A few days later Lash awoke in his bed with Millaney standing over him.
“You just had to go out and prove you're a tough guy didn't you?” she asked of him in a scolding tone.
“I what?,” Lash lifted his head to see he was in his own room at his home in the village near Ostleron academy. “How did I get here?”
“Someone found you hanging on to your horse's saddle as he practically dragged you along the road.”
“Oh,” he said, as he lifted the back of his hand to his forehead the remembering the events of the last few days, as he escaped the forest. “The elven woman, Jasna did you catch her?” Lash tried to get up, but the pain in his leg wouldn't let him.
“No there was no sign of her, but they did find the remains of your schoolmates. What the hell happened out there?”
“It was a setup. She knew all along. We have to find her.” Lash implored of her as Frolin entered from behind her.
“You're not going anywhere, just tell me what you know and I'll take care of it.” Millaney stepped aside and let Frolin passed her. He lifted the blanket to look at his leg which he had tightly wrapped splints around his shin.
“She's right you have to stay off your leg. There don't appear to be any breaks in the bone, but that doesn't rule out a thin fracture line. You need time for it to heal, but I'm more concerned with your claw wound.” Frolin threw the blanket back over his left leg and took a look at his bandaged right forearm. “The swelling seems to be going down some now, but when I first got to you we had to cut off the bandages which had stretched. Some animals have like a poison or something in their claws and we have to watch that it doesn't spread or you could lose your arm.”
Lash rolled his head to the side, ans stared at wooden beams over his head. “I don't know where to find her,” Lash mumbled in a defeated tone.
“Don't worry we'll find her. She couldn't have gotten far. It's just a matter of knowing who to talk to, and I think I know just where to start.” Millaney nodded to Frolin and he smiled and stepped out of the room. Millaney lay on the edge of Lash's bed snuggling up alongside of him being careful of his leg. “You know you don't have to do these sort of things to prove yourself,” she cooed after lying her head next to his on the pillow.
“I wasn't doing it to prove anything,” Lash confided, as he reached his good arm across his body and held her hand. “I just saw an elven man and his daughter, or at least she said it was her father, at this point it could've been anyone. When they walked up to our formation during drill, I knew it was too much of a coincidence. I had to find out.” He reached up to push the long blond hair away from her face. “You know what I found out though?”
“No, what's that?”
“I'm actually related to elven royalty, why I could be a prince for all I know. That's how my grandfather knew all those stories he used to tell me.”
“Well just see to it that his majesty stays in bed.”
“With you lying beside me, there's nowhere else I'd want to go.” He kissed her soft on her lips then let his head fall back into his pillow.
Late the next morning Jasna was riding her horse on a stone-paved road that was bordered on one side with wooden commercial buildings and a long warehouse and on the other by river docks. She dismounted and tied her cinnamon colored horse to a rail, then stepped inside a building. She stepped up to a counter with different canisters set all around and shelves full of goods behind a merchant.
“When does the next ship arrive headed west?” Jasna asked off the merchant.
“Anytime this afternoon they have a wide arrival window depending on conditions, but there we have a waiting room and there are benches in the park if you prefer. Would you like a ticket?”
“Yes please for myself and my horse.”
“The next to arrive is a cargo ship,” the woman said, as she opened a drawer and pulled out some hand-written tickets. “There's no guarantee they'll have room, but your ticket will be good on any of the ships.” She handed her the ticket and accepted a few coins from Jasna. “They ask that you wait until the cargo is loaded and unloaded and passengers disembark before approaching the gangplank. They'll call out when they're ready.” the woman recited, as Jasna smiled and turned to head back out of the shop.
She stepped across the road ahead of a single workhorse pulling a small cart of hay, then walked over to a bench in the park under a shade tree. She pulled a piece of fruit out of a pocket in her dress after sitting and watched as tiny brown birds hopped and flew around some seeds on a bird feeder and the ground below. It wasn't long after she sat when a shadow fell across her from someone that walked up.
“Going on a trip?” Millaney asked casually, but with an unmistakable sneer on her face.
“Umm yes I am headed west.” Jasna responded coolly even though Millaney was wearing her official uniform dress with the insignia of the defense forces on her chest and a sword belt around her waist.
“Think again.” Millaney replied, as Sarnay walked up beside here wearing the same uniform dress also and Frolin stepped up on her other side in a similar outfit holding a small crossbow.
“I've done nothing of any concern of the authorities,” Jasna said in a very smug tone, then took another bite of her crispy fruit. Millaney backhanded her so hard she flew off the bench. Jasna spat un-chewed fruit and blood from her mouth as she lay on the ground then looked back at Millaney.
“Nothing she says,” Millaney spewed through clenched teeth and a mocking smile, as she stepped over to Jasna and pulled her back up to the bench by her hair, set her down and placed her boot between her knees. “Do you call three bodies found mutilated nothing?”
“I had nothing to do with that,” Jasna shouted out with her hands clutching Millaney's arm. “I was just hired to find the stone that's all. I swear.” Millaney let go of the elven woman's hair and turned to walk away a couple steps. Frolin and Sarnay were sure to watch Jasna after Millaney turned her back to her. “Listen I can help you.” Millaney turned back around. “I think I know where he's headed.”
“We're listening.” Millaney said in a calmer manner, but again with the a sneer on her face that was anything but calm.
“You have to assure me a fair hearing.”
“I assure you I won't hit you anymore... actually I don't.” Millaney pulled back her right arm and smacked Jasna across the mouth with her open palm causing her head to snap sharply to the side.
