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Storm Rising

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Chapter One

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     Two figures lead a horse from the mountains, walking side by side and looking much worse for wear.  Each limps with hurts that have not been tended to and that only rest will heal.  Stumbling slightly, the woman who is a Cambion leans against the horse as her companion looks to her.  "Can you make it Stasciana?"

 

     She nods, the pain evident on her face.  "Yes Danel, I can... don't worry."  She turns to the Highlander and smiles, joy radiating from her face as she does.  The Cambion stands straight again and continues walking forward.  "We need to find us a place to rest Highlander, and get another horse.  Neither of us would survive going after Vorn in the condition we are in.  That and I am almost out of supplies."

 

     The Highlander looks in the sky, guessing the time by looking at the sun.  "Well lass, you might know better the villages around here than I.  My knowledge does not run in the Demon's lands."

 

     "Well, with Lord Meraphist sending the Dark Wings after us," Stasciana replies, "I'm not sure any of the villages around here would be safe for us.  Most are beholden to Demons, and who knows if it is common knowledge that Meraphist seeks us."

 

     Nodding, Danel readjusts the hammer across his back and continues walking on.  "We'll have to be careful then Stasciana.  You are right though, we need supplies, for I sense that Vorn is far away, and he has not moved much for a while."

 

     "I sense that too Danel,"  Stasciana replies and then she looks to the north.  "Though I no longer follow Meraphist, I will still continue on with this quest."  She pauses, and looks to the Highlander, eyes shining.  "Where you go, I shall as well Danel; nothing will separate me from you again."

 

     Danel smiles brightly at the Cambion, and touches her arm, and then they continue off along the trail, dust rising from their feet.  They travel for the better part of the day, sun beating down as they search for civilization.  The sun begins to set and the two travelers crest a hill, and look down to see the smoke coming from the chimneys of a small cluster of buildings, nestled in the floor of a valley.

 

     The Highlander hesitantly looks over at Stasciana.  "Think we can risk this village, lass?  Or should we try another?"

 

     Shrugging, Stasciana surveys the scene.  "This is not one that I know Danel.  Perhaps we will be safe here.  Either way, it doesn't really matter.  We need the rest, and we need supplies.  I can pull up my cloak and hide my face, but I know not what we can do about you."

 

     "Don't worry lass," Danel winks with his one good eye.  "I have a few tricks up my sleeve that I can pull to pass undetected."

 

     Finding a rock, the Highlander sits and closes his eye as Stasciana watches.  Danel begins his chanting and rocking back and forth as a slight glow surrounds him.  Slowly, his features melt and change.  Hair turns white, face lined, and his skin begins to look weather beaten as the spell takes effect.  Sitting now in the place of the younger, vibrant Highlander is a worn and tired old man.

 

     "Well, lass..." a voice matching the figure rasps out, "Do you think this will pass any inspection we might have?"

 

 

     The Cambion just shakes her head and laughs, then leads the way down the path to the village.

 

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     The gates of Toradat open wide as the three remaining members of the Dark Wings ride through.  Zonda leans back and breaths in, smiling.  "Finally... I grew tired of all that searching through the woods and wildlife."

 

     A throaty laugh erupts from the mouth of the female Cambion.  "Why Zonda... you would think you were a city bred human for all of your complaints of travel and not having the conveniences of civilized life."

 

     Looking over to the female Cambion, Zonda shrugs.  "My targets have always been in cities Tian.  I was not born to the out doors.  It is not my element.  This..." he breaths in, closing his eyes and reveling in the smells, "...is my element.  This is where I feel at home."

 

     "Quiet both of you, this is not a pleasure trip," the third Cambion growls from his horse.  "In case you have forgotten, we are here in failure."

 

     Zonda looks angrily at the speaker, and smirks.  "Lighten up Shrant; we suffered a setback, that is all.  It was not our failure that caused us to miss our mark, it was Garnet's."

 

     Letting loose a sigh, the Cambion named Shrant looks to both.  "Do you really believe Lord Meraphist will see it that way Zonda?  All he will see is that we failed.  We will be lucky if our souls are not ripped from us and broiled forever."

 

     "If you are so worried about that Shrant, why did you not let us go after Garnet and our prey?"  growls Tian.  "He could have used our help, and we could have had the glory of seeing Darkblade humiliated and in chains."

 

     "Garnet is dead Tian,"  snarls Shrant.  "If he was not, Nasan would have told us as much."

