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"Flames of Eternity" Chapter Five By EmmaLee Bertagnole S.C Lang

"Flames of Eternity" Chapter Five By EmmaLee Bertagnole S.C Lang

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Published by: Scott Lang on Nov 27, 2010
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"Flames of Eternity" Chapter Five By EmmaLee Bertagnole & S.C.

The next few hours was spent frantically plotting and planning what I would do when I finally had Lansing in my grasp. Revenge would be mine for every second of trouble that insubordinate bastard caused me over the past twelve hours. In less than a day, he had hugged my request, ordered the arrest of a respected citizen of Randor, and then, to make matters worse, had executed that man. The very devil himself must have taken possession of my usually level-headed WarGeneral, it was the only acceptable explanation. However, he was my only connection to Selena, and she was my only connection to the Flames of Eternity. So peeling his skin from his bones like a piece of fruit would just have to wait. At last, I heard the muted trample of footsteps pounding down the hallway. I tried to remain calm as the servant opened the door and thus officially accepted ownership of Lansing on my behalf. I really wanted another goblet of Ammen’s strong ale, but I needed my head church-bell clear for this encounter. Drink would just blur the necessity of what must be done. The sight of Lansing nearly made me gasp in horror. Heavy purple bruises surrounded both eyes, and dried blood was plastered under his nose and from the corners of his mouth. His blond hair was matted and speckled with blood, and his complexion was pasty. His red tunic was in tatters, and his hands were shackled together. I couldn’t bear seeing him this way. True, what I wanted to do to him was much worse, but he was my brother, my lifelong friend, I had a right to want him bloodied and beaten. But this, this was too much. I wanted to wrap my arms around him and hold him until his pain was behind him. “Bathe him,” I commanded, trying to keep my voice authoritative. “And dress him in clean clothes. This man is Lansing of Barrington Kingdom, he is my number one War-General and a man of considerable power and prestige, and he will don the appearance of one. And unshackle him immediately.” “Yes, my lord.” The servants released Lansing with a practiced skill, and he rubbed his wrists and looked at me with appreciative eyes. The servants took him by the arms and turned to lead him into the bathing

room. “Leave him,” I said. “The man has reached adulthood. I’m more than certain he can bathe and dress himself. You have completed your service in grand manner, well done. You are hereby dismissed. Thank you. Your attention to detail shall not go unnoticed.” The servants seemed hesitant for a moment, then the leader of the bunch bowed to me respectfully and left. Lansing stood there unmoving until the slam of the door echoed throughout the main room of my chambers. Even beaten as he was, he still pulled an enormous amount of pride to him. He nodded at me with steel eyes. “Thank you, my lord. “Do not thank me in haste, War-General. Once you are cleaned-up we shall have a talk. And I can assure you, you will not enjoy it. You have brought me much disrespect, and you’ve endangered not only your life, but on the Kingdom of Barrington and my title. Such insolence will not go unpunished. Is that understood?” Any other man would have dropped his head in shame, but Lansing was not any other man. He stood there, wrapped in his damnable pride, and held my hard stare. “Yes, my lord.” I turned my back on him thus letting Lansing know he was dismissed. I heard him walk into the bathing room. Servants would be arriving shortly with giant pitchers of hot water for his bath. I needed to formulate a new plan; beating Lansing into a bloody pulp was no longer an option. Randor’s Elite Guards had already taken care of that for me. As the scurrying sounds of the servants filled the chamber with soft sounds, I tried to think of the best way to get the information I needed from him. With a slowly spreading smile, the perfect idea came to me, ironically enough, I had Overlord Ammen to thank for my plan. Lansing emerged from into the main room, with wet hair and a fresh red tunic. I was seated in the grandest chair I could find while a plain three-legged stool was placed a few feet in front of me. Next to my chair was a small round table, with a fresh pitcher of water and a candle burning on it. No other light filled the room. I refused to stand up, which would’ve been the respectful thing to do, or to even look at him. That added to the insult. “Sit down, Lansing. Now.” My War-General did as he was commanded. I was infuriated with how calm and self-possessed he was, even in the face of my wrath he radiated with an inner peace that I had never been able to find. A strong part of me wanted to just draw my sword and run him through on the spot. Yet, that would not get me what I really wanted; information. “Seems you’ve had quite the adventure tonight, Lansing,” I held my hand up to cut off the words that wished to escape from his mouth. “I don’t care a whit about the useless man who’s head you chopped off. No, what I want to hear is why you were seen at the market place in the company of a witch. Yes, I should think I’d like to hear about that very much.”

