Deceit and Deception Most Foul
Three nights ago, the inhabitants of Baltrath had been treated to an extremely rare sight.
The astrologers were all to agree that the strange occurrence upon their moon could only have been a volcanic eruption.
“Bloodmoon!” they had later exclaimed as the enormous dust cloud created by the immense blast had given the lunar body a scarlet hue. “A bad omen! Definitely a bad omen!”
Now Karta Kithlid was not the only one thinking that Tar Ta Rus’ wise and learned stargazers had made an understatement.
He crouched behind the Royal Palace balcony and watched the Great Dragon circle around for another attack.
“Maggoth had been correct,” thought the emperor. “It is just as the Dark Wizard had predicted. Rava Zool has come to hold the Kithian capital to ransom”.
The dragon opened its large maw and released an enormous ball of blue shimmering energy from the back of its throat.
The ball hissed through the air and struck the mountainside above the already damaged entrance to the Tomb of the Golden Sleepers.
Enormous boulders and chunks of rock toppled down into the moat filling the gap between the temple and the mountainside.
The devastating force permanently sealed the entrance to the tomb and sent two large rippling waves undulating across the muck-caked water’s surface in opposite directions. They crashed magnificently at either end of the smoothly carved channel in a dramatic spray of foam and slime. Some citizens hiding from the dragon’s carnage behind the ridge at the top of the moat were totally covered in foul smelling ooze.
At any other time, the emperor might have found such a sight to be amusing, but now he was much too terrified to reflect on anything else but the dragon’s impressive power.
“This Rava Zool does not seem too weak to me,” he muttered to himself. “The Dark Wizards told us that the Great Dragon would be
in dire need to replenish his energies after his release from captivity. Dakur preserve us if this is actually a mere fraction of the beast’s true strength.”
As if in a contemptuous answer to the emperor’s plea for assistance from his great god of Death, the dragon spewed another shimmering ball of blue energy; this time towards one of the domes upon the roof of the Temple of Dakur.
The large solid semi-spherical covering exploded, sending large fragments flying across the city. The rest of the dome collapsed downwards into the temple.
The dragon circled once more above the scattering and screaming citizens of Tar Ta Rus before lightly alighting over the gaping hole in the temple. He raised his long scaly neck and laughed.
“Where is your great Dakur now?” Rava Zool’s voice was deep and terrible like rolling thunder. He took a long deep breath that caused his breast to expand widely. Then he stuck his head inside the temple and shouted sarcastically, “I do not see him anywhere in here. Perhaps he is hiding. Maybe I need to chase him out of one of the dark corners.” He released a long continuous stream of blue fire from his large nostrils. The flame filled the entire temple and caused the large temple doors to explode outwards onto the street. The few unfortunate eunuchs inside the temple were instantly turned to ash.
The dragon raised his neck high again and shouted, “Tell your puny emperor that the great Rava Zool wishes to have an audience with him now! Tell him that if he does not hasten to appear before me, I will surely raze the rest of his great city in the clouds into a mere heap of dust!” He rested his head upon his two forepaws as he surveyed the destruction and chaos he had wreaked upon Baltrath’s most magnificent city. He closed his eyes and grinned contentedly as his thoughts wandered to recent events.
The Great Dragon and the Eldritch Blade are two parts of a single entity, attracted to each other in a way similar to that of the opposite poles of a magnet.
Once fully charged and free of the anakhenium handle, the Eldritch Blade had traveled with uncanny swiftness towards Baltrath’s moon. Its speed had been influenced little, if any, as it pierced through the outer crust of the grey lunar body.
Deep, deep beneath the surface of Baltrath’s moon, there where the great pressure had squeezed the rock mass into a fiery bubbling expanse of molten lava, the dragon had roared triumphantly as he was reunited with his fantastical tongue.
The pain in his throat had felt ecstatically superb. He had considered it a wonderful symptom of the ensuing victory. He had been forced to spend what felt like an eternity in silence. For ten thousand cyclans his jailers had rendered him mute and impotent.
