Feedback address: Rating: PG-13 If the story is a sequel, what story is it a sequel to?: First of Possible series.
Keywords/Comments: X-Over Forgotten Realms, Louis L'Amour book series "The Sacketts"
Character listing: Original Characters, Cameos by M J Short teaser/summary: Kendall Sackett an Immortal in New York suddenly finds himself in a strange, new and dangerous world.
Well folks this is my very first attempt at Fanfiction. I've proofed the story and everything seems sound. Unfortunately, I have violated the timeline for the Forgotten Realms. I have set a cross over to intersect with the Cleric Quintet series of books, figuring it was placed before the Time of Troubles. After I finished the story I went back and re-read all five books, and found that the whole series was set 2 years after the Time of Troubles.
The concept of Immortality as used here is originally the property of Panzer/Davis and Rysher, I may have altered it a little to suit. Forgotten Realms is owned by TSR publishing. The Cleric Quintet is a series of books written by R.A. Salvatore and set in the Forgotten Realms. No copyright infringement is intended. This story is free to read, and to share as long as my pen name is attached to it. It is not intended for paid publishing in any way.
It's hard to decide what to buy for someone's birthday.
I was standing at the counter in the Mountain Equipment Co-op store, at the Queensborough Mall. I knew that Sam fancied himself as the great outdoorsman and hunter, although with all the fancy equipment out on the market these days, I suppose it's hard not to be a great outdoorsman. In my day, being an outdoorsman meant living off the land. A blanket, a good knife, and a rifle where all that an outdoorsmen needed, anything else he could probably make.
Of course, my day was about 150 years ago. I am what you call an immortal. My name is Kendall Sackett, and I was born July 21, 1848 in the Hills of Tennessee. That's the day that Pa said he found me along the trail he was following home. When he arrived home with a baby in his arms, Ma who was pregnant with my brother Orrin at the time was having no part of taking me to town.
"Pa Sackett," she said, "we may not have much in this house, but there is no way I am going to turn away someone in need, especially not a young' in"
We may not have had much in the way of education, but we were big on caring.
Looking down once again at the display, I saw the display of Zippo lighters. The sales clerk saw my attention and hastened to say, "Those lighters are always popular, in fact we also have in them in camouflage colors as well."
Chuckling to myself, I replied "Yeah, I know, I remember Sam complaining when he dropped one of those along the trail and couldn't find it again."
Thinking for another minute or two, I came to a decision, "I'll take the Zippo, the brass coloured one. I also need some ammunition as well."
As the Clerk retrieved the lighter, she asked me what kind of ammunition I required.
"One hundred rounds of .357 ball, please."
The clerk retrieves the boxes from the locked display cabinet, and thanked her and headed to the cash register with my purchases. It was when I was standing in line I felt it. It was that itchy feeling you get that starts at the base of your spine, and travels upward prickling through your scalp demanding attention. Some people may think, at this point that they had been doused with some sort of itching powder or something, but for me it meant only one thing. There was another Immortal nearby.
I paid for my purchases and shoved them into the pockets of my duster.
A duster is a great thing, it has large pockets, and you can hide pretty much anything you want in one, including say; a gun, a knife, or even a sword, of which I had all three.
As I exited the store and entered the Mall proper, I looked around for this mystery Immortal. There were no immortals to be seen. I could still feel the buzz, so I knew they were close by. I didn't like this one bit. Usually immortals will do one of two things when encountering the buzz, they will either high-tail it out of there as fast as they can taking their buzz with them, or they will come directly up to the other immortal introduce themselves to ascertain whether the immortal was friendly or hunting heads. The fact that this person seems to be playing hide and seek with the buzz, sort of leads me to believe that they think they have something slick in mind. Something slick that will try to separate my head from my shoulders.
Finally, I laid eyes on him. He was young looking about 17 or 18, and he was dressed in gang colours. He looked me in the eye and grinned, placing something in his pocket. It could have been a cell phone. He definitely thought he was playing a full house. He didn't seem to be all that interested in confronting me at the moment, so I drifted down towards the food court on the third level. My car was parked in the Garage by the food court but two levels lower. That's when I noticed the second flash of gang colours.
I walked over to the muffin stand and casually purchased a coffee from the counter. As I sipped the hot beverage I let my eyes wander the crowd, there was the immortal gangbanger hovering down the hall way I came from. The other gangbanger was loitering across the food court from me, as I glanced up the hall away from the food court in the opposite direction from which I came, I caught sight of a third gangbanger, a tall skinny kid with greasy hair. The only obvious exit seemed to be out the door to the Garage here in the food court.
That's where they wanted me to go alright.
I studied the young mortal across the food court. He was a young Hispanic, probably from Puerto Rico. He seemed nervous, trying not to stand out but glancing at me and the immortal behind us. I noticed a bulge under his shirt of something kind of large. A gun I would guess, probably an automatic or something like that. So that was their game, herd me out to the garage, pump me full of lead and take my head while I was recovering. They probably figured me for only having a sword. Hopefully they didn't know about the .357 I carried under my arm.
Many immortals refuse to carry guns. Maybe they believe that guns are against the rules. I don't know about that, but I do know that the rules my first teacher taught me never said "Thou shall not use a gun." Carrying a gun was one thing, but using mortals to win a battle was definitely out.
Thinking about this, suddenly got me angry. Who did this punk think he was, thinking he could hunt me like this? Resolved, I headed towards the door to the Parking Garage, discarding my coffee in the nearby trash bin. I strode past the elevators and stairwell that would have taken me down to the first level where my car was and I strode directly out onto the parking area on the third level. I headed over to a car, I chose at random from the row adjacent to the ramp. It was parked next to a mini-van in the center of the row. If I had to, I could jump over the cement retaining wall down onto the ramp, down to the next level. I stopped at the door of the car, pretending that I was fumbling for my keys. It was a Honda; I could probably steal it if I was so inclined.
I heard the click of guns been cocked. I turned and I saw the three of them standing about 5' apart. The two mortals had drawn Mack-10s and the Immortal had pulled out a rusty sword.
"Hey mister Immie." The Immortal punk taunted, "Looks like time has just run out on you."
I dove in front of the mini-van as a hail of bullets erupted from the two machine guns. The 9 mm rounds struck the two cars shattering windows,
peppering the fenders with bullet holes.
"Get him!" I heard the immortal yell, "Don't let him get away!"
I quickly jumped over the cement retaining wall in from the mini-van,
down seven feet or so onto the ramp. I quickly did another jump down to the next level, and took cover behind another car, as I palmed my .347. The weight of it was comforting in my hand. As I expected, the two mortal gangbangers were following me down to this level. I waited until they were both exposed, coming off the ramp onto my level, before I open up on them.
My first bullet took the Puerto Rican kid, right in the middle of the chest, and threw him back out onto the ramp where he lay still. I might have felt remorse over shooting a youngster like that, but the gun he was carrying was all grown up. My second round caught the skinny kid low in the right shoulder as he started to duck behind a car, the round spun him around, and his finger convulsively clenched the trigger spraying bullets high into the ceiling.
Who ever he was, he wasn't likely getting up from that bullet. Quickly I ran across to the stairs, back up to the third level.
Quietly, I opened the door. The immortal was standing beside a beat up oldChevy that had pulled up while I was below. There was another gangbanger in the driver's seat; both of them were trying looking past the mini-
van. The other immortal and I could still feel each other's buzz, so he knew I hadn't gone far. I stepped out of the stairs with my sword in one hand, and the .357 in the other, hidden in the folds of my coat.
I spoke. "So shall we do this right, this time?"
They both spun towards me, the Immortal stood shocked for a second,
totally surprised. The driver brought a gun up to his window. I fired with out thinking, once, twice at the driver the two bullets punching through the driver's door.
The roar of my pistol shocked the Immortal into motion; he grabbed inside his jacket, desperately trying to pull out a gun of his own, his sword seemingly forgotten. My next round struck the Immortal low in the belly,
dropping his pistol and sword he fell over backwards onto the ground clutching his stomach.
I walked up to him with my sword in my hand, and fire in my eyes.
He held his hand up in a pleading motion, "Please, give me another chance." He sobbed, "I deserve another chance!"
"I don't believe in third chances." I said, as I swung my sword down through his neck.
I walked away from the now headless corpse, and then suddenly the world exploded as the quickening caught me. As the rush of memories and experiences washed over me, I could see that this immortal was young, less only 5 years immortal, yet he had managed to take several heads using his team like this.
Then something started to go wrong in the quickening. The sickening pleasure ofthe quickening started to recede and it began to become more and more painful,the world started to spin. Then suddenly, it was over, and I started to fallfrom great height.
I struck the rocky ground hard, I don't know how, but I held onto my sword andmy pistol. Agony lanced my body all over as I rolled over onto my back,straight up into a hideous monstrous face.
Renley woke up that morning knowing something was wrong. At first he couldn't quite place what it was. He surveyed the camp looking for anything out of place, a sound or something that would indicate an imminent attack.
Everything looked okay around the camp, what was bothering him wasn't outside at all. He then looked inside himself, seeking comfort in his morning payer rituals he performed everyday since his early days as a Squire Initiate.
Reaching out to the comforting presence of his God Torm, he felt nothing. The more he reached, the more it alarmed him that there appeared to be nothing to reach for.
Renley was a Paladin in the Service of Torm the True, and the Brave.
Torm was the god of Duty, Loyalty and Obedience. Paladins were Torm's sword and shield in the mortal world, his voice in the chaotic world. Renley had heard of Paladins who lost their relationship with their god, for betraying the tenants that they swore to live by, but for the life of him he could not believe that he had done any such thing. He knew that if he had earned his god's displeasure he would have known about it immediately. Duty, Loyalty and Obedience was part of who Renley was long before he ever considered joining the Order of Torm's Paladins. For what ever reason, his god was not there, but that didn't mean that the tenants that he lived his life where now meaningless. Now more then ever he felt the need to cling to those tenants.
As he looked around the camp, the others were starting to stir. Lucius,
the Bard, who had been standing the last watch of the evening, just returned to the camp carrying an armload of firewood for the fire. Marin, who had just risen from the bedroll she shared with Lucius, yawned and stretched, before settling down to her Morning Prayer routine. Marin was a priestess of Selune,
the Moon goddess. Lucius and Marin didn't seem like your conventional couple,
bards seemed too have a reputation for playing the field, that seemed like a strange match for a devoted priestess like Marin.
Stannul, the half-elven Ranger, one of Renley's most trusted friends was checking over the horses, making sure their shoes were properly placed, they were properly groomed, and moving them to fresh patches of grass. He wanted to make sure they were all in the best of shape for this day's continuing journey.
His half-sister, Morgellyn, was also preparing for the day. A full blooded elf and an experienced adventurer in her own right, she was getting out her spell books for study. Morgellyn was a mage and a warrior, something fairly unique to those with elven blood in their veins. Mage spells, like the spells of all casters, exist in the mind of the caster to be used only once. Once used, a spell had to be recommitted to memory to be used once again. Thus mages were forever re-committing their spells to memory, just as priests prayed to their Gods to replenish their spells.
Dorien, the party's human mage was doing much the same thing as Morgellyn, studying his spell books to recommit spells back into his memory.
Renley didn't much care for Dorien, none of the party really did, but Renley's position as a Paladin and the natural leader of their group meant that he had too put aside his personal feelings towards the human mage. Dorien had a towering ego wrapped in an insufferable arrogance. Luckily for Dorien is ability as a spell caster matched that ego.
A cry from Marin drew everyone's attention.
"She's gone!" she cried.
"Who's gone?" Lucius asked, concerned over his lover's apparent distress.
"My Lady!" Marin cried with tears in her eyes. "My goddess Selune isn't there. Something must be terribly wrong."
"Are you certain?" asked Lucius. "Maybe she's busy with another priest,
or having a bad day."
Dorien snorted in derision. "So speaks the scholar!"
Lucius turned angrily to Dorien, "I don't remember anyone asking you for your opinion."
Renley stood, heading off yet another argument between Dorien and one of the other companions. "I noticed something as well this morning. Torm was also unreachable." Renley always tried to be fair to all his friends, but sometimes Dorien made it so difficult.
"Whatever is happening appears to be affecting both Torm and Selune"
Dorien cut in on Renley. "There is another alternative that should be considered," he said. "It could be that it is you and Marin that are the ones affected, not Torm and Selune." He turned to Marin, "Could it be, my dear that you aren't quite as pious as your goddess thinks you should be?"
Lucius takes an angry step forward, but is forestalled by Marin's response.
"My own standing," said Marin, "was indeed something that I considered,
when I could not hear my goddess's call, but nothing I have ever done has violated the tenants of my faith. And even if it had, it would not have left Renley unable to commune with his god either."
Renley added "What ever had happened to our ability to talk to our gods,
be it some disfavor we have incurred, or if something nearby is affecting our ability to contact them, or if something has happened to Torm and Selune themselves, it gains us nothing to be fighting with ourselves."
"We still have a long way to go to reach our destination," Renley continued. "So I imagine there are a lot of things each of us could be doing other then squabbling."
After giving Dorien another hard stare, Lucius turns back to the fire he was building to cook breakfast. In all the discussion, the burning logs had fallen over to the side Lucius would now need to move the logs around if they were to have an even heat for cooking. Rather then reach for a stick, Lucius,
always with a flair for the dramatic, decides to invoke the power of his Ring to magically move the sticks in the fire around to a better layout.
A whisper and a gesture towards the fire is all that is needed to yield the desired results, yet nothing happens. When several more attempts yield the same non-result, Lucius turns too the others.
"My ring doesn't seem to be working." He says as he whisper's the command word and points once again to the fire. "Look, see nothing."
"Could this be related to Renley's and Marin's inability to communicate with their gods?" Lucius asks the companions in general.
No one answers.
Frustrated, Lucius whisper's the command word one last time and jabs his hand at the fire. This time, the magic acts. Although not in the manner anyone expects. A small explosion rocks the camp sending fiery logs and embers flying everywhere. The horses, spooked by the sudden sound rear up pulling at their tethers. Luckily Stannul is there to sooth the frightened mounts.
"Well," says Dorien snidely Lucius as he brushed the ash off his spell book, "that was interesting. What are you going to do for an encore?"
"Perhaps what is affecting Torm and Selune is more wide spread"
"What are you thinking?" Dorien asks.
"Well we know that Torm and Selune are not responding, and now Lucius's magical ring is also not responding as it should." Morgellyn said speculatively. "Perhaps an experiment is in order."
"One of us," she nodded to Lucius and Dorien, "should cast a spell to see if that is working."
