Because of the lateness of this issue of Rising Sun--for which I, Jonathan Blake, am to blame--a lot has taken place on the ERPG since this story was first submitted. I suggest that you go to the ERPG web site and read the story archives.
Khatellu paced agitatedly in his Throne hall in Nadgazad. Fate seemed to have conspired against him, and for the one-hundredth time he questioned the decision of not leading the expedition to recapture Tijil's Fang himself. Watching the Darklord's mood worsen the spawn shuffled uneasily. A Darklord being in a bad mood is a bad sign--very bad. A new stream of profanity roared from the Darklord's mouth and a group of Giaks were flung across the hall from the sheer force of the verbal blast.
Two new shapes entered the throne hall: Wayl and Avarice. The Darklord didn't seem to notice, and continued to vent his displeasure on two hapless Vordaks, reducing them to a pile of ground silicon which--when he tired of his game--he scattered across the throne room with a powerful sweep of his paw.
"So you've arrived at last," Khatellu said looking up. Avarice and Wayl said nothing. Behind them the remainder of the spawn were quickly filing out from the Throne Hall: best to leave now, while the Darklord's rage had a new target.
"Everything is falling to pieces!" Khatellu complained. "No news from the group we sent to recapture Tijil's Fang, and now my spies have told me that a Cener Druid is travelling to the Durncrags with the intent of laying his hands on the Fang."
"It was expected," Wayl said.
The Darklord looked at Wayl looking flabbergasted. "You knew of this?" he said.
"Of course," Wayl said. "Everything is progressing according to plan."
"Not according to my plans!" Khatellu objected.
"So tell me," Khatellu said bemusedly, "How do we vanquish this Cener Druid?"
"We don't," Wayl said blandly.
"And why don't we?" said Khatellu impatiently.
"The Cener Druid has the key to a final lock that needs to be opened before the Fang can be retrieved. Until that lock is opened, the Cener Druid serves a purpose, you must bide your time, sire."
Khatellu seemed irritated, and directed his attention towards Avarice instead. "Avarice, how's your plan to get rid of the Kai Lords progressing?"
"Our agents are wreaking havoc across Sommerlund Sire, and our forces have taken the city of Tyso."
"How many Kai Lords, Avarice?" The Darklord's voice was relentless.
"Two sire, but these are early days in our plans," Avarice added hastily.
Khatellu snorted contemptuously. "I hope so for your sake, Avarice."
"Tell me Avarice, how are our plans for bringing the other darkland cities under our control faring?" Khatellu prompted.
"All darkland cities except Kaag, Akagazad and Kagorst have sworn loyalty to you, sire," said Avarice.
"And how about the reconstruction of Helgedad?" Khatellu asked.
It was a long while before anybody spoke, but then Wayl said, "It's not meant to happen, sire. Helgedad will never be reconstructed."
"It's been my home for millennia, and you tell me I can't reconstruct it?!" Khatellu thundered.
"Once you've got Tijil's Fang you don't need Helgedad, do you?" Wayl proposed.
"Perhaps not. . ." Khatellu grumbled. "Perhaps not. . ."
Fezmarn rode along the western foothills of the Durncrag mountains. This was a desolate area, and he made good speed. Fezmarn had realized that, on horse-back, he wouldn't catch up with the remainder of the expedition in the Lajakeka and so had decided to make his own way to the resting place of Tijil's Fang. Mile after mile melted away under his mount's hooves as he made his way northward. In the evening, Fezmarn left the foothills and rode into the mountains. Aided by the Moonlight, he continued his journey in the evening.
When midnight approached, he found himself at a lookout point. Orienting himself, he saw the huge Lajakeka standing in the foothills a few miles to the west. There was a small campfire beside it. Fezmarn concluded that the party was biding their time by the Lajakeka tonight. Looking further around him, he was able to see a large campfire to the north which--judging by the noise that drifted to him in the evening breeze--was a Giak and Doomwolf settlement. Another campfire a few miles to the east along the River Xane mystified Fezmarn. Silently he wondered who made this campfire and considered if he should approach it under the cover of darkness. Weighing pro against con, he finally decided to forego a few hours sleep in order to satisfy his curiosity.
Slowly, inch by inch, Fezmarn crept ever closer to the silent campfire. Little remained of the fire besides glowing embers. Fezmarn observed the camp in silence. Five people billeted here. Three persons were sleeping, and Fezmarn could make out very little of them.
By one of the sleeping figures, Fezmarn made out a full suit of black armour including a black sword and a black shield. Even at this distance Fezmarn could tell that the man adhered to the path of Evil. From an earlier encounter with the Cener Druids, Fezmarn recognized the robes of the two persons who were up and about as ceremonial clothing habitually worn by these evil herbmasters. One of the Ceners was tending the fire, while the second was standing guard over a prisoner's sleeping-bag. Fezmarn hazarded a guess that the prisoner was a woman, but in the poor light he couldn't be sure if this was indeed so. The fifth person appeared to be a Cener Druid like the other two. Fezmarn watched the sleeping party in silence, and reached the conclusion that he might do well to settle down close to them. The last stretch of the trail up the Xane River was forested and it should be easy for him to pursue them without being observed. He might just learn something important from eavesdropping on them when they woke up in the morning.
Grinning, Fezmarn found a shielded area, drew his cape around him and settled down to catch a few hours' sleep before dawn. Tomorrow should prove to be interesting. . . very interesting.
Lone Wolf © TM Joe Dever 1984-1999.