Fantasy Story (Forgotten Realms, Cloakwood)

What Lurks in the CloakwoodByL.J. Katz            “Because young boys like you need tolearn to find their way in the deep wood, that’s why,” Allard said, scarcelylooking over his shoulder at the child.  The
thin boy, whose head barely came up to the ranger’s waist, was glaring at him
with his ice-blue eyes, that burned beneath a mop of wavy raven-black hair,
which fell freely to his shoulders. 
Eliadur was probably wishing he could turn Allard Drakenfire into a
common fly, so he could crush him.  Good
thing he was still a novice-level apprentice, with the impetuousness of youth; he’d
obviously picked up certain habits from his wellborn father, notably aloofness.  The boy shuffled his expensive, brown-leather
traveling boots through the leaves, and dragged the quarterstaff in the dirt
instead of using it as a walking stick.            Eliadur Jistar Lambert Henryk CelelînSilverpoole was the third child of Earl Silverpoole of Waterdeep, apprenticed
to Kalrond Oakenstaff of the Watchful Order of Wizards since he was barely six
summers old.   By the time a mage’s apprentice was twelve, he
was expected to know a handful of cantrips and at least one real spell of low
rank.  He was also expected to know the
runes that made up two alphabets and how to properly form his letters, how to
properly pronounce Old High Wyrm, and how to find common spell components in
the wild.  His education most certainly
did not include tracking animals through a forest, identifying poisonous
plants, finding his way by the stars, hunting, or fishing—at least, not until
today.            “Goodman Allard, when I agreed toaccompany Master Kalrond to Candlekeep to help with his research, traipsing
through a gloomy forest and warding off mosquitoes was never mentioned,” the
boy protested in his noble accent.  “I
should’ve known we weren’t going to fetch some firewood after the first hour of
walking.”            “Your master agreed to this,” Allardreplied, careful to avoid snapping any twigs. 
“The old wizard felt that it wouldn’t hurt you to learn some survival skills
from me.”            “I could’ve just read a book,”Eliadur protested.  He heard birdsong
from a tall, thick pine tree off to his right, and glanced in that
direction.              “Some things, my lad, you cannotlearn from books,” the ranger proudly told him. 
“You’ve spent far too many years indoors with musty old tomes covered
with centuries of dust.  You need a
normal childhood, out of doors with fresh air and exercise.  At least you’ve some color in your face.  When we started this journey a two tendays
agone, you were so pale I thought you were a Halfling-sized vampire.”            Eliadur stared at him for a moment,thinking.  “Have you been talking to my
Allard smiled and rubbed his goatee.  “What makes you say that?”“She says the same thing,” the boyexplained.  “The last time I saw her,
about a moon agone.  My brothers Marikus
and Jaime have deep tanned skin, from practicing at swordplay all day long in
the courtyard.  They’re in training to be
knights.”            “This I know,” Allard told him.  Lord Silverpoole intended to establish anorder of Knighthood for Waterdeep, and had deliberately hired an old Cormyr
knight to train them. “They were also concerned that their little brother was
spending too much time with his books, and would be helpless on a dungeon
crawl.”            A mischievous expression claimedEliadur’s face.  He cleared his mind,
felt the magic burn within him, warm his being, and tingle in his blood.  Spellcasting was a rush that always made him
feel like the free wind during a hurricane. 
He pointed with his right index finger, spoke a word of power, and a single
bolt of red-orange flame shot forward. 
The firebolt struck a particularly dry husk of a dead bush, and the
whole thing immediately burst into roaring flames.            Allard instinctively drew his bladeand whirled about in a single motion, only to see the small boy giggling at
him.            “Yeah, I’d be real helpless on anadventure with my brothers,” Eliadur told him, the giggles building when he saw
the look of shock on the ranger’s face.            “Ha. Ha. Ha,” Allard told him.  He regarded the five-foot long staff of woodin the boy’s hand.  “You actually know
how to use that thing?  Besides leaving a
trail of where we went through the forest.”            Eliadur frowned at him.  After a moment, he pulled the quarterstaffinto both hands, and took up a defensive posture.  The wood was reinforced with an arcane spell
to be as hard as a steel rod, so Allard had no trouble using his sword against
it.  The ranger walked up to the boy, and
made a clumsy swing at him.  Eliadur
parried the attack easily, then swung the quarterstaff around at the ranger’s
head.  Allard blocked the attack, and
took a step back.            Eliadur began a swing toward hisright shoulder, then withdrew the feint, and quickly knocked the ranger’s legs
out from under him.  The man fell to the
earth in a heap, and dropped his sword. 
He looked up at the boy, who stood over him, quarterstaff at the ready.            “Good.  You’ve been trained.”            “My brothers sometimes spar withme,” Eliadur said.  “When we see each
other.”            “Can you use those, too?” Allardasked, pointing to the sheathed dagger and quiver of crossbow bolts at his
belt; Eliadur’s light crossbow was tied to the outside of his backpack.  The boy nodded.              “We’ll spar some more later.  Right now, I want to see if yer payingattention.  What direction are you facing
right now?”            Eliadur looked up at him with ablank expression on his face for a breath, then realized what he was
asking.  He looked up at the darkening
evening sky, noted the position of the sun and what few stars were out, and
then replied, “South.  Wait—Southeast.”            Allard nodded.  “Very good. So, Kalrond taught you cardinal directions.  That’ll save me some time.”            “Time for what?”            “To see if you can successfully leadme out of these woods back to our camp,” the ranger replied evenly.  “And before you even go looking in your
spellbook, I know wizards have no incantations for that one.”             Eliadur put his hands on hiships.  “No kidding.  Well, let’s see.  The best thing to do is turn around and make
a straight line out of here.  You made
some turns to the left and right, when we crossed that bubbling stream back
there, but the general direction should be this way.”            Allard smiled at him as the boyturned his back to him and began purposefully marching back the way they’d
come.  They passed a stand of white pine,
a large boulder, and an elm as thick around as a black bear, before Eliadur
came to a stop, put his hands on his hips again, and took a good look
around.  “Something’s not quite
right.  This doesn’t look familiar.”            “Probably because you went the wrongdirection from the knotted elm several paces back,” Allard informed him.  The boy spun around and looked up at him
inquisitively.  The man shrugged.  “Don’t look at me.  You’re the guide here.”            “Guide?” the boy replied.  “I’ve never been in Cloakwood Forest in mylife!  Heck, all I’ve ever seen of this
place is on maps.”            At this, Allard raised a silenteyebrow, and said nothing more.            After a moment, the boy smiled.  “Of course! I’ve got a map in my pack.”  He
shrugged out of the pack, sat down on the forest floor right there, and began
rummaging through it till he found an ivory scrollcase with arcane runes
engraved upon it.  The cap was ivory
inlaid with silver, and required to be twisted open; the magic in the
scrollcase identified his touch and easily opened for him.  Eliadur pulled out a rolled sheath of
parchments, unfurled them, and began carefully looking through them.  The first two sheets contained draconic runes
and symbols in careful notation, obviously two of the spells Kalrond had given
him to study.  The third was a general
map of Faerûn, while the final map showed their general area.  The Cloakwood was marked, but not very
detailed.  It did indicate the location
of a few small streams, and the boy used that and the sound of running water to
make an educated guess as to where they were on his map.  He glanced at the scroll, then at the trees,
and nodded.            “I think I know where we are.  Roughly a mile or so into the woods.  Camp should be that way,” Eliadur said,pointing toward a great elm as tall as some castle towers.              “Lead on,” the ranger murmured, andthe boy repacked the rest of his scrolls before donning his leather backpack
once more, and set off.  They passed a
stand of oaks covered with dark green moss, and Eliadur recalled reading that
moss grew thickest on the north side of trees. 
