Welcome to the Forums!  Please post an introduction after signing up!

For an updated map of Ren Fests check out The Ren List at!

The Chat server is now running again, just select chat on the menu!

Main Menu

Raebian's Story

Started by Toki Bloodaxe, March 15, 2009, 10:26:49 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Toki Bloodaxe

The Village

     The village doesn't have a name. It is just called "home" by the few people who used to live there. It was a mostly unremarkable place, set apart perhaps from the hundreds of other places just like it throughout the land by its specific location- under the dormant volcano. At the head of a long, lovely valley, the village sat astride a fast-moving clear-running stream. And, maybe this was its best feature, perched as it was under the shadow of the massive bulk of the volcano's flank. It had little else to call it out, as it were, for it was a place that you had to actually go to in order to get there. Out of the way, it certainly was and often left aside by the great changes rocking the land thereabouts. Who in the world could ever have imagined the part it would play in the grander scheme of things that played out later on.
     Now, the volcano was dormant; but not quite dead, as you might think. Tremors occasionally shook the area and rolled a few rocks down the flanks of the hill, knocked over some trees and scared a few cows. But, there was nothing more than that for many, many years. The local folk had gotten used to it and made up stories for their children about the Hill Giants fighting it out, or two great dragons under the earth making babies. Stories like these were told by the villagers to while away the long fireside winter evenings and to bribe the little ones to get into their beds. But, secure and peaceful in their homes, the folk of the village cared for little else beyond their daily lives full of trades and tasks. Why should it be any different, after all?  For nothing ever happened here that was out of the ordinary.
     Change is the one constant in life, however.
     The Tanner's son didn't understand why the mule was making such a fuss. It kicked at the wooden fence around the paddock, loosening some of the rails with backward thrusts of its hooves. This was so unusual. Most mornings, the animal wouldn't get going at all without a good lay-on with a switch. But, it seemed that this morning a lot of the animals were acting strangely. The old watchdog at the tavern had bit the barmaid and there was not a cat to be seen. And, most unusual of all, even the rats had left the village. There was no birdsong at all from the trees and bushes, and the cows wouldn't come in from the fields for the morning milking. All of these incidents were very unusual for a beautiful spring day like today. A sense of fore-boding and fear crept through the boy's heart. In his young world, things like these mysterious disappearances and strange goings-on just didn't happen. He felt chilled now- chilled like he had never felt before even in deepest winter. A sense of "wrongness" enveloped him from head to toe, and he somehow felt that every muscle in his body was about to jump through his skin.
     He was thrown off his feet suddenly as the earth bucked and heaved beneath him. There was a horrible loud, grinding, cracking sound like the bones of the earth were being ground up and the soil was writhing in torment. The Tanner's son tried to pick himself up again and again, losing his purchase on the ground as it flowed beneath him like waves of water. There was dust in the air. Screams came from everywhere. A stone wall next to the mule paddock collapsed into rubble. The roof of the neighbor's hut caved in and a baby started to wail from within it. He wasn't sure, but he thought maybe he wet his pants. Or, maybe it was the water rising about his ankles- for something that he thought never, ever could happen was taking place. The clear mountain stream running through the center of the village was running backward up into the huts near the banks. The water roared and fizzled and threatened to sweep him off his feet as it flowed back up through the lanes closest to the two bridges crossing the stream bed. He saw buckets, tubs, clumps of clothing and pieces of wood riding the current back up into town. It would have been funny if not for the sheer horror of it all.
     As quickly as it had begun, it was over. The water flowed back into the stream. The dust began to settle and people began to stumble around drunkenly as if the sheer shock of it all had scattered their wits from them. The Tanner's son stared about him in wonder at the great mess that had once been his village home.  His world had been turned upside down in a few seconds of violent shaking. The village lay in a shambles and an evil horrid stench like burning horse hair filled the air. Some other commotion then turned his attention from the destruction of the village. He heard shouts and saw townspeople pointing up at the side of the mountain. Where once the fields of broken stone on the side of the dormant volcano had been evenly placed and somewhat leveled by centuries of erosion, now a huge section of the rock field had slid away down the valley, leaving a vivid scar of dark bedrock exposed on the mountain's flank.
     Something else was exposed.
     There was a gaping maw of darkness now visible on the exposed cliff of bedrock. It looked like the entrance to a cave or a mine. There were strange carvings and symbols worked into the stone around the hole, and it looked like some of the carved stonework had been broken off by the force of the slide. What was left was incomplete. And, for a split second, the boy wondered what the carvings had meant. He had no time to think further as a swarm of figures burst from the cave mouth and streamed down to the valley floor. Where had all of those people come from, he asked himself? Had they been hiding in the mine all of this time? He struggled to get his mind around it, but it was no use. The boy just couldn't make sense of what was happening to the world around him.
     Through the settling haze of the rockslide dust, something else caught the boy's attention. At the mouth of the cave, he could see a figure standing full in the light of the sun. The person was waving its arms about and drawing figures in the air like his crazy aunt used to. The person seemed impossibly thin and had ragged-looking clothing wrapped around its body. A colorful, strange-looking three-pointed conical headpiece was balanced on its head. Its face was pulled into a chilling rictus grin, and the boy's blood was positively chilled as he realized the person had glowing red eyes and they were looking directly at him!
      He wanted to run. But, the Tanner's son could not make his feet work. They seemed frozen in place by the hellish glare from the person at the cave's mouth. He felt a strange coldness moving from his torso to his limbs, like invisible bindings were holding him in place and all of his circulation had been cut off to his arms and legs. A sick feeling of "wrongness" made his guts clench in fear and his stomach roil with nausea. Those red eyes! No person that he had ever seen before looked like that. Who were these people from under the earth? Why did he suddenly feel as if a dark pall of the blackest horror had descended upon his world?
     He had no time to even think about an answer, as he was yanked roughly from behind and dragged up towards the higher dwellings on the slope of the hill. It was his father dragging him, his long leather tanner's apron flapping absurdly around his legs. The Tanner was a beefy, strong man and it only took one of his stout arms to hang on to his son as he raced hell-for-britches up the slope. The boy writhed in his grasp. He was so afraid and on the verge of panic, wanting to run and still trying to make his own legs work.
     Seemingly out of nowhere, a shambling nightmare form blocked their path. It was a horrific mummified parody of a person, creaking and crackling on stiff joints held together by desiccated skin. Bones stuck out from its sunken chest and shoulders, and its eyes glowed with a terrible devilish red color. The skeletal horror carried with it the smell of a wet, moldy rat's nest that made the boy gag from the stench. With a curse and a shout, the Tanner forced his churning legs to plow a different path through the grass and gravel at the edge of the village. He narrowly missed the skeleton's outstretched hand that was reaching for him as he passed by with his son tucked under his arm. The boy heard screaming in his ears and realized that it was his own mouth making the slaughterhouse animal sound of pure terror. Another skeleton was before them.....and then another, as the Tanner forced his legs to a speed they hadn't moved at in years to avoid the outstretched arms of the grasping horrors.
      Suddenly, he and the boy were clear of the waves of skeletons flowing like a flood tide down towards the ruined village. The Tanner and his son crashed through a line of bushes left uncut at the edge of the village commons. Then, there was a small bare bedrock cliff face in front of him. And, hidden by brush at the base of the cliff, was a crack in the rock. It was called Karl's crack for the simple fact that Karl, the blacksmith, used it as a place to dump his slag from the forge. It was far enough from the village stream to stop the slag from making the water taste bad and close enough so that lazy Karl didn't have to walk far with a barrow full of heavy iron slag. The Tanner stomped back the brush from around the crack and dropped the boy unceremoniously onto the ground. The crack in the rock was only a few yards long and about a couple of feet wide at the middle. It was dark down there and the air coming from it carried a damp chill with it. The Tanner ripped off his long leather tanning apron and wrapped it around his only surviving son, tying it securely around his shoulders like a long heavy cape. He kissed his son on the forehead, hugged him tight against his chest, and picked up the frightened squirming boy and dropped him down into the dark depths of Karl's crack.   

