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The Almirena and Orion
Date Thread


The moonlight was glinting in a peculiarly icy way - extremely beautiful and extremely cold - as 'Rena peered out of the window of her tower. For the last three months she had been living inside La Tour de la Gloire (contrary to what some might think, this was NOT a tour guide... rather, "La Tour" is Gallic for "The Tower"), in an island just off Pleasaunce in Gaul. The invitation to participate in a Dating Game had been intriguing, so she'd gone along.

The winner had been Le Roi Oignon. King Onion. No, no... actually it was King ORION! Yes, she must not forget that. She grinned rather wickedly to herself as she finished curling one particular ringlet. It lay gleaming against her gown of midnight violet.

Now for her Date Pack (aka inventory). 'Rena checked that she had everything she needed... then looked up. The owl-clock was about to hoot. It must be time soon...

She carefully began to snuff the candles on the upper level of the Tour de la Gloire...

'Rena added a small spray of Night Delight, a scent designed to ... er... smell very nice indeed. Then, the candles on the upper levels doused, she descended down the stone stairs.


Some time before that a mysterious figure all wrapped up in black clothes sneaked inside La Tour... There was certainly something sinister about it, except that it is hard to be afraid of someone who giggles and hums "Molly Malone". It was like being scared of a platypus. The barely visible silhouette climbed up to about thirtieth stair and stretched a tripwire. Of course, no harm should come to anyone, so below the string over a score of black (practically invisible) pillows were laid. Still giggling, the stranger put a bucket of water on the door and dug up a 5 feet hole just outside the tower (the pit was also very carefully filled with water, just in case). Sinister black shape observed from distance what will happen. Ah! Here she comes!...:


Orion sat on the bed in hotel room - reflecting on his life. He held his sword in his hand, its black flame slowly fading - winning the Date took the last of his Ronoh.

He stood up and fixed his tuxedo. After a long look in the mirror, he picks up his belongings from off his bed: His sword - Harbinger; a simple shield… his is at the blacksmith… and a pouch of money. He walks over to his dresser and picks up a baby-blue rose. Nervously, he walks out the door.


He arrives at the La Tour de la Gloire and knocks on the wooden door. An owl is heard hooting inside…


'Rena heard the knock at the door, and immediately recognised a certain Onion-like quality in the knock. "How can a knock have personality?" she mused, and shrugged to herself. Maybe, at some point, she would write a thesis on that...

... but at the moment, a date awaited.

Quickly checking in a gilt-edged mirror on the wall, 'Rena ensured that she looked reasonably good, and as usual, was dissatisfied with her golden locks. "Why couldn't I have been a dangerous brunette?" she grumbled to herself, but rolled her eyes at herself.

She walked over to the door, waving away the row of servants who all wanted to open the door for her.

"No, no - it's all right," she said. Porus, the maitre d', protested, "But m'lady, it is not proper for you to...!"

'Rena laughed, and opened the door anyway. "Orion, Majesty... please enter!" she said with a smile as she saw the tuxedo-clad King Orion on the stone doorstep. "Have you time for a quick goblet of Glory Nectar before we go?"


The last day of the Great Game. We did it! We won the Game! We are going on the date with Lady Almirena! The Parent is half-dead with joy. I am all in anticipation! Can hardly wait tomorrow!

In Prison. Day 1. Call it as you want, I call it betrayal. I was sitting in the Parent's pants, all filled with joy and pride for us both, and guess what he did? Tossed me to Klausse!!! 'I'm not taking him on my date. You watch over him... ' What the nerve some people have!!

And that stupid sod answered, 'Enjoy your date, Oreo, everything will be alright' and shoved me into his pack!!

To think I trusted them both!! To think I took them for my nearest and dearest!!

Betrayed. Imprisoned. Unhappy. Sad and lonely.

Not hungry though: both Pooky and this traitor Klausse keep shoving me food. First decided to decline everything, in protest. Then decided the sacrifice would be too much for them. Ate everything in protest. Hope my appetite will ruin them.

In Prison. Day 2. Half-dead with boredom. Nothing happens in this house. The traitor K. tried to take me out to swim in the pond. Bit him in protest.

I'm longing for Silmaria and Lady Almirena.

In Prison. Day 3. The traitor K. is obviously getting insane. He keeps following Pooky wherever she goes, and the only words we hear from him are 'I love you, Pook'. I'm worried. Asked Pooky what had been going on. She smiled and said, "Honeymoon." Must be some mental illness, I'm afraid. Hope it's not infectious, but you never know.

In Prison. Day 4. Can't stay in this house any longer. He can pass his infection on me, I don't want to get honeymooned!

Couldn't sleep last night, just lay wide awake, thinking. So that's settled: I will escape from this house and find my Parent. I want to go on date. I have all rights for it.


Stuck with taking care of Chester (and not being allowed to eat him!!), Pooky soon got annoyed with the fish's constant pining and complaints. Eventually, she dragged the fish from Klausse's pack and glared at it, holding it at eye level. The trout glared back with a mutinous look.

"All right. All right. We'll go spy on Rena and the Onion's date. Just stop whining, okay? In fact..." She grinned evilly. "Would you be adverse to a bit of... fun? Somehow I don't think you will be."


Orion heard Rena’s distinctive laugh as she opened the door. He was shocked by her beauty as the moonlight shone on her hair, making her even more beautiful than before. Of course, he still hasn’t gotten over the shock of winning the date in the first place, but the Game is in the past…

"Have you time for a quick goblet of Glory Nectar before we go?" she said, starting the conversation.

Thinking on his feet, Orion took Almirena’s hand and kissed it lightly. “Of course, M’lady. I’m happy as long as I’ll be with you.” He then procured the rose and offered it to her with a wink. She graciously accepted it and led him into the dining area so they could enjoy some Glory Nectar. As he enters, he feels a slight pain in his arm from the magical tattoo he had – a tattoo to signify that he was a Paladin of the Night, or, more accurately, previously was a Paladin of the Night.


'Rena smiled at the gift of the rose, and placed it carefully within a dark emerald-coloured bowl of a strange stone or marble. Within it was a sweet pungent earth which almost burst with life. As she patted the rose into the earth, it glowed with more than colour.

"Thank you, Orion," she replied, looking a little bemused at the lovely compliment. "Happy as long as you're with me? Goodness... does that mean that you'll FINALLY agree to sit through a literary evening at 'Enry's, as long as I'm there?"

Orion blenched, and 'Rena couldn't help laughing softly. "Only joking..."

"Sitting through 'Enry's monologues could be the Rite of Patience," muttered Orion, finishing his goblet of Glory Nectar with a sigh of appreciation.

"Hmm... and putting up with the jokes of Keapon is the Rite of Hot Air," returned 'Rena, unable to resist. "Well, I suppose we'd better be on our way."

"The reservations are for seven." Orion helped 'Rena on with her cloak of shimmering twilight, and then he opened the door for them.

Just as the two stepped out, they became victims of the first prank - a certain trap set up by someone right outside La Tour de la Gloire...


So it worked after all! Mysterious figure in the bushes begun to shake. Not from cold or fear, but because of barely controlled laughter, which was almost impossible to keep quiet. As Orion tried to get out of mud pit, slipping back all the time, Rena cursed under her nose the moron who dug the hole up in the first place. Just when she was going to have a wonderful evening! Now she looked (and felt) awful. Both datees were covered in thick, brown mud. Everything from their heads to heels of their shoes needed cleaning, washing up and soon would require a chisel to get rid of quickly drying stuff. All careful preparations were ruined; but still, both Almirena and Orion, after finally getting out of the hole, were determined to continue with their date. Black silhouette, after fifteen minutes finally able to regain breath, nodded happily. The fun is not over yet!


'Rena narrowed her eyes so that the lashes came down to almost hide the glint of ice-chip blue. A spell formed in her muddy hand, a spell of mud-removal that completely removed the effects of the prank, but left her feeling as if someone had dipped her in an icy pool. "Brrrr!" she managed through chattering teeth. "Why does this spell always have such a horrible side effect?"

Orion shuddered slightly as he experienced the cleaning and chilling effect of the spell. But at least he no longer felt like a mud monster. "Who set THAT up?" he muttered, privately vowing to track down the miscreant and deal with him.

"I don't know - yet." 'Rena shivered again, and took a flask of Mana Potion from her inventory. Thanking heaven that the stuff didn't taste TOO bad, she sighed gratefully as the potion raced through her bloodstream, lifting her level of magic back up to an acceptable level. "Orion, we need to take a piece of this solidified mud with us and put it in the centre of the StoneHang Pillars. We will then be able to discover who set the trap."

"But StoneHang Pillars...? They're in Gramayre!" Orion crossed his arms, foreseeing that his carefully planned date was going completely amok. "Unless... well, it so happens that I know a Portal that leads to Nova Roma, and from Nova Roma to Gramayre. That would be reasonably quick, I suppose. And then we could still get to the restaurant in time for our reservation."

"That sounds like a plan." 'Rena looked pleased. "Do you mean the Portal in the Lake of Mirrors?"

"Exactly." Orion wasn't surprised that 'Rena knew of the Portal, since she had had ample time in Pleasaunce to check out all the sights. The two of them began running easily toward the Lake of Mirrors...


"Excellent! They do not know that I had destabilised the portal, so that it now may lead practically anywhere!... and what luck! Using local mud was a good idea after all, because if I had used that special stuff from my garden, they would have tracked me down in no time!..."

Humming joyfully, the stranger followed his recent victims, preparing to detect final destination of the couple. After teleportation he will know whether they had landed in some nice spot (he'd follow them there) or some nasty place - where they could get into something unpleasant without his help.


The two run forward towards the Lake of Mirrors. 'Just my luck! I finally get a date with a gorgeous woman and everything goes all haywire!' 'I go out and get the most expensive Tuxedo I could find, buy out the whole restaurant so 'Rena and I could have some time alone - and some blasted prankster ruins it for us!' Orion thinks as he runs awkwardly in his Armani Tux. Almirena, on the other hand, was running quite fast for someone in a gown - showing that she's done so before.

Orion hears Almirena giggling beside him as they ran. He looks over to her and raises an eyebrow. "What!?" he said quizzically.

"Oh, nothing... Just thinking about what we'd be doing right now if it wasn't for that trap."

"Oh..." Orion was tempted to tell Almirena about what he had planned, but there still was a chance of them having dinner at the restaurant.

The two finally reach the Lake of Mirrors and as Almirena prepares to cast the spell to open the Portal, Orion notices something strange.

"Hold on a second! Every time I've been here, I've found it hard to see because of the moonlight reflecting off the water..." 'Rena gives him a puzzled look. "Well, since the Full Moon was just two weeks ago, the moon should be reflecting," he says, pointing skyward to the cloudless night, a half moon was illuminating all but the tranquil waters of the Lake of Mirrors.

Almirena finally let down her arms, resisting the urge to cast the spell. "So, the Portal's down..."

"In a way, I'm glad it is... Nova Roma's not my favorite place in the world, and besides... I'm not very welcome there anyways."

"What now?" Almirena asked. "How do we get to the StoneHang Pillars now?"

"Do you happen to know any Dragon Charmers?" Ori suggested jokingly. It was too late though - Almirena already had a smirk on her face...


Oh darn it, they've noticed it! It doesn't matter... What are they talking about? StoneHang Pillars? My grandma used to live in that area... DRAGON CHARMERS?! This may get quite messy...

:the ~EVIL~doer wonders what to do next...:

I may be forced to call Flamey...


'...I'm not very welcome there anyways...'

'...StoneHang Pillars sqawk ...'

'...know any fzzzzzt Dragon charmers?...'

With a loud BANG, the scrying orb shattered into zillions of tiny fragments.

"Cheap peice of junk," murmured a shadowy figure. Turing to another orb, the reception was much better.

'...Sunny today, high in the mid sixties...' Wrong channel.

Grabbing some equipment which cound be placed into two categories (sharp, and very sharp), the shadowy figure raced out the door, hoping to find the StoneHang pillars first.

If only he knew the way...


'Rena looked contemplative. "We could try going by magic carpet, but... it would take hours! Even if we go by Dragon, it will end up taking too long. Orion... hmm... are you sure we can't fix this portal?"

Orion's face did not express his doubt, and he tried to sound confident but unencouraging. "Maybe. If we have a number 2 ratchet, and a double-feedback whatchamit, and a quadruple bypass hydra socket, and a fine selection of spanners."

'Rena smiled as if he'd just given her the best news she'd received all day. "Well, I just happen to have them in my Date Pack--"

Orion's jaw dropped momentarily, then he swiftly pushed it back into place. "You don't... do you?"

She did.

Orion couldn't help it - he burst out laughing. "Well, I suppose we have to fix it then..." He started taking off his tuxedo jacket (he didn't want grease to stain it, after all), but 'Rena shook her head slightly, waved her hand, and suddenly stood there in a pair of black overalls, her head scrunched back out of the way. She looked extremely business-like, and before you could say "chksl;daghlzhzhckdi", she was taking apart the Portal nuts and bolts behind the seaweed panel.

"Well, that's a spell I can cast," said Orion, and a magical field of grease-repelling air covered him.

"Okay, if you turn this bit here, then I'll..." began 'Rena.

"Yes, got it," returned Orion, and before too long, the two of them had fixed the portal.

"It'll do until the Portal People get here to do the job properly," said 'Rena, changing back with a wave of her hand into her evening clothes.

Orion looked with satisfaction at the fixed portal, then adjusted the settings. The Portal shimmered gold, almost blinding with energy. "Gramayre, here we come!" He waited until 'Rena had stepped through, then followed her in. "Aaagh!" He grabbed 'Rena's shoulder as the Portal shook slightly. "I think we forgot about the gravity adjustor!"

"Never mind!" 'Rena had to shout to be heard over the whirlwind noise. "It's still set to the right place - it'll just be a little bumpier than we expected!"

They were considerably tossed about, and they sighed with relief as they finally exited from the Portal onto a green tussocky hillside. The sun was almost setting in a spectacular purple-red anointing of colours in the west, the reddened shadows of lilac and grey spilling from the clouds down until they lay on the distant mountains and the great StoneHang like the dripping of the sky's wine.

The pillars of StoneHang were imposing and fantastic - huge columns rough-hewn, pure stone of a soft warm grey colour, with the faintest of peach-tinge in their depths. They stood tall and proud, forming a unique symbol which could be seen from the air - the symbol of eternity. At the very centre of the pillars, it was said, there was great and mysterious power...

'Rena and Orion began walking forward, not realising that the Portal behind was still active.


And that opportunity was instantly seized by the person we shall from now on refer to as Mr X. Despite wild screams which had abruptly stopped, X was certain that the teleportation ended successfully. The crystal ball he had found at the Used Magic Items And Minor Artifacts was still pretty good, and had only minor vision problems. When Mr X was sure that he won't be noticed, he stepped carefully into the portal. Landing was a bit rough and caused significant pain near the lower end of X's backbone, but at least he hadn't been forced to call Flamey yet; mischevious dragonling he got from his grandma for his 15 birthday was both very cute and very "playful". It liked to play with X, to be more exact. It was a miracle that he finally got his dragoning licence riding Flamey. X promised himself that while he already was near the Pillars he will visit his grandma and see how she is doing. But now, he had other things to do...


After traveling for a few hours, the mysterious person (not X) came upon a small house. Small, but large enough to withstand the magical energies of the portal it currently maintained...

Sparr (gasp) saw that the house was well guarded. It seemed the only way to enter undetected would be through the chimney, but he was missing a sack of goodies. He could bribe his way past the guards, but you never know...


Sparr looked into his inventory and pulled out a small mirror. It showed his reflection, but this was not an ordinary mirror.

"What do you want?" Sparr hissed, trying to keep quiet.

"Aren't you going in? You need to get to StoneHang pillars."

"I can't go in there! They got flails!"

"You can get a flail."

"They got magic spears!"

"You can get a magic spear."

"They got big muscles!"

There was a longish pause.

"You can get a magic spear."

"Oh, you're no help at all!" Sparr said, flinging the mirror away.


'Rena and Orion hear a sound behind them, and Orion, his senses on high alert, instantly dashes into a convenient bush, pulling 'Rena with him.

'Rena kept quiet, in spite of the discovery that the bush is actually a thorn bush. The footfalls were too ominous...


Orion, still unable to find the strangeness of his luck, first winning the date, then all the "Prankster's" we shall call him Mr. X... pranks ruined it. Now all of the sudden - footsteps are heard.

After a brief realization that bush he had dragged 'Rena into was a thorn bush, Orion tried to cast "Darkness Shield" - a Dark Paladin Ability, but quickly remembered that he no longer was a Dark Paladin - just an ordinary Fighter at the moment. His attention is again distracted as a hoofed foot steps in front of the bush they were hiding in. Ori and 'Rena slowly look up to see a young Minotaur. Without thinking, Orion leapt out of the thorn bush and unsheathed his sword. The Minotaur looked at him in fright. It quickly ran up to him, and embraced him in fear. The young Minotaur, it's height only coming up to mid-chest to Orion, seemed to take an instant liking to him. Almirena looked puzzled as she watched the scene unfold before her. Orion was at a loss for words... A baby Minotaur... who'd've guessed?

"It's a'ight 'Rena... I think you can come out," Orion said as he re-sheathed his sword.

The Minotaur had Orion in a death grip and wouldn't let go...


As X furiously curses the minotaur, the situation begins to look dangerous. The cute bully is close to bringing the date to a sudden - and dead - end. Mr X desperately tries to think of some inconspicious way of helping Orion...


The Minotaur lets go of Orion and sits down on the ground.

Almirena giggles softly. "I think it likes you."

"Erm, yeah... I've always wanted a pet Minotaur," he said sarcastically. I wonder what it wants?"

"I'm not sure," was all Almirena could think of for a reply.

The young Minotaur sat on the ground, looking playfully at Orion. It's horns had just started to grow, and were just little stubs sticking out from its forehead. It's brown fur had a few black hairs growing in. It's hooved feet slowly kicked the ground softly as it watched Orion with its large brown eyes.

"Well," 'Rena said, "We better get to the Pillars so we can get on with our date."

"That sounds like a plan," Ori relied, not taking his eyes off of the stare of the Minotaur. "Yeah, lets go."

The two started off to the StoneHang Pillars. As soon as Orion got far enough away, the young Minotaur stood up and started to follow. Rena and Ori heard its footfalls, again, and both turned to face it. Again, the Minotaur charged Orion and put him into a bear hug. Orion fell hard onto his back, getting the wind knocked out of him. It took all of Almirena's strength to pull the Minotaur off of him. After he caught his breath, Orion sat up and looked at the Minotaur.

"It looks like we have a tag-along," he said as he stood up. "Now for a name..."

"Er... A name?" Almirena questioned.

"Well, we can't just keep calling it Minotaur, can we?"


Sparr burst into the house, pointed out the door and said, "He's with me."

Sparr seemed to wilt under the stares of the dual-weilding occupants and obvious guardians of the portal. One of the guardians looked out the door.

"There's no one there," said tha Guardian.

"Are you sure?" Sparr was getting nervous. If they knew...

"I don't see anyone."

"Uh...maybe he just went around the corner...he's shy!"

Sparr began inching closer to the portal, away from the guards that closed in on him, flails ready to inflict serious pain...

"Hey, if you want to use the portal, all you have to do is..."


'Rena looked quizically at the affectionate Minotaur. "Well..." her lips curved up into a smile, "what about calling it Buldrick?"

"Bully for short?" Orion found that rather cute, especially since the baby Minotaur WAS being a little bit pushy with its affection. "Okay, Buldrick it is. Here, Bully... come on, get off me! No, not the lips! Don't lick the lips!"

'Rena wasn't helping, as she was currently laughing at the strange sight of the Minotaur lavishing its affection upon Orion. "I wonder... if you pour a dispel potion on it, will it turn into an Emir, or a Sultan, or...?"

Orion finally managed to get out from under the Minotaur, and gave it a severe but kind talking to. "You listen - I have a no-licking policy... at least for baby Minotaurs!" he said with a grin in 'Rena's direction. "Okay? No licking! Especially not on the mouth!"

The baby Minotaur looked up in a cute fashion, its ridiculously long eyelashes standing up like tiny spikes. "He's a honey," said 'Rena, patting its head. "Anyway, let's get to the centre..."

Orion stood up with 'Rena's help, and dusted himself down. The Minotaur trotted after them until finally... they reached the centre...


And all of the sudden a small dragon appeared!

X was slightly irritated, but not surprised. The beast could sense him for over thirty miles; and was always ready for a pat, hug or a piece of crystallised sulphur. Flamey (for it was him) was flying with great speed and in straight line towards Mr X.

He was only 65, but already his wings (golden-red, with greenish-blue pattern - an effect of breeding program that had lead to ornamental - rather than powerful - dragons) had been almost 30 feet long. He was still a child, but in a few years would begin the difficult process of changing into an adult male. X was very afraid of that. Flamey already was troublesome, and on more than one occasion had thrown X off, and even tossed him around sometimes; always careful not to do any real harm, he might just lose his "gentleness" during adolescence.

But that was still some time away, and currently the fabulously coloured dragon was charging through the air (at a very low altitude) towards X.

On his way, though, were the Pillars with Almirena, Orion and Bulrick inside. The first one to spot him was Bully...