He briefly stopped to check, realized they were going in the right
direction, and nodded to himself before continuing.  The ranger grinned and asked, “Who taught you
that?”            A ghost of a smile touched thechild’s face as he walked on.            “A long-dead ranger’s adventures ina dusty ol’ tome,” Eliadur replied with just a hint of sarcasm.  “Think his name was Robin-something.  He had a band of men and an animal
companion—Whoa.”            The boy stopped dead in his tracks,his eyes filled with wonder.  About fifty
feet away, floating gracefully in mid-air, were five very large yellow
blossoms.  No stems, no leaves, just the
blossoms, floating about three feet above the ground, tossed about by a soft
breeze.  Obviously magical, and wondrous.            “His name was Ragnar ofIriaebor.  He and his men guarded the
Reaching Woods, brought meat, pelts and other items back to the city for
market—why did you stop?  Oh.  They’re called Aerlon Sunflowers.  Harmless, but pretty.”            Eliadur gently touched one, thenpicked it out of the air, smelled it.  He
smiled.  “Smells wonderful!  They’re not in any of my books.”            “Not everything is,” Allardsaid.  “They were caused by the
spellplague, over a century ago.  Kalrond
teach you about that?”            The boy shot him a youthful look,rolling his eyes.  “Of course!  The spellplague was caused by the murder of
Mystra, which destroyed the Weave.  Arcane
magic didn’t even function for nearly ten years.  Blue fire raged everywhere, altering
everything it touched.  I never read
about it creating anything so beautiful before.”            The ranger stood behind the boy, andput a hand on his shoulder.  “Aye, I suppose
it did occasionally make something beautiful. 
Want to take a few samples?”            Eliadur smiled and nodded.  He carefully packed two yellow blossoms intohis backpack, put it back on, and continued on his way.  The ranger didn’t say anything more, so the
boy mage guessed he was walking in the correct direction.  That’s when all hell broke loose.            Allard grunted, and at first, theboy didn’t pay it much attention.  A
heartbeat later, he heard the adult gurgling, “Get down!  Boy, get down!”            Accustomed to sudden danger duringthe long journey south from Waterdeep, the boy immediately did as he was told,
reaching into his small leather belt pouch for a spell component even as he
dropped to his knees.  He had five
cantrips and one real magic spell prepared, one that required a bit of quartz
crystal as a spell component.  Turning,
what Eliadur saw shocked him: Allard was barely standing, breathing hard, and
had drawn his longsword.  A black-fletched
bolt shaft was sticking out of his left arm, and a growing bloodstain soaked
the cloth.  The experienced ranger was
obviously biting back pain.  Worse, the
boy couldn’t see how the man could possibly hold a longbow and shoot with only
one good arm.            Off to Eliadur’s right, three orcswere sneaking up.  Each was well over six
feet tall and well-muscled.  All wore
filthy rags and mismatched armor, and sweat poured from them.  One was armed with a heavy crossbow, the
other two held rusted short swords.  They
smiled with yellowing teeth that more closely resembled a dog’s fangs.  The leader was busily cranking back his
weapon to reload.            “Run!” Allard hissed, but the boyignored him.  He’d been taught better
than that, never to abandon a member of the party, especially if he was
wounded.  Eliadur calmed his mind, and
concentrated on the crystal in the palm of his small hand.  The crystal began to glow with a soft white
light, then winked in red, yellow, and blue. 
He saw the magic words burning in his mind, felt the familiar tingle of
magic, and pronounced the incantation.            “Janquith/Tolin kiri shirak pektra prism.B’dak, Lellem shirakOhr, krit krittle lume!”  Brilliant, colored lightexploded from the crystal, reflected in the boy’s eyes.  A cone-shaped beam of rainbow light flared from
the quartz in his outstretched hand and shone upon the three onrushing orcs,
who screamed in sudden pain.  With grim
satisfaction, Eliadur suddenly remembered that orcs and goblins were sensitive
to bright light.  He felt the energy fill
him, and get channeled through his body and soul, using the small crystal as a
focus.              Looking up, he saw rainbow light completelysurround the enemy orcs.  They dropped
their weapons, held their clawed green hands to their eyes and screamed.  Eliadur didn’t understand Daraktan, the Orc’slanguage, but he could bet it had something to do with cursing human boys and
magic; in fact, he thought he recognized one or two of the cuss words used by
the sailors on the caravel they’d used to sail from Waterdeep to Baldur’s Gate.              Then, Eliadur felt something hedidn’t recognize, something weird, and very frightening.  Blue fire rose up from the ground, instantly baked
the soil, and set the dry grass aflame. 
The sapphire flames were beautiful, but dangerous; it licked at the
three orcs and they screamed even louder. 
The boy’s jaw fell open, as he recognized what was happening from
history tomes and his master’s teaching.            Spellplague!  There must’ve been a hidden pocket ofuntapped wild magic deep in the earth under the Cloakwood, beneath the roots of
the trees, and his low-rank spell triggered it! 
            Eliadur watched with unbelievingeyes as the eldritch flames slaughtered two of orcs, and swiftly reduced them
to piles of smoldering ashes.  The third,
however, seemed whole, but transformed.  The
orc leader grew three feet or more in height, horny spikes appeared to grow
from his shoulderblades, and his fingernails became long and viciously
sharp.  There appeared a new malevolence
in the orc’s eyes when he looked at the boy, who swallowed.              Behindthe transformed orc, the flames licked up a gnarled ancient elm tree, darkening
the wood and twisting its branches.  As
the young mage watched, the elm became a hangman’s tree, with dark knots for
eyes, and the branches reached out toward the living.  The orc didn’t notice it, intent on the human
child.            “Human boy, munchy and crunchy,” theorc said in broken Common.  Its voice
seemed deeper, and it now more closely resembled an ogre than an orc—though
there wasn’t much difference between the two races to begin with.  “Yummy! 
Crunch n’ munch small boy!”            Eliadur slowly backed away a pace,watching with widening eyes as the limbs of the newly-awakened tree reached out
toward the orc.  Before the brute knew
what was happening, the tree entangled it with branches as strong as steel
rods, and began grappling him.  The orc
made a grunt of dismay, reached for a hand-axe stuck into his belt, and began
hacking away at the branches that entangled him.            The boy, for his part, ran toAllard, who by now had sank to his knees in the thin grass.  His breathing was labored, and there was
recrimination in his brown eyes.  “I told
ye t’ flee, lad!”            “And leave you to the orcs?” Eliadurasked, straining to help the man stand. 
