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Rated: 13+ · Campfire Creative · Novel · Fantasy · #1456837
A group of unlikely characters must stop a war and save their world.
[Introduction]

         Long ago, the three nations lived in peace. The Kalderin Empire, whose lands consisted of ashy plains and large volcanoes, became well known for the ores they exported, the ores which were obtained from beneath the surface. The Kingdom of Teris, a peaceful nation, was well known for its trade and its navy. And the Soule Nation, home of the Tazlaca, a proud and noble people who lived on the many islands west of the mainland, became known for its beauty and splendor. But like all great things, it ended.

         The rulers of the Kalderin Empire, greedy and corrupt, declared war on Teris and the Soule Nation. Thousands of soldiers fought on many different fronts. Plains were bathed in the blood caused by war. Only through cunning and tactics did the Kingdom of Teris succesfully fend off invasion. Now, the gears of machinery come to life again. It is only a matter of time before war breaks out again...


         The birds chirped a cheerful melody. The trees echoed the harmony with the rustling of their leaves in the wind. The tall, emerald-like blades of green grass bent to the wind's power, like millions of devout worshippers in a wondrous temple. The orchestra of nature played on as the sun crept downward towards the horizon, its daily journey nearly complete for the Kingdom of Teris.

         Indeed, it was a calm and peaceful sunset to which Seran Pa'Olo looked. The red rays of sunlight were reflected in his sapphire eyes. His snow white hair was blown sideways by the wind, just like the blades of grass alongside the dirt path he now walked down. His skin was like warm cocoa, and he stood a little over five feet tall. The sunlight dimly illuminated his muscular body and his outfit, a pair of white pants and a large green sash that covered most of his torso, from his right shoulder to his left hip. A steel glove covered his left arm up to the elbow. He carried a large, four-foot-long staff, which he currently was using to walk with. The right side of his face and most of his torso were covered in white markings, symbol of the Tazlaca, people of the Soule Nation.

         Seran walked onwards. As night fell, he came to the small village of Arris. Seran went to the tavern and strode inside. A hush fell over as the crowd inside observed this stranger. Seran looked around. Most of the mass seemed like simple villagers, enjoying a pint or two after a hard day's work. But one caught his eye, a man sitting in the corner by the fireplace. He stood out from the crowd with his vivid outfit. The man wore a blue overcoat with yellow buckles over an ebony-black undershirt and pants. The boots he wore were large and purple. His honey brown hair hung down over his brown eyes, which were about the same color as Seran's skin. This strange man was leaning back in his chair, his feet on the table and his hand busy with a great sitar, which he played gracefully. The man didn't seem as startled as the rest at Seran's appearance, and kept playing the lively song.

         Seran looked briefly at the man, then walked forward to the bar. The hustle and bustle started again, as if time had simply frozen for a moment and had just started back up again. The innkeeper, who had a large belly and a wide smile, waddled over to him, his hands busy wiping a mug clean. "Can I help you, young sir?"

         "A room for the night, please," Seran said. The innkeeper nodded. After he gave him directions to the room and a key, Seran handed him three silver pieces and headed for the stairs. He looked at the man in the corner again before going up to bed. He locked the door behind him and sighed. A soft bed at last. He leaned the staff against the wall next to the bed, and looked out the window. The half moon shone down its light onto the landscape of greenery. He removed the glove and the sash, placing them on the table. He unbuckled the dagger and belt, placing those, too, on the table, and crept in under the covers. In mere moments, he was drifting off into the soothing embrace of sleep and dreams...


         Jeremiah Smithies, a denizen of the Teris Kingdom, continued to play his slow, steady song on his large sitar. He closed his eyes and let the music flow through him, from his honey brown hair to his purple boots. He let the song rejuvenate him after his long day of traveling. One note to the next, like water flowing in a river. He had almost fallen asleep, when the other customers stirred. Jerry casually took a quick glance at what the fuss was about. Almost as graceful as air itself, a young man had simply stridden into the tavern. His white pants and green sash certainly were uncommon in these parts, and his skin and hair color were a dead give-away he was from the Soule Nation. Jerry turned his head away, and continued to pluck at the sitar strings. A few minutes later, Jerry glanced back to see if he still resided in the bar. No, he had disappeared. Natural curiosity took the better of him, as he stopped his melody short and shuffled to the bartender, sitar now resting on his shoulder.

         "Uh, Barkeep?" Jerry's young voice called out.

         "What can I getcha kid?" The bulging, grinning barkeep shouted over the roar of the drunken stupor. His belumptious belly showed a little under his dirty white cotton shirt.

         "Would you happen to know where that person from the Soule Nation went?"

         "Why? He owe yah money? Other than that, I don't see why you'd want to know." The bartender eyed Jerry suspiciously, as one would do when thinking someone may have dirty, if not evil intentions.

         "Just, uh...curious."

         "Well, I guess that does no harm. You don't look like a Kalderin assassin, bent on killing a few innocents. Gotta keep on top of that stuff, y'know? He rented a room and went to bed. You plannin' on staying the night? Only three pieces of silver." He tempted, his wide smile being all the more incentive to take his offer.

         Jerry dug into his pocket. He felt around for the cool touch of the silver, and placed them individually on the bar table. The Barkeep smiled heartily as he scooped the coins onto his hand, and shoved them into his deep, bulging pocket. He bent down and grabbed one of the bronze keys from the under table cubby hole and handed it to Jerry.

         "Room number nine kid. Just down the hall. Good night!" Jerry nodded to the Barkeep as he stared at the key. Why? The question raced through his mind like a peasant on tax collection day. Clunk. The door gave way as Jerry turned the key into room nine, a simple room with only a small desk, table, and bed. As Jerry carefully laid his sitar braced against the wall, the thought bounced back into his head. What was the connection I felt with that man, when I only glanced at him? Why, like the northern wind, had he simply blown in, when so far away from home? Jerry himself had never really left Teris. His confidence in his ability to travel was mediocre at best. But, Jerry had little extra time to ponder these thoughts, for as soon as he hit the bed; Jeremiah fell into a deep, peaceful slumber.

         Daybreak. The rising sun awoke Jerry from his coma like sleep. He rubbed his eyes sleepily as he adjusted to the bright light.

         "Another beautiful sunrise. Such wonderful colors. I should write a song about it..." Jerry's mind wandered to a song, a melodious, slow paced rhythm. It wasn't long before Jerry had exited the room, and went to return the bought key. And there, as fate would have it, at the table he sat in yesterday, sat the Soule Nationite. We've woken, and gone to return our keys at the same time? Fate would have me talk to him. Jeremiah gulped deeply and sucked a deep breath. His low confidence levels didn't help the laborious act of introducing himself. Alright Jer, this is it. You've got to talk to him. Fate commands you! Jerry sucked in one last breath as he made his way over to the table.


         Darkness. There was only darkness in this place where Seran went nearly every night when he dreamt. For what seemed like hours, nothing happened. Then came the visions. His people dead. His home destroyed. And he, the lone survivor, sitting atop a hill bathed in blood. It was these visions that turned peaceful dreams into chaotic nightmares. And then that deep voice, calling out in an echo, "Seran..."

*~*~*

         Seran awoke in a cold sweat. He gasped for air and sat up, shaking. He looked around. Faint sunlight dimly lit the small room. Same as last night. Still fine for another two weeks, he thought, looking down at his hands. Seran got up and put on his sash. He sat down on the stone floor, crossing his legs and closing his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he began meditating in the style he was taught while growing up. After half an hour, he opened his eyes again and stood up. His stomach grumbled, reminding him of its needs. He put the steel glove on and attached the belt to his pants. He grabbed the staff and walked out, locking the door as he left. He walked down the stairs into the main hall.

         Far less people paid him attention than last night. It appears I no longer stand out to them... That's good. He made his way to the bar, where the bartender stood, wiping his hands off. He looked questioningly at Seran. Seran asked him, "Could I please get some cabbages and water?" The bartender nodded and walked away. About a minute later, he came back with a plate of cabbages and a mug of water. He set these down.

         "That'll be one silver and three bronze." Seran handed him the coins and walked away. He looked around for an open table, and he spotted it in the corner, out of the way of most traffic. As he walked over, he recognized it as the same spot where the man with the sitar had been last night. He sat down, setting his plate and mug down. I wonder if he's still here. He was very good at playing that instrument, Seran thought as he munched on a cabbage leaf. Meat was scarce on the islands of the Soule Nation, so the Tazlaca had taken up a diet that consisted mainly of plants, fruit, and vegetables. He recognized the valuable nutrients the cabbage possessed, a useful piece of information in his opinion. He took a long drink of his water. When he set the mug down, there was the man with the sitar.

         The man shifted uneasily, and Seran looked up at him. "Can I help you, sir?" he said, remembering his manners.

         "Jeremiah Smithies, at your service." Jeremiah stuck out his hand, and Seran shook it. "Do you mind if I...?" he asked as he indicated the seat.

         "It would be a pleasure, Mr. Smithies." Jeremiah sat down. "My name is Seran Pa'Olo, but you can call me Seran. It's good to meet you, Mr. Smithies." He smiled in a friendly manner, but his eyes analyzed the stranger. I wonder why he chose me of all people to sit with. Could it be because I am Tazlacan? Or is it something else?

         "Please, call me Jerry. Mr. Smithies just sounds so... boring. And it's a pleasure to meet you too, Seran. Might I inquire where you're headed?" he asked, his eyebrows raising. I wonder...

         "I was going to head for Doniquer today. Why?" Now it was Seran who had his eyebrows raised, for Jerry had a surprised look on his face.

         Perhaps we were meant to meet. I'm heading that way, too, Jerry thought as he spoke. "I've heard rumors of bandits on the road from here to there. I’m going there too. Perhaps two men will be enough to fend off bandits?" he suggested.

         Seran looked at him. He munched on a cabbage leaf as he pondered the suggestion. Travelling in a group did have a tendency to fend off bandits. But there might be questions. Questions I don't want to answer... I suppose he raises a valid point. Very well then... he thought. "I think that's a great idea. I'm going to be going in half an hour." He grinned as Jerry nodded and walked off. Looks like I've got a companion today... Seran thought. Let's hope he's worth it.