     The Pool

     The Tanner's son tumbled head-long down into the crack in the rock. Bundled up in the leather apron, he couldn't stop himself from falling. The rock walls were slick with moisture and very steep, offering no hand holds or ledges to grasp on to.  He fell in a scraping tumble down to the bottom of the crack, to plunge into a pool of cold murky water. Fortunately for him, there was enough water down there to break his fall. The boy bobbed up to the surface and shook his head clear and started to tread water. The sudden shock of the cold immersion roused him a bit from the nightmarish stupor of seeing the horrible undead things attack his village. Survival instinct took over then, and he dog- paddled around a bit in the water before finding a pile of slag to climb up on. In the gloom of the partial light coming from the opening above, he could see several piles of slag scattered around the pool. He was on the biggest one now and very glad to see that he could look straight up and see the barest hint of blue sky above him. Pulling the thick, heavy tanner's apron around him tighter, the Tanner's son crouch down on the slag heap and waited.
     His father had been a strong man. He was burly like a blacksmith, but he had skills with knives for butchering and tanning that few men could equal. The boy helped his father in the tannery from his earliest days after learning to walk. First, it was running errands, or getting water from the stream. Then, he helped sharpen the knives and scrapers that were so necessary to a tanner's job. Later, when he grew in strength, he carried and stacked smaller bundles of hides, lashing them to pack mules for transport to the market far down the valley. He was growing up a strong child, raised only by a father who took him infrequently to place flowers on a stone marker. His mother laid there beneath the marker in her eternal rest. The poor woman had died soon after he was born and the boy had no memory of her at all. With only a father to raise him, the Tanner's son and his father developed a very strong bond between them. They shared the same work, the same hardships and the same joys.
     Today, though, they did not share death.
     With a certainty born of his faith in his father's strength, the boy knew that his father would come for him. All he had to do was wait just a bit longer. His father would beat back the undead hordes attacking the village, swinging his axe or his tanning pikes with unrestrained ferocity until the skeletons were driven away. He would then lower a rope down to the boy and tell him to tie the rope around his waist in one of the lashing knots he had learned, and then raise him back up to the light. His father would come. The boy was sure of it. Until then, he shivered in the cold wet of the bottom of the crack and pulled the tanner's apron around him tighter, trying to stay warm.
     He had been sleeping, he thought. All of a sudden, he jerked awake, back to reality. Then, he heard distant booming and felt a rumbling feeling coming up through the slag pile that he sat on. Was it another earth tremor? Were the hill giants fighting again? The light was much dimmer now from the opening of the crack and he could barely see anything down here, even with his eyes adjusted to the darkness. He had been sleeping, but did not remember dreaming at all. The hard reality of the chill hole in the ground was worse than any nightmare could possible be. He felt very scared now because his father had not come for him yet. The Tanner's son had not heard any shout or call coming from up where the dim light streamed down into the hole. Worry filled him now. Could his father possibly be dead? Had he been killed by the things with the glowing red eyes?
      The boy's troubled thoughts were interrupted again by a washing wave of "wrongness" that made his stomach lurch and muscles lag. Fear seized again at his heart because he could feel the earth shaking beneath his body. Ripples in the pool spread out from the slag heap and fanned out across the water's surface. With a horrifying grating groan the rocks around him began to shift and move. The walls of the crack seemed to pulse and flex, and bits of gravel and small rocks rained down on him. He jammed his hand in his mouth and bit down hard to keep from screaming in fear. Debris rained down on him, and the boy had a nightmare vision of the walls of the crack closing tight like the mouth of a huge beast, pinning him inside, crushing the life from him.
     He noticed another problem just then. The water in the pool was rising rather quickly. At first he had been clear of the water, sitting up on top of the slag heap. But now the water was coming up quickly and it was soaking his feet and pants. He stood up suddenly and had to fight for his balance and keep from tumbling off the heap into the rising water. Now, the water was at his knees and coming up his legs, rising quickly to his waist. Fear grasped his heart as he imagined drowning down here before his father could rescue him. It's fortunate, then, that the boy was a good swimmer. He had learned to swim, with the other village boys, in some of the slow deep pools where the mountain stream had made its many twists and turns down the valley. He could hold his breath for a long time and tread water well-enough. But could he survive being drowned down in this deep, dark crevasse with its steep walls offering no ledges to cling to?
     The water was at his chest now and coming higher. The shock of the cold water against his body seemed to take away his breath and make his heart ache. He wrapped the apron tighter around his torso and tied it tight, freeing his arms for paddling. He was ready to swim for it if he had to. The water then lifted him up from his footing on the slag heap and began to pull him towards the other end of the crack where darkness lay. No! He couldn't leave this place. His father would never find him then. He would be lost in the darkness forever, to drown and die down here in the rocks and water. The boy found it within himself to start paddling against the current. He trashed about, flailing with arms and legs against the pull of the water. But, no matter what he did, the water continued to pull him towards the pitch black of the area beyond the light. Away from the raining debris and the sloshing of the pool, it was deathly quiet down there. The only sound was the wailing of a poor lost boy, frightened out of his mind.

