THE SWORD OF TRUTH
by Matthew McDaniels
It is a time of great need. A Dark Legion of evil sweeps across the land of Mythica. Its unknown point of power feeds off the fear of the Legion's victims. Akilon, a small village, also a secret academy for warriors of an awesome breed known as Durinian, is the evil Legions next target. Only the fabled Warrior of Truth has the power to crush the Legion and prepare for a far greater threat...
chapter 1: the Test
It seemed so real. A dragon...screams...then nothing. Yet it was only a dream.
Jareth Alen, fighter in training, got up from his bed and got dressed. He attached his dagger to his belt and left.
Jareth was young, slender, and athletic, like most of the people in Akilon. His dark brown hair and steel grey eyes glistened in the sunlight. He was in a good mood most of the time, except when asked of his parents, who had both passed on. He hated to answer the question "where are your parents, young man?" Now, as far as he was concerned, the Elder was his second father. But he would never take the place of Jareth's true father, Luke Alen. Never.
His parents had meant more to him than anything. Jareth was the last Alen, as far as he knew. But sometimes he couldn't help feeling that there was someone else...
The town of Akilon was smaller than the surrounding communities, and was not well known in the world. It was a beautiful village, surrounded by hills lightly forested with pine and aspen trees. To the west, the huge Fiskill mountains overlooked the hamlet with special care. A peaceful stream trickled through the town common.
He strode toward the Elder's house. Good, he thought, his guards aren't here. Jareth walked up the stairs as quietly as possible, so not to be heard by the guards, Selm and Renegade. Renegade was one of Jareth's best friends, but the Elder had called for a tighter defensive campaign, and Renegade, being one of the greatest fighters in Akilon, was elected to lead, which left no time for the two friends.
Jareth knocked on the door. He felt a sharp jab on his backbone. He spun around to see Selm, wearing his skull mask that he had won in a fight to the death from a Night Stalker, chuckling to himself. "Going somewhere, little fighter?" he cackled. "Get down from there!" Selm threw Jareth down on the gravel abruptly. He raised his barbed spear high into the air and drove it down hard into Jareth's left arm.
"You have fallen Selm!" Renegade cried, running towards the masked man, spear thrust out. "You have fallen to evil!" Selm clutched his spear and tore it out of Jareth's shoulder, leaving a bloody mess.
"If you want to die, yes, attack me. But if it is life you wish to keep, stay back and let me slaughter this weakling!"
"Selm!" Renegade shouted. "I will not kill you, for we were once friends and I know there is still good in you, but I will not be afraid to hurt you!"
"You are foolish!" Selm spat. "You could never hurt me!"
Jareth, who had been wriggling in agony on the ground, reached for his dagger with his good arm. "Selm you are the foolish one!" He grabbed the dagger and hurled it at Selm's torso with every ounce of power he had left in his body. It dug into Selms hip, where it stuck firmly.
"Jareth, I do not admit defeat to you!" Selm cursed, half growling, half groaning. The Elder stepped out of his small hut, gripping his long staff.
"Selm, you have disobeyed the Sacred Laws of the Durinian Tribe. You are hereby banished from the village of Akilon. Off with you now!... Renegade help me bring Jareth inside," the Elder spoke in his kind voice.
"This isn't the last of me!" Selm bellowed, his voice ringing throughout Akilon. He thrust Jareth's dagger into the earth. * * *
Inside the hut, the Elder chanted songs of health to Jareth. His raised staff glowed a different color with every phrase the Elder sung. The finally Elder stopped singing. "There. It will heal with rest." The Elder pointed to Jareth's tightly bandaged arm. "Those herbs will add to the healing process.
"I know why you came to see me. Its about the dream you had, am I correct?"
"Yes," Jareth answered. "But how did you know?"
The Elder sat down. "Jareth, ever since you were a child I've watched you." He cleared his throat. "Renegade, could you bring me and my companion some tea?"
"Yes, sir," Renegade answered.
"Thank you." The Elder cleared his throat again. "Jareth, while I watched you I saw you were no ordinary fighter. Your skills, with some help, will exceed even the greatest Durinian warrior. Your instructor, Ned, sees your great skill and has promoted you to Terr's class."
"But what does my dream mean?" Jareth pleaded. Renegade handed the Elder his cup of tea, and shortly after Jareth received his.
The Elder took a sip and answered. "The dream was a telepathic call from a higher being."
"So you think that I'm special and different from the others and my dream was beckoning me to follow this path I know nothing of?" Jareth pleaded.
"I do not think...I know...But there is only one way to tell." The Elder reassured."I understand your confusion, Jareth. And most important...Do not under estimate your power."
"What you have said is incredible...But I still do not understand."
The Elder, his long white robes flowing, strode over to a long wooden chest. "Take this." The elder handed Jareth the wooden box.
"What is it?" Jareth asked.
"Take a look." The Elder beamed. Jareth opened the box, and to his delight, he saw a magnificent blade. The hilt was elegantly crafted, with gold and silver serpents entwined in battle, breathing copper flame into the blade. Elfish runes, finer than any penstroke, were carved into the steel blade. Jareth translated them from the Elf tongue: May the Balance keep.
"What is this weapon?" Jareth questioned.
"This is The Mystic Sword, or Balance."
"Why that name; Balance?"
"It was created when the two Gods of Power, were in balance with each other and there was an equal amount of good and evil in the world. Then they created the Mystic Sword and a neutral God of Power to represent the balance. When people quarreled with each other they disrupted the balance. When it got too far out of balance, the Gods created two weapons, one made out of all the hatred the world had suffered named Kalith, named after the evil God, the other sword created out of all the hope that the relentless slaughter would come to a halt. This weapon was called the Sword of Truth. Evil outbalanced the good and a warrior was called upon to wield the sword and recreate the balance. The warrior's name was Crespen Alen. He used the sword to crush the evil and restore the balance. Every 400 years or so the world has gone out of balance and it has either been good or evil who restores the balance. I believe it is you who is to revive the shattered balance of this age. The Mystic Sword gives faith to warrior. That is why it has been called Balance. But be careful of its power; for each time you use it, it slightly drains away your strength."
Jareth stared, mystified at the Elder. "How do you know it is me?"
"As I said before...There is only one way to know for sure if you are the one. The test. You must kill a creature of evil and bring back its left eye." The Elder handed Jareth the Sword. "You must rest. Tomorrow you will take the test."
The next day, Jareth rushed out the door and ran into the woodlands.
* * * The huge bear-like ogre circled Jareth menacingly. Jareth held his sword defensively in front of his body. The ogre swung his club high over his head, ready to pound Jareth into the ground. Jareth inched backward until he found himself backed up against a tree. The ogre began to charge. Jareth moved his head out of the way of the spinning club.
The tree splintered under the impact of the club. The ogre stood stunned. Jareth spun around and smacked him in the back of the head. The ogre slid unconscious to the ground. Jareth raised his sword to finish him when he realized something. If he murdered the ogre in cold blood, he would be no different than Selm and the other creatures of evil.
Jareth reached for his dagger slowly and carefully, as not to awake the sleeping giant. He raised the sharp dirk and prepared to gouge out the ogre's eye. Jareth stopped. He felt no evil or deceit
around the ogre. If he hurt it, the ogre would wake up and tear him in two. He turned and ran back to Arborlon to tell the Elder he had failed the test.
* * *
"No, you have not failed."
"Huh?" Jareth gazed at the Elder.
"You didn't feel anything wrong with the beast, so you left it alone. The test was to see if you could tell good from evil. You could. You're the Warrior."
chapter 2: the Attack
The Legion came that afternoon. First, there were the battle cries and shouts. Jareth thought he was hearing things, but he alerted the Elder anyway. The attack came in full force immediately after Jareth entered the hut. "Go! Help the town! Renegade is protecting me!" The Elder cried. No sooner had he said that, than Renegade came dashing up the stairs, sword drawn. The door burst open and large, evil looking men poured in. The Elder went to the back of the hut and stripped a staff off the wall. He sprinted down the stairs. Renegade followed.
Jareth was engaged in battle with a brute twice his size. The smaller man was losing. The enormous thing raised his sword to finish him, when Jareth's sword seemingly sprang to life. The Mystic Sword swung itself into the giant's gut. He fell back and pushed the crowd with him. Jareth felt slightly fatigued.
A smaller man, probably a tall dwarf, took Jareth on.
It held its battle axe menacingly, as though it would strike, but it didn't. Instead, he leapt up to about chest height on Jareth and spun around in mid air, waving his axe like a madman. When he hit the ground, though, he wasn't so fortunate. He lost his balance for a fraction of a second, and that was all it took Jareth to dispatch him.
"Jareth, come quickly down the stairs!" Renegade shouted. Jareth didn't ask questions, he just spun around and darted down the stairs.
The Elder had his staff raised and was preparing to cast a spell when Jareth stumbled to the bottom of stair well. Renegade yanked Jareth behind the Elder just before the spell's effect started on the evil beings.
Jareth saw the staff. A normal piece of wood, but at the top was a crystal clear serpent head with pure black stones for its eyes. Jareth might be no wizard, but he knew the name of that staff; Magma. The staff suddenly underwent a transformation. It was alive! It wriggled and squirmed. Where there was once wood, there were crystal scales. The serpent hissed and the enemy, who was now coming down the stairs turned away in horror. But it was too late. From the snakes jaw erupted bright red fire, streaked with a rainbow of colors. One man who was still on the stairs didn't have time to scream before the swirling blast of colors hit him. His body disintegrated, leaving only a pile of dust.
After seeing this man's horrifying fate the others turned and ran, screaming to their gods for mercy. None came. They too were obliterated by the spell.
The Rainbow Fire was sucked back into the serpent's mouth and an incredible aura surrounded the Elder. Jareth turned away and shielded his eyes. And it was over. The Elder fell to his knees, drenched in sweat. His white robes were saturated and were now beige and burned at the edges. He dropped the staff which clattered to the floor. "Renegade, what's wrong with him?" Jareth managed to whisper.
"He will be fine. I'll stay here with him until he wakes up."
Jareth ran up the stairs and leapt outside. It was total chaos: the clattering of sword fights, the screams of women and children, the roar of fire.
A crazed member of the Legion carried a torch in one hand, an axe in the other, setting fire to every house or hut that he could. Jareth put an end to that. He charged the man with his sword out and thrust it into his back. He pulled the sword out and kicked the man. The man fell on the torch for a fiery death.
Jareth scanned the area for more signs of trouble. It didn't take long for him to find some. An axe throwing freak was using two children, Tik and Tyke, Terr's twins, for target practice. "How's it like to know you're going to die?" the man asked the twins.
"Aren't you asking the wrong people?" Jareth shouted. The man turned to face Jareth, and stopped in his tracks.
"Don't interfere, you fool, or I'll have to kill you too."
"Do your best," Jareth whispered, enraged. He pointed Balance at the man.
"Sorry to disappoint you." Before Jareth could react, the man turned and threw the axe at Tyke, missing by a hair. The twins began to cry in terror.
"No!" Jareth screamed. His hands trembled in anger.
"This time's for real." The man grabbed another small axe and prepared to throw it. He mumbled something under his breath.
Just as he was about to throw the axe, Jareth said, "You're playin' with fire." Suddenly Balance shot a beam of flame that struck the man and threw him side long away. Then a slight light headedness tickled Jareth's senses.
Jareth went and untied Tik and Tyke from the post.
"Jareth! You saved us!" The children cried, hugging Jareth.