 

     Hissing, Tian pulls her horse up next to Shrant, drawing her dagger.  "What makes you think the flying rat would tell us anything?  He would delight in the death of Garnet.  The imp is nothing but an untrustworthy waste of blood."

 

     "Put the dagger away Tian... shedding my blood won't bring back Garnet," sighs Shrant.  "I know, because if Garnet was alive... he'd be forcing the imp to do his bidding.  I know that, and you know that as well.  As much as Nasan hates Garnet, he fears him enough to do his bidding."

 

     Shrant nudges his horse forward then looks around.  "Now, both of you, keep watch for the Imp.  He should have been here by now.  Until he finds us, we shall find ourselves a place to stay.  We can report to Lord Meraphist's garrison commander in the morning."

 

     "I still think we should have waited for Garnet in the pass,"  Tian mutters as she rides forward.  "For all we know, Nasan has finally overcome his fear of Garnet, and is ignoring his orders."

 

     Zonda laughs and urges his mount ahead.  "Not likely Tian... for if he was alive, Nasan would know he could share in the glory of Darkblade's capture as well."  The Cambion snorts and laughs again.  "He also knows that if he abandoned Garnet, then Garnet would have him for boot leather."

 

     The female Cambion looks to the mountains.  "I still think we should have waited.  We have never lost prey before.  I am shamed that we did this time.  Especially since it was Darkblade."

 

     "Feel free to go back out there Tian," Shrant growls.  "Me, I'm going to rest, and see if Lord Meraphist will give us another chance.  If Darkblade and the Highlander survived... then we will need all the help we can get.  We know where they are going, all we need to do is strengthen ourselves again, and then we can take care of both of them, and of Carin Vorn."

 

     Tian looks back and just shakes her head.  "I will follow you Shrant,"  she turns back and looks back towards the mountains again, her face going hard.  "But if Garnet has been defeated, then I shall do what he did not.  I will break Darkblade."

 

     The female Cambion smiles wickedly and seductively as she thinks of the Highlander.  "One way, or another."

 

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     Commander Trell Morenew rubs at his temples, still feeling the effects of his failed attempt at detaining the enemy.  He mutters to himself as he recalls the dressing down from Lord Vorn.  His mind drifts back, trying to think how he could have improved on his situation.

 

      "What do you mean you had one of the elves and she got away?" Vorn growls.

 

     Trell rubs his wrists after one of his aide's unties them.  He looks to the mirror and frowns at Vorn.  "My apologies Carin.  le Fae got the best of me, and got in a lucky shot.  It will not happen again."

 

     Vorn drums his fingers in the mirror, the look of irritation on his face.  "You faced her alone?  Tell me she did not find the map to get to Correst Trell, tell me that."

 

     Looking down, Trell sighs, "I am sorry Carin, but she did.  I would expect them to be at your door in the week.  They are but a small group, and can move faster than I can with the legion.  My guard Cale has reported though that the Highlander and the Cambion are not with them."

 

     A frown forms on Vorn's face.  "You must find them Trell.  Send out your best men.  Track down the party.  Sooner or later they will meet up with the Blackwalker and Darkblade.  I will not be thwarted by them."

 

     Track down those that have already bested his men, Trell thinks to himself.  Muttering again he stands and walks from his tent to where the small camp infirmary lays.  Pulling back the flap he enters, looking for a familiar form.  Nodding, he walks to the back and stands near the prone figure of Cale Greenwood.  The guard notices him there, and begins to stand as Trell stops him.

 

     "Rest Cale, you still should not be up."

 

     Cale looks down, his face glowing in shame.  "Commander, I failed you.  I allowed them to escape."

 

     Chuckling, Trell places his hand on his guard's shoulder.  "Do not take it so hard my son, we both underestimated the le Faes, and we have both paid for that.  Your failure is also my own."

 

     The guard looks up, shame still in his eyes.  "But Commander, you had set forth a task for me, and I could not complete it.  My overconfidence was my downfall.  I... was bested.  I am not fit to be your body guard anymore Commander, I am not worthy of that honor."

 

     "Get a hold of yourself Cale, there is no shame in making a mistake," Trell smiles.  "I could do no better than you as my shield and sword.  But, I have a mission for you my son.  One that will take you from me."

 

     Looking away again, Cale's shoulders slump.  "Commander, do not release me from the army.  I have failed, but do not send me away.  I will redeem myself."  He looks back to Trell, fires burning in his eyes.  "I will redeem myself, just give me that chance Commander."

