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xupis_story_of_a_thief

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This is a recovered file from an early backup of a BBS page planned (hence the modem reference further down) - I am waiting to see if my older brother can dig out a harddisk containing the original and if the harddisk can be restored to life…

I am placing the text here for placeholder purposes

Xupis The story of a thief.

by

Einar Petersen (C)1998

Legal Disclaimer.

The author does not condone nor condemn the behavior of certain characters, the experimentation they perform is not meant as an encouragement of any kind toward use of any substance or compound, nor to encourage behavior of any kind.

The resemblance between compounds and substances in real life, their names or uses is to be taken as pure speculation. This story and events depicted are not intended as any form of realistic description of cause or effect of substances /compounds under any circumstances.

They events/substances/compounds and components of the story are purely a result of the game and should not be taken as guidelines or encouragement to engage in such behavior or use of the above mentioned.

The author does not assume liability for the consequences resulting from misinterpretation or interpretation of events or behavior in the story and the acting thereupon.

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About the story:

This tale is partly based upon a game of the imagination. A game focused by our Dungeon Master - Robert Waagstein. Robert and the players have all been an integral part of the writing process and much of the entertaining dialog and twists are their doing.

As a player I did put myself in an awkward position by insisting on being a scribe as well. But nevertheless I took it upon me to describe our wonderfull journey through the island of Coyri 'Osu.

A land teeming with legend and fame, a place where you can rest and find the beauty of life, among elves and men who are at their best, when things seem to be at their worst.

I welcome you to read, and join the tales of Tanon the Mute, Black Skull the Warrior Priest of Tempus and Xupis the elven thief.

A big thank you to the regular players and guests who provided me with invaluable inspiration and made this an interresting tale.

The Cast:

Dungeon Master Robert Waagstein

Black Skull Niclas Thorsteinsson Tanon the Mute Jógvan xxxxxxxx Xupis Einar Petersen Methrod Mbuba Gudmund Nielsen Helmsdal

Sunstone Leivur Gylli Trónd Main Characters:

Xupis the elfin thief of the Sylvan Race, is very crafty and smooth in his dealings with the world. Some would call him silver tongued. However his fellow travelers do not exactly appreciate his linguistic “skills” or craftsmanship.

He is quite the master of stealth, but hopeless when it comes to picking locks and finding traps. Due to this picking pockets and dealing through henchmen has become one of his recognizable traits. He likes to operate alone, but is clearly capable of exploiting the benefit of being in a group.

Xupis as most elves is a friend of nature and capable of turning the offerings of the womb (i.e. Mother Nature) into whatever item he might need. However being a thief of heart, stealing or using stolen valuable as trading incentive, is his preferred way of acquiring items that he might fancy in his pursuit for justice.

Tanon the Mute is also an elf of the Sylvan Race. He is a “do godder” and quite naive or trusting. He has been a mute ever since a Hobgoblin cut out his tongue as punishment for trying to speak their language. Tanon serves as a bodyguard for the rich merchant Cvedak Daig whom he has served loyally for quite some time. He is however unknowingly being exploited by his “benefactor” who is nothing but a sly and miserly merchant.

Since Tanon does not posses any linguistic abilities in respect to verbal communication, he uses a blackboard to communicate. He is not exactly the type that people or elf would approach in the street. Being a big menacing person with an animalistic grunt does nothing to further this.

Black Skull the albino priest of Tempus is quite the audacious fellow. He sees himself and his fellow Tempus worshippers as the top of the food chain, and is never afraid to prove his point. A character flaw that constantly lands him in one excruciating situation after another.

Being a priest one gets the impression that Black Skull or Bead Head as Xupis starts calling him, is a little too familiar with the inside of a jail cell.

Black Skull washed ashore as a child and remembers nothing of his human origins. The priests of Tempus who found him as a child, have brought him up a strong believer in the superiority of Tempus, the Warrior God.

Methrod Mbuba, the black Magician from the forrest is little known. He has no relatives, they were all killed when he was gathering berries and he aspires to become the greatest mage on Coyri' Osu.

As the adventure starts we find all but one of our friends in or near the harbor city of Ilvartinan, an area where they supposedly have spent most of their upbringing.

Xupis roamed around for a while, before finding the exact tree he needed. With a swift blow from his long sword he chopped a rather young branch off, very close to the stem. He mumbled an apology to his tree brother and thanked him for the gift.

With another stroke he cut the thin end of the branch and planted it. The chances were quite good that it in time would grow into a strong and beautiful tree.

He was always careful to give thanks, the womb should always be treated with respect.

It took some effort, but after removing the outer bark, he started slicing up the second and inner bark.

It was a much lighter material and quite moldable. He wondered how he could utilize this particular material to the best extent. And after a while an image built in his mind.

It took nearly 20 minutes for him to slice the bark into adequate building blocks, then he got a fire going.

The clay pot he had formed from mud of the riverbank simmered nicely and he threw the outer bark into the pot. He added a dash of ash from the fire and stirred the liquid. He threw most of the long thin bark threads into the pot. For a while he let it boil while stirring it. The threads were taking on a nice brown color, so it was nearly time to remove them from the pot. A couple of minutes went by and Xupis carefully took the threads out. Not many people were aware of it. But the forest offered some of the most durable materials in existence and a weaved belt was something that could last for 20 years or so, if treated properly.

He got on with the weaving, the few strips of bark he had left untreated made a nice pattern in the belt.

Soon after he was done, and pondered for a while about what to do. He started clearing the area and within a short while, only an elf or a ranger of exceptional perception would ever be able to notice that anyone had camped here.

Xupis started whistling, it was a nice day and a trip to town was never a dull experience for a master like himself.

Black Skull roamed around the city, he wasn't quite sure what to do, so he visited the store.

“Got any pipes?”, he asked in an accent clearly no local.

“Pipes eh?”, the old man said eyeing him.

Black Skull stared right back. His eyes were crimson of color, and his skin seemed like it had never experienced daylight.

“Yes pipes”, Black Skull answered in a demanding tone. He was completely without hair, say two bushy eyebrows that covered his forehead.

“Pipes yes…we do have some”, the old man said allowing himself another glance at the big fellow that had entered his store.

He couldn't help but wonder about the cap covering the bold head, the darkness of it was almost overwhelming. But he overcame his curiosity and fetched a tray.

“Anything particular I could interest you in?”, the old man asked warming up to a sale.

Black Skull examined the pipes carefully, an avid smoker he wished to add another pipe to his collection, but this one had to be special.

“Are these the only ones you have old man”, he said while weighing a particularly nice pipe in his hand.

“What do you mean”, the old man said suspiciously.

“Err… I mean, have you no other pipes”, Black Skull said in a brash manner.

The old man cast another glance at him and disappeared into the back room. He returned moments later with a dusty wooden box.

A powerful blow sent dust swirling into the air, right at Black Skull's head. A grim look started building on his face.

The box squeaked when the old man opened it but when Black Skull saw what it was all anger drained from his body “It's magnificent!!! How much?”, he asked eagerly.

“5 silver pieces”, the old man answered not quite sure if he had asked a high enough price.

The pipe was glorious, the fine carvings were those of a master “I'll take it…. ”, Black Skull stuttered in excitement “And by the way do you have any tobacco?”, he added.

“Tobacco”, the old man weighed the word on his tongue for a while “Well… what sort of quality were you thinking of”, he asked the albino with a devious smile.

“What sort of quality do you have”, Black Skull inquired.

“Oh, we have plenty of differing types… but I think I have the exact sort fitting a gentleman of your stature… could you please wait a moment?” Black Skull nodded, he caressed the pipe. The instant he had seen it he was sure that this would be the one. He was sure this would be his life long companion. Sure women were interesting enough, but there was nothing like a pipe. A pipe was the perfect companion, it never talked back, and could give hours and hours of pleasure without a single unsatisfied tweak.

The old man returned with a tightly sealed box which he opened as near to Black Skulls nose as he dared.

The fragrance sent Black Skull into the upper spheres of existence, there was no doubt in his mind.

The tobacco was excellent, indeed it would be more than fitting for this pipe.

“How much”, he asked cheerfully. It was as if a long lost friend had returned and nothing short of the best would be good enough for him.

“Oh… since it is a man of the clergy I think we can agree to a fair bargain”, the old man smoothly suggested.

“How much would 20 pounds worth be”, Black Skull asked making plans for a trip to the southlands.

The old man glowed with delight, his eyes had grown to unbelievable size, and the hairs in the back of his head were tingling delightfully.

“5 gold pieces”, he offered while slowly moving the box back and forth in front of Black Skull to let the scent do its work.

“You got yourself a deal there old man”, Black Skull answered with a smile.

“Oh great Tempus. Thank you and may his power and wisdom follow you wherever you go”, the old man said with the biggest smile he could offer.

Black Skull threw a couple of coins on the counter. The old man counted his money and after making sure everything was in order he handed Black Skull a pouch.

“Thank you my good man”, Black Skull said warmly, squeezing the shopkeepers hand.

“You're welcome”, the old man answered, anxiously thinking about whether or not his hand was broken.

Black Skull nodded and was quick to cram the pouch in beneath his robe. The pipe fitted well into his inner pocket, he nodded a second time and the old man held up a brave facade until Black Skull had left the store. A strange muffled scream followed Black Skull for the rest of that day, but he didn't think much about it. He had a pipe, and the day had only just begun, he headed for the town square.

The marketplace was bustling with activity and Black Skull had a content smile on his face.

He started preaching “Oh great men of the sword gather round for the Word of Tempus”.

An elf approached with nonchalance, Black Skull had noticed the way the elf seemed to just slide between his listeners, as if looking for something in particular.

“And I tell you… Tempus is for all beings be they men or elves”, a spontaneous applause grew to ear-splitting strength.

“Tempus is great…. Tempus is the power”, the crowd yelled infatuated by the preachers words.

“Excuse me Sir…. would you know the way to the hardware store”, the elf asked pulling his robe.

“Huh….it's over there”, Black Skull answered torn from his thoughts, What a strange little fellow.

The elf thanked him and was on his way and Black Skull contemplated following him, there was something about him. The chime of a bell slapped the thought right out of his head, it was time for the morning sermon at the temple.

“Tempus favors the devoted my friends…. join me to the temple”, he yelled.

“The temple, the temple”, the crowd roared and followed the priest from the town square.

The hardware store wasn't hard to find and Xupis opened the door which squeaked a bit.

“Yees”, an old man said and approached him slyly.

“I was wondering if you have any ropes?”, the elf asked looking warily around.

“Ropes”, the old man asked eyeing him suspiciously, what use could an elf have for ropes?.

“Yes ropes, is that a problem old man”, the elf asked impertinently emphasizing the last two words.

“No… no problem”, the old man answered slipping into the back.

When he returned he was staggering forward, it took a lot of effort to bring the rope bundle to the counter.

Xupis swallowed, it looked to heavy “So how much would 50 feet of this be?”, he asked fondling his hidden wallet.

“50 feet… You can't by 50 feet. This here rope I'll only sell in one piece”, the old man answered almost offended by the fiendish suggestion to cut the fine rope into pieces.

“Well then… could I by 50 feet of another rope?”, the elf asked gazing across the counter.

“Elves and their damn pickings”, the old man murmured, and staggered back into the storage with the rope he had just brought into the store.

He returned moments later, his face was red and the rope seemed to weigh heavily in his arms.

He slammed the bundle on the counter. Xupis coughed and waved the dust away from his face.

He wasn't quite sure if this was what he needed but decided to check it out.

“Do you mind”, he said pointing at the rope. The old man stared into the ceiling before answering “Sure go ahead he said”, with a puff. Elves!

Xupis went over the rope it seemed nice and had a good weight. Not to light and not to heavy, and best of all, it was black!

“How much”, he asked the anxious old man who was clearly eager to sell.

“Only 8 Gold pieces”, the old man smiled.

Xupis thought for a while, the price was clearly to high but he was in a good mood. He fished a belt out from his backpack.

“What'll you give me for this beautiful belt”, he asked the old man.

The old man looked at him with suspicious eyes “Nothing…. I don't need a belt..”, he answered putting his hands down on the bundle.

Xupis drew 8 shiny coins from his wallet “It better be a damn fine rope”, he said putting the money on the counter.

“Oh but it is”, the old man assured him with a smile. Xupis didn't like that smile a bit, and an uneasy feeling started gnawing at his heart. “Got any grappling irons”, he asked regaining some confidence in himself.

“Grappling irons?”, the old man said with an odd pitch in his voice.

“Yes… for climbing trees and mountains you know…”, Xupis answered evasively.

“Trees and mountains… an elf?”, the old man said looking him straight in the eyes.

“Yes… aehm I fell as a child, I've never been quite sure of myself since then”, Xupis tried.

The old man laughed out loud, it was a whining laugh, an elf with a climbing problem?.

“No this is not a Blacksmith”, the old man giggled wryly.

“Well then good-bye.”, the elf said and marched out. A horrific outburst of laughter turned quite a few heads outside the store, while the elf walked away with big red ears.

The sermon was nearly done when Black Skull suddenly exploded in a violent coughing fit. Desperate not to disturb his fellow worshippers he managed to slip away, nearly undetected.

As he stood there in the vestry he realized he would have to do something about his cough. It had followed him for a long time now and it hadn't improved over the years.

Would it be noticed if he slipped away? Black Skull pondered for a while and made up his mind. Tempus for one probably wouldn't mind, after all he had said his prayers, right? Sure there wouldn't be any problems whatsoever. Silent as a snake he oozed away and headed for the herbalist.

The street was dusty and Black Skull felt a tickle every breath he took. He hawked to loosen up his throat and for a moment id did actually help.

Finally he was there, with steady paces he stepped upon the small porch, the wooden house did not look too well kept but nevertheless he entered.

A young woman appeared “Can I help you”, she asked staring at him with big eyes.

“Yes.. I was looking for something that could help me with my throat”, Black Skull answered somewhat haughty.

The young woman looked around. She seemed a bit confused but turned toward Black Skull.

“Will you excuse me for a moment”, she asked with a hint of a smile.

“But off course”, Black Skull answered. These herbalists were all alike, they liked to torment people keeping them in the unknown. Never a straight answer always just use this and you'll be fine, oh how he hated waiting.

The woman disappeared into the back but moments later the drapes moved again and out came the most hideous hag Black Skull had ever seen.

“A cough eh”, she asked staring at him with beady eyes.

“Well.. cough and cough it's not that bad… just from time to time it can get a little to loud, you know”, Black Skull answered a little uncertain.

“Yes to loud… well we do have this young man”, the hag said and fished out a bag of mixed herbs from beneath the counter.

“What might it be?”, Black Skull inquired.

“I call it t'ea”, she answered with a whining voice.

“T'ea… I see, might it be possible to try some”, Black Skull said suspicious about what the old woman was trying to sell him.

“Try…. well, I suppose you could”, she said leaning toward him.

After waiting for a few minutes the old woman returned with a steaming mug of tea. Black Skull noticed leaves of different sizes floating around in the dark brown fluid.

“Can't you just eat the leaves”, he inquired.

“Oh no…. that would be very bad for you, very very bad”, the old woman answered.

Black Skull wasn't sure whether to believe her or not, then again she hadn't been run out of town like a quack so she might be on to something. He took a big sniff, the steam tingled in his nostrils but the smell wasn't unpleasant at all. Could this really be a healing potion?

He drank the hot potion, taking good care not to swallow the large leaves. It felt good and indeed his throat seemed to find the rest it so desperately wanted.

“How much for the t'ea?”, Black Skull asked and went for his wallet.

“1 gold piece”, the hag answered without hesitation.

“1 gold piece a pound”, Black Skull asked

“No for the tea you just had”, the hag answered seemingly unaffected.

“For that… for one lousy cup!”, Black Skull was furious.

“If you don't like my prices you can take your business elsewhere”, the old woman threatened.

“But you're the only herbalist in town”, Black Skull shouted. The old woman just stared at him without moving.

Well if that's how she wants it then let her, Black Skull thought and stood up straight. He placed his large knuckled hands on the counter and stared right at her with his crimson eyes.

“I'll have 20 pounds of t'ea herbs… and I'll pay 1 gold piece a pound or would you rather face the rage of 'Tempus?”, he said flexing his well grown muscles.

“But off course Sire… I did not mean to offend Tempus, no, no, I will be pleased to give you 20 pounds and I'll even throw in the sample for free”, the old woman said clearly jittery about what could happen if she refused.

“Good”, Black Skull said and waited for the woman to start moving.

Moments later he left the store light in his heart, that would teach her not to mess with Tempus. On his way back he passed through the market place.

Quite a lot of people were assembled around the caravan merchants who were in deep discussion.

“Ouay”, he heard someone say in the oddest manner. Ouay? What in Tempus's name was that supposed to mean.

He looked in the direction the sound had come from, and there he saw the biggest elf he had ever laid eyes upon. The elf was showing people out of somebody's way. Ah Cvedak Daig one of the wealthiest merchants in town. But what was that elf shouting? Certainly it was the most beautiful elven tongue he had ever heard spoken.

Tanon the bodyguard strode forward, his mind was focused on one thing. To get his master where he wanted both safely and speedily.

“Ouay”, he said and pushed some nosy peasant aside.

Finally they were there, and Cvedak immediately started mingling with his fellow merchants. The bodyguards had formed an iron ring around the traders who were discussing loudly now. Black Skull didn't catch it all but from the bits and pieces he did get he could make out that the merchants were consumed in a discussion about who might posses the most valuables compared to the other traders.

“Happiness is not in goods but in the enrichment of your spirit”, Black Skull started preaching.

“What?”, the nearest merchant answered somewhat unclear about Black Skulls interruption.

“Do not speak of such wealth in front of the poor”, Black Skull admonished the trader before noticing the strange elf he had seen earlier that same day.

As he had done during the sermon earlier, Xupis slid like an eel through morning dew. He was unstoppable and today would be a good day.

All of a sudden he noticed the merchants. Gemstones and gold, it was almost too good to be true!

It was not like he was obsessed with wealth or such. But there were times when he simply couldn't resist such offerings, but he had always made sure to share his taking with those who needed it the most.

“Gway”, the large elf said pushing a small mob of spectators back. The priest noticed how the elf seemed to be homing in on something and he had almost slipped past the bodyguards when a fig of his coat got stuck in a bodyguards swordhandle.

The bodyguard looked down “Hey what are you trying to do?”, he said putting a hand on the elf's shoulder.

“Nothing I was just admiring your sword”, the elf answered slyly.

“Admiring my sword….”, the bodyguard said gazing at the long sword in his belt “Why would you be doing that”, he added looking suspiciously at Xupis.

“Because I'm an Elf”, Xupis answered with pride in his voice.

“What?”, the bodyguard answered a bit thrown off.

“You see we elves like beauty and this sword I tell you…..”, Xupis said nodding.

“What about my sword”, the bodyguard asked trying to figure out what might have triggered the elf's interest in his plain old long sword.

“What about it you say… what about it!!! This sword simply has the most beautiful carvings I've ever seen”, the elf answered with a joyous voice.

“Carvings”, the bodyguard said looking at the plain handle.

“You mean you don't see them”, the elf asked with surprise.

“No not really”, the bodyguard answered with disappointment in his voice.

“Oh silly me… it must be my elven vision, we notice very fine details and this handle”, Xupis took a deep breath before continuing “This handle is one of the finest I've seen”, he added.

The bodyguard unsheathed the sword halfway and studied the handle closer.

“Wow I never knew it was that special… I got it from my Father when I turned 14”, he said completely swallowed up by his sword.

The elf knew he was off the hook, there was no situation he couldn't wiggle himself out off, his charm and wits had brought him far greater rewards than any treasure ever could but right now he needed a little something to help him on the way. Not everybody in this world would share or give away anything without asking a price, and being in such a place the elf knew he would have to live by those rules.

The bodyguard was still admiring his sword and the elf saw opportunity knocking and if it hadn't been for that rounded pebble lying there he probably would have made it. Instead he found himself lying on the dusty ground in front of the bodyguard.

Several pair's of eyes turned upon him and the bodyguard looked down as well.

“Wow these boots are amazing!”, the elf exclaimed with astonishment in his voice.

The bodyguards face lit up with excitement, he was quick to rip of his boots “Do they have carvings to?”, he asked eagerly

“Oh yes, you haven't noticed… look here right around the toes… simply astounding”, the elf tried.

“Oh yes, see for yourself, right here at the toe”, Xupis said and pointed at the tip.

“Wow I didn't know these were so fine boots”, the bodyguard said with joy in his voice.

“Oh but they are”, the elf said quite pleased with himself.

They chatted for a while the elf picked up this and that about the tours of duty and all other information about the bodyguards employer he found useful.

“It's good to know that Cvedak has men like you in his service, nobody is going to slip by you. That's for sure”, the elf said.

“No just look over there, you see that peasant?”, the bodyguard pointed at a man of the fields.

“Yes what about him”, the elf asked curiously.

“I'll bet ya he is a thief”, the bodyguard said nodding confidently.

“And just imagine I swear I hadn't noticed”, the elf answered taking a closer look at the man.

His hands were worn and his back slightly bent, this was a man shaped by hard labor. He bore the signs of hard toil. Work had most certainly been a integral part of his life ever since childhood. this man did not have the dexterity nor probably the wits to be a thief. He almost laughed out loud but caught himself before doing so.

“Yes he is devious isn't he”, the bodyguard said looking at the peasant who hurried along when he noticed he was being stared at.

“By the way do you fancy a drink now and then?”, the elf asked brewing up a plan.

“Yes as a matter of fact I do!”, the guard answered with a smile.

“Well if yea fancy a mug of ale, do drop by at the Dragons Den tonight”, the elf offered.

“Maybe I'll be doing just that my friend”, the bodyguard answered looking around to spot other mischievous elements in the crowd.

At that instant Xupis knew that this was his chance, it was no longer a question if it was possible, it had become a matter of principle.

Swiftly tiptoeing past the bodyguard took him right in behind the fat corpus of Cvedak Daig. He waited for a fraction of a second before he made his move.

Success, Xupis thought as his hand gripped the wallet. He withdrew his hand and was back before the bodyguard noticed a thing.

“Well I'll be seeing you then”, Xupis said cheerfully to the bodyguard.

“Oh yes, take care my friend”, the bodyguard answered and turned his hawkeyes back toward the crowd.

Black Skull had been watching the whole thing. I knew he was a thief, he thought and started following the elf.

Xupis unaware of anything but the delightful tingling from the pouch jumped into the air when the priest put his muscular arm around his shoulder.

“Tempus is very needy”, the priest said in a deep voice.

“Tempus?”, the elf stuttered.

“Yes Tempus!”, the priest answered confirming Xupis's worst fears.

“I'm not sure what you mean”, Xupis tried desperately wanting to shout for help.

“The pouch”, the priest said still holding his arm around his shoulders.

“What pouch”, Xupis asked innocently.

“That pouch right there”, the priest said pointing at the bulge in Xupis's clothes.

“Oh that pouch”, Xupis answered putting up a smile on his face.

Black Skull nodded with a content look on his face, that feeling he had noticed this morning had been right. He was good at this, it was almost as if Tempus himself had told him to be on the lookout for this strange little elf. Sure he had heard of elven thieves but not until today he had seen one in action. Such stealth and speed always interested the priest there were times that skills like that could come in handy.

“Do you by any chance fancy a drink”, the elf asked him.

“…Sure”, Black Skull answered a bit surprised, a drinking elf?

They walked for a while before they reached the Dragons Den, an inn of more respectable quality than most in this town.

After ordering a few rounds of mead the priest coughed as if to clear his throat. Xupis knew very well that the cough wasn't a mere effort to clear the airways and gazed around.

“Oh the money”, Xupis said as if he had completely forgotten all about it.

The priest nodded before opening his mouth. “I'll take half”, he whispered.

“Half…. no way I'll give you a quarter”, the elf answered.

“Half!”, the priest repeated seemingly annoyed with the evasive maneuvers.

“One third… not a gold piece more”, the elf haggled.

“Listen….”, the priest said putting his arm around the shoulder of the elf “When I say half…. I mean half, is that clear”.

The elf looked at him and showed all his pearly teeth “Off course… what was I thinking”, he shook his head before taking a look around. There was no one in sight that paid attention to their wheeling and dealing so he snatched the pouch and laid it on the table.

His hand was quick to flip through the contents and he took his share and with amazing speed he slid the pouch over to Black Skull.

Black Skull glanced nervously around, he was not used to dividing plunder, but realized that the thief was trying to pull a fast one on him. If the towns guard by chance saw him with the pouch they would make him out to be the thief, after all he had been there himself.

“Oh no you don't”, the priest mumbled as he got up from his chair. As if on cat paws he moved to a dark corner, transferred the gold to his wallet and let go of the pouch.

While Black Skull was engaged in ridding himself of incriminating evidence Xupis decided it was time to slip away. After all he had business to attend.

The priest came back to the table and sat down “Nice doing business with you”, he said with a grin.

“Likewise”, Xupis answered smiling back. He got up from his chair “Look I really have to leave now… maybe I'll see you later”, he said and nodded.

“Maybe”, the priest answered and took another sip from the mug.

Xupis slipped out and found himself on the street he had to find a blacksmith he needed some equipment for his quest and it would probably be better if he got it here and not to close to his destination.

The blacksmith was not far away, Ilvartinan was not an especially large town but the harbor city was bustling with activity.

Xupis knocked on the door, the steady pounding on an anvil came from somewhere in the back.

A young lad opened “Can I help you”, he asked looking at the elf. “I need to speak with the blacksmith”, the elf answered trying to peak inside, that boy had very elven traits.

“He is out in the back, come with me”, the boy offered and opened the door.

Xupis was quick to enter and glanced around the place. It was a typical blacksmith's house. Beautiful wooden beams reinforced with iron plates, bolts and such. There was nothing which disclosed wealth of any sort but Xupis knew that the blacksmith could be a resourceful one.

“Well I'll be… Xupis its been a long time”, the blacksmith gasped in surprise when he discovered the elf.

“I suppose”, the elf answered indifferently. The blacksmith wiped some sweat from his forehead and then stretched a muscular arm toward Xupis.

Xupis grabbed the enormous hand sternly. Not many people dared shake hands with the blacksmith due to his huge stature.

“I need a couple of daggers”, Xupis said hinting toward the boy with his eyes.

“Son fetch me the horse shoe iron, it arrived this morning at the harbor onboard the Moongrazer, just tell the captain you are my son”, the blacksmith shouted to the boy who was sweeping the floor.

“Your son”, Xupis asked somewhat surprised. The last time he had visited the blacksmith had been with his father, and back then the blacksmith certainly didn't have a wife. Xupis lost himself for a moment, 15 cycles ago right before it happened.

“Xupis!”, the worried voice of the blacksmith pulled him right back to the world he now lived in.

“Yes… sorry, I was just thinking”, the elf answered a bit beside himself.

“About your father”, the blacksmith asked with genuine concern.

“Yes… but let us leave the past where it belongs”, Xupis answered quite uneasy talking to anyone about the events that had shaped his life.

“I understand”, the blacksmith answered with sorrow in his voice. Afec father of Xupis had been a great friend and an ally. The world seemed so empty without good folks.

“Are you looking for anything in particular”, he asked stroking his beard the way he always used to do.

“I'd like a couple good for climbing”, Xupis answered glad to be back on track.

The blacksmith pondered for a while and then lifted a floorboard. Underneath in beautiful wrapping was the most wonderful pair of climbing-daggers Xupis had ever seen, their design was distinctly elven and they seemed immensely well handled.

“I bought them from your father the last time you were here…. I think he would like you to have them back”, the blacksmith said wiping a single tear from his cheek.

Xupis eagerly took the daggers and played around with them. The balance was eminent and some twitching and bending told him that these were the ones.

He looked up and smiled, the blacksmith smiled back.

“How much would you want for them”, Xupis asked.

“Oh I can't take anything for them”, the blacksmith evaded.

“But I insist”, Xupis demanded.

“No really, I don't want anything”, the blacksmith insisted.

But they were perfect and Xupis knew he had to leave something behind, so he took out a several gold pieces more than they would be sold for under normal circumstances and stuck them on a shelf without the blacksmith noticing.

“You know there is something I also need!”, Xupis said looking around the place, he hadn't heard anyone coming through the door but one never knew.

“And that might be?”, the blacksmith answered with a smile.

“A grappling hook”, Xupis answered cheerfully.

“No problem my friend”, the blacksmith answered and scurried into a shed. He returned with a grappling hook of the exact proportions the elf had hoped for.

“It will do nicely”, Xupis said weighing the hook in his hands.

The blacksmith nodded quite content, he was a man who honored his craft. The hook was the result of hours of concentrated work. For a quality product like that there was always a customer. After some haggling they agreed to a price and the blacksmith offered him inside for a pot of t'ea.

The distinct chamomile fragrance spread through the room. It was a delightful odor that told of the wonders of the womb. Xupis took another sip “Splendid… where did you get this?”, he asked with interest.

The blacksmith cleared his throat “Actually Elion has gathered the herbs, he is showing remarkable talent in that direction”.

Xupis smiled, the initial surprise of seeing Elion in the blacksmiths doorway had dissipated and he couldn't help but admire the blacksmith. An elven woman for a wife, that was a feat left undone for most men. Just too bad he hadn't gotten a chance to meet her. The blacksmith had told him that his wife Seyodi passed away earlier last winter. He had been unable to reach the elven before it was to late. So during the great snowfall she had died in his arms. The mysterious illness that no healer in town was able to cure ended her life all to soon.

It was a story that left Xupis with a lump in his throat, elves weren't prone to decease, and should someone become sick, the womb would have an unprecedented arsenal of herbs and healing potions for every illness.

“It must be from his mothers side”, the blacksmith said absent minded.

Xupis nodded in agreement. Elves were naturally in contact with nature and the fact that Cedree's son had an inborn instinct for the offerings of the womb was only natural. After a while he had finished his t'ea .

“I've had a splendid stay I tell you…. how time flies when you're in good company”, Xupis sighed. Time to move on!

“Do you have to leave now?”, the blacksmith asked.

“I'm afraid so… I have many errands and little time”, Xupis answered a bit tired.

“Well then, fair thee well old friend”, the blacksmith offered.

“And to you…. and to you”, the elf said and embraced the blacksmith.

Moments later he was on his way to the Dragons Den.

Tanon had searched every inn on behalf of his furious master. “Tanon find the scoundrel who robbed me and bring him to me…. I will teach him what justice is”, the words still echoed through his mind, perhaps because of guilt over not finding whoever that did it. He couldn't quite figure out how someone had slipped by the wall of security that surrounded his master and his friends.

Tanon sat down quite exhausted, this was the last place he could think of looking but he didn't expect to find anyone here.

“Mind if I join you”, a huge red eyed fellow asked.

Tanon looked at the man, he was completely without hair except for his eyebrows. Tanon shuddered “Okay”, he scribbled on the blackboard.

“Black Skull”, the large man said and put his hand forward.

“Tanon”, the elf scribbled and shook the newcomers hand.

“So what's your story”, the priest asked looking at the elf, he was obviously a fighter. Black Skull was impressed by the elf's size, no wonder Cvedak had hired him for his personal bodyguard.

Tanon started scribbling. Black Skull stared at the blackboard as if enchanted, but after a while a picture had appeared in his mind.

The priest shook his head Hobgoblins, well it was no surprise really. He had heard of nastier creatures, but none that took such pleasure in tormenting their victims.

Tanon described his futile battle, in vivid detail the priest learned how they had cut out his tongue and left him for dead. The feeling of brotherly love he had experienced earlier almost turned into burning hatred against all Hobgoblins as the story went along.

“I know this wizard that might be able to help you”, the priest said when Tanon had finished his story.

“Really?”, Tanon scribbled frantically.

“Yes, if you like I'll take you there tomorrow”, Black Skull offered.

Tanon put a fist against his heart and then wrote “Thank You!”

Just then Xupis arrived and noticed the priest talking to the bodyguard.

Damage control, was the first thing to race through his mind.

He went over to the table “Black Skull…. mind if I join you?”, he asked.

Black Skull and Tanon looked up “Sure sit down old thief”, the priest answered.

“Thief!!!”, Tanon scrawled being careful not to show Xupis what was on the blackboard.

“Oh no”, the priest answered with a rumbling laughter.

The priest stifled his grin “Xupis here is the most honest man I know… just friendly bantering”, he added with a smirky smile.

Tanon nodded “I see”, he wrote on the blackboard. Xupis swallowed, it didn't seem like the priest had told the bodyguard anything or by now he would have been in custody or on his way to jail, perhaps even worse.

“Mead anyone”, Xupis asked waving for the serving wench.

