The Dark Wizards

By Gary_Kuyper All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Renaissance and Reconciliation

“Curse you Maggoth! By the elder gods, you are the worst slark-slime-sucking evil low-life that I have ever met!”

There were no lungs expelling air; no vocal chords to vibrate the air into sound; no tongue or mouth cavity to shape the resonance into coherent speech, yet the intonation that was heard uttered from the flapping jawbone was unmistakably, undoubtedly the voice of Groad of Bryntha, the Son of Zemth, Gu Tibor.

“Now is that any way to speak to the one who brought you back from the horrible pit of death?” asked Maggoth smiling.

Groad walked angrily up and down in front of the small campfire that separated him from Maggoth. He studied his new body - or lack of it. He would probably have burst into tears if he had had any tear ducts.

It was the strangest phenomenon.

Although all that remained of Groad was his skeletal structure, he still had the sensation of being completely whole. He had no eyes and yet he could see. No ears, yet he heard. He felt his lungs expand as he sucked air in through nonexistent nostrils and windpipe, smelling the acrid smoke with a nose cavity void of any olfactory organs. There seemed to be a heart beating in his chest and blood coursing through veins and arteries. The nerve endings in the absent skin that covered his body felt the heat radiating from the campfire. Without a single item of clothing on his reanimated skeletal frame he felt naked, vulnerable and above all else extremely embarrassed.

“Maggoth is right, Kithian!” exclaimed Daleth, who was lying on his back gazing at the bright crescent of the quarter moon. “You really should show more gratitude.”

“Gratitude? Gratitude!” growled the Son of Zemth loudly. “The only gratitude I will show you is this!” He spat at Maggoth. A puff of dust wafted into the air. Frustrated, Groad turned to face the zin-za. “And you, what right do you have to give any form of advice when it is because of you that I look like this!” Groad’s head suddenly collapsed, drooping to one side.

“You will have to do something about that broken neck-bone,” said Daleth picking at his teeth with a large dry stick. “You could end up losing that loud stupid head.”

Groad straightened his head, and with much restraint went and sat down with his back against a tree. He too found a dry stick and started to use it to scrape away some zin-za excrement from between the phalanges and metatarsals of his left foot.

“I have something that just might cheer you up, Kithian,” said Maggoth. He placed two fingers in the corners of his mouth and whistled towards the bushes.

There was a clip clop sound of a horse’s hooves.

“Dakur’s eyes!” cursed the Son of Zemth, “Tell me you have not reanimated my poor devoured war-horse’s bones as well?”

A light-coloured mare moved into the firelight. There was a small girl seated upon it. She had long violet-coloured hair that had been smartly braided into a typical Valacian style. She was neat and clean and wore a fine material dress that almost covered her ankles. It took Groad a short while to realize whom it was.

“Turpane? Turpane Tinna, is that you?” said Groad standing up.

“Hello, Groad,” said Turpane dismounting.

“By the elder gods, girl, you certainly look different! I hardly recognized you!”

“I was just about to say the same thing about you,” she said forcing a smile.

“Well, one thing that has not changed is that sharp tongue of yours!” Groad grinned back, but no one noticed any discernible change in his permanently rigid facial expression. “So, the Dark Wizard has brought you back from the dead as well?”

“In a way, but the fact is, unlike you, I never actually died. It was more like being in a very deep sleep. Maggoth says it is almost the same as what happens to a grohara* in the winter. It was actually one of the most wonderful experiences I have ever had. It was like being back inside my mother’s womb. Within the megornex there is no perception of time passing, no pain, no anxiety; just an extreme sensation of peace and joy and security.”

“Megornex?” queried Groad. “Is that what those abominable crimson gemstones are called?”

“Yes,” she answered sitting down, legs crossed, in front of the campfire. “To tell the truth. I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but I actually wept, begging Maggoth to return me to the safety of the megornex. You should try it sometime.”

“I do not think so!” exclaimed Groad pointing the stick at the Dark Wizard. “I do not trust that slark slime for one instant.”

“I freed the girl for a very good reason,” said Maggoth stepping around the campfire. “I needed some important information from her. I needed to know if you had willingly aided Kronos or merely been innocents duped into doing his condemnable work for him. It is now quite apparent that we have all been victims of his clever plans.”

“If I ever find that little man again, I am going to break his neck in ten different places!” snarled Groad.

“I am glad you feel that way, Groad, because I will need all the help I can get to thwart his diabolical plot.”

Diabolical plot? Whatever are you referring to?” queried Groad sitting down again and starting to work on the other foot.

“Kronos means to free the Great Dragon from where we trapped him almost ten thousand cyclans ago.”

“We?” asked Groad frowning. “Who is we?”

“Kronos, Selestia and myself. The Dark Wizards.”

“This Kronos is a Dark Wizard?” asked Groad, his jaw dropping open.

“I can not wait to see you trying to break his neck in ten places!” blurted Turpane laughing.

“We were not always known as The Dark Wizards,” said Maggoth sitting down next to Turpane. “Let me tell you a story. The story of how all you see around you now came to be.”

“Listen to this carefully,” said Daleth raising himself up onto an elbow. “As fantastic as it may all sound, it is absolutely true.”

Maggoth continued. “It began at a time where there was no such concept as time.” Groad looked at Turpane puzzled. “Very well, let me rather say, at a time so long ago that it is impossible to imagine, the Great Creator formed four entities out of the nothingness; beautiful, magnificent spirit creatures known as The Keepers of the Light.

“It is unknown why, but Rava Zool, one of the four was endowed with much more of the tremendous knowledge and powers than had been bestowed upon the rest. This caused him to become vain and conceited, first considering itself to be better than the other three; then even judged itself to be superior to its own maker. It wished to redo the entire spiritual creation in its own design.

