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Nights Shadow

In The Land Of Elandalor
Along The Tamaland Isle

Nights Shadow

“Torien dn’ya” Nights Shadows

From the Chronicles of Chaydion Pain

Chapter One: A Nights Sleepless Spent”

“All can learn to recognize evil, few are born to recognize it, to feels its presence. Those that fail to perceive it oft fall into evils grasp, though they profess their actions are for the good of all. Watch for this evil above the others as it is not easy to perceive, but entraps the easiest” Azur the Mage.

“How many nights has it been?” he wondered to himself.

Coran knelt on his tobbed rug and lifted his eyes to the heavens. The stars shown like diamonds as they lay in a deep purple cloth. Not a cloud marred the view and the moon feared to shows its light. Only the faint breeze in the trees gave rustle to the dried leaves for nothing else stirred, not beast nor insect. It was as if all in that place were at prayer. All around the Shrine of Sacrifice there was only silence

“Perhaps this will be the night?” he thought to himself.

Corans bones ached and his muscles at times refused to move. The heavy cloak wrapped about his shoulders, his only protection, had still not completely dried from the downpour two days earlier. As the sun dropped below the horizon a slight wind blew in from the northwest, then night came and the air became cold and bitter. Still he stayed.

A wisp of a memory drifted by his mind, “You must not fall asleep this night.”

His body screamed for rest, yet his mind was numb to their complaints. There he knelt and prayed.

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“How many nights has it been?” Tal wondered to himself.

He had ridden long and hard from his holdings in Idlewood to the town of Rivers. As the lights of the town began to shine around the bend in the road he slackened his grip upon the reins. The horse slowed to a trot and shook her head as if in agreement to the change in pace. “Easy girl”, Tal whispered in her ear as he patted her on her mane. “Soon we will have a place where we can stop for the night, have a bite to eat and perhaps some rest.”

It had been many seasons since he had last seen the spires and halls of Rivers, and longer still it would have been if not for the message. “We will stay at the Ironwood this night, then set out at first light.” With that Tal dismounted so he could walk his steed the rest of the way to Rivers. Luckily the IronWood Inn was on the outskirts of the town and not more that an hours or so walk from where he guessed he was now.

The stars in the sky shown like diamonds held in a deep purple cloth. Not a cloud marred the skies and the moon feared to shows its light. Only the faint breeze in the trees gave rustle to the leaves, for nothing else seemed about, not men, beast nor insect. It was as if all in that place were at sleep.

The old Rivers guard tower soon came into view and even it lay in a quite spell. Tal listened but heard no guards, no merchants, nothing. A little voice whispered that trouble lay ahead, but he chose to ignore it. He was too close to town to worry about any but thieves or rogues, a slight smile touched his lips. It was not long after sunset yet the place seemed as if was well into the night, sleeping, waiting for the light of dawn.

As Tal made his way around the guard tower he saw the low flicker of candle light in some of the windows. It was the rapid, flitting flicker of a candle nearing its end. “If those there were asleep why did they leave the candle to burn?” Tal paused and thought. The light from the inn was still steady and bright. The tower would have to wait for answers another day. His horses needed water, feed, and a good brush down. And he needed a bath and at least a partial night’s rest in a bed without roots and twigs to keep him awake.

The stables dark fence appeared out of the night and when Tal opened the gate only the squeak of the metal hinges gave notice to the world that he had arrived. There was no stable boy to take his horse so Tal took the first empty stall, found a small sack of grain and a bucket for water. Even though he was in a hurry to enter the inn and get some answers he knew his horse must be taken care of first. After nearly an hour the horse was brushed and well feed and gave a loud snort and nipped at Tal. “All right girl I’ll leave ye be” Tal smiled and walk off to the inn.

The sound of his leather heeled boots made a low crunching sound as he walked. It was a sound he remembered and knew well, somehow in all that silence it gave him comfort. The inn doors were of large oak with massive steel and leather hinges, the leather to ease the sound of the doors opening and closing. With a sigh in his throat Tal swung open the doors expecting to see either the bodies of the dead, or no one. He saw neither.

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“Unto the Creator I give my heart and soul.” Coran repeated in his mind as he forced sleep aside. At times the chant seemed to be lulling him to rest and relieve his weary mind and body. The night’s chill air sapped the strength from his body, his fingers became too numb to hold the heavy tome within his hands.

The wind died, a star winked out, the book dropped to the ground and sleep took Coran from the world of the living. As the ripples on a pond when a rain drops strikes the air around Coran rippled outward.

