"Old Friends and New Enemies
"Not that I donít like listening to a couple of pretty ladies," Ohk mused aloud, "but, you do know we are FIGHTING right now, donít you?" Ohkís rings each flared in turn as he began channeling the essence of all of his animite through his growing Vinoc.
"Duh," retorted Ulk with a grin. Holding her amulet aloft she grew serious long enough to activate the relic from Ombor. Ulkís grin turned sheepish as the collection of monstrosities that her korrits held at bay swelled with misapplied energy.
"Oops!" said Ulk, blushing. Using the Amulet of Oombor was always a gamble.
"How many times do I have to fix it when you do that?" ? Grej was trying to hold back laughter at her friendís mistake as she and her Baldar moved to reinforce the straining korrit defense-line.
"Fix what?" Ohk called over his shoulder while waving his staff at a chaos plith, "Whatís going on back there?" The chaos plith shuddered violently as a bit of its energy fled into the Vinoc that was moving to attack.
"Oh, Ulk just tried to use her amulet again," Grej laughed as her hammer drove an ugger through the floor of the platform that they stood upon. "That thing never works."
"Your just jealous because you donít even have a full tunic, let alone jewelry." Ulkís words were jokingly catty, though Ohk was hardly able to tell.
"Hey, how would boys be able to see my perfect tummy if I wore a tunic like you?" Grej pulled her hammer out of another hole in the floor as she grinned back at Ulk. ? Taking a moment to watch the Naroomian blush, the crŤche sisters giggled maniacally before they returned their attentions to the fight.
Ohk ducked under a swing from his Vinoc, who had since been ripped from his control by the foul magics of one of their enemies. ? "Can we focus, ladies? If you havenít noticed, weíre falling behind." ? Scrambling to find a spell to deal with his treasonous creature, Ohk was failing to remain as calm as his companions.
"Relax," Grej spouted before uttering a long string of Kybarite incantations. From the sky descended a massive, if only momentary, hail of stones that barraged the treacherous vinoc and the chaos plith behind it. "We have things under control, see?" She smiled reassuringly to the startled Naroomian.
"Besides," beamed Ulk merrily, "Sorreah and Zajan are here!"
"Mistress, I ?I canít remember what you asked ofóMISTRESS!" ? Evu stumbled into the training grounds, searching for his Empress. And found her he did.
Looking up from Yakiís quarhug, a winded Warrada instantly played the old geezer. "EVU help me! ? This beast is trying to kill me! ? Evu, I need you!" The old timer would no doubt distract the Corestalker long enough for her to escape.
Evu scurried forward, cursing unintelligibly in languages long forgotten. "You have meddled for the last time, Yaki. It is only fitting that it is I who end your miserable existence." The undersized librarian began pushing up his sleeves and donning animite rings.
"Do not do this, Evu." Yakiís words were cold and full of dark portent.
"You could not withstand my power before, boy. ? And you will not withstand it again."
Yakiís eyes narrowed, but this time it was not with the anger that came so easily to him these days ?though he tried to force it to be. ? This time all he felt was sorrow. ? With his gaze locked on Evu, Yaki whispered to his captive. "I need something of yours, hag." Twin howls of power and pain ripped their way from both Yaki and Warrada as he again reached out with an ever-hungry soul. Warradaís dark energies would have to slake his hungerís thirst this time, and to battle his old friend Yaki needed the boost.
Orwin turned to witness the atrocity Yaki was commiting. As he did so, Hrada brought his hands together, guiding a cloud of billowing black shadows toward the distracted Naroom Elder. The shadows furiously washed over the ancient Magi, turning his skin pallid and sickly. As the power of Hradaís spell railed against his elderly body, Orwin lowered to one knee. ? Reaching a hand toward Yaki, Orwin could only wonder: What have you done, my friend? What sort of monster have you become?
The scream raced into the sky and Yaki and Warrada slumped against each other. With a shudder of barely contained power, the Corestalker reached up and brushed his victim aside.
