Crystal Conundrums: Iceheart
Gebrel looked at the town with hooded eyes. He'd followed the path down from Mt. Sabre, to a river, then followed the river to this town. It was very pretty, and much larger than the other villages he'd visited, with many finely crafted dwellings and shops. The pristine blue water coursed through the town, channeled into fast moving streams that ran many waterwheels of strong wood to provide power, then away to the sea, easily within sight of the town. Gebrel sighed, a small, bittersweet smile playing about his lips at the sight of this pleasant looking town.
He stopped a girl and spoke with her. "Excuse me, miss. What is the name of this town?"
The girl, who wore a simple dress with an disconcertingly short hemline, smiled and shook her head of white blond hair. "This is Portoa, the capital of water." Her cheeks dimpled. She appraised him in a manner that Gebrel had grown all too accustomed to. With his already heavy burden of personal pain, the thought of fending off another set of amorous advances made him want to cry.
The girl seemed to sense this. "Are you alright, sir?" Gebrel sighed, and shook his head. "Maybe the Queen can help you." Gebrel's ears perked up. Tornel said the Queen of Portoa had powers, he thought to himself. "I'm sure she can, in fact. She helps everyone." Now her eyes shone with love.
Gebrel cocked his head. "You love your Queen?" The girl snickered.
"Everyone loves the Queen, silly." Gebrel blinked. "She's the most wonderful person in the world."
Gebrel's mind began running suspicious scenarios of mind control. "Where can I meet your Queen?"
And so Gebrel made his way to the Palace of Portoa, a beautiful work of marble done by local craftsmen out of love for their Queen-at least, according to them. Gebrel became even more suspicious. He paused to admire the lovely coloumns that supported the triangular ceiling, straight lines and right triangles speaking of precision craftsmanship, with a logical beauty inherant to mathematics. A guard escorted Gebrel through rooms with lush carpeting over gleaming tiles, past murals painted onto the walls, scenes of the sea, of strong men sailing fast vessels, of daily life in the town outside. On they moved to the throne room, and Gebrel prepared to affirm or dismiss his concerns.
The Queen had long black hair, cascading down her back, while her lush body was contained within a dress of black silk, sparkling sequins sewn into the rich fabric. Her eyes were a deep blue, and eyed Gebrel with a clarity he'd never experienced from any observer before. Her full lips parted into a dazzling smile. "Are you the legendary man who climbed through Sabre? Tornel and Zebu have told me about you."
Gebrel nodded slowly. "Legendary?" he blurted out. The Queen giggled.
"You've fought Draygonia's warriors and bested them. You beat that nasty Kelbesque, one of their so called "Finest Four." You saved the people of Leaf. And that was just your latest exploit," she added, waving towards a chair. "may we talk a while?" Gebrel nodded and sat down. "Tell me about your adventure with the dwarves. How ever did you get them to start dealing with humans again?" And so Gebrel began to spin his tale.
He described his initial encounters with the dwarves, how they feared and distrusted him. How a mother beseeched him for aid, her fear of him outmatched by her concern for her child. How he saved the child, how he received the sword. His blood began to stir as he told of his battle with the monster bug, using the Sword of Fire to slowly cook the creature as it fought back with poisoned streams. How the dwarves reconsidered humans, and welcomed him as a friend.
During his discourse, he became increasingly aware of HER. Her eyes appraised every inch of him, as though she could see his every thought, every feeling. She was totally focused on him, as though he were the only thing in her world at that time. It made him feel uncomfortable, yet happy, at the same time. He reaffirmed the status of his mental shielding, as he wrapped up his story. Then, he told her about his time with Tornel and Stom. Then, she asked him about his quest through Sabre. "Everyone knows about you, after THAT heroic feat," she told him.
Gebrel flinched. "I... don't consider myself a hero, for that one."
She looked at him quizzically. "Why not?"
Gebrel looked down, then swallowed hard. "I killed a lot of people on that mountain."
"But... it was necessary to save the villagers."
"But I enjoyed it." Gebrel shivered at the admission. "Heroes don't enjoy killing." He started to add something, then shut his mouth and huddled down in the chair. His soul felt as shriveled as his posture.
"Gebrel." The Queen smiled at him, and took his hand in both of her own. "Those were evil men. They did many evil things. There's nothing wrong with taking pleasure in punishing evil. Look at me, Gebrel." Slowly, his eyes met her own. "Have you ever killed an innocent person?"
Gebrel stared at her a moment, then whispered, "no." He tried to look down at his hand in hers, but found his eyes locked by her own.
"Have you ever wanted to kill someone just for the pleasure?"
"No." He started to uncoil, both physically, and spiritually, without being aware of it.
"It wasn't the killing you enjoyed, Gebrel."
Tears began to form in his eyes. "Then what did I enjoy?"
"Tornel would understand it better. I don't know enough about it to explain. But Gebrel, you aren't a monster. Monsters wouldn't grieve for their victims. Monsters wouldn't want to punish evil. Only heroes do that." She squeezed his hand for emphaisis. A pulse of warmth spread from his hand, met a similar sensation from his chest, soothing the pain in his heart. He felt peaceful, yet energized, and so very, very happy.
Gebrel stared into her eyes. His shields were up, yet somehow, she'd gotten around them. He was dimly aware of being on his knees before her, staring up into her face with adoration. "How have you done this?" he whispered hoarsely. "How did you make me fall in love with you?"
She smiled, and placed her hands on his head. "I am loved because I love." She gently pushed his head to her lap, and stroked his hair. "My powers are that of Love, of Water. I encompass all. I am the stuff of life, the refreshment of those who need. I give to all, and receive all in turn." Gebrel dimly heard her words, as his eyes began to leak the substance of which she spoke. Then, with a shuddering breath, he began to sob like a small child. All his pain, all his heartache, left him through his salty tears, as he bawled, his powerfully muscled shoulders heaving up and down, shaking with each shuddering breath and cry. Queen Portoa stroked his head as he cried, smiling down at him tenderly, her own eyes bright with love and shimmering with tears of empathy.
She held him for a while longer, as he trembled with release, tears soaking into her dress. Finally, when his crying ended, she released him. He remained on his knees, as he gazed into her eyes, with absolute devotion.
"Give me a quest," he implored, his voice filled with the urgent need to please. "Let me do something for you, my Queen. The Sword of Wind and the Sword of Fire will fill my hand at your urging. Let me be your champion."
The Queen smiled, and nodded. "For now, just rest in my city. If you can help my people, do so. And Gebrel..." she tousled his pink hair affectionately. "Come see me again. I enjoy hearing your stories."
"Wild horses couldn't keep me away." He smiled, and rose to his feet, his spirit lifted to the skies. He turned and left, glancing back over his shoulder at the woman in the chair. How did she do that? he wondered again, as he stared at the most beautiful person he'd ever met. She smiled at him. Then she turned to the man next to her, a sheaf of papers in his hand, and focused all her attention on HIM. Her advisor was the only thing in her world for the time they spent together. Yet Gebrel felt no jealousy. He understood that she had more than enough love to go around. And he understood why all of Portoa loved their Queen.
Over the next few weeks, Gebrel took full advantage of the shops, restaurants, inns, and entertainments offered by Portoa. At the Queen's suggestion, he sought out a fortuneteller, who's skills were highly regarded by the people of Portoa, though her hours were highly erratic. He quickly determined the fortuneteller to be either a great soothsayer or a great faker, as she, her face and figure shrouded in robes, would give him tantalizing glimpses of his future. "You will experience great hardship, and great adventure, but love and courage will give you success." Another time, she said. "Two blades you possess, two blades remain."
He spent many long, happy hours with the queen, as he told her of his adventures, and she told him of the politics of the land, Portoa's role as one of the wealthiest of countries, and a firm adversary of the Draygonian empire. "Our wealth is based on our extremely low tax rate and high personal freedoms," she explained. "The less I take from the people, the more they have for themselves to pour into the economy, and the more it grows-and the more I take in, in actual revenue. Plus, with our high education and literacy rate, we have lots of skilled craftsmen. We export a lot of goods. Akahana keeps a summer home here."
