Prologue By Don Fuller
Kalikth Selkthor of the T’Klith tribe was on demon watch. It had been months since there had been any type of coordinated invasion and he found himself drifting slightly in the dim night. Scouts such as he were spaced out all along the border area of the camp, and he could just make out the familiar sound of the waves hitting the breakers in the distance. Something caught his eye, and he scanned the sky. Fire demon? He wondered briefly. No, too high. Something else. Something bright falling from the sky. He whistled into the night with a series of alert signals. He kept his eyes trained on the light though, not quite able to make out details. It was coming in from over the water, and definitely coming down. He thought he knew what it was though. He had seen one fall when he was a youngling and he had heard many other stories. It was ship. A ship of the sky people, and it was going to fall into his swamp. The light twinkled out but his keen eyes were able to track the tiny dark shape. He hoped that the raiders hadn’t seen it. It might just trigger an invasion. He whistled again, giving an update. The reply came back that the war chief was coming quickly. He watched, and waited.
Chapter 17: The Beach By Scott Montgomery
The dust settled around the ship as it came to a grinding stop along the beach. Debris thrown through the air fell from the sky and landed all around the crash site. Sailors tossed over the railing and jostled about the deck sprawled in various directions wounded by snapping masts, flying crates, and whipping sails. A drowning silence drifted in from the water’s edge off of the ocean. Cries of pain slowly began to settle among the crash as Kaycian stirred to his feet holding his head. The ground stopped spinning and adrenaline started to kick in. Clutching the railing he stood to his knee and looked among the poop deck. The helms wheel was no longer attached and was missing. Ohtar was not on the poop to be found. To his right Slade and Colwyn were still reeling in pain. To his left, Tolani and her entourage were beginning to stand. Drawing on his remaining energy he pulled himself up. Larys and Derth made their way to the maindeck and began casting spells of illumination. Seeing the wounded in the glow of the light, Larys started mending those she could get to. Overhead a falcon circled the downed Wind Sprite looking for a spot to land. Seeing the open poop deck, Kethia swooped down and morphed back into her natural form canceling her falcon spell. Moving with a purpose she hopped down onto the deck and began to assist Larys. Skragg came to a rest near the treeline as his floatbelt kept him drifting from the crash site. Deactivating the belt he dropped to the sandy beach below with a grunt. Searching the swampy trees near him for any hostile activity he snorted defiance and turned back to the ship. Gathering the most able crew who were milling about, Skragg began to organize a perimeter defense. Moving debris and supplies from the ship he began forming the barricade. From the prow barrels and crates stood waist high forming an arc pointing to the aft of the ship extending thirty feet at its apex towards the treeline. This hasty fortification provided partial cover for the sailors to hunker down behind. Silken sails draped from the railing of the vessel covering the partial barricade from rain. The leanto did not afford much protection from anything else, but provided shade and a false security of cover. After the barrels and boxes were in place, Skragg began to issue bows, crossbows, arbalests and ammo. Distributing of the arms was rather quick as men did not hesitate to ready themselves for whatever fate had to offer this coming evening. Many wished dawn would hurry. Derth began walking the perimeter incanting and scribing magical runes in the air. From the pale light fringe mystical symbols shimmered in a bluish arclight. Spaced bout ten feet apart and ten feet out from the barricade were six such runes. Once completed Derth walked back into the perimeter and informed the crew not to leave the perimeter or they would suffer the effects of the magic and the wards would not work against any potential threat. Any crewman who was crazy enough to step away from the safety of the stranded party did not make any motion to cross the beachhead. Confident that no sailor would breach the runefence he began to enter the ship. Along the main railing Tolani began setting up her elven entourage in intervals to best cover arcs of fire. Dispersed with the elves were the best capable sailors who could use a bow. Ten crew in total lined the railing and hunkered down for a long night with two quivers of ammunition each. The young elven female captain urged each archer, elven and crewman of the wind sprite, to only fire if they were sure of a target. Every bit of ammunition was precious and needed to be used sparingly.
Among the crew on the ground Kaycian was overlooking the perimeter and tending to fortified positions. Kethia was an arms reach away binding her last wound. Ohtar tied down the last rigging for the leanto sails when he stopped and faced the woods. His elven bloodline provided his keen senses an audible hearing far above those sailors around him. Focusing for a moment he began to hear the trees crushing and branches snapping. Many sounds of snarls and growls grew louder as trees continued to fall. “They approach captain. From the northwest. I cannot tell their number, but it is many.” He whispered in sylvan, so as not to alert the crew. “Kethia, can you detect them?” Answering in elfkind, Kaycian began to look around for Derth and Tolani. “Baldrick, prepare defenses!” Kethia concentrated with her arms out steady in front of her. With her eyes closed she began murmuring while her hands flowed side to side in a slight wave of the wind. Her nose wrinkled slightly and her face expressed disgust. “Captain, there are two dozen, varies in strength. They are being led by a stronger one. They will be here in a few minutes.” Kethia opened her eyes and evaluated her position in the barricade. She began to focus her power into being.
A sailor Kethia had just tended to began to squirm uncomfortably. Kaycian leaned in and touched the sailor on the arm, “It’s going to be okay sailor. We are prepared for them, you will live through the night. Fight for you home, as the Wind Sprite will take you back to the sky. Fight for me, as I am going to be fighting here next to you.” Stepping up he turned towards the crew speaking louder. Every sailor stopped what they were doing and listened intently. “Men! The time has come! In moments we will face your fears. Whether you live or die depends on each of you!” He paused for a second to ensure he had the right thoughts to convey the situation but not to provide false hope. The men held their resolve waiting for the captain to finish. “Our situation is not as perilous as you may think. I need every man to fight! Your officers will be fighting besides you, let no brethren among us fall. Watch each other and repel our borders!” With a resounding “houssah !” the men armed themselves ready.
Skragg caught the attention of Larys and asked the healer to place summoned light among the beach so the attackers could be seen. In sections along the beach illumination circles sparked to life bringing the nighttime into artificial daylight. As the last circle completed the treeline broke splintering branches and debris along the beach. Emerging from the woods twisted black bodies cloaked in horror and fear sought their prey. Seven of the hideous foul beasts molten from deformed men formed the front rank. Without any command archers along the main rail and from behind the barricade below sprang to life. Closing the hundred foot distance arrows screamed towards the front rank impacting with their intended targets. Two of the demons fell as the ranks poured forth revealing more demons behind the first rank. As the third rank continued out the demons looked slightly larger and more twisted. Another round of bowfire erupted from the crewmen. Two more demons fell under suppression of mass arrows. Howling in a demonic answer the remaining first rank closed the distance in blinding speed. Emerging behind the third rank a silver skinned demon slowly walked from the treeline flanked by four of the bigger demons.
