Kindle stared in awe at the army that the ArchKnight had assembled at the base of Ravenblight Mountain. Armed warriors were camped all along the open valley that was split in two by the river that Kindle had traveled upon to arrive here. The other members of her party were also lined up along the side of the ship to see the thousands of warriors from across the lands come at the call to battle by the Knight’s Guild.
As the ship came to a halt at the dock near the heart of the army, Kindle was surprised to see two old familiar faces. The ArchKnight stood by as the ramp was dropped from the ship to the dock. He was garbed in heavy armor, and looked upon the ship with the same stoic sternness that Kindle was familiar with. Next to him, grinning openly and holding up his sword was the barbarian Hrogthor. Kindle remembered him as the Knight who had called Kindle “a joke”. It seemed so long ago, but now that she thought about it, was only less than a month ago.
“Well-met Kindle. A FairyKnight now is it?” Hrogthor smiled. “Who’d have thought a little snippet like yourself would become a creature of legend?”
“Certainly not you, you hairy giant!” Kindle replied and flew up to tweak his bulbous nose.
“Hey! I bet you’ve been wanting to do that for a long time.” Hrogthor rubbed his sore nose with a grin.
“Can you introduce us to your friends, Kindle?” the ArchKnight said. His quiet voice commanded the attention of everyone much more so than the loud barbarian.
“Um, yeah!” she began. She had always been nervous around the ArchKnight. He represented everything she had ever wanted in life. Strength, power, courage, and honor.
“This is Trixie and Cur, Trixie’s a Mage student from the Institute, and Cur’s from the forest near here in RavenBlight.”
Currick and Trixen both bowed their heads - silently exchanging glances about their names.
“This is Findar, whom you may already know. ”
Findar shook the ArchKnight’s hand firmly. “Thank you for arranging this group to meet one another. Perhaps we have some hope of defeating Rath now.”
The ArchKnight nodded. “More hope than you may think, perhaps. But more on that in a moment.”
“This is Julia, a herbalist from the Mage Institute and the target of the prophecy from the Remnants.”
Julia curtseyed nervously.
“And this is Kyte, another Mage Institute student. He’s was essential helping Findar heal Julia, and had been a great asset in battle.”
Kyte blushed, and Julia’s eyes went wide. She had no idea he had helped with her healing.
“You already know Kael and Rein.” Rein nodded grimly, and Kael gave an exaggerated bow.
“Nice hat.” the ArchKnight commented, regarding Kael’s pirate costume, that he insisted on continuing to wear, as had everyone in the party.
“I’m Hrogthor. I’m a senior Knight and I’ll be leading this army to battle against Rath’s goblin army. I have to go make preparations, but I couldn’t miss this.” he winked at Kindle.
“Miss what?” she said, surprised. Her wings began to buzz faster as she hovered nervously.
“What I’m about to do, Kindle. ” The ArchKnight said. “Please come to the ground and bow, Knight Candidate.” he said formally.
*Ohh, this is going to be good!* Cirrus said in her mind.
*You deserve this.* Deltia added.
Kindle looked around her. She was surrounded by her friends, and about to face the greatest challenge of her life. She had never felt more alive.
She landed, adjusted the golden thread still wrapped about her waist, and nervously bowed before the ArchKnight.
He drew his massive sword and carefully tapped Kindle on the shoulders. Very carefully.
“Kindle, do you swear to uphold the Rules of Knighthood, and vow to defend this land against all that rise up against it. Do you swear to protect innocent lives, and seek not glory for yourself, but to serve and seek only honor?”
Kindle shivered. “I so swear.”
A large smile crossed the ArchKnight’s face. “Then arise Kindle. FairyKnight!”
She flew up and hovered before each member of the group, smiling. Then, in a fit of joy she gave out a great “WHOOP” and shot upwards into the sky like a rocket.
*This has been your destiny, Kindle. I’m proud of you.* Deltia said in her mind.
*Don’t forget me when you’re famous...* Cirrus added.
“Oh, you goofy sword!” Kindle shot back downward and hovered before the ArchKnight.
