Written by Vinh Nguyen Copyright by Vinh Nguyen August 9th, 2010 and continue...

(The story may change as it's only a work in progress) Chapter One (Spoken of the truths!) “The next story is about a boy who spoke the first magic ever. Magics were shown on TV and movie theaters, but they were just the figments of imagination. Humans had the capability of imagining endless things. Things they were imagined, some had been proven real, and those were the works of sweats. Thanked to the imaginations, the seeds sowed into humans led to untold ambitions that conjured numerous wonders. Wonders were pyramids, great wall, cars, jets, space rockets, sciences of chemistry, sciences of healing, and you named it. “It certainly would be a dishonesty to tell you all my little silly ones that we humans had conjured and conquered everything we had ever imagined of! It was not even close. Till this day, my words had always been true that numerous figments of imagination had very much stayed that way. We were lucky as we blindly stumbled onto unknown woods that helped us conjured some figments of imagination into the truths. The truths of reality. “The question had been asked for ages, why us humans so prevailed in seeking truths? We knew that little truths could come out from the figments of imagination that ran wild! Sometimes, we had to take a leap of faith before a single truth spoke on the mouth of a truth seeker! Before a truth could be applied in any age, humankind had sacrificed years of sweat, heartaches beyond one's imagination, and facing the truth of countless failures to bring a single truth to light. My little silly ones, why have we prevailed?” “I know!” a pale young girl who had been sick for years, but she had gained her health just this year. She sat there listened to an old man in his late sixties who told a story that they haven’t yet heard. Nonetheless, she had no doubt that the old man would tell another amazing story as he had always done before. Even if the story would not enchant her, she felt at peace anyway. She felt happy just to sit in this small neck of a recreational wooded park where a really beautiful long jogging trail weaved it ways around the upper hill of the park. The jogging trail would be adorned by thick woods on both sides. Somewhere within the thick woods, birds would chirp their somewhat simple but beyond human comprehension symphony. The visitors on the jogging trail would just walk, and they enjoyed the music of the birds. For the pale young girl, it was more than just the birds and the trees that made she felt peaceful. Being in the wood meant a change of scenery for her. She had been inside the hospital for too long, and the walls of hospital began to cave in whenever she stared at them for sometimes. The nature had begged her today, she thought! I know she said, she raised her hand and hoped the old man would pick her. Many hands were up just as fast as she had raised her.

“Ah, Arlene, what is your answer my dear?” the old man picked Arlene among the silly ones. “I think the truth can free us. It takes imagination for some of us to be creative enough so we can eventually attain truth, I guess. For me personally, the truth would be what will come after my stay within your hospital, but I’ll never know what the truth will hold for me.” “Your answer is truly a worthy one my dear. In fact, I’ve never knew we had a young philosopher within our hospital,” laughed the old man. “I just spoke my mind,” Arlene replied. “So, Arlene’s words hold merit about the truth. Nonetheless, the truth can be a lot more than just what Arlene had described. Anyone else can give me a little more about the truth?” the old man’s eyes scanned the children. Some more hands raised, but the old man ignored them all. Instead, he pointed his index finger at a shy boy who sat next to Arlene whose hands did not raised. The old man had noticed the boy often wandered the hospital’s hallways with Arlene. In fact, the old man felt a strange attachment Charlie had for Arlene. The old man also noticed Charlie often refrained from participating group conversation or even conversed with anyone else besides Arlene. “I, I don't know, let see...” as he tried to answer, his voice was barely heard. “Come on Charlie, tell him what you're thinking!” Arlene pushed for Charlie to speak. Charlie looked at Arlene in the eyes for a moment. As if Arlene had a magic that installed a confidence inside Charlie, his eyes grew wider, and he spoke with a louder voice than before. “The truth can free us as Arlene had said, but the truth can also hurt us!” Charlie said with absolute confidence. “Exactly Charlie! You're a philosopher too! Just like Arlene, your answer is very interesting. Now my silly ones, the truths are hard to come by. When you want a truth, it is as far as the stars in the black sky. We have to be very careful of what truth we’re seeking for, because some truth might do us harm. The answer to our question 'Why have we prevailed?' is at the end of the story! Shall I begin our story silly ones?” The children all said yes. The ground was somewhat grassy, and the children sat on a thick rug that the old man had gotten from the hospital. The children loved the old man, he was their best doctor. They all called him doctor Kumlar.

Doctor Kumlar compelled to take a group of children to this recreational park, because he thought the children needed some fresh air. The hospital had a female nurse and a male nurse accompanied doctor Kumlar. The nurses kept a distance from the children as they smoked their cigarettes and chatted among themselves. The children were hypnotized by doctor Kumlar's story telling talent. Arlene could not wait for the old man to begin his story. Stories had always sounded better within nature for some reasons, Arlene thought. Especially within this small neck of wood, Arlene imagined as if she had turned back time. The wood brought nature to her, and she could feel it inside her bones. She loved to imagine this small neck of wood as an ancient forest, because anything resembled fairytale or an unknown and mysterious past would definitely stir her a lot more than somethings she had already familiarized with. Suddenly, thunders roared, the children looked up at the darker sky that was clear a moment ago. Large dark clouds seemed far away, but the monster clouds obviously loomed closer. “It's going to rain my silly ones. We must end our story here. Let head back to the hospital. We will continue our little adventure in the wood again tomorrow,” doctor Kumlar begged the children to leave the wood. He rolled the rug up into a sizable roll. The roll of rug lay on the ground as doctor Kumlar and the children headed for the vans that parked right outside the wood. On the way out of the wood, doctor Kumlar and the children passed the nurses, and he told them to get the rug as he had not carried the rug out. Chapter Two (Where are we?) Arlene slept soundly in the hospital bed. She was no longer hooked up to machines that were there for measuring her heart. Arlene could not understand why her heart had troubled. She knew that whenever it was in trouble, she fainted, and woke up to find herself hooked up to numerous equipments. The doctors at the hospital told her mother that she had a bad heart, a rare form of heart disease which could be passed on through genes. The doctors said Arlene had inherited the disease from her mother. The disease was a rare one even though the hospital was well equipped with technology and science, Arlene was sure to die. Unbeknownst to all, as if there was a miracle, Arlene's heart had strengthened gradually. Her heart disease had slowly retreated. She had not been hooked up to the machines for weeks. Her mother told her that she could leave the hospital within a month or two as soon as the doctors were sure about her remission. “Arlene, wake up! Wake up Arlene!” Charlie screamed! “Huh? Charlie, what, oh my God, where are we?” Arlene looked around and all there were but trees and Charlie.

“We're in the wood Arlene!” “I know, how did we get here? I remember I felt asleep on my hospital bed, but why are we back in the wood?” “No, not the same wood, take a look around Arlene! This wood seems a lot bigger. I think it's a forest!” “No, it can't be! I must have fallen into a dream! This is a dream, it must be! Punch my shoulder Charlie!” A second later... “Ouch, not that hard!” “You believe me now?” “Arlene, I'm scared, I think I heard sounds!” “What sounds?” “Weird sounds!” “How weird?” “I don't know, just sounds!” “Wolves, tigers, monkeys, chimpanzees, or what?” “No, just sounds!” “Wait, I still want to know how we got here!” Arlene demanded of Charlie. “I don't know, I woke up to find you had lain next to me.” “OK, let find our way back out of this wood. I definitely want to be back in my bed. It's dark out here Charlie, bedtime demands us to be in bed, and not here!” Arlene moved ahead without asking Charlie to follow as if she knew that he would anyway. “Arlene, are you sure that is the right way?” “I think so,” Arlene said with a hint of suspicion. Arlene and Charlie walked on for a very long time, but all they could see were trees. The sky above them was pitched black. The moon was bright enough that lid the way

for Arlene and Charlie to explore the forest. Sometimes, Arlene and Charlie stopped to rest, and they were amazed at how lost they were. “Oh wow, look at them!” Arlene pointed at a large group of fireflies. The fireflies flew closer, above and around Arlene and Charlie. It was magical as the fireflies swirled around them. Arlene stretched her arm out and palmed up as one of the fireflies landed onto her little index finger. Charlie looked at Arlene with dreamy eyes. For a moment, it was magical, but then the fireflies flew themselves away at once left Arlene and Charlie alone with the trees, the moonlight, and themselves. “I'm tired! We lost Arlene! I wish doctor Kumlar is here with us,” Charlie spoke in louder voice than usual. He certainly looked tired but his voice betrayed his stupor. He looked excited more than ever! “Charlie, I know, this is scary! I definitely would have cried if I'm by myself in this weird forest, but you're here with me. I'm glad you're here. Let walk a little farther to see if we can get out of here.” The two walked farther, but they had found no way out of the forest. They got tired and took a break underneath a huge tree. Before they could push on, both of them dozed off into each own surreal dream. Somewhere nearby, sounds made by critters lessened the creepy atmosphere. Sounds from horses' hooves and voices from men stirred the two helpless children up. Arlene and Charlie saw men on horses came their way. A boy looked the same age as Arlene and Charlie commanded his horse to stop, he got down from the horse quite expertly, and he approached the two children who sat underneath a huge tree. “Hello, why are you two sitting here? My name is Tristan,” he fished his pant's pocket and got out an apple. He shoved it into Arlene's hand. “It's good, try it.” A man appeared to be the boy's father came over to see the two children. He looked at Arlene and Charlie with amusement. “Your clothes are strange to my eyes. I have never seen anyone wears such clothes before. Where are your parents? Why are you two children in the forest without a guardian?” the man asked a barrage of questions. “I don't know, we woke up to find ourselves here! We were in a hospital.” Arlene replied the man. “You’re being serious? It doesn’t make sense to me that both of you sleep somewhere else and then suddenly wake up in a forest. You have to walk or ride a horse here,” Tristan was shock from what he had heard.

“My boy is right you two. There is no town near here. It doesn’t make any sense for you two to be here all night without a guardian. There might be wild beasts in this forest that care not for the differences of taste from just about anything. It seems you two are without any protection. Come with us then, but first we must know your city so we can take you back to your home. So, where do you two live?” the boy's father said. “Thank you sir for allowing us to come with you. Charlie and I got so lost in this big forest, I don’t think we will ever able to find the way out by ourselves. Anyway, I’m not sure how far is my hospital from here, but it locates in Potat,” Arlene answered. Tristan’s father caressed his thick black, short bushy beard. As if he wanted to remember something of Potat, but his eyebrows wrinkled together. “Little girl, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of your city. Potat is a city right?” Tristan’s father probed Arlene. “No sir. My mother told me it’s more like a small town,” Arlene replied. “Strange, I’d never heard of Potat before. Perhaps the elders in a town nearby will know of Potat. Come with us to a town nearby, and we will figure out where Potat so you two children can be back home safely. Little girl, what’s your name?” Tristan’s father asked Arlene. “It’s Arlene, and my friend here is Charlie,” Arlene replied. “Tristan, share your clothes with Arlene and Charlie. Their current clothes look inadequate,” Tristan’s father ordered. Charlie and Arlene took their turns as each went behind the same tree to change into the clothing that Tristan gave them. Instead of keeping the pajamas that the hospital gave them, the two children abandoned the pajamas underneath the tree. Tristan offered his hand to Arlene as she climbed upon his midsize horse. Charlie got to ride with Tristan’s father on a much larger horse. “The town is quite far from here. I'm flabbergasting that you two children were here on foot. Anyway, let us ride out of here. Let go everyone,” Tristan’s father commanded. Arlene and Charlie rode with men on horses into town. As they rode into town, Arlene and Charlie were shocked to find the town people and the town itself were incredibly strange. The clothes that the town people wore had never been seen in the towns and cities that Arlene and Charlie had knew of. Some women straddled their babies on their backs. Some men carried axes and swords. Some white men and black men alike were chained in chains as they were pulled along by group of mean looking soldiers. Some women were also chained but they were grouped separately from captured men. More horses to be found in town. Many people were barefooted, but they seemed to be

fine without their shoes. The buildings were colorful as these patched by the mixture of woods and stones. Some buildings had roofs made of woods, others were made of straws. Oddly enough, the buildings in this strange town looked solid and adequate for shelters, even a big bad wolf could not blow them out as Arlene recalled a folktale. “Father, let find a good inn!” Tristan insisted. “No worry my son, this town has many good inns. Arlene and Charlie, you two will be sharing a room with my son. This town isn't that friendly, and thieves are many, so do not go anywhere without grownups! The warning is for you too Tristan,” Tristan's father insisted. Arlene and Charlie settled in with Tristan. The room was adequately supplied with one large wooden bed, a chair, a large window with a cloth curtain, and a lamp with strange pinkish oil that kept it burned brightly. The sky got darker, and the men who served Tristan’s father found themselves in their rooms. Tristan’s father gave the children a last visited before he went back to his room and called it a night. “Tristan, you and your new friends here need to sleep early, and tomorrow we will tend to business at dawn. After that, we will go to the elders and ask for the direction to Potat. Goodnight,” Tristan’s father left the children’s room and went into his. Sitting on a bed, Tristan crossed his legs and arms. He then asked, “Arlene, your city is Potat, but which province is Potat from?” “Province? Oh, you mean the state? It’s Idaho!” Arlene replied. “Never heard of that too,” Tristan shook his head. “Your father said he had business to take care of. What kind of business?” Arlene felt energetic and had an intention of not going to sleep early. She wanted to know more about her new friend Tristan and his people. Charlie sat quietly on the bed, face in palms, elbows on crossed legs, and watched Arlene exchanged small talks with Tristan attentively. Charlie also noticed that Arlene was no longer paled. Her faced had gained a light pinkish color. Three children sat on the same bed, and each had a favorite position. “My father and his men are delivering mails to the town people. We travel a lot. My father's job is to deliver mails to many towns. I'm surprised he has no idea where your place is.” “If he is only delivering mails, how come he has men served him as if he is someone important?” Arlene asked.

“Only men with great reputation get to deliver mails for everyone, because only these men can be trusted. My father is one of those men. Since my father is somewhat important to the country, he can have other men work and serve him,” Tristan replied. “I'm tired, let go to sleep,” Charlie demanded. “OK, I turn off the lamp then,” Tristan said. “I'm not sleepy at all,” Arlene cried. “But we do!” Tristan and Charlie said. “Arlene, his father will wake us all up early tomorrow. It's best for us to go to sleep now and so we don't be so sleepy tomorrow. Night,” Charlie tucked himself under the giant red wool blanket which decorated with drawings of flowers in array of colors. “Alright, alright, we all go to sleep then. Want me to tell you guy a ghost story before we sleep for sure?” Arlene asked. “No, I hate ghost story, and I won't be able to go to sleep if you start that,” Charlie said. Tristan quietly got himself under the wool blanket while Arlene sat between the two sleepy boys. Finally she gave up on convincing the boys to stay awake with her, she got herself under the blanket too. Halfway through the night, a shadow visited the children. The shadow came through the wall and inched closer to the bed. Arlene and the boys had no idea as they slept soundly. Suddenly, the shadow whispered a spell, a gulf of wind blew in the room woke the children up. Arlene woke up to find herself sweating, and the boys found the room a little chilly. Unbeknownst to the children, the evil spell had tried to attack them but failed! A mysterious force inside Arlene and Charlie formed a transparent but glowing barriers with golden color expanded in a flash, covered the entire room to protect the children from the spell. The dark evil spell with blackish texture dissipated quickly. Seeing its own spell failed to do harm to the children, the shadow quickly made a getaway by escaping through a wall which connected to the outside. The room's windows blew opened and more winds came in. Tristan bolted the windows back into place and went back to sleep. Arlene and Charlie also went back to sleep. The morning came joyfully as the birds chirped lively on a tree nearby the room’s wooded window. Just a bit earlier, Tristan had opened the window to let the fresh morning air rushed into the inn’s room. Then came the piercing sunlight which woke Arlene and Charlie up. Meanwhile, Tristan carefully got himself into thin fur boots as if he was ready to go somewhere. Arlene got off the bed and stretched herself in various

positions. Tristan looked at Arlene with doubts. Charlie too got off the hard bed and stretched. “Stop acting silly both of you,” Tristan wanted Arlene and Charlie to stop stretching as he had no idea what good stretching would do. “I'm stretching, it's good for my body and my health. Doctor Kumlar asked us to do it every morning in our hospital. Charlie is doing it too, so come on Tristan, come closer, I show you how to do it!” “Actually, I'm thirsty, I'm going to get a juice from an inn keeper. Do you both want any?” Tristan offered. “Sure, I'm thirsty and hungry,” Arlene said. Charlie went on stretching and gave little attention to the exchange between Arlene and Tristan. “Charlie, you want some juice too right?” Tristan demanded some attention from Charlie. “OK!” Charlie said and went on stretching his legs. “This is odd, my father should have wake us up and take us with his men to deliver the mails for the folks in this town. Anyway, I'll go get the juices, and you guy can do your weird things,” Tristan went off and down the stairs to see an inn keeper. Minutes later, without any juice in hand, a paled face Tristan ran up the stairs with tears ran down his cheeks. He could barely speak as he was in shocked. “What happened Tristan? Why are you crying?” Arlene asked. “Everyone downstairs is dead!” Arlene and Charlie rushed outside the room, and Tristan followed them. The children ran downstairs to find corpses littered the inn. Some corpses sat in chairs as if they had died instantly, and some had their faces buried in plates of foods on the tables. Things were played out in slow motion for the children. Tristan was stiffed as a cane. Arlene inched closer to one of the corpse to see if she could make anything out of it. Charlie scratched his head as if he was confused. “They all blackened. Their skins are so black as if they are covered in black paint,” Arlene articulated.

“Sure, you might be able to tell if it’s paint or not, but if you look closer Arlene, I think you can see the blackish color is underneath the skin of this corpse,” Charlie’s turn to articulate as he bent over and observed the skin of a corpse which Arlene had taken a close look at. Tristan ran upstairs again as fast as he could. Moments later Arlene and Charlie arrived upstairs to find Tristan helplessly hugged his father's corpse. Arlene pulled Tristan back as she saw the corpse was blackened as every other corpse downstairs. She feared the blackened stuffs could somehow infect Tristan. “Tristan, everyone turned so black! Your father, the men, and the people downstairs, they all turned blackish. I don't think people turned into this color as they died, especially they haven't died too long ago. It looks like they're poisoned,” Arlene suggested. “It's so quiet outside,” Charlie suggested. Arlene and Charlie looked at each other as if they had suddenly understood something, and so they ran downstairs as fast as they could. They ran outside to confront a ghostly town. Nobody walked about and some corpses lay dead on the streets. “I go get Tristan, Charlie don't go anywhere!” “Tristan, I saw corpses on the streets. I think everyone in town has died. Charlie and I want to investigate the other buildings in town to see if there is anyone alive. Come with us!” Speechless, Tristan agreed. He followed Arlene and Charlie aimlessly to a building across the inn. Arlene's fear had come true. The children once again confronted corpses littered throughout this particular building. Arlene and Charlie and Tristan could not take it anymore, and so they all ran outside. Fear appeared quite visibly across their faces. Chapter Three (A prophecy!) An evil wizard from afar had spoke a dark powerful spell and out came hundreds of poison shadows in the human forms. From head to toes, these poison shadows wore greenish skin color, but the veins that appeared to explode from their skins were blackish. The blackish veins ran through their faces enhanced their evil expression. Their eyes were made of one color, and the color which was pitch black. If one stared into these eyes, one probably could feel something creepy stared back even though there would be nothing as such. As the poison shadows placed the black hoods over their heads, the human form that they wore was no longer there, but they took up a newly shadowy form which blackish in nature and transparent, as if they were blended

in with the air surrounded them. They went into the town not too far from a castle that stood distinctively in a forest which housed the evil wizard. The castle itself was conjured up by a powerful magical spell. It had a humongous bolted metal door which seemed impenetrable. Few feet right outside the formidable metal door, statues depicted in ugly gargoyles stood in frozen, battle postures. More ugly gargoyles statues cliched to the three walls of the castle. The evil wizard conjured up a not so typical castle since it had only three walls. The three walls formed a pyramid shape from a width-perspective. The walls rose from the ground up till the clouds were penetrated. Countless of statues of ugly gargoyles too were clinched from ground till parts of their form disappeared within the clouds. Fogs and darken clouds mixed among each other to cover the very top part of the gloomy castle. The evil wizard resided on the highest floor of the castle, studied his magical scrolls. Couple days before, the evil wizard had a dream of a boy. Within the dream, the boy told him that he needed an army of powerful soldiers to aid him to become a king. The boy told the wizard in the dream that he wanted to conquer all the known valleys and towns and cities and forests and seas. Before the evil wizard woke up from his dream, the last words of the boy were “Hear me my wizard, I do not want to rule a world with only power, but I want much more than that, so don’t fail me.” After waking up from the dream, a sweaty evil wizard decided that the dream was a prophecy. Out came an idea. The evil wizard remembered he knew of a spell that could conjure poison shadows. The poison shadows could extinguish life forces so a wizard such as himself could convert fresh corpses into formidable zombies. These zombies would inherit the intelligence of their formal life forces. However smart and free will these zombies could become, they would only obey the commands and wishes of the magician who had raised them. “You shall come to me from the realm of the dark prince, Shakishes” the evil wizard chanted the spell louder and louder. His left hand weaved magical signs in midair, in front of his chest. His breath became foggier and the atmosphere within the castle became colder. His right hand was on the side of his body suddenly came to life, vertically reaching up into the air while the tips of the five fingers glowed in reddish color. His right hand’s fingers spread out evenly, palmed up, as if he was holding an invisible ball of air. Eventually, his voice echoed throughout the castle. Out came the poison shadows hovered near the ceiling of the castle. Finally, these poison shadows set themselves onto the stone floor. One by one, poison shadows removed their black hoods. The black ropes they wore swept the floor as they inched closer to the evil wizard. The poison shadows’ feet never actually came into contact with the stone floor, because they glided just inches above the cold stone floor. Their greenish skins barely lost its true luster as poison shadows had their black hoods off from their heads. Few candles there were burned dimly as the flames danced in no specific direction. The cold air draft brought by the presence of the poison shadows had snuffed off couple candles that had the dimmest flames. Evil wizard loudly commanded the poison shadows, “Shakishes, go north of here, enter any town, and cast your deadly spell upon

everyone!” Without making a sound, silently the poison shadows flipped the rope’s hoods over their heads, resuming their inhuman form, and flew through a wall of the castle which faced north. Chapter Four (Lingering no more in this creepy town!) Arlene and the boys found couple swords with unusual large blade from the dead bodies that they encountered while they were on a futile search for any survivor in town. The children used the swords to dig a grave for Tristan's father. It took them quite long, but they managed to dig a grave hole. Three of them pulled Tristan's father with all their might into the grave hole that was barely deep and large enough for a sizable dead man as Tristan’s father. They covered the grave hole with more soils to complete the grave. Part of the earth where Tristan’s father had lain to rest had a slight uneven surface, and one could tell it was dug and refilled with the same soils. Tristan slowly stood up right after he had made sure that the bundled of wild flowers were secure vertically near the top of his father grave. New tears retraced the last river of tears across the pale cheeks of a boy who had just lost his father. Tristan felt worse than before as he acknowledged his father could not even lie to rest in a more appropriate grave. Instead, his father had to be buried in an unmarked grave. It could be difficult for his other family members to visit his father grave as it was unmarked. Tristan promised to himself silently that once he got the chance, he would come back and move his father’s body back home. Anywhere would be better for father to have his eternal sleep than this cursed ghost town that used to be lively and beautiful, Tristan thought to himself. “We need to get out of here guys!” Charlie begged, “This town is so creepy now.” “We need to go home! The question is how, because I have no idea where we are Charlie,” Arlene looked at Charlie than she turned toward to ask of Tristan, “You have anyone else you know that we can stay with before Charlie and I can find our way home?” “Yes, my uncle, my father's older brother, he is far away from here though. We won't be able to make it there just by walking. We need horses.” “Horses? Is there a barn near here where they keep horses?” Arlene asked. “Yes, there should be at least a barn if not many in town, because I had never come across a town that did not have a barn for horses. Follow me, and we seek out a barn,” Tristan led the way as the others followed him. The children trekked across town without seeing a barn. Finally, the children found the barn which on the far opposite side of the inn that they had stayed last night. A sight of joy as the horses were all healthy. It seemed whatever had killed all the people in town had no effect on the horses.

“This means other animals in town must still be alive, right?” Arlene asked the boys. “I assume this is the case, because the horses are fine,” Tristan replied. “Let get three smaller horses,” Charlie said. “And we need to let all other horses go, let free them guys. They will be trapped and die here since their owners are dead,” Arlene pleaded. “Arlene is right, let free them!” Charlie concurred. The children unlocked the wooden gate that secured the barn, and Tristan got three smaller horses out. Tristan tied the horses to the outside of the barn's wooden fence. The rest of the horses got shooed out by Arlene and Charlie. Many horses fled off the barn, and few of them trod slowly away. Some of the horses were lingered around and outside of the barn gnawed at grasses on the ground. “Now we need money,” Tristan suggested. “We can take the money from the dead people, I don’t think they will mind since they can’t use the money anymore,” Charlie suggested. “It sounds rude, but we need money to feed ourselves on the way to my uncle house. Let take the money from them then. Follow me guys,” Tristan led the way once again. The children made their way back toward the inn that they had stayed for the night last night. Within the inn, the children could see corpses in the same positions as before. Everything was so dead. “We need to treat the dead people with kindness. Let burn them so they won't be ate off by animals,” Charlie suggested. Arlene ignored the boys as she began to dig into pockets of the corpses with her hands. Plenty of gold coins she found. Every time she had her hands inside the pockets of another corpse, she felt sad and realized the corpse was once alive and had a life. There was a creepy feeling within her which made the hairs on her neck stood on ends, because the corpses she got close to all seemed so blackish. The smell of dead was something she wanted to get rid off from her nostril so bad. She could not believe that the smell of the dead people were so strong. Could it be the smell of some sort of poison. This could be the reason how the corpses had gotten so blackish, she thought. “OK, as Charlie had wished, let burn the town so the corpses would too be burned. This way the animals won’t be able to eat the corpses! We need a lot of fire,” Tristan said. “Where to find fire?” Arlene asked.

“We can use the oil from the lamps to burn the bedsheets and the curtains and everything else. There are plenty of lamps inside the inn and elsewhere in town,” Tristan suggested. “I see, once the fire spreads, we don’t have to do much. The wind can help the fire to spread all over the town and completely burn the town and the corpses up. It’s a good plan,” Arlene praised the boys. “Let hope with enough fire, all the corpses in town will be incinerated into ashes. None would be left for the scavengers,” Tristan spoke with doubts. “Anyhow, let do this then. Let get all the lamps we can find and place them into a pile right outside of the inn. After that we can begin to use the oil from the lamps to burn everything that can be burned,” Tristan suggested. Arlene and Charlie nodded and had no objection to what Tristan had suggested. The children smartly started the fire randomly from each block of the buildings and houses, allowing the wind to spread the fire far and wide across the town. As the fire got bigger and hotter, the children got on their horses and rode out of town. Tristan led the way as Arlene and Charlie followed. They ran as fast as they could on horses to get away from the fire that was surprisingly spread fast across the town. As they positioned themselves far away from the fire, Tristan slowed his horse to a full stop. Arlene and Charlie did the same. “It's sad that the town had to be burned up this way. I hope we had done it right so those dead people could really rest in peace,” Arlene said. “Let hope so,” Charlie said with guilt. “Let hope the fire won’t go crazy and burn even the forest nearby, because that will not be right,” Arlene too felt a little guilt inside, wondering if they had done the right thing. “Let hope Arlene is wrong. Perhaps, the river behind town and the rugged mountains on the side of town will be enough to contain the fire from everything else. Let go guys, we need to have a place to stay before the night comes,” Tristan had his horse galloped fast and away from town. Arlene and Charlie followed right after with their horses galloped so fast that it felt unreal for the two children who had only a night to get familiar with this whole new place. The whole thing felt so unreal for the two children. For Arlene, it felt as if she got here from her dream. The burning town behind them convinced Arlene otherwise, because it was real that the fire had chased them out of the town in a hurry.

The smoke had not left Charlie’s nostril even though they had left the town far behind. Charlie’s horse galloped right behind Arlene, and yet his mind was somewhere else. The wind unabated bashed against Charlie, and he knew it would be the same for Arlene and Tristan. Out of nowhere, Charlie chuckled. He had never had so much fun as this ever. Charlie remembered how sickly Arlene and he were. Yet, now they rode on horses so expertly which made him wondered when and how such opportune skill had occurred. “Arlene and Charlie, you guys will be my witness for I will tell my uncle about the death of my father and the disease or whatever that killed everyone in the town of Guinevere,” he sniffed his nose as if he had done crying again. They rode as fast as they could. Their shadows whisked with them and eventually faded slowly as the sun went down and the sky turned darker. Chapter Five (The creation of a first zombie army!) The evil wizard was on his way. With horror, the wizard cringed as he saw an incredible plume of smoke that blanketed the distance ahead as the forest stretched on. He hurried his way toward the path of Chill Wolf as it parted the two gigantic mountains apart. At the end of the path of Chill Wolf, the evil wizard saw something that he had suspected all along, and it enraged him. The town was aflame, and what he came for had been spoiled. Not every but many corpses were completely burned into ashes. Few corpses left were half cooked. Angrily, the evil wizard chanted the dark words loudly at first. Slowly, his dark words evaporated within the air, mended with the surrounding. Silence took over while the evil wizard awaited for something. Suddenly, a ripple of airwave slowly waved and rippled not too far from the evil wizard. As if the air created an opening, a dark shadow in perfect oval shape which stood vertically ripped the air apart in slow motion. Slowly, out came a black horse. As if the black horse had left her own shadow within the realm she had came from, she was shadowless and proudly wore a thick black skin. Black fire was aflame at her hooves, giving her a dangerous appearance. She had no eyes. Instead, black smoke came out from those hollow eyes’ sockets. A long black flame tail swirled near her hind legs. Slowly, she lowered herself down in silence, allowing the evil wizard to get onto her effortlessly. She stood upright once more so she could kick herself off the ground. Without any wing, yet she kicked herself off the ground and flew higher than the trees. The distinct trail of black smoke from her hooves was visible in the air even though the sky was colored with the smoke came from the aflame town below. Up high above the town, the evil wizard trembling with anger. He observed his work had been spoiled by whoever he could not know. He calmed himself down just a bit so he could focus on what to do next.

The black horse appeared to understand her master. She halt her flight and floated in the midair, allowing her master to free his hands and not grasp onto her thick black hair so tightly. The black smoke from her ever burning black flame hooves thinned out. “Shall the tears of ether obey my command,” more dark words were spoken on the evil wizard’s lips. Right after the evil wizard stopped weaving his hands in the air, heavy drops of rain suddenly formed out of the thin air and inundated the town with water. The fire was put out. Few half cooked corpses existed just to be stuck in buildings that stood in ruins. The water spell had successfully suffocated out the fire, saving what weren’t yet burned. The rain from the water spell had poured down hard, allowing few inches of water to flood the town. No longer trembling in anger, the evil wizard quietly allowed his horse to settle onto the ground that drowned underneath the fast moving water. The fast moving flood made its way out of the town and onto the lowered parts of the ground. The horse lowered herself down so the evil wizard could get off of her. The evil wizard dragged his wet ankles with much effort as he moved closer to the ruins of burned buildings. With few quick looks here and there, the evil wizard could see that there were few usable corpses left among different ruins of burned buildings. Satisfied with what he saw and suspected, he began to cast his next spell. “Hear me black thunder. Let there be lightning and dark wind. Heed my command, let this spell springs into existence. With his dark prince’s blessing, let it be, let it be an army of zombies,” the evil words had spoken from the evil wizard’s lips. The grey sky became darker fast. Night came upon the town in thick black clouds that formed heavily above. Within the thick black clouds, lightnings zapped freely in abundance. Thunders were deafening. The ground shook so hard that whatever barely stood in town tumbled down toward the ground which drowned beneath the fast moving water. Suddenly, half cooked corpses rose onto their feet, officially became so called zombies. Not more than a dozen of confused zombies dragged their ankles below the fast moving water, making their way toward the evil wizard. The zombies appeared to be coherent as they began to gather near the evil wizard. The charred zombies began to greet each other as if they were humans. Their voices were deeper than humans. Their charred skin flaked off revealed newly thick grayish skin. “Silent fools,” the evil wizard shouted. The zombies became quiet fast. They stood obediently, awaited for their master’s commands.

With a stroke of his black beard peppered with the color of salt from his left hand, the evil wizard observed his creatures. He felt there were too few of them. “I have to have more of you,” the evil wizard spoke in a murmur. “An army of you,” the evil wizard shook his head as if he knew it would be long before he could have what he wanted. The evil wizard stretched both arms toward the dark sky and palms faced up, lines in his forehead deepen as his face reached for the constellation, and voice got deeper as he spoke another spell. Moment later, the evil wizard stopped spoken and the silence took over. Unbeknownst to the zombies that stood in silence in front of the evil wizard, the ground that these zombies stood on shook violently. Cracks within the ground formed at lightning pace and sucked the zombies under. The zombies fallen into large cracks under the ground without screaming. Unlike the humans, these zombies had no fears and worries. They went under the abyss without complaining much. The cracks also sucked down the fast moving water, further the process of freeing the ground from being drowned under inches of water. Eventually, the cracks drained out most water, leaving the ground rather wet. The cracks slowly disappeared as the wet ground mended together wholly. The night that formed by the black clouds went away, allowing the sky to clear up. Everything was bright again, but wet. The town itself was once a busy, active, and lively town had now reduced into a ghost town with rubbles of burned structures. The afternoon was quite surreal for the evil wizard. He stood in silence and witnessed the destruction before him. After a long contemplation, a lonely evil wizard got onto his horse and headed north. This time, his horse had her hooves on the ground; she galloped out of town while he sat on her back and grasped her thick black hair tightly. It was a steady pace. Not too fast, but not too slow either. He felt relaxed and hoped nothing bad would surprise him in days to come. He had had much more to do as he told himself so. Chapter Six (A magical night!) The children rode northward, but Tristan doubted that his little party could arrive at his uncle's house before nightfall. The horses had gotten tired. He thought he had remembered the amount of time it needed to be taken for one to travel from Guinevere to Catheblanc, but it had turned out he was wrong. Instead of taking one day long, Tristan was now for sure that his little party had to ride for another day before they could mingle with his uncle. Tristan slowed his horse down to a stop, and he spun the horse around facing Arlene and Charlie. “Night is falling fast. Not a single town is near, and even if there is one, the adults won't treat us like them, and it will be very hard for us to get a good room. Then again I wish there is a town nearby as it's far safer than in this dark forest. Nothing ahead of us and

nothing behind of us for stretches. It's creepy, but you guy don't mind we camp here?” Tristan reigned in his horse as it was twitched and moved about as if a big bad wolf was nearby. “How far do we have to go before we can be at your uncle house?” Arlene asked Tristan and nipped her lips together. “I had the time wrong. I thought we could be at his house by nightfall, but now I doubt it would be so. Half a day more is the most.” “I'm hungry, let eat something and camp here,” Charlie mindlessly agreed with Tristan before Arlene could decide if she wanted to camp in the middle of the forest. Arlene gave in as the boys had decided they would make camp in the forest. She wasn't fancied about sleeping in this forest as something inside her felt eerie. She had no reason to deny the boys the rest as she was tired herself. The children tied the horses to a tree, and they sat under it. Tristan had carried a tiny bag of dry breads all along, and so he took it out to share with the other two children. The dry breads were tasteless, but Arlene and Charlie seemed to care not for the taste. Instead they had made sure every morsel of the dry breads were eaten. Arlene reached for her leathery water bag which contained a little more than half full, and she drank it with a delight. Charlie and Tristan did the same for they too had their own leathery water bags. “I think my bag of water here is about to run dry,” Charlie complained. “Don’t worry Charlie, there should be a river half a day further ahead. The water in this river is so clean that you can see the bottom of the river. The water itself will give you the cleanest feeling in your mouth ever, and your thirst will be quenched like instantly. Ya, I think mine is about to go empty too. Yours Arlene?” Tristan asked. “Oh, I still have plenty. I don’t drink much like you boys. I think I’ll drink a lot more now since you say there is a river ahead that we can refill our water bags,” Arlene let out a soft smile as she wearily glanced about the forest. The children finished the breads and the water while the night owls hoot. The dark forest got a tad colder. Bands of fireflies flew back and forth as if they were dancing in the moonlight. The children had fallen into deep dreams and missed the beautiful dances of the fireflies. Groups of fireflies formed circles as they swirled around the ancient trees and thick branches. From time to time, groups of fireflies flew off their trees and mingled together, forming much larger groups. Only when smaller groups of fireflies formed the larger groups that something magical had happened. Each large group of fireflies resonated a beautiful tune. By chance, several large groups of fireflies resonated at the same time, and the whole forest was suddenly bathed within the music of the fireflies. Arlene thought she was in a dream as she woke up to hear the

enchanted resonance. She wanted to wake up the boys, but she did not. It would be very unpleasant for them if she woke them up from their sleeps. Wide awoke, she observed the fireflies with awe. Instead of feeling eery, she felt magical. The otherworldly resonance of the fireflies turned an eery forest into a lively one. She imagined that the whole forest had welcomed her and the boys to a magical party. As Arlene observed the groups of fireflies ever closer, she gasped in amazement. She saw each large group of fireflies swarmed around creatures resembled a mythical figure known as the fairy. Memory rushed back, she remembered she was so sick in the hospital that she was bedridden for many days, and during her bedridden period she had seen a movie that got fairies. In this forest, the fairies resembled the fireflies but they were different as they had two gigantic transparent wings overlapping the two small but cute white wings. The fairies had humanlike, benevolent faces. Arlene wiped her eyes with the inside of her right hand so she could confirm the fairies were real. She convinced, because she witnessed the dances of the fairies with her own eyes. It was an astounding realization, and it was magical. Each fairy danced in the moonlight while each group of fireflies swirled in line which encircled the fairy from toes to head. Arlene was about to wake up the boys so they could witness the enchanted forest, but a voice spoke softly on her right ear. “Don't, don't wake the boys up.” Arlene spun around to her right, in the direction of the voice. A tiny fairy hung in midair and stopped in front and between her eyebrows. Arlene's eyes grew closer as she observed the tiny fairy which was about the size of her own nose. Arlene realized the fairy was just an inch or so away from her nose. Before Arlene could react, the fairy slowly landed onto the tip of her nose. The two gigantic transparent wings flapped away even though the fairy calmly clung to the tip of Arlene’s nose. “Let them sleep away. It seemed that they’re exhausted from the trip earlier.” Arlene was shocked the fairy had landed on her nose. She felt the weightlessness of the fairy, and the fairy was even more beautiful from a nose length distance. “Sure,” Arlene replied reluctantly. “What's your name little girl?” the fairy asked. “It's Arlene!” “Us fairies don't have name. We distinguish ourselves by the music we make. We use music to communicate, and music to tell who is who. It's very different from humans.” “So how do I call you?” Arlene asked with bemused look on her face.