As the first rank closed Derth released a spell he was holding. Behind the first rank a shower of black twisted demonic mass expanded outwards from the center of the naether ball placed in their midst. The demons approaching the barricades immediately stopped and scowled as the mystic rune wards sparked electricity down the bodies of the mindless demons. Stunned in place more archer fire pierced the demons as electricity washed over them. Kethia stopped her prayer and opened her eyes with ferocity. Commanding the final word and pointing from sky to the ground the area surrounding her in every direction up to thirty five feet illuminated in holy blue tinted light. Caught among the area of effect demons screamed and scowled in pain. Two demons were knocked off of their feet with holy power and flew back twenty feet stunned. Other demons caught in the circle blistered black oozing goo and were unable to move. More archer fire erupted and caught the demons in the chest, head, and arms causing a few more to fall where they stand. The first rank of demons charging the ship did not make it past the barricade. The sailors who prepared for the onslaught continued to hold their position and waited in fear and awe. Around them demons were dieing and not one sailor was being confronted. Archers continued to pour fire into the demon ranks while they were held stunned by Derth’s rune ward fence and Kethia’s encompassing column of light. Focusing his power in a concentrated effort Derth pointed to the silver demon commanding the minions before him. With a command word the blackest murkiest mist tinted in crimson flowed along the wind swirling around the demon. Seconds later the black mass goo beneath the skin of the leader began to ooze from every open pore. As the demon had lost this battle with his minions it started to retreat into the woods. It continued to bleed uncontrollably for a hundred feet then ended its life in the debts of the woods out of sight.
With the demons repelled the crew cried a victorious shout. A quick detail was issued to ensure the demons were dead and moved back from the barricade. Men began utilizing ropes from the rigging and staves made from the treeline branches to heave bodies of the dead demons off the battlefield. When the task was done and the sailors tucked behind their barricade again Derth stepped out to the ring and placed new wards. Settling in for another strike the crew waited patiently in anticipation. Kaycian ordered Morwen to start passing out ale and grog to the men for their victory under conditions they kept watch and did not become a liability. Under their watchful fearful eyes the night passed in silence.
At daybreak along the beach to the west behind the ship approached twelve creatures. Stopping two hundred feet down the beach the creatures did not appear to be a threat. Upon closure inspection through his spyglass Kaycian could tell they were intelligent as they carried weaponry and clothes. Ordering his archers to cover the railing and Baldrick to keep the men alert for an all sides attack, Kaycian formed a small party to meet the new threat. Approaching the creatures at a similar distance and maintaining his archer cover Kaycian and his team stopped one hundred feet away. The creatures looked scalish with long tails and no visible hair. Four of them were larger than the other eight escorting one of the smaller creatures wearing a cape. The leader stepped forward from his entourage and hissed something in unfamiliar clicks and tones expecting a reply. Looking around curiously Derth attempted to respond with his arcane knowledge. The lizardman looked puzzled and clicked then hissed again. Derth tried another language with no success. Kaycian interrupted Derth with his knowledge of Antherian dialects. The lizardman stood with a changed expression and squinted at Kaycian. Changing to a similar speech he made out a greeting. Kaycian smirked slightly and offered his name and birthrite city. Both parties exchanged common information for why they were standing on this particular bit of soiled beach. The lizardmen were interested in the livelihood of the mages who defeated the demons in the previous nights assault and offered hospitality to the crew for the duration of their needed repairs. It seemed the ship had landed at the border of their controlled territory. They offered to bring the ship to their village in exchanged for information about the world above, and they promise protection. Turning to Derth, Kaycian asked if there was some magical way to determine the truth to a species words. Derth looked perplexed and began to cast a spell placing a truth ward around the group. Acknowledging the captain he explained that anything spoken in this warded circle would be truthful by the party speaking it. Kaycian turned back to the lizardman leader and asked for the details of his offer again. Both parties offered their bargains and it was agreed the lizardmen would assist to move the Wind Sprite back to the village and begin repairs.
One of the four larger lizardmen pulled a horn from his belt and bellowed. A minute later, two hundred lizardmen emerged out of the trees and quickly began to lay down logs and ropes to begin moving the Wind Sprite along the beach. Kaycian returned to the ship with his team and began to make preparations for moving to his new ally in this harsh wilderness.
Chapter 18: The River By Don Fuller
The grey sky weighed on the spirit as much as the thick air weighed on the skin. Baldrick breathed another heavy breath, still trying to acclimate to the new air pressure. He looked out over the early-morning slith village from the poop deck, still in a state of disbelief. He was on the ground. Terra Firma. And wonder of wonders, he was alive. It had already been over twenty-four hours since they had crashed and then been attacked by the seething mass, and the truth of it was his dreams had been terrible all night. He knew that there were more of those things out there, and that it was just a matter of time before they had to fight again, and he wondered if any of crew would ever truly be all-right even if they survived. He spied Kaycian and several others walking through the village with the chieftain, shaman and elders, but opted to keep to himself for a while longer.
Nob stepped out of the make-shift tent and surveyed his surroundings. They had arrived at the camp after dark and completely exhausted after hiking a good fifteen miles down the beach yesterday. His legs, though muscular, both complained. He didn’t even want to think of his feet and the blisters there. Long distance walking was not something he did much; unless you lived in cities such as Eidolon, most places were close at hand. The village was teeming with activity, and he stretched as he took it all in. He’d gathered that over five-hundred slith lived here, and it looked it. Hundreds of small domed huts, most little more than ten-feet in diameter stretched about in all directions, and he noticed that they were placed into connecting circular patterns of eleven. Other sailors were coming out of the tent, and from the haunted looks on their faces he could tell that they felt the same way that he did. We’re all in shock, he thought to himself. He saw that Ox had drafted some helpers and they were forming a chow line. His stomach rumbled and he headed over there.