“My lord,” Lansing said with narrowing eyes. “I assure you, whatever information you were given is false. I was never in the presence of one with magic.” “Are you certain of that?” “Yes, my lord. Quite.” I nodded sadly. “I see.” I sighed loudly. “The name of the demon woman you were with is Selena. She’s known by many in Randor as a master of the dark arts. She stops at nothing to get what she wants, and what does she want, you ask. Husbands. She marries men such as yourself, Lansing, then, she steals their souls to increase her powers in witchcraft.” “My lord, such cannot be. She is just a girl --” “So,” I said loudly cutting him off in mid-sentence, “You admit that you were with her, then?” “It’s true that I was with one named Selena, my lord, but she’s -” “Enough! I will not brook any more insolence from you. The woman is a witch who only wishes to steal your soul, you foolish idiot. You are not to see her again. Is that understood?” “My lord, your information is most inaccurate. Selena is a loving soul, why, her only concern is taking care of the girl who’s father’s head I took tonight. The bastard beat her nearly to death, you see, and when Selena found out, her only concern was rushing to her side before the lass died.” “Lansing, do not insult me with such tales. Why, it’s clear that her evil magic has already taken hold of your spirit, for you’re babbling like the brook back home.” “My lord, I swear upon my life that what I say is true. The lass’ name is Lilly. Selena is lodging the injured lass in her home. All she did was show concern and a strong desire to nurse this Lilly back to health. “If I may, my lord. I was there. I saw the look in Selena’s eyes. She was worried for the well-being of this lass. Called her her best friend. She even offered to surrender herself to the Overlord as soon as she knew her lass was out of danger.” “You say this lass’ name is Lilly?” He nodded. “Yes, my lord.” “And this Lilly is being lodged in Selena’s house?” “Yes, my lord. Until her health is returned.” Well this was sure interesting news. A plan was forming in my mind as I listened to Lansing rapid ramblings. I wanted Selena. Not just because she was my request, but also because I suspected she was related to the stones somehow. Selena had demonstrated a weakness, her devotion to this Lilly. The plan was simple and crude, but guaranteed to work; take Lilly wait for Selena to come around to collect her,

then trade one useless Lilly for one very useful Selena. I shot a hard gaze at my War-General. “You’re dismissed, Lansing. Get yourself out of my sight while I think of a suitable punishment for you.” “Yes, my lord.” Lansing left for the bedchamber. By law he was not allowed to be where I was not, so he had to stay in my chambers. I hope he got a sore back from sleeping on the floor. It was the very least he deserved. The instant Lansing was gone, I summoned a servant. One was before me before the words finished leaving my mouth. I clamped a firm hand on his shoulder. “Be a good man and fetch me Advisor of the Ways, Ryken.” “Yes, my lord. But the hour is late. He’s bound to be in slumber.” “My good man. You ever show the nerve to question one of my orders again, and I’ll have you drawn-and-quartered. Is that understood?” “Yes, my lord.” Now, fetch me Advisor of the Ways, Ryken. Tell him I have information concerning our earlier discussion and I need him post haste.” “Yes, my lord.” The door closed, and my smile blossomed into a quiet laugh. The stones were so close I could almost feel them. That’s when the entire world began to shake . . .