It was obvious the boy was too reed-thin to carry him, but the effort
was sufficient to get him back to his feet. 
“Not a chance!  I’ll not just
abandon you.”            “Foolish child!  The Cloakwood’s infested withspellplague!  Any magic of any real
strength will set it off!”             Eliadur stared up at him in disbelief.  “Then why’d you lead me in here in the firstplace?  You know I’m a mage’s
apprentice!”            Allard stared at him with a painedexpression, not all of it caused by the crossbow bolt sticking in his left
shoulder.  “Cause ye weren’t ‘posed to
spellcast, ye pint-sized, spoilt nob! 
The whole point was to teach ye t’ use new skills!  Round out yer training!”            “That makes about as much sense asteaching me to tie knots like a sailor on the Beagle,” Eliadur shot back.  Onthe sea voyage from Waterdeep, the first mate had tried to teach him to tie
knots a dozen different ways, and like Allard, claimed Kalrond had suggested
it.  He had to have a long talk with the
old man…if he ever lived to see him again, that is!  “Can you walk?”            “Guess I hafta,” the rangersputtered.  “We got to make tracks ere
the orc gets free o’ that spellplagued tree.”            The boy seriously doubted that,seeing the battle between the tree and the orc, but he couldn’t argue that he
too wanted to get as far from here as possible. 
Letting the grown man lean on him, they made their way back into the
thick of the trees.  After several
minutes, Eliadur found they were traveling a barely visible deer path,
surrounded on both sides with oaks, elms, white pine, and maple.  The sun he could tell, was sinking in the
west.  Behind them were the sounds of
battle; he couldn’t tell who was winning, but sincerely hoped it was the
tree.  At least it was rooted, and
couldn’t pursue them into the wood.            He hoped.  Eliadur had read of treants, living creaturesthat resembled mighty trees but could walk as men do.            Eliadur shook his head at the vilethought.  They were in enough trouble
already without scaring himself half to death. 
Should he panic, he might not even be able to concentrate enough to
spellcast, and that would surely be the end of them.  They crossed a small stream where the water
bubbled against the smooth rocks, and the boy only hoped that it was the same
one they’d crossed earlier.  On the
opposite bank, Eli set the man down under a large hiexel tree, and was glad of
it, for he didn’t think he could support the ranger’s weight any longer.              Breathing hard, the boy collapsednext to Allard, took his waterskin from his belt, and pulled two
mouthfuls.  He looked over at the ranger,
saw the blood, and the ashen color of his face. 
He stared at the dart stuck in Allard’s shoulder, and wondered what
could be done about it.  He possessed no
skill as a healer, though of course he knew enough to apply a clean bandage,
and guessed correctly that the dart had to come out.  Somehow.            Eliadur leaned over him, and pressedthe nozzle to his lips.  The man sputtered
and drank, consumed half the leather waterskin. 
His eyes fluttered open, and he cleared his throat before attempting to
speak.  “I told you to leave me.  May well have doomed yourself in the effort.”            “Be still, foolish old man,” thechild told him.  “Don’t even have enough
sense to thank the mage who saved you.”            “Ye didnae save me,” Allard told himwith finality.  His brown eyes went to
the dart.  “’Tis poisoned.  I can feel it burning through my veins.  There’ll be no saving me, lad.”            At this, Eliadur nearly didpanic.  His blue eyes went wide beneath
his raven dark locks. “Nay!  There has to
be something I can do!”            “Ye’ve done enough,” Allard toldhim.  “Ye need to find yer way out of
this wood and back to camp.  Yer
master’ll care for ye, as he always has.”            “I have a healing potion that Ipicked up at an apothecary shoppe, ere we left Waterdeep,” Eliadur began, and
reached into his belt pouch for it, when he suddenly felt the man’s hand on his
arm.              “Nay, save it for yerself, lad.  The potion’s useless…useless ‘gainstpoison.  Need…anti-…toxin.”            Antitoxin?  Eliadur recalled the apothecary had mentionedthat, tried to sell it to him, but the boy had only so much gold, and could
only afford the one vial of healing.  Now,
he wished he’d at least asked to buy it on credit.  His noble father would’ve certainly paid the
debt.  Too late for regrets now.            The boy gave Allard the remainingwater in his skin, and then helped the ranger drain his own, before taking both
empty containers down to the stream to refill them.  When he returned, he found the ranger asleep,
still breathing, though it was labored. 
The lifebeat was thready, but the boy didn’t know that, he was merely
satisfied that the man still lived.  He undid the straps on his backpack, and tookaccounting of his resources.  Besides the
small vial of healing potion, Eliadur had two tomes: his blue leather-bound
spellbook, covered with glittering gilt arcane runes, and a small Bestiary of
Faerûn.  Three changes of smallclothes
and an extra tunic.  A tin mess kit,
flint and tinder, a dozen candles, an ivory scrollcase with ten sheaves of
parchment, three quills from different birds (for various incantations needed
to be recorded by different quills) two vials of rare and expensive ink infused
with griffin and dragon blood to make them magical, a small knife, and a small
bag of sand.  In another compartment of
the backpack, he had seven days’ worth of rations: dried fruit, nuts, crackers,
and a quarter-wheel of hard cheese.  A
Dragonchess set lay in a silken bag, besides a small stuffed dragon that he
still slept with.              His weapons, he had three.  A stout quarterstaff, partially enchanted andhardened to be as strong as a steel rod. 
A castle-forged dagger with jeweled hilt, double-edged.  Finally, a light crossbow, a small quiver of
silvered bolts, and a goatsfoot crank to set the crossbow into a ready
position.            On his small right hand, Eliadur hada gleaming silver ring set with a sapphire, that his mother Anmerelda had given
to him.  Besides his spellbook and two
magic scrolls, it was the one enchanted item he possessed.  The ring was a trinket, hardly magical at
all; on mental command, it would glow blue for an hour, with the brilliance of
a single candle.  The ring possessed four
charges, and was back to full power at dawn. 
Eliadur rubbed the stone and scoffed. 
He knew a cantrip that could provide more light than the ring
could!  Useless.            Donot be scornful of any person, and do not be disdainful of anything, for you
have no person without his hour, no thing without its place.
            Master Kalrond’s words came back to Eliadur unbidden, but herecognized the wisdom in them.  He had
very limited resources in a very dangerous wildwood.  He would need to take advantage of every item
in his possession…especially his knowledge of the Arcane Art.              Eliadur unfurled his parchmentscrolls.  First, he studied the map more
closely.  At his best guess, he was a few
hours’ walk from the edge of the Cloakwood…assuming he walked in the right
direction.  Then, he glanced at the other
two scrolls which were filled with runes and symbols, incantations in the
master’s careful hand.  Kalrond had given
them to Eliadur to study and learn, so that he could eventually record them
into his own spellbook.  However, the boy
knew enough to read them and release the magic contained within.  The first was a spell that would unleash
three seeking bolts, which would strike their target without fail, and burn
through all armor to the flesh beneath. 