Squee followed a few paces behind Kaycian and several other senior officers as they meandered through the village chatting briskly with the leaders, and he didn’t think any of them had really noticed him as usual. He listened attentively to what they were saying, all the while soaking up the strange sights and smells of this place. The slith were busily preparing their breakfasts, and he took special notice of their diet, just to make sure that goblin wasn’t part of it. Most of the food was unfamiliar; they were cooking a type of mashed tuber on hot stones, eating fresh colorful fruits garnished with herbs, and some were even roasting a meat that had a wild, gamey smell that made his mouth water. He heard the morning bell over by the ship announcing that the crew’s food was ready. He figured that he had heard enough for now; from the pointed questions the Captain and Derth kept asking he was already convinced that they were going to be leaving soon, and not on the ship. Shrugging, he slipped away, darting between two of the huts and narrowly avoided getting stepped on by one of the towering shurg hunters. The oaf didn’t even pause as Squee leapt to the side, bumping into a slith child who was standing in his way. The slithling squealed in surprise and then hissed at him, scarcely a foot taller than the goblin. Before he could react, its mother stepped in and glowered at him threateningly. “ ‘scuse me” he creaked, “just passin’ through”. She didn’t reply as he scooted out of reach and then jogged back to the ship. Grumbling to himself, he wondered if anyone else had noticed the ground. It was springy and damp, and was enough to distract him for the moment anyway. They were standing on actual ground, not floating in a ship or a city. It felt different. There was absolutely no movement. He spotted an unattended fire, and as he passed he swiped one of the roasting meat-sticks, then came up near the row of tents that the crew had hastily put up the night before. He bit into the steaming meat, and almost giggled at how good it tasted. He quickly wolfed it down, and then tossed the stick into the trees and headed to the chow line. Most of the crew had already been served, and they were sitting around the tents and on logs eating. He couldn’t wait to see their reactions when they got the news of what the officers had in mind.
Garion circled the Wind Sprite for the tenth time, making notes and sketches in a ledger, and then paused to remove his spectacles and wipe his brow. It was hot down here, far warmer than it ever got in the sky and he was perspiring miserably. Even though he was tall, some might say lanky, it didn’t seem to help. Surely the bigger crewmen had to be suffering more. He scowled and looked up at Corian and Tora who were supposed to be marking off the ship with string but instead were flirting with each other. Both of them were young; Hell, almost everyone on the crew was young. At twenty-eight, he felt like a senior in this bunch, save of course for the elves, and maybe the obsidiman. No one had any idea how old Derth was, but from conversation somehow the rock-man had memories of times long past and he found that to be bothersome. He had the information that he needed for now; it would take him a day or so to finish drawing out the plans, but he was convinced that he could craft a new ship from the damaged Wind Sprite. The captain and several others had been cooped up for the last four hours in the council hall, and Morwen was overseeing a complete inventory of what survived the crash, while Baldrick was getting the tents fixed up properly now that they had daylight, or graylight. He chuckled at his cleverness.
It was after noon by the time the officers returned to the base camp, and Morwen was first to intercept the captain. “We’ve got a saboteur” he said, getting all the attention that he needed with that line. Morwen quietly showed the officers to the two skiffs that had been in the hold, pointing out where the spell crystals had been cracked. Derth examined them closely, confirming that the spell matrices were destroyed and the skiffs had been rendered useless. The third remaining skiff that had been fastened to the starboard prow came lose on their original impact, and the crystal shattered when the skiff tumbled down the beach. That left them without any means of flying transportation. With this new information, Kaycian organized a one-on-one interrogation with the entire crew under the guise of a payout. Morwen finished tallying the crew’s shares, and after everyone had finished having lunch Kaycian met with the officers again, and then it was time. He gave the crew an uplifting speech regarding their situation and informed them what the plan was. He would be taking several other officers and traveling north to Arelios to try and recover some missing spell books that were needed to save their cities. Baldrick would remain in charge, overseeing the reconstruction of the Wind Sprite, and as soon as Kaycian returned, they would all go home. There were many questions from the crew, and all were answered in turn, after which the booty and pay was distributed. As each crewman got his share, he was then directed into one of the tents where Derth had his truth spell ready. The crewmen were then quizzed on what they knew of the skiffs, their general opinion and outlook on the situation, and where their loyalties lay. It took several hours, and when they were finished the officers concluded that the sabotage was likely done by Cyr, one of the three recruits taken from the red; he unfortunately went overboard during the assault on the two towers. Beyond that, the crew was shaken, but feeling a bit better with so much wealth in their hands, and they were ready to rebuild the ship and go home.
Later that evening word had passed around the crew that the slith were holding a banquet in their honor. Everyone had gotten as cleaned up as possible, some even bathing in the nearby stream, which really helped to wash their troubles away. Rodan, feeling much better aside from an ache in his knee, spotted Larys walking towards the feast hall with the rest of the crew. He looked around for Aardalea, and saw her walking with the boy Varlad and talking quietly. “May I join you?” he said to her with a smile. “Of course. I see you took advantage of a bath. “Yes, quite refreshing. Looks like Arda has found a friend.” “Yes.. I think so. I think they’ve found a connection in their mutual losses.” “Mmmm.. I heard that the boy was a squire to a paladin of Gwynne and his master was killed. It’s quite the story. I’d say nearly unbelievable if I hadn’t lived through this last week”. She nodded somberly. “You know that I’m going with the captain to Arelios.” “I suspected as much. Which is why I plan on going too.” She arched an eyebrow. “If he’ll have me of course. There are some others who have been talking about volunteering.” “Need I say that it’s going to be dangerous; and like as not, we’ll never return. And I don’t say that to be dramatic.” He shrugged. “Somehow, I think otherwise. It’s a feeling like a pendulum has been set into motion. I aim to see where it stops. But tonight is our one chance to relax, perhaps for a long while.” They waited as the crowd shuffled into the feast hall. It was an impressive structure compared to the smaller wood and mud thatch huts. Huge trees had been cut and fashioned into a long arched building seventy-five feet long, forty wide at the center, and thirty tall at the top of the arch. As big as it was, it was completely packed, and the damp smell of the slith permeated everything. Long tables were set into rows, and there was enough space reserved down the center for the entire crew to sit down on the hard three-legged chairs, though the whole time it felt like the slith were pressing in from all sides to get a good look at the strangers. The chieftain gave a welcome speech, the shaman gave a blessing and something akin to a sermon, and then Kaycian was directed up to the dais to give his own speech. At last, food was served in huge portions, along with an intoxicating berry-wine that the slith called ‘crackow’. Rodan tried several pints of it and deemed it thoroughly refreshing. For once in what had seemed a lifetime, the tired crew embraced the moment and enjoyed themselves. Many of them had brought their instruments, and Orion led them in dozens of lively songs as they drank and danced into the night.