Both Tanon and the priest nodded. Xupis knew that if he wanted to remain free of suspicion he would have to put on his best face.

The wench arrived “Can I help you?”, she asked in a pleasant voice.

“Mead for all three of us”, Xupis answered with a nod.

The wench left them for a moment and then returned with three mugs of foaming mead.

Xupis was quick to pay, throwing in a little extra for the wench.

That afternoon was spent drinking, Tanon soon forgot his worries about not living up to Cvedak's expectations. Tomorrow his new friend would take him to a wizard that might be able to restore his voice, how fortunate somebody had snatched Daig's wallet.

“Oh my it's getting late… I really have to leave”, the priest said all of a sudden.

“Sure you just go ahead”, Xupis answered without further thought.

Tanon wrote something on his blackboard and showed the priest.

“Sure tomorrow, right after the morning sermon”, the priest answered with a smile, he was starting to feel quite drunk now and it felt wonderful.

“Would you know where the bootblack is. I'll be leaving town soon so I need a pair of good wandering boots”, Xupis said looking at the bodyguard.

Tanon nodded and started drawing on the blackboard. A moment later he was done and showed Xupis.

It was a map of town with an x marking the bootblack's store.

“Hey thanks… you wouldn't by any chance be a gambling man”, Xupis asked Tanon.

Tanon shook his head “Not really”, he wrote.

“That's too bad, I was going to ask you to play cards with me”, Xupis said.

“I'm not very good at cards”, Tanon wrote.

“Oh come on… you can't be that bad”, Xupis said with a smile that could melt a glacier.

Soon after the game was afoot. Tanon had explained that he only knew one game and that was a kids game. But Xupis nevertheless had decided that it at least would be a start.

“How about putting some stakes on the table…. sort of make it into a man's game”, Xupis tried. Tanon was very uncertain, he was not the wealthiest of men and gambling was something his mother had warned him against time and time again.

“Okay”, he wrote after hesitating for a little while.

“Don't worry we'll only use copper coins, it's not much but it'll make it more fun for the both of us”, Xupis said.

So the game went on, Xupis took a few hands but then started letting Tanon win on purpose. The game slowly started gathering a crowd when a rough looking character pushed into the crowd.

He glanced at the table and said with arrogance “Ha… why don't you play a real man's game?”.

Tanon was about to get up from his chair, but Xupis's hand stopped him.

“Okay”, Xupis said with a daring look in his elfin eyes.

The newcomer sat down, he scratched his stubble and ordered a mug of mead.

“It's on me”, Xupis offered gesturing at the mug.

“Whatever you say little fellow”, the newcomer laughed roughly.

Xupis choose to overhear the insult and started dealing the cards. Soon after they had attracted quite a crowd.

The room was heating up and Xupis wiped some sweat from his brow, this was the part he didn't like. But there was no way around it, he needed a lot of cash and experience if he wanted to pull it off.

The game had grown long and the pile on the table likewise. “Wizard King takes the Queen”, Xupis exclaimed slamming his card onto the table.

“Ah Thursday is my bad day”, his opponent argued while Xupis swiftly moved the winnings to his side of the table.

Xupis looked at his opponent “Another game? - double or nothing!”, he offered triumphantly.

A murmur went through the crowd and his opponent thought for a while.

“Nah I don't think so…. anyway thanks for the game”, he answered with a crestfallen intonation.

“Here my good fellow have some mead… you deserve it”, Xupis said filling the losers mug.

The stranger took a healthy sip. “Good mead eh?”, Xupis asked.

“Yes thanks”, the stranger answered thinking how expensive it had been.

Xupis knew that he had to take care of the rest of his errands before it was too late, the day was well underway and the hourglass was running.

While Xupis had been gambling a situation arose in the town square. There in the middle of it Black Skull and a Priests of Lathander were dancing around each other like roosters in heat.

Apparently they were involved in a fight of sorts and were lashing out at each other while retaining some ceremonial dignity.

Black Skull received a good uppercut and ended on his bottom. He rubbed his chin and got back on his feet. A good punch sent the Lathander priest down.

“Make way….. step aside”, Black Skull heard the words but paid no attention to them, the other priest had gotten back on his feet and was charging right at him.

All of a sudden a multitude of strong arms grabbed them.

“What the….”, Black Skull managed to utter before a powerful voice interrupted him.

“Shut up priest… You are under arrest for disturbing the peace”

“What”, Black Skull yelled in a voice so ferocious that it would have scared all but the sturdiest of men.

However the members of the towns guard were use to such nuisance and didn't pay any attention to the outburst. Instead they dragged both the priests away from the square.

Xupis arrived at the scene moments after, he understood from the exited talk that there had been a fight.

“Between whom”, he inquired.

“Black Skull and one of those Lathander priests”, answered an enthusiastic Tempus worshiper he had noticed this morning in the square.

“Who won?”, Xupis asked curious to know.

“Black Skull off course”, the follower yelled.

“He did not”, another fellow interrupted.

“What?”, Xupis said somewhat confused about the interruption.

“Black Skull didn't win”, the man said.

“Oh yes he did!”, the enthusiastic follower tried.

“No he didn't they were both dragged to the jail”, the other one corrected him.

A punch that would have sent Xupis into the gutter was avoided with elven elegance and the friendly man who had provided him with the proper information went flying down.

“Hey that guy just hit Salter…”, somebody yelled and Xupis took it as a sign that it was time to leave.

The muffled sound from the boots of the town guard grew ever stronger. That was close, Xupis thought strolling away from the square as if he hadn't one single care in his life.

Later that day he returned to the square, usually it was the best place to get the latest gossip and rumors. He walked up to a merchant who was talking with a prospective customer.

“…did you hear it, this time that albino priest will pay dearly”, the merchant said with excitement in his voice.

“Really?”, the customer asked with genuine interest.

“Oh yes, he might even be incarcerated for years…”, the merchant said eagerly.

Xupis slipped away, he had heard enough. He would have to ensure that nothing about his little escapade this morning would reach the judge's ear or he would be in big trouble, so he loafed around town for a while and finally found the jail. The keeper, pleased to get visitor explained him about the two priests. Apparently their religious rivalry had turned into some sort of competition, and it was not a seldom sight to see the two have a go at it.

“But this time he won't get no warning I tell ya….. he'll pay dearly for what he has done”, the keeper said.

Xupis listened carefully and made up his mind, he got up from his chair and nonchalantly checked if he could see the keys anywhere.

“So are you in charge of locking and unlocking all these cells”, Xupis probed.

“Oh no…. that's the garrison commander, he has all the keys. He is the only one who decides who gets in and out of the cells”, the keeper said looking down seemingly a bit ashamed.

Xupis thought for a while, if he could place the priest in some sort of debt to him he would be a good ally if things got rough. But if there are no keys I'll have to get hold of some acid or something.

Xupis looked around once more, without luck “I really have to leave now… you know errands and such”, he smiled.

“Oh yes… off course I didn't intend to keep you waiting”, the keeper excused himself. He was quite keen to get the elf out of there. If there was one thing he didn't want to talk about, it was the reason why the commander now had custody over the keys to the jail and not him.

A moment later Xupis found himself on the street again looking for the mage tower, probably the only place in town where he could get hold of some metal eating acid, because that's what it would take to get the priest out if needed. There was no way the prison could be set on fire, it was all iron and stone. And even if he could have set it on fire the priest couldn't get out because the garrison commander had the key's. I wonder why?, Xupis thought while strolling along.

Finally he reached the tower. He looked up, it seemed as if it stretched right into the heavens. He knocked on the wooden door. There was no answer.

He knocked again and this time something happened. Without a sound the massive door swung open and an elderly man greeted him.

“Can I help you?”, the old man said stroking his beard.

“I suppose you could”, Xupis answered and stepped inside. The door closed silently behind him. “Follow me”, the old man ordered and started up the stairs.

If there was something Xupis hated it was stairs, it was all to easy to get caught there for one, but the possibilities for traps were endless. No stairs were dangerous and to be avoided if possible.

They entered a round chamber. It was quite large and had a crescent shaped window that allowed the light to get in. Xupis took a look around.

The walls were crammed with books and the shelves seemed to be strained to their utmost extent. There were a few books with elven titles but that was not what he had come for.

“I was wondering if this is the right place to acquire some metal eating acid”, Xupis asked putting on the most innocent look he could think of.

“Acid why do need acid”, the old man asked suspiciously.

“Oh its a hobby…”, Xupis answered. The old man didn't believe him for a second.

“An elf with a hobby”, the old man giggled barely audible.

“Yeah everybody got one these days”, Xupis said indicating he had heard the last comment.

“Oh I see”, the old man answered somewhat uncertain, Elves and their big ears.

“How about that acid”, Xupis pressed.

“Acid… well it is extremely expensive”, the old man tried.

Xupis's hand went for the pouch “How much?”, he asked.

“50 Gold Pieces”, the old man answered pretty sure that the thief didn't have that kind of currency.

“Hmm…. okay”, Xupis answered counting up the gold.

The wizard stared at the money. It was not that he hadn't seen such amounts before, but this was an elf and they were certainly not known to flaunt such wealth. The world sure is changing, the wizard thought as the last gold piece hit the table.

He scurried over to a shelf containing a myriad of bottles and jars and returned with a glass bottle containing a fluorescent yellow fluid.

“Be careful with this, one drop will eat right through your flesh in a matter of minutes. Be sure not to get any on yourself, you understand”, the old man lectured “Off course…. Don't worry I'll be careful”, Xupis answered, he knew all to well about the dangers acid could pose. But what other way was there to get through iron bars.

“Say you wouldn't be on the lookout for a job”, the old man suddenly asked with a strange look in his eyes.

“A job…. oh I'm not sure - what kind of job?”, Xupis asked. He was certainly not use to anyone approaching him so bluntly when it came to work, then again these wizards probably didn't operate from the same moralistic values as did others on the island.

“It is a practical joke of sorts…. you see the wizards of Middle Ring and I have an ongoing thing…. we get bored at times so we borrow things from one and each other”, the wizard was studying Xupis thoroughly while he explained.

“Borrow things?”, Xupis asked studying the wizards face.

“Yes, we remove things from each other without being noticed… and then we give it back and have a good laugh”, the wizard said with anticipation.

Xupis was not quite sure how to handle the situation, it could be a sting, but why would a wizard care to involve himself with such petty dealings.

“I'm not sure if that would be something for me…. is it okay if I get back to you?”. Xupis answered with a shrug.

“Sure…. come by and see me in the morning”, the wizard smiled.

Xupis left him with an eerie feeling, there was something fishy about the whole deal but he couldn't quite place it. He had a premonition that if he undertook the job something big would be awaiting him, and it had nothing to do with the guild of Middlering.

The cell was dirty and Black Skull could hear the priest of Lathander murmuring something.

A sudden flash of light exposed what it was that the priest was doing and Black Skull covered his eyes as best he could.

The flash was very bright and Black Skull felt a sting as he tried to blink.

Everything seemed to be covered in a bright haze and Black Skull realized what was going on. He was quick to shut his eyes completely and murmur something that the other priest found incomprehensible, that is until he felt an irresistible urge to sit down and relieve himself in the middle of the floor.

The pained grunts from the other cell told Black Skull that he was in the clear, he opened his eyes.

His cell mate was not enjoying himself, he was furious, yet there was nothing he could do. Black Skull might not be a master magician, but what he could do, he did well.

“Guard…..”, he yelled loudly into the night.

The keeper entered “Phew what a smell”, he said with disgust in his voice.

“He did it… I want to be moved to another cell”, Black Skull argued.

“Shut up or I'll pound you”, the keeper said flexing his huge biceps.

Black Skull knew there was no point to arguing, he was too tired, and the keeper was already removing the mess.

The night went peacefully and when the cock crowed the city once again got to its feet as it had done so often before.

Dawn had barely broken when Black Skull found himself in a court of law.

“All rise in the presence of the honorable Judge Eckhart Vanderlust”, the clerk announced in the instance a door was flung open.

A short fat man in a black robe strode his way to the Bench. His hair was greasy and his cheeks shone in a bright purple color.

“Be seated…. this honorable court is now in session”, the judge uttered banging enthusiastically with a small wooden hammer.

Black Skull sat down, as did the rest of the people assembled in the hall this early morning.

The judge scratched his head and realized he hadn't put his wig on, he looked frantically around then discovered it hung loosely from a pocket in the robe. His head dived under the desk and when it returned moments later the wig was firmly secured on it.

He cleared his throat and floundered around with his papers until he got them into order.

“Will the defendant please rise”, the judge said staring at Black Skull.

Black Skull got on his feet and towered before them. Judge Eckhart swallowed a lump. He had never liked Black Skull or the priests of Tempus. Such a violent order, at least that was what he'd always thought.

The judge glanced nervously around before speaking “I hereby declare the case Black Skull vs. the people of Ilvartinan open”.

“And is Aalaype Nikanan present?”, the judge asked nervously, he didn't quite fancy the order of Lathander either.

The priest stood up “I'm here”, he said in a menacing voice.

“Well good… I declare that case open as well. Let the proceedings commence!!”, the judge said pounding his mallet rapidly.

The crowd grew silent with expectation, was Black Skull going to get it this time?

“Your honor”, the Counsel for the Prosecution stepped forward.

“This is a case to be viewed most seriously. It is as your Honor knows not the first time we discuss these matters nor will it be the last if leniency is shown”, he didn't get any further before he was interrupted.

“Objection, Counsel is speculating”, the defense advocate jumped to his feet, both Black Skull and Aalaype looked at him closely before looking up to the judge with the most innocent faces they could muster.

The judge thought for a while “Objection sustained, will Counsel for the Prosecution refrain from speculation”.

“He will Your Honor”, the prosecutor nodded in respect.

“Good then… present your case”, the judge insisted. It was not that he didn't expect to see Black Skull again but the law was the law and speculation about a defendants behavior in the opening statement was not prudent.

Eckhart Vanderlust was not happy, the case had dragged on for hours now and all that had been revealed was what they already knew. Black Skull and Aalaype apparently had some sort of competition going, they were both young men not seasoned by life. Still untamed and inexperienced, at least that was what the judge had jotted down as he sat there daydreaming.

“And that's what I think about the whole deal”, the prosecutor said crossing his arms across his chest. “I rest my case”.

Eckhart looked up somewhat confused “Oh… aehm… yes. Does the defense have anything to add”, he asked looking at the advocate.

The defense advocate got up from his chair. He paced back and forth for a while before beginning his speech.

“Your honor….”, he paused for a moment. The intermission had its effect and he continiued. “These young men, are aware that they did something wrong. However I will ask the court to have in mind that their adolescence barely has come to conclusion. These young men are not so far along the path that they cannot mend their ways. And that Your Honor is precisely what they wish to do”, he looked to his defendants. They nodded as agreed and looked down with shameful eyes.

“I urge your honor to take into consideration that these fine young men themselves have offered to provide the court with ample compensation for whatever damage they have caused”.

His words did not fall well into Black Skull's ears, he hadn't mentioned anything about compensation, he turned his head and met Aalaype questioning face, apparently he didn't know a thing either.

The judge chewed on the defense advocate's speech and sighed heavily.

“It is the opinion of this court that Black Skull of the house Taarq and Aalaype Nikanan of the order of Dawn. Will each offer the court a compensation of 20 Gold Pieces or face one year of hard labor”.

Black Skull swallowed, 20 Gold Pieces that wasn't to bad, considering he had just increased his personal fortune considerably the day before.

“How does the Defense feel about that?”, the judge asked looking at the Advocate.

The defense Advocate nodded happily toward the defendant's, he had done it again. They would be free to walk out of here provided they didn't do anything stupid.

Black Skull wondered for a while and then decided to pay up. Heck money was the least of his concerns now all that counted was to get out so that they could finish the fight.

“I agree”, Black Skull uttered and sat back down.

There was a slight commotion in the room and what of Aalaype.

The young priest looked like he could need assistance and the Advocate scuttled over to the table.

“Is there a problem”, he whispered.

“I have no money”, Aalaype answered in a low and frightened voice. It was a chance Black Skull simply couldn't resist “I could pay”, he whispered loud enough so that only the Advocate and Aalaype could hear.

“You would…. but why?”, the Advocate asked a bit surprised, was he finally learning?

“So I can hear him say it!”, Black Skull whispered triumphantly.

“Say what?”, the Advocate asked.

“Who won this round!”, Black Skull said rubbing his hands together in a gleeful manner.

Aalaype mumbled something biting his teeth hard together.

“What?”, Black Skull said loud enough so that others could hear.

“Tempus”, Aalaype mumbled barely audible.

“Who I can't hear you!”, Black Skull teased.

“I said TEMPUS!!!!”, Aalaype yelled. The room grew very quiet and everyone stared at them.

“He… he”, the Advocate tried “Everything is in order. The defendants agree to pay the fine of 20 Gold Pieces each, I'll see to that the amount is in the courts possession this afternoon”.

“Good…. then I declare these proceedings closed, the defendants are free to go”, he swung his mallet again and a sigh went through the crowd. Black Skull had made it yet one more time, and Aalaype… well he had made quite a fool of himself. The Tempus followers were quick to rush out and spread the news while the more quiet followers of Lathander walked out in disappointment. Okay Aalaype was free…. but it was no victory.

The stone walls of the temples were well maintained. The mounted torches lit the hallways adequately but the room Black Skull found himself in now was lit very brightly. The inner sanctum was finely draped in red white and black, and the chair the high priest sat in was exquisitely carved.

“It's terrible really. These new times have brought whole new ways of being. People are foused on rules and regulations now. Oh I remember the good times when a priest could pick a fight with whomever he wanted without the towns guard meddling in his affairs”, the high priest said in a schrill voice.

“Oh yes these are disturbing times indeed”, Black Skull agreed. He wouldn't mind wringing his hands around that judge's neck. Still the law was the law, even the order of Tempus couldn't change that. Not at the moment anyway. People seemed to have strange aversions against war nowadays.

“So I heard you got your hands on some new herbs this morning”, the high priest said looking hopefully at Black Skull.

“Oh yes… the hag, forgive my rudeness, the old woman she called it t'ea”, Black Skull answered.

“T'ea, you say…. hmmm”, the high priest said looking at the herbs again. He took a good fistful and put it up to his nose.

“Pleasant smell”, he said after a quick whiff or two.

“Pleasant indeed!”, Black Skull answered with pride. This was certainly something that came in well, with respect to his standing in the ranks.

The high priest snapped his fingers and an aide appeared “Bring us a pot of boiling water and two cups”, the high priest demanded. The aide scuttled off leaving the two men alone.

Another day had gone by and the morning was particulary nice. Birds sang and children played on the streets.

The bootblack studied his handiwork with pride when Xupis entered. He turned his head and eyed the customer, not very nice shoes he noticed to himself.

“May I help you?”, he asked with a broad smile.

Xupis looked around as if to make certain no one was eavesdropping.

“I don't know… I need some rather special shoes!”, Xupis answered slyly tightening his lips.

“Special you say…. anything in particular”, the bootblack asked in equally shrewd manner raising his brow.

“You know… there are so many unfortunate elements out there”, Xupis answered evasively.

“Unfortunate elements…. you mean riffraff and the sorts”, the bootblack asked more directly, finally they were getting somewhere.

“Yes the sort that keep their hands off other peoples possessions”, Xupis answered.

“You know I have these special boots”, the bootblack said picking up a pair from beneath the counter. He walked over to the door and shut it.

“There now that should do it, see here, just click like this with your foot and voila”, the bootblack pressed a secret spring and a cutter the size of a razor blade sprung out from the lining between the sole and the boot itself. “Very nice…”, Xupis exclaimed “But how about the riffraff… is there a pocket for valuables?”, he added looking closely at the boots.

The bootblack smiled “I'm glad you asked, see these heels?”, he pressed the spring and the blade withdrew, then he twisted hard while pressing down on the heel. It turned like a lid and revealed quite a roomy compartment.

“These will do nicely… that is if they fit properly”, Xupis said picking up the one which was still on the counter.

“Oh they will, I'm certain of it”, the bootblack answered giving Xupis another of his big salesman smiles.

“And best of all, you see this”, the bootblack said pointing at a slit on the side of the boot.

“Uhm…”, Xupis said looking and putting on the boot at the same time.

“Perfect for daggers eh?…”, the bootblack asked with pride.

“I believe it is!”, Xupis said admiring the handiwork, the boots very black and shiny, yet not fancy in a way that would create excessive interest.

He put on the other and paced back and forth. They will do nicely, he thought while wiggling his feet to make sure they were a proper fit.

“How much”, Xupis asked after some thought.

“For those boots…. I'll give you a good price”, the bootblack said studying Xupis. “How do 50 Gold Pieces sound”, he said with confidence.

“50 Gold Pieces… I'll give you 10”, Xupis answered without hesitation.

“10 for that you must be mad”, the bootblack said with astonishment “35 Gold Pieces and they're yours”, he added.

“20 and that's asking for a lot”, Xupis answered pointing a finger in the air after stroking his chin.

“25 Gold pieces… that's my final offer”, the bootblack said pinching his beard.

“Done!”, Xupis answered with a smile, the boots were expensive but with all this extra gadgetry they were well worth it. The bootblack smiled he had made a good deal, and for every gold piece landing on the counter his smile got bigger.

Xupis left the bootblack's. He was quite happy with the boots and whistled an old song as strolled along to the mage tower.

He knocked on the door, it took a while before anyone reacted. The door squeaked as it slid open“

“Yes?”, the servant said looking at the elf.

“I'm here about the job your master offered me”, Xupis answered.

The servant looked at him for a while, studying him from top to toe “Enter”, he said leaning slightly forward.

Xupis stepped inside and the door shut tight behind him. The servant pointed him to a chair and disappeared up the stairs.

Moments later he returned “Follow me please”, he said gesturing to the guest to come with him.

Xupis got up from his seat and glanced around, there was an eerie feeling over it all, all of a sudden he wasn't sure whether or not he should have returned. He had a feeling something big was on its way and he wasn't sure what it meant.

The servant opened a door and showed him in, Xupis looked around. He had entered the wizards study. The room was dome shaped with little windows all the way around. The last rays from the sun converged on an altar like table in the middle of the room. But the way the shadows fell, it couldn't be that late already?

The wizard seemed busy studying a thick book of sorts and seemed unaffected by Xupis's arrival. Xupis coughed gently, but the wizard read on. Xupis coughed again, this time louder.

That caught his attention. He looked up, a bit confused at first but then he closed the book. “Yes”, he answered in that distracted way only wizards do.

“I might be interested in that job you were talking about…. but there is one thing”, Xupis said pausing, a bit unsure of how to put it.

“And that is”, the wizard asked looking at him with interrogating eyes.

“What's in it for me?”, Xupis blurted out without thought.

The wizard nodded “What do you need?”, he asked with a look that concealed something. “What do you have?”, Xupis asked uncertain of why he had even bothered to allow himself to get trailed off from his task this way.

“I could give you some of that metal etching acid you were so fond of”, the wizard tried.

“Nah… I lost interest in that, etching metal art wasn't that fascinating after all”, the elf answered slyly.

“How about some magic gloves”, the wizard asked with a strange glance.

“Magic Gloves?”, Xupis answered somewhat bewildered. What the heck did he mean anyway? - magic gloves!

“Yes the finest magic gloves you can think of”, the wizard said with

“What do they do… these gloves?”, Xupis asked still a bit in the dark.

“They allow you to climb walls!”, the wizard said giving him another of these odd glances.

“Walls?”

“Like a spider”, the wizard added.

“Hmm… and what exactly was it that you wanted me to do”, Xupis asked with interest.

“As I explained it is a practical joke of sorts…. I just need the yellow staff from the wizards guild of Middle Ring”, the wizard answered somewhat uneasy.

“And the gloves?”, Xupis asked.

“I'll give them to you when you return with the staff”, the wizard replied.

Xupis thought for a while, but it wasn't a hard decision after all, he was already to deeply involved to back out now, should he ask for something extra?

“I still need some sort of incentive”, Xupis said looking the wizard straight in the eyes. For a moment Xupis though they flared up in a different color but it was probably his eyes playing tricks on him.

The white haired wizard thought for a while, that little slyboots. He mumbled something and in a flash of light a dagger appeared.

“What about this dagger”, the wizard said motioning Xupis to study the newly appeared dagger.

“A dagger I'm not sure…”, Xupis said somewhat disappointed. He already had a pair, reasonable daggers were available basically anywhere.

“Oh but this isn't an ordinary dagger” the wizard said as if he read his mind. “This is a magic dagger which inflicts far more damage than you can possibly imagine, and it cannot be used against the original carrier once he has bonded with him”

“Really?”, Xupis said with interest, he picked it up. It had good balance. Suddenly it heated up in his hand and started glowing.

“It likes you”, the wizard smiled mysteriously.

“Likes… is it alive?”, Xupis looked at the dagger with amazement in his eyes.

The wizard smiled before answering, with all the magic around them people had a hard time believing it when they saw it, even if they had it in their very own hands.

“You could say that… it was forged before our time began. It is a long story but I will tell you when you come back!”, his smile didn't fade completely but a streak of sadness came over his face and he looked thoroughly at Xupis. Was he the right choice?

Xupis slid the dagger into the boot holster “You got yourself a deal there”, he said offering his hand to the wizard.

The wizard shook his hand, Xupis shrugged it of but something in him yelled to get out now before it was to late, all while another part of him said things would work out fine.

On his way out he met Black Skull followed closely by that there bodyguard, what was his name… Xupis thought hard to remember Ah yes, Tanon!

“Hey can I have a word with you”, he asked the priest as they met.

“A word…. but sure”, Black Skull answered stopping his ascent in the middle of the stairs.

“In private!”, Xupis emphasized.

“I've never been tossed out of my own home before”, the wizards voice boomed behind him.

“Oh No, no that's not what I meant”, Xupis said turning around, “You see I have a debt to settle with the priest… I'd prefer to do it outside”, he explained.

“Outside, a debt?”, Black Skull was confused, as far as he knew any debts between them had been settled the other day. “Yes outside”, Xupis hinted annoyed that Black Skull took so long to catch on.

“Oh… yes off course”, Black Skull answered finally understanding that the elf wanted to have a say without spectators.

“I'll be right back if that's allright with you?”, the priest said.

The wizard nodded and Black Skull started descending alongside the elf. Once they were outside the elf looked around.

“What are you seeing the wizard about”, he asked.

“What are we seeing the wizard about? What's it to you?”, Black Skull answered a bit annoyed.

“Just friendly consideration… but I guess you're not interested”, Xupis said.

“Interested in what”, Black Skull demanded.

“In whatever”, Xupis evaded.

“Listen up elf, not that it is any concern of yours but we are visiting the wizard because of Tanon's tongue”, Black Skull started.

“You mean lack of tongue …. right?”, Xupis began.

“Whatever that's semantics, the tongue or lack of it, not important… what is important is why you dragged me out here”, Black Skull sputtered.

“Oh that…. well if you're planning on striking a deal with this fellow bargain!”, Xupis said looking cunningly at him

“Bargain?”, Black Skull said before he stopped “Oh bargain”, he added with a nod of understandment.

Xupis also nodded then he looked up towards the top “Yes he is easily, how shall I put it 'squeezed'… no squeezed is putting it wrongly, he is quite generous today, if you know what I mean”

“I see…”, Black Skull nodded.

“Maybe I'll see ya at the inn later?”; Xupis asked hopefully. “Maybe!”, Black Skull answered, perhaps this Xupis fellow isn't all bad after all.

Xupis left and Black Skull pondered for a while, then he went back in. “So can you help him?”, Black Skull asked with anticipation.

“Well it's expensive”, the wizard answered, the priest didn't strike him like someone capable of producing such a sum with short notice.

“How expensive”, Tanon wrote.

“750 Gold Pieces”, the wizard answered seeing the disheartened looks on their faces as he broke the news.

“750 Gold Pieces… but that's a small fortune”, Black Skull cried.

“Yes I know but that's how much it will cost, it is only enough to cover the remedies I need”, the wizard answered. “I'm only doing it because I feel sorry for Tanon”, he added whispering so that Tanon didn't notice.

“Can't we offer you something”, Black Skull tried. 750 Gold Pieces where would he find that kind of money, and worse of he couldn't disappoint Tanon after all in his drunken stupor the other day he had promised to help Tanon and Black Skull was not one to back down from a promise.

“Well I do need a service”, the wizard began then it dawned upon him, the elf had put them up to this.

“You see we wizards borrow stuff from one and each other - you know a practical joke kind of thing”, the wizard said.

Black Skull and Tanon did not quite follow. “Nobody likes a joke like a wizard ha ha”, the old man tried.

Black Skull and Tanon still didn't get it and the wizard was desperate now. He didn't want to compromise himself before them, according to the law it is stealing but wizards have always operated on their own principles, and they did give each other the items back, but would they believe it?

“Do you mind if I smoke???”, the wizard suddenly asked to interrupt the awkward pause that had arisen.

“No, no go right ahead”, Black Skull answered taking out his new acquisition.

“Oh try some of my tobacco”, the wizard offered passing the pouch to Black Skull.

“What a pleasant smell, what's it called”, Black Skull asked with interest.

“Oh…. I think it is called Giggle weed!”, the wizard answered as Black Skull handed him the pouch back.

“Funny name for tobacco”, Black Skull said lighting his pipe. A few puffs later he understood.

They had been discussing for quite some time, brushing every topic from the weather to the mysteries of the universe.

Tanon had not tried the tobacco and was somewhat annoyed at the two who seemed bound together by some sort of deeply intimate bond.

“What's the matter Tanon…. Cat got your tongue”, Black Skull laughed.

The wizard rolled over, it was a long time since he had enjoyed himself like this.

Tanon smashed his fist into the table “Draw bead head”, he yelled in an agitated voice.

Black Skull reeled from his chair, in an act of stupendous bravery the priest drew his sword only to find out that he couldn't hold on to it, and it went flying into the corner.

It cracked him up completely, and Black Skull fell back into the chair with a throbbing laughter. Tanon had gotten to his feet, his hand was on the sword handle he was not about to take any more.

“Black Skull is right you are awfully quiet”, the wizard said followed by a raunchy laughter.

Black Skull almost choked on the puff he was taking, and set in with a hysterical grin.

That was it, Tanon had reached his boiling point but rather than draw blood he grabbed Black Skulls pipe.

Black Skull stared mesmerized as Tanon's fist pulverized the fine pipe, then he burst into a loud almost unstoppable laughter. The wizard joined in and they laughed like they had never done before.

“About the job”, the wizard tried as he got his laughter under control.

Tanon just stood there without a sound, he seemed frozen, the wizard murmured and in the blink of an eye Tanon was sitting down again with a smile on his face.

Black Skull was confused now but didn't want to show it.

“Oh yes the job…. we will need some incentive”, he started.

The wizard looked at him then his gaze turned to Tanon who was nodding his head enthusiastically.

All this envy and greed, what has gotten into people these days…. well what the heck!!!

There was a flash of light and on the table lay a sword of magnificent proportions and style. Black Skull looked longingly at it.

“How about that sword”, the wizard asked.

“Oh it's a beauty allright… but I can only wield a sword if it is forged by a smith in the Temple of Tempus, but Tanon might want it”

Tanon nodded with excitement, the sword the wizard had produced made his own look like a rusted nail.

“Well how about a morning star?”, the wizard asked looking intensely at the warrior priest.

“A morning star? that would be great”, Black Skull answered, doctrine says nothing about bludgeoning weapons.

The wizard got up from his seat and left the room. Moments later he returned with a morning star in his hands. The weapon seemed awfully light to Black Skull it looked like the magician needed no strength whatsoever to carry it.

Suddenly the wizard started swinging the morning star. The pointy ball swirled around wit insane speed. The wizard seemingly a master of the weapon started doing little neat tricks. He turned and swirled around the room until the morning star slammed into the table.

The thick wooden study table fragmented into tiny splinters far more violently than would be expected.

“Oh dear I did it again didn't I”, the wizard mumbled.

Black Skull laughed heartily, and the other two joined in. After mumbling a few incomprehensible words the table started reassembling, bit by bit.

The two visitors stared mesmerized as the wizard moved his hands coaxing the fragments back into their original form. It lasted a short moment then the show was over and the table appeared as solid as it had ever been.

“About the tongue… of which creature and how old can it be”, Black Skull asked when he had overcome his astonishment.

“Any creature that talks”, the wizard answered handing the morning star to Black Skull.

“As for age I'd recommend less than a week or so!”, he added looking at them with that gaze of his.

“A week?”, Tanon wrote.

“Yes any older and it will stink oh so badly”, the wizard answered.

