Chapter Two - Daggers in the WoodsMature

It was a cold, clear and calm night; the moons shone down over the landscape and illuminated their target which had taken a total of two weeks to reach. The campsite was on the eastern bank of a branch of the Everflow River, at the heart of Cristarion on the Vermillion Fields. It needed no signal flare to be noticed. Tristan was fully aware of how many men were within the perimeter of the camp and how many men were keeping guard beyond that – he’d been stalking this prey for long enough.

It better be bloody worth it Deigmar is a fool to waste my talents on this. Tristan could feel the presence of Domitius’ mind connect with his own.

Do not be so rash my young apprentice, your father would not have sent you on this if he thought it was too trivial for someone of your station. Even over a distance of thousands of miles Tristan could see that same smug smile that accompanied Domitius’ face.

It had been five years since that fateful day which had changed Tristan’s life forever. Over the last five years he had been training within the band of mercenaries known as the Infernal Terrors, honing all his possible skills: swordsmanship, archery, herblore, languages, forging, etiquette but most prominently of all his mastery of sorcery. But of course this had not only been for the last five years, to Tristan it had been from the moment he began to walk, it was his entire life, he could know nothing else other than the life he has been living for the last twenty one years.

It was the year 3999 of the Third Millennium the Hero Age, on the 15th Ashfall, Tristan or Tristan the Bold as he had come to be known amongst the small band of mercenaries he himself was allowed to command were just north of a camp of Paladin. The Paladin Order was the most prestigious order within Aelidar, on their gargantuan golden Gryphon mounts they were the chief protection to the Imperial Dynasty specifically trained to live and die in the service of the Empire. They were not to be underestimated as they were granted potent enhancements to their abilities, by the Gods, some say. Tristan was not afraid of the fancy pricks. Let them try and outmatch my men and numbers and if that doesn’t work ill show them what real power looks like.

Remember Master Tristan that no one knows of your magical existence, I have done all I can to shield you from the prying eyes of the Oculus Maleficia but if you start going around blowing up Paladins even I can’t promise you won’t be somewhat harassed to join the Order of the Saggy Old Bastards. Domitius’ distain for his fellow sorcerers was palpable.

The three moons did nothing to help Tristan and his men conceal themselves from the camp below the small ridge, but they knew their business and each man in Tristan’s band was worth ten of your average soldier. Slowly from his advantageous viewpoint he walked down the ridge to his men, all armed, swords and pieces of armour glinting in the moonlight.

‘So what is it, are we in for a bloody battle from them?’ It was Avitus, Tristan’s second in command who detached himself from the body of men.

‘Oh you better believe it, those cosy shits are just begging us to kill them, Avitus take ten men to the east cover under the trees, I’ll stay up here and give you the signal when it’s time to attack.’ With a nod Avitus took the required men and with woollen rages in between their armour plates to avoid any clattering noise, moved into position.

Thinking that this was almost too easy, Tristan moved into his earlier post atop this ridge, joined by the other thirty of his mean, he raised his long sword so as to catch the silver light.

From the spot where Avitus waited Tristan saw the same response from the glimmer of a blade. Tristan began to trot down the hill, picking up pace until all his men where at an all or nothing sprint towards their quarry.

‘By this gold we will conquer!’ Tristan chanted the war cry of the Infernal Terrors as he crashed into the first tent within sight. He was met with a stench that made his stomach do backflips.

Strewn within the tent and to Tristan’s realisation all the other erected pieces of canvas, were the deteriorating corpses of the Paladins who Tristan had been watching like a stalking lion for the past two weeks. Confusion wiped the battle fury of the men away, along with a slight revulsion; it was one thing to be surrounded by gore within the bloodlust of battle, quite another to be surrounded by mounds of maggot eaten flesh.

Tristan scanned the scene within the largest tent, there was only once corpse within this tent, lying on its front with several curious looking blades imbedded within the man’s spine, they were buried up to the hilt and gave of the foulest odour which screamed poison. There wasn’t much else within the tent, a few bags full of provisions and a small portable table folded out in the centre; upon this rested a brown leather bag. Tristan skirted the corpse that had been used for someone’s target practice, trying to avoid stepping in any congealed blood, he gingerly opened the top flap of the bag. As it was this bag turned out to be a small wooden box approximately eight inches high and four inches wide placed tightly within the bag.