T’klek rubbed his throbbing temples and took another long sip of the manga juice. It had been a long evening, filled with song and drink, and he realized now that he had partaken of too much crackow. He looked at the other members of his tribal council and saw that they too felt the effects of last nights feast, except for R’slok, his shaman, of course. R’slok had sworn off the crackow from the day that he had apprenticed to his former master Irsalth. T’klek had been chieftain of the Shula for eight cycles now, the first chieftain of the scarthen world having fallen to the demons in the third year of light; he knew that he had the respect of the others, for though their tribe was small, they had counted much coup against the demons and proved themselves to be mighty in battle against the border attackers. Urkalt, his war leader waited patiently, but the three elders Okal, Mekal and Voru were scratching their chests impatiently. R’slok’s apprentices, Skithra and Karaka sat in silence. The other four house leaders all looked bleary eyed. He felt their pain. It was time to make a decision. “As we agreed in council, we have sought out the fallen sheol. We have carried their ship into our village, offered them succor and drank crackow with them. They have acted honorably, and answered many questions that we have had about the sheol. We have much more to learn, but their presence here may cause… ripples in our standing. Furthermore, their leader, Kaycian Tellivani of Sellaine, has beseeched us for aid.” He watched the faces of the other five. They all knew these details, but now was the time of to decide which branch of the river to take. Urkalt scratched his head and they listened. “As your Chukra, it is my duty to protect our people and to guide us in battle. These sheol have many weapons, some finer than we have made. We can deal with our brothers at the grand council; if however we can improve our skill at crafting these weapons, or if we can barter for some in exchange for more succor, I so state that we should do so.” The other elders nodded in agreement at Urkalt’s words, a very good sign. R’slok scratched his head and stood. “As your shaman, it is my duty to protect the spirit of our people, to guide us in the ways of Sulaka the earth mother. These sheol have unfamiliar magicks. The rock-brother is powerful in the essence, and the two priestesses are in favor with the Eagle and the Centaur. We would do well to learn from them. In exchange for succor, Skithra must be allowed to apprentice to the rock-brother and learn his magicks. This will benefit both the Shula and the Slith. Thus I state.” This statement got everyone’s attention, and T’klek had to raise his feather-rod to quiet the room. They had much more to discuss, but it was clear that they would be aiding the sheol, and if Sulaka smiled their tribe would grow in standing.
It was the morning of the fourth day with the slith, and everyone was a bit anxious. Baldrick was doing what he did best, barking orders at the crew. They had spent enough time recovering, and now it was time to work, though yesterday had been busy enough. He was now officially in charge of the camp, and he’d be lying if he didn’t have some trepidation about the situation. Seven more of the crew had volunteered to go with the away team, plus a slith shaman, making the total leaving at twenty-two. That left twenty-two behind to rebuild the ship, which is all Garion said that he needed. Baldrick would have figured more the merrier, but there was a limit on skills and tools, and Garion seemed to know what he was doing. He had nearly volunteered to go himself, leaving Morwen in charge, but Kaycian wanted him here to run things. So be it. I’ll get this ship off the ground, captain, you can count on it. They had discussed supplies at great length, and there shouldn’t be any shortages. He’d been authorized to bargain with the slith as much as needed, but Kaycian was specific on what they could trade with. If they couldn’t find any metal, they’d be melting down weapons to make nails, but there should be enough of those to spare. Garion had been the busy one too; he had fashioned a pair of xenium belts for Derth and Skragg, though Lord Vok’koroth refused one. They’d also put together a xenium platform and carefully loaded it with food and supplies. And now, they were off. The caravan would be hiking for the first few hours, and then they’d be traveling by boat north. Barring any major obstacles, they’d be back within ninety days, though they had arranged for a set of contingency plans that only Baldrick was privy too. They didn’t want to get the remaining crew worked up for now. He walked down the line of the departing, shaking hands and slapping backs, while a small crowd of sailors and slith gathered round to wish them off. He walked up to Kaycian last and shook his hand. “Good luck captain. May the Passions keep you safe and carry you back swiftly.” Kaycian squeezed his hand. “It’s in your hands Baldrick. I’m trusting you to get this rig sky worthy. It has been an honor working with you.” “You too Cap’n, you too.”
Squee sat atop their floating supply platform and watched the swamp. Once they had left the village amidst some mild fanfare, it was obvious that it would be a long, hard journey. He gnawed on a meat-stick and watched the others hiking in front of him. The troll had taken first turn at pulling the supplies, and made a point of glowering at him from time to time. He shrugged, and ducked another branch, sure that Skragg was pulling him through every overhanging tree and vine that he could.
Skithra led the troop down the barest trace of a path through the swamp. She explained as they went that no matter how often they used the path, it just kept growing back over; plus the ground was too soft and wet to ever pack down. To be honest, she was still a bit stunned by R’slok’s decision to send her. No slith had traveled more than a handful of miles beyond their swamplands, and she was to travel not just a few, but eight-hundred or so miles north. She’d been given careful instructions, and a stack of parchment to record every step of their journey. And of course, she was to learn as much as she could from the sheol magician. Glancing back, she could tell that many of them were still struggling some with the heat and the air, but they were doing well. As they walked, she answered Derth’s endless stream of questions about flora and fauna, and she interjected with her own whenever she could. They made good time overall, and in just over two hours they reached the river camp. Their village was built near enough water sources to sustain it, but they had learned early on to not build much near the river, because in the height of the rainy season it always overflowed its banks and mired the swampland ever more than it was. They maintained a few small huts near the water, along with their supply of river skiffs. Their village owned ten such skiffs, and the troop she was guiding would require three of them. The guards had already been notified by advance scouts that they were coming, and it took far less time then she had counted for to get the three skiffs into the water and loaded. Most of the group was seasoned sailors, but they were still largely unfamiliar with intricacies of boats and water. Once everyone was stowed, the slith at the camp went over the rigging briefly. They opted to keep the supplies on their floating platform, which was still a wonder to her; then the one they called Windmistress summoned her magic, and the sails filled full. Soon the three skiffs were slicing through the water against the gentle current, traveling due north.
