Copyright Jeff Anderstedt 1999
The ignorance of youth - 21
Leythan didn't want his life to change. He was quite happy with how it was going, right at the moment. He had Birq, who was, more often than not, turning out to have most of the answers that he needed about his unique legacy. Koragch, despite being a huge pain in the ass, had earned the young were's respect, and had proven his value as a teacher to Leythan more times than he wanted to admit. The other students didn't really mean anything to Leythan, but they were valuable tools he wasn't quite ready to discard right now as they kept his skills sharp, and occasionally were suitable sources of income if you knew where they kept their stashes.
Now this old man was telling Leythan that it was over. Almost as casually as most would shop for that nights' dinner groceries, this greying old man had ripped apart the young thief's life. Leythan's belligerence showed readily on his face. How dare this old bastard discard his opinions and desires? How dare he choose the path that Leythan would take in his life? What he would become would be of his own design, and none would be able to stop him. His life was in his own hands.
Cold purpose blazed briefly in his eyes as he snarled at the old man and snatched his hand away. "My life hasn't changed, old man, and you don't give me orders. I follow Koragch alone, and I could care less if you tear the world down around my ears, you don't command me."
The tension in the air was almost palpable and subtly Leythan reached into his soul to find the beast within. He wouldn't pull it forth unless he had to, but he felt its animal presence in his mind and wrapped it around his thoughts like a protective glove. His lips pulled back in a snarl and the young were exerted his presence. The power of the blood surged through him with bestial force and washed over the mage. Leythan's anger fed his power, and gave him a presence that dwarfed his normal self-assurance, making him stronger, filling him up with pride of whom and what he was.
The old man stood there and stared complacently back at the young thief. "That doesn't really work that well on someone who is not a were, Leythan. Especially when they have spent as much time on this world as I have." The mage's eyes glazed over for the merest of moments and the young man felt what could only be described as cold hand probing his being. It caressed his presence, not quite touching it yet finding every weakness in his mind. As the hand withdrew the old man's eyes regained their sharpness and he spoke. "You know that you're really not that good at that yet either. I'd stop being quite so cocky till you're ready to back up your actions a little more thoroughly."
Leythan's rage welled up inside of him. The old man was easily the most powerful being he had ever met, and he clearly didn't care whether his insulting comments engendered loathing or not. Mostly the young were knew that he was powerless to do anything about it. That frustrated him the most. As he stood there and quivered in rage, the old man looked him over another time.
A grin crossed the wizard's face and he started to laugh openly as he turned to Koragch. "You seem to have taught him a little bit about bravado too, my friend. I can remember you looking almost exactly the same at our first meeting." Darthillion swung back to face Leythan still chuckling under his breath. "I hope that you tempered that bravado with a bigger dose of common sense than he's shown today, though. I can admire spunk, but too much does tend to get someone killed so rapidly, and I didn't hire you to train me a corpse."
The young were gave up and let his presence drop, but held onto his anger. "I am not your slave. Till mere minutes ago I hadn't even seen you before in my life. You did not send me to Koragch either. I found him by a streak of luck. I agree that you are someone of power. I will show you respect for that," Leythan's voice went cold again "but if you don't start showing both Koragch and I some respect as well, all you will have left is a corpse, because I swear that I'll try to rip out your heart even though I'll die trying."
The old man didn't even flinch. If anything he started to chuckle harder again. "I don't really think you've thought it through that well, boy. Why would you want to die today?"
Leythan took a slow deliberate step toward the wizard. Koragch got quickly to his feet but Darthillion raised a hand toward him in reassurance to stop his advance.
The young were knew that he was in very big trouble. Koragch was incensed, and the look on his face spoke ill for Leythan if he managed to survive till the end of this meeting. At least he knew now that it couldn't get any worse, and he desperately wanted to humble this old man a bit, so he leaned into the wizard and whispered to him, "Three reasons. The first is that I get paid to take chances and risks. It's my job, Koragch pays the bills, and some chances are worth risking dying for. Secondly would be the fact that if I can't live free, I really wouldn't want to live. I will not be put under the yoke, and you seem to think that I'm just another slave instead of a free man." Leythan grinned the best dispassionate grin that he could, attempting to emulate Birq's frigid manner. He met the older man's stare and found that glint of humour still remaining. "Finally, I don't think that I will ever have a better chance."
Leythan punctuated the last by gently prodding the man in his ribs with the dagger he had secretly drawn with his right hand. That the motion covered a brief covert movement with his left hand was actually the only thing he had hoped for, and it worked masterfully.
The older man burst into a fit of laughing, the convulsions of his abdomen prodding the dagger gently against his chest repeatedly, which only caused the old man to laugh harder. This was not at all what the young thief had expected, and he lowered the dagger slowly while his brows furrowed in puzzlement.
