Stories - Fantasy

Adventure in the Night

by Linda Heuer

Katie looked around at the brown walls of a tiny room. She was lying on the hard brown floor, and nothing seemed right. The last thing she remembered was snuggling down in her cozy green comforter in her bed while listening to Stravinsky on the radio. She had formed a nice little dream of meeting an exotic prince at college in the fall, and the two of them were riding off towards the sunset together on magnificent black horses. That is it. Then, all of a sudden, she is here in a cold, tiny, brown room.

"Is someone there?" Katie said with her eyes wide open.

"Please, someone. Answer me!" Katie said as she jumped up. She smoothed down her purple nightgown that had bunched up around her waist.

Katie walked around the tiny room, which looked to be only about 6 feet by 6 feet. She felt the walls, and it all seemed solid; no cracks, no doors, nothing but brown walls.

Katie tried knocking on the wall and then the floor, but nothing happened. She sat down and cried for a bit. When she was done, she rubbed her eyes and nose on the hem of her purple gown.

"Please, where am I?" Katie asked the room. She started fidgeting with her long brunette hair. Braiding it and rebraiding it until at last she started to become calm.

"Why am I here?" Katie asked the room

"Ah. You have stopped your hysterics. Good," A low throbbing voice resonated in the tiny room.

Katie shuddered. "Why am I here?" She asked again.

"You have come in your sleep, but are not sleeping now. You must help me if you are to return home," the deep voice continued.

"What on Earth do you mean? I've gotta be still sleeping, and all I need to do is wake up, then," Katie said.

"No you stupid girl!" the voice in the room boomed. "You are no longer sleeping!"

"So then, Mr. Room, where am I?" Katie said.

"You're in my house in the middle of Dreamland, so just shut up and let me explain and all will be well," the voice continued in mellow tones.

"Alright, I'm shutting up now," Katie said.

There was a pause.

"Alright, if you are calm now, I'll resume. To get out of here, we have to sneak through the night watchman's house past his gate into the realm of waking -- your realm. This is the only way that you can get back to your little bed. Now wasn't that simple now that you let me finish?" the room said.

"Yes, but..." Katie said.

"Good, then we'll be off," the voice said.

"Now wait just one second, Mr. Room. I'm not going anywhere until you tell me exactly what is going on here! The last thing I remember was falling to sleep at home, and you didn't explain anything." Katie said, jumping up and stomping her left foot.

"Easy there, kid. Fine, I'll try to explain it, but that's it. Then you have to take me with you to the realm of waking," the voice said.

"Fair enough," Katie replied.

"Describe to me everything you did when you went to sleep. Everything you were thinking," the voice said.

"Well, I like to make nice dreams for myself to fall asleep to, so this time, I envisioned a dashing prince astride a beautiful black stallion. I had a gorgeous black mare for myself and then fell asleep as we rode together into the sunset," Katie said.

"Ah. That explains it, then," the voice said.

The room fell silent.

"Explains what?" Katie asked as she wrinkled her eyebrows.

"A nightmare: you rode a nightmare back here to the realm of sleeping and now you are stuck," the voice said.

"Why am I stuck? I've ridden horses before in my dreams and this certainly has never happened before," Katie said.

"Not surprising. Most people don't daydream black mares, but when they do, the mares don't like it. Nightmares have to work all night long, and they only get to rest in the daytime. They don't like to be made to work a second shift. As a result, they sometimes bring back those who woke them up back into the realm of sleeping as a sort of payment for their time," the voice said.

"That seems rude," Katie said.

"So's being woken up to go to work on your time off," the voice said.

"Well, I suppose, but..." Katie said.

"You'll understand that better when you grow up, I'm sure," the voice said. "So are you satisfied yet? Can we get going? We don't have a lot of time left to get to the Night Watchman's house before sunrise," the voice said.

"What happens at sunrise," Katie asked.

"If you are still here by then, you will forever become a thing of dreams, and never more able to fully exist in the waking world," the voice said.

"I see. Then we'd better get going," Katie said.

A door suddenly appeared in the wall in front of Katie.

"Just step through the door and our journey will begin," the voice said.

Katie stepped through the door, and came out in the middle of a forest.

"Now you need to disguise yourself," the voice said.

"Disguise myself as what?" Katie asked.

"Oh, anything, really. But you must not be yourself as that is obviously something of the real world, and this is the land of dreams," the voice said.

"What should I be," Katie mused to herself. Her mind stumbled on her favorite comic book character. "Wonder Woman, that's who I'll be!" and Katie became Wonder Woman.

"Wow! I've never been anywhere near in this good of shape in my life!" Katie exclaimed as she examined her now well-toned legs and arms. She reached up and felt the tiara on her head, the girdle on her waist, and the golden lasso at her hip. She was the very image of the old style wonder woman doll Dan, a friend from pep band, had given her for her birthday the week before.

Katie twirled around.

"Good. Now then pick me up." The voice said from by her feet.

They were all of a sudden standing upon a hill in the middle of a forest in the nighttime. Katie stood as the image of Wonder Woman, and a tiny brown mouse stood at her feet.

"Wow, you're small!" Katie exclaimed.

"I'm small now so you can carry me, stupid girl," The tiny brown mouse said with the same booming deep voice she heard in the room.

"I see," Katie said, though she didn't really see.

"Pick me up!" The mouse stomped its left foot.

"Ok, already," Katie said and reached down to pick up the mouse.

"Where should I put you? This outfit has no pockets and I'm not putting you in my cleavage," Katie said.

"Think something up, then! By the night, you sure are daft!" the voice said.

Katie concentrated, and on the hip opposite the lasso, there appeared a blue pouch with white stars. It perfectly matched Katie's skirt. She dropped the mouse in the pouch and said "Where to now?"

"To the tower, of course, you stupid girl. Where else would the night watchman be?" the voice echoed from Katie's pouch.

"Alright, where's that? All I see are trees," Katie said.

"Go straight ahead on this path till you come out of the woods. Then you'll see the tower," the mouse said.

So through the forest went Katie Wonder Woman carrying in her pouch the rather grumpy mouse. Though it was very dark in the woods, she managed to stay on the path and eventually broke free of the forest. Rolling fields reached for miles and miles around. She was able to make off in the distance a tower.

"I see it," Katie said to the mouse in her pouch.

"Good. Now go towards it. If you don't look suspicious, no one will be alarmed. Then you need to go through the tower to get to the other side of the wall. Then we can both get back to your reality," The mouse said.

"There's a wall?" Katie asked.

"Of course. You don't think they just let anything past the borders of sleep and waking, do you, girl?" the mouse said.

"Well, I suppose not," Katie said. She then started walking through the fields and hills toward the tower. As she started getting close, she was able to see a great wall. The tower indeed seemed to grow up out of the wall, and was the only means of getting though to the other side.

When Katie was almost to the tower, the mouse cried out, "Now be careful in the tower. Never let on for a moment that I'm here, or all will be lost, and I cannot get you back home."

"I'll be careful," Katie said.

She went up to the big oaken door at the tower entrance and knocked.

There was no answer.

As she reached up to knock again, the mouse in her pouch cried out, "Please, no! You'll make them suspect something. Here in the land of Dreams, if no one answers a knocked door, it is an invitation to enter."

That seemed rather odd to Katie, but she just shrugged and pulled on the wire ring hanging from the door. It swung open and inside Katie saw a chamber lit by a candelabra hanging from the ceiling.

She shuddered a little, then patted her lasso and entered the room. There was no one there. She followed the streaming light into yet another chamber. This one was even bigger than the first. Again, no one was there. Hence, she went into a third chamber, all the while, the light was getting stronger, but the rooms seemed to lead nowhere.

Katie stopped and picked up a single candle that was sitting upon a writing desk. She walked out of the lit center of the room to the far wall. She felt along the wall until she found an opening. It looked just like the rest of the wall, but when she moved through it, she found it was really a passageway. This passage she followed until she came to a large chamber with only a small circle illuminated by moonlight in the center of the room.

A chain rattled.

"Who goes there?" A dainty feminine voice called.

"It is I, Ka... Wonder Woman," Katie called.

"Please, fellow woman, rescue me!" the dainty voice called out.

"Oh please do give her a hand," the mouse called out from the pouch.

"Who's that you have with you? Rusty, is that you?" the dainty voice cried. "Please listen to Rusty. Free me!"

Katie stepped into the illuminated center of the room when she heard an ominous creaking like what she heard when her tree house had blown down in the great Windstorm of '05. Katie stopped moving. She held out her candle, but its feeble light failed to penetrate the darkness of the chamber.

"Now look here, Mr. Voice Mouse, Rusty, or who ever you are! I'm not going in there where I can't see!" Katie hissed at the mouse in her pouch.

"You will if you ever want to see you're family again!" the mouse boomed. "Let me out of this pouch at once!"

Katie reached into the pouch and brought out the little brown mouse. He bit her hand and she dropped him onto the illuminated floor. As the rays of the moonlight hit his body, the mouse began growing. Katie watched with her mouth agape as the tiny brown mouse transformed into a giant shiny copper dragon. The dragon more than filled the lit portion of the chamber.

"Coral! We will be free at last to terrorize men again!" The copper dragon said.

"Darling! To be free of dreams and back in the real realms again! Ah how I have longed for the day." The dainty voice replied.

"We shall feast upon flesh this day, no more fear for us!" The copper dragon took a step towards his chained mate. Then he froze.

"Not so fast," Katie said. Her golden lasso was around the copper dragon's tail. "You are now under the influence of the Lasso of Truth."

The copper dragon looked around wildly, but did not move.

"I'm not as stupid as you thought, I guess," Katie said. "This is dreamland and now, I have become Wonder Woman, with all that being her entails, including her Lasso of Truth that compels people to tell me whatever I want, and once you are bound by a promise while the lasso is around you, you are forever bound by that promise. And now you will promise to never again plot to destroy humans, and to always and forever remain in the dream world."

"I do so promise to never again plot to destroy humans and to always and forever remain in the dream world," the copper dragon pledged.

"Bravo!" A voice called out from behind Katie. In strode a man dressed in full chain mail armor. "I couldn't have done it better myself," he said sheathing his silver sword.

"And you are?" Katie asked.

"The night watchman Daniel," The man said. Then he bowed to Katie. "That was some trick with the lasso."

"It's nothing. If you read as many comics as I do, you're bound to pick up a thing or two," Katie replied.

"Well, if you give Rusty over to me, I'll chain him up with his Coral until he simmers down a bit. Then I can take you home," Night Watchman Daniel said.

"You can do that?" Katie asked.

"Of course," Daniel said. "Some guardian of sleep and waking I'd be if I couldn't restore a citizen to his or her realm when they go astray."

As Katie gave him the lasso and Daniel bound the dragon Rusty to the wall next to Coral, Katie looked at him puzzled.

"You sure remind me of someone," Katie said.

"What was that?" Night Watchman Daniel said.

"I said you look a lot like a friend, is all," Katie said.

"Ah. Well, that happens a lot here, you know, seeing as how there's not much difference between there and here," Daniel said, looking directly towards Katie.

"What?" Katie said, looking even more confused.

"You'll figure it out someday," Daniel said smiling. "For now, let me bring you back home. It's almost morning."

Katie stretched and yawned. Her purple nightgown had ridden up to her waist again. She would really have to do something about that one of these days. She glanced at her desk where her new Wonder Woman doll sat.

"I think I'll give Dan a call..." Katie said.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 1: Gathering the Party

By Douglas E. Gogerty

I met the Cleric Thorvald Larsenski of the Cygnus clan while luring 30 orcs out of a woman's home. She lived on the outskirts of some town, and some orcs decided to take up residence in her place. She offered a 300 gold pieces to get rid of them. I thought that was easy money, so I took the job. I managed to lure all 30 of them out of her house.

They followed me for a ways, and I met up with Thorvald. He claims that he saved my life, but it was all a part of my plan. With a bit of finesse, I lured the orcs out of this woman's house, and I did not have to kill one. As I am leaving the town, Thorvald comes along and riles them up, by killing a couple. I had no choice in killing several orcs myself.

Once the orcs we killed the last of the orcs, Thorvald thought he should get some of the money for saving my life. However, from my point of view, he spoiled my plan. The woman was paying for removing the orcs. If they were able, they could come back to that woman's home, and I could have gotten more work. You never know, I could possibly earn another hefty bounty. However, I ended up having to save Thorvald's life because all 30 had turned to him. In any event, we split the gold evenly.

The woman was quite grateful, and I could tell she wanted me to stay a little while so she could further reward me. However, Thorvald mentioned that he was meeting a sorcerer friend to save some princess. He said that they could use someone like me to help him with the task. I told him that dieing was not my idea of a good time. Of course, he mentioned that she was rich.

"How rich?" I asked.

"The reward would be more than you can imagine," he replied.

"I don't know," I added. "I can imagine an awful lot."

"You'll get it," he promised.

"I better!" I said. "By the way Thorvald, after a long battle are you then Thor?"

"You may call me Cleric Larsenski, Most Revered Thorvald, or Thorvald Larsenski of the Cygnus Clan. Thor is right out!"

Some people do not have any sense of humor. He did not catch on to the pun at all. I hope the sorcerer we meet has a better sense of humor.

We travel a bit up the road, and we meet up with Thorvald's sorcerer friend. He was a typical sorcerer type. He was small and studious and reading a lengthy tome as we approached. A small castle was a little off in the distance. He had been trying to determine a way into the castle. In typical sorcerer fashion, he was at a loss.

"Greetings Most Revered Thorvald, you have brought along a companion," proclaimed the sorcerer.

"Salutations, I have brought a rogue to aid in our quest."

"Rogue," the sorcerer began. "I am Glaf Hellion of the Western Highlands, sorcerer of the Marquis of Mellicore, bearer of the vessel of the pestle, and barber to the king of swing."

I must admit I do not remember all that he said. I think he went on for an hour just reciting all his titles and honors.

"Nice to meet you," I replied. "So, how are we getting in the castle?"

"I have been unable to open the gate," he stated boldly.

"It should be simple enough to gain entrance."

"OK hotshot," he said. "You find a way in."

"Wait here and I will have us in shortly," I bragged.

I looked around and observed the high wall that surrounded the castle. On the other side of the wall was a moat. It appeared that getting in would be a difficult task. I checked the lock and it was one of those shifting locks. It was not going to let me pick it. I started to get worried, but I knew the type that had these types of castles. There had to be a key somewhere. Low and behold, there was a key hidden in a placard reading "Keep Out!"

Sorcerer Hellion was not impressed with my feat of awesomeness. I did not see him produce a key. We would still be standing outside the wall if he were in charge of getting us in. I guess what they say is true. "Some of the most astounding feats are nothing if you know how they are done."

With the produced key, I casually unlocked the gate and we walked inside. There was a small bridge crossing the moat on the other side of the gate. It was then that I noticed just how small the castle was. I was beginning to doubt the wealth of the princess we were rescuing.

We crossed the small bridge and opened the front portcullis of the castle. After we entered the castle, we killed some rats, spiders, and such. Nothing difficult came across out path.

According to Glaf, our goal was the dungeon in the lowest levels of the castle. Thus, we find our way down to the lower levels. When we make it to the lowest chamber of the dungeon, we had to kill some iron golems. That was as tough as it got. They were guarding a door that Thorvald claimed held the "princess." I easily picked the lock. Okay, it used the same key as the front gate. Inside we find a ranger named Gudrid.

"This is our princess?" I complained.

My complaint fell on deaf ears as Glaf and Gudrid embraced. I think they have a thing going on. Thorvald explained that Gudrid went ahead to look for the princess. Apparently, the iron golems trapped her in the room. The princess's remains were in the room when Gudrid made her way into the dungeon room. I asked about the riches, but a group of spiders and a gelatinous cube interrupted me.

We fought our way out of the castle with nothing. I know Gudrid looted the princess's corpse, so she may have gotten something out of it. I got nothing. I was about to part ways with this group when they mentioned that a town was having problems with some bandits. Thorvald claimed that this town had some wealth, and with some help, I would definitely earn some reward. I did not want to believe him, but I was heading in that direction.

Normally, I do not like taking on bandits as a personal courtesy. However, these bandits were ruthless. We had almost reached the town when we found them fighting a Paladin. However, they wanted to kill everyone. In fact, they had wiped out the rest of her party, but she was holding her own against them.

There were 10 or 15 bandits already slain when we came along. I killed a bandit with my crossbow just before he took a swing at the Paladin. Our eyes met and there was quite a bit of gratitude on her face. We must have killed at least 100 bandits that day.

My attitude was beginning to improve, as this town must be wealthy to be able to support a gang of bandits that large. Jean, the Paladin thanked us for our help. She wanted to thank me in a more personal way, but this was not the time. The bandits had killed every member of the group she was escorting, and she was a little distraught.

We collected the belongings of the travelers to disperse to family members. However, we were unable to locate any, so we just sold what we found at a local merchant. Needless to say, the items brought only a few gold pieces. We searched for the town mayor, and he rewarded us with a paltry 25 gold pieces each for the destruction of the gang. Luckily, I stole 10 times that much from his office or I would have been upset.

With the coin in my pocket, I considered taking my leave from the rest of the group. However, when I expressed my wishes to leave, they begged me to join their group. I told them that I am not really a joiner.

"I am the Paladin Jean Dark and I am joining them on their next adventure. Please come with us," she said in her most seductive voice.

"We have heard of a job," the sorcerer Glaf added. "We could use someone with your skills."

"There will be a big reward," added Gudrid.

"The wizard Nebrion has come to us, and he is quite wealthy."

"I have heard this song before," I replied.

"Please," begged Jean.

With those sad blue eyes, how could I resist? Thus, our party began Nebrion's Quest.



The story "Nebrion's Quest" was constructed from a "mod" I wrote for Neverwinter Nights™. Some friends and I played the campaign, and this story is loosely based upon our characters. If you have Neverwinter Nights™ Platinum, (or Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark), and you would like to play my mod, you can download it here. Just unzip it into the "modules" directory of the Neverwinter Nights game directory. Enjoy! You may want to play it BEFORE you read the rest of the story or it will ruin all of the surprises. Thanks!!!

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 2: Meeting with Nebrion

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Glaf Hellion arranged the meeting with the wizard Nebrion. Our group gathered at the rendezvous spot and waited. Gudrid and Glaf sat together and napped. If it were not so sickening, it might have been cute. Jean Dark also rested, and she implored me to keep watch. I obliged, although a little snuggling before a mission would have been nice. Thorvald Larsenski, our cleric, took to some prayers and afterward rested.

I paced the area anxiously. We gathered outside the gates of a town that had seen better days. It looked as if it had been continuously attacked for quite some time. The only thing that made me stay was the nice looking tower on the edge of town. It was my belief that the so-called rich wizard lived in that tower.

Wizards like their towers. I am not personally a fan, but to each his own. It was quite ornate. It was as black as coal with white marble sculptures running up the side. The sculptures were all manner of grotesque imagery. However, they looked quite expensive. I could not see the entire structure, so I did not know what the entrance looked like. I imagined a large heavy wooden door with brass hinges and gold adornments. This structure had a new roof, so despite the poverty of the rest of the town, the owner of the tower was doing quite well.

As I continued to observe the surroundings, I started to wonder about our group. I was the guard for this hopeless bunch. Did I really want to hang with a group who would leave someone like me to guard them? I strongly considered taking their loot and heading on my way. Fortunately for them, Jean awoke and smiled at me. Despite her Paladin ways, we could get along.

One by one, the group arose from their rest. The journey to the spot had been long, but it was uneventful. Now, we were mingling outside the gate of a shambles of a city, waiting for some wizard to show up.

"What are we supposed to do now sorcerer?" I asked Glaf.

"My instructions were to wait outside the gate," he responded.

"Hooray for your instructions," I responded. "Are we to wait here until the leaves fall from the trees or what?"

"Are you asking how long we are to wait?"

"Did I stutter?" I asked. "Of course I am asking how long we are supposed to wait."

"I was told to be here on the fourth day and the fourteenth hour."

"What does your manacle of time tell you?"

"It should be any time now."

"Yeah right," I started to say when a strange sensation overcame me. My entire body began to tingle and the surroundings began to fade. I tried to fight the feeling, but I could not move. I felt as if I was traveling down a sewer tunnel. I felt the pull in one direction and just as quickly as it started, the pull stopped and all went black.

I tried to open my eyes, but it was quite a struggle. The disorienting feeling was still with me. I shook my head to snap out of it. It took a couple of seconds but I began to feel like myself again. I eventually was able to open my eyes, and I noticed that I wasn't outside the city anymore.

I laid on the ground for quite a while as I saw the rest of my party materialize in the room in which I found myself. I heard incantations in the corner, but I did not wish to move. I would let the others go first.

Eventually, up jumped Jean and Thorvald. I heard a voice in the corner say, "Arise everyone! I am Nebrion."

I gradually got to my feet, and looked around. It was a largish round room with intricately carved wardrobes around the perimeter. I looked for a door, but I could not find one. Glaf and our host began having a conversation, so I took the opportunity to look around.

I walked up to the first wardrobe, and found that it had been trapped. It was a good trap, and it was very dangerous. Perhaps, it was even deadly. Naturally, it was no match for me, and I easily disarmed it. Sadly, the wardrobe had a very intricate lock and I was unable to open it.

While our host was distracted in conversation, I disarmed all of the traps on the wardrobes. All of them had the same lock, and I was unable to do anything with any of them.

However, hidden between two wardrobes was a chest. It had a very complicated trapping mechanism protecting it. Its trap was even more complicated than the ones protecting the wardrobes. It was no match for my skills either.

The chest's lock was a standard lock and it was opened in seconds. Inside the chest were some valuable items. I did not have time to identify all of the things, but it looked like what was there would fetch a large price in any city shop. When I had time to inspect the items more closely, I would share them with my colleagues. For now, what they did not know would not hurt them.

Glaf called us over for a conference. "The wizard Nebrion is the protector of this town," he began. "For perhaps the last year, the town has been besieged by wave after wave of monsters. Orcs, Kobols, and Lizzardmen have taken turns attacking the citizens of the town. Nebrion has recruited adventurers from all over to attempt to stop the onslaught. He will offer a chest of riches to any party that can stop the attacks.

"If we accept his offer, he will transport us to the mines where he believes the monsters are originating. All we have to do is clean out the mines from the creatures and return here. Upon our return, he will give us the chest filled with items we might find useful. Any questions?"

"What happened to the other adventurers?" I asked.

"None have returned so far," he explained. "It is a very dangerous mission, so we should discuss our misgivings."

"Is there any chance that one of these groups is nearly finished and will claim our prize?" I continued.

"He has not had any volunteers for this mission in months. It is unlikely that any will return."

"So dear sorcerer," I added. "Do you personally guarantee that I -- er -- WE -- will be paid?"

"If we accept this mission, I will guarantee payment if I have to pay you all myself."

"I am in!" I volunteered.

"Why does he not go himself, or why not use his magic?" asked Gudrid.

"He is expending a great amount of energy with a protective sheild in an attempt to keep the creatures out," he replied. "However, their numbers are just to great."

After some further question and discussion, the rest of the group also decided to take on this dangerous mission. Nebrion gave us all the information we wanted, and the party prepared to be transported to the mines. Nebrion informed us that we would face mostly orcs. Thus, if we had anything that excelled in killing orcs, we should prepare those items.

Once everything was prepared, we stood upon a strange mark upon the floor. He started his incantations and the same feeling came upon the others and me. We were out cold for moments and awoke in the mines.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 3: Something Went Wrong

By Douglas E. Gogerty

As I regained consciousness, I felt that something went wrong. First off, I was cold. I think that should be expected being in the bottom of a mine, but this cold was different.

My second clue was the darkness. Why was it so dark? My light baring amulet should provide me with enough light to see. "My amulet," I thought to myself as I reached for it. "Where was my amulet?"

When my fingers reached my neck, I knew something was terribly wrong. There were claws scratching at my chest. Moreover, these claws were mine! When did I get claws? I searched for all of my stuff, but I am naked. I do not have any of my things. I was naked. I wondered if we were all naked.

"Jean? Are you there?" I asked.

"What has happened?" she asked. "Where are my things? I am naked!"

"Relax sweetheart, I am here for you!" I assured her.

"Let there be light," Glaf said in some strange tongue and the cavern became dimly lit.

"No!" shouted the Paladin. "I am not decent!"

"Neither am I," I thought to myself.

At that moment, we all realized that we had somehow been transformed into lizard people. We were greenish and scaly. Furthermore, we were all naked. My excitement over that prospect dimmed when I realized we had no weapons.

Fortunately, for me, I still had the same control of myself that I had always. Thus, I could still walk silently and sneak around the caverns. My eyes were still sharp as they had always been. Thus, if there was enough light, I could find items, which I immediately went to do.

The cavern had a few bodies scattered around. I thought they would have something on them, but before I could check, some skeleton creatures emerged out of the shadows. Naturally, I jumped into action. I saw that Jean was locked in hand-to-hand combat with one, so I decided I would rush to her aid. However, before I got there, Glaf used a spell and the skeleton crumbled into a pile of bones. I took the short sword from the dead creature and handed it to Jean.

"You could use this more than I," I insisted, and she took it with thanks in her eyes.

I would get a more substantial "thank you" later, but there were a few more creatures to take care of first. As I attempted to fight a creature, it would explode, implode, catch fire or what have you, from a spell Glaf would cast. I expect it was probably for the best anyway. I was thankful that he could still cast his spells.

Once we were satisfied that the current attack of creatures was over, I carefully examined the bodies around the cavern. A few of the skeleton creatures had small iron short swords. They were not great, but they were better than having no weapon. Several of the other corpses had died rather brutal deaths, but they were unarmed. I did collect several arrows and a few spears, which caused the deaths of the adventurers. Without a bow, the arrows were not terribly useful. Also, I know nothing about using a spear, so we had nothing to get excited about at this moment.

I carefully examined the cavern where we found ourselves. There was only one exit. It was a rather decrepit mine door. It appeared to have withstood plenty of abuse. There were claw marks and dents of all kinds. I found it locked, but I would not have any problem unlocking it.

Before I took any action, we held a group conference. We took stock on our weaponry. It was pretty meager, but our best fighters were rudimentarily armed. I a few arrows and a spear. In essence, I had nothing, but I could still hide in the shadows and stay unnoticed when need be.

"What do you think happened," Thorvald asked Glaf.

"I have no idea," the sorcerer replied.

"Do you think Nebrion double-crossed us?" I asked.

"Yeah, is he trustworthy," added Thorvald.

"While I would not personally vouch for him," responded Glaf. "Several contacts claimed he could be trusted."

"Do you think there was some sort of spell-caster on the other side of that door who is responsible for our condition?" asked Gudrid.

"I have thought of that," replied Glaf. "There have been several others killed in this room."

"While that is true," I retorted. "None of them look like monsters."

"Perhaps the spell wears off after some time," replied Glaf.

"Why turn us into lizards?" asked Thorvald.

"I cannot answer that," replied Glaf.

"We certainly cannot stay here," I added. "We will have to go through that door."

"Teleportation magic would come in handy right about now," included Thorvald.

"So are we going to work on the assumption that some sort of nefarious spell-caster is on the other side of that door?" I asked the group.

"It is the safest course of action," Glaf chimed.

"If this cavern did not glow so brightly, I could sneak into the other room and take a look," I stated confidently.

"The spell will dissipate soon enough," replied Glaf.

"Does anyone have any better suggestions?" Gudrid asked the group.

"It sounds like that is our plan," asserted Glaf.

"Just to make sure everyone understands what is going to happen," I began. "Let us all get close to the door. Those of you with weapons, get towards the front. I will sneak into the room and look around. If I call out, come quickly. There will probably be a few armed with bows, by looking at the corpses around the door. I want you all to be aware of this point. Once I have all the information I can gather, I will sneak back here. Are you all clear on the plan?"

The adventurers nod in agreement.

"Jean, you have been awfully quiet in our discussions," asserted Glaf. "Are you okay?"

"My current state of undress is making me very uncomfortable," replied the paladin. "I would very much like some clothing. Unfortunately, that is all I can think about right now."

"Do not worry baby," I consoled. "I will take care of you."

Thorvald and Glaf mumbled something. They probably doubted my powers. However, I was hoping that this distraction would not continue once the arrows started flying. We needed Jean.

While the light was still good, I easily picked the lock of the door. I found the claws quite handy in this regard. We just had to wait for the room to go dark, and let my eyes adjust to the darkness. Once this happened I snuck into the room.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 4: The Dead Adventurer

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Our little group came to a consensus, even without Jean. We decided that I would attempt to enter the next cavern unnoticed and have a look around. It was going to be tricky, but I am talking about myself, so it really was going to be easy.

When I entered the next cavern, it was dark. However, in the shadows I saw a few creatures. I let my eyes adjust to the darkness to better identify who or what was in this section of the mine. It was another largish mine cavern room with a well in the middle. There was a mine door blocking a tunnel on the far side of the room. I counted twelve orcs. Three of the orcs had bows as weapons and the others had swords. I did not see any magic users. There were just monsters in the mine room. It would be a tough fight armed as we were.

I snuck out of the room back to the original cavern. I explained the situation. I gave our group a complete description of the room. I also described what creatures were on the other side of our door and how they were armed. We needed a plan to take care of the well-armed creatures on the other side of the door. Naturally, I proposed a plan. I would open the door and have Glaf toss a fireball into the room. Before the fireball erupted, I would close the door.

It was agreed, and Glaf and I executed it perfectly. Once the heat from the door dissipated enough, I entered the room. I looked around and discovered that my plan had worked to perfection. There were no living creatures in the room. I went through and collected weapons. Everyone was now armed. Glaf and I had bows, and the rest had a sword of some sort. We did not have any armor, but we could defend ourselves.

Without any armor, our paladin was still uncomfortable. She was not going to be herself until we could find her some clothes to wear. With that in mind, I made a sweep of the room, and found a few items in the nooks and crannies, but nothing of particular interest. In the center of the cavern, I noticed there was an adventurer at the bottom of the well. For a corpse, he looked good.

The well was deep and dark. It would take someone of remarkable dexterity to climb out of the well. Naturally, I was a perfect candidate for the job. Jean needed some clothes, and the man at the bottom could provide them. For Jean, I decided to risk being trapped down there to see if he any of his items were useful.

I climbed down into the well, and examined the good-looking dead adventurer. It was odd, as he was the best-looking corpse I had ever seen. I examined his armor, and discovered that it was enchanted. It made an attractive person more attractive. If I wore the thing, I would be unbelievable! However, it was bulky and uncomfortable. I could barely move in the thing.

I found the man's journal, and I read of his last days. He wrote:

   "I do not have much time left.  I have been trapped at the
bottom of this well for days.  I thought I would be able to
climb out of this well, but it is not to be.  It is just too
difficult.
   "On the good side, the armor I found here makes me look
good.  I mean, I look REALLY good, and I will wear it until
my death.  I can hardly keep from looking at my reflection
in the water.  It will help me live up to my motto:
**Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.**
Even when I die, I will look nice with this fashionable armor.
   "That brings me to these mines.  I wonder what had
happened.  I woke up with nothing.  All my possessions were
missing when I arrived in these mines.  I could have used
some weapons when I fought my way to this room.  I saw this
armor in this well, and I had to have it.  This armor has
been my downfall.  I cannot get over how good I look in it.
   "I think I should have been leery of that wizard's offer.
What was I thinking?  I could have used some help clearing
out these mines.  Why did I try this on my own?  My
possessions would be useful right about now.  I hope no
one takes my armor..."

I apologized to the adventurer, but Jean needed the armor. It might affect her mobility, but at least her head would be with us. Furthermore, she would look stunning in this armor. It is too bad she is a lizard right now.

I hoped the added weight would not be a problem climbing out of the well. I briefly wondered if the adventurer could have made it out if he took the armor off. Sometimes these thoughts come to my mind.

I gave the adventurers journal to our cleric. I thought he would want to say a few words over our deceased comrade. We had a brief service for the fallen adventurer, and it was nice and somber.

Afterward, I gave the armor to Jean. She was happy to receive the uncomfortable armor to cover her. Once again, there was gratefulness in her eyes. However, it was still not the place for her to express her gratitude. Her smile was irresistible, so I gave her the adventures great sword. Engraved on the hilt was the name meurtrier de orceller. According to the knowledgeable sorcerer, it meant 'Orc Slayer'.

I wondered how that sword got here. Did some adventurers keep their equipment? Perhaps the magic-user taking adventurer's equipment and turning them into monsters is not always around. Perhaps we were unlucky in this regard. In Jean's capable hands, that sword would be extremely useful in a mine full of orcs.

Nevertheless, we had to move on. There would be plenty of time to think about these things later. They will probably come to mind just before Jean wants to thank me completely. The plan was going to be the same as the last door. I would sneak in and check the place out. It was going to be a long trip out of these mines.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 5: Orcs Carry Little Treasure

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Jean Dark was a little more comfortable wearing her new armor despite it pinching and rubbing in various places. She liked the fact that she was no longer naked. She did look good in it despite her being a lizard -- woman. Further, despite her altered appearance, I knew she wanted me. However, our lizard appearance and physiology were making physical manifestation of that desire difficult.

Be that as it may, we were making our way through these mines. We were looking for the wizard who transformed us to lizard people. I hoped that we could find this individual before long and retrieve our things. We would have to make due with the weapons we have scrounged. Jean had the 'Orc Slayer' that I gave her. This helped our situation greatly.

We were deep in these mines, and there were many creatures lurking in the shadows. As we explored the caverns, we tried to fulfill Nebrion's quest. That is, with each orc and monster killed, there was one less monster that could terrorize the city. Thus, our actions helped aid the city.

This portion of the quest was not important to me, as I was in it for the treasure. Thus, I quickly noticed that orcs carry little treasure. With each monster, I gathered in some more arrows, but not much else. Occasionally, an orc chieftain would have something special. Mostly, they just had little trinkets with almost no value. Every now and then, we would encounter an orc shaman who would have scrolls that our sorcerer, Glaf Hellion, could use. However, mostly we would gather a gold piece here, a gold ring there...

What upset me most about the situation was that I had to lead the way. At various places, there were traps. None of the others had the talent and skill to spot these. Thus, it was my job to make sure the way was clear.

In addition, I had to scout out orc locations and numbers. Thus, I was doing valuable reconnaissance work. This allowed our fighters to have a chance against the monsters. After each encounter, each member of the team would search the corpses for treasure.

Naturally, I did not complain about doing most of the work and not getting most of the reward. That is, what reward was to be found. I am not that type of person. I just did my job keeping everyone safe. Even though I did not join the group for some grandiose goal of helping people, I kept my displeasure to myself. I never mentioned my lack of reward to the team.

Nevertheless, I am here to tell the story of our adventure rather than discuss how unfairly the party treated me in the mines.

While deep in the mines, I did discover the living quarters of some of the orcs. We found a few trinkets in these small huts. To me it seemed that these were rewards for some action on their part. Orcs do not generally pillage corpses. They eat them sure, but they do not rob them of treasure. Thus, why would they have adventurer items?

From the adventurer items, we managed to armor many of our party. These items I graciously gave to the other members the items that I purloined from these huts. In fact, I obtained my dark armor from this area. It gave me some extra protection without compromising my sneaking skills. It was not much, but it was something.

We encountered several groups of orcs while trying to extricate ourselves from the mines. I judiciously used my arrows since my supply was spotty. I would take some arrows from corpses and occasionally from bow wielding orcs. Every now and again, I would retrieve some of my own arrows from dead orcs. This would not happen often, as they would be difficult to retrieve.

The mines were dank and dark. There was danger at every turn, and we worked our way through the tunnels. We cleaned out tunnel after tunnel from the monsters that may have been plaguing the town. We wound our way upward towards the exit of the mines. At least, I hoped that was what we were doing.

We wandered the mines for quite a long time. It could have been days. I just kept pressing us onward. Many orcs lost their lives as we wound our way out. Eventually, we found ourselves at a sturdy wooden door. I noticed a small light emanating from the other side of the door. Perhaps we were at the end of our journey.

We took our normal precautions. This means that I snuck into the room and looked around. This was a little more difficult as the room glowed. Glowing pits of molten lava surrounded the orcish dungeon. Clearly, much suffering had occurred in that room. However, I managed to stay in the shadows and was not spotted by the orcs that were guarding the room.

It appeared that we would not be free yet. We were going to have to fight our way through an orcish dungeon. There would be various well-armed creatures. With orcs, it is difficult to predict what type of thing goes on in their dungeons. We were going to have to fight our way out of this dungeon.

There was trouble too. I tried to return to our party, but it would not let me back through. I could not open the door behind me. Therefore, I had to wait and hope the team would figure out what had happened.

After what seemed like hours, the rest of the group joined me in the dungeon. It did make sense that prisoners should not be able to find their way into the mines. Thus, they had a one-way door at this point.

When the party joined me, they were ready to fight. Thus, we continued our battle with the monsters who had been plaguing Nebrion and the city.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 6: Prisoner Paul and the Mutants

By Douglas E. Gogerty

At first, it appeared that this orcish dungeon would be like all other dungeons. There were orcish guards doing what guards do. Thus, we had skirmishes with groups of guards. Needless to say, these orcs were surprised to see us, but they did not have a lot of time to consider it because they were soon dead. Jean and her orc-slayer made quick work of the guards with which we came in contact.

Gudrid, the ranger in our group, was getting a little anxious to leave the confines of interior spaces. Thus, we pressed on as best we could. As you may expect, there were several locked doors in this dungeon. Further, several of them had magical locks that I was unable to open. If we were going to get out of this dungeon, we were going to need a key. This did not sit well with Gudrid, but those were the facts.

Gudrid started trying every door we came across. That is when she discovered "it." The rest of us were just mopping up some guards and securing any treasure when we heard her give a blood-curdling scream. Glaf nearly fainted dead away at the sound, but managed to stagger to where the scream had emanated.

There stood Gudrid trembling at the sight of this -- thing. It was some fleshy-headed mutant. It stood at least 10 feet tall, and had two ghastly heads. One fleshy head was featureless, but had eyes that looked like two oranges stretching through a woman's silk stocking. The other head was bald and eyeless. It is difficult to describe, but it looked somewhat like a green turkey vulture's head. This second head appeared to emanate from the shoulder of the other's body.

At the juncture of this, protruded a single limb of some kind. On the end of this limb was a metal hook, which was remarkable agility. Clearly, it fed itself by hooking its food with this appendage and bringing it to one of its heads.

This creature had three more arm-like appendages. One of these arms stuck out the back of the creature and the other two hung by its sides. A ghastly talon with razor sharp claws terminated each arm. These claws would be dangerous if the beast could lower them enough to hit a human.

He was an awkward and unwieldy beast with no coordination. It had but two legs and was somewhat unsteady on those. It shuffled slowly towards our party and gave a most unsettling screech from one head while the other gave a low gurgling moan.

My description does no justice to the horror of the beast. Its smell alone would freeze any man in his tracks. However, after a few moments of hesitation, Jean jumped to action and relieved the monster of its burden of life. While it was a terrifying site, its appearance was much more frightening that its defenses and the huge beast toppled over with a thud.

"There are sinister forces at work here," declared our Paladin Jean.

"I have never seen an abomination like that," sobbed Gudrid.

"It is like some scientific experiment to put two bodies together and create a better fighting monster," added the sorcerer Glaf.

"It looks like a failed experiment," added Thorvald. "It had a terrifying look, but it had little skill in fighting."

"The smell of rotting flesh and chemicals may indicate that it is not truly dead," theorized Glaf. "We may have wounded it, but not mortally. It may be able to regenerate its vital body parts. I suggest we move on."

We agreed, and left the poor creature locked in the room that we found it. Gudrid and Thorvald said some words over the creature, and we continued our search for a way out of the dungeon.

With all of the things we had killed in this dungeon, not one had a key that we could use to open some vital passageways. It was beginning to look like we were trapped. That is, until I made a surprising discovery. I was checking every door, and I opened one particular door that appeared to be a cleaner's closet. There was a mop and bucket, broom, and some other cleaning supplies. I thought it was odd, so I investigated further.

On the floor of the tiny room, was a rug. That in itself is not unusual, but it struck me as odd. Thus, I pulled back one corner of the rug back, and it revealed a small trap door. When I reached into the compartment, my hand tingled and I felt something. With my lightning reflexes, I pulled my hand out without any damage.

Naturally, I was curious. Thus, I put my hand back into the compartment and there was a key in there. I felt the same tingling sensation as I pulled out the key. Again, there was a key in the compartment. Perhaps this compartment magically provided one with his or her deepest desires.

I cleared my mind and concentrated on producing something valuable. I have always wanted a 500-carat diamond, so I concentrated on that. Unfortunately, the compartment only produced keys. After a several unsuccessful attempts, each member of our party reached in the compartment and produced keys.

I hoped one of these keys would open previously unlocked corridors, and we were quite fortunate in this regard. It unlocked the first door we tried, and it led into a block of cells. Naturally, it was guarded, and we had to take care of some orcs. As usual, they were no match for our crew.

While most of the cells were empty, one cell had about a five naked people inside. I opened the cell, and it appeared that the prisoners were going to fight me. That is when I remembered that I still appeared as lizard person.

"Relax," I said. "My appearance is due to a spell. I am here to release you."

"Thanks friend," replied a prisoner representative. "My name is Paul, and this is my group of adventurers."

"Greetings Paul," I returned. "You may go free."

"As you can see friend, we are in no shape to go traipsing around this dungeon. We will wait."

"That is fair enough. Here is the rest of my group. This is Glaf, Gudrid, Thorvald, and Jean."

"Were you sent by that wizard Nebrion?"

"We were."

"I figured as much," replied Paul. "You look very much like we did several months ago."

"Have you seen any magic user who may be responsible for our plight?"

"I blame Nebrion, although I have no proof. There is some magic user lurking about but I have not seen him or her. They have asked our orcish guards to retrieve some of the other prisoners."

"Do you know what they are doing to those prisoners?"

"As far as I can tell, they are doing experiments. I think they have created various monsters. They have definitely created some undead. I have seen some zombies that resemble some of the prisoners that were in this cell block."

"You should be safe now."

"Do you have any items you would like to unload?"

"Do you have gold?"

"Well, Tonya is an excellent pick-pocket. She has been stealing gold from our orcish captors for quite some time. We have collected a large store which we are keeping in our escape tunnel."

We sold some of the items we had picked up along the way. It was a shame to put some clothes on Tonya, but she was glad to cover her nudity. We sold them armor and weapons. They were grateful for the items, and we were glad to rid our excess in exchange for some gold.

They were going to stay in the cells to make sure the coast was clear. We decided to rest in the cell. Tonya and I had a nice conversation before I took some well-earned sleep. After a good long rest, we parted company with Paul the prisoner and his group. We pressed on to get out of the dungeon.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 7: The Battle for the Armory and the Mechanical Monsters

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Gudrid, the ranger of the party was getting anxious to get out of the dungeon, so she was now leading the way. Traps? That is why we have a healer with us. At times, it was difficult to keep up with her. Nevertheless, we pressed on slaying orcs and other abominations.

Eventually, we came to a room with some stairs leading upward. However, an enormous mechanical monster guarded these stairs. Like one of the previous abominations we fought, it was at least 10 feet tall; however, unlike that beast, this monster could fight. He was quick and agile, as far as mechanical creatures go. Naturally, he was not as quick as I am.

One of the problems with fighting this golem was that my arrows were useless against it. I used my quickness and agility to distract the monster, while the others hacked away at its metal shell. Eventually, we managed to disrupt its circuits and immobilized it. Therefore, we were going to move up.

Gudrid ran up the stairs and through the door before I finished searching the room. The others followed her, but I finished my searching before continuing. When I made my appearance, they had already killed the zombies and abominations at the room at the top of the stairs.

The group was consoling Gudrid, as we were in another dungeon level. She was going to rush on, but the group convinced her to rest. Those brainy types sure need their rest. Therefore, I kept guard as the rest took a nap.

To while away the hours as they slept, I took an inventory of our gear. They accused me a snooping when informed them of the results of my study. Be that as it may, we were running out of projectiles. Some of the orcs carried arrows, but the zombies and abominations did not. Thus, we were beginning to use our arrows up. We needed to find the armory.

We now had conflicting interests among party members. Gudrid and her lackey Glaf wanted out of the dungeon; whereas, others needed weapon replenishment. Luckily for them, we stumbled upon the armory before it became a problem. However, unluckily, the armory was full of orcs.

There must have been 100 orcs in this room. When combat began, arrows were flying from all directions. I darted to a corner and concentrated my efforts on the bow-armed orcs. Thus, I provided a bit of cover for Jean and Gudrid as they hacked and chopped at various orcs.

Glaf found a spot where he could hide. Occasionally, he would come out of his hiding spot to throw a magic spell. Mostly, he would magic missile an orc that I had just killed.

Thorvald attempted to flank the orcs. He made his way around the left side of the room, and began attacking the orcs from the side. Thus, following his lead, I made my way around the right side of the room. Thus, we had the orcs in our crossfire as well as a frontal attack.

Gudrid and Jean were gradually making their way through the long column of orcs, but they were also taking damage. It is amazing how tough the young women were, but they would not be able to continue much longer without aid.

Thus, we put into practice our plan of assistance. Glaf conjured up an awful smelling cloud. I get nauseous just thinking about the concoction of his. Nevertheless, it is amazing as long as only engulfs the enemy. This provided enough cover and distraction to allow our cleric Thorvald to do his thing.

Thorvald did his "laying on of hands" thing, and Gudrid and Jean were back to full strength. Once they had full health; we returned to our positions and continued the battle.

Jean and Gudrid were creating a hallway where dead orcs lined the sides. Thorvald and I were beginning to make headway with the orcs firing arrows. Our crossfire was working as intended, but the orc armor and even their skin was quite tough. Thus, it took several arrows to kill them, and as I stated earlier, we were running out of arrows.

I was down to my last 10 arrows, when Gudrid and Jean reached the group of orcs using bows. These orcs did not have any close-order combat weapons, so Jean's orc-slayer sword, made quick work of them.

I had run out of arrows before the last orc was killed; therefore, I began searching before the battle was over. This upset some party members, but what was I to do? I managed to find the dungeon stockpile of arrows and other projectiles. I would have rejoined the battle, but it was over by that time.

We did a full search and fully armed ourselves. With the bow wielding orcs and the cache of arrows, I had more than enough now. Moreover, Thorvald had an ample supply. In addition, because it was an armory, the swords could be repaired and sharpened. It was such an important place to find, that Gudrid forgot her anxiousness.

However, I became anxious to leave this room. Since it was an armory, it was not a place to hang around. Others would come and look for weapons; thus, it was not a place to rest. It was quite an exhausting battle, but we would need to find a better place to rest.

Therefore, we pressed on. We fought more zombies and hideous creatures. With the ease that we worked our way through these monsters, I wondered if they were the battle-rejects. They were frightening, but were slow and not combat worthy. I felt that we were doing them a favor by relieving them of their burden of animation.

After several rooms and corridors, we once again found ourselves at the bottom of some stairs. Like the previous stairs, a mechanical monster guarded them. However, this one appeared to be larger and more formidable. In any event, our tactic was the same. I distracted the monster while the rest hacked at it.

They took their sweet time disabling this beast. I was dodging and running from it for what seemed like hours. I did a tuck and tumble here, and a jump and dodge there while the others chopped at its metal skin. Finally, when I was nearly exhausted they disabled the creature.

Someone else had to keep watch this time, as I was asleep moments after the golem hit the floor. I did not even search the room before resting that is how tired I was.

After a good rest, I searched the room but did not find anything. The rest of the group must have already searched the place. Those rats did my job. I forgave them for their actions and sat down next to Jean who was guarding us. She looked tired, so I told her that I would watch while she rested.

Once everyone was well rested, we gathered our things to continue out of the dungeon. What would we find at the top of the stairs? Would it be more dungeon? Would we have to fight more orcs? There was only one way to find out. Thus, we climbed the stairs and walked through the door at the top.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 8: Castle Cleaning Service

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Perhaps it was the pessimist in me, but I knew we were not going to emerge outside. Every dungeon has its castle. Thus, as we emerged from the dungeons, I was not surprised to find myself in a castle.

At this point, we had to make a decision. It was a castle of unknown size, but we were on a mission. We were sent to fulfill Nebrion's quest. That is, we were sent to eliminate some monsters that were pestering the town. If we left the monsters in this castle unmolested, we were shirking our duty. Thus, we voted on whether to clean out the castle, or search for the exit and leave.

Against my wishes, the group decided that we should fulfill our quest and eliminate the monsters in the castle. Since orcs do not carry much treasure, it was not going to be a profitable task. After all we have been through, I did not expect Nebrion to be true to his word and pay us handsomely. I have the feeling that he does not expect us to get back. Thus, accomplishing his quest is a waste of our time.

However, the do-gooders in the party felt that it was best to help the town. They had some altruistic motive to help the town for no reward. Since Jean was the primary representative for this point of view, I guess I could go along with her. She owed me quite a bit, and this was going to cement the deal.

Naturally, this meant that we needed to go from room to room and take care of any creatures in that room. It also meant that we had to look out for traps and needed someone to unlock doors. That is right; it meant that I had to lead the way. Sometimes, I cannot believe how much of a sucker I am.

The master or mistress of this castle is an interesting person. The first room we came to was a kennel of sorts. It was a regular room within the castle where there were many varieties of dogs. However, there were also wolves, direwolves, werewolves, and other varieties of canine monstrosities.

Gudrid felt sorry for the beasts being cooped up inside as they were. Thus, the pangs of guilt she may have felt for killing them were eased. She did get a few to fight on our side for a while, but the fight with their kin was too much for them. In the end, all of the beasts were put down.

Aside from the beasts, we also encountered some humans. Some bandits had taken up residency in a few of the rooms. They were a bit surprised to see us. I guess not everyday you find lizards in armor wandering through a castle. Moreover, we were excellent fighters and made quick work of them.

Personally, I like fighting bandits. Bandits like treasure, and there was plenty to be had from these groups. I was feeling less put upon with the trinkets I was collecting off these bandits. Gudrid was also less anxious. Perhaps she could see that we would be outside before long, and her spirits had picked up. Then again, perhaps it was just the dogs.

Apparently, all of the experimenting was happening in the dungeon. We did not have to fight any zombies or any type of abomination in the castle proper. In fact, we did not fight any orcs either. Apparently, the comfort of the surface was too much for orcs. Perhaps that is why some bandits infiltrated the castle.

We went through the castle room by room. In each room, we would take care of any occupants of that room. The castle was becoming free of all life. One room was infested with spiders and we took care of them. Naturally, these were not your ordinary bug eating spiders. These were huge man-eaters. In fact, a few bandits had fallen victim to these enormous arachnids.

Furthermore, rats had taken over the kitchen. Some of these rats were as big as dogs. There must have been plenty for them to eat. They probably would not have left the castle and terrorized the town, but it was a good deed to exterminate them.

We were a regular castle cleaning service. There was no pest too big or too small. We will take care of all of your problem vermin. Of course, they would need someone to clean up after us. We left the bodies where they died. This castle was going to smell something awful in a couple of days.

We were about to finish off the castle when we encountered them. There was a largish room down the hall from the kitchen. If this were a functioning castle, it would be the chief butler's quarters. It was off the main thoroughfare, but it had access to the entire house. This group had put there nest there.

When I opened the door, I was surprised to find lizard people. There was about a dozen nesting in this room designed for one. There was a slight shock and hesitation as the two groups of lizard people stared at each other. A moment later, Jean was in their midst swinging her orc slayer. Luckily for us, we could tell the difference between the groups. We were the ones wearing armor. They used their spears to great effect, but we did make quick work of them.

According to Gudrid, lizard people nest in warm spots close to food. The butler's room was on the south end of the castle, and it was quite warm. As for their choice of food, it was the rats. They were not like the iguanas I have read about that grow large by eating leaves, fruits, and vegetables. These were carnivorous.

We made our second run through the castle to make sure we had taken care of everything. While rats formerly overrode the kitchen, there was still plenty of unspoiled food there. Thus, we ate well that night and gathered plenty of provisions for our trip back to town.

Further, I got some alone time. I found an empty bedroom and claimed it for my own. What the others did was none of my concern. I would have liked it if Jean would have joined me, but I was tired. In addition, I am not very familiar with the female lizard anatomy. It may have been awkward if she had joined me.

We all had a good rest. In the morning, we ate another big meal and began our journey back to town. I sure hope someone knows which direction we should head, because I had no idea where we were.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 9: Gypsies, Were-cats, and Bears - Oh my!

By Douglas E. Gogerty

We were now outside. We were in the elements. The ranger in our party was quite happy now. I guess if she is happy, that is better for all of us. However, since we are now outside, we have a completely different set of problems. For instance, where do we go if it starts to rain? Gudrid may be happy sleeping in a puddle of water, but I would rather have a nice warm bed with a roof over it.

Not only that, but with four walls, you can be aware of your security when you rest. Out in the open, someone must keep watch. The spell casters need their rest to be able to concentrate when the time comes. That means that I always have a shift at the watch. Let me tell you, there is no money in that. Of course, I do not sleep that much anyway, but it is the principle of the thing.

Another thing about being outside is the change of encounters. I guess that is a good thing. I think I had my fill with orcs, abomination, and the like. However, now we can be walking along and a 14-foot tall grizzly bear will charge us. That changes your perspective in a hurry.

When we left the castle, we entered a pleasant forest glen. I do not know why someone named this forest 'Glen' but they did. It must have been some sort of lineman for the county.

It was good to see the sun again. A band of gypsy bandits halted our pleasant walk. Let me tell you, they were a grumpy bunch. We had just fought our way out of the mines, dungeon, and castle starting without weaponry, and now we faced some bandits who wanted all our things. Not to mention, we looked like lizard people.

This did not sit well with Jean. Paladins are like that. With her pleasant little lizard female roar, she cut through those bandits like a warm knife through rendered pork fat. Before Glaf could yell "Saleenus Salatt Ska" and bring down an ice storm, she had finished them off. Naturally, the ice storm came anyway.

I found out why these bandits were so desperate. They had nothing. They did not have a single gold piece with them. All they had were a few scraps of food. They should have packed up and left a long time ago. Dieing is not much of a way to make a living. Now they are going to feed the wolves.

After we took care of the gypsies, we continued our journey towards the town. We found a hidden trail and followed it. It led up a steep slope not far from the gypsy camp. After a short walk, we found a well-secured windmill and cabin. Well, that was until I got there. The owners put a tricky lock on the door, and they placed a trap on the door. This did its jobs of keeping those bandits out, but it was no match for me.

When we got inside, we had to fend off some spiders and rats. It appeared that the residents had not been there in quite a while. Thus, I thought we should make ourselves at home. I started a fire in the stove after I killed the spider that was living in the woodpile. We ate a nice meal and discussed strategy.

No one knew where we were. Thus, we had no clue where the town was. We did not think it would be far, but which direction should we go? I said we should go north. You always go north when you are lost. As usual, I was out-voted. For some reason, I have the feeling they do not trust me.

We were going to rest up in the windmill and then be on our way in the morning. They had a nice soft bed with an animal skin blanket. Since I was always on watch, I was taking the bed. I offered to share with Jean or Gudrid, but they declined the offer.

After we broke our fast in the morning, we headed south. We walked quite a distance, and we came to an enormous lake. Unless we were going to take the docked boat, we were not going to go any farther south. Naturally, I did not tell them that I told them so. I was a grownup about it. I would never gloat about being right. I would never smile smugly and taunt them.

We did search the boat for any maps of the area. Unfortunately, we only found navigational charts. Did anyone even know the name of the town we were looking for? How did we know it was not on the navigational charts if we did not know the name of the town?

Instead of arguing with them, I searched the rest of the boat. It was loaded with some local concoctions. On this ship, they had cases of ale, wine, and other spirits. The ship could be quite the party barge. Jean forbade me to take the alcohol, but what she does not know will not hurt her. It was a mighty tasty ale.

Since south was a dead end, we had to back track. Since this trip was all for naught, I suggested we spend another night at the windmill. However, they thought more gypsies would have shown up. So, instead we headed northwest to avoid the devastated gypsy camp.

I do not know why I bother to give suggestions. They just ignore them. Perhaps some day they will learn.

We walked for quite a while, and we came upon this ring in the forest. It looked like some sort of druid temple. However, it had been taken over for some nefarious purpose. Druids would not burn trees and spread the ashes in the shape of a five-pointed star.

In the center of the star was a foul smelling cauldron. Around the bubbling pot, strangely dressed humans danced and chanted. A couple of mechanical men guarded the temple. That was another sign these people were not druids.

I snuck in to get a closer look. I did not know what they were up to, but it certainly had to be trouble. Gudrid was incensed at the desecration of a druid temple, and before we could devise a battle strategy, she was off.

As the full moon came out, it was obvious what they were doing. They were were-people. Some were cats, some were wolves, and some were other strange creatures. That is just what we needed. We needed to fight a bunch of werewolves in this forest.

We had surprise on our side, and we made quick work of them. The golems were difficult, but Gudrid ignored them and went right after the worshipers. Jean, Thorvald and I pounded on the mechanical beasts while Gudrid and Glaf fought the others.

I was longing for the windmill as clouds began to roll in. The full moon had a ring around it, and that meant it would rain soon. There was no shelter to be found. We were going to get wet. What does Gudrid see in this great outdoors? I will take a nice inn any day. If this keeps up, I might go back to the orcish dungeon. Who knows what else we will find wandering about in the woods?

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 10: Cold and Damp vs. Warm and Dry

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Damp sums it up nicely. During the night, the skies opened up and dumped buckets and buckets upon us. Everything we owned was now wet and starting a fire was going to be quite a chore even with Glaf's magic.

In the sky above, the forces of cold and damp were battling against the warm and dry. A line had been drawn in the sky, and our cold and damp clothes indicated which side we were on.

A strong chilly gust of wind, a bolt of lightning, and a clap of thunder indicated that cold and damp were going to put on a big push. How could the sunny force of the warm and dry compete with that? It looked like cold and damp was going to win the day.

We had other things to worry about besides the battle in the sky. We were lost. We were looking for a city whose name we did not know. The forest surrounded us and it seemed that we went around in circles. If we went one direction for a while and then reversed our course, we seemed to go to a different location.

Further, we would battle goblins, werecats, and other creatures on our hike. To add to our misery, Gudrid would not allow us to kill a deer for food. We were eating gristly grizzly bear instead. Some tender venison would have eased my suffering, but there was going to be none of that.

It was going to be a miserable hike, but you would not hear me complain about it. I would not let anyone in the party know of my utter discomfort. My hunger was my own little secret. I would just trudge along quietly collecting no treasure as we fought off yet another pack of winter wolves.

I was about to completely turn into a cold and damp fish-person when we were attacked by a large group of goblins. At least the activity could potentially warm me up as I jumped into action.

Before we killed all of the goblins, I smelled something. Further, I heard a distinct grunt in the distance. Normally, I would have ignored it because we were in the middle of a skirmish. However, Thorvald must have sensed them also and he ran towards the smell.

The goblins would be vanquished in a few moments anyway, so I followed him. He ducked behind a rock and spotted them. I came up behind him and saw them too. We looked quietly so we would not scare them off. Gudrid would not complain if we made a meal out of them. Moreover, they were in our path. We just had to be careful not to destroy a carcass or two. If we could manage a clean kill, we would be eating well tonight.

Just then, the forces of warm and dry made their push. The sun came out from behind the clouds and a warm breeze neutralized the chill in the air. Things had turned for the better for us. The sun thoroughly warmed me, and a pack of wild boar was waiting for us. We could be warm and dry eating a nice pork dinner by dark.

I fired a couple of crossbow bolts at the boar killing one. The rest of our party came up behind us just as the pack charged at our location. The thought of a cured ham made my mouth water as each of the wild pigs fell. I think even Jean was looking forward to roast pig at the evening meal. It was not going to be bacon, but it was still going to be delicious.

Thorvald and I cleaned a couple of carcasses and we marched on. In the morning, it seemed to me that the cold and damp had too many powerful weapons on their side. The cold wind, the rain, the thunder and lightning seemed an undefeatable combination. However, the warm and dry side just waited for the right time to bring out their most powerful weapon -- the sun.

We decided to make camp early to take advantage of the sun and dry out our things. The sun was glorious against my lizard skin. I now understood what it was like to be a lizard lying on a rock basking in the sun. Modesty may have prevented the others from stripping down, but I had no such qualm.

Jean started a fire and we began roasting the pigs on a spit. Off in the distance, I heard a cow mooing. "Perhaps we could have beef tomorrow," I thought to myself.

We sat around the fire and ate excellent barbequed pork. Most of my clothes were now dry, and I was beginning to enjoy the camping experience. It was a quiet starry night, and most of all I was dry.

However, as darkness was approaching Jean sounded a minor alarm. The cow I had heard earlier was now closer and continued to draw near. It seemed that an ox cart was being drawn towards our camp.

I snuck up close to get a close look. A lone female in a roguish costume was riding in the cart. She was quite plain, and I was sure she was not a threat. She had a look of concern on her face.

"How now," I greeted her.

"Oh! You startled me," she responded.

"What brings you towards our camp?" I asked.

"I smelt your food, and I thought..."

"You thought you would see if we would share."

"Well... Yes."

"Come on. Let us hear your story as you sup with us."

The woman drew her wagon close to our camp and dismounted. She neared the fire to warm herself. Jean cut of a bit of meat and gave it to her. The rogue hungrily gobbled down the food we provided her.

"There are not too many lizard people who would share their food with a human," she said after eating a good portion of food.

"We are not actually lizard people," responded Glaf.

"Some wizard or sorcerer has placed a spell on us," added Gudrid.

"Where are you headed?" the rogue asked.

"There is a town not far from here," replied Thorvald.

"You mean the town just north of here?" she asked.

"Why yes...," replied Glaf with some hesitation.

"Were you sent on an adventure by the wizard Nebrion?" she continued.

"Why do you ask?" I inquired before anyone could give her all of our information.

"There is something fishy about that wizard. You see, my fiancé and a group of adventurers went on one of Nebrion's adventures. I have not seen him in several months. I can only assume that the quest he was sent on was rigged."

"So you assume that we also partook in some sort of 'rigged' adventure," I stated taking control of the conversation.

"My Paul is in an experienced group of adventurers. They would not have taken an assignment that was too dangerous."

"We ran into a Paul..." started Gudrid before I could stop her.

"Was he all right?" she asked.

"If the Paul we ran into was your fiancé," I continued after I glared at Gudrid. "He was fine."

"I am so grateful for some news," she gushed. "What else can you tell me?"

"What is in it for us?" I asked.

"The town you are heading for has been under attack by many monsters. They are not about to let you walk in the front gate. In fact, they will probably be quite hostile. I know a way in."

"Continue," I prodded.

"There is a statue along the wall. Behind the statue is a large crack. If you use the statue as a boost, you should be able to get into the city from there."

"Paul was a prisoner in a dungeon of a castle just north of the big lake. He was a bit hungry, but he was fine. We armed him and some of his adventurers, and we cleared the way for him. He may still be in the castle or perhaps on his way to town."

The rogue was so happy from our news, that she planted a big wet kiss upon my lips. Her tears flowed quite freely and we gave her much assurance that the man we ran into was her husband to be.

We talked and visited well into the night. In the morning, we ate more pork and parted ways. She headed south towards the castle, and we went north towards the town.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 11: Into the Inn and Out

By Douglas E. Gogerty

We had not walked very far when we emerged out of the forest. There it was, a ragged town surrounded by a wall. Perhaps it was the city we wanted, and perhaps not. None of us had seen it from this vantage point; however, everything pointed to this being the town where Nebrion was living.

As we approached the city wall, a bandit gang came out of nowhere and attacked us. Clearly, they were desperate because it looked as if there was no more wealth in the city. The group was gaunt, lean and ferocious; however, we were in no mood for them. We quickly and easily dispatched them.

To my surprise, after the skirmish, I smelled cooking food. Someone was stewing meat and vegetables. That could only mean one thing -- an Inn. There was still a functioning Inn near this town.

The group followed my nose, and I led them to the John St. George-Gogerty Inn. It must have been the first time they listened to me. Nevertheless, there was a quaint little inn nestled next to the exterior city wall. Moreover, it was open for business.

I rushed right in and ordered their finest ale from the barkeep. It is unusual for me to imbibe this early in the day, but it had been weeks. Further, the last ale I had was mediocre at best. I cannot comment on the taste of this ale because my palate was out of shape and turpentine would have tasted as sweet.

Once again, I had forgotten about my appearance, and the bartender did not give it a second thought. However, he began, "So you went on Nebrion's quest..."

I was a bit confused at first, but remembering my appearance I replied, "Why yes we have."

"I must say that you not the first to make it this far, but you look like you are none the worse for wear."

"Fortune has smiled upon us," I replied.

"May it continue to do so."

"Many thanks, may I ask you some questions?"

"I will do my best to answer, another ale?"

"Certainly," I replied draining the last of my first mug. "What can you tell me of Nebrion?"

"Not much. He has been quite free with the gold, but he is not one to spend it on pleasures. He has entertained some 'clients' in here. They were shady types. My guess is that he had been recruiting bandits as well as adventurers."

"Interesting..."

"He has been making a great deal of coin since the attacks on the city began. The city is in ruins, but he has a lucrative business of some sort."

"Where do you suppose he gets his wealth?"

"I cannot say, and I would not want to speculate about one of my occasional customers."

"I certainly understand. With the impending completion of the quest he has sent us on, we need to know how we could get up to see him?"

"He lives in a tower with no doors or stairs up. He sees guests by appointment only, and then brings them up himself."

"So, if we manage to get into the city, we may not be able to get up to see him."

"If you have fulfilled his quest," replied the bartender. "He would certainly let you in."

"Unless it would cost him too much," I mumbled to myself.

"What was that?" asked the bartender.

"Nothing," I responded quickly. "Who do we see about getting an appointment?"

"He has an apprentice who is in charge of such things. He lives on the first floor of the tower. Go see him."

"Thanks barkeep! The ale is fabulous."

I went over to where the group was speaking to a single adventurer. He was anxious to speak to us in private. The group asked me to accompany him to his room and find out what he wanted. They asked me because of my way with people.

We entered his room to where he could speak freely. "Are you trying to see Nebrion?" he began.

"We have business with the wizard," I replied.

"He is not expecting you."

"I should think not, but we have completed his quest."

"Has your appearance taught you nothing?"

"I am used to looking like this now. I may keep it."

"Very well, I have information to help you get in to see Nebrion."

"What kind of information?"

"I know of a way to get in to see him without making an appointment."

"What is it going to cost?"

"My sister Tanya went on one of Nebrion's adventures and I have not seen or heard from her in quite some time."

"And...?"

"I would like to see Nebrion dead. That is all I ask."

"Give me your information, and we may oblige you. However, I have information for you."

"Let us exchange."

"Very well," I agreed.

"The previous owner of Nebrion's tower had a magic rug to get her in and out of the tower. When Nebrion took over, he had no need for the rug and gave it his apprentice to destroy. This individual cut the rug into four pieces and sold the pieces. These pieces were spread across the realm. If you collect them, you can put them together and use the rug to enter his tower."

"Do we look like rug repair people?"

"Nebrion has forgotten that the repairing device remains in his tower. You just need to collect the four bundles and place them in the machine."

"Where can I find these bundles?"

"I know of one that is close, but first your news of my sister."

"If your sister is an attractive rogue traveling with a man named Paul, she is safe. We came across their party several days ago. They should be coming into town in a few days."

"Are you sure?"

"We sold the group our excess equipment, and we cleaned out the dungeon in which they were held. They were hungry, but were in good health."

"Here is a bundle," the adventurer said as he pulled a bundle from his chest. "This is a genuine piece of the rug. However, the apprentice did create a few counterfeit bundles. Unless you are good at identifying carpeting, you may collect more than four bundles. One it is rumored to be guarded by a Minotaur."

"Thank you stranger. This may be of some service."

I did not tell him that we had already collected the fragments being guarded by the Minotaur.

I reported to the rest of the group about what I had learned. They were relieved that it was indeed the correct city. It was indeed Nebrion's tower, which we could see on the other side of the wall.

I also informed them about the magic rug that would allow us entry. Thus, if we did not wish to advertise our entry, we had an alternate method of entry.

We spent a nice evening in the inn. It was going to be another night in a bed -- alone. I was beginning to look forward to returning to human form. We would explore the wall in the morning.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 12: Nather Reynolt and the Temple of Tragedy

By Douglas E. Gogerty

The city was in bad shape, but it did have one thing going for it. All along the outer wall, there were powerful magical traps. I could not disarm them. These were likely traps set by Nebrion. If you triggered one, it could cut you into pieces. They were at least some protection for the townspeople.

Thus, we carefully made our way along the wall just outside of the range of the traps. We were looking for the statue that would allow us entry into the city. Otherwise, we would have to fight the guards to get in, and we did not wish to do this poor town any more harm.

We did have to duck some arrows fired by townspeople as we went along, but eventually we came to a statue. It was of a beautiful female warrior in full armor. At the base was the inscription, "Welcome to Monkalakaboomistan".

"That was the name of the city?" I thought to myself. "No wonder no one knew what it was..."

The trap by the statue, unlike the others, had a flaw in it. Anyone could disarm it, so I took the liberty. This allowed us to get close enough to the statue to read anything engraved upon it.

The inscription under the welcome banner described in great detail the enormous battle fought here by the founder Leela. She destroyed the orcish hoards and was protector of the city. In retrospect, it was a sad tale as the orcs were striking back.

After everyone was satisfied in reading the entire history of the city, the group climbed the back of the statue and followed me through the small breach in the wall. We were now in the city.

However, this city was constantly on the lookout for attacking creatures. If a citizen spotted us, they would attack. At the very least, they would sound the alarm and the city guards would come after us. We needed to be careful.

Near our entry point stood a large looming structure. It appeared to have withstood many attacks. Thorvald deduced from its position and architecture that it was the temple. He suggested we seek sanctuary within. We agreed and snuck our way into the temple.

Fortunately, no one saw the clumsy and obvious lizard people enter the temple. However, once inside a cleric spotted us and yelled, "Be gone reptilians! There is nothing here for you!"

"May peace be with you," replied Thorvald. "I am the most revered cleric Thorvald Larsenski of the Cygnus Clan. These are my compatriots. We mean no harm."

"Your response is surprising," he said with obvious astonishment in his voice.

"You will find us most surprising," I replied.

"We are adventures under a powerful spell," added Thorvald. "We seek a cure."

"It is powerful magic indeed; however, I do not believe this temple can be of any service."

"Why not?" implored Jean.

"Sorry milady," started the cleric with a slight bow. "I am Nather Reynolt, and I am the sworn protector of this temple. All of the clerics, apostates, healers, visiting pilgrims, and individuals of that sort have gone. I am all that is left. I have no power over such curses."

"What can you tell us of the wizard Nebrion?" enquired Glaf.

"Nebrion is the sworn protector of our fair city -- so he says."

"Do you not believe him?" asked Gudrid.

"My belief is of no import. I am the protector of the Temple of the Healing Waters and Chief Cleric of the Protecting Arts here. External politics is not my realm."

"What *can* you tell us of Nebrion?" I prodded.

"Adventurers have come from far and wide to aid our city. Not one has been successful, but Nebrion has grown wealthy. The town is in ruins and few visit the temple. Study in the temple has ceased as the town further decays. Yet, Nebrion does not do anything but grow fat."

"He has a protective shield around the town walls," defended Glaf.

"Yet you, a group of reptilian looking individuals managed to thwart his defenses without so much as a scratch. No, Nebrion's main concern are his own and not the town in general."

"Thank you for the information." Thorvald said. "Is there anything we can do for you to show our thanks?" I tried to shush Thorvald as those words came out of his mouth, but I was unsuccessful.

"The temple has been invaded by numerous unsavory types. If you could ask them to leave, I would greatly appreciate it."

"What *kind* of unsavory types?" I asked because these cleric types like to leave out lots of details.

"There is a large band of orcs in the front hall that are preparing for an assault on the town. I would like them to go back to their home peacefully."

"Is that all?" I muttered under my breath. "Anyone else?"

"We are often plagued with large numbers of curst beings. If you could explain to them that until the temple is back in order, there will be no help for them. If you could do that it would be most kind of you. Otherwise if you could get them to try another place, it would be of a great help to me."

"Is there anything *else* you would like from us? Perhaps the crown jewels of Maplevania..." I suggested without an ounce of sarcasm in my voice.

"I can think of nothing. Please help yourself to the healing waters from our fountain."

"Thank you for your kindness," replied Thorvald.

"Oh!" Nather added. "The fountain waters attract many Water Elementals, they do not like interlopers interrupting their baths, take care not to disturb them. The baths are right next to the fountain room."

"If we are attacked are we allowed to fight back?" asked Gudrid.

"By all means," replied Nather. "The entire flock has left the temple. I am the only true believer here, so everything and everyone else is fair game. There are rats in the kitchen and perhaps some spiders here and there. You may dispense of them at your whim. If anything attacks, you may defend yourselves and that includes the Elementals."

"And..." I muttered.

"Oh, and once you have cleared the temple and head out to Nebrion's tower, please take care not to harm our citizenry. They have suffered greatly and they may attack you on sight because of your reptilian attributes."

"Are you sure you are not forgetting anything?" I asked attempting to hide my distaste for his long windedness.

"Let me think. Healing waters... Beware of bathing elementals... Rats and spiders... Do not harm citizens outside of temple... Did I tell you to enjoy your stay in our fair city?"

"No," answered Thorvald.

"Well then," Nather replied. "Enjoy your stay in our fair city!"

After speaking with Nather, we gathered to discuss our next move. I suggested that we partake in the healing waters and leave. We did not owe Nather that much for his help, and cleaning out this large temple from all of the riff raff would be way overdoing it in giving him thanks.

Naturally, they decided not to take my advice. They wanted to help the town more and make sure they had a safe temple to visit. Further, if there were orcs here it would be part of our quest to eliminate them. Thus, it looked like we were going to spend the day cleaning out this temple of tragedy.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 13: Water, Water Elementals Everywhere...

By Douglas E. Gogerty

I held out small hope that the healing waters would remove our reptilian forms, so I suggested that we first look for the fountain. Further, if we did run into any ruffians after we found the fountain, we could return readily to partake of the healing water. In my astonishment, the group agreed with me.

The only issue is that we did not know where the fountain could be located. We dare not ask the talkative Nather, so naturally when I suggested a direction, we went the opposite way.

We were standing in a main room in the temple. It was a very large room on the south side. A wall emanating from the north end divided a third of this room. Most of the rooms were secured behind wooden doors. In the northwest corner of this main room was an open passageway. We headed this direction. There was no need to follow the splashing sounds I heard to the southwest.

They asked me to go and scout it out. I refused. If they were going to continue to disregard my input, I was not going to stick my neck out for them. If my only value was the ability to sneak into places, then I was done. I have a full compliment of skills that were not being used to their full potential, and I was tired of having my input ignored.

They apologized and explained that they wanted to explore all of the open areas before they started opening doors. I asked, "What happened to the whole 'find the fountain first' strategy?"

They made up some story about believing the fountain to be out in the open. To me, that made no sense. If the temple guardians had a valuable resource, they would put it behind a lockable door and perhaps guard it if circumstance allowed. You do not set your valuables out so that anyone could take them. Apparently, they have not paid any attention to what I have been doing on this quest.

I still refused to scout the corridor, so Jean rushed headlong down the hall. Her battle cry and the clash of sword on armor indicated that we should come to her aid. The remaining group rushed down the hall to find Jean surrounded by several cursed beings.

Instantly, we jumped into action to aid her. I let loose bolt after bolt from my crossbow. I fired as fast as I could because there were dozens of cursed joining the fight.

Glaf unleashed several magic spells and Gudrid jumped to Jean's side with her sword. As best he could, Thorvald fought the monsters and gave aid to the battling females. We had a tough fight on our hands.

The cursed warriors seemed to come out of the woodwork. When one would fall, it seemed like two had taken its place. Jean's sword would inflict a wound on one and she wound up striking another moments later.

Gudrid swung her sword at a frantic pace. She hacked and slashed at the beast as she worked her way to Jean's side. She used her shield to push the beasts aside and they would fall back to be hit with a sword or with one of my bolts.

These beasts often inflict fear upon their combatants, but we stayed strong. Thorvald ran off into a corner a few times when fear overcame him, but we did our best to keep the cursed away from him. Eventually he would gather up his courage and rejoin the fray.

I ran from position to position reloading my crossbow and firing. I would let loose arrows from different directions around the melee. I would take out a cursed warrior here and a cursed mage there. They never got close enough to frighten me.

The smell was atrocious. The rotting flesh of the cursed combatants was strong, but when they were mortally injured, they would release a malodorous gas from their wound. This gas stung the eyes and it was being released in great quantities around the room.

The melee seemed to end as quickly as it had started. Around the room, the corpses were releasing their gasses and vanishing. The room reeked of sulfur. Thorvald had used all of his healing power to keep Gudrid and Jean fighting. In addition, he had a few injuries he sustained by being so close to the combat. Further, Jean was poisoned in the battle and Gudrid was badly injured. On the other hand, I did not have a scratch on me.

It was at this point that they listened to my advice. They followed me as I followed the sound of the water. The sound seemed to be coming from behind two doors. I let Glaf choose the door.

I opened the door to find a tiled room with a large L-shaped pool in the center. It was decorated with urns and plants. It had a finely marbled floor and frescos on the walls. Gudrid rushed in to drink the water.

I shouted, "No, this is not...", but I was too late.

The water elementals sprang from the pools to attack. They were not pleased with Gudrid disturbing their bath. I rushed in and pulled Gudrid out. I pushed the entire party out of the door and closed it behind me. I took the full brunt of the attack and saved the party from certain annihilation.

I did not know if the door would hold back the irate elementals, so I opened the next door and ushered everyone inside. This room had a bubbling fountain in the center. Like the other room, it had a marble tiled floor, but it was otherwise unadorned. I instructed everyone to drink of the waters from the fountain and quickly.

I felt a tingle throughout my body and could hear the hum as the waters did their magic. While we were all still reptilian - to my dismay - the party looked as if it were fully restored. Even Jean's poison was removed from her system. It was none too soon, as the water elementals stormed into the room.

The elementals give the temple's fountain its healing property. However, they do not like to be disturbed by humans or other creatures. Thus, they send their minions to fight when they are disturbed. These water elementals are impossible to harm without magic of some sort.

Jean's orc-slayer sword had no effect upon them. She had a short sword of shocking which she used because it had some effect upon the elementals. Glaf had used many of his spells in the last bout so he had little magic left. Gudrid's sword had some magical properties, but these creatures were tough. It looked like we would be in for another tough battle. Luckily, the fountain was right there, thus if we were badly injured we could drink and be healed.

We fought the elementals for quite a long time, but we managed to stay alive and defeat them. I do not know about the rest of the group, but I had more than my fill of water. I needed to find a large chamber pot or some other large vessel. The healing waters had run their course and wanted to continue their cycle.

I was not the only one in this situation, and I reasoned that the goal of this mini-quest would not be far. Using my keen senses, I found the location of the privies. To be honest, I found the sign for them. They had separate ones for males and females, and we each entered our prospective rooms. That is to say, the women would not let me join them.

Once that emergency was resolved, we decided to leave further exploration of the temple until the next day. We had fought two difficult groups and we were all exhausted. We thought of asking Nather where we could sleep, but we decided it was best just to claim a spot and rest.

I took first watch because I was certain that I would need to alleviate myself of some excess water in a few hours anyway. We found some benches along the center wall of the main room, and camped out.

It was an uneventful night despite the many trips to the four-holer by the group members. That healing water runs right through you sometimes.

When everyone had as much rest as they needed, we broke our fast with some of our remaining provisions. We finally consumed the last of the salted pork. It was an excellent pig, but it was now all gone.

After breakfast, we went looking for the orcs. They actually took my advice on directions, and I led the party right to them. After all, orcs are easy to smell, and with a little intuition, you can determine where they are staying.

The orcs were gathered in a large room in the center of the temple. It had no windows and it had only one door. It was a dark and musty room exactly to the liking of the orcs. They looked to be waiting for some sort of signal to make their attack, and they were quite restless.

They were not restless for long, as we rushed into the room and made quick work of their hoard. Jean's orc-slayer sword sang as each orc fell. The orcs anxious for battle jumped at the chance, but were the first to fall at the hands of our party. With the single door, they could not escape and even Glaf killed a couple orcs.

With the orcish threat removed, we continued to explore the castle. We encountered a few cursed warriors and a couple of bandit groups, but none in any great numbers. We cleaned out a spider's nest or two and we killed the rats in the kitchen.

For our trouble, we -- er -- I cleaned the kitchen out of a few badly needed provisions. With the last of the salt pork gone, we needed to restock our stores, and we did the temple a great favor. There was no need to speak to Nather about it.

We were going to spend one more night in the Temple before going out into the town. The temple was now safe, and we could use a good rest if we were ever going to finish this quest. In the morning, we would further explore the city of Monkalakaboomistan.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 14: Meet the Flannigans

By Douglas E. Gogerty

When everyone was fully rested, we broke our fast with what little was found in the Temple's kitchen. After all, we did not want to use up our provisions. It was a satisfying meal, and we were all ready to take on the day.

We knew that Nebrion's tower was to the west of the temple, so when we exited the temple we were going to head west. Everyone agreed on that plan. We filed out the exit farthest from the gate. We did not want to attract the attention of the city guard.

Our procession was like a ghost being followed by a mummer's parade. I do not think they could have been any more obvious. I do not know why they just did not break into song or shout for the guards.

I heard some shouting, so I ushered the group into the nearest available house. I just hoped that no one put up the "Hey! we are in here" sign. We did not need to be fighting with townspeople in this small house.

Upon entering the house, we noticed a dead man on the floor. He had not been dead very long as his body was still warm. After a bit more searching, we found a woman in the kitchen. "No more," she gasped as she took her last breath when Thorvald discovered her.

"They are still in here," Thorvald whispered to Jane.

"Upstairs," I guessed. "Quietly now!"

I snuck up the stairs in utter silence. There were six bandits ransacking the bedrooms looking for treasure. I signaled for the rest to join me, and they rushed up the stairs like a heard of cows.

The bandits must have been significantly distracted, as they did not hear them until they burst into the one bedroom. It was too late for them as Gudrid made quick work of them. Jean took on the group in the second bedroom and I just watched.

As we were searching and disposing of the bandits, Thorvald went down to the first level and did his thing.

"Please, we do not have much." said the man as Thorvald restored him.

"Peace be with you sir," replied Thorvald. "Do not fret my appearance. My comrades and I are under a spell and not reptilian at all."

"My wife? Where is my wife?" enquired the man.

"Wait here and I will bring her forthwith," replied Thorvald.

"No more," said the woman.

"Peace be with you madam," replied Thorvald. "Your husband awaits you in the front room."

The woman, with an astonished look on her face, entered the front room of their house in wobbly legs. "What happened?" she asked.

"Bandits," started her husband. "I remember bandits breaking into our home."

"They will bother you no more," responded Thorvald.

"I am Mark Flannigan, and this is my wife Laurie."

"I am the most revered cleric Thorvald Larsenski of the Cygnus Clan," our cleric replied. "My compatriots and I have business with Nebrion and we came upon you in a state of distress. It was my sworn duty to aid you."

When Thorvald said the name Nebrion, the Flannigans gave a frightened glance to each other. "We owe you a great deal cleric Larsenski," Mr. Flannigan stated graciously. "Whatever we have is yours."

"Your offer is most kind sir, but I can accept no payment for this deed."

"Thorvald, if I may interrupt," I said. "May we have a word with you in private?"

