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Wilderness: Book One - The Forest (Chapter Fourteen - A Hidden Legacy)

Author: 
Colin Frayn
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
87

Tarok summoned all his energies, feeling the mystical powers once more burning through his tired limbs. His friends were relying on him - he couldn't fail them. He prepared to cast another spell, catching a glimpse out of the corner of his eye as the orc sorcerer held out one of the skulls from around his neck, and focused his energy into it. The skull began to glow, the eyes burning bright red. Tarok realised just in time as a bolt of energy surged out of the skull towards him. He nimbly dived to one side as the beam of energy surged past his shoulder and struck the wall behind him with a cacophonous roar.

Tarok quickly focused the magic energy he had gathered into form. Three glowing arrows appeared over his palm, hovering at his demand. He summoned one last drop of power, and all three shot off with lightning speed and hit their target in the chest. The sorcerer stepped back in pain as the three missiles struck home and Tarok summoned more of his magic. Using his telekinesis spell, he managed to remove the dagger from the belt of the chieftain and sent it flying towards the sorcerer. The blade glanced off the sorcerer's arm, cutting deeply into the evil creature's flesh. The sorcerer fell to the ground, and quickly summoned a force field to protect him from any more attacks. The pride of the human race restored, Tarok called out across the room, inspiring his three friends, "See! These orcs are cowards!"

Carek and Doragon turned to see the sorcerer cowering before their wizard friend, and were immediately filled with a fresh source of inspiration. They gave out a loud battle cry and charged forward, slicing their weapons through the air. After a few skilful thrusts from Carek's spear and Doragon's blade, the foul creatures lay dead on the floor, hurled against the walls of this now bloodied room. Carek ran over to help Athena, climbing up on the table to try to gain an advantage over the tall orc Chieftain. Athena traded blow after blow with the warrior, who was now fighting off attacks from two sides. Eventually she caught the powerful beast with a skilful slice to the shoulder and kicked him over into a wall. As the injured orc warrior painfully scrambled to his feet, a pained expression soon showed that he was growing weaker.

Meanwhile, Tarok and the sorcerer were locked in a struggle of power. Bolts of magic streaked through the air, and were deflected by each other with increasingly more complicated dispels and deflections. Eventually Tarok summoned all his energies and sent forth a bolt of energy like chains, holding the sorcerer tight. Tarok ran to help his friends, but the sorcerer was not yet defeated. Just as Carek was preparing to strike the Chieftain with his spear, a bolt of lightning shot forth from the sorcerer's hands, and struck the poor half-elf in the chest. Carek was hurled across the room, a sharp agonising pain shooting through his body. He struck the wall, falling unconscious to the bloodstained floor.

Athena was enraged by the evil wizard, and in a flurry of emotion, hurled her weapon at the foul creature. The orc managed to sidestep the flying blade, but this was enough to break his concentration. Tarok seized his opportunity, and threw a ball of flame whilst the orc was unbalanced. The flame struck the sorcerer in the torso, and flared brightly, engulfing the evil creature with scalding heat. The sorcerer fell in a burning heap to the floor, his clothes smouldering and dark smoke billowing from his charred remains. Athena quickly ran over to pick up her sword, but the chieftain sensed his opportunity and fled back through the door and away down the corridor beyond. Athena went to run after him, but Tarok called her back. "Leave him; he won't go far in that state. Besides, we have other things to worry about." Athena retrieved her sword from beside the lifeless corpse of the sorcerer, and then ran to see how badly her friend had been injured.

Doragon was bandaging Carek's wounds and Tarok knelt down to try to revive the poor half-elf. Carek's heart was still beating weakly, but he was not breathing. Tarok took a flask of water from his backpack, and poured it gently over Carek's face in an attempt to heal his stricken comrade. Placing his hands on Carek's stomach, Tarok attempted to cast one of his healing spells, but he could not summon the energies needed. The fight with the sorcerer had drained him of all his strength, and he had no energy left with which to help his friend.