"Help me find your father." Jareth said.
"Of course!" said Tik. They dashed to their hut which Terr was defending mightily, his wild blond hair dancing with every step he took.
"Stay here," Jareth whispered to the twins. They obeyed. Jareth went raging into battle once more. He let his soul guide him through the fight. The sword became an extension of his body and mind. He became the ultimate fighter, using his power to end this horrible attack on his peaceful village. He fought until the enemy ran away in terror of his blade.
"Jareth! I'm so glad you came to help!" Terr sobbed. "They took my wife and kids and wanted me too! Oh, where are they?"
"Your children are right there! But, they took your wife too? The fools will rot in Hell for this!" Jareth was enraged at this and ran to find Terr's wife.
Terr, who was sobbing uncontrollably, dropped to his knees and whispered to the twins, "It will be all right... It will be all right." He jumped up ran after Jareth, crying, "Jareth, please, let me handle this! Please!"
Jareth stopped running to listen to Terr's plea. "Are you sure
you can handle it?"
"Do you doubt me?" Terr replied mightily. The tears disappeared from his face. He looked more dangerous than ever.
"Alright then. Go get 'em!" Jareth approved. Terr charged off in desperate search for his wife.
He glanced around. Except for the bodies strewn about the ground, everything was close to normal. But he couldn't shake the feeling something was amiss. He sprinted from to house checking to see if everything was alright. He stopped at his own house last and took care to see that nothing was wrong. After he made sure that it was alright, he went on to the Elders hut. He went down the stairs and saw Renegade on the floor unconscious and the Elder with a sword at his throat, at Selm's mercy.
"Good day, Alen, I've been waiting for you. I've already told the Elder the rules to the game we're going to play. First-"
"What game?!" Jareth spat.
"One more outburst like that and I'll kill him!" Selm barked. "First, I'll tell you the object of the game. We're going to fight a battle that I'm going to win. Next, I'm going to kill all of you.
Any questions so far? No? Good. Now here are the rules for the fight. One, I'm going to win. Two, if I lose, I'm going to kill all of you before I die, but I'm not going to lose. Understood?"
"Let the games begin!" Selm cried. He took the immediate offensive by thrusting his sword at Jareth's gut. Jareth spun out of the way and brought his sword around, narrowly missing Selm's back. Selm recovered quickly and clashed swords with Jareth. Selm struck harder and harder with every blow, moving Jareth back to the stairs.
Just when it looked like Jareth had lost, Balance ignited into a blade of pure light. "What the-" Selm stammered. Balance sliced through Selm's sword like a freshly tempered blade through cowhide. Selm's jaw dropped. "How did you...?" Selm whispered.
"How did I what?" Jareth hissed through his teeth. His anger was visible, but he felt dizziness distort his harsh words. "I will kill you right here!" Jareth raised his sword to destroy Selm, but the Elder disagreed.
"Let him live," he spoke firmly. "He will not kill us, but run off and try and-"
"I will kill you all!" Selm lunged for Renegade's sword, but was stopped in mid-air and held by one of the Elders magical spells.
"You will kill no one, and neither will Jareth." The Elder remembered Selm's kindness long ago before the dark times, before the reign of Marathat. The Elder probed Selm's mind for the same memories, tried to pick them out of the confusion. He found a strand of the memories, small but not insignificant. He grasped the strand and blasted it with goodness and hope. Selm collapsed into a heap on the floor. "Jareth, evil has spread through Mythica so rapidly that you must start your search for the sword immediately," the Elder said weakly. "No time can be lost. Tomorrow you must go. You will need help. Prince Obane will assist you in the fight
against Marathat. Tell him what I have told you."
"I understand. What will happen to Selm?" Jareth asked.
"He will recover."
"Oh, God, what happened?" Renegade rose slowly to his feet. A deep cut ran down his right cheek.
"The Legion came."
* * *
Outside, they counted the number of losses. "One-hundred-thirty- four dead, fifty-two injured. Has Terr comeback yet?" The Elder asked.
"No," Jareth replied. The sun was setting gracefully in the Fiskill Mountains, cooling off the evening air. "I will stop this evil," he whispered to himself. "I swear it on the blood of my father."
chapter 3: the Journey
The sun was rising over the eastern forest. Jareth had already packed his bags and was ready to leave. The Elder came running up to him. "Jareth!" he cried. "I forgot to tell you this. When you get the Sword, come back to Akilon."
"Thank you," Jareth said. "I will do as you say." Jareth leapt up onto the mighty horse he had chosen for his quest. The mustang went galloping madly into the Wrenn Forest.
* * *
Just minutes into his journey, Jareth encountered his first evils. A small group of Goblins came out of nowhere, almost as surprised to see Jareth as he was to see them. The leader threw a dagger at him, but the young man was fast enough to fall off his horse in a coordinated fashion and evade the attack. Jareth whipped his sword around into the leader's back, hearing a satisfying snap of the backbone. The other Goblins jabbed their swords at Jareth, but again the young man moved out of the way.
Unnoticed until now, a single Goblin had got onto the horse and was trying to steal it. The steed reared up and the helpless Goblin was sent tumbling to the ground and was crushed by the horses hooves.
The other Goblins gasped at their companion's fate and several of them ran in fear. "Wait! Come back!" a little ugly Goblin screamed at his comrades. The remaining Goblins stared in horror at the shouting one, thinking he had gone totally insane. They too ran. The little Goblin was left standing, staring up at Jareth. "Don't kill me! Spare me!" Other pleas like this came from the blubbering Goblin's mouth, seemingly unheard by the young mercenary.
"Shut up!" Jareth finally commanded. He thunked the little devil with the butt of his sword and the Goblin fell to the ground. Jareth wasted no time picking the Goblin up and tying him to a tree. Jareth left abruptly, leaving the unconscious Goblin behind.
Jareth moved westward to the Elven town of Woodtell. This took the rest of the day. He was friends with young Prince Essel Obane, their King's son and heir to the throne. Essel was about three years younger than Jareth. As a child he had visited often with his mother and father. But that was before the chaos, before Marathat's exile grew close to an end.
The town of Woodtell was inhabited by the Wood Elves, who lived in the trees of the Wrenn Forest. Their pride was held in the Tree Palace, where the royal family lived.
The Elves are a strange folk, to say the least. Legend has it that they originated down from the Faerie Kind, an ancient race all but extinct. But the Elves were far more successful than the Faerie Kind, and flourished throughout the land. Although the Elves formed different clans, they all get along fine, with the exception of the evil Dark Elves, who are almost as rare as the Faerie Kind. There are many different clans, almost one for every type of terrain and climate. Here are just a few of the different clans: the Wood Elves in habit forests, and are the most common; the Grey Elves like mountains; the Aquatic Elves have adapted to live above or underwater; the High Elves are mostly found on prairies and in castles; and the White Elves, the most fun loving, enjoy playing in the snow.
Jareth reached the town at sunset. He went to the Tree Palace. Jareth remembered it being strange and beautiful at the same time, but it was even more so than he had remembered. The towering Redwood was the main structure, the Obane family crest engraved above the entrance. Fountains poured out of the palace, falling into the peaceful brooks down below. On either side of the magnificent Redwood was a perfectly symmetrical wood of Oaks, each bearing a burning torch. Though it seemed unprotected, Elven archers lurked high in the trees, constantly watching for attackers.
The trees were carved and hollow, but they still lived, kept alive and strong by ancient Elven magic. "Good day, sir," said one of the Elves as Jareth passed him. This put a smile on Jareth's face. Despite all the killing, chaos, and confusion in the world, there were still good people. He entered the Tree Palace and stopped, bewildered at the pure beauty and life that seemed to flow from the walls. The Tree Palace needed no lighting inside, because light seemed to spill out of its walls like water.
"Hello, sir," said an Elf dressed all in white. "May I help
"Yes," Jareth told the Elf. "I must speak with Prince Essel
"May I ask your name?" asked the Elf curiously.
"Yes, please call me Jareth Alen."
"I will tell our Prince of you."
"Thank you. Oh, one more thing. Who are you?" Jareth's
curiosity got the best of him.
The Elf bowed kindly, and said with great honor, "I am the
King's personal assistant, Felipitip Djiril."
As was customary, the two men shook hands, and Feli, as he was
know by his friends, went to tell the Prince of Jareth's presence.
Jareth sat down in a finely carved chair, and waited for Feli
Feli had some suspicions of this Jareth character. You couldn't just walk in and ask to see the Prince. Something was amiss. Felipitip knocked on the Prince's door lightly, just in case the Prince did not want to be disturbed. But as always, the young prince opened the door happily, his straight blond hair glimmering. "Hello Feli. What's up?"
"Sorry to disturb you, but someone named Jareth Alen came to see you. Do you want me to throw him out of the castle?"
"Throw him out?" The Prince gasped. "Why, not if my life depended on it! What gave you such a crazy idea?"
"I-uh-er-um-," Felipitip Djiril stuttered in obvious embarrassment.
"Oh, think nothing of it. Where is he?" Essel inquired, his green eyes gleaming brightly.
"Just down the hall some. Let me show you." Feli showed Essel to where Jareth was sitting.
"You old fool!" The Prince exclaimed at Jareth. "Where've you been all this time?"
Jareth shook Essel's hand. "Still in Akilon. Why didn't you come visit me?"
"I don't know. But I haven't seen you in, oh, I don't know. Ten years, perhaps?"
"How's your father and mother?" Essel queried.
Jareth bowed his head. "You didn't hear?"
"Hear what?" Essel asked, his brow etched in concern.
"My father was killed by an assassin named Shokshir, and my mother died of natural causes seven years ago."
"I am sorry to hear that. I didn't know." The look on Essel's face was one of true sadness. One curious thing about Elves was their strange facial expressions. Their feelings could always be identified by their faces. But his face lit up again in his normal cheer. "What brings you here, my friend?"
"It is nothing of good news, I assure you," Jareth said, his face still locked in a grim expression.
"What?" Essel's joyful aura vanished, and suddenly he was serious. "Feli, could you leave us?"
"Yes, your majesty." Felipitip understood that this was none of his business, and he best leave. He was beginning to trust Jareth. As he left, he shut the door behind him.
"Have you ever heard the legend of Marathat?" queried Jareth.
"Yes. Many times. Why is it you ask?"
"It's true. All of it. I have known that it was true since the Elder adopted me. He told me not to tell anyone, unless he gave me permission. He has given permission, now. I must go to retrieve another legend which you have heard of. The Sword of Truth."
"You're joking. At least, I hope you are." Essel stared at him with such hardness, Jareth wondered if a rumor he had heard about the Royal Family was true.
The rumor was that the Royal blood possessed the Power of Truth, the ability to sense a lie whenever they heard one. Of course, that was just scratching the surface of the Power. Its true extent was unknown, even to the greatest wizards and elders.
"I see you are not lying to me." Now Jareth knew the rumor was true. The Elf continued. "It's a strange world we live in, isn't it?" the young Elf sighed to Jareth, as he stared blankly.
"Yes. Very strange. But do not stop listening to me, for I have more to tell you. Once I get the Sword, I must go on to defeat Marathat. I will need help. Would you help me?" Jareth asked with great determination.
"Yes. I will go with you. I must. It is my responsibility."
"Thank you. Others will help us, too." Essel was about to say something, when someone rapped on the door.
"Yes, what is it?" Essel asked.