"You know Akahana?" Gebrel asked, as he rolled the dice for the game they were playing. "For some reason, a lot of people don't like him much."
"They're jealous of his wealth and success. Some people think that the rich are evil by definition. They're not happy unless the rich man gives all his wealth away."
"Then they wouldn't be rich anymore, would they?" Gebrel grinned bemusedly, then moved his piece. "I win." The Queen gave a little squeal, and began beating on his chest, before hugging him with a laugh.
Another time, they enjoyed a fine meal together, the Queen having been delayed from their customary meeting time by a treaty negotiation with Amazone. "They're quite friendly with Portoa, on account of it's leadership. I'm flattered, but really, men aren't all THAT bad," she said between mouthfulls of freshly roasted fish.
"Yes we are," Gebrel said mildly, raising a glass of to his lips. "You eat well here, Majesty."
"Yes, the food Geline cooks for me is very good, but alas, her manners are not..."
"Geline? The redhead in the kitchen who throws knives at everyone?"
"Yes. I shall ask Evans to teach her some manners."
"Evans, that would be the gentleman who teaches etiquette?" Gebrel flicked a small morsel of fish off his plate with the tip of his finger and licked it off.
"Perhaps I should set up a lesson for you as well..." He was slightly surprised, that the Queen would choose to give him so much of her time. Not that he was complaining, of course.
Gebrel made good use of the money earned playing his flute in taverns, purchasing a new set of armor, shiny pieces of a metal called platinum, forged into plates and sewn into a soft leather backing, forming a flexible coat of metal, along with a shield of the same, to replace his destroyed shield of bronze. "This stuff isn't as strong as the iron based alloys Draygonia uses," explained the armorer, "but at least it won't rust. That's important, in this climate." Bearing in mind the fortuneteller's instructions about four blades, he had a special scabbard fashioned, four sheaths slung over his back, and a rack for four bracelets. Into these, he placed the Swords of Wind and Fire, and the Bracelet of Wind, along with the Bracelet of Fire which Kelbesque had left behind after their battle. He practiced quickly changing between swords and bracelets, until it became almost automatic. Upon further thought, he purchased a small pouch for carrying balls.
One day, Gebrel went to speak with the Queen. He strode inside, and spoke with the guard, asking to be let in. "The Queen wishes to speak with no one today," the guard apologized.
"Begone!" The guard came to rigid attention, standing before the door with a firm expression. Gebrel stared at him a moment, then raised his hand and pointed. A blast of psychic energy shot from his mind to the guard, an astral blitzkrieg upon his cognitive functions. Gebrel helped the stunned guard to the floor, then went to see the Queen.
The Queen was not there. Her throne room was empty. Gebrel searched around, both physically and psychically. Finding no presence of her, he found a secret door, hidden with a wall. Opening the door, he found a cavern carved into solid rock, water from the city's streams coursing through it and mergin into a single, powerful river. Interesting, he thought to himself, and began to explore. This ended quickly, with the deep fast river within cutting off access to most of the cave. Gebrel shrugged, and left, spending the rest of the day in training.
The next day, he returned, to a surly guard, who after his sincerest apologies for the mental assault, led him to the Queen. "Gebrel, I have a favor to ask," she began. Gebrel immediately sank to one knee in a gesture of submission, every piece of him radiating willingness to fight and die. "You don't need to do that," she giggled. Gebrel jumped up with a grin and bowed from the waist, awaiting her response. "There's a waterfall to the east, with a cave behind it. Some of my people have gone there and not come back. So did Akahana."
"Akahana's missing?" Gebrel asked in a startled voice.
"Please go in search of them. And take this, a Flute of Lime. It may come in handy." She handed Gebrel a flute made of a peculiar form of limestone. "Be careful."
"Always, my Queen." Gebrel bowed again, then turned and left.
A day's journey along the river, past the local mutants, a variant that resembled a human covered from head to toe in brown fur and carried copper weaponry. They were intelligent enough to learn from their initial encounters, and decided to leave Gebrel alone, only watching him as he passed through their territory, but not actively molesting him. For his part, he refused to glean or hunt from their lands, nibbling at the jerky, crackers, and hard cheese in his pack. Finally, at the end of his journey, he found a cascading waterfall, mist rising from the lake where the waters landed, reaching up past the impossibly high cliffs of that part of Mt. Sabre. Behind the falls, he did indeed find the beginnings of a very large cavern complex. Beginnings, only, however, as many sections were blocked off by rubble, or frozen walls of ice. Many sections were easily cleared by blasts of vacuum and flame. Soon, Gebrel had come across two of the villagers. To his horror, the men were frozen, paralyzed by some strange toxin. Staring at them for a while, Gebrel thought of the Flute of Lime that he'd been given. Putting it to his lips, he began to play.
The tune resonated oddly within the mineral tube, a strange chord that seemed to vibrate within his skull. Modulating his song, he found a pitch that increased the vibration to a tremendous level, until it screamed in his mind. The sound had a similar effect upon the paralyzed men. They began to twitch, then writhe, their bodies gradually coming back under their control as their minds were cleansed of whatever neurotoxin had frozen them. Finally, they were restored. "Thank you, brave hero," one of them began.
"No thanks are necessary," demurred Gebrel. "I only did as the Queen asked. Have you seen Akahana?" The man nodded.
"He went in before us, while we waited. Then a monster came out and spat venom at us both. I don't know what happened to Akahana, though." Gebrel thought for a moment.
"Return to Portoa. I shall look for Akahana myself, and slay the monster, if need be." The two men offered their profound thanks and best wishes, before fleeing the cave to return home. Gebrel moved on.
Soon, he found himself within an enormous cavern, it's walls many yards apart, it's ceiling high above, out of sight. With his shield hand holding a lamp to provide illumination, Gebrel searched about, looking for some distinguishing characteristic to guide him. He found it. Or rather, it found him. The monster was easily twenty feet long, with thick scales covering it's serpentine tail, upon which it slithered, powerful arms, with which it reached hungrily, and a hideous face wreathed by a mass of tentacles, each tipped by a eyeless head filled with sharp fangs.
Gebrel aimed the Sword of Wind and fired. The blast slammed into the creature with no effect, easily absorbed by it's thick scales. Cursing, he switched blades, aiming the Sword of Fire and shooting forth a stream of fire. The creature slowed momentarily, then continued on unscathed. Gebrel slipped on the Flame Bracelet, charged up, and cut loose with the Sword's most powerful attack. From the tip of the blade, a single ball of flame flew forth, slamming into the creature-and exploded. The cavern filled with flames, illumated by the red hot conflagration. The flames cascaded, shimmered, then slowly died down. And the creature still advanced.
What was worse, Gebrel had seen the rest of the cavern in the light of the blast. The creature was hardly the only member of it's species. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, he ran like hell, blindly stumbling through the cave, his vision temporarily blinded by the blast. Fortunately, so were the monsters.
After a time, Gebrel found himself in a cul-de-sac, it's walls barely discernable through his recovering night vision. He shut his eyes tightly, letting the complete blackness speed the recovery. When he opened them, he found Akahana.
The bald, black bearded man, with his powerfully built frame frozen by the neurotoxin, stood in a position of paralyzed terror, his face bared in a grimace of great terror being battled with great courage. "Oh, Akahana," murmured Gebrel, then pulled out the Flute of Lime. Taking a deep breath, he found and sustained the necessary note and held it, held it...until Akahana twitched, then writhed, then collapsed in a weary heap on the cavern floor. "Are you all right, Akahana?" Gebrel asked.
Akahana fixed him with a disgusted look. "That has got to be the dumbest question I've ever heard."
"I mean can you walk out of here on your own, or do you need me to carry you, boss?" Gebrel gave his friend a lopsided grin. Akahana returned it.
"I can walk. Here, catch." he tossed Gebrel a ring of polished copper, with an opal set into it's center. "It's supposed to provide protection to magic users. Try it out." Gebrel slipped it on, then concentrated.
"You're right. It's creating a kind of enhanced effect to my shield. It's kind of hard to explain, but it works. Come on, I'll get you out of here." Akahana held up a restraining hand.
"The Queen sent me here to find a treasure, a mystical artifact that's somehow supposed to help save the world. I'm not leaving without it."