Now this was unexpected, and quite random, Tristan was expecting the usual horde that Paladins carried, materialistic wealth in terms of coin but nothing in the way of small wooden boxes. Could just be nothing I suppose. Tristan had to fight the urge to tear open the box straight away slinging the bag over his shoulder he exited the tent

‘Like I said bloody waste of time, I told you Tristan there was no worth with these bastards, and what the fuck happened to the poor sons’ a’ bitches,’ Avitus had a forlorn expression on his face.

Before Tristan could engage in conversation he noticed there was a ruckus towards the eastern side of the camp, Tristan marched over to the men pushing their way through the undergrowth, forcing something between them to the ground. It was a man. Well not really a man in the sense that he was old, in fact he couldn’t have been much older than Tristan himself, but aside from that he appeared to possess all other aspects of the male species. He was wearing the armour and ornamental robes of a Paladin, with shoulder length hair, that was as black as a ravens feather, his skin was luminescent in the white light of the three moons, the angle of his cheekbones and eyes indicated that he was a Rel from the eastern country of Aelidar; Relwood. Tristan grabbed a length of his black hair forcing him to look him in the eyes, the Rel’s were a deep chestnut brown.

‘And who may you be most interesting of Rel?’ Tristan assumed the cockiest smile he could.

‘My name is of no consequence to you, bandit, you may want to vacate this area before what killed my brothers returns.’ The look on his face spoke of fierceness, vengeance, but hiding underneath was a tense nervousness.

‘Now why on earth would be wanting to do that? Just what was it that you’re so terrified about hmm Paladin?’ Tristan tried to see into the Rel’s eyes, glimpse what he was thinking.

‘My name, scum, is Lukas Morgan, and what killed my brothers holds more concern to me than anything you can do or say.’ The Rel made to spit in Tristan’s face but received a dazzling fist to the temple instead.

‘Wait… Tristan can you hear that?’ It was Avitus who spoke up, he looked around as if there was a threat present.

Listening hard Tristan could hear what Avitus was talking about: it was a high pitched clicking sound, as if they were surrounded by a thousand grasshoppers. It now appeared to be coming from all around the small encampment; everyone had stopped what they were doing to listen the mesmerising sound. From the darkness surrounding the forest a hooded figure emerged, swift as a bird he leaped onto one of the men sinking a small stiletto into the man’s throat. Several seconds later more figures sprinted from the protection of the trees catching the men of guard and cutting them down with a grim delight. One attacker sliced through the man nearest Tristan in an attempt to reach him but was quickly beheaded by Tristan himself.

What in the name of the Gods is going on, who are these freaks!?

Another attacker had begun to fence with Avitus, darting in and out with incredible skill, Avitus was too slow to match his opponents speed, continuing to receive tiny cuts and slashes it was obvious that he was becoming weaker by the minute. Tristan was dealing with another of the hooded assailants while Avitus was driven to his knees and had his throat slit from ear to ear. The sight of the butchery of Tristan’s men stirred that powerful place within him, pleading with his better judgement to use his sorcery, to burn the cowardly murderers where they stood.

No Tristan! You must not! The voice of Domitius resounded in Tristan’s head, at once quietening the magic that was stirring within him.

From the corner of his eye Tristan only just managed to notice another hooded figure leap towards him; but instead of colliding with him head on as Tristan had expected the figure vaulted above Tristan in a wide arc, snatching the wooden box from its leather bag while doing so. Landing the attacker turned to look at Tristan from the empty darkness of his hood and let out a hissing sound which resembled a snake coiling for attack. Tristan ran toward the hooded figure trying to close the gap between the two. Tristan was surprised by his agility and speed.

‘Come back here and fight like a real man you filthy cowardly bastard! Or did you leave your balls at home!?’ Tristan let all of his rage flow into his voice.

‘Ssss, nice try human, but I am no man.’ The assailant turned around and pulled back the hood covering his face.

