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Galloping Lantern Chapter 2

Galloping Lantern Chapter 2

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Published by Rowan Visser
After the massacre in The Galloping Lantern Bartholomew and Alam Kazaar make their way to find new hunting grounds, but they are being watched...
After the massacre in The Galloping Lantern Bartholomew and Alam Kazaar make their way to find new hunting grounds, but they are being watched...

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Published by: Rowan Visser on Aug 17, 2010
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The Galloping Lantern

Chapter 2

All copyrights belong to Rowan Visser

Bartholomew and Alam Leave Port Nolath

Bartholomew and his associate had been travelling away from Port Nolath for over a week when Jones discovered the remains of the fourteen men, two floors above the public bar. Had their rent payments been up to date they would have stayed there until they stank, but they were nearly two months late and Jones was forced to go round, threatening eviction. He didn¶t say anything though, considering the state they were in, but called the funeral director and the police instead. It was a peculiar case, everybody agreed and Jones really hoped it would not have an effect on his business. For weeks the news papers would report on the ¶mass murder¶, but in the end people gave up trying to solve it, distracted by other more pressing business, like the rising price of tea.

Out on the lonely country roads Bartholomew was sad to have had to leave Port Nolath¶s bustling streets, it¶s poor, hopeless people, and it¶s abundance of evil. There were reasons, besides his tutor¶s poor health, why creatures like them lived in cities. Lately the old man had needed more sustenance than ever, his health visibly deteriorating. Where Bartholomew could sustain his immortality with one, maybe two lives a year, his master, in his poor health, needed at least one a day - an ordered which was hard, or nearly impossible to meet, outside of a big city. Where else would he find so many worthless lives off which they could feed? Where else could someone go missing and no-one notice until a year later when a debt needed collecting? They needed for people not to care about each other and they needed for people to turn a blind eye and every city around the world was like that - Istangal, Reuta, Helstangal, Mrestufar, you name µem, but Bartholomew preferred Port Nolath above them all. Visions of the days when he used to entertain small crowds, for an even smaller profit, came

into his head every time they passed through those old cobbled streets. He could see himself in his torn clothes trying to scrape a living together, intending to buy an engagement ring, dreaming dreams that would never come true and, as futile as it seemed, it held a certain romance, a certain frailty, which was both beautiful and sad. It made him smile for reasons he could not remember and his heart would break for reasons he wanted to forget. Port Nolath, where he lived when he was a man.

Sadly though, as a result of his associates¶ insatiable appetite, Port Nolath was no longer a safe haven for them, at least not until another fifty years had passed. Bartholomew had taken every precaution imaginable, killed everyone he thought knew of them, but still they could not be careful enough, not with his teacher being as frail as he was. They simply had to move, a notion which depressed Bartholomew every time he thought on it, but he could not blame the old man, as much as he wanted to. He respected him too much for that.

Bartholomew remembered his teacher, Halam Al¶Kahaaz when he was an impressive six foot seven and full of muscles. He remembered how the tanned man would stand head and shoulders over everybody and how he could draw the attentions of women, even those with the most pious virtues. Halam Al¶Kahaaz had been a man other men wanted to be like, a man amongst men.

Bartholomew, who still carried the resemblance of a man in his thirties, looked at his teacher now with pity. The once proud Halam Al¶Kahaaz had shrunk to five foot, if that. His hair, which he used to shave off, had fallen out completely and his tattoo covered skin was madly wrinkled. It was rather distressing to see such a proud being dilapidated and Bartholomew felt compelled to hide him from the world for he looked less and less human with every

passing day. But, as the teacher would say, µIt¶s not bad for something as old as I¶. And old he was. Bartholomew Harbottle¶s associate was as old as the mountains, as old as humanity. He had spoken to kings and queens, whom had been forgotten by history, in languages which no book could remember. He had walked on streets, that no longer existed, in cities which now lay at the bottom of the seas, climbed mountains taller than any remembered in geological charts, but what was more impressive than all of this was that he could remember every moment of it. There was not a second of his long life that was hazy in his memory. When he closed his eyes, as he often did those days, he could relive it all as if it was happening around him. Clear as daylight.

µMaster,¶ Bartholomew asked as they rode together that night, stars streaking the skies overhead, cold air blowing in their faces, µis there a cure?¶.