          Jerry leaned against the small iron gate of the town, while holding his beloved sitar in his hands. He kept peering behind him to watch for Seran, who said he'd be here in but half an hour. Ohhh...what if I made a mistake? What if I'm next to useless if bandits really DO strike? I don't want him to end up dead! He sounded like such a nice guy... Jerry continued to play scenario after scenario in his head, his confidence shrinking rapidly all the while. What if...

          "Uhm, Jerry? Jerry?"

          "Wha?" Jerry came back to the real world as he heard a voice. Startled as he was jerked from his day dream, he rather unprofessionally fell over into a mud puddle. "Aww, I just cleaned this coat!" Jerry moaned, getting up and wiping some of the mud off. Snickers from behind him drew Jerry's attention. He turned around to see Seran, chuckling heartily.

          "Seran! You startled me!" Jerry whined.

          "Sorry...hehe...I didn't mean to. Anyway, it's time to go to Doniquer. You ready?"

          "Give me a second." Jerry picked up his sitar from the ground and began to play a fast paced song on it. As the melody set over the air, water from the ground gradually seeped out and twisted around Jerry. As it winded around, it cleaned off the remaining mud off of Jerry's long coat. When the last speak of dirt was cleaned, Jerry's song ceased suddenly, and the water fell back to the ground. "Well, how did you like my serenade?"

          "So you are a Water wizard?" A surprised Seran asked. Maybe he isn't a complete klutz...

          Jerry sneered a bit as he wiped his hand over his nose. "Well, not a wizard. Those are old guys. I prefer the term Water artist." Seran looked back with his own sneer. Suddenly, the wind picked up, blowing this way and that, circling around Jerry. Within seconds, the wind had created a little cyclone, lifting Jerry into the air.

          "Whoa man, put me down!" No sooner had Jerry's word left his mouth did the wind stop, and drop Jerry hard on his rear end. "So, you're an artist as well?" It was Jerry's turn to be surprised.

          "I prefer Air elementalist."


         Jerry stood up, dusting himself off. "You didn't have to show me that way, y'know?" He checked his long coat to make sure it was clean, then looked back at him.

         Seran chuckled heartily again. "But what fun would that have been, silly?" Jerry groaned. Then Seran smiled. "Anyways, we should probably head out. I want to get to Doniquer before dusk."

         Jerry nodded. "Right then." The two men walked out the gate, and set down the dirt path towards their destination.

         Hours passed. The two chatted some, but mostly it was an unsettling silence. The hot sun beat down on them, and at times they would rest in the shade of the trees. The soft wind would rustle the leaves, and their hair would move lightly as they sat on stones or logs. Rays of sunlight would come through the canopy, which made Jerry's hair shimmer a golden brown. He looked at Seran, who was lying down on a smooth boulder and said, "So, why are you going to Doniquer, Seran?"

         Seran looked up at the clouds and said, "Travelling, mostly. Wanted to get out and see the world. There's nothing left for me back home..."The wind whipped through his hair as he thought, If only he knew how true that is... He sat up and looked down at his companion. "And you? What interest do you have in Doniquer?"

         Jerry smiled. "Every Falling, they have this large festival in Doniquer. Big feasts, lots of entertainment, and beautiful scenery. This year's festival starts tomorrow evening as a matter of fact, and I figured on attending. I might even play music to earn some coin." His hands plucked at the strings of his sitar, playing a soothing melody. Seran nodded. He has a good mastery over Water. Better than what I've seen in most Water Wizards. Artists. Whatever.

         "You're very good at controlling Water. And you play the sitar beautifully. How did you come to gain these abilities?" Sean asked inquisitively. Jerry's hands stopped, and the melody faded off. For a few seconds, there was silence.

         "I learned to harness the powers of Water from my uncle. My parents passed away long ago in a fire. My uncle always suspected it was Kalderins, but he couldn't prove it. For years I lived with him, learning to harness my potential. Then one day, he... he passed away. To ease the burden, I took up playing the sitar. This was my uncle's. He would always play it after a long day of hard labor. 'To unwind the mind and relax the body', he said... He was a good man." Jerry looked down at the sitar, and started to play a melancholy song. Seran looked down at him. How terrible... To lose all his family... All he ever cared for gone... He's just like me in that regard...

         "I'm sorry for your loss. I shouldn't have asked," he said. His eyes looked mournfully downward. The words he spoke were both to Jerry... and to himself.

         "It's OK. My uncle died proud and strong." If anything, his death at least meant that I could live... Jerry thought as his fingers moved around the strings of his uncle's sitar. The notes came out, sad and mourning, and drifted through the air. For a while, neither said anything, the music the only noise. The Seran looked at Jerry and spoke.

         "We should probably get going." He stepped off the boulder, using his Air powers to softly land on the ground. He grabbed his staff and watched as Jerry stood up.

         "Right," Jerry said. He put the sitar away, a small band of rope wrapped diagonally across the front and back of his torso to keep it on his back. The two set off to Doniquer, and towards the festival that would come.


          It wasn't too much longer before the bustling town of Doniquer was in view. Jerry raised his foot and placed it on a rock. He cupped his hands around his eye to see better against the glaring sun as he stared at the town. Most of the buildings were small, but three gleaming towers in the center of town stood tall above the town, god-like monoliths watching over the citizens below. Doniquer, the town of Art, as it was called, was the birthplace of many an artist. Being such, the Kingdom made sure that it was always in good repair, because tourism became much of its financial status, as there were no valuable resources nearby. The neat and tidy town was separated into two districts, business and living. The business district housed all the important articulate works, and most of its buildings were made of expensive stones, such as marble and limestone. The festival was hosted in the living district, which was like most of the other towns and villages in Teris: built with normal stone and wood, and a bit less clean.

          "There she be, Seran, Doniquer." Jerry informed. "Ain't much farther now!"

          "Good. It's almost dusk. And I'm really tired." Seran panted as he stopped, catching his breath.

          "Ah, don't be such a baby Seran!" Jerry called out, putting his hands down.

          "Look who's talking, mudman!" Seran retorted confidently. Jerry pulled his sitar from his back and swung it around in his hands. Simultaniously, he was able to play notes on the sitar, manifesting a small whirlpool in front of him. "No, Jer... don't you-" Seran was cut short as a blast of cold water hit him right in the face.

          "Is it wet around here, or is it just you?"

          Seran wiped his face off with his sleeve and grinned. "Alright. If you wish to play that way..." Seran rose his staff into the air, and all of a sudden, the wind picked up. It felt as if all the winds decided to converge at a single point.

          "Oh no." Jerry whispered with an aghast tone. He had experienced this before and was not eager for a repeat. He took a step back.

          "Winds, attack!" Seran cried as he pointed the staff at Jerry. Like Jerry's water beam, the winds all pushed forward in one direction: towards Jerry. He made a futile attempt to dodge the ball of air, but he wasn't quick enough to escape it altogether, as it hit his side, which uncoordinated Jerry, causing him to trip over and face plant onto the ground. Seran walked over to the fallen Jerry. "So, we agree that I can kick your butt anyday?"

          "Reluctantly..." Jerry mumbled, putting his hand up. Seran grabbed Jerry's hand and pulled him up from the ground. It was only a few minutes later that the Town of Doniquer came within twenty yards, where the events that would change them, the Kingdom of Teris, and even the whole world, would soon begin.


         As dusk fell, the stars came out from hiding behind the blue cover of day. The half moon rose up, illuminating Jerry and Seran as they approached the gates of Doniquer. Seran watched as the semi-circle of white light moved across the night sky. He felt a slight push from deep inside himself, but chose to ignore it, focusing his attention back onto where he was. The guard at the gate held his hand out and stated in a flat tone, "Halt. Who goes there?"

         They stopped. Jerry took a step forward, and said, "Jeremiah Smithies and Seran Pa'Olo. We're here for the Falling Festival." He indicated the sitar on his back.

         The guard looked them over. Jerry stood casually, but Seran stiffened a bit. Jerry turned to his companion. What's gotten into him? It's just a city guard. Nothing to worry about. The guard looked suspiciously at Seran and said, "Weapons?"

         For a few seconds, Seran stood there, as if frozen. Finally, he pointed at his belt and said, "The only weapon I carry is this dagger to defend myself with." He felt no need to mention the lethal capabilities of his staff. The guard looked them over again, then stepped aside and waved them through the gates.

         Once inside, the two turned and faced each other. Seran grinned a bit sadly. "I guess this is goodbye for now, Jerry," he said as he held out his hand. Ah, well. He is a good friend, and I'll miss him.

         Jerry grinned back, albeit a bit more cheerfully. He grabbed Seran's hand and shook it. "I guess so, Seran. It's been fun. Maybe we'll see each other at the festival." He let go and pulled his sitar from his back. He nodded farewell and turned around, walking off towards the nearby gardens. As Seran watched him fade into the distance, he heard the man start playing a lively tune. Seran chuckled and turned around, heading off to the inn.

         When he walked in, he noticed barely any change occurred. Here in Doniquer, apparently, people from the Soule Nation were more common. He walked over to the bar and gave the innkeeper five silver for the room. Seran took the key and, after listening to the innkeeper, headed upstairs. He locked the door and viewed the room. On one side of the room was a comfy-looking bed. On the other side was a desk and a small plant. Right in the middle stood a small table with two chairs. Seran leaned his staff against the wall, and, removing his belt and dagger, placed those on the table. He took his sash off and put it on the table. Seran walked out onto the balcony.

         He looked around him at the beautiful city. He smelled the sweet scent of flowers in the gardens. Coming from the right was the smell of fresh meat roasting over a fire. Seran licked his lips longingly, then regained his composure. No meat. Can't risk letting him take over. His stomach grumbled slightly, and he heard a voice from within speak.

         "Bah, you're no fun. A few nice, tender, juicy steaks won't kill you, y'know. Mmm... That smells good." Seran walked back inside, closing the door to the balcony.

         "Shut up," he said as he looked downward. He felt a push again, and sat down on the bed.

         "C'mon, Seran. Are you just gonna bury your head and hope I go away? It never works, and you know it. I'm here, and I'm staying. Deal with it, and go eat some meat!" The voice commanded. Seran tried to ignore it. "... Please?"

         "Shut up," Seran muttered as he lay down, pulling the sheets over himself. He ignored the voice and was soon asleep.


