A Hope is Born

A Hope is Born

By Joe Gensweider

by Joe Gensweider

King Kal'ebb slept alone in his huge den. His head was gently cradled by ancient scrolls and books, he was seated in a lavish oak armchair, and outside, four guards stood watch. But Kal'ebb had something to be afraid of tonight that no single guard could handle, in fact a hundred guards could not handle the threat of this night. The threat of this night could not be kept out by simple stone walls, the threat of this night was deadly, and it was already in the room with the King of Synarin.

Kal'ebb, Kal'ebb, you fool! Wake up! Tonight is a very special night, very special night, for both of us.

The voice came into King Kal'ebb's mind brain. Somewhere deep within his own mind, the seductive and yet, menacing voice woke Kal'ebb from his light slumber. At first, Kal'ebb was scared of the voice, after all it was coming from inside of him, but he soon fell under the alluring spell. "What are you?" Kal'ebb asked in a nonchalant voice. "Where are you?"

To you ,my name is incomprehensible, and I have been called many things by mortals, but if you must call me something, I prefer Kelachinder. As for where I am, I am everywhere and nowhere, I am within you and without you, I am alive and dead, exiled and accepted, in simpler, mortal words, I am in limbo. But tonight, I will escape this infernal prison, tonight Kall'ebb, you and I become one.

Kelachinder's voice was tempting, but something about the whole situation was not right. Kal'ebb questioned the voice, "Why are we going to become one? Why me?"

Is it not enough that you have been chosen? If you must know, I will tell you. If I am not mistaken, you have recently begun to study an art called Kelachi, a dark magic that I invented eons ago. You are the first person in thousands of years who has tried to learn the dark art and like many others, you have failed. But your mere curiosity has allowed me to enter your mind, and tonight I shall take your body as well. Finally, the dark prophecy shall come to pass.

Part of Kal'ebb wanted to refuse, but the voice was too tempting for a mere mortal to resist and before he knew it, a crippling pain was racing through his every nerve. In his mind he saw a dark cloud above him, taking him over, and below him was a swirling whirlpool of darkness. The cloud invaded his soul, and the maelstrom took over his body. Slowly he felt himself slipping farther and farther away. Around him it was getting colder and colder. Then Kal'ebb was gone, and an evil the Seven Lands were not ready for, was back again.

It had been nearly three months since the Ghost Riders of the Seven Lands declared themselves freemen, and for three months they had found work as mercenaries. But rumors of the elite group had spread faster than wildfire and the loyal soldiers of every king in the Seven Lands were searching for them, and they had to keep a low profile. It just so happened that after a week of being hunted by a platoon of War People they found themselves in a small town in coastal Itair. And the only Ghost Rider that did not seem to be losing his mind was Eljir Ravenhill, the leader of the only free men in the Seven Lands. Jono Waterwalk, the second in command, was happily drunk on the fine wines of his homeland, Porvar Landgrove had not left his room in three days, Halix Pathfinder was living in the woods a few miles south, Li Chen spent all his time on top of the roof of the inn, meditating deeply, Carmbine Beastbasher had left the group months ago to hunt for a semi-mythical beast, and Narhir, the odd wizard, was always disappearing. Of course, Aras had not been acting too odd, but she was a woman and women always seemed to be acting odd in one way or another.

All of the Ghost Riders had changed small things about their appearances, but none more than Eljir, for he knew that it was he that King Kal'ebb hated most, and he would be the easiest target. The tall Scot had let his black hair grow long, more than shoulder length now, and his chin was now graced by a well-trimmed goatee. But the sorrow in his deep and full green eyes was always there, taunting his enemies, and giving him away to his friends.

Eljir stood now atop a high coastal cliff, transfixed by the glorious setting sun. He was not surprised when he found that Aras had snuck up on him from behind. "What are you thinking about?" she asked, alerting him to her presence.

The tall Scot did not answer for awhile, finally as the sun melted into the shimmering sea water he turned around and said, "About the Ghost Riders, about what we should do, where we should go, whom we can trust; just things a leader has to think about."