"Certainly," he replied. "My comrades and I must confer on what it is we should do next. Please forgive us, and I shall return shortly."

I escorted Thorvald up to the upstairs hall. "We found this," I said to Thorvald as I handed him a hand written piece of paper.

"What is this?" he asked.

"We hoped you would be able to read it," replied Glaf. "I could only make out the word 'Nebrion' from it."

"It is written in an ancient script, but the writer is unfamiliar with the syntax. It is likely used to conceal the actual content from unknowing eyes."

"And...?" I asked impatiently.

"It is difficult to decipher; nevertheless, these men do work for Nebrion that is for certain."

"What were they doing here?" asked Gudrid.

"Oh Flannigans!" exclaimed Thorvald ignoring Gudrid's question. "That is that the meaning of those glyphs."

"And...?" I asked even more impatiently than before.

"I beg your forgiveness," responded Thorvald. "Essentially the note reads, 'Flannigans suspect - look like orcs. Nebrion' That is the best I can decipher."

"I am beginning to think that Nebrion does not have this city's well-being at heart," responded Glaf.

"No! Really?" I said without a bit of sarcasm in my voice.

"If you please my comrades," Thorvald said. "We should leave these fine people's house and continue on with our journey."

"With pleasure," I replied.

"And," Thorvald added. "Please leave all items found upon the bandits with the Flannigans. They have suffered greatly this day and we should not compound their grief."

"Agreed!" responded Glaf without consulting anyone.

"What?" I asked.

"I said 'Agreed'," Glaf said as forcefully as he could muster.

I stifled my laughter of Glaf attempting to be tough, but I had not collected much in the house in the first place. Thus, I agreed to their request with only a little prodding from Jean.

We bid the Flannigans farewell and left them with the little they had. However, they insisted that we take a bundled of rug fragments they had collected. Without speaking of it, they had known what Nebrion had done, and they knew that we were their best hope of saving the town. Thus, they aided us in our quest the best way they knew how.

The mummer's parade continued towards Nebrion's tower and lo and behold, some townspeople spotted us. The city's inhabitants were attempting to save their homes, and we did not wish to harm them, so we ran.

We wanted to head towards the tower, but that way was cut off. Thus, I led the party into a large estate northeast of the tower. This estate had a large wall surrounding it, but the front gate was open. I closed the gate behind us and directed the group into the large house. The front door of this house was also unlocked and we went right in.

The house was quite large and it looked as if its occupants had packed and left in a hurry. There were webs and dust in great quantities all over the entryway to the house. With the uproar that we had caused, someone -- read me -- mentioned that we stay in this house for a while until the town quiets down.

"While we're here," suggested Gudrid. "We might as well have a look around."

How did I know that was coming? We could not just sit and rest in the front room of this mansion. No, we had to poke our noses into everything. At least it was something to do.

In the first room we explored, it smelled of death. When we entered, we saw a large group of rats gnawing on a pile of bones. They looked quite hungry, so they naturally turned their attentions upon us.

We made quick work of the rats, but we were unable to determine what it was they were gnawing. The body had decayed far too long ago for any of us to determine what it was. It could have been a person, or orc, or even a dog. We just could not tell.

Many of the rooms were like the first. We fought many rats. To mix things up a bit, a group of spiders or other insects would attack us. It was beginning to appear as if this house was devoid of human life.

Suddenly, we stumbled into the kitchen where a large group of bandits where hiding. I do not know which group was more surprised. They had probably been fending off rats for quite a long time and in walks a group of lizard people.

They were a very experienced band and were excellent fighters. However, they were no match for Gudrid and Jean. They fell readily at the feet of our experienced fighters. With a bit of magic thrown in and a crossbow bolt here and there, the bandits were soon vanquished.

They were sitting on a small cache of supplies. It was not much, but we could make a fine meal out of them. Clearly, with all of the rats about, they constantly had to guard their stores.

I could tell we were getting cavalier with our actions, as we did not give a second thought about other bandits. That is why we were quite surprised when they walked in while we were dining on their supplies.

As they rushed in, I distracted them by running at them. I turned and they attempted to catch me as I raced around the room. This gave Gudrid and Jean a chance to leisurely swallow their last bites and wash it down with a little wine. I think they may have even stretched out a little before jumping into action.

This group of bandits was not as experienced as the last group, and we dispatched them in short order. Before we returned to our feast, we decided to check out the remainder of the house.

Luckily, we did not encounter any more bandits. We did run into plenty of rats, and a few spiders. If I had owned this place, I would have moved away also. It was crawling with creatures.

In the entire house, we only found one locked room. Not only was it locked, but a trap was guarding the door. We all thought that this was quite odd. Naturally, the trap and the lock were no problem for me. I easily opened the door and went inside the room.

It was a very small room with a chest along the far wall. This chest was guarded by three helmed horrors in full plate. Whatever was in that chest was important to somebody. However, before we could examine a treasure of such magnitude, we had a fight on our hands.

These armored specters were not going to be easy to get by. They were quickly upon us, and my bolts were useless against them. Thus, I was once again used as a distraction as the ghosts chased me around the room.

Thorvald was quite effective in this fight. His magic was quite useful against spirits of this nature. Jean and Gudrid had to resort to their less effective magical swords. Thus, we fought these horrors for quite a long time.

Eventually, they did succumb to our weapons and I unlocked the chest with the valuables in it. Inside was a bundle of rug fragments and nothing else. While I understood that we could potentially use the rug, I was quite disappointed in the contents of the chest.

We now had four rug fragments, so if we got into the tower, we could possibly gain entrance to Nebrion's room without his knowing. However, I would have liked to see a little gold or some jewels in the chest.

Quite satisfied that the house was secure, we returned to our meal after fighting off some rats of course. Rats -- why did it have to be rats? Why not snakes or some other creature?

It was well into the night when we had finished everything. Thus, we decided to rest in this house. I found a quite comfortable room, which would have quite comfortably slept two. However, the women thought it best to keep guard. It was their loss.

In the morning, we would push on to the tower no matter what. If we had to slice through every citizen of this town, we were going to make it to the tower. I was well passed ready to shake the dust off my boots and leave this crumbling town. I slept quite soundly.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 15: Remember, Do Not Kill Anyone

By Douglas E. Gogerty

I was rested and ready to go before any of the other members of our adventuring crew. Thus, I took the opportunity to scout out our way. Unfortunately, many of the townspeople looked to Nebrion for protection. Thus, his tower was surrounded by townsfolk who would not look to kindly on a band of lizard people marching up to their benefactor's dwelling.

Further, our party had the sneaking skills of elephants wearing jingle bells. Therefore, if we were going to get into Nebrion's tower, we would need a plan. We could have sliced through the entire town if we wished, but some in our group would frown upon such actions. We needed a diversion.

I reentered the abandoned mansion and waited for the rest of the group to rouse. Those sorcerers need their beauty rest. When everyone was gathered in the entryway, I detailed the situation.

Somehow, I supposedly volunteered to be the distraction. After all, I was the quickest and I could definitely lose the chasers without resorting to combat. Nevertheless, volunteering for such a mission, does not sound like something I would do. However, that is what was claimed.

"Remember, do not kill anyone," Jean pleaded.

The next order of business was entry to Nebrion's tower. It was doubtful that Nebrion would leave the lower level of his lair unlocked. The group would need to gain entry as quickly as possible without my aid in picking the lock.

That is when Thorvald spoke up. He made up some story about talking to Nather back at the temple. Thorvald stated that Nather happened to mention that he had a key and gave it to him. My take on the story is that Thorvald stole it from somewhere and was hesitant to admit that. Nonetheless, he claimed to have a key to Nebrion's tower. That certainly simplified things.

Once the plan was worked out in full, I used my stealth to circle around the tower. I looked back at the mansion and received the go-ahead signal. I walked up to one of the citizens and gave a mighty roar. It startled the entire group who began shouting oaths at me. Without retorting their silly statements, I ran towards the mansion and the citizens chased after me.

As was the plan, I ran past the mansion with the townsfolk in hot pursuit. Naturally, I was not running at full speed so they would think that they could catch me. In fact, a few times I pretended to stumble on a stone, which made me slow down and allow them to catch up.

Everything was working according to plan. I had a mob following me, and the group successfully entered Nebrion's tower. It was time for me to lose the crowd and join my cohorts in the wizard's lair.

I ran down around a few buildings with the crowd close to my heels. I was just about to shake them, when I ran into another group of citizen's at the market. They too joined in the chase. At least thirty citizens with various implements of death were now chasing me.

I ran a couple of times around the city square with the screaming mob behind me. I let them get close, and I ran down an alley. I wished I knew this town better, because I really did not have an escape route planned. The alley turned out to be a dead end. It looked as if I was in for it. I would have to fight my way out.

The crowd had appeared to grow with each step. There were probably forty citizens and several town guards, and there I was, trapped in a blind alley with no way out.

Fortunately for me, I have great acrobatic skills. I ran at the wall in the back, and at the corner, I vaulted up to the second story and caught a drainpipe. It looked like I just walked up the wall and grabbed the pipe. I went hand over hand along the building and above the crowd below. They shot arrows at me, but none hit their mark.

There was a window on the second floor of one of the buildings and pulled myself up and went inside. There was a beautiful young woman there brushing her long brown hair. She had a plain nightgown on and she had the most striking blue eyes. For a moment, I had forgotten myself, but her bloodcurdling scream reminded me that I was still reptilian.

I bolted out of her room to find her younger brother attempting to aid his sister. I leaped over him, and dashed down the stairs. Her mother and father had stirred to see what the matter was, and I flew past them like a streak of lightning.

I crashed through their front door and ran as fast as I could. I zigzagged my way back to Nebrion's tower with not one citizen at my heels. I enter the unlocked tower to find my adventure mates sitting around in Nebrion's front room.

They had not done one thing beside unlock Nebrion's front door and walk in. They did not speak to Nebrion's apprentice to make an appointment. No, they just "waited for me."

Knowing how quiet they could be, I would not be surprised if Nebrion had notified the entire town of our presents at his residence. I was certain that all of my running would be in vain as the mob would burst into the tower at any moment.

In an effort to assuage my fears, Thorvald used his key to lock the door. I must say, that little gesture completely put my mind at ease. Nebrion, who could teleport a group of adventurers hither and yon, would be completely unable to unlock his own door remotely. I felt utterly safe.

My fears aside, the group decided to knock on the door that had a sign reading 'Apprentice' in an effort to continue our quest. On the other side of the door we hear, 'Bar Selonis Lo Kat!' which was not the 'Who is it?' we had hoped for. Glaf tried to open the door but found it locked.

I heard the incantation of another spell, so I decided I would open the door. It was a simple lock, and if it was meant to keep us out, they should have used a better lock.

I opened the door and there appeared to be three apprentices there. They did not ask us to explain our presence; one of them just shot a fireball at us. It did not appear they were in a friendly mood. We were going to have to do this the hard way.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 16: So Close and Yet So Far

By Douglas E. Gogerty

It appeared that Nebrion was not expecting us. His welcome committee had just attacked us. Jean and Gudrid wasted no time in pouncing on the trio of mages. My crossbow bolts were ineffective against all but one of the apprentices. I deduced that two of the visions in the fight were merely astro-projections. Thus, I concentrated on the one I could damage.

Naturally, the wizard was none too pleased with my bolts, and she kept launching attacks against me. I had to dodge fireballs, lightning, and a myriad of other spells. Did she not realize there were others in this fight?

Jean and Gudrid eventually disrupted the two false apprentices and began concentrating on the real thing. This helped me out immensely because she could no longer concentrate solely upon me.

She was quite a powerful magic user in her own right. She conjured up a dire tiger, and sent it after me. I do not think we had met before, but for some reason she seemed to have some sort of grudge against me.

Her face was cloaked, so I could not get a good glimpse of her. Plus, I was running away from a huge tiger with teeth the size of my dagger. Thus, I did not get a real good look at her face, but I did not think I knew her.

Glaf kept attempting to calm her down so we could speak with her, but those efforts were for naught. She was very resistant to magic, and Glaf was always nervous around girls.

Gudrid helped me with the tiger. I could have handled it on my own, but it was nice to have some help with it. Thorvald did his thing with my cuts and scrapes, so when the tiger fell, I could have taken on a few more. Unfortunately, I did not have the chance.

Shortly after the tiger fell, Jean finished off Nebrion's apprentice. I took a good look at her face, but I did not know her. At least, I did not recall ever meeting her. Perhaps she was attracted to me, and this is how she showed it. I am certain that is it.

Gudrid searched her body, and took her personal effects. She had very little. She had her journal, which made no mention of me. Hence, that reinforced the idea that she had developed crush upon me at first sight.

It was just a personal journal. In it, she had the usual complaints about long work hours and low pay. She was often complaining about how little Nebrion trusted her. It did describe some of her deeds to show her boss that she was worthy of more. However, it made little mention of Nebrion's schemes or plans.

Along with the journal was a key, but little else. A search of her room revealed nothing else. There was no device to mend the rug in this room. She was an ordinary underpaid apprentice attempting to please her boss and get ahead. It was too bad she was evil and tried to kill us. We could have become friends I am sure.

My group of adventurers and I left the apprentice's room, and returned into the entryway. Occasionally, someone would try the door only to find it locked. It appeared that Nebrion was not interested in letting any of the townspeople in. For this, we were grateful because we wished to continue searching this lower level of his residence unmolested.

Naturally, this was not to be. We opened the next room and found ourselves face-to-face with a large gang of bandits. They just appeared out of nowhere. If only I could get the others of my group to be so stealthy.

Nevertheless, we were once again fighting in close quarters. We had faced several large groups of bandits before, and this group was much the same. We easily dispatched them. They had a little treasure, which is a nice thing about bandits. You usually get some sort of reward for your trouble.

Once we had taken care of the bandits, I noticed a strange device along one wall. I was about to examine the machine when we were suddenly attacked by a group of enormous insects. Every creature in the world was stealthier than my party.

The difficulty with giant insects is that they are naturally armored. Their exterior coat is very difficult to penetrate with ordinary weapons. Further, they have nasty crushing appendages near their mouths. Furthermore, they always look creepy.

These particular bugs had one more thing going for them. Their bite was poisonous. We had to be careful to avoid being bitten. Nebrion was not messing around with the protection of his belongings.

It took longer than we would have liked, but we managed to stomp the bugs. Gudrid was poisoned in the battle, but Thorvald was up to the task and was able to neutralize the poison. Naturally, the bugs could not just lie there dead with their legs crossed. These bugs vanished in a noxious gas cloud. The cloud was not dangerous; it was just fowl smelling.

We thoroughly searched the room for any more creatures. When we were certain that the room was secure, I went to look at the rug repair device. There was a tray in which to place the bundles that we had collected. I put the four bundles on the tray. The machine whirred and buzzed and a message appeared reading 'Not enough material.'

We had a fake bundle! There was a bundle for this carpet out there somewhere, and we needed to find it. It could be anywhere if it existed at all. Perhaps it was destroyed.

I was most upset about this development. Without the rug to enter Nebrion's room, we could not complete our quest. Moreover, we may be permanently stuck in our reptilian forms. Paul and his group had reverted to their ordinary selves, but we did not know if we were under the same spell.

Furthermore, when we began this adventure, we had some items with us. They had disappeared on our transport into the mines. Would we be able to recover these items?

With that crushing disappointment, we took a brief rest. Many people had claimed that there was only way into Nebrion's room, but did they know for sure? Perhaps there was a secret way into his room that no one knew about. We decided to look for ourselves.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 17: The Mighty Paladin Screams

By Douglas E. Gogerty

We had a good rest in the entry of Nebrion's tower. Once again, I slept alone in a nice bed. Nebrion's apprentice did not have any use for hers, so I helped myself. None of the ladies accepted my offer to join me, so I slept well.

There were still plenty of places in Nebrion's tower to explore. We had not opened the door at the back of the room with the carpet-mending machine. That was the only place that we had not attempted. Whatever we were looking for had to be behind that door. Naturally, Nebrion also had one of his henchpeople put a trap on it. It was clear that there were places in Nebrion's tower he did not want people to go. Clearly, beyond this door was one such place.

I easily disarmed the spike trap, and unlocked the door. It would have kept out your ordinary peasants, but it was no match for the likes of me. Once the door was open, we still had plenty of work ahead of us.

As Gudrid opened the door and Jean stood at the ready, a pack of tiger-headed rakshasas attacked us. These creepy demons seemed to spring out of the woodwork as we were quickly surrounded.

Each one attempted to cast a spell or another, but before they could finish, Jean or Gudrid's sword stroke or a bolt from my crossbow interrupted them. However, with cat-like moves they would pounce to a new location. This kept us in continuous action. In fact, we were beginning to wear down when the first one fell.

When that first rakshasa disappeared in a puff of smoke, it began a chain reaction. A second fell and then a third. Puff of smoke followed puff of smoke until there was nothing left but a pile of rakshasa eyes. The cat eyes left behind were creepy, but the puff of scent they left behind had a hint of lavender. Not one member of the party was expecting that.

In all of the commotion, we had not even had a chance to look at the room. Like all wizards' rooms, this one was lined with bookshelves. I think these sorcerer types wish to give the impression that they are knowledgeable. However, does anyone look at the titles? They could all be "The Loves of Lady Chatterford" or "William and Theodore's Excellent Adventure". They might not be tomes of learning at all.

Continuing to look around the room, I spotted in the back corner a stairway leading up. That was a good sign. Perhaps this was the way to get farther into the tower. The only problem with this route is there was an enormous red dragon blocking the way.

The dragon did not move towards us. Perhaps it was blind, deaf, or both. We were certainly making enough noise. I told Glaf that since he did not have any luck with the apprentice, perhaps he should ask the dragon to dance. He was not amused.

Jean and Gudrid prepared themselves to fight the mighty dragon. They had collected some potions during our trip, and these would immunize them against almost anything the dragon could throw at them. They were suddenly fearless and fast. They took potions to toughen them and make them stronger. When we were all ready, we struck.

With the first blows of Jean and Gudrid, the dragon fell. I think it was depressed and just committed suicide. It did not put up a fight at all. Further supporting this conjecture was the lack of treasure. This dragon had none. It was the saddest excuse for a dragon ever.

Glaf guessed that it was simply a trick by Nebrion to scare us off. Glaf continued to speculate that Nebrion was concentrating all his efforts out in the city and had little magic left for internal defenses. Glaf sure knows how to rain on a good parade.

With the "mighty" dragon vanquished, I ran up the stairs to find another trapped and locked door. While this door was a little trickier than the last, it was still no match for my skills. I had the trap off and the door unlocked in no time. However, I was going to let one of the women go first. "Ladies first" is my motto.

Jean rushed up the stairs, opened the door, and rushed into the room. She gave a horrified shriek that caused us to rush up to help. No one had ever heard our mighty paladin scream like that. When we reached the top, we found her covered in rats. There were dozens. Perhaps, there were as many as one hundred. It was very creepy and I excused her for her scream.

Nevertheless, they were just rats. They were not rodents of unusual size. They were simply "run of the mill" rats. There were lots of them, but one strike and they were dead. In fact, I got out my dagger and short sword to help exterminate them.

It is surprising how tiring it is to kill that many rats. I was exhausted by the time the last one died. Like the last room, we did not look around at all until we were finished with the rats.

This was another typical wizards' room. Several bookshelves filled with books. There were a few other gizmos scattered about. He had astrolabes, globes and other do-dads strewn around the room. To me it all looked like useless junk.

As we usually do, we each searched the room. I was perusing a bookshelf on the far wall. In it there were a few scrolls that appeared to be magic. I grabbed those to give to Glaf. That is when I spotted a hidden door. I thought that perhaps it was a secret entrance to Nebrion's lair. Thus, I pointed it out to the other members of our party.

We were all a bit exhausted from our fight with the scores of rats, so we rested a bit before entering the door. If it was the door to Nebrion's room, we wanted to be ready for him.

Since this door led to an unknown locale, entering it was going to be very dangerous. Thus, the plan was to send me in. They knew that they stomped around like huge beasts, and if I could sneak in and check it out, it would be a safer way to go.

I could think of lots of objections to that sentiment, but I reluctantly agreed. I crawled through the trapdoor and found myself at a dead end. By pressing slightly on the wall in front of me, it gave way and I went tumbling into the room.

I briefly thanked my gods that it was not Nebrion's room. Clumsily falling into my enemy's room was not how I wished to die. I was almost as loud as Jean marching down the city streets. I could tell I flushed as I picked myself up off the ground.

I found myself in a very unwizard like room. It was a plain and mostly empty. The one item the room did contain was a large wooden chest. It was placed in the middle with the lock facing away from the entrance. There were no bookshelves on these walls.

However, there was no obvious way back to where I had come. Eventually, I spotted a switch plate on the floor that opened the secret passage. This allowed me to rejoin my compatriots and give them the news.

One by one, we all entered the trap door to explore the room. Certainly, Nebrion would not leave this room unguarded. Some beastie would surely jump out of the darkness and attack us.

As Jean reached the chest in the middle of the room, that is exactly what happened. A gang of spiders descended from the ceiling. Once again, these were not ordinary spiders -- these were huge. They were going to be difficult to vanquish.

Be that as it may, we did take care of them rather easily. Glaf was poisoned, but Thorvald took care of that with some spell or potion. Thorvald took care of the minor nicks and scrapes that Jean and Gudrid had. Naturally, I emerged from the encounter without a scratch.

Gudrid was anxious to see what was in the chest. Thus, she ran to it quickly and set off the trap protecting it. A noxious cloud of some gas filled the room. Sometimes the amateurs can really ruin a perfectly good melee. Once the gas dissipated, Thorvald had to use his magic again to restore our health.

The chest was locked, so Gudrid would have had to wait for me anyway. I believe Glaf chastised her for her haste while I unlocked the chest.

The chest had no valuables in it. It was practically empty. It seemed odd to have so much security for this chest. However, its sole contents were very important to us. Thus, they were likely important to Nebrion as well. In the chest, we discovered a bundle of carpet fragments. Could this be the missing bundle? Would we be able to have it out with Nebrion after all? Gudrid's anxiousness was beginning to affect me. I was ready to rush down and take on Nebrion too.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 18: How Does this Rug Work Anyway?

By Douglas E. Gogerty

"Bzzzz -- Wheee -- Wheee -- Bzzzz -- Kablaam!" the machine sputtered when the carpet fragment from the chest was placed in its tray and the machine was switched on. It was certainly working. After a few seconds, a nice rug fell out of the machine and onto the floor. We were in!

Unfortunately, we had no instructions as to its use. How does this rug manage to enter Nebrion's room? Do we climb onto the rug and have it fly us through his window? Perhaps we should sit upon it. Was it a flying rug like the ones from the ancient tales? Did it work on an entirely different principle?

Our men of letters were of no help in this regard. Thorvald and Glaf studied the object carefully, but could come up with no better solution than to place it on the ground and hop on board. I suggested we go back to the inn and talk to the man who told us about the rug, but they did not wish to harm any more townsfolk. Thus, they did not wish to leave the tower.

So what was their solution? Naturally, it was to use me as the first victim. They would have me step on the rug and determine what happens. I informed them if I go tumbling into Nebrion's room, all stealth and surprise is lost, but they reminded me of my dexterity. The others were too clumsy to be trusted on a flying rug.

Once they were all agreed that I should do this, I gingerly stepped onto the rug. I braced myself for something to occur, but nothing did. I was not in Nebrion's room I was still in the same room as the rest of the party.

I sat on the rug and concentrated on going to Nebrion's room. I made several attempts to persuade it to go somewhere. Nevertheless, the carpet was not moving. It looked as if we would have to ask the man how to work the rug after all.

I arose from my seated position and walked off the rug. The disorientation hit me immediately, and I nearly tumbled to the ground. I managed to stay on my feet, but for a few seconds I did not know where I was or what had happened.

In my daze, I looked around and noticed I was in a corner of some room. The room had several bookcases along the walls. There was no doubt about it; I was in Nebrion's room. Apparently, you just had to walk across the carpet and you were in.

Unfortunately, the teleportation mechanism to get me back was not obvious. Thus, I could not scout out the area and return the information to the rest. I was trapped in the room with Nebrion, who had not noticed me as of yet.

I stood in the shadow of the corner, attempting to decide what my next move should be. However, before I made any action -- one by one -- the rest of my party tumbled into the room.

Startled, Nebrion asked, "What are you doing here?"

Our Paladin with her lawful goodness made her reply; she drew her sword, gave a battle cry, and attacked. The rest of the party was startled briefly and did not immediately join in the fray.

"Please," Nebrion begged. "There must be some sort of mistake. I am not responsible for this..."

Jean would have none of it. She clearly detected his evilness when she entered. She would hear none of his excuses. Also by this time, the rest of us made our decision to join in the fray. Thus, we all began our attacks on Nebrion.

For someone who appeared to be older, he was remarkably agile. Gudrid and Jean's swords rarely hit their marks. The wizard was also adept at dodging my bolts. This fight was going to take some time.

After Nebrion decided that we were serious, he began his offense. With a "Phartano Verdigulum", he summoned some sort of ghoul. Our blows kept missing, and now we had a second foe.

"Concentrate on Nebrion!" shouted Glaf.

Nebrion had other spells at his disposal, and he was not averse to using them. A cloud of noxious gas was his next weapon. I was using my crossbow, so I managed to stay on the edge of the cloud. At the clouds fringes, I fired my crossbow. However, Jean was not immune to the clouds effects. Fortunately, Gudrid was unaffected. Thus, the battle could continue while Jean ran out of the cloud to be tended by our cleric Thorvald.

In the mean time, I was still attempting to hit the illusive Nebrion. One bolt missed its mark and lodged in the arm of Nebrion's ghoul. That spelt trouble for me. The ghoul took notice of me, and headed in my direction.

This ghoul was not your run of the mill zombie; he or she was quite agile. Luckily, it was not nearly as dexterous as I am. Thus, I avoided the attack and headed towards Thorvald and Jean.

After I ran past, with the ghoul on my heels, Jean took her orc-slayer and lopped its head off. In one blow, the summoned ghoul had disappeared in a puff of smoke.

As the cloud dissipated, Jean ran after Nebrion again. There were a flurry of blows, and it looked like we had Nebrion. However, he reached into his robe and pulled out a flask. As quick as he could, he drank some potion and it was as if he had just begun the battle. It was going to be a long fight.

Nebrion conjured up another ghoul and another cloud of some sort. This one did not affect Jean, but Gudrid could not stay in the cloud long. She ran to the cleric for his services.

It was at this point that Glaf took advantage of one of his major spells. Gudrid was not immune to the effects of the spell, but Jean was. Thus, he hoped that his spell would do some damage upon Nebrion.

Nebrion erupted in a large fireball. His ghoul fell dead, and Jean was still attempting to hit Nebrion with her sword. Nebrion survived the attack and continued to avoid our blows.

Our enemy was looking in rough shape. Our attacks would occasionally land, and the wounds would mount up. However, the crafty wizard had more potions and spells. He once again healed himself. This time, instead of summoning a ghoul, he summoned a dire tiger.

This tiger must have been a female because she got a whiff of me and was on my heels. "I'll keep this one busy," I shouted. "Concentrate on Nebrion."

I do not know what I was thinking when I said that. How was I going to keep that giant cat busy? Perhaps I could keep her busy by running around the perimeter because that was my only defense against the beast. Nebrion must have used a spell to make me do such a crazy thing.

Nebrion continued to fill the room with various clouds, but Jean and Gudrid continued to go after him. I would occasionally stop running from the tiger and shoot a bolt at him, but then I would start running again with the cat right behind me.

Glaf had spells, but he could not use the most powerful ones with our party in the line of fire. He was restricted to his lesser spells that did do damage to Nebrion.

Thorvald would shoot an arrow -- now and again -- at the evil wizard, but he spent most of his time with the wounds of the rest of the party. With that tiger on my tail, I was glad to have him tend to my scratches. However, he would eventually run out of his medical supplies.

Just when we thought we had him, Nebrion took another potion and we were back to square one. With his latest cloud effect gone, I dashed in to check his pockets. I wanted to steal any potions he may have possessed, but he had none.

He would not be able to make it much longer. Certainly, he must be running out of spells. He had used a great deal of magic attacking Gudrid and Jean. He chanted again and tentacles reached out of the floor with a stinging bite. Why did he save this spell? It was particularly nasty.

Jean and Gudrid hopped and jumped to get away from the spell's effect. This gave Glaf a brief instant to pile on his powerful spells. Fire and ice began flying at our opponent. Nebrion was caught between chasing the two fighters and going after our wizard. In his hesitation, more spells came his way.

Gudrid and Jean were in rough shape. They had taken a great deal of punishment from Nebrion's spells. They were also fatigued from the effort they had made to bring down the wizard.

Thorvald did his best to treat them, but he had exhausted his last potion. There was little else he could do to ease their pain. The tiger was inflicting some damage upon me as well. We could not put up this fight for much longer.

Sensing that our need was desperate, I stopped running from the tiger and shot my last bolt at Nebrion. I had missed with numerous bolts, but this one caught him right in the ear. He tumbled to the ground. The pouncing tiger disappeared in an odorless cloud. We had vanquished the evil wizard and we were victorious!

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The Haunted Mines of Krator

Part 1

By Dwayne MacInnes

Gwendolyn is my name and I am a Wood Elf by birth. You may say that I am a thief by trade. However, I personally do not like to think of myself as such. I prefer the title, scout or wealth adjuster. Granted, after I left my home in the Great Forest to try my hand at a living inside the Empire, I may have had to resort to finding some coinage in a stranger’s pocket. I figured that they would have given it to me after they heard my plight anyway, so why waste both our time with a needless story.

But then I found that I could make larger sums of money by fighting in the Imperial Arena. There is a lot of coinage to be had if you can fight well. Now, do not think I am one of those muscled bound low intelligent Amazons. Nothing could be further from the truth. First, of all I mentioned that I am a Wood Elf. We Wood Elves tend to be extremely nimble and very gifted with the bow. Even a young Wood Elf could teach that famed human bandit Robbing Hood a thing or two in the art of archery.

Now, let me interrupt myself to mention that many humans think of elves as stuffy and aloof. They would be correct if they were referring to our cousins the High Elves. High Elves are very intelligent and love to study. That is why many become mages; however, they are boring, I am sure the High Elves would probably put it as pleasantly dull. High Elves have no sense of adventure (or humor for that fact) and do tend to believe that they the most superior form of all elves not to mention sentient life forms. After all, they are the ones who named themselves the **High Elves**.

Anyway, as I was saying about the arena, I could never be able to withstand a toe-to-toe fight with your average fighter. Remember, I am a wealth adjuster (said thief) and my skills lie elsewhere. The short sword I carry is my backup weapon; my weapon of choice is of course my elven bow.

Now, a bow is hardly a good weapon to use in the arena. Not a lot of places one can hide to fire off a succession of arrows at one’s opponent. However, the construction of the arena does have its advantages to one such as me. I was quick to notice that there were a series of buttresses on the arena’s wall. These buttresses would normally be inaccessible to your average heavily armored and heavily muscled warrior. Fortunately, I am none of these. I found to my great relief that I could leap to the top of the buttresses and fire off an arrow at my opponent. As anyone who has read the military treatise, Mixed Combat Tactics will remember that you should always take the high ground. However, it would hardly be sporting to sit there on top of the buttress and kill off my adversary. Being a Wood Elf I have a streak of theatrics ingrained in me. Therefore, of course, I need to win the audience over to my side.

I could stir up interest by jumping over my opponent; sometimes I would do a flip, land behind him or her and kick them behind their knees. They would then fall over and after they regained their feet, I would then jump upon another buttress just before they could reach me with their sword. It was not long before the audience started calling me the “Black Arrow?.

An interesting thing about the arena is that all fights are to the death. There is no mercy inside the pit. Now, you know why it pays so well. Unfortunately, arena rules forbid you to loot the bodies of the fallen.

However, once the body leaves the arena it is no longer under arena rules. Well, that is how I feel anyway. Plus, I felt it was unfair that the guards and physicians would loot the bodies long after the bout was over and take what was rightfully mine. They say, “To the victor go the spoils? and I agree. It was no problem to gain entrance into the “red room? to pay my last respects to my worthy opponent. I would go into a sacred elven prayer ritual (one I made up myself) and help myself to whatever items looked interesting. That is how I got my shield of magic warding.

I usually do not carry heavy armor, especially a heavy shield. I prefer something light. Maybe, even elven by manufacture. However, this shield I have found to be indispensable. By some powerful magic, the shield absorbs all hostile spells aimed at its possessor. That has proven to be a very useful thing to one in my profession.

Now, that we have some background let me tell you about the time before I was the Grand Champion and was the rising sensation in the arena that the town of Krator commissioned me to help them with the problem with their mines. It is a well-known fact that Krator has the richest silver mines in the empire. The capitol is the only city actually wealthier than Krator. However, Krator’s wealth is due strictly to the success of its mines.

It appeared that some months before my commission the silver mines had a terrible cave-in. Inside the mine’s dark dank bowels many miners lay trapped. It was weeks before rescuers cleared the rubble and stabilized the shafts that they retrieved the trapped miners’ long dead bodies.

It could not have been longer than a week after the mines reopened before the first stories of strange events happening in the mines began to surface. First, it was just someone thinking that they saw one of their dead comrades who died in the cave-in walking the shafts. Then strange accidents began to happen. Miners would sometimes find that the oil in their lamps had mysteriously vanished. Alternatively, a miner would just disappear forever into the inky blackness without a trace.

The elders of Krator petitioned the local garrison to investigate the problem. The garrison commander dispatched a small group of ten legionnaires to the town. The ten soldiers entered the mine one morning and never exited. The town elders petitioned the local garrison again, however the commander flatly denied them this time.

Thus, the town elders petitioned the emperor himself. Given the importance and wealth of Krator’s mines, the emperor ordered the garrison commander to look into the situation personally. Now, the commander had one more and legal trick to play. He told the elders of Krator that in order for him to send a cohort of legionnaires to look into this little problem, they would need to pay a high fee of one thousand Gold Eagles per soldier in order to compensate the Empire for the movement, logistics, and sheltering of the troops.

Krator’s mines by this time had been out of operation for at least two months. Miners were unemployed and had already spent what little savings they had. Hence, a great emigration had already taken place. Until the mines were operational again, the town would be unable to pay its taxes let alone a hefty service fee.

That is how, one day after a rather successful and amazing arena bout against a Dark Elf mage, I found myself reading a letter from the town of Krator. The elders had heard of my success in the arena, they could not afford the Grand Champion (it is highly unlikely he would have helped them out if they could) but they did offer me a thousand Golden Eagles if I took the job. Usually I earned five hundred Silver Crowns for a successful bout; I still had a long way to go to be Grand Champion. So of course, being the entrepreneur that I am, I accepted.

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Nebrion's Quest

Chapter 19: The Quest Ends

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Our quest was over. We had cleaned the mines of creatures that were plaguing the city of Monkalakaboomistan. The only down side at this point was we had just killed the man who was to pay us. Nebrion was dead.

The chest that was supposed to hold our reward was unlocked and empty. I wonder how that could have happened... The perimeter of the room contained a series of large wooden armoires. They were protected by a trap, which I easily removed. However, the lock was a different story. It was a custom lock with some sort of magical spell preventing anyone from opening it without the key.

I thought we could just smash them to bits. After all, they were only made of wood. However, no one was willing to aid me in this venture. I even explained that Nebrion himself pointed out that our belongings were in the armoires.

Unfortunately, the party's trust in Nebrion had long since evaporated. Thus, they had given up the idea of obtaining their long lost belongings. Further, they were fond of the items they had collected on the adventure.

It was then that I thought that Nebrion should have the key. Gudrid had searched him for valuables and the items he had were useable only by an evil wizard. They would be of no help to Glaf. However, the key was among the items.

I used the key to open the armoires one by one. To everyone's surprise, the armoires were filled with our items. A few had items from other adventurers. In any event, we had our belongings back.

"Where did you get these items?" asked Gudrid.

"Those?" I replied. "I have had those for a while."

"I do not remember you having that stuff," added Glaf.

"You cannot even wear this armor," added Jean. "It is way too large for you."

"I was going to sell it at my earliest convenience," I said. "Why is everyone so suspicious of me?"

"Spill it!" demanded Thorvald.

"Okay you caught me," I admitted. "While you all were discussing the mission with Nebrion, I opened the chest. I just wanted to know what our reward was going to be. Before I knew anything, all of my items were gone and I woke up in a mine looking like a lizard."

"Hey!" exclaimed Glaf.

"Yeah!" shouted Gudrid.

"We are no longer reptilian!" shouted Jean.

Jean and I embraced. Then she smacked me across the face. After all of the things I had done for her, she was not going to thank me. Perhaps it was the fact that there were other people around. I guess I should have been grateful that she did not swing her orc-slayer at me.

We had all of our belongings and our appearance had returned to normal. Nebrion's quest had clearly ended. What do we do next? More importantly, how do we get out of this tower?

There was a lever in the corner, which did not appear to have an obvious function. At least it did not do anything the four or five times I had pulled it the first time we were in this room. Perhaps Nebrion protected its use. Thus, I pulled the lever. I heard a loud crack somewhere in the tower, but it had no other effect.

Gudrid gave it a try and we were immediately transported to another room in the tower. I was expecting to return to the carpet. After all, it was how the previous owner of the tower entered and left the isolated tower room.

Regardless, we found ourselves in the company of a beautiful woman. She was tall with long fire-red hair. She was dressed in silver plate trimmed in gold. She had a winged helm upon her head.

"I am Leela Monkalakaboom," she declared.

We each introduced ourselves. I flirted more than usual to make Jean jealous. Leela naturally took a shine to me. Jean pretended not to notice the sparks, but I could tell she had seen.

"I thank you for ridding us of our plight," she continued. "For a long time we have suspected that Nebrion was luring adventurers to our fair city and robbing them of their goods."

"He is also responsible for the monster attacks," added Thorvald.

"He changed us into lizardmen," declared Glaf.

"Ummmm -- we got better," I added.

"Apparently," continued Thorvald. "He would alter the appearance of these adventurers and dump them into the nearby mines. If these individuals made it out of the mines alive, it would appear that they would attack the city."

"Nebrion was also responsible for the monster attacks," Glaf conjectured.

"I believe all of what you say is true," responded Leela. "My brother Paul was sent to investigate and his armor and some other items appeared some time later."

"Paul?" I mumbled. "Does everyone in this town have some link to him?"

"What?" asked Leela.

"We encountered a Paul in the dungeons above the mines. He was hungry but well."

"I am relieved from this news," added Leela. "With Nebrion out of the way, I can return as protector of the city. You have given me back my tower."

"And your rug," added Glaf. "We gathered the pieces and it allowed us into Nebrion's room."

"Thanks for the update genius," I whispered to Glaf. "She has been watching us you door knob!"

"Your journey has been long and arduous," Leela continued. "You shall be rewarded for your deeds. I will pay you handsomely for any treasures you have collected in your adventure. Our citizens could begin rebuilding the town with these items."

She paid us handsomely for our extra goods. I had to hand it to Glaf; it was a very profitable journey for us. There were plenty of times when I doubted that it would be, but the coin in my pocket proved me wrong.

We rested the night in Leela's tower. She threw a large feast in our honor and the entire town showed up. The wine was good and the mood merry. Even the temple guardian Nather showed up. He was strangely quiet. A large smile seemed to be unnaturally affixed to his face, which prevented his normal talkativeness.

I flirted with many ladies at the feast. If Jean were not going to thank me personally, an attractive local would have to do. There were plenty from which to choose. The choice would be difficult. Perhaps more than one...

Nebrion's quest was over, and now it was time to decide what was next. That story is for another time.

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The Haunted Mines of Krator

Part 2

By Dwayne MacInnes

You may have heard the old verse: How much wood could a Wood Elf shelf if a Wood Elf could shelf wood. The answer of course is as much wood as a Wood Elf could if a Wood Elf could shelf wood. It is a silly little human rhyme, for of course Wood Elves can shelve wood. Furthermore, if I were a High Elf I am sure I would have taken offense if the rhyme were about High Elves. However, I am not -- and it was not -- so I recited the little rhyme as I rode along the road towards Krator.

I received many strange looks from humans as they witnessed a Wood Elf upon the back of a fine black mare singing a silly children's song. That was not something you see every day in the Empire. It only took me three days to reach Krator upon that fine steed.

The citizens of Krator were a bit surprised to see me ride in alone. I guess they figured that I would hire some fellow adventurers and then share the reward amongst the party. The thing about being a wealth adjuster (or as you may call it, a thief) is that we tend to work better alone. Your typical warrior, mage, or priest can make enough noise trying to be stealthy to wake the proverbial dead. That is not including the times when they are not trying to be stealthy. In addition, many of the above are a bit clumsy.

Which reminds of the time a warrior, mage, and priest walked into a bar. The thief nimbly tumbled beneath it. Sorry, that really gets them at the taverns.

As I was saying however, it is far better for a thief, if you will, to operate alone. Parties tend to bicker over wealth distribution and frown on service fees for unlocking locks and disarming traps. I have also heard of thieves being turned into beastly creatures like lizard-men by getting themselves involved with parties.

It took a little convincing of the elders to prove that I was indeed the arena rat they were looking for. I provided a poster of myself. Of course, it was more stylized and the artist took a great many liberties with my body. I certainly do not have large breasts nor do I ever fight that scantily clothed. I do not know what humans have for large breasts but such things would be a great hindrance to successfully firing a bow. Secondly, it is a little ironic to have "The Arena's Acrobatic Archer, The Black Arrow" emblazoned across the poster and then show me (big breasts and all) holding a severed head in my left hand and a gore covered sword in the other.

Fortunately, a few miners had been to the arena and they knew me by sight well enough to vouch for my authenticity. I suppose I could have just jumped from my mare, done a flip over an elder's head, and kick him behind the knee. Nevertheless, I feel that that would not have made my case for me.

Once the elders were convinced that I was the genuine article, they took me to the entrance of the mines. It was a heavy wooden door with the words "Mine closed" and "Danger" written all over the surface. A sturdy lock sealed the entrance. I waited while an elder fumbled for the right key to open the door.

He looked rather embarrassed as he examined every key on his key ring. He could not figure out how he could have misplaced that key. Well, it was easy for me to figure out because I had already lifted it. Now, to say I knew what key to lift would be a lie. The fact I lifted the key in the first place was mere coincidence. I had helped myself to the elder's money pouch (I do have to stay in practice) and amongst the ten Silver Crowns, I found the key.

Things were not starting too well; the elders and the crowd were becoming uncomfortable. It did not look entirely well to hire a hero to fix your problem and then be unable to facilitate said hero toward the said problem.

"Excuse me your grace," I said as I bent towards the ground and produced the key. "I believe this fell as you pulled the ring out of your pocket."

Relief broke out upon everyone's face. I had already proven myself a hero in one small regard. That of being able to find the missing key to the locked mines of Krator.

Soon the heavy door was unlocked and I found myself inside the cavernous maw of the silver mine. The town provided me with an oil lamp before they quickly slammed the door shut behind me and proceeded to lock it.

It had never been discussed how I was supposed to get out once I finished my job. But these tended to be simple folk, and spooks -- real and imagined -- play upon their minds. I can only suppose that they had as much faith in me succeeding as I did. After all, I came to rid these mines of ghosts and ghouls. The fact, that it was the most successful silver mine in the empire had nothing to do with it. Well, maybe it was not quite nothing.

My first official act as hero was to extinguish the lamp. A thief with a lamp is not much of a thief. Now, it is well rumored that elves can see in the dark and to a certain extent, it is true. High and Wood Elves can see in low light and our subterranean brethren the Dark Elves can see in pitch-blackness. However, the interior of a mine favors pitch-blackness to low light.

Fortunately, I had learned a simple spell for seeing in the darkness. A few whispered phrases and *presto* night sight for one minute. Thankfully, it was a spell that did not take a lot of energy to cast. Imagine trying to cast that every minute for an hour. As it were, the routine of reciting the whispered phrases were tasking enough.

Shortly after gaining my dark sight I began to make my way stealthily down the mine's shaft. The town was at least kind enough to offer me a map before they locked me in. My bow with an arrow readied was in my hand.

Now, you are probably asking what good my arrows would do against a phantasm. Well, the fact that immediately after casting my simple spell the tripwire I spied stretching across the tunnel ahead of me told me that these ghosts were more corporeal than anyone suspected.

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The Haunted Mines of Krator

Part 3

By Dwayne MacInnes

Traps come in different shapes and sizes depending on who made them and where they placed them. In many dwarven establishments, you will find that the little dour faced people favor pressure plates in the floor. To detect these just look for the tiles with worn surfaces from usage over the ages. The difference is subtle but can be lethal, especially if you step on an unworn tile that happens to be a pressure plate. Some High Elves of old loved to have darts that shoot out of the wall once a beam of light was penetrated. Here you had to be observant to the tiny holes in the wall and natural light filtering into the area. However, in places like mines or natural caves where occupancy has been relatively short you find the ever-popular tripwire.

Tripwire traps are some of the most common, easiest, and cheapest traps to rig. Break a wire and a weapon from above crashes into your noggin. On the other hand, maybe a boulder topples into you from the side knocking you off a ledge. Regardless of their simplicity, tripwire traps are just as effective as any other trap. Dead is dead, unless of course you are on good terms with a high-ranking priest or a Necromancer. Priests are very expensive to employ in order to bring you back from the dead and even though a Necromancer is a lot easier on the money pouch, very few people want to return from the dead as a zombie or an animated skeleton.

Once a tripwire is located, the next thing is to figure out what it is on the other end of the trigger. In this case, it was some large stones nicely concealed in the roughly hewn ceiling. Having a half ton of rocks falling on you would make a quick end to any adventure. Now, that I had established what the tripwire was the trigger for I had to make a decision.

You are probably saying to yourself "what decision, disarm the trap." Yes, in some cases I would disarm the trap. Say that for example I had a couple of fighters, a mage, and priest bumbling around in the darkness behind me. However, as I established before -- I work alone.

There are two very good reasons why I would not disarm the trap. First, is that I do not want some unfriendly stumbling around and noticing that their trap has been discovered. Not good for one in my profession to alert the occupants of a dwelling that I am on the premises.

Secondly, a trap meant for me can be just as effective against the ones it is supposed to protect. You would be surprised that in the midst of a chase that the person who laid out a trap will completely forget about it. That is why it is of utmost importance that I memorize the location of traps. Many people do not realize that a thief's most important attribute is her memory. The thief that forgets something vital ends up either in prison or dead.

I avoided the trap by simply walking over the tripwire and proceeded down the mineshaft. I slowly and stealthily crept down the tunnel on the look out for other traps. I spied the occasional silver nugget lying on the ground and since I figured, the town would not miss it I kept them as souvenirs of my trip.

I had traveled down the winding shaft for about fifteen minutes (after having to stop and recite my spell every minute) when I noticed a flickering light in the opening ahead. A flickering light meant two things to me, first that I would no longer have to keep reciting that spell and secondly that there was a fire ahead.

The ghost story of a haunted mine was starting to unravel. The last I knew ghosts did not need fires to help them see or to warm themselves. I used extra caution as I approached the fire. Light is not the thief's best friend. However, shadows are and I became very close friends with the shadows.

As I drew closer to the light emanating from the opening at the end of the shaft, I started to pick out two voices in conversation. This was even more evidence that I was not dealing with the dearly departed. I have never in all my experiences encountered a ghost that needed to converse with another ghost. Hell, ghosts generally do not converse with anyone. They tend to moan and wail nonstop, which is more of an irritant than actual communication.

I slid stealthily up to the opening and peered in from behind some large rocks. There on the ground, inside a huge natural cavern with a high ceiling, burned a small fire. Around the fire were two bedrolls and on the other side of the fire sitting at a table were two living humans deep in conversation.

I listened to their conversation for a while. Listening is another trait that a good thief needs to have. It is the best way of learning about people and places. It is also a great way to discover what may lie ahead.

A fighter would storm into the room. Kill the first person and then proceed to subdue the second and then waste valuable time torturing the poor victim until he "volunteered" the information the fighter wanted. This is not a very effective and trustworthy means of gaining intelligence. Then again, intelligence and fighters do not mix.

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The Haunted Mines of Krator

Part 4

By Dwayne MacInnes

I listened to the two humans speak to each other for a good ten minutes. I learned that there were about five or six of them and that they all used to be miners except for the hedge-wizard they hired. The leader, as usual, had his dwelling furthest in the mine.

It does not matter on the species or race, but one thing always stands out. The leader is always furthest from the opening in any dungeon. How I would just love one day to sneak into a dungeon see the leader of the group taking a snooze on the doorstep. I could kill or subdue him collect my reward and leave town. Most bands of ne'er-do-wells tend to breakup after their leader is out of the action. Very few actually vow revenge and try to hunt down the do-wells who had taken care of their leader.

However, I digress. It also turns out that this little party of miners had used the tragedy of the mine collapse as a means for smuggling out silver that they were still mining. The best way to ensure that no one would bother them was for the mines to become haunted. The fence, to whom the miners smuggled their loot, was one of the townsfolk. In fact, he was a former miner by the name of Gunter.

The small party had hired a hedge-wizard from another town to help conjure up, literally, the ghosts and ghouls the other miners saw. The poor legionnaires who were to investigate the haunting fell victim to the traps that lay scattered about the mine. The miners were so kind as to dispose of the legionnaires bodies by tossing them into a deep chasm.

A funny thing about the Mages Guild is that they do not tend to care about the evil schemes in which their members may partake. Their only rule is that members cannot kill one another. Say what you will about the Thieves Guild, but at least there are strict rules for its members. The first is never to kill anyone you are robbing unless it is in self-defense. Another is -- it is strictly forbidden for members rob the poor or other guild members. In fact, it is highly recommended that members help the poor, after all the paupers and beggars are the best informants around. Now you know why I prefer the title 'wealth adjuster' to thief.

I knew that I had gained all the information I was going to get when the two sentinels started to talk about arena bouts. One of the louts even had the audacity to say that my tactics in the arena were not fair and that if he were in the pits he would know how to put an end to me. The second came to my defense, so I killed him first with a clean shot from the shadows.

The first human rose up from the table when his friend slumped forward with an arrow in his back. At first, he just stared in surprise. It took a couple of seconds for it to register that there was a trespasser on the premises.

I had plenty of time to kill off this man, but I stayed my hand. It was a matter of pride. For this human to state that my tactics were unfair really riled me. Did I not go up against adversaries who were not only better armed and armored than me, but also two to three times my strength?

Many would consider the following very poor judgment and I would agree. Except that, I had already spied out the terrain and laid out my plan. This was not just some revenge for an insult. No, I did plan to let this man attempt to prove his point.

I stepped out from the shadows. The human now had his sword drawn and was rushing to meet me. I waited for his advance and at the last second, as his blade swung towards me, I simply sidestepped and kicked the man behind the knee. The huge lug toppled as his leg gave out -- leaving him sprawled out on the floor. Further, his sword went sliding away across the rough floor.

I simply smiled at the man as he regained his feet and then I did a back flip onto a tall rock outcrop. The man's eyes nearly popped out of his skull as realization struck.

"Y-you're the Black Arrow!" he exclaimed in disbelief. I smiled and nodded.

The man recovered his sword. I was now waiting for him to recover his nerve. I also kept a close eye on him just in case he wanted to cry out an alarm. Before he could draw in a deep breath for a yell, I would have an arrow through his throat.

The man must have realized this and composed himself. He screwed himself up for the fight and a mask of rage broke out upon his face.

"Okay," he said silently as he waved for me to come down. "Let's finish this."

I watched the man closely and studied his stance. People rarely realize that they signal their intentions before they actually do them. This man had seen some of my bouts, and he knew about my leaping attack.

It would have been folly for me to leap over his head and kick from behind when he clearly intended to skewer me in mid-flight. So, I did the only thing I could do. I leaped. However, I aimed for ground in front of him. I tucked and rolled behind him and then as I quickly regained my feet I turned and fired an arrow that caught him square between the eyes as he turned to meet me. The expression of surprise froze on his face as he fell backwards; the sword fell from his limp fingers and clattered to the ground.

I helped myself to some of the miners' possessions before I hid their bodies and resumed my "ghost hunt". Unfortunately, all they had on them was a couple of cheap swords and worn armor. The sixty-seven Silver Crowns did not seem worth the effort, but I took it anyway.

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The Haunted Mines of Krator

Part 5

By Dwayne MacInnes

It was not too hard to track the shaft the miners were using. With the dust so thick after months of disuse, it was obvious down which tunnel I should proceed. I knew I would have to be quick before someone notice that the men I had just dispatched were missing. They certainly would send a search party to find them.

The mine at this point had some mining cars and tracks. This was a welcome obstacle because it made it easier for me to hide; especially now, as the tunnels were lit every few yards by a torch. I moved quietly behind the cars down the track. There is a saying that a leaf falling from a tree makes more noise than a Wood Elf moving stealthily. Now, that may not be exactly true but it is pretty close to the mark.

On the other hand, a saying should go that a human moving in a semi-dark mine on patrol is as loud as a dragon that has had its keister pierced with a ballista bolt. That was how I came upon the third miner.

It appeared that this individual was patrolling along the track near a ledge. Why he was doing so I never found out for I put an arrow into his shoulder. This proceeded to propel the unfortunate victim over the side of the ledge. I guess it was not too deep because before he could get a scream off I heard the sickening crunch of his body as it impacted upon the unforgiving rock.

There was not much to explore or find on this stretch of the road. There was not even a silver nugget or a tripwire. Although it was highly unlikely, the miners could have laid a tripwire over the line of track they were obviously using.

I continued my hunt down the shaft before it opened into another large cavern. There working alone chipping away at a vein of silver was a lone human swinging his pickaxe. Not exactly a formidable weapon, but a weapon nonetheless. I waited and watched the man continuously swing his pickaxe onto the silver. Nuggets fell to the ground in a pile. The man finally stopped and started to load the nuggets into a bucket. After he loaded the bucket, he wiped his sweaty brow with the back of his grimy hand. Before he removed his hand, I had it pinned permanently to his forehead with an arrow.

I moved quickly and helped myself to some more "souvenirs" from the bucket. I almost considered ignoring the three Silver Crowns in his pockets. However, money is money no matter how small.

I noticed a side tunnel that led off from the cavern. There were some footprints in the dust on the path. However, it was not as heavily trafficked as the shaft that led up to here. It was obvious that this was the domain of our leader. After all, I had dispatched the bulk of his minions. By process of elimination, this left one hedge-wizard, one leader and maybe another miner.

It became apparent that our glorious and brave leader either did not trust his own minions or wanted a fall back position by the tripwire I found stretching between the two support beams at the entrance of a small cavern. This one too I just simply walked over. A quick investigation revealed it tied to a pile of logs braced above the entrance. Having one roll over on you would be fatal enough without the other five.

I must have been too engrossed in the trap because I did not hear the miner approach behind me. Now, this miner could have easily just have killed me by running me through the back. However, all she did was yell, "HEY!"

I turned towards the voice and the woman ran towards me with sword drawn. I gauged her distance then I headed back down the shaft after I tripped the wire. The logs tumbled from their support and proceeded to roll over the poor miner in the process blocking most of the entrance. The gaps between the logs were wide enough for me to see the crushed miner on the other side, but I could not squeeze through it.

Now, if I were a fighter I could use my brute strength to remove a log or two so that I could reenter the cavern. However, I am not a fighter so I had to spy out another route. Fortunately, there was a gap between the right support beam and the wall to allow a lithe figure such as myself though into the cavern.

I quickly searched the body of the woman and found a Golden Eagle and a silver necklace with a ruby centerpiece. That was a little better than I had been finding so far, but only a little. So far, none of the miners had much in the way of weaponry or armor that would make it worth my while to carry these heavy objects back to town.

A narrow tunnel led away from the cavern and I started down it when I heard footsteps running up the shaft. Apparently, the noise of the logs alerted the rest of the group down the tunnel. With no time to spare, I squeezed back through the beam and wall and waited on the other side of the logs.

In the low light, I made out the forms of the hedge-wizard and another person who could only be the leader. The leader wielded a bow and he let a couple of arrows fly towards me. Fortunately, he was not the sharpshooter I was. Unfortunately, I would have to deal with him after I dealt with the hedge-wizard.

I reached behind my back and grabbed my shield just before the wizard shoved his staff between the logs and released a fireball. As I have previously stated, my shield is quite useful in protecting me from adversarial spells. The heat of the fireball washed over me as I ducked behind the heavy shield. But, that was the only effect I felt.

The hedge-wizard fired fireball after fireball at me as I hid behind my shield. I could tell he must have been getting angry from the curses he released at me as well. The leader took this time to fire a couple arrows at me too.

The steel arrowheads tended to bounce off the enchanted shield with nothing more than a spark. This was more damage than the fireballs did.

I do not know for how long I waited behind my shield until the wizard finally threw his staff down and began to chant his own spells. First, he fired off a lightning spell. The blue electric bolts hit the shield and did nothing. Then he fired off a frost spell and the air cooled noticeably as the artic blast collided with the shield. Then he fired off a flame spell. Two long trails of fire sprang from his fingertips and washed over the shield.

Fortunately, these spells take a lot of energy. After the mage exhausted himself, he pulled back and sat against the wall panting. However, the leader now had me all to himself. He fired another arrow that bounce harmlessly off my shield.

I quickly dropped the shield and grabbed my bow. In one smooth motion, I plucked an arrow from my quiver and fired it towards the leader. The arrow stuck in his left shoulder. Not a lethal wound but I was in a hurry.

The leader grunted and fired off his arrow. It did not even make it past the log barrier. I took better aim with my second shot and the leader fell against the panting wizard with an arrow protruding from his left eye.

The hedge-wizard looked up at me with a mixture of fear and fury in his eyes. With amazing speed, the mage drew his short sword and found the same opening I had used. In surprise, I fell back just barely staying out of reach of that lethal blade. I dropped my bow and drew my own short sword.

I am not the world's greatest swordswoman, but I was better than the hedge-wizard. As he brought his hand back for a deadly chop to my head, I just thrust my arm forward and managed to pierce the blade between his ribs and into his heart. The mage's sword clattered to the ground behind him before his corpse followed suit.

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The Haunted Mines of Krator

Part 6

By Dwayne MacInnes

I searched the bodies of the leader and the wizard. The only thing of worth was the hedge-wizard's staff. Even a wizard's staff that is exhausted of its charges was worth a lot of money.

The narrow tunnel led to another small cavern that had been the dwelling place of the leader and the hedge-wizard. There were two bedrolls around a fire and several crates and one chest. The crates unfortunately, only contained foodstuff and the like.

The lock on the chest was very expensive and of very good quality. I smiled, now this was a challenge I would enjoy. I was still new to lock picking so I broke a couple of picks before I managed to free the chest from the evil constraints of the lock. Inside, I found a few potions of healing and some fine jewels.

These I kept. Obviously, this was a silver mine and jewels would clearly be out of place in this setting. I figure that if the town elders knew about it they would thank me for cleaning up such clutter.

The trip back to the mine entrance was uneventful to say the least. I remembered the first tripwire I came across and I disarmed it for the townsfolk. I did not even bill them a service fee. I felt it was only fair after they let me gather some "souvenirs". I had all I could carry in my pack when I finally reached the huge oaken door.

The lock on the door was a lesser quality construct than the one used on the leader's chest. I did not even break sweat let alone a pick opening it.

The look on the guard's face as I swung the door open was purely comical. His jaw dropped, as he stood there dumbfounded holding his spear in one hand.

"The mine is cleared," I said to the amazed guard. I never found out if he was surprised to see me or just surprised to see me open the door without a key. I am sure it was the former. It is well known how comely elves are -- especially Wood Elves. I think High Elves tend not to be as attractive because of their attitude. Did I ever mention High Elves have no sense of humor?

I smiled at the guard and motioned towards the town of Krator. "You may want to alert the elders to the success of my mission." The guard just stood there and stared. Maybe he thought I was ghost.

"You might want to do it before sundown," I continued.

The guard with jaw still agape only nodded.

There was only about an hour and a half before sundown and I figure it would take three to convince the guard to alert the elders. Therefore, I decided to do it myself. You want something done right; have a Wood Elf do it, or something like that.

Fortunately, as I first stepped into town, news of my approach spread like wildfire. Before I even reached the town square, a large crowd was swarming around me. Everyone was asking me questions. "Did you get rid of the ghosts?" "Do you need to find some help?" "How did you get out?" "Will you marry me?"

Yeah, there is always one of those around. In any case, before long the elders where gathered in front of me. They were no less surprised than the crowd was. Before they could ask me how I managed to make my way out of the mine, I told them about the little setup the brigands had established.

Imagine their surprise when they realized that those miners who disappeared were actually smuggling silver out of the mines. I told them about their outside contact named Gunter.

The crowd hushed and looked around. This Gunter was nowhere in sight. A thorough search by the town guards and a mob of angry citizens with the assistance of a few pitchforks finally flushed Gunter out of his hiding spot underneath a haystack.

What happened to Gunter I do not rightly know. I am sure that if he did survive his ordeal it was not without a longer neck. In any case, I took my reward and returned to the arena. Sure, the mine job paid well, but the ghost hunting got rather dull after awhile. Maybe that is why vampire hunters tend to be humans and High Elves and they are welcome to it.

I sold many of my souvenirs to the local merchants and with its proceeds bought myself a modest house. I continued my rise in the arena until I became the Grand Champion. I even started to take on some real work in the Thieves Guild. But these are tales for another time.

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Tiberium Letters

Part One

By Dwayne MacInnes

Hail and well met! I am Gwendolyn a Wood Elf. I pray you do not confuse me with my stuffy High Elf cousins. There are many differences between us if you take the time to learn them. Firstly, High Elves are very pale, probably because they spend most of their days inside dark mansions reading. A Wood Elf actually runs the same color spectrum as humans. Some have a dark brown skin; where as, others do run closer to the alabaster you will associate with the High Elf. My skin tone is closer to that of a medium brown walnut. We Wood Elves are also more down to earth, and we love and crave adventure. Like all elves, we are born with natural magical abilities. Further, being a Wood Elf, I was practically born with a bow in my hand. Because of our home in the Great Forest, Wood Elves are also very dexterous. I suppose that is why many of us become thieves.

Ah yes, I am what you would call a thief, and I suppose the word means different things to different people. The beggar in the street will see us as heroes of the downtrodden. The wealthy see us as a menace. After all, if you are wealthy and you flaunt your status and riches, you probably are not giving all you should to charity and/or to the government. So, we thieves help restore some of the balance. Of course, we have a service fee we must charge.

Some thieves do not belong to the guild and tend to give all in our profession a bad name. I assure you that the Thieves Guild hunts these rogues down and will convince them to join and adhere to our rules. Otherwise, we will help them find a nice home in some local dungeon or prison camp.

Because of this, the word ‘thief' has a negative connotation. I myself prefer wealth adjuster. After all, guild members have strict rules governing their conduct. For example, we are forbidden to steal from the poor or fellow guild members. Any good thief will tell you that it is also not profitable. The poor generally do not have anything worth stealing. You also do not want to have the guild turn against you because you pilfered another member's goods. We also do not kill our victims if at all avoidable. The worst thing a thief could be associated with is the Assassins Guild. No other guilds have such hatred for each other than the Assassins Guild and the Thieves Guild.

The Thieves Guild actually performs many useful tasks. Though most governmental types will publicly disavow any knowledge of our organization, they are however quick to use our services. They know we honor our contracts and because of our unique abilities, we make great spies. Of course, the guild must charge appropriately for our services.

I know the guild is probably just a mysterious organization wrapped in secrets to you. Of course, we culture some of that. However, some things about the guild are mysterious even to us members. The greatest naturally is the Shadow Fox. Yes, we all wonder if there is some lone mysterious figure that runs the guild. Most members are not even sure and if you ask the local guild leader, you will just get vague answers shrouded in enigmatic ancient lore.

The story states that for the last five hundred or so years a mysterious and mask covered being has been running the Thieves Guild. My first thought was that the Shadow Fox is a Wood Elf; elves in general live for over a thousand years. However, the more you delve into the history, the more obscure it becomes. The Shadow Fox is a woman in some stories -- a man in others, tall in some -- short in others. He is a human, she is an elf, or even it is a lizard-man. One thing however is the same in all the stories, the Shadow Fox wears a black mask that hides his, hers or its face from the nose up.

You are probably saying, "A thief with a mask, big deal." I will point out that firstly, most guild members do not wear masks. There is no better way to advertise that you are a thief than to walk around town in a mask. Secondly, even heroes sometimes wear masks. Look at that Ranger from the Fighters Guild, D'Lowen. He goes around shooting his silver-headed bolts from his crossbow in the name of justice and he obscures his visage with a mask. On a side note, it was probably not such a great idea to use silver on his bolts. I hear that the poor are deliberately trying to get him to shoot them so that they can get at some easy silver. Plus, it does not work in his favor that he refuses to fire a lethal shot.

Now this story takes place after I had achieved the rank of Grand Champion in the Imperial Arena. There was no more advancement for me there. I occasionally would show up for a special show, but for the most part, the "Black Arrow" was officially retired. Therefore, I now dedicated myself to working for the guild full time. I had quickly advanced through the ranks. In fact, I was to the point where I was on the cusp of having my own local guild chapter when I received a special summons.

My guild leader told me that I was to meet someone in Jermaine Gilvus' house inside the town of Lissia in one week's time. No more information was forthcoming. Lissia is an easy ride from the Imperial City so I arrived ahead of time and did some scouting around while I stayed at the local inn. I knew of Jermaine from reputation, the man was a known and trusted sympathizer of the guild. Years before, we had once rescued his daughter from a band of brigands. Since then, he has given any help he could to the guild.

On the appointed time and date, I easily found Jermaine's house. I met the man outside and as I approached, he said in a low whisper, "He's waiting for you inside. Look in the basement." This naturally piqued my curiosity. However, there is that old saying, that "Curiosity killed the Wood Elf", but I paid it no heed as I entered the old wooden house.

It was a small house. The only room spread out in front of a burning hearth. The dining area lay in the center and a bed sat on one side of the room. Off in a corner laid the stairs that led down to the basement. I crept down the creaky wooden steps into the dark interior. On the far side of the subterranean room, a lone torch flickered. Barrels, crates, and various sacks lay stacked against the walls, but in the center stood a single table and two chairs. One chair was unoccupied the other sat a figure and as I descended he raised his face towards me with a face shrouded in a black mask. I was about to have my first meeting with the Shadow Fox.

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Tiberium Letters

Part Two

By Dwayne MacInnes

I walked over and took the worn chair that the Shadow Fox offered to me. I think the surprise was still on my face as I sat down because the Shadow Fox softly chuckled. I was about to ask him some questions when he held up a gloved hand to forestall me.

"First of all, yes I exist. Now, you are probably wondering why I summoned you," the Shadow Fox stated. I merely nodded my head. I seldom am at a loss for words; however, my tongue was tied in a knot that few sailors could match.

The Shadow Fox leaned back in his chair. The smile on his lips was his only facial feature, save his sad looking eyes, that the mask did not obscure. "I have been monitoring your advancement with some interest. You are the Black Arrow, and you are also an associate member in the Mages Guild."

"Yes," I said hoarsely, the knot was starting to untie.

"Good, good!" the Shadow Fox laughed as he slapped his thigh. "Few members have taken the initiative to better themselves. They tend to shy from other guilds and focus only on their tasks in the Thieves Guild.

"But you started out in the arena. Only after you became the Grand Champion did you focus most of you energies on the Thieves Guild. I feel that the skills you learned in the pit have helped you in your career with the guild. You also show that you research your job ahead of time. I'm sure you were able to use your associate membership in the Mages Guild to gain access to their libraries. Smart thinking."

I did not bother to correct the Shadow Fox that I had joined the Mages Guild primarily to find better and cheaper spells. I still needed to find something that worked better than my simple dark sight spell that only lasted a minute. Sure, I could find cheaper spells from some traveling thaumaturgy vender. However, they tended to be shady scam artists. I remember the time an associate thief was looking for a spell to cast a low light. He bought the "moon-shine" spell dirt-cheap, but the first time he used it in a dungeon he conjured up some jugs of powerful whiskey. Fortunately, the ogres took to the drink instead of him.

The fact, that I did use the Mages Guild's library was true. Many people believe that we Wood Elves are capricious and just flippantly fly off on some adventure. For the most part, they are correct. However, these same Wood Elves do not last long as thieves. I have stated in other publications that a thief's most important attribute is her intelligence.

"I am going to need these skills from you on your next assignment," the Shadow Fox continued. "This is a matter that is most delicate and I need someone that utilizes your care and has your resources to help me out.

"This is an imperial matter you may say. It goes straight to the top," the Shadow Fox leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest as it sunk in.

"You mean..." I started to say, my faculties were now awakening.

"Yes, the Emperor himself, Servanius Tiber," the Shadow Fox now leaned closer to me. "It appears that some letters belonging to his wife the Lady Tiber have been pilfered from her room. Now the only reason the Emperor doesn't suspect us is that the criminal here was indelicate enough to demand an extortion fee from the woman.

"I believe it is best that I start from the beginning. The Emperor noticed that the Lady Tiber has not been her gay self lately. She has been dispirited and she has been keeping to herself of late. The Emperor had some of his more trusted, tactful ministers investigate the matter, and it appears that her Ladyship has been secretly selling her jewelry.

"One of the ministers overheard a handmaiden mention something about some of her Ladyship's documents being stolen. On further examination, the handmaiden refused to mention anything more on the subject. Save that, her Ladyship does not want the Emperor to know and that she has to pay a ransom.

"The Emperor loves his wife very dearly and would never do anything to harm her. He knows that if her Ladyship does not want the Emperor to know the details of the letters, it is for a good reason. Nonetheless, the Emperor cannot be placed in a position where his family is at the mercy of some unknown malefactor. Therefore he has contracted the guild to solve this little mystery."

"Sounds like a real puzzler. I suppose you'll want me to start at the palace and see what I can find out," I offered.

"No, I want you to head for Giland," the Shadow Fox returned.

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Tiberium Letters

Part Three

By Dwayne MacInnes

Again, the smile spread across his face. I must have shown my surprise once again. I could tell the Shadow Fox was enjoying our exchange.

"Countess of Giland, Lady Aversfield, has a minister named Brunis. It is he who has the letters."

I shook my head, "But how did you find that out?"

"I'm the Shadow Fox for a reason," the master thief laughed. "Plus, in my investigation Brunis was at the Imperial Palace recently and left shortly before her Ladyship started receiving her extortion demands.

"Furthermore, you really don't think you are my only thief do you? I have had the greater resources of the guild investigating all who have been at the palace recently. The only likely suspect is Brunis."

"In any event, you may have heard of Brunis. He is quite the accomplished wizard with the Mages Guild. He has a very important post as Lady Aversfield's most trusted advisor in Giland on the Imperial border with the Black Swamp."

"Yes, I have heard of him. I also know that there is a rumor that he doesn't like Lizard-men who live in Giland or in the neighboring Black Swamp. The rumors go on to tell of secret chambers underneath the castle where Brunis carries out his experiments on those unfortunate creatures," I added with some distaste.

"Giland is an important post and we cannot overtly insist that Lady Aversfield hand over one of her ministers. Due to the ticklish situation, I am removing the ‘blood-price' on this mission. You may use lethal force, but it is imperative that it does not happen in the castle. It is one thing if Brunis' body is found along a road, quite another if it is inside the castle."

"How do you want me to handle it? Break in and search? It'll be difficult with all the guards, but I think I can do it," I offered.

"I've got a letter from the Emperor stating that you are his personal inspector. This will allow you access to all the public areas on the castle grounds. You will have to sneak into the private areas if you need. If you are caught, I do not need to remind you that this conversation did not happen."

I nodded my head. The old cloak and dagger routine, in the event of your capture the Emperor will disavow any knowledge...etc, etc. Therefore, I was on my own on this one. That was good because I like to work alone.

I started to rise to leave when the Shadow Fox grabbed my arm. He pulled me close and sternly looked at me with those sad blue eyes.

"This is a very serious situation. You must not fail. A man like Brunis is a grave threat to us all. Especially, if he can control the Emperor."

* * * * *

The ride to Giland was uneventful. It was nice for a change not being attacked by a group of goblins or awakened in the night by a marauding pack of wolves. The Imperial Legions patrolled this stretch of road regularly. As was stated before, Giland was an important post on the border with the Black Swamp. Any brigand or highwayman would have to be suicidal to try to hold someone up on this length of the Imperial Highway.

Black Swamp, now there is a nasty sounding place and it lives up to it as well. Only the Lizard-folk would call it home. It is a rather muddy, marshy area with giant black mangrove trees thrusting upward in such thick quantities that the sunlight in most areas never reaches the ground.

No need to describe the various insects and diseases one can meet in such areas. Even though we Wood Elves have a high tolerance against disease, we do not like to remain in such areas for long. That is one reason why the Empire has never been able to conquer it and absorb it into the Empire like the surrounding areas.

The Lizard-men of the Black Swamp are tribal and their forces would never stand a chance against the Imperial Legions. It is only their kin, who were conquered in the surrounding areas hundred of years ago, that can be called "civilized". There exists to this day an uneasy truce between the tribes of the Black Swamp and the Tiberium Empire.

Now, unfortunately there is still a lot of prejudice against the Lizard-folk. Those who have been in the Empire for generations are full-fledged civilians and have the same rights as any citizen under the Empire. They are just as intelligent as any other race, but because they look the least ‘human', they are thought be a barbarous race.

I think there is also the primitive human fear of reptiles. Too bad, in the Great Forest, there are many kinds of reptiles and a lot of them make great pets. Nevertheless, humans mostly populate the Empire and in many of the more remote areas, human prejudices remain.

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Tiberium Letters

Part Four

By Dwayne MacInnes

I entered the city of Giland with no problems, and I quickly found my way to the castle. Castles in cities are not hard to miss, just look for the largest structure made of stone, boasting many towers, and you have found the residence of the local count, duke, or lord.

If all went right, a post-rider was supposed to deliver an announcement of the Imperial Inspector to her Ladyship Countess Aversfield. That of course, would be me. I wore my usual light elven armor and my heavy shield. The shield, repainted to look imperial, was going to be of utmost importance in this mission if I were to have a showdown with Brunis.

I have stated previously in other publications about the nature of my shield. By some powerful magic, the shield absorbs all aggressive spells cast against its possessor. I learned through some research at the Mages Guild that this shield is actually a holy relic from the earliest days of the Empire named, The Spell-eater. As much as I would love to boast publicly about my shield's ability and fame, such an action would be stupid.

A thief, who advertises, tends to lose many things. Sometimes she is lucky and it is only her possessions, sometimes it is her freedom, but most of the time it is her life. So the less a thief says the better off she is.

I approached the castle gate. The guards were on sentry and alert. Now, the thing about a border town, like Giland, is that in addition to the Imperial Garrison outside of town at Fort Bleakwater, the town itself boasts of a sizeable number of city guards.

I steered my black mare up to the closest sentry and halted as he grabbed the reigns. "What's the nature of your visit?" he demanded.

I reached into my pouch and produced my official document with the Imperial seal. "I am the Imperial Inspector, and I have an appointment with the Countess."

The guard holding my horse looked over the papers. I noticed out of the corner of my eye the other guard studying me. I looked over at him and recognized him as a former member of the Imperial City guard. His name is Reyn Braxis and he is a very astute investigator.

Reyn was getting very close to uncovering the Thieves Guild. It is highly doubtful that anyone in the government, no matter what services we had rendered in the past, would come to our defense once Reyn blew our cover. So, we had to take measures in our own hands. In this case, I personally had to get documents transferring Reyn Braxis to a remote area where he would not be of any trouble to the guild. That would be here in Giland.

We never found out how much Reyn knew or just suspected about the guild. Some believe he knew about certain members and had them under his surveillance. I do not know if I was one of them or not, but I could not afford to take any chances when I was involved in such an important case. Before he could get a good look at me, I quickly turned back to the first guard.

"Everything looks to be in order. Hand your horse over to the livery boy and he'll take care of it. The Countess is expecting you in the audience chamber."

I nodded my thanks and followed the guard's instruction.

* * * * *

I made way into the audience chamber before the throne of her Ladyship the Countess Aversfield. Much like the surrounding countryside, Countess Aversfield's face was a somber affair. Rumor has it that she never smiled after the mysterious and tragic death of her husband over fifteen years ago. Next to her sat the empty throne the Count would have occupied.

I glanced quickly around the chamber and took in the decor. Many black shrouds hung everywhere and a portrait sat on the wall behind Countess Aversfield. It was of a hound-dog faced man who must have been Count Aversfield. The man's drooping sad looking expression fit in well with the dreary castle's interior.

The man off to the Countess's left could only be Brunis. He wore a black velvet outfit trimmed in gold. He held a gnarled wooden staff in his right hand. The staff did not fool me; I knew it was not a symbol of his office, or a crutch to help him walk. That was a mages staff, and I really did not want to find out what spells it could unleash. I am sure it would be nasty.

As I approached the Countess, Brunis walked down and bowed. "You must be the Imperial Inspector."

I smiled and presented Brunis the same official documents I had shown the guard. "Yes" I said, "I believe I have an audience with the Countess."

Brunis only bowed again. A little wicked smile played on his face. "Of course, the public grounds are available for your perusal."

I did not need any special hearing to notice the emphasis on the word ‘public'.

I continued my approach and as I neared the base of the raised throne, I knelt before the Countess. "I am Gwendolyn; the Emperor has assigned me to inspect the castle's public areas."

"Yes, I have been expecting you. I have a room in the guard's barracks prepared for your stay. I pray that you will have time to dine with us tonight. I would love to hear news from the Imperial City."

"It would indeed be an honor my Lady, thanks for your hospitality," I looked over at Brunis. The minister gave me a hard calculating look. I did not need to have any special sight to know that Brunis suspected I was not just here just for some random inspection. The games were about to begin.

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Tiberium Letters

Part Five

By Dwayne MacInnes

"It'ss a sshame what happened to the Count," Kreel, the Lizard-folk cook said as I pretended to be inspecting the contents of the kitchen's larder. Her face was greenish brown with a nice coloration of blue around her gold eyes. Her forked tongue would often flick out between the hisses in her conversation. "He wass ssuch a good man."

"Hmm hmm," I said as I continued to search the bags of millet. "What exactly happened to him?"

"It iss ssaid he wass invesstigating ssome rumorss about sstrange thingss happening in the ssurrounding villagess," Kreel said as she continued to prepare tonight's dinner.

"Interesting, what exactly was it he was investigating," I tried to sound halfway bored and interested. I wanted to hear the rumors Kreel would divulge but I did not want overplay my hand by being too interested. Therefore, I continued my inventory and writing miscellaneous and useless data into my logbook.

"It iss no ssecret that many do not like my kind here in Giland. However, the Count and Countesss they are fair. They treat all their ssubjectss well. The taless of my folkss dissappearing in the nearby villagess prompted Count Averssfield to invesstigate. It iss ssaid he wass ambusshed by banditss, and hizs body thrown into the sswampss."

"Certainly you do not believe this," I acted surprised.

"Of coursse, I believe it. My peopless are sstill dissappearing! I would leave here if I could, but I have to ssupport five hatchlingss. The Countesss payss well," Kreel hissed in agitation as she slammed a pot onto the counter top.

"Sorry, I meant you do not believe Count Aversfield was actually ambushed by bandits and his body thrown into the swamp," I corrected.

"No, that iss a ssilly tale. With all the guardss and ssoldierss, there are no banditss. But there are taless about him," Kreel said her eyes darting around the room to make sure we were alone.

"I'm sorry," I said acting somewhat confused.

"The minisster," Kreel literally hissed in my ear. "Rumorss ssayss he hass a ssecret chamber where he torturess and killss my peopless."

"Hmmm, interesting. I may have to investigate this," I nodded. "Any ideas where I should begin?"

Kreel looked again over her shoulder, "Hizs room."

* * * * *

Dinner was a nice affair. Many of the well-to-do attended. If I did not have an urgent mission to accomplish, I would have loved to help myself to some souvenirs. Alas, duty calls. Countess Aversfield still somber and wearing her usual black mourning gown sat at the head of the table. Brunis, as always, was sitting at her side. Captain Morgan of the city guard stood at attention behind the Countess.

Fortunately, Giland is far enough away from the pomp and circumstances of the more urbanized settlings. The occasional elbow on the table or the napkin tucked into the shirt collar could be seen around the table. I knew enough courtly etiquette to hold my own without looking too much like a country bumpkin.

The food was magnificent. The servants placed large platters of mutton and beef on the table. Salads of fruits and vegetables abounded. I did have to pretend that eating the meat from a goat's head was against the Wood Elf religion. I find it ironic that humans accuse the Lizard-folk of being barbaric when they themselves find eating an animal's head a delicacy. Nonetheless, I did not go hungry that night.

The drink, too, was exceptionally fine. The vintage of the wine passed around was a very good year. I had to remind myself that I had work to do. Although, it takes a lot to make an elf drunk; it is wise not to dull the senses too much. Especially, when there was a viper like Brunis around.

I was listening to a boring dissertation from Lord Calvert about the futility of civilizing the Lizard-folk when Brunis spoke up. "Miss Gwendolyn, I hope you have been finding the contents of our larder within the Emperor's expectation."

It was a taunt and many around the table chuckled. "You would be surprised what I can find in just a bag of millet. Why I would love to discuss all that I found missing."

I looked at the minister with a cunning glare. His icy stare probably could have frozen the fiery pits of the nether-realms.

"Missing?" the Countess chimed up. "Why what has turned up missing?"

"Oh, your Ladyship. Nothing in the castle yet, but I have learned of things in the surrounding villages. I will give you a full report when I am done."

"Please, don't overstay, "Brunis said with his jaw clenched. "We don't want the Emperor to pay for more than he needs."

"That, my dear minister, is exactly why I am here."

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Tiberium Letters

Part Six

By Dwayne MacInnes

After our evening meal, I went to check out my quarters. Fortunately, the guard's barracks are part of the castle. That would make inspecting the castle's interior easier after most of the residents had fallen asleep. My room in the barracks was on the wall opposite the door. Rows and rows of guardsmen's bunks lay between my room and the door. Just inside the doorway, there were some tables and benches where the guards could relax and/or eat.

The room I was staying in was very spartan. I had a small bed and a side table where a single candle flickered. At the foot of the bed, there was a chest to stow my gear. I did not have much gear so I hardly used it. On the wall opposite the door, was a single small window. The shutters were open, and I could see that it opened onto a narrow ledge. The ground was a good two stories down and that was actually a murky slimy moat that reflected the gray moonlight.

I sat in my bunk for a good hour. I could easily hear the guards entering or leaving the barracks most were entering and preparing for bed. I cracked my door and peered outside. There on the table next to the door leading to the castle's interior sat Reyn and two other guards. They were heavy into their drink and just conversing.

"Why do you think Brunis wants us to sit at this door all night?" the younger guardsmen asked.

"Easy, to guard her," Reyn replied nodding his head in my direction.

"Well, I don't suppose he could blame us if we had to partake of this good mead while we waited," laughed the second guard. "After all, this is thirsty work."

All three laughed at this and each took a long chug from their wooden mugs. Reyn wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as he sat the mug down onto the table. "You know I almost had the Thieves Guild revealed," Reyn started.

"Yeah, yeah, you told us before," the second guard replied in a bored voice.

"I would have had it too if I did not get this transfer," Reyn replied hotly.

"Well, you must have upset someone," the first guard supplied, "nobody gets assigned here if they did not make some enemies."

Reyn looked towards my room again, "You know I also know about her."

"I wouldn't mind getting to know her," said the first guard, definitely the youngest of the three.

"You have a thing for older women, eh?" the second guard jibed.