         Jerry grinned back, albeit a bit more cheerfully. He grabbed Seran's hand and shook it. "I guess so, Seran. It's been fun. Maybe we'll see each other at the festival." He let go and pulled his sitar from his back. He nodded farewell and turned around, walking off towards the nearby gardens, strumming his melodious instrument to a lively tune he had once heard long ago, before the First War with the Kalderin Empire began.

         "Gee, I wonder if I ever will see Seran again. I sure hope so. He seems like such a nice guy," Jerry muttered to himself as he entered the Marlu Xia Memorial Garden. The Marlu Xia Memorial garden was a memorial named after of one of the greatest artists of his age. Marlu was a different sort of artist; rather than using paint and brush, he would make surreal mosaics with flowers. He'd plant flowers in certain ways as to create an abstract picture. His most famous work, "Lord of the Petals" consisted of over ten thousand different flowery plants, and resided here, in Doniquer. Unfortunately, Marlu perished as a casualty in the sudden war against the Kalderins. Most of his work was transplanted here, so that all may come and embrace Marlu's passion for flowers. Every Rising, the flowers would bloom into fresh life, and Marlu's legacy lived on once again.

         "What a peaceful place, it's too bad that artist died." He died just like Uncle... For a moment, Jerry remained still, reflecting on that fateful day the Kalderin Empire invaded. If only I was strong enough, I could have saved you Uncle... A few tears slid down Jerry's pale face. "No! No! I promised I wouldn't cry!" Jerry sniffled sadly as he rubbed his eyes forcefully against the sleeve of his blue coat. "I can't cry now. I need to be strong, for Uncle's memory!" Jerry twitched as he sat down under a nearby garden tree. He held his sitar, his one memento of his uncle, and started to play. He played a song of melancholy, of war, and death, and all things sad. Why must things come to war? Why do good people have to die for the sins of the bad? Why do I live, when I couldn't even help my poor Uncle...

*~*~*

         "Sir?... Sir! Please get up, Sir." A light, beckoning Jerry. His eyes fluttered open as an older man peered over him, his glasses gleaming in the light.

         "Wha!" Jerry said in a startled manner as he awoke, frightening the old man as well. "Mister! That isn't nice to just hang over people like that!" Jerry scolded him.

          "Well, sonny, I don't think it's appropriate to sleep under a tree!" Jerry looked up and realized a horrible truth. It was the same tree he'd been under last night. Last night.

          "Aww, I fell asleep playing my sitar again!" He stood up, put his sitar away, and took off, leaving the old man to look after him.


         Boom. The sparkles from the brilliant emerald green fireworks drifted downwards, casting light on the forest just outside the edge of the Falling Festival. The little kids cheered and Seran grinned as he admired the show. Two men from the Kalderin Empire stood in the middle, launching the dazzling pyrotechnics. Their suspenders and goggles were heavily coated by ash and powder, and their blackened faces carried grins. Terik and Aslin Gin, two of the few Kalderins actually trusted now that tensions had flared up yet again between the three nations. They dipped a small torch towards a particularly large missile. As the fire sparkled up the fuse, the two ran for cover, waving their arms about mockingly, and the crowd burst out in laughter. Ten seconds passed as the mass eagerly watched the fire near the firework. It disappeared into a hole. For a moment, nothing happened. Then, quick as a flash, the rocket shot upwards into the darkness. A radiant, multi-colored flash illuminated Doniquer. Thousands of little sparkling bits spiraled downward onto the children below, who giggled and waved the firesticks they carried. The ends glowed as they swung them about, creating luminous fiery paths in the cool air.

         Seran chuckled as he waded through the group of children, dodging a firestick that nearly hit his knee. He made his way over to the stalls where food was. He licked his lips longingly at a pit where a turkey was roasting on a spit over a fire, but he turned away. He took a bite of the soft bread he had purchased, and looked up at the star-filled sky, smiling as he enjoyed the buttery taste. He looked ahead of him again and saw a sight that intrigued him.

         Men and women sat around an old oak tree. Its leaves rustled like the flames of an ever-burning fire. A lively tune rang out from the strings of an all-too-familiar sitar. Jerry leaned against the trunk, his eyes closed, and his mouth smiling as he hummed along with it. As the song finished, he opened his eyes and jumped, startled by the crowd that had gathered around him. They cheered and clapped. Jerry blushed, standing up and bowing. He looked around, and his eyes locked with Seran's. A grin spread across his face as he walked towards his travelling companion.

         "Again we meet, my friend," Jerry said as the two shook hands. He smiled as Seran looked in awe around them. "Yeah, it's beautiful, isn't it? It's one of Teris' claims to fame, and for good reason." Seran nodded as he looked back at Jerry.

         "Yeah, I can see why you'd want to come here." They purchased cups of tea and sat on a bench on the outskirts of the Festival, enjoying the fireworks and dancing from afar. As they sipped, Seran thought he heard something rustling in the bushes. He turned his head quickly, but saw nothing. "Hmph," he grunted, and shrugged, turning back to the lights. He sipped his tea, looking up as something caught his attention, then spit it out quickly.

         A massive fireball flew over their heads. It hit one of the nearby buildings, which burst into flames instantly. The two fell to the ground and Seran pulled Jerry under the bench as boots charged out from the shrubbery behind them. The cups shattered on the ground, the tea splashing outawrds as Seran yelled, "The hell is going on?" The townspeople shrieked and fled as the Kalderin soldiers, clad in red steel, ran forward, their mighty swords and shields gleaming in the firelight. As Seran watched, a captain, who had markings on his armor, stepped forward, and set fire to the oak tree.

         Seran rolled out from under the bench and stood up, swinging his staff as he did. A massive gust of air swept out, knocking the soldiers off their feet. Jerry got up too, dusting himself off. He played a quick-paced tune on his sitar and the oncoming soldiers were struck back with a whip-like burst of water. As a group of soldiers gathered around Seran, he twirled his staff, knocking them back. He instinctively swung the wooden rod down, sending a blast of wind into the charging soldier. A broadsword cut his left arm, and he cried out in pain. He turned to attack the soldier, only to find the soldier frozen in a block of ice. Jerry nodded at him as Seran said, "Thanks." The two turned back to back and fended them off.

         Jerry sped up the pace of the song as a throng of soldiers closed in. Seran unbuckled his dagger and threw it at a soldier who was charging forward. He ran forward and, gripping the hilt, tugged the dagger upwards, slicing the soldier's helmet neatly in half. The two got closer and closer as they were hemmed in until they were completely surrounded. Seran panted for breath, and Jerry whined slightly as he tended to his fingers, which hurt from playing so fast. Seran snarled as he looked at the soldiers around him. Damn, we're surrounded... The voice spoke up again. "Let me free! I can help you! We can get away from here, get to safety!"

         "No!" Seran snarled angrily. "You will not be unleashed upon the citizens of this town." He shut out the voice and looked up suddenly. A gleam of light caught his attention, and he tilted his head curiously, wondering what it was. Suddenly, a woman jumped up and grabbed it. She leapt down with a cry, cutting through the soldiers. At the same time, the soldiers in front of Jerry were being ripped away as if some terrific force were charging forward. Jerry and Seran kept fighting until the soldiers around them were gone. Seran took a breather as he looked at their saviors.

         The woman was shorter than him. She was Tazlacan, and her skin was a beautiful snow white. Her obsidian hair flashed as she sheathed the katana, walking over to them. She wore an iron armor that covered her torso and legs. Her arms were covered by long flowing lime green robes, and her sapphire eyes gleamed as she looked at the two of them, then past. Seran turned around to look at the other person.

         Where the woman was small, the man was large and muscular. He wore a suit of steel that covered most of his body, except for his right arm and head. His dirty brown hair was held back by a leather headband, and his brown eyes twinkled in the firelight. His right arm was covered by leather, and he carried a large maul-like weapon with a blade on the hilt. He rested in on his shoulder as he walked forward, and spoke.

         "You children alright?" He grinned as he looked them over. Seran sneered at him and spoke back.

         "Bah, we could have taken them. Besides, from what I could see, you two are of equal skill to us..." He smirked as he looked at the woman, who chuckled.

         "You've got attitude, kid. I like that. Name's Nephilia. Nephilia Cah'Nex. And tall, dark, and rugged over there is Nathan Gaulle." The man nodded as his name was mentioned.

         "It's a pleasure to meet you," Seran said as he wrapped his wound where he had been cut. "I'm Seran Pa'Olo, and this is my companion, Jeremiah Smithies." Jerry waved, then went back to wiping his sitar off where he had bashed in someone's head with it. Nathan shifted impatiently.

         "Yes, yes. Introductions aside. Now shall we?" He motioned to the town, where the soldiers were attacking. Seran and Jerry nodded and the four ran off towards battle, their blood pumping as they swung forward with their weapons.


         As the odd quartet ran down the pitch-dark alleyway, they could hear the shouts and pleas for help from the villagers. "No! Please! I have a wife and kids!" The standard plea. Yet it all fell on deaf ears, for the Kalderins slayed all individuals, man, woman, and child, as they made their way towards the center of town, burning shop, after stall, after house, relentlessly.

         "Those damn bastards...look at 'em!" Nathan remarked as he watched the horrible scene. A few Kalderins had remained on the street, and started to burn an old Orphanage. Young screams emerged from within, but were soon silenced. "I’ll kill every last one, or my name isn't Nathan Gaulle!" He began to squeeze the grip of the maul tightly, as if wringing someone's neck.

         "It's alright Nathan, we'll get them. All of them." Her eyes flashed dangerously in the firelight as she pointed her sword forward. "Let's go!" Nephilia cried in a harsh voice as she leapt out onto a solider, slashing furiously at him.

         "I'm not one to miss out on any fun!" Jerry cried happily as he also jumped forward, and nailed the other solider with the steel plated end of his sitar.

         "Rebels! All units converge on Droquen Way! We have orders to leave none alive!" One solider screamed down another path. The stomping of feet started to echo around the group, until the entire squad of Kalderins had both ends of the street blocked.

         "Right. Jerry and Nephilia, take the north end. Sauran and I will take the south."

         Seran angrily retorted, "Whatever, just fight already!" Nathan nodded eagerly, and plunged head first onto the first row of Kalderins, hacking with his maul as if he was cutting down stalks of corn. Seran also began twirling his staff around, blasting air currents everywhere in an attempt to stun the soldiers long enough for Nathan to bash their skulls to pieces. On the other side, Nephilia had the soldiers confused as she sprinted everywhere, and made herself hard to follow as she slashed through the armor of the soldiers like a knife through butter. Jerry followed her up, either bashing someone close by with the sitar or playing a song to drown enemies in water bubbles.

