Below Ground: Chapter 2 – Beyond The Volcano

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Below Ground: Chapter 2 – Beyond The Volcano (Mf,anal,cons,fant)

by Dark Genesis ([email protected])

Starring: Michelle Trachtenberg, Leelee Sobieski, Claire Forlani

“So, I’m an actress in a show called The Young And The Reckless, a soap written by a certain Lady LaDermot. I live in an island surrounded by magma, but people here act pretty much like people up on the surface, so I can fit in. Me and my friend were asked to find Lady LaDermot to bring her to our hometown, so she could direct the finale of The Young And The Reckless, unfortunately it seems that we have run into trouble already. We met
a warlock called Cain as we spent the night in Unda, a town near the mountain where the temple of water is situated. Now we are in a dead end, all roads to the eastern lands where we were headed are cut off, so we must figure out an alternative way to travel to the eastern parts.”

“So? Am I in?”

Michelle and Leelee looked at each other, the decision had been made last night, but they liked to keep him on his toes. “Yeah, you’re in.”

“Excellent! Now, when do we leave?” Smiled Cain, sitting in his chair at the tavern near the inn. “We don’t know yet, I think it’s pretty useless to go to the northern gate if we’re just going to get pushed away, or worse… we need to get to the eastern parts through the mountain.” Said Michelle.

“… Through the mountain? Did you lose it when you jumped over that gap, or something because we can neither go THROUGH the mountain, or jump over it for that matter, the steps to the temple of water take us to the temple, but we still can’t get to the other side of the mountain.”

“Let’s just investigate the temple and find out if there’s any other ways to circle around this mountain, agreed?”

Cain agreed in a heartbeat, but Leelee was still a bit uncertain. She decided to go with Michelle’s plan anyway, it’s not like she had a better one herself. That say, they prepared to walk to the temple of water, it was a long walk up the stairs to the top of the mountain. Especially now, that the temple of air had started emitting wind, the higher they got the colder it felt.

“Jesus! I haven’t felt this cold in a very long time! It’s like Alaska or something! Not that I’ve ever been in Alaska, but still…” Laughed Michelle.

“Where’s Alaska?” Asked Cain.

“It doesn’t exist she’s just mentally unstable, don’t worry about it!” Yelled Leelee.

“I resent that!” Their voices were muffled by the strong wind. But in time, they got to the temple, the wind couldn’t penetrate the walls of the mountain, this place had been here for as long as anyone could remember, the legend goes that the almighty race of dwarves had built the temple for their friends the elves, who worshipped the water god, the dwarves themselves worshipped the earth god, who lived inside the ground.

“So… this is the temple of the water god…”

They looked at the beautiful carvings on the walls, there was a statue of the god at the opposite wall from the door, it seemed that the water god was a siren of some kind, playing her harp on a rock in the middle of a well. That well used to supply water to the people of the western side, now it was completely dry, not a single drop of water in it.

“So, technically we’re just a few steps away from the door that leads to the other side of the mountain… that pisses me off.” Frowned Michelle, trying to push the walls to find some secret passage. “We could just break the wall and walk to the other side, right?” Wondered Leelee.

“With what? And besides, break the temple of water? There’s be a lynch mob right outside that door we’re so anxious to get through… we have to figure out something.”

Cain went through some of the markings on the wall, just for curiosity and came across something. “Hey, girls! I think you’d better have a look at this…” Both of them went to see what Cain had found. It was a picture of the mountain, with the temple marked on it. “So? It’s this mountain, and the temple… I suppose it’s one of those ‘You Are Here’ plaques?”

“No, not that, look down.”

Michelle focused her eyes and looked at the markings very carefully. Just at the bottom of the mountain they saw a vertical line going down into a round cavern-like marking, Leelee understood what it was but wasn’t too excited. “It’s the gap in the mines… it’s a passage deeper into the ground.”

“A passage into the ground… hey, wait a sec!” Michelle called out at her as she was about to leave. “You can’t leave now, this is big! Historical! We just might’ve found a way into the core of this island, who knows what we’ll find there!”

“Yeah, a real adventure… we have no idea where it leads, we might end up there for all eternity and you’re thinking about going down there?”

“… Hell yeah!”

Cain drew a sketch of the markings and they headed back to town. At the inn, Michelle tried to get the problem out of Leelee…

“Come on, what are you so worried about, if we get in, we can get out… besides I’m pretty confident that we can get to the northern parts through that cavern. On what Cain drew, I saw a small underground river flowing from the south end to the north end of the mountain, we’ll find Lady LaDermot in no time!”

“It’s not that, I just…”

She put the rest of her stuff into her bag. “I think you’re losing it…”

“… Losing it? What do you mean?” Wondered Michelle.

“You suddenly turned into this girl who wants everything for herself… it started back in Non-Solis Palace when you saw those statues… after that you’ve wanted everything for yourself. It’s like you lost your heart somewhere in the process.”

“Is this what it’s all about? What I’m trying to do here, is to get you, me and Cain to see Lady LaDermot like Bosco asked us to, I’m doing what I’m told and some more, is there something wrong with that?”

“I guess not… in your mind. Look, I have nowhere else to go, I’ll follow you no matter how you act, but for now, could you just stay away from me?”

Leelee left the room, grabbing her bag along, leaving Michelle puzzled in the room. “Where the hell did that come from?”

Cain and Leelee were waiting outside the inn, as Michelle walked outside, Leelee headed toward the mines. “Did you get everything?”

“Yeah, lots and lots of rope, and some lanterns.” Replied Cain.

“… Good.” Michelle looked at Leelee, walking away from them in a hurry. She might have offended her but she was still her friend. They came to the gap in the mines where the four henchmen of the thief Julio had dropped into. This time they were equipped with ropes and after attaching them into a huge rock, started lowering themselves into the abyss.

“Cain, light a lantern, will you? It’s getting dark…”

Cain lit a lantern and the small gap just big enough for the three was illuminated. The pit itself was pretty smooth, not varying much in size, it was more like someone had intentionally done it, rather than it had just caved in. After an hour of climbing they came to the big cavern, which was very well lit. There were big lanterns all over the cavern, enlightening it very well. “Let there be light, you can drop the lantern, it just disturbs your climbing.”

Cain dropped the lantern into the river under them. “The rope doesn’t quite reach the ground… how deep do you think the water is?” Asked Leelee.

“Just enough for us to survive if we jump, is that a plan?” Said Cain, ready to drop into the water.

“Guys! Stop! Don’t let go, you won’t make it!” Yelled Michelle.

“God, you always have to be the first one to jump, don’t you?” Complained Leelee.

“No, you just missed what’s moving in the water!” Noted Michelle, nodding toward the water. As Cain and Leelee looked more closely, they saw something moving below the surface. “It looks like a really big snake!” Yelled Cain.

“… I hate snakes… I can’t go down, you guys… I can’t…” Stuttered Leelee.

“No problem, we’ll just swing ourselves onto dry land, right? It might break our legs but we’ll still be alive. OK, on three…”

“Michelle, give Leelee a break, will you? She’s been through a lot and she’s not as tough as you!”

