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The first night
         Gorkan's          Brother: A Prophecy Rises                    Da Prodigy
Chapter 6

Da Prodigy


Darcey's footsteps fell heavy on the worn cobblestone path to the council chambers once again. Ready for another fight about her family's honor, she sat in the waiting room, sweat glistening from her forehead. She could hear yelling coming from inside the council chambers and it didn't sound good. 'Great, put them in a bad mood, thanks.' Mentally, she prepared herself for another battle when they should be out looking for her son. Lines formed above her eyes and her nose wrinkled as she tried to figure out how to change the subject to finding her boy over all else while in the council chambers.

Her heart beat faster when the yelling stopped and the door to the chambers opened up to allow her through while the other dwarf walked out of the door with a nasty look of defeat on his face.

The sight always intimidated her as she walked slowly into the chambers. Tall walls formed a half circle around her as she walked up to the dais. There sat thirteen council members all ready to cut her down and finally shun her family for what her son had stupidly done. She couldn't figure out if she was mad or just frustrated with all of these proceedings while nothing was done about her son. Finally Lars speaks.

"We did not call yeh here te chastise yeh about yer son, gods knows we have every right te; he stole a sacred text dat we were going te use te find what we thinks he be after, but dat aint why yer here Darcey."

Her facial expression showed utter confusion as she had no idea what they were about to say, a feeling she hadn't had in a long time since standing in front of this council.

"Were all here te tell yeh dat we be sendin' a team after him. Know this though, da team is not after yer son, though, dat is a goal an we made sure te tell them te bring him home alive. He has da book dat we be needin' te find da artifact wit. We were plannin' te send our own team te look fer da thing. Yer durned fool of a son had te go an steal it fer hisself. Me's not fer thinkin' dat he could make it out dare without help. Now, we knows dat Branthony an Jackel Snark went wit him. We thinks he brought Cleary wit him as well. At least he be smart enough te be bringin' a cleric, albeit a young, low level one. Branthony, me son, be as capable a fighter as yer son; but me thinks he blackmailed yer son into goin'. . . I's be knowin' me boy." He said with a grim look on his face. "Our expedition leaves in da mornin'. I's be sendin' our best tracker, our best healer an three o' our best warriors an-"

"I's should be on dat expedition! I's beat every one o' those warriors in our sparrin' matches!" Her heart beat as fast as it could, thinking he would let her go with. Her face filled with some semblance of hope. After all nobody could beat her in the rink and she certainly had the attitude, at least, AN attitude.

"No." He said simply and in a stern voice. "Fightin' in a rink be much different then fightin' fer yer life. I's should know, I be out dare in me younger days an it aint as easy as yeh think."

"But I's can do it, I's be knowin' I can. I's not only fightin' fer me own life but me boy's as well!"

"We can'no an will no' be responsible fer yeh an I's already be talkin' wit me warriors an they'd be too worried about yeh all da time. Simply put Darcey, an me's not meanin' te hurt yer feelin's but, yeh'd be in da way. Me warriors would be too worried about yer safety te take care of things out dare."

"But,"

"Da council all agreed it would be too dangerous fer yeh an da team te let yeh go. I's sorry-"

"I should be allowed te go!" but she wasn't heard. "He's me boy!"

"I's sorry but it jest aint possible!" His voice now raised above hers as she began yelling louder as if that would help her make her point. "An dat is final!" He concluded and she stopped her futile yelling. "An we will be guardin' yeh te make sure yeh donna follow da team. We know how dedicated yeh be as a mother. An it's a tribute te yer parentin' skills. Let's hope yer boy can learn fast enough out dare in da wild, it's a dangerous place; especially wit war loomin' jest outside our door. Now git yerself home an take care o' yer other family members, they be needin' yeh too especially now; Da gods knowin' I's be prayin' fer me own boy as well. Yeh aint alone Darcey, o' dat I's be tellin' yeh."

She stormed out of the room and into the waiting room where she stood alone. This feeling she remembered, the udder defeat that she always felt upon leaving that room. She tuned in her hearing to listen in and see what they say about her son, if anything, a route their taking, or even when they were leaving. 'An how can a stupid book be more important than me son?" She thought as she started to listen to what they were saying.

"Speakin' o' da possible war, any more thoughts on how te stop it yet. Me wantin' so badly te git them both in charge at least or git rid of Keldron all together. But any new Ideas would help."

"Not in here yeh dolt! If da king heard yeh talkin' like dat yeh'd have yeh beheaded before yer family fer treason' aint dat da truth!" Lars commented.