Sprawling to the ground, a near comatose Warrada landed in a heap. Wearily holding her eyes open, she almost didnít notice the trinket from about her neck as it skittered away across the ground. In absolute agony, writhing with the pain of her energy being torn from her, Warrada crawled after the bauble that she had acquired in the great library; struggling to see it through the swirling morning mist.
Straightening his shoulders, Yaki squared up with the man who betrayed him so many nights ago. Grasping at the empty air, Yakiís glove found purchase on the handle of his summoned staff. It had been a long time since he held the tool that Pruitt had made for him; in fact he had not wielded it since the very day that the Twins had first attacked and his spirit was forever twisted by this dark hunger. With a heaving breath, the raging Shadow Tracker glowered at Evu with now crimson eyes. "Traitor, your masters have shown this land no mercy and I will show none in return."
Evu grit his teeth in determined agreement. "No mercy, old friend." The librarianís words dripped with venom.
Yakiís sinister face split with a sly grin. ? "Itís playtime, stumpy - and I got all the toys, oh yeah."
Thast crept ahead of the cadre of Narans, stalking silently through the wafting mist about his knees. What is this junk? he thought as he scouted ahead of his clan.
Peeking around the corner of a building that seemed to grow right out of a great tree, the Magi breathed a sigh of relief. ? Motioning back to his people, Thast offered a confident Ďall clear?as he started to creep to the next building.
A few steps away he was tackled by a Magi dropping from the rooftop.
"Try to take my city, punk, and Iíll tear you a new? Tiller stopped with a fist raised and a perplexed look on his face. ? "Youíre blue."
"You wanna get off me, bub?" Thastís question was growled rhetorically.
Rushing to Tillerís side, Kazm rested his hands on his knees to get a better look at the newcomer. "I thought Cories were green." The Kybariteís eyebrows rose, running into the lip of his flight goggles. His next question was interrupted by a sharp poke on his shoulder. Looking, he found the tip of something that seemed as much like a sickle as it did a staff. ? Following the battle-worn itemís handle to a pair of massive blue hands, Kazm took in the impressive sight of an old Magi ?his long white beard and moustache flowing in the breeze while the rest of him remained still as a statue.
"H-h-h-hello," was all that Kazm stammered out before he noticed the rest of the blue-skinned strangers standing behind the Magi, all with weapons readied.
Thast grunted again. "Get offa me!"
Tiller shot to his feet before the scowling Magi finished with "bub." At that, the sickle-staff wielding Magi offered a massive hand to his grounded friend. ? While Thast regained his feet, a statuesque woman stepped from the mass of new Magi. In a stately tone, the woman spoke clearly, "If more of you lie in wait, they had best step foreword now. It will be a shame if you have to fight with these odds."
Pruitt stepped into view in the window next to Laranel. ? "That will not be necessary," the Ringsmithís voice bore the strain of her experiences but resounded fearlessly. ? Zannah stood behind her friend, ready for anything.
"I am looking for Orwin. Are any of you he?"
Kazm and Tiller exchanged glances as Koza stepped foreword. ? "My Queen. How do we know that these four are of Orwinís folk? ? They could be the shadows." With unhidden offense, both Kazm and Tiller made to protest, but a low voice from the rear of the Narans firmly took the floor.
"Queen Laranel knows that a shadow melts like thin ice when the flame draws near. Shadows care not for each other, nor for the bodies that cast them. They care only to hide from the light. Would one shadow expose itself to the sun for another?" ? The Owtee clan turned their attention to wise Odavast, while Tiller and Kazm remained speechless; neither of them could follow what he said, let alone sound as smart.
"Now, young Naroomian," Odavast leaned down to peer through the window between he and Pruitt, "where is your king?"
Woot stared at the impaled Shadow Magi for several minutes before he could pull his eyes away. ?Did we do this? He then swung a slow look to his friend and shivered.
Chayla had huddled herself in the corner of a ruined house ?her ruined house. Sitting only ten or twenty paces away from the horrific sight, she could not tear her quivering eyes from her fallen foe. Woot did not know how long she had been there before he woke up.