"You love her too?" Gebrel arched one eyebrow. Underneath his own bushy black brows, Akahana's eyes rolled.
"EVERYONE loves the Queen, Gebrel. There've been a lot of stories, ranging from romantic to obscene, about Draygonia's desire to conquer Portoa being dominated by the Emperor's desire to conquer Her Majesty." Akahana grinned. "Help me find that treasure, and I'll tell you some of the more interesting ones." Gebrel grinned in return, and helped Akahana to his feet.
The power of paralysis worked where the Swords did not, putting the "Medusae," as Akahana called them, to sleep like a baby with it's bottle. They explored the regions Akahana had not already charted on his map, using the Sword of Fire to melt through barriers of ice when necessary. Finally, after Gebrel had melted his way through an enormous wall of pure frozen water, they beheld the object of their desires. "There it is," Akahana breathed. "The Sword of Water."
It had a considerably thinner blade than the other Swords, a straight shaft of metal, with a blueish tint, in comparism to the bright sheen of the other blades, reaching out for three feet, tipped with an extreme taper at the end to an extremely sharp point. Instead of a large crosspiece, it had a small one, and in front of that, a bell shaped knuckle guard, with the first third of the blade blunt as a hammer, allowing the wielder to parry with the blade without damaging the edge. The whole of it was far lighter than the other blades, yet with it's own lethal charms, secure in it's abilities as it lay there on the cavern floor. Gebrel sheathed the Sword of Flame and reached for the blade hungrily, his eyes alight.
As Akahana watched bemusedly, Gebrel assumed his guard, again utilitizing long forgotten training to use the weapon to it's fullest. Instead of gripping the handle with all four fingers, his forefinger curled over the small crosspiece, the other three fingers curling over the grip as it lay across his palm diagonally, rather then across as with other stances. He held the blade before him, tip pointed high at an imagined foe's face. Unlike his previous postures, his right foot was forward rather than behind, the shield curled protectively at his side rather than in front of him. Making a few shuffling steps in this new stance, Gebrel flicked his blade about, using his finger's position on the crosspiece for added leverage, giving the blade extreme speed, before he finally lunged, extending his arm with his wrist straight out, palm up, the sword stabbing through the shadow partner. He recovered, thrust again, parried high, thrust, parried low, then corkscrewed his blade around the imagined sword of the enemy in his mind, and thrust home again. All of this with lightning speed.
Gebrel turned to face Akahana. "Would you mind stepping to the side, please?" Akahana casually stepped to the side, then speeded up the motion into a diving roll as Gebrel aimed and fired the blade at the approaching Medusa. A chunk of solid ice, with a razor tipped point, slammed into the beast, tearing a ragged hole into it's scaly hide. A second blast, then a third icy bullet, finished the brute. "Well, I think we know now what the Queen intended this for," Gebrel smiled. He extended his hand. "I sent your two helpers home on foot after they recovered from the toxin. I can give you a somewhat quicker passage." Akahana tentatively took his hand, and abruptly found himself back at Portoa, gazing into the warm afternoon sun, a wonderful feeling on his skin, clammy and cold after the waterfall cave.
"Come on," he said, after shivering once with relief and cold, "I'll send one of my servants to inform the Queen of our success when we get to my house. Then it's a hot bath for the both of us. And hot tea. And hot food. And hot anything else I can think of."
Akahana's house was as large and opulent as one would expect for a merchant prince. Sending a runner boy off to the Palace only seconds after their arrival, Akahana called for a hot bath to be drawn. While the huge metal tubs were filled with water and a fire lit under them, they stripped off their wet clothing and armor, and wrapped themselves in towels and wrapped their numb fingers around mugs of tea. The heat seared their fingers with a blissful pain, warming them as they sighed with contented pleasure. "This is really taking too long, Akahana," Gebrel complained, after eyeing his tub for a few minutes. "Let me speed things up." Two quick blasts of the Sword of Fire at lowest level apiece, and they were relaxing in hot water, their cold bodies burning as their fingers had already done. They relaxed in the full body immersion, until the burning sensation was replaced by a soothing, sated feeling, all the muscles and tissues that tighten in a chill relaxed and loose.
Gebrel tightened up a bit when two servants came to serve them both hot platters of roasted meat and onions, when he noticed the obviously female forms underneath the skimpy attire, standard fashion for women in the nation of Portoa, it seemed. One girl took no notice of some of his expressions of rigidy, took pleased notice of others, and hand fed him while her partner did the same for her employer. Licking his chops, Akahana sighed, "I thought of another hot thing."
"Um...I'm pretty tired, boss." The girl glanced down.
"You're not that tired," she noted. Gebrel blushed crimson. "Open up," she commanded, and fed him another slice of grilled onion. "Or were you saving yourself for the Queen?" she added coyly.
Gebrel blinked. "I love her. But...it's not that kind of a love. She's...I don't know. She's not quite like a mother, she's more than just a friend, but I don't have that... urge, towards her. Well, of course I do, but only idly, like I do any pretty girl."
The servant sniffed. "So that's just an idle reaction, then?" Gebrel flushed a deeper red and began to stammer. "So I'm nothing special, you don't find anything special about me?" Gebrel was now incoherant, trying to protest her accusations, fend her off, and avoid staring at the flesh exposed by her garb.
"Try not to poke him so much, Daphnae," Akahana reprimanded. "He's about as pure as they come."
"But it's so much fun watching him squirm," complained Daphnae. Then his comment struck a note. She turned to Gebrel. "Pure? Are you a virgin?"
Gebrel's nose had begun to bleed, from his blood pressure rising through the roof. Daphnae smiled, as she handed him a napking to stop the bleeding. "Oh my, you are..." she lowered her voice to the anticipatory whisper of a hunter. "This brings out the artist in me."
"Isn-Is-Isn't there supposed- aren't-shouldn't young women be demure and shy, wanting to save it?" Gebrel finally stammered out, clutching the cloth to his nose.
"Not in Portoa, they're not."
"Now you see why I built my summer home here." Akahana smiled, as he reached out his hand to grab for a piece of the girl standing over him with empty platter.
The next day, Gebrel slept in, letting the morning sun rise high in the sky before he climbed out of bed. He met Akahana for breakfast, and Daphnae, having risen somewhat earlier, again hand fed him, filling his belly with cakes of fresh dough fried in a pan and served with butter and a syrup made from the sap of trees grown in the north. "Unfortunately, pure maple syrup is pretty expensive," Akahana complained. "I only feed the stuff to important guests."
"There's quite a lot of these trees grown in the Valley of Wind," Gebrel noted. "You might want to check that out." Akahana nodded, and chomped down on a piece of bacon, hot and crisp. Daphnae shoved another piece of pancake into Gebrel's mouth, then took a bite herself. "Um, Daphnae," Gebrel began. "Uh, I have to leave Portoa eventually."
Daphnae smiled at him. "Don't worry, I'm not going to trap you like that." Gebrel's mind suddenly connected the word "trap" with other words. Important ones.
"Oh, what if... I mean, what if you got..." Daphnae put a finger to his sticky lips.
"There are herbs a woman can take, that stop her cycles. You don't have to worry." She refilled his mug with more of what she called "coffee," made from beans grown in the hot, tropical region to the south. Then she again poured sugar and cream into the mug, sweetening and lightening the bitter brew, before Gebrel again sipped at the hot infusion. "In Portoa, women can indulge themselves as men do, as long as they exercise a little forethought," she added. "We're free to be ourselves, not be what men want us to be."
"So you don't dress like that because of the men?"
"We dress like this because Portoa is a very warm, sunny place, and dresses are too hot. And short skirts and pants are comfortable, too. The effect on men is just a nice bonus," she finished as she kissed him on his cheek, stealing a piece of bacon from his plate.
"By the way, those two idiots showed up a few hours ago," said Akahana. "Seems they ran all night and day, in order to get here. Then the first thing they did was raise a ruckuss, trying to get my guards to mount a rescue effort to get me back." He sipped his own mug, black and unsweetened. "I sent them to bath and bed." Akahana smiled. "Good, loyal men like that are hard to find." He held out his mug for a refill. "I pay a bundle for this stuff, but when I distribute it... oh, the profit margins!"