“Just call me Amber. In fact, you can call each of us as Amber. It doesn’t make a difference, but if you like you can assign each fairy you meet with a name that you feel comfortable to use most. For us, we can recognize you by your aura. Each human has his or her own aura,” Amber replied. “Amber, I thought you say fairies only use music to communicate?” “Yes, so many humans had asked me this question before. Us fairies know a magic spell that allows us to communicate with humans in human language. Actually, it’s more like we’re communicating from soul to soul even though you speak your tongue and I make music.” “So, it means this magic spell will make me understand you and you understand me even though you and I use our very own language?” Arlene asked. “Yes, but it is more like I use my very own music, and you speak your very own language,” Amber glowed beautifully in a way that no earthly fireflies could ever compete. “Amber, it’s so cool that I’m talking to you.” “It’s always nice for me to have a conversation to a human. Arlene, there is a more urgent matter at hand, and this is why I’m making myself known to you. I want to warn you that there is a very powerful wizard who is on your trail. This powerful wizard isn’t friendly, and he is dangerous. If he sees you, I’m sure there is no way for you and your friends to escape his treacherous agenda. So, I suggest you and your friends to ride fast and away from here. I think you have time to rest a little. Just make sure you and your friends ride out of here in the earliest dawn.” “I thought seeing fairies is already something out of this world, but a wizard too? Sorry, I’m so excited. I don’t understand why we have to run away from this wizard. Is he that scary?” “Before now, not really. Unfortunately, it’s very much the case now. Just make sure you and your friends stay out of his way. It’s best that you humans never meet him, ever.” “Thanks Amber. I’ll warn the boys about what you have told me. I just hope that they will believe me, because they haven’t seen you. Plus, I don’t think they even believe fairies are real.” “You can always tell them to ride faster, because you want to arrive to where you are going as soon as possible,” Amber glowed some more. “Yes, that is what I will tell them then. It’s better that way so they don’t think I have gone crazy on them. Thanks again Amber,” Arlene smiled.

“I have to go now,” Amber lifted herself off Arlene’s nose. “Can I see you again soon?” Arlene asked. “Arlene, if fate has it, we will meet again. Pardon me, I must rejoin my fairy friends. Once again, it’s nice to meet you Arlene. Be careful and please take my warning seriously. Take care Arlene,” Amber’s gigantic transparent wings flapped ever faster. Amber flew off and rejoined one of a large firefly groups. Beautiful music made by the fairies echoed throughout the forest. The fireflies danced away as the moon continued to brightly shine above. Suddenly, Arlene felt the heaviness of her eyelids. She wanted to stay awake, but her eyes refused to stay wide open. Slowly drifted away into a deep sleep, her back leaned against the trunk of the gigantic tree which protected her friends from the wind throughout the night; the boys slept soundly next to her on the dried ground. The first light penetrated the dark forest woke up Arlene. The fireflies were no longer around, and Arlene missed them already. The night was so magical as if all but was a dream, but she knew it was real. She woke up the boys and urged the boys to ride out. Chapter Seven (I wanted to be a thief!) Andora was west of the continents of Chesual and Raus and had more landmass than both combined. Andora was also the poorest continent. A profession of stolen goods known as rouge was highly praised in Andora. In fact, rouge was respected by many as the second best profession in the whole Andora. The only profession that was favored more than rouge in Andora would be the wizardry. In fact, wizardry had always been the profession that considered to be the most mysterious and worshiped with the highest regards by most inhabitants throughout the known continents. Even though wizardry was outrageously desirable, it was too difficult to master. Wizardry consisted of any profession that had to do with magic. Not that many eager students of wizardry had the patient of undying stupidity and the foolhardy will to follow through the commitments of facing what were to be rigorous challenges. The kind of challenges that only the ablest minds that bothered not of losing sanity, as if they had spoken to the devil and learned what the devil had to teach. The kind of challenges intended to instill a certainty of uncertainty in which time had not a part, because only the ablest minds dared to cast away the notion of certainty of time. The kind of challenges intended to muddled the minds beyond redemption, as if they had seen the devil with many angelic faces. It wasn’t that uncommon to see many students of wizardry refused to continue their courses and switched to professions that got nothing to do with magic. It wasn’t out of willingness that they had discontinued their wizardry ways, but it was out of their unwillingness to give up their dreams that they had come to term with seeking out other

professions. These inept students of wizardry had seen their dreams and beliefs faded away as if all their efforts and might had come to naught. In Andora, the rouge profession had its fair share of welcoming these inept students of wizardry into its domain. Still, many once proudly students of wizardry refused to join the second best profession of Andora, because they believed rouge profession was cruel and treacherous. The ones that reluctantly compelled to take on the rouge profession were attracted to the mystic culture of rouge society. Even though rouge profession could only be the second best profession of all there were of Andora, nobody was naive enough to trick oneself into believing with little effort one could master the trade of rouge profession. This meant to become a full fledge thief of which the rouge society would proudly recognize and praise. Unfortunately, even though the rouge profession could be mastered easier than wizardry, it had certain challenges that might yield the same fate for those who had tried to tackle the fate of mastering wizardry. Rouge profession certainly demanded students to be patience, witty, strong will, agile, brave, and decisive. Not everyone who could attain every single trait the rouge profession sought. The ones who had the traits that rouge profession approved would still have to withstand the miseries of going through tough training stages before the title of a full fledge thief could be awarded to the apprentices. The title of a thief would only be recognized among thieves, and thieves loved to call each other as thief freely. When somebody that had not a connection to rouge society and dared to call a thief’s title directly, any thief would find such action as blasphemy. Consequently, certain harsh judgments might rain upon the careless somebody. Thieves formed a very secretive society. There was a saying in Andora that anyone could wish to learn any profession, but a person could not learn the way of a thief unless there was a recruitment invitation. Taking up a rouge profession was not simply named oneself a thief and went about stealing goods. Without the rouge society's backing, a person could be killed by members of rouge society. A thief always had a place and a rank within a rouge society. Ranking among thieves were simple. Squirrel was the lowest rank of all ranks in the rouge society. When a person got recruited by a thief, one would become a squirrel. The only way for a squirrel advanced to the next rank was to pass a standard rouge's test known as the Apprentice Test. After a squirrel had successfully passed the Apprentice Test, a squirrel would be promoted to an apprentice. There would be only one test left to become a thief right after the Apprentice Test was the Shadow Test. Before a person could take the Shadow Test, a person must properly be trained and accomplished all the missions that was dispatched by a master of the rouge society. The master of a rouge society held the highest rank of all thieves, but the rank of master could not be attained by simply taking a test or accomplished through a

mission. Plus, not just anybody could become a master, because there would only be one master at a time. After a master of rouge society passed away, there would be a secret election. Only the most inner circle of highest ranks of thieves could attend the secret election. At the secret election, each member would put forward a vote for whoever he or she would vouch for to become the master of rouge society. There wasn’t a rule that mandated a member of rouge society had to meet certain standard to become a master. Then again, rouge society had never had a master who wasn’t the most capable. Thieves had other useful skills besides their amazing ability in stealing treasures and valuable objects, and those skills were assassination and spying. Thieves were known for their superb stealth ability. They could stealthily penetrate heavily guarded castles and protected compounds. Countless treasures would disappear without a single thief was to be accounted for. Over the time, thieves evermore emboldened in their stealth ability and took up jobs that had greater consequences. Rouge society had often allowed thieves to carry out the act of assassination and spying for powerful, wealthy, well connected certain someones so the rouge society itself would continue to be a force to be reckoned with. All members within rouge society followed the same creed. The rouge society’s creed demanded loyalty, courage, stealth, and the need of keeping secrecy. The unspoken part of the creed was to make rouge society profitable. Booties brought back from any mission would later be divided in the order of forty percent of whatever to be handed over to the master so he could keep it safe for rouge society as a whole, the rest would belong to the one who had completed the mission. The rouge society had a headquarter in the northern part of Andora. Often it would be easier for somebody to be recruited into rouge society by not straying too far away from the rouge society’s headquarter. It happened that Kevin’s parents had disappeared when he was eight, and he found himself wandered throughout the northern part of Andora. Without a parent to raise him, Kevin survived by stealing what he could. Whenever hunger set in, he would sneak into a random village so he could nab a snowy chicken. A big catch would be a white fur pig. Living off the land, Kevin risked of being caught many times in his endeavors of stealing various livestocks. The livestocks from the area were particularly adapted to cold climate. From snowy chicken to white fur pig, these animals developed thick layers of fur and skin. The thick layers of fur and skin protected these animals from extreme cold weather when they were alive. Unfortunately for Kevin, the thick layers of fur and skin from these animals demanded Kevin to take much more time in preparing his meals. He had to skin his catches real well before he could roast them over the fire. Kevin had realized long time ago when he plucked away the thick layer of white fur from the white fur pigs to reveal the thin layer of pink skin which could be roasted over a medium campfire had the amazing crunchy taste.

Kevin knew that he could be beaten to death if he had gotten caught just once by the livestock farmers. So far, he had outsmarted them all. Kevin knew stealing wasn’t an honorable thing to do, but it wasn’t an option for him not to do so. So far, he had convinced himself that he had done nothing wrong. He had nobody to guide him in making a living. He got no connection in anyway which could lead him to a better life. Stealing was the only thing he knew how to do best. He knew that as long he just targeted the folks who had plenty to share but not so willingly do so. This way, Kevin somewhat could feel less guilty by taking things from someone without asking for permission. Gradually, Kevin began to push himself more than just stealing livestocks. He graduated into stealing anything that could be profitable. Of course, an internal guilt always drove him to target dislike characters. If he wasn’t too desperate, he would pick an extreme wealthy villager with a plethora of despicable moral values to become his next victim. Going after high profile targets would always require extra effort in planning, and so it made sense for Kevin to take all the time in the world to observe and plan things out before he would make his move. By being careful and planning things out, Kevin had often surprised himself of pulling some feats that he would consider to be just as good as the members of the rouge society. Quite often, day dreaming set in had Kevin fantasized himself as an accomplished member of rouge society. Kevin would have like to live in such a fantasy forever, but harsh reality had its way of yanking Kevin out of such a fantasy. Instead of feeling angry as the harsh reality set in, Kevin found himself chuckled away whenever he had thought himself as an accomplished thief, a true member of the rouge society. Kevin remembered right after his parents had disappeared without a trace, he went on for days with an empty stomach. It would growled louder than a fire lion, he thought. He had heard tales of how fire lions from the faraway land that could send fears into thousands of men by just growling from afar. Kevin imagined such a mythical lion would have a growl that could deafen anybody ears. Why else such a lion could send fears into thousands of men so easily? Water wasn’t the problem for Kevin in those days, because he could always dipped his head into bodies of water in various locations that littered throughout a village which he happened to explore. Foods were much more difficult to come by for Kevin. He often fed himself with dirty breads that he found on the ground in various markets. The folks who were at the markets would ignore his condition. They left him alone as if he was invisible. With such an invisibility, Kevin explored one market after another, looking for something that could be eaten. The things he found would be so distasteful to the folks there, but he could care less. It was more important for his stomach to not grow like a fire lion than otherwise. He often found leftover meals with little left to be eaten scattered the tables, and these tables would surround the open kitchen stands where the cooks would happen to dish out their customers’ favorite meals. Combining these leftover meals would eventually somewhat soothe his pesky stomach. If the Gods were with him on certain days, he could find a single leftover meal that was plenty enough to fill his stomach in one go. Well, as long the cooks had not empty such promising meals

before he had his hands on them. Of course, there were more days of bad luck than good luck, and so Kevin had often resorted to crushed, dirty, and barely eatable breads that coated with layers of dirt. These breads could be found easily throughout various markets as folks often by chances or intentions had dropped them and would not pick them up from the ground. Such folks had plenty to make do, and so they were careless of something as insignificant as dirty breads. Daydreaming of becoming an accomplished member of the rouge society came easy to a boy who had nothing to eat all day long. It was an old man who badmouthed the thieves of rouge society had told much about the rouge society and its members to Kevin. Whenever the old man was to be found in the market, Kevin knew he would have a heck of a day. The old man wasn’t wealthy, but he had enough to go by. Kevin often found the old man to be super generous to him. It was different kind of charity though. The old man wasn’t like the other folks who had ignored his condition, because the old man would share some of his meals with Kevin as long Kevin would listen to his ramblings. The old man would go on badmouthing the members of rouge society from time to time, and whenever he did, Kevin would perch his ears in earnest so he could know more about the rouge society and its members. Eventually, the old man stopped visiting the markets for unknown reasons. Even though there were many encounters between the old man and himself, Kevin never got to know the old man’s real name. Conversation would carry on during those strange encounters as if the old man was his blood elder, but there was never a formal introduction between the old man and himself. Introduction of names had never came up, because the old man would call Kevin boy this and boy that. It was strange for Kevin to find inspirations from the stories he had heard of the rouge society and its members from the old man even though these stories were often told in negative perspectives. Perhaps, the old man had exaggerated these stories so things would be more exciting. Nonetheless, whether the stories were falsely inflated or not, Kevin found himself wishing to become a character within the old man’s stories. It was then he had decided he would love to have a chance of becoming a member of the rouge society. Sadly to say, since that day till now, he had made no progress in pursuing the dream of becoming a member of the rouge society. While keeping up his hope that one day he would be recruited into the rouge society, Kevin continued to live off the land. Living off the land wasn’t easy. Kevin had to steal just about everything. Stealing livestocks was one thing which Kevin got really good. Kevin remembered how he had devised a technique for nabbing livestocks. The technique required Saline medicine, needles, and a blowgun. Kevin acquired Saline medicine by chance. It happened when he was sneaking across rooftops of various houses within a local village nearby, and by accident he had a glimpse at the work of a local witch doctor below. Usually, Kevin would carry on, but he saw the local witch doctor mumbled something about Saline and then applied the medicine on a little baby that cried

incessantly. To his amazement, the baby went to sleep right away. He knew then and there, the local witch doctor had something he wanted. Days after, Kevin observed the local witch doctor every move. Slowly, he began to know everything there was for him to make the so called Saline medicine. It turned out, Saline medicine wasn’t easy to make. It had the local witch doctor explored throughout the forest for the rare leaves known as Saline. Saline leaves had not a branch or a trunk to call home, but these leaves spurted out of nowhere and dangled upon the slimy, greenish vines of few trees within the forest of Andora. Eventually, the local witch doctor would boil the Saline leaves with local ingredients so the medicine would taste better. Kevin had not a care for concoct a soup of Saline medicine. Instead of boiling Saline in a soup, Kevin would crush Saline leaves till enough juice was extracted. He then mixed the extracted Saline juice with a local oil. By dipping his blowgun’s needles into the Saline oil, Kevin could use his blowgun to shoot out Saline needles, effectively sedating just about any living things. With the knowledge of making Saline medicine, Kevin often drugged his favorite meals into deep sleep with a blowgun before he quietly hauled them off the barns and farms. While waiting for the night to come, Kevin prepared his blowgun with needles that dipped into his own concocted Saline oil. The thought of a roasted white fur pig had his empty belly complained. He wished the night would have came already. As the darkness of the night had just shut out the last light over Andora, Kevin left his little hut. He traveled eastward, away from Timor and toward Maisu. Arriving in Maisu, Kevin approached one of the barns he had targeted. Trusting the darkness of the night and the black clothes he wore as best friends, Kevin hid behind the tree and observed the barn from a short distance. Not a soul in sight, Kevin slowly approached the low wood fence which designed to prevent the livestocks within from escaping. A juicy white fur pig ventured nearby. Kevin raised his blowgun and blew hard. With needlepoint accuracy, a small sedative needle stuck to the left side of the white fur pig’s belly. With fewer white furs to protect the sides of the belly, the sedative needle was able to penetrate into the the poor animal’s bloodstream without a hitch. The white fur pig had let out a small squeal, but the squeal was barely audible. The other white fur pigs sniffing the ground, had not a clue what had happened to the white fur pig that swayed sideway and fell to the ground. Without further ado, Kevin climbed over the fence as fast as he could. Without wanting to scare the waking white fur pigs into a squealing competition, he slowly approached the sleeping white fur pig. Out a bag and in the juicy white fur pig. The sleeping white fur pig inside the bag was heavy, and it took some effort before Kevin could load the bag over his right shoulder. Jerked his head toward the gate to make sure it was clear. Kevin carefully headed for the gate, making sure he wasn’t

bumping into the waking white fur pigs. They could start a squeal competition if one of them got panic and squeal loudly, and so it was better for him to not run but approach the gate carefully. Kevin unlocked the gate as slowly as he could, hoping that he could mitigate the cracking noise. It worked! Kevin could not be anymore delight as the catch was a good one. With a juicy white fur pig over his shoulder, Kevin snuck away in the dark. Kevin found himself at lost when he entered his hut. Uninvited, a man with rough looking and blond hair sat waiting for him. Kevin quickly released the heavy bag from his back, and a loud thud could be heard loudly throughout the hut and outside. A dagger was produced from his belly's waistband. Kevin dropped into a defensive stand, offended by the strange blond man who invaded his hut. The calm blond man smiled at how Kevin had reacted to his presence. “You don't have to be alarm boy! I'm not here to harm you!” the blond man assured Kevin. “Who are you?” “Like I said boy, I’m not here to harm you. Do put that funny dagger of yours away.” Kevin relaxed a bit since the strange man repeated he did not want to harm him. Still, just in case the man would pull something weird, he had the dagger held firmly to his side. Kevin was no longer in the defensive stand, and he was eager to have the man out of his hut. “Can you get out of my hut, we can talk outside. I don’t like stranger to come inside my hut uninvitedly.” “Can’t do. Can’t do that boy, because I feel just comfy in here. You see, stop thinking me as a stranger, but you need to think me as someone who will become your best friend. No, more like your future tutor.” The strange man picked himself off the floor. He was a tall man. His head almost grazed the very top of the hut. Kevin seemed strangely tiny to the man. “What on earth are you talking about?” Kevin felt somewhat intimidated by the man stature. “Boy, Victor is the name that boys like you would flock to at any chance. You see, I’m a veteran thief, and right now I have an itch of recruiting a squirrel.” A deceiving smile formed on his face. “You mean me?”

“Who else? Of course, you can always refuse to be one of us. I must warn you though, there won’t be a second chance to join us if you refuse us now. So, think about refusing to be one of us carefully.” “OK, so I just say yes and I’m in?” “No, it’s a lot more than just saying yes. First, you need to learn our way of life and profession. Afterward, you must prove to all of us that you are a capable member. By the way, being a squirrel is nothing something you should be proud of, because no member of rouge society will respect a squirrel. Basically, becoming a squirrel is just one way to allow you to have one foot inside our door. Got it?” “I guess,” Kevin reluctantly agreed. “Listen to me carefully, tomorrow night when the moon is big and shiny as now, you need to meet me at the headquarter of the rouge society. An initiation ceremony will be held for you. The rouge society is taking the initiation very serious. It doesn't matter if the initiation is for a squirrel or an apprentice or a thief, the initiation ceremony will be held with utmost formality and dedication. Do not wear any clothes with vibrant colors. You need to dress in black clothes. Make that from head to toes. Do not bring any weapon. Lastly, bring along 50 gold coins to the initiation. Without the gold coins, your initiation cannot go on,” Victor searched Kevin's face for any sign of backing out. “50 gold coins? Why so much?” Kevin face got slightly longer. “Nothing is free in this world, especially for becoming a member of our society. If you don’t have the coins, don’t come. The master will be there to accept your coins and initiate you tomorrow, so don’t make him waiting. Anyway, catch you at the initiation tomorrow night,” Victor left the hut and disappeared into the night. Kevin was relieved to see Victor whisked away in the night. Victor’s large size made him felt uncomfortable, as if he was forced upon by the man presence in his own hut. Relief, but there was this uneasiness feeling lurked somewhere within him. Perhaps, it was more of an excitement. As if a flame of an unrealized ambition was slowly, perpetually extinguished had just been given a new life. It was an excitement alright! A big one too, and he felt the blood rushed up into his head as if he had done something really big which he should be so proud of. Obviously, nothing had happened yet. Nonetheless, he figured such a rare opportunity would now be his. If everything would turn out right for him at the squirrel initiation, his chance to become a big shot suddenly looked more real than ever before. Hmm... a foot into the door of the rouge society. Very cool! Kevin thought to himself. Just getting 50 gold coins and I’m set, Kevin told himself. The villagers nearby were barely made do with what they got. Silver coins were certainly within reach for these villagers, but gold coins would be something exotic. Kevin hit a snag, and he knew he

had to solve it quick or else his dream, ambition, and his future would all dissipate in the thin air by tomorrow night.

----------Please don’t read beyond this point, or else things might not make sense. I’m still working on getting more materials and piecing the the story further.---------------

He suddenly remembered about a man who lived in Koira which located to the south of Maisu. Kevin was sured that the man in Koira had enough gold coins for his initiation. The man named Igor. Igor had been the force that controlled the wheat market in the northern part of Andora. The wealth which Igor had accumulated turned him into one of the richest men in the northern part of Andora. Kevin knew Igor had the gold coins he needed, but it would be an impossible mission for stealing the gold coins from Igor. The residence where Igor lived was highly guarded with men who had known for their cruelties. Kevin had heard rumor of how Igor hid

many gold coins in a box located deep within his compound. Kevin suspected the box had to be among other valuable items that Igor locked away in a highly guarded room. Stealing gold coins from Igor would be a mission for a veteran thief, but Kevin was far from being a thief let alone a veteran thief. Stealing from Igor made the goal of getting the 50 gold coins in a day possible, but it would be a suicidal mission. Kevin weighed his options and he strongly felt his next fat pig had to be Igor. Alright, Igor here I come! The sun was barely woken up, Kevin had on a tight white pant and a tight white short sleeve shirt. He wanted the clothes he wore stayed out of his way when a getaway was necessary. Andora was largely undeveloped and the forest ruled the continent. Kevin used the forest as a shroud which hid him from the enemies. Kevin had never traveled through the forest for sightseeing, but it was difficult to ignore the lively animals and exotic plants that had grew along the forest trails. The forest had its way with Kevin as he felt peaceful within it. Nonetheless, Kevin knew where he headed would only be grim. By the time the sun bathed everything under its glory glow, Kevin climbed up and hid himself on a largest tree which located behind Igor's residence. The tree was thick and overgrown with branches and vegetations, a well cover for Kevin to stake the backside of Igor's residence. Two men were stood loosely nearby a large white column which supported the oversized roof. The two men mingled about something. Kevin could not see anyone else from the backside of Igor's residence. Without being sure, Kevin could not sneak inside Igor's residence just yet. Lucky for Kevin, the two men party left the backside of Igor's residence gave Kevin an idea. Kevin slowly climbed down the tree and approached the backdoor as quietly as he could. The door made from metal and was shut tight. Certain locking mechanism from the inside had locked the door prevented Kevin from entering. Kevin unfold a long robe he had all along with him. He made a knot for the robe which could be tightened when it caught an object. Without aiming and a mighty underhanded throw, Kevin had the robe thrown over the metal door. He pulled the robe back hard but it failed to grabble onto any part of the metal door from the inside. Kevin tried the second time and it was a success. The robe grabbed a locking mechanism from the inside of the metal door. Kevin pulled hard on the robe and the robe tightened its grasp onto the locking mechanism. Even though Kevin tried, the locking mechanism would not release its hold. Kevin gave one last try and the locking mechanism released itself and made a clank sound. Kevin snuck into Igor's residence through the backdoor. Stealthily he waded his way into the lair of the fat pig and the fat pig's little pigs. The hallways within Igor's residence formed a complicated maze. Here and there but infrequently, little windows with metal bars formed tic tac toe squares allowed light seeped in just enough to beat back the overflow of dark shadows. Hot and humid air permeated throughout and the cockroaches encroached the floors of the hallways. Kevin found it was incapacitated as

a stench permeated the air and invaded his nose. It seemed Igor and his henchmen were a bunch of unkempt pigs. Nothing was valuable in sight as far as his eyes could see. Igor must had kept his treasure to himself and shared none for his henchmen. Doubts crept in as Kevin wandered around. It seemed Igor indeed was a selfish bastard, but how could a careful selfish bastard as him had the whereabout of his treasure leaked or to be rumored about? Kevin began to doubt that the treasure was around. If bad luck had it, he would not be able to get the gold coins for his squirrel initiation, and worse he would be caught and killed by Igor's henchmen. Several times Kevin had to change directions as Igor's henchmen moved about the hallways. Kevin used the dark corners of the hallways to hide himself from sudden appearances of Igor's henchmen. After a long exploration within the hallways, Kevin got to know the place quite well. Igor's residence was a dirty place but was impressive with its size and space. The place had about 30 rooms, 5 hallways, and 3 spacious general areas. All the doors that led to different areas in Igor's residence were unguarded but one. It had to be the treasure room! Kevin hoped Igor the dirty pig would have his gold coins hid there. It could also be a trap! Kevin heard no movement about and the two guards stood in front the mysterious door were motionless. Without moving, but the two guards had complete view of the hallway. No one could approach the door without being seen unless it was a ghost. On one side of the hallway of the mysterious door had a little window with metal bars that formed in tic tac toe squares lighted the hallway somewhat. Enough light to shine on Kevin if he decided to approach the guards in any stealthy way. Kevin patrolled the two guards with one eye as he stuck a sliver of his face out at the end of the hallway. The corner of the hallway where Kevin stood was dark enough which kept Kevin's presence hidden from the two guards. Kevin had a problem! He wanted to use his blowgun on the two guards but they were far enough which had him hesitated. His heart raced as his mind raced to come up with an idea. Approaching the guards in a tight hallway with enough light near the center of the hallway meant fight or flight. Kevin had always best when came to flight but fight, Kevin would rather not think of it. The two guards were huge, and they carried dangerously huge, sharped axes. The size and the evil presence of those men troubled Kevin. Kevin had thought of everything but nothing was brilliant enough for he to take the chance. Suddenly he heard a movement from afar, near the opposite end of where he stood. The hallways were a maze, some hallways led to another, and some others would end up with doors. Only two hallways in Igor's residence allowed people to enter and exit the place. Kevin had pretty much stood in the center of the Igor's residence, and the mysterious door was in sight. A movement from the opposite end where Kevin now stood could only mean that Kevin had been trapped from both ends. The movement had gotten clearer.

A small thump echo the hallway, but the two guards had not reacted to the sound. A man fell down as a tiny needle penetrated his neck. His body was eventually robbed naked and he was tied as his legs were bounded by clothing in a difficult knot and so his hands. Two more small needles were penetrated the man neck, three in total. Kevin had made sure the man could not be woken up anytime soon by shooting the man with three needles that were pasted with Saline medicine. For all he knew, the man could sleep forever as one needle with Saline medicine could put out a man for almost a whole day. Nonetheless, excessive measure was taken since he decided the situation was rather dire for himself. He masked himself with the clothes that he robbed from his unconscious victim. A plan came up. Masking himself within the uniform that he had robbed from his unconscious victim, he planned to approach the two guards within reasonable distance so his blowgun could be more accurate. The two guards saw Kevin approached but they did not reacted. The two guards were surprised to see Kevin suddenly stopped from his normal stride, they were somewhat amused. One of the guards began his forward stride toward Kevin but he fell down instantly as Kevin blew a sedated needle into his face. The second guard became alert and told Kevin to halt, but a needle flew into his mouth and choked him. Without time to choke properly, the second guard fell down hard onto the floor of the hallway. The mysterious door was locked as Kevin had assumed. It was unnecessary to pick the lock when Kevin had obtained the key on one of the fallen guards' body. Kevin pushed the mysterious door open and he saw the untold treasures. The rumor was true. What lay hidden behind the mysterious door were dragon statutes made of gold, pearls came in all sizes, golden wine cups, jades that were carved in animal shapes and rectangular shapes that could be wore on necks, and what had caught Kevin's eyes the most were trays of gold coins. Kevin eyeballed the room and estimated that Igor's trays of gold coins totaled more than anything he could imagine of. Igor was really a fat pig. With these gold coins, Igor could buy politicians. It was now clear that Igor had his way with the wheat market for these gold coins could literally bought out or crushed his competitors to pulps. Kevin was not prepared for so many gold coins. He thought to himself, I cannot escape this place if I stuff way too many of them. Kevin stuffed 60 gold coins inside his money purse made out of sturdy black cloth. Kevin snuck slowly out of the treasure room, carefully watching for signs of Igor's henchmen. On the way out of Igor's residence, Kevin noticed Igor was drunk and lay snoring in a general area. A really beautiful woman sat next to a drunken Igor and massaged him. She saw Kevin snuck out, but she did not made any sound. Kevin's eyes met her, and she gazed back with her cold eyes. For a moment, Kevin thought she was going to make a sound to alert Igor, but she had not. Kevin quickly broke off the stare and snuck faster toward the hallway that would lead him outside and away from Igor's residence.

Apparently, Igor was comfortable enough within his own residence that he had not a guard to watch him while he slept in a drunken state. Had he had a guard idled by, Kevin had not a chance to escape the lair of pigs. Kevin remembered the beautiful face who had not made a sound and allowed Kevin to sneak away. As he successfully snuck out of Igor's residence, Kevin swore that he would return her a favor someday. Chapter eight (Uncle's House) The empty leather water bags were now refilled, the children's horses kicked the dusts off the ground as they fled toward the north and away from a clear narrowed river. Half day had gone by without a hitch, the children arrived at Catheblanc. Arlene saw Catheblanc was lively and livelier than Guinevere. As the children rode past a market area, Arlene and Charlie gasped at the human auction. “Oh man, they are selling humans!” Arlene turned around toward Charlie and Tristan for any response. Charlie stared at the human auction with wide eyes, and Tristan gazed into the crowded mob which surrounded the scaffold that auctioned the slaves with boredom in his eyes. Arlene observed the boys and wondered about their reactions. Charlie horrified at the activity displayed on the scaffold in front of him. Tristan had seen slave auctions many times before, it would not change his mind about selling slaves. Tristan knew his uncle had bought many slaves. Tristan himself grew up to know quite many of them. What ticked Arlene about the slave auction befuddled Tristan. The slave auction was apparently crowded as usual, quite lively indeed. “Why are you so surprised?” Tristan asked Arlene. “Why are they selling humans? The laws allow this? Humans cannot be sold as if they're objects, toys, and stuffs that we like to possess. Humans are humans!” Arlene's eyes showed fury as she spoke angrily and her index finger pointed at the scaffold. “This happens all the time Arlene! Charlie, this is normal right?” Tristan turned toward to Charlie for a consensus. “This is new to me too, the place where I'm from, slavery is a very bad thing,” Charlie confirmed Arlene's viewpoint. “If my uncle is here, he may buy some of the slaves here. My uncle treats his slaves really well! I don't see why owning slaves and treating them well will be a problem,” Tristan said with a conviction. “So, you think owning slaves is OK, but what if, if you're a slave yourself, will you still think it's OK?” Arlene shot back with fume in her voice. “Nobody wants to be a slave Arlene, but people don't have a choice. Nothing we can do about them. At the very least, if I ever own slaves, I'll treat them humanely,” Tristan felt the topic could divide them, it was time to move on as the slave auction had nothing to

do with what needed to be accomplish at hand. The thought of his father had lain in a fresh grave that was dug by them, a shoddy work which could not do justice for his beloved father stung him emotionally. “OK, let not stick around,” Charlie suggested. Arlene had the urge of shooing the crowd away from the slave auction, stopped the slave auction altogether, but she was only a girl, and she had not the gut to do so even if she wanted to. Everyone was so into the slave auction, some people were yelling at the slave master so they could be heard with their bidding prices. Prices of healthy male and pretty female slaves were raised higher and higher as the bidders were apparently at full blown price wars. The slave auction was going well for the devil, and those poor souls who stared sheepishly at the bidders could only wonder if hell was nicer. The children pushed their horses forward at slow trots. Suddenly, a little girl staggered backward from the crowd and struggled in getting back on her feet. Arlene stopped her horse from its trots, and got down from the horse to help the girl planted her feet on the muddy ground. Her feet was bared and painted with mud. Her toenails were dirty. Dirts stuck between her toenails and the skins beneath them. Her dress was tattered and painted with wet muds. Her eyes had shown a sadness which gave an outsider a glimpse of her hollowness, something was amiss and troubled this poor young girl. She had white as pearl skin, and she gave off a very pleasant body odor even though she was somewhat unkempt and smudged with muds. Her scent reminded Arlene of blue lotuses which she had had the luck to spot some while she refilled the water bag at the narrow river not too far from the slave auction. The river was crystal clear which shown the bottom filled with strange colorful fish, but the blue lotuses floated freely above and gave off the most amazing sweet scent Arlene had ever encountered. The thought reminded Arlene of wanting to dive into the pristine river, bathed herself among the blue lotuses as if she was cleansed herself from her illness. Such a beautiful thought was provoked by this strange girl who could look about the same age as Arlene, and yet the current atmosphere spoiled everything and brought Arlene back into reality as the noisy bidding wars continued incessantly. What reality she thought. Charlie and Tristan turned their horses around, and they too jumped off the horses. Charlie had a nervous manner when he was around girls, but he had never felt nervous when he was around Arlene. Oddly, this strange girl too had not made Charlie nervous, and he felt a sudden warmth as he confronted the strange girl. Tristan too was captivated by the strange girl. “My name is Arlene. This is Charlie and Tristan,” Arlene pointed at Charlie and Tristan. The strange girl was silent. She ignored the introduction but she looked yonder over the crowd that gathered beneath the scaffold where the slaves were in chains. Arlene and the boys followed the strange girl's gaze, and they too were silent.

“You know someone up there?” Tristan broke the silence and pointed at the scaffold. Tristan's question stirred up something inside the strange girl. She turned around and looked at Tristan with intensity. Tears poured down from both of her sad eyes. The tears wet her muddy cheeks, but the muddy cheeks stayed muddy as ever. She sniffled her nose and fought back her tears. The strange girl used the back of her hands to wipe away the tears and some of the muds from her face. “I'm Sheryl,” Sheryl felt embarrassed as she was smudged with muds. “Let me guess, you have someone you know and who is about to be sold off on that scaffold, right?” Tristan blurted. “Yes, my mother, she is the pretty one with a black metal chain around her neck. She is wearing a dirty white dress, and the slave owner is grabbing her head by the hair. Her name is Sheryl too,” her weepy eyes turned reddish from the tears. She pointed at her mother up in the scaffold who had her head guided around by the slave owner's left hand. Sheryl's mother had her head pulled backward, and her eyes stared at the blue sky above her. The slave owner guided her head around as his dirty fingers dug deep within her hair and clawed at her skull. At one point the slave owner snapped Sheryl the mother's head around to face him. Sheryl the mother's face was inched away from the slave owner's face. The slave owner grinned with a big fat parted mouth which formed a crooked smile. “This one is pretty, whoever bids higher, she's your,” the slave owner shook Sheryl the mother's head slightly as if her head was just an object to be toyed with. The pain and the sadness and the embarrassment and the shame all clearly showed on the face of Sheryl the mother. Sheryl the mother kept her silence as if she was a scared animal. “I'm telling you all, bring this one home, she can keep your house clean, and she can make you happy all at the same time. Look at her, how can you deny such exotic form. Bring me that water bucket,” the slave owner commanded the slave boy who had no chain around his neck to grab the water bucket nearby the edge of the scaffold. The boy ran at once to the bucket and brought it back to the slave owner. The slave owner stuck his right hand into the cold water bucket, and eventually brought his wet hand out to wipe Sheryl the mother's face. The cold water stung Sheryl the mother's eyes and wet her pretty lips. “See? She looks beautiful when her face is a little cleaner,” the slave owner gestured the slave boy to take the water bucket away. “Healthy and pretty, what more do you want? Bid higher people,” the slave owner chuckled in evil manner and loudly. Sheryl the daughter bit her tiny red lips tight. She had an intense look on her face as if she wanted to do someone harm. Her red eyes had now flooded with more tears. She looked beyond hopeless when the slave owner chuckled loudly.

“Seven gold coins,” a man shouted at the slave owner. “Eight gold coins,” another man shouted at the slave owner. “Fourteen gold coins,” a much older man with gray beard shouted out with confidence. He seemed to go all out on the price war against the others. “Fourteen going once, going twice, going thrice, and it's your sir! Whatever your name is, please give me your fourteen gold coins, and she is your.” Arlene hugged Sheryl the daughter tightly. Sheryl the daughter used Arlene's clean body as a support, and the mud from Sheryl the daughter's body smeared Arlene's clothes. Arlene cared not for the mud on her somewhat dirty clothes, but she was worried about Sheryl the daughter. Strong feeling stirred within Arlene as she felt she had to do something for Sheryl the daughter. Arlene wished she had the power to stop the auction, and brought Sheryl the mother back to Sheryl the daughter. The strange environment and the strange people with their strange politics prevented Arlene from doing anything. Arlene feared for her life. What if someone here decided she was an outsider and not from this part of the strange town, would she be captured and chained and made into a slave? Arlene looked at Charlie and felt that he too could be captured and chained and made into a slave. “There is nothing we can do for your mother Sheryl. Why don't you come with us to my uncle house. He can give you some food, and maybe even allow you to work for him. He is a nice person, you have nothing to worry about,” Tristan said proudly. Sheryl ignored Tristan offered and she gently pushed Arlene away. The hug between Arlene and Sheryl had broken, but the bond between them had only got stronger. Arlene felt a sudden urge inside. Her eyes formed a purposeful look as she stared at Tristan. “I have an idea, Tristan, why don't you ask your uncle to buy Sheryl's mother from that old man. Since your uncle is a nice man, he may do it. When that happens, can you also ask your uncle to set Sheryl's mother free? It's best for Sheryl and her mother to live freely like us,” Arlene begged Tristan sincerely. “I can try, but it will be expensive for my uncle, and so I doubt he will set Sheryl's mother free even if he is a nice man. You heard yourself, the old man bought Sheryl's mother for fourteen gold coins,” Tristan explained. “OK, maybe she will be his slave. Still, your uncle is a nice man as you have said. I think she will be alright. Are you sure he is nice?” Arlene asked Tristan as if she had doubted what he had said earlier.

“Yes, I have always saw him treating his slaves very nice. He treats them as if they're his family.” “Well then, Sheryl's mother is better with your uncle than some strange old man,” Arlene suggested. “Let follow the old man before he leaves this place. When we get to know where the old man takes Sheryl's mother to, we can later ask Tristan's uncle to meet up with the old man so Sheryl's mother can be rescued,” Charlie suggested. “Guys, he is leaving now! We must go after him,” Tristan pointed at the old man who left the crowd. The old man carelessly held the long metal chain which tied to a metal neck bracelet formed around Sheryl the mother's neck. The old man exerted very little effort in pulling the chain as he had not a need in doing so. Sheryl the mother followed the old man obediently even though the chain was not actually being pulled. Sheryl the mother was barefooted. She walked fast and then slow as she tried to match the old man's paces. The children kept their distance. They preferred the old man stayed blissful but ignorance. The children thought the old man had not noticed their present, but they had it wrong. The old man led Sheryl the mother a long way away from the slave auction. Eventually, the old man turned around and stared at the coming children. The children saw the old man made an about-face, they stopped dead in their tracks. “What you want with me little children?” the old man yelled out loud. “Nothing much, we're not following you,” Tristan screamed back. “Come here,” the old man cough a little as he yelled back just as loud. The children moved closer to the old man, but they approached him with care. “We're not following you. We're going the same way as you, and that's it,” Tristan said. “Aren't you children suppose to stay home and tend to some chores? Why are you moving about in this area without any supervision? And the horses, those are not stolen right?” the old man eyed the children suspiciously. “No, the horses belong to my dad. With his permission, we can ride them,” Tristan replied. “Alright, since you aren't following me. I don't mind then. Just don't bother me on the way.”