“Alright. Alright,” Jasna said as it appeared Millaney was preparing to smack her gain. “After I gave him the stone he said something about using it to cause chaos along the border.” Millaney waited for her to continue. “That's all I heard I swear. I got out of there as fast as I could and never looked back.”
“That sounds about right. That confirms what I concluded he'd use it for as well.” Frolin said to Millaney which seemed to calm her if at least just a little.
“But where exactly?” Sarnay asked, as Jasna sat turning her head to each of them as they spoke with a bloody swollen lip pleaded for mercy with her eyes.
“He'd want somewhere very visual to draw a large audience.” Frolin thought.
“Grenesby,” Sarnay interjected. “It's by far the largest city along the border and the only place he and his midget demons have not yet appeared.”
“It's certainly worth a look.” Frolin agreed.
“Fine. You take this worthless piece of elven flesh off to lock her up somewhere and Sarnay and I will fly down to Grenesby.” Millaney said, as she grabbed Jasna by the arm and lifted her off the bench kicked her in the butt which propelled her in the direction of the road. The three of them walked side by side out of the park. Frolin stopped to help Jasna up from the ground and walked with her holding her upper arm and guided her away from the park.
That evening after he brought Jasna to the nearest holding facility, Frolin flew back up to Ostleron academy and stepped in to check on Lash. He pulled up his arm and started to unravel his bandage.
“Frolin you have to help me.” Lash spoke to him after he sat up in his bed.
“If you are referring to anything that let's you out of bed you can forget it.” Frolin replied, as he looked over the claw wound on Lash's forearm.
“You have to understand.” Lash pleaded.
“Yes I do, you feel helpless here as someone you care about risks her life, but you can't walk on this leg.” He started to re-wrap Lash's forearm.
“Oh it can't be that bad, besides you said you were more concerned with my arm.”
“I am, but you don't walk on your arm.”
“Oh man I'll be careful I swear.”
“Well...” Frolin thought after he finished wrapping his arm. “There is something I've been working on I think could help in this situation. I was going to bring it down in the morning.”
“Yes yes. Whatever it is I can help you. I know I can.”
“Alright I'm not promising anything, but I'll come by early tomorrow morning and see how you're doing, now just get some rest.” Frolin promised.
“Ugh. That's all I've been doing is resting.” Lash groaned. Frolin shook his head and turned to step out.
Back in Annuvin City Millorny rode in an open carriage through the paved city streets. He was dressed in a clean but simple leather jacket with his family crest on the chest and the ruffled cuffs of his white shirt sticking out at his wrists and a sword belt around his waist. His female assistant sat by his side and the two of them nodded and waved back to the passerbys on the street as their dark black horse clopped past. They pulled off onto the half-circle driveway in front of the newly rebuilt council building. With the strength in his legs returning, Millorny politely refused the guard that offered to help him down from the carriage. His assistant lifted her long hemmed dress with one hand and put her arm around Millorny his, as he leaned on two canes one in each hand. The two of them walked side by side passed the bowing guards and started up the wide marble steps. They walked under a series of wide white arches covered in flowering ivy leading up to the council building. They veered over to the north wing of the symmetrical half circle complex that gained in height up to the three storied center with the two large dragon statues set at the peak of the building.
They walked near one of two sets of freestanding columns that curved in position and raised in height from just a few inches to the final column on either side that was near in height to the lowest part of the building adding to the visual effect of the grand building. Two guards that stood near the entrance of the council building bowed and opened the heavy wooden double doors, as Millorny and his assistant entered. They stepped into a foyer that was full of prominent citizens from the surrounding communities and Annuvin City itself. They mostly consisted of humans, but there were also many elves, dagnaars and even a couple chelonians. They mulled together eating baked goods from trays and drinking from yellow wine from sparkling crystal chalices. Most sat on the cushioned benches near potted foliage while many others stood in groups, as servants passed through refilling their drinks.
They all recognized the retired high commander when he entered the room and nodded to him. A servant brought a tray over to Millorny, but he shook his head, but his attractive young assistant pick a chalice off the tray and sipped from it. Before anyone had any time to greet Millorny, a soldier soldier opened the double doors to the council chamber and the crowd flowed in. Millorny waited until the many other people entered before he approached the council chambers.
“Would you like me to announce you sir?” one of the guards holding the doors asked, as Millorny passed.
“Oh no,” Millorny shook his head. “I'm just here to watch.” He stepped over to a nearby set of seats in the final row and after allowing his assistant to be seated, he leaned his canes on the back of the curved bench in front of him and sat beside her.
The twenty five councilmembers were all seated behind a long half-circle wooden bench that was designed to match the building itself and was shorter on the outside than gradually raised to the center point. The floor behind the benched raised to match so that the height of the inside part of the bench was equal. A tall cushioned chair that was reserved for the prime minister sat empty behind them. Even though each councilmember was equal in status and had just one vote each in council matters, the senior members sat toward the peak of the half-circle, the highest point of the bench. The two members that came to see Millorny and request he allow them to nominate him were seated together at the center with the Currencia representative seated next to them.
A bailiff came forward and struck the base of his long halberd on the ceramic tile to quiet the crowd and bring the meeting to order. The elven councilwoman who met with Millorny back at his house in Schilling Harbor was the first to speak.
“I bring this meeting to order,” she spoke as loud as she could, the acoustics of the room carrying her voice out to even the farthest ears. “We have gathered today as an official body to select a new prime minister. Anyone from the general public is allowed to be heard after the council recognizes them, they may step forward to speak, but the voting is conducted only be seated members of the high council.” The council waited for anyone to request to be recognized. “Do we have any nominations from the council?”