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The light from within the inn was so bright that Tal had to shield his eyes to ease the burning. He quickly pulled his sword from its sheath on pure instinct and slowly lowered his arm from his eyes. Through the acrid haze of the main hall he could make out the figures of people, of several people here and there, but none moved. Tal moved slowly through the haze as his eyes adjusted. It was like being in a dream. All were like statues, each in the act of whatever they were doing when they froze. Some at tables with mugs of ale in their grasp, some stood in mid stride intent on some goal. Bar maids held plates and tins, while the inn master stood solidly behind the tavern bar staring into nothingness.

The hair on the back of his neck began to itch. They all had the same look upon their faces and in their eyes. Death. Death trapped within a instant of time. Tal had seen that look many times before. He had seen that dark look in the eyes of the warriors he had slain. That moment when they realized they were going to die, the certainty that the end has come and never again would they see the morning sun or the stars at night, nor loved ones, daughters or sons.

There was warmth yet with their bodies and a pulse in their veins, they might yet be alive Tal thought. What spell was this that stopped life in its tracks. What did those eyes see in that instant that even when frozen Death could be seen in them. Tal had come across many wizards and mages in his travels, some good, and many evil. Some could paralyze a man for a short time, but never with death in their eyes unless they were already near it.

The tired ache in his bones begged for rest as he finished checking out the rest of the inn. Tal had found the inn master’s dog in the same state as the others so the spell appeared to have woven itself into all living things. He needed to rest, but could not think of sleeping in the inn. Grabbing his bedroll and sack he made back out for the stables. There he would make a bed of hay and at least have the company of his roan steed Will. He thought of heading further on into Rivers itself and at that thought he grew suddenly weary and bone tired. His leather tunic felt heavier than ever before and each footstep seemed to drain his energy away. He would rest first.

Deep and silent the night was. As Tal drifted off to a restless sleep he had a thought. “Why had he and his horse not come under the spell, froze like the rest?” But sleep demanded more than the answer.

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The morning sun rose a glowing red over the eastern trees when Coran awoke. Another night he had fallen asleep there on his prayer rug. Slowly he wept, the weeping turned to a steady stream of tears as Coran buried his face into the grass.

“I have failed again” was the only thought that held firm within his mind. He was so tired, as if he had not even slept that night. Again his muscles screamed in pain as he attempted to rise and he quickly fell back to the ground, unconscious, but not at rest. His body twitched and twisted in reaction to the dreams within his mind. Dreams that his waking self never knew, for if he had known, or remembered, he would have fled in fear.

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Tal awoke to the gentle nudge of Will’s muzzle. The morning sunlight was starting to filter through the cracks between the stables ancient boards. “Ok, ok, I’m getting up” Tal mumbled as he wiped the sleep from his eyes. In a rush the previous night’s events filled his mind. “You’ll have to wait here a little longer while I take another look into the inn.”. As Tal stroked the horse’s mane a load crash at the door caused him to jump and turn, sword drawn, and searching for the source of the noise.

At the door stood a boy, a rather young boy dressed in loose pants and a tunic, much too large, tied at the waist. A pile of brooms, scrub poles, buckets and feed lay at his feet and a look to terror on his face. In the next instant he was running from the stable yelling “Help, Robbers, Help”. All Tal could do was look out the door in amazement. There on the path between the stable and the guard tower were guards, and from the looks of it merchants getting out their wares. Tal took Will be the reins and together they walked out of the stables in to the day.

The young boy had reached the first of the guards and was pointing back to Tal looking ready to faint. The guard waved to two others nearby and they too looked down the path at Tal. With a look that meant pure business the three guardsmen slowly walked toward Tal, swords unsheathed. “Hold outlander!”, the guard the boy had talked to hollered to Tal. “Make ye no move for arms or horse and stand with hands upturned” Tal did as the guard asked, dropping the reins to his horse, and tried his best to smile as the guards approached. Tal slowly realized that this did not look good. Well not at least if it had been a normal night before the morning. On a normal day he might easily be mistaken for a thief or a vagrant wastrel hiding within the stable. But things were not normal. At least not in Tal’s eyes.

“Take ‘is horse there William, Thad check him for knives and such. He may yet be a wizard so look for items of that may be fer magic.” the first guard firmly stated as they walked up to Tal. Another short smile crossed his lips as he took the guards meaning. The guard could have just come out and said it. “Men, if he has anything on him of value take it!”

“I wouldn’t go near my steed William” Tal called out. “She might not like it and decide to bite your nose off”. The guard called William stopped and looked to the others. “Take ‘em” the other guard shouted, but before any got a step nearer Tal’s sword arched through the air cutting the buckle and sash from the first guards’ chest. All three stopped and stared. They never saw the blade leave its sheath or saw it cut the fine blue sash. Only that both buckle and sash lay on the ground with the first guards hand on his heart, his eyes wide in both terror and wonder. “You can listen or die!” Tal exclaimed. “Which will it be?” “Listen” all three men echoed.

