Chapter Three: InterceptionEdit
Kyle watched as the two young men were seized, bound and gagged by the goblins. Then they led them off into the depths of the cave. Kyle cursed them again. "If they get away," he said to himself, "So will our hopes of ever eradicating Nardek!" Walking quietly, he sneaked into the cave and started following the trail of stench the goblins had left behind. Hearing the voices, he chose a small passage leading uphill. The air grew thicker with the stench.
Soon he could hear the goblins talking amongst themselves. "Have a look at this one," said one. "He doesn't look like a human! His ears are kinda pointy!" Kyle sneaked further in, and peaking over a large rock, he could see the party making their way upward. He waited until they were out of sight, then began following again. The voices grew louder.
"He looks like a half-Elf! I've never heard of anything like that before!" came a mocking voice. "Even his face looks like one!"
"It don't matter," said a gruff voice. "Nardek'll be pleased with them. Maybe they'll tell him where the headquarters of the Resistance is!" Kyle swore again.
Kyle followed the group for about three hours. Soon, they halted. "I'm tired," grumbled one. "I'm not goin' any farther 'till we get a rest!"
"Hey," said one, "Let's cook up our little captives here! We've had practically nothing except squirrel and rabbit ever since we got here!"
"Nardek wants our captives alive," growled a deep voice, probably the leader. "We're not eating them!"
Kyle peeked around the edge of the cave wall. One of the goblins leaped up to challenge the bigger one. "We don't need both of 'em!" he shouted. "One'll be enough!"
The goblin leader took his blade and pushed it against the throat of the smaller one. "Listen, maggot, I don't care if we've got nothin' but worms and grubs! The prisoners are not to be touched!" The smaller goblin snarled, then backed away. "Have it your way, rat-scum!" he hissed. "Don't blame me if we starve!"
The goblins were tired from their long march through the cave, so it wasn't long before, one by one, they dropped off to sleep. The torch that they had been carrying was starting to flicker out. Pointing his hand at it, Kyle set it alight again. Then, making sure they were all asleep, he slipped forward.
It was at that moment that the smaller goblin, who had only been pretending to sleep, got up slowly. Kyle stood stock still and pressed himself against the wall to see what it would do.
The goblin took his scimitar and then pointed the end at Ezra's throat. "You're dead now!" he sniggered quietly, and prepared to drive the blade in. But he didn't get far. Drawing his long sword, Kyle leaped into the air, and cut the blade deep into the back of the hideous creature. Without giving so much as a squeak, it fell down limply.
Then Kyle went forward and prepared to finish off the rest of the goblins. However, he accidentally knocked the torch off its hold in the wall. It fell down on top of one of the sleeping goblins. It leaped up and gave a horrible shriek, the flames searing its skin. The commotion awakened the rest of the monsters. Their eyes opened, and came in view of the chaos: Kyle was blazing around, his mouth open and letting out a constant stream of flame. The closest goblins were scorched instantly. As some of the goblins picked up weaponry, Kyle used his long sword to break the binds holding the two humans captive, and the trio of them brandished their melee arms against the dozens of goblins.
But the goblins were in thinned ranks now. Just as they threw their spears at the humans, Kyle opened up his hand, and suddenly the spears surged with electricity, and came to a clattering halt on the ground. Astonished, the goblins dropped their arms and ran for their lives as fast as they could. Meanwhile, the exhaused trio rested instead of followed suit.
"I think it's about time we went home," said Ezra, still very shaken by his close-to-death experience.
"Yeah, I think so too," replied Kyle, slowly.
But as they turned to leave, Kyle sensed something sneaking up on him. He whirled around to see the goblin leader approaching him with its schimitar raised. Kyle had no time to conjure up any fire or lightning blasts, so he leaped out of the way of the weapon as it came down, then drew his sword. "Fool!" the goblin snarled. "You dare to challenge Oruk, king of goblins!"
"King of Dipheads is more like it," the old man retorted, and charged sent his sword toward the creature. Oruk blocked it easily with his scimitar, then grunted. "You know nothing!" he mocked, showing his horrible teeth. Suddenly, there was a short blast of wind, and then before them stood, not a goblin, but a tall, cloaked man! The three stared in amazement, and Kyle dropped his staff. "It's you again!" he said. "Oruk the lich!" The man smiled sinisterly and pointed his long sword, no longer a schimitar, at the old man. "Yes, and you will pay for the wound you gave me!"
Kyle lunged at the lich with his sword, but the creature dodged easily. "Fool!" he hissed. "I have grown in power since we last met! You will not defeat me this time!" Then Oruk's great scimitar came crashing down on Kyle's staff--and broke it. The old man tumbled backward in mild shock, as Oruk lumbered overhead. "Your fate is sealed, old man," he snarled.
