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Magblo

Chapter 5 - The Artifact

By: Andrew J. Kolesar

 

When the galaxies were new, before the children gods of these galaxies were born. The Scepter of Kings was already archaic. Forged by a god of old in a fire as hot as any dwarf star, the Scepter of Kings was given form. Over the next several eons the ancient gods gave the scepter life. The Scepter of Kings now housed the power of any great god. But the ancient gods knew that their time had come. After creating galaxies, universes, planets, stars, and matter in general, they created newer gods, gods that creatures and beings would come to worship.

The children of these gods came together and created races of people on many different planets. Some races were very similar to others, while some where completely different. On some of these planets many different intelligent races thrived, on other planets only one race ruled the planet. Throughout the creations, experiments, and disasters, the scepter watched and waited. It could do all the things that these new gods were doing, even better perhaps. Fore the power in the scepter was greater than these children gods could hope to have.

But for many eternities over, the scepter was hidden in a black hole. It waited patiently, as it floated in the blackness of space hidden from the children gods. It had a soul, a soul from one of the ancient gods, and the scepter had a part of the vibrant energy that made up the Fabric of Life at one end. At the other it held the dark travail that made up the Death Shroud. The Scepter of Kings was not good, it was not evil, and it was unbiased to all things, events, or occurrences.

Finally, after watching their children learn, the ancient gods left. Where they went to not even their children knew. With the disappearance of the ancients, the children started to explore what their gods had created. They explored the galaxies and universes, discovering the powers that they held, and the mysteries that surrounded them. They played with the stars, trying to learn how to recreate them. Then when a godchild called Pwyll was searching the black holes, he came across the scepter.

Pwyll was a just and good god. The creatures he forged reflected him on many levels. To each other, they were courteous, kind, friendly, and helped one another. To their god they paid tributes and worshiped him with the love and devotion that made other gods jealous. But even though Pwyll had all a god could want, he was not satisfied. He wasn’t greedy; he felt that there was more he could do. The scepter helped him decided what he could achieve.

Since Pwyll’s heart was pure, good, and just he wanted evil banished. The Scepter of Kings promised Pwyll that through him they could banish evil. Pwyll, with the scepter in hand started a campaign to abolish evil. He went through the realms striking any down that promoted evil, destroying men and their gods. The other godchildren watched as Pwyll went on his crusade. They knew the importance of a good and evil balance. But yet they did nothing.

Pwyll went to the abyss; he was going to destroy this realm and all in it. He met Xolotl, master of the abyss and his prodigy Bali. Xolotl was wrapped in a cloak as black and void as space, and when Pwyll held out the scepter and commanded it to destroy Xolotl, it did nothing. Xolotl rose up and slew Pwyll, deatomizing the crusading god completely. Xolotl gently laid his cloak down. The Shroud of Death being his cloak vanished. But before Xolotl could retrieve the scepter, Bali held it. Bali gave an evil sneer to his father, and without a second thought, destroyed Xolotl.

Bali knew better than to reverse the crusade that Pwyll had been on. He knew that another god would eventually out smart him causing his death. So Bali held onto the scepter for many eons, commanding simple things from the scepter. But the Scepter of Kings kept promising far greater powers, promises of glory and ultimate ruler ship of the galaxies. All the things that Bali’s heart desired.

The suggestions were becoming to tempting to resist; he saw his reign of power, his tower of platinum, and its downfall. Though the scepter promised it all, and could deliver. He knew that it couldn’t last. The scepter would be stolen, or he’d be killed. No, he was now the lord and master of the abyss. It was he who created the deadliest creatures, beautiful but deadly, the succubae. He had for now all he needed.

Bali cast the scepter into the hottest star he could find, hoping to destroy it. He didn’t bother to check and just left it in the star. For several millennia the scepter sat in the star, and when the star had burned out, it was a younger goddess, a child of the children gods who found it.

Ala was still a child and knew not what powers she held. Since the soul and heart of a child are pure and innocent, so were her desires. But like any child, be it god, human, elf, or demon they quickly grow tired of their toys. And careless as it was, Ala tossed it aside. It landed on a planet of war mongering peoples. After they had destroyed themselves using the scepter, the Scepter of Kings once again became lost.

Again it was found by a god, and used for destruction. For ages it repeated this process, men or gods would find it, realize the power it held and do hideous acts with it. Many started out with the purest and best intentions, but their own greed always got the better of them. It was the scepters curse, fore no man or woman, god or goddess should have the power that the scepter housed.

But as powerful as the scepter was, it had one flaw. The flaw was, was that it couldn’t be destroyed. Many that knew what the scepter was capable of, agreed it was a flaw, while few quietly disagreed.  It was those who disagreed with the question of the scepter being flawed that had the less amount of trouble with the consequences the scepter brought. Those who usually disagreed were the evil beings. The eviler they were the less they cared for the damage that was caused to reach their goal.

It was with the evil king of the hyteraza elves that Shadowolf found it. The hyteraza elves were a different sort of elf than in the Elven Nation. Hyteraza elves were evil, selfish, manipulative, hating and all other things evil. They were from a planet called Hyterazan. They were jet black, everything on them was black, eyes, hair, tongue, teeth, blood, etc. They were hated by good forces and tolerated by evil.

King Szelaraterityai of the hyteraza elves had destroyed Hyterazan with the Scepter of Kings. With the scepter he had gone mad, jumping at shadows and blowing them up. The planet’s surface was nothing more than a barren waste land, nothing lived. Except for King Szelaraterityai who lay in his bed cradling the scepter in his arms, like one would cradle a baby. Shadowolf had watched for centuries as the king destroyed the planet, but he did nothing. It was not his duty to interfere. He looked at the king in disgust and took the scepter. Leaving the king to die. Shadowolf went to the Elven Nation and deep in her forest, designed a home for it.

 

Cerubus patiently sat in his study waiting. Vasita was sitting on the sofa wearing next to nothing; as usual she was teasing Cerubus, trying to coax him into her web. Cerubus, along with most of the Dark Forces, knew that, that bastard Shadowolf had hidden the scepter, but none of them knew where exactly. Spies were sent out to watch him, to study his every move. They noticed that he kept going into the forest and would stay for weeks sometimes before emerging empty handed.

The spies watched closely, the man that Prince Artemis sent was worth any price. It was he that discovered exactly what Shadowolf was up to. It was he that discovered the exact lair of the Scepter of Kings. Within minutes of the news, Cerubus sent a small scout party to retrieve the scepter. Now he was waiting for it to be handed over to him.

A servant knocked on the door and was quickly let in. The look on his face told Cerubus a great many things, most importantly that they didn’t have the scepter. Before the man could explain, a surge of black lightning erupted from Cerubus’ hand instantly vaporizing the man on the spot. Cerubus calmly called, “Next.”

The next man walked in slightly trembling, he heard the lightning crackle, and the smell of burnt flesh hung heavily in the air. Cerubus told him to report.

“Sire, the retrieval party has reported that the scepter was missing when they got there. There was a pile of bones, but the scepter was gone. They would also like to report that as they were about to leave, a large castle made up of bone materialized on the countryside, only about two hundred yards from the city’s walls. They report that several thousands of elves poured out of her gates. Sire, they claim that they saw Jack Karde leave her gates as well.” The servant said right before he to was vaporized.

Cerubus stood up and paced, what was going on? The artifact gone, a bone castle materializing, and a sighting of Jack Karde? What in the hells was going on indeed? He looked at Vasita, who was looking at him while playing seductively with her hair. He walked over and sat on the couch in front of her; she then began to rub his shoulders. If she was good at one thing, rubbing away tension was it.

Cerubus thought of what he needed to do next. He had to contact Soren and have him confirm that there really was a bone castle. Hopefully he could explain what these other fools were trying to say. Castles, no matter what they’re made of, just do not materialize out of thin air. Then he needed to know about Jack Karde, and the sighting of all these additional elves.

First, before he did anything else, he needed to find out exactly who had the scepter now. Did Shadowolf catch on to his spies before and remove it? Or did Prince Artemis’ spy inform his prince first? Cerubus needed to know who to attack for the scepter, but if it was in someone’s possession already, it would be impossible to get it. However, even those who have the scepter can be killed, Bali can vouch for that.

Before he went and started to make plans, there was one other thing he needed to do. ‘Damn this evil bitch’ he thought. Cerubus turned around and grabbed a handful of Vasita’s hair. As he pulled her hair in one strong tug, he forcefully kissed her. Finally ending his torture.

 

 

 

Without saying a word, Tarian jumped off the platform and ran towards the city walls. The captains and the female division stood perplexed, unsure of what to do. Then one female in the division let out a war cry, and the women ran to the castle walls as well.

Tarian climbed the ladder and stood on the ramparts of the wall, what he saw made him nearly fall. Not far from the city was a bone castle, and people were surging out of it. He grabbed a spyglass and looked closer, his heart practically stopping. Elves! What the hell were elves doing coming out of that castle? As he looked closer, he swore he saw a few faces he recognized. But that couldn’t be right, the faces he recognized belong to men that had died. Some of them had been dead for decades.

