Crystal Conundrums: Flamekiss
by Archone




It was a pretty little town called Brynmaer, a town sheltered in the side of a mountain. The

inhabitants devoted themselves to the herding of mountain sheep, spending their remaining

hours catering to travelers who frequently passed through to take advantage of itĎs two large

wells, or fending off the local mutants. Flowers were planted throughout the town, in an

attempt to beautify the town, while a large pub served as a community center, a large inn

provided beds for the travelers, and shops provided them with a place to sell their wares.

Within the pub, a young man sat on a stool, playing a shell flute. His eyes were shut, his face

drawn inward in an expression of personal pain. His melody was heartrending, a sound so

sad and sweet that travelers outside the pub found themselves drawn inside just to hear the

music. Next to the man, a bowl containing several coins of various mintings rested on a

table. When the man finally ended his song, teary eyed men and women stood up and came

over to drop coins into the bowl. One of them paused, held out a second coin, and asked,

"how about something a little more upbeat."

The young man looked at him through his own wet eyes, then smiled and nodded. Putting

his mouth to the shell, he began to fill the air with a slightly more lighthearted melody, then,

as the music lifted his own spirits, he raised the tempo and flavor of the song, until everyone

was clapping their hands, stomping their feet, or banging their mugs on the table in time with

the beat. When his upbeat song ended, everyone, himself included, had dried their eyes and

affixed smiles to their faces.

"Who is that man?" asked a woman whose bow, quiver of arrows, and muscular body

proclaimed her an Amazon, a warrior woman from the south. Her companion, a shepherd

whoíd been bartering with her for goods (taking care not to offend her in any way) nodded

and answered.

"His nameís Gebrel. He showed up a couple weeks ago, and heís been hanging around

since, raising up a stake of cash and asking everyone who comes in as many questions as he

can get away with."

The Amazonís eyebrow arched. "What sort of questions?"

"All kinds. Itís like he was living in a cave for the past 500 years or something. He always

wants to know about everyoneís home, their landís history, the politics... bah! Like knowing

about politics is going to make his life any easier."

The Amazon stared at the young man with narrowed eyes. "I... donít think heís looking for

an easy life."

The shepherd laughed. "You got that right. When he came to town, he had a dead mutant

over his shoulder-big one, too. We all thought he was gonna sell itís fur or something, but

no, this guy digs it a grave. Right outside the pub, in fact, surrounded by all the flower beds!

We all stood around and watched him do it!"

The Amazon was shocked. "He buried a MUTANT? In the town? Why didnít you stop

him?"

The shepherd laughed again. "Iíll tell you why. You see that big sword strapped to his

back?" She noted the sword, housed in a homemade sheath of sheepskin, with a disdainful

snort. "He dug the grave with that sword. And not with the blade, either. He pointed the

thing, and-WHAMMO!" He spread his hands like flying dirt. "-a blast comes out of the

sword and the hardpan turns into gravel. Then he just scooped the dirt out, dropped the thing

in, and covered it up. You want to piss off a guy who can do that?" The Amazon grimaced.

"Me either."

"Still, a mutant lover..."

"I guess heís just a really nice guy. You ever heard of Akahana, the trader?" And who

hadnít heard of Akahana, possibly the richest merchant in the land. "Gebrelís taken a couple

of jobs for him. Found him a statue that he lost near the river, did some guard work.

Akahanaís a pretty nasty customer, but he thinks the world of Gebrel. You want to piss off

both of them? Me either...?" They turned and looked, to see Gebrel standing next to their

table.

"Hi, Gideon," Gebrel said to the shepherd, then turned to the woman. "Hello. If I buy you a

drink, will you tell me where youíre from?" The Amazon stared at him a moment, then

nodded.

An hour or more later. Gebrel got up to leave for another table, to speak with a different

traveler. The man brushed off his offer for a drink, saying, "I just figured out how to get rich.

Later!" And with that, the traveler jumped up and left the bar. Gebrel turned to look at the

other man at the table.

"Whatís with him?" The man shrugged.

"I told him I that made a lot of money from stones I found on Mt. Sabre. After that he got

excited." Gebrel shrugged, then left the bar to get some sleep at the inn.

The next day, the Amazon greeted him as he left his room. "Hello again, Gebrel. Would you

join me for breakfast?" Gebrel shook his head.

"Sorry. Iíve got to get going. I was told about a wise man, named Tornel, who lives in the

mountains to the north. I have to go see him."

The Amazon looked at him. "Why?"

Gebrel blinked. "I donít know. But I have to see him. Excuse me, I have to get going." He

walked off, his belongings in a backpack that appeared to have been fashioned out of some

other article, a bag of hide perhaps, a shield of bronze, the best available in Brynmaer,

strapped to his forearm. She watched him go, her thoughts mixed. In her homeland, men

were mere chattel, servants and property to the women. Yet she found herself curiously

drawn to his strength, and even more so to the pain and loneliness she sensed in him. She

briefly considered asking him to look her up if he ever appeared in her homeland, but that

would be worse than useless. An armed man would probably be killed on sight. She sighed,

and headed to meet the shepherd to finalize her purchases.

