotion was enough for Sinatara to bring her Hydra to a complete stop and the door was opened revealing Kythosa.

"There a problem here?" she asked.

John did not know when to stop. Once more he began to shout. "What are you doing here?" he acused Kythosa. "You should be at your home doing mmmmph…" I would have silenced John if I could, but the other dark elf guard beat me to it, by forcing her hand on his mouth. Though the man struggled to get out what he wanted to say, he only ended up getting his head shoved against the wall of the wagon.

"No, there is no problem," one of the guards responded, trying to cover up their own lack of application of force, with Kythosa's action being the role model.

"What did he try to say to me?" Kythosa responded as she crossed her eyebrows. The guards were silent and so was everyone else. After a moment the silence was broken.

"Kythosa! We have to move!" Sinatara yelled back. Kythosa grumbled, but she went back to her mount and we started moving again. When John calmed down I told him and the crew about my business arrangements with Sinatara, and reassured him that I could get him out of the dark elf lands so long as Maydonna did not take us into slavery. Though everyone had calmed down I was very concerned about my friend's inability to tolerate the culture of the dark elves. I too had my qualms about the dark elf people, but if my old friend John could not look past his qualms as I did mine then I would have to let him go as soon as we were free from Maydonna.

Chapter 12

The wagon suddenly halted, and my crew and I did not know whether we stopped because we reached our destination of if we were simply taking a rest. "What's going on now?" Edward asked bitterly.

I suggested, "Maybe we finally reached Halad."

"Our maybe they're going to dump us into a sacrificial pit," Raj counter-suggested. "Anything to get out of these cramped quarters." He joked. We all smiled at Raj's comment, but we didn't laugh, because he stated our very serious sentiment; we wanted to get out of the damn wagon. As part of the ruse we were allowed to leave the wagon only when urinating or defecating, and being stuck so close together made us irritable and strained our friendship. The guards in particular were getting annoyed, no longer tolerating my crew's insults and Raj's occasional romantic advances. Though the fact that they tolerated us as long as they did showed they had superhuman patience.

"Well it is time for me to check the goings on outside," I stated. I knocked on the wall of the wagon and when I did attention was brought by Kythosa who promptly opened the door.

"What's up?" she asked me smiling. She then faced John with narrowed eyes who responded in kind.

"Have we arrived?" I asked.

"Yeah, we did. But when we did Maydonna's gate guards busted our balls about coming in the 'wrong way' and now we got to camp out up here on the surface." Kythosa grumbled at the prospect even as I smiled at it. But a fool would make Kythosa grumble more and blemish the good news of returning to the surface.

"Busting your balls?" John asked rhetorically. "I knew you dark elf women had them," he chided with a smile.

"Yeah well you won't have any for long if you don't learn to shut up."

Kythosa raised her fist, but to the extent the chains allowed me to, I got between them. I said. "Please. This is almost over. John if you can just be quiet you will be out of here and you will never have to come back again."

"Well why do you only blame me?" John demanded. "Are you on her side now?!"

Just as he asked the question everyone in the area who was not John, my crew members, the dark elf guards, Kythosa and I all gave the same answer to John's question at exactly the same time. "Shut up!" we all snapped at once.

"You're going to keep us here forever," Saied lamented. With that John grumbled a little, but then he finally shut his mouth. I sighed, and so did everyone else.

"Anyways, do you guys want to camp out here tonight? I know you like the sur…" Kythosa didn't have to finish her statement for the two guards spilt out of the wagon and rushed away from it.

"Yes, please." Edward said offering his wrist so they could be unchained. When we all escaped from the wagon, we breathed a sigh of relief, and it did not bother us that we were under the watchful and fearsome gaze of other guards. It was just a ruse after all.

Having reached the surface, all of us worked to put up tents. I helped of course, but when that work was done I walked away from the rest of the crowd. I had been living in caves for days, and for a few of them I was cramped in a wagon. More than anything, I desired fresh air and to lie on the cool grass. I took a deep sigh letting my lungs fill with air, and I let my eyes fall open to gaze on the many lights in the sky that were not crystals, but were to me the greatest jewels ever seen by human eyes. As though to add to the beauty of the night sky a shooting star shot across it. But on closer inspection I noted that the shooting star streaked though the night sky slower than any shooting star I had seen before, and besides that it was shaped almost…birdlike?

My inspection of the mysterious shooting star was halted when I heard someone say, "Your crew members are all a real piece of work you know?" Kythosa walked up to me.

I sighed. "Hello Kythosa." I said simply. The stars seemed to center my thoughts and allowed me to be calm even if Kythosa was agitated.

"Why did you hire those people? They're awful; I've never seen anyone hate women so much." Kythosa commented.

"Please excuse them." I pleaded. "They are not normally so angry. They simply miss home and they could end up in slavery their whole lives and John…" I paused wondering if I should really tell Kythosa anything about him.

"What about him?" the dark elf pressed.

"He…has been easily threatened by women ever since his wife left him for another man." I sighed as I let go of the sensitive information to a person I had not known long.

Kythosa plopped down on the ground, sitting next to me. "God damn," she started. "Well I could feel bad for him, but he ain't going to win any lady's heart if he acts like an asshole."

I nodded. "True I acknowledged. But…" I did not want conflict, but I felt I knew Kythosa well enough to speak frankly with her about a controversial subject. "To be frank I think he does raise a point. I mean no offence by this…" Though I could speak frankly I wanted to be as delicate and diplomatic as possible for this subject, Kythosa disagreed.

"Get on with it." Kythosa pressed.

"In my country motherhood is sacred. When a woman marries and raises a child she is fulfilling a sacred duty, and I see very few dark elf mothers. All the women here desire to be warriors and…"

"I have a daughter." Kythosa interrupted. Many things Kythosa did and said shocked me. But this was by far the most surprising statement ever to come from her.

"But if you have a daughter, why are you not at home raising her? Who is knitting her clothes, cooking her meals, making her home clean and sanitary keeping her out of danger?" I asked anxiously. Without the stars settling me I may have begun to get self-righteous, but more than anything I was genuinely worried about this child, for I could not imagine that the child could be raised properly without her mother directly raising her.

"A baby-sitter takes care of Rethosa when my hubby and I are at work. My hubby is named Raythose by the way, and he does the cooking."

"You both work?" I asked. Though women were allowed to work in my country they always quit when they were with child, making Kythosa's situation unheard of in my land.

"Yup," the working mother replied. "Takes coin and knives to raise a child you know?"

"Knives?" I asked.

"Damn strait. Someone's got to protect her from all the terrible things out there. Cave beasts, dwarves, wood elves, other dark elves. Rumors have it that even demons are out and about." Again with the rumors about demons, though I was certain they were all gone.

"Do you think uniting the dark elf people will help protect your daughter?" I asked delicately.

Kythosa sighed and let herself fall on her back as she too, took to looking at the stars. "I do," she replied. "If the rest of the dark elves are working together then they will be able to keep out enemies better, and Res will be safer." Kythosa sighed, "It is important they keep enemies out. It's not like she will be able to fight like I do when she grows up. She doesn't like to play outside or wrestle like I did when I was a kid. She just likes to read books and draw all day. Don't know what's wrong with her. I think she's going to end up being a wuss if I don't do something soon."

I laughed at Kythosa's statement. "In my country parents would kill for a child like that. Education and learning are very important in the wizard lands."

"What? They would?" Kythosa asked interested.

"Yes. And if she is very learned she can make good money as a professor. Plus it is perfectly safe to be a 'wuss' in my land, as you know perfectly well."

Kythosa laughed. "Well maybe she can move and study there then." For some time the good dark elf mother and I just let ourselves be taken in by the stars. Then finally Kythosa had to leave.

"Well I better get to bed. BFD and all."

"BFD? What is that?"

"Big Fucking Day."

"Very well then. Good night."

"Night."

I was at peace for at least fifteen minutes, but then I heard footsteps and felt a strong presence nearby.

"Hello Sinatara." I greeted. "How are you?"

There was a deep sigh, from the great mistress who never before confided in me or showed emotion. "Nervous," she said flatly.

"Really?" I asked. I cocked my eyebrow yet again, for this was the first time the lady showed any vulnerability in front of me. I also cocked my head to see the lady's face and sure enough she had a worried expression that matched her words. Turning back to the stars I said,"The feeling is familiar."

"Hmph." Sinatara responded. "It is indeed my turn bargain for my freedom. Should I fail my fiefdom will be conquered and I will be a slave to Maydonna. No doubt she would have me live on the surface again, with the family that has rejected me." The once strong matriarch took a deep sigh that was ragged, as though for a second she was surpressing tears. But when I looked at her face again her face had already turned back to stone forcing me to wonder if I had simply imagined the emotion leaking out of her exterior.

"Why do your people of the wizard lands gaze at the stars so much when we all know so little about our own earth? Would it not be more pragmatic to study the earth that we live on?" Apparently Sinatara had changed the subject, though I knew better.

"I do agree it is pragmatic and wise to study our own earth." I conceded. "But when one looks at the stars they find many unexpected truths about the earth." Our earth is like our faces. It cannot be looked at without a mirror." I argued. "Though you disagreed when I said the earth was round I still know it is because the earth leaves a rounded shadow on the moon during an eclipse, and knowing this I can use the stars to measure the circumference of the earth."

I did not look at Sinatara's face, but I knew it was her turn to cock an eyebrow. I wiped out a sextant to demonstrate how one measured the size of the earth. I pointed to a star that burned rather brightly relative to the other stars. "That star is directly above a person's head when you are in the tropics or the equator at Midnight, but here because of the curvature of the earth it is..." Using the sextant I measured the degree height of the star in question and while I was at it I got a basic idea of the time. " 50 degrees from being directly above us, at midnight though it is not midnight yet so it is 15 degrees from being directly above us." I explained. "Now I know for a fact that all circles are 360 degrees no matter their size. And If I know how many miles it is from the closest tropic to where I am now I can calculate how many degrees there are per lirea and from there I can know the size of the earth without going around it or digging through it."

I could not help, but let a smug smile form on my face. "It is 40,680 lirea by the way." Though I had demonstrated how one could use the stars to measure the size of the earth, my argument in their favor was not complete. "The size of the earth is not the only thing I know of the earth from the stars. The stars and sky tell me that the earth orbits the sun and the moon orbits the earth, that our earth naturally produces a force, we call gravity, that attracts objects to its orbit and often its surface, and that our earth though vast to us is but a speck of dust in the a great universe. Besides while you may think the stars take our feet off the ground, when I am out at sea they are the only things guiding me, for while the sea constantly changes the stars are stable and never change. Far from loosing myself in the stars, they more than anything else are what ground me and many others."

I turned to Sinatara expecting her to be impressed, but when I saw her face it was once again stiff and cold as stone. "I must admit I underestimated the stars." She confessed. "But does your mirror tell you how old the earth is? Does it let you peer into in ancient past and let you see who and what lived in the ancient age before recorded time?"

"Can you do that by digging into the earth?" I asked.

"Sediments collect over time on the ground burying the past and preserving its secrets. The bones of past life forms become fossilized for us to study and the molten magma in the earth's core tells of the earth's indeed the universe's fiery birth and besides…" Sinatara kneeled to my side and her thumb and for finger gently lifted the crystal that Roanna gave me though she was careful not to put tension on the chain. "With these crystals I can know what time it is much more precisely than your precious stars or pendulum clocks."

Sinatara let the crystal fall to my chest and I sat up wondering aloud, "How do you tell the time using these crystals?"

"Though you are protected by heavy glass that we put over the crystals, they actually release a consistent amount of poison over a certain period of time as they change from one material, called blatisziet, to another called lead. By measuring how much of the material to lead we can know how much time has gone by."

For a moment I was quite as I contemplated what Sinatara told me. Truly she had underestimated the power of the stars, but then equally as truly her people had made discoveries that my own people never could have made with our castles of the sky. Not to mention their method of telling time, though dangerous, was quite clever.

"I had a professor once tell me that the wise scholar does not just look up into the future or down into the past, but rather looks in all directions. Can we agree at least that we should look in all directions?" I asked.

Sinatara's stone face finally began to bend under the will of a smile, and stated, "Next time we drink, we shall drink to all directions."

Chapter 13

"Well friends this is the last trial we must surpass before we can assure our freedom. No mistakes can be made here." Everyone in the wagon with me nodded, for they all knew how the dire the situation was. As we proceeded through Timberwood I should have peeked though a crack in the wagon to note how empty and quiet the streets were. If I had bothered to notice the lack of commerce and other activity I would have known what I was really getting into. But I worried too much about the trial ahead to thoroughly check my surroundings. That said when I heard roaring outside I desired to find its source, so I peeked out of a small hole in the wagon as Edward did.

"Is that an emerald dragon from Irollan?" Edward asked.

"Let me see." Raj demanded.

I got out of the way so Raj could see for himself that at the bottom of a bridge in the cave caverns we were headed into, there was indeed an emerald dragon pinned down to the ground.

"They aren't going to do anything nice to that dragon." John said noting the obvious. I sat back in the bench reviewing the 'act like a fool plane' in my head. I imagined a figure in my mind that represented Maydonna and considered all the questions she might ask and all the foolish responses I could make to prove I would make a poor slave.

My thoughts were suddenly interrupted when I heard a loud ear piercing, skin crawling scream of great anguish. I felt my back stiffen, but I nevertheless could think clearly enough to realize that the scream sounded familiar. I thought to myself

"Could it be that the scream is…?"

"It's Sinatara's mother." Kythosa interrupted while I was in mid thought. Kythosa had decided to give the guards a much needed brake from myself and my obnoxious crew.

"Maydonna keeps the crazy bitch in a prison not far on the surface, and she always makes the boss use this entrance so she will hear her mother scream." Kythosa explained.

I breadth a sigh of relief. "Oh. I thought it was something else." I said.

"What?" Edward asked.

I considered telling Edward, but I did not truly wish to discuss the issue.

"Nothing. Let us just concentrate for our trial ahead." We all had so much on our minds already and I did not want to think that 'they' might be in the city, especially since most likely 'they' were not. After a few more minutes the wagon suddenly halted.

"Well that's my cue." Kythosa stood up and began taking off our chains and putting on new chains that would allow us to leave, while still being chained to each other. That palace before us was much larger and more ornate than Sintatara's. The castle had jade colored walls, and giant statues of proud women, nay proud goddesses, that appeared to stand guard at the entrance. The attention to detail on Maydonna's architecture was some of the best in the world, and would have amazed me if only the circumstances been less dire. My main concern was simply to march in line with my crew while my head hung down in shame. I noted many other elves around watching as we were marched, but I avoided eye contact as much as possible for I knew I should only be seeing my feet and the floor.

We suddenly came to a stop. I then heard an announcement, presumably from one Maydonna's servants who said, "Lady Sinatara leader of clan Eletareist, wishes to present her latest catch of slaves so her majesty Lady Maydonna of Shadowbrand, may select the few that best suit her glorious purpose." I decided it would not hurt to pick my eyes up slightly to see the scene.

I noticed that all of my crew were gathered in the room now, even the jins who had been restrained with special magical rune chains. I was placed at the for front the group where I was approximately 30 feet from, but still uncomfortably close, to the throne of lady Maydonna. Not one for prudence as of late, Saied whispered in my ear. "At least this one covers herself." It was true that lady Maydonna adorned herself with fine violet robes that covered her skin and even had a mask for the bottom of her face. Even so I gave Saied an angry glare for his statement seemed to be an unnecessary risk.

"May Sinatara step forward," Maydonna decreed, and with said decree Sinatara bowed, on one knee. Then she stepped into the center of the great hall and bowed again, and then she marched to Maydonna's throne and bowed still one more time. Then Sinatara spoke. "Your majesty Maydonna, these slaves came to me by boat too…"

"You bowed incorrectly." Maydonna interrupted. Sinatara stood and bowed again and then started speaking again.

"These slaves came by boat…"

"No, no." Maydonna reprimanded. "I want you to do all three bows again, and be sure to bow your way back to your starting point." Sinatara bowed, then stepped back, and bowed, then stepped back again and bowed, then bowed again, then stepped forward again and bowed, then finally she arrived at Maydonna's throne and bowed for the 9th time.

"You did it wrong again." The greater Matriarch chided. I held my breath afraid that we have to sit through more bowing, but alas Maydonna was merciful to us if not to Sinatara. "You did it wrong again, but I can let it go. I know how hard it is for descendents of Sinatar to be civilized." Maydonna then announced patronizingly, "We should all give Sinatara a big round of applause, because she tried so hard."