“My name if Tal, son of Tain, I am neither a thief, a vagrant, nor a mage.” Tal started out. “A traveler yes, but not often do I come this far to the east. I arrived last night and there were none up that late” Tal lied. “I made bed for the night in the stables, of which I will gladly pay the innkeeper a fair fee”. That last statement seemed to put the guards at ease as they lowered their swords and shields. “I have questions to ask if you are willing to answer?” Tal inquired. “If you would allow me to enter the inn to pay for my night’s stay” Tal indicated the way to the inn. He wanted desperately to get inside and all the better if he was accompanied by the guards. Then let them see and deal with the statue people inside and he would be on his way. “Accompany me if you think I may bolt and run without paying” With that the first guard nodded towards the inn and Tal turned and made his way slowly to the doors of the inn. He could hear the rattle of ring mail armor and the steel-soled boots. They were following.

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Coran finally awoke, the sun was past midday and the pangs of his stomach reminded him to eat. All without a thought taking shape in his mind he reached over for the rucksack and began to search its pockets. After a short search he produced two small biscuits of hardtack and slowly began to eat. He could hear the birds in the trees and the buzz of insects, but all seemed far, far off like listening to echoes in a canyon. Slowly, very slowly, his mind began to work again. “What was it that I dreamed” he thought aloud. When he awoke a deep dread filled every fiber of his being, but now it was gone, and he could not recall its reason. One thing he was sure of though, he was afraid. Of someone, or something.

Quickly Coran dropped the biscuit he was eating and again opened up the rucksack. “I’ll write it down before I forget even this little bit” he mumbled and he brought out a rough sheet of vellum and a quill. Coran was an apprentice mage and was required to carry both quill and paper to write upon when learning spells and potions. He rolled out the single sheet he had found and froze when he saw that he had already written upon the scroll. He had written….

“I am afraid and know not why. My dreams at night are filled with horror and dread, but when I awake I have no memory of what that horror is. Master Mage Azur is worried about the dreams and each day asks if I can remember any of it. But I cannot. High Mage Brock says it is just a young wizard’s undisciplined mind and the urges of all young males. He has charged that I take a penance journey to the Shrine of Sacrifice and there to pray until the urges that drive the dream have vanished. Azur did not seem to like this directive, but he cannot dismiss the charges of the High Mage. I must make this journey and drive this horror from my dreams.”

Coran read on.

“My first night at the Shrine. It is almost late fall and the night air is chill. I prayed at the shrine most of the day and fell asleep there. I remember parts of that dream now. My hand shakes as I recall what I can. Darkness moves across the sky, it is the middle of the day yet the darkness seems to smother the sun. All looks ashen and gray. The people they crowd around me, their eyes blank, sunken, and their mouths have spittle running with the filth upon their faces. They reach for me and I cannot run. As they draw nearer I grow weaker. I want to run, to hide from them. I feel like I am drowning. I cannot breath. Then the laugh comes. An evil laugh that rends my soul and pins me so that I cannot run, I cannot move. That is all I remember.”

Still more was written upon the parchment.

“I am remembering less and less each night, but the fear is stronger. I wish to return to Rivers, but High Mage Brock has commanded that I stay until I have control of these dreams. I know not how. I am afraid.”

Still more was written.

“Tis the tenth night. Little food left. My limbs are numb from the cold and the cramps when I awake. My hand is unsteady as I write. I must rest.”

As Coran read on his mind tried to recall bits and pieces of his writing, as if it was from a very, very long time ago. How many nights had it been since he had last put word to paper? He could not guess for he could not remember even of what he wrote, or that he had written at all! Coran slumped back in despair. He was too weak to walk out of the woods and knew the wolves and other beasts would soon end his life out there. At least here the power of the Shrine kept him safe from harm. But he would soon die none the less.

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From the Chronicles of Chaydion Pain

Chapter Two: “Grey Shades”

“The balance between good and evil is a precarious thing and evil always seeks to tilt that balance. Whereas true good understands that balance is required and seeks to keep it so. Harken to the words of the Grey Shades and know true good.” Azur the Mage

Blade’s arms were getting weary as her scimitar relieved the battle mercenary of his sword hand. “Damn the Creator! How many fools can there be?” she muttered under her breath as she feinted right then rolled to her left slashing the throat from one of the poor souls. She hated to kill needlessly, but these ogreskulls only thought of the reward and not the quarry. Her blade swung comfortably in her hands as she paced a circle with the six men facing her. “Make that five” she thought. Soon two of the men lay dead, two were moving off with lost limbs and wounds from which they would not see the sun rise. The two now left facing her halted their advance a second, looking to review their situation and now depleted numbers. In the moment of a breath Blade advanced. In the turn of his head one man felt cold steel on his throat as her scimitar swept up and across, at the same time her right hand slipped the small silver dagger from her boots and drove it into the chest of the last man standing. He stood only as long as it took Blade to retrieve her dagger from his chest.