Tristan was stunned into immobility by the abnormality that he saw before him. What Tristan had perceived to be a man was not that at all but some snake humanoid man that was covered in black scales, with teeth like a vipers, eyes yellow and slit like a cats, topped off with a bald head. Tristan was taking too long to overcome the site before him and without realising the snake-man had turned tail and continued to sprint between the barren oaks and sentinel trees allowing him to escape; much to Tristan’s annoyance. Bursting into the underbrush plunged him into total darkness. Tristan had to focus his mind to find the thief, the darkness was his enemy and only the glimmer of the crescent moons shed light upon the sanguine cover of the trees.

Within the shadowy cover of the barren trees Tristan’s sight was all but useless; the fleeting light of the moons was almost entirely obscured by the far reaching limbs of the leafless trees. Tristan was relying on hearing alone, treading lightly and trying to make as little sound as possible, the assailant was likely as limited in movement as Tristan himself was so he could not have gone far. From the darkness Tristan could hear a sinister hiss.

‘Ssss you are persssistent human I’ll give you that, but you know ssso little about this box, about me and about the world, if only you could sssee half of the things I have.’ The voice was coming from behind Tristan he swung to face it.

‘But no your feeble mind cannot comprehend the complexity of the world around you.’ The voice had shifted to the left, he moved.

‘Die now in vain and know that the world will not mourn you!’ The voice was above him.

The man dropped down onto Tristan knocking his long sword from his grasp and pinning him to the ground. For a slim thing the snake-man weighed enough to keep Tristan down by sheer weight alone, eventually he managed to gain some momentum, bringing his right hand crashing into the creatures face: it let out a mind numbing screech. Tristan tried to reach for his sword but the man crawled back on top of him. Eventually the two started exchanging blows to the face each trying to stun the other. After rolling in the dirt and snagging his clothes on the thorns for a brief time Tristan reached out to grab what he hoped as the pommel of his long sword. With all of his remaining strength he swung the object wide, colliding what turned out to be a fallen branch with the side of the monsters head. This gave Tristan enough time to reach for his blade and point the tip at the snake-man’s throat.

‘Drop it,’ Was all Tristan could say.

Slowly the creature extended the hand that clutched the bag and placed it on the ground as far away as possible.

‘Now tell me, what the hell are you and where did you come from?’ Tristan had so many questions.

‘You would like to know wouldn’t you, human? Well I’ll not give you the sympathy of learning anything from me, except that I am a Skahleel of Miremel and a warning; that you and you’re entire pitiful existence will be destroyed by Wanxiao.’ The Skahleel suddenly had his own dagger to his throat and was scraping it across to cover Tristan in a crimson shower. The taste of iron and salt was on his lips.

It seemed that the thief would rather die than reveal anything else to Tristan. Covered from head to toe in the Skahleel’s blood Tristan made his way back to the camp.

In the eternal darkness that engulfed the patch of forest in which Tristan and the Skahleel had descended into, Tristan could barely make out the ring of tents that made up the camp site, and the fire had become smouldering embers. At the border or the ring of tents Tristan peered around checking to see for signs that any of his men remained; bodies both hooded and bare were strewn across the ground, the smell of blood and sweat were ripe in the air.

Tristan was worried that more of the hooded assailants – he assumed that they were all Skahleel due to their dexterity – were within the area, he treaded lightly into the ring of bare ground. To his left there was the faintest sound of bushes being rustled, the next thing Tristan knew the Rel Paladin Lukas was emerging from the tree to his right with all the grace of a cat.

‘Good to see you too what was it again? Lukas, what happened to everyone?’ Tristan noted that the Paladin was still lacking a weapon so assumed he was harmless.

He was wrong. Lukas swung for his head and only narrowly avoided contacting with Tristan’s nose. Tristan retaliated with a swift clip around the ear then a full bodied punch to the stomach. The Rel was well trained however and he managed to avoid the crippling blow and kick Tristan’s feet from under him, it wasn’t long until Lukas joined him on the ground and Tristan was once again in the familiar dirt fight that he had been in with the Skahleel not ten minutes ago. The two grappled and rolled in the dirt for an uncountable amount of time, each trying to gain leverage on the other.

Eventually they both managed to disengage from each other. Panting from the effort the exertion had cost them the two stared at each other intensely.