As she heard those words, she gathered up the courage to show them just how tough she was. She started swinging on the rope, slowly lowering down just enough not to give the snake a chance to bite her. Cain and Michelle followed, trying to get as low as they could without touching the water. Leelee was almost petrified as she saw the blue-scaled reptile moving below the surface, but she was almost to the ground, just a few more swings…

“… It’s one of them, sea snakes! Really poisonous and really yucky, there’s also something weird… it’s stuck on something, and DAMN is it big!” Yelled Michelle, watching the 15 foot snake wriggling in the water. Leelee succeeded in swinging herself onto dry land and she collapsed on the ground, shaking and sobbing. “Leelee! You OK?” Cain didn’t quite make it to dry land in his hurry to see what was up with Leelee, but landed just a foot away from the ground. Michelle was still swinging in the rope, trying to get a closer look of the snake, which was very dangerous, since she was pretty close to the surface and the snake might jump up. Suddenly they heard a loud splash and the snake darted out of the water, grabbing one of the ropes and trying to pull it underwater.

“… Oh, shit! You guys, a little help here! Cain, can’t you do something?” She yelled in panic.

“Relax, it’s not your rope!”

“It’s not my rope but if you remember correctly, you’ll know that all the ropes were tied into ONE big rock!”

“… Oh, shit!”

“… And if that rock falls, I go down with it, and right into where that snake is swimming in, and I don’t think he’d like any more company!”

The snake kept pulling the rope furiously, Michelle could feel the rock moving above them. “Hurry! I’m not gonna last forever!”

“OK, I’m trying!” Cain started to concentrate as Michelle tried to swing the rope more powerfully. She could feel Cain’s magic giving her a boost on swinging, but it wasn’t going to be good enough, the snake had almost the whole rock at the edge of the gap.

“Almost there, you can do it, Cain!” Yelled Michelle, almost ready to jump. Suddenly Michelle felt the rock giving up and she fell right on the snake’s back. As the blue reptile noticed this, it let go of the rope and dove back into the water.

“Michelle! No!” Yelled Cain, falling down on his knees. Suddenly the whole river was painted red by the blood, the rock fell into the river right on the spot where he had last seen her. Cain rushed back to Leelee who seemed hysterical. “I’m so afraid of snakes… I’m so afraid of snakes… I’m so afraid snakes…” She kept sobbing as Cain left her there to check if Michelle really was…

Then he saw a figure going with the current, the body of the snake that had been caught by a rock was now laying dead in the river, it’s body swaying with the current toward the northern parts. Cain looked around if it would be possible… and there she was, climbing out of the river, completely wet with Julio’s dagger in her hand.

“God bless that Julio, I’ll never know how I’ll live without him…” Moaned Michelle, setting the dagger back to her belt and squeezing most of the water out of her hair. “How’s she doing?”

Cain was still stunned about seeing Michelle alive but was able to answer. “… She’s in shock or something… I’m not familiar with these things, but I think she should get some rest.”

“… Right…” Michelle’s eyes were locked, shining with joy as she saw something no human had ever seen before. “What’s that?” Asked Cain.

“Cain, I give you the village of the dwarves!”

The buildings had been built into the wall of the mountain, the lanterns enlightened the doors, the plants, everything, no natural light, just fire. As they explored the village more closely, they came across the old inhabitants, the skeletons of the dwarves. “My God… they did exist…” Cain picked up a skull from a bed and cleaned it a bit with his gloves. “I’ll empty that bed, we need to get Leelee somewhere.”

“Right…” Cain ran outside to pick up the unconscious girl and carried her into the house that Michelle had cleared of skeletons. As he set Leelee on the bed, he felt a shiver go through his body, he felt cold and helpless. “I don’t feel so good either… I’m not sick, I just… I think it’s something about her that makes me… I don’t know…”

“Trust me, I know the feeling… she pushed herself too far, she shouldn’t have jumped like that, we should’ve gone first, and been there to catch her, she isn’t used to going by herself.”

“… You’re right, I’ve noticed that about her… big words…”

Michelle looked out of the window, looking at the cadaver of the snake in the river. “So… what do you think happened here? Why did the dwarves die?” Asked Cain.

“It’s pretty obvious, they starved to death. One day this snake came along, got stuck in the bottom of the river and it drove all the fish away. They weren’t strong enough to kill the snake, so they died… it’s pretty tragic.”

“Oh, that makes sense… what’s a fish?” Wondered Cain.

Michelle let out a small laugh but tried to understand. “A fish is a living creature that lives in the water, people catch them and eat them.”

“Oh, so they’re like horses that live in the water?”

“No, they’re much smaller… and they’re a lot more numerous than horses.”

Michelle took a couple of lanterns from Cain’s bag and lit them. “Listen, can you go out exploring for a couple of hours? I’m gonna dry my clothes and wait for Leelee to wake up.”

“… Sure, that’s fine.” Cain walked out of the house and headed toward the highest house in the village. As Michelle removed her clothes and placed them near the open lanterns, she looked at Leelee. She seemed to be asleep, but in reality she wasn’t dreaming, it would only be a second for her when she wakes up. Michelle walked to her, kneeled down and gave her a soft kiss on the forehead. “Sorry about this…”

She took a blanket from a closet next to the bed and laid down on the floor, wrapping her bare body with the warm rag, woven by an old dwarven lady. Meanwhile, Cain was exploring the village, discovering the most interesting things, besides the normal houses, there seemed to be only one building that differed from the others, it was filled with books, statues and markings on the wall, which was a perfect place for a starting warlock. One should always use his time wisely, and what could be more wise than looking up the book of warlocks from the large variety of books. There it was, as he had seen it in his father’s room.

“Might as well read this through, now that I have time…”

He started going through the book from the part he had left off. The book of warlocks was filled with not only spells, but knowledge of the history of the isle, legends and myths among the folk about the four races that used to rule this island, the elves, dwarves, orcs and ikarians. These races have said to been overwhelmed by the human race, that won the war against these races, dwarves hid into the caverns, orcs hid into the mountains, elves vanished into the forests and the ikarians just disappeared…

“Erosa, ni’patala, tiroomn!” Suddenly a sphere of fire appeared in front of Cain.

“I did it! I can control the elements! I’m a warlock!” Suddenly the sphere burst into nothingness, leaving Cain pretty disappointed into himself. “OK, let’s try this one…”

“Erosa, ni’patala, snemaa!” A sudden gush of wind closed the book of warlocks and vanished as Cain lost his concentration.

“Incredible… I didn’t know it was this easy…”

Suddenly the book opened by itself and the letters and pictures left the book, starting to whirl around Cain’s head. “What? I didn’t do anything, did I?” The words, the images, everything in the book flashed through his mind, making him lose his consciousness and fall down. As the contents of the book were sucked into Cain’s mind, the book itself burst into flames and after a while, there was nothing but ashes left. Cain came to and stood up, finding that the book was nowhere to be found.

“… What the hell?” He felt different, suddenly the questions in his head weren’t there anymore. “What am I doing here? I must see if Leelee is alright…” He headed back to the house where he had left her.

Michelle grabbed some of Leelee’s clothes from her bag, at least they were dry. Michelle was facing away from the door as Cain rushed in, not recognizing her at first. “Leelee, you’re up!”

Suddenly Michelle turned around, but only to realize Cain had made a mistake. “No, it’s just me… I borrowed some of her clothes, just until mine are dry. I’m not into sitting around anyway…”

Cain looked disappointed but nodded. “So, find anything interesting?” Asked Michelle.

“Did I?” The warlock smiled at her.