Though Maydonna clapped immediately she to coax applause from everyone else by saying, "Come everyone applaud. You too slaves." Everyone especially us hesitated to applaud as we found the situation strange. As peculiar as Maydonna's orders were we still had to comply. So we all applauded to help solidify Sinatara's indignity, all except Sinatara herself, and the two advisors that stood by Maydonna's throne. The faces of the two advisors were almost completely covered in white robes, though I could tell one was a fat man whose second chin bulged through his cloths, and the other a slender woman, who allowed her wicked smile to show even if the rest of her face was covered.

"Sssso then…" Maydonna began. "So then tell me descendent of the mad Sinatar tell me of the slaves you have brought." Maydonna's statement was my cue to become alert and I did.

"They are an expedition of idiots from the desert lands and the Unicorn Empire. Their captain is Abraham." Sinatara pointed to me as she spoke.

"Now Sinatara, I would not be so critical of these men. How foolish can they be if they were recruited as explorers?" Maydonna asked rhetorically.

"But why is the captain covered with black paint?" Maydonna inquired.

Sinatara replied by saying diplomatically, "The captain's skin is naturally black your majesty, but concerning his intelligence might I suggest that your majesty ask the captain the purpose of his expedition so she may see herself how stupid these men are." Maydonna slowly strutted towards me, her eyes scanning me from feet to crown. The lady brought her face to mine, and I could smell the flower perfume, which she used far too much of. But somehow even with so much perfume I smelt a hint of formaldehyde that could not be drowned out.

"Why were you on an expedition Abraham?" Maydonna asked me. This was the big moment that I had been preparing for.

"To prove the earth is round by sailing around it. Uh-huh." I said whimsically giving the exaggerated nods that I had rehearsed earlier. Maydonna scoffed at me just as I hoped she would.

"Perhaps you have a point after all descendent of the disgraced Sinatara." Maydonna conceded.

"But let me just check his teeth, always a good sign of his health." Maydonna then griped my face, her fingernails digging into my cheeks. The worst part of her grip however was not the nails, but that her hands were as cold as ice, and the formaldehyde smell was strong on her them. "Well he is healthy, but we already have so many strong healthy slaves, what I really need is slaves who can do the more intellectual duties relevant to my rule."

Maydonna turned her back on me as she strutted back to her thrown.

"So far so good." Saied whispered. Saied then noted,

"It looks like that this lady is more interested in making Sinatara's life miserable than she is in checking if we make good slaves or not." Though Saied make a good point a sudden chill made me less optimistic than my old friend. The Emerald dragons being chained, the stench of preservatives on Maydonna, the peculiar advisors by her side, the sudden chill were all suspicious. Something was wrong.

"Hmmm. Let me ask my slaver what he thinks." Maydonna said. "Saylag, do you think we need any of these slaves?" From out of the crowd appeared a black haired elf man.

"I do not believe so my lady. It is as you say we simply have too many brutes, we need slaves with some aptitude for court duties." I had seen many elegant elves, especially in the Sylvian lands, but with his fine emerald robes, and how he almost seemed to levitate as he walked he was by far of the most elegant.

"In fact at this point it is really worth only taking the most elite of slaves, anything else is a sad waste of people's dinners." Saylag commented as he bowed to Maydonna and stepped backward into the crowd. Maydonna leaned back in her cushioned thrown, and interlocked her fingers.

"Well it does not seem I have much use for these slaves, but you know…maybe I should take them for the past ills you caused my ancestor Eurina." No doubt this was yet another move to humiliate Sinatara, but keeping her stone face Sinatara bowed again and pleaded,

"Please my lady my family's trespasses have already left me with so little. Can her majesty find it in her compassionate heart to forgive me and my foolish family and spare some slaves?" I had no doubt that Maydonna was smiling underneath the mask she wore. To her having Sinatara beg was worth all the slaves in the world.

"Oh very well then…But let it be known that Lady Maydonna is a person of mercy and forgiveness and…" Suddenly the advisor that sat on the left of Maydonna's thrown interrupted her mistress with a small cough. Maydonna understood the message and leaned her ear toward her advisor so the she could be whispered too. I examined the advisor carefully, and I just barely noticed unusually sharp canines, almost like needles in the mouth of the advisor. "Can Dark elves have fangs?" I wondered.

Maydonna must have held her ear to her advisor for a good 5 minutes, and each moment made me fear that the fanged advisor had some sort of insight into our ruse. When Maydonna finally pulled away from her advisor, my heart began to pound. The lady asked,

"Your name is Abraham is it not?"

"Huh-huh?" I said back trying to sound like a fool, all the while hoping I was not about to become a slave.

"Well one thing I must say that is interesting about you, besides your dark skin…" Maydonna began.

"…Is that you are so modest even though you did such a fine job fighting undead and gained so much wealth founding massive companies." My mouth dropped like a stone at what she said.

"I will be taking these slaves, and let it be known that lady Sinatara was dishonest with me." The matriarch declared. Suddenly me and all of my crew felt spears at our backs and we were being marched off to a dungeon no doubt.

"Damit!" John said aloud. "How the hell did they know who we were, who told her?!" We walked over a bridge and as I looked down I saw a black dragon chained down with the emerald dragon and saw a minotaur with a hollowed stake another with a bucket of mercury.

"They're here!"

"Who's here?!"

"They're making bone dragons." I declared as I saw a minotaur drive the hollowed spike into the skull of the black dragon while the other pored mercury directly into its brain confirming my very worst fears and forcing me to declare, "The necromancers are here!"

Chapter 14

Once again I was separated from my crew and thrown on a cold tiled floor by Minotaur, but this time I did not fear imprisonment or slavery for the necromancers could have had something worse in store for me. I could have been forced to wander the world as a poltergeist, or worse yet a zombie, or worse of all I could have been turned into a vampire that would be forced to feast on the blood of my friends. Forced to my knees and shuttering I heard the clacking of shoes on the marble floor, for the one who would decide my fate was just entering the room.

"No need for introductions," She began.

"As the great merchant and warrior Abraham your reputation precedes you. It is an honor that you grace us with your presence." I lifted my head to see that the one who was 'honored' was the robed woman who previously sat by Maydonna's side. I snapped back at her saying,

"It is never an honor to be with a necromancer! Who are you any, uhhhh!" The hooves of one of the Minotaur pressed hard on my back to silence me before I could finish my sentence. Unfazed by my contempt the necromancer replied,

"Did I not tell you…" The women slowly slid the hood off her head, and the more of her face that was revealed the more terrified I became.

"…That there was no need for introductions?" Sure enough the woman was someone whose infamy had preceded her.

"Your Lucretia…The vampire princess, you witch!" With a smile that bared her fangs the woman showed her pride at the mention of her name, and spite from my contempt and horror. Lucretia was the one who raised my comrades as vampires, and deprived them of blood so their hunger would be great enough to attack me. With a clap of her hand a masked dark elf man came through the door holding a bow in one hand and an empty wine glass in the other.

"It is such a pity to have to imprison someone of such fine culture." The vampire said. A Minotaur then pulled me up on my knees and another twisted my head so the vampire would have a good view of my aorta vain.

"But you never stood a chance. We necromancers have sent countless dignitaries, and spent years building a relationship with the strongest dark elf clans." As the princess spoke she accepted the empty glass from the dark elf man and the dark elf man kneeled on one knee to aim the unusually primitive bow and arrow at my aorta. My eyes bulged at the sight of the dulled arrow aimed at my neck.

"Unlike you we chose our allies carefully always making sure to find the clans led by those of the most noble blood." The moment the vampire said "blood" the elf man shot me in the neck. The arrow hit with enough force to puncture the aorta, but was dull enough to bounce off my neck. The pain was severe, but it did not compare to the terror I felt from seeing my own blood shoot out of me like I were a living fountain. The vampire and her servants must have been well practiced at this method of collecting blood, because she held out her wine glass at the perfect distance to catch the flowing fluid. I tried to wiggle enough to spill blood on Lucretia's cloths, petty revenge but fitting for her considering she likened herself to a neat and prim noble woman. My revenge failed however for the Minotaur had too tight a grip on me. The dark elf man clotted my wound with a small pellet and some gauze, and did so with such speed that not a single drop of blood fell to the floor. In my dizzy state I felt myself collapsing, but I managed to utter,

"Your efforts were wasted here. Maydonna is a fool, and Sinatara will ultimately defeat her even if she does have the weaker clan." Though I sounded defiant I was struggling to keep my eyes open.

"Ha, ha, ha, what rotten luck you have Abraham." Lucretia chuckled. My heart skipped a beat at Lucretia's laughter.

"What do you mean?" I demanded. The vampire took a sip from her glass and then took a moment to savor the taste of my blood before answering my question.

"As you stumbled into the dark elf lands you just happened to end up allied with the weakest clan led by the one clan leader whose blood line is most disgraced, and the one who was just thrown in prison." Lucretia's smile grew when she mentioned Sinitara being put in prison. Even though my complexion did not allow it I felt the color leave my face.

"Prison?" I responded weakly.

"Yes." The vampire said with glee. "She never stood a chance. Besides being head of the strongest dark elf clan Maydonna is a direct descendent of Tuidanna, the founder of dark elf civilization, and of Eurina the leader of the dark elf exodus to this very island and conquer of Timberwood. Sinatara is just the descendent of a treacherous madman named Sinatar whose forces were crushed by Eurina years before." With resentment Lucretia stated, "Both Sinatara and her ancestor forgot the place of those of inferior blood and paid the price."

I was falling to the floor, but I forced myself to say, "Being a vampire and a noble woman has blinded you, not everything has to do with blood and ancestry." As though my body was trying to discredit me it gave out and I collapsed. Lucretia turned her back on me and said in a patronizing tone,

"I certainly hope that Maydonna overlooks your blood and ancestry. If it were up to me you would be recognized as royalty, otherwise I would not have drunk your blood. But alas I am just a diplomat; it is up to Maydonna what ultimately happens to you."

"Bitch!" I snapped. Shrugging off my insult the vampire sat at a desk and said,

"Well look at the time. I can talk with you no longer I am afraid. It was a pleasure Abraham." With a snap of her finger the Minotaur started carrying me out, but the necromancer had one more thing to say. "Oh and Abraham don't feel guilty about killing my vampire swordsmen, they were my warriors but they were your friends." I wanted to spit in the women's face after that insult, but I was too far away and too dizzy.

I was thrown in yet another cold dungeon that rats did not dare to tread. Minotaur guarded the cell and though I did not see them I felt the presence of other tortured souls wondering in and out of the walls. As a battle mage I was trained to feel the presence of specters and I sensed them in that prison, no doubt the necromancers made them to serve as prison guards.

With Sinatara imprisoned I was certain that my situation was hopeless, and even knowing that the specter would use their dark magic to give me constant nightmares I succumb to sleep. Without hope there was no reason to stay awake. When I fell asleep I had several bad dreams, all of them involed me getting killed by some unknown creature of the dark, or becoming some horrid undead monster. Every time I awoke I could have swore I saw one of the monsters lurking in the darker parts of my cell, but the apparent monsters would always turn out to be my own shadow.

Had I been left in that dungeon for a day the specter could have broken my spirit, but alas the cell door opened and in came Maydonna's slave driver to pull me away from my cell and put me to work.

"Hello." He said. "I am Saylag Griffin." Saylag was a tall slender Elf who draped himself in emerald colored, silk robes and whose black hair seemed to radiate light from within. I took note that Saylag was the only dark elf I knew with two names. The tall elf man then explained, "I was sent by Maydonna to instruct you on your duties, however you probably could use something to eat to help you recover from Lucretia sucking your blood." Since the dark elf was my slaver I could easily justify holding him in contempt, but because his elegant and civil demeanor contrasted so sharply with the treatment I had just received from Lucretia I could find hold a grudge against him. Besides I was certain I was nothing but a slave at the time and what else could I do but resign myself to the role and submit.

"I do indeed desire a meal thank you." I said as I shakily attempted to stand up. I was able to so only after Saylag pulled me on my feet.

"My apologies for Lucretia's cruel treatment, Maydonna must be generous to the necromancers so as to build a strong relationship with them," Saylag explained. The elf man then assured me, "But now that you are under my care she will not be allowed to harm you." I nodded at what Saylag said, but while not loosing anymore blood was well and good his assurance did little to raise my spirits. I was slave and there was nothing the elf man could say or do that would protect me from that sad truth, or at least that is what I thought at the time.

"Well then I will escort you to the dining hall.

Although I was too forlorn to appreciate it at the time, Saylag was an unusually gentle slaver. In any other part of the world that had slaves I would have been whipped and abused until my spirit was broken, a process called "seasoning". I however was not seasoned at all and such kindness was odd to the point of suspicion and soon suspicious is what I would be.

I followed the dark elf man as he led me through some very well decorated corridors. Unlike Sinatara who made little effort to decorate her castle Maydonna adorned her hallways with finely detailed statues of women, and beautiful paintings of surface scenery. Maydonna was also unlike Sinatara in that the interior of her castle was varnished wood instead of stone, making the hall ways look like gold.

"I would be lying if I said I had forgiven Maydonna for enslaving me Saylag, but I must say she has a keen eye for art and architecture, though I recognize the paintings are from human artist." I noted

Saylag responded by saying, "Yes of all the gifts Maydonna has received from the necromancers the paintings are by far her favorite. But some of the art is made by dark elves. The statues were made by dark elf sculptures, and that painting over there was done by me." Saylag pointed to a painting of great bird of flame rising out of fire. Had the dark elf used a finer brush he perhaps could have made the picture look almost exactly like real life, but he chose instead to use a broad brush and circles of light that gave the painting an abstract feel. I found myself drawn to the painting nevertheless and on closer inspection I could have swore the strokes looked like lines in a maze, and as I inched closer I thought I saw dots even tiny shapes in the painting.

"Come on now don't fall behind." Saylag said pulling my attention away from his painting. I rushed to catch up to him, but at the same time I had come out of my depressed stupor enough to realize that Saylag was not all he claimed to be.

"An impressive painting friend. Have you ever seen a real Phoenix before?" I asked. I hoped by asking Saylag about the phoenix he might accidently provide me information on my suspicions, and even if he did not at least I might learn more on the great bird; the one mystical beast I had never seen.

"Not only have I seen a Phoenix, but I have seen one die and resurrect its self," Saylag declared proudly. "Unfortunately that is a story for another time, for now we have dinner to eat and business to discuss."

At dinner servants offered the exotic foods from the dark elf caves, but I was also offered delicately cooked chicken and vegetables from the surface. As one who proudly bridges cultures I ate both the surface food and the cave food. To add to the elegance of our dinner we were serenaded with music, which allowed me to arrive at an interesting conclusion.

"Lucretcia advised you did she not?" I asked. On the other end of the table Saylag asked,

"What makes you say that?" I answered,

"As evil as Lucretcia is she has spent centuries in court life. She would understand high culture as humans know it better than anyone."

"Is that so?" The elf took a bite of chicken anticipating that my response would give him the chance to chew it.

"Indeed. She is also a master of politicking. With all due respect to the dark elf people the dark elf lands are very cut throat and I suspect that is the reason the necromancers thought Lucretcia should be an ambassador to the dark elf caves."

"I see." Saylag said. "Well Lucretcia did share some of her ideas, but I have a keen understanding of human culture myself because I am part human." I raised an eyebrow as I took a bite of scorpion, though I finally understood why he had a last name. "My ancestor Raelag was actually married to Isabel of the Griffin Empire." My mouth could have fallen to the floor.

"Truly, you are related to the last queen of the Griffin Empire, and to Sinatara's hero? That cannot be. It is a well known fact that Isabel disappeared mysteriously after she gave up the throne."

"To people on the surface Isabel disappeared," Saylag noted, "But did you ever ask where Isabel disappeared too?"

"You are kidding." I dismissed.

"No joke," Mr. Griffin assured. "Isabel Griffin married Raelag and bore two children one of which I am descended from. If you doubt me you can ask Sinatara later. As an admirer of Raelag she would know."

"No I am convinced." I conceded. "But that is amazing." Saylag smiled one more time then he placed his napkin on the table, and stated with a hint of regret,

"Well enough small talk. It is time to discuss your duties." I enjoyed the dinner prepared for me and had hoped it would last longer; anything to delay my slave duties.