Slade sat in the aft of the third skiff near Ohtar, who was piloting. A steady magical breeze had been driving them north against the current for the last three hours, and between the unbearable heat, air pressure, and the eerie quiet of the swamp he felt himself drifting into a waking slumber. They’d already been groundside for four days, and he still couldn’t believe that they were planning on being here for a month or more. This place isn’t right, he thought to himself. The demons had been here too long, and he doubted that their mark could ever be cleansed. The voices where quiet for now, not like when the demons attacked. He could hear them then, their thoughts were mixed and chaotic and somehow they carried to him. Murder, Death, Kill. Rend the flesh, eat the flesh. There was no plan, no order. Just an uncontrollable desire to destroy life for the pleasure of it, or perhaps for the need of it. He’d heard everyone grumbling about the air, or the heat, or the myriad other discomforts of being in an unfamiliar place. No one spoke of the taint. He could smell it though. Even here, it was a subtle tang drifting on the wind, permeating everything ever so slightly. And if he could smell it here… what of when they came closer to the demon lands? The skiff bumped over something in the water, and the girl Arda yanked her hand back in the boat. He was watching her while she’d been curiously touching its murky surface, unaware of the black shape that darted by. Everyone looked alert, clutching their bows which were all a moments notice from firing. They hid their fear behind brave faces, but he knew that they all felt it. Death was close at hand in this place. Nothing erupted from the water though. He wondered if the shape had been a large fish. Not a demon though; he would know. The winding swamp river slowly passed them by, and the endless line of trees and vines and muddy banks blurred together. Sometime later, he’d guess around noon, but with the sky a gray haze it was hard to tell time, there was a commotion up ahead. Numerous bird-like wails echoed back and forth across the water, and in the lead skiff the slith shaman stood up holding a totem stick above her head. The calls continued, and then dozens of slith warriors appeared on either sides of the bank holding their spears and slings and shouting in their guttural hissing tongue. She cawed back at them repeatedly, waving that stick of hers. The shouting match went on for several minutes, but the boats never slowed. He felt their eyes glaring at him from the banks, at all of them, and he could only guess at the exchange that the tribe had wanted them to stop. Cats out of the bag, Shula’s got visitors folks. Genuine Sheol. Sky people, that is. He chuckled to himself and then caught Ohtar’s inquisitive gaze. He shrugged. Everyone was watching him, and in truth he knew that it wasn’t paranoia. He was touched. But they had no idea what that entailed… and then… neither did he.
Unlike the sky, where dusk could last for hours in a beautiful display of colors and hues, the scarthen world had gray and night, and the blending between them seemed a sudden thing. Lianna had ridden in the prow of the third boat, and after ten hours her nerves were a tangled mess. She ached to get out and stretch her legs and comb her fur, and to eat something cooked over a fire. They kept the boats close to each, but even with her keen vision it was getting hard to see anything. After some low discussion between the two lead boats, Kaycian called back to them. “Skithra says that we just cleared the swamp. We’re pulling up on the port side, nice and easy.” Lianna turned back to the others in the boat and could make out the relief in their faces. Several minutes later they managed to beach the boats without incident, and she nimbly leaped to the shore and began to scout closely around, her sais drawn. The others pulled the boats halfway onto the land and tethered them securely, then Skragg came over to join her. “Smell anything Li?” he grumbled. Of course she did. This place was full of strange smells. But she didn’t pick anything predatorial up, which was what he meant. She gave a low growl and shook her head. “Werr alone.. forrr now”. He nodded. “Keep yer eyes open while we make camp.” She nodded and crouched, her eyes staring down the line of trees, daring something to come for her.
Twenty minutes later they had three small fires burning and food cooking. The slith had shown several of them how to assemble their portable yurts that they used for shelter, but there were still some sharp words exchanged before the crew got them put up correctly. She patrolled the perimeter until the elves spelled her, and then went to her group fire to get some food. She wondered if she had been assigned to the moody bunch because she didn’t often have much to say. Slade had been reclusive since whatever happened to him, and Ohtar and Vok’koroth were the only ones really talking with any volume. Larys and the girl were sitting alone while the monk worked the fire and dished himself some food. She finally finished stretching the kinks out of her legs and began brushing her fur when Rodan eased over and sat down by her. She smiled at him, which she knew always came across threatening to humans. He smiled back though. “We haven’t really spoken yet” he said. “I’m Rodan.” She purred slightly. “Lianna”. “I saw you move when we fought back at Nomikos. You’ve had some formal training, but your style is unique.” “I studied at the Molai temple for a while” she replied carefully. “Really?” he said, clearly surprised. “Then I’m honored to share your company. The Molai monks are quite renowned, and their temple is difficult to join. But you said… for a while?” She made a light growling noise of embarrassment. “I was there six months… but they… released me. My master said I lacked the discipline needed. And… there was an accident.” She said, showing him her claws. “I’m sorry. I’m sure that they were wrong.” “It is the passst”. “We may be traveling for some time together. If you would like, perhaps we could practice, maybe show each other a few things.” “Yes… I would like that.” “Great. All day in that cramped boat is rough on the bones.” She nodded. “Perhaps in the morning then.”
The camp had quieted down, not that it had ever been loud. The fires were burning low, and Tolani figured it was nearing ten. Derth and the shaman had been talking for hours discussing something called ‘elemental theory’ and Kaycian was over talking to the felf. She sighed, and stared off into the night. What have I gotten myself into? She could ill-afford to be stranded down here for months. She needed to get back to the Naval HQ and report everything that had happened, including how she had lost her ship while docked at Nomikos. She scowled at that, still so angry. Ten good elves had died under her command, and their families deserved to know. She wondered if her career would even recover from this. She looked over at Kaycian in the flickering light. He was a puzzle, someone from her childhood. He reminded her of good times. “He is interesting, no?” The woman startled her. Tolani looked back at Myste who had seemed to appear next to her, and then sat down by her. “Yes, he is” she said guardedly. “What do you know of him? And how did you two meet?” Myste smiled, her face seeming to glow in the firelight. Her skin was so perfect; Tolani would swear the woman had elf blood in her, but none of the features. She had high cheekbones and long, thick dark hair pulled back. And plump rounded lips of course. “Do not worry; I have no claims on him. He freed me from the ones who did this to us, and I owe him my life.” Tolani looked a bit skeptical. “Freed you, did he. He’s quite the hero from what I hear, if I can believe half the stories the crew tells.” “Oh, I am certain they are true. You like him, yes?” “I can’t say that I’m comfortable discussing that”. “Of course. I understand. Elves keep their feelings close” “You presume to know things of my people?” “I know many things.” “Ha. I suppose you’re a seeress too.” She wasn’t sure why she had said that. “I do see things. The swirling patterns of Ka are all about us, Some things are visible.” “Ka. That’s an eastern term isn’t’ it? Fate or something?” “Ka is fate, and destiny, and purpose. It is the universal force that pulls us in the right direction.” “Really. How interesting. I believe we make our own fate, and the Passions meddle when they choose.” “As you wish. Ka acts as it will regardless of our beliefs.” “That’s nice. And what does Ka have in store for us?” Myste looked thoughtful, and then closed her eyes. Who is this strange woman? Myste opened them, and her pupils looked dilated so that they appeared to be large dark pools, somewhat blank. A light breeze blew threw the camp, making the fire flicker and casting shadows all about. In a monotone voice, Myste spoke. “One will bring freedom and lose their own. One will wash the sky but darken their soul. One will die for love unrequited. One will lead us into shadow. One will triumph over a great evil. And one will betray us in our hour of need.” Tolani shivered. “And what of me, seeress?” There was a pause, and Myste answered her. Tolani kept those words to herself, and walked away from the woman who was clearly disturbed.