Tarok opened his eyes, and looked sorrowfully at his dear friend lying lifeless beside him. They were going to have to leave this monolith, and wait outside where it was safe. With a few days of rest, the young half-elf would slowly heal enough to attempt the journey home. Tarok's energies would return in a few hours, but for now there was nothing more they could do.

Tarok had just made up his mind to give up when he heard a gentle voice behind him.

"Have no fear!"

He spun round, as did Athena and Doragon. Before them stood a ghostly figure, robed in fine embroidered material, and carrying a gnarled wooden staff by his side. This was an elderly man with long, white hair and a fine beard, which reached almost all the way down to his waist. Tarok stood up, and cautiously approached the figure. "Who are you, sir?" The figure lifted up his staff, and gestured to the wizard to come no closer. Tarok stopped where he was, examining the strange apparition.

The figure carefully analysed the scene, turning his gaze on Tarok for several moments before speaking in a calm, reassuring tone. "I am, or rather was, a wizard known as Kalarr. It was I who built this sanctuary from the perils of the forest. For many years it was my home and study and it gave me somewhere to hide from the evil creatures that roamed outside. Many long years it took me to forge this place from the very heart of the forest, shaping earth and stone with my magic. Sadly, I was not to live here for as long as I had hoped. I spent my last days arranging for this place to remain safe from the evils outside. Now, unfortunately, it has fallen into the very hands of those I sought to protect it from."

"I have been watching for many centuries now, and I have seen my work crumble to dust. I have seen evil flourish in these chambers, and come to take over my home. I have seen great depravity, violence, injustice, yet I have been mostly powerless to stop it."

At this the figure let out a sigh, resigned to the fate which had befallen this most unusual of homes. Then he turned to the group, staring first at Tarok. "However, your courage today has greatly impressed me. You have already rid this place of most of the evil that plagues it. I have great hopes for you."

Then the figure stopped, and sighed once more. "But there is still a great challenge ahead. For now I can do little to help you, the path is yours to discover. Your friend will live, I have already seen to that. Remember that bravery is always rewarded, and so it shall be with you. I bid you good luck." The figure smiled gently, a contented smile gracing his face for what seemed like the first time in centuries. Slowly, he faded from view, disappearing into the shadows, and then was gone.

The three friends looked around at each other. Athena was the first to speak. "So, what did that mean?" Tarok shrugged his shoulders.

"Don't ask me!" He didn't know either, but there was only one way to find out. They were going to have to continue with their quest. Presumably Kalarr meant them to go onwards, as if there was something worth finding ahead of them. Doragon seemed excited about the prospect, "Bravery is rewarded! There is still more treasure to be found. I say we go on!" Tarok was still unsure, shaking his head, "He also said that there was a 'great challenge' ahead - we are all weak, and I can't risk carrying Carek even further into danger in his state."

Just then, there was a quiet groan from behind them, and they turned round to see Carek's eyes slowly opening. The brave fighter was now beginning to breathe again. Carek slowly sat up and his three friends told him about the visitor. Carek felt strangely alert considering the damage he had sustained. Much to the amazement of his friends, he managed to scramble slowly to his feet. His wounds were all healing at a supernormal rate, and he felt his strength flowing slowly back. Tarok also felt strangely refreshed, as if his magical powers were being replenished even as he spoke. Athena and Doragon also felt rested, full of energy and enthusiasm.

They waited there for a few minutes while they all mysteriously regained their strength. Athena found her wounds healed, and the bite marks vanished from her arm. Carek regained his strength, and before long was jumping around just as fit as ever. Tarok's mind had recovered completely. It was as if he had not cast any spells for months - he felt perfectly rested, and moreover he felt as if, somewhere deep in his mind, he had some extra powers just waiting to be discovered.

As they left the room, their spirits were high, and they knew that they were nearing the end of their quest. They all spoke as if they knew a little more about themselves and this dungeon, but couldn't say what. Presumably this knowledge was a gift from Kalarr, who had appeared for one last time to give these temporary powers to his chosen heroes. It was as if the wizard had somehow filled them with new skills with which they could defeat whatever evil power remained in this dungeon. Then the troubled wizard could finally rest in peace.