"I am eager to serve." I claimed. In truth I was anything but eager to serve, but I had to remember my manners as a slave. Saylag explained,

"I have been told that you know many things about the necromancers Abraham. So much in fact that you could help construct their buildings." Saylag's suggestion fell upon me like a lead weight. The very idea of assisting undead made me nauseated, and though the elf man had been kind to me thus far my impulse was to deny him. I lay down my fork and stated,

"I am sorry, but I will not assist necromancers. If you must beat me or even kill me then do so." As I sat in my chair with my arms crossed and with a stare of steel I must have looked like the model of defiance, but in reality I was already regretting my impulsive act. I feared I would finally receive the painful seasoning I was due. Saylag leaned forward and gave me a threatening glare, which fed into my fear. He told me,

"You know I once saw a phoenix swoop down and grab a man with its talons." I was taken aback by the elf's sudden mention of the phoenix again, for it did not seem in anyway relevant to the situation. "A phoenix can make its talons free of flame, but this one didn't, it just burned the poor man alive. I am sure that burning in the talons of a phoenix is much more painful than any beating wouldn't you say Abraham?"

Saylag's apparent threat was the oddest I had ever heard, but then there were many odd things about Saylag: him not seasoning me, his paintings of the phoenix, and general obsession about the fire bird. For a moment nothing about the elf man added up, but then I had a sudden realization. I sighed and conceded,

"Very well Mr. Griffin, I suppose I have no choice but to assist the necromancers."To help with the ruse I had to pretend to be sad and disappointed, but on the inside I was smiling because Saylag was a member of the Phoenix hand.

Chapter 15

"When we get to the necromancer construction site I want you to tell me everything you know about their buildings," Saylag instructed. "I want to know as much as possible about what's being built in our back yard." I nodded in response while silently suspecting that he was using me to gain knowledge of the necromancer structures, not to use for Maydonna but to use against her. Whenever a dark elf or Minotaur walked by us I became paranoid that they might suspect the secret between Saylag and I, but Saylag had no such fear. Ever the professional spy Saylag contrasted my paranoia with a steady even somewhat jubilant exterior. To a dark elf man who walked by he said,

"Hey Rogal, don't forget we got a friendly fencing match later." The other elf responded,

"Didn't you hear? Maydonna is taking down the arena to put up a new building for the necromancers." By now Saylag's fencing partner had walked by him and so Saylag had to turn around and walk backward for a few paces to speak to his friend.

"No I didn't hear that we'll just have to find a new spot then. Catch you later." The other elf waved good bye.

"Well that's odd," Saylag commented. "All the other necromancer buildings are being built on the surface in Timberwood. Later well have to find out why they are making one here in Halad."

"Yes sir," I said while I took a mental note of just how much the necromancer infestation had spread. "Necromancers generally prefer to stay above ground and I have seen very few undead creatures here," I noted. "Odd then they would build in a place they seem uninterested in coming down too."

"Oh they're around." Saylag lamented. "Signs of them are everywhere." As he spoke Saylag nodded in the direction of human servant with gauze on his neck, gauze like mine.

"How are you holding out Ralph?" Saylag asked as he stopped to talk to the Servant. "The man looked up from the floor he was washing and in a weak voice he said,

"I'm holding sir. But my neck still feels sore." I literally felt the poor man's pain. Saylag pat Ralph on the shoulder and said confidently,

"Worry not friend those vampires won't touch you again. I persuaded Maydonna to not let the vampires drink from slaves that work in this castle."

"I am grateful as always sir," Ralph said. "But those vampires are here to stay aren't they?"

Saylag said nothing, as though he did not want to confirm Ralph's worries. He said simply, "Well you're safe at least. I will see what else I can do. See you later Ralph." I found my eyes locking with Ralph's. We were both slaves both drained of blood and for that reason there was empathy between us.

"Come Abraham." Saylag summoned. While I had stopped to empathize with Ralph Saylag had continued on and I had to jog to catch up with him. Along the long trek through Maydonna's enormous castle I saw many other forlorn humans slaving away in the halls. Humans were not the only people that held their heads low however for many dark elves also were forlorn. Clearly the necromancers were putting their allies through much hardship, but the question was why. Why did Maydonna tolerate these death mages so?

We reached a door guarded by two women who were appeared stone faced and stoic. They were like any other professional guards standing at the ready until they saw it was Saylag who approached them.

"Saylag!" One of the guards greeted joyously.

"How are you?" The other guard asked in an almost sing-song manner. Saylag replied,

"Good day ladies. I am doing well today; got a new slave that I am eager to put to work." I was curious as to whether slaves were allowed to speak up in dark elf culture as they could in mine, or if slaves were expected to keep quiet and fade into the background like slaves in the Unicorn Empire. So when Saylag mentioned me, "the new slave," I nodded and greeted one of the guards by asking,

"How do you do?"

"Hi," One of the dark elf women said as her attention turned back to Saylag. My curiosity unsatisfied, the girls went back to flirting with Saylag.

"Notice anything different," one of the guards asked turning her head.

"Yes I see you finally decided to buy those earrings you wanted." Saylag noted. Sure enough the girl had amethyst, and gold earrings. "But how did you afford them?" Saylag asked.

"I found them cheaper at another store. Oh and my sister found the most beautiful dress there it was made of this stuff called silk all the way from these people called the Naga." I recalled Sinatara was also found of Naga silk. Clearly silk was in high demand amongst dark elves, and the fact that the necromancers had taped that demand before I did was but one more me reason to hate them.

"Oh they have an awesome new restaurant now," The other girl chimed in. "It has weird food, but it was good. We should go there sometime." The other girl forced herself in front of the restaurant patron, and argued,

"We should go together Saylag." For her suggestion she was pushed. If Saylag had left the women to their own devises they might have come to blows over him, but he had other matters to attend to.

"It will have to be for another day. Right now I must take Abraham to the Necropolis under construction. Both women stopped being sour with each other and started being sour as a reaction to what Saylag said.

"Well don't let Orson know. The guy has been grumpier than ever about elves on his construction site." One of the women lamented.

"You better sneak up carefully, if Orson sees you he'll bite your head off." One of the girls noted as she growled out the name of the necromancer Orson. Both girls formed terrible disgusted frowns at mention of the necromancer and so did I. Orson must have been the other necromancer that sat by Maydonna's side.

"Not to worry," The heartthrob elf assured. "I can usually get along with Orson even if others can't. You just need to tolerate his ornery nature for a while and then he warms up to you." I crossed my arms and said,

"You and Maydonna keep the worst of company," I grumbled to Saylag without thinking. "I do not know how ether of you can tolerate that fat, zombie pig." Having vented my anger I suddenly realized I might be punished for forgetting my position as a slave and speaking out of turn. Fortunately my opinion protected me from whatever punishment I would normally receive.

"The slave's right, I can't even stand to look at Orson, being around him is just disgusting." One of guards grumbled. The guard then leaned to Saylag's ear and I just barley heard her whisper, "I don't know why Maydonna allows these necromancers here. They're horrible yet she's practically giving our clan away to them. Our land, our money, even our slaves have been going to the undead ghouls." Saylag sighed and said, "We've made many sacrifices for the undead mages, but don't forget the exotic foods and low price gems come from these new visitors. Plus they make powerful allies in wartime."

Both girls sighed. "You always have your heart in the right place Saylag, but I honestly don't see them really being worth it."

"Neither do I," The other girl conceded. "But anyways the door is open to you." Saylag nodded and said simply,

"Thank you ladies. I will see you both later." As we passed by the two women, they went back to being stoic guardians, but then Saylag decided to leave one of the girls with one last little surprise. "Hey Salila one more thing before I go." The woman who originally asked Saylag to the restaurant suddenly blushed and replied,

"Yes?"

"Give my best to the husband and kids," Saylag chaste. I chuckled as the poor woman's faced turned beet red.

The hallway behind the doors was dark and made of stone much different than the rest of Maydonna's castle, yet very similar to some of the caves around Sinatara's castle.

"So you seemed well liked here. How long have you been working for Maydonna? A year?" Implicitly working for Mandonna meant working against her, but no matter I had assumed that Saylag had been working in the castle for at least a year since everyone seemed so friendly with him.

"Actually I've only been working for Maydonna for a few months. I was originally the personal slave driver for the head of Clan Darknorth, but I was without a job once she died mysteriously. Maydonna meanwhile knew I did good work after seeing me on a diplomatic visit, so she decided to hire me after her slave driver also died mysteriously." My eyes bulged because those deaths were probably not mysterious to Saylag or the Phoenix hand. I decided to keep with my original subject matter however.

"Only a few months?" I repeated in surprise. "But you seemed to be close friends with everyone you encountered."

The elf then said, "In the dark elf lands there is a saying. 'A wise person knows everything, a shrewd person knows everyone'."

"That saying exists in the wizard lands as well." I noted.

"No surprise there. In my line of work the shrewd thing to do is to quickly make people feel comfortable around you, so you can make people feel like they have known you for a years when they just known you for weeks. When you've done that it makes communication much easier." What Saylag said was something I had already learned as a business man, but hearing it from him allowed me to realize how skilled he was at being an agent. It was no coincidence that his cover was that of a slave driver, for slaves in the halls of power know many useful things, and their resentment of their masters encourages them to divulge it. Besides the people that have so many slaves that they need to hire someone to manage them all are always those in power; the people who make 90% of the information any spy would want to know. No wonder why Vaythose was jealous

We came across a spiral stair case and that is when Saylag warned,

"If you need a brake let me know, it's a long way up to the surface." I scoffed and complained,

"Ah dam necromancers never make things easy, but do not think me as much a weakling as I look. I have done much marching in my day." With his usual good humored smile Mr. Griffin acknowledged,

"I suppose as a former soldier in the wizard's army you would have done some marching, which reminds me that you seemed to know Orson back at the door way. Did you somehow meet him during a war between the necromancers and wizards?" As I stepped on to the first step of the star case I shook my head.

"No." I said. "I only heard of Orson from the other wizards, and saw pictures of him. "They called Orson the zombie master as zombies tend to be his weapon of choice."

"Let me guess," Saylag began. "No one likes following or even being around the old grump so he makes unthinking zombies to be his soldiers. Am I right?"

"From what I heard you have him pegged," I noted. "He even has a quote, 'in a soldier everything above the shoulders is useless.'" Saylag laughed,

"I've actually heard him say that." He said.

"Well do not be quick to doubt him or his zombies," I warned. "When he uses zombies they are much stronger and more durable than when other necromancers use them. Besides even if Orson's politicking skills do not compare to Lucretia's his cunning on the battle field certainly exceeds hers."

"I see," Saylag said. "So what about that rat that sometimes jumps on his shoulder? Is that just a pet he has?"

Saylag had once again said something that surprised me, for I never heard of any necromancer with a rat. I thought it might be code at first, but I could not decipher it.

"What do you mean?" I asked hoping that I was not ruining a code.

"Every now and again I see a rat jump on his shoulder. I thought you might know what that was." Saylag explained. I told Saylag that,

"I have never heard of necromancers owning pets, but I suppose it is possible that Orson might have picked up a rat somewhere and made it one. How else could he provide himself company?" I said shrugging. "It is not as though the zombies could do so." After what I said Saylag became distant as though he were contemplating what I was saying. Not that we could have said much more anyways, for walking up the many flights of stairs took breath away from speaking.

When were nearly at the top of the stairs light shown through a hole in the top made me feel optimistic, an irrational feeling to be sure, but strong nevertheless. I asked Saylag,

"How long have the necromancers been here?"

"Oh not for too long. About 5 years," He answered. Pleased to hear that the necromancers had not been around long I said,

"That is good to hear. There is no way they could have built much in just 5 years and I am sure they would not have started when they first came anyways."

"Well I don't know." Saylag began in uncharacteristic uncertainty. With their machines they seem to get a lot done. I scoffed,

"Oh the necromancers do not use many machines. Not like us in the wizard lands." Saylag went silent for a minute.

"I think you should really see this what they've done." He finally said.

"What could they have possibly have accomplished?" That moment we finally reached the surface and the when we did my mouth dropped down in horror.

"How…How did they build all this?" I was surrounded by tall black buildings, most with green stained glass windows that seemed to glow eerily against the sky.

"What is this?" I yelled out "How could they have built so much in so little time?!" Saylag could only shrug at my question.

"I was hoping you would know," He said in confusion. "What exactly have they built?" I snapped in frustration,

"They have built a whole Necropolis!" I pointed to a twirling tower and said, "Over there is a Spectral tower where they torture souls and make poltergeist." I then pointed to a spike of a building with skeletons at its base, "That is a pillar of bones, a building that enhances necromancer magic." Then in distance I saw that the center of city was dominated by a tall cathedral like building with a red strip. "That is a capital building." I said while losing hope. "That is a building where they have of the necromancers' top administrators. How did Maydonna let this necromancer infestation get so out of control?" Saylag put his hands up and pleaded,

"Please Abraham you must be calm."

Far from calming me Saylag's statement made all the more frustrated. I stomped my foot and demanded, "Do you not see they are taking over!? That building in the center of the city is not an embassy; it is a headquarters to rule this land!" Naturally I was horrified by the infestation I saw, but things would only get worse, much worse.

"I understand that Abraham but you must be clam, so you can fulfill your duties, like addressing the issue of their machines." Saylag said. In my mind's eye I envisioned the worse possible scenario, and my eyes bulged as though they were seeing the scenario in real life. I turned my head to see a river and when I listened carefully I heard screams from the direction in which it flowed. I suddenly dashed alongside the river. Saylag yelled after me as I started to run, but I ignored him. I also ignored the visible poltergeist and their threatening howls, the vampires who joked that I was dinner on the run and the moving skeletons that made weapons without need of rest.

When I finally reached the building where the screams were coming from I recognized the structure's basic design as a shrine of the netherworld; a building where people are drowned in mercury so they may later be turned into undead creatures.

"No." I said in horror. When I looked behind the shrine I saw a vast network of pullies, cogs and wheels connected a large water wheel. I had never before seen such machines on a necromancer building, but I had seen them somewhere else. "No!" I yelled again as I fell to my knees in shame, for Sinatara was right; I had been a death dealer without even knowing it, and just when Saylag caught up with me I lamented in tears, "They are using the machines I invented."

Chapter 16

As I lay on my hands and knees in shame I felt Saylag's presence over me. He placed a hand on my shoulder in order to comfort me, but when I heard splashing and more screams from the netherworld shrine his comforting hand became one of restraint as I tried to shoot up to destroy the cogs with a spell. With energy emanating from my hand, I yelled,

"Let go Saylag. They are drowning people in mercury in there! Let go!" Saylag did not comply and instead he griped my wrist like iron, aimed my hands away from the building, and insisted,

"This will do no good. They will just rebuild the shrine and kill those people later, and you will surely be killed with them for insolence. You must stop!"

"He certainly must," Said a deep raspy voice from an opened window of the shrine. When I looked around I found that my display had captured the attention of specters, vampires, and even bone dragons. When I looked up I saw by far the fattest, and most repulsive undead creature I had ever seen. The repulsive creature strutted out of the shrine, his gait ungainly do to his weight, and approached me. "There is no way that that ignorant money grabbing fool will ruin our shrine." There was no mistaking it; the necromancer was Orson. When Orson spoke his gigantic second chin would ripple like liquid pig lard, and his breath had such a strong formaldehyde stench that it almost caused me to expel the wonderful meal that Saylag had prepared for me. Orson turned to face Saylag.

"Who allowed this fool into our precious necropolis?" Orson growled. "I thought I was clear that no one living was allowed in here without my permission. Have you people no respect for our city?" I wanted to destroy the disgusting creature of a necromancer for his evil deeds and his hypocrisy; the land was not even his. Yet Saylag thought to be more diplomatic and as he was effectively my master there was nothing I could say to dispute him.

"My apologies Mr. Orson." Saylag said with a bow of his head. How the elegant elf man could stand to be polite to someone so evil was beyond me, but polite he was. "I thought we could use Abraham to assist with the construction, but clearly he must be taught obedience." Trying to maintain his cover Saylag gave me the angry look as though I was in the wrong. Orson scoffed.

