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Authors: Lana Axe

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BOOK: A Story Of River
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Chapter 14

“Tu'vad, my lord,” the mine supervisor
called as he came running towards him.

Tu'vad turned and watched the middle-aged
man as he ran. They must have discovered a very large gem.

“My lord,” the man said, out of breath.
“Look at this.”

He opened his hand and held it out for
Tu'vad's inspection. Inside his palm were golden flecks. They had discovered
gold in one of the gem mines. The flecks were very small, but perhaps there
were a lot more to be found.

“Who else is aware of this?” Tu'vad

“Just the miner who found it, sir. I came
to you straight away.”

“Good,” Tu'vad replied. “I'd like to keep
this secret. Take a few miners and separate them from the others. Have them
mine only for the gold, and store any that you find in separate carts from the
gems. Do not mention this to anyone else. Is that clear?”

“Yes, my lord,” he replied.

Tu'vad could not believe his luck. He
could keep this discovery quiet and not have to share it with Ulda. His master
was so busy with his other work that a little gold should easily go unnoticed.
Besides, what use did Ulda have for gold? He had his unlimited power source of
human souls. Gold was nothing to him, but it meant great wealth for Tu'vad. He
had to survive in the world of men where money brings ultimate power. This discovery
was an excellent bonus to accompany the lands and titles Ulda was going to give
him. Once he had acquired a sizeable amount of gold, he would simply kill the
miners who knew about it. No one else would ever know.


* * * *


A row of young children sat wide-eyed and
terrified in Ulda's laboratory. The spiderlings had grown and were ready for
the Soulbinders to practice splicing them with the souls of the children.

“As you can see, it doesn't matter the age
of your specimen when you are working with humans,” Ulda proclaimed. “It only
matters how frightened they are. A young specimen can power your enchantments
just as effectively as an older one. Brave warriors do produce a stronger
enchantment, most likely due to the fact that they are more difficult to
frighten. For them, it's best to capture them, torture them, and harm the ones
they love. Even if you only say you're harming them, it will suffice. That is,
of course, only if you aren't able to get your hands on their actual family.”

Ulda had been practicing for several days
and learning new techniques quite often. The process was becoming smoother and
quicker. Soon, he would begin practicing on elves, but for now he had a fairly
steady supply of humans just waiting to be used.

“Are the spider creatures superior to the
wolves, master?” a Soulbinder asked.

“In some ways, yes,” he replied. “Spiders
instill a special fear in many people. Even though a wolf is more capable of
harm, humans seem to have an innate fear of the spider. That makes our work of
soul binding much easier. Also, these spiders have a specially designed
exoskeleton that I've created with the dust from our ruined binding gems.
Fragments and tiny gems that serve no other use are now providing protection
for our creations.”

Ulda was beaming with pride. He was
certain that this dust could also be used to create armor for his Soulbinders,
his troops, and any other creatures he wished to conjure. It would provide
better protection than metals or leathers. He just needed to keep working and soon
the process would be perfected.

“Alright, Soulbinders,” he said. “Choose a
child, and let's see how you're progressing.”

The Soulbinders each stood in front of a
child. One child, a red-haired little girl, tried to run away. She was promptly
stopped by a guard who kicked her legs from under her and dragged her back to
the row of children. The other children sat frozen in terror.

“Now, bind these children and merge each
with a spiderling. If you succeed, the creature will be in your command. If
not, you will have to obtain another child yourself before trying again.”

Beams of purple light shot from the
Soulbinders onto the children. They twisted and screamed but remained locked in
the Soulbinders' magic. Blinding flashes began filling the room, and within minutes,
twenty-five new creatures stood awaiting their commands. All of the Soulbinders
had succeeded. Their diligent practice had paid off.

At nearly five feet tall with black and
yellow markings, the spider hybrids were quite a terrifying sight. With
foot-long pincers and a score of eyes set atop their heads, they would inspire
the necessary fear to ease the binding of hundreds of souls.

“Well done, well done!” Ulda shouted and
clapped his hands. His Soulbinders were ready, and his creatures were ready. It
was time to test their abilities in battle. A raid on another small village
would be just the thing.