In the moonless night Blade scanned the trees for any signs of those that had fled or those yet to attack. Nothing moved but the wind. “Why did that fat mage persist!” Blade thought to herself as she wiped the blood from her scimitar and dagger onto the cloak of the last man once standing. She had been on the move ever since she had pinned that arrogant fat mages hand to the tavern’s pinewood tabletop. She had intended to only stop for a warm meal and perhaps a little game of knives with the other travelers at the inn. Fairwynn, that was it name, a small inn on a small crossroad north of Cove. She’d been there before so expected no trouble. At least not from a mage, amorous men she could handle. Even drunken men propped up bold by the wine and the ale, with only lust in their eyes. That fat mage, Artimus was his name, tried first to impress Blade with small magic tricks and offers of food and drink. “Perhaps she would keep him company for the night” he hinted. His breath smelled of rank wine and his green gold robe did nothing to hide the bulk of the man whose rolling jowls hid his neck, if he had any. When Blade purposely took interest in a tradesman at the other end of the smoke filled room the mage decided to use a small enchantment upon her, which was the cretins’ first mistake.

Blade had been raised with mages, by mages, she knew all their tricks and how to judge their skills and power by the spells they wove. This one was all noise without the fangs. As Blade felt the ripple of magic approach her she turned to the mage and dismissed the spell. The fool didn’t even see that it was Blade who turned his spell so again he conjured yet a stronger weave to trap his prey. This time Blade was losing her patience with the fat mage so she slowly walked her way to the table of the foolish man. Her hips swaying seductively, her lips pouting, she walked to the other side of the table and sat down gazing into the mages eyes. Surely he thought he had caught his prized prey and reached his hands out to grasp Blades as they rested upon the table. With his eyes lost in hers Blade made her move. Quicker than a viper’s strike she pinned both the mages hands to the table, blood oozed and ran like spilled redberry wine. It seemed seconds before the mage seemed to sense that something was wrong as Blade kept serenely looking into the mages eyes. Soon the pain registered in those eyes and the screams began. Blade moved quickly for the door and no one seemed interested in blocking her way. Out into the night she slipped, hearing the now angry screams of rage from the mage within the Fairwynn inn.

Blade smiled to herself as she slipped the dagger back into her boot. The only little joy she had these days was remembering those eyes when the mage realized what had happened. But all things had consequences and this one had a big one. Artimus had an older sister and she was all fangs and little noise. Amellia was her name and she was a witchmage. A damned witchmage Blade thought. “That’s all I need” she grumbled when she found out who had sent the mercenaries out to get her. Dead rather than alive she had heard. This had been the second gang to attempt to kill her for the bounty. She had left one alive in that first group to learn why they had been tracking her and why they attacked. Before she let the man go she had told him “Tell this witch to leave me be. She had better teach her brother some manners before he loses something other than the use of his hands” As to emphasis her point she let her gaze wander lower to the man’s crotch. He seemed to take the hint as he raced back the way they had come. That was several days in the past.

“Shot my mouth off again”, she thought. That was a bad habit of hers. She knew it would have been better to learn more about the witchmage before sending back such a retort. Now the witch was probably in a fit of anger and all the more dangerous. That was why Blade was headed for Rivers. To see her Uncle Azur and learn if he might help her out of the situation. Blade laughed to herself as she thought of her Uncles face when she tells him of the jam she’d gotten into. First he would rant and rave at her and tell her to go handle her own problems, that she always was of short temper, listening to no one, and always having to do things her own way come death or destruction. If she kept her tongue behind her teeth she might just luck out. She knew if she kept quiet and let her uncle scold and admonish her he would eventually tire and resign himself to her aid. He always did. Ever since she could remember Uncle Azur would rise to her defense when she was wronged, even if her actions may have caused that wrong to occur. He was a cranky, old, cantankerous wizard who loved his niece dearly. Now all Blade had to worry about was getting to her uncle before the witchmage got to her.

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Coran did not wake to the lifting of his body or to the bumps and rolls of the cart as it carried his lifeless body from the Shrine of Sacrifice. He did not wake to the leathered old hands working at his matted and dirt stained clothes as they were removed. Nor when they placed him gently in a bed of coarse stray and weywillow branches.

The old hag had watched the young man twitching in the dirt within the sacred shrine. First she turned to leave, not wanting to interrupt her routine least she interfere in matters not her own. But something in the look of the lad, so near to death, more like a wraith than a young man. Something made her turn and in that turning she decided. Be he evil or be he good she knew not. But the balance must be maintained and something about this lad was not at balance. “He be good” she stated as she lay the frail young man upon the bed. At least that much she knew. The balance she would determine when he awoke.