"Whadya mean? She can't over twenty."

"She's a hundred if she's a day," the older second guard responded. "She's an elf and they live ten times as long as men." They were both right -- in a way. I was of one hundred and twenty years. "Even if you two got married she'd still look the same by the time you are having someone chew your food for you."

"Not so bad by my reckoning," continued the first guard. Reyn just continued to drink and stare at my door.

"Are you kidding, she'd leave you and take everything you own by the time you started to lose the bloom of life. No, sir, stay with your own kind."

The first guard was about to respond when Reyn started up again. "Neither of you know what you are talking about. She's not the usual Imperial Inspector. I know what she did before. I know who she really is."

The two other guards looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. "I think you've been into your cups too long my friend," the second guard said putting a fatherly arm around Reyn's shoulders. "Now, take Jern here. He thinks he knows everything about using that toothpick he calls a sword…"

I closed the door tightly. I learned a few things. First, I was not going to get out the barracks door. Secondly, I had better keep a closer eye on Reyn. He obviously got a good enough look at me down at the gate.

I blew out the candle and approached the window. It was a small window as I stated before, but it was wide enough to allow me to squeeze my lithe frame through and onto the ledge. I pulled my shield and bow out after me. It was not easy equipping myself piecemeal while my toes were the only thing keeping me from landing into the manmade swamp below.

I was able to shimmy sideways along the ledge until I found another window. I took a quick glance inside. It led to a small utility closet. I reversed my equipping process by silently placing my bow and shield first into the small room. I then squeezed my way through the window. Fortunately, the door did not contain a lock so I did not have to waste time picking it.

I listened at the door for a while to ensure that there were not any guards nearby. I slowly opened it and found myself looking at the throne room. There were stairs around both sides of the room that led to the private quarters.

In a matter of a few seconds, I had gained entrance into the private quarters of the castle. Here I would have to use even more care, for sentries patrolled the upper areas. Fortunately, if one is patient enough and there are enough shadows to hide you, one is able to learn where the holes are in the patrol pattern. This I did.

I quietly crept along the carpeted hallway. I did not have any plans of the castle's interior so I did not know were Brunis's room would be. So, I just went from door to door and peered inside. Most of the doors were unlocked and those that were not proved easy to open. I was able to observe -- undetected -- many of the most notable of the castle's residents sleeping, reading, or otherwise occupied with each other.

I finally found the room I was looking for. I used extra caution because it is well know that wizards love to use magical traps on their doors. I guess Brunis did not feel that he needed any because there was none. The door itself proved easy enough to pick. I quickly glanced inside the darkened interior expecting to hear snoring or to find the minister either reading or maybe entertaining a chambermaid. However, the room was vacant.

I slipped inside and began a thorough search. I could find nothing just a book on his nightstand by the High Elf Elrond Hubbard Dire-netics: Controlling your Personal Demons. I guess Brunis's mother did not love him. That would explain many of his problems.

Still I was not happy with my results. There had to be something in this room other than a book. No mage stays in a room for long without storing away some magical do-dads. I studied the room again. This time I was looking for anything out of the ordinary and I soon found it. Against the far wall there were two posts rising towards the ceiling. Normally this would not mean anything, but in a wizard's bedroom, this could mean only one thing…secret door.

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Tiberium Letters

Part Seven

By Dwayne MacInnes

It took me but a moment to find the hidden catch behind one of the posts. Before I triggered it, I listened to the door closely. It would be greatly embarrassing to open the hidden door just to find an enraged mage behind it. Only silence greeted my sensitive ears.

I released the catch and the wall between the posts slid silently upwards to reveal a small room inside. I quickly dashed inside and shut the secret door. I muttered my spell for dark sight and the interior revealed itself to me. At least, for the next minute until I had to mutter the spell again. I really prayed that I would soon find a longer lasting spell.

A quick survey did produce a few objects of worth. First, I found about one hundred Silver Crowns. I am sure that Brunis did not obtain them lawfully so it was my imperial duty to confiscate them. I also found a magical wand. It was made of gnarled black wood.

Anyone can use a magical wand if she knows the correct triggering word. The Mages Guild keeps this a secret because they make a lot of money charging farmers to enchant their fields against pests. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if a farmer just bought a wand for a few tens of Silver Crowns and did the same thing year after year.

Most mages just use the default setting on the wands and depending on the manufacturer; it can be as simple as ‘abra cadabra’ or ‘klaatu barada nikto’. However, Brunis was smarter than that. He had had it reprogrammed. Thankfully, he was not too smart because I found the command written on a piece of paper next to it. It said simply, “to operate fireball wand say ‘domo arigato mister roboto’?.

However, the next two objects were of more significance. The first was a book about the tragic murder of Lady Tiber’s father. It is a well-known tale of how when Lady Tiber or Lady Rhem as she would have been then, was a young lass of twelve when she was playing with the scullery girl of the same age in the throne room. They were behind the large tapestries when an assassin attacked and killed widower Baron Rhem while he was on the throne. One of the girls let out a shriek when she witnessed it. The scullery girl ran for a nearby balcony and the young Lady Rhem ran for the stairs. The assassin would have killed both girls if he was not surprised and the girls did not run in two different directions. At the very least, he would have killed Lady Rhem, but he could not tell the difference between the two girls for they were of similar appearance.

The scullery girl tripped and fell over the edge of the balcony and plummeted into the lake that lay below her body disappearing beneath the lake’s surface forever. A month after the tragedy some fishermen found a tattered and soggy dress snared in some snags on the lake’s shore. The Lady Rhem ran upstairs and hid inside one of the closets. Only after the guards captured the assassin did they find the girl. By this time, she had lost her memory and only a slow convalescence at a local temple restored her to her right mind. However, she never remembered anything before that horrible day.

The sad conclusion is that after interrogating the assassin it was learned who had hired him. It was the Baron’s own brother. It is the same old story of the younger sibling craving the power of the elder.

The last object or actually objects were the millet seeds found on the ground. There are only two places I could think of where Brunis could encounter millet seeds. One was the kitchen, but Kreel practically lives there and she would have gladly told me if she had seen the minister skulking about there. So, that left the storage cellars where the foodstuff was stored in large quantities.

I pocketed my findings and made my way out of the private quarters. Getting to the cellars was no problem at all. Other than the sentries at the front door to the castle, the only other guards on patrol in the castle were in the private quarters. I should let the Countess know that she may want to beef up her security.

In any case, I found myself deep inside the dank cellar. There were huge casks of wine and other alcoholic beverages against one wall. There were crates, barrels, and bags of foodstuff against another. A single torch sat in its sconce and burned away illuminating the cool and musty interior.

A search of the ground revealed that a sack of millet had a tear. Most likely, with the help of the ubiquitous rodents that one can find in such dwellings. A closer scrutiny produced faint footprints that I followed to a wall. I quickly discerned the faint outline of a hidden door. I just now needed to find the trigger to open it.

Secret or hidden doors always have some kind of panel or lever to open it. It is common for them to look like common objects. It could be a torch on the wall, a book in a bookcase, or a stone panel in the wall. However, it was none of these, particularly not a book due to the lack of bookcases in the cellar.

I studied the wall carefully again. I know it had to be something obvious I was missing. Then it hit me. One of the barrels of foodstuff was not with the others. I opened the top and found it contained wheat. I felt around in the wheat but I could not find any lever. I was about to give up in frustration when my foot kicked the bottom of the barrel. It made a hollow noise. That was odd for a barrel brimming with wheat.

A quick search produced a loose panel. Inside the panel was a lever. Soon I had the hidden door open. A long dark tunnel wound its way down on the other side of the door.

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Tiberium Letters

Part Eight

By Dwayne MacInnes

I entered the tunnel and shut the door behind me. A lever on the wall opened and closed the hidden door. Fortunately, I would not have to rely on my dark vision spell in this tunnel because someone had been kind enough to leave an occasional lighted torch on the wall.

I silently crept down the stone corridor, there was nothing interesting to note. The path was long and winding, but there were no divergences so I did not have to make any big decisions like should I go right or left. I just went forward.

After about half an hour, the tunnel led me to a set of stairs. I looked up and the stone steps ascended upwards for what looked like eternity. There was no other way, so I began my ascent. Even here, there was the occasional torch burning away in a metal sconce.

I would really hate to be the one to make sure those torches were lit and replaced once they burnt down to nothing. I could not tell you how many torches I had already passed, and I cannot imagine that even these torches would burn indefinitely. Nonetheless, I proceeded with the utmost caution. After all, I could unexpectedly meet the caretaker of those torches.

The climb up the stairs was just as uneventful and monotonous as the trek down the tunnel. Eventually I reached the top to find the tunnel resumed its twisting path forward. I was about to take a quick breather after the long climb when I heard a blood-curdling scream.

My instincts told me that something was not quite right down the tunnel. Actually, you do not need instincts to tell you something bad is down the road when you hear a blood-curdling scream like that. In fact, you should probably consider one of two options. The first is to run away from the source of the scream. The second is to proceed forward with the utmost care and caution. Therefore, I split the difference. I ran forward with some care and caution.

Though the hallway was more or less straight and narrow for most of the way, I drew my short sword. The tunnel was winding enough that it did not favor the use of my bow. I did not know if the next boogeyman was literally around the next bend. Furthermore, trying to ready a bow on the run does not facilitate a good shot, not even for an elf. In addition, on my climb to Grand Champion of the Imperial Arena, I had become more proficient with the blade.

I heard the scream again. The hairs on the back of neck began to rise. I am sure that if anyone saw me from behind, he would have thought I had a frightened black cat on my head. For, the fears that rain through my body would have made my trademark ponytail shoot straight up behind my helmet.

Nonetheless, I continued my journey down the tunnel. I soon found a wooden door on my left hand side. The smell emanating from it was almost overpowering. Blood and decaying flesh were behind that door. The next scream told me, so was the person who was either in agony, fear, or both.

I checked the handle on the door. It was unlocked so I slowly opened it up. I poked my head around the door to see the prostrate form of a Lizard-man strapped down on a table. Between him and me, there was a short hunched figure in dark robes. The figure was obviously torturing the poor Lizard-man. I could see blood funneling off the table into several buckets on the ground around it. The hunched figure had already plucked out the left eye and chopped off the corresponding hand. The scales on the Lizard-man's upper torso had been flayed back to expose the still functioning organs to the air.

The poor creature panted in pain. I witnessed the rapidly beating heart and inflating lungs under the exposed ribs. The torturer was a professional to keep one still alive and conscious under such treatment. I am sure some form of magic was involved.

I cannot ever remember seeing such a gruesome and malevolent sight before. I knew that if I did not act soon the Lizard-man would die. He did not have much longer to live. I was also on the verge of becoming violently ill.

As the dark figure raised the dagger in his right hand in the air for another chop, slice, or plunge into the helpless victim I instinctively yell, "STOP!"

The figure jerked his head around and glared at me maliciously. I was staring eyeball to eyeball with a goblin. His beady black eyes stared at me from his mottled green face. A wicked grin revealed his yellow sharp teeth underneath his long hooked nose.

I turned and fled. I know what you are saying, "The Grand Champion ran from a goblin?" Yes, I ran. However, I did not run in fear. I ran to draw the nasty creature away from the Lizard-man. Even the Grand Champion can accidentally miss her target and hit an innocent bystander. Notwithstanding that, the sadistic beast could kill the victim in an act of spite.

I paced myself to keep the goblin just a few feet behind me. I was tantalizing close but still out of reach of his dagger. I am sure if he wanted, he could have thrown the little blade. However, I am sure he realized that even if he hit, it would more than likely bounce off my armor.

As we approached the stairs, I suddenly fell to the ground and pulled my legs in close to my torso. The goblin, caught off guard, tripped over my balled-up body before he could slow down. He sailed over me and proceeded to bounce down the stairs at full speed.

After the first few bounces, he stopped screaming. I could have made my way back down the stairs to ensure that the goblin was indeed dead. But, I had to return to the torture chamber immediately if I had any hope of saving the Lizard-man's life. In addition, I did not relish the idea of climbing back up those stairs.

As I ran into the torture room, I had thumbed the cork off a healing potion I pulled from my haversack. I was relieved to see that he still lived. I poured a little of the draughts down his gullet, enough to give him some strength. I then started to repack and replace his cut muscles and organs inside his chest. I am not a physician so I am not an expert on anatomy, but I made my best guess. I poured a little of the healing potion over the muscles to help them knit. Then I pulled the skin back together and doused it with the remaining healing draught.

I watched as the skin magically reunited. A raw pink scar ran the length of his brown torso. The Lizard-man started to relax. I could see that he was still in a lot of pain and very weak. So, pulled out another healing potion and made him drink it all. The gaping wound of his bloody eye socket and his severed left wrist instantly healed up. I would have tried to reattach his hand and/or eye but I could not find them. Moreover, the Lizard-man did not have the luxury of waiting while I searched the blood-filled buckets for them.

After the Lizard-man regained his strength and seemed to be out of pain, I cut his bonds. He sat up and looked me over with his good eye.

"I am Sleestak and I thank you," he said as he sat up and rubbed his stump.

"Gwendolyn, at your service," I bowed, "what is going on here?"

"Look friend Gwendolyn," Sleestak motioned for me to look around the room with his right hand.

I turned around and realized I was not so much in a torture chamber as much as a butchers shop.

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Tiberium Letters

Part Nine

By Dwayne MacInnes

The bodies of Lizard-folk and, by the looks of it, a couple of humans, hung from the ceiling like the carcasses of cows and pigs one sees in a butcher shop. The bodies were skinned and in various states of decomposition. Goblins love their meat a little rancid.

I turned back to Sleestak, "I think you better get out of here and alert the city guard."

"No!" he shouted with fear. "It was Captain Morgan who brought us here. He works for Brunis. They are building an army of goblins."

I began to search the room as I lost myself in thought. So, Brunis is looking for more than extortion and maybe running the Empire from behind the scenes. It looks like he wants to establish his own empire and Giland was as good a place as any other city.

I did not know how many of the city guards were involved with this. I had to proceed with even more care than usual. Even if I defeat Brunis and retrieve the letters Captain Morgan and some of the local guardsmen, may try to settle accounts with me.

I found some dirty clothes that I tossed over to Sleestak. "Here wear these."

"Why are you here?" the Lizard-man asked as he dressed.

"I'm on a top secret mission. I cannot say more. But, I need you to get out of here and tell no one about my presence here."

Sleestak found a rather long and nasty blade (obviously some torture implement) that he tucked into his belt. "How do I explain my escape?"

"Just tell them you broke free and overpowered the goblin," I offered. I was about to leave the room when a thought struck me.

"Are there others I should free?"

"No, I was the last. Morgan and his men rounded up many people from my village and they sent us here. I watched my people be tortured before they were butchered. Their blood collected in buckets for goblin stew," Sleestak spat.

"Do you know where Morgan and Brunis are?" I enquired.

"Yes, this tunnel leads to an old ruined fort. Fort Abysmal, there you will find them. But, I caution you. There are more than goblins in this tunnel. I have heard...strange noises. I am sorry that is the best I can do. If you want, Sleestak will fight with you."

I shook my head, "No, you must escape, go down the stairs and the tunnel there is a lever that'll lead you to the basement of the castle. You will be able to find help from Kreel the cook. I am sure she'll find a way to get you out of the castle without the guards knowing."

I resumed my travel up the tunnel after Sleestak descended the stairs. I grasped my sword even harder now. No sound escaped my acute hearing -- not the skittering of rats scurrying out of my way, nor the plunk of water dripping into a shallow pool somewhere into the distant.

Thankfully, I wore gauntlets for my sweaty palms would have lost their grip on my blade. I did not relish the idea of taking on an army of goblins in addition to whatever else there may be down here, plus the original task of Brunis and now Captain Morgan thrown in. All I know is that there had better be a rather hefty reward after I was done.

The passage began to slope upwards. There were no stairs just a ramping floor that continued to climb steadily upwards. After awhile it finally ended at another wooden door.

I pressed my ear against it. There were not any sounds. There were also no traps of either mechanical or magical nature. However, there was a lock, which proved easy to pick.

I slowly opened the door and peered around it. All I saw was just more tunnel and more torches. However, the passage was now level.

I continued to creep down the tunnel when I suddenly came upon two goblins on sentry. I did not hear either of them for they had been sleeping in the passage and they did not hear me as I stole upon them. I left them to their dreams...permanently. I slit their throats so silently and efficiently that neither one awoke. I placed their bodies back in their sleeping repose and continued on. I am sure if anyone came upon them that at a distance they would look like they were asleep. However, closer examination would reveal a large puddle of blood on the ground.

The worse part of this was apparently Brunis did not pay his goblins very well. I only found three Silver Crowns between them. Their rusty blades were not even worth the effort to cart out and try to sell to some vendor.

Onward and forward, the tunnel wound. I did not happen upon any more goblins when I came upon another door in the right hand tunnel wall. Again, I listened and searched for traps -- again nothing on all counts. This time the lock was of good construction. It took me about thirty seconds for me to pick it.

The door swung open on its own and revealed a dark room. The little light that shone in the room revealed little except a stone floor. I stepped in and the door slammed shut behind me. I instantly felt my hackles rise as they did when I heard Sleestak's screams.

I silently uttered my dark sight spell and there at the end of the long room sneaking towards me as silent as a cat was a demon.

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Tiberium Letters

Part Ten

By Dwayne MacInnes

The demon was unaware that I could see it in the darkness. I grabbed my sword in a reverse grip. I acted as if I could not see the hell-spawned beast approaching me.

The room had many glyphs of warding on the walls around it. Obviously, they were for containing the demon and not me. I tried the door with my left hand. It had locked as it closed, much as I suspected. I did not have the time to try to pick a lock with a demon sneaking up on me, and I had less than a minute of sight before the spell failed. I would have to act soon.

I turned my back to the demon as if I was going to try the door. I heard it take in a breath of air as it started to lunge for me. At the last moment, I dodged to the right in a tumble and sprung up as the demon smacked against the wooden door. The door shook and threatened to splinter and the demon took a couple of dazed steps back turning towards me.

I stepped into the seven-foot tall beast and slashed upward from right to left with my reversed gripped short sword. Before the demon could grab its bleeding belly, I now slashed the beast's throat from left to right. Hot red blood spurted out from its new wound while I tumbled between its spread legs.

As I jumped up behind it, I changed my grip to the standard form and jabbed upwards striking the demon in the exposed back. An enraged and gurgled roar shook the room. I thought my head would explode from the agonizing scream of pain the beast from the netherworld released.

The beast fell to its knees after it turned towards me. I backed away staying outside the reach of its claws. With one hand, it held its gaping throat with the other it weakly tried to swipe at me.

I crouched low before I vaulted myself towards the demon. As I passed over its left shoulder, I swung my sword from left to right severing its head from its torso. I landed on the blood slick floor and tumbled to a stop as my spell ended simultaneously with the head dropping onto the floor.

I quickly uttered my spell again and my sight returned. There on the floor flopping in a pool of its own blood lay the headless body of the demon. The head had rolled to a far wall and now stared sightlessly at me.

Still amazed by my victory I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard a loud pounding on the door.

"You keep quiet," the gruff voice of a goblin shouted, "or the master will teach you to keep quiet."

It was no surprise the goblin was not about to check in on a demon in a containment cell. The bad thing about demons and containment cells is that they contain nothing of value. Sure, I could have harvested the various organs and horns of the demon, but I saw enough butchering for one night.

I listened intently until I heard the goblin walk away. I returned to the door and had it picked open before my spell failed again. I finally expelled the breath I had been holding. I was now alone in the tunnel and I started to think again.

That was when it hit me. Trumpets blared in my head alerting me to my stupidity and I anxiously pulled a book out of my haversack. The Hubbard book Dire-nectics was not about helping you move past your problems. No, Elrond Hubbard according to the back of the book was a conjurer of the dark arts and not a self-help guru as I initially suspected.

To add to everything else, Brunis was also trying to control a demon. I prayed there were no more demons that Brunis had socked away. I also vowed not to enter dark rooms where the doors opened of their own accord again.

Cautiously I continued my travel up the tunnel, there were no more side doors and there were never any connecting hallways. It finally ended at a large portcullis. The large iron gate sealed the entrance and on the other side were the remains of Fort Abysmal's cellar.

I tested the portcullis for any signs of weakness. A heavy coat of rust covered the gate and the sturdiness of it was in doubt. I pushed and pulled upon the various bars all but one resisted my efforts. Although the one iron bar I could move did not pull free from the gate it did bend enough to allow me to pass through.

A large waterfall had broken its way into the cellar and the lower chambers were now the source of an underground river. The thundering of the fall obscured any noise I made while exerting myself on the gate. However, it also hid any noise that may alert me to danger.

I snuck around the cellar's interior, there were many doors and passages I could take. But, I knew that if Brunis was the wizard of any worth he would be found in a tower. So, the only logical choice would be up.

I was about to head for the only set of stone steps that led upwards when my ears picked up a rhythmic beat against the thunder of the waterfall. I quickly jumped behind a fallen column and watched as a squad of goblins marching in formation exited a side tunnel, and entered the cellar heading in my direction.

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Tiberium Letters

Part Eleven

By Dwayne MacInnes

There were six goblins, and they were heading in my direction. I ducked down behind the pillar again. I could hear their clinking iron boots and their armor rattling as they marched into the cellar. In my quick glance, I noticed that they all were armed with a sword on their left hip and had a spear resting on their right shoulder. Their armor was motley but they all had some sort of helm and a shield.

I listened as they advanced ever closer to my position. The column I hid behind was large, but if they were to look over it, they would easily see me trying as hard as I could to blend in with the shadows. I silently pulled my bow from my back and readied an arrow. I know I could have taken out three of them before the rest fell upon me. I hoped that I would have enough time to ready my sword.

Then quite unexpectedly, they changed course. I snuck a quick peak over the collapsed column. The goblins were now heading for the stairs I was about to make for. They were also now marching more or less perpendicular to me.

I smiled; this was an unforeseen opportunity. I fired my bow. I hit the first goblin, or more accurately the last goblin for he was the last in line, in the back of the head. Before he could squeak, he tumbled off the steps and landed into the pool. The waterfall masked any noise the goblin made as he died.

I fired off another and another arrow, each finding their mark under the helmet and through the head. As expected, every goblin fell off the steps and landed in the pool beneath the waterfall. In this manner, I worked my way from back to front killing every goblin before the leader made it to the top step.

Unfortunately, the weight of their armor pulled every goblin beneath the surface of the subterranean river. Therefore, I could not search their carcasses for any loot. However, I figured that with the paltry amount I have been finding on these goblins and the fact that any trace of what I did, lay at the bottom of the river -- in the end -- balanced out.

I resumed my trek up the staircase. When I reached the landing, I was at the entrance of some sort. The fort had definitely seen better days. Stone bricks and wooden beams lay collapsed upon the ground. Weak moonlight filtered in from the gaping holes in the ceiling. There were no more stairs upward but there was a doublewide wooden door in front of me.

Again, I did my standard check at the door. Again, I heard and found nothing. To my relief the door was unlocked. It did not open or close of its own free will when I exited it and found myself outdoors. Well, I was sort of outdoors. I was actually in the middle of the crumbling and hollowed out remains of a tower. There were stairs leading upward and a set of doublewide iron doors that sat upon the far side of me. I assumed they truly led to the open outdoors.

By deduction, I knew my way led upwards. Well, I should say deduction because of the fact that I heard Brunis's laugh somewhere above me. I made sure that I was so far undetected. I could find no guards or sentries, so I started my way up the stairs.

It was dark and though there was a full moon, the shadows were deep. The occasional torch flared upon the wall. The smell of fresh air was the sweetest scent I ever experienced especially after the offal I encountered in the butcher room.

Brunis was in conversation with someone, I could hear his end of the conversation as I crept stealthily upwards bow ready.

"Soon, very soon my plans will come to fruition," he laughed.

"What's that? Of course, you'll be at my side," he reassured someone.

"With the Empress bankrolling us and the goblin army growing everyday I'll soon be in position to take over Giland."

I do not know why these villain types feel the need to reveal their nefarious plans but they do. Maybe it is because they are all secretly insecure. Nonetheless, it makes my job easier and I appreciate it.

Brunis's jubilant voice continued, "I am sure I can even assert some power through the Empress over the Emperor to facilitate things. Plus, my demon is almost fully trained."

I was near the top of the stairs when I saw Brunis on the opposite side of the room. He stood in the doorway perfectly framed in the moonlight and I quietly drew back my bowstring. However, before I could release my arrow someone yelled, "HALT! ASSASSIN!"

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Tiberium Letters

Part Twelve

By Dwayne MacInnes

My arrow flew erratically through the air as Brunis ducked safely behind the wall. I then notice Captain Morgan of the city guard also in the room. The good or more accurately ‘evil' captain noticed my silhouette at the head of the stairs and warned Brunis in time.

I had hardly any time to drop my bow and draw my sword before the captain fell upon me. I blocked his initial swing with my shield. I tried to push the captain's long sword away so I could expose his vitals for a thrust with my short sword. However, the guardsman had been practicing and knew my tactics.

The long sword disengaged and Captain Morgan stepped back. This gave me the time I needed to tumble past his next swing. I was now behind the captain. Unfortunately, I was now between Morgan and Brunis.

I caught the sight of the mage leveling a staff at me. I turned quickly in time to catch the electric bolt upon my shield. Brunis swore an oath as my shield absorbed the bolt without any ill effects. I dodged to the side as Morgan thrust his sword at me barely missing.

I was not in an enviable position. I needed to find some defensive position. Alas, none was forthcoming. Therefore, I worked my way backwards so that now the wizard and the warrior were both in front of me.

Things improved a bit, but only a little. For I now did not have to watch my back and front simultaneously. However, I now had both an angry mage and guardsman attacking me. They worked quietly as a team.

Captain Morgan would try to expose me to a blast from Brunis's staff. I would block or dodge his sword swing, but I always kept my shield in front of Brunis. For my part, I would try to maneuver Morgan in such a way as to place the guardsman in front of the wizard.

We jockeyed like this for some time before Brunis pulled back. I tried to double my attacks on Morgan in the hopes of dispatching the guard before the mage could conjure up some nasty new spell.

Unfortunately, Morgan was a good swordsman and even worse Brunis conjured up a spell my shield could not prevent. He summoned a stone demon from the netherworld. However, worse still was that the demon materialized behind me.

The stone giant stood ten feet tall. His body was completely made of rocks. One smash with his rocky fists and it would be like having an avalanche pulverize you. You have heard the expression "He came down on me like a ton of bricks." In this case, it would be far too literal.

Two other things to note about summoned stone demons. The first is that they do not rely solely on their fists. No, for some insane reason they can also shoot blasts of electric bolts at you. Secondly, is that the summoned beast lasts as long as the summoner wants or until the beast or the summoner dies.

Suddenly there descended upon us one of those uncomfortable pauses in combat. It is the same as often happens in conversations. Everyone is talking until all at once everyone forgets what he or she was going to say or just has nothing to say. Everyone looks at everyone else uncomfortably until someone restarts the conversation.

The only difference in this case was that I was the only one uncomfortable. For, as I glanced around I noticed the evil smiles on Brunis and Morgan's face. The stone demon just looked at me impassively, which by the way is their only expression.

"Well, my dear inspector it looks like you were unable to finish the task the Emperor commissioned you for. But, do not fear he will still pay. Just not in the manner he was hoping. Bwa ha ha ha!"

Oh, great I was about to die and one of the last things I would hear is a clichéd evil laugh.

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Tiberium Letters

Part Thirteen

By Dwayne MacInnes

Combat resumed shortly after this. I tried to remain out of reach of the stone demon and still block whatever Brunis and Morgan threw at me. The lightning blasts flew through the air like some kind of AC/DC concert.

In case you have never had that experience, before the Alteration College and the Diviner College at the Arcane University, there is a get together once a year in Imperial City for a concert. The music is great. However, the lightshow at the AC/DC concert you cannot miss and I mean that literally. You can be in any neighborhood, in a surrounding district, or even in the village. You can see the lightning and colored flashes shooting into the sky.

Anyway, as I was relating, lightning was shooting back and forth and both the stone demon and Brunis had one object in mind and that was me. I did learn a couple of important things in this exchange. First is that it is impossible to dodge lightning. It is extremely fast. Secondly, I do not need to block the blasts with my shield.

What no one has ever chronicled about my shield, Spell-eater, is that merely having it on your person protects you from hostile magic. Imagine everyone's surprise when the stone demon fired off a blast and hit me square in the back and the bolt fizzled away into nothing. I can assure you no one was more surprised that I was.

Again all combat paused. However, this time I was the one smiling. Sure, the advantage was still in Morgan and Brunis's favor. After all, I still had the stone demon at my back. However, my shield nullified the effect of magic.

Captain Morgan took the initiative and restarted the melee by charging at me. However, it was not quite what he had anticipated. As the guardsman flew at me with his sword flashing in the moonlight, I simply stepped to my right and tripped the captain as he ran harmlessly by. I should not say harmlessly because he had the misfortune of colliding with the stone demon.

There is one other thing about stone demons I forgot to mention. They are extremely stupid. I mean there simply is no other denizen of the netherworld that is literally as dumb as a box of rocks. Not iron demons, not imps, I mean nothing.

Sadly, for Morgan the demon felt that the captain was attacking it. Even sadder for the captain was that he did not have a shield to protect him from the electric bolts. Still even sadder was that all the steel the captain wore only made things worse.

The stone demon fired off a blast of electricity at the poor captain. The lightning literally fried the captain to a blacken crisp. Steam and smoke poured out of his armor before his blackened sword clattered upon the stone floor followed shortly thereafter by the recently deceased captain of the guard.

While this was happening, I flipped my short sword in the air, grabbed it by the blade, and in one fluid motion threw it at Brunis. It is unwise to throw away one's only weapon unless of course it is in a time of desperation. Desperate the times certainly were.

I watched as if time had slowed as the short sword tumbled end over end flying towards Brunis. I watched the mage slowly recognize what was happening, the surprise break out upon his face, and his attempt to try to turn. However, before he could turn completely around the short sword found his chest and buried itself up to the hilt.

There was a puff of smoke as the stone demon dematerialized behind me. Simultaneously, the mage collapsed upon the flagstones in dead heap. I slowly walked toward the mage. Slowly was the only speed I had available at the time as the adrenaline started to wear off. I was completely exhausted.

It took some effort but I was able to tug my short sword out of Brunis's carcass. I was just going to leave him there when a thought occurred to me. I ran over to Morgan's still smoking and disgustingly smelling body and grabbed his long sword. I returned to Brunis and placed the long sword into his wound. Now, if anyone came upon the bodies it looked like a falling out between wizard and warrior.

Unfortunately, that meant I would have to leave the lightning staff still clutched in Brunis's dead hand. But, I figured no one really knew what Brunis carried on his person so I searched him. I found a couple of rings, two keys, fifty Gold Eagles and a small object that resembled a green icicle about three inches long.

There was no way I was going to return to the barbequed guard and search his remains. I figured all the gold and silver he may have had on him would have melted and fused with everything else in one nasty mess. I could still hear the sizzling and popping of the cooked Morgan.

With all the lightning flashing, I figured I had a limited amount of time left. I ran into the room that Morgan and Brunis came out. Inside the room were a bunk, a table, and a chest. It appeared the wizard would occasionally sleep here. The ceiling was still whole above. Further, the door still opened and closed on its hinges on the doorframe. In this case, it was open.

I quickly searched the chest. One of the keys I found on Brunis's body opened it with a click (I learned later that the other key was to the castle, so I kept it). Inside I found a bundle of papers.

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Tiberium Letters

Part Fourteen

By Dwayne MacInnes

A quick glance at the papers revealed that they were what I was looking for. It is interesting to note that Brunis was not blackmailing the Lady Tiber for anything she had done wrong. In fact, it was the opposite.

The story about the Lady Tiber's father's assassination turns out not to be completely correct. The Empress hired an investigator so that she may try to remember her youth. The investigator succeeded far beyond anyone's imagination.

The papers I held in my hand are the correspondence from the investigator to the Empress. I have already related the well-known tale of the assassination of the Baron Rhem decades ago by his ambitious younger brother.

However, there are corrections and additions to the tale. The Baron had a loyal minister. The minister was the one who insisted that the young Lady Rhem remain in the temple under the care of the priests in the hope she may remember her past.

The minister would come in, relate the family history, and teach her on whom her relatives were. She started to learn about courtly manners and practices. Essentially the minister was teaching Lady Rhem how to run a barony.

Meanwhile, the story of the scullery maid is not complete either. It turns out the young girl survived her plunge into the lake. She stripped off her dress in order to help her swim to shore. On reaching the shore the young girl clothed only in a wet and dirty shirt climbed into a hay cart to warm-up.

Unknown to her, the cart belonged to a poor farmer who was traveling back to his village. It took two days before the farmer returned to his village with his hay. Imagine his surprise when he started to unload it and he found a half-clothed unconscious girl.

The farmer woke the girl up, who had been sleeping two days, but she could not remember her past either. Further, she did not even know how she climbed into the cart. The farmer had no idea where his stow-away came from it could have been a dozen hamlets or villages he passed.

The girl begged the farmer not to turn her out. The kindhearted man had neither wife nor heir but he took pity upon the lass and adopted her as his daughter. As she grew to maturity, the young woman wed one of the villagers that had land adjacent to her adopted father's farm. When her adopted father died, her husband inherited the small farm willed to him by her adopted father.

The two prospered on the combined farm and had five children. This is where the investigator found them.

Now that I have filled in the gaps, I will now correct the story. I am sure some of you have already guessed it. When the investigator presented his tale to the young farm wife her memories unlocked immediately. There was something wrong.

She -- not the woman running the barony -- was Lady Rhem. She remembered her fall over the balcony and the gown that she shed which was of the finest quality and a gift from her late father. Nonetheless, she was happily married to the farmer. Her children were happy and content she felt a sense of accomplishment and did not desire to rule a barony or an empire.

Surprised -- the investigator presented his evidence to Lady Tiber. Again when presented with the evidence, the Lady Tiber's memory miraculously reappeared. She corroborated the farm wife's story. Lady Tiber felt unworthy to be the Empress and wanted to confide the truth to her husband. However, the investigator pointed out that by doing so would move the farm wife from her content life to a place where she knew little and the reverse would happen to Lady Tiber.

The two women began a correspondence and the two agreed that Lady Tiber would remain as the baroness and Empress. It was because the loyal minister feared bloodshed by civil war that he put a pretender (albeit unknown to Lady Tiber) onto the throne. First, he destroyed the tattered remains of the dress found on the lakeshore. The girls looked remarkably alike and after a few years in the temple away from the public, no one would know that the Lady Rhem was actually a scullery maid.

Unfortunately, the mage Brunis somehow learned about their secret. He stole the letters he needed to blackmail the Empress. He threatened to reveal the truth and ruin both women's lives if the Lady Tiber did not pay his ransom demands.

After reading the papers, I shoved them into my haversack. I was about to check the other contents of the chest and table when I heard the chinking and clanking of a troop of goblins running up the stairs. I looked at my sword and realized in all the excitement I left my elven longbow on the stairs outside the room.

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Tiberium Letters

Part Fifteen

By Dwayne MacInnes

The rushing horde was running up the stairs. I would not have time to run out and grab my bow. I briefly toyed with the idea of jumping out and grabbing Brunis's staff, but I did not know if it had any charges left. It looked like I would have to use my short sword after all. I may be able to take a dozen down if I held the doorway, but they would eventually overwhelm me with pure numbers.

I started to pull my hand out of my haversack when I felt something. Then I remembered the wooden wand I found in Brunis's secret lair in the castle. I pulled out the twisted black stick that was about six inches long. I crept to the door and shut it most of the way, but I was in time to see the first score of goblins reach the top of the stairs.

I thrust the wand out of the room and shut the door until only a crack remained and I yelled, "Domo arigato mister roboto!"

There was a flash and I felt the backwash of heat as the fireball launched itself towards the goblins rushing up the stairs. I watched through the crack between the door and the wall as the fireball collided with the first rush of goblins.

There was an explosion of fire. The lead goblins burst into flame; some flew backwards from the impact of the spell and landed on their comrades. Still the goblins rushed on. Either they did not know what was happening ahead of them or they did not care.

"Domo arigato mister roboto!" again another explosion and again another wave of goblins went down in flames. Still they tried to push their way through the burning wreckage of their comrades.

"Domo arigato mister roboto, domo!" this time I thought for sure I could hear in a strange voice from the wand say, "Domo! Domo!" The wand released its fireball a third time and like before the tormented screams of immolated goblins filled the air, not to mention the stench.

I have to say something for goblins, when they get their blood up, they are tenacious. Wave after wave of goblin hordes rushed up those stairs and repeatedly I released a fireball. I did not know how many charges the wand had, but it could not be very many. The smoldering bodies started to form a wall that the oncoming goblins had to overcome. There were flames burning all over the place, the old fort's stone walls blackened and cracked from the blasts of fire.

Still the goblins rushed onward, I started to let them mass up once they climbed over their dead comrades so I could make the most of my remaining spells. Another blast sent the goblins flying in all directions. Finally after what felt like an eternity, but could not be more than half an hour the surviving goblins ran off in terror.

I cautiously poked my head out. The stench was overwhelming. I did not think anything could be worse than the butcher shop. Then I remembered the smell of the crispy Captain Morgan. I thought that was probably the worse smell ever. Again, I found myself corrected when I smelled the charred remains of over one hundred goblins scattered around the tower and down the stairs.

I did a quick search of the chest and table in the mage's room and only produced a flawless diamond and two sapphires. Not bad, but hardly worth the trouble I have been through. I returned to the open tower and surveyed the carnage. Fires still flickered here and there. Black corpses beyond recognition lay twisted upon the scorched and cracked flagstones. Some of the iron weapons and armor were still red from the intense heat from the repeated blasts from the wand.

I traversed my way through the rubble and charred bodies toward the stairs. I started to descend them when my foot kicked something. There on the ground and by some divine miracle sat my bow where I had dropped it. It needed a good cleaning but otherwise it was unharmed.

This little discovery put me in better spirits. I started to whistle as I made my way back to the castle.

When I reached the waterfall in the fort's cellar, I took a few minute to wash the grime and grit off my equipment and myself. I felt refreshed and renewed. I also took the time to open the portcullis.

I had no further adventures on my return to the basement inside the castle. I would occasionally see a goblin scurry away as he heard me whistling down the tunnel. But, that was the extent of my encounters. I would have to advise the Countess to contact the local Fighters Guild to exterminate these pests.

It was just after sunrise when I found myself back in the cellar. I had just finished shutting the hidden door and closing the false panel in the wheat barrel when I heard someone approach behind me.

"Halt right there! I have finally got you and I know all about you," said the voice of Reyn Braxis. I turned to see the predatory smile on his face. I could not fight him here; the Thieves Guild would dismiss me if I did. My heart sank as I looked at the guard.

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Tiberium Letters

Part Sixteen

By Dwayne MacInnes

"That's right," Reyn said as he closed in on me. "You are no Imperial Inspector, or at least you weren't always. I know all about you."

I forced a smile upon my face, "Reyn, heh heh, let me explain." I was stalling for time. *Maybe I could bean the guardsman over the head with a piece of wood or something and make my escape before he regains consciousness*, I thought. Unfortunately, there was nothing at hand.

"Oh no, you are not escaping me this time. I recognized you at the gate," Reyn appeared to be gushing. I suppose I would too if I had just caught one of the top operatives of the Thieves Guild.

Reyn reached into his belt and thrust his arms at me. I was so exhausted from my ordeals over the night that my reflexes were slow. It took a whole five seconds to see that Reyn did not have a sword or dagger pointed at me but, instead a quill and a piece of parchment.

"Oh man! I'm like your biggest fan. The Black Arrow here at this castle I can't believe it. Please, I must have your autograph," Reyn implored.

I smiled, some of it genuine, most of it was relief. Reyn just knew me from the arena he knew nothing about my ‘other' job. I looked at the parchment and sighed. It was one of the last promotional posters made before I retired.

The arena loves to embellish its pit rats. The higher you rise in rank; the liberties taken with your body also grow. Males will find, the higher they go, the image on the posters will show them with bigger and bigger muscles despite the reality. Females on the other hand gain bigger and bigger, uh well you guessed it, breasts. But, that is not all in both case you find that the posters show you in less and less garb until you are the Grand Champion standing over a pile of bodies wearing nothing but a smile.

I would have been better off to pose for a woodcut center spread in a Pageboy circular. Fortunately, the statue in the Hall of Heroes was accurate. Granted, all the statues of the Grand Champions are nudes. It is supposed to glorify the body in an artistic way, like the statues of the gods and goddesses you find in the temples. Plus, the dwarven artists are masters and have an acute eye for detail, not for embellishment.

I took the poster and wrote, "Warmest regards to my biggest fan, Gwendolyn the Black Arrow." Reyn smiled as he read my message.

"Well, I have to return to my duties, looks like these barrels are okay," I tried to sound official. I really wanted to be off when we heard a crash.

Both Reyn and I turned in time to see Sleestak tumble out from behind some crates. He was still wearing the ragged clothes I gave him in the butcher shop. However, now he had a rag wrapped around his head to hide his missing eye. He looked very roguish.

"What are you doing here?" Reyn asked.

Sleestak looked at me, "Sleestak was waiting for..."

"I'm sure your secret will be in my report," I hoped Sleestak caught my emphasis on the optimal word.

"Uh, yeah...I was, er..."Sleestak stammered as he remembered his pledge and still tried to find a good excuse.

"Well, out with it!" snapped Reyn.

"It's not like there's a hidden passage down here," I said sarcastically while I nodded towards the hidden door. Sleestak eyes lit up. Lizard-men cannot really smile so most of their expressions register in their eyes.

"Yeah, Sleestak has just escaped from a torture chamber on the other side of that wall," Sleestak replied.

"I find that hard..."Reyn started to say as I kicked the false panel on the bottom of the barrel.

"Hello!" I exclaimed before Reyn could finish his sentence. "By Jove, Reyn! Look at this."

The guardsman looked down on the open panel; he reached inside and pulled the lever. We all watched as the door slid open.

"I had better get Captain Morgan!" Reyn exclaimed.

"NO!" yelled Sleestak. The Lizard-man grabbed Reyn with his good hand. "It is he and that minister Brunis who took Sleestak down here."

"I don't think I am going to believe some Li..." Reyn started to say with disgust.

However, I interrupted again, "Of course, excellent discovery, guardsman."

Reyn stared at me in confusion.

"It is obvious those two had to know about the entrance. Who knows how many guardsmen are involved in the plot. I will have to write your discovery down in my report," I continued.

Reyn started to perk up as it sank in. I always felt bad about what I did to Reyn and now, that I learned he did not suspect me as part of the Thieves Guild I felt even worse.

"Well, my good Lizard-man, I think you should lead us on to this torture chamber," I offered.

We followed Sleestak to the torture/butcher room. Reyn started to become sick by what he found inside the room. On my subtle advice, we continued down the long tunnel. We found the demon room and the waterfall cellar beneath the tower. The smell of burnt flesh now permeated the chamber and I did not need to lead Reyn upwards. He rushed up the stairs on his own.

He witnessed the carnage above in the tower. The bodies were still smoldering, even that of Morgan. The captain's long sword was still in the chest of Brunis.

By know Reyn was starting to get into his own. The little self-confidence I had reestablished started to take hold and flourished.

"Looks like some sort of falling out between the mage and the captain here," Reyn observed.

"Amazing deduction, guardsman," I said in feigned awe.

"Elementary, my dear Inspector. Elementary," Reyn responded smugly.

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Tiberium Letters

Part Seventeen

By Dwayne MacInnes

I made my official report to the Countess Aversfield. On my advice, she promoted Reyn to Captain of the Guard and she made Sleestak her new minister. An investigation into the disappearance of the Lizard-folk in the surrounding area began and many a guardsman found himself off to an imperial penal colony.

The Countess had the tunnels beneath the castle cleared out of any remaining goblins. Giland started to look like a model city in the Empire. However, I was unable to stay long before I had to be back at the Imperial City.

On my return, I was surprised to find the Shadow Fox inside my house waiting for me. He was sitting next to a crackling fire in my hearth. He motioned for me to take a chair next to him.

"I hear you did some mighty fine work for the Countess. How successful were you with your primary mission?" the Shadow Fox asked.

I looked at him closely, for some reason he looked familiar. No, not because I saw him previously, I know that somewhere I had seen him without the mask. Anyway, I shook my head to gather my thoughts.

"Sorry, it has been a long and exhausting trip," I reached into my inner pocket of my cloak and handed over the letters. "Here you go. Every last one I could find."

"Good," the master thief said, "You made sure they were authentic right?"

I nodded my head.

"Good, good," the Shadow Fox responded and he tossed the letters into the fire. "I do not know what was in those letters. But, I do know the Lady Tiber confessed everything to the Emperor and he has ordered them destroyed. They are too important for anyone to get their hands on again."

"Was there anything else? It appears that Brunis had his fingers in a lot of pies and nothing should be overlooked."

"The only thing I cannot identify is this," I said as I pulled the green icicle out of my haversack.

The Shadow Fox stared at it in amazement, "Do you know what you have there?"

"Um, I think I established that I did not," I replied a little irreverently. I was tired and maybe a little short tempered.

"That's a memory stick."

"Huh?"

"Powerful mages can capture someone's entire memory within it. The person gets amnesia, but will never recover because his memories are trapped inside a memory stick."

"I wonder who was unfortunate enough to have their memory trapped inside this thing," I wondered aloud.

"There is no telling. The only way to restore the memory to the person is to break the stick," the Shadow Fox continued.

I shrugged my shoulders and placed the icicle-like object between my fingers. I started to apply pressure then I stopped.

"How will the memories find their owner?" I asked.

"Memories are part of their owner; as soon as the memories are released the person who lost them will suddenly find them regained."

"Hmm," I said and snapped the green icicle but nothing happened. "I guess it was empty."

"No it wasn't," the Shadow Fox replied. He stood up and headed for the door.

I stood up and cleared my throat, "Um, not to be rude but I thought there was supposed to be some payment for my mission."

"Sorry, it slipped my mind," the Shadow Fox undid a pouch at his belt and tossed it towards me. "This is from the Emperor. The guild will send you its payment later."

Before I could open the pouch, the Shadow Fox had disappeared out the door. Inside the pouch were ten perfect rubies and six large black pearls. It was obvious the Emperor knew something about transferring large sums of wealth discreetly. Coinage makes a lot of noise and is heavy for delivering hefty payments. Gems and jewels were lighter and quieter.

I was beaming with excitement when I heard the knock on my door. I hid my new wealth under a seat cushion and opened the door. On the front step two well-dressed men stood.

"Are you Gwendolyn?" asked one of the men.

"Oh, I'm sorry I belong to a church already," I said reflexively.

"I'm sorry we are not here from any temple. We have the unfortunate business to tell you that the Mages Guild is suing you," one of the men said as the other thrust the summons into my hand.

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Tiberium Letters

Part Eighteen

By Dwayne MacInnes

I sat down in my chair and read the subpoena, the gist of it was that the Mages Guild was suing me for breaking one of its tenants, that of killing another guild member. Somehow, the guild has the power to divine that I was the one who killed Brunis, but was unable to figure out that I did so in self-defense.

Yet, the thing that really burns me is that the Mages Guild will allow its members to partake in any evil scheme out there in the Empire except necromancy. I actually do the Mages Guild some good by removing this blight from their rolls and I am the villain.

Fortunately, I had lawyers already. When you are the Grand Champion, you need good lawyers to protect your good image from slander, libel, and the paparazzi. I know that two Orcs and a Minotaur run the Blud, Gutz, and Gore law firm. Nevertheless, they get results.

I met with Gore; he was the Minotaur in my living room. The large half bovine, half man sat in a large chair. He was immaculately dressed in a black business suit and red silk tie and he was reading the subpoena through his square wire-framed glasses.

"Hmmm, yes I see where they are coming from. You broke one of their rules and they want monetary compensation for the victim's family," he said in a deep calm voice.

"Are you kidding me? Brunis has no family. The jerk was trying to take over the Empire -- well at least Giland," I started to say in a loud voice. "If anything I did the guild a favor by removing this poor excuse of a mage."

"I assume you have proof of this?" Gore said in a calm voice.

"Well, it was kind of a top secret mission from the Emperor which I received through the Thieves Guild," I said sheepishly.

"Yes, that is going to be tough. I doubt the Emperor will involve himself and you know the Thieves Guild has to remain anonymous," Gore sat back in the chair that groaned in protest to his large frame as he stretched out his long cow-like legs. The Minotaur pushed his glasses back up his long muzzle. "But, don't worry. We have dealt with this kind of case before. In the case of Mordor vs. Baggins we were able to get the charges of trespassing dropped."

"So do you think this will have to go to court?" I asked.

"I am pretty sure we can settle this discreetly outside of court," Gore said as he rose from the chair. The Minotaur bent low in order to keep his horns from snagging into the ceiling. He packed up his briefcase, "I am sure we can get the charges lessened if not dropped."

He turned towards me as he headed for the door. "If worse comes to worse we'll say the devil made you do it."

I stared at him for a beat, "How's that going to help?"

"Possession is nine points of the law," the Minotaur's bellowing laugh shook the room. "Seriously, it'll be okay." Gore smiled and exited the house.

I smiled also relieved; very few attorneys will make house calls. Then again, I pay them well and I am the Grand Champion.

Blud, Gutz and Gore were as good as their word. The Mages Guild dropped their lawsuit. However, they still suspended me from the guild, although I could regain membership if I produced ten vampire hearts.

While this nasty business was going on, I was still waiting for my payment from the Thieves Guild. I was starting to worry that I may have to sue the guild, which would probably lead to my expulsion from that as well. I was having a lousy week.

Then one day I received a message from the guild. I was to meet at the secret guildhall down by the docks at midnight. The guild always favored dark for its official business.

Needless to say, I was present at the appointed time. I entered the hall after saying the secret password: Peekaboo. It was strange that the guard and I were the only ones present. The door guard pointed to a room and said, "He is waiting for you in there."

I entered the room to find the Shadow Fox sitting behind his desk. He waved for me to pull up a chair.

"I hear you've been having an interesting week," the Shadow Fox said.

"To say the least, but it is all right now," I answered.

The Shadow Fox sat back in his black leather chair, "You have been probably wondering about your payment."

I nodded my head.

"Well, before I give you that I should tell you that there is a bonus involved."

I sat up straight. A bonus was rare in the Thieves Guild; we usually gave ourselves "bonuses" from whatever we found of use on the missions assigned us.

"We have found the person you restored the memory too and he is most grateful," the Shadow Fox said with a smile.

"You mean it really worked. Out of curiosity who was it?" I asked.

"Haven't you guessed?" the Shadow Fox pulled his mask off to reveal the face of Count Aversfield. "It was me."

My jaw must have dropped into the basement.

"Yes, you are probably wondering about how I came to be here. Let me start from the beginning. I was investigating the rumors of some disappearances in the surrounding villages. My minister Brunis and I were personally looking into it. Brunis, as you have probably discovered was a devious snake.

"Before we reached the first village he hits me with his memory trap spell. I fell from my horse and blacked out. The only thing I remember when I came to was that I was sure I was fully clothed.

"That's right; the villain stole my belongings and left me naked in the wilderness. I walked for a while until I found some rags hanging out to dry. I stole the clothes and was about to leave when an elderly man accosted me.

"'By what right are you stealing my clothes?' he yelled at me. ‘Who do you think you are?' I did not know myself and just told him that I had somehow lost my memory.

"The old man looked at my hands, "Your calluses show that you know how to use a sword. However, the manicure says you are, or I should say were, a man of some wealth.

"It turned out I had stumbled upon the home of one of the former Shadow Foxes. Yes -- that is right -- there have been multiple Shadow Foxes. In any case, the old man taught me the trade. I had little trouble rising through the ranks until I succeeded the last Shadow Fox.

"For the last ten years I have been the master of the Thieves Guild. Now, that my memory has been restored to me in payment I pass the mantle onto you."

I think my jaw dropped into the sub-basement.

The Shadow Fox laughed, "Don't worry the only ones who will know about the transfer of power will be the local guild leaders. They will maintain your secret. Plus, it is time I went home."

I stood up, "How will you explain your absence?"

"Easy, I fell off my horse and got amnesia," the Shadow Fox laughed.

So, that is how I saved the Empire and became master of the Thieves Guild. I did eventually regain my membership into the Mages Guild and save the Empire again from evil, but that is of course, another tale.

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The Lost Wizard

Jaime the Bard - First Tale

By Douglas E. Gogerty

I am Jaime, entertainer extraordinaire. I learned my craft under the great William Tremblesword. I have played in palaces and in theatres throughout the civilized world. You are probably wondering how I ended up at the bottom of this pit all alone. Let me start at the beginning.

I was born the youngest of 17 children. At least that is what the Monks of Saint Ambrose Monastery told me. Apparently, my parents left me in a basket upon their front door when I was just a few hours old. They had so many children that they could not manage one more, or so the story went. Several children at the orphanage had similar stories, so I have begun to look at my beginnings rather skeptically.

In any event, I learned to fight at the orphanage. I had no choice in the matter. It was either fight or die. However, it has been a useful skill, so in retrospect, I should not complain.

In fact, with the amount of fighting that went on between us boys, the monks decided to channel that fighting into swordplay. I cannot speak on the wisdom of that idea, but there it is. I learned to use a sword in defense of attacks by other orphans.

Further, because of the constant attacks upon my person at the orphanage, I also learned some healing techniques. Being a regular visitor to the healing monk, I could not help but pick up a few things. This is another useful skill I obtained by my rough life at the orphanage.

To reward us for our hard work with the swords, the monks invited the renowned William Tremblesword to put on the play Fred and Ethel the Pirates Daughter. It was a tragic tale full of swordplay.

Ethel was beautiful. She was a lovely young thing with blond hair and striking blue eyes. I was instantly smitten.

Since I was raised in an all male orphanage run by monks, I had never known that there were other creatures in the world other than boys. Ethel was different. She did not appear that she would attack me at first light. With her, I would not have to be constantly vigilant.

When the troupe packed up and left the orphanage, I hid in their wagon. I left the orphanage and joined the great William Tremblesword for the love of a woman.

Naturally, I discovered that Herman Snodgrass played Ethel. The first love of my life was a young dark haired boy in a wig, who gratefully gave up the women's roles to the younger orphan boy -- me.

That is how I ended up studying my craft. While I had hoped the constant barrage of attacks upon my person would subside, this did not happen as of yet. The youngest of the troupe was the whipping boy of the group. Thus, my self-defense skills were continually honed.

In addition, as the youngest, I had the greatest number of chores. Besides learning the necessities as a traveling performer, I also cooked, cleaned, washed, and learned the myriad of other skills to keep a troupe of men happy.

Eventually, as actors moved on, William recruited some young men to join us. For a while, only boys older than I were hired. Thus, my duties as the youngest continued. However, it was inevitable that I would move up in the ranks.

While performing shows, I saw my first real females. They appeared curvy and soft. They were unlike the rough and tumble males that I had spent my entire life with. I fell in love -- many times.

Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to get return affection when you are in a wig and dress. On the other hand, it is easy to get close to them. This is how I discovered much of the anatomical differences between men and women. Further exploration, however, was needed.

When I began playing male roles, I got more attention from the ladies. In fact, this is how I ended up in the town of Yansey.

We had just played Yansey, and we were continuing on our tour. We had a small performance at an inn on the road to Giland. It was just an advertisement to our main performance, and it got us a night's stay at the inn.

I found a person willing to warm my bed. She was a lovely thing, but she was about twice my age. Her name escapes me. Nevertheless, the chemistry between us was quite extraordinary. I did not get to sleep until it was quite late. I slept right through the morning bell.

William discovered me in bed with the woman. It seems that she originally agreed to spend the night with him. However, after a few minutes, she left him. Perhaps his excitement could not be contained. In any event, he kicked me out of the troupe for that.

The woman paid for another night with me, and gave me some money in addition when I went on my way. I walked back to Yansey to see if I could make a living there.

Map of the Town of Yansey

Yansey is a small town with the Grand Old Mountains on the north and the River of Yan on the south. The Yan is a fast moving and treacherous river that disappears into the Forest of No Return.

The forest gets its name from the fact that no one ever comes back from the forest unchanged. Many times, they do not come back at all, but when someone does come back, he or she is completely different. The person would have no memory of anything, and often appeared to be a completely different person.

It is because of the nature of this forest, that the town uses it as a punishment for crimes. The judge would send the convicted into the forest. Often, it may be months or even years later; the convict will emerge but is completely different. They could even go in as a woman and emerge as a man. Often, the convict would resume his or her life as if nothing happened.

I was performing daily, and making a fine living there. I would sing songs for meals. I had an arrangement with a widow for lodging. I was quite comfortable in my life. I only had an occasional fight with someone who refused to pay. It was far from the constant attacks, which I had been accustomed.

However, one day that all came to an end. Apparently, the Mayor's wife, daughter, goat, and dog all became pregnant all at once. Some sort of investigation went on, and they named me the prime suspect. I do not understand why, I would have never slept with the Mayor's wife!

After a sham of a witchcraft trial, a judge convicted me and sentenced me to enter the forest. At least I did not have to enter the forest with nothing. To make the punishment more severe, some convicts are sentenced to enter the forest naked. I was able to keep my clothes and my trusty sword. The widow gave me her husband's leather armor and a few days food ration as a farewell token.

I entered the forest bravely. There was a path of sorts from the previously convicted. I decided to follow it. I heard the rushing waters of the Yan to my left. I would use that as my navigational aid.

The path headed south towards the river, and at one spot, it opened up to a beautiful vista. The River of Yan plunged down into a great waterfall. The roar of the rushing water was immense, and I dare not stay long or go deaf.

The path continued along the river; however, it sloped down considerably. I heard a growl behind me, and a pair of glowing eyes appeared in the shadows. I contemplated battling the creature, but I decided to rush headlong down the hill instead.

At te bottom of the hill was a pit. With the speed I obtained as I rushed down the hill, I was unable to avoid falling into it. That is how I ended up here at the bottom of this dark pit -- all alone. I have not decided on what I am going to do next; however, for now I am going to stay put.

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The Lost Wizard

Sorcerer Cyrus - First Tale

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Map of the City of Miz

Because of circumstances beyond my control, I came to be living in Miz. Miz is a small hamlet built upon the Miz River. This turbulent river emerges from the Forest of No Return, whose name is built up upon superstition. However, like many old forests, it hides its mysteries quite well.

The Misty Mountains to the north are the real threat. The locals seem to ignore the rumbling and the sounds emanating from the mountains and worry much more about the forest. Such is the nature of some towns.

Nevertheless, the life of a sorcerer is a difficult one. I have lived in many locations in my lifetime. Because of various incidents with the superstitious, I have been blamed me for a great number of crimes. With each conviction -- no matter how deserved or undeserved -- comes exile. Thus, I have traveled extensively.

I showed an early ability to tap into the aura of all things. Night was a particularly terrifying time for my parents. It was said that household items would fly about the room as I slept. Rumors began to spread about the 'special boy' in the area.

While all was well in my hometown, I was safe. However, when a local farmer's crop failed, a mob formed. My parents died saving my life from this mob by putting me up with relatives.

These relatives felt very put out by my presence. I believe they expected my parents to come for me at some future date. Thus, they treated me terribly. However, eventually, I went off to boarding school. Here I learned to harness my powers. I made several friends, and had many school time adventures.

Upon graduation, I bid my adoptive family and those friends good bye. I was determined to make my own way. I had quite a reputation leaving school, so I thought I would have an easy life.

Needless to say, this was not the case. Sorcerers like myself have limited powers. While we can manipulate our environment and elements therein, we do not control every aspect. There is simply too much to control.

For instance, in my travels, I came upon a town suffering from a terrible drought. The surrounding farmland was dying under the hot sun. They invited me in to bring the rain. I cannot conjure rain out of the ether; it must come from somewhere.

It was difficult and exhausting to bring the water, but I succeeded. It rained for several days and the crops were saved.

The town treated me like a hero. There was a large celebration in my honor. They offered me great riches, wenches, and livestock for my services. They gave me a place to live and offer my services, and the town paid for my every want.

For a brief time, it was a great place to live. However, a powerful neighboring town exhausted their wells. There fresh water had run out which caused them great strife. They noticed the bounty that was occurring at this town and invaded. I received the brunt of the blame, and the townspeople ran me out of town.

I could affect the water supply, but I could not affect the attitudes of the neighboring village. Was it my fault that they invaded? I only brought the rain. Like so many times since, when trouble comes and I cannot stop it, they force me into exile. When my services are no longer wanted, I have to move on. These are some of the harsh lessons that we sorcerers learn.

Because a sorcerer's life is a difficult one, I was constantly on the move. I had a brief stint with a traveling theater. Before the main show, there were numerous 'warm-up' acts. I conjured for the masses. It was a nice job even though it was unfulfilling.

The master of the traveling acting troop eventually learned that I was an actual sorcerer. Thus, he asked me to give him a potion that would make him good with the wenches. I told him that it was out of my area of expertise. However, he was most insistent.

In my travels before joining the troop, I had met some people in the mages' guilds. Guild members train, study and keep secrets. They are typical book learners without street smarts. I got some tips about some herbs from some of these individuals.

I brewed a concoction that would make him irresistible to anyone smelling the cologne. I warned him against drinking it. It was to be used topically and not internally. Apparently, if you ingest this love potion, you will be rather -- premature -- in your -- interactions.

Naturally, he ignored the warning. With his breath, he could then easily attract women to his bed, but his staying power was limited. He did not blame his clumsiness on his condition, but he blamed me. Thus, he kicked me out of the troop. He did not even ask how to counteract the spell.

Nevertheless, he has become quite famous. I feel that I have a bit to do with his current circumstance. However, he may disagree.

In any event, I was visiting a guild member named Brunis in some town. Over the years, I have supplemented my natural sorcerer ability with some wizardry. While Brunis was a bit of a pill, he accepted me as I was, and I him.

While visiting him, he had a falling out with the captain of the city guard, or so I was told. A guard member found the two dead with the captain's sword in Brunis's chest. Brunis managed to cook the captain with a spell before he died, or so the story goes. I did not wait to find out.

In short order, I left Brunis's town and I ended up in Miz, which was in crisis. Their long lost princess had finally emerged from the Forest of No Return. She had no knowledge of entering the forest. I did not probe to get more of the story, so I do not know why she entered the forest either. Nevertheless, she had emerged and the town threw a great feast in her honor.

After days of feasting, she vanished. After hearing the story, I tried to duck out of town, but I did not quite make it. I was tasked with entering the forest and retrieving her. I tried to tell them there was more evidence that she left by the main road, but they would not listen to me. I tried to argue with them, but they had threatened to strip me of my possessions and force me in. Thus, I went in voluntarily as it were.

They gave me several weeks of supplies in a bag and a nice walking staff. It was not magical, but I guess they felt it was wrong to have some representative, magic-user without a staff and robe. Before I entered, I did make it a magic staff to ward off whatever I might encounter in the forest.

For a spooky forest, there was a moderately established trail into the interior. The river rushed on the right, and the trail wound lazily about. Several beasts watched my movements, but did not encroach.

After I walked for a while, I heard the rush of a waterfall ahead, and it distracted me enough to forget to watch my footing. Soon, I found myself falling into a dark pit. At the bottom was a strange man sitting in the dark. I pulled some light in and looked around. The two of us were in the middle of what looked like a long hallway dug out of the rock. With our provisions, we had enough to last for a few weeks. Thus, we made our camp just out of the way of things falling into the pit.

We were hoping that someone would come along, and not fall into the pit. Whoever it was should be able to pull us out, and we could go on our way. I put a warning spell upon some trees above, and I put a message for help on a few other trees. Now, we could only wait.

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The Lost Wizard

Ranger Rex - First Tale

By Douglas E. Gogerty

This sucks! I am a ranger. I want to be wandering the forest and helping whomever I should happen to meet. I do not want to be sitting at the bottom of this hole with an amorous bard and the "Wizard of Miz." Oh, excuse me -- sorcerer. Alas, it is the story of my life.

I never really knew my father. My mother did not have many kind things to say about him. I imagined that he was a ranger. Their paths crossed and they fell in love. However, him being a ranger, he had to move along. Thus, he upset my mother by breaking her heart.

Nevertheless, the two of us were happy. I remember the game we used to play. Even when I was quite young, she would take me out into a forest and leave me. I would fend for myself for a few days, but I would always make it home to my mother's surprise and delight.

When I was a man grown, perhaps twelve years old, she told me that it was time I left home and made my own way. From our game, I knew the ways of the forest, but I would need martial skills if I were to become a true ranger. Therefore, I went out looking for someone to teach me the way of the sword and bow.

As I wandered from town to town, I would enquire about teachers of the martial arts. Many would not teach me because I could not grow a beard, and others wanted gold to pay for these services. However, some were generous with their attention and time.

I obtained my sword from one such teacher. He offered me the sword named Remalf if I spent the night with him. How could I refuse such an offer? He must have wanted to get some exercise because all he did was chase me around his estate all night long. However, in the morning, Remalf was mine.

With a sword in my hand, I would practice against rats and the like. However, killing rats can get rather tedious. I had spent years wandering trying to get someone to teach me how to properly use a sword and use a bow.

I was thinking of moving to the northlands and performing espionage for the Eskimo peoples there. Such was the state of my desperation when I wandered into Armizen.

Armizen is a small town with the wide and rough river of the same name to the north. The impassible mountains to the south also bare the name of Armizen. They were quite clever in their naming of things, like the Forest of No Return that sat on the eastern edge of the town.

Map of the City of Armizen

When I wandered into town, an ancient dragon had emerged from the mountains and had the townsfolk up in arms. They spotted Remalf and welcomed me kindly as their only hope in defeating the retched worm.

They had attempted to appease the beast with a virgin sacrifice, but the offer was refused. The mighty beast also refused the offer of gold and jewels. Everything the town offered met with the same rejection.

Thus, the town offered a huge reward for the slaying of the beast. They had yet to have any takers when I came into town. In addition to the offered riches, I also demanded training in other martial skills before I would take on the ancient monster. When the town and I had agreed to the terms, they showed me the path to the dragon's lair.

The local smith measured me for armor, and he designed a shield to help protect against the fire-breathing beast. To give him time to finish construction, the town threw a celebration in my honor.

On the third day, I put on the armor, grabbed the shield, and set off to face the dragon. I walked for most of the day until I spotted the ancient beast sleeping in an enormous cave. Instead of facing him at that point, I set up camp to prepare myself for the encounter.

At dawn, I approached the lair of the dragon. Its scaly skin of orange, green, and black had scratches and scars from its many encounters during its long life upon the earth. It was still in the position that it was when I first encountered it. It was upon the ground in front of the cave and not on piles of riches like most dragons.

As I approached, I could smell the sulfur of its fiery breath as it gave a labored exhale. It must have noticed my scent as it awoke with a start. I bravely stood there as it uncurled itself and stood up. It stood on its hind legs and spread its mighty wings. The enormous creature's shadow engulfed me as it stretched itself out, but I still stood my ground.

It took in a large amount of air and exhaled a huge pillar of flame upwards. It then dropped its front feet on the ground with a huge ground-shaking thud. It spied me and it appeared to have a sly smile upon its face.

The skin underneath the jaw of the dragon was gray and gave the appearance of a beard. Despite the apparent smile, its yellow eyes were bloodshot and appeared to be full of sorrow. It folded its wings and awaited my approach.

I braced myself behind the shield for a blast of fire that never came. Thus, I approached slowly and cautiously. With every twitch I was braced, yet no blast of fire. The smell of sulfur grew as I neared the beast and I could feel the heat of its breath.

Suddenly, its tale whipped around me and brought me in close. It all happened so fast, that I do not remember thrusting Remalf into the retched monster's heart. However, that is indeed what happened and the ancient dragon fell in a heap. After a few twitches of agony and some moments of labored breathing, the dragon expired.

I searched the cave, but found nothing. The head of the enormous beast would have been too heavy to carry, so I cut out a tooth and removed a few scales to prove the beast's demise before heading back.

The riches that the town promised were to come from the dragon's lair, so they could not pay. However, I did receive extensive training there. I spent many years training, but I wished to move on, but they would not allow it. I had become the town's protector and they would not allow me to be the ranger that I had always wanted to be.

They blocked my way through the main road, and my only avenue of escape was through the Forest of No Return. Thus, slightly before dawn, I grabbed some provisions and entered the forest to make my escape. I followed a surprisingly obvious path along the river Armizen. I could hear the strong rushing water to my left.

Eventually, two options presented themselves. I could attempt to climb a steep cliff to the top of a large waterfall, or I could cross a makeshift bridge to get to the north side of the river. I spotted some runes on some trees to the north. Thus, I followed that path.

I was attempting to get close enough to the messages to read them when I found myself falling into a pit. I used some of the skills I obtained in Armizen to land softly and ready for combat. That is when I saw the wizard and bard conversing. They were just sitting there.

They greeted me and offered to share their fire. After some discussion of which they were not receptive, I decided to pick a direction and see what adventures hid themselves. That is when another individual joined us. Thus, I decided to wait until morning to move along.

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The Lost Wizard

Dwanye The Rogue - First Tale

By Douglas E. Gogerty

I am Dwanye -- King of the North. At least, that is what I told the unfortunate others that found themselves at the bottom of this pit. Otherwise, my tale is not nearly as exciting as the one about the suicidal dragon. I was not exiled into the Forest of No Return because of some deed. In fact, I entered upon my own volition.

A person of my talents does not tend to stay in one place long. I probably started out like so many others in "The Guild." My parents abandoned me when I was a young child, and I found myself in a gang of street urchins. I believe that is where many roguish persons of my persuasion obtain their skills.

My appetites often lead me into trouble -- not only with the town, but also with "The Guild." Thus, I am regularly on the move just ahead of many law enforcement individuals. That is how I ended up in Kniley.

Map of the City of Kniley

Kniley is a quaint little town nestled in between a rough water river they call The Rough Water River and a range of impassible mountains they call The Impassible Mountains. As you enter the town, on the far west end is The Forest of No Return. They were not creative in their naming of things, but it was a nice town.

When my idol The Black Arrow, the Grand Champion of the Imperial arena, retired, I went my separate ways from the towns where the fights were staged. I heard the Black Arrow went north to Giland, but I followed my esthetic, which had never failed me before, and went south.

After several weeks in Kniley, the townspeople began noticing items disappearing from their possession. I cannot imagine how they would conclude that it was me. In any event, they set a trap to catch the theif. They held a festival and left a building unguarded. Within the walls of this building were supposedly great riches. They went out of their way informing me of the great wealth in this unguarded structure.

This warehouse, for lack of a better term, was located on the far side of town next to The Forest of No Return. It had a single entrance. Thus, they did not believe that once any thief -- er -- wealth adjuster -- entered, he or she would be able to escape.

I reveled with the rest at the festival and eventually followed their plan. I did not want to disappoint them. At the proper time, I snuck away from the crowd and entered the building. I was promised riches, but apparently, the wealthy town members were uncertain of the infallibility of the plan.

Apparently, they discovered one of my stashes, as that stuff was included in the irresistible bounty. However, when they were baiting the trap, they did not notice the extra supplies that were included. These were going to aid in my escape, and help me survive several days in the woods.

I grabbed as much wealth as I could put in my pack. I left the faux jewels and fake coins. With my provisions, I pulled up the loose floorboards that I had arranged the day before. I jumped down and replaced the boards above my head. I squeezed out of a gap in the foundation, and I was out the back of the storehouse as the entire town waited at the front door.

Quietly, I made my way to the forest. However, someone spotted me before I entered and I had to run. Not waiting to see if they were following, I kept running. After I entered the forest, I followed a minor trail. I did not pay too much attention to things as I crossed the river. In my hurry, I fell into this pit where I found three others.

With the riches I had purloined, I figured they may believe me when I said I was king of the north. In any event, it could not hurt. They were discussing their plan of action. The sorcerer and the bard wanted to sit and wait for help. The ranger wanted to move on and -- range. I was of no real opinion on the matter even after I heard each of their stories.

The sorcerer treated me like some scruffy-looking nurf herder as he tried to convince me to save some princess. The ranger complained endlessly about how he wanted to get out of this tunnel and out into the open air. I was leaning towards his point of view, just to get him to shut up. Nevertheless, we were going to rest a while before moving on.

We had rested for quite a while when a large group of dwarven soldiers emerged in perfect order from the south tunnel. They chanted to keep time as they marched north. However, they totally ignored our presence and marched on by our location. They disappeared into the darkness of the north tunnel, but we were still able to hear the slap of their boots upon the floor of the tunnel as they continued on their way.

We quickly decided amongst the group to gather our things and follow them. It was dark, and we dare not light the way or attract attention. However, the sounds of the marching soldiers were more than enough guide as we followed them north.

Suddenly the marching ended and there was a brief silence. The tunnel then erupted in loud taunts. We found the west wall and made our way towards the shouts to the north more carefully. After several taunts and much boastful laughter, the sound of metal on metal exploded.

The din of battle soon was a deafening roar. The shouts of the dwarves and their foes, the clang of axe on shield, the sound of the injured, the commands of leaders rang down upon us. It must have been a great sight watching the two forces engage, but we were still in the dark and unable to view the battle.

As the battle wound down, we found ourselves in a large expansive room. The walls glowed from some unknown source, and we could see that it was two dwarven armies battling. The group from the north had successfully defended their domain as some of the southern dwarves rushed by us in retreat.

The last of the southern dwarven soldiers retreated and a shout of victory from the northern group rang through the tunnel. The shadows hid me well, but the bard and sorcerer were glowing beacons and a couple of guards spotted our party. A fight was briefly discussed, but defeated.

We went peacefully with the guards through their gates and into their domain. Past the gates was an immense dwarven city carved into the rock. There were dwellings and shops and all matter of city structures carved out of solid rock. With my keen eyes, I could still see a few rich veins of gold. This was a wealthy underground town.

The obvious wealth was too much for me to continue with the group peacefully. I heard the wealth call and I was unable to resist. I made a run for it. I do not know where I would go; I just had to go. There was no way those little fat dwarven legs could keep up with me. They barely tried to catch me.

I ran down this road and that. I wound my way around this way and went that. I totally lost them. I found a secured dwelling below a large vein of gold. I briefly scanned the area before I picked the lock. With another scan, I opened the door and entered. Once inside, I looked around a bit, I felt a sharp pain in the back of my head, and everything went black.

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The Lost Wizard

Jaime the Bard - Second Tale

By Douglas E. Gogerty

At first, I was alone at the bottom of a dark pit. However, three others soon joined me, no women though. At first, I was content to wait for help at the bottom. In fact, the sorcerer put out signs warning of the pit. He also put out glowing signals asking for help. However, when two more people ended up in our predicament, it appeared that competent people were in short supply wandering this forest. If we waited much longer, there would be fifty people sitting at the bottom of this pit.

Luckily, one morning a group of soldiers marched by our camp. The four of us followed them, and missed seeing a grisly battle. We asked the guards to take us to their leader, and they complied.

However, Dwanye, the newest member of our group, must have had too much elvish parsley. The "king" twisted and gyrated his hips to the pleasure of the onlookers. He shouted something like "You ain't nuttin' but a hound dog!" which got a huge reaction. With his bedding in one hand, he grabbed a stone with the other. So, with a rock and a roll, he made his get away. Eventually, some guards told us that he left the building.

The remaining guards took the rest of us into the hall of the mountain king. Dwanye later joined us in an unconscious state. They claimed we were spies for the southern kingdom. Did we look like dwarves to them? I realize that Ranger Rex was a little small and dopey looking, but even he would not be confused for a dwarf. The peach fuzz that he calls a beard is a dead giveaway.

Cyrus spoke for the group, but he could not explain why a member of our group ran away. Furthermore, he was at a loss to explain why this member broke into the house of a former citizen who now lived in the southern city. Those actions to this kingdom seemed very suspicious. However, Dwanye in his state also could not explain his actions.

All except "the king of the north" explained their situations to the King of the North. While he was skeptical of our stories, he would consider what to do with us. A few guards escorted us into a small room outside the throne room. We were not there long. I still had my pants on when we reentered the presence of the Dwarven King.

By a unanimous vote of the king and his advisors, we were to be put to death. So much for telling the truth! I knew I should have made up a terrible tale of woe. If they would have let me tell each story for the group, they would have been weeping and lavishing riches upon us.

The king considered us for a while, and then told us his tale of woe. Naturally, I could have told it much better, but what are you going to do? After all, he was the king.

Centuries ago, there were two small mines run by two brothers. One was south of the great river and one was north. The mines contained abundant veins of gold. The two dwarves recruited others to join them in the mines. Each dwarf that joined them also became wealthy.

They opened up huge caverns beneath the mountains that eventually became thriving underground cities. The brothers proclaimed themselves kings of their underground realms. They were very happy, but they missed each other's company. Thus, they proclaimed that they would throw a festival every year in a town on the surface, so the two kingly brothers could converse.

This practice went on for many many years. However, the surface towns became uneasy about the invasion of the dwarven masses each year. The festivals became very dangerous for the dwarves of the underground mining towns. Further, the two brothers were becoming ancient and it was difficult for them to leave their realms.

The youngest sons of these two kings devised a scheme. Under the great river, they would dig a tunnel and connect the two cities. In the center of this tunnel, a great hall could be constructed for the gathering. Both sides greeted this plan with great enthusiasm and they quickly dug the tunnel.

Every year, they held their festival in this great hall. The kings and their citizens were very happy. The two brothers met at this festival until their deaths. In fact, the towns were so wealthy that they could hold the gathering several times a year.

After the deaths of the two kings, their successors continued the practice. However, the kingly cousins were not as much interested in conversing with their counterpart. Soon, the festival grew into a friendly competition between the two towns.

They had dwarfish beauty pageants and tunnel digging contests. They ran foot races. They had wrestling matches. However, the contests fueled the fire of competition between the towns. The two towns became rivals, and the competitions became much more heated.

Eventually, this rivalry erupted into a riot, which ended the festivals. The towns abandoned the great hall, and stripped it of all finery. Each town erected a strong gate to protect it from invading forces.

Nevertheless, the kingly cousins mounted excursions to test the defenses of the rival city. This resulted in the deaths of many dwarves. The cities spared no expense in the fortification and the armament of the Dwarven armies. Prosperity suffered as a result of their warrior ways. Mining the vast gold reserves took a second seat to proving their metal in battle.

When the cousin kings died, their heirs -- the current king of the northern town was one -- called for a truce. The two kings hired a young wizard who would live in the great hall and mediate disputes. This wizard would also remind the towns that mining was the path to greater wealth -- not war.

This plan was a great success until the wizard left the employ of the two kings. I think he means that the wizard escaped. Thus, the incursions have resumed as we almost witnessed.

The king was anxious to put things back to their peaceful ways. Thus, he gave us a choice. We could die on the chopping block, or we could bring back their wizard. It was quite a difficult choice, but I thought it was a fine bargain. Ranger Rex only thought about getting out of the caves, so he readily agreed.

Cyrus the sorcerer believed there was much more to the story than we were being told. Thus, he was reluctant to turn on one of his brethren. Not withstanding, he did agree to join us.

We offered them to keep Dwanye "king of the north" as a hostage. However, we appeared too eager to rid ourselves of this rogue. Thus, they made us take his unconscious body with us.

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The Lost Wizard

Sorcerer Cyrus - Second Tale

By Douglas E. Gogerty

The Dwarfish king of the northern underground city had manipulated the situation to his favor. We fell into a pit, and now we found ourselves with a difficult choice. Either we could die at the hands of an executioner, or we could search for his missing wizard.

While the death would certainly be honorable, I have decided to join this group of strangers in a quest to search for the lost wizard. My original quest to search for our missing princess will have to wait. I will combine the tasks and ask after her at every opportunity.

While the tale of the battling dwarfish kingdoms is tragic, I have a great suspicion that there is much more to the story of their missing wizard. I have no love loss for the trained wizards, but I feel that this particular one was more prisoner than voluntary help. When we find him, we will determine the rest of the story.

I asked to examine his room for clues. The rest of our party agreed that it would be a good place to start. A few of the king's guard escorted us to the former Great Hall. I could see how it could have been quite a lavish room at one time. However, with time and deterioration, its grandeur had greatly faded.

Upon further inspection of the hall, it appeared that a lack of proper maintenance caused the hole into which we fell. A thin segment of the tunnel had eventually collapsed leaving a hole in the ceiling. Fortunately, it was not under the river or the entire hall would have been flooded.

The wizard's room was a typical jumble of books, scrolls, and potions. Clearly, the dwarves searched the room for clues as well because the disorganization was greater than most wizards' quarters. Things that no wizard would have treated with such disregard were strewn around the floor.

A lonely bed was set in one corner, and no one had disturbed it. The wizard had made the bed before leaving. Next to the bed was a single chest of drawers. Some of the drawers were slightly ajar, but they were all empty.

A range used for heating and cooking was in the corner, and it was stone cold. Upon inspection, someone burned some papers in the stove, and perhaps this same someone stirred the contents to insure that they would not be readable.

There were memory erase potions, fireball scrolls, and the like. To me at least, these items shed some light on some of the mysteries of the forest above. They also somewhat verified some aspects of the dwarfish king's story.

The only notable item in the entire collection of artifacts was a single unlabeled flask with only a trace of liquid left inside. This lost wizard had labeled all of the other flasks with their contents. Without labels, a wizard could not keep track of all of the items in his or her possession. Naturally, this item caught my eye.

I closely examined the remaining liquid in this flask. It was a memory erase potion; however, it was different from the others. It seemed to me that he created this potion for a special purpose, and someone consumed its contents immediately.

Why would he create a special memory erase potion when he had several ready made? I could not quite discern the exact difference of this potion. Perhaps he wanted one that was more effective, but I felt that it was an important clue to the resolution of our story. Nevertheless, I cannot fathom what significance it has at this point.

Other than the potion, if there were any clues, the dwarves had destroyed them in their search. Perhaps if the rogue Dwanye were conscious, he could have found other items. It was apparent to me that the wizard had planned his escape and did well to cover his tracks. A complete search would reveal little else by the way of clues.

Since we had gleaned everything we could from the northern dwarfish kingdom, we asked to meet with the southern king. They were very reluctant to allow us this opportunity, but at least I was very insistent. Rex, naturally, was anxious to get topside, but we needed to gain more information.

The northern guards allowed us to walk to the southern gate. Like its northern counterpart, it was well fortified. A few dwarfish guards confronted the three of us carrying our unconscious fourth. Naturally, the king immediately arrested us as spies and sentenced us to death.

We let Jaime the Bard tell our story, and that added some torture to our sentence. After much formality, the king told a similar story as the northern king's tale. He would allow us to live if we brought back the wizard. We agreed to his terms.

We asked which of the four nearby towns the wizard had been recruited. However, they had never heard of Miz, Kniley, Armizen, or Yansey. They had gone to an important town in the Tiberium Empire. They hired the wizard out of Giland. That was to be our initial topside destination.

Unfortunately, neither dwarfish kingdom had the capability of transporting to Giland. We would have to exit by the entrance in which we fell. The dwarves of the southern kingdom placed a ladder under the hole. We thought about leaving immediately, but we waited for Dwanye to regain his consciousness before setting off.

Each of us had reasons not to visit a city that bordered the Forest of No Return. After a brief discussion, we decided to head for Yansey. That town would more readily forgive the sins of the bard in our midst, and we would be able to pass through town without too much difficulty. Further, the road from Yansey leads easily to Giland. Other routes posed more difficulties.

Since we had first entered the forest, the creatures had become emboldened. Upon our first entrance, they passively watched as we passed, but something had changed. A group of spiders met our first few steps towards the northwest.