"Good luck with that," He grumbled. "In my experience the only way to make people obey is to put them in the Mercury vat in this shrine." Orson affectingly caressed the black stone that made a window sill of the building mentioned. The overweight necromancer then offered, "Abraham will never disobey you again if I turn him into a litch for you." Orson pointed his partially decayed finger to a robed skeleton with a staff. From the spell book chained around its neck I knew the Litch to be an undead sorcerer. I meanwhile was left to wipe off the spit that Orson sprayed me with as he spoke, while trying my very best to think what was in it.

"That will not be necessary," Saylag replied. He then yanked on my collar, and as I gagged he said, "A weak in my special chamber will season him accordingly." Still feeling righteous anger I snapped at Orson.

"Even as a litch I would still spit on you!" I spit on the ground to simulate my point. "You are evil incarnate for what you did to those people." As though I were not surrounded by enough undead evil one more deathly entity chimed in on our conversation.

"You are an ignorant fool," Said a raspy hiss of a voice. I did not know where the voice came from, but then I saw a rat climb on to Orson's shoulder.

"Oh master." Orson said looking to the rat. "Please forgive this non-sense. Back to work all of you!" Orson waved away all the undead creatures that had gathered to stratify their curiosity. The rat on the other hand continued to speak to me.

"I was once drowned in Mercury, for in ancient times that was how necromancers were made," The rat clamed. On close inspection I noticed the rat had glowing green orbs instead of eyes, and the flesh had rotted off half of its skull. The decaying rat went on to hiss, "Had the people in the vat been left to live, their lives would have been nothing, but a short, ignorant, struggle for existence, where they trick themselves into thinking that petty insignificant events have meaning. At least now some of the people will know eternal truth. I scoffed at the rat, but decided not to dignify his sterile madness with a response. Saylag looked to the rat and said,

"Hello I don't believe we met Mr..." Saylag waited for the rotting rodent to finish his sentence and give him a name, but instead the rat changed the subject.

"I once knew your ancestor Saylag," The rat said. Saylag crossed his arms and listened for he was clearly intrigued. "But when I first met him his name was Agrael and in return for guiding him through secret passage ways he harvested 100 wood elf archers for me. Fitting then that you should assist me with my harvest now." I shivered when the rat said harvest, for I knew harvesting meant collecting human to make into creatures.

"I suppose it is fitting." Saylag acknowledged. "But it is a subject we will have to discuss later, but for now I have a slave to season, and I am sure you have much to harvest."

"Indeed we do." Orson said. "We have all of Timberwood to harvest." I was not surprised, but Saylag was.

"Really? I thought you were only going to take proven rebels." He said. Orson responded,

"We were, but Maydonna ordered us to make every single person in Timberwood part of her undead army." Saylag raised an eyebrow as though he did not expect what he was told.

"Now be off with you," The decaying rodent ordered. "Such a large harvest cannot be delayed a longer."

"As you wish," Saylag bowed as he backed away and pulled me along to have me seasoned.

For a long while the elf and I had nothing to say to each other. I was certain my outburst had disappointed Saylag so he had nothing to say to me, and I was too lost in thought to have anything to say to him. I wondered how my technology had found its way to the necromancers. Did they hire directly from my company without me knowing? Had I known that to be the case I would have someone fired, but alas I would never know. Instead I would be left to think on the guilt that day's events left behind and to ponder if it was really the right thing to do to invent the machines the necromancers used.

"Your outburst was understandable," Saylag said suddenly. My head shot up at attention. "But you do understand why I have to season you correct?" Saylag said.

"I understand sir, but there is one thing," I began.

"What is that?" Saylag asked. The necromancers had been using my machines for their evil ends and though I could never make the lost lives come back, I thought I would leave Saylag a little something to delay the killings.

"The necromancers better make sure none of the lubricating oils leak or else those machines could be ruined." I said suggestively. Saylag smiled but said nothing. After much walking we again arrived at the dungeon. Saylag then led me to a dark pit and with a face of regret he pushed me into it. Saylag then gave me something before he left.

"Here is a little something nice to look at while you think on how to correct your past behavior," Saylag said. Saylag then threw a rectangular flat object that landed on my head. The object had a wooded on it so my head was hurt slightly. Nevertheless I picked up the object that was thrown down and found it to be a smaller version of the phoenix picture that Saylag had showed me earlier. Without saying good bye Saylag then left. I sat in the cold dark pit curled up in a ball hoping to remain warm. I would have been in pitch black except for the necklace I wore provided me with a warm glow of pink light. I twirled the light crystal in my hand, and as I did I thought of Roanna and wondered when I would be able to see her again. There was the faint thought that I might not, that I might die first, but I would not let such a horrible thought dominate my mind.

I sat back against the cold stones of the pit wall. I held the crystal close to my heart so that the affection that was put in it by Roanna would comfort me and allow me to sleep. Then just as I was falling asleep I heard something move about behind the stones. I thought it might have been a rat at first, but then I remembered that rats do not lurk in dungeons so deep, and the necromancer rat would have no reason to be here.

Then on the other end of the pit one of the stones pushed itself from the wall. I concentrated for a moment trying to detect ghost that might toying with the walls. There was none. So then I crawled on my hands and knees touched the stone. I tried pulling it at first curious as to whether it would come out. The stone stayed put no matter how hard I pulled. Then I swore I heard a voice whisper something.

"What?" I asked. For a moment there was no response then I heard the whisper again, clearer this time.

"Push." The whisper said. For a moment I was confused then the whisper came again clearer than ever. "Push the stone stupid." This time the whisper was so clear I knew who was making it and despite being called 'stupid' I eagerly pushed the stone. When I did a secret door opened and behind it I found someone who I thought I would never be so happy to see.

"Vaythose." I declared excitedly.

"Shhhhhh." He responded as he put his finger to his lips, or rather the mask covering his lips. "Were sneaking," He whispered. "You're supposed to be quite when your sneaking." He then snapped

"Sorry." As I rubbed the back of my head in embarrassment. The tunnel was too narrow for Vaythose to turn around in so he had to come out and go back in.

"Follow me," Vaythose beckoned. "And if you complain about the cobwebs I will kick your ass for being too much of a sissy." It was a good thing I had Vaythose to follow, for the secret tunnel system proved very intercut with many forks which no doubt led to other parts of the dungeon; the last place I would want to go. Half way along our journey Vaythose encouraged me by saying, "We are defiantly out of Maydonna's castle. Soon we will be in a secret cavern that's a good distance from the castle. "

We must have been on our hands and knees for at least a half an hour before we finally reached the light, and when that finally happened Vaythose had to help pull me out. Then I had the pleasure of hearing another familiar voice.

"Welcome back buddy." Kythosa said. I looked up and to my pleasant surprise was Sinatara, Kythosa, John, Edward, Saied, and all the other human and elf friends who accompanied me on the ill-fated journey to Maydonna's palace.

Chapter 17

"It is so good to see that you all escaped." I praised.

John quickly responded by saying, "Indeed it is and it wouldn't have been possible if this good man did not lead us out." John threw his arm around Vaythose's shoulders. Though Vaythose had never been known to have been friendly he stood up tall as he accepted credit for everyone's great escape.

"Technically it was a woman from the phoenix hand that secretly designed the tunnel system Vaythose used," Kythosa noted. John was never one who could be persuaded that a woman could do anything useful out of the kitchen or the bedroom and repeated,

"We would have never have escaped had it not been for this good man."

"Yeah. Let a guy get some credit will ya?" Vaythose complained. Kythosa rolled her eyes.

"Only the Jins are missing." I noted.

"Oh you mean those blue spirit things?" Kythosa asked rhetorically. "They shot up to the surface as fast as they could. They mumbled something about a great being they needed to see. Didn't know what they were talkin about."

"Most people do not," I said. "But I am glad they are safe." Sinatara rose out of the shadows and spoke signaling the end of our celebration.

"Abraham, did you get a painting from Saylag?" Sinatara limped towards me. Like me she had gauze on her neck proving that Lucretia had tasted her as she had tasted me, but she also had many other wounds and bruises that were not so easy to explain.

"He only gave me a painting of a phoenix rising out of flame," I said. "But what happened to you? Did they torture you?"

"Give it here," Vaythose stated as he offered his hand to accept the painting. As I gave away the painting Kythosa explained,

"Maydonna keeps all the rest of Sinatara's family in a prison cell on the surface. The boss was put in that same cell and her family showed their love or lack there off." Sinatara limped towards Vaythose who was using a flattened bolder as a table in order to study the phoenix painting. Everyone else, including me, found themselves being afflicted with the same curiosity and crowded in a circle around the improvised table.

"So what does this mean?" John asked as he forced his way into the crowd. Kythosa frowned as she was the one who had to be pushed the most for John to find his place, but she was not willing to start another conflict with him so she simply relied on her superior height to see the painting.

"Wait. I see it," Saied said as he pointed to the part of the painting that would best demonstrate what he was about to say. All the elves looked to Saied in surprise anticipation, as they did not expect him to be able to understand the meaning of the painting without an explanation from Vaythose. Us humans who had known Saied for a long time only smiled however, for we all knew him to be a man as sharp as a sword. "We are meant to think that the fire and the phoenix are the main part of the picture and the rest is just background," Saied explained. "But if you imagine that the bird and the fire are the background and the black surrounding them is the real picture then you see the black looks like dragons breathing the fire." As per Saied's instructions I took a closer look, and that is when I too saw the picture of dragons hidden in the picture of the phoenix.

"Dam strait," Vaythose praised.

"I still don't see it." Kythosa lamented. Vaythose ignored his sister and asked Saied,

"Can you see the pictures in the fire too?"

"I think so. The breast and torso of the phoenix appear to have a woman a woman in them, I can even see her navel. Energy is emanating from the woman's hands as though she about to cast a spell and the woman is being being protected by men with cross bows. On the other hand they seem completely surrounded by what appears to be," Saied paused for a moment because what he saw made little sense to him. "Are they trees?" Saied asked.

"Treants," Vaythose corrected. "But you got the basic idea."

"What?" Kythosa screeched. "How the hell do you see all this ohhh." Suddenly Kythosa saw it too even if she did not understand it. "This some kind of magic?" She asked. Vaythose shook his head.

"Nah," He dismissed. "Everything you see in a picture is defined by the borders and color differences around it, but the borders defining the thing in the picture could just as easily be the borders of another thing so you can have two pictures in one. The thing is when you have two pictures in one like this people only pick out the flasher one unless someone tells them about the hidden picture."

"Hence the attention grabbing phoenix," I noted. It took Kythosa a minute to understand what Vaythose said, but Vaytose did not wait for her and instead went on explaining how the code in the picture worked.

"Anyways in case someone did notice the two pictures in this picture Saylag set up a code so one hidden picture would actually mean something different than what it looks like."

"So what does this hidden picture mean then?" Edward asked. Without a second's hesitation Vaythose replied,

"It means we're all fucked, because the Necromancers and Maydonna are amassing all their troops for one friggen huge attack." Everyone in the group gasped, in horror especially me. Sinatara stepped forward and ordered,

"We need another shipment of weapons to the rebels now and we need our troops here now. Vaythose prepare a message for our allies and start making preparations for a troop summoning spell."

"Not so fast boss," Vaythose said. The spy bowed his head so it was clear that he meant no disrespect or rebelliousness. "Tiberwood is pretty much a ghost town now. Some children runnin around, but pretty much all the adults have been taken." My heart fell as I said,

"No doubt they have been taken to be made into undead warriors."

"But there were thousands of people in that town." Saied lamented.

Dire as the circumstances seemed Sinatara kept her clam stone visage, then she turned to Kythosa.

"Kythosa the last time we defeated an army larger than our own we struck it before it was completely amassed. Will that work here?"

"Bad idea boss," Kythosa insisted. "We ain't gonna be able to take Timberwood or Halad they're too well defended." In my nation such a blunt rebuttal against an authority's idea would have been frowned upon at best, and in the army perpetrators of such behavior were whipped. Kythosa did not even bother to speak softly or bow her head, and so my human friends tensed, expecting that Sinatara would take out the whip and give Kythosa her due. Instead Sinatara looked down to her subordinate with concern and acknowledged,

"You are the best tactician among us. What plan would you employ?"

"First we ask questions," Kythosa said back with characteristic bluntness. "Abraham how strong are the necromancer troops?"

"Strength depends greatly with troop type," I explained. "Though I remember being able to massacre ranks of ten to fifteen zombies and skeleton warriors at a time, but when there are 100s of such warriors for every one yours, as is the case here, then that helps you very little."

Kythosa crossed her arms, and gazed toward the ceiling of the cavern as she thought on what I had said. "We could use hit and run attacks and guerrilla tactics to naw at Maydonna's and the necro's forces at their forces until they're down," Kythosa stated. "That's the usual way to take out a bigger army."

"I am afraid that will not work," I contended. "The necromancers can raise their fallen, and any dead you suffer can be made to fight for them."

Kythosa then kicked a pebble into a wall and lamented,

"God dam it! If we can't beat them with guerilla tactics then I don't think we can do it. We might as well hang it up now." Kythosa's demeanor was unusual for her, but we shared her worries. Faced with the prospect of fighting two armies each much larger than our own we found ourselves hanging our heads low. Everyone shifted their eyes to everyone else in order to hear ideas from them, but no one had any. John was something of an exception for he did not look to anyone and instead caressed his beard as though he were formulating plans. Yet John never told the group what he might be planning so in the end we still gave us no useful ideas.

I was once again in a situation that seemed entirely hopeless, and this time my friends were with me. I remembered when I had first arrived in the dark elf caves I was in dire straits with little hope of escape, but then a guardian angel in the form of an elf came to my rescue. Then just as I was about to suggest ways in which Sinatara could surrender and evacuate her castle that guardian angel came again, this time to rescue all of us.

"Hey over there," Edward declared, as he pointed to a large shadow flying in through a passage way. My human friends were awed by the great beast, but I cared more for the person riding it.

"Roanna!" I called out rushing towards the dragon to help to greet the angel; the fact that the dragon could gore or cook me in a second did not discourage me.

"Abraham, mistress you must come with me quickly!" Roanna declared urgently. Everyone expressed surprise, ether by cocking their eyebrows or by bulging their eyes as no one expected the shy priestess to yell anything with such alarm. I turned to Sinatara to find out why we might so urgently need to go with Roanna. Sinatara for her part could clearly see that she needed to dash to Roanna's mount as fast as her injured legs would allow her too, but she didn't actually know why so she inquired,

"What's it is the meaning of this Roanna?" Roanna did not respond to her mistress' question directly. Instead she insisted too me,

"Hurry Abraham Sinatara's dragon mother is on the surface and she has demanded to speak to you and the mistress."

"Dragon mother," Kythosa repeated. "But it isn't your dragon mother…" Since Kythosa was too shocked to finish her sentence, Sinatara did so for her.

"Daughter of the shadow goddess Malssia." The moment we had all secured ourselves on the backs of the black dragon the beast shot around through the tunnel leaving my other elf friends absolutely paralyzed with shock.

The dragon's great wingspan was within mere centimeters from both sides of the twisting tunnel walls, so my heart pounded with fear that the beast would crash as it zoomed through, and I clung to Roanna's body almost as if I were trying to avoid falling off a cliff.

"It's ok Abraham," Roanna assured. "Dragons are very good flyers." Sure enough the dragon glided with such grace and maneuverability, on a breeze from the surface that funneled into the tunnel, that it never so much as skinned the walls beside it. It would have taken at least an hour to walk through the tunnel and yet in less than two minutes from the start of the flight the dragon shot out of the tunnel to the surface like an arrow.

Skimming the ground the dragon slowed and landed on a beach, and though the landing was graceful had I not been clinging to Roanna for dear life I would have been flung off.

"You nearly suffocated me Abraham," Roanna lamented.

"My apologies Roanna. I was so frightened," Unlike Roanna and I Sinatara jumped off the dragon mount the moment it had stopped and dashed to a boat anchored in the ocean waters. As I dismounted I found that I had recognized the boat and said,

"Hey that is my boat! What is it doing here?" Roanna answered,

"There no time to explain hurry." The normally modest priestess grabbed my hand and pulled me to the plank that led on to the boat. When on the boat I saw all the jin I had brought with me lined up each on the side of the boat like soldiers at attention.

"Why are you jin here?" I asked, and the one closest to me answered,

"A great spirit being is about to appear here. She is like us only much greater and so we must pay our respects." As far as I knew no one had informed the jin of who Malassia was, or for that matter anything of the Dark elf religion. Jinn always seemed to have great wisdom of spiritual matters and no one knows how they obtained it, not even the Jinn themselves.