Gebrel left for the palace after finishing breakfast, accompanied by Akahana. The Queen greeted them both with smiles, kisses, and hugs, then sat them both down and ordered them to tell her their stories. After they'd taken turns regaling her with tales of the Medusae, and the clammy waterfall cave, she nodded approvingly, then sent Gebrel out. "I need to discuss a few things with Akahana alone, my hero."
"Of course, my Queen." Gebrel left. After spending an hour or two just walking along the banks of one of the rivers, occasionally drawing the Sword of Water and practicing a few lunges, he decided to look up the Fortuneteller. For a wonder, she was in, a fortuitous event, given her unpredictable hours. When he sat before her and crossed her palm with silver, she closed her eyes, then began to shake. "Ahh... I see! Go to the south. Someone is waiting for you, at the lake to the south. Go quickly. Time is short, and the need is great!" And so it was that Gebrel again left on a quest.
Past the warm plains of Portoa's farmlands, he strode. Past the wilds of the mutants, who remembered him and gave him a wide berth, until he deliberately approached a camp and traded for food with coin and song. Past the fields of bushes, heavy with coffee bean pods, tended by black skinned humans who sang as they worked ("Of course we sing, mon!" said one of them. "We get paid a freaking fortune by Akahana for our harvests." "So you don't feel exploited by him?" "Working in paradise and getting piles of gold for it? Exploit me, mon!"). Finally, after several days of travel, Gebrel found himself at the lake.
The centerpiece of a huge swamp, it's deep, still, warm waters filled with life, huge trees hovering above it, resting on enormous roots, plunging through the water to reach the soil below, the lake was a far cry from the poisonous lake where Gebrel had recovered the Ball of Fire. The waters were clean and fresh, the trees strong, with smooth brown bark leading up to lush foliage. Gebrel stepped up to high bank, then called out. "Hello!"
The water rippled, then a figure emerged. A mutant, a humanoid, with hairless albino white skin, ridged semi-horns on it's brow, and streams of water pouring from it's neck, where the gills deflated. The amphibious figure opened it's mouth and breathed air into it's lungs, then clutched the trident formed of polished bone as it stared with wonder. "That's the Sword of Water. You're the one I've been waiting for!" It swore in a gurgling voice.
"I am Rage, protecter of the Sacred Lime Tree..." he waved his weapon at what appeared to be a petrified tree, it's trunk hardened from living wood into eternal stone. "I've stood guard here for over 100 years, after my sire, and his sire before him, guarding our treasures. I give you now, the Ball of Water." He dipped his trident into the waves, then flicked it out, tossing a ball of cold blue crystal to Gebrel. "I may now sleep in peace knowing the chamber is empty. Enter the chamber and protect Mesiah!"
He sunk beneath the surface of the lake, but Gebrel paid him no heed. The driving urge that had compelled him for so long, that kept him moving away from his cryochamber, away from Leaf and Kitten, away from Brynmaer, and partially subsided for a time in Portoa, suddenly erupted with a vengeance. He trembled with it's force. Mesiah... the name screamed in his mind. Mesiah... are you my final goal? Who or what are you, to have this power over me? He held himself tightly, wrapping his arms around himself until he stopped trembling. Then he charged ball and blade, and fired.
The ice blast that appeared was no bullet, but a crescent wedge, a chevron of pure cold that slammed into the lake with a hiss. Where the ice blade hit, the water froze solid, forming a sheet of pure ice, reaching to the Sacred Lime Tree. Uh oh, Gebrel thought. "You okay down there?" he called. " I didn't catch you in the blast, did I?"
A white hand raised up from several yards away, and formed a thumbs up sign. Gebrel sighed with relief. Then his compulsion flared again, and he found himself stumbling across the ice bridge, towards the tree, towards a blue door. Opening it, he stepped inside.
Another cryochamber. It's lights blinked and shimmered, succinctly informing all within of the status of it's occupant. Specifically, the absence of said occupant. Gebrel stared at the empty crochamber, his compulsion suddenly drained, absent, as he blinked at the impossible sight. Empty...
The chamber blinked, and a figure suddenly sprang into view. Hologram, Gebrel's mental database supplied, as his foremind was occupied with staring at the figure, his compulsion again rising up.
Her hair was a dark blue, as unique as his own mop of pink. An effect of the cryochamber, his database informed him. Her body was tall, as tall as he was, and her lithe frame packed with dense, supple muscle, with a smooth layer of padding providing subtle yet obvious curves. Her face was long, angular, with a mouth set in a wistful expression. Her eyes were a brilliant green, shining with intelligence and resolve. Every inch of her was heartbreakingly beautiful, obviously a match for his own abilities in every way, and as he stared at her, she seemed more and more achingly familiar, like a ghost from a forgotten dream. Gebrel's male drives merged with his psychic compulsion, and became a pure, lustful ache. I have found my destiny...
"I am Mesiah," the girl spoke, in a voice pure and sweet, yet filled with quiet determination. "This message is for you, Gebrel. Our mission is only beginning...I had to leave early. I was awakened before my time, by a being calling himself Azteca." She gave the date, only a few days previous. "Our time is so short. I will go to Draygonia now. Please catch up with me!" The figure froze, the message ended. Mesiah hovered before his eyes, frozen in perfection.
Gebrel stared at her a while longer. "I will catch up to you, Mesiah," he whispered to the silent chamber. "Not all the armies of Draygonia can stop me!" Then, tearing his eyes from the image of his desires, he teleported back to Portoa once again.
He entered the palace. A guard met him at the entrance. "I was instructed to show you the underground channel when you arrived. Please follow me." And Gebrel again found himself in the mysterious channel behind the palace. Stepping his way around the area that remained dry, he aimed and fired his icy blast at an likely ford. Crossing over the ice floe, he made his way to another door. He opened, and narrowed his eyes at what he saw.
"Oh, excuse me, young man," said the old woman, "do you know where the Fortuneteller is today?"
Gebrel shook his head. "But I have an inkling." He made his way to another door, and out of the fortuneteller's hut, back into the channel. Crafting another ice bridge, he found another door. Inside, he found a lovely little shrine, with a table upon which sat a crystal ball. Before the ball, sat the Queen, her fortuneteller's shrouds laying next to her. Gebrel strode up to her, then waited.
She smiled. "Yes, Gebrel. The fortuneteller is me. I enter town like this and hear people's problems. People will tell me things they wouldn't dare tell the Queen. This way, I can better care for my people." She sighed, and stood up.
"But the real me is neither the fortuneteller or the Queen..." She shimmered, her very form altering as she spoke. "I am Asina, one of four great wise men who will help you."
"Wise...man?" Gebrel asked. Asina smiled.
"Just a title. I'm all woman, as you may have noticed."
"I noticed," he responded dryly. Asina had long black hair, and a form slightly taller than his own, slender rather than lush. Her garb had altered with her, becoming long drapings of sheer, transluscent silk, misting the slim form in blue rather than concealing.
"Let me teach you a new magic. It's called Recovery. It can cure any poison, or disease. You should find it useful. Here, open your mind to me."
"It is always open, for you," he breathed, as he melded into her. He lost himself in her loving mental embrace, emerging with a new skill, then remained attached to her, his arms encircling her as her mind embraced his. "Asina, Queen Portoa, no matter. You can't hide your nature from me, my darling."
"Mmmm. I see you've learned of Mesiah."
Gebrel went still. "Yes." She giggled, and rested her forehead on his with a grin. He swallowed. "Will you at least tell me what it is I...what WE, are supposed to do?"
"Sorry." She grinned mischeviously.
"Well, what if I do...this!?"
"Stop! Stop tickling me!" She shrieked with laughter as his fingers probed her torso, stimulating her nervous system until tears rolled down her cheeks. Finally, he let up, and she pounded her fists on his chest. "That was mean."
"Sorry. Going to tell me now?"
"Nope." Her eyes sparkled. "Azteca's orders. We're feeding you information on a need to know basis. That way you won't get frightened of what you have to do."
"Is it dangerous?"
"When you finally know what you have to do, you'll be ready. In the meantime, you're not, so don't worry about it."