He climbed down the wall, and ran for the front gates. He slipped through them just as they were being closed. He stood alone, in front of the gates, facing an army. ‘Of all the dumb ideas’ he thought. Then screams sounded from inside the city walls. Elves advancing from a bone castle, screams from inside the walls, what next? Then he saw a massive black mass jump from inside the walls over to his side. The beast landed next to him, turned and smiled. Tarian decided that was the scariest smile he had ever even.

“Hi Maeve, what took you so long?” Tarian said.

She didn’t get a chance to respond as the elves ran up to the gates and stopped. For a long while they all stood looking at one another. The sight of the werewolf not effecting them in the slightest. Tarian also noticed that not one elf had a weapon drawn. He took a step forward and asked to see their man in charge. The man that walked ahead of the army made Tarian fall to his knees in stunned disbelief.

 

Soren looked out his window, he to was curious to see what all the noise was about. Whatever it was about, it was severally cutting his concentration. He had too much to do to be distracted. And like everyone else he to was shocked by the sight that stood before him. He cast a spell that turned him invisible, than cast a second spell that allowed him to fly. He stood on his window ledge and jumped. He soared over the city walls and landed but a few feet from the gathered force. When a man stepped in front of his army, Soren’s jaw dropped. He knew he wasn’t hallucinating because his brother fell to his knees, shocked as well. He stood quietly listening.

 

“What in Daganion’s name is going on out there!” roared Latharous.

Lord Tymerian was very ill, most didn’t expect him to live out the year. Latharous demanded silence in the palace, at least in the corridor that belonged to the lord’s private chambers. He wanted his father to be as comfortable as possible. Latharous was furious with his siblings, he understood why Tarian couldn’t be up here as often, what with the damn barbarians and all. In the last several months that the lord had been bed ridden, Soren had come to visit once. Samandra, that was a joke, she was more concerned with playing with her friends.

Out of all his children, Samandra was his baby, the light of his life. After his wife’s death it was his daughter that kept him going. Little Samandra was the spitting image of her mother. He still missed his wife, even though she had been gone two hundred and five years. But after you were married to someone for almost seven hundred years, two hundred wasn’t all that long.

Lord Tymerian loved all four of his children, but Samandra he worried about the most. He worried that he didn’t do a good enough job with her. When he had learned that her hand slew Jack, he didn’t know what to do. Knowing that she was sitting in a cell like a common criminal had almost killed him then. He wished they had caught the person responsible for her actions. Growing up without a mother must have been especially hard on her. Not having a real female influence in her life, he only hoped that he had done a good job. In the last few months he had really missed her heart-warming smile.

When he woke he called Latharous in; the noise outside the walls had disturbed his slumber. After a few minutes had passed he asked his eldest boy to find out what was happening. Latharous ran out into the hallway and grabbed a guard. When the guard had told him, Latharous stared at him in disbelief. The guard beckoned him to a window, and there sat the castle of bone. How the hell was he going to tell his father this?

 

“Captain, you look shocked to see me.” General Alosha said to an obviously shocked General Tarian Tymerian.

“B-B-But, you’re dead?” Tarian stammered out.

“Yes, that was true captai… I’m sorry General. There’s a lot to explain, but I’m not the man to do it. Wait a few minutes, Captain Karde will be along shortly.”

Tarian was about to say something, but it stuck in his throat as Jack and Gabe walked up. They looked at Tarian whose mouth was soundlessly flapping, then to the werewolf standing next to him. Jack told Tarian to get up, he maybe a lot of things, but he was no one to kneel for. Tarian stood and stared at all the elves in front of him; slowly he was getting used to the idea that an army of, until recently, deceased men stood in front of him. He motioned to Maeve that it was all right, and she changed to her human form.

Tarian looked up at the gates and shouted for them to be open. He turned around to the army on the field and shouted. “Welcome home!”

A cheer erupted from the army; Tarian, Maeve, Jack and Gabe barely had time to get out of the way as the warriors rushed forward into the city walls.

 

The news traveled throughout the nation faster than wildfire. As once departed elves were rejoined with their loved ones once more. Men who had no families to come back to were just happy to lay eyes on their homeland once more. A celebration was about to begin when thunderous roars could be heard across the field. For a moment everyone was quiet, then the roars sounded again.

Tarian once again climbed up to the ramparts of the wall, and grabbed a spyglass. His eyes widened a bit, as he saw the barbarians advancing. He put the spyglass down and stared out into the field, slightly stunned that he had forgotten they were at war. He ran to a battle horn and within seconds a great blast sounded out, alerting all men (and now women) to battle.

The human barbarians stopped dead in their tracks as the elven army rushed to the call of battle. Every man that had come back stood on the battlefield along with the remainder of the regular army. The elves ran towards the barbarians, yelling out their war cry. The barbarians thought better of this and ran from the elves. After a few minutes the battle was over, and not a drop of blood was spilt.

 

That night the Elven Nation celebrated the return of her fallen heroes. General Alosha went to his wife and children. As Jack, Gabe and Ty, followed by Ashe went into the palace to see Lord Tymerian. Latharous sat in the lord’s chair in the palace’s main hall. Even though the expression on Latharous’ face betrayed his feelings, he remained cool and calm at the sight of Captains Moonfrost and Karde. He quickly wondered if he should try and get his father, when he saw the lord slowly walk in through a side door.

Several people rushed to Lord Tymerian’s aid, but he shooed them all away. He slowly got to his seat and looked as if he might pass out. He closed his eyes and for many moments took deep breaths. He opened his eyes, and waved Jack and Gabe over to him. He tried to speak, but he had no voice above a whisper. Even that was to taxing for him to keep up. Maeve went to Latharous and quietly told him that if Lord Tymerian thought what he wanted to say, she could translate it into spoken word. Latharous told his father, and he agreed.

Through Maeve, he told them how pleased he was they had returned. How they had helped the nation more than they realized by bringing the elven warriors back with them. Not only were they in short supply of fighting men, but their loved ones missed them terribly. He welcomed Ashe and his men to the Elven Nation, and told Ashe he and his men were welcome to stay for as long as they like. He looked at Latharous and told him through Maeve, that they needed to expand the city. With this new addition to the nation there wasn’t going to be enough room.

But before they started to build, it was time to celebrate. Lord Tymerian declared that it was a national holiday, and everyone was to join in on the festivities. Before he finished speaking, Princess Samandra walked in, all eyes turned as she entered. She walked over to her father and hugged him gently. Samandra whispered in his ear that she was sorry for not visiting, and she loved him. He whispered he loved her also, and he understood. Then he addressed everyone assembled and told them to go, get out and celebrate with the rest of the nation. But even thinking was tiresome for Lord Tymerian because shortly after he fell unconscious.

Latharous, along with Tarian carried Lord Tymerian to his bedchamber while Maeve made sure the way was cleared for them. Ashe said he was going to see to his men and left. Ty left as well, even though everyone he knew was easily dead, he very much wished to see how large his dream had grown to be. The only people that remained in the hall were Jack, Gabriel, and Samandra standing there looking at each other.

Jack looked at the two of them and smiled, he knew it was time to leave. He walked over to Samandra, and before she could say a word, he bowed before her and then stood and kissed her on the cheek. Tears were streaming down her face, she tried to speak, and she tried to tell him she was sorry for killing him. Jack put a finger to her lips, and told her he knew what happened, it was all right. What was a little thing like death between friends? Then in a serious tone he told her to go to Gabe.

Jack stepped back and bowed to her again, and strode over to Gabe. He patted him on the shoulder, congratulated him, and then walked out of the hall. Jack rounded the corner and fell against the wall. He closed his eyes and told himself that he did a good thing, but yet his heart still ached. Then slowly as he walked down the corridor he realized it wasn’t his heart that hurt, it was his entire chest.

He wiped his forehead and noticed that he was sweating like hell. He kept wandering down different hallways, drawn to an unknown force. He felt weak, sweaty, and his whole body hurt. He was about to question his predicament when he stopped in front of a large hall. Jack looked above the archway and read the sign. ‘Hall of Heroes’. Jack looked around and saw no one there; he stepped inside the hall and was instantly chilled to the bone. Although he felt feverish and sweaty, the room was so cold he could see his breath. He walked down the rows of the dead elven heroes, smirking to himself when he recognized a face. ‘Yep, brought that one back’ he thought as he passed them. He came across Gabe’s tomb and thought that Gabe did indeed look much better alive. He paused to wonder how they could be alive like they were, but at the same time be dead. That definitely wasn’t right, talk about unnatural and creepy.

He looked at Lord Latharous Tymerian the I. tomb and thought that he to looked better as a living man. Then it struck Jack that the body lying in that tomb was over ten thousand years old. Jack stepped back as the impact of that thought hit him. Holy shit that was a long time!

He walked down the hall still looking at the heroes when he felt his knees buckle. He fell to the floor trying to hold onto the plaque in front of him for support. Why was he feeling so weak and sick? This was a bad time to have the flu. He lifted his head up and saw the name on the plaque.