He showed Michelle the place he had found, she was amazed, even though the dwarves had been primitive, they were still pretty civilized. “Find any good books here?”

“… Yeah, I found the book of warlocks but… I kind of lost it somewhere…” Cain looked around just to make sure it wasn’t anywhere.

“Too bad, also bad that most of these books are in a very weird foreign language, I can’t read any of these books.”

“It’s Kerubian, the ancient language, they teach that in school when you’re eight years old, did you cut class or something?”

“… Something like that…”

Michelle looked around for something she could read and discovered more markings, but this time on paper. “Look, this is a map of the isle! There’s no one who’s ever done a map of this place, ever! Looks like the dwarves did, huh? According to a rough translation of the images, by going with the current of the river we should end up at the northern lands, see? Simple.” She grabbed the map and rolled it up, that one was a keeper.

“We can’t leave before Leelee recovers… we have to wait.” Noted Cain.

“… Yeah, I know… it’s just that this practically ensured our entrance to the eastern parts, and finding Lady LaDermot, this map has the markings of all the main towns.”

“This traveling is killing her, you know that?” Asked Cain.

“… Killing her? You’ve gone nuts, she came along of her own free will, she’s been more than enthusiastic about every plan we’ve had, and now she makes this one mistake which she cannot control, and you say she’s weak and helpless? She’d kill you if she’d hear that…”

“You know that she is… she isn’t the type of traveling around and facing danger, she needs to be in a place she can call home.”

“Cain, you have no idea how far she’s from home, how far I’m from home, while you’re the nearest to your home, where ever we go!”

“… Now I don’t understand, you drive people crazy.”

Michelle lost her temper and grabbed the map on her way out. Cain stayed in the library, if that was what you could call it. He kept reading for hours, finding out more about the knowledge the dwarves had, putting the pieces together in his mind, starting to figure out what had really happened in the history of this place.

Meanwhile, Leelee hadn’t still woken up. Michelle got frustrated and put Leelee’s clothes back into her bag. She put her wet clothes on and went to check out the rest of the place, exploring around, she found something very interesting: a hot spring, water flowing out of the wall onto a puddle that lead back into the river. It wasn’t a spring as much as a waterfall, but still with warm water. It was pretty extreme in a situation like this, but it wasn’t like anyone was watching. She looked around on more time and made sure there weren’t any living things in the spring. After confirming it was completely safe, she got rid of her clothes and stepped into the warm shower. She let out a moan of relaxation as the warm water caressed her body, making it soft and tender for the first time in a very long time. She started washing all the dirt out of her hair, roughly rubbing it with her hands and squeezing the water out of it.

What she didn’t notice was that there was a balcony near the spring, the balcony lead to the library where Cain was reading. As he started hearing these voices from outside, he went to investigate. Stepping onto the balcony, she couldn’t help looking at the girl washing herself in the spring. He tried to refrain from looking any longer than just a look, but the look advanced into a long stare. He watched as Michelle washed her young naked body in the steaming water, gushing out of the wall, and couldn’t help at feeling the lust building up inside him.

He couldn’t take the torture anymore, he uttered a spell in low voice, lifting him up form the balcony and landing him softly near the spring. Michelle didn’t hear a thing as Cain quietly removed his clothes and started approaching the girl from behind. Not even as he stepped into the spring she couldn’t feel his presence, he was moving like a shadow. Then she felt his breath… the lusty breath behind her, ready to let out those feelings. Michelle didn’t react much, she just stood there, letting the water flow and washing her body as Cain gave into his temptation and out his arms around Michelle. He held her tightly against his body, starting to kiss her neck washed by the warm water, now the only thing between them. As he continued kissing her, he felt his cock starting to grow, getting harder and harder while pressing against Michelle’s thigh, they were both ready to do anything for this to go farther. Michelle leaned against the wall and bent over for him, Cain kept caressing her soft skin with his hands, hands that hadn’t touched that many women were running through Michelle’s body. She started to gasp as she felt Cain’s hands brushing against her hard nipples, and her dick kept rising higher and higher, she reached down with her hand, guiding the shaft with her hand, not to her virginal cunt, but to her tight butthole.

As she let go of his manhood, the warlock started patiently pushing it into her, the intent wasn’t to pound her to death, it was to simply satisfy an urge. As the tip slipped in, Michelle didn’t even grin, but her gasping got more and more intense. The last of Cain’s dick sank into Michelle’s tight little rectum, making her only moan of pleasure, closing her eyes to enjoy it with everything she had. Cain embraced her body closely as he started gently poking himself into her ass. The pleasure inside Michelle started gathering up, when the time would come she’d feel exactly how a woman should feel. Their passionate gasping united in the soothing flow of the water, the girl felt her bottom being ravaged by the man who she had just fought with a while ago, but they wouldn’t talk about this ever again.

“… Cain… don’t tell Leelee about this, aahhh… it would… destroy her… God! Keep going…” She gasped as her sentence was interrupted by the sudden blasts of pleasure running through her body.

“Michelle… mmhh, we should never do this again… God, it’s good… this is wrong, it’s all wrong…”

“… Do you like it?”

“… What?”

“My ass… does it feel… good?”

“Lord, yes… God, yes…”

He took a firm hold of Michelle’s body and picked up his pace, pushing himself faster and deeper inside the girl’s soft and slippery butthole. Michelle’s gasping turned into moaning, her voice turned Cain on more and more, making Michelle moan and keeping her under his control… it felt so good. Cain’s hips started slapping against her buttocks, making them wiggle with every push, every time he pushed a little too far, the girl’s butt clenched up, making the man moan of extreme pleasure. Who was controlling who?

“Fuck my butt… push it deeper… deeper, deeper, that’s it… your cock is so big… I’m gonna cum…” Michelle squealed loudly, feeling her own orgasm closing in as Cain ravaged himself inside the innocent little girl. Her warm and firm buttocks were tightly squeezing around the cock that was strongly forcing itself in and out of the young girl’s anus, his gentle poking had turned into violent shoving, making both of them enjoy even more.

Cain reached down into Michelle’s crotch and started rubbing her clit, feeling her wet brown pubic hair in his palm, the pressure inside Michelle was ready to explode out of her, the warlock’s hands rubbed against her very hard. The girl let out a loud cry as the orgasm that had been building inside her erupted on Cain’s hand, he spread the juice all over Michelle’s crotch and she sighed as his hand parted from her innocence. But she could still feel Cain’s passion not giving up behind her, time seemed endless as he kept pushing and pushing into her anus and making her gasp as the cock poked the walls of her bowel.

Finally, Cain’s fast pounding gave him a strong orgasm, filling Michelle’s rectum with his warm sperm. He didn’t pull it out, but laid against the girl under the spring, letting the water wash away all that sweat. Michelle smiled and was about to break the silence as she heard a familiar voice behind the buildings.

“Cain! Michelle! Where are you guys?” Leelee cried out, walking around near the river.

Panic came over the two, she couldn’t catch them like this. They quickly got dressed and made sure that there was nothing around to prove anything, and returned to Leelee.

“Hey, you’re awake?”

“Yeah… still a bit shook up, but awake.”

“Did you see the cadaver? Pretty cool, huh?” Smiled Michelle. Leelee glanced at the snake in the river. “Yeah, I guess… what were you guys doing back there?”