The passage outside the room continued for twenty yards, turned right and then carried on for another twenty yards before ending in a large wooden door. It was closed, but not locked. Athena pushed it open, and as they peered in, a glorious sight met their eyes. It was a large room, fifty yards long and thirty yards wide, with a high ceiling, well beyond their outstretched reach. There was a table at the centre, surrounded with chairs and what looked like a throne at one end. The roof was arched, supported by dozens of thick wooden beams. Torches along the walls burned gently with a magical flame that had existed for centuries, not consuming the now long-decayed torches beneath them.

This must have been the banquet hall. It had none of its original decorations, except for the throne, which looked very valuable. This remarkable seat was quite large, and beautifully decorated. The arms were covered with gold leaf and the legs were fashioned from polished bronze. On each armrest was a golden snake, coiled as if ready to strike. Doragon thoroughly examined the throne, realising immediately that it could be worth a great deal if they could remove it from the dungeon. As he was looking, Doragon noticed blood on one of the armrests.

It was fresh! Maybe the chieftain had fled this way. Doragon examined the blood and noticed that some was inside the mouth of the golden snake. He felt around inside it with his finger, and found a small ball of gold. He pulled the ball out, and noticed that it was attached to a piece of string. Pulling on the string, Doragon felt some resistance. He pulled harder, and a sliding noise came from behind the throne. A trapdoor had slid open to reveal stairs spiralling downwards into darkness. Maybe this was the orcs' secret treasure room. He eagerly jumped off the throne, and peered down into the darkness, calling his friends over to follow him.

Shining the light down into the staircase below, the group saw the trail of blood leading ominously downwards. Carek went first, followed by Athena, Doragon and lastly Tarok. The steps spiralled down for quite a while, until they levelled out into a passage leading back underneath the throne room. There was no sight of the Chieftain, and for the first time since they had entered this dungeon, there was a real feeling of quiet which descended upon them rather suddenly as they left the banquet hall behind. Magical torches lined the walls once more, gently illuminating this most unusual of places. The four friends held their weapons ready and continued down the passageway. Eventually they reached an abrupt dead end where a large stone wall blocked their route.

Perhaps it was a trick? Carek noticed that the trail of blood stopped at the wall, immediately realising that there must have been a secret door somewhere near there. Doragon searched the stones around the wall. He knew a great deal about secret doors, and he had even helped people install them back in Tarnadon. He pushed some of the blocks on the wall and found one that moved. He pushed it firmly, and the wall slid across to reveal a room beyond. Doragon turned to his three friends, and smiled a very self-satisfied smile. The four adventurers peered into the room beyond.

The room was square, perhaps only twenty feet along each side. The ceiling was slightly higher than the previous ones, at least ten feet up. In the centre of the room was a perfectly preserved oak cabinet, ornately decorated with all sorts of spectacular designs. There was a glowing light coming from inside. There in front of this light, the Chieftain lay dead on the tiled floor, lying in a small pool of blood.

Doragon stepped into the room first. He looked about, carefully noticing every detail. The floor was tiled in a decorative pattern with mosaics at every corner. The impetuous halfling stepped forward to the cabinet in the centre of the room. The glowing object was a jewel; like the gem stones that they had found earlier but whiter and more exquisitely shaped. This was the find that they had been looking for. He called back to his friends who were waiting behind, "I told you! Treasure I said - more treasure than we could ever imagine!" Doragon opened the cabinet, and heard a click. He looked around the room, fearing that he had set off another trap. Slowly, but surely a stone block in one wall slid away, revealing a long passage behind, in the middle of the wall. The four friends immediately ran for cover, hiding in the shadows to one corner of the room. They hardly dared breathe, not knowing what would come through that passage to attack them.

They held their breath as a large shape came into view, and slowly floated out into the room. This was a giant spherical creature perhaps four to five feet in diameter, hovering unnervingly a few yards above the floor. In the centre of its enormous face was one giant eye, exploring the scene, and ten smaller eyes on stalks protruding from the top. These smaller eyes were writhing around like snakes, desperately trying to search out the intruders.

The creature seemed to be floating magically in mid air, as there was certainly nothing to support it. Tarok gulped, and whispered to the others. "It's a beholder. Those eyes are magical, and each one has a different power. We're in deep trouble!"

