Chapter the Eighth

David Lee


The crowd buzzed madly as the three downed thugs struggled to their knees. Valaan stood over them, his eyes and hair seemingly aflame in his wrath. Rage pulsed from his clenched fists. "Get up," he snarled.

"Valaan!" Derryn called, gently pushing Linnatiel's arm away and starting toward the spellweaver. "Valaan, what happened?" Valaan turned his head to Derryn.

"They tried to...take me out, when I was talking to Kara," he spat. "They're common cur, but I didn't want to...use my power. Because...well, you can see why." Valaan gestured to the crowd around them. They stared at him in a mix of shock, awe and reverence. "I didn't want our cover to be blown." Derryn nodded.

"This was probably what Linn was talking about," he said. "Look at it on the bright side; maybe this will play to our advantage."

"Perhaps," Valaan said absentmindedly, releasing the hold on his power, letting it dissipate into the air. Contemptuously, he hauled one of the thugs to his feet, grabbing the collar of the shirt. "Speak, wretch, or I'll boil your hide. Who do you work for?" The thug's eyes bulged out of his head.

"The Black Wolves!" He sputtered. "The Black Wolves! We're just supposed to keep this town in line for them. We didn't do nothing! Don't boil my hide, sir! My hide ain't agreeable with heat!" Derryn's eyes widened slightly, then he frowned, thinking for a moment.

"I remember my father talking about some Black Wolves a long time ago," he said slowly. "They were mercenaries of some sort, twenty years ago."

"Your father should remember them," Linnatiel said, appearing at Derryn's side. "They were the ones who gave him that scar. Or so my own father says." To Derryn, the elf suddenly held the air of a scholar. He nodded again.

"The thing that worries me," he said, "is that the Black Wolves could wield magic. If that's the case, then we have quite a task ahead of us." Valaan eyed the crowd of onlookers askance.

"Perhaps this is not the best place to speak of such things," he said tiredly. "I wish to return to my rooms; it hasn't been the best of days for me. Now, Kara'll be scared witless at the sight of me." The spellweaver sulked a bit as he said those last words. The crowd quickly cleared a path for Valaan as he wordlessly swept through the streets, with Derryn and Linnatiel following behind.

"Valaan, what happened?!" Nadia jumped out of her seat at a table as the three came back into the inn. She was almost on the verge of tears when she saw the blood on the spellweaver's face. She was more emotional than most. Fetching a wet cloth, she began dabbing at his lip, fussing over him. "No matter how good you think you are, I won't have you getting into street brawls, Valaan Falthara." Valaan attempted to defend himself, but gave up with a sigh. He could not contend with his sister's endless barrage of words.

At the sound of the commotion, Shusa came downstairs to the common room, followed by the hulking Tareth. The elf Hunter narrowed her eyes at the sight of Valaan. "Go off and become hot-headed, did you?" she said, scowling. "You young ones are so green and uncontrollable. A pity I have to rein you all in myself." Tareth stood behind Shusa, shaking his head in mock shame. Derryn snarled at the Northerner; at times he insufferably let his sense of humour get the better of him.

"We'll handle ourselves just fine when the time comes," Valaan replied calmly, winced as Nadia wiped the last of the bloodstain from his mouth, then quickly snatched the cloth away from her. She snorted and sat back down at one of the round tables. Tareth was about to say something when Belias rushed up to the group, flailing his arms frantically and gasping for breath.

"What a commotion you've caused over my humble little inn!" He cried despairingly. "People are clamouring outside, wanting to see this "Lord Spellweaver"! Which one of you is he?" Nadia pointed to Valaan. "Oh, curse the Waste!" Belias cried again. "We will hear no end of this!"

Derryn smirked. "Shouldn't you be glad?" he said. "This means more business for you." Belias snorted.

"Well, of course I knew THAT," he said offhandedly. "But this attention could attract the shifty, troublesome types to my peaceful inn." Belias sniffled. Tareth clapped the bulky innkeeper on the shoulder.

"How about this, my friend," he grinned. "We'll make sure no one harms your inn, if you swear that no one intrudes on us during our stay here." Belias nodded eagerly. "AND—"

The innkeeper gasped. "And WHAT?"

Tareth's grin was especially large now. "And the ale comes to us at half price." Belias looked almost on the verge of fainting.


