Baby, Family, or King?

Copyright Jerry Bridges © 2005

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"We have lost so many and are so few ... so very few"

Kai Lynn gazed upon his two children and thought again how blessed he and his wife of over three thousand years were. Laura Lei, one of the most beautiful and graceful elves living in Rowan straightened up from where she had been tucking the twins into their beds. Kai Lynn silently prayed. Oh Creator you have blessed us so. For twenty-five hundred years we tried to have one child and in your mercy You gave us TWO. Two perfect children, it's almost unheard of. A boy for me and a girl for Laura Lei. Creator I also give You thanks for Laura Lei recovering so quickly. I am unworthy of so fine a woman as she.

Laura Lei's joy bubbled out in, "Oh Kai Lynn, our children are so perfect! I'm so glad that you were granted leave from the war!"

"I only hope that I will be able to take the full fifty years of leave granted to raise our kids. This is the most intense war with the Asmodeans we have fought in tens of thousands of years. For so long we have just fought skirmishes, but these humans with their 'paladins' have escalated things form a 'live and let live' war to a 'War to End All Wars'. Humans are so hasty "

"Even so, surely you couldn't be recalled so quickly! It takes two parents to raise a single child. And we have TWO children, not just one!"

"My rosebud, You can't have forgotten that my good friends Li Lang and Ju Long both fell to the Asmodeans this past month? Our number of Champions is now only thirty-nine. We were one hundred strong when the Banished Ones' attack on Fransesca over twenty years ago took four of the largest human cities. We must pray that the combined might of the Free Peoples will not need one more warrior." At that thought, he hugged his wife for a long time while the babies slept.

He briefly relived the horror of those days, when they took back three of the cities in time to save most of the inhabitants, but the fourth, oh the fourth... The Asmodeans took the four cities that infamous day by teleporting to the edge of the cities, sneaking past the magical wards with a new spell, and summoning icebergs into mid-air above the cities to drop and destroy the main city shields and defenses. Summoned hordes of demons fought the remaining city forces. After the Banished Ones took a city, they turned the demons loose to do as they pleased with humans and dwarves. Being a sick twisted evil type of elf themselves, they kept the demons from attacking elves unless attacked. The murder, rape, and torture of the humans in the three freed cities, though terrible, was limited in scope, but what happened in Bourbesonne went beyond the pale and galvanized all of the Free Peoples to support this war to the fullest.

That man whom the demons held immobile and somehow kept sane while he was force-fed his eight children and his wife a little bit at a time over the course of a month after they were tortured and raped in front of him. I was glad to meet his request for a quick death after we prayed to the Creator for mercy. I couldn't have borne those memories either. Or the people who were changed into grotesque parodies of animal-human crosses and forced to exist that way. Or the Soulless wandering the streets. With his clenched fists shaking with his strong revulsion, he fought to regain control. Focus on new life, our adorable babies. He couldn't, the memories just kept flooding back.

Then it seemed like just one long battle that waxed and waned over the years. The human's king, Chardeaux, was the son of a wise king and was proving to be more far-sighted than even his father. Twelve years prior to the war he had freed all slaves. Prudently surrounding himself with excellent counselors, especially Carmine, the High Priest, he sought to steer the safest course for his beleaguered nation through the tempest of war and drastic social change. After Firenzia, the nation of Carmine's youth had been destroyed by a Kingdom Curse five years prior to the Rape of Bourbesonne, Carmine moved north and accepted the title of High Priest of the most powerful nation on the planet, Fransesca. His sufferings hurt him immensely, giving him a heart of mercy for the downtrodden, rather hardening his heart. A kindly, loving man, who despite the depths of his loss, still recognized the need for action. He had apparently convinced Chardeaux to support his call for Crusades against the Asmodeans. Knowing the Asmodeans to be evil and the source of many if not all of the calamities, which had been striking the Free Peoples over the past few decades, his Call struck a chord within most people. It rang out strongest amongst the Fransescans and Randgebiet who lived just south of the Hoarfrost Mountains separating the Asmodeans from the rest of the world. Two short years after that first successful campaign, the Asmodeans struck back with their unforgivable assault on four cities of over a million people and the utter destruction of one of them, Bourbesonne. Carmine was able to help keep the king focused on the reforms he had begun while still fighting the war that had finally crossed the mountains to the north and entered Asmodea for the first time a month earlier. As he remembered the success the war was currently enjoying, he relaxed somewhat.

Of course the Asmodeans might try to take the heart out of Fransesca by assassinating the King. But with only one magical and one mundane entrance, each heavily guarded, that palace is near impenetrable. A group of one hundred Holy Knights guard the King night and day. Still, during this past month after the invasion of Asmodea, three assassin teams finally had actually penetrated the palace walls from what Li Lang told me. He said that the first assassin team lasted for minutes; the second took down a lot of Holy Knights before they were eliminated, as did the third team. If the palace guard could only figure out how the assassins, admittedly the most highly trained in the world, were getting in it would help. At least it's not my problem.

