Through the Dark Veil: Part Three

Through the Dark Veil

By Allen Woods

If you haven't read the beginnings of this story then click here to read Part 1, or click here to read Part 2.

The Threshold of Rocwhelm

"The early records concerning Koraz are very sparse. No legitimate historian seems to have been concerned with him before the twelfth year of the Dragon, when Gelvin began his quest. Most of our information from before that time was recovered from the memoirs of Lord Kenyson of Rocwhelm."

From The One History of Illuria
By The Council of Prophecies

The sun began to rise early the next morning and so did Gelvin. Spritelengs did not need as much sleep as humans and even the faintest rays of sunlight were enough to waken him. He rubbed his puffy tired eyes and saw that Thraxus still sat next to the embers of last night's fire, with his sword sitting between his crossed legs.

Thraxus looked exhausted and Gelvin knew that he must have guarded the camp for the entire night. Thraxus saw Gelvin get up and stretch, but he was too tired to turn his head and acknowledge him. Gelvin was much more amiable though. He walked over to the warrior and sat down next to him.

Thraxus was staring across the grassy field which stretched endlessly beyond the tree line and the road. The sun's yellow rays clashed with the green savanna creating a beautiful struggle of competing hues. Thraxus did not even blink as Gelvin admired the scenery. After a moment of awkward silence Gelvin asked the question they both wanted to know of each other, "Why'd you suspect Narus?"

Thraxus stared straight ahead, watching the rising sun and responded like a zombie, or at least responded how any man would after sitting awake all night, "He was too obvious. Ogres don't travel with humans, I don't care how special they are. It just didn't make sense that a man with a magical staff and a pet beast would want to travel out in the open with other people." That answer did not satisfy Gelvin. He had suspected Narus all along and he blamed himself somewhat for not saying anything when the wizard joined his companions.

"Then why did you invite him to join us?" Gelvin pried, looking for a reasonable explanation. Gelvin never would have allowed Narus into their group and he wanted to know why Thraxus would.

"I needed to know more about him. It wasn't just coincidence that he chose to reveal himself to us."

"I never would have guessed that," Gelvin sarcastically thought to himself.

Thraxus continued, "He and his ogre could have stayed down wind. I had a feeling that someone sent him to find us. I still want to know who and why."

"I thought you said it was Koraz who sent them," Gelvin said as he remembered Thraxus' grave proclamation about the first of the faceless many.

"I did," Thraxus said as he finally stopped staring at the sun and looked Gelvin square in the eyes. "It's really just a guess though," Thraxus said reluctantly. "I'm not absolutely sure, but he knew a lot about Koraz and he was too cocky. He thought he would kill us, so he told us some of what we wanted to know. Maybe he just wanted to distract us or maybe he just felt like toying with us. I don't know," Thraxus said in frustration with a slurred voice.

The explanation seemed most logical to Gelvin and if Thraxus was correct, Narus' plot seemed to work on most of the group. Neither Fyndon, Flynton, or Slade seemed to suspect Narus after he talked about Koraz's faceless many. They were too occupied pondering what Narus told them. But then Gelvin thought that perhaps the group naturally looked to Thraxus for leadership. If Thraxus welcomed Narus, why should they question him? That thought bothered Gelvin because he still didn't fully trust Thraxus' hasty judgment. Gelvin concluded that eventually, if the situation were desperate, perhaps someone else would have to stand up and become a leader. Gelvin decided it wouldn't be him.

"So you believe in Koraz?" Gelvin asked as he realized the implications of Thraxus' reasoning. It was a question Gelvin had asked himself many times since this quest began the other day. Some people, like Zendon, believed in the assassin and others, such as Pithian, thought he was just a myth, designed to scare and frighten people. Or did Pithian really believe that? The more Gelvin thought about what his master said concerning Koraz, he realized that Pithian was being ambiguous as usual.

"He's real," Thraxus responded. "He has to be. I've heard too many stories about him. Most of them were when I was younger and still a mercenary." Thraxus' voice sounded distressed when he spoke of Koraz. Finally, Gelvin understood why Thraxus acted so rudely and mean most of the time. He was afraid and Gelvin knew why. It was more than just his voice that gave him away though. Gelvin looked back into his eyes and somehow he understood that Thraxus, despite his size and strength, was afraid of the man they sought.