         "Enemy strong! They've got wizards! Bring in ours!" A Kalderin warrior shouted before Nephilia gave him a close shave. It was such a shave, his head fell off, squirting out blood all over the other soldiers. It wasn't long before large fireballs started to whiz over Seran's head.

         "Oh great, not wizards!" Seran complained loudly as he kicked a soldier in the face. Nathan just shrugged nonchalantly as he decapitated another with a swing of his maul.

         "Guess it's time to bring out the wall then," Nathan said as he faced the oncoming soldiers.

         "The wall?" Seran questioned.

         "Just hold 'em back, Sheran."

         "My name's Seran! No 'h'! Just sair, like air, and then rin! SER-AN!!!" he retorted angrily.

         "Does this look like the time to argue over names? Just keep em back about four feet, and I'll handle it!" Seran looked into Nathan's eyes and saw the seriousness reflected in them. Seran nodded silently and began to beef up his air power, then began to push the entire row of Soldiers back a couple of feet. Step after step, he swung his staff, sending gusts of air to push back the enemies.

         "This is gonna take a lot of power, so heads up Soren!" Nathan shouted as he looked down at the ground. He rested his maul on his shoulder and then, all too soon, slammed it back down. For a moment, nothing happened. But then, the ground under their feet started to rumble, and as quick as a flash, a huge two story earthen wall had rose out of the ground, sealing off the entire ally, and crushing the remaining soldiers behind it. Seran just stared in awe of Nathan, who had done an amazing job of Earth Wizardry, a feet usually only mastered by Kalderins.

         "Who are you, Nathan?" Seran asked his new comrade. Nathan just stared at him for a moment, studying him before he replied.

         "A mercenary. Alrighty, that takes care of them. Now, let's reinforce Nephi and Jer, they'll need us to battle them wizards." Nathan then charged forward to the other front, where Jerry used his water to quench the wizards while Nephilia's slashes became akin to an angry Tigress.

         So he masters the word Jerry, but Seran he can't? Seran thought crossly as he also went to assist his comrades. The next half hour or so ran the same, with more and more Kalderin casualties piling up. Before long, the battle was almost won.

         "That's right you heartless bastards! Run, run from Nathan Gaulle, terror of the Kalderin Empire!" He waved his maul up in the air, taunting the fleeing Kalderins. Jerry stood there beside him, his tongue sticking out them as well. Then, he saw him. Jerry looked at one particular solider. His armor was a bit different form the other grunts. It had unusual horns on the shoulders and the armor was a darker shade than the soldiers. Also, his entire body was armor plated and, oddly enough, a giant star pointed claymore was strapped to his back. No... I... thought... Uncle... Memories of another time flashed in Jerry's mind as he stared at the fleeing soldiers. He clenched his fist and stepped forward. But his lack of confidence overcame him, and he froze.

         "Why so glum, chum? We won! We scared away those spineless bastards!" A giddy Nathan cheered as he patted Jerry's back, nearly sending him face-first onto the ground. Seran saw the look in his friend's eyes. He had seen it once before.

         "Jerry..."

         "It was him...I know it...I know that claymore..." Seran looked up at saw one last glimpse of the fleeing men, and the man Jerry described. Nathan saw this as well, and pointed at him.

         "That'd be a Kalderin General. Very powerful, those generals. I remember a time long ago..."

         "Oh god, not that story, Nathan. I've heard it a thousand times." Nephilia interrupted in a whining tone, sheathing her long katana. She walked over to where the other three stood, watching the retreating squad of soldiers.

         "What's with that General, Jer?" A worried Seran asked. Jerry's reply was very single toned.

         "...He killed my Uncle..."


         As the citizens gathered in the square, Jerry went around Doniquer with a few Water Wizards, putting out fires by playing his sitar, a sad and melancholy melody that echoed through the empty streets and alleys. Seran assisted as best he could, for he had a basic grasp of Water. Nathan and Nephilia piled up the dead soldiers, and a villager handed them a torch. Nathan grimly accepted it and tossed it on top of the bodies, which went up in flames. In battle, they had been fearsome demonic warriors, who brought fear to all. Now, as they laid burning, stripped of their armor, pride, and fear, they seemed little more than men.

         Once the four had their wounds tended to, Nathan and Seran reluctantly so, they met up at a table. They sipped at drinks as they talked about the attack.

         "It makes no sense for the Kalderins to attack this deep, and this city of all places. For the past couple weeks now, I heard of them attacking deeper and deeper into Teris lands, but I thought that mere rumor. They must be mad if they went this far in with such a small group," Nathan yelled, waving his beer about as he spoke. Some of it slopped out onto the ground, and he looked mournfully at it before taking a gulp. Nephilia put a hand on his shoulder as she replied.

         "He does raise a valid point. Why would they do such a thing? Could they be after something?" She looked around thoughtfully, but was unable to see the person who shifted uneasily behind her. Seran, however, took note, and motioned him over. The man walked over, and Seran spoke.

         "You look like you know something. Fess up, then. Do you know why they attacked here?" The man fidgeted uneasily before he spoke.

         "It's a bit of a stretch, but a few weeks ago, I was out in the wilderness searching for artifacts. I'm an archaeologist. I came upon this map. Two days later, I get... visited by a couple Kalderins. They wanted the map, but I refused. I managed to get away barely. I decided to come here, thinking they wouldn't dare follow me into Teris, but I guess I was wrong. I... I feel so ashamed." Suddenly, a fist hit him in the face. Seran and Nephilia held Nathan back as the man covered his nose, groaning slightly.

         "You worthless piece of garbage! You led the Kalderins all the way here, only thinking to save your sorry hide!" Seran concentrated and used an old trick he remembered. He sent air spiraling up Nathan's nose and used it to lightly tap part of his brain. Nathan's eyes fluttered as he stumbled and fell. Nephilia set him down gently, then looked quizzically at Seran.

         "Don't worry. He'll be fine. It's a nifty little trick I picked up way back. Now, then..." He turned to face the archaeologist. "I'm assuming you have the map with you?" The man nodded and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a scroll and, rolling it out, set it on the table. It was yellowed by age, and the proportions were slightly off, but it seemed to be a good representation of the world. Five symbols were spread about the map in different areas.

         "I wasn't able to figure out where this map leads to. I can't even decipher these words along the bottom, but-"

         "Whatever it is, the Empire must want it pretty badly. I say we go after it..." Nephilia said. Jerry started to speak, but she interrupted. "With or without your help, we're going after this. You have till dawn to decide." She snatched the map from the table, and, grunting, picked Nathan up slightly, his feet dragging along as they left. The archaeologist looked at them for a few moments, then decided it best to walk away. Seran and Jerry looked at each other.

         "In all my wildest dreams, I never thought I would have a day quite like this," Jerry said as he pulled out his sitar and played a slow, peaceful song. "Hmm. There's pretty much nowhere good to sleep tonight." The two walked together, and Seran looked about as Jerry continued to play, his eyes closed as he poured his heart and soul into the sole remainder of his uncle's existence. Suddenly, Seran grinned and gripped Jerry's shoulder, bringing him out of his daze.

         "Wha?" Jerry said as he looked to where Seran pointed. There before him stood the inn where Seran had slept last night. He grinned and nodded at him. "Nice job, Seran." They went inside and purchased two rooms for the night. They bade each other well, then went their separate ways.


          As Jerry locked his bedroom door, he considered the offer of Nephilia. "With or without your help, we're going after this. You have till dawn to decide."

         Jerry laid his sitar down and flopped on the soft goose feather bed. "Those guys were awesome today, even by mercenary standards. Would I be of any use to them?" Jerry wondered. Then he recalled. That man, the general...the one who killed his uncle...HE'S leading them.

*~*~*

         "No, Uncle, don't go! Don't fight the Kalderins! Just give them the money!" A young Jerry cried to his Uncle. He only shook his head.

         "Boy, you are a man now. Yer sixteen years old. Yeh must understand that you have to fight for yourself, and not be bullied into doing stuff, like being forced to pay the Kalderins an unreasonable amount of money just to be left alone. Besides, I got mah sitar here! There's no way I could lose to them! You just stay put." Jerry's uncle smiled at him through his bushy moustache. And off he went...


*~*~*

         Jerry awoke with a start, startled that he'd fallen asleep in such a way. He turned around to the sitar, which laid across from him. "Don't worry Uncle..." He picked up the sitar and swung it into his hands. "...I may not have been able to before, but I can fight for you now..."

|...........................................|

         Seran performed his usual nightly ritual. The sash and belt went on the table, the staff leaned against the wall by the bed. This time, however, he removed the dagger from his belt and placed it under the pillow.Can’t be too careful. There could be more Kalderins out there somewhere.

         He went out onto the balcony and looked up at the starry sky, now obscured by smoke. The ruined landscape was much different than the previous night. Seran reflected on the map. If the Empire was after that map, whatever it led to could be very dangerous. However, should the Kalderins get it, there could be dire consequences. It’s so hard to decide what to do! If I go on this journey, I may never return... But who says that’s such a bad thing? If I don’t, I’ll feel guilty for not helping. Jerry is my friend... He sighed and went back inside.

         Seran felt the scar where he had been cut. The healer had done good, but he said that the scar was definitely permanent. He looked at it in the mirror, groaning slightly in pain as he felt it.

         “Hurts, doesn’t it? I tried to help, but as usual, you wouldn’t listen." The voice said, and Seran frowned.

         “Shut up! Go away!” he snarled as he lay down, pulling the covers over himself. Yet as many times as he said it, the voice would never be gone... He would never be gone...

|...........................................|

         The first rays of sunlight shone in through the windows in the inn. Seran and Jerry sat at a table together, eating breakfast. While Jerry ate some sausages, Seran was eating grapes. He savored one as he looked over at his friend.

         "Have you decided?" he asked, leaning forward. Jerry dropped the sausage he was eating and looked over.

         "Yeah. I'm going with them." He looked thoughtfully at his sitar as Seran spoke.