El Ravager

It was a dark and stormy night... Eh, scratch that, it got old years ago. It was a bright and sunny day... No, too joyful. It was a mediocre day with lukewarm weather and no definite decision about any of the day's attributes. THAT's better.

Ravager of Lothlorien appeared on the road, and looked at his surroundings. "Where am I?" It was then that a voice identical to Ravager's interrupted. "You're on a road." "Who the heck are you?" "I you, sitting at my computer, trying to think of a decent post." "Oh, ok. How's it goin'?" "Not so good, I'm about to cut you." "What?!" "Sorry, pal, but I use you in pretty much all of my RPG type threads, and you're getting unoriginal." "Awww, C'mon." "Nope, sorry." "Sankuassi!" "Yep, bye." With that, Ravager dissapeared, snapped back into the massive realm of El's imagination.

Let's see, who should I play this time? "A Barrow-wight, black as tar, appeared on the road." Nope. They're cool, but not powerful enough. "A shadowy Nazgul appeared on the road with a flash of light." No. No Middle Earth/Tolkien characters and/or species will be allowed. Got it? "Ok." Good. Now then... "A giant pig appeared..." No, scrap that. "A Paladin of Tarna appeared on the..." No, Paladin's are used too much. "A well-dressed con-arti...erm...salesman appeared on the road." In a small house, in front of a copmuter, a light came on in El Ravager's head. "Yes perfect! Now, on with my post...."

"Hi there!" the well dressed man said cheerfully. "I'm Studley. Stanly Studley, but you can just call me Stan. You know, I don't like much in this world, but I can tell you one thing. I like you! And just by the light in your eyes, I can tell that you're a man of quality. A man of adventure. A man who doesn't take crap, and doesn't pay for crap, either. Today we're running a sale on-" before Stan could finish his pitch, the ground began to shake. "Well, looks like an earthquake, but don't worry! Stan's patented anti-quake devices will keep you smooth throughout those annoying Glorianna quakes. (Price and participation may vary, batteries not included, some assembly required.) Now going for the low low price of 139.95! But wait, there's more. If you buy within the next three-" He was cut off again, as a strange blue hole appeared between him and his sucke- customer. Like some freak black-hole vortex, it heaved Stan off the ground, and drew it into it's center, faster than you can say "prices inflated after 3:00 PM" which Stan can say VERY fast. He found himself being hurled through time and space painfully...


"NO! I refuse!"

"Come on, it's not that bad."

"I don't care. I'm not getting drunk and fighting some chromatic dragon!"

"Some chromatic dragon? You're talking about TIAMAT, the most evil, devious..."

"Why don't you hire a paladin?"

"They have better sense."

"You guys are weird. I'll be going now."

As the door shut, Sparr realized he had lost control of the situation. He was about to return, ask forgiveness, maybe say he just didn't want to drink too much, that's all, when a huge explosion knocked him off his feet. Bits of guard were everywhere. The weapons were strewn about, but mostly in good condition. That didn't bother Sparr.

The portal had vanished.


Orion and 'Rena felt the strong and ancient ambience of this place compress the very air, and 'Rena tried not to shiver as she remembered the gory sacrifices Stonehang had seen in the grisly past. Various cults had "set up shop" amid the pillars, only to end up mysteriously dead. People kept away from the pillars...

Yet it was a place of power.

'Rena put the dried mud down upon the centre of the stone floor, and Orion, having seen her shiver, handed her his cloak. "Here," he offered.

'Rena shook her head with a small smile. "It isn't the cold that made me shiver," she found herself whispering, and Orion nodded. He knew what she meant.

The setting sun struck forth a blaze of sword-like light directly upon the mud, and 'Rena cast TRIGGER at the same moment. The mud released its information gleefully... and the name of the prankster was revealed in foggy letters in the air.

El Ravager

Stanley Studley, super salesman, fell out of the anti-anomoly time warp black hole vortex technobabble thingy, and found himself surrounded by stones and mist. "This reminds me of that computer game, King's Quest 6, where only for 59.95 PLUS the hintbook! There's no better offer out there, folks, NOW is the time to order!


There was, in fact, one letter.


His name is X?! It can't be! - Almirena uttered a melodic and nicely vibrating cry, and then realized that there was a way to outsmart divination magics.

More than one way, to tell the truth, but THIS effect suggested a Scry-Off amulet, which made it's owner immune to all Scrying, Searching, Identyfying and such. They were rare, and most of them belonged to a small, weird bunch of freaks who called themselves "The Nonsuchers". That was about everything they allowed to be known about them. They weren't - usually - dangerous, though some of them were rumoured to work as sellswords (if this term can be applied to people whose main weapon is uncontrollable laughter. Many of them succumbed to their own methods, and were barely able to finish their tasks). The main goal of Nonsuchers remained unknown.

Mr X, who had spotted Flamey some time before, wondered if the dragon (now less than a mile away) will throw Almirena and Orion off the peak... But what was much, much worse, the multicoloured winged creature could give X's hiding place away...

El Ravager

Stanley's huge bag of merchandise was too heavy for him to carry over long distances. He usually used tamed Cheetaurs to pull his cart, but no tamed Cheetaurs were in sight. "Dangit, I'll have to lighten the load. Lesse, I don't need this guitar, or this hairdryer-" Stan dropped them "And this Scry-off amulet nullifier is useless. No one has Scry-off amulets any more, except for the Nonsuchers who are rumored to work will sellswords (all sellswords are 50% off this week-end and Monday at Stan's Pre-owned and New Mechandise, order yours today :bg: )." Stan dropped the nullifier to the ground, which broke. "There we go, now I'll go see if I can find unwitting adventurers who need to buy "quality" *snort* equipment..."


Almirena crossed her arms and said, "Well, that's easy enough. Now we know the identity of the prankster, so I'll set up an anti-X field around us while we head over to the restaurant."

Orion nodded. "To tell the truth, I was getting worried you'd want us to find and punish the prankster immediately." Of course, he'd HELP her... even plan the whole thing! ... but... this was a DATE for heaven's sake! And he wasn't even carrying his adventurer badge with him...

"Well, sometimes I might do that," admitted 'Rena with a grin, "but I think we're both ready for dinner..."

They both laughed in agreement, and hastily made their way back to the Portal.

El Ravager

Stan heared people approaching, so he struck up his best grin, and slicked his hair back. Sure enough, a man and a woman could soon be seen. Stan approached them. "Hody, folks. I'm Studley. Stanley Studley, but you can call me Stan, all my friends do. You know, I don't like much, but I can honestly say right now that I like you two! I can tell that you're people of style. People of quality. People who don't want to spend too much money for something worthless. Soo, Stanley Studley is here to help. This week we're having a sale: five percent off ALL merchandise! 'Am I hearing correctly?' you might ask yourself. 'Is Stan REALLY so generous as to put such a discount on his wonderful, high quality merchandise??' The answer is YES!!" Rapidly, so no one could make out what he was saying, Stan mumbled, "Offer only due if accompanied by a duck, prices prone to inflation, we reserve the right to refuse cheap prices to anyone, batteries not included, crystals sold seperately, some assembly may be required." He flashed them his most convincing smile.


The true darkness of night set upon Ori and Rena as they re-entered the canopied path towards the Portal. All light from the moon and stars were blocked by the tree limbs. Following closely behind the two was Buldrick, who let out a loud cry and tackled Orion – again.

“Blasted Minotaur!” Orion groaned. Almirena would have said something, but she was too busy diving on the ground to avoid a dragon flying their direction. Bully whimpered and squeezed Orion in fear. ‘Rena stood up and cast a simple CALM spell to quiet Bully so Orion could stand himself.

The dragon landed awkwardly about 200 yards down the path. It raised its head and breathed fire down on a bush at the side of the path – turning it to ashes. Where the bush once stood was a mysterious hooded figure, unharmed by the flames. Orion ran up to the person, who tried to back away. Rena and Bully followed.


Oh, hello Flamey... said X, who HAD expected such a warm welcome. It was almost a year since he'd visited Flamey. Seeing the couple running towards him X jumped on the dragon. Great... another ride without the saddle or straps...

But Flamey, despite his joyful mood, understood the gravity of the situation, and with an appropriate to his size gravitas denied the force of gravity, leaving two angry people behind. The beautiful yet very powerful voice of Almirena chased X for the next mile, and finally faded in the wind rushing around the dragon rider...

That was too close, Flamey - said X, and patted dragon on the neck. Such patting could seriously maim a dog and leave the patter with a hand shortage, but with Flamey's thick skin such force was the only way to make him feel it. Dragon's huge, multicoloured eyes turned on him, and X could have sworn that there was something spaniel-like in their looks. "It wasn't my fault that you hadn't visited me for such a long time" they seemed to say. "And you can't blame me for that little outburst of joy when we met."

Oh, all right. I love you too, Flamey - said X and embraced dragon's neck. He did it both to show his feelings towards the creature and to secure his flight ON it.

X finally managed to take a closer look at the wings. With a certain dose of both pride and fear he had noticed changes in their pattern. Very small, and almost invisible for an ordinary person, to X, who was practically born on a dragon, they showed that Flamey had begun to change...

And soon the flight - to X's surprise and joy - stopped. Without any steering dragon landed on a glade. X got off, again hugged Flamey and took out his crystal ball, not noticing another pair of big eyes that had carefully observed him from the forest.

El Ravager

When the man ignored Stan, he thought it was just out of rudeness. "Blasted minotaur!" the man shouted. Stan was confused. Soddenly the man dove to the ground. Stan whirled and, seeing the dragon, dove to the ground as well, continuing his speech, "Please keep in mind that offer not valid while..." Seeing that the man was not interested, Stan stopped. "Ah, fine, I wouldn't sell stuff to you if you begged me." Then, his eyes lit up, seeing a new potential customer. Stan ran toward the dragon, and shouted up to the cloaked man. "Hi! I'm Stanley Studley! Are your vilanous plotting devices wearing out? Going bald? Need a stamina lift? Why, I've got the-" It was futile, however, as the man and dragon took off. "Dagnabbit!"


A figure sat hunched next to the portal in the Lake of Mirrors, obviously messing with it. There was a sudden flash of light, the words "Portal People" embroidered on his back appeared, and he was blown several yards back.

Spearflight blinked as his vision wavered and cursed silently. "I knew I shouldn't have skipped that last test for the FPRCS (Famous Portal Repairman's Correspondence School)."

He glared menacingly at the portal, but it chose to ignore him. Spearflight picked up his magical wrench and threw it at the darned thing. The wrench disappeared into the portal and Spear was taken by surprise when, a scant second later, the wayward portal reopened behind him and the wrench slammed into the back of his head. Spear could have sworn that he heard mocking laughter.

Rubbing the back of his head and muttering something about insufficient pay, not to mention the appaling lack of good medical benefits, Spear limped back to his toolbox and the broken portal and hoped that he could finish in time to make it home to watch 'Who's Pun is it Anyway?'


'Rena stared, amazed at the snappy chatter of the salesman, and started to shake her head.

"I don't think we need anything from you," she said politely. "But thank you for offering."

Stan immediately began again, "Don't run off, good folks, buy, buy, buy my products! I'm the best, forget the rest, I can sell like a mane out of Hades!"

"That's fine," said King Orion. "Good. Congratulations. I know a fish you could try to sell things to. Do you want his address?"


After a quick slip of Chester’s business card to the salesman, Orion threatened the salesman to leave – or face the consequences. The man naturally fled for fear of his life. Bully chased after him until they were both out of sight.

Orion sighed as they approached the curve to the Portal. “We’ll have to come back to see the lil’ bugger soon,” he said as he cast a simple CLEANSE spell on the two of them to remove the dirt and mud from their outfits. ‘Rena then magically replaced her overalls with her violet gown as they reached the portal.

“Well, let’s let this ‘X’ person slide for now.” Almirena said with a grin, “I’m famished.”

Orion asked for the number 2 ratchet from ‘Rena’s ‘Date Pack’™, and went over to the portal and gave it a few swift turns with the ratchet – setting it to send them to Krakow, Harmunia – a small province in Denya – just a few miles southwest of Mordavia – Orion’s hometown. ‘Wait till she sees the Diner I chose for her! The finest in Denya!’ he said giddily to himself.

“Shall we,” he motioned to the Portal, and the two walked through it arm-in-arm. After a rough landing on the other side, Almirena asked the question Orion had been dreading to hear his whole life…

“So, what are you King of…?”

He sighed and started to explain……


X was glaring into his round, crystal tele-visor and felt a bit depressed. Since he begun his Quest for Fun he had scored only minor and unimportant successes, while suffering a great deal of inconveniences. The only positive thing that happened up to now was seeing Flamey again...

The dragon suddenly raised his head, produced a small flame (clearly because of joy) and begun to run towards the nearby group of trees. Another dragon stepped out from the bushes, and X recognized that it was a female. X realised that she must have been watching him for some time, and shown herself only because Flamey had spotted her. Without further delay both dragons had spread their wings and raised above the ground. X's friend looked at him, as if waiting for something.

All right, you may go... Have fun! - X added, wondering if they'll become something more than playmates during next few decades. - Only try to be focused on me in case I'd need your help!

While the dragons were flying away X had observed the other dragon's wings. The pattern was different from Flamey's, and maybe even more beautiful; there was a full range of colours, from dark purple to almost-white yellow, but the gold was dominant.

X shrugged, and thought about the pesky seller. The silly man might just have something useful... where was he now?


“Oh boy… Where to start... I assume you know about my father, right?” Ori started off a bit reluctantly as they walked towards the restaurant – The Midnight Café.

“Yes, I know a bit. He was always ‘front page news’ in the Glorianna Tribune. He was voted the most ~EVIL~ person in Glorianna in one poll they gave.” (the results were Damian Rezil – 90% everyone else 10%)

Orion continued – wincing at the information Rena reiterated. “He once seized control of a small island outside of Nova Roma. He gave the island to me as a birthday present. Of course, at the time, I was thrilled about it, since I was taking after him in ways of belief.” He took a deep breath and forcefully held back the tears. ‘I’m on a date! I can’t let ‘Rena see me cry!’ he thought to himself. Despite his efforts, a tear trickled down his cheek. “The people there took to me quickly and gave me the title of King. I regret taking control of the island now, but then I was a Dark Paladin, and nobody was stupid enough to tell me no…”

Almirena realized she reached a touchy subject for Orion and despite her wonder of what the name of the island was, she thought it best not too. Instead, she took Orion’s hand to comfort him as they approached the gate to Krakow.


X had finally scryed the seller; due to a lack of air transport he took out an ancient Instant Travelling Device Kit. It consisted of two wheels, a plank and a stick to steer the thing. He then assembled it and rode towards Stan...


Somewhere in the night, a bear strummed a mandolin very clumsily and sang in a nasal whine...

"Mooooonlight becomes yoooooouuu... it goes with your haaaaaaair..."



A small statue of an elegant bear stood guard in the city square. 'Rena examined the plaque beneath it: Most Famous Singing Bear of Krakow Square ran the inscription.

It was bizarre, puzzling. "Is this a statue of a singing bear, or is a singing statue of a bear?" she mused aloud. "And do bears sing at all?"

"Well, bears have been known to do all sorts of things," replied Orion, with a few rather vivid memories of certain bears he'd encountered. "There was a bear once who was really a baronet, in..."

"In Spielburg," finished 'Rena, and the two of them frowned in puzzlement. "Did you meet the Baron's son in bear form? I don't understand that... I used the dispel potion on him! Surely he wasn't kidnapped AGAIN!"

"This is weird." Orion stared briefly at the statue of the bear, as if for inspiration. "I freed the bear... from the Kobold in a cave in Spielburg..."

"... that was guarded by a huge ogre... and the bear was chained up..."

"... and I had to give it some meat..."

"... and the Kobold had the key to the chain..."

Strange spooky music began playing in the background, heightening their sense of eeriness. "How can this be?" Almirena crossed her arms. "Now... I suppose it's POSSIBLE that the Baronet was turned into a bear twice... but... by the same Kobold that we both killed? In the same cave? Same method?"

"I'm not usually into conspiracy theories," muttered Orion, "but this has all the earmarks of a REAL conspiracy. Maybe... maybe it was all some sort of game, or trick...?"

'Rena said, "Yet the Kobold ... I really did kill it." Orion nodded - he had, too. Then he remembered something...

"Look! Wait! Look!" He began digging hurriedly in his inventory, and pulled out a crumpled and folded excerpt from a Spielburgian Town Crier Gazette. There in the personal ads was an intriguing little item:

WANTED: Kobold for professional acting job. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Top rates. Apply in writing to The Rebel With a Claws, c/- Stables, Spielburg.

"This is becoming more and more suspicious," muttered 'Rena. "Bernard is HIRING Kobolds to kidnap him and turn him into a bear?"

Orion shook his head. This was stranger than anything Chester had ever done. That fish was certainly not an average fish (in fact, the last Orion had heard, Chester had been getting a suntan and plotting revenge upon Klausse), but Chester had never done anything so ridiculous as hiring someone to kidnap him and turn him into ANYTHING. "Bernard's a strange person - I wanted to kick him the whole time I was in the castle - but this is beyond weird," he said, and then he saw 'Rena's eyes widen.

"Ah... idea!" she exclaimed, and reached into HER inventory to find a scrapbook of handy advertisements (every adventuress has one. They're so handy. That's why they are called handy advertisements). She leafed through the scrapbook, and then pointed to one particular article which warned of Dispel Potion addiction, stating that the shock of pleasure experienced by the application of Dispel Potion had resulted in a dangerous subculture of addiction, lying, theft, and bizarre behaviour by those who went to extraordinary lengths to re-experience the thrill of the Dispel Potion.

"Could it be?" Orion could hardly believe it. "The Baronet is an ADDICT?"

"And deliberately getting Kobolds murdered? OoooooHHHHH!" 'Rena was definitely infuriated. "I killed an innocent Kobold! He set me up!"

Orion couuld see that 'Rena was genuinely upset, and put a consoling hand around her shoulders. "Look, he set me up too. And I wouldn't be surprised if ALL the adventurers who ever went through Spielburg have been fooled. It's all right... you couldn't know... We'll set up a Relief Fund for the Families of Slain Kobolds..."

'Rena nodded, trying not to think about the perfidious Baronet, but mentally deciding that at some point, she'd have to confront that mean nasty arrogant little feather-hatted twit. "Okay..."

As the moonlight glinted upon her face, Orion found himself saying something about how the moonlight gave her an even more enchanting appearance (Smooth line, Onion! he mocked himself), and was astonished to suddenly hear a voice floating out from behind them, accompanied by the strains of a mandoline.

"Mooooonlight becomes yoooooouuu... it goes with your haaaaaaair..."

'Rena and Orion turned around, to behold... yes... the SINGING BEAR!

El Ravager

In the short five minutes that took place between Stan's run in with the couple and X's construction of a plank bike thingey, our semi-hero Stanley Studley has impossibly managed to build a large office building on a clearing just off the road, complete with hardwood floors, a secretary, all of his goods for sale, and clever lava lamps for added special effects. At the top of the building, in large flashing red-and-yellow letters, the word "Stan's" is spelled out. A sign by the door displays for all to see "Pre-owned and new merchandise of all kinds". Yesiree, that Stan has done it again! As we join Stanley, he is sitting in his office, having a discussion with his secretary. Let's watch.

"Yes, you said you didn't want to be distured unless it was mister Shadow, and it's Mr. Shadow on-" Stan interrupted. "Hey! Now you're stealing lines from Sci-fi movies! Stop that, please." His secretary, Marlene, nodded. "Now then, down to business. I'll need twenty shipments of Aziza's Glorianna Blast cereal by Friday, and two energizer bunnies." "Yes, Mr. Studley. That's twenty shipments of-" Stan interrupted again. "Hey look, a potential customer! It's that mysterious fellow with the dragon I saw earlier! Be back in flash!" He pulled on a pink and cyan checkered coat, and a large sombrero, and made his way outside, to sit on his front porch in a business-manly way.


"Oh, hello, my good man!"

to himself: you always have to be quicker than they are with this false politeness, it confuses them;

"Is there anything you can do for me?"

(this will put him up on his feet, no doubts about it)

"I need some specialistic equipment, but probably you won't have it here..."

(now he will sell me EVERYTHING, even stuff he wouldn't have shown to his most trusted friend; if he has one, of course, har, har, har)

"I have a significant amount of money, and I hadn't obtained it by buying worthless items. And don't even try to sell me junk, my good man."

After these words X put his right arm on Stan's shoulder; the grip was strong and clearly suggested that no trick should be played on the hand's owner. Ever.

"So, what do you have to offer to such a nice person like me?"

El Ravager

When we last left our semi-Hero Stanley Studley he was attempting to sell merchandise to a mysterious hooded figure. Let's watch...

"Hello there son." Stan said, waving his arms around like an Iltalian. "I can tell you right now that you've come to the right place! Welcome to Stan's! Home of quality merchandise for an acceptable price! Here at Stan's we try our hardest to make sure the customer is given the best service possible. I can tell just by the way you dress, that you are a man of quality! A man of style! A man who doesn't take crap or buy it either. I can also tell that you're obviously villainous! But that's not something to be ashamed of, son. *Never* be ashamed of who you are. Now then, do you need fresh Hero traps? Scariness amplifiers? Mysterious robes? Hey, whatever you need, we've got it, here at Stan's!!