"Well, Narhir is finally back from where ever he goes to and Halix is tired of the woods, Li Chen and Jono are becoming friends, and Porvar has been letting me into his room, and I think we should all eat together tonight, " Aras said, taking Eljir's hand.

Eljir winced at her delicate touch but answered her in a steady voice, "Any sign of Beastbasher? He should be back soon."

"No sign, " she answered, "but back to the dinner, everyone else is in the tavern, let's go."

"Any reason you want us to eat together so much?"

"Narhir wants to speak with everybody, but if we are going to function as a team we need to spend more time with each other. It's hard turning a group of loners into team players, isn't that another job of a leader, or are you too much of a loner yourself?"

"Let's go, " Eljir said, shaking off the criticism.

It did not take long at all for the pair to reach the small village of Ragoti on their magnificent horses, bred for a king and tamed by outlaws. The streets of Ragoti were nearly bare now, as they always were at dusk, so Eljir and Aras led their mounts easily through the dirt streets to Antinoni's Inn and Tavern. A pair of young stable boys led their familiar horses away as the incredible smells of Antinoni's kitchen assaulted their senses.

They found most of the Ghost Riders waiting for them at a long central table in the dining hall, Jono sat next to Chen trying to get him to drink from a flask of wine. Porvar and Halix were debating archery in friendly tones as they shared a bottle of strong brown liquor, and Narhir sat at the end of the table staring into a steaming cup of tea. At the arrival of the couple, Narhir looked up and said, "Carmbine will reach us sometime tonight or tomorrow morning, depending on how fast he's driving his beast."

"So then he has tamed a Daamaonn, " Eljir said, taking a seat beside the wizard and pouring himself a cup of ale.

Aras sat down across from Eljir on the other side of Narhir and changed the subject, "So what is Antinoni's special tonight?"

But they resisted her attempts; Eljir asked skeptically, "How do you know this, wizard?"

"I have my sources, and I have a name."

Eljir had never trusted wizards, not since a man called Urtasis had used magic to swindle and then kill half the people in his village, including his mother. That wizard's tricks had been the turning point in his young life. Already fatherless, he was sent away to live with his Uncle Belner, a once prominent warrior. Belner lived a secluded life by a small lake in the highlands of Scotarn and taught Eljir many lessons in swordsplay and war, but also important lessons in life.

Aras let out a loud sigh of relief when Antinoni and two of his kitchen boys brought out three steaming pots of pasta and a huge black kettle loaded with a thick tomato sauce. The kitchen boys quickly retreated to the safety of their kitchen table but the old cook lingered a moment, wanting to make sure the meal was acceptable. Antinoni was an aging Itairan with fading brown hair and a bushy gray mustache that always had bits of pasta or traces of sauce in it. His face showed undeniable evidence of laughing and joking too much, and his light blue eyes sparkled with a humor all their own. "I hope everything is all right?" he asked, rubbing his chin with a nervous hand.

"It's great, Antinoni, " Jono said, as he piled his plate with pasta, "care to join us?"

"I'll just get one more basket of bread sticks, and then..."

"Nonsense, " Narhir interrupted, "Sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor."

"Well, if nobody else minds, " but the chef's voice trailed off as he sat down and poured himself a hefty glass of white wine.

The meal was enjoyed by all, and for the first time in a long time the Ghost Riders, the only free men in the Seven Lands actually got along with each other, at least to a certain extent. Stories and jokes were told, Antinoni and Jono delighted the others with an old Itairan ballad, and Narhir found himself performing parlor tricks. There was an over all feeling of good will hanging over the dining room of Antinoni's Inn and Tavern that night. When the meal was done, Eljir leaned back and began to hum an ancient Scotarnish fighting tune lost in his own thoughts and Narhir filled his smooth redwood pipe with the finest tobacco in all the lands. Jono taught Halix and Aras a card game while Li Chen meditated and Porvar absently carved an arrow. Narhir graciously gave Antinoni a bit of tobacco and soon the lot of them sat comfortably, quietly watching the fire burn.