                                         

                                        Captain Jack Karde

 

Jack started to tremble so bad his teeth were chattering, he couldn’t move. He kept telling himself it was okay. That whatever he saw, it was only going to be himself. But that’s what scared him the most, looking down and seeing himself dead. It was like a nightmare. Then he felt his sword start to vibrate, slowly at first but growing in strength. Summoning the courage he had from deep within, Jack stood up and peered inside. His sword flew out of it’s scabbard and floated in mid air, then in a dazzling flash of light the glass on his tomb was gone. Jack nearly died again at the next thing he saw.

 

Samandra ran into Gabriel’s out stretched arms. For the first time in eight years Samandra felt happy, safe, love, warm, and good. She held onto Gabe so tight that once again Gabe thought she’d crush him, and like thirty-five years ago, it was all right by him. After many happy tears and several passionate kisses later, Gabe broke their embrace. He stared at Samandra. He stared so hard at her with tears streaming down his face and an enormous smile, that it looked like he was staring through her, into her soul.

Samandra stared back, gazing lovingly into Gabe’s eyes. Even though he had been gone eight years, it felt as if no time had passed. She was scared that she’d wake up and find this was all just a dream. She had dreamt of Gabe many times, but none had ever felt this real. Samandra was scared to let go; for fear that he’d disappear. She stepped in and wrapped her arms around his waist. She looked into those storm gray eyes again thinking that if this wasn’t real and she woke up alone, she’d just die.

Gabriel kissed the top of her head and let out a gentle sigh. He never thought that he’d see her again. If it weren’t for Jack, he never would have. Gabe thought that he would never feel like this again. How many times had he wished to hold Samandra in his arms? How often had he begged Daganion to let him just hear her voice. Gabe put a hand on the back of her head and around her waist, holding her tightly. He had her and he wasn’t letting go. Then an idea struck him; he temporarily let go and stepped back.

“Samandra, will you marry me?” Gabriel asked.

Unexpecting the question, Samandra stammered. She looked around the room, tears clouding her vision. She wiped them away and looked at Gabe. She shouted, “YES!” and flung herself into his arms.

“I mean tonight my love. We’ve waited all this time, let’s get married tonight. In a year from now we can have the big wedding with friends, family, the entire nation if you wish. But tonight I want you for my bride.” Gabe said.

Before Samandra even realized she said it, she shouted yes again. Smiling, Gabe picked her up, and together they headed for the head priests chambers.

 

They had gotten Lord Tymerian in his bed and settled and was just about to leave his room when a blood-curdling scream shot through Maeve’s mind. Maeve grabbed her head and fell to the floor. The scream was so loud it was causing her pain. Tarian and Latharous looked at each other and then they grabbed Maeve and took her into Lord Tymerian’s common room. They sat her on the couch trying to do anything they could to help. Though she didn’t utter a sound, it was obvious from her facial expressions she was in pain.

Maeve started to fight back the scream; she was trying to block it out. If anything she had to tell Tarian who was in pain, what was going on. She was having trouble forming thoughts; the pain was becoming a flash of white light. If it didn’t stop soon, she would pass out. It was the thought of a coma again that scared her. Three years ago a mysterious force had attacked her mind, sending her into the coma. Even though Malindria and her had run through all possible spells and scenarios they still didn’t know the cause. It was the thought of another coma that made Maeve drive back the scream.

She concentrated hard on Tarian’s face, and finally, after several minutes, the scream was gone. Her throat was dry, and she felt hot, weak, and sweaty. She went to stand but fell back on the sofa immediately. Tarian gave her a glass of water, and gently moved her hair out of her eyes. His hand was cool and she took his wrist and held his hand to her face. Tarian gave his brother a confused look.

Maeve was about to drift off to sleep when the scream slowly started to renter her mind. Quickly she drove it back. She sat up, fully alert and told Tarian about it. She said that she didn’t know where they were, but she could follow it. Tarian looked concerned, but agreed to follow.

They ran through the corridors, going deeper into the palace. They rounded a corner and slammed into Gabriel and Samandra. The four of them were stunned for a brief second, then Maeve told them what was going on. Gabe looked at Samandra, she nodded, and the four of them went off together. Maeve in the lead led them into the cellar part of the palace. Gabe and Tarian drew their swords as Maeve turned into lupus form.

Then she led them to a great hall. Above the archway they read ‘Hall of Heroes’. Then the rest of them heard the scream and they ran in. What they saw chilled them to the bone. None of the four people had ever seen anything so horrible in all their lives.

 

Jack stared in horror as his body sat up and looked at him. Jack could hear its bones, joints, and ligaments popping as it broke the rigor mortis. It swung its legs over the stone slab and then stood up, barely six feet from Jack. Jack backed up and stood in the aisle, tombs surrounded him, but only his corpse was animated. His sword was still floating in mid air, he went to grab it, but the corpse cut him off. It now had both swords, and the swords began to vibrate and glow. The corpse held both swords out and then touched them together. Jack shielded his eyes as another flash of light went through the hall, when he looked up only one sword remained. Then the corpse and sword attacked.

Jack barely dived out of the way as the first attack was made. Jack ran to a tomb and slammed the glass trying desperately to get to the sword within. His attacker swung again, nearly severing Jack’s arm. Jack looked at the blood flowing down and barely avoided the next attack by diving over the tomb. Jack ran down the aisle a few feet and stopped. He turned and held out his hand, about to cast a spell. The corpse stopped and laughed, then in a hollow, dead voice it spoke. “Fool! You have severed your connection to the Fabric of Life. You played with dark magic; you still do not live. Feel your chest; your heart does not beat. You breathe only because you are accustomed to it. With your destruction I will assimilate your body into mine. Then I can give my whole self over to the Death Shroud!”

Jack stood there bewildered, what in the hell had he done! He very well couldn’t let this thing win. But he was defenseless; he couldn’t even use magic. The corpse swung again and hit Jack in the chest. He looked down and realized that there wasn’t any pain, which was a bad sign. Blood gushed out; bone was showing through, but no pain. The corpse swung again for the kill. Jack dodged the blow and punched his attacker square in the face, breaking its nose. It looked at him and laughed again.

 Jack tackled the corpse, ran a few feet and stopped. He tried to cast a spell, but like the corpse said, it didn’t work. Then Jack realized he couldn’t feel the Fabric’s presence. After Arden had taught him about being a Magblo, he could always feel something inside himself. Now he realized that that feeling was gone. A darker presence was there; he could feel that, he could feel the power of the Shroud. The corpse stopped its attack and looked at Jack. It knew what Jack had just figured out.

The roles were reversed. Jack was a good man with an evil presence inside his body, while this corpse was evil, with a good presence flowing through it’s body. Which meant that Jack could use the Shroud still, and it was capable of using the Fabric’s power. Jack also knew that he didn’t have to slay this “thing” before him. Like the swords he just had to touch, flesh to flesh, the stronger would prevail and win this power struggle.

The gloves were off as Jack dropped them to the floor. He didn’t know if this would bring him back to “life” or not. But he knew that if he held on, he would triumph over this thing. There was only room enough for one Jack Karde in the galaxies, and he planned to be him. At that Jack bolted for the corpse. The corpse dropped to one knee and set the sword out, waiting for the charge. Jack crashed into the sword, he felt it slide through his body destroying the muscle, organs, and bone as it passed through and out his body. He reached out and touched the corpse on the face. At first nothing happened, Jack looked passed the corpse and saw four shapes standing in the entryway.

Then without warning, pain shot through his body. He began to melt into the corpse as the two bodies where fusing together. His body was elongating as it began to mix into the other body. Jack screamed in pain, but through the pain he knew he had to concentrate, he had to be the one to win this battle. They stood up and started to thrash about the hall, together partly fused, they looked like a monstrous creation of a mad scientist. Horrible sounds echoed off the walls, as the living nightmare thrashed about. Blood and many other bodily fluids dripped off the creature, energy both white and black in color danced around the merging bodies. Then in an explosion of light and sound, the transformation was complete. Only one Jack Karde lay naked on the floor.

 

Gabriel, Tarian, Maeve, and Samandra all looked at one another. None of them were sure what the hell it was they had just witnessed. The four of them cautiously moved closer. Jack was lying on the floor; they could see him breathing, so they knew he was alive. Gabe gently rolled him over on his back, a confused look on all their faces. They saw two Jacks, they saw them merge together, but yet there was still a body in the tomb, and one on the floor. Gabe looked at everyone and they just shrugged.

Gabriel and Tarian picked Jack up and wrapped him in Tarian’s cloak. Samandra picked up his sword, as Maeve changed to human form. Samandra led them up to her chambers where they could talk and let Jack rest. As they got to the higher levels of the palace they could hear the celebration. A celebration that had commenced because of Jack.

Samandra thought to herself, ‘If the people of the Elven Nation thought of Jack as a hero before, what do they think of him now?’

 

A few hours later Jack’s condition wasn’t improving. Tarian with Maeve at his side went to his brother Latharous. Tarian told him what had happened after Maeve and him had left, and said that they needed to do something. Latharous said he didn’t know what they could do, then Maeve practically shot up out of her seat. She mentioned that they could tell Arden about what happened. Besides, he should be informed about Jack’s return anyway.