The second would produce an invisible protective ward called mage armor,
which would last for several hours.              If he cast the spell containedwithin the scroll, he could no longer learn from it, for the writing would
disappear forever.  On the other hand,
Kalrond doubtless had the incantation in his own massive spellbook, and could
easily pen the boy another copy.  If
lived through this, if he found his way successfully out of these horrid woods,
and if he could ever find his master again in this whole wide world….Taking only a breath to make his decision,Eliadur cleared his mind, and read from the scroll.  He carefully pronounced each word in
Draconic, the language used by wizards to cast their magic spells, but which
was never intended for a human throat. 
It normally took a child years just to get the intonations correct, but
Eliadur had learned the language as if he were born to it. Kalrond had once
told the boy that he was indeed born to the Art, that there were a lot of
wizards and sorcerers in his family line, and once having consulted a sage of
some obscure religious order, Kalrond realized that Eliadur was the
reincarnation of an ancient and powerful magician from time immemorial.Whatever the reason, the eldritch words beforehim glowed on the lambskin, then disappeared from the parchment in colored
puffs of evaporating ink as he read each one. 
When he finished, the scroll was left blank, and the boy felt its magic
take hold.  For a few heartbeats, a golden,
glowing aura surrounded him in a protective cocoon. Then, the soft glow gradually
faded, but the boy could tell that the aura was still there, just
invisible.  Eliadur knew the protective
ward wasn’t perfect, just enough to be sufficient, as if he had donned thick,
rawhide leather armor with steel rings sewn into it—but it was enough.The young mage quickly rolled up the parchmentsinto a single tight cylinder, and stuffed the whole thing back into his ivory
scrollcase, then threw that into his knapsack. 
He was ready to face whatever lethal denizens of this forest lay betwixt
him and the exit—he hoped.“Allard, please wake up, ‘tis time to go,”Eliadur said, not too loudly, lest he call attention to himself.  When he got no answer, the boy repeated
himself, then crawled across the grass to the ranger, and shook him.Allard was dead.             The boy sat there in silence forlong minutes, as the reality of the situation settled in.  The only trusted adult for at least a mile in
any direction was dead.  He was
completely alone in a very dangerous forest, surrounded by an unknown number of
enemies, at least one of which knew about him. 
            He was completely alone.            Breathe.  Just think about getting back to MasterKalrond.  I’m not that far from him, as
the birds fly.  I just have to sneak past
the monsters, mayhap an hour’s walk back. 
            Eliadur folded the ranger’s hands across his chest, then rose tohis feet.  He couldn’t bury him.  He didn’t have the tools for it, he wasn’t
nearly strong enough, and he didn’t have the time.  He just hoped Kalrond would be able to come
back to bury the man.            The boy turned in what he hoped wasthe correct direction, and set off again. 
It was dark now, with little moonlight filtering down from the leafy
canopy, high above.  Eli didn’t want to
risk any light, for that would surely be a beacon to anyone—or anything—that
might be looking for him.  The orc’s
earlier words came flooding back to his mind, unbidden.              “Yummy!  Crunch n’ munch small boy!”            Eliadur shuddered, and not from the night’s chill.  His fur-lined cloak kept him warmenough.  Still, he didn’t think he’d dare
to summon any magelight, until he tripped over thick roots and stones in the
dark for the third time, and fell to his knees.            Thisis ridiculous!  I’d better risk a little
light, before I break my own neck.
            At his mental command, the small sapphire set in his silver ringbegan to glow.  It wasn’t much, just the brilliance
of a single candleflame, but at least he could see where he was going.  It lit the ground for five feet all around him,
and a little dimmer for another five feet beyond that.  The young mage’s shadow was taller than the
orc he’d left in the clearing, but at least it was company.  The forest was too quiet, and he was
beginning to get a little spooked.  He
quickened his pace a little.            Off in the distance behind him couldbe heard the sound of gurgling water from the stream.  The wind stirred the boughs of the tree
limbs, shuddering the green leaves.  A few
animals made noises.  An owl, a
hawk.  Crickets.  Up ahead, Eliadur saw flickering green
pinpricks of light: fireflies.  He had a
few of them in his leather belt pouch, for casting the light cantrip.  The spell would produce magelight equal to a
burning torch, but he didn’t want to draw that much attention to himself.  He was suddenly glad for the small glow from
the ring his mother had given him on his last birthday.            Eliadur walked as quickly as hedared, knowing that each twig that snapped under his booted feet betrayed his
presence and location.  He’d read enough
stories to know this, that rangers and elves could move as silently as
squirrels through the underbrush when they wished to.  There were spells to make him silent and
invisible, but he did not know them. 
Mayhap when he was full-grown, and twice the wizard he was now.              He suddenly heard a chittering offto his right, and froze.              Eliadur peered into the shadows andthe dark, but could perceive no movement. 
Still, he called the fire summoning spell to his mind, just in
case.  These minor magics he could cast
as often as he wished, without straining his psychic strength, and he’d already
spent much of that earlier this evening casting the rainbow light spell to blind
the orcs.  He could only hope all three
of them were as dead as Allard.            The chittering repeated.  A bit closer this time.  And, he fancied he saw two pinpricks of redlight between the trees.  Eyes?  With darkvision?            Aye. Some creature was out there, sneaking up on him, growing closer with
each passing breath.  The chittering
continued, and he saw the pinpricks of light bobbing in the night.            “Who’s there?” Eliadurchallenged.  “I warn you!  I’m a powerful wizard!  I’ll hurl fireballs ‘n bolts of lightning at
you!”            Now he thought he heardlaughter.  The creature, whatever it was,
drew closer.  It was maybe fifty feet
away.  He drew a bead on it with his
finger.  He might only get one shot at
this.  The pinpricks were a little off to
the right now, and closer, forty feet. 
Thirty.            “Aysh,  pilin' naara!” the young mage cried,and a small bolt of fire shot from his glowing fingertip and flew off into the
night.  The bolt struck a tree and burst
in a miniature flash against the thick bark, doing no damage.  Eliadur swore.  He cleared his mind, summoned the fire once
more, and repeated the magic words.  The
twin red pinpricks were twenty feet away this time, and he could see the
outline of something human-shaped, but small, as he was.  Another human boy, or a dwarf, or something
more sinister?  The second bolt shot out, and struck its markthis time.  The thing squealed and fell,
its hair and ragged clothes aflame. 