"It's your idea, so be my guest." Dorien said.
One thing you had to say about Dorien, Morgellyn thought to herself, his own self importance never kept him from staying out of harms way.
Morgellyn smiled at Dorien. "Very well, I am going to cast a simple Magic Missile spell at that tree just over there." She pointed to a tree well away from the party and their possessions. "Hopefully there won't be any problems."
Then with a single command word of spoken magic, Morgellyn points her hand with three fingers extended at the tree. Instead of seeing three sleek little missiles dart from her fingertips, three drops of what looked like some sort of magical quicksilver dripped from each one of her extended fingertips, to make a small puddle on the ground by her feet before vanishing into the magical ether.
"So magical spells are also not functioning reliably." Morgellyn stated.
"Oh Gods!" Lucius says.
"So what did this experiment actually tell you, sis?" Stannul asks his sister.
"All the Realms are surrounded by a magical weave of energy. This weave is stabilized and controlled by Mystra, the Goddess of Magic," said Morgellyn launching into lecture mode over her young half brother. "It is Mystra who defines how magical spells interact with the magic weave. If she was not there to stabilize the whole thing, then spells would not react in a predictable fashion. Sort of like what we saw just now."
"So what ever has happened has at least affected three of the gods.
Maybe we should work under the assumption that all the gods are affected," says Renley.
"I think we may have a bigger problem then that." says Lucius.
"What's that?" asks Renley.
"We are in the middle of the Snowflake Mountains, surrounded by tribes of Orcs, Giants and who knows what else, and we have just lost all of our magic"
replies Lucius. "That means no magically enhanced weapons, no magical armor,
and no spells to assist us in combat, and finally no healing magic from the gods, if we get into a really tough scrap."
"Does this mean that we go back?" asks Dorien.
"Some choice." Lucius says "the trail behind us is littered with the bodies of the Orc and Giant tribes we encountered up on the Giant's plain and back trough to the Giant's Run Mountains, almost all the way to Elversult."
Lucius is a bard, and bards always have a flare for the dramatic thought Renley to himself. They had been attacked by Orcs and Giants several times on their 20 day journey through the giant held territory, but they sure didn't leave bodies "littered" behind them. They did though manage to kill quite a few Orcs, a few Ogres, several Hill Giants and even one Fire Giant.
"No," Marin interrupts Renley's train of thought. "There are three choices facing us."
"First, we can turn back, but once out on the plains and foot hills of Giant territory we'll be subject to their attacks."
"Second, we can stay right here where we are and try to wait this….
disturbance, out" she continues. "The problem with staying is that like Lucius said we are in the middle of the Snowflake Mountains surrounded by possible enemies. Plus our supplies are limited, and we cannot call upon the gods to for further sustenance. Not to mention this disturbance may only be limited to this particular area, maybe another day down the trail and everything will be back to normal.
"And third and finally, we can continue on. We are almost half way there as it is, and the trail has been quiet ever since we entered these mountains 5 days ago. There is always a chance that the trail ahead will be quieter then we know the trail behind was."
"Not to mention," Renley adds, "we still have our mission to complete.
The Cult of the Dragon isn't leaving Elversult anytime soon and the citizens there still need a defense against the Cult's pet Dracolich. Spirit Soaring is still the best place to find that."
Spirit Soaring is the strong hold of the priesthood of Deneir. It is said that all the knowledge of the scribe god's priests has been copied and stored in this grand library. It was hoped by the leaders of Elversult and the Harpers that an answer on how to destroy the Dracolich, Deathwing existed there in that library.
"It's my intention to press on to Spirit Soaring. Despite what has happened I still see this as my primary duty to fulfill," says Renley.
Stannul and Morgellyn agree with Renley.
Marin discusses the issue briefly with Lucius, but they have both agreed to press on.
Dorien says, "Well what choice do I have, I guess I have to go on with you."
"If pressing on bothers you so much you are more then welcome to take your share of the supplies and start back by yourself." Morgellyn responds testily.
"No," Dorien responds quickly. "That's quite alright. I'll go with the rest of you."
"Quite right," sneers Lucius "without his magic, Lord Magnificent here is pretty much a sitting duck."
"That's enough, Lucius!" says Renley. "I am not about to turn my back on the citizens of Elversult, nor am I about to leave anyone behind along the way."
"So, it's agreed then, we head to Spirit Soaring."
The rest of that day and the evening were quiet. It was mid morning when the first attack finally came.
The first indication of attack came, when Stannul shouted a warning from the rear.
Everyone wheeled their horses around as quickly as possible, but two large rocks were already in flight from the attackers behind. The first aimed at Marin, was easily avoided as she danced her horse to one side. The rock,
which was easily the size of her horse's head, crashed down on to the trail right beside the startled Priestess. Wasting no time, Marin grabbed up her mace and shield.
At the same moment, a second large rock arched down towards the startled bard, riding behind Marin, narrowly missing him.
Looking back up the trail, the adventurers were confronted with a large swarm of Orcs charging up the pathway, behind them two Hill Giants were gathering up yet more rocks to throw. The Orcs were almost upon them, Stannul and Lucius drew their weapons, while Dorien made his way away from the action.
Renley knew that the most dangerous opponents they faced were the Giants at the rear of the Orc party. That threat, Renley figured, needed to be handled quickly and efficiently. He reached for his lance. He settled his shield onto his arm, and began his charge straight up through the center of the party,
charging for the opening between Stannul and Lucius.
As the first Orcs moved to engage Stannul and Lucius, Morgellyn knew that she would need to assist Lucius, as Marin move to assist Stannul.
Two more rocks bore down on Marin, one she manages to avoid, but the second strikes glancing blow off her shield driving it back against her body.
With the force of the blow, Marin feels herself starting too slide from her mount, but she shakes off the effects of the blow and manages to scramble too remain in her saddle.
Meanwhile, Stannul and Lucius are engaging their first Orc opponents.
With their swords singing as one, Lucius and Stannul's blades cleave through the breastbones of the first two Orcs to reach them. Unfortunately those first ones are not alone. Armed with crude axes, they rush to the attack. Stannul's skill and armour are proof against the Orc attack, while Lucius, a more casual warrior at best, became blessed by luck when the Orc facing him tripped over a lose rock.
Renley shouts a challenge at the Hill Giants as he charges his steed between Lucius and Stannul, trampling several orcs in his path. The giants seeing armored figure charging towards them concentrate their rocks on him.
Undeterred by the rocks thrown at him, Renley charges through the mass of Orcs, bearing down on the two giants. Renley singles out the larger of the two beasts for his first attack. The giants have by now discarded their rocks in favour large clubs. Renley knew that a solid blow from either of the giant clubs could easily unseat him from his mount.
Renley ducks under the larger giant's swinging club, as he drives his lance straight though that giant's chest. It was classic lance-work.
Unfortunately he could not avoid the other giant's swinging club. It strikes him solidly, picking him up off his mount and throwing him about 10 feet away on to the ground.
Rising from the ground, Renley shakes off the effects of the blow, as he draws his sword. The larger giant slowly topples over, dead, with Renley's lance still sticking out of his chest.
"One down, One to go." Renley says to himself, as he charges the giant.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Orcs were pressing in on the party. Four more Orcs lost their lives in the under the weapons of the adventurers.
Renley was now alone, facing the last giant, on foot. He ducks under the Hill Giant's swinging club as he brings his own blade in a deadly arc through the giant's lower stomach. Then coming around behind the slow moving beast, Renley thrusts his sword up under the giant's arm, piercing its evil over size heart. It too topples over dead.
As Renley finishes the last Giant, the Orcs come to realize that this was probably not as an easy of an ambush as they thought it could be, by ones and twos they start to flee. Bolstered by the sudden loss of Orcish morale Stannul pushes more deeply into the fray.
"Forward!" he cries. "They are just about to break."
With the remaining Hill Giant dead at his feet, Renley turns his attention back to his companions and Orcs attacking them. Some of the Orcs were just now noticing the dead giants. That's when Renley picks out the three leaders of this band of Orcs. Like any good Orcish leaders, they preferred to stay well away from where the danger lay while bullying the weaker tribe members into battle. Renley charges them. The first, who was too close to do anything else,
takes a wild swing at Renley that missing him entirely. Renley's swing does not. The remaining leaders turned and fled while their companion died on Renley's blade.
With both giants' dead, and their leaders either dead or fleeing from the scene, what started out as an Orc ambush quickly turned into a full route,
as Orcs quickly began to flee the battle.
Afterwards, the companions started to assess what happened. Stannul's search of the trail behind, and found where the ambush force watched the companions pass. It was apparent from the strategy used by the Orcs, they figured to attack the weaker members of the party at the rear first. It was only Stannul's observant nature, and quick thinking that allowed a warning to be made in time.
As Marin examined Renley, he seemed to be the worst for wear after the battle taking a solid strike from one of the giant's clubs. Marin bound up some ribs that appeared to be either cracked or bruised, but finally judged him well enough to continue. Luckily for Renley, his armor absorbed much of the blow.
Lucius, on the other hand wasn't quite so lucky. The magic device that he employed in place of regular armor failed him utterly, allowing what should have been minor strikes to draw blood. Despite this lack of protection, Marin judged both wounds to be sufficiently minor as to not require immediate magical assistance.
Marin judged it quite lucky that none of her companions would require magical assistance, for all the healing abilities that would normally have been available to both Paladin and Priest were lost.
Lucius, on the other hand knew that he had a problem. Bards, in general are not known as accomplished swordsmen. Lucius himself was an able swordsman,
but little more then that. In general he relied on his more war like companions and his magic to protect him. Since the magical protection offered by his bracers failed him completely, he knew that he would not survive this trail without armour. So Lucius went scavenging around the dead orcs for armour.
Much of what he found was studded leather armor of poor quality, and in poor repair. Luckily, the Orc leader that Renley slew was wearing scale armor of mid quality. To bad it carries the stench of a dead Orc he said to himself as he wrinkled his nose at the smell.
"It may stink of Orc," Marin reminded him. "But it may just keep you alive until we reach Spirit Soaring."
"Remember that my dear, when I cuddle up to you tonight by the fire"
"Pig boy!" Marin laughed.
"Hey where do you think I got the armor from in the first place"
gesturing towards the swine like snout common too all Orcs
Just then Stannul came back up the trail.
"The Orcs are regrouping, we should get moving."
"They are just Orcs," Renley replied. "It's not like we can't handle them if they do come."
Stannul shook his head. "We taught them too hard of a lesson about coming to grips with us."
"What do you think they will do?" asks Dorien.
"Most of them have bows of a fashion. More then likely they are going to try to tie us down with arrow fire while the seek re-enforcements from their main camp. Where ever that is," answers Stannul.
"We need to keep moving, this trail is entirely too open for us, while offering too much cover to the Orcs who likely know the land."
"Alright," replies Renley. "Let's get moving. Although I don't like playing cat and mouse with Orcs, especially when I'm the mouse, we can't stay here while they call down every Orc, and whatever else there is, within several hundred miles of here upon us."
True to Stannul's prediction, the Orcs did not try to engage the companions up close again that day. Yet hardly and hour or would pass before a few arrows would fly out of the surrounding rocks at them. Stannul and Morgellyn responded in kind, even managing to kill a few of the Orc snipers, but to no avail.
By the end of the day, all the companions were tired and jumpy. For some reason Stannul seemed to be a favored target for the Orcish arrows.
Luckily for him the Orcs were bad marksmen, despite all their attempts, he sported only one minor wound from an arrow. Dorien was also wounded by an arrow, a fact that displeased him immensely.
The Orcs continued to pepper the party through out the night and the next day with arrows. No attack was forthcoming. Few of the ambushing Orcs were actually caught. It was clear that all they wanted to do was to keep the party tired and exhausted while they arranged for more re-enforcements.
It was after two restless days and nights of being picked at by Orc archers, the attack everyone was expecting came on the third day.
The trail that the party was following led into a narrow canyon, hardly 15 feet wide with walls about 30 feet high. Every one of the party members knew just by looking at the canyon, that this was were an attack, if the Orcs were planning one, was going to happen.
Dorien balked at entering the tight confined area. "Renley, everything about that canyon screams trap!" he wailed. "If we go in there we'll get slaughtered!"
"I agree Dorien," replied Renley, "Going in there is probably not a good idea."
"Stannul," called Renley. "What do you think?"
"Whatever we do," Stannul replied, "we had better be doing it soon. Our Orc 'friends' are watching us very closely." His words were punctuated by an errant arrow that went flying past him, missing him completely.
"I think we are going to have to find a way around this," said Morgellyn
"Do you think you can find a way to get up on to one of those ridges up there?" Renley asked, as he pointed to the ridges on either side of the canyon.
"I'm on it," called Stannul as he slid to the ground off his horse.
It was soon apparent to the Orc observers that the companions were not about to walk into their nice, obvious trap. Therefore they sent four Hill Giants bounding onto the trail behind the companions, along with a whole score of Orcs to give the companions the extra incentive they would need to go into the canyon. Stannul had not even had the chance to begin looking for an alternate trail, before the attack began.
"Marin, Morgellyn you two lead off into the canyon on foot, Dorien you take all of the horses and hold on to them, we can't risk losing them in the battle where it will be too tight for them to move around." commanded Renley, as he dismounted. "I'm going back to help Stannul and Lucius."
"But Renley," wailed Dorien. "If we go in there it'll be a trap!"
Marin and Morgellyn paused at Dorien's words.
"Go!" shouted Renley. "We are just as trapped here as we are in there.
At least in there those giants can only come at us one at a time!"
Marin and Morgellyn jog forward side by side into the canyon, with Dorien, the mounts and the packhorses following behind.
At the rear, Stannul was arming himself with his sword, while Lucius was stringing his short bow. As Renley arrived, they decide that they should retreat into the mouth of the canyon and let the giants come to them. Lucius would use his short bow to weaken the giants and kill any Orcs that get in the way.
Just as the companions were sorting themselves out, the first of the Giant's thrown rocks began to rain down upon them. Three of the four giants concentrated their rocks on the companions escaping into the canyon, while the fourth giant took aim at Stannul standing right in front of him soon to be baring the giant's path.
The two solid hits on Marin, just before she Morgellyn and Dorien can disappear into the canyon, knock her to the ground but she is up in an instant carrying on. Dorien is also caught with a glancing blow off one of the canyon walls. As they round the first bend to the right into the canyon, they are quickly out of range of the rocks being thrown by the giants behind them. The canyon proceeded another fifty feet further before taking bend to the left.
Dorien who was already having trouble with the skittish mounts was starting to lag behind Morgellyn and Marin.
