Authors: Brae Wyckoff
“Speak!” Bailo ordered.
“King Manasseh is dead. The towns and cities are now under martial law, or in some places civilians have taken over. It’s chaos down there. Most assuredly the other Horn Kings will come. People are fleeing to the forests and mountains until things settle down.”
“Where is your proof, Valcod? Something is clearly happening, but dwarves and elves have gone into hiding and to show ourselves to humans is dangerous.”
“Are you their leader?”
“I ask the questions, Human. Give me proof.”
Valcod only returned silence. Bailo looked to Shem.
“All he had was this.” Shem produced a corked vial filled with a black fluid. Bailo reached for it and inspected the contents.
“What is this, Valcod?”
“Just an ingredient of mine that I like to use.”
There was an awkward silence and then Bailo responded, “Good. I’m hungry. Prepare me some food using your ingredient.”
Valcod chuckled, “I have nothing to make for you.”
“Well, I’m thirsty then, Valcod. This should do fine. Dwarves love dark brews.”
Shem stepped forward, “My liege, it could be poison.”
Bailo glared at Valcod, “Wouldn’t be the first time I drank something I wasn’t supposed to.”
Valcod, stoic in his stance, did not say anything. Bailo uncorked the vial, giving sound to a hollow pop as it was released. The dwarf slowly brought it to his lips, locking his eyes on the human, who claimed to be a chef of King Manasseh. Bailo tilted the glass and the black substance began to edge closer to his mouth. Valcod’s hazel eyes didn’t blink, though he held his breath. At the last instant he halted Bailo, “Stop!”
Bailo instantly lurched forward and grabbed the human’s tunic with his free hand while lowering the vial away, “Who are you?”
The human sighed and finally admitted, “I am a former royal guard of Manasseh.”
“What is this that I almost drank? Poison? On your life, you had better speak!”
“Nay, it is not poison. It was taken from the Pool of Recall within Manasseh’s tower at Black Rock Castle.”
“What is this Pool of Recall?”
“You can see past events through the eyes of the one you name.”
Bailo peered at Shem and then handed him the vial with the cork. “Keep it safe.”
Valcod brought the dwarf’s attention back, “I am looking for refuge. I have experienced the hand of an evil king and I wish to be free of any future evil king’s which are coming.”
“You speak of the East and West Horn Kings.”
“Indeed. Once they verify Manasseh’s death, then the inevitable will happen. I brought the water from the Pool of Recall to secure safe passage by revealing the truth of what actually transpired.”
“What did happen?”
“An army of dwarves attacked his castle, led by a mystic.”
“Dwarves? Are you certain?”
“Yes, I saw them with my own eyes.”
Shem spoke, “Dwarves don’t have mystics, Human.”
“It was an elf mystic.”
Bailo glanced to Shem, who returned the look of concern.
Valcod continued, “I heard some of the men speak of her being a Sheldeen Elf.”
Bailo stared deeply into Valcod’s eyes, “Show me how to use this Pool of Recall. I need to see with my own eyes what you speak of.” Bailo then turned toward Shem and whispered, “Call a meeting with the other leaders.”
Three dwarves gathered by a small fire, well hidden within the mountains. Howling wind resounded outside their boulder-protected location. Four stone markers, dwarven language carved on each, stood towering above them at the center.
A deep maroon-colored beard dangled from a dark-brown eyed dwarf who leaned against one of the markers, arms crossed over his barrel chest. Another dwarf, massive in girth, and an orange and grey beard matching the width of the clan member, sat on one of the benches between the upright stone pieces. The third and final dwarf huffed loudly as he slung his braided brown beard over his left shoulder and asked, “What is taking so long?”
The fat dwarf chuckled, placed his right palm out, and said, “Cough up yer gold, Kog.”
He pulled out a small pouch and tossed it, “Here ya go, Brewtus. Got me again, dammit.”
The third dwarf stood dumbfounded at the transaction that revolved around him and responded, “Your incessant gambling is a disease to our race.”
Brewtus scoffed, “Our coffers grow while yours diminish, our sweet Hahlid of the Redheart.”
“You dare speak of my surname in jest? You Bluefists are the reason we stay separated as clans.”
Brewtus grumbled as he stood in anger, “Time for me to shut your mouth.”
Hahlid roared and charged, slamming into the gut of Brewtus, who did not budge. Brewtus brought his clubbed fists down on top of Hahlid and dropped him to the ground. Kog laughed heartily in the background.
A booming voice coming around the bend halted them all, “Enough!”
Each of them turned and watched Bailo enter the confined meeting area.
“About time, Bailo,” Brewtus said as he sat back down.
Hahlid stood and then made his way to his bench.
“Why the meeting?” Kog asked as he sat.
Without a pause, Bailo answered, “El’Korr has returned.”
Each of them shot puzzled glances at one another.
“You speak nonsense, Bailo. He fell in the crusade against Kerrith Ravine.”
“I have seen with my own eyes, and that is not all.”
“Speak Bailo, before I charge you to step down,” Brewtus announced.
“The entire crusade survived. They unleashed their fury upon the doorstep of King Manasseh, defeating him, and now reside within the Moonstone Mountains amassing a new resistance. Raina also lives.”
“How did you come by this information?”
“Shem, bring it in!” Bailo called.
Shem and another dwarven warrior walked in together, each carefully holding the end of a small basin as they came into the area.
“What is the meaning of this?” Kog stood.
“My brethren, the time has come. You will each see firsthand what has transpired, and know what I speak is truth.”