It did not surprise Eljir a bit when the scream broke the pristine silence of the night. He, of course, was the first of them to react, grabbing his longsword and leaping up, but Jono and Li Chen were not far behind with their blades, and in an instant, the Ghost Riders were rushing out of the inn and into the streets. In the dim light given off by the various houses, six figures could scarcely be seen, struggling over a seventh figure on the ground. By the pale light, Eljir could barely make out the seal of King Kal'ebb on the four aggressors and he knew instantly which side they would fight for.

The Scot charged at the closest soldier and caught him off guard, but the soldier was able to deflect the first mighty swing of his sword. They were locked in battle now, and amazingly this man, a simple soldier was matching one of the greatest warriors the world had ever seen blow for blow. Eljir's opponent was small in size, but he seemed to have unnatural speed and power, and some of his techniques almost caught Eljir off guard... almost. Finally, the soldier make a mistake and Eljir drove his blade into the man's heart. His eyes widened for a moment, then a terrible explosion of sickness and death and greed erupted from the soldier's chest in a rush of purple energy that knocked Eljir to the ground.

The Scot was not on the ground long. Two more foul explosions rocked the crisp, clean night air and he jumped to his feet. He found both Jono and Li Chen lying beside the corpses of dead soldiers, and one of Porvar's arrows digging into the heart of the last man. Another corrupting rush of purple energy disgraced the night, and the battle was over. Eljir walked over to his comrades and helped both of them off the ground, Chen bowed thankfully, but Jono asked, "What in the name of the sea was that!?"

"Sounds to me like something a wizard might know, " Eljir said, face drawn tight in anger.

"I know nothing about this, " Narhir said, stepping out of the shadows, "they work for Kal'ebb, but I know nothing about this."

"I do, " croaked an old and tired voice, "Help us please, it is more important than you could possibly imagine. Please, my friend needs healing, and this woman is vital to the survival of the entire world."

"Who're you?" Jono asked, as he helped an older fellow dressed in white robes off the ground.

"Please, my brother and the woman, first you must help them."

"Well, don't just stand around, help them into my inn. I have plenty of room, " Antinoni said from the doorway.

Jono helped the elder man into the inn and Eljir picked up the woman, Halix followed with the injured young man in his able arms. The younger man was dressed like his friend and was bleeding profusely from several major wounds. They rushed up the stairs and Halix laid the dying man on a soft bed. "Is there anything we can do to help him?" the Trinirian asked, "We have a wizard amongst us."

"Send the wizard in, the rest of you leave, " the man said. And so it was done.

Eljir did not care that he had been sent out of the room. He knew that magic would be involved, and he wanted to be as far away as possible. Besides that he had some checking to do, he wanted to know why seemingly normal humans had exploded in a rush of energy. When he reached the street, he found that the four dead were decomposing rapidly, the gaping holes in their chest had spread to their stomachs. But their faces were still clearly visible, they looked normal except they had three thin black lines under their eyes. And the eyes too were odd, they looked as if they had been dyed purple, the same purple that had erupted from their chests.

"There is an ancient legend among our people, " Halix had silently crept up on the leader, "that speaks of a deadly and ultimate evil that once reigned over the Seven Lands. Our people called this evil Sinbasterin, the name means the Great Corrupter in our language, but by most cultures he is called Kelachinder, the Black Deceiver. The Old Ones say that Sinbasterin will return one day to destroy all that lives, and they say that humans with possessed souls will serve him. And they say these servants have a mark, the mark of the six lines, and they say their eyes give away their corrupt minds."

Eljir squatted down to get a closer look at the evil eyes and the six thin lines. He said, "You think that this Kelachinder has returned to the Seven Lands, Halix?"

"I don't know, boss, but I think the evidence is compelling."

"This changes things a bit, " Eljir said, as he straightened himself. "We'll have to set up a watch, would you mind taking the first round?"

Halix only nodded once before disappearing into the darkness.

Eljir returned to the dining area of the inn and found Antinoni, Porvar, Li Chen, and Jono sitting close to the dying embers of the fire. "Halix is watching the inn, I'll take next the rest of you decide your order. Where is Aras?"