A great swirl of lightning and white light suddenly appeared in the center of the boat, a phenomenon I knew as a kind of magical gate way to a far off place or even possibly a far off time or world. Then from this magical gate I heard a voice.

"Roooannnna," The voice said in a hiss. Then a black dragon that was much like the other black dragons in appearance came out of the gate. Once the great dragon appeared Roanna, Sinatara, and all the jinn knew to bow and avert their eyes from the mighty being. I hesitated due to shock, but I also knew to bow before this being of great reverence. When the great gate closed and disappeared Roanna dared to address the great beast albeit with her eyes averted.

"Great one," Roanna began shakily. "Your loyal vassal has brought you her sister, Sinatara, as you desired." Being a shy person Roanna always fretted speaking to others, but before her great prophet her nervousness boiled over in the form of sweat on her forehead and shakiness in her voice. In a slithering whisper loud enough for us all to hear the dragon stated,

"Stand aside so your sister may step forward, and learn what task are useful to me." When Malsaria the daughter of Malassia spoke it felt as though she whispered directly into my ear even though she was far way, and her voice conjured images of slithering serpents in my mind's eye for her voice was more befitting a snake than a dragon. Roanna turned and stepped aside bowing on her way out as Sinatara approached the great dragon, fell to her knees and bowed her head.

"My mistress Malsaria, sister of shadows," Sinatara began. "I am your loyal vassal what does though desire of me?" The dragon replied,

"Deep below the caverns, below this beach, is the way into another surface. There lies a weapon which faceless worshipers have kept secret from you, a weapon that has been made by uncaring hands, a weapon which several weeks from now a dark guide will retrieve and bestow upon you. Use this weapon's strength to purge the blasphemous from my land and the weapon's symbolism to crush the many heads, which have so misguided my worshipers." Sinatara was usually one to have a face of stone, but this time her eyes were wide with the awe she had for the great dragon. Even so Sinatara was brave enough to ask the beast a question.

"Great lord," She began. "How may I know this dark guide and this weapon of which you speak?" The dragon responded.

"The dark guide is one amongst you, but until the appointed time the dark guide shall be my concern and my concern alone." Sinatara nodded then asked,

"How then do I serve your will until then?" The great dragon said nothing at first, but after a minute she stated,

"You must protect all souls that belong to me even if they are Maydonna's servants. But souls of the necromancers have never been mine and Maydonna's soul is no longer mine. They both use corpses to insult Asha creator of all." The dragon then stood up on its hind legs and with a great roar ordered, "Look to the souls that have rejected me as enemies then go to your advisors and make plots to purge them forever from my land!"

The dragon pointed her head sky ward and let out a great burst of white flame. The pillar of fire was so bright that it was blinding and so powerful that is must have been seen beyond even Timberwood. Sinatara did not need such a grand gesture to be on her way however, for she was already marching off the boat. Though Sinatara seemed to know what to do I was simply baffled by what the dragon said. Who was the dark guide? What weapon did she speak of? What were the many heads that misguided worshipers? Since Sinatara seemed to know what she was doing I rose to follow her, but before I could get far Roanna gripped my robe and whispered,

"No Abraham you mustn't go."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because I wish to speak with you." Malsaria said. My eyes bulged when I heard the dragon refer to me, and a tingle went down my spine. I did not desire the attention of such a powerful being that could so easily destroy me. I turned to face the black dragon, though I was slow as my back was stiff with anxiety. With the respect that was due to a being of such awesome power I said,

"Of course. What concerns you great dragon?"

"Why are you among my children?" Malarsia hissed. "Do you seek to taint them with the words of another god?" Malsaria took on a threatening tone when she said, "another god" as though she had something horrible in store for me should I have answered in the affirmative. The dragon's rustling wings and the rings of smoke lifting from her nostrils made me feel still more endangered. Though how to respond to the question seemed obvious I turned to Roanna for guidance, which she promptly provided.

"Do your best to be polite," Roanna suggested. "But above all be honest, because she rather be honestly insulted than deceptively complimented, and as the master of dark secrets she can see through deception." I nodded in acknowledgement to Roanna and stated,

"Nothing of the sort great one. I am but a merchant, come to sell wares from all over Ashan," I answered with as much humility as I could offer.

"The death mages also came as merchants," The dragon noted. "Their tempting wares came with teachings. Teachings that are leading my children away from me," the mighty beast stated bitterly as her talons dug into deck of my beautiful boat. I could just as easily imagined the talons digging into my flesh. Though I feared the great dragon I responded to what she said with stiff resolve for we had a common enemy.

"Great dragon," I began. "Sinatara and her advisors can attest that I have no such alters or teachings amongst my wares. I simply sell products not faith, unlike the necromancers." The beast then noted,

"Yet you have brought men who disrespect my teachings, my worshipers. Men who desire to usurp my power." As Malsara's statement sunk in, My head drooped in shame. The dragon had found a weakness in my defense very quickly, much like Sinatara did earlier. Malsara's teachings must have included techniques for interrogation.

"It was a mistake to bring John and the others," I conceded "I will not bring such ignorant men to your lands again."

"You certainly will not," the great black dragon threatened, "or you will be destroyed." I was sweating nervously and Roanna had her fingers on her lips as though she were two words away from chewing on her finger nails. Things would only get worse as the black dragon spoke again.

"Ignorant men are not the only foul things that you have brought to my lands. Secrets of the soothsayers of the undead have been revealed to me. It is your machines that strengthen them and curse my children." Like with Sinatara I could feel a noose tightening around my neck, for Malsara had reached for the horrible truths that I had tried to push into the back of my mind and forget. The beast seemed to peer into my very soul where she found my sin. My mistakes bared in front of me I shouted in desperation.

"Those machines were meant to help people!" I said, "I never intended for those machines to harm people, much less for them to fall into the hands of my sworn enemies the necromancers." The dragon only growled and bared her teeth like she were going to assault me any moment. "I never gave the necromancers those machines someone did so without me knowing." I pleaded. The dragon seemed unconvinced and stepped forward causing the boat to shift. I looked to the jinn for help, but they all seemed more intent on backing away. I was sure I would be burned to a crisped if I were lucky or worse if I was unlucky; thanks goodness I had a guardian angel.

"Please spare him." Roanna anxiously pleaded as she jumped between me and the dragon. Malsarsia stopped and growled at Roanna. "I know it is not my place to ask great lord," Roanna began, "But Abraham would not try take your power. He's not a bad person he would never desire to hurt or take any of your worshipers!" Tears rolled down Roanna's cheeks as she fell to her knees and locked her hands into a prayer. The dragon did not seem like one who ever desired to dispense mercy to anyone, but this time at least she paused before dispensing punishment. It was that pause that gave me a moment to think.

"No," I said solemnly. "I do deserve severe punishment for what I have done. Perhaps even final punishment." Roanna looked up at me with wide eyes. She said simply,

"Abraham."

"But if you must kill me for what I have done please let it be after I fixed my error," I pleaded. "Let me help defeat your enemies for they are my enemies as well." The dragon continued her pause for a moment. Then the dragon swung her head back towards me. With her eyes narrowing with cunning guile she said, "I will spare you Abraham, the blame does not lie with you and you still have secrets to tithe upon me." I nodded and stated,

"Whatever you desire to know."

"How did you know you had anything to offer my children?" The dragon asked. I looked down to Roanna and she looked up to me with confidence for she was sure I could pass this test.

"Whenever I go to new nations I find ways of earning much gold. I had no reason to think the dark elf nation would be different." I explained.

"Is that all?" The dragon responded. The beast was getting into more tough questions.

"The truth is I thought the dark elves would be a primitive people with nothing to offer and everything to gain. I thought their gold would flow like a river from their coffers to my hands." After such an insult to the dragon's subjects I thought to be humble in order to stay the wrath of the great beast. The scared look on Roanna's face suggested it was something I needed to do. "I thought wrong however. Your children have at least as much to teach me as I to them, and because they had so much already it proved to be almost impossible to find a product to offer them." I smiled for with each question I gained more and more confidence. My confidence would not even be shaken when the dragon asked me another hard question.

"Was it my children's faith in me that caused you to think them primitive?" The dragon asked. As hard as the inquiry was both Roanna and I knew we were going to get through it, I dared to answer the great dragon honestly.

"Vague prophecies akin to the ones that you have foretold are a common method of deception in the Unicorn empire and in the Wizard lands. When a prophecy is vague and open to interpretation the maker can claim it true no matter what happens. Such deceptions of those who call themselves faithful have made me cynical and so gold has become my only god. However I been wrong before and have paid dearly for being arrogant, therefore my mind is open to your wisdom and the wisdom of all those who desire to teach and know the ways of the universe. Besides as I found out these past few days gold does not make for a very good god; gold has led me into temptation and that is reason behind many of my mistakes."

There was moment of silence. If the dragon was considering whether I should be killed it did not show on her reptilian face. Then the dragon finally said,

"I have one more question." I nodded. "Are you loyal to the silver cities?" I smiled for the last question was an easy one.

"No," I stated flatly. "Though they did fund my expedition I have long since become disillusioned by the government of the Tizard lands. The cain wars, which I fought in, began when the necromancers attacked the wizard lands, but when the tide turned in their favor the wizard ruling council took advantage of the situation by stealing resources from the lands they conquered. The council even went so far as to turn against their allies, the wood elves, so they could take their lumber. I see no reason to be a patriotic to a government that is nothing but a glorified thief." The great dragon went silent and after a minute of not being killed Roanna whispered,

"Good job Abraham." Then the great beast spoke to me again.

"Mistaken many a time, but never without redemption and even as one who worships gold not without consigns." She would go on to say, "You want to distance yourself from the wizard lands, yet their culture of arrogance and knowledge seeking has seeped into your very bones. It is your tragedy that you well never escape from that which you run away from, but you are not wrong to seek the cultures of others as their ways will dilute the poison that you carry."

The dragon was more insightful than I desired to admit, but I was glad to have survived her line of questioning. Malsarria would go on to say,

"Your knowledge of other peoples is great enough for you be the dark guide of which I speak, and since your mind is open I will leave you with a prophecy that you can verify." As I had made clear to the dragon already I was skeptical of any prophecy, and so I crossed my arms as she spoke. "You will always have abundant gold, but the time with one of your loved ones will be scarce, for 45 weeks from now to the day to the hour one of your loved ones shall die. I bestow this cruel prophecy upon you so that the 45 weeks of precious time is not wasted." I gawked at what the dragon said for it fell upon me like a lead bolder. The black dragon then commanded,

"Roanna it is your duty to make sure that Abraham makes no more mistakes that harm me, and to help your sister crush the necromancers." As the dragon spoke a circle of light and lightning appeared and swirled around me and Roanna.

"Yes my lord and master." Roanna said back as she bowed.

"Abraham I will be keeping your boat until the necromancers are defeated, for one amongst your crew is planning cowardness," The dragon said as the swirl of energy grew and consumed Roanna and I, teleporting us to the beach below. The jinn all rose from their bows and flew off the boat. The dragon then gave me one more order before she and my boat would also be consumed by the great gate way. She said,

"As the dark guide is your duty to retrieve the weapon, and to teach Roanna the magic of my brother Elrath. Both duties will be possible when you reach the surface below." There was a flash of light as a gate way consumed the boat and the dragon and then disappeared leaving Roanna and I to contemplate on the words of the dragon.

Chapter 18

I sat on the beach gazing out to sea. After hearing Malsaria's revelations Roanna and I went back to Sinatara's group, informed them of our conversation with the dragon, and consulted them on our next course of action. I remembered Kythosa lamenting,

"Dam Maydonna's got powerful allies." It was sad seeing someone as strong as Kythosa lament, but I was proud to see that some of my crew become brave and steped up to their duties.

"You have powerful allies too!" Saied proudly declared to Kythosa. "We can strengthen you with artifacts." Edward too stepped forward and said,

"And we can get mystical marble to strengthen you some more." Only John refused to step forward and help, instead choosing to share with me his plot to run away and leave the dark elves to their fate. Pity for him the boat was gone. After the inspiring speeches from my crew, we concluded that the one advantage we had over Maydonna and her necromancer allies was time. It would take weeks for the undead army to be fully assembled especially with the phoenix hand sabotaging the necromancer's machines. Therefore we all concluded we should rest before I began my perilous journey to the "other surface" and before Sinatara began her plotting.

Having slepted the night I woke up and did something I had not done in nearly a decade; I admired the rise of the sun. As I sat on the beach a listened to the waves roll in and out and saw seagulls flying for fish the first time of the day I had realized that I had not admired anything for nearly a decade. I thought back on my realized it had become a pattern where I would scrape and struggle to build a business that would bring me a great fortune, except I would never use the fortune to live in the lap of luxury. Instead I would simply put myself through one hard ship after another to earn another fortune; never enjoying myself just rushing, working and forgetting everything else. I was desperate to gain vast amounts of gold for I lost the woman I loved due to having so little, yet not that I was rich I was still not with in love.

When two seagulls swooped in and somehow grabbed the same fish at the same time they both fell into the water and the fish escaped. I laughed at the incident but when the gulls went their separate ways mind I was no longer distracted, and I was forced to once again contemplate my failings.

"Good morning Abraham." A kindly voice said from behind me. I jumped somewhat for the voice was unexpected.

"Good morning Roanna." I said solemnly.

"Would you like some elder berry tea?" Roanna offered as she held a cup and pot.

"Yes please." Elderberry was always one of my favorite tea herbs, for it makes for a taste that sweet but not overwhelmingly so like sugar. As sweet as the tea was I was surprised to see it offered by a dark elf for it was popular amongst the two great dark elf enemies, the dwarves and wood elves. "Thank you." I said, and as I sipped the tea I could not help but conclude that good tea was good tea even if the herb was drunk by one's enemies. "Did you sleep well?" I asked. Roanna sat down nary a centimeter from me, before she answered.

"Yes." She said as she pulled down her hood and looked out to sea with me. "I had good dreams last night." She stated. "It was a great honor to be visited by Mallsara last night, and since she did visit I can take comfort in the fact that Mallasa is watching over us and were going to be ok." How the snake of a dragon could inspire comfort in anyone was beyond me, but when a wind blew Roanna's hair out of her face and revealed her warm smile I did not dare to say anything that might upset her. I simply sighed.

"Is there something the matter?" Roanna asked. I paused and sighed again. I was unsure if I truly desired to burden Roanna with my woes, however when she placed a hand on my shoulder I finally surrendered to my urge to be consoled.

"Was I wrong to invent those machines Roanna?" I asked. There was silence, because even Roanna needed a moment to think on the question. Then she asked me,

"Those machines can bring people water correct?" I nodded. "Well then perhaps people were able to drink because of you right?" I forced a weak smile but I was still not convinced of my innocence, and Roanna seemed to sense that. "I don't know exactly if you were right to invent those machines, because it depends on what you do in the future." What Roanna said was not what I expected from someone who was trying to raise my spirits, but listened close to what else she had to say. "Just like you saw to it that your machines gave people water you can see to it that those same machines aren't used to hurt people. But to do that you have to forgive yourself because feelings of guilt on their own can never make things right. Only good deeds can redeem you."

"I suppose your right Roanna. We have work to do." I said.

"Yeah well we got breakfast to eat first." Said a raspy voice that startled me.

"Vaythose. By the way you startled me I would say you are on your way to being a half decent spy in training," I mocked. Vaythose stood behind me holding a pan.

"Shutup," Was Vaythose's curt response. He then explained, "If we are going to do what Malarsa said then we are going to have to go into caves we never explored before. To do that I want you well fed and rested because we can't afford to screw up. Now get the forks and eat some lizard omelet." Vaythose lifted the cover of his pan revealing what to me looked like any other omelet with cheese and onions. Roanna was kind enough to retrieve the forks and plates and we sat in a circle to consume the omelet.

"Delicious," I complimented as I took a bite of the succulent egg and cheese, with onion cooked enough to be soft but not so much as to be absent of its original taste. "But where in the omelet is the lizard meat?" Vaythose looked at me questioningly as though it were him that had asked the question.

"No silly," Roanna explained. "Lizard egg was used to make the omelet." I let out an "ah" to show I had come to the Roanna's desired realization.

"Well what did you expect me to use." Vaythose demanded.

"Chicken eggs," I suggested flatly. Vaythose once again turned to Roanna for guidance.