Just as the two women were reaching the second bend, another giant steps from around that bend ahead of them and swings a huge club directly at Morgellyn.
Morgellyn, with all the dexterity gained from her elven heritage, dives into a roll, as the club whistles by harmlessly in over her. She continues her roll coming quickly back to her feet, and before the giant can counter swing,
both Morgellyn and Marin strike with murderous efficiency.
Despite the wounds it receives the giant is still not quite finished, it swings again for Morgellyn clumsily, she ducks under the blow and delivers another cut to the giant's arm. Roaring in pain, the giant once again goes for this annoying elf, it can't seem to hit. A wild swing from the Hill Giant forces the two women to momentarily retreat, before they can press forward again. Sorely wounded and in desperate need to crush something, the giant takes this opportunity to shift his attack away from the elf towards the human woman.
In an over hand swing, the giant attempts to drive Marin into the ground as one would attempt to drive a tent peg, a blow that Marin avoids as she drives her iron mace up between the giant's legs. The giant's eyes cross as it falls forward clutching it's groin, dead. Behind the giant, there is a whole horde of Orcs spilling down the canyon way.
A sudden shout of alarm behind them causes the women to look back. Up on the canyon wall they see yet more Orcs and another Giant, who is preparing to jump into the middle of the canyon right behind them. They can hear the panic in Dorien's voice as he starts to cast a spell.
Meanwhile, as Stannul, Renley and Lucius retreat into the mouth of the canyon, just around the first bend, the first giant charges forward. It swings its club hard at Stannul. Stannnul runs under the swinging arm and slices his sword across the tendons at the back of the giant's knee. Unable to stand the giant falls to its knees where the waiting sword of Renley quickly dispatches it.
The first of the Orcs arrive, jumping over the dead giant. As Lucius,
standing well back away from main battle draws back is bow, the bowstring snaps in his hand. Swearing to himself, he quickly reaches into his pouch for a new string. Meanwhile, Orcish axes descend upon Stannul and Renley.
The first pair of Orcs that jump over the dead giant quickly fall to the experienced fighters, but they are soon followed closely behind by yet more Orcs. Then a second hill giant wades into the fray.
Lucius has finally managed to get his bow restrung, with a fresh bowstring, when his eyes catch movement from the ridges above him. Orcs are up on the ridges, some are casting lines down into the canyon in order to descend right into the middle of the companion's lines, and others are gathering rocks to hurl down upon them. Worse yet, there was another Hill Giant, and it was up on the ridge. Looking back over his shoulder, he could just see another hill giant topple over, at the hands of Marin and Morgellyn, as more Orcs rushing down the canyon trail towards them. They had no idea of what was about jump them from behind.
Dorien to has seen the giant, and knew and he knew it didn't take someone of his high intellect to figure out what the filthy beast was going to do. He first looks to Morgellyn and Marin, but seeing that they were occupied with their own giant, he looks the other direction towards Renley, Stannul and Lucius. He knew that no help would be forthcoming from that direction either.
Dorien curses to himself, he knew with his magic he could have easily cleared the ridge above of anything threatening, but now he didn't have a single spell that he could rely on at all, just a staff that he barely knew how to use,
and a dagger that looked pretty puny indeed next to the giant.
Dorien holds his staff tightly in his hands as he looks up at the giant.
It smiles at him with a toothy grin, as it hefts its' club menacingly.
"Screw this!" Dorien shouts to himself, as he reaches into his robes for the components of the first spell he could think of. With no help coming from his friends, and no cover available to him to hide, he sure wasn't about to let some foul smelling giant smash his bones into the ground.
The lightening bolt spell rolls off his tongue quickly and effortlessly,
as he draws the appropriate symbols in the air with the fur wrapped amber rod.
Then it seemed that time suddenly slowed down, the lightening bolt starts arcing across distance to strike the giant in the chest, but when it reaches about the halfway point it stops moving and starts to grow into a huge ball of lightening, hanging just above the upper edge of the canyon wall.
Strange colours and shapes start appearing in the ball, as bolts of energy start to arc in random directions. Striking the rock walls, the ground and even those trying to escape its' fury. The whole canyon suddenly turned into a flying hailstorm of death. Bolts of lightening were arcing through the air striking all over the place. Where they struck rock, the rock exploded in shards of spinning death. Where the bolts of lighting struck giant flesh, they left gaping smoking wounds, where they struck Orc flesh, they caused near instant death. All thoughts of combat left as all the frightened orcs could think about was getting away from this spitting death.
It was not just Orcs and giants who where feeling the effects of the bolts of energy and flying stone chips, the companions where being struck as well. Dorien himself is first struck by one bolt, as soon is Marin. The flying stone chips were striking everywhere, several struck Marin, Morgellyn and Stannul. Lucius and Renley where luckily spared.
The inferno of energy and rock continued on and on, it consumed two of the Hill Giants and a good number of the Orcs. Finally the ball of energy implodes upon itself and disappears, a man shaped figure drops from where it was to the canyon floor below. It lands right at the feet of a panicked Orc.
The Orc takes one look at the man laying at its feet, turns and runs as fast as it can up the canyon, past Marin and Morgellyn out of the canyon.
With four dead giants, and nearly a score dead orcs, what became a mad scramble to escape the destruction of the lightening ball, turns into a general rout, as the orcs flee the scene of the battle.
I have taken some wild quickenings in my time, but this has to be the most bizarre. I could remember Kong's memories flooding through me. Tom Kimmons was his real name he just liked to be called Kong on the streets. Kong was a young Immortal it had only been a few years since his first death. His teacher, a cop who had arrested him a few times, had little use for young Kong.
He did little more then teach him the rules and pitch him out to the wolves. It seemed that no one in Kong's life had any real use for him
It was Kong who figured out the whole strategy of using his friends with machine guns to catch his immortal prey. He used it for the first time successfully against the teacher who cast him aside, and on at least 5 other immortals since then.
Kong's was a wasted life. Kong could have watched the centuries, but didn't even get a decade. Despite that though, there was nothing about Kong's quickening that could account for anything like I was looking at now. I pushed those memories aside.
The beastly pig like face that I saw when I first looked up, had fled.
I could feel the bones in my ribs and my arms re-arranging themselves after being broken from that fall that brought me here. As I gathered myself together, I slowly got to my feet. I looked around at my surroundings. I appeared to be in a narrow canyon of some kind. The air had the slight chill to it you would get from spring like weather. There were to be several bodies lying about on the ground. All of them dressed in what appeared to be crude armor, and with crude axes and swords for weapons.
I took inventory of my weapons. Still clutched in my left hand, was my stainless steel .357 magnum. There should only be one round left in the cylinder, but I had two additional speed loaders located next to the shoulder holster. In my right hand was my sword. My sword was a straight blade about three and a half feet long, with edges on both sides. It was specially forged by an immortal sword maker who spent centuries perfecting his craft. Every single one of his weapons are masterpieces, this one was no exception. The sword is a steel and titanium alloy, folded nearly 350 times. The hilt is plain and unadorned, yet it fits perfectly into my hand. It was simply one of the finest swords ever made. My bowie knife was still in its sheath behind my back.
Looking up the canyon, I could still see figures retreating out of sight. Whatever battle occurred here might be over this minute, but it could start up immediately. I changed the speed loader in the .357.
The face I saw before, still haunted me. Could I be stuck inside some sort of delusion, lying unconscious on the floor of the parking garage? Could I have been struck insane by the quickening? My first teacher had told me about a legend of something called a Dark Quickening. But as I remember that is supposed be when the evil in the quickenings you carry drowns out your own inherit goodness, and you come to be evil. It had always seems strange to me,
that legend, but what was described sure didn't measure up to what I was seeing here and now.
A tall figure in full armor was walking across canyon towards me, the quality of the armour, although blood spattered, appeared to be much better then that which was on the dead creatures around me. It stopped about 10 feet away from me, and reached up with one hand, and pulled off its helmet. He was a man.
A human I mean, unlike that other creature I saw staring down at me when I first looked up. A strange surge of relief passed through me, followed by a faint surge of hysteria, over this whole circumstance in the first place.
"I am Sir Renley of Long Arm Ford. Paladin of Torm." He said, looking me straight in the eye. He was a tall man, clean shaven, with handsome features, and blue eyes. I could also tell the he was very heavily muscled. His shoulder length sandy coloured hair was held in place by a leather strap around his forehead. The armor he was wearing would add bulk anyone, but he wore it as comfortably as you or I would wear a light jacket.
Although he was moving a little stiffly, he was probably hurt somewhere along the way. I could tell by the challenge in his voice, and the look in his eye that this Renley of Long Arm Ford, could be a hard man with no backup in him at all if push came to shove.
"I'm Kendall Sackett, and if you don't mind my asking?" I replied, "What on Earth is going on here?" Normally, I wouldn't be giving my real name out to mortals, instead I would give them what ever alias I was currently living under.
In this case though, something about this man almost compelled absolute honesty,
so before I could even think of anything else, my real name was already coming out of my lips.
He looked at me strangely for a second, but then replied. "We were traveling along this trail, when we were ambushed by Orcs and their allies. But your… 'timely' arrival put the fear of the gods into them, and they fled."
"What is an Orc?" I ask, suspecting what the answer already is.
Renley looks at me again and then walks over to a nearby dead body. I follow him. Without a word, he kicks the body over on to its back, saying nothing but watching me closely.
It is the face that looked down at me before. Shocked I take a deep breath. I had hoped that that face I saw was nothing more then a bad quickening inspired delusion. Heck I was hoping this whole thing was a bad quickening inspired delusion. I look up at Renley who is standing in front of me.
"That is an Orc," he says.
Looking down again, I studied the ugly face and body more closely.
Sallow white skin covered the body and a pig like snout dominated the face.
Stringy dirty hair spilled out from the crude leather cap it was wearing, and it had a definite odor to it. I compared this face to the one who was staring down at me when I first landed on the ground. Every immortal has perfect recall of every event in their entire immortal life, so it was no problem for me to pull up the image. I could tell now that there were definite individual differences between the two faces.
I crouched down, and reached out to the face. I could find no lines or seems, and when I pulled on the snout nothing came off. Looking up at the man standing over me, I said, "Just checking."
"It certainly looks real." I said.
"Why wouldn't it be?" Renley asked.
"Well, I've traveled all over the world, and I've seen a lot of things in my time, but I have never once seen or heard of anything like this." I said.
"Orcs are everywhere," Renley replied. "Just about every place you go in the Realms, as soon as you leave the walls of civilization there is always a pretty good chance you'll run into Orcs somewhere."
"Well, that's just it." I said. "These things simply do not exist where I come from." I shook my head. "There are no Orcs, nobody wears armor anymore,
and civilization pretty much does not require walls."
"Maybe you have traveled from a different plane of existence," a new voice spoke from behind me, a melodic feminine voice. I turned to look at this new person, and my breath was taken away.
Her armored figure was short, five feet tall if she was even that. Her coppery coloured hair was the perfect contrast to her bronzed complexion. What shocked me most about her though was her beauty. Now I have seen beautiful women from all around the world, but this woman was something else. It was an exotic, alien beauty, beyond the realm of man. Her angular features where highlighted by her upswept and pointed ears. She looked liked something out of Star Trek. In fact my first bumbling words to her were to that effect.
"Are you Vulcan?" I asked.
She smiled as she responded, "I am unfamiliar with that term. Could that be the name the Elven peoples call themselves on your world?"
"What? No, never mind," I replied. "All of this has gotten me confused."
"Consider," she said. "Just before you appeared here, Dorien our human mage attempted to cast a spell that went terribly wrong. It could be that what caused the problems for Dorien's spell, reached across the worlds and interfered with whatever magic you were working at the same time. The combination of the two spells could have been what pulled you to this world."
"Allow me to introduce you to Morgellyn Woodspire, of Gulthmere Forest"
Renley put in. "Morgellyn is both a warrior and a mage of no small talent herself."
I just stared for second, before I remembered myself.
"Sorry," I apologized. "My name is Kendall Sackett. Sorry to stare, but outside of stories, or television I have never seen anyone who looks remotely like you."
"I think what you were saying about other worlds must be true." Then I smiled. "Either that or that complete mental breakdown some of my friends have been teasing me about has just happened.
"So the question, since you brought me here, can you send me back?"
The two of them looked at each other then, back at me.
Renley shook his head, as Morgellyn spoke, "No, even if magic was functioning reliably, which it isn't now, I know I don't have either the skill or the power necessary to send you back to your home world. I doubt Dorien does either."
"Can we ask him?" I say hopefully.
Renley looks expectantly at Morgellyn. "That's what I came over here to tell you," she says. "Dorien took a rather nasty shock from all the lightening that was firing around here." My pulse quickened at the mention of the lightening, thinking once again of Kong's quickening, but I kept my reaction to myself.
"Will he be alright?" Renley asks, concerned.
"He'll live, but he is not coherent right now if you know what I mean"
"Marin is looking after everyone else wounds, but she has taken a nasty few knocks too, not only from the giant we killed, but from the lightening too."
"Okay," said Renley. "Let's try to get every one moving again, I don't know how badly the Orcs and giants were scared, but I would rather not be here if they suddenly find their courage once again."
Renley turns towards me, "I am sorry that we cannot help you return whence you came, but you are welcome to travel with us to our destination"
It's become obvious to me now that Renley filled the role of leader for this band of companions. "We are headed towards a great library of knowledge. While we cannot send you back, perhaps someone there can help you."
"Come," said Renley. "I'll take you over to meet the rest of our group."
As I walked over to meet the rest of the group, I considered my situation. If I was nuts, there was very little I could do about it. This world, if that is what it was certainly seemed real enough. It would probably be best to treat it that way, at least until I have evidence to the contrary.
From what I could see of the people here, this world seems to be basically pre-
industrial in nature. Their constant references to magic, sort of indicates a strong belief in mysticism. Strange, I think to myself, for otherwise intelligent people to believe in magic.
I had to remind myself, assuming that I wasn't crazy, and Ma Sackett never raised no crazy children, that this is a different world. The rules here may be different as well. Elves exist here I remind myself, plus other things.
I can't help wonder about what they call magic. They certainly did not seem to be hysterical over what they did witness of the quickening. Such a thing at home could very well lead to hysteria. Of course they could be blaming what they saw of the quickening on their other mage, Dorien.
I shoved these thoughts aside as I came up to where the rest of the group was gathered. The first person Renley introduced me too was Stannul Woodspire. He was half brother to Morgellyn, who I had already met. Stannul was apparently, something called a half-elven Ranger. Apparently that title reflected Stannul's mixed heritage between his human mother and elven father. A ranger, as I gathered was something akin to a woodsman, but more of a warrior's profession.