He knew that by slowly and meticulously working his way up to the surface of the moon it would be possible to conserve most of the vast amounts of energy that had been transferred to the rest of his massive body from his wondrous organ of speech. This could take many moons, perhaps even cyclans, to accomplish. Alternatively, he could expend the bulk of his power in one swift explosive force that would immediately release him from his much-despised prison. This however would leave him weak and vulnerable, especially from an attack by a master of the dark arts.
He had been patient for a very long time. So far his patience and cunning had certainly brought the desired results. It would be best to continue being tolerant for just a short while more.
No! The time for patience was ended. He sort his freedom. And he sort it now.
He was Rava Zool and his true power was not his physical strength but his great mind.
Besides, he had already devised an ingenious scheme that would allow him the opportunity to swiftly replenish his depleted strength.
“I have come as you commanded, oh Great Dragon!”
Rava Zool opened a single eye and gazed down at the small nervous group gathered at the base of the Temple of Dakur.
“I am Karta Kithlid, ruler of the Kithian Empire,” continued the emperor sheepishly. He waved an arm to his left. “This is Bel Shedor, the chief overseer of the Kithian War Council, and on my right Leeja Fay, high priestess of the Temple of Dakur. We represent the Royal Kithian Council.”
Rava Zool slowly extended his front claws and arched the rear of his back. Cat-like he stretched his enormous stiff body until he heard the vertebrae in his lengthy spine clicking loudly into their proper positions.
“I seek those that call themselves Dark Wizards. I have reason to believe that you know of their whereabouts.”
Without hesitation the emperor replied, “Yes, we recently had the displeasure of entertaining the company of three of these so-called Dark Wizards.
“They desecrated and destroyed our most holy tombs. They plundered the Royal Treasury and still had the audacity to ask us to supply them with more gold.”
Rava Zool raised a scaled eyebrow. “And?”
“We refused of course!”
The dragon’s neck elongated, bringing his enormous head closer towards the trembling trio. “Why?”
“Because we believed their narrative about a great and powerful dragon trapped within the moon to be no more than a fanciful scheme to make us part with even more of our riches.”
The dragon threw back his head and laughed. “Fools! Do you not realize that you have spurned the assistance of the only ones capable of stopping me?”
“Yes, it would presently seem that we have made a rather grave mistake in our judgment of the Dark Wizards.”
“And where are these Dark Wizards now?”
“Maggoth and the female known as Selestia are traveling towards our northwest border. They intend to make their way to the Artanian capital. They desperately need to replenish their power. They believe they will have better fortune in persuading the Artanian king to part with his gold.”
“And do you think that they will fare better across your border?”
Karta Kithlid looked nervously at Bel Shedor and then back at Rava Zool. “They have taken the one known as Kronos with them. He has imprisoned himself in a large blue gemstone. He lacks the power to free himself. I believe they wish to exchange the gemstone for a large sum of gold.”
Rava Zool frowned. “Surely transporting such a large item will have an adverse influence on their progress?”
“They did not realize that you would be able to free yourself quite as swiftly as you did. They said that it would still be many moons before you returned to Baltrath.”
“Three moons!” said the dragon holding up three enormous gnarled talons in front of the emperor.
“Three moons?” queried Karta Kithlid frowning at the monstrous claw.
“That is how long it will be before I return to Tar Ta Rus. Unfortunately I have neither the patience nor the diplomacy that Maggoth may have afforded you. If you have not collected enough gold to satisfy my needs, I will totally destroy your grand city in the clouds.”
Leeja Fay stepped forward. “If we do as you ask, what guarantee do we have that you will refrain from using your power upon us?” The tremor in her voice betrayed her nervousness.
“My dear high priestess, you insult me. My very word should be guarantee enough. Besides, I do not believe you have any other choice in the matter.
“Now you must excuse me. I too have an urgent appointment with your neighbour. I am sure that I will be more persuasive than that fool Maggoth in convincing the Artanian king to part with his precious metal.
“Be warned! Three moons is a long time. I shall certainly expect to see a large sum of gold. Do not disappoint me.” Rava Zool’s large leathery wings began to beat the air. “Allow me one final demonstration before I depart!” He rose swiftly. “I suggest you hasten yourselves from this place without delay. I would also recommend that the high priestess seek for herself some other means of employment.”