"Hmm. Asina, who is Azteca?"
"You'll find out eventually. Now go, you have work to do. The angry sea needs calming."
"The angry sea?"
"You'll find out. Go to the ocean, and you'll figure it out. I have faith in you."
"Yes. Give love. Give it to everyone who needs it. Fill their hearts like you fill mine."
"It's you who fill my heart, dear Asina." He pulled her into a tight hug, nuzzling her hair fondly. "You fill all our hearts."
She gently pushed him away, and stared into his eyes. "I will always look out for you." Nothing more needed to be said. He left.
On his way out, he suddenly heard a plaintive cry. "Help me." He turned towards the direction the call had come from. Then he realized the call was psychic. He tentatively moved towards it, Sword of Water at the ready, freezing bridges as he advanced. The summoner turned out to be a dolphin, lying on it's side, a hideous gash oozing pus along it's length. "I'm in such pain..." the creature moaned, and squeaked it's distress in audible accompaniment. Kneeling before the creature, Gebrel reached into his backpack, fashioned out of what had once been Kitten's sack, and withdrew herbs to deaden the pain. Placing his hands on the numbed wound, he used Recovery to remove the infection, then Refresh to close the wound. Soon, the dolphin was healed.
The creature swam backwards, then rose up on it's tail, rising up a full eight feet above the water. "Thank you," it effused, "because of your kindness, I can now return to the sea."
"A good friend told me to give love to anyone who needed it." Gebrel smiled and waved.
"Your friend is wise. Listen." The dolphin issued a series of whistles. "Play that song for me, and I will come when you call." It flipped up into the air, dove beneath the waves, then swam off.
Gebrel made his way out of the palace, stopping for a quick sandwich in the kitchen. Geline politely crafted tuna filling between bread for him, prompting a surprised arch of the eyebrows. "Sorry about before," she said, setting the sandwich before him with a little smile. "Evans has taught me better manners since then..." The smile became loving, as she glanced at the gentleman, coming with his fellow guards for lunch. Before serving, she insisted on a long kiss from Evans, who enthusiastically returned it. Gebrel smiled and congratulated them both. Then he left to seek passage on a boat. He sought out the boatmaster in the harbor.
The boatmaster refused to give him a ship.
The boatmaster stood firm.
Gebrel mentioned Akahana's name.
The boatmaster began to tremble, and a bead of sweat stood out on his forehead. But he shook his head. So Gebrel made firm on his threat, and went to see Akahana.
He was admitted to Akahana's home immediately, and was escorted into his offices just as a man came stumbling out, his eyes dead and empty and his face contorted with loss. "What's with him?" asked Gebrel, jerking his thumb at the man as he came in.
Akahana shrugged, as he shuffled some papers. "He is...was, a competitor. Sit down, tell me what's up." Gebrel explained. "Well, I've got good news. It just so happens that the Queen discussed you with me. I don't know what it is you're supposed to do, but I'm supposed to give you help."
"What kind of help?"
"Any kind." Akahana held up a ring, with an intricately worked symbol on it's surface. "This is my personal seal. You show it to any one of my managers in any city, and you'll have funds, provisions, anything you want." Gebrel reached for it, then drew back as Akahana closed his fist over it. "But first, I'd like to ask for one more favor." He handed Gebrel a document. "This is a trade treaty with Amazone. I keep offering it, but they keep refusing to allow any agents in their city, male or female. And their natives won't be recruited. I need to bargain directly with their Queen, and I need a gift to give her."
"What sort of gift?" And so it was that Gebrel made yet another quest, this time to the caves across the river. Throughout the complex network of tunnels, he quested. Then, after several days, he teleported back to Portoa. Then he quested again, this time, to a second network of caves to the south of the first. Finally, after harrowing battles with hideous mutants, and gaining much hard won experience in shifting weapons, using the Sword of Wind for enemies with heavy armor or who were easy prey for vacuum blasts, that of Fire for faster, nimbler enemies or who were vulnerable to flames, and that of Water for foes whose thick armor required piercing instead of hacking or who could not handle the cold, after all of this, he reached a small valley, nestled between mountains. He avoided the giant polinating insects that dwelt there and teleported back to Akahana, with several living samples of the Kirisa plant, a virtually unknown plant vital for making exotic and expensive perfumes of the highest caliber.
And so it was that after a quick nap and a bath, Gebrel was on a boat, headed down to the sea. He paddled along, using his oar to make his way down, until finally he reached the lighthouse that overlooked the angry sea. Dragging his boat onto the beach, he gazed out at the sea thoughtfully. Then he went inside the lighthouse for a quick chat with the guards, on watch for Draygonian attacks.
The lighthouse was comfortable, in a spartan, military manner, and the guards were more than happy to share a cup of hot tea with Gebrel. "You're a lot more pleasant than our other guest," the captain on watch said, as he jerked his head towards a man who sat in lotus position, his eyes shut with concentration, his muscular arms folded in frustration. Gebrel looked at him, then went over to introduce himself.
"I know who you are, Gebrel," the man snapped, opening his eyes. Gebrel gaped. The man's eyes were pools of light, neither pupil, iris, nor even cornea visible beneath the gleam of raw power that coursed through him, escaping from his eyes in a display of pure radiance. "All the wise men know."
"Who are you?" Gebrel asked, kneeling down to the wise man's level respectfully.
"Kensu. Now shut up. I've lost something and I'm all mixed up!" Gebrel blinked.
"Aren't you supposed to help me-"
"I said shut up, you little punk!" Kensu snapped, his eyes flashing brighter. "I'll help you when I'm good and ready, dammit! Now get the hell out of here, and calm the raging sea like you're supposed to be doing!" Gebrel stared at him a moment, then his eyes narrowed.
"You're quite rude."
"Yeah, well, you're ugly, so we're even." Kensu disappeared, teleporting away.
"Good riddance," sighed the captain.
They discussed the sea for a few hours, and Gebrel learned about the dangers, about the mutant pirates that dwelt in the ocean, the monstrous creatures that preyed on small boats, the fierce currents and maelstroms. Gebrel quickly came to realize that one man in a boat would be easy prey, particularly when that man's sword hand was busy with an oar. After a while, he decided to get some expert advice. Walking down to the beach, he pulled out his flute. Taking a deep breath, he began to play, repeating his whistling call over and over, until the dolphin appeared. Quickly, he outlined his dilemna, and the dolphin had a ready solution. "Please hop on my back. I'll take you wherever you like." The dolphin coasted into a waiting position.
Gebrel swam out into the surf, then hooked one leg over the dolphin's back, behind it's dorsal fin. Holding the Sword of Fire aloft, he pointed towards the horizon and shouted out, "to the nearest place of humans! To the nearest inhabited place!" Then he knew the surge of power of a rider, the feeling of having a machine or creature at your command, of fast travel without effort, as the dolphin coursed through the water, it's body contorting in powerful strokes, it's entire torso composed of heavy muscle to power it's tail fin and propel it with power unmatched by any mere human swimmer. As they traveled, Gebrel used his sword upon the giant mollusks that tried to devour them, and the mutant pirates, less savory examples of Rage's species, whose tridents were no help against the fiery blasts.
Eventually, they reached Joel Island, whose inhabitants made a living through fishing and trading with ships that passed through. Gebrel bade the dolphin a temporary farewell, then went in to speak with the inhabitants. The people were olive skinned, wore charmingly little, and were surprisingly hostile, until assured that he was not sent from the next island over. "An evil witch appeared there, and enslaved all the people," the elder explained, as he rubbed a singed spot from their brief confrontation. "She even demanded a maiden sacrifice if we wished safety to our island. A girl from Portoa volunteered though..." the elder sighed. "She's monster prey by now."
"Maybe I can still save her," Gebrel said, as he healed a small cut on his cheek. "Can you describe her?"
"She had this astonishing shade of blue hair, and her name was... oh yeah! Mesiah-" the elder trailed off as Gebrel leapt to his feet, and ran to the coast. Mounting his dolphin friend, they swam at top speed for the next island.