"I hope you're wrong," Gelvin said as he turned his sights back on the emerging sun.

"Me too," Thraxus said as he laid down on his back and finally went to sleep.

The sun rose higher and the others began to wake. Gelvin had let them sleep because he thought they would enjoy the rest, especially Thraxus who badly needed it. Gelvin had removed the special leaf from his hand and Fyndon was right. The wound had healed and only a slight mark of discoloration was left where the skin had been lacerated.

"Isn't that amazing," Gelvin said as he examined the scar from all angles. In order to show his appreciation for her care, Gelvin prepared a breakfast of fried meat and eggs. Actually, Gelvin was somewhat surprised that the eggs had not cracked open inside his pack. All of the walking and fighting surely would have ruined them. But the thick cloth wrapped around the eggs seemed to protect them. That made Gelvin happy because a fried egg in the morning was his favorite breakfast. Gelvin decided it would be rude to prepare the meal for only Fyndon and himself, so he cooked enough for everybody. As Flynton and Slade woke up they heard the sound of sizzling food.

"Thank you Gelvin," Fyndon said as she rolled up her dark blue blanket and grabbed a fork to eat with. She gobbled up the eggs in a hurry because she liked the warm feeling of hot food sliding down her throat.

"I did not know we were bringing a chef on this tour," Flynton joked as he thanked Gelvin and dug into his plate of food.

Everyone ate except for Slade. He was not used to people giving him things, but then again he had never been with a Spriteleng. It was Gelvin's nature to be generous, even to thieves. Gelvin could not just sit by and watch Slade starve while the rest of them ate, so he picked up a plate of food and carried it over to the thief. "Here you are Slade. There's enough for everyone." Gelvin shoved the plate right under his nose and the steam from the meat filled Slade's face.

Slade wanted to lick his lips because he was hungry and the warmth rising off the hot food during the chilly morning enticed him more and more. Yet still, he was obstinate, "Who asked you to make me anything. I can fix my own food, Spriteleng." Slade said with the emphasis on Spriteleng. He was determined not to appreciate anyone. His whole life he had fended for himself and he didn't want to start accepting charity.

"But it was my pleasure," Gelvin said as he pushed the plate into Slade's hands. Gelvin decided long ago that the best way to win over a human's respect was to shower them with kindness. Eventually, they would grow fond of his caring.

The smell of the warm food filled Slade's lungs as another cool breeze swept through the camp. The wind, tempered with the thought of a good egg, were too much for Slade to resist any longer. He grabbed the plate away from Gelvin and tore into the food like a starving dog who had found a bone. "Don't let it happen again," Slade mumbled with a mouth full of eggs. He hadn't paid for the food, but Slade allowed himself to think it wasn't given to him. It just happened to be there and he ate it. "I likes to make muh own food," he said as a piece of meat dribbled out of the corner of his mouth.

"Whatever you say Slade. It won't happen again," Gelvin said happily as he returned to his seat by the fire. He knew Slade's weak spot now, his stomach.

After breakfast Thraxus ordered everyone to their feet and the march towards Rocwhelm continued. Thraxus hoped that they would be there by late afternoon because they had made such good time the day before. The road was still very dusty but the surroundings became more interesting. There were rolling hills and rock faced cliffs far off to the west of the road. From one hill, Gelvin even saw the Grandean Lake. It shimmered with glistening water and even from this distance it appeared huge. Eventually the view of the far away lake faded and Gelvin again felt himself drawn towards conversation to pass the time. Fyndon had the same idea as well.

"Where do you come from?" she asked Gelvin.

"I live in the white temple on the north side of Caledan."

"I know that," Fyndon said with a roll of her eyes. "I mean where did you come from before that?"

Gelvin felt the warming spring winds on his face and he thought back to that day in the forest eleven years ago. "My master, Pithian Whiteshield, found me in the forest alone. He saved me and took me to the temple."

Fyndon was puzzled because she knew that Spritelengs lived in forests and really didn't need to be saved from them. "Why did Pithian have to save you? Didn't your family look after you."

"Oh, my family took good care of me for many years, but when Pithian found me, they were gone." Gelvin tried not to dwell on the thought of what happened to his family. In time, he had come to accept their fate, but still, he did not always feel like reliving it through his memories.