µA cure?¶ Halam Al¶Kahaaz said quietly. µIt is strange that the disease should seek a cure for its illness, but it is only sensible to do so, I suppose. Unless, of course, all value of life has been lost, as is so easily done if you place yourself in our shoes, don¶t you think, Bartholomew?¶

Bartholomew hesitated in his answer, not sure what his teacher meant. ¶But we are not the disease, are we? We feed on the wicked.¶

µAh, it is true, but there must be a balance. A balance can not be achieved by taking from one side and not the other. You and I have placed ourselves in a position on this scale of good and evil where we can not be either. Look at what we do Bartholomew! Day in and day out we commit evil against evil. How many lives have you taken in my name?¶ Halam Al¶Kahaaz¶s

voice broke as he said this. He suffered from more than just old age.

µI«¶ Bartholomew tried to think, µI don¶t know. A lot.¶

µExactly, life to us have become something so unimportant that we do not even mark the passing of it.¶ A coughing fit took Halam and he clutched at his chest until it passed. His horse instinctively stopped and waited for the fit to pass, which it did after a while, at which the animal started moving again. It rendered Halam out of breath every time it happened, his chest aching with the contractions.

µHow,¶ he continued, clearing his throat loudly, µcan we claim to be living by the virtues of our teachings, think ourselves restorers of the good in the world, when we have become the very monsters we set out against?¶ Bartholomew was shocked to hear his tutor speak like that. What had got into the old man? Was his illness more than just physical?

µBut there is nothing for it, Master. We can not humour the wickedness out of the world, can we? A murderer will murder and a thief will steal. No amount of punishment can ever change the nature of these men. You told me that and then you told me that the only way to rid the world of these crimes is to remove the perpetrators completely, permanently.¶

µOf course, but where we were meant to be protectors of men we have become their hunters, Bartholomew. We live in a world where little good remains and, as much as we try to remove the wickedness, we have to accept that the scales have been recalibrated without our knowing. It has been made to compensate for the vast majority of people who now have an element of wickedness in them and through all of this we have been left weighing too heavily

with the blood of our enemies. Bartholomew,¶ Alam Al¶Kahaaz brought his horse to a halt and waited for his companion to do the same, µour crimes have been the self-sanctification of our actions, beyond reason. Night after night you have gone out and enjoyed hunting those of weak spirit. You have, in my hour of weakness, fed me the essence of people who have been victims of their circumstances as much as you and I have been victims of ours and there in lays the problem, my dear friend. There in lies my disease. As we justify our actions, so have those, which you and I have fed on, justified theirs. I have tainted my longevity by setting out on this self proclaimed crusade, by not offering anything but pain and death to those I judge to be evil. It is that lie that wears me down, day after day.¶

Bartholomew was quiet upon hearing all of this and instantly felt shame at disappointing his teacher in something so simple, so easily avoidable.

µThen what are we to do, teacher?¶ he asked in earnest.

µWell, it has been a long time since we have looked at the fundamentals of our way, but I can remember that it was never meant to be the path of the just. Our religion, the basis for our power, is rooted in wickedness and, as much as we have tried to use if for the purposes of good, I think a time has come where we have to reconcile ourselves with our true nature. We have to let go of our good intentions and revel in our depravity. We just have to be who we were meant to be and stop all this fantasy of grandeur.¶ Alam Al¶Kazaar coughed again, clutching at his chest as he did so. Bartholomew could see the pain in his eyes and the desperation in his fists as it tried to take the strain off his ribs. His master, who had taught him everything that matter, who was the single most powerful living thing, was willing to undo his life¶s work to live another minute and Bartholomew saw no shame in it. Alam

Al¶Kazaar might have lived his entire life following the wrong path, it was possible. It was unlikely, but it was possible and at that moment Bartholomew could see no harm in testing the theory of an old sick man, even if he was clutching at straws. Besides, there was no point letting his master die for the sake of an ill-conceived notion of superior morality.

After an alarming silence Alam spoke again, µWe are to approach this new era with a new vision. No longer do we seek out the wicked, but we make do with who so ever crosses our path. We cannot allow ourselves to cast any judgement on those who become our victims and we must embrace them as victims, not as criminals, regardless of who we know them to be. We are no longer laboured with sorting of the wheat from the chaff. Do you understand what I am saying, Bartholomew?¶

Bartholomew nodded in silence, he would never disagree with his master and he would absolutely do as he was instructed, but it was hard. How was he to take all of this, he wondered. If he had to live an eternity without any greater purpose, how was he to justify his own existence? He had spent many hundreds of years ridding the earth of people who had no purpose, people who wasted their lives as if it meant nothing to them, and now he had to copy them in the very act he detested. µI understand,¶ he said at length. He was not entirely convinced, but he was willing to try and he set about changing his thoughts, trying to find reason in his future existence.