Felipitip burst the door open, panting heavily. Blood and dust smeared his face and clothing. "Orcs..." he gasped. "Orcs have helped the Legion... They're attacking..."
"Jareth, you've got to help us," Essel pleaded. "If you don-" Essel's voice was cut off by the sound of the Mystic Sword sliding out from the sheath. "Where are they?" the Prince questioned.
"Outside. The Archers are holding them back, but I don't think they can for much longer," Feli said hurriedly. "We'll have to get the Foot Soldiers into battle before the Archers are useless."
"That is what you must do if you are to win this battle," purred a soft, deep voice from behind the men. The trio whipped around, weapons drawn, prepared to fight off any opposition they might face. "Put your weapons down, for I am not your enemy," the voice echoed through the hallway. A large, two legged cat stepped into the light. He was a Tiger-man, a race of humanoids that lived deep in the forests. Despite their primitive looks, they were just as advanced as humans, and slightly more intelligent. They were a proud race, never willing to lose their honor.
"Who are you?" Essel stuttered.
"I am Sir Garfield, of the Tiger Kingdom. Fear not, Elven Prince. I know the Legion's weakness. I have commanded a small regiment of my finest men to flank the Legion and spread them out all over the town. As your Foot Soldiers strike from the opposite side, they will trap the Legion and finally surround them."
"And then what?" Feli asked eagerly, hope shining in his green eyes.
"The Legion will be no longer. Gone, wiped from the face of the planet."
"It should work, but I am not sure," Essel objected. "It's risky. A lot could go wrong. Too much, I am afraid."
"We must hurry," Jareth pleaded. "Essel, listen to Sir Garfield. It is our only chance. Please."
"I will. Now, Jareth, go out there and stand by my men. Fight with them. Then we will prevail." The sound of the bitter battle grew louder.
Jareth charged out the main entrance, Sir Garfield close behind. The massive draw bridge closed, sealing the Elven palace. He raised his right hand, holding the Mystic Sword with confidence. Then a magnificent clap of thunder filled the air, knocking the Orc warriors to their knees. They suddenly became easy targets for the hidden Elven Archers, their longbows humming. The air became so thick with arrows, it was impossible to see ten feet ahead. When the barrage ended, no Orc was left standing. From behind the palace, the Elven Foot Soldiers paraded out, their swords and spears glinting brightly in the sunlight.
They were met by the Legion horse men, who seemed to come out of nowhere. The Elven Spearmen charged forward, cutting the first line of Legion soldiers to pieces. The second line slowed, and the Elves poured forth. "Any minute now," Garfield said, smiling grimly. The ranks of the Legion thickened, as more soldiers came. Still the Tiger-men didn't come. "What's wrong?" Sir Garfield asked himself. "Jareth, cover me," said the Tiger-man. "I'm going to see what's happened." Garfield drew his sword and hacked his way through the Legion, unstoppable. When he got to where his men were hidden no one was there. There had obviously been a struggle, for Orcs laid dead on the ground, and footprints led into the forest. Uneasily, he followed the footprints into the thick wood.
* * *
On the far side of the palace, Felipitip led the men into battle, riding his magnificent steed through the ranks of Orc footmen. Physically, his Elves were no match for the burly Orcs. But the Elves were much smarter and strategic in their fighting.
The Elven footmen hacked their way through hundreds of Orcs, striking from the front and sides, closing in on the small Orc army. "Any second the Tiger-men will be here," he assured himself. But they did not come.
And Legion horsemen charged from the forest, pushing the Elves away from the palace. "We're losing ground!" Felipitip cried desperately to his men. But the Elves were surrounded, and finally, Feli's regiment surrendered.
* * *
At the gates of the palace, Jareth Alen stood his ground, not winning, but not losing, either. But he was getting tired. Valiantly, he tried to summon the power of Balance to fight at his side and protect him. But he could not. He was too tired and weak. And something else was troubling him. Why weren't the Tiger-men here yet? He had all but lost hope when suddenly the draw bridge behind him started to lower, and three Elves ran up and leapt off the hanging bridge, landing at Jareth's side. Instantly the tallest one drew his sword and began fighting off the invaders. The other two hesitated for a second before joining the battle. Seeing that some had come to help him, Jareth slinked back and collapsed into a heap on the ground. He tried to regain his strength, but found it useless. Panting, he rose back to his feet, and attempted to fight. But suddenly one of the Elves turned around and picked him up as he was about to fall. He looked up, and to his surprise, was staring into the face of a beautiful Elven girl. "I will take you back into the palace," she said softly as he faded into unconsciousness.
* * *
Sir Garfield stalked silently through the thick forest, searching for his men. But they had apparently been gone for a while, judging from the footprints. And then he picked up an unfamiliar scent through his strong nose. It was an Orc, he knew, for it reeked of sweat and volcanic ash. Dumb Orc, Garfield thought wickedly, plotting revenge already. You are dumb because you attack from downwind! Garfield sat silently, waiting for the Orc to come. And it came swiftly, but Garfield was ready, killing the Orc before it had time to strike.
"If it is your men you want," the dying Orc gasped, "It is useless to pursue. We are an army two hundred strong. Give up, or die..." And so the Orc perished. Garfield tossed the limp body aside, and sighing, swiftly returned to battle to tell the honorable Jareth that his men had been captured.
* * *
The Elven king Kindre Obane and his two children darted down the hall to the massive draw bridge that was the last defense for the Elven kingdom. The Elf in charge of the draw bridge ordered it to be lowered immediately, not to waste time. As soon as the draw bridge was lowered enough to jump off of, the trio leapt off its hanging ledge, clearing the moat entirely.
Kindre was the King of the Wood Elves, one of the most respectable kings in the land. His wife was ill, presumably poisoned by the Legion. But his two children, Essel and Andria, were well and were both skilled fighters. Andria, the most beautiful Elven girl in the kingdom, was slightly shorter than her brother, with her mother's straight chestnut hair and soft brown eyes. But fighting wasn't her only skill, of course. She was also trained in the ways of medicine. And she would have to use both skills in the next few days, it appeared.
Kindre drew his broadsword and began to fight back mercilessly. Essel was next to fight, Andria the final one to join battle. And behind them, Jareth collapsed in a heap. But it was too chaotic to rest, so he stood to fight once more. Andria dropped her sword and went to help Jareth. She caught him just as he was going to fall (Elves are very strong for their size), and his head dropped and his eyes rolled back in his head as he slipped into unconsciousness. His sword fell from his hand and clattered to the ground, sliding into the deep moat. "Oh no!" she cried as the sword fell away into the dark hole. But that didn't matter now, she thought. I need to get him back inside. And carrying him is no easy task, either.
The moat couldn't be lowered enough without letting the enemy in, so that wouldn't work. It would be suicide to go around the castle, and going down into the moat would be suicidal also. So that meant she had to stay here and guard him. She was about to put the Warrior down when a deep, purring voice rang out, "Pretty Elfling! I can help you!"
Andria turned around and scanned the area for the man who had called. It was to her great surprise when she found out that a Tiger-man had been calling to her. "Please, Elven girl, let me assist you in taking Jareth to safety," he purred loudly. "It would do me great honor." He fought courageously back to the palace.
Andria had no choice but to agree. She needed his help. "Thank you," she said politely, her voice only slightly revealing her nervousness. Without a word, the Tiger-man picked up the Elf and lifted her and Jareth over the half open bridge.
Garfield resumed fighting, strengthening the defense greatly. Another rank of Elves joined battle, surrounding the Palace. They were the last of the army, the final hope for the Elves. "We're losing!" shouted Kindre into the air. And with that cry, something inside the king snapped. The Elves, who had for centuries, never lost a war, had almost been defeated in a few minutes. A deep burning rage erupted inside of the king, the bitter pain of defeat. "No!" he screamed. "Never!" Tears burned his eyes, and the words caught in his throat. A fresh desire to win surfaced in his soul, so strong was it, that those around him felt it touch their hearts, rejuvenating their wills to fight.
And then the Legion retreated back into the forest, the Elves too tired to give chase.
chapter 4: Meetings in the Night
Three days had taken place since the battle. Jareth had still not awaken, rumored to be on the brink of death, the cause unknown. He babbled thoughtlessly in his sleep, speaking of the Sword and Marathat. The Elves were concerned, especially Essel. The prince had not spoken to his father of the obvious dilemma the entire world faced. He knew he should, but somehow he could not bring himself to talk about it in Jareth's absence.
And the Legion hadn't attacked since. And Kindre knew they were waiting for the perfect time. They were near Woodtell, he could sense their nearness. But his scouts had seen nothing, and the messengers he sent to the surrounding towns had not returned, even though they were the swiftest messengers he had. So that night he held a brief meeting with the best commanders he had available.
"The Legion is near, but we can't see them. They have hidden so effectively that even Elven eyes can't detect their presence. But we can feel them, watching, waiting. It won't be long now," said Kindre grimly.
"I cannot agree with you, my liege," an Elven general spoke up. "If our sharp Elven eyes cannot see them, they simply mustn't exist."
"A fine and complimenting observation, general, but you are wrong. They do exist," said the King. "In fact, I have reason to believe they are very near. Our messengers have not returned, and they should have been back a day ago. The Legion has destroyed them by now."
"Anything could have happened to them!" Screamed the general. "Simply anything! Bad weather perhaps."
"You know as well as I that there hasn't been any bad weather for days. The Legion is near."
"You are an incompetent man, my Liege!"
The King stood up, angered by the general's comment. "Do you defy your King?" he said coldly.
"Yes, I do. You jump at your own shadow," whispered the general, standing up now. "You cower in a corner like a child who is afraid of the dark. Days ago you almost lost in a few minutes. The Elves, who have never been defeated, almost lost to a band of rebels they call the Legion. Sad isn't it? All because of an incompetent King!"
"You..." Kindre stuttered. "You...Traitor!" The entire counsel rose rapidly, but the general already had his sword drawn and lounged at the King. Kindre dodged the initial attack, but received a glancing blow, catching him off guard and knocking him down. The general had one specific purpose: to kill Kindre. It didn't matter if he lost his life; he was prepared to do so. Ignoring the other commanders, the general struck again, and if Kindre hadn't rolled out of the way, the general's mission would have been complete. But he only succeeded in slashing the King's right arm, crippling at the least, but not fatal. Just as the general was going to finish him, the resourceful King kneed the general in the groin. One of the commanders stripped a torch from the wall, and struck the traitor with it. The general rolled on the ground, burning and screaming. His agony only stopped when his flesh was punctured by the many blades of the counsel.
"Milord!" cried one of the commanders. "Are you alright?"
"Yes," the king spoke, rising slowly to his feet. "I believe," he sighed, "we all know where the Legion is." He grasped his arm, wincing in pain. "They have taken refuge in Woodtell."
* * *
Even the Archers hidden in the trees, who's vision was sharpest of all, didn't see it cut swiftly through the darkness. But how could they see something that was almost night itself? They only saw it when it was too late to attack.
Its shapeless body, if it was a body at all, slipped past the Guards without any trouble at all, unseen even mere inches away. Creeping onto the walls of the Tree Palace, clinging on with hands more like the talons of a bird of prey, speaking the deafening silence that it spoke, smoke began to rise in cold, black wisps from its icy fingertips. Smoke to spark, spark to flame. The Tree Palace erupted in this, the fiery reaction coursing throughout the wood. Before the Archers could fire, before the Guards could scream "Halt!", even before any of the Elves knew what had happened, it sprang from the walls and glided through the air, landing far away from the scene.