As the wizard once again started to regain his composure, he looked up at Leythan. The look of utter bewilderment on the youngster's face unfortunately set him off again, and the contagious nature of his laughter seemed to set Koragch once again at ease. Enough so, that after a brief period of time, the fat crime lord was soon laughing with him almost as heartily.
Not being used to having people laugh in his face when he poked a dagger in their direction, and getting more and more agitated at the fact that he wasn't being taken seriously, Leythan thrust his dagger home in its sheath and crossed his arms with a look of consternation.
He was quite distressed to find that this unfortunately had just the opposite effect than the one he was hoping for, in that it only caused the two other men to laugh harder. Hard enough, in fact, that he could see tears streaming down the cheeks of the old wizard.
No longer having the desire to be the brunt of the two older men's disconcerting laughter, the young were stalked to a chair at the side of the desk and, rather forcefully, sat down in it. This elicited several creaks and groans from the rickety old thing, but Leythan ignored them with the same indifference that he now showed the two older men. In short, he started to mope.
Explanations - 22
The two men tried repeatedly to contain their mirth, but all it took was a cursory glance toward the now quite contrite young were sitting at the side of the desk to set them off again. Eventually the laughter ran its natural course, and the two men started to settle down, gasping occasionally for breath while the wizard produced a handkerchief which he used to dry the tears from his eyes and face.
"Oh, I like this one." Darthillion told Koragch. "He has spirit and moxy."
"Sometimes a little too much, I would think." Koragch replied, his paunchy belly still quivering with laughter. "But occasionally he shows rare humour, like today."
"You should be commended, Koragch, for teaching him some valuable traits as well. The aged man turned toward Leythan. "As you should be commended for learning them, lad. Your answers were well thought out."
The older man turned and started to remove something from the depths of one pocket in his robes. "But I do believe that a little explaining is in order here today." He lifted a small book out of his pocket and turned his chair so he could face both of the younger men. "I am not in search of a slave. I am in search of an employee. Certain facts came to my attention a few years ago that led me to believe that you would be that employee, young Leythan."
Darthillion held up his hand to stop Leythan from asking the obvious question of just what qualified him so uniquely for this position, and to object that he was unavailable anyway, being under the employ of Koragch. "I will explain everything first and answer questions second. There will be fewer questions that way and I hate being interrupted." The wizard cut the young thief off before he could talk.
"Now, these facts also told me where and when you could be found. Already having had several contracts very competently completed by Koragch here," Darthillion inclined his head toward the rotund man behind the desk, "it was almost a forgone conclusion as to whom it would be that I would have intercept you." The older man gave a brief pause to give Leythan time to consider this information before he continued.
"Since you have been under his tutelage, he has been instructing you in some of the finer arts of..." Again the wizard paused, but more for lack of phrasing than dramatic effect, "...information retrieval. This will be a highly important position to me, as there is no more valuable weapon than knowledge. Koragch has agreed to contract you out to me when your training is complete, meaning that your orders and instructions will come from me or Koragch alone. However, your training is only partially complete. You have proven yourself to be very adept at...discreet... endeavours, but in the future you will require the ability to work in a team environment, and have a much more sound knowledge of military procedures."
Again Darthillion held up his hand to silence the younger man. "Please don't interrupt me. It puts me in a rather vile mood, and patience will get you all the answers you need. You will be going into military service for a brief time, and this will be the final stage of your training. I understand your boss has a few missions of his own within the military that he would like you tackle, so again, our ends meet the same means."
"Thereafter, your contract will devolve to me alone. Orders from Koragch are still to be obeyed, however, as occasionally he will be my only manner in which to contact you, so make sure to keep him aware of your location and any pertinent information if you are not currently in contact with another of my agents. You will be a given a secret signal with which to recognize them."
"The majority of your missions will involve a variety of functions, and you will eventually be placed in a mixed team of individuals. As you can guess, your primary function will be to return information to me about the enemies actions and plans; however, sometimes hands on retribution will be required." The wizard started to chuckle again. "But I would guess that you aren't really opposed to that".
Darthillion's face broke into a prune-faced grin and he started to chuckle again, giving pause to his speech, but he managed to recover his composure rapidly enough to continue before Leythan could interrupt him. "You must excuse me Leythan. I hope that one day you will understand the humour of the situation of just a few moments ago. There is no personal slight involved."