The creature apparently didn't see the group hiding silently in one corner of the room, so Tarok began to think of a plan. It didn't take him long. "Doragon, if you can distract it so that it looks away from us, I can cast magic at it in the hope that it doesn't dodge out of the way in time. It's all up to you." The halfling gulped. He didn't much like the prospect of being the pawn, but guessed that it was probably the only way to distract the creature and save his friends from certain doom.

Doragon drew his sword and crept around in the shadows at the side of the room. He was silent as a mouse and not even the group could hear him. The beholder was still searching for the intruders, but the other three were lying perfectly motionless in the shadows, hardly daring to breathe. All of a sudden, Doragon sprung from the shadows and thrust his sword into the back of the creature. It screamed with pain, and spun round to face its attacker. The poor halfling was petrified, and dived to one side. Tarok stood up, and summoned the energy for his faithful magic missile spell. Not three, but five darts appeared. This must have been Kalarr's work. Not only were there five, but they all looked a lot bigger. All five shot out at the word of Tarok, and the beholder noticed too late as the missiles struck home, surging with pure magical energy. The beholder roared loudly in pain, turning to face its new foe. Tarok quickly summoned a yellow sphere, and hurled it with all his might. The magical missile smashed in a brilliant flash of light beside the wounded beholder, temporarily blinding it.

Athena and Carek ran forward, slicing at the creature's magic eyestalks and managing to hack off several in a fury of flashing blades. Doragon once more stabbed at the creature, but missed as it shot away into the corner. It turned, its vision returned and the element of surprise now lost. Before the friends could dive out of the way, bolts of energy shot from the beholder's eyes, striking Doragon and pinning him to the wall. Another encased Athena in a block of magical ice. She was helpless, and could only watch on in anguish as Carek took a stance against the powerful creature. Tarok stepped back and tried to hide, but the creature spotted him and blocked him off with a wall of fire. Only Carek remained.

Carek knew that his only chance was a spell. As he tried to cast a warmth spell on Athena to unfreeze her, a bolt of energy struck him and threw him to the floor. Carek watched the creature advance, and clenched his fists, grasping tightly onto his spear. All of a sudden, a warm sensation covered his body, and he began to feel his strength returning. Taking care not to show this, he quickly drew an arrow, and rapidly notched it into his bow. He tried to remember a spell that Tarok had showed him. He concentrated on the arrow, and to his great pleasure, it set alight. Quickly, he turned and fired it towards his foe. The arrow thudded into the beholder's forehead, exploding into a giant fireball, which encased the creature in fire. The ice surrounding Athena melted as the blast struck the wounded creature, and she charged forward, sword aloft.

The beholder fired bolts of energy but Athena, in a superhuman flurry of sword blows managed to deflect them with lightning reflexes. Kalarr's magic had worked on her too, it seemed. She ran at the creature and attacked its weak spot - the main eye, thrusting her sword deep into the creature's body. The beholder roared and fizzled with magical energy and then shot back to the tunnel from whence it came. After a few seconds, an almighty explosion and a flash of light came from the passage as the remains of the creature's magical energy discharged into the walls, making them glow like red-hot embers. Athena was thrown backwards by the blast, but soon managed to get back on her feet, peering down the passage where the creature had disappeared. There was no sign of life - the mighty beholder had been defeated!

Athena and Carek wearily stepped away from the scene of the battle to see how the other two were. Tarok had narrowly escaped being badly burnt, and reckoned he would be all right given enough time to rest. Doragon was just regaining consciousness, so Athena gave him some water to drink. Carek went over to the glowing jewel, which had caused them so much trouble, and took it from its case, holding it in his hands. It was a beautifully shaped gem, perfect in every respect. It radiated magic, and somehow emitted a gentle light. Next to it was a belt, which had an empty hole in the centre, which was obviously meant for the jewel.

Slotting the jewel into the hole, Carek found that it seemed to fit perfectly. He put the belt on around his waist, and immediately felt the power of the gem surging through him. His wounds were still bad, but it seemed that the worst of the monolith's surprises were now in the past.