The entire country side was illuminated by the blaze, and, for a moment, it was visible against the wall of fire, casting a long black shadow. A single Guard stood in its way, and for a moment the Elf thought he was confronting the Devil himself. But, although struck by the stinging hand of terror, he regained his senses quickly. As he died, he was staring into a face hidden by a skull mask, a mask only worn by the demons of darkness, Night Stalkers.
The Elf died a gruesome death under the simple touch of the monster. The venomous claws tore into his skin, slow, painful poison coursing through his veins. The evil whisper of death shattered the man's ears, the wicked sounds to be heard for all eternity. But the worst was yet to come. Still alive, at the beast's discretion of course, the Elf wriggled on the Stalkers claws, trying to escape the inevitable. No matter how he tried, he could not break free of the gaze, the gaze that terrified him so. His heartbeat rose rapidly, pounding, pounding, like a fist on a door, until it seemed as if his heart might tear out of his chest. And it did. Into the talons of the Night Stalker it fell. The demon rose it's claws up to the Elf's face, the still beating heart in the clenched fist. And that is how the Elf died.
The Guards ran after the demon, but before they could catch it, it had fled into the forest, where there was no hope of catching it. Discouraged and tired, the Guards ran back to the palace to fight the fire with their magic.
* * *
Shadows enveloped, wrapping around, closing in. They were not warm shadows, but cold, dark, evil shadows of death. Dark grey clouds surrounded, black lightning lancing out like a knight's sword, swinging and striking. Forever it was like this. Until the light.
The light. Although from a distance it seemed welcoming and warming, only as it came closer was its true color was unmasked. It was not the warm lights of Heaven, but the hot, fiery, red lights of Hell. And it began to alter, from just light, into scorching flame. The flames burned the flesh, blackened the bones, decimated anything else they could find. But it never killed. Torture was its purpose. Eternity was its span.
Jareth awoke with a start. Sweat encased his body and the sheets lay tangled about him like a cruel web of fabric. Once his bloodshot eyes adjusted to the darkness, he realized the fire had not yet ended its torment, for the room he had been sleeping in was ablaze. Smoke curled around him, and for a moment, he was frozen in fear. Then the doors burst suddenly open, and three Elves ran in and scooped Jareth out of bed and into safety. They swiftly put him down and began to cast magical spells to erase the fire. These were simple spells that all Elves, young and old, knew by heart. And almost every Elf in the kingdom was casting them. The strongest Elven wizard was outside casting all the useful spells he knew. And it was time he cast the most effective spell: it would starve the Palace of oxygen for at least a minute. But there were consequences. Everyone in the Palace would be in a great risk of losing their life.
"It must be done!" yelled one of the lower wizards. "If we don't, surely all will be lost!" These simple words were enough to convince.
The wizard raised his magical wand in the air and began to sing the magic words:
"O spark the kindling and light the oak,
And watch the fire blaze high!
Watch it fly to the stars up above,
And feel the heat and the glow!
But when the flare hits the trees all around,
Be ready to run, or have great fun,
Watching the fire go down!
The magic is strong!
The magic is good!
And fell how the air starts to thin!
Before long the fire has shrank back to embers,
And you realize you'll win!
And as you choke, it is no joke!
You still have to run for your life!
The magic is strong and is good!"
Although strange, the song worked, and soon all the town was singing with the wizard. As the fire shriveled, the wizard chuckled to himself, "I think that crazy old spellweaver was drunk when he wrote that spell!"
Unfortunately, it wasn't as pleasant for the people inside. Already sick from the smoke, Jareth was having trouble breathing already. But when he could not breathe at all, he became very distressed. It did little to comfort him when he saw all the other people around him rolling around on the floor gasping helplessly for a breath of air. He was getting very light headed by this time and his vision grew mottled and spotty. He groped about for something to hold onto, found a singed tapestry, and held steadfast. With his feet he stamped and kicked, making a horrible racket that nobody heard. His dry mouth yawned for air, his numb tongue fumbling inside his cheeks. He couldn't see, feel, hear, taste or smell. He lay cold and shivering, yet he didn't know it. He fought to keep awake, to not go back to that bleak limbo in his dreams. It was to his greatest relief when the spell began to lift, and oxygen returned to his lungs. Before long he had all of his senses back, and realized the fire had died (which was why he wasn't a pile of ashes on the floor). There was a lot he needed to ask, but first of all, he had to tell the King of his quest.
This must come first, before he slept, before he asked
questions. But he realized Balance wasn't with him. He went back into the charred room to look, but upon inspection, he found it wasn't there. "This is terrible!" he roared. "Some hero I am! I lose my weapon the first week into my quest!" Other, more profane curses came from the Warriors mouth, but they are better left unsaid. Enraged, he stormed down the halls to the King's chambers.
"Halt!" cried a booming voice. "Who goes there?"
"Jareth Alen of Akilon, sir. May I ask whom you are?"
"What business have you with the King?" interrogated the voice.
"What is your name, sir?" queried Jareth once more, harshly.
"What business have you with the King?" growled the deep voice. "If you do not answer, I will be forced to attack!"
"What I have to say is for the King's ears alone," stated Jareth.
"You will tell me, you little twit!" bellowed the voice. "I will kill you if I must!"
There was the sound of a sword leaving its sheath, and hurried footsteps. With lack of further options, Jareth turned and ran. He didn't get very far, however, because he ran into the wall and fell on the ground. Above him, the guard, who was expecting to have Jareth run-through (and also expected Jareth to be against the wall) stabbed at the stone wall with little effect. "Where did you go, Alen?" he called in his gruff voice. There was no reply. Terribly angered, the guard slammed his sword against the wall one last time.
The sword shattered, and pieces of steel fell audibly to the ground. Jareth realized his chance had come. Unarmed for the moment, the guard was caught unprepared. From the ground, Jareth kicked the guard in the shins, and he winced in pain. Then the Warrior lounged out and tackled the humongous guard, sending them both flying across the room. "Now," growled Jareth, "What is your name?"
"Tyrol," gasped the guard. "Tyrol Chmyol."
"You are not Elven," stated Jareth. "You are too large."
"You are correct, Alen. Very clever. I will give you three guesses to find out my race. If you guess correctly, I will let you live. If not, you will be sent to the moat." Tyrol grinned coldly.
"Hmmm, let me think. Giant, maybe?" asked Jareth hopefully.
"No!" Tyrol barked, offended.
"You mock me! I shouldn't even let you have another guess!"
"O.K. Ummm, one second..." Jareth pondered the thing. Too big for a human (even the largest), not Giant, Troll, probably not even Ogre. No, not an Ogre. Not a Minotaur, or Sahaugin. "You are a..." Jareth stuttered. "You're Tyrol Chmyol!"
"You little brat! You'll PAY for that!" The colossus picked Jareth up by his hair and stumbled over to the window. He was about to throw Jareth out into the moat when the Warrior began to talk.
"You're from the Legion, aren't you?" growled Jareth, filled with rage. "You were sent to kill me and those who want to restore peace! I understand now!" Tyrol clasped Jareth's mouth shut with an arm as thick as a tree trunk, and prepared to throw him out the window when a heavy growling voice filled the room.
"Put him down!" roared the voice. It was Garfield! "PUT HIM DOWN NOW!"
"Who are you to boss me around?" shrieked Tyrol. "You couldn't hurt me-" Jareth sunk his teeth into Tyrol's arm- "YEEEeeeoooowwW!" The arm around Jareth slackened, and he fell to the ground gasping. Garfield charged Tyrol, a flurry of fur and fangs. The battle was short, and one emerged triumphant: Sir Garfield. Within seconds, Tyrol was tied up in a corner. When he tried to snap the leather rope (in which he almost succeeded), Garfield grabbed a piece of oak firewood and smashed it over Tyrol's head.
"What in the ancestors is going on here?" cried the King as he burst in the room. "Tyrol!" he gasped. He turned to Garfield. "You oversized fuzzball! You almost killed him!"
"He assailed the honorable Jareth and tried to throw him into the moat," growled Garfield, not at all pleased with being called a fuzzball.
"I'm sure he did," said the King sarcastically. He mumbled something about "kitty litter" and "kitten kabobs" and then came over to Jareth. "I see you woke up," said the King. "Helped yourself to my chambers, too. What you had to say couldn't wait 'till morning, hmm?" Jareth shook his head, no. "Well, boy, better speak up."
"I came to talk to you about the Sword-"
"The Sword? Are you playing a game with me, boy? You know as well as I that the Sword doesn't exist." Jareth noticed the King was talking strangely, a little rougher than usual. "Just a fairy tale. Keeps the kids in line, you see. It's all just a fairy tale. Oh, boy, where are your parents?"
At that point, Jareth burst into tears. Was the King an idiot? Why hadn't Essel told him? Why was the King acting as if he had never known Jareth?
"I wish Tyrol had thrown you out the window! It serves bratty little boys like you justice! I'll just do it myself! And you, fur face, better stay out of it this time!"
"Why?" shrieked Garfield, deeply insulted. "You are not the true King! You are only an imposter! The true King would never dishonor like you have!"
"You are a clever one, cat. Fortune for you, you will not live to tell anyone! Akira swolten tenlan!" All of the shadows of the room swirled together to form one. The shadows sharpened, forming claws, arms, and a dark, bleak body. At the top, they arched to form a hood, and inside two blood red eyes flared open inside a skull mask.
"Akira swolten tenlan!" The shadow answered.
"Night Stalkers!" gasped Jareth and Garfield in unison.
"Atton cat finen?" snarled the Stalker.
"By all means," answered the imposter. The Stalker turned its shadowy form around to face Garfield. The room was as silent as death itself, no mortal daring to breathe. The Stalker stood staring at Garfield for a long while, the red eyes evaluating the prey. Then the imposter snapped around and snatched Jareth, and before anyone else could blink an eye, threw him out the window. Sir Garfield roared in rage, a terrible shriek that could wake the dead. The scream echoed all through the palace, alerting the soldiers and noblemen, bringing them to arms.
"Curse you, Tiger!" cried Tyrol, coming to his senses. He snapped his bonds, and the Tiger-man found himself greatly outnumbered. The Night Stalker lounged, a streak of black, and hit something furry, but not his intended target. It had caught a bearskin rug! Tyrol leapt to block the Tiger's path, but was thrown aside in vain. Garfield roared again, knocking the imposter off his feet. He picked him up by his arm, and slammed him onto the ground. The Stalker sprung up once more, and flew like a dart at Garfield. But suddenly the door to the hall opened, and out stepped Essel, armed with a bow and arrow. The arrow flew straight and true, slicing through the Stalker's robes of shadow. But it did little, and didn't stop the wraith.
"Awake!" cried the Prince, and once more light came from the Palace walls. The Night Stalker shrieked, and fell to the ground in a pile of black robes and a skull mask. Smoke rose from the robes, and they quickly disintegrated, leaving only a pile of ash and the mask. Garfield rushed over to the window and Essel tied the two captives up, and joined the Tiger-man in sorrow. "I can't believe it," whispered Essel. "He's gone."
"The honorable Jareth," purred Garfield sorrowfully. "Now nothing can save us."
"The last hope for our land, gone. Marathat's Exile will soon fail, and then he will hunt us like mice, or enslave us to his dark deeds. It all ends here. I never even told my father about the Sword-"
"What's that, down there, in the moat?" interrupted Garfield.
"What?" asked Essel excitedly.