Just then Ezra shot an arrow at him...and hit him straight on! ...But it bounced off Oruk's plate mail armor harmlessly. Then Kyle streamed out another gout of fire. Oruk avoided it just as easily, but Silas was taken unaware, so that the fire scortched him lightly on the face, knocking him backward and resulting in a mild burn over his upper body. He fell onto the ground, reeling in pain.
The lich laughed at the futile attempts, but his laughter was cut short as an arrow lodged itself in his armor. He whirled around to face Ezra. "Your pitiful arrows won't hurt me, boy," he mocked. Then a searing blast of flame caught him in the back.
"Gaaah!" Oruk shrieked. "Your doom is sealed!" Another arrow found itself in the creature's shoulder, this time one of Silas's. The lich cursed and uttered a chant, then turned into a cloud which propelled itself back to the waiting goblins. Even Silas's spear passed harmlessly through its mist.
And so it could only be said, Oruk was too powerful, and the three were not a match for him. They now needed to return to the valley to recuperate.
The trio turned around, and headed up the steep incline toward the back entrance of the cave, through which they would go for their return home. On the way, Kyle told Ezra the secret that he had not been told for so long: "You, Ezra, have demonstrated yourself to be worthy of the quest that I now reveal to you. Your true test, is to vanquish the so-called Black King, who has for so long plagued these lands. Those goblins who said that you looked weird were speaking the truth: you are half-elven. The human half, Ezra, is the blood of the late His Majesty, King Elias."
And at that moment, Ezra understood why the goblins wanted him brought to the Black King alive.
And meanwhile, the remaining goblins kept running, further and further south toward the palace of the Black King Nardek. It would not be long now before "His Tyranny" would be notified... and before Lord Ceeziak's perceived insolence would result in the death of many in the village, and the kingdom...
Chapter Four: Broodings of WarEdit
As the three companions headed down the mountain, Kyle and Ezra were discussing liches. "They're extrememly powerful," Kyle was saying. "In fact, the only way to kill them is to destroy the crystal shards in which their souls have been placed."
"Crystal shards?" inquired Ezra.
"Yes, that is how they maintain their immortality."
"I recall hearing something about that at the tavern," said Ezra thoughtfully. "Don't they carry them around their necks?"
"No," said Kyle. "In their hearts. That is the safest place. They always store them where they're sure no one will find and destroy them...in a cave, in a volcano, deep in the darkest of pits under the earth...places where no one would dare to venture."
"What are they?" Silas inquired.
"Some were men, some were elves, some were various other creatures which the Shadow corrupted. But when they succumbed to the tempation to use black magic, their bodies began to rapidly deteriorate. They began to fear death more than anything, so they asked the Shadow if there was any way to escape it."
"What's the Shadow?" Silas asked.
"A dark, powerful entity that has lain in the east for a long time. But I'll get to him later. The Shadow took the men's souls and stored them in crystal shards. The shards he hid in various places, many of which are unknown. One terrible secret I have learned, however, is that the most powerful -- the one we encountered in the cave -- has stored his inside his very heart."
"That's not terribly hard to destroy, then?" Ezra asked.
"Harder than you know," Kyle said grimly. "I fought him once before, a long time ago, before even King Erlias had entered this world. Having taken him by surprise, I drove my sword through his chest. It did not damage him in the least, but it did allow me a brief glance at his insides...and I saw his beating heart. It was shining with the hideous glow of the crystal in which his soul was imprisoned. His dark magic healed the wound almost instantly, and he vanished from my sight with many black curses. I did not see him from then until a few hours ago, and I know that it shall take a power greater than mine to break his shard." He sighed and looked up to the sky. But under his deep eyebrows, Ezra thought he saw a glimmer in the old eyes. He wished he knew what the magician was thinking. What was the power of which he spoke?
Suddenly, Ezra could hear voices through the forest, and soon he could see the lights of lanterns and torches. "Ezra?" he heard Jonas call. "Silas? Where are you?" Silas ran forward. "We're up here," he called back. Soon Jonas was seen running through the forest, upwards, with a small group of villagers. "Silas! Ezra! I'm so glad you're alive! I saw flames up on the mountain and thought you might be—" He stopped when he saw Kyle.
At first the two men could only look at each other. Then suddenly, Jonas laughed and ran forward. "Fardin!" he shouted joyfully. The two embraced. Then Kyle backed and placed his hands on his friend's shoulders. "I never thought I'd see you again," he said with tears of happiness in his eyes.
"Hold on a minute!" exclaimed Ezra. "How do you two know each other?"
"We both worked for King Elias," explained Kyle. "He was a palace guard, and I was His Majesty's advisor. Jonas here saved you from Nardek's hand and has been your guardian ever since." Jonas nodded. "I assume Kyle has told you already?"
"Yes," said Ezra. "But I can't believe it!"