The old wizard paused for a few seconds while he gathered his thoughts. "Oh yes." He started again absently patting the small book which he had produced from one of the voluminous pockets in his robes. "There will be several rewards for the hardships that I ask you to undertake. This is one such." He pushed the book across the table to the young were. "Within these pages you will find a spell that will enable you to have a slightly better than normal sense of hearing when you learn it, as well as a few other small stipends of knowledge." Again the old man chuckled under his breath briefly. "It is always a benefit for someone in your line of work to have a better than normal grasp of what is going on around him, especially with the enemy around to be dealt with." Darthillion leaned forward conspiratorially and whispered, "Not to mention it makes eavesdropping that much easier."
Leythan smiled to himself at that. Eavesdropping was one of the most efficient ways for a thief to find out about future jobs, not to mention the dangers of existing ones. That one spell would mean more to a thief than most people would realize.
"I thought that would get your attention. It is yours to keep even if you decide to turn down the assignment. There is a great amount of learning to be had from the lesson in that book." Again the old man chortled gleefully. "Now, lad, if you have any questions, I would be only too happy to answer them, and make sure you ask all of them because I'm not sure when we'll be seeing each other again in person."
Leythan paused for a second. He wanted to absorb all the information that had just been passed on to him. He didn't think he could ever make it in the military, the lifestyle didn't suit his liking, even if they managed to find an outfit that would accept a were. The bloodlust that could overtake a were was not the best thing to have on a crowded battlefield.
The thought of being part of a group under this man's indirect command had its pluses and minuses. Leythan wasn't totally opposed to being part of a group, having now tasted pack life with the local were's. He had, however, been able to choose whom he was associating with and when. That option would not be available to him in Darthillion's grouping, and the young were did prefer to work alone given the option.
The thought of contracting to an individual who could routinely afford to hire Koragch and his organization was compelling however, and there had been mention of more rewards like the spell he had been granted. Leythan needed more information. Given what he had been told he asked the only question that he could.
"Who, by all the gods, is 'The Enemy?'"
The Enemy - 23
"Oh my, did I forget that?" The aged wizard's face twisted into a perplexed grimace.
"I guess that is a rather important issue to have casually glossed over, isn't it." He reached up and scratched at the loose wrinkled skin at the bottom of his chin.
How much could he tell the boy without putting him in immediate danger, and for that matter, how much could he tell him without making him run from the room in terror, screaming to the world that the end was near. If the lad was told too much, and he panicked, or fell into the hands of the enemy, he could give away all that the aged man had worked so many years to accomplish. The only advantage that he had was that the enemy didn't know he existed, and thus he was able to thwart their plans, whilst he was preparing the continent to expel them once again. However, the boy could not function in his role if he wasn't informed, and more than likely because of his rebellious nature, would refuse to as well.
Darthillion thought it through from the beginning. The methodical nature of his studious mind was the best weapon that he had, and he had many finely honed weapons available to him. The boy was not one to panic easily, so he could be told a little more about the nature of the threat to all mammalians everywhere. Under no circumstances, however, could he tell Leythan of the role he was to play. Prophetic visions were very fickle, and generally tended to lash out at those who meant to bend them to their will. The young were had started out in the vision Darthillion had received as near blissfully ignorant of the invaders as a babe, and as such he should remain. How could the old man educate the boy to the hazards before him without destroying one of the few chances of salvation they had left?
Darthillion looked at the young thief to size him up, and found him staring back, with a demanding look in his eyes. The wizard felt a smile creep across his face unbidden. The lad was greedy. Just by looking at him he could tell that Leythan wasn't thinking of the danger, but more of the profits to be found in confronting it. Darthillion could use that, but he needed more as well.
How strong was the boy anyway? He was were, so the thought of blood and violence was not foreign to him. He was a creature of the pack, so he could identify easily with the idea of one group verses another in a battle for survival. Yes perhaps that was the best angle, it was fairly easy for one of his powers to show the lad the extent of the struggle, and the costs of losing. If he had a vision of the disastrous results of complacency, tempered with the knowledge that he would be able to help avert it, he would fall into line. Of course, properly placed fiscal incentives would help prod the boy into line as well, and if some of them were imagined instead of real, that could not be helped.
"I can not tell you much about the enemy, boy, as I am still acquiring information on them." the aged man lied smoothly. "I can, however, tell you this. They mean the demise or enslavement of every being not of lizard kind."
"Stopping them will not be easy, for they have great financial clout and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of gold and gems to support their actions." Darthillion had put on his best disturbed and concerned face at the last, as if this fact greatly concerned him. In truth they did, but it was passed on to the lad as mere bait, and from the glint in his eye he had already thought of several methods with which to separate the enemy from their cash reserves. All in the name of the cause, you understand.
The fish was biting, but the old man would have to now make the lad realize that there was no alternative but to work towards the common cause. "How much do you know of The Great Invasion Leythan?" asked the old mage.
The greed in the boys eyes faltered for a second. "What Great Invasion?" he asked.
This was going to be harder on the boy than Darthillion had thought.