Black Skull and Tanon couldn't help but smile, this certainly was an odd wizard, not that they knew that many, but nevertheless he definitely was in a league of his own.

Black Skull tried the morning star for weight and it felt very good in his hand. It was light yet the balance was perfect, there was something odd about it that much he knew.

Then the wizard started speaking “Those are very special weapons, when used righteously. The morning star will not burden the carrier and it will be as if it had no weight at all, however used wrongfully it will become so heavy that it will be as useful to the carrier as a glass of water in a firestorm. The sword bites hard and deeper than any other weapon you ever held in your hands but mark my words should you use it unjustly, it will become as blunt as a doorknob and even be reluctant to leave your hand”, the wizard looked closely at them while he warned them. By the look of their faces he felt that they would honor the weapons, there was nothing more that he could do.

It had gotten late when Tanon and Black Skull returned to the Dragons Den, the inn was crowded with all sorts of people, merchants, hunters, sailors even a dwarf had found his way to the inn, and was sleeping off what seemed to have been a mighty stupor. That is if one should judge from the number of empty mugs in front of him.

Xupis was getting quite intoxicated and all the easy wallets were quite hard to resist. Twice he got up from his chair with a smirky grin but each time Black Skull pulled his shirt landing him right in the chair again.

“Listen priest if you keep doing that I'll sma……”, before he could get any further the leg on his chair broke. Xupis went flying toward the floor like a rock. The loud bang when the hair hit the floor stopped all conversation in the inn. Heads turned in surprise. When the regulars realized what had happened, the silence was broken by a raunchy laughter.

“I think I'll go to bed”, Xupis exclaimed still lying on his back in a sitting position.

Black Skull couldn't help but smile when he looked at the elf. There he sat like nothing had happened, his mug was still in his hand, although not as full as it could be. The fact that he had turned 90 degrees didn't seem to bother the elf the slightest.

“Okay….”, Black Skull answered “But be sure to come by tomorrow, Tanon and I are heading south you know, and I'd like a word before we leave”, he added offering his hand toward Xupis.

Xupis got up and stood there swaying for a moment, he straightened and brushed his clothes, then with resolute steps he headed for the stairs. The railing came in handy that night and as he ascended up the stairs his mind did the same. How he managed to get the door opened and locked securely behind him was a mystery. But somehow he made it to the safety of bed and closed his eyes before beginning a restless night.

As the hours went by Tanon noticed Black Skull probably had a drop or two to many.

“Get your hands off me”, the serving wench yelled slapping the priest.

“Ho, ho, ho”, Black Skull laughed. Tanon wondered what time it might be, a look through the window told him all he had to know. He got up from his seat, the inn was not crowded as it had been earlier. He approached the innkeeper and wrote something on the Blackboard.

“A room… my pleasure”, the innkeeper answered with a smile toward the priest.

“I DON'T SLEEP WITH ELVES”, the priest yelled at the top of his lungs.

“Jerk!”, Tanon wrote, “I sleep at home”.

“Oh, but off course….”, Black Skull mumbled looking for his mug. The night was still young and he was in a good mood.

The following morning Black Skull was brought from sleep by a powerful pounding, but it wasn't in his head he realized when it grew louder.

“Go AWAAAYYY I'll kill YOU…”, the priest yelled infuriated.

The knocking disappeared, and Black Skull returned to the softness of the blankets.

A sound barely audible indicated somebody was fiddling with the lock, the tiny click from the lock didn't reach Black Skull. He was far to intent on getting his well deserved rest.

Tanon had found a bucket with wash water and set a water trap in the semi opened door.

The priest still wasn't aware of anything but when the pounding began again he jumped up and was at the door within a matter of seconds. The fact that the door was half open didn't reach him before it was to late. The water splashed down and stopped Black Skull. For a moment he stood there completely disorientated, what the heck? But when he saw Tanon's smiling face the situation dawned upon him.

“I'll get you for this…”, he murmured and closed the door. It didn't take him to long to get dressed and he went down into the inn.

The innkeeper had set the table wit all his heart desired, almost that was. He gestured at the innkeeper who immediately arrived at their table. With two fingers he indicated he wanted a private word with him. The innkeeper leaned forward and Black Skull whispered something to him.

Moments later he arrived back at the table with a concoction of sorts, Black Skull downed it in a few gulps. The effect of the drink became evident after a while, at least if that blissful smile meant anything.

It was late afternoon when Xupis finally emerged from his room he refused the offered breakfast, “But a couple of drinks would be nice”, he said and sat down in a quiet corner. Somebody nodded and Xupis returned the greeting. He tried to massage his temples but decided that a spot of fresh air would probably do the trick.

“Have the priest and the mute left town yet?”, he asked when the innkeeper arrived with the beverages.

The innkeeper stood for a while pondering “No I wouldn't think so… they talked about coming back when they had finished their errands”

“Errands?”, Xupis asked not quite awake yet.

“You know provisions and such for the trip south!”, the innkeeper explained.

Trip south? Oh yes that was right, they were also headed out of town!

“I'd like to settle the bill if you don't mind”, Xupis said drawing a pouch from his coat.

“But off course sir”, the innkeeper said with delight. He knew the elf to be a good tipper from the previous evening and hoped a little of that generosity remained.

The stables were situated on the opposite side of town and when Xupis got there he felt quite tired, okay it was his own fault. Nobody had forced him to act like he had the evening before.

The door tweaked as Xupis opened it and stepped into the front office.

The manager looked up “What can I do for you”, he said with a smile.

He had built his business and a considerable fortune on that smile. He knew that it made him look both friendly and trustworthy to his customers at the same time.

“Wait let me guess… a horse?”, he said jestingly.

Xupis smiled, so it was right what they said about him. The manager was one of those people who could sell sand in a desert or ice in the winter.

“Yes that's it”, Xupis answered watching the man carefully.

“Oh forgive me. How rude of me…. Edward Willowby, my friends call me Ed”, the manager said getting up from his chair with an extended hand.

“Xupis”, the elf answered shaking his hand. The managers grip was firm and it was evident that this man had done his share of fair work in his time.

“Hope I'm not to rude, but to get straight to the point… What sort of horse might you be looking for my friend”, he said and placed a hand on Xupis's shoulder.

Xupis skewed his head and looked at the manager who withdrew his hand knowing that overt familiarity maybe wasn't the right way to go about a sale to an elf.

“I'm looking for a good riding horse”, Xupis answered looking out the window, he longed to get back to the wilderness, human settlements and cities weren't exactly his up of t'ea but he was far better at coping with them than most elves.

The manager opened a door and gestured Xupis to follow him. When they came to the stable boxes the horses neighed greeting the manager. A good sign, Xupis thought and cast his gaze around the stables.

There were many nice horses but there was one in particular that Xupis liked, it was a beautiful golden brown one.

“What's his name”, Xupis asked looking him over in an examining manner. The horse stuck it's muzzle forward in anticipation when Xupis approached with his hand.

“That one, that's Grímur”, the manager answered with a smile, “a fine choice if you ask me”, he added.

Xupis studied it closely, it was a fabulous horse that much was certain, but Xupis wasn't sure he could afford such a splendid beast.

“How much”, he asked looking at the horse.

“75 Gold Pieces”, the manager answered “off ourse with saddle and reins”, he added. The horse snorted with excitement something good was in progress and it was part of it.

“Easy boy!”, the elf said while padding the horse in a gentle manner. The horse calmed down and watched them with deep insightful eyes.

The deal went down quickly, Xupis didn't even bother to haggle, his reward would be greater than money if he was able to pull this one off.

Late in the afternoon he returned to the Dragons Den. Tanon and the priest were eating heartily.

Xupis joined them at the table “Still headed south?”, he asked looking at the priest.

Black Skull chewed a couple of times and swallowed before answering.

“Yeah…. and you what are your plans”, he asked looking at the elf.

Xupis smiled “Actually I'm heading south as well so if you don't mind a traveling companion we could join up”, he said.

“Sure why not… the more the merrier”, Black Skull answered giving him a good pad on his back.

“So where exactly are you heading”, Xupis asked with anticipation.

The priest pondered for a while before answering “Middlering, and how about you?”

“Middlering, now how is that for a coincidence, I'm heading there as well, got some business to take care of”, Xupis answered

“What sort of business”, Tanon wrote looking Xupis over.

“I have to fetch something and bring it back here you see!”, Xupis answered vaguely.

“What?”, Tanon wrote.

“That's privileged information, you know customer provider stuff”, Xupis answered knowing that his answer didn't satisfy the nosy bodyguard.

“So do you guys know the way”, he added before Tanon could pry further into the matter.

“No!”, Tanon wrote. Xupis turned to Black Skull who stopped in the middle of a gulp, “Aehm no… do you?”, he asked after swallowing.

“Honestly?”, Xupis asked looking at his traveling companions, they nodded. “Well neither do I…. suppose we need a map huh?”, he said. They both nodded.

The door opened slowly “May we see the map maker”, Black Skull asked.

“Do you know what time it is my good man”, the caretaker said with an accusing look. She was in her early sixties, beautiful black hair just starting to lighten.

Black Skull looked down feeling a little guilty “Yes Mam but you see my friends and I have to leave town tonight and we desperately need a map. You see we're not familiar with the island and we'd rather avoid to much trouble on our journey.

“Hrmf”, the caretaker opened the door wide enough that they could enter.

“You coming”, Black Skull said to Xupis who had placed himself on top of a barrel.

“Nah you go in… I'll wait here with the horses”, he answered.

The door squeaked a bit when it shut behind them and Xupis started staring at the cloudscape above.

He wasn't sure how long they had been inside, but when they came out they clearly weren't satisfied.

“So did you get a maps showing the way to middlering”, Xupis asked.

“No he didn't have a map over this region, he only had one of the island”, Black Skull answered annoyed.

“Off the entire island?”, Xupis asked a bit sceptic.

“Yes the entire island… but that wasn't the problem”, Black Skull answered agitated.

“Then what was the problem”, Xupis asked suspicious.

“He wants map in return”, Black Skull answered.

Tanon was scribbling something on his blackboard “He only wants to sell map with lines!”, he wrote

“Lines?”, Xupis asked fealing really dumb.

“The sea”, Tanon wrote.

“So what happens now”, Xupis asked looking at Black Skull.

“Now, now we draw a map”, he answered.

“You draw a map”, Xupis said with disbelief.

“Yes we draw a map, is that so hard to understand”, the priest asked annoyed at the doubt in Xupis's voice.

“No… but what are you going to draw, the man already has a map of the island”, Xupis answered.

“What.. well, we're going to draw a map of Tanon's home region, for you're not from around here are you”, the priest said looking at the bodyguard.

“Right”, Tanon wrote. It was evident he was as annoyed as the priest.

“Well I guess it's better you get started then”, Xupis said handing them the reins to their horses.

“You're not coming with us?”, the priest asked with surprise in his voice.

“I'll come by in a moment… I just remembered I forgot to say goodbye to someone, I'll drop by as soon as I have done that - okay?”, Xupis answered.

The priest looked at him for a moment and then smiled oddly “Sure, you do that”, he said blinking at Xupis.

Xupis stood there for a moment wondering what the priest meant by gesturing like that. Oh no he thinks I'm going to steal the map…. am I?, he thought.

Xupis looked around, the street was empty. Nobody around if he was going to do it now was as good a time as any. He tried the door knob, it turned.

With a swift pull the door was opened, that way it might squeak less, and who would believe a burglar would pull a door that swiftly if he was seen? He needed the gloves, it was the only way he could get into the Dukes castle unnoticed.

Madam Crumbly as the caretaker was called was working in the kitchen and hadn't noticed a thing. The wonderful odours esaping her pots made his stomach stirr. But he managed to tiptoe past her and up the stairs unnoticed.

Unfortunately for his plan the map maker heard him approach and looked up.

“Yes”, he asked pushing his glasses up the nose ridge.

“Uhm hello I need a map!”, Xupis answered. “A map?”, the map maker answered looking like a big question mark.

“Yes a map - you do make maps , the sign says cartographer you know”, Xupis answered as an eerie feeling began to creep up on him.

“Yes I have this map for you!”, the map maker answered pulling out a light blue paper with some lines on it.

“For me?”, Xupis asked bewildered “What is it?”, he added.

“It is of the sea”, the map maker said with a strangely distracted voice.

“Oh i see”, Xupis answered.

“Yes the sea”, the map maker repeated, pushing his glasses back in place.

“Well… thank you then”, Xupis said as the map maker handed him the map.

“You're welcome young man”, the map maker answered going back to his drawing.

Xupis was a bit uneasy when he left the building, he had been to sloppy in there. Imagine if it hadn't been an old distracted man, but well armed guards. Xupis shook by the mere thought.

Not more than outside he ran into the priest and the bodyguard.

“Aehm… hello!”, he said looking as innocent as he could.

“You still here?”, Black skull asked somewhat surprised.

“Well… yes I just came back actually”, Xupis answered. He couldn't have been in there that long, what kind of map had they drawn that they thought they could convince the old man with?

“So you coming with us?”, Black Skull asked looking directly at him.

Xupis swallowed while Tanon eyed him suspiciously. He wasn't exactly sure how to act but after a while Xupis answered in the most evasive way he could by posing a question, “Inside?”, he said.

Tanon nodded looking intensely toward him. Xupis still unsure of what to do spent another moment thinking then sat down on the stairs leading to the front door.

“Nah you go ahead, I'll tend the horses while you take care of the map business”.

Black Skull shrugged and knocked on the door, Tanon followed him up the stairs.

Moments later the door opened and the housekeeper peered outside.

“You again… what do you want”, she asked clearly annoyed by the disturbance.

“Well we have this here map….”, Black Skull started.

“Bartholomew, Bartholomew!!!”, she shouted.

“Yes”, a tired voice answered from upstairs.

“It's those men again… they say they have a map”, the housekeeper yelled.

“What?”, the voice answered.

“A MAP!!!”, she screamed at the top of her lungs.

“Oh tell them to come up”, the voice answered.

She signaled them to come in “How about you?”, she asked looking at Xupis.

“Huh me?… oh no I'll tend the horses thank you!”, Xupis answered. The housekeeper looked at him with a penetrating gaze which sent shivers down his spine.

It didn't take long before Tanon and Black Skull returned to the street.

“So you got the map then?”, Xupis asked.

“No he said our map wasn't detailed enough”, Black Skull answered infuriated that the scheme had failed. Tanon was nodding equally annoyed at their failure.

“We are going back to the Dragons Den to better the map, you want to help us?”, Black Skull asked.

“Well actually… yeah I'll be there in half an hour or so”, Xupis answered brewing up a plan. There was no way those two would be able to create a map which would satisfy the old carthagrofer, but maybe he could pull it off if he tried once more. He'd have to be more careful this time though, he thought as they started away from the map makers house.

It took a while before Xupis could slip back in as a lovers quarrel decided to descend on that very street where he was waiting.

When the couple had shouted, cried and made up all in the time span of a single draught of beer he made his move. The door opened as if by magic, there was no moaning squeak from the hinges and no revealing thump as he closed it. So far so good!

With steps more silent than a feline on the lookout for prey he got past the kitchen and up the stairs. The map maker was busy studying a map on his wall and Xupis noticed the map they so desperately needed right there on the table.

Okay, not a sound now and we'll be fine. At that instant a floorboard squeaked embarrassingly high, it was as if that very thought had jinxed the whole venture and the carthagrofer turned around.

“Yes?”, he said somewhat surprised at Xupis being in his study.

Think quick… the chair. Xupis nonchalantly placed himself in one of the guest chairs.

“Aehm that map of Middlering”, he started unsure if his nonchalance would clear the old man of the suspicion one would automatically have about someone appearing without a sound in your own home.

The carthagrofer looked at him with puzzled eyes, it was as if the situation wreaked havoc with his mind “Oh yes that map you want it now?”, he asked fumbling with his harts.

“Yes, I'd like that very much”, Xupis answered with growing confidence. He was actually pulling it off. At that instant the little voice in him started nagging again.

“I need that map”, he murmured to himself.

The old man didn't seem to take notice, so much the better. “Do you have a map in return”, he asked.

Xupis rolled his eyes from one side to the other “Map? Well yes I do”, he answered quite pleased with the progress he was making.

“Can I see it?”, the old man asked.

“Yes but of course”, Xupis said fumbling for the map the old man had given him earlier.

“Oh it's beautiful… what is it?”, the old man said with delight.

This was turning out even better than Xupis had dared hope for ”…Aehm it is of the sea”, he answered putting up a big smile.

“But it is so beautiful”, the old man mumbled trying to get a better look at it.

“Here take the map”, Xupis offered handing it to him. The wrinkled hands reached out eagerly as Xupis let go of it.

The old man studied it closely “This is a good map”, he said with a smug grin on his face.

“Yes very nice indeed… isn't it”, Xupis answered absent minded. His thoughts were far away.

The old man folded the map up nicely and put it in his desk drawer “Why don't you take this map in return”, he said handing a map of the entire island to Xupis.

“Well thanks!”, Xupis answered graciously accepting the map. He was quick to fold it up and stick it into his pocket.

He was about to leave when the old man interrupted him.

“Come here young man”, he said waving at Xupis to follow. There wasn't much for the elf to do but to do as the map maker bode.

The old man looked around as if to check if they were alone in the room “Look out for prying eyes” , he warned with a mysterious look on his face.

Xupis glanced around the room, the only way anyone could see them would be through the window, and it was covered with thick curtains.

The map maker held up his index finger “Wait just a moment”, he said and locked the door.

Xupis was starting to sweat, this was not turning out the way he had planned.

The old man picked up a cane from a corner and pulled down a map which unfolded like a curtain covering the wall.

The map was magnificent, there were countless islands randomly divided in a huge sea, and to the side was a great bulk of land. An entire continent with nothing but forests mountains and plains covered one third of the map.

“We are right here”, the old man said and pointed at a small speck approximately in the middle of the map.

Xupis couldn't believe his eyes “But then mainland is so big”, he said with disbelief. His mind had trouble imagining the sheer size of the land mass. He had always thought that the island was big, but this continent… it was huge!

“Yes indeed”, the old man smiled. He seemed far away for a moment but Xupis was to fascinated by the map to disturb him.

“One day you will set your foot there”, the map maker said still absorbed in his own private thoughts.

“You think”, Xupis asked feeling a strange longing fill his heart.

“I know”, the old man answered thoughtfully “No one has seen the map and stayed for long. Just look at it, it is a big world out there. Think of all that there is to see, all you can experience if you break the bonds of this little island. Imagine all that is possible and all the people that remain to be seen. Oh yes… you will go, eventually. Shortly after you have finished up what you must, here on this island. That much is certain”.

His words imprinted themselves on Xupis's mind, he had long felt something building inside him perhaps it was this longing that he felt when he looked at the map. Had this been under ordinary circumstances Xupis would certainly have wondered what the map maker knew about his task and what he meant when he was referring to that thing he had to do. But Xupis was to enchanted by the map to let such suspicions surface. It had gotten quite late when Xupis came out onto the street. He blinked a few times in order to familiarize his eyes to the dusk. The last words of the old man still rung in his ears. “Beware of the dark ones”, Xupis repeated to himself. I Wonder what the map maker meant by that?

“You what are you doing here?”, a voice boomed from behind just as Xupis was about to mount his horse. He turned his head and stared right at Black Skulls face.

“Huh me?”, Xupis tried innocently.

“Yes you!”, the priest boomed looking very hostile.

“Uhm.. nothing”, Xupis answered with an innocent voice.

“Nothing…. ha! We saw you leave, you've been talking to that map person… wait a minute you haven't. No… even you couldn't sink so low”, Black Skull said.

Tanon pulled Black Skull's shirt and showed him the blackboard. “WHAT?”, it said with big letters.

“Let me think”, Black Skull said getting a firm grip on Xupis's shoulder. After a few seconds thought he dragged him onto the stairs to the map makers house.

He banged loudly on the door, nothing happened. He banged again and the door opened.

The map maker looked at them somewhat puzzled.

“What was he doing here!”, Black Skull demanded.

“Nothing I've never seen this young man before”, the map maker said with surprise. Xupis recognized that the map maker was wandering again “No that's right these thugs just pulled me in from the street”, he said hoping to gain an advantage. He couldn't explain exactly what he had done, technically he hadn't stolen anything but still….

“We want the map!”, Black Skull thundered out of his mind.

“What map”, the map maker asked genuinely confused.

“The one of the island, it had Middlering on it and everything”, Black Skull yelled.

“Oh I sold that map months ago”, the old man answered.

“No you had it here an hour ago you haven't lost it have you”, Black Skull was getting desperate now.

“Lost… no I don't get lost - I make maps”, the old man answered.

Another face appeared in the door “You again!”, the housekeeper snarled gripping a broom.

“Shoo get out of here”, she yelled waving the broom at them.

“Ah this is futile let's go back to the Den”, Black Skull said grinding his teeth.

It took them a moment but a short while later the horses had been secured and they were sitting at a table at the Dragons Den.

“Still southbound”, Xupis smiled.

Tanon looked at him “Hmfr”, he said nasally nodding slightly eyeing skywards.

“Not until you tell us what you were doing there”, Black Skull said accusingly.

Xupis looked at both of them and puffed while shaking his head “Ah.. what do you think I was doing, I asked for the map you simpleton!”

Black Skull pinched his eyes together “The map?”, he said growling.

“Yes the map… What else?”, Xupis answered looking quite annoyed.

“Let me see if I got it straight you got us the map?”, Black Skull asked.

“NO I GOT THE MAP FOR ME ITS MINE!!!”, Xupis answered clutching around the map.

“You didn't steal it did you?”, Black Skull suddenly asked. Tanon turned his head, was he hearing correctly? “No I traded it”, Xupis answered injured at the accusation.

“For what?”, Black Skull said suspiciously.

“A map”, Xupis answered looking straight at his two companions.

Black Skull wasn't satisfied though “What map”, he asked the elf.

“A map of the sea!”, Xupis explained.

“The sea you say…”, Black Skull weighed the words carefully. “Honest?”, he added.

“Honest!”, Xupis answered.

“Allright… let's see it then!”, Black Skull said smiling.

“Just remember it's my map”, Xupis claimed still holding on to it.

“Yes, yes, the map is yours… right Tanon”, Black Skull turned toward Tanon who scribbled on his board. He held it up with a smile and nodded, though he felt somewhat odd about the way Black Skull talked about stealing and such, he had claimed he was jesting earlier when he called the other elf a thief…. but there was something not right about the whole thing.

A few hours later Tanon was sitting proudly on his horse, he had lent it from his master who had also agreed to lend him an old chain mail, a couple of woolen ponchos and whatever else he had asked for. Heck old Cvedak had even agreed to lend them a donkey for the priest. But Black Skull had flatly rejected that as an option. “I Ain't riding no donkey”, he yelled and slapped the poor beast on the arse.

“Hiho”, it yelled and sped off into the street. They had spent nearly half an hour before catching it and bringing it back. But that was all earlier in the day, now he was riding along a road whose tracks became less and less visible.

“Are you sure we are on the right road”, he had written just a few minutes earlier.

“Sure we are”, Xupis had answered looking like he was studying the map intensely while nodding in an affirming way, well that elf was hard to understand at times.

Well whether or not they were on the right track it was wonderful to be back in the forest again. Tanon remembered every sent as it reached his nostrils like old friends and was enjoying himself immensely.

“Listen up”, Xupis said “It's getting late now, I suppose we'd better strike camp pretty soon”.

Half an hour later they found a suitable spot and Black Skull had already made himself comfortable next to the fire.

“I'll take the first watch”, Xupis said remembering the warning.

“This close to town… ain't nothing out here but squirrels and an occasional fox”, Black Skull tried. He was tired and not in the mood for watch duty.

Tanon scribbled “Second”, on his blackboard and then there wasn't much more discussion since Black Skull realized he'd have to take the third watch.

The hours passed and an occasional owl howling in the distance kept the master of the watch awake. He was drowsy to say the least but after a cup of steaming hot t'ea he felt more awake. Suddenly something caught his attention. Were those voices? He listened for a few minutes before he was sure.

“Pssst… wake up”, Black Skull whispered carefully nudging the elves.

Xupis was the first one to get up “Hobgoblins”, without another word Xupis jumped up, he got his hands on his sword and dagger and jumped into the relative safety of the shadows. Too late he realized he had left his leather armor behind by his paraphernalia.

Tanon was up now and jumped into the shadows forgetting his armor as well, was this the same voice?

The priest shook his head and threw Tanon his armor, then he toppled the logs over and kicked some dirt onto the remnants of the fire after which he made himself unseen.

3 eerie looking hobgoblins were headed straight toward the place where Tanon and the priest tried to hide in the undergrowth. The priest held both hands on the handle of his sword “Tempus”, he whispered drawing strength from the mere mentioning of the word.

Xupis had decided that these beings were not to be toyed with. A quick stab in the back might very well lessen their numbers giving them a better chance.

He snook up behind the big oafs as he used to call them. The dagger seemed vibrant in his hand and almost took on a strange glow under the star strewn sky.

Black Skull had been watching from his hiding place, the elf had potential that much was sure. If he got out of it alive he might discuss the opportunity to enroll him in the order of Tempus.

Tanon was excited these weren't the hobgoblins who had taken his tongue but he would enjoy killing these as well.

As Xupis was about to close in for the attack one of the Hobgoblins stopped, and before they knew it he was facing the elf who seemed quite small with nothing but a dagger in his hand.

The hobgoblin smiled and showed it's evil teeth. But just as he was about to raise his sword a loud voice boomed through the night.

“STOP YOU ARE MAKING A BIG MISTAKE!!!”, Xupis yelled at the top of his lungs.

“Huh?”, the hobgoblin froze as he stood from the surprise. Who was this little fellow who spoke to him in his own tongue. Well perhaps it wasn't important he would be a dead little fellow soon, unable to ever say a single word again.

Just then Tanon and Black Skull attacked, Xupis was not going to be alone. The commotion temporarily caught the hobgoblins attention and in that split second Xupis performed a disappearance act.

Tanon swung his sword like a true berserker and splits a hobgoblin head. His ferocity was equal if not greater than that of a beserker but he had the cold calculative moves of a true warrior.

In an inspired attack Black Skull swung his sword, but the Hobgoblin was faster. With beastly speed it evaded the deadly sword which grazed Tanon instead.

Infuriated by pain Tanon thrust toward his opponent, the hobgoblin took a few steps back while he tried to fend for himself. But every time he parried Tanon got rougher and rougher until he simply couldn't withstand any more. The last thing he saw was a pair of eyes that seemed like they were glowing like a piece of charcoal in a fire.

Black Skull withdrew his sword, it was covered in blood but the hobgoblin was not about to give in. With deadly lashes he attempted to corner the priest up against a denser part of the forest where he wouldn't be able to move properly. The priest tried a direct stab but his attack failed.

Tanon came at him howling like a madman, the hobgoblin swirled around and further wounded him.

3'rd time the lucky one, Xupis thought and drove his dagger deep into the hobgoblins back.

The hobgoblin stood straight up and realized something was very wrong then he fell to the ground. In an act of outrage Tanon drove the hobgoblins own sword trough the unconscious hobgoblin, afterwards he gave the other two the same treatment.

As Tanon stood there heaving for a breath of fresh air, Black Skull couldn't think of a finer statement toward an enemy like this, than what Tanon had just done. Although he would have questioned that hobgoblin not killed him.

They searched the bodies but found no evidence that could explain the fat that they were this far north, likely they were scouts sent out by the horde, to gather intelligence about the Northlands which succeeded in driving them south many a century ago.

After a thorough search around camp they didn't find evidence of further scouting parties, likely this was a team somewhat ahead of themselves. Young ones not heeding warnings of their elders about the Northlands. It didn't matter now they were dead that was the important bit. Nevertheless the campfire was kept very small for the rest of that night.

Black Skull had been contemplating preaching the word of Tempus to the elves but decided against it in the face of his mishap the night before. A second day passed before they got back on the main road.

On the third day they came upon a wagon bumping up the road.

“Who goes there”, a voice yelled in common.

“Elves and a man”, Xupis yelled back at the wagon. The merchant stuck his head back out and eyed them as they came closer.

“Care to see the goods”, he offered pulling the horses to a halt.

“Sure why not”, Black Skull answered, the horses could do with a little rest and so could he.

The merchant pulled the canvas aside and revealed quite a collection of arms in the trunk of the cart.

“That's a lot of armament you're carrying”, Black Skull said looking the merchant straight in the eyes.

“I guess, but with all the trouble in the south I believe time has come to arm ourselves to the teeth, woe to the unarmed one, the day the horde starts sweeping across the lands”, the merchant answered unaffected by Black Skulls statement.

Tanon nodded, through his work as a bodyguard for Cvedak Daig he had learned of the recent movement in the south. The horde was beginning to rear it's ugly head again. Their numbers had sswelled to many times what they had been when the Northlanders drove them from their territory.

Tanon pointed at a collection of daggers lying discretely in a corner.

“Aah an excellent choice”, the merchant said rubbing his hands “Care to try them”, he added with a smile.

Tanon nodded and picked them up. The holsters were made to fit under most garments on the arms of the carrier, yet they were readily accessible in the face of danger.

“Strap them on”, the merchant offered while taking something from the bottom of his wagon. When his arms withdrew he was holding a large wooden target in his hands. He jumped down from the wagon and counted a number of paces he found appropriate. As he got far enough he unfolded a tripod and placed the target on it.

Tanon wriggled his joints and moved his head in order to loosen up.

“Go ahead and try”, the merchant said heating up to a sale.

The daggers came flying in a regular shower, and the thump, thump, thump when they burrowed into the target were an unpleasant reminder of the throwers accuracy.

“You some kind of expert?”, the surprised merchant said as he started out to fetch the daggers. Tanon shrugged as the hint of a smile started building on his face.

They talked back and forth for quite some time but soon it was time to leave. They shook hands and parted most pleased with respectively purchases and sales.

Another night passed uneventfully and early in the morning Xupis woke the others.

“I'm going out to look for mushrooms”, he said and slipped out into the wilderness.

Tanon got the fire going started boiling some porridge. While taking care of the cooking he noticed the priest had situated himself a bit away from him and that he apparently was in deep meditation. Time passed and Tanon almost burned the porridge while staring at the priest in fascination.

A while later Xupis returned to the camp, he took a deep breath. “Something smells good!”, he said looking at the pot next to the fire.

Tanon offered him by gesturing at his empty bowl and the pot. “Sure that would be nice”, Xupis answered sitting down.

The porridge was wonderful and it reminded him of his youth, he hadn't eaten porridge for ages. While he was enjoying his bowl the priest joined them by the fire.

Tanon offered him a portion as well, and the priest scooped it up heartily, while loudly complimenting the cook.

As they rode along Tanon and Black Skull had started exchanging war stories, actually Black Skull obviously was doing most of the talking but Tanon did throw in a few punchlines of his own via the Blackboard.

Xupis wondered how much of what the two told each other was true and how much wasn't. However they were mostly enjoyable stories. But when the priest started singing his Tempus war songs it got a bit to much. Though the song was clear and crisp and not altogether bad, war and bloodshed was not something Xupis enjoyed that much.

He took point leaving the other two to their conquests and heroism.

7 days had passed since they left Ilvartinan and the journey offered little excitement say crossing a stream or two. The trees beautiful as they were, were still trees, and though mother nature was showing the most splendid side of herself Xupis was in a strange mood.

And toward evening he had all together stopped giving himself time to enjoy the immense beauty surrounding him. The further south they got, the more he enveloped himself in deep soul-searching.

Xupis torn from deep thought when the priest yelled his “Who goes there”, in the brashest manner ever.

“Followers of the Sword”, a voice boomed back. Obviously the three coming closer were not warriors in somebody's service. These were ronin, the tough mercenaries searching the lands for a place to do their handiwork.

The priest decided it might be time for him to hold a sermon in honor of Tempus and offered the mercenaries to join him, they agreed.

The sermon was short but effective, the men bonded with the priest and decided to strike camp along with them.

The night grew old but the party learned that the south was relatively quiet, and that this was the reason that they were going north to seek employment.

They called themselves Karok, Turok and Ren'taan. Ren'taan was clearly the leader of the pack, but was unwilling to divulge which religion seemed stronger in the south. Lathathander or Tempus, it was as if he was hiding something but the priest decided against digging to deep. The days that followed after they parted company with the mercenaries passed quickly, and suddenly they found themselves at the city gates to Middlering.

“Business or pleasure”, the guard asked loudly when they rode up toward the entrance.

“Huh?”, Black Skull answered surprised at the number of guards patrolling the area.

“I said business or pleasure”, the guard repeated annoyed that the Tempus priest hadn't paid attention the first time he asked.