For a group of strangers, we worked together quite well. Dwanye's sneak attacks were quite effective. Jaime's sword skills were quite refined for a man such as he. Even the less than mighty ranger Rex proved his worth. We dispatched the spiders after a quick skirmish.

A pack of wolves, a pack of wild dogs, and a large group of rats all challenged our group before we reached Yansey. It was as if the forest had suddenly come alive to protect its secrets. Nevertheless, we handled the challenges with little difficulty.

Yansey presented us with different difficulties. By tradition, when a lost soul had re-entered the town, they threw a celebration welcoming the party back into the community. However, we were different. They did not have a record of us entering the forest. They knew of Jaime's entrance, but he had not been changed as their legend stated. He was the same person with complete memory of his trip into the forest.

The three of us accompanying him also put them on edge. Like many, they thought an evil sorcery was involved. Thus, they were not going to let us leave. We believed that as a team we could defeat the entire town in battle. Thus, we stated as much. The mayor unwilling to test us on our braggadocios claim, allowed us to pass through town with the promise never to return. We accepted the bargain with the full knowledge that we may break it.

Apart from a brief encounter with some highwaymen, our trip to Giland was uneventful. We found a place to stay, and we would begin searching for the wizard the next day.

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The Lost Wizard

Ranger Rex - Second Tale

By Douglas E. Gogerty

This sucks! I am a Ranger. I should have been out in the forest following this wizards trail before it got cold. Instead, we had to stay in these caves and look for clues. In addition, we were lugging around an unconscious person who calls himself the King of the North, and we had to protect him from the advances of an oversexed bard.

Furthermore, after we searched the lost wizard's room, we did not even leave the tunnels then. We continued on and received another death sentence from the southern dwarven kingdom. Why do we not wander around these tunnels some more? Perhaps someone else would like to sentence us to death! After all, it is not as if we have a ranger in our party who excels at tracking or anything.

In any event, we did eventually make our way out of those forsaken tunnels and into the forest. Naturally, the wizard's trail was cold. I could not determine which way he had gone. We talked it over and decided to head northwest to Yansey. So, once again, we were leaving my element and entering a town.

Before we exited the forest, we had a few minor skirmishes with some creatures. I believe that the wizard we were after put a spell upon them to cover his tracks. They were all more ferocious than they would have been normally. Nevertheless, we dispatched them easily. The others in our party could have been a bit more help, but I was quite capable handling the creatures on my own.

There was a bit of trouble in Yansey, but nothing a little flash of steel could not have handled. They allowed us to be on our way without much fuss. I was glad we did not have to spend too much time in that city. We were on the road again headed towards a major outpost -- Giland.

The trek to Giland was a major undertaking. I was constantly scouting around looking for any indication that the wizard had come this way. While our sorcerer and the bard were aiding in the convalescence of the rogue, I was communicating with the people and creatures along the road.

Eventually, we made our way to the Imperial Highway that led to Giland. This was a well guarded and maintained stretch of road that connects Giland with other Imperial cities. This was a well-traveled road and we met many travelers along the route.

Although the communications with everyone we met did not indicate whether our subject had passed or not, it made the trip much more arduous for me. I was constantly walking hither and yon for signs. I likely walked twice as far as the rest of the party as we journeyed to Giland. I do not think the rest of the group appreciated all that I was doing. We could have got valuable information from what I was doing. Just because we did not obtain anything, does not mean that it was a wasted effort.

Giland is like all of the other cities in the Tiberium Empire. It is large and garish with a large Imperial Palace near the center on a hill. There were shops and stands lining the streets with residences behind those shops. It was a bustling center of commerce.

Moreover, it smelled. I am not talking about it had a quaint urban odor to it. The smell was enough to gag rodents of unusual size. It had a horrific odor about the place. How anyone could live with this stench was beyond me -- let alone a countess. Nevertheless, this was our starting place.

Our first order of business was to seek out the Mages' Guild. If I was a dwarf -- and I am not -- I would contact the guild if I were seeking to hire a sorcerer or wizard. Several citizens were hesitant to tell us where the guildhall was. However, after much inquiry we found it.

The hall was unextraordinary; however, it had a pleasant odor to it. The Mages' Guild, at the very least, was aware of the stench that permeated their town and took steps to obliterate it.

The members were quite reluctant to talk to us. Apparently, there was a bit of trouble in town involving one of their high-ranking members. Thus, they were very wary of strangers lurking about. We attempted to ask some questions, but they would not speak with us about the matter. They would not even speak with one of their own. Our sorcerer, Cyrus Thomas, could not even get any information out of them.

Cyrus claimed to have known a member of this very guild named Brunis. However, upon mentioning this fact, a group of mages escorted us out of the hall.

Everywhere we went we heard rumors involving Brunis, Lady Aversfield, and some guard. I have to assume that Brunis was involved in some sort of trouble. I am sure someone will write it up, but we were on a mission of our own.

We were hoping, at least, to get the name of our lost wizard from the guild. The dwarves neglected to get that vital piece of information. They had a wizard in their employ, but did not bother to note his name. Certainly, it was a wise move on their behalf. They entrust their safety and happiness to a person, but they neglect the niceties -- like calling him by name.

Without a name and only the vaguest of description, we ventured out into the wretched odor-filled town asking questions. It was embarrassing. "Excuse me, but did you ever know of a wizard who lived in this town long ago who went off with some dwarves? His Name? I have no idea," is a conversation no one should have.

The Wizard of Miz -- er -- sorcerer was having a bit of luck with his missing princess quest. She may, or may not have come through with a strange looking man. It was at least a hopeful sign.

We were beginning to discuss looking for the princess when we received a break. An old crone in a shack on the smelliest part of town remembered the event. The dwarves gave her a bit of gold when she pointed them towards the mages' guildhall. She had lived off that gold ever since.

Our wizard's name was Deffrey Jackard. At the time, he was young and a low ranking member in the guild. The idea of making lots of gold led him to volunteering for the job. Also, it was likely he jumped at the chance to get away from the smell. However, most of the other guild members were not interested, and he easily obtained the job.

With this new information, we could canvass the town again. We attempted to speak to some people at the Mages Guild, but they would not allow us in. A brief look at their records would have been nice, but they had other concerns. We were going to get nowhere with them.

It was growing late, and any further research would have to wait. Most citizens had gone to their homes, and thus we retired to one of the inns in town. In the morning our search would continue.

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The Lost Wizard

Dwanye the Rogue - Second Tale

By Douglas E. Gogerty

I am unconscious for a little while, and this group agrees to find this missing wizard. Further, I am included in this quest. Why not agree to find the Fountain of Youth? Perhaps we could also find the bard Jaime's virginity while we are at it. Does a death sentence from two kingdoms mean that they can make us do any fool's errand?

In any event, we found ourselves in Giland. I was actually pleased with how the road led us to this Imperial stronghold. Perhaps in our journey, I would once again run into the Black Arrow. She headed this way, last I had heard. She may still be here.

The fool's errand went as expected for most of the day. We did manage to determine the name of our quarry. We were looking for Deffrey Jackard. However, no one in town had heard of him. The Mages' Guild was most uncooperative, but their vocal cooperation was completely unnecessary.

When the rest of our party retired to the inn, I snuck into the night. People of my skills are more accustomed to working after daylight hours. Thus, it was time for me to do some digging on my own. If some wealth was readjusted during the process, it was all the better.

One of the problems working at night is that most people were in their homes. It is problematic searching through peoples' things when they are there. However, this venture into the night was for informational purposes. If I was going to be part of this silly quest, I could at least play a part.

Mages' are a restful bunch. They need their rest. Thus, those lower ranking mages, who do not have places of their own, will likely be in their rooms in the mages' guildhall. This was my first destination.

While it would not have been unusual for a citizen to be out at night, I did not want to bring attention to myself. Thus, I stayed in the shadows. I did not want anyone seeing me out and about. If something should turn up missing, they may instantly blame me, even if I was not involved.

Luckily, we spent the day wandering the place and speaking to people. Therefore, I had a good understanding of the layout of the city. I skulked my way from the inn to the guildhall without difficulty.

Mages are a funny lot. They put magical locks on all the doors. Thus, you need to know the magical spell to unlock them. However, they do not even lock their windows. Just for the challenge, I climbed up to the second story and crawled into the first window I encountered.

A mage was snoring loudly as I entered through her window. Unfortunately, she was a very low ranking mage as she had little wealth. It did not force me *not* to take some things; it just made me feel a little sorry for her. With the little reward I had gathered, I quietly left her room.

I was in the guildhall with little difficulty. I wanted to find their personnel records and perhaps a daily log if they kept one. They were wizards and sorcerers; thus, they had a library somewhere on the premises. I was hoping they kept their records in this library, and was counting on the library being easily accessible.

I wandered around for a while on the second floor. I opened a few doors and perhaps lifted a gold coin or two. However, it became evident that the library was not on this floor. I headed down the stairs, and I spotted a faint light coming from one of the rooms.

I carefully poked my head into the room, and I spotted a wizard perusing some hefty tome. I thought about heading back up the stairs, but I heard someone stirring up there. I quietly walked past the library opening and entered the kitchen. That was not where I wanted to be.

I went into this room because it gave me a nice view of the library. I was considering waiting out the wizard in this room. However, that was before I discovered it was the kitchen. In many places, the kitchen is often the busiest place at night. When hunger strikes in the middle of the night, they look towards the stores in the kitchen.

Before I could finish my thought, there was a push on the door. In stepped the mage whose room I used to enter the guildhall. I managed to duck behind some sacks of grain before she illuminated the room. With a combination of my presence and the sudden illumination, rodents scurried everywhere.

She ate some bread and some sort of berry. She grabbed some leaves and made some tea with them. After a brief incantation, she left, but her light spell remained. Hopefully, the tea would help with her snoring. However, I was in a bit of a spot. I was hiding behind some sacks of grain in a brightly illuminated room. It was not where I wanted to be.

I heard her exchange words with the mage in the library. She offered him some of her tea to help him sleep. He explained that he was finished, and he was not in the need of a sleep aid. I was afraid that he was going to enter the kitchen, but I heard him climb the stairs.

I had to take a chance. I did not know how long this illumination spell in the kitchen would last, but I was not going to wait and find out. In a quiet, but unstealthy manner, I burst from the kitchen and did a barrel roll into the library. It was quite the graceful maneuver, and thankfully, no one was around to see it.

The mage was reading the Son of Innes's account of Brunis and the Lady Aversfield. It was probably so gripping that he could not put it down. I hear he is an excellent author.

In any event, I searched the library for the member records. There were lots of scrolls and bound volumes on the shelves. It took some time before I found the member records for the period in question.

Before I could peruse the volume, I had to hide in the shadows as another restless wizard entered the kitchen. Eventually, I discovered that Deffrey Jackard was a very low ranking wizard. He knew very little upon his release from guild service. He could create potions of memory erase, and he could create love potions.

The guild released him from service -- not because the dwarves hired him -- but for misconduct. The guild had discovered that he had placed a love spell upon a citizen of a neighboring town for his own benefit. His services to the guild for this rule violation were no longer required.

The same day of his sentence, some dwarves came to town looking for a wizard for hire. They wanted a very long-term commitment. However, every need for this hire would be considered and, if possible, met. The guild had no interested members. There was no note that Deffrey joined them. However, he did have the required skills and he was in need of a home.

After a perusing a few more volumes, I began the exiting process. I listened at the door of the room in which I entered the hall, but she was no longer snoring. I thought of that as a bad indication.

Thus, I went back down the stairs and examined the front door. I could easily pick the lock, but I was unsure what the result would be. I decided that I would risk it. They deserved to be awakened for the poor way they treated us.

I picked the lock of the door, opened it, and rushed outward. The sounds coming from the door spell were harsh and the lights clearly lit up the area. Without hesitation, I hid in the shadows as I made my way into the night. However, no one saw me make my way back to the inn. I had a few coins in my purse, and some information to share with the group. It was a good night.

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The Lost Wizard

Jaime the Bard - Third Tale

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Our wizard quarry used a love potion on someone? That takes the challenge completely out of it. Personally, I would have burned incense under soft candle light. I would have spoken soft words and perhaps recited some poetry. If they were still unbending to my desires, I would just get them drunk.

In any event, we have a lead with which to follow up. In order for the guild to take action, someone must file a complaint with a local magistrate. While the information obtained from the Mages' Guild was short on details, the magistrate's office should have the details of the incident. That is, if their records go back that far.

Seeing as we were old hands at wandering around this city, we easily found our way into the record's office. With my great way with people, the group decided that I should speak with the local officials. Since I was given the task of speaking with the gentleman, I entered alone with the rest of the group waiting outside.

The magistrate on duty was a kindly old man. If we knew the age of dirt, he would perhaps exceed it in age. I gave him a friendly smile and greeted him warmly. After several kind words with the magistrate on duty, he informed me that records that old would have been destroyed long ago. They simply did not have the space to store records that long. However, he had a vague recollection of the incident.

Naturally, he told me about his son's neighbor who did business with a butcher whose daughter was married to the cousin of the cabinetmaker who did work for the party involved. It was quite a long and twisted tale involving commoners and royalty, love, intrigue, and betrayal. It was standard melodrama faire. I probably should have paid more attention to the details. In any event, it all involved the King and Queen of Miz and their daughter.

As best I could, I relayed the tale to the rest of the group. I may have enhanced it a bit. Well, since I remembered very few details of the original, I may not have been far off the original. All of those tales are essentially the same. I could not remember if the original had a dragon and a wicked stepmother, so I had no choice but to include those elements.

After this brief mission of discovery, we gathered our things and headed toward Miz. As we journeyed towards this town, we pressed Cyrus for more information on this town from which he hailed.

Miz was never a major metropolitan area. Its geography limited its size and access. However, it was a favorite vacationing spot of one of the kings of the realm. When the imperial powers consolidated many of the kingdoms, this king exiled himself to Miz. Presumably, he did this to avoid execution of himself and his family.

Thus, while he thought of himself as a king and his children as princes and princesses, the titles were meaningless. As it turns out, the princess we were after was simply a daughter of some notable nobles. She had no claim to any imperial or kingly authority.

Perhaps from the story I told, the rest of the group got the impression that our wizard gave the love potion to this nobleman's daughter to make her fall in love with him. Further, the parents got wind of this plot and had the reputation of the wizard destroyed. Thus, he had to make a living in obscurity under the direction of some Dwarven overlords.

I told a wonderful tale, if I do say so myself. Some of it may even come close to the mark. I did stave off some possible criticism by reminding them that everything said was relayed from the recollection of a very ancient man.

Even with Ranger Rex sniffing every flower and examining every broken twig, the journey from Giland to Miz was uneventful. With Imperial power holding sway in this area, brigands preying upon travelers were rare. Traveling the roads was relatively safe; however, only seasoned adventurers should wander off the roads.

Since town officials ordered the Wizard of Miz -- er -- Sorcerer Cyrus -- not to enter the town without the princess, we made camp just outside of town. The plan was to leave Cyrus in camp while the rest of us gather information about the wizard and the princess in Miz.

The townspeople here were more willing to speak to us. Few remembered Deffrey Jackard. However, many knew his story, and the old man got it all wrong. His memory must be failing him. He missed so many details.

The old king had a son and four daughters. The son got himself in trouble with the Imperial powers and has been away from Miz for many years. The eldest daughter now calls herself the Queen of Miz. The missing princess was either her daughter or her niece. Many believed that the girl was actually born from the youngest of the old king's daughters. In any event, she is the missing princess. The townspeople were unclear on who her mother and father were.

The old man also got the story of the love potion wrong. From speaking to people around town, the old King's youngest daughter fell in love with the wizard the old-fashioned way. There was no magic involved. However, the old queen would not have her daughter getting involved with some commoner.

Apparently, our wizard gave the love potion to the mother. Thus, she removed opposition to the bond. However, her reversal of mind raised suspicion with the old king. The old king's investigators discovered the plot, which led to the wizard's removal from the Mages' Guild. This story was completely different from the one the old man told.

The townsfolk told an inconsistent story after this point. The youngest daughter dies and a child appears. Some believe that she died giving birth to the child while others believe it was the new queen's daughter. Some stated that the wizard killed the daughter so no one could have her and implanted his seed in the new queen. There were many tales, and few were consistent.

In any event, the child grew up but had a tumultuous time of it. She was often in trouble and was completely unmanageable. Thus, she eventually earned herself banishment into the Forest of No Return. Is it a misnomer if you return from the Forest of No Return? That is what happened.

She returned from the forest, but she had no recollection of events that transpired within the forest. She was changed, and she appeared to have amended her wild ways. However, she gradually became moody and one day she ran away.

Since they were naturally suspicious of all magic users, they rid themselves of an awful menace by sending a resident sorcerer out to look for her. I wonder whom they mean by that. They have heard nothing. There have been no progress reports. We have been the only ones asking about her since she vanished.

While I was ready to stay in an inn in town, the rest of the group thought we should join Cyrus at the camp. I thought about arguing the point, but relented. We walked back to camp and told the story to our sorcerer as told to us by the townspeople. He too remarked that it was very different from the version told to me by the old man.

He asked about the dragon and the evil stepmother. I related to him that perhaps one or the other was responsible for the death of the youngest daughter. Nevertheless, in the morning, we would have to determine our next course of action.

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The Lost Wizard

Sorcerer Cyrus - Third Tale

By Douglas E. Gogerty

With the rest of the company in Miz, I had time to think about things. I had a lot of time. They were gone for most of the day, and I had nothing to do but tend the camp. I was quite alone with my thoughts.

I spent quite a bit of time considering the various incarnations of the Forest of No Return. I found it quite interesting that each member of our party came from a different town, yet ended in the same hole. It got me wondering about the legend.

It seems reasonable to me that each individual sent into the Forest of No Return, would end in that pit. Perhaps the dwarves would intervene, or perhaps the individual would simply spend time with our missing wizard. In any event, the wizard would administer a memory erase potion, and the individual would be free to wander back to their city.

Sorcerers Map

Those individuals that were "drastically changed" were likely individuals who ended up in a different town than where he or she began. This, to me, seemed the most likely explanation of the mystery of the forests.

While talking to the other members, I am convinced that all the towns border the same river and the same forest. If we could avoid the hole in the ceiling of the dwarven central hall, we could walk to each of the towns. Perhaps someday this will be possible.

I am also of the opinion that the missing "princess" is the daughter of our wizard. When she entered the forest and fell into the pit, the pair met for the first time. However, it may be unlikely that the dwarves would allow him to keep a long-term guest. Alternatively, she may have wanted to be with more people her own age. It would have been very lonely for her.

Thus, the pair concocted a scheme in order to free themselves of their dwarven obligations. She would return to Miz under a temporary memory erase spell. The wizard would sneak away up the hole, and they would rendezvous at a prearranged location.

For my part, the princess went away under her own will. Thus, that part of the quest was finished. If she wished to no longer live in Miz, that was her decision. No one abducted her, and thus, this part of my quest is complete.

When the remainder of the party returned, most of my inclinations were verified. The group voted on whether to continue to look for Deffery Jackard. We decided to continue that quest. However, it may have been mostly for our own curiosity rather than fear of reprisal from the dwarves.

With my excellent hunches playing out, we decided to pursue my next thought. The princess's uncle was also missing. Perhaps he was missing on purpose rather than some nefarious reason. If he had established housekeeping in some town, the princess and the wizard may have joined him.

Naturally, the question was where we would find him living. That was a question I could not answer, but Giland was a good place to start our inquiries. Thus, after a night camping, we headed back to Giland.

Clearly, they would not be living in Giland. We would have run into them. At the very least, someone would have noticed the strangers. I recalled hearing someone tell of a man and woman passing through, and I believe we need to follow that trail.

Ranger Rex said he could follow the trail if it were not so cold. It is always that way with him. It made little different, we would take the north road, and ask along the road. Perhaps we would hear something from another traveler or find the pair in a town along the road.

The safety of the roads south of Giland quickly made themselves apparent. We were not a day's travel north of Giland when a group of bandits attacked us. Ranger Rex, our fighting expert, was smelling roses or talking to some bear when these ruffians fell upon us remaining three.

With a fighting song from Jaime the Bard, we were all in good spirits as we fought off the attack. There is nothing like hearing "Here I come to save the day!" when you find yourself in battle.

As Dwanye ran around avoiding direct combat with our foes, Jaime picked them off one by one. I had a few spells ready, and I took care of a few of these highwaymen myself. I also did my best to protect the fragile rogue, but I too had things to worry about. At least he had a little armor.

We had dispatched the group when our ranger returned. We voted to spend the night at that spot. For his negligence, we gave Ranger Rex the first watch. I for one, needed to rest if we were going to run into any more trouble along the road.

In the morning as we ate the most important meal of the day, Ranger Rex told a story of some ruffians he fought off during the night. However, we could not locate their bodies anywhere. He claimed that wolves must have dragged them off.

Dwanye experienced no such encounters during his watch. It is curious that. I will refrain from retelling Jaime's encounter. Some people find stories of bestiality distasteful during a repast. Our bard experiences no such qualms. He does love to tell a tale though.

No matter, I was well rested when our journey continued. The previous days encounter was a mixed blessing. Because of the insecurity of the roads, we felt the need to remain in a close group. On the other hand, because of the insecurity of the roads, we felt the need to remain in a close group, which included Ranger Rex.

However, it was enjoyable to see his face when our Bard would spin one of his bawdier yarns. His face crinkles in a most extraordinary way, and he has the capability of turning many shades of red. As long as you do not have to wake him for his watch, his nighttime paranoia is also entertaining.

We walked on the road heading north for a couple of days with only a few minor encounters. It was just a few packs of wild animals, and some wandering individuals preying upon other wandering individuals. They will not bother anyone again.

Eventually, we came to a small town. An inn with a soft bed was going to be a welcome change from the ground. We inquired with several townsfolk, and they remember seeing a father and daughter pass through town several days previously.

This pair did not socialize with the townspeople much. They kept mostly to themselves. Thus, no one knew where they were headed. They just continued on the road to the north.

Ranger Rex stated that if we hurried, we might be able to catch their trail while it was still warm. However, we decided that a soft bed and a bottle of wine were more important. After all, we would not be able to stay long with Jaime the Bard on the prowl.

Despite protestations from our ranger, we lazily arose and had another meal at the inn. We did not know whom our entertainer ended up with, but the mayor's daughter had a peculiar walk that morning. Thus, we decided that we had dawdled long enough. It was back to the trail, much to our ranger's delight.

Needless to say, our trail following expert blamed our lackadaisical attitude for him not being able to find a good trail. I am beginning to get the feeling that he would not be able to track a herd of wooly mammoths if they were standing in front of him. Perhaps I am just making light of him.

The last town had completely stripped us of all motivation for this quest. Rex would not let us quit, but our thoughts were clearly elsewhere. I am certain Jaime's were.

We would soon have to decide whether we continue our quest, or whether we simply let the dwarves do their own jobs. We were free, and we knew the secret of the forest. We could avoid encounters with the dwarven kings and their people. There was no reason to continue -- except Rex. Well -- the newfound friends also kept me going.

As we decided on the watches, and settled down for a night's rest, some of us began thinking of what happens next. What happens if or when we fulfill our mission? Perhaps an answer will come to us in our dreams.

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The Lost Wizard

Ranger Rex - Third Tale

By Douglas E. Gogerty

This sucks! I am a ranger! The rest of the group squashes every opportunity that I have to use my skills. Instead of picking up the trail of our quarry, they loaf about in an inn. Thus, they let the trail go cold. Despite my best effort, I just could not find any trace of the trail of our wizard.

Further, with the danger upon the roads, the rest of the group was in need of my services. Thus, their protection being paramount, they forced me to be around them. I could not forage or look for evidence of the wizard passing through. The group would have been in great peril if I wandered far from them.

With this group, I have very little opportunity to use my skills as a ranger. We did eventually leave the town, and continued north on the road. However, it was late in the morning, and the rest of the group was moving slowly.

We were following some good leads. A relative of one of the aristocrats from Miz was supposed to live north of Giland somewhere. We felt that if we could find him, we could find our wizard. In addition, we would have the bonus of finding Sorcerer Cyrus's princess.

However, pressing forward with this unmotivated group was proving difficult. Some members of our group were just trudging along. It is like pulling teeth to continue forward. The bard was joking and telling tales to the wizard. They both had no focus on our quest.

Luckily, after a nights rest, we were attacked by a group of bandits. This seemed to energize the team. With my excellent sword skills, I dispatched most of our foes with quite the flair.

The bandit leader was at least seven feet tall. His weapon was a large claymore. He waved it about as if it were a dagger. With a mighty roar, he attacked Jaime, our bard. Jaime could block the mighty blows, but it was all that he could do.

Scottish Claymore

I jumped into action. I rushed the giant with my sword ready and my shield at my side. He swung his mighty sword at me, but was well above my head. Nevertheless, I rolled upon the ground and stopped at his feet. I thrust upwards, and opened up the man's belly.

After I had successfully defeated the bandit leader, the bard took his sword and cut the dead man's head off. A few other bandits that I killed, others claimed credit. In any event, I practically killed all of the bandits myself.

This encounter energized the group. They were no longer content with lollygagging our way north. We moved at a steadier and quicker pace. They had come to my way of thinking. We were now ready to get back on track for the quest.

Nevertheless, we were in an unprotected area, and we were not going to reach any civilization for a few days. Thus, we had to stay focused on our task. This area could be quite perilous

In fact, we ran into several bands of bandits as we traveled north. Dwanye was quite pleased, as many of these highwaymen had items of great value upon their persons. He always seemed more pleasant with some coin coming into his possession.

We naturally split the plunder equally, so we all had a modest income as we defeated gangs on our travels north. I think this brightened the spirits of all of our party members.

I do not mean to imply that it was all fighting as we went north. We did run into some fellow travelers. There were trades-people ferrying their wares between a town we just left to the town where were pushing towards. There were tourists and other folks looking for adventure or a new life.

Our bard spun many fine yarns when we would share our campsite with travelers. He was less inclined to speak of his sexual adventures with these strangers. It was a welcome break from the usual stories of his exploits.

As usual, we would take turns taking watches. While we shared things with travelers, it would have been foolish to trust them explicitly. Thus, we still kept our own watch and protected our items.

Unfortunately, during one night, a friendly group of travelers stole several valuable items that I collected from some bandit groups. This happened on Dwanye's watch, and he apologized most fervently. He even volunteered to replace the items, but I declined the offer. After our quest, I may seek out these travelers to gain recompense for their actions.

Perhaps I should have taken him up on the offer though. His pack seemed full to overflowing with treasure. I could have relieved him of some of that burden, but it would not be right to punish him for the actions of others.

Further, he offered to compensate me from the next group of travelers. However, I explained to him that two wrongs would not rectify the situation. Thus, I would take care of the situation myself, and that I would hear nothing further about it.

The trip north had become quite arduous. We were beginning to tire of walking each day. We had begun to wish we had hired a wagon or purchased some sort of transport. However, our wealth had not existed in its current state until we made it this far north.

With all of our items, and our tired feet, it was a wonder that we could still fight. However, we still needed to protect ourselves from bandits. There were few days when we did not have to fend off a group of highwaymen.

After a couple of weeks on the road, we eventually, came to a town. We were all looking forward to selling our collected items and resting in a soft bed in an inn. Some members of our group, who I will refrain from mentioning, were looking forward to romps with barmaids or encounters with daughters of governmental officials.

Personally, I was hoping that we would find more information on our missing wizard. The company of this group was fine, but I would greatly appreciate not having a death sentence looming over me. Thus, if we could return the wizard to the dwarves, we could move on with our lives.

However, I could not get the rest of our group to focus upon our quest until they had fully taken care of their needs. I did sell several of the items I had collected for a nice bit of gold.

Nonetheless, I sharpened my sword and performed some routine maintenance on my armor while the others visited the tavern. I got several hours of sleep before being aroused by the carrying on of other members in the group at some early hour of the morning.

I was hoping to get some help with the search the next day, but they were not in the mood for such things. This quest was going to be difficult to fulfill.

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The Lost Wizard

Dwanye the Rogue - Third and Final Tale

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Wow! This is my kind of town. First of all, it is outside the purview of the Empire. Thus, Imperial laws do not apply here. Imagine that. Here was a place without Imperial entanglements. Well, it has very few entanglements anyway.

Second of all, it did not have a chapter of the Thieves' Guild. There was no entity telling me from whom I could and could not steal. This town gives me the freedom of my dreams.

Third and final of all, this town was rich. This town was founded near a very rich gold mine. For a thief, this gold mine was a gold mine. There was a steady river of gold flowing into town. It needed someone like me to direct some of that flow.

I visited many local merchants and unloaded the goods I had obtained by hard work, and perhaps I unloaded a few ill-gotten goods as well. After these transactions, I had a fair amount of gold upon my person.

With my newfound riches, I decided to research the town. I started at a local gaming establishment. In a lawless town like this, I expected the establishment to be crooked. However, I did not expect them to be so incompetently so.

At first, I played the "newcomer in town rube." I was all, "How do you play this rolling cube game?" I let them con me by allowing me to win some gold. Further, I let them cheat me out of a bit of my gold as I determined how they had fixed the game.

When the night was over, I owned the place. Their bait and switch was baffled by my palming and switching skills. In the end, they did not know which set of rigged dice I was rolling. It was quite a fun and exhilarating evening.

After Jaime the Bard's appetites were sated, he had joined me at the tables and acted as bodyguard. The owner protested the results of this poorly rigged game, but at the tip of Jaime's sword, he agreed to terms. I had a big pile of gold, plus the deed to this fine establishment.

It was quite early in the morning when Jaime and I decided to return to the inn. Jaime's appetite must have returned as he was thinking of taking advantage of a sleeping Rex. However, the ranger awoke before an encounter could be arranged. I must teach that bard some of my stealth skills.

In the morning -- well -- in the early afternoon, we gathered together to discuss what we found out. The ranger, with his fine investigating skills, learned how soft the inn's beds were. The rest of us were much more successful in our mission of discovery.

From Sorcerer Cyrus we found out that our missing princess's uncle founded this fine town. They call him Prince Benjamin or Prince Ben.

With the loss of any chance of a crown, Ben joined the Imperial army and won several great honors during his service. He had greatly increased Imperial holdings in the west. In many places around the Empire, his name was common. In fact, he helped broker a peace with the lizard people of the swamps.

However, with each land acquisition, he saw little in the way of monetary reward. Thus, he tired of certain Imperial entanglements. With the help of a group of entrepreneurs, he established this town. At first, the town was a simple trading post. It took frontier goods, and traded them with those with Imperial goods. In other words, they worked with the highwaymen prowling around Imperial roads.

The town was a pirate haven. However, in one of his ventures, Prince Ben struck gold. It was a mighty vein of gold too. Over night, he became quite wealthy and the town boomed. Through Prince Ben's shrewd maneuverings, thus far, they have avoided notice of the Empire.

A large flow of gold through this town would immediately bring in Imperial troops, but the outflow has been restricted. This tactic has made the original group quite wealthy. All of this success allowed Prince Benjamin to move to an extremely large estate even farther north of the city.

According to the bard, Prince Ben, with the help of his sons, runs and defends his thousand square mile ranch while helping the surrounding community. Apparently, Ben had several wives and a son with each of them. He named this town after his last wife -- Virginia -- or Vanessa -- or Valerie -- or something. Everyone just calls it V-city because no one is sure what her name was.

Furthermore, Jaime discovered that Prince Benjamin's parents were cruel people. Beatings and severe punishment was the norm for the family. With the loss of the kingdom, they became increasingly harsh. He happily left to get away from their treatment. He disappeared so they would not come looking for him and stake a claim on his newfound wealth.

For all of us, this ended the quest for the missing princess. It was clear to all of us that she left to get away from the former king and queen. Thus, it would be a crime to return her to these people.

In my conversations at the gaming tables, I discovered that the princess and her wizard father had passed through town. They stayed with Prince Ben for a few days. The Prince gave them a small parcel of land on the far northern part of his estate. It would take us months to reach their place on foot. Further, it would take weeks to reach it by wagon.

It was a well-secluded parcel of land just south of another frontier town. This town was supposedly a den of iniquity. Gambling and prostitution were not only legal but also governmentally sanctioned. This sin city was a haven for wealthy individuals wishing to relax. It has been said that whatever happens in this city stays in this city.

On a vote of 3 to 4, we decided that our quest for the lost wizard had ended. We did not want to get involved with a mob from this city, and we could make our fortunes in V-City. I was already a local property owner.

Cyrus could establish a local chapter of the Mages' Guild. I could establish a guild as well from my current business establishment. Our bard could start his own actors' troupe, or get involved in any sort of business venture. Further, I would make a nice bit of coin from his appetites at my business.

As far as Ranger Rex is concerned, he could pursue those thieves that stole from him -- er -- allegedly. Otherwise, there were plenty of opportunities in a town like this for a person of his skills. There are plenty of chances to guard shipments to Imperial towns and the like.

In addition, we were far enough from the Dwarven Kingdoms that they would never come looking for us. At a suitable time, Sorcerer Cyrus would recruit a young wizard to take our lost wizard's place. However, it could take a while.

After much wandering in our lives, we have finally found a home. I had a place I could call my own. I did not have to look over my shoulder at every waking moment. I had a steady income. I was going to put my roots down. I had a few friends that I could turn to in times of trouble. This place was definitely the place for me.

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A Friend to Die For

Part One

By Dwayne MacInnes

The steady clip-clop resounded upon the wet cobble road as the drenched black horse pulled a wooden covered wagon through the raining night. The well-maintained road from Imperial City was slick with water that pooled into dark puddles reflecting the scant moonlight peaking through thick black clouds until splashed by a hoof, a wheel, or a fat raindrop.

The lone driver huddled into his oiled-leather long coat with his matching floppy hat pulled down. Thus, obstructing any chance of an observer catching a glance of his visage. Both driver and horse puffed out mist as if they could breathe fire in the cool air.

On a night like this, the only observers would be the nocturnal animals either foraging or hunting in the surrounding woods. The patter of the heavy rain as it hit the leaves of the surrounding foliage competed with the creaking wagon wheels and the horse's steel shod hooves on the wet stone road. Occasionally the driver would flick the reins in his gloved hands to encourage the soaked beast of burden to keep its forward momentum.

The time had to be close to midnight when the wagon approached a large villa in a clearing. Stone walls surrounded the manor house inside, and the wooden gate was sealed tight for the night. Nonetheless, the driver reined in the horse as it neared the closed entrance. There were no lights emanating from the coarse servant shacks that dotted the newly plowed fields surrounding the walled villa.

The driver dismounted from the wagon and tied the reins to a nearby post beside the gate. The wet figure then reached under the plank bench and produced a large wooden case. The stranger tucked the bulky container under his left arm as he proceeded to push against the imposing gate with his right.

The gate swung open effortlessly betraying its apparent security. The man slipped through the gate and shut it behind him. He glanced around the darkened courtyard and found the sentry box where there resided a sleeping guard. A bottle lay tipped over upon the table where the guard sat slumbering heavily.

"Good," thought he stranger, "It appears my gift was received by the household guard. Now, I'll have to remember to bar the gate when I leave. With luck, everyone will think the Thieves Guild was involved."

The man proceeded up the rain-slick stone steps and pushed upon the large double doors. Like the gate, the doors too opened without effort. The man dodged inside and quickly closed the doors behind him. A thick red and gold shag carpet led down the hallway towards the main hall.

The stranger shook the rain off his large coat and hat, before he silently strolled towards the hall. Portraits portraying the previous tenants lined the walls of the hallway leading to the main hall. In the low light emanating through the high barred windows it appeared the eyes of the paintings followed the man. The stranger knew it was a trick of the paintings; nonetheless, he could not help the feeling that the ghosts of the keep's former owners were keeping vigil.

Once the man approached the main hall, he located the stairs and proceeded to climb them to the second story. Moving with care so that the sleeping residents would not be disturbed, the stranger reached the landing and disappeared down a darkened passage.

More by feel than sight the man found the door he was looking for. A turn of the brass knob found that the door was unsecured. The man mentally noted he would have to give the servant he bribed a bonus for a job well done.

Without a sound, the figure ducked into the room and secured the door behind him. It was of stout oak and it would take several minutes for anyone to hack his or her way through. However, the stranger did not plan to let anyone outside the room know of his presence.

The stranger walked over to the orange glowing embers of the fireplace and pulled up a stool. He set the large wooden case on the floor next to it and then began to feed the dying fire a few sticks of wood from the pile lying next to the brick fireplace. When the hungry flames grew to the stranger's satisfaction he seated himself upon the stool and observed the lone person laying in the large four-posted bed.

* * * * *

Jarlis awoke from a troubled sleep. The temperature in the room had grown quite uncomfortable with the thick blankets covering him. As he tossed the blankets from his body, he angrily thought how he would give a good lashing of the tongue to the servant who decided to feed the fire too much wood. He was in mid mental rant when he noticed a figure sitting next to the blazing fireplace. Jarlis suddenly sat up straight in bed with fear coursing through his veins.

Jarlis thought his heart had stopped as he noted the figure by the fire. Fine mist steamed off the stranger's long coat and floppy hat, giving the man the appearance he had just arrived from one of the nine hells.

The strange man reached down to his large case and pulled it to his lap as his low voice carried across the room to reach Jarlis's ears. "Good evening, Jarlis. I hope I haven't interrupted any good dreams."

"T-t-the gems are under the flagstone where the wood is set," the frightened man offered.

"Now, now relax. I am no...thief," the man spat the last word out with much distaste.

Jarlis swallowed twice before he could find his tongue. "Then who are you?"

The man lifted up the brim of his hat to reveal his comely face. Two sparkling dark eyes radiated from the stranger's face. He had a neatly trimmed black goatee that surrounded a well-formed smiling mouth with straight white teeth.

"I am Raylondo. I was sent from your good friend councilman Brill of Navorre," the stranger replied.

Jarlis's face lost even more color as he heard the name of the man sitting by the fire. He had to work his jaw several times before he could choke out the words. "You're the... the famous assassin."

Still smiling Raylondo only nodded his head once in affirmation.

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A Friend to Die For

Part Two

By Dwayne MacInnes

Raylondo stood up from the stool and placed the large wooden case upon the seat he just vacated. He opened it up to reveal several vials, flasks, bottles, and strange implements that Jarlis could only guess to what use they were intended.

The assassin then removed his long coat and hat. Afterwards, he neatly folded them and placed them upon a nearby shelf. He took a moment or two to straighten his shimmering, red silk shirt before he returned his attention to the man sitting shivering in bed.

Jarlis continued to find new depths of terror as he watched helplessly as the assassin went about undressing his outer rain garments. Raylondo continuously smiling his amiable smile did not relax Jarlis at all. It only heightened his fears for it revealed the fact the assassin was in complete control.

"Now before your paralyzed mind thinks of it, please do not scream out for help. I really do not want to kill more than I have too," the assassin said in a friendly tone.

The man in bed mentally kicked himself for not thinking of the obvious. Any female or even the smallest babe would have cried out alarm. Yet, he -- a grown and prosperous man -- became too frozen with fear even to contemplate such an action. However, he knew the wisdom of the assassin's words. Jarlis was a dead man and there was no reason to bring anyone else down with him.

"H-how..." Jarlis began to stammer before Raylondo interrupted him.

"How did I get past your guards?" the assassin asked in a calm voice. "I'm no thief to be sure, but I did have to incapacitate your entire body of arms men. Now relax I did not kill anyone and they are not to blame. Right now, they are sleeping from a draught I put in their drinks tonight. However, the small dosage of poison I also added will not kill anyone, but will leave them quite immobilized for the next day and a half."

"W-why..." stammered Jarlis before Raylondo again finished his sentence.

"Why was I sent? Come now. You know your publications have been unflattering to the councilman. Your constant reminders of his corruption have the man desperate to be rid of you and therefore end your posts.

"Brill hired me to take care of it because he still holds his early friendship with you dear. As you know, I am not just a member of the Assassins Guild, but the best and most expensive member. I do special requests.

"Now please do not make that face. We members of the dark brotherhood get that a lot. We do prefer that others realize us as specialized bounty hunters. We just bring ‘em in dead," the assassin chuckled at his little joke. However, Jarlis just sank down in his bed, bringing his blankets up to his face.

"Please do relax. I am here to offer you the form of death you prefer," continued Raylondo.

"What? I don't get it," Jarlis lowered the blankets and peered at the assassin.

With a wave of his hand towards the open case, Raylondo brought the man's attention to its contents.

"I can offer you any means of death you prefer. I have iocane powder. Odorless, tasteless, and undetectable," Raylondo said lifting up a silver tube.

"I can offer you any psychotropic you prefer," the assassin said now holding up several flasks in succession.

"I have a silk pillow stuffed with the finest gosling down to wisp you away to oblivion," Raylondo offered Jarlis the red pillow for his own inspection.

Jarlis could not help be taken in with the turn of events. He studied the pillow and nodded his head in approval.

"That is very nice," Jarlis offered. "Anything else?"

"Surely and definitely. I have the finest bottle of Elven Ambrosia wine I can lace with any poison without disrupting its flavor. I can cook you the finest meal any master chef could prepare using my ingredients here so your last sup will be your best.

"If your whims are of a more carnal manner, I know of certain females who could send you away in the midst of the greatest ecstasy."

"No, no," chuckled the condemned man, "my days of womanizing are long past. Nor could I long enjoy any fine meal you could prepare. My stomach is much too delicate for such."

"Anything you request I am at your disposal. Save of course sparing your life. I cannot afford to ruin my reputation," Raylondo quickly added.

"I wouldn't think of it," Jarlis said. "I think maybe the best would be a sleeping draught with some psychotropic mixed in the Ambrosia. If I can't enjoy those corporeal things you mentioned, I can at least taste them in the dream realm. Then if you don't mind I would like very much to be finished off with this pillow while in the midst paradise."

Raylondo smiled and bowed, "excellent choice."

The assassin began mixing various flasks, tubes, and bottles. Jarlis watched with great curiosity and anticipation.

"I would like one last request," the condemned man asked.

"Yes?" Raylondo said looking up from his work.

"I would like to pen a final letter to my friend Brill. I assume you have some ink in that case of yours."

Raylondo smiled and nodded.

It took only a few minutes for Jarlis to finish his last testament to Brill while Raylondo concluded his preparations.

"Ooh, I can't wait," Jarlis said with genuine excitement.

"I do aim to please," Raylondo said offering Jarlis a chalice of the special brew.

Jarlis took the proffered chalice and drank deeply. Within seconds, he lay upon his pillow with a deep smile upon his face.

"Sleep well," Raylondo said as he lifted the silk pillow.

* * * * *

"So did he die well?" councilman Brill inquired in his own bedchambers.

"Yes, here is evidence penned by his own hand your grace," Raylondo offered the letter to Brill.


	Dear Brill,
            I too remember our younger days and look
	upon them fondly. A pity we took such varying
	paths as we grew older. Yours were ambitious
	and corrupt. Mine were to expose you for what
	you are.
            Nonetheless, I thank you for allowing me
	to die in a manner of my own choosing. I however
	regret to inform you I did not return the favor.
            You will find that the ink on this paper will be
	just as lethal as the death I chose. I can't wait to
	see you in the nine hells.
					Jarlis

Brill looked at the ink upon his fingers and then towards Raylondo. Fear began to sink in.

"But we had a contract..." the councilman began.

"Yes and it was concluded. Now the contract I had with Jarlis is also concluded," Raylondo replied hefting the small bag of gems. "Don't worry. Death will come upon you quickly and painlessly. Maybe it would be best if you sit down."

The councilman nodded as he sat upon a chair in his bedchamber.

"I wish you a good-night," the assassin said as he exited the room.

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The Captives of the Lost City of Alhassar

Chapter 1

By Dwayne MacInnes

Gwendolyn the wood elf

Greetings and felicitations, I am Gwendolyn a wood elf and wealth adjuster. You do not know what a wealth adjuster is? The easy answer is that I am a thief. However, that title carries many negative connotations with it that are not strictly accurate. To be sure, there are thieves and then there are thieves. Now that I have muddied the waters a bit let me clear up some things in our profession.

Most thieves belong to the Thieves Guild. Our organization regulates and set strict rules that our members must follow. In exchange, members receive some degree of legal protection. Now, there are rogue thieves, who do not belong to the guild. I fear to say these rogues give us all a bad name. These unregulated thieves will steal and rob from anyone. They do not refrain from using violence to obtain their goals that can even lead to ghastly murders.

To be sure, we as a guild, hunt down these rogues. We cannot afford to have anyone using our title running amok doing whatever he or she very well pleases just to obtain a handful of silver crowns. Some of the rules are that we do not rob from the poor, nor do we rob from fellow members. We also frown on using violence to rob someone. Furthermore, we do not condone murder. Only in the case of self-defense is a guild member allowed to use violence. After all, any idiot can club someone from behind and lift his or her coin purse.

Now that I have established my profession, I will now regale you with who I am. In previous publications, I established that I became the Grand Champion of the arena in Imperial City. Many know me by my title as the "Black Arrow". Unfortunately, many more know me by the romanticized and embellished woodcuts printed in fliers. These show me in the arena as an Amazon -- sans any piece of garment for modesty -- often holding a severed head in my left hand and a raised gore covered long sword in my right.

I cannot tell you how many people are a little disappointed to see a lithe average built Wood Elf armed mainly with a bow when I tell them who I am. The Imperial Arena loves good promotion and nothing packs the arena better than the idea of a naked muscle-bound woman in combat. Nonetheless, I can still fill the seats when I make my special post-retirement engagements in the arena.

Therefore, you now know my official profession as a retired gladiator and you know I belong to the guild. However I am not merely a guild member, I am also the leader of the Thieves Guild. That is right I am the Shadow Fox.

Many of you dear readers may doubt the existence of the Thieves Guild and more will doubt the existence of the Shadow Fox. However, I can assure you both exist and we take great pains on making sure that the general public is mostly unaware of either one.

As the Shadow Fox, I am even an enigma to most thieves in the guild. However, I am the overall head of the organization. With the help of the guild leaders, we assign various tasks to the most suited thieves. Believe it or not, most of our work comes from the government. We are adept on securing secrets, restoring lost possessions, and just knowing the everyday buzz on the street.

To be fair, we are not the only organization often employed by the Empire. The members of the senate often use the Assassins Guild to settle debts in a less subtle manner. To say there is a rivalry between the Assassins and the Thieves Guilds would be an understatement. Fortunately, when it comes to being unnoticed the Thieves Guild will always beat the Dark Brotherhood.

Now, as I was saying, being the head of the guild sounds prestigious. Unfortunately, it is also a lot of paperwork and sitting behind a desk. So every once in awhile I would assign myself a task, much to the chagrin of the guild leaders, just to keep myself in tip-top condition.

It came to pass that a few months after the whole "Tiberium Letters" affair that a group of adventurers found their way into Imperial City. Word quickly passed around that they were associates of Brunis, the evil mage I killed in Giland. I knew that one of these strangers was a mage. If they were looking for revenge, a little research with the Mages Guild would discover my suspension from that organization over the fortunate (or unfortunate) demise of Brunis.

I also took the time to scout this quartet of adventurers. I heard many things and learned even more. I heard the so-called ranger had killed a dragon. On observing him moving clumsily around town I figured the dragon was old and decided to choose ‘suicide by knight' which is more common than you can imagine.

There was a rogue thief claiming the name of King of the North. A fairly good thief I will begrudge but not much of a fighter. However, I would choose him over the ranger to back me in a scrap. I kept my spies on him to make sure he did not try anything disruptive in town.

The party also boasted of a bard. He was a decent singer and tale-teller, but with dubious tastes of the carnal nature. I fear his hormones tend to make most of his decisions. Not too terribly good if one is attacked by a succubus, nymph, or even a group of choirboys.

The final member of the party was a sorcerer of average quality. However, his street smarts bespoke of some time traveling with a troupe of performers. I can tell you that if I had the thief under watch I had the sorcerer under double watch. He was the one rumored to be an associate of Brunis.

I soon put any concerns I needed to fear this band of adventurers to rest. They were at best a group of amateurs. Nonetheless, I decided it was best for all involved if I left town for a while. As I previously stated we thieves do not kill if we do not have to. There would be no honor in dispatching this small group.

It so happened that the Emperor had sent another group of adventurers into the city sewers for its annual clean up. Now, a maintenance organization makes sure the city's sewers operate efficiently; however over the course of a year, things move into the sewer. Nasty things and the Emperor will pay handsomely for a group of adventurers to clean them out.

Usually, the adventurers are lower ability and desperate. The money is good, but the danger is great, and the smell is even worse. It happened that no one had heard from the latest group for over two weeks. The Emperor had petitioned the Thieves Guild to look into it. I personally accepted.

I grabbed my trusty longbow, elven armor, short sword, and my enchanted shield that dispels all forms of hostile magic as well as a few other do-dads. Little did I know I was about to engage in one of the strangest adventures of my life.

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The Captives of the Lost City of Alhassar

Chapter 2

By Dwayne MacInnes

There are many ways into the city sewer, most of them quite well known. However, I did not want anyone to notice my entrance -- in the unlikely event someone was on the lookout for a person such as me investigating the disappearance of the party of adventurers.

I am good friends with a certain proprietor of a food stall, you may have heard of his shop, "Lord of the Onion Rings". He has been known to be interested in certain... ah, artifacts that are not strictly legal. So, we have an agreement for our mutual benefit. Now, this businessman has a secret entrance behind his stall that leads to the sewers. He figures it is wise to have an escape route close to where he works and lives. I cannot argue, though personally the sewers would not be my first choice.

To say the least, I found my way into the city sewers without anyone the wiser. One thing many people do not realize is that sewers are not only smelly but also quite dark. I have stated before that most elves can see in low light, but are utterly blind in pitch darkness. I have also stated that I know a night sight spell that only lasts a minute that allows me to see in complete darkness.

It has been a quest of mine to find a spell, talisman, or enchanted trinket that would to allow me to see in the dark for extended periods of time. So far, my search has been futile. I have located spells that would allow me to generate light. However, if this were what I truly wanted any torch or lantern would serve my purpose. Alas, I again found myself forced with muttering that simple spell every sixty seconds.

One should note, it is not easy to mutter any spell, including simple ones, when you are gagging over the smell of a city's accumulation of filth. Sure, the underground waterworks are supposed to wash away the sewage into the nearby river; however, we are talking about thousands of people voiding themselves several times a day. Further, the annual maintenance had not happened yet. So the occasional dam or stagnate pool of waste were starting to accumulate.

I choked out the spell that allowed me a quick view of where I was. I think it may have been better not knowing exactly what was around me. Nonetheless, I started on my quest. It was not long before I picked up the trail of the adventurers. Seeing as how they were composed mainly of the non-rogue types and stealth was not in their main interest, I did not have much difficulty.

With a piece of cloth wrapped over my mouth and nose, I was able to keep the worst of the vile scent a bay. At least, I would like to believe I was. In any case, I continued to gag and choke out my incantation that allowed me to navigate through the dark and damp sewers.

I quickly came across an old campsite the party of adventurers had prepared a week or more ago. The charred remains of a campfire lay upon the cold and slimy flagstones of the sewer floor. I guess no one bothered to warn the party that having a fire down in the sewers was risky at best.

A pocket of confined methane gas could easily explode any unwitting party member to smithereens. Despite the adequate ventilation of the sewers, this catastrophe has happened more than once in the past. Fortunately, the sewer's construction was first rate, so the pressure from the blasts tended to funnel down the long corridors.

Sometimes the blasts would actually help the maintenance crew by removing many of the obstacles that obstructed the optimal function of the sewers. These maintenance crews would often contain at least one mage or priest that could conjure up a decent light spell to help them navigate and work in this subterranean world. Thus, most fires were unnecessary.

It was obvious that the party I was after did not meet with such a fate because their footprints led further down the dank and smelly corridor. I kept my short sword ready in case I came upon one of the denizens of the sewers. These were mostly composed of giant rats. These animals about the size of a large dog somehow thrived down here. I do not even want to think about what they ate in order to survive.

I did not travel far when I came to the scene of a struggle. It appeared that another group of humanoids ambushed the adventurers at this point. I could easily read from the footprints and blood splatters against the walls that the fight went poorly for the adventurers. The party's struggle was not very long and they were quickly subdued and taken prisoner.

I should point out that not only giant rats live in the sewers. Those seeking to escape from the eye of the law or civilization often made their way down here. That is why many of the maintenance crews often employ a novice member of the Fighters Guild or two. Of course, if there were any such people down here, the maintenance crews hoped the annual party of adventures would take care of them first.

Unfortunately, it looks like the adventurers were the ones who were the worst of it this time. I could not understand immediately why the ambushers did not just dispatch the party and dump their bodies in the deep channels of raw sewage that ran down the middle of the corridors. I could tell that the unfortunate adventurers became the unwelcome guest of some other party.

I followed the trail as it wound down the labyrinthine corridors and over more than a few bridges that occasionally crossed the river of filth. Occasionally the bones of rats and other small mammals littered the slime-covered flags. I stealthily and unerringly followed a trail until it led to a blank wall.

I have had experience with trails suddenly stopping at walls to know that I had come across a secret entrance. It only took me a couple of moments to find the trigger, a rusted iron ring set in the stone floor, which opened the door.

I quickly slipped passed the door before it slid back to the closed position. Here I found the random torch set into the wall. As I sighed in relief from not having to mutter that infernal dark sight spell again, I realized that the smell of sewage diminished noticeably. That or I was finally getting used to it.

A quick glance in the flickering light revealed several shattered crates and barrels littering one of side of the new corridor. This tunnel was not an original part of the sewers and led straight from the wall. I also noticed that amongst the debris of shattered containers there appeared an iron bound chest about the size of a hatbox.

The quality of the lock told me that something of great value must be stored inside. My lock picks made quick work of the lock. As I flung open the top, a gust of wind blew from the box extinguishing the torch and leaving me in pitch black.

I was in mid mutter of renewing my dark sight when I heard a voice echo across the corridor.

"Ah, thanks old chap. It was getting a little musty in there."

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The Captives of the Lost City of Alhassar

Chapter 3

By Dwayne MacInnes

I froze momentarily as I noticed in the dark two flaming red orbs rising from the box I held in my hand. I do not need to tell you that freezing in horror like this can be very unhealthy for a thief. I completely forgot to finish my spell and could only stare in fascination as the two orbs rose up to the level of my eyes.

"Sorry, I didn't realize you were female. Well, in any case I can't thank you enough for finally freeing me from that beastly chest," the voice said.

I slowly realized that the red orbs were the "thing's" eyes and it was now looking at me face to face. I still had a hard time regaining my composure and the first words out of my mouth were not to summon my dark sight spell, but instead a simple, "Who are you?"

"Why I guess you could say I am nobody," the thing said and then began to laugh.

The laughter put me enough at ease that my mind finally relaxed and I was able to function. Before the voice finished its laughing, I summoned the dark sight spell again.

There standing in front of me, or more accurately floating, was a disembodied skull.

"Get it? Nobody, because I have no body," the skull explained.

"Yeah, I get it," I replied dryly. "How did you end up as...?" I trailed off, for I could not figure out how exactly to phrase my question.

"As a disembodied floating skull that has two flaming red orbs in its eye sockets and can talk?" the skull finished. "Well, I wasn't always in this state. I used to be an apprentice to a mighty mage. Being ambitious, one day I found a tome hidden by my master.

"I asked myself, ‘Mobius, (for that is my real name) what arcane knowledge does this book contain?'

"I knew that if I could find some secret spell that would allow me to attain greatness in a hurry my boring internship would be at an end. So, I opened the book and began to read.

"The words were captivating. But, not in the usual sense. They literally capture my mind and I could not stop reading. The words tumbled out of my mouth and an enchantment began to build. First, I noticed that my skin began to dissolve. I did not feel any pain for my entire focus was on the words that I could not tear myself away from speaking aloud.

"Then my legs disappeared, yet I did not drop to the ground. I kept on speaking and I tried to force myself away from the book. It was not long after that my torso and then my arms vanished. Yet the book did not drop. Finally, in a last desperate attempt, I ushered up every ounce of willpower and I tore my eyes away from the book.

"So here I am a floating skull because I was able to quit while I was a head," the skull started laughing again. "Get it? A head, because I am a head."

"Yeah, I get it," I replied dryly. "That isn't what really happened was it?"

"Well, no. I used to be a jester and I pissed off a wizard," Mobius replied.

"And the chest?" I queried further.

"He figured he would use me as a bookend. I can tell you that being a bookend is rather dull, so I used to tell jokes to amuse myself. I guess he did not have much of a sense of humor for he boxed me up and dropped me down a privy," Mobius said. "Imagine dropping me down the toilet like that and in a box that only he had the key to. How rude!

"Thank the Gods you were able to open the lock. I can't tell you how long I've been down here. I also can't tell you how many people have tried to open the box and failed.

"So in gratitude I, Mobius, King of the jesters and jester to the king is at your service."

"I believe I've heard someone else use that line before," I said.

"Stole it from me I'm sure."

* * * * *

I soon started my travels down the corridor again with a floating skull now following me. The one advantage of a floating skull is that they generally do not make noise. Well, I guess the average floating skull does not. I really do not know how many floating skulls there are but I can only assume that not all of them chatter incessantly as Mobius does.

It took me quite some time to press upon Mobius to be silent before I returned him to the box. I guess that did it because Mobius just hovered there for a moment with his mandible agape before he finally clapped it shut with an audible click.

Soon, we again encountered torches lighting the corridor. I took advantage of every shadow and obstacle as I made my way down the hall. I probably would have been less conspicuous if I did not have this floating skull hovering over me everywhere I went.

Fortunately, we did not encounter anything, not even a giant rat. Eventually, we found a stout wooden door set into the side of the hallway. The door boasted a barred window that usually spoke to the fact it guarded a gaol or dungeon. As quickly as I did with the box containing Mobius, I had the lock on the door picked.

I swung it open slowly and started to creep in when I suddenly stopped.

"Ah, you know Mobius, we need a rear guard here. Do you think you can handle it?" I inquired.

"Not a problem, mate. I'll keep my eyes peeled," again the skull started to laugh. "Get it? Peeled, because my eyes have no lids and are peeled."

"Yeah, I get it," I replied dryly. "Just keep it down so no one can hear you and warn me if you see or hear anything coming this way."

"Right-o. Cheers," Mobius replied as I started down the hall.

* * * * *

I did not have far to go before I came upon a large room lined with cells. The first few cells contained a person stripped down to her undergarments. It was curious that there was no guard on duty. Nonetheless, I crept up to the first cell containing a female orc wearing only a dirty shift.

Thank the Gods for that, because no one should ever see an orc in anything less than a shift. Well, unless it is another orc I suppose.

I peered around the bars and studied the orc for a while. She was sitting on the edge of a wooden cot stuffed with filthy straw. Her mottled green head was in her hands as she grumbled below her breath.

"Psst," I hissed to get her attention. The orc's head shot up and stared at me in surprise.

"By the blood of Uranus!" she exclaimed.

"What?!" I replied in surprise.

"Huh?" she replied in turn, "You do not know of Uranus the god of the sky?"

"Oh," I said, as I finally understood what she said. "Sorry, thought you meant something else.

"I'm here to save you and your party."

The orc ran over to the bars in excitement, "That is wonderful. With my group and yours we should be able to defeat the vampires who have taken up residence down here."

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The Captives of the Lost City of Alhassar

Chapter 4

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Excuse me. You said vampires, right?" I asked.

"Yes, they captured us and are going to use us as food. But when we combine our forces we should be able to defeat them handedly," the orc replied with confidence.

"You must have a good group of soldiers to have made it this far," the orc continued. "How large is your party?"

"Ah, I guess you could say two at best."

"What, only two of you. You must have had to battle your way down here and taken many casualties."

"Well, not exactly I came by myself."

"I thought you said there were two of you."

"I said two at best. It is a little hard to explain my companion."

"By Thor's blood how do..."

"I thought you believed in Uranus," I interrupted.

"To orcs -- Uranus is Thor," the orc started to explain.

"Whoa! What was that?" the voice of Mobius exclaimed behind me.

The orc jumped back from the cell's bars with a shriek.

"It's not what you think," I said to both Mobius and the orc at the same time.

I turned to Mobius. "She was explaining her gods to me."

"Oh good!" the skull sighed, "I thought for a minute she said..."

"I know," I replied as I turned back to the orc. "This is Mobius my companion."

"I am Mogutz leader of this doomed party," the orc replied tentatively returning to the bars.

"I am Gwendolyn rescuer of your doomed party," I began when I suddenly turned towards Mobius.

"Why are you here?" I asked.

"Oh yeah. I heard someone walking this way."

"Great!" I cried as I ran down the hall of cells with the skull tucked under my arm. I found a wooden door and quickly picked the lock and secreted myself inside.

It was not too soon; as I heard footsteps enter the room. I peered through the crack I left open in the doorway. I watched a tall-emaciated man walk into the room. His skin was sunken and cadaver gray. I did not have to be a High Elven lore master to know I was looking at a vampire.

"Pardon me," Mobius whispered.

"Shh," I hissed.

"Sorry I was just talking to..."

"If you don't clam up I'll use you as a bowling ball," I whispered harshly.

The vampire addressed the prisoners, "Tomorrow you will be taken into the old city. When the full moon reaches its zenith your blood will be spilled to summon the great lich-mage Zormandus. Then we shall feast upon your life's blood.

"Prepare yourself. You may want to send prayers to your gods."

The vampire then motioned for the servants who were waiting out of my sight to enter the room. They brought in bowls and mugs and dispersed them amongst the prisoners.

After the servants finished their tasks, the vampire ushered his minions out of the dungeon. He turned back towards the prisoners and said, "Enjoy this meal for it shall be your last. The gathering of dark mages, necromancers and the undead has begun."

With that, the vampire left the room. I waited a few minutes before I exited the sanctuary of my closet. I returned to the cell containing Mogutz with Mobius hovering just behind me.

"Looks like you guys stumbled upon something big," I stated.

Mogutz just nodded her head before sniffing at the bowl full of some type of stew.

"Rat stew again," she said.

"There is more here than just merely a conference of every evil baddie," a voice in the cell behind me said.

I walked over and looked at its occupant. He was a High Elf, with the telltale pale skin and the arrogant expression on his face.

"A Wood Elf, eh. Did you get lost?" the elf sneered.

"If I did it is a good thing for you because I'm your only hope of getting out of here," I replied hotly.

"Then we are as good as dead," the High Elf continued.

"Now that is not cricket, old chap," Mobius interrupted. "She's already freed me and she did make her way into this cell."

"Oh, that's rich I'm supposed to take the advice of a symbol off a bottle of poison," the elf shot back.

"Gandelf!!!" Mogutz hollered. "This is not the time for your uppity attitude. If you want we can leave you here."

That seemed to take the wind out Gandelf's sails. He muttered an apology and sat back down on his bunk.

"You mentioned that there is something more going on," I stated.

"Rather!" the elf ejaculated.

"Would you care to share it with us," I prodded. It was obvious Gandelf did not like being in the presence of such common folk as us.

"I am Gandelf. I am an archaeologist, and I have been researching the lost cities of the old elven empire. It was rumored that one of those lost cities lies underneath Imperial City. In fact, we can conclude that it is true. These vampires have excavated it and are now going to use it for their evil purposes.

"The elven ruins that Imperial City is built upon are believed to be Alhassar, the ancient city of lore. When the war between the united elven armies and the combined dwarven clans raged over the millennia, many cities were lost on both sides. So many towns and cities were razed that even we forgot where they were once located. We just had rumors and folktales to recall our ancient glory.

"I may add that if it weren't for the desertion of the lesser elves we very well may have won the war that raged for thousands of years instead of having it end in a stalemate. Even the dwarven High king Efdee Ore was quoted as saying ‘We have nothing to fear but fearless elves.'"

"If I remember right it was the arrogance of the High Elves that forced the Wood Elves to return to the Great Forest, the Dark Elves to their mines, and the Sea Elves to the ocean," I rebutted.

Gandelf just snorted, "In any event, as the two sides retreated to their remaining dwellings the humans over the years built their own cities upon the charred ruins of our old glory. The gods compensated the humans for their short lives by letting them propagate as if they were rabbits.

"So now after all these centuries I believe I have found the lost city of Alhassar only to find that its ancient libraries are about to be used for the dark purpose of opening a gate between our world and that of the Nine Hells."

"But that would utterly destroy our world!" I exclaimed.

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The Captives of the Lost City of Alhassar

Chapter 5

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Yes it would mean the end of the world," Gandelf simply replied. "So if you free us we would be the only ones that could stop the destruction of the world."

Mogutz raised her voice, "Will you free us and help us in our quest, Gwendolyn?"

I nodded my assent and quickly picked the locks on the cells. First, I freed Mogutz and then Gandelf. The next cell I found a Northman barbarian named Nanoc. He perked up as I approached his cell.

"You are the Black Arrow," he boomed. "I've seen you in the arena many times."

From the cell across from his, a human female ran to the bars. "The Black Arrow I have heard many tales of you."

I had Nanoc's cell open before the woman finished her sentence. I was walking over to her cell when she studied me up and down.

"Hmm, your pictures made you look, ah...bigger."

"Sorry," I said with a little acid. As I have stated before -- I get this a lot, "I hope you aren't disappointed."

"Oh, not at all," she perked up. "I think I prefer you as you are. You seem more genuine if you understand me."

I smiled at her compliment and had her cell door open in a matter of seconds.

"Oh where are my manners? I am Treena acolyte of the Church of Athena."

I noticed the male members of the party were ogling the young human who was only wearing a thin, practically see-thru shift.

I quickly opened the cell to the remaining party member a small human male named Quint. He was small and was neither a fighter nor mage. He also was not an academia like Gandelf. I reasoned that he fancied himself a thief and took mental note that I would need to keep and eye on him.

With the prisoners freed, I watched as they started to pilfer the closet that I had recently hidden myself. It was apparently where the party's gear had been stored. Mogutz dressed herself and then donned her armor. Clunky plate, I noted no chance of stealth near her. However, what really caught my eye was when she buckled on an old sword. Thick rust covered the ragged blade and a few places sported small holes eaten through the metal. One good hit and the sword would disintegrate in a reddish brown cloud.

Gandelf dressed himself in a robe of a scholar and armed himself with a journal and quill. He did at least carry a small dagger in his belt for protection.

Nanoc did not dress himself except for the fur boots on his feet. It appeared the breechclout he wore was his sole form of clothing and armor. The black broadsword Nanoc armed himself with looked more formidable than the one sported by Morgutz. He slapped it and smiled as he looked at me.

"This is Biter. One of the best swords ever forged," he said proudly. Then a frown broke out upon his face. "Sorry, ‘the' best sword ever forged."

"A little proud," Mobius said in my ear.

"Yeah, barbarians can be that way," I replied.

"No, not him, Biter," replied the skull.

Before I could inquire further, Treena walked into the room. She was wearing a short white tunic with high wrapped sandals and a short sword on her slim waist. Again all the males started to ogle the fair-haired priestess.

"Why doesn't anyone look at me like that?" I heard Mogutz mutter forlornly.

"Probably because most folks aren't into green warty skin covered with coarse black hair," Mobius uttered in my ear. I managed to suppress a chuckle.

The last member to exit the closet was Quint. He wore a tight leather jerkin with matching pants and soft low boots. A dagger was his only visible weapon.

"Okay," I said once everyone was dressed and armed. "What does everyone know about vampires?"

"They suck!" shouted Mobius again breaking into laughter. "Get it? Vampires suck because they suck blood"

"Yeah, I get it," I replied dryly. "Does anyone know how to kill one?"

"Ooh, holy water will do the trick," offered Treena.

"Great!" I exclaimed. "How much do you have?"

"Well, actually none," Treena said sheepishly.

"Okay, how long will it take you to make some?" I inquired.

"I'm just an acolyte. I can't make any."

"Does anybody else have any suggestions?" I grumbled.

"Yes," Nanoc offered, "magic weapons will do the trick."

"How many of you have enchanted weapons?" I asked.

Morgutz and Nanoc raised their hands. I looked hard at Morgutz rusty blade and shook my head in doubt.

"Does anyone else know anything?"

Everyone stared down at his or her feet. Well, everyone looked at down at his or her feet except for Mobius who did not have any feet.

"Alright," I finally conceded. "I was trying to ascertain your knowledge of what we are about to go against. Unfortunately, you don't know much. Fortunately, I do. Fire works wonders against vampires as well as silver.

"So I suggest everyone carry a torch and we should have some silver crowns we could melt down and coat everyone's weapons.

"I also suggest you let Mobius and I reconnoiter in advance before we take off."

Being that the party was going to be loud and bumbling about I planned to keep a great distance between them and myself. I would not even have offered to have Mobius with me if I did not already have a plan.

I rummaged through the closet until I found what I needed.

"What are you going to do with that robe and cloak?" asked Mobius.

"We are going to wear them," I replied.

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The Captives of the Lost City of Alhassar

Chapter 6

By Dwayne MacInnes

I looked at Mobius hovering in the air, "You must have done some acting while you were a jester."

"Oh, sure. I did lots of plays, told jokes, sang songs, and told riddles," the skull explained.

"Well, that was more than I needed -- but nice resume."

"Granted most of the plays were parodies and comedies," continued Mobius.

"What exactly did you have in mind?" asked Mogutz interrupting the blathering skull.

"I'm going to see how well Mobius can play at being a lich," I explained.

"Surely you jest," scoffed Gandelf. "It takes more than a floating skull to make an undead mage."

"I always jest and don't call me Shirley," snorted the skull. "However, I can rise to the occasion," Mobius replied before laughing again. "Get it? Because I can levitate."

"Yeah, I get it," I replied dryly.

"First we are going to need some background of Alhassar," I explained. "I'm sure Gandelf has a good idea of what this place used to be."

"Ahem," Gandelf straightened up as if he was about to give a lecture to a class, which was not too far from the mark. "As I have previously stated Alhassar was the ancient city of lore for the old elven empire. A copy of every book, scroll, clay tablet, etc. was stored in the city. Nothing was excluded; even forbidden lore was stored away. Alhassar was considered the crowned jewel in the Elven Empire. Its loss is one of the greatest travesties ever to happen to the world.

"At the zenith of the war, an army of dwarven super-heavy infantry sacked the city. Not a single elf was spared in the onslaught. It is rumored that the dwarves did not entirely destroy the buildings or the lore deposited inside.

"Although dwarves value wealth, gems, and precious metals above all else, they were not completely ignorant of the true wealth they held. Many battles were fought to reclaim the city and all failed.

"Over the centuries the dwarves forgot about Alhassar and the elves were too busy trying to hold onto other cities. These were now under assault and they had no forces to spare on retaking Alhassar. The humans probably saw a mound of rubble and debris, not knowing that underneath it all, a treasure trove of incalculable wealth in knowledge lay where they stood. Thus, they built their new city on the ruins."

With the newfound information given us by Gandelf, Mobius and I came up with a story for the character he was too play. Then we created a plan on how best to deal with the threat about to literally release hell on earth. Trying to reach the surface and rallying the imperial legions would take too long. Therefore, it was upto a skull, and a party of five amateurs and me to save the world.

The party was soon prepared to travel down to the lost city. They wisely decided to let me lead far in advance. I could effectively scout out any danger without alerting the whole evil underworld that there was a party of blundering neophytes wandering in their domain. I would only allow Mobius to accompany me. But, that was with the strict stipulation that he kept his mouth shut.

It proved to be a very smart decision for we had not even left the dungeon when I encountered two of the vampire's servants acting as sentinels. They had no idea as to what was about to befall them in the flickering torch light. I had my bow with an arrow nocked when suddenly Mobius shot down the hall.

"Pardon me," Mobius politely asked the two sentinels. "Have you seen my body?"

The guards stared at each other in stunned amazement for a while. They were probably wondering why a lich was looking for his body or even pondering on how a lich could lose his body.

I did not wait for them to answer Mobius before an arrow was sticking out of each of their skulls. Before the dead sentinels could crumple to the floor, I stomped up to Mobius seething in anger.

"You could have ruined everything!" I yelled.

"Ah, rubbish," Mobius replied. "I only diverted these blokes attention so that you could dispatch them quickly and quietly."

"But..." I caught myself, for he was right. I started to chuckle. "Thanks, and sorry."

"Don't think of it mate," Mobius dimmed one flaming orb in a semblance of a wink.

Before the Mogutz and party reached the door the sentinels were guarding I had searched the bodies. Other than a few coins and pair of dice, the two did not carry anything of note. Even their weapons were not of good quality.

It is odd to think that evil masterminds rarely arm their henchmen with good weapons. I suppose being thrifty and the desire of world domination go hand in hand.

We were soon outside the dungeon and sneaking down the hallway. Well -- I was sneaking -- I cannot exactly say what the rest of the party thought they were doing. Fortunately, as before, I was way ahead of them and leaving little marks upon the wall with a piece of charcoal so that they could follow the correct route.

It was not hard to find the right corridors to follow seeing as how most of the hallways had deep dust covering their floors and one was heavily trafficked. It was also highly unlikely there were any traps. However, I still took precautions. The thief, that forgets that, is not one long for this world.

As I progressed down the tunnel, I started to hear the sounds of many voices in conversation. I slowly advanced far enough to see that the hallway ended at the mouth of an enormous cavern. The vampires, necromancers, et al. had obviously excavated the cavern over many years for it contained many ruined buildings and a large pyramid shaped temple in the center of a square. The denizens had spread torches about illuminating the entire excavation. I was probably the first elf in thousands of years to rest her eyes on Alhassar the lost city of lore.

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The Captives of the Lost City of Alhassar

Chapter 7

By Dwayne MacInnes

I was starting to ease a little forward on my belly when Mobius floated in front of me. I had almost forgotten my companion as I sneaked towards the entrance to the cavern. He bobbed up and down and I could tell that he was agitated about something.

"What is it?" I whispered.

"Come quick," he said seriously. The fact that Mobius was serious sent shivers down my spine. "Mogutz and the others are in trouble."

Without further ado, the skull sped back down the corridor. I had no choice but to follow. I can move quickly and quietly, but at the speed Mobius was traveling, it was difficult even for me to be stealthy and keep up with him.

As I pulled even with the skull, Mobius began to explain, "I thought I should go back and see how the others were doing. I knew you could take care of yourself and you wouldn't miss me.

"It was a good thing too. For no sooner had I returned than the party stumbled into a group of hostiles. I think there was at least one vampire in the group."

To emphasize what Mobius had just said, the sounds of combat echoed up the hall to reach my ears. I tossed the robe to the side of the corridor as I ran towards the fight freeing my weapons for combat. In less time than it takes to tell, I had my bow readied.

I turned a corner to see Mogutz and Nanoc wielding their swords against a small group of armed servants. I stopped and watched as the party of adventures was doing well. Treena had positioned herself behind the warriors. This allowed her to cast spells either for the party of adventurers or against the hostiles. Gandelf and Quint stood nearby Treena to help repel anyone who may have gotten past Mogutz and Nanoc.

I was also amazed to see Mogutz's rusty sword lopping off a limb here and there. Apparently, the sword was indeed enchanted. The only physical things I witnessed flying off the blade were sparks when it encountered another sword. In addition, when the blade did cut through the flesh of an opponent, the unfortunate victim would often fall to the ground and begin to experience terrible muscle spasms. Then they would tighten-up with their back arched in the air, fists clenched, and jaw clamped shut until they just expired in this rigid pose.

Nanoc's blade was just as lethal. It too would hack off the limb of one unfortunate enough not to parry an attack. However, it did not seem to have the same effect of incapacitating its victim as Mogutz's sword did.

Standing behind the hostiles was a tall gaunt figure wearing long robes and a staff. There was no doubt in my mind that this must have been a vampire and master to the servants now attacking the party. It took me only a few moments to realize that the vampire was gesturing and prancing about in a furious mood.

Treena must have ensorcelled him with a spell of silence. As long as the spell persisted against the vampire-mage's willpower, the villain could not cast any spells. Even a staff needs a verbal command to function. Unfortunately, with the present combat occupying her attention Treena would not be able to renew her simple spell. It would only be a matter of seconds before the vampire overcame the spell.

Without a second thought, I sent my arrow flying and it found its mark. The projectile embedded itself satisfactory into the staff's shank held by the vampire. As I expected the vampire turned his attention to the new threat, that of course being me. With a wrathful wave of his arm, he overcame the spell restricting him. His eyes glowed with rage as a smirk broke out upon his gray gaunt face.

"Impudence!" he roared, "Did you really think your puny arrow could harm me?"

Now it never has failed to amuse me that no matter how bad the circumstances bad-guys never can withstand the impulse to give speeches in the middle of combat. It must be in the villain's codebook or just standard evil training. Regardless, it was what I was hoping he would do.

"First, I will dispatch you, and then your friends will shortly join you in the Nine Hells," boasted the vampire as he raised his arms. "Inna Godda Davida!"

As the staff flared up to a blinding light, I noticed Mobius out of the corner of my eye duck around me. Just as the skull found refuge behind my back, an immense fireball flew at me. I heard Mobius mutter the words "mommy" in a high-pitched forlorn voice just as the spell hit me. As usual, any offensive spell encountering me while I was wearing my enchanted shield merely evaporated. The only after effects was a slight warmth of air brushing past me.

"How..." the vampire began to ask before I placed one of my magic arrows into his head. The arrow on impact burst into flames and the vampire, like many of the undead went up like a Winter-solstice log. Now, I do not carry many magic arrows, but I have found it wise to carry at least a handful when on a dangerous dungeon crawl. The majority of nasty creatures encountered will be the mundane variety and magic arrows are expensive to waste on such trifles. However, on occasions such as the above a good incendiary arrow can work wonders.

The smell was not pleasant. Now, overcooked flesh whether living or undead is highly offensive to the olfactory senses. Mogutz and party had finished with the last of their opponents by the time I walked over to the smoldering vampire.

I picked up the staff and began to poke around the charred remains of the vampire with the staff's metal butt-cap. Most of the robes and clothing just crumbled to ash as I investigated as best I could with the staff.

"Ghastly business there don't you think?" asked Mobius.

"Yes, but these guys tend to pick up useful things over the course of their undead existence," I replied.

"Exactly how did you stop that fireball?" Mogutz asked as she approached.

I reached over my shoulder and pulled my heavy shield around. "This will protect me from any offensive spell cast against me."

"I noticed your friend the ‘Jolly Roger' did not have much faith in your abilities," Gandelf sneered as he joined Mogutz.

"Hey, I was behind her all the way," Mobius said and then began to laugh. "Get it? Because I was right behind her."

"Yeah, I get it," I replied dryly.

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The Captives of the Lost City of Alhassar

Chapter 9

By Dwayne MacInnes

"I am Ozymandias," Mobius replied in an echoing high-pitched voice.

I almost started to run for I did not immediately recognize Mobius's disguised voice.

"I do not recall your name. What is the purpose of you business?" the guard continued to challenge.

"You do not know of me? I am Ozymandias, lich-lord of the Lost Continent. It matters not. I am here because you are going to raise the mighty Zormandus the lich-mage," Mobius countered.

By now, a group of liches was now gathering around us. There were also a few vampires and necromancers, but they held themselves back. It appeared that the liches were in control here.

"I do not know of you," one of the liches approached.

"I do not know of you," replied Mobius.

"I am Cadwey, lich-mage. I know the legends of the Lost Continent and none mentions an Ozymandias," the lich-mage said with contempt.

"Of course you know all the great lich-lords. I am one of the minor lords and the only survivor of the Lost Continent. I have been slumbering for the day when the gates between the planes would open. That time is now and I am here," Mobius continued undeterred.

"You are unwelcome, and it would be best if you left," Cadwey commanded.

"Bah! Fool!" spat Mobius his high-pitched voice hitting another octave higher. "Even as a minor lich-lord of the Lost Continent I am more powerful that you."

This was not going well. Mobius had really gotten into character ,and I really did not want to have to face an army of undead and dark mages by myself. All I could do was pray that the growing crowd of evil beings did not call his bluff.

"Very well we shall test you. First we will begin with the riddles," Cadwey commanded to all in the cavern. Now everyone that occupied the city of Alhassar gathered around. Fortunately, there were only a hundred or so liches, vampires, necromancers, dark mages and mortal servants. Unfortunately, there was only me, Mobius and a party of five inexperienced adventurers to oppose them.

Cadwey began, "A box without hinges, key, or lid. Yet golden..."

"Egg!" cried Mobius before Cadwey could finish.

"I view the world in a little space," began Mobius. "Am always changing place; No food I eat, but, by my power, procure what millions do devour."

Now, we should note that the game of riddles is an ancient and honored practice of testing each other for those who are of good or evil bent. The rules are simple: best your opponent by posing a riddle he or she cannot answer. There is power in the game of riddles so cheating seldom occurs.

I had to admire Mobius tactics. His choice of riddle was not one the undead were likely to guess very easily. Being of the formerly living and evil, they tended to stay indoors in such forbidding places as say a lost city near a sewer system. If they did go outdoors, it was in the dead of night.

Cadwey stood there thinking. I am sure if Mobius were not already in a permanent grin, he would be after watching the lich-mage ponder his poser.

"A-ha! The sun!" crowed Cadwey victoriously. "That was sneaky I haven't spied the sun in centuries. However, that did not quite do it. Here's another one.

"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a..."

"Egg!" cried Mobius. "What is it with you and eggs? Did you miss breakfast?"

The exchange went back and forth for some time. Cadwey posed riddles that Mobius easily guessed, mainly because they were about eggs, or other foods. Mobius would rack his brain trying to trip up the lich-mage with something that the undead may have forgotten in the normal world. No matter how good Mobius put a riddle to Cadwey, the lich-mage would eventually find the answer.

It was Mobius's turn and he sat above me in thought for a while. Finally, after a few minutes of intense silence Mobius began to speak lowly.

"You are in a room without door or window. All you have is a mirror and a table. How do you get out?"

"Easy," the lich-mage began.

"You are mortal and cannot use spells," Mobius quickly added.

"Well...I, um...would..."Cadwey began. The lich-mage thought for a few minutes and then he finally bowed his head in defeat.

"Very well, I give. If this is truly a riddle you must supply the answer or you are forfeit," Cadwey said smugly.

"It is easy as you first thought," Mobius stated. "You look in the mirror to see what you saw. Take the saw and cut the table in half. Two halves make a whole. Just climb out the hole."

The crowd murmured and applauded. A good riddle game is always fun to watch. That probably goes double for the undead and their evil companions. I get the feeling they rarely get much in the way of entertainment living in such dank dark abodes.

As the crowd applauded and gave cheer, I managed to whisper to Mobius. "Where did you get that one?"

The skull turned his head down a bit and in a low voice replied, "I read it once on a box of confections. Being dead I am sure they haven't eaten a box of sweets in a long time."

"I concede your triumph in the riddle game," Cadwey finally said as the crowd quieted down.

"I guess you could say I have a head for riddles," Mobius replied. However before he could start laughing, I reached up and grabbed the clasp of the cloak. A quick tug brought Mobius in contact with my own skull. The pain was fleeting, but Mobius got the hint.

"Are you alright?" Cadwey said.

"Oh yeah, ‘tis nothing," Mobius replied.

"Good, the second test will begin," Cadwey said. I am sure he would have smiled if there were any skin left on his own skull. "Now the test of magic shall commence."

This was not good. The only spell I could cast was a few low level healing spells and my dark sight. The staff could only send off fireballs.

"You may begin," Cadwey offered

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The Captives of the Lost City of Alhassar

Chapter 10

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mobius began to laugh. I did not find our situation very amusing and I did not think having me send off a fireball at this moment would be very conducive to our survival.

"It is already cast," Mobius boasted in his high-pitched echoing voice.