After a while, he came back to the real world and simply looked around the home he had been away from so much for the past twenty years. The nursery they were in had only been grown after they discovered that Laura Lei had finally, miraculously, become pregnant. Therefore it was the top room in their tree home, their dendrocasa. They had grown four possible openings to let light into the nursery. Now, without taking his left hand from around the One who Bound His Soul, he waved at a deep cleft in the wall of the room. An enormous pair of green eyes opened on another part of the wall, the nursery watcher, and the cleft slowly, with only slight creaking, opened to reveal the branch growing directly below the window and the blue sky blocked partially from view by the leaves of the dendrocasa. His gaze returned to the crib growing in the center of the room. It rose from a central trunk and branched into several clusters of large fleshy flowers. Each umbel gently supported their babies on a bed of large brilliant purple blossoms. He wondered what color tomorrow's blossoms, whose buds he could already see forming beneath, would be. For today either Laura Lei or Kigrogordihai, their dendrocasa had chosen a purple, pink, and white theme for the flowers lining much of the nursery walls. At least the rest of their home was a little more subdued. He chuckled. They were so high up that the room was only about twelve feet across. Kigrogordihai had therefore only grown two chairs and a bed in here. Really that was all they needed. Hmmmmmm, need shelves in here. Must get art in here soon. Little ones need art to grow. Remember to speak with Mother about the best age to introduce growing minds to art. With that thought, he just snuggled closer to his wife. We both are so new at this.

Their reverie was broken by a loud knock on the lowest floor. It reverberated from the nursery watcher's mouth. The watcher, who had been slumbering while they had been present, woke and said in a slow, deep voice, "At the door are two walkers. One is Dou Enlai, who often has been here. The other is human. Shall I allow them to enter?"

"Yes, let them in. Laura Lei, Dou Enlai was just promoted to Commander of Champions. We MUST meet him."

Laura Lei complained petulantly. "But, Zi and Lai are so young, he just couldn't call you back so soon. Ohhhhhh!" With that she repeatedly hit her open palms and fists on his shoulder in frustration. She was dressed only in her gossamer warp covering one leg, which was gathered at ankle ankles. She gathered the pink nursing vest she had laid on one the rocking chairs behind her to meet their guests. Barefoot, as was customary within a dendrocasa. Kai Lynn waited for her to dress. He wore only a simple, mid-thigh length, deep blue toga that was gathered at his right shoulder by a signet of a golden irgaak about four inches long pinned across the front of his shoulder. The irgaak indicated not only that his profession, but that his preferred weapon was this two-headed billhook favored by the High Elves of Rehodan. "If you must meet them, we will meet them together."

Arms around each other they walked toward the Watcher's face. The mouth opened wide to envelop them and shut after they stepped in.

As they stepped out of the Greeter's mouth into the ground floor entry hall, they saw Kai Lynn's commander, and a human. Dou Enlai was an elf so old that his hair had whitened with age, but his eyes were wise and he moved with a warrior's natural grace. His toga was also pinned by an irgaak signet. Judging by his white robes, the human was a magician. They bowed formally to each other.

Over thirty feet in diameter, the entry hall was sparsely furnished. Several of Laura Lei's works, beautiful free-form statues of glass and wood and a painting of Kai Lynn reclining in a butterfly and flower filled meadow graced the room. Viewing the illusionary performance of one of Laura Lei's emotive dances, the two visitors were drinking from chilled goblets of wine. Emotive dancing was the art form she was most famed for amongst the elves. The illusionary Laura Lei was a tiny winged dancer flying about apparently causing fields of spring flowers to open or waking hibernating bears with a touch of her wand The illusion of her dance emanating from the crystal in a small alcove could not convey the emotions, but did show the progression of the seasons brilliantly.

As Kai Lynn filled a pair of goblets from one of the several wall spouts on the central column, he commented, "I see that Kigrogordihai has already provided you with drink. Is there anything else he may offer you?"

The human, quite agitated, interrupted, "Sirs and Lady, I know your greetings are very important to you, but this news cannot wait. King Chardeaux was assassinated less than a half hour ago! The Asmodean assassin team was still in the Palace when I left. One is dead, the other three have wiped out most of the personal guard with poison clouds." He now went to one knee and bowed parallel with his raised knee with his clenched right hand held stiffly in front.

Why is he saluting me as if I was a king? NO, he had better not be...

The magician added as he stood back to attention again, " My Lord, I know it goes against all custom to ask this of you, but at the request of Carmine, I ask, nay, Lord I beg of you to consider helping us in this hour of our greatest need. The High Priest worries that the assassins may be targeting the rest of the royal house. He said that if that happens, it could create even greater havoc and destruction than when his own country fell a quarter of a century ago to Asmodean plots. My Lord, if you choose to help us, it must be now, before the Banished Ones kill King Chardeaux's wife and children. That will force a fight for the succession. If you choose to aid us, I will 'port you directly there, so that you may conserve your mana for the battle. I humbly await your decision." He then went down in that most humbling salute and held it awaiting Kai Lynn's decision.

Dou Enlai spoke up now. "Kai Lynn and Kai Laura Lei, I know that your children are only two weeks old. I know this goes against customs tens of millennia old, asking a father to leave a child who has not yet seen even a third of a century, but you are the only Champion of the Realm who is not in the midst of battle. Our reserves are all gone. We have lost so many and are so few ... so very few." The last words were barely audible as his noble, gray haired head drooped slightly. As he grieved over great need forcing the breaking of sacred customs a tear leaked from one eye.

Setting her goblet down on the table to join with the others just set there, Laura Lei turned to Lynn, looking in his eyes as tears formed in hers, and hugged him. She didn't say a word, just hugged him closer.

"Rosebud, I don't know ..." She stopped him with a finger on his mouth, kissed him and quietly said, "I will fetch your armor." Hugging him fiercely as if believing she would never see him again, she stepped back, wiping tears from her eyes and giving a weak smile scurried into the Greeter's mouth. The scene of her dancing had changed to volcanoes erupting in the midst of a blizzard. Both elves momentarily turned to the new scene before resuming their discussion.