The three members of the Royal Kithian Council immediately understood the gravity implied by Rava Rool’s words.
The Great Dragon roared with laughter as he watched the trio rushing towards the relative safety of the palace area.
“Do not disappoint me!” shouted the dragon repeating himself. “Your precious Royal Kithian Palace could very well be next!”
The enormous sphere of blue shimmering energy that hissed downward through the air was certainly larger than any of the other destructive missiles that the dragon had recently disgorged from his large maw. It entered the breach in the already damaged dome of the temple.
Karta Kithlid barely managed to find shelter behind one of the large pillars, which lined the main road up to the palace, when the explosion occurred. He placed his back against the column and covered his ears. Stone fragments and debris whizzed and hurtled past on either side of the terrified emperor.
By the time Kith’s ruler had mustered up enough courage to peep out from behind his place of protection, the once magnificent Temple of Dakur was no more than a pile of rubble; the Great Dragon was no more than a small black dot silhouetted against a quickly reddening sky.
Karta Kithlid found great pleasure in attending to the plants upon the broad south-facing royal palace balcony. It was a pastime in which he regularly partook with great relish. He was an accomplished gardener, having learned his cultivating skills from some of Baltrath’s best botanists.
He had personally and very tenderly potted and grown all these plants himself. The shoots or seeds from which they had sprung had been brought to him from all over the empire.
To the frequent frustration of his army captains he had all too often requisitioned them to collect an assortment of rare and exotic flora whilst out on their extensive military manoeuvres.
It was this gratifying diversion that afforded Kith’s emperor the time to think and reflect on all the problems that surrounded the more important duties of the most powerful political figure on the face of Baltrath.
Recently he had been finding these obligations to be taxing him to his limit. Ever since the Dark Wizard had brought that infernal gift to Tar Ta Rus, his nights had been filled with bouts of troubled sleep.
He knew very well, even before these times of great difficulty, that his subjects had little respect for him, considering him physically and mentally incompetent, unable to make or take any decisive actions. Even Bel Shedor was unsuccessful in concealing his contemptuous attitude towards the emperor.
Karta Kithlid interrupted his pleasant task of watering the plants. He placed the ceramic jug upon the balustrade and paused to look across the city towards the remains of the Temple of Dakur. After releasing a long sigh he turned his gaze downward at the masses of workers that had been specially brought to the city. Far below they seemed no different than little scavenger insects. He watched their slow progress in clearing away the rubble that had been strewn across the city during the Great Dragon’s destructive rampage.
No adversary had ever attacked or even considered attacking the great Kithian stronghold.
Now, in one short sweep, irreparable damage had been done.
With mortar and stone the physical damage could easily be repaired, but the deeper and more serious psychological damage, the injury to the pride and confidence of the Kithian nation, was beyond any measure.
Not once in her long and glorious history had the Kithian empire faced such a crisis; so powerful a foe.
Never before had Karta Kithlid experienced the sensation that now permeated his every fibre. For the very first time in his regal reign he felt inadequate. His ability to rule the greatest nation upon the face of Baltrath was being tested to the brink. He had been given a trial of fire. He wondered if he would be able to pass through it unscathed or would he be found wanting.
The emperor’s thoughts were interrupted by the appearance of a large muscular shape.
It was Mallaki, the chief of the shammar.
The brawny figure with the ruddy complexion stood at attention in the doorway to the balcony and waited for the emperor to grant him permission to speak.
“Yes?” hissed Karta Kithlid, obviously irritated at having his deliberations interrupted. “What is it now?”
“It is Maggoth, my liege!”
“What of him?”
“The Dark Wizard has returned and urgently requests an audience with you!”
“Returned? But...?” The emperor’s eyes widened. He turned away from Mallaki and began muttering to himself. “They were correct! May the elder gods preserve us!” He spun around to face the chief of the shammar again. “You are quite certain of this?”
“My liege?” said Mallaki frowning. “I assure you that...”