‘Well, Lukas, I think it’s fair to say that we’re evenly matched, do you think your order would allow you to make common cause with a belligerent mercenary like myself until we’ve found out what the fucks going on?’ Tristan had to inhale deeply to steady himself.

Lukas did likewise and straightened his robes, brushing the dust from them.

‘I think, for the time, I am going to have to, what is you name bandit?’ Lukas offered his open palm.

‘Tristan, Tristan the Bold by my men, son of Deigmar the Wicked.’ Tristan shook the hand but not gently. Lukas hid his surprise on hearing Tristan’s name well.

‘I had no idea that the commander of the Infernal Terrors had a son,’ Lukas began to search for his sword around the nearest pile of corpses.

‘Most people don’t, it’s not that my father isn’t proud of me or anything, I just don’t think he cares who knows so he doesn’t often tell people,’ Tristan did the same, shoving a green scaled body to one side.

After retrieving and cleaning his sword from the mess of tangled corpses Tristan realised he had completely forgotten the wooden box. It must have been by the cold corpse of the black scaled Skahleel who had taken his own life. By the Gods. Descending back into the impenetrable darkness of the trees Tristan searched for the corpse, it didn’t take long, the smell was already intense and the cries of carrion birds alerted Tristan to its whereabouts quickly. It was toppled over onto its side, to the left of the Skahleel’s body, strangely to Tristan’s eye the humanoid looked even more fierce in death than in life, its cheeks pulled back to reveal the needle thin fangs within.

Tristan made his way back to the camp and found himself close to the main pavilion once again. It might be helpful to look around; maybe one of these Paladins has something that can tell me what the hell this thing is. Tristan entered the tent and had to hold his nose against the permeating stench, it seemed to have doubled in putridness no doubt quickened by the poison. He delicately went through the Paladin commanders pockets, feeling for any parchment. There it was a thin piece of blood stained paper.

Paladin Commander Bodir

As you know this is the fifth time the item in question has been delivered to the Dragon’s Eye but as protocol demands you are to take it to Paladin Commander Ilinus  in the Paladin Hall in Sharkbay, you never know maybe this time the Gods will favour Cristarion. I wish the best of luck to your formation and strong winds.

Signed Grand Knight Paladin Orophin Helanwë

United We Stand.”

Circles within circles Thought Tristan.

Exiting the tent after reading the letter, Tristan was met with a rigid looking Lukas, he was standing with his hand resting on his sword hilt.

‘So do you know what’s in this thing?’ Tristan gestured with the box which he held with his left hand. Lukas shrugged his shoulders in response.

‘I don’t get to peek, all I know was that we were to deliver the item in question to this location where another formation would then receive it and take it to the next meeting point.’ Lukas walked over and read the letter which Tristan offered with his right hand.

‘Well what do you make of that, it’s damned strange from what I can tell, why on earth would you be taking this small box to the Dragons Eye?’ Tristan had come to the conclusion that it would be a good idea to have a look at what was inside.

Placing the box on the floor it seemed such a meaningless little wooden box. Gods, whatever inside better have been worth all the trouble.  He unclasped the locks on the front of the box, looked at Lukas and slowly raised the lid. The dim light revealed inside a large sparkling white gem that seemed to have the box made around it to fit perfectly. This was not what he was expecting, important documents, some kind of magic artefact but this? Things just got more confusing. He showed the contents to Lukas.

‘A gem, how peculiar, I don’t know what it is, and I have no idea why we would be taking it to the Dragon’s Eye before you ask.’ Lukas predicted Tristan’s exact question.

Tristan had to think hard about this decision, the smartest solution would be to try and make some money out of the venture, he could contact Domitius, tell him of the calamity that had been a result of what was supposed to be a simple raid. He could take it to Sharkbay, that’s where the letter suggested the gem was meant to end up. Why not, he could go solo, and the Paladin would vouch for him anyway and then he could rendezvous with the rest of the Terrors after he made a sweet deal for securing there obviously important gem.  

After explaining his intention to Lukas the Paladin had stood in silence for a period of time, probably considering his options, which were limited to say the least. It would take Tristan and Lukas seven days travelling as the Gryphon flies, to reach Sharkbay, they would have to traverse the immensity of the Vermillion Fields.