“Slave!” Ulda called. A young boy ran to
his side immediately. “Take a message to General Fru. Tell him to prepare
battle plans for my Soulbinders and their minions. It's time for another raid.”

Chapter 15

The midday sun baked down on Duana's
marketplace as Mel and Thinal casually browsed the local wares. One booth in
particular caught Thinal's eye. The merchants were selling metal and glass
jewelry along with various trinkets and baubles.

Browsing inside the booth, she noticed a
hairpin adorned with a brightly colored glass butterfly. She picked it up and
twirled it with her fingers. She smiled shyly at Mel.

“That's very pretty,” he said.

“It is,” she replied.

“And it would look lovely on you,” he

Mel did not carry many of the coins used
for trade in Na'zora. Occasionally, he would trade wares for a small amount of
them, but they were virtually worthless among the Wild Elves. Today, however,
he did have a few of them on his person.

“How much?” Thinal asked, holding the pin
up towards the merchant.

“Ten coppers,” he replied, “but for
someone as lovely as yourself, I'll make it five.”

Mel fiddled in the small bag he wore on
his belt and counted out five coppers. Handing them to the merchant, he said,
“Thank you.”

“Thank you, young sir,” he replied
pocketing the coins.

Thinal quickly removed the small leather
strap that was holding back her ponytail and began twisting her hair up and
tucking in the ends. She stuffed the pin into her twisted hair and turned her
head side to side so that Mel might observe how the glass caught the light.

“You look lovely,” he said, kissing her

“Thank you, Mel.”

Thinal took his arm, and they continued
through the marketplace. They passed a booth full of fine silks which an elf
could scarcely hope to afford. Thinal brushed a hand lightly over a pale orange
fabric and commented on its softness.

As they walked, they became aware that
some of Duana's citizens were observing them curiously. Very few Wild Elves
ever visited this far north in Na'zora. More southern villages such as Enald
were used to the elven presence, but here they were something of a curiosity.
The children seemed the most interested and did not turn their heads when the
two elves looked in their direction. For the most part, the adults were polite,
although they seemed a little distrusting. That was to be expected, however, as
elves were not generally quick to trust humans either.

One bold little boy finally found the
courage to approach them. “Are you elves?” he asked.

“Yes, we are,” Thinal replied, smiling.

“Is that why your ears are pointy?”

“Yes, just as yours are round because
you're human.”

“Why is he so short?” the child asked,
pointing at Mel.

“Because I didn't eat all my vegetables,”
Mel barked.

“My Daddy says it's eating meat that will
make me tall,” the little boy replied matter-of-factly, his hands on his hips.

“Mel is only teasing you,” Thinal said,
laughing. “Among our kind, men are generally a bit shorter than the ladies. It
makes it easier to hunt and hide in the thick forests. They're also the best
archers in all of Nōl'Deron.”

“I've heard about that,” the boy said
eagerly. “I've heard the girls are good with swords too!”

“You're right we are. We carry long, broad
swords that require both hands to use.”

The child's eyes went wide with amazement
as Thinal drew her blade and knelt down for the child to observe it. The
shining blade was etched with runes that resembled leaves on a vine. He touched
his hand to the green and black stones that decorated the hilt.

All of a sudden, a terrified scream
pierced the air. It was quickly followed by more screaming and people running
towards the market.

“Run! Hide!” Thinal yelled to the boy, who
promptly took her advice.

Mel drew his bow, and together they ran
towards the source of the screaming. The city guard was only a few hundred feet
behind them, their weapons drawn. Terrified townspeople were fleeing through
the city. Something was coming from the Wildlands.

Mel quickly climbed to the top of a nearby
house to have a better look over the crowd. Thinal, sword ready, waited at the
bottom. In the distance, Mel could see what had sent the townspeople fleeing.
Four huge spiders, nearly as tall as he was, were making their way toward
Duana. Behind them, two figures sitting atop wildcats pointed their fingers and
shouted orders at the spiders.