"I did not notice anything," Cadwey noted. "Is your spell the ability to make me believe you are a powerful mage? If it is it has already failed." The crowd surrounding us broke into laughter.

"You!" Mobius nodded his head to a particular necromancer with a staff. "Does that staff serve a purpose other than keeping you upright?"

"Aye, lord Ozymandias," the mage replied with respect. "It doth shoot lightning of the highest degree. None can survive its impact."

"I can and I will," boasted the skull. I now saw where Mobius headed and I took and appropriate stance as if to ward off the imminent lightning attack.

The necromancer's staff started to crackle as the mage summoned its power. The smell of ozone permeated the air just a second before a loud thunderclap filled the chamber. A bolt of white-hot electricity flew at us and as with all hostile magic aimed at me while I wore my shield; it just fizzled away to nothing.

The crowd stood there stunned in silence. Mobius broke into a haughty laugh before he replied, "You can see that I am impervious to your spells. Do any of you now doubt my powers?"

The crowd moved back a bit in awe. Not a word escaped from anyone. Finally, Cadwey bowed his head in defeat.

"You have won the test of magic," the lich said respectfully. "We welcome you lich-lord Ozymandias from the Lost Continent."

Mobius and I were about to walk off when Cadwey forestalled us by grabbing my sleeve. "My lord what will you do now?"

Mobius laughed mightily before replying, "I shall commit 'chronocide' by heading toward the library."

"Pardon my lord," Cadwey said in a puzzled voice. "I am not familiar with that."

"I just said I was going to 'kill time'," Mobius laughed again. "Get it chronocide..."

I again jerked the cloak bringing our two craniums in contact. Mobius again remembered himself and merely cleared his throat in a manner of speaking.

"Are you well, my lord?" Cadwey asked.

"'tis nothing," Mobius responded before I marched us off.

A few discreet inquiries brought us to a partially destroyed library. Inside oil lamps lined the wall and on tables and shelves, books and scrolls lay in disarray. We had the ancient library to ourselves for the moment.

"What are we looking for?" Mobius asked in a hushed tone.

"Look for any books about opening gates to other worlds or anything doing with resurrecting long dead lich-mages. You know all that evil sort of stuff," I whispered back.

I kept a hand on the clasp of the cloak as we searched through the material laying about the building. I did not want Mobius to be flying about while I, his body, was somewhere else. It would be somewhat hard to explain how a lich could be in two places at once.

"I think I found something," Mobius said. "There the title of the book in front of us. Escaping the Traps of the Lower Nine Hells."

I looked at the book and corrected Mobius, "The title is Escaping the Traps of the Lower Nine Holes. It is obviously a book about a golf resort in the Northlands."

"Hmmm, golf. I never heard of it," Mobius continued in a bemused voice.

"Yeah, it's an ancient Northman game. They don't have much except sticks, rocks, and gopher holes. So they made a game using all three," I explained as I continued my search.

"Aha!" I exclaimed in a low voice. "This is it." I lifted up a book with the title Planar and Planar. A quick search through the pages confirmed my suspicions.

"I've got to get this book to Gandelf," I said.

"Uh, don't you mean 'we'?" Mobius asked.

"No, you are going to stay here with a body double," I explained. "I also will need to gather some things for our friends."

"But...but...but, what am I supposed to do if someone needs me?" Mobius continued.

"Improvise."

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The Captives of the Lost City of Alhassar

Chapter 11

By Dwayne MacInnes

Gwendolyn

In a manner of minutes, I had the robe and cloak off, and stuffed so that Mobius had the semblance of studying a book. It would have helped immensely if there happened to be a skeleton around. Unfortunately, it appears that the dwarves had thoroughly cleaned Alhassar after they sacked it. I ended up using whatever I could scrounge up like dirt, wood, fabric, and paper. An old pair of boots and gloves finished the appearance. I then grabbed a few lanterns and some flasks of oil and secured them in a tattered tapestry I found on the wall. A quick glance at my Manacle of Time showed me that I still had an hour before sunrise.

Thankfully, the deep shadows that permeated the cavern assisted my departure from the ruined city. I easily made my way past the sentries guarding the cavern's entrance and quietly and quickly made my way down the corridor. I located Mogutz and party concealed in a side tunnel not too far away.

"Here," I whispered to Mogutz as I handed her the lanterns and oil flasks. "This should help us out." I then gave Gandelf the book I found in the library. He quickly began to study it.

"How much time do we have?" the orc inquired.

A quick glance at my Manacle of Time revealed the answer to me, "In half an hour the sun will rise, that should send the vampires beddy-bye."

"What good is that?" moaned Gandelf in his usual high-and-mighty manner as he closed the book. "Sunrise and sunset don't mean much down here."

"Look," I lectured, it was now my time to teach. "Vampires are helpless while the sun is up no matter how deep underground they are. Liches do not sleep and there will still be dark mages and necromancers. But at least we will have cut the odds down against us."

"Hmmm," Nanoc nodded in approval. He unsheathed Biter and looked at the dark blade. "We should like to hack us some evil."

"Athena, goddess of strategy and battle is smiling upon you, Gwendolyn. Your plan is sound and the forces of light will prevail over the darkness," Treena added confidently. If only I was as sure as she sounded. Nonetheless, I did not betray my own doubts. It was bad enough Gandelf was being a downer.

Quint only smiled with a glimmer in his eye before he muttered in low voice that only my keen hearing picked up. "There should be lots of valuable loot in there."

"Alright, I am heading back now," I said to the amateur group. "Wait for the signal and stick to the plan. Our best hope is too cause as much chaos as possible."

Mogutz grasped my forearm in hers as she gave her parting blessing, "May Uranus blow your enemies away."

It took a fraction of second to remember the name of her god. "Oh yeah, right," I replied.

* * * * *

I made my way back to Alhassar without any difficulty. With any luck, Mogutz had her party already in position and awaiting my signal. I was at the base of the pyramid temple when looked at my Manacle of Time. Twenty minutes, plenty of time I assured myself.

No sooner had I registered that thought than a loud gong sounded above the temple. I looked up and noted Cadwey standing at the pyramid's flattened apex. Next to him and bound between two stout iron poles a small stout figure struggled.

"Friends of Darkness," boomed the steady voice of Cadwey. "When the sun sets this day we shall raise the remains of the great lich-mage Zormandus."

I noticed that a large group of the evil residences of Alhassar was beginning to gather around the base of the pyramid. I quickly concealed myself in a broken-down structure. Through a large hole in the wall, I could see Cadwey above me. I also could see the growing crowd gathering at the base of the temple.

"Before the sun rises I will offer a small sacrifice. Brothers of the nosferatu, please part-take in this feast to sate your appetite until the setting of the sun."

I watched in horror as this unforeseen turn of events unfolded before me. A quick glance at the Manacle of Time told me I had fifteen minutes before the sun rose and that poor victim above me did not have that long to live. Several forms were making their way up the pyramid now. Obviously, they were the vampires in anticipation of their feast.

I looked up and saw Cadwey holding an evil looking knife in his skeletal hand poised over the struggling victim. I had only seconds to act so I did the only thing I could. In less time that it takes to explain it, I had an incendiary arrow arcing up toward the unsuspecting lich.

As the ash shaft embedded itself into one of the lich's ribs, the incendiary spell literally exploded into being. This set off several frenzied events at once. First, Cadwey fell backwards in a flaming heap over the side of the pyramid granting his victim a short reprieve from death. Second, the vampires upon the pyramid began to look around them frantically for the one who had torched their leader. Third and forth, the dark mages summoned demons from the netherworld and the necromancers called to life the long dead residence of Alhassar. The fifth, final, and probably the best thing to happen, was that the only entrance out of Alhassar suddenly became engulf in high rising flames.

This latter event brought me some peace of mind. This indicated that Mogutz and her party were already prepared and when the incendiary arrow exploded, they noticed my signal. Their job had been to block the exit out of Alhassar with a bonfire fed by all the debris they could find. The oil from the lamps and flasks greatly assisted this. I now only hoped that they could keep the fires blazing.

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The Captives of the Lost City of Alhassar

Chapter 12

By Dwayne MacInnes

The blazing obstruction blocking the egress and entrance to the cavern only slightly eased my mind. This was only part of the plan, and it came about prematurely because of the incendiary arrow I used against the lich. I was, by no means, where I would have liked to be. Further, I am sure the victim above me staked helplessly between two iron poles would have loved to be anywhere else.

I hid the best I could in the tumbled-down structure as liches began to cast their evil spells, newly raised skeletons of elves and dwarves ran around menacing with rusty swords, axes, and hammers, and demons from the various Nine Hells rampaged through Alhassar.

I heard the great cacophony of battle begin. I mildly cursed myself. Battle could only be ensuing if Mogutz had foolishly tried to battle her way into the ruined city. This was not part of the plan, and it was fool hardy.

I raised my head over the edge of the gaping hole in the wall anticipating watching in horror as the evil cabal annihilated Mogutz and party. To my amazement, this is not what I saw. Instead, I noticed that the summoned minions were battling each other as well as other liches, mages, vampires, and necromancers. It was a frenzied and confusing barroom brawl!

Lightning and fireballs exploded everywhere. Bone fragments flew in the air as well as parts belonging to netherworld beings. The noise and smell of combat echoed throughout the cavern. I am sure that not even during the height of the elven-dwarven wars did Alhassar witness such a battle.

The explanation was simple once I thought it through and that was not until much later. For now, I just huddled in my ruined dwelling praying that in the ongoing battle that a passing fireball would not obliterate my sanctuary. In any account, none in the evil cabal realized that they all tended to work alone, or only with others of their own kind. Therefore, when they summoned their evil managerie from the dead and the Nine Hells the unthinking minions naturally attacked anyone who did not participate in summoning them.

For the moment, I witnessed a brutal and relentless combat. Outside my window, I watched as an army of stout dwarven skeletons attacked and overwhelmed a demon lord. The demon lord swung his mighty and unearthly blade and cleaved skull from neck and arms from shoulders. However the undead where too numerous and even their rusted weapons inflicted enough damage that the demon puffed into a ball of smoke as it returned to the netherworld.

I saw a vampire cast spell after spell into an on rushing stone demon. The rock giant only staggered slightly as the lightning spell collided with its mineral body. When it came into arms reach of the vampire, it grabbed the undead bloodsucker in a lethal embrace. Though technically undead, even a vampire that has been smashed into jelly does not pose much of a threat to anyone.

I learned later that Mogutz and her party were busy at their end as well. Not only did they have to tend the huge inferno but any creature that tried to escape that way had to be dealt with. Fortunately, they were few and after they passed through the fire they were pretty much dead already.

The entire cavern shook and dirt fell from the shaking ceiling and dust swirled in the air. Even my small hiding place threatened to topple down upon me. However, I could only watch in morbid fascination as the armies of the evil cabal fought amongst themselves.

The battle began to take on a more serious tone when a few necromancers started summoning more powerful undead to avenge the death of one of their members to a mistakenly fired lightning bolt from a lich mage. Now the battle became personal as groups were deliberately fighting amongst themselves.

There is the saying of "honor amongst thieves" which is highly inaccurate. However, I think the saying should be "honor amongst evil". Evil beings tend not to trust anyone, especially other evil beings.

The battle had hardly started to heat up when the vampires, a numerous faction itself began to run for cover. Many did not make it, as the battle was too widespread and furious. I almost felt pity for the undead as they suddenly slumped down to the ground utterly powerless with the rising sun above the earth. The mortal servants of the vampires tried to do their best to help their evil masters. But, they were only mortal without much skill in arms or magic and easily fell victim to the chaos around them.

The furious battle seemed to last for an eternity. It had been only an hour after the commencement of hostilities when the battle started to die down. Everyone had expended their magical spells and those few still itching for a fight picked up one of the numerous weapons upon the ground and started hacking at each other.

There could only be a score of combatants left in any fighting condition by now. I gave a big yell as I exited the stone ruin from which I had taken refuge. I quickly crossed swords with a dark mage. It was easy pickings for mages do not tend to study melee combat much. The remaining evil members of the dark cabal all stopped their fighting with each other and looked towards me in wonderment. They must have thought this was some avenging elven spirit from the ruins of Alhassar coming to kill them all.

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The Captives of the Lost City of Alhassar

Chapter 13

By Dwayne MacInnes

I did not wait for them to collect their senses before I rushed into their midst. I easily hacked into them. Their feeble and exhausted attempts to attack me were easily parried. I noticed a few survivors who had hidden themselves during the chaotic main battle now began to join the new combat. A few remaining spells were sent my way. All the good it did them. My shield merely consumed the magic.

I blocked, parried, swirled, jumped, slashed, and stabbed as I danced amongst the couple of dozen evil combatants. Though I had an easy time killing my opponents I knew that I could not keep up this level of attack forever. Even I, the champion of the arena, have limits to my endurance. Plus, many a novice can sneak in a lucky shot to take out the best of masters.

Soon another yell punctuated the melee in the cavern and a few of my opponents turned to meet the new threat. It was Mogutz and Nanoc leading the way with Treena, Quint and Gandelf rushing close behind. The bonfire that blocked the entrance to the cavern had burned itself low enough to allow the party to pass without damage.

"By the blood of Uranus!" Mogutz hollered a challenge our foes.

Many of the cabal stopped fighting in order to try to figure out what kind of threat that exactly was. It was too bad for them because that pause cost many their lives. The next ten minutes saw a heated exchange of combat and though we were out numbered three to one, we soon had the entire cabal of evil dispatched with nothing more than some minor cuts on our side.

Silence suddenly descended upon the cavern. It was almost as deafening as the combat had been. Only the crackling of the torches and the small-scattered fires left from the intense combat disturbed the quiet.

"We are going to have to make sure there aren't any survivors," Mogutz finally said while she searched the bodies of our fallen opponents.

I nodded my head in agreement. I had to take a breather, even though the battle was short in duration it was very intense. In the arena, I only had to deal with at the most three well-trained adversaries. Here, I had at one time been trying to attack over twenty. Alhough they were not very proficient with melee weapons, their sheer numbers kept me busy.

I moved away from the party and began my own search. I was looking for vampires. I still needed nine more hearts to collect. Most were dead just lying on the ground broken, burned, or just plainly smashed in vampire goo. However, I did encounter a few who just feebly stared up at me completely powerless to resist my attacks. With the rising of the sun, the undead bloodsuckers lost all their dark powers. Therefore, I just hacked off a head and then proceeded to gather my grisly trophies.

I had been in the process of collecting my hearts (as well as pocketing any money or valuables I noticed, I am sure the vampires would not mind) when I thought I heard something. I stopped and cocked my ear, listening intently.

Yes, there it was the sound of someone crying out for help. I looked around for the faint cry that echoed off the cavern's wall and ceilings. Finally, I was able to locate the source of the noise. It was the poor victim on top of the pyramid temple!

In the excitement, I had completely forgotten about the person shackled to the iron poles. I was frankly surprised to hear the voice. It was no small miracle that the victim was able to survive the intense battle that raged around the cavern.

I wasted no time in making my way up the steps of the pyramids. I had to be careful because there were some areas where the bodies of the fallen sprawled over the steps in grotesque angles. This, added to the pools of slippery blood and gore made the ascent quite treacherous.

I finally reached the plateau at the apex of the temple and saw the short stocky victim viciously struggling with his bonds. At first glance, I thought it was a dwarf. However, as I neared the victim, I realized it was in fact a gnome.

Now gnomes are like distant cousins to dwarves. They are not as broad as the dwarf is nor are they as tall. They also do not tend to have as full beards as the dwarves do, though they make up for the lack of hearty facial hair with long pronounced noses. In addition, they are also very adept at making intricate objects and many are in fact inventors. They also tend to live above the earth and dwell in workshops.

"Hail," I shouted to the struggling gnome.

"Get these blasted things off me!" the small creature cried as he swung back and forth between his outstretched arms.

"Not a problem," I replied as I quickly picked the locks to his steel manacles.

Once I had his hands free, the gnome sat upon the ground rubbing his raw wrists. I sat down next to him and stretched my hand to him.

"I am Gwendolyn."

"I am master Aly Eska," the gnome said as he tentatively gripped my hand. "I suppose I owe you and your party my life."

"Well," I said a little modestly, "I did send that lich over the edge with my arrow."

"That was an arrow?" the gnome looked at me in surprise. "I was sure it was a spell. Where did you shoot it from?"

I pointed down to the tumbled-down ruin of the building I had taken refuge in at the base of the pyramid. The gnome shook his head in wonder. "Only a Wood Elf could make that shot. Now if I had my latest invention I could have done the same...

"Hey! Whatever happened to that lich you shot?" Aly asked interrupting himself.

"Well, after he burst into flames he fell over the side there," I pointed towards the back of the pyramid.

As we both turned in the direction I indicated, the two of us sucked in a breath of surprise in unison as we watched the skeletal head of the lich begin to ascend over the edge.

"Get behind me," I ordered as I jumped to my feet with an arrow instantly nocked in my bow.

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The Captives of the Lost City of Alhassar

Chapter 14

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Hold your fire!" the skull screamed. I then looked closer and noticed the glowing red orbs of Mobius. I had totally forgotten that I had left him alone in the library! I lowered my bow and replaced the arrow into the quiver on my back.

"Why did the wizard enter the employee break room naked?" the skull queried. "Because the door said 'Staff Only'." Mobius began to laugh, "Get it? Staff only. So he couldn't take in the clothes."

"Yeah, I get it," I replied dryly.

"Looks like we really wiped this community out," Mobius said seriously, as he floated around the pyramid.

"Did you happen to see any survivors?" I asked.

"No, though I did escape a minor skirmish in the library by the skin of my teeth," Mobius began to laugh. "Get it? Skin of my teeth."

"Yeah, I get it," I replied dryly.

I then turned to Aly who was still quivering behind me. "Don't worry," I assured the gnome. "This is just Mobius, he's a friend."

Mobius dipped his floating skull in friendship.

Aly still had a hard time regaining his tongue so I made his introduction. "This is gnome Aly Eska."

"So whatever happened to that chap, Cadwey?" Mobius asked turning away from the gnome.

"I sent him over the side there on fire," I again indicated the back of the pyramid.

"Really?" probed Mobius. "Because I did not see any remains down there."

"Great," I growled. "We have a deadly lich on the loose."

I put my fingers to my lips and whistled shrilly across the cavern. The party of adventures below us looked up and noticed me waving them to join us on the pyramid. I watched as Mogutz gathered her party together. She did have to do some extra prodding with Quint. The novice thief was too busy looting the corpses to pay heed to my whistle.

Within five minutes, the entire group of adventurers assembled on top of the pyramid. Mogutz was making her way towards me while I watched Nanoc repeatedly tug on his sword as if it was wedged in the sheath.

"Come on," the barbarian moaned, "I just said the blade look to be of good quality."

I did not have time to inquire what was going on when Mogutz asked, "What is the problem?"

"We need to search this city for any remaining bad guys," I stated.

"Should we divide up?" Treena asked her brow wrinkled in concern.

"No, we need to stick together," I cautioned. "There may be a lich still at large and we will probably need every one of us to bring him down."

* * * * *

First, we scoured the base of the pyramid. Other than a burned cloak, there were no signs of Cadwey. I studied the ground looking for any spoor I could use to track him. Unfortunately, most liches prefer to hover when they can. Nonetheless, we continued our search around Alhassar.

I observed the party as we made our way over and through the debris and ruins of the dead city. I was not too surprised to see that many of the new adventurers would stumble now and again as they crossed the rough terrain. I was surprised however to see that Quint was having a particularly hard time of it. The small man constantly stumbled and would have to grab on to someone in order to check his fall.

I made my way up to Quint in order to be of service if he indeed needed it. I already knew what his game was and I suspected he would not mind me being near him. Sure enough, the poor clumsy oaf stepped upon some loose scrabble and swung his arms around me in support.

"Sorry," Quint mumbled. "I can't seem to get my balance."

"Well, it looks like we should be on some flat ground here soon enough," I consoled him.

I suppressed a laugh. I know there are many thieves out there who do not belong to the Guild and therefore do not follow any of its rules. Therefore, a long time ago I started carrying a large visible pouch containing a small heavy bag inside. If one were to lift it, it would have the heft of being full of gems. If one were to shake it, it would clink with the sound of coin.

In all actuality, it just contains some small river stones and a few steel discs. Plus, a note suggesting maybe it would be wise to join the Guild instead of robbing it. In this case, however, I used Quint's trick against him. As he relieved me of my bag of rocks and discs, I removed his pouch of ill-gotten goods.

I did my best in the search to return to everyone what was taken without their being the wiser. In some cases, I had to make a good guess because I did not know exactly who found the large red ruby and who had the onyx statuette. In addition, I had to distribute everything Quint found as a form of punishment. Of course, I kept a percentage to pay for the lesson I just imparted. I also made sure to keep and eye on Quint in case he wanted to continue his larceny.

* * * * *

We had been searching for hours before we found the ancient crypt that the vampires had made their lair. Fortunately, the sun was at its zenith in the sky so the poor undead were utterly helpless as we helped them move on to the netherworld. Unfortunately, we still did not find any signs of Cadwey.

After dispatching the last of the vampires, we made our way out of the crypt and began the search of Alhassar again. We soon had to light up our lamps and torches as the fires burning around the city were starting to die off. Not to mention that the torches the cabal scattered about had consumed themselves long ago.

We did not have much left to search anyway, just a last circuit to the ruined library where Mobius and I had parted ways earlier. We were surprised as we started up the cracked and broken stone steps of the library to see a small group of necromancers exiting the building. They quickly began to summon the undead.

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The Captives of the Lost City of Alhassar

Chapter 15

By Dwayne MacInnes

Skeletons of the elves and dwarves of Alhassar began to rise from the ground. Not to mention that now there were a few fresh new zombies. They were supplied courtesy of the battle earlier in the day. The party quickly readied themselves for battle, except for Nanoc who still had a hard time removing his sword from his sheath.

"Come on!" growled the barbarian. "This is no time for your bruised ego!"

Mobius floated over to the barbarian who was yanking on his stuck blade.

"I say old chap," the skull began speaking to the sword, "if you don't behave, you will find yourself in the hands of a more ghastly master."

Once Mobius said that, Nanoc pulled Biter out of his sheath. Once freed, the blade released a crack of blue lightning that resounded throughout the cavern. The skull certainly did know how to motivate the blade.

The party of adventurers flung themselves into the fray. Skeletal and undead mages were no match for this band of adventurers. I almost stood back and let them handle it all. In fact, I was quite proud to see how far Mogutz and her party had come along in the last few hours.

"Once more into the breeches, dear friends, once more!" quoted Mobius.

I too flung myself headlong into the fight. As I passed the skull, I yelled over my shoulder, "I believe it is 'unto the breach'."

"I told you I did mostly parodies and comedies," Mobius countered. The skull did not have any weapons so he would knock heads with the necromancers interrupting any further spells they would try to conjure.

I soon made my way past the undead and concentrated on the necromancers themselves. As each one fell before my blade, the group of undead that that particular necromancer summoned would crumple to the earth devoid of further animation. It was not long before Mogutz and Nanoc were at my side cutting down the last of the necromancers.

The fight could not have lasted more than ten furious minutes before the last of the necromancers fell to our weapons. I searched around us as Mogutz and Nanoc caught their breath. For the most part everyone appeared to have weathered the combat in one piece. Treena would cast a heal spell here and there for the few minor cuts that the party received.

"Good job!" I crowed. "Good job. I'm proud of you."

"Thanks," Mogutz replied. "That looks like it was their last stand."

Mobius floated over. "I didn't do too bad myself seeing as how I don't have any arms and therefore no arms." The skull began to laughed, "Get it? No arms and therefore no arms as in weapons."

"Yeah, I get it," I replied dryly.

"Well, if everyone is done with this self-appreciation society. I think we should secure this building," Gandelf ordered.

Now some of you more astute readers may be wondering how killing more mages who may be possible members of the Mages Guild was going to help me reconcile myself with the guild. Well the answer is rather quite simple. Firstly, even in the Mages Guild necromancy is illegal. Secondly, to be a member of the guild you have to be alive and that leaves out liches and vampires. Finally, having been suspended, I was technically no longer a member of the Mages Guild. However, I suppose that last argument is splitting hairs. Nonetheless, the mere fact the dark mages were working with necromancers makes them fair game.

* * * * *

After searching the library, we did not encounter any more members of the dark cabal. Gandelf, upon seeing the ancient texts and scrolls, immediately set a lit lamp upon the table and began to search through the material. He looked like cat in an aviary. He could not determine where to begin. I suggested that he should make sure we had stopped the gate between the worlds from opening.

The rest of the party did one more search of Alhassar. But, we could not find any trace of Cadwey. We did stumble upon the cache of equipment and goods that belonged to the previous victims of the cabal. Amongst them Aly was reunited with his goods, including a strange device he called a 'rifle'. It looked like it was a crossbow with a steel tube attached.

He demonstrated his invention to us. Once the thunderclap stopped resounding off the cavern's walls and the foul smelling acrid smoke cleared, we could see that he had indeed put a hole in his intended target. I do not think this weapon will be very practical to a thief. It draws too much attention to whoever fires it. I can appreciate its military significance. Fortunately, gnomes take decades perfecting their inventions, and I do not think we will see them in large numbers anytime soon.

The party spent one more night in Alhassar before we made our way topside. It was during this night Quint noticed his loss of goods. I walked over to the novice thief and told him I could recommend him to the guild. At first, he pretended not to know about what I was speaking. At least that was until I produced the dagger I had pick-pocketed from him. His eyes gleamed and he whispered, "I didn't think thieves were supposed to rob from fellow thieves."

"We don't rob from fellow members. I think it would be best if you joined just so we don't get the rest of your stuff," I returned softly.

With that, Quint smiled and nodded his head. Then a great laughter racked his small frame. Everyone looked over to us wondering what was going on.

"I'll have to make sure I get that joke you told," Mobius said.

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The Captives of the Lost City of Alhassar

Chapter 16

By Dwayne MacInnes

Everyone was surprised to see us as we exited the sewers. At first people held their noses in disgust from the rancid smell until they realized that the lost party of adventurers had returned. Imperial City was all abuzz with tales of Mogutz and her party of adventurers. I guess it put many at ease to know that the earthquake they experienced the day before was the final battle with the evil cabal under their feet.

The Emperor rewarded Mogutz and her party handsomely. I too received my reward for finding the lost party and for helping bring down the greatest evil threat in Imperial City history. However, neither reward was as handsome when compared to the value of the treasures we collected while down in Alhassar.

Mogutz, Nanoc, Treena, Quint, and Gandelf all became instant celebrities. I was already the famous "Black Arrow" so I am not certain if my fame increased. Though I am certain that our adventures did not hurt my publicity any. Just another chapter to add to my mystique I suppose.

Poor Mobius had a hard time at first winning over the public. Most people do not naturally associate with talking skulls. He even, for a while, tried to find a mage to reverse the spell upon him. Unfortunately, it was one of those cases where only the mage who ensorcelled him could remove the spell. We discovered that the mage had died centuries before. Poor Mobius had been in that iron bound box for three hundred years!

Well, Mobius being who he is did not let this get him down. Soon he began by telling the tale of our adventures in the lost city of Alhassar to small groups. To trump up bigger crowds Mogutz and party would gather to reenact the battles beneath Imperial City. I would bring Mobius to the Imperial Arena and use my influence to get him inside as the opening act before the fights. All the while, I had taken the skull in to live with me until he could establish himself.

Soon Mobius had established himself and it was not long before people were gathering near and far to see the great 'Skull Jester'. Mobius could tell many a tale and many people even found his old and stale jokes amusing.

We did not find out what happened to Cadwey. Somehow or other the lich escaped the great battle in Alhassar. Fortunately, Gandelf confirmed that the rising of Zormandus and the subsequent opening of the gate between our plane and that of the Nine Hells could not happen for another two thousand years until the stars were in conjunction again.

* * * * *
Gwendolyn

Over the next few months, the Emperor established a committee to study Alhassar and Gandelf became the leading researcher in excavating the lost city. The High Elf could not have been happier.

Mogutz and Nanoc established themselves with the Fighters Guild. Quint accepted my offer and became a member of the Theives Guild. Treena returned to the Temple of Athena where as a reward for her duties the high priest proclaimed her a novice priestess. Aly Eska returned to his gnomish workshop to perfect his invention and Mobius decided to take his one skull act on the road.

Mobius and I were the last to part. The skull's goodbye was a little emotional for during our adventure, and later as housemates, we had formed a bond with each other. Not many people have talking skulls as friends.

"Well, I guess I better head out," Mobius said as he prepared to leave. Then he began to laugh, "Get it? Head out because all I have is a head. Ooh, that makes me a headliner! Get it? Headliner."

"Yeah, I get it," I replied laughing holding back the tears.

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Reunited...

Chapter One

By Douglas E. Gogerty

It was a dark and stormy night, and King Jonathan was pacing frantically in his bedchamber. He was waiting impatiently for the return of one of his most trusted subjects. He had been sending him around all day and it was getting quite late. With every passing minute, the king became more restless. He went to the window for another look. The king stifled a frustrated shout.

"Sire?" a voice inquired meekly.

"What news?" asked King Jonathan in a voice attempting to stifle his anxiousness.

"We have looked everywhere -- at least twice. She is no where to be found."

"The wedding is tomorrow!"

"So you have reminded us. However, she did state that should would never marry that man."

"So you think she ran away..."

"Her betrothed is three times her age."

"He is only forty-two. You make him sound ancient."

"You arranged to marry her off to someone who was 7 years older than you -- her father."

"I understand that a fourteen year old girl would be too young to understand the benefits of this union. However, someone was supposed to be watching her."

"Princess Angelina ordered to be left alone when she went to the bathroom. There are no exits, so we did not post double guards at the door. Perhaps that was an oversight on our behalf. She must have simply slipped past her guardian."

"You are being kind to the woman. Should we hire a great detective from England to deduce how she managed to get out of that locked room?"

"No sire. The guardian has been thoroughly interrogated. Bribery is apparent."

"But we do not know who or why?"

"That is correct. The tracks are well covered."

"And it is your contention to make me believe that a teenager of fourteen bribed her guardian to escape, snuck through this entire complex alone and undetected, made her way to the garage, stole a suncar, and just drove away."

"Well..."

"I am flattered that you think my little girl is so resourceful."

"She is very intelligent and wise for her age."

"You forgot headstrong."

"I would never..."

"Of course not. In any event, which suncar is gone?"

"Number 135 sire."

"The newest one. The one we had not put the tracker on yet. Whoever did this is quite smart indeed."

"As you will sire. What are your orders?"

"Have King Thorbjorn meet me in the reception room in half an hour, and have the trackers look for traces on which direction my daughter and her abductors have headed."

"Yes sire."

King Jonathan had spent the entire day in his bed clothes. He directed the search with his subordinates from the early hours of the day, but to no effect. His daughter was not going to be retrieved in time to be wed to King Thorbjorn of Lakeland. The agreement the two men had made would have to wait. Nevertheless, the groom must be informed of the situation. This could only be done by the king and face to face.

However, to meet with his fellow king, he would have to be made presentable. He put on a pair of charcoal-gray pinstriped pants and a dark purple shirt. Over the shirt, he put on a vest and jacket that matched his pants. Over the suit he put on a purple ermine cape. He topped off the ensemble with his jewel encrusted crown.

He went down the 17 floors of the living quarters tower. At the lowest floor, he walked the long and twisting hallways to the back of the reception room. King Thorbjorn was there waiting.

"I am sorry to keep you waiting King Thorbjorn," began King Jonathan with a warm handshake.

"It must be very important to arouse me at this hour," replied the other king.

"It is about my daughter."

"What?" asked King Thorbjorn. "Is everything all right?"

"I wish I could say that it was, but I cannot."

"What happened?"

"My daughter has disappeared."

"Disappeared?"

"We are not sure what happened, but we are looking into it."

"That is a convenient excuse to avoid this wedding ceremony."

"I assure you my good friend that this is no game and not an attempt at supplying an excuse for delay. She is gone. A suncar is missing, and we have made a thorough search of the grounds. She has not been found anywhere on the complex grounds."

"Perhaps the lovely thing does not wish to marry an old man like myself."

"There are many things that point to her being abducted rather than her just running away."

"Abducted? Have you received a ransom note?"

"We have not, but there are plenty of individuals who would be happy if this alliance falls through."

"That is certainly true."

"Never fear. We have trackers looking for clues to her whereabouts. This wedding will occur as soon as she is located."

"I am afraid that is not good enough," replied King Thorbjorn with a heavy sigh. "I went through a great deal of trouble to get here on this day, and I shall not wait around for you to track down the runaway bride. I have many things that need my attention."

"But..."

"I am afraid that my mind is made up in this matter. I will follow through with my original wedding plans."

"I am sorry to hear that."

"As am I. Your daughter is by far the most beautiful woman in the land. Needless to say, that is not enough of a reason for me to delay a moment longer. I must return home and attend to my affairs."

"Princess Olivia is a fair maiden in her own right."

"She will be a barer of children which is a fine thing, but the future queen cannot compare to the lovely Angelina. However, I will make an offer that you may find appealing."

"What is it?"

"I will grant the treaty lands, which were to be given to you, as a wedding gift to your daughter if she marries my son Prince William."

"That is a very generous offer."

"I have an ulterior motive. There is a prophesy in my kingdom that claims a young prince who rescues the fairest maiden in the land will unite the kingdoms of Morica. I must let William determine if this is his destiny."

"If the four kingdoms of Morica were united, they would be a very powerful force indeed. I am not sure how I feel about such an outcome."

"Nevertheless, my son will be tasked with finding the princess. It will happen with or without your permission."

"We will do what we can to aid Prince William in his quest."

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Reunited...

Chapter Two

By Douglas E. Gogerty

The monarchs of Lakeland had always been an ambitious bunch. King Thorbjorn's reign had been no exception. He was always looking at ways to increase the size of his kingdom. In fact, in the early part of his reign, he was at war with one of his neighbors. This seemed to be the way it was for them and they thought of no other way to expand their territory.

Lakeland had once been a smallish kingdom with lakes abound. It had a very large lake at its eastern border, and thousands of small lakes throughout the territory. Freshwater fish was an excellent moneymaker for them.

They also had some agricultural trade. However, being a northern territory, their growing season was very short. The farmers had to grow things that would produce quickly or they would not get anything. Needless to say, winters were harsh.

The first of King Thorbjorn's line was bent on expanding the territory. The kingdoms to the south were way too powerful for the small kingdom; thus, they warred with their northern neighbors.

Soon, they conquered all the lands to the northwest that did not belong to the Calmondak kingdom. This gave them access to saltwater fish as they gained access to the western ocean. Lakeland grew even more wealthy on the fish trade.

However, it was not enough. Thus, the kings began gradually pushing southward. They eventually expanded down to the southern gulf. There was lots of rich farmland in this region. Not to mention, there was access to more fishing.

During King Thorbjorn's reign, he attempted to push farther east. However, most of his borders were either lakes or rivers. Thus, there were some natural protections for his neighbors.

Nonetheless, King Thorbjorn was determined to expand his realm. However, he did not wish to upset his neighbor to the west. Thus, to assure King Jonathan that he was not interested in his lands, King Thorbjorn sent his son Prince William to stay in Calmondak. Hence, Prince William and Princess Angelina had played together in their youth.

King Thorbjorn attacked his neighbor in the gap between the great river and one of the large lakes. At first, he had some success. His plan caught his neighbor completely off guard. The army advanced to a river the southern border river of that kingdom.

However, he was in a difficult position, as he could advance no further. He attempted to negotiate a peace, but was unsuccessful. Eventually the easterners rallied and pushed him back. His five years of war came to nothing except strained relations.

Prince William was recalled, and the warring king considered attacking King Jonathan when his army had regained its strength. This would have been foolish with the eastern neighbors looking for a weakness. Hence, King Thorbjorn was forced to strengthen his ties with the west.

When King Thorbjorn's wife died, a new queen was needed. At first, he looked to the east. It would appease his eastern neighbors to wed one of their daughters, but he saw the beauty of Princess Angelina. Therefore, the succession of land idea was declared. This would cement the alliance of Lakeland and Calmondak, and King Thorbjorn could cast his eyes eastward without worry.

With the postponement of the wedding, the Lakeland King would wed a daughter of the east. This would force the king to set his sites elsewhere for land acquisition. It was not an ideal situation, but the king would cope. However, he still wished for a secure western border. Thus, granting Princess Angelina and his son the land was a strategic move.

There is also the prophecy to consider. The Lakeland's residents have always been one for prophecy. There had been a long standing one where a prince would rescue and princess and unite all of Morica. With this, the idea of the treaty lands was even more logical in the mind of the king. It would give an incentive to Prince William and allow King Jonathan to go along. However, the king should not have mentioned the prophecy to his fellow king, but what was done was done.

Map of Calmondak and Lakeland

Early the next morning, Prince William met with King Jonathan's trackers. He looked at the signs the sun car left. It was obvious that the car went west.

"We think they are going northwest into the lands of Princess Angelina's mother," stated one of the trackers.

"Is there any reason to think she was taken by her kinsmen?" asked Prince William.

"The forbidden lands are very dangerous," replied the tracker. "Thus, it seems to reason that they would not head there. Thus, perhaps her kin are involved."

"Are the forbidden lands that treacherous?"

"No one has come back from an exploration of the forbidden lands. That is good enough for me."

"Would that not make an excellent place to hide?"

"Being killed is no way to hide."

"How bad can it be?"

"First off, there is no water to be found there. The fugitives did not steal any water from our stores, nor did they take any water storage vessels. Furthermore, there are the most poisonous insects and snakes living there. It is an awful place."

"If no one has survived a trip there, then how do you know this?"

"I know from the old time reports before the water wars. Do not treat me like some ignorant kid young man. I have been around."

"I was just asking..."

"It looks like they took the ancient trail west," stated the tracker. "We would have to follow the trail to know exactly where they went. Nevertheless, that would be an arduous task. Thus, we have scouts looking out for them in the northwest. We expect to find her soon."

"I think I am going to follow her trail," replied Prince William.

"Good luck," replied the tracker. "It will be a long and hard trail to follow. We'll probably have her before you reach the trail split."

Prince William did not know if the tracker was telling the truth, or trying to lead him astray. It did make sense that whoever took the princess would avoid the Forbidden Zone, but it also made sense to hide there. What dangers did this place have? Was it just a legend to scare away strangers? What secrets did it hide? There were enough questions to keep him going. Besides, being king over all of Morica was very tempting situation.

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Reunited...

Chapter Three

By Douglas E. Gogerty

King Jonathan was called the "Cattle King" by the neighboring kingdoms. His lands were very dry, but they were highly suited to raising livestock. He had vast herds of bison grazing his lands. Deer, moose, and wild cow also thrived there. Much of the wild game on his lands was hunted for sport in his kingdom. He got his power and influence from the wealth he obtained in the meat trade.

After the water wars of Calmondak's southern neighbors, King Jonathan's father expanded the kingdom farther south. This land was also arid, but it too was suitable to livestock grazing. The people working these lands fit right in to how their neighbors to the north ran things.

However, there was a large desert in the southwestern portion of these southern kingdoms. With the irrigation practices of the former kingdoms -- and before -- the Great Monoran Desert had grown substantially. The aquifer had nearly vanished allowing the desert to expand.

This desert was a dangerous and foreboding place where numerous explorers had never returned. It was hot and dry. Very little could survive there. After an exploratory party entered the desert and did not return, King Jonathan forbade anyone from entering. It was labeled the "Forbidden Zone."

When King Jonathan was a fairly young man, he wed Princess Marcellina. With the marriage and its arrangements, the Calmondak kingdom gained some timberland and some orchards in the northwest. There were also some fine vineyards that complemented the ones in Calmondak. Thus, King Jonathan could slightly diversify where his wealth was being generated.

Other than from the vines and from fruit trees, very little food could be grown in Calmondak without irrigation. It was this aridness that resulted in the water wars of these southern kingdoms. The lack of water had caused destruction of the previous civilization living on the land as well. It was simply not something with which King Jonathan wanted to get involved. Thus, he would continue to import most of his required grains from Lakeland.

The acquisition of the treaty land would not change this. However, it would extend Calmondak's border to the Misery River to the west. This would be more preferable to the current border with the Lakeland Kingdom. This border was determined more arbitrarily when one of the southern kingdom negotiated for it. With the river as the border, it would prevent any disputes over land rights. In this way, friendly trade would continue between the neighbors.

Furthermore, the land of this treaty was mostly similar to the much of the southern lands that were already part of Calmondak. There was a small mountain range and some swamps, but a majority of the land was similar. Most of it could be used as grazing lands. The big difference was that it also gave Calmondak access to an oceanic gulf which could also open up trade with more eastern kingdoms.

Nonetheless, all of this was for not with Princess Angelina's disappearance. A new treaty was discussed giving Prince William and Princess Angelina control over the land should they marry. However, it would likely revert to Lakeland should anything happen to the pair. Further, there was the prophecy proclaimed by King Thorbjorn.

While King Jonathan was completely willing to allow Prince William to search for his daughter, the marriage of the pair would be considered at another time. The benefits of this union would be far less than the previous arrangement. Further, he did not particularly believe in prophecies, so anyone looking for his daughter would be welcome.

Princess Angelina was not an only child. She had an older brother, Prince James. He was the heir to the Calmondak throne. He was a tall statuesque young man. He was also quite striking in appearance. However, like Princess Angelina, he took after his mother more than his father. Thus, many thought him a bit effeminate. Of this, Princess Angelina took much offense.

There was talk in some circles that Princess Angelina was the much stronger of the pair. She was much more suited to be heir to the throne than the -- in their opinion -- much weaker prince. While the princess would agree that she was stronger, again she took offense to the sentiment.

The two children were educated along side each other. While there was a few years difference in their ages, Angelina did act much more mature for her age. Further, she had a voracious appetite for learning. She just did not seem to be able to get enough.

Perhaps this was the big difference between the two. Prince James accepted his role in the scheme of things, but Princess Angelina felt that there was always something that could be done. She was not afraid to take action. She was not afraid to step outside her role as princess and see the world differently. This made her appear strong and made James appear weak.

The two siblings were quite close due to their situation. In fact, they had spent many hours discussing the upcoming wedding. However, Prince James did not know what the princess could or would do about stopping the upcoming nuptials.

She had asked Prince James about driving the suncars. He gave her a few pointers and lessons, but he did not think she would be able to drive away by herself. He felt that she would need assistance. Thus, he was under the impression that she had been abducted.

He had been questioned thoroughly. It was apparent that despite his confession of teacher her the rudiments of the sun car, he did not know where she was. In fact, because they were very close, if she had run away, she may have wanted him to not know where she was going. Thus, he was in the dark about the events of the day of her disappearance.

Prince William of Lakeland asked Prince James some questions about the Forbidden Zone and if she knew anything about it. Prince James told him what he told everyone.

"It is the most dangerous place in Calmondak, and no one would go there on purpose. Certainly my sister knows that! If she ran away, she certainly would not head there!"

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Reunited...

Chapter Four

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William had spoken to most of King Jonathan's staff. They were fairly evenly split on whether Princess Angelina ran away or whether she was abducted. However, they were almost unanimous on their belief that no one would go purposely into the Forbidden Zone.

Nonetheless, Prince William would follow the trail where it led. Thus, if it went into this foreboding area, he would need to be prepared for it. Therefore, he put several water containers into his suncar as he set off following Princess Angelina's trail.

The ancient roadway was quite a bit west of the castle complex. It was once a busy north/south road for travelers; however, now it was just an little used trail. Prince William double checked the track he was following. Both he and King Jonathan's trackers concluded that the suncar headed south. He checked the trail and was certain that is the direction to go.

This ancient road south led to the ruins of a city. It was once a major metropolitan area, but it was now little more than rubble. The many conflicts hit this mountain city hard. What made it an excellent place for a city also made it a place where people fought. This was the way of many of the old cities.

Because of its location, there were several roads which the ancients had constructed that led into and out of this major metropolitan area. These roads went off in all directions. Anyone going this direction would be difficult to track. Once again, it was an excellent choice to hide the destination of any traveling vehicle.

While this ancient city was about an hour from King Jonathan's residential complex by suncar, it was going to take Prince William a while to determine the exact path. Prince William's suncar had little difficulty traveling over the ancient roads. That is, until it got nearer to the ruined city. The battles had taken their toll on these roads.

Nonetheless, it made it somewhat easier to track. There were places where there was debris in the roads where tire tracks could be seen. There were broken plants. There were many clues to follow. However, it was a time consuming task for Prince William. There could be other vehicles traveling along this route.

As he suspected, the trail led to the west. This did not mean that they were headed directly into the Forbidden Zone. The ancient road headed to the west through the mountains and towards the Monoran desert. However, the ancient road had a split where a suncar could head north, continue west, or even loop back. It was clear to Prince William that the route chosen was very good one for concealing the final destination.

However, now that Prince William knew that the trail headed west, it would be easier to track. With the mountainous terrain, there were few options until the next split. Thus, once he left the ruined city, he could make pretty good time.

The tracking took its toll on Prince William, and he camped at one of the few intersections in the mountains for the night. He felt he was making good time, and hoped to reach the next major intersection of the ancient roadway by midday. Nevertheless, it was still going to take him a while to catch up with Princess Angelina at this rate. Although, it would take even longer if he missed her trail. Thus, he was being very methodical.

In any event, if King Jonathan's trackers were to be believed, they would have the Princess back before he reached the next split in the road. It would be at this point when Prince William would know for certain if the suncar went into the forbidden area. If it did, then the Princess could be in great distress.

With first light, Prince William was back on the trail. He could tell he was getting closer to the desert as it was becoming increasingly dry. He did cross a minor trickle of a river, and he wondered if there were more like it.

The sun was hot and high in the sky when he reached the crossroads. A blockade had been constructed to prevent southward travel. However, it had been removed. Thus, it was clear to Prince William that the Princess was in the Forbidden Zone.

He double and triple checked the trail, but it was unmistakable. The suncar clearly entered the forbidden area. Thus, the prince had no choice but to follow the track. He turned his suncar south and headed into the hot desert.

The road was rough. Sections of the road had seen great battles. Some of the ancient attack vehicles still sat there slowly being covered in sand. They were once great metal beasts, but now just hunks of scrap. Sand slowly wearing them smooth in places and rough in others.

The track he was following was clear in the sand. He could easily follow it as it led into the desert. So few had come this way, that the track looked fresh even though it could have been days or even weeks old. He thought he would catch up to the Princess in no time.

Suddenly, a huge cloud of sand blew across his path. The sand storm blocked out the sun, and his suncar lost power. The sand blasted against the side of his car. He could almost feel the sand tearing the solar panels off the car. His car sat there motionless as the sand ripped across his path. The roar of the sand and wind was almost deafening.

Just as suddenly as it started, it stopped. The roar ceased and all was silent again. The sun returned. Prince William let out a huge sigh. He took a small drink of water from his stores and stepped out of his car.

Some of the panels were damaged, but he quickly repaired them. His car had survived with little damage. Then he realized it. The trail he was following was gone. The wind had erased the easy trail that had led him to this spot. What was he going to do next? The Forbidden Zone was beginning to live up to its name.

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Reunited...

Chapter Five

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William stood there looking at the foreboding road ahead. The trail he was following was gone. He hoped he could pick it up again, but it did not appear too likely. The fierce sandstorm, while it did not last long, had wide-ranging effects. There was no for him to know where the princess was without being able to follow her trail.

The prince decided to follow the ancient road slowly. If there were signs, he did not wish to miss them. Whoever was driving the princess's suncar could have left the old road at any time, but the road was all the prince had. Thus, he pushed on.

With the slow going, Prince William could see how someone could get lost out here. The sand storm he had just experienced was small, he could imagine them being much larger and burying a suncar in sand. Further, there was the heat and the dryness. The thought of it made him thirsty, so he stopped and drank from his water reserves.

He took a moment to look closely for signs, but there were none. However, he did notice something odd. He got out to investigate. Out of a sand dune, there was a large flat reflecting panel. He looked around and he saw dozens. Looking some more there were hundreds. They were semi-concealed in the dunes.

The wind picked up a little bit and he rushed back to his suncar. He took another drink, and continued forward on the ancient road. The sand raced across his car, but he managed to keep going. There was not the same amount of sand in this round. However, if there was a track to follow here, it would have been enough to erase it.

The temperature outside the suncar was soaring. Prince William fiddled with the interior cooling system. The power demand of the suncar was at its maximum. This would limit his speed, but more importantly, another sand storm could stop him. The Forbidden Zone was becoming clear to him. It was clearly a very dangerous place. Any number of things could mean life and death. He was grateful he brought water, but began wondering if it were enough.

Slowly, he continued following the ancient road. It was a desolate area, yet strangely beautiful. There were colorful mesas in the distance. However, he had gone most of the day without seeing anything move. It was as if the land were a void of life. He thought that perhaps that changed at night out of the heat of the day.

The mesas soon gave way to flat desert. He passed the ruins of some small towns that once existed in the desert -- victims of the water wars. He noticed bridges over now dry river beds. Water once flowed in the stretch of desert. The prince wondered how long ago the water flowed.

He continued driving looking for the trail. He did not see any trace of the suncar's tracks. It could have come this way, but it might not have. Slowly he went, and it was getting late in the day. It was clear that he would have to spend the night in the desert. Thus, he began looking for a place to stop. Once the sun went down, his suncar would stop. Hence, he looked for a place protected from the wind.

There was an intersecting road where it appeared to be a spot where some people had lived long ago. He pulled onto a frontage road and drove a short distance. There was an ancient concrete building still standing there. He parked close to it to protect his car from the wind and sand. It looked like an long deserted saloon.

Prince William got out of his car and looked around. A short distance away, there was a small trickle of a very muddy river. It appeared that it would dry up at the peak of the dry season. In fact, there was a wash that would flow into this small river during storms. Nonetheless, there was enough water around to support a few scraggly trees. The rest of the terrain was scrub brush and tumbleweeds.

It was closing in on dusk, and it was still hot. The prince had a decision to make. He had gone quite a distance with no sign of the Princess's trail. Should he continue following the ancient road? Should he give up? How well his night went was going to determine his course of action. If he feared for his life, he would turn back. However, if the night passed with little incident, he decided he would follow the road further.

The prince gathered some brush to build a fire. The material he gathered was so dry he thought it might catch fire in his hands. He dug a small pit in the sand and placed some of the material into it. He gathered enough material to have the fire go all night because he did not want to wander off in the dark to obtain more.

While gather the material for the fire, Prince William noticed more of the reflecting panels. He thought there must be thousands of them scattered throughout the desert. He wondered who had put them there. Did they belong to the ancients? Were they remnants of a once great society? Did they survive the water wars? What did they do?

These fleeting thoughts went through his head, but his thoughts turned to food and survival. He thought the fire would keep away any dangerous night visitors. He thought he might hunt for some food, but he then thought better of it. He had enough provisions to last a few days. There was no need to take any risks at this point in his journey.

Just as the last bit of sun sank below the horizon, he lit his fire. He was amazed at the number of stars he could see. It was a dark clear night. He was sure his fire could be visible for miles, and he heard some howling animals in the distance. At night, the desert did come alive.

He settled down and got some sleep. It was not a restful sleep as he wanted to keep the fire alight. He was about to put some more fuel on the fire, but he marveled at the sky and the darkness. It is then that he saw the lights in the distance. Something was going on in the Forbidden Zone. Was there a city off in the distance? The area was supposed to be dead. What were the source of those lights? He would investigate when the sun came up.

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Reunited...

Chapter Six

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Once Prince William saw the lights shining in the night, he lost the ability to sleep. His curiosity kept him awake. His mind would not let it go. He just sat and wondered. It was odd to see evidence of life in a so-called lifeless zone. The possibilities raced in his mind. He just could not figure it out.

As the dawn broke, the distant lights faded. It was only in the darkness that the illumination was visible that far off. Furthermore, Prince William's curiosity overrode his quest. After all, it appeared that the ancient road led directly towards the lights. Further, he did not have a trail to follow the Princess. Thus, he was going to investigate where the lights originated.

He put out his fire and gathered his things. He got in his suncar and headed off on the old road. He no longer worried about the trail; he just went as fast as his car could go. Although it was the cool part of the day, it was still hot. Nonetheless, he turned off the car's cooling system to increase his speed.

As he sped along, he saw some barricades along the side of the road. It appeared that there were still roadblocks along this road. However, they were moved to the side. Thus, he raced on past. Someone else had come this way. Perhaps, he thought, it was the Princess and her suncar.

The heat began putting its mirages upon the surface of the road he was traveling. After a short distance, there were still no signs of a city up ahead. It was a flat and desolate road. The Prince began to wonder if what he had seen during the night was a mirage. Did he dream it? Was he following shadows? Was it just his mind playing tricks upon him?

The doubts crept into his mind, but he kept going. He had no leads to the Princess, so this gave him a task to complete. He had a purpose. On the other hand, it could be leading him away from his quarry. However, his curiosity had to be satisfied. He could make it back to his camp, and only lose the time he wasted on this particular adventure.

As fast as the suncar could go, Prince William drove along the road to the southwest. There were more warnings moved away from the road. Someone had definitely come this way recently and moved the roadblocks. The signs read Danger and Keep Out, but onward the Prince drove. After all, these signs no longer blocked the road. Thus, perhaps they no longer applied.

After about an hour and a half of driving, a few rather tall buildings appeared in front of him. These were surprisingly in good shape for an ancient city. Most of the ancient cities in the area did not survive intact during the water wars. Also, most of the tall buildings were destroyed in the fighting. From this distance, this city appeared to have escaped from the much of the destruction.

Prince William thought that perhaps the once great city was abandoned, but it still had access to power. Thus, it would illuminate because no one shut off the electricity to the buildings. With it being in the forbidden zone, no one had rectified the situation. It would also explain the reflecting panels in the desert. They could power such a city.

In his car, the Prince was getting quite warm. Thus, he slowed his car down and enabled the interior cooling system. After a brief drive, he pulled over to get a good drink from his water reserves. He could see the city clearly from his vantage point. It was an ancient metropolitan area in the midst of a very foreboding desert.

The old city had many opulent buildings. There were several high-rise buildings. Each uniquely and elaborately constructed. These structures showed amazing architecture. It was different than most of the ancient cities that Prince William had encountered. This was clearly a town of wealth.

As he got closer, he could see that the city was likely the source of the lights. Many of the buildings were still lit in the height of the morning. At the height of this city's life, this city was likely resplendent in the night. It could have been a city of lights.

Just off the ancient road, there were more and more opulent buildings. However, there were no exits. All of the ancient intersections were blocked. Prince William was funneled into the depths of the ancient city. There was no way off the ancient road except the way he had come, or some place deeper in the city. He drove on.

As he got deeper into the city, he began seeing evidence of activity. He would see things move out of the corner of his eyes. He was not sure if they were people or vehicles or something else. Nevertheless, the farther he got into the city the more he observed such movements.

Eventually, he was forced to stop. The way forward was completely blocked. When he came to a complete stop, a gate closed behind him. He was trapped. Some people in masks and black jumpsuits jump out and surround his car.

With their weapons drawn, they told the prince to get out of his car.

"I am Prince William Thorbjornson of Lakeland," the Prince explained as he exited his car with his hands in the air.

"What part of Forbidden Zone did you not understand?" asked one of the armed individuals.

"I demand to be taken to see the ambassador," Prince William stated firmly.

"You are not even heir to the throne," laughed the black clan man. "The king might not even pay to get you back."

"The ambassador..."

"Forbidden Zone..."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"As far as anyone is concerned, the moment you entered this restricted area, you died. Thus, your claims of royalty and honor and privilege mean absolutely nothing here."

"But..."

"Come with me and keep quiet," demanded the man as he brandished his weapon.

The Prince complied.

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Reunited...

Chapter Seven

By Douglas E. Gogerty

The individuals in the black jumpsuits escorted Prince William across an abandoned stretch of road that ran parallel to the ancient highway. After crossing the frontage road, the group led the prince into one of the nearby buildings. It looked like an ancient hotel of some sort. It had a brick and stone facade. It was in surprisingly good shape for a building of the ancients.

There were similar buildings nearby, and they all looked in usable shape. It looked like this particular area was untouched by the conflicts that destroyed much of the ancient world. The luxury was more evident to the Prince as he entered the lobby of the structure. The opulence of the ancient structure was still intact. It could still be used as a luxury hotel.

The team quickly escorted the Prince into a secure room just off the main lobby. They put him in the room, closed and locked the door, and left him alone. It was a relatively small room with a table and four chairs in the center. Along one wall, there was a mirror. There were cameras in the corners pointed in various directions. It did not appear that there were any section of the room not covered by the cameras. The Prince wondered if they still functioned. He walked around and took a closer look at them.

When he was finished exploring the room, he sat in one of the chairs and waited. He waited. He waited some more. He got up and took a few more laps around the room. He sat again and waited. He had been there for quite a long time and no one had been to see him. He was wondering if they had forgotten him. He checked the door again, and it was still locked. The only thing he could do was wait, and that is what he was doing.

The Prince sat in one of the chairs and put his feet on the table. He closed his eyes and began to drift off. The door suddenly opened, and he nearly fell back. In walked a stunning young woman. She was dressed all in white. Prince William just stared with his mouth agape.

"What brings you to the Forbidden Zone," a sultry voice asked.

"Uuuuummmmm," replied the Prince.

"Do I have to ask a second time?" the voice asked more instantly.

"I am on a mission," replied the Prince suppressing a squeak in his voice. "I came looking for Princess Angelina of Calmondak."

"Trying to rescue a damsel in distress?" the young woman asked with a chuckle.

"Uh," the Prince said turning slightly red. "Something like that."

"How gallant!"

"A prophecy states that if I return her to her family, I will be richly rewarded."

"That sounds like something King Thorbjorn would cook up."

"What?"

"What better way to motivate some lesser member of his court to take on a very dangerous mission than promise them great riches. It seems pretty transparent to me."

"Lesser? I am Prince William Thorbjornson of Lakeland!"

"Billy?" asked the stunning young woman. "It has been a long time."

"What?" asked the stunned Prince. "Who are you?"

"I am your quarry."

"What?"

"I am Angelina. It has not been that many years."

"It is just..." stumbled the Prince. "You look beyond your years."

"What does that mean?" asked the Princess.

"Um -- er," stuttered the Prince. "I know of no fourteen year old as stunning as you."

"Your flattery will not gain you favor with me."

"Huh? I apologize. I meant, it is just that I did not expect you."

"Why is that?"

"Your father made it out that you had been kidnapped."

"My father is often far less than truthful."

"Do you mean to tell me he knows you are here?"

"Certainly not! I came here of my own accord."

"Then what?"

"The Forbidden Zone is not as was described."

"Much of it is desolate."

"With this sparkling jewel in its midst," finished the Princess spanning her arms wide. "The concept of the Forbidden Zone was designed to keep people out that he did not wish to see this place. However, his reasons for keeping people out were different than the ones he stated."

"It is not a place of death?"

"Oh! it certainly is to the uninvited. The desert is a very dangerous place."

"The uninvited?"

"Those that are invited here do not find it so dangerous. In fact, they enjoy the luxuries this ancient city offers."

"I am confused. Why would anyone invite others into some forbidden zone?"

"To these special invited guests, it is not the Forbidden Zone but more of an oasis -- a getaway -- a special place away from it all."

"Who are these special guests?"

"Mostly rich outlanders with whom my father wishes to do business."

"Outlanders?"

"Your father has neglected your education greatly. Outlanders are people who do not live in Morica. They live across the sea."

"Why would your father wish to do business with them?"

"They have more to offer than the Kingdom's of Morica -- that is why."

"Such as?"

"Now you are just playing the fool. It is good that you are dead."

"What? Dead? Wait..."

"You have entered the Forbidden Zone. You are dead. You shall not return home to tell of the things you have learned. You are now far too dangerous."

"But -- I am a Prince..."

"You know of our oasis, our foreign investments, and our new found power base. You know too much."

"That is it? I am simply cast off? So what is to become of me? Are you really going to kill me?"

"I do not see any reason to kill you, but you cannot leave this city. What happens here -- stays here."

"I am a prisoner then."

"That is essentially true. One of the advantages of this place is that you need certain technologies to get -- well -- anywhere."

"You are saying that without my suncar, I would die in the desert."

"Or similar device. At the very least, you would need lots of water."

"And a head start."

"A rather sizeable head start if we decided to go after you. The guards could easily catch up to you if we wished them to."

"So, I am dead to the world, but a prisoner here."

"You have the essence of your situation down pretty well."

"Is there anything that can change that?"

"A shift in the Morica power structure may be of a benefit to you."

"A shift? How do you mean?"

"You could be a valuable -- bargaining chip -- to a few parties."

"I take back what I said."

"What is that?"

"You are not beyond your years in looks -- you are beyond your years in everything."

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Reunited...

Chapter Eight

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William was in a small interrogation room with the stunning fourteen-year-old Princess. They sat across each other at the central table in plain wooden chairs. The Prince was attempting to determine his standing as Princess Angelina had told him that he was dead.

"How did you become so ruthless?" asked Prince William.

"Ruthless?" asked the Princess. "I was not the one who attempted to sell me to your father for a paltry stretch of land. To me -- that is ruthless. What I am doing is self-preservation."

"Yet you will let me die here."

"While that may be an eventuality, I do not think it will actually occur."

"Why is that?"

"You could be valuable to me -- if I choose to act ruthlessly."

"What does that mean?"

"It means you may get the chance to die somewhere else," the Princess laughed.

"That is not very funny," sulked the Prince.

"It is, but you lack perspective to have a sense of humor about such things."

"Oh! Very funny," sneered the Prince. "So, what happens now?"

"I have been exploring the resources of the city, and you will be free to do the same."

"What kind of resources?"

"There is an ancient library here. Fascinating stuff."

"You have been reading?"

"Education is the surest way to have a say in your future."

"That is crazy!"

"Oh yeah? You were convinced of this Prophecy of yours. With a little manipulation, you wandered into the Forbidden Zone at your own peril. For what purpose? To get the chance to marry someone that someone else told you would be worthy of you?"

"What is your point?"

"If you had enough knowledge, you would know that prophecy is bunk. It is just a tool to manipulate."

"Be that as it may, I was taking a chance to get land to call my own."

"And, what of this land? It is on the gulf coast. Raiders regularly besiege the coast and pirates are constantly on patrol along its shores. It is not the jewel that your father makes it out to be."

"But, it would be my land, which is important to someone who is not the heir to the kingdom."

"Well, it would be your until someone took it away from you. You would need to recruit a navy to keep it. This would be quite an expensive undertaking -- if you were smart enough to pursue it."

"But your father was willing to take the land."

"As I have said, my father has been less than truthful."

"Your father could deal with the raiders and pirates?"

"My father has assembled quite a navy."

"He has?"

"It was a requirement for doing business across the sea. He has allied himself with some powerful naval powers."

"No one in Morica knows of this," responded Prince William. "Do they?"

"No one -- except those closest to my father, and those of us in Forbidden Zone. It is important to him that it stays that way."

"Another reason I must stay here."

"Your curiosity gets you in deeper and deeper. Nonetheless, this is not such a bad place. Lots of things to do and lots to learn."

"Paradise."

"Well, I would not go that far, but it is pretty nice. No snow. Lots of sunshine. Unfortunately, it also gets pretty darn hot outside, but the cooling systems of the buildings are quite remarkable."

"Cooling on this scale is remarkable. How do the accomplish this?"

"That is a good question. You should look it up in the library."

"Very funny."

"Knowledge is power. I must take my leave of you now. You are free to wander about, but please try not to cause any trouble. I would hate to have to lock you up -- or worse."

"Yes ma'am," replied the Prince almost saluting.

"When I am ready to leave this place, I will do my best to get you out of here. That is, if you still wish it by then."

Princess Angelina gracefully arose from the chair in which she was sitting and walked to the door. It opened and she said a few words to the guard. He nodded and she walked off.

Prince William sat at the table for a few moments. He considered his options. He was not sure what he was going to do. For now, he did decide that he would not cause any trouble. After pondering things for a while, he arose and walked to the door. The guard let him out, but followed behind him.

The Prince wandered about the building. It was an ancient hotel. He walked into a great hall where there were vast numbers of people sitting at these strange electronic machines. There was a strange language drifting across the room. The Prince did not recognize it as one of the languages spoken in Morica. These must have been people from across the sea.

The people sitting at these buzzing and whirring machines had an exotic air to them. They did not look that different from some of the groups living in his kingdom, but there was something different from them. As he walked passed watching them, they did not look up from the flashing machines in which they were operating.

The Prince wondered what they were doing. It must have been some sort of local entertainment because screams of excitement would break out every now and then. He walked up to a machine but was unable to make it work. One of the visitors attempted to explain it to him, but he did not comprehend. He just continued to explore this unusual place with the guard in tow.

He wandered about the noisy great hall for a while watching the people play their games. It did his heart good to see the people enjoying themselves so greatly. If he learned about the game, perhaps he too would have fun here. However, that would have to wait for another time. For now, he was just exploring the surroundings.

Eventually, he exited the great hall and found himself in the lobby once more. There were people on the move up and down in the elevators. He marveled at the technologies the ancients had. He looked at the ancient art on the walls. It was quite an opulent place. He stood in awe of it all with his guard at his side.

He decided that he would see what else the city had to offer. Thus, he decided to leave this hotel. He walked out the front door and was blasted by a wave of intense heat. The midday sun was high overhead and baking the entire place with an intense heat. Because of this, the area outside was deserted. His guard remained inside. Thus, he could explore the exterior on his own. However, the heat was so immense that he would not be able to stay outside long. Thus, he headed for the nearest building to explore it.

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Reunited...

Chapter Nine

By Douglas E. Gogerty

After taking her leave of Prince William, Princess Angelina immediately left the hotel where she met him. In the intense daylight heat, she began walking the several blocks towards her living quarters. There was not a lot she could do to protect herself from the heat. The stifling sun beat down upon her from the cloudless sky.

After several blocks, she approached the single story brownstone building she called home. It was an ancient building built in the southwestern style. The size of the building showed the former wealth of the town. The building had plenty of space to hold the resources of the ancient city. It was not nearly as opulent as the hotels, but after all, it was a library.

The Princess set up her living quarters in one of the rooms of this ancient structure. She had the cooling system started, so she would not have to live in the intense heat. Although she could have taken any room in one of the many hotels, she wished to be close to the books. It was the books that were of most interest to her. However, she was also interested in thee strange machines labeled internet. She wanted to know more about these internets.

She was hoping to find information about the machines in the books she had collected. These machines were scattered throughout the library, so she had guessed that they may give her access to even more information. However, how was someone supposed to access this information? That was something she simply did not know.

Princess Angelina entered her room and sat next to a pile of books. She had spent the last several weeks simply attempting to absorb as much information that the books had to offer. The ancient library had information on so much of the ancient civilization that created this city. She hardly slept because she was so engrossed in her reading.

None of the information she was reading was available in her father's library. Perhaps there was purpose for that. She had discovered that the women of the ancients had power. They could participate in ruling the citizenry. Perhaps the king removed this information to prevent the women from rising in revolt. After all, the men of Morica used the women as bargaining chips. Marriage was for alliance and the leaders -- kings -- men -- had no other need for women. Women were there for starting and maintaining families. The men would take care of the important tasks.

The Princess devoured the stories of the ancient women leaders. Across the sea, there had been women heads of state. There were powerful women all over the world. However, when the struggles destroyed these ancient civilization, the warriors put the women into their current role.

The population plummeted because of famine, disease, and the constant battles. Thus, the successful warriors desired to protect the women. Thus, they could increase their population base. It became important to the men that women have children. Thus, they removed women from the military, the workforce, and other positions of power. Princess Angelina was incensed that women had vital roles in the ancient civilization but not in her own civilization. She was determined to fix this situation.

She was not sure how to accomplish this. How was she going to acquire a position of power? Nonetheless, she was sure that it was something she had to do. Perhaps the internets had access to information that would help. She dug deeper into the books around her. However, she was not finding the information that she required. Very few sources even mentioned internets and they were of sparse information. They did not mention what it was or how to work them.

She did find out that to get on the internet it required a computer. She was not sure what a computer was. Why would something that computes allow you to turn on the internets? She felt that source was not trustworthy. However, it was as close as she got.

Thus, after the frustration of not finding out how to work the internets, Angelina decided to sit at one. Perhaps she could figure out how they worked by using one. Certainly, everything required would be available there. It should not require anything else. Thus, since an internet sat outside her room, she sat down in the chair in front of the machine.

"Hello internet," she stated.

There was no reply. There was some sort of black screen and a keyed input device. Thus, she began pressing the keys. This had no effect either. The screen remained black. She noticed a special key on a box beneath the screen. She decided to try that button.

The black screen flashed and she heard the internet beep. It startled her and she jumped out of her chair. However, the once black screen showed several images with weird things on them. The ancient machine whirred and growled. A cloud of dust shot out the back and the Princess began sneezing.

It has a defense mechanism, the Princess thought as she backed further away from the machine.

She continued to watch it to see what else it would do. She was tempted to run away as she could not control her sneezing. However, she remembered how much of this substance covered everything when she first entered the building. This dust seemed to protect everything -- including the books. It did not appear toxic. It was just annoying.

The machine kept whirring and grinding away but eventually it stopped. It had a strange message on it. Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage, it read.

What does that mean?" wondered the Princess.

It had equally cryptic messages to attempt to solve the problem. She pressed keys to type words that she had found in some of the books she had read. They were of no help. She spoke some words, but they also did nothing.

There was this strange object sitting next to the key input device. The Princess moved it and an arrow moved on the screen. If she moved the object left, the arrow went left. Thus, she determined that it was another input device. However, apart from the arrow, she was not sure how it worked.

It made a clicking noise when she pressed on either of the sides next to the wheel thing. She determined that these were some sort of buttons. The one on the right would pull up a strange list of suggestions. However, the one on the left did not appear to do anything.

After clicking around, Princess Angelina figured out how to pull down items on the screen. The left button did do something. She found a "favorite" that actually came up with something. She had discovered the Google.

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Reunited...

Chapter Ten

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Princess Angelina found out that the Google was an interesting and vast source for information on the internets. The words she would type brought a vast selection of results. However, most of these results were no longer there. Thus, when she would use the strange pointing device to click on the items, they returned an error page. However, the item labeled cache on the Google would return a result.

Thus, most of the ancient technology still worked. However, much of the infrastructure was no longer functioning. Nonetheless, the Princess gained access to much of the information available on one of the internets. One of the first things she learned was that the ancient civilization was obsessed with sex. It was as if these internets were made for pornography.

She searched for some of the names that she had read in some of her books. In this way, she found out more information about the leaders of this former civilization. She devoured everything she could find. Sometimes she ended in a dead-end, but there was plenty other things to read.

Princess Angelina spent hours and hours on the internet. She studied the ancient culture with great fascination. In ways, she found the ancient civilization to be much more advanced than her own. The opportunities for everyone were great. She wondered how such an advanced civilization could throw it all away.

Nonetheless, women in the former times were still objectified. It was evident in some of the images she found. However, some women had real power. Women were not just mothers. They had a say in how their lives went. They would not be traded for hunks of land.

If the women back then realized the power over men they had, she thought they could have taken over the world. At least stop the war...

That gave her the idea. Perhaps men had not changed. Perhaps women could still influence men with their appearance. Perhaps a pretty face could still manipulate the opposite sex. Perhaps she had some power that she could wield.

At this moment, she remembered the reaction Prince William had on her entrance. He would be a good test subject. She just needed to determine how far it would go. She would have to be careful. Men had the power because of strength. An angry man could be difficult to handle, especially for a petite teenager. An angry confrontation could be harmful and even deadly.

Nonetheless, she was sure that her rise to power was going to be through her looks. She felt bad about this. History would not judge her on her merits, if all she had was that men were susceptible to her charms. She had studied hard. She had a thirst for knowledge. It would be a shame to have the history books remember her solely for her beauty. However, in her current circumstance, that is all with which she had to work. Once in power, she would make sure she was known for more.

She decided that she would test her allure on Prince William. She hoped she could quickly determine how far he was willing to go and for what. The first goal would be to find him. She had left him at a hotel to do whatever he wished. It was a largish city, and he may be difficult to find.

She washed up and put on some clean clothes she believed made her look attractive. She stepped outside and the sun was not out.

What day is it? she wondered. What time is it? How long was I at that?

She could not remember the last time she ate something. Her stomach grumbled. Thus, before she would go looking for Prince William, she would get something to eat. Her experiment would have to wait. Or would it?

While it was important to work on people in power, she could also test her hypothesis on any man. She could even test it on the men visiting from across the ocean. The world just opened up with possibilities. The first step was dinner, or lunch, or whatever.

She walked the several blocks back to the hotel where she had left Prince William. It had a fine restaurant, and perhaps the Prince had not left. Suddenly she felt that the world was a different place. She noticed men looking at her. She smiled inwardly.

She walked in the door to the hotel. A guard was on duty, and he greeted her.

"Good Morning Princess. You are up early today."

"I wanted to take a walk," replied the Princess "and it is simply to hot to do during the day."

"A fine idea."

"Is the kitchen open?"

"Not for another hour."

"Oh! But I am really hungry."

"I will see what I can do."

"Do not bother. I will handle it myself."

The guard had orders, and she was the daughter of the king. Thus, he would not be a good subject for her experiment. The kitchen staff might be a different story. They were younger and more removed from the King's influence.

She entered the kitchen and a few of the staff were busy readying themselves to open. Some were checking inventory. Some were gathering supplies. Some were cleaning up a little bit. They all stopped when the Princess walked into the room. She walked up to the man who had been telling others what to do.

"I do not want to be an inconvenience," the Princess began "but if I could get a little something to eat, I would greatly appreciate it."

"Certainly!" the head chef stated. "Sit down! Sit down! What would you like?"

"I do not want to be a bother."

"Nonsense! Whatever you want."

"Well gosh, what is normally served at this time of day?"

"The special this morning is a crevette with a mornay sauce served in a Provencale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle pate, brandy and with a fried egg on top."

"That sounds very good," replied the Princess with a twinkle in her eye. "But, it sounds like it would be an awful lot of trouble."

"Not at all! We will get it right away!"

The chef clapped his hands and the kitchen sprang to work. The Princess sat there wide eyed watching the kitchen spring to life. So far, her test was successful.

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Reunited...

Chapter Eleven

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William spent much of his time exploring the ancient city. Once the intense daytime heat got to him, he would duck into one of the ancient buildings. Inside some of the larger building was a scene similar to the one he saw in the first hotel. There was the sound of a strange language being spoken and people sitting in front of these strange machines.

The people at the machines appeared to be having a good time. The Prince marveled at the number of people visiting this ancient city in the Forbidden Zone. It appeared that many people from across the ocean visited this city. The influence King Jonathan wielded must be great overseas. At least, the number of people enjoying themselves in one of his cities was large.

The Prince spent most of his day wandering along the strip of hotels. As the day wore on, the heat of the day began to lessen a bit. Nonetheless, it was still stifling hot outside of the air-conditioned buildings. With the sun far from its zenith, his thoughts turned to where he would spend the night. He was sure he could stay at one of the hotels, but that would mean he was like everyone else. He was royalty. He should have some special accommodations. At least, that is what he thought.

He pondered the question when he wandered off the main thoroughfare. He wondered what was beyond the glitzy main strip. Thus, as he wandered around, he found part of an ancient and abandoned commercial district. He saw boarded up shopping centers and stores of all kinds. This was once a thriving city with all the amenities.

He continued to walk looking around. He did not care where he was going. He was just exploring the ancient city. He wanted to see what was beyond the beaten path. Thus, he would come to a street and turn onto it. He headed left and right at random. He had become thoroughly lost.

After one particular turn, the area he had entered was much more residential. There were crumbling residential apartments all along where he walked. After a bit more walking, he came to empty lots. It was apparent to him that there were once structures on these empty stretches, but they were demolished. There were also vast stretches of crumbling asphalt.

As the road on which he was walking came to an end, there was a stretch of demolished buildings directly in front of him. However, behind them, he could see some houses. One that caught his eye was walled off from the direction he was going. It was on a cul-de-sac and sat somewhat isolated from the surrounding buildings. It had a wall, which ran along three sides. However, it was not a defensive wall. It was more of a privacy wall or an architectural accent. It would not keep out any invaders, as it was not particularly high and it had no spikes on top. It was just a wall to separate this particular house from the apartments and the neighboring houses.

Behind the wall was a very large single story building with a red tiled roof. Like many of the buildings in the city, it had an earth toned stucco exterior. It looked somewhat like a southwestern-style villa. It had a pergola along the front, which likely had some water hungry plants clinging to them at some point. Those had long since died off. However, it did provide shade for a front porch.

In addition, there was a circular stretch of long abandoned concrete in front of the house. It encircled a small bit of sandy soil which may have been a lawn of some sort or a garden. The once lush garden had been long abandoned and was thoroughly dead. Further, there was a large dead palm tree on one side of the house, and some dead trees along the entryway.

Prince William walked along the circular path towards the front door. The dead trees practically fell over as he walked by. They had been dead quite a long time and the elements had not quite destroyed them. The front door of this elaborate structure was boarded up. This house had stood up to the elements well, but it was clear that no one had looked after it for quite some time.

Furthermore, this house was not boarded up recently. The wood barring the door was brittle from being exposed to years of intense heat. It nearly disintegrated at the touch when Prince William pulled on it. Despite the neglect, the house was still impressive.

Once inside the building, the Prince found the house dark and barren. The former residents had taken all of their possessions with them. At least, someone took them. Thus, the rooms were empty. However, each room retained a certain luxury about them. There was no expense spared in the creation of this structure. Prince William thought that perhaps the luxury was the reason the building was boarded up. The owner borrowed too much and could not pay for such an elegant home. Furthermore, no one else could afford the extravagance to buy the building from the owners.

As the Prince walked around he noticed that the marble floors were covered with a thick layer of dust. Nonetheless, the house's grandeur still showed through. Even the bathroom had a sense of elegance. While the structure was not as large as the castles he had lived in or visited, it was still fit for royalty. It would be fit for royalty even as a prison. He thought that he could make a home of it.

He flipped a few switches, but they had no effect. This structure was not connected to the power system. Despite not having any power, the interior was surprisingly cool. Not hotel cool, but cooler than the outside. He wondered how that was possible. He tried a few other things, but the house was not connected to any services. The house had no water, no electricity, and no cooling.

The Prince continued to explore the house. He walked out the back door and wedged into one corner was a small pit. Perhaps it was a swimming pool. How decadent. In the middle of the desert, this home had a pool of water. No wonder there were wars over water with people willing to waste it in such a manner.

Prince William was happily considering staying at the home. He would ask Princess Angelina if services could be connected. It would be a perfect place for him. It was then that he realized that he did not know where he was. How could he consider living there where he did not know where there was?

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Reunited...

Chapter Twelve

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Princess Angelina enjoyed her meal in the kitchen of the ancient hotel. The chefs outdid themselves. They brought her item after item for her to enjoy. She let them completely pamper her. With a look, she would get more of this or have that taken away. She easily got her fill. She got more than her fill. She could eat no more. She had determined her limit. However, they kept bringing her food.

"I simply could not eat a single thing more," she explained to the chef.

"How about a thin mint?" he asked.

"Nothing. Not a thing," she replied.

"It is wafer thin..."

"I would simply explode if I ate it," she answered. "I thank you for your hospitality though."

"Not at all," the chef replied with a bow. "You may join us any time."

The Princess got up and left the kitchen. She felt as she was waddling around, but she wanted to find the guard she left in charge of Prince William. She found the guard at his post.

"Do you have any idea where I could find Prince William?" she asked him.

"You did not ask me to follow him," he replied. "I was tasked to watch him while he was in the building."

"At ease. You did your task well," she responded. "I was asking if he remarked about where he was going or anything."

"He did not mention anything; however, if you wait for a moment I can check with the staff."

"Very good," the Princess replied with a wave.

The guard led her to a waiting room and she took her seat on one of the overstuffed chairs in the room. She was glad that it was not too far and that she had the opportunity to sit for a while. Her overindulgence was greatly affecting her. She sat patiently waiting for the guard to return while languishing in her over eating. It was not long before the guard returned.

"The Prince is not in any of our properties," the guard said upon his return.

"Does anyone have an idea of where he is?"

"According to our head of security, the Prince is in one of the abandoned houses just to the southwest of here,"

"How could he possibly know that?" she asked.

"I am not at liberty to discuss it."

"I am the daughter of King Jonathan of Calmondak. He is your king, and I order you to answer my question."

"I have my orders."

"You have disclosed much in that statement. These orders must originate from the King himself. What is it?"

"I will not discuss it," the guard replied.

"Could I get a hint?" the Princess asked with a wink.

"Please do not pursue this any more," replied the guard with a sigh. "I do not wish to lose my situation."

"It must be quite top secret then."

"I will not say another thing on the topic."

"From your reaction and the pinpoint precision of the Prince's whereabouts, it must be some sort of tracking device."

"Your highness, please..."

"Do not worry I will vouch for your silence. Wait!"

"Princess?"

"If someone placed a tracking device upon the Prince without his knowledge, that means..."

"Your words will not help to exonerate me."

"That bastard! That dirty rotten conniving -- nerfherder!"

"Your highness?"

"My father has known where I was all along. He has a radio tracker on me! Is that right?"

"I cannot answer your questions," replied the guard attempting to put on his best poker face.

"This has all been a big sham. The wedding. The untrackable suncar. The easily bribed guard. He wanted me to run away."

"Honestly Princess, I know nothing about what you are speaking."

"I am sure of that, but you do know about the tracking device."

"Yes -- I mean no! Ah! you tricked me. I will be exiled to the desert for sure." "How?"

"Mistress?"

"How did we get them implanted?"

"Get what implanted?" the guard replied obstinately.

"Perhaps it was in the food somehow. It was ingested and stayed with us."

"I have no idea of what you are speaking."

"It could have attached itself to the stomach in some way. That way -- it would not need to be continuously replaced. I wonder if they use our own stomach acid to power them."

"Hum de dum dum," replied the guard looking around the room.

"I will have to check with the google to see if this was possible in ancient times."

"Did you say something? Will there be anything else?"

"Could you draw me a map to where I could find the Prince?"

"I will have the head of security provide you with a map."

"You are a sweetheart," the Princess replied to the guard with a kiss on the cheek.

The guard stood there for a moment surprised by the kiss. The Princess gave him a sideways glance, which snapped him out of it. He rushed to the head of security and obtained a map to the house where the Prince was staying.

The guard returned with a surprisingly detailed map. The Princess was expecting a hand drawn thing, but it appeared like the maps she had seen on one of the internets. Someone had circled the location of the Prince in red pen, but the most convenient route was highlighted in yellow. It was a bit of a walk, but the Princess was used to walking.

It would take a bit, and the Princess hoped that Prince William would still be there when she arrived. The long walk would help with the bloated feeling she still had from the meal she just ate. However, her thoughts returned to the tracking device. How long would they last? Did she just eat another one? Perhaps she would return to the chef to probe him for more information.

The sun had been up briefly, but it was already hot. It was going to be another scorching day. The Princess began to long for the cool mornings of her home. She had lots to discuss with her father. She almost forgot why she was looking for the Prince when she arrived at the stately ancient home marked on her map. The Prince was very surprised when she walked into his improvised home.

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Reunited...

Chapter Thirteen

By Douglas E. Gogerty

It was getting dark, and it had been a long day for Prince William. However, with the darkness came the realization that he was not that far from the strip. The bright lights he had seen while in the desert came from those hotels. He would just have to head north and east to get back from where he came. He was not as lost as he thought.

He did wish that he had thought about eating before this very moment. Nonetheless, his journey back to the hotels would have to wait. He was more tired than he was hungry, but that situation would reverse in the morning.