"I knew you might take it rather hard, so I hesitated to tell you," the old farmer explained. "Fortunately, Kyle saved me from having to do it!"
Kyle suddenly grew grave. "We had a little encounter up there," he said. "I fear that Nardek may have found out about Ezra. Not only that, but he was up there."
"Who?" asked Jonas, fear in his eyes.
"Oruk!" said Kyle. "He's become more powerful, and he broke my staff. He almost killed me." Jonas shook his head.
"That means we may have to prepare for the worst," he said. "There's no telling what that lich may do next!"
Jonas' wife, Solena, was in the kitchen cooking a pot of soup. She looked up as they came inside. "Heavens, Jonas," she said, taking her husband's heavy cloak off. "Did you find those two young rascals?"
"Yes," he said, holding the door for Kyle. The old man came in, and sighed with contentment when he smelled the soup. "My, Jonas, your wife must be a very good cook!"
Solena didn't seem very surprised by Kyle's entrance—this was not the first time they had ever had a visitor. "And who might you be?" she asked.
"This is Fardin, an old friend of mine," said Jonas. "He's been travelling for a good distance trying to find us, so it would be nice if we could offer him a place to stay."
"Of course!" replied Solena, taking the old man's heavy cloak. "You look cold and tired! How long have you been walking?"
"Oh, not that long," Kyle said, although long was relative; he had actually gone more than five-hundred miles!
Three days later...
The goblins under Oruk arrived at the Black Palace, where King Nardek dwelled. In the shadows of the monstrous war-beasts lumbering around in the streets--the giants--these goblins seemed minuscule rats scurrying their way toward the palace. The only one of them who wasn't scared seemed to be Oruk himself.
Nardek was already waiting. "What took you all so long?"
"Speak up!" There was fire in his voice, it seemed.
Oruk thought for a moment, then said, "We fought a great battle inside and outside the caves where we had encamped. We managed to catch the one you're after, Ezra the Half-Elf, but one of the Resistance leaders, Kyle, sneaked up on us and freed him, so I sneaked behind him and almost killed him if it weren't for those two young rips, Ezra and his idiot brother, who I maimed. The three escaped and I couldn't follow because the whole village would've been on us."
"WHAT?!" raged the Black King, sending terror into the heart of the lich. "I entrusted you with this important task and you let the fools escape? You fool!" The lich cowered under the harsh gaze of Nardek. "I'll give you another chance," the king said. "This time, I'll have no petty goblin nests. You will fight with he might of seige engines and giants. If you succeed, I will promote you to the position of General. But if you fail, I'll see to it that you remain a mere mist forever! You are to follow my imperial raven to the camp nearest the Bramans. You are to take the village, along with Ceeziak's fort, and destroy all who live there. Make sure this Ezra is killed! Now then, off you go!"
The black raven that had been standing on the Black King's arm fluttered out the window.
The lich turned into a cloud and floated out of the palace, out of the dark capital, following the black raven, toward a goblin encampment not too far from Cirta.
A group of the hideous creatures was huddled around a fire, trying to fend off the wintry chills. Clouds were coming in, and snow was beginning to fall. Suddenly, one of them sensed a presence nearby. Whirling around, it faced a skeleton clad in armor. The being suddenly shimmered slightly, and turned into a familiar-looking goblin.
"What's going on here?" Oruk asked, watching the others shivering as they tried to keep warm. "Didn't you blockheads know that there's a rebellious group that needs to be dealt with?"
"It has been dealt with," the smaller goblin snarled. "We got three of their leaders!"
"Idiot!" Oruk barked. "You think that's all that needs to be done? They haven't even told us anything! Besides, Nardek wants the village of Cirta destroyed! A rebellion's arising there!"
The other goblin spat. "Nardek's worried about that little rabble? What in the name of Netopyrus does he think they'll be able to do? At any rate, we're not goin' nowhere. It's freezing and there's no way to get over those cursed mountains now!"
"You want heat?" asked Oruk, a smirk forming on his horrible mouth. "I'll give you all some nice heat!" With that, he grabbed the goblin by the throat, and pushed him into the middle of the small fire. The creature raged and tried to jump up, but Oruk uttered a chant that caused the flames to engulf the unfortunate goblin. The fire roared. "Happy now?" mocked Oruk. "Good! Now get movin'! The next one that stands up to me'll get worse!"
Soon the whole encampement was on the move northwest, toward the towering Bramans.
Chapter Five: The StoryEdit
Ezra awoke a week later to see a heavy snow falling outside his window. Rising, he found that the house had grown extremely cold. "Time to build a fire," he thought to himself as he pulled on his wool-lined pants. He ran downstairs and to the front door. "Where're you off to, young'un?" Ezra whirled around to see Kyle standing behind him.