 

     Smiling down at the body guard, Trell nods.  "You shall have that chance my son.  That is what this mission is.  There are none I would trust with it more than you."

 

     A look of pride passes over Cale's face before it returns to his stoic seriousness.  "And what is that mission my Commander, how is it that I may prove myself again in your eyes and make up for my failures?"

 

     "You will be my hound this time Cale Greenwood," Trell replies, looking down at his body guard.  "You will find those that escaped us, and you will capture them.  You will also capture the Highlander and Cambion that will go with them.  All of those you may kill, but leave Sinistra le Fae for myself.  Bring her to me alive."

 

     Cale's eyes glow with determination as he speaks.  "What of her sister my Commander?"

 

     Trell waves his hand turns to leave.  "Do with her as you please.  I do not care, merely leave Sinistra for me.  Bring her to me Cale, and your failure will be as it never was."

 

     Trell walks from the tent, and as the flap closes, he hears the voice of his body guard.  "So it shall be my Commander, I will not fail again!"

 

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     Guiding the horse down the dusty road, both Cambion and Highlander look at each other, then at the ramshackle nature of the village.  Few people walk the streets, and those that do look at the pair with hostile and hunted glances.

 

     "Friendly place I see," Danel whispers as he leans over to Stasciana.

 

     The Cambion nods and looks to see a man overseeing two others loading a wagon.  "There seems to be some upheaval here, and quite a bit more quiet than it should be here." 

 

     Danel looks to where Stasciana is observing and mutters.  "Perhaps we should find the inn quickly, then get the supplies we can.  From the looks of it, I do not believe the shopkeepers will have anything to sell us in the morning."

 

     Stasciana shivers and takes in the sight of the rest of the buildings in her view.  Each looks run down, and many look to be recently abandoned.  "That might be wise, this place has the feel of rats leaving a sinking ship."

 

     "That it does, and when rats do that, it is best to follow their example." Danel looks down the street.  A sign waves in the air, barely legible showing the outline of a moon sitting on a bed.  "There lass, that appears to be the inn we need."

 

     Eying the sign and entryway critically, Stasciana turns to look at the Highlander.  "I believe if we stay there, we might have more companions in the room then we have bargained for, and those companions will not be paying."

 

     Chuckling slightly, Danel puts his arm around Stasciana's waist and winks.  "Lass, I don't think there are any bedbugs in the world that you and I could not take in a fair fight.  Take care of the lodging, and I shall stable the horse."

 

     Letting out a laugh and rolling her eyes, Stasciana looks to the Highlander.  "Fine, but then you shall go rest.  You need it more than I.  While you do, I shall get the supplies we need, and try to get you a horse."

 

     Danel grins roguishly, then sketches a mockingly low bow.  "As milady says, so I shall do.  I am yours to command."  With that, he turns, and slowly leads the horse to the stable.

 

     Watching as he walks off, Stasciana merely shakes her head and smiles, then turns and walks into the inn.  She blinks as her eyes adjust to the smoky and dim interior of the inn.  Keeping the frown from her face, she realizes her assessment of the inn was most likely correct.

 

     "Well, are you going to stand there all day or do you actually want something?" a gruff voice calls out from the shadows of the interior.

 

     The Cambion steps in and lets the door close behind her.  She walks toward where the voice originates, and finds the owner of it sitting behind a counter running a rag over a bar glass.  As she moves closer she finds that the person is not sitting, but standing.  The dwarf looks up from polishing his glass again and mutters.  "Well, what do you want?  I'm not here to look pretty.  Spend your gold, or get out.  That's what you breeders do anyway."

 

     Arching her eyebrow, Stasciana looks down at the stocky dwarf.  "Quite a way of persuading some one to stay here little man.  The fact your inn is not bursting at the seems is a miracle."

 

     Snorting, the dwarf smirks up at the Cambion.  "Bah, only inn in town, not that that's much of a good thing.  Place will be empty by the end of the week.  Now... you want something, or do I show you the hard way out the door?"

 

     A smile forms on Stasciana's face, and she realizes the gruff nature of the innkeeper actually puts her more at ease with staying here.  "One room, and a stall for my horse little man."

 

     "You left a horse out there?  Stupid breeder... some one will steal it for sure.  Damn people and their honor.  Yeah, they have it til hardship comes, then it's every man for himself," the dwarf spits and mutters.