The two brothers looked at each other, and Latharous agreed that he’d inform Arden. He just needed to talk to Lord Tymerian first, but right now he was resting. Maeve went to say something, but Tarian put his hand up stopping her. Maeve not understanding or caring about the niceties of court blurted out, “Well wake his royal ass up!”

Maeve saw that she had shocked them both, but she didn’t care. She didn’t know Lord Tymerian all that well, but she was sure that he’d want to help Jack out as quickly as he could. After all, didn’t everyone say that Jack had saved the nation?

Latharous started to grow red and Tarian could tell it was in anger. Tarian grabbed Maeve by the wrist and hauled her out into the hallway.

“That’s bullshit Tarian, and you know it.” Maeve spat out.

“Maeve he’s sick, dying even. Latharous doesn’t want to put any pressure on him right now. When he wakes up, Latharous will talk to him…” Tarian was about to continue, but was interrupted.

“I doubt your father would want Jack to die again. I’m sure he would want to be woken up to help. You elves are so damn cold!” Maeve shouted.

Tarian’s eyebrows shot up and he stared at her. He never thought of his people as cold, a little more logical than these spontaneous humans perhaps, but not cold. So in a spontaneous action of his own Tarian grabbed Maeve and kissed her.

At first Maeve resisted, she tried to push away. But after a few seconds she fell into the kiss, even wrapping her arms around Tarian’s neck. After a few minutes Tarian pushed away and stood looking at her. A huge grin played across his features.

“Sweet Prince! What the hell was that for!” Maeve yelled as anger spread across her face.

“Now how cold was that? Not bad for a cold-hearted elf, huh?” Prince Tarian asked.

“Uh, ah, Well no, not bad at all.” She said as the anger turned into embarrassment. Then she added with a grin of her own, “Could use a bit of improvement though. Just quite didn’t have that warm-hearted feeling to it. But it sure as hell was close.”

Still grinning from pointed ear to pointed ear Tarian said they didn’t have time right now. But later when there was time he’d like lessons on how to be warm-hearted. But they had to contact Arden. And the only other person he knew that could do it was Samandra. She was the one who met Jack first and introduced him to the Elven Nation.

Tarian threw an arm around Maeve’s shoulders, and together they headed back to Princess Samandra’s quarters.

 

When they got there Malindria was sitting by Jack; a look of confusion was apparent on her face. Samandra was standing in front of Gabriel, while tears rolled down her face, Gabe held onto her. Malindria looked at Tarian and Maeve, she told them that Jack’s heart stopped beating. But it was obvious he wasn’t dead, he was still breathing. She tried to go into his mind but he had some kind of shield up that she couldn’t get through. She could help as far as moral support went, but that was it.

Tarian told Samandra to open a portal; he was going to see Arden. For one he needed to know that Jack was back. And two, he needed to know about Jack’s condition. Hopefully Arden could do something to help. If not he didn’t know what to do.

Samandra stepped away from Gabe, and walked over to her mirror. She started chanting and in a few minutes had a portal opened to Lord Arden’s castle. For the first time in years, she saw the sign on the gates that said ‘Arden’. Samandra told Tarian that they’d wait here, and if Jack’s condition got better or worse she’d contact him. Tarian agreed, but he couldn’t see how it could get worse. The man had no heart beat for Daganion’s sake! He looked around, and just as he stepped into the portal, he realized that Maeve was going with him.

 

Lord Arden sat in his study when his gates informed him that he had company. It was just one of those, ‘Make Life Easier’ enchantments he liked. When anyone stood in front of them, the gates informed Arden of their basic make up, race, age, height, weight, and sex. They gates “remembered” who stood before them and if either of these two had been before these gates before, the gates would have known who they were and would have just informed Arden who was here to visit.

Arden put his book down (nymph faeries and the men who are stuck under their spell) and went to the front inner gates to answer the call. He told the outer gates to open and permit the two to pass; he commanded the inner gates to open as well. He stood just inside smoothing out his robes when he saw Prince Tarian and Ms. Black step up the walkway. He greeted them and bade them enter, he then led them up to his study for a nice cup of tea.

 He showed them to their seats and informed Tarian on how to work his teacup. Tarian gave it a strange look and Arden promised him it wasn’t poisoned, unless he requested a little cyanide with his tea. The three of them laughed and Tarian just asked for water. Unless it was a real special occasion that’s all he drank anyway. Maeve on the other hand requested her usual, whiskey.

After they dispensed with the pleasantries, Arden asked the question of, “What honor do I owe to such a visit?” Tarian and Maeve looked at each other; both were wondering where to start first. So Tarian decided that the most logical place to start was from the beginning.

“In the beginning, Daganion created the elves in his own image, and he was…” Tarian stopped as Maeve kicked him. She told him to quite being a smart-ass. They didn’t have time to joke around. Reluctantly Tarian agreed, although he knew Jack would have pulled the same smart-ass stunt if he were in Tarian’s place. He began the tale in a serious tone, Maeve knew he was still being an ass.

“Lord Arden, earlier this morning the Elven Nation was about to once again defend her borders. As you are probably well aware, we’ve been at war with the human barbarians on our planet. Well before today’s battle, the entire nation screamed out in horror and terror. Just outside our city walls, a great castle of bone materialized out of nothingness.” Tarian paused to let Lord Arden digest this information.

“Bone castle you say? A great castle made entirely out of bone? There’s only one place I ever heard of that has such a castle. I am sorry for interrupting, please go on.” Arden said.

Tarian went on to explain about the elves coming out of it were once deceased, and then Jack came out. Arden sat up and almost fell forward in his chair. He coughed and tea came pouring out his nose to soak his beard. When Arden had regained his posture he asked the question everyone had wanted to know, but no one had asked yet, “How”

Maeve interjected, telling Tarian that some of them couldn’t wait a hundred years just for him to tell a story. Maeve got right to the point, telling Arden about the icky melting thing, and Jack dead, but not really dead. She said that they needed his help, or someone that could help.

Arden like everyone else at first was quite stunned by the entire story. Maeve looked at Tarian to make sure she had gotten everything. Tarian gave her a dark look, apparently she had hurt his feelings a bit by cutting him off. She responded by squinting her eyes and sticking out her tongue. Tarian laughed, stood up and shoved his dick down her throat.

A loud cough from Arden broke Tarian’s thoughts as he sat looking at the silly face Maeve was still making. So instead of shoving anything down her throat, he ignored her and looked at Arden.

“Alright children, I think I need to call on Lady Chapel. If you would please stay for awhile. It will only take a day or so and then we’ll be off to the Elven Nation. Will you need one or two sets of chambers?” Arden asked.

“Two” Maeve said at the exact same moment Tarian shouted “One”. Arden smiled and called in Wawki, who led them to their rooms. A few minutes after Tarian has settled in a knock sounded at his door. He got up to get it and saw Maeve standing there. He let her in and shut the door. She spun on her heel and slapped him hard across the face. Surprised Tarian fell to the floor.

“That’s for that little fantasy of yours. Next time you want to have those kind of thoughts, make sure as hell a telepath isn’t in the room.” Maeve scolded while trying to keep from grinning.

“Thoughts are private, I can think of whatever I wish. And the next time your hand flies, remember who I am. I can easily have you killed for striking royalty.” Tarian said.

They both stared hard at each other, then they broke into fits of laughter. They stayed up late into the night talking. As dawn arose Maeve began giving Tarian lessons on how to be warm-hearted. She however would break off the lessons and would slap him when his thoughts turned to sex. Kissing was fine with her, but she wasn’t ready for sex. Not yet at least.

 

Soren paced around Cerubus’ study. He knew that Cerubus wouldn’t be to pleased with being awoken his late. But the news he had couldn’t wait any longer. He looked at the floor where two black scorch marks were. He wondered briefly what these two had done to piss their master off. Soren wondered if a same fate awaited him, but quickly dismissed the thought. He was too valuable to be killed so hastily.

Soren made sure of that, not only did they need him to take over the nation, but also he always kept information flowing. He made sure he was too valuable to kill. Plus he was stronger than the two scorch marks. He wouldn’t be easy to kill anyway and it didn’t look like much if any of a fight had happened. He dismissed the thoughts as Cerubus walked in. he didn’t look happy.

Cerubus sat at his desk, folded his hands and smiled. Soren thought that the smile was more of a painful grimace than anything.

“What is so damn important that you have to come here this late and awaken me? I already know about the bone castle and the artifact. What else can there possibly be? ” Cerubus asked.

Soren smiled and then told him about how the elves that came out of the castle were dead, or once were. When he told Cerubus about Jack, Cerubus nearly fell out of his seat. He gave Soren a hard, disbelieving look.

“What?!” Cerubus shouted.

“It’s true, I’ve seen him myself. He has also brought back Captain Moonfrost with him as well. Not to mention Ashe Vasichek and his men.” Soren said.

“How? How in the hells did he do it? His magic was stripped from him when he died. Is it possible that he is actually powerful enough to not truly die? The Fabric of Life can not be destroyed, and many whisper that he’s the physical form of the Fabric.” Cerubus said in wonderment.