"Koragch, my friend, would you mind if I borrowed your office for a second? Some of the things that I must tell our young friend here would just be repetition to you, and some I'm sure you would rather not have to see again. You have other business to take care of anyway, I'm sure." It was another lie, albeit a small one, but Koragch was a shrewd man and might be able to glean more from the vision that the old wizard was about to give Leythan than he was comfortable with.
"I hate it when you do that, old friend. There is nothing quite as humbling as being asked to vacate ones own place of business, as if he was of no consequence at all." the fat crime lord grumped as he got to his feet. "I will go, though, because you are right. There are some things that I have seen that I would rather not have to see again."
The paunchy man looked somewhat drawn as he walked towards the door. He paused only once before he left and looked to his young apprentice. "I do not envy you the lessons you will learn here today, lad. They will make you more of a man, but the knowledge still haunts my dreams. You will understand soon. Stay well, Leythan." With that he passed through the entrance and closed the door behind him.
"That was unnecessary.", thought the old man. "Now I'll have to temper it down slightly to prevent giving the lad the screaming willies, and that was a card I would have preferred to keep in my hand if I had wanted it." Aloud, he said, "The Great Invasion took place 8000 years ago, and not too much is known about it, anymore. Two races of Reptilians swept down on the Long Coasts and proceeded to enslave and obliterate any Mammalians they encountered. Now, they are coming again. I am going to let you see the past as it was, and the future as it may be. The past is fixed and immutable, the future is fluid and can be influenced. It need not be the way you see it, but only we and our allies can stop it..." the old wizard gripped the edge of the desk, and his knuckles turned white with the pressure he exerted. His voice dropped in volume and his eyes fell to the floor. It was barely a whisper when he finished, "...and save the world as we know it."
Visions of the past - 24
Leythan was more than a little taken aback by the vehemence in the old man's voice. Perhaps there was more to this whole situation than the possibility to gain wealth. There must be, to have shaken Koragch that much. Nothing rattled that man.
He was not a student of history, other than to find out who had managed to become rich in the past, as they would make the best targets for his designs. Thus, he had no idea what "The Great Invasion" had been, or what a second one would mean.
Regardless of whether or not he got involved with this old man's schemes, he would still benefit from knowledge of a war to come. Police states like the ones that accompanied wars were easily as profitable as peacetime communities, according to Koragch, but they required a different mind set, and adjustments were necessary. Well, he would let the old man tell him all he would, and then he could decide whether or not it would be to his advantage to take him up on his offer.
"How do you make me see this vision, wizard? I want to see it." Leythan asserted.
The wrinkled old man looked up at him, his eyes were vaguely sad. "As you will." He rose from his chair and approached the young were. "It is easier if I touch you while we do this. What you are going to see is an illusion, but what it depicts is real, or was real, or will be real. You cannot affect what you see in the vision, and make sure you remember that what you see is nothing more than illusion. I will be with you, and will answer any questions that you have as well as guide your thoughts."
The wizard walked around behind him and gently grabbed his shoulders, forcing him to lean back in the chair. "It is easier if you relax and don't try to fight me." He removed his hands from Leythan's shoulders and placed them on his head. "Relax my friend. Close your eyes and breath deeply. You will not feel any pain. I will not harm you. Relax..."
His voice had taken up a drawling monotone that soothed Leythan's thoughts. He had been nervous about letting the mage do this to him, but the more he thought about it the more he realized that he had nothing to fear from this man. He would not hurt him, there was no need. His eyes drifted closed...
All is black. There is nothingness.
"Where am I?" thought Leythan.
"You are in the past." came the answering voice of the mage. "To bring you straight to the vision would have been hard on your mind."
The blackness started to lighten. The blacks tempered themselves down into more base shades. He could see trees now, with the first shoots of growth showing and rolling hills covered in the sweet green shades of spring. The air started to adopt a foreign sharp tang.
"What is that smell?"
"That is the ocean. We are in the Long Coasts." As the wizards thoughts came to him he realized that he could see a large shimmering blue ribbon on the distant horizon.
His vision blurred slightly around the edges and he felt a vague sensation of movement. The ground skimmed past beneath him, and he filled with joy as he imagined this is what birds must feel when they soared the skies unfettered by the pull of the earth. His mind drifted for a moment as he imagined himself a hawk, soaring free and hunting the world beneath him.
"Stay focused, Leythan. You are here to see, not to dream."
Regretfully the young thief brought his thoughts back to world around him. He focused his attention on the village that had swept up underneath him while he dozed. It was a simple place. There were fishermen tending to their nets near the docks. A group of boys laughed at a friend as his mother called him in to help with chores, and then returned to a game which involved scaring some seagulls from the leavings of last nights catch by throwing stones at them. A pair of lovers stole a kiss behind a boat house before regretfully leaving to finish their days work. A baker cleaned out his ovens so they might be ready for the next days loaves. A midwife tended to a woman in the pains of labour, and a child was born, while a herbalist three doors over sat a watch over an aged woman on her death bed, who smiled as she died.
