Into The Darkness

    The thick, iron barred, cell door crashed to a close. The echoing sound of keys, jingled down the dark, empty corridor of the district jail. The cell doors to the other inmates had been locked hours earlier, and the sudden noise and motion, was beginning to wake a few of the lighter sleepers.

    As the sloven jail guard turned to walk away, a sudden flare of light from a match roaring to life, eerily sent shadows dancing around the tiny cell. The flame of the match licked at the fresh tobacco in the thin cigar that dangled from the moth of the cell’s only occupant. He inhaled deeply, the small cubicle brightening from the glow of the bright cherry on the cigar, then quickly blew out the still light match with a exhale of noxious gas. The cell was plunged once again into darkness.

    “Do you really think you are going to keep me in here?”      

    The deep voice, although barely a whisper, crawled through every fibre of the burly guard. Shaking his head, and fighting to suppress a shudder, he drifted over to the locked cell.

    “Save your smart ass comments for your lawyer buddy, he’s gonna ..  Aaahhggg!!” The guard’s body jerked and spasm, as lightning fast fingers encircled the giant man’s neck and began to crush him to his knees. A sharp, violent crack echoed loudly down the dark corridor, as the inmate’s hands crushed the bones in the guards neck.

    The guard slumped to the floor, and landed in a sodden heap. An extremely high pitched squeal of metal, exploded in the hallway, as the same fingers pulled the bars in the door apart in one sudden rush of raw power.

    The finely chiselled features of the man’s face, broke into a slight grin as he examined his handiwork first on the door, then on the dead guard at his feet.

    “I knew this was too easy”, the dark announcement rolled down the quickly waking jail cell corridor. He chuckled softly to himself as he contemplated the obvious; they had once again neglected to take enough precautions, or were simply not high enough up in the chain of command, and did not know what recent horror they had housed in their little district jail.  Either that or they just didn’t care, like most civilized people; if problems weren’t glaring them directly in the face, they assumed it would never come to them.

    This time, though, it had; and before the majority of the inmates rousing from an early sleep had become raucous, alerting a napping guard to a potential problem, the dark man had disappeared into the night.

 ____________________________________

   “Karyn!” The booming echo filled the giant hall. The enormous humanoid scanned the vast arena that was host to the Deities of Samarkand . The giant horns on his monstrous head swung back and forth as he scanned the region. No one could hide from His gaze, for He was Ghal’Oshz, God of the Minotaur, war and battle, and God of the forge.

    “No more of your pranks!”, he growled in disdain. “You know I hate it when you keep me waiting like this!” Extending his mighty furred arm, a large war hammer instantly appeared in a flash of blue light.

    Swinging it lazily, He paced back and forth between the many columns supporting the roof. “I know you are hiding here somewhere!, He bellowed.

    The wind rustled past his ears, and a voice as tangible as the wind itself, laughed “I thought you always claimed no one could hide from your sight, oh mighty one”?

    Galosh w hipped around, His finely detailed hammer at the ready. Every cord and muscle in his half man, half bull body, bulged as He prepared to launch an assault against His unseen assailant.

    He nearly tripped over himself as he, at the last second redirected his attack, as He noticed who was in front of him. His mighty hammer cracked into the marble floor, spraying shards of rock all around him. Sheepishly, he glanced at his newly arrived friend.

    She barely came up to his waist. Dressed in royal blue from head to toe in soft gossamer material, that did more to call attention to certain details of a woman’s body, than cover her.

    “Change into someone I can talk to without getting a neck cramp, please, Your Lordship?” She craned her head way back at looked up into the now peaceful face of the giant Minotaur.
    “Very well”, he sighed, and backed up a step.

    Karyn watched as He instantly underwent a transformation from Minotaur to human. His black metal armor gleamed in the flicker light of the torches that lit the cavernous arena. Two swords hung at his belt, one a scimitar, and the other a bastard sword that no mortal could lift, yet alone wield. He removed his multi-horned helm, and ran a huge hand over his bald head.

    This better, Karyn?”

    “Yes, much thank you, Warlord Zzorhn.” Karyn cocked her head as if remembering something. “Wasn’t Shamus supposed to be here by now?”, she queried.

    “I am not for trusting that half-an-excuse for a God!”, Zzorhn mumbled. “Why do we need him for...”he began .

    “You need me” a shrill voice piped,” because YOU can’t even begin to understand the importance of these matters!” As he spoke, Shamus, God of good fortune, popped out from behind a huge stalagmite, shaped into a supporting column. Dressed in head to toe in various colours of greens and browns, He appeared as though camouflaging himself in a canopy of leaves and brush would be an easy thing indeed. Standing in the vast arena with its many columns, that offered vary little if any real cover, Shamus, seemed somewhat out of sorts. Moving with lightning fast speed, He darted around the legs of his fellow consorts, and run literally up one side of Zzorhn, and was sitting on His massive shoulder before the giant warlord even realized the little God was even there.

    “Hullo, there..” Shamus started with his squeaky tiny Irish accent, looking into the startled eyes of the bald God “...looks like you got a potato stuck in your ear”, he giggled. Jumping up and suddenly vanishing as Zzorhn’s massive hand reached for the giggling leprechaun, Shamus reappeared on Karyn’s left shoulder. Shamus extended his little hand shyly towards the face of the beautiful Goddess of Love, contained within were a handful of exquisite wildflowers.

    “You shuren are a pretty thing,” Shamus admitted. With a sly, impish smile on his pointed face He glanced over at the God of War, trying in vain to remove a potato that had somehow lodged itself in the right ear of the huge God. He hopped around, digging at his head with his finger, and cursing in almost every known language.

    “I wouldn’t keep sticking your fingers in your ears”, the playful leprechaun giggled, “You may end up pushing the potato deeper into your cavernous head!” Turning to once again regard the lovely Goddess on whom Shamus had made his perch, He queried, “Mighten’ you be into little men?”, with an impish smile spreading across His face.
    Karyn tried hard not to burst out laughing at the little God’s antics. By all accounts, He almost appeared serious in His asking, but Karyn knew deep down that the little God of luck was always more jest than serious. Still, She played along with Him, asking in a somewhat sincere mood,”Do you not  think that I would be too much woman for you?” She glanced over at the now irate God of War, and whispered”, I believe you should do something to help our large friend over there before He decides to throttle you to dismiss your dweamor”.

    Shamus observed the growing tension in the very large God, and agreed with Karyn”You’re right, He is getting mad!”, to which Shamus giggled fiercely, and promptly fell off Her shoulder and landed on his back, expelling a surprised “Ooommpff”, and just lay there staring up at the ceiling. Zzorhn, stalked over to the prone little God, and towered over the prankster.

    “Release me from your spell, midget,” He threatened, lifting a metal boot direct in line with Shamus’ head, and held it there, ready to squash the little green God.

    “Uumm, ok”, Shamus squeaked, realizing his predicament. He waggled a few fingers on His right hand, and a large russet potato flew out from the bald God’s ear, and bounced to a rolling stop on the marble floor. Zzorhn breathed a huge sigh of relief, and stuck His finger into His ear and walked over to where Karyn stood, enjoying the spectacle immensely. Her smile was infectious, as a smile split the bald God’s face as He grinned from ear to ear. For as much bluster the God of War might have regarding the tricks and pranks of the little God, Zzorhn had to admit, He enjoyed the little God’s presence immensely. Although, sometimes annoying, Shamus’ magic never harmed anyone.

    Shamus picked himself off the floor and glanced around. “Uumm... guys,”He started, pointing in the direction that had him fixated. The other two Gods turned to see what might cause the usually verbose little God to stumble.

    A bluish-purple pulse of energy emanated from the far side of the cavern, followed by a sonic boom that echoed throughout the immense arena. Flowing gray mists, began to coalesce and form in the swirling energy vortex, taking the shape of a hooded and cloaked figure. As the lights began to swirl more rapidly, the hooded figure raised it’s hands which resembled a bony skeleton without flesh and skin, dismissing the energy throughout the cavernous amphitheatre in a shower of lights and sparks. As the smoke dissipated, the figure glided towards the other three figures in the room.

    “Where are the others?” The telepathic shock shook the three Gods to the core, as the rasping intrusion into their minds was overbearing. Zzorhn, Karyn and Shamus each grabbed their head in frustration, pain,  and fear as the shock of being address by Vordian, God of the Dead, was unnerving to say the least. His telepathic commands were more akin to razor blades drawn over the brain, rather than simple communication. Even for three beings as powerful as these.