Stannul was average height, about 5' 8" or so. He shared some of his sister's hair color, but on him his shoulder length hair came out as simply red,
and his beard was neatly trimmed. His ears, while pointed similar to his sister's, were not as pronouncedly upswept. He's eyes were a human brown in color, and his skin had that weathered look that most humans get when exposed to the elements.
Next there was Lucius and Marin, a man and a woman. The woman was sitting on the ground while the man was apparently fussing with some makeshift bandages about her left arm. The woman was named Marin of Starmantle.
Apparently in this world, humans didn't normally use a family name. They had a given name, and they appended that with either a profession or home town. So,
Starmantle was Marin's home town, just as Renley was originally from a place called Long Arm Ford.
Marin was tall for a woman, taller even then Stannul. She was a sturdy looking woman who also happened to be something of a beauty. She has dark hair and dark eyes, the way she moved easily in full armor, also demonstrated that she was strong and probably a practiced warrior as well. Marin was a Priestess of the goddess Selune. Selune represents the moon. I kind of got the impression that she also had the ability to cast spells as well. When I asked her about that she replied "I can cast the spells my goddess grants me."
"How is that different then what Morgellyn does?" I asked.
"Morgellyn is a mage," she replied. "That means that when she casts a spell she accesses the magical weave surrounding this world directly, where as my powers come from Selune."
Still seeing my confused face, she continues "The type of magic we practice is quite different. Priests are better at some types of magic because of their relationship with their god or goddess, and mages are better at the mechanics of their art itself."
I shrugged; this was going to take a lot more understanding on my part.
The man working on Marin's bandages was Lucius of Westgate. Lucius was a bard. A bard was something that was a cross between a singer and a storyteller. He was a tall man, probably a six footer. When he stood, I could look him directly in the eye. Concern for Marin was written all across his face. Apparently she bore much of the brunt of one part of the battle, and now she will bear the wounds of that battle.
Lucius said to me, "I know that priests are often armed and armored like warriors are, but sometimes they forget that they are not warriors."
"You care about her a great deal." I said.
"Yes, I do," replied Lucius.
Dorien was the last member of this little group that I was introduced to. Apparently it was his miscast spell that caused most of the destruction,
and was responsible for pulling me across the worlds. He was a short man and quite a contrast to the rest of the companions. His brown hair was unremarkable, and was cut short with bangs over his forehead, and trimmed in a way that would keep it away from his face when he was bent over in study. What could have been a relatively handsome face was marred by a look of arrogance that seemed to be permanently attached to his face. He possessed none of the physique that the others possessed; in fact far too much of his physique seemed to have settled right at his waistline. He wasn't what one would call obese,
but I imagine that if he was not out with this companions, but settled somewhere in a city or town, that would soon change.
"There is one thing that I don't understand about this." I said.
"Just one?" said Dorien in a superior tone of voice.
I glanced at him, giving him a very small smile. "Well just one for now."
"If magic is so unstable, why would you rely on it at all?" I asked him.
Dorien blanched, "Magic normally not unstable like this. A couple of days ago, for some reason the gods stopped responding to mortals. Now occasionally, like every few centuries, gods come and go. A new god is born,
and sometimes an older god is killed or deposed from the multi-verse."
"For some reason this time, all the gods just suddenly vanished,
including Mystra, the goddess responsible for maintaining the magic weave around this world. It is this magic weave where mages draw their power for their spells."
He struggled to his feet, it looked like he was hit pretty bad in the lightening storm.
"With out the weave acting reliably, the mage can't count at all on what the outcome of his spell will be."
"So why did you cast the spell, if you pretty much knew it wouldn't work properly?" I asked.
Lucius, who was standing nearby, laughed. "Why for the noblest reason in the world! Dorien here did it to save his own ass!"
"Kendall Sackett," called Stannul. "Can you ride a horse?"
"Just call me, Ken. And yes, I can ride a horse." I replied.
He nodded to me, "Good, we are about half way to our destination anyway,
so I was able to move some stuff around, and I freed up this packhorse, for you to ride."
He handed me the reins, "We don't have an extra saddle, so you'll have to make due with a blanket."
I check over my new horse. He was a gelding, and he looked sturdy.
Maybe not a runner, but he would certainly bear my load for me. Stannul nodded with approval, it was obvious that I knew how to look after a horse.
"That solves that problem," he said. "But there is still one more problem."
"What's that?" I asked.
"I saw you with a sword earlier," he said. "Do you know how to use it?"
"I like to think I am proficient with it," I smiled.
He nodded to me tolerantly, "Well we can check that out later."
"What about other weapons?" he asked.
"I have the sword, a bowie knife, and a pistol." I said, as I drew them forth. My bowie, was about 12" long, sharpened along one side. I usually keep it sharp enough to shave with. Looking at the knife, he nodded in approval.
The .357 on the other hand, was something completely foreign to him.
"What is this," he asked.
"This is called a 'Three Fifty Seven, Magnum revolver,'" I said, "or a '357' for short."
"And this is a weapon?" he asked.
"Yes, it is," I said. "And it is quite an effective one."
"Since the development of firearms such as these on my world, swords and armor have pretty much vanished. Only a few a few 'die hards' like myself still take it upon themselves to learn the sword," luckily, he didn't know just how hard it was for people like me to die.
"How does it work?" he asked
"Well, when the trigger is squeezed, it sets off a contained explosion just below this hammer. That explosion forces the bullet down this tube, called a barrel towards the target it is aimed at," I explained.
"Could you demonstrate it for us?" Stannul asked. Several of the other party members came over to see the .357 I was showing Stannul.
"Yes, I could," I said. "But it can be a very loud weapon. We should move away from the horses first, we don't want to spook them."
"What should I demonstrate on?" I asked.
"How about that dead Orc propped up against the canyon wall," said Renley, pointing to an Orc about 25 feet away.
Slowly, so no one would miss what I was doing, I brought the .357 up in my left hand, sighted down the barrel, and slowly squeezed the trigger. The pistol bucked in my hand, as the roar of the gun filled the canyon, the dead Orc was struck by the bullet right between the eyes, the back of it's head disintegrated like an over ripe mellon and sprayed all over the wall.
Looking at my new friends, I had to admit that this was an effective demonstration.
Dorien asked me, "How often can it do that?"
"I can fire it like this six times before I need to reload it," I said as I popped the cartridge cylinder open. I pulled out the speed loader, and showed them the expended cartridge.
"I wonder how much armor it would take to stop something like that"
"It would take quite a bit." I said. "When these weapons were first developed, warriors wore armor much like yours. Early versions of these weren't very powerful, but as they became more powerful, at first early Knights tried putting on more and thicker armor. Eventually they figured out that the weight of the armor would be prohibitive. It would be better to simply duck out of the way of someone firing at you. Eventually, people just stopped wearing armor all together."
"Is that why you are not wearing any armor now?" asked Morgellyn.
"Yes, even the sword techniques employed by those swordsmen back them had to be evolved to take into account the lack of armor. In fact, speed became the most important means of defense," I said.
"Which brings us back to your ability with a sword," said Stannul.
"We need to know," said Renley, "whether or not you can stand in a battle with a sword against foes like these Orcs, or what ever else we may come across. We still have nearly two and a half tendays worth of travel before we reach Spirit Soaring."
Renley turned towards Stannul, "Do you want to test him, or shall I?"
"Go ahead," Stannul said, "be my guest."
Renley turned to me and said, "Okay, we'll just take it easy to start with, and since we don't have access to magical healing, let's not use the edges of our blades."
"Okay," I said as I backed away from him, making room to maneuver. I shrugged off my duster one arm at a time, while rotating my sword through the guard position with either hand.
Renley seated his shield on his left arm, and drew his sword with his right.
"Are you ready?" he asked
"Ready," I said.
Renley started with a rather simple attack routine, a slow almost lazy swing towards my midsection. I skipped out of the line of attack and defected the blade away from my body. Renley started working his sword faster and faster. I noticed that with the use of the shield, he could deflect attacks away from him, while reserving his sword for the attack. He was quite a good swordsman. Many of the immortals I had defeated would not have been able to equal his apparent skill.
Renley had pushed me rather hard, through a series of attack and defense routines, but through it all I did not really press an attack of my own. Now I wanted to see if I could test the limits of his skills. With that I began to pick up the pace of my own sword work. And Renley, for a while, kept up. When I began to mix attack routines that contained elements of Tai Chi, Kendo, and Spanish rapier, his defenses began to fall apart.
With a sudden move, I enveloped his blade and sent is skidding across the ground.
I lowered my sword. "That was good," I said. "You are quite an accomplished swordsman yourself, Sir Renley."
"Thank you," he said. "But it appears that I must bow to a blade master."
With everything now resolved, we soon mounted up and proceeded on our way. The rest of the day was quiet, and for my new friends, who really needed the rest, the night was too.
We had three days of peace before they struck again. I had decided too ride at the rear, beside Stannul. At first Stannul seemed to be somewhat reserved around me, but at last I was able to draw him out, and soon we were exchanging and woodland stories.
I was born in the hills of Tennessee, and I was raised in the woods. I could follow sign, tend a trap line, and live off the land with the best of them. I knew how too move through the country and leave almost no trace of my passing, and I could track someone who was attempting to do the same. Once Stannul and I started talking about woods lore he warmed up tremendously. I described to him the hills where I grew up, and the mountains that I later built a home in. I told him of how poor we were as children, and of how I built my ranch up from nothing.
"Were you living on this ranch, when you came here?"
"Actually, no I was living in a place called New York City." I said.
"New York was about as far as you could get from the high mountain country."
"Why then were you there?" he asked.
"Well, I was getting tired of the solitude on the ranch, and I decided that I would enroll in a school of higher learning. Once I had earned my degree in Structural Engineering, I stayed in New York working on the skyscrapers." I said.
"You have to understand something about our world. Relative peace and prosperity had come to much of the world over the last couple of centuries. As a result the population has grown enormously.
"I think that the world population estimate for January 1, 2001, that's this year by the way, was estimated to be just over six billion people. New York City, had sprawled out to about 1 million people alone."
Stannul looked at me with sort of an incredulous look on his face.
"Yes," I said, "I know what you are thinking, I've been living with that number my whole life, and I can scarcely comprehend the size of it."
After a while I got Stannul to talk about his childhood. Apparently, he was raised by his father and his older sister Morgellyn. Stannul's father,
Lanarnos Woodspire was something of an adventurer. When word came to him that he had a half-elven son, he traveled immediately to see the boy. Upon arriving there he discovered that the lad's mother who had fallen on hard times and was unable to pay for a priest. She had passed away during childbirth. Old Lanarnos brought the child home with him to the Gulthmere Forest young Stannul was only three years old at the time, but Lanarnos did his best to raise the lad. Now elves are very long lived beings. The can live for many centuries, before they receive the "Call", and leave for a distant land. As such long lived beings, it takes an elven child more then a century before he or she is considered an adult.
Lanarnos, had raised Morgellyn and they both went their separate ways after a century, they both went off adventuring in different directions. When Stannul was about 10 years old, Morgellyn returned home from her adventuring,
most of her human companions had retired from the occupation, after 15 or 20 years on the road.
It must be kind of strange to know that your next oldest sibling is more then a century older then you are.
I was about to ask him something further, when he gave me a glance that forestalled further comment.
I looked at him questioningly, and he nodded of to the left. I glanced over, in the direction he indicated, that's when I noted the movement of one of the bushes along the trail did not match how the wind was blowing the other bushes. Someone or something was crouched behind that bush, pressing up against it such that it could no longer move naturally in the strong spring breeze.
"What do you think?" I asked.
"I think this fellow is probably just the lookout," he said. "From the looks of the trail, it will likely do a switchback soon. So once we are out of sight, this fellow will run off and warn the rest of his tribe. I think we can expect an ambush soon."
"Perhaps though, we can turn this to our advantage," he said. "Pull up and pretend you are checking a shoe on your horse."
As I did as he asked, he also dismounted, pulled out his long bow, and strung it, while he was obscured behind his horse. He nocked an arrow, and smoothly drew it back to his ear as he stepped out from behind his horse.
The Orc, seeing the arrow pointed in his direction, broke from cover attempting to flee. The arrow caught him between the shoulder blades as he was attempting to run. Just then a second Orc, hidden not far from the first, also broke cover and ran. Stannul calmly put a second arrow through this Orc as well.
Morgellyn caught sight of us stopped by the trail, and rode back to investigate.
"What's happened?" she asked.
"We just killed an Orc lookout team over there," Stannul indicated. "I think we now have a chance to turn an ambush back into our favor. Call everyone in, we need to talk."
After some discussion with the rest of the group, it was decided that Stannul would follow the trail used by the Orcs to go back to the ambushers.
There he could decide whether or not the ambush could be turned in our favor or not.
We waited by the trial for Stannul. Meanwhile he went off to investigate the ambush. I had offered to go with him, but he politely refused. He knew is own capabilities in the bush, but he did not know mine. While we waited, the rest of the warriors in the group started working on their armor and weapons,
seeing that everything was in order and ready for use. Straps were tightened where necessary, and shields where made readily accessible. Swords where loosened in their scabbards. Everyone it seemed, had their own routine in preparation for battle, I guess it was kind of a private moment every warrior takes before facing death.
I saw to my own weapons as well. I made sure the action to my .357 was clear, and both extra speed loaders were ready. I ended up loading the second loader with some of the targeting rounds I had just purchased before I came here. The rounds in my weapon where hollow points, meant to balloon inside the target causing maximum damage, while limiting the chance that the round would travel through the target to be a danger to other people. The ball rounds that I had purchased, where solid lead shot, meaning that they could likely go right through a man, killing him, and likely killing the man behind him too. I had purchased them to use at my shooting range, simply because they were cheaper in the sporting goods store where I was, then they were sold at the range where I was a member.
My sword, as always was ready to go. Immortals don't always give you a chance to get ready before issuing a challenge.
I was a little bit nervous, all of my actual combat experience with the sword, was in the context of a one-on-one duel. I had practiced fighting multiple opponents though it was a big part of the Kendo sword training I took in Japan, as well as the sword training I took at the hands of Diego back in California over a century ago. I loosened up a little bit by practicing some sword forms.
Before long, Stannul had returned. The ambush force consisted of three Hill Giants, and nearly four score Orcs, and ten Ogres. He suspected that two of the giants were the same giants that had been part of the attack 3 days earlier. One of them still carried the wounds of that battle. The Orcs seemed to carry the banners of three separate tribes; Scarred Fist, Broken Sword, and Bloody Axe. Stannul also mentioned that he saw a figure on horse back leaving the scene just as he arrived. So far, they had only been dealing with warriors from the Bloody Axe tribe.
