Knightfall's World of Kulan: Many Beginnings, One Fate (Last Update: Feb 22, 2008)

Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
Knightfall's "Many Beginnings, One Fate" Story Hour
An Experiment in Fantasy Fiction

By Robert Blezard, a.k.a Knightfall1972

Introduction
Dabuk Tigerstorm looked at his grandfather with some reservation. He and the old man had always gotten along in the past, but now things would be different. Dabuk was about to start his training in the Tiger Guild of Fruen. He had waited for this day ever since his mother’s death.

Now sitting in his grandfather’s private quarters, Dabuk wondered if he’d be up to the task. He knew his grandfather was a tough man to impress and that he wouldn’t favor him in the least. In fact, grandfather will likely be harder on him.

“Sit up boy, don’t slouch!” Tallos barked at Dabuk as the young boy’s mind wandered.

Dabuk shot up straight in his seat scared out of his wits by his grandfather’s seneschal. He wouldn’t dare falter again in the man’s presence.

“Guildmaster, do you really think this pup is ready for the trials of the guild?”

“Hmm.” Carl Tigerstorm didn’t look up from his desk, studying the latest intelligence reports his men had gathered for the King. “Well, we’ll see, won’t we. If he fails then his father gets him back, full time.

“Do you want that, my boy?” Carl finally looked at his grandson with a wry smile.

“No, sir. Guildmaster.” Dabuk knew better than to call his grandfather by name under these conditions.

“That’s a good start, young man.” Carl replied. “Tallos, take him to his new home and make sure Mesik knows that the boy isn’t to get any special treatment, understood?”

“Yes, Guildmaster.” Tallos grabbed Dabuk by the arm squeezing just hard enough to make the boy wince. “I’m sure Mesik will make a fine roommate for him.”

Tallos dragged Dabuk from the room and into his new life.

* * *

“This isn’t what I signed up for. Hades’ Underrealm!” Mesik Tindertwig was annoyed, or at least he was playing the part well.

“Well, get over it.” Tallos shot the hairfoot a baleful glance. Dabuk didn’t see the wink that went with it. “Take the boy under your wing. Work him hard. He’s your responsibility now.”

“Fine but I don’t have to like it.” Mesik knew where his destiny was leading him. The Church of Hades taught him that.

Tallos left, slamming the door.

Mesik waited for the boy to introduce himself. Instead he saw that Dabuk was sacred out of his wits. Tallos could be quite intimidating when he wanted to be.

“Well, just don’t sit there, introduce yourself.” Of course, Mesik knew who Dabuk was. Everyone knew who the Guildmaster’s grandson was. The fact that Mesik had volunteered for this job didn’t mean that Mesik could treat the boy like a full Tiger guilder.

“Dabuk, sir. Dabuk Tigerstorm.” The boy tried to not let his pride swell too much. That was a good sign. His father hadn’t coddled the boy, obviously.

However, Mesik was supposed to make it look good.

“Oh Hades’ beard,” Mesik slapped himself. “What did I do to deserve this? Tell me, please?”

“Well– ” Dabuk tired to reassure his new roommate.

“I wasn’t speaking to you, pup. I was speaking metaphorically.”

“Okay.”

Mesik could tell he was making Dabuk nervous. That was good. He’d need some paranoia and nervousness to survive the guild and the streets of Fruen. There were plenty of Carl’s rivals that would love to skin the boy’s hide and display it like a trophy for all to see.

“I’m going for a walk; I need some air. You stay here, unpack, and get some sleep.” It was Mesik’s turn on guard duty. “You’re going to need it. Your real training starts tomorrow.”

Mesik left the room hiding his grin from Dabuk. The two of them would get along fine. He’d turn Dabuk into the best tracker in the city.

* * *

“Jeddar, please tell me your not serious. The Bardic College of Thallin, what could you hope to learn from humans?”

“Father, please try to understand. I need this. I’m eighteen years old and I’ve never been out of Silverleaf. I need to broaden my horizons and learn about humanity if I’m going to be accepted by them.”

Menkhar Silversun sighed in resignation. He knew his adopted son’s heart and spirit would eventually take him away from Silverleaf, but he had hoped for a few more years with the boy.

“I cannot stop you,” the High One of the Kingdom of the Silver Leaves put a hand on his half-elven son’s shoulder. “But I can help you survive that city and its denizens.”

“Father, I don’t need your help. I’ll be fine.”

“Regardless of what you may believe, human cities are dangerous places. I want you to take this with you.” Menkhar took a scroll from under his watersilk tunic. “Keep it with you at all times. If you ever get into trouble, then open it and read it. It isn’t magic, so don’t expect a miracle.”

“What does it say?” Jeddar could barely contain his excitement. He wanted to read it now.

“It has instructions. No, don’t open it now. And don’t show it to anyone you meet unless the scroll tells you otherwise.”

“Thank you, father. I know this is hard for you. She never approved of me.”

“Let’s not get into that argument again, my son. Be safe.”

Menkhar Silversun left his son’s chamber in the House of Silversun. Jeddar didn’t waste any time. He continued packing his things, excited about the future. He tucked the scroll under his wool jacket.

“Well, here goes everything.”

* * *

“For the last time, Bactra. I need you here. It’s my busiest season.” Minonus Redwater wished his son would just be glad for his life in the Knotwood. “Your cousin has gone to Fruen for his own reasons. If Dabuk was still living at his family’s steading with his father, then I would let you go visit him for the month. But not now that he’s living with his grandfather in Fruen.

“Father, I’m not a child anymore.” Bactra was one hundred and thirty five summers old. “If you won’t give me your blessing, then I will go without it.”

“I need you here.” Minonus knew Bactra was right. He was an adult now. His words carried no bite.

“Father, the clan elders say my Fate is my own now. You can’t force me to stay, and you and I both know you’re not that busy. You’re a tailor amongst noble savages. It’s summertime. No one needs newly sewed skins right now. I promise to be back before the Autumnwind Equinox.”

Minonus sighed in resignation. It was time to let go.

“Very well,” Minonus sat down, his old bones weary. “The world is for the young it seems. Just don’t forget where you come from, Bactra. You a proud son of the forest elves of the Knotwood. Never forget that.”

“How could I ever forget that?” Bactra tried not to sound too condescending. “You’ve reminded me every day of my life.”

“Don’t be so melodramatic. I swear, you act less like an elf everyday. I should have never introduced you to your uncle.”

“I would have met him eventually anyway, father.” Bactra already had his meager possessions bundled up ready to go. “And Garth Tigerstorm is a good man. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been friends all these years.”

“True,” Minonus let the despair of his son leaving melt away. It would be un-elvish to dwell on the moment. Bactra would be back in no time. “Where are you meeting him?”

“Just outside of the city of Raln. We’re going to travel up through the Highlands to the city of Cabaret. Then north along the road to Heroes’ Rest. He wants to visit an old friend of his. Someone named Almada.”

“Ah, old Almada. I’d like to see that old codger one more time before my walk to the other side. Perhaps next spring, but don’t say anything to him, otherwise he’ll expect me to come.”

“You and Garth really do know a lot of the same folk. Is there something you’re not telling me about your past, father?”

“Oh, I did some fine silk clothes for him once. A good fellow, for a hairfoot. I take it you’ll be sticking to the roads after that, right?”

Avoid and distract, that was his father’s way about his past.

“Yes, all the way to Fruen.”

“Well, I’d best get back to work. May Rillifane walk with you, my son.” With that, Minonus left his son to the life Bactra had chosen. He only hoped it wouldn’t be as hard as his had been.

Bactra left Woodknot, quietly and silently, that same day heading for Raln.
======================

So where's Dvalin? That's coming up. And school is in for Dabuk. Life's hard lessons.
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
Chapter One
Dabuk hated the labyrinth. After nearly a week of training the young ranger was still unable to find his way in the training labyrinth under the Tiger Guild. It was a basic test or so they told him. If you can’t make it out of the labyrinth without getting lost, then you’d never be able to navigate the maze-like streets of Fruen above.

“Again,” Mesik wasn’t discouraged. After all, the labyrinth was more than a training ground, it was a test of one’s instincts and reasoning. It had taken him weeks just to understand what the point was. “You’re still not thinking. Don’t just walk around, think your way through this.”

“Damn it,” Dabuk was hard to frustrate but even his patience was wearing thin. “How is this suppose to help me find my way around Fruen? I’ve seen the streets above, and it’s not anywhere near this complex.”

“So your saying the challenge isn’t fair?” Mesik was using the classic test questions to put doubt into the young half-elf’s mind. “Who are you to say what is fair or not? You’re not the Guildmaster!”

Dabuk didn’t waver. “That doesn’t matter, it isn’t fair, not for me, and not for anyone else. Even the Guildmaster would become lost down here.”

The boy was smart, Mesik would give him that. “Ok then, say you’re right. The labyrinth challenge isn’t fair. How do you get out?”

Dabuk looked around hopelessly lost. He knew there was something he was missing. He’d followed the winding and twisting of the labyrinth without any luck. He had tested the walls for secret doors and traps but nothing had come up. There weren’t any, which only made him more puzzled. He had tried to map out the labyrinth, but the maze was so complex he’d need more than the simple tools they had allowed him.

The walls were solid stone, too thick to break through, and stretched up to the height of a two-story building. The walls were porous and cracked from age, so he had made sure to climb up and check the higher sections for openings like windows and doors. There hadn’t been anything of note other than the labyrinth didn’t have a ceiling. Obviously, to simulate having an open sky above you. He had stood on top of the walls and looked over the vastness of the labyrinth hoping for some clue or landmark.

A thought flashed through his mind. No, it couldn’t be that easy. “Ok, the labyrinth isn’t fair. That is obvious. But what if I had help? Can I ask for help?”

“You could, but no one I known has ever been able to make sense of this place.” Mesik smiled.