         "You sure? It's going to be very dangerous, most likely. Who knows what it is that map leads to? It could-"

         "Listen to me. Those Kalderins wanted the map, and they were lead by the man who killed my uncle in cold blood. I'vve waited too long for the chance to seek vengeance upon him. If they truly want the map, there's a very good chance we'll encounter them again. And I swear I will make him pay, even if it costs me my life. I swear on this sitar, the sitar of my dear uncle. He will pay." Jerry stood up and started walking away.

         "Jerry, wait." He froze in his tracks. "Long ago, a friend of mine who needed my help did something very dangerous. He died, because I was unwilling to help him." Jerry turned around, to see Seran standing with his staff in hand. "I swore to myself that day, I would never let it happen again. If the Empire wants what that map leads to, we'll just have to take it from them!" He smiled and stuck out his hand. Jerry looked down, then grinned and shook it.

         "Thanks, Seran. You're a good friend."


         Clang! Nephilia's sheath hit Nathan's maul, and the metal rung in the cool morning air. He shoved, and she jumped back, swinging the sheath at his feet. Nathan jumped up and swung the maul down. Nephilia blocked it with a gust of air. She flipped backwards and stood up, wiping the sweat off her brow. "Okay, that's enough for now." She put her katana in the sheath and buckled it to her belt. As she donned her iron armor, Nathan took a drink of water from his flask, leaning back against the wall.

         "You're getting better. Yah nearly knocked me over with that last swing. If I hadn't jumped, I'd be eatin' dirt right now." He grinned as he buckled up his armor, adjusting the parts on his arm. The armor clinked and clanked as the pieces of metal hit each other. He tossed the flask to Nephilia, who took a swig and gave it back.

         "Bah, I'm lucky. If I hadn't shielded against your maul, I'd be the one eating dirt. You're much stronger now than before." She watched as Nathan hung the maul on his belt. "Anyways, I wonder if those two are gonna show..." The two looked over at the city gates. It had been only an hour since sunrise, yet the mercenaries were eager to go.

         "You mean the kids? The ones we fought alongside last night? I'm actually quite surprised you willingly asked them to come along. It's not like you." He stretched, cracking his knuckles as he looked over at her.

         "I dunno. They were pretty good fighters, and those Kalderins seemed to really want that map. They'll likely try again, and I'd rather have those two with us than not. Even if it means splitting up any treasure we may find." Nathan looked at her as she spoke. So cold and distant to the outside world... Am I the only one she truly trusts?

         "Well, if they were gonna show, they would have done so by now." Nathan checked their supplies: food, gold, and equipment. He stood up straight, putting the large bag of supplies on his back. "I think we should just he-"

         "Hey!" A voice interrupted Nathan, and the two of them turned to look at the city gates again. Seran stood waving his hand as Jerry walked up behind him. The two of them walked over. They gathered around a stump off the side of the road, away from prying eyes. Nathan grinned as he looked over at the newcomers

         "Glad to see you didn't chicken out on us, kids. Siren and Jerry, right?" Jerry nodded and Seran grumbled to himself as the mercenary mispronounced his name yet again.

         "It's Seran actually, but you got my name right," Jerry said, smiling slightly as Seran muttered. He looked over at Nephilia, who frowned slightly.

         "Took you long enough to get here," she said. She reached into her pack and pulled out a scroll. It was a map, with known roads drawn in. The symbols from the archaeologist's map were also drawn in. She spread it out on the stump. "Okay. We are here." She pointed to Doniquer on the map. "The closest of the... whatever it is the Kalderins want... the closest one is north of us. I'd say ten, at most eleven days by foot. We can take this road all the way to this spot. The locals there, the Mainewe, are quite friendly. Nathan and I have been up there a few times, and they know our faces. With a little money, we can convince them to take us by boat to this large island where the... item... is."

         "Well, then, it's set. Let's get going," Seran said as Nephilia rolled up the scroll. She stuck it in her pack and nodded that she was ready. Without a word, the four took their first steps on a journey of epic proportions, not knowing of the troubles that lie ahead, and the truths they would learn of.


         A pair of squirrels leaped down from their leafy perch. They scrounged aroung for acorns, fresh from the trees. One of them cocked his head suddenly, hearing a distant sound of thumping. As the thumping got louder, the two squirrels took off with what nuts they could take.

         The quartet rounded the corner. For nearly half an hour, they had been walking in silence. The only noise was the thump of their boots and the claking of their armor. Jerry sighed. Okay, this has to stop... he thought to himself.

         "So...Nephilia..." Jerry started, running up a bit to Nephilia.

         "Yes Jerimiah?" Her tone kinda gave off the don't-talk-to-me kind of vibe.

         "Uh...I was wondering...you wanna talk?"

         "About what?"

         "Uh...anything. It's just so quite. I can't stand it."

         "You can't stand it? What I can't stand is not having enough change in my pocket." Her eyes lit up a bit as she relayed that to Jerry.

         "Come again?" Apparently his dumbfounded look only worsened Nephilia's mood.

         "Come on, I'm talkin' money. You can't ever have enough of it. I'm talking treasure as well. It's my dream to get away and retire early with a load of loot. Why else other than companionship do you think I travel with Nathan here? He's my best chance for gettin' rich!"

         "Right..." Jerry slowly said. He turned towards Seran and mouthed "Obsessed."

         "I heard that, Nephi. And I'm hurt." Nathan sarcastically grinned. "Don't mind her Jer. She's just got a bit of a gold crave. Aye, when I found her five years ago, she was only a youngun, 'a few years younger than you Jer." She was living in the border town of Hic'ory, when I had my assignment there. Turns out there were Kalderin bandits, stealin' food and stuff. It was my job to stop 'em. And boy, was I ever surprised to find this little girly here! Being attacked for her only coin by Kalderin slime! Boy, I gave 'em a whallop they'd never have forgotten! And you know what? Nephi was so grateful, she's been following me around ever since! So, naturally, I educated her in the ways fighting, and here we are today!" Nathan then grinned at Jerry. "So, whatcha think of the story?"

         Jerry, being polite, said the nicest thing he could muster. "It was very nice." Nathan grinned back as he began to run ahead to think to himself. Nice, huh...

         "Now do you see why I stop him from telling his stories?" Nephila scolded. "Nathan! Stop running ahead! Get back here!" She exclaimed to Nathan, running up to catch him. Seran wasn't far behind them. Jerry slowed down, letting Seran catch up. He looked at his friend, who seemed amused by the other two. Nephilia was holding Nathan, by the ear, scolding him as they waited for Jerry and Seran to catch up.

         "Is it just me, or are those two the oddest pair of mercenaries ever?"


         Seran chuckled at his friend's comment. "Yeah, they are kinda weird, but in a good sorta way. I like them. And besides, you're my friend. Even if they're the good kind, I don't feel happy leaving you with a pair of weirdoes," he joked as they caught up to Nathan and Nephilia.

         "Who's a pair of weirdoes? You can't be talking about us!" Nathan smiled as he replied in a likewise manner. He rubbed his sore ear as he spoke, and turned to look at the path ahead. They were leaving the plains behind and entering a forest. The path ahead was hard to see.

         "And if I was?" Seran said, smelling the fresh air, and the flowers nearby, whose vibrant petals glistened with dew. "Besides, it's not like that's not an accurate descrip-" Wait a second... he thought as he sniffed the air again. There it was again, the unmistakable smell of...

         "Werewolves," Jerry said aloud. Seran looked up, startled, and saw them. A group of fifteen men, women, and children were walking out of the forest. A few were in human form, but many had assumed their lupine form. They stood on two legs, and their torsos, arms, and legs were that of normal men. They had paws for feet, large ears, tails, and muzzles. Each of their fur patterns were different, varying from spotted brown to obsidian black. One of the men in front perked his ears as he smelled the quartet, then motioned to the rest of the group. They walked out of the forest and turned towards them. The one who had smelled them, a werewolf with grey fur with black streaks and a spot over one eye, spoke.

         "Greetings, fellow travelers. I'm Kar, leader of this group. If it's not too much of a hassle, could you tell us, is this the way to Doniquer?" His grey eyes, a common trait for werewolves, flashed over the group. They briefly stopped on Seran, before he resumed his scan. A couple of the werepups looked out curiously from behind the adults, intrigued by these four people who carried weapons and dressed oddly.

         "Yeah, that's the path to Doniquer. But it's not in the best of shape right now. The Kalderin Empire attacked last night. The four of us, along with the town militia, managed to fend them off, though," Jerry said as he grinned and waved down at them, warmly. They waved back hesitantly, and both Nephilia and Nathan looked at them as if they were vermin. Jerry frowned at them, and Seran looked down at his feet.

         Kar ignored the mercenaries as best he could, and nodded to Jerry. "Then you have our thanks. Doniquer is one of the few cities left in Teris that accept our kind."

         "For good reason," Nathan muttered to himself, and Jerry flashed him a look. He turned back to Kar.

         "I apologize for my companions. As you well know, most Terisians don't respect werewolves very well."

         Kar shook his head and said, "It's all right; we've experienced such bias before. "Do you need to depart right away? Perhaps we can exchange information. Doniquer is cut off from a quite a bit of the world during Falling."

         "Certainly," Jerry replied. Nathan and Nephilia nodded to each other.

         "We're gonna go take a walk," Nathan said, and the two of them walked off back the way they came.

*~*~*

         A small fire roared as Jerry talked with the werewolves about what happened in Doniquer. The werepups danced about the fire, playing and laughing gleefully. Seran leaned back against a tree, watching the group who sat on logs around the fire.

         "... And so we decided to find out what the map leads to. And so we were heading north and met you guys." Jerry finished his story and looked over at Kar, his fingers busy with the sitar.

         "I must say, that's some story you told. Anyways, if you've not yet heard, the Empire's launched attacks on several cities in Teris. It appears that war has begun again. I don't know of the Soule Nation, so I have no news for your friend." He looked over at Seran, who shook his head.

         "It's okay. I've been out of contact with them myself for a long while." Kar looked at him, his eyes analyzing for a few moments, before turning back to Jerry.

         "Well, I'd hate to delay you any longer, good sirs. I thank you for your help. Good luck on your journey. Perhaps we will meet again someday. I will tell your friends that our business is done, and they can come back." He got up and walked back to the main road, the group gathering and starting to follow him. He stopped next to Seran and turned towards him. He whispered, "Do not worry. Your secret is safe with us." The group passed him by as he stood in silence, looking downwards. Thank you...

         After they left, Jerry put his sitar on his back and walked over to Seran. "What'd Kar say to you?"