"Magician, I must know your name if you are to 'port me to the Palace. Do not grovel. Stand! Hope is not gone. Come, we will face this storm together."

Claude finally stood and observed the new scene. "My Lord, I am the Magician Claude. I thank you from the bottom of my heart!" He saluted fist to heart in the military manner, then knuckled fist to forehead in the peasant to noble manner showing his personal gratitude.

"Fine, now review for me the situation while my dear wife brings my armor. Quickly! By your statements, now is the time for action!"

When Laura Lei returned towing the armor on a beautifully carved floating disc, the three of them were immersed in conversation about the tactical situation at the Fransescan Palace. Kai Lynn held his hand up to stop Claude as Laura Lei silently lowered the levitated bag to the ground. He could see a leaf falling behind him. He WILL come back to me, ...to us. Her thoughts paused, I hope. Her self-control almost slipped. Later, later I will cry. Not now. Must be brave for him. Standing behind him, she bit her lower lip for a moment before calming down. The scene behind her changed again, this time to a fierce gale on the open seas with continuous lightning. Kai Lynn first put on the well-used set of padding that appeared to be made of silk. After finishing, he picked up a forest green breastplate with an encircled magnolia flower and stared at it as if considering his actions for a moment. His decision made, he quickly opened the back and put it on. The armor's intelligence was centered in the breastplate and so it must always be the first piece put on or the magics wouldn't weave together properly.

"Kai Lynn, it's good to feel you again. Will this be more practice or will we see action?"

"Action it is, old friend. We must exterminate an Asmodean assassin team. I will brief you after the rest of your team is assembled. Until then be quiet."

"Oh, going to be THAT way are you." With an indignant harrumph, the breastplate became silent in Kai Lynn's mind.

As Laura Lei continued helping him arm himself, she noted his distraction as he put his armor on. I wonder what that old breastplate is telling him now. Anyway he and the rest of his merry band are good at keeping my True Heart alive and well. I still don't understand how he manages to fight with all those voices in his head talking all the time though.

As each piece of armor was put in place, Kai Lynn gained that piece's abilities. Made of mithril dyed a deep forest green and deep blue dragon hide, both materials could hold much magic. Each piece was imbued with different abilities during its creation. Kai Lynn remembered how that process had taken nearly a millennium. He, as had every other Champion before him, chosen what the armor was to do and his primary weapon, but all Champions' armor was crafted of mithril and dragon hide by teams of elven and dwarven smiths and marked with the Champion's sigil, an encircled flower of the magnolia tree. This tree signified what Rehoddan, The City of Flowers, was named after.

His helm gave the twin abilities of constant True Sight and True Speech so that he could see any hidden thing and speak any tongue as a native.

I remember at the Battle of Little River, my first time facing one of these assassin teams. They were cutting a swath through a group of archers. None could see them, but I could see a blur for just a moment each time they hit someone else their cursed blades. It wasn't much, but it gave me the edge I needed to stay alive. Ah, enough of five thousand-year-old battles.

"What's this praising the helm, If it weren't for me, how would you so easily handle facing multiple foes. Remember, I also keep those nasty arrows form hitting your, or rather my, precious hide."

Joining the conversation, the gauntlets added, "Ah, we're talking about bragging rights huh? How many times have I blocked darts and swords old numbskull in here didn't even know were coming? Tin can was the only one who noticed it and he told ME, not you. Who is it that keeps slick fingers from dropping my good buddy Double Blade, huh? Or returns the irgaak to his place in neo-space?"

A deep voice joined in the squabble as the belt was buckled on. "Just calm down guys, we all do our jobs. Fingers, you do a great job, but my strength is needed to face the giants he has taken down or starting that landslide on that bunch of Banished Ones. Hehe, remember that? That was fun."

The kilt showed its conceit by the comment, "It's me that gets Laura Lei's attention when we return."

Kai Lynn interrupted with, "Kilt, stop with the nonsense. You start this up every time. Yes, you have healed me many, many times and I appreciate it, but this has to ..."

The kilt rapidly replied, "Do you remember when I joined your legs back on when you dueling with those two Asmodean warriors and they cut your legs off? You didn't say I was taking nonsense then, did you?"

"You weren't' talking nonsense when you reattached my legs or the many other times you saved my life. But you are now, so SHUT UP!"

His cloak, a deep forest green bearing the encircled magnolia flower emblazoned in gold brought two more presences in, but they rarely spoke. The cloak's clasp, a huge emerald, which contained large amounts of stored mana quadrupling Kai Lynn's natural power and halving the mana cost per elemental attack, making him an enormous magical presence on the battlefield. Casting scores of fireballs and lightning bolts, he had won battles single-handedly by panicking entire armies that had no similar magical presence. With the cloak on, he could detect what type of environment he was in and breath, swim, or fly as needed.

As he slipped on his boots, he began moving at twice-normal speed. Hey guys, let's go! A cacophony of, "Chill out! Let it rest! Slow down!" answered the boots.

The blades of his irgaak were each made of the green mithril, but had different abilities. One was holy and dedicated to The Creator, giving it great power when facing evil races. The other was imbued with the ability to cleave armor and break weapons. One final ability was given to each completed set of armor and weapon, only the owner for whom it was crafted and those he specifically designated could touch it. A blue holy fire would attack anyone else who touched it. The longer they touched it or the more evil they were, the more it would burn them. Only the quite evil or those foolish enough to continue holding the blessed items would be completely consumed by the flames.