Also in the cabinet was a scroll. It seemed to be written in symbols, in a language that Carek didn't understand. He passed it over to his wizard friend, who stared intently at the runes, seeming a little worried. "This scroll is written in a very strange language. Some of the runes are similar to those I have encountered in my studies, but most are unfamiliar to me. I will have to use some magical incantations to understand them, but for now let me rest. I think we're safe here for the time-being."

Tarok sat down, and scanned through his book until he found the words of the spell that he wanted. He spent a while reading the spell and resting, so the others set about bandaging their wounds and Carek examined the belt in detail. They waited there for an hour at least while Tarok studied the pages of his book, and the other three talked about their adventures. Doragon even managed to climb up into the passage the beholder had come from, but a thorough search found nothing. The tunnel was ten yards long, and opened out into a large chamber where the remains of the creature's last few victims lay scattered around. They appeared to be goblins, and Doragon could quite imagine the orcs throwing their lesser cousins into the beholder's lair as punishment, or even perhaps for amusement. Nothing seemed too cruel for these creatures.

Eventually, Tarok said that he was ready, having studied the spell, and regained sufficient power to cast it on the scroll. He waved his hands over the ancient writing, causing a glowing blue mist to form over the page. Immediately the runes seemed to shift about and form words that Tarok could understand. He waited for the writing to settle down, and then read them words that had formed before him, "Here lies the Eye of Kalarr, the spirit of the ancient sorcerer Kalarr embedded in this jewel. May only the wise use it and only the foolhardy abuse it for it contains power far beyond other jewels. The power of the jewel lies not in death, but in life. Good luck, wise adventurer! The spirit of Kalarr will always be with you."

The monolith must have been taken by the orcs after the death of the ageing sorcerer, and the beholder was placed to guard the eye against all but the bravest of adventurers. Maybe Tarok could find something more about the wizard from the books he had left back at the fort, but for now they were content to find the true purpose of the strange gemstone. Searching the rest of the room, Doragon found a lever hidden behind a statue. After examining it carefully for traps and suchlike, he pulled it nervously, half expecting another creature to spring out and attack. This was one of Kalarr's devices, a hidden key he had made when he was still alive in order to hide his most treasured possession safely away from the roving eyes of the orcs.

With a silent magical force, a secret door slid across beside the lever, opening out into a small room beyond. There were a few cobwebs scattered around, and dust lay everywhere, but in the centre of the room, Doragon could just pick out what looked like a stand of some kind, and upon that lay a book. Doragon walked across towards the tome, taking care not to set off any more traps. Picking it up, the halfling realised that it was a spell book, written in magical script that he could not understand. It was expertly bound, with a cover decorated with gold leaf and exquisite illustrations of dragons and giants. Doragon called to the others and carried the book out to them. It must have been Kalarr's spell book, and was full of mystical incantations and fantastic creatures, some that Tarok knew but a great deal that he had not met before. The wizard was most excited as he now had a good source of knowledge for his research. The book was probably well over a hundred pages long, and Tarok reckoned it would take him many months to learn the spells that were contained in its pages. He hoped that he would learn some of Kalarr's tricks and magical research too.

The only person who had gained no new equipment at all from the adventure was Doragon. Despite his protests to the contrary, he didn't really mind. He had discovered enough treasure to last him a long time, which pleased him more than anything else. Besides, what need had he for magical weapons and suchlike? By his own admission, he wasn't a great fighter but he was an explorer by trade. He would rely only on his natural wits to keep him alive. That was just the way he liked it, and he was still a little bit suspicious of magic. He wouldn't admit it to Tarok though, but it was his halfling heritage once more showing through. Halflings were a naturally suspicious race, which shunned change and unpredictability. Magic was not their sort of thing.

The group managed to bandage their wounds, and set off back through the tunnels to find the surface. The cold, damp surroundings were beginning to irritate them, and they desperately wanted to taste the fresh forest air again. After half an hour of exploring the dark tunnels, they soon found their way back up to the surface, running into no more monsters. Whether this was through luck, or because they had killed them all, they would probably never find out, but they knew that they had managed to at least destroy the orc warrior band which Carek had feared so much, and they had finally liberated Kalarr's home from the clutches of evil.