He thought about the city they were travelling too and tried to imagined his new life amongst its walls. They had never been there and it seemed an apt location to test this new way of thinking, but as hard as Bartholomew tried to imagine what it would be like he had to admit that he had no idea what would be in store for them once they arrived. Where older cities had

a fairly generic mix of ruffians and honest people, all of whom had an inclination to greed and dishonestly, this city was brand new and the population was made up almost entirely of rural folk who had been relocated by the king to populate this supposed µbastion of civilisationµ. He imagined them to be essentially honest people who had little knowledge of how to negotiate their new surroundings. Intended to be easier to protect than Port Nolath, this city was built as the future capital and, a mere ten years old, it was already twice the size of its thousand year old rival. But it was a slow process and the last of the residence had not even arrived yet. In essence, it sounded lovely - a great big city, full of lovely people struggling together to make the king¶s dream come true, but Bartholomew found it really hard to get exited. His motivation, a fierce hatred for criminals, had been disallowed and he was left feeling frustrated.

For seven hundred years he had prided himself on being the bringer of justice, the right amongst all the wrong, the back bone which would not bend, ever. He was proud of what he did and it hurt deeply that all of his effort had now been denounced as acts of wickedness by the very person who had taught him to secure his everlasting soul by reaping the life force of the evil. It hurt that his teacher did not care for anything he had done. It hurt that it had all been put down to youthful fantasies of grandeur. Even if it was not his own fantasies, he had subscribed to them and was foolish enough to buy into an ideology which was meant to be timeless. He felt ashamed, his cheeks flushing red with embarrassment, but not for long. Although shame was not an emotion he was familiar with, he knew just how to deal with it and he drew his thoughts to matters more urgent.

His master had the look of a man nearing his grave and although they did not feel the cold as others did, it caused the old man great discomfort. Bartholomew knew they could not ride the

rest of that night. They needed cover and they needed life, a lot of it. He cursed himself for being so rash with the man called Paul. Had he be been less eager to deal death they would still have been in Port Nolath and life would have continued as it had been, peaceful. But, he reminded himself, Paul was one amongst many who had been noting his actions. It was not Paul¶s fault Alam was out in the cold that night, it was his own. He could see what Alam had meant. Things had spiralled out of control for quiet some time now and he agreed that they had to do something about it. All of this was fine by him, but it was just so very inconvenient and made Bartholomew feel tired just thinking about it.

While he was thinking it occurred to him that he did not know where they were. Over many years he had fallen into the habit of following his teacher with blind trust, but now he was not so sure of the old man¶s ability to lead them steadily. Ahead of them, up the road, a thick forest lay, black against the night sky. The path they were on led straight into the darkness between the trees, away from the light cast down by the moon and the stars overhead.

µAlam, look¶, he said.

Alam raised his old head and looked up the path, his eyes finding the forest. He sighed deeply. µAh, Grimforest. I¶m surprised it is still here. Nearly as old as I am and a lot healthier, by the looks of it.¶ he said quietly, his breathing laboured.

µShall we enter then?¶ Bartholomew asked, unable to judge Alam¶s voice.

µNot yet, Bartholomew. Let us make our camp by the entrance, hidden amongst the long grasses. Perhaps we shall meet a traveller there, if fate wishes.¶ Alam did not take his eyes off

the forest as he spoke.

µDo you not trust the trees then, teacher?¶ Bartholomew asked, interested to know why his associate was hesitant to enter the forest.

µI am cautious, yes, I admit. It might be that in my old age my fear of the unknown had grown, but it might also be that I know when to follow my instincts and right now they are telling me that the darkness ahead of us holds more than it should.¶ Alam said and spurred his horse on instead. It was cold and he was tired, needing his bed more than a conversation.

As they approached the forest Bartholomew looked amongst the trees, probing the darkness between the thick trunks. It was completely black, impenetrable even for his sharp eyes.

µPerhaps it is no longer possessed, teacher.¶ he said as he dismounted. They had decided on a spot to the right of the entrance, hidden from the road and the forest by some low shrubs.