Renley said, "Well we have an opportunity here to break this force up before it can strike against us. So the question is do we turn their ambush back against them as they try to spring it, or find some other way to attack."
"The trail I followed came out directly behind the enemy's staging area,
" said Stannul. "We have an opportunity to slip a couple of people in behind them to attack their rear, as they are occupied with those of us on the road."
"There was a pile of rocks close at hand," he continued. "So their likely strategy is to try to swamp us with Orcs, driven by the Ogres, while the giants strike at us with boulders."
"Good," said Renley. "The rear force can attack and take out the giants before they can hurt us too badly with their boulders, then the attackers can take out the leaders of the force. That'll likely cause them to break and run."
"The question is," said Renley. "Who should attack from the rear?"
"I'd like to see either Renley or Stannul, out there," said Lucius.
"Not both of them though. Like it or not the two of you are our strongest fighters at present and we can't afford to have both of you away from the rest of us at the same time."
"One option would be for my brother and I to go," said Morgellyn.
"Together we could take out the giants, and push the attack."
"Yet another," I said, "would be for Stannul and me to push the attack.
The way I see it, I'm still pretty much an unknown in this party. And the rest of you might feel better having both Renley and Morgellyn to cover while Stannul is away. Also, I am something of an experienced woodsman myself, so I might have a better chance sneaking up to surprise the enemy then say someone with as much armor as Renley here has."
After some further discussion, it was agreed that Stannul and myself would be the ones to press the attack. We would proceed down the Orc's trail by foot, and take up position outside the enemy's camp. Then when the rest of the group rode into the ambush, we would strike.
We moved off down the trail quickly and quietly. Stannul moved like a ghost, as for me, well it had been a while, but soon I could feel all those old skills coming back to me. The others were going to wait about half an hour before setting off down the trail again. That should give Stannul and me sufficient time to get into place to ambush the ambushers.
The ambush site had been chosen well. The trail that the others would come out on would come around a bend from behind a big rock below us. There was a high ridge on the far side of the trail that would prevent quarry from escaping in that direction. While the ground on this side gently sloped down to the trail. The slope on our side of the trail was gentle and covered with waist high clumps of brush. You could easily hide one hundred men on that slope within yards of anyone on the trail and the travelers would be none the wiser for it. That is pretty much exactly what the Orcs were planning on doing.
What was good cover for the Orcs was also good cover for us as well. We took up positions high on the slope. The Hill Giants were seated about fifty feet away from us, off to our left. They had already stockpiled a large pile of boulders to use, about 20 feet in front of us, for when the ambush was finally sprung.
There were several other creatures there as well. While they were not quite as large as the giants, they were no less ferocious looking. They stood about 9 feet tall and had sort of a dead yellow skin tone, and they were covered in warty lumps and bumps that were sort of a sickly green to black color, their hair was sort of dull dark green, and their teeth, what they had appeared to be a rotten black or orange color. They were all dressed in sort of barely cured animal skins and furs. I assumed that these must be Ogres.
I could see Stannul staring at these beasts with great anger and hatred on his face. I waved at him to get his attention, when he looked at me I held up 3 fingers and pointed towards the giants, then towards myself and him. I wanted to remind him that it was the plan to take out the rock throwing Hill Giants first and foremost, before we could tackle the anything else.
Reluctantly he nodded his head in agreement.
We settled down too wait. The rest of the companions should be arriving anytime now.
I noticed that our enemy was not really taking the whole thing very seriously. Some orcs were engaged in various games of dice, some which looked like they were going to breakdown into fights. Others were idly tossing daggers, or bragging to their friends, probably about their courage in the upcoming battle or something. They were speaking in a sort of guttural primitive language, that I could make no sense of. Maybe they were relying too much on those who they had set to keep watch.
When Renley and the rest of the party finally did come around the bend,
at first none of the Orcs noticed. The companions were ready, with their weapons drawn. Renley and Morgellyn decide to take advantage of the orcs inattention and charge right into them.
Right below us, the largest of the three giants was the first to notice the commotion below. With huge roar he jumped to his feet and ran over to the pile of rocks. The other giants quickly followed.
That was our cue. When they ran to the rock pile, we jumped up behind them. The lead giant had already hurled his first boulder, right at Renley.
Missing him roundly, but crushing an Orc who was standing right beside Renley's horse. The second and the third giants were just picking up their rocks when Stannul and I attacked.
The giants were totally surprised, as we fell upon the two smaller giants in the rear. One fell quickly to my sword as Stannul managed to wound the other giant with both his sword and dagger. Roaring it the two remaining giants turned towards us, I sprang forward to engage the largest giant.
He swung towards me with his bare arm; seeking to knock me aside I ducked under his swing and dragged my sword across his midsection. Despite this ghastly wound, he still wasn't quite finished. It tried to swing at me one more time, but I ducked under his massive oversized arm and ran him through.
Stannul sprang forward under his giant's reaching arms and sliced the giant's legs just behind the knees, as it fell to it's knees, the giant flailed about and struck Stannul with a giant sized fist. Shaken, Stannul finished the foul beast by slashing its throat as it toppled over dead.
The battle had scarcely started, and we already had the giants out of it. The next most dangerous opponents were to Ogres. We sprang to attack them,
half of them, those who noticed our attacks on the giants, turned to meet us.
The rest of them were already charging towards Renley and Morgellyn.
Stannul, uttered a strange war cry as we closed too meet the Ogres.
Three of the Ogres, perhaps recognizing a ranger, sprang too attack Stannul, the remaining two came at me. Our swords met as one, and I now came to understand the value of armor, as both Ogres laid their weapons upon me, as I drove to the attack. Struck, but undeterred, my sword sang its unique death's song. An upwards swing of my sword sliced the Ogre on my right from hip to shoulder,
while the downwards stroke made the reverse cut on the Ogre on my left. The first Ogre fell dead immediately, but the second beast managed to turn aside from enough of the blow to survive. I quickly dispatched this ogre, before moving to aid Stannul and the remaining ogres attacking him.
Stannul's attack, while not quite as effective as mine, still resulted in the immediate death of the first of his Ogre opponents. As the remaining two Ogre opponents tried to double team the ranger, Stannul ducked right and attacked that Ogre that while moving away from the other. This maneuver managed to foil the attacks of both ogres, while Stannul's blades managed to drink deeply in the blood of his right hand opponent. The Ogre on the right, now severely wounded, stumbled into the path of the Ogre on the left.
The remaining unwounded Ogre, snarled angrily at his wounded comrade for coming between him and his chosen opponent. A role I was only too happy to fill in with. Unfortunately, he sees me coming, and manages to get his blade into position to attack first. I manage to turn aside from most of his strike,
before bringing my own blade to bear. In a blinding maneuver, I bring my blade across it's body once, then twice before it can hardly move. It stares at me stupidly for a second before toppling over.
Meanwhile, Stannul performed a very similar maneuver of his own. He finished the beast off by finally dragging his dagger across its throat as it was falling to the ground.
He turned too me with a grin on his face and said, "Now all we have to do is to get back over to where the rest of them are," as he pointed towards our friends on the far side of the mass of Orcs and Ogres.
"Well, we had better not keep them waiting," I replied.
With that we charged off towards the Orcs.
Just as we were arriving at the battle, at the battle I could see an Ogre fall beneath Morgellyn's blade as her horse trampled it to death. I could only see one last Ogre remaining. Stannul charged the Ogre. While I noticed 3 rather well armed and armored Orcs just off to my left, trying to direct the battle. Thinking that these fellows were the chieftains, I charged towards them.
Then I was among them. I swept my sword through the first Orc chieftain, it sliced it low from the left hip, coming out just below his right shoulder, as the blade reached the top of its arc above the dying or chieftain,
it was already positioned to strike down at the next. The blade descended smoothly and effortlessly through the second chieftain. The third chieftain used the opportunity of his dying comrades to slash with the wicked looking sword he was carrying along my side. The pain flared at my side, but I ignored it, remembering the lessons of my first teacher. He taught me that if you are not able to fight effectively through the pain, then you might as well just give your head up to the next immortal that comes along.
We sprang apart, circling each other warily. I feinted low towards his right hip, drawing his shield down and away, I quickly shifted my attack, and jabbed the point of my sword high, right over the top edge of his shield, and deeply into his throat. His sword, which was poised high over his shoulder to swing at me, fell nervously from his fingers as he fell over on his side.
Turning back to the main battle, I saw that the intended ambush had quickly turned into massacre for the ambushers. As I watched Orcs by the ones and twos began to flee the scene of the battle. Soon the remaining handful was in full flight. Exhausted, we let them go.
It was a hard battle, my first actually with a sword. I had experienced battle fields before, during the Civil War while I was still mortal and through out the Pacific campaign during the Second World War. Those types of wars consisted of more modern battle fields, especially when I served with the US Marine Corps in the Pacific. None of that can really prepare you to the sheer mayhem you have during this type of melee. All of us, with the exception of Dorien who hid behind Lucius and Marin, picked up new wounds during the battle.
As I watched, I saw my companions break up into well practiced teams.
Renley and Marin went around too check out their wounded comrades, adding dressings and binding wounds were needed. Stannul took up position watching for a possible return of the enemy, while Lucius, Morgellyn and Dorien started systematically stripping the dead of anything worthwhile. Coins, cheap jewelry and items of arms or armor that were still useful.
Dorien approached me, "Marin or Renley will look at those wounds you have. You should get them looked at before you start too feel light headed or something."
"I'm fine," I said "What you are seeing is Orc and Ogre blood. I was barely scratched."
Dorien stared at me for a second, right in the eye. Then he said, "I know that is not true."
"What are you implying," I said, in a somewhat dangerous tone on voice.
"You know exactly what I am implying," he said in a loud voice. "Do you need me to spell it out?" I noticed Renley heading in this direction.
I looked at him quietly for a second, could he have guessed about my immortal nature? I decided to admit nothing. "Yes, I think you should."
Renley, who had just arrived demanded, "What is going on here?"
"Our new friend here," said Dorien, "has been holding out on us. He has a source of magical healing that he has been hording."
After a century and a half of expecting to hear, "Monster," "Freak," and "Devil's Spawn." That was the last thing I expected too hear.
"Is this true," asked Renley. "Do you have a source of magical healing that you are withholding from us?"
"No," I said. "I have nothing of that nature that I am withholding from you."
"Just look at him." Dorien shouted angrily. "I saw him take wounds from both Orcs and Ogres, and look at him now, he looks barely wounded."
Stannul, who had come up when the whole commotion started, "That's true,
" he said "I did see him get struck at least once by an Ogre."
Renley once again turned towards me, and said formally. "We have offered you the hospitality of our camp, the protection of our fire, and the nourishment of our food. Once again I ask you, is there any truth to what Dorien is saying."
I sighed. The others had now gathered to see what was going on. "I have no magical healing that I can share with you. If I had it I would share it, but I can't."
"Can't or won't?" demanded Dorien hotly.
Renley, who saw that I was not finished, held up a hand to Dorien.
Nodding too him, I continued. "I am not completely human. I know I look like an ordinary human, all my internal organs are completely human in nature,
but I am different."
"I guess you could say that I come from a sub-race of humans called 'Immortals.'" I said.
I paused for a second, looking around. Instead of looks of fear and apprehension, what I saw were looks of curiosity.
"What is it that makes you different then?" That question came from Morgellyn, the only completely non-human in the group.
"What sets us apart from normal humans is something called the quickening." I said. "It's like an energy field that surrounds us and is blended into every part of our beings. The quickening gives us many abilities,
but primary among them is our ability to heal extremely fast. It also freezes the natural human aging cycle. The age you see me now is the age I looked a century ago and the age I will appear a century from now.
"As Dorien said, I was struck several times in the battle by Orcs and Ogres," I pulled my shirt up "but as you can see my quickening has already healed me. This is not something that I can control, or share; it is simply a part of who I am."
"How did you become one of these Immortals?" Dorien asked.
"I was born this way." I said. "Every immortal, as a child is completely human, we grow, we age, and when we are wounded we heal just like any other human. It is only when we experience what we call 'first death' that our latent Immortal abilities kick in. When we wake up from that death, we are immortal."
"Is this something that you inherited from your parents?" Marin asked.
"I have no idea." I said. "I was a foundling. In fact all immortals are foundlings. None of us know who are parents are, nor are any of us able to have children of our own, either with mortal males and females, or Immortal ones."
"So basically you will live forever?" asked Dorien.
"Well, yes, there is no upper limit to how long we can live," I replied.
"But it isn't that simple."
"What do you mean?" asked Renley.
"Every Immortal whether they want to or not, participates in something simply called 'The Game.'" I replied. "It is the game that will eventually claim the lives of all Immortals."
"If you are truly immortal," Dorien asks, "then how can you lose your life in this game of yours."
"Well," I said. "Immortal is something of a misnomer. While almost everything from poison, disease, and physical damage won't kill us permanently,
we can be permanently killed.
"Usually, what happens is when two immortals meet, a challenge is issued and the two of them find someplace private, where they battle each other to the death. The winner, when he slays the loser, takes his quickening into his own."
"The game operates under three rules," I said, "and three rules only:
First all challenges, once they are made and accepted, are to be fought one-on-
one, without interference.
"Second, no Immortal battle can be fought on holy ground. Holy ground is considered by all our only sanctuary from the game, none of us will violate it.
"And lastly, challenges can be made by any Immortal at any time for any reason. In the end, 'There can be only One!' And to this last victor goes the Prize."
"And what is this great prize that you are fighting for?" asked Renley.
"That's just it, no one really knows." I said. "Oh, there's speculation. Some seem to think that the prize is some sort of ultimate godlike power. Others believe it is simple mortality, and the ability to have children of your own. And others still believe that the winner will be cursed too be the last truly Immortal being to exist out the rest of the eons until the end of time."
"Personally," I said. "I believe the game is a pretty stupid way of wasting your life. Unfortunately, enough immortals believe in the game, and their ability to win at the game, that it makes it too dangerous for the rest of us to ignore it."
"Normally," I said. "We immortals are a secretive bunch. Drawing too much attention to ourselves could bring the active game players down upon us.
Not to mention those mortals who would just love to capture us to see if they can find out what makes us tick. Immortality has always been a big prize in the history Men on my world."
"Here too," replied Renley. "Too many humans of this world have sought the embrace of the undead to find eternal life. They discover too late the price of such an embrace."