Eliadur could now see by the light of his ring that this thing wasn’t
human, dwarven, or elven.  It died
quickly and lay still.  He held his
quarterstaff at the ready and approached cautiously, poked the body with the
tip of the wood.  It did not stir.            “Some kind of fey creature.  Brownie, or—a”            More chittering.  Two more red pinpricks in the night, and twomore.  The thing had friends.  Fifty or sixty feet away.  Blastand double blast!  I can’t keep this up
all night!  How many more of them are
            Aysh,  pilin' naara!”  The bolt missed, struck a rock, and burst ina spectacular display of orange and yellow sparks.              Then came the fluttering of wings inthe night, small wings.  Something flew
through the dark, and now he heard something thunk, like a dagger sinking into
flesh.  A second kobold shrieked, and
grew silent.  More fluttering of wings, a
second thunk, and a third creature fell.            By the dim light of his ring’sspell, Eliadur thought he saw a tiny creature, no bigger than a housecat or a
squirrel, as it flew through the night, from kobold to kobold.  One by one, the small band of fey creatures
fell and grew silent.  The boy watched
this undreamt of miracle take place, then saw the small winged thing alight
onto the thick stump of an oak tree.  There
it sat, watching him and waiting.  Cautiously,
Eliadur approached.              In the small pool of enchanted light put out by the blue stone ofhis silver ring, Eliadur perceived the winged animal that had saved him.  It was perhaps a foot long, with a very long
and flexible tail, and innumerable very tiny brownish-red scales that covered
it gleamed in the light.  The wings
looked to be soft leather, a tinge redder than the scales.  Two ruby eyes intently studied him, and in
those eyes, the boy sensed intelligence. 
A warmth filled his mind, and the beast peeped.            Somesort of dragon, I think, or I’m no apprentice mage.  But ‘tis far too small.  Dragons are at least as large as a full-grown
horse.  A baby dragon mayhap?  No…misdoubt me…a baby
            The winged beastie purred withpleasure, and Eliadur fancied he saw laughter twinkle in its eyes, and the
laughter echoed in his mind.              Friendly,it is.  Not a red dragon, then.  What…?            A sharp, pointed horny thing, likean arrowhead on the tip of its long tail, glinted silently in the blue-white
magelight.  The boy gasped, then nodded
in sudden comprehension.            Apseudodragon!  They’re rare.  Very rare. 
Almost a myth. 
            The boy laughed, and held out his hand.  “Hello, little fellow!  I’m Eliadur. What are you—”            The small dragon quickly crawled uphis arm, and settled onto his shoulders, as if it were meant to be there.  He laughed again.  “—called? 
Heh.  I guess you like me.  Wait, I think I have some dried meat in my
pouch.  Jerky.”            The beast’s tiny head bobbed, as theboy’s hand went to his belt pouch.  The
image of a live bird, a yellow-fletched canary filled his mind, as he felt for
the meat.            Forgotthey’re telepathic.            “Sorry, no fresh bird today.  Just a bit of cow.  Beef jerky. Here,” he said, lifting the strip of meat to his shoulder.  The pseudodragon snapped at it, chewed it,
and swallowed the strip of jerky in three bites.  In a twinkling, only the boy’s fingers were
left, with the memory of tiny lips gently taking the proffered food.  “Ulp. 
Hungry little fellow, aren’t you? 
Here, I have a bit more—”            The small head snapped out to snatchanother bite of jerky, and Eliadur was taken by its eyes, which resembled
liquid rubies.  Most of the tiny scales
which covered the tiny beast’s body also resembled that sparkling gemstone, and
he decided on a name for his new companion.The second strip of jerky was gone just asquickly.  Eliadur recalled he only had
ten strips in his pouch, and needed to make it last.  Then, he remembered that he needed to find
his way out of the forest, and quickly. 
He started walking in the correct direction, grinning and patting the
small animal.  “Come, Ruby.”            It didn’t take too long for the boymage to get used to the new weight curled about his shoulders, though it did
slow him down a bit.  What he got in
return was far worth the cost.  His eyes
were opened, he saw more than he had before, or noticed it better.  He heard sounds and smelled odors better as
well.  The smell of pine and oak and
fresh grass filled his nostrils, as did other scents.  He recognized squirrel, sparrow, robin, fox, and
rabbit by their peculiar smell.  Funny,
because Allard was right; Eli had spent the vast majority of his young life
inside a large stone tower in a bustling city, with golden lantern light and
glowing candles to illuminate books and scrolled parchment.  The library comprised an entire level of
Kalrond’s tower, some thirty feet in diameter, with curved bookcases occupying
most of the outer walls, and further divided the circular chamber in half.  Floor to ceiling, the library overflowed with
ancient tomes and scrolls on all subjects: histories, memoirs, botany, herbalism,
alchemy, mathematics, architecture, heraldry, poetry, languages, bestiaries and
treatises on creatures both mundane and magical.  Psychic theory, numerology, arcane
incantations filled yet more books—the actual spellbooks.  A boy could spend three lifetimes in that vast
personal library, and never read the same pages twice.            The wind picked up, and howled abit.  Eliadur pulled his fur cloak about
himself, and marched on.  Silver
moonlight frosted the tree-branches and leaves, cast long shadows in the deep
woods.  He drew a long breath, with the
thought that the shadows weren’t moving, and therefore must be trees.  The boy continued his trek, taking care not
to make much noise with his feet.  Before
long, a tall, dark shadow loomed before him, taller than the trees all about
him.  By the light of the moon, he saw
massive stone towers, battlements and walls. 
Within, a stout and imposing keep. 
Yet, no sound issued from this fortification, no light of torches.  The edifice was dark and cold as a tomb.              Eliadur paused long enough to crankback his light crossbow into a ready position, and loaded it with a bolt.  The crossbow was a gift from his father, like
the jeweled dagger at his belt.  It was
as deadly as any spell he could yet hurl. 
By the soft blue magelight of his glowing ring, the youngster approached
cautiously, and soon the walls came into view. 
Eli reached out his hand and touched it; it felt rough and in parts,
sharp.  The stones were not evenly
carved, nor precisely the same size; they were mismatched.  No proper craftsmanship to them at all, and
very poor architecture.  No human built
these walls, no elf, and certainly not a dwarf. 
Further, it was a crumbling ruin. 
Huge rents were heaved in the outer curtain wall, and the oaken gate was
long since shattered and off its hinges, the wood moldy and rotted away.              Eliadur felt he should know the nameof these long-abandoned stones.  Surely,
one of the histories he’d read spoke of it, a small stone keep hidden deep in
the Cloakwood.  Yet, the masonry bore no
sigil, no letters, no sign at all as to whom had built it.  Silently, the boy advanced, as his soft
leather boots crunched some scattered bit of rubble.  Still, no sound escaped this building, nor a
groan from its walls.  Not even small
nesting animals.  Nothing disturbed the
thin lair of fog that clung to the ground. 
Granted, the foxes, mice and rats might be asleep in their dens, but
surely not owls and other night-hunters. 
            Thisis foolhardy, I know.  Would that I were
part of a company of fighters, swordsmen, bowmen, and a cleric.  No wizard wanders alone into such places,
unless he’s old, wizened, and extremely powerful.  Still, there might be some clue left as to
the name of this place, that I can give my brothers later.  After I’ve had the chance to research it
thoroughly, we can then return and explore it, slay any vagabonds or monsters
that might lair deep within.  Surely, it
can’t hurt just to explore the courtyard a bit.