“Actually my lord, I have another theory which I believe would be a better explanation. I do not believe that Jack Karde is any embodiment of the Fabric. What if he had learned to use the Shroud in the Kingdom of the Dead? If the Magblos are right and his blood is pure magic, turning over to the Shroud would indeed make him powerful. Theoretically it would make him the most powerful Death Child to ever have walked the worlds.” Soren stated.

Cerubus looked around in thought. What Soren had just said sounded like a long shot. But if he was right, maybe they could turn Karde completely. He’s tasted the power the Dark Path has to offer, and like any man before him it’s damn near impossible to resist, almost futile. A loud clearing of the throat sound brought him out of his reverie.

Soren told him about the past few days at the palace and about Jack’s condition. Soren went into detail about the battle Jack had with his own corpse, and the merging of the two bodies. Cerubus listened with rapt attention, soaking in every word. When Soren told Cerubus about Jack’s heart not beating, but yet he still breathed, Cerubus smiled wickedly.

Soren looked confused when Cerubus smiled. Cerubus cleared up Soren’s confusion by telling him that when a human embraces the Shroud, his heart no longer beats. He is more undead than anything, which is why a human Death Child becomes corpse like. He’ll still breathe, because he’s not truly dead, they’re in a state that’s in between life and death. And from the sound of things, Mr. Karde is embracing the Shroud.

 

Jack stood in the middle of a road. It was a clear blue sky, perfect temperature, and the sun was in a good position nice and high in the sky. He looked around and saw he was on a road in the middle of a forest. Ahead of him was a fork in the road. On the left there was a sign saying ‘Fabric of Life’ and on the right side was a sign saying ‘Death Shroud’

The left path was light and he could hear whispers of love, friendship, and merriment. The right path was dark and foreboding. He heard whispers of untold power. Jack looked around and saw that he was alone. He didn’t know how he got here, or where here was. The last thing he remembered was being in the hall in the palace. He remembered fighting himself, but he really didn’t know if this was winning or not.

He looked down both paths, the whispers from both were growing louder, they were almost shouting in their whispers. Jack looked behind him and after about ten feet there was literally nothing there. Just an empty black void.

‘All right Jackie Boy, apparently you’ve died yet again. This time you get to choose where to go, either to the Fabric or the Shroud. Yeah, like that’s a tough choice to make. But what if this isn’t as simple as that? What else could it be?’ Jack thought.

Jack sat down on a tree stump, pondering what to do. The call of the Shroud was so damn tempting; it was really hard to resist it. The Fabric stopped calling to him, did that mean he wasn’t welcomed there? Or did it mean that the Fabric had absolute faith in him. It knew he would make the right decision. Jack dropped his head into him palms, rubbing his eyes fiercely. Then he felt a hand on his shoulder.

 

Lady Chapel looked at everyone in the room. She explained that she didn’t know what was going on either. That after two days she had done everything she knew. Jack wasn’t ill or dead, he wasn’t well or really alive either. But he was still breathing, and she said that he does make subtle facial expressions. For all intents and purposes, it looked as if he was locked inside his own mind.

Maeve and Malindria looked at one another and silently agreed. Maeve told them that her and Malindria would try and break through the mental barrier. If they could maybe one of them could get through and talk to Jack. Find out what’s happening. Lady Chapel looked at Arden and told him it couldn’t hurt. Arden agreed, though he didn’t say anything he knew what was wrong with Jack. He remembered all to clearly when Byron had the same thing happen to him. When Byron came to, a new Death Child was born. Arden didn’t want to lose Jack to the Shroud as well.

Maeve and Malindria laid down on either side of Jack. They placed one hand each on his forehead, and with their other hand they held his hands. They closed their eyes and began concentrating. As they entered Jack’s mind they prepared to battle the forces that Jack’s mind or some other source would throw at them.

 

Going through someone’s mind was a lot like virtual reality or cyber-space. Whatever you could imagine could very well happen. Maeve often felt like she was a mind hacker. Different people had different looking defenses, some were simple and others were difficult. Some defenses took the shape of a simple wall that had to be knocked down, while some mental defenses were warriors that had to be vanquished in order to gain access. But in Jack’s case, his mind was different. Instead of warriors or walls, or anything in between all he had was one simple old man.

The three of them stood in a simple white room, with no doors or windows. The old man was standing in the middle of the room wearing a white robe and was holding a thick book, which lay open in his hands. He balanced the book in one hand and pushed his spectacles up with his free hand. He looked at the two women and told them they would begin when they were ready.

Maeve looked first to the old man, then to Malindria. Malindria didn’t look happy at all. She explained to Maeve that they had to answer riddles to get in. Three riddles answered correctly in a row and they were allowed access. She had tried several times and failed. Maeve groaned, she really sucked at riddles. But they stepped forward and told the old man that they were ready to proceed.

“First riddle, what’s green, has four digits, and smells like pork?” the old man asked.

The two women looked at each other in confusion. Malindria stated that at least there wasn’t a time limit. They pondered the riddle for awhile, neither of them could think of anything that fit that description. Then an answer came to Maeve, but it was too silly to be right. But then again this was the mind of a young man from Earth, a New Yorker no less. Maeve whispered to Malindria the answer. Malindria had no clue what she was talking about. Maeve laughed and realized that of course she wouldn’t.

“Kermit’s hand.” Maeve said with confidence.

“Correct!” shouted the old man. Then he continued, “Second riddle, What’s green, has blades, grows, and tickles your bare feet?” ask the old man again.

 After a few moments thinking time, Maeve shouted, “Grass!”

“Correct again! Last one, What’s Jack’s favorite color?”

Just as Maeve and Malindria thought they were going to get through, the old man pops a silly question. The two women looked at each other both confused. Neither of them knew Jack well enough to know his favorite color. Was it a trick question? Were black and white considered colors here? They had come to far to fail now. Maeve asked for another question but the old man just repeated the same one.

   Then it struck her, she whispered to Malindria the answer. Malindria agreed. It was so easy that it was a real stumper. Looking at the past two questions for the answer Maeve shouted, “Green!”

“Correct again! You may enter, but only one. If the other wishes to enter as well she must answer three riddles.” Said the old man.

The two women talked it over, and it was decided that Maeve should enter. Malindria would go back and tell everyone waiting what was happening.

 

Jack turned around and saw a very pretty woman looking down at him. He wasn’t sure, but she looked familiar. Her short jet-black hair, beautiful violet eyes, small frame, and very elven features. The fact that she was wearing black sweatpants and a white t-shirt that really showed off her curves, made Jack wish he could remember who she was. She had the sweetest looking smile he had ever seen, and when she moved it was with such elegance that she had to be a dancer. But not a strip dancer, she had too much class.

“Hi Jack, I know you don’t know me, but I’m here to help, if I can. My name’s Maeve Black of the Bloodstone tribe. I’m a telepath werewolf. I’m friends with Samandra, Malindria and that crew. Everyone is worried about you right now, and I’ve come to see what we can do to help you out.” Maeve said.

“It’s nice to see a friendly face. Well, Maeve is it? We have a choice as you can see. On the left side, we have the Fabric path. On the right side we have the Shroud path. Now I know what path I should take, but the temptation for the other path is overwhelming. Oh well, I guess it all depends on where I’d like to spend in eternity. I don’t think I want to come back to life again.” Jack said.

“W-W-What! Jack you’re not dead! If you were I wouldn’t be here. You’re body is lying on a bed in Princess Samandra’s quarters. Honestly, we’re not really sure what you are. You’re breathing, but you have no heartbeat. I was hoping maybe you could tell me what’s going on. But I guess not.” Maeve said.

Jack told her he didn’t know what was going on. If he wasn’t here to choose an afterlife then he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. He asked her for her opinion. She suggested that maybe once he chose a path that’s the path he’ll walk in life. People make those decisions all the time, just not in this fashion.

He looked at both paths again, the voices from the dark path were almost screaming at him, but the light path didn’t make a sound. He looked at Maeve for advice. She told him it was up to him, he knew what each path was, much better than she did.

Jack could barely believe he was having trouble with this. Good or evil? Love and friends, or power? Maeve just stood by watching him weigh his thoughts out; she could understand how it would be a difficult choice. The power evil promises is it’s strongest force, but that’s all it is. Maeve desperately wanted to help, but she knew that the choice was Jack’s, and Jack’s alone.

Jack smiled and turned around to face Maeve. He informed her he had made a decision. She was about to shoo him down his path when he told her to leave.

“What? You want me to go?” Maeve asked.

“Aye, I don’t want anyone around as I walk down the path. Consider it a privacy thing. Don’t worry, I’ll be around shortly.” Jack answered.

“Yeah, but as our friend, or as our enemy?” Maeve asked again.

In a playful tone Jack said, “I guess you’ll just have to wait and see.”

Maeve agreed and broke her connection. Jack looked around and walked to the mouth of the two paths. He looked down them both, but there was nothing to be seen.

‘Well Jack, there’s no sense in wasting time.’ He thought to himself, as he turned and headed towards the dark path.

 

Lord Tymerian was sitting up in bed coughing, and vomiting blood. The priests and healers had been in to try and help, but it was to no avail. Through a pause in his illness he called Latharous in. He wished to see all his children together before he passed on. Latharous told him to stop talking like that, in a few days this would pass and he’d get stronger.