"Above, with the girl. Eljir, she's pregnant; near the end by the looks of her, " Jono said.

"Then it's the girl and her child they are trying to protect?"

"More likely to be the child, I'd say, " Porvar quietly interjected.

"Yes, Kojen, it is the child we protect, " the older robed man said, as he made his way down the stairs.

"How is your friend?" Eljir asked.

"With the wizard's help, he will live, but I have more important matters to tend to. The child will be born tonight. I just wanted to thank you for interfering earlier. More of those devils will be along before the night is through, when they come, strike for their hearts without hesitation. I will need the help of your lady friend."

"Of course, " the Scot responded.

"Good night then, " the old man said, "And beware of the evil that lurks on this night, if the name Kelachinder means anything to you, then you know why." He slipped silently away.

"I've got a bad feeling about this, " Jono said, rubbing his chin.

"Raise the town, Antinoni, tell them to go to the coastal caves, and tell them you're in charge, I can only trust you. Tell them a battle will happen here tonight, but do not mention anything about Kelachinder or the evil. Porvar, I want you on top of the hotel, pick off anything that ain't us. Jono, you and I will build a bonfire, it'll surprise our enemies and I want to be able to see them. Chen, I want you to find Halix and tell him the plan, then I want you two to sneak around watching and waiting, " Eljir said, with Porvar translating to the Monjapian.

An hour passed and the moon rose to its apex high in the night sky, it was an odd moon and seemed warn of a coming evil. Eljir and Jono were standing on the Town Plain, a wide grassy pasture at the center of the small village. Behind them stood a mountain of branches and brush that rose above their shoulders. Jono was impatiently sitting on the ground, humming a tune that had no meaning to his stoic companion. Eljir stood close to the firewood ready to light at the quietest of words from Chen or Halix. Antinoni had given them his last three cases of lamp oil and the fire would start easily enough, but the Scot was not sure how long it could last.

The wind had shifted and was cold now, bringing a slight mist off the might ocean that lay only a short distance from the town. That only complicated things. Eljir hoped the attack would come soon, or not at all. He knew the second was not an option. "Where in the name of the sea are they? I thought they were coming tonight, " Jono growled. He was always too eager for a battle, especially when it offered a challenge. This one would certainly be a challenge, five against who knew how many.

Eljir heard a bird crying in the distance and randomly looked up at the silent figure perched atop the inn no more than fifty paces away. The sight of Porvar gave him a little reassurance. That diminutive archer was worth ten men in battle, without a doubt, he would tally the most kills on this night, as he often did. They were all the best at what they did, the best warriors from their respected countries and cultures, but they were only five. He suddenly wished very much that Carmbine Beastbasher was with them, he counted as twenty men in battle, and would kill twice that if given the chance.

"Boss, " the voice almost startled Eljir, almost, "they're approaching quickly and quietly, they'll be at the inn soon."

"Let's do it, " Eljir said, as he touched his small torch to the wood.

The fire blazed to life instantly and caught the forty advancing soldiers off-guard, on the street in front of the inn. An arrow from Porvar flew down like a lightning bolt from the heavens and pierced the heart of one soldier, he was not even able to scream in agony before he exploded from within, the fight had begun. The evil soldiers had been caught off-guard and it showed for a moment, but only a bare moment. They quickly regained their composure and began fighting like the four earlier had, with dead speed and strength.

Eljir charged the ranks of men and began fighting with all of his immense strength, with battle axe in one hand and longsword in the other, he was a force to be reckoned with, and yet he killed few. As soon as his sword would puncture the corrupted heart of one soldier, another would take his place, the conflict went on and on. He lost himself in battle, only reawakening at the horrible sound of one of the evil soldiers dying.

Jono Waterwalk found the battle equally challenging. Normally, his sure-handed finesse won out against the brutish strength of the warriors he faced, but tonight they seemed to have his number. Yet, even though he was discouraged, he was still the best swordsman in all the Seven Lands and more than a few soldiers fell at his feet.