Gebrel traveled briskly across the landscape, past fields of wild grains, and lush swamps

rich in life, much of it of the biting and stinging variety. He avoided the swamps, at the cost

of meeting with the Wereboars on the plains. The local mutants were of a particularly nasty

sort. Their bodies had a layer of bone and cartilage forming natural subdermal armor, their

culture had developed stone age technology, in particular, throwing weapons, their favorite

being an axe with a head made of flint, worked into a razor edge. One of them had ruined his

old shell shield with a single powerful toss. Their strength more than made up for their lack

of agility, while the parasitic insects that lived in their bowels and on their hides made them

MEAN. Gebrel would eliminate one mutant pig with the Sword of Wind, while three more

would attack. They didnít learn from their mistakes, and they ate their dead. Needless to say,

Gebrel obtained a great deal of practice, with both the sword and Refresh magic, en route to

Tornelís training hall.

Through a mountain pass, he found Tornelís home, a lovely place, rather large, with a well

tended vegetable garden and a well. The windows were covered with real glass, and curtains

hung in them. The house was well kept, with whitewashed walls and a roof made from

glazed tiles. All in all, a quite beautiful place. He stepped up to the door, and raised his hand

to knock. "Donít worry, come on in, Gebrel," a melodious voice called from within. Gebrel

hesitated, then opened the door.

The inside was equally lovely, tastefully appointed, divided into three sections. A charming

little bedroom with a fairly large, comfortable bed occupied one small area, with pretty

pictures and other decorations arranged for maximum effect at a minimum expenditure of

space. A second area, slightly larger, was given over to a kitchen, with an oven for baking, a

brick hearth with a metal grill for for roasting or resting pans and pots on for frying and

boiling. A lardor well stocked with edibles, itís walls composed of two thick layers of wood,

with room in between for filling the area in between with mountain ice and snow to preserve

the food. An enormous spice rack, itís frame covered in etched pictures, itís shelves stocked

with every kind of seasoning imaginable.

Gebrel traveled briskly across the landscape, past fields of wild grains, and lush swamps

rich in life, much of it of the biting and stinging variety. He avoided the swamps, at the cost

of meeting with the Wereboars on the plains. The local mutants were of a particularly nasty

sort. Their bodies had a layer of bone and cartilage forming natural subdermal armor, their

culture had developed stone age technology, in particular, throwing weapons, their favorite

being an axe with a head made of flint, worked into a razor edge. One of them had ruined his

old shell shield with a single powerful toss. Their strength more than made up for their lack

of agility, while the parasitic insects that lived in their bowels and on their hides made them

MEAN. Gebrel would eliminate one mutant pig with the Sword of Wind, while three more

would attack. They didnít learn from their mistakes, and they ate their dead. Needless to say,

Gebrel obtained a great deal of practice, with both the sword and Refresh magic, en route to

Tornelís training hall.

Through a mountain pass, he found Tornelís home, a lovely place, rather large, with a well

tended vegetable garden and a well. The windows were covered with real glass, and curtains

hung in them. The house was well kept, with whitewashed walls and a roof made from

glazed tiles. All in all, a quite beautiful place. He stepped up to the door, and raised his hand

to knock. "Donít worry, come on in, Gebrel," a melodious voice called from within. Gebrel

hesitated, then opened the door.

The inside was equally lovely, tastefully appointed, divided into three sections. A charming

little bedroom with a fairly large, comfortable bed occupied one small area, with pretty

pictures and other decorations arranged for maximum effect at a minimum expenditure of

space. A second area, slightly larger, was given over to a kitchen, with an oven for baking, a

brick hearth with a metal grill for for roasting or resting pans and pots on for frying and

boiling. A lardor well stocked with edibles, itís walls composed of two thick layers of wood,

with room in between for filling the area in between with mountain ice and snow to preserve

the food. An enormous spice rack, itís frame covered in etched pictures, itís shelves stocked

with every kind of seasoning imaginable.

The bulk of the interior, however, was given over to a training hall. The floor was of smooth

green tiles, the walls festooned with weapons racks and diagrams of various martial trivia,

such as anatomical targets, or stratagems for handling multiple opponents. Within this area,

two men stood, observing Gebrel with warm, appreciative eyes. One, a powerful man, with a

long, drooping mustache, itís ends hanging down below his chin, dressed in blue vest and

pants, arched one eyebrow as he appraised Gebrel. "I am Tornel. It is good to meet you at

last, Gebrel."

"...Thanks..." Gebrel managed, then blurted out, "How come EVERYONE seems to know

more about me than myself?" Tornel laughed good naturedly.

"Not everyone. Just us wise men."

"Can you tell me more about myself? Like why I was compelled to come here? What Iím

supposed to be doing?" Tornel raised up a hand to halt the questioning.

"What you are supposed to be doing, is LEARNING. You have much to do, and you must

be prepared to do it. You have come to me, because your fighting skills must be brought to

their peak, and you need to learn far more magic. Yours will not be a peaceful path."

"I donít suppose youíd care to tell me a little more about that path." Gebrel folded his arms.

"I donít think that would be proper, just now. For now..." Gebrelís eyes widened

expectantly, "we train!"

And so Gebrel found himself facing Stom in sparring session. Stom, a young man with his

head shaved save for a 2 inch wide patch at the back of his head, falling to his back in a

ponytail, his lithe, supple body draped in a practice robe of blue, who held a katana, three

feet of gleaming steel in a curved, razor edged format. Under Tornelís supervision, they

performed prearranged drills, then gradually progressed to slow, light sparring, Stom using

his blade in powerful, singular strikes, Gebrel using his sword in fast, whiplike combos

delivered from behind his shield.