µPerhaps¶, Alam said as he waited for Bartholomew to help him off his steed. µBut let us not waste time thinking on it any longer. The night is cold and I am tired. Please, let us set up camp so I can lay my old head down.¶

Behind them Grimforest blocked out the night sky, like a black mountain leaning over them and Bartholomew looked over his shoulder a couple of times while he readied the camp. µBlasted forest¶, he whispered under his breath as he lit a fire to warm his old friend by. Every time he looked around the forest seemed bigger than the last time, its blackness seeming to encroach the night sky like a giant black cloud.

µCome, master.¶ he said after he was satisfied with the camp and then he helped the old man lay down on some blankets near the fire. Alam thanked him and fell instantly into a deep sleep, his breathing laboured as it had been earlier that day. Bartholomew stepped away from the flames, closer to the forest and stared at the trees before him.

µWhat is your secret, old forest?¶ he asked quietly. µWhy is Alam so afraid to cross your threshold?¶ The forest was still as he watched it, stars slowly disappearing into the tops of the black trees as if the universe moved while the forest stood fast. µWhat sorcery do you hold amongst your trees?¶. What ever it was that caused the old man to refrain from entering the trees, Bartholomew was sure that he could feel it too. Something about those trees made him feel very ill at ease, as if he was being watched. For a long moment he contemplated leaving the old man and going to find those hidden eyes, but he did not want to leave Alam¶s side in the event of it all being a trap. Reluctantly Bartholomew lay down in his space by the fire and closed his eyes.

The voice in the woods.

He must have been tired, for as soon as he had closed his eyes Bartholomew fell into a deep sleep filled with dreams and horrors.

One moment he was standing on the shore of a beautiful lake besides to the woman he intended to marry when he was a younger man, the next moment he found himself staring into the terrified eyes of a young man he had caught stealing and to whom he had promised a painful death. As he stared into the young man¶s eyes he could see the resemblance with his former lover and slowly it dawned on him that he had murdered his sweetheart¶s younger brother, a young man for whom she had cared deeply because of his frail mind. Her brother was a simpleton and probably had not known he was stealing, but Bartholomew could remember distinctly that he had murdered the young man unceremoniously and cruelly. Again the burning shame he had felt earlier warmed his face and the heat on his cheeks bothered him. Far away he could hear the young man¶s sister calling his name.

µBartholomew!¶ his heart trembled. The voice was both sweet and terrifying.

µWhat am I to say to her?¶ he wondered.

µBartholomew!¶ she called again and he cowered in his sleep.

µI am sorry, my love. I am so sorry!¶ he sobbed, µI just got carried away. I did not recognise him.¶ It felt terrible.

µBartholomew!¶ her voice was not accusing, only inquiring. She was looking for him.

Bartholomew woke up with a start, instantly relieved to find that it had been a dream, but the memory of the young man still stuck with him and he could not remember if that face was a memory implanted in his mind by his nightmare or if it was a memory from his past. He had killed too many people, washed his hands of too much blood, to be able to bring a single face to mind. But it was irrelevant now, because the voice was not a dream. From deep inside the forest he heard it again.

µBartholomew!¶ a high pitched female voice sang his name. It was not the voice of his former lover.

Startled, he sprung to his feet and ran to his horse where he removed his long sword and sheath from the saddle. He tied them to his waist and walked over to the far side of the fire, nearest to the trees.

µBartholomew!¶ the voice shouted again, no nearer than it had been before.

He walked over to near Alam¶s head and looked to see that the old man was still asleep. µWon¶t be long¶, he said quietly and then walked to the road leading into the forest.

µBartholomew!¶ the high pitched voice went again.

Bartholomew hurried forward. The forest ahead of him was dark and overbearing, it trees shrouded in near complete blackness. When he reached the tree line he stopped to let his eyes

adjust to the lack of light.

µBartholomew!¶

Slowly darkness gave way to shapes and before long he could make out the silhouettes of the trees around him, but it was still impossible to judge any sort of distance because of the darkness. Bartholomew did not care. He was enraged by the voice and he had to made up his mind that he just had to find it. He sped forward, picking his feet up high to avoid tripping over roots, but he found his path surprisingly level and before long he was running as fast as he could in the direction of the voice.

µBartholomew!¶ it sounded nearer now.

µWhat are you?¶ Bartholomew shouted as he went, his feet carrying him ever closer to whatever it was that was shouting his name. Around him a mist had come between the trees and he could feel the moist ground through his boots. Above him the trees completely blacked out the sky, not a single star visible through the canopy.