 

     Stasciana shakes her head.  "No, my companion is bringing it to the stable.  Now, what is the charge for the room and stall?"

 

     Looking up, the dwarf just glares.  "Two of you huh?  Fine, two gold for the night, silver for the stall, food's extra."

 

     A look of shock passes over Stasciana's face as she regards the dwarven innkeeper.  "That's robbery little man.  For that I should be able to stay here for a week, not a night."

 

     The dwarf flashes a grin.  "Well, then I guess you will just have to either pay it, or sleep in the woods for all I care.  Price is high, but I can guarantee none will bother you.  If you don't like it, there's the door."

 

     Laughing, Stasciana puts down the gold and looks at the innkeeper.  "Fine, here is the gold, but I expect hot baths, and the food will not be extra."

 

     Cracking another grin, the dwarf nods.  "Fine, dinner is in an hour, be sure not to miss it.  And if you or your companion break anything in my inn, I won't take it in gold, but in your hide, understand me?"

 

     "Deal little man," Stasciana replies with a grin.  "And the name is not Breeder, it is Stasciana Darkblade."

 

     Holding out his hand, the dwarf nods.  "Well Darkblade, call me Ebenhawk."

 

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     Walking towards the stable, Danel pauses to catch his breath and look around at the surrounding village.  He frowns as he sees the signs of rapid abandonment and desertion in all aspects around him.  Shaking his head, he leads the horse on to the closed stable doors.  Pulling the handle, he frowns again as he finds it locked.  Scanning the area, he notices a bell pull, and walks over to tug on it. 

 

     A voice calls from the interior of the stable, "Coming, coming... do be patient."  The sounds of locks being thrown are heard from the other side of the door, then it opens with a creak.  Stepping out from behind the door stands a young dwarf holding a large club.  "Aye, and what do you want traveler?"

 

     "Merely to stable my horse here friend," replies Danel, lifting the reins.  "My companion is inside renting us a room, and I thought it best if I brought the horse here."

 

     The dwarven youth looks the Highlander up and down, then nods and steps aside to give room to bring the horse.  "Come in then, come in.  Stable's near empty anyway.  Not many wanting to stay here... or in any part of town for that matter."

 

     Leading the horse through the entryway, Danel turns and regards the dwarf.  "And why is that friend dwarf?  Is there some trouble with the village?"

 

     "Name's not friend dwarf," grunts the youth in response, shouldering the stable door back in place and locking it.  "It's Callum Stonefist... me Pa's Ebenhawk Stonefist.. owner an' proprietor of Moon's Rest Inn."

 

     Nodding, Danel pauses with the horse and bows slightly to the dwarf.  "My apologies Callum Stonefist, I am Danel Blackwalker.  Now, why is it that your father has so few patrons, and that the village seems deserted?"

 

     Latching the last lock, Callum turns and walks to the Highlander, taking the reins of the horse and leading it to a stall.  "The reason is that war is coming Master Blackwalker.  Armies are on the move to the north and east of us.  Pa says Meraphist, the damned fiend, is moving his forces too.  With all that, folks are just up and leaving Ram's Valley.  No one wants to be in the middle of a battle."

 

     Danel begins removing the saddle bags and puts them over his shoulder.  "Why is it then that you and your father have not left then Callum?  If I may be so bold as to ask that is."

 

     "Pa knows he can't ride very well or very fast,"  Callum replies as he begins brushing the horse down.  "He lost his leg in a battle a'fore I was born... That, and all we have is here in this inn.  Ma died birthing me, so Pa settled down, took over this inn, and here we sit, serving ale to the Cambions ands men in the garrison of Meraphist's army."

 

     The Highlander nods sadly, and takes out his coin purse.  Callum watches and cracks a grin, holding up his hand.  "Don't worry about that Master Blackwalker... if your companion is inside talking to Pa about a room, he'll take the money then."

 

     Cracking a nervous smile himself, Danel pauses in putting the pouch away.  "Well, tell me Callum lad, when do the soldiers of Meraphist's army normally do their business here?" 

 

     Callum eyes the Highlander critically.  "What trouble are you in with the Demon's forces traveler?"

 

     "Nothing that will bring harm to you or your father Callum," Danel assures.  "It is merely the case of our causes being at odds."