“Thank you.” she almost whispered.
“You deserve it, Kindle.” he replied. “Now, we have much to discuss. Please follow me.”
The party followed the ArchKnight to a large pavilion. All around them scores of warriors were preparing for battle. Kindle saw Centaurs, Elves, and Humans moving about, sharpening swords, equipping armor, sitting around large fires eating, talking, and getting ready for the fight of their lives. Kindle even saw a few Fairies flying about delivering messages and carrying small items. Kindle bit her lip. She wondered if she’d ever have a normal life again, or how her own kind would see her. Mustering her courage, she flew to catch up with the rest of the party.
The pavilion was like a large building-sized tent that was full of weapons, armor, tables for planning war strategies, and closed off areas as well.
Findar asked the ArchKnight, “I see a lot of Mages about, more than I would expect in one location. Looks like you are preparing something special?”
The ArchKnight nodded. They came to the center of the pavilion and came up to an area surrounded by curtains. The entrance to this inner area was guarded all around by very large and intimidating Barbarians. Each one seemed unique in his or her ability to stand firm with a large sword, spear, or axe at the ready. They eyed the group dispassionately, except for a few double - takes of seeing a huge white wolf walking with them. Currick had to step carefully to avoid stepping on a pile of supplies here, or bumping into a tent pole there.
“I don’t like it here. Too many people, not enough trees.” Currick growled to Trixen.
Trixen patted Currick’s cheek. “This probably holds bad memories for you, right? You’re being very brave.” she said gravely.
That stopped Currick up short for a moment. He chuckled. “You, calling me brave. You’re a better packmate than I sometimes, morsel. Thank you for the reminder.”
“Any time. Packmate. You’re so cute.” She ruffled his fur affectionately.
“I should have eaten you when I had the chance” he replied, rolling his eyes.
“You still could.” She took a step back, her arms open and her eyebrow arched.
“Ugh, you’d probably give me a stomach ache” his eyes were laughing.
She giggled and gave him another hug, much to the concern of the waiting guards. Even though she had been through so much, she wouldn’t change a thing if it meant she wasn’t with Currick.
“If you’re through paling around, the ArchKnight has something to tell us,” Rein snapped.
“Behind this curtain, our best Mages have been working day and night on something that may help us defeat Rath. And as a matter of fact, you Trixie are the key.”
“Me? What can I do?” Trixen was wide eyed.
“Come in, all of you.” The ArchKnight said, pulling back the curtain and gesturing for them to enter.
Currick entered first, pushing his way past even the ArchKnight.
The center of the pavilion was large and circular. Mages of all sorts were milling around something remarkable. Floating slightly above the ground was a swirling blue disk that gave off an eldritch light that cast strange shifting shadows on the curtains.
Julia shivered. “What is that?” she asked the ArchKnight.
Kyte stared in awe. “That’s a Gate. It’s a way to connect two distant places together.”
Kyte’s eyes were wide and he gripped his staff tightly.
A Mage walked up to the gate and made a series of elaborate gestures. The Gate began to hum slightly and turned a shade of blue-violet. The shifting lights within it began to spin a bit faster .
“We’ve been working on this for some time. Rath’s lair has been spelled to prevent anyone from entering outside of Rath’s own minions. We were excited to hear that you had escaped RavenBlight’s dungeons, Trixie. You are the first person that has ever done that.”
“You can thank Thalon for that.” Trixen said sadly.
“Thalon?” The ArchKnight asked.
“He was an Elf sent to search for a cure for the Elf Queen’s injuries. He was captured with me at the Mage Institute. He had a spell that transported me out of the dungeon, to Cur- my packmate.” she had almost let his new name slip. She would have to be more careful, she thought to herself.
“Regardless, your remarkable escape has given us a chance that we’ve never had before to strike at Rath in a way that he’s not expecting. This portal can only take someone to a place they have been before.”
He turned to Trixie with an expectant look. “A place YOU have been before.”
The weight of his words gradually sank into Trixen’s mind.
“Ohhh. No....” she breathed.