µBartholomew! Where are you?!¶ the voice shouted this time.

µI am here,¶ he growled, µwhere are you?!!¶

µHere,¶ the voice said directly behind him before pushing him forward onto the ground. µAnd here,¶ the voice said to his side before kicking him hard in the ribs. µAnd here,¶ the voice said again on his other side, another kick to the ribs.

µAargh!!¶ Bartholomew shouted in frustration.

Around him all had gone suddenly quiet. He pushed himself up off the floor and holding his sword out in front of him he turned this way and that, looking for his attacker.

µWhere are you, witch?!¶ he shouted to the trees, but there was no answer. Instead a breeze rustled the leaves high above him and an ice cold wind blew across his cheeks. He shivered despite his long coat.

µWe know who you are!¶ a deep voice boomed from all directions, shaking Bartholomew where he was stood.

µWhat trickery is this?¶ he whispered to himself and instantly regretted ignoring Alam¶s warning. It was not often that Bartholomew Harbottle found himself feeling scared, but he was thoroughly frightened now and wished he had stayed by the fire.

µTrickssster«¶ another voice hissed up from the forest floor, µdeceiver, ssstory teller, imposstor, sssnake, sssss« you!!¶

Bartholomew ran to a big knarled tree left of where he had been stood and jumped on its thick roots, avoiding contact with the ground. µGet away from me snake!¶ he shouted at the forest floor. µYou have no business with me!¶.

µOooooh, but we dooo, Barrrtholowmeeew!!!«¶ a slow voice trembled through the trunk he

had been hugging and Bartholomew threw himself away from the tree. He landed a little distance away on his knees and found himself unable to move, his sword away to his left.

µWhat are you??!!!!¶ Bartholomew screamed

µWe are.¶ A little voice whispered in his ear, the same voice which he called him out of his slumber.

µAnd I am,¶ he replied quickly, something in the back of his mind prompted him to say, µtherefore we are equals.¶

µSsssnake,¶ the forest floor hissed again sending shivers up his spine. He wish he could run away.

µWe have a message for you, Bartholomew Harbottle and for the old man you travel with.¶ The little voice in his ear said menacingly, µTurn back to him and tell him that you are not welcome in Llech-y-Darl. You and your sort will not pass through here.¶

Bartholomew was quiet for a few seconds, fear welling up in him. These things knew his name! He did not even know what they were but it was clear they did not like him. His eyes kept moving from bough to shade, hoping to catch a glimpse of his assailants. Suddenly a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. Although he was still terribly frightened an idea had suddenly come to him and his mood improved tremendously.

µIs this Llech-y-Darl?¶ he suddenly asked, µI had no idea I had entered the famed forest of

Llech-y-Darl. If I had known I would never have assumed« See, my master had informed me that we had reached Grim Forest, so naturally I had not given it a second thought.¶ He swallowed heavily, feigning his fear which was fast becoming a memory. µI¶ll tell you what though. I¶ll go and tell my master what a big mistake we had made. I¶m sure he did not intend to be coming this way in any case so we shall leave as promptly as we can.¶ He even held his hands up to show he was not armed.

µYes, leave now¶, the little voice agreed.

µWould it be possible to show me the way back though?¶ Bartholomew asked as sincerely as he could, µI¶m afraid that I have somewhat lost my bearings.¶ It was a lie, of course, he knew exactly where he was.

µCome,¶ the little voice said without hesitation.

Bartholomew felt himself free to move again, raised up from his knees and followed in the direction of the voice. After a few steps he walked off into the wrong direction though, pretending to be lost again.

µThis way,¶ the voice said harshly.

µI am terribly sorry, but it is somewhat hard to follow something quite as invisible as you are.¶ he said dramatically.

µFollow my voice,¶ she said and he followed her again for a few steps before making off

between the trees in the wrong direction.

µYou are testing my patience man child,¶ the voice sounded positively annoyed.

µHonestly, your voice becomes disrupted between these trees, I can not follow you blind.¶ he protested.