         "... It's nothing..."


          "Nothing, huh? Coulda fooled me," Jerry stated, his arms crossed. The fading sunlight illuminated his concerned face as he looked at his friend.

          "I said it's nothing!" Seran snapped, snarling as he turned to face him. Jerry's face grew a look of genuine surprise at his friend's outburst, and he stepped back at his sudden rage. Seran sighed as he came to his senses. "I'm sorry, Jerry. I shouldn't have said that in that tone. Please, forgive me, but it was none of your concern." He looked up reluctantly.

          "And you two!" Jerry shouted as Nathan and Nephilia came back up the hill. "What the hell was that? You were beyond rude to those werewolves!"

          "Eh, so what? They ain't human. They're freaks of nature. They're not graceful like the unicorns, and they can't fly majestically like dragons; they are damn weird half animal beasts. They ain't natural. And that's that." Nathan stormed off to a clearing in the road. He reached into his over bag and pulled out a large tarp. Nathan grunted a bit while he folded the tarp into a large tent like shape. "Would someone come over and help me put the stakes in? I can't make heads or tails of this!"

          "Sure." Nephilia bluntly said as she went over to help Nathan. "You're doing it all wrong." She hammered the stakes in correctly, and Nathan grunted at her in reluctance.

          "You don't think Werewolves are unnatural, right, Seran?" Jerry turned hopefully to his friend.

          "... No..." He shook his head.

          "I knew you wouldn't. Your one of the nicest people I've ever met." Jerry complimented. He smiled, which made Seran start to cheer up a bit.

          "... Thanks Jerry."

          "A-hem!! Would you two love birds mind helping with the tents? It's almost pitch dark out, and I'd rather not sleep on the ground." Nephilia suggested angrily, for Nathan had somehow twisted the tent around in some strange formation that definitely wasn't correct.

          "Did she just...HEY! That's not funny Nephi!" Jerry shouted.

          "Ehh. Deal with it. We don't have to keep you here y'know. And you can't call me Nephi. You don't have senior rights like Nathan does, Jer."

          "Why I oughta-"

          "Pssh, what are you gonna do? Play me a song on your giant violin?" Nephilia sarcastically retorted. "Ooh, I'm terrified!"

          "Don't mock the sitar; you've seen what it can do!" Jerry's face was now snarled up, with real anger starting to bubble up. The water in the puddles nearby started to ripple violently, and Nephilia noticed this. She assumed a fighting stance and invited him to attack.

          "Alright ladies, break it up!" Nathan interupted, pushing Nephilia and Jerry apart. "I don't want any more fighting. We're all in this together, for the sake of Teris at least!"

          "Whatever. I'm going to bed." Nephilia stated, going into one of the tents Nathan managed to erect and flapping it shut. For a moment, they could hear grumbling until she quieted down and went to sleep.

          "Don't let her get to yah too much, Jer. That's how she beats others, by riling them up and slowly making them go insane. Go to sleep, you two. We've got a long road ahead of us." Nathan finished, going into his own tent.

          "Ah well. G'night, Seran." Jerry yawned sleepily, going into the penultimate tent.

          "Night Jer." It wasn't long before Jerry had nodded off, the first day of a long adventure complete.


         The next day, the group walked in silence. It was an awkward quiet, but each had their reasons for the quiet. Nathan and Nephilia led the way, consulting the map. Jerry and Seran fell back, each brooding as they walked.

         Jerry though to what Nephilia said. "What are you gonna do? Play me a song?" He looked sadly downwards. Maybe she's right. Maybe I am just some pathetic musician. I couldn't save my uncle. I couldn't even go after the Kalderin who did it! He clenched his fist angrily as he felt sadness overwhelm him. I'm sorry, uncle. I don't even have the confidence to face your killer.

         Seran, meanwhile, reflected on that first day. "Your secret is safe with us..." Kar's words echoed through his mind. He looked over at Jerry with a melancholy look and was surprised to see his friend reflecting as well. He looked at Nephilia, then turned back to Jerry, putting a hand on his shoulder, startling his friend out of his daze.

         "Wha?" Jerry said, looking over at his friend, who smiled back. It was a sad smile, but a smile nonetheless.

         "Don't worry, Jerry. Nephilia probably didn't mean most of what she said. I think you're amazing, both at music and fighting." He grinned as he said this, at the same time thinking, Wish I could say the same for Nathan... He looked towards the older mercenary, then back to Jerry, who noticed the slight frown on his face. "I'm sorry for snapping at you when you were concerned for me. It's just... it was a personal matter." Now it was Seran who was surprised as Jerry put his hand on his shoulder.

         "You don't need to apologize, Seran. I shouldn't have been so nosy, especially after you said it was nothing. I just hope one day you'll be able to trust me enough to tell me your secret." He grinned and turned back to the road. Seran... thanks...

         Seran looked over at Jerry for a moment, then turned to face the road. He looked down at his feet. Jerry, you're a good friend... But I can't trust anybody with this secret... Not even you...

         While Seran and Jerry talked in the back, Nathan consulted the map, and pointed to one route. Nephilia shook her head and pointed out a different way. Nathan looked confusedly at the map, then acknowledged his mistake. He turned to look at Nephilia. She seemed lost in thought, her robes swaying as she walked. "Y'know, you didn't have to be so hard on him... He's just a kid."

         She turned to face her fellow mercenary, looking at him quizzically. She remembered what she had said, and her face hardened. "It was for the best. He's a young adult, and this is a time of war. You can't expect me to go easy, even on them. As long as we've got the map, the Kalderins will follow us wherever we go. And as long as they're with us, they need to learn to grow up fast and become stronger. This isn't a time for kids, and you damn well know that." Nathan looked at her, and her usual defiant face stared back. For a moment, there was a glint of uncertainty, but then the hardened look returned. He turned back to the road, his mind troubled with new thoughts.

*~*~*

         Over the next week, they walked many dozens of miles. As the days passed, it became colder and colder. Soft white snow blanketed the ground, creating a glistening landscape of white. The time not spent in silence was filled instead with music from Jerry’s sitar. At times, Seran and the mercenaries would join in, singing popular songs as Jerry’s fingers dance across the strings. It seemed the events of the first day were all but forgotten, though they plagued the mind of each person.

         Eventually, they reached the shores of Teris. For the most part, cliffs stood against the ocean, but one valley sunk down to the water. This particular valley was home to the Mainewe. The group took a long and winding path down the side of the cliff. As they neared the village, they became noticed. People emerged from the fur huts, and those tending to the fires and roasting food turned to face them. Some grinned and waved at Nephilia and Nathan, but most whispered to each other and pointed at Jerry and Seran. Finally, they reached a large tent at the center of the village. An old man came forward to greet them. He walked with a limp and a cane, and his dull brown eyes scanned the group. He wore a robe made from wolf furs and as he walked over to the group, he grinned.

         “My, my, if it isn’t Nathan Gaulle. It’s been a long time since you stumbled into our small village. You seem much improved from that time. All bloodied up and torn, you were. And you claimed it was the work of dr-”

         “Ah, that’s enough of that kind of talk.” The elder analyzed Nathan for a moment, then nodded.

         “If you insist,” he said, then turned to look at the others. “And who do we have here? Young mistress Nephilia, I believe? You look much taller than I remember.”

         For the first time that Seran and Jerry had seen, Nephilia smiled. “It’s good to see you again, Elder Ihebi.” She motioned to the two friends. “These are Seran Pa’Olo and Jeremiah Smithies, our companions. We have much to talk about.” Elder Ihebi nodded and motioned them to follow him into the tent.

*~*~*

         As night fell, smoke emerged from the elder’s hut. A small fire crackled in the center of the hut. It illuminated the various artifacts and trinkets scattered about the place, and cast its dancing light on the group assembled around it.

         “...And that’s why we need to take a boat tomorrow,” Nephilia finished, wrapping up the maps she had shown Elder Ihebi. His eyes glinted as he pondered her words.

         “Very well then. As thanks for the good you have done our people, we shall help you. Talk to Akaita in the morning. He usually takes his boat to go fishing in that area every morning. In the mean time, there are two huts free on the west side of the village for you to sleep in.”

         “Thank you, Elder Ihebi.” Nephilia stood up, and motioned to the others. “Good night, sir.” She bowed her head respectfully, then turned and walked out with the others.

         “Good night, my child.” He looked up through the hole in the room at the stars above, smoking his pipe. So... The Kalderins are looking for the Scrolls, eh? This bodes ill for us all...


         "So... Nathan, when exactly did you meet Elder Ihebi?" Jerry asked as the group made their way towards the two empty straw huts. The rising moon cast its light onto the coastal village, and the shimmering watter reflected it back unto the heavens.

         "Well, that personally is a story I'd prefer to not tell myself. Couldn't remember most of it anyway. Maybe when we get back, he can tell you." Nathan replied, although his body language suggested that he thought otherwise of that certain topic. "Oh, man am I tired." He yawned, stretching his body out in various ways. "I'm beat. You all better go to bed too. It's late. Night." He continued, pushing aside the hut's flap and going in.

          "Go to bed, you two. Something tells me tomorrow is gonna be a long day." Nephilia commanded harshly as she also entered the hut. Seran and Jerry looked at each other for a second.

         "Do you think..." Seran asked curiously.

         "Nah." Jerry cut him off. "In the short time we've been a group, I don't think she's capable of feeling like that about him." Seran just shrugged as he felt for the flap of the hut and let himself in. He stopped as he watched Jerry stay outside.

         "Aren't you coming in?"

         "Nah. I wanna get a feel for this old village before I leave it."

         "Suit yourself, Jerry. I, on the other hand, am tired. Don't wake me when you come back," Seran sleepily replied as he closed the flap.

*~*~*

         For a an hour, Jerry wandered around aimlessly, looking at what the village consisted of. Turns out there wasn't really much. Most of the homes were built of straw and fur, and the few that were made of stone were reserved for supplies only. As Jerry's trip rounded off, he saw a small fountain, that was elegantly carved out of ice. And sitting on the small stone ring that surrounded the fountain was a man, not much older than Jerry.

         "Hey, aren't you that kid with old Nathan?" the man called out.

         "First off, I'm no kid. And second, yes, I happen to be. Why is it any of your concern?" Jerry asked crossly.

         The man sneered a bit as he wiped his nose on his long sleeve. "So you four are, like, headed to the Temple of Frozen Dreams?" The Mainewean native asked Jerry.