“Incoming” Vok’koroth yelled. Kaycian had already seen it and was drawing his bow, the words of warning lost on his lips. The black shape in the sky quite nearly went unnoticed but he just happened to be glancing up at the time. Colwyn drew his bow as the nuld yelled for the others to run for the trees. He saw the elves scatter apart, bows ready. Tolani moved over near Kaycian, following his gaze, and Derth was scanning the sky, a black misty barrier forming around him and the shaman. Varlad stood ready beside him. He bit back the urge to tell the boy to take cover, but knew how much that would betray him. Boy he might be, but he was wearing a man’s shoes now. “Do you see it?” Varlad asked. Colwyn was staring intently and then got a fix on the gliding black shape, recognizing the tail and wings just as Vok’koroth yelled out “It’s a drake!”. The creature swung wide and circled them, probably deciding if they were worth the trouble of an evening meal. “Will it attack, do ya think?” Colwyn nodded. “I think so, lad. I hear drakes are not the brightest creatures for their size. Here is comes.” Sure enough, it wasted no time in lining up. He glanced around briefly and saw that it would be coming down at an angle to catch them in as close to a line as possible. Maybe they are a little brighter than credited. “Here it comes. Ready men. Fire at will.” Kaycian said. Colwyn knew his limits and didn’t want to waste his shot. He heard Kaycian’s bow fire and a second later Tolani’s. It was so hard to make out details in the light. Above them a death shriek echoed across the plains as the black shadow took definition faster than he would have thought it could safely dive. Then he realized it was falling, not flying. “Scatter men!” Vok’koroth yelled.
“Run” he said as he and Varlad sprinted to the side, where seconds later the creature smashed into the ground with a horrible cracking impact, and then it was flipping and thudding through their camp before crashing to a tangled halt. “Check the sky” Kaycian yelled, as they all re-readied, scanning for another one. A long tense minute passed. “We’re clear” Vok’koroth announced. “Huzzah!!!” Colwyn yelled. And then all the others cheered. “That was a fine shot, Captain” he heard Tolani say. “Thank you men, Thank you. Now, let’s take a look at this thing. Derth, if you would?” Ten minutes later, after extensive poking and prodding, Derth pronounced the beast untainted and edible, and those who had any idea on how to carve something so big began their work. Two hours later after draining the beastie, and cutting out as much meat as they could use, everyone pitched in to drag the thing into the water and let the stream dispose of it. He made a note to himself to check for it in the morning, and when he did get around to it, the body was gone.
Zul woke with a start, sweating, the night’s dream still lingering in his mind. In it he was standing alone on the plains beneath the hazy sky. In the distance a group of riders were approaching fast, but he could not make out any details. As they grew closer, they began to gallop faster and faster until they were racing past him. He felt the wind and dust blow about him, and he turned to see where they were headed and only then realized that an entire army was arrayed behind him, filled with Demon’s, Ulpir, Dogmen and worse. The horsemen clashed into the line of monstrosities, and then vanished as if they were swallowed whole. He rose from his cot and went to the sink, splashing water on his face from the ceramic basin and looked in the mirror. Age lines had steadily advanced across his brow, and between the constant outdoor exposure and steady supply of violence, he could see that he looked older than the twenty-five that he was. He tied his shoulder length dark hair back and got dressed quickly, strapping his sword and pistol on last after checked them both over carefully to see that they were well oiled. He then pushed back the tent flap and headed outside through the camp. Like most of the Jani camps, there was always a feeling of impermanence. There was little wood to be had out on the plains for extensive building, and nearly all of the camp was comprised of varying sized brown and khaki tents. They had a wooden palisade of course, but even that was designed for mobility. The entire camp could be broken down in about six hours, which was still longer than many of their generals desired, but a certain practicality had to be maintained. Riders were gearing up for the daily patrols, and a group of workers were busily unloading a supply caravan that had arrived this morning. This was a border camp, and aside from hunting parties, all of the camp’s supplies had to be shipped in from the permanent towns far deeper in clan territory. The reality was that they could be attacked at any time by demon or ulpir forces, and this was no place to grow roots. He reached the officer’s mess and ducked in for the day’s breakfast of hot corkmeal (a spicy porridge) along with some fruit, cheese and goat’s milk. He was one of the first to arrive, but before long the other eleven lieutenants trickled in, got their food and sat at the table prepared for them. The room quickly filled with the usual crude banter, barely mindful of the women assigned to them. Of course, border camp women were hardly known for being prissy. It was rough duty and they did a lot of work to keep the camp running. “So Zul, tell me, have any more of your weird dreams lately?” Reg jabbed, and several others laughed nervously. He’d heard some of the whispered rumors that the taint was getting to him, even though he’d been in for several checkups and showed clean, enough. Any unusual behavior was closely monitored; it had to be. He regretted mentioning last week’s dreams, and had said nothing of the ones from the month before. “Just of your wife” he replied, which set the room chuckling. Reg frowned at him, but then gave in to the pressure of the joke. Reg’s wife was always a good source of humor. It was within conduct to take a wife while assigned to the border, and it happened often enough. Just if any woman got with child, both of them were reassigned to a permanent town and it was considered shameful by many, as it was a way to get out of finishing border duty early. Captain Vallus stepped in to the tent as the laughter tapered off, and everyone quickly stood and saluted, fists to chest. “At east, riders” he replied, saluting them and taking a seat at the head. Rikard Vallus, like many of the riders, was not an overly tall man, but his stocky frame and commanding aura radiated commanding strength. His deep voice helped out in that too, especially when yelling commands in battle. Vallus shuffled some papers and placed them in front of him. “What news?” They all looked at each other briefly, then Targus motioned a hand and spoke. He had just returned late last night from a lengthy southern patrol down to Fort Fulgard, and still looked a bit haggard. Six days in the saddle would do that to a body. “Word from the southwest border. Colonel Fulgard reports that the demons have been pulling back, yet more evidence that Chorkatha may, indeed, be dead.” General murmuring broke out at that, but Vallus hushed them. “We shall see. Anything else?” Targus shook his head. “Just that they are sending in some deep scouts to find out more information.” Zul got tingles at that. ‘Deep scout’ meant deep across the border. It was hard to avoid the slang of ‘death scout’, but the truth was that the farther one went into the wastes, the less chance there was of ever coming out. “You got something Lieutenant Deshain?” Vallus directed at Zul. He must have made a face. He paused a moment, and then said “Just requesting river patrol sir.” Vallus looked inquisitive but didn’t ask. River patrol was considered light duty for the most part, and Vallus hadn’t earned five red stripes for light duty. Everyone knew that he was due a promotion, but few knew that he had already turned it down once. “As you wish Lieutenant.” Vallus made some notes, and then passed the papers around. Here are your assignments then. “Dismissed. Lieutenant Deshain if you’ll wait a moment.” Zul nodded as the others filed out, Reg giving him an overly curious look. He ignored it and walked over to the captain. “River Duty?” He was hesitant to come out with the full story, but men lived and died out here by having the information that they needed. “I had another dream Captain.” Vallus frowned slightly. “Tell me what you remember.”