"Chikens are a kind of bird, like those only bigger and they can't fly," Roanna explained as she pointed to a Robin on a tree branch. At that point it was Vaythose's turn to have a look of sudden realization.

"I would stick with the lizard eggs however," I said as I took another bite of the omelet. I let the juices saturate my tongue before I continued speaking; I simply had to for the egg had a wonderful taste that I did not know in any avian egg. "You should be a chef," I declared.

"Hell no!" The elf man snapped. "I'm a spy and that's the end of it. But that reminds me there is something I need to show you." To my surprise Vaythosel let his cloak fall and pealed of his shirt right in front of us. Even more surprising was what was lay beneath. "I got this scar on my first trip down when I lost my grip for a sec and slid down a very ruff edge," He said as he pointed to a great gash that went right a crossed his right breast down to his chiseled abdomen. The man's stomach had what looked like a vast road map crisscrossed his stomach and chest and there was more than a few on his arms as well. "This one on my shoulder I got when something hard and a little sharp fell from the roof of a cave I was checking out and you see I got some on my back too." Vaythose turned around and sure enough there was more history of his injuries written on his back. "Plus these don't even show all the bones I broke down in the caves."

"Tell me you are not as clumsy in the caves as you are at spying," I mocked with trepidation. Roanna giggled at my statement, but truthfully my statement was more to express worry than to mock. Vaythose scoffed as he put his shirt and cloak back on.

"Exploring new caves is called caving, and no one who does a lot of it goes uninjured. It's just dangerous work, except we may be in the caves for days and during that time we can't afford any injuries at all, so you better do everything I say understand?" He stated. I found Vaythose's lecture patronizing; he spoke as though I intended to get injured and besides his scares revealed his hypocrisy in legion. It would not be until I went caving myself I would have much more respect for what he told me.

"Very well then I shall be careful not to be injured my friend," I conceded. "So then into to the depths of the earth we go." I declared before I took in another bite of omelet. Roanna was the last to finish her breakfast, because she nibbled her food away slowly and because Vaythose insisted she eat more than normal. With our meal complete Vaythose lead us down into the already explored dark elf caverns, which was many meters deep, where he found a large hole that was the entrance to the unexplored caverns. An underground brook flowed into the entrance making the relaxing sound of a water fall echo around the cave walls, while at the same time making the cave walls slippery and all the more dangerous. Roanna and I were given orange body suits made of a material I was unfamiliar with, head bands with glow crystals on them and bags filled with supplies like food and water.

"What is this?" I asked.

"A suit made with wool on the inside and leather on the outside," Vaythose explained. "The leather is coated with a water proofing resin." Roanna and I each found a rock to hide behind so we could dress in privacy. As I put the suit on I complained,

"Wool is so scratchy." I rubbed the part of my body that was itchy from the wool making contact with my skin. "What is wrong with my usual silk robes?" I asked. From her private rock Roanna fretted.

"No don't just wear silk," Roanna warned. "You'll get cold and wet."

"Dam strait," Vaythose confirmed. "Gets cold and wet down there, wear anything less water proof than what I gave you then shivering your way to sleep and then to death." I grumbled while at the same time the expert caver, Vaythose, stabbed a hooked rope on the edge of the hole. When Roanna and I were dressed we marched out to see Vaythose unroll a rope and strap a harness to it. He put on his crystal light head band and explained,

"Alright were about to go in. Now the most important thing to keep in mind is your limits; try to push past them and you're gonna get hurt. Other thing to keep in mind is to not to be reckless. Check everything think of everything that could go wrong. Now watch me." Vaythose put himself in his harness and then yanked on the rope to see if it would hold his weight. Then he started to slide down the rope into the hole, stopping himself every few seconds so as not to land on the ground with too hard of an impact. After Vaythose swung to a dry spot where he would not slip and fall into the water.

"Your turn 'darkguide'," Vaythose said mockingly as to reference what malsaria called me. He then threw me the harness. I never was one who desired brave heights, and the place where Vaythose stood was at least 4 meters down, and I could easily see how I could break a few bones. Even so the moment the harness was in my hand I worked to strap myself into it and back to the edge of the hole to let myself down; one does not become a wealthy adventure by being hesitant after all. In fact both Roanna and Vaythose thought I should be more hesitant.

"Be careful Abraham. I can't heal you," Roanna fretted.

"Not to worry," I assured. "I will."

"You can be carful by pulling on the rope and harness to see if they will be able to hold your weight," Vaythose remarked.

"But you just did that," I noted. That moment Vaythose lost his patience with me and snapped,

"Just fucking check!" I sighed, pulled on the harness and rope then rolled my eyes because they were both the rope and harness were firmly secure as I knew they would be. Since it was my first time descending into the caves via rope I was slower and clumsier than Vaythose.

"Your turn Roanna." Vaythose announced as received me and tossed up the harness. I had thought to receive Roanna and help her out of her harness, but she looked down the hole with much more trepidation than Vaythoes and I did, and she never found the courage to do more than strap herself. I soon found I had re-strap myself and climb up the rope to help Roanna down. The task of helping carry Roanna down while moving a rope was exhausting to say the least, but she always thanked me to make it worth it.

Much of our way down the first part of the caverns was beside the waterfall from the brook above, which made many of the surfaces we landed on slippery and so we consistently had to catch each other and help each other gain balance. Our pace down the great cave was slow as Vaythose never allowed us to descend to an area until he spent a minute or more scanning and planning the decent. As our cave guide would stare and squint into the darkness below I had to grit my teeth not to get impatient with him. After planning and studying Vaythose would take another minute or so to test the equipment, for he worried about its failure to the point of paranoia.

The further we descended the darker it became, the crystals on our head bands lit only a few meters in front of us. When we encountered the extremely deep chasms Vaythose would have to throw a rock down and listen to see how far stone would fall before we descended. When he felt the sound of the stone landing was to quit and too long in coming he would throw stones at different angles to see if he could locate a cliff on the side of the chasm where we could reach. I know not what we would have done if we did not find such close cliffs, but the issue ever came up and we descended more. Whenever we descended I had to carry Roanna, who felt soft and warm against my chest and I took comfort from that, but at the same time the process also made me feel her weight and exhausted me further.

Not all of our journey in the caves involved descending from one cliff to another. At some points we were simply able to walk straight ahead, and I treasured being able to do so as it was rare. Usually when we were not descending we were crawling through narrow tunnels that we would have to widen with shovels. Vaythose and Roanna were perfectly content to crawl through these narrow tunnels, and later Roanna would explain to me that she felt safe and secure in the tunnels; like they were snug and safe in the earth's protection. In contrast to my dark elf friends I felt as though every tunnel we crawled into was a coffin and whenever I was in one my mind's eye witnessed the cave collapsing or some beast grabbing my feet from behind; taking advantage of how I could not turn around.

The worst was when I was in a tunnel and a small creature that I did not notice at first fell from the ceiling on my neck. The brushes the creature's feat caused the hairs on my neck to stand and I yelled out in fear.

"There is something on my neck. I think it is a venomous spider!" The cave was too narrow to move my arms to grab the creature, and as it crept down the small of my back I desired to race out of the tunnel as fast as I could, but there was another problem. "I am stuck I cannot get out!" I yelled. I would not have been able to get far anyways for Vaythose was in the tunnel in front of me. The dark elf man grumbled. He said with no enthusiasm,

"There ain't no venomous spiders down here. Roanna you back there?"

"I am," Roanna called back in her usual quit shrill voice.

"Could you see what's making Abe throw a hissy fit?" Vaythose requested.

"Something horrible," I lamented. "Get it off!" Roanna did say anything she simply crawled forward and took a peak under my shirt and after a second of checking Roanna said in a comforting almost motherly voice,

"Oh don't worry it's just a scorpion." At that moment I had forgotten the harmless scorpion of the caves and my mind's eye conjured up images of the subtle eight limbed sand wraith and its deadly stinging tail. My hear skipped a beat as I warned,

"Be carful Roanna. Do not let it sting you!" Vaythose grumbled again as he requested Roanna to clam me down and crawled forward ignoring my plight. Without hesitation Roanna lifted the creature off my back and assured,

"Don't worry it's gone now." I was still frightened, but Roanna managed to squeeze her small warm hands around my torso, which comforted me. Roanna then explained, "You mustn't' be afraid Abraham. Being afraid causes your chest to expand and so you get stuck." With Roanna's words I relaxed and as I felt my chest become loose I felt silly for getting into a panic and getting stuck. Vaythose felt the same way and I heard his laugh reverberate throughout the tunnel.

From that point on Vaythose grudgingly decided to dig tunnels slightly wider than was necessary for us to fit through, just so I would not "Pee my pants" as Vaythose called it. Such extra digging slowed us down, but very little of it was necessary as most of our journey was down wide chasms, not narrow tunnels. Our journey was downward was so great at any moment I thought we would come to the center from the earth. When I brought the issue up Vaythose he assured me that I had not gone as far down as I thought and he would have known because as we traveled he would stop and draw a map so we would not get lost. He also explained that if we traveled down word for another three years at the same rate would have barely would have seen any of the earth's underground.

"World's a big place," He said simply. "We ain't going to explore all its innards in my life time or yours." It would only be later that Vaythose explained just how he knew what was in the earth.

After much traveling Vaythose noticed something about me. "You look tired dark guide," he stated. I was uncertain of the exact time, but after what seemed like a day of climbing and crawling and carrying Roanna my feet had become heavy and arms had become like jelly.

"I can keep going," I lied.

"Bullshit," Vaythose snapped. "We're making camp as soon as we find a wide open spot with dry ground."

"Here's a spot," Roanna called out pointing to a wide open cavern. "It has pretty flowers too." I raised an eyebrow for the innards of a cave would be the last place one would expect to see flowers or any plant life for that matter. I rushed into the cavern to see for myself if there were indeed flowers.

"Oh my," I said. In the wide space the light from my headband reflected and radiated from cystral formations in the shape of spiked rings. The formations themselves were not flowers, but the crystal spikes were shaped exactly like the petals of sunflowers. "They are beautiful," I stated in awe. "They are to only beautiful thing I have seen in these caves." Drawn to the gem like formations I stepped forward to see if I could brake them away, but a hand grabbed my wrist and stopped me.

"Look, but don't touch," Vaythose warned. "These formations are fine the way they are so don't ruin them." I did so much want to take one, just one, but instead I nodded at what Vaythose said, for some things are beautiful because no has touched them. The cavern was so large that the light from our crystals could not reach its walls or its ceilings, but after cautiously searching for cliffs we could accidently roll of and finding none Vaythose announced,

"Alright we're camping here." The elf man unrolled his sleeping bag. "When we get up we will have a snack now get some rest," He ordered. Vaythose did not waste a second obeying his own command. In less than a minute he had tucked himself in his sleeping bag and seemed asleep the moment his head hit the small cushion serving as a pillow. Roanna and I looked to each other and shrugged then went about preparing our sleeping gear.

I was so exhausted I thought I would fall asleep the moment I was in my sleeping bag much the same way Vaythose did, but it was not to be. The cave had the awful, musty smell of rock and water, and having just been scrounging through a filthy cave I felt myself to be too dirty for my own sleeping bag; I felt a desperate need to wash that I could not act upon. Besides there were frightening thoughts that kept me awake, and the only way to comfort myself was to speak to someone. After what seemed like a half hour of not being able to fall asleep I called out to Roanna.

"Roanna," I whispered, hoping she would be awake. Had she been asleep she would have groggily responded if at all in which case I would have let her rest.

"Yes?" She asked. As it turned she too was simply lying awake like I was.

"You have been paying head to Malsaria's prophecies for many years now correct?"

"Yes," She said simply.

"Can her prophecies be changed?" I asked. "Are they fate?" I worried Roanna might have been offended at the prospect of defying her great prophet, but instead she understood what I was truly driving at.

"Are you worried about your loved ones?" She asked in a pitying tone.

"I am," I said. "There are few people that I truly love and many of which I have not spoken to for…for too long," I said not desiring to admit that I had been traveling so much that I had forgotten to keep in contact with those closest to me. "I would not want to loose them after being out of contact with them so long. It was dark so when Roanna reached for me she could not find me at first, but I heard where her hand felt for me let my hand rest upon it. Even in the cold damp cave Roanna's hand was comforting and warmed me to my very heart.

"I don't know of any case where one of Malsaria's prophecy have been wrong," Roanna conceded. At statement that made my heart drop for a moment.

"But I think to start we need to write those you love, so at least you can see them again. Then maybe after that we can see about protecting them." I heard Roanna's sleeping bag rustle as she pushed herself closer to me. She then assured me, "When all this is over I will help you find your loved ones, I will write them and deliver the letters myself if I have to." At the time I did not know how sincere Roanna was, but her gesture warmed me more nonetheless.

"Thank you Roanna," I said. I had not realized it, but I was so warmed by what Roanna had said that I felt my arm wrap around her. Roanna for her part did not seem to mind, in fact after all the times I carried her she had become quite comfortable in my arms. Then I felt some thing brush against my back again.

"Roanna did you just touch my back?" I asked with my eyes wide with fear.

"Noooo." Roanna said. For momoment I was paralyzed with fear then I leapt up trying to brush away the small creature that once again walked on my back. When the creature fell off I scrounged for the light crystal, which I had put under my cushion for darkness to sleep. Looking down I found the pale daddy long legs like spider that had crawled on me. However my fear gave way to shock when I found something else that had been on the floor.

"What is it?" Roanna asked panicking for me.

"Look on the floor," I insited. "Look!" There ingrained and flattened to the stone floor its self were the vertebray of several necks. The vertebrai of a hydra.

Chapter 19

"Wha?" Vaythose said as he groggily tried to rise from his slumber.

"Look Vaythose, look at the floor," I said as I pointed to the great site below us. Vaythose grudgingly put on his light crystal headband, his eyes narrowed in anger as he was certain he would find nothing of importance. Then Vaythose's eyes, which made an angry glare, grew wide into a look of shock because he made out the outlines of a great hydra skull. He rose up completely out of his slumber now and followed the many vertebra to a large rib cage and followed the ribs to great trunk like legs that belonged to ancient great beast. "You see," I stated. "It is the fossil remains of hydra right at our feet!"

Both Roanna and Vaythose followed the outline of the extinct animal with their fingertips. Vaythose especially seemed to be almost meditative in his examination of the remains.

"It's a fossilized hydra alright," He admitted. "I don't know what it's doing down here though. Limestone caves like this one aren't a good place for fossils to form because lime stone dissolves in rain water." Though I could not derive any more information than Vaythose I could not help to feel the fossils like he did.

"Do you have an inkling as to how it could have formed here?" I asked. Vaythose felt fossil some more and then felt the stone floor around it. He then concluded,

"These remains are too neat and clean to just be here naturally, plus feel the floor around it." I let my hand caress the stone floor.

"It is so smooth," I said in surprise.

"That's because someone cut and smoothed this stone beforehand," Vaythose noted as he finally lifted his hands off the floor. I looked to Vaythose since he seemed to be the expert on all things in the earth and asked,

"Do you think it is fake?" The expert shook his head and conceded,

"I can't really tell I don't have the right equipment though that would explain why the hydra has ten heads." It was only at the elf man's mention did I notice that the hydra had more than the six heads that Sinatara's hydra had. Vaythose then sighed and pondered aloud. "How the hell did anyone get this here and why?" He asked. Dum struck I shrugged my shoulders overwhelmed by what an arduous project it must have been to bring such a heavy chunk of stone down into the caves. Most of the passage ways were too narrow as far as I knew so I knew not how it could be done. My thoughts on how the fossil could have brought down through the caves were interrupted by Roanna clearing her throat. I stepped closer to Roanna to hear what she had to say. She muttered something hesitantly, but I could not understand her so I stepped even closer and asked,

"What did you say?"

"Maybe it's a sign," Roanna answered weekly as she taped her fingers together nervously. I had never before been one to believe in religious signs, but after my conversation with Malsaria it made sense.

"That kind of religious stuff goes right over my head," Vaythose admitted he swept his hand over his head to illustrate he stated. "But we shouldn't let this stop us from getting rest. Cover the light crystals and get to sleep," The elf man ordered. Though I knew that Vaythose was right I could not help but lie awake for a long while thinking of the hydra, for the hydra was profound. Fortunately we did sleep, and when we awoke, we fed off dried apples, and dried cured meats. Vaythose actually caught a live scorpion and ate it raw, but neither Roanna nor I had the courage to do the same.