“Business”, Xupis answered stepping in to avoid trouble.

“Right… and how many in your party”, the guard asked counting.

“Just the three of us”, Xupis answered putting up a convincing face.

“Very well… you may pass”, the guard said signaling the men behind him to let the group through.

Middlering there it lay, stretching into the horizon. It was the largest city on the island as well as the seat for the governing council. The town was bustling with activity and life. It was a prosperous town known far and wide for it's crafty blacksmiths and artistry. Though the bountiful rural farming areas were renown as well for their high quality produce. Only one other town of the island could match the productivity of Middlering, it was called Sundon and lay further to the south. A steady trade route was established between the two cities but it was in the trade with the Northlanders true wealth could be gained. Though this was a fact widely overseen due to the easy transportation routes connecting the two cities.

Even on horseback it took them quite a while to reach the temple Black Skull dismounted and handed the reins to a young boy at the staples.

“You take good care of him… right?”, he said looking somewhat strictly at the boy.

“Yes Sir”, the boy answered and started pulling the horse away, the horse resisted. But a word of reassurance whispered in its ear by its master made things easier.

Xupis looked at the two still mounted on his horse “I'll head to town, who knows we might bump into each other if you stay in town for a while”.

“Who knows?”, Black Skull said contemplating giving him a good-bye blessing. Finally after a lot of contemplation he decided on a general greeting.

“May your God be with you!”, he said with a smile.

“And with you”, the thief said with a hint of a two fingered salute.

Tanon raised his hand in a gesture of fair well.

“You to Tanon… you to”, Xupis said trying to relax the uneasy horse, then he was off.

Tanon tapped Black Skull on the shoulder, he turned around to face the elf. Tanon was pointing at a structure in the distance while holding his blackboard up.

“Temple of Lathander?”, it said. Black Skull studied the words and looked in the direction his companion was hinting.

“Yes that's their temple!”, Black Skull answered disappointed to see that it was in fact bigger and displaying superior craftsmanship than their temple.

Black Skull felt more tapping on his shoulder and turned his head “Bigger”, the blackboard said.

“Materialism and correct belief don't follow suit hand in hand”, Black Skull answered loathing the answer. The elf shrugged his shoulders.

“Forget them, let's go inside, you'll love this”

With those words Black Skull did about and marched straight for the temple doors. He was stopped by a guard.

“What's your business here”, he demanded.

“My business… I'm a follower of Tempus I've come to say prayer and worship.

“That'll be a gold piece each”, the guard tried.

Tanon wasn't sure which sounded louder the clank when Black Skull rammed his fist into the display armor of the guard or the loud thud from him when he hit the ground.

Other guards were about to react when an elderly scarred man appeared from behind the veil.

“Let him pass”, he ordered with authority. The guards obeyed his bidding and scuttled back to their posts “I see you have the spirit within you Welcome”, the old man offered.

“Well thank you”, Black Skull answered.

“To many of the younger priests wouldn't have had the guts to stand up to the guards”, the old priest said. “Then things are truly bad here in the south”, Black Skull answered.

The old man nodded and exhaled heavily “This here your companion he a priest as well”, the old man asked.

“No Tanon here is a true warrior and adventurer, we traveled together south from Ilvartinan and faced a hobgoblin scouting party together.

The scarred man looked at them “If men like you here acting as role models I believe the Temple can be strong once more”, the old man said with a thoughtful look in his eyes.

“Well… I suppose”, Black Skull answered”, following the old man in through the portal.

“No that is certain, but come you must inform the master of the guard about those hobgoblins”.

Xupis had found the tower after asking around and decided the best way to get some information on the wizard and his possessions would be by a personal visit. He was feeling quite tired, he had been waiting long before the wizard finally had time to see him, it was something about an experiment that couldn't be disturbed. But now that he was here he might as well make the best of it, and just as he was planning a closer examination of the window the wizard came in.

“Fabulous view eh?”, the wizard said padding Xupis on the shoulder.

“View… Aehm yes, magnificent”, Xupis answered scared that he had let someone sneak up on him like that.

“Please sit down”, the wizard offered. He was dressed in a deep blue robe with a yellow belt tied loosely around his waist. His mild face surrounded him in a trustworthy aura.

Xupis sat down in a chair, it adjusted to his proportions in the strangest way Xupis had ever experienced.

“You like it”, the wizard asked him pointing to the chair.

Xupis somewhat baffled by the chair found himself saying “Aehm.. yes fine”. It wasn't that he hadn't tried comfortable chairs before, it was the way this chair seemed to follow his every movement in support that surprised him.

“I did that myself”, the wizard said proudly.

“Jolly good job”, Xupis complimented.

“Now that you say it… yes I think so too”, the wizard smiled. Xupis sat back, he was watched the room while contemplating what to say, when the wizard interrupted his line of thinking.

“Healing potions are 500 Gold Pieces”, the wizard said.

“Healing potions?”, Xupis answered thrown off track.

The wizard put up a crooked smile “You have seen battle a short while ago, have you not?”, he asked.

“Well yes, but I am fine”, was the only thing Xupis could think of saying.

“Fine today perhaps, but what about tomorrow?”, the wizard asked.

Xupis looked straight at the wizard, he didn't like the underlying tone in the wizard's voice. Too many things told to him by people these last months had turned out as essential clues to his very existence “I don't plan to see battle for a long time”, Xupis answered evasively.

The wizard smiled “No I suppose you don't, but Xupis don't count to much on plans. They have a tendency to turn you in directions you didn't expect or didn't want at first”.

How does he know my name, Xupis thought. But then he remembered presenting himself to the hall porter. What a silly thought, off course he couldn't read minds… could he?.

“Now to your errand…”, the wizard suggested sensing the confusion in the elf.

“My errand… well I'm looking for something that can aid me in battle if I meet up with those horrible hobgoblins again.

“Hobgoblins eh…”, the wizard looked thoughtfully at the elf “How about a silenced armor?… incidentally I have one. I'm certain it would come in handy for whatever tasks you might undertake”.

“A silenced armor…”, Xupis felt deprived of his tongue for a moment. Such an item was worth a fortune and an indispensable tool for someone like himself.

“Yes a silenced armor, would you like to see it?”, the wizard asked in a friendly manner.

“Yes”, Xupis stuttered exited about the prospects opening before him.

The wizard left the room for a moment. Xupis got up and started studying a painting on the wall. The more he looked the further the image seemed to draw him in. The snow clad mountains with a lush forest in a valley beneath seemed almost magical to him. Just as he reached out toward the picture he felt a hand on his shoulder, and the feeling dissipated. The wizard looked at the elf. Very few felt the power of the painting without being trained in the ways of the elements. Perhaps the painting was drawing the elf on purpose…

“Nice picture isn't it Xupis”, the wizard said with a big smile. Xupis nodded he was not in the mood for words just now. The painting had filled his heart with a longing like that map. His thoughts swirled back for a moment. Had there been a mountain chain like the one in the painting on that chart? He shook the feeling and followed the wizard to the table.

With careful hands the wizard placed the armor on the table. It was thin as silk yet Xupis felt some sort of immense strength radiating from it as he let his hand run through the fabric.

The wizard looked at Xupis who was studying the armor with tantalized eyes “It can be yours for mere 5000 Gold Pieces”, he said.

That was the problem, no matter how much he wanted to have the item it was unattainable to him a price like that was way out of his reach, his quest for the truth had cost many times that but an investment of that magnitude would take years to make good for itself, he would have to do without it.

“I'm sorry but I haven't got 5000 Gold Pieces”, Xupis answered with disappointment in his voice.

“How about doing me a little favor then?”, the wizard tempted.

“What sort of favor would that be”, Xupis asked with renewed interest.

The wizard looked at Xupis with a gleam in his eyes “It is quite simple really, all you have to do is to make a 2 week journey to a tower in the forest and fetch a box for me”, he answered.

That was a remark which made Xupis suspicious “Why don't you fetch it yourself”, he asked.

“Aehm because I have to study… I really haven't got the time for strolling around the countryside. You know I have duties to uphold here in the city”, the wizard answered evasively.

Duties? Xupis didn't believe him for a second, there was another reason but he didn't want to pry to deeply in the subject instead he simply answered as if he understood and accepted without question what the wizard had just told him “I see”, he answered without blinking.

“I have to warn you… it could be dangerous!”, the wizard said with a grave look on his face.

“Why are there any dragons left”, Xupis laughed.

A sad expression started showing on the wizards face “No the last one was killed some 20 years ago actually”, he said.

“Oh… but why do you think it is dangerous?”, Xupis asked knowing that he wouldn't like the answer.

“Because I sent others and they haven't returned”, the wizard replied.

“I see”, Xupis said thoughtfully “Can I think about it?”

“But off course, don't let me pressure you”, the wizard said folding the armor nicely until it fit straight in the storage box he had brought with him a moment ago.

Xupis looked at the armor with longing eyes as the wizard shut the lid tightly on the box. “Where can an honest man stay for a reasonable price”, he asked.

“Oh I believe the Foaming Mug would meet your demands nicely”, the wizard suggested.

“May I offer you a drink later”, Xupis tried. he had almost forgotten what he had originally come for.

“I don't know I really must study”, the wizard answered.

“Hey where is the fun in that?”, Xupis asked with a crooked smile.

“Studying can be fun”, the wizard answered without hesitation.

“Sure but how often can you find yourself a fine wench while you study”, Xupis suggested.

“Well… er.. I might just drop by when you put it that way”, the wizard said responding perfectly to Xupis's lure.

Xupis got up from the chair, he had a lot of preparation to do so he had to get moving. “Well thank you very much for your help and until we meet again good-bye”, he said and shook the wizards hand.

“You're welcome young man”, the wizard replied with a firm grip. Moments later Xupis was on his way.

Tanon was having his measurements taken by a blacksmith who was showing a little to much enthusiasm for his own good.

“Mmmm”, Tanon grunted pushing the blacksmith back. “To tight isn't it?”, the blacksmith said with a funny look on his face.

“No what my friend here is saying is that he prefers some things left alone if you get my drift?”, the way Black Skull said it made the blacksmith realize that perhaps he should heed his advice.

“If you want the best armor in town, I gotta do the measurements properly”, the blacksmith snapped.

“Yes properly”, Black Skull said emphasizing the last word.

The blacksmith threw his head back and puffed “Men”, barely audible.

“What did you say”, Black Skull said menacing.

“I said amen”, the blacksmith answered offended at the verbal attacks from the bald man.

Black Skull nodded, if it wasn't for the fact that this supposedly was the best blacksmith on the entire island neither of them would allow themselves to be treated this way. However there really wasn't any choice.

“Okay done, now you”, the blacksmith said pointing at Black Skull.

Black Skull eyed the smith with a look that would have sent shivers down anybody's spine.

The blacksmith scuttled about and took his measurements and after a lengthy discussion with himself he was satisfied “Okay no more measurements today… you come back in 4 days then we will adjust the armor”, he said pointing at Tanon.

Tanon held up 4 fingers. “Yes 4 days… is that so hard to comprehend”, the blacksmith said with eyes skyward.

“Is that enough time to properly forge a piece of armor”, Black Skull asked suspicious.

“Ah you silly big man…”, the blacksmith waved his hand “I'm not going to forge the entire armor now, I already have the main elements ready all I need to do is to find some in the right size and put them together, then I can fit them properly”.

“You mean you don't make the armor yourself”, Black Skull was growing even more suspicious.

“No the smiths at the workshop take care of that, I just put them together”

“The workshop?”, Black Skull wasn't sure if he really wanted a piece of armor from this man after all. “The building behind us”, the blacksmith realized that they were slipping away from him and opened the back door.

“Come, I'll show you”, he said signaling them to follow.

The factory was filled with sweating men and dwarves. Each of them was working on a separate project, one had a gleaming weapon in his hand, another a plougshard.

This strange mixture of tools and men were an awesome sight indeed. The men labored with great skill and consideration restoring their faith in the blacksmith. Nobody running an operation like this could be half bad.

“I wonder what carrot-head is up to now”, Black Skull whispered to Tanon who was staring at the biggest ax he had ever seen. The dwarf looked up and smiled as he wielded the weapon like an expert.

“Carrot-head?”, Tanon wrote distracted by Black Skull's interruption.

“Xupis… the orangish hue of his hair… you never thought about it?”, Black Skull giggled.

Tanon nodded in understandment, but had a hard time pulling his attention from the magnificent weapons that were being forged, something was on the way, why else would such arms be made.

“Come now let us give them room to work”, the blacksmith said laying his hands on their shoulders.

Two heads turned slowly toward the blacksmith who despite his considerable size felt small between the two warriors.

They left the factory just in time to meet up with Xupis who was on his way to the Broken Skull, an inn of ill repute.

The loud whistle from Black Skull startled the blacksmith “You give me a heart attack”, he said and strode ahead of them into the shop.

“So what are you doing?”, Xupis asked.

“We just had our measurements taken”, Black Skull answered.

“Measurements?”, Xupis was bewildered.

“Oh yeah… we've ordered ourselves a new set of armor each”, Black Skull said proudly.

“I see… so how long will you stay in town then”, Xupis asked. “Oh I'd expect a week at least”, Black Skull answered approximating with his hand.

“I see”, Xupis said looking at the shop “Any good?”, he hinted.

“Oh yes the best”, Black Skull said blinking to Tanon. At first Tanon didn't understand but then the copper dropped, he nodded enthusiastically to affirm his companions statement.

Xupis looked at them, what an odd pair. But hey one blacksmith could be as good as another.

Xupis dismounted and tied his horse outside. Black Skull and Tanon followed him into the shop.

“Can I help you”, the blacksmith said with an examining look.

“I suppose you can… my horse needs to be re-shoed, an you fix that while I wait?”, Xupis asked.

“Sure that'll be 1 gold and 6 silver pieces”, the blacksmith answered.

When Xupis drew two gold pieces from his pouch the blacksmith regretted he hadn't asked for 2 pieces straight but a price was a price, even if it meant little or no profit.

“By the way I want to see you again in 9 or 10 days”, he said and pointed at Black Skull in the most whimsical way.

“We have to go, but where are you staying?”, Black Skull asked.

“At the Foaming Mug”, Xupis answered, and before he got any further the blacksmith cut in.

“I know that place, good choice”, he said before fetching some unfinished horse shoes.

“The best place?”, Xupis said looking oddly at his former traveling companions as soon as the smith was outside hearing range.

“Oh yeah you should see the fatory in the back….”, Black Skull started.

“Just cheking”, Xupis warned holding a hand up as the blacksmith reentered.

“You know each other?”, the blacksmith asked.

“Why don't you tell him Xupis. He'd probably love to hear about it”, Black Skull said tauntingly, then they were off.

It took little more than an hour or so before the Black Smith was done and the horse could leave with brand new shoes. The Broken Skull wasn't to hard to find, it was a place everyone seemingly knew but never frequented.

Xupis tied his horse outside “Hey you”, he shouted at a kid loafing outside the place.

“What… me?”, the kid answered wondering if this was a law enforcer on the lookout for troublemakers.

“Yeah you with the cap.. come here”, Xupis shouted looking round making sure nobody was listening in.

The kid approached slowly. By the looks and the way the foreigner acted, he probably wasn't a law enforcer after all. When he got close enough to touch the foreigner spoke.

“Would you like to earn a gold piece”, he almost whispered.

The boy opened his eyes wide with delight “A Gold Piece?”, he said loudly.

“Shush”, the foreigner warned putting a finger to his mouth “You heard me”, he added.

“Sure I'd like to”, the boy answered now keeping his voice down as was appropriate in this neighborhood.

“Okay I'll give you a gold piece to mind the horse, and I'll even throw in an extra when I come back out for your efforts… how does that sound”, the foreigner smiled.

2 gold pieces, that was more than he usually made in a week “Sure Sir”, he nodded.

The foreigner looked around and handed him a coin “Take good care of him… Okay”, he asked.

“You can trust me Sir”, the kid answered. The foreigner nodded, the boy was probably right but one could never be sure. Anyway Xupis suspected the promise of an extra gold piece would be enough to keep the boy alert, and it would probably discourage him from taking the horse himself.

“Just remember to leave the horse in the staples next time Xupis”, the elf whispered to himself.

“What was that?”, the boy asked.

“Nothing”, the foreigner with the strange name answered and started toward the door.

“Okay Sir”, the boy said but was drowned out by the noise when the door opened. Once inside Xupis scouted around the place and found the place occupied by usual types one could expect in a place like this.

On his way to the counter he purposely hit his foot against a hair “Blast!”, he exclaimed and added a little curse in the thieven tongue of Middlering.

A few heads turned, but no one got up. He ordered a big mug from the bartender, and sat down in a dark corner.

It didn't take long before a shady character sat down by his table, he looked at Xupis for a moment then he spoke.

“Your leg okay?”, he asked innocently adding a little gesture only a thief would understand.

“It is fine thank you”, Xupis answered with a smile; Contact at last!

“So you've been in town for long”, the thief said nonchalantly knowing the answer.

“No just arrived, and you?”, Xupis inquired.

“A while”, the intruder avoided skillfully.

“Thought so”, Xupis said nodding. He was sure he had gotten through to the right folks.

They huddled together whispering, ever alert to the fact that someone could be listening in on their private conversation.

“You shouldn't take using the tongue so easily”, the scruffy fellow said.

“You're right, but I saw no other way of finding out”, Xupis answered with a streak of a smile on his face. He wouldn't mind the least if the whole world knew, as long as he could find justice for what they had done.

“Hmmm”, the shady man nodded. In a way the foreigner was right, no one would walk straight up to a perfect stranger asking him if he was a thief or not. At least not someone valuing his life as much as the foreigner seemed to do, dressed up and all.

“I need a skillful craftsman”, Xupis whispered. This was the important phase of their conversation. It was the part that could result in his arrest should the fellow turn out to be an enforcer.

“Skillful you say”, the fellow said with a twisted smile.

“An expert really”, Xupis fished. If the stranger made the suggestion he would be the one encouraging the venture not vice versa. Perhaps a mere technicality but still… “I can accommodate you with anything you need”, the character said.

“Anything?”, Xupis asked knowing exactly what to say.

“Yes anything… Smiley here is the best in the business”, the stranger said.

The name was most likely to be a nick. But nevertheless the stranger had a name now, Smiley… what an appropriate name, Xupis thought seeing the mans face lighting up.

“You name it Smiley here does it!”, the man said.

“A safe…”, Xupis asked.

“A safe?”, the man answered cryptically.

“Yes a safe”, Xupis answered intended not to be the one making the suggestion.

“Cracked or just poked”, the thief grinned.

“Poked really”, Xupis answered smiling back at him.

“Anything in particular that has your interest?”, the thief asked, with potential items and targets racing through his mind. The answer came as a shock to him.

“A small yellow staff”, Xupis said without a hint of expectation on his face.

“Like a wizards staff?”, the thief asked nervously.

Xupis nodded looking him straight in the eyes. The man started to hesitate, a wizard's staff - that could be dangerous, he thought.

“Can you deliver?”, Xupis asked sending the stranger a gaze that seemed to be piercing straight into his darkened soul.

“Yes but”, the stranger started. Xupis stared at him with cold eyes.

“No hesitation just one of two words, a simple Yes or No will do nicely”, he smiled sternly.

“Yes… it can be done”, the stranger answered in a lowered voice, he wasn't happy with the prospects but a word was a word, and he had said anything.

Tanon was leafing through the books at the library, under the pretext of wanting to study the historical archives he had gained access to the wizard's private chambers.

His gaze swept across the room as he tried to spy a way into the building. The servant watched him with interest as he pulled out a book. Tanon ignored him completely as he paced over to a chair and sat down.

For every new book Tanon pulled from the shelf, it seemed the servant was mumbling something to himself. Obviously he was memorizing which books had Tanon's interest in order to enable him or someone else to check up on his research later.

While reading Tanon tried to visualize the interior of the house, or rather what he had seen of it. Suddenly a presence tore him away from his thoughts.

“Can I help you”, the elderly man said with a gentle smile on his face.

Tanon was about to open his mouth when he realized and hauled out his blackboard.

The wizard watched him write. So this is the mute, he thought looking the large elf over a second time.

Tanon had finished writing when the wizard spoke again.

“You know, I could help you with that”, he said.

“You can find the book for me?”, Tanon wrote.

“Oh sorry… I'm thinking about your tongue”, the wizard suggested.

“How”, Tanon wrote while hope started filling him up.

“Say you find me a certain sum, how do 700 Gold Pieces sound”, the wizard said waiting for the elf to react.

				...

“Paint?”, Black Skull asked with a puzzled expression on his face.

“Yeah you told us we could go do some damage!”, the young priest answered.

“With paint?”, Black Skull asked very disappointed.

“We could paint slogans on the temple”, the priest suggested.

“Slogans… paint… priests of Tempus..”, Black Skull mumbled.

“What was that”, an eager voice inquired.

“Nothing… I suppose we could do something like that”, Black Skull replied suddenly feeling very old and wise compared to his young followers.

				...

As one could expect in Middlering Black Skull and his followers ended up at The Broken Skull, their mood was high and beating up a lonely priest of Lathander on their way hadn't made matters worse.

“See, him over there”, someone whispered in Black Skull's ear.

“Yes what about him?”, Black Skull whispered back, glancing suspiciously at the fellow that had the nerve to sneak up on him like a thief in the night.

“Your friends mentioned you might require his services”, the stranger said in a low tone and pointed at the group of young Priests who were busy ordering a fifth round.

“Services?”, Black Skull asked innocently.

“Eh… yes, services of the how shall I put it… typographical kind”, the stranger said with a twisted smile.

“Oh those services”, Black Skull said with a warm and crooked smile spreading across his face.

“It won't be cheap”, the stranger said “But I suppose you have realized that you'll need someone who can do the job and be off before anyone notices”, he added hinting toward the young priests who were getting louder by the moment.

“How much?”, Black Skull asked with anticipation.

The stranger got very close to Black Skull “Say five Gold Pieces”, the stranger whispered so quietly that it was impossible even for an elven eavesdropper to overhear.

Black Skull thought for a moment, then he nodded. “Five it is”, he laughed and counted the sum from his wad.

“And what do you want put in words and where?”, the stranger asked softly.

“THIEVES DEN, I want him to write THIEVES DEN on the wall of the Lathander temple in town… and in huge red letters”, Black Skull answered making sure the stranger understood that he wouldn't tolerate failure.

“He'll do it… be sure of that, before the night is over you can be sure that someone will get a big surprise”, the stranger giggled. With that over Black Skull rejoined his comrades, they were getting very eager now and started getting restless.

“Let us roam the streets, I'm sure you'll have a rewarding experience if you come with me!”, Black Skull boasted in a loud voice.

“Let's go!!!”, the priests chanted mesmerized by the prospects of a rewarding night. The priests of Tempus would get their fair share tonight!

				...

It took Black Skull a while to find the Temple of Lathander, as quiet mice they snook around to see what had been painted on the wall, much to their disbelief they found nothing.

It was getting late and the priests were in a grumpy mood and when they finally returned to the temple they were met by humongous red letters painted on the wall. The message was very clear it said THIEVES DEN.

This was to much for the priest, he had not come this far to be offended by those Lathanderites and let them get away with it “Let's make them pay!!!”, Black Skull growled loudly.

“Yeah lets get some paint!!!”, one of the priest yelled in a furious voice

“Paint?”, Black Skull howled offended by the mere thought of such passivity.

“Yes Paint…”, the priest shouted vigorously.

“The only paint you will see tonight is the red color of Lathander Blood as it spills”, Black Skull sputtered.

Black Skull looked around, they were a ragged bunch but they would have to do “What we need are swords and weapons…. it's payback time”, he bellowed.

“Yeaaahh payback!!!”, the priests screamed furiously.

Black Skull got his hands on the youngest of them “You rush straight into the temple and start removing that paint… the rest of you, you're with me”, he yelled taking command of the small mob that had gathered.

Moments later they were at the gates of The Temple of Lathander but the fight was over before it even started, the twelve drunk priests and their followers were no match for an armed party of Lathanderites and the towns guard who were waiting for them.

Among the gathered people Black Skull noticed a grinning face, and as the towns guard pulled them away the man blinked to him and gave a slight nod, then Black Skull recognized him. It was the stranger from The Broken Skull.

				...

The thief was waiting for the wizard at the Foaming Mug, if he showed up he would do what he could to keep him there, if the old man didn't come…. well at least that was one thought Xupis didn't care to explore any further for all of a sudden a puff and a cloud appeared next to the table and there stood the wizard.

Xupis clapped his hands eagerly and so did several of the regulars who frequented the establishment.

“A drink?”, the thief offered gesturing at the bottle on the table.

“Don't mind if I do”, the wizard answered and reached for the bottle, the night was young and he was going to enjoy it.

The serving maiden returned to the table “Excuse me Sir, an I get you anything”.

The wizard looked up and a big smile spread across his face, the thief winked at the wizard.

“I told you, didn't I”, Xupis said nodding.

“Indeed you did my young friend… indeed you did”, while he spoke the wizard seemed radiant, his skin glowed like gold and an aura of supreme dignity came upon him.

				...

Tanon was lying in the bed at The Broken Horn where he had decided to lodge for the night, he tossed from side to side on the hard bed. There was something in the air and he wasn't sure if it was good or bad. Tanon shrugged the feeling off maybe it was just the built-in healthy paranoia every elf shared, well almost every elf shared about human settlements. Finally Tanon's mind started to fade into oblivion and he fell asleep, but it was going to be a restless night.

				...

“Ha, ha , ha”, the wizard laughed and touched her arm gently. The maiden's face lit up in a smile brighter than the sun.

“So Mary, are you really interested in the stars?”, the wizard asked with a longing gaze.

“Oh yes I simply adore them”, the maiden answered gripping his arm tightly.

“Then my fair young friend, you have come to the right one, tonight I will take you to the stars and beyond”, the wizard said with a smile.

“For real?”, the serving maiden asked enthusiastically.

“For real and beyond”, the wizard answered with an odd glimpse in his eyes.

“Oh I love elder men… they are so.. so”

“Mature?”, Xupis interrupted. This whole thing was turning out even better than he had dared to hope.

“Yes exactly”, the maiden answered almost drowning in the wizards eyes.

“Can you show me some more tricks”, she asked still holding on to the wizards arm.

“Oh yes…. indeed I can”, the wizard answered and rose with a resoluteness reserved for younger men.

He was quite tall and his clothes added to the effect, the robe fluttered slightly as if a mighty wind was brewing underneath in some hidden and forgotten sea.

In one swift movement Mary was swept off her feet as the wizard took her in his arms and carried her toward the door. She seemed light as a feather and Xupis couldn't help but admire the grace with which the wizard strode away.

Take care old man… take care, Xupis thought feeling very pleased with himself.

“Have one on me”, he shouted before even thinking about what it would mean to his personal finances.

Ah well money is nothing but dead metal anyway, Xupis smiled and took another sip of wine.

				...

Black Skull paced up and down the ell floor, he had tried to bend the bars but to no avail, he was stuck, imprisoned with his little band of followers and to make matters worse he had found out that it was politicians who ruled here. That meant that they were bound to face charges even though Middlering was the main seat of Tempus on Coyri 'Osu.

“Guard!”, he shouted infuriated by the bleak prospects.

“You lot be quiet in there”, a voice boomed back. “You better do as he says or things will get worse”, one of the followers tried pleading that Black Skull should remain calm.

Black Skull shrugged, he had never expected such cowardice from fellow men of the order, but such was the place where he found himself.

As he sat down in a dark corner he couldn't help but wonder how he could mold the priests of the town, they could certainly need the practice if the horde really was massing in the south.

				...

“Now cast the spell”, the white bearded mage said to his apprentice.

The chalice was filled with exotic herbs and substances making it an extremely potent mixture.

“I'm not sure that I can”, the apprentice answered mesmerized by the beautiful multicolored smoke rising from the surface of the liquid.

“Not sure….”, the mage uttered, he felt the urge to abandon his pupil arise. How could anyone seemingly brilliantly clever come so far, yet be so unsecure and uncreative. The elderly mage shook his head and looked at the young Deefrex with a stern expression on his face.

“That is not something you should concern yourself with… the council decided you were ready so get on with it”

“Yes sir”, the apprentice answered looking down with shame written all over his face.

“Cenrospi… Daydor… Ehoga”, the apprentice started.

The old man jumped toward the boy, but too late and before he could stop his pupil Deefrex had already swallowed the contents of the chalice and uttered the words.

The chalice fell to the ground and as the vortex formed with swirling clouds and strong beautiful lights Deefrex was pulled into the nexus that connected A'lhim the place of places and reality as the mages knew it.

The old mage sat down heavily and sighed “Don't worry I'll get you back… I will spare no time. Nor thirst, nor famine, nor sleep shall hold me back. This I promise!”.

				...
				...

The strange lights started building in Tanon's room. Tanon rubbed his eyes and tried to blink but the odd vision did not disappear. Then Tanon tried to pinch his arm but much to his terror the elf realized that he was not dreaming.

Tanon jumped to his feet wearing nothing but his underpants, he quickly reached for the sword and grabbed the handle.

The light grew in intensity and a multitude of small cloudy eddies started forming. First it seemed randomly but then they all converged in the middle of the room where a bright perfectly shaped sphere had started forming.

There was a blinding flash of light and a large puff of clouds that dissipated almost as soon as it appeared, left in the middle of it was a thin red haired freckled figure.

Tanon could not believe his eyes and gripped the sword even tighter and took a few steps back.

“Hello”, the apprentice said and reached his hand toward the half naked elf.

Hello? Tanon jumped back in surprise. What in the name of holy mother earth was this?.

Deefrex looked at the startled elf “My good man, if you tell me where I am, I'll be straight on my way”, he said.

Tanon edged his way toward the bed side table, he stared at the boyish figure who had appeared and decided to chance picking up his blackboard.

“On your way?”, Tanon wrote and added rather rudely “Who the hell are you?”

The red haired boy stared at the elf, was he dumb or something.

“Why aren't you talking?”, he asked eyeing the elf suspiciously.

“Long story…” Tanon wrote “Back to my question!”, he added thumping on the blackboard.

“So it has nothing to do with me?”, the boy asked to reassure himself.

“No”, Tanon wrote quite annoyed about the way the boy behaved.

“Phew… for a moment I thought that I…..”

Tanon was getting tired of this little game, who was this stranger who had entered his room and done so without even opening the door. “What time is it?”, Deefrex commanded.

Tanon looked at the boy as if he was mad.

“Time! day - night - morning?”, the young mage demanded.

Just then the cock gave off his first cockcrow “Morning I suppose”, Tanon wrote after which he pulled the curtain slightly to the side without once taking his eyes of the boy.

The first beams of light flickered into the room and as Tanon slowly edged his way toward the chair where he had flung his clothes before going to bed small dust particles whirled around in the light displaying their dance.

“You mind?”, the elf wrote trying to get the other one to turn around, not because he was shy but it would make it harder for the boy to attack while he got clothed, which in fact would be quite a difficult maneuver to achieve if the elf didn't let go of the sword for a little while.

The boy bearing no thoughts of malice took the request exactly the way the elf had hoped and turned his back to Tanon.

Tanon was very quick getting dressed that morning and as the cock gave of his second cockcrow he tapped the boy on the shoulder with the broad side of the sword.

The apprentice swallowed a big lump, was this going to be the end of him? To his great relief the elf herded him down into the taverns dining room where he gestured him to sit down by the table.

“What are you doing here?”, Tanon wrote and sat down on one of the heavy wooden chairs.

“Aehm… you never actually told me where I am”, the freckled boy answered nervously.

“You don't know where you are?”, Tanon scribbled.

“Yeah, you could say that… but what did master want by sending me here?”, the boy mumbled while he nodded.

“You're on Coyri 'Oso”, the elf jotted on the blackboard.

“Coyri 'Osu… then I'm definitely not home, which sphere is Coyri 'Osu?”, the apprentice asked and looked out through the window. The people here sure dressed funny that much was sure.

				...
				
				...

The knock on Xupis's window was barely audible but Xupis a light sleeper almost jumped at the sound.

Realizing it was daybreak he hurried to the window and peeked out.

In the back alley stood the most miserable sight Xupis had seen for a long time it was the ruffian from The Broken Skull. His clothes were smoking and his skin seemed brown and scorched.

Xupis unfastened the locks and opened the window. “Water…”, the thief begged in a hoarse voice.

Xupis was quick to offer him some water and while the thief voraciously gulped down every drop of it Xupis slipped into his clothes. He offered the thief a hand and pulled him inside.

“So what went wrong”, Xupis asked looking at the ragged clothes the thief wore.

“The tower came alive”, the thief began.