“I nominate the esteemed councilman from Currencia,” A human councilmember from the left side of the council stood and declared.
“I do too,” A voice rang out from the other side. The councilman next to him whispered in his ear. “Oh I second the nomination.” A quiet murmur rolled among crowd.
“I graciously accept this nomination.” The Currencia representative stood, then sat just as quickly.
The elven councilwoman waited a long time before speaking.
“Are there any other nominations,” she said, as she scanned the crowd before her. After a long silence the councilmember that nominated the Currencia representative stood to speak.
“With no other nominations we should retire to the chambers to vote.”
“It is customary for the nominees not matter how many of them there are to speak before the council.” The elven councilwoman announced.
“Let's just get on with it.” A boisterous voice in the crowd shouted out.
“We will stick to procedure. And we will have order or I'll have these chambers cleared!” The elven councilwoman commanded. The crowd was loud with murmurs until the Currencia councilmember stood.
“I'll be happy to address the council,” the portly councilmember who was dressed in similar, but more gilded robes than the other members. He stayed in place instead of stepping over to the podium that was placed ahead of the council bench. “We all know of the dangers facing us today,” he started his speech which was directed more to the crowd than it was to the council. “Our previous Prime Minister was a weak man. He cowered in the face of these dangers and his early departure shows this quite clearly. We cannot continue to allow these incursions across our border. They're sending us a pack of murderers.” After he spoke several people in the crowd cheered, but the vast majority of the crowd was silent many sitting with their arms crossed shaking their heads. “I'll build a wall to keep them out and send back those already here. It's the Prime Ministers job to keep us safe. And that is what I'll do.” He returned to his seat as a select few in the crowd stood and cheered, all human men.
The bailiff came forward again to quiet the crowd. After a long moment of hesitation, the elven councilwoman stood with her gavel in her hand.
“Hold your gavel” A voice rang out from in the far back of the crowd. The councilmembers searched the crowd as everyone in the crowd looked behind them to see Millorny grab his canes and step toward the center aisle. His assistant stood to help him, but he politely brushed her off. “May I approach the council?” Millorny asked, as he stood in the center aisle with a cane in each hand.
“I hereby nominate Commander Millorny Schilling,” The elven councilwoman shouted out with glee.
“I second the nomination.” the councilman seated next to her announced.
“Yes Commander you are hereby recognized and may approach,” the councilwoman directed. Millorny took one careful step at a time leaning on his canes, as he moved downward toward the podium that was centered and facing the curved council bench. The crowd watched in great anticipation, as he moved his way to the podium. Once he arrived Millorny leaned his canes against the podium and grabbed the podium with both arms and leaned his weight on it. He looked to each of the councilmembers being sure to make contact then brought his gaze back center to the elven councilwoman.
“Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak to you today. As you all know I've served my entire adult life as a member of our defense forces and have proudly served as its commander for the past several years. As my colleague has pointed out the Shrkai have been forced to leave their homes and migrate north, but they are not doing so as invaders, but as a people in great need and I for one will not turn my backs on them.” He paused for a moment to catch his breath with an eerily quiet crowd listening to his every word. “While serving in our defense forces these many years thankfully I have had to respond to very few threats, the latest of which took my good friend's life.” Many people in the crowd and members of the council bowed their heads for a brief moment knowing he referred to Nicademus a previous Prime Minister who died in the battle the destroyed the previous council building a few years back.
“If you are so devoted to the defense of this great republic why do you not wear an insignia of Annuvin?” the Currencia councilman shouted out breaking the silence. Millorny paused for a moment looking over his clothing.
“I'm retired,” he said in a very relaxed manner. “Besides for those who have known me, I've only worn my uniform for ceremonies and when my military services were needed, does that mean I'm not devoted to or proud of our republic? Of course not and only a fool would think so.” A few applause were heard from the audience behind him, Millorny waited until it subsided before continuing. He looked his clothing over again. “I wear my family crest which I'm also quite proud of. The Schilling family has been deeply involved with this republic over the generations. Every member of our family has served on the defense forces and many were also civil leaders, but that's not what brings me before you today.” Millaney paused as he accepted a chalice of water from a bailiff. He quietly thanked the man who stepped back from sight. “I wasn't sure I was going to accept the nomination offered me, but after hearing the Currencian speak, I felt I had no choice. We cannot turn away those in need. That has never been who we are and I would like to see that it never becomes policy to build walls to keep people out or to deport those who have lived and served among us for years. My adopted daughter is Shrkai. Would you have me ask her to leave? One of the greatest man I've ever known who passed away quietly just this year was Shrkai. Would you have had me ask him to leave. And if we do where does it stop? Would we next ask our elven friends to leave, or the dagnaar, or even chelonian? NO! It's preposterous to even suggest such a thing. My good friend who I mentioned earlier was an elven man, the first ever and since to be appointed to the position of Prime Minister. Would we have asked him to leave?” He paused to sip of his water. “The councilman also spoke that the Shrkais are sending us murderers. I have heard of a barbaric killing along the border more than two years ago now. In all my time in the defense forces the Shrkai have never threatened us in anyway. Are their those among us who wish to do us harm? Yes of course, but there are far more who would go a mile out of their way to help us and this is especially true of the Shrkai. I have spent plenty of time among them and I've come to know them quite well, and they are by far the most peaceful people I have ever met. Building a wall will not keep us safe! We are an integrated society and that will only strengthen by allowing the Shrkai to live among us. There is more than enough space for them to build their homes on the prairies north of the border with good farmland and thousands of of rooghon to hunt. They do not seek our welfare, but only our acceptance and I for one will not rest until that acceptance is extended to them!” Millorny took a deep drink of water as several people behind him stood and cheered.