“So you’re telling me no one has ever gotten out?” Dabuk was dumbfounded.

“I didn’t say that.” Mesik grinned.

“Can I just ask to be let out?” Dabuk had considered that the challenge had something to do with pride.

“Sorry, it’s not that simple. But you’re starting to think more; you’re considering the options. That’s a good start. Now, it’s time to make a decision, which way?” Mesik’s job was to confuse and push the boy.

“Let’s try this way,” Dabuk sighed.

“Lead the way, trainee.” Mesik thought the boy had it but not quite.

The two Tiger Guild members continued to pace through the training labyrinth; Dabuk grumbling and searching for a way to make sense of it all.

* * *

“Leaving again so soon, are you lad?”

“Aye, father. You know how restless I am here. I need to go places and see how other races live. I don’t know why I need too. I just do.” Dvalin Thunderstone stowed away his meager traveling possessions.

“I know, I know. I was just hoping you’d stay longer this time, my son.” Brekk Thunderstone dared to dream that his stout son would eventually learn to love the stone and hearth of their clanhome. “After all, the summer festivals are in full swing. I was hoping you’d enter the hammer throw in the Onyx Athletics Tournament this year. It would be a great honor for the Thunderstone clan if you competed, and you would easily win.”

“Aye, but the games are not my thing, father. You know that. We’ve discussed this over and over again. Something else stirs my blood other than stone. I don’t understand it, but I want to and, by Moradin, I’m going to figure out my place in the world, my way.”

“Aye, so you keep telling me.” Brekk didn’t know what else to do or say to convince his son to love the stone and mortar halls of the Dwarven City of Milo. Not to mention the hundreds of years of tradition that went with being a member of the Thunderstone clan. “So, where to this time?”

“Fruen,” Dvalin replied.

“A human-dominated city, in the middle of summer. The stink will be terrible.”

“Perhaps,” Dvalin moved to his stone pallet and gathered up the last of his gear. “Fruen is one of the major port cities of the Eastern Shores. It has a long history for a human-dominated city as you say. Plus, I feel like I need a new challenge. I’m going to attempt to join the city watch or perhaps work as a bodyguard for a while. It will be good experience.”

“Good experience! Protecting fat human merchants and ungrateful, unpolished citizens.” Brekk was against it but knew better than to voice it openly. “I hope you know what you’re getting into?”

“Aye, so do I.” Dvalin shouldered his pack grabbing his axe.
======================

Up next... the journey to Fruen. But who's journey? Also, more in Milo.
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
the Jester said:
Good start, Knightfall1972! I like it so far...

Thanks Jester. And here's the next update...
======================

Bactra had walked the Eastern Path dozens of times in his young, life; its many twists and turns lead him through the multicolored splendor of the forest. The forest was old with trees of many varieties and subspecies. There were the grand oaks with leaves many shades of green. There were also the smaller janbrook trees with brownish black bark and silver-tinged leaves. There were alders, firs, maples, birch trees, and cedars of every shape and size.

The forest was a blaze of deep rich colors, alive with the sounds of the wilderness. Birds, insects, and small animals sounded throughout the forest like a symphony. Bactra could hear the far off cry of a hawk hunting and the skittering of some small beast under a nearby rose-petaled bush. A pair of chipmunks chattered in nearby janbrook tree, obviously fight over a nut or possibly even a mate.

Bactra also knew that Breinarch the Green stood watch over this region of the Knotwood; nothing escaping the attention of the dragon’s old eyes. Not that Bactra had anything to fear from the green dragon of the Knotwood; the dragon was a staunch ally of the forest elves and a force for neutrality as well as the Tenets of the Balance. Breinarch wasn’t one of the Majestics but that didn’t make the old dragon any less important to the Balance.

Many humans believed dragons to be either solely good or evil, not realizing the complexity of the great, intelligent beasts’ purpose within nature. They were as much a part of the world as an elf, a human, or any animal of the wild. Sure there were those dragons that fell more towards the views of extremism, but those ‘rogues’ were either actively hunted or eventually left Harqual altogether.

Bactra stopped to rest, taking in the many sights and sounds, reveling in the forest of his homeland. He had come a long way in his life, of that there wasn’t any doubt. Yet, at only one hundred and thirty-five years, Bactra knew he still had much to learn about the world. His parents had sheltered him for nearly a century, not willing to let him step one foot out of the community of Woodknot; the heart of the forest elven lands known as the Knotwood.

The fact that the names were so similar, yet different didn’t worry any forest elf’s mind. Humans, of course, found it confusing at first, not realizing that Woodknot is a physical place in the Knotwood. Of course, very few humans had ever ventured deep enough into the beautifully wild forest to learn the difference. Most just assumed the names were variations of the forest’s name.

However, the first time Bactra had met Garth Tigerstorm the human had known the difference. It was strange, their relationship. Garth was the father of Dabuk Tigerstorm, Bactra’s cousin, yet the man was younger than Bactra, only fifty-three years old. Garth was less than half his age, yet the elven wizard called the man uncle, and in return Garth sometimes honored the elf by calling him nephew.

This was what Bactra’s parents had tried so hard to shelter him from. The confusing and sometimes volatile mess that was elven and human bloodlines mixed together. None among the elven clans of the Knotwood had been happy when Garth had married Dabuk’s mother, Eiithinia Starchild. Some had even tried to forbid the joining.

However, Eiithinia had been a stubborn woman, even for a forest elf. She had moved beyond the reach of the elders of the Therani Clan, the hereditary leaders of the clans of the Knotwood, to be with the man she loved. Being isolated from her people had taken a toll on her, and she would often have fits of melancholy. Yet, she refused to be parted from her love and when Dabuk was born she became more entrenched in her life beyond the forest.

It was only after her tragic death that the hearts of the clan elders softened. They had lost one of their best and brightest; a hero of the wars against the ogres, and one of the finest people you’d ever meet. They had dedicated a sacred grove in her honor and begrudgingly allowed Garth and Dabuk to visit it. Garth had originally wanted to bury his wife on one of the many properties he owned, but he related when Dabuk had insisted his mother be buried in the grove her people had created for her.

It had been this tragedy, eleven years ago, which had first brought the two cousins together. Dabuk had been only five years old; he had been a mere babe compared to Bactra. Yet they had instantly bonded, and Bactra had watched as the boy grew into a young man guiding him nearly as much as the boy’s father had. After this it had been impossible for his parents to keep him isolated in Woodknot.

“So where are you going this time, as if I didn’t know.” The words echoed out from behind an old oak tree, to Bactra’s right, as elven wizard prepared to continue on down the path.

“Hello Joshian,” Bactra had known his kin was there before he had spoken out loud. “We’re not going to have that same old argument are we?”

“You should forget about him. He’ll but be a whisper in your life. He’ll live, age, and die in a heartbeat.” The other elf stepped out from behind the old oak tree. He was older than Bactra but only by a few summers. He wore the garments of a warrior, an archer, and a soldier, greens and browns of various shades to hide him in the woods.

“You have made this argument over and over and I keep telling you, cousin, that I don’t want to hear it.” Bactra was tired of Joshian’s anger. He and Joshian had grown up together, but since Bactra had become so close to Dabuk, his kin had come to resent his friendship with the half-elf.

“He isn’t worth it, cousin.” Joshian’s bitterness broke through his words.

“So you keep saying, yet I’ve learned as much from him as he does from me. Being a half-elf gives him an interesting perspective on life. Besides, you should not talk ill of your own brother.”

“Half-brother.” Joshian stood in Bactra’s way refusing to budge.

“Semantics.” Bactra would try not to come to blows with Eiithinia’s other son.

“No. Blood.” Joshian had his hand on his sword hilt, ready to teach his kin respect for the purity of the bloodline.

“Get out of my way,” Bactra knew his cousin wouldn’t draw on him as he stepped forward. “You cannot hinder a clan member from traveling this path. It is a crime, a crime against the laws of Therani Clan, and a crime against the memory of your mother.”

“Don’t you do that!” Joshian let go of his blade grabbing Bactra by the scruff of the neck. “Don’t you dare use her against me like that!”

Bactra was shocked by Joshian’s reaction. He had obviously underestimated his cousin’s anger and resentment. Eleven years was nothing to an elf and Joshian was still mourning his mother. However, that didn’t mean Bactra was just going to let his cousin rough him up. He still had a hold of his staff in one hand. He slipped his hand down to the center of the weapon, tucked the upper half under his arm, lifted the weapon above their heads, and brought it down squarely on Joshian’s shoulder.

It was Joshian’s turn to be shocked. He snapped out of his rage letting Bactra go. The wooden weapon hadn’t hurt him, but it had jarred him from what he had been doing.

“I-I’m sorry, cousin.” Joshian cried. “I simply miss her so.”

“I understand.” Bactra wore worry on his brow. “Do you want to walk with me to the edge of the forest? I could use the company.”

“I-I don’t really feel like it.” Joshian was trying to stuff down his emotions.

“Oh come on, it will do us both some good to catch up. We haven’t had a good talk about other things in some time. I promise no talking about you-know-who.” Bactra patted his cousin on the back.

“All right,” Joshian sighed. “After all, I have to travel southeast through Minar anyway.”

“Really, where to?” Bactra was surprised. It wasn’t like Joshian to travel beyond the edge of the forest.

“I cannot talk about it here out in the open.” Joshian gathered the rest of his things from a hollowed out knot in the oak tree he’d been hiding behind. “All I can say for now is that it is very important. Ask me again later.”

“Very well, but I expect you to tell me as soon as you can. How is Missia?”

“She is still the same,” Joshian beamed at the mention of his betrothed. “Beautiful and temperamental. What of Feliinia? You two were quite the item last summer.”

“She decided that I wasn’t her type. She married an archer from the Silver Leaves.” Bactra sighed.

“Too bad, she’s quite the radiant beauty. Did she say why?” Joshian led the way as they continued talking.