‘Well seems there’s nothing to it Lukas we’ll have to trudge all the way to Sharkbay and quickly if we don’t want to get in any more trouble but first we’ll camp here for the night and set of in the morning we don’t want to be caught in the dark lest more of these… things attack us, savy?’ Tristan wasn’t sure the Paladin would agree until he gave a stiff nod.

‘Very well then, I shall keep first watch.’ With this the Paladin sat on the dirt ground and crossed his legs, immediately his eyes seemed to be focusing on something else.

Tristan thought nothing of it, let the Paladin meditate on his inane purpose in life, he needed to sleep. Salvaging a sleeping back from the gear they had gathered from the dead Paladins Tristan faded into a dark and troubling sleep, with monsters with scaled faces and rotting corpses rising from the ground.

Tristan’s shift to keep watch came all too soon and it felt as if he had barely slept at all, his joints still aching from sleeping in his steel plate armour, the emptiness of his stomach making him gag. While Lukas settled down to sleep, in what must have been the second hour of the morning, Tristan decided he would gather something to eat. While searching the perimeter of the camp he heard a whining noise that at once sent his hand to the pommel of his blade, it took him only a few seconds to realise that it was the sound of the horses pitched up past the ridge he had stormed down. Thanking the Gods he went over to calm the beasts who were in clear distress at being left alone for so long. He stroked his own beasts white mane, sending soothing thoughts to ease its frustration. Once calmed he went into the saddlebags. Finally the Gods smile upon me. Tristan pulled out two rolls of brown bread and could see that further below were packages of smoked beef and cheese. Gathering these items he made his way back to the campsite to settle down to a late, late, dinner.

At first light Lukas woke to the food that Tristan had collected, it only seemed right that he share at least some with the Paladin. It was a wet morning, dew on the orange grass of the Vermillion Fields and droplets of water hanging from the sparse cedar trees. Packing the last of their supplies and unhitching two horses which had been tied down by Tristan the duo began heading of in a westerly direction, thankful that they did not immediately run into any more of the Skahleel and slowly made their way to Sharkbay. Along the way through the vast hunting planes they rode, following the Red Road which shot like an arrow towards their destination, several herds of wild wildebeests ran into a sprint at the sound of their horse hooves and the occasional lion was seen among the thicket of grass waiting for the right moment to pounce. Dozens of questions buzzed around in Tristan’s head, specifically the importance of this gem which was beginning to become an increasingly annoying burden. On the third day on their escapade to Sharkbay they were greeted by a string of unfortunate luck. As they rose early once again to start there days arduous riding low, black thunder clouds gathered in the horizon, by the time the two had covered all trace of their campsite for the night the heavens had opened up on them and unleashed a torrent that assaulted them until midday. At this point the boys had come across a sizeable pack of the bronze fur lions that had left the Vermillion Fields to drink from the Everflow River. They took plenty of time to put distance between themselves and the horde of carnivorous beasts, adding more time onto their already delayed endeavour. On what Tristan hoped would be their last day of journeying towards Sharkbay the stroke of bad luck that had been plaguing the two for the most part of their traveling vanished. As the boys were walking upon the road were Sharkbay could be seen as a grey haze in the distance they were met by a traveling caravan that stopped as it was passing them.

‘Alright der you two what a couple o boys doin out ‘ere on these highways ders bandits along ‘ere ya’know.  Were ye’ headin’ to?’

The old carriage driver was very funny looking with a hooked nose underneath two large grey eyes and his whole face looked to have taken a hawk like shape.

‘Uh we’re on our way to Sharkbay if you’re looking for company we don’t mind helping an old fellow such as yourself,’ Tristan glanced at Lukas as if this was the stupidest thing he could have said.

‘O that’d be mighty generous of ye’ young sirs I’ll try not to slow you down too much, these old fillies still have some kick to ‘em Sharkbay it is.’ The driver slapped the reigns down, pricking the ears of the horses up and sending them into a canter.  

‘Well that was generous of you? What’s next are you going to give you last fucking mark to a dirty urchin? What’s the matter with you Lukas it’ll take us twice as long to reach Sharkbay now?’ Tristan tried to control his annoyance as him and Lukas held back to let the horses walk behind the caravan.