This man must be a complete loon! I've met GNOMES who were more sane than he is! Oh well, I just might take advantage of this...

"I just might be interested in date ruining devices... something nasty, slightly cruel maybe, with a dash of mischief and random destruction; mind you, no serious harm or mutilations of any sort. Something that would let me introduce chaos into a peaceful relationship. Show me what you have, and I'll decide if that's what I'm looking for... unless, of course, you have the EMCA Date Ruiner's Kit? The one with Nasty Surprise Device, Ugliness Potions, Argument Powder, Slap-In-Face Inductor and so on?"

El Ravager

"Date ruining devices?" Stand said, his grin getting wider. "Why, you've DEFINATELY come to the right place, son. Here at Stan's we have lots and lots of high quality anti date devices! Let me show you what we have in stock!" Stan started tapping his foot, and looking down the road expectantly. Soon, out of nowhere, a giant set of shelves-on-wheels came barreling toward the store. It came to a stop just next to the driveway/path. "Allright son, let's have a look!" Stanley and the hooded man walked over to the set of shelves. "As you can see, we have lots and lots of merchandise! The Whoopie-gel 3000, guaranteed to make a date way more embarrasing! The face-grease guns, bad hair day devices, brea- know. Temporary mammae enlargers, slap inducers, and, of course, and all time favorite of mine: The pattented, guaranteed-for-life EMCA Date Ruiner's Kit Deluxe! foralimitedtimeonly, weareofferingatubeofwhoopie-gelabsolutelyFREEwiththispurchase.


"Right. Goodbye."

After such unexpected words Stan stood confused for a moment, watching X leave. Before he could utter a word, cloaked figure disappeared behind the trees. Stan was really irritated. Mumbling, he went inside his shop. After the shop's door had closed, X ran out of the bushes, grabbed some of the devices and vanished again, this time for good. Unfortunately, he also dropped a small bag of dragonnip that was worth twice it's weight in gold. Stan, who just had noticed the robbery, had also noticed the bag. With a big grin, he returned to his store.

Unaware of his loss, X again assembled his travelling device and rode towards Krakow.

El Ravager

"This could be useful." Stan said. "However, he *did* fail to pay for what he took! Fortunately, all of Stan's devices are equipped with a pattented "auto-pay" system. Through the use of magic and/or some unexplainable technobabble device thingy, it transports the exact amount of money owed straight from the first person it sees with neccessary funding to my safe! Whether the money came from the robber or not isn't my problem, just so long as I get it!"

Meanwhile, on the road a few miles back, a man called Fred walked along, very happy. He'd finally saved up enough to buy several date-ruining devices. What a horrible surprise when the money jumped out of his pack, and flew straight for Stan's at a speed the eye couldn't follow. We now return you to your regularly scheduled post.

"Oh shoot!" said Stan. "I forgot to give the cloaked guy his free stuff!" He walked off the right of the screen, and by some strange coincidence (or not) found himself walking straight toward the cloaked figure. "How did you get here?" The mysterious figure asked, but Stan had already started talking, much to the dismay of the cloaked man. "Hey, there, son! I forgot to give you your free tube of whoopie-gel!" Stan said, handing the tube over to the strange person. "And here, have a free business card, good for opening hotel room doors! And here, a free compass! It always points toward good deals and great prices at Stan's!" Stan handedthem over, and started the walk back to his shop, whistling happily.


First, while Spearflight had been fixing the portal and almost had it realigned to the original settings it was supposed to be at, someone on the other end messed with that one. Now someone would have to go and fix it later.

Then, while he had been pondering the merits of overtime pay, some cloaked figure on a piece of wood with wheels came barreling along out of the night. Spearflight barely had time to jump out of the way before the figure was past.

However, he had jumped into the wayward portal. This just isn't my day, he thought as he was ripped through the magical ether to another place. As he neared the end of his trip, he heard a nasal whine. "Mooooonlight becomes yoooooouuu... it goes with your haaaaaaair..."

The portal appeared between the singing bear and the happy couple then flashed back out, leaving Spearflight in a crumpled heap on the ground, twitching sporadically. He was (surprise surprise) gibbering and foaming all over the ground.


The singing bear stopped abruptly as it realized it had been spotted. It stared at 'Rena and the Onion in confusion.

"Errr... good evening."

"Nice night to be out."



There was another awkward pause.

"What are you doing in our date, abusing some perfectly innocent music like that?"

"Would you believe that I liberated it from an organ grinder and his monkey?"




"It was a three-headed monkey. Honest," said the bear, backing away slightly.


"And... umm... it's right over there!" The bear quickly scampered away into the night to look for some other mischief to cause.


After the strange bear ran off, Ori and Rena both but their attention on the twitching person lying on the ground before them.

"Spearflight!!!" Orion yelped. The man looked up with his twitching eyes and managed to grin with twitching lips - his teeth were amazingly twitching.

"You know him?" Rena asked.

"We were best friends in junior high, but then everything with my dad happened." he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pouch of pills. He opened it, took a healing pill, and placed it in Spearflight’s mouth. In a few minutes the twitching stopped. He looked up.

"Thanks Onion!" Spearflight said as he slowly, but unsteadily, rose to his feat. Orion winced as that name came from someone other than a female. They embraced in their joyous reunion. "I haven't seen you since your father went all psycho! How've ya been!"

He muttered the reply into Spearflight’s ear. "Let's meet up some other time... I'm kinda on my first date." Spear looked at Almirena and his eyes opened in excitement.

"Oh my gods! I've read all your theories! Holy PANTS! I can't believe it!"

Almirena's faced turned a darker shade of red as Orion shot dirty looks at Spearflight.


'Rena felt herself blushing a little as Orion's friend Spearflight began burbling enthusiastically about her published theories. "You read my theories?"

Spearflight nodded like a marionette with a broken neck. "The one about sub-portals, and the one about the forgotten language of the Forgotten City, and the one about using Elemental Emissions for faster carpets, and the one about soaking strawberries in a strawberry liquer before coating them in chocolate..."

'Rena put up a hand to her face, trying to cover her smile. She smiled rather ruefully with her eyes at Orion. "Er, okay, he's read my theories!"

King Orion crossed his arms and assured Spearflight, "You don't have to list them all."

"I don't?" Spearflight was on his feet, leaning against a lamp-post by now. He was about to say something more, but was interrupted by the sound of a great clock striking the hour.

Orion's eyes widened. "Holy Socks-for-Ad! We're going to be late! Sorry, Spearflight, gotta run."

As good luck would have it, there was a super-fast carpet for hire just next to them. Orion helped 'Rena get onto the carpet before seating himself, and then directing it to the restaurant. "On the double," he added, and the carpet took off as if it already had Elemental Fuel Injection.


X had just reached the city, when he noticed the carpet flying towards a restaurant. He got off his travelling device and run after the carpet. Unfortunately, it was flying much too fast for him.

X decided to check out his date ruining devices. He chosen one at random: "The Slapping Inductor". Turned on, the rod-like thing begun to hum quietly. X pointed it towards a young, happy couple. In a matter of seconds the girl (with a surprised look on her face) slapped her boyfriend. Young man looked like a kicked spaniel, and as soon as X turned the Inductor off, they've both hugged, girl saying something about a bad day.

"Good. Not TOO brutal, and temporary."

The Argument Powder caused a general confusion and some random fighting on the street; other devices made, i. e., food to look like it had at least a month, candles to burn in seconds with a huge flame and people to get really angry without any apparent reason.

"Time tooooo say goooodbyeeee..." X hummed as he moved towards the restaurant, leaving a small riot behind.


Searching thr ruins of the house that previously contained the portal to StoneHang pillars, Sparr found an old mug. At one time, there was lettering on it, but all that remained was a few faded letters: ing r le. Amazingly, Sparr also found an undamaged keg with the same inscription on its side.

Breaking the seal, he found that the keg was about three quarters full with liquid. Feeling rather thirsty, he dipped the mug in, then took a big gulp.


Back in Silencer's apartment.

The light was streaming through the windows running over Sil's eyes forcing him rudely awake.

'Damn it! Let me sleep!'

Reaching with his mind he shut the blinds, removing the sunlight from the room, letting him and Tin sleep.

'That's better.'

Burrowing back into his pillow he returned to peaceful slumber.


After a quick, and terrifying, ride on the carpet, they arrive at The Midnight Café. Orion opened the door and followed Almirena into the small restaurant.

'Rena was impressed by the fanciness of the small café. A total of 20 tables were in the main room, each with their own chandelier over it. Placed one each table was a green, red, and white checkered tablecloth, much like an Italian diner. Almirena’s face sank as she noticed each table had somebody dining at it. A man with a moustache and goatee approached the two.

“Ah! Good evening Mr. Rezil. You’re right on time!” Everyone in the café stopped when they heard his name and looked at him. They noticed he wasn’t his father, and went back to eating. “Now if you two will just follow me, I’ll show you to your seats.”

They followed the waiter into a small (10x10) room with one candle-lit table. Orion went and pulled out a seat and Almirena sat down. He then went over and sat down himself…


X sneaked inside the restaurant through the kitchen door. Unnoticed by anyone, thanks to his superior sneaking skills (and a gulp of invisibility potion), the Villain moved to the small (10x10) room. He knew well that for son of Mr. Rezil something special would be prepared, and he also knew the M. C. well enough to know where such a place was.

Thanks to temporary invisibility and the size of the room, X managed to sneak inside while the waiter was taking order. The music, slightly muffled and quiet anyway, was nonetheless loud enough to mask X's moves. Carefully he took out a small amount of Argument Powder (antidote was included - "no point in getting angry yourself", the instruction said) and the Inductor. Two dashes of Powder flew gently towards Rena and Orion. Meanwhile the Inductor begun to hum undetectably...

Suddenly, despite the fact that everything was going perfectly fine, the Villain had begun to feel an unexplicable fear. That feeling was weak, almost as if it wasn't there, but the urge to leave was getting stronger and stronger. Special training made X very sensible to such signs, as they were almost always accurate.

"Just a moment more, I've got to see what they'll do NOW..."


Unfortunately, Orion was alergic to Arguement powder - one of the few things he is alergic to. After a few sneezes, the stood up and cast Detect. Almirena started to look at Orion through squinted eyes.

The spell illuminated a figure of a human, and stopped the effect of the invisibility potion. Mr. X was standing there with a grin on his face, oblivious to his visibility.

'Shadow Bats!' Orion yelled as he cast the spell towards Mr. X. Grey bats of pure Mana hit X in the chest and threw him to the wall.

Orion walked over to the person and grabbed them by the collar.

"GET OUT!!!" He threw X out the doorway, where the Waiter had a guard ready.

"What's the big Idea ruining our date like that!" 'Rena screamed at Orion - the argument powder affected her.


Her eyes flashing magnificently, 'Rena began to move straight into prima donna tirade mode - and if you've ever seen an angry prima donna, you'll know how impressively ... er... argumentative that is.

"I didn't ruin our date!" snapped King Orion, feeling his allergy settle into his sinus cavities, and the powder making him inexplicably argumentative.

"Yes, you did."

"No, I didn't."

"Yes, you did."

"No, I d... wait, this isn't a real argument!" Orion crossed his arms over his chest.

"Yes, it is," replied Almirena, tilting her nose into the air.

"It is not."

"It is."


"It is. We're arguing... see? It's an argument."

"It is not!" refuted Orion.

"It is! O cielo, molto terribile, con una forte voce! Ah, terribile! Terribile! Argumentato con spinto! Verismo furore!" 'Rena launched into a series of angry-sounding operatic phrases, making up the words as she went, and then started to repeat them with spectacular coloratura ornamentations while King Orion inserted some interpolative arguments in Denyan... at which point she started realising how silly it all was. Snap! Her mind latched onto the mysterious figure who had been revealed, and the itchiness of their ('Rena's and Orion's) tongues in wanting to argue, and she came to a conclusion.

"Argument powder!" Her eyes narrowed, and she cast a low-level dispel spell (try saying that ten times - fast). The powder immediately lost its effectiveness, and 'Rena shook her head. "Who is doing this to us? This X person?"

"He's trying to make this an X-rated date!" put in Orion, grinning at his joke even when 'Rena rolled her eyes.

"Well, the payback cheque for X has just gone up - dramatically," said 'Rena in a long, drawled-out way. She obviously meant it, and judging by her inventive mind, the promised vengeance would probably be... spectacular.

"Do you mind if I put up an X-Cone around this room?" offered Orion, and 'Rena nodded in a definite way.

"Or even a little X-trap?" she suggested, her eyes gleaming rather wickedly.


"Ohhh what joy" muttered X under his nose after hitting the wall. The Inductor fell out from his hand, and was now pointing towards the waiter. The poor man suddenly felt an urge to slap the guard, who was just entering the room. The aftermath: Guard - 1, Waiter - 0.

While Almirena was still under effect of the Powder and was still effectively preventing Orion to act against the real villain, X stood up and prepared to jump out through the window. When the effect of Powder ended, the evildoer was already getting out. His only thought (after overhearing something about "payback") was to get away as fast as possible, before anything else happens.

Unfortunately, something happened. The young dragon was just playing with his friend. He overfealt X's fear and immiediately flew downwards to the city to help. The other dragon, thinking that it was just another game, followed him.

Krakow's citizens were accustomed to dragons; many lived nearby, and the only one that had ever threatened the city was now turned into some very nice shoes and bags, so a sight of two relatively small creatures over their heads hadn't been anything new. But as Flamey and his companion got closer, some of the locals begun to worry. They had a good reason for that.

X was already over sixty steps away from the restaurant, when Flamey, at full speed, hit the building...


The poor creature failed to slow down, and was now lying in debris. One of his wings was hurt, and the dragon was smoking sadly. He quite quickly recovered from the shock and, limping, walked towards X.

Local militia chief summarised the whole event (trying to impress his commander with bad Latin) like this:

"... and ye draco flew awaye, but not befure a man dressed in blacke robes hath healeth his winge with a simplaex spell. He then disappeareth, after drinking an elixier. Ye deversorium was almost destruxit, but cum gratio Dei, no living wight got killeth, although some of ye deversores were badlye bruiseth, one of them a filius of a well known man, who had asketh me not to mention his nomen."


Editor's note: Pooky's translation of the above paragraph, which she described as a revisitation of Maiandra's translation, is as follows --

<<And the dragon flew away, but not before a man dressed in black robes had healed his wing with a simple spell. He then disappeared, after drinking a potion. Your (restaurant?) was almost destroyed, but by the grace of god, no living (creature?) got killed, although some of your (restaurant guests?) were badly bruised, one of them a (son) of a well known man, who had asked me not to mention his name.>>


Spearflight was walking near the building when Flamey hit it, and just narrowly dodged a few wayward bricks that had decided he would make a fine target.

"Whew, they almost got me."

Just then the other dragon, still thinking it was a game, hit Spearflight at full speed. The dragon, rumbling with laughter, stood back up and then flew off, leaving Spearflight lying unconscious three feet below ground level.

Bob Mantaris

Bob was fuming. How had he let this situation get away from him? He scryed on Almirena and Orion with malicious wrath in his eyes. Bob was certain Orion had drugged that tiramisu, and manipulated Almirena's mind with his Dark Paladin powers. He had to do something to stop this date before it got too far. Leaving the imager in his library, Bob cast a dark spell on the gargoyle near the back and muttered the password. His secret office had all-black décor, scorched skeletons hanging from the ceiling, and the walls were slick with something that looked like blood. Bob opened the cabinet and said hello to Hector the Hexapod.

"Hector? Can you reach back there and get my Cloak of Darkness (+724 to ~EVIL~ness ), as well as some ~EVIL~ stationary?"

"Sure thing, Boss," Hector growled back, reaching his tentacles far into the back of the cabinet.

Bob put on his cloak and received some parchment made from human skin and some ink made from blood. He sat down at a modest desk made from a coffin supported by severed legs. He began writing letters.

"Dear friends:

"I have a most interesting business proposal to make. One that could be very lucrative- and satisfying. Meet me at exactly midnight at Dillain's Diner on Poison Arrow Blvd, on the outskirts of Loondes, Gramayre. Arrive discreetly; the password is 'Cruciatus.'"

He stamped each of the letters with the six-pointed seal of Avoozl, and sent them off via owl to "X", the Demoness Katrina, Frankmaster, the Demon Queen, the Present Villian of Quest for Glory Six, Pooky, Maghrabi, and Addy.


Mr X, now wandering through the streets of Krakow and thinking about last events, slowly loses his enthusiasm.

He'd almost decided to give it all up, when suddenly an owl appeared. X was surprised, not many of these birds enter cities, and this specific one looked very determined. And it wasn't long before the bird landed on X's shoulder and looked with it's big eyes into almost-ex-villain's face. The man noticed a message attached to the bird's leg. He read it, and sighed. He Fetched a small rat for the owl, and went into a dark corner. There he begun to weave a Teleportation spell. Rarely he did it, as it always caused him to have a severe headache. With a nasty pain in his cerebrum, X stepped into the portal leading to a similar place on the outskirts of Loonde. His arrival remained unnoticed, and Mr X slowly begun to walk towards Dillain's Dinner...


After satisfying his thirst, Sparr felt rather giddy. Several men in shades and dark suits rushed in. Two pinned Sparr to the ground, while another three made off with the keg.

"Jus remember, pal," said one of the strange men. "The keg belongs with the KPDT, not here."


After dispursing every 'Anti-X' ability the two could muster, they were finally able to focus their attention on the food... and each other. Almirena had a slight hunger for fish, but decided not too, since she knew of Orion's thoughts on seafood. Orion, smartly, called in the waiter, who's forehead had a large welt on it. Deciding to ignore it, Orion 'ordered' each of them a small salad for a starter. The waiter wrote this down and started to walk off. Orion stopped him and handed him a Healing Pill from out of his pouch. He praised Orion at his gift, and ran out of the room.

"I use to come here on weekends when I was younger and did the dishes for some pay. My mother, god rest her soul, was one of the waitresses here. Of course, my father ruined everything for me again."

The waiter returned with a large cart with every type of fruit and vegetable imaginable. Almirena's eyes widened as she looked over the lavish seletion of food. The waiter dished them out some salad. They hardly got a chance to eat when a dark skinned man burst into the room. Orion rose on instinct as he entered.

"My Lord! There's trou*OOMPH*" the man was blackjacked by one of the guards.

"Jaicen!" Orion lept towards his fallen messenger. Ori looks up at the guard who blackjacked him. "Did he say anything before he came in here?"

"Just that it was urgent to see you, Your Majesty," was the reply.


Almirena looked interrogatively at the guard (still holding his blackjack), and she pursed her lips.

"You're pretty quick off the 'draw' with that blackjack," she murmured.

The guard stared straight ahead. "Yes, I am."

"Perhaps TOO quick," she continued.

"No, milady, I hope not."

Orion's eyes narrowed as he stared at the guard. "Almirena's right - there's something suspicious about--"

"Look out!" shouted Almirena, shoving Orion out of the way as the guard reached into his pocket, then continuing to launch herself at the guard. The guard landed on his back, the blackjack flying out of his hand, and Almirena rolled away, wrinkling her nose as the smell of his unwashed guard uniform. "Pieewww! Okay, stop right where you are. Don't move your hand even a smidgeon," she ordered.

Orion righted himself, and raised an eyebrow at Almirena. "Do you think you just saved me from an assassination attempt?"

Almirena looked up, and her cheeks were definitely on the blushing side. "Er... well..."

"Can I get at my bubblegum NOW?" asked the guard in a long-suffering way. "And can I get up, milady?" It was clear now that he'd actually been reaching for a stick of bubblegum, not for a deadly weapon. Almirena closed her eyes momentarily in embarrassment, and began saying, "Sorry about that..."

King Orion looked down at the tableau - the golden-haired Almirena getting to her feet, the guard on the floor with a stick of bubblegum, the blackjack lying next to him, Jaicen lying unconscious on the floor - and something didn't seem right.

"Does it occur to you," he said nonchalantly, "that the floor's getting a little crowded?"

"I'll get off the floor to make some room, Your Majesty," said the guard, somewhat sardonically. He slowly began to unwrap his bubblegum as he got to his feet, and Almirena and Orion looked at each other briefly before their eyes widened in recognition of what was going on.

"No!" They both made a leap for the guard, who went down on the ground for a second time. He hit the ground hard, but he didn't let go of the bubblegum, and kept trying to force it into his mouth...

As Orion, 'Rena, the unconscious man, and the guard were frozen in this tableau of suspicion, determination, and who knows what else, the restaurant seemed to explode. 'Rena's eyes widened, and Orion whirled around. The ceiling began to crumble, and huge segments of debris threatened to bury them.

The suspicious guard character pulled himself free, and put the bubblegum into his mouth, heedless of his own safety... but before he could do anything, a steel girder came down like a giant pendulum swinging on the hands of time, and hit him dead on... right in the neck. (What followed wasn't pretty - and for the sake of sensitive people, the mess shall not be described. Anyway, more important things are going on - our hero and heroine are just about to be CRUSHED TO DEATH, you know...)