"That light! I can't see much, but it's definitely a light."
"I see it! It looks like, like..." the Prince stuttered. "I can see it very well now. It's a man!"
* * *
Jareth lay at the bottom of the moat, wondering how he was still alive. It felt as if every bone in his body had been shattered and rearranged in his body. His vision was blurred, and stars flashed in his eyes. The world was spinning, and he felt as if he would die. But still the desire to live kept him alive. But another force wouldn't let him die, not yet. The force gave him strength to stand, eased his pain enough to walk. He walked aimlessly, or so he thought, until he tripped over something. He was fumbling around, trying to stand again, when his hand touched cold metal. He drew back in reflex, but his hand grew suddenly warm, the heat spreading through his cold body. He reached back down and grabbed the piece of cold metal, which grew increasingly warmer. A relaxation came over him, and he pulled the metal out of the dirt. Jareth realized it was his sword that he had found, and that it was not fate that brought him to it. The Mystic Sword had called him, and Jareth had unknowingly answered. Triumphantly, he raised it to the sky and it lit up like a star from the heavens.
He instantly felt strength return to his body, as if the hand of life had touched him. A passion to win sparked inside of him, spreading like wild fire. He stared up at the walls of the moat, fifty feet high, a menacing sight. But he didn't let it discourage him. He found foot holds at first, where many had tried their luck at escape. But about halfway up, it became treacherous. He placed his foot up on a stone, put all of his weight on it, and felt it fell out from under him. He tumbled down to the mud, discouraged. He was about to attempt another climb, but was stopped by a voice. "Is that you, Jareth?" it called down.
"Yes, it is. And who might you be?"
"It's me, Essel," the Elf called. "I'll get you a rope." Jareth waited for awhile, until he heard the sound of footsteps. A rope fell down, and Jareth grasped it. "Ready?" Essel asked.
"Yes," the Warrior replied. The Elf pulled up as Jareth climbed up. The chore was done in a few minutes, and they reentered the castle.
"Well, Jareth," said the young Elf, "How does it fell to be alive, after such a close call?"
"It hurts," responded Jareth weakly. "I thought many times I was dead. But for some reason beyond my power, I wouldn't give up that easily." The Elf gave him a strange look. "I think the Sword gave me the power to live."
"But wasn't it the Sword that drained your energy?"
"Yes, I think it was. But maybe it was storing up my life force, to keep for another time. A way of looking out for me, I think."
"A strange way of looking out for you, by draining your life," said Essel.
"I agree with Jareth," said a deep voice. The voice's owner stepped wearily into view.
"Father!" Essel cried in awe, gazing at the wound. "What happened?"
"Spies," hissed the King in a cold rage. "I imagine they are all over the Palace. Tyrol proved no exception."
"The Kingdom is in danger as long as I a here," Jareth said.
"What gave you such an id-" Kindre began, but Essel cut him short.
"There is something I must tell you, father. But we all must go to someplace private."
"Wait!" Jareth cried suddenly. "Where is Sir Garfield?"
"Relax, Jareth!" said a deep purring voice. "I am right here!" The cat stepped out from behind a large statue.
"What were you doing?" said Jareth. "Just hiding spying?"
"I would not betray you. You can rest my honor on that. I was merely hunting shadows, as the King asked."
"My apologies, Sir Garfield. I did not know."
"We must talk urgently, I believe," said the King. The company went over to a small room and closed the door tightly behind them. The King sat down at the head of the table, the soft glow of the dimming lights of the Palace shadowing his face. "So, what is this about?"
"Sir," Jareth spoke softly, "Do you believe in fairy tales?"
The King chuckled softly. "You've come to talk about fairy tales? I thought this was serious!" But when the King saw how serious Jareth was, he stopped his jesting. "Yes," he said with a hint of wonder in his voice. "I do believe in fairy tales."
"That's good," Jareth breathed a sigh of relief. "Then I believe you have heard of the Sword of..." Jareth faltered. "The Sword of Truth?" he whispered.
"Yes I have heard of it. I believe it as no fairy tale. It exists. Your father talked of it often."
"And you have heard of how almost one thousand years ago the Mystics banished the Quicksilver Dragon, Marathat, to the Nameless Mountain?"
"Yes. That is no fairy tale, either. I believe Mystic who banished that cursed beast lives on."
"I am glad you are a believer. It will make what I am about to say much easier to understand and believe." And so Jareth told him that he was the Warrior of Truth, and was on the quest to find the Sword. Jareth also told him, in a choked voice, of his parents. And at the end of the tale the King was dumbfounded.
"I believe you," he said. "You would not fight so if you were just playing a practical joke on me. And your father and mother's deaths! May God rest their souls. And let Shokshir rot in Hell for all he has done!"
Garfield spat at the name of Shokshir. "I have heard of him," he growled with burning eyes. "He killed many families and stole many lives. One Elf has a special hate for him. Shokshir murdered his Dwarven half-brother in the middle of a tavern. The Elf fought Shokshir for revenge, and after a valiant battle, won and killed Shokshir, right in front of everybody."
"Yes, I remember hearing of that, a few years in the past!" cried Essel. "Let me think..." he paused for a moment, then said, "Ah, yes! Klindor was his name. He was a High Elf, I believe. After that fateful night, he returned to his castle to train for the army. He's probably a high general by now..." he trailed off. The others stared at him for a moment, and he shrank back embarrassed, saying, "I have a good memory."
"If we could have some assistance from Klindor, it would be greatly appreciated," said Kindre. "Essel, if you be so kind to do a bit of research of him, and then go to his castle and talk with him about fighting the Legion, I would be more greatful than a cat in a mouse hole." Sir Garfield gave him an odd look, and he apologized. "My greatest repentance, my courageous friend. Shall I never say anything in that manner again!"
"No harm done, Master Kindre," replied the Tiger with honor in his voice.
Jareth yawned and rubbed his eyes sleepily. "We are all tired," he sighed. "Let's end this meeting soon, so we can get some well deserved sleep."
"Good idea," answered Essel, nodding.
"Dismissed!" said the King. And with that, they all went to their quarters for the remainder of the night.
Chapter 5: Turn the Page
It was late morning when Jareth awoke from his deep slumber. He stumbled out of his room a few minutes later, the doings of the previous night still fresh in his mind. Jareth wore his Sword for the rest of his quest, vowing not to leave it unprotected again. There was a commotion in the air, as many Elves repaired the damage from the fire. Many things were lost, but many too were fixed. The Elves sang merrily as they worked, praising their King and his loyal friends in song.
That night, there was a great feast in honor of the many who had fought defending the Kingdom. The order in which they sat was as follows: Kindre at the head of the table, the Queen at his side; Essel and Andria next; then Jareth and Garfield; and lastly, the many soldiers who had fought. Only one seat was empty: at the foot of the table, where Feli would have sat. Before they ate, they honored those who had fallen with a silent prayer.
They all sat down to the fine meal prepared for them by the finest cooks in all of the Kingdom. And it was a fine meal indeed! Many berries and nuts were served as appetizers. A great beast, roasted to perfection, was the main course. A sweet aroma came from the kitchen where desert was being prepared. The only drawback was the peculiar Elven wine. It was very strong, and would put almost any human to sleep if he drank more than a half of a glass. But the Elves enjoyed it (the King drained his glass in one long drink), and were almost immune to its effect.
The company had finished eating the main course, and were waiting patiently for desert, when the banquet room doors opened. A tattered Elf clad all in white stumbled in, hardly able to keep on his feet. Blood and dirt were caked on his clothing, and his hair was mussed. At first, no one could recognize him, but suddenly Essel cried out, "Feli!"
The Elf stumbled forward toward the King, who was now standing up, a look of disdain painted upon his face. "My Liege, my King, my Master," the Elf sobbed. The Elf fell to his knees crying, begging for forgiveness.
"What is it?" the King asked softly.
"Master," he whimpered, "I have betrayed you."
"You would not betray me, Feli," said the King kindly.
"I didn't tell them anything!" Felipitip wailed. "Neither did my men. We didn't say anything, I swear it." He wiped his eyes. "Not even when they took their lives did they betray you. Not even when they took my ears, would I talk." He motioned to a tight bandage around his head, and the King saw, to his horror, that the tips of Feli's ears had been sliced off. "They killed all of my men, but left me alive. I don't know why. But for some reason, they let me live."
"And how have you betrayed me?" asked the King.
"I came back, my Liege. And they have followed me here, I know. Why, how? It's a mystery."
"But they followed you?"
"Who exactly followed you?"
"Night Stalkers, Master. I couldn't see them, hear them, or smell them, but I could feel them, right behind me, on the sides, in front. Wherever I was, they were, too."
"They are after us!" cried the King. "They never sleep, never tire. And unless destroyed, they will never die!" The King paused. "And we will destroy them! They will learn to fear the word Elf! Even if we have to teach them ten thousand times!" The entire table rose, shouting and clapping. "Tomorrow we will prepare for battle!"
* * *
The morning came, cold and grey. A heavy fog had descended upon the town, and silver lightning flashed across the horizon like spears of light. The air was still, nothing moved, nothing breathed. Then came the piercing cries from the woods, and the entire Legion cavalry burst through, their black steel lances jutting forward like thistles. They ran forward, but there was no sign of the Elves. The commander paused for a moment, and turned to face his men. "It appears that we caught them sleeping. This is too easy," he chuckled coldly. "Burn i-" he was cut short by the drone of five hundred bowstrings humming in unison. He spun around, and was instantly cut to pieces by the fusillade of Elfish arrows. For those who survived long enough to tell, it was as if the Wrenn Forest itself came alive. The trees swayed from the wind that the bows spawned, and the undergrowth erupted in a burst of Elven warriors armed with swords and spears. More Elves came down from the trees equipped with crossbows that they fired without mercy into the pack of Legion soldiers. And still more came: Cavalry from behind the thick walls of trees. The Elves herded the Legion over to the moat, and felt little sympathy for those who fell in. And they all ended up falling into the depths. On one of the many ledges of the Tree Palace, a solitary Elf appeared, bearing a bow and flaming arrow. Vengeance flared in his eyes as he fitted the arrow to the bowstring. He aimed the fiery arrow at the barrel filled with black powder next to the dam holding back the water from the moat. And he let the arrow fly, and watched as it took its blazing flight to the dam. It struck the barrel, and blew the dam to pieces, letting the raging waters flow freely. Slow rain began to fall upon the cold land, an icy drizzle that soaked all to the bone. Holding the bow that cast the fiery arrow, Feli stared with a grim satisfaction at what his wrath had done. He had done as he was instructed, instructed personally by the King.
From behind a tree, where he was mounted upon his steed, Jareth gaped in astonishment as the slow rain came down. The mist took on a reddish hue from all the blood spilled. "By the Ancestors, what has happened?" he cursed. Another assault came. Orcs, this time. He drew his sword clumsily, terror numbing his mind. Their fierce cries pierced his ears. Thousands poured out, shrieking their rage.
"How many are there?" cried Garfield.
"Too many!" squawked Jareth.
"Have you lost your mettle, honorable Jareth?"
"There are so many of them!" No sooner had he said those words than, as it seemed to him, the entire Orc army converged upon him. Paralyzed by fright, unable to fight, he stood motionless as the Orcs attacked. Garfield would not sit idle as Jareth was assailed. Drawing his sword from its sheath, he rode fiercely into combat.