Toki Bloodaxe

     The Caves

     He had never experienced darkness like this before. It was so intense that his mind actually began constructing strange multicolored shapes for him to reference instead of any sort of actual visual stimulation. There were huge, spider-like yellow globs blossoming in front of his eyes...chased and eaten by crawling green and blue beasts that morphed into red and purple flowers. Shaking his head to clear his vision only brought on the intense blackness. Then the colored shapes began to form again. The process was something he would have to deal with. If he could see no light, he could sense movement of the kind that pulled his body along.  His body floated on the water, pulled forward by the current: the sensation was enough to give him a reference of backwards and forwards...up and down.  He could hear nothing except his own breathing and the soft "sushing" of the water moving against the far-off rock. These sounds didn't echo back to him. So, he thought, I must be in a huge place down here.
     The boy felt that he must have been in the water for some time. The light from the crack's opening had faded away from him long ago and there had been nothing to replace it. Now, there was just the blackness. And, the dancing shapes: red, blue and green in front of his eyes that made him think of scary monsters coming alive down here to grab him as he passed. The water had gotten warmer, too. Very warm, like a bath that made his skin prickle and his forehead sweat. He had brushed up against the rock once and clung to it for as long as he could. The bit of rest did him some good. By dog-paddling slowly, he could keep his head and some of his body above water. But, he could tire quickly by just swimming along. He had to take a rest now and then to ease his cramping muscles. With his arms paddling out in front of him, the boy could grab at passing rocks in time to hold on and grab a bit of relief before being forced by the tug of the current to move onward.
     He began to notice shapes after awhile. That is, a definition between water and objects in the water. Were his eyes playing tricks on him? No. He could actually see a rock approaching and grab onto it or even swim around it. There was light up ahead now. He could really see the reflection of it on the ripples that his paddling made on the water. The light got steadily brighter until he could see real definition in the rock walls around him. He truly was in a very big place. The ceiling was so high that it was lost in the gloom above him. The walls of the cavern were just darker blurs on either side of him showing the occasional definition as he passed along. But, it was something. He didn't feel sick inside anymore, full of the numbing dread of the unknown and completely at the mercy of the colored monsters that the darkness left him in. Now, at least, he could see where he was going. He just didn't know where that was.
     The cavern opened up even larger as he drew farther towards the ambient glow from ahead. He could see a great deal more of the water's surface stretching far ahead of him now, with very dark distinctly-shaped rocks marking the way forward. He began paddling harder now. Perhaps this was the way out. The light up ahead might mean that the water was flowing out of a cave's mouth into the bright sunshine of the outer world. He would have to make it out there, though, before he became so exhausted that he couldn't swim anymore. So, the boy rested from rock to rock, and let the water pull him farther and farther into the widening cavern.
      With the light from ahead becoming stronger, the boy could make out a sloping section of smooth rock on the right-hand shore. It was a small spur of rock jutting out into the water and it seemed like a perfect place to swim over to and climb out of the water. He began paddling faster, determined to make it to the rocky spur before he tired altogether. By padding cross-current, he was making good time swimming towards the rocky spur. It was then that he saw the eyes in the dark up ahead. He was certain that they were eyes. They reflected dark red like an animal staring back at him from beyond the edge of a dying fire. The boy halted his paddling, stopping to tread water, and keeping a good distance from the shore. The eyes came closer, out of the blackness beyond the rock spur, accompanied by the deep guttural sound of a bestial growl. The thing came towards him, not walking as such, but almost flowing along the rock in one quick, smooth motion to splash into the water.
      The growl of the animal seemed to be lost in the roaring of the blood in his ears, as his heart fought to leap from his chest. He was certain that he screamed, but couldn't remember hearing it in the panic of splashing backwards from the shore. There was a cracking blow to the back of his head that made him see stars and his ears ring from the impact, as his moving body slammed into a heretofore unnoticed finger of rock sticking up out of the water. The boy turned and clung to the rock for dear life trying to become small behind it and hide from the beast in the cavern. Despite all of his fear, though, curiosity made him peer around to look at the beast once again. It was in the water partway, thrashing about, seemingly out of the frustration borne of a meal denied. The beast had no distinct shape that he could see. It seemed to be made of the black shadows that it had flowed out of- indistinct in size, shape and form except certainly apparent in its ferocity. The water foamed and thrashed about the creature, flowing over its utter blackness and rippling away from it, like it was being repelled somehow. The beast's eyes, now bright silver like the eyes of an owl in the moonlight, stared at the boy, unblinking through the creature's exertions. Through a force of extreme will, the boy made himself look away and force down the leaden dread chilling his heart. Whatever the creature was, it seemed that it could come no further than the water's edge. The boy had a chance to escape now. He let go of the finger of rock and paddled out towards the light in the cavern beyond.