Lord Tymerian smiled at his eldest child; the burden Latharous had bore was incredible. Caring for him, and running the nation, he could see in his son’s eyes how much he had aged in the past few years. But he told him to just humor a old sick man anyway.

Latharous sent the guards to fetch his siblings. Right now there was not a chance in the world that he’d leave his father’s side. It took a quarter of an hour, but Samandra, Tarian, and even Gabriel were there. Soren was no where to be found. It was then that Gabriel remembered the talk that he and Jack had about Soren. Even though it was direly important, it was something that he couldn’t bring up now. But he couldn’t help to think that Lord Tymerian might live if he brought it up. He walked over to Latharous and took him aside.

Gabriel told Latharous about how he saw his assassin. His face was covered, but his voice and eyes looked like Soren’s. Gabe told him how Soren came to Jack in the tent the morning he was killed. Telling Jack to beware of an assassin. When Gabe was done the look on Latharous’ face was of pure rage.

Latharous practically spat at Gabe, demanding how he could accuse Soren, a prince of the Elven Nation of such crimes. Gabe tried to stammer out that the Lord’s mysterious illness might be caused by a dark magic spell. But he was quickly escorted out.

Samandra followed Gabe out to see what was going on. Gabriel was about to say, then thought better of it. He said he was going back to check up on Jack. Samandra watched him go, then went back in to see her father. She sat at his bedside holding his hand and telling him how much she loved him. Tarian and Latharous stood at the other end of the room watching, not knowing what to say.

Lord Tymerian looked at his beautiful daughter and smiled for the last time. He closed his eyes and whispered he loved her, and then quietly passed away. For the first few moments no one did anything but hold their breath, then Samandra started to cry. Tarian walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her. Latharous stood stunned, not only by his father’s death, but what impact that event just had to the nation. He, Latharous was now Lord Tymerian the IX.

 

 

Jack awoke to the sounds of a bell tolling, Gabriel walking in, and a few faces that it looked as if they were forcing fake smiles. Jack sat up and saw that Maeve was lying next to him, it looked like she was just waking up herself. Jack looked around, Arden, Lady Chapel, Malindria, Gabriel, and Maeve sat around. Shaking the clouded head feeling away Jack could hear that Gabe was telling the others something, but he couldn’t hear it. Maeve lying next to him gasped, apparently he was the only one in the dark here.

“What’s going on? Who’s ringing that bell and why?” Jack asked.

“Jack, the bells ringing because Lord Tymerian just died. The bell will ring once a minute for every year that he ruled the nation. In his case it’ll ring twelve hundred and fifty-six times. It’s our custom for a departed ruler. The nation will mourn as long as the bell rings. When it is done, there will be a three-day viewing. On the final day the new lord will step forth and claim the throne. It’s been our custom since Ty founded it.” Gabriel educated.

Jack sat there in stunned silence listening to the bell’s death toll. For once he didn’t know what to say. Everyone sat around staring at one another or at nothing at all. Then Gabe broke the silence. He walked over to Jack and clapped him on the back telling him it was good to see him up and about. Then Maeve moved in front of Jack and placed her hand over his heart. She gave him a big warm felt smile and then hugged him. Jack was back to the land of the living; he had a heart beat again!

Arden sighed in relief, and when Jack asked him what all of that was about Arden explained.

“Well, after you merged with the animated body, your body became whole, in a sense. But your mind was still split, as was the blood in your veins. You needed to pick your path, you couldn’t go on following both paths, which would be impossible to do. So your brain shut down while you made your choice.” Arden explained.

Jack and most everyone still looked confused. But Jack decided that now wasn’t the time to go into further detail about it. With the death of Lord Tymerian, he was sure customs and rituals were going to take place. He just wished he had the chance to tell the lord of the Elven Nation thanks for everything, and good-bye.

 

As the bell tolled the priests prepared Lord Tymerian’s body for viewing. When the bell sounded it’s last the body would be on display for the nation to view and pay respects. For three days the glass tomb holding their lord would be in front of the palace. On the final hour of the viewing the new lord would be inaugurated into his position. As was custom, his first command as lord would be to place the tomb in the ‘Hall of Heroes’.

Latharous sat watching the priests work. Spells were cast and the tomb was ready. As long as the tomb was undisturbed, the body would be preserved forever. The anger he felt for Gabriel was starting to fade, he knew that Soren’s actions, or lack there of, were questionable. He knew that Gabe wouldn’t just accuse a man for no reason, when this was over he intended on talk to Gabe and Jack about their suspicions. But now was not the time.

Once again he was alone, although the priests were there, he was still alone. Ignoring his fathers, well now his, advisors, Latharous remained seated. He couldn’t take his eyes off his father’s body. Even in elven standards Lord Tymerian wasn’t young, but he wasn’t considered old either. For him to have gotten a disease to kill him, that not even the healers could cure, was proof of foul play. Latharous stood, now was the time to talk to Gabe and Jack. It couldn’t wait! He practically ran to Samandra’s quarters.

As he was running he rounded a corner and slammed into someone. Latharous looked up and saw a figure dressed completely in black. Behind the mask this stranger wore he could see Soren’s eyes, and they were smiling. Latharous knew that he was going to die.

“Why? I will not plead for my life, but I want to know why.” Latharous said.

“Because dear brother, when I am lord of this nation it will all belong to the Children of Death. Tarian and Samandra will be joining you shortly as well. Tell father I said ‘Hello’.” Soren finished as he drove a dagger through Latharous’ heart.

Latharous fell to the ground, dead instantly. Soren looked around; he left the dagger in Latharous’ body and placed a note in his hand. Taking his brother he vanished in a puff of black smoke. He threw Latharous on the floor in his own chambers and took the note. He read it over once, marveling at the wonderfully forged suicide note, and then placed it on a near by table. Soren then teleported out of the room to his own chambers.

 

Not only was Maeve a telepath, but she was an empath as well. Through her telepathy she could feel strong surges of emotion around her general vicinity. It had been six hours since Lord Tymerian’s death, Samandra and Tarian were back with the group and all were doing there best to comfort them. Gabriel was explaining to Samandra why Latharous had gotten so angry with him and why he left. When Maeve sat straight up, terror-stricken and started to yell out.

 

Tarian sat closest to her, he spun in his seat and shook her. All eyes turned to Maeve, all curious and concerned. Jack brought her a glass of water while Tarian and Malindria calmed her down. Maeve took a few deep breaths and relaxed just a bit, enough to come out of her panicked state.

“I was just sitting here thinking about nothing in particular when I felt this strong surge of hatred, rage, pain, and then death. I don’t know who, but I think someone was just murdered.” Maeve blurted out.

Everyone sat looking at one another, all thinking who could have been murdered, by who, and why. Then without warning Jack and Gabe looked at each other in sudden realization. They both bolted for the door, flung it open and ran down the hall.

The other occupants of the room looked at each other for a second when Maeve, Tarian, and Samandra got up and ran after Jack and Gabe. Samandra was in the lead, piecing the information about Soren together she had a good idea on where the other guys were heading. The hallways were crowded however, so they were having a hard time catching up. Then Samandra heard a deep growl behind her and unexpectedly a black furry mass leapt over her head to take the lead. Elves scattered out of their way.

Samandra yelled that Maeve didn’t know where she was going, and Maeve telepathically told her that thanks to reading minds she did. For a moment, Samandra felt violated, but now was not a good time in etiquette lessons. Besides, they could see Jack and Gabe round the corner into Latharous’ chambers.

 

Jack and Gabe came to a halt when they burst through the doors. They saw Latharous dead, lying in a slowly growing pool of blood. Gabriel was about to say something when a harder to stop Maeve crashed into them. Jack and Gabe got to their feet, as Tarian and Samandra came in. Jack and Gabe were both now covered in blood. The five of them stood in silence as they looked down at Latharous.

“Doesn’t this mean that Soren is the new Lord Tymerian?” Jack asked.

The three elves looked at one another. They sure as hell knew that it did and they told Jack and Maeve so. Maeve stepped aside and contacted Malindria who was still in Samandra’s quarters. She told Malindria what happened and told her to inform Arden. Malindria was as shocked about the news as the rest of them and said she’d inform Arden.

As they stood in silence an idea formed in Tarian’s mind. He tried using his sword, Aymeribol on his father. But whatever sickness had killed his father, the sword couldn’t cure it. However he could invoke the sword’s power and bring Latharous back to life. Tarian stepped to the side and called the sword’s name. Aymeribol started to glow green again, and Tarian could feel the power that the sword held. All watched as he walked over to Latharous. He pulled the dagger out of his chest and then laid the sword on the wound.

A brilliant green light spread over Latharous’ body. His fingers started to flex and slowly his body began to move. Tarian removed the sword and stepped back. Everyone, especially Jack stared at Tarian in wonder. Latharous’ movements may have been sloth like, but he was definitely moving on his own. Samandra ran over to her brother’s side and then slowly she sat him in a chair.

Latharous looked around in amazement. He knew he had died, he felt his soul pull away. So what was he doing back in his chambers with his two youngest siblings and their companions? He went to stand but fell back into the chair; he was too weak to really move right now. He looked at Tarian who had a very elated look on his face. Latharous tried to speak but his voice was too weak as well. Maeve caught on and spoke for him.