Halix and Li Chen moved through the crowd of soldiers with the speed, stealthiness, and grace for which their peoples were renowned. Halix hacking with his double hatchets and Li Chen with his long and sleek katana. These two, combined with Porvar's deadly accuracy from the roof-top, kept the shorthanded Ghost Riders in this fight, at least for a while.

The evil soldiers of Kal'ebb seemed to keep coming without end, there must have been a small army of them waiting in the night. But the Ghost Riders could not think about that now, they had to concentrate on keeping themselves alive. The child that was coming into the world as the battle raged was important somehow too. They need help, Eljir knew, or a miracle rather, a miracle that probably would never come.

When Eljir saw Aras, the old man, and the young woman holding a small something in dull rags he nearly choked and fell down. They were trying to escape in the middle of the battle. He hoped for the child's sake that the man could fight, because Aras was still too young and unsure of her sword hand for a fight like this. Nevertheless, they ran for the stable across from the inn, but the fates were not with the Ghost Riders on this night. A man on a massive black stallion charged from out of the shadows and with a single blow of his massive purple sword, he killed the old man. Though this man was different from his comrades, his skin and hair had a faint purple tint to them, he almost reminded Eljir of Farwir, a knight whom had been rumored to be leading Kal'ebb's search for the Ghost Riders, but he looked bigger and more terrible.

Both Aras and the young woman froze at the sight of the mammoth, he replaced his sword in its scabbard at his side and snatched the baby from its mother's arms. Then he lowered a small crossbow at the woman's face. On a sudden impulse, Eljir hurled his axe at the knight's hand. It flew with sure grace and speed, only slightly nicking the arrow sailing towards the girl's head. The huge knight looked up with hatred in his eyes and smiled at Eljir, then rode away into the night.

It was just as the evil man and the baby disappeared that the silent explosion knocked all of the remaining battlers to their knees. From somewhere very far away, there came a sizzle and a pop and suddenly a blue ball of energy was forming out of thin air by the two women. It grew and grew and grew until it finally began to fade into the form of two men. Slowly the energy died away and the two men became visible. One was cloaked by a long green robe and none of his features could be seen, the other was an outstandingly magnificent specimen. He was about Eljir's height with a very slight build and very pale skin, his eyes had no pupils and glowed the same brilliant blue as the energy, and his long thick hair also was blue. His robes were the same color as his hair and they were broken only by a white pyramid that decorated his chest. Both feet and one hand were hidden by his robes, with his free hand he held a long and magnificent staff carved from a radiant, glassy substance. Pure power seemed to resonate from him.

He looked at the scene that surrounded him and raised his staff high into the air. A low rumble broke the eerie silence, then a hundred explosions of evil and corruption rocked the quiet night. Everyone but the mysterious blue man seemed sicken by the smell and the feel of corruption. Eljir clutched his stomach and heard Aras losing control of hers, even the blue man's companion seemed affected, but less so than the others.

The blue man looked down with pity on the young woman who had so recently given birth and before Eljir knew what had happened, a knife made of the same crystal substance as his rod had easily pierced her heart. Eljir pulled himself up and screamed in horror at the sight before charging with sword high above his head. The blue man did not move an inch, in fact he barely seemed to notice that Eljir was coming for him, and at the last second, his companion's sword blocked the Scot's attack.

Eljir shot a violent glance at the green-cloaked man who held his ground, and then he happened to glimpse the green man's sword. It was an exact duplicate of his. "B-but I m-made this sword m-myself, " he stuttered aloud before recomposing himself, "There is only one in the world like it, it is an original."

"Don't I remember, " came the green man's response as he pulled back the hood of his robes.

At first, Eljir did not make the connection. The face he was gazing into was old, but very, very familiar. Then suddenly it hit him, the build was his, the hair was gray and cut short, but very fine, like his, the face was wrinkled, but defined and chiseled, like his. A scar tore the left side of the face, a green stone had replaced the left eye, but the right eye was definitely his eye, it had the same color, but also the same faraway look of one who had seen too many deaths. Only in the green-robed man's eye, the look was even more desperate.

The long silence was broken by Jono, "By the sea! It's you!"