“It came alive”, Xupis said with disbelief.

“It was horrible, one minute I was climbing the outer wall the next…..”

“The tower came alive”, Xupis interrupted.

“Yes exactly”, the thief said with horror in his eyes. “It chased me until daybreak and then all of a sudden it was gone”, he continiued.

“So you have no artifacts?”, Xupis said somewhat disappointed, the burglar had probably been caught by some kind of hypnotic trap because a running tower would have caused quite a stir all over town.

“No but I won't go back”, the thief said firmly.

Xupis just nodded, he knew that getting into a wizards tower could be hard but not impossible, all the same he decided it might be a good idea to sharpen some of his skills. “Is there a master of the guild in town? I'd like to study the finer arts of locksmithing and finding traps”, he said looking at the miserable burglar.

“You're going in yourself?”, the burglar said with hesitation.

“Why that is for me to know and you to find out”, Xupis answered with a smile. There was no way he would expose himself further to this failure of a thief. “I suppose I can help you”, the burglar answered after a moment of thought “Tomorrow at the broken skull… noonish”, he added.

“Tomorrow, sounds fine… I suppose I don't have to show you out”, Xupis said.

The thief smiled and nodded lightly, the elf had beat him fair and square. Without further delay he slipped out the window and into the early morning shadows, he might just be able to get back home without anyone noticing.

				...

Deefrex stared around the bar the regulars had not yet started coming say one shady character standing at the bar desk mumbling something.

“But what are you doing here?”, the boy asked.

“I'm looking for a tongue”, Tanon wrote he was beginning to get the impression that the boy had appeared in his room by accident.

“Really and where are we again?”, the mage apprentice asked.

“Coyri 'Oso… it is an island”, Tanon wrote “The local wizard can explain!”, he added.

The barkeep paced over to their table, it looked like the previous evening had taken quite a toll on him, but nevertheless he was on his feet, ready to serve his customers.

“Can I get you anything?”, the patron asked as he stopped.

“I would like some t'ea”, the boy answered “and a thick loaf of white bread with butter I'm famished”, he added.

“We don't have any t'ea”, the barkeeper answered.

The boy chuckled oddly “Then some juice thank you!”, he tried.

“We don't serve none of that fancy foreign stuff here”, the barkeeper puffed.

“What is this place then?”, the boy sputtered annoyed that the man seemed short of the quite ordinary.

“This here is a bar”, the heavy set man wheezed “We serve normal alcoholic beverages and if that don't suit you then why is you here?”

“Aehm… water would be nice”, the boy said trying to smoothen thing out.

“Water?”, the barkeeper asked somewhat surprised.

“Yes water!”, the boy answered straight back at him “You think that would be possible?”

“I suppose”, the barkeeper shrugged and turned toward Tanon.

Tanon waved him off and the barkeep dragged his weary feet back toward the desk.

“Bread and water for the kid, nothing for the elf”, he yelled and started talking to the man at the bar.

				...

A second day passed and Black Skull was still in prison, he had grown weary of his imprisonment and loudly demanded to be put before a judge.

The other priests failed in keeping him still and the guard entered.

“What's the problem here?”, he asked and looked at the miserable bunch of priests who had a very hard time containing themselves.

“I demand to be put before a judge”, Black Skull yelled.

“So you do…”, the guard laughed and turned around but that was too much for one of the young priests no one turned his back on the mighty Black Skull of the North in contempt no one.

He raised his hands and concentrated but all he got from it was a mighty fizz and a loud bang. “No sweat kid, I've already tried, I think Tempus isn't too pleased with our performance last night”, Black Skull said to the young priest who couldn't have left the rank of acolyte more than a few months ago.

The young priest sat down in despair “Will we never get out of here?”, he mumbled.

“By Tempus we will”, Black Skull announced loudly. The promise cheered them all up for a moment but after a while the enthusiasm died back down and most of them went to sleep.

Black Skull stood alone by the window and stared out on the starlit sky when he heard some noise coming from the outside, it sounded as if someone was scaling the wall.

At that instant a well known face popped up outside the bars.

“Xupis is that you”, the astonished priest whispered.

“Yes… it's really me”, the little elf muttered “Hang on a second I'll just make myself a little more comfortable”.

The priest suddenly cheered up, had the elf come to break him out?

But he was a follower of Lathander wasn't he? Black Skull was a little bewildered, but before he could think any further the elf broke his concentration.

“Would you be interested in getting out of here?”, he asked.

Black Skull stepped back and shook his head, no it wasn't a dream, if it was a dream he would have been the one on the outside not that thief “But yes off course”, he answered.

“What would you do if I got you out?”, the elf asked.

Black Skull thought for a while before answering “Well thank you I guess….”

The elf looked disappointed “Only that?”, he asked.

“What else can I say”, the priest answered.

“Okay let me put it another way… what would it be worth to you if I got you out?”, Xupis asked.

“I dunno, depends on the sentence they plan to give me”, Black Skull answered.

“Okay then we'll wait until they bring you to court - good night!”

“Good night”, the priest answered.

As silently as he had arrived the elf slipped away and his slender figure disappeared into the night.

Black Skull stood there for a while pondering about what had just happened, why was the elf so eager to help him… there had to be an ulterior motive, well he'd find out soon enough better to get some sleep, maybe they'd be presented to a judge tomorrow.

				...

When Xupis woke up he knew it was too late, outside the whole town was bustling with activity, well there was nothing he could do about that so he jumped out of bed and dressed as fast as he could. The elf bolted downstairs and didn't even bother to answer when the landlord asked if he wanted any breakfast. As fast as his elven legs could carry him he headed for the courthouse.

				...
				...

“Disturbing the peace, encouraging civil unrest, planning a skirmish against the Temple of Lathander, do you have anything to say in your defense?”

“Yes your honor”, Black Skull started “We were just out in town minding our own business when we on our way home noticed some nasty red huge letters on our temple”

“What did they say”, the judge asked with interest.

“I cant say it out loud”, Black Skull muttered.

“Well if that's the case I'd say you have no excuse”, the Judge stated.

“Wait…..”, Black Skull said summoning all his strength.

“Come on we have a busy schedule here”, the judge added urging Black Skull get on with his final statement.

Black Skull clenched his fists together “It said THIEVES DEN”

The judge looked fatherly at the accused priests and fastened his gaze upon the Lathanderite who was busy whispering to his council.

“Now did you do that”, the judge asked

“No your honor we did not”, the Lathandrian priest answered.

The judge turned toward Black Skull “Can you prove your accusations?”

“No Sir, my fellow men of the robe washed it off”. Black Skull was no happy with the answer and a slight giggle from the audience in the courtroom followed.

The judge looked at the priests for a while before deciding on how to proceed with the matter.

There was a tension in the courtroom which spread through the air like the strangeness which follows a bolt of lightning.

The judge coughed and then began saying his judgment “hmmm my dear priest, as you know this is a peaceful city and we wish it to continue having such a city - therefore if you have any problems kindly leave them outside the city walls….”

He paused for a moment before continuing. “I find that your attack on the Lathanderites was totally unprovoked and….” “Unprovoked!!!”, Black Skull howled.

The noise from his hammer boomed through the courtroom at the judge knocked hard on his desk “Order, I will have order in this courtroom”, he demanded.

But there was no stopping Black Skull now he simply had to have his say “But we are priests of Tempus and thus should be free to worship”

“Worship yes”, the judge interrupted “Make war within the city walls. No!”

Black Skull couldn't believe his ears, had the proud south sunk so low?`

“Since you're a newcomer I will show lenience, I hereby sentence you to 20 days of community labor”, the judge continiued.

“What is that”, Black Skull asked suspiciously.

The judge gave him a pleasant smile that he wasn't quite sure he liked, but Black Skull paid attention to the judge all the same.

“You will help out at the orphanage. My wife runs the place so don't expect that you can just loaf around without me hearing about it”

An orphanage children, diapers! Black Skull felt as if a noose had been laid around his neck.

“But your honor kids live in the orphanage I'm a warrior….

The judge cut him short “That is correct and that is why I am sending you to work there so that you can help the children to understand how delightful and wonderful life is, so that they can appreciate it fully”.

“Can't I just spend 40 days in prison?”, Black Skull said with a blackened heart.

“You will face your sentence and follow the rulings of this court to the letter or I will hunt you down and incarcerate you for the rest of your life”, the judge snapped.

“Oh okay… if that's how you feel”, Black Skull rebuttled.

The judge gave Black Skull a menacing look and the priest refrained from further ado.

“Your duty starts tomorrow - make sure that you wash yourself and appear presentable when you go to work”

Black Skull nodded and looked down, these were miserable times indeed.

Xupis couldn't help but let of a slight giggle. The mere thought of this man taking care of a bunch of children was absurd Beadhead would definitely need a drink.

				...

The inn was crowded and the two of them Black Skull and Xupis blended right in. They choose a dimly lit table toward the back wall but that didn't prevent a Lathanderite to come up to their table.

In a fatherly manner he placed his hand on Black Skulls shoulder “We forgive you!”, he said with a smile.

That did it. Black Skull fought to keep his temper but before he knew it he had paid a messenger boy five silver pieces in order to topple the Lathanderite over when he left the establishment.

It took a while but finally the Lathanderite decided to leave, he laughed and jested on the way out but as he took the final step through the door a tiny leg appeared from the darkness behind a pillar.

The priest took a nose-dive and ended up in a puddle of mud that had appeared as if by divine intervention.

An expectant hush fell over the establishment which was broken by Black Skull's thundering laughter, this in turn triggered an entire chorus of sniggering and grins.

The Lathanderite to embarrassed to find out what had really happened decided to get out of the situation as soon as possible and left without further incident.

“You know Xupis, I really have to go but perhaps I'll see you again?”

Xupis nodded and took a sip, he wiped the foam from his mouth and smiled “Perhaps”, he said cryptically with a nod.

				...

Black Skull had been at the scribe, with a lot of enthusiasm he had convinced the man to sell him some paper a pen and a small pitcher of ink.

On his way to the temple he ran into Tanon and someone clinging to the elf as if they were friends.

Then he noticed something strange. There was a glowing sphere over Tanon's head which suddenly turned into a flock of flying birds.

Tanon was quite obviously annoyed and was about to write something when he recognized Black Skull.

“Hello there”, Tanon wrote and held the board in the air, Black Skull nodded a greeting in return.

“Whence have you come”, the priest inquired.

“Oh we were at the inn…”, Tanon started. “And your friend?”, the priest asked.

“Long story”, Tanon wrote.

“Oh I see… well maybe you can tell me later I have some important business to attend to”, Black Skull said attempting to avoid being drawn into a lengthy discussion.

“Sure”, Tanon wrote and showed it to the priest.

Black Skull smiled and nodded “Well…. then I'll be off I guess. See you around”.

Tanon nodded and the two of them, the elf and the child mage started walking down the muddy streets again making sure their hoods were secure in the biting wind which was growing.

“So you want a new tongue”, Sunstone asked.

Tanon nodded. “Then why don't you just take it from someone”, the mage suggested.

Tanon was astounded “You can't just kill anyone and then take his tongue”, he scribbled doing his best to keep the blackboard dry.

“Well have you tried?”, the mage inquired. Tanon looked at him with an annoyed expression on his face.

“Elves don't go around killing anyone or anything to gain personal profit”, he scratched hastily with increasing difficulty.

“Oh I see”, Sunstone muttered trying to understand the place he had ended up in

Meanwhile Black Skull had returned to a dry and well warmed room in the Temple. He sat down on a chair and started composing. It was going to be a choral work for two and he would name it Elianor.

At that very moment it seemed as the heavenly shutters were closed for the rain stopped and a streak of sunlight peaked through the dense cloud cover which had put its dreary hand on the scenery. “I was wondering”, Sunstone started “Would you like me to help you out?”

Tanon looked at the young boy and shrug his shoulders then gestured with his hands that he was open for suggestions.

				...

Tanon and Sunstone were in an oval chamber waiting for the towns mage. When he arrived he looked at the child mage with interested eyes.

“Deefrex… am I right”, he uttered seemingly in an attempt to guess the boy's name.

“Woah that's incredible”, Sunstone started. How on earth could the old man now his name of initiation “Where am I”, he inquired.

The old man stroked his beard in a very speculative manner “You are on Coyri 'Osu in the Moon sea”

“Where”, the baffled boy inquired. The old man huffed and gestured for him to come closer.

“Come hither I'll show you”, the old man demanded.

Deefrex walked up to him like a puppy eager to please his master and the old man put a wrinkled hand on his forehead.

A bright light seemed to fill Deefrex's mind and at that very instant it became clear to him where he was. Then all of a sudden he realized why he was on Coyri 'Osu.

He was sent here by his master to help Tanon get a new tongue and when he had accomplished that his mentor would come for him…

				...

The cemetery looked like a great waste and a dark dreariness sank over them as they crossed into it through the magnificently crafted gate.

“No - no way!”, Tanon wrote when the idea sunk in. He grabbed the young boy by his neck and stopped him dead.

“Okay, okay it was only a suggestion”, the boy managed to say while wriggling away in an effort to get loose.

Tanon looked at him with hard eyes and shook his head. “I get the picture”, Deefrex replied, relieved that the huge elf had let go of him.

Tanon stared at him for a moment to make sure that the boy fully understood the implications of what he had suggested then he turned around and marched straight up to the nearest tavern.

				...

The orphanage was an old building, the walls were weather worn and the stone set foundation has dark green mosses growing on every available spot. A bushy and thorned shrubbery climbed up the southern wall and functioned as a sanctuary for several bird-nests and several beautifully colored birds were busy gathering and bringing supplies to their youngsters.

Inside Deefrex a mere child himself was showing the orphans some magic tricks and as the glowing sphere drew near one of the small boys he noticed the child had an exceptional natural ability for magic, for as the sphere came up to him the boy projected thoughts that caused the sphere to whiz back and forth through the room changing color at every turn.

Deefrex immediately took an interest in the child and as soon as his little show was over he decided to teach the little boy a few basic skills he was going to need when growing up.

“So Tom do you know what this is?”, Deefrex asked looking at the boy.

“A book”, the boy tried.

“Yes a book… and do you know why we have books”, the mage apprentice asked.

The little boy backed away and looked at the mage with scared eyes “To hit little boys when they have been bad”

Deefrex almost dropped the book in astonishment “What”

“I'm a good boy”, Tom whimpered.

“I know you are”, Deefrex said taking a step toward the youngster.

“Really”, the boy asked looking at him with innocent eyes.

“Yeah sure”, Deefrex confirmed making the boy feel somewhat more at ease.

“Do you really think books are used to hit little boys who have been bad?”, Deefrex inquired. “Most of the time”, Tom explained.

Deefrex couldn't help but laugh, the sniggering caught on and soon the small boy was giggling like never before.

“You thought”, Deefrex laughed and lifted the book.

“Yes”, Tom sputtered looking a little suspicious at the same time.

Deefrex smiled and threw himself into a chair next to the boy “What would you say, if I told you that books contain stories and laws that say hitting small boys isn't allowed?”

“Uhm I dunno?”

“Well they do… come sit here I'll show you”, Defreex said padding the armrest on the huge chair.

The boy came over at sat next to him with timid steps.

“Do you know the alphabet?”. Deefrex asked.

“Lafabet?”, Tom asked trying his best, this man sure spoke funny.

“No Alphabet A-B-C-D… etc.”, Deefrex explained.

The boy looked at him with big eyes full of wonder which told Deefrex that the child had absolutely no idea what the mage was talking about.

“Okay you see this one”, Deefrex said pointing at a picture “This here is a feline creature do you know what we call them?”. The boy shook his head and looked up at Deefrex again.

“See the letters C-A-T… what do you think they mean”, Defreex asked.

“COW?”, the boy answered thinking about how funny it would be to have a striped cow, yeah he'd definitely get himself one of those when he grew up.

Deefrex shook his head….

“HORSE?”, the boy tried noticing the despairing look on Deefrex's face.

“No No No”, Deefrex started before realizing he would have to take it very easy “Okay try this. Can you say K-A-T…”

Now that was easy “Kat”, Tom pronounced proudly knowing that the teacher would be proud if he knew. Deefrex lit up like a candle “Yes that's it. CAT as in mouse catcher”

“Oh I see”, the little boy answered and looked at the picture for a moment, he still found it quite odd that someone would call a cow for a cat.

				...

The marketplace was crammed full of people but in the confusion Black Skull finally spotted the man whom he was looking for.

“So troubador would you be interested in a job”, he asked and looked at the cap in front of the entertainer. The meager earnings didn't excactly impress and Black Skull wondered if he had made a bad choice.

“Ah the people here simply don't appreciate music”, the musician said and threw the few copper pieces he had made during the day into a wallet.

With resolution he placed the cap on his head and fastened the lute on his back “Whereto?”, he asked freshly.

There was something about his manner which appealed to the priest and without further ado he gestured the trouhbadoure to follow him.

“You see I have these….” and that was all which could be heard before the two of them dissapeared behind the corner.

				...

“Who's there”, a female shouted.

“Black Skull priest of Tempus”, the albino announced with pride.

“Eh…. and George the Minstrel”, another voice cut in.

The door opened and out came a dazzling female with the most radiant smile.

“We are looking for Elianor”, Black Skull began.

“Why?”, the woman asked suspiciously.

“About some work”, Black Skull hurried to explain.

“Oh but we already have a magician”, the woman answered a little dishearted.

“No you misunderstand - your husbond sent me”, Black Skull said with the biggest smile he could present.

“Oh you…. but you arn't supposed to come untill tomorrow”, the beautifull woman answered with a twittle of a smile.

“Well I figured I might get to know the place”, Black Skull began.

Elianor looked at the big priest with dreaming eyes “Please come in”.

The place was huge and built like a maze but as the tour came to an end the three of them sat down in the kitchen.

“T'ea anyone”, Black Skull offered.

“I have'nt had that for ages”, Elianor said blinking in a most seductive manner “Please wait I'll put the kettle on”.

That look was more than Black Skull could resist and with resolution he rose and announced that he would take care of that.

In one swift move he moved the already hot kettle to the middle of the stove and it didn't take long before it came to a boil.

A sweet odour filled the room as Black Skull poured the steaming water into three large mugs.

“Oh that smells simply divine”, Elianor announced.

“Yes it is an exquisit blend!”, Black Skull agreed putting the kettle back onto the stove in its resting place.

The troubadour examined his cup and then decided to down the colored water and leaves in a big gulp which was something he probably shouldn't have done judging from the coughing and puffing that followed.

Black Skull laughed and even Elianor couldn't help but sniggle. The troubadour not sure about how to react said nothing and simply blushed.

Black Skull restrained himself and thumped on the troubadours back in a friendly way.

“See the importance with t'ea is how you enjoy it. For instance what you just did downing half of it in one go”, Black Skull just shook his head.

The troubadour nodded and tried a carefull sip with a much better result. A while later the t'ea had done what Black Skull intended and he cleared his throat.

“I'd like to perform a song for you if I may”, Black Skull began.

Elianor looked at him with eyes sparkling like those of a man looking at a Dragons horde of gold.

“A song… how wonderfull… I'll just gather the children”

“Aehm children?”, Black Skull had not excactly planned a large audience but before he got further with his thoughts Elianors voice cut right through his mind.

“Yes the children they love a good song”

Black Skull had a resigned look on his face while he nodded as if in agreement to what Elianor had proposed and as soon as she had left the room he pulled his piece out and hastily scribbled a few changes. He then showed them to the troubadour who agreed that the changes he made probably were in their best interrest as the audience would probably consist most of children.

The children were awaiting the pair eagerly and had great troble staying still untill Black Skull emerged in the door opening. The priest sent elianor a charismatic smile gave a slight nod to the troubadour and started singing.

The song wasn't very long, the alterations made had cut it several verses short but it nevertheless did the trick. The song was receiveds with wild appraisal from the youngsters and with an affectionate smile from Elianor.

“Beautifull song”, Sunstone said offering a Gold Piece to the priest. Black Skull declined the honor saying that the children had more need for a contribution a comment that triggered an entire range of emotions in the Lady Elianor.

She came up to the priest with a seductive look on her face “Could I ask you a favor”, she smiled.

Black Skull felt the blood rush through his body, he hadn't been with a woman for quite a while but he couldn't. Not with this one she was already married. Darn shame, Black Skull thought loosing himself to an inner fantasy.

“Well can I?”, Elianor asked.

“Huh.. what?”, Black Skull muttered ”…Oh off course”, he added with a smile.

“Could you play with the children for a while?”

Black Skull looked at her with great surprise “Play with the children?”

“Yes play with the children”, Elianor repeated.

Black Skull coughed “How… I mean”. He didn't get any further before Elianor interrupted him.

“Oh I dont know… use your wisdom - sing with them play - whatever. Remember there is a boy in every man”, she twittered.

“And a man in every boy”, the priest added as if to reassure his status.

Elianor nodded and started leaving. Black Skull who hadn't excactly planned for childcare hesitated. Taking care of hildren… him?

However it didn't matter what Black Skull wanted. The simple fact was that before he could say or do anything Elianor had dissapeared along with the young mage and the troubadour, leaving the priest alone with the children.

“It seems I'll stay a while”, he began “I think I'll sing you another song”.

There once was a warrior A most valiant man He rode a horse white as snow The eyes, the eyes they had a glow

The sword he used on many a beast He fought most…

Pretty soon the room was in turmoil with the boys running around all wanting to be the hero but when his song of the beastslayer ended Black Skull noticed that all the girls were sitting in the corner in a moment of sheer inspiration he made up a song of a warrior maiden and less than five minutes later even the girls were quarreling about who was a greater hero Beastslayer Verran or Ismelda the Warrior Queen.

				...

Xupis had decided that they would have to accept the mission, or rather he would have to accept the mission. He could always worry about the others later which was why he found himself heading for the tower.

He shuddered when he entered, he had never quite fancied those wizards. They were dangerous yet so interesting. But the mood swings… one moment they could be the happiest person around and the next BOOM!!!

Xupis closed his eyes as a chill ran down his spine. No! definitely look out for those wizards.

“Aah it's you”, the old man exclaimed shaking Xupis's hand. The thief smiled and nodded.

The old man looked at him “So you think you're a man with talents for performing the impossible”, he said.

“Definitely!”, Xupis said while he lit up his face with a confirming smile.

“Hmm”, the old man said stroking his beard. For a moment the wizard was measuring Xupis with an intense look.

But just as he was about to speak a knock interrupted their conversation. The wizard looked at a mirror and waved his hand. A shimmering image of the door appeared and outside stood the boymage and a child which couldn't be more than 5 years of age.

“Yees…”, he said, still looking at the mirror. After another moment of contemplation the wizard turned his attention back toward Xupis.

“Would you excuse me for a moment”, the comment was more a statement than a courtesy for the old wizard had already gotten up from his chair when his said this.

“Off course!”, Xupis answered with a submitting nod.

The robed wizard scuttled out leaving Xupis alone to ponder about the mysteries of the magic world.

				...

In another room in the tower a rather agitated wizard tried to avoid the boymage's suggestion without insulting him. How could he, merely an apprentice see the potential in such a young child. Even masters had great difficulty spotting talent. And they had the training and experience to recognize such things.

“But I am telling you he is an excellent learner, he already knows alphabet as well as rudimentary reading and writing”, Sunstone tried.

“You must I'm a very busy man”, the old wizard tried.

“But an apprentice could make life so much easier”, the boymage insisted.

The old wizard looked at the small child chasing a herd of imaginary butterflies he had conjured up with the mere flick of a hand “How?”, he asked skeptically.

Sunstone thought for a while before answering “Well he could clean up, you know fetch books n'stuff”.

The older man looked at the pair of them, the boymage a scant image of a wizard, a rough and self centered young soul. A dangerous combination in a wizard and then at the child who was now staring at the butterflies mesmerized by the way they were changing shape and color. Run errands? He would think about it, it was a serious decision not only for himself. I wonder if the boy truly understands which world he suggested that the child entered.

“Listen if he turns out to be a decent kid at the age of 13 he can become my apprentice. He really needs to be among children that are his own age for now… He can come to the tower once a week until then and if he is interested. Well that'll be up to him”.

“Yippee… Did you hear that?”, Sunstone was ecstatic.

				...

“So forest of the whale you know it?”, the wizard asked pointing at the oddly shaped woodlands.

Xupis placed his index finger on the map “Yes just North of here… right?”

The wizard nodded and looked at Xupis funny how good things came in odd packages these days but the guild would pay and then the true adventure could begin.

”…the one with the big clearing!“, Xupis mumbled and put on a serious face.

“Absolutely… I see the job will be well handled in your capable hands”, the wizard said rubbing his beard.

“But off course”, Xupis verified “By the way what exactly is it you want me to fetch”, he added somewhat concerned about the task itself. He itched at an opportunity to get into the vault but he had to earn the wizards trust. Its a pity I'm really starting to like this old geezer, Xupis thought when he was interrupted by a voice that seemed to invade his mind with a force like no other he had felt before.

The wizard spoke with determination “It is a square box that sits in the tower which is marked on the map”

“The tower but why haven't you gone there yourself”, Xupis asked a little suspicious.

“Its a long story, but to cut it very short - nobody from our chapter can enter”

“Your chapter?” “Yes our guild… we were once involved in some unfortunate affairs and those of us who survived were banished from ever setting foot in the forest again.

“What would happen if you did”, Xupis asked innocently.

“You don't want to know”, the wizard answered and strangely enough Xupis suddenly found himself more interested in the task than in hearing more.

“Does anybody live there?”

“Live?”, the wizard smiled “No… nobody lives there!”

“Oh good, I hate creepy places teeming with life, it makes the job so difficult”, Xupis said while a satisfied smile crept over his face.

“Yes doesn't it”, the wizard smiled.

“About the box how does it look?”, Xupis inquired.

“Oh you'll recognize it when you see it”, the wizard said with a stern look.

“Sure?”

“Yes it's black”, the old man mumbled.

“As the night?”, Xupis pressed.

“Even darker!”

Xupis wasn't sure if that was something he liked to know it didn't sound very pleasant, no magic did really.

“Anything I should look out for?”

The wizard stared out the window with a sad look before he answered “Yes beware of the guards!”

“Guards? but you said nobody lived there!”

“The guards don't live - they guard”.

Xupis was getting a bad feeling about the whole thing and felt like quitting everything right there and right then but he kept digging for more information. There was something compelling with this job, a feeling that something great might grow from it. It was one of those ambivalent feelings you get when somebody waves an extra bag of gold for less than a weeks work and the bag for the job you have just completed.

Xupis rubbed his forehead “So this is a one man job you reckon?”

“No, no - there is strength in numbers”, the wizard pointed out with a strained expression.

“Got any suggestions then?”, Xupis demanded.

“Yes bring a priest!”.

Xupis looked at the wizard with distrust “A priest?”

“Yes a priest…. and a mage”, the wizard repeated while adding another element to the cocktail.

“Both?”, Xupis asked hoping that it wasn't paramount to bring a mage.

The wizard looked at the thief… a sly one indeed, he smells treasure that one for sure “You must bring both it is most important”, the wizard stressed.

“I see..”, Xupis said a little disillusioned.

“And bring a fighter along… you know for morale”

“A fighter sure no problem”, the thief answered. Xupis was starting to feel a bit tired but he knew there was something he had to try.

“By the way old friend we discussed a certain item yesterday!”

“We did?”, the old man said a little surprised.

“yes we did”, Xupis confirmed.

“Oh”, the wizard wasn't exactly sure what the thief was referring to but he had a nagging suspicion about what was coming up.

“The silenced armor… you think I could borrow it?”, Xupis asked.

“Borrow?”

“Yes… and keep it when I return with the item you requested?”, the thief tried.

The wizard looked at the thief who in turn stared at him with pleading eyes “I suppose”. the old man answered.

				...

He pounded the leather armor, the man on the receiving end laughed eerily. Thud after thud his opponent found his strength drain away.

“Here take this”, a spectator yelled and sent a stubby sword flying into the arena in a beautiful arc.

The weaponless fighter threw himself toward the blade and caught it graciously.

“Let's see who'll take the price now you Arakian scum”, he growled and threw himself into the fight with redoubled strength.

The cheers were immense and Tanon rooted for the home team as well.

“Kruta, Kruta”, the crowd screamed in hypnotized awe.

“Twenty gold pieces on Kruta not bad”, the bookmaker said and took Tanon's bet. That very instant the crowd roared wildly and as Tanon turned he realized he had lost the wager. The Arakian held Kruta's head high in the air and growled.

For a moment the crowd was silent and then the cheers began “Ro'tin, Ro'tin…”. Tanon stared at the warrior who displayed his opponents head to the crowd while taking their applause a feeling of nausea came upon him, he had never expected them to kill each other.

The big elf shook his head and headed for the nearest inn. The place looked quite shady but Tanon didn't mind, he had to get these images out of his mind and a drink seemed like an easy solution.

As he entered he saw Xupis discussing something with one of the customers. The character nodded and Xupis slid him a pouch.

“Fifteen in advance and the rest tomorrow when you take me to your master!”

The man took the pouch, “Until tomorrow then”

Xupis looked at him and then pointed a the throat “Tomorrow or else…”, the semi circular motion and the expression on Xupis's face were more than enough to convince the recipient that there was ample reason to keep up his end of the bargain. He scuttled off like a scolded dog a couple of the other customers laughed and showed him the same gesture.

“What was that about?”, Tanon wrote and sat down by Xupis.

“You want to earn ten gold pieces”, Xupis asked.

“Sure”, Tanon jotted and signed the barkeep to take an order.

“Follow that man who is leaving the bar and report about his whereabouts, especially if he meets anyone and places he visits”

Tanon nodded and got up, he looked at Xupis who immediately slid him a small pouch.

				...

“Listen I'm paying you to do this!”, Sunstone argued.

“Well not nearly enough it is one thing to kill a man but to uncover a grave… the mere thought of it gives me the creeps”

“Grow up, they're dead what harm can they do”, Sunstone said turning his eyes upward in a gesture of disappointment. The two men had already received ample compensation what had they expected?. He handed then the shovels without another word.

“I'll keep watch”, he said and started to look around in a gesture to ensure no one caught them in their venture.

What a strange fellow that elf, why mind whose tongue it was, it was not like anyone would complain. The thought was quite amusing to the young mage and he forgot all about time and place as he stood there, but suddenly the sounds of a desperate scuffle caught his attention.

“Help us”, the rather bloated fellow screamed while he fended a bony hand with his shovel.

The other man was on his knees “What do we do? What do we do?”, he repeated.

“Fifty gold pieces say you fight”, Sunstone yelled, as a glowing sphere started growing between his hands.

“I can't”, the man cried petrified by the attack.

“You jump that on,e I'll take the other - just bash those dry bones to pieces”, the mage shouted as the sphere suddenly sped forward.

“J… Jump it? You must be out of your mind!”, the bloated fellow howled and took a wild swing at the nearest skeleton. Just then the glowing sphere hit its designated target sending bone fragments out in all directions.

“Fifty gold pieces?”, the man shouted trying to count the skeletons which where closing in.

“Fifty”, the mage replied firmly. Sun Stone's words almost had a magical ring to them and the man jumped from the dig.

As they both approached the small horde of undead, a swift blow from the mage missed the ribcage of what seemed to be the scariest skeleton he had ever seen.

The magic sphere had taken a lot of Sunstone's strength and he wasn't sure he'd dare use more magic to stop those rattling heaps.

The digger who had been on his knees suddenly leapt up and was on top of the nearest skeleton doing his best to dismantle it joint by joint.

That's the spirit, Sunstone though and took a serious slash from a nearby angressor.

Blood gushed from the wound but it didn't seem to bother the mage and in a fit of rage his shovel cracked a skull and split one of the attackers in half.

“Yeah”, the bloated fellow shouted and slashed the legs off another skeletons.

The last two undead apparently decided that time had come to skip the fight, you don't undie twice.

But Sunstone was certainly not going to let them get away with their deed.

A hissing closed in and the final two were swept up by a small tornado which ripped them into pieces before they were more than twenty paces away.

“That'll teach them”, the chubby fellow said and leaned heavily on a gravestone.

“Yeah it sure will”, Sunstone answered triumphantly.

				...

Xupis who had found Tanon was looking for Black Skull, he was quite sure he could lure Tanon into the quest without payment but he wasn't so sure about the priest though.

His small hands knocked on the temple door and after a short wait a guard appeared.

“Yes?”

“We seek Black Skull of the Northlands”, Xupis began.

“Ah you must be the two elves”, the guard replied with a nod.