“No. She wanted someone with muscles, I guess.” Bactra laughed.

The two continued to talk as they made their way farther east towards the edge of the forest enjoying an old friendship as they passed under the canopy of the many oaks and janbrook trees; the greens and silvers of the leaves swayed in the light breeze of mid-afternoon.
======================

Up next... Jeddar leaves the kingdom of the Silver Leaves, while Dvalin says goodbye to Rikin and childhood friend.
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
Jeddar walked careful along the narrow road leading along the shore of Lake Silverleaf. The wilderness around him was, in fact, a carefully cultivated garden of nature. To a human it would have appeared to be nothing more than clear-cut stone path through a wild vale of silver and gold. To a forest elf visiting the Kingdom of the Silver Leaves it would feel overtly tame.

Jeddar would miss the tranquil beauty of his homeland, its groves of janbrook trees and the calm waters of Lake Silverleaf. He’d miss his father but was torn about his feelings towards the Queen Consort, Anithiia. She was considered his mother in the Silver Court, but the woman had nothing but contempt for the young man.

He was the adopted son of Menkhar Silversun, High One of the Kingdom of the Silver Leaves and was barely accepted in silver elf society and then only by those not of noble birth. The nobles of the Silver Court resented his human blood but none more then his own mother. She hated him; Jeddar was sure of it. She showed him nothing but coldness and spite.

Menkhar had found Jeddar as a babe crying and alone in the wilderness. The elven monarch had saved him and brought Jeddar into his own house. Many had argued against it. Anithiia had thrown a fit, a rare tantrum for an elf. Menkhar had refused to budge, and Jeddar had grown up under the watchful eye of his mother’s nursemaid, Corinesa.

Jeddar stopped to sit on one of the stone benches near the shore of Lake Silverleaf. The sun made the waters sparkle in a cascade of blue, green, and silver. A tear inched its way down his cheek at the thought of the elven woman who’d been more like a mother to him than Anithiia ever had been.

Corinesa had been born barren and even with the help of magic hadn’t been able to bare children. She had been a noble woman, but her inability to have children had meant she’d grown old before her time. No elf man would have her, and she was reduced to becoming the handmaiden and nursemaid of the Queen Consort.

Jeddar picked up a flat stone skipping it into the water of the lake. He had been raised as a Silversun, but he felt like the son of a handmaiden. Corinesa was why he hoped for the future. She had been devastated when he told her he was leaving to join the Bardic College of Thallin. Yet, she had understood more than anyone his passion for music, and his need to learn more than just elven music.

“You will be the greatest bard in the world,” she had said to him.

“I will make you proud, Corin.” Jeddar had spoken the words then and now. “I promise.”

Jeddar pulled his gaze away from the lake and back onto the road to the Elven City of Silverdawn; there, he would petition the druids of the Silver Gate to allow him passage to the East.

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
Dvalin walked the halls of Milo heading towards the Clanhome of the Blackforge. He had two to see and say goodbye to. The first was Rikin Stonefossil and the second was Sannl Blackforge. Dvalin knew that Rikin would be waiting for him at the Stone Gate of the Forge, the entryway into the underground Dwarven City. Rikin had entered his mind first and that was why he counted him as such. Truth to be told, saying goodbye to his blood brother would be harder than this was going to be.

Sannl would not make it easy for him to leave. She was his betrothed, and he cared for her as he would any good friend. Unfortunately, that was all Dvalin felt. He did not love her but he hoped, in time, he’d come to once they were joined. Dvalin’s steps grew heavy as he approached the clanhome of the ruling family of the Kingdom of the Greystones. He was a nervous as an elf in an orcish brothel. He straightened his gear and fussed with his beard. He didn’t want to look like a total ruffian in front of royalty. Why High Thane Ulfgar Blackforge had chosen Dvalin to be Sannl’s husband was beyond him. He was as atypical a dwarf as it got.

For while he loved his family and felt a strong bond with the earth, he just couldn’t get enough of other cultures. Through the years he’d spent more time visiting the human-dominated cities of the Wind Plains to the southeast. He knew the city of Ciros like the hairs of his beard and had traveled as far south as the port city of Raell in the Kingdom of Thallin. While he did not have a love for water, he didn’t fear it like so many of his kind. In fact, it fascinated him. He’d love to try his hand at being a sailor.

“State your name, dwarf.” Brelik was a good guardsman and one of the Ironbound of Milo. He was also a personal friend of Dvalin and Rikin.

“I am Dvalin Thunderstone, son of Brekk, grandson of-“ Dvalin stopped and sighed. “Do we have to do this, Brelik? I’m in a hurry.”

“Dvalin, my commander might be watching! Besides it’s my duty and it’s tradition.” Brelik tried not to look nervous.

“Beard!” Dvalin hated some of the more outdated traditions, at least in his mind. “Very well.”

Dvalin spent the next half-an-hour speaking his family lineage and the honors the Thunderstone Clan had won throughout the last one-hundred years. If it had been an official ceremony, he’d have had to go back three-hundred years. Dvalin couldn’t wait to be on the road again.

Dvalin fished with a gasp and took a drink from his waterskin.

“You may enter.” Brelik smiled.

“You Ironbound bully.” Dvalin smiled back.

Dvalin pushed open the stone doors leading into the antechamber of Blackforge Hall. She was waiting for him. Dvalin was shocked. He had been sure she’d insist he would have to see her father first.

“You cannot go,” Sannl said defiantly.

“Our joining isn’t for another five years. I don’t need your permission to leave. I just came to say goodbye and that I’ll be back next summer.”

“Next summer!” Sannl rushed him bowling him over. “And what about this year. We were supposed to going delving together in the gem holds. You promised!”

“I did no such thing.” Dvalin pushed her off with one great heave. “I said I’d think about it.”

“I could have father order you to stay.” She stood defiantly in front of him. “Maybe have you put back into the Stone Delvers for another year.”

“I’ve done my time in the militia, your father cannot force me to serve again, and if he tried, he’d need my father’s vote amongst the clans. They may be friends but Brekk would never agree to such an act. It goes against the Laws of the Stone.”

“Then I’ll have you thrown in irons and forced to work the mines.” Sannl fumed.

“You are such a temperamental child.” Dvalin glared at his childhood friend. “The words you just spoke is enough of an affront to my family's honor that I could ask for a Sundering of our marriage contract. Is that what you want?”

“But next summer? You’ve never left for so long. I worry you won’t come back.” Sannl pouted.

“Gods, do not be so dense.” Dvalin hoped the tone of his words wouldn’t betray his thoughts. He’d considered it. “Of course, I’m going to come back.”

Without another word Dvalin turned around and left the antechamber of Blackforge Hall.

* * *

Rikin Stonefossil paced back and forth in front of the Stone Gate of the Forge. He looked up towards the carvings of Moradin on the door with reverence and concern. His armor clanked as he walked back and forth but it was lost to the traffic pouring through the gate in both directions. Dwarven pilgrims, merchants, and soldiers came and went like organized ants into a stone anthill.

Rikin hated waiting. But he’d rather wait than have Dvalin leave again. The dwarf shifted uncomfortably in his heavy armor. Of course, as an initiate of the Ironbound he hadn’t yet been given the honor of a full suit of customized dwarven plate. He wouldn’t receive that honor until he became a full member.

“Where is he?” Rikin grumbled to no one in particular. “I must convince him to stay. I must.”

“You will do no such thing,” Brekk Thunderstone appeared out of no where.

“High Defender, father, I did not see you,” Rikin began to motion as to salute.

“Please, do not be so formal. You are my son first, an Ironbound initiate second.” Brekk Thunderstone quickly raised his voice. “And if your commander is listening and has a problem with that, then I’ll see him in the Defender Chamber tonight at stone-dusk.”

“Father, you’re embarrassing me.” Rikin turned red in his armor. He put on his helm to hide his humiliated skin.

“If you wish to be a Ironbound, then you will have to learn how to never be embarrassed.” Rikin’s commander appeared behind the dwarven initiate and smacked him over the helm.

“Aye,” Brekk had both shown his love for his son and tested him at the same time. “You must have an iron will as well as and iron suit of armor. Or you are just a Stone Delver pretending to be something you are not.”

“Aye, father.” Rikin’s commander smacked him again but Rikin didn’t flinch. He removed his helm and let his red skin show. “I understand.”

He stood there at attention under the watchful eye of his commander and his father. Dvalin arrived half-an-hour later.

“You have ten minutes, initiate.” Rikin’s commander barked. “Then I expect o see you back in the barrack in same amount of time.”

The Ironbound commander left with a salute to Brekk. The High Defender of Stone Fists returned the gesture then turned to watch his sons say goodbye.

“Rikin, how did I know you’d be here?” Dvalin put his hands on his brother’s shoulders.

“Where else would I be, brother?” Rikin continued to stand at attention.

“I see your training is well under way.” Dvalin looked at his brother’s new armor with both pride and worry. “I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into?”

“I could ask the same of you.”

“Ha!” Dvalin hugged his brother, a rare show of emotion for a dwarf. “Aye, that you could. We shall leave it at that.”

“Aye,” Rikin could feel the eyes watching them judging his brother’s behavior. “Take care of yourself.”

“And you,” Dvalin didn’t have the heart to tell him or his father that he wouldn’t be back for at least a year. “Now, get going initiate. You have ten minutes to make it to the barracks.”

Without a word, Rikin turned and began to run.

“I worry about the life he’s chosen, father. It is a hard way to live.” Dvalin worried that Rikin might break. “He’s been through so much already.”

“Aye,” Brekk held his hand out palm up. “Take care of yourself, my son.”

“I will,” Dvalin put his hand on his father’s. “And I’ll be back before you know it.”

Dvalin hadn’t expected to see his father at the gate. He quickly turned away not wishing to show his buried emotions in front of the onlookers. He took a deep breath and marched out the Stone Gate of the Forge.