It had been another typical day on the plains. Zul lead his twelve man squad at a steady pace almost due west towards the river. Patrol duty was for the most party uneventful; nobody complained about uneventful, since the opposite usually involved fighting for one’s life. The nagging feeling that something was going to happen only grew stronger, and he told the men needlessly to look sharp. Do you want to talk about it? Herloth said into his mind. The Frinlan horse had remained stoically quiet all morning, sensing Zul’s mood. Not really, he replied. It could be just a dream. I know. But it’s not. Hmmm. Well it’s certainly a metaphor then. I don’t know what it is. All I feel is that something is happening. It was hard to describe a mental nod of agreement. It was just a sense. The same went for shrugging. Mastering a mental shrug was truly an art form. Herloth could shrug like no other.
It had been hundreds of years since the first Frinlan chose a rider. It was probably a lot less complicated back then than they made it these days, but the one thing that had not changed was that the horse always did the choosing. General practice was that once a rider earned his fourth stripe, he was taken to a Frinlan Field, an area of land sacred to the telepathic horses for reasons they kept to themselves. There, after a lengthy presentation ritual that from the outside largely looked like a herd of wild horses riding in circles around a line of naked men, the horses made their offers. It was made clear over and over that the bond was a permanent arrangement, but until it was complete, it simply could not be understood. Why the horses agreed to this arrangement was another one of those mysteries. Zul thought he understood better now, but he chose not to explain it to others. Two other members of his squad had been chosen, and he was thankful that he could only hear one horse. The Frinlan could speak to each other and to other telepaths, and they could read thoughts, but only a telepath could speak back to them, though he was sure that they could read enough thoughts to gather what the sender wanted to say anyway.
They had reached the river just after noon, and he turned them south. His stomach told him that it was lunch time, but he pressed on for another mile before reigning in. He pulled out his binoculars and scanned the horizon, quickly homing in on the three boats coming up the river. His nerves quivered with the anticipation. Calm down, you’re making me nervous, Hersoth complained, mostly in jest. Zul patted his back and then gave orders to the others. They quickly lined up and headed for the river bank, as it looked like the boats were moving unnaturally fast up the river.
“Hail traveler’s” the lead rider called out. Kaycian had been watching closely with his spyglass as the twelve horsemen cut the remaining distance across the grassy plain and then lined up near the riverbank ahead. He had kept the three boats close and near the center of the narrowing river. It was unavoidable though; they were going to have to parlay. He quietly instructed Kethia to slow the wind, and as the three boats glided to a stop, he came to his knees, bow still ready, and steadying himself with the mast. “Greetings Riders” he replied aloud. “What brings such strangers through our land?” the leader continued. “We are journeying north, on the river.” “I see you came from the swamplands, and have a sohleguir guide. I thought that they knew better than to trespass.” “We have little choice. We are on an urgent mission.” Something was prickling at the back of his neck, but he couldn’t place it. He looked over the riders, and it seemed like the horse to the left of the speaker’s was staring at him. It was an odd feeling. “You are from the sky cities, yes?” “I am Kaycian Tellivani, of Sellaine.” “So it is true. There are elves falling from the sky.” Kaycian looked puzzled as a knot formed in his stomach. “Have you heard of others then?” “Indeed.” Kethia took that moment to cause a stir. “Captain, they are reading our minds!” One of the horses snorted violently and stepped back. Derth shouted, “Do not do that again, or we will be forced to take action!” There was a silent exchange on the bank, and then the leader spoke again. “We must insist that you join us for parlay on shore. There is much information that we can share, and some that will help you on your journey to Arelios. We mean you no harm.” Kaycian gave some quiet commands, and they brought the boats to the shore, still very wary.
Kaycian and several officers spoke privately with the leader, Zul and his two senior riders for over an hour. They had indeed learned a great deal about the horsemen and about what to expect on the road ahead. If Zul was a man of his word, as Kaycian believed, they had secured some potential allies. Now all they had to do was finish their trek upriver and find the border fort called Fort Reid. There, according to Zul, they would meet with the Colonel and learn all they needed to know about the beings called the Ulpir, who were the rulers and wardens of the people to the north. The remainder of the day was spent in quiet conversation, and to Kaycian’s relief no other deadly encounters. It gave him time to mull over the possibility that his father was not only alive, but a prisoner somewhere to the north. A prisoner of these beings called the Ulpir.