“Giant spiders!” he yelled down to Thinal.

“What?” she asked dumbfounded.

Without replying, Mel began firing arrows
as soon as the spiders were in range. Thinal ran to join the city guard in
their fight against the creatures. Two guards had already been taken down by
webs, and beams of purple light were extending from their struggling forms to
the hooded figures riding the wildcats.

These were sorcerers, Thinal realized.
Instead of fighting wolfish monsters as she had expected, she was now fighting
giant spiders. Things were definitely getting more and more strange in the
world of men.

Avoiding the purple beams, Thinal ran
towards one of the spiders. It saw her coming and tossed a web. She dodged,
pirouetting to her right, and was quickly confronted by a second spider.
Bringing her sword down in one quick motion, she removed a leg from the spider.
Pus began spewing from the wound, and she coughed as the stench reached her

Without missing a step, she swung behind
the stunned creature and brought down another blow on its back. It fell to the
ground under the weight of her sword. Quickly, she positioned herself beside it
and sliced its head from its body. This time the stench was nearly
overwhelming, but she managed to compose herself and carry on.

She turned to find the spider who had tossed
a web at her lying dead just a few paces away with an arrow sticking out of its
head. While one sorcerer was busy extending a beam towards a third downed
soldier, Thinal took the opportunity to move in closer. She crept towards him,
using the trees as cover. All of a sudden, the wildcat noticed her and roared.
The sorcerer's concentration broke just as she hurled herself from behind a
tree and swung hard with her sword. With a thud, the sorcerer landed hard on
the ground, clutching at his nearly-severed thigh. She finished him off
quickly, before he could cast any more spells.

An arrow landed in the wildcat's neck and
it reared wildly as blood poured from the artery that had been hit. With its
last strength, it charged toward her, but a second arrow hit the back of its
head and stopped it permanently.

She caught sight of the second sorcerer,
who had apparently realized he couldn't handle enemies that would fight back.
He turned his wildcat and headed back off into the forest, followed by the
remaining two spiders. In all, five of the city guard had been taken down and
been subjected to the purple light beam of the sorcerers.

Mel ran to Thinal. “Are you hurt?” he
asked, breathing heavily.

“I'm just a little dirty,” she replied.

“Should we go after them?” he asked.

“I think we should go find Mi'tal. He's
going to want to see these creatures and the sorcerer too. Maybe he's learned
more about what's actually going on here.”

A crowd had begun to gather around the
site of the attack. Seeing the last of the monsters flee, they had decided to
come and have a better look. Pushing through the crowd was Mi'tal, followed
closely by Loren.

“Are you two alright?” he asked hastily.

“We're fine,” Mel said. “What in hell are
these things?”

“I have no idea,” he replied. “I've never
heard of such a thing, and there have been no previous attacks on Duana.”

Loren knelt next to a fallen city guard.
He brushed away the webbing and turned the man onto his back. His face was
twisted into an expression of terror and pain. Whispering a prayer, Loren
brushed his hand over the man's face to close his eyes. Next, he observed the
carcass of the slain spider. He looked back at Mi'tal, tears in his eyes.

“I have never seen such horror,” he said,
wiping away a tear.

“Come, all of you,” Mi'tal said. “I'll
have the bodies brought into the city, and we can have a better look there.”

The surviving members of the city guard
carried away their fallen comrades. Duana's apothecary and his apprentices came
to claim the bodies of the spiders, wildcat, and sorcerer. They would be taken
to his establishment where the local doctors and mages would be able to study

“I need to change into some clean clothes
before I do anything else,” Thinal declared. “I smell terrible, and I can't
imagine how disgusting I must look.”

“We'll stop at the inn,” Mel said.

“Meet us at the city hall as quickly as
you can, then,” Mi'tal said. “I'm sure the mayor will have many questions about
what you saw. He will also want to thank you.”

Mel nodded and set off toward the inn with
Thinal. Another crowd was forming along the road past the inn. Horsemen with
banners were arriving as the crowd began to cheer. King Aelryk had arrived in

BOOK: A Story Of River
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