Soon, night had fallen. Stom and Gebrel heaved for breath, their bodies dripping with sweat,

their arms hanging loosely at their sides. Tornel called a halt to the practice and sent them

both out to wash up while he prepared dinner. The bathing equipment consisted of a large

wooden barrel, caulked to prevent leaking, which Tornel had already filled with water and

lit a fire under beforehand. Gebrel stripped down and began to climb into the tub, when Stom

stopped him. He filled a bucket with cold water from the well, and poured it over his own

body, then refilled it and poured a second time. He then handed Gebrel the bucket and

climbed into the barrel, sighing with sybaritic pleasure as the hot water soothed his tired

muscles.

Gebrel filled the bucket, poured it over his head, then repeated. As he turned to climb into

the barrel, he noticed Stom looking at him with a gleam of admiration. Where have I seen

that look before? he asked himself. Oh, yeah. He climbed into the barrel, looked down... and

sure enough. "Um," said Gebrel, his cheeks flushing.

Stom looked at him a moment, then laughed. "Donít worry about it. I can tell you donít

swing that way, and besides," and his eyes danced with love, "my heart belongs to my

Master."

Gebrel snorted. "Just as long as THAT-" he pointed downward, "belongs to him, too."

Stom assumed a disdainful look of contempt, and sniffed critically. "And just who would

want YOUR ass?" Gebrel gaped a moment, then laughed and splashed water at Stom. He

returned fire, and soon the two young men were laughing uproariously, a good portion of the

water having gone overboard. They relaxed, took turns washing each otherís backs with a

bristle brush, then reclined in the barrel and traded stories and jokes.

"You know," Gebrel said, after a while, "this is really more fun than a barrel of monkeys."

Stom laughed, and then it was time to get out of the bath, dry off in the towels kept on a rack

on the side of the house for that very purpose, and don loincloths while their clothing hung

on a line to air out. They went inside for a dinner of grilled meat, sliced thin and mixed with

onions and vegetables, seasoned heavily with garlic and pepper, served with copious

amounts of the grains that grew wild in the valleys below. Afterward, they sat around,

continuing to sip their tea as they nibbled on slices of fresh fruit. "So, now what?" asked

Gebrel.

"Now, you stay here, to train with us," said Tornel. Gebrel looked at him, then at the bed.

"Iíve already set up a place for you to sleep." He pointed at a space in the corner, filled with

soft pillows and warm blankets. Gebrel sighed relief, and nodded thanks. "Once youíve

progressed sufficiently, Iíll teach you new magic, and send you on the next leg of your

journey."

Soon it was time for bed. Gebrel burrowed into the pillows and snuggled up, wrapping a

blanket around himself, and closed his eyes sleepily. Then his eyes opened, as he heard

murmurs coming from the other side of the house. Then, "donít hit the back of my throat!"

"Sorry. Better?"

"Mmmm. Yessss..." Gebrel groaned and put a pillow over his head, as his training partner

and instructor lost themselves in each other, with love and passion, and within earshot.

But soon Gebrel learned to tune out the sounds of lovemaking at night, as he spent his days

in hard practice. "Your skills are exquisite," Tornel remarked, "truly remarkable. But your

foremind keeps getting in the way. You donít remember learning your skills, so you donít

trust them. You become frightened, tense, excited, and you revert to instinctive flailing

instead of trained responses. You need to learn to trust your skills, to practice them until you

know you can rely on them, so that when you become uncomfortable in a fight, you

naturally use your skilled strikes and tactics instead of wild swings. " Gebrel did so, through

many days of constant practice. Tornelís favorite drill was to have Stom attack at full

advance with live blade, trying to force Gebrel against the wall, while Gebrel tried to handle

the pressure. At first, Gebrel always ended up forced back against the wall. Then, over time,

he learned to meet Stomís assault with his own force, retreating less and less, then

eventually, he began to advance at times. Until finally, he met Stomís attack without giving

ground, then began to advance, his blade flying, his shield parrying. Until it was Stom who

was pinned against the wall.

Tornel was jubilant. "Excellent! I will now teach you the magic of Telepathy..." sitting

Gebrel down, he began to meld his mind with his pupilís. "This will allow you to

communicate with animals, mutants, and any who speak a different language from our

own." It will also allow you to speak with us wise men if you have problems, he added in

mind speech, even if you are not near. Their minds merged, and when they parted, Gebrel

had learned the magic of Telepathy.

They parted minds, and Tornel stood up. "I will go now to the training place, on Mt. Sabre.

If you find the Tornado Bracelet Gebrel, bring it to me."

Gebrel blinked. "Whatís the Tornado Bracelet?"

"Itís a bracelet that amplifies the power of your Sword of Wind. It has a hole, where the Ball

of Wind is meant to go. Bring it to me, and I will teach you new magic." Tornel strode over

to Stom, and cupping his face with both hands, kissed him deeply and satisfyingly. Then,

before Gebrelís astonished eyes, he shimmered and vanished from sight.

Stom smiled at the air where heíd been, and bowed deeply. "Iíll, be waiting..." Gebrel

bowed in turn, then clasped hands with Stom in friendship.

"So... I donít suppose YOU can tell me where to go next?" he asked. Stom smiled.

"Thereís a swamp to the east," he said, "Iím told that itís quite a place. Monsters shoot

poison, and the very air is poisonous."