     The Cavern

     By swimming from rock to rock, the boy managed to make his way out into the main cavern. It was huge beyond his comprehension- like an entire different world situated underneath the world on the surface. There was a sun, or something like it, up in the sky above him. By holding his hand in front of his face and looking through his spread out fingers, the boy could see past the glare of the light above and make out that there was a large hole in the ceiling of the cavern. Light streamed in through this oculus, bathing the world below in a steamy twilight. On one far shore, there were many rock jetties and cave entrances that lead off into darkness. On the other shore, to the boy's right side, there was a city.
     The Tanner's son had never seen anything like the city before. He had only heard tales from his father, late at night around the hearth-fire, of the large villages and towns far away from the mountain valley where they lived. This one must be a city, he thought. It had to be too large for a town. Starting at numerous stone jetties and stone-block buildings at the edge of the water, the walls of the town, broken by several large gate openings, stretched to either side of his perspective and seemed to blur away into the haze. Beyond the wall, rose row after row of rooftops, spires, huge carvings and numerous towers- too many to count at one sitting. Likewise, the far edge of the city seemed to disappear into the darkening gloom. Everything seemed carved from stone or built from stone blocks, fitted with close, even precision that spoke of an adherence to order and geometry. Details became clearer to the boy as he drew near to one of the jetties. He could see no boats, no people anywhere, or any sort of movement. Still, he felt that it was best to be cautious, and kept a wary eye out for any sign of the shadow creature.
     At the end of the jetty was a short flight of stone steps that would allow him to walk up to the top. He set his legs down for the first time in how long he didn't really know. It was a monumental relief to have something solid under his feet again. The water drained from his sodden clothes as he walked slowly and cautiously up the steps to the top of the jetty.  The heavy tanner's apron came off his waist and neck with much tugging from aching hands, and he sat down heavily onto the stone. It struck him now that there was no sound in the place. He could hear the slight murmuring of the water as it flowed past the end of the jetty. But, there was no sound coming from the city at all. Nothing.... Perhaps they are asleep, he thought. It might be early in the morning and they are all still in their beds. As he thought about it though, it made less sense to him that they would all still be asleep. Somebody would be up and about...even a watchman of some kind. But there was no one.  He tried to give that question more thought, but his aching body began to pull his mind down into a sluggish state. Time seemed to slow and his vision dimmed. It was all the boy could do just to stretch his legs out on the rough stones of the jetty and cover his body with the tanner's apron. He pillowed his head with his arm and slept.