 

     The young dwarf's face splits with a grin, and he spits on his hand and offers it to Danel.  "Well, if it is a stone you wish to throw in the Demon's gears, then I'll help you however I can."  He smiles brightly as Danel spits and shakes his hand.  "It was that fiend's war that drove my Pa and Ma from their mountain home.  I'm sure Pa will help you in anyway too!"

 

     Danel shakes his head and looks to the young dwarf.  "No friend, I do not wish to bring my problems down upon you.  I should not have said a word really.  Keep this a secret between us."  Danel presses a silver into the hand of Callum.

 

     Frowning down at his hand, Callum then looks up at Danel with hurt in his eyes.  "You don't need to bribe me Master Blackwalker.  I can keep a secret.  I hate the Demon's forces.  I wouldn't want any to fall to it."

 

     The Highlander smiles and winks.  "Don't think of it as a bribe my young friend.  Consider it payment for the warning that the Demon's soldiers like to frequent this place."  Danel then leans down and whispers conspiratorially.  "And take it as payment for help in finding the right places to gather things I need while my companion and I stay here."

 

     Callum grins at the Highlander and nods.  "It will be as you say Master Blackwalker.  Know that any help you need, I shall provide!"

 

     With a look of confidence, Danel nods to the young dwarf then walks into the in to find Stasciana and his rest.

 

=========================

 

     A strong open handed smack cracks across Ariella's face, jolting her into consciousness. 

 

     "Awaken witch."

 

     Shaking her head and opening her eyes, the seer looks up at the speaker.  As her vision comes back into focus, she sees the forms of Carin Vorn and his steward Sarid glaring at her. 

 

     "Lord Vorn," she croaks out, "Where am I, and why am I being treated this way?  I have been your loyal conspirator and adviser."

 

     Growling, Vorn takes Ariella's chin in his hand and roughly lifts it upward.  "Loyal?  You speak of loyalty witch?  You, who hides from me the knowledge I require to hand Meraphist his ultimate defeat?"

 

     A ball of fear forms in the seer's gut as she tries to move her arms.  The chains attached to her wrists rattle, and hold firmly to the wall.  Sarid laughs maliciously.  "Escape is futile witch.  I have seen to your binding myself.  You will answer for your treason and tell his Lordship what he wishes, or I shall make you suffer."

 

     Looking up, hatred streams from Ariella's eyes as she stares at the steward.  The seer then turns her gaze towards Carin Vorn.  "Lord Vorn, what has this rodent told you?  I have always given you the knowledge you seek.  It was I that told you of the perfect timing to turn on him, and help McCalister hand the Demon his defeat."

 

     "Silence!" roars Vorn.  His hand flies out and backhands the seer across the face.  He moves down and gets eye to eye with her.  "I know you have the means to locate the Sword of Storms witch.  I know you can tell me where it is... and yet, you hide that information from me."

 

     Ariella works her jaw back and forth, fighting back the involuntary tears that seek to roll down her cheeks.  She looks back to her captor.  "I know not of what you speak Lord Vorn.  The Sword of Storms is lost to Demon and Man alike.  How would I know where to find it?  Many say it is only a legend, a myth."

 

     Vorn stands and begins to pace in front of the seer.  "The Sword is not a myth.  It is quite real, and with it... I could rule the world."  He turns on his heel and moves back into the face of the seer.  "I know that you have the ability to find the Sword witch.  My dear steward overheard you letting that secret slip.  Your powers come from your faerie blood my dear seer.  You will tell me what I wish to know, or I shall let Sarid spill that blood and stain the stones of my keep."

 

     Understanding that she can no longer plead innocence, Ariella gathers her courage, and spits in the face of Carin Vorn.  "You will never gain the Sword Vorn.  I will never tell you how to find it.  You are not the one that is destined to wield it.  The Sword in your hands would bring the world's downfall and the destruction of all of creation."

 

     "The Sword will be mine witch, it will," snarls Vorn.  "My destiny is to rule this world.  I shall bring the Demons and the Angels to their very knees.  All shall bow down before the might of Carin Vorn."

 

     Laughter bubbles from the throat of Ariella, causing Vorn to whip his head back to her and strike her across the face with the back of his hand again.  "What is so funny witch?"

 

     "You are petty lordling," Ariella smirks, feeling the blood drip from the corner of her mouth.  "Your delusions of your own grandeur will be your downfall.  The true wielder of the Sword will come, and you shall fall with the Demons and Asmorial... just like wheat before the scythe."