The Prince was accustomed to roughing it. When on the trail, one does not find much in the way of luxury. In fact, this house was more luxurious than most of his camping experiences. He would have no problems sleeping in the abandoned house. In fact, the emptied bathtub seemed quite inviting. Thus, he stretched out in the enormous tub and quickly fell fast asleep.

While the fancy tub was by no means soft, it was comfortable enough to provide the Prince with a sleeping spot. Further, its cool marble surface afforded a better night's sleep in the heat of the desert. The sun was peeking over the horizon when he awoke. He had slept quite soundly despite the sleeping conditions.

He slowly got up and looked around further. Perhaps something around would be edible. His stomach had been growling for a bit. Having found nothing to eat, he resigned himself to walking back to the hotel for food. It was at that moment that Princess Angelina walked into the ancient home. He was quite surprised to see her, and he wondered how she had found him.

"It is a long story," replied the Princess.

"You can tell me it over breakfast," responded the Prince as he headed for the door.

"Oh please! I could not eat another thing."

"But, you will tell me?"

"I have not decided yet."

"What?"

"I understand that you have a right to know, but I do not know if you are in a state to handle more shocks."

"I have a tracking device on me..."

"I am afraid so."

"Why am I not surprised?"

"I had nothing to do with it."

"Sure."

"I did not!"

"Whatever you say. Can we -- er -- I get something to eat now?"

"I am sorry to keep you," the Princess replied waving towards the door.

The pair walked west along the cul-de-sac before they could begin their northeasterly trek. They were silent for a portion of the walk. Each did not know what to say to the other. They just walked in their own thoughts.

"So, you are tracking me to make sure I do not leave," began the Prince after a long silence.

"That is not it at all," replied the Princess. "I was unaware of the tracking device until this very morning."

"And you expect me to believe that?"

"It matters little what you believe; however, it is the truth."

"But, you show up at my door in the middle of nowhere..."

"Because I asked around. That is how I found out about the tracker."

"And subsequently my position."

"True, but I came because we have much to discuss."

"Why would I discuss anything with you? I do not know if I can trust you."

The silence between them returned. They walked and the tall hotels came into view. They were almost back to civilization -- such as it was. The Princess gave out a small sigh.

"Do you have the power to have services restored to that house back there?"

"That small place? Why do you ask?"

"These hotels are nice, but are filled with common people. They are not fit for a man of my situation."

"You -- you are just a minor prince..."

"I am still royalty. I feel I have the right to live in better accommodations."

"These are the finest hotels in all of Morica."

"While that may be true, they are not filled with royalty such as myself."

"So you believe you deserve special treatment because of it."

"Naturally."

"What have you done in your lifetime to deserve this treatment?"

"I -- I -- I came looking for you."

"As my knight in shining armor. You came to save me from some unknown evil..."

"Something like that," the Prince said with a sigh. "Anyway, do you have the authority or ability?"

"I do, but it will not be necessary."

"What!?!! Why?"

"Things have come to light that has made me re-evaluate your position -- and mine."

"Things? What things?"

"The tracking device for one."

"And...?

"And what?"

"Are you going to tell me more?"

"What would you like to know?"

"These things that have come to light."

"There is very little need to explain it further."

"And just why is that?"

"You know enough now for my father to kill you on sight," sighed the Princess. "That is if you leave the Forbidden Zone. Why would you like even more reasons?"

"Would he come for me here?"

"He may."

"How likely is that?"

"There are plenty of people here that will do his bidding. You may not be as safe as you think. After all, you are already considered dead outside of here."

"However, I am certainly more safe here than I would be outside."

"So what are you trying to say?"

"I am not sure I wish to leave this place."

"Is living in that house your wish?"

"If services could be restored, it would be a fine residence."

"You would not even leave to have a kingdom of your own?"

"What do you mean?"

"In my reconsiderations, I have given some thought to the kingdom by the gulf."

"Do you know what that entails?"

"It would not entail what you think."

"My father would not cede that land to you unless we got -- married."

"I believe I could convince him otherwise."

"But what about the pirates and raiders?"

"Is it your intention to learn my entire plan?"

"Well yes..."

"That is too bad because we are here. I have no intention of watching you eat. Thus, you will have to wait."

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Reunited...

Chapter Fourteen

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Princess Angelina made preparations to return to her father's kingdom. She gathered provisions and placed them into her suncar. She had a technician recondition the batteries. At a moderate speed, it would take about fourteen hours to make it back to her father's castle. Thus, there was a need to camp somewhere along the way. She wanted to be in the cooler mountain areas before the need to stop. Further, she did not want to breakdown before reaching her father's castle in Calmondak. The car was going to travel through some pretty harsh areas, and there would be no help available. Thus, preparations were important.

Once the car was prepared, the Princess left the hotel and went back to her library home. She looked up tracking devices on the google. She found out about ancient radio ID tags for pets. While they were not exactly the same thing, the technology could have progressed to the point it was now. It could have become smaller and more powerful. Likely, it was another technology obtained from the ancients but refined by her father's people.

She did more looking at things on the internets. From some of the things she learned, she was certain her father had access to this technology in his castle. However, he clearly hid it from other people in and out of the kingdom. She would force him to reveal it to her. Thus, she could continue looking up things that interested her. When she left this ancient city, there would be many more wonders she would want to study. The she learned the more she realized that the ancients were more advanced than anyone was taught in the schools. There was probably a reason for that, but she would not let her father interfere with her search for knowledge.

After her searches were finished and after she gathered her things, she went to the hotel where she left Prince William. She found him wandering around the casino area. She could tell that the machines intrigued him greatly. However, she wished to get to the mountains before it got too late. Thus, she urged him to come along.

"Why should I?" asked the Prince.

"Can we talk about it in the car?" she replied. "I want to get going before it gets too late in the day."

"Again, why should I?"

"The temperatures in the mountains will be much more comfortable for our camp out."

"You are not listening," asserted the Prince. "Why should I leave the Forbidden Zone?

"Because I want you to," she replied with a pouty look.

"Uhhh..." he replied.

He could not resist that look. Thus, he followed her out of the hotel. She walked directly to the waiting suncar.

"I am driving," the Prince insisted.

"What?" she asked with a glare.

"At least let me drive," he said softening his tone.

"What...?" she added.

"Please!" he replied with a sigh.

She waited by the passenger door. The Prince taking the hint opened the door for the Princess. She got in, and the Prince ran around the car and got into the driving position. The pair headed out on the ancient road towards Calmondak.

"So...," he began after a brief pause.

"So what?" she answered.

"You said we could talk about your plans in the car."

"We are not even out of the city. You sure are anxious to discuss it."

"It does involve my future..."

"Very well," the Princess replied with a sigh. "I will talk to my father and convince him to let you live."

"Wait!" he said as he slammed on the brakes.

"I will be successful," she replied bracing herself.

"How can you be certain?"

"I know my father."

"What if you are wrong?"

"I am certain that I am not," replied the Princess with confidence. "I have enough on him, and he would not dare deny me -- anything."

"What assurances do I have?"

"You will simply have to trust me."

"I am sooooo dead," he replied as he began driving again.

After fairly long stretch of silence the Prince asked, "After you have insisted upon my survival, what then?"

"What do you mean?"

"How do you intend to get my father to agree to giving me the land without a wedding?"

"Oh that?" replied the Princess with a giggle. "I will throw the prophecy in his face."

"I thought you did not believe in it...."

"I do not, but that does not mean that it will not be useful to me. This Prophecy just mentions you rescuing me. Clearly, you have done that, which is all that is required."

"But there is an assumption there..."

"The assumption that I will be so grateful, that I will marry you..."

"Yeah that!"

"You can forget it."

"I think my father will insist."

"Your father is in no position to insist on this."

"But, he can still deny me the land."

"And go against the Prophecy? I do not think so."

After another brief silence, the Prince asked, "How does all this benefit you?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean," replied the Prince with a thoughtful look, "You do not need me to get back home. You simply do not need me for anything. Why did you save me from spending the rest of my life back there."

"Oh that -- are sure you want to know?"

"Are you sure you are fourteen?"

"I am pretty sure," replied the Princess. "My reasons are complicated..."

"We have plenty of time."

"Okay, I will tell you the truth."

"What?"

"I was going to ask your father to cede the land to me -- without you."

"I think that would be even harder to do."

"Not when he realizes that I rescued you, and not the other way around."

"You would use my father's prophecy against him?"

"It was the plan."

"Where do I fit in?"

" You know, there is an ancient saying -- Curiosity killed the cat."

"I have a right to know."

"You can do whatever you like."

"You promised me my own kingdom."

"I lied."

"I do not think you are fourteen at all!"

The pair drove for quite a while in silence. They would occasionally speak, but it was more reminiscences of their youth than the talk of the future. Eventually, they arrived at the place where Prince William had camped what seemed like ages ago. It was a good camping location, and they made a fire and had a nice meal. They would easily make it to the Castle the next day.

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Reunited...

Chapter Fifteen

By Douglas E. Gogerty

It was shortly before dawn when Prince William awoke. He looked over at the beautiful sleeping princess. As silently as he could, he grabbed his things and headed to the suncar. Because he was the driver, he had the keys. He quietly opened the doors and packed all of his things. As soon as the sun peeked over the horizon, he drove off.

Leaving his childhood friend behind, Prince William drove off in the suncar. He was not sure where he was going to go. Since he was close to the ancient highway, he would begin driving upon it. Nevertheless, he was certain he could not go back to where this journey began.

However, where would he go? When he got there, would he be safe? He was currently in the middle of what could be considered enemy territory. Could he make it to his father's kingdom? Further, he did not have any navigation aid to get him home. When he left, he had only consulted the map of Calmondak. It was all he needed when he first left on this adventure. Without navigational help, he knew that if he headed east, he would eventually reach his father's kingdom. In any event, the Prince wondered what obstacles he would encounter on his journey.

He continued driving for a while, but his thoughts kept returning to the stranded Princess Angelina. Despite being well into the mountains, it was still going to be a hot day. How was she doing? Had she panicked? What was she doing?

Further, how was she going to get back home? Did leaving her at the camp sentence her to death? After all, she let him drive. Thus, she trusted him with the keys. She did not even consider that he would run, so she did not even ask for the keys when the bed down for the night. Further, she did not protect herself from any advances he might make. She completely trusted him. Hence, by his actions, he had completely betrayed her trust.

After much debate with himself, the Prince turned around. The guilt was too much for him. He could not abandon her like that. She was far away from civilization in both directions that she would not survive the trip on foot. He would have to improve his situation in some other manner.

When the Prince returned to the camping spot, he found the Princess cooking breakfast over an open fire. She did not even looked surprised as he drove up. He got out of the suncar and walked over to where the Princess sat.

"Breakfast?" she asked nonchalantly.

"You knew I could never abandon you out here..."

"You can never tell with some people, but I can read you pretty well."

"You do know my life is at stake here."

"Of course."

"How could you be sure that I would find your life more valuable than my own?"

"I do not really look at it that way," replied the Princess. "I have given you plenty of assurances that you would live."

"You by no means can assure that."

"While that is true, you knew that I would not survive out here by myself."

"Sure death vs. possible death -- that is a pretty big chance."

"I also had one more thing going for me. I trusted you."

"Guilt. You knew that I would feel guilty about abandoning you."

"It is an ancient emotion that has plenty of power."

"What is for breakfast?" asked the Prince with a sigh.

The pair ate a fine meal. For a pampered daughter of a wealthy aristocrat, the Princess had surprising good cooking skills. She probably had only made herself a handful of meals, yet she somehow learned to be a competent cook. In her youth, she had garnered numerous skills. The surprisingly good meal calmed the Prince's guilty conscience. He quietly ate his meal.

When they both had their fill, the pair packed the remaining supplies in the car and drove off. Because of the incident that occurred earlier, they were behind schedule. Nonetheless, they still had plenty of daylight to make it back to King Jonathan's castle. The Prince drove a little faster, but he knew he could not get lost during this stretch of the journey. He remembered that there were very few turnoffs off the ancient road. He had driven slowly across this stretch the last time, but he was no longer tracking anyone. He could just go.

After several hours of driving and pleasant conversation, the Prince William noticed a roadblock up ahead. It had been the first sign of life they had encountered since they left the ancient city. There were a good number of people attending this obstacle.

"I will handle this," asserted Prince William as he stopped the car and got out.

The Princess attempted to stop him, but he was out of the car before she could warn him. The Prince strutted towards the front of the car, but before he could say a word, the guards fired their tasers at him. In a painful convulsion, everything went black for the Prince. He tumbled to the ground as the group approached. One of the guards drew his long knife as the group made their way to the convulsing Prince.

"Wait!" exclaimed the Princess as she jumped out of the car.

"Pardon us your highness," replied the guard who appeared to be in charge. "But, we are under strict orders to not let the Prince pass."

"You know that I am the Princess and he is Prince William then."

"Yes Miss."

"How would you know that?"

"I am not at liberty to discuss it."

"The tracking device..."

"I do know not of what you speak," lied the guard.

"In any event, you do not have all the required information."

"Is that so?"

"Prince William and myself have additional information that the King will wish to hear."

"I am sorry your highness, but we do have our orders."

"The King will be quite upset when I get to him."

"There is no way to override the King's orders. We cannot disobey."

"I am telling you that you will be in greater trouble if you do not disobey his orders than if you obey them."

"We will take that chance," replied the guard as the one with the knife approached the Prince.

"I know you have long distance communication," asserted the Princess. "I demand you let me speak to him."

"Please your highness, we have our orders."

"We were just following orders is a poor excuse. I am positive my father would want to hear what I have to say."

"What does that have to do with Prince William?"

"Everything."

"I am sorry mistress..."

The guard with the knife walked right to the Prince. The Princess lied across him to block the way. However, another guard removed her from the still quivering Prince. Thus the one with the knife had full access to the vital parts of the Prince.

"Please..." begged the Princess.

"We have our orders," replied the head guard.

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Reunited...

Chapter Sixteen

By Douglas E. Gogerty

The guard with the drawn knife walked up to Prince William and grabbed him. The strong guard easily picked up the Prince and carried him across his shoulders. He walked the short distance from the suncar to a waiting security van. A second guard was there and put handcuffs on the Prince. Together they gently placed the twitching Prince inside the van. Once that was done, the two guards entered the van and sat next to the secured prince. A third, entered the front, started the van, and began to drive off.

"Wait!" cried the Princess. "He has the keys!"

After what seemed like hours, the driver cried out the window of the van, "They are still in the suncar!"

With that, they drove off. The Princess ran to the car and got in. Sure enough, the keys were there. Thus, she started the car and attempted to follow the van. However, the remaining guards barred her path.

"You are in enough trouble," stated the Princess sternly.

"As I have explained to your highness," replied the highest-ranking guard. "I am under strict orders from the King. We should not be in any trouble for obeying his orders."

"But..."

"You do not outrank your father."

"So why are you detaining me?"

"You are free to go at any time."

"Well..."

"That is, any time after the van is safely away."

"What is your name?"

"Captain Armstrong Romanov Miss."

"I will not forget this Captain, and if any harm comes to Prince William -- I will hold you personally responsible."

With those words, the Princess broke through the roadblock. The captain restrained any pursuit. He decided that pursuit of the Princess should not be necessary, as the van was well on its way. He believed that it would certainly make it to its objective before the Princess could do anything.

The Princess attempted to follow the van, but it was much faster than her suncar. She reasoned that it must use some other technology for propulsion. It certainly was not solar powered. This thought angered the Princess, but she was no longer surprised by the advanced technologies available to her father. He had kept a great deal from her and others.

Instead of attempting to keep up with the van, she decided to speed towards the castle. If she could reach her father in time, she could save Prince William's life. It puzzled her that the guards did not kill him at the roadblock. She could not figure that out. Perhaps her father had something besides death in mind for the Prince. She doubted it, but anything was possible.

It had been several days since she last drove this stretch. Hence, she was not certain how far she had to travel to make it to the castle. Moreover, she did not know when the van would reach its destination. Nevertheless, she drove as fast as she could. She was certain her father was keeping an eye on her with the tracking device; thus, he would know she was coming fast. She thought about how to use this in her favor. She wondered what she could do to get her father's attention and save the Prince. She puzzled on this for quite a long time. That is when she stopped. She did not stop thinking; she stopped the suncar.

She was still a great distance from the castle. Since she was not an experienced driver, a stop should mean something to her father. At least, that is what she hoped. Her father was not likely following her personally. However, his observer may report it to him and a specific conclusion could be made. She would be a long ways from any help if she had an accident. Her father would have to send help. The closest available help would be the van. This is why she stopped. She was sure that her father would conclude that the Princess crashed.

She sat there moving as little as possible. It was not long before the van pulled up.

"Are you all right?" asked the driver.

"I know you are in communication with my father," the Princess replied. "I demand to speak to him."

"I do not know of what you are speaking," replied the driver.

"The phone," demanded the Princess. "You must have some sort of portable telephone device. Give it to me."

"Your Highness?"

"Do not play with me!"

"The sat-phone is -- uh -- only a receiver."

"How were you to give my father information on what happened here?"

"Uuuummm -- wait a moment," replied the driver in a dejected tone.

The driver pressed some buttons on a small communications device. He waited for a few more moments until someone on the other end answered. They exchanged pleasantries and the driver then said into the phone, "She wishes to speak to you sire. Very good sir!"

He handed the phone to the Princess.

"Daddy?" the Princess asked.

"Yes dear," replied King Jonathan on the other side of the phone. "Are you all right?"

"Yes father, but you must not harm Prince William."

"What makes you think I was going to?" asked the King in his most innocent sounding voice.

"The things I know he knows you must also know."

"Run that by me one more time...."

"You and I both know that he knows too much."

"And you think that murdering him is the only way to keep him quiet?" asked the King.

"Not at all, I have several alternatives that I can give you."

"So, you do not think that I could also have alternatives?"

"What he knows can be used against you. Thus, you must keep him close -- or quiet."

"I will say that your views are well reasoned, but what makes you think that he can be trusted?"

"I do not, but I need him alive."

"How so?"

"I am not going to explain over this infernal thing..."

"Very well, I will allow you to bring him with you."

"Thank you daddy! I will see you soon."

The Princess handed the satphone over to the driver and said, "The king wishes to speak to you."

After a few yes sires, the driver exited the van and freed Prince William. He was still groggy from the rough treatment, but he was conscious. Princess Angelina helped him into the waiting suncar. She got into the drivers seat and drove off towards the castle.

The Prince was silent for most of the trip. His head was still swimming with what had happened. The Princess attempted to concentrate on the road and not worry about Prince William. She had not anticipated that roadblock, nor the blind obedience of the guards. Her anger towards Captain Romanov would occasionally boil to the surface. However, the Prince did not seem to notice.

After a few hours of driving, the Princess drove up to the castle compound's gate. Since her disappearance, her father had greatly tightened security. Perhaps it was just a show. In any event, she would not be able to slip out as she had before. She wondered if something else had happened while she was gone. She would find out soon enough.

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Reunited...

Chapter Seventeen

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William's head was spinning around. He was not sure what had happened. The last thing he remembered was telling Princess Angelina that he would handle the situation. The next thing he remembered clearly was being in the suncar and watching the Princess drive. Everything in between, he was fuzzy on what happened.

He was still attempting to shake off the effects of the taser when they neared the castle. He took a deep breath, but volunteered nothing.

"This time," the Princess stated as they pulled in front of the guard house. "Let me handle this."

"You will get no argument from me," replied the Prince.

"How do you feel?" she asked.

"My head is spinning a little bit, but I think I am fine."

"Sorry! I did not anticipate the roadblock. Damn tracking device!"

"I should have realized that they meant business. It is just as much my fault."

"True...."

"Hey!"

"Oh, you caught that."

"You do not get off the hook that easy."

"I will prove my worth now."

"I hope so! I do not think I could take another shock like that."

"Hah! I think you could...."

"Very funny."

The Princess stopped the car where she could easily walk to the guard who was in charge of the gate. Warily, she got out of the suncar. Looking around, she walked up to the guard.

"Open the gate please," she said politely.

"Can I see your authorization?" replied the guard.

"Author...? Do you know who I am?"

"I have my orders. No one in or out without authorization."

"What is your name?"

"My name is none of your concern."

"Very well. My name is Angelina, Princess of Calmondak, Heiress to the Queen Marcellina. I have had it up to here with the disrespect I have been receiving, and I assure you that you will be flogged!"

The guard got a worried look upon his face. He was not sure what to do. He looked left and right at nothing in particular. He was trying to think.

"Flogged!" repeated the Princess. "Now if you would like to survive the day -- open - the - gate."

Without waiting for a reply, the Princess did an about face. Steadily she marched back to the suncar. She entered in a very deliberate fashion. She pulled up to the gate, and the guard did as the Princess requested. The gate opened, and the Princess drove the suncar to the building where her living quarters resided.

The Prince exited the car, but his legs were a bit shaky. Nonetheless, he managed to walk to the door unaided. At first, he was not sure he could. However, he gained strength with every step. In any event, he was exhausted from the 12 or so steps he took, but he made it. There were a few chairs in the entryway. He found one to his liking and sat in it.

Prince William watched as the Princess walked further into the hall. There she met the King and he greeted her warmly. The pair walked off into a nearby meeting room. The Prince at first got up to follow, but he quickly gave up that idea. The Princess said she would handle this, and he would just let her get on with it. His curiosity did strike him a few times, but the walk to the room was simply too daunting. He was content just resting in his comfortable chair.

Occasionally he would hear the King roar something at his daughter. He did not hear Princess Angelina scream anything back. He was hoping this was evidence that she could indeed handle her father. It was times like this that the Prince would attempt to rise only to collapse back down.

The Prince sat for quite a long time as the King and Princess worked out whatever was going to happen. The Prince hoped that it would not result in his death. He hated that his fate was being argued over without him being present, but he did not wish to complicate matters for the Princess. Not to mention that twenty feet was daunting. He had spent quite a bit of time with her, and she was quite capable for a fourteen year old. So, he let her take care of things.

After what seemed like ages, the Princess exited the room with a satisfied smile on her face. Prince William sighed, and arose out of his seat.

"One down," stated the Princess confidently. "One to go."

"You mean?"

"That is right. We will be back on the road tomorrow."

"You said we -- I get to live?"

"For now..."

"Now you have to talk to my father and convince him."

"I hope he will be easier to convince than my dad."

"I hate to say it, but I doubt that he will."

"Anyway, I do not know about you, but I could use a long hot bath!"

"That sounds like it would require moving from this spot. I think I will stay here."

"I will have someone lead you to your quarters when you are ready."

Princess Angelina left the Prince to sit in his chair as she went to her quarters. A hot shower did sound inviting, but the chair was comfortable. Further, they would not leave until the morning. There was plenty of time to freshen up later. He wanted to get his strength back.

After sitting in the chair for a while, Prince William began to feel that he was being scrutinized. Several eyes were upon him. It was not unusual, but it made him feel uneasy. He looked around with a growing discomfort.

He jumped out of the chair just as someone attempted to grab him. The individual that tried to grab him ran out of the front door, so he could not get a look at him or her. He took a few steps towards the door when the rush reached his head. His vision turned into a tunnel, and then it all went black. He fell to the ground with a thud.

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Reunited...

Chapter Eighteen

By Douglas E. Gogerty

The Princess soaked in her tub for quite a long time. In her experience, there was nothing like it in the Forbidden Zone city. There, she had to settle for less water consuming cleaning methods. However, in Calmondak the water issues were not as severe. Thus, she could afford this luxury. It was soothing on many levels. Thus, she just sat there without a care in the world.

Further, since she was royalty, no one bothered her with anything while she was bathing. Not even a female servant would disturb her in the bath. She was assured some time alone. These moments were often difficult to come by in her position. Hence, she savored them.

It was early evening when her ritual was finished. She dressed for dinner, and headed to eat with her family. She had been away for a while and it would be an excellent occasion to catch up. She noticed that Prince William was absent; however, that would not be unusual. Many times, the dinner was reserved for family only. In this way, they could speak of any family business without restriction. Thus, at this dinner, there was only the immediate family.

As the meal went on, she realized how much she missed her brother. The pair talked at great length. Prince James felt the same way about his sister, and he wanted to hear all about her adventures. They talked and laughed well into the evening. It was quite late when she took her leave. She had a long trip in the morning. She hoped all would go well, and she would see them again soon.

The Princess peeked into Prince Williams's room to find that he was not there. Since he had nearly free access to the castle complex, it was not strange for him not to be in his room. The Princess did not give it a second thought. She was tired, and she would track him down in the morning.

The Princess readied herself for bed. She asked one of her attendants to have her awakened early in the morning. In addition, she asked about the Prince, but no one had seen him. With a shrug, she dismissed her staff. Without another thought of the Prince, the Princess climbed into her bed.

Her bed was as soft as she remembered. The comfort she experienced was without match. The bath, the bed, the time with family was such a comfort to her. However, what she was embarking upon could end it all. She could lead a life of pampered comfort, or she could jump into the great unknown.

Nonetheless, if she continued to stay in the comfort, she could be married off to some stranger. Her father could need some support somewhere, and he could use her to create an alliance. This chosen mate could be an awful person. Perhaps even King Thorbjorn would need another wife. With the path of uncertainty, away from comfort, came freedom. She would be able to decide her fate. She would be in charge. Thus, she came up against the great conundrum. Would she be led around in a life of comfort, or would she take charge and go off into the unknown.

She tossed and turned with these thoughts going around in her head. What she hoped would be a restful sleep was anything but. It was a big step for her. She felt that she was still a kid. After all, she was only fourteen years old. When her attendant entered to arouse her from her bed, she did not want to leave its warm comfort.

Reluctantly, she did get out of her bed and dressed for the trip to the Lakeland Castle. There, she was would have to face the man she abandoned. It was this old man, who she was to wed, that she insulted by running away. She would now need to negotiate with him. He would have to agree to the terms she set. It was going to be a tough negotiation. She hoped that he would see the benefits of her proposal. After all, it was just business.

When she was completely dressed and packed, she walked to Prince William's quarters. However, he was not to be found there. She asked around, but no one had seen him. In fact, no one had spoken to the Prince since he had left for the Forbidden Zone. For all they knew, he had not returned with the Princess.

She checked with the guard who was supposed to help him to his room. However, that guard claimed that there was no one in the chair in which she directed him. This guard claimed that he asked around, and no one had observed the Prince. Thus, he thought the Princess played a joke upon him.

The Princess asked more people, but no one knew anything about the Prince. No one had spoken to him or seen him at all. They behaved as if she made the entire thing up. It was as if he did not get past the roadblock. The Princess began to get upset.

My father lied to me! thought the Princess.

She rushed to her father's study. He was not there. She checked his bedroom. She checked the meeting rooms. She checked the observation lounge. The more she searched for her father; the more she was convinced that he was hiding the Prince from her.

He was probably interrogating him right now, she thought angrily.

Finally, she found her father in the dining hall. The thoughts of the King torturing the Prince vanished as he sat there eating his breakfast. Nonetheless, she was still angry.

"Where is he?" asked the Princess.

"Where is who?" replied the King innocently.

"Do not treat me like a child father," responded the Princess with a sharp tone. "Where is Prince William?"

"I do not have any idea. Did you check his room?"

"Father! Of course, I checked his room. Now where did you take him?"

"I do not have any idea what you are talking about."

"I spoke to the Prince after speaking with you. I left him for the evening, and now he is nowhere to be found."

"Did you speak with your staff?"

"FATHER! You are the final stop in looking for the Prince. Now tell me where you took him!"

"Why do you think I took him?"

"You are the most exasperating man! Now, tell me where he is or so help me..."

"Can I finish my meal?"

"No!"

"I can only follow the same steps which you did."

"I know about the tracking device."

"Tracking device?"

"Yes. So, if you did not take him," she stated attempting to control her temper. "You can ask your staff where he is."

"I am sure I have no clue about a tracking device, but I will ask my staff if they know where he is."

"Now!"

"Yes dear."

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Reunited...

Chapter Nineteen

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William opened his eyes, and the blackness eventually gave way to white. His head hurt. Even moving it hurt, so he dared not touch it. It even hurt when he looked around. He felt glad that nothing else hurt.

He found himself in a sterile white room. The bed he was on was covered with white sheets. The walls were white. The bright white light reflected off every surface. Wherever he was, it was very bright (and white).

He did not know how long he had been unconscious, but it felt like several hours. There were no windows in his room, so he could not tell if it were night or day. The Prince had gone through a rough stretch, and he was enjoying the warm and comfortable bed. However, he knew the Princess would be looking for him. Thus, he decided to get up.

That is when he noticed that he was strapped to the bed. He was not going anywhere. He shrugged. There was nothing he could do; thus, he relaxed. The fact that he was still alive made him hopeful. He believed that the Princess would be along soon enough. Thus, he did the only thing he could do; he hoped for the best.

He almost slipped back into unconsciousness when a nurse came by to check on him.

"Is there a reason I am strapped to this bed," Prince William asked the nurse to his surprise.

"You had a fall," the nurse replied. "It was a precaution to prevent you from falling out of the bed."

"Can you free me?"

"Without doctors orders -- no."

"So, I am a prisoner here?"

"Do not be silly. You had a nasty fall, and you would not get far. You probably cannot even stand. Since the doctor does not want you to injure yourself further, you are fastened to the bed."

"So, I am a prisoner here..."

"If you insist on thinking that way, go ahead. I will tell the doctor you are awake and anxious to leave."

"I would appreciate that! By the way, what time is it?"

"7:30," he replied.

"AM or PM," inquired Prince William.

"You did have a nasty fall."

"My head thanks you for the obvious diagnosis."

"It is morning," responded the nurse curtly.

Prince William struggled against his restraints, but his head complained. The nurse was right; he probably could not stand. The exertion against the restraints nearly knocked him out. Even if he were free, he would not be able to get to the Princess.

Once again, he was nearly asleep when someone arrived. This time it was the doctor.

"How do you feel?" the doctor asked.

"Like a twelve gallon head in a ten gallon hat," replied the Prince.

"That is to be expected."

"How did I get here?"

"My nurse found you on the floor in the lobby. He brought you here."

"Where is here?"

"You are in the infirmary -- in Calmondak Castle."

"What happened?"

"You fainted and hit your head on the floor. It was a fairly hard blow. As I said, my nurse found you on the floor and brought you here."

"You treated me?"

"Yes, and I recommend you stay where you are. You will not be stable on your feet for a few days."

"I was to travel to Lakeland today."

"I strongly recommend you delay your trip."

"It really is not up to me."

"The trip should wait until your wounds heal. I cannot be any more plain than that. I am sure your traveling companion would understand."

"You do not know the Princess very well..."

"You should rest. Let the Princess worry about her travel plans."

The doctor checked the straps, and gave a reassuring look to Prince William. The Prince did not feel reassured, but he was still strapped to the bed. Clearly, nothing he could say or do would change the minds of the infirmary staff. He was staying put for the time being.

With a shrug, the Prince closed his eyes. His head was throbbing, and he wished it would stop. He drifted off to sleep. His mind raced around his condition. He dreamed that a mad scientist was tinkering in his brain. He tried to struggle, but was strapped to the bed. His dream continued as the scientist poked, prodded, and gave him different thoughts. Pain turned to colors. The colors began to twirl.

The colors turned to bright white as he opened his eyes. It seemed like a short nap, but another nurse came to check in with him. William tried to speak, but he was lost for words. He noticed that he had some sort of IV drip. He wondered if he had that when he woke up the first time. He wondered if they were actually experimenting with his brain. He drifted back into the strange dreamland he had previously emerged.

Perhaps this is what the King had in mind all along -- to use him in brain experiments. Who was that man that tried to grab him? Was he drugged? Perhaps that is why he blacked out. Maybe this all was a ruse. Perhaps the deal Princess Angelina made with King Jonathan was not what he thought.

In and out of the dream and semi-dream state, Prince William drifted. His mind ran from one subject to another. He went from serene to panic to wonder to any other emotion. He tried to concentrate but was unable to grab onto anything. It was as if he did not have control over his own thoughts. The drugs! he briefly thought before his mind wondered onto the next subject.

His mind kept returning to the Princess. It was in her that he could concentrate for longer stretches. His uncertainty about her began to drift away. His suspicions slowly faded. His pleasant thoughts prevented him from going into the darkness. His curiosity about his current situation kept his thoughts from swirling around. Finally, he drifted off into a more restful sleep.

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Reunited...

Chapter Twenty

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Princess Angelina followed her father to a nearby control room. The King attempted to slip into the room, but the Princess got her foot in the door. Following that was a quick argument outside the door; however, the Princess prevailed. The Princess was not going to be denied access to this very important -- but secret -- room.

Inside the room was a large computer screen. It was larger than any she had seen before. On the screen, there was a map like the ones she had seen on the Google. There were a large number of markers at various locations on the screen. King Jonathan whispered into the ear of one of the technicians. The operator typed on his keyboard, and it zeroed in on a particular marker.

"He is in the infirmary," remarked the King.

"What?" asked the Princess.

"It appears," the King began in an innocent voice "that Prince William is in the hospital."

"And how did he end up there?" asked the Princess in an accusatory tone.

"Honestly dear, I have no idea."

"Uh huh..."

"I am telling the truth," the King replied with a shrug. "Perhaps, you should go to the Prince and hear what he has to say."

"I will do just that," the Princess remarked as she left the room.

Princess Angelina walked the corridors towards the infirmary. From the command center, there was not a direct route -- without exiting the building. Thus, she had to wind through several corridors. That gave her time to formulate what she was going to ask the Prince.

When she arrived at the infirmary, the staff was reluctant to let her see Prince William. He had a nasty fall and needs his rest was the phrase she heard from numerous individuals. However, her rank overrode those concerns. Hence, she was allowed into Prince William's room.

When she entered, the Prince was asleep. Her attempts to wake him were unsuccessful. The suspicions of her father increased when she noticed that he was strapped to the bed. In fact, her trust of everyone in the castle complex decreased. She did not know whom she could trust.

She ordered a chair from an orderly. She was going to wait by the Prince's side. She sat for a bit, but the Prince did not stir. She decided that she could not just sit. She needed something to do while she waited. She gave orders to anyone who would listen that the Prince was not to be disturbed. Further, if he were to wake, she should be informed immediately.

With that, she walked through the corridors to her quarters. This was a much more direct route. She grabbed a few books. At this time, she wondered if there were any internets in the hospital. She found that they were a great way to pass the time. Nevertheless, the books on paper were going have to do for now.

When she returned to the Prince, someone was looking over him with a clipboard.

"Excuse me?" the Princess stated with her anger in control as much as possible.

"Oh..." replied the nurse innocently.

"Do my words hold no weight anywhere around her anymore?" the Princess asked.

"What do you mean?"

"I left orders that the Prince was not to be disturbed, and not 15 minutes later..."

"I was just checking on him."

"For what purpose?"

"He needs his rest, and I was checking his IV."

"This IV is keeping him asleep?"

"Naturally."

"How long will he be asleep?"

"Probably for the rest of the day."

"Then shut it off, or I will yank it out!"

"I -- uh -- I cannot do that."

"You do know that it is within my powers to have you flogged..."

"But..."

"Flogged!"

"I will go get the doctor."

"You do that."

The nurse rushed away. Princess Angelina watched as he had an animated discussion with presumably the doctor who was caring for Prince William. After much arm flailing by the nurse, the doctor rushed over to the Princess.

"Do not touch that IV," exclaimed the doctor.

"As I explained to your nurse, it is within my powers to have you flogged."

"But..."

"Flogged!"

"The Prince needs his rest."

"As I have been informed on numerous occasions."

"Well -- it is in his best interest to remain here."

"While I am sure you are concerned for his health, you had better disconnect him and allow him to awake immediately. Otherwise, there will be an inordinately large amount of hell to pay!"

"But..."

"No buts! Disconnect him now, or as I have warned, I will do it myself."

The doctor removed the needle in Prince William's arm. He moved the stand away from the bedside, and remarked, "It will still be a few hours before he wakes up."

"Bring me a wheel chair."

"What?"

"He may be unconscious, but he will still be able to travel. I am taking him away from this place!"

"But..."

"He can stay here in this bed, or he can sleep in the rear seat of a suncar. What is the difference?"

"He will have care..."

"He will have care in his home castle as well."

"Very well," replied the doctor with a sigh.

The doctor brought a gurney instead of a wheel chair. With the help of an orderly, he lifted the Prince onto it. The orderly pushed the bed to the lobby and out the door. At this time, the Princess went to the location where she had left the suncar. She brought it over, and the orderly gently placed the Prince in the back seat.

The Princess drove to the gate. She jumped out, and spoke to the guard.

"Open the gate."

"Can I see your authorization?" replied the guard.

"I owe you a flogging from last time..."

"Sorry ma'am," the guard said with a bow.

The gate opened immediately and the Princess drove through it. She checked to see if the Prince was still there, and he was. This had been more difficult than she anticipated. She hoped it would be different in Lakeland. However, she was not hopeful.

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Reunited...

Chapter Twenty-One

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William dreamed that he was flying. He was soaring like a bird. Over the hills and valleys he flew. He went swooping left and right. Occasionally, a bird would attack his head, but he flew on. It was an exhilarating feeling even with the intermittent head pain. Eventually, he realized that he had no control over his flight. He would swoop and swerve, but he was not controlling the flight.

Hence, he morphed from a bird like flyer to a passenger of a plane. He still soared, but his flight was dependent on the whims of the pilot. The Prince, at various points, would hit his head on the plane's ceiling. After a while, he became airsick. He began searching for an airsick bag. Finding none, he just let it go.

He awoke vomiting on the floor of the suncar.

"Are you alright?" asked the Princess with concern.

"Spare car flee?" the Prince answered trying to piece things together.

"We are about a quarter of the way to Lakeland Castle."

"Cow song have I spleen bout?"

"We have been driving about eight hours. I do not know how long you were asleep before I got you out of the infirmary."

The Prince felt a wave a nausea come at him as the Princess pulled to the side of the road. He tried to open the door, but he was unable. He was conscious, but not quite in control of his functions. He felt that the door handle kept moving. Thus, he vomited on the suncar's floor again.

"Can you make it a little more?" asked the Princess.

"Floor?"

"There is a good place to camp and spend the night just a few miles down the road -- if you can make it."

"More beets have cows," replied the Prince.

"While that makes no sense, I will take that as a yes."

The Prince lied back and tried to recapture the feeling of flight. It worked briefly, but the nausea kept interfering. He was not sure if it were the movement or the smell of vomit that was causing it. Perhaps it was a bit of both. Nonetheless, he managed to fight back the urge as the Princess pulled off the ancient roadway.

There was a small parking area with a few small concrete block buildings. Further, there was a small amount of open space, and a few crumbling gazebos. It was a perfect place to stop and rest.

The Princess stopped the car and immediately got to work. She set up a tent and inflated a mattress for the bottom. The Prince tried to get up and help, but he could not move. Every time he attempted to get up, the nausea would return.

When the campsite was set, the Princess came over and helped the Prince get out of the car. The Prince thought she was quite strong. He was surprised how easily she got him to mattress in the tent.

The feeling of flight gave way to spins. Around and around the Prince felt he was going. No matter how he tried, he was unable to change the feeling. He noticed that it was always clockwise. Odd, he thought.

He concentrated upon why he was spinning. He thought that maybe he could actually feel the earth's rotation. Perhaps he had been disconnected with the earth's gravity. He pursued this line of reasoning until he fell asleep.

The Prince welcomed the dreamless sleep in which he found himself. The strange disconnection he felt with the world around him was disturbing. The flight, the spinning, and all that accompanied those dreams did not make for restful slumber. The dreamless night was most welcome.

The blackness changed to blueness. The Prince opened his eyes to notice that the tent was a bright blue. The sun was up. It had been up for a while. It was already midmorning. He felt pretty good -- until he tried to get up. He let out a gasp, and the Princess came running.

"Do not try to get up stupid!" insisted the Princess.

"I thought I could..." replied the Prince.

"It appears that the drugs have worn off."

"Drugs?"

"You were on some medications that made you sleep. It sounded like you were having some fantastic dreams for a while."

"Did I mention beets and cows?" asked the Prince.

"Not that I recall," lied the Princess.

"I do feel much better."

"You did sleep all night and most of the morning."

"Sorry."

"Not to worry, I do not wish to push you too hard."

"Is there any food?"

"You are hungry?"

"Famished!"

"That is a good sign. Now, do not move and I will bring you something."

The Princess brought some simple food. The Prince did not care what it was and ate it hungrily. He washed it down, and ate some more. He tried to think when he ate last, and he could not remember. It had been quite the couple of days.

When the meal was finished, once again the Prince attempted to get up. His head was not allowing that to happen without help. This time, the Princess came and supported him. He made it to the suncar. She tried to put him in the rear where he could lie down, but he would not allow that. He would sit in the passenger seat next to her.

His ears rang as he sat in the car. He was surprised how sweet the interior smelled. He had vague recollections that he got sick, but there was no evidence of that now. With each passing moment, he felt stronger and stronger.

The Princess broke camp, and repacked the gear as the Prince looked on. There were a few moments when he thought he should help, but he was not up to it. It was all he could do to sit up. He hoped to be able to walk by the time they reached his father's castle, but he would have to wait and see if that were possible.

Once the car was packed, they were back on the road. There would probably be two more nights of camping before they arrived. He had slept valuable daylight away, and they would be lucky to get to the border that day. Perhaps the next day would go better.

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Reunited...

Chapter Twenty-Two

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William's head throbbed as he and the Princess made their way towards his father's castle. It was difficult for him to keep his head from wobbling around, and this made things worse. He believed that perhaps he should have been reclining in the back seat instead of sitting in the front. However, his pride was preventing that.

He managed not to get carsick, so he was grateful for that. The throbbing headache was bad enough, that it would have really hurt his pride. He tried to keep up his appearance, but the Princess knew he was not doing well. She stopped often which helped his well-being but not his pride.

The second night, the pair camped just inside of the Lakeland borders. There were no incidences crossing the frontier. The Prince was instantly recognized and got the respect he expected. This upset the Princess to no end, but that was the way things were. The Prince had no control over such things. Nevertheless, it was a much-needed boost for the Prince's ego.

Upon lying on the tent mattress, the spins returned. The Prince actually welcomed them. It sure beat the way he felt in the suncar. He just rode the spins into the night. He fell asleep quickly.

Once again, the black turned to blue as he awoke in the tent. To him, it seemed like a short night. However, he had once again slept well into midmorning. It almost felt that he closed his eyes and when he opened them, it was morning. It was quite a fitful sleep. So much so, that he thought he could just get up and walk out of the tent. He was once again wrong.

Princess Angelina, hearing him stir, brought him some food. He accepted it readily, but he was tired of being treated like an invalid. The Princess had made camp, drove, and fixed the meals. He did nothing but sit around. The least he could do was walk to the car unaided.

He insisted that the Princess leave him alone. His attempts to stand were difficult, but he was determined to make it on his own. The Princess could do nothing but stand by and watch. Thus, instead of watching him stumble along, she cleaned up things around the camp.

It was quite a struggle, but the Prince made it to the suncar. He ended up crawling more than walking, but he made it. Further, he needed no help. He was quite proud of himself for that accomplishment.

Daylight was again the mitigating factor in their travel. The suncar's batteries could only store so much power. Further, as the left the dry southern stretches of Calmondak, they were entering the farming areas of Lakeland. Hence, there were more clouds and even rain. Hence, the suncar was hampered by the less than ideal weather conditions.

Nonetheless, the Prince and Princess managed to get within a couple of hours drive of the castle of the Prince. The Prince attempted to help in the construction of the camp, but he was more of a burden than a help. Hence, the Princess insisted that he not help. He reluctantly obliged her.

While the Princess was setting up the camp, the Prince went for a walk. He had gained a great deal of strength. He took several steps before he had to rest. After a brief rest, he could take a few more steps. He had taken maybe 30 steps before he could go no further. He sat down in the grass, but sitting was not going to do the trick. Therefore, he had to lie down. His old friend spin joined him.

From his reclining position, the Prince glanced over to the Princess building the camp. With every action she took on the trip, the Prince gained more fondness for the Princess. He was already quite fond of her, but the way she cared for him on the trip endeared her to him even more.

Things would be a great deal simpler if she would just agree to marry him. There would be no need to convince the King that she was the target of The Prophecy. King Thorbjorn would give the pair of them the land without conditions. There would be no reason to make up anything.

Furthermore, they got along quite well. Obviously, thought the Prince, she cared enough about me to care for me on this trip.

He tried to get up and help set up the camp again, but had not regained enough strength. The Prince would wait until the evening meal was ready before getting up.

"Are you strong enough to come to eat?" asked the Princess after the camp was finished.

"I will be right there," replied the Prince.

The Prince gathered up all his strength to arise from his resting spot. He stood up, but could not straighten himself. In his stoop, he took several steps. Once again, he had to rest.

"I can bring food to you," insisted the Princess.

"I can make it," gasped the Prince.

"The doctor said you needed rest," insisted the Princess.

"I can make it," repeated the Prince holding his hand in the air.

The Prince took several more steps, and felt a little better with each step. Nonetheless, he still had to rest before continuing.

"It is no trouble for me to just bring the food there," assured the Princess.

"I can make it," the out-of-breath Prince repeated.

"It may be cold before you get here," joked the Princess with a shy smile.

"I can make it," responded the Prince with more confidence.

It seemed that with each step and exchange he gained strength and confidence. He almost stood up straight rather than the stooping position in which he walked, but he thought better of that.

"You are almost here," stated the Princess.

"I can make it," responded the Prince with pride in his voice.

"Aren't we the Little Engine that Could" the Princess said.

"I can make it," replied the Prince as he fell into a heap.

The Princess ran over to the pile that was the Prince. His head was throbbing and the world was spinning. He had tried as hard as he could, but he just could not make it any farther.

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Reunited...

Chapter Twenty-Three

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Lakeland/Calmondak Treaty Map

King Thorbjorn of Lakeland had several sons. His wives had always been able to produce heirs - that is male children. Thus, there was never any question that one of his sons would inherit the kingdom. However, it was not likely to be Prince William. Something quite catastrophic would have to happen first. This particular prince was well down the list of sons.

Further, the King had just heard the news that his new wife had just conceived another child. Hence, there was due to be an increase in the bounty of children in the Thorbjorn household. Depending on the Queen's disposition, the new child (if it were a boy) could, in fact, out rank William.

Thus, the King began to regret mentioning the prophecy to Prince William. While the piece of land he would be granting the Prince was small, his siblings would be greatly jealous of the King's action. It would make a valuable strategic alliance for Lakeland, but that still would not sit well with his other sons.

The King took heart that Prince William always suffered from bad luck. The pirates and the raiders that roamed the gulf would likely wreak havoc on the newly founded kingdom. Therefore, the new king and queen of this parcel would have to cede back the land to Lakeland when their kingdom failed.

He hated to set up his son to fail, but he had several others. He just had to forestall their jealousy until Prince William and Princess Angelina returned from the kingdom with their plans destroyed. Then all would return to normal in his kingdom.

On the other hand, perhaps Prince William would not return. After all, the Forbidden Zone had claimed several lives. Further, King Jonathan could simply kill Prince William at any time and blame it on the journey. It was quite possible that Prince William would never come back.

He had pondered the events he set in motion since the Prince left on the mission. He would sit and look out the window of his observation tower. He would sit there for hours and ponder the situation. The newly crowned Queen would come in and try to understand, but she had no experience with the weighty issues with which her husband had to cope.

On this particular day, the King saw a suncar approach. A wave of mixed emotions came over him. On one hand, he wanted it to be Prince William. In his way, the King missed his son. On the other hand, the return could very easily set in motion a great conflict within his family.

His heart wanted the suncar to pass by the castle. He could deal with Prince William not returning, but he was not ready for him to return.

Keep going. Keep going..., the King thought to himself.

Nonetheless, he felt his heart sink a little bit as the car pulled up to the castle gate. He watched as the gate opened up and the suncar drove into the courtyard.

Just be a messenger, the King thought.

A crowd gathered around the car. The crowd grew bigger, and they began to cheer. He could hear the shouts that Prince William had returned. More and more people gathered around the car. The crowd became so large that the suncar had to stop well away from the entrance to castle complex. This made it easier for King Thorbjorn to watch the action.

He watched as Princess Angelina exited the driver's side of the vehicle. The cheers went up as the beautiful young woman waved to the crowd. A second figure exited but stayed hunched-over. A few members of the crowd rushed over to support the obviously ill passenger. The injured individual waved to the crowd and another cheer erupted. It was obvious to the King from the cheer that Prince William had returned.

He called for his servants to usher the pair into the main dining room. He ordered a large feast to be prepared. The return of the Prince was a cause for much celebration. He did not have anything planned, as he did not know when (or if) his son would return. However, the castle was always ready for an impromptu celebration. Thus, the King set the wheels in motion.

The King put on some celebratory clothes and made his way to the large dining hall. He entered and saw the Prince sitting at the table with his head on his hands. It was obvious at first glance that the Prince was in no shape for celebration.

"I can make it," insisted the Prince as he looked up with a droop in his eyes.

"He has been saying that quite a bit," added the Princess.

"If it is too much," the King said in an assuring tone. "We can have this event later."

"I can make it," replied the Prince confidently yet wearily.

"He cannot," added the Princess. "However, if you bring in some sort of hospital-type bed, he would have a better chance."

"What is wrong with him?" asked the King.

"I can make it," the Prince said putting his head back down on his hands.

"He hit his head pretty hard," the Princess informed the King, "The doctor said he needs his rest."

"Why did you bring him here?" asked the King. "Why did you not let him rest?"

"It is a long story," the Princess answered. "He will be fine. It is likely just a concussion."

"I can make it," the Prince whimpered.

The King ordered a servant to bring a bed into the dining hall. The King himself lifted Prince William onto the bed. The Prince was immediately asleep. He stayed that way for most of the feast. This was all the better for the King. He did not have to delve into The Prophecy, or any of the future for the Prince and Princess. He could simply enjoy the party. He would deal with the ramifications later.

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Reunited...

Chapter Twenty-Four

By Douglas E. Gogerty

With Prince William ailing, Princess Angelina could not broach the subject of the treaty land or the prophecy's fulfillment with King Thorbjorn. Thus, she simply enjoyed the feast. Any discussions could wait until morning. Unlike the Prince in her kingdom, she did not feel there were any threats to herself or the Prince.

The party had gone on for some time when the Princess asked to be shown to her room. With all of the excitement, a room had not been prepared for her. The King assured her that it was a simple oversight. The King dispatched a servant to ready a room. The King assured the Princess that the room would be ready shortly, and that she should enjoy the party for a bit longer.

Prince William continued to sleep in the provided hospital bed. The Princess was envious, as she had spent several days driving and camping. The thought of a real bed was welcoming. However, there was nothing she could do about the situation. She considered having more wine, but decided against that idea. She could already feel the effects of the small amount she had already consumed. More would just aggravate her sleepiness.

She was having a conversation with one of the guests when the servant told her that her room was ready. She excused herself from the conversation and went to the room. It was a smallish room with a queen-sized bed in the center. It had four posts and a canopy over the top. It had a royal blue feather comforter folded down on one corner. It invited her in.

She did not bother to undress; she just slipped off her shoes. She entered the bed and the warmth surrounded her. She was asleep immediately. The apparent warmth and security washed over her. The long journey and hard work instantly evaporated and she was back in the luxury that she had long gotten used to.

She did not know how long she had been asleep when she noticed that she had left the lights in the room on. She slipped out of the bed, and suddenly felt that something was wrong. She was not sure what it was, but something strange was happening. She looked around the room, but she did not notice anything out of place. However, she only saw the bed when she first entered.

"Come out!" she shouted.

There was no answer.

"I am Angelina, Princess of Calmondak, Heiress to the Queen Marcellina! Now, step out or there will be dire consequences."

"I know who you are Princess," spoke a deep dark voice as a man stepped out of the shadows.

"Who are you?" asked the Princess. "And, what do you want?"

"I am Captain Arieux and I am here to protect you."

"Protect me from what?"

"Whatever may be lurking in the castle."

"How long have you been there?"

"I beg your pardon, but I just arrived. Please forgive me for waking you."

"It is all right."

"It was wise of you to leave the light on. It surely kept any unwanted guests out of your room."

"Yes... That was my intent," lied the Princess. "However, it was preventing me from experiencing a satisfying sleep. After I use the toilet, I plan to turn it off. Is that okay with you?"

"By all means."

Captain Arieux returned to his spot in the shadows and the Princess took care of her needs. She turned off the light and returned to the comfort of the bed. However, sleep did not come as easily this time. The thought of a bodyguard weighed heavily on her mind. Thus, she tossed and turned a bit.

Am I in danger? the Princess thought to herself. Did I do something to warrant the danger?

The thoughts raced through her mind. She did not mention the prophecy, but perhaps it was on the minds of a great number of people. The power of fulfilling the prophecy could put people on edge. However, who believed those types of things? Further, different people could interpret the results in various ways. It would not result in anyone losing liberty, or would it?

Suddenly, the Princess bolted upright in her bed. She heard a floorboard squeak followed by the sound of scuffling. After a few moments of struggle, she heard the sound of something heavy falling upon the floor.

"Who is there?" the Princess shouted.

"It is nothing," replied the dark voice.

"Is that you Captain?"

"Yes Princess," replied the guard. "Someone entered your room. It was most likely an accident."

"Are they all right?"

"They will be a little sore, but they will be fine in the morning. Please, go back to sleep."

"After that?"

"I am sorry. I tried to take care of the situation as quietly as I could."

"The way of the ninja is not what it used to be."

"You know of ninjas?"

"In my youth, I had a thing for the ninja arts. I even thought about studying ninjitsu."

"What? Five years ago?"

"That sounds about right, but I lost interest."

"I would be interested to learn what you know."

"I have not thought about ninjas in quite a while. I would not know where to begin."

"Not now!" Captain Arieux stated firmly. "You need your rest. I will gather my thoughts and give you a list of questions -- if that is okay with you."

"I would like that."

"Now, get some sleep."

The thought of a ninja lurking in her room brought back many fond memories for the Princess. She felt the warmth wash over her again, and she surprised herself. She fell asleep quite quickly.

When she awoke in the morning, the Captain and the body were nowhere to be found. The Princess washed up and put on some clean clothes. With the mood she was in, she practiced her ninja moves as she made her way through the castle.

She suprised King Thorbjorn at the breakfast table. The King roared with anger, and then with laughter. The pair shared a nice breakfast without talking business.

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Reunited...

Chapter Twenty-Five

By Douglas E. Gogerty

At breakfast, King Thorbjorn told Princess Angelina about the founding of Lakeland Kingdom:

It was a time of great conflict. A once great nation was tearing itself apart. It was partially due to a struggle over water; however, Lakeland had its lakes. Thus, water was not much of an issue here. It was other parts of the nation.

Nonetheless, many economic difficulties resulted in the upheaval. Difficulties that were both real and imaginary. There were riots and violence in the streets of the cities throughout the country. The citizens could not get any help from the structures designed to prevent these problems from getting out of hand. Hence, the effects of the water wars hit everyone. The great nation was doomed.

When the rest of his fellow citizens were rioting for justice and the rule of law, the First King, as we call him, was gathering up resources. He collected enough food and water for several years, and he stored them in what became our castle complex.

The city in which he lived had a university. This university had met with hard times because of the disinterest of the state and federal government. This was the case of several government-supported institutions. Thus, many university buildings nationwide were greatly underused (or abandoned.) Hence, the First King stored his supplies in the upper levels of a tall university building, and no one noticed.

This gave him several advantages. Of course, there was limited access. There were two stairwells and an elevator. In times of trouble, or when there was no electricity, the elevator was disabled. Hence, attackers would have to climb several flights of stairs. Blocking off one stairwell meant that a single person could defend upper floors. This is what the King did.

Hence, while the citizens were rioting because of the shortage of food and other services, the First King was building the defenses for his acquired stronghold. He built a reinforced concrete wall on the tenth floor of one of the stairwells. Thus, no one could go any further than ten floors in that stairwell.

On the eleventh floor, he built his defenses for the other stairwell. If you made it past him, you could finish going up to his storehouse. However, he made his defenses quite formidable. He electrified the steel door and greatly increased its strength. Further, he co-opted the sprinkler system for a fire attack.

He also built his barricade in the stairway in such a way that he could fire projectile weapons through it without taking fire himself. He had a few crossbows, but his main weapon for use was a pneumatic nail-gun. He cranked up the pressure so the nails could penetrate most armor. They were seldom lethal, but they were painful. With the electrified door and the flamethrowers, he could single-handedly defend his castle.

Thus, when the riots for control of land and buildings hit, the First King was fully prepared. He had his defenses in place, and he had a great supply of food and water. He was fully ready for whatever came his way.

The First King's stronghold had a connecting tunnel to other university buildings. Thus, when he had an opportunity, he would reinforce or block off other entrances. In this way, he could improve the security of his stronghold, and increase the size of his castle complex.

When winter fell, it fell hard on Lakeland. It was cold and the city's infrastructure had collapsed. The First King had no electricity. He had some batteries to provide emergency power for his defenses. They were not to be wasted on heat.

It was a bitter cold winter. The great King had overlooked heat, but he quickly rectified the situation by building a fireplace in the university building. However, he had to go out and gather firewood on a regular basis. Further, he had to carry the gathered wood up the stairs. Hence, it was exhausting work. Many times he just stayed under copious blankets.

The King could use the nearby river for power and irrigation, as there was a large stretch of land next it. There was enough land for him to grow a large array of crops. He had it all planned out for when spring arrived. He just needed to survive the harsh winter. While he struggled, he managed to make it.

Many did not survive the harsh Lakeland winter. Rioters and looters destroyed the crops of the farms. These same groups took or killed much of the livestock. Thus, there was little food being raised in the turmoil of the collapsing nation. Starvation was common. Thus, any store of food was greatly valuable.

Next to the river, the First King planted a small garden. He tilled all of the land by hand, and planted some vegetables. It snowed well into spring, and he hoped he would get a crop. He did not need to grow food yet, but it would supplement his stores. Further, he craved fresh food. There would not be enough to share, but it would be a good start.

However, this garden did not go unnoticed. A group of raiders spied him working the land. He was weeding his plot when they struck. A dozen men rushed him. He jumped into the frigid river to avoid capture. He swam downstream and got out when he could not take much more.

As fast as he could run, he made a dash towards his stronghold. The raiders were on his heals as he entered his building. He attempted to seal the door, but they broke through. He rushed through the tunnels towards his barricaded station. The many trips up and down the stairs worked to his advantage. He managed to make it to his position well ahead of the group of attackers.

He enabled the electrified door and readied his defenses before they climbed the eleven flights to his position. The first man got full brunt from the nail-gun. The second man in his attempt to avoid the flying nails tried the door. The electricity froze him and he shivered at the door. It took several tries from his comrades to free the man from the trap.

Five of the raiders died at the hands of the great king before they left the barricaded position. They left the bodies of their dead comrades at the barricade, and they had already begun to smell. Hence, the great King threw them out the 11th floor window. Naturally, this upset the raiders and they resumed their assault.

They attacked for several days, but they could not overcome the well-planned defenses. All twelve ended up losing their lives in their assault. Some of the local survivors took note of this feat. After that incident, the First King and many area survivors allied themselves. They helped with the garden. They helped build the power station. They established the kingdom of Lakeland.

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Reunited...

Chapter Twenty-Six

By Douglas E. Gogerty

"You are not telling her that boring story of the First King are you?" asked Prince William as he slowly hobbled into the dining hall.

"It is a good story," replied King Thorbjorn.

"Did you tell her why he is called the First King rather than great great great great grandfather?" begged Prince William.

"It is not essential to the story," responded the King.

"If he is not related to us, then what is the point of the story?" asked the Prince as he slumped into a seat at the table.

"It is our heritage..." added the King.

"How are you feeling?" interrupted Princess Angelina.

"Like I just traveled from Calmondak in a covered wagon," replied the Prince.

"I think you are improving," the Princess said. "That is an excellent description of how I feel."

"As long as we are on the same page," the Prince added. "Did you bring up The Prophecy?"

"No," replied the King. "There has been no discussions of the future while you were out. We only spoke of the past."

"Besides," glared the Princess. "If you did not make it, all discussions would be moot."

"When did that ever stop you two in anything?" asked the Prince.

"You are in a mood," the Princess acquiesced. "You should eat something. You will feel better."

"The Princess is right," added the King. "Here try some of this. It is fabulous."

The Prince was going to keep going, but the Princess gave him a look that froze him in his tracks. He immediately accepted the food and began eating. The food did make him feel better.

The trio sat in silence for a while as the Prince ate. Many thoughts went through his head, but he decided it was best not to bring them up. He just sat and ate in silence. In any event, he did not want to get the evil eye from the Princess again.

"So, I guess we should make plans for the wedding," the King said finally breaking the long silence.

"What!!?!!?" replied the Prince nearly choking on some food.

"If you are to fulfill The Prophecy," began King Thorbjorn. "You will need to be wed."

"It says no such thing," replied the Princess in a panic. "The return of the distressed is all that is required."

"I suppose you are right," mused the King.

"A bit of land for a small kingdom is needed," added the Prince.

"I suppose you want the land from the treaty," responded the King.

"Sire," Princess Angelina said in a measured tone. "About that..."

"Now is not the time," interrupted the Prince as he slumped in his seat.

King Thorbjorn jumped up and swept the Prince into his arms. He showed his great strength as he swiftly carried the Prince into the infirmary. He gently placed him in a bed and ran off to fetch a doctor.

"What was that about?" asked the Princess when the King was gone.

"The timing was off," replied the Prince meekly.

"I suppose you are right," responded the Princess, "But, you just delayed the inevitable."

"Is that a problem?" whispered the Prince.

"It is just that he will not wish to discuss it until you are fully well," answered Princess Angelina. "It could be days before the subject could be broached again."

"At least the wedding is off," winked the Prince.

"I would not be so sure," the Princess said as she patted his hand while the King walked in with the doctor.

"I am not as strong as I thought," the Prince said as the doctor began his examination. "I just need a bit more rest."

The doctor asked the King and the Princess to leave while he examined the Prince. The prescription for more rest was exactly what the doctor suggested. However, he was allowed visitors, so after a bit more rest, the Princess came to visit him.

"Because of your little stunt," stated the Princess coldly. "They are not going to let you out of this bed."

"I know," replied the Prince. "I had to talk the doctor out of strapping me down like they did in Calmondak."

"I am not sure," added the Princess with a wink. "Are you this way because your head is too hard or too soft?"

"Do not make me call the doctor and have him take you away!"

"If you do not keep it down, you will not have to call him."

"Are you sure you do not wish to marry me?"

"Where did that come from?"

"It is just that my father would be pleased, and we have known each other for a long time. I think we would be good together."

"You are delirious!"

"I am serious."

"Here is the thing. I have plans. I cannot follow through with these plans if I am forced to be someone's wife."

"Is being a wife and mother so bad?"

"Of course not, but that is not the only options out there."

"What are you talking about?"

"If I am married to you, everyone will expect certain things from me. Things that I cannot follow through on."

"Where did you get these ideas?"

"That is not important. What is important is that I keep my options open. It is important for both me and you."

"How so?"

"If you were married to me and I ran the kingdom, how would that reflect on you?"

"I would never let you do that."

"You would do as I say. Thus, you may think you run things, but everyone else would know who did. It would reflect poorly upon you, and that is why we can never wed."

"What?"

"If I cannot do things my way, I would rather die."

"You cannot be serious."

"What you do not understand is that you have options. You can do and be just about anything. Women can only be wives and mothers. I want -- no demand -- to also have options. If we marry, I lose those options."

"We could work something out."

"I suppose you are right. Like I could kill you! Right here and right now!"

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Reunited...

Chapter Twenty-Seven

By Douglas E. Gogerty

"Kill me?" asked Prince William. "You do not have the nerve for that sort of thing."

"Are you sure?" inquired Princess Angelina with a look of menace.

"I am pretty sure," replied the Prince a little nervously.

"When you are entirely sure, then we can discuss your proposal again."

"But..."

"Not until then!"

"Very well."

"It is clear to me, that you need some more rest; thus, I will leave you for now."

"But..."

"Rest!" demanded the Princess as she left the Prince's bedside.

Things were not going the Princess's way. She had not anticipated the Prince's feelings. Further, she had not anticipated her own feelings towards the Prince. Her plans had just become greatly more complicated. It was all she could do to get out of the room before accepting his proposal. She could not believe she was actually considering it.

She had to find some place to think. She needed to restore her resolve. She knew she was right about what other kings would think about kings with strong wives. She did not want the conflicts, which go along with weak kings, to follow Prince William. Hence, she knew she could never marry him. She knew it. However, that did not diminish her feelings for him.

She found a quiet spot with a window that looked out over the kingdom. She sat there and pondered. She was completely lost in thought when King Thorbjorn sat next to her.

"He will be fine," assured the King.

"What?" the Princess replied with a start. "Oh yes. I know."

"So, what are you thinking about?"

"Oh nothing -- I was just wondering what happens next."

"You do not wish to marry my son do you?"

"I am not ready to make that decision," the Princess lied. "Perhaps I am too young."

"You are young -- and beautiful."

"Thank you. That's sweet of you to say."

"Sweet?" replied the King with a slightly raised voice. "I have had people severely punished for using such words."

"I did not mean anything by it."

"I should take you over my knee...."

"Please -- no offense was meant."

However, there was no persuading the King. He grabbed the Princess and dragged her away from the window. The Princess was unable to resist the strength of the King. She fought, but the King easily dragged her into a nearby private room.

Suddenly, the Princess knew that the offense was merely an excuse to get her alone. He began pawing at her clothes.

"Stop!" shouted the Princess with a look that could stop running water.

Surprised at himself, the King stopped. He felt powerless under the spell the Princess's look held over him. He stood there shaking. He attempted to move, but he could not.

"That is better," the Princess said after a few moments. "You may be a powerful King, but you have no power over me. You will cease your advances or there will be great consequences."

The King tried to move towards her, but her deepening look grabbed him and held him still.

"If you do not wish to feel my wrath and what it entails, you will do as I say."

The King attempted to say something, but the displeasure of the Princess had some sort of powerful control over him. He fought it for a few more moments and then collapsed upon the floor.

"You may think that it is good to be the king, but there is no way that you will touch the daughter of King Jonathan of Calmondak against her will."

"Yes miss," the King squeaked.

"Now," stated the Princess sternly. "You will cede the land you promised my father to me."

"I will what?" asked the King as the Princess's hold on him began to fade.

"For me bringing you your son, and for me not telling your wife -- or my father -- about what you just attempted, you will give me the treaty lands."

"I will not."

"Very well," stated the Princess as she left the room.

She left her dress in the slightly rumpled condition caused by the King. She asked a few members of the household staff on where she could find the Queen. The fury was obvious to all those who saw her, and everyone immediately bent to her wishes.

The King had already spoken to the Queen when Princess Angelina arrived. The King was sitting proudly upon a chair as the Princess began to speak.

"Your Highness," the Princess began with a bow. "I can hardly believe what I am about to tell you."

"Is this about my husband's fidelity?" asked the Queen.

"Hardly!" replied the Princess.

"What?" asked the King with a shocked look upon his face.

"The sexual conquests of the King are hardly any of my affair."

"Then what?" asked the Queen.

"This is about honor," responded the Princess. "The King attempted to dishonor me and my family, and you and your family my good Queen."

"He did?" asked the Queen. "How so?"

"He treated me like a household servant," stated the Princess. "I am a guest in this house, and he acted as if I was obliged to him."

"He did show you disrespect there," replied the Queen.

"Further, he gave you not one thought," insisted the Princess. "He did not even consider how you would feel about his actions with another Princess. One he had wished to marry, but was spurned."

"Is this true?" the Queen asked the King.

"I -- uh -- but -- uh..." muttered the King attempted to lie but unable to because of the glare of Princess Angelina. "Yes."

"So you lied to me. She did not attempt to lure you into a situation that looked compromising and then attempt to blackmail you." demanded the Queen.

"I -- uh... Yes."

"You will give her what she wants for your disgraceful and disrespectful actions?"

"I -- um," stumbled the King as he was getting the evil eye from both women present. "Yes I will."

"He will have the written document for you by morning," asserted the Queen.

"Your Highness is kind and gracious," Princess Angelina said to the Queen. "I will leave your court when the paper is in my possession."

"That is wise," replied the Queen. "We would not wish any more incidents of dishonor."

"By your leave," the Princess stated as she left the room.

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Reunited...

Chapter Twenty-Eight

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William woke up, and felt stronger than he had in months. The weeks of rest had done its job. He believed he was fully healed and ready to get out of bed. However, by his father's orders, the doctors strapped him to the bed. Thus, he could not get up immediately. He had to wait for someone to free him.

Since being strapped in, the Prince had been asking about Princess Angelina, but no one would answer his questions. He found it odd that she had not visited for several days or was it more. It was difficult for him to track time. He pondered her disappearance, and hoped that his family had not harmed her. Her strong will had often gotten her into trouble, and he hoped that she had not worn out her welcome.

His father, King Thorbjorn, came to visit him, and the King allowed the doctors to free him from his straps. Today was the day he would get out of that bed. He was quite ready.

"Where is Princess Angelina?" the Prince asked the King.

"It is a lovely day out today," the King replied.

"And, the Princess?"

"Since you are feeling better, we should go for a short walk."

"Are you going to tell me about the Princess?"

"I want to wait until you are strong enough. We do not want you to have a relapse."

"Where is she?"

"She is gone."

"Gone? Gone where?"

"That one is very insistent."

"Father, what have you done?"

"Done? Me? Nothing!"

"So, why do you not tell me where she is?"

"Is gone not good enough?"

"No father it is not."

"My guess is that she has left to the Treaty Land."

"You gave her that land?"

"She can be quite insistent. That one is quite strong willed."

"And all of that Prophecy business..."

"Oh that!" responded the King with a wave of his hand. "That was just a lie to motivate you to find her."

"So you do not believe that she will unite the kingdoms because she returned me to you."

"Hey! She did fulfill the terms of it..."

"Yes she did, and now she has a kingdom of her own."

"She is just a single young girl, what kind of power could she wield?"

"You know exactly what power."

"Ah yes, I have seen it in action. She does have a way to bend people to her will."

"With just a look..."

"Wooh! a powerful look indeed."

"And you unleashed that onto the world."

"The unaffiliated raiders and pirates will have her running back to her father in no time."

"You may be right, but I would not count on that."

"We can only wait and see."

"No, I am going after her."

"You are still weak. You should rest some more."

"I do not have a moment to lose."

"You do not even know where to look for her. She may have simply gone home to make some arrangements."

"That is where I am headed first," replied the Prince as he got out of bed.

"Are you sure you are able?"

"I can make it!" the Prince stated in a remarkably strong tone as he arose.

He wobbled a bit because he had been in bed for quite a while. He was light-headed and he nearly fell. Nonetheless, his determination was strong and he managed to get himself together without help.

Dressing was quite an adventure for him. He had never remembered having such difficulties with such a simple task. He had to rest several times before he successfully finished putting on his clothes.

The same could be said about packing. While he felt strong after he rested, he did not have the stamina to walk back and forth in his room for very long. Hence, he had to rest often as he put clothes into a case.

After he finished those tasks, he began the arduous job of carrying the case to a suncar. Once again, he had to rest every couple of feet. However, he did not wish to be treated like a child; thus, he insisted upon carrying his own luggage. That is why it was mid-afternoon before he was ready to go. He had successfully packed his car, but after the strain, he needed a nap. Thus, he did not leave as early as he had hoped.

It did not matter that much, because he did not know where he was going. He told the King that he was headed to Calmondak, but he was not sure that was the wisest course of action. The entire time he was packing, he pondered if he should go there or the treaty land. Where should he start looking for her? Would the Princess gather some resources from home and then head to her kingdom? Or, would she explore her kingdom first to see what she would need?

Furthermore, he had the feeling that he was not wanted in Calmondak. His injuries occurred in that kingdom. Would they inflict more bodily harm onto him now? That was something he had to consider. He feared for his life for much of his time returning from the Forbidden Zone. He had not told anybody about his experiences there. There would be time later.

Map of the Kingdoms

"Do not go son," King Thorbjorn stated as he stood before the suncar.

"You know that I must father."

"We can find you a suitable bride."

"It is not that."

"Then what?"

"She could be my only chance for a kingdom."

"I am afraid that I cannot argue with that. Are you really headed back to Calmondak?"

"I have changed my mind. I am heading to the lands you gave her. My life may be in grave danger if I return to Calmondak. She will eventually show up in the treaty lands, so I shall wait."

"It could take her quite a while."

"I have what I need to survive. The outdoorsman skills you taught me will allow me to wait for several months in that wild country."

"Since I cannot prevent you from going, I bid you farewell -- and be careful."

"I shall. So long father."

The Prince pointed his suncar south and drove away from the castle complex. It would take him a while to reach the Princess's new kingdom, but it would not be a strenuous journey. He just hoped he was strong enough to make it there.

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Reunited...

Chapter Twenty-Nine

By Douglas E. Gogerty

King Thorbjorn watched as his son drove away from the castle complex. As soon as the suncar was no longer visible, the King went to work. Princess Angelina had made a fool of him. While only the Queen was aware of it, the experience burned within him. Thus, he was determined to teach the young woman a lesson.

Since his queen was involved in the entire affair, the King had to make sure it looked innocent enough. He would have to execute his plans in secret. While he desperately wanted to simply declare war on the newly formed kingdom, he could not do that. At least, he could not do that while Angelina was sovereign of that nation. Hence, he needed that kingdom to fail.

Thus, it would require a great deal of skullduggery. The king would have to begin some covert actions to cause conflict in the newly established kingdom. He knew just how to do it too. After all, he had been dealing with raiders and pirates for some time.

In the guise of a diplomatic mission, the King prepared to leave Lakeland. He told his subjects that it was a delicate mission; thus, he could only take a small entourage. A full compliment was slow and obvious. The King wanted to be a bit more inconspicuous. Thus, he stated that he would not need his full retinue. It also meant that his Queen would not join him. This was a very important part of his plan.

While his personal safety could not be completely assured with this group, he knew he could hand pick his traveling companions. That was another key component of his plan. He wanted to be assured that he could trust those with him.

Many asked why he could not send an emissary. After all, it would be much safer to send an expendable ambassador. The King had anticipated this question. Thus, he had formulated a response. He told them that this mission was quite sensitive, and the party in question would not accept anyone else. The importance of the mission, he told them, required that he take the risk. His personal attention was required.

In the past, this meant that King Thorbjorn was going to meet a mistress. However, those were planned well in advance. This was a spur of the moment event. The castle staff did not know what to make of the situation.

The hand-picked group would be fast and discrete. Since this was a last minute trip, most of the King's enemies would not know where he was. Let alone that he had left the castle. Further, since he would have the ability to move quickly, his group could ferry him out of harm's way with relative ease. Therefore, the King did not worry much about his safety. He thought he would be safe enough.

The King made all of the arrangements for pending activities in the kingdom. He set up all the protocols for decisions to be made while he was away. He realized how much work that had to be taken care of without him. That is why he never made spur of the moment trips. Nonetheless, he was unsure of the activities of the Princess. Thus, he had to put his plan into action quickly. Hence, that was the way things had to be.

Furthermore, the King had to make arrangements for any spies. Only the most trusted individuals must know of his journey. If the King's enemies knew he was away from the castle, they would pounce. They would either attack the castle complex itself, or track down King Thorbjorn. Thus, a ruse must be arranged for those watching the King and his family.

The King met privately with his Queen. She was going to be an important part of the diversion. She had to act as if the King were still in the castle the entire time he was gone. Thus, he made sure that he paid attention to her. He was quite affectionate. In this way, he smoothed over the previous incident.

When the suncars were packed, the small caravan left the castle complex as arranged. Few knew who was in the caravan or its mission. For most, it looked like any other envoy for the King's business. Most would not have guessed that the King was among the departing castle dwellers.

With the secret mission underway, the King was the only person who knew the destination of the mission. He did not even tell the members of the team where they were headed. He simply directed the lead car as they went. Nevertheless, the entire caravan soon became keenly aware that they were not headed towards friendly territory.

There was an unsteady peace with the kingdom bordering Lakeland to the east. The King had won the peace by marrying his Queen. This was the kingdom from which she hailed. On the boarder of this kingdom was where they camped the first night.

They had taken the ancient road through Lakeland, but when they needed to travel outside his kingdom the party would need to wind their way on less traveled roads. It would be a great deal quicker to stay on the main system, but it would also be vastly more dangerous. Thus, they stuck to secondary roads when they broke camp.

The group continued heading southeast. The kingdom on the other side of his wife's former land, was outright hostile towards Lakeland and its king. In fact, they were hostile to all outsiders. They would occasionally raid nearby kingdoms, but they could not sustain any sort of invasion. They were feared, but they had inferior technology to its neighbors. Hence, a peace of sorts could be obtained.

After another night camping, he directed the caravan into that kingdom. The entire entourage now knew how much danger they were in. They would be in deep trouble if anyone caught them. Thus, they had to be very careful.

After making their way into the heart of hostile territory, the King directed the caravan to head to the Pirate Peninsula. That is when everyone knew that if things did not go well, they would be in for some major fighting.

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Reunited...

Chapter Thirty

By Douglas E. Gogerty

While Prince William and King Thorbjorn were heading to areas south of Lakeland, Princess Angelina returned to her father's castle in Calmondak. She had much news to share with her father.

"Father," began the Princess in their formal meeting.

"Yes...?" the King responded with a skeptic voice.

"I have acquired my own kingdom."

"What?"

"King Thorbjorn has given me the Treaty Lands."

"Why?"

"It is a long story, which you do not need to hear."

"As you wish."

"Naturally, I know little about running a kingdom."

"I will have my best people aid you in establishing this kingdom of yours."

"Thank you. I was hoping you would say that."

"What will you call this land, and where will you establish your castle complex?"

"I have not decided on a name yet. There is time for that. As for a castle, there is a centrally located building complex that I would like to use."

"Establishing a castle is an important first step. Do you know anything about that castle?"

"I was going to visit it first, but I believe it is suitable."

"If memory serves, there is nothing tall and grand in those lands. At least, there is nothing similar to the castle here."

"The complex I chose has a lake nearby...."

"So water should not be a concern...."

"No. Thankfully. It is a lovely spot."

"Good. Now when is the wedding?"

"Wedding? What wedding?"

"I assume this kingdom will be run by Prince William after your wedding."

"You would assume incorrectly."

"So, who will run the kingdom?"

"I will."

"You?"

"Yes Father, I am capable of taking care of things."

"But running a kingdom requires a man's touch."

"You are impossible!" the Princess exclaimed in exasperation.

"What?" responded the King with a shrug.

"You have access to the ancient records. There were numerous female leaders in ancient time, and you know it."

"That was then. This is now."

"What does that mean?"

"Times have changed. What will you do about the raiders?"

"I will handle them."

"How?"

"In my own way. No one else's tactics have worked, so a different approach may be warranted."

"What about advances from other kingdoms?"

"We will cross those bridges when we come to it. I assume that my kingdom and yours will be allied."

"Certainly."

"I also do not expect trouble from Lakeland."

"I would not be so sure."

"Someone in that court is strongly on my side."

"Do not underestimate King Thorbjorn's treachery."

"You do not have to worry about that. I also will not underestimate yours."

"Dear!"

"Father, I know you..."

"I guess you do. Is there anything else you need?"

"Can I get a couple of those fast cars?"

"Fast cars?"

"Some people in the Forbidden Zone drove them. My suncar could not keep up."

"Oh those cars! Well, those cars are not to stray far from their home base."

"Why is that?"

"For one thing, they run on compressed gas. There are no gas stations outside the zone."

"I am sure that can be easily rectified."

"For another, they are made with technology that I do not wish others to possess."

"Not even me?"

"As you are aware, these cars travel much faster than suncars. Further, they can travel at night without a reduction in performance. If they were to get into the wrong hands..."

"They would also be helpful to me should I get into trouble."

"I -- uh -- yes. I will make the arrangements, but you can only have one."

"That will do -- for now."

An entourage left in suncars in advance of the Princess's departure. Their task was to establish the castle complex prior to her arrival. She wished to view it in person first, but the car situation changed everything. In this way, she had to trust her father's advisory team.

The Princess was anxious to get going, but she understood the reason for the delay. She knew that her father did not wish his little girl to get into trouble. However, it was well too late for that. The Princess was regularly getting into trouble. In fact, it did not start with her running away to the Forbidden Zone either. She managed to get into trouble well before then.

Nonetheless, she was getting restless. In fact, she began plotting trouble just so that the King would be glad to be rid of her. She pondered on what she could do to force the King to deliver the car. However, those plans were unnecessary as the compressed air car (or CAC as the King calls them) was delivered after several days.

The King also gave her a mobile solar powered compressor. In that way, she could refill the vehicle on her journey to her kingdom. A gas station would be unnecessary. A technician taught her how to work the compressor.

The device was simple, and she soon learned as much as she could about it. Her father's engineers built the thing on an ancient air compressor design. The only difference is that it ran on solar power. Thus, she could set it up in the sun to fill its tank. Then, when her CAC's tank was empty, she could refill it with the now full tank.

She thought of several improvements when she learned how the vehicle worked. A cross between the suncar and the CAC should be workable. Using sun power to compress the air while in transit should not be much trouble. That could possibly increase the range of the vehicle. She also thought that the portable compressor tank should be the same as the CAC's tank. In that way, a refill process would not be necessary. A quick swap of the tanks would be all that was required.

Those improvements would have to wait. Perhaps her own kingdom would develop those cars. In her mind, the Princess had spent too much time in Calmondak as it was. Thus, she was ready to go when the CAC arrived.

However, she did not anticipate the spare tank. Thus, she filled the spare compressor tank on the first day. At first, she thought about driving at night and recharging the air tank during the day. However, she decided against that and left the next day.

It was cloudy and rainy on the day she wished to leave. At first, she thought she would have to postpone her trip for one more day. However, the CAC used different technology than the suncar. It was not fully dependant on the solar energy, so it could travel during cloudy and rainy weather. Hence, the Princess left without delay.

Further, because of the CAC's speed and range, she made such good time that the entourage did not have much time to get anything ready at her castle complex. The old suncars where hampered by weather. Thus, the Princess did not have to rely fully on her father's advisors. She could make decisions on her own.

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Reunited...

Chapter Thirty-One

By Douglas E. Gogerty

King Thorbjorn and his small entourage headed into the Pirate Penninsula. There was a government there, but to outsiders it seemed quite ineffectual. It appeared that the government leaders spent all of their time arguing and not actually governing. From an outside perspective, these leaders spent all of their efforts pandering to the mob. With this form of government, there was no one to stop the raiding and the piracy. Nowhere would you find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Nonetheless, it was a place where anything could be purchased, and that is what King Thorbjorn wanted. He planned to purchase a few raids upon Princess Angelina's newly formed kingdom. He could contact several people for this purpose; however, he had to speak to the provincial government first. The King very much wanted to get in and out of the peninsula as fast as he could, but he could not do anything without the permission of the area authority.

The government required a transaction permit was required for any business to take place on the peninsula. In other words, the government wanted its cut on anything that went on within its jurisdiction. The King just thought of it as a bribe.

Fortunately, the governmental establishment was not out of the way. It was on the northern part of the peninsula on the coast. Thus, the trip, while still dangerous, was not arduous. There were many major roads heading in and out of the capitol.

The King and his group arrived at the statehouse at midday. He told one of the guards that he wished to see the governor. The King laughed to himself because the thought of the man he was about to meet governing was funny to him. It seemed to the king that the man pandered to the people in every conceivable way. At no point did he feel that the governor actually led anyone. He felt that this governor just bent to the will of the people.