Sheryl's mother stood in silent as she stared down at her feet. Sheryl the mother feared to lift up her head and stared into the eyes of just about anybody. She heard Tristan's voice, but she did not looked at him. She heard the old man's replies but she ignored the current conversation. Thoughts in her head raced about. She told herself that the old man would be nice to her. Suddenly, she heard a voice that made her heart raced harder. She did not lift her face up and she kept her stare at her feet. It was hard for Sheryl the mother to pretend that she had not heard the familiar voice. Nonetheless, she had missed it very much. The barrier was too great for her, and she stood still without doing anything even though she knew the voice was belonged to her daughter. “What are you going to do to her?” Sheryl the daughter asked the old man angrily, even though she tried to appear not so. “She will do what most slaves must do. Why are you so interested in this slave of mine, little girl?” the old man looked at the muddy little girl who spoke in tiny voice with some interests. He assumed the girl had played with muds. He looked at her muddy bared feet, and he had a second thought. He concluded that the little muddy girl must be a slave girl who ran about with her young masters who were fully clothed. The other children must be this little girl master, and so the old man assumed. It was a common thing for him to see young masters with slave girls followed them around. “She has no interest in your slave but I do. I think my uncle will want to buy her as he likes pretty, healthy female slave. Since we are heading to my uncle house which is in the same direction that we are heading all along. Why don't you talk to my uncle to see if you can get a good price out of him for her,” Tristan forcefully suggested and pointed at the slave woman who looked totally uncomfortable at the current situation. “I had her for fourteen gold coins. It's expensive for me to have her. Are you sure your uncle will pay more for her? Actually, forget what I ask. It doesn't have to be your uncle, even you can buy her if you can give me 25 gold coins here and now,” The old man said coldly. Arlene brightened up as she heard what the old man had just said. Arlene and Charlie and Tristan combined had more than 50 gold coins. They had found tons of money when they looted the money from the corpses and the empty buildings at Guinevere. “I thought children can't buy slave. I saw the sign at the slave auction stated that slave owners must be seventeen. Are you going to keep your words and not making a big deal about our ages?” Arlene chose her words with care and asked the old man to make sure he was serious about the offer. “Dear children, I care less who wants to buy my slave, and I'm not a slave seller, I'm just a slave owner. Actually I don't want to sell this slave here at all, but since you children have an interest in my slave, you can have her for 25 gold coins. I doubt you children have that much money in you. Why don't we stop talking about my slave and move along till we part,” the old man made an about-face again.

“We like to buy her, very much,” Arlene hastily blurted after the old man who had already pulled Sheryl the mother behind him as he walked away from the children. The old man stopped dead in his track as he heard the little girl behind him said she wanted to buy his brand new female slave for 25 gold coins. Another about-face he made, the old man eyes were wide as he had ever been for the day. He could barely hide his surprise on his face. “You have 25 gold coins? How on earth you children have so much money? Your parents must be some big shots, aren't they?” the old man asked with interests. “Yes, our parents are rich and they're not the type that anyone wants to mess around with. Anyway, we will buy her for 25 gold coins. Please hand her over to us,” Tristan said. “You children are fearless. Any other man would have stolen your money, kidnapped you and ransomed your parents for you so boldly stated that you're some big shots' children. I'm not any other man though, and I keep my words. OK, she is your, just hand me the 25 gold coins.” Arlene was the one who held the gold coins together in a thick cloth bag. They had no idea that the gold coins were such a big help as they was about to set free Sheryl's mother. Arlene fished out the gold coins from the bag one by one as she handed each gold coin to the old man. After the transaction was done, the old man stared at Arlene's thick cloth bag and surprised that it was still heavy. “Thank you little girl. With this money I can buy two slaves. Tuck the rest money that you have away, because you never know someone may steal it from you. I'm going to head back to the slave auction, you children go on without me,” the old man bid the children goodbye. “Thank the gods for the gold coins from Guinevere,” Tristan said lively and with clumsy chuckles, but then he felt shameful right after he had said those words. Those gold coins weren't theirs in the first place. Sheryl ran toward her mom and hugged her waist tightly. Sheryl buried her head and shed more tears just below her mother's breasts. Sheryl the mother hugged her daughter as tight as she could and she too had tears ran down her cheeks. The children listened to the small crying sounds that Sheryl and her mother made. They felt satisfied of what they had done. So satisfied that they felt somewhat happy even though they knew Tristan was still in a grief of losing a father. So satisfied that they felt somewhat right even though they knew Arlene and Charlie weren't home. Sheryl the mother lifted up her face and looked at the children with adoration.

“Thank you so so much. I don't have anything to repay you all. I don't know how to repay,” Sheryl the mother's tears continued to shed and wet her daughter's hairs. Arlene fished into her bag again and she fished out five gold coins. She approached Sheryl the mother gently and pushed the five gold coins into Sheryl the mother's right hand. “Please have the gold coins. You need them more than we do. And we still have some left, enough for three of us to do whatever,” Arlene begged Sheryl the mother to accept the gold coins. “No, I can't accept anymore generosity from all of you. It's too much already,” Sheryl the mother pushed the gold coins back into Arlene's right hand. “You need these gold coins to buy something for yourself and Sheryl,” Arlene insisted. “I don't want your gold coins. Let me travel with you, I can be a big help in certain chores and activities. Sheryl and I can be your servants,” Sheryl the mother begged. “Arlene has rescued you from a slave owner, it's pointless and it's not a rescue if we are becoming the slave owners ourselves. Arlene and I dislike the whole thing about owning slaves,” Charlie explained. “Yes, Charlie is absolutely correct. Why should humans enslaved another? Miss, we don't want you to become our slaves since we has just stopped a slave owner from enslaving you. Just take the gold coins, and be your own master,” Arlene demanded. “Servants are not slaves. You can pay me for being your servants along the way. Actually, you've already paid me in the form of freeing us from slavery. Please Arlene and Charlie and Tristan, let my daughter and I serve you on your journey. When you decide that Sheryl and I are no longer be of any help, then you can shoo us away,” Sheryl the mother begged again. “I guess it's OK to have you and Sheryl with us. Arlene and Charlie are looking for the way home. Maybe you can aid them even further on their way home,” Tristan turned toward Arlene and gave her a subtle expression as if he said just accepted them. Charlie understood what Tristan meant, and so he nudged Arlene's right arm. Giving her a sign as if he too thought it was a very good idea. “OK, if you so insisted on coming along with us, then we love to be your companions,” Arlene turned around and faced Tristan, “Tristan, maybe your uncle can hire Sheryl and her mother as a paid workers when they arrive at his house. Can you persuade your uncle to do just that?”

“Sure, but I doubt he needs more workers. I think he prefers more slaves since he doesn't have to pay his slaves any gold coin. The noble thing about my uncle is that he treats his slaves with dignity as in allowing them to live comfortable. I mean he treats them very humanely. To the best of my knowledge he doesn't abuse his slaves,” Tristan defended his uncle. “If your uncle wants to make Sheryl and her mother his slaves, I will not be his friend,” Arlene said coldly and gave Tristan a firm look on her face as if she meant it. “He won't force anyone into slavery for that I know and sure of it,” Tristan defended his uncle again. “Good to hear that! So, when will we arrive at your uncle house?” Arlene asked. “It will be well into evening since we had stopped along the way to help free Miss Sheryl from slavery,” Tristan explained. “Ya, evening is better than another night in a forest. Sleeping in the forest is harsh, cold, and uncomfortable. Let get going guys,” Charlie urged everyone to get going. Sheryl the mother felt her life had turned for the better as she was no longer a slave. She told herself to be a good servant and a good companion for the children who were so brave and smart. Without the children, Sheryl the mother knew that she had to be enslaved for the rest of her life. In fact, she felt it was OK for the children to enslave her. They had treated her only with kindness, and she felt the urge of wanting to do much goodness for the children. Arlene suggested Sheryl the mother to ride with her on the same horse and Sheryl the daughter to ride with Tristan on the same horse. Sheryl the mother and Sheryl the daughter obeyed Arlene's command. The children party had gotten a little bigger, but they traveled just as fast as they had before. The horses galloped forward with strides. They shared the water bags and had eaten nothing as they were out of dry breads. The mismatched party arrived at Tristan's uncle house in the evening just as Tristan had predicted. “See that house over there? It's my uncle house. I love his house since it's smacking right in the middle of a garden that plants with various yellow flowers. My uncle cuts the forest trees down and planted those beautiful yellow flowers. I don't even know the names for those yellow flowers. There are so many of them. Nonetheless, they're beautiful flowers. My uncle is amazing, he knows everything about each yellow flower in his garden,” Tristan became talkative as the horses galloped ever closer to the house that planted itself right in the middle of a flower garden. The party arrived at the outskirts of the yellow flower garden. There was a long curvy walkway carefully patched with colorful carved stones. Waded through the flowers even

with care could destroy the beautiful flowers themselves, and the walkway was a perfect way to keep the flower from being flatten by visitors. The yellow flowers were thrived abundantly in thick volumes of all sizes and types. The aromas emitted by the yellow flowers were overwhelming, but the aromas were very pleasant. “How your uncle keep all these yellow flowers so beautiful in this time of the year?” Arlene asked Tristan. “He once told my father and me that the soil here is very rich and the forest itself is a magical living being which protects the flowers from its natural cycles,” Tristan explained. “I'm not sure I even want to believe you on that Tristan. Even I know no matter how perfect the conditions are for plants, they have to go through the natural cycles. From dieing to living and whatever between the two, that's how I've been taught of plants. Besides looking extremely beautiful and releasing such pleasurable aroma, I don't see anything magical about these yellow flowers which supports your uncle claim,” Arlene said. The children got off the horse. They tied their horses around a tree that stood outside but nearby the yellow flower garden. The party made their way toward the artful stone path which waded snakelike toward the center of the garden where the beautiful little house stood majestically. Only halfway through the stone path, Charlie picked a yellow flower which had grown from the side of the stone path and brought it up closer to his nose for its fragrance was hard to resist. Tristan saw what Charlie did as he followed behind Charlie. “Charlie, don't do that again. My uncle dislikes how people pick his flowers without asking him for permission. He prefers them yellow flowers stay happily where they are now,” Tristan warned Charlie. “Sorry, I won't do that again,” Charlie sheepishly apologized. At the end of the stone path, Tristan knocked on the door of his uncle house. The door was made of wood and it was hard to knock on. It seemed the wood which constructed the door was as old as the trees that stood at the outskirts of the yellow flower garden. From the look of those big and sturdy and tall trees, those trees had outlived everyone nearly a thousand of years. The door which Tristan had knocked on had roughly the same age. Nobody had answered the door even though Tristan knocked with all his might at the door.

“Where your uncle kept the slaves? This house is too small for him to house them. From the look of it, I think two to three people are the maximum that the house can hold at once. More than that, I fear space will be a problem,” Arlene said. Sheryl the mother kept surveyed the surrounding and had a worry look on her face since nobody had answered the door. Sheryl the daughter stood idly in silent next to her mother. “The slaves aren't living with him. They live not too far away from here. My uncle had built a nice house which is many times bigger than this. He used to live there with his family. Since the day his family was mysteriously disappeared, he had never visited that house. He lets the slaves live there now, and he creates his own paradise here,” Tristan explained. “Maybe he is at his other house now?” Sheryl the mother suggested. “Most unlikely, for all I know he hates the place. It reminds him of his lost family. He misses them everyday. He told me once that he felt he was useless for not knowing how his two children and a wife had disappeared without a single trace,” Tristan explained. “How far is the slave house from here? Forget the question that I just asked, even if it's kind of far, we still have to see if your uncle is there. We need to talk to him and ask him for permission to stay with him and ask him to help Charlie and I find our way home and help Sheryl and her mother to settle down and...” Arlene ranted on. “Arlene, calm down. Just follow me there,” Tristan turned around and headed for the other end of the stone path. Tristan led the party to the east and away from where the yellow flower garden stood. It took them not too far but far enough where the traces of a house in the yellow flower garden and the the yellow flower garden itself could not be seen even with a modern binocular, and that Arlene was sure of it. The party arrived at the door of a very big house. Arlene and the rest convinced the house could hold more than two families of five at the least. “How many slaves are living in this house?” Arlene asked. “When I was here with my father six months ago, my uncle had three slaves. They all lived in this house. Every morning, the slaves make their ways to my uncle house so they can take care the garden and my uncle,” Tristan explained. “Only three slaves are living here, this means there will be room for us. I don't think your uncle will have a space problem for us. It's just that Tristan, you have to convince him to let us stay,” Arlene had determined.

“Will the slaves recognize you?” Sheryl the mother asked Tristan. “They sure are. I know all the slaves here rather well. As my uncle, I don't treat them as slaves. As far as I remember, we dine with the slaves as if they are the members of the family. Sometimes, my uncle helps the slaves out with the chores around his house, not this one. Following his examples, I have my shares of helping the slaves out in certain chores about here and there,” Tristan proudly said. Sheryl the mother showed new adoration for Tristan for what he had spoke sounded musical to her heart. He has a kind heart! “I think we'll be just fine here Sheryl,” Sheryl the mother looked down at her daughter with happy feeling showed in her beautiful blue eyes. Sheryl the daughter smiles back at her mother and felt reassured about being here. She had kept herself very quiet all along the trip. Sheryl the daughter felt it was more than enough just to exist alongside with her mother. She too had adored her new friends for they had made it possible for her mother to live freely. Tristan knocked at the door of the slave house loudly. This door too had carved out from an ancient tree which aged roughly seventy times more than each children. The thick wood of the door made it hard to knock, and Tristan knocked at it brutally. It was not the same as before where only the silence had greeted the party, a slave responded quickly and opened the door. “Oh my, you have grown a bit Tristan. Give me a hug,” Raleigh the slave who had toiled all his life for Tristan's uncle greeted Tristan wholeheartedly. He had been loyal in unconditional sense. Raleigh was also the eldest of the three slaves. He managed the other two slaves in place of Tristan's uncle. His job was less busied than the other two, but he had more responsibility in a sense when things went wrong. Tristan's uncle was a mild man with easy going manner, it was easy for Raleigh to satisfy the man. “I have to, I'm still growing Mr. Raleigh,” Tristan hugged Raleigh. “And who do I have the honor to stand in front of? So many beautiful people are with you Tristan,” Raleigh said politely. “They are my friends. Please meet Raleigh guys. He is the most responsible and the eldest slave of the three. Raleigh, please say hi to Arlene who is smart and pretty, Charlie who is shy and smart, Sheryl who is pretty and quiet, Sheryl's mom who is also named Sheryl and she is pretty and kind,” Tristan introduced the group to Raleigh. “It's a pleasure to meet all of you. Please come in. Don't stand outside, come in and make yourself at home.”

The party entered the slave house. The house looked gorgeous. Arlene and Charlie and the rest were surprised the slaves had the whole house to themselves. The house was decorated with exquisite furniture made of ancient woods. Tristan had said that his uncle built the house himself, Arlene took that as a sign of how crafty Tristan's uncle had been. The living room area had a huge polished wood table carved out from who knew how many centuries this specific ancient tree once was. It was not a surprised to see the rest of the house decorated with precious furniture made from the oldest trees. Even the floor of the house was built from one of those ancient trees and was skillfully polished gave it a familiar shiny surface of which Arlene had often saw in her own home. What a spacious house. Yellow flowers in highly crafted vases decorated the living room table, the kitchen table, and various locations within the house. The slaves had laboriously kept the house neat and tidy to a point as if the slave owner actually lived in the house. A really pleasant scent permeated from the kitchen to the living room made everyone felt hungry. “Everyone, please come with me to the kitchen. I have foods and apple juice ready. I don't even know so many people have came today. Luckily, I have a habit of making foods that will last the others and me for couple days. This means, there is plenty of food, so don't hold back,” Raleigh begged the party. Arlene noticed the house had only one level as she marched from the living room toward the kitchen. Came of it, Arlene had not saw one single house built with two floors in the towns and the places she had passed through since the day she had mysteriously woken up in a magical forest. Came of it, she had a flash back of the fairy who told her about the evil wizard was on his way this way. Everything seemed to be outlandish. Fairies weren't real, but here she had met them in that forest. Modern comforts seemed to be out of touch for the new friends she had met. The people she had met so far traveled on feet and horses, modern transportation were existed only in her mind. The furniture in the inns of Guinevere and here had mainly built from woods. She had saw nothing that was made of plastic. The clothes shrouded the bodies of the people Arlene had met were designed and decorated strangely; the clothes somewhat looked blandly and sewed as one piece rather than had broken up in the combinations of shirts and pants. She had saw people with status such as slave owners wore clothes with more pieces that were highly decorated with colorful arts such as a pattern of the birds. Arlene surmised only the people with money in the parts that she had passed through could afford clothes with more pieces and skillfully woven arts. She felt as if this was another world completely. In a part of her mind which was locked and kept hidden from her reaches, Arlene felt this was a strange world. She had refused the scenario of another world until she met the fairies in the forest. Even with the meeting of the fairies, Arlene half believed herself from the idea of waking up to a new world. Maybe the fairies do exist but people don't know! Maybe this is the same world, but the path of the magical forest leads us all to stranger places. Thoughts raced within Arlene's brain as she sat at a beautiful kitchen table made of ancient wood and surrounded by her beautiful friends. Everything was strange, but Arlene felt happy in a strange way. She felt as if she was in a dream, and this dream had allowed her enjoyed a wholesome adventure. I could be dreaming right now!

Raleigh busied himself with a very big stew pots. Tristan was eager to help out Raleigh by setting up the rather bland looking bowls and spoons made of ancient woods. Sheryl the mother busied herself by helping Raleigh adding more vegetables and spices to the stew pots for the house now had many other people besides the slaves. “When the other two get back Raleigh?” Tristan asked. “Tim and Anna are with your uncle. They went into town to get supplies. I'm expecting them to be back soon around this time,” Raleigh explained. “We're having enough foods for my uncle right?” Tristan asked. “Don't worry Tristan, I'll make some more before your uncle gets back. Where is your father Tristan?” Raleigh wondered. Arlene and Charlie were startled at the question that Raleigh had asked. Sheryl and her mother seemed puzzled at how Tristan suddenly acted awkward. The pictures of the deaths of his father and the mail crew emerged all at once, and it was hard for Tristan. He got emotional fast. Tristan grabbed a chair next to Arlene and settled down in it calmly, but his stomach and his brain wasn't settled. Tristan fought the tears that ran down his cheeks, but he failed in holding the tears back. He was speechless! I didn't even have time to mourn for him. “Tristan, is everything alright?” Raleigh asked with worries on his face. He saw Tristan's red, tearful eyes and knew that something had happened to Tristan's father. “He died!” Charlie spoke the words that Tristan was fumbled for. Sheryl the mother was suddenly felt really sad for Tristan. She felt he was so young and handsome, but here he had lost a father so early. Maybe he still has a mother! Arlene cringed at the words that Charlie had spoken, but it was the truth. They all had witnessed something beyond terrible had happened to the whole town of Guinevere. “Not only Tristan's father and the men with him had died, but the whole town had died from a mysterious diseases which had spread within one night,” Arlene explained. Everyone besides Arlene and Charlie were speechless. They stared at each other and then at Tristan as if the words had spoken weren't real. Raleigh broke the silence by making the noisy stirs at the stew pot. Raleigh was speechless and worked himself at the stew pot while he gnawed at the thought of what had happened to Tristan's father. Raleigh wasn't sure how Tristan's father had died, but he feared it was probably too much for Tristan if he asked the question. Stirring the stew pot some more, Raleigh felt a huge lost for Tristan.

“It's ready folks. I think the stew is delicious,” Raleigh said. Sheryl the mother hastily handled Raleigh the empty bowls, and Raleigh filled the bowls with the stew. Sheryl the mother busied herself as she served the stew. At the kitchen table, everyone had their bowls filled with stew. The group rarely spoken right after the realization of Tristan's father death and the sudden deaths of the people in Guinevere. They ate with thoughts raced in their minds. Raleigh studied Tristan's face from time to time. He wanted to ask more, but he wasn't sure of what to ask. “What had attacked Guinevere could come this way. As you have said, everyone died in one night. I knew not a disease that had killed everyone so quickly. I'm not sure of what it is, and to think of what you have told me, I think the people in this area must be warned,” Raleigh said with determination. “I don't know how we can warn anyone when we don't even know how the people in Guinevere have died,” Tristan complained. “Your words are true, but the adults won't believe you unless you have someone with a good reputation speaks about this calamity,” Raleigh suggested. “My uncle can! People in this town trust him. They've always paid him for his knowledge on how to plant yellow flowers. They spoke to him often, and he has never told them wrong. I think he is good enough to tell the people of this town that Guinevere has ceased to exist,” Tristan reasoned. “We only know what had happened, but we don't know how. People may still have doubts, but I'm sure your uncle can convince people of what had happened to Guinevere,” Raleigh said. “The question is what can we do to prevent something that terrible to happen here?” Arlene spoke. Charlie watched everyone deeply in thought. He looked at Sheryl the daughter who had been so quiet. She enjoyed her food without much care for what happened around her. Sheryl the mother had worried look on her face when he himself proclaimed Tristan's father had died. He assumed that Sheryl the mother was now even more worried as she had came upon the knowledge of the deaths of the people in Guinevere. Charlie stuffed more stews into his mouth through a wooden spoon. It tasted rather delicious. Raleigh is such a good cook! As the adventure unfold, Charlie felt more confident and he had not shied from speaking his mind lately. “I think it's a disease that has killed everyone in Guinevere, and so we must speak to a doctor. Do we have a good doctor around here?” Charlie asked.

“You're right. Charlie is right everyone!” Arlene praised Charlie. Charlie felt a blush on his face. All suddenly, he felt the weights of his words. “Sure, everyone here knows the good doctor. He lives a little far from where we are. I think we still have to wait for your uncle to come back before we head to the doctor. Your uncle can convince the good doctor about the calamity we speak of, and the good doctor may have ideas of how to fight this calamity,” Raleigh suggested. “You're right. Tristan's uncle may have a better chance telling the bad news to the doctor you spoke of than all of us. We're not exactly the people of this village,” Arlene said with a nervous laugh as if she made fun of herself. “And I'm a slave, I dare not speak to other people in a sense I'm their equal. Even if I'm brave, they will not believe what come out of a slave's mouth anyway,” Raleigh said with a sigh. “Raleigh, please speak to us as if you're our equal. I cannot tolerate the idea of enslaving a human being,” Arlene said angrily. “It is how it is. Rules of the current society have never been broken for all my life and my parents' lives and lives before them and so on. Slaves have been around for ages for all I know. If you're born into a slave family such as I, you're bound to be a slave forever,” Raleigh accepted his fate. “There are some people aren't born into slave families and they too have became slaves themselves,” Tristan spoke. “How?” Charlie asked. Sheryl the mother raised her right hand for she wanted to join in the conversation. Everyone stared at her and wondered why her right hand was up. “Say something Miss Sheryl. You don't have to raise your hand for speaking your mind,” Charlie said. “I wasn't a slave when I was a little girl. My parents came along with a group of soldiers from Raus. They were on a mission from Raus, and till this day I have not yet knew the importance of the mission. It was the soldiers of Andora that killed off my parents and the soldiers from Raus. My aunt brought me to Andora in a quest of figuring out why my parents were killed, but she was robbed and raped and killed. I was captured by the men that killed her. They sold me into slavery,” Sheryl the mother spoke reminiscently. “You're not like that anymore. Don't think a second you're one. Just now, you act as if you're one. Don't raise your hand to speak Miss Sheryl,” Charlie spoke.

“I've never doubted you are so passionate about this topic,” Arlene praised Charlie again. “I felt strongly about slavery as you Arlene. This place is strange, but from where Arlene and I from, slavery is not allowed in any shape or form,” Charlie said proudly. “I wish to know the place you speak of,” Raleigh said with a hopeful look on his face. “If Charlie and I can find our way home. I'm sure I can arrange a way for Mr. Raleigh and Miss Sheryl to visit my place. It will be very different from here. I'm sure you will find it to be rather strange but amazing at the same time. One thing is for sure, slavery isn't around where I'm from,” Arlene said. Tristan had been quiet while the conversation between the people around him carried on. He missed his father very much. It daunted on him that he had little time in remembering his late father for he who was busily navigated the forest. Now he had time idly by, and he used the time he had in remembering his late father. He cared not for the current conversation. “Someone is knocking,” Sheryl the daughter spoke. Raleigh got onto his feet at once and excused himself from the kitchen table. He moved rather quickly through the living room so he could be at the front door. He removed the thick wooden bar from the protruded sturdy wooden placeholders which face inward in rectangular shapes. As the thick wooden bar slid away from the wooden placeholders, the door was free from being bolted. Raleigh opened the door and allowed the two other slaves entered the house. “Tristan and his friends are here. Be polite! We have plenty of stew back in the kitchen, prepare the stew in a large wooden box and bring it to our master. Don't forget to say hi to everyone. See you in the kitchen when you're done putting away the supply bags,” Raleigh said in a low voice that could not be heard from the kitchen as he instructed the other two slaves what to do. “Tim and Anna are back. This means your uncle is back too Tristan. All of you can go to see him now. Tristan, you won't mind I'm tagging along too?” Raleigh asked Tristan. “I don't mind,” Tristan said carelessly. “Hello young master Tristan, hello all, my name is Tim, and this is Anna. We are the slaves of Mr. Andrew,” Tim spoke with care. “Hi,” Anna said sheepishly. The children and Sheryl the mother waved back at the two slaves. Raleigh pointed at the stew pot, and the two slaves nodded at Raleigh with understanding.

“Anna will bring the stew pot over to our master. We can tag along with her,” Raleigh suggested. “And I be here preparing more foods for tomorrow,” Tim said. “And making beds so young master Tristan and the rest can have a good night sleep,” Raleigh added. “Yes Mr. Raleigh, you don't have to remind me of that. I dare not to forget about young master Tristan's presence, and I dare not to forget about making beds for his friends,” Tim defended himself with quick words. “I'm ready,” Anna said as she held the large wooden box filled with delicious stew. The box had a cover to protect the stew from spewing, but the handle wasn't there which could be difficult to carry. Anna held the wooden box neared her chest. The hot stew warmed the box, and Anna could feel the warmth of the box. The party left the slave house and followed Anna as she made her way toward Tristan's uncle little house. The party once again had grown bigger! This time, the additions were Mr. Raleigh and Miss Anna. Upon the arrival at her master house, Anna knocked on the wooden door loudly for not more than three times. Anna took a few step backs when the door slowly opened. Stood at the opened door was Mr. Andrew. Mr. Andrew face grew a very big smile as he saw Tristan stood in front of him. Mr. Andrew greeted Tristan with opened arms! Tristan hugged his uncle, but he sobbed at the same time. Mr. Andrew held Tristan's face in his palms as he took a clear look at the young boy. His forehead forms a few lines, and the wrinkles between his eyebrows came about. He wondered what had happened. He had rarely seen his nephew sobbed, but this day the boy had sobbed rather misery. He looked beyond Tristan and saw the children and a woman. “Don't cry, it's not like you haven't seen me for years. Who are your friends Tristan? Introduce us,” Mr. Andrew demanded of Tristan. Tristan stopped his sobbing and turned his head and his red eyes around toward the group of people which stood behind him. “They are my friends uncle. This is Arlene, Charlie, Sheryl and her mother. Sheryl's mother is also named Sheryl.” “Pardon me friends and master Andrew, let me through inside so I can prepare some apple juice,” Mr. Raleigh excused himself.

Mr. Raleigh let himself in, and Anna followed him in without any hesitation. “Well, come in everyone. Don't just stand outside and make me a bad host. Mr. Raleigh is making the apple juice. Apple juice around here is the best,” Mr. Andrew gestured everyone to come in. He stood to the side of the door till everyone had come inside. Mr. Andrew closed the door without locking it. Everyone situated themselves nicely. Arlene found a nice big wooden chair, and she shared it with Charlie. The chair was humongous. It was obvious the chair was custom made for someone in this house. It had to be made for Mr. Andrew as his side was not of an average. The wooden chair was nicely built and sanded. It had the same quality of the other furniture that had proudly displayed in the slave house. The best quality nonetheless. The person who had built all these furniture knew how to use the ancient trees superbly. The surfaces of the chair was cool to the touch. Arlene and Charlie felt right at home as they sat on a beautiful chair carved out from who knew how old the wood beneath them. Tristan situated himself on another chair, but this one was much smaller. Its quality needed not be spoken of as the furniture within Mr. Andrew's house were the stuffs of legends. Mr. Andrew sat on another huge chair, but the chair had just enough room for Mr. Andrew who could not wiggle much within it. Sheryl the mother and her daughter sat on the rug neared an empty fireplace. The fireplace looked clean as if it had been abandoned for years. Sheryl sat side by side next to her mother, knees hugged tight to chest, arms wrapped around the knees, and her chin rested on the knees. Sheryl felt relax! Sheryl the mother sat next to Sheryl but had a worried look on her face. She felt the world had gone to hell when she was told of Guinevere. She worried for her daughter's future. Sheryl the mother posed a calm look as she too with knees hugged tight to chest, arms wrapped around the knees, and her chin rested on the knees. Daughter liked mother! “Now tell me child, why are you crying so much today? What's wrong?” Mr. Andrew looked concern as he asked Tristan. “I've bad news uncle. The saddest news hurts me very much uncle. Yet, I don't even have enough time to mourn him.” “Mourn? Wait, what are you saying nephew?” “Yes, I love very much to mourn my father properly. He died in Guinevere! He got caught by some sort of disease that killed everyone in Guinevere in one night!” Mr. Andrew took the news painfully. He felt as if he had been struck by a lightning. My dear brother, how unfortunate you are, and how unfortunate we are! You leave this

world that you're so dearly love. You've left your dearest friend forever, your son will surely miss you. Throughout those years that you've traveled from house to house and delivering mails to all people of all villages, you have asked for the presences of my lost family. I've that to thank you. Although you've never found my lost family, your tremendous effort speaks to me that you're truly a great brother. I promise to take care of your son in your place! Everyone stared at Mr. Andrew who suddenly fell into silence for a long time. He looked perplexed and stared into space. “Uncle!” “Yes, yes Tristan, I was just thinking that I've never knew anything that is so deadly. Everyone died in one night is the stuff of unthinkable. It's truly unbelievable, but nephew, you are speaking of it with a mournful heart, how can I not believe you? Tell me more, how the people died?” “We think that whatever has killed the people of Guinevere may come here and do the same. The three of us saw people turned into blackish corpses. It looks as if the people of Guinevere had been poisoned. Charlie thinks we should talk to a doctor, and ask if there is any poison which has the same deadly capability as the one we saw in Guinevere. We must destroy such poison.” “My nephew, destroying a poison is pointless. Anyone knows how to make such a poison will be able to create it over and over again. We have to find the person who did this, and put a stop to it. Finding an antidote for such a poison is pointless too. People in contact with this poison, according to you and your two friends here, they all die in one night. It means this poison kills people instantly. Perhaps, if we can find a medicine that when we drink, the poison won't be able to kill us after, then it's worth a try. For that, I think we need to talk to the only doctor in this village, but he isn't here at the moment. I went to see the doctor five days ago, but his assistant told me the doctor is traveling to the Chill Wolf mountain. He is going there for some special medicine plants.” Mr. Raleigh brought out the apple juice in small wooden cups that settled on a large wooden tray. He carried the wooden tray around and offered cups of apple juice to everyone. The apple juice was really sweet. Arlene and Charlie loved it! Arlene listened to the conversation between Mr. Andrew and Tristan attentively while she took a sip at the delicious cup of apple juice. Charlie did the same thing as Arlene. “That's five days ago. The doctor may already be back from his trip,” Charlie injected himself into the conversation.

“You have a point there...” Mr. Andrew hesitated a moment as he tried to remember the name of the young boy who had just spoken. “Charlie, right?” “Yes!” “Why don't we all listen to Charlie. Let head over to doctor Chet,” Mr. Andrew begged. Chapter nine (The initiation) The journey to the pig lair and back was a success. Kevin now had more than 50 gold coins for the squirrel initiation. The day was only half over, the sun was still as hot as ever and draped over his head. Kevin knew what he had to do exactly. Returning to his hut, he prepared a sack of black clothes. He had to wear them at night time for the squirrel initiation. Hiding the dagger inside his shirt which stuck nicely between his hip and the black waistband. Feeling the gold coin purse, he knew he had 60 gold coins which he had stolen from Igor earlier. He took out ten gold coins and buried them underneath the ground, behind his hut. The rest of the gold coins inside the gold coin purse would amount to 50 gold coins exactly, and he intended to bring this amount of gold coins to his squirrel initiation. With all the preparation done, it was time for a full belly before he would leave the hut and aimed for the rouge society's headquarter. Kevin settled down near a large fire pit. A fat white fur pig was already roasted a day before. It was now lain inside a black cloth bag near the fire pit. Kevin reached inside the black cloth bag for another fat roasted white fur pig thigh. The white fur pig was still eatable, but Kevin knew he could not finish the whole white fur pig before it went bad. Eating the white fur pig, Kevin couldn't help himself from thinking about the night. How the initiation will start? What sort of people will be there. Why they think I would be a good thief? This is exciting, but being a squirrel will suck. A squirrel has to do what the thieves want. Even an apprentice can tell what a squirrel has to do. Anyhow, I'm a squirrel, I will have my chance to move up. That blond man isn't too revealing of himself, I've to know him more. Knowing your enemies and friends well can get you out of a bind later. Kevin journeyed northward for a long time before he could reach the rouge society's headquarter. The sky had turned pitched black, the stars shined brightly, the crickets among the grasses made the cricket screeching noises, and the rouge society's headquarter was a cave which stood ahead. Kevin could not make out of anything within the cave from his position. Kevin could only see the darkness at the cave's mouth. If the rumor is true, this cave leads me into a very interconnected network of cave tunnels. Some tunnels would go downward, and nobody has any idea how deep some of the tunnels could be. Some tunnels would lead me up to the peak of the mountain not too far from here. If my memory is still good, I think someone told me that the thieves dug many tunnels besides the natural ones so they could travel deep within the ground and up to that mountain.

Kevin looked around for a cover so he could change his clothes covertly. There was nothing stood in sight which could provide a cover for Kevin. Kevin could only see grassy plain stretched out of sight where it would eventually meet up with the forest. Kevin didn't care much since he was couple dashes away from the mouth of the rouge society's headquarter, he dropped his mismatched clothes down onto the grass which revealed his seventeen-years-young muscular chest and ab. The clothes he wore were stolen from various people in other villages. He had on a heavy brown long sleeve shirt, a black waistband, and a heavy gray pant with several holes near the knees. The mismatched clothes lay unadorned on the ground. Kevin put on the heavy black clothes that he always had with him on important missions that required stealth in the nights. He put on the black waistband again, placed his little dagger inside his black shirt which stuck nicely between his hip and the waistband. Kevin felt the adrenaline within his blood. He had felt the same thing when he sneaked into Igor's lair, but this time it was the excitement of a childhood dream. Kevin approached the cave's mouth as normal as he could. He walked evenly in case if there was anyone around, he wanted to show that he was fearless. He wanted to display a collective appearance. Inside, Kevin felt the blood rushed throughout his body. Kevin had gotten closer to the cave's mouth, but the cave's mouth was barely lit by the moonlight. Kevin felt as if the darkness within the cave could engulf what lay outside. Kevin had reached the cave's mouth, but the cave had wind blew outward which fluffed Kevin hairs around. Piercing into the pitch black cave, Kevin could not make out of anything, and he had not a fire-stick on him. What's going on? Nobody is here, and the cave is way too dark for me to go on. Within that cave, I don't think I will be able to see my fingers even if I have them in front of my eyes. The moonlight was too weak to light the path beyond the cave's mouth. Kevin stood in silence as he contemplated deeply of how moving forward. I guess I have to make a makeshift torch from the branches. Getting the fire going would be a time consuming thing! It sucks that I have to rub the branches for a long time before any fire will start. Kevin moved outside the cave's mouth, but it was obvious to him that there wasn't any tree branch or a tree in sight. The forest was visible but it would be too far. “Why are you standing outside like an idiot?” Victor's voice echoed from within the cave. Kevin was startled by the voice. He spun around but he could see nobody behind him. He was sure the voice had come from inside the cave. He forced himself to enter the cave blindly. Farther in from the cave's mouth, darkness engulfed what little was left of the moonlight, a hand grabbed Kevin's right shoulder prompted him to draw out his dagger. Kevin reached for his dagger but it was gone. Someone was so adept at pickpocket that even he could not realize his dagger had long disappeared.

“Don't even bother with the dagger Kevin. It's with me. Don't be startled, you've met me before in your hut,” Victor's voice echoed within the cave, but the wind blew from within and outward somewhat dimmed his voice at close range. “It's you Victor?” Kevin yelled even though he surmised the man could be right next to him. “Glad you don't have a memory of an idiot! Who else would it be? All members of rouge society should know how to travel the cave without any light. Remembering how to go from one tunnel to another within the cave is what you need to learn for being a squirrel. You can now move in deeper,” Victor stood behind Kevin and pushed him forward forcefully. Kevin felt a strong thrust behind his back took him by surprise. Kevin stumbled forward and almost lost his balance, but he regained it quickly. “I don't think I know where to go in this darkness,” Kevin said. “OK, I give you some slack. Don't move, just sit down. Close your eyes and don't open it,” Victor demanded of Kevin. Kevin sat himself down onto the cold ground which was surprisingly dry. He shut his eyes tightly. “Don't close your eyes too tightly, and breath in deeply but slow. Exhale slowly until you have nothing left inside your breathing compartment. Do this over and over again until I tell you to open your eyes,” Victor instructed Kevin. Kevin sat there exercised his breathing with eyes tight shut, and he lost track of time. “Now, open your eyes slowly. Tell me what you see?” Victor instructed. “Wow, I can see the cave. Not clearly, but I think I can move around,” Kevin spoke in excitement. “Look up, do you see me?” Victor asked. “Oh, most definitely.” “Great, stand up and follow me.” Kevin stood up and followed Victor deeper into the cave. Kevin had a feeling that the cave was huge. Much bigger than any cave he had ever known in his whole life. He could not see too well within the cave, but with so much wind blew outward, Kevin surmised the cave had another mouth which connected to the outside world. Kevin kept followed a blurry figure of Victor ahead of him blindly. As the deeper they went, the

outward blowing wind got stronger. Kevin felt as if two or more winds merged together at some point to form the stronger wind. “More wind is blowing our way now. It means we are at a point where many winds are intersecting. This cave has more than one openings. The one we were at before is just one of them. The way we are heading is leading us to one of the openings. Where we are now is at the center point where the other four openings have their winds meet up. Since we are moving northward, it means we are moving straight through the cave. If I've taken you southward, we would have been going deeper into the ground tunnels,” Victor paused his words as he waited for the very strong wind made its passing. The wind blew hard against Kevin and Victor and had the two swayed a bit. “The initiation of your is at the peak of White Beagle mountain. Although the cave is not naturally connected to White Beagle mountain, us thieves had dug a tunnel from the cave to connect the two together. The whole purpose of connecting the cave and the White Beagle mountain together is to pave a way upward so we could travel covertly and safely. The northward opening where we are heading to will not be important, but it's an important sign that we are closer to the tunnel which leads us to the peak of White Beagle.” Much later, Victor paused all movements. He told Kevin if they kept on going straight, an opening would greet them. Instead of going straight, Victor led Kevin leftward. Kevin followed Victor into a tunnel which led both of them upward. The upward slope was not too steep of an incline. The wind ceased to exist as they moved upward. “Don't worry Kevin, we aren't lost. It's just that we have to travel quite far before we can make to the top of the White Beagle,” Victor reminded Kevin. It amazed Kevin of how Victor could travel far and freely in complete darkness. Kevin was amazed at how he could follow Victor so adeptly within pitched black environment. Without the meditation a while back, Kevin doubted he could follow Victor this far. His eyes were now adjusted to the darkness completely. Kevin felt even without Victor's leading, he could make his way upward. “How come I can see so much better now?” Kevin asked. “Your eyes has adjusted to this darkness. It's not a surprise for a calm person to see his ways inside a darkness. It's a complete reverse when a person isn't calm. His mind will play trick on him. The allusion of seeing things in the dark is very common for the idiots who walk our ways.” Long, long after, Kevin and Victor had reached the top of the White Beagle mountain. The upward tunnel had ended and an opening had begun. At the exit of the tunnel, the moonlight greeted Kevin with eager. The moonlight seemed brighter than Kevin had ever seen. It was an allusion that the moonlight was brighter. The truth was that Kevin

had been in the dark for too long! The new found light which had lit brightly under the bright moon bathed the peak of the White Beagle. It was an astounding view for Kevin. At the peak of the White Beagle, it wasn't how Kevin had expected. The peak wasn't pointed, but it was large enough space that the thieves had built a strange shrine. Snow covered the peak's surface which had not surprised Kevin. General knowledge told Kevin that the snows often fell on the peak of any mountain which could poke through the clouds and the sky. It was a clear night, Kevin could not see any cloud as he pierced ever upward with his eyes. Kevin felt the cold wind blew against his face. His ears were popped even crazier. A while back, Kevin had missed what Victor had told him. His ears weren't equipped to hear at such a high altitude. “I'm having trouble of hearing you Victor. My ears are popping,” Kevin complained. “How long has your ear been popping?” Victor asked. “Can you repeat that?” “I say how long has your ear been popping?” Victor spoke as loud as he could. “A while back!” Victor laughed heartily at how silly Kevin was. “You should have asked me earlier. What you need to do is to inhale a really big breath. Pinch your nose tightly, and blow out the air through your ears. Obviously, air won't go out through your ears, but it will clear up your ear. Afterward, just release your nose and exhale normally. Try it and let me know how your ears feel after,” Victor instructed Kevin. “You're right. My ears are no longer popping,” Kevin yelled, but his voice was barely heard. The wind blew many times harder than what Kevin had felt within the cave. “If you're not careful and be up here at the wrong time, stronger wind can blow you off the peak,” Victor warned Kevin. Moving forward a little farther, the peak had a huge hole which formed a tube downward. Kevin wasn't sure how deep the hole was and where it would lead to. The hole was large enough to pose a danger for the thieves, and so they built a strange bridge made out of strong woods. Victor grabbed onto the bridge's rail and led Kevin forward where the entrance of the shrine would be. The two pushed themselves forward against the wind from all sides.