“Black Skull told you about us”, Xupis asked proudly. “Oh yeah… you wait right here I'll fetch him”, the guard answered with a strange notion on his face.

they go to nearest bar and they disuss the job what's in it priest asks oh gold how much lot's how much is lots a lot priest suspicious wants to talk to employer and suddenly mage appears pretty beat up thief quickly fastens note bead head to the tempus priests back in the confusion whatever happoned to you oh some skeletons in the graveyard It's all lathanders fault What yes they're supposed to are for the dead who is this guy the thief asks tanon explains who the mage is and introduces the people to the mage a mage you wouldn't be interested in a job? already got one what job I'm a wiz apprentice why are you here then why? yes why? aehm I'm waiting for my master to bring me back I'm helping tanon get a tounge Hey I'm helping him to do that too the priest says then while you're waiting why don't you join us for a little escurtion I dont know there'll be lots of gold - fame and glory the thief said with enthusiasm not really interrested in suh matters Tanon is coming - right mate the thief said slapping tanon on the back YES - tanon wrote I guess I could come too then Hey tanon by the way I got you a tounge excitement but No money dont worry I got that covered - the mage hands tanon a gem worth at least 800 GP's tanon excited wants to see mage now now? well okay! they leave for the mage knock don't disturb me knock I said don't disturb me knock mmlmlmrrlmgbhhlg the wiz said and everything went silent puzzlement in the band but they soon discover it is a spell dampening all noise in and around the tower guess there is nothing to do but to got to sleep tanon suggests Well there was that little business about caring for the dead priest turns head - bravery? very interresting tanon tounge and gem in pouch - priest and thief go to cemetary the mage says good-night he is weary because of the wounds and decided not to join them but says is that your official title what that on your back what on my back the note saying bead head BEAD HEAD

elves finding it hard not to laugh but explode in an almost unstoppable grin DID YOU DO THIS NO NO GIGGLE GIGGLE MUST HAVE BEEN SOMEBODY ELSE Just then a scream from the graveyard grabbed their attention Undead? Don't know let's find out

llong swords drawn they entered the cemetary 6 skeletons appeared the guys win

Morning after tanon sees mage and gives tounge + diamond where did you get the tounge uhm I don't know the wizkid gave it to me never mind… come back at 11 the mage says

Thief walks out of Lathander temple - after his story about a couple ofskeletons and a priest of tempus they were more than willing to see to his wounds, he was in a good mode and there was plenty of time to prepare.

Black Skull does community service and starts with a story explaining who the good of war tempus is. kids spellbound. Elianor arrives can't you sing about something other than the usual blood and gore that follows the drinking tempus heroes like what like flowers like flowers? Oh but off course I understand, thats how they see you what the children the children Yes like a beautifull rose hyggur djúpt í eyguni see I knew it you're not hopeless Elianor leaves him with a smile There is a plant called troll…. at that moment the apprentice arrived uncle Sunstone uncle Sunstone do the light trick again the kids pleaded priest annoyed to be interrupted but hey if that mageling entertained the kids he could have a smoke and a up of t'ea. he returns with the tea and lights his smoke Elianor says we're not supposed to smoke a kid says You're not smoking when I'm holding the pipe are you? ahm there is still smoke in the room a kid insisted you the priest said looking at a ruffian you wanna try he lokkede dunno it'll make a man out of you

Tanon - are you ready to receive your new tounge excited nods etc. wiz arrives with a tiny glass the size of a thimble Drink this Tanon emptied the glass in a single drag hits hard wiz arrives with another Tanon again emptied the glass in a single drag and falls down in a drunken stupor

Thief sees local brewer and exchanges receipes in turn for ingreedients

Tanon is drunk and tries to get to know his new tounge it's a bit too big but he is happy He now has a tounge and speaks with a lisp Tanksss mussar wiz føtur yes yes you paid for it it's quite okay

Xupis gets a dark robe in the clothes store and returns to the foaming mug listen - tanon - xupis - tanon - xupis how about the job xupis asks I lost him - where's my money money you expect 10 GP for loosing him? yes you can have 2 2 I considder that an insult consider yourself insulted tanon leaves priest meets tanon and priest heals tanon days go by tanon & priest see blacksmith and get suited in new armor pay and leave blacksmith tanon fer aftur til arena bets on the underdog and looses again after real potato mash fight priest fær at vita at bardagin við Sundon verður um ein mánað tvs. góð tíð til at fyrireika seg

They visit the viz and thief scam is busted keep all gold you find hmmm haggle priest fær holy symbol - fighter helmet - mage fær ring íð økir um intelligense men minkar um wisdom priest heldur at gruppan man acepta og tað ger hon viz krevur eisini 500 av the loot.

bs punishment done xupis keypur bow men suckar at skjóta light appears hey what's that Sunstone hyggur áhygaður eftir ljósinum sum verður intensari mage appears & ston argue about gem and zap away short 1 mage but they deide to leave anyway - lets make the best of it they ride for 2 days toward the forrest night falls and tanon takes the first watch sound - unknown to him sound closes in tan wakes the others when they come into sight - they know as little about the creatures before them as tan x hides in shadows prist shout who goes there death they creatures yell in hideous common the creatures gang up on them and all are hurt then beast fail and sword flies into other beasts throat baddie miss x + priest swirl around, back to back with swords in their hands baddies miss again x cut's the last down, “That'll teach you not to mess with an elf” they find a few copper coins priest takes care of their wounds morning after Priest meditates and takes are of their wounds BS discovers the fur is worn n'torn as they ride on they suddenly come upon a black man Who goes there I am Methrod Mbuba one day I will be most powerfull wizard to walk the lands. Hmm where are you going to city to find magic men where do you live nowhere anymore my family is killed when I was plucking berries oh I'm sorry is okay So would you like a pipe Methrod? Pipe? “Oh…. I mean would you like smoke in the lungs”, the priest tried “Oh smoke in lungs…. same as home old custom”, Mbuba answered “Well would you?”, the prist asked again “Smoke in lungs for Mbuba?….. Yes thank you”, the black man answered with a smile Mbuba offers berries Haha you so white me so black pretty funny Mead anyone xupis ansked after cheking his barrel They drink some mead Why dont we make camp for the night - it is late anyway and weary travellers need their rest. they make camp so what's the bone for Mbuba beauty, is nice yes well suppose it is the priest answered the pipe was lit with giggle weed laughter and drink we're going to a city only we need to make a stop on the way! Xupis tries Oh I see Mbuba answers fnis “Would you like to join up with us”, the priest added giggeling following up on Xupis's thinking.

“Sure is okay… you funny guys”, Mbuba answered with a shining white smile. “Specially you… speak very funny, what with tongue?”, the black fellow added. “None of your business”, Tanon answered “Sorry me stranger… but very curious” “Okay” “So Black Skull homemade name”

“Homemade?”, Black Skull said.

“Yes from black head ornament?”, Methrod asked

“HA, ha, ha… no no! It's a nickname I got from the priests when I was young”, the priest smiled. He had been coloring his head with charcoal as a youngster just to see what he would look like with hair on and one day a priest had seen him. Well from that day on the bald little fellow had been nicknamed Black Skull… he wasn't small any more. Today the name Black Skull was not said with disrespect but with great admiration for the one that had been so small and scrawny who had now grown into a man of admirable stature.

I see Methrod said chewing on another of his black berries. The forrest was dense and hard to get through and on the 8'th day they came upon a bear eating berries from a bush The bear was huge and the priest immediatly took an interrest in the skin Mbuba you're a man of the forrest - do you know that animal the priest asked

The elves shook their heads in dissapointment, did the priest really know so little about wild life that he couldn't recognize a bear.

“Oh yes that is M'gole I thinks you call it bear”, Mbuba answered with awe in his voice.

“Bear eh…”, Black Skull said weighing the word on his tongue.

“Yes bear”, Mbuba affirmed.

“Say Mbuba is it dangerous?”, Black Skull inquired. The elves shook their heads again and started gazing around.

“Oh yes M'gole wery powerfull - very dangerous!”, Mbuba answered with wild eyes.

“I see…”, Black Skull said looking at the beast with longing eyes.

The bear turned around, a menacing growl told them that they ought to retreat without delay. The horses neighed and tried to sidestep while their riders fought for control.

The bear growled again and the horses started to panic then all of a sudden Black Skull spurred ahead in a valiant charge.

The bear stood up in its full height and lashed out with a deadly claw.

Black Skull barely avoided the deadly swing and with a swift blow the bear was beheaded. The mighty two-handed sword dripped with red blood and the priest seemed completely mesmerized by the scene playing out next to him.

Finally the muffled silence was broken by a heavy corpse falling toward the forest floor.

The thump when it fell onto the ground could be heard far, but rather than installing a dead silence it inspired further sounds.

Once more the forest came alive and the birds started singing, life goes on.

“That was close”, Tanon said riding up to Black Skull for a closer inspection.

“I guess”, Black Skull answered coarsely.

The bear is skinned meat is cooked Fur is treated with herbs n'stuff Xupis buries the remains - thanks for the blessings They eat Xupis and Tanon prefer the dried mushrooms X collected earlier After a few days of riding they finally arrived at the edge of the clearing And there not far away they could just discern the tower. They ride forth The outer door is locked but x picks it in an unattended moment and the door swings open it is dusk now and suddenly there is a swoosh from above a gray gargoyle sweeps down from above in a combined effort our heroes manage to escape the horrendous claws and fangs the body falls down and turns into stone right by they find a stone tablet with markings priest copies markings which none of them understands x notices it is a hatch of sorts and Tanon moves it beneath it they find gold beyond compare 1000 GP it turns out to be they enter the tower it has turned quite dark now the priest kicks in a door to a circular stairwell they search 4 rooms, one filled with junk (they remove junk and find another hatch, they decide to cover the hatch again and search the rest of the tower.

at the final door Black Skull stopped, did he hear something? Xupis confirms that there definitely are voices behind the door and movement of sorts Tanon tries to kick the door in but bounces back “Ouch… that hurt”, Mbuba said Tanon withdrew with a sulky expression Xupis tried his skills but fails

In a gallant effort Tanon and Mbuba threw themselves against the wooden door that opened with a bang

The beings stopped, they seemed like a cross between fighting roosters and humans but they lacked any definition that could classify them as one or the other. Before anyone could react Tanon sent a hailstorm of daggers toward the beings, a couple of them immediately fell to the floor.

Just then Black Skull barged into the room with his sword drawn. The beings howled in fear but charged directly toward the priest. He expertly performed swift series swoops and cut down another two.

A fifth creature fell before Tanon's long sword leaving the two warriors with a supreme victory, chests heaved and hearts pounded was it over were there any more lurking in the darkness.

After a short while a silence had fallen over the tower, it was not the ordinary silence of an old house. There was a haunted feeling over it and unease crept upon them.

They decided to advance further up after searching the last room. The hatch below could wait.

Not more than up the stairs Xupis felt a strong hand stop him.

“More chicken men”, the priest whispered slowly drawing his sword. There would be bloodshed and he wanted to make damn sure it wasn't their own.

He emerged from the stairwell with a terrible roar “Cut them down, every last one of them”, he shouted with a ferocious intonation.

Mbuba fell before one of the chicken men, was he dead? Xupis leapt forward with his sword drawn and lashed out. The creature evaded his sword easily and with a mocking laughter it crossed blades with the elf.

Xupis knew that he probably didn't stand a chance against such an overwhelming foe but knew that there was no other way but to fight. Then Xupis felt a terrible pain in the back of his head, after which everything turned black.

“Aaaargh!!!!”, Black Skull yelled in anger when his sword hit Xupis.

Luckily the sword hit the elf broad side, but Xupis went down all the same.

In one giant leap Black Skull stood where Xupis had been standing. His honor could not permit him to do otherwise, what would Tempus think if he caused the death of another valiant warrior, if such a description fit the sly elven thief.

He clove the creature in half before it could unlock itself from the sudden surprise that the falling elf had presented and moments later it was over.

Tanon helped Black Skull to pull their two unconscious comrades downstairs into a room they could barricade. After that he improvised a couple of snares and returned to the room where they had installed themselves.

“How are they?”, he asked looking at the two figures stretched out on the floor.

“They'll be allright!”, Black Skull answered and put a wet compress on Xupis's head.

Xupis moaned and tossed himself back and forth. Black Skull felt the shame like a dagger piercing his heart, just a second later and the elf might have been cloven in two. He shook his head and tried to chase his thoughts away.

The walls were gray and dreary, but the room could probably provide them with a measure of safety, at least until they could get Xupis and Mbuba back to their feet.

scary sounds Tanon sets rubble snare awakening what happened I struck you what? Mbuba - at least he is honest

morning after Tanon.. why change xupis's faith underwear is like faith sometime it gets dirty and you need to change it when it gets smelly - oh I see Tanon removes snares 1'st floor revealed no doors but xupis finds a secret passage wait xupis finds a trap in the bookshelf door tries to dismantle but is hit by a dart - ziing sucks out some blood and the only effect is a slight buzzing feeling it was a good sting Tanon opens the door a skeleton lies on the floor the priest greets the skel which suddenly rises up BS reached for his holy symbol and thrust it into the skels path skel flees head over heels they pursue and cross a corner a bunch of skels are waiting for them and they begin to lash out swords are drawn and the boners are engaged Mbuba strikes one with his staff and it falls broken to the floor the priest squirts holy water after the rest of them and they disintegrate before them in the rubble Mbuba finds a book he finds fascinating for unknown reasons as they ascend the come upon a circular room full of doors suddenly more skels appear and Tanon and the priest charge after them half the time throwing curses at them and the other half flashing holy symbols at them. xup + mbup follow them they went up the stairs and entered a small circular chamber - obviously it was the spell casters work room they found 3 flasks with a cork on but empty 9 flasks without but they find nothing else go down again and try other doors

x peeks inside - problems he whispered as he drew his sword the others did likewise x charges and they cut 4 skels down before they can even react

find rubble pile and a hatch below the rubble, it turns out that there are a few other doors and x picks one open, it is the wine cellar. They take 5 bottles each of extremely fine wine. next is the prison block, the priest checks the cells, and when he is in the last one it slams shut. the priest yells and tries bars bend in anger but to no use tanon arrives and manages to bend a pair of rusted bars enough that the priest can get out there is another hatch like the one in the rubble room and they investigate Tanon lifts hatch and they throw a couple of copper coins into the pit, there is a slight splash but nothing else they lower Tanon into the dark pit. there is some murky water beneath but nothing else he is pulled out again they return to the rubble room and remove the rubble from the hatch and open it they enter a hallway leading NW and SW after searching the SW tunnel they enter an oddly shaped room carved into the rock the priest has a bad feeling, there is an altar and the priest finds a symbol of sorts, he squirts it with holy water and it evaporates they make their way back to the entry point and head NW priest gives the other guys in the party a few holywater nades each, which he by the way had forgotten he had made earlier. the cavern they arrived at was badly lit, but from what Xupis could make out there were at least 20 baddies or so and the box they had come for. There was no doubt in his mind when he turned to the others.

“It is here”, he said with awe in his voice. The darkness of the box had impressed him, never before had he witnessed such blackness. It was beyond anything he had seen in his 138 years of living. It was fantastic.

They huddled together - and after a short planning they attacked. With a roar beyond comparison they charges one immediately went for the box but Xupis cut him down with a swift stroke.

Nades immobilized several but they kept coming and all of a sudden Mbuba went down. Xupis was by him in a single leap and clove the creature in half that was about to end the magicians life. Another creature attacked him enraged by his comrades fate and Black Skull jumped into the thick of it, he valiantly swung his morning star. It swished and howled as the pointy ball tore through the air but all of a sudden things went wrong. The chain suddenly got stuck on a pike on the priests armor and sent the ball in a trajectory that lead it to a sudden collision with Black Skulls head. Black Skull didn't say a thing, it was like time had stopped and every movement took an eternity, all sound seemed oddly distorted and he felt a strange sensation come upon him.

For a few seconds his body just stood there and wavered, then with a spectacular crash, it fell.

The creature laughed with a menacing voice, but suddenly it stopped. The eyes opened wide in astonishment, right in front of it stood Tanon. His sword was dripping with blood and his chest heaved rapidly back and forth in anger.

Xupis looked at the two, something seemed wrong, the creatures arms fell down by its side and the rusty sword fell down with a clank. The knees wiggled and the beast started to slump forward. At that instant the creatures head fell to the ground and hit it like a ripe melon.

Xupis looked around, there was nobody left. More than 20 corpses lay strewn across the cave floor. Tanon was still standing in front of the corpse his body rocked back and forth in a strange rhythm. He turned his head toward Xupis.

With his head somewhat askew he smiled, Tanon was obviously pleased with what they had done.

“We won”, Xupis managed to stutter staring at Tanon.

“Yes….”, Tanon answered and fell lifeless to the ground.

“Not now”, Xupis yelled in despair, he was alone in a cave with 3 fallen comrades, a prize possible of invaluable worth and a lot of dead creatures, that might have friends lurking around the next bend.

Well there was nothing to do but to search the place, but first the box. Xupis grabbed it eagerly. It felt cold and yet not unpleasantly so. He jammed it into his backpack and went exploring. He could be reasonably safe that their backs were covered but what lay ahead?

He went over to Tanon and took his sword, he would need all the help he could get, and if that meant nicking the sword Tanon had gotten from the Magician so be it… he could always give it back. He piled them nicely in a corner and hid them under corpses of the fallen creatures. He made sure they were okay… well as okay as wounded people could be and was off.

The further in he went the narrower the cave began, but all of a sudden he felt a breeze, an opening? He sat down for a moment and said a silent prayer. But no glowing warrior arrived nor did any of his fellow companions join him miraculously healed from their wounds, he was alone like it or not.

Slowly he edged himself forward, this was not the time to be reckless. The breeze grew stronger and all of a sudden Xupis saw a starlit sky. Evening already? All sense of time had disappeared once they had gone down into the caverns. He scouted around but found no evidence of guards, the forest was right by, there was no doubt in his mind he would have to chance crossing the clearing to get into denser wood. But first he would have to haul his comrades to the opening.

He returned to the cave, they were still there and alive. He tried to wake them but without result, lucky me he thought as he searched the cavern and bodies. The bounty was plentiful 21 copper pieces and 800 gold pieces, that would be 150 for them and… Nah better divide it equally the other solution would be to heavy in the long run anyway, and it was only money after all.

He took them, 30 meters at the time, pulling them over rocks and sludge until he finally got to the opening. It was still dark outside and an occasional owl hooted in the distance.

Here goes nothing, Xupis thought as he pulled Mbupa's body across the clearing, no alarms went off and no beastly attackers came out of the night without warning. Xupis was getting his confidence back and the 2 hours it took to haul them to reasonable safety he almost felt like whistling, but only almost.

When he was confident that they were far enough from the entrance to be discovered by anyone passing he stopped. This was where he would make camp.

He undressed the weary warriors and wrapped them in their sleeping gear, but only after putting some leaves over their wounds as best as he could remember his mother doing it.

After they were wrapped up the real work began, he found enough branches and shrubbery to cover them completely so that they wouldn't be spotted. After that he went out searching for more shrubbery and mosses. He filled their clothes and used their now empty backpacks for heads. The contents were safely dug down under an easily recognizable rock.

He threw the rope around a branch and placed the 3 dummies in a pile of shrubs that hid them completely after which he tied them to the rope. He climbed the tree and tried the contraption he had created. Instantly 3 figures sprung up from the ground in the darkness. Xupis almost startled himself before climbing down. He hid the dummies again and climbed back up in the tree.

Priest and Mbuba wake up - “Where are our clothes” - embarrassment etc. Xupis pulls rope - dolls spring up “Auuah!”, Mbuba shouted. They get their clothes Priest checks on Tanon, he has some bite marks on his leg Poison! - suck what they can Mbuba finds leaves and mosses and places them on Tanon's wounds. After that the priest and Mbuba tend each other and try to meditate in order to gain strength. Tanon gets worse and falls into an unsettled fever Priest makes some t'ea and they try to feed him etc. Xupis asks about the horses The horses… oh they are all alone, where the hell are we anyway Xupis thinks the tower is that way

Mbuba and the priest fetch the horses and priest makes a sketch of the letters on the stone tablet beneath which they found the gold.

When they returned Xupis had grown very tired and decided to climb a tree He fell into a restless sleep “Xupis!” “What”, Xupis yelled back annoyed about being disturbed “Has Mbuba tended to your wounds?” “No” “Well would you like me to look at them” ”… I guess” “You'll have to climb down then” Xupis climbs down “Auch, Yikes that stings”, Xupis grumbled etc. All done and Xupis climbs back up into the tree and falls to sleep. BS sits down and starts a new composition, the valiant fighters. Mbuba mumbles in his sleep After a couple of hours the priest woke Mbuba and the Magician took the next watch. The pattern continiued for some time but all of a sudden the thief was ripped from his sleep.

“XUPIS…..”, the Priest yelled at the top of his lungs

“WHAT!!!”, Xupis yelled back in a bad mood.

“You slept for 12 hours”

Huff and puff - X climbs down

“Is Tanon okay?”, he asked when he reached the forest floor.

“I was just about to change the herbs under the bandages”.

Do the stuff

Mbuba & priest in mock battle, fist fight. Armor falls and nose bones are removed

Xupis looks at them…. will they never grow up?

“Xupis you count”, Mbuba asked looking at the elf.

“Hmmm…..”, was the only thing Xupis could think of saying as he got up from his comfortable position.

“1, 2, 3….”, he counted before any of the two were really prepares.

Mbuba was the first to react and sent a swift kindney punch hammering into BS's side. P - uppercut - kaboom - Mbuba staggers P - left hook - ——– - ——– ——— M - right hook - misses P - Rabbit punch - but fumbles utterly M - grins and tries another right hook - but misses P - jumps from side to side while Mbuba prepares for another hit M - Gets in a perfect combination sending the priest a couple of steps backward M - all to happy and closes in for another attack P - Gets a pounding uppercut straight in and Mbuba falls like a log.

Black Skull was very content “Damn good fight”, he said giving Mbuba a hand.

“Yes damned good..”, Mbuba answered with a smile.

“Xupis how about you”, the priest tried eager for another fight. He was exhilarated, a very unusual thing Black Skull rarely truly experienced.

“Oh I dunno…”, Xupis tried in an evasive attempt. He didn't like to fight, he was more the verbal kind.

“Come on elf…. I won't hit too hard”, the priest grinned.

That did it, one thing was that he didn't like to fight, but nobody mocked him and got away scot-free. Xupis slid behind some bushes and packed his armor into the backpack.

“Okay”, Xupis said emerging from behind the bushes. His muscles flexed in the shimmering sunlight while bird song filled the air.

“You go first”, Black Skull said laughing arrogantly. Xupis moved with unseen swiftness and got a good combination in.

The priest leaped back somewhat surprised by the ferocity of the attack, he took a wild swing at Xupis but missed out completely as the elf jumped aside with lightning reflexes.

Damn, Black Skull thought as his fist swished by Xupis's head. In that same instant Xupis dodged in a different direction and threw a punch at his left kidney. But this time the priest was too fast and Xupis was way off. The priest uplifted by the experience tried a combination but was to slow for the little elf which danced around him like a butterfly.

Xupis was starting to feel the fatigue set in, he hadn't fully recovered from their previous engagement but gave himself to the fullest. A rapid punch to Black Skulls stomach had quite an impact on the big man.

But a punch just glancing of Xupis's head put a damper on Xupis's hope for a victory. A straight hook took another bit of strength from the priest who obviously was in trouble having exhausted himself to much in the previous fight. Black Skull tried a hook, but missed the first time, if that elf got as much as one stroke in he would be finished he knew that much…. beaten by an elf? Not a chance. As these thoughts whirred through Black Skull's head fatigue really started to gnaw at Xupis, he tried an uppercut but missed out. In a desperate attempt he went for Black Skull with a kidney punch leaving himself wide open. A heavy fist thrust itself at him and Xupis went flying down. “Ouch” etc.

Tanon wakes - discovers he is naked “Where are my clothes” he yelled in anger.

His comrades laughed, they had completely forgotten about that, Xupis pulled the rope and Tanon's clothes stuffed with bushes and moss jumped up from hiding. Tanon almost leapt to his feet, but realized his condition in time and remained under the carpet.

Tanon get dressed in his under garments still very weak

A day goes by and Tanon recovers from his fever, he is still weak but the next morning he had stirred enough to get up and about.

Talked about what happened in cave - Xupis's ingenious dummies to scare off potential attackers, Tanon not to happy, clothes full of little thorns.

Hey those were the only bushes I could find without, leaving you guys lying alone and defenseless.

“Hmmmm…..”, Tanon reluctantly accepted the explanation.

“Hey where is my sword”, Tanon suddenly exclaimed.

“Your sword….”, Mbuba asked puzzled, the elf had a sword in his sheath, was he still delirious?.

“Yes my sword”, Tanon was about to explode.

“Oh your sword”, Xupis said with the most innocent voice. “I've got it… you know if I ran into some baddies while you guy were out”. The innocence almost gleamed from him as he gave Tanon his sword back.

“I believe this belongs to you”, Tanon almost hissed handing the unfamiliar sword he had found in his sheathe to Xupis.

“Yes that's it I guess”, Xupis said inspecting the sword before putting it into his own sheathe.

“It is getting late, why don't we go back to the tower and sleep inside”, the priest suggested.

“Inside…. I don't know”, Tanon said a bit reluctant to leave the green and beautiful forest he found himself in.

Tanon didn't get far with his protests, Xupis brought up in close proximity to the city didn't posses the phobic tendencies many elves shared about cities in general, and Mbuba whose only interest was to get into one of the big cities to become the greatest magician ever was more than willing to return to the tower.

“Well that settles it then”, Black Skull grinned and swung his body upon his horse's back.

A little while later they were back at the tower and improvised a pen for the horses. While the animals grazed in harmony they went back to the tower well, Xupis leaned over looking into the dark water. Some pebbles lying there fell into the water causing rings to spread on the surface. The little waves bounced back and forth against the wall until the surface calmed down again.

“Think we should investigate the well Xupis”, Black Skull asked as he joined the elf who stood there in silent contemplation.

“Investigate?”, Xupis was a bit puzzled by the priest's suggestion and turned toward Black Skull.

“Yeah look for treasure and such!”, the priest continiued with a gleam in his eyes.

Xupis's face lit up in a smile “Well sure we could”. They had already found more than necessary, but he sure wouldn't mind an extra gold piece or two. Who knew the well could be filled, just like that hole under the stone tablet.

They were quick to prepare themselves and as Tanon came walking along to check up on them Xupis was already deep into the well.

“What's happening”, Tanon asked looking down at Xupis.

“Oh you know, Xupis and his treasure hunts”, Black Skull shrugged holding on to the rope.

“What”, Xupis yelled looking up into the light.

“Nothing Xupis”, Tanon yelled back at the elven thief who immediately went back to searching the deep watery pit.

Half an hour or so progressed before a disappointed Xupis finally emerged from the well, “I guess it was never anything but a well”, he exclaimed in a weary voice.

“No I guess not”, Black Skull added to end the conversation.

They packed up and went inside, Mbuba had cleaned the living room, well cleaned would perhaps be to strong a way to put it, but he had done his bit and laid fresh wood in the fireplace and as they entered he was trying to get the kindle wood going.

They were quick to put their gear down and tuck themselves in, finally Mbuba got the fire going. The flames danced in their secret ways and reached for they sky. All of a sudden Xupis said.

“Hey do you smell something?”

“Smell?”, Black Skull answered in puzzlement.

At that moment smoke started wallowing out from the fireplace and within seconds the place seemed filled with a thick fog.

Xupis was the first to get up “The chimney is constipated!”, he yelled trying to find the bucket.

Mbuba was on the fire before anyone else could react and threw a bucketful of water onto the fire. It hissed violently and a jet of steam shot out from the fireplace, making it even worse to see anything through the dense smoke.

Tanon opened the door and kicked the little lever which held the snare in place, it sprung but Tanon was aware of it so he didn't get caught.

Waving his arms in front of him Black Skull left the room the room “Way to go Mbuba… didn't you check the chimney?”, he mumbled.

Moments later they were all outside taking a breather.

“I told you we should have stayed in the open”, Tanon started arguing.

“Shut up Tanon…”, Black Skull answered annoyed at the elf's hindsight.

Tanon looked down in a sulking manner while Xupis who had gotten his breath back suggested that they camped down in another room, still unaffected by the smoke. The others agreed, some more than others but nevertheless they went back in. The night passed rather uneventful and finally daybreak was upon them.

“The Box… who has the box”, Tanon suddenly found himself screaming into the air.

He blinked once or twice, where was he…. oh the tower.

He took a deep breath, his clothes still had the burned niff to them, it was a most unpleasent odour, he needed a bath and clean clothes. Ah well best to get up then.

He got dressed and woke the others “Xupis, who has the box?”, he asked when he was sure they were all awake.

“I do….. why?”, Xupis asked suspiciously.

“Wouldn't it be better if I cared for it…. after all you are quite small”, Tanon suggested.

“Small, I'll….”, Xupis yelled, but got cut short before he could wind himself up.

“Xupis wait, Tanon has a point, wouldn't it be better if one of the strong guys had the box”, it was Mbuba who supported Tanons suggestion in an attempt to calm things, maybe if they made a joint decision Xupis wouldn't mind so much.

“You are all in agreement”, Xupis sputtered looking angrily at them.

“I don't really care”, Black Skull said evasively, he had his eyes on Xupis and was certain they would be able to track him down if he bolted.

“If you are not with me you're against me”, Xupis said bitterly.

“No we're not against you… we just thought it would be better if….”, Mbuba tried.

“Sure better!!! Xupis can't be trusted…. Xupis will turn and run or even worse maybe he'll loose the box…. and then what?”, Xupis was furious but managed to remain fairly calm when he adressed them.

“No it's not like that”, Tanon tried, but in vain. Before he knew it he box came flying towards him.

“And a good morning to you to!!!”, Xupis yelled as he threw the little black box at Tanon.

Tanon caught it and stared at Xupis for a while, well if that was how he wanted it… He showed the box into his backpack and soon after they were on their way.

-They head back toward town -After riding a while they come upon 3 fellows -The priest immediately greets them in common -Xupis having looked at a butterfly for a while turns his head and sees the 3 figures

“Orcs…”, he mumbled with fatigue, hadn't they seen enough fighting for this trip.

“Hi there”, he tried in a rustic orchish.

The leader of the orcs who had been eyeing them suspiciously clenched his fists. “Prepare to die”, he shouted in the most hideous manner he could think of.

“This is not good”, Xupis said turning to the others.

“What did he say”, Black Skull asked.

“Prepare to die”, Xupis answered somewhat reluctant thinking about the prospects for the future.

“We'll see about that”, Tanon answered preparing to throw his daggers.

Off course it couldn't go well, Tanon all to eager for battle sent his shiny daggers flying in an all to obvious manner. The orc leader grinned as he parried every single dagger with his shiny arm braces.

“Did you see that?”, Tanon answered with disbelief in his voice.

Nobody answered, everyone was to busy preparing themselves for the coming battle.

Mbuba looked at the others and noticed a faint glow around almost every item the little band was carrying.

There definitely was something magical about Black Skulls morning star, Tanon's sword and helmet, and Xupis's upper torso seemed to glow all over.

“Why do you glow Xupis?”, Mbuba asked him curious about the strange elf he had only recently met.

“Huh…”, Xupis answered surprised at the question while trying to bend the bow and aim at the same time.

“I said why do you glow Xupis?”, Mbuba asked again a little louder.

The arrow went flying high and wide, it missed out completely. The orcs laughed as they came thundering straight against them, these travelers would be easy prey.

“I don't glow…… you been eating to many berries”, Xupis answered annoyed.

There wasn't time for another shoot but the dagger could be drawn in time. He jumped up on the back of the horse and galloped ahead, right before he met the orcs he jumped into the air and caught a branch swinging himself into the safe shadows of the leaves.

The other 3 inspired by the apparent act of bravery stormed ahead. Mbuba reached for his daggers and threw them.

They swished by the nearest orc and fastened themselves in a thick oak tree.

Things were not going well at all and all of a sudden the two sides clashed.

In a mighty swing Black Skull lashed out at the leader, just grazing his arm.

Tanon who was to close to them ended up on the receiving end of Black Skull's attack.

He snarled in pain when the great sword hit him, but fortunately Black Skull had managed to get some control over the sword at the time so the damage wasn't overwhelming but nothing could change the fact that the priest had fumbled his chance away. Tanon roared in anger as he violently attacked the leader of the orcs.

The leader quite amazed at the elf's amazing speed and vigor retreated a few steps back.

Something he shouldn't have done. For out of the tree fell a small elf with a shining dagger in his hand. The wound it made when it dug into his spine didn't seem that large, but there was nothing the orc could do as his legs gave in.