Brekk watched his son leave. He had discovered that Dvalin wouldn’t be back anytime soon. The old dwarf wondered if his son would ever come back. Even so, he would not stand in Dvalin’s way.

“You must make your own stone road, my son. Rikin is not the only one who has chosen the hard way.”
======================

Up next... Jeddar arrives at Silverdawn, while Bactra meets Garth Tigerstorm at Raln. We'll get back to Dabuk in a little while, he's still wandering around lost in the maze. :D
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
Jeddar could sense the wonder of Silverdawn even before its gentle spires appeared in the distance. The land around the Sacred City was known for its majestic beauty, being a living extension of the community and its citizens. Here, silver elves, fey, and magical beasts lived in unison with each other and the muted wildness of the multi-greened forest, shining silver lake, and the swaying beauty of the tall grasses of the Sacred Plains.

Here, fey druids lived amongst elven wizards and all lived by the Tenets of the Balance. It was the Sacred City’s one true shining success that druids had taught wizards to reign in their burgeoning powers without using force. The city had even become the home of other races willing to live within the Tenets – humans, half-elves, hairfoots, and even one or two dwarves, if the rumors were true.

Jeddar pondered the idea of meeting one of the outsider races, for in his short life span he’d never met any who wasn’t a elf, hairfoot, fey, or one of the shifting races – the giant owls and eagles of the forest. Yes, he’d definitely get a chance to experience other cultures, even here so close to his homeland. The half-elf soon came upon the low buried homes of several families of hairfoots, and he waved to a young couple as they sat upon a shaped, fallen tree set in front of their home. The missus of the house waved back with a huge smile while her husband simply nodded as he smokd his large copper pipe.

Soon all manner of hairfoots, satyrs, and other little folk were bustling all around him as he passed under the last stretch of forest, before the wide dirt road passed into the Sacred Plains. He was, as of yet, not in Silverdawn. Many isolated, rural boroughs existed throughout the Great Forest of Harqual. The main difference here was that instead of mainly elves and a few hairfoots, the boroughs had become populated more with fey folk.

Jeddar pulled out a reed flute and began to play as he walked. Soon he had an audience up and down the dirt road as hairfoots, buckawns, satyrs, and fremlins gathered at the edge of the road to listen to the young bard play. He gave them a rousing tune to clap by as he sauntered, half-walking, half-dancing. Several satyrs joined in the merriment and soon Jeddar had a whole entourage of hairfoot children and sprites.

He stopped at the edge of the forest near an old red oak changing his tune from the upbeat, to soothing, to dusky, and, finally, to wistful. A ring had formed around him as he had played. Hairfoot children watching wide-eyed, their parents, nearby, nodding in approval at the young half-elf’s performance. When he stopped, all clapped and some of the younger cheered. Jeddar bowed without flourish. These were not elven nobles, these were simple folk who preferred a simpler way of life.

Jeddar admired them.

Several offering of coin were made, which Jeddar gladly took. He’d need all he could get once he reached human lands. This thought brought his attention back to needing to reach Silverdawn. He walked with several locals to where the city could be best viewed. The sight was breathtaking even for one use to the beauty of Silverleaf.

The city seemed grow out of a solid foundation of stone, made of immensely thick boughs, which either rose into the sky like a mythical beanstalk or grew in upon itself in spirals forming complex districts and aeries. Winged creatures of all sorts glided up above these branches of the city, still to distant to make out. One larger form was obviously a dragon, probably the protector of the city, Remilithax. The bronze dragon was still in her youth compared to many of the older dragons of the region but that didn’t make her any less important to the Balance or any less dangerous.

Jeddar doubted he’d get a chance to meet her. And while his people often followed the Tenets, he himself was neutral about the whole thing. He didn’t get overly emotional over such issues as cosmic balance and the supremacy of nature. He was happy just to play music and sing songs to lift the spirits of those around him.

He shook several hands and patted one hairfoot child on the head before returning to the path and continuing on towards Silverdawn. The city was less than quarter day’s travel away and he wanted to be within the city proper, if there was such a thing, before night fell. The Sacred Plains might be one of the holy lands of the druids, but it was also a wild place, best explored during the daylight hours.

Jeddar quickened his pace as the sun began to redden on the horizon.

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
“So, are you sure I can’t convince you to come with me?” Joshian had decided to try and entice Bactra with the tales of the winged elves of the Sunus Mountains. Tales that pushed him to see if the ee’aar were real or just myth. Yet, he knew what the answer would be.

“I’m going to Fruen, cousin.” Bactra spoke with finality. “We must all must walk our path in life. You seek the truth about the ee’aar, while I plan to learn about human culture, such as it is, firsthand.”

“You could do that in Minar City,” Joshian smiled at his cousin’s stubbornness. “But you’ve obviously made up your mind, and I won’t try to change it again.”

“Good,” Bactra could hear the water lapping the shore, ahead of them. “Now, I have to stop in Anreld for some supplies. Plus, it will give me a chance to talk to Jax.”

“Jax!” Joshian groaned. “You’re still dealing with that human pup? I would have thought you had more sense. At least Dabuk is related. Jax is just, well, he’s Jax.”

“Exactly,” Bactra laughed. “He’s human, he’s my friend, and you’re just going to have to deal with it. Besides, he’s lots of fun.”

“Ugh,” Joshian pushed aside a low hanging branch.

The water’s edge of Lake Qualitian stretched out before them. Its deep dark-blue waters shining in the early evening’s fading light. The rough path they had been following began to twine along the shoreline. The two elves knew exactly where they were so neither was surprised to see several human fishermen wading into the water trying to catch trout with lines and hooks.

They walked by the humans without a second thought. These were forest folk living along the shores of the lake and only taking what they needed. They were a rarity amongst humans. They lived more like hairfoots then humans. The fishermen yelled an elven greeting as Bactra and Joshian walked by. The two elves returned the greeting, not feeling the need to point out that the fishermen had spoke the phrase too monotone and with the wrong inflections.

“Jax,” Joshian sighed. “That poor boy is going to grow up with little or no education. He’ll likely never set foot beyond his mother’s gaze.”
“Maybe,” Bactra had wanted to show Jax his home in Woodknot, but the Elders had forbid it. They refused to let a mere human boy to see the natural, raw beauty of the Elven City of the Knotwood. “But not for any lack, on his part, of wanting to see the world.”

Bactra knew the tiny hamlet was just ahead, and he could already smell the wood smoke of the community’s central hearth house. It was just past the wood folk’s time they called “repast.” Bactra and Joshin took a second path heading northeast away from the lake, which lead them into the small human community.

The hamlet was no more than two-hundred souls, with lean-tos, wooden huts, and the occasional stone house. Many of the locals spoke the elven greeting to Bactra as he was well known to the community.

“Bactra,” an old woman named Mabelia teetered precariously towards the elven man. “I see you have come back, mayshin. Perhaps you can talk some sense into the old man, eh?”

“What’s Verlain done now, old massy?” Bactra doubted it was serious.

“He’s gone and told Brie and Samuel that Jax must be schooled at Raln as a wizard. And now the boy has run off.”

“That does sound serious,” Joshian liked the boy even though he teased Bactra about Jax. “We’d best find him before he gets hopelessly lost.”

“First, we go and talk to Verlain,” Bactra was annoyed. “I told that old adept not to push this matter. Jax doesn’t have the intellect to be a wizard, may Corellon forgive me for having to state the truth. As for Jax, don’t worry about him, Mabelia. I have a pretty good idea where he went. If so, then he should be safe.”

Bactra straightened his back and strode towards the hearth house with purpose and a bit of anger. The building was the largest in the community, which wasn’t saying much. It was a one-story stone structure that was built like a hall. Bactra pushed aside the hide covering the entrance and stepped inside.

“Stay out here,” Bactra ordered his cousin as he disappeared inside. “I need to handle this personally.”

“Whatever you say,” Joshian found a nice spot to meditate and sat down.

Joshian waited as he listened to Bactra tear a new hole in the human adept’s ego. The man was the head of the community, but he was just over fifty summers old. Bactra had known Verlain in his early youth. They had started out as close friends, but the human had aged to the point where he didn’t feel it was appropriate to be the elf’s friend anymore. The truth was that Bactra’s elven youth reminded Verlain that he would die sooner than later.

“Human mortality, blink and you’ll miss it.” Joshian mumbled the words as he pushed himself into the Reverie.

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
“Jeddar Silversun,” an old, regal elf man, in simple robes, stood near the open-air window made of greenery and stone. “Why have you come to Silverdawn?”

The old druid already knew the answer. He had known the instant the High One’s adopted son had past into the lands of the Sacred Plains. The druid and the land were one. He was the land, manifest – no one knew this of course, not even his closest advisors. Most believed that he was simply one of the oldest living elves on the continent.

Regardless of his true nature, the Druid of Silverdawn was imposing and most outsiders quaked in his presence.

“I have come to try the Silver Gate.” Jeddar didn’t quake but neither was he comfortable.

What he wished for was unheard of. None had passed through the Silver Gate in nearly one-thousand years. It wasn’t that it was forbidden. It was said to simply be impossible for mortals to do so, safely.

“Do you realize the danger, young one?” the old druid was intrigued. “Not even I can protect you from the gate’s power. It could swallow you up whole or transport you halfway across the world.“

“The gate is said to take you where you most want to be.” Jeddar had learned the legend at an early age and had been intrigued ever since. “And I want to be in Fruen. Plain and simple.”

“It would be just as simple for you to walk there your self. It’s not like you have to traverse the entire continent to get there.” The old druid couldn’t understand why the boy would risk his life for such a simple thing.

“Yes, but it wouldn’t be as good a story to tell.” Jeddar smiled wryly. “I want to be the most famous bard of this era and I want my tales to be grand. A simple trip across land isn’t all that exciting.”