"It seems that immortality what ever form it takes, comes with a price"
With that Renley said, "I think we had better get finished off here and moving down the trail. We gave these Orcs quite a beating this time, lets see if we can put some distance between us and them before they get their courage back again."
With that the others set about their tasks once again. Lucius called me over to the Orcs I killed. "Take a look at this," he said. "The armor on these fellows is quite a bit better then anything else the rest of the Orcs were wearing. These were the chiefs or sub-chiefs of the three tribes who met here today."
I looked at the orcs; the armor they wore was chainmail, just as I remembered when I fought them.
Lucius continued, "Those two sets here are salvageable, this one will require a real armorer to repair it, but this other one I can fix it up right now with some wire I have in my pack. It's this other set I wanted you to look at." The third Orc was killed when I swept my blade across its throat, it's armor was virtually untouched.
"This is by far the best of the three sets," Lucius said. "He probably took it off the body of a dead adventurer somewhere down the line. Since you killed him, you get first pick over the spoils."
"I've never worn armor before," I replied. "I don't know how well my fighting style can be adapted to the wearing of it."
"Well, there is no harm in trying." He said.
With that, he helped me in stripping the mail off the dead Orc chieftain. "Don't worry about the smell," he said, "once we get to a proper community we can see about cleaning this stuff up as good as new."
I put on the layer of padding that goes under the armor, and then I lifted the armor itself up, and put it on over my head like a great iron sweater. As the armor settled over my shoulders, and hung down past my waist to my knees, I realized just how heavy and awkward this stuff really is. The weight of it was settled firmly on my shoulders, and the swaying motion of it threw off my center of balance. Think about how 40 pounds swinging from your shoulders can throw you off. It had short sleeves, coming down about halfway from my shoulder to my elbow and hung loosely. It still allowed me to swing my arms more or less freely, that was something I suppose.
Lucius handed me the sword belt that the Orc chieftain was wearing, and under his direction I pulled it tight around my middle. This helped with the swaying, and somewhat with the weight, as some of the chain link gathered over the heavy belt.
"I can't understand how you people can stand to wear this stuff all the time," I exclaimed.
"You get used to it." Lucius replied. "Wear it for a while, and eventually you'll hardly know it is there."
"Why does it have to hang down so low?" I asked.
"It helps to protect your legs, especially when you are fighting from horseback," Lucius said as he started stripping the armor from the other Orcs.
"Well, I guess it's the only game in town when it comes to protecting yourself," I said reluctantly.
"Who ever said that?" said Lucius grinning.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I hate wearing the stuff too," Lucius replied. "If magic was working correctly, I wouldn't be wearing it now either." He reached into his pack and pulled out a pair of shiny silvery bracers. "When I wear these on my wrists, it offers the same protection as a good suit of banded mail, better then what we just pulled off these Orcs, and best of all it doesn't weigh anything"
He sighed, "But unfortunately magic isn't working."
Later on, that evening after we set up camp, I was glad to be rid of the stuff.
After an uneventful night, we set off the next morning, with me back in my armor once again. I was already starting to hate the stuff with a passion.
"If you keep struggling against it, you'll just make yourself more uncomfortable," a musical voice said.
I turned to Morgellyn, "You are one to talk, I don't see you wearing this accursed stuff."
She smiled at me as she drew aside her cloak, revealing mail armor of finely wrought chain. Each mail link was absolutely tiny, together the whole thing looked more like a coarsely woven sweater then it did a pile of Iron like the stuff I was wearing.
"This chainmail was made by the Elven armorers. It was wrought by magic and contains magic," she said. "It's not actually steel or iron like yours, but an alloy called adamantium. It makes it light and not the least bit bulky."
I whistled, "And where can someone find some armor like that?"
"Unfortunately, it's very rare, difficult too produce and is rarely made in human sizes," she replied. "Mine I found while adventuring before Stannul was born."
"That's been something I've been meaning to talk to you about," I said.
"The Elves of this world, how do they differ from humans or Orcs?"
"In the words of the humans of this world, Elves, Dwarves, halflings,
and gnomes are considered demi-human. While, Orcs, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Gnolls and the like are considered humanoid," she said.
"What's the difference?"
"I suppose it's really a matter of semantics," she replied. "Demi-
humans tend to be longer living goodly races, and humanoids tend to be shorter living races of evil temperament.
"Of course that is not written in stone. As individuals, some Elves and dwarves can be just as evil as any Orc. Not to mention there are the Drow Elves who live deep under the surface of the world in huge cities, and who as a culture greatly value deception, cruelty and malice."
"So how long to elves actually live then?" I ask her.
"The oldest elf I know of is nearly 1200, years old. He left on Retreat while I was still a child."
I looked at her questioningly, "What's 'on Retreat?'" I asked.
"Elves, as a race don't tend to die in this world of old age," she said.
"Instead when we reach the end, we feel a pull towards a far away land,
I looked a little shocked for a minute, "…. And the few who remain shall feel an irresistible pull to a distant city in a far away land, where the few who remain will battle to the last." It came directly out of immortal lore about the game. I hadn't realized I had spoken aloud, until I saw Morgellyn looking at me expectantly.
"Sorry," I said. "That's what I was taught about the Game by my teacher."
After a moment, she asked me. "Would you mind if I asked you about your immortality?"
"Okay," I said. "Where would you like me to start?"
"How old are you?" she asked.
"Well, before we get started, I would ask that you keep this completely confidential, just between us and our companions." I said.
"Of course," she said.
"It's just that I am not all that comfortable spreading around information about my self. There probably aren't any other immortals on this world, but I imagine there are probably a few Mages out there who would love to see how I work," I said.
"I understand," she said. "Coming from a race that pretty much has eternity I have observed the lust in some humans to extend their lives beyond their natural course."
"Okay," I said. "Where were we? That's right, my age. On my next birthday, I will be 153 years old."
Morgellyn looked at me surprised. "So you are the first human I've actually met who is older then I am. I'll be 148 on the summer solstice this year."
I grinned at her.
"Are you considered old by others of your kind?" She asked.
"No," I said, "Although I've passed through my first century, which is something of a milestone for most immortals. I am still considered quite young.
My first teacher Chin-Pao is nearly 1300 years old. The oldest of us is rumored to be more then 5000 years old, although how someone can live that long, or even why someone would want to live that long, especially in light of the Game is beyond me."
"What is it that makes you live so long," she inquires.
"The quickening," I said. "That's the real difference between us and normal humans. It is the quickening that heals our wounds, keeps us from aging and lets us remember."
"Yes," I said. "I can remember with perfect clarity every single minute of time from the moment I first woke up from my first death until now. Nothing is forgotten."
We talked for long hours about our lives, the trials she endured becoming a warrior and mage, and her early adventuring career. I told her about my time on Earth, being a rancher, a farmer, a trapper, a mason, going to school and working as an engineer in several different decades. I spoke of my experiences in the Second World War protecting a Native American code talker called "Juh, he who sees ahead." Juh was actually born an Apache, and somewhere around his 21st birthday he became immortal.
As we talked I noticed that Dorien was following rather close behind us, from the looks of it, he had a perfect opportunity to listen in on much of what was said.
Changing the subject, I asked Morgellyn, "Those Orcs and Giants we fought yesterday. I remember Stannul saying that there were at least three tribes involved in the ambush."
"That's right." Morgellyn replied. "That kind of thing is pretty unusual. Mostly Orc tribes don't unite in that manner, unless compelled to by some outside leader."
I watched, with some satisfaction, as Dorien let his horse fall back,
obviously no longer interested in where the conversation was headed.
"Stannul thinks he may have caught sight of that leader when he was observing the ambush yesterday," Morgellyn continued.
That dragged my attention back.
"So that figure riding off was the unifying leader?" I demanded.
"Yes," she said calmly.
"What I can't understand is why someone would go to that much trouble hunting us down," I said. "We gave them quite a licking yesterday, and before I arrived the same must have been true."
"Very true," she said. "In fact, we have fought off attackers several times on this journey, more then we should have, even before magic stopped working."
"Could it be then," I queried, "that some one or something is traveling along just ahead of us, to arrange for all these nasty surprises?"
"That is what Stannul and I were thinking," Morgellyn replied. "We brought our concerns up with Renley before you, arrived. Anyway, he agrees with the assessment, yesterday was the first time we caught of glimpse of this illusive agent."
"But why would anyone go through all that trouble?" I asked. "I thought you were simply traveling to a religious library somewhere here in the Mountains?"
"To know that, you have to understand why we have undertaken this mission," she said. "The city we are currently residing in, Elversult, has been at war with itself for the last several years.
"On one side there are the Harpers. The Harpers are basically a good aligned organization that concerns itself with keeping the dangers of and too civilization at bay. They tend to operate in secret, and carry a membership of Rangers, bards, mages, priests and druids. I would not be surprised if one or more of our companions were in fact Harpers.
"On the other side there is the Cult of the Dragon. The Cult is a semi-
religious organization that venerates dragons, in particular evil dragons, and specifically dead evil dragons re-animated as powerful undead Dracoliches.
"Recently, it came to the attention of the government of the city that the Cult had moved a Dracolich called Deathwing into the area. This definitely tips the balance of power over in favor of the Cult. It is believed that with this Dracolich too assist them, they would have no trouble toppling the current government of the city and replacing it with something more in tune with the Cult's agenda."
"You mean with the help of this Draco-whatever, they will have the power to install their own puppet government," I said.
"Correct," she said. "That is why we were dispatched to go to Spirit Soaring. Spirit Soaring is perhaps the greatest single library of knowledge anywhere in this world. If anyone has information on how Deathwing can be defeated, they will."
"It is almost a certainty that who ever is following us, represents the Cult of the Dragon," she said. "If we were to fail in our mission, the defense of the city would be that much more difficult, perhaps impossible given the nature of our enemies."
"But how is this agent of the Cult managing too pull all these tribes together," I asked.
"Bribery, the chance of plunder, threats, intimidation, or perhaps a combination of all these things," she said. "The method is probably less important then the end result."
"Yes," I replied, "especially if they manage to stop us."
She smiled at me for a minute, probably at my implicit inclusion of myself with their cause.
I thought about that for a minute. Did I really want to get myself wrapped up with these people and their cause? I thought of all my companions here on the trail, they all seemed to be solid reliable folk. The kind of people you'd choose to ride the river with, so to speak. They had done a lot for me, and they were the only real friends I had on this world. I couldn't really see myself walking away from them, especially when I felt needed by them.
Immortals tend to be loners, the secret of immortality tending to isolate us from the rest of society. Back home, I had several friends among other immortals; Juh the Apache, Diego otherwise known as Zorro, Anna Burkoff and Duncan McLeod to name a few. But among mortals, most of my friends were more like causal acquaintances. These are probably the first mortals to know everything about me since Tell, Orrin and Tyrell Sackett nearly a century ago.
They were the brothers I was raised with, and there was just no way could I not tell them about what had happened to me.
It seemed to me that this world had turned everything I had come to know and take for granted on my world completely on its ear. It seemed that nearly every faire tale from home existed in some way in reality here. Humans were forced to share this world with other races, some of which were particularly unpleasant like the Orcs whom I had met.
And then there was Morgellyn. In some ways she and her race were an enigma to me. It sort of makes me wonder if the Immortals of our world have become something similar if it were not for the Game. In some ways Morgellyn seemed completely human, especially in the ways she moved about the camp, taking care of the various chores that needed to be done. During sword practice which we performed every morning before setting off for the day, she moved with a natural grace, and seemed to have a natural affinity to the longsword she wielded. When I commented on it, she simply shrugged and said that all Elves had a natural affinity to the longsword.
As I thought about it, Morgellyn would probably be the one who I would miss most, when I returned home. She seemed to understand the most about the problems with becoming too close to mortals, and the pain of watching them pass from the world. Even when I got together with Anna, an immortal female friend of mine, I always felt the game was something ultimately kept us apart. How could you get close when "There can be only One" is hung over your heads like stalking death. I realized that with Morgellyn there was none of that.
As we traveled on for the rest of the day, Morgellyn and I talked about many things. The day passed quickly, and soon we were setting up camp once again for the night. Lucius was openly wondering if the last beating we gave the Orcs scared the off for good. Unfortunately, a couple of arrows in the night disabused him of that notion.
It was just after dawn when they struck again. A large force consisting of Ogres, Orcs and some sort of creature I had never seen before attacked,
rushing through the camp.
It was shortly after dawn, everyone was already up and awake. I had just struggled into my accursed chainmail, for some early morning sparing with Renley. I figured that I needed all the sparing I could get, because I still felt awkward moving in the armor.
Marin and Lucius were working around the fire, preparing the morning meal which everyone on this world referred to as dawnfry. It will still always be breakfast to me.
Dorien was brooding over some books he had brought along. He did that every morning. When I asked Morgellyn about that she told me that they were his spell books. Apparently a magician or a priest can only cast a given spell once and once it is cast the caster must go through the whole process of re-
committing that spell once again to memory. That means either re-reading the spell from the spell books in the case of Dorien, Morgellyn and Lucius, or praying to whatever god they worship in the case of Marin.
Stannul was the first to know something was wrong. He and Morgellyn were on the far side of the camp tending to the horses. He shouted a warning to the others but mostly it was too late.
We were camped out under a fairly large clump of trees, the first wave of the attack came through the picket line we had for the horses, spooking them off. The Orcs and the Ogres washed right over Morgellyn and Stannul, heading right to the fire where Lucius, Marin and Dorien were. Renley and I were just about to charge to the campfire to assist when a guttural war cry sounded right behind us.
I turned, totally surprised to find these large creatures lumbering out of the woods to attack, their yellowish brown hide was capped off with sort of brick red hair and greenish eyes with red pupils. Most of them were wielding spiked clubs, covered in a black tar like substance.
I was still standing there gaping like an idiot when three of the creatures struck me with their clubs. The chainmail I was wearing managed to turn aside two of the blows, but the third struck me solidly, the spikes managed to penetrate right through the mail and the padding beneath. As I started to finally move bringing my sword up to the attack, I noticed that it was getting unreasonably heavy; the blood in my veins felt like it was on fire. I stumbled once before I fell over unable to move. Poison, I cursed to myself. The wicked creature above me gave me one look and a nasty kick in the side, before moving off to battle Renley.
My whole body was on fire, I could barely even move. Renley looked at me with an alarmed expression on his face, and he tried to move to protect me.
I could only hope that my immortal healing abilities could clear this out of my system before any of these creatures could take advantage of my condition. I managed, with great effort to roll over onto my back, so I could see what was going on with Renley.