The next morning in the town of Grenesby which was built where the mighty Seerogana river spilled out into the western ocean Millaney divided her forces into two groups of about ten soldiers each, one led by her, the other by her Shrkai sister Sarnay. Each group was wearing heavy chainmail armor beneath studded leather uniform jackets, with sword belts and carrying rectangular steel shields. Even Millaney who found them very unfashionable wore chainmail and the cloth underlining beneath her uniform dress causing her dress which was hemmed just above the knees to be tighter than usual. Millaney's group patrolled along the docks, as Sarnay's group walked the streets of the city. Even though Grenesby was less than half the size of the city of Schilling Harbor it had nearly as many docks along both the river and ocean sides of the city. Huge waves lapped at the rock walled breakwaters protecting the cities from the oceans notorious rough seas, as Millaney walked along the crowded ocean-side street with her troop in formation behind her.
Back at Lash's home in the village near the academy, Frolin knocked on the bedroom door to his bedroom and entered after Lash replied with 'come on in Frolin'.
“Well how is the patient today?” Frolin asked, as he stepped in.
“Restless, now please tell me you're here to give me my walking papers, literally.” Lash joked, as he sat up in bed.
“Well fine turn your legs to the side of the bed.” Frolin directed. Lash was all too eager to reply and tossed the blanket off the bed and onto the floor on the opposite side. He spun his legs around as Frolin stood watching. “Alright now ease yourself down and put weight on your legs.” Lash did as he asked and showed no visible signs of pain. “Now take you hand off the bedknob and put all your weight on your legs.” Lash complied and still showed no signs of pain. “Now lift your uninjured leg putting all your weight on the other.” Frolin said after a long moment. Lash winced a little with his left eyelid twitching a bit, as he did feel some pain and wobbled a little, but was able to steady himself.
“How's that?” Lash asked through clenched teeth.
“Put your other leg down.” Frolin said, as he turned to leave. “Get dressed and meet me outside.”
“What about these splints?”
“Leave them on for now, just wear loose-fitting trousers.” Frolin replied just before shutting the door.
When Lash came outside he found Frolin sitting on a bench in the village center near a horse with a cart that had two strange looking canisters inside. Lash walked briskly over to where Frolin sat despite the splints on his left shin below his knee.
“So are we ready to fly down?” he asked with unbridled enthusiasm.
“Not just yet,” Frolin replied, as he got up from the bench and walked over to the cart with the canisters. “Step over here.” Lash walked over, as Frolin struggled to lift one of the heavy canisters out of the cart and set it on the ground. Lash saw that the canisters had leather straps attached to them, a handle at the top of the canister and a long leather hose with squeeze handle and nozzle attached to the end of the hose. Frolin gestured for Lash to turn around and he strapped the heavy canister to his back and tightened the buckle across Lash's chest. Frolin stepped back to see if the extra weight of the heavy canister caused any visible pain. Lash stood as straight and steady as he could although he did feel a slight degree of pain in his injured leg. “You can take it off. I think you'll be alright.” Lash unbuckled the shoulder strap and placed the canister in the cart. “You can ride on the horse. My dragon is waiting for us on top of a tower at Ostleron.”
“I'm alright to walk that far.”
“Get on the horse. There's no sense in putting any more stress on your leg than necessary.”
Lash climbed up on the horse and Frolin took the reins and led it out of the village along the path through the woods that separated Lash's village from the academy. Once they got to the tower, they put a thick blanket on the dragon's back behind the saddle and tied down the canisters. Lash climbed onto the saddle and Frolin got in front of him and buckled the harness over both their shoulders. Frolin snapped the reins and the dragon leaped off the tower and flapped her massive wings, as they flew out across the countryside.
Frolin landed his dragon just outside of the city in a field. He and Lash dismounted and untied the the canisters before Frolin released the dragon leaving it saddled. Lash picked up his canister and threw it on his back.
“So what are these for actually?” Lash asked. As he picked up the squeeze handle.
“Don't squeeze that!” Frolin shouted, as he too put a canister on his back. Lash moved his hand away from the handle allowing it to dangle from his side, the nozzle coming to rest on the grass. “Whatever it is we are up against moves very fast, as you know.” Frolin slipped a pair of thick leather gloves on his hands and brought a pair over to hand to Lash. “I sealed the hoses well, but just in case they leak, we better wear these.” He also handed Lash a pair of bronze goggles similar to his except with clear protective glass, unlike the thick glass in his goggles that help his eyes to see better.
“What's in it? Some sort of poison?” Lash asked, as he put on the goggles. Frolin came around behind him to pump up the pressure withing the canister.
“Yes, but a very strong blend that also burns the skin.” Frolin reached behind himself to pump the canister on his back, then the two of them walked together along the hard-packed road toward the city of Grenesby.
They entered the city along the north road that bordered the ocean. The streets had modest traffic mostly consisting of wagons hauling goods from the city's docks. They kept a look out for either Millaney or any of the soldiers finally spotting a group of soldiers, five walking together on one side of the road, five on the other. Frolin waved to Millaney who was with the group on the ocean side of the road and he and Las started that way. She directed the troops with her to keep walking, when she finally recognized Lash Lash walking alongside Frolin.