            The boy chanced a bit further intothe open, abandoned courtyard.  Weeds
sprouted from between the loose stones, which were cracked and worn by time and
the elements.  Rainwater pooled in
crevices.  Moss and ivy climbed the
ancient, abandoned walls.  Before him
loomed the old keep, built of dark granite. 
Silent and terrible it stood, an ominous monument that seemed to exude a
thin, cold white fog that clung to the cobbles. 
Bits of rubble that once comprised a statue lay on the ground closer to
the entrance, with the head smashed into three pieces.  Nearer, a stone well occupied the center of
the courtyard, with some writing engraved along its lip.  He drew closer, shone the light of his ring
upon it.            avhiuktok iuk burk gruumukh dum            The lettering was angular, similarto Dwarvish.  The script was called
Dethek, but the language was not any form of Dwarvish that he could tell.  Eliadur only knew a few words in the tongue
of the stone-folk: “Dûmmeant mansions, halls, orexcavations.  “Burk” meant axe, a weapon.  The boy knew Auld Wyrmish far better, using
that tongue to cast spells, and as a very small child, he also learnt Elvish,
which was used in the royal courts of many Men. 
His own name was taken from the language of the High Elves, and meant
“Star-Lover,” or “Star-Lord,” depending on which dialect one used.  Were this Myth Drannor, ancient home of the High
Elves, he’d be able to read and speak the language very well.  In his dreams, he wandered the halls of those
ancient elven libraries that were filled with rare spellbooks.            For some reason, these carven wordswere oddly familiar, but he did not know the tongue.  Somehow, Eli did not think it was anything
close to Dwarvish.  The syllables, when
he tried to sound them out, were rougher, more guttural.  Almost—            Then, he saw it.  A dark, sinister eye, lidless, grotesquely carveddeep into the stone.  A chill seized the
boy, for he immediately recognized it: the symbol of Gruumsh the Unblinking,
chief deity of the orcs.  Feeling cold,
his gaze was pulled back to one set of runes.            gruumukh            Then suddenly, that one word stoodout, its meaning obvious to the child, despite the strange, guttural language: Gruumsh.Daraktan! The language was Orcish, the Black Speech!  He had stumbled upon an ancient orc
stronghold, probably the same one used by the three orcs who killed poor Allard.  Eliadur’s heart was in his throat; he stood
quickly, started backing off, away from the well.  Unconsciously, he made a sign to ward off
evil as he stared at that evil eye.            “We’d better get out of here, Ruby,”Eliadur told the small dragon, whispering as softly as he dared.  “I’ve got a very nasty feeling crawling up my
spine.  As if…we were being watched.”            Now, the boy felt their presenceeven more strongly.  He looked back
toward the keep, where the rusted portcullis lay shut and barred.  Large humanoid shadows stood just beyond the
grating, swaying to and fro.  Red
pinpricks of light appeared in the windows above, eyes with darkvision.  The boy’s head spun back the way he’d
come.  By the broken main gate, standing
amid the ruins, was a large, hulking brute, holding a massive waraxe as large
as a grown man’s head.  This was the orc
crossbowman who was transformed by the spellplague.  Deep, booming laughter came from this shadow,
and he knew those glowing red eyes were staring right at him.            “Heh.  Heh. Heh.  Boausan wanderun inavo kurth. ukome ukorceras!” the orc captainintoned, his words echoed throughout the open courtyard.  Eliadur could hear the sound of many booted
feet walking on cobblestones now, and the clink of chains on a winch as they
were pulled.  The rusted iron portcullis
clanked loudly in the night as it was raised. 
The boy swallowed hard, nearly fainted, and nearly wet himself in equal
measures.  Somehow, he managed to remain
standing.  This seemed unreal somehow,
like a dark dream.  That was the only
thought that prevented the child from panicking.            The massive cast iron grate ceasedits upward movement three quarters of the way up, and a half-dozen shadows
moved forward.  Even from this distance,
the boy could hear the slight clink of metal armor.  He was outnumbered, at least seven vicious orcs
to one scared human child.“Nein.leav avhiuk liavavle ni avo alnej!” the captain shouted, and the otherspaused at the keep’s open archway. 
Eliadur breathed a sigh of relief, and his whole body shook.  At least the orc had enough honor to make this
one-on-one.  He felt great beads of sweat
run in rivulets down his face, and his hands shook as he raised the crossbow,
and trained it on the orc captain.“Stay where you are!  I assure you, I do—I really do know how touse this!” the boy shouted in the Common Tongue of Men.  Even though he’d bet this orc had never been
to Waterdeep, he felt certain the beast understood him.  “All I want is to leave.  I promise, I give you my solemn promise I’ll
never bother you again.”More booming laughter answered him, and the orcspoke in broken common.  “Heh.  Heh. 
Heh.  Small boy come to rob.  All human filth do!  This…orc place.  Orcs kill what orcs wish.”The pseudodragon chittered and squirmed abouthis shoulders, eager to take flight and attack this brutish beast that dared
threaten his new master.  It took a
moment for the boy to realize what the small dragon intended, and to stop it
with his thoughts.No!  Don’t attack him.  ‘Tis useless. There are too many of them!  I’m
as good as captured.  Go, find my
master!  Find Kalrond!  Bring him to me!  Hurry!
Eliadur concentrated on an image of his gentlemaster.  He pictured the flowing tan
robes with yellow embroidery, the runes that spelled out protective wards in
the cloth.  Kalrond’s ridiculous, floppy
pointed velvet hat.  His oakenstaff,
covered in runes and silver bands, which hummed with barely-contained
power.  The funny, odd odor that all old
folks gave off.  The gentle smile in the
wizard’s blue eyes.  Find him!  Hurry!The pseudodragon took flight, and quickly glidedoff into the night, over the tall stone wall. 
The boy was alone once more.Eliadur swiftly raised the crossbow with moreconviction than he felt.  Fortunately, he
really was trained in its use.  He drew a
bead on the center of the shadowy form using the weapon’s square sight.  “I’m warning you.  I’ll put a hole right in your gut, if you
don’t let me alone!”            Unheeding, the hulking figure strodeforward purposefully, with a swaggering stride. 
There was something draped across his right shoulder, but from this
distance and in the dark, Eliadur couldn’t quite make it out.  The orc took ten more paces forward, and his
finger tightened on the trigger.  The
voice of Evrick Stoutkeel, his father’s retainer and the man-at-arms who’d
trained Eliadur, came back to him.“Rememberto squeeze the trigger, don’t jerk it, or it’ll throw your aim off.  You’ve one crossbow quarrel, and you can’t
afford to miss.  Make your shot count.”
He was literally shooting in the dark, at abarely discernable image.  The boy
deliberately waited until the orc drew closer. 
Another ten paces.  Twenty.  The monster was well within close range now,
but Eliadur still held his fire. 