Gebrel nodded. "Good thing I got a gas mask as a gift from my friend Akahana." Stomís

eyes widened.

"Akahana? Akahana the merchant prince? The most ruthless venture capitalist in the known

world?" Stom sputtered.

Gebrel shrugged. "He always seemed like a nice guy to me. Paid me real well for some jobs.

Bodyguarding, finding some hidden treasures, that sort of thing. Heís really an okay guy."

Stom just shook his head.

Gebrel journeyed for several days, through a fairly thick forested region, until he finally

reached the mountain pass leading to the swamp. The air was thick and muggy, with the

beginnings of the swampís stench. To the taste, the air seemed noxious rather than outright

poisonous. That was more than sufficient reason to don the gas mask. His handsome young

face covered by plastics and fibrous filters, he ventured into the swamp itself.

The swamp floor was mostly muddy, with a few dry patches here and there, and rivulets of

black water coursing throughout the region. The swamp itself was rich with life. The swamp

LIVED. Small plants, medium sized plants, large plants, all competed with each other,

forming huge walls of living vegetation, while creatures, mostly insectoids, moved about,

eating each other and those plants whose defensive systems such as poison, thorns, or spores,

failed to protect them. Most of the insects were small... and some were not so small. Soon,

Gebrelís telepathic senses picked up a large mosquito looking for fresh blood. Large, as in,

six foot wingspan. Gebrel quickly charged up his sword and ball, and waited for the attack.

He aimed his sword at the onrushing insect, and fired. The blast of pure vacuum slammed

into the mosquito-and dissipated without effect, the mosquitoís carapace and wing

membranes far too tough to be affected by the winds. Gebrel swore and turned to run. And

run, and run, with the hideous flyer chasing after him. Finally, the creature abandoned the

chase, just as Gebrel made it through an opening in a thick wall of plant life-and into a

village. He sagged in relief, chest heaving, then he jerked his head up as he noticed one of

the inhabitants.

He was less than three feet tall, covered in fur, with floppy ears and button eyes. He was very

cute, and very afraid. "Hello," Gebrel said. The creature cocked his head. Gebrel tried using

his telepathic abilities. "Hello," he sent to the creature, "what is the name of this village?"

The creature snorted and hunched itís fur. "This is the village of Oak. We donít like humans

here!"

Gebrel took a step back without volition, recoiling from the vehemence of the creatureís

tone. "Why not?"

"Before, we lived near you humans. You killed us for our fur!"

Gebrel waved his hands deprecatingly. "Wasnít me. You canít judge all humans by the

actions of a few."

"Oh yes I can."

And so it went wherever Gebrel went. The dwarves ran from him or spat invectives at his

approach. The services of their craftsmen and shops closed down when he came in sight.

Finally, he sat down and rested his back against a house, thoroughly dejected. Then he heard

crying, coming from within the house. He knocked on the door. "Excuse me," he sent, "are

you alright?"

"No..." came the sobbing response from within. "My boy is missing. He went into the forest,

and I havenít seen him since. My boy..." Gebrel knocked on the door again.

"Donít worry, maíam. Iíll find him." He turned and fled back into the maze. And was set

upon by the giant mosquito once again. Taking advantage of his rabbit boots, he jumped,

dodged, and otherwise avoided the mosquito, using his brains to finally lose the creature.

Then, he began to search. He probed with his mind, reaching out... there. A young mind,

filled with fear and loneliness. He began to make his way towards the mind, watching out for

further attacks.

The boy was huddled within the undergrowth, shaking with fear. Gebrel came out and

squatted down in front of him, making himself look smaller. "Hi there, kiddo," Gebrel sent

out, "your motherís been worried about you. Come on, Iíll take you home."

The dwarf drew back further. "No way! Youíre a human!"

"Itís either that or stay here," Gebrel pointed out with unassailable logic. The dwarf

hesitated, then nodded, and reached out to be picked up. Gebrel held him tight, then began to

make his way back to Oak. His long legs and piston enhanced boots allowed him to keep

one step ahead of the disgusting predators that hungrily sought their juices. Soon, they were

back at the village.

The child squirmed out of his arms as soon as they cleared the protective barrier, then ran to

his home. Gebrel let him go without comment, then noticed the other dwarves gathering

near. Nonchalantly, he put his back to the wall, tensing his muscles in preparation. I will not

fight these creatures, he thought to himself. I will flee if they attack.

Finally, one of the dwarves came forward. "Who are you?" he asked. "Youíre quite

strange."

"Iím called Gebrel."

The creature cocked his head suspiciously. "Whatís your real name?"

"Gebrel." The creature pondered that for a moment, then nodded in decision. "Go see our

elder." The mob parted to let Gebrel pass. He walked slowly, towards the house at the far

end of the living corridor.

Inside the well kept little home, the elder, with a face covered by more of the same fur that

covered her body, as opposed to the younger creatures with their faces clean or covered with

a fine down, bade him enter. She studied him for a moment, then smiled. "You saved the

child?" Gebrel nodded. "I thank you. I now ask a favor of you..." She looked out, past the

wall of her home, at a distant location.

"There is a monster in the poison swamp. Many of our dwarves were eaten by this creature."

She reached towards a bundle of red velvet. "The monster cannot attack because of an object

we possess, but cannot use." She picked up the bundle. "I leave this object in your care, to

save the village..." She unwrapped the bundle.