‘Will you relax man, there’s nothing to worry about, the Paladin Hall will not turn us away regardless of what time we come calling, and this way we won’t be seen as strangers entering the city, just coming in as a caravan owners hired protection, not suspicious at all just in case there’s any Skahleel waiting for us and for fucks sake man take your damned hands of that box, the gem is fine, give it here let’s have a look at it.’ Lukas tried to grab for the bag.

But Tristan pulled the box away hurriedly he felt like he could not leave the package out of his sight  or let anyone else’s hands touch even the bag it was contained in,  the very essence of the gem seemed to be calling to him asking him for protection, drawing him in and Tristan was falling to its whim. Lukas looked at him with alarm.

‘It’s ok Lukas I know it’s okay, magic is all but gone in the world but I don’t know… it’s just a nagging in the back of my mind that I can’t shake trust me, besides once we get to Sharkbay we’ll get rid of it and I’ll be fine.’

Lukas eyed the package for a while then gave a slight nod and a smirk. Suddenly the carriage stopped causing the horses to rear up on their back legs nearly throwing Tristan and Lukas off. They pulled up around the edge of the caravan to see what had caused the sudden halt. They saw the carriage driver get down and walk over to four men on horses. The four hooded figures looked all too familiar to Tristan who looked to Lukas who had the same look of recognition on his face. They had to think fast as they tried to dismount their horses without making a sound.

If we can sneak around the back without being noticed we could take them with the advantage of surprise. Thought Tristan.

Well it would’ve worked if one of them had not rode forward to be at the rear of the carriage and saw the boys as they tried to flank them on the left. He let out a high pitched hiss and the inaudible clicking was everywhere once again, the Skahleel swung himself of the horse while simultaneously throwing knives at Tristan and Lukas. The boys dodged them but one caught Tristan on his thigh; it stung at first but then the patch of his leg started to go numb: the blades, they’re poisoned.

‘Lukas be careful these foreign blades of theirs is laced with poison, we’ve got to take them out and get the gem away from them,’

‘Sounds like a plan let’s go’ Lukas stood up from his position on the ground and drew his long sword.

Tristan followed suit looking over were the carriage driver once stood; now there was a decapitated corps. The other three horsemen had dismounted as well and dashed after them. The boys held their ground blocking and parrying the blows but they were outmatched, with the Skahleel’s amplified strength and speed it wouldn’t be long before they were overwhelmed.

Tristan managed to make a gouge in the face of one of their attackers but the other three kept coming. Tristan could now feel the poison from the blade that had cut him affecting his balance; his vision was becoming blurry which is why he did not stop the oncoming fist that collided with his stomach. With another blow to the face Tristan was sent backwards with the force, knocking his blade from his weakened grasp. His legs had now become completely numb and Tristan could barely lift his head. Within Tristan’s hazy vision he could see that the gem had fallen from the box in his saddle pack and was now lying on its side. The feeling of protection and possession surged through Tristan once more as he tried to crawl towards the gem in a desperate attempt to get to it. Two of the assailants were trying to restrain a kicking but disarmed Lukas while the third was watching Tristan as he squirmed on the ground trying to reach the gem. Above all else Tristan felt that he had to protect the gem from the Skahleel and he would not stop. He lunged one more time and he had it, he had the gem in his hand! This sudden connection with the egg cleared Tristan’s clouded mind, the world was no longer blurry and he remembered the presence of his attackers. Spinning around with the gem clutched to his chest Tristan unleashed the energy that he knew he possessed letting it flow from the mental damn that he had erected in order to keep his magical abilities a secret. It was a surge of energy and power racing through his body, raising his other hand while his eyes burned with the white light of a thousand suns he let out a thunderous cry like the heroes of old, the power unleashed in a deadly burst of pure energy that seared through all three attackers turning them to ash. There was naught but a still silence for what seemed an eternity, both Tristan and Lukas astonished at what they just saw. Eventually Lukas spoke first.

‘Good thinking Tristan, just one question, how in the name of fucking Ullmarin did you do that!?’ Lukas helped him stand up.