Chapter 19: The Plains By Don Fuller
They made camp just before dark on the outskirts of the forest once called Elfost. Tolani felt a certain sense of dread as night had settled in, and paranoia aside, it was more likely than not that great evil was lurking in the forest, waiting for them. Per the instructions of the riders, they stayed on the east bank. To the west were the demons and a stretch of land called the wastelands, or the blight. There the demons were still active, and they had corrupted the land for hundreds if not thousands of miles. Kaycian sat alone for the moment, having been distant since this afternoon’s meeting. She knew he was worried about his father, but they had yet to learn anything specific enough to say that the captured elf was he, or some other unfortunate crewman on a lost ship. She idly watched as the others entertained themselves after another long day on the boats. Rodan and Lianna were sparring, finding a connection in the martial forms. The boy Varlad was giving archery lessons to Colwyn and Arda, while her crewmen took the first watch. Myste sat alone, a recluse in their little band, and Derth continued his lessons with Skithra. The others were playing a game of dice, leaving her with some quiet time of her own. She stared at the sky, picturing the perfect field of stars concealed by the endless gray haze, and thought of home, her family, and those who were waiting for her to return.
Morning came early, and the traveler’s broke camp at the first haze of light, wanting to be well clear of Elfost by dark. The Riders had given them a wide range of warnings about the western forest, but none of it would be safe to camp in. Ohtar had looked the map over earlier with Kaycian and the officers, and by his calculations they should have no problems reaching the other side, barring any complications. Somehow though, he was sure that there would be complications. He continued to helm the third boat, keeping a casual eye on Slade as the morning passed. The river narrowed some, bringing the wall of dark leafy trees closer on each side. There were signs of life almost immediately, and both Skithra and Derth had been talking animatedly and making notes as they progressed. There had been no signs of demons, but the strange alligators with the tentacles on their heads were unnerving to look at. They didn’t seem hostile, and the boats continued unmolested. Around midmorning, Slade began to act more and more fidgety, so he felt the need to inquire. “Are you ok, Slade?” Ohtar asked him in a low voice. Slade shrugged. “It is the taint… and the voices.” “Voices? You hear voices?” Slade looked around nervously. “Yes.” “What are they saying to you?” “Nothing now. Just faint whispers that are hard to pick out.” “Have you heard them louder?” He nodded. “When they attacked us on the beach. It’s like I can hear their thoughts. They are… violent and dark.” Ohtar wondered if bringing Slade was a good idea after all, but maybe he could be useful. “Have you been hearing these whispers all day?” “No.. they just started. It’s like someone’s out there, but he doesn’t want me to hear him. It’s hard to explain.” “We need to tell the captain.” He suddenly had a very bad feeling. He passed the message up through the others to call to the captain and let him know something was amiss.
Kethia tapped on Kaycian’s shoulder. “Captain, a word from Ohtar. He says that we are being watched.” Kaycian broke from his reverie and scanned either river bank. If that was the case, there wasn’t much they could do at the moment. He considered getting out of the boats, but if someone was watching them, that is where probably were. Right At that moment he experienced a strange premonition of danger but couldn’t place it. He readied his bow and called out. “Look alive everyone!” he shouted, alerting the group to trouble. That’s when trouble came.
Derth reacted immediately and surrounded Skithra and himself in a swirling barrier of force, sensing the working of magic very close. Suddenly a wall of churning water twenty feet wide burst up directly in front of the lead boat. The boat hit it hard, and while it started to pass through everyone was jolted forward as they dropped from ten knots to almost a dead stop. Skithra slammed into the wall of force and was shaken, most of the crew slammed knees and lost their balance, and in a freak accident Colwyn jerked forward having been resting on the rudder, and his arm twisted and snapped. He cried out in pain. After that it all happened fast. Gators attacked from below, ramming the bottoms of the boats, busting holes and cracking the hulls of the lead two boats, which quickly began taking on water.
Lewyn swung the middle boat hard left as Kaycian ordered them to get to the shore. Ohtar swung to the right, sending the last boat angling almost straight to the east bank. Everyone had their bows ready, searching for targets. The middle boat swung around the lead, clearing the wall and then arced to the bank as Kethia’s wind died off, and her demon ward sprung up. Boat three hit the bank and Lianna jumped clear, just as an elemental hail storm engulfed their boat. Vok’koroth saw the alligators coming from under the water, and shot one just as magically created hail lashed through their ranks, tearing at flesh and seriously bruising all of them. Derth saw the storm and hit it with a black tendril that dispersed it only seconds after it did its damage. Then the gators sprung from the water all around them. Arrows flew from the two lead boats, keeping the creatures at bay a moment longer. Kaycian’s boat hit shore, and everyone started leaping out except him and Lewyn. Derth cast another spell, weighing some heavy options, and then with a flash their boat shifted in space, suddenly appearing next to the shore. Several gators splashed from the water where their boat had been, taking numerous arrows. He focused on the energies flying about, trying to home in on their assailant. The hail storm lashed out again, and again he cancelled it, but most of the crew in the third boat were battered and stunned. Two more gators leaped from the water by the lead boat; Lewyn evaded his attacker, but Kaycian was not so lucky, and the gator got its jaws around his torso and gave him a crushing bite. Somehow he twisted free, agony searing through his abdomen. All but Derth and Skithra leaped from the middle boat, just as the water beneath the boat vanished in a hiss, toppling the two of them forward and into the rush of water that replaced the vacuum, though they were unhurt inside of Derth’s sphere. With another round of arrows, the last gator either fled or died, leaving Derth focusing on their underwater foe. He concentrated with another spell that gave him positional information on underwater creatures, and he homed in on the elusive water demon. He sent a blast of energy its way, clipping it, and he scowled to himself as it fled out of his range. He and Skithra climbed out of the muck just as Tolani was calling out to him. “Derth, it’s Tyr! Something’s wrong!” Everyone looked over at the elf, who was collapsed on the shore clutching his throat, his body enveloped in a watery film. Derth concentrated and dispelled the drowning spell, and the elf began to cough and gasp for air. They all stayed ready, scanning the shore and the water for several minutes, but the demon and his minions did not return.
Several hours later around noon, those with keener hearing picked up on the roaring sounds of rushing water up ahead. Before long the boats rounded a bend in the river and came across a sizeable lagoon at the based of a sixty foot tall three stepped water fall. The sounds of the crashing water made communication difficult, and Kayen motioned them to head for the east bank. In the third boat, something was amiss again.
“What is it Slade?” Ohtar asked, as Slade began to look nervous. “More demons?” He looked thoughtful. “I don’t know. There is something… nearby, but it is different.” “Perhaps you could concentrate on it, maybe find out what it is, see if there is danger?” Slade shrugged, still new at whatever was going on with him. H