'So he wants te overthrow da king an put Melron in charge. Not a bad idea, me loaths Keldron anyway.' She thought.
"An what do we do about da other problem?" One of the other council members asked.

"I's Have NO idea what we gonna do wit dat. Dats all on nature, all's we can do is keep tryin' te make a spell dat'll work. Dat artifact is our only hope fer dat part o' da war. I's gettin hungry, lets end our session fer today, I's still got te report all business to King Keldron. Tomorrow then? all in favor?" They all cry out, "Aye", at the same time. And then she walked quickly away from the waiting room and when she slowed her pace to a solemn walk Ideas began roasting in her head.

'I's fer knowin' dat Melron wants da throne real bad but te even think about tryin' te overthrow Da king was treasonous. Still, If I's can come up wit a good plan te put Melron on da throne which be his birthright, not keldrons. What an arse; then dat would be sometin' dat could help ease tensions in da loomin' war. An da safer me boy'll be.' She began to come up with a plan, but if it didn't go well she would be executed for treason along with the others that would have to be involved. They all had to be on board with this. The other problem was that she needed Melron to make it work. 'Good luck gettin' close enough te him te talk about it. An if'n he donna like it . . . execution.' She thought almost out loud. 'Now I's be soundin' jest like Gorkan, me other son.'


***



Beltron sat on one of the benches that were still upright, somewhat, when she came out from behind the wall.

"Feel better?" Beltron joked. Jadus just growled as her face squished a bit pulling her unusually thick eyebrows together while buttoning up her pants. They pulled out some sandwiches that Jadus had packed for them. "Were about half way there; sorry I couldn't catch you that time you slid down the embankment, I would've gone down with you and then we'd have both gotten stuck." Beltron said again with a mouthful of food.

"Are there any dangerous creatures that I should be aware of down here?" Jadus asked.

"Legend speaks of a giant shadow monster that lurks somewhere down here, but it's also said that fire could kill it; but that's only stuff of stories and whispers, there's no proof that this thing actually exists anyway, so don't you go worrying about it Jadus."

"Could?" Jadus looked up from her sandwich that she really didn't need. She wrapped it back up and put it back in the pack for Beltron later.

"Don't worry, I have several fire spells at the ready, including one that'll turn your sword into a flaming sword." Jadus didn't look too impressed or convinced and started to think of ways to kill a shadow monster.

"I'm so glad you're prepared for every contingency." She said raising one of her bushy eyebrows. "What if fire doesn't kill it?"

"Then we just take its light source away from it. No light, no shadow." Beltron said.

"And if that doesn't work? Then we're both blind and the thing kills us anyway." She told him.

"Bah! It'll work. How could it not?" Beltron says confidently.

If that were only the case, simple logic for simple minds; mages were great at throwing magic at their opponents but when it came to common sense, they were left a little lacking.

Just as Beltron had finished his sandwich and was acting like a king wrapping up his meal, they both heard some rocks falling in the distance further down the cavern.

"Are you sure that was all? Because I'm pretty sure the ground settled a long time ago." Jadus said while looking down the cavern with her vampiric eyes, she sees nothing, but another rustling of stones that caught her attention, though this one was closer and to the left. She drew her two magical swords and prepared to do battle against . . . Something.

"Ready your spells, we got company. Set up the torches." Jadus comanded.

She stood in silence for a few moments while Beltron set up some torches, until something came into view of those vampiric eyes.

"NOOKWORMS!" Jadus yelled. "Magic missile should work well." As she yelled a giant worm came straight down on Jadus's position. She rolled to her right and took a good stab-and-slash and found that they hadn't even scratched the skin of the beast which seemed to be a sort of natural armor. Rolling away she saw two flashes of light fly straight into one of the beasts Its face lit up with a bright light as the two magic missiles hit their mark, unfortunately, with no affect. It had hit the beast's armor and did seemingly no damage whatsoever; in fact, it deflected the magic missiles away into the wall scattering debris all over the cavern. Just as those two flashes had slammed into the wall the other worm slammed a wall down behind Jadus sending even more brick and rubble her way forcing her to limber her way through the rubble, leaving her to fend off two Nookworms at once and they both had a type of armor for skin. She had never seen this in a Nookworm before, they had never had armor before. 'Were these Nookworms magically enhanced? And if so who enhanced them? The blood elves don't deal in this kind of magic.' She rolled to her right so that both worms lay ahead of her. Beltron let loose a series of rapid fireballs in succession. One of the Nookworms got hit in the head and had one of its dangly antenna singed off. 'That should at least destroy its equilibrium.' She was right, that Nookworm happened off in a different direction for the moment leaving Jadus with only one worm to fight.