“I thought you were supposed to keep off your leg,” Millaney spoke toward Lash in an unmistakable scolding tone.
“My healer has cleared me for duty miss,” Lash said with a smile and stood at attention.
“You think this is a game? I don't want you to get hurt,” she said in a much softer tone.
“I'm here to help you.” Lash said in a passive manner.
“How can you help...” She asked.
“He can be as much as I can.” Frolin interjected. Millaney turned to him with darts in her eyes. Frolin politely excused himself and stepped away. Millaney took Lash's hand and they walked together.
“This is my first major command and I can't be seen as giving anyone special treatment. The lives of all these soldiers are in my hands.” Millaney said, as they walked together.
“You won't be giving me special treatment. My leg is feeling better,” Lash said even though he was feeling some pain in his wounded leg.
“It's not your leg. You're not as well trained as these other soldiers.” She admitted.
“How much training has Frolin had?” Lash asked with a noticeable hint of accomplishment as if that sealed his victory in the argument. “and don't say 'that's different'”
“Well in a way it is different.”
“He has been with us on missions before and has proved himself invaluable with his inventions.” Millaney, said with a great deal of conviction. Lash just sighed as if admitting defeat. “Now I'll find a horse for you so you can ride back.”
“I'm not going,”Lash answered with a great deal f conviction. Millaney stopped walking and took a hold of his arm.
“I could charge you with interfering with a military operation and have you locked up.” Millaney informed him.
“You would seriously do that?” Lash looked Millaney in the eyes, but her expression didn't change. “I'm not going, so do whatever you think is best.” Lash said thinking he was calling her bluff. Millaney stood silent for a long time with one eye half-closed. She did seriously consider calling over one of the town guards and having him locked up until after she found the the mysterious Shrkai and his three pint-sized demons. “Fine stay with Frolin and don't get in my way,” She finally said then promptly walked away.
Lash walked over to a nearby bench removed the canister from his back and sat quietly watching the seagulls fly around the mast of a fishing ship that was slowly rowing toward a dock. Frolin came over removed his canister as well and sat beside him.
“Has she always been like this?” Lash asked.
“To a certain degree, yes. She's under a lot of pressure. She cares about people and losing those students really hurt her. She wants to stop this before anyone else gets hurt, and not knowing who or what it is we are up against doesn't help matters.” The two of them sat peacefully looking over the harbor of ships. “How does your leg feel?”
“It's starting to hurt, but I'll be alright.” Lash leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “You know I've never seen the ocean before today. Its magnificent.” Lash sat back and watched the huge waves lap at the breakwater. “Is it always so turbulent?”
“It's usually worse than this. That's why we haven't had any ships return. We believe they've all sunk or just gotten lost. It was actually Millaney's mother that invented a device to help explore our oceans and keep track of distance and location using the stars and moons.”
“Yes a new ship is being built to try yet again. It should be finished soon.”
“Should we help them patrol?” Lash asked after a long moment.
“Naa they've got plenty of people doing that. Just rest we won't be needed for a while.”
Lash and Frolin sat looking at the bay for a long time before they got up and carried their canisters across the street to a tavern that had outside seating. They set their canisters done, took off their thick leather gloves and sat together at one of the tables beneath an umbrella. Lash removed his goggles, but Frolin needed his in order to see and they ordered some food from the server. Millaney and Sarnay continued their patrols along the streets of the tiny seaside city. They asked nearly every person they passed if they had seen anything unusual, described to them what they were looking for and warned them to run away and lock themselves inside should they happen upon the shrouded demons.
That evening, Frolin and Lash sat at the same cafe looking over the cities harbor, with the activity along the docks much less. Millaney's patrol was along the riverside of the city, while Sarnay's was further in the city. The covers of the frihar stones were uncovered casting a greenish glow out in all directions. A smaller rowboat barely visible against the dark water made its way inside the breakwater toward a guard tower built on a small rock island just beyond the breakwater. Two of the shrouded demons sat on the center bench of the boat rowing it while the other sat on the rear bench holding his claw in the water to feel the cool water. Ahrl sat at the bow of the boat, as it headed straight toward the guard tower which was light by four large glowing frihar stones all around. Ahrl kept a close eye on the guard that walking from side to side looking watching over both the harbor and city streets he could see from his tower. He spotted the boat approach and called down.
“Who is it that approaches?” he asked in a voice loud enough for the people on the boat to hear, but not anyone on shore. The two demons stopped rowing and turned to look at him while the three of them clasped hands. The guard was mesmerized by the glowing eyes of the demons. He stopped short of grabbing a rope to ring the bell hanging over his head and just stood there staring off toward the harbor. Ahrl stepped out of the boat and climbed up the ladder leading to the guard tower while the demons continued their hold of the guard's senses. Ahrl stepped up behind the guard and pulled a dagger. He stabbed the guard and slid his body over the rail.
“What was that?” Lash asked suddenly.
“I didn't hear anything.” Frolin responded.
“I thought I heard a splash,” he turned to look to the harbor.
“It was probably just a wave hitting the breakwater.”
“No this sounded different.” Lash said, as he got up from his seat and lifted the canister. Frolin got up to follow him. They walked over to the shore and looked over the ships docked in the harbor. At first they saw nothing, then Lash spotted three figures climbing the guard tower in the light that shined down from the tower.
“It's them!” Lash spoke quietly to Frolin. “Go get Millaney, I'll stay here and keep an eye on them.