“How did you do that?” Maeve said for Latharous and everyone else really.

“My sword, Aymeribol has the power to bring back the newly dead. And you my dear brother, were definitely newly dead.” Tarian explained.

“Did you just happen to forget that power when I died? I mean you could have saved me a lot of trouble you know.” Jack said.

“I only found out about the power a short while ago. I didn’t know it had that power then.” Tarian retorted, then he reached into a pouch at his side and threw Jack a small black object.

Jack caught it and looked at it. It was his Kimber Combat Elite! He looked at Tarian and thanked him for holding on to it. Then he did an old-fashioned gun fighter spin with the gun and dropped it in his pocket.

“If Tarian had given you your life back, we wouldn’t have our men back. Not to mention the joy you gave the nation as husbands, fathers, and sons returned to their loved ones. The Elven Nation owes you a lot Captain Karde. And we elves never forget a favor.” Latharous said on his own.  

“Ah it was nothing, really. But I think we should be focusing our attention to who killed you. I’ll bet my bottom dollar I can name the S.O.B. in one try.” Jack replied.

Latharous went into an explanation of what happened. He told them about how he had rethought what Gabriel had said, and how he was on his way to see them when he met Soren in the hallway. Latharous told them about how he planned on killing Tarian and Samandra as well. When he was done, everyone was eager to get Soren.

 

With Latharous running behind them, the group ran for Soren’s quarters. Swords were drawn, spells were prepared, and one petite girl had grown considerably in size by the time they reached Soren’s quarters. They looked at one another silently asking for readiness. Since Maeve was the largest and strongest she would tear the door down. Jack and Tarian would follow with Gabe and Samandra behind them. Latharous would come in last as a nice surprise for Soren.

Maeve ripped through the doors and rushed in, with everyone following behind. When they got in the room they all felt disoriented and strange, something wasn’t right. Jack looked around, he and everyone else realized that they were no longer in the palace anymore. This place was cold and dark; it had a very evil feel to it. They all gave each other skeptical glances, none of them knowing what was going on. Then they heard a laugh. Jack shivered from head to toe as he remembered that laugh from his dreams years ago.

“Welcome to my home. My name is Cerubus and you have been transported to my tower. I have heard a lot about you all. Especially you Mr. Karde, I’ve heard a great deal about you. Your magic will not work in my home. It is protected from the Fabric. However Ms. Black’s powers are not magical but natural. So I fear I must be rid of you completely.” Their host said.

With that Cerubus quickly cast a spell before anyone could react. Maeve clutched at her chest in pain and then a moment later she was lying on the ground. Jack and Tarian went to her, but there was no pulse. Cerubus had killed her.

In a blind rage Jack lifted his gun and started firing at Cerubus. As the bullets bounced off an invisible barrier, Cerubus could only laugh. Tarian and Gabe charged, but their swords to were only deflected. Cerubus kept laughing, we was utterly enjoying their pathetic acts of desperation. When he was done laughing, he cast another spell. The remaining group members were frozen in place, pain shooting through their bodies.

Jack and everyone else watched helplessly as guards entered the room surrounding them. They parted slightly as Soren entered the room. He looked at Cerubus and smiled, he then turned to look at Latharous.

“I don’t know how you escaped death dear brother, I suspect that Captain Karde had a hand in it. But no matter, I shall have to kill you again. But should I let you watch our youngest siblings die? As I told you before dear brother, I plan on killing them as well.” Soren hissed.

“Leave them be Soren, by killing me you have established your legacy. On the event of my death the Elven Nation is yours. Leave them be, there is nothing they can do.” Latharous pleaded.

“There is nothing they can do to save you. But by letting them live, I dare say that’s only inviting trouble. I will kill the three of you quickly, watching the way I killed father almost brought a tear to my eye. I still can not believe that no one questioned me about it. You weak wretched fools.”

With that Soren drew a wicked looking double-edged dagger and plunged it into Latharous’ chest, twisting the blade as it went in. Latharous frozen by the spell screamed and then died on his feet, even after Soren stepped away, Latharous’ body stood in death. Samandra cried out in anguish as the three men spat out curses, and Cerubus laughed. Soren smiled wickedly at Samandra.

 

Maeve dared not to move. She knew that right now timing was crucially important. Thanks to her natural abilities, she defeated Cerubus’ spell and acted dead. She had a pulse; she just put the suggestion into Tarian’s and Jack’s mind that there was none. She wanted to attack Soren before he killed Latharous, but Latharous instructed her telepathically not to. She would have a better chance of success after he was dead and they were gloating over it. Their guard would be down and her chance to strike would be at it’s best. She wanted to get into someone’s mind, let their eyes be hers. But she couldn’t risk someone either getting suspicious or surprising them.

Maeve used her senses of hearing and smelling as her guide, she concentrated on foot falls and scents. The smell of rotting flesh was almost over powering, especially in lupus form. But she could smell and hear Soren stepping closer to her, to where Samandra stood. Patience wasn’t one of Maeve’s greatest virtues, but she summoned up every ounce she had.

 

“Well dear sweet Samandra, it appears that your turn is next. I was hoping that you would have turned to the Dark Path. After I killed Gabriel you took such a downward spiral, but that wasn’t enough. Then thanks to a little spell I had you kill Jack, but yet you still failed to cross over to the Shroud. You thought yourself evil once, you were nothing but selfish and naďve. You will never know what it is to be truly evil.” Soren said as he drew his dagger back, ready to strike once more.

Maeve, kicked off from the ground and in one mighty leap, slammed into Soren and carried him. The two of them crashed into Cerubus who was frozen in fright. Cerubus lost concentration of his spell and the group burst into motion. Tarian ran to Maeve’s side, praying to Daganion that Soren was still alive. Jack and Gabe attacked the guards as Samandra weaponless and unable to use spells looked for another alternative to fight.

  Tarian grabbed Soren by the collar and held his sword at Soren’s throat. The rage that Tarian felt was unbelievably strong, the surge of hatred was almost overwhelming. The tip of his blade was pressing hard into Soren’s throat; a small river of blood was running down his chest.

“Give me one reason! Just one goddamn reason I shouldn’t kill you!” Tarian yelled.

“Because I am your brother!” Soren yelled back, fear apparent in his voice.

“Not good enough.” Tarian said calmly. Then with one thrust he plunged his blade into Soren’s throat killing Soren and making himself the new lord of the Elven Nation.

 

As Maeve watched Tarian slay his brother she never even noticed Cerubus casting a spell. Before she could react it was too late. As a blast of black lightning shot from Cerubus’ hands, slamming her square in her massive chest. The smell of burnt flesh and hair was thick in the air. Maeve howled in pain, and leapt for Cerubus. But he had disappeared before she reached him.

She sunk to her hands and knees as the agony of the blast swept throughout her entire body. The guards closest to her began to move in. A guard swung for an attack and hit Maeve in the side opening a gash and causing her blood to flow freely. She growled and spun and with her hands on either side of the man’s head she brought them together, crushing the guard’s head like a melon between her hands.

The other guards backed off as Tarian turned towards them. Maeve stood and side by side her and Tarian fought back. With one rake of her massive claws a man fell cut into pieces. Tarian went into a blade dance, which was not only deadly, but quite beautiful. Any of the guards that came in close enough were cut down.

 

Jack and Gabe fought back to back. Samandra was at their feet trying frantically to unsheathe Latharous’ blade. The guards rushed in as Samandra stood. She didn’t have a chance to get her sword up to defend when a guard dealt her a blow across her chest. Gabe yelled out and in a spinning back strike decapitated the guard’s head. He was about to check on Samandra who was on the floor, when a sharp pain caused him to stop. He looked down and saw a sword covered in blood exit his body. He felt the warm rush of his blood and entrails spewing from his body.

Jack fought with fury; he had never felt such loathing for anyone before. He began to think of the pain and deaths they’d cause on their battle for the worlds. He thought of his parents retired in Florida, trying to fight back but dying under the Dark Forces march of conquest. He thought of his sister Lisa, and her son Tommy who was named after Jack. There wasn’t a chance in hell he’d let them be hurt.

Jack let out a war cry that resounded off the walls. For a moment the remaining guards paused, but quickly resumed their attack. Jack drew his gun; enough was enough, no more mister nice guy. He defended with his sword and attacked with his gun. Within a few minutes all the guards had been killed.

Jack spun around and looked at the carnage. There were at least twenty guards lying dead, and three of his friends were wounded. Gabe was lying on his back, his head supported in Samandra’s lap. His hands were pressed into his gut, trying to stop his insides from leaking out. He noticed that Samandra had a cut across her chest. The wound looked deep but she’d live. Maeve’s fur was burnt off on her chest and her skin was blackened, but even as Jack watched, she was healing.

“Alright Tarian, time to wake your brother up again. Then you and I have a job to do.” Jack said.

“I can’t help him this time. Aymeribol only has the ability to perform that power once a week. By then it’ll be too late. But I can help Gabriel.” Tarian said as he walked over to Gabe.