    “Arggh!, roared Zzorhn. Pointing at the hooded skeleton figure, He threatened,”Don’t do that again, Lord Vordian! You know your mind intrusions are not welcome by non-followers of your cults!” “Speak openly, and none of your deceit!”, He warned.

    The skeleton in rags floated to within ten feet of the other three Gods, and halted abruptly. “I believe this is as far as I dare go”, He hissed. “Even now, your perversion of life and all your goodliness is rasping on my soul, as a dagger though flesh! Let us hurry and conclude this, so that I may get back to my work” Vordian’s fleshless face leered at them from under his ragged black cloak, His red points of lights, that served as eyes in His fleshless sockets, burned brighter as His rasping voice rose in intensity. Hidden beneath the hooded cloak, His red eyes burned with hatred for these three figures that had been summoned along with the God of the Dead. Here in this, the meeting place of the Gods, fighting was not allowed. That did not mean the old hostilities between the various deities of Samarkand were buried though, most often, a summoning of the Gods resulted in the matter of importance being cast aside for petty bickering, and the discussions turning to old matters and prejudice between the Gods of Good and Gods of Evil.

    Zzorhn and Karyn said nothing, just stared back at the very embodiment of evil before them. The God’s of Light could feel the cold malevolence of evil flowing from the essence that was the God of Death. At the same time, being in such close proximity to such representation of purity, Vordian, Lord of the Dead was also suffering pain, as shards of intense heat flickered across His body. He knew, as did the others that this face off would not end without some intervention.

    A single note, pure and crisp, split the cavernous amphitheatre, resonating from a glass chime at the far end of the hall. All four beings stopped their glowering at each other and glanced to the end of the arena.

    She, for although it was merely a presence than a corporeal being, was definitely female. Roughly the same size as Karyn, it resembled insubstantial mists, rather than the embodiment of another one of Samarkand’s Goddesses. Yet, here She was, the reason for the calling of the pantheon to this very meeting.

    A glass mallet, held aloft by the flowing mists, was carefully replaced by the large exquisitely detailed glass gong. Created by the gods themselves, it was proclaimed to never break, yet it was made of pure crystal. The detailing work on the front of the gong, was intricate, depicting two major beings, one male and one female, each wrestling for power, and yet at the same time, embracing each other. The image was such that the observer had the distinction that they were not quite sure if the two powerful beings represented were fighting, or dancing.

    The flowing mists coalesced and formed into that of a beautiful woman. Her fire red hair, hung braided down her back almost touching the marble floor. Her gown was a cascading shimmer of reds, yellows, oranges and pinks, changing slowly, giving the viewer the impression of seeing a sunset. A long slit up the side of the gown, revealed a shapely leg, though the exquisite woman wore nothing on her feet. Rising into the air, she floated on a cushion of air over to the other Gods.

    Suddenly the air all over the arena exploded in various lights, smoke, and explosions as the rest of Samarkand’s pantheon made their arrival. Stepping forth from their various travel and enchantment spells, each God and Goddess, and several different types of dragons took their proper place in the vast amphitheatre that served host to these powerful beings.

    After several moments of posturing and interaction, the great beings quieted, as a sudden pall came over the gathering, as the last of the Gods to arrive, and the mightiest of all entered the arena. Physical descriptions by mere mortal standards are were not possible, as Ao, was more a presence than an embodiment. He took his place beside his eternal consort, Skie, for this was the balance of all; Father earth, and Mother sky.

         These two were the original creators, and the eternal bond between Ao, and Skie had birthed a multitude of powerful beings. The first and foremost were their children, the very entities called to this meeting in this the sacred halls of Tenether, the temple of the Gods. Second to be created, were the powerful creatures known as dragons. As with their first creations, Skie and Ao decided not to interfere with their children’s growth and development, and simply allowed them the ability to chose a lifestyle and purpose of their own.

    Of the demi-gods, there were four children. First and foremost, were the twin males. Zzorhn and Ahkrahn, both male warriors in mind and body. Ahkrahn was slightly smaller than his bald brother, however, what He lacked in size, He more than made up for in speed and agility. Ahkrahn’s raven black hair hung down past His shoulders, and was almost always pulled back in a simple pony-tail. His neatly trimmed goatee and moustache aptly suited the God of Meditation and knowledge, and was widely imitated by monks of Ahkrahn all over Samarkan. Zzorhn, God of the forge, self-sacrifice and discipline, was Ahkrahn’s only equal with weapons. The twins, enjoyed nothing more than to compete against each other in every aspect of their eternal existence, with a love of weaponry and martial arts as the primary focus in their struggles.

    The twin girls, Robyn and Karyn, were so dissimilar, that one could easily dismiss the notion that they were sisters, let alone twins. Karyn, took great interest in everyone else’s affairs, while her sister, Robyn, was uncomfortable dealing with others. Karyn, Her long blonde hair hung loosely down her back, always complimented her exquisite features by wearing gossamer gowns, and open toed saddles. Robyn, dressed in ornate field plate, and kept her black hair cut just above her shoulders. To say that She was attractive would be an understatement, yet compared to her sister, Robyn was very plain in appearance. The major difference between the two was not their outward appearances, but the spirit deep inside. Karyn, the Goddess of Love would never carry a weapon, while Robyn’s graceful swords hung belted to her hips. Goddess of the forest, seasons and nature, She was impassive to good and evil disputes, and usually remained so. If need be, however, her fighting ability was almost as skilled as her older brothers. Robyn was non-confrontational, and it would take being backed into a corner by her siblings to goad Her to fight. Once in a corner, though, She would become extremely deadly.

    Vordian, a sly, perverted creature, took great delight at the decay of life. He pursued all aspects of this strange phenomenon of life passing and returning to another state, so much so, that His own appearances became twisted and malevolent. He delved into matters of the supernatural and brought forth beings of His own, to further His cause of death. His obsession lead to the creation of undead, or dead possessed with semi-intelligence, and even powerful undead such as mummies and liches. Shunned by His siblings due to his perversion, He became more and more powerful concerning His chosen art, and death and destruction followed His every move.

    The youngest child, Shamus, for some strange reason never grew. In both mind and body, He remains forever, a three year old child. His powers, however, are not limited to His size, as Shamus is every bit as powerful as his older brothers and sisters. His focus, though, is severely limited. His only purpose in life, is to find a purpose like his siblings. Shamus’ happy-go-lucky attitude and warped personality does not allow for personal growth, and limits Him to harmless pranks and mischief.

    During the creating of the mighty dragons, the two Gods debated much as to their appearances. Both wanted a variety of types, not just colours and appearances. So it came to be that the dragons of colours, desert brown, vicious black, explosive red, loyal blue, deceptive green, and witless white, were complimented by their metallic cousins; noble silver, brilliant gold, verbose bronze, impish copper, and boorish brass. They then created the gem dragons; amethyst, crystal, emerald, sapphire and topaz. They created dragons that soared high above the clouds, and dragons that dwelt in the deep dark places of shadow and mystery.  So vast, and so arrayed were the various dragon-kin that disputes over territory and power became a frequent struggle.

    In allowing as much freedom to their multitude of children, the two elder Gods, had erred. Their children, each one entirely different than the others, developed and grew, each applying their skills and talents and learning new ones in a brand new world. As mother and father, they watched their children interact with each other and soon came to realize: without constraint, their own children would tear apart everything the two elder gods had created!!

    Ao and Skie had called to their children to meet with them, and in the ensuing debate, a balance was struck. No immortal was to remain on Samarkand. Instead, each God and Goddess, as well as the dragon-kin, would construct for themselves a place removed from the native plain of existence. In turn, they were given the opportunity to influence their followers, and grant prayers and magic powers to those mortals who chose to worship them. This way, both elder gods assumed the balance between their warring children would equalize. They were wrong.

    Old issues, and ongoing bitterness between what where being referred to as, the “Gods of light”, and the “Gods of darkness”, ran rampant among the new-found followers. Those who flocked to the banner of Ahkrahn and Zzorhn began to wage war against those who chose to follow Vordian and his numerous cults. The demi-Gods and immortals of both factions, “Light and Dark”, led their mortal brethren in long bloody feuds that nearly threatened, to once again destroy everything Ao and Skie had created.

    So it was that the two elder Gods took it upon themselves to remove the Lord of Death, to a more suitable and permanent realm. A vast wasteland, surreal and foreboding. In it, nothing could grow, for this was the land of death and decay, perverted by Vordian himself. Ao and Skie then bound Lord Vordian and all his immortals to permanently remain in the void, until the end of time itself. Their cults and followers could still gain their magic from dedication and worship, however, any direct influences over his mortal followers was reduced to a mere whisper.