"Unserus Lebenus protectierenus!" 'Rena's voice rose above the terrible sounds of the building's destruction (not in Latin - and translations cost 50 golds per word. Send to 'Rena, c/- La Tour de la Gloire, L'Isle de Rossignol, Pleasaunce, Gaul.) Orion cast the quickest spell he could - a Repel Earth spell which would only give them a few seconds...

But the combination of their two spells were enough. With a shudder, the crumbling debris stopped mid-launch on the way to crush them.

"What NEXT?" muttered Orion, heaving a deep sigh of relief. "This is not exactly how I imagined our evening would be. Sorry, 'Rena..."

"It's not YOUR fault," replied 'Rena, looking at the dead guard and trembling slightly. "We'd better get out of here. I hope my Date-pack has an augmented Portal Alignment Device (or PAD) - ah, yes. I must have put it in in the last moment."

"What DON'T you have in that Date-pack?" said Orion, immensely curious.

"Chester." She grinned.

The two of them set up the PAD, and with their combined magic, they could get it humming. "Now... hang on, I'll just..." Orion picked up his friend from the floor and placed him carefully within the perimeter of the PAD's field of effectiveness. "Um..." He looked at the dead guard. "We'd better search him..."

"No time!" 'Rena pointed upwards - the repelling spells that were protecting them were beginning to crack. "We'll be as flat as a Mordavian pancake if we don't go now!"

Orion and 'Rena had the same thought at the same time, and grabbed hold of the body of the guard, mutually agreeing to leave the head behind (it was unrecognisable, anyway). Then, not a moment too soon, they activated the portal, and were away...

... and the restaurant collapsed.


Gold-and-violet-feathered birds sat interrogatively upon the white branches of strange trees. The air was soft with the song of those birds, and young moonlight filtered through the tree limbs like midnight's silk.

A strange shimmer disturbed the centre of the grove of trees, almost at the edge of a dark river that flowed silently through the forest. Then the shimmer became ankh-shaped, and from it tumbled three people - and one corpse.

'Rena grabbed hold of Orion as he almost ended up in the river. "This is no time to go for a midnight swim!" she said, her eyes glinting with rueful laughter. The laughter vanished as she looked at the guard's body.

"Right..." replied Orion, hauling himself up to his feet. He looked down at his friend. "Still unconscious - I wonder what he was going to say..." He became conscious of his surroundings, and his eyebrow rose. "Where the Goblin Socks ARE we?"

"I think we're in the Forest of Flimflammerie," replied 'Rena, looking around carefully. "I seem to recognise those birds."

"The WHAT...? I've never heard of that place." Orion was puzzled. They couldn't have travelled far, not with a PAD. The really tough and powerful portals were needed for significant distance transportation.

Before 'Rena could reply, there was a flurry of birdwing, and one of the gold-and-violet birds was in mid-air right in front of them, HOVERING...

... and talking in a minstrelish, sing-song sort of way...

The Flammery Bird spake thus: "Where, forsooth, is that most dearly beloved ambrosia of my kind, the highly esteemèd ... porridge?"

Orion put a hand to his head, wondering what on earth was going on. "What...?"

'Rena was stumped, because she didn't have the porridge in her Date Pack. "That's... an interesting question," she said tentatively.

The bird behaved as if it did not hear them, and spake again. "Verily, how long the night has been, for that my emptiness has not been surceased."

"Yikes - a bird talking in mangled Old English?" Orion crossed his arms. "Stop it, bird."

Almirena's eyes suddenly widened. "I seem to remember... it will only hear you if you talk in the same way," she said with half-certainty. She cleared her throat, and said, "Alack, that we have not the product of thy longing, oh Flammery Bird. Observe how mournfully we bewail this lack."

"Ah, so thou art able to speak," replied the bird, and its beady eyes fastened on Orion. "Does that one also know the Tongue?"

"Forsooth, I know the Tongue. I know it right well. Yae, truly, and verily, and all of that, I do have understanding of the Tongue." Orion wasn't sure whether he was going overboard here, but the bird seemed to like it.

"Yae, so is it truly that thou art one who understands." The bird carried on in that fashion for a while, and 'Rena and Orion tried to question it in "Ye Old English" - to discover how they'd got here, and what was happening. But they received nothing but poetic flimflammeries.

Orion shrugged, and began searching the body of the guard. The first surprise was... it wasn't a real live guard.

"I mean... it never WAS a real live guard," corrected Orion with a bit of Igor-like graveyard humour. "It's a golum. No wonder it doesn't work anymore - the head, with the life-giving inscription of words, is completely gone."

"Who do we know who has access to golums?" 'Rena was thoughtful, and began searching the golum guard for clues. All she discovered was that it had garlic stains on its uniform. "Hmmm... Mordavia."

"Mordavia..." Orion seemed to fall into a reverie. There were both enemies and friends in Mordavia. Then he sighed. "You know what... I'm going to miss that restaurant. We didn't even get to finish our food."

'Rena sat down beside him and patted his shoulder. "Well... if we want to spend the mana, we could restore it," she offered...


Mr X entered Dillain's Dinner and shouted in an easy-going way:

"Does anyone know my good, old friend Cruciatus?"

All faces turned to see who was stupid enough to shout in this place. Most of them quickly turned back, as they recognized the black clothes. X's face was, as always, well hidden under the hood and a simple illusion.

But a group of four young man hadn't met X yet, and they had clearly wanted to make themselves well-known. One of them looked pretty intelligent; the other looked both pretty strong and dumb; the third could pose as a rat, if he only had a tail. The boss, on the other hand, lacked almost everything except a strangely twisted charisma. They stood up.

X looked at his weapon. It was both very plain in looks and extremly effective. Basically, it was a sabre with somthing katana-like about it. Designed by X, made of finest alloys, forged by the famous metalworker Ori Ironsmithsson, finally imbued with powerful enchantments by X's uncle (it's good to have one of the world's most potent mages in family), it almost sang with anticipation. Unfortunately, the youths weren't perceptive enough to notice all those fine details; instead, they moved to X with great self-assurance. Other guests pretended they weren't there.

"So, Mr Mysterious, you want to find Cruciatus? I think I know where you just might be able to find him..." - said the leader, drawing his sword. Others did the same.

Mr X swung with his weapon; the swing looked very unimpressive. The gang's leader grinned evilly. At the same moment four - cut in half - blades hit the ground with a sad "boing-clang". The grin disappeared immiediately.

"Maybe we should be going, boss?" - asked the "intellectualist" of the group. "Not a bad idea" - replied the rat-faced one. "U-huh" - added the brainless one. The boss wanted to shout at them, but noticed a very small cut on his hand, and silently moved back.

"Nice" - another robed figure approached Mr X. Please, come this way. "Mr Cruciatus" is waiting for you...


Orion was about to reply about the loss of Mana being worth restoring the Midnight Cafe, but the smell of garlic brought something to his mind.

"Oh cod!" Orion blurted out. Almirena looked at him quizzically as Orion started stripping the shirt off of the guard.

"What are you doi..." She started, then stopped as she noticed a familiar symbol in the middle of the Guards chest. A crescent moon with a sword ablaze peircing through it. Not caring anymore, Orion took off the suitcoat of his tux and ripped off the left sleave of his shirt. His tattoo matched that of the symbol.

"Your father?" Rena looked a bit surprised.

"Or a friend of his..." Orion said as a small hummingbird smacked him smack-dab in the middle of his forehead. The bird fell to the ground and transfigured into a roll of paper - not-surprisingly with the Dark Paladin seal on it. Orion opened it, and the headless guard jumped up and charged the two...

The bird was heard screaming "Alas!!! What Magick hath caused such..." It was hit by a flailing arm of the Guard.

Orion very swiftly sidestepped the body and tripped it. The guards heavy body fell straight forward, shattering the body to pieces.

Almirena looked at him with a smirk. "Do you fight like that all the time?" He grinned, then cheesily bowed. He walked over to her, and opened the note.


I am sorry to disturb you, but this is a matter of great importance. There have been Golum in the form of men attacking the island. What's worse is that they have you families crest tattooed on their chests! Your Kingdom is in great distress! Please return, for we need your guidance!


The bottom of the letter was stamped with the LunarSword crest, and with "Order of the Royal Barracks". After reading this, Ori plopped down on the nearest rock and held his head.

"Why now?" He muttered. "All I wanted was a nice, romantic dinner, a stroll through town, and a hope for another date, and THIS happens..." He sighed, then stood up and walked over to Almirena, who was rereading the note for any clue of their newest whereabouts. He took her hand, and sighed again.

"You know... This isn't how I planned things, but..." he paused... "Would you like to come over to my place?" Even under the current circumstances, she managed a giggle.

"I'd love to!" she replied with a wink as they set off to find a portal to .......


On their way to find a Portal to [name left blank because of dramatic and narrative tension, and because Orion hasn't told me where his island is yet!], they were followed by the Flammerie bird, which continually spouted terrible minstrelly sentences. Then all of a sudden, it whistled most beautifully, and it was like the sound of a panpipe calling over enchanted mountains.

'Rena and Orion stood still, enchanted. As they looked up, a whole bevy of Flammery birds came fluttering into view. They were like the light of the sun, no, of a thousand suns, with burning silk billowing the sky's velvet evening folds.

"What is... I mean, Behold, the messengers of fire, for what purpose do they thus gather?" queried Orion, remembering at the last minute to use Flammerie-talk.

"Ah, ah, a most desperate message of great import is to be given thee. The lady 'Rena and the one known as Onion--"

Orion frowned and crossed his arms. "ORION!" he specified clearly. "Forsooth, thou art not female - are you?"

"Most truly am I not of the female gender!" retorted the Flammerie bird, somewhat offended. "Why shouldst thou thus traduce my manliness?"

"Assuredly, of a truth, thus was not the intention, but rather, the appellation of 'Onion' is permitted only by..." put in 'Rena, and the bird nodded rather regally before she finished.

"Then... let the coterie gather!" cried the bird, and the other birds descended like a great canopy until their fiery plumage lit up the forest floor.

'Rena looked at them rather quizzically, then tugged at Orion's arm. "We might as well sit and listen to them," she said with a shrug.

"But I need to get to a Portal!" Orion bit his lip.

"Portal? Yae, verily, it is true that in my tree trunk lieth a Portal of great power," said the Flammerie bird, overhearing the word "Portal".

'Rena's eyes became thoughtful, and she shared a small glance with Orion before the two of them sat and looked at the birds expectantly.


The crimson feathers in the sky were dissipating as the moon rose into full view. Ori sat in his one-sleeved tuxedo shirt, and Rena found herself staring at his tattoo. The Flammerie Birds flittered in front of them.

Orion spoketh thus: "Alack, Flammerie Bird! A portal you spoketh of! Pray tell, why doth that divine transport of yore lieth in thy trunketh?" Orion wasn't even sure if 'trunketh' was a word back then. He looked at Rena and shrugged.

Spoke the Flammerie Bird: "O' yea! Thus portal, carekeeper the maker hath dubbed thee. I watcheth over thus so none shall find thus! Only thus so inclined to speaketh to us shall be permitted to useth thy portal."

The beautiful one called Rena spoketh: "Flammerie Bird, thou spoketh of a message."

The reply was Thus: "Backeth when the portal was hence created, thy maker of thus informed of lovers needing passage through thus to helpeth others." Rena and Ori both blushed as the Flammerie Bird called them 'lovers'.

Orion spoketh hence: "Yea, We are the lovers thy maker hath spoketh of! We seek passage to thy Island Kingdom of Arinyr." A slightly surprised look came over Rena's face. She knew she'd heard of the place, but couldn't quite remember anything about it.

Thus spoke the Flammerie Bird: "Cometh! Thou shall follow me to thy trunk! Passage hath been granted to thee!" The Flammerie Bird fluttered rather clumsily to a crooked old tree, and perched itself on the lowest limb. "Alack, thou shall passeth!" said the bird, as the branch it sat upon fell a few feet down the trunk, but still remained connected to the tree. A knot in the tree slowly grew to the size of that of a human, and a blueish-white glow streamed out. "Passage to thy Kingdom is only but thru thy portal! Be forewarned! Ye must pass through as one! Farewell!" The bird flew off to join the others.

"Well, that's a relief to get rid of him! I was getting a headache with all that Old English speak! I wasn't born to speak that jibber-jabber! And what's this, we 'must pass through as one'?"

Rena chuckled. "It means we have to pass through together."

"Uh... well, my Kingdom needs me, so let's go!" Orion said, quite unsure of the situation. He picked her up rather romantically and struggled to make his way through the enlarged knot in the tree to get to the portal without hitting Rena's head. There was a blue flash, and the smell of salty-seawater filled their lungs.

Almirena slightly choked on the quick change of air, but Orion breathed deep the smell of home. Their eyes quickly adjusted to the brightness, the sun had not yet set upon the shores of Arinyr. Ori put Rena down and they looked upon the view before them. The sandy colored walls of the fortress around Orion’s majestic castle glistened in the light of the setting sun. A small village was busy closing up its shops and stores for the evening. The two set off for the gates to the his castle.

The two guards were busy in conversation when the two approached. They both noticed Orion and quickly righted themselves.

“My Lord!” the one exclaimed as the other frantically hit his shield against the portcullis, which started to open quite slowly. “It’s good to see you again!”

Orion grinned. “Thanks,” he said with a nod. The guards relaxed a bit. “This is lady Almirena. You are to treat her with the utmost respect during her visit."


The guards fell to their knees. "Yes, indeed - utmost respect!" said one, and the other stretched out full-length on the ground. "Complete and utter respect you will have, my lady!" said the other, somewhat muffled (because his mouth was full of dirt).

Almirena shared a comical look of amusement with Ori. "Er... you don't have to give me THAT much respect," she began diplomatically.

"I can get up?" the prone guard asked, lifting his head and spitting out an earthworm and some horrible gritty soil.

"I can rest my arthritic knee?" queried the other guard, adding hastily "Only joking about the arthritis, Sire!" when he caught Orion's eye.

Almirena grinned. "Just a normal bow will do," she confirmed.

"But a DEEP one," added King Orion, knowing his guards were the type to take a skareen if they were given an inch. "And don't invite the lady Almirena to your place for a game of cards or... poker. Right?"

The two guards nodded hurriedly. "May we escort you to the Great Hall?" they put in, trying to please the king. They looked eager, like two spaniels waiting for a pat on the head.

King Orion was about to reply, but his attention was caught by the glory of the gold-flamed sunset. He drew an arm around 'Rena's shoulders, and said quietly, "Look..."

She was looking. There are few sunsets as beautiful as those upon these shores... the sight was magnificent, with the very waves seeming to take the wine of the sun's farewell into their texture and heart. If rubies were ground to a fine powder, and mixed with the tincture of pure old gold, and the breath of all songs and all joys were distilled into this liquid, and the wondrous liquid thereof were spilled onto the horizon, the edge of the world, so that the clouds, skies, waters, sands, all of the west were coloured by it... this would give some idea of the sheer glory of that sunset.

Almirena drew in a deep breath...

Meanwhile, invitations (discreetly printed upon old gold scrolls in perfectly beautiful gothic lettering) had gone out to all the DWVs in Gloriana (Date-Wrecking Villains).

A most intriguing invitation it was... the gothic lettering was difficult to read, but worth the effort.

To all persons concerned:

We are pleased to invite you to the first-ever DWV Seminar, to be held in Mordavia, in the Under-Crypt Chamber, Mordavian Graveyard. Presided over by a Gentleman who chooses at his moment not to reveal his identity. Topic: Most successful Date-Wrecking Strategies. Anecdotes welcome. Blood, wine, champagne and milk shall be served. Cheese and chocolate provided. Accommodation: M$100 per night in our sumptuous rooms under Mordavia. Book now.


Mr X was again wandering through the streets. The letter was a fake.


After being led to the back of the bar, he was attacked by three armed men, dressed in bright-coloured T-shirts saying: Die, you Villain! In a moment the writing was unrecognizable; so were the thugs' faces.

The ever-nasty "Blow-me-in-others'-faces-and-have-fun-powder" again worked miracles. This time it changed everything to bark-like, hard substance. The effect would disappear in a day or two, but untill then the men will be too occupied with themselves to do anything else besides shouting and cursing.

"I'm not the Villain; maybe a villain, but anyway, I'm trying not to be one. I have to make a living too, you know. So go hunting real evildoers, like Ad Avis or that false Paladin Gabriel*, or Rezil Senior."

Mr X then went out - leaving shocked by their recent transformatin guards lying on the floor.


"I really must give it up. It's getting too... depressing, doing all those nasty things. Besides, I hadn't any real successes recently. I should return to training, learning and preparing for the Ultimate Nonesucher test..."

A gold scroll suddenly appeared in front of Mr X. It floated gently into his outstretched hand, revealing gothic letters.

"Another invitation. Do they think I'm THAT naive? Still... I'll ask Igor if he knows anything about it."

Mr X begun to establish telepathic link with the gravedigger...


Orion held Almirena closer, feeling fully happy for the first time since, well, he couldn’t remember that far back. Being with his father wasn’t the most joyous of experiences, and he was glad to get away. He wasn’t even this happy whenever Chester was created. Speaking of Chester, he hadn’t heard anything from him since he gave him to Klausse when… Nevermind about that, there’s more important things on hand, like Almirena.

He turned to face her and gazed into her eyes. He smiled. It wasn’t one of those forced, toothy smiles – no, this one was a natural smile – the lopsided kind that you can’t stop yourself from making. She looked back into his. Orion felt as if the world had stopped, and wished it did, so he could look into her eyes forever.

“Come,” he said, “I wish to show you my castle.” He took her by the hands and led her through the archway. If the two had been paying attention to things around them, rather than each other, they would have noticed the two guards outside charge a Golem that had recently appeared. The two walked on, Orion in his daze of infatuation, and Rena in her amazement of being Ori’s fancy.


Meanwhile, invitations (discreetly printed upon old gold scrolls in perfectly beautiful gothic lettering) had gone out to all the DWVs in Gloriana (Date-Wrecking Villains).

A most intriguing invitation it was... the gothic lettering was difficult to read, but worth the effort.

To all persons concerned:

We are pleased to invite you to the first-ever DWV Seminar, to be held in Mordavia, in the Under-Crypt Chamber, Mordavian Graveyard. Presided over by a Gentleman who chooses at his moment not to reveal his identity. Topic: Most successful Date-Wrecking Strategies. Anecdotes welcome. Blood, wine, champagne and milk shall be served. Cheese and chocolate provided. Accommodation: M$100 per night in our sumptuous rooms under Mordavia. Book now.


A dark figure sat in the darkness of a crypt. He was tall, that much was clear. His shadow lay like a knife over the flagstones, trembling as though in the hands of a frightened man - but it was the uneasy flickering of the candles only. He spoke.

"You have heard from one?"

A voice like a nasalised gate creaking emanated from the creature who knelt in front of the man. "Yes, Horrid Lord. I--"

"I am the DREAD Lord. Not the Horrid Lord." The man snarled the words as he leapt forward, and a thin dagger touched the creature's neck. As the sickly candlelight fell upon the face of the one who kneeled, his hunchbacked shoulders shook.

"I am so sorry, Dread Lord," said Igor (for it was he) with terror snickering in his voice. "Yes, yes. One sent me a message, asking if I knew anything of the meeting."

"Good. This will be the greatest business convention for Date-Wreckers ever." The knife was withdrawn, and the dark voice of the man thickened with satisfaction...


'Rena and Ori linked arms as they continued to walk along a well-tended path to the Castle. 'Rena slowed her steps and gestured with her left hand, and a shimmering pagoda appeared, hovering in the sky.

"...?" Orion made a small sound indicating "What is this?" without actually saying the words.

"It's a porta-date-pagoda," said 'Rena, a small smile upon her face. "It comes complete with band, dance-floor, and drinks in ice. We didn't get the chance to dance... shall we?"

Orion grinned enthusiastically. "I like the idea," he said, and offered his arm. "All me to escort you onto the floor - ah, is that thing going to hover in the air or do you want it on the ground?"

For answer, Almirena cast LEVITATE onto the two of them, and Orion found himself gliding gracefully through the air with 'Rena. "I could get used to this," he murmured, and then they stepped onto the pagoda floor.

There was a band playing something excitingly rhythmical, with a great swing to it...


"I'm here - X thought. The Convention is in Mordavia. I won't get there on time unless I'll fly on a dragon. Or teleport. The dragon is still near Krakow. I'm not. Oh dear..."

With great reluctance, X begun to prepare the Teleportation spell. It would cause him great headache, as usuall. The pain would be really excruciating, since he already teleported less than 12 hours ago. Suddenly, Mr X felt an inspiration.

"Of course! I don't have to use either dragons or Teleportation, I can simply modify other spells and fly there myself!"

Mr X took out a scroll and begun to write down fragments of spells:

"Some levitating power... a dash of tornado - I'll put it around me... a little bit of pure force - to steer... properly powered - with enriched Mana... a simple safety incantation - funny, it will look like a belt when activated... some sort of shield from the wind... ah, and maybe some lights to warn others. That should do it."