"Good afternoon sir!" greeted the governor's office assistant. "How can i help you?"

"I came to see the governor -- miss," replied the King a little miffed that their government would be so backwards as to hire women.

"And whom may I say is asking?" she responded with a similar condescending tone.

"I am King Thorbjorn of Lakeland!" he shouted at the top of his lungs.

"Please have a seat," the office assistant replied unintimidatedly. "He will be with you as soon as he can."

"Did you not hear me? I am the King of Lakeland!"

"Well I did not vote for you, so please have a seat."

The King stormed away, but he refused to sit down. He paced like a caged tiger until the governor's office assistant informed him that he could see the governor.

"How dare you keep me waiting!" raged the King at the governor.

"Your visit is most unexpected," whimpered the governor. "If you had an appointment..."

"Appointment? I am the king of the largest kingdom in Morica. Do you really expect me to make an appointment?"

"Sorry -- it is just..."

"Enough of this small talk. Let us get down to business."

"Very well -- what business?"

"I need a permit to do business with a few of your citizens."

"My secretary could have handled that."

"Have you not been listening? I am the King of Lakeland!"

"Oh right, I apologize."

"I have wasted enough time here. Tell me what you want."

"What type of business transaction is it?"

"Nautical."

"How much is the transaction worth?"

"How should I know?"

"Any estimate?"

"I do not know. It will probably be a lot!"

"Less than a million gold pieces?"

"I should certainly hope so."

"Are goods being traded?"

"I am purchasing a service. No goods are involved."

"So, a commercial transaction for less than a million is 1000 gold, plus another 500 for the nautical permit. I will waive the rush processing fee. Thus, the total will be 1500 gold pieces."

"Robbery! I will not pay such an exorbitant price!"

"I could add the 100 for processing the request immediately..."

"You sir are a thief!"

The King waved at one of his men, and the man produced a case. Out of the case he counted out 1500 gold pieces.

"I wish you would have informed me that you were paying cash," the governor said shyly. "There is an additional 100 for cash handling."

"What!?!!" stated the King sternly.

"We will handle it. It was an oversight on my part. I should have asked how you intended to pay. It is just that I am not involved in these things often."

"Are we through?"

"We need to process the request and issue the permit. It will take a bit. You can take advantage of the commissary while you wait."

"Wait!?!!"

"You will need the permit to make the transaction. It will take a few minutes to type it up. We will have to an the accountant count the gold. A few minutes will be required to type your receipt."

"What?"

"These things take time. We will rush it through..."

"I will wait here until it is done to make sure that you do!"

The governor gave the request to his office assistant, and she typed in the information. Her fingers flew along the typing device. A short time later, a knock came at the door. Another woman walked in with the printed permit. The governor immediately signed it and handed it to King Thorbjorn.

The King began to leave, but the governor reminded him that the transaction would not be complete until the gold was counted. The accountant had not yet arrived. Thus, they had to wait for several minutes. Another knock at the door, and a third woman arrived. She was the accountant. She carefully counted the gold coins. Once she was through, she counted them again.

She typed the information into her little device, and out came a sheet of paper. She handed three gold pieces and the paper to the governor. Without a word, the accountant left the room. The governor handed the receipt and the three gold pieces to the king. The transaction was complete, and the King was now able to continue on his journey.

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Reunited...

Chapter Thirty-Two

By Douglas E. Gogerty

With her castle complex set in place, Princess Angelina could explore her kingdom. At first, she thought about using her CAC (Compressed Air Car), but she was going to be a part of an entourage. She did not dare travel across her kingdom alone. Further, she did not want to show off her new technology right away. Since the suncar was well established, she and her group would travel together in suncars to meet her new people.

Furthermore, while meeting her subjects, she wanted to learn more about them. She wanted to discover what kind of technologies they had to offer. Since her father had a lot of technology that he did not share, she wondered what things others had that she may not know about. She was quite curious about these things. She really liked learning about new technologies.

Further, since necessity was the mother of invention, the regular raids may have brought up solutions. Often people come up with novel ways to handle situations. At least, the Princess wanted to know the solutions that some residents used. Certainly they had to do something to fight against the raiders.

In addition, if the Princess thought that some technology might be useful for more people, she planned to spread it around. Not to mention, she could get others to see if they could improve these technologies. This is one of the things she really liked about technology.

The Princess realized that her father exploited a technology gap to stay in power. The Princess hoped to do the same. If she could use technology to improve the lives of her people, they would certainly wish to keep her around. At the very least, she would be able to recruit people to fight for her. This could be very helpful to her.

Moreover, she was going to see if her charms could work towards her goals. She would flirt with citizens all over her kingdom and determine if it helped her achieve her goals. If someone were reluctant to discuss their technologies, she would attempt to use her beauty to change his (or her) mind. In her limited test, she did get what she wanted with a wink or a few words. Thus, she was hopeful.

All over her kingdom, her citizens greeted the Princess warmly. For most, the change in leadership meant very little. Since the Princess did not plan to treat her residents more harshly or tax them a great deal more, the power change would not affect their lives. Most expected to just go on with their lives.

Nonetheless, the citizens did enjoy meeting royalty. Hence, crowds of people cheered the Princess as she came to the various towns. Obviously, with the greeting, she felt very good about her kingdom. However, she realized that she would need to change her title. No longer was she Princess Angelina of Calmondak. She was a sovereign now. Was she going to be Queen Angelina? Perhaps she would have her subjects call her Empress Angelina. Would her small kingdom count as an empire? Perhaps she should take something else. Maybe she would invent her own title. For now, she continued to call herself princess.

After all, she had other things to consider. For instance, she would have to determine a name for her kingdom. She had only known this part of Lakeland as The Treaty Land. Did it have another name? Would she have to make something up?

Further, she wanted her title to fit with the name of the kingdom. She wanted her title and kingdom to roll off the tongue easily. She laughed at herself for thinking about these trivialities. However, they were things she needed to consider at some point. She realized that there was more to establishing a kingdom than just declaring it so. She would get to these small things when she was ready. For now, she was enjoying meeting her subjects.

As she traveled around, she eventually met someone unexpected.

"What are you doing here?" asked the Princess.

"I have been waiting for you," replied Prince William.

"Why would you do something that stupid?"

"Because we are good together."

"You have not heard a word I have told you."

"Sure I have."

"Then why are you here?"

"I told you, because we are good together."

"That is not it."

"What?"

"You think that you have a shot at a kingdom by coming to see me."

"Why do you think that?"

"Because I know you."

"I suppose you do at that. Anyway, we could run an excellent kingdom together."

"However, this kingdom is mine."

"We could run it as a couple."

"You know we could not."

"Why do you say that?"

"Like I said, you have not heard a word that I have said."

"I have too. I just disagree with your conclusion."

"Listen, if there was a kingdom where the king made none of the decisions, did none of the adjudications, did none of the administrative kingdom running, what would you think of him?"

"I would think he was something special."

"Let me rephrase that, what would your father think of him?"

"He would probably think he was a weakling," replied Prince William meekly.

"How would he react to this weakling?"

"He would probably invade his kingdom."

"Exactly!"

"But I am his son. He would never invade with me here."

"If you think that being one of his many children would matter, you do not know your own father very well."

"I guess..."

"Further, he is not the only one who would think that the kingdom was week."

"You may be right, but they are going to think the same thing with you running the kingdom. So, what is the difference?"

"My availability changes the equation."

"Wow! You think very highly of yourself."

"On the contrary, I think very lowly of them," replied the Princess confidently. "Those kings outside of my kingdom will attempt to build their kingdom through marriage rather than conflict. In this way, I should be able to sway them. However, if I am married, that sort of alliance would be out of the question."

"So you do not want me here."

"While I sympathize with your desire to have your own kingdom, I cannot help you."

"Is that your last word?"

"I should not have had to spell it out for you, but yes."

"So what am I supposed to do now?"

"I suggest you leave the area before your father sends some raiders here."

"He would not dare!"

"Obviously, you do not know your father very well do you?"

"What makes you think he would do such a thing?"

"Because he wants this land back."

"Why would he not just take it back directly?"

"That is complicated, but let us just say his queen would forbid it."

"Still, he would never."

"I would not be surprised to find out that he is attempting to purchase raiders at this very moment to do his work for him."

"Impossible!"

"I bet if you contacted someone in Lakeland, they will tell you that King Thorbjorn is away."

"What will you wager?"

"Well, if I win, you have to let me run my kingdom my way. In other words, leave me alone."

"And if I win?"

"I will marry you."

"Deal! There is no way my father is away from Lakeland at a time like this!"

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Reunited...

Chapter Thirty-Three

By Douglas E. Gogerty

King Thorbjorn had his permit as he began looking for someone to raid Princess Angelina's new kingdom. There were plenty of individuals willing to take the work in the Pirate Peninsula. However, the King had a particular group in mind; thus, he had some searching to do.

In the past, the King had dealt with a man known as The Shrub. He was a powerful and respected man. Further, he had many connections, and therefore went by a pseudonym to protect his legitimate business deals. The King did not know from where this name originated, but it mattered little. He was the man, who the king wanted to hire to get things done.

It took several days for the King's emissaries to find the men to whom he wished to speak. Eventually, the King's people arranged a meeting with The Shrub's people. In this way, the negotiations could begin. It was just the first step.

"There is a new kingdom forming," stated the King to the representative of The Shrub.

"How does this concern us?" asked the man.

"It is in my best interest that this kingdom fails."

"And...?"

"If my interests are realized, then benefits could flow your way."

"If the benefits are right, I am sure we could assist you."

"I will only discuss the details with the man himself."

"The Shrub is a busy man. He is not to be disturbed by trifling details."

"We have done business in the past. Face-to-face is the only way I will continue this discussion."

"Then we are finished here then?"

"I guess so."

"I cannot persuade you to deal with me?"

"No you cannot."

"In that case, I will take your proposal to the boss. Perhaps, someone will get back to you."

"That is all I can ask."

The meeting was short. However, the King was optimistic for the results. The pirate always ran his business this way. He always sent a representative to check things. If everything seemed fine, then a meeting could be arranged. Again, The Shrub was cautious. This is how he kept hold of his power.

The King met with others for backup. If the deal he preferred to make fell through, he wanted others in line to make new arrangements quickly. In this way, he would not be wasting the waiting time. He had spoken to several groups when he got word that negotiations could continue. He would meet with The Shrub.

However, he was informed that it was going to take several days to make the arrangements. Once again, instead of waiting the King met with a few more groups. He would not waste his time waiting. He thought that perhaps he could get the entire peninsula involved. The drawback on that would be that it would cost too much. However, the King thought that perhaps that would not be entirely bad.

Finally, the day came to meet with The Shrub. It was at this meeting that he would find out if a deal could be struck. If it could, then he could see to all of the arrangements.

"Glad to see you again," the man said.

"Good to see you," replied the King.

"I understand you would like to make some sort of arrangement."

"I would indeed."

"Let me hear the details."

"On the other side of the gulf from this peninsula is some land that used to belong to me. I was curious to how good are their defenses."

"And you do not invade because...?"

"I did not mention the part about no questions asked?"

"I beg your pardon. Please, give us some details -- whatever you are comfortable with."

"It is a new kingdom. The monarch is young, and may not consider defenses as a priority."

"You want us to make it fail?"

"I think a few excursions would make this young monarch ally themselves with a friendly and large kingdom."

"Who is this monarch?"

"I was sure I mentioned no questions asked..."

"Fine," responded the man with a bow. "What do we get in return?"

"I will double the payment I made last time," replied the King.

"Double?"

"It was a considerable sum. You do not find this sufficient?"

"This is a major undertaking..."

"I am not asking you to invade and take over the country. I would like you to test its defenses. Nevertheless, if you cannot handle it, I will find someone who will. In fact, I have lined up some alternatives already. However, I thought I would give you first chance because of our previous successful transaction."

"Do we keep the plunder?"

"If there is any, you may keep what you find."

"Where is my head? Do you have the proper permit?"

"Of course," the King replied showing the man his certificate.

"It appears that your paperwork is in order," replied the man as he looked over the document.

"As I have alluded to many times, I have done business here in the past."

"So, when would you like this transaction to be completed?"

"You can begin as soon as you like, but I do not expect you to finish until after the storm season. I will not pay extra for the risks."

"So, you want a couple of raids after the stormy season and we keep the plunder. Is that the agreement?"

"I do not remember saying any of that."

"Understood. We have a deal," the man said offering the King his hand.

"Thank you. I will send half the payment before the storm season ends, and the other half when the job is done."

"That will be fine. It has been a pleasure seeing and doing business with you again."

"I hope we can do this again sometime," replied the King with a slight bow.

The King and his party left the room, and walked to their waiting suncars. When they arrived, the King shouted, "Let's go!"

"What is it?" asked a member of the King's entourage.

"That was not The Shrub. We could be in big trouble if we do not get out of here fast."

The group of suncars started to head away, but some guards blocked their exit. The King ordered them to break through the blockade, so the entourage did not stop.

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Reunited...

Chapter Thirty-Four

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William had to travel several miles before he found a communication station. During the water wars, communication was the first thing that the opposing sides would disrupt. Hence, in some regions, the communication lines were quite thin. This was particularly the case in unimportant regions of kingdoms. The Princess's new kingdom was one such place.

The Prince felt the travel was well worth the effort, as he was anxious to prove Princess Angelina wrong. He would then have her hand in marriage. He was sure his father was still in Lakeland. After all, why would King Thorbjorn leave? The transfer of sovereignty always required some preparation. The King would need to handle much of those items. Therefore, the King would need to be available to sign things, etc.

The Prince entered in the code for the Lakeland castle complex, and waited for the connection.

"Hello," stated the voice on the other end of the line.

"It is Prince William calling for King Thorbjorn," replied the Prince.

"Oh! thank goodness you called."

"What -- what has happened?"

"Your father has been kidnapped by some pirates."

"Kidnapped? Pirates? Where?"

"He was on a secret mission to the Pirate Peninsula, and someone there grabbed him."

The Prince let out a big sigh, and then continued.

"So, what is being done about it?" he asked in a disappointed tone.

"Nothing."

"Nothing -- why?"

"Naturally, none of the heirs wish to risk anything to get him back."

"Naturally."

"The group that have him are asking for a small ransom to get him back."

"... but no one wants to raise the money."

"That is right."

"Typical."

"The King was hoping that you would come get him."

"Me?"

"He said you were rather close. Are you?"

"Me and him close? Hardly."

"Close geographically."

"Oh! I suppose that is true."

"He also told me to mention that he would make it well worth your while."

"I am guessing he did not give you any specifics..."

"None."

"How much is the ransom?"

"5000 gold pieces."

"5000? I would have to come there to raise such a sum."

"The King says that the funds can be obtained there if you just come right away."

"I see," the Prince stated with suspicion. "He stashed some money before they grabbed him."

"That is probably true."

"So, where is he?"

"He is being held somewhere in the Capitol of the peninsula."

"If the King calls, tell him I am on my way."

"Will do!"

The Prince terminated the communication and headed back to the Princess. She was preparing for some sort of expedition of her own when he returned.

"You won," stated the Prince with a downtrodden expression on his face.

"Won what?" asked the Princess.

"Our bet. The King is in the Pirate Peninsula as we speak."

"He is quite transparent."

"Apparently to you he is."

"In any event, I hope you live up to the conditions of our wager."

"I will. I will leave at first light."

"No interference."

"No interference," replied the Prince with a sigh.

"Very good -- and have a pleasant journey."

"Thanks."

The Prince was not as important as the King was. Thus, he could easily travel alone. He was not an heir to the throne, so he had no ransom value. He was unlikely ever to gain a kingdom, so he had little power to wield. Thus, he could travel just about anywhere alone.

He thought about hiring a boat to take him to the Capitol, but the water route was fraught with danger. Not only was there danger from pirates and raiders, but also storms could arise suddenly. Thus, he decided to take his suncar. It would probably take at least a day longer depending upon the weather, but it was well worth it.

Furthermore, unlike his father, he could travel the main roads. If there were any news flowing in the peninsula, the citizenry would be looking for someone bringing the ransom. Hence, the Prince would not be in much danger. There was the threat of ambush, but he did not actually have the ransom on him. Therefore, if someone stopped him, that individual would not get anything. Hence, he would be mostly safe to do his work.

The Prince gathered all his belongings and drove away from the Princess's castle complex at first light. He did not anticipate that he would ever return. In fact, he did not think he would ever see Princess Angelina again. He was saddened by this, but she had won the wager. He wanted to be a man of his word. Thus, he planned on living up to his part of the bet.

The Prince drove for most of the day, but it was clear that a storm was brewing. His suncar was not capable of full power. In fact, towards the end of the day, but still far from dusk, it got quite dark. He went as far as he could and set up camp. He found a concrete building near the road to use if it got really bad.

It was a good thing too, because the next morning was worse. It was as if the sun had not even arose. The Prince felt vindicated on his choice of driving. At sea, the ship would be taking a beating from the storm. It might not have even made it to its final destination. At least here, he had protection from the storm. He felt very grateful for the concrete structure in which he found himself.

With the storm raging, it was going to take a few extra days to get to his father. However, citizens in this part of Morica were used to the delays. This was particularly true during the stormy season. The storms grew quite ferocious in this area.

The storm blew hard for the one day, but as it pushed north it lost steam. On the second day, it was just rain. There was enough light to give the suncar some power. Thus, the Prince pushed on towards his father.

Once he reached the Capitol, he would have to find his father. Once that was accomplished, he would need to find the stash of money. The ransom would be paid, and then they could hopefully all leave together. It was going to be a busy time for the next few days.

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Reunited...

Chapter Thirty-Five

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Princess Angelina was still packing when the big storm hit. She was nearly all prepared for her trip, so she was delayed. This did not sit well with her because she was quite excited about the entire thing. She considered leaving anyway, but she was convinced of the folly of it. After all, who would come see her in torrential rains?

Hence, she left well after the storm had passed. It did get time for her transition team to arrange stops ahead of time. This allowed them to scout locations and prepare for her arrival. Thus, the tour would be much better planned because of the storm.

The crowds on her first top were small but enthusiastic. For most, this was just another change at the top. It did not usually effect those closer to the bottom. In other words, the change in status for the people did not mean much.

In fact, sometimes a change like this meant war. The new kingdom could be the result of an uneasy treaty. Further, it could be the result of a bribe or to soothe bad feelings. These new situations could lead to uneasiness. This was not something the average person wanted. Hence, if it were not required, the people would not celebrate the oncoming of war. Therefore, the crowds tended to be small.

However, the word spread that the new sovereign was young and beautiful. Therefore, the crowds grew as she continued her tour. Mostly, the crowds simply turned out to see the beautiful young woman. The Princess took advantage of the growing crowds to get them enthusiastic for her reign. After all, they were there to see her. A few words could make them glad she is in charge.

At various times, the Princess would smile, wave, and point at individuals in the crowd. She might even wink at an individual. The people on the other end of the gesture felt special, and would do almost anything for her. In this way, she felt that if she needed to recruit a large group of people, a similar tour would be all that it took.

The tour took her all over her realm. When she had visited most of the large population centers of the treaty land, she still wanted more. Thus, she decided to visit neighboring realms. This drove the security people crazy, but she was in charge.

She did not feel it was necessary to visit Lakeland or Calmondak because they were confirmed allies. Certainly, her father would be a close ally. She could count on him to come to her aid in any circumstance.

As for Lakeland, she at least had a verbal agreement. She believed that Lakeland would attempt some sort of underhanded scheme. Nevertheless, she could go to these other places and claim the allegiance of this large kingdoms for now. This would aid in negotiations with other states.

Instead of just a meet and greet tour, the visits to the other places had an additional goal. She wished to get some sort of written treaty with her close neighbors. If her kingdom was going to survive, the Princess needed to live in peace for a while. Thus, it would be key to get agreements with the people close by. She was not interested in expanding by force.

For the most part, the Princess was in a good situation. Since she was allies with the most powerful kingdoms, she would have a strong negotiation position with the smaller states. This worked to the Princess's advantage when negotiating the treaty. It also aided in acquiring tour locations in other realms.

While security would be tight, the visiting cities would increase security themselves to prevent an excuse for war from Calmondak or Lakeland. In fact, everyone was on their best behavior for the entourage.

The crowds at these cities were huge. Everyone wanted to see the gorgeous sovereign. The Princess easily won over the crowds in these cities. After the throngs came to see her, she was in an excellent position with the governmental authorities. She had the support of the people, so the government was in a poor position to deny her anything. Hence, she had signed treaties with the neighboring state before she moved on to the next one.

It went this way with all of the areas north and east of her kingdom. The governments did not wish to go against the throngs of people that came out to see the Princess. Therefore, the entire royal entourage was quite pleased with the results of the tour. It went beyond their greatest dreams. In fact, they wanted to visit even more states. However, it was simply not practical.

Nonetheless, they did find themselves attempting to arrange a few visits to the Pirate Peninsula. This was quite difficult to arrange. First, the peninsula was not like the other states. The current leader had only been there for a few years. Their system did not allow for a lifetime sovereign. Thus, they were always being torn one way or another for their policies.

In fact, the Princess wondered how they got anything done with the leaders needing to bend to the will of the people. This did not lead to leadership. She believed that someone would need to lead -- point the way. Having to pander to an unintelligent crowd would only lead to chaos. It seemed like a backwards way of doing things.

After all of the negotiations she only managed for one stop. She would hold a rally at the capitol city. Straying far into the peninsula would be just too difficult to arrange.

From their experience, the royal party expected immense crowds at this one stop. The government of the peninsula was not willing to put in place too much security. They warned against the trip because of the throngs of people that would would turn out to see the Princess. The officials felt that this visit would be too expensive to bring in the required security. Further, they would have liked to have more time to get things in place.

However, the unexpectedness aided in the Princess's security. No one would have much time to plan anything nefarious. Thus, she could greet the throngs and win them over. Once that was complete, she may have the masses on her side. Since the mob ruled the land, this would work in her favor.

In the other states, the leaders wanted their people on their side. They were often guarding against an uprising. However, it was not a requirement. There were plenty of oppressive regimes that kept their citizenry in line by force. Her father's rule was not like that.

The Princess believed that public opinion was key for this peninsula. If you were an unpopular leader there, you did not last long. The leadership obtained their right to govern from the masses. The government was run by the will of the people. Hence, if they wanted something, the leadership had better provide it. This could be the reason for the perceived wild nature of the peninsula.

After her wildly successful rally in the capitol city, the princess met with the leaders of the state. They had been as equally enthused about the reaction of the crowd as the Princess had been. Further, they were also excited about meeting the Princess in person. Perhaps the non-aggression treaty would be as simple as the rest. Sadly, this was not going to be the case.

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Reunited...

Chapter Thirty-Six

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William rode into the Capitol without knowing where they were holding his father. In fact, he did not even know where to begin looking. Who was holding him would have also been helpful. It was one of those things, which he should have discovered before he left. He should have gotten that information from the individual he spoke to on the communication device. It was a little late for that. Now he needed to begin looking. Where to start?

The Prince spent some time in the taverns and boarding houses. These locations were usually good places to find information about strangers. Particularly in a main governmental city there should be lots of people coming and going. However, the patrons were very wary of speaking to him. He could not get anything from people who were usually quite talkative. At least, they were from where he hailed.

The servers and patrons were very quiet. They were friendly, but they only went so far. They did not talk about anything more than the weather and the like. It seemed like something had changed in their world that made them frightened. It was as if they would be in trouble for discussing things with foreigners. Was this what it was like living in mob-rule? Was some sort of increase in trouble occurring?

The Prince became very frustrated with his lack of progress. He did something that he never thought he would ever do. He went to the local law enforcement office. Perhaps a missing person report would be the solution to his trouble. After all, this is the type of thing, which they would handle regularly. At least, the Prince thought they would. In any event, he had no where else to turn.

"I would like to report a missing person," stated the Prince to the man at the desk.

"You must be Prince William Thorbjornson of Lakeland," replied the sergeant.

"Why -- yes. Yes, I am. How would you know that?"

"We have been expecting you."

"Why...?"

"Your father stated that you would be coming."

"You have seen my father?"

"Naturally. Where did you think he was?"

"I did not know."

"You did not know what he was planning?"

"No. I did not even know he was here until I made a phone call."

"So, you have no knowledge of his attempting to procure raiders for an illegal operation?"

"What? Raiders?"

"Yes, he was arrested. He was caught in one of our major sting operations."

"He -- is -- under arrest?"

"That is correct."

"I was not expecting that."

"What? Did you expect him to be kidnapped by Pirates?"

"Actually..."

"That is a myth. We are taking great strides in this area. Hence, your father was a victim of our increased enforcement."

"That explains the tensions in the taverns..."

"What?"

"Nothing. May I see my father?"

"Certainly. Officer McHever here will show you the way. "

A buzzer sounded and the police officer opened a door. She pointed down a long corridor. Warily, the Prince walked down the hall. She indicated a door, which she unlocked and opened.

The room was stark. It had a reinforced glass window running down the center. Up against the window were a set of tables and chairs. At each chair, there was a communication device. Prince William got his choice of chairs. He sat down and waited. After a long while, a door on the other side of the glass wall opened. In walked his father, King Thorbjorn.

The king's hands were cuffed, and his legs were shackled together. He was not dressed in his usual clothing, but he wore orange coveralls. He shuffled up to the table across from his son. He took a chair and picked up the device on his side.

"Hello son," the King said humbly.

"What have you done?" asked the Prince sternly.

"It is just a big misunderstanding."

"You tried to hire raiders to attack Princess Angelina's new kingdom!"

"I just wished to test her defenses."

"You are incredible!"

"This can all be straightened out. I just need you to bail me out."

"I do not know if I want to."

"Son please..."

"Do not give me that! I have known the Princess a long time. In fact, I know her better than I know you. If you get out, you are just going to find some way to get at her."

"That's not fair!" replied the King.

"Oh it is not eh! She said you would be here."

"What?"

"We had a wager. I said you would be home making arrangements for the transfer of power. She said you would be here."

"She knew?"

"She is incredibly wise for fourteen. She knows you better than I do."

"This is all just a big mix-up. I promise I will behave."

"I wish I could believe you."

"If you will not do it for me, do it for the others."

"You got your entire entourage arrested?"

"They came to my defense like they should have."

"Assault, conspiracy, and who knows what else... Anyway, they told me that you have some money stashed locally -- where is it?"

"It is in a hotel safe -- well several hotels..."

"Which ones?"

"All of them."

"You have money in each safe in each hotel?"

"You cannot be too careful."

"They certainly are not going to trust me. How do I get them to open the safes?"

"That McHever woman will give you my access information."

"You mean Police Officer McHever?"

"Whatever!"

"I still do not know if I should do this."

"Please... We have been here for several days. We are not used to this kind of treatment."

"You are not. That is for certain!"

"I do not know how much longer we can hold out."

"Do not give me that!"

"It is just a misunderstanding. I will make it right."

"If you get out of here..."

"Right -- son. Please."

"I will see what I can do."

Prince William waved, and Officer McHever opened the door to let him out. Another guard escorted the King back to his cell. The Prince had found his father, but now what was he going to do?

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Reunited...

Chapter Thirty-Seven

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Princess Angelina sat in a large conference room in the main government building of the State Capitol. The people there treated her very well. They attended to her every want. However, the thing she wanted the most; they were reluctant to provide. She simply wanted a non-aggression treaty with them. This was the one thing that the leadership did not wish to provide. She was waiting on the one person who could submit the request to the proper people. It seemed to be quite a complicated process.

"Miss, I am Governor Campbell."

"I am Angelina..." began the Princess. "Angelina Dakota -- sovereign of the newly formed kingdom of..."

"I know who you are," interrupted Governor Campbell. "We can dispense with all of this formality and get down to business."

"My request is quite simple. I wish to establish relations with the officials of the Pirate Penninsula."

"Excuse me. We prefer the Sunshine State."

"I beg your pardon. In establishing this non-aggression pact, both parties will benefit greatly."

"That is not how we see it, and past history will fall on my side."

"How so?"

"In the past, any excuse seemed to be a good excuse to break any treaty we established with a kingdom."

"I would never..."

"The people of our state have a great deal of freedom. They are responsible for their own actions. Hence, if a -- pirate for the lack of a better term -- were to attack your kingdom, they would be completely culpable for their actions."

"That is fair."

"If you caught the individual, we would want full responsibility for the punishment of the perpetrator. After all, they are our citizens. However, if you are not satisfied with the action against the individual, how would your respond? Further, would you hold the entire state responsible for that single action -- whatever it is?"

"I see what you mean."

"In your world, you are responsible for the actions of your citizens. If someone disobeys your commands, it is punishable by death or any severe punishment you can consider. I -- and the rest of the government officials here -- do not wield such power. We have a system that takes into account many variables. We punish based upon our principles. Death is mostly not an option. Further, we have rules against cruel punishments."

"This is how you get a reputation as a haven for pirates and raiders."

"We are working on that reputation. Our freedoms are hard won. When the rest of Morica was falling into warring kingdoms, we remained free. Every person has a voice in the policies of our state. We take these freedoms quite seriously."

"How do the ignorant masses know enough to make the difficult state decisions?"

"We educate everyone. We have the most comprehensive school system anywhere. Further, we distribute vast amounts of information to each citizen over the internet. It helps them be informed about the decisions we make. When everyone was warring around us, it was quite difficult to maintain our system. There were obstructions and obstructionists who would look out for their sole interests and not the interests of everyone. Most of those issues have been ironed out."

"I do not see how this system would work. Is there not a constant power struggle between various factions?"

"Our system is built upon compromise. We attempt to keep everyone's interest in mind. Sometimes a group of people will get the short end, but we try to minimize the impact in those instances. Further, we attempt to spread those instances around."

"But," replied the Princess. "Each decision seems to take a very long time. Is there not anyone who can make quick decisions? What happens in a time of emergency?"

"As the executive, I have certain powers to make certain decisions. For instance, I can begin the process to establish a treaty with you. However, there is a long process to make it official."

"I just do not see how you can get anything done."

"At one time, all of Morica was like us. It became the most powerful country in the world."

"Then it all fell into chaos, so whose system is better?"

"Kingdoms will only prosper with the proper sovereign in place. The kingdom you are starting has risen and fell many times. It will continue to do so well after you are gone."

"Things will be different with me..."

"The problem is not you, but your successor. How can you make an unbiased choice that is beneficial to your people? You cannot. Kings and queens have always chosen their relatives for succession. These relatives are not always the most fit to rule. That is how our system is better. We handle succession better."

"You have had some poorly chosen leaders -- in my lifetime."

"While that is true, their limited power lessens the damage that they can do."

"...and this reputation as the Pirate Peninsula came from nowhere?"

"We have begun a systematic crackdown on the problem element. In fact, one of those kings you are so fond of was caught in one of our 'sting' operations."

"I know of whom you speak, and I would not say that I am particularly fond of King Thorbjorn. After all, it was I that he wanted to force out of power."

"We will not put up with that kind of activity any longer. The piracy and raiding businesses are almost all gone. Thus, you need not worry about that."

"I would still feel a great deal better with a treaty in writing, but I understand your crazy system better now."

"Governments go in cycles. Your kingdoms will breakdown, and it will lead to this crazy system as you call it."

"Be that as it may, I appreciate you attempting to alleviate the raids. If that is all I can count on, I guess it will have to do. Thank you for your time."

"You're welcome."

The Princess left the Capitol building without her treaty, but she was hopeful that there would be no trouble coming from this place. She was confident that would be true as long as Governor Campbell was in charge. Someone else might not work out as well. She was going to have to watch this place closely.

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Reunited...

Chapter Thirty-Eight

By Douglas E. Gogerty

"I am sorry Mr. -- uh -- Mr. Lakeland -- but we cannot allow you to leave," explained a clerk.

"I am King Thorbjorn of Lakeland!" replied the King in a rage. "You will respect me!"

"I beg your pardon -- er -- sire."

"That is a little better," responded the King with a little less ire. "Now I have paid my ransom, I wish to leave."

"Um ... sire. It was bail."

"Whatever, it has been paid!"

"However, there is a large crowd outside."

"What are you talking about?"

"The people of this state have found out about your arrest. They have been protesting outside for weeks, and the crowds continue to grow."

"How did this sort of information leak out?"

"Well -- um -- well -- we have freedom of the press."

"Which means?"

"It is just that -- our press is free to report what it wishes. Your attempt to hire raiders has been well reported in the news outlets."

"And I have to pay the price for this free press..."

"I guess in this instance -- yes."

"I am leaving!"

"Sire," interrupted one of the King's aides. "I am afraid he is right. We should not leave the safety of this building."

The King turned and glared at the member of his entourage. In an attempt to stifle his anger he asked, "You want to stay here?"

"No sire," replied the aide with a bow. "We should call for a full entourage to escort you out of here -- to be safe."

"That could take weeks!" exclaimed the King.

"It is best to be safe," added the aide.

"You expect me to willingly stay here for a few more weeks?" asked the King.

"Sire, it is the safest call," replied the aide.

"He is right," added the clerk.

"Ugh!" was all the King said as he walked away.

The King returned to his cell. He wished he had not dismissed his son William so quickly after paying the bail. He could now use the council of a member of his family. He had no one here that could understand his position.

His entourage came in to provide advice, but he ordered them to leave him alone. He wanted to think about his situation. He sat on his bunk quietly and attempted to think logically. He was not sure what to do, so he just sat and listened for a while. As he sat quietly, he heard the crowd outside the jail. He could not quite make out what they were saying, but he imagined he heard them call his name.

The King was getting stir crazy in his cell. He really wanted to get out of the jail.. He really wanted to see the sky again. In fact, there were lots of things he would like to do again. His people wanted him to sit and wait. Could he do that?

He has faced angry crowds in the past. After all, he was a king. Facing angry crowds was a part of every king's experience. Further, he was a king of one of the most powerful kingdoms in Morica. What kind of example was he setting for his people? What kind of king shrinks from a little danger? In his youth, King Thorbjorn would not have avoided such a fight.

The only problem was that he would have to face the mob unarmed. The officials made it quite clear that he would not be allowed to have his weapons within the states boundaries. They would make arrangements to have a courier bring his implements to his castle -- at his expense. However, the government would not knowingly arm the King within its boarders.

King Thorbjorn wondered why he ever came to such a barbaric land. They did not treat him with the respect he had earned as the sovereign of Lakeland. Since his arrest, they gave him a cell like all the others. He afforded no special treatment. He was thrown in with the common people and common crooks.

Furthermore, his advisors were asking him to spend more time in this land. They wanted him to stay put for his own safety. He did not know if he could wait any longer. He believed he had spent enough time in this place. He wanted out, and he wanted out now.

After sitting quietly for several minutes, the King began to pace in his cell.

Who do these people think they are dealing with? the King thought to himself. I am King Thorbjorn of Lakeland!

The King began to pace more rigorously. He looked and felt like a caged lion.

I do not wish to spend any more time in this -- prison, the King continued with his thoughts. I have rights -- even in this place! I should not be forced to stay here against my will!

The King was resolute and gathered his people.

"I am King Thorbjorn of Lakeland," he addressed his people. "Lakeland is a strong and powerful nation. We grew to prominence by our actions. We did not became such a powerful kingdom by playing it safe. When we wanted something, we went out and grabbed it. Further, my family and I would not allow a small group of peasants stand in our way. We would not let others restrict our freedom. We would not let others keep us from what we desired."

His small entourage nodded in agreement.

"Thus, prepare yourselves. We are leaving this place now. I will not spend another night in this god forsaken place. I cannot sit here and be rescued by some group from Lakeland. Whatever we face, I am confident we can prevail. After all, we have each other, and we have faced tougher foes than these people. The odds may be against us, but we will not allow these people to stand in our way of freedom. No one -- no one -- in my family has shrunk from a little danger, and I am not about to start."

The King's people cheered. They readied themselves to leave. They all gathered at the exit gate.

"Let my people go!" roared the King.

"Um -- er -- uh," stammered the clerk. "Was I not clear? You cannot leave."

"I will not let a little danger stand in my way of freedom!"

"Yes -- but..."

"Why are you sitting there! Open this gate!"

"I am sorry -- sir --er -- sire, but I cannot do that."

"And why not?"

"I -- uh -- I do not have authorization."

"Your authorization be damned!"

"Also, we are keeping you here -- not for your safety -- but for theirs..."

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Reunited...

Chapter Thirty-Nine

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William left the prison, where they held his father, and noticed the protesters outside. They carried signs and shouted slogans. The Prince noted that they were against the violence inherent in kingdoms. They shouted against the tyranny that his father represented. They also were displeased with how the area kingdoms used their citizens for mercenaries.

The Prince wanted to disagree with them, but he believed they had a point. His father was attempting to hire citizens of the Pirate Peninsula to raid another kingdom. This type of thing was common for his father, and he thought that other kings could easily behave in a similar manner. Thus, he felt for the protesters. They had a reason to be upset at his father.

Soon after that, it hit him. He had just posted his father's bail. His father would have to face this crowd. That could turn ugly. In fact, the citizens were so upset that this crowd could turn into a mob. Further, the slightest incident could result in a riot. Therefore, it was likely that the authorities would not release his father immediately.

Hence, the Prince wanted to do something. Perhaps he could calm the crowd. However, he was a part of the problem. He was a member of a royal house. To a degree, they were not only protesting his father, but protesting him and his way of life. The only way of life he knew.

The Prince did not know if he could survive without the royal support. While he had experienced some hard times, he never really had to work. His experiences were for sport and recreation and not for living. For instance, he never killed an animal for survival. He did it just for sport. He supposed that the support he got was the point of the protesters. There were plenty of citizens of Lakeland, and other kingdoms, who had to work hard for everything they had, and they still did not have much.

His life of privilege allowed him to travel for numerous days without worry. He never worked. Everything he needed was provided for him. Although, that could all change. He was a very minor member of the royal family. Because he was a son of the reigning king, the court protected him. However, if anything happened to King Thorbjorn all that could change.

If a civil war broke out in Lakeland, that could spell trouble for his family. Moreover, it could make life difficult for him. While the King had named his successor, there were no guarantees that the King's wishes would be honored. Furthermore, the new king may not wish to have any rivals to the throne. He could call for the head of the minor heirs. That could only mean one thing -- war. It also meant death to many.

Further, there were people in the crowd here who wished the King harm. Now, there were also people in Lakeland who wanted to see King Thorbjorn dead, but they were not of an immediate concern. These protesters could end the Prince's life of privilege quickly. He just hoped they would never storm the jail. He was hoping for law and order in what he believed was a lawless state.

The possibilities of the situation swirled in the Prince's head. The thoughts of life after King Thorbjorn overwhelmed him. He became dizzy, and he had to sit. A friendly face noticed him and asked if he was all right. He smiled meekly and claimed it was just the heat. She gave him some water and left. The Prince smiled and took the water graciously. If she knew who he was, would she treat him the same the Prince wondered.

What was he going to do? His way of life balanced upon the return of the King to Lakeland. There were many dangers between where the King was and the relatively safe confines of Lakeland Castle. Further, if the citizens of the peninsula knew the King was here, so did all of the other kingdoms. His enemies were certainly plotting against the King at this very moment. How was the King going to get home?

While an entourage was likely departing, it would be weeks before it got here. This made Lakeland vulnerable. The leader of the land was away. Thus, a powerful nearby kingdom could take advantage of the situation. The decisive king was not in charge. How would the Lakeland military handle a sudden attack? Who would give the commands to the military?

The more the Prince thought about the situation, the more upset he became. His mind raced with all of the possibilities. He thought that perhaps one of his prominent brothers or half-brothers could sabotage the entourage as a power grab. Thus, when the showed up, they could assassinate the King and blame it on someone else. There were many possible outcomes of the situation. However, the Prince could think of few that would be beneficial to him. They seemed to all end poorly.

A few short weeks ago, he dreamt of having his own kingdom. Now, that seemed like a distant dream -- an impossible dream. It now seemed that his entire world came crashing down upon him. He attempted to get up, but he felt weaker than ever. Did the woman know who he was? Did she drug him?

A wave of paranoia overcame him. He suspected everyone. A few moments ago, he had sympathized with the crowd. Now he thought they were all against him. They were the ones stirring up the chaos in his life. Thus everyone was suspect. They became agents for his father's enemies. They were now his enemies and he had to get out of there. However, he could not even stand up.

I must get up, he told himself. Everything depends upon it.

He gathered his strength and managed to get to his feet.

"Are you sure you are all right?" asked the woman with the friendly face.

"What did you do to me?" he asked in an angry voice.

"What?" she asked with a puzzled look upon her face.

"Just leave me alone!" the Prince barked as he wobbled away.

The Prince found a tree and leaned against it. It was an odd tree. It was nothing like the hardwood trees the Prince was accustomed to in Lakeland. He felt that everything was odd about this place. Everything there seemed "wrong" to him. Everything about the place was strange and different. It was not like the places he frequented.

He decided that he needed to get out of there. However, he could not leave his father behind. He had to do something. For the first time in his life, he would have to do something heroic. Otherwise, the life he knew would be over.

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Wil Wheaton and Scalzi of Johnstown

In

The Cursed Clown Sweater of Constitution

By Douglas E. Gogerty

John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton organized a Fan Fiction Contest to Benefit the Lupus Alliance of America. The target of this contest was to create a story which would describie the picture below. Naturally, I took part, and this is that story. Enjoy!

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess who lived in the great kingdom of Maplevania. In this kingdom, there was a long-standing tradition of naming the first daughter after a great-grandmother of the parent's choosing. Sadly, because of the great plague of 4211, most of the first-born daughters had only two names to choose from -- Hortense and Dorcas. Thus, Princess Hortense was the loveliest child ever to carry that name.

In fact, Princess Hortense was, by far, the most lovely creature to ever inhabit the kingdom. Men (and even a few women) came from far and wide to court the lovely young lady. However, before the king could choose a suitable mate for his daughter, she was kidnapped. This was not an unusual occurrence in Maplevania as most citizens obtained their spouses through some form of capture. In fact, the beastly orc Scalzi of Johnstown obtained his lovely wife in this manner. We will get to him a little later.

The unusual circumstance around Princess Hortense was that the king actually sought to get his daughter back. He went so far as to offer a reward -- a cash reward. Furthermore, there were no aristocratic restrictions. Hence, any young adventurer who wished to take on the quest was allowed. He (or she) did not need to be member of the aristocracy.

Further, the possibility of marrying the most beautiful young woman was not out of the question; however, most likely just eternal gratitude from the saved princess was all that could be promised. However, just getting the attention of the most beautiful woman in the kingdom was not enough for most.

For months, there were no takers in the quest to bring back the princess. However, one day a bard and his company were entertaining at the castle. This particular bard spied crude paintings of the princess done by school age children. He was immediately smitten. When he heard of her plight, he decided to see if he could save her from the clutches of whatever villain.

After questioning the staff, one name kept arising. Nearly everyone in the castle believed that the great wizard Douglas abducted Princess Hortense. This wizard was once in the employ of the king. However, a few years ago they had a falling out.

Recently, some objects of this much-maligned wizard were discovered in the castle, and the king demanded that he come and retrieve them. Thus, he was in the castle at the time of the abduction. The wizard Douglas was the most likely suspect.

However, the wizard lived outside the kingdom in the land of Doomville. It was a dreadful place. The surrounding mountains would frequently erupt into massive lava flows. It was a dark and menacing place. It was just the kind of place evil wizards like to call home.

Thus, our heroic bard, Wil of Wheaton, decided to depart for the tower of the great wizard Douglas. However, it was a going to be a long journey and the bard decided he would obtain a party of adventurers. His fellow bards, Paul and Storm, volunteered to join him. However, Wil declined their invitation. After all, a party of bards was surly doomed to failure. Having a bard at all on an adventure was bad enough. The young bard needed adventurers. People with skills.

The only problem with gathering a group of individuals with skills was most of those with actual skills had jobs. Even if they did not have employment, they were generally intelligent enough not to go to a place called Doomville. At the very least, anyone willing to go on such a dangerous journey wanted to get paid. Money was not something a bard had in great abundance. Wil of Wheaton attempted to use his charm and charisma, but he rolled miserably. Thus, after a lengthy search of Maplevania, he only managed to get Savage Adam in his group.

While Savage Adam was a powerful wizard in his own right, no one believed that the two of them would be enough to take on the forces deployed from Doomville. However, no one else from the town would join them. Without being able to convince anyone else to join them, the small party began the arduous journey to Doomville. The pair hoped to pick up some additional adventurers on the way.

The two ended up in Johnstown. While this small village is kind of between Maplevania and Doomville, it is well out of the way. The only reason the two men went there was their propensity for getting distracted by shiny things and cool things they could blow up. They ended up leaving the main road and getting lost.

The pair should have stuck to the main road. Just about anything an adventuring party would need could be found along that route. After all, the only thing Wil of Wheaton had with him was a staff. His armor consisted of a pair of blue shorts and a witty t-shirt. Savage Adam needed very little. After all, he could use a couple of sticks, some dirt, a few choice plants, and some spit to make an impressive explosion. Nonetheless, if trouble arose, they could find themselves in great distress.

As they entered the village, they were confronted by the orc Scalzi of Johnstown. Now, Scalzi was once a kind and gentle creature (for an orc anyway.) However, when his wife and child disappeared, he had grown quite cantankerous. This was the wife we alluded to earlier. The great orc had no hope of doing any better than her. Thus, he was gruff to anyone who stumbled into Johnstown.

Having eaten all of the residents of Johnstown, Scalzi the Orc was not someone a Bard and Wizard should take on alone. This was particularly true with how Wil was equipped. However, what were they to do? They had not been able to recruit any additional people.

Savage Adam made some things explode. This distracted Scalzi enough for Wil to break out his secret weapon. Well, his secret weapon was telling the story about the time he worked with the world-renowned actor Sir Patrick of Stewart. He explained that at the time they worked together he had a fancier cart than Sir Patrick. The story had the desired effect of confusing Scalzi further. In his confusion, a falcon flying overhead also distracted Savage Adam. Hence, the adventuring party inflicted no damage to Scalzi.

Thus, Scalzi could have taken his axe of smiting and chopped the two adventurers into little pieces. Instead, the mighty fighter decided to join the sad duo in their adventure. The distracting tactics would work well to give Scalzi an opportunity to chop whatever they were confronting into little pieces. This, the orc thought, would make the trip a bunch of fun. After all, to an orc, Doomville sounds like the place to be.

Before they would go any further, Scalzi believed that Wil should have better equipment. Thus, Wil obtained a spear of stabbing from Scalzi who obtained it from some adventurer he had eaten. Sadly, there was no decent armor to be had. However, Scalzi knew of a stash of arcane magic items that could be obtained not far from Johnstown.

The party entered the strange and mystical town of Minneapple. However, they did not have any money to purchase items. As any bard would do in this situation, a show was organized. It was scheduled to last for 3 hours, but so much fun was had that, it lasted for five. Even Scalzi performed. After the show was finished, they had managed to raise three copper pieces.

However, a longtime fan of Wil's gave him a present (in exchange for his witty t-shirt.) The fan gave strict instructions that the present was not to be opened inside the town's borders. If it were, it would inflict a curse upon the recipient. The fan did ensure Wil that the item would protect him with its magical properties. Needless to say, Wil wanted to open the present immediately. He did not want to wait.

In his way was Savage Adam. His bloody nose notwithstanding, Adam did not wish to leave. The wizard fell in love with the town. This put great strain on Wil, who could not stand the suspense of the unopened gift. Adam could not be moved. The pair argued, but Adam refused to budge. Wil begged and pleaded to no avail.

Wil explained that they would not make it over the mountains without Adam's help. Thus, Adam conjured up a mount for the pair. It was supposed to be a pegasus for them to ride above the clouds. However, a last minute distraction altered the spell. Thus, Savage Adam conjured up a unicorn pegasus kitten as their mount.

Wil of Wheaton and Scalzi of Johnstown bid a fond farewell to Savage Adam as the flew off on their unicorn pegasus kitten towards Doomville. Wil was once again unable to procure more help, even for three copper pieces.

The flight over the mountains to Doomville was uneventful. The pair of adventurers landed just outside of the city limits. Scalzi immediately dismounted the mighty steed. However, Wil remained on the unicorn pegasus kitten, and there Wil opened up his gift. To his surprise, it was the Cursed Clown Sweater of Constitution. It was such a thoughtful gift, that Wil immediately put it on.

Immediately, Scalzi noticed a change in Wil. It was as if the affable Wil had become an evil twin. With the beard, no one could notice if a goatee had magically appeared on Wil's face. Suddenly, Wil wanted the princess all to himself. He would let nothing stand in his way -- not even his orc friend. The two began arguing. This quickly escalated into actual combat. Immediately, Scalzi knew that Wil had opened the present early, and received the curse of the garment. However, the only thing he could do was fight the enraged bard who was wearing the clown sweater and riding the unicorn pegasus kitten.

Meanwhile, Princess Hortense and the great wizard Douglas held a quiet civil marriage ceremony at the Doomville city hall. The reception was held at the Doomville Ski Resort and Lodge, which had a great view of the surrounding erupting mountains. This event will be remembered forever afterwards for the spectacle of the orc and bard fighting. In fact, Douglas and Hortense commissioned a painting of the fight. It now hangs in a place of honor in the happy couple's tower. No one knows what happened to the combatants; but naturally, Douglas and Hortense lived happily ever after.

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Reunited...

Chapter Forty

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Upon leaving the Capitol building, Princess Angelina explored the area. After some wandering, she came upon a large group of people waving signs and chanting slogans. She walked up to one of the protesters.

"What is going on?" she asked.

"Princess Angelina!" the protester responded.

"Yes," replied the Princess with a slight bow. "Would you tell me what is happening here?"

"I really cannot believe it is really you."

"It is. Thanks. So...?"

"I cannot believe that Princess Angelina is speaking to me."

"Yes I am. Now about my question..."

"I am so envious of your position. I mean, to be a princess with all the pageantry and elegance, it would be just so, so, so much like a fairy tale."

"You are very kind, so what is happening here?"

"I have always dreamed of being a princess -- living in a castle -- riding around in majestic carriages."

"Thank you very much," the Princess stated as she began to walk away.

"Oh!" the protester stated with some urgency. "We are protesting tyranny."

"You are experiencing tyranny here?"

"Oh no! We are quite free. However, some king attempted to hire some of our citizens to raid another kingdom. Such is the way of kingdoms."

"But you said -- never mind -- go on."

"This dreadful king is in the jail there for his crimes. We want him to be aware that we will no longer put up with his type of shenanigans here."

"The stuff kingdoms do..."

"Right! We support democracy. The right to have a say in the government is important to us. That is why we are protesting."

"I thank you very much for your time."

"Wait! Could you sign my sign?"

"Sure," stated the Princess as she wrote her name on the citizen's protest sign.

The Princess spoke to others, and they confirmed what the first protester told her. They were protesting her way of life. Further, some were quite angry about the situation. In fact, many were more upset about it than she was. Which she found remarkable because King Thorbjorn was going to attack her. The Princess had every right to be irate. However, the involvement of their citizenry greatly angered the crowd.

She wandered through the crowd some more and shook hands with a few protesters. Everyone she meet was happy to see her. They seemed quite friendly and welcomed her warmly. She did not encounter anyone who could see the disconnect from the life of a princess and the kingdom system they were protesting.

In fact, the Princess's life was nothing like a fairy tale princess. The people in this crowd had choices. They could choose whom they would marry. They could choose what job they would have. They had freedoms of which the Princess could only dream. However, having her own kingdom was a step in the right direction for her.

Her thoughts drifted to Prince William. After all, he had always been friendly toward her. Even when they were kids, they got along well. She had strong feelings for him, but she could never marry him. The conflicts would be too great. She wanted to be in charge, but he was the man. Thus, Prince William would have to be in charge or have his position challenged regularly. She did not want him to be thought of as a weakling. Thus, a marriage to him was not something the Princess would or could allow.

There were many other thoughts that ran through her head. Up to this point, she did not have many choices in her life. In fact, she could have been married to the man that these people were protesting. Moreover, her running away as she did resulted in him being in prison -- eventually. None of this would have happened if they had been married. The Princess thought that that decision was the first she had made in her life.

The Princess was considering her life when she stumbled into a man.

"Oh! Excuse me," she said not even looking at the man.

"Princess?"

"Yes," she replied in an almost exasperated voice. "I am Princess Angelina."

"I know silly!"

"Ha! Prince William! What are you doing here?"

"My father is in prison there."

"Oh yeah, I know."

"You seem a little preoccupied. Is something wrong?"

"No, nothing. This crowd has just got me thinking about things."

"I know how you feel."

"It is weird how that kind of thing can happen."

"I know that!"

"You do not realize how each moment could open a new door into your life. If you go one way, things would be totally different."

"It is like we are always standing at a crossroads," replied the Prince. "Our future happiness depends upon taking the right road."

"But, how do we choose?"

"My father chose poorly."

"That is why he is in jail, but there is a chance it will still work out for the best."

"Let us hope so. A lot rides on him getting back to Lakeland safely."

"I suppose for you it does."

"Not just me! My father, ruling in the manner that he does, has many benefits for many people."

"I suppose..."

"No! He controls the people. Most of the kingdom lives in relative peace. If you remove him, there will be chaos."

"However, those very same people do not have much in the way of freedom."

"What is more important -- peace or freedom?"

"Why not both?"

"No! Think about it! The people here live in total chaos. They are in a constant state of battle. To make even the simplest decision of state, they have to argue and fight to come to a conclusion."

"But..."

"No buts!" interrupted the Prince. "They need leadership. They need someone to lead them out of the chaos."

"A strong elected leader can do that."

"Can he?"

"He or she!" insisted the Princess.

"Is that what this is about?"

"I guess it is!"

"You do not know how good you have it."

"That may be true, but why must it be the way it is? Could it not be better with more freedom?"

"Freedom for you!"

"That would be a start."

"Are you sure you are fourteen?"

"I just turned fifteen!"

"I missed your birthday...."

"Do not worry about it."

"Oh! Speaking of which, you need to get out of here!"

"What? Why?"

"Have you not noticed? This place is a powder keg. It could go off at any moment."

"What are you planning?"

"Nothing! But you should really leave."

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Reunited...

Chapter Forty-One

By Douglas E. Gogerty

King Thorbjorn sat in his cell. He had not wanted to spend any more time in the jail, but the officials would not let him leave. His son posted his bail, but there was danger outside. The city officials did not want an all out riot. Hence, the King had to stay in his jail cell.

He was sleeping uneasily when someone entered his cell. He awoke with a start.

"Who is it? Who is there?" the King asked.

"I just came in to let you go," the stranger stated.

"What?"

"The crowd has dispersed for the evening, and if you would like to leave..."

"If? I will gather my men and go!"

"We cannot let you all go at once. We will need to release you and your entourage one at time."

"What? Why?"

"We do not wish to raise suspicion. Letting you go all at once would be very noticeable."

"You are probably right about that."

"We will let you go, and then a few minutes later another member of your group...."

"I would rather go second or third."

"There is no time to argue! Are you going or not?"

"I am going! I am going!"

The King exited the jail warily. He felt something was wrong, but he had desperately wanted to leave his cell. Thus, he carefully walked out into the darkness. Every moving shadow made him jump. He saw his enemies behind every tree and bush.

However, he knew he had to find a place to meet with his entourage as they left the jail. Therefore, he had to stay close to the exit. At the very least, he needed to be able to see the door. He needed to find some place he could watch his group exit.

He slowly and carefully searched for a spot to sit. He snuck from tree to tree and bush to bush until he found a spot he liked. It had a good view of the door and it held plenty of cover. The King sat and began watching to door.

He watched for a number of minutes. However, his eyes were getting heavy. After all, it was in the middle of the night. He had not slept well for days. Thus, watching the door became a great chore. He kept nodding off, and yet no one else came out. Eventually, he fell asleep.

The King awoke with a start. A crowd had started to gather in the predawn hours. He wondered where his entourage had gone. Certainly, they would have looked around for him. While his spot concealed him well, his group should have found him. Nonetheless, they should be around somewhere.

He thought about staying in his hiding spot. It concealed him well. However, the idea of spending the entire day there did not appeal to him. He guessed that the protesters would not recognize him, so he could at least blend in with them.

He went into the group that was milling around. They offered him some coffee, which the King welcomed. No one paid any special attention to him. He was just another protester in their eyes. Thus, he milled around as well, looking for hidden members of his party. He found none. His anxiousness to leave made him a susceptible to the trap he walked into.

Without his guard, the King was vulnerable to any of his many enemies. Further, he was unarmed. The government had confiscated his weapons. Therefore, he was unarmed and unprotected. Any of his enemies could walk up to him and kill him. That is, except for the crowd. He felt somewhat safe in the gathering crowd. Not to mention, it was a good hiding place.

The King had people camouflage. He was just another face in the crowd. Further, who would look for him in a group protesting him? In addition, he thought he would be able to spot people who did not belong with the protesting group. If someone were looking in the bushes around the courthouse, they would be people to watch. Hence, the King could avoid them.

Nonetheless, he was in a difficult spot. Chances are that someone was watching the roads. A solitary man wandering around would bring unwanted attention to him. That would bring certain death. Thus, he would have to stick with the crowd for now. At the very least, he would have to wait for the government to release his group. However, when would that happen? It could be weeks. He did not believe that he could not hold out that long.

Further, he had no money or food. Could he survive on free coffee? Perhaps he would also get a sandwich or some other kind of food. All of this depended upon the gathering crowd -- furthering his instinct to stick with them. Nonetheless, he knew he was in deep trouble. If only he was not in such a hurry to exit the jail.

Day had broken and there was a large crowd gathered. They chanted slogans, and the King joined them. He was just another anti-monarchy protester. He even carried a sign protesting tyranny. He blended in with the crowd well. He even got some food for his efforts. His plan was working.

Further, he did not see anyone suspicious poking around the grounds. Thus, he concluded that they were waiting for him along the road. He was safe as long as he blended in with the crowd.

The day wore on, and he kept up his facade. He became hoarse from all of the shouting that he did. He bonded with a group that had been there since the predawn hours. They took good care of him. He ate well. The group accepted him as one of their number. Furthermore, they stayed in the middle of the pack. Thus, he did not have to sit on the fringes.

The King felt confident that his plan worked. He was thinking that he would make it until nightfall. That would present new challenges but nothing insurmountable. For the first time in a long time, he felt slightly at ease. It was the first plan to have worked in quite a while.

The evening was drawing close, and the protesters began to thin out. He may have let his guard down as someone walked up to him and whispered in his ear. Further, the voiced called the King sire. He had been found out. Now there was trouble.

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Reunited...

Chapter Forty-Two

By Douglas E. Gogerty

"Sire," Prince William whispered into King Thorbjorn's ear. "I am glad I found you."

The King responded violently to the Prince's actions. The Prince quickly defended himself from the swinging fists of the King. The crowd sided with the King, and began closing in on the fighting pair. The Prince took a couple of shots from people in the crowd.

"Hey! It is me!" shouted the Prince. "Your son -- William!"

The King realized that it was indeed his son, and stopped his punches. It took a few moments, but the crowd also halted their assault.

"Thank you for coming to my aid," stated the King to the people of the crowd.

"What are you doing out?" the Prince asked the King quietly.

"That is a long story," replied the King. "Let us go somewhere quiet to discuss it."

"I have a room," responded the Prince. "We can go there."

"I would like that."

The Prince led King Thorbjorn to his hotel room. Few words passed during the journey from the jail to the room. The two men simply walked quietly. When they arrived at the room, the King explained how he ended up in the crowd of protesters. When his story was over, the Prince explained how he ended up there.

"A news report stated that you had escaped," began the Prince. "I knew you would not have gone far, so I was looking for you around the jail."

"Escaped? They let me go!"

"Did you fill out any paperwork? Did you get your belongings?"

"Well -- no."

"Then you were not officially released."

"You mean..."

"Someone let you out for some purpose -- perhaps nefarious."

"My guess is someone wants me to see me in trouble. There are plenty of people from some rival kingdoms that would love to see me dead."

"Or one of your own family members..."

"Would one of my own kids want the -- I guess you are right."

"I am just glad I found you before it was too late."

"So, what do we do now?"

"We need to get you to Lakeland."

"That is going to take some doing."

"That it will, but first, let us get something to eat."

The Prince made arrangements for some food to be brought to the room. It was an interesting choice by the Prince. The King had never tasted anything like it. The Prince had made a point to try the local cuisine, and he particularly liked this food.

"They call it pizza," noted the Prince.

"It is very unusual," replied the King.

"I am surprised it has never made it to Lakeland. It is very common and popular here."

"I will note it, and bring it there. It is very tasty."

"Let us hope you are able," answered the Prince.

The Prince and King continued their conversation over the meal. They did not discuss their plans; they just spoke of little things -- unimportant matters. However, as the meal neared the end, the conversation began to drift to matters that were more serious. They had to decide what they would do to get the king home.

"Certainly someone is watching the roads," stated the King.

"They cannot watch all of the roads," replied the Prince.

"However, we do not know which ones are being watched."

"That is true, but they might not expect two people."

"There is no reason to think that they would not consider you. In fact, they may be looking for us as a pair."

"I find that highly unlikely. Why would they?"

"I do not know. I am just playing devil's advocate."

"So what do you think?" asked the Prince.

"I think you are right. We should travel by the main road. They would not expect it, and they would not expect both of us."

Prince William and King Thorbjorn discussed their plans into the evening. They wanted to be ready for anything that they might face. Thus, they discussed what they would do in various scenarios.

While they would have liked to get an early start, they felt it better to wait. Hence, after the late evening, they left in the middle of the morning. The Prince's suncar was ready for the trip. They were quite glad that they would not have to walk to Lakeland. The car would afford them a little bit of protection.

The road out of town that they took skirted the jail. Like previous days, there was a large crowd. As they drove by, the Prince and King scanned the crowd for signs of trouble, but found none. At least, they did not notice anyone out of place.

The pair planned to go through Princess Angelina's Kingdom. While they did not think they could rely on her giving them aid, they thought they could depend on her for not hindering the journey. At the very least, the Prince was on good terms with her.

It was a bright sunny day. Therefore, the beginning of the journey went smoothly. The suncar had plenty energy to travel most of the day. However, because they did not start at first light, they would not make it to the Princess's kingdom before nightfall. Thus, they would have to camp somewhere. This is where the most danger lurked.

There were plenty of people watching the road; however, there was no way to tell who might pose a threat. Thus, the King mostly slouched down as the Prince drove. If anyone was suspicious or noted the Prince, they would likely make their presents known at the camp. If there was going to be any trouble, it would occur either during the night or before they left in the morning.

Thus, they conserved some suncar battery just in case they wanted to move during the night. This also prevented them from getting to the Princess's kingdom. They found a good defensible spot to camp. The Prince and King took turns keeping watch. They hoped that anyone coming after them would need lights. Thus, they would be able to see them.

It was very late when the Prince saw a large retinue of lights heading their way. He woke the King and prepared for the worst.

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Reunited...

Chapter Forty-Three

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Princess Angelina spent some extra time wandering around the Pirate Peninsula before heading back to her kingdom. She took her appeal to the people of the region. While the government was reluctant to sign a non-aggression pact, she attempted to get the people on her side. For the most part, that worked.

The crowds that turned out to see her were warm and welcoming. She could not understand how they could simultaneously protest kingdoms and praise her. However, she was getting used to the conflicting ideas that were present in the area. In any case, the crowds seem to love her. That was really the most important thing to her. As long as the people were on her side, she would be safe from aggression from this state.

When she was satisfied that she had nothing to fear from her neighbors, she headed home. It had not been a long trip, but she still had things she wished to finish. After all, her kingdom still did not have a name. She had very little in the form of a governing body. In fact, she had no ministers. She was taking care of everything herself. She needed to get these things organized. She could not do that from the road. Thus, she had reasons to return home.

Nonetheless, the retinue moved slowly. The people, with whom she met, showered her with gifts. Thus, she was returning with a great many gifts. This slowed her progress down considerably. It took a lot to haul all of the many fine things she collected on that trip.

While they had quite a load, they did not wish to stop moving. The entrouage wished to continue moving no matter the condition. This was not only a safety precaution, it was also a desire to finish what had been started. Hence, they wished to travel during the day and during the night.

During the day, the suncars pulled a heavy load. There was no charging them up. Thus, as it got dark, the suncars slowed to a stop. They would eat their evening meal as they switch systems. During the night, the animals towed the load. Thus, while they were going slow, they could travel both day and night. It would take a few days to get back to the kingdom, but they were always on the move.

They happened upon a campsite along the main road. However, when they got there it was deserted. There was only a single suncar, but the fire was still smoldering. Thus, the occupants of the camp could not be far. However, the Princess ordered the caravan to continue. The campers were around, but they appeared not to want company. The Princess would oblige them.

After she had passed the camp, one of her guards climbed aboard her wagon. She was not asleep, but reading a book. She looked at him in anticipation.

"Princess," he began. "There are some strangers who would like an audience."

"An audience -- out here?" replied the Princess.

"Yes mistress!"

The Princess glared at the guard for his use of that honorific and replied, "Show them to me."

The guard bowed and left. A short time later, he brought two men to her trailer. The Princess smiled and offered them a seat.

"Thank you for seeing us," began Prince William.

"Do not mention it," replied the Princess with grace.

"Thank you," mumbled King Thorbjorn.

"What do you want?" asked the Princess in a harsh tone as she glared at the King.

"We need..." groveled the King.

"Please," interrupted Prince William waving off the King. "We are looking to get back to Lakeland. We fear for our lives, and we hoped you would provide sanctuary."

"You mean you fear for his life," corrected the Princess.

"Yes," replied the King.

"Please Angelina -- er -- your highness," added Prince William. "We would not ask if it were not in such dire straights."

"Those dire straights do not have anything to do with what happened in the peninsula -- would it?" asked the Princess.

"Why -- I ," began King Thorbjorn.

"Yes," interupted Prince William. "In fact, the trouble we are in was a direct result of the King's stupidity."

"Which was an attempt to undermine my kingdom."

"Yes! That is right," replied the Prince preventing the King from saying anything. "Now we are asking for your help."

"Okay, I am willing to forgive, but what is in it for me?" responded the Princess.

"How is that..." began the King in an irritated voice.

"What are you asking?" the Prince asked interrupting his father.

"First off, I want guarantees against any undermining my rule," insisted the Princess.

"Done!" replied the Prince before his father could say anything.

"Also," added the Princess. "I want some more land concessions.'

"What!?!!" responded the King.

"You are asking quite a bit there," added the Prince. "We are just looking for help to get us back to Lakeland."

"That is still asking a lot from me. After all, I know that the King is a fugative." replied the Princess.

"While that may be true ... our situation is not dire enough to warrant a land deal," explained the Prince.

"What does your situation warrant?" asked the Princess.

"We can offer advisors. We can offer cash," replied the Prince.

"Let's go!" insisted the King.

"I could never trust any advisor from you, and what could I use with more cash?" answered the Princess.

"I think we are at an impasse," insisted the King.

"What do you want -- besides land," asked Prince William.

"Technology," replied the Princess.

"Technology? What kind?" asked the Prince.

"The stuff you keep from your people. There are all kinds of things that I have discovered that could be useful to me," the Princess answered.

"Like what?" asked the King.

"Very good!" replied the Princess with a wry smile. "Guard! Get them out of here!"

Before the King and Prince could react, they found themselves on the road as the caravan made its way out of sight.

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Reunited...

Chapter Forty-Four

By Douglas E. Gogerty

"I told you that we would not be able to count on her," King Thorbjorn told Prince William.

"We do not really need to," replied the Prince. "We just need to follow her. That should provide enough security for our purposes."

"I suppose," grumbled the King.

"Now let us get the suncar and go," said the Prince as he ran to the waiting vehicle.

The King followed the Prince to the suncar. They had been conserving the suncar's power during the day for just such an occurrence. They had been saving power just in cast they needed to leave in the middle of the night. They were saving for an emergency, but it was not in this case. They just needed to get going.

Further, they would not have to hurry. This was because the Princess's caravan was moving very slowly. Thus, they could use minimal suncar power. Therefore, they did not have to press the batteries of the vehicle.

About an hour after dawn, the entire caravan came to a stop. They did this to switch from animal power to solar power. They would bed down the animals in the wagons and hook up their suncars. The process took a little while, so it was also time for the morning meal.

King Thorbjorn and Prince William took the time to eat as well. This also allowed the suncar's batteries to charge. They would soon reach the Princess's kingdom. After that, the King and his son would simply need to leave the caravan and head toward Lakeland. The pair continued following the caravan into the Princess's kingdom.

After a fair amount of travel, the King and the Prince would break off from the caravan. There was a fork in the road, and the Princess would likely head to her new castle complex. The two stragglers would split from the caravan at this time. Nonetheless, they would be well within the borders of the former treaty land. It would be in somewhat friendly territory.

As they were about to depart ways with the Princess they sought an audience with her. However, she did not allow it. Thus, they had to leave her without saying their good-byes. This was just as well for the King, but Prince William would have liked to say farewell. As always, he did not know when he would see her again.

Even without the audience, they continued to stay with the caravan. The sun was beginning to set before they reached the split towards Lakeland. They thought they may spend a little more time with the caravan. Fortunately, the slow pace allowed the royal suncar to once again save power. The King and the Prince would be able to travel for a while as it got dark. Further, if they ran into trouble during the night, they would be able to make a getaway.

Since it was getting dark, the caravan once again made its switch. A meal was eaten, and the animals were once again pulling the Princess's wagons. It was at this point that the King noticed the road heading towards the north. It was here that the King and his son would leave the relative safety of the caravan.

With darkness coming on, they would not be able to travel far. Hence, they simply looked for an out of the way place to camp in that area. With darkness falling, they did not want to waste power looking for a well protected camping area. Thus, they found a spot byt the crossroads and pulled off. While there was a multiple ways that trouble could come after them, they also had multiple options for escape.

Prince William took the first watch. It was dark. It was hard for him to believe that this was once a busy intersection. However, the nearby ruins indicated that this place was busy both day and night. The lights and buildings were long destroyed during the ancient conflict. Now, it was quite dark and very quiet. The Prince marveled at all of the stars.

Despite the conditions, Prince William remained awake during his watch. However, King Thorbjorn did not do so well. He awoke with a start as the sun struck his face. It was well past dawn. He looked around in panic, but there was no one around. The roads were deserted in every direction. He let out a sigh, and began preparing the morning meal.

It was later in the morning than they would have liked, but they were happy to be heading towards Lakeland. Even with the late start, they would be close to Lakeland at then end of the day's travel. In fact, the father and son should be able to make their home kingdom early on the next morning.

Furthermore, the roads were quiet. It did not appear that anyone was watching the road they were traveling. It was quiet and empty. This did not make the men anxious because this was fairly normal for this part of Morica. Hence, they pushed forward.

In fact, they went so fast that they did not save any batteries for reserve. As night fell and they neared Lakeland, the suncar stopped. They were simply excited to get home, and they were caught off guard by the stopping vehicle. They stopped completely unprepared for making camp.

Nonetheless, they did not panic. The two simply made camp next to the road where they stopped. They could almost feel how close to Lakeland they were. They both felt that they would make it home. It was the last leg of an arduous journey and they were almost there. All they had to do was make it through one more night.

This time, King Thorbjorn took the first watch. At this spot, it was also dark and quiet. However, the excitement of making it to Lakeland kept the King awake. He was vigilant and even paced for a while. He kept a good watch. As with all of the other nights, he did not see or hear anything other than the sleeping Prince.

When morning came, the King had not slept much during the Prince's watch. King Thorbjorn had a lot on his mind. The excitement of making it to Lakeland after all he had went through prevented any sleep. He could not believe he was so close. He simply tossed and turned during Prince William's watch. He was anxious to get home.

With the sun up and the morning meal taken, the suncar made its way towards Lakeland. They reached the boarder after a short drive. They had reached Lakeland without incident. After a brief cheer in the car, they spotted a small dust cloud heading their way. They thought it was the entourage sent to retrieve the King from the Pirate Peninsula.

Relief that they had finally reached their home kingdom became evident in the suncar. They both thought they were going to be safe. They were wrong. The road exploded in front of them and they crashed into the ditch.

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Reunited...

Chapter Forty-Five

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William awoke behind the wheel of the suncar. He shook his head to clear away the stars. He looked around, and spotted a group of people on a nearby hill. Still groggy, he wondered who they were.

Before he could determine who they were, he saw a flash. Instinctively, he jumped out of the car. He stumbled away as best he could. The explosion knocked him further away. He collapsed and lost consciousness.

He awoke surrounded by a small army. He did not know how long he had been out. He was not even sure where he was. Slowly it all came back to him.

Was the King dead? he wondered.

He stayed there on his back trying to clear his head. He still was unclear as to what had happened. It started to come back to him as he looked at the faces of the men that surrounded him. They all seemed somewhat familiar. However, his head was not quite clear enough to know who they were. After looking for a bit, one face stood out.

"Bjorn?" Prince William asked.

"It is I dear brother," replied Bjorn.

"What -- in the name of all things sacred -- is going on?"

"Father is dead," Bjorn replied with a self-satisfied smirk on his face.

"What?"

"King Thorbjorn is dead -- long live King Bjorn!" he replied raising his hand triumphantly as his army cheered.

"You killed father?" asked Prince William.

"Well not me directly. I am not an expert with the rocket propelled grenade."

"And, you are claiming the throne."

"Of course! I am the king's eldest. I am the most likely heir to the throne."

"Well -- uh -- I guess congratulations are in order -- your highness."

"Thank you!"

"Very well then, what are you going to do with me?"

"What? I have not given it much thought."

"So...can I go then?"

"Where are you going to go?"

"I was just bringing the King -- well..." muttered Prince William. "Anyway, now that my job with the King is finished, I have business with Princess Angelina."

"You have always had a thing for her."

"That is true, but I should be going."

"She is quite a lovely young thing; however, we are headed back towards the castle."

"I can find my own way."

"You would have to."

"So, I can still go then?"

"Yes you may. It is just too bad that your transport is currently non-functional."

"That is fine -- my Lord."

"Wait! You are not going to cause trouble for me are you?"

"I am so far down the line in succession. What could I do?"

"I do not know...."

"You have more to fear from the older boys than you do from me."

"Do I have your word on that?"

"I guarantee it," Prince William stated while remembering the sibling rivalries.

"Regardless," responded the new King. "You are far from -- well everywhere. You will be fortunate to survive the day out here by yourself."

"It is quite dangerous out here."

"You may go."

The Prince walked away from his brother's army. He gave a tentative wave at his brother. He decided to bow deeply at the waist before he turned and walked away. The new king gave a gracious wave of his hand as he turned.

Prince William was still a bit unclear about what had happened. Naturally, he knew that his brother had ambushed them, but how did he know which road the King and Prince would take? He had been very watchful during his watch. He would have noticed any scouts. Had the King missed something?

He began to go over the possibilities. He did not think that anyone had bugged his suncar. However, it could have been. He recalled how Princess Angelina's father had installed tracking devices on his kingdom's vehicles. However, who would have the foresight to keep track of him? Certainly, no one could keep that a secret from the King. No, he concluded that his vehicle was clean. It must have been something else.

He continued to walk and ponder the question. He went over the previous events of the recent past. He could not have missed anyone in the dark of night. How could Prince Bjorn know when and where the suncar was headed. It weighed heavily upon his mind. He walked for quite a while before he stumbled and fell. It was not until that moment did he realize how unsteady he was.

With all that had happened to him in the past several months, he was getting used to feeling a bit off. He remembered that he was just in a car accident. The crash knocked him about pretty good. In fact, he was lucky to be alive. He could see his brother's caravan way off to the north. He was happy that Bjorn did not find him a threat. Otherwise, Bjorn would have killed him on the spot. Although he was walking away, he was not out of trouble yet. Bjorn could turn and eliminate him at any moment. If the rolls were reversed, he is not sure he would not have killed his brother. He was a rival no matter how remote.

As the day wore on, Prince William became more confident that he was safe from Bjorn. However, he became less confident that he would still survive. He had to stop and rest on regular intervals. His thirst was getting great. His only supply of water was destroyed in the suncar.

However, Prince William remembered a bridge they had crossed earlier in the day. He just had to make it to that river. If he could make it, that river would provide the Prince with drinking water at the very least. Moreover, he was planning to use the river as transportation.

The Prince remembered reading a story about a young man rafting down a river. He remembered the great adventure this young man had on the river. If some school-aged kid could raft down a river, so could the Prince. That is, if he could make it to the river.

He walked and rested and walked and rested for a couple of hours. Eventually, he made it to the bridge. He scrambled down to the water. He took in a big drink. The water was cool and refreshing. After a bit of rest, the Prince would look into building himself a raft.

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Reunited...

Chapter Forty-Six

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Naturally, Princess Angelina heard about the death of King Thorbjorn. Since that day, she got reports of the civil war that raged in Lakeland. While Prince Bjorn claimed the throne, his many siblings were angry at his actions. They did not appreciate the fact that he had taken it upon himself to kill the King. Moreover, many would like to be in his position. Thus, the various children of Thorbjorn broke into various factions. It seemed that each son, no matter where in the line of succession, wanted the kingdom for himself.

When she heard about the ambush, she was impressed with Bjorn's foresight to wait until the King entered Lakeland. If the ambush had occurred on her land, she could consider that an attack on her sovereignty. It could have drawn her kingdom into the war. However, the restraint made the incident an internal affair for Lakeland.

In addition, the Princess did not hear what happened to Prince William. She knew he was traveling with the King at the time. Of the reports she received, none mentioned Prince William. She thought that perhaps he had also died in the ambush. She felt bad about not granting him an audience. Further, her harsh actions made her sad -- about not seeing the Prince. She did not feel the same for the King. In fact, she was somewhat glad that King Thorbjorn was dead.

However, she would now need to negotiate with whomever ended up reigning over Lakeland. Naturally, she could not get any treaty signed until a successor was determined. This could take quite some time. The brothers would not yield to each other easily.

Another worry was that the civil war could spill across Lakeland's borders. With the fighting raging, one of the armies may wish to reclaim her kingdom. With the unpredictability of the situation, she did not wish to see the war spill into her lands. Thus, she would have to do the prudent thing and mobilize a force along the border. The task of this force would be to prevent incursions into her land. They would also handle the refugees.

Thus, once again, she let the unimportant aspects slide. She did not fill in minor posts, and she had not named her kingdom. Those things would have to wait. There were much more important things to worry about.

She immediately appointed some trusted advisors to command the army she would raise. She gave them strict orders on what to do with those seeking asylum. The refugees would swear allegiance to Angelina and be welcomed. However, the army had full reign to deal with anyone who caused trouble.

She allowed her advisors the ability to decide what to do with the stream of people crossing the boarder. However, she did not want them to wander far from the Lakeland border. She knew that they remained Lakelanders despite the war in their lands. They would likely wish to return home.

In her efforts to recruit more for the protective service, she went to the citizenry. In each town she visited, the townspeople gathered around her. Without much trouble, she could raise a substantial fighting force. In fact, she turned many down so they could continue to raise food.

Moreover, it seemed that her entire kingdom was willing to fight for her. She enjoyed such support from her people, that they appeared ready to do anything for her. However, she knew that maintaining such a large standing army would be expensive. She knew that someone had to continue to raise food to keep them fed. Hence, she rationed out the honor of service.

She did note to the ones that remained out of active service that their rolls were just as important -- if not more so. She had read that an army travels on its stomach. Hence, she emphasized that growing food was just as important as fighting. She promised that there would be great rewards for providing a bounty to the army.

She knew that without peace in home, there would be no need for a military to worry about other kingdoms. Thus, she assured everyone that they were an important part of her kingdom. It appeared that her people were grateful to have such a generous leader.

Occasionally during her recruiting tour, she would visit the already gathered troupes. During these visits she received dire reports from Lakeland. She would hear of the atrocities going on in the north. She learned of Prince Bjorn's cruelty. The reports told how he would punish harshly anyone who disobeyed him. Further, with every defeat, the refugees would report of great retaliation. They told stories of how Prince Bjorn was not only harsh to one of his enemies, but was cruel to his own army. Everyone spoke of the would-be-king's tirades.

Many of the soldiers remarked that there leaders were not incredibly bright. In fact, they said that Prince Bjorn's own incompetence caused many of his own defeats. He would rush into battle when his men were not ready. He would call for battle when his opponent had a far superior position. He gave little credence to tactics.

These former soldiers believed that Prince Bjorn felt that he was infallible. Thus, any defeat, he believed, was his army's fault. He believed that his soldiers did not fight hard enough. He would harshly punish his army upon any major or minor defeat. Thus, the soldiers deserted in vast numbers.

However, they reported that it was not much better for the other armies. If a soldier would surrender to one of the other armies, they would never be trusted. Even if they swore fealty to the leader, they would be assigned to POW camps. The conditions at these camps were awful. The fighting men received most of the food. Thus, the prisoners had very little from which to survive. Starvation was common.

Therefore, instead of surrendering to another army, the soldiers would come south. In addition, with rumors of the welcome in the south, soldiers, farmers, and many others and their families began streaming across the border. The Princess did her best to accept anyone crossing the border.

After a few visits with the refugees, she realized that food was going to be an issue. Hence, her recruiting tours turned into pep talks to the farmers. She wanted to make sure everyone knew that their parts were just as important. She wanted to keep morale up for those behind the lines. The Princess did her best to make sure that as much food could be sent to the refugee camps. She wanted everyone to be happy.

However, there was a down side for all of this. The sons of Thorbjorn noticed the increasing army on the boarder of Lakeland. The army had more than doubled in a very short time. This type of thing would not go unnoticed.

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Reunited...

Chapter Forty-Seven

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William learned that building a simple raft was more difficult than he expected. The first problem arose from the fact that he had no tools. Cutting down trees was impossible without some sort of axe or saw. He looked around for quite a while looking for something, but was unable to locate anything suitable.

Thus, unless he could figure out how to make some workable tools, he had to find his raft materials. Fortunately, for him, there were plenty of resources. He picked a spot near the river to construct his raft. He began placing his materials at this spot.

It was a small clearing and it has ready access to the water. Thus, once his raft was finished, he had a clear path to the water for launch. Furthermore, it was hidden away from the main roads. Thus, he could work in relative secret if anyone should happen to wander by. At least, that is what he hoped he could do.

Despite everything, it was going to take longer than he anticipated. It also did not help that he was still experiencing the effects of the crash. Resting was a frequent necessity. He could not carry (or drag) his logs to his construction place without several rests.

Originally, he had hoped to use 4 or 5 big logs for his raft. This was what he remembered from the story. Unfortunately, he could not find many. Those he found were still attached to more tree. Therefore, even if he could move them, he could not clear off the remaining branches without a saw or axe. Thus, he had to use smaller pieces. This also complicated matters. He would have to make a couple of layers to keep him out of the water.

This is not to mention that he had no idea actually how to build a raft. He had only the vaguest ideas of how a raft would work. He had not thought about actually how to attach the pieces together. Again, the lack of materials was thwarting his efforts.

It took quite a lot of time to find everything. However, his searching was proving well worth the time. He would find some rope here, and a hammer there. He would find a knfie, some nails, some screws, a screwdriver, and many of the things that he could use in building his raft. The down side was that he had no experience with any of these things.

He would find a tool, and think it could be useful. He would not always be certain how to work it. For instance, he was baffled by phillips head screws for quite a while. He wondered why the screws would not work with the standard screwdriver that he had found. It was not until he found a screwdriver with the proper head, did he discover how to use them.

Slowly and methodically, Prince William's raft began to take shape. He took his time in an effort to make it as seaworthy as possible. It was not going to look like much, but he was hopeful that it would take him down the river. He was hoping to avoid the long walk into Princess Angelina's territory.