“The other three could not allow this to happen, and so there was a great battle. The forces generated by this battle were so vast that they split part of the spiritual fabric asunder, creating three so-called physical dimensions; two of which you are well aware, time and space. The third dimension is known only by a few; it is best described as a dimension of parallel universes. I will explain it to you in more detail shortly.

“By combining their strength, the trio had managed to confront and overcome the more powerful entity, but not without a very high price. During the battle their souls, their life forces if you will, had felt and touched the pure evil of Rava Zool. That encounter allowed them to gain what could probably be termed forbidden knowledge; their innocence was shattered forever, transforming them from sexless spiritual beings without gender traits into the corporal, yet immortal, forms you now know as The Dark Wizards.”

“Then there are only three Dark Wizards?” asked Groad.

“That is correct; myself, Kronos and Selestia. Selestia being the only female wizard of the group.

“Here on the physical world of Baltrath the battle continued until finally we were able to imprison Rava Zool in his new material form as the Great Dragon.

“On this new plane of existence we found that each of us had controlling power over one of the physical dimensions that I mentioned earlier. These particular powers can only be used safely if they are channeled through our cypherlettes, the indestructible ring-shaped amulets that hang from our necks. These unbreakable devices materialized at the same time we were transformed into physical beings. We believe they could contain our spiritual souls. Without the assistance of these rings it is impossible to control our powers. We could end up anywhere or anytime.

“With the rings to aid us, we were able to travel to the point where time begins and ends. We…”

“I am sorry to interrupt,” said Groad, “Time begins and ends at the same place?”

“That is correct. All three of the dimensions are complete by nature. Perfect…like a circle. In theory they have neither beginning nor ending. A fitting symbol of perpetuity, infinity. Inter-link the three circles and you would have a more accurate picture of the entire physical creation. Place yourself at the point where the three rings touch and you will be at a certain time, place and universe. Twist one of the rings and you can move forward or backwards through time; another and you move forwards or backwards across space or distance as you might call it; the last allows you to travel sideways to a parallel universe.”

“So what you are trying to tell me is that if we travel further enough along any one of these so-called dimensions we will end up back where we started?”

“Yes, but you must remember that the sections of these circles are continually dividing and sub-dividing, making it more and more difficult for us to travel the entire revolution.”

“The circles are getting bigger and bigger?”

“Not quite, it is more like taking a piece of wood and cutting it in half. Take one of those halves and divide it again, and so on and so forth. Therefore, even though the sections are increasing in number, the sum or size of the whole remains constant.”

Groad was considered by most and even by himself to be a Kithian of above average intelligence, but this conversation was beginning to confuse him. His nonexistent brain was starting to ache.

“You mentioned that you would explain these…these parallel universes?”

“Because you already move through time and space they are easy concepts to comprehend, said Maggoth moving a flat hand forward through the air. “You could remain where you are now, but you would not be sitting still; you are still rushing headlong down the pathways of time to corruption and deterioration as your body starts to age under the adverse influence of time.

“Now then, if the tree against which you are sitting were to topple in your direction, you could move aside to safety. In other words you have then reallocated yourself a certain distance from where you were before; you have actually displaced the air through which you moved to travel across space.

“But what if the universe you now inhabit were to be destroyed, could you still survive? You might think not, but the answer is yes, by traveling sideways to one of the parallel universes. You could end up in a place where the laws of nature that govern the world of Baltrath are nonexistent; find worlds where science is so advanced you would swear that it was a terrible form of magic. So, even if your universe were to be destroyed you could still…?”

“Destroy a universe? How is it possible for a universe to be destroyed?” interrupted Groad.

“If we do not act quickly, the Great Dragon will soon possess such power; the power to destroy every universe in creation.”

“Where is the Great Dragon to obtain such vast power?”

“Only by removing his tongue, separating him from the catalyst that generates his magnificent powers, were we able to trap him for what we must all hope will be eternity. Should the Great Dragon ever be reunited with his tongue, the first words he speaks will surely be the last we will ever hear.”

“Where is this tongue of the Great Dragon now?”

“After the great battle, we used our knowledge of the dark arts to harness the great power of the tongue. We did this by not only placing upon it a handle, but also by containing it within an indestructible sheath fashioned from dark energy.

“For many ages I kept it safe within my keep, until you stole it from me for your own personal selfish needs. For attempting to gain something as trivial as The Golden Sleep, you have probably forfeited all creation to damnation.”

“The Eldritch Blade?”

“That is correct, Groad, the Eldritch Blade is the Great Dragon’s tongue and the only means for him to regain his power. Should that happen, even your rumoured Dakur would cease to exist.”

“Dakur is no rumour, old man!” snarled Groad. “He is as real as the nose on my…your face!”

“Really? Well you should know better than most of us, after all you have just spent almost three moons in his wondrous presence. Why do you not tell us all about it?”

“I…I can not,” stuttered the Son of Zemth.

“I am sorry, I could not hear what you said!”

“I can not tell you anything, because I do not remember anything. The last thing I remember was the sound of my neck snapping. The very next thing, I was here in this grove, brought back to life as a horrible pile of stinking animated bones.”

“So whilst you were dead, there was nothing?”

“Nothing!”

“No conscious thought? No golden gates? No Dakur?”

“Damn you, sorcerer, I said there was nothing!”