Xupis drew his blade from the fallen orc while Tanon, Black Skull and Mbuba cut the last two down in a ferocious attack.

The silence after the battle slowly dissipated and it didn't take long before the birds were twittering away again.

“I don't know about you, but I could certainly do with a mug of ale now”, Xupis said walking toward his horse.

“Ale?…. Sure why not!”, Black Skull answered sitting down leaning back toward a tree.

Xupis fetched the mugs and poured some of the home-brew into them, he handed them their respective tankards and sat down on top of one of the orcs.

Their rest was well deserved and enjoyable, together they had averted another foe and won another battle, but Xupis couldn't help but wonder how long their luck might hold on.

It was time to move on and they got on their feet.

“Damn fine mead”, Black Skull complimented nodding toward Xupis.

“Well thank you”, Xupis answered gracefully. He had always known his brewing techniques were comparable to a master brewers but it was always nice to get a compliment.

The trip through the forest passed quite peacefully for a few days and Mbuba even found himself to almost nibble of on his guard.

The forest thinned out and they found the road and headed straight for Middle Ring. All of a sudden they noticed the scared screams of children in distress.

Xupis listened carefully to make out where the noise came from. “It's up ahead, right around the bend”, he shouted alarmed by what he heard.

The party spurred their horses and steered straight toward the screams.

As they came around the bend they were a bit puzzled with what they saw. High in a tree sat two little boys scared half to death. Beneath the tree stood 3 figures. They were not men nor beast but reminded them most of wild boars, yet they were dressed in torn rags seemingly those of peasants.

“Hold it right there”, Black Skull yelled in an attempt to draw the boar men's attention.

The boar men stopped and looked at the newcomers for a moment “Stay out of our business”, one of them yelled back at them.

They stopped, so these were not plain beasts after all, but what the heck could they want with 2 little boys.

“No wait…. why are you after those lads?”, Tanon asked pointing at the boys.

“They tried to spear us”, the boar man leader answered, the other two grunted in unison affirming what the first had said.

“They're little boys… little boys sometime do things they shouldn't… right lads?”, Black Skull said blinking at the boys

“Yes…. we're sorry”, the boys tried looking at the ogres beneath.

“Sorry?… sorry won't do! You wanted to eat us and now we will eat you….ha, ha, ha”, the boar man shouted at the little boys who crept together in the branches.

“No that would not be right… you cannot eat little boys”, Mbuba interrupted.

“I told you to stay out of our business”, the leader yelled furious about being cut short.

“Hang on…. obviously you have no manners or honor, you will leave those little boys alone”, Xupis said looking threatening at the boar men.

“Get moving or face the consequences”, the leader threatened.

“Consequences, smonsequences”, Mbuba said spitefully.

He didn't get any further before the two boar men came hurdling toward him.

Xupis quickly drew his sword in defense, the horse startled by the boars reared. He almost fell of the horse and lost his sword. The long sword went flying through the air hitting Black Skull on his head stock on. It fell to the ground and so did Black Skull.

“Damned”, Tanon exclaimed and threw himself into battle. The horses neighed and stomped around as their masters drove them against the boar men.

The leader was now shaking the tree violently, the two boys were barely hanging on and were scared witless.

Tanon noticed what was going on and lashed out with his sword. He cut deep into a boar man and Mbuba finished him off.

The leader was still shaking the tree when Tanon came flying off the horse and landed right next to him. The leader grunted violently and lashed out at Tanon with his hoof like hands. The blow came straight and hard, Tanon didn't stand a chance to get out of the way. Instinctually he thrust his sword forward and managed to stab the leader before he went down.

The leader snarled in pain and ripped the sword from his stomach, at that moment Xupis had gotten in behind him and slit his throat in a single movement.

The leader fell to the ground and stayed there. The last of the boar men panicked and fled, Xupis tried to get him with an arrow but failed.

They checked on Tanon and Black Skull, it didn't seem to serious, Tanon was already recovering from the blow although Black Skull had a big dent in his head.

“You can come down now”, Mbuba said looking at the two boys who were still crouching together in the crown.

Lucky for them they had chosen a rather old tree with its roots planted firmly in the ground. The two boys looked at them unsure of what to do.

“It's safe I promise”, Xupis said with a smile, then he realized he was still holding the bloody dagger in his hand. He dried it in the boar leaders shirt, or what was left of it and sheathed it.

“Come now… don't be afraid, Mbuba here might not look exactly like us but he is okay…”, the elf said with confidence while nodding.

The boys climbed down “Are they okay”, the older one asked pointing at the two who lay on the ground.

“Sure, they're fine…. they just need a moment to recover.. right Mbuba?”, Xupis said turning to the magician.

“Oh yes, certainly…. they're okay don't worry lads”, Mbuba tried.

Obviously the boys didn't believe them and wanted to get away as fast as they could.

“We have to leave now”, the oldest one tried while edging away from them.

“Oh no you don't”, Xupis said gripping them by the collar. “Let us go… or our father will…”, the oldest tried before Xupis interrupted him.

“Listen up kids, I'm gonna let go of your collars… but I want you to remember what you just saw us do to those two boar men you see lying on the ground. If I hear a tweak of disagreement from you two… or you try to flee, you can imagine what we might do!”

Mbuba turned away from them pretending to take an extraordinary interest in the bark of a nearby tree. Which was a good thing actually for if he had kept looking at Xupis and the two boys he would have given in to a laughter which would have undermined everything Xupis was trying to do.

“Are we clear on that”, Xupis demanded.

“Yes”, the boys answered in chorus, they were certain that they didn't want to evoke the wrath of the ones who had slain the terrible boar men, both that and they were to tired to run anywhere anyway.

It didn't take them to long to make camp and to pull the two boar men away for a proper burial. But before laying them in the ground they searched the bodies and found a couple of transparent bottles containing some sort of potion. One was yellow the other ruby red.

The boys had gotten some of their spirit back and had a hard time keeping in their place.

Xupis drew 25 silver pieces from his pouch and laid them out in a circle around the boys, the boys looked with interest and could hardly keep their hands off the silver coins.

Mbuba looked at the scene with puzzlement, then Xupis drew 2 gold pieces from his pocket and said.

“These are yours on one condition….”, he hesitated before continuing.

“They are yours on the condition that you leave the silver pieces alone and that you stay within the circle until we leave”, he dangled the gold pieces in front of them. The boys stared at the money with big eyes.

“Okay?”, Xupis asked still dangling the money in front of them.

“Y.. yes sure”, they answered with excitement, stretching their hands in the air.

Xupis dropped a gold piece in each of their hands “Now remember, stay put or you'll have to give the money back”.

The boys nodded eagerly and studied their newfound treasure.

“And if you stay there like good little lads, there is more where that comes from right Xupis?”, Mbuba added.

“Right Mbuba…..”, Xupis answered sending his eyes at Mbuba.

A couple of hours had passed, the fire burned brightly sending warmth and light into the darkness.

Xupis decided it was time to play a little trick on the untrusting bodyguard. Under cover of darkness he snook over to Tanons backpack and lifted the box.

Let's see his face when he discovers that, Xupis chuckled silently.

-All have mead even the kids

-Tanon has recovered now and the priest has been awake for a moment but drank -something and got back to sleep.

-The morning after they mount and get on their way, they boys sit on Tanon's and Black -Skulls horse.

-Middlering in sight boys excited -So where do you live -The Foaming Mug -That's an inn -Yes our father owns it -hmmm

As they rode in people eyed them with fearfull respect, their clothes were battle worn and they way the company moved witnessed about a tight knit group on high alert.

-Arrive at the Foaming Mug -Tell the story -Free stay and drink as long as they wish - thanks for saving my boys -Xupis goes to the Broken Skull in an attempt to get to somebody with magical knowledge -but who will take more interrest in money and not the item

“I had it right here”, Tanon yelled and searched the backpack again.

“Maybe you lost it”, Mbuba said throwing the drink down in a single gulp.

“Wait…”, the priest tried, but to late. Mbuba had already swallowed the entire contents of the glass. Black Skull had no idea of how long it would take before the drink took effect, the last time he himself had taken one of those he had ended up in jail for illicit conduct.

Tanon was completely out of it “I never lost anything in my life”, he said.

“He, he, he…. you funny guy Tanon… Then why have you got somebody elses tongue in your mouth? ha, ha, haa.. har, har”, Mbuba succombed to his own humor and rolled over in a ferocious laughter attack.

Tanon stiffened, what the hell…. did he think he could say something like that and…

“I heard him mumble about the Broken Skull”, the priest interrupted.

“Ha, ha….. black skull - broken skull”, Mbuba wiggled on the floor, this was hilarious… I wonder if all cities are like this, he thought as more funny remarks started brewing in his fogged mind.

-Xupis arrives at the Broken Skull and meets with shady character. -They discuss the situation and find out that it might be possible to find someone who -could identify a magical object without the wizards guild knowing -Shady guy leaves and Xupis is about to follow him to make sure he isn't being set up when

“Xupis…..”, a slurry voice called.

The voice booming through the street seemed familiar, but who in their right mind could it be, Xupis turned around to see who it was.

He noticed Tanon, Black Skull and a very drunk Mbuba on their way towards him.

-“Shsssh”, Xupis signed to them to remain silent and turned his head, the contact had started moving now, everything depended upon stealth now.

“BUT XUPIS…. WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?”, Mbuba yelled as the three of them came up behind him.

Xupis turned his head “Shut that blabbering fool up”, he turned his head and caught sight of his contact.

Xupis felt a heavy hand upon his shoulder as he was about to start after his contact.

“WHY YOU NOT WANT TO TALK TO ME?”, Mbuba yelled yanking Xupis's shirt.

Xupis didn't an answer, instead he swirled around and planted a fist straight up Mbuba's jaw. The tall black man was out like a light, a small dust cloud rose as he fell to the ground. Without a sound Xupis swirled back around, but his contact was lost in the crowd. “Damned”, Xupis exclaimed wanting to kick Mbuba, instead he kicked a barrel so hard it broke.

“What's the problem”, a voice boomed behind them. They turned around, it was a towns guard patrol. “Problem… no problem Sir”, Xupis replied so fast that the patrol leader took a special interrest in them.

“Then what is he doing on the ground”, he asked glancing suspiciously from one to another.

“Aehm… he fell”, Black Skull tried. He had no intent of going to jail for disturbing the peace.

“Don't I know you”, the leader said looking at Black Skull.

“I shouldn't think so”, Black Skull said nervously.

“Arn't you that there Black Skull fellow who lead the attack on the Temple of Lathander a while back…”, the leader probed.

“Wow… you see, I told you the act would work”, Xupis exclaimed in the most excited voice he possibly could.

“Act?…”, the patrol leader was confused.

“Yes doesn't he look just like him!”, Xupis almost yelled exhilarated by the effect his comment had on the patrol leader.

Now they were all confused, Black Skull and Tanon hadn't a clue what Xupis was planning and Mbuba was starting to murmor as he lay there on the ground, but it seemed to throw the patrol of guard so they decided to say nothing.

Xupis felt daring so he took it one step further, he jumped up on a crait and knocked on Black Skulls head plate. Twok, twok, twok it said as his knuckles gently knoked on the plate.

“Doesn't it seem real”, Xupis asked as strong hands grabbed him.

“If you do that again….”, Black Skull started but stopped when he heard laughter.

The patrol members were laughing their heads of.

“He is a real comedian”, one of them yelled and put his hands on his stomach.

“Yeah right….”, Xupis said smiling.

Black Skull let go of the elf, who dropped onto the ground. Xupis was quick to get up.

He brushed his clothes while encouraging the patrol to visit their performance in the square in a couple of days. “We just might do that”, the leader said giving the sign to move out, as Mbuba staggered to his feet.

The patrol left laughing, Xupis waved at them “See you soon….”, he shouted. The leader waved back and was gone.

“Xupis you have some explaining to do”, Black Skull said towering above him.

Xupis didn't like the way Black Skull stared at him.

- Back at Foaming Mug -Mbuba is put to bed - Xupis explains that he wants the box examined, it might be worth a lot more than the wiz -pretended…. if it wasn't special why had he bothered to send them to fetch it -In the evening they go back to the broken skull, Mbuba has sobered up so he is also with -them, he remembers nothing of the fist etc.

-Shady character returns and Xupis explains the guardians of the item wish to come - shady char explain it will be on their own recognizance.. he will not be held responsible if -magic identification guy takes it badly that more arrive.

-go to an alley -it dissolves and they appear in front of wiz -what object would you like identified -just a box -oh wiz very interested wants to buy -decides on tower wine instead - extremely fine worth a fortune -they learn it is a box of teleportation -teleportation??? -moving without traveling or was it the other way around -wiz takes another sip -cant you teach us to use it -sure… but it'll cost you -how much -1 bottle of wine -okay -murmur, they don't understand -oh by the way do you understand these scriptures -wiz looks yes -what do they say -treasury -oh I see -anything else -no -back in alley

-Black skull goes to tempus temple -asks about battle -my name is black skull -3 days from now -I was wondering, I still suffer some minor damage from my trip, is it possible to be -tended here -sure, go to the east wing and ask, a healer will see you shortly -A beautiful woman prepares the room for black skull and they chat -are you going to tend me bs asks -no my tutor -who is your tutor bs imagines an old hag -an even more stunning woman enters BS is hooked irreversibly - while he is tended he tells about his quest and ends up singing about the black box -adventure, they go out eat etc. he scores.

-Mbuba returns to alley -dissolves - returns well equipped but out of town - a new staff for fighting etc. + ein cloak to protect him -as evening comes the friends gather, Mbuba arrives a little late.

-they decide to go visit the wiz who gave them the job first thing in the morning -the plan is to lure themselves to accompany the wiz to the safe create a diversion while -Xupis slips off with the staff the wiz of Ilvartinan asked for remember he gave you -sword and you mace okay

-mbuba is to leave himself out of the exchange as the wiz might be suspicious of letting -another wiz into the innermost sanctum

-go to sleep -morning after they visit the wiz -BS and Tanon admire something and divert the wiz's attention. -Xupis gets the staff and stuffs it under his garments -Xupis invites wiz to town - dunno got lot to do with the box -oh come on… how often do you get out -wiz agrees and they go out later in the evening - wiz scores

-Battle 2 days and counting -It is nearly noon when Xupis get's on his horse, and is on his way to Ilvartinan when he -suddenly realizes the teleportation box -X heads back to town and goes to the wiz –can you grant me a favor -depends -can you get me to Ilvartinan and back today -today? why is speed of the essence -my friends are leaving tomorrow and I would like to see them off but I have pressing -business there as well -tomorrow? -yes the war down at Sundan -aah Sundan -who knows they might not return -and Ilvartinan? -a matter of personal urgency -Yes I believe I can help you -returns moments later with the box -murmur and they dissolve -pop up in the middle of the town square -we're in Ilvartinan! -Isn't that what you wanted? -Yes… it's incredible! -Nah just a little magic -Not little my friend Xupis said while his consience grew darker -While I take care of my errands please go see the blaksmith, he will invite you in I'm -certain of that -x expalins where to the wiz and the wiz is off -x goes to other wiz and knocks -servant opens, wiz is busy -I think not - tell him x is back and that he has the stuff -the stuff? -just tell him… he will be very displeased if you don't -servant leaves him for a moment -please enter -follows him to wiz chamber -servant leaves -x pulls out the staff -magnificent the wiz says -so our agreement -agreement? -yes the gloves -oh the gloves.. I almost forgot -wiz leaves and arrives with cloth bag -x asks about the weapons - do they get to keep them? they're facing a horde in few days -and need all the help they can get -weapons… well okay I suppose -whats the deal with the dagger then x asks -wiz explains story of two weaponsmiths and mages one gets “infected” by evil and -murders his own brother with his own sword. as the frenzy passes he realised what he has -done and makes weapons for the entire army of xxxxx they devastate the opposing horde -for all the weapons are magical and cannot be used unjustly and will aide those carrying -them in battle or whereever they may go. -The partiular dagger is the weapon of vvvvvvvv ´who died gloriously saving the king xxxxx -from ertain death by asassinating the asassin sent to slay kingxxxxx. -wow amazing story -time has flown while the wiz has told the story -thanks then I'll be off I need to go back today! -Back -Yes to Middle Ring -Middle Ring? -yeah my friends leave tomorrow why -aehm nothing!

-okay I'll be off then… -good day -good day to you to

-x arrives at blacksmith -good to see you -chit chat - weather - the son - the wiz x tells about the friends and the battle, yes the -hordes seems to grow stronger every time, if only we could rid ourselves of them once -and for all

-wiz … friends remember for us to know good we must also know evil for without them we -would just be… no purpose just be, floating in the seas of infinity like snowflakes in a mild -breeze - the son is very taken wit wiz and wiz takes a liking to him -I think your son is destined for greatness smith -I know he is, I know…..

-after more chit chat they return to middle ring -x thanks wiz and they part ways -x goes looking for friends and find them at the foaming mug

-tells them he has been to Ilvartinan and delivered the stuff -But that's 14 days on horseback every way -I know -“But how?”, Tanon asked -The box you dullard Mbuba said before Xupis could answer his question -the gang hangs out and gets drunk -Xupis why don't you come with us -With you to war? -Aye what greater glory could there be, the priest said. He was getting quite plastered -now and set in with a song -the whole inn joined him, and a glorious battle of the older days was remembered again -so what do you say Xupis are you with us -I really don't…. -wait Xupis, the priest hauled him in close -in a loud whisper he told Xupis -think of all the treasure that can be won in battle -treasure? -yes riches beyond imagination -riches? -yes save the hide of a wealthy warrior or pick up whatever he looses… eh? -hmmm -Oh come on it'll be fun -fun is hardly the word I would use… but okay if you insist. -Yahoo.. Xupis is with us -Mugs collided and mead sputtered to all sides -it was ages ago since Xupis had ever felt such kindred with anyone maybe these could be -the ones to ask…

-the party raged on most of the night but before it came to an end more had joined them -a beautiful warrior priestess with a strong interest in BS as well as the usual wench or -two BS left together with the priestess who was named Verza. Mbuba had great fun for a -long time before he decided it was time to leave. He grabbed a couple of wenches and -was off.

-Xupis retired as well, his sleep was unrestful and troubled.

-When the cock crowed people started pouring toward the temples, the horns blew for the -assembly

- it was a raggedy group who attended the morning muster at the temple -Black Skull who spent the night at the temple had just finished meditating when he was -summoned to see the high commander -BS is bestowed with the honor of leading a group -he is assigned 3 warriors -2 human males (cool names) -1 elven female Shada very nice

-Xupis arrived at the temple, and as much as he disliked it he rode into the courtyard. -He had bought another horse, so now he possessed no less than 2 animals. -He left the ordinary one in the care of the stable master, with a genuine deposit should -he not return from Sundan.

-After searching for a while he found the group assigned to BS, Tanon was there looking up -and down a female elf. She looked very nice but he couldn't help but kick Tanon gently -over the legs. Don't just stand there like an oaf go over and say hello -but what if she finds me ridiculous -suit yourself Xupis said and moved toward her -But…., Tanon didn't get any further before Xupis was standing next to her -Hello, I'm Xupis -Hi there Xupis I'm Shada… you're with our group -You could say that Xupis answered smoothly -And I'm Tanon another elf interrupted -Nice to meet you Tanon -Xupis backed down, obviously Tanon took a great interest in this one and he wasn't about -to try anything to spoil his chances, the poor boy deserved a struck of luck -Hello Xupis, berries?, Mbuba offered -There they were, chewing berries and drinking some wine when BS arrived. -He rode toward them. On his war-horse he seemed even bigger than before and his armor -gleamed in the sunlight. -Our group has been assigned to the utmost right flank, I am your commanding officer and -you will do exactly as I say

-Tanon here will be my disciplinary Captain, he will see to that you behave properly while we -pursue our goals….. is that clear. BS looked sharply at the two guys in the back.

-Xupis and Mbuba chuckled but managed to keep it from becoming audible.

-Okay then mount, BS yelled at the top of his lungs.

-the group got on the horses and were ready to leave

-a trumpet blared and was followed by a multitude of shouts

-Move Out!

-The days in the saddle were weary, nothing of interest happened except the odd game of -dice, a game Tanon seemed to grow very fond of.

-Days became weeks until they finally arrived at a gigantic plain. -This is where the battle will stand Shada whispered -You think so Tanon inquired, he had grown more than fond of the elven woman and she of -him

-Night had fallen and the camp was bustling with activity - like a hornets nest -BS looking for Verza, finds her and goes for a final stroll -sources report horde is nearing and ready to strike at any time.

-Tanon has gone for a little walk by himself and Xupis and Mbuba advane on Shada -they both check her sword which is all to heavy for them -Tanon returns to the camp with disturbing rumours -the horde might already be here tomorrow morning -Shada “Well then tomorrow will be the day of reckoning for them” -agree the horde must be kicked at any cost since they do not want peacefull coexistion -bs returns to camp, go to sleep you will need all the strenght you can muster -daylight was breaking when the alarm sounded -the horde, the horde -the horizon was filled with dark moving figures and on the plain the warriors were forming -ranks

-the armies clashed as the company slovly advanced on the right flank when BS suddenly -cried out -breakaway group to our left, charge!!!! -as they got closer they identified the group as hobgoblins -Tanon gets a strange look over him -BS closed his eyes and saw Tempus stride across the sky one foot on the white the other -on the black

-Mbuba and Xupis were not as eager as the others but rode ahead anyway -The hobgoblins looked meaner than one would expect, they stood tall and their eyes -glowed with evil -Tanon was the first to meet them, he lashed out with his sword and cut one down -dregs will die Tanon yelled at the top of his lungs -Tkret charged as well chops one down -Xupis drew his sword and did some wind chopping -Mbuba looked closely at the enemy group, in the middle of it there was a large shadow -“Do you see that”, Mbuba asked Xupis who all of a sudden stopped his horse -“Trolls”, Xupis answered dishearted. It was a troll allright, enveloped in some sort of -darkness keept it from being hit by direct sunlight -“I hate trolls”, Mbuba said pointing his fingers oddly toward the creature, there was a sound in the air, a muffled hum like that which you can sense right before a lightning storm. Then it came, a bolt of pure energy shot out from his hands straight toward the troll. It screamed terribly when the glowing needle thrust itself into the hideous body.

-The horse neighed and reared, the front legs stamped out into the air, all of a sudden the horse seemed to regain control of itself and planted a hoof directly on a hobgoblin. The hobgoblin flung its sword wildly with the result that it cut down one of its comrades.

Xupis and Mbuba were thrilled “Encore”, Xupis shouted and spurred his horse. “Stop what are you doing!”, Mbuba yelled.

“Wait and see”, Xupis yelled back followed by a devious smile.

Shada jumped from her horse followed by the other human Grak, instantly the hobgoblins poured toward them. Her sword cut swiftly and hard and one after another fell before her.

“Just like the old days”, Grak yelled as another beast lay before his feet in a pool of blood.

“Yeah the good old days!!!”, Shada yelled back, taking a snarling swing at an unfortionate hobgoblin that was about to turn and run.

Tanon was not about to let the others get ahead of him, if anyone deserved to kill the hobgoblins it was him!

With that in mind he charged his horse into the middst of it all and dismounted. Immediatly the beasts were upon him.

Black Skull was somewhat surprised when Xupis cut down a hobgoblin coming at him. But he was soon to repay the favor as one tried to get Xupis from behind. The forward surge of creatures seemed to hesitate, and Xupis took advantage of that recess.

“Priest, give me the saddlebag with the oil and the bottles”, he shouted.

“What for….”, Black Skull yelled back.

“Never mind just give them here….. we don't have much time”, Xupis screamed.

Just then the hideous troll reared its ugly head. Black Skull noticed the look on Xupis's face. Off course, he thought and threw the saddlebag to the elf who hurried away.

How Xupis got back unscathed was a mystery to Mbuba but he was relieved to see him thundering back on his horse.

“What in heavens name do you think you are doing!”, Mbuba shouted when Xupis arrived.

“Relax… I have everything under control here take this”, he said throwing a leather pouch filled with lamp oil to Mbuba.

“Oil… what do I need oil for”, Mbuba asked.

“This”, Xupis answered taking a couple of empty bottles from the saddlebag.

Suddenly it dawned upon Mbuba, that mad little elf intended to set the troll on fire but how did he plan to accomplish that with all the hobgoblins between him and the troll.

“Stop worrying”, Xupis said as if reading his mind. He tossed the empty flasks to Mbuba and started tearing the sleaves of his shirt.

“Fill them up Mbuba”, Xupis said shredding the cloth he had just torn from his garmant.

Mbuba filled the flasks and handed them to Xupis, he in turn handed a couple of extra flasks along with some cloth to the magician.

Grak was bleading heavily but was still standing, covering his back was Shada who was having trouble keeping the beasts at bay.

“Hang on I'm coming”, Tanon yelled cutting his way through the living mass of hobgoblins between him and Shada.

Tkret was in trouble, he had just split a hobgoblin in half when he came face to face with the troll. It laughed menacing and Tkret lost his sword as his hands went up to his face. His eyes felt like they were on fire and he slumped down right where he stood.

The troll obviously not content with the damage it had done got nasty. A bony hand gripped the fallen human and broke his arms like they were twigs.

Tkret sreamed in agony and fell silent as he passed out. The troll displeased over the limited joy it got by torturing the human tossed him aside like he was nothing but dung.

“That ugly…..”, Mbuba bit his teeth together and lit the oily rags. They flamed up nicely before he tossed the improvised fire bomb.

The glass shattered as it hit the ground only a few metres from where the troll stood, it stopped and hesitated for a moment then it lashed out again striking at Black Skull.

The priest barely avoided the blow but remained on his horse. It stomped wildly every time a hobgoblin got to close and crushed them to death. Black Skull was thrilled, his valiant animal had almost killed as many as himself.

Grak cut down another hobgoblin but he was tired now, his legs trembled and to late he realized what was happening.

The troll grinned as it lashed out, Grak didn't stand a chance. In a last resolute attempt to make a difference he threw his body backward and pushed both Shada and Tanon down.

The blow when it came didn't seem so terrible, the white silence was quite pleasant and then Grak wasn't aware any more.

Xupis could not believe what he was doing, he couldn't remember a single time in his life that had he gone on such a fools errand, but nevertheless here he was.

The troll dwarfed him but thankfully it's back was turned to him, thoug luck had nothing to do with it. Just hope Grímur is allright, Xupis thought as he advanced upon the furry creature. The shadow felt old when he entered, Xupis felt the little voice in him shouting at him, ordering him to turn and run. He shook violently as he lifted his arm for the final assault. The troll stopped, there was something wrong. But it was to late, the flames stung like a million hornets. It was like someone showed a glowing poker straight from the firelakes of Ilozea into his back. The flames grew and grew as the troll turned around, he stopped in surprise.

There was no one behind him yet that nobody seemed to have stung him something terrible. Tanon drove his sword deep into the flaming back of the Troll. The troll snarled again, this time more in rage than in pain. It swirled around barely giving Tanon time to withdraw. It roared… the vibrations hit them like thunderbolt shaking them from the inside and out.

All of a sudden Shada went down, a hobgoblin was about to thrust its sword into her lying body when he himself was penetrated by a mighty sword. Black Skull smiled as he drew the sword from the quivering body. “Take my hand Shada”, Black Skull said and grabbed hold of the woman. In a fration of a second Shada was up again and about.

In a simultanious lash she and Tanon got a hobgoblin. The three pieces fell to the ground and as their eyes met, at that very moment they knew their fates would be interlocked indefinately.

“Yes…”, Mbuba yelled as he threw himself into hand to hand battle with a hobgoblin.

Again Black Skull charged, this time directly toward the troll. He swung his mace high and valiantly as his horse galopped toward certain doom.

At that instant the troll felt another sting in his back, this time it wasn't fire it was a tiny blade. He turned around, the elf couldn't be more than 20 meters away and he just stood there unsure of what to do.

“Xupis……..”, Tanon yelled as he realized what was going on. Xupis had lost his sword and in a moment of madness charged the troll with nothing but a dagger.

The troll turned back, he knew that voice. It was the last he ever heard for as he faced the sound a mace hit his head, while a mighty sword thrust all it's way through his body, penetrating his black heart.

He fell down with a loud thump, and the cold shadow dissapated. There was a moment of silence as the hobgoblins realized what had happened. Then they attacked, this time more ferouciously than ever, they knew time was up and had decided to do whatever damage they could before it was over.

It was a mighty clash and when the dust settled all but two were still standing, Shada and Tanon embraced and fell to their knees laughing. Xupis had found his sword and sheathed it.

The field was dark with blood and to this day it is said, that if you look closely, you can still see where the battle of the plains took place.

Back in camp Xupis was going over the days event when it suddenly struck him. A troll, there had been a troll, and where there were trolls there were lairs. No troll would venture far from it's home territory without great reason and the horde attacking a town would hardly be sufficient.

It was more likely that the troll had tagged along for his own pleasure. And if that was the case well, then they stood a good chance of finding the lair. At least they could attempt to

Xupis opened a bottle of wine - xup and Mbuba + Grak who has been partly healed by the healers go looking for the lair -tanon is to proud to go look for loot, and Shada wants to stay with tanon -BS has left the group with ordres to take things easy untill he returns has gone looking -for Verza and he finds her, they stroll around camp hand in hand

-x +Mbuba + Grak have luck and after tracking the troll tracks they come upon a lair, actually Grak falls into the hole which the troll has hidden.

-find 750 GP's and a lot of bones -they return to camp after agreeing to divide the loot among themselves, hey the others -didn't want to ome so why should they share?

-Back in camp x says he must go back to the lair to perform a burial ritual -he searches the camp and finds a priest of Lathander, they get a load of candles, one for -each soul. then x+priest+ Shada and Tanon ride to the lair

- Tanon & Shada sit outside on guard while x + priest descent an light a candle for every -fallen one in the cave.

-mbuba was walking the camp untill he found a gathering plae for wiz's -they talk laugh, exhange fireball bragging etc. -eat a lot of giggleberries

They had lit a total of 15 lights, they had almost burned down when the priest started blowing them out in a gentle manner. Rest peacefully, he said every time he put out a candle. One by one the lights died and the cave grew dark and silent.

-When x and the priest emerged Shada had fallen asleep in Tanons arms, he woke her -very gently it is time to seal the lair and ride back to camp

-BS mad at first but realizes honorable intent and forgives absense -BS sit's down and sings a song for the dead, many Tempus followers join in and thus they - to honor the dead.

It was surely a battle to be remembered for years, a fight their grandchildren would talk about about, and whose children in turn would pass on to their own children.

The heroes of the plains would never be forgotten but right now there was still some cleanup to do. Several fleeing enemy units had been seen heading southwest and Black Skull had managed to convince the commander to assign the company to patrol duty.

When they were fully rested Black Skull briefed them about their assignment.

-Patrol Along road to wiz forrest for 8 to 10 days. then regroup with the rest and head -back to middlering.

After riding for only 7 days they came to the mountains, the peaks towered high above in the misty sky and seemed to stretch into the heavens.

The steep climb had brought them into an area barely vegetated by anything than mosses and they were just about to turn back when Black Skull suddenly ordered them to halt.

The rumbling didn't sound like thunder it was something else, there was something unsettling about the whole deal and the horses seemed to be very nervous.

They didn't have to wait long for an explanation, a hurdling rock just gazing by Tanon landed only a few feet behind them.

“Where the heck did that come from”, Tanon yelled in surprise.

“Look”, Grak screamed at the top of his lungs while pointing wildly at a ledge above.

They looked up and saw what had to be the biggest man alive in the realms. He picked up another rock, but before he could fling it at them Xupis sent an arrow at him. The arrow didn't hit and Xupis wondered why he had bothered sending it at the giant in the first place. It did however distract the giant enough to let Mbuba have a go at him. The strange radiant energy bolt hit the giant spot-on. He howled in pain, and tossed the rock at them with such power that it almost pulverized when it hit. At the last possible instant Grak drove his horse to safety but caught some shrapnel from the debris flying to all sides. He fell of the horse with a groan.

The giant leapt down, the ground shook as he strode toward them obviously infuriated by his faliore to destroy his opponents.

“Charge…..”, it was Black Skull who valiantly sounded the attack and spurred forward on his huge beast. The others followed, if it was their fate to meet death in the mountains so be it.

Heavy arrows lashed into the giant whom it didn't seem to bother more than the sting of a mosquito. As the group and the giant came closer to eah other his true size revaled itself to them. But nevertheless a chain of events were in motion, it would be no good to turn and run, for the giant would catch up with them within a very short time.