After the humans discovered the abilities of the mind about fifty years previously, he had collected two new items. It was a shame that they could not be worked into the armor so that the breastplate could control casting the spells, but that could only be done while the armor was being created. He had purchased a ring imbued with the low-level spell of Presence, which allowed him to be aware of all sentient beings within ten feet of him. Laura Lei had given him a ring of Self-Healing. This ring could heal minor wounds and lesson the effects of stunning from a hard blow. He knew that the human mentalists could do far more than that now, but these two items were made prior to twenty years of war had spurring research.

As Laura Lei handed Kai Lynn his irgaak, which promptly disappeared, she hugged him one last time. "Come back to me, my True Heart." She turned, saw the changed scene, blushed, and quickly changed it back to the basic spring scene

"Sir, we must be off" Kai Lynn told the magician.

"Yes, milord." Claude cast a stored teleport spell and the two of them vanished.

They reappeared at the Masterport terminal in Rowan. This looked to be nothing more than an enormous rowan flower laid out between two elves, one male, one female. The flower was easily twenty feet across, while the elves were only about twelve feet tall. The proportions were wrong but it blended beauty and function, a gift both elves and dwarves practiced.

Kai Lynn used the time that it took to work their way through the ever-present crowds to think through the problem facing him. "They've already hit the King. In forty to forty-five minutes; they will have already killed the ten-year-old heir and probably his mother. Maybe, just maybe, the baby will still be alive. All right, go for the nursery, store Following Lightning, and pray."

As they ran for the port, a dwarf wearing an axe called to them, "I must see your token." There was no need to know where they would be going, all secondary teleport pads led to the great Masterport in Dwelfman, the trade city but all teleports MUST be paid for, these were dwarves after all. Dwarves and elves and humans had built it, hence the derived name; DWarf, ELF, huMAN.

Claude stepped forward and pulled out an official looking piece of paper and held it up for the clerk to see. "This military pass has top clearance. We must proceed to Vindeaux immediately." As the clerk checked it, his eyes widened. "I see. Right away, just step onto the port, please."

As they did, they reappeared on a duplicate of the port in Rowan, part of a major complex of ports. As they stepped down, the commander of a platoon of dwarven crossbowmen came forward. After saluting fist to heart, he said. "Milord Champion, I must see your papers." He examined them in some detail, and finally smiled. "Milord, we have been expecting you. Please follow me. My cohort has already cleared a way to the Vindeaux Port! As the sublegionaire, Claude, and Kai Lynn trotted through the ranks holding the way open through the teeming crowds, Kai Lynn looked at Claude's aura and realized that this human might be powerful enough to be more than a mere messenger boy. He looked forward to some help in this assignment; Asmodean assassin teams were powerful, focused, very well equipped, and totally unafraid of death, a most deadly combination.

As they approached the Port, the platoon stationed at that Port was rapidly clearing the Port of indignant passengers, Kai Lynn, lost in thought, used these few moments of relative chaos to inform his armor of what was going on

"Hey cloak, not gonna to slip and let Kai Lynn breath poison are you?"

"Stuff it, helm. Watch it to make sure we aren't surprised and let me do my work!"

The breastplate chimed in, "Both of you, quiet, Kai Lynn might have something else to say!"

Kai Lynn rolled his eyes as he followed his escort. They stepped onto the Port and appeared in ... Wesse. They stepped down from the Port. The two squads cleared a ring for them. Claude began chanting and raised his hands. They vanished and reappeared in a special 'port room in the Palace. It was a small room without a visible door. A chime had rung as they were porting in, but before they had fully materialized. They had to wait until the door was opened, since it would not open from the inside. Indeed no seam for a door was even visible. With only a half-hour's air and magic not able to be cast, it was fortunate that the door to this trap room opened after only one or two minutes. Instead of the normal smiling guard, backed up by several crossbowmen, they were greeted a mass of blades thrust several inches into the cramped room.

"State ya business and make it quick." Demanded the sergeant.

Claude, somewhat intimidated, pulled out his paper signed by Carmine the High Priest. He waved it around for one of the guards to take. Kai Lynn calmly stood his ground no apparent worry in the world. One of the guards took the paper and read. He reread it and then called to the squad, "It's all right men. High Priest Carmine summoned these blokes. Err, Claude and you sir, ya need an escort to the High Priest. Every thing's a bit of a mess now ya see and I..."

Kai Lynn interrupted. "I know the way. Let me through now!" Forcing his way through, he left Claude behind. Claude quickly caught up. "Will you be needing any more assistance Sir?"

"Yes take me to the nursery, I want to check on the youngest child first."

"Yes sir. Right this way sir."

They began a rapid journey up several flights of stairs and down long hallways. Guards milled and ran about everywhere, giving the impression of a disturbed anthill. Kai Lynn moved the entire time with the grace and caution of a panther, always ready for danger. He summoned his irgaak as soon as they left they teleport room guards. The marble halls were long and richly carpeted. Art was everywhere. Finally they came to a wing painted in nursery themes. Claude said, "Here we are."

The helm said, " Behind you, drop!"

Dropping and rolling, he saw peeking around a corner an elf as tall as he was, about six and a half feet. The evil one wore a dead black silk outfit with metal rods sewn in. Certain to be highly magical it would provide extremely effective hiding, defensive, and probably offensive magics.