When we set out again we all tensed our mussels, expecting we would have more rigorous rope work to do, and more narrow passage ways to climb through. Such was not the case however. Instead we found ourselves walking through a passage way wide enough for us to walk shoulder to shoulder and with a ceiling tall enough for an elephant to come through.

"This is so easy it's suspicious," Vaythose remarked. Though I was relieved to have such to be making such an easy trek Vaythose had a point. Still we marched on until we were stopped a fork in our path one veered left the other right. Out of habit I turned to the cave expert.

"Do you know which way to go?" I asked Vaythose.

"You askin me?" Vaythose asked back. "I thought Malsaria would have gave you directions for this point. I then pointed out in as humble a tone as possible,

"With all due respect to you faith my friend your prophet is not one for clear directions. I was only told to go 'below the caverns below the beach'." Vathose looked to his left and right for some clue to the conundrum before him.

"Hey look at this. Another Hydra skeleton," Vaythose noted as he looked to the wall. "Bones are mangled like with most fossils, though its heads and necks are intact. This rock has been cut once, which is why our path is so easy, but as far as I can tell it was hear naturally." Though the hydra skeleton stretched out on the wall was longer than an elephant, with its ribs in shambles and leg bones separated it seemed small and pathetic compared to a live hydra. "This fossil must be pretty old," Vaythose said. "This skeleton was buried under a lot of sediment. It's got to be…" Vaythose let his fingers slide down the layers of rock, which I suddenly realized were different colors. "…A million years old at least."

"You can deduce the age of the skeleton by touching the rock wall?" I asked.

"Dam right I can," Vaythose stated. "When this thing died it buried in mud. Then over a period of twenty thousand years or so it got covered by another layer of mud, then another and another and from all these layers I say it's been dead for about a million years. Plus the hydra's got one, two three, holy shit it's got 8 heads."

"What does that mean?" I asked. Roanna then interjected just loud enough us to hear her.

"Hydras with six heads are the oldest alive today," Roanna said. I gave Roanna a questioning look, but it was Vaythose who satisfied my curiosity.

"I've never heard of a hydra with more than six heads," Vaythose conceded. "But since the hydras with the most heads are the oldest today we figure any hydra with more than six would have come earlier. This one was defiantly around before us." I nodded in response to show I understood, but truly I did not.

"Anyways we still don't know which way to go," Vaythose grumbled. "Any ideas dark guide?" With the burden fallen upon me I thought about what Malarsia told me that might be useful, but what she said was with little exception beyond my comprehension. Then I noticed something.

"The heads all point to the right passage," I noted.

"What?" Vaythose questioned.

"It cannot be for naught the hydra fossils are here. They must be some coded message; in this case the message must be that Malsaria desires us to head right." I thought I heard a shrill voice, but it was so quit I shrugged it off as the wind blowing through the caves. Vaythose looked in the direction the heads pointed and then looked back to me.

"You sure?" He asked. "Cause we could get really lost if we go the wrong way."

"I am sure it is the right way," I said with a strong nod. Suddenly I heard that shrill unsure voice again. Vaythose then declared,

"Ok then lets head right and hope for the best." Suddenly the voice became very loud and I recognized it was Roanna.

"No." She said. I had never seen Roanna so assertive before and from Vaythose's shocked expression nether had he. Roanna then mentioned, "Please I would not feel right going that way." My eyes shifted to Vaythose and vise versa then we looked to Roanna for an explanation. When an explanation was not forthcoming I asked in a very low and sensitive voice,

"Do you know why it is that you feel that you do not wish to go right?" Roanna shook her head.

"I just don't feel like Mallsaria would want us to go that way," She said quietly. I turned to Vaythose who shrugged and stated,

"She knows Malssia's will better than anyone else, plus if we just be honest with ourselves ether way is a crap shoot." I nodded to Vaythose.

"Very well then, we shall go left." I agreed with a nod. Roanna smiled and we went on our way.

As if we had not gone far enough below ground the left path sloped downward, so much so we had to dig our heals into the dirt to make sure we did not fall forward. After another half an hour of our march downward we came across yet another hydra skeleton, but this time something about it surprise them.

"Ok this ain't right," Vaythose said with a hint of anxiousness.

"What is it?" I asked

"This Hydra only has six heads." Roanna explained.

"And from how deep its buried its defiantly older than the eight headed one," Vaythose noted. I did not know why a six headed hydra being older than an eight headed one was so significant, but for some reason that fact resonated with my elf friends. "I guess this six headed Hydra co-existed with eight headed ones for a little while. I mean there could have been some overlap," Vaythose rationalized. As the elves were comforted by Vaythose's rationalization, we continued on, but it was not long before we encountered still another hydra fossil and it truly unnerved my elf friends.

"Ok this just fucking creepy," Vaythose fretted.

"This can't be." Roanna lamented. There before us was a three headed hydra.

"Alright this one must have been put here. The period in this sediment goes way before the first six headed hydra," Vaythose noted. Roanna meanwhile started shivering and lamented,

"It doesn't look like anyone fooled with it though." If Roanna had not been so sensitive to insult I would have rolled my eyes; truly what harm could come from these fossils?

"Please friends, be calm," I pleaded. "They are just fossils what harm could come from them?" Vaythose then snapped at me. "God dam it. Don't you get it Abraham? Someone's messin with us, with these fossils." Roanna then clarified,

"It is well known amongst our people that the six headed hydra are the strongest most ancient hydra therefore it cannot be that a fossil like this three headed hydra could be buried under so many layers of sediment. That would mean that the three headed hydra was older." Clutching her little hands together shivering she fretted, "I think I took us the wrong way."

"Alright then lets go back the other way," Vaythose ordered. Vaythose, and Roanna started to go back, but not me. I closed my eyes and thought, I thought as to what Malssaria said to me. "You comin Abraham?" Vaythose asked. I ignored him as I envisioned the great dragon in my mind repeating what she told me earlier trying to find some words that applied to the situation. "Yo Abraham get a move on." I did not bother I just concentrated and that is when I remembered Malsaria saying,

"…a weapon that will crush the lie of many head."

I felt a light hand on my shoulder."

"Abraham?" Roanna said as though to bring me out of a trance. I turned to face her and Vaythose and without hesitation I asked,

"How did Hydra survive in the wild before the elves?"

"How do you mean?" Roanna replied quietly. Though Roanna asked I could tell from the look in her eyes and Vaythose's eyes that they already knew what I meant, they simply did not wish to admit it for fear that their world would be turned upside down; I explained what I meant anyways.

"I mean that hydra heads always seem to battle each other unless elves stop them, and never seem to know which direction to go unless elves assist them with that as well."

"Plus their dumb as fucking shit," Vaythose noted. It seemed that my elf friends had come to the same conclusion that I had but I went on to say it regardless.

"Surly multi-headed hydras could not survive in the wild on their own." Vaythose and Roanna's eyes shifted as they tried to find some explanation for why what I said could not be so, but they were made silent by the fact there was none. I waited a moment for what I said to work its way to the minds of my elf friends and then with a smug smile I said, "It seem Roanna has lead us the right way after all." Then suddenly there was a low rumble from down in the caves, like a deep growl that replaced my smug smile with a startled face. Roanna was also frightened by the sound ran behind me on impulse.

When heard sounds akin to the footsteps of a giant elephant we counter intuitively dashed down deeper into the passage way where we heard the sound. When we arrived at the very bottom what we saw awed us all. There in a vast cavern, large enough to hold a city in front of a great warp gate was the great animal that we all knew was the weapon of which Malsaria spoke.

"By Mallsia I don't believe it." Vaythose said.

"There it is," I said, "The weapon that will cursh the lie of many heads that has so misled Malsaria's followers. A one headed hydra." The one headed hydra was magnificent in every way, for the largest elephant would have been as high as its massive front leg, and when it purred I could feel the vibrations of the sound it made reverberate through my chest. The creature gave us only passing interest as it turned back to a pool of water it drank out of, for to it were insignificant ants. When the beast rubbed its own face with its own leg as it stared into a pool I said, "Look," and pointed to a pool of water. "The hydra is using its own reflection in the pool to find what's on its face." Sure enough the animal was wiping mud of its face using the reflection as a guide. "Only the most intelligent animals can recognize their own reflection." I noted.

The hydra lifted its massive head from the water and turned from us. It went into the warp gate and when the final part of its tail disappeared in the gate my elf friends and I followed it wondering what other wonders we could find behind the gate.

Chapter 20

"Dam it's hard to believe," Vaythose said for what seemed to be the hundredth time though was truly only the seventh. For the seventh time I responded, "I know, but it is logical, a multi-headed animal would simply not survive long in the wild." The warp gate had brought us to another cave, but since we were within reach of light from the outside I rushed and took the lead, eager to get out. When I finally exited the cave sunlight was not the only magnificent site that I beheld.

"Amazing!" I declared, as I looked out into the great open before us. The warp gate took us to a cave on top of and mountain and I was able to see into a great lush valley with emerald forest that shined like the jewels of the same color, a pristine blue lake that sparkled, a great waterfall that thundered as it landed it its river and created a beautiful white mist, and herds of exotic animals. I even saw ancient step pyramids nestled amongst the vines and trees, and their majesty caused me to wonder immediately what mysteries they held. When I stood on that rock ledge I felt as though I was surrounded with life and fresh air, so much different from the dark, dank of crawlers I had just come out of. I was torn by the urge to rush into the valley like a child on a playground, or simply stay on the ledge and admire the scenery.

"Dam you run fast when you're coming out of a cave," Vaythose said as he finally caught up to me. Roanna came out shortly after him.

"It was worth rushing out here," I said while the valley still had an iron grip on my attention. Roanna and Vaythose took a glance at the valley.

"It's kind of nice."Roanna complimented with passing interest.

"Dam sun burns my skin," Vaythose lamented, "Plus the place is so big and open that it will be almost impossible to navigate." Vaythose grumbled. "Let's just sit down for a minute and figure out what to do next." I frond at Vaythose for being unable to appreciate beauty outside of his caves, but I nevertheless agreed that we should get down to business and I grudging appreciated him pulling me out of my valley induced stupor.

"Alright," Vaythose began, "Apparently we have to get these one headed hydra under our control to use them as weapons, except these hydra haven't been domesticated, haven't been bread to be docile, and like all other hydra are bigger than anything else we've seen." Actually when I was amongst the orcs I found the Cyclops was even larger, but that was an aside.

"Not to mention we somehow have to find away to teach Roanna light magic to stand a good chance of defeating the necromancers," I noted. "As I understand Malsaria's prophecy the means to teach Roanna light magic are in this valley, but I donot know exactly where or how."

"Problems, problems." Vaythose lamented. Vaythose then looked to Roanna.

"Well Roanna you were right about the passage way, any ideas on how to solve the Hydra conundrum?" Roanna mumbled replied immediately, but because she was so quit and because she looked away from us into the valley we did not hear her.

"Come again, Roanna." I said Roanna spoke louder but her voice was still shill. "I'm sorry but I don't know how to train Hydra ether." The elf girl let her head fall in shame as though being unable to tame a wild Hydra was somehow something to feel guilty of. I stood up and walked to Roanna's side. I then asked,

"What are you looking at in the distance?" As both Vaythose looked to Roanna with determined interest she blushed hesitantly explained,

"Well I just thought the temples in the valley are nice…they remind me of the faceless architecture in the ancient caves." A light went on in my head, for I knew that "faceless worshipers" were mentioned somehow in Malsaria's prophecy.

"Who are these 'faceless' of which you speak?" I asked.

"The faceless are the people who somehow founded the dark elves," Vaythose stated without being asked. I looked to Roanna for calcification.

"Long ago when Tuidhanna, the founder of our nation, was a wood elf lord her land came under siege by both humans and her fellow elves. Her forces would have been crushed had she not turned to a people called the faceless, who taught her and her people the way of shadows so that she would have the power to crush all of her enemies. The faceless were the original worshipers of Malssia and we dark elves exist as a people because of their teachings." Intrigued by what Roanna told me I asked,

"Have you seen these faceless beings?" I asked. Roanna shook and hung her head.

"The Faceless mysteriously disappeared, no one has seen them since Tuidhanna's rise. I only know of the faceless because the black dragons told me about them.

"I see," I said flatly. I then looked towards the temples, "Well I have little doubt then that the temples will have secrets to help us in our quest. Shall we go to them Vaythose?" Vaythose shot up to his feet and gave a determined nod.

"Our Hydra friend from earlier left a path off this mountain for us," Vaythose pointed a mountain side where trees had been knocked over and striped of leaves. With our path shown before us we marched forward into the valley.

It would take me along time to know where we were exactly, but my first impression was we were somewhere in the tropics, or so I gathered from the intense heat and humidity rainforest trees, the brightly colored patriots, and the many reptiles that studied us from the branches above. When I happened to have spotted some poison arrow frogs I concluded falsely that we were in a jungle to the south west, but some of the tropical birds I saw were unfamiliar to me; indeed they looked like more brightly colored versions of birds from temperate even semi tundra regions. I also found a large monitor lizard the likes of which I only recognized from islands to the south east, were there were no arrow frogs.

"Can we take a brake now?" Roanna called out. I turned to Vaythose and Roanna, both of whom had fallen well behind me and were panting and seeping out sweat almost as much as a squeezed sponge seeps out water. I had been so preoccupied with studying the forest around me that I had forgotten that my elf friends were not as used to heat as I was, and from the sweat on my own brow I realized that resign wool suits, while good for cold caves, was the worst dress for a rainforest.

"Of course," As I ran back to my over heated friends. When I saw Vaythose about fall on his buttocks in exhaustion I warned, "Be careful where you sit." I was too late for Vaythose had collapsed as I spoke. Fortunately there was nothing dangerous where he sat.

"What do we need to be careful of?" Roanna asked as she hunched over panting with her hands on her knees. Then as I feared a blue and black poison frog grabbed Roanna's attention. "Hey that frog is cute and pretty." She said as she reached for it.

"No!" I yelled as I quickly grabbed her arm. "Do not touch the brightly colored frogs, they have poison on their skin if you so much as touch them the toxin can soak into your skin and harm you!" Roanna looked bewildered as she questioned,

"Poisonous frogs?"

"Hey Abraham this thing looks like the scorpions in the caves only its got a tail, can you eat those." Vaythose asked full unaware of the dangers of tailed scorpions.

"Do not touch that ether! If that scorpion stings you, you will sweat and seizure your way to death," I warned. "Do not touch any spiders, any snakes, any scorpions any frogs, centipedes just do not touch any anything unless I say so."

"Well jeeze is everything venomous up here?" Vaythose asked. All though I was exasperated at the time by the question the elf man had a good point. As uncomfortable as the caves were they did seem to have less dangerous creatures.

"Are the berries poisonous?" Roanna asked as she looked up into a tree at some orange fruits I had never seen in my entire life.

"I do not know but do not eat them. For now we just eat what we carry. Stay away from all the animals I mentioned and from all animals that are black and some other bight color, those animals are almost always venomous."

"What about that black bird up there with the big orange beak, is that venomous?"

"No Vaythose toucans are not venomous. Everyone just rest and let's get on our way." After our rest we continued on, but progress through the rainforest slowed when we left the path made by the Hydra, and entered tough undergrowth. Roanna and I had to use spells to blast away some of the growth, because it was so thick. Roanna complimented

Eventually we came to an area were still in the forest, but shade from the forest canopy limited undergrowth but our progress was still slow for Roanna and Vaythose had to rest constantly, and we were all tearing away at our wool suits for cool relief.

Things only got harder when it started to rain for we then had to trudge through mud and streams, constantly slipping and falling. We eventually found a place to rest, and I worked with Roanna and Vaythose to help build them a hammock to sleep on so the ants would not naw on them while they slept. Much to their chagrin I made them cover up all their skin so they would not be bitten by Mosquitoes with Malaria; a lot to ask considering all we had to cover ourselves was our hot wool suits and the vine shelters we made.

We were all poorly prepared for rainforest survival, but I at least had experience similar experience in a jungle. When I was in the Naga lands to the trudge through their ruff jungle so that I could find hidden tribes of Naga elusive tribes of Naga and people to trade with, not to mention my home village was a hot humid place where I could get used to the heat. My poor Elvin friends had no experience with such a hot sweltering place at all so I had to work hard to care for them. Despite all the hard ships however we eventually came across a clearing where we could walk easier and then ultimately we arrived at the our destination.