“Perhaps it is because there is nothing after death. Perhaps this life is all that there is. Instead of having wasted your time in search of something worth dying for, perhaps you should have been looking for something worth living for? It is merely the Kithian way to contend with your fear of death and the unknown. You have created your own god. Dakur is no more than…”

“No!” exclaimed the undead Kithian angrily. “Dakur exists! I was simply unworthy of entering his hallowed halls. Now…now that…” Groad hesitated smiling. “You know what, Maggoth. I am grateful to you for ripping me from the dark pit of death. Perhaps now I will be able to redeem myself. I may yet be able to please the great Dakur in one final glorious battle.” A wave of realization washed over Groad. “Three moons?” he queried. “Did you say that I was dead for three moons?” Maggoth nodded an affirmative. “If this Eldridge Blade was so important to you then why have you taken so long to get here?”

“After questioning Turpane I knew that the Great Dragon’s tongue was already lost to Kronos. I expected that he would have followed you and taken the first opportunity to relieve you of your ill-gotten gain. Still, fearing that I may have lost my good friend Daleth, we immediately set off for Frybur. But as we neared we received word that the village was yet being terrorized by a zin-za. I assumed that Kronos had been afraid of returning to Frybur as he knew that I would probably be traveling there with all haste.

“You see, if he had remained in Frybur, I would have immediately become aware of his presence. His aura would have betrayed him.”

“Aura?”

“We each have an invisible aura. We emanate a certain energy that is easily perceived by one of the others. Easily unless of course we are in a weakened state.

“Now that I need as much gold as possible to defeat and prevent Kronos from completing his plan, traveling to Frybur would have been a waste, especially since the reward had not yet reached a reasonable amount. I then thought it best to travel to places that I knew Kronos favoured to frequent. Having no success in finding him we eventually came back here.

“It was only once I saw the collar, fashioned from dark energy, that Kronos had formed around Daleth’s neck, that I realized that your demise had probably occurred in the cave. And only once I had reanimated you was I completely sure that it was you.”

“Why is it so important for you to acquire so much gold?”

“Because gold is our sole source of power. It is the only substance that we are capable of converting into dark energy which is then absorbed into our bodies. Therefore, obtaining as much gold as possible is my only means of stopping Kronos. I have already managed to collect a vast amount of the precious metal that I have stored up at my keep.”

“Why store the gold. Why not immediately turn it into this…dark energy?”

Maggoth waved a hand towards the campfire. “Dark energy is very similar to the energy released from the igniting of wood or any other combustible. If we do not use it then it will simply dissipate the same way as heat that is lost into the atmosphere. It would be a waste to convert it to dark energy without knowing Kronos’ whereabouts. That is why we have been searching for him. I must first be quite certain that I know where he is before I decide to use those gold reserves. This is why we will return to my keep tomorrow at first light. We will add the Fryburian gold to my collection before continuing the search. We also need to relocate Daleth to another viable village.”

“Where did you have in mind?”

“I believe the new village elder in Bryntha has a rather fat purse.”

“Over my dead body will you take your infernal zin-za to Bryntha,” spat Groad angrily waving a bony finger between Maggoth and Daleth.

The group laughed loudly at the fuming Kithian.

“Fear not, Groad,” smiled Maggoth. “I was but making a jest. In truth, I have been considering one of the villages in southern Artania. We can then search for Kronos up north. There is a possibility he may have fled to the capital. H’thawnes* is renowned for her elaborate golden trinkets.”

“Jest all you want sorcerer, still explain how you allow a small Valacian whelp to accompany you on your searches for Kronos? Surely you must know that it is most unsafe.”

“It was far more dangerous to allow her to return to Frybur alone. Also the risk of this mission is nothing compared to what will happen if the Great Dragon and his tongue are reunited. All creation will suffer.

“She has been most helpful. Searching the fairs and marketplaces for a bald-headed man with unusual fingertips. It would be better if I were to establish Kronos’ whereabouts without him discerning mine at the exact same time. Recall what I told you of our auras. Besides, Turpane was rather persistent in joining me in my search. It was quite impossible to dissuade her.”

“Hmm,” mumbled Groad. “Yes, I know exactly what you mean. But if three moons have passed,” he said holding out his hands palm up, “Then surely Kronos has had more than enough time to reunite the Great Dragon with his tongue?”

Maggoth shook his head. “Kronos needs a vast amount of gold in order to energize the tongue so that it may be reunited with Rava Zool.”

“How much gold is a vast amount?”

“A whole lot more than one hundred coins. Much much more.”

“If that is so then why did Kronos not kill Daleth when he had the opportunity? After he had acquired the Eldritch Blade, it would seem as though he was only interested in the gold in my saddlebags. Do you suppose he may also have been waiting for the reward to increase?”

“Perhaps, but I doubt it. He probably knows by now that I am using a zin-za to gain my gold. So, knowing Kronos there could very well be a more dubious reason for his sparing Daleth. Whatever it is, I am sure we shall discover the reason.”

Daleth placed two large hairy fingers inside the collar and pulling he griped, “Maggoth, I tire of this uncomfortable gift that Kronos has so generously bestowed upon me. I beg that you use your power to remove this infernally irritating band.”

“That, my large friend, is an absolute impossibility,” said The Dark Wizard shaking his head. “The collar that fiend formed about your neck has been constructed from anakhenium.”

“Anakhenium?”

“The rarest and most precious metal in the entire universe. Unfortunately it is also…indestructible.”

“But surely if dark energy was used to fashion this collar then dark energy can also…undo it?”

“I am afraid not. Certain materials, like anakhenium, can only be created through dark energy. And just as normal energy can never be destroyed but is simply transferred or transformed from one form to another, the creations that are formed through dark energy can likewise never be undone.

“The portals which I create in order to travel from one universe to another can either expand to enormous proportions or contract so as to become exceedingly diminutive, but never undone.”