The emperor held up a notably shaky hand. Mallaki was quick to hold his tongue.
“Very well,” said Karta Kithlid. “Show this...wizard into the throne room. Inform him that I shall be joining him there shortly.”
The chief of the shammar bowed and left.
Mallaki stood, his large arms folded across his wide breastplate, and watched intently as the Dark Wizard carefully studied one of the many Kithian stone sculptures that graced the vast throne room.
A great length of time had passed since the Master of the Dark Arts had been informed of Karta Kithlid’s intentions to join him shortly.
The chief of the shammar had on many occasions been witness to his emperor’s contemptuous attitude towards foreign visitors. It was one of his favourite strategies to keep guests waiting to the point of frustration.
Yet, this time, Mallaki thought his emperor’s actions to be somewhat overly bold, even foolish. Surely it was unwise to exasperate any possible allies during this time of great tribulation. Was it not inevitable that the powerful creature, which had caused such a large amount of damage, would shortly return to wreak even greater havoc upon Kith’s capital?
The large heavy curtain behind the throne momentarily parted as the emperor made his entrance. Normally Karta Kithlid moved with a pompous swagger, but Mallaki could see that the emperor was clearly troubled at the prospect of meeting with his powerful and imposing guest. It almost seemed as though the ruler of Baltrath’s mightiest nation was humbled by the Dark Wizard’s presence.
“Maggoth!” exclaimed Karta Kithlid choking on the Dark Wizard’s name. What brings you back to Tar Ta Rus so soon?”
The sorcerer wheeled. He appeared to be insulted. “Judging at the state of your precious city, I would have expected you to be pleased to see me?”
“I am,” stuttered the emperor nervously. Then he repeated himself loudly. “I am! It is just that I thought you were on your way to the Artanian capital?”
“We were, but fortunately for you, bad news is renowned for its uncanny swiftness. I only recently received word that you were urgently seeking our assistance?”
“Well, yes. Of course! We are! But where is the rest of your company?”
“They are still on their way to the border. Selestia has used the last of her energies to return me to Tar Ta Rus. I hope that her effort has not been in vain? Has the Kithian Council at last come to their senses?”
“Yes, very much so.” Karta Kithlid wiped beads of perspiration from his brow. “I do apologize that you have been kept waiting, but I have just come from an emergency meeting of the council. I believe you will find the news that I bring to be of great significance to you.”
“Is something wrong?” asked the Dark Wizard narrowing his eyes. “You appear to be rather peaked.”
Karta Kithlid turned and waved a hand towards the chief of the shammar. “You may leave us!” The emperor waited until Mallaki had exited the throne room before facing Maggoth again. “I regret, I am not well. These past days have taken their toll upon both my physical and mental well-being.”
“Of course,” said the Dark Wizard forcing a tone of sincerity into his voice. “Most understandable, but you may be at ease now. Rest assured that we have every intention of helping you.” He paused, staring intently at the emperor. “That is, of course, only if you should first be able to assist us?”
“How much gold do you need?”
“We will not be able to face Rava Zool without a decent supply of power. As you well know, our energy is practically depleted.”
“How much gold do you need?”
“As much as is possible? How much time do we have?”
“In less than three moons Rava Zool shall return. If the ransom is insufficient, he has promised that next time, our destruction will be complete.”
“You do realize that, no matter what price you pay, the Great Dragon will nonetheless destroy your great city in the clouds?”
“Yes, of that we are all convinced. We have come to appreciate that you are our only means of salvation. You will be pleased to know that it was unanimously decided upon to furnish you with all the support you may require.”
“That is wonderful,” said Maggoth walking towards one of the side-exits of the throne room. Karta Kithlid quickly followed after the flowing cape. “I knew that you would all eventually come to understand the full gravity of the dilemma.” They walked out onto the long balcony that overlooked the eastern side of Tar Ta Rus. The sorcerer waved a hand across the citadel. “I am regretful that your beautiful city had to pay such a high price before you were finally convinced about the truth of the matter.”
“There are no more doubts.”