The next island, as it turned out, was entered through a sea cave, which swiftly ran to rocky shoals. Gebrel bade the dolphin farewell, and continued on foot. Through the network of tunnels created by the surf and underwater streams of fresh water, he strode. He battled with the local creatures, nastier, tougher versions of the coutl, and the mobile fungoids. Finally, he reached the village proper, and sighed with relief. Then he groaned in horror. The village itself was in ruins. The buildings were crumbling ruins, and the ground was littered with gravestones. Gebrel grimaced, then heard motion. He called out, "Show yourself! Friend or foe?"
The response, though verbal, was hardly comprehensible, an eerie moan. A figure stepped forth, shambling aimlessly, it's clothing hanging in tattered rags, it's face vacant eyed and dull. It stepped past Gebrel without so much as acknowledging his existence, an empty shell of what had been a human being. Gebrel stared at the wretch and swallowed hard, his eyes displaying his pity for the zombie.
"Psst. Over here." Gebrel turned at the call, then entered the ruined house, Sword of Wind at the ready. Turning the corner, he found an older redheaded man, who held his finger to his lips to quell any noise. "I'm Clark," he whispered. "I came from Joel Island to check this place out. A woman sorcerer is here..." he paused as a zombie shuffled by outside. "She came from Draygonia and turned all the people here into zombies."
"Did you see a girl with dark blue hair come by?" Gebrel asked. Clark nodded.
"She went into the fort that the witch Sabera had constructed, along with some of the soldiers, just an hour ago."
"Then there's still time. I have to help her." Gebrel turned to leave, then stopped as Clark grabbed his arm.
"Sabera is very clever," Clark warned, "Be careful." Gebrel nodded, then left.
The fort was made of local stone, mostly sedimentary rock made of the shells of long dead mollusks, very well built. It's immediate interior as well as the exterior was festooned with statues of gargoyles and winged monsters, lending a particularly terrible aspect to the place. Gebrel moved along cautiously, alert to the first sign of trouble. This came in the form of two Draygonian soldiers in their heavy armor, marching along in a properly martial manner, skidding to a halt at the sight of the pink haired warrior. Gebrel immediately responded, sending forth a wave of paralysis, knocking both men to the floor with minds stunned into unconsciousness. Then he held his sword over them both, preparing to finish them. Then he paused, reflecting.
I don't feel the joy anymore, he thought. The joy and lust that had filled at the sight of the two men had ebbed upon their neutralization as a threat. I don't want to kill them. It's not the bloodshed that excites me.
What is it?
I saw the two foes. Two who would challenge me. Test my abilities. It was never the killing that I enjoyed, Gebrel realized with dawning realization and happiness, It wasn't even the rightousness of the cause that was of prime signifigance. It was the thrill of battle, plain and simple. The clashing of bone and sinew, the test to see who is the strongest, feeling alive by facing death head on. Gebrel laughed out loud, and saluted the supine forms of the two soldiers, before moving on, his teeth bared in a ferocious grin of delight. He rounded the next corner and entered a well appointed room, paved with glazed tiles and filled with assorted bookshelves and trinkets. A figure turned at his approach, and it's proboscis uncoiled at the sight of him. "And just what are you smiling about?" asked the vampire, in it's tinny voice.
"Because I finally understand the true thrill of combat," Gebrel responded gaily. "Because I finally understand the warrior's path." The vampire cocked it's head, then it's proboscis recoiled in an insectoid grin of it's own.
"So you do," it chuckled, then bowed before him. Gebrel saluted him in turn. "Come then, fellow warrior. Let us dance in mortal combat."
"Let us see which of us is the strongest, who is the best."
"And no matter which of us wins, let us part as friends, blood brothers by shed blood!"
"YES!" And the two of them lunged forward, their hearts racing with excitement, fear, and fierce joy in the contest. Gebrel wove a deadly net of steel with the Sword of Wind, brutal combinations of strikes lashing out at the vampire, as it responded with lashes of it's claws, it's robes shredding beneath the blade as Gebrel's face and arms were scored open by the ivory nails. Gebrel leaped back to safety and healed his wounds, the vampire opened it's robes-and a pair of bats, tamed pets nestled within belt pouches, flew forth to attack. Gebrel slashed once, hacked twice, and the bats were no more. He leaped up, twisting through the air in a flip, and came down hard, his blade moving with the momentum of his fall to slice with devastating impact. The vampire twisted back, but not fast enough, and it's carapace was sheared open, fluids beginning to pour through the shattered exoskeleton. The vampire slowly sank back, holding up it's claws in submission.
"Well fought, friend. Your name?"
"Kpntck. I have heard of you. You fulfill your reputations well... If you seek Mesiah... go...that..." Kpntck died before it could finish speaking, but not before it could wave a hand toward the staircase at the far side of the room. Gebrel nodded to the corpse, then cleaned his blade and saluted, before moving on.
Through the next level of the fortress he strode, an area of dim shadows and creatures that concealed themselves within them. Gebrel ignored the lurking things, and moved on, to the next level, and the stairs to the room at the top of the fortress. There, he found Mesiah.
She turned, her face lighting up with a smile. "Gebrel! I'm so glad you're finally here! There is a sorceress in the back chamber. She's been holding me captive..." Mesiah trailed off as Gebrel looked at her strangely. The compulsion continued to pull at him, leading him elsewhere, not to the girl in front of him. Casually, he brushed her mind with his own. Then he drew the Sword of Fire, and advanced on her menacingly.
"What are you doing? STOP!" The girl cried out commandingly, then took a hasty step backwards. Gebrel wavered a moment as her command washed over him, then continued his grim advance.
"You are not Mesiah."
"You are mistaken," the girl stammered, backing away hastily. "Please STOP!" Again she tried to command him. Realizing the word for a magical spell of compulsion, Gebrel lashed out with the curved blade.
"Yaaaaah!" The girl flew backwards to avoid the blade, shedding her disguise like water from a raincoat as she did so. Gebrel's eyes widened at the sight of her. She was an older woman, face seamed with the beginnings of wrinkles, though her hair was still black as night. An amulet like that worn by vampires hung about her neck, and her body was drapped in loose robes, hinting at a stout, yet physically fit form.
The witch eyed Gebrel through hooded eyes, her expression that of a woman debating whether to eat a questionable dish or throw it away. Then she smiled. "Excellent! You're even strong enough to best my illusions. I will enjoy destroying you!"
"Famous last words," Gebrel smiled, or bared his teeth, at any rate.
"I am Sabera, one of Draygonia's finest four! This will be your doom!" And she began to hurl forth pulsating blasts of energy, hurling them at Gebrel. He leapt to avoid the blasts, then charged up the blade. He jumped again, and again, avoiding the blasts as he charged the Sword and Bracelet.
"What are you waiting for?" Sabera mocked, "Attack me!"
"Whatever the lady requests," Gebrel retorted, and unleashed the full fury of the Sword of Fire. Sabera screamed as the explosion erupted, the air shimmering with the intense heat as the very tiles of the floor began to burn from the heat of the blast. Sabera held up her hands and threw up a shield of mental energy, protecting herself. Then she screamed again as her shields failed, and the last ebbs of the dying flames licked at her again, searing her already scorched flesh. She fell to the ground in a blackened, unconscious heap.
Gebrel saluted her with his blade, then sheathed it. He turned inward, looking for the compulsion to guide him. He moved to the wall, felt about for a secret door, and entered the secret room. There, he found Mesiah. Her face was partially covered by her purple hair, a slight bruise on one cheek. Her clothing was slightly disheveled, but untorn. Her arms were bound behind her, her legs tied at the ankles. Gebrel had never seen anything so beautiful. His fantasy, before him in the flesh. "Mesiah," he murmured. She jerked her head up.
"Gebrel?" She asked in a small voice. Gebrel rushed to her side, knelt before her. With fumbling hands, he unbound her. They found themselves facing each other, on their knees, staring into each others eyes. He stared into his fantasy woman's green eyes. "Gebrel..." Mesiah said, swallowing hard to lubricate her dry throat.
"Mesiah," Gebrel murmured, as he slowly bent forward, his lips parting.
"Gebrel..." Mesiah softly asked, as he drew nearer.
"Yes?" he replied, his lips only inches from hers.
"What are you doing?"