The City

     The boy awoke to the smell of cooking meat. It was strong in his nostrils and had to be coming from very close by. He wanted to investigate, but it was so hard to move his limbs. They wanted to just lay still and unbending, stretched out as they were on the jetty. How long he had lain asleep, he did not know. It was light again...or maybe still light and maybe he hadn't been asleep for very long at all. But, some kind of internal clock told him that he had actually been asleep for quite some time. Pulling his torso up into a fetal position, he then stretched his limbs out and tried to make them work again. There was such a horrible cramping stiffness in his limbs that he had never felt before. It was like he was very sick and should be confined to bed. There was no bed for him, though, just the rocks of the jetty.
     The cooking-meat smell would not go away. It made his stomach churn fiercely and his mouth drool. The odor seemed to be coming from the direction of the city. It made him think that perhaps someone was cooking breakfast in that huge place and maybe they wouldn't mind another mouth to feed. Certainly a small mouth like his would be no bother. He pulled himself to his knees first, and then got his legs steady. It was tough to stretch stiff and sore muscles. He felt that he really had been asleep for a very long time and had lain unmoving on the rock for hours. With one shaking step in front of the other, the Tanner's son made his way along the jetty towards the city. The jetty ended at a sloping ramp that led up to a long boulevard spread out below the city's walls. The street was paved in closely-fitted stone blocks and a layer of dust was evenly spread along the pavement. The dust was completely undisturbed, and the boy had the feeling that no one had come this way for a very long time. The city seemed to have such an "old" sense to it, like gravestones that had stood in a graveyard for years and had been left unattended for so very long. And, despite his aching stomach and drooling mouth, the boy stopped here to take stock of what he was looking at.
      To the boy's right and left, the city's walls stretched far beyond in either direction until they were lost in the misty gloom of the cavern. The walls were high and had very ornate crenellations along the top edge. Every so often the top line of the wall was broken by a tall tower that seemed like a buttress to the wall and also a means of providing observation to the immediate area around the wall. The same eye-pleasing roseate-colored stone was used in the construction of the wall, as it was in the jetty and the boulevard. There were three obvious gates that the boy could see. There was one right in front of him, and one on either side of him, to the left and right, some great distance down the length of the wall. The gates were massive. It strained the boy's neck to lift his head and look up to the tops of the huge gate towers. These towers were bigger than the smaller watch towers and seemed as huge as mountains to the boy. They had windows in them, too. Or, something that looked like windows, anyway. He could see no lights coming from any of the dark windows. Nor did he see any movement beyond in the shadows. There was no smell of wood smoke or animal dung- none of the village smells and sounds that the boy was so familiar with- just the maddening smell of cooking meat that seemed to pull at him like a rope towards the city gate. 
     As he walked closer, the boy could see that the massive gates were open just a bit and he wondered if he could fit through them. But, it took some walking to actually get to the gates and by then he realized just how huge the gates really were. The gap between the two halves of the gate was enormous and several wagons could easily travel through abreast. It was a wonderment to the boy, who had never seen anything so huge in his life. He couldn't adequately take these sights in. It was like watching a huge thunderstorm boiling up over the mountain peaks and trying to imagine how many people could live inside the clouds, as if they were a bunch of flying puffy houses. He couldn't make sense of things like doors so tall that he could barely see their tops, or walls so high that they seemed like mountain sides to his perspective. If the enormous city gates kept him wondering, what the boy saw beyond made his jaw drop.
      Huge buildings as far as his eyes could see.
      No story that his father had ever told him could have prepared him for the sight that greeted the young boy inside the city walls. A wide street lay before him and led into the heart of the city. The street was easily wider than his whole village with all of its narrow gravely lanes combined. The huge boulevard was arrow-straight and led toward something in the far distance that the boy couldn't quite make out. Such was the sheer enormity of the place that the distances seemed to recede into a haze.  Large multistoried buildings lined the street, and slightly smaller side streets led off to his left and right. All of the structures were made of the same roseate-colored stone and in the soft light of the cavern, the coloration was very pleasing to the eye. Whereas the city walls and towers had a straight angular uniformity about them, none of the structures inside the walls looked the same. Each building had a unique soaring design that seemed to be composed of loops, circles, soaring wing-like walkways, twisted, plant-like towers and bulbous turrets. Things that must have been windows glittered at him like huge shards of misshapen ice. Steps built from the sides of the structures never went in a straight line. They wove and winded upon one another and back upon themselves to create patios and landings in the oddest places. The boy was taken aback by the complete strangeness of what he was seeing. Yet, there was a pleasing "rightness" about the flowing and soaring lines that reminded him of bird's wings, or waves on the water, or even plants and flowers. He would have loved to run and jump along the flowing steps and curving walkways, chasing his friends around the tower balconies. He could see himself jumping from one deck to the next, nimble feet landing like cat along the edges and never falling to the stones below. His mind seemed to wander as he walked and before he knew it he had left the huge gatehouse behind and had come to a bridge.
     A bridge was something that he did know about. His village had small bridges that spanned the river and allowed people from one side of the village to cross over to the other side of the village without fording the river. But, they were nothing like this bridge. It was more like a huge bird's wing soaring over a deep chasm anchored at both ends by twisting towers. It was as wide as the huge central street, and seemed to rise up a bit like a small hill and then drop down to another set of gates breaking a wall beyond. These gates were just a bit smaller than the front gates of the city, and they were also open. So, he let his hungry stomach follow the cooking-meat smell into the area beyond the bridge gates and into another part of the city. Before him was the largest building that he had seen yet. It seemed to be like a mountain all carved up and shaped into complex loops, twirls, twists and spikes. His eyes could never rest on just one place or one thing in the place. All of the complex shapes drew his eyes onward from one place to another and around back again to look at something else entirely. It made him feel restless, but also excited in a good way because this was all new and exciting, and he seemed to have the whole place to himself.
     Before him was another boulevard that headed towards the huge building in the distance.  The street traveled along between ornate carvings that made the work of the local gravestone carver seem pathetic in comparison. The carvings were all free-standing statues that were utterly huge in scale. Many of the statues showed people looking up to the roof of the cavern, as if their eyes were gazing up in wonderment. Others showed fierce-looking beasts rearing up on their hind legs, limbs stretching out in a war-like stance. Some of the beasts had huge wings and long tails and their mouths dripped with sharp teeth. The boy would have stopped longer to gawk if he could, but the breakfast smell was so strong here that is was making his mouth water and ears buzz. He began climbing a huge set of winding steps that seemed to go on forever up the side of the enormous building. The steps wound around and around the face of the structure and took him ever higher and higher. Before him, the boy could just make out a doorway set amidst very intricately designed carvings and some things that looked a little like writing. And, different than all of the rest of the other doorways and windows that he had seen, this opening had light coming from inside it. Surely, then, there must be someone living in this place. He wouldn't be alone after all. The boy put all of his fears aside and galloped up the last few steps to stand in the huge doorway.
      It was bright inside the room and the brilliance seemed to come from everywhere. There were soaring arches and huge columns and carvings filling all of the walls of the room. It was enormous inside- like a whole other city contained within this one building. His eyes wandered everywhere along the brilliant gold and bronze decorations on the ceilings and walls. The boy's head was literally aching now with the power and enormity of what he was looking at. There was no way that he could stop now. He had to follow the succulent meat smell into the building and find the person who was cooking breakfast. And, so, the Tanner's son walked through the huge doorway, over the threshold, and through the deep undisturbed dust on the floor and into the entrance chamber of the enormous castle. He went without fear and of his own desire and was struck down by a huge warm flash of light that hit him on his left side from behind the door. It was the last thing that he would ever remember about the place, as his young body sagged down to the dust-covered floor to rest in a heap just past the doorway.