He was not just seeing the village. He was seeing the village as time passed.
Now there were chunks of ice in the harbour. The boys were now old enough to help their fathers with the nets and begin to learn the trade that would be their future. Now the lovers are married and the pregnant wife is being tended by the midwife. A mother watches her child take its first steps. The herbalist lays on her own death bed, and when she passes, she too wears a smile.
"And now it begins." came the voice of the wizard.
Ships. There, on the horizon. Time that is and isn't brings them closer. The boys that are now young men, with fishing boats of their own, gather on the docks while their wives pull children closer and usher them home, only to stand at half shuttered windows and wonder at the strange ships that approach.
The men that pilot the ships are strange. They are gruff and come from all over the continent. They anchor in the harbour, waving to the men on the shore as they launch long boats from the far side of their ships. Companion way hatches are thrown open and warriors stream out from the cargo holds below. They do not stop when they reach the decks but instead throw open wings of leather and launch themselves into the sky. They are not human, but more like human shaped dragons. The humans piloting the ship laugh as they sweep out and streak towards the village. The launches concealed behind the ships fill with other reptilian warriors and start towards the shores.
"The flying ones are called Draconians. The land bound warriors are called Dwim-Dwom."
The draconians sweep down out of the skies. Some have weapons in hand. Some fight with just their clawed hands and feet. Others, still, breath death out over the now panicking village.
The boys are the first to die. Most do not have the chance to do anything else other than gawk at the sudden death that has found them. One manages to grab a small net and entangle one Draconian in the air. Its head makes a soggy thunk as it crashes into one of the mooring posts of the dock. For his valour, the man gets caught in a breath weapon of another draconian, and screams in horror as the fire melts away his features and fills his throat with blood.
One of the two lovers runs to his hut to protect his child and wife. He is run through from behind.
The air fills with the scent of blood and the screams of the dying.
The Dwim-Dwom land their boats and disembark in a rush of silent death. They sweep through the town striking down all those they find. It is not like horror stories that are told of war. The do not burn or loot, there will be time for that later. When they find the women they do not rape them or laugh and cajole with their friends, they simply strike them down or run them through where they stand. It is the same where they find children. Boys, girls, infants, it does not matter.
When the killing is finished not a single human remains.
The men on the ships are brought to shore and their captain complains bitterly when they are told to start ripping down the village huts to extend the piers. The complaints stop with the captains death, when the Dwim-Dwom cut him down without warning. The Lizardmen take turns watching over the sailors, who are only allowed to rest when they collapse. As soon as the sailors finish the dock they are unceremoniously killed and thrown into the bay. Shortly, as if on some unseen signal the other ships appear. The fleet is huge, and, with the newly created docks allowing them to tie off instead of anchor, the ground is soon covered with a solid mass of lizard flesh.
"I could show you the other landings as well, but they are all the same."
"Why?" It was the only question Leythan could think of to ask.
"Why do any creatures do war?" the wizard replied.
"No. Why did they kill everyone?" The images of the people dying, even when they would not fight anymore, kept playing through the young thief's mind while he looked down at the steadily growing army.
"We are not just an enemy to them." came the wizards voice tinged slightly with compassion for those who had died, "We are also an infestation. They think that we are nothing more than an unnecessary use of resources. One that should be removed."
All went black.
"Where are we now?"
"A few years in the future from where we were, but still many in the past to you and me."
Again the colours started to seep into being. This time they were above a battle field. Two great armies were arrayed beneath him. The human army was immense and easily out numbered the hosts of reptiles pitted against them.
"Is this how the enemy was driven from our lands?" Leythan asked.
"No." there was a hollow note to the old man's voice "This is what happens when we do not fight together. The commander of the right flank is under the employ of the lizards. The other two sections of the army are made up of second rate troops from every land. All the lords have not deemed it proper to send in their regular forces, and have instead sent conscripts. The regular armies of each land have been kept back to quell troubles stirred up by the lizards. They have hired brigands to harry supply lines, and even have a sizeable force of malcontents actually besieging a slightly more major city in the distant east."
"As well, the commanders in the army have been too busy jockeying for command of the force than they have been in preparing their plans and troops. This is what happens when we do not fight together against the enemy."
Below Leythan, horns sounded and the human army started to advance. The reptilian army had dug in and was prepared for the assault. The humans were hoping to sweep their opponents under with superior numbers.