The power held in the Earth was a wondrous thing. As I stood cloaked in the darkness, I closed my eyes and willed the Earth to shake, a massive earthquake shaking the city from its slumber. It was the perfect distraction, the guards scattered in panic as the ground shifted and rocks fell. I rushed forward towards the dungeon, knowing my time was limited. I would only have a few minutes to find my way into the cell and rescue Lansing from sure death. As I entered the narrow entry, rocks and dust fell form the walls, and I thanked the Flames of Eternity for their protection as an invisible barrier surrounded me, keeping me safe from the devastation. I was only a few feet in when I caught sight of a guard rushing away from the cells. As he neared me he grasped my arm. “You can not go in there, you will be killed, come now.” “No I must see your prisoner, the War-General, I can’t leave him to die.” I yelled over the noise of the rocks falling around us. “You are too late, the prisoner has already been taken by Underlord Zyphran to his chambers. You can not help him now, come you must leave, save yourself.” He pulled hard on my arm, dragging me out of the dungeon with him.

I went willingly and once we exited into the night air I pulled from him and ran for the shadows. I needed to save Lansing from Zyphran’s hand. Making sure no one was watching I willed myself into the second level of the castle, careful to reappear in the form of a elite guard. I had no idea where in the castle his chambers would be located so I started down the hallway searching. The ground had stopped shaking but dust and rock still fell form the castle ceiling as I walked down the corridors, doors swinging to-and-fro in the aftermath. I peered into the rooms as I walked by finding no one. As I neared the end of the hall a loud bellow caught my attention and I turned running towards the last door on the left. My heart skipped at what I saw, Lansing was running into the chamber from another doorway, I was saddened as I made out the bruises on his face and blackened eyes. Yet at the same moment, I felt relief to see him alive and safe. He looked determined, his mind lost in thought as he dodged the falling rocks above him. I was about to call out to him when another loud bellow echoed through the room causing me to pause. I moved deeper in, weaving my way through the rocks that littered the ground at my feet. I eased through the doorway, my enhanced eyesight a blessing. I stopped, seeing Lansing a few feet before me, leaning over something large on the ground. As my eyes adjusted to the shadows I could make out a mans form before Lansing, a large stone lay across his legs. I held my breath as I watched them before me. “Zyphran!” Lansing’s voice echoed through the dungeon. “My brother, are you hurt?” “Lansing.” Zyphran raised his head, his voice weak and shaky. “It is okay my lord, do not worry; I will get you out of here.” Lansing circled around him as he pushed and pulled on the rock, trying to roll it from Zyphran without success. I pressed my body against the wall as I watched, debating on advancing forward to assist, but knowing I was best to stay in the shadows. “Lansing, go get help, it is too large for you to . . .” Zyphran’s voice faded as his head dropped back to the ground. I heard Lansing’s curse as the larger man lost consciousness. He knelt down to check Zyphran’s breathing, then stood. What he did next caught me completely by surprise. Looking around the chamber for anyone else, he started to mumble words that made my blood run cold, words of magic. His hands took on a bright glow and with a gentle shove; he rolled the stone from Zyphran’s legs. I stood in shock, unable to move or believe what I had just witnessed. I was trained in magic, knew its feel. I was able to sense it on others as they walked past me on the streets. There was no way that I had been able to spend hours in Lansing’s company and not sense