 

     Vorn stands and snarls.  "Your downfall will be your defiance witch.  The Sword will be mine, and you shall be the one to tell me where it lies."

 

     Walking to the door, Vorn turns his head to his steward.  "You may have your fun Sarid, but you will keep her alive.  Draw the location from her.  Do as you wish, but do not kill her.  You will inform me when she has told you all that I wish to know."

      "It shall be as you command my Lord," Sarid says fawningly as he bows.  "Her pain will come, and then she shall beg to tell me where the Sword is hidden."

 

     The door shuts, and the steward turns back to face Ariella, a perverse joy in his eyes.  "Now witch... you shall learn what true suffering is."

 

     Some time later, on the parapets below, the guards pause in their watch, and look up to the window as the screams boil out, proclaiming the agony of the woman with in.

 

==============================

 

     Looking out the window of the room, Stasciana sighs.  She watches as the few people she sees quickly go about the business they must.  Shaking her head, she sees the same merchant from before still loading up his goods.  She mutters to herself, hoping that the Highlander will ask the innkeeper where the room is and get here soon.

 

     As if responding to a summons, Danel knocks, then opens the door to the room.  Stasciana turns, a slight smile on her face as she sees him.  "It did take you long enough Highlander.  Did I not tell you that you need rest?"

 

     A smile appears on the Highlander's face as he sketches a mocking and deep bow.  "As you say Mother."  He grins as he stands, winking at her.  His laughter fills the room.  "I can survive a short time Stasciana, fear not on that.  I won't pass away within the next few minutes if I do not sleep."

 

     "You Highlander," Stasciana growls and strides up to him, poking his chest with her finger, "would risk yourself more than you should.  Your captivity has weakened you, and I will NOT see you fall after I have found you again."

 

     Danel stands there a moment, losing himself in the emotion that boils in Stasciana's eyes, then smiles and nods.  "As you say.  You need your rest as well my dear.  I might have healed you, but the travel from the Pass to here has drained us both."

 

     The Cambion reaches out her hand, touching the Highlander's face tenderly as she smiles.  "Worry not dear man, I will do so.  One of us does need to find supplies though, and find you a horse.  You appear about half dead, so it falls to me.  Rest, and I shall meet you back here for dinner, and we will decide what our next step is."

 

     Blushing at the touch, Danel, steps back and sketches another self mocking bow, standing with a wink.  "It shall be as you command.  Do try not to get into to much trouble though... The stable master has told me Meraphist has a garrison here, and that they dine at this very inn."

 

     Arching her eyebrow, Stasciana merely smirks, her hands on her hips.  "Highlander, YOU would be more of a risk of discovery than I.  I doubt word of my defection has reached Meraphist yet, but you, for your kind alone, would be a wonderful prize for a Cambion garrison to bring to him."

 

     Nodding, Danel leans in and kisses the Cambion softly.  "As you say Stasciana, but please, do be careful.  If you are not back here by dinner, I will go and search for you."

 

     Stasciana smiles as she leans back from the kiss and nods.  "Do as you will Danel, but rest for now, I will return."

 

     Slipping from the room, the Cambion chuckles at her feelings and makes her way down to the common room.  She nods to Ebenhawk and walks to the street, her eyes adjusting to the outside glare of the almost set sun.  She walks down the dusty street as boys on stilts walk and light the lanterns placed at varied intervals.

 

     Her steps carry her to the building that still has a wagon in front of it.  The workers still move diligently, carrying goods from the building and placing them in the back of the almost full cart.  A man's voice is heard over their labors.  "Hurry boys, I want to get this done tonight.  This shipment needs to leave so I can bring the next wagon up.  Another day or two and we can get out of here for good!"

 

     "Easy for him to say, he isn't the one moving this stuff," grumbles one of the workers to the other.

 

     The other chuckles, "Hey, as long as he pays on time, I don't care.  His gold spends well, and with it I can get some where safe myself."

 

     "This village is not safe?" interrupts Stasciana as she steps nearer.

 

     The overseer jumps slightly as he hears Stasciana and looks to her.  Eying her up and down he dry washes his hands in a worrisome manner.  "Yes good Mistress, it is not safe.  Have you not heard of the armies moving in these lands?  The Demon Lord will surely try to conscript soldiers from the villages of this area if they get closer."

 

     Stasciana nods, and looks to the cart.  "Well good merchant, would you be willing to sell some of your wares before you cart them all away?  My companion and I require supplies so that we can continue on."