It was like watching a game from this height. As the human army advanced they began finally to charge. As they approached bow range, the right flank halted, allowing the rest of the army to charge in. The charge broke as soldiers became aware that not the entire army was going to do battle. The losses were staggering. Some fireballs and lightning bolts flew, coming from the humans, while the draconians answered with streams of flame. The humans had enough magicians to counter, and it was only this that kept them alive to start the retreat. The reptilian army countercharged and ripped the army in half. Draconians flew in adding their vicious air assault to the mayhem. The great human army shuddered and died like some huge defenceless beast.
The Reptiles cleared the field while the right flank looked on. As the battle wound down and human stragglers fled into the surrounding country, the enemy regrouped and reformed. They hadn't even lost an eighth of their force, and the victory had been so sweeping that most of their warriors weren't even exhausted, winded maybe, but still effective.
The commander of the right flank rode out to meet with the Dwim-Dwom leader. They met amongst the corpses that littered the field and clasped hands. The commander drew his sword and handed it hilt first to the reptile in a show of fealty. The Dwim-Dwom casually reached out and grabbed the weapons hilt and beheaded the commander.
Reptilian battle cries sounded and the right flank was swamped under in the charge. It was over. With clinical precision battalions were formed up and the survivors were hunted down.
"That is why we must work together. There can be no option."
Blackness swept over Leythan.
When vision returned, there were again two great armies displayed before the young thief. This time, there was no disparity in numbers. The two masses of warriors were equally matched, but it was apparent that the reptile army was in poor condition. Many of the dragonlike fighters bore horrible wounds and their equipment was in shoddy condition. They milled around like a mob without direction.
The humans moved with exacting military precision, and when they charged, the reptilian defence was poorly fought and without heart. Leythan looked down and saw the dragonmen's line fold and crumble in upon themselves as several phalanxes broke off from the main human lines and further divided the mass.
He could see the reptilian war leaders abandoning their charges to a pointless last stand while they fled for their ships. Few got away, however, as a fleet of human war boats swept in along the coast and started systematically decimating the enemy fleet.
Something caught Leythan's eye in the morass of blood and fighting, so he let his presence drift closer. There was a man in the Imperial colours of Kordar fighting at the head of the human army. His body guard fought close to him and hewed their way through the enemy masses like a sickle through ripe grain.
The battle ended and the lizards were driven into the ocean. Some small pockets of resistance fought on but the outcome was already decided. The man in Imperial colours gathered his guard together and headed towards the pavilion dedicated to the reptilian leaders. Men shouted out cries of victory and boasts of their deeds, but the group continued on and soon they had train of men following them and cheering their leader. When the man reached the pavilion he paused and drew his sword. A hush broken only by the moans and wails of the dying fell on the crowd when he held up his one empty hand for silence. He spun like a whirlwind and with a smooth stroke cleft his sword through the banner pole of the reptilian army. The banner pole folded in half, and the symbol of the once formidable force fell to the ground to rest in the blood and muck. A tumultuous cry went up and the man thrust his sword up at the sky.
"There! There! Did you see it boy?" the excitement in the old man's voice dwarfed the emotions on the battlefield below, as the sun dwarfs the stars.
"I saw. But I don't understand what I just saw."
"You just witnessed something that only a rare few will ever get to see lad. You just saw the true birth of the Warm Blooded Alliance."
Visions of the Future - 25
Leythan's mind floated in darkness.
"Now you know what we are capable of when we work together."
"Now you must see what will happen should we fail to do so."
Colours blurred into life on the edges of his vision. Slowly creeping inwards to the centre of his sight. He was looking down on a decimated countryside. It was the aftermath of another battle. Not quite as large but easily as gruesome. There were carrion eaters fighting over the remains of the dead. The men were armoured in the uniforms of the Kordarian Legions.
The scene blurred with sense of motion, and Leythan found himself moving away from it at an ever increasing speed. He swept past great cities and solitary fortresses. Some were on fire, while others still showed the scars of great battles long past. The smaller, insignificant hamlets were ashen ruins and the only way to tell how long it had been since each had been sacked was by the state of decay of the corpses. Even in this dream state the young were could feel the miasma of death on the land.
Once, when they approached one great city, Leythan felt relief when he saw movement on the surrounding walls. When he got close enough however he saw that it was a small knot of Dwim-Dwom soldiers sitting in a huddle while one of their brethren complacently walked the walls. Apparently, no trouble was expected.
The young thief let his consciousness drift closer to see what the warriors were doing.
If Leythan had been in his body he would have felt bile rise in his throat so great was his revulsion. He had at first thought they were playing a game similar to dice. It was only after a few moments he realized the objects being thrown were the delicate finger bones of a child.
"Do not linger too long in one spot, Leythan. I cannot keep this up forever."