that he possessed magic. A moment later he bent down and picked Zyphran up into his arms, I also heard the voices of the guards returning to the castle, the glow of their torches casting shadows along the corridor. With a final glance at Lansing as he started to carry Zyphran towards where I stood, I closed my eyes and willed myself home. Having made sure no one was around to witness, I reappeared in the shadows of my front room, the floor covered in things that had fallen in the quake. Ignoring the mess, I turned for the bedroom to check on Beatrice and Lilly, a smile spreading across my face as I found them both lying on the small bed asleep. Stepping closer I checked Lilly’s breathing and turned back to the small kitchen to allow them to sleep, relieved the earthquake had not caused them any harm. Setting a pot of water on to heat for tea, I started to pace the kitchen while I thought about what I had just learned. I was still stunned by the fact that Lansing possessed magic. Never before had I failed to feel someone with magic near me, what did it mean? Why was his hidden from me? I bit down hard on my lip as I wondered. Had he come after the stones, was he the one I had felt danger from? I could have sworn it was Underlord Zyphran who was the danger. As I bent to gather items from the floor and set them back in place another thought went through my mind. What if he was the one my mother had told me about, the one who I would give my heart to, risk the stones for? For over three hundred years, I had waited, watched and wondered if such a man existed. I always wondered what kind of man would make me risk the safety of the stones for my own heart. Was this Lansing? Was he the one who I would have to finally place my trust? There were too many questions running though my head. I needed answers and knew of only one way to find them. I walked back into the bedroom once more to check on Lilly and Beatrice, finding them both still asleep I stepped back into the shadows and willed myself to the cave.

Pain. A searing pain that started in my hip and traveled all the way down my leg dragged me from my blissful state of unconsciousness and back into the world of the living. Even before I opened my eyes, I tried to move my leg. That was a mistake, for it felt like all the blood had been drained from my leg and was replaced with liquid fire. “Awake you have become again, my lord. Oh, this is most good.” The voice was thin and tinny and I recognized it at once as belonging to the warlock, Ryken. Not the person I wanted to wake up to, but at least I was awake. That was good -- I guess.

“Zyphran,” came the voice of my troubled War-General, Lansing. His voice was filled with concern and worry, and the sound crashed over me like a wave against the shore. “You’re back.” I felt relief wash over me with the knowledge that Lansing was alive. A moment later, however, his crimes against me came flooding back into my mind with the force of a dam letting go. The anger flared up with a vengeance and I felt blood pound like war drums in my temples. However, the anger evaporated as quickly as it arrived. Apparently, surviving a near-death experience softens the heart against anger. That was good to know. I cocked open an eye and saw the tangled mess of Ryken’s hair come into focus. I blinked rapidly to clear my head. Not the sight I wanted to wake up to. “Came as summoned, as soon as my old legs would agree to run, I did, my lord. News for me I was told you had to share.” My eyes grew large with the effort of trying to follow the ancient warlock’s Elder babble. My head still held too many cobwebs to navigate through his words to arrive at a meaning. Instead, I nodded my head like a dolt and waved a hand for him to stop blathering. A heavy hand falling on the opposite shoulder saved me from any more dealings with the warlock. I turned to see Lansing’s face, full of concern, looking back at me. A tight smile marring the stern soldier’s expression he loved to wear. “You gave me quite a scare, Zyphran.” “Not scared enough for you to address me by my proper title, however, are you, Lansing?” “My apologies, my lord.” At least he had the courtesy to look ashamed. “What happened anyway?” “The ground trembled like a leaf in the wind, my lord. A large portion of Castle Randor was damaged. Many reports of people being hurt are coming in. So far, however, no deaths have been reported. Least I have not heard of any, my lord. Then again, I have not left your side since you were struck down by a crumbling wall.” “Is that what fell on me?” “Yes, my lord. You were trapped under a large section of the wall. Don’t you recount it?” Now that he mentioned it, I did seem to recount being pinned by something very heavy. Lansing was there, I recount looking at his clean red tunic and wondering how he hadn’t soiled it with the dust from a collapsing castle. I study him now and notice that his tunic is still spotlessly clean. Not one smudge, not one tear, not one blemish in any way. Only the bruises given to him by Randor’s Elite Guards mar his handsome face, even his short hair is still in place. I’m