Tarian called the sword’s name and once again she started to glow. He then placed the blade on Gabe’s wound and within seconds the wound began to heal. Tarian took the sword away and stepped back. He had a look of self-gratification on his face. Gabriel stood feeling his stomach; there wasn’t even a scar to show off. He looked at Tarian in mild disbelief; Tarian only smiled and shrugged. Then he told them he could only do that once a day. The sword had limitations, but it was better than nothing. No one disagreed.

Samandra looked at the bodies of her eldest two brothers. A sadness passed through her, even though Soren was going to kill her, he was still her brother. But the feeling quickly passed, if it wasn’t for Maeve, she to would be dead.

“Ok crew, we need to find a way out of here. Find a mirror and make a portal. Then we can get back to the Elven Nation and form a plan.” Jack said.

“Jack, you heard Cerubus. We can’t use our magic here, he’s got us cut off from the Fabric.” Samandra stated.

Jack looked at Maeve; he didn’t want her to know what Path he had chosen to walk. But now he didn’t have a choice. “You can’t use magic because you use the Fabric. But I chose to walk the Dark Path, I no longer require the Fabric, just the Death Shroud.” Jack said in matter of fact tone.

The others stood in shock at Jack’s words, Maeve especially. Gabriel spoke first and said that they could talk about it later. Jack was right, they needed to find a way out.

 

“You’re just going to let them leave, why? After all the planning you went into for this.” Adhimuktivasita asked.

“Because my sweet, I have studied them first hand. That was all this was about. To study and learn. My spy in the Elven Nation has informed me of everything so far. Do not worry, we will have our guests over again. They are a bit more powerful than I had thought them to be. Especially the werewolf, she isn’t just a huge brute like her kin. Her mental powers are strong indeed.” Cerubus answered.

“Your spy? But Soren is dead. How will he be able to tell you anything?” Vasita asked again.

Cerubus laughed and then looked at Vasita. “Soren wasn’t the spy, ever. He thought he was doing me a great service. I suppose he was in a way. Thanks to Soren, my real man was never even looked at twice. Soren was in place to take the fall, he was never important to me.”

“You wickedly evil man. I don’t suppose that you’d be willing to inform me of who your actual spy is?” Vasita said.

“Sorry my sweet, I can not do that. Even I do not know who he is. I know his real name, a name he hasn’t used in centuries. But as to who he is, or what name he uses now I couldn’t tell you if I desired to.” He explained.

Then he walked over to the large orb on its stand. It was time once again for his treatment. Vasita couldn’t help but wonder what it felt like to be Njord. Trapped inside the body of a Death Child. She assumed that Njord could feel this dark lord’s power. ‘What does it feel like exactly?’ she wondered.

 

Maeve in lupus form took point with Jack and Tarian behind her. Gabriel and Samandra carried Latharous’ body. Maeve looked down the hall; the only light coming from torches resting in their sconces on the walls. Slowly they crept out and started making their way down the hallway. Everyone kept an ear out listening for anything; Maeve was sniffing the air as well. Then she stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes sharpened and her nostrils flared. She stood in front of a door, sniffing around it. She turned and looked at the others and told them that she could smell glass in the room.

“You can smell glass? Just how acute are your senses?” Tarian asked.

“Would you like to find out someday?” Maeve asked with that wicked looking grin.

Tarian admitted that there was something about Maeve that he really liked. Maybe it had to do with her being something other than elven. But whatever it was he just couldn’t take an implication like that while she was in lupus form. It just wasn’t right. He may walk the Sun Path, but he sure as hell wasn’t into bestiality.

With that said Maeve knocked the door in. The heavy wooden door slammed flat onto the cold stone floor with a smack so loud that it vibrated throughout the tower. The group cringed at the noise, Maeve shrugged her shoulders, hung her head and as sheepishly as a werewolf could say, she mumbled ‘sorry’.

 In a darkened corner of the room stood the only residence. A large silver mirror the size of a movie screen was propped up against the wall. Everyone looked at the silver mirror to Maeve.

“Maeve, the mirror’s silver. What are we gonna do? Do you want to look for another mirror? I mean I know about werewolves and silver, kinda like water and oil. The two just don’t mix.” Jack said.

“Silver only hurts us if it goes into us. Silver piercings, ouch! Silver bracelet or necklace that’s fine. Therefore going through a silver mirror is fine. Besides, silver hurts it doesn’t kill unless delivered in a deathblow.” Maeve responded.

Jack shook his head in acknowledgement and went to the mirror. Maeve stood the door back up and Gabriel and Tarian stood with her to guard it. Samandra walked over to Jack.

“Jack, what do you mean you chose to walk the Dark Path? You can’t, you’re a good person. Walking the Dark Path is evil and corrupt.” Samandra said.

“Don’t worry about it. I am not your concern.” Jack venomously spat out.

Samandra stepped back. She had never heard Jack speak to anyone in such a tone before. She nodded towards him and moved over to the rest of the group.

Jack closed his eyes and started to think. He thought it would be much harder to summon the spell than he thought, but it came to him quite easily. He opened his eyes, said a few quick words, and the glass began to swirl in the pattern of a portal. In a few seconds they were looking at a strange room indeed.

It looked like deep space, stars were twinkling and they could see planets and moons. The room appeared as vast as space and they could feel the coldness on this side of the portal. But yet they could see a floor and they were able to make out walls and a roof. It was like someone put the universe in a box. Jack looked back at the group and without a word stepped through.

They looked at each other, unsure of what to do. They all heard the way he spoke to Samandra and his proclaiming to walk the Dark Path. Tarian spoke first, he told them that whatever Jack had said or whatever path he walked, he wasn’t going to believe that Jack was evil. There was a reason for him to walk his path. He trusted Jack too much to shun him now. With that Tarian stepped through and joined Jack on the other side. Gabriel agreed, an evil man wouldn’t have saved all those men from the Kingdom of the Dead, or goes hunting down an assassin. He to refused to believe Jack was evil. Maeve agreed as well and Samandra not wanting to be stuck there alone went through with the others.

 

The five of them stood in the room looking around in wonder. The swirling of the planets and moons, the twinkling of the stars, and the vast endless reaches of space started to make even the strongest stomach in the room feel queasy. The coldness of space seemed to reach in here as well. Samandra looked at Maeve with all her fur, and for a second was slightly jealous. They could see what looked like a shooting star and quickly they noticed that the star was getting closer. In a flash the star exploded before them and out of the light a dark figure approached.

As the light faded the group recognized Shadowolf. He held something in his hands that they didn’t recognize however, all except Tarian that is. In Shadowolf’s hand was the scepter. They all felt a strong divine presence; their jaws dropped in wonder. Before their eyes Shadowolf changed forms. He went from the dark clad human to an entity that was so bright and pure it was impossible to look at it directly. When he spoke they all fell to their knees in submission. He then told them to stand.

“My true name is Aed, I am one of the few true gods. We who created the galaxies and universe, it was us who gave birth to the worlds. It was also us who created and birthed the gods you worship now. It was also we who created this item I hold. The item known as the Scepter of Kings. With this item anyone can harness the power of a true god. The gods you worship now can not create planets, stars or anything on that level. They could just create life on those planets; their power is limited. Even they seek to obtain the scepter.

“She was created by the true gods. On one end she holds a piece from the Fabric of Life and at the other she has a piece from the Death Shroud. In the center she holds a soul of another ancient god, a goddess I should say. The soul of my wife Ayn is inside the scepter. The Scepter of Kings was her project. She was wise enough to know that one day we wouldn’t be around, that our children would need power such as ours. But even for our children, the power in the scepter is to powerful.

“So I have become her guardian allowing the scepter to roam the worlds, watching those in possession of her destroy their worlds. I do not interfere but merely watch. This is the first time since the beginning of time that I have held her close to me. You see, this is what the Dark Forces want. With the scepter the holder of her will be indestructible by normal means. He will be able to create and destroy as he pleases. Eventually he will destroy himself, they always do. But the damage they do is always incredible.

“But as an ancient god, I can not interfere as I have said. Therefore I must cast her aside onto the worlds below. Her lair in the Elven Nation is no longer secure. There are spies who are looking for her and I can not do anymore than I have already done.”

With that, the ancient god Aed cast the scepter down on the floor. To everyone’s surprise it fell past the floor, falling out of sight amongst the stars. Jack looked up to ask Aed a question, but he saw Shadowolf standing in place of the ancient god. Jack stepped forth.

“Excuse us, but I think I speak for all assembled here when I say, ‘The hell are you talking about?’ I mean what is it you want us to do? Find the scepter and take it? If that’s the case, you could have just tossed it over.” Jack said.

“What I want you and your companions to do is find the scepter and guard her. Protect her from those that will come seeking her. Guard her with your life because if you do not, it will be your life. You do not have to leave immediately in your quest, but do not take to long in beginning it either.” Shadowolf said.

With that he clapped his hands and the group was transported to the great hall in the palace. They stood looking around, somewhat disoriented. Then they realized that the great hall was filled with people. Advisors, priests, counsel members of the elven court, rulers of the great houses, and guests. The companions stood in front of them all, holding the body of Latharous, the would be lord of the Elven Nation.

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