‘Well I guess there are a few things you don’t know about me Lukas, for one I can use magic, which I suppose you’ve guessed already, ah shit, look I’m not meant to use it outside of my training,’ Tristan realised the repercussions of his actions only too late.

‘What do you mean training are you a novice of the Oculus Maleficia? I thought you said Deigmar the Wicked was your father?’ Lukas had a look or wariness that Tristan had not seen on the Rel yet.

‘Look there’s a lot I can’t tell you okay, there are things I’d have to kill you about if I told you, so stop fucking looking at me like that and let’s just get this over with shall we.’ Tristan turned his back on Lukas and securely fastened the gem into his horse’s saddlebag which had fallen to the ground.

Lukas had no more questions after they had cleared away the bodies and gathered their weapons but he continued to stare at Tristan with a quizzically hostile expression. Dammit why did I use magic? Tristan had begun to realise that he had actually been enjoying the Rel’s company over their strange sojourn together. Lukas was a skilled swordsman as well as an intelligent piece of conversation, he hadn’t encountered many of these outside of his father and Domitius who both always spoke with an air of arrogance. It annoyed him to think that Lukas probably saw him as nothing more than a mercenary and a potential enemy at that.

Together they sped of down the road westward to Sharkbay, after scattering the ashes with tree branches. Tristan was starting to hear the gem shake within the saddlebag not when they were riding but whenever they slowed down or dismounted to find water; he took the bag of the horse’s saddle and opened the lid. The gem shaking with increasing vigour while making a taping sound as it rocked back and forth hitting whatever was closest to it. Tristan thought that this could only be an after effect of what Tristan did earlier by casting his spell. The gem had allowed him to kill three men at once something that he had never even attempted to do. Whatever was happening and whatever the gem was doing it was a mystery to him.

‘Tristan, do you know when that bloody thing will stop tapping!?’ Lukas exclaimed in the night.

Tristan jerked up from where he lay at Lukas’ outcry, indeed the gem had not stopped shaking the entire day and was currently still colliding within its containment late into the night.

‘I don’t know Lukas by  all accounts this thing is magical, heck for all we know this is what it’s meant to do…maybe it’s the after effects of that spell I cast when we were attacked ,’

 ‘Whatever you did with that thing you did a whole day ago how can it still be having any effect on that thing? You know what I’m going to take a look at it.’ Lukas flung his coat to the side and strode over to the bag.

Before Lukas could grab the bag Tristan yanked it out of his way; taking it from where it lay next to him and retrieving the gem from within, he dropped the bag to the ground. He held the gem in his hands almost in a state of reverence towards it. Within his grasp the gem stopped shaking and was silenced for the first time in a day.

‘Tristan there’s riders coming up the road, we need to hide!’ Lukas chucked there coats into the nearest bush and ducked behind it.

‘Well what are you waiting for!? Stop staring at that stupid rock and hide!’ Tristan was oblivious to Lukas’ pleading.

In fact Tristan was completely dumbstruck by the beauty of the pale white gem that he held before him. It seemed to be glowing with an ethereal aura. The moons were cutting through the clouds, the gem reflected the moonlight; amplifying it until it sparkled with the brilliance of a million diamonds. Now he could feel the same surge of energy coming from the stone that flowed through him just as it had the day before. The feeling intensified as if it was part of his mind and soul. Tristan lifted it up towards the sky not knowing why he was or if he was even controlling his own movements. As the world became silent around him, Tristan saw that the gem was beginning to pulse with blue tendrils and from within he could feel the faint thud of a heartbeat. Due to the illuminating light that surrounded the orb Tristan could see the curled up shape of a tiny creature; as soon as the realisation hit him a burst of white light poured out from the gem, now known really to be an egg, blinding Tristan, Lukas and any other living creature within the area. If stealth was their idea then this would not have helped. As the egg started to burn in Tristan’s hands he felt another conscience pressing against his; a strange un-known presence that felt alien and larger than his own. Without warning their two minds fused together and Tristan felt emotions that weren’t his own, thoughts he had never known to exist, smells, sights, sounds all hidden to him before. It was like the power of a god that flowed through him but purified and culminating into a cornucopia of new sensations.  As the piercing white light started to die down a thunderous roar sounded in his mind along with the distant neighing of rearing horses and then all went black.

The End

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