         "What's the Temple of Frozen Dreams?" Jerry asked inquisitively, his interest sparked and his fury gone.

         "You mean you never heard of it? Man, are you dense. Legend has it that many years ago, around the time the Kalderins went to war, our temple became infested with horrible beasts. They froze over the temple, and most of our dreams of becoming valuable to our nation. Most of our important writings and tomes were lost forever in the frozen wasteland that was once the Temple of Tides. Even the guardian of the temple, who protected the most sacred of all our writings, was corrupted by the dark monsters." The man moved his arms creepily, as if telling a mediocre ghost story. But it was enough to give Jerry the chills.

         "R-really?" A shiver went down his spine, and he gulped.

         "Yup. And everyone who's gone to try and retrieve the ancient artifacts has never returned!" He shouted one last time before running off, leaving Jerry there. His fading steps echoed off into the darkness.

         "Wait! G-get back here!" Jerry cried out to the fleeing native. All the rest of the night, even when Jerry came back to the hut and got into his bed, he couldn't forget the man's words. "And everyone who's gone to try and retrieve the ancient artifacts has never returned... never returned... never returned...


         The water lulled against the rocky beach. The sun cast its rays onto the ever-changing sea, making it sparkle like a hoard of gems and metals. A small fire crackled as the Mainewe roasted food. Women were making quilts and fur outfits to protect against the cold, and wolves gnawed on leftover bones. The children giggled as they splashed water at each other, using their abilities to move it around.

         The pebbles on the beach ground together as the group made their way over to the sole man on the beach. He stood by a long canoe decorated with the head of a serpent. The man was busy weaving a fishing net, and looked up as they approached. His braided black hair moved as he stood up, and his dark brown eyes looked up at them curiously.

         “Greetings, outsiders. I am Akaita, head fisherman for this village. How may I assist you?” He grinned as he tossed the net aside. Seran looked at his hands, which were rough and had many scars on them. His left pinky was missing, leaving a stump in its place. The stump wiggled about as Akaita whittled a small chunk of wood he had taken from his pocket.

         “We wish to rent your boat, so we can travel here.” Nephilia took out the map as she spoke. She indicated the symbol, then handed it to Akaita. He looked at it interestedly. He murmured quietly to himself, looking at it intently. He grabbed a small map with red lines detailing fishing routes, and consulted between the two. His fingers traced dizzying curtails across the maps, and he pondered carefully before he turned back to them.

         “So you want to go to the Crossroads of Ice. It’s a bit out of the way. I’ll take you there for... two silver.”{/i} He rolled up the map and handed it back. Nathan nodded and gave him the coins. He untied his boat and let them get in. He packed up the loose supplies laying around and put them in the nearby hut before returning. Then he picked up a long oar and got in. Akaita pushed off and began to row off towards their destination.

*~*~*


         The canoe left ripples in its wake as it exited a small icy tunnel. The four outsiders gaped in awe at the spectacle around them, as Akaita smirked and guided the canoe.

         Massive icebergs rose around them like towering monoliths. Bridges arched over the small passageway they floated through. The ice glistened in the sun, creating a dazzling effect which was echoed throughout the landscape. But most impressive was the titanic ice chunk ahead. It was flat and connected to the massive mountain range. An enormous cathedral-like building was shaped out of the ice. As the canoe touched the side of the ice chunk, Akaita spoke. “Lady and gentlemen, I bid you welcome to the Temple of the Tides.”

         The four of them gathered up their belongings and got out. Nephilia turned and gave Akaita another silver coin. “There’s two more silver if you wait for us.” He nodded, accepting her offer. As Akaita put the coins in his pouch, they walked up the long winding steps to the massive pair of doors. Seran tried to push them open, his muscles showing as he struggled, but found he was unable to. He pushed again and heard the clank of metal on the other side

         “They’re locked,” he said, turning to Jerry. Jerry stepped forward. He played his sitar to a lively tune. Water spiraled up from near the canoe and passed by them. It went into the small keyhole. There was a faint sound of scratching and clinking, then a large thud. Jerry stopped playing and nodded. Nathan and Seran pushed against the doors, which opened quicky as a cold gust of air escaped. The four peered looked inside eagerly. Unable to see much, they stepped inside the Temple of Frozen Dreams, unaware of what was about to happen.


         Four pairs of boots crunched on the ice and snow that coated the floor of the hall. Their footsteps echoed across the vast room. After they closed the doors, the only light came from the large skylight above their heads. "Whoa...it's freezing in here!" Nathan shivered. He held his hands in front of his mouth, trying to warm his face.

         "Well, it isn't called the Temple of Frozen Dreams for nothing." Jerry answered with a sneer. He pulled his scarf close to him as he looked about. The wind from outside made an eerie shrieking noise as it whistled past the skylight.

         "How do you know so much about this place?" Nephi asked, her eyebrows raised as she turned to face him.

         "I took a little stroll around the village last night, and I came across this guy. He said that this place was overrun by monsters or something, and that the whole temple was frozen over." Jerry replied. He looked down half-interestedly at the skeletons who lay about the room. Each of them wore the blue robes of a Teris monk, but the robes were stained by blood. The monks had been slaughtered by whatever monsters had attacked.

         "What exact kind of monsters did he talk about..." Seran asked, his voice a bit strained. I wonder if they're still here...

         "Oh, no kind in particular..." Jerry trailed off as he gazed behind his companion. Curious, Seran turned around and gasped. Right behind him stood a large bear-like monstrosity. Its heavy fur was a brownish red color, matted with blood and gore. THe creatures horrible seven-inch claws shone with blood in the light, and its two sharp horns stood fierce against its forehead.

         "Oh, crap!" Jerry leapt out of the way as the beast swung its paw at him. The claw sliced through his outermost layer of clothing, leaving gash marks on the coat. The beast roared as its paw was caught in the ice, and it roared angrily as it tried to free itself.

         "That thing's huge! Talk about lucky break. You woulda been bacon slices if you hadn't of gotten out of the way, Jerry!" Nathan called out. The beast growled loudly as it ripped its paw away from the ground, and swung at Seran, who also narrowly avoided it. Just as the beast was about to make it's next move, Nephilia jumped up into the air and swiftly embedded her blade into it's skull. It fell on the ground with a dull thud as she pulled her sword out, wiping it off on the patches of clean fur.

         "What in the name of Taoris was THAT!?" Jerry shouted, shuddering slightly. He looked down at the swipe mark across his coat, realizing how close it had come to injuring him.

         "Correk. Demonized bear creatures, created when the Gates of the Underworld realesed a wave of demonic energy onto our fair world. The dark energy altered life forms, either changing them into horrible beasts like those, or changing their appearance and abilities. Werewolves are good examples of that." He finished with a scowl of disgust. "C'mon. Let's find whatever this treasure is, and get out of here. I don't wanna spend another moment here if I can avoid it." Nephilia and Nathan walked away, Jerry close behind. Seran stood for a moment, looking down at the Correk's corpse. So... This was once a noble creature, but it became tainted by darkness, by hatred, by evil... Just like Kor... Just like...

         "Yo! You coming?" Seran was startled out of his daze. He looked up to see Jerry looking back at him. He glanced back to the Correk, then started walking to catch up.

         "Yeah... I'm coming..."


         Schlick.
The sword cut through the Correk's tough skin, neatly beheading it. Nephilia grinned at the clean swing her blade made. The metal shimmered with blood, which she wiped off on the Correk's body. She examined her sword and put it away, walking towards the others.

         The last Correk slain, they looked about. This room was circular, and the walls were lined with bookcases. The room seemed to stretch upwards infinitely, far above what their eyes could see. A small beam of light shone straight down into the middle, where a large stone pedestal stood. Approaching it, they saw runes inscribed upon it. Jerry walked up and read the ancient words aloud.

         "Listen, ye warriors of Light, and hear our story told. In the early days, the four Elements were once one. Our land was united as the great kingdom of Gammela. Crops were plentiful, and all were grateful to Himeldos, who guided us through life. Peace and balance were the highest morals, and prosperity reigned.

         “One day, a man named Kitsayu came to Gammela. Like Himeldos, he controlled the Element, but he used his powers to harm rather than to heal. The two men clashed, but neither prevailed. In the end, Himeldos realized what must be done. He shattered the Great Stone, dividing the one Element into four, and scattering their powers across the land. The true power of the Elements was bound into five scrolls, which were taken to the five corners of the world. There they rested for all eternity, until the new ones come to reclaim them and use their powers to reclaim peace once more.”

         The words echoed up into the great abyss above them. Jerry turned to look at the other three. “So there is more to the Elements than we know...” he spoke reflectively, his mind elsewhere. Seran looked at him, then went through the words again in his mind. Nathan did likewise, while Nephilia shifted anxiously.

         “If the powers mentioned are so great, then we must hurry to obtain these... scrolls... before the Kalderins can. What else does it say?” she asked eagerly, her eyes gleaming. Jerry turned back and looked at the lower half of the runes.

         “‘Here rests the Scroll of Tides, the scroll which hides the true power of Water. To obtain this most sacred of treasures, you must prove your cunning by solving these riddles of old.’ The first one is written below.

“‘It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,
Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt.
It lies behind stars and under hills,
And empty holes it fills.
It comes first and follows after,
Ends life, kills laughter.’

“There’s some indented runes here: sand, sorrow, time, destiny, darkness...”

         The four of them stood in silence, each thinking. Seran tried to remember all the life lessons he had been taught when he was young. Nathan and Nephilia chatted together, trying to bring up the various riddles they told each other when on the road. Jerry merely sat on the steps, his head bowed as he racked his mind. Ten minutes passed, then twenty, and soon half an hour was gone.

         At last Nathan spoke. “Darkness. It’s the only one that makes sense.” The four of them gathered around the tablet, and Jerry pushed down on the rune. It slid downwards past the surface. Almost immediately, the room began to shake. The circle they were standing in jolted, and began to move downwards. Nathan lit a torch as the light vanished.

         At last, the came to a stop. The torchlight flickered out, revealing them to be in a small room. They walked forwards until they came upon a wall, where another set of runes greeted them. Nephilia sighed, irritated by the puzzles which they had to endure. Nathan lit his pipe and held the torch closer. “We better get started then...”