perplexed by how such a thing could be. I turn my head to the other side to examine Ryken’s attire. The warlock was a complete disaster. Deep rips and tears covered his dark purple robe and mortar dust had settled into his ratty beard and alongside one side of his winkled face. I don’t know where he was when the ground acted like water, but it was clear that he was somewhere within the castle. Yet, Lansing had also been in my chambers and he looked as fresh and clean as a newborn babe. “Lansing,” I called in a voice full of pain. “Help me sit up.” “My lord, the court physician said that’s not a wise thing. He said you need rest and to be as still as possible.” Ryken chimed in with his support of my War-General. “Moving most unwise say the court physician. Hurt inside is what he said you were.” “For the love of all that’s holy, I’m not asking to go dancing at a grand gala. I just want to sit up for a few moments. Now, desist with your insolence, and help me.” They hesitate for a few moments unsure of what to do. “Gentlemen,” I growl in growing agitation. “Let me ask a question. Does the court physician have the authority to order your heads chopped off?” “No, my lord,” Lansing answered. A hint of both humor and irritation in his deep voice. “That’s right. Now. Help. Me. Up.” Hands gently landed on my shoulders as they assisted me into an upright position. The higher my head went, the more the pain exploded within it. I figured I now understood how a melon felt when it was clubbed open. The fire that was in my hip and leg also screamed its displeasure at the movement. However, I had to know; I had to see the other people bustling about the crowded infirmary with my own eyes. Everyone looked like they’d just been inside a castle that had tumbled down. They were filthy dirty, coated in mortar dust, dirt and grime. Many had fresh cuts and bruises; many more were wrapped in bandages, blood stains visibly seeping through the thin cloth. Everyone except my War-General. He had been right by my side when the ground shook and the castle crumbled, yet, none of the dirt or blood found him. His expression was correct; fear, worry, concern, but something in his eyes was . . . missing. Bodies were sprawled everywhere, seemingly piled on top of each other. The smell of fear, blood and urine was overwhelming. A few guards and the court physician scurried about like rats trying to attend to whomever they could, though they looked frazzled and their efforts, while well-intended, were hardly enough to deal with the press of humanity. The sound of women and small children crying and men moaning in various stages of pain and suffering assaulted me like

a swipe from a broadsword. I knew I had to do something; I was the new Underlord of this land. People would be looking to me for leadership and guidance, I couldn’t show fear or confusion even though I felt them as strongly as anyone else if the musty infirmary. “Citizens of Randor,” I said, as Ryken and Lansing’s hands held me upright. “We are prepared to deal with an attack from an invading army. We know how to grow our crops, and how to clothe ourselves, and how to educate our young. But, how do we defend ourselves when the very ground itself attacks us? In the same way we deal with everything else. With the steadfast resolve that we deal with any other attack. We are strong. We are clever, and determined, and nothing, not an invading army, not the forces of magic, not even the ground itself can defeat Randor. So, be at peace, and know that whatever faces us, we have what it takes to defeat it.” “It was a demon, I tell you,” came the frantic cry of man lost somewhere in the sea of bodies. “Nay, it was the devil himself,” came another. “It was magic. Dark magic.” The melee broke out in earnest. Voices shouted over each other, and an atmosphere of panic and outrage claimed the infirmary. I knew well how quickly anger and fear could turn a group of good citizens into a mob of homicidal fiends, and I couldn’t allow that to happen here. Too many had been hurt already, and these people, in absence of having an actual foe to fight, would turn on each other. No greater tragedy could befall Randor than to have its people warring with each other. I made my voice cut through the rising din. “People, listen to me! We need not this kind of talk right now! We need calm, rational minds. We need to turn to people who can formulate cool, logical thinking, and figure out what made the ground shake like a leaf. If it is a demon, we will slay it. If it was the devil, we’ll banish him. Or, if it was Dark Magic, then will well defeat it. But we will do this together. The people of Randor need to unite, right now. What more formidable army can there be than the united forces of the citizens of Randor? Who, or what can defeat us if we but stand together? I tell you there is no force, human or mystical, that can defeat us. I implore you now, good people, unite. Unite and together we will overcome whatever has attacked us.” A cheer rang out through the infirmary with the force of a thousand church bells. The court physician and the scattered guards slumped in obvious relief. They too knew how quickly a frightened crowd could turn into a murderous one, and they would’ve been no match against the citizens if they had chosen to riot. I closed my eyes and thanked the Heavens that I was able to squash the threat of an uprising.