Suddenly, the orc stopped walking. 
The brutish beast dropped his burden upon the flagstones, which lay
there with a thud.  In the spill of
magelight from his ring, the boy caught a flash of a woolen green cloak.  The ranger’s.The dead body lying at the orc’s feet was AllardDrakenfire.  The orc grinned widely at
the boy, who noticed that his hands were now shaking badly.  Unbidden, Eliadur squeezed the trigger, and
the crossbow vibrated and hummed in his grasp. 
The bolt flew, straight and true, and thunked as it embedded itself into
the orc’s belly.The orc grunted, and growled a little.  For a moment, the boy was sorry he’d hit hisopponent, afraid he’d made him angry.Eliadur laughed, that thought was so ridiculous!  This orc intended to kill him!  The monster had obviously brought backAllard’s body to make a meal of him, and the child was obviously to be a
side-course, an appetizer.  The young
apprentice raised his hand, and summoned power. 
His fingers glowed.  A few
whispered words of Draconic, and a sizzling firebolt darted straight toward the
orc, hit him square in the center of his chest, and exploded.The enemy captain grunted, expecting it.  He smiled, flashing yellowing teeth in a faceof dark green skin.  “Punausan boausan noav hurav.  Bolt no poison, ‘n boy’s magic weak!  Ye no kill Aervenge.”Eliadur’s face fell.  The brute was right; his magic was too weakto kill him outright.  Nine Hells, even a
crossbow bolt to the gut wasn’t enough! 
It seemed to barely slow him down! 
As the young boy watched, the orc captain began limping closer toward
him.  Quickly, he went through the
cantrips in his mind, wondering what he could possibly do to really hurt this
monster.  Then it came to him.Light! Orcs were sensitive to bright light, or so the bestiary claimed.  Not as sensitive as drow, but maybe
enough.  Quickly, Eliadur picked up his
quarterstaff from the ground at his feet where he’d dropped it, so he’d have
both hands free to use the crossbow.  Putting
down the ranged weapon and picking up the melee one took less than a
breath.  The boy cleared his mind, and
cast the very first spell any child ever learned of the Art.“Ohr!”The tip of Eliadur’s staff began to glow like atorch.  The orc cussed and squinted,
pausing but a heartbeat in his approach. 
“Good.  Now, what else?”“Yer makin’ Aervenge mad,” the orc intoned.  He growled, and clenched his meaty fist. “Punyboy die.”“Save your threats.  I’m a trained mage.  Hewacha'sid,” Eli told him, and a small, spectral disembodied hand appeared,floating in the air right in front of the orc’s face.  It was a ghostly, transparent blue, a barely-visible
duplicate of the twelve-year-old’s right hand. 
It could manipulate and carry objects up to ten pounds at the boy’s
mental command.  The use he’d thought of
for this spell was slightly different. 
Two fingers on the transparent hand were extended.  In a flash, the appendage darted forward, and
poked the orc in its yellow eye.“Argh!” Aervenge cried, and lifted a hand up tohis face.  Eliadur grinned; his trick
worked!  He ran forward and whipped the
lit end of the staff around to hit the orc in its muscular solar-plexus.  He then struck the side of the orc’s face,
and backed off a moment.  Raging, the
hulking brute swung his fist to where the boy was, and barely missed.  On the second swing, he gave the child a
glancing blow, which fortunately slid right off the invisible armor field
surrounding the boy; without that protective aura, the thin child would’ve been
knocked senseless, or worse.  Eli swung his
staff again, overhead, hoping to strike his foe’s right ear.Aervenge blocked the blow on reflex, and grabbedthe shaft of wood.  Growling, he easily
yanked the quarterstaff out of the child’s hands.  Eliadur jumped backward.  He stared up at the brute, who grinned at
him.  The orc held the quarterstaff in
both hands, and attempted to snap it in half over his right leg.  As the wood was magically enhanced, it took
three tries, and then it was just fractured, not completely split into two
parts.Eliadur took the opportunity of the delay tocast the light spell again, this time to the air directly in front of the orc’s
sensitive eyes.  While Aervenge screamed
in frustration, the boy dashed around him, and ran as fast as he could toward
the open gate.“Bagallighav ukpell!  Be still boy!  No game,” the orc captain raged, comicallytrying to wipe the light out of his eyes. 
If the situation weren’t so dangerous, Eli would’ve laughed.  The only thing Aervenge accomplished was to
wave the lit air away, like scattering fog.“Not likely, you over-grown lummox,” Eliadursaid, but not loud enough so the orc could hear him, and betray his
location.  The shuffling of his booted
feet on the gravely ground was bad enough. 
He ran full-out, till he was standing in the open ruins of the old gate
to the outer wall.  There, he doffed the
knapsack, rushed to open it, and search its contents in front of him.  It took him all of a breath more to snatch up
the ivory scrollcase, unscrew the cap, and pull out the rolled parchments from
the expensive cylinder.  Eliadur knew he
had to either kill the orc leader, or at least slow Aervenge down some more,
before he fled into the surrounding forest.The words on the magic scroll were neatly linedup and legible, in flowing Tengwar runes, from the Elves, not lokharic, the
true runes used by all dragonkind.  Most
wizards used Tengwar because it was more stylish, though the language was
definitely Auld Wyrmish.  Kalrond taught
that human wizards got this habit from the elves, wisest of all the races.  Eli was shaking like a leaf in a windstorm, andfound it difficult to calm his mind enough to spellcast.  Fortunately, he’d studied the two scrolls
intently for the past two moons.  The
general formulae were complicated, and it would take him a bit longer to
understand them enough to cast on his own, and then transcribe the incantation
into his own spellbook.  Fortunately, it
didn’t take much experience to read the spell directly from a scroll, as he had
with the mage armor spell.  The boy
concentrated on the writing, and somehow sensing that its magic was about to be
released, the strange runes began to softly glow.Kalith karan,tobaniskar!Eliadur held out his right hand, ran his tongue over his dry lips,cleared his throat, and read the magic words with conviction.“Kalith karan, tobaniskar!” Three brilliant, white-hot seekingbolts burst from the child’s thin, glowing fingers, and shot unerringly to
their target.  All three slammed into the
orc captain, two at his chest, one at his head. 
The steel breastplate and leather padding protecting him didn’t matter;
the arcane force ignored inanimate objects and only affected living
tissue.  Aervenge bellowed like a
newly-damned soul sent to the Ninth Level of Hell, so Eliadur knew he’d hurt
him.  That’s an understatement, the boy thought to himself.  Thosethree seeking bolts must burn like dragonfire! 
Didn’t kill him outright, though. 
I’d best make tracks
—The boy whirled around so fast his long hairswirled in the air like his cloak.  He
took one step toward the exit, and froze, his blue eyes widening in
surprise.  Before him stood half a dozen
armed and armored orcs, all grinning at him. 