"I flow like silk, but am not spun,
I dissapear like illusions, but I'm real as the sun,
I fall like stone, but I'm held up high,
I drip like blood but shall never die."

         Jerry peered at the old wall, having read the runes inscribed upon it. A small trickle of water dribbled down the stone, and he held his torch up. A small platform stood over the doorway. He looked at the stairs, wondering if they were sturdy.

         "Aww, are you kidding? What kinda cryptic riddle is that?" Nathan moaned with disgust. He rubbed his temples, tired of figuring out riddles. Jerry ignored Nathan and walked up the stairs, making sure to take light steps. At the top, a stone box caught his eye. Picking it up and opening it, he found hundreds of small square stone tablets, each with a different rune inscribed upon it. Reaching inside, he grabbed one, holding it up. The rune read "Fire". He took the small box and walked down to the floor. He looked over at the riddle, and saw a small square-shaped indent next to it. Holding up the Fire tablet, he saw it was a perfect fit.

         "It seems that we must sort through these tablets, and place the correct one in this slot to move on..." Jerry said as he placed the box down on the floor. Nathan only moaned as he saw the huge number of tablets in the box. Nephilia simply rolled her eyes and squated down, picking up a few and looking them over. Seran looked down, his eyes scanning the visible tablets, trying to decipher the riddle. Jerry grabbed a handful, flipping through them again and again.

         For hours this continued. Every now and then, their eyes flitted up to the riddle, scanning its mysterious lyrics for any hint of the answer. At long last, they were down to four tablets: Water, Sand, Time, and Rain.

         "...Well, this is the Temple of Tides after all. Maybe the answer is Water." Seran suggested, shrugging. He held up the tablet, bored from sorting through the dozens of runes.

         "That sounds good. I'm for it," Nathan said, his face turning into a smile. The other two nodded approvingly, and Jerry was handed the small stone block with Water inscribed upon it.

         "Right then..." Jerry muttered as he picked himself up. He walked over to the indent and placed the tablet in, a small click snapping it in place. The room began to shake wildly, and he feel over in surprise. The sounds of gears shifting filled the air as the wall rejected the tablet, sending it skidding across the floor.

         "That...can't be good..." Nephilia stated bluntly. Suddenly three panels near the riddle opened up, and hundreds of gallons of ice cold water came gushing in. The water started to fill up the room. It became apparent that if the water didn't stop, they'd all run out of air. After one minute, the water was up to the group's waists. "Someone find the other tablets! One of them has gotta be the way to reverse this!" Nathan shouted over the roar of the water, diving down to search for the small squares. The rest of them followed his lead, searching desperately for them. Before five minutes was up, they were floating a full twenty feet above the ground, rising higher and higher towards the ceiling, and eventual suffocation. It wasn't until there was only ten feet left of air space when Seran stumbled upon one tablet, Rain.

         "Jerry! I found one! It's Rain!" Seran called out to his friend. Jerry quit searching for a moment as he swam over.

         "Rain huh? That sounds like it could be the answer..." Jerry shouted over the roar of water. It fit all the riddle's requirements, and it wasn't like they had much of a choice anyways.

         "Good, because we haven't got much time left..."Seran replied, as the room only had five feet of air left. "Here Jerry, got put this in, you're a much better swimmer than any of us!" Four feet. Jerry only nodded as he grabbed the small tablet. He dove back under the water, swimming furiously down towards the indent. Three feet. I must not let them down...not again... Two feet. He thought, fighting the need for oxygen. One foot. As he approached the indent, he took out the tablet, and dizzily shoved it into the hole.


         Click.
The small tabled fit perfectly. For a few seconds, nothing happened. No... I've failed... again... Jerry thought as he felt his lungs emptying of air. He closed his eyes and awaited the end.

         But it never came. Instead, he heard gears clinking, and grabbed onto a column in order to keep from being swept away. A new doorway was opening near where the tablet went in. Water gushed out rapidly into the newly opened space, and soon Jerry found he could stand on solid ground again. He gasped for air, choking up water which had made its way inside him. Panting, he looked over to see the other three doing likewise. At last their lungs were clear. Each of them wrung as much water as they could out of their clothes as the water level dropped.

         At long last, they were ready to continue. The four walked through the doorway, their feet splashing in the now ankle-high water. The light from their freshly lit torches gleamed on the tunnel walls. They walked for several minutes before seeing a point of light in the distance. “Thank Taoris! It’s an opening,” Nathan said happily as he walked forward, boots splashing. They walked out of the tunnel and breathed fresh air again. Then they took note of their surroundings and gasped again, Nathan dropping his torch which went out as it splashed into the water.

         They were standing on the edge of an enormous chamber, hundreds of feet wide and long. Its roof was a dome, partially collapsed by weather and time; sunlight shone through, illuminating the chamber’s contents. The four stood on a small platform, connected by a bridge to the vast area in the middle. The water at their feet poured off, giving the bridge a mystical waterfall-like appearance as they slowly crossed it.

         At last they arrived on the other side. They set down their packs and looked around. While the rest of the temple had seemed worn down by age, this circular platform looked as if it were brand new. A large basin of water surrounded a small pedestal, upon which rested a scroll that was glowing slightly. They stood side by side, looking at it curiously.

         “Is that what the Kalderins are after?” Jerry asked. He tilted his head, wondering why the parchment seemed to glow with power. Its blue aura seemed fascinating to him, and he moved forwards, only to be stopped by Nathan’s outstretched arm.

         “That must be the Scroll of Tides that pedestal way back there spoke of. And knowing what we’ve faced to get here, it’s likely they’ve booby-trapped this as well. So don’t touch anything. Nephi, fan out and start looking.” He kneeled down and started searching, looking closely for wires or odd stones. This continued for several dozens of minutes before he got up, dusting his pants off as he did.

         “Well, if there are any traps here, which I highly doubt, I can’t seem to find them. Nephi?” he asked, turning to his female companion. She shrugged in agreement. The for looked at each other then nodded, stepping towards the basin of water. They stopped at the edge and looked far down into its depths.

         “I don’t see any bottom,” Seran said, backing away slightly. Jerry turned to look at him, then looked down at his feet.

         “Hey, back up for a second.” They stepped back and noticed the small square of runes on the ground in front of the water. They turned to Jerry expectantly, who cleared his throat.

“If hidden knowledge thou dost seek,
Turn back now if ye be meek.
If the art of Water you have tamed,
Then great fortune thou shalt claim.”

          He turned around to face them, shrugging. It didn’t seem like any riddle, more like a warning or a statement of what lay ahead. Nephilia and Nathan debated what to do, going over their equipment, and Jerry sat down, picking at his sitar loosely. The sounds echoed down through the water, and were heard by an entity which stared back at them. The water began to ripple as it emerged. Jerry was the first to notice it, his notes turned sour as he watched the entity rise up. The other three expressed their surprise in equal ways, grabbing hold of their weapons as they faced the being made of water.

         The water it was made of seemed to be slightly blue in color and two darkened blobs indicated eyes as it assumed a humanoid form. “Greetings, esteemed warriors. I am Materios, guardian to the Scroll of Tides. You have proven yourself at the puzzles. You have beaten uncountable odds to make it this far. Your minds and wills have been tested. And I shall test your bodies before you may claim the Scroll. Prepare yourselves.” Materios towered above them, absorbing water from the basin as he grew. The four stood in defensive positions, waiting to see what it would do.

         “Begin.” With that one word, Materios swung down at them. The battle had begun.
          Jerry panted violently, avoiding Materios's sweeping watery arms. He catapulted himself over a low tentacle like water whip, dodge rolling safely. The rest of the group experianced similer attackes, narrowly avoiding the crushing blows. It wasn't long before Nephila managed to get close enough to strike the beast's head. She leapt into the air, as that was one of her commonly used moves, and slashed at it's head, utterly dismembering it.

          "Nice work Nephi!" Nathan shouted from the other side of the basin. Suddenly, they heard a loud cackle, coming from the dismembered Materios. The water in his body simply replaced his head, and in a few seconds he was as good as new!

          "Foolish humans. Did you think you could dismember an amorph's head like mine?" Materios shouted in his disturbingly creepy, watered down, quivery voice. Just the giant water thing alone was creepy enough. It didn't need the freaky voice too. With another sweep of it's tentacle, it swatted Nephilia, smacking her across the arena.

          "You'll pay for that!" Nathan screeched as he threw his Maul into Materios. The watery creature felt nothing as the maul was sent straight through it's body. The hole it made quickly sealed up, more water being sucked up and absorbed.

          "Jer! I just had an idea! This thing is made of water! Try and control it!" Seran exclaimed, fending back the enclosing tentacles.

          "But...Seran! I don't think I could control this big a beast! Besides, I've never controled sentiant water before!" Jerry sheepishly rebutted. Seran sighed as he called

          "First time for everything! Just try for Taoris's sake!" He continued to fend off the encroching watery whips, fighting furiously for his life. Jerry sighed for the umpteenth time that day. It was all down to him. Again. Jerry really didn't want to, but he knew deep down inside, that this might be the only thing that could work. He quickly swung his sitar into music position, and started to play.
         The strings hummed out a distinct jig as Jerry closed his eyes, and poured his thoughts into controlling the being. I cannot fail them... Please... He grunted as he struggled against Materios for control of the water. The two fought mentally, their powers clashing as Jerry played his sitar.

         Suddenly, a whip came down and knocked Jerry over, breaking him out of his trance. "I-I can't do it! He's too strong!" He skidded along the ice and snow to stand next to Seran, who turned to him, clenching his right arm with his gloved hand.

         "Nnh... The riddle... There's got to be a purpose behind it..." They dodged another whip, which Seran neatly slashed in two with his staff. He jumped up, and swung his staff, sending a blast of air at Materios. A large chunk of water fell away, to be replaced by more from the basin.

         Nathan and Nephilia were facing similar results. Nathan had gotten his maul back, and was busy fending off several whips. Nephilia jumped up again and sliced at Materios, only to be knocked aside into a stone pillar. No... I've failed them... We're doomed, Jerry thought, a frown upon his face as he leaped back to avoid a water whip.

         As Jerry skidded back again, his hand gripped at the snow and ice, slowing him to a halt. "Oh, I wish it weren't so col-" And then it came to him. He smiled and stood up again, putting his sitar back into music position.

© Copyright 2008 Draconic Knight, TSC, (known as GROUP).
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