"Here we are I," I declared happily. As I took in the sight of what was once a city for the faceless people Vaythose and Roanna slowly caught up to me.

"God fucking damit!" Vaythose cussed. "Why the hell does anyone live on the surface? Its fucking and humid and everything's friggin poisonous, and the sun fucking burns!" I cringed slightly for I could imagine the sun would be harsh to Vaythose's and Roanna's pale skin, and from the redness on both of their faces it certainly had.

"We will rest now, then we will see what these temples can do to help us in our quest." I planned aloud.

"There anything poisonous on the ground?" Vaythose asked. I examined the sight where the two elves stood and said,

"Not that I can see." At that moment both Roanna and Vaythose collapsed flat on their stomachs, reduced to overheated sweaty heeps. Like my friends I needed to rest, but not for long, and in no more than 15 minutes I was off to explore the city while my friends rested in a shady place under a tree.

The city had fallen far into disrepair. Some buildings were completely covered in jungle growth, and dirt, others had their floors and pillars torn from rising trees and were on the verge collapse, and the roads buckled with the roots of trees pushing up from underneath. From how worn down the city was it must have been hundreds if not thousands of years old, however the city was still in good enough condition to imagine what a bustling place it must have been.

I imagined shadow figures lining the streets with vendors, and moving vast wagons of goods across a pristine road, and I saw people with spears policing the area for thievery and other crime. Being able to imagine what a bustling place it must have been also made me wonder why the city was deserted, but also what was around it that would help Roanna learn white magic.

Wandering into what it looked like people's houses and places of business I was able examine their pottery, utensils and what was left of their furniture effectively submersing myself in the lives of the ancient peoples, but I still did not find anything useful for helping Roanna learn white magic.

I then decided to examine the center of the city to see if there was perhaps a religious temple where the verse of white magic spells might have been written down. I did indeed find a great pyramid in the center of the town though there was a gapping hole in the top. I took a deep sigh, ventured into the temple and hoped that rest of the building did not collapse upon me. I brought my light crystal back to examine some carvings in the walls of the temple. There I found a humanoid figure I did that had no mouth or nose on its face only eyes. The figure held hands with another humanoid being with a complete face and pointed ears. I found another similar faceless figure holding hands with a human, and yet another holding hands with a Naga. Then I saw something that surprised me.

"Roanna!" I called. With difficulty Roanna had managed to pick her body up and ran to the walked the temple from which I called her. It took time for Roanna to walk come to the temple, but when she did I asked her a question that surprised her.

"The faceless people you mentioned," I began.

"Yes?" Roanna asked desiring me to continue my statement.

"Were they friends with the angels?" Roanna shook her head.

"No the angels fought a huge war with them. A war that devastated both sides. Why do you…" Before she could finish her statement she saw what I saw, a faceless being holding hands with an angel.

Chapter 21

"Dam it. We going to see anything else to turn our world upside down?" Vaythose complained sarcastically. We all stared at the relief in the wall with surprise more my elf friends than myself as they understood its meaning better than I.

"Clearly these faceless people have kept many secrets from you," I said noting the obvious to prepare for comic effect. Seeing how the constant rethinking the elves had to do was taking its toll I rested my hand on Vaythose's shoulder and joked, "I am going to find more secrets, and I will warn you if I find any." Vaythose batted my hand away and grumbled, I only smiled and laughed at his reaction and went about searching for secrets.

In a way it was unfair for me to so happy about finding secrets when those secrets were turning my elf friends' world around, for some such an experience was unpleasant. On the other hand I've had my own world turned around from my many adventures and knew in the long was a healthy experience; you find out how little you know and from there you expand the limits of your knowledge.

I went up the stone stairs to the second floor of the temple, carefully feeling every step with one foot to make sure none of them collapsed. The stairs proved to be more stable than I originally supposed they would be. On the second floor I had more light than at the bottom floor, courtesy of the gaping hole in the roof. I expected to see debris from the ceiling on the floor, but to my surprise there was none. Also to my surprise there were the circular structures that surrounded a central stone pillar.

"Roanna, Vaythose come look at this," I suggested. After a minute Roanna rushed up, and explained,

"Vaythose went to look at the other buildings so it's just me."

"Look at these," I said pointing to the circular objects before me.

"I've seen these before," Roanna noted, "They are 'eyes of the magi' special magic artifacts that allow people to look at faraway places. Except they look like the part of the artifact that would allow other people to see here."

"That is true," I praised, "Though they look somewhat different than they do today. Besides I did not these artifacts were invented so early, and if you look beside each one of these eyes there is a symbol of a different people." Roanna knelt down and looked at the different symbols, then listed their meanings.

"The Elves, the Angels, the Humans, the Dwarves, and the Naga. These are five original races that were created by Asha. These artifacts must have been used for the faceless to communicate with them." Roanna said. "One thing I don't know though is why there is big spike obelisk in the center. The obelisk of which Roanna spoke was a great spike that must have been a good three meters high at least, and its purpose confused me as well.

Nothing needed to be said before we started to brush away the dust that had caked on the obelisk over time, with our sleeves. It was messy work that made us sneeze but did not get us any results, for the spike had nothing drawn on it that would suggest what its use might have been. Since we failed to find anything useful I started to look around the room for a solution to what the spike might be. Then Roanna came up with an idea.

"The faceless were the original adherents to Malssia the goddess of shadows," Roanna noted.

"Yes that is what you told me earlier," I said. Then Roanna stepped in front of the obelisk and knelt down on her knees and put her hands together. I heard Roanna mumble something with her eyes closed though I had to come in closer to her to hear her. I did not hear all the prayer, but did hear was,

"…For shadow is always hear and there waiting from close or afar drinking your words and screams in her abysmal womb." With Roanna prayer recited electricity started to rise out of the floor and circle the obelisk. Then Roanna and I had to cover our eyes for there was a great burst of wind that caused dust to shoot into the air as a great cloud, and a great flash of white light formed.

"What was that?" I asked Roanna wondering how she knew the prayer would work. Roanna did not respond and I did not care because in a seconded we were both awed by great light emanating from the obelisk. Then suddenly we saw images form on the stone walls around us. We saw pictures of deserts, of forest, of the ocean of tundra, of caves, of the world swirl around the room.

"Oh my, what are these pictures?" Roanna asked me. Even in my awe I did not forget that Roanna had almost no idea what the surface world looked like and hence she would need the images explained.

"These images of different environments of the surface world." I explained. "That is tundra where the dwarves live, and there is the cool grass lands in the north, and that is the desert where my nation is," I said as I pointed to the different environments before us. Then the image that had the most resonates to me appeared. "That is the hot savanna I grew up in a village much like that one."

"You grew up there?" Roanna repeated as the images of mud huts with thatched roofs appeared before her. She looked on the image with fascination, and I believe we both felt we were looking into my past, even if it was not truly my village we saw. Then the image rolled off the wall and was replaced by an image of a beach. Suddenly Vaythose ran in demanding,

"What the hell is going on here?!" The elf man suddenly went silent when he too saw the images. Then the images disappeared and in their place was a map of the great continent of Ashan that had several red spots on it. Vaythose clearly did not know what his own continent looked like and asked, "What is this a map of and what are those red dots?"

"It is a map of Ashan," I Answered, "but I do not know what the dots represent". After a moment of being puzzled I came up with an idea of my own. As I stepped forward to the map to touch a red doubt on one of the silver cities, I felt Roanna and Vaythose looking to me in anticipation. When I touched the dot the map zoomed in on the city, and when I saw the city I was able to make out other "eyes of the Magi" and when I touched one of them I saw an image of the city street the eye faced; just as I expected.

"I see what this is now." I declared. "This obelisk allows one to access all the 'eyes of the magi' in the world."

"Really?" Vaythose asked.

"Yes and I think I know how I can use it to teach Roanna white magic," I said. What I would do next needed no explanation for both of my elf friends knew I was going to contact one of my wizard friends to serve as a teacher; it was only of matter of zooming out of the eye of the magi so I could go to another. Roanna seemed to be good at guessing and praying her way through Faceless logic, so I turned to her.

"Do you know how to zoom out of this?" I asked. Roanna shrugged. On a whim I touched a random corner on the map which caused the map to zoom out of Al-Safir. I then touched the same dot again and zoomed in on the enormous floating palace, with a golden dome that was the capital building.

"I can find someone to teach you white magic Roanna, and I can do one better for I can the first of the circle himself to assist us in the fight against the necromancers!" I declared proudly as I taped the capital building in order to access the eye of the magi there.

"Who's the archmage?" Vaythose asked, "Some hot shot wizard?"

"The ultimate hotshot wizard." I said back. "He is the head of the ruling council in my nation and he has obtained so much arcane knowledge that he knows every single spell ever discovered in the wizard lands. So surly he could introduce us to someone who can teach Roanna white magic." I could feel pride and anticipation rise up in me as any moment I expected to be able to introduce Roanna to the archmage himself; I found my anticipation and pride was misplaced at the time.

"Ouch!" Vaythose yelled as a bright beam of light burned his eyes. He was not the only one who had to protect themselves from the bright light. Then when the light disappeared there was but a white blur that replaced the image of the map and even that disappeared. My heart sank at the site. "Well so much for that," Vaythose said with regret. For a moment there was silence and then I said,

"Well what could we expect from such old technology. This obelisk has probably gone into disrepair over time." I frowned, but not Roanna.

"Don't worry about it Abraham," Roanna assured. "Malssaria said the means to teach me the magic of Elrath is here. If this isn't the way learn white magic then there is surly another way down here and besides," Roanna blushed, "I am really grateful that your trying so hard to teach me light magic, and I know you're not just doing it to fight the necromancers, because you said you would help me before you knew they were here." I was touched by what Roanna said, and it must have shown on my face, but I did not have Roanna's faith to help me be more optimistic. What if Malssaria was wrong about the means to teach white magic being in the valley? What if the great dragon did not anticipate the eye of the Magi braking down?

"Don't forget we still got to get them one-headed hydra on our side." Vaythose reminded us. The prospect of taming one-headed hydra seemed even more daunting than teaching Roanna white magic and the very thought of caused my heart to sink even further.

"I have no idea how to do that," I said with regret lowering my voice. "I suppose we should try to find them first."

"If I go do that do you think you can fix the magi artifact thing?" Vaythose asked.

"I could try." I said with minimal confidence.

"Well then," Vaythose stood up as he spoke, "I'm going to keep checking the ruins for clues for how to accomplish our task, and if I don't find anything I will just look for the hydra."

"How will you be able to find them?" Roanna asked in a voice just loud enough to be heard.

"Shouldn't be too hard." Vaythose assured. "Don't forget I have spy training to pick up on things and those Hydra leave very a lot of splintered wood on their trail." Roanna moaned slightly and retreated inward at Vaythose's suggestion. Clearly Roanna had more confidence in her dragon goddess than she did in Vaythose's spy ability.

"That sounds like a wise suggestion," I said objectively without intending to compliment, "Roanna and I will continue to work on obelisk." With that Vaythose nodded and took leave of us.

"Well then Roanna shall we begin?" Roanna did not answer at first. "What is the matter?" I asked gently, as Roanna's sensitivity had trained me to do.

"I don't know how to repair an eye of the Magi," The elf girl said with regret.

"Oh it is no worry," I said confidently. I got on my hands and knees to get a better look under one of the circular objects. "I repaired many of these units in my day. Usually when there is a problem like this you can find a broken rune somewhere like under…" To my surprise there was no broken rune under the circular object or for that matter any rune at all. I checked the obelisk and all the other circular contraptions around it and found no runes or anything else that I was familiar with in an eye of the magi. Then it was my turn to be regretful. "Well I am afraid I do not know how to fix this eye of magi ether." Both Roanna and I let our heads fall. "Another prayer?" I suggested as I shrugged.

Suddenly there was a bright flash of light from the obelisk that caused both of us to jump back and gasp. Then on the back wall was a blurry image of black and white.

"Hello? Is anyone there?" Said a voice I could barely make out.

"Yes I said I am here." I declared, but the only response was,

"Hello? Anyone? Anyone?"

"I am here!" I yelled. Then the voice grew hostile.

"Who are you?" Snapped the voice on the wall. "Why have you disrupted our eye of the magi with dark magic?" Suddenly I recognized the voice.

"Do not worry general," I assured the voice, "It is me Abraham I meant no disruption and I did not use dark magic." Suddenly the picture came clear and I saw the bearded wrinkled visage of General Usama Husain. Behind him were the other generals of the military council to the archmage. "Why are you talking to me and not the secutary of the vizier?" I asked.

"Because of the disruption you caused you fool!" The general snapped back. I cocked my head back in confusion "Your little dark magic spell caused all of our eye of the magi to be filled with static. We sensed dark magic in the artifacts and had them all shut down until we found its source." I realized then the real reason behind the black screen caused by the obelisk it was simply the wizards of my land fighting what they thought was an enemy, but I gave the general a look of confusion when he mentioned dark magic. Roanna then murmured something that got the attention of the general. "What did she say?"

"The faceless that made the eyes of the magi here used shadow magic, that's why there was dark magic found. I'm sorry we confused everyone." Usama sighed and Roanna sunk back into a corner out of embarrassment and timidity. The other generals grumbled at having been called to duty for what seemed to be a false alarm and general Usama sighed and said,

"Well now that you brought us on high alert for nothing, what do you want?"

"To tell you that you are not on high alert for nothing," I declared as I inched forward forcefully. "Necromancers are amassing an enormous force here in the dark elf lands, and have successfully infested a powerful dark elf clan. They intend to take the rest of the dark elf clans to use against the Silver cities!" I warned. With my dire news Usama became pale and quite. The other generals went quite and one of them had an assistant out of the room presumably to fetch the archmage.

"What do you need to fight," Usama began, "Never mind let the archmage get here first. He needs to be planning this with us." I nodded in agreement. Then the archmage walked in wearing his fine, majestic, robes and his shining gems with an entarouge of elite slaves, and when he sat down I could tell the great archmage was fatter than ever.

"What is now Abraham?" The archmage. "This better be good, for you interrupted important state business." I had no doubt that I interrupted the mage while he was eating and I had the mind to tell the overweight mage that important state business that he needed to wipe of his face with a napkin. I held my tongue however as I had more important matters to discuss.

"As I explained to the general a massive necromancer army is amassing in the dark elf lands and is going to…" The archmage interrupted me by saying in uncharacteristic bluntness,

"I am not giving you any more coin. You will have to conduct your mission without."

"That is not what this is about." I assured. Usama then pleaded,

"Your majesty if what Abraham says is true then we should consider sparing resources." The archmage simply laughed, his belly rolled like waves on the ocean.

"Do not worry yourself Usama, Abraham exaggerates. We speaks as though a single gold coin is a fortune, and single tree a forest, so he can get money for his expeditions. Why he even said that these dark elves might have spells that we do not, that they have many things to offer us. I sure they have some things to offer us mind, but to think they have spells we do not. Ha! Next thing you know he will tell you that these dark elves cast their spells with more power than we do, and they necromancers will be using them in their armies."

"Their cast heir spells with more power, and the necromancers have made allies with some of them." I pleaded. My pleading failed to change the mind of the archmage worse yet even Usama stopped taking my words seriously.

"Elves with more spellpower than us wizards?" Usama asked. "Impossible" He declared laughing. Little did the archmage or his generals know that one of the elves they insulted was curled in a corner.

"Please I am telling you, with the help of dark elves the Necromancers may be able to conqure all of the silver cities." I warned. The archmage simply laughed more as though nothing could possibly harm his kingdom. I let my hopes be dashed for my words would fail to persuade the archmage; but the words of Roanna would not.

"Please," Roanna began as she forced herself between me and the mage. "It is my desire to protect my people and yours from the scourge of the undead, but our people are for want of white magic to defeat them." Roanna said.

"Roanna." I said simply as I had never seen her seen her so courageous.

"Please have warmth in your heart for this poor woman and her people, please share with me your arcane knowledge of which we have little and you have much." Though Roanna was bold enough in how forcefully she pushed me aside to speak to the archmage she still sounded humble. The generals stopped their laughter and looked upon Roanna with concern. The Archmage looked at the small humble elf girl before him, and though his arrogance usually blinded him, I could tell that he saw the same angel in Roanna that I saw in her.

"I believe I know a good white magic teacher," The archmage said simply.