Some bore nicked and well-used swords and axes, others merely had thick
cudgels with sharp pointy nails sticking out of the end.  Their large, bulbous, yellow eyes gleamed at
him in the dim light.“Boausanavhinkuk najor'uk bunnausan!” one of the brutes laughed, and his fellowsjoined in.  The apprentice didn’t find it
the least bit amusing.“Goin’ somewhere, boy?” one of the orcsasked.  His laughter chilled Eli’s
blood.  “Aervenge said not t’touch ye,
just t’ keep ye from runnin’ like a hare.”Eliadur closed his eyes for a moment, and drew abreath.  This he was not expecting,
though perhaps he should have.  Orcs were
stupid as a rule, but apparently not completely so.  This group knew enough to follow orders.  He wondered if it would hurt very much to be
cut up, cooked, and served as the main course for dinner.The boy had one weapon left, besides his magic,and he drew the steel now.  The shining
dagger was bejeweled and impressive, meant more to be worn at court than
actually used.  Still, the thin blade was
more than half a foot long, and he hoped it would at least give these brutes
pause.  Eliadur slowly backed into the
courtyard once more, and looked over his shoulder at Aervenge.  The orc captain looked angry, at least, his
eyes blazed—or was that just his darkvision? 
No, his eyebrows knit together. 
He was definitely mad.“Good.  Yehurt Aervenge,” the orc leader said, loud enough to be heard across the
distance of fifty feet.  “Boy mage hurt Aervenge.  Ye can be Aervenge slave.  For now.”Eliadur swallowed.  Being a slave to the orcs was not as pleasanta prospect as being cooked as dinner, or so his brothers told him.  How in Mystra’s name did he get into this?“Nein!  Aervenge,we want boy as supper!” one of the orcs outside the wall yelled.“Aye! He’ll make a tasty mouthful!” another agreed.  He heard the song of steel being drawn from a
scabbard.Aervenge didn’t look like he was in anycondition to argue the point.  Eliadur
recalled an orc chieftain only remained in command so long as he was the
toughest one in the group.  Any sign of
weakness, and his chief lieutenant killed him and took over.  While the boy doubted any of the other orcs
could kill Aervenge outright, even wounded as he was, he doubted the orc
captain would be able to protest if the others tore Eli limb from limb.The world burst into daylight.In the center of the courtyard, light and airexploded, as if a sudden summer storm had come and lightning had struck
nearby.  It only lasted for a breath, but
Eliadur had seen this magical effect before. 
A wizard had just teleported in, and the boy knew of only one other
magician besides himself for many leagues.“Let myapprentice be,” Kalrond’s voice commanded, his words echoed all throughoutthe ruins and off the stone walls.  “Lest you all feel my wrath!”Eli was never so relieved to see him.  The boy started to run toward the old wizard,but the orcs were faster.  One of them
grabbed Eliadur by his long hair, and pulled him painfully backward.  Before he knew what was happening, the boy
was held tight against his stinking, thick body, and a rough metal blade was at
his throat.  He was too scared and in
pain to concentrate.“Boy will die, wiza’d!” the orc threatened.  “’is pretty head will hang on orc wall!”Eliadur swallowed.  He didn’t dare to move a muscle, with hishair in the meaty iron grip of this orc, and corroded steel at his throat.  He wanted to cast light into its face, or
hurl fire, but was too scared to. 
Footsteps echoed on the broken cobblestones, as the robed figure of his
master approached.  The crystal atop the
staff shined with brilliant magelight, and the bearded face looked grim.  “Let.  The. Boy.  Go.”The orc grinned, showing canine fangs thatjutted up from its jaw, and some saliva drooled from its mouth and onto the
boy’s head.  Eliadur cringed.  Is he tryingto disgust me to death? The orcs allowed the old man to approach evencloser.  Fifty feet, forty.  Thirty.“That’s close enough,” the orc lieutenant toldhim.  “Drop yer staff, wiza’d.  Or Gash kill small boy!”Kalrond’s answer was a full spread of seekingbolts that slammed into the orc, and completely missed the helpless child he’d
used as a shield.  They sang in the air like
fireworks as they whizzed toward their targets, all at blinding speed.  Ten struck the orc that was threatening Eli;
he suddenly felt Gash let go of him.   The
hulking brute was dead before he even had the chance to fall toward the
moss-covered cobblestones.  Five more
sizzled through the night, each one striking one of the orc’s companions.  It took a breath for Eli to realize he was
freed, and then he ran to Kalrond’s side, well out of the line of fire.  Literally.That was all the old wizard needed.  With a flourished wave of his staff, a ballof fire burned through the night air and struck the center orc of those still
standing; it exploded in pyrotechnic fury, setting all six orcs ablaze.  The whole group screamed and died in
heartbeats, some of them blasted into pieces by the force of the explosion
alone.  With a soft, sickening thunk, one
of the orcs’ disembodied hands landed on the broken cobblestones a few feet
away from where Eliadur stood.That was too much for the young boy to take, ontop of everything else.  Eliadur ran to
his master, threw his slender arms around the old man’s waist, and buried his
face in his chest.  The boy hardly even
realized he was sobbing. “I’m sorry I’m sorry I know I shouldn’t have gone in—”Kalrond Oakenstaff wasn’t listening to him justyet; he wasn’t nearly done with these orcs that had dared to threaten the noble
child who’d been entrusted to his care, and done him the additional disservice
of killing the ranger he’d hired as a guide. 
Anger got the better of him, and he cast a thunder spell on the archway
directly over where the rest of the orcs were standing.  With a reverberating boom that everyone felt
in their bones, the keystone shattered into five chunks of rubble; the entire
archway and the portcullis came crashing down, right onto the surprised
orcs.  When the dust finally began to
settle, there was a growing puddle of dark orcish blood and green goo beneath
the onetime main entrance to the ancient keep in Cloakwood Forest.  Next, Kalrond regarded Aervenge, the orc captainwho had been transformed by the spellplague, and now more closely resembled a
half-ogre.  The hulking brute was sorely
wounded, content to watch placidly from where he sat, on his knees, holding his
bleeding guts in where Eliadur’s crossbow quarrel had wounded him.  More orcs cringed in the towers, looking down
into the courtyard, but Kalrond’s ire was apparently sated.“We must be away, Eliadur,” Kalrond admonishedhim.  He pointed to the boy’s backpack
lying on the cobblestones, fifteen feet away. 
“Gather your things.  Drakenfire
may’ve been an idiot, but he deserves a decent burial.  I’ll see to it.”The boy pulled away, wiped his wet face, and ranto snatch up his backpack, scattered parchments, and the expensive ivory
scrollcase he’d left haphazardly lying around. 
After he’d rolled up the two maps with the eight blank sheets of
lambskin into a cylinder and stuffed them back into their case, he looked
up.  At Kalrond’s command, the gray
granite stones comprising the orc’s courtyard had moved, and the earth beneath
it had excavated itself, to form a perfectly rectangular grave.  This was a simple but vastly powerful
elemental earth spell.  An invisible
servant gently lifted Allard’s body, and deposited it into the grave, folded
the hands across the chest, and even took two si