"Why, oh why," Don quavered, "these thaumaturgical conferences have to run so late I'll never understand." He continued to pick his lonely way fearfully among the late-night shadows of the partially forested park. "A whole evening's talk of orcs, goblins, and other various Emissaries of Darkness can really psych a fellow out." He decided, bravely, to take a short-cut across the baseball field. "Good grief, cheer up!" he reprimanded himself. "You've achieved full magicianhood this night and can ward off evil with all sorts of signs and symbols!"
He drew himself up to his full height and trod heavily on home plate. "Ouch!" it complained shrilly.
Two minutes later, or ten thousand feet, whichever comes first, a very rueful magician picked his way down from a nearby tree to be confronted by a most impatient-looking elf.
"What took you so long?" the elf demanded.
"Uh... Newton's Second Law," he replied, almost without thinking.
"That's no excuse! But never mind," continued the elf brusquely, "Findulior and my fellows, at your service," he said with a low bow. "We're looking for one of valiant bravery who would partake in the delights of an elvish wonderland, replete with unsurpassed natural beauty."
"Sounds pretty nifty!"
"Hah!--OOF!" quipped one of the other three elves as he was poked in the stomach with an elbow.
"He'd be showered with riches beyond his wildest imaginings," continued the first elf unperturbed, "and have the enraptured attentions of bevies of giggling elf maidens!"
"How could I refuse? I lay my services at your feet!"
"We only request that you dispose of a small band of vagabond goblins..."
"My sword will weave a web of screaming doom among them!"
"...forming an attack front of a mere two thousand miles."
"A pity that it was lost at the cleaners last week."
"And perhaps the small matter of teeny-weeny one-hundred fifty meter dragon on the side."
"Um...I'd love to stay and chat with you boys, but Gryffynlloches needs spring cleaning and...Alas! The perils of magic," sighed the magician as he noticed the elves fingering their weapons guiltily with looks of pure desperation.
"However, when you put it so persuasively, my colleague and I will be happy to offer our services."
"We'll WHAT!?" foamed the wizard for the third time. His face was now turning some beautiful shades fo the rainbow.
"I merely told them--" Don was cut short when a tiny dragon, which had been perched on the edge of Krys' goblet squeaking with hysterical laughter, slipped and plunged headfirst into Krys' soup with a loud splash. When its sheepish head broke surface, it was followed by a sinuous tentacle which grabbed it around the neck. There ensued a terrific struggle during which Krys, chin in hand, drummed his fingers impatiently while being slowly soaked with soup. Finally he lost all patience.
"Out! Out!" he commanded, flogging the still-grappling pair across the tabletop with the back of his spoon into an obliging wastepaper-basket, after which he returned to nursing the remnants of his breakfast.
The mood relaxed during the meal, and finally Krys sighed contentedly and tilted his chair back.
"Remember that dragon I saved you from?" the wizard reminisced.
"Yeah! That was a neat trick, getting him to chase you like that."
"I nearly lost him among the brambles of that foliated ravine, and when he got STUCK...!"
"...Boy, was he mad! Lucky I brought along all that burn cream for you."
"Yes, but a self-roasted dragon is always tasty...really takes be back... Ah! We've been in bad spots before and come out all right," the wizard finished, his eyes fairly crackling with energy, "BUT," he snapped, "I've a good mind to let you work out your own problems for once. Magician indeed!"
Don gulped, watched his life pass before his eyes, and gathered his verborum for a parry.
"Let's be reasonable about this..." he stuttered vaguely.
"Reasonable!?" the wizard whimpered.
"Look. Didn't the Wizards' Council request that you act as my mentor?"
"We all have our bear to cross," muttered the wizard under his breath.
"Hrmph," he acquiesced in a good-natured tone. "Very well then, to the business at hand!"