Fyndon realized that something was wrong with her new friend. Spritelengs don't leave each other. In fact, most Spritelengs live in close communities for their entire lives. "Where did your family go?" she asked, not noticing that Gelvin's head was facing the ground as his voice became softer and more reserved.

"They died two suns before I met Pithian. My whole village was destroyed and I was the only one left. I guess I was lucky."

Fyndon's mouth opened slightly with horror because she did not mean to resurrect such a painful memory. She had never experienced such a loss and she could not imagine how Gelvin must of felt. She was embarrassed and ashamed for reminding him of his pain. "I'm so sorry Gelvin," Fyndon said with great emotion as she squeezed his arm. "I had no idea."

"Its all right," Gelvin said and he patted her on the hand to assure her that he meant it. "I was sad for a long time, but Pithian took good care of me and now I can talk about what happened."

"What did happen?" Flynton asked in a curious tone. He had been listening to their conversation and he could not help but ask. "I mean, how does an entire village get destroyed with only one survivor?"

"A flood rose out of the river and crushed my people," Gelvin coldly responded, wishing not to describe it.

"That can't be," Flynton said in mild astonishment. He didn't realize that his disbelief trampled the truths of Gelvin's past that he fervently believed in. "People survive floods. Sure, some always die, but a river flood never destroyed an entire village."

"This one did. It was special," Gelvin said as he stared towards the horizon, lost in thought. "This was not a normal flood. A wall of water rose out of the river. It was taller than any tree. It approached my village and then smashed it to pieces like an avalanche." Gelvin thought he could still feel the moist air of that night on his sensitive skin.

"How did you survive," Fyndon asked, intent on learning the resolution to his story.

"I was in the forest, away from the village the night it happened. All I saw was the approaching water and the sound of it crashing into the trees."

"Well we're lucky you survived and are here with us today. It is part of our good fortune," Fyndon said with a smile. "I will give you something to commemorate our journey and help you forget the troubles of your past." Gelvin silently forgave Flynton's prying as Gelvin knew he intended no offense. Fyndon ran to the side of the rode and picked up a few clovers that grew in a patch next to the trees. She covered the small greens with her porcelain white hands and held them up to her face as she started whispering at them. She pulled her hands back and in their place was a small red flower with a yellow stem. She ran back over to Gelvin and handed it to him. "Here. This will make you feel better."

Gelvin looked at the flower, with its delicate petals, and held it up to his nose. He took a deep breath and was reminded of warm honey on a cold winter day. He had never smelled any flower so refreshing. "How did you do that?" he asked merrily and curious.

"I told you, Comwens are good with nature," Fyndon said and she skipped ahead of Gelvin, relieved that she was successful in changing the dreadful subject. Gelvin forgot what they had been discussing and happily put the flower away in his pack for safe keeping.

The day pressed on and by early afternoon the adventurers reached the border with the lands of Kenyson. They approached a small stone tower, not larger than a sapling tree, and looked further south where they could see the top of a great castle looming in the sky. The tower was a squat building, wider than it was large. It was painted red and had small slots around the bottom level in the place of windows. As Gelvin stared at the slots he came to realize that they were not windows at all, but arrow slots for shooting enemies. The top of the tower was surrounded by a stubby notched wall of stone and as they reached the border on the road a voice called out from above, "Halt! Who are you and what business do you have in Rocwhelm?"

Gelvin looked up and saw a soldier standing atop the tower. The soldier was a tall man with sandy brown hair and a menacing voice. He held a bow at his side, but it was not raised to fire. Thraxus stepped forward and shouted back, "I am Thraxus of Caledan! We have urgent business with the Lord! Come down and I can show you the documentation!" Thraxus held high his scroll bearing the red seal of the eagle. The soldier on top of the tower motioned behind him and a few moments later a scruffy guard emerged from an iron door at the base of the structure.

He wore bright red armor which featured an eagle on the breastplate. Gelvin realized it was supposed to represent a roc, the giant eagle creature of legend. A few still existed here and there, but nobody is really certain why Kenyson chose it as his symbol. Gelvin was pleased that he finally figured out what the seal on his scroll portrayed. It too was a roc.

The guard approached Thraxus and he held out his scroll. The guard stared at it carefully and then asked, "Have the rest of you got one?" The other members of the party quickly produced their scrolls with the red seal and the guard performed a quick inspection to make sure they were all in order.