The old druid looked at him disbelieving.

“And, I’m not that patient.” Jeddar wondered to himself if he was crazy.

“Very well,” the old druid sighed. “You may try to use the Silver Gate. Be forewarned that most likely it will do nothing. I have seen it activate only twice in the last one-thousand years and each time it spit forth darkness and madness.”

“Sounds like fun.” Jeddar grinned.

* * *

“Damn him to Hades’ Underrealm, where is that boy?” Bactra was mad.

“Patience, cousin. We’ll find him.” Joshian stood nearby watching the water pour down the wide waters of Foxe Falls. The falls were little more than heavy rapids that spread across the entire width of northeastern edge of Lake Qualitian and the shores of the Little Peninsula, or the Qualitian Belt as it was more commonly called.

“Jax always comes here when he’s angry. The waters seem to calm him.” Bactra sighed. “I was sure he’d be here. Verlain’s decree must have really upset him.”

“Perhaps he’s truly run away. If so, I’d say that’s the end of it. What can you hope to do? Tracking isn’t your specialty, cousin.” Joshian wished to be on his way, Jax or no Jax.

“I have to keep looking. Perhaps the ferryman has seen him.” Bactra began to pick his way along the sloping shoreline down towards the Ferry of Silver Bay.

All Joshian could do was sigh wistfully.

The two elves quickly traversed the rough terrain towards the ferry. The waters grew more rapid then fell off into a small waterfall. Mist rose from the water everywhere. The sound of loud gushing water could be heard in the distance.

“Broken Spout, I presume.” Joshian rarely spent time in this region of the Knotwood and had never seen the geyser of water.

“Yes, it lies in the center of Silver Bay, constantly spewing water up into the air.” Bactra had seen it from shore, or, at least, what he had been able to see of it.

Broken Spout was one of many of the Water God’s Legacies. Tulle, the North God also known as the River God, had died during the Divinity War. The result had been chaos across Harqual as waterways shifted in strange, alien ways. For nearly two centuries after the god’s death it had been hazardous to travel by river or by sea. The water had been said to been tainted by his dying blood and had been toxic to the touch.

Eventually, the waterways righted themselves, for the most part, yet even still there are many Legacies of Tulle. Water is now considered a blessing and few take it for granted.

“Do you think we’ll get a chance to see it before the sun sets?” Joshian was suddenly excited about the possibility of see such a thing. Tulle’s Legacies were rare, wondrous, and sometimes beautiful.

“Don’t count on it. The mist here never recedes. It makes seeing the geyser nearly impossible from shore. I was lucky to get a glimpse of it. In order to see it best, you need to be standing on one of the bay’s few watchtowers or on the high stone walls of Woodward Castle. And I doubt the local lord would care to allow two elves into his fortress for a sightseeing tour.”

“You shouldn’t mock.” Joshian had forgotten all about Jax and knew Bactra had lashed out due to his concern for the boy. “I wasn’t wishing ill will on the boy, before. I was just pointing out that, friends or not, you can’t be responsible for the actions of humans, Verlain or Jax. They must live their own lives, Bactra.”

“If I can help, then I will.” Bactra said no more.

Joshian didn’t push the issue, instead turning his attention to trying to pierce the veil of mist for any sight of the geyser. Even with his elven sight he couldn’t make out more than the nearest trees and the waterline.

“This would be a great place for an ambush.” Joshian was a trained warrior and instinctively became alert for danger.

“That rarely happens here and if it did not even you would see it coming. So relax and let the world evolve as it would. And watch your step. The last hundred feet is the most treacherous.”

Bactra wore the garments of his clan, having changed out of his robe in the hamlet. He knew the terrain and had instinctively dressed for it. Joshian was always dressed for such terrain. Such was the forest warrior way of life.

The two elves carefully picked their way down the steeped slope helping each other when required. It would have been child’s play for a dwarf. The ground soon leveled out and the forest drew back from the edge of the churning waters. A wide grassy shore stretched out into the mist. It was truly picturesque, and Joshian felt a need to breathe in deeply and take it all in.

Bactra, in matter-of-fact manner, continued to walk along the edge of the lake. He couldn’t see the stone structure he sought, but he knew it was close. The roar of the waterfall died down and the roar of the still distant geyser took over the music of water-song.

Joshian had been standing still until he’d noticed Bactra disappearing into the mist. His long strides quickly caught him up to his cousin.
“This place is truly incredible.” Joshian lifted his hands to pass through the cooling mist. “I wonder why the clans didn’t claim this territory?”

“You really must study more, cousin.” Bactra smiled at his kin’s ignorance. “The land is beautiful, yes, but it is also deadly. Imagine trying to stay dry here or sleep amongst the trees. Your clothes would be soaked in a matter of hours. You lungs would yearn for dry air, which would be the slow death of anyone.”

Joshian ran his hands along his clothing. It was already overly damp. His face was cool, indeed, but it was also slick with condensation. He could feel his breath, heavy and not just from the downward climb. He looked around with concern.

“No. Not even the forest folk dare live here.” Bactra laughed. “But do not worry too much. We won’t be here long enough to catch our death of cold. A warm fire and dry bed is all we’ll need.”

Joshian laughed in turn.

“Ah, here we are,” Bactra pointed to an old stone cabin sitting adjacent to the lakeshore. “The Ferry of Silver Bay.”

The old structure had seen better days. The stone was damp and cracked. Its foundation sagged into the earth and the building was surrounded by mud. Stepping stones lead from the grasses to the cabin, which sported no windows and a thick bear hide on the door. A small stone dock jutted out into the lake. There wasn’t any sign of a boat or of its caretaker.

If Bactra hadn’t pointed it out, in the mist, Joshian would have walked right into it.

“That’s odd.” Bactra took his time moving across the stones. “Its much too late for a ferry crossing. I wonder where the ferryman could be?”

Joshian looked up into a misty sky. It would be dusk soon, not that the sky was visible through the mist, and the elven warrior didn’t like the idea of spending the night here after his kin’s warning.

The sound of water lapping brought both of their attention to the shoreline. A small wooden boat, old and rotting slowly made its way towards the dock. A solitary man steered the boat.

“I guess there’s a first time for everything, cousin.” Joshian stepped carefully over the slick stones to the cabin. He didn’t wish to have a mud bath.

Bactra watched as the man, one of the forest folk, brought the boat alongside the stone dock. Some of the old wood fell off into the water as the boat scraped the mold encrusted stone. The man deftly stood, turned, and tossed a hempen rope over a stone pillar.

“No more trips tonight,” He had seen them but hadn’t recognized them as elves through the mist. “Come back tomorrow.”

“We do not seek passage,” Bactra walked onto the dock to help the old man out of the boat. “I’m seeking Jax. I’d hoped you’d seen him but since you were-“

The old man cut him off. “Bactra, long time no see. Glad to see you, boy.” The old man took the elf man’s hand, shaking it. Then he grabbed his gear, waved Bactra back, and pulled himself out for the boat.

“Good to see you to, Farley. Stubborn as ever, I see.” Bactra shook his head and then laughed.

“An old man can’t change. Well, at least amongst humans. So you’re looking for Jax, eh? Well, he’s safely across the bay, not that it wasn’t a hairy ride. Why his mother gave him the market writ at this time of night, I’ll never understand.”

“What? He had what?” Oh damn that boy to Hades’ Underrealm!” Bactra realized that Jax had tricked the old man into taking him over the bay.

“I take it his mother didn’t give it to him, eh?” Farley sighed. “I should have never have accepted his payment. Damn the writ!”

“We have to go after him,” Bactra turned to Joshian. “He’s really running away this time.”

“Not tonight,” Farley shook his head in protest. “I feel bad about this but not bad enough to crash my boat on those treacherous rocks.”
“We have to go now,” Bactra grasped Farley’s arms. “Morning will be too late.”

“I’m not one of your kind, Bactra, I can’t see that well.” Farley shook his head averting the elf’s pleading gaze.

“Bactra, don’t push him.” Joshian stood at the end of the dock. The idea of traversing the lake in the old boat made him queasy.

“I will be your eyes, old friend.” Bactra reached for his coin pouch. “And I’ll pay you in silver instead of copper.”

Bactra pulled out ten silver coins and held them up for Farley to see.
Farley couldn’t help but look at the coins, then to Joshian on the shore, then to Bactra’s smiling face, and finally to his old boat. He sighed in resignation, held out his payment satchel, and let Bactra drop the silver coins in.

“Thanks, old friend.” Bactra smiled.

“Yeah! Yeah! Just don’t stand there! Get in the damn boat!”

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
A short update...

“I got it! I got it!” Dabuk stood up in his bed slapping his forehead. “It was so damn obvious!”

“Shut up, pup!” Mesik turned over pulled the wool blanket over his head. “It’s not even dawn yet.”

“But the maze, I figured it out! We have to go! We have to get the others!” Dabuk jumped off the bed and began searching for his breeches.

Mesik sighed half in exhaustion and half in frustration. The damn boy had insisted he’d figured it out every night this week. The halfling gave him credit for being persistent. Three other boys had quit the guild in frustration, unable to take one more day wandering around the maze.

“We can’t go right now, boy. The guild is in lockdown for the night. Go back to bed.”

“But-“ Dabuk fell over as he tried to belt on his breaches.

“Now!” Mesik rarely raised his voice and when he did it meant he wouldn’t take anymore.

Dabuk let out a quick sigh but one growl from his mentor sent him diving into his bed. Yet, the half-elven boy couldn’t help but laugh muffled under his blanket.

“Shut up!” Mesik couldn't help but smile in silence. He hoped the boy had it right this time.

Dabuk didn’t make another sound until dawn.

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
Dabuk waited impatiently for Mesik to arrive at the entrance to the guild labyrinth. He knew the old hairfoot was late just to unsettle him. Dabuk would have none of it, however. He was positive that he had it right this time.