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These forests were new to Blade. She did not trust their look or their feel. Never before had she been to Rivers, or even this far from her home north of Yew, a small village in the eastern woodlands. Many adventures had taken her from Isen and across the northern lands of Tamaland Isle and at times into Barron, but never this far. At times the very feel of the forest was new and strange to her, she took in every plant, bush and tree along the path. Learning what she could of those unknown to her. Some plants she nibbled and tasted others she avoided upon first glance. One lovely pale blue berry made her sick for a day and left her head aching for the next. Of none would she eat until she had learned more, but she knew that the start of knowledge was in the touching, tasting, and seeing. And she had learned a lot in her wanderings.

The sun was slowly settling into the tall pine trees as she made her way along the path. The faint wisps of clouds that had hung around earlier were now departed as Blade looked forward to a cold nights sleep in the forest. When she was younger and lived with her aunt and uncle she often spent the nights in the woods. In fact her uncle often encouraged her and helped her learn the patterns of life within the forest. She had never knew her parents, only the aunt and uncle who raised her. Now they were gone and a tear slowly started its way down her cheek. Both died in the destruction of Yew when the forests and woods she knew and loved became fetid and rotten. She did not know of those that caused such chaos, but one day she vowed she would have her revenge upon whoever, or whatever, it was. All that she had loved was taken in a single night. When her Uncle Azur arrived she was all that was left alive in that little hamlet north of the Yew fort. From then on she would depend on no one and she would learn to defend herself come what may. Blade wiped the single tear rolling along her chin as she pushed the memories from her mind.

In the quiet she made out the sounds of iron shod horses coming from up the trail. Blade ducked quickly into a small thicket of brush, the scrap of the branches adding to those scratches she already had. Her heart was beating a bit faster, she felt surely it would give her away. “Calm” she repeated, “Keep yer head girl and keep calm” as she steadied her nerves. The hooves of the horses became louder and Blade could make out that two riders approached. The clink of armor told her at least one wore plate, while of the other she was unsure. A chill wind began to blow from the northeast sending a shiver along her body as she waited. Soon she could make out the two riders, one a warrior and the other a mage. As they drew alongside where she was hiding both suddenly stopped as if one, the warriors head turning as to examine the woods.

“Not now” Blade thought to herself sadly. She was tired and road weary. The cuts and bruises from the day’s previous battle gave her no relief and she had eaten little all day. Now to have to fight again was almost more than she could bear. A determined look settled upon Blade’s face. “Well if they wish to die then I shall grant them that wish” she told herself, but before she rose from the thicket a voice called out. “Why are you hiding Alexis? Come out and greet your uncle. Or must I have that bush throw you out?”

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She’el slowly added more of the dewberry leaves to the small smudge pot letting their smoke and aroma fill her small hovel. The small flame in the fireplace was but a flicker through the haze and the power of the leaves were beginning to cause even her to wish for sleep. The sleeping power of the dewberry leaves would ease the boy from the evil dream he was in to one that would allow his body to rest. It was taking more leaves than She’el had thought, but slowly his body was relaxing and the sweat was no longer on his brow. If his body could rest then his mind might be able to wake and She’el would find the balance, or what was behind the imbalance.

She’el was a Grey Shade, or so her mother had told her. Wasn’t that what the mage Azur had called her? Yes, that was it. She’el didn’t really understand what either her mother of the mage had meant. What she did understand was the Balance and she had worked her whole life keeping that balance. In her own little way she pushed there, pulled here, and lived within the balance all around her. The wolf killed the fawn, the snow violet sprang anew from the early spring frost, all in balance. The patterns of eddies and flows where hers to learn and to know. At times she could see deaths hand in the world and learned early that to meddle was to hurt, both herself and those around her. This was to keep her alone for others feared her gift and drove her from them. In the end she decided she liked it better that way.

“Shades why did I meddle this time” She’el asked herself. “Death be upon the lad, but the balance be wrong. Tis not his time.” she added as she tossed another leaf upon the pot. “Tis not his time”. She’el sipped the wintergreen tea and looked again into the patterns around her. Here and there she spotted patterns she did not know and others she could not discern. Yet all patterns were hers to learn and these she would learn also, be they for good or ill.

Outside the sun again set, again the night took its hold upon the land, and Coran felt rest finally come upon him. The pale gray faces faded as their hands no longer clutched at his clothes. The mist began to part and the gentle dark led him to rest.