    Both the elder Gods knew that the neutral balance had to be maintained, so they took Warlord Zzorhn, and Ahkrahn and removed them from the realm of Samarkand as well. Both Gods of War and their host of demi-gods and immortals, were banished to Altear’Nazcion, the resting place for warriors who have passed from the realm of the living. As with their darker brother, the twins were bound by Ao and Skie to permanently remain in this removed realm. They were still able to grant powers and magic to their faithful, however, they were for all essence, removed from have a direct impact.

    This arrangement worked well for over two thousand years, until it became evident that without their God’s continued presence, the followers of all major religions were becoming stagnant. Mortals were turning from their chosen Gods and Goddesses, and finding sources of power and magic’s in other methods. Chaos became rampant throughout the know realm, as each race struggled to survive in what where quickly becoming dark times. With the arrival of such a dark chapter in Samarkand’s history, so too was the intensity of evil acts committed, while darker, more sinister creatures roamed then ever before. It was obvious that there had to be a compromise.

    It was then that Ao and Skie released the bonds they had placed on their children, binding them to their own created worlds. They then summoned the immortals to Tenether, for the second time in Samarkand’s history. It was here, Ao and Skie revealed to their children what would happen if the balance of power was to sway too much to either side. Using dweamors, and magic too powerful for mortals, the entire pantheon was made to understand the disasters their corruption could have on the entire realm of Samarkand. Every God and Goddess in turn was brought forth to stand before the two elder Gods and explain in their own words, why the balance of neutrality had to be maintained. All in attendance swore a magically binding oath of non-interference, an oath only made stronger by the shedding of immortal blood at the height of the binding  ceremony. No one, was allowed to directly contact any of the mortals, however, with the use of avatars, a God or Goddess was allowed to walk freely among their chosen followers.

    This was agreed upon by all the mighty assembly, and for the first time in the history of Samarkand, peace and tranquility became the norm.

    Yet, here they were again, and for the third time in the history of the mighty realm of Samarkand; the Gods and Goddesses, demi-gods and dragon-kin were assembled.

    A voice; as melodious as a sigh of wind through the mighty trembling poplars of the northern kingdoms of Ghreal’ Brakk, and Yerkslaad, filled the vast amphitheatre.

“My children, it is good of you to come.” The exquisite Goddess, Her gown, flowed about her bare feet as She rose into the air. Various hues of twinkling light showered down from the rising Goddess, leaving a trail of flickering sparks in Her wake. Skie rose higher and higher into the immense cavern. When She was more than a thousand feet from the floor of the amphitheatre, her descent halted, and She turned to encompass the view of all those assembled.

    “My children”, She began again, “You understand that you are here at our request”, She announced, turning to regard the presence that was Her mate. Smiling, She turned back to regard Her children. How great was the assembled throng that was Her family! Several hundred, powerful beings and denizens stood quietly assembled before Her, awaiting the reason that had brought them together once more. Even being in close proximity to each other was difficult for many of the creatures and Entities gathered in the vast hall. Their existed powerful rivalries that had spanned millennia, and now, here they were for the third time, gathered together with a mutual understanding of respect for the two Elder Gods.

    “Please understand that it is not without hesitation that We have invited you to come, yet We have no choice”, the melodious voice continued. Skie’s visage ceased to smile as She slowly scanned the assembled pantheon. “We have come to understand that our world is in great peril!”, She explained. “For the first time in our history, however, it does not come from the influence of any of those gathered here! It is our understanding, that a certain faction of mortals has become aware of a potentially lethal weapon.” Skie turned to observe Her partner’s presence, as though communing with Her omnipotent mate. Nodding silently to Herself, She turned back to view Her audience. “We have sincere doubts about non-interference from some of you, particularity one of you. My Lord and I, cannot believe that these mere mortals have ascertained the existence, let alone the whereabouts of this particular weapon without some one’s help. Or guidance.... “, Her voice trailed off.

    Skie surveyed Her gathered children. The dragons would not help Her in their vanity, this She already knew. Many of the gathered demi-gods and their children would not be able to help, She mussed. Most of them were too preoccupied with squabbling for territory, or meagre possessions to be of any real assistance to this cause. No, this was a job for only a handful of Her precious children.

    She knew the answer before She even asked it. Smiling inwardly, yet pulling Her lips tightly in a purse She asked anyway; “Who will find the cause of this mortal threat, and the source of it’s existence, and eliminate both the threat and the source of power?”

    The immense theatre hummed with the sudden clamour of mighty voices. The intensity of emotions that lay dormant between the feuding rivals of the gathered assembly, spoke out instantly against the other, and vowing to destroy each other in the ensuing argument. The verbal assault continued for many minutes, with many of the quarrelling creatures becoming more and more heated. Many of the dragon-kin, as well as several of the pantheon simply departed the growing argument. Too weary to endure another eon of debate and posturing, they simply left Tenether. Soon, only a handful of the powerful beings dominated the cavern.

    Skie and Ao silently watched the growing animosity between the Gods of light and the Gods of darkness become heated; to the point where immortal weapons were being drawn, and mighty dweamors were being cast.

    “Enough!” The roar echoed throughout the capacious cavern. Silence fell over the few beings left. Everyone turned to regard the origin of the bellow. Zzorhn stood with His hands on the hilts of his huge swords at His side.

    “I will lead the investigation”, He proudly announced. “Dismiss the rest,” He glanced around at His brothers and sisters.

    “Bravely spoken, my Son”, Ao’s thunderclap of a voice resonated through he chamber. “Were that You might wish to have help?”

    The blond twin stepped forward, “I would be honoured to assist you, oh mighty brother”, Karyn exclaimed. Her gossamer gown, flowed as though water around her bare feet as she moved forward to rest Her delicate hand on Her brother’s massive shoulder.

    Zzorhn looked down at His little sister and saw the deep admiration of love that She possessed. Thinking inwardly that perhaps She might have used some of Her potent dweamors, He took a step away from Her reach. Smiling at His beautiful sibling, He announced, “I would be honoured as well to have you at my side, Lady Karyn”

    “Me too!”, a little voice squeaked. Zzorhn glanced over to His right shoulder to notice that Shamus had resumed His perch once again. Sighing, Zzorhn slowly lifted His hand up to remove the mischievous little God, only to find that Shamus had disappeared again.

    The booming voice of Ao resonated across the vast cavern, “It would appear that the decision is made then!!”

    Zzorhn sighed, and glanced down at Karyn. “Yes, I imagine it is.”

_________________________

     Joe queried, “Umm.. Anyone know where we left off?” He glanced up from his notes, to look at his friends. A vast array of papers, books, dice and figurines, littered the wooden table.

    “You had just given us all magic weapons with plus five bonuses to hit and to..”, Tyson started.

    “Nice try Tyson!”, Joe smiled back at him, “I might give you extra experience for an attempt though’”

    “Tyson grinned his infamous, impish smirk, “Hay, I had to try”, he admitted.

    “Hey Joe”, Lenin diverted the attention back to the table, “Do you think I could learn some new spells soon? I have been using the same ones over, and over, for the last three games now”

    Joe picked up the well-worn copy of the Player’s Handbook, and skipped almost to the end.  “Yeah, I have a couple of ideas for some new spells.  Can I give ‘em to you in the game?”

    Lenin quickly agreed, “Ok, I just would like something other than to be a walking healing spell.” He picked up his figurine sitting in front of him; each player prided themselves on the craftsmanship of painting and detailing their own character, including writing long-winded background stories, and even building props. The small, lead, Ranger figurine, had taken almost two hours to detail, and paint. Henin nodded in admiration.

    “What level are you?”,Joe asked.

    “Seven.”

    “Oh, well yea.. You should have a few more spells by now”, Joe chuckled, flipping through the spell book.

    “Probably the DM’s fault, eh?”, Lenin added, “We should fire the DM then”, he quipped jokingly.

    “Oh, anytime, dude.” Joe took a long sip of his beer, and looked at everyone, as he commented, “Yeah, I would like to play once in a while.”

    Jared quickly claimed, “I can make a fast game if you want to play tonight, Joe?”

    “Oh, that’s ok, I already have tonight’s game ready to go. Besides, I would like an opportunity to fine tune my newest character before I play it.”, he responded. Stopping on a particular page, he began to write down some ideas, as to how to introduce more druidic magic spells to his three Rangers.