“Megornexes?” queried Turpane.

“Megornexes,” nodded Maggoth. “We may be able to change them from liquid to solid and back again but they can never be undone or converted back into dark energy.

“Anakhenium, once it solidifies it loses all its malleable properties. It can never be twisted or shaped. It becomes totally indestructible and impervious to further influence by dark energy or any physical manipulation. It can not be polished. Hence it always has the same greenish-white lusterless appearance. Not even time and the elements are able to corrode its surface.”

“Do you imply that, for the rest of my natural life, I am forced to wear this unsightly addition to my neck?” moaned Daleth despondently.

“Do not be so dejected,” said Turpane. “It is not as unsightly as you may imagine.”

“I would imagine that it is degrading. A symbol of bondage. I look as though I am owned. Like some pathetic slave!”

“No, more like someone’s pet,” said Groad dryly. “Perhaps you could place some flowers upon it to make it more attractive?”

“Groad!” chided Turpane.

“Wait! I have the perfect solution!” exclaimed Groad snidely. “As was my original plan, we separate your great big ugly head from your even more hideous body. Then after removing the collar, Maggoth can put you back together again. Just like he did me!” Groad’s head suddenly collapsed to the side again.

“Perhaps you should ask Maggoth to perform a more improved task upon your neck?” guffawed Daleth.

Maggoth moved forward to assist Groad.

“Keep your filthy hands off of me, wizard!” shouted the Son of Zemth straightening his eternal grinning skull.

“Do not be so stubborn and foolish, Kithian, allow me to inspect the cause of your quandary,” said the Dark Wizard sternly as he moved swiftly behind Groad.

The truth as well as the serious tone of Maggoth’s words caused Groad, although reluctantly, to obey. He stood silently holding the sides of his head with both hands.

“Hmm,” muttered the Dark Wizard and lifted a long pointed finger towards Groad’s neck. “Yes, I see the problem.” The tip of the digit began to glow bluish-white. An instant later a thin beam of concentrated energy flowed out of the extended finger. Wherever the beam touched it would form a thin layer of the indestructible anakhenium. The wizard moved to the front of Groad and proceeded to complete the task. “Done! You may lower your arms.”

Groad’s arms sagged unenthusiastically to his sides. He turned his head from side to side. “Wonderful,” he matter-of-factly mumbled.

“Wonderful?” queried Turpane inspecting the Dark Wizard’s work. “I would likely be more pressed to exclaim, ‘Marvelous’. Now you and Daleth both have lovely indestructible neck bands.”

“One day…,” growled Groad glaring down at the smiling Valacian whelp. “One day you are going to push me too far.” He looked over at the zin-za who was having trouble concealing his mirth. “Laugh all you will! At least I do not have the possibility of my neck becoming so thick and fat that I might choke myself to death. From now on, you had better learn to curb that voracious appetite of yours!”

“Hmm,” said Daleth suddenly seriously. He used his large fingers to test the space between his neck and the collar. “That is something that had not crossed my mind. Zin-zas do tend to get somewhat pudgy in their old age.”

“I have a great plan,” blurted Groad turning to Maggoth. “Why not go back through time and prevent my relieving you of the Eldritch Blade?”

“If only it were that simple,” said Maggoth shaking his head, “Kronos is the only Dark Wizard capable of controlling accelerated passage through time.

“As I was telling you before, each of the Dark Wizards controls only one of the three dimensions. Kronos has control over time, Selestia over space, and I command the ability to move to another universe. Even having possession of the other cypherlettes will not allow me to use the other Dark Wizards’ powers. As I mentioned earlier, the cypherlettes are merely a means to focus each of our specific powers.”

“If you are the only Dark Wizard capable of creating a means for crossing over, why did you not place the Eldritch Blade in one of the parallel universes where Kronos would not have been able to gain access to it?” sneered Groad.

“I did, but he managed to outsmart me by using you. My keep does not exist in the world of Baltrath. It is a remnant of a sterile planet that was once known as Meggido. The inhabitants of the planet were a simple barbaric race, not too unlike the Kithians of Baltrath. When they were not destroying each other they were actually capable of producing rather magnificent scientific inventions and outstanding architectural creations.

“Meggido was once a bright shining jewel hanging in the blackness of space. Now it is a lifeless husk. Meggido and all its inhabitants were destroyed when their bright yellow sun exploded many cyclans ago. Forests were turned to charcoal; mountains were turned to magma; oceans were turned to deserts and the deserts were turned to glass. Even if any life forms had managed to survive the great cataclysm, the sun has since diminished into a glowing red ball incapable of sustaining life.

“I claimed the keep, one of the few architectural structures to survive the cataclysm, as my home. Using my power, I formed a dimensional portal that enabled me to materialize the keep in the centre of the Artanian marshlands. The portal served a dual purpose; it also forewarned me whenever unwelcome visitors were foolish enough to pass through. Kronos knew that I would immediately be aware of his powerful presence so he needed to send a lackey to do his evil work for him.

“So, even trying to keep the Eldritch Blade and the Great Dragon apart by placing them in separate universes did not help.”

“Evil work? I am not evil!” exclaimed Groad feeling the discomfort of guilt. I would certainly consider the things you have done to be questionable acts of an evil nature?”

“What have I done that you can truly consider evil? Taken Frybur’s and the other villages gold under false pretense? I do not think that you consider yourself to be evil, yet you have stolen many times before, excluding the fact that you took the Eldritch Blade without so much as a pricking of your conscience that it was not yours to possess in the first place.”

“Did the sword belong to you, Maggoth?” hissed Groad.