Toki Bloodaxe

The Man

     It hurt to breath. It hurt so badly to breath, yet the man did it. To work air into his lungs was to live and he made himself breath through the intense pain.  He saw through eyes for the first time in a score of a thousand years and the brilliant light made him reel with shock and agony. He felt an unfamiliar stretching along his body and realized that, for the first time is so very long, he actually had limbs and muscles and tendons. The realization made him stumble as he tried to take a step, and he fell into the dust. It was then that he saw the boy before him. Well, it was just a human child, sprawled in the dust, loose limned and crumpled. It was just a human child there. That is who he "touched" when the child came through the door following the smell-of-cooking-food spell. The man felt bad. He hoped that he hadn't killed the poor thing. He only took enough life essence to make him corporeal and nothing more. The man only took what he absolutely needed until he had a chance to see who it was that finally strayed into his court chamber after countless years of waiting. 
      Was the child still alive?   
      Yes, the man could see the child's chest move ever so slightly; and he didn't feel so bad then. I only took as much as I needed, he thought. I only took as much as I needed to make myself real again. And how good it felt to FEEL! The man was ecstatic with joy. Even the pain of drawing breath and the heaviness of gravity pulling down on his body was a welcome sensation now. After so many, many years of waiting, of simply existing without form or substance, he felt like his reward had finally come to him. And, it did, in the form of a young boy. The man gently picked up the boy in his arms. He had a solid weight to him that made the man strain a bit. The muscles in his shoulders and back creaked and stretched with an unfamiliar agony. It would take some time to get used to moving around like this. And, it was hard to carry the boy. He was all dead weight and had a thick sheet of leather wrapped around his chest and waist that made it hard for the man to carry him. But, carry the boy he must. He walked out of his castle court room and down the steps and into the vast city beyond. The man knew every step on the sweeping staircase. He knew every building and every street in the place. The city had been built from his design after all, many thousands of years ago, and he was unlikely to forget even the smallest of details.
     He carried the boy down the castle steps and across the bridge into the city proper. There was only one set of footprints in the deep dust, and the man marveled that after all these years no one had ever come down here to visit the city. He was sure that his acolytes must have stayed around after he had been interred. They were loyal and would have remained near in the hopes that he would have eventually broken the enchantment that had imprisoned him in the castle. But, he hadn't been able to do it. It was the most powerful of enchantments that held him there and soon the bones of his loyal followers had crumbled into dust. The city remained, though. It was in perfect condition- just empty and waiting for a new group of acolytes to come down and live with him. He felt a tremendous thrill at the prospect. Life could begin again for him and his followers. He could take up where he had left off and repopulate his underground world. The man's heart beat strongly with the thrill of the idea.
     The boy's tracks led him back to the jetty. The man was puzzled. Where was the boy's boat? He couldn't have swum here, could he? It seemed amazing that the boy could have come across the huge underground lake without some sort of craft to carry him. But, it didn't matter. The man had no need of a craft for himself. He could travel across the water without a boat. But, one thing he did desperately need now was a drink of water. Kneeling on the edge of the stone steps, the man splashed water onto his face and swallowed several gulps of the lake water. It was warmer than he remembered. And, there was a different sort of metallic tang in the water now than before. Well, things sure do change over time. Surly, even the water in the lake wouldn't be the same after all of these years. One thing was for certain, though: drinking the water made the man feel  very good. It filled his mouth with a sharp wetness that rushed immediately down his throat to fill up his stomach. Water was good for now, but he would certainly need some food later.
     Standing up, the man caught a look at his body reflected in the water. He was a fright to behold- and it was to be expected.  His body still was not completely whole. Exposed muscles and tendons layered the surface of his body and his face was only the merest shape of a face. There was paper-thin skin and muscles lying on top of protruding bones in a half-completed parody of a human countenance. He would need more life essence to make himself complete. The boy just couldn't give any more, though, without giving up life all together. The man did not want that to happen. So, that only left traveling to the other side of the lake where the shadow lurkers waited. They were fearsome creatures, hiding in the shadows and ambushing people as they moved along the vast network of corridors and causeways that connected all of the underground cities. He felt certain that the lurkers would still be out there somewhere, waiting for the unlucky traveler to drop his guard. He smiled at the prospect of the shadow lurkers' demise. The man had always despised the creatures. They had killed far too many of his followers along the pathways, and he had always contemplated hunting them to extinction. Now, he was glad that he did not. The shadow lurkers would serve a purpose for him yet. The boy would remain behind here on the jetty. No lurkers had ever made it to this side of the lake, and the boy, even in his weakened state, would be safe here. He bent down quickly to touch the boy and make sure that he was still alive. He then stretched out the muscles in his arms and legs, to make ready for the journey across the lake. With a thought and a gesture, the man rose from his place and began to levitate in the air.  It was awkward at first, but he soon got the hang of it again and began to move out across the lake's surface toward the far mist-shrouded shore. It was such a joy to move again, to feel the air race across his body as he picked up speed. The man's heart sang at the prospect of real flying again after the passage of so many centuries. The thrill of combat would be his also. His hunger for a good fight, even with something as lowly as a shadow lurker, drove him on faster and faster towards the opposite shoreline.
     The shadow lurkers waiting there never knew what hit them.

The Dragon

    The light shining down from the huge oculus in the high ceiling of the cavern revealed only the water far below. There was no real definition to the water, no large wind-driven waves created any actual texture or movement on the water's surface. There was very little wind down so deep in the gigantic cavern, and the ships that used to trail their wakes on the huge lake have been absent from the water for many thousands of years. The water was still, like the surface of a cloudy mirror made dark and obscure by age. But, something did break the monotony of the light's reveal upon the water. There was a shining spark flitting through the light, moving closer and revealing itself in detail now. A long slender golden body, made longer by tail and elongated head, was held up in the air by a tremendous pair of graceful wings. These wings were in constant motion, flapping strongly to propel the body forward at high speed. There was a grace and symmetry about the creature's movements, qualities both aerodynamic and sleek that lent them to make a shape so very appealing and attractive. No wonder so many people throughout history and time had worshipped the Golden Dragons as gods. This dragon was an enormous drake- mighty in tail and neck with a vast wingspan and formidable jaws. His scales had a bright golden glow about them, shining even in the dim light of the cavern, that bespoke of maturity and health. As he drew up before the jetty, the dragon was careful not to cause a huge downdraft from his wings that would create a wind storm down where the boy was sleeping. His landing upon the jetty was as gentle as he could make it. Only a soft thudding of heavy weight upon solid stone announced his arrival. Then, in an instant, with the air about him shimmering and shaking, the dragon morphed his shape back into that of a human man. He was a splendid man now- muscular and tall, fully formed and possessing of golden skin and bright green eyes. There was no hair anywhere upon his body and no scars or marks marred his sleekness. He was back in his glory. This was the form that his long-dead acolytes had known- that of a splendid god/king, mighty and majestic. A few steps took him to the boy's side where he checked to see if the boy was still alive. He was. But, did he seem a bit colder now? It would be best to send the boy on his way out of this place, back to the heat and light of the above world. There was no time to waste now. With barely a thought and a gesture, the dragon teleported away from the jetty.
     Deep within the castle was a sort of treasure vault where some of the dragon's hoard was kept. Dust caked all of the chests in the room.  But everything was essentially intact, even after the great passage of years. Appearing in the sealed chamber amid a cloud of shimmering light particles, the dragon wiped dust from a large chest and then worked the complicated lock mechanism to open the lid. Inside was a carefully folded up golden robe. The garment looked like it was made of very tiny dragon scales woven and overlapped in such a way as to make a fabric as smooth and seamless as one made of the finest spider silk.  He draped the robe over his body and immediately felt better. The robe was a familiar thing, one that he had worn often when holding court. Now, dressed in his fine raiment, the dragon felt that things were finally getting back to normal in his world. Below where the robe had lain was an amulet on a chain. It was actually one of his shed golden scales mounted with a gold linked chain that one of his acolytes had laboriously constructed. The scale made a beautiful amulet. It shimmered in the diffused light coming from the light jewels on the ceiling above. Held one way, the scale showed a gold color. Held another way, it might look gleaming white or silver. And, another turn might make the scale reflect a rainbow spectrum of different colors. His acolyte had written on the scale, too, using a powerful spell to carve into the hard surface. The dragon smiled as he read the words on the scale amulet. Then, he placed it into a pocket of his robe along with a handful of gold coins from the chest. He then teleported out of his treasure room back outside to the jetty. 
     He would need a boat, now, to send the boy downstream and out of the cavern. A simple conjuration spell produced one of the ancient water craft that his people used to sail back and forth across the lake with. It was a graceful craft with low sides and a high prow and stern. Two sets of oars were stored underneath the gunwales. The boat was made of a very light thin metal that was almost indestructible. It glowed with a deep russet color in the dim light from the oculus far above. Though the boat was small, made for only four people and some trade goods, it was nonetheless very stable on the open water, and made a good choice to carry the boy safely downstream. The dragon placed the child in the flat bottom of the boat and wrapped him in his leather apron. The amulet then went around the boy's neck. He described a very powerful warding spell that would prevent anyone from taking it off him. The boy could take it off himself, but no one else could touch it. There might come a day when the child would want to know where he had been and what had happened to him down in this cavern. The amulet would lead him back then, and perhaps the dragon would give him a rich reward for restoring his life. Until then, a scattered handful of coins in the bottom of the boat would provide a reward for whoever found the boy and took him in.
     The dragon released the boat away from the jetty with a hard shove and the craft steadily made its way out into the lake. The current would catch it there and propel the boat down the many corridors and causeways of the underground cave system, until finally reaching the surface some great distance away. He watched the boat vanish into the mist cloud that usually gathered at the center of the lake. The craft was only a small brown speck showing up against the gray of the mist before it disappeared for good. The dragon stood for a long time looking after the craft. He wondered if he was doing the right thing by sending the boy away. He could keep him here and try to raise him in this city. He could be the first of a new group of acolytes. But, it didn't seem the right thing to do just now to a human child.  Not before he brought other humans to the city and recreated the glory of his underground empire. Hopefully, the child wouldn't return as a man, leading an army of hoard-hungry adventurers, crazy for treasure. It would be a pity to have to kill him then. But, the dragon didn't feel that the boy's future would work out that way. Not this child. Only time would tell what would eventually happen. As for now, the dragon was very hungry and he needed a great deal of sustenance.  The Great Golden Dragon leapt from the jetty, transformed in mid-flight and began a long steady climb, high up to the oculus at the cavern's ceiling. He wanted to feel the sun upon his scales. And, there was a whole, new, different world out there to explore. For just an instant, there was a bright glimmer of flashing gold as the dragon vanished into the beams of sunlight.

