It was nightfall when Kaidan and Lucian finally reached a resting place, a hunting camp located some 300 yards outside Bybliotheca Silvanus. Kaidan had seen the orange smoke as soon as they had crossed the edge of the forest, the signal of a well acquainted huntress. Riding on the same horse Kaidan had tied the unconscious Lucian to himself who he’d placed in front of him. A tall, stout looking hunter with pale skin and braided red hair quickly made his way over to assist Lucian off the horse just as he was coming to. “There you go master Lucian, careful now,” he said while cutting the rope.
“By the graces! Is he well? Or is he seriously injured?” inquired a young huntress with raven black hair, clothed in burgundy leather garments decorated with the insignias of one of the noble houses of the west. Her voice carried much concern while looking at Lucian’s pain ridden face.
“I thank you for your kind concern milady. I do feel as if a thousand knives are stabbing me but the wonderful smell coming from the camp fire is providing some cheer,” Lucian said under his breath, still rather weak but with returning certainty in his eyes.
“Ah, you will be delighted with the stew I have prepared master Lucian; it will bring your spirit right back into your bones,” remarked the stout hunter proudly while putting one arm around Lucian’s back to walk him over to the fire. At that very moment Lucian sensed the presence of a dear friend and he instantly looked up. “Celthia!” he exclaimed while the anguish on his face was replaced by a joyful smile. The giant owl stood a few paces off to the side mustering him with beaming eyes. Upon recognizing her new master she greeted him with joyful sounding screech.
“She’s been very worried for you, but we’ve taken good care of her. There is plenty of game this time of the year and she’s feasted like a queen,” the young huntress remarked with certain pride, stowing her bow and quiver.
“I thank you very much for all your aide…,” Lucian replied with an inquisitive undertone while settling close to the fire with a generous bowl of hot boar stew.
“I am Lady Ashalia of the house D’Arvaign and this is my hunting partner Drunquist of the Hrundals.”
“Lady Ashalia? Kaidan has told me much about you. It is a great pleasure making your acquaintances! Do please forgive my lack of decorum, I would very much enjoy offering you the proper greeting but I can hardly hold this bowl.”
“I beg of you, do not concern yourself, formalities make me rather uncomfortable anyway.”
“As you wish milady. And master Drunquist, of the Hrundals it is? I have studied some of the legends of your people. As a child my father told me the story of Kurkunak, the conqueror of Induliaq the ice dragon. Ever since I’ve desired much to travel to your lands.”
“You shall be our honored guest! King Werund is my ohm, my uncle; he will welcome you at his court master Lucian,” Drunquist offered proudly, then added “Ah, the fables of our northern lands. Much of it is passing into oblivion now as my people are changing their ways and views.”
“I am beginning to believe in fables again,” Kaidan remarked, filling his bowl and sitting down next to Lucian.
“Why, what did you encounter?” Ashalia asked.
“Beasts of the kind I have never seen before and was sure only existed in fables. Fendrys hounds.”
“Fendrys hounds?” Drunquist said with a surprised look on his face.
“And we did not merely see them - we fought them! Alas, my weapons proved quite ineffective but Lucian was able to subdue them,” Kaidan explained.
“How?” Ashalia asked.
At that Kaidan recounted the events that had unfolded in his search for Lucian; how Ashalia’s falcon, Dinya, lead the way; how he found Lucian encircled by Fendrys hounds; how he baited them to enable Lucian to escape and how Lucian did not want to abandon him. He told how Dinya called upon the hunting birds of the woods and how they rushed to their aid when Lucian had fallen to the ground as if hit by an invisible force. He told of his sudden recovery and overpowering fury, fiercely fighting the abominable creatures, Malledral, the fabled heart seeking dagger, in hand until none were left. Putting his hand on his heart and bowing slightly he said “For many years I’ve had the great honor to call master Lucian my friend. I already owe him much; now I gladly add my life to that debt.” To which Lucian replied “The debt is mutual my friend. I would not be sitting here if you had not prepared medicine to calm my boiling blood.”
“To this I say huzzah! We shall be glad that none of you has come to permanent harm,” Drunquist exclaimed, after which he handed his companions generously filled mugs of wine.
After an hour had passed and the spirits were high Drunquist turned to Lucian asking “Would it be pleasing to you if I could take a look at the dagger?” To which Lucian replied “Most certainly.” He unsheathed the dagger, which was vibrating in his hand, emitting a soothing, barely noticeable sound, and presented it to Drunquist who mustered it curiously. “It is called Malledral? What is its meaning?”
“Seeker of truth. A more direct translation would be ‘is it real?’” Lucian reached for his journal and shared some of the accounts he had uncovered concerning the dagger’s history. “What I have found so far paints a very mystical picture, though as a man of science I seek more rational explanations. Though I admit that I do not know how it was capable of fending of the creatures we encountered, and we shall call them Fendrys hounds for the time being. I believe their masters are weary of it as well.”
“Pray tell what you mean with masters. Did they not attack on their own account?” Drunquist asked.
“I am certain they did not. Their masters talked to me; they tried to lure me into joining hands with them,” Lucian responded. He told them of the presence, ‘for lack of better understanding’ he added, that had followed him after investigating the ruin of Dunlor and how, after some time, it addressed him by name, trying to entice him to abandon his research.
“By Ulthor! That can only mean that the fallen have entered our world once again. I felt them myself in the library, remember master Kaidan?” Drunquist exclaimed loudly.
“I beg your pardon for my bluntness but I do not consider them to be mythical creatures,” Lucian said with conviction.
“Surely they must be if only a dagger infused with magic can harm them!” Drunquist insisted.
“I believe there is more than can currently be comprehend,” Lucian continued. “Let me show you something. The reason why I fell into fury is this.” He retrieved a black dart from the right pocket of his coat, then held it up to the light of the fire.
“What is that? May I take a closer look?” Kaidan asked.
“Certainly. But be careful, I am quite certain it has been infused with poison. I am sure it was meant to cause grave harm, albeit not kill. But for some reason it instead triggered inhuman anger and rage within me.”
Kaidan inspected the dart closely then handed it to Drunquist who, after examining it, passed it to Ashalia.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Very light and made of a strange material,” she remarked. “And what is this? It looks like a compartment of some kind. And the tip seems very unusual as well.” She handed the dart back to Lucian who reached into one of his belt pouches and retrieved a little brass tube with a magnifying lens to inspect it more closely.
“The tip is hollow!” he exclaimed. “It appears this compartment held the poison which was released by some mechanism within, pushing it through the hollowed tip. This is a very sophisticated design, cleverly devised and purposefully created. And as you remarked, it is made of a material of which the likes I’ve never seen before.”
“Indeed,” Drunquist contemplated.
“I believe this dart was shot from some type of crossbow. I felt it’s impact. Whoever shot it was in direct vicinity of the voice that talked to me. But at no point did I notice anyone nearby.”
“Do you think he is still around?” Ashalia asked.
“I believe not. If anything he may be rethinking his next steps. All the more reason for me to travel back home as soon as possible to discuss with my colleagues at the university.” Lucian was turning the dart between his fingers then wrapped it in a piece of cloth and placed it carefully back in his belt pouch. “I don’t want to appear unappreciative of your kindness but I have reached a point where I can barely keep my head up and very much desire some rest.”
“By all means master Lucian!” Drunquist replied.
“You should get some rest too,” Ashalia remarked to Kaidan putting her right hand on his left cheek. “I will take the first watch and Drunquist the second. At first light we shall make plans to travel back to Erlendree.”
© Thorsten Becker