"Are they all as monstrous as this?" he choked out the thought.
"That I cannot say. Some were's have done horrible things, yet I know there is very little evil in many. All I know is that I would rather not find out in this fashion. We should be away from this place."
Movement blurred his sight, and the young were knew he was moving faster than any bird ever had. He wasn't controlling his motion, that was in the hands of the aged wizard. It was probably for the best, as he didn't want to see, anyway.
The blurring slowed, and Leythan felt a sense of dread seep into his veins. They were in Deslin.
"I don't want to be here! Don't show me! Don't show me please!" he started to beg.
"You must see." came the remorseless response.
"I won't look! You can't make me!"
Leythan tried to shut out the scene, in vain; he was helpless in the grip of the vision, and thus he saw, heard and smelled everything as if it were real. The wizard started out with the orphanage where he had been raised.
He saw the Dwim-Dwom burst in through the barred doors, casually hacking down the two elderly and emaciated men that had vainly attempted to hold them shut. All the young, fit men had already died trying to hold off the relentless advance of reptilian hordes. It was with an almost absentminded flick of the wrist that Fanon Navilli, the head of the orphanage and the closest thing to a father that Leythan had known, was gutted and left to die.
The scene here, however, was slightly different. The children were gathered up and forced back into the cells that they used for quarters. The doors were barred and the children locked in.
"Why are they being left alive?" the young were asked the wizard with relief heavy in his voice. "Will they become slaves?"
"No. There will be very few mammalian slaves when the enemy is done. Were's have a certain resiliency the lizards require, however. These will be allowed to grow till they are large enough to fight each other in the pits. They will be used for entertainment."
Every ounce of Leythan's being recoiled at this statement. When he had been growing up at this orphanage for weres, he'd had no one but the other children for support. He hadn't known it at the time, but they were his pack. Infighting in the pack occurred, but it always happened for a reason. What the children had in store for them would remove the last vestiges of were from them. They would have no society for support. They would be nothing more than animals.
At least his siblings had escaped this fate. Death would be better, he thought, as the scene blurred.
There they were. His brother Sorian and sister Ophilia already lay dead on the floor, while the twins crouched together in a corner. Sorian had been beheaded in the fight, and Ophilia lay in a crumpled heap. She had been run through several times, and in a grotesque parody of life still clutched the strange box to her chest that had so possessed her while alive. The twins showed minor wounds, but neither of them were accomplished fighters, and Leythan knew they would both fall soon.
"Please don't do this." the young thief begged of the wizard, his thought coming out in a vaguely coherent rasp.
Rowan leaped at the nearest reptilian warrior and was casually brushed aside. He tripped and tumbled head first into the wall. His head struck the wall and a glazed expression settled in his eyes. A large Draconian nonchalantly walked up and drove his weapon through the dazed were's right ear. Rowan twitched once and fell to the floor, slowly reverting back to human form.
Rowan's twin sister Rilla let out a howl of utter dismay. The twins had always been inseparable, but now Rowan would never again be with her. She lunged and sank her fangs into the neck of the Draconian who had just dispatched her brother, and with a swift jerk of her head tore out his throat. Rilla's vengeance came at a high price, however, as the draconian's companions took advantage of the drop in her guard, and three swords slid home as one.
The Draconians, secure that their job was done here, turned to leave. Rilla whimpered piteously as she lay there on the floor dying. She looked up at Rowan and shakily stood. With the last of her energy she staggered towards him, and when she finally collapsed in death, her head landed softly on the dead boys side.
And all went dark.
Bargains struck - 26
Tears were streaming down Leythan's cheeks when he finally opened his eyes. He sobbed as his head hung forward and he didn't feel the wizard place his hand on his shoulder. "This is not how it will be, lad," the aged man's voice was heavy with fatigue, "only how it might be. We have the power to stop it. If we all work together."
It took Leythan several minutes to bring himself under control again. Now he understood. He hated the wizard for what he had done, but he understood. "This can be avoided?" As he asked he could feel his beast stirring within.
"Yes." Darthillion must have sensed Leythan's beast stirring because he took his hands from the lad and walked to the other side of the desk. "It can be stopped. With your help, and the help of others, we can once again drive this threat from our lands."
"What of the twins? Is that how they shall die?" the young were almost spat out he questions, still furious at the scraggly old man for making him see their deaths.
"Not if you help. To make it easier, I will even see to their financial well-being while you're in my employ. They won't be rich, but neither will they go hungry."
Leythan was taken aback by this generous offer. He could see the sympathy on the face of the other man, and how he regretted having done what he had, despite its necessity. Now he was even offering to see to the needs of his two youngest siblings.