The voice was quiet for a while and then a small female nymph, about a foot tall appeared before Bartholomew on the ground. µNow,¶ she threw her hands in the air, µcan you follow me? Every second longer you spend in our forest is a second longer we have to endure the stench of your wickedness.¶ With that she turned on her heels and marched ahead of him in the direction of his camp. Bartholomew, walking behind her, knew she would only lead him as far as the edge of the forest so he had to act quickly. Silently he started chanting, at first only thinking the words, not even mouthing them. µSelli solumatra, Phremto eristrimil, Nefim teritnim«Narayan solumatra, Phremto eristrimil, Nefim teritnim aluratrim¶

He looked ahead of him into the forest and smiled his satisfaction. µIt might just work,¶ he thought to himself. On and on they walked and on and on he chanted, every verse slightly louder than the last until he was whispering it to himself.

µWhat are you saying?¶ the little nymph turned to ask him.

µNothing, just singing to calm my nerves,¶ he smiled nervously down at her. µNearly there now.¶ He added to which she did not reply, only carried on walking.

After a while they reached a large boulder and the nymph seemed to stop for a second, but then shook her head and carried on.

µPerfect,¶ Bartholomew thought to himself and starting chanting louder again. µSelli solumatra, Phremto eristrimil, Nefim teritnim«Narayan solumatra, Phremto eristrimil, Nefim teritnim aluratrim!!¶

µWhat are you doing!!¶ the nymph shouted and then screamed as she saw the big wolf appearing from between the trees behind Bartholomew. She shut her eyes tightly a few times and then screamed again. µWhat have you done to me, why am I not disappearing?!!¶

µI have not done anything,¶ he replied calmly, µit seems that you have just gone to far out of the forest and you have lost your powers.¶ He flicked his wrist and the scene around them faded to reveal that they were half way between the edge of the forest and his camp. His magic had worked, it had tricked the nymph to leave the safety of her trees. Quickly, like a flash of light, the wolf jump from behind Bartholomew and scooped the nymph in his jaws, holding her firmly in a cage of razor sharp teeth.

µYou cannot do this!¶ the nymph shouted out, but Bartholomew only laughed. He could and he just had. In the distance he could see the glow of their camp fire and the old man sitting beside it.

µTeacher,¶ Bartholomew spoke as they approached, µI thought you¶d still be asleep.¶ The old man looked up, his eyes narrowing as he looked upon the wolf and what it was carrying in its jaws.

µIt was the first thing we came across, as you instructed.¶ Bartholomew said quickly.

µAnd you are still associated with these Wyn¶aìr, I see«¶ the old man has never approved, but as usual Bartholomew just ignored him. The world had changed a lot, as the old man himself has said, and Bartholomew could see no harm in enlisting the help of these useful creatures. Besides, they were always so willing to help, their payment the scraps of his toil, inexpensive.

Bartholomew walked past the wolf and took the nymph from his mouth, holding his thumb firmly tucked under her chin. They were small creatures, but they had vicious little teeth which were best avoided. He walked over to the old man and sat down next to him by the fire.

µLook, their lives are longer than those of humans. Please, you need this.¶ He held the nymph out to Alam Al¶Kazaar.

µWe have made a vow Bartholomew,¶ the old man looked at the small creature, hesitation in his eyes, µif the blood of this creature is spilled in judgement I might die from this. I hope you understand my hesitation.¶

His master, after near enough seven hundred years, knew him better than he knew himself and Bartholomew was hurt that the old man felt that he could not trust him. µThen test her.¶ he said plainly. µTest me.¶

Alam Al¶Kazaar looked at Bartholomew for a long time and then nodded. µI shall test what you say.¶ He looked at the small creature in Bartholomew¶s hand and whispered softly under his breath. Instantly the nymph started to hiss loudly, a mortal cry mixed with anger and frustration. She wriggled around franticly and tried to get her face around Bartholomew¶s thumb so she could sink her sharp little teeth into him.

µStop it!¶ Bartholomew snarled and tightened his hold on her, crushing the air out of her lungs. µThis way will not hurt you, but if you jump from my hand it is almost certain that your death will be excruciating.¶ She glanced over at the wolf stood to the left behind Bartholomew and her shoulders dropped. He was right, she was doomed.

Behind the old man a long black tail uncoiled while he continued whispering his chant. He raised a bony hand over the nymph and watched as a small column of smoke appeared above her. After a few second the column thickened and he used his other hand to smooth the steam into a shiny ribbon. Behind him his tail twitched and flicked round to within an inch of the ribbon where it stopped dead.

Alam Al¶Kazaar looked up from the nymph into Bartholomew¶s eyes. µI hope you understand that there is a lot that hangs in the balance here, my old friend. A lot«¶. His eyes stayed on Bartholomew until the younger man could no longer stand his gaze and had to look away.