Mr X cast the spell. Magic, strangely formed, surrounded him. It looked like a cart, though no horses were to be seen. The "cart" was shaking a little, but it didn't seem dangerouso - or improper. X waved with his hands to start the half-visible magical creation. It moved up slowly, yet almost effortlessly. Finally, it flew forward, straight to Mordavia.

Unfortunately when "cart" reached 60 skareens per minute, it begun to rotate. Both vertically and horizontally. At first slowly, then faster and faster. And faster. X, unable to fully controll his "vehicle", could only hope that it wouldn't suddenly fall. After few hours of a nightmare he reached Mordavia.

"Well, at least now I know that I shouldn't have used that whirl-of-the-wind formula... oh dear, not again..."

Hanging on a tree, X threw up. Again. That was the eighth time during three hours; but that was a small sacrifice when a totally new spell is about to be created, he knew that well. The great Maggicus, X thought, lost both legs, an arm, an eye, both ears and some of his private parts when creating the ever-useful Force Bolt... restoring his limbs and other necessities took him two years, and wasn't fully succesful either, but he always repeated that he'd sooner allow himself to be "eunuchised" (a gentle way of putting it; he was a real gentleman - or at least he claimed so) than to have children, anyway.

"Let's get down from here... a step on that branch; now this one; now thiiiiii..."

A muffled "THUMP" and some mild cursing followed. Finally Mr X moved towards the cemetery; an unlucky Necrotaur who had the misfortune of appearing in front of X was electrocuted, burnt, crushed and frozen within three seconds. Our brave anti-hero hadn't even bothered to smash the odd-looking ice sculpture. During next hour he reached the cemetery, which was merrily decorated with big, colourful signs advertising the Convention.


He offered his hand to her, and she gently placed hers on it. His heart was beating as fast as the music. The band’s melody filled his ears, and Rena’s gracefulness on the pagoda reminded him of the elegance of a swan, while he himself felt like a duck. Calm and peaceful on the surface, but beneath the water, his feet were churning around and practically taking him nowhere. The first thing he had the problem with the sudden realization that he couldn’t dance.

‘Oh cod! Should I lead? No… That wouldn’t seem right, since she obviously knows how… Maybe I should let her lead… EGAD!… that wouldn’t look right… AHH!!!!’ he thought as he felt a sharp pain in his arm. His tattoo let out a flash, and he looked at it. The flame on the sword was a deep blood red. A drastic change on the tattoo, which previously was just black and shades of grey. Then a breeze reminded him that he was still wearing his ripped tux shirt… ‘Egad!’ he thought, and waved his free hand, reciting a small incantation in his mind for a clothing swap spell.

Before Almirena’s very eyes, Orion’s tuxedo (more exactly, what was left of it) changed into another one made of the finest black leather, and accented with a dark burgundy shirt, which was even more accented by his green eyes (or vice-versa). She stepped closer to him, and put her arm around him.

He looked deep into her eyes. He felt serenity course its way through his body. “I’m so sorry for how things have turned out tonight. I truly wanted tonight to be special.” As they started dancing, the tempo of the music slowed.

“Don’t be. I still think tonight was special.” She paused. “Even after what all happened.” Orion lowered his head, remembering about Jaicen being left back in Krakow, and the destruction of the Café. “Besides, the night’s just started. You have plenty of time to fix it.”

Ori couldn’t help but to smile. The sun had just set, and the horizon was still a deep shade of purple. He raised his head, and gazed into Rena’s crystal eyes again. He felt the shiver of serenity again. There was something special about her, he just knew it, but he couldn’t tell just what it was. The feeling he had when he looked into her eyes was the most peaceful one he had ever felt.

Taken by the moment, he leaned forward and softly kissed her. ‘Maybe this night might turn out okay after all,’ he thought to himself as she placed her head on his shoulder. He didn’t want this moment to end. He didn’t want to unlock the warm embrace they shared. They continued to dance as the pagoda floated over the courtyard of his castle.

“M’lord!” came a call from below. “Urgent news from your sister in Spielburg…”

“Not now!” he yelled back. “Can’t you see I’m busy!?...” But the moment had already been ruined. Orion screamed on the inside.


At the same time X's Emotion Detector begun to scream. The sneaky little device was easy to attune to person's feelings, and currently it was set on Orion. The small crystal was dark red, and little flute attached to it with a string was whistling terribly. "Sheesh. It seems that they're ruining their date on their own far better than when I'm nearby", thought X, sliding to even greater depression.

He was infuriated with merry banners and colourful posters, and the tiny flute wasn't helping, either. He wanted to scream desperately, and only the thought of his fellow villains nearby was stopping him from it. Indeed, his mind was returning to depths of mental instability, caused by a fall from Flamey some years ago. The therapy, combined with magic, was effective in returning X to stability, but since then much of the spells were consumed by retaining X's psychic balance.

Restraining his irrational anger, X entered the "Convention Hall".


As Mr X entered the Convention Hall, he tried hard not to gibber and foam with madness. He tried also not to let his evil eyes roll with insanity. He didn't really try very hard to contain the snarl that rose to his lips, with his tongue lying like a truly crazed worm in his mouth, almost blocking the back so that the snarl came out in a very glottal way.

Igor, dressed in a neat pinafore dress and looking miserable, weird, and somehow hypnotised (well, how else do you think anyone got him into that DRESS??????), was standing at the entrance to the blood-red auditorium.

"Your invitation card, sir?" he asked in a sing-song voice, his eyes staring straight in front of him. Then something flickered in his gaze. He recognised Mr X, and suddenly tears and horrible things became seeping from his eyes. "Mr X! Mr X! Oh, help me, Mr X! The... the... Disgusting Lord has forced me to---"

But at that very moment, the darkness in the auditorium gathered itself more thickly, taking on the shape of a man. Tall - yes, that much could be sensed... evil - well, that you could take for granted...

"Mr X, I presume," said the Dread Lord imperturbably. He came forward, and on his dead white hand were many glowing gems. He shook Mr X's hand, and then indicated the auditorium in a discreet gesture. "A drink? Or would you rather come in and meet the others?"


'Rena rolled her eyes with faint exasperation as yet another crisis occurred. "I suppose it wouldn't be a real date without all sorts of interruptions and pranks and assassination attempts and... so on..." she murmured softly, and she reached up to tuck aside a small hank of hair that kept falling forward over Orion's forehead. "Let's go and find out what is threatening the world now..."

"It might be something small," suggested Orion, without a great deal of hope. "Maybe my sister's soufflè fell flat."

"And she wants you to fix it from HERE???" 'Rena grinned. "I like your sense of humour, m'lord Onion."

"Oooh.... call me Onion again," shivered Ori, feeling that faint frisson he got whenever this girl called him by that affectionate nickname. "You could even call me French Onion..."

"FRENCH Onion? Why?" 'Rena knew that Ori wasn't French...

"I don't know. It just... does something to me..." Orion felt a faint redness in his cheeks.

"French Onion..." murmured 'Rena experimentally, and immediately Ori sighed languourously and growled, "Ooohhhhmmmmm.... yes, yes, I love it when you talk French to me..." and he began pressing tiny kisses on 'Rena's inner arm. She giggled and said laughingly, "That tickles!"

"Er... m'lord... m'lord... YOUR MAJESTY!" The messenger had been standing by patiently, and finally Ori became aware of what he was doing. He stood stock still and turned with becoming dignity to the messenger.

"I shall be there directly," he said grandly, and the messenger might just have sniggered slightly.

"Yes, Your Majesty," replied the messenger, and if he was grinning, it was hidden by the deep bow he was making...


With the mood ruined, Orion turned back to Almirena.

“Perhaps, you think, while we’re there, we can… um… take care of that matter with Barnard?”

She giggled. “I’d love to!” Ori sighed. A girl with an adventurous heart like his. How did he get so lucky?! He put his arm around her, and walked her to the entrance to the castle.

As they make their way to the door to the castle, they yet again fail to notice the golem that trips onto the pagoda as it disappears. The golem lands on its front and promptly explodes. The two guards stationed at the castle doors fumble at opening the massive doors while saluting Orion and avoiding eye contact.

Through the doorway was a red carpet leading up to the throne – a giant gold chair with dark red cushions and a crown resting on the seat. The room was lavishly decorated in gold and silver, which completely contradicted Rena’s thought of how it would look. She thought that with him being a former Black Paladin, he’d have red and black scattered roughly around. A peasant man was in front of the throne, bowing at Orion.

Without looking up, he handed a letter to Orion. “M’lord, ‘tis a letter from your sister. It just arrived from Zara.” Ori smiled at the mention of Zara. He trained under her, and she was the closest friend he’s ever had, next to Chester. Orion took the letter, and then the man’s hand and helped him up to his feet.

“You’re Taylor, the Postman, right?”

The man was nervous, and sputtered out “Y-yes M’lord!” and tried to drop back down into a bow. Orion stopped him by grabbing his shoulder to stop him. Taylor cautiously rose his head. His eyes met Orion’s glowing green ones.

“I thank you Taylor,” Orion said, taking his hand and shaking it. Taylor broke into a grin.

“Anytime, M’lord! Farewell!” The man nodded his head and ran out of the castle.

“Now to find out what my sister’s pestering me about now,” Orion said, peeling off the wax seal with the Lunar Sword mark on it. Rena wondered if his sister was a Black Paladin as well, but decided not to ask. Perhaps it was just his family crest. The fact was, it’s both. Damian Rezil became so infamous that all Black Paladins adopted the Rezil family crest as their ‘logo’.

The letter read:

    • My Dearest Brother,
    • Sorry to bother you, but the Baron has kicked me out of my home and I do not wish to kill the bear and Ogre guarding the entrance. Stefan will not listen to my complaints, and Barnard has mysteriously disappeared when I conveniently need him. You’re the one with the crown in the family, perhaps you could talk some sense into Stefan.
    • Your Loving Sister
    • Aumerie

“Something smells fishy about this…” Orion muttered, and pulled out the ad requesting a Kobold.

“And Chester’s not even around.” Rena added.

“Aumerie moved into the cave after I ‘saved’ Barnard… Now a bear’s back in there, and Barnard’s missing…” he crinkled the paper in his fist. “IGOR!!!” he screamed.

Almost instantly, a red haired hunchback with a crooked nose and even crooked-er smile entered the room.

“M’LORD!!! The King’s returned! The return of the King! Seeing you makes Igor happy!” the hunchback approached Orion and threw his arms around him. Orion struggled to pry Igor off him while Almirena chuckled at the scene before her. Ori finally got out of Igor’s death grip and straightened out his tux.

“Do me a favor Igor… No… Do me two. First, don’t EVER do that again, and second – go fetch me a quill and some parchment. I need to write to Zara to inform her of our recently expected arrival.” Igor finally noticed Rena.

“Hiya baby… Wanna help me light my pyre!” Orion kicked at Igor, but missed. “Ha ha! Little graveyard Humour there!” he said with a sideways glance at Orion.

“Go NOW!” he said through clenched teeth. Igor clambered out of the room.

“It seems everyone’s got an Igor these days,” Rena said.

“A decision I’ve regretted since day one.”

Igor returned suddenly, sliding halfway across the waxed floor and falling on his face. He amazingly managed not to spill the inkwell…

“Here you are M’lord!” Igor said with a bound to his feet.

“Thanks Igor,” Orion said, and he and Rena sat on the steps as he started writing the letter.


The two sat there on the steps. Igor had left the room, and Ori had just started to pen the beginning of the letter.

    • Master Zara -
    • This is to inform you of my immediate arrival at Spielburg. There are pressing issues that I must attend to. Please inform Aumerie of my arrival. I trust she already informed you of the matters at hand.

He went to sign his name, but was interrupted by a small commotion at the door. Rolling up the parchment, he and Rena ran to the doorway and opened it, only to be greeted by an attack of five golems and the sight of two unconscious guards. The two guards from outside the portcullis had it opened and were running in their direction. A putrid smell wafted from the golems as they leered closer to attack. They towered over the two – each golem being roughly six-an-a-half feet tall. Each wore a torn shirt, which showed the LunarSword crest printed on their chests. Then a thought entered Almirena’s mind.

“Ori!” She said, raising her hands in preparation of a spell, “Maybe they have your crest on them so they know who to attack!” Almirena and Orion both let out Flame Darts, sending two of the assailants in an unexpected (for them) backwards fall. One spun in the air and fell face first, turning to dust on contact with the ground, the other slowly got up and went to join the others until it was run through with the two swords from the guards. The golem fell to its knees and toppled over on its front, disintegrating. Ori and Rena had tried to hold back the other three with a barrage of Whirlwind and Gust spells, and sighed when they realized the majority was now in their favor. Four on three. Rena cast a Lightning Bolt, which held back the Golem approaching Orion long enough for him to draw his sword. The golem shook of the electricity and swung a heavy, giant fist at Orion, hitting him square in the stomach. He collapsed in pain as the golem was felled by a well placed dagger thrown by Rena. Ori sputtered as he dug the tip of Harbinger (his sword) into the ground to help him to his feet. Two golems left, and he just noticed that one of the two guards had been knocked unconscious. Unsteadily, Ori raised his sword with newfound adrenaline and sliced down at the golem Rena had been fending off. As the sword sliced through the animated flesh of the golems arm, it burst into a quick, bright red flame which lasted less than a second.

A bit confused, Rena pelted a Force Bolt into the face of the golem, who fell awkwardly on its side, and, like the others, turned to dust. The guard threw a punch at the remaining golem’s chest. The golem grunted in pain as Orion cast Water Burst hit it from behind as the guards fist made contact. Confused from the double attack, the golem turned to attack Orion, but never got the chance as a giant stake flew from in front of Rena and disappeared with the golem.

“Their chests…” Orion said, gasping for breath, “their weak spots in their chest.” He picked up his sword and looked at it.

“M’lord?” the guard said. “Did me eyes deceive me, or did your sword flash, er… red?” The guard now bent down and placed healing pills in all three of the unconscious guards’ mouths.

“But you told me you were no longer a Paladin…” Rena said, waiting for an answer.

“I’m not! As far as I know…” he said, grasping the handle of Harbinger and spinning the sword in the air and got into an attacking stance. “If I was, my blade would be aflame right now…”

A few guards now came rushing over. “Sorry M’lord! We had to prepare for battle, but you were so fast with their demise that we hadn’t a chance to arrive in time.”

“It’s taken care of,” was his response as they carried the limp bodies of the three felled guards to the infirmary, the other guard returning to his post at the portcullis.

“I don’t understand a thing that’s going on, and I’m pretty sure whoever’s behind this doesn’t really like you…” Rena said while embracing Orion.

“But that could be anybody…” he held her tightly in his arms outside the open doors to the castle, and he kissed her on her forehead.


Rena sighed, and said, "I can feel your heart beating with stress - I'll mix you one of my special Peppermint Stress-Relievers. It's delicious, I promise."

She began walking into the castle, and Ori followed, wondering whether he should mention it wasn't exactly STRESS that was doing things to him... but he decided to keep quiet except to say "Thanks."

The drink took only a minute to make, and it looked fabulous, all sparkling green and foaming, and with a delicious aroma like chocolate and peppermint. It tasted even better, and Ori drank it in one straight hit. "Wow... if all medicines tasted like this, no one would ever stay sick!" he exclaimed.

"It's a little recipe I invented a while ago - when I was on the hit list for no less than five assassins," Rena said nonchalantly. "Now THAT was stress..."

"Who put out the hit?" Orion swivelled around to face her.

"To this day, I have no idea," she confessed. "I did manage to ... deal with the assassins... and the word was that no further assassins would take the job, and the client withdrew the request. I'd like to find out - one day..."

"Any ideas who?"

"A few... but suspicions aren't proof, and anyway - I suppose we'd better get on our way to Spielburg," said Rena, hurriedly rummaging through her Date Pack (TM), and checking she had everything she needed.

(She needn't have worried - she had everything she'd EVER need in that pack. This was the special extended expanded fit-in-a-Denyan-tank type of Date Pack.)

"I'll call the carpetlimo," said Orion, and snapped his fingers. Instantly, the huge gong nearby began to resound, and two servants rushed in.

"You gonged, Your Majesty?"

"So to speak," he replied, grinning. "Okay - get the white carpetlimo ready for immediate take-off. Include extra thread in case we run out. There are hardly any thread stations between here and Spielburg."

"At once, Your Majesty," they replied, and hurried off to do King Orion's bidding.

"Is that one of the new T-26 models?" enquired Rena. Ori nodded, and she smiled in appreciation. "I've only seen them in showrooms. How did you get one before they were released on the general market?"

"I have my contacts," he said mysteriously. "Shall we depart?"

"I'm ready," she replied.

They hurried up to the top of the castle, where a flat landing pad was currently occupied with a long, sleek, super-fast, super-safe carpetlimo. It was gorgeous. It was rich. It was...

"Mmmmmm..." was all Rena could find to say.

They settled onto the carpet, and Ori took hold of the steering thread. "Okay - carpet, rise!" he commanded it, and the thing took off more smoothly than a chocolate milkshake.


"Ah, m'lord... your invitation is most welcome. I have been receiving some false calls lately, and I am glad that this one was real. Oh, and do you know that the little hunchback needs help? He told me so..."

Somwhere deep inside his head X felt that his conscience was trying to tell him something. It was a very quiet mumble, so X ignored it, and watched in delight at Igor's pain, provided by the generous hands of Lord's bodyguards. X often wondered why a person like Lord needed guards, and finally decided that someone of his position couldn't just torture his enemies/prisoners/servants/ex-co-workers by himself. At least not all of them.

And suddenly X saw a strange expression on evildoer's face. He was smiling. X hadn't expected him to smile. But as severly beaten, unconscious body of the maimed and crippled hunchback was being dragged away, a small, barely visible glimpse of satisfaction could have be seen in Lord's eyes. After few seconds, his face returned to usual expression of boredom combined with hatred towards everyone and everything.

Dread Lord spoke again, this time in lowered voice. "You are aware that the real reason for this convention is not for us to have fun... well maybe some fun, but mainly to finally come up with a PLAN"

"Yes. But I thought that since the Dark Paladins have risen in power, the PLAN is going to be left to them."

"You are right. But not entirely... you see, the "deepies" only think that they are the ultimate incarnation of evil... they are mislead by their pride. Much like members of the Paladins' Order, actually. Their pride, and pride alone, makes it impossible for them to acknowledge any of their imperfections, and thus prevents from achieving evil's (or "holiness' ") true essence. Now look at those who have gathered here: all have failed at one time or another, because of pride, because of rashness, because of foolishness. Yet they all have learned their lessons. Now they - we - should be ready to prepare the ultimate formula of corruption. One that would make Paladins become bloodthirsty monsters, seeking another soul to separate from its body. One that would make guardians turn against those they have sworn to protect. One that would twist consciences so much, that they would not only remain silent, but would drive common people to worst possible crimes - and reward them with pleasure for committing them"

"But... what would be the point of all that?"

Dread Lord gave Mr. X a strange look, pointed towards an empty table and retreated to his rooms. Mr. X shrugged and sat beside the table. Eating some of the food, he thought about Lord's words, but nothing sensible came to his mind. Former fury passed for now, but instead something else was wrong. As if some sort of external influence tried to make him feel better... and at the same time forced him to be happy. And there was yet something else, which completly escaped X's consciousness...


As Mr. X toyed with his food lost in thought, he failed to notice a sleek black cat jump up on the table. On silent paws she stalked his plate. Cautiously she stuck her nose into Mr. X's goblet but found nothing to her fancy. The idle movement of his fork caught her attention and she crouched low. Slowly she crept closer until she was quite near the plate. She watched the fork and then without warning, she pounced.

Mr. X was jarred out of his revelry as he felt the weight of the cat on his wrist. She had not struck with her claws and now was holding his wrist between her paws. As the fork dropped from Mr. X's hand, she sniffed, trying to determine whether anything on his plate was worth eating. A tidbit of meat caught her attention and striking quickly, she left the arm and landed in the middle of the plate.

Mr. X watched in dazed amusement as the cat ate her prey and then leaving the plate, settled next to his elbow to bathe. In the middle of the bath, she looked up, sensing that she was being observed. Her emerald eyes met his and she held his gaze. Then, very deliberately, she blinked. From somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind the name Mara came unbidden. Satisfied that he understood, the cat returned to her bath.

Uneven footfalls could be heard from beyond a door that was soon opened and a hunchback servant entered. Painfully he made his way to the tables. The cat quickly jumped from the table and Mr. X felt her tail brush his calf as went passed. Another servant came through and began removing dishes. The hunchback approached Mr. X.

"May I take you to your room?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.

Mr. X nodded and followed him through the door. Neither of them noticed the little black cat follow. The corridor was dimly lit with torches placed at regular intervals. Their footsteps sounded loudly on the stone floor and it seemed that the floor dipped gradually downward. Fortunately the rooms did not seem to be located in one of the side corridors or Mr. X would have worried about getting lost.

Eventually the hunchback stopped and with a large brass key, he unlocked the door and opened it. A large chandelier was suspended from the ceiling and the candles' light bounced off the gilt-framed mirror and paintings that hung on the richly tapestried walls. Great pieces of furniture built of dark wood and highly polished graced this sitting room. As Mr. X took in his surroundings, he hardly noticed the retreat of the hunchback who left the key on a table or the entrance of the cat.