Renley was besieged on four sides by the creatures, outnumbered he fought like a lion. He killed one of the beasts outright, while they flailed their poisoned spiked clubs at him. One of them managed to strike him, but the spike must not have penetrated through his armor deeply enough to put the poison into his blood stream. As I watched I knew it would only be a matter of time before he wouldn't be so lucky. The poison only seemed to paralyze me, I hoped it would not be worse on him.
Again they struck at him, and once again he managed to beat aside their attacks, killing two more of their number, in a blinding show of swordsmanship.
Again, the creatures massed to attack, and again Renley got off lightly, while one of their comrades fell dead. As yet another creature fell at Renley's feet,
I began to wonder if I would indeed managed to win through this. I could already start to feel a tingling sensation in my extremities and the agony that wracked my body was retreating, signaling that my quickening was indeed flushing the poison from my system.
Just as my hope was flaring, as normal feeling was returning to my system, Renley's luck finally ran out. A rock turned under his foot, while moving to one side, and threw him off balance; with that three of the four creatures crowding around him landed solid blows upon him. I could see the pain on his face, as he managed to run a wounded creature through before he fell to the ground.
The remaining creatures were closing to finish him off, when they were interrupted by a command barked by their leader. Looking over to the rest of the battle occurring on the far side of the fire, he looked back and barked a command once again, and pointed to Renley.
Two of the beasts grabbed Renley by the arms and dragged him off into the woods, leaving me behind on the ground.
I was just managing to stumble to my feet when, Morgellyn reached my side.
I shook my head clear of the last effects of the poison, as Morgellyn steadied me by my arm.
"Damned poison," I said in a shaky voice. "They dragged Renley off into the woods."
"Was he alive?" asked Morgellyn in a fearful and concerned voice.
"I don't know," I said. "I think so, his eyes were open and I could see the pain on his face."
"They went off in that direction." I said as I pointed in the direction where I saw them take Renley.
Looking around, I surveyed the rest of the camp. There were several, I counted six, Ogres dead on the ground, Stannul's work no doubt. There also dead Orcs scattered about as well. I estimated that this raiding force was no where near as large as the ambush force we attacked a few days ago. The difference was, the surprise the ambushers sought, these attackers accomplished. From the looks of it, this force was made up of those who escaped from the ambush site a couple of days ago.
I turned to Morgellyn, and I pointed to one of the dead creatures that Renley had slain before he was carried off. "What was that?"
"This is called a Bugbear, in the Common tongue," she replied. "They are bigger and much more dangerous cousins to Goblins."
"Do they usually use poisoned weapons?" I asked.
"No," she said. "It's not that they have any sort of moral objection to its use, they just tend not to have the herbal skills to refine poisons."
Looking over the camp once again as I moved back to the campfire, I asked. "How are we doing, is everyone okay?"
Lucius was looking pretty bad, both he and Marin had taken strikes from their Orc opponents. Stannul was also no longer moving very freely as well. We had taken quite a beating on this one. Looking around again, I said "Where's Dorien?"
"What?" asked Morgellyn?
"Dorien," I said again. "Where is he? Was he taken as well?"
I called out Dorien's name.
"I'm up here," came the response. I looked up, and there in a tree not far from the campfire, was Dorien. I guess seeing attackers on both sides of us, he did the only thing he could think of, and that was climbing a tree.
Considering his combat skills and what happened the last time he attempted to cast a spell that was probably not a bad idea.
Stannul came over to the campfire. "The horses are gone, and along with them, the packhorse with the rest of our supplies," he said.
"Renley is gone as well," I said. "He was taken alive."
"Alive?" he demanded. "Then we had better get him quick. Those bugbears don't always wait until their victim is dead before having him for supper."
"I should get going right now," he continued. "On foot I can move the fastest, and I should be able to catch up to them in no time."
"Yes," I said. "But what are you going to do once you catch up to them?
"Take him back of course, or die trying."
"Of course," I said, "although in this case the die trying part is pretty much assured."
"Well," he said testily, "I am certainly not going to leave him with them. He is my best friend, and I will not abandon him."
"That is not what I am suggesting," I said. "I'll go with you. If you go alone, you won't survive, and Marin, Lucius and Dorien certainly cannot stand another open battle."
"What are you suggesting then?" he asked.
"I'm suggesting is that we find a secure place for the rest of the group to fort up," I said. "Then you and I can track down the rest of these attackers."
"Why you?" he asked.
"Because my quickening has already expelled the effects of the poison,
and healed all the other wounds I took in the last battle."
He nodded to me. "There is a small bear cave just up the slope over there. Now that spring is here, the bear should be long gone," he said. "I noticed the bear sign, and the cave last night. It will be a tight fit for everyone, but we should be able to cover our tracks up to it, so that will make it hard for passing Orcs to find it."
We gathered up what was left of our supplies, Renley's discarded sword and shield, and headed up the slope to the bear cave that Stannul had found.
The cave, if that is what you wanted to call it was located in a jumble of rocks. From the looks of things the bear had dug an area out about eight feet in diameter with a four foot high ceiling under one of the larger rocks. It would be a cozy fit, but if they kept quiet they should be safe.
As Stannul and I moved back down to the old campsite, carefully covering over the tracks leading up to the bear's cave. We checked over our weapons,
Stannul made sure he had extra bow strings for his bow, and I checked my sword and dagger. I also pulled out the .357, and checked the action, and my extra speed loaders to make sure it was also ready to go.
As we set out down the trail at an easy trot, the over cast sky gave its first rumblings of thunder. Storms could blow up quickly on you in mountains,
right now we had a pretty easy trail to follow, throw some rain down on it, and things become much more difficult. Hopefully the rain will stay away.
About 20 minutes down the trail, we noticed another set of tracks converging with the Bugbears we were following. It was a rider on horse back, I examined the tracks. It appeared to be a large horse, similar to the heavy warhorses rode my most of my companions. I could tell by the excess depth of the tracks that the rider was carrying a lot of weight, most likely a man,
probably in full armor. Could it be that the rider was coming to claim Renley as his prize?
Without further comment, we quickened our pace down the wooded track.
Soon we heard the sounds of celebration, we approached silently. The trail led down into a small depression. Gathered there were the four remaining Bugbears that had dragged Renley away. Also in the clearing were two Hill Giants, and a handful of Orcs, and an Ogre. But dominating the whole crowd, was the man sized figure in black armor, he was standing over the prone body of Renley, who from the looks of it was still paralyzed by the poison.
Stannul and I moved back down the trail a bit to discuss our options.
"We should strike now," Stannul said. "Strike while we have the element of surprise."
"Yes," I said. "But if we go charging right in there, none of us will likely come out again. Did you see that black armored warrior? He looks like a tough son of a bitch. We can't fight him and all the others at the same time."
"What do you have in mind?" Stannul asked.
"I want you to take up position above them," I said. So you have a clear field to feather anyone in the depression. Try to get on the right side."
"Why the right side?" he asked.
"So I know where you are."
"What then?" he asked.
"Wait for my signal," I said. "Then kill anything that moves in that depression."
"What will your signal be?" he asked.
"Don't worry you'll know it when you see it." I replied.
Stannul nodded to me, and moved off soundlessly to take up position above the enemy.
Meanwhile, I looked up into the stormy sky and reached up with my quickening. While I have reached up like this before, I have never really used this as a weapon. As the thunder rumbled across the sky, I could feel the power of my Quickening surge inside of me. Everything appeared to be moving in slow motion, I felt like I could burst at the seams, and that there was nothing I couldn't accomplish.
Boldly I strode into the depression. The black armored warrior had Renley by the throat, shaking him, demanding answers from him. That is when the first of the Orcs noticed me. He said something to the black warrior, who tossed Renley back onto the ground in disgust, as stood and turned towards me.
He was a big bastard alright, not giant sized like the Ogres or Bugbears, but he stood at least six and a half feet tall. He was strongly muscled, his skin had sort of reddish hue to it, not like an American Indian,
but rather something more under-worldly, there were small vestigial horns growing out of his head, which gave his long face a rather demonic look to it.
"I want the Paladin!" I demanded.
The Black Demon Warrior, looked at me standing there. Then with a snort of derision on his face.
"He's alone," he said. "Kill him and be done with it."
"Give me the Paladin," I said, "Or die where you are." The Orcs and the Bugbears hesitated for a moment, not quite knowing what to make of me.
The black Demon warrior said, "You heard me, KILL HIM!"
With that, I reached for the lightening. The bolt struck down hard,
right where I wanted it too, exactly between the two Hill Giants standing side by side about 15 feet behind the Black Demon Warrior. The blast catches both giants and a couple of Orcs hard, blowing them all over, the giants seriously wounded but the Orcs lay still.
I palmed my .357 as the bugbears charged me. With three quick shots, I dropped the first two of the Bugbears, I danced to one side drawing my sword with my right hand as the .357 remained in my left. Twice more, the pistol bucked in my hand, and another bugbear dropped dead on the ground. The fourth and final Bugbear, closed to sword range. As he raised his poisoned spiked club in what seemed like slow motion, I calmly stepped to one side and ran him through.
The pistol bucked once more in my hand, killing an Orc, before I returned it to the holster, mounted behind my back. I could see that Stannul had already put his bow to use, the Ogre dropped to the ground with 4 arrows sticking out of its chest.
The remaining Orcs charged towards me, I move forward towards the Black Demon Warrior, and with out a wasted motion slay the orcs before me. First one,
then another, a third, they hardly slow me down; soon I am standing in front of Black Demon Warrior. By the time I had reached the Demon Warrior what was left of his troops were dead. It was down to just the two of us.
"If you want him," he hissed, "You will have to take him over my dead body." He pulled out a black hilted long sword, which he held easily in his right hand. On his arm, he had settled a black shield. The device painted on the shield consisted of two eyes looking out of a burning flame over what could have been an altar. Although I wasn't sure, I suspected that this was the symbol for the Cult of the Dragon.
"So be it." I said. "I am Kendall Sackett, and I have come for the Paladin, and I shall have him over your dead body."
Then I attacked.
What ever you could say about this creature, it sure knew its way around a fight. In our first pass at each we had both managed to inflict serious wounds on the other. His armor, which appeared to be platemail, was certainly top notch. I was likely magical, and if magic had been working, I imagine I wouldn't have been quite so successful in my attacks.
We settled down into an examination of our respective styles. I soon realized, that Renley was probably a better swordsman than this thing, but was not as physically strong. The Demon Warrior was certainly much stronger then I was. But that was okay, I had been trained to fight stronger opponents, and with the quickening surging through me, I was quite a bit faster then a normal human had any right to be.
He managed too parry one of my attacks, but I caught him once again on a nasty riposte, taught to be by my old friend Diego. What it came down to was that I was wearing him down faster then he was wearing me down. My sword was moving like lightening. I caught him low on the left side, just at the hip, when he raised his shield to cover a feint I made towards his eyes.
Then in a sudden quick move, I swept my sword upwards from the ground through his wrist, then without wasting a motion swept it across and through his neck, his severed head rolling off his neck too the ground.
I stepped off to one side a bit, almost expecting to be hit with a quickening, and almost surprised that I wasn't. The fight was over, and they were all dead.
I turned towards Renley, he was nearly dead. That Demon Warrior was none to gentle in his examination and questioning. I knelt down beside him, and did a quick inventory of his wounds.
The first aid training I received in the Marine Corps was put to good use. Although he had lost a lot of blood, his pulse was good. I bound up what I could of his wounds, stopping the bleeding. He was going to live. He wouldn't be leading any charges anytime soon, but given time he would be.
Stannul joined me on the battle field. Once Renley was stable, we quickly stripped the dead. We took the armor and all the possessions the Black Demon Warrior had on him. Stannul and Renley agreed with me that the sword and the armor were probably enchanted. He also had an axe mounted on his horse that was also in very good condition. There were also a ring on each of his hands,
that Renley and Stannul advised me too keep. In one of the saddle bags of his horse, there was a book containing some sort spidery text, Stannul closed that book very quickly, saying that it was never good to meddle on some mage's spell book. The other bag contained a small sack full of coins, and jewels.
After loaded everything on to the back of the Demon Warrior's horse, and got Renley mounted, we went back to join with the rest of our companions back at the bear's cave.
We arrived back at the bear cave, where everyone was awaiting us safe and sound. Stannul and I handed Renley over to Marin's care as we headed back out again. This time we had to see if we could track down our horses.
It turned out that we were lucky in that regard. Renley's horse, a heavy warhorse, and a stallion had asserted its dominance the rest of the horses, and kept them together as a herd. We came across them grazing in a small clearing hardly 5 miles from our old campsite. Stannul approached the skittish horses carefully, talking in low soothing tones. Soon he had them all gathered up, we mounted up and returned to our new camp.
Since the day was already more then half gone, we decided by mutual consent to wait out the rest of the day and the night, and press on the next morning.
The continuation of our journey was largely uneventful. Stannul speculated after the spectacular defeat of the Demon Warrior and his small army that word will race ahead to all the other Goblin and Orc tribes to leave us alone. We would be simply too dangerous to be considered easy targets.
Just over two of the ten day spans that pass for weeks on this world had passed, when we came across the first patrol out of Spirit Soaring. It was led by a middle aged priest of Deneir named Samuel, and consisted of about a dozen men-at-arms.
Renley introduced himself, and told the priest something about the journey, and the mission we were on. Samuel noticed that Renley was still in bad shape from his ordeal with his captor, and he offered to heal what he could of Renley's wounds.
He stepped up to Renley, laid his hand on his breast, closed his eyes and whispered a small prayer to Deneir. I watched amazed as color flowed back in Renley's cheeks. He wasn't fully healed, but he certainly looked a lot better then he had been for the last couple of weeks.
"How is that possible?" Renley asked. "Both Marin and myself have been cut off from Torm and Selune now for weeks."
"I forget, you have been on the road," he said. "You don't know what has happened."
"What has happened?" asked Marin.
"The gods have been exiled from the heavens by the Ao, the Overpower"
Samuel replied. "All the gods, with the exception of Helm, walk the earth as mortal Avatars."
"Most of the priests in the world, have been cut off from their gods"
he continued. "Only those who happen to be within a day's ride or so from their god's avatar can function like they did before."
"So," I said. "Since your powers are functioning, does that mean that your god's avatar is close by?"
"Deneir," said Samuel proudly, "chose the body of a priest at Spirit Soaring to take on his avatar. It has been a great honor."
"But why where the gods exiled to begin with?" Dorien asked.