“Yeah, there was a… hot spring, but I don’t think we should waste our time into something like that, especially now that we’ve found a way out.”

“Through the river?”

“Yup, it leads all the way to the central of the northern parts.”

“… So, I guess you were right.”

Michelle didn’t reply as Leelee acknowledged that she had been right, she walked back to the house to grab her stuff.

“What was that about?” Asked Cain.

“Nothing, don’t think about it.”

Now the problem was to survive to the northern parts by going along the stream, that was going to be difficult, since they didn’t have any boats and the water was quite cold. Cain, who didn’t even know what the word ‘boat’ was, went to pick up some of the wooden shelves from the library, Michelle had a plan and it involved making a raft out of the shelves, it wasn’t exactly waterproof but still a plan. Leelee and Michelle were gathering all the useful stuff from the village that they could find, blankets, ropes, everything that could help in making the raft.

“… Michelle, I meant what I said earlier… I’m sorry about what I said.”

“Come on, let’s just forget all that…”

“No, I can’t forget about it. I’m just tired and I don’t feel up to going any further… I think you and Cain should go see Lady LaDermot by the two of you.”

“What?” Michelle knew that Leelee was tired, but to quit the whole trip? That was just too insane for her to handle.

“I know this comes at a bad time, but… I think I should rest in the northern parts for a while, I don’t want to slow you guys down like I did today and I’d just be torturing myself if I went along anyway.”

“… We don’t have to go the eastern lands right away, we’ll work something out with the guide. Do you really think I’d leave you in the hands of a complete stranger in a strange place? You’ve got it all wrong…”

“You’re just saying that, but thanks anyway… we’ll see what the situation in north is and then I’ll decide. It’s still my decision, right?” Leelee smiled sadly, Michelle replying to her with the same sad tone in her voice. “Yeah, your decision.”

In matter of minutes, all the items needed to complete the raft were gathered. Now all they needed to do was build it and hope it would last long enough to get them out of the mountain. But the raft wasn’t going to look bad either, Michelle made sure that Cain was making himself useful. “Cain, why don’t you skin the snake?” She threw her dagger to him, Cain catching it just before it would pierce his hand.

“Skin it? Why the hell would you want to skin that snake?”

“Not me, you. I think those scales are strong enough to act as some sort of cover for the shelves, at least the water won’t get through it.”

Cain didn’t think of anything else to do, besides he wasn’t that comfortable on riding a wooden box through a river, so he dragged the monster out of the water and started skinning it with the dagger. The scales did seem strong, it was more like a metal of some sort than organic material, there was one more question this fact brought up, how the hell did Michelle kill the damn thing?

“You know, this skin reminds me of a material called steel, how did you take the life out of the snake?” Wondered Cain.

“… My hand was kind of inside the snake for a while… it tried to bite my hand with the dagger in it, thus impaling itself internally. What, did you think I’d be able to kill something like that without luck?”

“Oh, so that’s what it was. I thought that you actually killed it by yourself, as it really commited suicide.”

“Assisted suicide, thank you very much… besides that don’t matter, as soon as you finish with that snake we’re off.”

“Do you really think that what’s-it’s-face will hold?”

“Don’t worry, a very safe way to travel if you ask me. If the first sail goes well, there’s no problem.”

Leelee didn’t say much of anything, she was still a bit shocked by the snake and now there was this thing that she wasn’t going to go on with the original plan… what was she thinking, it was all she had left. After the skinning of the snake, the scales were set on the shelves so the water wouldn’t rotten the wood, it was rather abundant, the skin of the snake, even after coating the raft they still had some of it left. Why to leave it there, since it wasn’t that heavy and that durable material was hard to find, into the bag with that.

“OK, on three, jump into the boat, if you get left behind you’ll starve like the midgets, got it?”

“The dwarves, actually.” Noted Cain.

Michelle would’ve wanted to say something, but she let it be for now, they pushed the raft into the water and successfully jumped into it, letting the stream take them through the steady tunnel toward north. Going deeper into the tunnel, it got darker and darker, in a few minutes they couldn’t see each other anymore. Lighting a lantern would’ve been a good idea, but it was also a good idea to save them up, who knew what was coming after the river? Maybe it would stop and they’d have to wander in an endless labyrinth of caves. Almost an hour passed by in the dark, the raft seemed to be moving forward, but could it take this long to get there? They could hear the water flowing forward and they felt like the walls of the cave were changing shape, but still it was like they weren’t moving.

“… OK, that’s it! Turn on the lantern!” Snapped Michelle and in a second, the lantern was lit. “I thought you’d never ask…” Groaned Cain, taking a better position as they could see around.

“Hmm, looks like we’re moving, feels like we’re moving and we’re definitely moving. What’s the catch?” Thought Michelle.

“Maybe it’s just an endless circle, we could be stuck in here until we starve.” Said Leelee.

There seemed to be no end to the tunnel, it looked like Leelee was right. Michelle felt the same wall she had felt before in the back of her head, they were going in circles.

“This isn’t the way out, we’ve been here before… there’s gotta be something that’ll get us out of here, look around and light more lanterns.”

Cain lit two more, now the cave was lit enough to actually see what was there, and it wasn’t pretty… “You reading this?” Michelle stared at the walls, not rock, but dirt, with bones sticking out of them. “What are they? More dwarves?” Wondered Leelee.

“… No, they look like something else… they’re taller and much slimmer. By the look of their bones, that is… if they’re not dwarves, we’re most likely in the northern lands.” Cain tried to grab one of the passing bones but failed. The water had turned from pure to muddy, only a slightly visible current was pushing the raft forward, going around in a circle and getting dirtier as the dirt and bones dropped from the walls.

“… Right there, guys! Right there! Ready to jump!” Michelle pointed out an opening in the wall a bit further. They grabbed their stuff and jumped into the opening without knowing what was in it. They came to a room full of skeleton’s like the ones at the river, but there was something else too, different kind of remains than the other ones, much bigger ones. The room had stairs running upwards to a huge gate, above them they saw light. “Yeah, that’s the surface! All we have to do is get there!” Noted Leelee, starting to approach the stairs. Michelle wasn’t against the idea of getting out of that graveyard as fast as possible, but Cain kneeled down before two skeletons. He detached a short sword out of one’s hand and a club from the other’s, it was clear to Cain what this place was, he had read about it in the library. Skeletons, weapons, a secret passage…

“What’s wrong, let’s get going!” Michelle tried to pull Cain up, but wasn’t successful. Cain slowly got up by his own will, looking at the opening above them, feeling a gentle breeze reaching the bottom of the gap. “What is this place?”

“… I’ll tell you later, let’s just get to the surface…”

Didn’t have to tell the girls twice, but before leaving, Cain looked up a certain skeleton from the mass and grabbed a ring worn by one of the smaller skeletons, that was proof that they had been there, the only way someone would believe him.

The stairs were not as long as the stairs to the mountain, but it was still tough to climb up with the stuff they had on them. Also the fear of something jumping up from the darkness would most likely scare them enough to lose their balance and fall down the stairs and break their necks wasn’t helping either.

“I think this is a little too high for me here… I don’t think I can climb any further…” Groaned Leelee.

“Come on, it’s just a few steps away. Up there, we’ll get a nice warm bed to sleep in and real food. You gonna miss that?”