“Alright, but do just that, stay here. I mean right here, I'll be back before you know it.” Frolin left his canister and hurried off to find one of the patrols.
Lash could see the four figures standing in the wooden guard tower. He saw Ahrl unwrap a glowing stone and set it on a pedestal. He wasn't sure what powers the stone contained, or what Ahrl's intention was for unleashing, but he disregarded Frolin's direction and stepped along the long pier that led to the guard tower on the small island. Waves rolled around the wooden posts holding up the walkway toward the tower, as Lash put the canister on his back, pulled down his goggles and put on his protective leather gloves. He moved steadily toward the tower intent on stopping Ahrl from unleashing the power of the stone.
Ahrl saw Lash walking along the boardwalk before he got halfway to the tower. He laughed, as he saw Lash walking along with splints on his injured leg. He directed his demon minions to go intercept Lash along the boardwalk. Lash reached behind him and pumped the handle of the canister a few times, as the demons were climbing down the ladder. He grabbed the handle of the spray nozzle and braced himself, as the demons set foot on the boardwalk. He squeezed the handled and waved the wand before him unleashing a fine mist before him, as the demons zipped in his direction.
“AARGGH.” he heard the demons scream, as the spray burned their skin and especially their eyes. The three child-sized demons stopped in their tracks. They around in all directions not seeing where they were going, two of them falling in the water, while the third managed to run back to the guard tower.
“GET HIM!” Ahrl shouted from atop the tower. The two in the water washed the spray out of the eyes, then swam over toward Lash, one on one side of the pier, one on the other. Ahrl watched, as they neared, as the third one used a piece of his cloak to wipe the spray from his eyes. Lash squeezed the handle and sprayed at the demons in the water causing them to dunk their heads underwater. He kept them from climbing out, but forgot about the third, that zipped his way and swerved around him. The demon cut the shoulder straps and yanked the canister off Lash's back. Lash dove into the bay before the demon could attack him. The demons looked around for him for a moment, but Ahrl called them back.
Millaney, Sarnay, Frolin and twenty armed soldiers charged to the shore, just as the demons formed a triangle around the stone and clasped hands. Ahrl climbed down the guard tower and got into the rowboat. He rowed a short distance away, just as the soldiers came to the canister Frolin left along the shore.
“Where is he?” Millaney screamed out with panic in her voice.
“I left him right here,” Frolin explained, then turned to look at the tower. “He must have went over to try and do something on his own.”
Everyone turned to look at the guard tower just as a blinding light shot out from the stone and engulfed the entire harbor. Millaney shielded her eyes, as the light spread out across most of the city. The soldiers and all the citizens of the city caught in the bright light stopped turned in unison toward the glowing guard tower. Millaney Frolin and Sarnay were the only ones that seemed unaffected by the stone's light. While everyone else caught in its glare stood as if their minds had been sucked out of their heads leaving an empty shell, Millaney and Sarnay drew their swords and headed to the boardwalk that led to the tower. Frolin lifted his canister and strapped it to his back, he pulled on the leather gloves then ran up to join them.
The three of them marched side by side along the boardwalk. Millaney walked on the outside of Frolin with Sarnay on the other side, each of them holding their sword in one hand and a rectangular metal shield in the other. Frolin pumped up his canister, as they approached the guard tower.
“We should stay down here. We'd be helpless to fight back if those demons caught us on the ladder.” Frolin commented once they were on the small island that the guard tower was built on.
“You think they can fly?” Sarnay asked.
“We should be prepared for anything.” Frolin said as the light from the stone started to dim. Ahrl looked at shore from his boat in the middle of the harbor which rested alongside a galley with its oars raised. He watched the soldiers reactions with great intent. He seemed very perplexed, as the soldiers snapped out of their trance and started toward the boardwalk. All throughout the city the people returned to their business as if nothing had happened, all except one man. One bitter man with fear in his heart that had been suppressed deep down, until one day when he heard the Currencia Representative speak. He stopped and turned to look at a family of Shrkai pushing a cart of goods away from a market tent.
“They brought this on us,” the human male shouted pointing to the family. “We should have never allowed them into our city.” he turned to some of the people around him and a few other humans stepped up behind him. “Turn them back,” he again shouted as he picked up a stone and hurled it at the Shrkai family. The stone sailed harmlessly passed a young Shrkai girl who had to duck to keep it from hitting her. The father stopped pushing the cart and pulled the young girl behind him. “Turn them back! Send them back across the river!,” he again shouted, as he picked up a stone so large it filled his palm. He pulled back his arm and prepared to throw it when a young woman stepped up from behind him and put a soft hand on his shoulder. The angry man instantly tucked his chin into his chest and allowed the young woman to take the stone from him.
A different Shrkai man stepped forward and walked up to the angry man. “I know exactly how you feel,” he confided with the angry man. “I'm one of the Shrkai from island. Our leaders taught us to hate humans. It wasn't until our clan was disbanded and we were dispersed among the mainland Shrkai that I realized how wrong we were to hate.” He put a hand on the angry man's shoulder and he lifted his head to look into the eyes of the Shrkai man. He looked into the eyes of that which he feared so deeply, then just turned to walk away quietly with his head hung low.
“Kill them!” Ahrl shouted from his boat back at the harbor, as he started to row away. “Kill them all!”
Millaney and Sarnay crouched with their shields held out in front of them blocking their entire body. The demons zipped down the ladder and slashed at Millaney and Sarnay, but their attacks were blocked by their shields. Frolin spayed some of his poisonous mist in front of him to burn the demons, as they wished by.