He wandered into the sleeping quarters and noticed that his belongings had been unpacked and put away. A large four-poster bed dominated the room and heavy burgundy curtains that surrounded the bed were drawn back revealing a comfortable looking bed. Under his feet was an intricately woven carpet that could have only come from the finest weaver in Shapeir. Off of the bedroom he noticed a smaller room, more plain and obviously to house a personal servant had he had one.

Slowly he wandered back in the sitting room and blinked. On one of the couches lounged a woman with long, wavy, raven hair. He noticed her emerald eyes and her black clothing that did not hide a rather nice figure. She had poured herself some wine and was holding a crystal goblet in her long fingers. Strangely her skin was not pale but had more of a tawny cast to it. She gazed at him and he was struck by the feeling that he had locked gazes with those eyes before.

"Who are you?" he asked.


"And what do you want?"

"I want to escape and I think you can help me. Come," she said and she made room on the couch. "Have some wine and we can talk."

As Mr. X sat beside her, she filled a goblet and handed it to him.

"I am not in the business of helping strange women escape," he retorted after accepting the goblet.

"I'm sure you're not. You could hardly be confused with a Hero. What I am proposing is a partnership of sorts."


"Yes. I must get out of this place and in return I can be quite useful."

"Just why do you want to leave?" he asked.

"The Dread Lord is my father. Upon the death of my mother at the hands of some Hero, I was brought here. We had never met and it was hate at first sight. He still thinks I am locked in the dungeons."

Mr. X looked doubtful.

"My father is greedy. Just because he hates me, doesn't mean that he wouldn't use me to his own ends. He shows my portraits to guests and I suppose if one of them had something he wanted, he would use me to bargain with. I am also a mage in my own right and he has learned how to drain mana from me. Thirdly, he doesn't trust women as my mother played many a trick on him and nearly ensnared him herself."

"Why don't you become a cat and slink out on your own?"

"He would know. He has put some sort of spell on me that would alert him if I ever left here. You're a wizard and a powerful one. You should be able to counter it easily."

"You don't want much, do you. How do I know you wouldn't flit away as soon as I released you?"

Mara sat back and thought. She wasn't prepared for this question. "What do you suggest?"


X looked at Mara, and scried her. She was not lying - at least not openly. Still, there was something strange about her... Mr X examined patterns of the spell. It was very strong and, somehow, yellowish.

"Very well. Bring me some silver, about two pounds. Shape is irrelevant, but the metal should be as pure as possible. And I'll also need a handful of sapphires. Get it by yourself, and I'll see how useful you can be. I'm not promising you anything, though."


The girl quickly got out of the room, which gave X a moment to think. The girl hadn't told him everything. And as for Dread Lord... he was mad. Not angry, not amusingly crazy, but mad in the worst possible way. X wouldn't have any scruples if he had to do something "bad", but Lord thought about evil like some people think about art. And even now X thought it was good that only few people were evil. If everyone would be evil, what would be the fun in it?

Mr X knew that most of Lord's guests were not aware of his real aim. Corruption could be wonderful, but there had to be some goal towards which it lead. What the Dread L. wanted was decadent, and no experienced evildoer liked decadence. It was one of the few reasons that caused any plan to fail at one point or another.

X returned to thinking about the spell, and before Mara returned, he knew exactly what to do to counter it.


Mara shifted back to a small black cat and dashed out the door when Mr. X opened it. Getting her bearings, she wandered off back down the corridor. She could hardly believe her luck. This Mr. X would help her escape. She would be free -- no longer trapped beneath the ground. She yearned for fresh air. Happily she scampered down one of the side passages.

It was unlit and but for her cat's eyes, she would not be able to see in front of her. There were torches on the walls, she knew and if a man dared to wander down it, the torches would blaze to life. Triggering the lights would alert some of Dread Lord's worst guards. The servants would come along later and clean up the clothing and bones. That would be all that was left of the hapless individual.

She shuddered at the thought of them as she continued down the corridor. As a cat, she was too close to the ground to trigger the spell. At the end of this passage there would be a doorway to the Dread Lord's treasury. He had no need to lock the door. The spell never failed and those of his household steered clear of this passage.

Mara began to wonder what the mysterious Mr. X would want with the silver. She knew she wouldn’t have much trouble finding pure silver. Dread Lord never kept anything unless it was fine and priceless.

Suddenly the torches came to life. Mara barely had time to dash into the darkness of the treasury before the sounds of many small feet came running down the walls. A loud, desperate wail echoed in the passage as one of the guests, losing his way, was set upon by thousands of the little spider-like guards. His second cry was cut off, and Mara tried to close her ears to the sounds of voracious feeding. Deep into the treasury she slunk until the sounds were barely distinguishable.

The Dread Lord's silver horde was at the very back of the room. Carefully she pulled some of the finest, smallish pieces to the floor. Then quickly she changed shape long enough to stow away the silver before shifting back. In the same way, she found some suitable sapphires -- flawless and beautiful. Before she left, she grabbed some pieces for herself.

Cautiously she approached the opening. The guards had withdrawn and the silence was stifling. She dashed straight down the passage, neatly leaping the pile of bones and robe that had been a guest, less than an hour before. Once out of the passage, she slowed down and clung to the shadows. Servants would have been summoned by now and would be along to clean up the mess.

A thought struck her that she might have a problem re-entering Mr. X's room. Pondering over this problem, she headed back. Luck was with her as the hunchback was just knocking on X's door. Mara guessed that he had been asked to check on all the guests to find out who the unfortunate one was.

Easily she sneaked into the room and listened to the irritated Mr. X telling off the hunchback. As she turned to watch, she noticed that he was wrapped in a hastily donned robe. Obviously he had taken the opportunity to bathe in the sumptuous tub.

As he shut the door, Mr. X saw that Mara had returned. She was hiding underneath one of the couches. "All right. Come out and let's see what you have brought."

Mara crawled out and shifted to human form. She stood up and handed over the silver and sapphires. "Will these do?"


The carpetlimo sleekly slid above the purplish night clouds on the way to Spielburg. Rena never let go of Orion during the flight, and he found nothing to complain about. He had never felt so content – alone with the woman of his dreams, high in the sky, the fresh night air filling his lungs.

He sighed. “It’s good to be King,” he thought, as he repositioned himself on the pearl coloured silk cloth of the T-26 carpetlimo.

Swiftly, he commanded the flying rug to swoop below the clouds. The Med Sea stretched to the horizon as they sped past the island of Marete and the city of Silmaria, taking a quick detour to view the newly erected castle for King Devon and Queen Elsa.

He sped up their flying now and rose above the clouds again. The night was getting darker, and the glow of the moon was their only light. Rena smiled at the romantic setting Orion had put them, and she kissed him on the neck. Almost an hour later, the carpet dove below the clouds again, only to reveal a vast desert below them.

“Shapeir!” Almirena exclaimed with a yawn. “Perhaps we should stop to sleep.”

“I have no complaint with that,” Ori said, holding back his own yawn. A small glint of gold shone in the distance.

“I wonder which city’s ahead… Shapeir or Raseir?” Rena said with another yawn, to tired to call on her knowledge of the land.

“There’s only one way to find out,” he said as he gave the carpet a little speed boost. The gates to the city now within distance, a Saurus lot visible.

“Shapeir! Good! I’ve always wanted to sleep at the Katta’s Tail Inn,” Ori said with excitement as the carpet landed with the grace of a feather outside the gate. The posted Guard stared wide-eyed at their appearance, and they walked into the darkened main Plaza and into the Inn.

“Greetings travelers, to the Katta’s Tail Inn! You must be seeking a room at this late hour!” the Katta greeted them.

They both nodded I agreement.

“Is this to be one room, or two?” the Katta clapped his hands together.

Orion was a bit too afraid to answer… He decided to have Almirena choose.


Rena looked sleepily at the Katta. "Why, two rooms, of course... we are not wed, you know!"

"Oh, but--" The Katta looked startled.

"You wouldn't want the Lord High Executioner of Public Immorality to come and arrest us all, would you?"

"But you could be completely private..."

"The fine for that is one head - usually your own." Almirena yawned sleepily again. "Please... just two rooms... with beds... a pillow... a blanket..." She began to sink down...

"You don't understand!" The Katta began to wail aloud. "This is now the Pink-Light District. This is a Rent-a-Room-By-The-Hour place. I can't give you separate rooms. You'll ruin my reputation."

Almirena waved a tired hand. "Talk about it in the morning," she mumbled, and slid down against the wall, cuddled up against her inventory, and fell sound asleep.


"Oh, yes, these are very good, put them here. Thank you"

Mr. X looked at the silver - it was as pure as possible, with only tiniest amounts of lead (he knew a thing or two about silver - his father's second cousin, an alchemist, used to purify silver until he "accidentally" fell into the acid; his wife denied any involvement, which was a bit strange, because she wasn't even in town when accident happened. And nobody had any reasons to suspect her, either; the fact that she married two weeks after her husband's untimely death was not unusual in any way, too. After all, someone had to take care of the small fortune poor late Ethelbert left. And he was such a moron, too, whole family agreed on that).

Mr. X then examined the sapphires. They were very nice, well-cut and of extraordinary size and purity. X took the smallest one and crushed it with magic. He gathered the powder in a small cup and murmured a short incantation over it. And then, he began to dance around the room. He conjured a small drum and flute which immiediately started to play a simple, hypnotising tune.

"Haa-iaiee, aiie-uei, haa-iaiee, aiie-uei..."

"What are you doing?"

"Haa-iaiee... - please do not disturb - aiie-uei.."

After five or six minutes of one of the strangest performances ever, it began to rain outside, but Mr X ignored it completly. Mara watched in amazement, with some confusion, as X undressed while jumping until only something, which could be described as boxers, remained.

"...aiie-uei... finished!" - X triumphantly shouted. Outside, hell was loose. Lightning made day out of - well, not night yet, but late evening - and it was almost impossible to hear anything because of thunder. Within seconds, hailstorm started to break smaller trees outside.

"Come on, let's go!"

"But the spell - is it broken?"

"Oh, that. Here." - Mr X sprinkled powdered sapphire over Mara; greenish halo appeared around her and disappeared. "It's over now" - he said while dressing back again and dispelling flute and drum.

"But what about the other stones - and silver?"

"You think I've done all that dancing for free?" - X grinned and packed silver and gems into a pouch by his belt. "Dispelling your father's spell was relatively easy with right component, it was the rain that was difficult. You see, ordinary magic at this scale would be immiediatley detected, but simple rituals are different in nature. More exhausting, but less... magical"

"But why have you summoned the rain?"

"My lady" - X grinned again - "We are leaving this place".

X took out freshly written scroll with improved version of his newly created spell, read by the window and jumped out...


Mara was taken aback at how simple the counter to her hold spell seemed to be. In a way it was a little disappointing, a let down. The summoning of the rain was a little disconcerting as well. But, she was free and Mr. X was seeming to hold the keys to freedom and excitement.

Quickly she followed X out the window and into the storm. The rain felt cool to her skin and the flashes of lightning were blinding. Her black garments, not modest by any means, clung to her figure as the rain saturated them. She blinked to clear her eyes of rain as drops dripped from her hair into her face. As she grasped X's cloak so as not to be separated from him, she caught his appraising look. Despite the rain and the chill, Mara felt a blush rise to her cheeks.

As she followed X, Mara hoped that he would tell her what they were going to do. She was eager to know what she had gotten herself into. Always impetuous, she had often gotten into trouble when she was young. No matter what her mother said or did to her, Mara continued to be spontaneous.

That X was a powerful wizard was obvious, and he seemed to be a well-traveled man. She couldn't place where he might call home, though. That he had dark tendencies was also quite evident otherwise he wouldn't have come to her father's stronghold.

Her father… Thoughts of him drifted through her mind. She wondered what he would do when he found that she was gone. As a smile appeared on her lips, Mara pulled her mind back to the present and concentrated on following X.

Bob Dûnegarm

As Mara and X trudged through the storm, a black-cloaked figure stumbled across their path. Mara cried out and ducked behind X, whose hands were coming up to prepare a spell. The figure drew a rapier and barely dodged the spell, which did something especially nasty to the tree behind it.

Bob lowered his hood and shouted out above the storm, “Zgustin Dredlord, I presume? I would like your throat, please!”

X looked at him in confusion, though Bob couldn’t see this under X’s cloak. “You mean you aren’t Dredlord?” As an afterthought, he added, “I’m X.”

"Mr. X! Thank hades! I am Bob Dûnegarm. Maybe villains should have more variety in their fashion tastes. Then again, maybe not. I built D'llain's Diner. I realized that there was a very broad customer base of Date Thread Villains that was yet untapped. Unfortunately I was attacked by one of the customers I was trying to serve. His thugs threw me out, and I tracked him here. But my tools are going haywire with the storm. I can’t get any readings.”

Tyran the Bold

Tyran looked up from his bit of chiken "So what do you want me to do, again?"

The man in the cloak appeared to be angery. Tyran couldnt understand why. They were alone together, Tyran on the couch, the man leaning on the far wall facing him. Tyran was helping himself to a large platter full of chicken on the coffee table in front of him. The mans voice was squeky and irritating but still seemed evil in its own way. "I've already told you three times!!"

Tyran reached for another peice of chiken, having finished his previous one. "Would a fourth be too much to ask?"

Now the man was really angery. "Look, why are you even here? You dont seem like a villain to me."

"I was told there would be chicken." Tyran said gleefully as he took a big bite. "They were right."

The man sighed. "Alright, I'll explain it again. Just take this thing to- PAY ATTENTION!!!" The man shot the chicken out of Tyrans hand with a small bolt of lightning. "Ow!!" Tyran protested. The man moved closer to Tyran and shoved a little black ball the size of a baseball into Tyrans hands. "Take this to King Orion and Almirena!! They're currently in the city of Sheipeir in the Kattas Tail Inn. Give it to them regardless of questions." Tyran looked at the ball. "Isnt that Dung Lord or whatever already planning something or other about this?" The man was even angrier. "Shut up! The fool is taking to long! Just go!"

"Am I getting paid for this?" Tyran asked curiously.

"I already answered that now go!" The man waved his hands oddly and Tyran was about to ask him why when he was suddenly and hastily teleported away.

Five minutes later Tyran found himself hanging from the tightrope in the West Plaza of Shepeir. Tyran pondered this for a minute and decided that this was probably not a good place to be. Tyran pulled out a peice of chiken that he had snatched earlier and began munching it while thinking of a way down. He also thought about his task. He had no idea what the black ball was, who the man was, or if he was getting paid. He hoped so, all this chicken wasnt free. Tyran then remebered that it was free and was very happy about this. He continued munching on his chicken happily. But then he suddenly realized with dismay that this ment he was holding onto the rope with only one hand, which just so happened to be his bad hand. Tyran fell 20 feet to the ground. "YEEEAARRG!!"


"There!" - X pointed towards Dread Lord's Convention Hall and continued to march through the storm, trying no to get wet too much. Mara, on the other hand, had no problems staying dry - a compact umbrella, on of the latest magical "thingies", protected her well - but it was far too small for two people.

X really hadn't wanted to speak with anyone at the moment. A brief thought came to his mind - was that man in any way responsible for what happened at Dillain's? But currently, he had greater problems on his mind. His new, improved Pegasiless-Flying-Cart spell hadn't worked as he wanted it to. In fact, it hadn't worked at all. And he was so sure of it! He could even feel its shape when jumping out - but it disappeared in a matter of seconds. Mr X was so depressed that he hadn't even provided Protection From Rain, which was one of the first spells he learned. Again, anger risen within him, but this time he knew what to do.



The dragon wouldn't hear the scream, but mental link was strenghtened for a moment, and X was certain that the creature had understood him. Whether he would respond or not was a completly different matter. Called only when X needed him, dragon might one day decide that he is not obliged to come; one couldn't "own" a dragon; a dragon could be sold or bought, but no guarantee has ever been given - either the dragon would accept his new friend - or he would simply fly away. And a dragon that has once left, would never become attached to the same person - and such person was automatically rejected by all other dragons as well. What was the key to obtaining dragon's friendship was still not known...


"Why are you shouting?" - asked Mara. "I am calling my friend." - X explained and ignored further questions. He sat down on a stump, right in the middle of a clearing, and let the water to soak him completly. Mara shrugged and waited, as she really hadn't anything else to do for now...


This was probably not the best moment for the Dread Lord to appear and exercise some parental control over his wayward daughter...

"I see you do not wish to cause DATE HAVOC!" hissed the impeccably attired evil man, rising up suddenly from behind a clump of rhododendrons. "The more subtle and sophisticated methods do not appeal?"

He looked scathingly at his daughter Mara. "I gave you everything. Your own flying carpet. Your own soaps. Your own special fluffy towel. NO! Don't say it!"

Mara's mouth had opened, probably prepatory to telling her father that fluffy towels couldn't make up for having a father like him - but the Dread Lord didn't want to hear another disobedient word out of her mouth. "But you try to sneak off. Well, go then. Go! Ungrateful chit!"

His eyes narrowed with great evil and he looked at Mr X. "On the off-chance that you still want some evil planning help, you can use these."

He handed over a pack of cards. It wasn't the usual pack. Instead of being 52, the cards (glossy black) numbered only 11. "This... this is the Date Havoc Pack. Mara, you are a foolish girl in many ways, but you do have some of my ability within you. Use this if you need help - put one of the cards into it, and your own innate magic will cause a havoc-rich image to appear on the card, as well as aiding you in times of trouble," said Dread Lord softly. He passed a thin gold case, the size of cards, to his daughter. "Use it wisely. And be careful. The two who are on a date... this King of the Bulbs, and this golden-haired Almirena person... they have a lot of ingenuity, and surprising talents. Beware. They might be happy just to spite you!" The dark evil eyes almost spat with hatred at the thought.

"Now - farewell." And the Dread Lord drew his cloak about him, and... disappeared.

Tyran the Bold

It took three hours for Tyran to find South Plaza. He couldnt see from the dark, he had no map, his ankle was killing him, and all he could find to ask directions was a clown who just honked at him. It was very late, or very early, one of the two, and sleep was wearing on him very heavily. Tyran went into the Kattas Tail Inn and asked the katta where Ori and 'Rena were. "Pardon?" the katta asked. Tyran discribed the group and the kattas eyes brightned, "Oh, they are staying in their room." Tyran thanked him then did a small double take. "Wait, room? Just one? Isnt that against some law or something? They areant married you know."

"But of course." The katta smiled. "They have two beds and a curtain to divide the room.

"Clever..." Mumbled Tyran. He decided that it would be rude to simply wander into their room and give them the black ball, whatever it was. He decided that he would wait till the morning. "Can I have a room?"

"I'm sorry, we have none left." The katta said. Tyran was very irritated. He was sleepy, his ankle still hurt, he was confused, and he ran out of chicken two hours into his search for south plaza. And no room was definatly not helping the situation. Tyran muttered something rude to the katta as he took a seat and order some chicken. After three bites he was dead asleep.

Tyran awoke with a start. It was light out, bright as day. Tyran decided that this was probably because it was day. He got up and asked the katta what time it was, being sure to snag his chicken that was cold from siting over night. "Its just after noon." Tyran realized unhappily that that ment he missed lunch. Then he remebered his job. "Wheres Ori and 'Rena?" The katta looked confused, and Tyran described the group to the katta again and his eyes brightned. "Ah, they have checked out."

"What!?" Tyran exclaimed

"They left several hours ago."

"Which way did they go?"

The katta told him that they had metioned Speilburg, and had left on a very nice flying carpet. Tyran thanked him and went out to buy a map, then started his trek across the desert.


Mara looked at the black cards and gold case that her father had given her. Idly she turned them over in her hands. This inattention caused her umbrella to slip and rain began pelting her head. The cold rain served to jar her into activity.

Mr. X, she saw, was concentrating hard on something or someone. She didn't know which. His robes were soaked and he shivered with the cold and wet.

Oh I am being stupid, she thought. Quickly she cast a shield over the two of them. This protected them from the raging storm going on around them. Then she cast a drying spell, followed by a light flame dart to warm them both up. Mr. X stopped shivering and looked less miserable.

She turned her attention to the cards and selected one. They all were a dark glossy black and seemed to be blank. King Orion…Almirena… She turned the names over in her head. So this is what Mr. X was on about -- date wrecking. She didn't know the couple, had no knowledge of them at all. She looked down at the top card. An image of a laughing couple slowly appeared on the surface of the card.

In King Orion, she saw a handsome, regal figure. The woman he was with was devastatingly beautiful and very likely talented. As she stared at the card, she hardly noticed her hands sliding the card in the gold case. Before it disappeared, a wicked thought came to her.

An old prank that she and her friends used to play on courting couples that had the misfortune of being discovered by them. So easy, so simple, so alarming. She grinned as her thought altered the images on the card. The figures on the card seemed to change places with each other.

Carefully she slid the card home, and wondered what they would do.

~ ~ ~ ~

Somewhere in Shapeir there could be heard a loud scream of dismay.


Orion suddenly felt a great deal more respect for the Lady Almirena, though he still decided to order one room. (After all, the Katta told him they only had one room left...)