Black Skull was the first to clash with the giant, his sword cut deeply into the giants leg. The giant howled again and an avalanche started thundering down hill on the opposite side of the ravine. He lifted his huge foot and had it not been for the incredible speed of his horse Black Skull would be a chunk of minced meat lying on the rocky ground.

Tanon harged forward as did the others. Mbuba pulled out his staff if he couldn't do anything else he might as well try and give him a good blow to the shin.

With a roar Tanon threw himself, sword first at the giant. The sword dug deep into his leg with Tanon clinging on to the handle.

Black Skull's horse reared and kicked loose a rock that compared to the giant could best be described like a glass bead and as the saying goes luck favors those who dare.

The giant infuriated at Tanon shook his leg in order to rid himself of the infestious thing which seemed to hang on to it for no other reason than to cause him pain.

Tanon flew 20 meters before hitting a sloping rockface, it broke his fall without every bone in his body shattering, which would have been the case had he gone only a few feet longer.

The giant set his mind to go for Tanon, something he shouldnt have done. For when he stepped forward, he planted his foot on the pebble and slid.

The giant unaccustomed to such bad luck ended up on a ledge 20 meters below in the ravine. They ran to the edge to see what had happened. The giant just lay there without moving.

“Is he dead”, Grak shouted from where he lay. He didn't get an immediate answer and the wait seemed unbarable to him.

“I suppose”, Black Skull finally answered afrter studying the giant for what seemed to be an eternety.

“It doesn't look like he is breathing”, Mbuba added in an attempt to assure himself that they were really alive and the giant was dead.

After some discussion they agreed they'd better check if the giant was just unconsious or not, and so it happened that Xupis was sent down with a rope.

Xupis slowly descended, ready to bolt the instant the giant moved a muscle. When he finally reached the ledge the giant was already cooling off, but now there was no doubt, the giant was dead!

“Okay pull me up”, Xupis shouted after examening the giant's body.

“We need to find his lair, it so happens that giants are known to keep live animals… even people imprisoned untill such time as they want a bite to eat”, Shada said with bitterness in her voice.

“I guess we'll have to do just that then”, Black Skull answered already planning how to divide them into teams enabling them to cover more ground in less time.

It took them most of the day to find the lair and when they finally did it was not a pretty sight.

-bedroom safe -there is a shaft leading upward -xupis wears glowes and climbs -it narrows down to a couple of meters and on a ledge xupis finds a ruby -the others ask if he has found anything -no he answers -he picks up the ruby and it oozes into his palm and all of a sudden the gloves dissapear. -BS searches the kitchen and finds a shitload of gold over 2000 gp's each. -saddlebags are filled and a happy crew leaves for Sundon for the assembly -the trip back takes a while longer than expected as the heavy ladened animals refuse to -travel to swiftly

-BS is eager to get back and meet Verza and the others just want to move on with their -lives now that the campaign is over

-X pulls BS aaside and shows him ruby and glowes, Mbuba stumbles upon them and can't keep his mouth shut with respect to Tanon, Tanon can't keep the secret to Shada, and she in turn tells Grak. After some lenghty discussions as to the ownership of the ruby they then decide to visit a jeweler who can split the stone up as soon as they get to Sundan.

-arrive in Sundan -X worried that splitting the stone might affect gloves tries to split to perform some -experiments - listen I have to go etc.

“See I knew it. Entrusting a ruby to Xupis, that's like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted…..”, Tanon said grabbing him tightly.

-let me go -no -Mbuba take the stone -x kicks Tanon in the groin -Tanon smashes his head into the wall before the pain sets in then he falls -X hand goes for the sword -BS break it up guys -His distrust is dispicable, if he ever does anything like that again I swear I'll kill him.

-BS but you were about to leave -yes to perform some experiments away from the public eye -hmm why -I suspect the ruby has something to do with the glowes new properties -then let's perform these experiments you talk about BS says and pulls Tanon to his feet -Tanon doesn't say anything but is both mad and sad at the same time

-they try experiments, it seems that if you place anything directly in the palm of the glowes it dissapears. 5 berries at the time on each side, both in palm and on the top of the hand. Distance apparently doesn't play a role as Mbuba proves by riding to the other sidde of town with Tanon.

-X is still reluctant to part with the ruby and wants to buy out whoever doesn't want to hold on to it

-BS interested sort of a common treasure, for times when it might be more needed -Mbuba happy about the arrangement for now -they get an estimate on the stone and pay off the others -jeweler advices that the Dancing Squirrel is the best place in town and they go there and ask for lodging, which they get.

-Tanon is sorry for what he did back at the jeweler and buys the finest wine available -x reluctantly accepts and sips the wine in silence

-they send folks out to look for Shada and Grak, s&g arrive at dan.squir.inn -bs goes to the temple finds verza, she has some business to attend but promises to come to the dancing squirrel later that evening, and sends bs a little wink of the eye.

-bs meets high priest of the temple, is debriefed and presented with the order of Gpan effetively promoting him from lowly priest to warrior priest won under test of fire.

-Mbuba is out getting himself a new horse, the beast he buys is even bigger than the previous, he gets scale armor for the horse

-tanon & x were still at the squirrel, tanon threw the barkeep a pouch of gold -keep the liquer coming…. yes sir

-then he gets an idea and orders boar slowly fried by rotation over a fire -owner happy, sees banquet coming

-Mbuba returns wearing the braces of the orc leader, they have been polished and shine like diamonds, he has spent a long time examining them and today he found them to be magical with the help of a local guildsmember he met during the campaign.

-look beer takes beer mug before anyone can blink faster than fast -they clap …. again -okay beer - swish and he is drinking

-BS comes back and tells them he is promoted -huraa etc… bs says that it is time to celebrate -shada comes and says Grak has moved on -as the night progressed the mood grew merrier -bs asks if he can take the horse inside -no -Verza arrives and BS and Verza slip off down to the staples -an expensive bottle of wine on the horses head, it licks happily -I name thee Gonmec Giantslayer, the horse neighed in approval and slurped some more wine from the trough. -they return to inn and party -verza challenges bs to an arm wrestle -bs wind both times, although he wasn't sure wether he really deserved to win the last time

-as the evening turned to night the place was still packed, mbuba had found himself a wench and was very happy. His rumbling laughter filled the room time and time again.

Two bards were entertaining and people were dancing and laughing when an elven maid approached Xupis.

“You seem so sad…. why”, she asked with the loveliest smile Xupis had ever seen.

“Oh it's nothing…. to much wine”, he tried.

“I almost forgot…. I'm Kaaty Letelah”, the elven woman said presenting herself properly.

“…child of the river?”, Xupis asked with a longing gaze. He couldn't help it but completely drowned in her eyes. Those lovely eyes, it was almost as if they glowed.

“Yes… and you are Xupis I hear, what does that mean?”, she asked. Her voice seemed so soft and fine that it burned itself onto his mind.

He swallowed before answering “Hard little one…. I almost died at childbirth, my mother was killed when my family tried to escape the dukes wrath….”, Xupis stopped.

“The dukes wrath?….”, Kaaty looked at him with puzzlement.

Xupis realized he had let his guard down. He had never opened himself up like this for anyone, could he tell her?

He decided that he had to, once you say A you must say B. A saying his father had loved and cherished. Father…. Xupis thought with sadness in his hearth, my dear dear Father. He had never really known his parents, well his mother that was obvious, but the images of his father were pale, those of a young child. At a very young age his father had entrusted him to the care of a young blacksmith apprentice for whom he had the utmost respect.

The last he had seen of his father was him being dragged away on foot by two guild bounty hunters on tall war-horses. But his fathers faith in the blacksmith had not been in vain. The blacksmith had protected him and raised him as if he was his own. But that was all so long ago.

“It's a very long story….”, Xupis answered looking at her with sad eyes.

She just looked at him, her finely chiseled face looked radiant and was filled with empathy. “Let's go for a walk…. the moonlight is beautiful and the night is young”, Kaaty answered slipping a fine hand into his.

-X tells all to maiden and they agree to spend more time together - she is an archer from the south - not interested in warring but when the people of Sundon called upon everyone to help - Heafan Gteeri their chief had asked 20 of their finest archers to join forces with the army assembling on the plains of Sundan.

“And here I am”, she said smiling. That's when he knew it he was in love, dare I tell her or will she take offense that I turn to her with such feelings without really knowing her?

Xupis decided to wait, they had all the time in the world for now she was a friend. Though in his heart he knew she would always be more.

“Think we should get back before they miss us?”, she asked him with that soft voice of hers.

“I guess!”, Xupis answered giving her hand a tiny squeeze. She turned her head and smiled.

Black Skull had started smoking again, the pleasant cinnamon smell spread through the room as he passed the pipe to Mbuba. The magician took the pipe eagerly and inhaled deeply. He held the smoke in for a moment before exhaling again. He coughed lightly and passed the pipe back to Black Skull who accepted it with a subtle smile.

Mbuba grabbed a few berries from the pouch “Giggle berries?”, he asked offering a couple to Black Skull.

“Sure why not”, Black Skull responded stretching his arm toward Mbuba.

Mbuba dropped the berries down in Black Skull's hand, who eagerly withdrew it and tossed them into his mouth. He chewed them with another of those subtle smiles and that's when Mbuba cracked. A hysterical laughter filled the room and it took quite a while before it died down again only to be interrupted by a silly giggle now and then.

Tanon blew on his fist “Come on baby do it for me”, he whispered and threw the dices. They whirled around and it seemed to last forever before they hit the tabletop. Three or four times they rolled around before falling silent.

“7 wins”, Tanon yelled ecstatic. The other players looked at him in dismay. The pile in front of him had grown and grown during the evening and it seemed like his luck never ran out.

Just then Xupis and Kaaty came back in. “Hey Xupis, care for a game”, Tanon yelled. He was drunk and in a good mood, Shada was rubbing his shoulders enticing him to leave. As she said, there were better things to do.

Xupis wasn't sure whether or not to play when Kaaty gave him a friendly bump with the elbow. “Go ahead if you like, I have to go talk to a friend of mine”, she said pointing to another elven female who was busy fending off a drunkard.

“Sure okay”, Xupis said smiling at Kaaty, she was wonderful. He had never felt so at ease with a female before and the fact that she seemed to like him didn't make things worse.

She tiptoed over to her friend, and Xupis sat down at the table.

“Must you”, Shada said seductively nibbling on Tanon's ear. Tanon shuddered “Just one more game…. I'm feeling really lucky”

“Hmm…”, it was obvious that Shada had completely different plans for the evening, but she accepted Tanon's choice, at least for the moment.

“I'll just go get you another mug, dear”, she said with a smile. Tanon's face turned all red “O… okay”, he said gasping.

“Xupis you want one!”, She asked nodding to Xupis.

“Sure why not”, he answered with a satisfied smile on his lips.

“Xupis… Xupis, you hear the wonderful news”, Mbuba almost cried yanking Xupis's sleeve.

“What news?”, Xupis asked puzzled by Mbuba's emotional state.

“Black Skull and Verza have decided to get married in one month”, Mbuba said in a tearful but happy voice.

“No way….”, Xupis answered astonished.

“Yes… yes it is true… is it not wonderful?”, Mbuba asked looking at Xupis.

Just then Shada returned with the mead and Tanon grabbed her hand. “We're also getting married”, he exclaimed

“We are?”, Shada was delighted, she had come to love Tanon intensely and the fact that he wanted to marry her couldn't have made her happier. She wrapped her strong arms around him and planted her voluptuous lips right on his in a passionate kiss.

“Oh this is double wonderful… Black Skull and Verza and Tanon with Shada… this is most wonderful evening”, Mbuba said throwing Tanon's mug back in a single draught.

“Hey my beer….”, Tanon complained after getting some air back into his lungs.

“Don't worry I'll get you plenty beer”, Mbuba said joyfully strolling off to fetch a new mug for Tanon.

“Well here's to you!”, Xupis said raising his mug “This one is for all you lovers out there”, he added offering his toast to all in the room.

“To all the lovers”, a chorus of voices answered in unison.

-X and Tanon gamble -Tanon gets new beer -They gamble on -Raise stakes -first 100 -200 -300 -in the end 900 -Xupis ends up 890 ahead.

-Tanon quits -x happy to have taken some of his earnings from Tanon and hopes he will learn a lesson about gambling. To quit while you are ahead and not to engage in foolish bets.

-Kaaty returned and sat down next to Xupis, they talked long and intensely, it seemed like the party was dissolving -its getting late I think I'll go to bed Kaaty said -x follows her up to her room and kisses her hand in the most chivalrous way he could. -Kaaty thinks he is fabulous and gives him a kiss on the cheek. -X bids goodnight, thinks he'll go out to enjoy the sunrise -Kaaty lights up in a smile, I love sunrise she says -Well then join me -They go for a stroll and find a green meadow in the town park -flowers are in bloom and the light mesmerizes them -to the wonderful sounds of bird twitter Kaaty falls asleep leaned up next to Xupis -Xupis takes her and carries her in his arms to the room, and sits down for a moment in the chair, he dozes off.

-when he woke he was met by the most beautiful sight Kaaty smiled and offered her hand to him.

-Xupis smiled and took her hand, this was indeed a joyous evening.

-late afternoon when people get up -that which seemed like the worst headache in the world just got worse and Mbuba had trouble concentrating on anything. -stumbles down and gets a drink, shaking becomes more subtle but Mbuba knows that he is by no means cured and asks for the nearest herbalist -directions, but there is another a bit further but better -where? -he gets proper directions and is off

-X is enjoying fruits and hot honey water, Kaaty has gone off on an errand when Black Skull and Verza arrive -they sit and BS tells X that a messenger from Middlering has arrived and asked them to come to the wiz -Xupis immediately thinks about staff -no no, he wants us to participate in an experiment -experiment -yes move us to the mainland with the help of the box

-X I don't know I cant really go -BS why not? -X oh it's far to complicated -BS try me -Verza gets up, I'll be at the temple if you need be, kisses him lightly on his forehead -Verza leaves, but BS grabs her hand and yanks her back, he plants a big one, and she lights up like a forest fire laughs and strolls away humming.

-X tells him about the Duke (Father locksmith, blackmailed by the guild of Middlering to produce a copy of the keys to the dukes mansion - his pregnant wife held captive etc. Guild frames father, he and wife escape to the north, manage to throw off pursuers. But I can't leave until I have accumulated enough power so that I can clear his name.

-The puzzle fell into place, so that explained why Xupis knew so much about the activities of the underworld and why he fitted right in. He had a mission to accomplish, and a hard one at that.

“We could help you!”, Black Skull offered with a grave look on his face.

“I don't like to involve you, you're my friend”, Xupis started.

“And that's why I can't stand idly by watching you do this alone, I'm sure Tanon and Mbuba feel the same way”.

“If it is all the same to you I'll think about it…. what if we talked it over when we come to Middlering. I suppose you're eager to go back, the mainland, high adventure and all that!”, Xupis said.

“Allright by me, I was planning on taking that crazy old wizard up on his offer”, Black Skull answered.

“Offer”, Xupis asked with interest “What sort of offer”.

“5000 gold pieces each…. we bring our own provisions and means of transportation to Middlering and then he takes are of the rest”, Black Skull answered.

“5000…. that's an awful lot for partaking in an experiment like that, I know the box works. Why would he offer that kind of money for a simple thing like that?”, Xupis asked suspiciously.

“I don't know and I don't care…. the wedding is going to cost an absolute fortune, I promised Verza a ceremony in style and what better honeymoon than a trip to the mainland”, Black skull answered with a shrug.

“You got a point there”, Xupis answered with a smile.

The trip to Middlering passed without much fuzz, but the closer Xupis got to Middlering the quieter he grew. His silence seemed to put a damper on everyone in the company but no one wanted to ask in fear of an answer that would put them even more down.

-Back in Middlering -x gathers info on Etoban Fel's whereabouts -Etoban will return in 20 days or so from a trip to Ilvartinan.

-X sends a messenger with a document that offers power over Xupis's entire fortune. Collectible in Middlering. The messenger bears a cryptic note saying: One will be judged not alone for what one does, but also for what one hath not done. But reputation is only what males or females think of us, character is what Gods and angels know of us.

“And that's how they framed my father for murdering the dukes wife, but if I can get my hands on Etoban Fel and present him to the duke I'm sure I can cleanse my fathers name”.

“How?….”, Black Skull asked with genuine interest.

“Etoban carries the ring of Naomi… the dukes wife around his neck, like some sort of prize. I think he is proud of having caused his enemy the Duke such unbelievable pain. I intend to get my hands of Etoban and rip his shirt open in front of the Duke”.

“And how do you expect to do that, there is no way a man like Etoban will be taken without resistance, the guild will protect him at all cost”, Tanon said reluctant to get involved.

“I'm with you!”, Kaaty said putting a hand on his shoulder, the warmth from it felt wonderful and Xupis knew that whatever happened his debt to her could never be repaid in full.

“Me to…. as I said before, I'll go”, Black Skull confirmed in a husky voice. If there was anything in this world he loathed it was treachery. The time for purification had come, the gleaming sword of justice would cut out that infestation of a man… for good!

“I am also with you”, Mbuba added. His family slain by villains he knew exactly how Xupis felt. There was no greater rage than to see the guilty get away scot-free, and if he could take part in bringing one like that down, so be it.

There was a moment of silence, the flames in the fireplace cast mysterious shadows on the walls and foretold the future in their own secret language.

Many eyes rested upon the large elf when he finally spoke. “I…. I guess I'm with you to”, Tanon said and offered Xupis his hand.

Xupis looked him straight in the eyes and took his hand “Thank you!…. thank you all”, he said with moistening eyes.

He looked around and swallowed a lump. He had never dared hope for more valiant help in his task.

But here he was, surrounded by friends from near and far, it would be a glorious night.

The door burst open and a large bearded man entered, behind him came a young boy.

He cast a single glance at them before he spoke “I knew you were up to something your trip to Ilvartinan, the message and Etoban's sudden appearance there had to mean something”.

“Cedree my oldest of friends, you are right tonight all that was wronged shall be vindicated”, Xupis said looking at the bearded man. “Then tonight is a night to be remembered, son go fetch the others”, the Blacksmith ordered.

“Others?”, Xupis asked with surprise, what others?.

“The Annerenah brothers and their cousins Adie and Torstain of Homral”, the blacksmith answered.

“They're here”, Xupis asked with disbelief in his voice.

“Yes Xupis, your father had many friends, to bad we couldn't help him at the time. But you Xupis, you're his heir and to you we pledge ourselves”.

The Annerenah brothers, Xupis dared not believe what he heard, never were 3 brothers more famed and respected than these. The 3 brothers entered, one bigger than the other.

Their fiercely red hair was unusual, but was said to be the result of their family ties to the north. The huge swords resting at their side spoke a clear language. These were warriors taking great pride in what they did and whom they associated with.

After them came two smaller fellows, their hair wasn't red as the Annerenah brothers, but the golden locks did have a faint streak to them. One of the two bore the finest bows Kaaty had ever seen, with a large quiver on his back he proudly wore the green uniform of a Ranger.

The other was clad in sinister gray and bore no visible arms. The wooden container hanging from his belt didn't disclose a thing.

The way it was tied around his leg as well as its size and shape were masterly concealed so that nothing could be read from it about the contents. His eyes were alert, and by the looks of him it was clear that this was not a man you wanted to meddle around with.

Last came Elion Cedree's son, he carried a metal crossbow and had fastened a quiver on his back. The arrows gleamed in the flames and it seemed like they were made from pure metal.

The Duke - how can I thank you Just make sure everybody knows my father xxxx of xxxx was innocent and that the guilty one has been brought to justice

I will the Duke swore.

As they left a terrible screams tore the darkness, the hour of justice was upon them.

-the company gather around campfire away from the castle -silent celebration -blacksmith and others leave

Left by a small campfire sat a lonely figure, the injustice of the past finally vindicated.

ELF GIRL NAME sat down next to him and stretched her hands toward the warmth from the fire, he turned his head and smiled as she slid her arm around his waist and sat closer.

Xupis closed his eyes and took a deep breath, he could finally start to live.

The End

XUPIS PART II

-They arrive at the wizards place -fully equipped -X has 2 extra packhorses -wiz pays in advance -folks are happy -x spyr um hann kan tosa við wiz -wiz agrees -x biður um ein boga so hann kann raka betri -wiz agrees -x gives money back and gets his new bow bewitched instead -x test bow along with Kaaty -it works splendidly -return to wiz -everyone ready -cling on to everything -zap -appear on a beautiful white beach -all the equipment is there -wiz murmurs and fumbles with the box -and then ZZZAP he disappears -They are left in a desolate place. -So BS, what did the wiz say about going back

-uhm

-the deal was to the mainland & back right?

-uhm actually I have to deliver a msg. to the temple at (WaterDeep), I didn't exactly plan on going back

-while Tanon and BS argue x finds his net and tries it out, the weather is magnificent and they might have to wait for the wizard anyway

-Mbuba and BS along with Tanon grow restless after waiting for 1/2 hrs.

-they ride to the nearby forest to investigate after riding along the forest for a while they turn around a bend and see a city in the distance, they return to the others and tell them

-in the meantime they've prepared a meal of newly caught fish

-they eat and talk about heading for town

-Mbuba and Xupis agree that leaving a marker behind would be prudent

- they collect rocks, it takes quite a while, but they don't wish to use wood because someone could pass by and use it for firewood, or worse the tide could take it

-they camp in a clearing away from the open beach -Xupis and Kaaty enjoy the privacy of the large tent, however they are soon joined by the others as they've apparently made camp right by a mosquito waterhole

-see you should have brought a tent Xupis grinned, be prepared that's what I've always said.

-yeah yeah

-the night passed without further problems -they ride to town -excuse me what is the name of this place? -Vilen! -Where is it situated? -to the south! -which country is this? -country….. villager grows suspicious -we're strangers and we're lost -aaaah, well this part of the realm is called xxxxx -hmmm -what is the nearest big city -oh it's xxxxxx -what is the fastest route there -by boat -I'm leaving tomorrow - you can come with me … eager captain smells easy profit -Tanon refuses, he hates/fears water -come on -no way, I'm going on horseback that's final -You can't be serious, on horse it will take weeks and weeks, while on the sea we can relax and enjoy ourselves -Listen I said I was going to ride, there is nothing you can do to change my mind -nothing? -no absolutely nothing Da Da DA DA - da da da- da da da da - daa da da da -x rides out to witch/wise woman asks about sleeping trouble -she can cure that… just use this potion right before you want to sleep and you doze off -x returns to the inn, the folks have requested rooms and are planning to hit the sack -let's have a night cap then -I don't know (Tanon) -come on it's on me -okay -Xupis fetches the beer from the keep and puts the potion in Tanon's mug -he divides them out among the people and observe Tanon closely -Tanon, gets slurry and Xupis talks to him -the other are laughing and are generally having a good time -Okay, by me … good night“, Tanon said and rested his head on the table -excellent Xupis exclaimed -what is excellent -I've convinced Tanon to join us on the boat, it isn't to late he asked the captain who was about to leave.

-no no by no means, but we're leaving before daybreak, you know the tide and such so you better come down to the ship and spend the night there.

-“Oh I don't know, I'll have to ask Tanon”, Shada said attempting to wake him up. -she fails and they carry him down to the docks and put him in a cabin -Black Skull, Mbuba and Xupis take care of the horses and all the rest of their paraphernalia

-the boat rocked gently when Tanon woke -are we on a boat -starts shaking violently -why are we on a boat -Xupis said you agreed to it -that little -Tanon gets up but his legs refuse to move and he falls back down -Shada cares for him -Mbuba was sitting on the deck taking in every bit of sunshine he could, the wind had died down but they still had some forward momentum -Xupis wakes and goes up to the helmsman, they talk about steering a ship etc. important in storms to steer into the wave etc. -Mbuba goes below -BS comes up to the helm, Xupis stands there with his hands on it with the helmsman leaned up against the railing behind him smoking a pipe -BS and Helmsman exchange tobacco experience and some tobacco as well -the helmsman knocks his pipe out and stuffs it with what BS has offered him -they smoke in silence -Black Skull asks about Mbuba and finds out he has gone below -Black Skull goes below knocks… no answer only strange murmur from inside enters his room -Mbuba looks up from the bottles he had in front of him very annoyed .. you destroyed everything now I'll have to start all over. -Black Skull hey sorry I just wanted you to see the flying fish -there is no such thing leave me alone Mbuba yelled hysterically -sure no problem, BS leaves and goes to his cabin -in his cabin he finds pen and paper and returns to Mbuba's quarters he puts a note on the door quietly pushing a needle through the paper. It say's Do Not Disturb!!!

-Noon approached and it grew hotter, the sailors were lying lazily on the deck, the heat was making it impossibly to do much else when there was a sudden commotion at the bow

-a hideous creature that looked like it was covered in bladder wrack was making it's way over the railing.

-sailor tries to stop it and is tossed into the water

“TEMPUS!!!!”, Black Skull yelled and jumped to his feet “TANON…. TROLLS”, he continiued shouting at the top of his lungs

Black Skull Stormed ahead but was overtaken by 3 deadly arrows whistling right by him. All of them reached their target. The troll was most annoyed and shot out some sort of tentacle at the offender.

Black Skull was quick to react, his blade swiftly cut the outgoing tentacle before it could reach Kaaty. The remains of the tentacle withdrew as the troll let out a furious snarl. The other bit fell to the deck and quivered oddly before it lay still. Black Skull kicked it sort of to make sure it was dead. The tentacle reacted with a spasm, sending Black Skull crashing into the railing which groaned from the heavy impact.

Another set of arrows whisked by and burrowed into the troll. By that time Black Skull was back on his feet and charged directly toward the creature. The others invigorated by the sight charged forward, Xupis among them.

The troll didn't stand a chance, the persistent sailors with their tenacity ended the fight before it even really had begun. The troll sank together under the massive onslaught and ended up like a quivering mass on the deck.

“Get that thing off my ship”, the captain yelled in a defiant voice.

“Aye Captain”, the sailors answered pushing the stinking corpse overboard.

“Clean that deck you maggots”, he yelled at the sailors.

“Aye captain”, the sailors replied without hesitation before they undertook the task of scrubbing the entire deck clean from any remnants of the fight.

The rest of the trip passed much without incident, Tanon gained enough confidence to make an appearance on the deck within reaching distance of the hatch.

The town when it appeared was a sight of liberation and the fortress overlooking the bay impressive. The sleek ship sailed into the harbor without fuzz and the mooring lines were cast ashore. Soon after the gangway was lowered and men came onboard to off load her cargo.

-they go look for a map maker and find one -they get a fine map over the region for 75 gold pieces x pays -they decide to ride straight on after taking in provisions, after all”WaterDeep“ is quite a long way from “the.city.they.are.in” -they head north -BS and Tanon talk to their babes and find out that they probably have to postpone their weddings due to the delay in getting to “WaterDeep”

-as they ride towards the mountains an ominous feeling crept upon Black Skull -You still have some of those dried mushrooms left he asked Xupis -Sure x says and starts to hand him the mushrooms, but before he can give them to him he is overwhelmed with a sudden urge to laugh, for no obvious reason. -Soon after all of them were shaking violently, only Mbuba seemed impervious to the strangeness that come over them.

-The laughter got worse and all except Mbuba and Xupis, that due to his well groomed dexterity still remained seated, ended up on the ground.

A figure came striding toward them, he eyed both Xupis and Mbuba. “Curious”, was his only comment. Mbuba and Xupis dismounted, the laughter was dissapating and they strode toward the newcomer. His outfit was a dead giveaway, this had to be a magician of some sorts. Xupis had nearly reached him when he suddenly froze. It was not like anything else he had ever experiensed, but it felt like a giant was holding him in place, and mo matter how much he struggled his body didn't twitch even an inch. Mbuba was very aware that something was terribly wrong, this was certainly the one responsible for the mysterious laughter attack. A diversion for him to get in close range? Mbuba's mind raced ahead, why would anyone want to stop them like this. They knew noone on the mainland and had no enemies there, or did they.

Mbuba didn't know what to think and got even more puzzled when he disovered that the mysterious wizard was attempting to examening Xupisis hands. He struggled for hour after hour, but the gloves wouldn't budge, even though the wizard had straightened Xupis's arms completely. The glowes were still invisible, but a faint glow visible only to those who could understand such matters told Mbubas that this was the way the wizard had come upon the gloves.

It was obvious that for every hour that went by the wizard got more frustrated until he started yelling furiously.

“I'll get you for this…. I, I swear”, and especially you… you faul little creature… they will be mine I promise you”.

He started walking away from them but turned around again with his fist clenched in the air “Damn you, damn you all”, he shouted and was on his way.

It didn't take long for the effect to wear off, Xupis who was in the middle of taking a step forward went crashing down into the ground. Mbuba was quick to help him to his feet. The others were stirring as well.

Black Skull swung up on his horse, he was like a mammoth protecting its young and spurred his horse in the direction the strange wizard had disappeared. The others followed his example, but after riding for half an hour or so the horses wanted to slow down. There was no one in sight, he had slipped away without a trace.

It was getting late when they decided to make camp. Suddenly a scream caught their attention. It was the scream of a very frightened human combined with the rumblings of a heavy wagon moving at very high speed.

A dust cloud came closer and closer until the merchant in the wagon pulled it to a sudden halt.

“Flee…. flee, for goodness sake”, he shouted -they don't understand -sschsh cant you hear -they listen and start feeling odd trembling -all of a sudden the ground exploded and a creature unlike any other appeared. -the teeth in its mouth were as big as large daggers and its clawed hands looked as if they could rip a man in half given the chance . The beast roared and the ground trembled, its skin seemed like it was beset with scales and impenetrable to any weapon. The arrows when they burrowed into its flesh must have stung something terrible, yet the beast remained silent. Tanon jumped from his horse which was proving to be unmanageable and therefore a great danger to them both. He held his sword high as he jumped. Another set of arrows streaked toward the beast yet only one of them hit its target. The beast hissed like a giant snake and venomous liquid sprayed from it's mouth.

“Cover your eyes”, Mbuba yelled, but it was too late. The merchant stared terrified at the beast when it turned his head toward him. The pain was terrible and he fell to the ground. The beast was about to strike when Tanon caught up with it. His sword lashed out and chopped one of it's legs clean off.

The beast turned, a fraction of a second to late to see the mace coming at it. The mace collided with its head and threw it off balance. Another huge sword dug deep into its side and stirred its wrath. The mouth opened wide and its teeth came right at Verza when two arrows crossed over the linings of its mouth into the soft palate. Blood spurted as the beast withdrew its head. Xupis bit hard together as he raised his sword. With immense power he thrust the sword into the large bulky body. The beast shifted about and faced Xupis with such strength that his sword was torn out of his hands before he could withdraw it. He stared into the red glaring eyes. Was this it, had his final moment come. The head launched forward and Xupis closed his eyes as his frozen body wouldn't allow him to do anything else. Just then something swung by very close to him. The roar right in front of him and the horrendous odor made him open his eyes again just in time to se the beast flung backwards. As it landed on its rear it roared again, the sword still sticking out from its back burrowed another 10 inches into the soft flesh beneath the armor.

In a swift throw the beast was back on its feet, only to get another blow from Black Skull's mace. The beast was clearly confused by now and attacked randomly. Shada jumped back with the sword in front of her. The beast didn't take notice and dove straight at her.

The massive sword burrowed deep into the beast before it realized what was happening but by then it was to late. A stream of glowing light penetrated deep into the monster that suddenly stopped moving. It fell heavily to the ground and just lay there for a moment, what could be its chest seamed to heave and quiver a few times before exhaling one last time. Something green oozed from its wounds and as it lay there it dawned upon them. They were victorious!

Tanon laughed “Yes”, he yelled in excitement, the others sighed in relief as well. Black Skull suddenly got a thoughtful look in his eyes, the merchant. In all the commotion they had forgotten all about him.

He lay near by the wagon, the beast had taken out a good chunk of a wheel as it had lashed out at them, but he seemed allright. That is besides his eyes which were red and inflamed.

“I can't see”, he cried “I can't see”.

“There now take it easy, your sight will return again, we only need to tend your eyes”, Black Skull comforted him “Do you have any water”, he added.

“Water…. yes in the large barrel in front, take what you need”, he answered a bit more relaxed by Black Skull's assurances.

“Oh we have enough I think, I was only thinking of bathing your eyes with some herbs”, the priest said still supporting the merchant in a semi upright position.

“Anything you say… you saved my life”, the merchant said thankful for his luck. Had he not run into these folks he would never have made it.

xupis_story_of_a_thief.1348174717.txt.gz · Last modified: 2012/09/20 13:58 by einarpetersen