“You must! This whole battle has been set up to provide you and your party here a chance to get into Rath’s lair. Thousands of men and women are about to die fighting Goblins, Rath worshippers, Knife Respers and gods know what else... and they are dying so that YOU can have a chance to kill Rath!”
The ArchKnight’s face grew red.
Rein looked surprised, then thoughtful.
“What were you just talking about, morsel? Bad memories? Courage?” Currick growled. “What about your Thalon Elf? His sacrifices would be for nothing.”
Trixen bit her lip. “Okay, I will - ”
Suddenly a guard burst into the enclosure, breathless. Outside, the sounds of thousands upon thousands of voices suddenly yelling filled the air.
“What is that?” Kyte asked.
The guard ran up to the ArchKnight. “ArchKnight! The Goblins! They are pouring out of the mountain! It’s starting!”
Julia gasped. Kyte unconsciously held her to his side protectively. She didn’t resist him.
Trixen held the ArchKnights gaze. “What do I do?”
“Everyone hold hands. Trixie you have to think of that dungeon under RavenBlight. Fix it in your mind.”
The sounds of battle began to rise outside the pavilion. Trixen took a deep shuddering breath.
“I am with you, morsel. You are no longer alone.” Currick bumped her slightly with his muzzle.
The others joined hands, with Rein merely holding on to Currick’s collar on the other side. Currick eyed Rein warily.
The Mages frantically completed their spells and stepped back before the slowly oncoming group. Kindle rested on Kael’s shoulder - holding tightly to his ear. Kael winced slightly, but said nothing. All eyes were on the now red glowing portal that spun so rapidly it was almost mesmerizing.
Trixie jumped atop Currick but turned back to the ArchKnight. “How will Cur be able to travel with us? The dungeons weren’t built with giant wolves in mind.”
“Ah yes! I got a message from The Elf Queen right when you arrived. It was addressed to Cur. It was : ‘remember the collar’. I hope you know what that means. Now go! And good luck!” The ArchKnight drew his sword and strode purposefully out of the enclosure.
Trixie looked at the faces of her friends, all lit up eerily by the magical portal. They were all depending on her to get them there. She knew suddenly that there would probably never be a point in her life as important as this. She would not fail them, no matter how hard the memories haunted her. Swallowing hard, she nudged Currick forward. As his muzzle touched the portal, the world exploded all around them in a dazzling display of red and black, blinding them temporarily.
When Trixen’s vision cleared, she found herself in the same cell she had been imprisoned originally, deep within RavenBlight.
Findar cast a spell and a half dozen glowing balls of light lifted from his hands and drifted to the ceiling. The dark stone walls were filthy and glistening with moisture.
Currick growled. His head bumped the stone ceiling. “This is no place for a wolf! I have to get out of here!”
He began to panic, nearly stepping on Julia and Kyte who yelped and stepped out of the way, only to crash into the cell wall.
Trixen lept from the wolf and stood before him, holding his muzzle and looking into his wild eyes. “It’s ok! It’s ok! I trust you, now trust me.”
You better get your dog under control, we need to get out of here.” Rein muttered and strode to the heavy wooden door, drawing his twin blades.
The light from the glowing balls was enough to show that the door was only large enough for humans, not a giant wolf.
Kindle flew up to Trixen and Currick. She touched his muzzle gently. “Listen Cur! Remember what the Queen said. Remember the collar. We all got special gifts from the Queen. Your’s must be in your collar. ”
Findar stepped up to the wolf as well. “Yes, we had to close our eyes and allow the key to come in a vision. Mine seems to be something about fire.” His cloak began to glow, like molten lava.
“I should just eat you all and run back to my cave. I should never have come on this mad errand.” Currick let out a large sigh and closed his eyes. They snapped back open after a moment.
“Your Elf Queen seems to have a sense of humor, morsel. You’d better stand back. You too, black one.” Rein turned and reluctantly stepped away from the door.
“Please hurry, it’s cramped and dirty in here” Kyte complained.
“You didn’t have to come, Kyte. I don’t know why you have, really.” Julia said quietly.
“I had to. For you.” he replied.