Something's funny, he keeps disappearing. Must be a really effective invisibility or cloaking spell. Helm, your True Sight is really helping. One, where are the other two. Suddenly his right arm moved of its own accord. A dart fell to the ground. Wonder what poison that one holds. Another dart was trapped in the small whirlwind that had instantly wrapped around Claude. The Asmodean slipped back around the corner. Then around another. Faster, faster, must catch them. Can't give him time to set up another ambush. Any one of these corners could be hiding him. There. As soon as he saw it, he cast his stored spell. A lightning bolt left his finger, traveling around the corner.

He heard a small sound as if something had fallen, but no cry. He ran to the corner to peek around. A woman shrieked from the nursery behind him, "NO, not the baby! ... AYYYYEEEEEE!" No! Make this quick. He lunged around the corner and found only ashes where the Asmodean had been. Good, lucky shot. Now only two more.

Claude joined him as he turned around, running, and cast the Long Door Spell to carry them into the room at the end of the hall where the nurse's cry had come from. A large black circle appeared just in front of them. Claude and he stepped through the circle and zoomed as multicolored streaks of light up to the door. As they ran into the nursery, a large woman's broken body lay draped across a chest of drawers her dead face grimacing fiercely. A guard was holding one of the two off, but the other was nowhere around. There, an invisible person is picking up the baby or the baby is being levitated. NOW! He silently charged the Asmodean trying to abduct the infant, striking with his irgaak.

The baby dropped and a sword parried his irgaak. The elf appeared as he struck the blow. Kai Lynn and the assassin "danced" with each other in an awesome display of martial skill. Blade on blade, they danced around the room. Kai Lynn wielding his irgaak like a quarterstaff, using the blades to parry the assassin's strikes with twin scimitars. Kai Lynn was aware of the guard holding his own against the other assassin. That guard must be one of the surviving Holy Knights. He's good. Kai Lynn had to return his full attention to his own battle. The dark elf was pulling out a bottle! That must not be thrown. It must poison gas. That'll kill the young prince.

"Claude, stop that vial!" He shouted.

Claude was ready. Using a telekinesis spell, he jerked it from the floor a hair's breadth from hitting the floor and shattering. Palming it, he placed it inside a pocket. While Claude was distracted, the second Asmodean chose that moment to throw one of his glass poison vials against the ceiling. With the sound of bursting glass, a small cloud of greenish-yellow gas began to float down toward the baby. Thinking quickly, Claude cast another spell. Motioning with his arms as if gathering something, a blue gas traveled to the poison gas, enveloping it. As they met, the air was left pure.

The Holy Knight scored another hit on the second assassin. His blood showed from a number of minor wounds. Starting a flurry of blows against the Knght's wrist, he finally scored a minor wound. Holding his wrist, the Knight screamed in anguish and crumpled. Great! Their swords hold Death Spells. I hope that each sword holds only one. That means up to three more Death Spells with my name on them.

The freed up assassin immediately threw a dagger at Claude, which was just as promptly stopped in mid-air by Claude's spell and flew back at him. Claude then pointed his finger towards the assassin, gesticulating with his free hand and chanting in some arcane tongue. The assassin dodged the returning knife by dodging to the side and lopped off Claude's head with a duel strike of his two scimitars.

He then spun on Kai Lynn. As the other dark one joined in, the fight became truly desperate. The two assassins tried repeatedly to kill the infant since they couldn't abduct him. Each time a blade from the Irgaak intercepted a killing slash from the scimitars of the dark ones sometimes by only the thinnest of hairs. The crib was quickly reduced to splinters as a scimitar or the irgaak hit various parts of it. Kai Lynn had to protect the baby from the broken shards of the crib and the whirling scimitars of the assassin. Finally both assassins were on one side of the crib with a little room to spare. Sweating heavily from his efforts now, Kai Lynn motioned with his hand for a moment.

A wall of stone appeared between the three of them and the crib. In the moment of confusion after the wall appeared, Kai Lynn vaulted over the assassins to the door.

Realizing that they couldn't reach the young prince through the stone wall without dispatching this annoying elf, they followed him through the open door.

The dark elves each armed with their two scimitars and the Champion with the two blades of his irgaak fought and parried their way across the room. Finally Kai Lynn forced them away from the baby and into the hall. The two assassins then forced the fight into the junction of two halls where a life-sized statue of a mother holding a baby was quickly reduced to rubble. This space gave the Banished Ones more room to maneuver, giving them the advantage again.

Several people had gathered to watch the spinning blades and the beautiful dance of the combatants. Kai Lynn fought on against both opponents. His whirling blades seemed to be everywhere. He had to take great care, especially against the dark elf whose weapons almost certainly both still bore the Death Spell, lest he meet the same fate as the guard. The Banished One who had dispatched the skilled guard suddenly threw a vial towards the ground at the feet of the crowd. Kai Lynn was able to catch it with a quickly cast spell as he had seen Claude do. But he was tiring. As he caught the vial the other dark elf hit his blade with such a strong blow that he was unbalanced. He fell to the ground, rolled, and flipped the vial to a competent looking younger man who snatched it up, pocketed it, and quickly left the scene. Finally Kai Lynn scored a telling blow on the one with the unused Death Spells. It was with the Holy Blade end of the irgaak. A mystic pale blue light appeared and irradiated the banished one. His clothes began to smolder. Suddenly the evil one burst into pale blue flame and burned until he and everything on him was totally consumed.

"Way to go blade" several of the pieces of armor said together in the running commentary that they had maintained throughout the fight.

While this engrossed the small crowd watching, the fight had not continued. Kai Lynn realized instantly what had happened the moment his other blade was not engaged with the other dark elf. He slammed the nursery door shut with another telekinesis spell. The living dark elf briefly appeared as he reeled back from running headlong into the suddenly slammed door. He looked up, saw Kai Lynn charging him and Long Doored away. Kai Lynn stopped looked around and saw where he had reappeared on the other side of the bystanders.