His sword shrieked through the air, cleaving Orcs as it swept by. For a moment, he was unstoppable. As more Orcs came, more fell beneath his blade. And then, a spear struck his steed, and he fell. The Orcs came upon him and threatened to tear him to shreds.
"No!" Jareth cried in outrage. His terror left him, and one cold thought raced through his mind: revenge! He held the Mystic Sword high as he flew into the chaos. "Behold!" he roared. "Behold as I unleash my power!" The Orcs turned only for a second, but ignored him, thinking of him nothing more than a pest.
Jareth stopped for a second, to collect his thoughts and brace himself for the power. He closed his eyes, and thought. He reached deeply inside himself, to find the strength to control the magic. He became suddenly calm, as if he was in a peaceful meadow.
Balance's blade melted into the hilt, and from the hilt came a bolt of lightning, five feet long. Jareth kept his eyes closed as he fought, trusting on his instinct to guide him in the battle. He swung the lighting bolt around, striking a fatal blow every time. Wherever the bolt struck, sparks flew and a sound like clashing armor came. He was the ultimate warrior, and none could match him. He fought like his father had before him, and a certain power came naturally. And after a short while, the need to fight no longer possessed him. The lightning bolt faded, the blade came back, fell into the sheath, and his eyes opened. All about him were dead bodies, piled up, scorched and smoldering. Only one living thing besides him was present: Sir Garfield.
Slowly Jareth unmounted and walked over to him. He was a mess. Cut and bruised all over, and one very nasty slash across his chest. His striped orange fur was stained dark red in several places. But in his amber eyes shown hope. "Jareth, thank you," he whispered softly. "You saved me."
"No, I have failed you." Jareth looked away.
"Failed me? No, you saved me," Garfield smiled.
"I failed you. I was a coward. If it hadn't been for you, all would have been lost."
"No coward would fight like that. I saw it. Never has anyone in my lifetime fought like that. Never."
"I failed you," Jareth repeated. "I let them get you. Now you will die, because of my cowardice."
"Jareth!" Garfield snarled. "Open your ears and listen to me!" Jareth looked at the Tiger. "My life is not over yet. Listen! I will fight with you to the end, whatever end it may be. And I will live till the end, believe me. I won't leave you yet. It isn't my time. Help me up, so I may fight once more." Jareth took Garfield's paw and pulled him up to his feet.
"You can't fight with such deep wounds!" exclaimed Jareth.
"You think so, honorable Jareth? I can and will. I wear these wounds as badges of courage and honor. I will always wear them as these things. And they can't take them from me. I will live and die with them."
Jareth offered Garfield his steed, but the Tiger refused, saying it was better to walk. And together they went into the mist, not grim, battle weary soldiers, but strong, hopeful freedom fighters. They had won the battle, but it was only the beginning of the war.
* * *
With the twilight comes a new terror, rising out of the shadows. As the sun sets, they come, demons from a world long forgotten. And they would be better forgotten, but live still off of the fear they produce. Their tales are told only around campfires and in the darkest corners of the taverns. Even the drunkest, maddest men think twice before mentioning their name, an icy terror runs through the minds of even the bravest, and children cry at the thought of their touch. The name for themselves can hardly be translated, but means in the common tongue, Night Stalker. When they come, the stars fade, the world gets still, and the fear they send out is felt for miles around. Few mortals have defeated them, and fewer still live to tell about it. A single one has been known to take an entire city, killing and torturing the peaceful inhabitants. They live (if it could be called living at all) for two things: to torture and kill. They come only in the shadows of night, for that is when they are strongest. In the day they are weak and stupid, in the night, strong and genius. And tonight they come in great numbers, to destroy the realm of Woodtell. It will not be long before they are unleashed by their master to kill like never before...
* * *
A great evil creature unfurled its wings and looked to the sky. Its lean, muscular body was charcoal black, a twisted, evil contrast from its red glowing orbs that served as eyes. Its long, bullet-like head twisted around, an elongated beak protruding outward. Out of the nostrils came green steam, polluting the air with its foul odor. It opened its mouth and croaked, green saliva dripping from its gaping jowls. It was a bird, somehow, twisted and warped by black magic.
The Master Night Stalker mounted this beast for its onslaught upon Woodtell. The powerful beast used its muscular legs to propel itself off of its perch, and it took flight. The bird was not graceful and proud, but inharmonious and arrogant.
The air became dead still. Not even the birds wings moved the unyielding air. It became icy cold, like a long dead corpse. It was soundless, as if the voices of the forest had crumbled to dust. Only the shadows moved.
The watchman alerted the King of the sudden lack of existence. "Stalkers," whispered the King. "Hundreds of them. I can sense their presence."
"What are we to do?" squeaked the watchman. The terror had already gripped him.
"I will go into the castle and wake the Generals. Tell the men to prepare for battle."
"Yes, milord," whispered the watch. He grabbed the battlehorn at his post and blew into it as hard as he could. A tremendous blast of sound echoed throughout the town. Instantly, the soldiers were ready. They surrounded the town in a massive phalanx, five men thick. Within minutes, the Generals were out there, preparing for the assault. This was the attack they had been anticipating for the past day. It was well organized, with every wizard in the town ready to weave spells of radiance into the sky, to shed a little light on the subject. Archers were stationed in the trees, ready to fire at any time.
The townsfolk fled into the castle, seeking protection from the demons. The gate closed, sealing off the palace. Windows shut, whispering through the silent air. The Tree Palace lit up, and the stars glittered, crazy diamonds shinning in the stillness of space.
And the attack came without warning. Shadows danced, fiery red eyes lit up, black robes flowed, skull masks shone in pale light. The first line was butchered, the dead carried away by the Stalkers, and the second held, sustaining heavy losses. And the rest of them ran.
Jareth ran and mounted his steed. A swift kick sent the horse galloping into the forest. Red eyes turned his way, and the Stalkers had a new target: the Warrior. Many turned and followed him, leaving few on the initial attack.
The great bird appeared above the trees, its steel talons clipping the Palace. It turned and swooped across the tree tops, and speared a few archers upon its claws. But it turned and followed Jareth, instead of terrorizing the Elves.
Jareth heard the trees shudder from the wind of the bird. His horse was spooked; it now ran only off fear and adrenalin. But a single horse and rider could not outrun a giant bird and an army of demons. And once the horse ran out of energy, there were only two options: fight or fall. Jareth shuddered at the thought. The seconds passed like minutes, the minutes like hours. But still they kept on running.
By now the horse was slowing, and the Stalkers were gaining rapidly. One lunged at the horse from behind, barely missing. Another struck, talons stretched outward, sinking into the horses rear, hooking into thick muscle. The horse ran faster, and tore away from the Stalker, shredding the skin on the horse's flank. The damage was done. The scent of fresh blood burned into the nostrils of the Stalkers, and they struck the horse down, sending Jareth sprawling. He scrambled to his feet, and turned to run. He let his legs carry him and his mind do the thinking. Behind him, the sounds of the horse's mutilation echoed.
He could barely see. Ahead, he saw the dim outline of a cave. He ran to it, risking running through a clearing. He lunged for the cave just in time, for behind him there was a shriek of air swishing over wings and an earth-shaking thud. Glancing back, a massive claw lay impaled in the ground where he was only seconds before. He sighed and sat down to catch his breath. Despite the cold, sweat dripped from his brow. Once satisfied that he could breathe normally, he rose to his feet. The Mystic Sword lit up, to help guide his way. He heard behind him a faint laughter, an abnormal, insane cackle. He glanced over his shoulder, only to see nothing. Dread slid its icy fingers through his mind. Don't look back! he thought desperately. As his fear swelled, the light from the Sword dimmed. He stumbled forward, barely able to concentrate. He heard something behind him, whispers, branding horror into his brain. He froze, and turned rigidly around. Jareth could not see it, but he felt it shadowing him swiftly. Soon it would overwhelm him and kill him slowly, torturing him. A pair of red eyes appeared about fifteen feet ahead of him, coming closer and closer. As Balance faded almost to nothingness, the eyes surged forward.
Jareth brought the Sword up to parry the attack, and caught the Stalker off guard. It stumbled over. Jareth slashed into the shadowy form, and the Mystic Sword flared once more. The demon grasped the glowing blade, attempting to disarm Jareth. But the fiend failed, and its claws melted away. The black rags that served as a cloak for the Stalker caught fire, blazing white. The magical inferno pierced the fiends corrupted and evil heart, causing the demon to explode in a brilliant white flare. All that remained of the foe was a pile of smoldering rags and scattered shards of a skull mask.
* * *
Jareth chose this spot to rest for the night. He didn't know how far he was from Woodtell, but going back would be pointless. He prayed that the Stalkers would not return, at least while he was sleeping. He made a pile of dry wood, and lit it on fire. He laid down and quickly fell to sleep.
It was late morning when he finally awoke. His dreams had been troubled: the Night Stalkers had captured him, but oddly enough didn't kill him. They took him for many days and nights traveling ceaselessly. Finally they reached the Fiskill Mountain Range, enveloped in thick, wet mist. They passed over the first jagged peaks, and found themselves in a large bowl shaped valley. In the center of the valley was a mountain, tall and twisted, wrapped in a mist slowly revolving around it. Its top was scarcely visible through the fog. And then Jareth woke.
Chapter Six: Many Departures
"Essel, are you ready to go?" asked Kindre.
"Yes, father. I'm ready," Essel answered.
"Be careful. And only ride during the day. With that black beast flying around at night, not even the skies are safe. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I understand clearly. But what happens if they don't believe me?"
"Take my pendant. There are none like it in the World. They will believe you."
"Thank you, father." The King removed the pendant from around his neck. Essel took an extra moment to hold it in his hands and look at it. It was rhombus shaped, and shone with all colors of the rainbow. These five runes were carved into the platinum and gold border: Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Life. In the center a huge black diamond sparkled. No one would doubt Essel. The Prince draped the Pendant around his neck with pride. "I will not fail."
"I know. I have faith in you." For a moment their eyes met, and they embraced, tears streaming down their faces. Then they released, and the King pulled a whistle out of his pocket. "This will call her," the King said. He gave it to Essel, who put his lips to it and blew. He couldn't hear a sound, but the air about them began to swirl, and in an instant, a great bird with lion's feet was sitting in front of them. It was Krystal, the King's personal Griffin.
"Was is it you desire, my King?" said the bird in a soft beautiful voice.
"Take the Prince to Greystone. He will be your master until his return."
"Yes, my King," replied the Griffin.
Essel got onto the birds back, stroking the soft feathers. "Farewell, father!" he said. "And may luck be with you!"
"The same to you, my son!" Essel saluted, and the King returned the gesture. "Fly to Greystone, my faithful bird. Fly!"
The great bird heaved its wings, and with incredible speed, was in the air, flying away.
"A magnificent creature, Krystal is," came a voice. Startled, the King turned around. But he was relieved to find Felipitip there, with him.
"Oh yes, Feli, she sure is," said the King. "She is very sweet, too, if you get to know her."
"I can imagine," said Feli, smiling. "I am about to leave. Is there anything else I can do while I'm still here?"
"No, there isn't. Just get to Akilon with all haste. The sooner we can get the townsfolk here the better."
"Yes, milord. I will go now." Feli mounted his horse, and left immediately. When the King said something about haste, he meant it. The sun was just rising in the east. It was almost sixty miles to Akilon by the main road. If he followed the old game trail instead of the main road, it would only be thirty miles. He chose the trail. The horse went galloping off to Akilon. He got there in about two hours. He was greeted at the gate by a young guard.