I instructed Lansing and the warlock to lower me back down, and immediately surrendered to the pain in my head and leg. Ryken’s voice echoed in my head, “Hurt inside he said you were.” Something told me, as blackness started to overtake me, that the court physician was right. The last thought I had before going under, was why Lansing was so clean when nobody else was. I didn’t know why his state of cleanliness was so important, I just knew that somehow, it was.

It always felt like coming home. No matter where I lived, where the stones were kept, when I returned to them it was home. They comforted me and wrapped me in their warmth. Nevertheless, as I walked towards the golden glow of the stones, it was not warmth or comfort that I felt. I was shaken, confused and I prayed that for once the stones would hear my call and offer the answers I sought. Letting the power of the stones surround me, I bowed my head and fell to my knees before them. The large pillar a makeshift alter in front of me. I whispered words of magic, words of thanks and reaffirmed my devotion. A simple custom my mother had taught me but one I had learned necessary if I was to hope to communicate with the stones. Closing my eyes, I let their power pull me in, it washed through my body like fluid heat, slowly moving through my veins until I was consumed by it. In a sudden flash it was as if I was pure energy, separated from my body. Golden light blinded me as the power of the fed into my soul. They knew my questions, searching my mind and heart for what troubled me. I gave myself to them, letting them strip me bare and see through all that I was. Time did not exist and fatigue never found me no matter the time I spent in their presence. The gold lights danced around me, as the vision started. Nothing could ever come easy, as always symbols I did not understand flashed before me. I assumed them to be ancient magic I had yet to learn. I tried to decipher them yet as always before found myself lost of their meaning. As the symbols faded, I waited bathed in the golden light for my answers. What came forth was not what I had expected. My mother, dressed in flowing white gowns stood before me, her soft face encased with her golden locks flowing behind her, though I could feel no wind. Blue eyes filled with love stared at me as she smiled. “My daughter, how I have missed you.” Her voice was like the purest music to my heart and I felt long subdued emotions rise inside me. “Mother.” I know my lips did not speak but my mind, yet she could hear me just the same. A million things I wanted to say to her, but I

remained silent waiting for her to speak, knowing that our time would be limited and if I had been allowed her presence, that whatever she had to say would be of importance. “Regyna, my blood, my pride,” she reached a hand out towards me. “Your path until now has been serene, the threats you have faced minor. I fear the time has come where you will now have to fight, you will face challenges and choices that could change the history of our world. The two who have come forth are spoken of in the ancient texts, one hold the key to the prophecies.” She bowed her head in sadness and I wished I could rush forth and embrace her. I had read the prophecies when I first took full possession of the Stones of Eternity, but I was young then and they made no sense to one of such a young age. Now, knowing that the future of the stones was at risk, I chastised myself for not pulling them out again and devouring the information they held. I had been lazy and comforted in the security I had always felt around me. I hung my head in shame as I thought about how much information I had ignored and at the possibility that in my carelessness I had put the safety of the stones at risk. My mother’s voice brought my eyes to her again. “You have served well, Regyna. Your father and I are proud. We have faith you are strong enough to face the challenges that are coming. We will not be far.” She smiled softly then took her hand, blowing me a kiss as she stepped back into the golden light behind her. “Mother wait, how will I know?” My voice shook with emotion and fear. “I failed to sense his magic, how can I protect them when I miss such a simple thing?” My mother paused her step and nodded. “Trust your heart, you are stronger than you know, your heart will show you the way. I love you, Regyna.” I reached for her as she faded into the light, feeling like a child once more, needing the comforting touch of her parents to assure her. A small cry escaped me as she disappeared and I was left alone. The bright lights around me started to swirl and I knew the stones had given me all that they would. It was more than I had expected, more than they had given before; and that alone was enough to worry me. Feeling myself pull from the light, I closed my eyes as the vision faded and the warmth receded from me. Slowly I became aware of the cold floor beneath my knees again and the dull glow of the stones before me. Opening my eyes I slowly stood, my legs shaky and weak. My hair hung limp and sweat dripped from my body. I had often wondered what happened to my body when I meditated to leave me feeling so worn. I always came to in the same position I had been in before, yet my body felt as if I had labored for days. I whispered my thanks to the stones and turned to leave. I knew I