Immediately he followed with his own Long Door. He saw another Long Door fading and followed again. Again and again the Asmodean ran and the Champion chased. They went up stairs and down stairs. They charged through several crowded rooms where the assassin tried slowing Kai Lynn down or even to trip him by slicing off the legs of several people as he ran past. They went to the rooftops, where a crossbowman almost hit Kai Lynn, as he appeared where the Asmodean had been a moment earlier. Finally, the dark elf Long Doored to an unoccupied tower. Unfortunately for him, it WAS occupied. A guard with lightning fast reactions saw him and sucker punched him in the belly. He then punched his face. But just as he reared back to hit him again, the dark one threw a vial to the ground where it exploded. The poisonous gas quickly killed the guard. Kai Lynn Long Doored in at this time. If his cloak had not instantly filtered his air, Kai Lynn would have died on the spot with the unfortunate guard. Instead he speared the Asmodean through the heart just as the assassin's next Long Door opened up. The banished one folded over his blade, with a shocked look and quietly passed out. Instantly a demon appeared and took an enormous bite out of the dying Asmodean. No flesh was eaten, but by the Asmodean's scream, the demon had just consumed part of his soul. More and more demons began appearing and taking their huge unnatural bites of the elf who had made such unholy deals and was now paying the price. After less than a minute it was all over. Kai Lynn had backed away from the apparitions, knowing that they would disappear as soon as they had extracted their payment from the dead elf.

Kai Lynn withdrew his blade from the creature of evil and cleaned it off on the corpse. I'm glad that's over. See about the King and baby next. How are the Queen and their ten-year-old boy? Wish that I had arrived sooner, might have been able to save them first. So tired, getting too old for this. Where to start?

He unsummoned his irgaak to free himself of its weight. He half walked, half stumbled to the edge of the tower and looked down into the courtyard, one of many, over two hundred feet below. He spied someone who had the look of an officer standing beneath him on one of the many narrow bridges spanning gaps between the various towers of the palace. "Captain! Captain! Up here!" He shouted.

The man looked up and saw the arms waving. He sent several men up to the tower immediately. Kai Lynn held out his open palm to stop the officer. He then Long Doored down to within four or five feet from him. The officer snapped to attention and saluted as soon as Kai Lynn appeared in front of him.

"Captain, I am the Champion who was summoned to kill the assassin team. I have killed three of them. It was reported to me that the fourth was killed prior to my arrival. Is this true? I require a meeting with Carmine. Also one of your men has been poisoned up on that tower and several more good men have died near the nursery. Also there are civilians down in a number of different rooms with serious injuries, courtesy of our dead friend up there. Is there any other risk at the Palace at this moment?"

After listening attentively to all Kai Lynn asked, he responded with a flurry of orders. "Corporal, someone is poisoned in tower forty-three. Get a healer up there immediately! Private, I need wine and bread for the Champion here. NOW! Can't you see him panting? Meet us on the way to the Green Room. Move it, soldier! Sergeant, care may already be on the way to the nursery. Check on it and get help on the way if it isn't." He now turned and bowed to Kai Lynn. "Milord, if you would be so kind as to follow me. I will escort you to the High Priest." With that he did a brisk about face and marched at quickstep into the palace.

They moved quickly through halls, rooms full of people, and up several flights of stairs. Finally they slowed and the captain straightened his uniform. Kai Lynn slowed his breathing, nodded to the helpful captain, and walked in.

The High Priest was at the head of a bed holding King Chardeaux's corpse. The king's left arm had been amputated at the elbow. Several other priests including an elf were gathered around the bed, chanting in unison with their arms raised over their heads. A Holy blue light fell on the dead King. After a moment it peaked and faded. The priests lowered their arms. Several slumped noticeably. Carmine lowered his blue crystal staff of office, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes for a moment. Kai Lynn saw his lips moving, possibly in prayer. Carmine looked up and met Kai Lynn's eyes. Like light piercing a heavy fog, his weak, yet genuine smile momentarily lifted the gloom filling the room

Carmine left the deathbed and came over to greet Kai Lynn. He guided Kai Lynn toward a corner where there was at least a semblance of privacy. The old man with the quick smile came out with a hearty, "Well come, well come. I was sure I had heard that one of you Champions was in Rehoddan. Aren't you the one with the new babies?" At Kai Lynn's affirmative nod, he added pleasantly. "How is it?"

Kai Lynn was comforted by the old man's easy and comfortable manner. "They are well, thank you. Mother and twins are doing well."

"Elves having twins is exceptional, isn't it? When you may, I'd love to meet them. Most of my family have been dead since Firenzia fell. I cherish those that still are with me and visit as often as I may."

"To cherish your family as a lion cherishes his pride is proper. How is the King, will you be able to raise him?"

"We are trying. We had to amputate his left arm at the elbow. A dart hit him in the hand. The nasty stuff in that dart was a combination of several enhanced poisons. One was literally melting him. The remains of his hand were nothing more than gel when I had the basin containing his hand removed. Of course, I cast Lifekeeping on him as soon as I got to him. We have cured several extremely powerful poisons, curses, and physical damage already, but I have to be sure that everything that would kill him again is healed before I attempt to raise him. I will only get one chance. The priests that have been supporting me are wearing out quickly. I hope that this is the last one. I will go cast an augury in a moment." He slapped his forehead. "Oh, I'm so sorry. I never thanked you for cleaning out those vipers. You did kill the other three, didn't you?"