A sword. Single edged, with a straight back, a thick, heavy spine and sharp thin edge lending

itself to powerful cuts. Yet, the blade itself was balanced less then two inches from the guard,

for even quicker reaction than the Sword of Wind, with an even heavier hilt, curving towards

his hand to protect his hand. He grasped the handle, and his hand assumed a different

position than with the Sword of Wind. Rather than gripping it like a hammer, he held the

handle with the tips of his finger and his thumb. Falling into the guard, he began to throw

experimental strikes. He threw his strikes purely from the wrist, fast, flickering cuts, faster

than the Sword of Windís style of striking, cuts that would slice a target open rather than

shear through. He saluted the elder, who stared at him with wide eyes. "Please do it!" she

whispered. Gebrel nodded, then turned to leave. The dwarves he passed stared at him with

wide eyes, as they spotted their precious relic in his hand.

Before he had quite reached the village "gate," the dwarf child heíd rescued came running

up. "Mommy wants to talk to you," he insisted, tugging on his arm. Gebrel nodded, then

turned to follow.

Mother hugged Gebrelís legs with a rush of gratitude, murmuring thanks. She forced a bowl

of hot stew into his hands. After the clammy chill of the swamp, he was only too glad to

accept. Upon being informed of his new quest, she explained how the creature, a far larger

version of the grubs that were the mosquito larvae, was attracted by noise, particularly high

pitched sounds, and of itís location. After finishing the stew, he thanked her, and went his

way.

The mosquito was waiting for him, when he left the village. Heíd been waiting, as well.

Quickly charging up the sword, he aimed and fired-and a pulse of flame shot out of the

blade. Slamming into the mosquito with a flash, Gebrel smiled in satisfaction as the creature

shriveled and collapsed on the swamp floor, itís wings blackening as itís hide smoked. He

continued on. Soon heíd reached the monsterís lair.

The "lair" was actually a huge lake, occupying a large cleared space. Gebrel looked out

over the inky black pool, then shoved the tip of the Sword of Fire into the wet mud of the

banks. Pulling out his flute, he began a high pitched tune, frenetically calling out with an

insistent beat. When the waters began to ripple, he put his flute away and grabbed the sword.

Then he gaped, astonished.

The creature was enormous. Itís body was easily 30 feet in length, itís armored hide covered

in multiple gleaming red eyes. Itís mandibles opened, and a jet of poison shot out at him.

Gebrel leapt to the side, rolled, and came to his feet, covered in mud-and with sword

charged. He fired, hitting the creature in the side with the fiery bullet. The monster writhed

in agony, itís multi segmented carapace squirming in agony.

You may be armored against concussion, Gebrel thought, but your evolution never had to

worry about fire...

Again and again, Gebrel dodged the poison streams and jointed limbs, roasting the creature

slowly, one blast at a time. Finally, the giant grub collapsed, itís insides damaged beyond

functionality. Gebrel continued to shoot, making sure of itís departure from this mortal coil,

until it began to smoke with the internal heat. Gebrel sagged with relief, then stared at one of

the eyes. "No way," he breathed. Then he leapt to the top of the creature, and pried the

object free.

He was eagerly received back at the village of Oak. The dwarves made a bath ready for him,

as the elder expressed her gratitude. "Now we can live without fear..." She pressed her fur

against his hand, as soon as it had been cleaned of the worst of the grime. "Gebrel! You are

the one who saved us. Our precious object belongs to you. We will tell all of your feat. You

will forever be a hero among the dwarves. Again, many thanks." She called for food, and as

Gebrelís outside was warmed by the hot water, his inside was warmed by hot drinks and

good cooking.

Gebrel spent several days at the village, relaxing and recuperating, as he trained with the

Sword of Fire, learning to use the blade with as much confidence as heíd acquired with the

Sword of Wind, and to use the Ball of Fire to unleash streams of devastating flame jets.

When he left, he took with him the gratitude and friendship of the dwarves, and left his own

friendship.

He journeyed back to Tornelís home, where Stom greeted him, pausing from his training to

greet him with a firm handclasp, then a warm hug. After fixing tea for the both of them,

Gebrel inquired about Tornel, only to receive a negative. "But donít worry," Stom chided.

"With telepathy, you can talk to Tornel any time you want to." Gebrel jerked his head up

with realization, then nodded.

He closed his eyes and reached out for Tornel. Tornel...

Itís about time... Tornel sniffed mentally.

What do I do now? I have both the Sword and the Ball of Fire. What now?

"Come to Mt. Sabre. Within itís caverns, you will find the Tornado Bracelet. It will

maximize the power of the Sword of Wind. You will need it to succeed. You will find me as

well, within the mountain. Come to me, my student...

I shall.

And give Stom my love... Tornel faded out. Gebrel turned to Stom. "I know what to do

now. Iíll see you again, my friend. Oh, and Stom sends his love." Stom nodded gratefully.

"I know. I will see you again, Gebrel."

From his abode on Mt. Sabre, Tornel ended the link and smiled. Then he began his own

training, tensing his muscles, one at a time, working to increase his control over his own

bodily functions. Then, his involuntary actions, his heartbeat, his digestive system, his sweat

glands. He moved on, through his psychocombative powers, striving for perfection, reaching

a goal, then raising his own expectations, demanding more and more of himself.