“AHHH! Easy with that stuff,” Sarnay shouted out as a few droplets burned the back of her and Millaney's neck. The guards reached them and the formed four groups of five, with Frolin in the center with Sarnay in her group. They crouched and locked their shields together covering all four sides, the fifth person held their shield over their head to block any access by the demons. The fight continued with the demons unable to find a weakness in the soldiers defenses. They zipped all around scratching at, but unable to damage the shields. Whenever a demon stopped to peer in a small gap between the interlocked shields, one of the soldiers would poke at it with a sword, but the demon was too fast and zipped away again before it could be stabbed. “We can't do this all night. We have to find a way to kill them.” Sarnay said, as Frolin stuck his nozzle in a gap and spayed out his toxic mist. A demon screamed and wooshed away, but just washed his steaming body in the bay, then returned.
Lash climbed out of the water and pulled himself up on the breakwater. He looked over the battle on the boardwalk and thought of what he could. He sat back on the stone and felt his panflute that was hanging from his belt poke into his side. He turned to look at it when he got an idea he thought was hopeless, but with no other options or ideas, he decided to stand up and shake the loose water out of his flute. He put the flute to his lips and started to play a soft, slow melodic tune. The soothing notes lifted from the openings in his flute and floated over to the battle commencing on the boardwalk. At first nothing happened, but Lash kept playing until the demons stopped with their heads tilted in his direction listening to the music.
After a short time Millaney heard the music and peered through a gap in the shields. She saw one of the short cloaked demons standing still looking off to the sound of the music. Without hesitation, she stood lowering her shield and stabbed the demon in the heart with her sword protruding out its back. Sarnay followed her lead and stabbed a demon near her, as one of the soldiers stabbed the third. Millaney angled her sword straight upward allowing the body of the lifeless demon to come to rest on the deck of the boardwalk. She lifted her foot and stepped on the demons face, as she pulled out her sword and wiped the dark black blood on the demons cloak. When she pulled her foot back she could clearly see the demon's face with it's shroud pulled back. With the exception of the fangs and dark leathery skin, it appeared not unlike that of a young child.
Further away in the dark harbor, Ahrl rowed his boat toward shore like a mad man escaping the wrath of judgment. He pulled the boat up on shore a long way from the soldiers on the boardwalk. He charged up the embankment and unto the dark road far from the glow of the city lamps. He stopped at the top of the embankment when he saw a Shrkai man standing there waiting for him.
“Hello father,” Darvin said, when his father neared. “Please just come with us peacefully. We'll take you back where you belong.”
“Take me back? What are you joking?,” Ahrl laughed, as he continued to walk toward the road. “I'm not through yet. I'll get Crimsonna to give me some more eggs. This time I'll age them a few more years, maybe then their powers will be strong enough to do what I need.” Ahrl walked passed his son. “You should come with me. I could use your help.” Ahrl stopped as Sahn stepped out of the shadow of a nearby tree and approached him with his hand gripping the dagger sheathed on his belt. Ahrl took a few steps back until he was standing beside his son.
“Please father just come with us,” Darvin again pleaded with his father to not resist, but Ahrl had other intentions, as he shoved his son down and turned to run back toward the city. Ahrl stopped suddenly remembering what was in the city. He turned again to find Sahn right in front of him. Sahn reached out and grabbed Ahrl by the throat.
“I'm glad you chose the hard way,” Sahn growled through clenched teeth. With a strong grip from years of stone work, Sahn squeezed Ahrl's throat tight. Ahrl gasped for air and used both hands to try and pry Sahn's vise-like grip free from his throat. After a moment Ahrl used one hand to retrieve a dagger from its sheath, but by this time Darvin was on his feet and standing next to him.
“No father.” Darvin said, as he grabbed his father's hand and kept him from pulling the dagger. Sahn tossed Ahrl down to the ground. Ahrl gasped for air, as Sahn and Darvin stood over him. Sahn put his arm out to push Darvin back.
“Come on Ahrl. Now's your chance,” Sahn taunted him, as he lay there on the ground. “You've always had someone else do your dirty work.” He said, as Ahrl stood. “You summoned me years ago to do your bidding, but you weren't strong enough to control me.” Sahn pressed forward forcing Ahrl to step back down the embankment toward the dark water in the harbor. “You had to use a golem to kill the high priest and blame it on someone else. Well now's your chance to do your own killing.” Sahn pulled the dagger showing a glowing curved blade. “You recognize this?” He asked of Ahrl who looked toward the dagger, as he backed up to water's edge. “This was my dagger so many years ago. The same one used to kill you and so many countless others. The blade cursed with my rage. The blade that's going to send you back!” Sahn pulled his arm back to strike, as Ahrl pulled his dagger. Sahn hesitated and Ahrl pulled his and thrust his blade toward Sahn. Sahn avoided Ahrl's attack and grabbed his arm. Ahrl dropped his blade as Sahn twisted his arm.
Sahn smiled, as he grabbed Ahrl's hand and pried it open with his strength. He flipped the cursed dagger and placed the handle in Ahrl's open palm. He clasped Ahrl's fingers around it and shoved him backwards. The dagger's glow intensified and radiated through Ahrl's arm. He tried to drop the dagger and even shake it free, but it was stuck to his palm.