Fantasy met reality-and shattered into a million bits. Gebrel suddenly jerked back. "I... uh, um..."
Mesiah drew back, arching one eyebrow. "What was that? What did you think you were doing?" She ran her eyes up and down his form critically, as she stood. "What did you think-I was going to just fall into your arms?"
A man in emotional and mental turmoil is not the best conversationalist. "Well... yes!" Mesiah paled and her eyes widened. Gebrel began to stammer. "Wha-what I mean, is... well, all those other women kept throwing themselves at me..." He had never seen green eyes actually GLOW before. "And we both were in cryochambers and we both have powers and you're so pretty please don't hurt me." He stared up at her from his knees.
"You... you... jerk! I can't BELIEVE we've got to rely on a macho chauvanist PIG like you! I... I... augh!" She stomped her foot in utter frustration. "I've got to put some distance between us before I do something I MIGHT regret!"
"Allow me, dearie!" They both turned in shock, to see Sabera-or what was left of her-leaning against the frame of the secret door for support. Her robes were in tatters from the flames, revealing skin covered in ashes and blistered in spots. Her face was similarly blackened, not from ash but from skin turned to chair. Her hair was gone, only a black stubble remaining. Before either hero could react, the witch lunged at Mesiah, grabbing her in an iron grip. She twisted Mesiah into a brutal arm lock hold, and the girl winced in pain. Sabera raged in a voice hoarse with pain and anger, "you may have won this battle... but Mesiah is still mine!"
"Nooooo!" Mesiah and Gebrel screamed in unison. Gebrel drew a sword, but the witch kept her hostage between them as a human shield. "I'll see you in Goa, our main fortress! Ha! Ha! Ha!" Her laughter faded away as she teleported beyond Gebrel's reach.
"Damn you, Sabera," Gebrel muttered. "Don't worry, Mesiah!" He called out to the air. "I'm coming for you! I'll save you no matter what it takes! Even if you do hate me," he added in a much quieter voice.
Gebrel made his way through the fortress, alert for remaining trouble. With the disappearance of the witch, however, the Draygonian soldiers had fled out the back entrance, a well constructed harbor holding battleships, which they had commandeered and sailed back to Draygonia. He exited the fortess, to find a piece of good news- the zombies had recovered. Clark was moving among them, handing out the clothes and food that he had pilfered and secreted beforehand against the possibility of their recovery. They all greeted their savior with loud cheers and words of praise. "I need to calm the angry sea so I can reach Draygonia without using a large battleship to pass the tides," Gebrel said, talking with Clark and the elder of the village. "Can you help?"
"A legend says that the Statue of Gold within an altar to the northwest keeps the sea calm," said the elder. "But the Draygonians pilfered it, then defiled it." Looking through the fortress, the villagers found and gave to Gebrel the defaced broken statue, a small figure of gold, bent and mishapen.
"I have something that may fix the statue, back on Joel island," said Clark. Gebrel nodded.
"Take my hand." And Gebrel teleported them both to Clark's hometown.
"Woa!" Clark dropped Gebrel's hand and backed away hastily. "Woa...that was...intense. That's a pretty useful trick. Let me say hello to my family, then I'll show you to the lighthouse."
After an intensely joyous reunion and impromptu celebration at the good news of Sabera's defeat, Clark proved good as his word, showing Gebrel the secret tunnel to the lighthouse. There, they found a man sleeping on the floor, sprawled out flat with no sense of decorum. Clark began to shake the man, trying to wake him up, but the man refused to waken. Gebrel watched this a moment, then pulled out Kitten's flute, and put it to his lips. Playing softly, he built up into a high pitched trill, a morning reveille tune that sent thrills up and down Clark's spine and made the man leap up into the air. Coming down, the figure opened his glowing eyes and glared at Gebrel.
"Who are you? I was happily sleeping!" Then his eyes focused. "Oh, it's you. A person like you should be eaten by zombies!"
"What were you doing here?"
"Trying to find something important." Kensu began to fade away, his mutters trailing behind him. "Maybe in the channel behind the palace... oh, what a mess!"
Gebrel returned with Clark to the village, where they enjoyed a fine feast of fresh fish and fruit. "A new harbor for our neighbors, you say?" asked the elder. "That's good news. It'll mean more trade in this region."
"I'll be going back there to help rebuild," said Clark. Several of the villagers immediately offered to join him, while others promised to send gifts to aid in the effort. Gebrel nodded, and took another sip of the local wine, made out of bananas, a sweet and mild tasting drink that warmed his insides as the bonfire that they surrounded warmed his outside. He took another sip...
The next morning, Gebrel woke up, to find that once again, a young maiden had taken advantage of him. With the expression of a man who has been robbed, and with a throbbing headache from the wine, he dressed and went to see Clark. The red headed man had spent much of the night with a lantern and tools, carefully reforming the defaced statue of gold, and handed the reformed statue to Gebrel with a satisfied smile. Gebrel thanked him, joined him for a hearty breakfast with plenty of fruit juice to ease the dehydration that was the cause of a hangover, then, with a couple of fish in a pouch, he left the village, pausing to give the maiden a kiss goodbye, barely remembering her name in time to say, "thank you, Islena." He strode off to the beach, muttering to himself, "I can't be THAT good looking... maybe it's the boots... what IS it with these women... and why doesn't Mesiah feel the same way?" He summoned the dolphin, tossed him the fish, and they set off.
After a short time of travel, they found the shrine, on a lovely little island, barely big enough for the one building, formed of coral rock. Gebrel left the dolphin, and climbed onto the island, careful not to touch any part of the rock with his bare skin, knowing from his internal database how sharp coral could be. He found the alcove where the statue belonged, and gently placed it in it's proper position.
"Thank you, brave landcrawler." Gebrel whirled, to see one of the merfolk resting on the shore, several others swimming in the sea. "You have returned what is ours, what was taken in greed and hatred. We thank you. Let your people know that the Sea's rage is calmed. We will hunt your kind no more." And with that, the merman flipped about, dove into the sea, and disappeared, accompanied by his followers.
Gebrel contacted Asina telepathically. Asina, I've calmed the sea. The merfolk will no longer hunt humans.
Well done, Gebrel. But you still have more to do. Speak with Kensu.
Kensu won't talk to me. He's looking for something he lost.
Oh...I think I know what it is. Come back to the channel in the palace.
They swam on, Gebrel and the dolphin, until they came to the back entrance to the palace through which the dolphin had entered. Sailing up to the beach, Gebrel dismounted, and embraced Asina fondly. "Here," Asina said, pressing a lovely heart shaped pendant into his hands, "take this to Kensu. You'll find him in the town of Swan, on the other continent."
"This is what he lost?" Gebrel's forehead furrowed.
"This is a gift I gave to someone I'll never forget." Asina smiled. "Now hold on, while I teach you the magic of Barrier. It's a very powerful ability, but you've grown more than powerful enough to master it." And again, Gebrel lost himself in her mind and soul, emerging with a new ability. Afterward, they stood there, holding each other, before Asina finally spoke. "You have to go now. We wise men will leave for Shyron, our secret stronghold in Mt. Hydra. Azteca, the Grand Puba, knows your role, and will tell you what you need to know..." she paused, as she felt the call to him, joined with Gebrel as she was. "Mesiah is calling you..."
Mesiah! Gebrel returned, overjoyed that she was still alive, and equally happy that they were once again on speaking- well, thinking- terms. Are you all right?
They haven't hurt me yet. The emperor wants me for something. I don't know what. But it seems there's only one woman he actually lusts for. I'm safe on that accord.
I know, Gebrel sent her a mental smile. Her name's Asina, and she's here right now. I'm glad to know your safe, he added, becoming more serious.
More or less, anyway, she replied.
I'm... sorry, about what happened before. I guess I wanted you to be something you're not.
I don't mind your being attracted to me, Gebrel. It was just the presumption, that I was just going to fall into your arms. Well, at least you're dependable, when it comes to the usual hero stuff, she added wryly. Fighting bad guys, saving maidens...
Hang on, Mesiah. I'll come for you. Just stay alive, no matter what it takes!
Mesiah's mental smile was like a blast of sunshine. Thank you...