They conversed earnestly throughout the warmth of the beautiful spring day, though they noticed little enough of it in Krys' council chamber at Draigsffau. The room had a lofty curved ceiling from whence a single golden beam of sunlight pierced the homey shadiness of the carven rock. Three doors to other portions of the dragons' den were evident to the north, south and east, but the western wall contained a large door which cunningly blended in with the rest of the rock and could be opened only by the master of Draigsffau. It opened onto a wide shelf of rock which commanded an excellent view of the western plains and the distant sea, and could be sealed against the onslaught of winter and invader alike. It was yet closed in the aftermath of the exceedingly harsh winter which the land had scarcely recovered from, and the wizard spoke of this also as the day drew on.
"Aye, my friend. The Shadow threatens the land more than even the Council will admit. I could never have ignored the plea of the elves, for the Evil One's power has outgrown subtle tactics. I fear the icy weather shall become Safntan's weapon, and we shall be sorely pressed if griffins and dragons alike are nearly too sluggish to move. Ah! But enough of this! We must prepare staff and wand for the task ahead! Use the lab in the SOUTH wing. It's explosion-proof," Krys added unconvincingly as he hurried into the NORTH wing.
"Don't mention it!" the corridor echoed distantly over the patter of fast-receding footsteps.
Krys ascended the spiraling rock stair slowly, wading through ankle- deep dust. When he reached the top, he passed through a long stone corridor, paused a moment, took a deep breath, and approached a huge rune-covered oaken door. He grasped the curiously-shaped handle, mumbled a simple spell, and pushed. The door gave with a ponderous groan of its hinges. Glassware, cobwebs, and strange-looking apparati were everywhere. Here and there a ruddy or greenish glow still emanated faintly from some long forgotten experiment. The wizard shuffled across the slightly damaged floor, scored and pock-marked from many ancient and near-disastrous experiments. He stopped in front of the nearest bench and lifted a beautiful piece of glassware which promptly crumbled into dust.
"It's been a while since I've had to come up here," he observed, "I suppose I'll have to use the lab in the south wing."
A dull booming rolled through Draigsffau, tipping equipment precariously. "Too late," sighed Krys.
He stood a while in the semi-darkness pondering the eerie shadows cast by his wand.
"Hey Krys!" Don hurried into the room, "I've finally done it!"
"NOW what?" groaned the wizard in justifiable apprehension.
"Behold! A sword of fine craftsmanship, made by a fine craftsman!"
"That's nice, but..."
"Note the delicate lines, the power radiating from every inch of its gleaming length! I would be honored if you would be the first to cross swords with me in ceremonial tribute to its conception."
"Okay...It's YOUR sword."
With a flourish, both blades flashed skyward and came together.
"To Elbereth!" cried Don.
'CRASH! Tinkle!' replied the sword.
"Your sword seems to have lost its temper," observed Krys.
"Augh!" wailed Don descriptively. "What could have gone wrong?"
The wizard walked slowly away, crunching through the debris, hands clasped behind his back, his mind turned inward to the problem at hand, and when he spoke, his voice echoed back down the stone corridor, heavy with wise implications.
"Don't use glass."
For those of you who are already well-acquainted with our heroes, I needn't say that it was some time before the pair was ready to tackle their arch-enemy, Safntan. Finally, however, they were practiced in certain obscure areas of the Vis, had prepared the necessary equipment, and had sent most of the dragons on various preparatory missions. Krys had spent most of the morning weaving an especially powerful Spell of Forbidding across the entrance to Draigsffau and looked tired but determined.
"It is time," said the wizard redundantly, and he led the magician to the council chamber. Stopping in the center of the room, Krys motioned for Don to hold his staff about a meter from the wizard's. This done, Krys began to sing in low tones which seemed to cling physically to the walls of the chamber. A humming from the staves was the only other sound. Suddenly, a brilliant blue-white bolt of fire leapt between the silvery globes topping the end of each staff which was followed by a deafening thunderclap, and the chamber stood empty but for a beam of sunlight and the fading echoes.
"Now you've really done it, Krys!" Don yelled to make himself heard over the scream of the wind about them.
"Nonsense! From this vantage point we have an excellent view of all of Safntan's main assault force!"
"But we're traveling eighty meters per second straight down!" wailed the forlorn magician.