After given thier room key, Orion carefully lifted Rena from her posisiton against the wall, and carried her into the bedroom. After laying her on the bed and tucking her in, he kissed her gently on the cheek and made his way over to the far wall of the room. "*sigh* I guess I'll get this relationship off to a rocky start", Orion whispered to himself as he fluffed the pillow on the loveseat and put his undivided attention on the sleeping figure of Almirena. "How'd I get so lucky?! She's all I've ever dreamed of!"

After a restless thirty-minutes, mostly due to happiness, Orion swung his legs from the loveseat and stumbled out of the bedroom to the main dining area.

"Not even an hour has past, and yet you stir?" The Katta said to him.

"I've had a long day... Happy but long." was Ori's reply.

"Ah!" the Katta winked. "You don't by chance know two people by the names of "Ori and Rena" do you? The effendi slumped over the table there was looking for them." Orion edged a look at the fellow asleep at the table. Asleep wasn't the word for it... in fact, there WASN'T a word for it. The guys face was halfway stuffed in a chicken as snores stiffled their way from him.

Holding back a laugh, Orion replied "I'm sorry, I don't know either Ori or Rena, and I don't know this man."

The Katta looked suspiciously at Orion. "So tell me your name, effendi."

"Mine? It's... Ah... (Orion thought quickly, and said the first name that popped into his head) Chester. Royal Jester to Arinyr!"

"And the lady?" questioned the Katta.

"She's Gwendolyn," Orion said with a bit too much gusto. "I'm quite proud that she loves me!" Orion said, trying to mimic Chester's personality.

"Well... It seems I should get to sleep. We want an early start to Spielburg tomorrow! It's Amblin's big return to the Valley, and we don't want to miss it, besides the fact I've got a gig tomorrow." And with that, Orion turned on his heels and trodded back into the bedroom and collapsed into a deep slumber on the loveseat.


The early mornings sun shone simmeringly straight into Orion's eyes, and he sat up and stretched.

Rena was already awake, and was looking at him with furrowed brow.

"I said SEPARATE rooms."

"Well..." Orion stumbled, "you were already asleep... and nothing happened. Besides, the Katta said it was the only room."

Rena just rolled her eyes, but said no more.

Orion went out and informed the Katta that they would be leaving immediately and returned the key. He went back to the bedroom and Rena was waiting outside.

"You said we were leaving, and they wanted to clean the room... They must be busy..." she said with a shrug.

As they were heading out to the dining area, two people had already paid for the room, and were waiting for the cleaning Katta to leave.

When they passed the Katta in the dining area, Orion said with a smirk, "By the way, I'm Orion, and this is Almirena. But you can call us Ori and Rena." And with that, he gave a loud whistle, and the limocarpet zoomed through the doorway. The two hopped on and Orion threw a small coin purse to the Katta.

"That's for our tired friend over there. Tell him to get a room next time." He winked, and commanded the carpet out the doorway and into the Shapeirian sky. A loud scream was heard when they left.

(Apparently, the couple that had gotten the room Ori and Rena were just in were given a strange sense of identity - when the male's figure changed slightly, as with the females... The were now the exact way they would have been had they have been born of the opposite sex...)

Tyran the Bold

After changing direction three times Tyran finnally discovered that his compass was broken. After some thought he remebered a handy gadget his brother had given him "Just in case." Tyran drew out a crystal orb that appeared to be filled with fog.

"Rykk! Rykk, can you hear me?"

The fog distorted and a face appeared, but it wasnt Rykk. It was a girl, a young girl. Younger then Tyran. The girl looked at Tyran for a few seconds with a look of curiosity, then suddely she recognized Tyran and turned and yelled to something out of the viewing range of the crystal ball.

"Rykk, its your brother.... Yeah.... I dunno, he looks a little annoyed.... He probably wants to speak to you.... Here." The view suddenly shifted and Rykk appeared in the ball.


"Rykk, I need a griffin." Rykk had recently taken up griffin raising for a hobby and had three of them in a pen in his back yard.

"A griffin? What for?"

"I'm lost and in a hurry."

"Where are you?"

"Somewhere in the shepierian desert" Rykk rolled his eyes.

"Alright, I'll send Tobias. Have fun, and take care of him."

"Thanks, bye." The vision blurred and returned to mist. Tyran put the ball away and sat down to have some late lunch while he waited.


Tobias arrived an hour later and landed softly beside Tyran. He looked a little run down, but Rykk had probably planned that. Tyran didnt know the first thing about griffins and if Rykk had sent any of his other ones the probably wouldnt obey Tyran.

Tyran mounted the birdie thing and whisperd into its ear,

"First lets just go up, shall we?" Tobias gave a small nod and pushed off with a griffin-like shriek. It fell up incredably high and flew in a small circle to stay in the same area. Tyran opened his eyes and loosend his grip on Tobias a little. This thing could really move. After consulting his map and finding Sheiper (From their height they could see it quite clearly) he figured out where he was and where he was going.

"Alright my freind, lets go, full speed ahead. And lets get above the clouds." The griffin cried out in what could be interpreted as delight, and they were off.


Rena and Ori traipsed out into the streets, where shallow puddles of water glinted in the transparent shimmer of the early sun. Rena yawned slightly behind her hand, and said apologetically, "I didn't sleep very well."

Ori said rather impishly, "Do you need to rest your head on my shoulder?" Rena laughed and shook her head.

"I don't think so... Imagine how embarrassing if I fell asleep."

"Why didn't you sleep well? You flaked out completely." Ori looked curiously at his companion.

Rena frowned slightly. "I... had bad dreams," she muttered.

"Such as?" Ori stopped in the street. Bad dreams might be nothing - on the other hand, bad dreams quite often accompanied times of danger. It would be foolish to be unprepared.

"A... sense of rising panic... alone in a dark place... stones... suffocation... an eerie melody and something laughing - I don't know exactly." Rena was clearly frustrated at not remembering more clearly. "But I somehow remember the colour of lavender..."

"Lavender." King Ori pushed back his hair. He looked confused. "I seem... no, no, it wasn't lavender... no, never mind."

Rena nodded. "Let's just hurry on - we'd better meet your sister soon."

"Absolutely - she can be really impatient, although she's not bad for a sister!" Ori laughed, knowing his sister well, and knowing she'd laugh at what he'd just said.

At that very moment, some liquid came tumbling down from one of the houses adjacent to the street...

... but it wasn't what you're thinking.

It was worse.

Superheated... liquid... sand...


Ori saw the terrible cascading superheated liquid sand, made from the Mad Sands of the Insane Desert (if you don't know where it is, be glad. Be very glad) - and he shouted and tried to protect Rena with his body.

She wasn't having that, though. It was too late to put up a protection spell. The stuff would hit them before the spell were said. But there was one thing - Rena's thoughts raced madly.

"Terribulum sandum convertum floralis!" she shouted, in the execrable mock-Latin in which so many spells were written. (This particular spell had been created by someone who'd flipped though Elementary Latin for Beginners: vide, Spotus, vide! ). Rena always wanted to correct the bad Latin - but you can't change the wording of a spell. If you do, the consequences can be awful!

As she spoke, she and Ori went hurtling to the side as he tried to pull her out of the way. But the stuff hit them.

"Aaaagh!" shouted Ori, all ready to scream in pain - but he needn't have bothered. To his amazement, what was falling on them... well, it wasn't superheated anything.

"Flowers????" Ori looked at Rena lying there in a bower of flowers, her face peeping up out of the white, scarlet, velvety yellow, luscious pink, and deep lilac-coloured blooms.

Rena grinned and plucked a daisy from his hair. "It's not you," she said solemnly.

"I thought we were done for," confided Ori, shuddering. "There wasn't time to do anything - I didn't have a protective spell fast enough for THAT!"

"Neither did I," nodded Rena. She emerged from the flowers, shaking them off her skirts. "All I could think of was a really stupid spell to turn something into flowers. It only just worked."

Ori's eyes narrowed, and he stared up at the window from which the superheated molten sand had come flying out. "Someone up there doesn't like me," he muttered. "I'm going to find out why."

"I'll come with you," said Rena. "Don't argue."

"I wasn't going to," replied Ori, smiling. "Let's go find out what's going on!"


Leaving the pile of flowers behind them, Orion slowly placed his hand on the lock of the house that owned the window. A dim green light shimmered from beneath his palm, and a barely audible click was heard as the door unlocked. Rena looked at him with shocked look on her face.

"I learned it from my dad..." and with that, he slowly opened the door to the house. Rena looked around quickly, and slid into the door.


The house was ill-lit, even for a spring Spielburg morning. Dust was covering everything, and many footprints were shown on the disturbed dust on the floor. A sole candle was lit in the corner of the room. The cloth sofa was torn in places, and many of it's springs were showing. Orion cast a small Flame Dart and suspended it in the center of the room, casting eerie shadows throughout.

"Doesn't look very friendly here," Orion said, picking up a dust bunny that was hopping across the floor, which promptly bit him and scampered beneath the sofa.

"I thought Magic wasn't possible in town... Erana's spell prevents it." Rena eyes followed the dust bunny.

"Not necesserily... There's this Little Old Lady in town who has this cat..." Orion started, but a look from Rena made him stop. "Let's just say the cat has a BIG attitude."

A creak resounded through the house. The two glanced at each other and ran up the stairs, for the sound came from a room upstairs.

At the top of the stairs, there were three doors, two were open - the other was locked. Without thinking, Orion kicked the door down.

There, in the corner of the bedroom, was a heavily cloaked person holding a cauldron, still red from heat. Before they could react, the cauldron was thrown at them. Orion cast a Force Bolt, but it wasn't enough to stop it. It deflected it, but it still hit him in the arm, burning the cloth from his shirt, and searing his skin. He let out a scream of pain, and jumped at the cloaked person.

Rena cast a few spells at the fiend, which Reversed back to her. Orion threw a punch at the person, hitting them square in the jaw. A girls voice grunted from the blow. Surprising Orion, she kicked him in the chest, and he stumbled backwards onto the bed.

The female assassin jumped out the window, breaking the glass. Both Rena and Ori ran to follow, Orion jumping out the window as well. He hit the ground and rolled.

"Gone! She must have Teleported!" he said as he stood up and dusted himself off.

"Couldn't have," Rena said, jumping down from the window and landing gracefully on her feet, "Magic won't work! Perhaps it was Mystic Magnets."

"It's possible. We best get to Zara's, she might be able to help us."


It was a short walk to Zara's shop. They entered, and were overwhelmed by the humidity. Lightning flashed, and electricity surged throughout the air. Zara appeared behind the counter. A smile came over her face as she saw Orion.

"What a pleasant surprise, Orion!" She then noticed Almirena. The smile faded from her face. "Welcome to my shop of Magical wonders."

Damaino then woke up and flew down from his perch onto Orion's shoulder. "It's great to be back, Master," he said with a nod.

He then proceeded to explain the situation about Barnard...

Tyran the Bold

Tyran spotted Speilburg hidden by the forests. Tobias was extremly worn out from the speedy journey. Tyran had spent the first half of his voyage doing some mental arithmatic. At the rate they were traveling at the direction they were traveling he figured they may have gained a few hours, which was remarkable seeing as Tobias was a fairly ragged griffin. Tyran spent the second half of the trip wondering who the girl in the crystal ball was. If Rykk had found a girl and not told him about it then he could expect an unfriendly visit from big brother. Rykk never told Tyran anything anymore.

Tyran squinted at the low sun over Spielburg, it wasnt long after dawn. Tyran was, again, surprised at Tobias' speed. They had gained at least two more hours then Tyran had guessed, and in another five minutes they would close the distance between him and Speilburg.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, Tyrans knapsack burst into fire. Tyran yelped as he nearly fell off of Tobias when for some reason the griffin took a hard left. He ripped the knapsack off his back and threw it into the forest below just as he lost balance and fell. Tyran caught a hold of Tobias' talon. The sudden jerk of Tyrans weight on Tobias' left side helped to correct Tobias' direction, but he was now heading at a 50 degree angle at the ground. Tyran suddenly saw that Tobias' earlier turn was caused by the sudden addition of the weight of a cloaked figure hanging on to Tobias' left talon. Tyran stared bewildered at the figure.

(It is a little known fact that some of the older, less used crystal balls have a disrupting effect on many forms of magic, espescially relocation spells or items such as Teleportation. In a later visit to Tyrans younger brothers cottage, It was discovered that the crystal ball that Rykk kept, and the one he gave to Tyran were purchased from a gypsy who said, quote, "They are of no use to me anymore. They are to old, and can only contact one another. I need crystal balls that can contact others." end quote.)

Tyran awoke two minutes later bleeding from his head. The impact to the tree had probably killed Tobias and had sent Tyran ten feet headfirst into another tree. Tyran stumbled to his feet as he smelled fire. Smoke rose over the forest back the way he had come from. Tyran looked around for a moment, as comprehension set back in. He suddenly saw the cloaked figure standing a short distance away. He appeared to be attempting to bandage an impalement in his left arm. He appearantly landed on a sharp stick.

"Hey you!" Tyran yelled. The cloaked figure looked up and then reached his hand into his robe, and drew out a flask that was filled with an ambigous blue liquid which the figure promptly threw at Tyran. Tyran drew his sword quickly just in time to cut the flask in half before it hit him. But it did him no good. The liquid quikly became an incredibly thick fog that surrounded and dizzied Tyran. Tyran fell to the ground and his upper body left the cloud of blue gas. As he breathed in fresh air, his mind returned to him. He crawled out of the cloud and looked about. The cloaked figure was gone.


Zara listened closely to Ori's story, but she kept flicking little sideways glances to Rena. Finally, Orion noticed, and paused in the middle of a word. He looked inquiringly at Zara.

"I - sorry, Your Majesty, but... there's a disturbing aura around this... Rena person," said Zara, frowning slightly.

Rena cleared her throat, not really liking the "Rena person" tag... but unwilling to make an issue of it.

"Aura?" Orion swung around to face Rena. "Nothing dangerous, I hope."

"I do not know." Zara pursed her lips. "It is almost like a... a ripple... a disturbance in the mana continuum. I have not seen anything like it."

Rena said hastily, "I'm sure it's nothing. Thank you for your concern."


"No, really - it's not worth your worrying about." Rena's blue eyes looked compellingly at Zara. "Absolutely not worth worrying about."

Zara drew in a small breath, as if Rena had communicated a secret of great worth. "Ah," was all she said.

Ori had been looking from one to the other, and then he stared bemusedly at Rena. "I don't get this," he uttered.

"Never mind... usually things become clear in the end," Rena assured him. "Now go on... you were saying...? About Barnard?"

Zara shrugged, and looked thoughtful.

"Barnard and kobolds," she mused. "An addiction, you think? Fascinating... but why do you tell me this?"

Bob Dûnegarm

Bob entered Spielburg valley after much travelling through the mountains. He had exchanged his tattered black cloak for a warmer blue fur-lined cloak, for the harsh mountains were especially perilous this time of year.

Bob pulled back his hood and looked up just in time to see a flash of flame in the sky and a Griffin falling. Bob urged his steed, and the azordic skink began to sprint like a streak of cobalt racing towards the impact site.

Tyran the Bold

Tyran stumbled over to the crumbled body of Tobias and knelt beside it. He sighed heavily at the loss of such a noble creature. Suddenly, Tyran noticed the rise and fall of the chest. Examining the body, he discovered the griffins right wing to be horribly shattered and maimed. The rest of the body suffered only a few fractures and gashes. The poor creature must have caught a tree with its wing and plowed into a tree nearby afterward. Tobias was saved by luck and chance, but he wouldnt be flying any time soon, or possibly ever again.

Just then a man riding a horse rode up into the newly made clearing. Tyran discovered that his recant thorough jostling had hurt him worse then he thought. His vision blurred after about six feet and all he could make out of the stranger was his outfit was blue and he was riding a horse. Tyran reached for his sword slowly, but then the man spoke.

"Tyran? What has happend here?" Tyran recognized the voice, but was too dazed to be able to place it. Tyran stood up, but the sudden movement wasnt a good idea. Tyran felt dizzy and confused again, then darkness took him.


Bob Dûnegarm

Bob, unusually quick on the uptake today, dismounted and ran to assist Tyran. He pulled a potion from his bag and force-fed it to the unconscious Tyran. Tyran would be alright when he woke up, but the Griffin needed help now. Bob inspected the Tobias' wing and knew at once he did not have the skill to stop the bleeding. He removed some of the larger debris from the wound area and sprinkled powder on it. That would keep the Griffin from bleeding to death while he tried to find a way to get it safely to Amelia's house.

Bob quickly chopped down two large saplings and quartered them. With some rope and a blanket from his pack, he lashed together a makeshift rescue sled and carefully eased the Griffin onto it. He then attached the framework to the back of his 12-legged lizard's harness and fed Tyran a Revive.

"We need to get the Griffin to the Healer's house. It's a bit north of here. He'll be alright as long as we can keep him from dragging the ground," Bob said, hoisting one corner of the stretcher over his shoulder. "My mount can help. Once everybody's safe, you can tell me what happened."

Tyran the Bold

Color swam into Tyrans vison. HE woke up looking into the face of Bob, who quickly went back to secureing the harness. While Bob was talking to him, he reflected that he must be feeling similar to one who has a twenty vodka hangover. The massive headache faded quickly and he go too his feet. Tyran survyed the area with haste, Bob had taken command of the situation, and had quickly set up a stretcher type device for Tobias.

Tyran picked up his sword, which was lying on the ground and went to help with the stretcher. Something didnt seem right though. He was missing something. He had his sword, his cape, his.. Knapsack! Tyran remebered in a flash the fire and turned to see the smoke was growing. Bob suddenly saw it too, but Tyran was already off at a run. As he ran, Tyran reflected that his day was going relitivly badly, and his injuries were starting to really hurt. Tyran then noticed that his injuries had stopped bleeding and the gash in his head had become a small cut.

Tyran came upon the clearing and found that a grass fire on the opposite side of Speilburg lake was quickly growing. Bob emerged into the clearing behind him. "Where did that fire come from?"

"I've got an idea!" Tyran said as he put his elemental magic to work. Ice sprouted from his fingers and formed a dagger in his hand. "I wish I learned to throw daggers." He said as he leaned back to throw it. But just before he did, Bob grabbed it from his fingers and threw it with accuracy and skill. "Nice shot." Tyran said as he brought forth another one, and another. Bob grabbed them, and whipped them right on target into the fire. Each one quickly melted when it hit the fire and doused a small portion of it. After a minute or two of this the fire was out, and not a smolder was left. Bob and Tyran exchanged glkances and hurried back to Tobias, who was awake and thrashing about in pain.

Bob Dûnegarm

"We've got to do something to calm him. He'll kill himself in this condition!" Bob said. "I have some Anti-Shock Serum in my saddlebags."

Bob dug around frantically in the saddlebag and found a tiny phial. "This is it. Uh oh. There's just a few milliliters left. Not enough for a Gryphon's bodyweight. Do you know any duplication spells?"

"I've only got elemental magic, specifically water and ice." said Tyran.

Bob grimaced. "Maybe you could combine one of your healing spells with a freezing spell to numb the injury for a while?"

Tyran nodded and conjured a chunk of magical ice on Tobias' wing that was not chilling, but soothing and cool. Bob poured the last of his Serum onto the Griffin's tongue.

"The sooner we get out of here, the better," Tyran said, and Bob agreed. Just then the bushes behind them shook violently, and out stepped a fearsome Saurus Rex!

Tyran the Bold

Tyran turned at the sound of something large and hungary. It was something like a Sarus, but bigger.


"Tyran, dont move." Bob said, drawing his sword.

"Eat lead!" Tyran shot a large salvo of lightning at the beast and it roared really loudly. The beast lunged for Tyran but stopped suddenly and started thrashing madly due to the sword that Bob had lodged in his eye. Tyran drew his sword with haste and ran to stab his throat, but just then the sword was dislodged and Bob was sent flying. The beast lunged for Tyran again and Tyran jumped to the left and slashed at the unhurt eye. The creature was blind but continued to bite and thrash. It caught Tyran by the arm and yanked him into the air, but suddenly collapsed on the ground, dead. Bob drew his sword from the back of the creatures head, and helped Tyran to his feet.

"Now if there are no more perils awaiting us, lets get this griffin to the healers."

Bob hoisted the a corner of the stretcher onto his shoulder and Tyran got the other corner, and began the slow transportation of Tobias to safety.


The sound of enraged snorting brought Mara to wakefulness. After she had slid the card in its case, she had felt drained. It hadn't been long before she felt that her prank had gone astray. She wasn't sure how she knew this; it was more of a feeling of certainty. Sighing, she stowed the case and cards away. Maybe later she could devote full attention to figuring out what went wrong. She was tired now and must have dropped into a light dose on her feet when the sound awakened her.

Two necrotaurs came crashing through the bushes and seeing Mara and X charged at them. Mr. X didn't react as the hooves pounded closer to him nor to the prods and shouts that Mara hurled at him in panic. With very little effort, one of them bore down on the unfortunate X and tossed him in the air. He came down hard, landing in the fork of a nearby tree and was still. Briefly the necrotaur tried in vain to reach X before turning his attention on Mara.

The second necrotaur fixed his gaze on the girl and charged at her. Mara began preparing a flame dart spell and in the next instant found herself breathless and bleeding where she had been tossed. Desperately she tried to clear her vision and was fortunate as the necrotaur misjudged his second pass and ran by her at speed.