Asina brought his attention back to her with a caress of his cheek. "It seems something has happened I can't ignore. I'll wait for you in Shyron." She smiled and kissed his cheek. Gebrel nodded, bowed before her in a playful mockery of his salute to the Queen, and left.
"That was a very beautiful person," the dolphin said.
"Yes," Gebrel replied. "She is."
The dolphin swam all night, and much of the next morning, before reaching the far continent. There, he left the exhausted creature, rubbing it's head in fond farewell, before climbing up the beach to the port town of Swan.
Swan was a fairly large town, though nowhere nearly as large as Portoa. Filled with shops, taverns, and places of entertainment, it nevertheless had a somber mood, as if everyone's spirits were dampened. The architecture was mostly wooden structures, with glazed pottery used to provide roofing and other trimmings. Gebrel looked around, found a sign hanging above a door, and went in.
Inside, an older man sat behind a desk, scribbling away furiously at a set of reports. "Excuse me, is this one of Akahana's offices?" asked Gebrel.
"Who wants to know?" The man muttered, continuing to write at his desk. Gebrel reached into his pouch and removed Akahana's seal. The man glanced casually at the seal, then glanced again. Then he sat up rigind, his jaw dropping. "My... my... my lord," he stammered.
"Just call me Gebrel," he said with a smile.
"Oh! I've heard of you. How can I help?"
"I need information, provisions, and equipment." He patted his pouch, which was beginning to show holes in the leather from the strain of travel, and the salt water of the sea, then patted his armor, pink skin showing through the gouges where blades and claws had penetrated. The man nodded, and rang a bell. Several men appeared immediately. Then the manager began giving orders. Measurements were taken of Gebrel's body, and one man ran off to an armorer. Drinks were furnished. Two comfortable chairs were provided. And Gebrel sat in one of them, sipping at the fresh juice, while the manager sat across from him and answered his queries.
"Have you seen a man named Kensu?" Gebrel asked.
"He's here somewhere, I'm sure," the manager said. "He has something of a reputation here, among the taverns and dance clubs."
"No." Gebrel decided to let that one lay.
"So what's Draygonia up to?"
"They've been concentrating on trying to find Shyron, and eliminate the resistance. They've shifted most of their efforts to the area around Goa, ever since their aquatic campaign collapsed with the loss of their naval base."
"Goa." Gebrel muttered the word. "Mesiah. Have you heard anything about a purple haired girl?"
"Is she cute?"
"And spoken for... well, sort of. Sabera kidnapped her."
"I don't know, but I'd guess your woman's in their stronghold, with the other detainees."
"You mean prisoners."
"Not according to Draygonia. They're just there so the Emperor can have a little talk with them. The detainment is TOTALLY voluntary, of course."
The armorers returned with a new suit of armor, tailored to specifications. As one man helped Gebrel into the undertunic and buckled the straps, another extolled the salient features. "That undertunic is good cotton, very strong cloth, very comfortable. The plate is Draygonia's latest creation, a composite of metals and ceramics, the kind of stuff pots are made from. That makes the armor practically proof against fire, and very strong against penetrations, while being very light for the protection it affords." He thwacked the chestplate with his knuckles, and it made a hollow thumping noise. "And here," he added, displaying an impressive shield, of oblong shape, and rather massive. "This shield is an alloy of the strongest, densest metals to be found in any mine, far heavier than even iron. It's practically impervious to anything that cuts, breaks, or bashes. Kelbesque's armor is made of this stuff. Only he's strong enough to wear this from head to toe."
"That explains a few things from our encounter," Gebrel sniffed, as he tested the heft of the shield. "Thank you."
"Gebrel, sir?" another aide asked tentatively, peering into the room. "A visitor is asking for you."
Gebrel turned and looked at te manager. "Send him in," the manager nodded.
Stom came in and bowed to the manager, then to Gebrel, before Gebrel swept him up in a fierce hug. "It's great to see you again, Stom!" Gebrel cried. "How have you been?"
"Not bad. I haven't seen you for a while, Gebrel." Stom grinned and squeezed him in return. He cleared his throat. "I came to give you a message, Gebrel. Please find Kensu and bring him to Shyron. We need his power."
"All right," Gebrel replied. "I'm sure he's here somewhere."
"We're counting on you!" Stom gripped Gebrel once more in farewell, then teleported away.
Gebrel nodded to the manager. "Please have those provisions ready by the time I get back, sir." He left, puzzling over the possible wherabouts of Kensu. So he decided to go to the local tavern.
The tavern had been taken over by the Draygonian soldiery. "Look here, fellas!" cried one of them as soon as he'd entered. "It's a civilian."
"What's a civilian doing with a sword? Going to slay some dragons, boy?"
"Why don't we teach this pup a thing or two about real swordplay?"
A massacre wouldn't be advisable here in town, Gebrel thought to himself. So... blasts of psychic energy flew forth. And one by one, the soldiers quietly dropped off to slumberland. Until finally one was left. Gebrel zapped him, felt his attack rebound off a powerful mind. "Shoot!" cried the soldier, and shimmered. Kensu appeared momentarily, then faded out of sight.
That worked pretty well, thought Gebrel. Let's try it again. He found Kensu's favorite dance hall, and immediately froze the only male in sight. Then he was momentarily perturbed, finding said male to be an ordinary dancer. So he began zapping the women, as well. And soon enough... "shoot!" The pretty girl shimmered, became the powerful wise man once again. "I hate people who are pushy," he glowered.
"I've been sent to bring you to Shyron. And to learn a new technique from you." Gebrel stood firm in the face of Kensu's wrath.
Kensu sniffed. "And why would I want to have anything to do with a punk like you?"
"Because I have something for you." And Gebrel handed over the pendant. Kensu's glowing eyes widened, then the light began to shimmer through the refractions of tears. He took the pendant with trembling hands.
"This... was given to me by Asina, as proof of her belief in me." He swallowed.
"You love her too." Gebrel cocked his head, a small smile playing with his mouth.
"Everyone loves her." He grinned suddenly. "But there's only one man whom she loves... in the physical sense, shall we say, as well."
"You?" Gebrel blurted his astonishment.
"I was pretty shocked myself. She was my first... that I didn't have to pay for." Kensu's eyes shone brighter. "She's wonderful, the most wonderful person in the world." He stared off into space for a while. "As I promised long ago, I'll teach you the magic of Change. Join minds with me."
Kensu's mind was intensely powerful, extremely fast, and given to chaotic function, the mind of an eccentric genius. Gebrel merged his mind with the wise man and emerged with a new ability. Kensu swallowed thickly once the merger had ended. "Now I must attend to other things. Go to Mt. Hydra. I'll be there soon enough. And be with Asina soon enough." He smiled, and fastened the locket around his neck. "Maybe this time it'll stay put..." He shimmered away.
Five minutes later, a soldier appeared at the gates of Swan. He briskly saluted the Officer of the day, and was waved through without question. As soon as he'd made it out of sight, he shimmered, and became Gebrel once more. He smiled, having made it one step closer to Mesiah, and his destiny. He called out to Mesiah, with his mind, and caught her.
Gebrel! What's wrong?
Nothing... I just... wanted to see if you were all right...
Oh... Oh! A mental gasp, as Mesiah caught a trace of Gebrel's true emotions. Oh... I'm fine...
Mesiah, I just left Swan, and I'm headed for Mt. Hydra. Where are you?
I'm a guest in the Emperor's palace. I'm being treated well enough, but I'll be glad when you come to rescue me.
I can come right now...
No, that's all right... Mesiah turned pensive. Gebrel?
Will you keep calling me like this? I'm a little lonely.
I'll call you every day at sundown, and his happiness shone through like a sun. Mesiah's own mind gave off waves of happiness, and a feeling of coyness, delight in the attentions of an attractive man.
All right. I'll look forward to hearing from you.
Gebrel ended their contact with a joyous feeling. I'm in love, he thought to himself. And she likes me too! And Asina has someone to love! And even that jerk Kensu is in love! "Love!" he shouted out, happy with the world. Soon enough, he'd be going to Mt. Hydra, to take part in the resistance movement, and engage in violence, fear, and pain.
But for now, all was well.