Through that day, he practiced. And the next, and the next. Days became weeks. "What took

you so long?" Tornel finally asked, as Gebrel stumbled through the cave mouth onto the

rocky ledge where Tornel was sitting, his hands seeking out his own pressure points and

stimulating them. He turned to view his charge.

Gebrel was covered in angry red lines, wounds that he had yet to heal, and his body trembled

with fatigue and the chill of the icy cave. In his hand he bore the Sword of Wind, the Sword

of Fire hanging from the sheath, itís tip poking out from itís ill fitting covering. On his shield

wrist, he wore a bracelet of greenish blue, the Ball of Wind affixed to a depression.

"This... was not an easy journey," Gebrel complained, easing himself into a sitting position

next to Tornel. "There are creatures here that are immune to fire, and creatures that are

immune to concussion, and every time I have to change swords, I also have to change

between the Ball of Fire and the Bracelet, or the swords just wonít work. You must have a

lot of faith in my abilities, having me run around this place."

Tornel nodded. "Actually, Iím surprised you made it back. The other wise men kept telling

me that youíd prove worthy, but I did have my doubts about one man from the past... doing

what youĎre supposed to do." Gebrel reared back in shock. "But now," Tornel continued,

giving Gebrel an apologetic grin, "all doubts are erased. Iíll now teach you the magic of

Teleport. This magic will allow you to travel to any place you have already been to." He

reached out and joined his mind to Gebrelís.

Zebu! Gebrel called, after heíd traveled back to Brynmaer to rest, did Tornel really think I

wouldnít succeed?

No answer.

Zebu?

Zebuís mind answered at last, in a voice filled with sorrow. The wind is filled with

sorrow... return to Leaf.

Disturbed, Gebrel climbed out of the innís bathtub and got dressed, teleporting back to Leaf

with a flash.

He found nothing. The buildings were untouched-and empty. No people walked in the

streets, or rested in their homes, or worked in their shops. The wind powered machinery

stood still, unused. Rushing about, Gebrel swore angrily, using curses heard in the tavern of

Brynmaer, then raced out of the village, searching for some sign. He coursed across the

plains, looking for something... anything.

"It is good to see you again, little tribesman" he heard from behind. He whipped about, to

see the new young chief, standing before him, his body laid out in a gesture of greeting.

Gebrel stared at him.

"What happened to the villagers?" The Werecat pointed towards the cave to the north, the

very cave that Gebrel had taken out of the valley.

"Some bad humans came out of the valley. We avoided them, because they had many

swords, and wore metal skins. They took the villagers away. I kept our people hidden, but

we watched it."

Gebrel was aghast. "I opened the way through the caverns, the way they took..." He stared

at his feet.

"What happened to your mate?" the Werecat asked suddenly. Gebrel looked up, confused.

"The female who left our tribe with you?" Gebrel flinched, his guilt and grief over Kittenís

demise compounding that of the abduction of the villagers. "I see. How did it happen?"

Gebrel swallowed. "She died saving me, from a vampire. I killed it, but I couldnít save

her..." The Werecat nodded, and extended his paws towards Gebrel.

"I sorrow for your loss, fellow tribesman," he said. He slowly stepped forward, and enfolded

Gebrel in his large arms. Gebrel stiffened in shock, and started to pull away. The Werecat

released him, confused. "I have been trying to learn your ways, to better lead my people.

Have I erred? Is this not the way when one of you grieves?"

Gebrel relaxed into his arms. "Itís the way. I was just... surprised." He gripped the chief in

turn.

"I was hoping to start trading with the village, meat for things, instead of taking them from

those who strayed into our territory. If you find the villagers..." The Werecat trailed off

hopefully.

Gebrel raised and looked into the chieftainís eyes. "I will find them. I promise. You will

have your trades." The Werecat nodded, and turned to lead Gebrel towards the lair, to join

them for dinner. "Do you mind if I cook the meat, this time?"

The next day, Gebrel left the tribe, having taught them how to create and care for a small

campfire, for heat and cooked meat, and teleported back to Tornelís cottage. Stom greeted

Gebrel warmly, then reassured him about Tornelís lack of faith. "Even I would have a

difficult time surviving on Mt. Sabre," he said as he poured the tea. "Why do you think he

left me behind?"

Gebrel wrapped both hands around the mug, letting the hot pottery warm his hands. "Do you

know anything about where I can find the villagers?" Stom thought for a moment.

"There are two routes through Mt. Sabre, the one you just went through, and another one, to

the east. Maybe you can find something that way." Gebrel nodded, and as they sipped their

tea, they discussed other topics, important only to the two friends.

After finishing his tea, Gebrel bade Stom farewell, and set out to the east, to find the route

through Mt. Sabre. Making his way past the Wereboars, fungoid predators, and larger,

nastier versions of the slimes, he at last reached the path, a long, twisting route through the

mountain. With nary a pause, he began to make his way through the pass.

The path eventually led him to a large inn, a way station for travelers. Making his way

inside, Gebrel found a seat at a corner table and relaxed into the chair with a sigh. The

proprietor came up to greet him. "Welcome, my guest. I am Nadare. Would you care for

something to eat?"

Gebrel, who had been dining mostly on foraged greens for the past day and a half, said,

"food."

Nadare laughed. "Anything in particular?" Gebrel shook his head. "Ah, I see. Been quite a

long trip, has it?" Gebrel nodded, and plunked down a large coin, glinting with the color of

gold. Nadare siezed it up with reverent fingers, then said in a awed voice, "You want it, you

got it, whatever it is."