“OK, it’s not the climbing… it’s just like with that snake, what if something just shows up? Like a goblin jumping in front of us, just before the top of the stairs? What are the options there, heart attack, falling down, getting stabbed?”

“Actually, Leelee… goblins don’t exist.”

“Yeah? That’s what you said about dwarves.”

“No, if it’s something weird it’s probably an elf, they used to live in the northern parts.”

Ridiculous things had a way of sounding funny every now and then, it wasn’t Cain who the humor had been blessed upon, which was unfortunate in many situations. “Fine… what about the trolls that were flying above Calculus and singing songs about the doomsday? What about those?” Grinned Michelle.

“Actually, trolls don’t exist and only ikarians can fly.” He corrected her sarcastic attempt of making Cain realize everything he was saying was nuts. “You’re really walking the fine line with staying with this team…”

“FINE! I’ll walk, I’ll do anything if I don’t have to see you guys start arguing…” Leelee continued walking up the stone steps, followed by her fellow travelers. The walk to the surface worked out well, no goblins or any other hostile animals interrupted their walk, but up on the surface, things weren’t looking that good for them. The vegetation around the place was very thick, completely impervious. Trees, bushes, everything almost glued together, as if it was trying to stop anyone from entering or leaving the gap they just came in from, a secret passage protected by the nature around it, how to get out?

“I’m not sure if our situation just got worse or more pathetic…” Mumbled Michelle.

Leelee collapsed on the ground, groaning of her tiredness and frustration, sure they were in a completely hopeless situation, Michelle refrained from asking Cain for a chainsaw even as a humorous element to calm Leelee down, it would have just indicated how screwed they were right now. They didn’t know where the nearest town was, how far away or at even what was it’s name, it occurred to them more and more lately, how screwed could you get?

“I guess that’s it, huh? No eastern lands, no northern lands, just a bunch of skeletons down that stinky hole we just climbed out of! The raft won’t take us anywhere but around the loop, and we can’t even contact anyone to get us out of here! I would KILL for a phone right now!” Yelled Leelee.

“I doubt that would do any good, the only thing remotely sharing a kinship with electricity is… magic.”

OK, so it was time for Cain to show off, this was going to be very difficult and too dangerous to even try, by they didn’t have any choice.

“So, what’s our plan?” Asked Leelee.

“Umm, let me think… I suppose I could burn a path for us and aim the fireball to the nearest habitation, with the risk of burning it down and starting a fire that would kill most people in the northern lands… yup, that’s it. What do you think?”

The next thing they knew was the forest burning with hellish flames, the trees crying out horribly as the wind enraged the fire to burn even more violently. The leaves burned in seconds and the trunks were falling down and turning into ashes as the travelers rushed through the black path cleared by the fireball heading toward a nearby village of Picea, just outside the kingdom of Chloros. The fireball stopped just before the village, they had arrived at time when the people of the village slept, so they didn’t catch their attention with all the flames and heat. It seemed that there was no damage to the forest either, just seconds away from them leaving the woods, more trees grew rapidly, extinguishing the fire and wiping away all the ash. Some say that bad luck doesn’t last forever, at least good luck anyway… the bad luck in the situation was that here the inns close as the people go to sleep, locking the doors on their way to bed.

“Well, at least we made it here…” Leelee slid down to the ground, leaning against the wall of the inn. “Yeah, you’re absolutely right… we made it here and we can get to Chloros before the morning…” Smiled Michelle. A careful smile rose upon Leelee’s face, Michelle was glad that she had gotten over the snake thing, being catatonic all the way back to Ferumi would’ve been nerve-shattering. Cold nights weren’t known on the isle, so they all fell asleep next to the inn, tired and relieved that after this, it would all be easy… well guess again.

The next morning they woke up, refreshed and very thirsty, a little food couldn’t hurt either. “Where was the guide supposed to meet us again?” Asked Michelle.

“The guide is in Chloros, but like Bosco said, no rush. We should just enjoy staying here for a while and not rush into the mountains right after we got out of underground.” Replied Cain.

Leelee smiled by herself, she and Cain had secretly agreed about something, so far no troubles in paradise for her, at least anything she knew about. They didn’t know how to contact the guide in Chloros, so what was the point in rushing there? Chloros was a busy town, unlike the villages around it, the little people stayed outside the town and the rich stayed in it, however the kingdom had it’s own problems that could bring the northern lands down very quickly, if there would be someone to help them, they’d be very grateful.

“What I keep hearing is that the kingdom has been in a lot of trouble for the past years, rumors say that there’s an old warlock in the forest that keeps the trees and all the life in it growing, eventually the vegetation will reach the villages and finally Chloros. Our queen has been fighting against the warlock with her army, but has yet to destroy this one problem the kingdom has… if the warlock isn’t destroyed, all of north will be covered in trees and plants.” The old man sitting in the table with the three explained them how bad the situation was, it was hard to believe that a mere warlock could do such things, but on the other hand, everything seemed to be possible.

“So, what you’re saying is that the trees will crush all the buildings and the people will choke on the plants… irony sucks.” Michelle snorted after finishing that sentence, but her disinterest just added more fuel into the man’s engine.

“Miss, our whole isle needs someone to save it from the warlocks that keep destroying us, that’s why I and many others have formed an alliance against any magical energy or items. You look like someone who could fight to save us from the evil of the warlocks, why don’t you join us?”

Cain gave the man a fast glance but kept drinking his water like he didn’t know magic existed. “How do you keep in touch with the outer world, then? If you don’t use MTs, then how would you know if the rest of the isle is controlled by warlocks or that anyone who opposes them get killed?”

“Ah, that is why the great north restrains itself from the rest of the isle, you see? We are in war with the west until all the books containing magical incantations and other things related to the evil scum we fight against are destroyed. Our army is the greatest on the whole island and we will eventually invade all other parts unless our demands have been met.”

“Sounds more like blackmail to me, so the queen opposes to the warlocks?” Inquired Leelee.

“Indeed, once we have the front in the west under control, we will invade the forest and put an end to this mess with warlocks! Once he is destroyed, the rest will understand that there’s no use fighting against us, and we will be free of magic.”

“Don’t you think you’re going a little too far? How many warlocks besides the one in the forest has hurt anyone?” Asked Michelle.

“… Magic is evil, it will not change.”

“Interesting for a man your age, your story I mean…”

The man focused his eyes at Cain. “A person of your age should know that the race that controlled the north, was very thorough with magic. They sucked every bit of information and use out of it as they could get and made this land the way it is now. So why turn against them?”

“… Elves are just a legend, my dear boy… you have a lot to learn from this place we live in. The history of our home has been proved to be made up many times. Hundreds of men claimed to have seen the war between these elves and the orcs from the east, but has anyone showed us any proof of this? We are humans, not monsters, our heritage is different from a mere legend.”

“Believe what you want, old man. We have seen the burial ground of the elven war and the dwarven village inside the mountain. Whatever that warlock is up to, he’s working alone, not with the other warlocks…”

The old man realized who he was talking to, so without a word, he left the table. Cain didn’t give the man a second thought, those types were at their best while being ignored.

“The elven war… so that’s what it was. Why didn’t you tell us sooner?”

“I don’t know… you didn’t need to know, I guess… I didn’t want you guys to know that we just passed by a graveyard.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time. Just say something next time, OK?”