“No,” said the Dark Wizard appearing irritated, “But…”

“Ah, ha!” exclaimed Groad. “And you hold it against me because I stole it from you? It is as they say, ‘There is no honour or love lost amongst thieves!’”

“It is not quite as simple as that, Kithian.”

“I have enough time, why not explain it to me?”

“There are certain concepts that your mind is too puny to comprehend; too uncivilized; too barbaric; too dimensionally impaired and two-dimensionally impaired. For instance, what existed first, darkness or light? Neither! You see, you are able to understand that the absence of light is darkness; and that the absence of darkness is light, but what is the absence of both?”

“How…?”

“Another!” exclaimed the Dark Wizard interrupting Groad. “You say that the opposite of good is evil or visa versa, yet is it possible for the one to exist without the other? If there were only one, how would you be able to make comparisons in order to distinguish between the two? Let us for example say that only evil existed. So then, you would therefore have different degrees of evil. Let us say that this flame represents the lesser or most minimum degree,” said Maggoth pointing at the campfire, “Whilst the vast energy of the sun, the maximum. When compared to each other, do you not think that the lesser evil would actually appear to be goodness instead of evil?”

“I think I understand,” said Turpane. “The opposite would also then be considered true. A lesser good would be considered evil if compared to a greater good, especially if that greater good was so vast that it was almost incomprehensible.”

“Exactly!”

“So, what you are trying to tell us is that you are not actually evil by nature?” said the young Valacian.

“I think he is trying to tell us that when compared to a greater evil, he might appear to be good!” snorted Groad.

“Do you want to know what true evil really is?” asked Maggoth. “Let me tell you! It is attempting to place yourself on an equal with your creator, attempting to gain the means of obtaining such vast power that you become arrogant enough to attempt to undo and remake creation according to your own designs. That,my dear Groad, is true evil, and that is what Rava Zool intends to do!”

“I forgot to warn you, Maggoth,” said Turpane sarcastically, “Groad does not enjoy religious discussions!”

“Hush, girl!” said Groad irritably. “Something else does not make sense to me. Why would Kronos wish to assist the Great Dragon when he knows that it would mean his very own destruction?”

“It is a long story,” said Maggoth staring deep into the flickering flames. “One which has elements of hate and destruction, but more importantly those of love.

“We, the Dark Wizards are the only beings of our kind in all existence, and so it was inevitable that we would choose to remain close to each other’s company during our travels on this newly formed physical plane. But three is an awkward number, especially when there are no other beings like you, but even more so when one of the three happens to be the only female.

“We had all at one time or another done the foolish act of falling in love with the fragile mortal beings that populated many of the universes. These creatures had all eventually perished in one way or another; one I even destroyed myself out of some sense of pity. She had grown old and was near to death. Not even all my knowledge of the dark arts was enough to save her, so I encased her in one of the megornexes. Later when it became too painful for me to gaze upon her frozen form anymore, I released her and at the same time reduced her, in an instant, to smoldering ash.

“The end result was always the same for us; we were left feeling empty and denied. That is, until eventually the attraction between Selestia and I began to blossom. It was a love affair like no other was or will ever be again. For all we cared, time could have stood still, but in our bliss we forgot or perhaps ignored the anguish of the one who controlled time.

“Being in control of time does not mean that you are able to control the influence of its passing. Moving swiftly backwards or forwards through time does not remove or create those first memories that were placed there by your initial passage through time. You are always aware of the immediate time that surrounds your body; it is this particular time that travels with you as your own personal present. Traveling swiftly to the future does not accelerate the aging process or give you the knowledge that you would have gained from experiences through normal time passage.

“This is also the reason we encase ourselves within the megornexes; even a Dark Wizard can be driven to insanity by the near-unfathomable comprehension of immortality and eternity.

“Unable to perform acts of suicide because we cannot die, we need to constantly soothe our tortured souls whenever sensations of futility and hollowness prevail. It is at times like these, when our search for knowledge seems ultimately useless and meaningless, and all actions and events merely seem to be a repetition of what has already happened countless times before and will obviously occur only again and again. Nothing appears to be new; nothing seems fresh and original anymore.

“Encased within the megornexes we can almost simulate the condition of death until the madness has been liberated from our bodies and minds. But even these periods within the megornexes could not ease Kronos’ tortured spirit.

“In the beginning he had actually been happy for us, but time is not only responsible for stealing youth, causing decadence and decaying mighty civilizations to mere dust. Those are only the physical influences of time. Much worse is the fact that time is also patient enough to corrupt the purest of souls. Time can ever so slightly remove a little bit of lustre from most shiny surfaces with each passing cyclan; bit by bit, until one day without even realizing it, the shine is gone. Just the same, the views and outlooks we have on life now, can and probably will be changed with the passing of time. You may find yourself doing things you never thought yourself ever possible of doing; things you once thought of as evil; things which you now are able to do because you have a different understanding and outlook. How often in your life have you changed your mind; changed your perceptions of good and evil? With the right motivation, anyone can convince himself that his actions are well inspired and for the best. Choosing between the lesser of two evils to preserve the common good. As I mentioned earlier, evil is sometimes mistaken or purposely portrayed as being for the greater good and visa versa.

“Kronos’ admiration for our relationship later changed, a metamorphosis caused by his terrible and immense loneliness. First it was just simple jealousy, but later it blossomed into full-unbridled hatred. It became impossible to bear his frequent outbursts of rage any longer, and so Selestia and I decided that it would be best if Kronos no longer accompanied us on our voyages. The two of us set off traveling through space and the parallel universes alone.