“Marvelous! For now I shall return to my keep near the border. It will be necessary for us to make plans for the impending battle. I shall return at the end of two moons.” The sorcerer held up two fingers in front of Karta Kithlid’s nose. “Make sure to collect as much gold as is absolutely possible.”
“You have my word, we shall use every means at our disposal to gather your precious metal from the furthermost reaches of the empire and, if needs be, even beyond.”
“Excellent!” exclaimed the Dark Wizard as he lifted into the air. “Two moons!”
“Two moons!” echoed the emperor.
The sorcerer floated effortlessly upon the chilly air above Tar Ta Rus. He moved over the high and treacherous mountain to the rear of the citadel. It was the very same mountain into which the Tomb of the Golden Sleepers had been carved. It was also this mountain that created a natural barrier against any attack from the rear.
He looked down at the cool flowing mountain stream that fed into the impressive aqueduct. He passed over many jagged and ice-tipped peaks until the mountain once again fell suddenly and dramatically into a wide open valley. Unlike the grassy plains of Gu Kazor Dee, this valley was mostly void of any vegetation. The terrain was rugged and unfriendly.
The wizard landed clumsily in front of an enormous cave at the foot of the mountain. He moved unsteadily into the dark opening.
Only once he had moved deep enough into the cave’s interior, far from the possibility of any prying eyes, did he collapse onto his knees.
He turned his head and stared back towards the entrance of the hollowed out retreat. The opening seemed small now, but still allowed enough light into the cave to reflect from the wizard’s now yellow and reptilian eyes.
The pain that coursed through his body was almost unbearable. As he lifted his head to scream, his neck elongated and his teeth lengthened into rows of razor sharp fangs. Fingers and toes became long pointed talons. Bones creaked, cracked, clicked and expanded until they reached their original and proper proportions.
The scream changed from a high pitched wail into a deafening reverberating roar.
When the metamorphosis was complete, Maggoth was no more. In his place lay the magnificent form of Rava Zool, the Great Dragon.
Although drained by his necessary act of deception, the dragon still found the strength to chuckle quietly to himself.
Even though his energy levels were dangerously low, he had considered it a necessity to entertain the gullible citizens that occupy the great Kithian city of Tar Ta Rus.
It had been necessary to instill in them two important emotions. Firstly fear, and then hope. Each emotion is capable of producing wonderful results, but together are a most dynamic combination.
Rava Zool was confident that the Kithians would spare no expense to gather the maximum amount of gold in the minimum amount of time.
Now he could simply bide his time for the next two moons. Two moons would be enough time to rest and regain enough strength so that he can once again visit the great Kithian capital in the form of his most hated enemy.
Karta Kithlid had waited until the figure of the Dark Wizard had floated out of sight before walking back into the throne room. He spoke to the curtain to the rear of the royal seat. “It is safe! You may come out now!”
The real Maggoth pulled aside the curtain. “Are you alright?” he asked gazing intently at the emperor. “You seem somewhat peaked.”
The emperor collapsed onto the throne. “By the elder gods!” he sobbed resting his face in his palms. “I have never been more terrified in all my life. After seeing the Great Dragon’s destructive capabilities and then to know that the impersonator could only be him, has taxed me beyond my limits. These past events are beginning to take their toll on my health. I have no idea how much longer I will be able to endure any more of this.
“Nonsense!” exclaimed the sorcerer beckoning to the curtain. Groad, Leeja Fay, Bel Shedor, Selestia and Turpane appeared and gathered round the throne. "Now is the time for action. It was your idea to deceive the dragon into believing that we had left for Artania.”
“But it was your correct assumption that Rava Zool would return here disguised as one of you.”
“It took much courage to face the dragon,” said Bel Shedor smiling. “It took great fortitude to face the fraudulent Maggoth without showing any indications that you were aware of his deceptions.”
“And it will be necessary to do so once again when he returns,” added Turpane.
“I know!” lamented the emperor. “And the last thing I need right now is for some Valacian whelp to remind me of that fact!”
“I apologize,” said Groad from beneath the hood. “She has a certain talent for annoying those around her.”
Turpane glared towards Groad but somehow managed to hold her tongue.