    Tyson laughed, “Isn’t your new character a female?”

    Brandy looked up from her character sheets on the table, “Umm...Tyson, I happen to be playing a male character tonight”, she said.

    Tyson looked at Brandy with feigned shock and dismay, “Does this mean that I can’t flirt with your character then?”

    Brandy laughed and then quipped, “You can if you want to Tyson, but I didn’t think that Tiger Sunray was into men”

    Tyson quickly agreed with her, “Ya, I guess your right. I’ll just have to find me a good wench again, that is if you’ll lend me your wool sock for a condom!”, he giggled.

    “You would, Tyson”, Joe jokingly admitted.

    “I still can’t believe you actually did that last game”, Jared confessed.

    “Well they didn’t have real condoms back then”, Tyson claimed, somewhat amused. “I had to use a wool sock.”

    “No you twit, we meant the ugly half-orc you took to bed!”, Joe roared laughing. The entire table of friends burst into laughter.

    “Nobody here but us rations”, Tyson announced, citing a previous game’s amusing adage. In this particular game, the heroes were being doggedly pursued by a band of humanoids, only to take cover in a large oak tree. The ruse would have worked, had one of the player characters not failed their dexterity roll, and snapped off a large branch on the tree, alerting the hunting hobgoblins. In a fast acting motion, Tyson’s character intelligently whipped open his food supplies and tossed some dry rations to the forest floor, claiming, “Nobody here but us rations!” The ruse had not worked.

    “Hey Tyson”, Jared chimed in with another previous game’s cliché, “You see a fork in the road.....”

    “....I pick it up”, Tyson finished for him.

    Lenin joined in the fun, “Morning breaks....”

    “...I fix it”, giggled Tyson.

    “You come upon a door....”, started Brandy. The entire group around the table burst out as one, “...I WIPE IT OFF!!” Laughter immediately followed the announcement, and it took a few minutes for the laughter to subside.

    Brandy winked at her lover, “Come on sweetheart”. She picked up the elven sorceress from the small container of miniatures, and slid it in front of Joe. “I’ve seen you DM and play before at the same time”, she stated.

    Joe shuffled a few papers in front of him, and pulled out his new character with a flourish, “Alrighty then! I guess I’ll be bringing Ta’Anar along for the ride”, he happily announced. He readjusted the sheets of notes, and maps behind the Dungeon Master screen, and checked to see if he had all his dice. He sat back and looked around at his gathered friends. “Are we ready to play?”, Joe asked .

    Everyone around the table quickly quieted down, as the game began.
                    __________________________________________________________________

    ................”You have just received an invitation to Lord Sergey’s estate, last game, and have made your way to the Lord’s castle.........”, Joe began.

    “I believe that I will remain just outside the castle walls,” the stoical elven ranger proclaimed. The group of friends looked at each other, and the surrounding landscape. The blonde elf, who having just made this proclamation, lightly jumped off his impressively white mare, and took hold of his horse’s bridle. He walked slightly ahead of his ride, as he viewed the exquisite rolling hillside.
  
    Gardens and vineyards dotted the countryside as far as the eye could see, with roaming herds of tended animals lounging peacefully on the soft resounding hills.  Lord  Sergey’s castle, perched high on the tallest hilltop, was impressive for the work of humans. Over seven generations of nobles had lived in this valley, and each had contributed to the estate and the  surrounding townships in some manner. The castle itself was built directly into the bedrock, and the surrounding walls were built halfway up the hill, providing an extremely secure defence. No army could move a siege machine half-way up a small mountain, and then lay siege to the wall. The truth, however, was that the mountain was actually an abandoned Dwarf city, and that the original settlers discovered the ancient settlement; building their own designs over the remnants of an old civilization. Soon, there was very little evidence, that dwarves had even lived there at all, with the exception of the hidden caverns far below, that no one had even discovered. The rumours of a vast cavern of treasure, were a local folk lore, whispered to children as bedtime stories.

    Several smaller buildings dotted the landscape, most of them being farm houses, and the buildings necessary for storing animals and food. As the companions rode closer to the castle, they passed several plantations of oranges, apples, and other more exotic fruits. The red-orange, dusty, dirt path that wound through the kingdom, kicked up a fine haze of lingering grit from the passing horses hooves. Many of the people in the fields stopped their back-breaking work, as the party made it’s way past them, with some even going so far as to wave a friendly greeting.

    The six companions made their way up the rapidly narrowing stone road leading up to the castle. The closer they got to the surrounding outer walls, more and more defences became apparent, in the way of crenulations, arrow slits, cat-walks, and several large emplaced cannons. The latter being more for display than practical use, as the large weapons were expensive to use and maintain, and wholly inaccurate for the most part. These particular weapons belonging to the Sergey estate, were in fact operational, and while their accuracy was indeed lacking, their devastating power was unsurpassed by none. The few operational cannons situated on the outer walls of the castle were enough firepower to destroy any large attacking force.

    The portcullis, 2 feet of thick steel and spikes, was fully raised, and the guards relaxed, as the strange entourage wound its way up to the entrance to the estate grounds, and castle proper. Two guards walked out in front of the oncoming party of humans and elves, only to smile warmly.

    “Welcome to Lord Sergey’s manor”, the young guard snapped, as he briskly saluted.  “The Lord is expecting you.”

    The nimble elf, Krylon, vaulted off his horse, to land in front of the two guards, “Thank you, my friend!  Please provide for our horses”, he demanded.

    “Absolutely, mi’Lord!  But, weren’t there supposed to be seven of you?”, the guard asked.

    The weapon master slid from his mount, and remarked, “Oh, that’s just because Tyson doesn’t like walls and castles....”

    “Who?”, started the guard.  “Who is this Tyson?”

    “I meant, Tingerathlas“, snorted the annoyed elf.  He placed his hands easily on his twin swords, belted at his side.  “You know what I meant!”

    A booming voice from the heavens, shook the entire planet, “Yes.  I know what you meant.  Stay in character, please!”

    The young guard asked again, “Where is the seventh member of your party?”

    The cloaked figure, riding atop a white winged horse, clapped her hands together twice.  The magnificent animal, tucked its wings tightly against its snowy white body, while kneeling down. The lithe rider, landed softly on the pebble courtyard.  Whispering arcane words, the elven sorceress pointed at the Pegasus. The animal began to shrink, until it became small enough to fit into the palm of her hand.  Deftly, she plucked it from the ground and turned towards the waiting guards. “He is waiting for us, on the outskirts of your walls.  He has a fear of confinement, I’m afraid”, she explained.  “I wouldn’t worry about him.  He’ll be there, waiting for us, when it’s time to depart”, she continued.

    “Very well”, the young lieutenant replied.  “Please leave your horses in the stables, and follow me”

    The two guards, whipped around, and marched into the inner courtyard, making their way past rows of gardens and a variety of stone statues.

    The band of six adventurers gathered up their belongings, and handed over the reins of their horses, to a small group of eager young boys.

    As they turned to follow the young officer into the courtyard; the tall, skinny, human pulled out a pouch of coins from a hidden pocket in his tunic.  He flipped a coin expertly, into the outstretched hands of the waif of a boy, taking the reins to his horse.

    A shorter, red-headed man craned his head to watch the exchange of money.  He laughed, “You don’t need to tip the help, Talon.  They will be paid well, for this visit.”

    “Just because you’re cheap, doesn’t mean, that I have to be, Freddy”, he teased.

    “It’s ‘Fingers’, thank you, not Freddy”

    “Whatever”, Talon shrugged, “You still won’t play cards with me”.

    “So I have to lose my hard-earned cash to you, to earn your respect?”, Fingers asked.

    Talon laughed, “You could save me time, and just hand over your money right now, but yea!  You never know who someone is, until you play a game of cards with them!”

    The elven weapon master slid an elegant blade from his scabbard, and mockingly pointed it at the tall human.  He squinted, staring down the magical weapon‘s blade, “I always thought it was; in battle do you learn the character of someone”, he queried.
                          
    “Combat, cards, doesn’t matter”, explained Talon.  He waved his hand indifferently.  “Through struggle and contest, are a person judged.”, he continued.

    The elven sorceress, calmly walked up to the group, “Could this conversation happen at another time?”, she asked.  “Our guides are leaving us behind“, she declared, pointing.