Food came. And came. And came. What Gebrel found even more amazing than the quantities of sustenance provided, was the taste. Nadare had taken advantage of his position

along the path to trade for spices, recipes, and exotic comestibles, and the result showed in

his cooking. When Gebrel finally finished, pulled back his chair, and patted the small mound

on his stomach that showed what a glutton heíd been, his tongue reeled with pleasure

overload, and a smile was etched onto his face.

He found out from his fellow travelers that a strange group of people, clad in armor and

weapons, had been sighted in the mining complex nearby. Gebrel determined to set out at

once. Then he felt his stomach, and his legs, and decided to get some sleep first. He rested on

a fine bed of firm yet yielding padding over a frame of tightly strung ropes, and woke the

next day, ready to face anything. And after a quick breakfast, which Nadare insisted he take

(though in Nadareís defense, Gebrel did very little protesting), he journeyed forth, seeking

the mines.

After a short while, he found a strangely familiar figure, lying on the path. Cautiously

approaching him, Gebrel suddenly recognized him as the young traveler from Brynmaer,

who had set out to get rich. Crouching next to him, Gebrel took shocked notice of the

bruises, contusions, and cuts that covered the poor manís form. He gently shook his

shoulder, and the manís eyes opened. "...itís you... I had a dream I could strike it rich...

But alas... I failed..." he shuddered and gulped, then continued. "I was captured... by some

strange people... they put me in a cave... I also saw some people from Leaf... they were all

being forced to work..." He swallowed again. "But I escaped... and they found me... I

cannot move..."

Gebrel began to draw on his magic. "Hold on!" He put his hands on the manís chest. "Hold

on!"

The man shuddered and sighed, "oh, to have tasted Nadareís food again. I am... eh...

aah..." he breathed out his last breath, and did not draw another.

Gebrel stared at the corpse for a few long moments, his face a mask of conflicting emotions.

Then they set, into a hard grimace of rage and hatred. Grabbing up the Sword of Wind, he

began to tread towards the mine entrance with an implacable gait.

At the entrance, he paused at the sound of two voices. His ears perked up as he listened. "Are

those worthless villagers working well?" asked one cynical sounding voice.

A second voice, filled with a nasty humor, answered, "Well, theyíre used to the cold weather

and I havenít heard any complaints... But of course, itís hard to complain when youíre not

allowed..."

The cynical voice responded with laughter, "he he he he... we must make them work harder,

he he..."

Both voices chanted in unison. "Long live the Draygonia empire!"

Draygonia empire, Gebrel thought viciously, the name burning a hole into his brain.

Draygonia empire... he stepped out into view of the two armored warriors, sword at the

ready. They responded with surprise. "Who are you? You cannot pass here!" Drawing their

own blades, of a similar configuration to the Sword of Wind, with large, broad, double edged

blades two be held in the one hand, their other hands gripping sturdy metal shields, while

their bodies were themselves encased in metal armor, the lead guard cried, "attack!" They

did so.

Gebrel caught the blade of the first attacker on his shield, as he side stepped, placing the first

warrior between himself and his comrade. As the second warrior tried to maneuver around

his companion to attack and the first warrior traded blows, Gebrel continued to parry with

his shield, delivering cuts of his own at targetís of opportunity, while his feet continued to

keep the first warrior between himself and the second soldier.

They traded a second flurry of blows, then a third. Then Gebrel leaned back, allowed the

guardís cut to whistle past his head, and chopped at the inside of the guardís elbow joint,

where no armor protected him. The soldier screamed as his hand went flying, then collapsed

heavily when Gebrelís followup backhand performed a similar amputation at the back of the

knee. Gebrel caught the overhand swing of the second guard, then slammed his shield, with

his entire bodyweight behind it, into the soldierís chest. The warrior fell back, momentarily

off balance, and Gebrel thrust his blade into the side of his neck, shearing through the blood

vessels. As the guard fell back, blood spurting, Gebrel withdrew his blade and chopped

again, this time, his blade sheared cleanly through the remaining tissues of his neck, severing

his head completely.

Gebrel stopped, and looked around for further danger. The first guard was already comatose,

from shock and loss of blood, and no others appeared. He smiled with satisfaction. Then the

smile slowly drained from his face. I enjoyed this, he thought to himself. I enjoyed this. I

enjoyed killing men. I enjoyed killing my fellow men... He backed away from the corpses,

staring at them with newfound horror. Then he looked at his bloody sword, and the blood on

his clothing.

I killed two of my fellow men, and enjoyed it. I was full of hate and rage. I still am. I killed

in hate... He swallowed with self revulsion, then wiped his blade clean on the dirt, before

continuing on, his heart a leaden lump in his chest. I still have a job to do. I have people to

save. And more killing to do... He felt like crying, when he felt a fierce joy at the thought.

Gebrel ventured on, through the mines. He killed more guards as he met them, experiencing

a mixture of pleasure and revulsion as he did so. After an eternity of blood and pain, he

finally found the prison where the villagers were being kept. Killing the guards quickly with

blasts of vacuum, he spoke with the villagers as he freed them from their chains.

"The Draygonians are making a special metal from the minerals we dig here," explained one

man, as Gebrel snapped the links with a sword borrowed from one of the guards. "itís proof

against fire, and virtually unbreakable." Once freed, the villager joined the other men in

grabbing up a blade and shield to help defend himself and the others. Soon all the villagers

had been accounted for, save one.