The Itairan's voice seemed to jar Eljir awake and he looked down at the dead female body lying at the blue man's covered feet. "I want you to answer some questions now!" he shouted, "Let's start with, why'd you kill the girl?"

"Calm down, Eljir, " the blue man said in a beautiful and melodious voice. "My name is Asaem and you all know Eljir Ravenhill- of course, this version is a bit older."

"I said I wanted answers!"

"Calm down, and come inside, " Asaem said. "I've some very noble answers for you."

A few moments later when they were all comfortably seated around the fire in Antinoni's small dining room, Asaem gave his explanation. He said, "First and foremost, you must know that we come from the future, a very dark future. We come from exactly twenty-five years in the future and in our world, an evil man named Kelachinder rules with an iron fist. Most people in the Seven Lands died in a great war and those left live under the terror and cruelty that is Kelachinder.

"I arrived in the Seven Lands exactly one year ago in the elder Eljir's time and found that I was too late and that my enemy ruled all things living and dead. I knew I would have to travel back through time, but I was not yet powerful enough. While I was waiting for my power to grow, I learned of the one man still alive that opposed Kelachinder, Eljir Ravenhill. I rescued Eljir from foolishly dying at my enemy's hands and told him of my quest, he agreed to help me and now we are here. The explosion of blue energy you saw before we appeared was a tear in the temporal vortex. We have both sworn to stop Kelachinder at all costs and we intend to do so."

"That still doesn't explain why you killed the woman, and how do you know Kelachinder so well? He is supposed to be the ultimate evil, correct?" Eljir asked.

"Kelachinder is the ultimate evil, and I suppose you could then call me the ultimate good, " Asaem said. "We were both born from the Creator. Long ago, before any other creatures roamed the world, he sent his two sons down from the heavens. He made his sons from the two sides of himself, I was his good side, pure and just; my brother was his bad side, evil and rotten through and through. The Creator hoped we would balance good and evil out in the world, but our very presence only seemed upset that delicate balance. Because he can draw on his pure rage, Kelachinder has grown stronger than I over the years and has defeated me in more often than I care to admit.

"But I won our last battle, or at least I thought I had. He was able to return from the limbo I sent him to much sooner than I expected and I was still too weak to leave my own prison. This however, is the last battle between us, either I win and we both die, or Kelachinder wins and the world is plunged into everlasting darkness."

"For the last time, " Eljir said, barely able to control his anger, "Why did you kill the girl?"

"The first rule of time travel, " the older Eljir said, "change only that which is necessary. History said that Belshi Lengi died at the first battle between the men of Kelachinder and the Ghost Riders. In fact I saw it happen, if she lived it could be disastrous."

"So let me get this straight, " the younger Eljir said angrily, "You come back in time to change the world, and you're afraid to do anything about it. What if saving that girl is the only way to defeat Kelachinder?"

"Belshi was only important in that she gave birth to the Girl. It is the baby we must save, " Asaem said. "Belshi's child must die for Kelachinder to become fully powerful, but if the child lives, we will have a chance to kill him."

"But Farwir escaped with the Child, " Aras said. She sounded shaken, but sure of herself.

"Yes, child, and we must save Her, " Asaem said warmly. "Eljir!"

"What?" both Eljir's said in unison.

"Ah, yes, that raises a bit of a problem doesn't it? From now on the younger Eljir shall be addressed as Eljir and the older we will call Ravenhill, simple enough?" Asaem asked.

The Ghost Riders shook their heads, still dumb-founded by the night's events.

"Now that that's settled, we must make preparations."

The Ghost Riders made ready as quickly as they could. Jono rode as fast as he could to the caves where Eljir had sent the townspeople before the fight had begun. The rest of the party gathered up their equipment and loaded the horses. They left Belshi's last protector in his room, with instructions to Antinoni to keep him safe and to comfort him. It did not take long and soon they were mounted and riding west down the path that Halix found for them. It was dark, but the Trinirian found his way as easily as the others breathed.