needed to read over the many texts that were also hidden in the caves but I had left Lilly with Beatrice long enough and needed to return home. I dared not remove the books from the safety and spells that protected them here. I would have to return for them later. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and willed myself back home.

I awoke to the most bizarre sensation. The very air around me was alive. It cracked and popped like embers in a fire, and it seemed to fall gently upon my flesh like a springtime mist. Opening my eyes,I saw Lansing’s hard, ocean blue orbs focusing on a spot above me with an intensity I had never seen before. His lips moved rapidly, yet no sound came forth. For a moment, I thought he was the cause for the air was acting so oddly, but such a notion was preposterous. Lansing was not of the magic. Of this, I was most certain. My War-General glanced at me and seemed surprised to see me awake, yet, a smile slowly spread across his unshaven face. He looked tired, spent, as if he’d been awake for several days. His bruises were faded, but dark bags had formed under his eyes, and his cheeks had hollowed and his flesh had a sickly pasty look about it. “My lord, you awaken at last.” I furled brow at him in confusion. The air no longer popped about my ears, and the strange misty feeling was gone. Perhaps, the air had always been fine, and the strange sensation had been nothing more than residue from a dream. “How long have I been asleep?” “Four days, my lord. I was beginning to fret.” I felt my eyes go wide at Lansing’s answer. “Good lord. Have you been here the entire time?” “That I have, my lord.” “No wonder you look like hell,” I said with a weak smile. “Still look better than you, my lord. How do you feel? Any pain?” Now that was an interesting question. I moved my legs and found them to be completely pain free. Same with my head. I could turn it from side to side effortlessly, and my thoughts were clear and flowing. It was a miracle. Within moments, my mind returned to the Flames of Eternity, Selena, and they key that would bring Selena to me; the girl . . . Lily, I believe her name was. Before the ground had trembled, I had been working on a plan to bring me the precious stones I sought. Now that my head was free of the cobwebs, that plan reformed itself in vivid detail. “. . . For everything, my lord. I’d beg for a chance to make things right between us once again.” Lansing’s sorrow-ridden voice cut into my thoughts, and suddenly,

every aspect of my plan solidified. It was if the gods were looking down on me from above with an approving smile. I’d always been a man who believed the gods gave us signs when things were meant to be, and hearing the last bit of Lansing’s sentence was clearly a sign. I’d be a fool if I didn’t take full advantage of it. I turned towards my War-General and gave him a serious stare. “Lansing, thank you for you words. They do a heart good to hear them. However, they are just words, and your transgression against me goes beyond what mere words can mend.” “I understand, my lord. Give me but any task, and it shall be done.” “Do you truly mean that?” “With all my heart, my lord. It sickens my soul that there is this cloud hanging above us. I beg of you for a chance to right this wrong. If it’s within my power, you shall have it.” I sighed loudly and pretended that I was mulling something over, when in truth, I knew exactly what I was going to ask of him. “The lass in Selena’s care,” I said slowly. “Lily? What of her, my lord?” “Bring her to me.” “You want me to bring Lily to the castle?” I shook my head. “No. The castle is unsafe. Should the ground shake again, the whole thing could collapse. I know of a small group of caves not far from eastern border of Randor. Some of these caves are massive, with smaller caverns entwined in them. I’m going to have the largest of these caves set up as her temporary chambers while Castle Randor is rebuilt. Then, once the castle is rebuilt and safe, I will grant her a title of some sort and have her moved into it proper. She’ll be given spacious chambers, servants to attend her, and most importantly, she’ll be out of harm’s way for those who’d want to harm her.” “Harm her, my lord? Who would have reason to bring her harm?” “This lass, Lily, she is the daughter of the man whom you killed in the dungeons. Is this not truth?” “It is, my lord. She’d suffered a lifetime of abuse at his hand. The entire city knows about the atrocities her father bestowed upon her whenever he took a fancy to smack someone around.” “Overlord Ammen doesn’t see it that way, I’m afraid. He told me that you killed a highly respectable citizen of Randor. His implication was unmistakable, I’m afraid. The girl’s life is now in danger. Some unscrupulous souls will seek do bring her harm as payback against a non-citizen killing one of their own. I assure you, Lansing, while I agree that your actions were fool-hardy and rash, I have no desire to see this poor lass suffer for them.”