Cain nodded at Michelle, he knew exactly what he was talking about. But it was still a mystery… where did the other races disappear? And when did humans come into the picture, for that matter. Who ever wrote those books?

“Hey, you awake?” Leelee waved her hand in front of Cain’s face, catching him dazed.

“Huh?”

After finishing breakfast, they headed toward the center of the village, the market. If there was one place to hear everything going on in the village, it was the market. For now it was best to keep the fact that they had a warlock with them secret, the people might be a little shocked if they suddenly saw one walking among them. Unfortunately the place wasn’t that rich in information, people mostly whispered if they had anything to say, it was pretty much useless to even try catch something. So, what was there to do after a long trip, other than rest? Going back to the inn, they noticed someone talking to the clerk inside, they could make out that they were talking about the strangers that arrived last night.

“Yes, they slept outside for the night and after booking rooms in the morning they went out.”

“Are you sure they didn’t say where they were going? Maybe you overheard something?”

“… I don’t think so ma’am, I keep mostly to myself around here and try to keep out of the customer’s way.”

“Fine, thanks anyway…” The female character walked away from the counter, running into the three on her way out. Which was more shocking, seeing a famous actress in this place, or seeing her wearing the royal emblem of Chloros. The woman recognized the travelers in a second.

“… There you are, I was hoping to find you here. Sorry for the delay, but the word gets into the castle very late, I’m afraid. Would you care to spend the next night in Chloros?”

The invitation by Claire Forlani was a one that wasn’t going to be ignored, not in this situation anyway. She ensured them that there would be time for questions later, and right now it was best to just get them to the castle so they were completely safe, apparently the word about Cain’s powers had gotten out fast and of course his comrades were suspected as witches. The party reached the gates of Chloros shortly, inside they entered the castle where queen Kya dwelled. The queen was naturally very busy, therefore not ready to deal with them just yet, so they were left into the guest room.

“How did we end up in here?” Wondered Leelee, laying on the bed next to the window.

“I have no idea… under very weird circumstances, in result of a very complicated pattern of coincidences, and because of Cain here. Now they’re gonna torch us like Joan of Arc in her time…” Thought Michelle.

“… Irony sucks…”

It didn’t take long for the queen’s advisor, that being Claire, to come talk about the meaning of this visit. It was quite weird how a woman of her profession would end up in a job like this, but on the other hand, everything was possible.

“You must have a million questions to ask right now, but before you start, we can assure you that we have quite a few for you to answer too.” Claire started the conversation as she sat down on the chair near the beds.

“Like what, for instance?” Asked Cain.

“… Well, I think I should start from the obvious… how on earth did you get through the dwelling of the dwarves?”

Michelle dug up the snake scales from her bag and showed it to Claire, who like she had expected was stunned. “You killed the hydra? What did you use? A cannon?”

“Isn’t a hydra supposed to have more heads than one?” Smiled Michelle, Claire just glanced at her, still feeling the scales in her hands.

“I’m getting off track again, what the hell is a cannon?” Of course, Cain wasn’t that wise when it came to technology, especially something that didn’t exist down here. Claire called for a servant who took the skin and rushed it out of the room.

“This is incredible…” Laughed Claire, apparently the hydra was a very dangerous creature, the people of Chloros hadn’t been able to enter the mountain through the passage because of it, afterwards it had been trapped and starved the dwarves.

“So, whacha gonna do with skin?” Asked Michelle.

“Our smiths will work something out, those scales are almost unbreakable… you must’ve had a lot of luck.”

“You might say that, now for our question. How did you end up here?”

“… Unrelated, but I guess we have enough time. Some time ago I found myself in a desert, north of Chloros. That desert is now trees, but that’s not the story… I wandered into town and accidentally ran into the queen of this kingdom. My explanation of how I got here was apparently so interesting that the queen wanted to hear more about it, so I ended up in the castle. Later on they thought that I was smart enough to figure out what to do with the rapidly growing forest, so here I am. Still haven’t figured it out, though.”

“And let me guess… we’re here to figure that out?” Cain frowned as he finished that sentence and got up from the bed.

“Actually… no. It’s a lot more simple than what you think, it might be a shock too…”

Something about that didn’t sound so good. “I trust that you had a guide to take you somewhere from Chloros?”

“… Yes, is the guide here?”

“Well… yes and no… he is dead.”

So, it wasn’t good, it was very bad. That man had been their ticket to an easy trip to the eastern lands, but now things had turned into much more complicated.

“He came to the castle, informing us that you were arriving here at some point, the only one who’d actually take care of something like this would be the queen, since all the foreigners are automatically accused of witchcraft and magic.”

“Yeah, we noticed.”

“Anyway, the guide was dying as he got here, said he’d been attacked by the trees in the forest, which wasn’t a mystery to us at that point anymore. He wanted us to make sure you got here safe, you’re from Ferumi, yes?”

“Yeah… we need a new guide to take us to the eastern lands, if you could just arrange us a guide we won’t be troubling you anymore…” Said Leelee.

“Leelee? I thought you wanted to stay here… didn’t you say that…”

“… Forget about all that, I say we continue as soon as possible.” She cut Michelle off, wishing she had never felt so weak like in the dwelling.

“It will be difficult, but when you’re ready to go, we can arrange a party to escort you through the forest to the entrance to the east, after that you’re on your own.”

After Claire’s words, a servant entered the room and saluted the advisor. “Advisor, the queen is ready to receive her guests.” Claire nodded to the servant and he quickly left the room.

“You can ask any other information from the queen herself, I still have the war in the west to think about.” She got up and escorted the three into queen Kya’s chambers, where the rather casual-looking ruler was waiting for them. Claire immediately pulled away to the royal barracks to solve the problems caused by the war.

“Please, sit down.”

After obeying the queen’s request, they explained their situation to them, starting from what happened in Ferumi, Cain filled in a few blanks by telling about the library in the dwelling of the dwarves. Of course, the queen also was interested in how they killed the hydra and bore with their story until they told about the graveyard near the passage…

“You’ve seen the field where the elves and orcs fought? I must say that I have never heard anything more ridiculous, I’m sure you’ve just mistaken them for human bones.”

“… No, they were real. At the time I didn’t know what they were, but afterwards Cain told us that it was the place where the war of elves had begun.” Noted Michelle.

“Everyone knows the legend, my dear. The orcs tried to invade the dwelling to crush the dwarves, but as friends of the creatures, the elves set themselves in front of the passage, swearing that they would never let them pass. All the orcs and elves in the war died in that hole in the middle of the forest, and the dwarves were saved.”

“What about the dwarves, then? Why do you believe in them and not in elves or orcs?” Asked Leelee.

“We have seen dwarves around, some of them hide in caves and some even in our cellars. They keep away from human eyes, but every now and then they appear. Unlike elves or orcs, and before you say that you can prove it, I must remind you that all the paths through the forest are gone, we can’t enter the woods until my advisor finds the solution to our problem.”

“Why not burn the forest down? With enough fire, maybe you could destroy enough trees to get to the warlock before he gets a chance to grow them back?”

“We don’t have enough fire to do that, torches won’t help in this situation, it would take a giant sphere of fire to do that kind of damage to the plants, and we don’t have it.”

“Problem solved, I have it.”

OK, so Cain didn’t have everything in his head quite yet, but he was getting there and he had done it once before. The queen was very skeptical about working with a warlock, but unfortunately it seemed that she didn’t have any choice.