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From the Chronicles of Chaydion Pain

Chapter Three: As Patterns Begin To Show

“Patterns of balance weave and blend into the world. The trick is to spot and discern a single thread in the pattern without losing the overall pattern. These are the threads of life and where those threads meet so do the lives.” A Grey Shade

Tal made his way around to the front of the Ironwood Inn and stopped at the large front doors. Glancing back he spotted the three guardsmen rounding the corner of the building heading his way. Nothing in their walk suggested they were fearful to enter, but neither did it suggest they were in any hurry. Tal had overheard the third man’s name, it was Cedric, and he seemed the leader of the three. Along with Thad and William Cedric finally stopped facing Tal just below the steps leading to the door. “Well? On with it then and let’s get this business over with.” Cedric growled. Tal took a deep breath and faced the door. He didn’t like the idea of those three being at his back when he entered. If they got it into their heads that he was at fault for the chaos inside they might attack without asking questions, let alone give warning. With those thoughts on his mind Tal swung the great door open.

When Tal stepped through the door he stopped stunned. The three guards pushed their way past Tal and made on for the bar stand. Behind the counter stood the inn master wiping a mug with a well-worn cloth. One of the barmaids was sweeping between tables and another scraping the long dead coal from the fireplace. All looked as if the night before had been a dream. “This traveler” rang out Cedric’s voice with a hint of contempt added as he said traveler. “’er spent the night in yer stables Wulf. What ye want us to do with ‘em?” Cedric went on. The inn master simply stood and gazed at Tal. “He says he willin to pay you a fair fee for the use. So he says, but I’m thinking he hasn’t two coppers to rub together.” The other two guards gave a low grunt and a laugh at the remarks while Cedric waited for Wulf’s reply.

Shaking himself from his daze Tal approached the inn master and set two silver coins and a copper down upon the bar. “It appears I have two coppers to rub together gentleman, provided the inn master has change for the silver.” Tal stated to the group. The inn masters’ eyes came out of their dull haze at the sight of the silver. “It’ll be two coppers for the stay and another if ye feed and watered yer horse.” Wulf quickly replied picking up one of the silvers. “I’ve feed and watered my steed both last eve and this morning” Tal added. The inn master returned some copper coins to Tal as change. Tal placed the coins into his tunic without as much as a glance. He wanted to impress upon the inn master that he trusted his judgement and would lend a fair bargain. “Beth, come ‘er girl” Wulf bellowed at the girl near the fireplace. “Would ye care for a bite to eat Sire? We ain’t got much on the fire yet, but I can scare something up for you.”

“That would be fine” Tal commented as he eyed the three guards. “Come on Ced” William stated “Tain’t nothing gonna happen here. Things are fine and we got patrol to do.” “Alright” Cedric grunted and shouldered his way past Tal. “One little shove to show whose boss?” thought Tal with a chuckle. Turning he looked the hall over for a comfortable place to sit. A small fire was now burning in the fireplace so he selected the table and bench nearest. As he sat down the girl named Beth quickly made her way over. As she drew near Tal could make out that she was a fine looking young lady in a sort of odd way. Not really beautiful, but stunning. Even with the soot and grim that covered her hair and face at the time. She had the kind of face, Tal thought, which most of the young men here about would never forget.

“Morning Sire” Beth addressed Tal. “We have a bit of barley bread, some wild boar we could fry up, a bit of cheese and some ale or wine to drink. Unless ye prefer some water? We’ve got that too if ye like” She added rather hastily like she had forgotten something.

“We ‘ad goats milk, but that’s gone bad. Not even good fer cooking.” Beth continued on. “Just some bread, cheese and a pint of ale and my thanks” Tal replied to the girl with a smile. As she left Tal pondered how he was going to bring up the topic of last night’s events to the inn master. Perhaps if he queried the girl he might get some honest answers. Or he might just scare her into not talking at all if he pressed to hard. Best thing was to wait and see where some small talk might get him.

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Azur settled into his leather high backed chair and watched as Alexis made her way from the chamber door to the other chair next to the fireplace. She was edgy as a wild hare on the flats. He sighed as he tried to think up what trouble his dear niece might be in this time. Had she beaten some prince in a duel? The thought made him laugh a tiny bit. Probably served the upstart right if he provoked Alexis into it. He knew she hated a fight, but he knew too that all too often it was her own actions, mostly her words, that got her into trouble. “Well” he thought, “Might as well get to the point.”