Toki Bloodaxe

The Temple

     Scene: exterior- A mountain valley with steep rocky walls and a swift river running through it. A half-completed temple is perched high on the rocky hillside. Three acolytes in rough robes work the stone of the valley floor with crude metal tools. They load the cut stones onto sledges to drag up a steep path to the temple site. The bright sunlight from the mountain sky beats down upon them.

Brother Merek: By Pelor's gaze, it's hot today.

Brother Villus: All the more, Brother Merek, for Pelor's glory is in pure sunshine!

Brother Kadfell: Brother Villus still thinks it's a virtue to drop dead of heat stroke. What do you think of that, Brother Merek?

I think that Brother Villus has a lot to learn, is what I think, Brother Kadfell.


Brothers, are we not taught that the golden gaze of Pelor, be it ever so bright and intense, albeit sometimes harmful, especially to those who do not revere the Great Pelor as much as they should, despite all of the copious blessings that the Great Pelor sees fit to bestow...

Look! There's a boat coming down the river!

What kind of boat, Brother Merek?

Some kind of boat that I have never seen before. Surely not a river raft.

....there are still those who, despite the almighty and merciful grace of the Wondrous Pelor, Light of the World and Blesser of Crops, called the Great Shining One, as he is....

Shut your damn fool mouth, Brother Villus, and help Brother Merek grab that boat before it goes on by!

...Hhhmmphh!! Well, I never, Brother Kadfell....

Just do it, Brother Villus!

Hurry, Brother Villus! The current is about to pull it from me and there is someone inside!

This water is cold and the current is too strong! I am not sure that I can help, Brother Merek!

Great Pelor, give me strength! Throw me a rope, Brother Kadfell before I lose hold!

Here it is, Brother Merek. Now, we all pull together!

This rope is burning my hands, Brothers. I am not sure that I can hang on.

Too bad we are not using your hot air to pull this boat, Brother Villus. We would have it all of the way up to the temple by now.

Brother Kadfell, I hardly think that insulting me will get us anywhere at this moment. Do you?

No, but it makes me feel better.

Brothers, just a bit more now and we can get the prow up onto the gravel bar and stick it fast. One last big pull!

It's up there now, Brother Merek. I knew your great strength would come in handy.

Brothers, it's much better to attribute the saving of the boat to the Mighty Pelor, who after all, gives us the strength we need to....

Brother, Kadfell, help me get this child out of the boat. Does he look hurt to you?

I can't tell, Brother Merek. Perhaps he is only asleep.

Some sleep it is! The poor thing is as limp as a rag, though he breaths strongly enough.

Is that gold in the bottom of the boat? Why, the whole boat is filled with Gold!

Hand me all of the coins, Brother Villus, including the ones that you have concealed in your sleeves.

I was just placing them in my sleeves so that they wouldn't be lost, Brother Kadfell.

I know about those sleeves of yours, Brother Villus. Extra food and wine seems to disappear into those sleeves all of the time.

Why, Brother Kadfell, I would never...

I am going to put him on the empty sledge. Maybe put some of those empty gravel sacks under his head to keep him breathing. And some water for his face. His skin feels dry and hot.

Once a healer, always a healer. Aye, Brother Merek?

He's got something wrapped around him. It's like a big sheet of the aprons that the blacksmiths wear.
All of the water is gone already, Brothers. Perhaps I should go back to the boat and see if there is anything of value left inside.