They rode down Halix's path for hours, and finally, as the sun was dawning over the rough terrain of western Itair, they found their nemesis. Farwir sat on his horse, he was surrounded by a group of more than a hundred men, the Baby he cradled in his arms. "Why hasn't he killed the Child yet?" Eljir asked, as he returned his looking glass to his saddle bags.

"Hers is the spirit of the only great warrior-magician that can neutralize Kelachinder, " Asaem answered. "Only my brother can kill her, or the spirit will most certainly live on."

"How are we supposed to take on a hundred men is what I want to know?" Jono asked.

"Well, if Porvar's shooting talents are anything like I remember them, then it shouldn't be as hard as you might think, " Ravenhill said.

"A head on assault will suit us best, " said Eljir.

"Yes, " Ravenhill agreed.

"I'll stay up here and cover your backs, " Porvar put in.

"Eljir, you are the only one here strong enough to handle Farwir. He has much of the strength that Kelachinder gives in him, he will be more of a challenge than you have ever faced. Do not worry yourself with anyone else, save your energy for Farwir, " Asaem warned. "Now, with that said, let's go."

The Ghost Riders yelled their personal battle cries as they charged down the gently sloping hill towards Kelachinder's army. The evil army was most definitely caught off-guard and many of them died in the opening rush of the Riders. Many more fell prey to the swift arrows of Porvar. But Eljir rode through the crowd carefully avoiding the underlings, and instead heading straight towards their leader.

The other Ghost Riders fought gallantly. Most chose to stay mounted, but Aras and Jono were fighting back-to-back amid a large crowd of the evil soldiers. Narhir chanted magic spells and curses that slowed their foes' movements, and sometimes caused them to take their own lives. Halix rode through the horde of enemies with a long spear in hand, and Li Chen followed him, reeking havoc with a huge lance. Ravenhill defended Asaem with a malice that could only be pure loyalty, while Kelachinder's brother needed only to make eye contact with one of the soldiers and they would explode in a flood of foul, purple energy. And, of course, the good archer was savior to all as he fired down arrows from his perch above the battle field.

The battle was going well for the Ghost Riders as Eljir reached Farwir, Kal'ebb's man was standing by his horse, the Child was sleeping peacefully in one of his larger saddle bags. It was as he was dismounting that Eljir became concerned. Over the hill, on the opposite side of the shallow valley from Porvar, eight figures were charging. The Erchen horses they rode gave them away well before they entered the fray, they were the group of War People assassins that had been chasing the Riders for weeks.

The War People reached the fight faster than Eljir would have thought possible, and though they did not look as if they served Kelachinder it was easy to tell which side they would fight for. Any enemies of the Ghost Riders were friends of theirs. The very presence of the War People changed the strategy of the battle altogether, now Narhir, Aras, and Jono were desperately trying to fight the massive creatures, while the other five struggled with the soldiers.

But Eljir's mission was to kill Farwir and reclaim the Child. Both men unsheathed massive longswords and Farwir muttered something in a language that sounded evil in itself, then the fight had begun. The old Farwir would not have even been a match for Eljir Ravenhill, but now they were equals, or perhaps even his better. Pure power seemed to flow through his veins as he swung his huge sword as if it were a willow reed. But Eljir matched him blow for blow, and even got his slices in, however, he was obviously losing the battle.

Farwir's sword was whistling as it cut through the air in an arching motion towards Eljir's neck, he blocked it with his longsword and instantly loosed his battle-axe from its sheath. He brought the axe up and into Farwir's unprotected side, cutting him deep, but the wound did not seemed to phase the evil spawned warrior, he fought on almost as easily as before. He was moving slower, and it evened the battle out more, but the stench of the deep wound and the sight of purple blood was a lot for Eljir to take.

Overall the battle was going very badly for the Ghost Riders. Aras, Narhir, Jono, Li Chen, and Halix were all battling with the War People now, leaving only Ravenhill and Asaem to fight the soldiers. Porvar, of course, was still letting his arrows fly, but he was running out, as was their luck.