"We need wood," Ezra replied as he opened the door. A gust of frigid wind blew in, accompanied by a blast of snow. Kyle quickly shut the door. "Don't let any of that stuff in," he exclaimed. "Where do you get wood, anyway?"
"From a pile in the back of our barn," replied Ezra. "We keep it stocked during the rest of the year. Are you coming?"
"Sure," the old man replied. "After all, you need great physical strength for a task like this, and I've got some important things that you as the future king need to know."
The two headed out toward the barn, Kyle occasionally spouting little flames to keep his hands warm. Ezra watched and finally asked, "How do you do that?"
"Magic," said Kyle. "The Lightforce, to be particular."
Ezra didn't understand. "What's the Lightforce? I thought magic was something to be avoided."
"The kind of magic that's used by sorcerers and witches should not be used," replied Kyle seriously. "Those that use it for selfish gain fall under the power of the Shadow."
"Now what's the Shadow?" asked Ezra. "You never explained what that was!"
"Patience," said Kyle. "The Shadow is a dark, foul being that dwells in the Far Eastern region of Netopyrus. He is very old; few can say how old. However, he first occupied the region about two-thousand years ago, during the Years of Chaos, when the land was filled with war and strife between clans. The men that dwelled in this part of the world were quite primitive and driven by an instinct of power, so the Dark One, found it fairly easy to take control. He seduced their leaders with the promise of great power, and they used the Darkforce, his corrupted version of magic. They immediately began to age rapidly, and then they were filled with the fear of death.
"Begging the Shadow to find a way to preserve their lives, he agreed to their pleas and sealed their spirits inside crystal shards. These were sealed inside their hearts, and from then on they were immortal. However, they were now totally under his control now, and he used them to fulfill his dark plans on world dominion. Soon, the region of Netopyrus was under his control, and then the regions to the west also fell. The men here were more noble and strong, but they could not resist the terrible power of the liches, and were forced to flee. All seemed lost, until the great beings known as the Wizards came across the Great Sea."
"Wizards?" inquired Ezra.
"Yes, powerful creatures sent by the Shining Ones in the Far West and Far East of the world. They came and drove out the liches and goblins that were plaguing the land, and then a man from the west, Elgira, took control of the northern kingdom of Armesia. With the aid of a Wizard, he kept the country under the control of the West for decades, and when he died his son rose to power and did the same. It continued on for generations. But, of course, the Shadow hadn't given up."
By this time they had reached the barn, where the few animals were kept. A lean horse stood in one corner, and a large steer was kept in another. Two large sows occupied a third corner, and a pile of wood filled the farthest one. "There's our wood supply," said Ezra.
"Looks like you keep it full," said Kyle. "Impressive!"
"Keep going with the story," said Ezra as they began to pile wood into the cart. "What happened to Armesia?"
"The Shadow had been observing the comings and goings of the Four Kingdoms that had arisen," began Kyle, "And so decided to take action. So, in the reign of the late King Elias, a lich destroyed a small, nomadic tribe. Only one survived the massacre: a young boy named Arman. The Dark One had the lich take Arman to the capital of Armesia, Serengrim, and leave him there, where Elias found him and, out of pity, took him in and nursed him back to health.
"But as Arman grew, he became plagued with visions sent by the Shadow which were telling him that Elias was not the true king and that it was Arman's destiny to take the throne. He believed these lies, and one night slew Elias and his sons. The Shadow sent him an army of goblins to enforce his rule, and he has ruled the country ever since, under the name of Nardek, the 'Black King' in Elvish."
"And I'm the only son you managed to save?" asked Ezra.
"Yes," said Kyle. "You see, I was His Majesty's head advisor, and I sensed what was happening to Arman the very night he began to have the dreams. I eventually got wind of what he was about to do, and told the rest of the court. They tried to protect Elias, but it was too late; that very night Arman poisoned the king's wine, and then killed the rest of his sons with the sword. We would have avenged him, but an army of goblins came the next morning, so we were forced to flee with your mother. She didn't survive long; grief overtook her, and she died, but not before giving birth to you."
Ezra felt tears beginning to spring into his eyes. "How could he get away with such a thing?"
Kyle placed an old, wrinkled hand on the youth's shoulder. "The Shadow is very powerful, and cunning. However, we must not give in to fear. The Shadow is not the only power in this world, as you will see. There are other, greater powers for light and goodness, and through our perseverence and determination, we shall see their success." His face became graver. "But we must not grow overconfident. Even now, I believe there is a force at work even in this land. All must be cautious."
Ezra calmed somewhat, but questions still dogged at him. Many of them would not be answered for a long time.
At that moment, the door opened, and Jonas came in. "Ah," he said, "I see you two have been busy! Excellent! Now the house will be warm!"
"I've just been giving Ezra some history lessons," said Kyle. "The sort of information that he'll need to know as king."