“Although we were no longer able to travel the passages of time it made no difference to us, for we were ecstatically happy in our love for each other. In the meantime our isolating Kronos had begun to bear bitter poisonous fruit.

“We had underestimated the residual powers of the Great Dragon. Even across a great distance and trapped, Rava Zool could manipulate the thoughts and actions of unsatisfied beings. He felt Kronos’ anguish and knew that he could use it to his advantage.

“Rava Zool is an excellent liar and manipulator. Not only did he promise Kronos that the Dark Wizards are truly immortal and will therefore not be affected by the ensuing cataclysm, but also that he will be able to restore us all to our original spiritual forms should he ever be freed.

“The Great Dragon then promised Kronos that he would endow him with more power than he had ever had if he agreed to help free him from his prison.

“Across space and across the parallel universes I sensed Kronos cross over to my keep on Meggido, but it was only when he passed back through the barrier with the Eldritch Blade that I realized something was gravely amiss.

“Selestia and I immediately returned to Baltrath to confront Kronos about his actions.

“When he could not persuade us to assist him or convince us that reuniting the Great Dragon with his tongue was the right thing to do, he threatened to use his control of time to accomplish the deed by himself. He was planning to return to the past with the Eldritch Blade; to the time of the great battle; to the time before Rava Zool had been imprisoned. This time he would, instead, aid Rava Zool and not us.

“What we did next might seem horrendous, but we had no choice. We used our combined forces to first relieve Kronos of his cypherlette as well as siphon most of the energy from his body to prevent him from staging any form of counter attack. We knew also that if he were to obtain enough gold, he would be able to replenish his power. So Selestia used her power to transport him to a place where there was no gold available. She imprisoned him in a cavity that was situated deep inside a mountain. Without any means of escape he was forced to use the meagre amount of power that we had allowed him to retain to encase himself inside a megornex. The Eldritch Blade was once again placed in my care and it was decided that Selestia be guardian over Kronos’ cypherlette.”

“But he obviously managed to free himself,” frowned Groad. “How?”

“As I said before, the Great Dragon’s residual powers are still very great. Ages ago before Baltrath had seen any major cultured nations upon its surface, Rava Zool managed to plant the seeds of lust in the weak minds of the planet’s savage and barbaric creatures. These seeds inspired them to seek a sense of civilization, a sense of order.

“It is strangely ironic to think that the Great Dragon would use order in the hope of ultimately bringing about his final chaos.”

“It is as you said!” exclaimed Turpane, “Sometimes good can be mistaken for evil and visa versa!”

“It is exactly like that!” blurted Daleth.

“In the mind of one particular inhabitant,” continued Maggoth, “Rava Zool planted a burning desire to unite the so-called reasoning inhabitants of the caves and grass planes of Baltrath. Then, once they were united under his iron fist, he would build a magnificent city where they would be able to reside as one powerful nation. From there he would rule as Warrior-King and subdue the entire planet to his will.

“By Rava Zool’s subtle subconscious coaxing this great warrior had decided to build this majestic citadel amongst the clouds of the mighty Chaxer-Ran mountain range. Although he never even managed to see work started on his dream city, it was his son who eventually became the ruler of that fortress, which is now known as…”

“Tar Ta Rus!” exclaimed Groad interrupting.

“Tar Ta Rus,” nodded Maggoth.

“So it was no pocket of trapped gas that the tomb builders had inadvertently struck…”

“No, it was the cavity where Kronos had been entrapped,” said Maggoth resuming the story. “Using part of the emperors gold necklace, he recharged his depleted energies and destroyed the tomb workers. Why he chose to save the emperor’s life, I do not know, but he must have obviously warned him to remain quiet about the facts or suffer his wrath. He probably disguised himself as a tomb builder, emerged from the dust and rubble and then disappeared to wherever he now resides.

“It was only after much time had passed that Selestia and I returned to Baltrath to discover Kronos’ escape. We searched his original place of dwelling, an enormous cavern on the other side of the South Sea, but to no avail.”

“Waguda Island?” queried Groad.

“No! Much farther south than that. A place that reflects Kronos’ heart. It is a place where the darkness lasts for many moons and the ice never melts.”

“Sounds most inhospitable,” said Turpane feigning a shiver.

“Till now we still have no idea where Kronos has been hiding, but every now and then he has sent me a subtle little reminder to tell me that he has had no intentions of changing his plan to free the Great Dragon.

“Now that he has finally acquired the Eldritch Blade, his reminders are becoming frequently less subtle.”

“You said that Kronos must have disguised himself when coming out of the tomb,” said Turpane. “Is it possible for a Dark Wizard to change his appearance?”

“Not truly. That unfortunately is something that only the Great Dragon is capable of doing. The only thing we Dark Wizards can change is the appearance of our age, and that we are only able to do within a certain limit. I simply meant that Kronos had probably donned some of the tomb builders’ clothing.

“There is a simple way to identify a Dark Wizard,” said Maggoth stretching out both of his hands.

Groad stared at Maggoth’s fingertips. They were smooth and round, exactly the same as what he had seen on the small bald man back in the Fryburian ale-house.

“None of you have any fingernails!” blurted the Son of Zemth. “Fascinating. And where is this Selestia? Is she also searching for Kronos?”

“No,” said Maggoth, a look of pain in his eyes. “I have chosen not to inform her of the loss of the blade.”

“What?”

“I have decided that I will contact her only once we are certain of Kronos’ whereabouts.”

“But would it not be better if…”

“It is far too dangerous. Remember that she possesses Kronos’ cypherlette. We can not risk that falling into his hands as well. Then it would be a far simpler thing for him to accomplish his goal.”