Kevin breathed hard at the entrance of the shrine! He had never thought the peak was this harsh. Victor breathed just as hard, but he had a big smile on his face. “You've made it. The initiation is inside. Let get in,” Victor gave Kevin a big pat on the left shoulder. The hallway which led Kevin to the center of the shrine was just as dark as the cave. Not a single light had come to life until several torches burned brightly on the walls at the end of the hallway where the center of the shrine began. Inside the shrine, Kevin felt warmer. In fact, Kevin felt he could run around the shrine without wearing his heavy black shirt. The shrine wasn't big, but it was decorated beautifully. Kevin had thought thieves were the lazy bunches who knew only of stealing, but crafting was another world altogether. It seemed Kevin had knew very little of the thieves. One thing Kevin knew for sure, thieves hired nobody besides themselves in achieving whatever. Looking at the artful designs of monster heads and snakelike bodies with human heads and epic battle between them and the pattern of black triangle littered the shrine walls hinted that the thieves were skillful in art as well. Few torches there were flickered as if the wind had flew inside the shrine, but from where? Kevin thought Victor would stop at the center of the shrine to begin an initiation for him, but he had it wrong. Nobody was around, and Victor moved across the center of the shrine toward the wall at the very end. Victor stopped in front of the wall as if he wanted to read the arts and the inscriptions on the wall carefully. “What are you reading?” Kevin followed Victor across the center of the shrine and stood in front of the wall at the very end. A single torch above their heads burned brightly without flickering. “I'm not reading. I'm waiting for you. Are you ready?” Victor asked. “Ready of what? Nobody is here besides you and me. There is an initiation, yes?” Kevin became somewhat impatience as he had traveled quite a distance to get to the shrine, but nobody was around for an initiation as Victor had promised. Maybe with only Victor is enough for an initiation? “If you are not ready, well get ready,” Victor grabbed Kevin and pushed him hard at the wall. The wall was hard as a rock which stung Kevin's palms as he tried to stop his body from hitting the wall. “What are you doing? I didn't ask for this!” Kevin was angry with Victor's sudden violence. “Hug the wall and don't move,” Victor demanded. Victor removed his heavy shirt which revealed a muscular body many times stronger than Kevin. His body was hard as a rock. Lines of cuts sunken deep within his

abdomen and chest revealed the man had worked his body tirelessly. From the look of Victor's body structure, Kevin had no doubt the man had great endurance and strength. “Hang onto my shirt, and give it back when I say so,” Victor commanded. Removing the shirt revealed a coil of robe wrapped from Victor's waist up toward the abdomen . Victor uncoiled the robe from his body. He tied the robe around a fruit cutting knife. Kevin was surprised to see Victor carried useless stuffs such as a fruit cutting knife. Victor threw robe upward with the knife as the weight. The knife flew up and over the torch. The torch burned brightly in the torch holder attached to the wall. The knife pulled the robe around the torch and downward toward Victor. Victor grabbed hold of the knife and the other end of the robe with both hands. With a sudden full body motion of weighing downward, Victor pulled the robe with all his might. The torch seemed to stuck within the torch holder and refused to fall off. Kevin realized the torch and the torch holder was one of the same. What even more surprising for Kevin was the torch handle began to move downward. For a moment, while tilting up his face and body pushed against the wall, Kevin though the torch would fall onto his head and burned his hair. All of the sudden, Kevin thought he was about to be slammed hard against the wall where his flesh and bone would be crushed by Victor's body. Victor had pulled hard against the torch handle and had it slid downward, but he suddenly released and flew toward the wall with all his might. Victor avoided Kevin altogether, but Kevin could hear a loud thump as Victor body hit the wall with full force. The wall swung open, and large wind flew out gave the two a chill. Kevin could feel Victor snatched the shirt from his hand with amazing speed. Things went crazy right after as Kevin was not ready for a secret wall door, but it was too late for Kevin to react with prudence. Kevin slid on the way down with no end in sight as the slope had a downward steep. It was a fast one way down. Kevin had his legs and heels slammed hard against the cold ground at the very bottom. Moment later, Kevin had his heavy shirt back on, the knife in one hand, and the coil of robe in the other, Victor too arrived at the bottom. It wasn't so dark now! Kevin could see many more torches lid brightly on the walls. Kevin counted heads and saw that there were nine people altogether in black clothes stood in the center of the whole place. The place was made to be an exact duplicate copy of what Kevin had seen above. The walls were skillfully carved with the same arts that Kevin had saw from the walls of the shrine above. So there is another shrine below! Why a duplicate? Why they need a secret door for all of this? “Get into the center idiot,” Victor said loudly and rudely. “Get in line with them?” Kevin pointed at the people in black clothes. “Yes, go!”

Kevin got himself lined up toward the right end. He stood with his back straight, chin lifted high, and he was ready for the initiation. Victor went straight for the opening which faced the north where the men in black clothes stood facing. Victor disappeared as he went through the opening. Kevin stood uncomfortably in silence. Through a tense anticipation, he observed the opening, assuming somebody would go through there so the initiation could begin. Time ticked slower as Kevin awaited for some actions. Some men in lines scratched their thighs and the sides of their abdomens. Some men yawned shamelessly. Kevin stood motionless as if he was a statue made of rock. Hands behind his back, Kevin wanted to show he had the patience and the discipline. Sadly, even Kevin felt the long waiting began to nip at him, and the initiation was still up in the air. Kevin wanted to ask a man who stood in line next to him about the current awkward situation, but he delayed as he saw someone came in from the opening where everyone had stood facing all along. Out came an old man who could barely walk as he managed his movements with a long brown cane made of wood. It appeared an eagle was carved on the top of the brown cane. The old man with long white beard took a long time before he could stand in front of the men. His voice was weak and crackled. He lifted his hands barely as he formed a fist with an index finger pointed at the men. The old man counted the men in line with a shaken hand. A little smile formed on his face. “So all of you are the the new squirrels eh?” the old man's voice was weak and barely heard by the men. The men stood in silence and barely moved. Kevin knew not of the thoughts belonged to the men who stood in line with him, but he had doubts about the whole initiation. Who is this old man? Why the hell is he here? This old man can barely walk and he looks sick as hell. Don't tell me you're the initiator eh? “Come here, anyone of you is fine,” the old man begged a person to come closer to him in a weak voice accompanied by a gesture he made with one of his trembling hands. Couple men move forward, but the old man made a hand gesture stopped the men from moving forward. “I said anyone, but not everyone,” the crackled weak voice came from the old man was now sounded much louder than before, forcefully. The old man pointed at Kevin specifically after everyone had moved back into line. He begged Kevin to come closer to him. With the old man's begging, Kevin curiously moved closer to the old man. What you want old man?

“Young lad, you look healthy. The thief who recruits you has good eyes. Anyway,” the old man coughed loudly as he grabbed the brown cane with the eagle head with his two hands and leaned on it hard. The old man stopped his cough and swallowed hard and cleared his throat with a crackled sound made by his throat. “Don't worry lad, I'm not going to die today, wipe that weird look off your face as we have something more important at hand. The thief who recruits you may think you're good enough for joining the rouge society, but I still have to make sure you and everyone in that line are the real deals. Give me your 50 gold coins now,” the old man demanded of Kevin. Kevin fumbled for his gold coins from his pant pockets. The old man felt impatient and released his brown cane. With lightning fast movements, the old man emptied Kevin's pant pockets, dumped the gold coins onto the ground, and regained the brown cane which had been in a free fall. Kevin took big steps backward with a shock on his face. Kevin's hands checked his pant pockets for the second time as if he had not seen what just happened. Kevin looked at the cold floor, and he was sure that all the gold coins lay on the ground were his. “How did you do that? You're old, but you move faster than anything I had seen before in my life! Wow!” Kevin praised the old man wholeheartedly. “Don't kiss up to me lad. It looks like you have enough gold coins. The rouge society needs these gold coins to feed and train you in the upcoming months. It takes a lot to train a squirrel nowadays. Before you can exit this room through the opening behind me, I've a little test for you,” the old man opened his trembling tiny right palm and revealed a tiny gold coin. “I won't initiate you if you can't steal the gold coin from my palm. Now, give it a try,” the old man commanded. Kevin had more doubts than ever. He knew the old man was fast from the spectacular pickpocket skill the old man had shown earlier. He had more doubts than ever. The old man's spectacle earlier instilled a fear in him of which deterred him from snatching the gold coin from the old man's palm right away. Kevin looked at the old man's trembling hand, and he wanted to snatch the gold coin as fast as he could. If I fail here, it's over for my childhood dream! I'm not looking forward in getting back to my hut and hunting for livestock. The old man is fast! His look is so deceiving. He is short, weak, and his hands are trembling. Where on earth this old man finds the energy to display the amazing spectacle earlier? OK, here we go... The silence was deafening! Kevin had realized the old man was too fast and he had failed to snatch the gold coin from the old man's palm. He felt the weight of failures within him had compounded all in an instant. Out of no where, Kevin heard a sound often made by a slicing and dicing of the air. The sound came close, and Kevin saw a dagger flew directly at him. Kevin's legs trembled from the fear of death and had gave way toward the ground. Kevin fell backward and on his behind. The dagger flew across his head and grazed his hairs. Kevin realized who failed the test had to be killed. He wanted to stand up and run for his life, but the super fast movement of the old man gave him a second thought on running.

The old man had his brown cane pointed at Kevin's throat. Kevin looked at the bottom of the cane and realized it had a sharp edge similar to a small pointed spearhead. In fact, the spearhead of the cane looked a thousand times sharper than any regular spearhead Kevin had seen. He was sure the spearhead wasn't at the bottom of the cane earlier. The old man must had produced the spearhead somehow from the mysterious looking cane as he figured. A big smile formed across the old man's face. “You've passed the test young lad,” the old man withdrawn his cane. “Stand up, and continue on before I change my mind.” The old man churned the head of the eagle on the cane, and the spearhead moved, with a loud bang from the friction when the bottom of the cane was slammed down hard by the old man, the spearhead disappeared into the cane's bottom. Kevin got up on his feet as fast as he could. Kevin wanted to say thanks but the old man eyes were solemn and scary. Without further ado, Kevin walked as fast as he could toward the opening which was the only exist out of the secretive shrine hidden below the one above. Kevin knew well of whoever had not passed the test after him could not run up to the entrance above as the ramp was too steep. Anyone who failed could die, but Kevin had not had a chance to see who would live and who would die. He was ordered to leave immediately through the opening. He was gladly had done so. Curiosity killed a cat, Kevin ignored his curiosity of who had passed and who had been killed after he had left the shrine. The opening led Kevin out in a very long hallway with a straight narrowed path. More burning torches burned brightly on the walls of the hallway. On the walls of the hallway, Kevin saw nothing of such arts which had decorated the shrine's walls. The walls of the hallway were rather austere. Moving passed the hallway, another opening led Kevin out and into a larger room. The room packed with people who sat on wooden benches at hundred of tables. Tables filed in dozen rows and in five columns, but each column had two tables. Between each column of tables formed a walkway led from the back all the way to the front. The two exit doors formed on the sides of the room as one faced west and the other faced east. At the very front of the room, there was a very big table. This big table could easily fit more than 30 people at one time. Kevin saw everyone sat down at the regular tables, but the biggest table at the front of the room had nobody there. Kevin eyed the room for an empty spot, and Kevin saw an empty spot at a table located near the east exit and at the very end of a column of tables. Kevin got himself seated in the spot he found. The foods littered the tables! Exotic animals where cooked in ways of which Kevin had never seen before in his life. Snow Beak Birds that flew neared White Beagle mountain were cooked whole till golden served on top of vegetable plates with all types of eatable plants, and a special sauce tasted sweet with brownish color coated the birds and the vegetables. Red Stripe Tiger with green eyes were roasted and cut apart into big chunk of meats, the local breads were on the side of the dishes, and a spicy but salty special

salt with blackish color served inside small dishes so people could dip the Red Stripe Tiger meats and breads into the sauce. Red Stripe Tiger could only be found in Andora forest. Beemzees with monkey like facial feature but with the teeth that resembled of canines and muscular legs of lions and a tiny tail with feather like at the end were stuffed with sweet sauce and vegetables. Beemzees served on plates where Beemzees' stomaches faced upward with a split in between revealed steamy vegetables and the sweet sauce in light reddish color. Snow Beak Birds' eggs were boiled and served within a mild sweeten soup in light golden with spotty brown colors. Roasted white fur pigs were sliced into fined tiny stringy pieces but clumped together served with Andora's brown mushrooms. Kevin saw many other foods, and his stomach were already growled for some settled right in front of him. The foods looked delicious, but nobody had begun their eating yet. They seemed to wait for something to happen before they could eat the foods in front of them. Kevin stole a piece of Red Stripe Tiger meats off a plate on the table, and a man sat next to him gave him a scary stare. Kevin cared not for the stare as he chewed the meat and swallowed it. It was delicious even though he had not dipped the Red Stripe Tiger meat in the special sauce. Kevin reached for another grab at the foods, but everyone stood up. Kevin did so as everyone else for his curiosity had trumped his hungry stomach for a moment. An old man with a brown cane which had an eagle head carved on top of it walked in slowly as how he had done earlier when Kevin met him. The old man came from the east opening. Kevin looked at the east opening and wondered what lay beyond there. A thief from the front row in the column of tables located near the east opening came up and helped the old man. The old man looked at the thief with pleasing eyes. Kevin from the back of the room saw the old man was extremely slow as he took his time from getting to where he needed to be. Kevin could barely see the thief who helped the old man with his walking. Slow as the old man was, he got to where he wanted to be which was at the center of the biggest table in the room. The table situated at the center of the room which had the whole room in view. The thief who had helped the old man situated at the table sat down next to him. “Ahem, the veterans need to sit here,” the old man said. Men from various tables within the room came up to the biggest table. Kevin knew the people who had come up to sit next to the old man must be the veteran thieves. Kevin wished he could be one of them. The old man stood up and he leaned hard against his cane with his right hand. The old man cleared his throat, but the thief who had helped the old man earlier gave the the old man some water in a wooden cup. The old man thanked the thief. “Today, we celebrate to ten new squirrels. Our rouge society is getting stronger as more reliable squirrels join our ranks. Everyone listens! You don't need to know who are these squirrels now, but someday you'll know them for sure. I like to say thank to the

people that are here today to celebrate this day with me. For the men who are not here today, we all know they're busied bodies. They're on their wonderful missions. We all know those missions are very important for the stability of the rouge society in many grounds. For that, why don't we all cheer for the men who aren't here,” the old man said, but the whole room could not hear him well enough. A thief who had helped the old man earlier stood up, with a pretty voice she repeated what the old man had said loudly so the whole room could hear what the old man had said. The room suddenly became louder as the men clapped their hands, and some people cheered loudly. The old man tried hard in keeping a straight back. Stood defiantly, the old man picked up the wine cup and drank it empty. The wine cup was big, but the wine cup was only half full. The wine inside the cup was very strong. The old man stretched out his arm and held the wine cup upside down as he proved that not a single drop was left inside the cup. The room cheered loudly. “Today we drink! Tomorrow we take what we want! Men, eat up! Today we shall eat till our tummy bellies up. We shall sang the happy tunes. We shall dance as we welcome our brothers who have just joined the rouge society,” the old man said and coughed briefly as if he wanted to hold back the coughs. The female thief repeated what he had said loudly. The room cheered with the loudest voices. As the cheer died down, men drank their wines and gobbled everything down in front of them. Kevin had his tummy bellied up as he gobbled everything in sight. Eventually, Kevin stopped the stuffing of foods for his belly had grown many times bigger. Kevin adjusted his waistband so his belly could breathe. Kevin looked around the room, but all he could see were men. So we only have one woman? She is the one who helps the old man. Her voice is pretty. She dresses like a man though. I've to get closer to her somehow so I can see her face with clarity. Kevin looked around the room in hope of finding an empty spot which was closer to center table. It was a hopeless search. Some people stood eating for they had not found an empty spot for seating. Kevin gave up the search and drank more wine in front of him. The wine was strong. Kevin felt the wine in his head, but he thought he could drink more. Today I shall drink, tomorrow I be a squirrel. I'm going to drink till I drop. “Hey lad, let cheer?” a man appeared a decade older than Kevin asked. “Sure, to what?” Kevin asked. “To good wine,” the man laughed heartily and collided his wine cup into Kevin's wine cup. Kevin's wine cup spilled a little. Kevin smiled and drank every last drop of the wine cup at one go. The man showed Kevin some respected and he too gurgled down every last drop of his wine cup. Kevin grabbed the wine jug with his right hand and

poured the man and himself with more wine. Both men began a drinking contest. Much later, three wine jugs went empty. One empty wine jug was on the floor beneath the table, and the other two wine jugs lay on the sides on the table. Kevin was unconscious with his head lay helplessly on the table, saliva seeped through his lips created a trail which ran down toward the table. The other man who drank with Kevin found himself snored loudly. The initiation was a fun event for the thieves who stood idly by and waiting for new opportunities such as a dangerous mission with untold reward. Everyone drank till they forgot who they were. Their livers would fail on them, but that would be in their golden years. For now they had their initiation party, new squirrels to teach, the anticipation of future dangerous but greatly rewarded missions, the wine and their women. Everyone was pretty much used up except for the old man who smiled from time to time and bobbed his head up and down with eyes tight shut as he listened to the sound of a wooden flute played by his female thief assistant. The hurrays of men had long died down, and the sweet sounds made by a wooden flute which had made the old man's heart danced had also died down. The old man retired to his quarter. With the help of his female thief assistant, the old man dragged his exhausted body out of the east opening. They headed down the dark, austere, narrowed hallway. The winded hallway was the opening points for many rooms where veteran thieves would stay if they had so chosen. The old man's room located near the exist. The exist allowed the thieves to travel down a rocky mountain path and sneak inside a mountain tunnel which eventually led them to the outside world. The thieves dug the mountain's tunnel as a shortcut for escaping the White Beagle mountain. The mountain's tunnel connected to the network of tunnels within the cave. The cave had dead end tunnels, but some tunnels were dug for the thieves to run away from the area. Many exist openings of the cave's tunnels were camouflaged by materials existed within the surrounding areas. Without the knowledge of the cave's tunnel network, brave men or not would find themselves lost without any hope of finding the way out. Some tunnels within the cave were dug deep within the earth, and these treacherous tunnels harbored poisonous gases. Some poisonous gases within these treacherous cave tunnels were colorless and had no strange odor. Many men who were stupidly brave had found themselves trapped in these treacherous tunnels forever. Their bodies were rotten and stripped of fleshed, only the skeletons remained. Real thieves knew such tunnels were best ignored entirely. Chapter 10 (Ghost town, here we come!) The morning was quite busy! Wave after wave of patients came by doctor Chet's house to see if he was back from his trip and hoped he could heal their ailments. John politely turned the patients away as he told them that the doctor had not yet come back from his trip. The waves of doctor Chet's client had died down as the evening cast its shadow over the horizon. Doctor Chet's assistant was about to close the shop, but he heard few loud knocks on the door. Instead of bolted the door, he pulled it open and found one

familiar face. A skinny man with hollow eyes and a clean shaven face stood in dirty clothes greeted John. John knew instantly the man who stared back at him was nobody stranger, but it was doctor Chet. Thank the Gods you're back! John let doctor Chet in and bolted the door tight. Doctor Chet's horse stood with his head drooped low from exhaustion and got tied to a tree outside. Inside, doctor Chet wanted to hug John, but John refused as he could smell the dusts on doctor Chet's unwashed clothes. “Go take a shower please. I fear I may get sick from just smelling you doctor Chet,” John casually made fun of doctor Chet. “Don't be a meanie young man. You know I have traveled far and back without having a decent bath and good meals in days. If not for that town, I would have good meals and clean clothes and a clean body on the way back. I tell you more later, but now I need a bath so bad as you've suggested.” Doctor Chet untied many tiny bags from his sturdy cloth waistband. Some bag were filled with exotic plants, and others were empty. John carried doctor Chet's precious little bags into a dark room beyond a brown curtain where all the medicines were kept. Doctor Chet wasted little time as he headed straight for the back yard to take a bath. A large wooden spoon floated freely inside a large wooden bucket. A large dry gray towel roped around the right handle of the bucket. Doctor Chet got undressed, but he let out a sighed as he had forgotten about his favorite soap. More loud knocks at the door begged for John's attention. John unbolted the door and stared at a large group stood in front of him, but he saw only the healthy ones stared back. Many eyes stared at John eagerly. Searching among the faces to see if anyone he knew, John saw a familiar face, and it was Mr. Andrew. “Is this an urgent matter Mr. Andrew? I fear our doctor Chet had called it a day as he had the leisure of taking himself to a bath.” Mr. Andrew was about to say something, but a skinny half naked man walked across the room. He had on a gray towel made of cheap cloth which protected his bottom half. Sheryl the mother used her hands to cover Sheryl the daughter's eyes, but Sheryl the daughter struggled in pulling her mother hands apart and failed. “Don't look children, we have intruded the good doctor's house, and now we are invaded his body with our uninvited eyes,” Mr. Andrew told the children so. Arlene and Charlie and Tristan ignored Mr. Andrew and stared at doctor Chet with their wide opened eyes. Sheryl the mother's face blushed a little as she too felt it was awkward for her to see a half naked man, but he was so skinny as the towel loosely covered his bottom half. Doctor Chet had his right hand secured the towel so it would not come apart.

Doctor Chet had forgotten all about his favorite soap which had a particular scent only the good doctor would like. The soap had strong odor of a rotten cabbage, but it had a very strong antiseptic power. The strangest thing was when the soap contacted the water, it released a pleasant odor of the wild berries that could be found near the west of the village and among the forest borders. Strolling across the room, doctor Chet was shocked to see everyone gave him a weird look. Awkwardly, doctor Chet greeted everyone. “My, my, is that you Andrew? I'm so sorry about my appearance. Give me a second, I go change into something and have a talk with you. Let Mr. Andrew and his people in John. Pour everyone some tea too,” doctor Chet commanded John as his body came into full view by the door where John stood with bewilderment of everyone. Doctor Chet's cheap towel hung loosely around his hip as if the wind could blew it away and revealed it all. Sheryl the mother blushed even more at doctor Chet who shamelessly stood topless in front of everyone. “Thank you so much John,” Mr. Andrew and the group let themselves inside. Arlene found the room where everyone huddled together was quite small. A single bed greeted everyone. A tiny chair placed next to the bed. Is this bed for his patients? Arlene saw a doorway without a door but with dark brown curtain blocked her view from seeing what could lay beyond it. Doctor Chet parted the brown curtain to the side with one of his hands revealed a dark room within. Arlene knew not how large the room within as she had only a glimpse at it. What a small room! Only one bed for a single patient to lie on. This doctor needs a better place than this to treat his patients. Arlene observed the condition of the room where everybody huddled, and she felt the hospital that she had stayed since the day her heart had endangered her precious life was heaven. Mr. Andrew extended his right hand, and the good doctor Chet took it in gladly. They shook hands, but Arlene imagined Mr. Andrew could yank the good doctor's skinny arm with just a strong sudden jerk. “Why you're here so late Mr. Andrew? You look very healthy to me, and everyone else looks radiant. Let me take a look at the room closely again, perhaps someone here is sick and I've missed completely,” doctor Chet with his hollowed eyes scanned the room. “Everyone is well doctor. It's just that we need your advice on an important matter. Just earlier, my nephew dropped by my house and told me that he had seen grotesque disease which had taken all human lives within Guinevere in one night,” Mr. Andrew was about to say something else, but he saw doctor Chet's head bobbed up and down rapidly as if the doctor had knew what of Mr. Andrew had spoken of.

“Said no more Mr. Andrew, I've seen what you have just described! On the afternoon of the fourth day, as I headed down from the Chill Wolf mountain, I saw corpses littered the base of the mountain. Guinevere was a ghost town. Much worse than that, many houses were half burned, and the town itself had the appearance of being flooded. Badly damaged corpses beyond one's recognition lay wasted in town. I searched the town for survivals, but none was found. It was truly a sad day for me to witness such a calamity. I had never seen anything like that before with my own eyes. I'm afraid that your nephew's words are all true. I saw badly burned corpses with blackish eyes. I'm sure it wasn't the fire that caused the blackish eyes for the corpses,” doctor Chet's insightful observation convinced Mr. Andrew of what he had heard from his nephew. “Doctor, I think the people in Guinevere had died from being poisoned, but I'm not entirely sure. What is your suggestion?” Tristan asked. “Throughout my entire career as a doctor, I have never encountered or read about a poison that could turn every part of the body into blackish color. Especially I'd seen the eyes of the corpses, them eyes turned blackish as if the eyes were made of black emerald. Of course, there is no such thing as black emerald since emerald is greenish. Nonetheless, the texture of those blackish eyes from the corpses looked exactly like emerald. I think it's suitably describing them as black emerald eyes.” “So poison is being ruled out from hearing what you've said. Do you have any clue what should be the cause of their deaths?” Mr. Andrew searched Doctor Chet eyes for any clue. “I'm sorry to disappoint everyone here, but the truth is that I don't know what had killed the folks at Guinevere. Since I don't really know what had happened, I cannot rule out that poison isn't a culprit here. Although I'm a doctor who has been practicing medicine for years, I may not know everything about poison. Perhaps, there is a poison that could instantly kill and turn everyone into a blackish corpse. Everything is a possibility here,” doctor Chet sighed. “So what can we do?” Mr. Andrew asked. “If we know who or what causes the deaths of the folks at Guinevere, then we can put a stop to the whole thing,” Arlene stated the obvious, but everyone nodded their heads in agreement. “Little girl, it's impossible for us,” doctor Chet was cut off by Arlene's eagerness to correct the man her named was Arlene. “Please call me Arlene. Pardon me for the interruption, please continue,” Arlene urged the doctor to spill some more knowledge. “OK, Arlene, as I was saying that it's impossible for us to know what actually had happened in Guinevere since we had not witnessed the event itself. Unfortunately,

anyone who could speak about this deadly event had died, therefore the truth is once again a hopeless silence. Another possible solution is for me to go to Guinevere as soon as tomorrow, do a thorough examination and analysis on those blackish corpses. If we're lucky, I may find a cause,” doctor Chet formulated his logic out loud. “That is an excellent idea doctor. Mr. Andrew, we can try what doctor Chet is suggesting,” Arlene urged Mr. Andrew to say yes. “Sure Arlene, after all, I have to see those blackish corpses with my own eyes. Doctor Chet, shall we head out tomorrow then?” Mr. Andrew asked the good doctor. “Gladly to do so, but for now I must have a bath, eat a good meal, and sleep a good night. About tomorrow, just make sure you all prepare for the trip.” “Most definitely, I guess we all see you tomorrow then doctor Chet. The sooner we figure out the cause, the better for everyone. I don't like to have this feeling in the back of my head that someday our village too could be exterminated just like Guinevere,” Mr. Andrew said with a serious look on his face. “I'm also thinking, we should let more people know about this so they could prepare for the worse,” Arlene suggested. “That's a noble suggestion. Still, we should keep this to ourselves for now until we know what is the real cause, otherwise people may go into a panic mode. People don't like to know that the world is about to end for them, especially they do not know why too,” Mr. Andrew explained. The party bid goodbye to the good doctor. The night hung heavily across the village. The party disappeared into the night, and the good doctor stared at the dark sky with a grim look on his face. Tomorrow, he would have to leave his home again, right after he had gotten home. In his heart, he hoped that everything would turn out right. Unfortunately, the longer he lived, he had understood one thing, life was a bag full of surprises. John could not imagine what he had learned of Guinevere. The town of Guinevere was huge, but the village of Catheblanc was even bigger. John feared for the worse. Only if he knew more, but he was only an assistant to the good doctor. He had learned quite a few tricks from the good doctor, but even the good doctor said he had not a clue of what was the cause of the deaths in Guinevere. John felt helpless as his mind picked the grim news apart. Everyone left the doctor's place together in a group. They all headed back for the slave house. Feeling safe within the group, Arlene kicked the dirt from time to time as she walked confidently in the night. Charlie felt tired as the night was old, but he too felt safe within the group.

“People, after knowing what had happened to Guinevere, I feel that we need to stay together until everything gets sort out. Mind if I come to where you all be staying tonight?” Mr. Andrew asked. “Absolutely master! In fact, you should have visited your old house more often. You have to see how well we have kept your house throughout the years,” Mr. Raleigh felt excited. The group returned to the slave house. Everyone but Mr. Andrew got inside the slave house. Mr. Raleigh kept his silence as he watched Mr. Andrew stood beneath the steps of the slave house. Mr. Andrew felt strange and wore a very sad face. The slave house had brought back old memories, and Mr. Andrew had not prepared for the flashbacks even though he thought otherwise. Without moving his body, Mr. Andrew glanced to his left side at the trees where his once five year old daughter and six year old boy played make-believes. His children had out their little wooden pots and pans and grasses and leaves as they pretended they had made a delicious meal. Little mismatched rocks made a small circle, and a little wooden pot laid on top of the rocks with water and grasses and various wild leaves. They could have concocted something nasty if they had real fire underneath their small wooden toys. The five year old daughter, Sophie, pretended that her brother was hungry and forced him to accept her make-believe food. The six year old brother, Nick, obeyed his little sister and played along. The memories all flooded back as if yesterday had just gone by. Mr. Andrew breathed in deeply and let out a very long sigh. Mr. Andrew thought about walking away from the slave house so he could be back to his little garden house where he escaped the yesterdays. Without making any decision, Mr. Andrew needed a little encouragement from anything for him to stepped through the large door where he once felt the warmth of his lost family. “Uncle, don't stand there, it's dark outside, why don't you come on in? We can eat something before we go to bed! It can be fun to eat together with everyone, especially with you uncle,” Tristan begged. “Raleigh, Tristan, get away from that door, I'm coming through,” Mr. Andrew said as if a battle was about to begin. It was a battle within! The first light pierced through the curtains, everyone slept soundly inside, and couple loud knocks stirred Anna from her dream. She stumbled out of her room and yawned her way to the front door. “Just a moment,” Anna straightened up her one piece austere looking dress before she opened the door. The front door pulled open revealed two enthusiastic faces. Doctor Chet and his assistant gave Anna their biggest smiles. Anna frowned at the sky yonder where the sun had barely shone.

“The good doctor, you're here ear..” yawn... “ly, aren't we suppose to meet up at your place? Oh, by the way, it's rude of me for letting you stand on the steps as strangers, please come on inside,” Anna invited them both. “Hi Anna! Doctor Chet thinks...” John was cut off by doctor Chet. “Anna, please do me a favor, wake everyone up, give them something to eat, and we all head out to Guinevere. Leaving the ghost town too long, and we may not even see a single corpse left. My experiment will fail if there is none left for me to play with,” doctor Chet winked at Anna. “Doctor, I don't think corpses can walk or run, so I have to say you're worry for nothing. Take it easy good doctor, my masters are still asleep,” Anna corrected doctor Chet. “Haven't you heard the wolves from that place? Those hungry wolves sometimes stalked the people of Guinevere as foods. Why have they called the mountains there the Chill Wolf? Shouldn't they be calling those mountains the Hungry Wolves? If we're not hurry back to Guinevere, I fear the wolves from Chill Wolf mountain will devour all corpses in Guinevere fast,” doctor Chet let out his rant, and Anna had already bobbed her head up and down as she surrendered to the good doctor's morning enthusiasm. “I got it. Give me a second, but be ready for grouchy people, because this is still too early. They've barely slept,” Anna hurried herself to wake Raleigh up. Raleigh got woken up and helped Anna to wake up the boys and Mr. Andrew. Anna herself went to wake up the girls and Sheryl the mother. “Maybe they named those mountains as Chill Wolf just to be funny,” John said. “Funny isn't it? People named that place too innocent. Strangers who have no idea about Chill Wolf may think the mountain is safe for chilling, but we all know the place is darn dangerous. They should have came up with a scarier name just to warn people how dangerous Chill Wolf mountain can be. You think the Demon Sanctuary would sound better? Those wolves are described as demons for they had eaten humans before! I have known a man who have bitten by a wolf from the outskirt of Guinevere, and he has only a leg now. He has moved to this village not too long after he got bitten in Guinevere. That tells you something about those wolves eh?” doctor Chet's morning enthusiasm was rather chatty. “I think I know who that is! He had a beautiful daughter about my age right? Her name was Chelsea, but I can't remember her father's name. Hmm...” John scratched his head. “And I thought your eyes were blind when women came to our place. Yep, that her. She assisted her father to our place so I could diagnose his chronic pain beneath his right lower back. Till this day, I could only give him a medicine I concocted from the

strange red mushroom I found in the forest to ease the pain. I can't seem to cure the man from his pain completely.” “I hate when you call that a red mushroom. You know there are other mushrooms with red color too, and without giving it a proper name, it may confuse me one day when I have to handle more than one type of red mushroom that you may use to treat your patients.” “Lad, if that day comes, I let you name all the red mushrooms if you want. Plus, I hate naming stuffs, and you know that lad. For the time being, we only have one type of red mushroom to treat as pain killer, so don't stress yourself out unnecessarily,” doctor Chet sarcastically chided John. People stumbled out of their room and into the living room with grouchy faces as predicted. Tristan found sleepy Charlie walked ahead of him, he placed his two hands on Charlie's shoulders and slouched along. Eyes stared at the tall, skinny, old man who grinned, and the short, muscular, young man with bewilderment. The odd pair with the same hearty morning attitude stood in front of them with supply bags and tiny medicine bags. Doctor Chet and his young assistant looked ample for the trip to Guinevere, considered he only had gotten back yesterday. “Come on people. Get ready fast, because Guinevere is waiting,” doctor Chet urged everyone. John bobbed his head up and down in agreement with what doctor Chet had said! Arlene yawned loudly and massage her eyes with her right hand. Little tears ran down her right cheek from the yawns. Charlie's hairs were spiked up. Tristan slouched no more, his droopy face told he longed for a longer sleep. “OK everyone, go wash your faces, don't tamper with the good doctor's excitement, he may change his mind about going to Guinevere if we cannot hurry up,” Mr. Andrew urged everyone. “We have something to eat too before we head out right?” doctor Chet asked. “Yes sir, don't you worry about breakfast. Anna , Tim and I will serve a hearty breakfast before you head out,” Raleigh said. “I heard you're a good cook too Raleigh. Your master is lucky,” doctor Chet said. Raleigh politely bowed his head as a way to show his appreciation for praising him. He walked off and headed for the kitchen. Anna and Tim were already inside the kitchen prepared the ingredients.

The breakfast was nothing of fancy. Well done cooked wild boar meats served with chopped onions and special house made gravy and juicy red tomato slices. Couple days old home made breads tasted nicely with the boar meats. The troops ate heartily. They spoke little besides Mr. Andrew and doctor Chet reminded each other a few things they did in the pasts. The group ignored both men while finishing up every last bit of foods there were on the large wooden plates. Sheryl the mother braided her daughter's hair at the kitchen table right after everyone stared at their empty food plates. Sheryl the daughter innocently glanced around. “It won't be too hot if we head out now. When we reach the forest, the shades from the forest's trees protect us from the sun. Make sure we have lot of water. Listen to me, I'm a doctor and I know water can moderate the horses and us on this two day trip,” doctor Chet suggested. “No objection? OK, let get our stuffs together and head out,” Mr. Andrew commanded. “Raleigh, prepare the water and the horses and everything else that you think we all need for the trip. Make sure at least one of you stay back so the houses can be watched. In case we're not back in a reasonable time for some strange reasons, the one who stays behind can go find help from the village elders.” “Yes sir, why don't we let Anna stays home?” Raleigh suggested. “You decide,” Mr. Andrew said. Chapter 11 (More Shadows!) The evil wizard leisurely strolled the forest as if he had not a care for the world. He dressed in his finest white robe, and held his finest staff made from a tusk of a bull elephant from the world before time. His long gray hair peppered with black strands and a very long black beard peppered with the color of salt made the evil wizard looked benevolent. At the current pace, it would take another two days or so before the evil wizard could reach anywhere near Catheblanc. The evil wizard could summon his demon horse, but he preferred to stroll in the forest. He knew the people of Catheblanc would always be there waiting for him. They will like me in the day, but when the night comes, they will like me even more whether they want it or not! The morning sunlight pierced the dense forest trees and the various birds chirped in groups as if a large band of bards performed a symphony. The evil wizard had always loved the atmosphere of the early mornings. The air was sweeter in the morning. Learning new spells in the early morning was never a focus problem. He lost his focus easily when the afternoon kicked in. The evil wizard hated the nights. He often used the wrong spells and dozed off in the nights. His old age had gotten to him!