Then, just as Eljir thought all would be lost, there came a loud roar from the direction that the War People had come. The ground began to shake and Eljir groaned, for he thought a stampede of some sort was headed their way. But something else came over the hill instead: a mammoth gray-skinned beast that was two times as tall as the War Person riding at the base of its skull, and five times as long. The beast had an ugly cat's face, with wide-set crimson eyes, a wet snout, and a mouth that held four huge fangs as well as thousands of smaller, sharper teeth. The skin over its long body was tight and massive muscles rippled as the creature bounded into the valley. The giant hind legs of the creature pumped with an unequaled eagerness and the smaller fore legs had five huge claws and an opposable thumb.

The beast crushed many of the evil soldiers, but it was concerned primarily with the War People that were hunting the Ghost Riders. Eljir and Farwir both watched in stunned admiration as the beast swept up two of the War People and then rose onto its hind legs before throwing them back down, crushing every bone in their bodies. But that was all the pair of them witnessed, Farwir tried to run Eljir through as the leader of the Ghost Riders watched Carmbine Beastbasher and his new-found Daamaonn come to his rescue.

Eljir saw his foe's treachery out of the corner of his eye, however, and leapt aside of the charging Farwir. As his opponent rushed passed him, Eljir swung down with all his might and watched with a grin on his face as Farwir's blade shattered. Eljir kicked his foe directly in the face and then recovered the Child from the evil warrior's saddle bag.

The battle field had erupted in chaos, War People and the corrupt servants of Kelachinder were running everywhere trying to escape the Daamaonn. Eljir ran to his horse, and after placing the baby in one of his own saddle bags he mounted and began to navigate through the remainder of his foes. Within minutes, the whole valley had been cleared and only the Ghost Riders and the corpses of the wicked soldiers were left.

"I see you found your beast, " Eljir said, as he approached the Daamaonn.

"Hail, Ryquintil, " Carmbine said, addressing Eljir with his War Name. "I did find my Daamaonn, and now we have bonded and she is in my service."

"Did you recover the Child?" Asaem looked ill, but so do did the rest.

"Yes, " Eljir answered.

"Good, " Ravenhill said, as he removed the Child from his younger version's saddle bag and handed her to his master.

"Are we going to follow our foes?" Carmbine asked. He was staring at Ravenhill as if trying to place the futuristic man's face.

"No, " Asaem answered. "An even bigger army will be deployed when Kelachinder finds we have the Child. We must move now, we will have to find a safe haven for this Girl."

"You're Eljir, " Carmbine said, sounding very confused, "but so are you."

"It's a long story, " Eljir answered him.

"No matter. One Eljir was fun enough, two will be almost too much to handle."

They were just preparing to set out when the distinct sound of hoof beats broke the silence. A single rider appeared on the crest of the hill they had come from, he spotted them and quickly made for them. Eljir and Ravenhill drew their identical swords at exactly the same time, but Asaem said, "Worry not, he is a friend."

It was the boy they had rescued the day before. He leapt off the horse and upon seeing Asaem immediately prostrated himself. His white robes had a golden pyramid on their chest that was a twin to the one on Asaem's own robes. "My lord, " he said, as he stood up, "I know of an island where the Child will be safe. It was prepared for her long ago."

"What is your name, son?" Asaem asked.

"Jjanas." He was smaller than most of the Ghost Riders, his youthful face was almost disturbing, but his gray-green eyes showed how much he had see in such a short time. He had sandy blond hair and looked strong.

"Well, Jjanas, lead the way."

And they set off, no questions asked.

To be continued... at a later date.

Copyright 1997 by Joe Gensweider You can e-mail Joe at: ssuske@worldnet.att.net

About the Author in his own words: "My name is Joe Gensweider, I'm fifteen years old and I live in Yates Center, a very small town in southeast Kansas. I became interested in writing in the second grade and I've been doing it ever since. This is my first fantasy work to be published. I became interested in Sci-Fi and fantasy through Star Wars and I've grown as a reader and a writer ever since. Right now I'm working on several short story series and two novels. I live with my mom and editor, Sharon Suske, my sister, Amy, and three cats and a dog. On weekends, my sister and I visit our dad and lawyer, Leo Gensweider."

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