Her Nookworm lashed out at Jadus as a snake would to its prey. She raised both swords in an "X" in front of her face and when the thing got close enough she pulled both her swords down Slashing the beast's face which was the only part of the creature that was uncovered. The deep gashes in its face caused the beast to retract back into itself.

The things had no eyes but could still see somehow. Jadus always thought it was the antenna. She leapt into the air as the second one came at her and slashed the creatures other antenna. She cut it clean off. The creature reared up in pain as she landed on the ground and saw the creature's soft underbelly. 'So the face isn't the only soft part of this things body. I should've thought of that.'

"Aim for their underbellies!" She yelled to Beltron; but the creatures seemed to understand them and didn't give him a chance to fire those bolts. Instead of more magic missiles she saw lightning strikes; the first one hard and then the second one even harder. Both beasts went down quickly and Jadus relaxed a bit and walked up to one and punched it. It moved and jumped up at Jadus meaning to smash her under his belly, little did the creature know that she was a blood elf and could move just as fast as that stupid worm. Jadus ran forward with her blades held high above her head slicing into the creature from the belly to the mouth. It wiggled and sputtered twitching here and there in random movements. The other worm was hit with another bolt of lightning as it reared up to try to kill Beltron, though this one looked much stronger and the Nookworm was a lot closer to Beltron now. The creature slammed into the cobblestone floor right in front of Beltron. Jadus ran up to the other creature and could tell it was dead by its twitching movements.

"Aren't you glad I was with you? Lightning kills Nookworms, not magic missiles. You couldn't do that now could you?"

Jadus wanted to say something but thought the better of it; she let him believe his magic was stronger than her blades, after all magic is stronger through belief. 'This is why so many mages are so arrogant.' she thought. She also saw the toll it took on Beltron and decided it was time to rest for a while . . . again. Magic always seemed to drain him and only time could restore his strength.

"We should rest here." Jadus told him. "Fighting those beasts took a lot out of me, I need to rest if I'm to be at my very best when needed." She knew she needed to bolster Beltron's ego if his magic were to get stronger; and she had to let Beltron rest before they could go on, he simply nodded and sat down next to the rock and took out another sandwich, he was famished.

That shadow beast put the fear of the Gods into her. The only other thing that could stop a shadow would be dark magic, such as 'black hole', that spell caused everything around an area to go completely black and get sucked into oblivion but that also means that they could get sucked in as well, so, there goes that idea. How is a shadow supposed to survive without light? He was right about that. With all of her skills though, dark magic wasn't one of them. However, cutting up and storing meat was right up her ally. She knew that Nookworms had very tasty meat and was relatively easy to store, it didn't need to be chilled to keep. At least one of the Nookworms was partially cooked by Beltron's lightning bolts. She didn't need to eat but she did like the meat and she knew Beltron would also, who was already fast asleep on the rock he was sitting against. She had to wonder if this put him to sleep, how well would he survive a larger attack. She needed to be at her best to make up for Beltron's lack of capacity. What she couldn't understand was why he was so easily drained now when he used to be so powerful in their other adventures? Didn't mages grow more powerful as they get older? Something down here is draining his magic considerably and she needed to find out what it was before it gets them both killed.

She was capable enough but these creatures were different somehow. Those Nookworms should have gone down easily, not the way she had to bring them down, their hides were considerably thicker, she walked over to one of the Nookworm's sides and ran her hands over the smooth and moist yellow armor, it held slight imperfections and small rises and dips in its surface. She thought about who could have made these creatures and why? Could they be from the ancient Dwarven civilization that lived here, could they have magically enhanced them for underdark battles? She reconsidered her thoughts when she realized that they seemed to understand elfish. That last thought scared her, and not much scared the woman. It made her wonder what other creatures may be in this old citadel that knew elfish and were changed in some way. She didn't like this place, it held dangers that even she might not be able to handle.


***



"Dargus, I's be needin' yer ear." He was about to pack his stuff and go home.

"What yeh be needin' hun?" He said turning to face her.

"Not here, somwheres private an isolated."

"Okay, big news?" He asked. "About da hearin'?"

"No. . . well yes, but let's jest git, can we?" Darcey said hurrying him into a more secluded room in the back of the school.
The room was a hole in the wall with some support beams and all kinds of school supplies, basically a supply room. They could also plainly see if anyone was coming, there was only one entrance and exit to the room.

"Yeh be knowin' how everyone feels about Keldron as our king right?" She whispered.

"Well, yeah." He said.

"Let's do somethin' about it."