Currick let out a howl that shook the walls all around them slightly. Dust fell, and other more disgusting things. Light came from Currick’s collar and his forehead and muzzle were enveloped in an unearthly glow. A moment later a golden helm had formed about Currick’s forehead and sides. It was covered in engravings of wolves, and seemed to fit Currick like it had been made for him, which if fact it had been.
“Cur! That helmet looks amazing!” Kael said.
Then he stared at the wolf in wonder. “Almost as if you could knock down ... a wall! Everyone! stand back!”
Currick did not wait to see if anyone heeded Kael’s warning. He bolted for the door, his head lowered like a bull. There was a deafening crash! When Kael looked up, Currick was now outside in the larger hallway, and there was a wolf-sized hole in the wall.
Kael whistled as they rushed out of the cell. “Cur! I think I like your hat better than mine!”
Kindle flew up and tweaked his nose. “Can’t you ever be serious?” she asked.
“If I’m going to die today, it’ll be because we weren’t strong enough, not because I wasn’t serious enough. Besides. Rein’s serious enough for the both of us” he sent a thumb back to the black garbed warrior.
Rein ignored Kael and pinned a stunned Goblin that had just entered the hallway to the wall. “Tell us where Rath is or you die. Now.” he growled.
The Goblin sneered and pointed back the way he had come. “The Master is expecting you. Better not keep him waiting.”
Rein hit the Goblin in the forehead with the hilt of one of his blades, and the Goblin collapsed.
“That doesn’t sound good.” Findar said.
“We have no choice, we have to go on” Rein said and ran down the large corridor. Oily torches on the sides of the hallway lit the way only barely.
Kael shrugged and followed after. Trixen jumped back up on Currick and followed Kael while Kindle flitted between Trixen and Julia.
She flew up to Julia. “You ok? You look white as a sheet. Any luck getting your magic back?”
Julia shook her head and looked down. “No. Nothing.”
“Keep an eye on her, Kyte” Kindle warned and flew back to Trixen. Kyte walked behind Julia, gently urging her forward.
“He’s expecting us, Trixie. We’re walking into a trap.” Kindle was wide eyed, and she drew her sword Cirrus.
“We’ve come this far, Kindle. The Kingdom is counting on us. We have to find a way.” Trixen said, although she was trying to convince herself as much as Kindle.
“Julia’s still not able to access her magic. What if she gets there and can’t deliver this seed that she has?” Kindle asked.
“The prophecy didn’t say that she had to have magic, just that she had to carry it. I don’t know. I hope the Elf Queen knows what she’s doing, blocking Julia’s magic all this time.” Trixen replied.
In the distance they heard a rumbling sound. Then the hallway floor shuddered as a tremendous crash sounded in the distance. They all began to run towards the sounds and suddenly found themselves in a huge cavern.
“Oh gods.” Trixen managed to say. Even Currick stood with his tail between his legs.
Kindle stared in horror. They had emerged from the corridor into a huge cavern. It was sparsely lit all about by torches, and they could tell it was huge. They could easily be deep within the mountain. It was not the cavern which turned each of their blood cold, and sent shivers up their spines. It was the huge black dragon that stood before them. It was dark, covered with black scales, although large patches of its sides were red and raw, the result of Rath removing his scales to take Possession of his slaves. His head was so large, he could have swallowed Currick with one bite. His eyes glowed an evil green, and foul-smelling smoke drifted from his pointed snout.
“What were we thinking? We are going to die today.” she whispered.
The rumbling was the sound of Rath breathing. He took a step forward and Kindle realized with growing horror that the darkness beneath him was moving. It was a swarm of Knife Respers, hundreds of them. They moved away from Rath’s step at the last minute, scrambling to avoid being crushed by their giant master.
“Welcome, travellers. I’ve been expecting you for some time.” Rath’s voice sounded like rocks scraping together. Dead, evil, and terrifying. His baleful gaze raked them all, but settled on Kindle, who nearly stopped flying in terror.
“But you, Kindle, most of all. After all. It’s not every day I meet kin.”
“Wha- what?” Kindle managed.