They arrived back at the narrow staircase that lead back up to the surface, and had to wait near the top for a few minutes as their eyes grew accustomed to the light. Even the evening sun seemed bright in comparison to the dimly lit passages of the monolith, which they had been searching for several hours now. Tarok was glad he could now dispel the magical torch that he had created, and had been bobbing gently along beside him ever since they had left Kalarr's secret chamber. Tarok was quite fond of that spell, but had several perfections to make yet. The glowing orb was not yet very intelligent, and kept floating into things, or people. Moreover, it had a tendency to fly directly in front of the caster, obscuring his vision in a most annoying way. Thankfully the rooms which the orcs lived in were all lit by torchlight, but the upper sections were all in darkness, and Tarok had decided that this would be an ideal opportunity to try out his new spell.

Realising that they wouldn't be able to make it back to the fort before nightfall, they decided, as had been planned before, to camp in the entrance room to the monolith and take turns to keep watch in two hour shifts. Tarok created some bread using his magic, and all four ate their fill. Although Tarok's bread was light and nourishing, it certainly left a slightly unpleasant taste in one's mouth, and Carek doubted its nutritional benefits.

Tarok lit a fire for warmth and protection. The nights were becoming colder now as the rainy season approached, and they had brought few blankets with them so that their packs would remain light. They arranged the order for watch shifts, and it was decided that Doragon was to go first. The other three got to sleep as Doragon stayed awake, keeping his eyes peeled on the surrounding forest in case anything should attack in the night. After two hours, he woke up Athena, who took the second shift. Just as she was beginning to fall asleep again, she woke up Carek who took the third.

Carek waited for his watch, then went back to sleep allowing Tarok to take his post for the final two hours. Despite a great number of strange noises coming from the neighbouring forest, the night passed quietly, much to the relief of the tired band of adventurers. Everyone woke up early in the morning to set off back to the fort, eager to see how their home was looking after their absence.

They talked a great deal about the monolith on the journey home, and also of the fort to which they were returning. They were a little worried that the fort might have been attacked while they were away and they knew that, if it had been taken by some hostile creatures, it would be most difficult to claim back. They had built the fort to be as strong as possible, but they hadn't really considered the possibility that they might have to attack it themselves. They resolved to do something about that as soon as they got back. Perhaps Doragon's escape tunnel idea would be a good plan, as it could easily be used the other way round to gain entrance to the fort from outside. More effective still would be some better way of protecting their home while they were away. Some kind of warning or magical ward was what they needed. Tarok guessed that Kalarr probably had a spell in his book that would do just fine, and he decided to search through the ancient pages as soon as they got back.

The journey went quickly, and when they arrived back at the fort they found it thankfully still in one piece. Tarok managed to cast his levitation spell from outside, lifting the bar locking the main gate. Athena pushed open the heavy wooden doors, and walked into the courtyard, dropping her backpack to the floor. The others followed, and did the same as Doragon locked the main door behind them. They were very glad to get back, and relieved to remove the loads from their shoulders at last. Sure enough, the fort was still in one piece.

The first job was to get all the things back out of the secret storage room. They removed the camouflage and opened up the door, sending Doragon down, who passed everything up to the others. Tarok was pleased to see his spell books once again, and arranged them just as he liked them in his room. Carek went to the tower, and looked around at the surrounding forests. Everything seemed just as they left it. He looked over in the direction of the monolith. Though he couldn't actually see it from that vantage point, he knew it to be hidden somewhere amidst the blanket of trees to the north. He wondered what other secrets the forest so expertly concealed from his view.

They planned a hearty meal that night to finish off the boar that they had caught for the feast three days ago. Tarok's magical bread had begun to get a bit tiresome after so long, and they all begged the wizard to improve the taste if this was to become a staple part of the group's diet. Fortunately, there was just enough boar left for one good meal, so they prepared a fire and began to slowly roast the meat once more. That night, they all ate well, and were glad to have a safe place once more to lay down to get a good night's sleep.