Even though the evil wizard abhorred the nights, he had often outdone himself at night time. Some of his dark spells garnered the essence of magic best at night time. This night, it will be a long one for me! I might as well enjoy the day the way I know best! Not too far away, the fairies who only came out at night time had abandoned their tradition, they lurked in dark concave spots of various trees. From time to time, they stole glimpses of the evil wizard who pleasantly enjoyed his forest stroll. The fairies knew their power could only wane in the daytime. Attacking the evil wizard during the daytime could mean death to the fairies. The fairies had spent all of their strengths during the night in a collective effort so they could conjure up a resurrection spell. Luckily, the fairies had luck on their side and the conjuration of the resurrection spell worked. Without a working resurrection spell, the fairies doubted they could survive during the day within this world. Amber felt her force had greatly weakened as the day refused to die young. She and her fairy friends hid themselves inside trees' holes and in various places that are out of the evil wizard's sight. Perhaps, Gregory had sensed them for Amber knew he had great power. In a dark small concave spot formed by the overgrown forest tree, Amber overcame by a surge of collective thoughts from the other fairies spread far and wide in the forest. Within those collective thoughts, Amber saw ten unique individuals on horses. These individuals headed southward. Amber recognized Arlene in her vision. She feared for them all! The evil wizard will kill them all! Foolish humans! Amber left the tree's concave protection and whisked away in the air toward the humans. She could not allow more innocent lives to be taken away by the evil wizard. The fairies throughout the forest instantly understood Amber's worries. In a way, Amber felt blessed for being under the charm of the resurrection spell. Without the resurrection spell, collective thought would not occur and her new friends would be killed by the evil wizard. Arlene and the gang had not stopped even for water for they had rode enthusiastically southward. Inside Arlene's heart, she felt strangely of how she had gotten so close to the people who rode next to her. Even though she barely knew them all except for Charlie, these people with their strange culture oddly enough had soothed Arlene's spirit somehow. The horse she rode on, the forest she observed, the animals she glanced at, the flowers she could not take her eyes off, everything she had learned so far was beyond her imagination, and Arlene was captivated by them. “Arlene, drink some water, I haven't seen you take a drop since the morning,” Charlie worried for Arlene's health. He reached her by yelling loudly as the horses galloped steady and fast. The wind blew hard at his face, and he was sure it would be the same for Arlene. He wasn't sure if Arlene could hear his advice for the wind blew hard and loud.

The gang slowed down their horses. Arlene wiped the sweats from her face with her tiny white palms. She gave a weak smile at Charlie. Charlie had lost his shyness and it was obvious to Arlene. She felt attached even more to Charlie than before. He doesn't speak when he knows I'm mad! He doesn't tick when I'm crazy! His shyness has disappeared with the world we have left! He looks different! He is different than before! Let see... Thinking of about the other world, how do I get back? Arlene formed a worried look on her face. “Tristan, everyone, let stop our horses and rest a bit. I don't know about all of you, but I feel hungry already,” Mr. Andrew said as his horse too had slowed down significantly at his heed. The gang tied their horses to the forest trees. They all sat under an overgrown forest tree with breads and more wild boar meats in hands. Their leather water bags laid on the ground neared each own feet. The gang had not a chance for expressing their loving and fun natures for the ride was long and fast. Arlene and the gang felt relax as they ate and communicated among the group. Charlie laughed as he saw Tristan spilled his water onto himself for drinking too fast. The wild boar meat had a salty taste to it caused Tristan to drink more water than usual. Charlie didn't seem to mind the salty taste much. “Charlie, I'm just thinking,” Arlene demanded Charlie's attention. “Yes?” “This whole place may not be where we are from,” Arlene said but was cut off by Charlie. “Arlene, don't worry too much. We'll be fine,” Charlie said. “It's great that you feel fine, but I'm still worrying about we may not be able to make it home anytime soon,” Arlene's eyebrows drew even closer. “You mean?” “It was strange enough of how we had gotten here, and I don't see how we can see our parents again. I highly doubt that these people even know how to take us back. The elders they keep on talking about are older than these people, may have more knowledge, but they're of the same kind. I think they won't be much help either,” Arlene sighed. “It won't do us good by mulling over this over and over again. Just enjoy these people for now. Maybe they know more than we think,” Charlie tried to plant some hope inside Arlene.

“I don't know Charlie, but you're right. Maybe they could help us somehow. I hope soon,” “What you guy so secretly talking about?” Tristan interrupted Arlene and Charlie. “Oh, nothing much, nothing to be worried about,” Arlene said. Tristan looked at Charlie with envy in his eyes. “Everyone, go feed your horse some water and we head out again,” Mr. Andrew instructed. Sheryl the mother volunteered to feed Arlene's horse with water, but Arlene insisted that they both do it together. The horses could run a full day without foods as long they had been fed before the trip. The horses were fed a day before with large amount of wild grasses, but they had been on empty stomachs throughout the morning. The gang knew the trip to Guinevere required them galloped ahead at full speed for a near two day ride. They had to feed the horses at night time where they could tie their horses at fertile spots of wild grasses and let the horses fed themselves. The gang had one full day and a half more to go before the horror of the ghost town could be relived. Mr. Andrew urged everyone to get back onto their horses for another ride out. Arlene untied her horse, but she heard a soft voice spoke in her right ear. It was the same voice that she had heard once before. Arlene recognized it was the gentle voice of a fairy she had met a night ago. “It's you again! You say we shouldn't go to Guinevere? But why?” Arlene spoke with Amber, but everyone around her thought she had gone insane. “Who are you speaking to Arlene?” Tristan asked of Arlene. Arlene ignored Tristan as she was busy in talking to Amber! “She is speaking to a ghost?” Sheryl the daughter asked Sheryl the mother. “I don't know darling,” Sheryl the mother felt something was odd but she could not figure out what had gone wrong with Arlene. “Must be the ghosts of Guinevere,” Tim said. “Can't be, even if there are ghosts, Guinevere is a day and half more away,” Mr. Raleigh said. “Isn't this the case of a person has gone mad?” John scratched his head.

“Not sure, her behavior is not of a mad person. She is just communicating with what we cannot see, I think,” doctor Chet said. “Quiet everyone. I have something to tell you all,” Arlene startled everyone as she began directed her attention to the gang. “Actually, it's better for her to tell you.” “Her?” “Who?” “She!” Arlene pointed at Amber, but only Charlie could see Amber. “I still don't see that person,” Tristan said. “So, nobody sees Amber?” “Who is Amber?” Sheryl the daughter asked. Amber made herself visible with her waning power. Amber felt the magic had left her body at a faster rate. The farther Amber strayed from other fairies, her power could only wane even faster. Normally, it wouldn't matter if Amber instantly traveled herself into another world, but the resurrection spell had dampened her innate ability. Amber and her fairy friends had cast the resurrection spell on themselves so they could exist in this world during the daytime. “Don't be alarmed everyone, my name is Amber. I'm a fairy. I'm sorry for not making myself visible earlier, because I can't. My power is waning, but I was able to concentrate and become visible so everyone can see me. I won't be able to sustain my visibility for the night is not coming fast enough. In a short while, I'll be invisible again.” “How come your power is waning?” Tristan asked. “Although I've used a special spell on myself so I could appear in your world during the daytime, but your world is draining me fast.” “I'm curious, how come only Arlene was able to see you before you make yourself visible?” Doctor Chet asked. “I'm not quite sure myself. Come to think of it, Arlene is very close to something the fairy mother had described to us fairies. If the prophecy is true, the girl in the prophecy or by chance it's Arlene can interact with fairies in ways that others cannot do so,” “Has your prophecy mentioned about a boy?” Charlie asked. “Mother fairy has never told us anything about a boy in our prophecy. Charlie isn't it? So Charlie, why you ask me that?”

“As Arlene, I could see you while you were invisible. You say only a girl in the prophecy can interact with fairies in ways nobody can. Maybe seeing you in invisible state isn't really special. Arlene and I could be a coincident,” Charlie reasoned. Amber was surprised there was another person who could see her besides Arlene. Mother fairy had never mentioned about a prophetic boy. “Perhaps I'm just too eager to hope for the coming of the prophecy. Arlene, Charlie and everyone, I'm here to speak about something more urgent.” Amber flapped her little transparent wings rapidly, but she wasn't flying anywhere besides anchored herself in one place in the air. “Actually, we have something very urgent to do too,” Doctor Chet laughed nervously. “I've come here to warn all of you that where you are heading now is dangerous. Please head back to Catheblanc and tell everyone who lives there to move farther north. Go now or it will be too late. Gregory is on his way to Catheblanc. When Gregory reaches Catheblanc, everyone will die,” Amber said. “Who is Gregory?” Charlie asked. “He is a wizard, but a truly evil one. I've known many wizards, but none has the ambition this one has. He is building an army of zombies. The magic that he is using to build his zombie army requiring many corpses. Fresh corpses turn into zombies with living humans' characteristics such as intelligence. Stale corpses turn into pure zombies. You can't really discern the zombies made from fresh corpses from all of you, because they will talk, dress and act just like human beings. Only when you sink your sharp weapons into their flesh, then you know they're zombies for these don't die from flesh killing weapons. The magic itself is pure evil which has been forbidden to be used by wizards across the seas. Gregory has brought his very magic back into this world. I find it's horrifying to not be able to tell a zombie from a human being, at least we know when to run from the zombies made of stale corpses. By the way, may I ask why everyone is heading southward?” “We are going to Guinevere. I want to take samples from the corpses and do the necessary experiments on them to explain and prevent the same calamity which had destroyed Guinevere. Hearing what you have said, I fear my job is done here. This evil wizard you speak of may have been the culprit, because he could use magic instead of science to destroy the town of Guinevere. Am I right fairy? He could use those corpses inside Guinevere for his zombie army,” doctor Chet had an epiphany. “No further from the truth, Gregory is the one who had sent out hundreds of poison shadows to Guinevere and killed everyone there in one night. The poison shadows use poison spell. Poison spell is categorized as a shadow spell. Shadow spells can only be used by the shadows and warlocks and demons. The warlocks could use the shadow

spells for they had abandoned all human traces. Shadow spells required the practitioners allowed parts of their bodies to be eaten by the Infernals. Infernals are demons. Infernals' bodies are made of fire that could melt just about anything. Many warlocks wear clothes that conceal half of their bodies. Why? Halves of warlocks' bodies are human, and the other halves, the burned parts are demon,” Amber paused a bit so the information could be absorbed by everyone. “The poison spell is infectious?” doctor Chet asked. “When a poison spell has been cast on a person, anyone who stands within nine feet of the affected person will also be under the influence of the spell. It means the poison spell can kill many people at once. It spreads out like an infectious disease! People who got killed by poison spell turned into blackish corpses. Even the eyes of the corpses turned blackish. The difference between the poison spell and the infectious disease is that people die instantly when they're infected with poison spell.” “That explains why the corpses in Guinevere turned blackish,” Charlie said. “And their eyes,” doctor Chet added. “I wonder, since you're a fairy, why don't you stop this Gregory from killing people?” Charlie asked. “He's too powerful for us fairies, but I think our mother fairy can deal with him. Unfortunately, the mother fairy is still nowhere to be found.” “How Gregory is threatening your world Amber?” Arlene asked. “By unleashing untold amount of deaths in your world, unpredictable amount of reincarnations will occur in our world, Nurvan. Some people will reincarnate into fairies, others may reincarnate into demons. The balance of Nurvan is depending on the strength of fairies. Since the possibility of unpredictable amount of reincarnation is high, us fairies fear demons may gain in numbers. The demons are always threatening to unleash a cataclysm in Nurvan, but us fairies somehow manage to stop them from doing such a scary thing. I don't want this evil Gregory to have his way, and Nurvan may as well drown in a cataclysm,” Amber sighed, and some of the fairy dusts flew out from her breaths. “Amber is right, we have to go back and warn the people about this Gregory,” Arlene said. “Telling the people to run is one thing, but how to stop this wizard from killing more people?” Charlie asked. “Other fairies and I are trying our best to find mother fairy. Without mother fairy, I'm afraid there is little we can do about Gregory. Since all of you will head back to

Catheblanc, please warn the villagers to leave their homes. The farther north they go the safer they will be.” Amber instructed. “OK, we head back then, thank you for your warning Amber,” Mr. Andrew spoke. The horse ride back to the town was swift. Mr. Andrew spared not a single moment for anything else, he led the gang directly to a small house which stood lonely but proudly up on the hill. From the vantage point of the hill, one could see many other houses below. It felt as if the person who lived in this house was the king of the world, the world of Catheblanc! After heavy knocks, a short man came opened his door. He had a square face, heavy breath of wine, bulgy eyes, a funny golden mustache, and his body had a tough frame. From far away, one could think the man was a dwarf. Up closer, he stood just enough to reach Mr. Andrew's shoulders. The man stared up and saw the urgent look masked Mr. Andrew's face. “Hello Andrew, I don't usually accept visitation on the day like this. What is so important for you to visit me at my house? You know you can wait till tomorrow and make a proper meeting with me at the temple.” A single temple located west of the market was the place where the elders and the priests provided their consultations to the villagers. The market located at the center of the village. “You're right, I have never been so scare, and now I am. Wait, I take that back, I was scare when my family disappeared, you know that, but this is worse. More families will disappear instantly if you don't listen to me chief elder Darwin!” “How so?” “You yourself brags from time to time that you have met a wizard before right? You say wizards are nice people! Not this one! He is coming this way to destroy Catheblanc! I mean, he is really going to destroy this whole village! He plans to use his poison shadows to unleash the poison spell, a magic spell which spreads out like an infectious disease. Many people will be dead before they even know what hit them if they are still going to be in this village when this wizard arrives. Chief elder Darwin, why don't you assemble the other elders, and plan an evacuation right away!” The man studied Mr. Andrew's face without flinching his eyes. He then looked around the room where he saw Mr. Andrew's companions stood closely together but had already filled the empty space in his living room. He studied the faces of the strange people that he had never laid eyes on before.

“Evacuation?” the man jerked his face around and faced Mr. Andrew once more. His head slanted upward, heavy wine breath escaped the nostrils, bulgy eyes surveyed Mr. Andrew face for any sign, and he was not pleased. Mr. Andrew stood towering over chief elder Darwin. Chief elder Darwin felt uncomfortable as Mr. Andrew had invaded his personal space. He sat on the wooden chair and wished Mr. Andrew could back away. “Give me some room sir,” chief elder Darwin spoke with agitation in his voice. Mr. Andrew stepped back. He had invaded elder Darwin's personal space as if he wanted a good fight. He knew his size could intimidate many smaller people, but sizes had zero effect on chief elder Darwin who carried gigantic stature and position within Catheblanc. Chief elder Darwin had a quirky thing for Catheblanc's unique wine. The wine from here tasted bitter than most, but its aroma could send a man to a realm of fantasy. Chief elder Darwin drank these wine lightly on the regular days when he had to deal with the village's activities. He drank them heavily on his off days. His wine breath flew around the room, and everyone could smell it. “So what you say? Let assemble the village elders?” “Only you speak of this, but nobody else has. If I'm overreacting and gathering the town elders and have people evacuating, when things don't seem authentic, everyone will blame me for troubling them. No, worse than that, I'll lose their trust! I'll not be effective as the chief elder of the village if people stop trusting me. What else you can tell me so I can believe you?” “You've got to believe me. We spoke to a fairy,” Mr. Andrew sounded desperate. “Chief elder Darwin, I back what my uncle has said. Everyone here will second that too. A fairy had spoken to us. She told us to warn everyone here, if not leave the village right away, it won't be long before the wizard named Gregory called upon his poison shadows and everyone in this village will be dead.” “You've to understand. The things you've said sound very implausible. Also, asking people to leave their homes is like to force them to do unthinkable things. This village is their lives. Where can they go? Everyone needs a home, even the dead ones. I don't think it's wise for me to believe your story since I know many wizards myself, and I never have seen one has ever going to the dark side such as using their powerful magic to wipe out villages like you have so wanting me to believe. Gregory, whoever this wizard is, he may only play a cruel joke. Wizards are known for their jokes. The fairy may have her part in this cruel joke too. Nobody is in their right mind just to go wipe out a village. I don't buy it,”

Arlene saw chief elder Darwin refused to listen, she planned to provoke. “Ahem, you look as if you're drunk Mr. Darwin. I fear your head isn't clear enough to be dealing with the crisis at hand. Mr. Andrew, why don't we ourselves save us some times and lives by assembling the elders in the name of chief elder Darwin?” “Little girl, you got the nerve to command me to let you shame myself in this fantasy of your? I'm forbidding anyone from doing anything foolish. Why a wizard wants to kill a whole village when we have not even heard of him? Mr. Andrew, I have never take you for a clown, but it seems I have to rethink of you sir. You and your friends need to leave this house, and say no more.” “Leave and so you can be even more drunk? You're an alcoholic! Mr. Darwin, you need to wake up. We don't have the time to waste. We here not because it's funny to play a trick on a drunkard like you. The people from this village are respecting you, but I fear you've none for them. What sort of a respectable man are you who won't listen but drink all day long when an honest man such as Mr. Andrew is asking you to do the right thing for your villagers? You got to tell everyone to leave now or they all be dead by the end of the day,” Arlene puffed and huffed in her ladylike manner at Mr. Darwin. “You, you,” Chief elder Darwin burst and pointed at Arlene. “Who are you? You don't even know me little girl. Why are you bad mouthing me? Mr. Andrew, will you please shut her up. Never mind, just get out of my house, all of you.” “Arlene, if you say more, the man may kill you,” Charlie said as if he was whispered, but the friends surrounded him could hear him quite well. Arlene gave Charlie an obvious look. Chief elder Darwin hadn't taken her bait. She could do nothing more in helping the cause, but she had angered the man at a boiling point. He wanted to kick everyone out of his little hilltop house. Arlene pinched Charlie and urged him to do something. Mr. Andrew begged Darwin for his understanding, but a drunken elder had shut his ears. Chief elder Darwin gestured everyone to leave. He pushed Mr. Andrew toward the door. Mr. Andrew felt the small push as if a fly had landed on his skin, he barely felt the friction, but he moved his legs toward the door, but reluctantly. Chief elder Darwin felt satisfied when he saw everyone followed Mr. Andrew toward the door. “Hold on! It's perfectly making sense for you to relay Mr. Andrew's message to the village elders. Mr. Andrew here is a man with some reputation, am I right?” Charlie looked at chief elder Darwin who still had his hands on Mr. Andrew's back. “Boy, why don't you cooperate? Stop standing behind me and come to the door. You and your friends need to leave,” chief elder Darwin begged Charlie.

“I don't think Charlie will budge. He wants you to understand the situation you're in,” Arlene scolded chief elder Darwin as if she had the authority of a mother. “What's there to talk? Go home, take a rest, let me rest,” chief elder Darwin begged everyone. “What's there to hurt? All you have to do is to gather the village's elders here. Mr. Andrew will tell on Gregory,” Tristan chimed in. “I second that,” Sheryl the mother said sheepishly! “I don't think you have a story to tell. What you're saying is just a fantasy. Nobody will believe you,” chief elder Darwin insisted. “How about let me make a fool of myself in front the elders, by any luck, I may convince couple elders with my story, and you get to see a good show. Anyway, if you want to see a good show, be hurry on gathering the elders,” Mr. Andrew said. Without pushing Mr. Andrew any longer, Mr. Darwin considered the suggestion of Mr. Andrew. “Alright, good show does go well with good wine. If you've said in such a way earlier, I may have not waste so much of my time arguing you,” chief elder Darwin conceded to such a brilliant suggestion. “How long do we have to wait for the elders to be gathered here?” Mr. Andrew asked. “Some time! I don't know, I can only tell Mr. Jude who lives down the hill about my wanting to summon the elders. Mr. Jude himself is one of the elder, and he will ask his boys to relay the messages throughout the village. I don't know how long, but it won't be all day long,” chief elder Darwin replied. Chief elder Darwin gazed at the beautiful, blue open sky through the opened door, and he thought, the day looks nice enough, how can it be about a wizard who will kill everyone in the village? Maybe I'm going to have a very good show, a perfect thing for my wine. “He knows how to take his time,” doctor Chet remarked about chief elder Darwin took his time to get dress inside the bedroom. Meanwhile, Mr. Andrew worried the elders would not believe him. He wished he could paint the cataclysmic picture of Guinevere of which he had yet seen to the elders, but how could he? If the elders could take themselves to Guinevere, but time was running out. His words would have to do it.

Chief elder Darwin got out of his house after he had put on new clothes. The clothes that he wore earlier was reeked with wine. Even at a mild drunken state, chief elder Darwin had the awareness of his decency. He changed into new clothes, and off he went down the hill. Before he left the house, he told everyone not to leave the house. It was a given, everyone chose to be at his house so the fairy's message could reach everyone else through a proper channel. Without a proper channel to deliver the urgent warning to all, folks would take the warning not so seriously. Chief elder Darwin knew the group's intention very well, but he doubted their words would persuade the other elders as he had not convinced about the story they told himself. Meanwhile, everyone waited inside chief elder Darwin's hilltop house. “Our warning is that outrageous? So outrageous that chief elder Darwin is in a denial? ” Arlene wondered out loud. “Maybe, he is too optimistic so he refuses to believe in something that's so pessimistic as our warning,” Sheryl the mother chimed in. Mr. Andrew's eyebrows drawn together as if he himself pondered on the question. “Alcoholic I would say. The man needs to stay away from the wine. If he is, his judgment would improve greatly,” Mr. Raleigh added. “The man is angry. If he keeps up with his anger, I fear his health might be deteriorated,” doctor Chet diagnosed. “How so?” John asked. “Anger which is riling up inside a person makes the body gets out of its normalcy. Put it in another way, a person's body listens to its owner emotions. When a person gets too emotional, the body has to react accordingly to fit a person's expressions. When a person gets too angry, the body has to be riled up, and when a person gets too relax, a body has to go into a sleep mode. Riling up all the time is not a good thing since the body has to work harder than normal to express a person's emotions. Relaxing a body all the time isn't good either since the body might get too comfortable and forget to do the normal things that keep the body healthy. I think we must find the balance in our emotions to keep our body in check. I don't know the chief elder well enough. He rarely sees me for a medical consultation, but if it's true that chief elder is always angry, then his health could be deteriorated slowly over time,” doctor Chet analyzed. “I learn something new today,” John said. “Keep it up and one day you will know way more than I do,” doctor Chet said with a smile.

“Chief elder Darwin is a difficult man, but he is a good man nonetheless. I would have acted just as him if my job is a chief elder. He can't be too gullible. He has to make sure our message isn't some sick joke. What we ask of him has never been done before. Not a single elder I have ever knew had ever told their villagers to migrate away from the village en masse,” Mr. Andrew spoke well of chief elder Darwin. “Why can't we just forget these slow elders and speak to everyone ourselves?” Charlie asked. “The inhabitants of the village are scattered, but nonetheless there are many inhabitants altogether as a whole. This why the elders have a system where they can spread messages fast throughout. Also, everyone knows the elders. They trust the elders' words as if their own,” Mr. Andrew explained. “So how does this system work?” Arlene asked. “Whenever the elders want to pass a message throughout the village, they only need to tell the key people. The key people aren't many, but whenever these key people say the elders' particular message needs to be pass on, everyone in the village acts as if they're the key people themselves by going out of their ways to spread the message throughout the village. If the message is so urgent, the villagers will spread such a message almost with immediacy,” Mr. Andrew explained furthermore. “What if someone is actually playing a cruel joke or intending to spread lies? This system of the elders seem to be a perfect cover up for such a person with that kind of intention,” Arlene raised her doubts about the elders' system. “It's not perfect, but in the end of the day, the elders can always confirm what is true and what is not,” Mr. Andrew insisted. “When chief elder Darwin and the other elders realize the real danger from our message, Mr. Andrew, do you think the villagers have enough time to make an escape?” Arlene asked. “I don't know Arlene, let just hope our warning isn't falling on deaf ears and the elders can convince everyone to leave the village at once. Nonetheless, I think we have done a good job in getting chief elder Darwin to gather up all the elders. Only chief elder Darwin has the power to summon all the elders at once. Many other elders sometimes jealous of each other, and some of them don't even want to communicate in the same place. It's a pity that they're the ones who could make things flow in the village,” Mr. Andrew said with a sigh. “I think the villagers will be alright since we got elder Appleseed,” Raleigh said.

“You're quite right Raleigh, if we have elder Appleseed on our side. We may have enough elders to side with us. As long we have more elders to side with us than the opposition, even chief elder Darwin has to go along with the majority,” Mr. Andrew said. “Why do you think elder Appleseed will believe us?” Charlie asked. Arlene nodded her head as if she wanted to know too. Tristan was all ears but he had not spoken a single word. “Let say elder Appleseed has a weakness. He has delightful encounters with the fairies many times in his life. So, I think naturally our story will somewhat be persuasive to him. As long he takes our message seriously, most likely other elders will side with us. Elder Appleseed used to be chief elder himself, but he retired from the position for his old age had gotten to him. Still, his words meant a lot to other elders. Even chief elder Darwin sometimes seek the former elder for consultations on various things.” “Mr. Andrew, I'm just curious, what sort of delightful encounters elder Appleseed had with the fairies?” Charlie asked. “Elder Appleseed loves to tell the stories of his past to whoever has the patience. He often rants on for hours about things in his past. People often yawn and pretend to listen to him so they don't offend the respectable elder. So often times, stories about how he befriended the fairies while he was still a boy would likely to surface among his rants. If you tell him that you also have an encounter with a fairy, it will be a long day for you. Elder Appleseed won't let you off so easily until he knows every last bit details about the fairy you've met,” Mr. Andrew smiled warmly and shook his head. “Mr. Andrew, elder Appleseed will be all over you later,” Arlene laughed. Meanwhile, the waiting stretched on. Several small conversations exchanged among the members of the group. Mr. Andrew looked anxious evermore. Arlene herself became quiet and entrenched in her own thoughts. Chief elder Darwin was a strange man, she thought. He was short with a powerful body, and yet he drank a lot. He lived in a small hilltop house. He had the power of summoning all the elders. Why people listened to him even though Mr. Darwin appeared incapable of listening to everyone else? She let her thoughts ran wild. Arlene felt she was important in this world. The other world where Charlie and she came from, they were confined. The hospital had depressed her, but it had become her life. The walls, the trees outside the windows, the examinations, and the frequent faints were her adventures. In this world, she felt alive. Some times had passed, the room full of serious faces began to feel as if they sat on hot coals. Mr. Andrew walked back and forth in the center of the living room. Arlene looked worried, and Charlie kept fiddled with his two thumbs. Sheryl the mother held her daughter tight as if she feared her daughter would disappear. Doctor Chet and his assistant dozed off. Raleigh stood in the corner and crossed his arms. Tim stood next

to Raleigh without saying anything. Tristan yawned often and he had an agitated attitude which could be shown on his face. Tristan wondered, when chief elder Darwin would come back and tell everyone something, anything? A pale face with breathless lung which gasped for more air and choked at the same time, Mr. Darwin coughed loudly as he could not breathe normal. The door was wide opened, and there he stood without stepping inside. Bending over a little as he coughed some more. Everyone looked at him with bewilderment. “Take it easy chief elder. Someone, he needs water,” Mr. Andrew suggested. Sheryl the mother rushed to the kitchen at once. She carried out the jug of water and a wine cup. She poured the water inside the wine cup and handed to Mr. Darwin. The chief elder waved his hands and signified that he wanted none of it. “No time. Look!” chief elder Darwin pointed skyward in the direction where smaller hills formed waves of earth; the concentration of houses laid beyond the village's center; the trees grew randomly at the further outskirt of the smaller hills; the land where naked eyes could not see and to everything else resided in the village. Mr. Andrew walked through the opened door, and he gasped with fear. The group rushed outside, and the horror they saw could only happen in nightmare had come true. The sky from afar was blackened with dark shadows. The shadows were all too visible in the beautiful blue sky. Among the white clouds, the dark shadows in formation of uncountable number swept forward as if a large massive darkened black cloud which covered half of the sky was consuming clumps of white clouds. The white clouds dissipated as the dark shadows swept forward. The beautiful blue sky got darken by the evil force. “Poison shadows?” Raleigh asked. “Never seen one, but that's clear as day, I've no doubt a fairy we met earlier spoke of them,” doctor Chet said. “What are we going to do?” John asked. “Run, what else?” doctor Chet said. Tristan was about to say something but he stood in silence as his legs refused to move. He saw the villagers poured out of the village in mismatched groups. Some people ran so fast that they fell flat on their faces. Villagers could not run south as poison shadows came from that direction, and so everyone ran northward. “This is madness,” Charlie said. “When will we run?” John asked.

“Now!” Mr. Andrew suggested. One more member had added into the collection of unique individuals. Chief elder Darwin was one unwilling member. He found himself stuck with the group of the people who he barely knew, except for Mr. Andrew. Escaping northward, they found elder Appleseed was trampled over as if he was a smashed fruit. Everyone was horrified. Mr. Andrew and John and everyone else formed a small circle around a broken elder who had lain on the ground with little life in him. It appeared the chaos had led the people trampled over elder Appleseed while they were panic. The fearful people made the getaways, but elder Appleseed was victimized onto the surface of the dry soil. “I can't do anything else for him,” doctor Chet said. “I'm sure you can do something. You're a doctor,” Arlene insisted. Corpses littered the village. The people had not made out of the village were instantly died. Many more people had ran northward and away from the poison shadows. The gang wanted to help elder Appleseed, but the poison shadows swept the village at a blazing speed. Some poison shadows flew out just as fast as they had flew into the houses few seconds earlier. The people within their houses were killed instantly. Arlene knew in her heart it was difficult if not impossible to help the broken elder and survived the ordeal altogether. They had to run now. Nonetheless, the group stuck at the spot where elder Appleseed could barely breathe. Elder Appleseed could not speak, and his eyes slightly closed. Doctor Chet placed his right hand slightly above elder Appleseed's nose, and he could feel elder Appleseed breathed, but barely. Doctor Chet stood up with a darken complexion on his face. “I don't think elder Appleseed is going to survive. His breathing is really weak,” doctor Chet stated. Mr. Andrew, a big man indeed, bended forward as he wanted to carry elder Appleseed away from the poison shadows. Doctor Chet placed a hand on the left shoulder of Mr. Andrew. Mr. Andrew felt the good doctor's hand and froze. Doctor Chet shook his head and sighed. “The old man cannot be moved. He will feel the pain of a thousand cut if he to be moved right now. How are you going to run with him?” doctor Chet warned. “We have to do something,” Mr. Andrew spoke with distraught.

“It's too late,” Tristan said with a broken voice as he stood motionless and gazed at the shadowy shapes in the sky. He could not move at the sight of thousands of poison shadows swept closer. So close that everyone looked up and saw the poison shadows with details. The poison shadows that they had seen from afar were not any longer flew among the clouds, but they were hovered at the height of a house's roof. The poison shadows had black smokes swirled around their black figures. The smokes were in various shades of blacks. The black figures flew above had not a foot or hand. Smokes streamed out from their mouths. Eyes and mouths were hollowed in shades of gray. The areas the poison shadows swept over were untouched. Only the people who stood below the poison shadows were affected with poison spell. The people fallen down toward the ground as if somebody had unplugged their human souls. Everyone in the group stared upward and gasped. They all knew it was pointless to run. Any second, the poison shadows would sweep over them, and everyone would lie lifeless on the ground. Black smokes hurled toward the group. The black smokes acted organically. The group got encapsulated by the black smokes. Some black smokes made entries into everyone's noses and mouths and eyes. Doctor Chet felt the sharp pain in his head. Mr. Andrew was intoxicated and went blind. Raleigh fell down onto the ground hard as his body went numbed. John went deaf and could not hear the screams of the people around him. Sheryl the mother held her daughter tightly but the black smokes entered her nose and up into her brain had her hallucinated. Sheryl the mother pushed her daughter away from her hard as if Sheryl the daughter was the evil thing which had clinched onto her body. Tim crouched to avoid the black smokes, but his ears eventually filled with the black smokes. Tim fainted unconsciously. Sheryl the daughter laid unconscious on the ground as she was pushed by her mother had her flew hard against Tristan. Sheryl the daughter's mouth filled with black smokes. Tristan scrambled for reality as he too was hallucinated. Tristan could not discern what happened all around him as everything turned into oozes of colors. Darwin's fearful face froze in time as his big mouth opened wide. The black smokes entered Darwin's mouth and blackened his tongue. Elder Appleseed stopped breathing as the black smokes had choked the old man to death. Charlie squeezed Arlene's left hand tightly. Their bodies went stiffed. Fears struck their cores, but without knowing their fates, fears had turned into only void which numbed their minds. The smokes swarmed their bodies, but failed to make any entrance as two powerful illuminated, translucent, golden lights from within the pair's bodies burst outward and evaporated the black smokes into the oblivion. Charlie slowly opened his eyes, but the black smokes were not surrounded him. He quickly steered his head to the right and saw that Arlene too was not surrounded by any black smoke. Arlene opened her eyes as she felt completely normal right after she saw

gigantic wave of black smokes engulfed her. The two saw traces of golden light lingered, but they were clueless about the phenomenon. Charlie felt hell had came down to where he stood as he saw his friends laid dead around him. He thought... Arlene felt dumbstruck as she discovered her friends lay dead around her. Small droplets of tears streamed out of her eyes and wet her cheeks. Her amazing adventure had now turned hellish. Charlie had not shed a single drop of tear, but his face said it all. Charlie yearned for yesterdays where everyone was foolish in their anger and happiness and love. He hugged Arlene tightly as her tears wet one of his shoulder. “Everyone is dead,” Arlene repeated the phrase as if it was a mantra, but her voice was barely heard as she whispered those words. “I know, I know Arlene. You have me still,” Charlie calmed Arlene the way he knew best. The pair noticed traces of golden light radiated from their friends' noses and mouths and ears. What little left of the phenomenon faded away left their dead friends laid cold on the ground. Arlene covered her mouth with joy when Tristan moaned in pain. One person after another began to moan. The dizziness intoxicated everyone's mind. Arlene and Charlie rushed toward their friends. “Tristan, Tristan, are you feeling OK?” Charlie asked. “Mr. Andrew, how do you feel?” Arlene asked. “I'm feeling the biggest headache ever as if I had drunk a thousand jugs of wine,” chief elder Darwin complained. Tristan helped Sheryl the daughter gained balance as she too felt the massive headache. Sheryl the mother swayed in her attempt of standing up. Sheryl the mother's face brightened and tears flooded her eyes as she saw her daughter grabbed onto Tristan for balance. John sat on the ground buried his head in his palms. Raleigh smothered Tim's head in playful manner. Tim had not mind and patted Raleigh on the back. “What happened?” Elder Appleseed asked. “You're fine! But, but I thought you were dead! The gods spare you my friend, you're alive and fine,” Mr. Andrew excitedly expressed his mind out loud. Welcoming his favorite elder back from the dead.

“I'm dead? What are you talking about Andrew? I was knocked over by a group of people, I think I hit my head or something, it seems I can't remember anything after that. I don't think getting knock onto the ground and hit your head against the ground slightly hard is that fatal and deserves to be pronounced dead! I'm speaking to you now, you see?” elder Appleseed slowly picked himself off the ground, back bended slightly forward as if he had a hump, and he found the sight in front of him unbearable. He could now see corpses lay not too far away. He made a slow spin, and he saw even more corpses. “How could this be? Why so many corpses? They are corpses right? Or these people were knocked over and had their heads hit the ground hard just like I was?” “They're corpses. I don't think any of them has any soul left inside! Lifeless,” Mr. Andrew said. “How?” “We explain to you later elder, now we have to run. It's not the time for us to make a small talk. We're in danger still,” Mr. Andrew said. “We should run back into one of those houses. We hide there until we're sure that the shadows are gone for good. The shadows went into those houses before, I doubt they will revisit them,” doctor Chet suggested. “OK, let do that. Anyone is against the plan?” Mr. Andrew asked. Heads nodded, but elder Appleseed was just as clueless. The gang went into the house, and the house was empty. It seemed the owners weren't home, or else the gang would have seen their blackish corpses. For all they knew, the owners could be among the corpses outside. The house's main entrance had a wooden door with a proper bolted wooden bar which was there to be used as the lock mechanism, and it faced northward. John made sure the door had cracked slightly so a member of the gang could survey the movements outside through the small crack. Mr. Raleigh volunteered himself to be the person who would observe through the main door's crack. John sat against the wall, neared the living room's window where a small crack made itself available through a slightly parted, thick curtain. John would surveyed the movements outside from his position. Doctor Chet made sure the kitchen window's curtain was closed, and it was. Not enough daylight made into the house cast a gloomy air within. Everyone calmed themselves down a bit, but they felt unnerved still as they had no idea what to do next. Eyes glanced at each other as if they shared something sacred, they had went through hell together.

“Can someone inform me what's going on?” elder Appleseed spoke in a normal voice which could be heard throughout the house. One could swear elder Appleseed had spoke loud enough that his voice might had escaped the house. “Old man, don't say too loud if you value your life,” chief elder Darwin warned with a lower tone. “We will wait till the sun comes down?” Arlene asked. “The day is more than half baked. I fear the sun will go down before we even know it. Outside looks as bright as noon. Nonetheless, the sky will be darken sooner than we think. I say waiting till the sun comes down is a sensible thing to do. Any objection?” Mr. Andrew kept his voice down just enough to be heard. “Has anyone remember?” Charlie asked in whisper. “What? Speak a little louder,” Tristan said. “Has anyone remember?” The question Charlie posed made no sense. Tristan scratched his head, and everyone else was as clueless. “Alright, I think Gregory is heading this way to collect his corpses. The fairy we spoke to earlier, she said Gregory used corpses for his zombie army. Remember now?” “Yes, now I remember about what the fairy had told us,” Sheryl the mother said. “That Gregory will find us here if we stay here too long. We better get away from here soon,” Charlie said. “Everyone, I think...” John wanted to say something but he refrained from completing of what he was about to say. Without a moment of hesitation, Tristan quickly positioned himself opposite from John, and slightly parted the thick curtain to reveal a small crack so he could see what had happened outside. “Someone is outside,” Tristan whispered. “Oh no,” John whispered as he saw a figure outside the window began to act strangely. The bodies inside the house went stiffed even though John's words had not conveyed anything meaningful. “What?” Mr. Andrew asked in whisper.

“Someone is doing something out there,” John replied with a serious face. “Someone is alive then?” Doctor Chet asked. “This has to be him. This has to be Gregory. He's wearing clothes of a wizard, and he is doing strange signs with his hands,” John described the situation outside. “Tristan, John, both of you keep a close watch on that person outside. Let hope that person isn't Gregory,” Mr. Andrew commanded them both. “So, should we run or stay?” doctor Chet whispered. “We stay,” chief elder Darwin budged in. “Yes, I think we stay till whoever outside is leaving. It's too dangerous for us to reveal ourselves to that stranger. To think of it, that person could be Gregory. I don't think it's wise to take a chance now since we just escaped deaths moment ago,” Mr. Andrew agreed with chief elder Darwin. Elder Appleseed threw his hands up in the air for he had not a clue what went on outside the house. He knew corpses had lain everywhere on the streets. It was a sight that he had never witnessed anything of sort even though he had lived much longer than anyone in the village. It's the end of the world? “What's outside? What sort of a disaster that killed everyone outside?” elder Appleseed insisted with a loud voice as usual. “Whisper old man. Whisper please! We will be killed if you speak too much and too loud at the wrong time. Oh, you got me going too. But I do whisper, and you're not,” chief elder Darwin snapped at the old man in whisper with his bulgy eyes popped out even more. Both of his index fingers formed an x shape sign neared his mouth as a way to tell elder Appleseed to keep quiet. “It does look like he is making magic signs. I think he's casting spells,” John whispered. “You don't know that John. You aren't a wizard, do I need to remind you of that young man,” doctor Chet corrected John. “Yes, but any ordinary person would not act in ways this man does right now. On top of everything, that man isn't shy about being surrounded by corpses. In fact he is waving his hands in strange way,” John replied. “If that's Gregory, where are the poison shadows?” Mr. Andrew asked. “I don't know,” John replied and kept his eyes focused through the crack.