    The group of adventurers followed the guards into the inner courtyard.  As they walked inside; it was easy to see, how well fortified the castle was against invaders; once the soldiers had dropped the heavy, metal and reinforced oak, double doors, nothing short of a dragon could break through the magically enhanced barrier!

    “What are we doing here?”, asked Lexx.  The young blonde fighter, craned his neck upwards to stare at the towering castle built into the granite mountain.

    “We have been summoned”, the elven sorceress replied.  “For what, I do not know, yet”.  She too, looked upward at the soaring heights of the stonework.

    “Is that the handiwork of humans?’, asked Talon.  He looked around, unimpressed by the magnitude of the fortified estate.  “I didn’t think they could build stuff like this”

    “It’s not”, replied the mage.  “Dwarves built this.  No one, knows why it was abandoned so many years ago.”

    “So they just took over it?”, asked the young fighter.  Lexx looked around, as if expecting dwarves to suddenly spring out of the various shadows.  “What if they want it back?”

    The elven mage threw her head back, and laughed.  “That was a very long time ago, Lexx”, she explained.  She giggled again.

    The short, red-head turned to look at mage.  “You are sure in a good mood today, Ta’Anar!”  What are you laughing about anyway?, he queried.

    “Oh!  Just thinking.” she giggled.  “Could you see the look on the human’s faces, when the dwarven tribe comes back, from an extended foray; only to discover someone has moved in, while they were away.?!”

    Talon grinned, “Honey, I’m home!!”                      

    Ta’Anar giggled again.  “All sorts of carnage, I imagine....”
______________________

    “If I get one more person, snapping me a salute, I’ll go crazy”, declared Talon. He glanced around at his companions. They were all lounging in a small chamber, waiting to be summoned.

    “I’ve never seen so many soft pillows in all my life”, declared Krylon.  He glanced around uneasily.

    “Let me guess, Krylon”, purred Ta’Anar , “Is the ranger feeling a bit claustrophobic?”

    “We should have left him with Tigger”, joked Talon.

    “It’s TIGER!”  The disembodied voice shattered the reality.....

____________________________

    “Tyson, you can’t say anything right now!”, Joe explained.  “Your character is not in the room.”

    Tyson reached for the bowl of chips.  “I’m bored”, he stated, “and the name isn’t Tigger” He shoved a handful of chips in his mouth and grabbed a second handful. He sat back in his chair, obvious to the fact that everyone was staring at him; happily munching to his heart’s content.

    “We know that”, explained Dan, chuckling at Tyson.  “Like Joe said, though, you’re not in the game at that point.  You chose to remain behind.”, he explained.

    Brandy stood up, and walked over to the fridge.  “Anyone want a beer?”, she asked. The entire table of friends instantly exploded with requests for another beverage.

    “I’ll get a round”, she announced with a laugh, as she reached into the fridge.  Nimbly grabbing several glass bottles of beer with one hand, she started to close the door.  Suddenly, the whole rack of glass bottles exploded out of the refrigerator!  Nearly dropping the bottles in her hands, Brandy stumbled backwards into the table of men.

    “What did you do?”, demanded Joe.  He groaned, as he looked over at the pile of broken bottles and oozing golden liquid spilling from the, now-open, fridge.

    “I didn’t do anything!”, snapped Brandy.  She turned around and slammed the handful of beverages on the table.

    “Easy with those, please”, groaned Tyson.  “What?!", he sheepishly admitted.  “It’s alcohol abuse”.

    Everyone turned to watch Brandy storm out of the kitchen.  Joe walked over to the mess, and shook his head.  “Looks like the rack broke through the plastic”, he announced.

    Jace peered over his shoulder.  “It looks burned”, he counselled.  “See?”, he pointed.

    Joe stared at the slight scorch marks beside the melted fragments.  He took his finger and flicked at some of the melted plastic. “Umm, anyone know what might cause that?”, he asked.

    “I dunno, Joe”, Jace admitted, placing his hand on, the seriously upset Dungeon Master.  “ You need to relax!”

    “What?! Relax?”

    Jace bent over, and picked up a few of the bottles that had survived the accident.  “Here”, he started, “I’ll clean up the good ones, you just clean up the glass”.

    “Ok.  Thanks, eh?”. Joe walked over to the closet, and returned with a broom and dust pan.  He began to clean up the glass and flat beer, gingerly taking caution, to avoid spilling either.

    “Oh!”  Jace grinned at he hunched figure of his mumbling friend.  “You might want to go and apologize to Brandy!”

_________________________

    He watched the scene unfold.

    “How silly are these creatures!”, he thought.  “I see no reason why I am subject to watching them”, he mussed quietly. “Surely, someone, of less import”, the tiny dragon complained.  “But NOOooo!  Send ol’ Vargas!”

    The 3 inch dragon, coiled its tail around the vase.  The shimmer of green scales, blended into the leaves of the plant.  It hissed in annoyance.
__________________________

    “Did you hear that?”, asked Dan.  He cocked his head towards the living room. Frowning, he rose from his chair and starting walking towards the other room.

    Tyson looked up from the table.  “What?  Hear what?” He picked up a couple of dice, and rolled them across the table.  “I like my new D Twenty”, he announced.  “Keeps rolling high”.  He picked the sparkled twenty sided die.

    “It sounded like a hiss.  Joe, do you have anything in your house that hisses?”, yelled Dan from the doorway to the living room.

    “Like a snake?”, joked Jace. He poked Tyson in the ribs.

    “It’s bugs he doesn’t like”, Joe chided.  “What’s your deal with snakes, Tyson?

    “Shut up guys!”, Tyson, groaned.  Although, he was used to their jovial teasing, sometimes, his good friends could go too far in their antics.  He really just wanted to play some Dungeons and Dragons, and didn’t want to have to be involved in the drama; not tonight.

__________________________

    “YOU NEARLY GOT CAUGHT!”

    The sheer magnitude of the assault from such a powerful telepathic message, shook the baby dragon to the core.  He began to whimper in fear and pain.

    “I’m, I’m sorry, Mi’Lord!”, he stammered.  “It won’t happen again”, he promised, staring into the flicker flames of the eyes, floating in front of him.  “I’m just learning..”, he started.

    “WHAT WERE YOU DOING, WHEN YOU NEARLY WERE SEEN?!”, demanded the disembodied eyes. They peered closer at the young green dragon.

    Visibly upset, and trembling, the tiny winged lizard, whimpered. “I’m sorry, Mi’ mi’Lord”, he stammered.  “I was hungry. And, and, the food place was nice and cool. Many drinks too.”

    The flaming eyes narrowed.

    “When I tried to transmute out of the metal box, it sparked, and bursted into fire, and all the drinkses fell on the floor, and I managed to escape without notice!”, he squeaked, all in one breath. “I’m sorries, mi’Lord.”, he whimpered.

    The flaming, disembodied eyes relaxed. “It is fine my pet”, the telepathic voice purred.  “I will send you a portal home.”

    A swirling vortex of white-blue energy, appeared beside the dragon.  The baby glanced nervously at the swirling mass of crackling energy, and looked away.  He wouldn’t admit that the teleport spell frightened him.  He had to be brave. He flapped his wings, and in a twinkle of flashing green scales, and blinding blue light; both he and the vortex, disappeared.
_______________________

    Suddenly, everyone turned their heads, as a long hiss, followed by a loud popping sound, echoed from the living room.  Dan jumped back with a loud, “Whoa!”. He instantly raised his hands, with his eyes open wide. “I didn’t do it”, he stated, backing up a step. “But, it did come from the living room”, he pointed.

    “What’s that smell?”, asked Lenin.  “It smells like sulphur”, he remarked, sniffing.  “Joe, do you have anything that should smell like that?”

    The whole group walked into the small living room, and started to look around for the cause of the disturbance, as Joe went to go find his distraught girlfriend.
_______________________

    Talon was bored.  Sitting in the tiny chamber, waiting to be summoned, was tortuous!  He sighed heavily, as he nimbly shuffled a well-worn deck of playing cards. He looked around the room slowly, as he, without even looking at his fingers, continued to shuffle the cards. Everyone else was bored too it seemed.  Krylon was engaged in a serious discussion on the benefits of fighting styles, with the elven weapon master, Xxyai’lan.  The female magic user was poring over her spell book, and ignoring everyone in the room. Lexx and Fingers were playing chess. He sighed, again.