Leythan knew he was not a hero, and he knew that he would never be one, but if he did nothing, all that he valued would be lost. Swept under in a sea of blood shed by those brave enough to try to stop the reptilian hordes. "I will help." he said, drying the last of the tears from his face with the back of his hand. He sniffled once and wiped his nose on the back of his sleeve for good measure.
"I knew you would, lad. Why don't you head home now and get some rest. You've been given a lot to think on, and the sleep would do you good."
Darthillion walked over to the door and opened it. Koragch was in the sitting room out front. He started to stand as soon as he saw the decrepit looking old man, and walked to the door. The older man moved to the side as the rotund crime lord squeezed his bulk through the door.
Koragch went straight to Leythan. "You take the rest of the day off, boy. Creffit is back now to take over Birq's place for the night, and I have some planning to do and people to contact before we're able to send you off. Get some rest." he rested a fatherly hand on the young man's shoulder and offered him his other to help him up.
Leythan didn't accept the offer of the second hand, instead pushing himself to his feet like a man twice the wizards age. "That's a good idea. I fear the dreams I might have, but sleep is a very good idea." said the young were with a maturity beyond his years. His eye's fell on the book Darthillion had given him. He would not forget that. He walked to the desk to retrieve the book and turned to walk out the door.
"Remember, lad. Secrets are worth more than gold. Our best weapon is the fact that they don't know about us yet. Always be very careful what you say, and to whom you say it. There are some who would sell their souls if the price is right." the mage warned the lad.
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that. I think I'll be able to do it your way for now. Koragch seems to be doing alright by it, and I'll follow his lead any day. Now... if you will excuse me, I believe I have a lesson to learn."
Leythan turned and passed through the door, closing it firmly behind him. Neither of the two older men could suppress small chuckles over the boys last statement.
Never joke with a joker - 27
Leythan's mood had changed immensely. It had been an hour since he had left Koragch's office in a black and melancholy mood, and the young man had known that sleep was not an option. Instead, he had sat back to check just what was in the old wizards purse he had so cleverly obtained, when he had squared off with him.
The coin purse had held some small meaningless baubles that vaguely resembled a poorly constructed set of rune stones. Leythan had been quite dejected, until he had found the piece of paper that had been painstakingly concealed at the bottom of the pouch. He had not known what it was at first, and had placed it in one of his pockets, so he could turn his thoughts towards the book he had received.
It had further disappointed the youth to learn that the spell would take a long time to master, and that honest study was going to be involved in learning it. He had continued on with the book, skimming here and there, when he found it.
There, sitting as a footnote to one page, was a copy of the rune that was etched on the paper. Being part of the same book, must mean that it, too, had something to do with enhancing ones senses. If he could just figure out how to use it, he might become one of the best thieves of all time. He would be rich beyond his wildest dreams.
He read the instructions that would teach him how to activate the rune. They were a little vague; it seemed to have something to do with smell but it would last a long time. It might not be something that would make the young were rich, but it would help out. He reread the instructions a second time.
Now confident in his ability to activate the ruin, Leythan drew it from his pockets. He unfolded the paper and examined the intricate design. It would be tricky for the boy, not having much experience working with things magical, but he was fairly confident that he could do this.
He focused his inner energies, and traced the pattern of the rune. There was not very much power to the rune, but it must be a rare spell indeed to have come from so powerful a wizard as Darthillion. A warmth seeped into the paper beneath his hands, and he felt his excitement grow. He would have this magic of smell!
The rune glowed briefly and started to fade from the page. There was more writing under it! Perhaps this was how the wizard hid his more powerful spells, by concealing them under something smaller and of lesser significance! Leythan might get more out of this deal than he could have hoped for.
He read the words, slowly and carefully to himself, so as not to activate any magic they might posses. "Never steal something from a wizard, dear boy, and thus the lesson is learned."
Leythan paused for a second. Surely the wizard could not have known that the coin purse and this rune would end up in the hands of the young thief ...could he? Then he smelled it...Skunk. Somewhere there was a skunk, and by the powerful strength of the smell it was obviously very close. How had it managed to get this close to Leythan without his smelling it before?
Horror flashed on the thief's face as it dawned on him. The rune did not imbue the activator with a powerful sense of smell, no... it imbued the owner with a powerful smell! Leythan threw the paper that had contained the rune to the ground, and ran. Unfortunately, it was too late, and there was no way he could outrun the magic. This was one lesson he would not be forgetting any time soon!
I hope you have enjoyed this third installation into the history and story of Leythan Nighthunt. Coming up next issue, Leythan is forced to leave the pack over a murder, and joins the military.
I welcome any feedback you might care to offer. Please send them to the series editor at firstname.lastname@example.org and carbon the Senior Editor at email@example.com quoting the title of the story.
Thank you for taking the time to read, and may the bright moon always shine on your hunt.