“How long do we have?” asked Leeja Fay.
“Two moons!” exclaimed Karta Kithlid. Then with a long despondent sigh he added, “We have but two moons before the Great Dragon returns to destroy the rest of Tar Ta Rus. Why waste our strength repairing her. We must enjoy this short time left afforded us. We should be making preparations for a banquet.”
“What do we do now?” asked Bel Shedor turning towards Maggoth. “Collect gold for you and the sorceress, and then pray to the elder gods that your combined strengths will be sufficient to destroy the dragon when he returns to our city in two moons?”
Maggoth shook his head and smiled. “Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘He who possesses the knowledge also possesses the power’?”
“Yes,” nodded the elderly warrior. “So?”
“It should actually be, ‘He who possesses the accurate knowledge also possesses the power.’
“We have one slight advantage over Rava Zool. At the moment he is extremely weak. This we know for a certainty as neither I nor Selestia were able to detect any aura emanating from him. He will need to recuperate from the gigantic and strenuous effort of escaping his prison. He will rest contentedly, believing that we are on a hopeless mission to Artania. He is also convinced that he can return here in two moons, disguised as me, to collect a vast sum of gold. Well, while Rava Zool rests we shall make our plans and preparations.”
Groad stepped forward. “The Dark Wizards and I have already discussed what we feel is a viable course of action. We shall discuss the plan with you in detail. It will require firstly and most importantly that you send your very best ambassador to Artania. We will not only need their assistance but more importantly their approval to deploy a small Kithian army across their border.”
“Very well said the emperor only too happy to have the burden of decision-making removed from his already weary shoulders. “I will send Rola....” Karta Kithlid hesitated and looked down at the crimson stains on his white royal robes caused by the tears he had shed. “How silly of me,” he said ashamedly. “I was almost about to say that we should send Roland, my official advisor and key bearer. For a moment I actually forgot that he is the Dark Wizard known as Kronos. How could I possibly forget that? It is because of him that we are in this predicament!”
“No one can blame you for making such a mistake,” sympathized Selestia. “He did after all manage to delude not only you but the whole royal Kithian line. His deception has spanned a vast amount of time. In fact, many of your normal life-spans.”
“Kronos will trouble us no more,” said Maggoth. “As you well know, he has been placed deep inside the Chaxer-ran Mountain. He is back where he belongs, inside the Tomb of the Golden Sleepers. And after Rava Zool’s vicious attack on the mountainside, the damage has caused the tomb to be permanently sealed.”
“Kronos has received the fate that he so justly deserves,” added Selestia. “Without any gold left inside the tomb, we can be confident that the dragon’s only ally has been incapacitated for all eternity.”
“For all eternity?” queried Groad. “It will be a rather uncomplicated task for Rava Zool to find and release Kronos. “Maggoth told that the Great Dragon can see into the hearts and minds of all unsatisfied creatures, no matter where they may be. We already know that it is possible that you yourself have been influenced by that very same power.”
“You refer to the Dark Prophecy?”
“Perhaps that is true, but at the moment the dragon’s powers are weak and limited. If they were not, he would already have been wise to our schemes.”
“What is this Dark Prophecy?” asked Leeja Fay.
“It tells of the Great Battle,” answered Selestia. “An unavoidable event that must take place to decide the future of all creation. It is called the Great Battle because not only will it take place on a physical level, but will rage on the battlefield of the mind and heart as well. It will be a physical, mental and spiritual struggle. This is why it is so important that we need unity of heart, mind and action. Should we be lacking in any of these areas, then I am afraid that we are going to fail.”
“We must make haste,” said Maggoth gazing intently at the emperor. “Preparations need to be made.”
Karta Kithlid’s forehead creased. “What sort of preparations?”
“Preparations to host an old acquaintance. I am sure that you must all agree that Rava Zool needs to be formally welcomed back after his lengthy absence from Baltrath?”
“It sounds like a wonderful idea,” beamed Turpane. “Where are you planning to hold this reception?”“A short distance across the Artanian border,” said Maggoth gazing down intently at the small Valacian whelp. “At my keep.”