"The elder is being held at the top of the mountain," explained a woman, as she tested a

length of chain experimentally, taking stock of itís utility as a weapon. "theyíll kill him if we

donít rescue him." Gebrel nodded.

"Iíll get him out. Now hold on a second, while I try to contact Zebu." Gebrel closed his eyes.

Zebu...

Thank you, Gebrel, Zebu cried. You have saved my people...

Theyíre not safe yet, Gebrel responded. Unless you can teleport them home or something,

Iím afraid theyíre going to have to make it on foot.

I cannot teleport them all. But I can use telepathy to guide them home safely.

Wait. The Werecats were hoping for peaceful trade and relations with the village. Maybe

they could help.

I shall ask them. If they do this, they will receive whatever they ask. Thank you, Gebrel.

Donít thank me yet. I still have one more to save. "Zebu will be contacting you soon,"

Gebrel told the villagers, then explained the situation. "Iíll bring the elder back to you, then

you can all go home."

They all expressed their gratitude and well wishes. "Give those Draygonians a few whacks

for me!" cried a little boy. Gebrel looked stricken, then nodded, a feeling of shame settling in

his craw. He moved on, towards the top of the mountain.

Past another couple of guards, Gebrel finally reached the top of the mountain. The elder lay

in a metal cage, staring fearfully at a giant of a man, clad in heavy armor from head to toe.

The giant turned and sneered at Gebrel. "So this is the mighty hero you were talking about?"

he spat at the elder. "You must be joking." He grabbed onto an outcropping of rock, then

with a negligent jerk of his wrist, broke the chunk off in his hand. "Iím the great General

Kelbesque. Iím one of Draygoniaís finest four." He stepped forward. "Wimp! You will now

see the wrath of my power!" And he threw the chunk of rock at Gebrel.

Gebrel jumped out of the way, as the rock whistled past him, flying out off the side of the

mountain for a long ways, before it began to fall towards the ground below. Kelbesque leapt

out at him and threw a devastating punch. Gebrel tried to block it with his shield, only to

have the bronze cave in under the force of the blow. He went flying.

His training with Stom came to his aid then, as he lit rolling and came to his feet, sword

charged. The vacuum blast slammed into Kelbesqueís chest full force. The General

stumbled a moment, then laughed. "Is that all youíve got?"

Teeth gritted with rage and hate flashing in his eyes, Gebrel roared, "Hell NO!" And this

time, what issued forth was no mere bullet or blast. A whirling vortex of vacuum issued

forth, sucking the air behind and around it to create a miniature tornado, whirling with

destructive force. The blast of wind and nothingness picked the giant up and slammed him

against the mountainside. Pieces of his armor, including a red bracelet that had dangled from

his massive wrist rather than fit around it, went flying.

Kelbesque picked himself up, grunting unpleasantly. "Not bad, for a wimp." And he picked

up another chunk of rock, and hurled it at Gebrel. Again Gebrel dodged it, sending forth

another tornado. This time, the wind sent Kelbesque off the side of the mountain entirely,

and he landed on the top of a cliff far below and away. The General slowly picked himself

up, and shook his head. "Donít think youíve seen even a fraction of my power. Next time

you see me, it will be your last!" He began to stumble off, limping away.

Gebrel took several deep breaths to calm himself, then went to the cage and set the elder free.

"Oh, Gebrel..." the elder thanked him, as he helped the older man up. "Are the rest of the

villagers okay? I really appreciate your efforts." Gebrel explained the situation, and the elder

nodded. "Gebrel! Proceed along the path through that cave..." he pointed towards a cave in

the mountainside. "It will lead you to Portoa. I heard the Queen there has strange powers.

Surely she will aid you." Gripping Gebrelís hands in his own, the elder murmured one last

admonition. "Now please be careful." He turned and left to seek his people.

They regard me as a hero, though Gebrel. I donít feel very heroic. Iím covered in blood, dirt,

and sweat. My leathers itch, my feet are blistered, and I have taken joy in killing others. I

wish Kelbesque hadnít gotten away, because I want to kill him, too. Gebrel closed his eyes,

and tears trickled down his cheeks, as he wept silently in shame. I am a monster. I delight in

killing. Half blinded by his tears, he stumbled off.

The cave led to a series of natural stairs, leading down, to open paths leading down. Down,

down. After Gebrel had traveled almost a full vertical mile, his tears long since dried to a

dull ache, he felt Tornel contacting him. Oh, Gebrel! Good job!

Gebrel did not reply. Tornel tried to feel his mood, but Gebrel pulled away. Tornel pulled

back, sensing his pain and need for privacy. Iíll now teach you the magic of Paralysis. It will

cause people and other creatures to fall asleep. It will be useful in the next town. Gebrel?

Slowly, Gebrel joined his mind with Tornelís, and the lesson ensued. Gebrel managed to

keep much of his inner turmoil hidden from Tornel despite the joining, a skill that shocked

Tornel with the mental strength required, but a portion still came through. Tornel let Gebrel

pull away. Before Gebrel broke contact entirely, Tornel said, seek out the Queen. She can

help you...

When the contact ended, Gebrel continued on in silence, knowing only the pain in his heart.

And that the urge to be somewhere was growing, that the compulsion was ever more

insistent. He ventured on, stumbling awkwardly towards Portoa, and destiny.