The raft was made from three levels of medium sized branches. They were lashed, nailed, and screwed together. He found a nice piece of plywood to place on top to give it a deck. He was really glad for that find. He had a rudder made from a single long branch that was flat on one side.

He built a box on the deck for him to sit in. He wanted this to prevent him from sliding off. Further, he could hide in it if it was required. It would also be a place to store things that he did not wish to lose into the river.

However, this deck box would not protect him from any weapon fire. It was not thick enough to repel any bullets. It was fashioned from some small branches, and attached to the deck.

The box had a slot in the back to receive the rudder. Thus, Prince William could sit in the box, and lean against a side and steer the raft. He was quite proud of this portion of the raft. He could navigate down the river in relative comfort. However, just in case, he put the tools in this sitting area. If he needed to make any repairs on his trip he would be ready.

He was not certain where the river led. But, he believed that a civil war was inevitable, and he did not want to be a victim. It was the way of these things. Anyone who may have even a minor claim on the throne was usually killed. Thus, anywhere out of Lakeland would be safer than in the country.

The Prince was happy that Prince Bjorn allowed him to get away. He hoped to ride out the war in hiding. He did not even need to go to Princess Angelina's castle and ask for asylum. There was enough space in her kingdom to hide. He just needed to finish the raft and be off.

He dragged his raft to the river and prepared to launch. The river was deep and wide, and he worried about his craftsmanship. However, it felt solid as he pulled it to the river. He was going to perform a small ceremony, but he heard gunfire in the distance. In a rush, he pushed off. Out into the flowing river he went. He was relieved that the raft performed pretty well.

He wondered how the war was going as he drifted south. The river moved steadily but not swiftly. He hoped that he would make it out of Lakeland. He was reminded how glad he was to make it into Lakeland just a short while ago. Now, he could not wait to get back out.

He really wished he had his suncar as shots rang out close to the river. He wished it had not taken so long to construct his raft because the war was in full swing. The fighting was close by, and he was still far from the border.

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Reunited...

Chapter Forty-Eight

By Douglas E. Gogerty

The refugees kept streaming across into Princess Angelina's kingdom. The sons of King Thorbjorn were ravaging Lakeland. It was taking a great toll on the citizenry of their country. Further, all the citizens heard of the hospitality offered by the Princess. Instead of being ravaged by war, they grabbed their valuables and headed south. The situation was becoming a problem.

Not to mention, the civil war in Lakeland was destroying the crops. The soldiers would trample on the young plants. Great battles occurred on the prosperous fields. The carnage of the battle would end up destroying young crops. If the battle did not destroy the food, one brother would burn a field to take it away from another brother. Famine was going to be a real problem in Lakeland. Everyone was afraid of the upcoming food shortage. Thus, even more people headed south.

With the growing number of people coming to her kingdom, the Princess even asked her father to provide whatever resources he could spare. He sent his hunters out to bring in whatever game they could to feed the refugees. King Jonathan would do whatever his daughter asked. Thus, the food began flowing from Calmondak.

However, this compounded the problem. The more food available, the more the people would come. The more people, the larger the presence appeared on the boarder. Thus, the more people, the more concerned Lakeland became of the buildup. The Princess would not be able to have such a large population on the boarder without consequences. Nonetheless, she was unwilling to move the refugees farther into the interior where her own people were living.

Hence, the Princess spent a lot of time looking for places to put the refugees. She inquired with King Jonathan, but he could not take them. There was a treaty in place between Lakeland and Calmondak, which forbade the kingdoms from accepting refugees. King Jonathan was reluctant to break the treaty. Thus, Calmondak refused entry to all the refugees that tried to enter. This drove them towards the Princess's kingdom.

Therefore, Princess travelled to the Pirate Peninsula to see if they could take any of the war-weary citizens of Lakeland. She found the same sort of obstacles she had encountered with her previous visit. They would have to gather and vote on what to do. In the mean time, there would be thousands of refugees starving. It did not seem to the Princess that there was enough time.

As the days past, Princess Angelina was struggling with the overwhelming numbers. She wondered what to do to feed them. When visiting her father, she used the google to find out how to catch fish in the rivers. Further, she recruited fishermen while in the peninsula to show her citizens how to catch fish in the gulf. The refugees would need food from any source possible. She thought fish would be a suitable food source. However, the suncar system was not quite adequate to transport all of that food. Something else needed to be used.

She was observing the fishing operation on the main river when she saw something odd. It was a raft floating down the river. She had never seen such a thing. The raft appeared to have gone through a rough time. The river had been rough on the craft, and the raft appeared to be empty.

She ordered her people to pull the raft to shore. It nearly disintegrated when they hooked onto it. Upon the shore, they searched it, and it was as it seemed. There was no one onboard. There was a bit of blood in the rafts box, and it was riddled with holes.

Everyone was amazed that the craft still afloat. They remarked that workmanship was not that great, but it was serviceable. Whomever it belonged to had abandoned it somewhere upriver. From the looks of it, it had smacked some debris in the river. After this incident, it was fortunate to hold together.

The Princess stated that rafts or boats would be of help fishing the river. Further, river transportation could take the food upriver. Since even rough rafts could travel downstream, it would not take much to have them return for more. Thus, it would streamline the delivery of food to where the refugees in need could obtain it. Since the river made it to the gulf, all of the fish could travel in this manner.

Some of her subjects were familiar with river travel. They mentioned ancient riverboat travel. They could use burnable objects to make steam. They seemed to recall that steamboats had long ago disappeared from the river. However, the technology would not be that difficult to replicate. With some experimentation, they could get them going again.

The Princess decided to offer a reward for the best design. There would be several different boats built. Whoever built the most reliable form of transportation would build a fleet of such vessels. This could be a very lucrative proposition. The possibilities for the contract were enormous. Thus, many people began working on designs.

To some of the designers, the Princess noted that perhaps someone could adapt the suncar technology to propel the river traffic. However, solar technology would be dependant on the sun. Thus, they would not be useable at all times. However, she let the participants choose their method.

When the participants were happy with the details of the contest, the Princess ordered some citizens to begin gathering materials to fashion such watercraft. With the gathered materials, several riverboats could be fashioned. They did not have to be in their final state, but they had to be ready quickly. Time was important.

With river traffic reestablished, the Princess could become powerful further up river. She tried not to think about that. However, the warring factions in Lakeland noticed her actions. They were quite concerned. They would not put up with her aggressive moves. They doubled their efforts to end their civil war, so they could then take on Princess Angelina who had a formidable force on the Lakeland border.

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Reunited...

Chapter Forty-Nine

By Douglas E. Gogerty

As a child, Prince William was very interested in archery. He could not get enough of it. He wanted to know everything about it. He even fashioned crude bows and arrows from twigs and branches he found around the castle in which he lived. No one ever thought that this interest would ever lead to anything. The Prince was glad that this would prove wrong.

When the Prince was collecting resources to make his raft, he knew he would need a source of food. Thus, he also collected items for forming arrows as well as a bow. He knew that a strong branch and some sort of string were all that were required to make the bow. However, the arrows were a completely different story.

If the arrows were to fly straight, they had to be straight. Without the proper tools, getting perfectly round and straight wood was a daunting task. There was also the issue of fletching. He would need to get some feathers to make the arrows. The easiest part of making arrows was fashioning a point.

Nevertheless, he found some items and fashioned a workable bow with a small quiver of arrows. Thus, he could hunt game. In fact, he was successful in feeding himself during the construction of the raft. However, while on the raft, he had other concerns besides watching for animals.

The river wound it way south. If he did not work the rudder, he could easily wash ashore. While it was not a lot of trouble to free the raft, it would take time and effort. With the gunfire he heard at his launch, he did not wish to waste that time. Thus, he wanted to spend most of the time moving. That even meant forgoing sleep for long stretches.

Despite his reluctance to stop, he occasionally had to go ashore for things. He was not willing to attempt to hit anything with his makeshift arrows while travelling down the river. Therefore, he would go on land to hunt from time to time. He would also take these opportunities to sleep. Also, he could gather more supplies. He would attempt to accomplish as much as he could during his trips ashore.

During his time off the raft, he had the feeling that someone was close upon him. Perhaps Bjorn reconsidered, and sent some of his allies to hunt the Prince down. Perhaps it was another brother. Then again, the Prince could be imagining the entire thing. Nonetheless, he wanted to keep moving.

Thus, he fell into somewhat of a routine. When he hit land he would attempt to rest, but he would not rest long. After a brief sleep, he would prepare a meal of the game he caught during the previous landing. He would cut up the game and prepare it while he was still on the raft. After the meal, he would go out and hunt. A while later he would take another rest in a cave or in a tree. If he did not get anything during his hunt, he would hunt some more or gather nuts and berries.

This was his routine for several days. He knew he had to be in Princess Angelina's realm, but he still felt someone was following him. However, he believed he managed to keep ahead of whoever they were. Therefore, he kept up with his routine.

By preparing his game on the raft, his passenger compartment was getting messy. There was quite a lot of blood on the box, and it had already attracted animals. He would return from a trip ashore, and find rats chewing on the wood. Sometimes, it was ravens pecking at the box on his raft. There were any number of animals attracted to the animal left-overs.

In fact, he found that the pests made several holes in his box. However, he needed to continue moving. Thus, it would not be prudent to change his ways. Thus, he would attempt to contain the viscera better. If he did a better job, perhaps that would not attract the scavengers as much. Nevertheless, there would always be blood.

If the smell ever got too much for him, he would wash off the raft with some water. After all, there was plenty to be had. However, he was getting used to the smell. He found that it did not bother him much. He wondered how that could be.

One trip ashore, he was resting in a tree. The wind was such that he could smell himself. His eyes teared up. He could not stand it. Now he understood why the smell did not bother him as much. He smelled awful. He realized that he had not bathed in weeks. Thus, he decided he was going to jump into the river.

He found a spot to place his hunting gear, and clothes and all, he dove into the river. While in the river, he stripped. He then carried his clothes towards the shore and beat his clothes against a rock. After ringing them a few times, he set them on a rock to dry.

He waded out deeper, and he swam around in the brisk water. He dove under the water again and again. He began to enjoy the swim. After one particularly long dive, he surfaced and saw one of his brother's men. Fortunately, the soldier did not see Prince William swimming in the water. He must have been too far off. However, the Prince was sure he recognized the man. Quickly and quietly, the Prince swam to shore. He did not want to do it, but he dressed into his wet clothes.

He grabbed his hunting gear, and watched his brother's man make his way towards the raft. Prince William had a choice to make. Would he attack his brother's man without a word? He certainly could get away with such an action. There was no one around.

On the other hand, perhaps Bjorn had simply sent the man to keep an eye on him. There was nothing wrong with that. The Prince did not want to kill an innocent man without provocation. He sat and pondered the question. He watched as his brother's soldier made it to the raft. The man looked around, and removed the tools from the raft. He emptied out the box as the Prince sat back and watched.

Before the Prince could make up his mind, his brother's man pushed the raft into the current. At that moment, the Prince made up his mind and put an arrow into the man's chest. He fell over dead. The Prince knew that he would have to walk the rest of the way.

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Reunited...

Chapter Fifty

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Map of Lakeland

The civil war in Lakeland raged onward. The armies were beginning to weaken, and the sons of King Thorbjorn were becoming fewer. This did not weaken the remaining children's resolve to become ruler of the kingdom. In fact, they felt all the closer to the crown; thus, the battles continued.

However, with each passing battle, Prince Bjorn had a better hold of his position. Even in defeat, he would have fewer enemies. With every death on the other side, there was another person fewer to dispute his claim on the throne. After all, he was the eldest. Even King Thorbjorn named him the heir; therefore, many defaulted to his claim.

From a royalty point of view, he had the strongest position with regard to succession. Most of the lords supported him despite everything. Most of the peasants and soldiers also took his side. After all, heirs have been killing the sitting king for most of recorded history.

Hence, with his recruiting superiority, his army was the biggest. Even after each battle, whether won or lost, he and his enemies weakened. He may have lost some supporters, but his position was still strong. He remained the most powerful.

As the civil war continued, Prince Bjorn never shied away from a battle. He was always looking to take the war to one of his siblings. In this way, the war raged on for months. Every army became weaker and weaker, but eventually Prince Bjorn's army killed the final claimant to the throne.

No one knew exactly what happened. The night before the two armies were to engage in battle, the borther had disappeared. The soldiers searched and searched but could not find him. It was just before daybreak and one of his generals found his body later. Nonetheless, his army was undeterred. They met Prince Bjorn in battle. In fact, they were quite fired up, and pushed the Prince from the field.

For several weeks they continued to battle the Prince's army. After all, they believed that Prince Bjorn had killed their king. They did not want that murderer on the throne. They were out for revenge. Further, the officers would likely face death., so they continued to fight.

Nonetheless, they were without a candidate for king. In addition, they had a leadership problem. They had lost their commander-in-chief. Thus, they had a breakdown in the command structure. They became somewhat disorganized and were beginning to in-fight. In a major battle against Prince Bjorn, defeat came swiftly. Thus, the war ended.

After all the battles, the only person who remained with even a remote claim on the throne was Prince William. Prince Bjorn eliminated the remaining claimants to the throne. He even killed the ones who supported him. To finish the task, Prince Bjorn sent out a party of his best men to search for Prince William. Prince Bjorn wanted Prince William dead. He believed that it was a mistake not to kill him on the previous occasion. He was not going to beat himself up over that.

After a brief celebration to the war's end, Prince Bjorn had begun planning his coronation. However, he felt he had some unfinished business with Princess Angelina. She had a large presence on the boarder. She took in many deserters. Moreover, Prince Bjorn felt confident that he could retake the treaty land from the Princess.

With their victories in the civil war, his troupes were seasoned. Furthermore, they would have the element of surprise. While the Princess was off doing who knows what, he attack would be completely unexpected. With the surprise attack, he felt that he could take care of the Princess before he was crowned. Therefore, he could be crowned the sovereign of a reunited kingdom.

Prince Bjorn marched his army south toward the treaty land. While his army was seasoned, they were exhausted when they arrived at the border. However, the Prince did not wish to waste any time. Therefore, he wanted to attack the refugees without much in the way of preparation.

The Prince and his army marched across the border without opposition. The Lakeland army prepared for battle, and marched into one of the refugee camps. They were astonished to find it empty. Prince Bjorn stood there stunned. Why would it be empty?

At the center of the Lakeland line, the Prince stood. He pondered what could be happening as the sound of battle filtered towards his position from his left flank . One of his commanders yelled It's a trap! He snapped out of his inaction and began barking out orders.

"Squad 2!" he shouted. "Help support the left flank! Squad 1 protect the center! Squad 3 prepare to assist squad 2! Squad 4 protect the center!"

Soldiers in his army began moving to their positions. The second squad moved towards the left flank, and the first squad surrounded the Prince's position. His army created a strong center position. Another wave of fighting broke out on the right flank.

"Squad 2!" Prince Bjorn shouted. "Help support the right flank!"

"But sir," replied the second squad's commander. "We are supporting the left flank. Perhaps squad 3 or 4..."

"Are you disobeying my order?" asked the Prince.

The commander immediately pulled his men off the left flank and went to support the right. The raging battle on the left became closer and closer to the Prince's position. The third squad began engaging the attacking army on the left.

"Squad 1!" the Prince shouted. "Protect the center! Squad 2 protect the left flank!"

Without a word of protest, the second squad disengaged the right flank and moved to the left. Without the support of the second squad, the right flank began to collapse. As they heard the order for the second squad to support their position, they broke and ran. The rout was on.

"Hold the line!" the Prince shouted as the soldiers fighting on the left flank turned and ran.

However, Prince Bjorn's army was surrounded. There was no place for them to turn. They ran into the Prince's position. The only direction open was towards Lakeland, and that was quickly closing.

"No retreating!" shouted the Prince.

However, his army was already running around. They scattered, and many ran back towards Lakeland. The soldiers not protecting the King had stopped fighting and were simply ran around. Any soldier that did not surrender was cut down. The fighting around Prince Bjorn's position intensified. When the fighting became too intense, the first and forth squads abandoned him. His generals and troupes took on the attacking army.

The defending army destroyed Prince Bjorn's left and right flank. They cut off the path of retreat and surrounded Prince Bjorn and his soldiers. Nonetheless, Prince Bjorn refused to surrender. The Prince urged on the fighting.

After several minutes of very intense fighting, Prince Bjorn lied dead on a pile of Lakeland soldiers. In his rush, the Prince lost his life and his kingdom. Dead bodies covered the once peaceful refugee camp. Pools of blood soaked into the ground.

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Reunited...

Chapter Fifty-One

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Princess Angelina learned of the battle with Lakeland well after the incident. She was in the southern part of her kingdom inspecting the river boats when the fight took place. She was thankful that her people took the initiative to be ready for battle. However, this left Lakeland without a leader.

The civil war against Prince Bjorn had led to chaos in Lakeland. Now, as far as the Princess knew, there was no heir to the Lakeland throne. No one in Lakeland believed there was an heir to the throne. Without a known heir, many of the Lakeland nobles restarted the civil war. Each attempted to make his claim on the throne; however, none of them had much support among the people. It looked like Lakeland would remain in chaos for a bit longer. A state that the commoners could ill afford.

The Princess took one of the challenging boats north up the great river. If the Lakeland civil war was to rage again, there would be more refugees. She wanted to prepare for this eventuality. There was a limited amount of supplies that she could provide for the people of Lakeland. She needed to determine how the refugees were managing.

While she was there, she wanted to meet with her generals. They were the ones who waged the victory. She had reason to believe that the victor of any future Lakeland civil war would attempt to reclaim her kingdom just as Prince Bjorn had. They could claim she attacked Bjorn to gain support. Also, she did not wish to be caught off guard a second time.

The refugees cheered her arrival. The ovation caught her by surprise. She was attending to other things when the battle occurred, and had nothing to do with the victory. Yet, the people gave her the credit. Perhaps they were grateful that they helped them.

Nonetheless, she greeted her people warmly and with gratitude. She realized that her policy of welcoming deserting soldiers into her army worked to her advantage. These soldiers were responsible for the defeat of Prince Bjorn. They were familiar with his tactics and took advantage of them.

To the cheering crowds, the Princess saluted the soldiers and generals responsible for the defeat of Prince Bjorn. She also saluted those that had fallen. However, she found out that few on her side had died. It was a very lopsided victory. Thus, she decided to include the fallen on the other side in her salute. After all, the crowd was largely from Lakeland, and some may know the slain.

When she met privately with those directly responsible for the victory, they urged her to "end the chaos" in Lakeland. They urged her to claim the Lakeland throne. After all, she was from a royal line, and thus more qualified than any of the nobles.

Further, she could reunite Lakeland herself. In addition, she had defeated the sovereign of Lakeland; thus, she had a claim to the throne. As far as anyone knew, there was no legitimate heir to the throne, and she could claim it with quite a bit of support. It could bring a quick end to the current situation in Lakeland.

The Princess did not think she should simply invade. She did not want people to call her Angelina the Conqueror. However, she knew she had wide support of her people and many people in Lakeland. In her tour of surrounding kingdoms, the people of Lakeland rallied and cheered. Hence, she decided to talk to the refugees discretely. They would be the best judge for this course of action.

She found that the refugees overwhelming supported her becoming sovereign of all of Lakeland. Everyone she talked to urged her to reign over a reunited Lakeland. Moreover, they were willing to fight for her. She reminded them that this invasion would no longer be a safe refuge in her kingdom. In fact, there was no place where they could run to if things got bad. They would have to live in one war torn country or another, but they were overwhelmingly resolute. They did not wish to have any other ruler. They knew the nobles of their land, and they did not find any of them suitable.

After a several discrete conversations with random citizens of Lakeland, she would take the conversation to the crowd. It was one thing to gain the support of a few people here and there, but how would the entire crowd react? Despite her fears, they cheered and would have rushed to the border at that time. She had overwhelming support of the refugees, and the few citizens of her own kingdom that were present. Thus, she felt it was a course of action she not only could take but should take. She gathered her advisors and generals together and began making plans.

Lakeland had little in the way of an army. Most of the trained soldiers had deserted or had been killed in the civil war. The fighting nobles did not have much with which to work. What they did have to work with were ill trained. Therefore, when Princess Angelina's forces crossed the boarder, they surrendered readily. He units swelled instead of shrank as she moved north.

In fact, as her army did not engage in any battles. As her army approached, any Lakeland forces put down their weapons and surrendered. Her soldiers did not have to fire a single shot. The Princess marched uncontested into the capitol of Lakeland. There were some nobles that complained about her invasion, but they could not do anything about it.

The Princess had overwhelming support from the peasants, the army, and even most nobles. Thus, she marched into power into a reunited Lakeland. She began to prepare for her coronation. She would abandon her castle complex, and move into King Thorbjorn's castle. There was nothing standing in her way, when Prince William showed up.

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Reunited...

Chapter Fifty-Two

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William was in Princess Angelina's territory. He had been there for weeks. However, he was far from any civilization. Further, he was fairly certain that Prince Bjorn had sent people out to kill him. Thus, any sound he heard or movement he spotted in the woods made him jump. His increased caution slowed his progress greatly. It was going to take him a while to reach a major city.

He thought about moving by night. In this way, he could move more quickly. No one would able to identify him in the dark. Thus, it would be safer for him.

On the other hand, he would have to find a good place to hide and sleep during the day. He would be very vulnerable at this time. This vulnerability would likely prevent him from sleeping soundly. Therefore, he decided that moving by day was the best option.

The Prince began moving along the river. However, he noticed a lot more movement there. Something was happening, but he did not know what. He just knew he had better get away from the river. He decided to follow a road west towards the Princess's castle complex. He would not walk on the road, he would follow it as close as he could but remain hidden.

It was very slow going. While making his way along the road, he also had to find food. Fortunately, he still had the tools he had gathered. His brother's man was kind enough to dump them on the ground rather than sending them with the raft. Thus, he could make and repair his hunting gear.

The Prince continued west slowly. He walked for a few days, and neared a town. As he got near the town, he found it strangely deserted. He wondered where the people were. As he walked along, he had avoided a few people who were farming some fields. However, he thought he would find a town teaming with life. Further, he was hungry and tired. In the town, he thought he might be able to barter for a room for the night. However, he found all of the businesses closed.

The Prince thought this was an odd situation. It would not be so odd if the Princess were at war. Hence, he concluded that the civil war in Lakeland was over, but the victor had decided to attack the Princess. In this way, the citizens would rally around the Princess and defend her land. A majority of the townspeople would head north towards Lakeland to aid in the war effort. The Prince thought that this was the most likely reason for the town to be empty.

It did not imply that he was safe to walk around openly. In fact, he could be in even more danger. He was almost an enemy to both kingdoms. He may be able to talk his way out of a confrontation, but they may not stop to make any determination. He quietly left the town.

After a few days more of travel, he crossed paths with a caravan headed north. It seemed to him that it was a military group heading to the war. Being as exhausted as he was, he was going to take a chance. He needed a good meal and some rest. Therefore, he would attempt to infiltrate the group. He would pretend to be a citizen joining their march.

"I have finally caught up to you," the Prince stated to one of the citizens marching north.

"Welcome," the young man returned. "You should speak to General Cheavers."

"I will. What word from Lakeland?"

"Have you not heard?"

"I was on a hunting expedition when word came to head north. I did not bother to ask for specifics."

"Bjorn is dead. He attacked our kingdom and was soundly defeated. The Princess has decided to claim the crown of Lakeland."

"What of the heirs?"

"There are none."

"Where would I find the General?" the Prince asked.

"He will be somewhere up front."

"Thanks!" the Prince said as he hurried towards the front of the convoy.

Resting and eating would now have to wait. With Bjorn and his brothers dead, everything had changed. From what he could tell, he was the sole heir to Lakeland. It was now his chance. He could have the kingdom that he had always wanted. However, it depended on what the Princess did, and it may be too late.

"General Cheaver, what would you say if I told you that there was an heir to the Lakeland throne."

"I would tell you to keep it to yourself."

"But, I am Prince William the heir to the throne of Lakeland!"

"I would not say that too loudly," replied the General.

"What? Why?"

"Our Angelina has claimed the Lakeland throne. The Thorbjorn family no longer rules."

"Then why are you marching this army north?"

"We are going to the coronation of our new sovereign. If you are truly an heir to the Lakeland throne, it is my duty to remove you from contention."

"I do not wish to make trouble," replied the Prince.

That is good, because if you plan to make trouble, your life will end here and now."

"Princess Angelina and I are lifelong friends. I wish her no harm, and she certainly would wish me none."

"Then you are William and you can forget about this heir to the throne business."

"I understand General."

Thus, Prince William joined the group heading towards the Princess's coronation. Perhaps now she would marry him. She was a popular and powerful sovereign. He knew that they both had feelings towards each other. He believed that she would be happy that he was still alive. She may even be happy to see him.

Hence, he did what he was told and hid his identity. Once again, he survived on the graciousness (or ignorance) of a person in power. His brother Bjorn did not kill him when he had the chance. Now, General Cheaver did not kill him. It was on the condition that he did not make trouble. Therefore, he did what the General told him to do. He traveled on and even looked forward to seeing Angelina again.

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Reunited...

Chapter Fifty-Three

By Douglas E. Gogerty

The people of Lakeland were gathering to witness the coronation of the Princess. She was to be crowned the sovereign of all of their kingdom. The town by the castle of Lakeland was crowded with well-wishers. The coronation was going to be the biggest event in Lakeland history. After all, Lakeland was larger and more powerful now than it had been for King Thorbjorn's coronation. Further, the citizenry were tired of war. They looked forward to a celebration.

The castle was being decorated for the occasion. The Princess loved plants, and so the decorators placed pots of flowering plants all around the grounds. Moreover, the stage where the ceremony would take place had been completed months before hand. The vines planted to cover it had begun to take hold. There would be plenty of plants and flowers decorating the castle.

Everywhere you looked, there were crowds. The inns were full. Temporary housing was being constructed in every possible location. It was as if the entire country was gathering in one place to see the coronation. So many of the citizens of the kingdom gathered there, that entire towns stood empty.

Food had been arriving for weeks. The riverboats, that the Princess had ordered, began to run in earnest. They brought up supplies from the southern most parts of the kingdom. Instead of taking the food to the refugee camps, the food went into the town. This allowed the inns to feed the gathering celebrants. Now that the civil war was over, the merchants could use what they learned to manage supplies. It was fortunate that the Lakeland castle sat upon the great river.

The Prince arrived with the group from the south. He went right into the castle to see Princess Angelina. She saw him and gave him a big hug.

"I was afraid that Bjorn had -- well -- killed you," the Princess said after their long embrace.

"He had the opportunity," replied Prince William. "But, for some reason he decided to pass."

"That was lucky! Many of your siblings were not so lucky."

"It was a terrible thing for him to do."

"I am just glad you are all right."

"Perhaps now you will consent to marry me," the Prince stated boldly.

"I thought we had a bet, and you lost it."

"I -- it is just that since then so much has changed."

"Has it?" the Princess asked coldly.

"All of Lakeland is at your feet."

"That does not change the realities of ruling."

"You are going to be the ruler of Lakeland. What more could you want?"

"That is my point. I am going to be the ruler -- not you."

"We could rule together..."

"We have been over this before, yet you still do not understand."

"I suppose I do not."

"I care about you. I do!"

"The feeling is mutual," the Prince interrupted.

"Having said that, I am ruling Lakeland. Me. That is what I want, and that is the way it is going to be."

"And?"

"And, if we were married, how would my rule reflect upon you?"

"I do not care about that."

"You say that, but you and I both know that it is not true."

"How can you say that?"

"Let us say that there is a decision to be made and we disagree. How would you feel if I always got my way?"

"I do not think that always..."

"Always! It is my decision. I get to have my way."

"I guess I would feel a bit -- I do not know -- ignored."

"While that is not the word I would use, that is the idea. That is how it would be. I am the ruler of Lakeland. If you are going to make trouble..."

"I promised I would not make trouble."

"Then, drop this marriage bit. After all, you did lose the bet."

"All right, I will drop it. However, where am I to go? Can I not live in my own kingdom?"

"You are certainly welcome to live here. I may even let you live in the castle if you wish. However, it is simply out of courtesy."

"Courtesy?"

"Well -- and my feelings for you."

"If I stay, do you expect me to be some sort of consort?"

"Now you are getting the feeling that I want you to get."

"I see," the Prince said with a downtrodden look.

"Do not take it that way. It is the only way we can remain friends."

"Friends? I do not think I could take seeing you, and -- well -- you know."

"I like having you around..."

"Do not patronize me. I can tell when I am not wanted."

"Please, do not go."

"I will see your coronation, but then I will find my own way."

"As you wish," replied the Princess with a touch of sadness.

The day of the coronation drew near, and Princess Angelina and Prince William did not speak for the remainder of that time. The Princess felt that William was avoiding her. However, she had plenty of work to accomplish. There were always arrangements to be made. She always had to make this decision or that. Everything was coming along well.

As all of the things began to fall into place, she began to wonder what could go wrong. The process had been smooth up to that point. Even the unpredictable plants did as expected. The plants were green and alive. Fewer than expected died. Everything was looking great. Nonetheless, the Princess had a fear that something would go wrong.

A week before the coronation, she heard that the eastern kingdoms were meeting with each other. She thought they were going to release a joint statement in celebration of her coronation. While the meeting did seem unusual, she was not concerned about the event. However, she should have been.

With everyone gathered in one place, much of the kingdom was unprotected. Further, Lakeland had just gone through a bloody civil war. Thus, the ranks of their army was greatly reduced. The surrounding kingdoms decided this would be an ideal time to attack.

Reports of the kingdoms' invasions came to the Princess just days before her coronation day. Thus, the Princess needed to postpone the ceremony and take her army east.

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Reunited...

Chapter Fifty-Four

By Douglas E. Gogerty

With the cancellation of the Princess's coronation, Prince William did not know what he was going to do. He thought about sticking around the castle and waiting for the conflict to be resolved. However, he did not care for that option. After all, people would not look kindly upon him if the Princess were to lose. He also did not wish to be thought of as a hanger-on.

Further, he considered joining the fight. Showing his worth to the Princess he thought would be a noble pursuit. On the other hand, he was the only known heir to the Lakeland throne. No one would trust his motives. He would find it difficult to get anyone to follow his orders. He felt that he would hinder the war effort rather than help it. Thus, he believed that his presence would not be helpful to Lakeland let alone the Princess.

Therefore, he decided to leave the realm quietly. He had not spoken to the Princess for weeks. While he would have liked to have said goodbye, he thought it best to just depart. She made it clear that she would never marry the Prince, so he had no reason to stay or even say goodbye.

Despite the death of his entire family, his father still had assets in Lakeland. The Princess would not begrudge him a few things. One of the items at his disposal was a suncar. Therefore, he packed his things in the suncar and headed out. He did not know where he was going to go, but he knew he had to get away. Perhaps he would return for the coronation, but perhaps not.

To the west was Calmondak. It was the kingdom Princess Angelina's father ruled. The Prince found it to be his home away from home. He had spent many years there. However, he had gone into the Forbidden Zone. For this action, on a few occasions, someone had attempted to kill him. He was not willing to give anyone another attempt. Thus, it was probably not a place he could ask for asylum.

The kingdoms to the east of Lakeland had declared war. He could not claim loyalty to Lakeland and live in one of these kingdoms. Further, the Princess would think that he was still angling for her throne by declaring allegiance to one of these kingdoms. After all, if this alliance won the war, they may install the sole heir as king of a less powerful and smaller Lakeland. This simply would not do.

Therefore, his only choice was to return to the Pirate Penninsula. He was a man without a kingdom, and he was a man without a home. Perhaps he would be welcomed there. He had done them no harm -- well -- except help his father escape. Nonetheless, no one there knew he did that. Since it was really his only choice, he pointed his suncar in that direction.

After a few minutes driving away from the castle at Lakeland, he stopped. He got out of the car and looked back. He believed he would never see it, or Princess Angelina, again. He stood there a while and pondered things. He mouthed the word farewell and got back into his vehicle. He began traveling down the main road south.

With war, there are always refugees -- civilians attempting to get away from the fighting. However, in this case, most of the citizenry had nowhere to go. Calmondak had declared itself neutral in all things involving Lakeland. Hence, the refugees could not go there. The remaining kingdoms of Morica were at war with Lakeland. Hence, the only place to go was the Pirate Peninsula.

While the peninsula would mostly accept anyone, they would provide no resources for survival. Hence, if you went there, you would have to pay for your own food, water, shelter, etc. Thus, in reality, there was no place for the civilians to go. Fortunately, the Prince had resources.

As he drove along, he marveled at the empty roads. He expected to run into a few carts or people walking. He thought that he might run into vehicles taking the war to the invaders. However, the main road was empty. He was beginning to think he was in the eye of the storm. After a few miles, he would run into a great conflict, and his journey would be cut short. As he continued to travel, he continue to have his doubts about making it.

He kept travelling and as the sun was setting, and his suncar began losing power. The Prince needed a place to spend the night. He was in a war zone, but he had seen no evidence of combat. He thought that perhaps the nearby kingdom simply entered Lakeland and occupied some territory. After all, most of the citizens had gathered at the castle for a coronation. Nonetheless, he could run into trouble at any point.

He stopped his car but stayed near the main road. He found a nice spot to set up camp. He erected his small tent in a nearby ravine. He camouflaged it with some sticks and leaves. It was practically invisible from the road. He parked the suncar a little distance away. He did not bother hiding it because he felt that would draw more attention to it.

He was extremely cautious, so he did not start a fire. He ate his little meal cold, and stayed close to his car for a while. He kept a watchful eye out for any movement. After a few hours, he was still struggling to stay awake. Eventually, he could no longer stay awake, so he got into his tent. For a while, every sound and rustle would arouse him. Eventually he drifted off.

He was aroused by the sound of thunder. At first, he thought it was an explosion or gunfire. However, another clap of thunder confirmed that it was a storm. He pulled up his camp, and put everything in the suncar. He was surprised that he had slept pretty well as it was after dawn.

He got into the car and thought about leaving; however, it was quite dark. The clouds were thick and blocked out the sun. His suncar would only have minimal power on a day like this. It began raining in earnest. The rain came down quite hard. It was a hearty thunderstorm.

Hence, he was going to have to stay there until the storm passed. The way it looked, it could be several hours before the rain let up. That is not what he wanted to do. He wanted to get on the road. He could make it to the peninsula before dark if he could get going. The rain was keeping him from leaving. He sat in his car and fretted.

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Reunited...

Chapter Fifty-Five

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Princess Angelina spoke with her many advisors. The invasion had caught them by surprise. The three kingdoms had as many issue with themselves as they did with Lakeland. It was nearly unthinkable that they would cooperate on anything. Thus, Lakeland had not prepared for such an event. Lakeland was quite capable of taking on any of them singly, and they knew it. However, it was quite another thing to take them all together.

Some advisors had experiences with a neighboring kingdom. In this way, the Princess's advisors each offered different advice. Depending upon how it went, they would either want to invade one kingdom or another first or last.

There was talk of divide and conquering. That is, fight the middle kingdom first, and divide the opposing forces. The Kingdom of Nunu was the weakest of the three. Thus, most of the advisors believed that it would be the easiest to defeat.

Nunu had once contained several of the most prosperous and powerful cities in the world. It was a powerful place in Morica. However, these cities were destroyed in the great war and other natural phenomena. The place was a minor shadow of its once greatness.

A ruler would rise up and promise the return to prosperity for the kingdom. However, if it did not happen in any sort of reasonable timeline, a civil war would break out. Eventually, the sovereign would be deposed. Hence, with its internal strife, the kingdom was unable to build anything meaningful, like economic prosperity or a large standing army.

However, the Princess and others thought attacking Nunu was foolish. After all, when the defeat of Nunu occurred, the Lakeland army would be then fighting on two fronts. With their forces depleted as they were, they could not afford to divide their attentions. While attacking the weakest kingdom had its merits, the Princess did not think it was the best option.

That led to discussions of either going north or south. The Maritime Kingdom consisted of a number of of a number of islands and section of land connected to the mainland. However, it could only be reached by land from Lakeland through Nunu. It could not be reached by any other land route.

The Maritime Kingdom was a seagoing people. They owed their prosperity to the sea. They also had plenty of natural resources like iron and timber which they shipped worldwide. Generally, they were a peaceful people, but they wished to gain more farmland. They had to trade for much of their grain as the climate was not conducive to much farming.

Without a land route, it would be foolish to attack them first. Lakeland would have to assemble their naval forces. Also, they would have to take attack Maritime in their strongest defense. Their powerful navy would certainly take its toll on any Lakeland advance. They were much more vulnerable by land. Hence, the logical option was to begin in the south and work north.

The Kaanfed Kingdom was just north of the Pirate Peninsula. It was the most balanced of the three kingdoms. It had a prosperous textile production facility. Their farms produced more than enough food for its citizens. They traded their surplus abroad. It was ruled by the brother of the king of the Maritime Kingdom. The two kings' lifelong feud normally kept them from cooperating. Thus, they did not trade, which would have been beneficial to both kingdoms. Thus, their trades were more costly than need be.

It was decided. Princess Angelina gathered her forces and began heading south. They hoped to avoid confrontation until they entered Kaanfed. Lakeland had suffered enough in its civil wars. Any further conflict could damage the already fragile existence of the citizens. Hence, they sent scouts to look for the enemy in an attempt to avoid them.

The caravan moved slowly. However, it was able to move both day and night and in any weather. When the storm began raging, the Princess's thoughts turned to Prince William. She wondered where he had gone. She would have liked to see him again, but she understood how he felt. Her thoughts soon drifted on to other things.

The storm raged for most of the day, and slowed the movement of the army caravan only slightly. They could not use the suncars, so the animals got extra duty. With the rain, there was little chance that these animals would overheat. They would also have plenty of water. The caravan would need to stop and feed them, but they could go great distances without rest.

The scouts reported in regularly. They discovered that the invaders had taken several cities. Thus, the caravan would need to avoid the cities. The Lakeland plan was to enter the Kaanfed capitol. If they could do that with little fighting beforehand, this would force the Kaanfed troops to withdraw to protect their homes. In this way, they would fight on Kaanfed land rather than Lakeland.

However, this had its drawbacks. First, they would have to not engage the enemy. That was going to be quite a task as the locals would want the invaders off their land. Further, they could be easily surrounded by the enemy. The Kaanfed troupes in the Lakeland cities could follow behind. Once the Lakeland army engaged with the Kaanfed army, they could have the Lakeland army surrounded.

Nonetheless, the Princess and her advisors believed that while the plan was daring, it had the best chance of success. If they could take the Kaanfed capitol, they could use its defenses against its own army. Further, they would have negotiation power of the king -- if he was not in his castle.

The army kept moving. The roads were quiet as they moved. It seemed that everyone in Lakeland was marching towards Kaanfed. It was amazing that they avoided conflict with anyone until after they left their kingdom. However, when they marched into Kaanfed, everything changed.

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Reunited...

Chapter Fifty-Six

By Douglas E. Gogerty

The storm raged for most of the day, and Prince William could do nothing about it. He sat in his suncar and worried. He was in the middle of a war zone, and all he could do was sit in his vehicle and wait.

With the limited amount of sun that made it through the storm clouds, his suncar batteries were getting some charge. However, he would not be able to go far. Further, if he found that he had to get away fast, he would lose the distance he could travel. On days like this, he wished that he had another form of transportation. For now, all he could do was sit and worry.

With every clap of thunder, he jumped. Every crackle and boom he thought was gunfire or worse. It was just the storm, but he could not relax. He fidgeted and squirmed in his seat until the storm passed. It seemed that the storm raged and then went away. The sun began to peak through the clouds. He could go farther down the road, but it would not be worth it. So, he decided to set up his tent in the same place he had the previous night.

When he went to the ravine, it was now full of water. The once dry ravine was now a babbling brook. Unless the Prince wanted to camp in the middle of a stream and get soaking wet, he was not going to be able to set up his tent in the same spot. Hidden in the ravine was such a good spot, but it was not going to happen this night. His tent was likely to be much more visible now.

A little way off there was a clump of trees. They were on a bit of a rise, so the ground would be moderately dry around them. He would have to find a suitably flat spot that the trees shielded from the road. That was a bit of a problem. In many places, the tree roots were exposed. The Prince did not want to lie on the exposed roots. On the other hand, if he moved far enough from the trees, he lost his cover. He had a decision to make.

He decided that he would not sleep much in either instance, so he found as flat a surface as he could near the trees. The Prince gathered up some grass and leaves to cushion the ground a bit. He felt that cover was more important that comfort. Thus, his spot was chosen to be mostly invisible to the road. He grabbed some underbrush to hide his tent even more. When his camp was set up, he was satisfied that it would not be spotted from the road.

Despite the clearing clouds, some light showers fell upon him. The sun was shining, but he was still getting rained upon. He felt that was just his luck.

Also from the wet of the rain, he walked around the damp ground. Thus, when his camp was finished, he longed to be dry. He grumbled at the situation, but what was done was done. Nonetheless, it meant he wanted to start a fire. It would dry him out.

Away from his tent and away from the suncar, he found a spot to build the fire. There was plenty of wood around, so he gathered quite a bit. It was still early evening, and he would not be getting into his tent for several more hours. He also thought a warm meal would be good.

Some of the wood was wet, but it was not long before there was a big hot fire. He used the fire to dry out some of the wood before placing it on the fire. It was larger than he wanted, but it felt too good to contain it.

It was still light out, so it would not be noticed from afar, the Prince reasoned.

Thus, he did not attempt to keep it contained. He dried his clothes as he stood around the fire in some undergarments. He was warm and getting dry and it felt great.

He cooked his meal over the fire, and he kept putting more and more wood into it. The Prince kept it contained with some rocks, so there was no worry about setting the place on fire. Thus, he did not worry about how big it got. He planned on letting it die down as soon as it began to get dark.

As the sun went down, Prince William was still enjoying the fire. It could be seen for miles. It was burning too brightly by the time he realized what he had done. He put some damp grass and leaves onto it in an attempt to put it out. All it did was put out a large cloud of smoke. The smoke turned bright white against the twilight. It was even more obvious than the fire.

Further, there was no wind, so the cloud of smoke hung over his camp. It practically pointed right to him. He smacked himself in the head for being so dumb. He ran up to the road to check it out. In the distance, he could not see anything. He listened for any sound. He stood there for several minutes, but all was silent.

He sniffed the air, but all he could smell was burning damp grass. That did not make him happy. However, he did not know what he was attempting to get from smelling the air.

All signs led him to believe that he did not attract any attention. He let out a big sigh. He decided to completely put out his fire. He gathered up more leaves and grass to help smother the fire. Then he realized there was plenty of water in the ravine. He grabbed a bucked from his supplies and collected some water.

After putting more leaves and grass on the fire, he poured the water slowly onto the fire. It hissed and steamed. He gathered another bucket and made sure the fire was completely out. The big fire pit might be noticeable, but not more so than his suncar. He was confident his tent was well hidden, so he was not concerned about the situation.

It was now quite dark. The sun was completely down. He was going to check the road one more time, but when he turned there was a man all in black standing behind him.

"Aaaaaahhhh!" he yelled instinctively.

The man rushed him, and tackled him to the ground. Before the Prince could utter another sound, the man covered the Prince's mouth.

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Reunited...

Chapter Fifty-Seven

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Morica Kingdom War Map

Princess Angelina's scouts were doing their job well. They spread out before the marching army. They intercepted spies, set false trails and rumors, and found where the enemy was waiting. The enemy had taken several Lakeland cities.

In any event, the large marching army went mostly unnoticed by the enemy. They were able to avoid any fighting for their week-long march southeast towards the Kaanfed Kingdom. It was remarkable that no one noticed the enormous group's movements and they encountered so little resistance.

This all changed when the entered the Kaanfed Kingdom. The Lakeland army's first act was to disrupt the supply line for the Kaanfed army in Lakeland. This got the attention of all of the parties involved. The Kaanfed army was spread through several cities in Lakeland. They divided up their forces in an effort to take these cities and hold them.

However, the Kaanfed army did not anticipate this action from Lakeland. They did not think they would have to defend their own soil. The generals thought they would be fighting in Lakeland towns. Hence, it would take them several days to gather themselves and return to Kaanfed.

Because of their tactics, Princess Angelina and the massive Lakeland army marched right into the capitol city with little resistance. Much of the opposing army was still in Lakeland. Thus the minor skirmishes were quick and the victories went to Lakeland.

Princess Angelina's forces first wished to secure the capitol city. The city was poorly serviced by the major roads before the great war. Thus, a simple route would not be available. Angelina's army had to use lesser routes. The city itself was never very large, but its isolation had been a big advantage in some of invasion attempts.

The isolation was a double edged sword. While enemies would find it difficult to get to the city, so would supplies, troops, etc. In previous invasions, Kaanfed's army fought in retreat towards the city. In this way, they depleted much of the opposition before it reached the city. This is how they were victorious.

With a majority of the army expecting to battle in Lakeland, the Princess's army faced little opposition. Hence, they arrived at the city with nearly a full compliment of soldiers.

The Kaanfed capitol sat entirely south of a river. The kingdom had built a wall to completely surround the city. The Lakeland generals were aware of this fact, and they marched in from the southeast.

There were a few guards at the gates, but they were quickly overrun. The Princess had captured the city fairly easily. However, they would need to withstand the returning army. Fortunately, the city's defenses were sparsely covered when the Lakeland forces entered. Now, the Lakeland army would use these defensive positions against their own army.

However, the castle complex was well fortified. The king of Kaanfed had not gone with his troops. He had a small contingent guarding his position. Therefore, the Lakeland army needed to prepare for the siege. The city's protections would protect them as they assaulted the castle. That is, if the Kaanfed army returned before the castle was taken.

The castle had not seen a siege for quite some time. No army had made it passed the capitol city's defenses in several years. Nonetheless, the Lakeland army greatly outnumbered those guarding the castle. They would need to wear down those forces.

In the twilight hours, the Princess's army built its siege towers and other siege weaponry. They erected trebuchets and battering ram systems. This type of siege perhaps had never occurred in Morica. However, the Lakeland army did not wish to use its gunpowder if it did not have to.

Upon the daybreak, they began flinging rocks and debris at the castle. Further, the battering rams took quick work of the castle gates. There were some skirmishes, but a majority of the Kaanfed forces kept retreating into the main keep.

The Lakeland forces cautiously worked their way to the main citadel. This building was large and sturdy. It was not tall like the Lakeland castle. It was a few stories tall, but surrounded by a wall with a single gate. The gate was heavy and made from steal. It was well maintained and would be difficult to breach. Further, it was well guarded and any approach to the gate was met with much resistance.

However, the surrounding wall had not been as well maintained. The army looked for a particular week point away from the forces protecting the gate. The Lakeland army set up their siege at this place in the wall. After a few strikes with the battering ram, the section of wall fell. With a few rounds with the trebuchet, the way was clear.

The fighting began in earnest when the wall was breached. The King of Kaanfed ordered his forces into the battle. He recalled the forces from the gate to aid in the fighting at the breach. When the gate was abandoned, the Lakeland forces streamed thought the gate. Thus, Lakeland forces could attack the now exposed flank of the Kaanfed forces.

Once this happened, the battle was over quickly. Many Kaanfed soldiers surrendered as the wave of Lakeland fighters surrounded them. The Princess urged her people, and this spurred great courage in them. They fought bravely and without mercy. With the Princess directing the battle,and the Kaanfed King cowering in the citadel, much of the enemy army was disheartened. They began giving up in large numbers.

The battle at the citadel wall ended with the Lakeland forces capturing much of the Kaanfed guards. The siege of the main building was all that was left. The Princess entered the building with a small contingent of soldiers. As she entered the King's hall, he killed himself. The battle for the Kaanfeld capitol was over.

The first victory felt easy. However, the main force of the Kaanfed army would be heading towards the city. The battles were just beginning. Further, there would be spies or scouts informing the Nunu and Maritime armies what had happened. The Princess's forces would not have it as easy fighting the remaining forces.

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Reunited...

Chapter Fifty-Eight

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William struggled with his assailant. He tried to free himself from the grasp, but he was unable. Nonetheless, he kept up his struggle.

"Prince William," whispered the man into the Prince's ear. "Calm yourself."

With the man's hand over his mouth, the Prince was unable to respond. However, he did stop struggling.

"That is better," the man continued. "Now, I am going to let you go. Please be quiet and refrain from running."

The Prince nodded, and the man released him. The Prince turned to look at his attacker.

"Who are you?" asked the Prince. "How do you know me?"

"It is me Lars Thomsen. We practically grew up together in the castle."

"Lars? Is that really you?"

"It really is."

"What are you doing here?"

"I am scouting for Lakeland."

"Scouting?"

"The Lakeland army is on the move. They are attempting to get into Kaanfed without being noticed."

"That sounds like quite an undertaking."

"I thought so too, but the Kaanfed army seems to be concentrated in a few towns. You are the only person I have run into this entire trip."

"That makes sense. They are probably preparing for a siege on those towns."

"We have been giving those towns a wide birth. Hopefully, we will be in Kaanfed in a few days."

"Well I have not seen any soldiers on my trip."

"Why are you scouting the same area as I am?"

"I am not a participant in this military action."

"No? Then what are you doing?"

"I am headed to the peninsula."

"For what purpose?"

"I am not wanted or needed in Lakeland. It is the only place I can go."

"You are a member of the Thorbjorn royal family."

"I am the only member left. That can only spell trouble for me."

"Oh yes. I suppose that is true."

"That is why I am leaving. I may return once this conflict is over."

"I should join you."

"What? And be a deserter? You best continue with your duties. Do what is best for Lakeland. Do not worry about me."

"I should report you to the generals."

"No please!"

"They should be aware of your movements, and what if you are captured?"

"Captured by whom?"

"I do not know, but there may be hostiles out there."

"They will not get anything out of me."

"Let us hope not."

"Please do not report that we have met. No one needs to know where I am."

"Okay, I will not."

"Thanks! Good to see you Lars. Be safe."

"Good luck on your trip -- sire."

Lars walked down the road and disappeared. The Prince stood and watched for quite a while. The shot of adrenaline he got from the encounter had worn off. He was now quite sleepy.

He got another bucket, and poured it on his fire. It was now very much out. He stirred it a bit to be sure. The logs were cool to the touch. It was out. He gave a heavy sigh. His encounter went better than it could have, but it was still a lesson learned.

He had proclaimed his presence for miles around. He thought about this. He began to worry again. The words of Lars rang through his head. There may be others out there. There may be entire squads closing in on his position.

Thus, he decided to hide his suncar. He pulled it farther up the road and near a clump of trees. He gathered some twigs and branches to camouflage it. It would not be perfect, but in the dark it may look like a bush.

Once the suncar was hidden to his satisfaction, the Prince turned around real fast. There was no one there. He almost expected someone to be there, but he was mistaken. He was glad of that.

He took a circuitous route to his tent. He back tracked a few times. He waded through the water in the ravine. He did not want to draw attention to his tent. When he was satisfied with these efforts, he climbed into the tent to attempt to sleep.

With the conversation with Lars, the hiding of the car, and the stealthy return to the tent, it was pretty late. It seemed like the events of the day were ages ago. He shivered as the memory of the warm fire washed over him, but there was nothing other than a damp chill in the air.

The Prince attempted to sleep, but every sound in the night put him on alert. A breeze would become an army sneaking through the woods. Each animal sound was an alert to some strange creature moving in on him. A brief shower sounded like gunfire as it dripped on his tent.

As the hours went past, he just lied there with his muscles tense. He was ready to move at a moments notice. He thought about the euphoria he felt sitting by the fire. He wished he could take that all back. He would trade that feeling for a good nights sleep. Eventually, he drifted off into a shallow dreamless sleep.

The area came alive with noises just as the sun broke above the horizon. A raven sounded like a teenage boy shrieking with joy. The jays were arguing with other birds. A bunch of sparrows twittered and chirped around the wooded area.

A squirrel pealed a pine cone just above the Prince's tent. The pieces rained down upon the fabric of the tent like small explosions. When the Prince left his tent in a rush, the squirrel chattered at him in defiance.

The Prince was exhausted, but he survived the night. He thought that he just might make it to the Pirate Peninsula on this day. It looked like the weather was going to cooperate. While the morning was damp, there were few clouds in the sky. The sun would clear the light fog that surrounded the area.

He broke camp. He packed up his tent, and threw a pine cone at the squirrel. Once again the squirrel chattered in defiance. He gathered up his camping equipment and headed to his suncar. He looked around, but did not see anyone. He also did not see his suncar. What happened to it? He did not need another delay. He did not think he could take another night like the previous one. He needed to get into his suncar and go, but he did not know where it was.

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Reunited...

Chapter Fifty-Nine

By Douglas E. Gogerty

With the King of Kaanfed dead, naturally there was a power vacuum. The Princess had to be the person filling the leadership role of the country. As was customary, she claimed the throne of the kingdom in a brief ceremony among the survivors and her military people. The only task left was to inform the remaining people of Kaanfed of their new sovereign.

The first signal the Princess ordered was the raising of the Lakeland flag over the castle. She had not defined a flag for her rule, so she used the old Lakeland flag. They also put flags at various positions around the capitol city. Thus, signalling the Kaanfed Kingdom was no longer in charge of the city.

Also, against the objections of the Princess, the king's body was put on a pike outside of the city's wall. This declared to all those who could see, that the king was indeed dead. Thus, by tradition, the killer could claim the throne. This was a clear indication that a new sovereign was in charge. The Princess thought it was disrespectful, but she understood this was the best way to demonstrate that the king was in fact dead.

The Kaanfed army had gathered their forces and marched towards the waiting Lakeland army at the capitol city. They noticed their king hanging on the pike. The Kaanfed generals were enraged, and attempted to retake the city. However, the city's defenses were quite formidable when fully in use. The army quickly lost its motivation, and gave up after a short attempt.

To the Princess, the victory over Kaanfed seemed too easy. After two minor battles -- skirmishes really -- the Kaanfed Kingdom became part of Lakeland. At the insistence of the Princess, the two armies were joined. Her generals wanted to put the Kaanfed army up front to serve as cannon fodder. However, to improve the morale of the defeated army, she insisted that they were treated like everyone else. She also gave a speech to all of the troops to gear them up for fighting the Kingdom of Nunu.

"Soldiers of the army of Lakeland," she began. "Battles are a messy business. However, everyone here has fought bravely for their country."

There was a big cheer urged on by the generals of Lakeland.

"Good soldiers -- like you -- know how to follow orders. Some of you followed the orders of your now dead king. His orders were to attack the Kingdom of Lakeland while it appeared to be weak. Those orders cost him his life. This is why you now serve at my bequest."

There was another cheer from the crowd.

"Everyone here will be treated the same. Those are my orders!"

The crowd cheered despite the attempts to quell them by the generals.

"While you fight under the banner of Lakeland, we are all one people. When this is all over, you will be free to return to your homes wherever they may be. Nothing will change in your lives -- except the ruler. You will be free to live as you had before."

The assembled armies cheered again.

"We now have to fight a common enemy of both peoples. For many surrounding kingdoms, there has been an uneasy truce with Nunu. Now is the time to make up for the ills they have perpetrated on our kingdoms. We now march north to Nunu!!!"

A large cheer arose from the crowd. The Princess walked off her platform, and began walking out of the city. The army followed her in a big disordered mob. The soldiers wanted to be close to the Princess. She was surrounded by a disordered group as she walked. The military discipline was secondary to getting close to the Princess.

Some of the generals were concerned for the 15 year old princess, but those concerns were unfounded. The soldiers did not wish to harm her, they just wanted to be close. Perhaps they would even get to have a conversation. That was their primary goal. Thus, the unruliness was between soldiers and not between the soldiers and the Princess.

While this was going on, the generals organized the retinue. They got a report of all of the soldiers from their commanders. When the information was all at hand, the generals, commanders, and soldiers were organized into Lakeland companies, squads, etc.

There were very few bridges over the river that served as the northern border of the Kaanfed Capitol. Thus, it was a day's march south and east just to get across it. It was by design, and it was effective for the King of Kaanfed.

Once the Lakeland combined army crossed the river, they headed north and east towards the Kingdom of Nunu and its capitol. The Princess and her generals expected heavy fighting soon after they headed north. However, the scouts continually reported that there was no one in the area.

During their march, the Princess attempted to speak to as many of the soldiers as she could. She found it was very good for morale. In fact, she felt that is was good for her morale as much as the soldiers. She marveled that these people were willing to die for her. At least, they were at this point. If the conditions became brutal, that may all change.

This march was different than the previous one. The army had to be on full alert at all times. While there were still scouts set to search in front of the army, they were there to be an early warning system. They no longer wanted to avoid conflict. They would fight everyone that was willing. They may also recruit anyone willing to join them on their battle against Nunu.

Report after report came back from the scouts. It appeared to be clear all the way to their goal. At this point, the Princess ordered more scouts. She felt that perhaps the Nunu army would attempt to outflank them. Thus, the scouts spread in all directions looking for signs of an opposing army. The reports continued to come back with no sitings.

As they went along, the Princess got more concerned about an assault. With a report of no sitings, the scouts were ordered to get some rest, and return to the field as soon as they were able. Nonetheless, the days passed with no sign of any Nunu troops. The local townspeople were questions, but they too did not report any strangers. The march was eerily uneventful. It made everyone uneasy.

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Reunited...

Chapter Sixty

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William stood there wondering what happened to his suncar. It had been a long night, and he was ready to make it to the Pirate Peninsula. However, if he had to walk, then it would take days. He felt he did not have days to spare. With a war raging, he did not want to be in either Lakeland or Kaanfed.

Panic was about to set in when he remembered. He moved his suncar and hid it a bit farther down the road. He walked a bit down the road and there it was. He gave a big sigh of relief. He took the camouflage off of his vehicle. The relief continued to wash over him as he got in and moved it closer to his camp. He loaded up his gear, and just like that he was on the road. He was so anxious to get on the road, that he did not even think about eating.

He drove for a few hours as fast as his suncar could go. He did not think he would need to save any batteries. He just wanted to go. It was more important to get into the peninsula than it was to save any power for later. After a while, he got very hungry. He was getting close, but he had to stop.

There was a small outcrop of buildings beside the road, and he pulled next to them. He drove the suncar behind one of the buildings to make it less visible from the road. The events of the last few nights made him jumpy, and he was not going to take any chances. He hoped to not be there long, but he wanted to be as safe as possible.

Next to one of the building, he sat on the ground. He leaned against the wall and ate what was supposed to be a light meal. However, he was quite hungry and he kept eating. The stress had gotten to him, and he was happy for any bit of relief. He enjoyed the little peace and quiet in his little spot. Thus, he sat for longer than he wanted. In fact, he eventually dozed off.

The Prince awoke with a start. He did not know where he was. Slowly it all came back to him. He was by the side of the road. He was sitting on the ground leaning against a building. He shook off the sleepy feeling and looked at the sky. He was only out for a short time -- perhaps as long as an hour.

He gathered his things and got back into the suncar. He tried to pull onto the road, but the road was crowded. There were people streaming out of Lakeland and Kaanfed toward the peninsula. He eventually made his way onto the crowded roadway.

It somewhat made him feel safer to be in such a crowd. He thought he was going to make it. All of those safe feelings left him when the traffic began to slow. Eventually, all the traffic stopped. He noticed that the opposite lane had a trickle of cars going in the other direction. He considered joining them, but he really needed to keep going. Thus, he stayed with the rest of the drivers.

Slowly -- very slowly -- the line of cars inched along. Hours passed. He ate another meal in his car. More hours passed. He cursed himself for stopping and eating the meal beside the road. Moreover, he cursed himself for the nap. He wondered why all these terrible things kept happening to him. He watched as the trickle of cars going the other way became a more steady stream.

He wondered what was happening. Why was traffic stopped? Was there a big accident up ahead? Was he running into some sort of military action? Again, he hated himself for his meal and nap. He was ahead of all of these cars at one point. He was driving along fine. If only he had... he thought to himself. It was all too late. He would find out soon enough. He began to resign himself to whatever fate was ahead.

Eventually, he saw the roadblock. A couple of guards interrogated each driver. Sometimes they searched the car. Sometimes the driver was assaulted. Most drivers were instructed to turn around and head back. Only a few were allowed through into the peninsula. He did not want this.

It was almost dark when he reached the roadblock.

"Name?" the guard asked.

"My name is Pri -- er -- William Thorbjornson."

"What is your business here?"

"Vacation."

"Pardon?"

"I have been planning this trip for quite some time."

"You are telling me that you are vacationing here -- at a time like this?"

"Like I said, I have been planning this for quite some time."

"Residency?"

"What?"

"What is your place of residency?"

"I am from Calmondak."

"Where in Calmondak?"

"I live in the capitol city."

"Friend of the king's I suspect."

"As a matter of fact..."

"Turn around and go back."

"But..."

"Listen, I have been at this all day. Do you think I enjoy this?"

"Well -- no."

"Then turn around and go back."

"I have to get in."

"You have to?"

"It is not often that your vacation destination is closed when you get there."

"Do you think this is some sort of theme park?"

"No."

"Then turn around and go back."

"But I have incurred great hardship just getting here."

"I am not in the mood to hear your sob story."

"Please. What can I do to get in."

"You will not find it any better inside than it is here."

"Can I be the judge of that?"

"Please. Just turn around and go back."

"I have money."

"Your Calmondak money is no good here."

"I have gold."

"Gold?"

"Naturally. I always carry a small amount when traveling."

"How small?"

"I have a couple of ounces. My pile is worth quite a bit in your native currency."

"I am telling you that you do not want to go past here."

"I will give you all of it."

"Please turn around."

"If you treat me right, I can get you some more."

"I am trying to treat you right."

"What?"

"The governor was killed. We are in civil war."

"But I thought...."

"Were you trying to get away from the Lakeland and Kaanfed war?"

"I guess you could say that."

"Well -- it is over. You can safely return to your home."

"What?"

"The King of Kaanfed was killed today. It is only a matter of time."

"How do you know this?"

"We have a formidable news gathering service -- um -- we did until the governor was killed."

"So, you are turning away all comers."

"Except our own citizens."

"Will you let me in?"

"Is there is no way for me to change your mind?"

"I really do not have anywhere else to go."

"Then you may enter, but please do not cause trouble."

"Me? Never!"

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Reunited...

Chapter Sixty-One

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Princess Angelina's army continued to march towards the capitol of the Kingdom of Nunu. There were occasional skirmishes, but the main Nunu force was nowhere to be found. Hence, the Lakeland army continued their march. However, they were really uneasy about the situation.

Scouts continued to fan out in every direction. The generals continued to worry about being surrounded. Thus, they had many soldiers looking on the roads in front of them, behind them, and in every direction. They did not want to assume that the entire Nunu army would be waiting for them at the capitol. Nonetheless, the closer they got to that city, the more apparent it became that this was the situation.

Nunu was the weakest of the allied kingdoms. Traditionally, they had more trouble with internal strife than with anything else. Thus, they could never garner a strong army. Their armies were generally split in two and fought each other. The surrounding kingdoms were fine with this situation. Kaanfed and the Maritime Kingdoms enjoyed the buffer as long as the internal strife did not spill into their own kingdoms.

Therefore, it became more and more apparent that the King of Nunu pulled all of his troops back in an effort to protect him. This was a common occurrence with the Nunu forces. The Lakeland generals became more confident of this with each report from the scouts. It appeared that the Lakeland forces would have to siege the capitol city. The Lakeland army would not have to meet Nunu on some field of battle, and this suited them fine.

After weeks of marching, they made it to the capitol city. They continued to scout around for any encampments of soldiers. They wanted to be sure they would not be outflanked. As they approached the city, it was clear that it was bustling with soldiers. The generals gave the order to the Lakeland army to keep their distance. They did not want to get too close to the city's defenses. It would not do to slowly lose soldiers. At least, they did not want this until they were ready.

The capitol city was ancient. Legend has it, which the king fully supported, that the city's inhabitants used to hunt the leviathans of the sea. The town prospered on such hunts. Thus, the people claimed to be descended from great hunters and warriors. There was a history of a great seafaring prowess. The generals informed the Princess that even if this legend was true, Nunu had long abandoned such practices. The Princess and the generals believed that the sea would not pose a great threat to the Lakeland forces.

Nonetheless, if the Nunu citizens could get supplies from the sea, the siege would be a long one. The Lakeland army closed off all overland supply lines into the city. This was the first step in the siege. There would be no supplies entering the city by the roads. Those citizens and soldiers in the city would have to survive on any rations that were gathered before the Lakeland army arrived.

Once the guard was set for watching the roads, the construction of siege equipment began. Once again, if it were not necessary, the Lakeland army would not use gunpowder. Those watching the roads would be free to use any weapon at their disposal. However, there would be a limited supply of gunpowder. Thus, other weapons would be used to push the siege.

The Princess told her generals to start the gunpowder manufacture process as soon as feasible. If the siege took a long time, they would need it. If it were a short siege, then they could use the new supply of gunpowder against the Maritime Kingdom. Hence, some of the soldiers were sent on gathering the supplies for gunpowder manufacture.

The first weapons constructed were the trebuchets. These could throw items into the town square. Further, they could be set well outside the range of the city's small arms fire. The arrows and bullets were very inaccurate at that range. It was unknown what type of defenses the city would use. However, the trebuchet was an effective weapon of terror and could be constructed on the spot. Hence, after a few days Lakeland had a few of these weapons hurling items into the city. They tossed rocks and bales of dry grass which had been set ablaze.

No one would know if these items did any damage until after the Lakeland army entered the city. However, the generals assured the Princess that these weapons would frighten the city's inhabitants. Further, if the siege drug on, these weapons could be used to toss gunpowder bombs. Thus, these trebuchets would be a very effective long range weapon no matter the circumstance.

The Princess ordered the scouts to bring back reports of items that could be thrown. Thus, the collection of projectiles began in earnest. Rocks, logs, grass, and other items could be tossed into the town square. If the siege worked as planned, the city would surrender with little bloodshed. The citizens would give up when they realized there was little their army could do against these types of attacks. Further, as the food dwindled, the townspeople would get restless.

The Princess believed that Lakeland had plenty of time to press the siege. From every indication, the entire Nunu army was in the city. Thus, the supplies of the city would be stretched even further. Hence, it should not be too long for unrest to build in the city. However, the Lakeland soldiers were kept busy collecting items. There were also drills and scouting to be done. The watch on the road was also important. Thus, the Lakeland army settled into a routine of sorts.

This all came to an end when one of the scouts returned with a report of a large army marching from the north. It appeared that the Maritime Kingdom was going to come to the aid of the besieged Nunu people. Time which was in such abundance a few days before, suddenly grew short.

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Reunited...

Chapter Sixty-Two

By Douglas E. Gogerty

The peninsula had changed greatly since Prince William had been there last. It had only been a few weeks, but unrest can change things quickly. It seemed to him that there were riots and lots of looting. The cities he drove through were in great disarray. However, he could go nowhere else in Morica, so he had to find a place to stay.

Although the Prince thought the place was chaotic when he was last here, it seemed that it was much worse now. The governor's assassination appeared to turn the people into a raving mob. The Prince wondered who was behind it and why. He thought in passing that it was his chance for a kingdom. He tried to suppress that thought.

He headed for the capitol. He thought he would stay in the same room he had when he was working on his father's release from prison. The people who ran the place knew him, so they may be willing to rent him a room. Otherwise, he would have to find some other place, and that could be risky.

After spending another night camping, he was ready to sleep in a bed. He would easily make it to the capitol in his suncar as long as the roads were clear. The thought of being in the capitol in the midst of all of the intrigue brought the thought of kingdom back into his head. Nonetheless, he had to be cautious. He was a stranger in this land. The roadblock warned him of the dangers within the borders.

It was late morning when he arrived in the capitol. It had definitely been a war zone. The destruction was massive. The road was still passable, but there was debris everywhere. The Prince continued to drive cautiously. Winding his way around the wreckage on the road, he made it to the capitol building. It was demolished. The prison that held his father, was a pile of rubble. That filled him with dread.

He drove the short distance to the hotel that he had stayed. Remarkably, it was still standing. He drove up to it and parked. He cautiously entered the hotel. There was no one there. He looked around and called out, but there was no answer. He waited around for a few minutes, but no one came. He continued to look around for a brief time, but the hotel did not appear to be staffed.

There were options. He could try somewhere else. He could camp out again. However, since he was there, the Prince decided to try his old room. He walked up the stairs. He tried the elevator, but he noticed there was no power in the building. He walked down the hall the room he stayed in for several weeks. He recognized the hallway and walked cautiously along in semi-darkness. He found his door and knocked.

There was no reply so he tried the door -- it was unlocked. He thought what harm could it do? Therefore, he walked in and locked the door behind him. He felt that the bed being made was a good sign the room was empty. However, it was just a guess. After all, they had a housekeeping service when he stayed there. They made the bed when he was away.

He plopped on the bed and gave out a heavy sigh. Gunfire outside awoke him from his revelry. He was not as far from the violence as he thought. Several other thoughts raced through his head. However, he felt somewhat safe in his room. It was locked, it was a few floors up, and no one knew he was there. It was a feeling he had not had for several months. He was not a cog in the turnings of this state.

He listened for more gunfire, but he heard nothing. As he listened, he fell asleep. It was a fitful and restful sleep. It was another thing he had not felt for quite some time. He felt refreshed when he awoke from his short nap. It was time to find some food. It was around lunch time. He thought about dipping into his supplies, but then he thought he would have a look around. Thus, he would wander around and look for someplace to eat. He could also discover what was happening around the capitol.

He messed up the bed as a sort of signal to himself. If it was as he left it, then he would feel better about it being empty. If it were made, then he would worry about the situation a bit more.

He left the room and began spiraling away from the hotel. He left his car where he parked it, and simply walked around getting farther and farther from the hotel. Eventually, he ended up at the only open place he could find. It was a bar a few blocks away from both the hotel and the capitol building.

He asked the bartender if they served food.

"What do you want?" she asked.

"I am just a bit hungry," replied the Prince. "If you offered some sort of sandwich or something...."

"If you got money -- we got food," she replied with as surly a voice as she could muster.

"What kind of money do you accept?"

"What kind do you have?"

"I do not have any local currency, but I have some Lakeland coins."

"The local currency -- as you call it -- is worthless. How much Lakeland money do you have?"

"I have enough for a sandwich and a drink."

"We probably could get a ham and cheese back there..."

"A what?"

"Ham and cheese..."

"What is ham?"

"You have never had ham? Well, mister sit back there...

"William."

"Well -- William -- You are in for a treat."

"Very well."

"What would you like to wash that down?"

"What do you recommend?"

"Well -- seeing as you have never had ham -- how about a beer?"

"A beer would be good."

"You have heard of beer -- but not ham?"

"I am not from around here."

"Really? I would have never guessed. How did you get passed the boarder guards?"

"My natural charm..."

"Hah! We'll get right on that sandwich."

The bartender poured the Prince a beer. It was a dark bitter drink. It was not like the week watery stuff that was brewed at the castle. However, he enjoyed it. He loosened up a bit more and flirted more intently with the bartender. After several minutes she brought him his sandwich. It was just like the bacon sandwich he had back home. He wondered what other differences there were in the language.

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Reunited...

Chapter Sixty-Three

By Douglas E. Gogerty

With the Maritime Kingdom's army marching towards them, Princess Angelina's forces gathered together. The generals determined the best location to engage the incoming army. The incoming army was not completely unexpected, so the Princess's army was quickly in fighting order.

The Princess and her generals decided to abandon the siege of the city, and pull all of their forces south of the Nunu capitol city. In this way, they would not have to worry about the Nunu forces flanking them. While this would allow the Nunu army and the Maritime army to join forces, at least the Lakeland army would have a place to retreat. Further, they could find out what the Maritime Kingdom's plans were.

The Princess watched from a safe distance as the Maritime forces marched unaccosted into the Nunu's fortified capitol city. The Princess felt that it was fortunate that both armies were now within the city's fortifications. The Princess gave the order for the Lakeland army to close off all of the exits. In this way, they trapped both armies inside the city. The Lakeland forces returned to their siege of the city.

In an effort to escape the city, the armies within the city tested the strength of the Lakeland resolve. Fighting broke out at the entrances to the city. However, these entrances were choke points, and few soldiers could engage each other in combat. With the Maritime kingdom new to the surroundings, they did not fully utilize the Nunu defenses. Thus, the Lakeland forces did well in enclosing them in the city.

The trebuchets resumed their assault on the city's interior. The Lakeland forces continued to leave the walls untouched. The Princess had several soldiers watching to make sure no one climbed over the walls. They wanted to trap the armies inside rather than engage them on the field. With even more individuals inside the city, the resources would not last very long.

The bodies of Nunu, Maritime, and Lakeland forces began to clog the entry ways. Eventually, the communication between the Nunu and Maritime forces allowed a greater use of the city's defenses. Thus, the tide turned in their favor. However, the Lakeland forces used the corpses to further clog the entryway as they backed away. The engagement between the two forces became even more limited.

Gunfire erupted from defensive holes in the walls. The Maritime army shot their guns from the walls to further drive the Lakeland forces away from the entrance. The Lakeland army was forced into using its turtle shell type defense shield. It was a heavy steal roof that took 14 soldiers to move. It pushed the bullets aside, but was quite unwieldy. The Lakeland forces put several of these at the entrances to shield several hundred soldiers. These fortifications supported enough soldiers to keep the entry blockades in place.

The fighting became even more intensified. While the Maritime army was not used to the surroundings, they were quite well drilled. They continued to fight against the Lakeland forces. The entrances became slick and red with blood. However, the Nunu and Maritime armies were trapped inside the city. Nothing they did broke them free from the Lakeland forces.

Princess Angelina went to the entries to cheer on the soldiers. This was unheard of in Lakeland history. The generals attempted to prevent her from going, but she wanted to personally urge the fighting. With each visit, the soldiers pushed harder. The Maritime soldiers took the brunt of the surges as they piled up in front of the entry gates.

The Lakeland soldiers stacked each enemy corpse in the way. If the Maritime or Nunu soldiers wanted better access for fighting, they had to put the bodies inside the city walls. This would also work to the advantage of the Lakeland army when they began to rot. The situation was working in Lakeland's favor in most regards. The Princess urged the men on to continue to press the advantage.

A Maritime soldier noticed the Princess and formed a plan. In her finery, she was quite out of place. Thus, he knew she must be important. Therefore, he had soldiers target her. The gunfire became less random and more directed. The Princess felt the danger. However, instead of shrinking for the danger, she urged her soldiers even more. They stepped up to protect her. The battle grew greatly in intensity. The soldiers in the city fell with more regularity.

The trebuchets also increased their fire. The flaming bales became more effective. Those at the gate were able to direct the fire a little bit more. Thus, several interior buildings were set ablaze. They were quickly extinguished, but precious water was used. If the trapped armies were unable to break free, their resources would be quickly diminished.

It was just about dusk when the Nunu and Maritime armies retreated. The roar of battle suddenly became silent. An eerie silence fell over the entry gates. The Princess urged caution. The lull in violence could make the soldiers drop their guards. The Princess stated that is how tragedy strikes. Her army kept a careful watch.

Suddenly a shot rang out, and the Princess fell. Chaos ensued. The Lakeland troops stormed into the city. They lost all discipline. The Nunu and Maritime soldiers were overwhelmed by the siege. The Lakeland troops slaughtered anyone they came across. The sudden surge caught everyone off guard, and just as quickly as it started it ended. Thousands of dead soldiers littered the court yard. Few of them were from Lakeland. The Maritime and Nunu army quickly surrendered. They were not prepared for such a strong push at that time.

The King of Nunu was captured, and brought before the generals. The fight for Nunu was over, but the cost was high. So many dead soldiers scattered around the city. The Maritime generals knew they made a mistake in entering the city, and it cost them deeply.

However, what happened to the Princess. All of the soldiers asked when the fighting ended. In the confusion, a group of soldiers carried the Princess to the hospital. The uninjured were barred from entering the hospital. Thus, few knew what had happened to the Princess. Further, the doctors were too busy with the wounded to give any updates. Thus, everyone sat around waiting for news. It would have to wait until morning.

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Reunited...

Chapter Sixty-Four

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William spent several weeks exploring the capitol city of the Pirate Peninsula. He frequented the bar he found on the first day. He became friendly with the bartender, and she became friendly with him. It seemed that all of the strife raging around the world and the city avoided him.

The hotel seemed abandoned. He stayed at the same room every night. At no time was their anyone at the desk. In fact, he never ran into another person at the hotel. He felt that it was an odd situation, but these were odd times. For the first time in a long time, he enjoy himself. However, he knew that would not last forever.

He was enjoying some time with his favorite bartender when a familiar face walked into the bar. One of the men that accompanied King Thorbjorn in prison entered the establishment. An eerie quiet spread through the room. Several people ran out the back door. The bartender froze. She stared at the man in fear.

His father's man scanned the place for threats. He looked around but did not pause on any one person. He did not appear to see the Prince, or at least recognize him. The tension did not leave the room as he walked out. A few moments later, he returned with a group of six men. The man at the center was another one of his father's men. They sat at a table in the corner, but every person faced outward.

One of the men waved at the bartender and she warily walked over to the table. Someone made a joke, probably at her expense, and they all laughed. The bartender did not even smirk. They each placed their orders and she rushed back to fill them. The men sat and talked as their orders were filled.

A small amount of calm re-emerged in the place. The bartender did not relax, but the patrons began to return to normal. However, without being able to converse with the bartender, the Prince decided to leave. Before he left, he heard, "Prince William!"

He thought about ignoring it. He thought he would just walk out as if he did not hear. However, as he opened the door he saw another familiar face guarding a fleet of vehicles. Hence, he decided to look at who called him.

"Oh!" the Prince said with a bit of mock surprise. "It's you!"

"You are alive! What do you know!" shouted one of the men.

"Come join us," insisted another.

"Well, I..." began the Prince.

"I insist," stated the leader of the group.

With that, the Prince sat with the men. The bartender gasped in horror when she noticed her friend sitting with these men. The Prince knew that he and the bartender could never return to the way it was. His time enjoying her company was over. With the friendly talk and the smiles, she would never trust him again. The Prince felt a little sad about that.

The men detailed the events of the weeks after he left. They talked about the riots and the fighting. They told the stories of a large force that came to the prison to break their comrades out. This is how they got out and the prison was destroyed. There were stories of fights and the grab for power.

While the assassination of the governor was well planned, the succession was not. The man who planned the thing assumed that he would be instilled in power. That assumption cost him his life. This resulted in near complete chaos. Many people wanted to have the power of the state. Each faction faced off against each other. There were regular battles. The civil war had begun.

The men stated that they had allied with Scott Richards. He was one of the local aristocrats and had gathered a formidable army. They believed that he had the best chance at coalescing power. That is why they joined him. They told stories of their battles. They bragged of their glorious victories. They came back to the capitol to relax for a while. That is what they were doing there at the bar.

Just like that, Prince William was caught up in the activities of the peninsula. He talked about his adventures. He spoke of the wars raging on in and around Lakeland. He talked about the treachery of Prince Bjorn and the assassination of the King. He talked about how Princess Angelina had been swept into power over all of Lakeland after the civil war and death of Bjorn.

After all that his people had gone through, he felt it better to leave than to make a claim to the throne. After all, he was in the wilderness making his way back when the war ended. No one knew he was alive. He made it sound like he entered the peninsula for exile rather than facing off with the people of Lakeland. The men seemed to buy it.

The men drank a few more drinks and laughed heartily. The bartender was haggard by the time they left. They did not pay for a single thing. They just enjoyed themselves and walked out. She worked hard, but got nothing in return except harassment.

They all walked over to the hotel where the Prince had been staying. They opened a locked drawer and each got a room key. The Prince asked for the key to his room. He now understood things better. These men took whatever they wanted. Who knows what happened to those who disobeyed. They likely died. It was also most probably a terrible death. He was mostly sure that is what happened innkeeper.

These men were much more dangerous than they were under King Thorbjorn. They had become ruthless and cruel. Nevertheless, he was now a part of their group. They had an allegiance to him, and they would likely treat him with respect. However, that did not make them any less dangerous. He did not know if they would turn on him. He hoped he would live long enough to find out how loyal they were to the family.

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Reunited...

Chapter Sixty-Five

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Princess Angelina woke up in a strange bed. She wondered what had happened. The last thing she remembered was a sharp pain in left her shoulder. She relived that pain when she touched that shoulder. She realized that it was now bandaged, and her left arm was immobilized.

Her wrappings made it difficult to get out of the bed, but she tried. A nurse noticed her struggles and came over to put her back in bed. It was a good thing because when the Princess stood -- from her perspective -- the room spun in circles. The nurse caught her before she hit the floor.

"Rest easy," he said.

"Where -- am -- I?" the Princess said weakly.

"You are safe," the nurse replied.

"It did not ask how I was," returned the Princess more strongly. "I asked where I was!"

"Sorry sire!" he replied with a bow. "You are in the castle of Nunu."

"What am I doing here?"

"Lakeland forces have captured the city. The doctors thought you would be more comfortable here."

"How long have I been out?"

"According to your chart," he replied looking at the clipboard.

"Just tell me."

"Approximately 16 hours sire."

"Where are the other injured?"

"They are in the castle's infirmary."

"Take me to them."

"But..."

"That was not a request."

"I do not..."

The nurse ran out of the room before he finished the sentence. A short while later another person entered. He was the doctor.

"Sire," the doctor began. "You need your rest."

"I will rest with the rest of the soldiers."

"But sire."

"That was not a request."

"Yes sire."

The doctor left with a bow. A few moments later he brought back the nurse and an orderly. The orderly was pushing a gurney. The pair carefully slid the Princess onto the gurney. The sides were raised, and the orderly pushed her out of the room.

She was pushed into a room crowded with injured soldiers. They cheered as she entered and waved. There was barely any room for her gurney, but a small space was made for her. The orderly raised her head a bit, and she could look out over the room.

"Thank you," she said to the orderly.

He did not say anything, but gave a bow.

"Well done!" the Princess said to the room.

More cheers went out. She looked around the room at the injured troops. Their faces brightened up by her being there. This also brightened her up.

"I must say, you are the best fighting force in the world!"

The cheers were much louder now. There were several bright smiles. Even some of the gravely injured soldiers beamed considerably.

"The doctor said we must rest. While I take no orders from anyone..."

The room erupted interrupting her comment. The Princess waited for the patients to quiet before she continued.

"As I was saying, I take no orders from anyone, but I have taken the doctors request under advisement. I recommend you do the same."

"Yes Sire!" the injured soldiers replied.

With that, the Princess closed her eyes and managed to sleep some more. A few hours later she was awakened by someone moving her bed.

"What are you doing?" she asked the orderly.

"I was told to move you to more private quarters."

"You will do no such thing!"

"But..."

"You tell the person who told you to move me to come see me immediately."

"Yes Sire!" the orderly replied with a bow.

He left her in the middle of the aisle and immediately ran off. A short while later, he returned with a somewhat official looking gentleman. She did not know the man, but gave him a very stern look. The man almost collapsed into his bow.

"Who are you?" the Princess asked.

"I was the king's man for many years," the man replied while looking at the floor. "I run this castle."

"What is it with everyone suddenly? I did not ask you what you did, I asked you who you were."

"My name is Jonathan Helmsley sire."

"Mr. Helmsley, on whose authority did you use to move me from this room?"

"Ummmmm," he began meekly. "I just thought that you would be more comfortable..."

"Stop!" the Princess interrupted. "Did you not understand my question?"

"Yes sire."

"What was it?"

"You asked whose authority I used."

"And?"

"It was my own sire