“Indeed… if you think you’re up for it, we can try to arrange some of our more loyal soldiers to escort you to the hut where the warlock lives, but you understand that this is very dangerous, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I’m aware of that. But someone out there is giving us warlocks a very bad name, soon it might spread through the whole island unless we do something about it now.”

“… Yes, quite right. You can work with my advisor on this, and better to start right away. My servant will escort you to the barracks.”

And so he did, Michelle and Leelee were left by themselves with the queen while Cain went to consult with Claire about a battle plan. The queen still had some questions for the girls though…

“There’s still many things I must know before you head out, we will discuss them after dinner. Meanwhile, don’t leave the castle and take a look around.”

Michelle and Leelee were escorted back to the guest room by the servant, it wasn’t every day you could live like a princess in a castle like this, but happiness is dependent on certain things.

Michelle fell on the bed looking happier than ever.

“Wow, I can’t believe we’ll be spending the day like a couple of princesses… I think I’ve never felt this…” Michelle noticed Leelee’s grief, of course it was hard to let Cain go now, but it wasn’t that bad, was it?

“Come on, once he makes it back, you can move in with him in Ferumi, or something. You’ll have a bunch of kids and a nice house somewhere, anywhere you want.”

“… If he makes it back…”

Michelle got up and walked to her, putting her hands on her shoulders and comforting her. “He’ll make it back, trust me. If it’s not the will to live, it’s the chance of seeing your face again. He’ll bash through those trees and rip that warlock’s head off even without his magic just to see you again, so don’t be mourning like that, got it?”

“… That sounded like a line from a very cheesy movie, just now…”

“Did it work?”

“… A little, yeah.”

“Problem, solved. Let’s go see him!”

Michelle tried to pull her through the door but she was resisting too much. “Come on, no point sitting in here!”

“I can’t, what would he think if we just rush into the barracks with him speaking with some soldiers…”

“Don’t worry about that now, we’ll just say that you’re his girlfriend.”

“Girlfriend?!”

Michelle had to nearly drag Leelee to the barracks, but succeeded after all. Cain was in the room with Claire, looking at the map of the northern parts, making some markings on it as in best direction to attack from. They just looked at him from the doorway, Leelee’s eyes brightening up as he noticed them.

“Hey, you wanna kill a warlock? Could sure use some help over here…”

“No thanks, we’ve got other plans.” They walked over to the map to take a closer look.

“Well, you might as well know what he’s facing. And you’ll be going through the forest too so a little knowledge about the trees could be in order.” Started Claire.

“The name of the warlock is Morsus. He controls the growth and strength of all the plants in the north now, we’ve tried everything to get this guy, but so far, we haven’t even reached his hut. The part of the forest where you’ll be traveling through is rather short, just about 500 feet, but still I recommend caution, these plants have a life of their own.”

She pointed out a spot on the map, near the mountains and very deep in the woods. “This is where the hut is, Cain has agreed to burning a very wide path for our soldiers to walk through. Naturally, the warlock will have other tricks up his sleeve, so we need Cain on the field to fight against him with his magic.”

“Are you sure you can handle it, that warlock might be too strong for you…” Noted Leelee.

“I can handle myself, don’t worry about it.” Smiled Cain, Leelee replying to him with a smile also.

“Let’s just continue, after the warlock is defeated, we suspect that the fire will still be ongoing, at this point the trees and plants should be back to normal, so they burn a lot faster and hotter, we need to extinguish the fire very quickly, it might spread to some of the nearby villages if we don’t work fast. Cain has agreed to take care of that too, a sphere of water detonating above the forest should take care of the fire… hmm, gives a new meaning to the term rain forest.” Claire, Michelle and Leelee let out a small laugh, leaving Cain, once again completely out of it.

“… But, if something happens to Cain in the fight, we’ll need the villagers to help out with their own water. This might cause some panic, since they’ve been living with their stored water for some time now, if we won’t figure out how to get the water back, a serious drought will occur and everything, including fields and plants these people get their food from will die out, so this might be our only chance.”

“How many soldiers will accompany you?” Asked Michelle.

“… Only six, I’m afraid…”

“Six? You have to be kidding, to fight a professional warlock, six footmen?” It was too much for Leelee that Cain was going in there with only six men helping him, she wasn’t that confident about his powers yet, so in her book it was a suicide.

“Not footmen, generals, colonels, captains, every officer who can’t afford to lose their jobs at this point. They’re the only ones we can trust to work with a warlock, most of the footmen would go catatonic by a sight of a warlock, but it’s OK, he’ll be in good hands.” Claire comforted Leelee, seeing that she was very upset about Cain getting into something this dangerous.

“To tell you the truth I’m a bit scared that I only have six men under my control, what if he conjures up something non-human, maybe a land-hydra, or something?” Asked Cain.

“And here’s the solution, take this vest.” Claire took the vest a servant just brought in and gave it to Cain.

“The scales might be a little loathsome, but there’s no sword or claw that will penetrate it, I can tell you that.”

“This is the snake Michelle offed?”

“Yeah, in real life she wouldn’t have stood a chance, not that anyone has ever fought a hydra that close before, we just kind of threw spears at it.”

“… You know, I just noticed something… how did the hydra get out here? It only moves in water, right?” Asked Michelle.

“Yeah, there used to be a river east of Chloros, but now it’s dried up… isn’t that the way you guys came through?”

They all just shook their heads, it seemed that there was another passage in the river after all, they had just gotten off at the wrong exit.

“Thanks anyway, I’m sure it’ll come in handy.” Cain accepted the vest and rolled up the map.

“So, the plan is set. All we need to do now is act, right?”

“Right, I’ll have the soldiers escort you to the forest, they know what they’re doing.”

Cain was just about to leave the room as he remembered something… “Oh, Leelee…” He dug up something from his pocket, a ring. He handed it over to her. “This should help you convince the queen of what we saw.” As he left the room he gave Leelee one last smile, she feared that it would be the last they’d see of each other. “Can you say ‘heart attack’?” Claire walked up to them with a map.

“This will get you through the eastern lands, it’s much more detailed than the one you found in the dwelling, and… the guide will be arranged by tomorrow.”

“Thanks a lot…” Michelle thanked her and left the room, it was obvious that Leelee wanted to be alone for a while. Claire walked to her and set her hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, he’ll come back. I promise.”

“… You don’t know that…” Leelee left the room in a hurry, leaving Claire alone in the barracks.

The hours went by as Cain was preparing for the fight of his life, Michelle was so tired that she couldn’t get up from her bed and Leelee… Leelee was standing in the tower of the castle, facing toward the mountain and the woods. Some vines were covering the tower with the wide window where you could see the temple of air. Come to think of it, if the mountain wasn’t there you could see Ferumi at the other side of the isle, but you couldn’t help that, could you?

Meanwhile in Ferumi at the palace of Non-Solis, Bosco and some of the cast of The Young And The Reckless were getting worried about the whereabouts of the young stars.

“I hope Cain delivered my message… the fact that they haven’t returned must mean that they’ve gone ahead with the original plan, yes.” Thought Bosco.

“Unless Cain was too late and they had gone ahead to the eastern gate, and that would mean…” Erik went quiet and didn’t say the words.

“No, my stars are much stronger than that! They will not die as long as I live!” Declared Bosco.