You get over here and fold those gravel sacks under this poor child's head, Brother Villus. Brother Merek will take the bucket and go to the river for more water.

Hey, where did the boat go?


It floated off the gravel bar back into the current, Brother Merek.

No, it didn't. It isn't anywhere on the river at all. One second it was there on the gravel bar. And, now it isn't there anymore. It just vanished.

Great Pelor, protect us! Brothers, this child is of evil! He has journeyed here in an enchanted craft and now beguiles us with his innocence and uses his gold to tempt us!

The only one around here who is tempted by the gold is you, Brother Villus.

It was enchanted for sure, Brother Kadfell, don't you think? You know more of this kind of magick than I do.

There are all kinds of enchantments, Brother Merek. There are good spells and bad spells, as we all know. And, then, there are powerful enchantments of warding, summoning and protection. Whoever sent the boy down the river to us certainly knew what they were doing.

....Great Pelor, protect us from the evil and the temptation sent here to corrupt our poor souls. We are not worthy of your grace, we poor creatures are lower than the worms in the dung....

Brother Villus, stop your yammering and forget about the boat for now. We have a real mystery on our hands now.

I wonder who this boy is...the son of a blacksmith, or something? Whoever put him in the boat was sure wealthy enough, scattering all of that gold around like that. I don't think that it was some village blacksmith. And, then, there is the matter of the enchantments on the boat.

Brother Merek, you get to the heart of the matter, as usual. We must take the boy up to the temple so that the Learned Brothers can properly examine him. Perhaps they can restore him to his senses and there will be some questions answered. Why don't we....

AAHHH!! hand is burning!!

What were you trying to steal now, brother Villus?

Nothing, Brother Kadfell! I was just trying to examine the strange amulet around the boy's neck, and my hand felt as it was suddenly burning with all of the fires of torment!

Perhaps it is another enchantment to keep SOMEBODY from stealing the poor child's necklace. Brother Merek, try to touch the amulet if you can.

I can't get my hand close to it. I can already feel my hand getting hot as I reach for it.

It's a spell of warding, then. A powerful one, to be sure.

I thought that this child would bring us all evil! Now, I know it!

Brother Villus feels chastised for being sticky-fingered. He is lucky that they don't cut the noses off of thieves around here like they used to.

Brother Kadfell! That is a horrible accusation against a brother of the cloth! I am shocked to hear you...

There is some writing on his amulet. It's nothing that I have ever seen before, though. Perhaps it will give us some clue to who he is. Can you make it out, Brother Kadfell?

I can make it out clear enough. But, it is something that I have not seen written for many long years past since I was soldiering down in the Western Mountains. It's an old priest language, something you see written on the ruins of temples down there.

Don't read it Brother Kadfell! It might be a curse placed on the thing to kill us all!

It says.." I am Raebian, Lord of Lenzarote, Leader of Hosts, Bane of Evil. Thine eye is the key to knowledge." I think that I got that much right, anyway.

Brother Kadfell, how would a man of the cloth like you have knowledge of an ancient language like that? Are you imparting that perhaps you had a hand in some sort of southern heresy?

It might be a real shocker to someone such as you, Brother Villus, but Brother Kadfell has been many things in his life before he took the cloth. He is the certainly the type of brother who isn't scared by a little arcane knowledge here and there- much to the benefit of our Brotherhood as a whole, I might add.

Brother Merek, I was not implying that Brother Kadfell had any direct hand in any sort of heresy. But, rather that he might have...

Lenzarote. I haven't heard of that for so very long. I thought that I had forgotten all about it.
What is "Lenzarote", Brother Kadfell?

It was an ancient empire, now many of thousands of years gone. It was supposed to be a network of huge cities, connected by special roads. Some of the cities were underground; others were situated in protected mountain valleys. I heard from an old elder once that some of the cities of Lenzarote were enchanted and floated in the air. And, amazing as it may seem, I even heard that the people of Lenzarote could even walk...

Bosh! I won't hear another word of this nonsense! This boy isn't from some far-off empire city of the past. He is just some blacksmith's son who stole a boat and some money and will soon get his young behind whipped.

You sound a little too eager to see that happen, Brother Villus. And, I think that it is amazing that, even now, you deny that there is some mystery involved here.

Brother Merek! I am a brother of the cloth just like you and...

Brother Villus, never in your wildest dreams, could you ever be a brother of the cloth like me.

I thought that these coins looked strange. They are Draks. See the image of the golden dragon on one side, and the image of the sun on the other. These coins are very rare and the numis brothers at the great temple revere these coins as great treasure. Just a handful of these coins could easily pay for our temple and all of the stained glass therein, plus a complete waterworks for the village crops below.

Surely, Brother Kadfell, there is no need to inform the learned brothers of this find. Perhaps we could keep this treasure here with us. We are surely in need, also. Are we not?

Brother Villus, your larcenous nature knows no bounds.


So, this boy isn't Raebian, is he? Lord of Lenzarote, Leader of Hosts, and such? He doesn't look like anyone connected with an empire thousands of years in the past.

He sure doesn't, Brother Merek. But, for some reason, known only to Pelor, this child has been placed in our hands for care. Neither can you as a healer, nor myself as a scholar ignore this charge now given to us. For now, we will simply refer to the boy as Raebian. It is a good as name as any. When he awakens from his deep slumber, perhaps then he will enlighten us. Until then, let us take him and all of his mysteries up to the temple and let the Learned Brothers examine him.

Well spoken, Brother Kadfell. Let us take hold of the sledge and pull it up to the temple. Keep a hand on the boy so that he doesn't roll off.

My hands still hurt from before, Brothers.  Perhaps, I would better serve the Great Pelor if I were to hurry up the trail and announce your arrival to the Learned Brothers. I'll get going now!

You do that, Brother Villus.

   Scene: exterior- A trail carved into the side of a rocky hill. Two acolytes, dressed in rough robes, pull a sledge with the sleeping form of a child in the back up the trail. A third acolyte hurries ahead up the trail shouting hysterically at the top of his lungs. Above the three men, a bright golden flash in the sky reveals the distant figure of a flying creature making its way over the mountains.