"Darcey, this is dangerous te even talk about out in da open like this." He said looking around to see if anyone was nearby.
"Why do yeh think we bein' in a storeroom?" She exclaimed quietly. "We gotta keep this low-key so nobody but us knows about this fer now, until I's git's da kinks straightened out."

"I take it yeh got somthin' in mind?"

"I's do but it be VERY risky." She said in a hushed and worried tone. "It be involvin' da council, gods willin', an da kings personal guards which may be harder te git especially if they're loyal te him. Dare be some dwarves who like his thirst fer power an who strive fer dare own power in dare own way." She looked around herself this time. "An Melron himself." She stated flatly and more quietly than her normal voice.

"Have yeh lost yer marbles?!" Dargus almost yelled. "Yeh've gone completely mad!"

"It be a rough plan at this time, but if'n we can get Melron on dat throne, maybe da humans an elves will back off, makin' it safer fer me boy out dare. An who knows, maybe they'll even help look fer him."

"Yeh wanna talk about yer boy den I's gots some talkin' to do." He says with almost a chuckle. "Mortog be one o' da most gifted kids I's ever seen. I's pretty sure he could best me in combat."

"What are yeh on about?" She said not fully comprehending what he was implying.

"He got's da gods on his side because he be bein' a prodigy. He bein' able to wield any weapon I's gave him like an expert in a matter of minutes, he even bested me three best students one night an now I's think one o' them is wit him."

"Yeah, Lars's boy. I's be knowin' dat, Lars told me at da meetin' wit him this afternoon."

"He learns his schoolwork too easy an I's even heard he picked out an axe fer hisself from da armory. Da boy is da most amazin' child I's ever seen. Dats not te say he won't be needin' help out dare, but I heard he was smart an brought a healer wit him. It takes a lot o' guts an plannin' te pull off what he pulled off, wit dat book an all. He's got his wits about him, dats fer sure."

"Dats all great an wonderful, but he's still me boy an I'll not see any harm come te him because we gots a bad king on da throne."

"So whats this great plan o' yers?" Dargus asked, humoring her.

"We fake an attempt on Melron's life an da other dwarves will see this an think it's da kings doing; we could plant evidence dat it was da king, really make it look like he be tryin' te kill his own blood. Meanwhile, poisonin' his food in case da attempt fails te do what we want it te do. Da poison will have te be gradual so it looks like he died o' a disease. But I's not likin' dat part o' da plan cause it be takin' too much time an I's not fully committed te killin' him just yet." She explained.
Dargus stood there and thought about it for a few moments and said.

"It could work but how are we going te get da council on board wit this plan?"

"Leave dat te me. They already want te see Keldron dethroned or at least sharin' da throne wit Melron." She said. "Well? What do yeh think?"

"I'll have te think on it an get back te yeh but I's not be tellin' anyone about yer plan, yeh have me word as a dwarf an someone who loves yeh too much te see yeh killed." They hugged and she looked into his eyes and saw that he was telling her the truth. She turned and left the school.


***



cleary sat shivering in the cold unable to put on his skins for fear of being revealed and sent home. He couldn't use any of his spells for fear that when the tattoo glowed they would be able to see it not knowing if the cloak would conceal magic.
He was astounded by the snow and wished he could play as his friends did. He could reach out and physically touch any of them if he wanted to but he had to stay perched on the stupid rock so that he didn't make an impression in the snow. He looked over and noticed that even though he was hit in the face with a snowball, Mortog was ready in an instant for some type of attack, and Branthony too, when he was struck. He knew that this stuff wasn't magical but it did have its allure. He wanted to play in it but knew it was cold. Jackel threw multiple snowballs at Branthony, as much to egg him on as to get him used to the cold. After the second or third snowball, Branthony started to get in the game, so they tested each other's aim.

So Cleary sat there on that rock, cold and miserable, all for his best friend; unable to even eat if he wanted to without revealing himself, he would do that at the right time and that wasn't right then and there. He had to wait until they moved on. He couldn't even use his endure elements spell, though he needed to emblazon that on his body first; and he couldn't do that without drawing attention either.


***



Dargus waited at the Cherub, the same place the kids met several nights ago. Darcey came strolling in worried as hell, at least she looked it. She sat down right next to Dargus. She grabbed his hand.

"Well, what do yeh think? Can we pull it off wit some help?" Her eye's pleaded with his, almost tearfully.

"Me thinks yeh be needin' to meet wit some of me friends." Dargus told her. "They can help yeh more an I's can. I's be thinkin' yeh best be talkin' wit them as quickly as possible if'n yer wantin' it te be safer fer yer boy."

"What are yeh on about now?" She asked feeling like he wasn't listening to her; he put his other hand on hers to calm her.
"Later tonight meet me at da lake down in da cavern, I's be takin' yeh te some people who can help yeh."