“Speaking of the devils, the poison shadows are now back,” Raleigh whispered as he saw the poison shadows flooded back in groups through the crack of the main door which faced northward. “How many poison shadows did you see?” doctor Chet asked. “Couldn't count them all,” John answered as he too saw huge number of poison shadows approached the man outside through the crack of the living room's window. “OK, they're gone,” Tristan said. “Who?” chief elder Darwin chimed in. “The poison shadows, they left right after the man outside waved his hands in strange signs,” John replied. “Now we have proof that the man outside is Gregory, who else could command poison shadows like that?” Tristan stated the fact with a question. Arlene and Charlie and Sheryl the daughter stared at each other as if they had doubts about getting away from Gregory. “Everyone, we're going to get through this,” Mr. Andrew spoke those words with confidence, but his eyes betrayed him. Moment later, Gregory began to turn corpses into zombies. Everyone took their turn and peered through the small crack of the living room's window while trying to stay steady on their feet. The ground shook violently. Everyone suspected it had to be the work of that Gregory. Gregory did not noticed he was being watched. He carried on his mundane task as if nothing was important. He spoke the magical words. After he had done spoken the dark words and weaved the evil signs with his hands, the corpses turned zombies, and they woke in droves. The zombies followed each other into files of lines. Without being alive, and yet they had the ability of following the wizard order as if they had been trained before. The zombies stood in silent and awaited for Gregory to command them. The sky stayed darken with lightnings zapped freely within the black clouds that hung heavily above the town. As before, Gregory had the zombies stood in silent without knowing what had awaited them. Spoken an earth spell, the ground began to shake violently once more. This time, the ground shook harder than when Gregory had turned corpses into zombies. Cracks within the ground formed in abundance. The cracks were large. So large that the zombies fell into the cracks so willingly.

Arlene had her moments of peeking through the crack of the window's curtain. She was surprised that Hollywood wasn't that far off in special effect. What Gregory performed was way better than what she saw in Hollywood movies. Maybe the Hollywood folks should hire this Gregory performing magic so they could save money on making those expensive special effects. Sheryl the daughter hung on her mother tightly. The atmosphere within the house felt heavier. Through the crack, John saw Gregory stepped inside another house. “This is wrong. He is not leaving,” John said. “We got to get out of here,” Tristan said nervously. “Wow, how wizard cast their magic? This is the first time I see something like this ever,” Arlene spoke her mind. “Stop admiring him Arlene, he's an evil wizard,” Tristan said. “I'm not admiring him, tell him Charlie, isn't magic is something eh?” Arlene pushed for Charlie to say something in her defense. “Yes, it's something alright, but after what we see, it's more urgent now that we have to get away from that man,” Charlie said. “Where should we head Mr. Andrew?” doctor Chet asked. “I think we should just steer ourselves in the opposite direction of where Gregory is going to go,” Mr. Andrew replied without a moment of hesitation. “Please go north,” Amber appeared out of the thin air and had everyone spooked. “Amber, you're scaring us to death with your invisibility,” Arlene confirmed what everyone else had felt. Amber as usual surrounded herself with an aura of which only a fairy could have. Charlie gazed at Amber as if he was hypnotized by some magic even though Amber clearly had not cast any spell on him. In his mind, Charlie could not even sure that a fairy could be real, but this is the second time he had encountered a fairy. Amber noticed intense gaze from the boy who stood next to Arlene. Somewhat irritating, but Amber had gotten used to how humans stared at her. Amber had also felt the hidden aura within the boy. The very same hidden aura she had felt within Arlene earlier. Even now, Amber could not truly know the origin of the hidden aura she felt within these two children, but she had a feeling one day the aura within these two could reveal itself.

“I don't understand, aren't we suppose to stay out of this wizard's way? He is heading north, and I'm sure of it. Why should we head in the same direction as his?” Tristan asked Amber. “It makes sense he is heading north, because heading south would be going back to where he came from. Nonetheless, you all need to head north too. Going south isn't where you all should go, because nothing good is waiting for you in the south for now,” Amber replied to everyone in regard to Tristan's question. “Can you be a little more clear of why should we go north instead of south?” Arlene asked. “My fairy instinct tells me that everyone here will be able to contribute something positive to the current situation. With your help, everyone of you, we can stop this Gregory from killing more humans and making more zombies,” Amber replied. “Pardon me for intruding your conversation. Since the last time we met, you said humans who died here were reincarnated into your world. I presumed the dead people had their souls ventured into your world for reincarnation. Since dead people's corpses were soulless, how zombies are made?” Doctor Chet asked Amber. “Zombies aren't born from a natural phenomenon. They are completely different from all of us, and I mean all of us. Even the demons are born through reincarnation. I'm afraid my understanding on zombies are as little as you are doctor, and for ages I had not seen zombies till Gregory performed the dark prince's spell,” Amber replied to doctor Chet. “So what is waiting for us in the north?” Mr. Andrew asked. Everyone else nodded their heads and eager to hear what the fairy had to say in regarding of heading north. “To make everything as clear as I can be, let me begin why us fairies are so helpless against Gregory. Us fairies had followed this wizard for quite sometimes, and yet we never once thought he could notice our presence. I guess we were wrong. Instead of attacking the village at night as he had planned, Gregory had summoned his demon horse, and flew away from us at the rate that we could not match. When I arrived here, the village of Catheblanc had become desolated. Sadly to say, the power within us fairies is escaping rapidly, and I fear there is nothing we can do to stop him,” Amber said in a sad tone. “Have you find your mother fairy yet? You've said she could do something about Gregory,” Arlene said.

“Yes, our mother fairy may have a chance of putting Gregory to his misery, but she is nowhere to be found,” Amber replied with some frustration in her magic voice. “Since our mother fairy isn't to be found yet, us fairies have came up with a solution. In order for Gregory to be stopped, we need your help in the north. It's north where you can find a warlock named Screecher. Screecher has vowed he would not spare a fairy if he sees one. Therefore, we cannot approach him for his help. But everyone here can! Screecher is neutral toward the humans. “I cannot say the same for the fairies. The demons despise us fairies to their cores. Naturally, being half demon himself, Screecher is despising us to his core. I have no doubt that Screecher will be gladly to see us fairies perish in the hand of Gregory. This is why none of you here shall speak about us in front of Screecher. “Although being one of the most powerful warlocks in this world, Screecher isn't shy about making himself accessible to whoever comes knocking at his door. His location is well known since a part of him stays in the same spot for over one hundred years. You see, Screecher has the ability of splitting himself into two, but each is an exact clone of the other. He uses one of his presence to travel abroad, and the other stays home. In fact, any warlock is as powerful as screecher can do the same thing. Using demon power, warlocks can create two identical physical bodies of themselves. In a sense, powerful warlocks can be at two places in any given time. “Everyone knows half of Screecher never leaves Wild Wood. Wild Wood is a town north of here, but west of Windy Ridge,” Amber was cut off by doctor Chet. “Yes, I've heard of Wild Wood and Windy Ridge. Never been there myself, but heard stories of them. Windy Ridge is where one has to be really careful. Thieves are everywhere. Their headquarter is there too. Wild Wood is a place where rich merchants concentrate. I believe you can almost find just about anything of value in Wild Wood, at least that is what I have heard from other people who have traveled there. Apparently, now we know even an almighty warlock Screecher can also be found in Wild Wood,” doctor Chet scratched his chin as if he was proud of his knowledge. “Since you have not traveled to Wild Wood yet ever, you don't know that there is a ghost town next to Wild Wood. Actually, Wild Wood and the ghost town were one. The section that where the town folks have been avoided for a fact that it was there where many town folks had died. The story has that in the past, the folks there were mysteriously died for whatever reasons that not a soul till this day could explain. People who live in Wild Wood would not speak about that part of the town. In fact, Wild Wood was once called with a different name. The town's name was changed into Wild Wood. People believe it's better for the town to change its name than keeping the old name which reminds them off that part of the town. Even a long brick wall was built which divided the old part of the town with the new part of the town. Nowadays, not a single person would dare to venture into the forgotten part of the town. Everything there is laying in ruined. Not a single carpenter or merchant or any skill worker would dare to

venture in that forsaken place. Slowly, through time, people begin to call the forgotten part of the town as Screecher. You see, a little over hundred years ago, Screecher relocated himself there. By being there for so long, the name Screecher became synonymous with the name of the forgotten part of the town. “I beg all of you, please go to Screecher and convince him to put a stop to Gregory's insanity,” Amber begged the group. “We've seen the evil things that Gregory has done. It's not wise to travel north since Gregory is heading in the same direction,” chief elder Darwin warned. “Even Gregory would think twice to carry out his insanity in Screecher's territory, therefore I feel confidently that Gregory isn't heading for Wild Wood. Since the path to Wild Wood isn't the same path to Windy Ridge, it's safe to say you won't cross path with Gregory,” Amber explained. “You think Gregory is heading for Windy Ridge?” Mr. Andrew asked. “It's an assumption, but I may have it right all along. You see, Windy Ridge is a very big town. Much much bigger than Wild Wood. Even though the town is huge, it has not a single magic user as far as I know. The town is defenseless against Gregory. I think it's perfectly making sense for Gregory to head to Windy Ridge next,” Amber analyzed. “Right, after all Gregory is heading where he can find as many corpses as he can. A big town is a perfect target for him,” Mr. Andrew concurred. “Who's up for Wild Wood?” Doctor Chet asked. “Me,” Arlene said cheerfully. “Any place is better than here, I guess. OK, me too,” Charlie said. “I'm with Arlene and Charlie,” Tristan said. Doctor Chet swiveled his head around as he observed everyone else reaction. He saw heads nodded in agreement. “OK, let go north to Wild Wood, I mean Screecher. But let wait till that evil Gregory is leaving this place. It's too risky for us to leave now! John, what is he doing now?” Mr. Andrew asked. John who stared often through the crack of the window's cloth curtain and intermittently swiveled his head around, observed his friends and theirs conversations. “I'm not sure. I can't tell what he is doing inside that house,” John said as he peered through the crack just to confirm what he had said.

“You must have missed him! My vision tells me he isn't in there anymore. He must have left the house on his demon horse. When he is flying on it, he can travel through walls,” Amber saw eyes grew wider at the thought of traveling through walls. “That's is wicked,” Arlene said. “Yes, indeed,” doctor Chet scratched his chin again. “Couple questions before we head out of here. Do you know anything about why are we surviving the wrath of those poison shadows? Yet, everyone else seems to die instantly?” doctor Chet asked Amber. “I don't know why all of you had survived the attack of the poison shadows. What had happened to all of you when they attacked you?” Amber asked while her little transparent wings flapping rapidly. Charlie intensely gazed at Amber's little flapping wings. “I saw something was really bright, it almost blinded me. Later, before everyone got back onto their feet, I noticed traces of golden light escaped from everyone's eyes and noses and mouth and ears. In our case, I mean Arlene and me, we were fine. It felt rather normal for me really. I even double checked on Arlene to make sure, but she was fine even though she told me the poison shadows blanketed her with the smokes,” Charlie said while his eyes from time to time hypnotized by Amber's wings. “I don't have an explanation for why all of you had dodged the attack from the poison shadows, but I dare to guess that maybe one of you here have a power which sabotaged the attack from the poison shadows earlier. The traces of golden light that Charlie had seen after the attack could be that power's doing, and the result is that everyone is alive,” Amber surmised. “We need to find out who. Maybe one of us could be the hero who takes down the evil Gregory,” Charlie said excitedly. “Not so fast young warrior! It seems that this power is unpredictable. First of all, at least we know whoever with this particular power doesn't know how to use it. Second of all, it's more of a defensive type. Not many wizards and other magic users want to learn defensive spells. They all prefer somethings that go boom. It's rather more exciting than learning spells that can only be in need occasionally. Strangely though, I suspect whoever has this strange power isn't a magic user, and so this somebody may not know how to cast a spell at all. This is even more confusing than ever. Defensive magic still has to be cast by a magic user, but what Charlie spoke about sounds to me that the spell has its own mind. It goes on offensive and defense all of you as if it knows something bad is coming. Rather intrigue. If mother fairy is here, she may know what it is, but I have to apologize I may be just taking a shot in a dark forest here. So you see

Charlie, even though one of you here has the ability of thwarting poison shadows, it's not certain that the next time the defensive magic will work again unless the user of such magic really knows what he or she is doing. This is why all of you should stay away from Gregory and his poison shadows no matter what,” Amber said. “From your analysis of this strange power or magic, whatever you call it, it looks like you believe it's doing its own thing, completely independent from the magic user? Is this ever a possibility in the magic realm?” doctor Chet asked. “All fairies are adept at magics. It's an innate thing for us, and so it's natural for us to know everything there is about magics. Well, at least knowing or hearing about them, but it's not true if anyone claims that fairies know all magics. If that is the case, we won't be standing here speaking about how to stop Gregory! Anyway, with so much experience of magics, I myself do not think that I've ever heard of a spell that could be activated on its own. In the rarest possibility of all, it could be a spell is cast by someone else on one of you. Maybe by a very powerful magic user. He or she could be a wizard, a warlock, or whatever profession he may wish, but he or she has to be a very powerful magic user in order for a spell to be activated into the future,” Amber swirled a little and flapped her fairy wings some more. “Strange, even though I'm the man of science, I've come to want to know more about magics. OK, I think I got what you said. What saved all of us could be a one time thing. Everyone, this means we may not be able to be saved from this strange power again,” doctor Chet sounded dreadful, but his energetic manner made it rather delighted. “How's that so?” Arlene asked. “It's so because doctor Chet thinks what I'm saying is that the spell was cast upon one of you to act as a defense mechanism. Whenever something attacks one of you in the future, it will then activate itself to provide protection. Unfortunately, doctor Chet thinks it can also mean that the spell is to be activated only one time. As a magic user, I think doctor Chet is onto something. It's rather extreme difficult for a magic user to cast a spell so it can activate itself in the future, but to think he or she could cast a spell that activate indefinitely in the future is rather mind boggling to me,” Amber confessed. “Anyhow, I don't see how we can use this strange power to fight against Gregory even if one of us knows how to use it. It's a big if too. Plus the power is more of a defense mechanism, and it will be useless against Gregory. As Amber suggests, wee need to find Screecher soon,” Mr. Andrew said. “Is this Screecher hard to deal with? Could he kill us if he doesn't like us? I fear he could be even more dangerous than Gregory,” Raleigh cautioned everyone as he had never met a warlock before, and yet he had heard so many evil things about them. “Not to be worried, this Screecher, he isn't going to kill you, maybe he will turn you into a frog. No, I'm just kidding. He isn't going to kill you for fun. Screecher is a sane

warlock. He does things within reasons. I had never heard him killing a human before. Nonetheless, most folks who live in Wild Wood never approach him. They fear his warlock ability,” Amber radiated her aura with dark green. “Do you always look like this? Small, but pretty. Amazing transparent wings. The aura, it's beautiful,” Charlie asked Amber. “It's natural. I don't know why, but it's like that since the day I was born,” Amber replied Charlie. “What doesn't make sense is this crazy Gregory goes about killing people with his poison shadows, for what? Don't say, we all know he is raising an army of zombies, but for what? Why couldn't he just raise an army of poison shadows, they seem to be very effective, and yet he still want to raise an army of zombies. For what?” chief elder Darwin injected his question. “Us fairies do not know the intentions of Gregory. What we know well are magics. This is why I know and Gregory knows that poison shadows have only elemental powers. Their elemental powers are useless against other wizards and warlocks. So far I can deduct that Gregory has a very evil grand plan, because he intends to go against other magic users – otherwise it's pointless for him to raise an army of zombies. Magic users tend to do badly against physical attacks from close range. Showering spells against your enemies, one requires preparation and time. Keep this in mind folks, when you are up against Gregory, it's best to surprise attack him at close range. Stealth is very important. Anyhow, back to the topic, I do not know Gregory's real plan, but I can only deduct his evil plan from his current movements,” Amber was convinced of her answer. Curiosities subsided and everyone was ready to hit the road, Amber gave the gang direction so they could begin their Screecher mission. Apparently, Mr. Andrew had not traveled to the far north for a long long time. Mr. Andrew was sure he would not remember any resting place along the way, and so he asked Amber for advices. One thing Mr. Andrew was sure that thieves were abundant in the far north. Thieves were dangerous bunch, and Mr. Andrew would not risk his companions' lives and his by being careless. Amber gladly advised Mr. Andrew and the gang not to rest in various places but only at specific itineraries she gave. Chapter 12 (Vesnia's Infightings) The king of Vesnia, Alexander, could barely move his aged body. He sat on his luxurious, large bed which heavily decorated with the most expensive wools that could not be easily obtained inside the whole Andora and elsewhere. The wools were plucked out from the wild two tails goats which could only be found in the Middle Andora. The wild two tails goats had two tails. Their whole bodies included the tails were covered with white furs. There was a saying in the Middle Andora “When you see a wild two tails goat, whatever you wish may come true!” The wild two tails goats were not to

be spotted so easily. The number of the wild two tails goats were dwindling as they were overly hunted by the people who lived in the Middle Andora. The whole world knew how valuable the furs of the rare animals, and the five countries which formed Middle Andora wanted to export the wild two tails goats' meats and furs to boost their rather impoverished nations. These five impoverished nations exploited the rare species to a point which made the species even rarer. The wild two tails goats could be extinct within the current generation. The five impoverished nations within the Middle Andora had decided to form a common agreement where not one nation, but all five nations of Middle Andora should domesticate the wild two tails goats and should not hunt the wild two tails goats for games. All five nations within the Middle Andora agreed not to hunt the wild two tails goats for games. The domestications of the wild two tails goats were not so successful. These five nations found out that the species could not be domesticated easily as the wild two tails goats died in large numbers in their regular domestication programs. Elite goat herders and breeders of these five impoverished nations poured their resources together and studied the species together so they could come up with ways of domesticating the wild two tails goats. Their answer was let a wild two tails goat be a wild goat. The five impoverished nations had decided not to allow anyone settling in the plains that the kingdoms had intentionally set aside where the wild two tails goats could roam freely. The approach of letting the wild two tails goats be wild goats worked but with limitation as the species could not reproduce quickly. The demands for the wild two tails goats' products increased, but the animals themselves were not abundant. The scarcity of the animal itself catapulted the products of the wild two tails goats to become one of the most expensive products in the whole Andora. The five impoverished nations that exported the wild two tail goats' products and domesticated these animals were Kedulr, Astia, Cheli, Muchapek, and Mowes. New laws sprung from each five nations dictated how one could be put to death if one was found guilty of hunting the wild two tails goats without official permissions from the kings. Many poachers were put to deaths and had their heads chopped off. The extreme punishments had not stopped some poachers from hunting the wild two tails goats from these five impoverished nations for the rewards usually in gold were enormously lavished, so much that they rather risked their lives for capital punishments. Alexander stared outside a large arc which formed a huge window. His eyes lacked of life. He was spent in all manners. His young wives and sons pretended that they were getting along just fine, but one of his loyal servants often told him how intense the infighting among them had been played out all along when he was not looking. They were after his crown, he deducted to such obviously sad conclusion inside his head these days.

“Your majesty, it's time for your medicine,” Dublin carried a light tray, and on top of it laid a hot bowl of herb soup which had concocted from a local witch doctor Wesley. “I don't think this stuff is working for me Dublin. How many doctors' heads have rolled?” king Alexander asked in a very weak voice which Dublin had gotten used to since the ill fated day – the day his majesty fell off his horse as his stomach screamed in pain. “Include this one too sir?” a sigh from Dublin for he pitied the doctors who could not promise his majesty a rejuvenation. “Maybe the next one too,” king Alexander said with a little airless laugh. “OK, include the next one too, I have to say eight,” Dublin wished his majesty could regain his health, otherwise more doctors' heads would roll. Dublin felt his neck hairs went stiffed at the thought of seeing his majesty passing away soon. This whole place will turn into hell! “Tell me Dublin, who you think I should hand my crown over?” king Alexander asked the same question many times before. Dublin had to answer it was, “Of course, it would be your third son, your favorite one,” even though he hated the arrogant prince Erik. Dublin could see how his future would end, when his majesty breathes his last breath! “What you think about my second and the oldest one?” king Alexander drank the last drop of the herbal soup even though he knew another head would roll. “Just like you have said your majesty, Arnold could not be king since he had a weak heart, mentally and physically. The second prince, Mathew, he is too greedy and impatience,” Dublin answered without flinching even though he wished Arnold would be the one. Arnold was far kinder. Dublin knew within his heart his majesty had in mind who would be king. Dublin had not a doubt that his answer would not make any different other than he would look really bad in his majesty's eyes when the wrong answer was to be brought up. Furthermore, prince Erik had his ears planted deep within his majesty's walls. Dublin could feel their ears listened to his every word and their eyes observed his every move. He could breathe his last breath if he had said, “Your majesty, please let Arnold succeeds you,” and he was too smart even though a lowly servant he had always been – staying alive is much more important than choosing side. “Dublin, go get my sons. All of them, I want them here right away.” Dublin hurried himself out of his majesty's chamber. A mesh of long hallways weaved throughout the castle, but Dublin knew the shortcuts. Not before long, Dublin arrived at prince Erik's living quarter. Prince Erik sat with a book in his hand, but his eyes were on

a beautiful woman who massaged his leg with care. Dublin knew his immediate intrusion would provoke prince Erik, but he also knew ahead prince Erik would cool his anger in a flash for the prince had awaited to hear what his father got to say on the matter of the crown. “Now?” prince Erik asked. “His majesty says right away,” Dublin answered. “Alright, off you go do your things, I'll be with father right away,” prince Erik stood up without any warning. The woman who massaged prince Erik was not pleased. Prince Erik ignored the woman and left the room immediately without saying anything to her. The woman sighed as she picked herself off the floor, sat herself on the chair where the prince had sat. She picked up the book which had laid unadorned on the floor where prince Erik had carelessly dropped. Without looking after the prince, she emerged herself in the book. Moment later, Dublin arrived at prince Mathew's living quarter. Prince Mathew was not available. Dublin leaved the king's message to a lowly servant, someone a tad less respectable than him. At last, Dublin arrived at prince Arnold's living quarter. Prince Arnold sat in silence as he stared at a painting on his wall. At a closer look, he slept with his eyes opened. “Sir, please wake up, I have a message from his majesty, sir, sir?” Dublin gently and patiently disturbed his highness from an afternoon nap. “My father wants me?” wiped his eyes with two palms, prince Arnold pushed himself out of the comfortable chair. “His majesty is calling you and your brothers to his bedside,” Dublin said. “What's so important? Dublin, mind you spill what ya know?” they both headed for king Alexander's chamber together. “I wish I know sir, but his majesty decides he wants you all to be by his side all of the sudden,” Dublin walked slower, carefully not to walk ahead of prince Arnold. Dublin and prince Arnold arrived at his majesty's chamber. Prince Erik greeted prince Arnold. “What you want with us father?” prince Arnold asked in a cold tone. Prince Arnold had never loved his father. Since at a very young age, his father had abandoned prince Arnold's mother for other distasteful women. Prince Arnold was the first son, and yet king Alexander rarely praised anything he did. More often, the king

rather be with his fine wives than monitored the prince's education and well being. Prince Arnold knew he could never please his father, and he had not wanted any part in becoming the next in line for the succession of the crown. “You just wait, where is Mathew?” king Alexander must his strength to speak as might as he could. “Your majesty, prince Mathew isn't in the castle,” Dublin answered. “So where is he?” prince Erik asked. “I wish to know very much too sir,” Dublin answered. “What is that fool up to now?” king Alexander coughed. The princes could not hear what the king said, Dublin repeated what his majesty had spoke. Prince Erik held his laughter back. Prince Arnold acted as if he hadn't heard of the remark that his father had spewed. “I'm not a fool, father!” prince Mathew entered the chamber. Dublin looked surprised. Prince Mathew apparently was out of the castle, but on the way out of the castle gate, a guard who was prince Mathew's ears had heard Dublin had a message from the king, even before Dublin gave the king's message to prince Mathew's servant, prince Mathew already got the news and turned around, abandoned his afternoon hunting trip with his generals. “Princes, please come closer, I fear his majesty's voice could not be any louder,” Dublin said. The princes gathered at the king Alexander's bed. Dublin could not tell the princes' emotions with confidence. He felt prince Mathew was somewhat composed but stole glances toward his youngest brother Erik. Prince Erik showed a worry look on his face, but Dublin doubted prince Erik's true intention. Prince Arnold showed nothing out of ordinary, as always the prince seemed remote. “My sons, I fear the gods have the urges to see me with them soon. None of the doctors I had called upon was any help. In fact, I fear they have killed me quicker. I just want to see all of you promise me one thing. Whoever I decide to be the next king of this country, everyone else should not disobey my wish and should serve the new king as truly theirs. Tell me now that all of you will honor my wish? I cannot rest in peace to know my sons cut each other throats when I'm gone,” king Alexander spoke, but his voice was weaker than before. The princes were closed enough to hear what their father had spoken, but barely.

Prince Erik formulated plans in his head even though he showed a compassionate face before his father. Prince Mathew feared prince Erik would be the next king. Prince Mathew knew prince Arnold would not be a threat, but prince Erik was his father favorite all along. Prince Mathew formulated a plan to overthrow prince Erik if indeed his younger brother would be king and not him. Prince Arnold seemed remote and silent. “Princes, please answer his majesty,” Dublin urged the princes. “Yes father, I'll abide your wish,” prince Erik said it first. “Sure, I'll do the same,” prince Mathew said. “You don't have to worry about me, I don't even want the crown father,” prince Arnold said. King Alexander forced himself to sit up straight as his back had sunken deep within the bed. Dublin helped his majesty's spent body straightened the back. King Alexander gave out a weak sigh after he got his back leaned against the bed's headrest. The luxurious pillows and bed's headrest adorned with covers made from wild two tails goats' wools, and the bed's headrest itself made from thick gold. “Dublin, you say it loud and clear so everyone in this room, the servants, the guards outside, everybody needs to hear my last wish. They be the witnesses of the next ruler. Repeat this loud and clear, his majesty wants prince Arnold to be the next king. Succession ceremony will begin by the dawn of tomorrow. Arnold will be the ninth ruler of Vesnia, king Arnold of Vesnia, son of king Alexander of Vesnia,” king Alexander took in as much air as he could as he felt the need for air. Dublin straightened up and repeated what his majesty said loud and clear. His voice permeated throughout and barely escaped the chamber. The guards stood outside were motionless, but they could moderately hear the old king had named the new king. “Father, please rest some more, I don't feel well, I have to go,” prince Erik said. “Me too father, my generals want me to lead them in a hunting trip,” prince Mathew excused himself right after prince Erik had left the chamber in a hurry. Prince Arnold stood frozen in place. He could not believe what he had heard. Yet all these years he had thought his father would not considered him for anything, and yet he would soon bear the same title and the crown of the very man who he vowed to detest. It was unthinkable that his father had crowned him to be the next ruler of Vesnia. Even with being crowned by his father, prince Arnold could never forgive his father. One day, out of the blue, Arnold's mother, queen Isabella, was stripped from being queen and was sentenced to forever be locked away in the forsaken wing of the castle. In that part of the castle, his mother, queen Isabella, was treated as if she was a

commoner. A female maid who herself was a forsaken person was appointed to serve the defeated queen. Nobody was allowed to leave the forsaken area. Mostly, people who had offended king Alexander in various ways were supposed to be put to death, but for some inexplicable reasons, a perverted kindness from the man who would not hesitate to have a person to be decapitated, they were not beheaded and were forever locked away in the forsaken part of the castle. The forsaken area of the castle was unkempt and dirty. Often, the forsaken residents cleaned up the area themselves. Even the grasses on the ground failed to grow or show any sign of life. The guards surrounded the place at all time as if they watched the most dangerous prisoners. Nobody was allowed to leave or to enter the forsaken area unless king Alexander gave his permission. Everybody inside the forsaken area would undoubtedly want to enlarge their horizons beyond the gate which had dictated their forever encapsulated lives, and everyone who lived on the outside would not want to have anything to do with such a wretched place. Seven years after prince Arnold witnessed the demise of his beloved mother, young prince Arnold who had turned fourteen learned how his mother was stole from him. It was queen Violet's jealousy and ambition. Queen Violet who was only one of his majesty's mistresses, prince Mathew's mother, begged king Alexander for the title of a queen. At the time, king Alexander had gotten tired of queen Isabella, he granted queen Violet the title and had the original queen sent to the forsaken area. Queen Violet at the time did not know three years later, she too was forever locked away in the forsaken area, against her every wish, and shared the same gloomy horizon and ill fate as her oldest rival. Just right before queen Violet's downfall, king Alexander heard people praised queen Violet's brother for the victory at the border which separated Vesnia from Partheen. The border was attacked by a group of well trained rebels. The rebels themselves were Vesnians, but they took refuge with Partheen. Queen Violet's brother, general Anthony, bravely fought the rebels and kept the rebels from advancing beyond the border. The rebels lost the war and was pushed back into Partheen. General Anthony did not want to start a war with Partheenians, he ordered his army to stand down and withdraw from the Partheenian border, but heavily guarded the Vesnian border. General Anthony returned to Vesnian capital, Alexander Origo, victoriously. Months later, king Alexander had an assassin poisoned general Anthony. Queen Violet found out about the assassination and was furious, but she too got her title stripped and sent to the forsaken area where she met one of her oldest rival, queen Isabella. Erik's mother, Eileen, was queened right after the downfall of queen Violet. After his succession ceremony, prince Arnold swore to himself he would release his mother from the forsaken area. He would reassign a grander title for her and reinstate what she had lost. His mother had been away from him for too long. He had not seen her for so many years. At 21, and yet he felt he had known little about a mother love for

a child, and it was his father's doing. Prince Arnold, soon to be king Arnold, felt he would not know how to react on the day he could unite and face his beloved mother. Whisked away to a corner of the chamber where king Alexander's ear could not be reached, a lowly servant wished prince Arnold to hear him out. Meanwhile, deepest thoughts had fled the young prince. “Your highness, tomorrow I have to address you as king, but may I ask you a question if you don't mind sir?” Dublin asked in a most humblest tone, just loud enough to have his voice reached the young prince's ears. “What is it?” prince Arnold replied carelessly. “Will you allow me to serve you as well?” Dublin asked with a hopeful face. Dublin detested the possibility that one day he might look upon another lowly servant for his livelihood. He always had every other lowly servants perched their ears for his voice because he was artfully kept himself neared the last king. He wanted to keep himself in the very same position with the next king if he could. Fortunately, Dublin had not remembered that he had done anything for prince Arnold to despise him. Still, he feared his confidence of having the young prince's ears could be rather flaky since he had never truly praised his highness in front of the late king. Without the young prince's support for his future, not only his honor was at stake, but his life could be in jeopardy at the hands of his enemies. Throughout many years of serving the late king and following the late king's orders, Dublin felt he was hated by many highly respectable Vesnian men who held important positions. Obviously, compounding his worries, just about any lowly servant who had wished for his position would want him dead. “You have served my father extremely well. I don't see there is a reason that I should refuse your service, but you must serve my father till his end. I think my father will be around for some time to come, but he has not had any energy left to deal with politics and the problems within the country. With you nearby, he find his last days more enjoyable,” prince Arnold replied. “Yes your highness, I don't mean I want to leave his majesty. I can serve his majesty and your highness at the same time. By serving your highness well, it means I could repay his majesty for being kind to me throughout the past years. I really love to have my chance of doing more for his majesty by serving by your highness side fully someday,” “Most definitely Dublin. That day will come soon, but right now I'm repaying my father's kindness for crowning me as to have you stay by his side, fully. To think of it, you're a very reliable person, maybe I could use you sometimes for various needs. Maybe you can counsel me sometimes in private. In fact, I have something to ask you right now. Tell me, after tomorrow, what will happen?” prince Arnold asked a very open ended question all of the sudden.

“Your highness, I'm just a lowly servant, I fear this question is beyond me. I could run errands and do many other tedious things for you sir,” Dublin pretended that he not dared to answer the young prince's question. “Just between you and me right now, I promote you to become a member of the king's counsel committee. In the very near future, probably right after my father's passing, I'll announce to the public about your promotion. For now, just advise me on politics in private. By the way, you don't have to be surprised for my wanting your counsel. I have observed you since I was a child. I know you are capable with politics, but for being only a servant, you could not do more. I've to admit that your shrewdness could not be disregarded, because you have kept your position well till this day even though you've served my father for so long. I don't remember any servant who had done as well as you, and many had tried and died early for displeasing my father in ways that I consider to be very normal. So tell me, what will happen after my coronation?” prince Arnold insisted. Inside, Dublin felt he had underestimated the young prince Arnold. For so long, Dublin thought prince Arnold was just an ordinary person who had little ambition. He felt prince Arnold had been remote and idle as in not doing anything to advance himself either in politics or wealth or everything else. Prince Arnold most of the time kept to himself. There were times when prince Arnold could shine, but he refused to be stand out in those moments which had befuddled Dublin in the pasts. Now, Dublin felt prince Arnold intended to be that way, strategically. Dublin thought prince Erik would be the one, but he had wisely waited out before he chose his side. Still, Dublin could not fully understand what about prince Arnold that had won over his majesty. Maybe he shows he isn't greedy? The crown is what all princes want, but prince Arnold shows he has not had a heart for it. I thought that would be a weakness. King Alexander has always admired strong and ambitious personality, but why did he pick a prince who shows the lacks of ambitions? Ah, maybe his majesty understands prince Arnold's strategy and think it's a wise one, therefore his majesty knows prince Arnold has the patience and the smartness to rule Vesnia. Perhaps, his majesty's disease has gotten to him, but a wise choice nonetheless, either by accident or otherwise. “With honesty your highness, it's hard to say but,” Dublin reluctantly replied. “But?” the future king demanded. “I think your brothers will assassinate you. Your father says that he wants his princes to be loving each other instead of killing each other, but other princes are really wanting what you have for so long. I have learned that prince Mathew and his generals often go on hunting trips together. I fear those past hunting trips were more than just hunting trips. It's really hard to read prince Erik. Prince Erik will be a formidable opponent. Even though you will be king, but by being a weak king can only lead to more troubles ahead. Prince Mathew has many generals under his banner. By that I mean many

generals are willing to do unimaginable things for him. Your highness, you must not let your guard down,” Dublin advised his future king. “Tell me what I do not yet know Dublin,” prince Arnold caught Dublin's jaw dropped a little. Dublin could not be anymore surprised for prince Arnold had knew all along what the other princes were capable. Dublin felt the new king would be a force to be reckon with. Uncertainties crept in, Dublin feared his next suggestion would too be something prince Arnold could quickly sweep aside. “I fear there are too many more generals who refuse to be under your banner. These untamed generals may aid other princes to undermine your highness's authority in the near future. Worse, these generals may aid the other princes to rebel against your highness. If not careful, your highness may have to deal with the rebellions from two fronts. Other princes can create rebellions in the capitol, and the rebels near the border may also see new opportunity to invade from the south. On top of everything, Partheenian king probably want to invade from the south along with the rebels,” Dublin carefully observed prince Arnold's reaction to his words. “You spoke like a true member of the king's counsel committee. Dublin, any suggestion on recruiting my brothers' generals to come under my banner?” “Your highness can promise things that nobody else can. After all, your highness will hold the crown. As long your highness be generous, the crown will win the hearts of men,” Dublin suggested with a sly smile. “What sort of things?” “His majesty had took away the lands from the generals many years ago. Consequently, the generals could only boast about their wealth and authorities. His majesty had wisely done so to prevent many generals from gaining too much power. The generals know that with lands, they may able to gain even more prestige and wealth than what they have now. Unknowingly, his majesty is helping your highness,” another sly smile widened across Dublin's face. “So that's how generous you want me to be? There was a legitimate reason for my father to make such a drastic change in relation of why the generals could only possess the lands that their houses were built on. If I promise the generals more lands, what my father feared of may come back to haunt me someday. I don't think I can make such a promise,” prince Arnold expressed his disapproval strongly at Dublin's suggestion. “Your highness, it's the only way you may able to attract those rouge generals under your banner. Also, the generals who are already under your banner will become even more loyal to your highness. Plus, what your highness gives away, your highness can always take them back,” Dublin insisted.

“On second thought, your advice does make sense. Without having enough generals and the soldiers they command to be under my banner, I fear my reign will be a shortest one in the entire history of Vesnia. OK, I've set my priority straight. Let promise more lands for the generals. Dublin, I want you to spread the rumor about my wanting to return the lands to the general, but only to the generals who promise their allegiances to me,” prince Arnold reluctantly ordered Dublin to spread a rumor. “Your highness, my words carry little weight. It's best to ask general Welsh, your faithful general, to start this rumor,” Dublin reasoned. “For now only Dublin, wait till the crown is mine, I'm sure to make your words carry more weight than you could ever have imagined. Anyway, at the very least, you can secretly go to general Welsh and tell him what I desire most,” prince Arnold commanded Dublin. “I'll be quick on my feet to see general Welsh, your highness won't have to wait long for the good news,” Dublin excitedly expressed his eager to carry out a little secret mission. “Before you leave, take this,” prince Arnold took off the only ring he had and gave it to Dublin. Everyone knew that each prince wore a special ring that king Alexander gave. Each ring was uniquely engraved with an animal. A dragon for Prince Arnold, a lion for prince Mathew, and a tiger for prince Erik. “Your highness, with this general Wesh has to believe my words are your commands. Thank you your highness,” “Be sure to bring it back. It's very sentimental to me since I have had it for so long,” prince Arnold warned Dublin to be careful with his only ring. With permission from prince Arnold, Dublin excused himself so he could carry out his first task for his future king, prince Arnold for now to be exacted. After the sudden announcement of the next king, the slaves and the soldiers and the servants within the castle busied themselves to no end. They had only till the next dawn to prepare for the succession ceremony. It was all so sudden that they could not even stop to breathe. The castle's kitchen was crowded with servants who prepared the feast for the succession ceremony. The castle's garden was carefully pruned to make sure every petal swayed within the wind more majestically, every vase stood with a purpose, every exotic plant exuded its best nature, and everything else was in order and enhanced to fit the atmosphere of what to come. Parallel to what he had to do as a servant, Dublin secretly went outside of the castle on a horse after dark. Welsh was surprised to find Dublin in front of him. Welsh told the guard that it was alright for Dublin to be alone with him, and so the guard went back to his post.