"Everything's proper down here, sir," the guard shouted back at the man on top of the tower.

"All right then," he responded. "Escort them to the Lord."

"Follow me," the guard said and with a wave of his hand he started down the road towards the castle.

As he walked past the guard tower, Gelvin looked up and glanced at the man on top giving out the orders. The man looked back with an angry scowl on his face. Gelvin felt the rage seething within him and anyone, not just a Spriteleng, could see anger in his eyes. Gelvin did not know what made the man hate so much but he hoped it didn't concern him or his companions. Gelvin remembered that, after all, he had just crossed over into the realm of a man King Zendon, until recently, called his blood enemy.

The group continued down the road as it wound up and down more hills. Gelvin hurried up the apex of one large hill along the road and saw the breathtaking lake again. The water stretched to the horizon and Gelvin spotted many small boats sailing along the wavy waters. The thought of swimming in the lake refreshed Gelvin as he felt rushing wind encompass him.

As the guard led the party closer to the castle, Gelvin began to notice that a community surrounded the citadel. A full blown city actually, even though it was not as large as Caledan. "This must be Rocwhelm," Gelvin thought to himself. Rocwhelm was protected by a large stone wall that formed a circle around the city. It was about ten paces high and as thick as Slade was tall. Gelvin passed his hand over one of the stones and realized the wall was constructed of mossy smooth rocks from the lake. The city itself was dominated by the gigantic castle that stood directly in the center. Lord Kenyson's keep was taller than any tree, with one wide cylindrical tower bursting out of the center. Most of Kenyson's people (Gelvin hated that expression) were hard working and, for lack of another ruler, followed the Lord of the castle. There were not as many merchants in Rocwhelm, but just as many soldiers, each wearing red armor and outfitted with swords and bows.

The guard led Thraxus' party through the dusty dirt streets to the front gate of the castle. The gate was made of rusty, once black, metal with rocs carved into the top of every other post. At the entrance, another man, dressed in a velvet black robe, led them into the castle. He claimed to be Lord Kenyson's vizier and promised them that the Lord would meet with them shortly. Gelvin thought the vizier mysterious. He had a bald head, like himself, but that was not common among humans. His eyes were deeply set and the shadows of his large nose and brow created distorted features about his face.

The vizier led them into a small waiting room immediately inside the castle doors. The room was small, containing two green cushioned chairs and a pitcher of water sitting on a diminutive wooden table. The vizier turned to the visitors and said, "The Lord will be with you shortly. Do not leave this room." And with that statement, the vizier left.

"How rude," Gelvin thought as he looked around the waiting room. It was filled with vain paintings of Kenyson himself, framed in pure gold. The most interesting rendition showed Lord Kenyson on horseback, decapitating an orc with his axe. Most of the other paintings were scenes of Kenyson in battle and Gelvin wondered why someone would want paintings of themselves killing other people and creatures?

After a few moments of anxious anticipation the door to the room swung open and the vizier led the guests to an enormous banquet hall. The hall was the largest single room Gelvin had ever been inside of his whole life. The walls were lined with lavishly colored tapestries which stretched from ceiling to floor. Where there were no tapestries, the walls were painted into multi-dimensional designs of manifold colors. The iron banquet table was covered with food of all sorts and at the head of the table sat Lord Kenyson. Gelvin thought Kenyson was an average looking human covered in the gold and silver armor that seemed to adorn many kings during this age. Kenyson had black hair with a touch of gray and a congenial face, much more so than King Zendon.

"Greetings weary travelers," Kenyson said politely as he stood up from the table. He was a large man who had taken care of himself through the years. He had a large chest and a thick neck. Gelvin wondered if that came from decapitating orcs? Thraxus immediately bowed to one knee and the others followed on cue, even Slade bowed though he was somewhat reluctant. "Rise and join me for this meal. Your journey from Caledan has been long and we have much to discuss."

Thraxus sat down in a large wooden chair next to Kenyson and tried his best to appear attentive, even though he was still tired from his lack of sleep. Gelvin chose an oak chair to sit in and the others followed suit. Servants gave them large helpings of delicious food. There was a finely roasted animal, that Gelvin did not recognize, as well as a rich dark wine and a white cake. Gelvin gobbled up a piece of the cake ravenously as Kenyson leaned towards Thraxus to begin an important conversation, "I assume Zendon has told you why you have been sent here."