"Yes, my Sylvan friend?" asked the guard politely.
"I must speak with the Elder immediately," said Feli calmly.
"What is your business with the Elder, may I ask?"
"I am Felipitip Djirl, of Kindre's personal guard. I am to discuss the matters of the safety of the village."
"Of course, Sir. Do you need any assistance in finding the hut?"
"No, thank you." Feli got off of his horse, leaving it by the gate. In a moment he was off in the village, heading to the hut. At the steps stood two guards: Renegade he recognized, but the other was unfamiliar. "Hello, Renegade!" he cried.
"Why, Feli! what an unexpected time for a visit!" Renegade stopped what he was doing and went to see the Elf. "What brings you here?"
"I must speak with the Elder. It is a matter of utmost importance."
"Follow me." Renegade was suddenly grim, as if a terrible weariness had fallen on him. Feli got a better look at the other guard. He might have been handsome, but deep scars had been seared into his face. He was clad in forest green and grey, but a black velvet pouch hung down off of his belt. It looked out of place, betraying the camouflage of the clothes. And the most astonishing thing to Feli was he looked almost Elven...
He stepped inside the hut, and was comforted by the warm powers of magic. The Elder was there, sitting in his chair, sipping his tea. "Hello, lad!" he cried when he saw Feli. "I knew you would come!" Feli gave Renegade a startled look, and the guard looked away smiling as he left.
"How did yo-" the Elf began.
"How did I know you were coming? In my vision this morning I saw a Griffin flying away, and a horse and rider in the distance. I knew the rider was you, Felipitip. But no, that's not all I saw, no." The last sentence he said almost to himself.
"I come with a message from the King," said the Elf.
"Speak, my friend," answered the Elder.
"He requests that the civilians in Akilon be taken to the safety of Woodtell, where we will defend them."
"I agree. The Legion will attack within a day of two, and I am afraid that we cannot withstand another full assault. We have not the luxury of numbers."
"When should we leave?"
"In a few hours, at the most. I will give the order to the people as soon as we finish the discussion."
"Is it not over?"
"Not yet. I have something more to tell you. You are Durinian." Feli stared with a blank expression on his face. "All Elves have at least some Durinian in them, but you are the strongest I have seen, aside from myself, who can wield the power. If you find another Elf who can control the power, learn from him. Although the basic strengths are the same between human and Elf Durinians, the Elves must learn differently. And they have much more potential than the humans..." the Elder drifted off in thought for a long while, as if recalling something, but as soon as he raised his head all was normal with him once more.
Feli nodded his head and turned to leave, when suddenly he asked, "Who is your other guard?"
"His name was Selm, but ever since his exorcism, he wishes to be called by Delvin."
"His exorcism?" Feli gasped.
"He killed a Night Stalker in combat. Normally he would have been alright, but he took the skull mask and claimed it as his own. The dark spirit took his soul and possessed him. I believe that his name before possession was the same as it is now, and Selm was the Night Stalker he killed. A few days ago, I shattered the demon's soul and freed the man now known as Delvin."
"What is it he carries in the pouch?" asked Feli, unable to control his voice.
"Only the two of us know that, and if the secret is broken before its time, all of its magical power is lost from this dimension."
Feli was satisfied with that answer and left the hut. He would lead the exodus, Kindre had said. And he would hold true to his King forever.
* * *
Essel flew over the Fiskill Mountains at a blistering speed. Greystone was over in the Other-land of Mythica. The Other-land was the expanse on the western side of the mountains. It's land varied greatly, from forests to jungles and swamps, to deserts and grasslands. Greystone lay in the Mist-hills, a beautiful stretch of country where when in the morning, thick fog covered the ground. Essel looked down at the passing mountains, cold and green in the morning light.
The Griffin swooped low, a sign that they were approaching Greystone, just beyond the Mountains. The great creature landed in a moist valley shrouded in mist so thick nothing could be seen five feet ahead.
But then the sun rose high, and the mists parted in a luminous spectacle, each drop a prism, shattering the light into hundreds of rainbows, radiating the sky for a moment. And it was gone in an instant. The mist escalated to the tree tops, and yielding no further, weaving through the sky like a flock of grey birds. Patches of the sun broke through for moments, passing like solitary lights through a dark jungle. It gradually became lighter, and soon Essel saw with clarity the land around him. There was a forest around him, a lush, green forest like he had never seen before. It was so fantastic he lost his breath for a moment. It smelled very alive, like wet moss and a crisp spring morn and moist mushrooms all mixed into a fine odor. All around he heard the delicate sounds of birds chattering in the trees. He saw he was on a rocky path, and each one of the rocks had been grown over with moss. And as he brought his eyes up he was even more astounded, if that could be possible. The path he was standing on lead lazily to a mountain, grey in the cool morning light. Atop the mountain was a castle, a fortress of such beauty and might that the Tree Palace was pale in comparison. It seemed to have been built from the mountain itself, shaped from the granite spires of Mother Earth. On either side of the castle, a tall pillar rose from a crystal clear lake, fed from the heavens. On each pillar stood a white dragon, fair and proud, guardians of the great citadel. A waterfall cascaded down from a stone suspended in mid-air, fed by another stone above it, and another, and so on. The awesome waterfall spiraled around the mountain, and coiled far above its highest peaks.
As Essel gasped for air (it had been taken away by the sight of Greystone), a soft laughter awoke next to him. Astonished, Essel turned to look at the one who made the sound. Sitting there, on a rock, was an Elf. It was clad in a forest green cloak, with the hood pulled close about its face. In one hand he held a long bow. A quiver of arrows hung about one shoulder. "Hello," said the Elf. "How may I be of service to you?"
"Hello. My name is Essel Obane, the Prince of Woodtell. I am looking for someone."
"I had guessed you are of Royal blood already. Most commoners don't ride Griffins and wear fancy pendants, although, there were a few, but they are not common, now," said the Elf, smiling.
"You are correct," said Essel, turning to the Griffin. "You can go home faithful beast. You have served well, and for now your service is over. Farewell, and luck be with you!" The bird flew up and vanished into the sky. "What is your name?" asked Essel.
"My name is Nighthawk. Now, who may it be you are looking for?" asked the Elf. "It must be of great importance and haste must be needed, if one shall come on the back of a Griffin.
"I am searching for a great warrior," said Essel, choosing his words carefully. This Elf was, as the saying goes, sharper than a tack.
"Ah! Wars do not make one great!" said the Elf with pride in his voice. "For we are very great, and have served in few wars."
"That may be," said Essel, "But this may be one so great that his name is spread all over the land, and songs have been made of his glory in a battle of revenge."
"Klindor!" whispered the Elf.
"Yes," said Essel, smiling. "You would not know where he is, would you?"
"Of course! Everyone knows where Master Klindor lives."
"Where would he be? In the castle?" asked Essel.
"No, no," murmured the Elf, calming down. "He lives in the foothills, before the forest ends."
"Is it far?"
"No. Just follow me." At that, the Elf gave a whistle like that of a bird. It was answered nearby, and they set off into the forest.
It wasn't a lengthy walk (Essel wished it would have been longer, for he was fascinated by the forest), and soon they arrived at a clearing. In the center stood a cabin, not overly large, but exceptionally well built. White smoke rose from the short chimney. A tall Elf stood outside the door, clad in forest garb. He looked grim, his face like it was chiseled in a unalterable frown. Thin grey hair fell in wisps down to his thin, muscular shoulders. But a delicate smile crossed his sad lips for a moment, his wise face wrinkled, and he spoke in a grave voice: "Hail faithful Ranger Nighthawk! I saw the Griffin and knew you would find who it was. This would be the great rider?" the Elf pointed at Essel.
"Yes," answered Nighthawk solemnly. "He wished to speak with you."
"Who is he? My eyes are the sharpest to be found in this land, and I can see he is of the Wood Elven, yet I have not ventured into their fair kingdom for many years. Alas, friends, time goes by the fastest when you least want it to!"
"I am Prince Essel Obane," announced the Wood Elf, kneeling down and bowing his head low.
"Do I have proof of this?" asked the tall Elf.
Essel raised the pendant and his voice. "Here is the proof!"
"I see!" said the tall Elf. "It is time I introduced myself to the King's son! I am Klindor, Master of the Greyelven Rangers; or Killer's Plague, as I am know to our enemies."
"It is good I have met you so soon. Help is needed as soon as possible. The Legion has struck Woodtell, and although they cannot stand against our army, the Night Stalkers have risen to fight against us. We cannot fight day and night, alone and unaided, or soon we should fall, and be overrun by darkness. If we could have any assistance at all, it would be more than appreciated."
"I will send my finest," said Klindor grievously. "You will have the Greyelven Rangers and their Master at your disposal. The Legion will tremble in fear when they see us, or," he said as a dark smile crossed his face, "If they see us at all. We are masters of secrecy."
"What are your numbers?" asked Essel.
"Fifty three, including myself. Is that not enough?"
"Maybe," yet the look on Essel's face looked doubtful.
"These Rangers are handpicked. Every one of them is an army. Each one could take at least fifty of these Legion men. But still I understand your disappointment in the numbers. I will speak with the King to see if we can get a few more soldiers. And I invite you to see the Rangers. We will show you what I mean by one man army."
Chapter Seven: the Desert Awaits
Jareth left the caves ageless night, and departed into the day. He had never been so grateful to see the sun before. He stood there mesmerized by it. And then he was once more aware of his quest, and even more aware of his loneliness. No one could help him if they knew not where he was. Oh well, he thought. It would have to be this way in the end, he knew.
He had to find a road. The trees blocked him from view, so he couldn't find the cardinal directions. As if he had no control over his body, his feet began to move. He walked aimlessly for several hours, until by a random stroke of luck, he came to a road. He followed it, with lack of other options. At last he came to a sign that read:
-->QU'EL TILAC- 37
-->BLACK DESERT- 38
"It looks like the Desert or nothing," sighed Jareth hopelessly. He had heard of the Black Desert before. Brutal heat during the day, ferocious beasts at night. It lasted for hundreds of miles, until it became the Firebrand Wastes, an even less appealing land.
He looked up at the sun, and it was mid afternoon. He'd better hurry if he wanted to get to Qu'el Tilac before nightfall. Without further thought, he took the scarcely trodden path to the desert town.
* * *
It was deep into dusk when he arrived, too deep for comfort. He hurried to the inn. He walked into the smoky, dimly lit lobby. Dark eyes regarded him coldly, and he immediately felt unwanted by many of the patrons. And others could have cared less. He went up to the front desk. "I need a room. Any one will do."
"Its not free," sneered the man behind the counter. "Especially not for warrior scum like you."
"How much is it?" asked Jareth, ignoring the insult.
"Seventy gold for low class, ninety for medium, and one-sixty for high."
"I'd rather sleep in the streets for that much money."
"That can be arranged," smiled the man coldly. "Take this damned fool out of here!" Immediately two rather large brutes stood up, abandoning their beers, and picked Jareth up and threw him out the door. But they hadn't had enough fun for the night. They came out and picked the stunned warrior up once again.
"Look at him!" laughed one. "The little fighter running away from home! Tell me, you little bastard, where are your parents? If they don't live in town, we'll have to kick your scrawny little mass back to the town that bred your nasty little trash!"
"Where I come from is none of your business," declared Jareth. "It is obviously a better place than here, and needn't be fouled by your harsh words."