"Of course, that's why I'm here now. Otherwise, I'd be dead or still hunting. I had it confirmed that one had already been killed. Are his wife and ten year old son safe?"

The kindly old man's face fell at the thought of what had happened. "Alas no, I will see to them as soon as I see to him. I cast Lifekeeping on both of them, so there is still some time. Oh, one more thing, I enjoy hearing my native tongue, but when we are with the other priests, perhaps you should speak Fransescan."

"I will not be staying. I have one more thing to ask of you before I return to my own children. A magician Claude was sent to aid me in getting here."

"Claude, yes, good man. I personally asked him to ask you to come. He's as solid as a rock."

"He's dead." At this blunt statement, the good priest stepped back a moment in shock. "Also one of the King's personal guards was killed by a death spell on the assassin's sword. The guard was skilled. I would appreciate it if you would consider raising them as well."

"If I can, if I can. I can only request so many raisings, before The Creator stops letting me cast that spell. I worry that if I use it too often, when it is needed for the good of all of the Free Peoples, as now, I simply will not be able to cast it. I will prayerfully consider your request though."

"Well, in that case, I believe that there is nothing else to say. Oh ...wait. Captain, would you be so good as to find some magicians or mentalists with the Circle Mastery spell list. If they are strong enough, they can transfer power to these good priests. I can almost feel their exhaustion." At the captain's smart salute and exit, Kai Lynn turned back to Carmine. "I hope that he can help you. Goodbye and May The Creator's Love shine through you." Kai Lynn bowed deeply to the priest, left the palace, and entered the city.

He walked through the streets to vent his frustration. Prior to leaving the palace, he ducked into a corner and observed how most of the men were dressed. He then cast an illusion over himself, changing his appearance to a tall human dressed in forest green tights and vest with a white shirt with puffy pleated sleeves. He added a heavy gold chain to complete the illusion of a middle-aged man of some means so that he could roam the streets without the distraction of people recognizing the encircled rowan of a Champion. The streets of Vindeaux were neat with glass-fronted shops displaying their goods for all to see. The buildings of Vindeaux were made of white stucco with red tile roofs. The streets were well paved and drained. The dwarves had designed not only the defenses of the city, they had designed and rebuilt the roads, so that the age-old human practice of dumping trash on the streets was no longer so odiferous. Great pumps had been built to provide running water to all the homes in the city and sewer dumps were located on every block so night waste and other debris. The streets were hosed off very early every morning before the streetlights were extinguished.

The people on the streets were calm with no hint of the turmoil within the palace. Good, the palace has been able to keep the news of the assassination quiet for a little while at least. The men of the capital not dressed as he was were in military uniform. The uniforms were all quite bright with more gold buttons, colorful sashes diagonally crossing their chests, and epaulets present on the uniforms the higher the rank of an individual. Far too many of the men were missing limbs or bore horrible scars from the fighting. As many obviously crippled men as there were, Kai Lynn was aware that many more had been crippled, but quick actions by clerics and lay healers had saved their limbs and their very lives. As bright as the men were, the ladies made them look drab with the combinations of color and jewelry they wore. After the rings of protection from the elements became common and affordable, the ladies began wearing less and less, in the elven fashion. Sheer very colorful clothing was becoming more and more fashionable as the people sought more and more diversions from the horrors of the war. Laura Lei's outfit of sheer leggings and vest before she began nursing would have fit right in. The rule seemed to be the more colorful the clothing was and the more skin exposed, the better. Opaque clothing was becoming very low cut, as in backless dresses and dangerously low bust lines. People of some of the other regions regarded these new fashions as so scandalous that the comment, "That behavior/ clothing/ comment was as scandalous as a Vindeaunian." Fransesca was becoming more regionalized as the people wearied of this seemingly endless war. Also, that the morals of Vindeaux were changing rapidly and were changing the character of the nearby countryside as well, for better or worse. I hope that we don't win one war only to find the humans involved in a civil war.

After a while, he found himself on a dirty, crowded street with musicians, jugglers, and street dancers. The people were all commoners by their dress, but they were lively; dancing, drinking, singing, and frolicking with gay abandon as if there would be no tomorrow. Well I have found the people. Calming this might be. Sampling human arts would be refreshing. Hmmmmmm, perhaps not. More practice would really help these young would be musicians. They are raucous and not really working together. Still, they are trying. He stopped and enjoyed the grace of a dancer who spun and flipped to the music of a nearby band that could use with some more practice. After an hour or two, he moved on, after tossing the dancer a gold piece that he illusioned to appear to be a copper piece. After the dancer caught it, he dropped the illusion. The dancers eyes bulged for just a moment, then he quickly dropped the coin into a pocket. I wish that the band was worthy of the dancer. That band was just plain bad. He continued to walk through the city.

As he strolled away, the crowds cleared and his thoughts became more troubled again. He was still very tense from the fight and didn't want to return to his family in this state. He came to a nearby cleaner street where the crowd was better dressed. The artists were all on raised pedestals in a plaza, really a series of plazas around a large statue of a dancing couple. The woman was wearing a little more than jewelry, a thong, sheer top, and sandals it appeared. The man was dressed in tights, those funny little human boots, and a puffy shirt with pleated sleeves and vest. The statue was painted in realistic colors as all Fransescan statuary was. Except for the military, the rest of the patrons were dressed to match the statue, which meant even less than he had been seeing. While some of the older women wore prewar styles, none of the younger women wore anything at all similar to what had been common prior to the war. Most of the men wore the gaudy dress uniforms. Human tastes in clothing have certainly changed, they are getting almost elvish in some of their tastes, but they do seem to be carrying things rather too far. He thought this as he observed several couples passionately embracing in the shadows, something that elves kept strictly private.