    He smiled slightly, when he noticed a tiny little grey mouse, cough, underneath the velvet chair that Lexx was sitting on.  The human didn’t even hear the tiny squeak, but the sharp ears of Talon could! He could even hear Ta’Anar breathing, while she lounged in a mountain of pillows, reading her worn leather tome! He suppressed the urge to smile again, when the little grey bundle of fur, streaked across the room.  He didn’t want to let anyone else know, that they had a new visitor; for this was no ordinary mouse!  Talon knew, who, the mouse really was.

    “Checkmate!!”

    Everyone in the room jumped at the sudden outburst.  Fingers looked around sheepishly, “I’m sorry”, he admitted.  “I just got really excited!  I thought you would have noticed that move, and your counter would have crippled my game. The risk worked!”  He whooped again.

    Lexx sat back in his chair.  “Good game”, he announced.  “Care for another?”

    “In a bit”, Fingers looked around the room, “How much longer are we going to be locked up in here?”, he asked to no one in particular.

    “Not sure, Fingers”, replied Talon.

    Ta’Anar’s voice floated softly across the room, “Why are we being made to wait, anyway?”

    Talon grinned at the elven magic user, curled up on a pile of pillows, and teased, “What’s wrong, Ta’Anar?  Don’t like being made to wait?” He absently shuffled his favourite deck of playing cards, as Ta’Anar shot a dirty look at Talon. She knew he was merely teasing her, but the annoyance of being confined to a small room, even if it was luxurious; was beginning to get tedious!

    She raised her hand, cocked her eyebrow inquisitively, and fire licked across her fingertips, dancing from finger to finger. Ta’Anar closed her hand and in a small puff of smoke, the fire was extinguished. She pointed at Talon, “Come on little wolf”, she teased, “Let’s see if you can bite”.

    Talon mockingly snarled, and gnashed out with his teeth, biting down hard with a snap. He winked at the mage, “Anytime chickypoo”. He beat his chest in challenge, and chuckled, “Let’s go bitch!”. He nodded his head in defiance, as he squinted and laughed, “I’m watching you”, he whispered loudly, pointing at his eyes and back again at the elven mage. He mouthed silently with a grin, “I’m. Watching. You”.

    Fingers, stiffened quickly.  “Someone’s coming”, he declared. Seconds later, the door opened. The familiar face of the young guard, that had greeted them at the front gate, peered through the open, oak doorway.  “Mi’Lordship will see you now.  Please come with me” He briskly turned, and stepped into the hallway, beckoning with his hand, to the group to follow.

    “Oh!  So now, we are supposed to hurry up and move, after being cooped up in this teeny,.. “ started Talon, his voice trailing off, as the long white-haired, elven weapon-master snapped his blades into their scabbards.  “Never mind”, he conceded. Xxyai’lan, his hands on his two blades hanging from his hip, shot a wink at Talon, and smiled as he strode out of the room.

    “Are we leaving now?” Ta’Anar’s tone was half mocking, half joking.  She rose from her pile of cushions, and stretched.  “I was almost ready to doze off pretty soon.”, she remarked.  She closed the leather tome, and briefly flickered her eyes, muttering softly to herself.  The tome quietly flashed a pink hue, and Ta’Anar nodded in silent agreement; no one, but her, could open the spell-bound magic book!  She rose, gathered her cloak about her shoulders, and floated towards the young human waiting for them at the door.

    She never noticed the small mouse, quietly slipping into her cowl, as she wrapped it around her neck. As she walked past the guard, Ta’Anar smiled slightly, as she thought about the age of the young human, “I wonder what that little guy would do, if a woman ten times his age, was to find him desirable”, she quietly mused.

    The guard, if by some weird reason, blushed slightly, as the attractive elven woman walked past him.  The light smell of her perfume, reminded him of a field of wildflowers on a hot summer day, with a hint of musk.  Shaking his head slightly, he cleared his throat, and asked, “Mi’Lord was wondering, if you would wish to have a formal introduction, for the meeting” He found himself lowering his gaze as he realized he was staring at the elf. Quickly, he snapped his head upright with dignity, and hopefully spared himself the embarrassment of being caught; undressing the magic user with his eyes.  He stammered, “Uumm..or would you just prefer to be introduced as a group?”

    Ta’Anar stopped in front of the young man.  She cocked her head to the left, and inquired; “What do you mean, formally introduced?”

    The guard quickly cleared his throat, suddenly feeling dry.  He swallowed hard, and tried to subdue his hormones, as Ta’Anar stepped closer.  He couldn’t believe how intoxicating the smell of her perfume was, and how delicate her steps were.  She was nothing like the human women, he had seen growing up, in the small village close to the castle! He realized he was staring again.

    “What do you mean,” repeated Ta’Anar softly, “Formally introduced?” She put her hands on her hips, and smiled slightly, as she realized the battle of emotions being waged in the human.

    “So like, little boys, compared to elven males”, she gestured to the elven weapon-master, her brother. The art of silent communication, was an elven secret. The subtle sign language, was a series of finger and hand movements, eye contact and body language.

    Xxyai’lan gestured back, “Quit flirting with him! What does he want?”

    “Formal introduction, or group introduction?”

    Xxyai’lan smiled, as he silently, told his sister, “I’m half interested how these humans conduct a formal ceremony”

    “Formal then?”  Ta’Anar smiled at her brothers personal disdain for formality.  While she was raised in the Royal courts, and various school of magic; her brother had the pleasure of attending the elven military academy!  Formality, was not a necessary requirement for graduating from the intense training facilities in the elven kingdom!

    She turned to the guard, and smiled sweetly.  “Formal it is, thank you.” , she remarked with a curtsy, and began walking down the hallway again.

    The little gray mouse jumped. Hitting the stone floor, it squeaked, and darted for the corner. Seconds later, the young elven ranger stepped out of the shadows. Walking quickly, he caught up to his friends.

    “Nice of you to join us”, remarked Ta’Anar.

    Talon smiled, “I knew he was coming”. He shot a knowing wink at Tingerathlas.

    “I just wanted to find out what we are doing here”, explained the elf. “Where are we going?”

    The young guard leading them down the castle corridor, stopped and turned, “At the end of the hall is the main chambers of His Lordship. All of your questions will be answered there.” He turned around and started walking again.

    From around the corner, in a bluster of white robes, a short, heavyset, shaven man burst into the hall. He stopped quickly, and seemed to be having a hard time catching his breath. He pulled out a white handkerchief, and began to vigorously mop his sweating head. “Good gracious me.”, he puffed. “Let me catch my breath for one moment, will you?”

    The two guards at the lead, stopped and regarded the panting white robed man with some disdain. “That’s Kane, the castle eunuch.”, explained the guard. He raised an eyebrow, and whispered, “While many see his servitude as a slavery, many claim he is more a puppeteer, that control the strings on the throne.” He stepped back, and started walking towards the eunuch.

    “What’s a you nick”, queried Tingerathlas.

    Lexx stopped and laughed, “It’s pronounced eunuch, Tiger”. He laughed again, “It means he had his nickers nipped”. The tall fighter took his hands off his swords hilt, and made a scissor motion with his gloves hand. “Snip”. He grinned.

    Tingerathlas began to turn pale. He whispered, “Why would anyone want to do that?”,. He covered his hand over his groin, his eyes wide open in fear.

    “Because”, the whiny, nasally voice, startled everyone, “It helps to focus the mind.” The whisper of his white robes, as he strode quickly forward, were the only sound the rotund man made, as everyone suddenly realized, he had heard even the elf whisper. “It’s perfectly fine”, he puffed, as he came to a stop in front of the group. His face was flushed bright red, and sweat dripped in rivulets over his head. He raised an eyebrow, “I am The Right Hand to His Lordship, and Master of Secrets. You may call me Kane.” The rotund man bowed graciously, flourishing his right hand, and cocking his head. He stood tall and announced, “I will be formally introducing you to Lord Sergey”.

    Krylon placed his hands on the hilts of his gleaming, twin blades, hanging from his hip, and asked, “How does that work? I’ve never met you before…” His voice trailed off as Kane raised a pudgy hand to silence the ranger.

    “I know everything about you, dear elf”, he mused. He rocked back on his heels and smiled smugly, folding his arms across his chest.

    “But. How? I mean, how’s that possible?”, Krylon asked, his face was a mask of disapproval, however, the corner of his mouth tugged slightly, as he tried hard to suppress a smile. He thought to himself, “Of course, the castle advisor would have information on each of us. He probably sent the invitation himself!”

    Xxyai’Lan grinned wryly, and quickly flashed a silent message to his sister, “What could this fat human know?”