“Well, there’s a problem with that too, boss… you’re about 10 years from dying now based on how much stress you’re under.”

“There’s nothing to worry about, I’ve signed up as one of the leads in the finale. Success on the stage will surely dissolve the stress of directing every episode so carefully…”

That was bullshit, since he hadn’t directed a single episode. Erik didn’t say anything though, Bosco was better off thinking that he was a great director/actor, all there was to do for them was to pray that Michelle and Leelee would return with Lady LaDermot. Ramoray just sat there, looking at the picture of the lady on the wall, he wasn’t far away from trance, but he was still awake enough to hear what the others were saying.

“Bosco… there’s only four leads in the finale… Sylvia, Laurel, Rufio and Dr.Ramoray.”

“Yes, Ramoray… I’m afraid that I’m going to have to make you step aside and make room for beauty and talent. I never liked your acting anyway, get out of my palace.” Arrogance was an occupational disease, Ramoray had to go and Bosco filled in for him, the quality of the show would decrease, but at least the plot remained the same…

At the same time, just outside the front line of the war between the south and the east, a party searching for the stairway to the temple of air had camped out and were now looking around if they’d see the stairs somewhere.

“… Nope, I don’t see anything. You see anything?”

“No, it’s all empty… we’re never gonna find the stairway like this… and besides, we can’t go any further either, the war is kind of limiting our movement for now.” The ex-bartender whined, regretting that he had left his life in Calculus behind.

“We’ll find it, don’t worry. And once we do, we’ll meet the god of air and he’ll grant us three wishes.” Dreamed the other man traveling with him.

“Three wishes? Are you sure we’re talking about a god here? And how do you know that whatever’s up there will grant us those wishes?”

“I don’t know… I just got that feeling like ‘all your dreams will come true if you just follow the voice in your head’.”

“… You following a voice in your head? Could you repeat that, please?” The bartender got very pissed, and no wonder too, he had gone with this lunatic just because he said that he had seen the stairs somewhere around here.

“Well I DID see something, it was definitely something glowing around here… ah, there it is!” He yelled and pointed at a light flying through the air in the battlefield.

“THAT IS A BURNING ARROW, YOU NO-GOOD SON-OF-A…”

“Hi guys!” The girl rode to the scene with her horse and jumped off her saddle.

Not that he wasn’t angry, but seeing an old friend and a female for that matter too, he thought it would be better to forget about this fight for a few seconds.

“What up, Brit? I thought you stayed in town.”

“Nah, I just found out that singing wasn’t for me. I’m on a quest for myself now, need any company?” Asked the girl, sitting down near the fire.

“… Hell yeah!”

In the new prison of Rook, some way to the west from Unda, an old thief serving a lifetime of imprisonment was crying his no-good existence to his cellmate.

“… And-and-and then they just took my dagger from me! That’s just plain mean, don’t you think? I loved that dagger more than anything in this place, I deserve that dagger, it belongs to me… not to any rich lord that spends half of his money on security of his house… I stalked that guy for months, and I hid in his house for three days, without anything to eat, just to get that dagger! Do you see the wrong that has been laid upon me, my friend?” Julio turned his eyes to his cellmate, who was desperately trying to bite his wrist just to get a transfer to some other cell.

“What are you doing? If you’re hungry just wait for dinner or demand for an extra meal or something. If you think hunger is difficult, you should hear what those mean girls did to my privates, I’ll tell you and you will never feel hungry again!”

“HEEEEEEEEELLLLLPPPPP!”

Back north, a group of men, riding horses left Chloros, riding toward the living woods where the dangerous warlock lived. An evil gush of wind went through the northern lands, making the trees sway and some lose leaves dance in the dark forest. Up in the tower, Leelee watched as the soldiers rode onward, with Cain as their leader in the point, plunging into almost a certain death. But somehow, she knew… Cain was coming out of that forest alive, she was sure of it.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t do more for him.”

Leelee didn’t bother looking behind her, she recognized the voice easily, besides she didn’t want to take her eyes off Cain until he’d be out of sight.

“You’ve done enough, thanks… it was very generous to spare the lives of your men for a task like this.”

Claire walked next to her to follow the movement of the group too. “I know this isn’t Cain’s duty, and not yours either… I must say that he’s very noble. That’s not a rare quality in the south or the west, but… here it is.”

They lost the sight of the party as they disappeared behind the trees. “You’re wrong about one thing though… this is Cain’s duty. It’s up to him to clear the name of the warlocks, it’s the honor of all his kind he’s fighting for.”

“Even if it kills him?” Asked Claire.

“… Yeah, even is it kills him. But he’s not gonna die, Claire. Not out there, not in the woods. Your men won’t make it out, but he will.”

“I figured something like that. That comforts me… to know that we can rest assured. We can always get more soldiers, but guys like that are very hard to find.”

“Oh, I should probably give you this…” Leelee dug up the ring from her pocket and put it into Claire’s hand. “You’d better give that to the queen, I think she’ll understand.”

Claire took a look at the ring, knowing very well what it was. “Yeah… this is gonna turn the whole kingdom around, but I’m still gonna show it to her.”

As Claire put the ring into her pocket, neither one noticed something rising up from the forest, a sphere of light with something dark inside, starting to approach the tower. “So, what do you know about this Morsus?” Asked Leelee.

“Not much. He once appeared into the castle demanding for the queen to give up the throne, saying something about elves ruling this continent… which is weird, the word continent I mean. Everyone else always say isle or island.”

“Could he know something that we don’t?”

“I don’t know… warlocks are pretty wise, I can tell you that. There’s no guarantee that they’re telling the truth, or lying. It might have been just a plan to screw with the queen’s head. So far I’ve been able to keep her head straight, but nowadays…”

“I know… Cain didn’t know almost anything when we left Calculus, but after the books in the dwelling of the dwarves… he seems to be on top of everything now. Sometimes he gives me this sad look, like he’s saying that he’s sorry, but I don’t understand why.”

“Must be guilt about something, maybe it’s a thing you don’t know about.”

“Yeah, maybe… watch out!” Leelee pushed Claire down to the floor, just in time that the sphere of light didn’t hit her. The shape inside seemed to be human, just covered in shadows and yellow eyes glaring out of the sphere.

“Leave her alone!” Yelled Leelee as the sphere started closing in on Claire. She grabbed a chair and tried hitting the sphere with it, only destroying the chair. The character jumped out of the sphere, revealing his rag-covered body and his face covered with scars. He grabbed Claire and quickly jumped back into the sphere, leaving the tower with his magical mean of traveling. Leelee watched as the sphere landed deep into the forest and the light disappeared.

As all the people involved with the incident were called into the tower, Leelee just stayed up there, waiting for the fireworks to start.

“What happened? Where is my advisor?” Inquired the queen. Leelee just pointed at the center of the forest, where they saw a ball of fire rushing from the outskirts of the forest.

“There? How could something get there that fast? And through the forest for that matter.” Wondered the queen.

“It was Morsus… it had to be him, there’s no other explanation.” Said Leelee.

All the people in the room agreed with her, but how could they fight against him with other than the means that were already ongoing? The fire burned beautifully in the distance, scorching the trees and leaves, leaving no trace of smoke. The magical forest tried to gather strength to heal itself, but it had no chance but to let the soldiers and Cain pass to the hut of Morsus.

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