At least they have created a square to honor the arts. I hadn't realized that humans had advanced so far. I wonder whether street musicians for the well to do play any better than for the poor. The artwork is better and the streets are cleaner, perhaps the entertainment will be more calming.

As he worked his way into the square through couples dancing or simply standing listening or watching the entertainers, he realized that wealth had little to do with the quality of the arts amongst humans. Still, that band over there shows promise. He stayed and listened to the band for nearly an hour. If only that band near the dancer had been half this good. Suddenly, he straightened, and proceeded to Long Door his way to the other street. Good the dancer is still here. As Kai Lynn approached him, the dancer saw him and smiled.

"Follow me please."

He stammered a reply, "But My Lord, I need to continue to dance. I have bills to pay, my family ......"

"I understand, you will be well rewarded. But, please, do follow me."

"Aye, Milord." The dancer added hesitantly.

As he reached Kai Lynn through the crowd, they avoided the press of the crowd by using Long Door to return to the plaza. As soon as the dancer saw where he was at, he fell to his knees and bowed with his face to the ground. Graceful as an elf even when groveling like a human.

"My Lord, I am not worthy of dancing here in the Plaza of the Arts, my clothes, the fees. I'll be kicked out. My Lord, please don't force me to dance here. If they beat me too badly, I won't be able to dance for more than a week. These people DON"T like commoners."

"Young man, please stand up. What exactly is the problem? You appear to be dressed like any of the other performers here and I will pay any fees needed."

"But My Lord. Oh my..." This last comment came as the young man stood up and saw what his clothes looked like. He now was wearing a set of tights to match that of any dancer he had ever seen. It was deep forest green with gold, REAL GOLD inlays on the collar, wrists, and ankles. There was a large Star of The Creator on his chest. "My Lord, I am ... overwhelmed. I don't know how to thank you."

"The way to thank me is to allow me the pleasure of seeing you dance to GOOD music. And be aware that that suit is an illusion. After I leave I will give you the money to purchase a real suit of that quality. Also you mentioned a family. Do you and your wife have any children?"

"Aye milord, we have a newborn daughter."

Kai Lynn smiled. "Dancer, perform as you are capable of doing and I will reward you accordingly. This is for your wife and child." At this Kai Lynn tossed the dancer a gold eagle, more wealth than the young man had ever seen at one time. As he eyed the coin for a bare moment, Kai Lynn looked for a free pedestal near the band. He didn't see one. He did see one with a rather poor mime trying to perform. The man had almost no audience.

He approached the mime. "Young man, I need to have the use of that pedestal for the night."

"But you have no right, even if you ARE a noble. I paid for this dais for the night, it's MINE, MINE!"

Kai Lynn tossed him a silver coin. "That appears to be more than you were making for your troubles. Here is another. Now begone!"

With that the poor bumbler jumped from the dais with a grin on his face and ran off toward one of the taverns surrounding the square.

"Dancer, what is your name?"

The dancer bobbed his head respectfully and answered, "Htodulf, milord."

"Wolf, is that not, from the old tongue of the North?"

"Milord, I don't know."

Seeing that Htodulf wasn't educated, but was unconsciously tapping his foot and movng with the music of the band, Kai Lynn simply bowed and, with a sweep of his arm, pointed to the now empty dais.

Following Kai Lynn's arm, the dancer turned a genuflection into a series of flips that ended up with him on the dais in his beautiful outfit. Kai Lynn became invisible and levitated up above the crowd where he sat cross-legged and enjoyed the performance till the morning sun began to rise over the sky. Htodulf, who was showing signs of fatigue, looked over the dispersing crowd for any sign of Kai Lynn. Frowning slightly, for he KNEW he had performed as he rarely had been able to, he began to get down. Well, that noble had already given me more than I have ever seen at one time before. I shouldn't be greedy. Suddenly he felt a weighty purse in his hand. He looked over at the band, where the harpsichordist was looking at a similar purse in his hand, then looked upward. As the violinist also looked up, they saw the Champion in his distinctive armor STANDING in midair. The Champion met the gaze of both of the performers and bowed to them. He's a Champion, an elf nobleman, the crème de la crème of the elf army? And he's bowing to commoners? Unbelievable, wait till Cheri hears of this night. Then the elf simply vanished.

Htodulf simply stared at where the elf had disappeared for a moment in amazement, then remembered the weighty purse. As he looked into his purse, he realized he would be able to purchase that small apartment near his wife's family that she had been dreaming of these past two years. He could buy her some nice clothes also. And still have enough to save some. And I thought that Champions only fought the Asmodeans. I never knew they enjoyed dance and music so much. Htodulf never knew that elves needed art to unwind from stress as much as humans might need food or drink. The band and he had restored Kai Lynn's balance as he drank in the beauty of their art as deeply as a drowning man might breathe in air when reaching the water's surface.

Kai Lynn traveled back to the hugs, kisses, and immense relief of Laura Lei and thought about the changes he had seen in the human capital, hoping that they would not engulf his two children as the results of their crusades had engulfed he and Laura Lei. Would humans never mature enough to leave well enough alone and enjoy life as it came? Would they ever stop reproducing like out of control rabbits? Were they ever realize that they have all that they need with family, friends, and their basic needs met? Sadly, he thought probably no to all of these and other questions.