“This better be good,” Wheezy complained. “I have nearly a dozen baskets of potatoes to peel before dinner, and I’m going to be at it all afternoon.”

“Stop you’re whining, Wheezy. If Dabuk has it right and we are all there when he reveals the truth, then we won’t have to figure it out ourselves.” Bella often stood up for Dabuk, which made the teenage half-elf more irritated than embarrassed.

“He hasn’t been right before, Bella. What makes you think he’s right this time?” Minx was Bella’s roommate and the two of them were two of the oldest trainees in the group.

“At least he’s trying to figure it out.” Bella sniffed. “That's more than the rest of us can say. When was the last time we tried to figure it out without him? Out of all of us, he’s the only one coming up with new ideas.”

Dabuk was sure Bella (and maybe Minx as well) was put with the group of boys to keep an eye on them in order to make sure that the group stayed out of real trouble. Most of the others deferred to the two girls' suggestions, not because either of them were great leaders but because they were pretty, especially Bella.

All Bella was to Dabuk was “pretty” annoying. He didn’t have time for girls or the games that went along with adolescence. Sure, he respected Bella’s strength and speed and Minx’s sharp wit and guile, but he didn’t see either or them as intoxicating beauties. Besides, his father had always taught him to be suspicious of a beautiful face that always smiled and winked.

“You cannot trust such a face,” Dabuk mumbled the words under his breath. None of the others heard what he said or if they had, then they said nothing.

“Where is he?” Snyder paced back and forth. “I can’t wait here all day! They give us so many chores to do and not enough time to do them!”

“If you didn’t take the extra hour of sleep they allow us, then you’d have time to finish most of the hard chores before breakfast.” Dabuk hated the human boy. Snyder was lazy and opinionated. He grew up in a noble family and hadn’t done a real day’s work in his life before his father forced him to try to win a place in the Tiger Guild. “You can leave if you want, Snyder. I’m staying right here until Mesik arrives. Remember, if I’m right, then our initial training ends today and full apprenticeship starts tomorrow.”

“Dabuk’s right,” Lyle spoke up. “If we finish this, then no more low-end chores. That is why we’re all here together, and why we should have started out working together in the first place. Even if Dabuk is wrong, then, at the very least, his idea might help generate some new concepts none of us have considered before.”

“I still say you should tell us now,” Minx didn’t mind Dabuk as a fellow trainee, but she often tried to manipulate him into helping her. “If we all know your idea now, then we can plan better. You’re being very tight-lipped about this.”

“No. You have to wait and see. It’s too good to give away just like that.” Dabuk’s catlike grin made Minx squirm.

“All right,” Mesik appeared out of nowhere. “Let’s get this over with. I have more important things to do with my time than cater to your prattling tongues.”

All but Dabuk and Minx jumped out of their skin at Mesik’s arrival. Dabuk had become use to Mesik’s stealthy footfalls and low voice. To the point that Mesik rarely startled him anymore when the hairfoot walked out of the shadows. Minx, however, had turned before Mesik had even spoke. She has ears like a cat and had heard him coming.

Mesik looked the trainees over with a mixture of pride and disapproval. They were the best candidates for membership in the Tiger Guild in over a year yet most of them lacked focus and discipline. Minx and Dabuk would likely make it through to apprenticeship without too much difficulty, and the others might make it if the group stuck together. Mesik knew that Dabuk suspected Bella of being a spy and did nothing but smile inwardly at the boy’s lack of perception.

Bella was indeed spying on Dabuk but not for the Tiger Guild. Bella suspected that Dabuk was the plant placed by the guild amongst the trainees. Mesik could tell that she despised the boy for his heritage and his birthright. She stood up for him so often because she wished to undermine his authority with the others.

She wanted to be where he was now. He had the respect of the others and not because of who his grandfather is but in spite of that. She’d never get it, however, she was too cold and calculating. She’d likely wash out before her apprenticeship ended.

“This is your show, boy.” Mesik pointed at Dabuk. “It better be good this time or you’ll be pulling double duty in the kitchen with Snyder.”

Dabuk grinned again knowing that spending time with Snyder would be a suitable punishment if he failed and wasted Mesik’s time in the process. Yet, he was as confident as ever that he knew the secret of the guild labyrinth.

“Then let’s begin for the last time.”

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
Jeddar waited silently as the elders of Silverdawn chanted around the outskirts of the large series of stones forming a U-shaped henge. The Druid of Silverdawn stood near the center of the henge near an arch of stone that rose up nearly ten feet.

The stones of the henge were more than twice Jeddar’s height and so broad that it would take four elves with their hands clasped together and arms stretched out just to reach around from one side of a stone to the other. They were old. Some tales said that the henges had existed on Harqual from before the time of Cronn’s arrival.

Jeddar watched in fascination as the old druid began chanting old elven words that not even he understood. It was at that moment that Jeddar realized that he might be making a huge mistake. He could still back out, and no one would think less of him.

“No, I’m going to do this,” He thought.

The Druid of Silverdawn beckoned him forward.

Jeddar didn’t hesitate. He knew that even being here willing to risk the Silver Gate would make him famous throughout the Great Forest. Well, at least infamous. The gate would likely do nothing, but if it did activate for him, then who knows where it might take him.

Anywhere was better than back in Silverleaf.

“The incantations are done,” the Druid of Silverdawn looked at the young half-elven boy with admiration and a little fear. Even seasoned elven warriors quaked at the mere thought of being this close to the Silver Gate. “Speak your destination, young Jeddar Silversun.”

“The Eastern Shores, the Kingdom of Thallin, the City of Fruen.” Jeddar spoke the words clutching at the fine mithral charm that had been discovered with him as a babe. His one possession he prized more than anything. It was his only connection with the mother he’d never known.

Jeddar’s thoughts strayed towards his mother and the man who had raped her. The man was said to have been born in one of the towns or cities scattered across the Wind Plains. Most believed it had been Ciros or Baermos. The former was more likely than the latter, as his father had been more infamous along the edge of the Great Forest along the Wind River.

“I don’t believe it.”

Jeddar snapped back to where he was and what was doing. He turned to the old druid in puzzlement, but the Druid of Silverdawn didn’t see him. His eyes were transfixed on the arch of the Silver Gate. Jeddar looked at the gate and his jaw dropped.

The gate stood open.

“Wow,” Jeddar forgot his melancholy and smiled. “It actually opened for me.”

The young half-elven bard grabbed his gear and headed toward the gate. Only the Druid of Silverdawn noticed the light radiating from the half-elf’s charm. It glowed with a white brilliance that matched the color of the light, which glowed around the edge of the portal of the arch of stone.

“The charm,” the druid understood the boy’s true heritage immediately. “Jeddar, the charm is the key!”

“What?” Jeddar turned his head just as he crested the edge of the portal. He felt his body urged through the portal as if someone nudged him through. In a flash of light he was gone and the portal was closed.

“He has the key,” the old druidic spirit turned his ancient mind towards the City of Fruen. He hoped he could find the boy before his trinket got him in real trouble. “Nothing, he’s not there. Where could he be?”

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
Jeddar came out the other side of the gate with a bout of vertigo. He was on solid ground, but his head was spinning as if he were standing on the highest beam of one the red fir forts surrounding the Elven City of Treestead in the southern half of the Greystone Mountain Range.

“Uh, I think I’m going to be sick,” Jeddar could feel the harsh packed dirt of a well-worn road under his feet. It sounded like thunder was pounding in his head. He looked up just in time to see that the thunder was a large pony-drawn wagon coming right for him. “Oh, oh!”

“Get out of the way, you damned pointy-eared lout,” Jeddar could hear the driver yelling at him, but his vision was too blurry to make him out.

Jeddar stumbled to one side hoping it was in the direction of the roadside. The wagon veered away from the dazed half-elf just in the nick of time. The wagon went up on two wheels for a spilt second, which dumped some of its cargo and several passengers off.

The wagon fell back to its normal position at the same time Jeddar tripped and fell in the mud. Several angry wagon patrons began howling for the wagon to stop. But the dwarven driver was unable to get the ponies back under control. They veered off the road and into a dense copse of trees, which caused the reins to snap and the harnesses to break.

The wagon came to a stop against a tough cedar pine splintering as it crashed. Gear, tools, and merchandise went everywhere.

“Beard!” Dvalin Thunderstone couldn’t believe his luck. “I’m going to wring that scrawny tree hugger’s neck!”

* * *

The Druid of Silverdawn spent the rest of the day and night scrying for the boy’s location. He couldn’t sense Jeddar or the key anywhere within the confines of the Great Forest and knew it was pointless to attempt scrying throughout the human lands as his powers were limited beyond the edge of the forest.

“He will come home eventually,” the Druid of Silverdawn sat waiting in the center of the Silver Gate under the arch of stone. “And then I will be able to end the dark era that has befallen Harqual and unlock the Ways.”

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
“I hope you know where we are Bactra because I’m lost.” Farley couldn’t see a thing as his boat neared the other side of Silver Bay.

“Do not worry so much,” Bactra’s eyes were able to make out the edge of the waterline. “We’re almost there.”

“Yes, I see the bank too,” Joshian was soaked. “And I’ll be glad to get our of this boat and someplace dry.”

“We have to find Jax first, but I can cast a simple cantrip to dry off our clothes. Besides, the mist is only ankle high here.” Bactra scanned the bank for the dock that made up the other side of the Ferry of Silver Bay.

They had been on the water almost all night. The journey had been difficult, as the mist from Broken Spout had been so heavy that they had to backtrack twice. All were soaked to the bone and Farley’s breathing had become labored. Joshian had cast a minor cure spell on the old man to ease his winded, moisture-laden lungs.