    Ta’Anar shot her brother a dirty look. Her fingers were a blur as she snapped, “Don’t be an idiot! This firya, (human) is paid well for the services it offers.” She raised her left eyebrow slightly. This slight gesture to others, was the elven equivalent of placing their hands on their hips as a sign of dominance, “He IS soft, though”. She lowered her hands slowly, to indicate the conversation over, and smiled slightly as she dropped her gaze towards the floor; she had just told her brother to drop the subject, now! Xxai’Lan sighed, realizing his older sister had just silently sent a slap across the face. He flickered his eyes down and up, as a sign off resignation; a silent bow.

    Kane chuckled, and then coughed from the exertion and heat. “Sorry”. Kane cleared his throat, and explained, “It’s the humidity. Makes me desire shade”. He chuckled again, “And the company of the fairer sex”.

    “What’s so funny?”, asked Krylon. He casually placed his hands on his weapons at his side. The tell-tale ease at how his fingers found the hilts of his swords, indicated the years of training and practice, the Wood elf had experienced. Unaccustomed to large cities, like his companions, the brother and sister High elves from the House Maquesti, his family were woodsman; elves of the forest. Use of weapons were an everyday occurrence.  Both races of elves were skilled weapon masters, however, the formal training of the High elves, or “White Elves”, would be hard pressed to match the prowess of the “Forest Elves“ or “Wood Elf“. To other races of Samarkand, it was difficult to distinguish the two kinds of elves; to the elves, however, it was quite different - While co-operation does occasionally occur, they are few and far between. These occasions are limited, and often ending in disaster; the main cause being the age-old feud that fuelled two Great Elven Wars. Krylon had been friends with both Xxia’Lon and Ta’Anar for decades.

    “Oh”, chuckled Kane. “I was thinking to myself that you really couldn’t be assuming to walk into the Throne room with those lovely knives of yours”.

    “Swords”, corrected Krylon.

    “I don’t care”. Kane waved a handkerchief hand at Krylon as if to dismiss the elf. “They cut things”. The King’s advisor rolled his head back and forth as he looked at the well armed group of spell casters and warriors. “This really won’t do”, he clucked. Turning to the young guard that was leading the procession through the castle hall, he snapped, “Were you really going to admit them to see His Lordship, while carrying their weapons?”. He chided, “I expected better from you, Marcus!”  Shaking his head in disapproval, he advised, “The door to the left, is a small barracks. Marcus will show you…”, his voice trailed off, realizing the young guard was not paying attention at all; instead he was fixated on the elven woman, and he was grinning foolishly..

    Kane cleared his throat, “Ah-Hem…….Marcus?” He raised an eyebrow, as he become visibly concerned. “Marcus? You OK?”, he whispered.

    “Oh, crap!”, proclaimed Ta’Anar. The elven mage rolled her eyes, as she looked down at the pendant that hung on a fine gold chain. Somehow, the enchanted dweamor had managed to fall out from her robes, and was quietly emitting it’s powerful incantation. The young human male, standing helplessly beside her, was gazing at her, absolutely love struck. He couldn’t see the broach, for he lacked training in the various school of divining arts, which rendered the amulet invisible to all but the user, however, the effect was clear; he was now under the complete control of Ta’Anar. The dweamor causes the target to fall helplessly, hopelessly, in love with the user. It had many benefits.

    Ta’Anar tucked the amulet back into her robes, and muttered, “Quad amor fiat” There was a sudden, cascading tinkling sound. Marcus stepped backwards a bit, and shook his head, and blinked hard, several times. He looked around, as though he had just walked out of a fog. “Whoa. I’m sorry guys”. He pulled off his glove, and placed his hand on his forehead, “I’m feeling kinda dizzy.” He shook his head again, and blinked hard. “Need to sit down. Where is….” His legs turned to rubber, and he reached out blankly, as though trying to find anything to catch his fall. “Whoa! ….Uumm.” The young guard wobbled back and forth, his eyes rolling back into his head.

    “He’s gonna faint”, chirped Fingers.

    Lexx looked around, “Somebody catch him!”

    THUD! The young guard’s helmet bounced off the stone, as Marcus, dressed in full plate armour, clattered to the floor. His eyes were half open, and he lay on the stone hallway, twitching involuntarily. He began to drool.

    “Good Heavens!”, exclaimed the white robed castle administrator. He stepped back slightly and waved his right hand in front of his face, as though to ward off evil. “What happened to Marcus?”, he asked, his eyes growing wide, and his hand covering his mouth in shock. Turning to the elven mage he snapped, “Did you do THAT?”, pointing at the comatose guard, snoring at his feet.

    “Umm, yes, I did”, admitted Ta’Anar sheepishly. She shrugged, “I didn’t meant to. You see, I forgot that I was wearing this amulet”. She started to reach for the gold chain around her neck.

    “Stop!”, ordered the pudgy eunuch. His face had become even more flushed, and he was breathing heavily again. He raised both his hands in surrender, “Please don’t use your magic on me Miss!” He began to sweat profusely, again.

    Xxia’Lon stepped forward, trying to defuse the situation. “Just calm down. My sister didn’t meant to use her love amulet. Your friend will be fine in a moment, although, he may have a splitting headache when he wakes”. He looked directly at the cowering man in white robes, and tried hard to hold back his disdain, “You’re ok. Stop shaking.”

    Krylon placed his hand on the frightened man’s shoulder, and calmly asked, “It would appear that we should change into something more suitable, and less threatening, before we talk to Lord Sergey.” He nodded assuredly, and watched the bald eunuch relax. “That’s better. Breathe.”

    Kane sighed nervously, “OK.” He sniffed, and mopped his head with his flowing sleeve, “I’m OK.” He looked around at everyone, “Let’s go get changed shall we”, he flourished, in a blur of white, as he turned towards the oaken door. “After all, we are attending a party in your honour”, Kane smiled. He opened the heavy, reinforced door, leading to a room filled with bunk beds, and smelling of old leather. He gestured for them to enter, and acknowledged, “It’s not the cleanest room in the castle, but it will serve our needs well enough.”. He reached over to a golden, silk rope beside the door, and tugged on it slightly.

    A beautiful, young woman entered the room, and bowed low to Kane. “What can I help you with, Sir?” Her flowing gown, was gossamer pink, and sparkled when she moved.

    Kane announced, “This is Mistress Jhoheeda”. He waved his hand pompously, and explained, “She will help you with any arrangements you may need”. He turned towards the door, and stopped, his hand grasping the door frame. “I will be back in half an hour, to formally introduce you to His Lordship”, he announced with bored indifference. He smiled, “OH! I nearly forgot”. Kane turned and looked directly at the elven siblings, and winked, as he nimbly gestured in High Elven, “I was taught how to use the elven silent language at an early age”. He paused, and stood tall as he spoke aloud, “And, I’m not fat!” Kane placed his hands on his hips, and conceded, with a grin, “I’m jolly”.

    Suddenly, a low rumble permeated the castle. The room began to shake, as the rumble became louder, and louder. The stained-glass window exploded, sending shards of broken glass flying across the room. A blood-curdling scream erupted from Kane’s lips, as the ceiling above him came crashing down on his head. Faster than anyone could react, the whole castle crumbled, from the onslaught of the violent throes of the quake. Seconds later, the whole Universe imploded, into nothingness.

___________________________________

    “AAAARRRGHHHH!”, screamed Tyson as he jumped up from the table, knocking over drinks, and tripping over his chair. Dice rained on the floor, scattering all over the kitchen; some of the errant dice even managed to roll neatly under the fridge, and stove. Everyone grabbed frantically at their character sheets and books, as the spilled beer gushed over the table. The Dungeon Master Screen fluttered to the floor, and beer began to soak through the cardboard cut-out. Tyson’s hands grasped at his shirt frantically.

    “Get it out! Get it out!”, Tyson pawed at his faded T-shirt. His eyes were wide, as he backed into the wall behind him. He yelled, “Son Of A Bitch!!”, as he pulled his shirt out of his pants, and shook his vigorously.

    Jared sat back in his chair as his eyes went wide. Throwing his hands up in the air, he emphatically asked, “What are you DOING?!”

    Brandy moved towards Tyson cautiously, her hands held out, for reassurance, “Tyson, it’s ok. What’s wrong?”

    “There’s a fucking hornet in my shirt!!”, Tyson yelled. “Please guys”, he implored, with tears rolling down his cheeks, “Help me”. He nervously peered into his shirt, and whispered, “Help me.” A sudden crack was heard, as the cheap plaster wall behind him caved in, from the weight and struggles of Tyson panicking. He sunk into the wall, showering plaster and dust, as he shook his shirt in desperation.