"Why can't yeh do it yerself?" She asked quietly and scared, he could tell. "Yeh givin' me up? Yeh be takin' me te da guards?"

"Relax it's nothin' like dat; an do yeh really think I's be givin' yeh up like dat, do yeh have dat little faith in me?" He asked alarmingly. " I's be takin' yeh te those others I's telled yeh about. They be lookin' forward te meetin' yeh. An no, I didn't tell them anythin' about yer plans, jest dat yeh had some ideas dat they should be listnin' te. An they wants te meet yeh'. An if I may say, we could use all da dwarves we can get right now." He paused and stared at her as both meals arrived in front of them. "Yes, I ordered fer both of us, it would've looked weird if we didn't eat somethin' together." He takes a bite of his meat sandwich. She always liked it when he ordered; he always got stuff that she couldn't afford on her own. "So will yeh meet me tonight fer a meetin'?"

"I's have te make somethin' up te git me outta da house. Dat should be easy enough, Forge don't really care what I's do anymore, an da girls'll be in bed by dat hour anyway." She said as she hungrily cut into her steak. "Yer sure this be safe?" She asked with a mouth full of food.

"No, dats da point, this be a secret meetin'. No one knows dat we meet an we need te keep it like this fer now. Do yeh understand?" He almost demanded her answer.

"Dargus," She put her hand over his once more. "Yeh know I trust yeh, I always have, yeh know dat. I's jest be scared is all."

After swallowing his bite, he says, "I's fer knowin' dat hun. An I's here fer yeh, yeh must know dat as well. I's be goin' wit yeh tonight so yeh knows dat it will be okay." He smiles and looks into her eyes and she see's that he's telling the truth once more.

They finished their meals and talked like old friends.


***



Looking out upon the expanse Mortog realizes how little he truly knows about the outside world. There were trees that sailed into the skies with branches of needles that pricked his fingers when touching them; but it was no matter, whatever he had to endure for honor, after all traipsing through adversity is what gaining honor is all about.

A ball of cold white stuff hit his face as he was pondering this new horizon. He realized that he was so preoccupied with this newfound white stuff and his quest that he hadn't noticed Jackel packing a snowball. At first he thought it was an attack, he dropped his pack and in one smooth motion had his axe out and ready for anything that may come his way. Instead he saw Jackel packing another ball of the white stuff in his hands and realized that Jackel was just playing as another handful struck Branthony in the side of his head. He quickly spun around with his swords in his hand and his backpack falling to the ground at the same time. He was ready in an instant. Mortog was proud of that, maybe Branthony was trainable after all. Branthony, mad that he got caught unawares, didn't find it funny.

"What's da matter Branthony, can't handle a simple snowball? Betcha yeh can'no hit me wit one?" Jackel teased trying to get him to loosen up a bit. He knew Branthony hated him but he needed him to trust and be able to rely on him if they were to survive on their own out there. Jackel finally got him to laugh a bit and even started to fight back, which was amazing in Mortog's view.

They played for a few minutes getting used to the snow and the cold, no wonder Jackel had told them to pack some warm clothing.

While Branthony and Jackel played a bit in the snow, Mortog silently went through his pack and grabbed his thick furs that his mom had given him just a few weeks ago, it did get cold sometimes in the citadel. He put them on and the bitter cold had subsided at least on his torso. His arms and legs would soon adjust to the cold, but his feet would be fine thanks to a pair of boots he stole from his father's closet. 'He won't be noticin' dat they even be gone, em he doesn't even use them.'

Mortog looked around as his companions played in the snow. The trees had covered most of the area but yet there was still snow on the ground. He noticed that beyond the tree line there was an abundance of snow on the ground. He went over and looked out and the snow was at least as high as his hips. 'How are we te get through this?' He thought. He turned around to see Jackel staring at him. He took a snowball to the side of the head. Then he watched as that gaze of concern he had looking at Mortog fade to a look of playfulness in a second's time as he went back to playing with Branthony; who seemed to be warming up to him, in a manner of speaking. He dropped to his knees and began going through his pack. Mortog was smart. He had never ever thought of himself in a situation where he was unprepared, but this. . . This could be fun. Why was it so much colder up here? Was this why they stayed underground? He much preferred the warmth of the citadel to this frigid cold of the surface. He had no choice right now. He watched as Jackel and Branthony had their snowball fight, even to the point of smiling after a few minutes of watching. He could tell that Jackel was watching him just a little as the fight continued. They hit each other with snowball after snowball, some hitting their mark and some missing wildly, 'We must have te git used te throwin' stuff up here.' Mortog thought. Branthony fell back into a snowdrift and disappeared. Mortog's eyes went wide as Jackel just gathered more snow in his hands to make another snowball. As Branthony sat up he was hit by another snowball sending him back into the snowdrift. Jackel motioned for Mortog to do the same and they both hit him with snowballs as he came up the third time. Mortog laughed and finally gave into the game. It was Jackel's goal to make them feel that the snow was not some kind of evilness that swept through the land; though it did hold its dangers. He had to get them acclimated to the snow and the weather up here in the "Wilds" and fast. He might as well do it in a fun way, after all, these are but just boys.