“What is going on Dublin?” Welsh wondered had king Alexander wanted something from him. He knew that when the early dawn came, the new king would be in power. Nonetheless, as long the old king had any breath in him, Welsh told himself he would do anything for king Alexander even though the old king had announced his resignation. “Sir, prince Arnold commanded me to speak to you secret,” Dublin said with a strange calmness in his voice. “About what?” “First, I have to show you this so you know my words are true,” Dublin revealed the ring to general Welsh. General Welsh extended his right palm, and Dublin dropped the ring into the general's palm. Using his left hand's index finger and thumb, general Welsh picked the ring off his right palm and took a closer look at it. He recognized the engraving of a dragon on the ring, and right away he knew the ring belonged to prince Arnold. “This looks authentic, speak away Dublin, why his highness has you come to me in secret,” general Welsh commanded Dublin to speak. “His highness wants you to start a rumor, and make sure the rumor comes from you only. It has to be believable even though it's only a rumor. His highness insists that you should spread the rumor to as many generals as quickly as you can so the rumor can get as big as it can within days if not right away. The rumor is about giving the lands back to the generals who wish to be under his highness's banner,” Dublin carefully observed general Welsh's reaction to his words. “Dublin, you can go back to his highness and tell that it is done. The rumor will spread like a wildfire within a day,” general Welsh gave Dublin his words without any hesitation. “His highness will be very pleased, thank you sir,” Dublin bowed his head a little. “Before you go on your merry way, his highness rumor is just only a rumor right?” general Welsh was curious. “Actually, his highness rumor is not a rumor. It's something his highness truly wants to deliver with earnest right after the crown is safely his,” Dublin assured the general. “If it's so, why his highness wants me to spread it as a rumor?” general Welsh confused. “His highness doesn't want to appear weak in the eyes of those generals who have yet to swear their loyalties to him. Therefore his highness wants sir Welsh to spread his words as only a rumor,”

“His highness is truly formidable even though he has not yet become a king of Vesnia. Do tell his highness that he may see me among the generals who appears to him for a confirmation on having some lands,” general Welsh laughed heartily. “I'm sure his highness probably already pick out the most fertile lands to give to you sir Welsh, and you don't even have to guess his highness's intention,” Dublin too laughed heartily. General Welsh handed Dublin back the ring. The two parted and Dublin sneaked away in the night, back to his master who awaited for his good news. Meanwhile, prince Erik fumed with angers. He could not understand why his father, king Alexander, had refused to crown him. He felt he had every right to be crowned as he believed he was smarter, physically more capable, and was born to be king. In fact, he thought little of prince Arnold who had his mind in trivial things such as yearning for a good theatrical performance. Prince Erik saw how prince Arnold often refused to do things that would appease theirs father. Yet, in the end, prince Arnold would be king. A much older woman but her years could not be told by her appearance lay in bed and had her naked body lay hidden under the blankets. She kissed prince Erik from his neck down toward his chest and worked her way back up toward prince Erik's mouth. He appeared to be annoyed by her and brushed her to the side. Sat up and tightened his white robe which decorated with patterns of stripes in the colors of yellow, blue, and black. His long hair draped behind his back, prince Erik got up and stood at the windows where he could see the dark sky. He could not exactly make out the figures below, but he knew very well how the night had gotten busier all of the sudden as the slaves and the servants and other subjects prepared for his brother's succession ceremony. The flames of standing torches flickered below, but the garden seemed as dark as the sky above him. Prince Erik stood in silence as if he was a statue. On the outside, he exhibited his normal self as usual, but inside something had eaten him up. Could it be his pride and ambition? The woman who prince Erik had brushed away buried her naked bosoms behind the slender, sexy thighs. Her chin was somewhat rested between the knees, and her slender, naked arms wrapped around her shins. Small puffs of wind blew in as prince Erik had the windows opened, but the woman could care less about covering up her naked body with the luxurious, wrinkled top bed sheet that laid beneath her buttocks. There she sat, awaited the silent prince to come to her, but the prince had not moved a single muscle. She felt pity for him. Her words could only anger him as she knew him well. When her man felt vulnerable, she knew best to leave him alone. Without saying anything and hugging herself on the large bed, she stared at prince Erik till she spaced out completely. Eventually, prince Erik closed the large, heavy wooden windows, and got inside the bed with her. She slid into a sleeping position. The prince pulled her in closer, and intensely kissed her. His sudden change of behavior was typical. The prince she knew was always spontaneous, and whenever he could put his mind away

and made love to her, it meant the man she had always loved so dearly had found his revolves. After an intense love making, the worn out prince gradually slipped into a deep sleep. The woman with her eyes wide opened lay silently beside the dreamy prince. Reminiscing the past, she remembered her first permanent arrival within the castle walls. Prince Erik was not yet born, and she was only eight years of age. At the time, she had to mourn for her father. Her father was a younger brother to king Alexander, two years younger to be accurate. Her father fought bravely against a lord, a general who betrayed king Alexander. In the battle, her father fell off the horse and was trampled on by other horses in the mid of the confusion that played out in a heated battle. Her father was pulled to a safe camp, but he was pronounced dead soon after. Luckily for her father's troops, the reinforcement from king Alexander himself prevented them from sacrificing their valuable lives. When the dusts settled, the air cleared up, king Alexander proclaimed a final victory over his traitors. Looking back, she knew without a father to guide her at such a young age, there was no way she could survive on her own in such a harsh world. She didn't have to worry long, because king Alexander took her under his protection. She became princess Monica since then. Years later, king Alexander had his own children, and the first would be prince Arnold. In the early years of prince Arnold's childhood, Monica was able to play her part as a big sister for the young prince. Then one day, the prince changed his personality and became very reserved. As if he had grown into a different person and kept himself aloof from everyone, included her. She somewhat knew what was the cause for prince Arnold to behave so differently at such a young age, but she was unable to do anything for him. That was when she had less influence on prince Arnold, and eventually she was just a stranger to him. King Alexander's second child was Prince Mathew. She disliked the second prince wholeheartedly. He never gave her any respect for he thought she was taken advantage of his whole family such as being a princess but not truly carried his immediate bloodline; the fact that she was his first cousin amounted to nothing. The more he had grown since his childhood, the more arrogant he had become toward her. Eventually, she avoided him at all cost. King Alexander's third child, prince Erik, was the surprise of her life. As a young boy, prince Erik got attached to Monica. He would follow her everywhere. Then one day, around the age of 15, he confessed to her that he had fallen in love with her. She was shocked and had refused him outright. Instead of giving up, he aggressively had put on many shows just to win her love. One time, king Alexander threw a birthday party, and everyone who was important had to be there. All the princes supposed to be there, but prince Erik wasn't. King Alexander was disappointed of prince Erik for the first time as

the king had shown his anger and said “Where was my stupid Erik?” during the party. She remembered as she returned to her chamber, prince Erik popped out in the shadow and scared her to death. He proclaimed that he wanted to have her love so bad that he preferred to be waiting for her in the dark than attending his father's birthday – a king birthday, nonetheless. It was the first time he was a little forceful and approached her with a kiss. She supposed to refuse him, but it was dark and for some strange reason she gave into his demand. After that night, a little kiss had turned into a series of serious copulations, and she loved every single time they secretly had done so. Their love could not be revealed as they knew one day prince Erik had to marry a princess of another country for political gain. In fact, each prince had to be married off to princesses of various countries that king Alexander had in mind. King Alexander himself made it clear to his children, and everyone of them would not want to go against his will. Even prince Erik loved her very much, Monica could tell prince Erik wanted to please king Alexander just as much. Gradually, prince Erik revealed to her his ambition, and she began to understand that prince Erik wanted to be king more than to please his father, and pleasing his father was just part of his plan. By then she was too deeply in love with the young prince that she often advised him how to please his father even more than usual. Prince Erik had grown into a person that she could depend on, but lately he had aggressively treated her as if she was his accessory. Maybe he tried to prove his manhood to her, but she felt he had done that for a long time already. She could not figure prince Erik out lately, but she loved him so much that she could care less about his newly found abusive manner toward her. After all, prince Erik had often come to his sense and apologized to her for his strange behavior and made love to her to smooth things out between them. The night had gotten dreary on, and Monica too could not keep her eyes opened. Without toiling her mind much more about everything else, she allowed herself to be taken away by a dream. The couple's chests rose and deflated in rhythms, each exhaled and inhaled one's dreamy breath at a time. The morning came, Monica woke up to find she was by herself. Apparently, prince Erik woke up before her and had disappeared to where she had no inkling of his whereabouts. Monica forced herself out of the bed as she had to prepare herself, to make herself presentable for the day, especially the day where a biggest event about to happen in the whole Vesnia, prince Arnold would be crowned as king Arnold of Vesnia. Female servants ran in and out at the heeds of princess Monica. Herbal flowers and soap were added to a really large wooden bath structure that took the shape of a large round barrel, but it wasn't a tall structure at all where anybody could step over and submerge within the water. The wooden bath structure could easily hold more than dozen of people at the same time. Monica stepped inside the warm water and completely submerged herself within it. The combination of the herbal flowers and the bathing soap let out the rich, exotic, pleasurable aromas made Monica felt calm and

content. Monica had her head submerged below the water while she held her breath back. Moment later, she had her head slowly rose above the disturbed water, caressed her hair backward with slow and meticulous manner. Prince Erik disturbed Monica's peaceful bath by making himself available all of the sudden, Monica stopped herself from bathing and got out of the bath container. He stretched his arm out, and a female servant lent him the dry tower. Monica inched closer to him. He wiped her wet body dry. The female servants quickly dressed Monica with a beautiful royal dress which draped all the way down toward her ankles. The dress had the pattern of the red berries, and the whole dress itself was with light yellowish color. Prince Erik raised her left hand above her head and swung her body around as if she spun in circle, but slowly to avoid of a possibility where her dress would tangle her to fall. He let her left hand down and pulled her closer to him as he absorbed the rich aromas from her bathing. The female servants hastily left the bathing area, and the two had the whole area to themselves. “Today is the worst day of my life, but as long you're with me, I can still be sane,” prince Erik said. “I'll always be with you,” Monica replied. “As long my father is alive, I cannot do anything rash. It's a pity that my brothers are safe from me for now,” prince Erik kissed Monica deeply, and then he intensely looked into her eyes as both of his arms held Monica's body inseparable from his. “Please, don't do anything crazy, because...” princess Monica spoke but the young prince kissed her beautiful red voluptuous lips intensely as if he didn't want her to speak. “You know what? You're so sexy when you pretend that you want me to behave. Anyway, you don't have to tell me to behave, because I will! If I don't, I won't look good in the eyes of the people that I want to impress. One thing though, I won't promise to be nice to my brothers! You see, Arnold will be a king, a king he shall be, but for how long? And you don't want me to start on stupid Mathew,” prince Erik burst into laughter at his very own question. He kissed Monica deeply again. Monica buried her head within prince Erik's shoulder as they stood together in silent, each body could sense one another through the heavy clothes they wore. “Let get out of here so we can give my ailing father a visit and to greet other lovely people who so full of themselves in a day like this,” prince Erik smiled mischievously. The couple moved out of their immediate area so they could head toward king Alexander's chamber. Upon the arrival at king Alexander's chamber, prince Erik and

Monica saw prince Mathew left in a hurry. The couple went inside and saw king Alexander lay cold while his tongue stuck out and eyes were wide opened but lifeless. “Guards,” prince Erik yelled. One of the guards from outside ran in, the guard saw exactly what prince Erik saw. He ran out and moment later more important people arrived at king Alexander's chamber. One of those important people was soon to be king, prince Arnold himself. “Erik, did you see anything?” prince Arnold asked. “Not really, when I arrived with Monica, we both saw that father was already departed,” prince Erik spoke not of the truth as he had seen prince Mathew left king Alexander's chamber in a hurry. “Why don't we delay the succession ceremony and tend to father first?” prince Mathew suggested while everyone with a mournful face whispered among each other as king Alexander lay dead on his luxurious bed with his tongue stuck out. The whole chamber went silent right after what prince Mathew had said, not a whisper left. Eyes directed at prince Arnold who sat on king Alexander's bed. Prince Arnold closed his father wide opened eyes with his right hand. He kissed the forehead of the dead king. Without reacting to what prince Mathew had said, he stared at his dead father in silence without addressing the curious eyes among the crowd surrounded the the dead king's bed. “I think my brother, prince Mathew is right. We should tend to a grand royal funeral ceremony for our former king, our father, your king, first before we can carry on the succession ceremony,” prince Erik supported prince Mathew suggestion. Dublin's face went dark as he knew something fishy had happened. The former king lay dead with tongue stuck out, and at a closer look, he saw a color of a bruise mark left on the neck of the former king's corpse. Everyone else was too afraid of getting closer to have a scrutiny look at the late king's body. Dublin had seen prince Arnold eyes could not leave the mark on the former king's neck, and knew in an instant that prince Arnold too had noticed something was wrong. “Very well, let have a grand royal funeral for my father, king Alexander. As the tradition, the funeral for a king should last seven days. Dublin, you should make sure the people of Vesnia know about king Alexander's departure. After seven days, we would carry on with my succession ceremony,” prince Arnold addressed. “The country cannot have a king even it's for one day,” general Welsh spoke aloud.

Heads in the chamber swiveled in the direction of general Welsh. Whispers began again. Prince Arnold cleared his throat aloud. Whispers stopped and heads swiveled back at prince Arnold. “General Welsh, everyone knows very well that even though I'm not officially crowned, I do have the authority of a king since I'm going to be crowned anyway. Waiting for me to be crowned seven days later will not drive Vesnia into chaos. What we need to do now is to tend to king Alexander's grand royal funeral,” prince Arnold addressed general Welsh. General Welsh nodded in agreeing with what prince Arnold had said, but his face was gloomy as if he thought it was best to crown prince Arnold first before anything else should take place. The cleared chamber now gave way for the guards to carry king Alexander's lukewarm body to a golden coffin. As all the Vesnian kings before him, king Alexander had an empty golden coffin resided within the castle. It was a precaution in case a death of a king would occur during an all out war. In fact, the golden coffin was hidden below the castle, inside a secret chamber where only the royal members and head officials of the castle would know its location. Eventually, after the seven days of mourning, the grand royal funeral would end, the king and his golden coffin would load onto a large boat below the castle. The boat would follow the manmade river that surrounded the castle out to the larger river that was formed by nature. The boat's final destination would be the Forbidden Heaven. Since the dawn of Vesnia, only kings and royal members could be buried at the Forbidden Heaven. No Vesnian had ever seen what inside the Forbidden Heaven as the secretive burial ground was always heavily guarded. Back inside his chamber, prince Erik became talkative. He was in a better mood, and Monica could tell the prince probably had something mischievously planned. The death of king Alexander had bothered Monica, and prince Erik's apparent lack of compassion for his late father was not making things better for her. Monica loved king Alexander as much as her dead father for she had been treated very well for the late king had made sure she would have everything she had ever wished. His dead was a blow to her. Unfortunately, prince Erik was busily worried about the delay of prince Arnold's succession ceremony. “Erik, your father was a good king. It's sad of how he had died. It seemed to me he didn't rest in peace,” princess Monica said. “What make you think like that?” prince Erik asked. “I saw his face. I mean the manner of his death was horrific. His eyes weren't closed, and his tongue stuck out. I don't know, but I think I saw a bruise mark on his neck also. I think your father was killed by Mathew,” princess Monica boldly suggested.

“Don't think and don't assume, because you don't have to. In fact, I think Mathew had indeed killed my father. Had we not seen his untimely escape from my father's chamber?” “But how come you had not spoke about it to everyone, or at the least you should have told prince Arnold,” princess Monica asked. “Monica, how could I? It would be his words against mine, and you'll never know how the story will unfold. Also, it was for the best. Mathew's action actually gives me an idea of how to deal with them both,” prince Erik formed a creepy smile. “Erik, darling, whatever you want to do to your brother, I don't think it's a good idea. Especially, prince Arnold will be crowned. I beg you to behave. I don't want to see you end up begging your brother for your own life,” princess Monica wisely scolded. “Stop it will you? Stop thinking like that. Like, like I'm no good for my actions. Trust me, and trust me again as you have always done so. This time, it's not me, but my brothers who will beg me for their lives,” prince Erik raged. Princess Monica inched closer to the raged prince, buried her head on one of his shoulders, and held him tightly to her. Prince Erik gave in to princess Monica's gentleness and his rage subsided. His right hand caressed her beautiful blond hair, and his left hand placed on her back. “So what are you intending to do my love?” princess Monica asked. “I'm thinking, I know Mathew is very impatient. He killed my father with his own hands. This gives me an idea of killing Mathew and Arnold at the same time. I've to do so right before the end of the seven days of mourning.” “Erik, how is that smart?” “If people will ever question me, I just have to tell them that Mathew was the one who killed my father and Arnold. The truth is that Mathew is going to send men to kill Arnold anyway. In the end, even if the people don't trust my words, there is little they can do about it. Why? I'll be the only prince who can inherit the kingdom,” prince Erik creepily smile again. “I fear your brothers are well prepared too. I don't think it's that easy for you to kill any of them. I'm afraid,” princess Monica was cut off by prince Erik's deep kiss. He had always done so whenever he wanted her to listen to him. As if he put a spell on her, she would always agree with whatever he would say next when she received his passionate kiss.

“You know Akhbar right?” “Yes, he is one of your loyal servant.” “In fact he is more. He used to be a thief, but I saved his life. He swore his loyalty to me. I'm going to ask him for his help later.” “How is that going help you in killing your brothers?” princess Monica felt terrible inside when she uttered these words. Unfortunately, her young lover had decided that would be his action, and she would not want to go against his will. “Akhbar wasn't a regular thief, he was with the rouge society. With Akhbar help, I'll get my hand on those skillful thieves. They will do the dirty deeds for me,” prince Erik kissed princess Monica passionately once more. Inside prince Arnold chamber, Dublin felt something wasn't right. He felt that the air within the castle began to thicken with the smell of blood. He approached prince Arnold with care. “Your highness, may I suggest something to you?” Dublin said. “What's on your mind?” prince Arnold looked tired. “Well, I fear your brothers are planning to stop you from being crowned. Worse, they may want to try for your life.” “I've been worried about such scenarios since I left father's chamber. Have you noticed the bruise mark on his neck? I think someone had strangled my father. I also know my brothers are capable of something like that too. The sad thing is that I don't really know who had done it. I'm going to figure this out and have whoever had done it to be put to death. Even if the culprit would be one of my brothers,” prince Arnold's stern face said it all. “Your highness, in case your brothers have assassins after you, I suggest we get general Welsh to stay close to you so he can provide you with protection. General Welsh is very formidable general. He is very skillful in combat also. His men also are very well trained. With his protection, I don't think any assassin can get close to you,” Dublin suggested. “Very well, you talk to general Welsh for me then. Also, just to let you know, right after the seven days of mourning, I'll promote you to be a member of a king counsel.” Dublin could not wait to be promoted, and to hear those words uttered from prince Arnold made Dublin wanted to prove his worth even more. In Vesnia's history, there were only two instances where a servant was promoted with a higher title. His would be

the third instance, but his title would be the highest among those who had came before him. “Yes your highness, I get right on to this task. Please take some rest, you look very tired.” Dublin leaved prince Arnold in a hurry so he could talk to general Welsh. Prince Arnold went to his bed and lay down. Not for long, prince Arnold sat up and called for a guard. “Your highness,” a breathless guard hastily ran inside at the heed of prince Arnold. “Go get me captain Lance fast. It's urgent,” prince Arnold commanded. “Yes your highness,” the guard ran out just as fast as he had ran in. Moment later, captain Lance arrived at prince Arnold's chamber. “Your highness, what can I do for you?” captain Lance respectfully offering his service. “Go talk to the other captains, and tell them that I want all their troops to be on standby. You too, have your troops on standby,” prince Arnold commanded. Chapter 13 (Please, let me have his head!) Kevin wiped the bloody dagger with a long piece of cloth that wrapped many times around his waist. He pulled the two dead guards who were on an errand into an empty room. He robbed one of the dead guards' uniforms so he could pretend to be one of the guards. Entering the hallway, Kevin made sure he acted as natural as he could even though beneath the calm and collective body language, the heart beats drummed louder and louder. Not too long ago, Kevin had took on the apprentice test and had passed it easily. The apprentice test was a way the master could filter out who was ready for becoming an apprentice. For Kevin, the master had him demonstrated his ability to spy. Apparently, being an excellent thief involved with being masterful of attaining information. Spying was one of the greatest ways to achieved information for many purposes, and thieves with good information could bring home the biggest, most awesome, most cherished, most valuable, jaws dropping, and the rarest booty of them all. Even more surprisingly, the master had dispatched him to spy on Igor without knowing that he had already robbed Igor before. Where else he got the golds to pay for the admission of his squirrel initiation? Therefore it was a piece of cake for him to attain whatever the information the master wanted from Igor. In fact, Kevin had helps within the Igor's residence. He contacted the beautiful woman who caught him in the act the last time he had visited Igor's residence. The woman remembered him without his need of bringing up the last incidence. He had sought her

out when she was visited a brothel. She was on an errand for Igor, and he caught up with her. They secretly exchanged first formal contact where he found her delightful, and she found him attractive. He asked her a favor, and she became his perfect spy within the Igor's residence. Igor had no idea that his walls had ears, and so he wasn't prepared for what had in store for him. The master of rouge society wanted to know the identities of the people who were the main backers for Igor. Igor had the kind of wealth that people dreamed of having for all their lives, but he was not a politician. It was a necessary for Igor to have a connection with some corrupted politicians so he could control the wheat market. Real powerful political backers had Igor shamed the people who brought him to face the court system, because he would always come out unscratched. Igor had no idea the woman closest to him was now a spy for Kevin. Kevin was successfully found out the information he had sought for, and he passed it on to the master of rouge society. The result was Igor's nemesis successfully convicted Igor in the crime of hijacking the wheat market to fatten his own belly. Igor's main backers were concerned with their reputations, and so they abandoned the man they once so fully supported. In fact, Igor was poisoned to death within his own residence before he could try to get back at the politicians who had used him and then discarded him after. By destroying Igor, Kevin proved to the master of rouge society that he was truly formidable in spying. The truth was he had a connection, but the master of rouge society was only concerned about the end result. After Igor's downfall, the master of rouge society rewarded Kevin with an apprentice title, and gave him back the 250 golds that he spent for his squirrel initiation ceremony. It was a generous gesture from the master of rouge society for allowing him to receive the gold as bonus. The master of rouge society baited Kevin even more with words such as “Kevin, you have seen nothing yet, because as you attain more respect and titles and achievements within our society, the more rewards you will get. These rewards are something that you can never get if you aren't one of us.” Such words were music to Kevin's ears. He had always wanted to be an elite thief of the rouge society, and hearing encouraging words from the master himself convinced him even more that he had come ever closer to his dream. He thought to himself, if he could let his ambition ran wild, maybe one day he could inherit the master title himself. He kept none of the gold coins he got back from the master of rouge society. Instead, he gave all 50 gold coins to the woman who had spied on Igor for him. She became the woman he could find pleasures and comforts in. He had Hannah relocated to a small town south of rouge society's headquarter. The town named Etoh Wes. There Hannah would become a master of her own, and never again she would slave herself for a man such as Igor. Hannah and Kevin became an item. So much as an item to a point that whenever Kevin went on a dangerous mission, he would promise himself he had to make it back to her no matter what perils his profession had in store for him. This time, it looked as if he had to remind himself again about the need of staying alive so he could come back into Hannah's arms once more.

“Hey you! Where are you going? Where are your partner?” a guard who walked along with his partner asked Kevin. The nosy guards seemed to have the same rank as his disguise. Great time to bluff then. “I'm running an errand for the prince,” Kevin answered with proud voice and appeared to be arrogant on purpose. The guards stared at Kevin with doubts. “How come our prince ask someone like you to be a messenger boy?” the guards asked. Kevin remembered the fates of the two dead guards earlier. They were easily overcame by his blowgun sedation technique from afar, and he finished them off with his wicked dagger up close and personal. The two nosy guards who stood in front of Kevin had caught him by surprise, and he was under a pretense of being a guard. Murdering these two up close would not be easy for Kevin. The old man, master of rouge society, had made certain that Kevin got the message before he left for this utterly dangerous mission. The old man told him that not to bother coming back if he could not accomplish the mission successfully. With his future on the line, Kevin could not be so briskly with his decision. He had to switch on all of his senses, and cranked up his brain power so he wouldn't make any mistake. The two guards somewhat reluctantly ceased their barrage of questions. Eventually, the two guards allowed Kevin moved on with his so called errand for the prince. A dead guard's uniform was a great disguise as other guards he encountered along the way left him alone. The whole castle was rigged with guards. It appeared the guards were on high alert. Kevin felt nervous inside as he feared someone had tipped the prince of his presence. At a distance, Kevin barely stuck his head out to take a peek. He could see a large double door with two guards. He readied his blowgun which had hidden under the uniform. He blew out a large gulp of air from within him, a needle flew and hit a guard. The other guard tended to his friend who had fallen down onto the floor as the sleeping medicine on the needle took effect. Another needle whizzed silently in the air and hit the second guard's neck. Both guards snoozed on the floor allowed Kevin to move forward. Kevin pushed the large double door opened. A large man stood his ground and pulled out his sword as he screamed for guards. Kevin held up his blowgun and gave the large man a needle. The large man went down hard as Kevin could hear his body, armors, and sword collided with the floor.

Prince Arnold's ghastly face was horrified when general Welsh hit the ground hard. The young man stood in front of him could be younger than him, and yet he took down one of his best generals as if it was nothing. Prince Arnold grabbed his sword with two hands and launched toward the young man. The sword sliced the air as the young man jumped aside. Out of nowhere prince Arnold saw the young man's hand produced a dagger. The dagger sliced into the upper part of his arm, prince Arnold screamed in agony. Quickly, prince Arnold swung the sword around as he hoped the sharp edge of the shiny sword could slice something. Kevin saw how slow the prince moved that he could smell the victory within the air. Kevin dodged the desperate prince's slow moving sword swung as if he was toyed with the man. Knowing he had to finish the prince fast or else he could risk of being caught by the additional guards who could be on their ways to save the prince. Kevin closed up the distance between him and the prince, where the prince could not swung his sword effectively. The prince was alarmed as Kevin could tell, but it was too late for the prince to do anything effectively against Kevin. Kevin swept the prince off balance with one of his foot. Before the prince could regain balance, Kevin disarmed the sword from the prince. The flabbergasted prince had a death face stared back at him. It was too late for the prince as he had his sharp dagger at the prince's throat. Kevin was about to push his dagger deeper into the prince's throat, but he heard a whiz in the air as if a dagger was launched at him. Kevin rolled to the side and escaped the dagger. Back on his feet, Kevin readied himself with his own dagger. A man who allowed himself inside prince Arnold's chamber came closer with a steady pace. The mysterious man had a strange dark green garment covered his face, exposed only the two dark green eyes. The rest of the mysterious man's body covered with dark green clothing. The clothing was wrapped tight around his body. So tight that Kevin could see the man's muscular body structure underneath the clothing. Kevin could not tell who was the man, but he needed to kill him too. The situation had turned on Kevin in a blink of an eye, for the worse. Kevin realized he now had to face two enemies, instead of one as he had had the luxury of a bit earlier. Prince Arnold was still hesitated in bringing himself to face the young man in front of him. He was astounded at the young man's speed. Slowly, with the mysterious man distracted the young man, prince Arnold picked up his courage and lifted himself off the floor. The mysterious man remained cool, because he had not started another attack besides a dagger throw earlier. The mysterious man moved toward Kevin with watchful greenish eyes of his. Kevin circled the man while he switched the dagger from one of his hand to the other from time to time. In the corner of one of Kevin's eyes, he caught a sight which had him panicked. He saw the prince slowly picked himself off of the floor and had a sword in hand. His mind raced about, but he could not be sure how to take two men at the same time, especially the mysterious man had a formidable presence. A thought of running

away slowly took shape. He could take on the prince again if another chance could present itself, but the time was not now. Kevin decided to fake an attack so he could run. Before Kevin could execute his fake attack plan, the mysterious man suddenly became aggressive. He advanced toward Kevin so fast that Kevin barely had time to react. With a quick movement and a dash at a same time, the man had slashed one of Kevin's arms with his dagger. Instead of drawing blood, a tear was formed on the upper part of the sleeve that covered Kevin's arm. Kevin barely had time to dodge the attack from the mysterious man. Suddenly, Kevin realized the man went easy on him. The man could have sunk his dagger into his skin, but only a tear from his sleeve was formed. More chaos ensued within Kevin's mind. A little voice from the back of his head became louder. It told him to make an escape. The mysterious man once again observed Kevin as if he was toying with his prey. This time though, the man remained motionless, as if he was waiting for Kevin to make an attack. Kevin had himself burst into couple back flips to distant himself and his enemies. During the back flips, Kevin produced the blowgun from his body. Instantly, as soon as Kevin stopped himself from back flipping, a needle whizzed silently in the air and flew toward prince Arnold. Prince Arnold had a sword in his hand, but he was not going to attack Kevin at all. Instead, prince Arnold observed the strange scene in front of him. As the young man stopped his back flips, prince Arnold saw a blow gun. It was then too late to react, prince Arnold felt dizziness and hit the floor hard. Kevin told himself, let run. He did the opposite. He unleashed another needle toward the mysterious man. It was a ridiculous effort. The mysterious man had anticipated the same trick and dodged the needle successfully. The mysterious man landed himself near prince Arnold as he had dodged the needle. Slapping at prince Arnold face, the man could tell the prince was sleeping from the effect of the needle attack earlier from the boy. “Boy, you know I too have way to make people go to sleep fast?” The mysterious man suddenly spoke had Kevin startled. Horror swept in right after the surprise of hearing the man's voice. Kevin realized he heard the same voice before. It was of... “Victor?” Kevin uttered the words.

“Boy, I'll explain everything later. You must leave this place now. The whole place will be looking for you soon. The guards that I have placed into slumbers earlier will wake soon, and they will also be looking for you,” Victor pleaded Kevin to leave the castle. “Can't, I need his head. The old man wants it badly,” Kevin insisted. “I wish I can allow you to kill him, but right now his life must not be your. Telling you what, meet me at the forest right outside of this castle. Make sure your position will align with the east gate of the castle. At wee dusk, I'll seek for you there and explain to you why prince Arnold must be alive. So go,” Victor forcefully asked Kevin to leave. Kevin could say no, but he knew better. He had no chance against Victor one on one. Also, Victor was his mentor. Mentor knew his student best, therefore Kevin decided it would be a foolish attempt to take the prince's head when his mentor decided to betray the master of rouge society. Kevin felt as if he had knew Victor, and yet at the same time he had not an inkling of why the man decided to stop him from complete his mission. Without bringing back the prince's head, Victor had basically denied Kevin from having any future within the rouge society. “You know it won't be good for me to leave. I clearly have to finish my mission, because I can't go back to rouge society empty handed. Victor, don't do this to me. Let me have it my way, OK?” “Can't do. Leave now, or you won't be able to when things get lively.” “Why don't you just give me a real reason why I should leave empty handed?” “Like I told you, I will soon. Let make things easy for us will you? Just leave the place. As do you, I can't be caught in this disguise.” “Why not? It's not like anyone here knows you right? Or do they?” Kevin suspected Victor could be working for the prince. “Leave,” Victor yelled loudly. Kevin was startled by Victor's thunder. Knowing his effort was fruitless, and his life was in danger if he stayed any longer. Quickly, Kevin dashed past Victor. He got out of the chamber and into the hallway. The Saline was incredibly effective as it had the two guards clung to their slumbers. Kevin fixed his messy guard uniform to make himself presentable as he searched for the way out of the castle.

Chapter 14 (Screecher and Screecher)

The poison shadows left the horses alone, and so the party still had their old horses. They rode fast toward the north. Night came upon them fast, and so they sought shelter in a ruined temple. It was not one of the suggested locations the fairy Amber had gave them. The ruined temple probably had been around for ages. Overgrown trees and weeds and all types of plants made their home from within and all over the very place. The ruined temple was so large where one could not see the end of it unless one had to discover everything there was. The ruined temple was made from certain types of mysterious rocks, and it gave off a cold sensation to the touch. It was so dark inside the temple, and there were all types of noises made from insects and various unknown animals. Probably wild rodents had overran the place. The group decided to stay where they could see the moonlight. A small campfire was lit near the temple entrance, but not too far out so the wind could not extinguish it. “What a chilly night, and here I think the forest is always warm and humid,” Arlene began her small talk. “I heard that as we go further north, it gets chillier. Don't worry though, the place where we are heading isn't the northern most area. If it's, expect it to be covered in snows,” Tristan replied. “Sounds so familiar. Where we from, northern most areas are also covered with snows more often than not,” Charlie chimed in. “Aren't we talking about the same place?” Tristan asked. “You wouldn't understand Tristan, but where we from isn't where we are now,” Arlene explained. “Arlene, you're being illogical! Of course, where we are now isn't anywhere near our homes. I mean your and mine. At least mine isn't for sure,” Tristan argued. Arlene and Charlie giggled and allowed Tristan had his way. It was no point in arguing against Tristan when Arlene and Charlie knew the world they spoke of was probably too far away for anyone in this world to realize. Arlene was sure in her home world, magics were only on TV and never were manifested into reality. This world was definitely surreal for her. “Isn't it so romantic for all of us to huddle in this dark, chilly, shabby old looking temple?” doctor Chet asked the group. “It's more like a scary movie to me,” Charlie said mindlessly but then he realized what he had said was nonsense, because the folks from this world had no concept of a movie.

“Mo mo vie?” doctor Chet formed a bemused face. “What he meant was that like a pretend play. Role playing and so on. For an example, instead of only reading a story aloud, real people pretend to be someone else in the story and tell the story through their roles,” Arlene explained. “You little folks nowadays have weird ways of labeling things,” doctor Chet resigned to his lack of understanding the word movie. The group got chatty. Suddenly, Charlie heard sounds again. The same weird sounds he heard when Arlene and him had arrived in that strange dark forest for the first time. It was more as if they both arrived in a strange new world. “Arlene, I think I heard strange sounds again,” Charlie whispered to Arlene. Arlene stared at Charlie without knowing what to say. She had never heard those strange sounds. A concern look on her face gave to Charlie was the best she could do. “You heard them too?” Charlie asked Arlene in his whispering. “No, and why are we whispering?” Arlene replied. “I don't want people think I'm hearing voices in my head and seeing weird things. Just want to confirm that you too are hearing the same things. So you don't?” Charlie wanted to confirm what Arlene had said one more time. “Totally not hearing anything. What sort of sounds?” Arlene asked in whisper. “Really freaky sounds. Gibberish more like it. It doesn't sound like these sounds came within me, because I can hear it just like any other external sounds. Still, I can't make head or tale of any of the sounds,” Charlie explained. “You hear it now?” Arlene asked. “Not anymore since I asked you about the sounds. Strange, I haven't heard of these sounds since that first time. You know when we first arrived in this strange place, I mean world, and that was when I heard these sounds. I don't know if you remember any of it, but I did ask you the same thing about hearing any sound when we were there.” “Ya, I think you did ask me that strange question. I don't know what to say Charlie. Maybe you're exhausting from the trip. Get some sleep and you may not have to hear those sounds again,” Arlene explained.

“I'm not hallucinating of sounds Arlene. You know this world tends to harbor weird creepy things. Magic stuffs are all around us in this world. Remember that evil wizard? But you kind of right, I'm feeling a little tired. Maybe I do need some rest, but I'm telling you, I really heard those sounds,” Charlie expressed his worry. “OK, you go take a sleep, I'll chat some more with the group. Love to have these small talks with them, especially by the campfire and within this strange old, ancient looking temple. I think it's like camping, but this is way cooler,” Arlene expressed her excitement of seeking shelter within a strange temple that laid in a dark forest where a campfire was lit brightly but flickery at the wimps of wind puffs from time to time had invaded the temple's entrance. Much later, Charlie got woken up by the strange sounds again. This time, the sounds amplified to really loud whispering, and Charlie could feel hairs stood on ends on the back of his neck. Breaking out from a cold sweat, Charlie could hear the chilly wind outside screaming to differentiate itself from the gibberish whispering sounds that he kept on hearing even now. His eyes scanned the whole dark temple, but he could see nothing. The moonlight shone even brighter now than before, and it illuminated the entrance of the temple somewhat. Charlie could tell some of his friends were snoring. Instead of waking them up about his auditory hallucination, he decided to sleep with his hands clapped to his ears to block out the strange whispering sounds. It was a fruitless effort, because he could hear the sounds as if his hands weren't around his ears. Eventually, the strange sounds slipped away, and Charlie began to slip back into his sleep. “Charlie, wake up, we gotta go,” Arlene woke Charlie by shaking him hard. “OK, give me a second. I didn't really have a good night sleep,” sat up but stooped his body as if all of his energy was drained by a monster, Charlie reluctantly obeyed Arlene to greet a foggy morning. The night had been chilly, but the morning was surprisingly warm. The fogs permeated everywhere as the eyes could see. Stared upward, Arlene could see trickle of sunlight pierced the dense forest. The ancient temple looked benevolent in daylight, but the daylight could not penetrate the dark, stale, and unfamiliar inner areas of the temple. The group did not care to venture inward into those dark areas of the temple, because they thought it would be best to not disturb the ancient temple more than they had already. Arlene felt comfortable at the idea of leaving this ancient temple the way it was as she could not imagine herself venturing inside those dark areas of the temple and had to deal with creepy bugs and wild rodents. Those things could be very creepy for her in the dark, because she could not tell what things had clung to her body. Those thoughts gave her a yucky feeling and so she shook the thoughts away. “I'm so ready to ride out of here,” Charlie said. “Why?” Tristan asked?

“No reason really,” Charlie said with a slight hesitation as if he was spoken of a lie. Arlene knew exactly why. She had noticed Charlie rarely complained about the environment that he had to immerse in and adapt to, but last night he was complained about strange sounds. She felt there was something to this temple that had heighten Charlie's auditory hallucinations. Strangely, she never knew Charlie had any auditory hallucination when they were in the hospital in their world. Maybe it had to be something that existed in this world that cause Charlie to behave that way. It could be something he was allergic to as Arlene tried to make sense what Charlie had went through last night inside her head. “OK, everyone, get ready and don't leave anything behind. We're going to leave and ride out of here very soon,” Mr. Andrew said. After a long ride, the party arrived at the town that bordered Vesnia. Arlene, Charlie and other members of the party got down from their horses. They traveled on feet, pulling their horses at the lead ropes that secured to the halters. Mr. Andrew scanned the town for a place to rest so they could freshen up their horses and themselves with foods and waters. It seemed years of skirmishes between Vesnia and Partheen had the town laid in neared shamble. Abandoned ugly buildings showed obvious deterioration. The road to the town's market was empty. From time to time, the party would cross a few passersby who many of them had avoided other strangers at all cost. These passersby would refuse to answer questions and quickly made their getaways whenever a member of the party tried to accost them for information. “Why are these people so rude?” Arlene asked at no particular member of the party. “Ya, and they seem to be scared of us for no reason,” Charlie added. “This particular area is full of spies. Some probably are working for Vesnia, and others are working for Partheen. This whole area has been a theater for small attacks on both sides of the border for sometimes. War between two countries has ravaged this place to this desperate condition. I don't think people here have it easy kids, because soldiers and spies on both sides often rape women and children, enslave these poor folks, kill the men, stole the goods, and recruit healthy boys into armies,” Mr. Andrew explained. The party passed by few kids fought over a huge dirty loaf of bread that appeared to be ruffled on the ground earlier. The kids stopped their infighting and stared at the party in silence. When the party finally passed them by, Arlene could hear the kids carried on with their childish rumble. “Is this one of the places that was suggested by Amber?” Arlene asked.