µMaster, I swear. See for yourself.¶ He spoke quietly, not wishing to sound arrogant.

Ever so slowly the black tail began leaning towards the shiny string. It danced as if entranced by magic music before it gently touched the narrow ribbon of light. The old man closed his

hand around the tiny creature and took her from Bartholomew. He needed to know that he was sensing only her, no interruptions. Like a flood her thoughts and memories poured over into his inner vision, Alam closing his eyes to focus better on them. Suddenly his eyes flashed open.

µWhat is the meaning of this?¶ he demanded from Bartholomew.

µWhat do you mean, teacher?¶ Bartholomew asked.

µYou bring me the protector of an Ellyllon?!¶ Alam Al¶Kazaar was furious, his old face shaking with the ferocity of his words. µDo you not know what the punishment is for attacking them, directly or indirectly?¶ Bartholomew was surprised.

µMaster, I do not know what you are talking about.¶ his heart sank to his stomach. He had let his master down again.

µWhy do you think they do not want us in there, Bartholomew?¶ The old man looked at him with a deep frown on his forehead. µAn Ellyllon is settled amongst those trees somewhere and they suspect that we might be after it.¶

µWhy would we be interested in an Ellyllon?¶ Bartholomew asked and noted the nymph turning her face away in his master¶s hand.

The old man had also noted her shrinking away in his hand and he smiled down at the little nymph as he answered, µBecause an Ellyllon child could render us completely immortal«¶

µAnd the punishment?¶ Bartholomew had to ask.

µDetails,¶ the old man smiled broadly and then scuffled over to where he had been asleep to find his bone flute, µnothing but details, my old friend.¶ He looked down at the flute when he had found it, let his eyes take in the details engraved on the white shiny bone. It was completely covered in small details carvings of the faces of frightened children. They looked so realistic that sometimes the mind would trick you into believing that you actually saw one move. It was his most prized possession and he knew just how to use it.

µThis little flute here, Bartholomew, is going to unlock the secret for eternal life for us.¶ His eyes glimmered as he spoke, µYou would not believe how long I have been waiting for this.¶

Bartholomew was confused, but he smiled regardless. His master looked more cheerful than Bartholomew had ever seen him look and he could not help but feel happy with him.

µHow is this flute going to help us?¶ Bartholomew asked.

µThis flute, made from the very bones of Nebsukar, the necromancer, draws the spirit of children to the person who plays it, one soul at a time. They leave their beds in a dream, stop in the middle of their play, forget the chores they are doing, and follow you where ever you are. It was meant to attract the souls of the dead, but instead it attracts the souls of the young.¶ The old man looked up at Bartholomew expectedly.

µThe Ellyllon child will not be drawn to the sound it brings for their spirits are never young,

so while I can feed on the souls of the human children to keep me, you will have the comfort of chaos on your side in aiding you to find this Dark Elf child and bring her to me.¶ Alam sat back, smiling.

µShe is in that forest?¶ Bartholomew did not like his master¶s expectations. He had only narrowly escaped his last ordeal.

µYou have your wolves, don¶t you?¶ the old man said casually, µI¶ll show you where she is, you just have to get those devil dogs to go there and bring her back alive. Simple.¶ Alam looked down at the nymph in his hand and winked at her, at which she sobbed loudly.

Bartholomew was not so sure, but it was his master¶s wish and he had to comply. µI will still have to enter amongst those trees, teacher.¶

µAs long as you stay with the wolves and do not draw your sword the trees will take no note of your passing, but you have to be quiet - they¶ve heard your voice and will recognise it.¶ Alam seemed very sure of himself and Bartholomew took courage in the older man¶s wisdom.

µYou, my lovely,¶ Alam looked at the nymph in his hand, µyou will have to stay with us for the time being. I think your friends out there,¶ he glanced up at the forest silhouetted against the night sky, µhave a vested interest in you remaining alive and so you will as long as things go our way, understand?¶

She glared up at him. µThis is never going to work, you worm. Our eyes are everywhere and

our ears never sleep.¶

µIt might be so, but with what I have learned from you I know exactly where those eyes look and I know what those ears can¶t hear. Out here they certainly can not see or hear you.¶ He laughed as he slipped the nymph into a canvas bag and tied to end with a leather strap.

µBartholomew, let us get some rest. Tomorrow we start our hunt for the Ellyllon child.¶

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