“As you wish, but there is something puzzling me. Why did Rava Zool influence the great Kith to free Kronos, when instead he could have used that very same influential power to have had himself freed?”

“That is because no mortal inhabitant of Baltrath will ever be able to free the Great Dragon from where he is now being held prisoner.”

“And where would that be?”

“There!” exclaimed the Dark Wizard pointing towards the bright crescent in the star-studded night sky. “Deep, deep, beneath the surface of the moon that circles Baltrath. There where the great pressure has caused the very rock to become a mass of flowing magma; that is where the Great Dragon lies and that is where he

must remain for all eternity.

“It took an incredibly vast amount of energy for Selestia to accomplish the task. And it has taken ages for her to recover from the exertion of transferring such a powerful and reluctant entity, not only across space, but through solid matter as well. Till this day she still suffers the consequences of that phenomenal task. Although she does not have much difficulty in transporting herself and other objects through open space, she still finds it most taxing to shift anything through or into solid substances.”

“Why did you not simply cover Kronos in a layer of that…ana …

anak…that indestructible metal?” asked Groad. “Surely it would have taken far less energy to do?”

“Anakhenium,” helped the Dark Wizard. “That was exactly the very first idea that came to our minds. We expended vast amounts of energy in an attempt to accomplish that, but each time the metal would simply fail to materialize around him. It would seem that the invisible aura that radiates from us prevents this from happening. A good thing too, for Kronos had also attempted to use that very same strategy upon us during the battle. Much to his annoyance and frustration I might add.”

“How is it that you were able to place an anakhenium handle onto the Eldritch Blade? Surely…”

“Yes,” interrupted Maggoth. “Being a part of the Great Dragon, it too has an aura. It is that very aura that will enable it to be reunited with Rava Zool. But being separated from the Great Dragon weakened its aura enough to allow us to place a handle onto one end. And although we were unable to coat it in anakhenium, we found that we could at least sheath it in a scabbard made from the indestructible metal. We guessed that by doing this we would be blocking out the aura and thus we hoped to prevent Rava Zool from determining its whereabouts.”

“How will Kronos be able to reunite Rava Zool and the Eldritch Blade?” asked Groad pointing at the moon. “Surely only Selestia is able to do that?”

“No, if Kronos is able to get enough gold, not only to remove the restraining handle, but also to energize the Great Dragon’s tongue, then the Eldritch Blade will be instinctively attracted to Rava Zool. With enough power it will be able to propel itself across the great distance between Baltrath and the moon. Once the blade is removed from the scabbard and separated from its handle, nothing will be able to stand in its way.”

“Why do you feel it necessary to drag us all along on this quest of yours? Surely only you and this Selestia possess the power capable of stopping Kronos?”

“Kronos used your prowess and cunning to obtain the Eldritch Blade. I am hoping to use those very same abilities of yours to retrieve it.”

“And if I should refuse?”

“My sustenance comes from the power of gold. Your sustenance comes from the power that I, in turn, impart to you?

“My continued existence depends on you?”

“Yes,” said Daleth, “That is very true. You are totally reliant upon Maggoth for your continued survival, just as I am dependent upon him for my continued state of awareness … intelligence.”

“Does this fact not bother you?” asked Groad in a disgusted tone.

“Bother me? Do you imagine that having this knowledge, that I would now rather choose to return to my barbaric state as some obtuse beast. Are you not grateful for your new lease of life?”

“Ever since I was weaned I have had little if any dependence upon anyone else but myself. The very thought of dependence revolts me. It revolts and …embarrasses me.”

“Exactly!” exclaimed the zin-za. “It is only your foolish pride that is at stake here. Once you come to terms with your situation and are able to accept your condition...”

“Never!” shouted Groad his rage increasing. “I could never accept what I have become!”

“No Kithian or beast is a cold heartless chunk of rock. At one time or another we all need the support of someone else.”

“Lies!”

“It is true, Groad,” said Turpane. “In fact, you are more dependent on others than anyone else I have ever met.”

“What?”

“Your sole goal in life is to gain the admiration of all those around you. Without their approval, you would be nothing.”

“Nonsense!”

“Without admirers what good would it do you to attain the Golden Sleep?”

“Damn you!” shouted Groad knowing that the honour of the Golden Sleep was now something that he would never and could never attain.

“And what about love, Groad?” asked Turpane, continuing her verbal attack. “I am not talking about the love you can give, but the unconditional love that we get from friends and family. Are you so independent, so strong, that you are able to endure without it?”

Groad fell silent. His thoughts were now upon his family in Bryntha.

Of course he had cherished their affection. In fact, it was only now that he realized that he treasured their love more than all the praise and honour that the Kithian nation could bestow upon him. But now, that love, like the Golden Sleep, was to elude him forever.

“Perhaps some truths have been spoken here tonight,” said Groad lowering his head. “But like most truths they are painful to accept.” The awareness of nakedness returned. It was quite overpowering. Although the others gazed only upon his fleshless bones, it felt more to him as if they were able to perceive even deeper; to discern his inner psyche. His thoughts, feelings and enormous ego were being laid raw and tender before them all. He turned swiftly to Maggoth. “I would be grateful if you could allow me the use of your coat,” he said sheepishly. “The night air has a slight chill.”

“Please forgive me for my aloofness,” said the Dark Wizard walking towards his impressive black steed. He returned with the double saddlebag. “I have made provision to conceal your reanimated remains. You will find a roll of fine linen cloth in this saddlebag. Tear it into strips for the purpose of bandaging yourself. Be sure to cover every last part of your fleshless frame. Make sure that the wrappings are tight and properly secure. We cannot afford to have our progress slowed by the curious prying eyes of strangers.