“To tell the truth, we haven't stopped to rest at places according to Amber's itinerary, but we are traveling on the same route that Amber's itinerary is suggesting. We aren't lost, but it's a little more dangerous to not stick to Amber's itinerary for resting places. So far, we seem to be doing fine. No thief has yet stole our horses and goods or threatened us somehow. Everyone, we can't stay here long though, because this area is very bad. We stop here only to freshen up our horses and ourselves since we haven't had any rest from the time we rode out of that old temple till now,” Mr. Andrew spoke. Everyone nodded in understanding of the dangers that could confront them at anytime in this very town. “What's the name for this town, Mr. Andrew,” Arlene asked. “It calls Tennemal. The name is pretty, but as you can see the town itself isn't living up to its name,” Mr. Andrew replied. “So, what's like for Vesnia?” Charlie asked without specifically specified who should answer his curiosity about a country on the other side of the border. “Lad, you will like it there! They got good wines, foods, clothes, and nicer inns. Even their markets are more organized. Talking about their markets, I remembered last time and also my only time that I had ever visited Vesnia in my entire life, I saw so many exotic animals and fruits. Boy, I could smell their wines from here with my nose,” chief elder Darwin laughed heartily. “Yuck, I hate wines, but nicer inns and better foods definitely what I love to see and taste,” Charlie excitedly replied. “You and that naughty girl need new set of clothes. The clothes you both have on are getting so dirty by the days.” chief elder Darwin huffed. Charlie laughed when chief elder Darwin called Arlene naughty girl. He glanced at Arlene's clothes and stared down at his own. Without arguing, he silently agreed to what chief elder Darwin had pointed out. Indeed, what he and Arlene had on had became dirty beyond recognition. At long last, the party agreed to take their break from the traveling and stayed at an inn that seemed to be the only inn with customers in the whole town even though they barely seen the entire town. The morning came about fast, but it was a sad morning for everyone. During the night, the horses were stolen from them by unknown thieves, and everyone became dreadful to the idea of walking on feet. Nonetheless, the party carried on their journey toward the north. They crossed the border safely, and ventured deeper into the outskirt of Vesnia. The outskirt of Vesnia was largely a dense forest. Scattered small settlements of humble beings were found along the bank of large streams within the forest. There

was a large gorgeous waterfall that one could not deny its beauty laid not too far from these small settlements. The beauty of the lively forest that were filled with chirping symphony from various colorful birds faded quickly to a point of despair for the silence was louder than the smallest rock that could rippled a humble pond nearby. The party noticed as the farther they ventured deeper in this part of the forest, the trees became drier and barer. Silence went on as far the eyes could see. One could tell only the saddest creatures could ever bear to resist the loneliness of the forest without a sound. Luckily, the wind often blew through made ghostly noises that gave the members within the party the creeps. Finally, the party reached the part of the forest were trees were no longer alive, and many of them soiled themselves into the ground for one could see the open sky greeted any passerby with evermore gracious emptiness. Wind blew even harder and brought with it a chillier bite to a person's skin. “Where are we now?” doctor Chet asked. “It looks like we will be at Screecher place within couple days,” Mr. Andrew answered. Everyone felt the trip was exhausted, but hearing those words from Mr. Andrew satisfied them somehow even though they had no idea what would wait for them when they reached their intended location. The northern wind blew so hard that it was so cold, but Arlene and Charlie had on long, heavy coats made from the hides of Cayhone Wolfs from Pantheenian region; the long, heavy coats shielded both Arlene and Charlie from the cold northern wind from neck to ankles. In fact everyone had the same type of coats on, because the party was lucky to meet a man who was a hide merchant from Pantheen, but made his way with his slaves across the border to sell them to Vesnians. The Vesnians lived in a colder climate, and so the wanderer hide merchant knew it was best for him to sell his products to Vesnians than Pantheenians who rarely needed to wear heavy clothes whenever they were outdoor. No longer Arlene and Charlie had on their thin fur shoes, because they had replaced them with Cayhone Wolf boots. The boots were more comfortable in such cold weather; Arlene and Charlie also loved them for the fashion. On the third night, the party finally reached a grassy area where a sign said Beware, entering Screecher at your own risk. The night was so dark, but there were so many stars above calmed everyone's nerve a bit at they all stared at the sign with doubts. Beyond the sign, wild grasses and weeds and weird plants grew unchecked. There was no sign of life as far as the eyes could see. “Shall we enter Screecher everyone,” doctor Chet spoke with uncanny calm voice.

“Aren't we supposed to go through the good part of the town first?” Sheryl the mother asked. “According to Amber, she told us that there are two ways to enter Screecher. The first one is to go through Wild Wood, but we took the second route. We took a direct route to Screecher, and this is why we're here faster. Can't imagine how much longer we have to go on feet if we had used the longer route,” Mr. Andrew explained. “So this route is like a side way,” Arlene thought outloud. “Yes Arlene, we took the side route,” Mr. Andrew confirmed. “Let not wait, we have a warlock to find,” doctor Chet urged. “How are we going to find this warlock so called Screecher? Amber's itinerary shows a direct way to his home?” Charlie asked. “Uncle, we know how to find this warlock?” Tristan too was curious. “Amber's itinerary certainly has a specific direction for us to reach Screecher's home. It's deep inside Screecher. Ok, let head in and hopefully we aren't going to be lost,” Mr. Andrew urged everyone to enter Screecher, reluctantly. The party pushed onward, deeper into Screecher while the chilly night wind blew hard against their faces. The deeper the party pushed inward into Screecher, Charlie felt a worse migraine ever. A nauseous feeling deep inside him had him wanted to puke from his mouth, but he could not since there was nothing to come out from inside of his stomach. He staggered along with everyone else, but he preferred to keep his problem as secret. His auditory hallucination came back as more of those unbearable creepy sounds began to flood his ears and mind, but he knew nobody else could hear these ghostly sounds. The creepy sounds began at a whispering level just like before, and these creepy sounds got louder and louder till he could hear everything. Unfortunately, it was if he listened to a strange language, because he could not tell any meaning from the sounds. He staggered on and trailed behind everyone, barely kept up with the rest of the party. Halfway through the night, the party broke for camping. Their surrounding was lifeless and creepy, but everyone agreed to camp out in the forest and under many naked trees. They would have to resume their walk at the earliest dawn for they were too exhausted to go on for the moment. The earliest dawn came, the party bade adieu to their creepy little spot where they had camped during the night. They took a long break in the afternoon before they had to push onward, against the cold northern wind, and into the evening. Couldn't be helped, the party pushed onward without any real hope of finding at the very least a bird. This whole part of the place was very much barren of life.

Arlene became more agitated as she noticed the walk was long and boring. Arlene wished the thieves hadn't took their horses. Without horses, the long boring walk had drained everything from her, and Arlene noticed other members of the party were once again low in spirit and strength. She longed for the exotic lifeforms that she had came across couple days before. Repeatedly, Arlene questioned Mr. Andrew how farther that everyone had to walk before Screecher could be found. Mr. Andrew would always patiently reply Arlene with, sweetie, just a little longer, I think. “This whole area of the forest is not any different from a desert,” Charlie pointed it out. “Totally with you Charlie. At least the desert is a little more exotic since it has sands to play with. This place has nothing,” Arlene chimed in. “Sands? Desert?” Tristan asked. “Well, a desert is like a place where there is only sand but nothing else. Oh, and it's super hot and dry there. You need tons of water to be able to make through a desert on feet. I don't think that many people can make through a desert on feet,” Charlie explained. “That's interesting. I wish someday I will be able to visit such a place,” Tristan confessed. Couple days had passed, but there was no sign of life and a warlock that they intended to greet. Refusing to give in and admitted that they had gotten lost, “or had they?” they stubbornly pushed on ahead at all cost. Few more days had passed, and the party ran out of foods and water. Screecher was supposed to be an abandoned town, but nobody saw anything that even resembled nearly that. Mr. Andrew instilled confidence into everyone by explaining that they were on the right path, it just that the town was overran by the forest since it was abandoned so long ago. Arlene kept the question of “why isn't there any abandoned hut or wood house or structure in the whole area?” to herself, because she knew the mood within the party would be even more morbid if she raised such a question. The cold eventually had overcome the brave souls who did not mind to trek on in finding their saver so their world won't be overran by monsters of an evil wizard. Arlene was the first to be succumbed by the cold. She found herself went numb all over. Suddenly, the ground loomed larger and closer, and before she knew anything had happened, it was the darkness that had greeted her and sucked her into its oblivion. Charlie stopped his snail pace and looked back to see what was going on as he had heard something loud. Foggy breath constantly came out of his nose and mouth as if his organs were chimneys. Charlie could hardly move toward Arlene's motionless body. He raised his voice as loud as he could, but he swore it was swallowed up by the north wind. Luckily, someone heard Charlie's call for help. It was Sheryl the mother. She

alerted everyone who trekked next and in front of her to stop. The whole party stopped and trekked backward. Mr. Andrew had Arlene piggyback ride on his back. Without saying much, he ordered everyone to keep moving. He said, “if we are not moving forward, we may very well succumb to the cold even faster,” and that was the last thing he'd said before he too was succumbed to the cold. Mr. Andrew lay subconsciously on the ground, and Arlene motionless body stacked on top of Mr. Andrew's back. Without Mr. Andrew's leadership, the rest of the party refused to move forward and had decided that they could no longer push on. They too reserved whatever little energy they had left inside them to stay awake a little longer. Surprisingly, the oldest member of the party was still strong enough to drag his feet along with the group. Before the horse were stolen, elder Appleseed had to ride with Raleigh the slave on the same horse, but since the horse were no longer available, he had to bear the cold and the dreadful, dull walk just like everyone else. Elder Appleseed was the third victim of the cold. As the party sat to conserve some energy that they had left within them, the old man Appleseed slowly drifted into his own darkness. Nobody could do anything for him, because they too were too cold to move their bodies. Before long, the rest of the party found themselves went numb, and they too were succumbed to the cold. Hours had passed. Arlene awoke in the dark. She fumbled for something to grab onto, but she found none. It was too dark for her to see anything. She could not even see her own hands. Clumsily fumbled in the dark some more, Arlene finally grasped onto something. She pulled back the hand she had grasped onto that something as quick as she could, because it was slimy. “Yuck,” Arlene felt very uncomfortable for she had no idea of what she had touched. Something made a commotion. A door swung opened allowed candle light to penetrate the dark room. Arlene saw a red odd shape disappeared behind the door. Arlene bolted for the door herself. Glancing around, Arlene could only make out that the house was totally empty, except for that strange thing which had ran off somewhere. The house was made of wood and had an average size. It seemed to be very sturdy. The furniture arranged in a very pleasant way. Besides there were some furniture, the house was not decorated with anything. Several candles placed at precise spots within the house to illuminate the whole house. A candle with a perfect flame had laid on the top of the living room table. Another candle was laid on a candle holder neared the main door. Couple other candles were also with perfect flames had laid on top of several candle holders throughout the house. Picking up the candle on the living room table, she placed her tiny right palm in front of the candle in fearing that it would be blowed out by her movement. Moving from room

to room, she found all her friends were sleeping. Realizing the house was much bigger than she had thought, because each of her friends were sleeping in each room. Each room felt roomy as she used her candle to look around. She didn't want to wake her friends up, because she heard their snoring and knew they were sleeping really well. She made her way back to the living room, but she found Charlie stood in the living room with his own candle. “I thought you were sleeping,” Arlene said. “Ya, but then I got woken up,” Charlie said. “By me?” Arlene asked. “No, by the sounds within my ears. This time I understood what the sounds said,” Charlie said. “So what did you hear?” Arlene asked. “It said 'wake up little boy, a little girl is walking around',” Charlie said. “Creepy you,” Arlene said. “Ya, those sounds are talking about you Arlene,” Charlie glanced around as if there were someone else in the room. “Should we wake them up?” Arlene asked. “Yes, we better, because we don't know this house. We don't know how we got here too,” Charlie said. After Arlene and Charlie had woken everyone up. The party gathered in the living room. Everyone was so happy to see their friends as healthy as before. Small chatters broke out among the members of the party. Suddenly, Mr. Andrew commanded everyone to listen to him. “Everyone, we have to figure out who had rescued us so we can give that person our thanks. Also, let get outside and get some fresh air,” Mr. Andrew said. “I second that,” doctor Chet said. “Before we go outside, I've something to tell,” Arlene said. “Sure, what is on your mind sweetie,” Mr. Andrew said. “When I woke up, I had touched something very slimy. The slimy stuffs had not stuck onto my hand, but it wetted my hand that I had to dry it by wiping my hand with this fur

coat of mine. I don't know if that thing is dangerous or not, because it bolted out of my room fast. I mean very fast, because I could only see part of it through the door of the room I had slept in. Anyway, should we be careful when we go outside? That thing could be out there waiting for us,” Arlene said. “Thanks Arlene, we definitely have to be careful now,” Mr. Andrew said. “Could it be a slimy pet?” Tristan said jokingly. “I don't know, but it was very slimy, in a weird way. I couldn't even see the thing clear enough to make head or tail of it,” Arlene said. “We see when we see it again, I guess,” Charlie said. Sheryl the daughter clung onto her mother for she got scared when hearing of what Arlene had spoke of. The two slaves, Mr. Raleigh and Tim, were whispering jokes among themselves, but they stopped short to hear what Arlene had to say. They too felt something was odd with the house, and so they became quiet again. Chief elder Darwin was grumpy as ever. He yearned for wine, but days went passed him by without a sip of wine, chief elder Darwin often got grumpy. He talked less, but he moved along with everyone nonetheless. Everyone got outside just to be greeted with a fearsome sight. A pack of slimy wolflike animals surrounded the party. No, these aren't wolves. "Mr Andrew, I don't think these are wolves," doctor Chet said in a shaky voice. "I fear these are worse than wolves many times more," Mr. Andrew said. The slimy pack of dangerous wolflike animals made no sound, but slimy saliva incessantly dripped from and around their mouths. Surprisingly, these wolflike animals had not showed their teeth, but their eyes were burning in reddish color. A big campfire beyond the circle of the pack flickered like a weak candle flame as the north wind plowed through. Out of a sudden, a largest one of them all broke the circle and moved inward at a leisure pace. The party got anxious! Arlene hang onto Charlie tight. Tristan stretched his arm across Charlie and Arlene as if he could shield them from the big bad beast that kept on coming closer to the party. "We have to do something," Sheryl the mother said in a low tone so the incoming beast would not be able to hear her.

"We may be able to do something against one. There are eight of them. We make any crazy move, the rest will jump us," chief elder Darwin analyzed. Elder Appleseed swayed uneasily even though he had clinched tightly to Mr. Andrew. The north wind blew harder, and for a moment the flame of the campfire was almost gone with the wind. Before the party could do anything to safeguard themselves against the incoming beast, there the beast stood in front of them. The distance between a group of fear humans and the beast was so close that the humans could see the beast in details. It has a blend of dark green and black fur natural coat. Its ears were pointed. A very short furry tail in blackish color hung loosely on its behind. Arlene could not help but compared the beast to a small bear. It was that huge. Charlie too felt his own tremor within as the size of the beast was certainly worrisome. The rest of the party went stiff, and the silence was louder than the incessant ghostly noises made by the north wind. "At ease friends, you should not be out here. My master had specifically instructed to keep you all inside. Do as I say, and no harm shall come upon you." Surprising facial expressions drew across the humans' faces. Arlene could not imagine that the beast could talk. To her amazement, the beast's voice was rather gentle, but she could not help but noticed the extreme sharp but short fangs and the teeth that could chew bones to bits and pieces when the beast talked. More slimy saliva dripped from the beast's mouth. "OK, we go back inside," Mr. Andrew said calmly. "Great, don't worry about them. They will let you through." The party turned around, carefully marched through the broken circle of the beasts. Inside, the children and the adults exhaled with great reliefs. "We're trapped!" Tim the slave said in a panic. "We're all OK," Raleigh the slave tried to calm Tim down. "Tim certainly is correct. We're in the dark, not knowing what to expect next. Those things outside could really kill us all whenever they want to. Their master, whoever that person is certainly had us trapped in here forcefully. I fear something worst has yet to come," chief elder Darwin prophetically warned. "Mr. Darwin, your speak only make Tim feel worse," Tristan directed his sharp tongue at chief elder Darwin.

"Maybe their master isn't a person, but a monster. Something worse than them!" Tim surmised. "People stop, let think this through without creating unnecessary anxiety among us," Mr. Andrew suggested. "We can tear apart some furniture in the house and turn them into weapons," Charlie suggested. "Don't be silly boy, even with real weapons, I don't think we have a slight chance against them. I think we should sit here, try not to anger them, and wait for their master. Perhaps, we can talk our ways out of here," Mr. Andrew suggested. Night dragged on, but the master of the beast had not yet announced his grand entrance. Some members of the party had gotten tired of wondering what would happen to them when the master of the beast would actually arrived, and their hunger had grown quite unbearable. Fearing the beasts outside, these members surrendered themselves to the long night by closing their eyes. Arlene and Charlie and Tristan and Sheryl the daughter felt restless. Unlike the adults in the party, they rambled on with small talks that were pretty much pointless. At one point, these children rambled on how they would eat till their bellies inflated twice or thrice the normal sizes, because the hunger was so vivid. A loud bang startled everyone. It turned out that the adults who closed their eyes could not really drift away in their favorite dreams, because their hunger was ever begging them to fill their bellies with something good. The loud bang got everyone rose on their feet. A strange old man with a white beard that touched the floor appeared right after he slammed the sturdy wooden door shut, but he was bald. Two very pointed ears noticeably stuck on the sides of the strange old man's large head reminded the humans that the talk-able, wolflike beasts they encountered outside too had the same shape of ears. "The snow isn't here for sometimes to come, but unlike my kin outside, I had shed my natural fur coat to become human for as long as I could remember, the freezing temperature around here is really making the bones in my fragile body ache. Sorry for keeping all of you inside long, but master has made it clear that you must wait for his return. I assume all is hungry, are you all ready for some meats?" The old man was surprisingly talkative. Yes, yes, very much so, oh lovely... The cacophony of cheers for meats from the human visitors confirmed the old man that he had suggested the right thing.

Door opened wide as the chill from the outside rushed in. The old man screamed for meats to the air outside as if he was talking to the naked trees and the earth and the sky. The door slammed shut again. A short moment later, many wolflike howls penetrated the thick wooden walls of the lonely house. "It's my kin, they mimic the wolf howls. These brothers and sisters of mine love to make fun at their fallen preys. Usually, they prefer something more delicate such as Nocti Snake, but wolfs are more abundance and easier to catch. Give them more time to grill wolf meats so you all can chow appropriately," the old man assured the party that the foods would be ready soon. "Thank you for rescuing us from the forest," Mr. Andrew spoke on the behalf of the party. "No need to thank me. My master was the one who ordered us to bring you all back here," the strange old man said. "When can we see your master so we can thank him in person," doctor Chet said. "Very soon, because he is preparing something rather mysterious which he forbids even us to know what he is up to at the moment. Oh, here come the delicious meats. To tell the truth, I'm very much hungry too. People, let eat," the old man invited everyone to eat. The beasts carried in the burned wolf meats that were over grilled with their mouths. Arlene wanted to refuse the wolf meats, but her belly commanded her not to. Charlie gave Arlene a weak smile as he took a bite from the over grilled wolf meat. Tristan too was hesitated, but he bravely followed Charlie's lead and had his bite of the wolf meat. The adults saw the children's braveries, and so they too filled their bellies with barely eatable wolf meats. "Have some more," the strange old man begged his new friends to eat more while his mouthed was stuffed full of wolf meat. "Thanks, but I'm already full," Arlene replied. The adults reluctantly obliged as they grabbed for more wolf meats. Outside, the north wind blew harder than before, and the house felt it as the sturdy wood frame of the house made creaky noises. The door blew opened, and a young man not older than twenty five entered. His handsomeness radiated an arrogant aura. His manner too was unapologetic. The young man took off his heavy fur coat made from a white Yeti's hide. He gave the coat to the old man so it could be put away. The old man hastily abandoned his food so he could attend to the young man's coat.

"I'm Screecher. Now tell me your true purpose, because normal humans dare not to set a foot inside my dear forest." The strange old man brought out a rug made in Yeti hide. This time it was a black Yeti's misfortune, and its hide was fury but strangely warm and soft to the touch. His master settled onto the black Yeti rug, feeling comfortable and facing the visitors. "Master, do you want some wolf meats?" the strange old man asked his master. "Those fools have never learned how to grill the meats that could be delectable for humans, only you Dante who cares not for the bad taste. I'll figure out something more delectable later, just go and fetch me some wine," the young man spoke to Dante as if the old man was a child. Knowing his master was in a foul mood of not having something good to satisfy a belly, Dante marched fast into the kitchen so he could fetch his master some wine to warm a belly. "Speak people, what bring you to my forest?" "We are looking for you good sir, but we thought you would look terrified and old, and it turns out you are only old enough to be my really old brother," Tristan spoke blandly. "Don't let my childish face deceive you. I'm fifteen times older than Dante. Anyway, stop speaking of nonsense. I do not know any of you here, why come look for me?" "Mr. Screecher, we need your help big time," Arlene spoke as if she already knew the warlock for years. Screecher stared at Arlene hard in silence, then he stole a glance at Charlie. A large smile drew wide opened across his face. Still, he said nothing as if he wanted to hear more from his visitors. Dante brought out a large wine cup which was a little more than half full of white wine. Screecher took a sip from it with satisfaction. "The children spoke of the truth Mr. Screecher. My name is Andrew. Everyone of us almost died twice on our ways to seek for your aid. Luckily, we were found by you on our second desperation. On behalf of my party, I like to thank you Mr. Screecher for saving our lives. Also, we must beg you to seek out Gregory and destroy him. Only you can stop his evil scheme." "Ah, Gregory, a human wizard who is so ever proud of his vast sea of knowledge on magic. What has he done to ya to seek me out to destroy him? Wait, don't answer, because I can never trust another's words, for I have heard of too many made up stories of all kinds. Let see," the warlock's deep blue eyes suddenly turn reddish as if a small

flame had engulfed them from inside out. No, there wasn't a single flame that escaped those wicked eyes, but the reddish eyes remained. Arlene thought not those eyes as red laser flashlight or Hollywood effect that she had seen once in a film which she could not recall its title, instead she thought the instant transformation of those eyes were nothing she had ever seen in her life. In fact, she could not find any combination of any word within her intellect to describe the uncanny mutation of those eyes. As much as Arlene, Charlie found the transformation of the warlock's eyes were so real, yet the incident was so surreal to him. "I see," Screecher the warlock smiled devilishly. "I can't really help your cause. You see, Gregory has never ever tried to harm me. If I help you destroy him, it means I'll make him to see me as an enemy. If you had come to me in the days that I was still wanting to prove my worth, I would have had take your quest without a slight of hesitance. Nowadays, I prefer the quiet serenity of my forest. Preferable none of my long time enemies would anger me. I'm sure that Gregory will never want me to be his enemy, therefore I do so wish the same of him. Anyway, you have came to my home, but will leave empty-handed. I suggest all of you leave at dawn, which it will be so very soon." "Is there anything we can do so you will help us destroy Gregory?" doctor Chet asked desperately. "You humans never have anything I want. In fact, you all best leave for the sake of my sanity," Screecher the warlock's eyes had now returned to deep blue color. "Please help us," Sheryl the daughter finally spoke her mind. Her mother gave a slight squeeze on one of her shoulder as to encourage her boldness. The unaffected warlock said nothing as if he had not heard the little girl's worry which had culminated from the empathy she had for her mother. He turned around and made a gesture as if he wanted old Dante to shoo everyone away. Old Dante nodded and was about to ask everybody to leave the house and Screecher altogether. Suddenly, it seemed as if Screecher had a change of heart. "Wait Dante," Screecher commanded his servant to step aside. Dante succumbed to his master command and sheepishly returned to his out of sight station. "Unless you all allow that boy to stay here with me so he can become my only true pupil, then I'll promise to lend some of my expertise to your cause. Of course, I won't be able to help right away, because I have to make sure the boy here can become a true warlock before I take any rash action. It is an insurance kind of request. You see, even

I'm not so sure about taking on Gregory. With this boy stays behind to sulk up all of my knowledge, perchance I have to perish by the hands of Gregory, I'll know all of my knowledge won't just disappear with my ending," sipped his wine cup slowly, Screecher awaited for some reaction from the party with his shrewd face expression. "Which boy are you talking about?" the disgruntled Darwin asked. "Why oh why, of course it's this lad," the warlock pointed his index finger at Charlie. "Why him?" Arlene sounded concern. She would hate to go a day without seeing her best buddy with her. In fact, Charlie was the only person she knew from her home world. Without Charlie's presence, she probably could not be sure how she would carry on everyday activities, onward. "Soon or later, you too are best to learn powerful magic from a priest little girl. If you don't, you will be a waste of talent. I can smell the inert potential for magic from both of you from miles away. How do you think I'm so kind in keeping everyone around you healthy? It's not as if I will go out of my way to harm any of you, but to help any of you is one of those generous acts I had not done in centuries. Charlie, you are a perfect specimen for becoming a warlock. Perhaps, you will be the greatest one of them all. I'm here offering you a chance of a lifetime. Stay behind, and I'll teach you everything there is you need to know of a full-blown warlock. What do you say?" "I love to, but I don't feel it is right for Me to abandon Arlene. I have to protect my friend, and if I'm not around her, how am I going to do that?" "Don't worry lad, I have a suggestion. Mr. Andrew, what do you say if I suggest you take Arlene to a priest I know so well. This priest will teach Arlene everything she needs to know about becoming one herself. At the same time, I'll teach Charlie here how to become a full-blown warlock. I suspect that when Charlie here becomes a real warlock, Arlene too will become a priest at the same time. Charlie, you have no need to worry about Arlene, because she will be as safe as she is now when she becomes a student of my sister." "I love the idea, but if we don't hurry up. I fear by then Gregory will destroy all villages up North, and his zombie army will be so large that not even you can do anything about him," Mr. Andrew felt someone got to end Gregory's murderous crusade as soon as possible. "You humans worry too much. I've to admit I used to be like that. Don't worry Mr., I think I can initiate a temporary plan to slow down Gregory while I have the lad train in becoming a warlock," Screecher assured his human fellows that he could do more than one thing at once, whether that would be a treacherous adventure or something much more benign and trivial. As if there was little doubt of what Screecher had said, the humans nodded.

"What do you think about Screecher's offer, Charlie?" Mr. Andrew asked the boy. "Let me talk it out with Arlene first in private. Arlene, let talk it out outside," Charlie called for Arlene. Arlene hesitated not for a single moment. She nodded at Charlie. The vast, almost endless, deep, black sky which allowed the moon to lit ever so brighter. The moonlight beautifully glowed and cast its dimly glow across the strange and not so lively forest. The two kids of not this world emerged under the night as the enchanting moonlight cast its dimly glow upon them. "It's alright for you to stay with him if you want. It is clear that we cannot get back to our world anytime soon. It is even clearer that we don't even know why we are here and why this place allows us to be here. So, I think let do this people right by lending them our helps in anyway we can for now. Plus, I think it be really cool to see you to do some warlock magic after he teaches you everything about becoming a warlock," Arlene made herself sounded as if everything was perfectly normal to allow Charlie to make up his own mind. The truth was that she hated the idea the first time she heard of it. Charlie hesitated to reply, and he stared into Arlene's perfect symmetrical eyes. Unfortunately, he could not really sure of Arlene's real emotion. Charlie nodded to signify that he had understood her words. "You have to keep yourself safe when you be around that priest that they had spoken of. Like you said, I think it will be cool to see you do your priestly thing after you learn everything from that priest," Charlie smiled sweetly which soften the serious facial expressions that both of them had wore earlier. The two angelic children reentered the house. The adults and the other children anticipated their answers. Charlie told every one that he would love to stay behind to take up the trade of a warlock. Everybody expressed their understanding of his decision, and they all praised him for making such a bold but wise decision. Before they knew it, the dawn had greeted them. The party bid goodbye to Charlie. Charlie stood with the warlock at the border of the forsaken forest, watched his best friend Arlene and the rest pulled away. Their shadows still lingered long after within his mind. Charlie felt panic inside as he had always been with the group, but now he had to do with this strange man who would teach him the trade of a warlock. "Tell me, what with the sad look?" Screecher asked Charlie. "Nothing really," Charlie lied.

"Let me read your mind young boy, you are worrying for Arlene still?" "I'm sure she will be OK, I guess." "I have the feeling that she be an excellent priest, so don't you think about her much. Now, you must focus on how to become one of my kind," Screecher spoke as if he had already knew what future had installed for the two children who were not of this world. The unlikely master and his reluctant pupil made their way back toward a lonely house in the midst of a forsaken forest. Chapter 15 (A Promise Of A Wolf For A Fox) Thick fog covered the forest ground as if something evil had hidden nearby. Strangely, the moon shone brightly above helped lightened the mood of the forest, eased the worriers about the creepy atmosphere which lurked inside the dark forest. Kevin hid himself well behind of a very large tree which probably aged in thousands of years. Surrounding by other thousands of year old trees, Kevin felt he was so insignificant. Eying yonder the border of the forest, a castle stood mightily tall and proud. The east gate of the castle appeared tiny, but Kevin knew quite well how large the gate was. The castle itself rose to a point that Kevin imagined it had almost reached the moon above, the extremely ancient tall forest trees dwarfed in comparison. Kevin felt agitated as he had been awaited for Victor quite long. The dull moment bored him to death. Kevin remembered how he had lost his fight against Victor so easily. Kevin knew he was nowhere near the level of a veteran thief. Kevin felt the anger within him could explode at any moment for he could not understand why Victor had stopped his mission, prevented him to finish his target, and he would have a hard time in explaining to the master of rouge society how he had failed his mission terribly. Not only the mission was at stake, Kevin knew quite well he had also failed the shadow test. The mission itself was a shadow test. Thieves within the rouge society had to take a shadow test once in their career as a thief, and they had to pass the shadow test in order for them to proudly call themselves real thieves. One thing for certain was all shadow tests were unique. The rouge society's master would assigned an apprentice a shadow test which accorded to the hearts and mind within the rouge society at the time. The east gate opened slowly as Kevin could tell from afar in the dark forest. The moon shone especially bright in the night which helped Kevin spotted the movements of the east gate somewhat. A man on horseback slowly trotted forward in the direction where Kevin had staked his position. It appeared as if the man wore full body armor, weaponed himself with two swords, and the face of the horse armored with layers of heavy metals. The man and his horse was too far away for Kevin to tell his first impression was indeed correct. He could be wrong, but the moon was especially bright

had Kevin doubted that he was wrong about the man and his horse were armored to the teeth. Kevin felt panic. He feared Victor had tricked him again by exposing his whereabout to prince Arnold. The man who headed toward his position could be one of prince Arnold's best knights. Kevin felt he needed to disappear quick, but he trusted Victor based on his instinct. Victor could have killed him in the castle and Victor had not. Victor could have imprisoned him and Victor had not. Victor knew quite well he could go to the master of rouge society and tell the master what Victor had done and yet Victor allowed him to run away. There were too many unanswered questions dangled in the air, and Kevin had to know why. Kevin felt Victor deserved better. After all, Victor was the man who recruited Kevin into the rouge society – Kevin felt the need to at least give Victor a second chance and to hear what the man he had always looked up to got to say. Kevin clamped the hilt of the dagger which had stuck between his waistband tightly. Teeth inside his mouth ground together hard to a point Kevin felt he heard his teeth screamed with unbearable sounds. He prepared to fight whoever came his way, except for the man who promised to meet with him in this dark forest. From afar, Victor sat on a white horse, slowly trotted toward the dense forest that blanketed the east. Behind him, he could hear the crackled sounds of chains and woods made by the east gate as it was pulled up by the guards. The castle was surrounded by four gates. The north gate was the main entrance, the south gate was the back entrance, the west gate and the east gate were the side gates. A huge manmade river that surrounded the castle acted as a defense system which could slow down the enemies on land. The outermost walls of the castle was thick that Victor convinced only magic could overtake it. Soldiers could shoot swamps of arrows from the openings of the outermost wall. Beyond the outermost wall, there would be five walls more that could be just as thick as the outermost wall. Between walls, small rooms that stored weapons held excessive amount of swords and arrows and bows. Thick floors separated the levels of castle extended between the walls till the outermost wall would meet. Victor despised the main castle of Vesnia for its strong defense system. He had been under the disguise of a Vesnian knight for many years so he could spot the weaknesses of the very castle where the current king of Vesnia called his impenetrable heaven. Other people would call the castle by its proper name, the Black Castle. The Black Castle got its name for its outer walls colored in dark black. Instead of finding out any weaknesses, Victor found frustrations. He knew the castle as if it was the back of his hands, but he could not find ways to penetrate the castle from the outside. Every time he reported his progress back to Partheen, he could not offer a strategy of how to overtake the main castle by force. Throughout the years, his main mission had slowly transformed into a mission of reporting on just about any valuable information that he thought Partheen could use against Vesnia. Meanwhile, Victor knew

others liked him had spread throughout Vesnia’s many castles to plan and plot till there would be one perfect day when Partheen would march her brave warriors into Vesnia. After the first two years acting as a Vesnian knight, Victor got an order from a Partheenian general. The order had Victor penetrated rouge society as a member. Not long after, Victor had earned a title as a veteran thief within the rouge society. As a veteran thief, Victor held a powerful position within the innermost circle of rouge society. From within the innermost circle, Victor had used the rouge society to advance Partheen's agenda. Victor had not been at odd with rouge society's master before. It all changed when he found out that the master had ordered Kevin to assassinate prince Arnold. Victor had to take matter into his own hands. Victor could not allow prince Mathew or Erik to overtake the thrown. He had not a doubt that prince Mathew or Erik would invade Partheen at first chance they got if they ever had full control of the Vesnian army. The only way a person could take full control of Vesnian army was to become a Vesnian king. Victor could not allow prince Arnold to be killed, otherwise Vesnian soldiers would march into his beloved country at a time that he knew his countrymen had not yet ready for such invasion. Victor observed prince Arnold for a long time while he swore his allegiance to the prince. Also, from various reliable sources that he had acquainted with over the years told Victor what he needed to know within the walls of Vesnian castle. He made many friends within the main castle walls. He had ears that would tell him things he could use against Vesnia to further Partheen's agenda. Victor knew from sources that prince Arnold would not want to go to war with Partheen. Prince Arnold had always wanted to make peace with the Partheenians. With prince Arnold as king, Victor could assure Partheen many more years of serenity, unless Partheen was ready to invade Vesnia. The horse bursted into full stride. Victor kept his balance on the fast horse as he aimed for the forest. Neared the forest, Victor had his horse slowed down to trots. The bright moonlight pierced the dense forest. Cautiously, Victor watched out for any strange movement. He knew Kevin could be hiding anywhere. “Kevin, come out!” Victor yelled. Victor's voice echoed in the forest air and soon followed by cricket noises and sounds of various forest critters. Kevin could hear and see the man who had prevented him from killing prince Arnold. Slowly, Kevin made himself visible to Victor. “So tell me, why did you stop me from killing prince Arnold?” Kevin held a substantial distance between Victor and himself for a precaution, in case he had to run away even though his chance of running away from a man on a horse was slim. Victor marched his horse closer to where Kevin was, but Kevin slowly retreated.

“Don't come any closer, just tell me your reason. Are you working for prince Arnold? If so, why did you let me ran?” Kevin shouted. “Don't expected me to shout like you, fool! Come closer, I'm not going to hurt you. If I want to harm you, I had done it earlier,” Victor shouted, too. “Alright,” Kevin inched closer, but the distance between Victor and himself was there, still. “That's better. Now I don't have to shout. Look, I'm not working for prince Arnold. Yes, I'm not really working for rouge society either. I'm a Partheen. What I'm trying to do earlier was to stop you from making the biggest mistake ever. As a rouge member, well, not quite, you know what I mean, I can perceive that prince Arnold is a perfect choice for a king of Vesnia. If you kill prince Arnold, prince Erik is the most likely to be crowned. You don't want prince Erik to become king since he will destroy the rouge society. Trust me, I have spies everywhere inside the castle. From them, I can figure out how prince Erik's mind works. I predict that prince Erik will attack the rouge society right after he becomes king. I figure rouge society is better with king Arnold. I'm helping you Kevin,” Kevin marched closer involuntarily. “How is that? You're a spy from Partheen. Partheen wants to destroy Vesnia,” Kevin replied. “I don't see why I can't help you Kevin. Partheen wants to destroy Vesnia, but not literally. Partheen wants to rule Vesnia more like it. Partheen needs rouge society in the coming battles if there will be some. Rouge society can be a big help for Partheen in conquering Vesnia. You see my points? Partheen doesn't want to destroy rouge society. It's prince Erik who wants to destroy rouge society,” Victor replied. “It was prince Erik who paid the old man to kill prince Arnold. Prince Erik is an ally and not an enemy,” Kevin spoke in defiant manner. “Not true. Prince Erik has a strong motive to destroy rouge society as he sees that rouge society is a powerful force that acts outside his realm. Plus, he has the heart to order an assassin to kill his own brother, how can you trust such a person?” “You're not helping me. With prince Arnold's head stays intact with the rest of his body, my dream of passing the shadow test is gone. You know if a thief cannot pass his first shadow test, it's pretty much over for him within the rouge society right?” “I've been with rouge society much longer than you Kevin. I know quite a few members within rouge society who had ruined their first shadow tests, but they're now the elites within the rouge society,” Kevin jumped down from his horse, took a bag which latched on the side of the saddle in hand, and inched closer to Kevin on feet.

“OK, even if that's true. How possibly are you helping me when I have failed a biggest mission ever?” “Here's the deal. You take this head back to the headquarter. Convince everyone that the head inside this small bag is belonging to the dead prince that you're after. I'm convincing that the members that get to see this head have never ever before seen prince Arnold,” Victor threw the bag over to Kevin. Kevin caught the bag, looked at the bag and its bottom. Kevin saw some blood had soaked through the bottom of the bag. He groped the bag to make sure it was a head. “I can't betray rouge society by keeping my silence about you Victor,” Kevin confessed but then regretted with fear. The man who stood in front of him could easily kill him, and yet he had blurted out that he would tell the master the truth behind the man, who he was and who he was not. “You can tell everyone that I'm a Partheen, but nobody is going to believe you. Just do yourself a favor by keeping your silence. I'll help you a lot as a friend than an enemy,” Victor hinted. “Who's in this bag?” Kevin asked curiously. ////////////////////////////////////Stop reading from here, because whatever below may not be coherent. It's a work in progress!///////////////////////////////////// “It's the head of prince Mathew. Prince Erik paid for it,” Victor smiled creepily. “How are you going to explain this to the old man?” “No need, I just have to find another dead man, disfigure and cut off his head, and present the head to the old man as prince Mathew's head,” Victor patted on the side of Kevin's left shoulder. The man who stood so close to him in this dark dense forest had completely twisted his mission. Kevin felt he knew nothing about Victor until now, maybe not even now. “What kind of help you can give me while I'm staying silent?” Kevin asked. “All kinds. Just name it,” Victor spoke with confident. “Alright, the old man is getting really old. He is going to die someday. Naturally I mean. So don't get the wrong idea. I like the old man. Anyway, when that happens, can you help me convincing others to support me as the new master of rouge society?” Victor bursted into laughter.

“Didn't know you have such a big ambition young man. I'll help when the day comes. I'm not going to guarantee you can become a master of rouge society. Don't you know there has never been a master of rouge society that is anywhere near your age? First, you have to become a veteran thief before you can even consider about becoming a master. I fear they even want to let you becoming a veteran thief anytime soon,” “OK, but if there is a chance, you got to help me,” Kevin begged. “Alright, you have my words that I'll help you when there is a chance,” Victor promised. “Come to think of it, I fear the old man will see through you. He will ask why prince Mathew's head is disfigured. Why don't you have the real head, and I'll find a dead man with a head to spare,” “It's OK. Everybody in the rouge society takes me by my words pretty much nowadays. No need to be worried for me. You better take care of yourself,” “OK, Victor, it's your doing, and I'll hope everything will be OK for you and me. Tell you the truth, I don't really care who is the ruler of Vesnia or who will conquer Vesnia. To me, as long I can live my dream and the people I care about get by OK, then I'm all for whatever it may be,” “So who are the folks that you would care for?” “Can't say much about that now, I'm not yet sure about such a list yet,” Kevin looked on yonder but saw the forest could only get foggier. At first, the fog started from the ground, but it since had gradually expanded everywhere. Apparently, the forest was not any longer welcoming the present of Kevin and his counterpart. “OK, I think we should part, you go back to the headquarter. I'll get back as soon as I can,” With that Victor got onto his horse, trotted back to where he came from earlier.

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