Chapter One

A faint, soft light hovered over what was once Marmo. Things had been unnaturally quiet since the death of Wagnard. On the floor of one cavern, a man lay. At first glance, it appeared that he was dead, but he still breathed, albeit shallowly, due to a severely damaged windpipe.

"Ashram of Marmo…………..Fate has indeed dealt you a cruel blow. In order to make things right, I will give you a second chance, and will return someone to you, who can help you heal, both physically and mentally." A soft, feminine voice said, as the unseen owner gazed at the piteous sight of the half-dead Marmoan knight. With a brilliant flash, another being was brought back into existence.

"Huh…………? What happened? Where am I? Is this Fire Dragon Mountain?" the woman asked, as she looked around, bewildered, then gasped when she saw Ashram lying there.

"Lord Ashram!" the woman yelped, as she rushed over and looked at him. He was paler than usual, and his breathing was labored; his breaths making harsh sounds against his damaged windpipe as he breathed.

"His windpipe must have been crushed! He needs a healer, otherwise, he won't make it! Wait a minute! I do know some healing spells, but will they work on him?" Pirotess wondered, as she whispered the incantation, then lowered her hands to his throat, hoping against hope that she could save him. To her relief, they indeed worked, but they took a lot of energy. She didn't know what had happened, but she knew that her beloved Black Knight was in no condition to answer her questions. She instead concentrated on the healing, at least in part, to his windpipe. Nothing else seemed to matter at that point. After about four hours, she was finally forced to stop by the drain caused by using healing magic. But at least Ashram was breathing a little easier than he had been before. Then a burning question entered Pirotess' mind; would he be able to talk after he was healed? It was a grim possibility that Ashram would never be able to speak again, due to the extensive damage to his throat. As she lay down next to him to get some sleep, Pirotess wondered what the future held in store for both of them. When she next awoke, she felt ready to begin healing again. As she moved to sit up, she noticed Ashram's eyelids flutter slightly, but didn't open. As she had before, Pirotess again put her hands against his throat, and again started healing. This time, when she stopped, she could sense that she had done all she could for the windpipe. Once she had finished, Ashram took in a huge gasp of air, coughing up blood that had been trapped in his lungs from the damage that had just been healed. When his lungs had been cleared, Ashram lay back, exhausted.

"Lord Ashram?" Pirotess asked, noticing when the Black Knight stiffened, then abruptly sat up, eyes wide with disbelief. He opened his mouth to say her name………..but no sound came out. Pirotess could tell what he was thinking when his look changed from shock to horror. He could not speak! She watched as he attempted to regain his composure and mouthed her name, almost pleading with his eyes that she tell him that she was really sitting in front of him.

"Yes. I am really here, though I do not know how. The last thing I remember is Fire Dragon Mountain and protecting you. Then I found myself here, wherever here is." Pirotess said, honestly. Then she noticed Ashram mouth the word 'Marmo' and she understood where they were.

"We can't stay here. Especially with you in this condition. I managed to heal your windpipe, but you have other injuries as well. I don't have the strength to heal them all, so we must go to Lodoss to get them tended to." Pirotess said, getting a 'You have got to be joking' look from Ashram when she said that. It was then that Pirotess realized that Ashram was being a little more expressive in his facial expressions; he'd already gotten used to the fact that he couldn't speak.

"The first thing we must do, is get rid of your armor, since I doubt you can walk with it on." Pirotess said, raising an eyebrow when she got a 'Like hell' look from Ashram.

"I mean it. You probably can't walk with all that heavy armor on you. And I certainly wouldn't be able to shoulder your weight with it on, should it come to that. Besides, the people of Lodoss would recognize you in a heartbeat." Pirotess said, realistically. She got a sarcastic smirk for that.

"Don't smirk at me. I am saying this for your own good." Pirotess said, getting a rolling of eyes from the Black Knight and a mouthed 'Yes, Mother' for a response. Pirotess in turn rolled her eyes. She'd never thought of the Black Knight as being sarcastic or anything other than stoic. After an hour of hassling Ashram about the armor, he finally gave in and allowed her to help him remove it. Once removed, Ashram found that he could breathe even easier without it. He gave her a look of consternation and a mouthed 'How did you know?' before attempting to stand. It was met with limited success, in that he nearly fell down again when he got to his knees.

"Looks like I have to help you walk, as well." Pirotess said, getting a mouthed 'Don't act like you're going to enjoy it' from Ashram, before she turned her attention to getting them both out. Even though he didn't like to admit it, Ashram was glad Pirotess was there for him. Had it been anyone else, he would have preferred death. But he could not speak, thanks to Wagnard crushing his throat. He sighed, silently; will he ever speak again? Or will he remain forever mute? As they both ascended from the darkness, the future greeted them with new possibilities and dangers. What would they face, now that Marmo had fallen? Would they make it out there without their usual support? Only time would tell.