“So my little one? What chaos have you caused this time? Put someone’s nose out of joint?” Azur’s voiced rumbled as the words came out and Blade cast a pout back to counter the rumble. Azur chuckled to himself. “Still the little impudent one I see” he answered in reply to her pout. “Please Alexis lets not play our little game of poor little you and uncle to the rescue. I’m getting to old for those games anymore”

Blade let out a small whistle as she settled into the other chair. “Well, you see. I was on my way from Roe headed back north when I stopped at the Fairwynn” Blade began. “The Fairwynn!”, her uncle shouted as he jumped out of his chair. “You know better than to go in there!” Azur made his way over to a small cabinet and pulled out a small plate of bread and cheeses. “I know Uncle, but I was tired and only wanted a bit to eat and a place to sleep for the night. Sides, there was a foul wind that night!” Bladed added with some emphasis on the ‘foul’. Her Uncle set the plate down between and again seated himself to listen. “Go on” he stated.

It all came out in a rush, how she was cold and wet, the inn was warm, she wanted to eat and this mage would not leave her alone. When she came to the part of his trying to cast a spell upon her Azur’s face took a darker turn. Not for fear of his niece, but rather for the hapless mage. The story bore out that conclusion. Blade stopped before telling her uncle about the older sister and that she was a witchmage. Instead she began stuffing her mouth with bread and cheese letting her uncle digest what she had already told him. “Curious” she thought. The plate never seemed to run low on either cheese or bread.

After a short pause Azur broke the silence. “And the rest of the story little one?” he prompted her. “You know uncle I hate it when you call me that! I’m not a little girl anymore! I’ve been travelling a fair piece these last two years and seen a lot and done a lot. So don’t you be calling me ‘little girl’ anymore.” Blade sat back in a make believe huff crossing her arms. “Or what?” Azur gently asked with a small smile. She had changed he had to admit. She had grown into quite a women, with looks that could stopped a man in his tracks. He knew she also had the skills to take care of herself. That was the way he had planned it ever since he rescued her from an evil fate in Yew.

“I’m sure your fat mages hands are healed by now” Azur commented to break the silence. “If his robe was of green and gold then he was of the healers’ guild. More than likely his friends calmed him down and with a few more tankards of ale and wine he forgot all about you my girl.” Azur refrained from calling her a ‘little girl’. “So that means there is more to this story than what you have told so far Alexis. I’ll hear the rest before deciding if I should send you packing into the night or allow you the comfort of a room and a meal.” Of course Azur smiled as he said these words. He knew she was in some distress and felt they had spared enough for the night.

“Please call me Blade Uncle.” Blade spoke softly. “As you wish Blade. Please continue.” Azur replied. “Uncle the fat mage, well, he has a sister named Amellia and….” Again Blade got no further. “Blasts and bogs girl!” Azur voiced boomed. Even though his face was turning several shades of red and purple Azur kept his temper at bay. “And he wonders where I get it” Blade noted to herself. “Do you have any idea who Amellia is? No! You don’t or else you would never have skewered that man’s hands to the table.” Azur began pacing back and forth on front of the fireplace. Now she’d done it, she’d really done it. Of all the people to get on the bad side of this was the worst. Amellia was well known for her evil temperament and vengeful means. She had once slaughtered a garrison of soldiers that the Baron Waight had tried to place near her keep. Not because they had done anything to harm or offend her. It was simply that the Baron had not asked. It was a lesson the Baron did not need repeated and he kept his forces clear of Amellia’s lands. She was a double bladed sword that one. With the earth magic of a witch and the skillcrafts of a full mage she was a powerful foe. For decades the Mages of Rivers had tried to unseat her. “Damn the balance” muttered Azur. Sometimes it just didn’t seem fair for evil always gets the breaks. He remembered those words from a child’s rhyme of long ago.

“Be merry as we play. Be wary as we work. For evil gets the breaks and good is forced to pay.”

That was the way the song went in part. It was the only part he could remember but it had always stuck with him. Now Alexis had run afoul of this she-witch and Azur knew full well that he could not turn his niece out into the world. As good as she was she was no match for Amellia. He had to think, to find the patterns in the balance. With a jolt he turned and strode up to Blade. “Come Alexis. We must get some rest this night. At dawns light we will be on the road.” With that the two walked out of the chamber, Blade wondering what her uncle had planned and where they were going. Wouldn’t the Mage Tower be safer for her? Her mind filled with questions that would have to wait until the morning.

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The bread was near stale, but the cheese was fair and the ale went well to wash the food down. Beth had only stopped briefly to drop off the platter before returning to her duties. Tal kept looking to see if the inn master Wulf would wander over. It did not look to be so Tal picked up his plate, tankard, and approached the bar. Setting down the plate in a loud clatter Wulf stuck his head out from the room behind the counter. “I am finished” Tal exclaimed. “But if you have the time I would like a chance at a conversation or two?” Tal continued. He was gambling that news of any sorts was savored in the inn and that the master was the best source of news here about. In short order Wulf stopped whatever he was doing in the room and walked out to Tal. “Of course Sire. We are always of an ear for news in these parts. I’ll get us both an ale and we can have a sit and talk.” With that Wulf picked up two clean tankards, filled them till the foam flowed freely down their sides and bid Tal to follow. As they sat he handed on to Tal and took a deep draught on his own. It looked to Tal that the man nearly emptied it in a single swallow.