“You feel it don't you?” Sahn asked as Ahrl started to glow and the many agonized faces of the people murdered by the dagger flashed across his own face. Ahrl staggered back and stood ankle deep in the dark water. “Is my rage too much for you?” Sahn screamed, as Ahrl twisted in agony his body glowing like a beacon, then vanished with a burst of light and an audible 'pop'. Sahn stepped forward to retrieve the dagger that fell silently to the sandy shoreline. He held it in his hands for a long moment staring into the blade which had dimmed. He saw Ahrl's face, his mouth open in an agonizing silent scream, then it was gone and the blade lost its glow. Sahn grabbed the dagger in both hands and with blood trickling from the hand that gripped the blade, he snapped the dagger in half and tossed it into the bay.
Darvin took a rag out of his pocket and wrapped Sahn's hand, as they walked into the city where two men rowed a boat to shore with Lash sitting in it with them. Millaney stepped up to help Lash out of the boat and give him a big hug and a deep affectionate kiss with the soldiers standing nearby watching. The soldiers dispersed, as Millaney and Lash walked together beneath the glow of the city lamps.
“What happened to you maintaining order?” Lash asked with a snicker.
“Shut up before I toss you back in the bay.” Millaney laughed, as they walked together with their arms around each other.
“Are we headed back to the academy tonight?”
“Why are you afraid to fly at night?”
“Well no, I just thought it might be nice to stay here tonight. I love the sound of the ocean.”
“You haven't seen anything yet.” Millaney pulled a small spiraled horn off her belt and blew into it. A short time later her dragon spread her wings and coasted to a stop on the road in front of them. Millaney helped Lash to climb up onto the saddle. Then climbed up in front of him and buckled the harness. They flew out over the small seaside city and high up into the sky northeast toward the the center of Annuvin.
“Where are we headed?” Lash asked, as they flew out through thin dark clouds.
“You'll see when we get there.” Millaney called back with the wind whipping her blond hair back. They flew toward a tall mountain peak that poked up above the clouds. “Are you familiar with mount Kythe?” Millaney asked, as they circled around the mountain peak and approached from the east.
“Well of course. I had a good instructor even before finally attending Ostleron.”
“Well you may have heard of Lunnari's throne as well, but I doubt you've ever seen it.”
Millaney flew her dragon toward the mountain peak and started her descent toward a flat area with tall natural stone spires on three sides. Lash noticed a shelter on the small stone plateau with furniture under it, as the dragon landed. Millaney unbuckled the harness and slid off the dragon saddle. She reached up her arm to help Lash down. He slid down putting most of his weight on his uninjured leg. The two held each other close for a moment, then Millaney pushed herself free and removed the dragon's saddle. The dragon walked over to a wooden shelter near the rear of the stone plateau with a stone mountain wall behind it. The dragon lifted some large logs with her mouth from a nearby pile and placed them in a pit with some ashes then blew flame to light the logs. Millaney under the pavilion shelter and dragged out two cushioned lounge chairs and positioned them to face the east. She removed her sword belt and hung it from a wooden peg on the pavilion support pole.
“Turn around,” she directed Lash, as she started to remove her uniform. Lash did as she said and looked out toward the endless sea of thin clouds spread out across the dark sky. Millaney let her uniform dress slip off and fall at her feet, then unbuckled the top half of her chainmail and pulled it over her head. She did the same with the protective mail covering her legs, then removed the cloth undergarment. She stood naked with the firelight reflecting of her soft curves. She reached into a tall wooden wardrobe slipped on a night shirt and removed two thick blankets. “You can turn around now.” Lash turned around to see Millaney walking toward him in a thin night gown carrying the blankets. “You're not going to sleep in your clothes are you?” Millaney asked, as she approached.
Lash wasted no time, as he yanked his tunic up over his head and started to pull off his trousers, but had trouble pulling them past the wooden splints on his left leg. Millaney came over and pushed him gently onto one of the lounge chairs. She got to her knees in front of him and gently tugged at his trousers, as he lay back and leaned on his arms which rested on the cushioned lounge chair. Millaney removed his outer trousers leaving him in a pair of cloth short pants.
“Do you still need these?” Millaney asked, as she held his leg in her lap and looked at his splints.
“It still hurts a bit, but I think you can remove them if you want,” Lash responded. Millaney reached under her nightgown and pulled out a dagger which was sheathed to her thigh. She cut the bandages and removed the splints. She ran her fingertips over his wounded leg then placed soft kisses on the bruise on his shin. She set his leg gently onto the ground then came up to sit next to him. She pulled a different blanket over each of their shoulders, then snuggled up close to him.
“Sarnay and I come up here all the time. It's the most beautiful spot in all of Annuvin.”
“It is when you're here.” Lash said just before moving in for a kiss. Millaney's soft lips parted for his and their lips pressed together and the tips of their tongues touched. Lash pressed his body tight against hers feeling her soft breasts through the thin nightgown caress his bare chest. Millaney placed the fingers of her right hand upon Lash's strong chest and pushed him back. She broke off the kiss her chest heaving with every intake of the thin oxygen. She stood and let his hand slip out of hers, as she walked around to the other lounge chair. She laid down with the long thick blanket covering her body. Lash laid back as well. Millaney pulled her arm out from under the blanket and reached over to Lash. He reached his arm out as well and the two of them lay back and looked out over the cloudy sky. They lay there exhausted from the day's events and soon fell asleep.
The sun eased its way up casting a bright orange glow across the thin clouds. The sun's bright glow reached the peak of Mt. Kythe with Millaney and Lash sleeping in the lounge chairs still holding hands. The brightness of the sun pierced their thin eyelids waking them from their peaceful slumber, so that they could watch the magnificent display of color spread out across the clouds and warm their beds.