    A squished, very dead fly tumbled from Tyson’s shirt. For a brief moment, not a sound was heard, and then the room exploded into laughter.

    “A FLY?!, roared Jared.

    Lenin just shook his head in disbelief, “What the hell, Tyson?”

    Tyson stood there, breathing hard, his back still embedded in the wall. “That’s not funny guys!, he quipped. He struggled to free himself from the plaster wall, to no avail. He pleaded, “Help me, please?”

    Lenin set his books down on the counter, and walked over to Tyson, “Here buddy”, he calmly said as he reached out a helping hand. Tyson sighed in relief, took the outstretched hand, and was immediately freed from the wall. Plaster showered to the floor and covered Tyson’s back. He started to wipe himself off, but was stopped by Lenin. “I got ya buddy. You OK now?”, He turned his friend around and began to whisk the dust and plaster that covered Tyson.

    “Joe, get a broom”, demanded Brandy. She started to pick up broken glass. “Can someone get the garbage can.”

    Jace took a step towards Tyson, and confessed, “It’s alright dude”. He lightly slapped his distraught friend in the face, “That’s for spilling my beer”.

    Lenin chuckled, “Easy Jace. Yea, he’s right Tyson, It’s ok”. Turning to the group he announced, “Guys, lets get this mess cleaned up, eh?”

    Everyone quickly agreed, and jumped to work. The broken glass was swept up, and the spilled beer was quickly towelled; even against  the pleading of Brandy, not to use the good towels. The table and chairs were replaced, and the dice were found. Soon, the group of friends were sitting back down.

    “A hornet?”, asked Dan.

    “Yea Tyson, that was a fly”, chided Jace, grinning. “You OK there little fella?”

    “Shut up guys”, Tyson groaned. “I watched some bug fly up and hit the light bulb, and it fell straight down into my shirt”, he confessed. “I honestly thought it was a hornet”.

    “Why?”, giggled Brandy. “Did it bite you?”, she teased. Everyone around the table laughed.

    “Knock it off guys”, Tyson sighed as he picked up his dice, and began to errantly roll a couple.

    Joe looked around the table, “You guys ready?”. He waved his hand over the table, “As you can see we are minus a DM screen. So no peeking when I do dice rolls”.

    Dan teasingly bellowed, “TYSON!”. He chuckled, “It’s all your fault”.

    “I’m sorry”, Tyson admitted. “Can we just play?”

    Joe nodded, and took a deep breath, “OK”. He paused, waiting to make sure he had everyone’s attention. “Dungeon Master zooop. You are now back at the castle of Lord Sergey, and are standing in his throne room.” He waited for anyone to interrupt, but seeing none, continued, “Kane has just brought you before the throne, and the King. The room is immense, with large stained glass windows.”

    Dan asked, “What kind of pictures do the windows have?” He took a hard pull on his beer, and burped loudly.

    Joe smirked and quipped, “Kane turns to you, and says, excuse me? He whispers, that’s very rude Mr. Carde”.

    Dan rolled his eyes, and moaned, “Aww, come on. I didn’t burp in the game”

    Joe waggled his head smugly, “What you say, happens in the game, you know that”.

    “OH! GUYS!”, Lenin barked. “I just want to play, please? I have to go soon”. He sighed in exasperation, as he glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall.

    “Ok. Ok. Let’s do this guys”, Joe quickly replied. “There isn’t much left in the game anyways for tonight.” He confided, “Twenty minutes, tops”. He leaned over the table, and grasped both sides of the table. “Listen carefully, the next game is on Friday night at 8 O’clock.”, he directed. Leaning back a bit, he added, “We are going to be doing some real role playing, and not only is dressing up encouraged”, he paused, “I will be awarding a thousand experience points PER item you bring that….”.

    Dan exploded out of his chair in excitement, “What does that mean?”, he asked, pounding the flimsy wooden table. Realizing he had nearly knocked over everything in his exuberance, he lifted his hands in half-hearted surrender, and apologized, “Sorry! Sorry, I didn’t mean to…” Dan lost his train of thought and turned towards Joe and burst out loudly, “I wear a leather belt and a knife, does that count as two items?”.

    Jace joined in, mockingly, “Yea. If I wear a cardboard box over my head, does that count as a helmet?” He grinned widely, then lifted his drink to emphasize his point, “Am I right?”. A few of the others answered Jace’s deliberate, rebellious attitude, by chiming in; thumping the table with the brown glass beer bottles, and all speaking at once as to ideas, approval, and disgruntled logic about gaming without dice.

    Joe visibly winced. He had been trying to break from the normal styles of role playing, and was trying hard to encourage his Dungeon and Dragon friends to accept other methods of gaming. Not to mention, half of the group was already drunk! Joe sighed heavily, realizing he had to bring order to this restless mob of inebriated cohorts. Mustering himself, from years of experience, he smiled, stood up from his chair, and raised his voice above everyone else, announcing, “You see a dragon!”

    The room fell silent as a tomb, as Joe grinned and looked around at the stunned, and tentatively waiting group of players.  He raised both eyebrows, and genuinely asked, “You guys done fucking around?” He raised both hands to emphasize his exasperation and then shrugged. “Can we just play some D&D?”

    Instant approval swept around the table. Lenin piped up, “I know we’re just getting to a good part Joe, but, it’s been four hours now”.

    Jared voiced, “Uhhh! We COULD have had more done, if our fridge hadn’t exploded, and Tyson wasn’t fighting with flies”. He grinned openly, mocking Tyson, but glanced back towards the fridge. He quickly thought, “How did that plastic melt in there?”

    Lenin just groaned, “Guys! You’re killing me! Can we just play?” He sat back in his chair, and sighed.

    “So”, started Dan, “What colour is this dragon?”, he asked. He leaned forward on the table, looking directly at the dungeon master.

    “There is no dragon”.

    “What?”, Dan shook his head. “But, you just said there was a dragon!”

    Joe took a deep breath, and sighed again. “There was NO dragon!” He dramatically paused, then added, “I was only trying to get everyone’s attention”.

    Brandy raised her hand up, and stared emphatically at her lover, “Quick question, hun”, she blurted.

    Joe looked across the table at Brandy and queried, “What’s that sweetheart?”

    “Can we play?”

    “Yes dear”. Joe sighed.

    “Lenin has to go soon”, she chided.

    Joe cleared his throat and waited quietly for everyone to stop talking. Immediately, the group of friends fell silent, waiting.

______________________________


    “MY LORD”, declared Kane in a pompously, loud voice, “MAY I INTRODUCE YOU…”

    A blast of trumpets sounded in chorus, that echoed off the vaulted chambers of the throne room, interrupting the white robed caste administrator. The group of friends stared in awe at the magnitude of the room; built into the mountain, the original designers, the dwarves, knew that by making the King’s room as large as they did, it would supply them with strategically placed, building material - it is easier to lower the giant stones that were used to enhance the natural features of the mountain creating the mighty fortress, than lifting them. Dwarves also knew that using the same stone, would work as camouflage, and after they fit two of their precise-cut, building stones together, the walls easily blended into the mountain. From the point of an observer, the fortress was actually five times bigger than it looked. Only a handful knew of the labyrinth that lay beneath the castle, and the entrance to the unknown bowels had been sealed for decades.

    The walls were crafted granite, built from the natural rock of the mountain. The floor, however, was imported white marble. The two massive arched windows were made of clear glass, and accentuated by small prisms, that brightly lit the room, and reflected the natural sparkle of the stone. The rainbow of light created by the strategically placed glass prisms, danced around the room.

    The whole room had a wide, soft, red carpet that lead from the double arched doors, to the vaulted throne at the end of the throne room. The fourteen stairs that lead up to the raised throne, were made of the same white marble as the rest of the floor. The throne itself, was huge, and appeared to be intricately carved gold, with hundreds of different colour, precious stones. A massive tapestry depicting the Royal Crest, hung from the wall, behind the throne.  Seated on the throne, dressed in red velvet that trailed halfway down the stairs, was Lord Sergey; an older man, with pale skin and white hair, he looked bored with the ceremony.

    The six trumpet players standing to the side of the court, blasted the final note of their harmonized fanfare. Kane cleared his throat, and beckoned at the first of the heroes to approach the massive throne. “Come on”, he whispered to the group of adventurers,
..............TO BE CONTINUED.

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