"Ah!" growled the other oaf. "I'm afraid it is our business, 'cause you little gutter crawling cur snubbed our little place there." He pointed a thumb at the inn. "Let's take the little scoundrel's sword, so he wont hurt us none!" The brute took the Mystic Sword in his hand and held it for a moment.
"Drop the Sword," snarled Jareth.
"What are you gonnna do? Bite us to death? Or bore us with your wasted words?"
"Neither," said Jareth. "I will take it back."
"How you gonna do that?"
"Like this!" He kicked the man in the groin, and he doubled over. A swift kick in the face knocked the over sized man onto the ground, kicking the other in the back of the knee simultaneously. Jareth dropped to the ground, and took back his Sword. Magic began to flow through it once more, and just a touch of the blade turned the huge men unconscious. He sheathed his weapon and concealed it within his cloak. With a confident smile and a proud glide in his step, Jareth returned to the inn. Without a single word, he opened a pouch full of gold coins and emptied it on the counter.
"What?" screamed the inn keeper. "I thought you were taken care of!"
"Treat your customers with more respect next time," smiled Jareth. "Small packages may contain wealth beyond imagination. Now," he whispered, leaning closely to the man, "May I have my room?"
"Certainly no-" but then his eyes saw the glitter of gold on the counter, and speechlessly handed him a room key to the finest room available. Jareth stashed the key in his pocket, and walked over to the tavern on the other side of the lobby, fighting his way through many Patrons.
"Whaddaya want?" growled the bartender as Jareth sat down.
"Meat," said Jareth calmly. "A big steak sounds great."
"We don't got no steak."
"Well, then some mutton."
"Mutton, huh?" asked the bartender with a gleam in his eye.
"Yeah. And something to drink," sighed Jareth.
"Be specific!" barked the large man.
"Ale," stated Jareth blandly.
"Hey, you morons back there in the kitchen! Send out some mutton and ale, on the double!" screamed the man into the kitchen. He took Jareth's gold and left. A fat man with a red face ran out of the kitchen, dumped the plate of food on the table and left for the kitchen.
The Warrior looked doubtfully at the food. The mutton was covered in grease and slime, and the ale didn't look much better. Disgusted, he left for his room. But when he was halfway up the stairs, a terrified man ran in the door, wailing, "The orcs are here! The orcs are here!" He could say no more, because at that moment, the doors were flung open by a huge orc, his skin black and deeply scarred. But he looked even more terrified than the man.
In the common language he cried out pitifully, "They have come-" and no more came from his mouth, as a sharp blade sliced his head off. Jareth leapt from the steps and ran out the door, his sword ringing as it was taken from the sheath. He was met by a host of orcs, and he killed each one quickly, black blood dripping from his blade. Another group of orcs attacked, out numbering Jareth seven to one.
It seemed as if he was doomed, until a large shadowy figure joined the fight. In the dark, Jareth could only see the green eyes shining brightly under the shadow of a black hood. Three orcs fell in one swipe of the strangers blade. Jareth took down two more, evening the odds. The last two orcs died without chance of survival. Jareth didn't have time to thank the stranger, because it had already gone in search of more orcs to strike down. Jareth followed him with haste.
In terror Jareth watched as the stranger was struck down by one of the villagers. The villager eyed Jareth, and wiped the blood off of his sword. He turned, ready to kill Jareth, and then an even larger hooded figure came up behind the villager and flung him into a wall as if he weighed nothing. Three orcs attacked the hooded one, and three orcs died trying. The first one had its jugular slashed open, and it fell to the ground. The second lunged with a long, crooked knife, but its arm was caught and turned, and the knife plunged deeply into the orcs hide. The third tripped on its comrade's body, and was caught by a muscular arm, and his neck was snapped in an instant. Then the figure turned to Jareth and charged. Jareth turned and dove to the ground, to see three things fly over his head: two orcs and the stranger. The stranger took the two orcs by their necks and slammed their heads together in a bloody collision. They both fell, and the stranger picked Jareth up with a muscular arm, dusting him off.
"Relax, Jareth," purred a familiar voice.
"Sir Garfield?" gasped Jareth. "I thought you were with the Elves!"
"No. But it is a long story!" he sighed. "And we must hurry! The desert awaits!" Not very comforting words, but it was better than staying in town and getting killed by an orc or an insane villager. So they ran for the Desert.
* * *
It was dawn. Jareth and Garfield had successfully stolen a camel, which lessened their load a little. Jareth had protested to stealing, saying it would only disrupt the Balance even further, but Garfield said that if it helped restore the Balance sooner, it would be worth it.
"So," queried Jareth, "How did you get here?"
Garfield answered: "When the Stalkers came, I chased many of them away. By dawn, I had slain many of the fell creatures, and better yet, had led me to an orcish army. It turns out it was the same army that had captured my Tigers. I followed them, waiting for the right time to free my soldiers. It was when they came to the town, a rather rash move, that they left a slim watch on the prisoners. I killed the guards and freed my Tigers, and by chance I ran into you. And here we are." The Tiger smiled grimly. It was the cold grin of a young mind that had seen too much pain for several lifetimes. And cheerlessly, Jareth knew that the pain would continue to grow until the Dragon was slain and the Legion was annihilated, and that seemed impossible.
"We must hurry," said the Tiger, "The sun will soon get too hot to continue. I hope that we will soon be through the desert, but it is doubtful. It goes on for another couple hundred miles."
With those words, the travelers walked through the desert until late morning, when the sun had risen to a scorching temperature. "I must rest," Jareth gasped. "I can't go on anymore..."
"I understand, Jareth. I, too, grow unbearably hot. This place is like Hell on Earth..."
The two stopped, and took out some blankets and poles. They made two crude tents, to shade them from the sun as they slept. It was still very hot, but at least it provided some shade.
As the sun set, they arose and journeyed once more. They traveled through the night, undisturbed. The sun rose, and again they slept from late morning to sunset. They did this for another day, and then strange things started to happen.
Charter Eight: Beneath the Dunes
The sun was breaking over the miles of sand. Everything seemed peaceful, yet a feeling of unease grew in Jareth's heart. It seemed to him that the sand was moving, yet there was no wind to push it. The pair continued on their way.
It was an hour later when Jareth looked up again. Garfield was in a deep state of thought, and the camel was looking blankly into the horizon. But then the camel looked up suddenly, pure terror scored into its eyes. "What is it?" Jareth asked the beast in soothing words.
And from behind him Jareth heard Garfield's muffled cry, "Look out!" Jareth saw no more, for at that instant, he was struck from behind and pushed into the hot sand.
* * *
Jareth's eyes slowly opened to the world spinning around him. With pain staking effort, his eyes came into focus. For some reason, his head felt as if it was spinning, aching, maybe even exploding for all he could tell. And then, as he looked around, he realized he was upside down, hanging from the ceiling. He saw he was in a dark cavern of some sort, with tunnels branching off haphazardly in every direction. He twisted around to see the tunnel that served as an entrance to this hole in the ground. A bright light shined through to the cavern. Beside that tunnel lay a huddled mass, barely breathing. It took a moment for Jareth to realize that it was Sir Garfield he was looking at. The Tiger was wrapped in a web of some sort, like a spider's web, except Jareth had not heard of a spider that large.
Jareth looked up at his own bonds. His feet were wrapped in a tight web that hung from the ceiling. If he could somehow cut that web he would be free...
His thoughts went instantly to his sword. Although his feet were wrapped up, his arms dangled freely. He reached for his sword at the sheath, but he found that it was gone. He looked down at the ground below him and saw his Sword laying there, many feet out of arms reach. There was no way he could get the Sword. He hung there, discouraged. And then his thoughts drifted to the dagger in his boot. Of course! Without further thought, Jareth reached up, but fell a few inches short of the knife's handle. He tried again and again, and on the sixth try, he finally made it. But as he reached up to cut the web, a chattering noise distracted him. His body fell back down to its former position. And through one of the tunnels came eight red eyes, and eight long legs. So it was a spider!
Haste broke into Jareth's thought, and he reached upward and slashed at the bonds. The thick web snapped, and Jareth fell onto his back. Normally, he would have laid there, but he sprung instantly up like it hadn't hurt him at all. The spider had walked over to Garfield, and was ready to strike, but Jareth threw the dagger at the beast with all the power he could muster. It struck the arachnid in the body, and with a sickening crack, pierced the exoskeleton and plunged deeply into the thing's innards.
It turned around, screaming in agony, flailing its limbs like eight deadly swords. Jareth took Balance from the sandy floor and stabbed the spider in the head, through its many eyes. It released one last chattering call to the other spiders, then died.
Jareth cut the web around Garfield hastily, and then lifted the warrior up and carried him out of the cavern. Jareth ran eastward, away from the setting sun. On the dune behind him, hundreds of holes opened up, pouring dozens of spiders out of each. And although the spiders chased the burdened youth, they could not catch up. Jareth ran like he carried no weight at all, so great was his determination. He ran deep into the night, and then, all his strength ran out and he collapsed, falling asleep almost at once.
* * *
Jareth woke up thirsty and hungry. The sun was blazing high, yet slightly to the west, proving it to be afternoon. Jareth got up and brushed all the sand form his clothes, then looked at Sir Garfield. The Tiger lay huddled up in a bundle, breathing, yet hardly stirring. Jareth walked over to the warrior and shook him gently. "Sir Garfield, it's time to move."
The cat moved a little bit, but didn't wake up. "Wake up," Jareth shook the warrior once more, a little more briskly.
"What is it?" the Tiger-man growled. His eyes popped open like sparks bursting into flame. "Oh, it's you, Jareth." The warrior stood on all four paws and stretched, like a cat after a long nap. "What has happened?" he sighed.
"Huge spiders," snarled Jareth at the memory. "Knocked us both out cold. I got free and carried you through most of the night."
Garfield said: "I remember shouting to you to watch out, and then every thing disappeared. I'm surprised you woke when you did, because the Sand Spider's venom is very strong. It won't kill you, but you'll sleep for a long time."
"How do you know all this?" asked Jareth.
"I've traveled far and wide, and heard many tales. I think we're lucky we didn't run into the Fire Wolves. If we had, we'd most likely be dead."
"I'll be thankful for that, also. I've heard of Nha'kk'shs'ta and his Wolves. It doesn't sound very pleasant to me."
"No, it doesn't. But we must be moving soon. The ocean isn't very far away now, and in an hour or two we could be there." So the pair started off into the direction of the salty breeze, where at last the end of their Journey was in sight.
It was not long before Jareth saw the thin blue line that was the ocean. "I'm glad we're here," sighed Jareth. "It's been a long trip."
"That it has, honorable Jareth. But it is not over yet. We still must pass through the Sahuagin's Straight, and even more terrible, the Jungle. But the most terrifying place we must go is to the Temple of Diablo. For that is where the Sword itself is guarded. And I cannot help you in that cursed place."
"I understand, my friend. But let us look at the problem at hand. If we go through the straight of Sahuagin, we won't survive. Many armies have tried and failed. So we need a ship."
"Yes Jareth," said Garfield. "But where do we get a ship?"
"I don-" Garfield's paw covered Jareth's mouth.
"Did you hear that?" whispered the Tiger.
"Hear what?" asked Jareth.
"Voices. Lots of voices."
"Can you see where they're coming from?"
"No. I can't see anyone else on land- No, wait! I see it! A ship! Out there, by the shore."
"I see it. Uh oh. Looks like they're pirates!" whispered Jareth.