"When are you going to learn to ignore unimportant details," scolded the wizard, "and concentrate on what brought us here in the first place!?"
Don made a strangled sound in his throat, rolled his eyes, and mumbled a Spell of Preparation for the Big Social Splash.
Krys evinced his disgust at this un-magicianlike display and cried, "I've seen enough!" though it was unclear whether he was referring to Don's actions or Safntan's army. Raising his staff, he evoked a crackling power which sputtered and died.
"They just don't start on these cold mornings," chuckled the wizard. The magician groaned.
Krys again raised his staff and spat out a spell of levitation. This time a sphere of force grabbed them and the staff shrieked under the strain. They slowed drastically and came to a complete stop just above the playful prodding of the spears of a horde of chuckling goblins. The wizard shifted his grip on the staff imperceptibly and the pair floated drunkenly toward a nearby mountain peak.
"Not bad," Krys observed. "Only a kilometer or so from our original target---Why Don, you look pale."
"Medic!" he gasped.
"You'll feel better with some lunch inside of you," soothed the wizard. Don turned green.
Nevertheless, he consumed no less than any starving scout when they arrived at the secret elvish camp.
"A precarious situation indeed," observed Krys at the conclusion of the council with the elf-lord. "We shall have our hands full when the time comes."
"It has," whimpered Don as an orkish arrow thudded solidly into his staff. A hundred goblin soldiers leapt into the clearing, yelling and cursing. "We're doomed!" moaned Don as a ring of goblins closed in on the pair.
"Never fear!" commanded the wizard. "A Wizard of the Flame can deal with mere goblins!"
Krys withdrew his hand from his cloak, clutching a small sphere covered in runes. Gripping his staff in his other hand, he raised his arms dramatically and gave the goblins such a glare that they stayed their advance momentarily.
"So long, toadface!" Krys taunted the leader. He hurled the sphere to the ground, and it burst in a brilliant white flash, changing the goblin captain's expression from one of indignant outrage to dismay. The pair had disappeared, leaving behind only a puff of red smoke!
"Some wizard," mumbled Don disgustedly as both wizard and magician clung desperately to the upper branches of the they had been near.
"Stop thrashing so much!" hissed Krys. "You'll attract their attention!"
"Ulp!" gulped Don as an arrow whistled past his ear.
A swarm of goblins began clawing their way into the tree. Don cast a hopeless glance at the wizard and began making passes over his staff for a final blow before the end.
"Wait!" barked Krys. "Don't destroy your staff. Hold it close to mine for a moment."
Surprised, Don did so. Krys mumbled a short quick spell which rippled from his staff to Don's. With a crack of power, both staves disappeared.
"Why..." Don began, but Krys cut him short.
"Look," commanded Krys. In his palm were two miniature staves of exquisite detail. The wizard picked up one between thumb and forefinger.
"I think this one is yours," he said, handing it to Don. "Don't lose it. In the meantime, act as if we were fairly caught. We're an important catch, so they probably won't kill us--"
"--and it will hopefully bring us closer to the heart of the Evil that this land suffers under."
Don met Krys' gaze squarely with sudden understanding.
The pair was hauled unceremoniously from the tree, their hands quickly bound, to face the goblin captain, who did not know whether to be angry at Krys' insult or happy that their disappearance was so short-lived.
"I am Rakhu," he croaked hideously. "You will be taken as prisoners to our great leader to show him who is the best captain of the goblin hordes." He brandished a thick short blade, stained and notched from recent battle. "Take them," he said to a group of goblin guards. "They shall have no rest on such a short journey and they will learn who is the Master."
Both wizard and magician were jerked roughly about and urged into a trot by spear-point as the group left the camp behind.
The journey to Safntan's evil lands, though an eventful experience, was a bad one, so I shall spare the reader their misadventures as is customary in such writings.
Starved, harassed, and exhausted, our heroes hopes were lowest the night they were shoved pitilessly into the almost-welcome bleakness of Safntan's rocky dungeons. They slept deeply...
© 1979, 1999 by Donald Jon Cox.
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