She staggered, then braced herself against a tree. By this time, the first necrotaur had noticed her and with a dawning horror, Mara realized that she would now have to take on the two of them. A quick dazzle spell briefly immobilized the pair, giving Mara time to think. She knew frostbite which could be used to attack both, but it would be a heavy drain. The sound of labored breathing from the fork above told her that at least she and X were together. If she managed this, she wouldn't have to hunt for him.

The necrotaurs shook off the blinding spell and made ready to charge. Mara steeled herself and cast frostbite on the charging beasts. As she felt the drain, her heart began to pound and sweat appeared on her brow, mingling with the blood and rain that dripped down her face. Her lungs tried to expand, stretching her broken ribs painfully.

Clenching her teeth, Mara aimed and caught one of the necrotaurs fully in the face. It stopped its charge; it's health draining fast. The second beast was only partially affected and continued its charge. First the head, then the teeth hit Mara in the knee and caused her to scream. Momentarily she released the spell in a lapse of concentration. The first necrotaur was on its knees, mortally wounded.

Still reeling from the pain and her rapidly ebbing strength, Mara grabbed for her dagger, cast zap, and plunged it into the neck of the necrotaur. Its bellow shook the ground and tree. Mara reclaimed her dagger and with difficulty sheathed it. As the rain continued to pour, in the distance, Mara could hear the sounds of more necrotaurs coming, answering the death call. The bleak Mordavian forest swam before her and she sank to her knees, awaiting death.

~ ~ ~ ~

Mara awoke and blinked at the sunlight pouring through the window. The room was bright and the bed she lay on was soft and comforting. Someone seemed to be singing in another room, and she could smell bacon frying. A breeze flicked the light gauzy curtains and she had the urge to pounce on them. Pounce? She yawned and in the middle of a stretch, cried out in pain. At least she meant to. A weak meow was all that came out.

Mara flicked her tail. Now when did I morph? Her stomach growled, and the stretch awakened her all the necrotaur-inflicted injuries. Where am I? Where is Mr. X? With a start she realized that Mr. X was in the same bed and the comforting lump she was resting against was his leg. If she could have, she would have blushed.

As she stiffly turned to look at him, a pleasant looking, older woman came in with a tray. Delicious smells issued from it and Mara's stomach growled again. The wrinkled hands reached out and stroked her once silky black fur. They were warm hands and instantly sensed that the little black cat was severely injured.

"Poor kitty. I'm glad to see you stirring at last. Try and eat something and then I'll tend to your wounds."


"I know it hurts, but you need to eat."

Mara sniffed the tray delicately, then ate the bacon and eggs daintily, pausing only to take sips of milk. She hoped the old lady would tell her what happened and where she was. When she had finished, she managed a purr and looked into the woman's kind blue eyes in a mute query.

"There now, feel better?" Gently the woman picked Mara up and carried her into the kitchen. A hiss escaped the cat's lips as the woman's hand accidentally pressed against her tender ribs.

"Sore? I'm sorry. It will all soon be mended. I put a healing potion in your milk, which should help things a bit. Poor kitty. I wonder where my grandson found you?"


"Poor mite of a thing," she continued and Mara wondered if she was talking about X or herself. "Was quite a shock to see a dragon. You don't see many any more. But there he was, in my garden with my poor grandson clinging to him. I didn't even notice you until I took off his cloak. All huddled inside it you were. 'Twas a wonder you didn't fall off in the flight."

Grandma X continued this chatter while she expertly probed Mara's battered form. The healing draft had helped somewhat. Her torn knee was slowly healing and the ribs less painful. With infinite care, the woman bathed the placid cat, removing all the blood from her coat. Then she carefully dried her in a warm towel.

"There now, you will heal nicely. I'll put you back on the bed. Plenty of sun and it'll be comfortable for you."

Mara was put back on the bed next to the sleeping Mr. X. As it was expected, she sighed, turned herself around and selecting a nice warm spot, carefully lowered her body next to X. She closed her eyes as she felt the gentle fingers smooth her fur and purred.

Tyran the Bold

After some time, the two, plus Bobs stead, managed to get Tobias to the city gate. By this time, the creature had passed out, and was still bleeding badly enough that Tyran was extremly worried about him. Tyran glanced up at a view he had thought he would never see again. 'Its a small world.' He thought, bitterly. He regarded the castle with distaste, and tried to push back memories his past there. It had hardly changed in the time that had passed. Except this time the guards weren't chasing him away for theivery. He doubted anyone would even recognize him, most of the staff of the castle had been fired for treason after Baron von Stefan resumed his throne, and his father was overthrown.

Tyran shook away the memories, and continued walking. Bob was eyeing him, and had noticed he had stopped, but hadnt said anything. Tyran shifted the weight of the stretcher, and continued on. Upon reaching the door of the healers, shortly thereafter, Bob set down his load ,as did Tyran, and went to the door, knocking politely. The healer opened the door and Bob explained with haste the situation. Although Tyran was worried about Tobias' condition, he couldn't help but let his gaze drift to the orchirde, where he had spent so much of his time at.

Then, something caught his eye. When he looked to the city wall to see what it was it had gone. But he thought he saw the glimmer of a grappling hook on the top of the wall. His attention was needed elsewhere though.

"Tyran!" Bob shouted at him. Tyran snaped out of his daze and back into reality. The healer was already mixing a large batch of healing potion. A bandgae and a splint or two had already been aplied to Tobias' arm. Tyran looked sheepishly at Bob who was attempting to lift Tobias and move him into the shade. How long had he been day dreaming, he wondered. Tyran rushed to help Bob. As they worked, Tyran couldnt help but glance back at the wall. What ever he had seen, he couldnt see it anymore.


half an hour later, Tobias was in a much better condition. The healer assured Tyran that he would be fine. Tobias slept to the left of the healers house, the potions that the healer had brewed working inside of him. After being shoved out the dor and several assurances that all Tobias needed was rest, Tyran went and sat in the orchird. Bob had said he was needed elsewhere, and after asurances that Tobias and Tyran would both be fine, went on his way.

Tyran looked over at the bushes where he had once fallen ad gotten a nasty gash on his left arm. The scar was very thin and light, but still barely visable. Then Tyran was once again rudely jerked back into reality as a sight of horror came befroe his eyes. He hadnt been imagining the blood flowing out from the bush.

Tyran jumped to his feet and ran to the bush. lying behind it, he saw the centaur (what was his name?) lying bleeding, his eyes rolled back, and foam seeping out of his mouth. A look of surprise and horror was still frozen on his face. Blood gushed from his chest, where a knife wound had been made, right into the heart. He was beyond the healers help now.

Tyran felt something warm run down his cheek, and realized that he was crying. Memories of all the time he had spent sitting in this orchirde with Hilde and her father to keep him company streamed back into his mind.

Then he remebered, the grappling hook. Sorrow quickly turned to anger. Tyran balled his fists clenched his teeth. Hatred seethed inside of him. Whoever had done this would pay. Whatever bussines this assasin was on would soon be brought to a pre-mature end.

"I'll kill you!" Tyran roared as he scaled the wall. He flipped over the other side, and and hit the ground running.

Oh yes, he would pay.

Bob Dûnegarm

Bob stepped out of the Tavern and winced. There was something uneasy in the air that made his spine prickle. Tyran came running out of the alley to his left, his face red with a mixture of shock and fury.

"Tyran!" Bob called. "What happened?"

Tyran told him.

"Heinrich- dead?" Bob croaked.

"Murdered! By an assassin thief!" Tyran roared.

Bob's face turned red and contorted with an anger rivaling Tyran's.

"What about Hilde? She might be the next target! We've got to help her!"


"Well... the fact is, Master... is that we were both tricked into killing these kobolds... whom we believe were tricked into doing their deeds..." Ori said, reaching up and patting Damiano on the head, who in turned, squeeled happily.

"Kobolds deserve what they get!" Squaked Damiano.

Looking at the creature on his shoulder, Orion replied "True... I've always disliked them, but in this case, it's Barnard I dislike more..."

"I do not think it's smart to insult a Ruler in his own kingdom..." Zara's smirked at Ori.

"He's a bloody Bear right now... What's he going to do? Make me clean the cave up after him?" he smirked back. "Has Aumerie contacted you at all?"

"She left me a note to tell you to meet her by the Magic Tree to the north. She was brief, but she left muttering about thieves..."

"Thank you, Master!" he said with a bow to Zara as Damiano flew back to his perch and Zara gave Rena another look over. "We best be going. Aumerie's waiting."

With that, Orion and Rena left.


Outside in the stale morning air, Pterosaurs could be heard tweeting in the trees as Rena and Ori exited the gates and turned north...


The pto pterosaurs ptweeted pterrifically in the ptree, and Rena smiled to herself as she remembered finding the healer's gold brooch here once. Next to her, Ori said musingly, "Those pterosaurs! D'you know, I once had to climb this tree (I could have levitated, but it was more fun to climb) to search Pteresa's nest? The healer had lost a gold hatpin, and she posted a reward for it."

"You're kidding!" Rena stopped dead. Her eyebrows rose as she related the story of her own small quest to locate the gold brooch. Ori frowned slightly as she finished.

"Coincidences seem to be springing up all over the place."

"Yes... bizarre." Rena sighed. "It COULD be just a normal coincidence..."

At that very moment, Pterry the male pterosaur squawked in protest as Pteresa buffeted him with her wing. The next few minutes were almost like a Punch and Judy show as Rena and Ori looked on, grinning. Pterry was cowering and then trying to intimidate his girlfriend, and Pteresa put on a great act, alternating between thwacking Pterry, nagging at him, and putting on a cowed and hurt look.

At one particularly hilarious bit, when Pterry flipped over and fell backwards into the nest, emerging with his head covered with coloured bits of fluffy feather and bright ribbons, the play was interrupted.

"Help! Help!" shouted a female voice, and the healer's cottage door banged open as Amelia Appleberry, the healer, came rushing out. "Oh no, no, no!" she moaned, and fell to the ground, her head in her hands. "No, no!"

"What is it?" Ori said sharply.

"Another lost gold piece of jewellery?" thought Rena, but didn't say it.

The healer trembled. "I - well, a pair of gold earrings IS missing, but that's not what's wrong... No, it's worse than that." She shuddered.

"Tell us what's wrong." Rena was instantly all solicitude.

"It's... oh, I can't say it!" sobbed the healer.

"Er... shall I get some paper so that you can write it?" offered Ori, but the healer waved away the suggestion and gulped down her tears.

"It's... it's... someone has stolen my bed," she revealed in a horribly dread-filled voice...


As Amelia confessed the horrible truth, Ori had to bite down hard on his tongue. "Her BED was stolen? I wonder why...?" he thought.

Rena frowned hard, to stop from laughing, and immediately began to proffer possibilities. "Was your bed a valuable antique?"

"No - just a normal pine bed," replied Amelia, sobbing in a noisy, distressed way.

"What about the bed linen? Was it Ciptic fine linen?"

"No, plain old cotton." The healer hiccupped as she spoke, so that it sounded like cohic!on.

"Um... did you keep any treasures, your savings or anything, hidden in it, under it...?"

"I lived a simple life!" wailed Amelia Appleberry. "I had only a few coins, and I banked them in town in the Invisible Bank."

"Well, then... this is quite a mystery," admitted 'Rena. She turned to Ori. "Ideas?"

"About a bed?" Ori grinned rather audaciously and leaned over to whisper, "None that I can repeat in public."

"Oh, you!" 'Rena rolled her eyes, which had that little glitter of laughter in them that made her so deliciously charming. It's true if I say so, so there.

Amelia Appleberry took out a large pink handkerchief and blew her nose gustily. "How could they even get it out the door, that's what I want to know?" she beseeched the heavens. "To rob a poor woman of her only bed... They want to force me to sleep on the cold hard ground, but I can't! My bones! My back! Alas, alas!" She clutched at 'Rena and Ori fiercely. "You must help me! Please!"

"We'll do our best," muttered Orion, trying to remove the healer's hand from his sleeve. "We can check drag marks, I suppose." He had a dubious expression on his face - he was looking at the size of the door and windows, and thinking that there was NO WAY anyone could fit a bed through it. He said aloud, "How did the bed get inside in the first place?"

"Oh... goodness, that was years ago... They fitted it together inside," sniffed Amelia Appleberry.

"Maybe the thieves disassembled the bed inside your cottage," mused Ori, but honestly, his mind was boggling at the idea. Why WOULD anyone steal a bed...?

'Rena suddenly grew still, and her eyes narrowed in thought. "I wonder..." she said quietly. "Perhaps you had a guest, Amelia..."

"A guest? No, no. I don't ask people to stay over," denied the healer.

"Not necessarily with your knowledge..." 'Rena was convinced she was onto something. "Something or someone may have sneaked in and hidden in your bed. Then someone else may have located them by magic, and whisked the hiding person, bed, and all, away somewhere."

"You might be right!" Ori jumped up enthusiastically. "Well, I can cast my adapted trigger spell to see if anyone's been using magic lately."

"Good idea." 'Rena opened the healer's door after looking for permission at the healer, and she nodded at Ori. "After you, monsieur Onion," she said quirkily.

"After YOU," insisted Orion. "My mother taught me all the right manners..." He smiled self-deprecatingly.

'Rena nodded, and the two of them entered in... to find...



<The word "NEWS" flashes colourfully and briefly in the sky, and a voice intones, "See? I TOLD you it was a news flash.">


A knock resounded from the door of the healer's cottage. She gave her nose a final cleaning blast and wandered over to unbolt the door. A man in a long-piqued, red cap and red overalls was standing outside holding a clipboard.

"'Ello. Party of Applebury?" The man brushed past the surprised healer.

"Well, it's Appleberry, actually," she sniffed.

"Roight. Applebury. Well, if you'd show me yer newts, I'll hop to it. First, you've got to sign here, though." He thrust his clipboard into her unresisting, slightly damp hands.

She gave him a bewildered look. "Newts? I don't understand, sir."

"I've come about the newts flash, miss," he said impatiently. "So if you'd show me to them, I'll have'm flashed sooner'n you can recite the eleventh volume of the Healers' Handbook."

"But I haven't sent for any newts flash. I don't own any newts, for goodness' sake! Please go away, sir, I've got enough trouble as it is."

The man looked at her with an air of annoyance for a moment, then tucked his clipboard under his arm, turned about smartly and left, mumbling about kids prank-calling and how the Daily Newts didn't have to stand for it. Amelia retreated to her workbench.


Last week - er... whenever... - when we left you with the CLIFF-HANGER ENDING...

What do you mean, there was no cliff-hanger? You didn't know what Rena and Ori would find when they entered the cottage, did you? That's a cliff-hanger.

... well, anyway, we're going to break the suspense, and tell you all.


Rena and Ori entered the cottage, to find that there was a bucket in the centre of the room. It was an ungainly object - scuffed and marked - and looked decidedly out of place in the neat little cottage.

"Why do you have a bucket here?" asked Orion, peering into it.

"That's ... that's not MY bucket!" said Amelia Appleberry, astonished.


They stood there staring at the bucket as if they’d just walked in on a bomb…

“Well… Maybe somebody needed a bucket and made it out of your bed…” Ori shrugged, seriously at a loss for what to do… On a whim, he turned to Amelia and asked her “Have you spoken to any of the guards about this?”

“Well…” Amelia looked down with a heavy sigh. “No, actually. I’ve been unable to get a hold of any guards at all, and Karl’s not opening the gate for anyone. In fact, he’s not even at his post!”

“And I think I know why!” Orion reached into his back pocket and pulled out a leather package. “Stand against the wall,” he directed to the two ladies in his presence, quickly adding a “please” at the end. As they did so, he unwrapped the leather to reveal what seemed to be a brick of pure gold. Rena gave him a quick glance over as she wondered why he’d pull out such a treasure in front of his date, and someone who can mostly be considered a stranger.

Orion dropped the leather to the floor, which floated down as if it was a feather, and the room grew dark while the ‘sheet’ of leather floated in the air halfway between the ground and Orion’s hands. Carefully, he held the gold brick in one hand and put his other atop it and began his incantation. He moved both hands away from the gold as it hovered there and a small slice of the gold stayed in his right hand. The leather floated up to the gold and wrapped itself back around it. The gold leaf in Orion’s hand flashed a halo, and continued to emit a light flash every second. Orion’s eyes were glowing the bright green they always did when magic was nearby. The gold leaf expanded to roughly the size of a Silmarian shield. With another wave of his hands, all light fell from the room except that radiating from the gold and his eyes. Upon the floor, a symbol appeared. A crescent moon with a Paladin Sword piercing through it…

The sight of this took Orion aback just enough to break his concentration from his ritual. The light in the room returned, and the gold leaf vanished while the rest of the brick fell to the ground with a thud.

“What the heck was that!” Amelia shouted at Orion! “I’ll have no black magic near my hut!”

“Allow me to explain, Miss Appleberry… It was a ritual I learned from the Wizard Aramus. It’s used to detect the source of a wrongdoing… In this case,” Orion glanced at Rena, “It was either my Sister, Father, or someone sent by one of them…”

Rena chimed in, “And I think I have a feeling which one it was!”

“But that still doesn’t explain the bucket!!!” Amelia shouted, a bit unnerved now.


The sun was a bright blot in an upside-down sea, a whirlpool of blindness in a smug cerulean sandless desert, painted onto the underside of the billiard table of the Great Ones (aka those mighty and nearly divine creatures known as Forumum Memberumi, known to dwell "up there" somewhere).

Almirena grinned to herself as she lined up another story post on the table. "Right pocket," she muttered.

"Bet you ten to three that you'll hit the eight ball instead," offered the black-clad Mistress of the Whip, standing nonchalantly on the side, smoking a recalcitrant student's finger, purloined from yet another story on the boards.

"You're on - prepare to lose ten whatevers," agreed Almirena, a little glint in her eyes as she lined up the billiard stick and took aim at the small onion-shaped ball on the table, then laughed as Ori snatched it from the green and exclaimed, "Hey, I WONDERED where that had got to!" It was one of his tags...

"Just kidding... I've got another target," laughed Almirena, and without further ado, she slid the stick forward in a smooth movement, bypassing the eight ball... in spite of the eight ball's surprisingly strong efforts to be hit (such as rushing out in front of the stick and shouting, "Hit me!", and chasing the stick around the board. Yeah... it seems Maghrabi's been casting the old "impart suicidal sentience" to the eight ball.)


From the bucket arose a faint miasma, somewhat lavender in colour. Rena stiffened and backed away slightly, pulling the other two with her. "Quickly, but gently," she said urgently under her breath.

"Um... lavender smoke? Is this some kind of bong thing? Is Salim making a statement here?" whispered back Ori.

"It's not proper smoke. I'll have no improper smoke in my cottage - it could get me a fine from the Spielburg Fire Department," wailed Amelia Appleberry very quietly.

"I know why the bucket is here." Rena was pale, and she turned to look at Ori with an almost dazed expression in her eyes. "You've heard of the Black Paladin ability to take control of other minds through the Wells of Thought-Slavery? I remember now - the wells always are tinged with lavender, the colour of magic when it is tained by darkness and hidden from Trigger Spells, because it must use the element of Lavindium to do so."

"Oh my mundane aunt," muttered Orion, his face now as pale as Rena's. "It's got to be someone working for my father - or my father himself. But why here? Why in the healer's cottage?"

"Because someone was here," replied Rena with conviction in her voice. "Getting US is an unexpected bonus. Your father wants Miss Appleberry because she might discover who was here... and that someone MUST have come to Spielburg to meet us, and was hiding here in the cottage."

"I didn't invite anyone," sniffed Amelia Appleberry. "And I won't have people invading my house and ruining my peace and committing atrocities of orthopaedic nature!"

"ORTHOPAEDIC NATURE?" carolled Ori and Rena as if in duet.

"Yes - my back! If I don't have my proper bed with its proper springs and proper feathers and everything, my back will be agonising, and I'll have to go to a gyropractor."

"Never heard of one of those," put in Ori, bemusedly, still backing away from the lavender smoke.

"They put you on a bed of gyros and then stretch your muscles on a rack," sobbed Amelia Appleberry, so busy mopping her eyes that she didn't even hear a voice from the billiard table of the Great Ones say indignantly, "Hey! I'VE got patents on all racks!"

"Hmm... interesting as your medical problems are, I think we have a bigger problem," said Rena, looking around without making much movement. She did not want to attract the attention of the smoke. "We've got to stop the smoke from sensing us. Once it does..." She shuddered.

Ori nodded grimly. "There's only one thing that can block the smoke from a Well of Thought-Slavery."

"Yes... the feathers of the rare Jazz Duck." Rena sighed, wondering if she dared risk conjuring up a Jazz Duck...

"Truly? A Jazz Duck?" Amelia stopped weeping and blew as delicately as she could into her sodden handkerchief. "My pillows were stuffed with Jazz Duck feathers."

"You're... kidding." But Ori said it flatly. How typical. A solution so close... and yet so far away... No wonder the bed had been bed-napped along with whoever had hidden here. The feather blanket had probably been stuffed with the same darn feathers...

"And I even had a spare pillow for when I washed the other one," commented Amelia, reaching behind her and opening the drawer...