“Once you have done that, you will find some leather clothing and boots in the other saddlebag. Oh, and here is something else.” He held out his hand towards the Son of Zemth. “Turpane had the kindness to clean it up for you.”

“My Ana Iram necklace. Of what use is this to me now?” said Groad snatching at the object of savden. “I am ashamed to be called a Kithian now. This belongs at the bottom of the lake.” Groad raised his arm to throw the necklace into the dark water. “Wait!” he wheeled towards the small group. Holding the necklace out towards them he snarled, “This is probably the cause of all my bad fortune. My father must have cursed me for having such an independent spirit. He was jealous because he knew I could be the greatest Kithian that ever lived.” Groad placed the necklace on a flat rock, then using a stone began to pry away the sealed ends of the small rolled metallic tube. “Let us see what wonderful words my dear father inscribed to his son.”

“I thought it strictly forbidden to do that?” asked Turpane looking worried. “Does it not carry a death penalty or …”

Groad turned suddenly to scowl at Turpane. There were no eyes in the hollow sockets but she could feel the heat of that enraged glare. He stood up unrolling the small scroll.

The group stared as he silently read the inscription. When he was finished his arms fell limply to his sides. He turned and walked into the lake until his ankles were covered before tossing the necklace out into the deeper area. He stared for a long time at the spot where it had splashed and sunk before walking back onto the shore.

“‘Groad, my only son, may the great Dakur bless you to attain glory and honour far greater than even that of the Golden Sleep,’” he said before collapsing to his knees and weeping bitterly.

Turpane was about to go to him but Maggoth held out his arm. “I think he needs to be alone for now,” whispered the sorcerer. “Allow some time to pass.”

It was much later when Turpane took a linen roll from the saddlebag and walked over to Groad. “You are going to need some help applying the bandages.” She sat down next to the despondent Kithian and began tearing the fine material into long strips.

Just as planned, at first light the group set out for Maggoth’s keep. The sorcerer rode upon his dark mount, Groad and Turpane upon the light-coloured mare. Daleth remained within the cover of the forest that surrounded Frybur. He would set out at night and rejoin with the group whenever circumstance allowed. His long strides would help him to travel swiftly.

By early afternoon of the third day they reached the crossroads on the far side of Gu Kazor Dee. They would be taking the road to the west; towards Artania and the keep.

Groad had managed to convince Maggoth to part with some of his precious gold at the marketplace. The sorcerer had most reluctantly purchased a sword from an Artanian weaponsmith. It was a fine weapon, worthy of replacing the one lost during the fray with Zarkas. Now, at last, he felt fully clothed.

Through the narrow slit, between the bandages across his eyes, Groad gazed longingly down the road towards the south. Bryntha was less than a three days journey along that road. But his home village was now a place which he would have to avoid if he wished to keep his unfortunate condition a secret.

There were a number of travelers, mostly merchants with wooden carts, moving along the wide dirt pathway.

Groad recognized some of the travelers. One was Bryntha’s chief healer who also happened to be the main local taxidermist. Once every cyclan, he and his family would go on an excursion, not only to sell some of their prepared concoctions, but also to learn what new medicines and cures had been discovered across the borders of Kith.

Groad noticed that his cart was filled more with personal belongings as opposed to the usual trading goods.

“Ho!” called the Son of Zemth to the owner of the cart. “How fair things in Bryntha? They must be well if one of their healers has chosen to take what would seem a most prolonged expedition.”

“I am afraid not!” shouted the merchant as he brought his cart to a halt. He narrowed his eyes. “Do I know you? Your voice seems vaguely familiar?”

“Uh…I once sought your advice for a terrible rash that I had when I was passing through Bryntha. It was many cyclans ago. I doubt that you would remember me.”

“Perhaps there is something that I could do for you now? It would seem that you have some rather serious malady. Would it please you for me to examine your ailment?”

“I have already tended my companion,” said Maggoth hastily. “I too am a healer…from the northern territories.”

“Wonderful! Perhaps you would be willing to share some of your knowledge with me?”

“I am afraid that is impossible. We need to reach the Artanian border as soon as possible.”

“We too are traveling in that direction,” said the healer looking disappointed. “Could we not…”

“Why did you state that it was not well with the Bryntharians?” asked Groad interrupting.

“There is a vicious plague that threatens the safety of all residents and visitors. A plague that not even I am able to arrest. Fear for myself and my family’s safety has forced me to leave Bryntha for good or at least until the danger has passed.”

The temperature of Groad’s nonexistent blood dropped to near-freezing. “The magg frata mu dakur?” he lamented.

“No, but something that is just as bad. An enormous swarm of screechas has taken residence in the Ana Rust Mountains*. Although they mostly concentrate their attacks on our livestock, a few fatalities amongst the inhabitants have occurred. The problem was beginning to worsen and so, before any harm should befall me or my family, we decided to travel to a safer area.

“As you can see,” said the healer pointing towards the other loaded carts. “I am not the only one fleeing from the problem.” It was only now that Groad noticed that many of the other carts were also loaded more with personal belongings than with goods for trading purposes. “The only ones who will find this news appealing are mercenaries and fortune seekers,” said the healer pouting.

“Why do you say that?” asked Groad.

“The Bryntharian Council has agreed to pay a sum of gold for every screecha head that is brought in.”

It took only a moment for Groad’s nonexistent blood to go from near-freezing to boiling.

“Maggoth!” he snarled angrily. “You obviously knew that a zin-za would be no real threat to the greatest Kithian village in the empire. So now you have…”

“I give you my word, Kithian,” said the Dark Wizard quickly and sincerely. “This has absolutely nothing to do with me.”

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