The basin, filled with the murky water of the Pool of Recall, was placed in the center of the meeting. Shem and the warrior exited without a word.
“Place your face into the water as you think of El’Korr, and you will see what has transpired.”
Each clan member did as instructed. Brewtus stood upright, black water trickled down his face as he stared intently at Bailo. The overweight dwarf stumbled away in shock as Kog was next. They waited until the final leader of dwarves witnessed the fall of Manasseh at the hands of El’Korr Hammergold and Raina Sheldeen.
Bailo said, “It is time to gather the Remnant, unite the clans, and march to Te Sond.”
bawken closed his eyes and breathed in the arid air, sensing his prey was close. The Sheltothii ritual was as ancient as the realm of Ruauck-El itself, and was the foundation of the desert ways. At the age of Ragiil each youth was tested—sent to hunt the deadly Chuulkath within the sand chasms of the far East. The desert nomad, wrapped in ceremonial linens from head to toe, held his gleaming scimitar, and thought,
“Wait. Let it come.”
His instincts and training melded together as this life and death ritual unfolded.
Waves of sweltering heat intensified in the deep maze of canyons. The desert wind sent dune sand from above cascading down the brittle walls, sounding a bit like rain. He veered away from the shadier spots, staying within the sunlight.
“It is close. Be patient,”
he reminded himself. Then he heard it. He froze in place, breathing silently as he focused in on a slight clicking sound, masquerading itself from behind a stream of pouring sand. The time of the Kemsing, full sun, when the sharp lines separating shade from light would begin to dissipate, was seconds away. Only the light of day would reveal the Chuulkath, but he would have to be close to it before the sun waned and the shadows returned.
As Abawken took another step closer, focusing straight ahead, his left arm dipped within the edges of the shade; before he’d even noticed, the claws of the creature dragged him into the pocket of darkness as deep as twilight. He swung his sword but the pawed hand grappled his arm and
smashed it up against the rocky alcove, forcing him to release his weapon. It plopped onto the sandy floor.
Abawken wrestled with the mythological desert creature, fighting to bring it into the light, but the strength of the beast was far beyond his own. He had to stay alive long enough for the sun to be at its zenith. Precious seconds elapsed while the Chuulkath lifted the human into the air and slammed his body into the rocky wall. Sand enveloped him; the volatile terrain exploded on his impact. The creature would remain blurred, its form undefined, as long as it stayed within the shade. Abawken kicked as instinct directed, but missed. Then the human’s legs were swept out from under him and he fell back into the soft sand. His lower body was still in the shade, but the brilliant sun blinded him briefly as he looked up. He felt it grab his legs and pull him back. Still disoriented, he managed to snatch his scimitar as he was dragged, and swung once again. This time he connected, and was released. He arched his back and quickly flipped up to his feet acrobatically.
The sun repelled the shadows away and the last sliver of shade quickly faded. It was at this instant that Abawken reached inside. His hand caught hold of it and he held on, gritting his teeth, struggling against the fight. Then it appeared before him. Abawken tackled the creature to the ground, pinning it below him. The golden fur of the sphinx and the pearlescent claws glistened in the sun. It was forced to relax within the daylight and succumbed to the human. He stared into the yellow cat eyes of the malevolent face and watched as it transformed slowly into a female human visage. The lioness body remained.
Abawken demanded, “Give me my name!”
It struggled at first and then calmed, but did not answer him. Then it smiled and the smell of lilac encompassed Abawken’s senses—a smell that did not belong in this scenario. One he recognized from his past.
He shook off the confusion of the aroma and pressed down harder, “You must, as per the Sheltothii Ritual.”
“Get off me,” the female answered in perfect common.
Her comment jarred his senses. “What did you say?”
“I said, get off of me ya blundering fool!”
Bronze hair transformed to scraggly red strands and rich, yellow eyes became muddy watered orbs. The smell of the desert, and the overwhelming lilac, gave way to the stench of an old burnt out campfire.
“Am I interrupting something?” Spilf peered out from a hole in the wooden floor boards to the sparse room.
Abawken retreated hastily from Dulgin and looked around his surroundings. He was back inside their small hideout. The dusty, windowless, and barren space, big enough to stash only their meager belongings and bedrolls to sleep, brought him back to their reality of being cooped up here, hiding these last few days, in wait for their contact to bring them the information they needed.
“What happened?” Abawken asked.
“Listen here, Stubby! This human is crazy,” Dulgin pleaded with Spilf while ignoring Abawken’s question.
The ordakian’s eyebrows rose, “Sure Dulgin, whatever you say. Anyway, Bridazak is waiting for us at the tavern. He made contact with Scalve. Remember to put on the oversized cloaks to hide yourselves. See you there,” Spilf finished and the top of his brown, messy hair disappeared back down the dark tunnel underneath the foundation of their makeshift home.
“What happened?” Abawken asked again.
“You were having a bad dream so I went to wake you, then you attacked me, dammit,” Dulgin responded as he stood. He pointed his finger at the human, “Don’t do that again.”
“I never planned on it in the first place, Master Dulgin. My apologies.”
“What was that all about anyway?”
Abawken was not quick to answer. “You’re right. It was a bad dream.”
“Well, that is the last time I try to wake you. I will let your nightmare resolve itself next time.”
Abawken didn’t respond, as his thoughts of her had captured his mind. He walked to the other side of the room, facing away from the dwarf and closed his eyes to calm his nerves. “Kee vuulaun,” he gently whispered.