“He’s got a huge head start, Bactra. And there is no telling where he is truly headed.” Joshian wiped the condensation from his eyes and wrung out his hair as best he could. He was very tired, a real rarity for one of his kind. He wanted to enter the Reverie so bad it made his head hurt. “We should dry off and wait until morning. I’m sure Jax is held up somewhere, asleep.”

“Joshian speaks wisely,” Farley rowed slowly waiting for Bactra to give him directions towards the location of the dock. “You can stay with me, in my secondary hut, in Silver Bay. It is on higher ground and is usually dry.”

“More to your left, Farley.” Bactra finally picked out the dock, which was in much better shape then the dock on the other side of the bay. “And I think Joshian and I should head towards the old mill leading towards Brawley. I think Jax is heading for the Town of Bourne, and the mill would be a safe place for him to hide.”

“Why Bourne?” Joshian wondered what could be so enticing about such an unremarkable town.

“Bourne isn’t his final destination. He’s hoping to gain an audience with the Elders of the High Forest. He wants to learn more about the wilderness without having to worry about his mother watching over him.”

“That’s insane,” Farley made a sign against evil. “The High Forest is haunted and controlled by evil spirits.”

“Fey are not evil spirits, Farley. Well, not all of them.” Bactra reached out for the dock as they neared it. He deftly grabbed onto the stone dock while Joshian tied up the boat to a nearby stone pillar.

“You sound certain that he is going that way.” Joshian helped Farley out of the boat. “You’ve discussed this with him already, haven’t you?”

“Last summer,” Bactra sighed. “He promised me that he wouldn’t try to go there alone, but Verlain’s stupid decree has obviously spooked him. He wants to learn the druidic way of life and well as the wood lore of the Elders.”

“Will they accept him?” Joshian asked.

“Not without the approval of a powerful druid or ranger, and I’ve yet to find anyone willing to speak for him. In truth, he would likely make a good ranger, but becoming a druid is very difficult. Especially since he’s determined to be apprenticed by one of the Fey Lords of the High Forest.”

“Farley’s right, Jax is crazy! The Fey Lords don’t take apprentices anymore. Well, at least, they haven’t in my lifetime.”

“I know. That’s why we have to get to him before he reaches Bourne. Otherwise, he’ll be dead the moment he enters the High Forest, or worse.”

“Madness, I tell you,” Farley shakes his head. “I’m going to Silver Bay. If you’re smart, you’ll forget about the boy and head for Raln to meet this uncle of yours. Jax is mad, and as good as dead.”

“I cannot do that,” Bactra made sure he hadn’t lost any of his gear on the crossing. He shouldered his pack and grabbed his staff. “He’s my friend. I won’t let him just throw his life away in some stupid gambit to become greentouched.”

Bactra walked away in the direction of the old mill. Joshian sighed in resignation, shook Farley’s hand, gathered his own gear, and hurried to catch his cousin.

“The ee’aar will have to wait,” Joshian thought. “As will the Reverie.”

Then the elven woodsman did something he’d only done twice before in his lifetime. He yawned.

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
Dabuk led the way through the Tiger Guild labyrinth. He already knew he was right, but the moment of the reveal had to be done at the point specified by Mesik. The walk there was simple enough, and would have been even simpler if Dabuk had been allowed to reveal the secret of the labyrinth at the entrance.

“All right, this is the spot.” Mesik held up his hand and the trainees all stopped. “We’re at the start position. Go ahead Dabuk, put forth your theory.”

“Yes, we’re all ears Dabuk.” Lyle still couldn’t figure out how Mesik always led them to the starting point. The labyrinth was so twisted and convoluted. “And you better be right because I don’t want to come down here ever again.”

“I’ll tell you the secret, but you have to see it for yourself.” Dabuk ran his hands along the nearest wall smiling to himself. Mesik caught the meaning of the boy’s words, and he knew Dabuk had figured it out.

“It took you long enough,” he said mockingly. The two just stood there grinning at each other.

“What? I don’t get it!” Wheezy banged his hand on the wall where Dabuk had been examining it.

Dabuk looked from one face to another and then to another until he was sure he had everyone’s complete attention. Then he spoke the words that shattered the trainee's entire perception of the labyrinth.

“None of this is real.” The boy spoke in that matter-of-fact way of his. “Well, at least most of it isn’t real.”

“What are you babbling about?” Bella didn’t understand. She looked to Minx who had this look of awe and disbelief on her face. “Minx, what is it?”

“If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, then I wouldn’t believe it.” Minx looked at Dabuk with a newfound respect.

“What?” Bella stood there confused. “What do you see?”

“The labyrinth, it isn’t real.” Minx could see the outline of the false walls where only moments before real ones had been. “It’s an illusion!”

“No way!” Snyder wore shock on his face like a second skin. He walked over to the wall and placed his hand along the rough stone surface. “It feels real to me.”

“Of course it does. That’s because your mind tells you it is real.” Dabuk walked up to the same portion of the wall and easily put his arm through the wall. “You have to disbelieve that the labyrinth is what they make us assume it is.”

“Wow, if I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it.” Lyle’s mimicked Minx's words as his perception changed with Dabuk’s action. “I can see it.”

“I still don’t see anything.” Snyder was becoming frustrated. “How can it be an illusion? Mesik climbed up to the top of over a dozen of the walled corridors with us when we started to think three-dimensionally. He couldn’t have done that if he knew the labyrinth was an illusion.”

“Ah, that’s the trick. Not every wall in the labyrinth is false. Some are real in key locations, which Mesik used to demonstrate how we couldn’t dig through or find our way by climbing over the walls. Plus, every time he’s brought us down here he's worn the exact same gloves and boots. I’ve never seen him wear them anywhere else but here, and he never wears anything else down here. I suspect they are magical and allow him to stay within the boundaries of the illusionary walls.”

“Thus, he could walk on the top of the illusionary walls like they were real ones as well as place his hands against such walls as to make them appear real. Sneaky.” Wheezy put his hand through the wall as the truth collided and overwhelmed his brain.

“And where he knew the walls were real, he would lean against them to help with the deception.” Minx smiled at Mesik. She had a newfound respect for the hairfoot’s guile and could now see why so many in the Tiger Guild respected him. She noticed the concern on his face directed towards Snyder.

The rogue walked over to the young boy and placed a hand on his shoulder. The boy had walked around from wall to wall testing them. Now he stood with his head hung low and his fists balled against the illusionary wall that Dabuk had put his arms through.

“Not everybody can see it, Snyder.” Mesik tried to console the boy. “It’s not the end of the world.”

“Yet, it is the end of my training, isn’t it?” Snyder couldn’t help but cry. This meant so much to his family, to his father.

“I’m afraid so,” Mesik could feel the boys pain. Over half of the trainees he had started out with had washed out in the labyrinth. It would be hard for the others too. Regardless of the trainees’ differences, they had become friends for the most part.

“No!” This time it was Bella’s voice ringing out in frustration and anger. “This can’t be!”

“Bella,” Minx turned to see her friend curled up against the corridors opposite illusionary wall. “Y-you can’t see it either.”

“This isn’t fair! I’ve worked so hard to get to this point! It can’t end like this!”

“I’m afraid it has to be.” Mesik wasn’t surprised that Bella couldn’t see the illusion. She wasn’t very perceptive. That is why Bella couldn’t see past Dabuk’s family tree or his racial heritage. Bias and a lack of imagination clouded her mind.

“How did you figure it out, Dabuk?” Bella just couldn’t understand how he could have beaten her to the solution, let alone that he could see it and she could not.

“Like everyone else, I started out by seeing reality as the walls that hold us back from where we want to end up. I saw only the physical, even if I did consider the third dimension of life eventually. The solution was simpler than I could perceive. I failed to take into account the world I live in. I forgot that magic and mysticism are also factors that I will have to deal with on a regular basis. In the end, I began to examine the labyrinth as I believed others would see it. Eventually, I considered how my cousin would approach the matter, and then it hit me. Magic was obviously involved. It didn’t take long to figure it out after that.”

“Damn,” Bella still couldn’t see past the limits of her own mind. “It never even crossed my mind that the solution was anything but physical.”

“You and Snyder can always reapply to the guild’s training program after you’ve gained some more maturity in the real world.” Mesik’s words were final and without much hope.

“My family doesn’t have the resources to pay the entry fee again. This was my only shot. It’s so unfair!” Bella was the one whining like a child now.

“No one said life was fair, young lady.” Mesik had had enough of her prattling. “Try to show some dignity!”

All Bella could do was sit and sulk. In her mind she had already decided that the Tiger Guild would rue the day they rejected her. She would become its greatest enemy; she swore it to herself. Her eyes bore into Mesik’s like daggers through flesh.

“Fine,” Mesik turned to Snyder who was gaining a semblance of control over his emotions. “What about you, Snyder? Are you willing to face the world outside for a few years and then reapply?”

“It becomes a question of whether or not my family will let me reapply or if they’ll just try to marry me off to some horrible nobleman’s daughter. But whatever happens, I will face it.”

“At least you don’t have to worry about working in the kitchen anymore!” Dabuk found some respect for the other boy, in Snyder’s words and hoped his joke would lighten his mood.

“Hey, you’re right. I hadn’t considered that.” Snyder laughed.

“All right, that’s enough. Time to get out of here. Last one to the entrance takes over Snyder’s shift in the kitchen tonight. Move it trainees! Bella, Snyder, you both walk with me.”

Dabuk was the first to dash through the nearest illusionary wall. Minx was close behind him. Lyle reacted a moment before Wheezy, who had begun to run down the illusionary corridor. He realized his mistake a moment too late. He wouldn’t catch the others before they hit the entrance.

“Good, he can use the extra work,” Mesik thought.
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
Chapter Two
Jeddar rose to his feet slowly with a bit of a wobble. The trip through the Silver Gate was still wreaking havoc on his senses. His vision was clearer but everything was spinning, as if someone had hit him on the head. He could smell a horrible stench and hear muffled voices. The voices seemed angry, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying.