“I rarely have a chance to make my way to Rivers” Tal began, “so I really was wondering if you could give me a bit of news. Have there been any events of note lately?” Tal asked as he took a drink. Wulf cocked his eyebrow at Tal for a moment then seemed to relax. “Well” the man drawled out. “Some of the mages in town seem to be in a bit of a state. Seems they have lost a young apprentice or some such. Been going here and there all in a hurry, not telling no one nothing. Just asking if he’d seen a young apprentice mage. Well, I tells ‘em. I’ve not seen no apprentice mage since ye banned them from me tavern. Sides, I don’t much care for wizards and such.” Wulf took another large tug at his ale and wiped his thin beard with his sleeves. “The local farmers have been complaining ‘bout an early frost and not getting their harvests in on time. Old farmer Blunt’s been in here the last three nights steady just complaining and going on about evil winds at hand. Not anyone takes much stock in it mind you. But that old man can sure cause a shiver up yer back if you know what I mean.”

“An evil wind eh!” Tal exclaimed. “What about you inn master? You believe him?” At these words Wulf leaned in close and in a hushed voice began. “To tell the truth Sire things have been a bit odd about here lately. The last couple of mornings I remember waking up all tired and worn out. And it always seems like I was running, afraid like, from something. But in the time I spend thinking about it everything becomes a blur. What with getting things ready for the day and all I plumb forget the details. Poor Beth there and Ariel look like shadows when they get up in the morning.”

Tal listened intently as the inn master went on. “Some others have mentioned near the same thing when then come in fer an ale or two. The guards’ think it’s some work of the mages and that they’re not letting on what they’re up to. Well thank the Creator nones died from any of it.” With that Wulf sat back and drained the rest of his ale. Tal too sat back and slowly drank his ale. At least know he knew something. What it meant he did not know and if it had anything to do with the message he was not sure. Azur would have to answer that question and it was high time he made out for the Mages Tower and had a long talk with his old friend.

“My thanks for the share of news inn master” and with that Tal rose, placed another copper on the table and made for the door. “Aye, and thank ye” called out the inn master as Tal walked outside. He closed the door behind him and made his way back to the stables. There, Will was waiting patiently for Tal and gave him a small nudge on the shoulder as Tal lifted the reins over the horses’ head. “I know girl. I’m sorry to have been gone so long.” Tal patted the horse and with the ease of many years swung up upon the saddle. “Time to visit and old friend.” Tal whispered as he steered Will out of the stable and put her into a fast trot up to road into Rivers.

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She’el cursed her old bones as she got up from the chair. She had not intended to spend the night there, but long did she look into the patterns in her mind. All the candles had burned down and only the faint beam of lights shining in from the joints in the clapboards covering the windows let in any light. She’el made her way over to the eastern window and threw open the clapboards to let in the full light of morning. The suns light beamed through the haze of smoke left over from the dewberry leaves. Tiny sparkle’s seemed to rain down upon the young mage still fast asleep on the mattress of straw.

Coran was no longer in a fever and no longer did he shake and twitch. She’el sighed. At least the leaf magic had given the poor boy some rest. She was concerned that he had not yet wakened, but knew there was little else she could do. This required a mages hand and she knew of none near. She must let fate play its hand with the boy. At least not it was safe for her to leave her home and walk the forest a bit. It would do her good to get out and think clearly for a while. The dewberry leaves had done their work on her also and she wanted dearly to clear her head of their effects.

She’el quietly let down the latch on the door and made her way into the forest. She would visit the small spring by the foot of the Vale cliffs. She liked that spot. The flowers managed to bloom there even in late fall for the waters that flowed from the cliffs were warm the whole year round. Deep within the earth the water was kept warm as it gently flowed from cracks and fissures near the forest floor. After an hours walk She’el spotted the spring and sitting on its banks she took off her sandals to soak her tired feet. Always was she at peace here. Here the patterns did not enter her mind. She was free.

And, as always, she hated to leave. She’el took some dried fruits and bread from her satchel and began to nibble on the food. She has seen a new pattern in the balance last night. One she had never seen before. It was just beginning to take shape, but there were other patterns that seemed to be pressing in upon it. Trying to smother the new pattern and bend it a different way. She’el shook her head as she tried not to think any more about it. But it kept coming back into her thoughts. Somehow it worried her and she knew not why. Was it the boy? Perhaps she told herself. She would find out more when the boy awoke. “For now my feet hurt and need their rest” She’el shouted into the air and turned her attention again to nibbling on her fruits and cheese.

More to come!