As he played with the boys he realized that there were dangers topside that they will ultimately face, things that they had no knowledge of. He needed to teach them of these dangers. He knew that preparing these boys was going to be far harder than playing a simple snowball fight. It was up to him to keep them safe, but he knew deep in his heart that it was Mortog who was destined to find this . . . this thing. They would all have to be there to help, and he was there to protect. He also remembered how Mortog wouldn't let him get caught at the library and knew that Mortog had the right stuff to complete this quest. He could've just left him there to get caught as most kids would do in the face of authority. Mortog was different and he knew it. He reached down and felt the wound where it should have been and thought he was truly honorable. But was he ready?

Mortog hated the fact that he had to defer to Jackels 'Expertise' to handle any situation, and he knew that was exactly what was going on. But since he didn't really know what was going on, he had to let it slide, after all, he had brought Jackel with him because, well, first, he would've come anyway, but also for his knowledge of the outside world and what it would be like to fish and hunt and not to mention that Mortog had no clue how to skin and cook an animal. Would he even cook the right parts, he wondered, but that was one of the many reasons why Jackel was allowed on this excursion.

"We need te move te our next camp site before da humans or elves discover us. We need te keep out o' dare way out here, remember, were almost at war wit them an if we git caught we will be held by them an I's be knowin' they not be treatin' us well." Jackel told them both. "I be teachin' yeh on some o' da dangers o' da wilds."


***



Cleary was sitting there unknown to everyone else. He had the only real defense against being spotted. Even Dwarven magic couldn't detect his cloak. So he heard everything that Jackel had to say. After a few minutes he would scan the area and see if anyone had to come back for anything and follow them after dressing himself in warmer clothes, he wished he would've brought his winter skins. When he was free and clear he would emblazon his 'endure elements' spell on himself so that he could use it the next day.


***



Jackel would lead them to their first campsite way before dusk. In truth, they made good time. He hadn't realized the true vitality of the young dwarves, in fact they thought about going on further which was fine with Jackel with the only exception being that they would be out in the open when they finally stopped and could be seen by any passing scouting parties or different types of creatures, here they were secluded. They managed to get the fire going inside a cave with a rock blocking the view leaving the cave virtually invisible to anyone but those who know its specific location. Since it was inside a cave they were able to conceal the fire to cook the food. They made it there without any incidents.



Cleary was able to get within the range of the fires warmth and was able to eat his rations, emblazon his 'endure elements' spell and others onto himself.



It was time for a couple of lessons about the dangers in the wilds.

"Yeh see this white stuff? It be called snow, it be cold but as long as yeh be wearin' those winter skins, yeh'll be fine.
Some o' da creatures out here be much different than the ones down in da caves. Some o' these creatures be used te this weather an some even thrive in it. That's why I be playin' wit yeh when we's gots te da surface. I need te be findin' some fire arrows, fire can scare away some creatures, so don't be gettin' all gutsy an go after everything dat isn't us, it may just be easier te scare them away. Some creatures can be reasoned wit, like some o' da giantkin. Also, if ye see any trolls, be silent and perfectly still Cause they be very hard te kill." Mortog scoffed at his last remark. "Ye think so Mortog? Ye can handle a monster dat can regenerate dare limbs including dare heads. Only fire or poison can seal a wound so dat it won't attack ye anymore, ye gots fire or poison?" He waited a second. "I's not be thinkin' so. Heed my warnings, ye gotsa be carefull wit some o' these creatures."

"How will we know which ones te kill an which ones te leave alone?" Branthony asked.

"Oh yeh be knowin' trust a dwarf who's been up here before. But if'n ye doubt then just look at me and I's shake me head one way or da other." Mortog stood up and almost stepped on Cleary. He had a look of concern on his face. "Da humans an da elves. Dat be a hard one. We needs te be extra vigilant to not get caught by either of these two factions. I's not be knowin what they could do te us if they find us. We don'na want te inadvertently start this foolish war. So we stay away from them at ALL costs. No messin around thinkin' yeh's can fix any o' this. Jest leave it alone." He walked over by his bedroll and sat down indian style. "Let's be gittin' some sleep, tomorrow we travel farther te this citadel, we's gots a long ways te go. Git some rest." He said simply and then got under his covers and turned over to go to sleep. Mortog stayed awake as he had first watch.