Tarok had been reading Kalarr's spell book and had managed to find the precise details he needed to alter his 'wood to stone' spell so that it worked more slowly, but could be used to change a greater volume at a time. It worked over a period of a month with a very slow transition between wood and stone, and would need 'topping up' every day for the first week or so, but would not use all his energies at once, which had been the problem before. He decided to cast this spell the following day as soon as he had mastered the correct form to use, then he could simply add to it every day until the magical energy had built up sufficiently to complete the job.

The following day, the magician prepared the components he would need for the spell, and approached the fort walls, carefully examining the words from Kalarr's book beforehand. He reached out and touched the nearest post, channelling as much magical energy into it as he deemed necessary and then standing back to admire his work. The walls seemed the same, but Tarok felt that the spell was working and that soon he would be able to tell as the wood gradually turned colour before his eyes.

Carek spent the next few days examining the treasure that they had found in the monolith. The mysterious 'Eye of Kalarr' remained about his waist, seemingly filling his mind with extra abilities far beyond those that he previously knew. The eye appeared to help channel certain forms of magic energy through Carek's body more safely and with greater efficiency. Carek had been exploring the jewel's power, and so far it seemed to improve his mastery of all self-alteration spells such as Tarok's 'glowing hands' spell, and suchlike. It also helped him with his healing spells, seemingly focusing the energy far more efficiently. It was as if the jewel stored magical energy inside for when it was most needed. Carek knew that this would be a most valuable find.

Doragon spent quite some time working out ways to make the fort stronger in case of an attack. He knew that with the rainy season, it was also dragon season. Occasionally people told tales of fights between powerful dragons for treasure, but it also meant that all the young dragons would be leaving the nest in search of treasure and food. Even a hatchling dragon could overpower all four of them if it was lucky, and infant dragons were more powerful still.

The most potent threat would be from green dragons, which seemed to be the most common in forest areas. They were not as powerful as the greatest of all dragons, however. Those were the golden dragons - the most spectacular creatures in the skies. Masters of magic, capable of changing their shape at will. Some of them, it was said, grew to be several hundred feet in length, with similar wingspans. They were rumoured in legend, but none of the four had actually heard first hand tales of ever seeing one. In fact, even green dragons were still very rare. Tarok remembered one time when he was a young child when one of the creatures attacked his home town, but it was swiftly repelled by a few brave archers and wizards. However, it was not without loss of life, and several of the town's bravest soldiers died in the fight. Dragons were a true menace, but they were also occasionally a great ally. The trick was in knowing which ones were which.

Athena practised her skills with her new sword. She mainly performed endless sets of weapon drills, but occasionally Tarok would help her by creating an illusionary monster to fight. Normally this would be an orc or a goblin, but often he would have a bit of fun by creating an ogre, a troll, or even giant bears or spiders. Occasionally he let his imagination get the better of him, producing all variety of mystical creatures of his own devising.

As the week drew to a close, the four tired adventurers lay down to sleep, and slept well. They woke refreshed the next morning to continue their training. Athena went out for a morning swim in the moat, which usually consisted of a dozen lengths from one side of the causeway all the way round to the other and then back again. Upon her return, Carek wandered off into the forest to do some archery practice, leaving his three friends guarding the fort. Athena had taken out her crossbow, and practised with that for an hour or so before Carek returned, bow slung over his shoulder. Doragon was lazily sitting around at the top of the tower, trying to plan the fort's defences from his vantage point.

Suddenly, there was a loud crashing noise coming from the forest. He peered over in that direction, and noticed the trees shaking as some group of creatures passed through. This was no hobgoblin force - these creatures were much larger. Doragon began to realise what was happening just saw the trees at the side of the clearing parted, and a group of tall, powerful creatures ran out, clubs aloft. A great chorus of war cries filled the clearing from the mouths of the attacking band. Doragon stared as a look of horror met his eyes. He turned, and shouted back to his three friends down in the courtyard. "OGRES! Ogres attacking!"

An epic battle was about to begin.

 

WILDERNESS : Book 1 - The Forest Chapter 14 - A Hidden Legacy © Colin Frayn

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