"Yes my lord," Thraxus replied. "And I hope our efforts can help bring peace between our people."

"I hold no grudges against the people of Caledan," Kenyson stated in a feeble attempt to justify his past transgressions. Gelvin observed that Kenyson would not look them in the eyes when he wandered off on one of his speeches. It made Gelvin wonder how often he had rehearsed them. "Peace is natural to myself and my people. We wish Caledan the best of fortune. My fortune, on the other hand, has taken a turn for the worse. You have heard of Koraz?"

"Yes we all have," Flynton replied, taking the initiative for the first time. "What I want to know though, is why do you not send your own men to find this Koraz?"

It was a good question which Gelvin had not thought of. Why would Kenyson negotiate with Zendon and wait for his people to arrive? "I cannot trust my own people, boy," Kenyson said. "I know that it was the men from my own kingdom who have contracted Koraz to kill me. I cannot rely on them to eliminate Koraz before he can fulfill the contract. If I put the traitor in charge of finding the assassin and stopping him, surely it will never be done. That is a risk too great to take. Zendon knows it is to his advantage if I live and that is why he has agreed to send me trustworthy men such as yourselves," Kenyson said with confidence, obviously forgetting that Gelvin and Fyndon were neither men.

"Why do your own people want you dead?" Gelvin asked ignorantly. Even if Kenyson knew the answer, which he didn't, he would not have laid bare the problems of his house for a stranger, let alone a Spriteleng.

"I do not know and I don't care. I just want Koraz stopped at any cost."

"We are ready to pay that cost," Thraxus said even though he probably should have only spoken for himself. Gelvin and the others had never considered the costs and weren't really sure how far they'd be willing to go to complete this quest. "Tell us what you know of Koraz and where we can find him," Thraxus continued.

"I intend to," Kenyson said as he leaned forward on the table to speak to the entire group. Even though Kenyson had good reason to fear Koraz, he seemed more willing than Zendon to discuss him in the open, "Almost twenty years ago, during the twelfth year of the Wolf, the grandmaster assassin, Penzant Blackfoot, discovered a new protégé. The boy, rumored to be only thirteen at the time, somehow found his way into the assassin's guild house at Lankar." Gelvin remembered reading about Lankar. It was a huge city that lay far to the west on the coast of an ocean. Lankar was a den of thieves and murderers ruled by an wicked king, but Gelvin could not remember his name. "He took a dagger with him and tried to kill Penzant," Kenyson continued. "The boy seemed crazy, but really he only wanted to make a name for himself by killing the famous assassin."

"How do you know that?" Gelvin asked impudently.

"I have collected all the known information on Koraz. Many people lived barely long enough to recount this tale. Penzant disarmed the boy, but still he was impressed. The boy would not tell Penzant his real name and only acknowledged people when they called him Koraz. Koraz was brazen and Penzant liked that. So he took him in, won his trust, and trained him to be a master assassin. Penzant sent him far and wide to study the art of killing until one day, four years later, he was ready."

"Koraz returned to Lankar and took his place with Penzant next to the evil King, Dansten the Black. Dansten ruled the lands to the west with an iron fist and nobody opposed him for fear of Penzant and Koraz. The Elven prince, Anis Shanklar, openly opposed Dansten and paid the price. Koraz disguised himself as Anis' father and killed him in his own house. Koraz narrowly escaped, but the elves learned first hand the cost of defiance."

"Over the next two years Koraz upheld the commands of Dansten and Penzant until one day he asked to leave Lankar. Koraz told Penzant that he had 'unfinished business' with a dwarf he met during his years away in training. Penzant let him leave and Koraz traveled to the Valley of Overgrowth, presumably to settle a debt with an old enemy. That valley is just south of Rocwhelm," Kenyson said as sweat began to trickle down his forehead. His discomfort was becoming more apparent. "Koraz stayed in the valley for a year and then returned to Lankar."

"What business did Koraz finish while in the valley," Thraxus wisely asked.