Jackel gave him a lot to think about tonight, but he could handle it with no problems at all, even the trolls. 'I's can beat any o' them, I's been trained fer this.' Mortog thought.


***



That night while on Branthony's watch, Jackel got up.

"I's needs te check behind us te see if anyone has followed us. It is vital that we remain unknown." 'Well dat seems te be a good idea'. Branthony thought.

He came dangerously close to a human scout team. The sentries hadn't noticed him yet so he left but not before getting an approximate head count and mage count. He really couldn't tell being that most of them were sleeping. Covering his tracks so that humans couldn't tell that anyone was there he backed off to a safe distance racing back to the camp. He knew his troupe were safe for now; but when they were awake they needed to figure out whether or not they should press on or just stay put. He would put it to Mortog's decision.

"What did yeh find?" Branthony asks as he comes back into camp.

"Don't worry; jest be extra vigilant tonight on yer watch, but nothin' major, thought I's saw a herd of elk is all, an yeh know how ornery they get." Knowing that he had most likely had never even heard of an elk let alone seen one or know what their behaviors are like.

"Uhm, how is dat supposed te make me's feel better." Branthony asked in a frantic but hushed tone.

"Nothin' until tomorrow, jest keep yer eyes open as any sentry would. An wake me if yeh spot anythin', an Branthony, I wouldn't be fallin' asleep if it be bein' somethin' dangerous." Jackel said. Then he laid down in his bedroll. He pretended to sleep knowing how close the danger was. But he knew if everyone got up and started freaking out that they would just cause a commotion that would attract the human scouts and alert them to their presence. He had to remain calm and quiet. Once again he caught himself thinking like a child again, 'Da kids won't go crazy'. He thought. Then he thought about it and decided not to wake Mortog.

Jackel didn't sleep for the rest of the night. He was used to restless, sleepless nights so this was nothing. His hearing attuned to what Branthony may not hear.

A noise alerted Branthony and Jackel. Branthony being smart for once tapped Jackel's foot and in a whisper explained what he had heard. Jackel knew it could be a human scout patrol.

"I want yeh te lay down an pretend te sleep. Do yeh trust me?"

"No." Branthony said as he looked him in the eye.

"extinguish da fire, now!" Jackel yelled in a whisper as he readied his bow and stood with his back against the boulder that made the cave invisible. Breathing heavily Jackel peered around the boulder quickly to see what made the noise. He saw only a young buck, about a two point. They were several hundreds of yards away from the human camp. At least seven hundred, the thought that the sentries would come out this far was ridiculous. They didn't have the same magical capacity as elves, nor do they possess the inteligence. If it had been an elfish patrol he would've woken everybody up and moved them at least a mile farther. This was just a human contingency. All he saw was breakfast for tomorrow and possibly dinner. He looked again to scan for any human signs. The buck would be gone if there were humans within one hundred yards from it. He saw no signs on a second look. He may not get a second chance. He looked and aimed, his bowstring creaked, the buck looked up but went right back to eating what little brush was sticking up from the snow. Jackel fired. The arrow sliced right through the buck's heart and into the tree several hundred yards behind it. He did have a magical quiver.

Slinking behind the rock again he cussed at himself for using his charmed armor plated arrows thinking that the noise was armed humans. Now he has to go and retrieve the arrow or the humans will know for sure that someone else was there, especially if they backtrack for any reason. Branthony stood with his back to the wall next to Jackel.

"What did yeh find?"

"Breakfast." Jackel answered. "An possibly dinner."

"What?!" Branthony asked confused.

"Yeh'll see, jest stay here an keep watch."

Jackel ran out crouching the whole way through the tall grass and snow closing the gap from the camp to the tree. He hid behind a tree as he heard two people closing the gap, then, they turned around to go the other way.

'Thank da Gods there weren't mages wit them. Seven hundred yards seems a bit close now.' He thinks as he crouched there behind the tree. His armor blended very well with the tree, especially in the dark.

Branthony saw all of this. He was prepared to help Jackel at the first sign of trouble. He was ready to jump into action right away, he was able to smell something sweet and figured that it was a group of elves knowing their reputations.