"Fuzz, we should go." Offering a shaky hand to her, Woot tried to get his best friend to look at him, to take his hand, to do anything. Chayla merely drew a tattered blanket about her shoulders. Woot recognized the blanket, as his mother had made it for Chayla when they were young. Crouching beside her, he softly tried to bring her back to reality. "I remember when I ruined your other blanket, trying to catch that Eebit for you. I thought I could use it like net." He laughed nervously, "My mother was so angry with me. She was going to make a winter dress out of that cloth."
Chayla spoke weakly, "We killed him."
"She said that the cloth came from Paradwyn," Woot continued, encouraged by provoking any response.
"No one has died in Vash Naroom since before we were born." Chaylaís voice was growing in strength, a clear note of panic rising with the volume.
"She actually made me do twice as many chores to pay for?
"DONíT YOU GET IT, WOOT? HEíS DEAD!" She finally turned a furious stare at her lifelong friend. "Magi donít kill each other? we didnít even know him, didnít even know his name!"
"Take your stupid blanket!" Throwing her favorite blanket in his face, a sobbing Chayla scrambled out of the wreckage of her home in search of solace - leaving Woot behind holding his "stupid" attempt at giving her just that.
Scooping a still snoozing Trug up and over his shoulder, Poad watched Chayla stumble toward him. "You alright, girl?" To Chayla, it seemed obvious that Poad had not seen the dead Shadow Magi. ? "IÖWootÖthe? arrrgh!" ? Chayla broke into a fit of sobbing, leaning against a nearby wall for support.
"Look Chayla," Poad leveled with her, "the poor guy is free now. Think of it that way."
Between sobs, Chayla managed to look at Poad inquisitively. ? Could he have seen?
"It is terrible, what happened. But there will be more of that if we donít stop the Twins. ? Much more of it." ? The little innkeeper groaned under Trugís weight as he shifted the unconscious Underling to a comfortable position. ? "And next time, it might not be someone who gets a fighting chance."
Chayla sniffed hard.
"The others need us. Weíll mourn him later, when we are sure it is just him that needs it." ? Poadís calm shocked her. ? This war seemed to be changing everything and everyone she knew.
Orwin shrugged off the pain of Hradaís last attack. ? "Is that all you have, Hrada? ? Please donít tell me that all these years, Rehkís fate was just luck."
"How dare you use that name in my presence!" ? Hrada instantly fought off the fog of history. ? "Rehk was weak, and she kept what I deserved from me! She mocked me with her condescension!" A halo of energy, fueled by years of repressed hate, began to crackle about Hrada. "She knew I was right, she knew that creation stems from destruction. She was jealous of my power!"
Orwin gritted his teeth, he was not as prepared for revisiting these memories as he thought. "She was a fine teacher, and she cared for you." Orwinís voice had ire dancing along the edges.
"You LIE! Rehk cared nothing for me, cared nothing for my skills! Like you cared nothing for my sisterís. You were both just playing us like pawns, keeping us under your thumbs so you could manipulate us! You didnít want students, you wanted slaves!"
"You wanted power you could not control," Orwin began to quake with fury. "We tried to reason with you. Instead you chose a darker path and Rehk is dead because of that choice!"
"She is dead because she got in my way." ? Hrada lowered his voice to a feral snarl.
"And your sister nearly died because she got in mine." ? Orwin willed tears away with fury. ? "But this time, Hrada, she is unable to save you." With a forceful gesture, the Elder of Naroom called the angry twinís attention to the unmoving form of Warrada, lying in the mist.
"You and your forest will burn for what you have done to her, Orwin. I will start with you and blaze until nothing remains." Hradaís smoldering eyes found their way back to Orwin.
"We shall see, Hrada." With a stone like visage, Orwin produced a wooden ring with a single piece of animite mounted on it. ? "You bring the fire, Iíll bring the forest."
What happens next? Read Part 7 "A Brave New Naroom"
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