"Nobody knows for sure," Kenyson said nervously as he shuffled his feet. "But something had changed in the assassin when he returned from there. Legend says that he was no longer willing to take orders from Penzant. Others reported that Koraz was seen laughing at the moon from rooftops in the middle of the night. Penzant wondered if his protégé had gone mad and my guess is that he probably did. From that day forward people started calling him Koraz the Mad."

"In the following year Koraz caused more havoc in Lankar than any mortal before him could have possibly done. Koraz stabbed and killed Dansten in a public ceremony."

"In shock, Penzant drew his sword and asked Koraz, 'What are you doing?'"

"'Now you can be king, Penzant. There is no stopping us!' Koraz shouted back at his master. Penzant had never considered killing Dansten because he was content with his position, but suddenly the idea of ruling intrigued him. He hesitated in front of Koraz and did not live long enough to regret it. Koraz pounced on him and severed his head with one stroke of his sword. But Koraz did not take the kingdom. He didn't want to be king, he just wanted to cause chaos. He left the realm for Dansten's lieutenants to quarrel over, and they decimated Lankar in a struggle for power. Koraz disappeared."

"Since then, only sparse tales have circulated about Koraz. Some people never believe there was a man named Koraz and that Dansten's lieutenants made him up as a tale to justify their competition over Lankar. I think those people are wrong. Too many similar stories about Koraz have cropped up in the last ten years."

"Such as?" Thraxus asked, still eager for more information about the opponent he feared.

"One tale says that he killed the dwarf, Thorus the Elder, the King of the blue mines," Kenyson continued. "After that he killed Dirk Derlithian, the high paladin of Anese and protector of the throne. Koraz really made his reputation on that kill because Derlithian was known far and wide among men. People with secret knowledge continued to find ways hire Koraz. Eventually, he had too many contracts and he formed an assassins guild."

"The faceless many!" Gelvin interjected excitedly.

"Yes, how did you know?" asked Kenyson.

"Lucky guess," Gelvin responded without mentioning their encounter with Narus. Kenyson surely would have broken down with fear if he knew that Koraz's assassins had already made contact with his secret saviors.

"Koraz's reputation grew to mythical proportions," Kenyson continued. "He and his many killed anyone for the right price and Koraz, bored with the ease he found in killing, began to study the black art of dark magic. After that, he would kill his victims with searing magical fire and other horrible powers. Through every assassination though, whether magical or a knife in the back, Koraz laughed a horrible and maddening laugh. He has not been seen for some time but now I fear he will try to kill me."

"My soldiers used their bows to shoot down a hawk leaving Rocwhelm and flying towards the Valley of Overgrowth. Attached to the hawk's leg was a message. It read: The time is now, Koraz. Kill my Lord Kenyson during the next lunar cycle and I will complete your payment. Your reward will be larger than anything you can imagine. The new lunar cycle began yesterday." Gelvin felt worried and became hypersensitive. He was instantly aware of everyone and everything around him. He half expected Koraz to be around every corner and behind every tapestry in the hall.

"Its a miracle you're still alive," Thraxus thought to himself. Thraxus was scared but still hopeful. He thought maybe Lord Kenyson could provide them with some advantage against Koraz. "You believe Koraz is again hiding in the Valley of Overgrowth?" Thraxus asked.

"It only makes sense," Kenyson responded. "He has been there before and the hawk was flying in that direction."

"Is there anything you can give us, a map, a weapon, anything to help us against Koraz?" Thraxus pleaded.

"The valley has never been mapped but I can give you the Lord's shield for your protection," Kenyson said as he snapped his fingers. Moments later a young squire hurried into the chamber with an enormous platinum shield. It too bared the emblem of a roc. Kenyson handed it to Thraxus and said, "It is my highest honor to give you the Lord's shield. It has guarded my life through many battles and may it guard you as well." Thraxus accepted the shield but could not help but wonder what it was worth.

"If I don't stop Koraz, maybe I can sell this," Thraxus thought greedily as the imagined the aftermath of Kenyson's death.

"If there are no more questions then I suggest you eat well and get some rest for the evening. Tomorrow morning you will start for the valley." Kenyson stood up and marched towards the door without waiting for a response. Gelvin thought he was preoccupied with other matters and he wondered what could be more serious than Koraz. As the Lord left though, he told his vizier, "Introduce them to my son. Have him show them to their rooms for the night." With that, the Lord was gone.