"According to Deneir," Samuel said, "Ao accused the gods of stealing the Tablets of Fate, and until they were returned, he would not allow a single god to remain in the heavens."
"You said before that Helm was an exception." Renley commented.
"He is, sort of." Samuel said. "He is the only one of the gods to retain his powers, but Ao has tasked him from keeping all the other gods out of the heavens until they return the Tablets of Fate."
We rode on. The patrol accompanied us all the way back to Spirit Soaring. I have to admit, that when I saw the place I was impressed. The whole structure was a combination of temple, library and fortress. Stout outer fortifications surrounded an inner keep that was both massive and inspiring. It was easily larger then Notre Dame in Paris, and the large circular library attached to the rear was nearly doubled the size of the main temple itself.
Inside the great wall, there were all the things you'd come to expect a large castle like this would have. Off to one side was an exercise year, where priests and warriors of many different nationalities practiced the more martial aspects of their respective callings.
Upon noticing what looked like priests of different religions practicing, I inquired about that to Samuel.
"Spirit Soaring," he said. "Is open to any who wish to come and study peacefully. One simply applies for permission to come here at one of the local branches of the church, and if the church hierarchy deems it worthy, an invitation is extended to the applicant, and they are made welcome."
Such religious tolerance was quite a new thing for me. I can't help but wonder at all the bloodshed on my world over religion, when the majority of the population prays to the same god.
"Come," Samuel said. "I'll bring you before Deneir."
We left our horses in the hands of some able groomsmen, and he led us towards the temple. I expected to be taken into the temple itself, but I was surprised when Samuel bypassed the temple and headed straight for the library.
The Library itself was magnificent. We walked in on the ground floor,
and down five white marble steps to the main temple floor. The floor was several hundred feet in diameter and was subdivided by high bookshelves with various tables set up for individual research and study. Above us, the ceiling arched away hundreds of feet into the air, around the perimeter of the library I counted ten different levels each packed with shelves.
I whistled in appreciated, "This place is impressive!" I said. The structural engineer in me marveled at the workman ship needed to build such a structure.
"Just out of curiosity," I asked, "just how long did it take to construct this place?"
"Master Cadderly raised this temple in one month, through the will of Deneir," Samuel said. "The previous Edificant Library was destroyed by the Chaos Curse a few years ago."
"Raising the temple was not without its cost though," he continued. "The strain of the magic passing through him aged his body by several decades. When he was done he appeared to be a man in his mid to late 60s, instead of his 20s."
"But now that Deneir has chosen Cadderly to be his avatar while Deneir remains on this world, those aging effects are reversing," said the older priest.
Samuel led us across the floor between the various shelves, until finally we came to a study area. There seated in front of us was a man,
probably in his mid fifties, surrounded by a stack of books. One of which was opened in front of him, he was flipping the pages while scanning the contents of each page.
"My Lord," said Samuel. "Travelers have arrived, from Elversult."
"Ah," said the man, as he turned away from the book he was reading and looked up. "You are the people who came from Elversult to research the Dracolich."
His eyes passed over each one of the companions before they settled upon me. "Well," he said. "There is certainly more too you then what meets the eye."
I was startled, what ever this being was, he obviously picked up on my difference immediately.
"You and I will talk later," he said to me.
"As for the rest of you," Deneir said, "You are free to research on the Dracolich all you can, on your own. But I cannot offer you much in the way of assistance in your research."
"I know that Samuel has already told you about why we gods were evicted from the heavens," he said. "I have assigned every one of my available priests here at the temple, plus any of the followers of other gods who have volunteered their services to work researching for any leads on the location of the Tablets of Fate. Ao said that the thief hid the tablets here on this world."
"But my Lord," protested Renley. "What if the creature decides too take advantage of malfunctioning magic to attack Elversult?"
"You won't need to worry about that," Deneir continued. "A Dracolich is a creature of the Magic Weave, and as such has fallen on harder times then your friend the mage here has. Even after we are restored back, it will still take weeks for the creature to get itself back together again."
"Now if you excuse me," said Deneir. "I must get back too work."
Samuel bowed too his god before he led us away, the avatar turned back to his book.
"Ever since Deneir arrived here in Cadderly's body he has been pouring over the books in this library," sighed Samuel. "All of his meals are served to him there at that table, and other then too sleep he is always reading some book or scroll that one of the priests brought him."
Samuel led the group out of the library and to a small antechamber in the Temple. There we were introduced to a young woman. "This is Danica,
Cadderly's wife," introduced Samuel, "since the arrival of the avatar, much of the Day to day operations of Spirit Soaring has fallen to her shoulders."
The young diminutive woman stood up, she was barely five feet tall, with an unruly mass of strawberry blond hair that hung down to her shoulders, and her girlish good looks were marred by a distant look of sorrow in her eyes. As she moved around the table to greet us, I noted that she moved with the unmistakable grace of a highly skilled warrior.
"My Lady," said Samuel turning to Danica. "These travelers are guests here, come to research. Deneir has extended his invitation to them, but now they need accommodations."
Danica winced slightly, as Deneir's name was mentioned but she said,
"You are all very welcome here at Spirit Soaring. If you will follow me I will show you to your rooms. The kitchen is down that way, she said. Ivan and Pikel, serve meals at dawn, noon and dusk."
She led us down a long corridor containing several doors. Each opened onto a room that was small but functional. They reminded me of monastic cells.
There was a simple sleeping pallet, a desk, and chair. At the foot of the pallet there was a medium sized chest, probably for storing personal items in.
Later that evening, after eating a hearty meal prepared by two rather rowdy dwarves, I returned to my cell, alone to consider everything that had happened to me over the last few weeks. As I lay there, a gentle tapping came at my door.
"Come in," I called.
The door swung open revealing a young priest.
"Excuse me, sir," he said politely. "My Lord Deneir has requested your company in the Library."
I nodded and stood up. Leaving my sword, I still had my pistol arranged in its holster under my shoulder. I had too wonder though what good it would do against an honest too goodness god.
"If you would follow me," he said.
The young priest led me back over to the library, back to the desk where we had first met the avatar.
As I arrived, Deneir looked up from his work, and pushed back his chair.
He pointed to a chair across from him that wasn't there earlier.
"Please sit," he invited. "As I said before we have much to discuss."
"I don't believe I caught your name earlier," he said.
"Sorry," I said. "My name is Kendall Sackett."
"And, what exactly are you," he asked. "I have some idea, but I would like to hear it in your words."
"My people are called Immortals," I said, "although that is something of a misnomer. There are ways we can die, we just don't publish them." I spend some time telling him about myself, the Game and my life back home.
"Nothing in the Multi-verse is truly immortal, not even the gods," he said. "I imagine a few of my brethren will perish before this Time of Troubles has ended."
"Time of Troubles?" I asked.
The avatar of Deneir smiled at me, "That is what some of the priests around here have started to call this current situation, the name fits as well as any other."
"The question I wanted to put to you," continued Deneir, "is what do you plan to do now that you are here, on this world?"
"I don't know," I said, and honestly I didn't. Up until now, all my thoughts and efforts had been concentrated on just getting to this Library. I hadn't thought much past that.
"I had thought of going through your Library to see if there was any reference to other Immortals, or possibly a way back home," I continued.
"I can save you the trouble," Deneir interrupted, "There are no references in this library to immortal beings fitting your description. The closest was from the journals of a wizard some eons ago who attempted to crossbreed Trolls with other humans and humanoids in order to create warriors who heal extremely well.
"Besides, we gods would know about any immortal beings on this world,
anything that could eventually rise to challenge us."
"As for seeking a way back too your home world," Deneir continued, "the sixth level of this library contains descriptions of most of the known gates to other worlds, their locations and the worlds they are connected too. The problem is that for every world there is a gate to from this one, there are literally thousands of other worlds that are not linked to any world at all."
"What would you suggest?" I asked him.
"One thing is for certain," the avatar said, "You will never win this Game of yours, if you remain in this world." He stared at me for a minute,
gauging my response. There it was, he wanted to know what kind of person I am,
and where my heart actually lies.
"Winning the Game," I said after a minute or two, "was not really a priority for me. Maybe it's because of my age, or more truthfully the price I would have to pay to win the prize is not one I am interested in paying."
He nodded to me to continue. "What I have noticed in my life is that there are roughly three types of immortals. The first are the ones who are out too win the Game. With these people there is nothing they would not sacrifice,
no act they would not commit, and all morality is tossed out the window in the name of winning.
"The second type, are those who believe in the game, but for what ever reason do not want the prize. Their goal is to keep those who they do not feel are deserving of the prize from winning it. Of course their definition of who deserves to win is always highly subjective.
"And finally, there are those who don't really believe in the game, but just do what they have to too survive. I like to think that I fall into this later category. I have no desire to play the game, heck I doubt there is a prize at the end of all this. I have no real opinion on who should win this meaningless prize, so I only get involved if their path to victory takes them through me or those I have come to care for."
"Isn't that kind of a Mercenary attitude?" asked Deneir. "After all, if you only allow yourself to be moved by those whom you know, aren't you neglecting the suffering of countless others?"
"Yes," I said. "That's probably true. But you have to remember, I'm not a god,
just a man who happens to live a long time. Too many of my kind have let this kind of question stretch the limits of their sanity, until they break. I once fought an Immortal who came to believe that all Immortals are ultimately evil and none were worthy to live, let alone take the prize. After I took his quickening, I discovered that the very core of his being was consumed with self-
loathing, he hated himself and all immortals more and more with every quickening he took. The more he hated, the more imperative it became for him to eliminate all Immortals. It was a fantasy of his that once all the others were gone, and he was the last he would take his own life, eradicating our race entirely."
"So you look upon this," he said, "as a matter of self preservation."
"Yes," I said. "Perhaps as a god, you have the power to save everyone…."
"No," he said. "Not even the gods are absolute, as demonstrated by this Time of Troubles."
He paused for a minute, "So do you see yourself returning to your homeworld?"
"Well," I said. "I guess so. I do have a life back there, a job, and friends."
"If you are determined to find your way home, there are several mages of great power on this world who could probably help you," he said. "Many of the mages of great power in this world travel often and seek other worlds to travel to. Information about a mage you may want to contact about this can be found on the third level, west side."
"Of course," he continued, "you could stay here on this world. You have made new friends among your companions. Young Renley is quite impressed with you, and he feels that he owes you a debt of honor."
"Yes," I said. "That's true, but so much of this world is different from home. Magic, Gods that take an interest in the affairs of mortals, the stars in the night sky, heck even your calendar is different."
"And there is no Game here," Deneir interrupted me.
That thought certainly gave me pause.
"Think about what we have discussed here," the avatar said, "You seem like an honorable enough person in your own way, I think you would a respectable citizen of this world."
With that Deneir bade me good night; he was going back to his studies in an attempt to find the Tablets of Fate. He had taken all the time he could allow away from that task.
I left the avatar in the Library, but instead of going back to my cell,
I decided to go outside. I often did most of my best thinking under the night sky. As I walked up onto the battlements, I looked up into the kind of clear sky you don't see from our world much anymore, but I looked up into an alien sky, none of the familiar constellations were there to greet me. I sighed.
"It's a beautiful night for such a heavy mood," said a musical voice from behind me.
I turned to a smiling Morgellyn, "A copper for your thoughts?" she asked.
Smiling I said, "I just had a long talk with the Avatar of Deneir, and he made me realize something."
"And what have you realized?" she asked.
I smirked, "That he has a way of revealing things right in front of you that you just can't see."
Morgellyn laughed. "What would you expect from the god responsible for the passing of information?"
I chuckled, "yeah that's what was I thinking."
"So what was this realization that Deneir pointed out to you?" she asked.
"He pointed out to me that by being here, on this world, I have truly escaped the Game," I replied.
Joe Dawson put down the copy of the document he held in front of him,
sat back on his barstool and rubbed his eyes. It felt like a headache was coming on.
Looking down at the document staring up at him, he thought that it wasn't helping matters any. The old Watcher was reading a copy of a close out report on the meeting between two immortals, Kendall Sackett and Tom Kimmons (street name: Kong).
The Watchers had been around for thousands of years; they observed,
recorded but did not interfere in the lives of Immortals. Since they had been watching for so long, they were quite familiar with what was supposed too happen when two Immortals met in a Challenge. They would fight, usually with swords,
until the victor cut off the head of the loser, and the quickening was transferred in a lightening show.
What was not supposed to happen was the victor vanishing right in the middle of said lightening show never to reappear.
Joe sighed once again, and rubbed his temples, his head was starting to pound. He sighed, it would be opening time in a couple of hours, so he should put this stuff away and set about preparing for the evening. Operating a blues bar in Paris, brought in an eclectic clientele. Tourists, native Parisians,
even the occasional Immortal and/or watcher frequented the place.
Joe turned as he heard the front door of his establishment open. He was about to call out that the bar was closed, when he recognized a familiar figure entering, Adam Pierson. Adam was a friend of Joe's, a grad student at a local Paris University, a fellow Watcher, and also went by the name Methos, the oldest Immortal to walk the earth.
"Hi Joe," he said, "I sure hope the beer taps are working."
Joe grunted and got down off the barstool, settling onto his artificial legs. He filled a glass for Methos, and passed it over to him.
"Why the long face, Joe?" asked Methos. "The Paris blues scene not all it's cracked up to be?"
"The bar is doing fine," said Joe, "its Watcher business that's giving me the headache."
"What's wrong now?" asked Methos. "Is it another territorial squabble between the North American Watchers and the European Watchers? Someone's nose out of joint over some misplaced office supplies?"
Joe simply handed the report to Methos.
"This is a close out report," Methos remarked. "Pretty standard stuff isn't it?"
"It is until you read the end of it," said Joe.
Methos flipped to the end of the report and read summary of the Challenge. A strange expression crossed his face.
"Sackett just disappeared?" he asked.
"That's right," Joe said. "The watcher who wrote the report, one I trained myself, directly observed the entire incident. So Sackett didn't just take off out the back door while the watcher's back was turned. And he hasn't turned up anywhere else either. We have been looking for him everywhere."
"Why all this excitement over an isolated incident?" asked Methos.
"Because it is not isolated, that's why," said Joe. Joe reached under the bar and pulled out a stack of reports and dropped them in front of Methos.
"The first of these incidents occurred a year or two ago," said Joe.
"Since then we though it was just an isolated incident, a curiosity. But in the last few weeks, there have been 35 of these incidents, the first of which was Kendall Sackett. The last was a week ago."
Methos paused for a second, considering, then he looked at Joe, "Do you know what this means?"
Joe looked back at Methos, "No….."
"Neither do I, Joe," said Methos, "neither do I."