 

     The merchant shrugs and turns to the side, ushering Stasciana forward.  "Gold travels easier than goods good Mistress, do come inside and we shall see what we can do."

 

=========================

 

     Opening his eye, Danel looks to the window and sees that full dark has fallen.  Yawning, he stretches and works to get the last vestiges of sleep from his mind.  His stomach informs him of the need for food and he fumbles around the room to look for the lamp.  He laughs to himself, and stops his search, closing his eye and mumbling a small incantation and causing a slight glow to form around his hand.  Using that light, the Highlander finds the lamp in the room and lights it, bathing the room in it's warmth. 

 

     Quickly throwing on his clothes, the Highlander banks the flame of the lamp, then leaves the room to walk down to the common room.  He surveys the room with his good eye, and nods as he notices the innkeeper calling him over.  Striding to the bar, he sits as the innkeeper speaks.  "You must be the companion that Darkblade was talking about, the one me boy can't stop talking about either."

 

     Smiling, Danel nods.  "That I am friend.  Danel Blackwalker, at your service."

 

     Grunting, the dwarven innkeeper sets out a mug with ale and slides it to Danel.  "Well, your companion stopped by not long ago.  Asked me to tell you that she found your supplies, and she was going back out to find you a horse.  Told her she'd never find one, but she didn't listen.  Stubborn that one is."

 

     Danel laughs and takes the mug.  "That she is friend, that she is.  But her hard headedness has helped us both, and will do so many times again I think in our journey."

 

     The dwarf snorts and nods.  "That it might do... now.."  He pauses as the door to the inn opens then swears under his breath.  "Quickly, pull yer cloak up.  Meraphist's soldiers will know you're Highlander, and surely cause you grief."

 

     Hastily Danel pulls up the hood of his cloak, masking his features as he hears the sounds of the soldiers striding in.  Their course and rough voices show that some alcohol has already passed their lips before coming here.  The innkeeper's scowl shows his thoughts of the soldiers to Danel before his face goes blank again.  He whispers from the corner of his mouth.  "Keep quiet, and keep back.  You're safe here as long as they don't know you are a Highlander."

 

     One of the Demon's soldier's calls out, "Leave that wretch alone and come earn your gold runt!  We thirst!  And don't be giving us that half watered swill you have before or we'll take your head."

 

     "Keep your armor on boys, swill or not, you drink it all down no matter what I give you," growls the dwarf.

 

      One of the soldiers draws his dagger and snarls.  "Your mouth has gotten out of hand runt.  You will give us the respect we deserve, or by the Dark Lord I will have your tongue for a trophy."

 

     Not backing down, the dwarf rests his hands on the bar top.  "Oh really?  And what makes you think I would LET you take that boy?  I think it's high time I threw you and your fellow demon blooded brutes out."

 

     Standing, one soldier glares and grabs the front of the dwarf's tunic.  "I think you owe my comrades an apology runt."

 

     From the door of the adjoining stable, the voice of Callum is heard.  "Leave my Pa alone!!!"

 

     The innkeeper turns and looks at his son.  "Callum, stand down, I'll handle this."

 

     Laughter bubbles from the throats of the soldiers as one speaks up.  "Yeah Callum, let your pa show you how a runt should truly act."

 

     Unable to stand the display anymore, Danel stands and walks over, hand on the head of his war hammer.  "I think friend, that you and your fellows should leave, and let this innkeeper and his son have their peace."

 

     Turning to face the cloaked Highlander, then lead soldier growls.  "And I don't think that this concerns you in anyway scum.  If you wish to step in, me and the boys here would have no problem showing you the error of your ways."

 

     "Do as you must friend," Danel says from beneath his hood, "but I will not allow you to harm this dwarf."

 

     The other two stand, and square off to Danel, their leader's lips turning into a sneer.  "Big words for one that is about to become dinner for hell hounds."

 

     One of the soldiers to the rear cocks his head to the side, then sniffs the air and snarls before whispering in his leader's ear.  The leader pauses, then looks to Danel and lunges forward, pushing back the hood of his cloak.  "Well, well," laughs the lead soldier as he draws his sword,  "Looks like we have a prize to bring the Captain.  It's not often we can claim a Highlander for a prisoner."

 

     Slipping back, Danel throws back his cloak and draws both his sword and hammer, and stands ready for the fight.

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