Everyone continued to eat quietly without saying a word because they were busy considering what Kenyson had told them. The Lord seemed to know much about Koraz and everyone was ready to believe him, save for Slade. Slade had never heard any assassin speak of Koraz, he had never seen Koraz, and no thief had ever sung about Koraz. It sounded like an elaborate ruse to Slade, but he did not care as long as Zendon paid him well.

They finished their meals when a short thin man walked into the hall and whispered something to the vizier. The vizier straightened up and introduced the thin man as the Lord's son, Marcus. Gelvin thought Marcus was surprisingly short, as he stood a full head shorter than Slade and probably only half his weight. Marcus had short black hair and a rugged look about his face. His eyes seemed to be lost in deep thought and Gelvin could not feel anything about him. Gelvin thought he looked very different from his father, Kenyson, who appeared regal and noble. Marcus looked like any common man off the streets, but he spoke clearly and politely, "My father has asked me to show you to your rooms for the rest of the day and evening. Please follow me."

Marcus led them up a series of winding stone staircases that ascended higher and higher into the castle. They were lined with torches, but were generally unremarkable and quite a change from the banquet hall. Marcus hummed a tune none of them ever heard before as he led them through a maze of dank corridors. Eventually they reached a hallway with five doors. "Here are your rooms, I hope they are satisfactory," Marcus said as he stared back at the group waiting for any kind of response. His eyes started to wander again and his humming returned.

"Tell me Marcus," Thraxus started because he still wanted more information about their quest. "Do you know why anyone would want to kill your father?"

"No idea," Marcus said and he pushed past the group to escape back down the corridors. He left them quickly and Gelvin decided that either he didn't know about the assassination or, for some reason, didn't care.

"Well that was rude," Flynton said as he chose the first door on the right.

"Good night everyone," Thraxus said as he went into a room. He was ready to collapse and catch up on his sleep.

Gelvin chose a room and settled down next to the window. The room was dank and gray with a simple bed and a stained brown wool rug on the floor. From the window Gelvin looked out onto Rocwhelm, from far above in the Lord's tower, and he could not help thinking about home. This was the first full day of his adult life he had been without either the temple or Pithian. He wondered what his master was doing and how Pithian would prepare on the eve of a dangerous quest.

As Gelvin thought about those questions he heard a faint tapping on his door. Before he could respond it opened and Marcus walked inside. The room was sufficiently large but Gelvin felt strangely cramped with the prince, despite his diminutive stature.

"Are you a Spriteleng?" Marcus asked boldly and to the point.

"Yes, I am."

"I've never seen one before, but I thought so. I've read about them and seen drawings, but never in the flesh."

"I hope I'm all you expected," Gelvin responded, not really knowing what to say.

"Oh, you'll do," said Marcus. "I'm sorry I don't mean to pry, but I was just fascinated from the first moment I saw you." Marcus could have fooled Gelvin. He thought the prince always looked distant and unresponsive.


"Because you are new. I love to meet and see new things."

Marcus looked up and down as he sized up the Spriteleng. Gelvin began to feel that he was being gawked at so he tried to change the subject. "Let me ask you a question," Gelvin said, feeling more confident since Marcus had begun the series of personal queries. "Why do you look so different from your father?"

"Because he's not my real father. Kenyson does not have a male heir, so he adopted me last year."

"That explains it then," Gelvin said as he wondered why the Lord would adopt such a peculiar boy. "I lost my parents too, when I was a young boy."

Marcus did not reply as he finished staring at Gelvin. He examined him from head to toe and tilted his head curiously as he slowly exited the room. Gelvin thought that maybe Marcus seemed so distant because he was not happy being the Lord's son. Gelvin wasn't really sure why, because, after all, he was content being an adopted son. Gelvin continued to look at the world below him outside the window, but he could still hear Marcus humming even all the way down the hall.

To be Continued...

Copyright 1997 by Allen Woods

In the writer's own words:

"My name is Allen Woods. I am a 22 year old writer from Nashville Tennessee who enjoys writing adjectives, adverbs, the occassional noun, and science fiction. I am an affiliate member of the HWA. I have written two dozen short stories, some of which have been published in "Pablo Lennis", "Art:Mag", "Lost Worlds", and "Pleiades". I am finfishing work on a novel length space opera and I encourage readers to give me feedback via e-mail:"

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