“Well, get up you,” Dvalin approached the elfin boy with anger and suspicion. Many highwaymen were known for pretending to need help or be sodden internally.

Jeddar shook his head and groaned. He felt like he was going to be sick and the thought spurred the action to its smelly conclusion. He’d already churned out half of his last meal moments before, but he’d never remember that it had happened, even years later.

“Disgusting, just let him rot on the road, driver. I must get my niece to Fruen as soon as possible.” Lord Sans Windson, a portly, stuffy human passenger that Dvalin had agreed to take on in the City-state of Ciros, complained.

“Begging your pardon, sir, but that is my wagon and it’s not going anywhere until it’s fixed. As for this elf, he owes me for the damages, or at least his kin will if he turns out to be broke.” Dvalin pulled Jeddar up to his feet, looking at the half-elf boy intently for any signs of deception. “Beard! This elf is just a boy and he’s either drunk as a day old badger or he’s sick.”

One moment later, Jeddar passed out.

“By the Gods, the smell.” Lord Windson stepped up next to Dvalin. “My vote is that he’s nothing more than a drunken wanderer.”

“Nay,” Dvalin noted Jeddar’s fine clothes and full pouch. “He’s sick for sure or he wouldn’t be carrying all this coin and have such fine gear.”

Dvalin began stripping Jeddar of his valuables.

“I say,” Lord Windson put his hand on Dvalin’s shoulder and tried to pull the dwarf away. “I may not agree with this young lad’s behavior but that doesn’t give you the right to rob him.”

“Bugger off,” Dvalin grabbed the man’s arm staring him down. “I’m not robbing him. He owes me and until he agrees to pay me what he owes then he’s my prisoner, sick or not. There, all done. I trust you’d be willing to mediate the dispute, eh? You can even take charge of the boy’s belongings, if you think it best.”

“Hmm, that sounds fair.” Lord Windson gathered Jeddar’s belongings in the half-elf boy’s cloak. “But what if he’s contagious? I don’t want him anywhere near my niece, agreed?”

“Aye, I'll keep him with me and see if I can help him. I likely won’t be affected by whatever is ailing him.” Dvalin picked up Jeddar, cradled him in his arms, and carried him back towards his wagon. “All I can say is that he’d better have a good reason for appearing out of nowhere like that.”

“D-do you think he could b-be a wizard?” Lord Windson carried the bundled gear with both hands, barely able to lift the weight, huffing all the way.

“It’s possible, but I think he’s more likely to be a wandering minstrel.” Dvalin continued on to his wagon while Lord Windson went to check on his niece.

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
Bactra and Joshian walked all night in order to reach the old mill before daybreak. Joshian was learning what it was like to become exhausted. He needed the Reverie and soon. If Jax turned out to not be at the mill then Joshian would insist that they rest there before continuing on. The elven woodsman looked at his cousin with admiration. Bactra was almost as tired as Joshian, but he seemed resilient.

The mill came into view just as the light of the sun began to radiate the darkness of the night’s sky in the distance. The mill was a mess by human standards but was still used by the human citizens of Brawley. The windmill’s sail-fans were tattered and stained by ages of use and its brick and mortar was crumbling.

Joshian took one look and decided he didn’t want to rest inside the structure. “That is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. How can humans let something like this happen? It’s ready to fall apart.”

“Actually, this old mill has been standing here for over five-hundred years. It has stood the test of time including the Ogre Wars and the machinations of grasping warlords and kings. It’s tougher than it looks.”

“It’s still uglier than a bugbear.”

“I never said it was beautiful.” Bactra laughed.

“So do you think that Jax is really here?” Joshian looked around for any signs of tracks or a fire. “It’s not like you’re the best tracker in the world.”

“True, but I know Jax and how he thinks.” Bactra quickened his stride as they neared the mill. “I just hope there isn’t anything living in there. The humans only use this mill when their crops are overflowing and it has been a lean year.”

“Great, just what we don’t need. What are you thinking? Wild animals or something more sinister?”

“Well, what do your senses tell you, cousin?” Bactra stopped one-hundred feet from the mill and waited for Joshian to give the area the once over.

The elven ranger scanned the surrounding countryside studying the fields of grain intently. He took a few steps closer sniffed the air and then bent down to study the path they were following. He jerked his head around and whispered to Bactra.

“This is bad,” Joshian stood up slowly. “Some kind of vermin-like creature has passed by here recently.”

“Spiders?”

“Let’s pray it’s only that for Jax’s sake.”

The two forest elves approached the old mill as slowly and quietly as possible, their weapons ready for anything. As they neared the structure they both realized that the mills sail-fans were covered in some sort of strand-like substance.

“Definitely spiders.” Bactra said nervously. “I hate spiders.”

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
I'm looking to update this story hour over the next week with a couple posts. I already went back and fixed a view errors from the beginning of Chapter Two, and I'll likely do the same for the rest of it before continuing on. (Man, there are a lot of bad errors.)
 

Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
Dabuk walked slowly through the winding side-streets of Fruen looking for Mesik. The canny hairfoot was hiding somewhere nearby; Dabuk was sure of it. Minx, Lyle, and Wheezy each had a different vantage point than the half-elf initiate, but hadn't found the hairfoot either. It would have been better if they had all worked as a team but an intense growing rivalry had begun to divide them soon after their street training began.

The division was based on Minx.

Lyle and Wheezy were both crushing on the girl really hard and neither one of them believed for an instant that Dabuk wasn't attracted to her also. It didn't help matters that ever since Dabuk solved the riddle of the guild labyrinth, Minx had gained an attraction for him. It was making Dabuk's life miserable, and Mesik hadn't been any help regarding the matter.

Dabuk did like Minx but only as a colleague. Friendship was a possibility but not while she was playing games with his mind. The young half-elf managed to keep his mind on what he was doing, while also trying to think of a way to let Minx down without pissing her off too much. Dabuk had an ability to think in many layers and his memory was perfect. He never missed a thing and could remember details even months later.

Dabuk watched as Lyle climbed a storm drainage pipe up onto a nearby rooftop. It was a sound idea, but Dabuk had his own idea of where Mesik was hiding. In truth, he believed that Mesik wasn't hiding in one particular place at all but that hairfoot was sneaking past them back and forth, while they walked around in circles. He made a mental note of every nook and cranny he could see and his low-light vision gave him a distinct advantage over the others, which was another point of contention in Lyle's mind. The two of them weren't close friends, but they had always managed to keep out of each other's way in the past.

Now, things were a lot different. Lyle had designs on Minx and on a place of distinction in the guild. The human boy felt that Dabuk had one too many advantages and that he needed to bring “grandson” down a notch. It was a strange shift in Lyle's personality that Dabuk hadn't foreseen, which made him wary of Lyle in a whole new way.

Minx crossed the street silently as the sun set behind the warehouses of the district. The Docks were only a coin-throw away, and the sights and sounds of drunk sailors, rocking ships, and other things better left unmentioned was overpowering. Minx sidled up next to Dabuk and whispered in his ear, right where the other two boys could see.

“Do yo have any idea where he is?” Minx's voice was melodious in Dabuk's ear.

“No.” Dabuk refused to play her game; he would not let her distract him.

He couldn't see Lyle and Wheezy's faces but knew they'd be watching, so he could imagine the look of scorn they'd be giving him and Minx. Dabuk moved like a cat and disappeared up an alleyway and back down another side-street faster than the others could move or watch. Yes, his low-light vision was definitely an advantage for him over the others. However, it wouldn't give him an edge over the hairfoot who could also see in the twilight of dusk.

That was why Mesik had picked this game of “Cat and Mouse”, as his people called it, to test the initiates' stealth skills. Dabuk had already learned a great deal from his father, but he was quickly discovering that stealth in the wilderness and stealth in a city didn't always work the same. It was because of this reason that Dabuk was having so much trouble figuring out where Mesik was from moment to moment. He knew he was close, but he had yet to spot the hairfoot even once.

Mesik was toying with him; the others weren't even a factor at this point.

“Where in the Nine Hells are you, you sneaky little bastard?” Dabuk thought the words but did not speak them.

* * *

------------------------------------------
Up next... Garth Tigerstorm.
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
Garth Tigerstorm was a patient man, but he was starting to wonder what was taking Bactra so long. His elven nephew wasn't known for being late, which concerned him. He had promised the boy's father that he look out for him on this journey. Minonus had contacted him shortly after Bactra had left Woodknot. There conversation had been terse as Minonus had accused Garth of leading Bactra astray. Garth tried to explain to him that Bactra had decided to make this journey with or without Garth's help, so he was, in fact, doing Minonus a favor.

The argument got really out of hand after that, but Garth remained calm while his old friend ranted. He understood Minonus' concerns; he had the same concerns about Dabuk joining the Tiger Guild. He would never have admitted it to the old elf, but Garth was hoping to convince Dabuk to leave the guild and travel with him north to the Greystone Mountains. He had promised his son several years ago that they'd visit the dwarves of those mountains someday. He hoped the enticement would pull Dabuk back towards the ranger way of life.

Garth felt that if he could get Dabuk to travel with him, then he could convince Bactra to come with them. The two were almost as close as if they were brothers. It was that fact that was causing him to worry about the young elf so much. If something happened to him, then Dabuk would be angry and heartbroken. It would be like Eiithinia's death all over again.

Garth shifted nervously in his chair as the barmaid refilled his mead. The Arrant Repast was nearly empty of patrons, and if Garth hadn't been such a good customer in the past, then Delvin would have asked him to leave an hour ago. The fireplace was down to embers, and his plate was scraped clean and had been for hours. He tipped the maid a golden lake and asked her for another plate of food. He would eat his fill and then begin his search for the tardy young elf.

“That boy had better be in real trouble, or I'm going to send his skinny ass back to Woodknot in a splint.”

* * *
 

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