“That’s mighty kind of you, my lord. However, wouldn’t Lily be more comfortable where she is?” “Comfortable? Yes. Safer? No. Are you so heartless, Lansing? Would you leave her in peril against Randor’s retribution against you? Does her life really mean so little to you? Have we not taught you to be a better man than that? Indeed, doesn’t this Lily deserve to live her life free from the shadows of your gross actions against the city?” Lansing dropped his head, and it nearly broke my heart. Yet, what was at stake was far more important than Lansing’s bruised feelings. “Aye, my lord. She does.” “Good. Then it’s settled,” I said in a tone of voice that told my War-General that I would not entertain any arguments about this subject. “See to her safety, my brother. Bring the lass to caves, and make amends for the wrong you have done against her.” Lansing looked troubled, but after a moment he nodded his head. “As you wish, my lord. How long before the cave will be set-up?” “Give the sun a full turn in the sky.” “Yes, my lord.” “There’s a good man. Now, go to her now and act as her personal guard until the cave is ready for her. Tell nobody where you take her, Lansing. Her safety is at stake.” Lansing stood and his whole body seemed to slump. Everything I had just told him was true, in a manner of speaking. When the guards brought Lansing to my chambers that night, I had bribed the leader to spread the word that no harm would befall my War-General, for he was under the belief that he’d acted out of honor. Though I had no idea why Lansing had taken the head off this man, it really didn’t matter. Word would soon spread that Lily had made some very ugly accusations against her father, and therefore if the citizens wanted justice for his death, they should look for it in quieting the tongue of his accuser. I wasn’t proud of my deception, but it needed to be done. Too much was at risk. Once Lansing was gone, I summoned the ancient warlock, Ryken to me. He seemed to appear out of the thin air beside me. Who knows, I thought to myself, perhaps he had. His deep purple robe had been mended perfectly, and his hair and beard actually looked as if a brush had been run through them. I wondered if someone had dropped a few words i his ear about appearances when he was to be in front of the Underlord. Learning such simply curtsies would hardly kill the old bag of bones. “To you I heard you call me, my lord. And so, by your side I have come.” “Ah, there you are,” I said keeping my voice quiet. The infirmary was barely occupied now, still, I didn’t care to be overheard. “Listen, I have a job for you. Consider it a personal

favor and not a direct order form the Underlord.” I gave a quick look around the infirmary to make sure no ears were listening, then lowered my voice even more. “It’s about the stones.” “Interest me that does, my lord. How can I be of service to you?” “I just gave my War-General, Lansing an order to bring a young lass to the caves just outside the eastern border. This lass is crucial in our plans to win the stones.” “This be very fortunate news for us, my lord. This lass be important in our quest in what manner, might I be allowed to ask?” “Her part in our plans is of no import to you. Now, quiet your questions, Ryken and listen. I want you to make sure my War-General carries out my orders.” “This be the favor of request of me, my lord? Rather simple for me this task appears to be.” “It only sounds simple, Ryken. But trust me, it’s of the utmost importance. I need this girl someplace safe and out of the way. My reasons will become apparent in good time, Ryken. All will be revealed in good time.”

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