He thought about it. It would take him a long time to get the seven hundred yards to help him. Would he even be able to help him before he was killed? Should he even try if he could accidentally alert the rest of the elves that the whole group was there? If he tried to help, would they all get caught? Was that smart thinking or was that a coward in him coming out? Things were a lot different in the wilds than in the rink. 'What am I te do? What would Mortog do? Mortog! Wake him an see what he would do!' He slowly crept over to Mortog's bedroll to wake him only to find that he wasn't there. Panic set in as Branthony had no more options. Suddenly a hand fell on Branthony's shoulder. It was Mortog with his finger to his lips indicating that he remain absolutely silent.

"Relax, I's has a plan, can yeh handle a bow?" Mortog asked.

"I's really not dat good wit it, gimme me swords any day."

"Dat's ok man. It's jest point an shoot. As long as yeh don't hit one o' us I will need yeh te shoot as many arrows as possible aimin' high, if I give yeh da signal, but ONLY if I give yeh da signal, okay?" Mortog says smiling, but Branthony not being that good with the bow became increasingly nervous. "Most likely it won't come te dat. My signal will be my hand wavin' in da air, or me an Jackel runnin' fer our lives." He joked, trying to put Branthony a little more at ease. "Jest make sure yeh don'na hit us, an no noise." He grabs Branthony by both shoulders and shakes him slightly bringing him back to reality. "This should go off without yeh needin' te fire a single shot, okay? We's wantin' te make it look like there be more an one o' us. Got it?" He asked as Branthony nodded his head. He had never seen Branthony scared and realized that he really did need to train Branthony or he was going to get them all killed.


***



Cleary was awakened by all the rustling going on in the camp. It was just in time to send an obscuring mist spell on Jackel, there were two of them walking upon him. As long as he stood in the position he was in, he would remain undetected. He put a protection spell on Branthony. He hadn't realized that Mortog was going to go out from the other side of the wall at the farthest point away from the patrol and him, just to help rescue Jackel. He thought Branthony went to rescue him. He had nothing to protect him with now. He was already weak with these two spells. Mortog, the one he was supposed to protect, was on his own. He hated being a low-level cleric.


***



Branthony chose to run to Jackel's kill and crept down to hide behind the carcass of the elk that was laying there bleeding out, or more appropriately, who had already bled out. He crouched behind the dead elk where he wouldn't be seen and surveyed the land. He could see the two humans talking and laughing as dawn closed in on them. From the far right, he saw Mortog creeping slowly and silently towards Jackel's position who was mysteriously shrouded in a fog that came over him suddenly. The only way he could tell it was Mortog was by his short brown beard, everything else blended perfectly into the snow. Now he's not sure whether to go farther or stay there behind his kill and not risk it. He chose to stay put this time. After all, he could shoot arrows a lot better from afar.




"What yeh be doing here?!" Jackel whispered frustrated that Mortog risked discovery by going out to him.

"I's be here te make sure yeh stay put an quiet. We can make it if we take da rout I's jest came from. Grab yer arrow an let's git." Mortog whispered. They were two hundred yards away and he knew that humans didn't have the trained hearing that dwarves had but he whispered anyway.

"Hold on." Jackel said as he put his finger to his lips to quiet Mortog. They both sat there and listened to the two humans on patrol.


***



"And I think this Keldron fool thinks that humans aren't smart enough for war and the elves are too fragile." One of them said.

"Actually, I heard that the whole war is because the dwarves can have human and elven babies, but if the humans or elves try, both mother and child die." Another one of them commented. "Yeah, that stupid Keldron declares war on everybody in the land with their empty challenges that they couldn't beat him."

"Yeah so now we gotta fall for it and show up for a war that he goaded us into." The second stinky human to speak was now out of the range of his hearing.


***



"What do yeh think dat second reason meant?" Asked Mortog.

"I's donna know, yeh' want me te go an ask em?" Mortog scowled at him. "Well shut up an lead da way then." They slowly and silently crawled away from the human entourage as far away as they could get. They went around to the other end of the wall that concealed them.

"Why couldn't yeh' back out o' dat situation earlier?" Mortog asked finally.

"I's be tryin' te find out what they was sayin'. I knew they couldn't hear us an dat they're sentries no be as powerful as da elves. I's was doin' some recon while I's be dare."

"Yeh did good; now what about dat breakfast." Mortog asked. "Go an help Branthony git dat buck, yeh shot." He looked around at where Branthony was and made sure that the area was secure; it was going to take some doing to get that buck up there. But before he left to go help him he turned to Mortog.

"Thank yeh, I's didn't know a bunch o' kids could be so resourceful. Yeh guys may jest be worthy after all, but let's see where da humans go today before we move on."

"Agreed." Was all Mortog said.



                   15

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