The next several days passed by busily to the group of adventurers. With Valaan's magic-inherent nature revealed to the citizens of Sonill, it became clear to him and the others the level of peoples' desperation to be free of the Black Wolves. Whenever he tried to leave the inn, a throng of townspeople would be harrying him incessantly, clawing at his cloak, begging him to save them. More than once Valaan was forced to go back inside, sometimes roaring, "Save yourselves, people!". The matter weighed on his conscience heavily, but he knew no other way of dealing with it. He began to brood.

Nadia was worried for her brother. She insisted on speaking with him more often, and most of the time he agreed, although sometimes reluctantly. Nadia was outgoing and cheerful by nature, and before a day was over, she would be engaging Valaan in playful spellweaving duels, or having him laughing so hard he fell off his chair in the common room. But for all of Nadia's effort, Sonill still had to be liberated.

In a sense, it was. No town bully or Black Wolf ever appeared in Sonill since the adventurers arrived, and more of the citizens who walked the streets had smiles on their faces. Yet, the people bemoaned the fates of their friends and relatives who lived in the nearby towns, who were still in the thrall of the Black Wolves. The lamentation of Sonill would not stop.

Lanis felt he was going to deal with that soon enough. In the afternoons, the Reaver left the inn to converse with his comrades, although where they were was yet to be known. In the mornings, though, Derryn could count on Lanis to drag him out of bed and into the street to practise open hand fighting. At first, Lanis held his 'sessions' in the common room of the Flying Jug, but there were too many complaints from the guests after Derryn broke one too many pieces of furniture after being beaten all over the room.

The streets weren't that much better. For the first three days, Derryn was constantly being bested by the Reaver, who was an unmerciful teacher. As if being grounded in the dirty street wasn't bad enough, there would be a small crowd of onlookers that formed during the early hours of morning.

Derryn's cuts and bruises were not in vain, however. He learned quickly, and by the fourth day in Sonill, he was matching Lanis strike for strike. By the end of that day, after the swordsman had joyfully scored his first hit on Lanis, the Reaver shook his head and announced, "All right, boy. Now I'm going to have to start trying." Derryn's spirits sank. Whenever they did, Linnatiel was always there to lift them.

She was waiting for him every day in the common room, after his practice was over, with bandages and towels at the ready. She felt she owed it to Derryn to help repair his aching body after she vented all her anger at him. For that, at least, he was thankful.

Shusa did not receive the news of Vellucyn very well, and stalked around the inn for half the day in her Hunter-like way before giving up and resumed her task of watching over Linnatiel. The two Elves spoke together much of the time they were in their own rooms, quietly and in confidence.

Ironically enough, it was Tareth who was assigned the task of scouting the nearby areas for Black Wolves. The Northerner was certainly imposing enough to coerce people into giving the information he wanted, and he could maintain an astonishing stride without stopping for rest. Bits and snatches from other towns occasionally trickled in from both Tareth and a few townspeople; the Black Wolves seem to have tightened their stranglehold on Redbridge and Tigran, the two nearest towns to Sonill.

It was morning when a group of dark silhouettes could be seen further off down the road to the Flying Jug. Derryn was shirtless, slightly bruised, and a slight sheen of sweat glistened on his chest. Lanis was clothed in the same black outfit, with the blue scarf. The scarf seemed to be of great importance to the fighting master. The swordsman had just scored a hit with a palm strike, then fluidly swept back into another stance, his feet set apart, the better half of his body weight balanced on his rear leg. He turned to spot the approaching figures in the distance. "Master Lanis, there are—gack!" Letting his guard down for a brief instant, Derryn took a heel in his ribs for his trouble. Lanis placed his hands on his hips and looked down the road.

"Look, Derryn, there are some people coming," he commented. Derryn groaned. As they came closer, the onlookers of the fighting spectacle had visibly backed away from them. The swordsman made out about seven forms cloaked in black, with glittering necklaces hanging from their necks. An insignia of a fierce wolf's head hung from each. Short, greatly curved swords were slung on their waists. They moved with a relaxed calm, a way of walking similar to Derryn's. To Derryn's dismay, they looked startlingly like Nightcloaks. Lanis clenched his fists, a low growl sounding from the bottom of his throat. "Black Wolves," he said with a tinge of disgust. "Don't let them fool you, boy. They are good at that."

The Black Wolf in the center stepped forward toward the two fighters, while the others stopped a certain distance away. His necklace was jet black, as opposed to the silver of the others'. Pulling back his deep hood, he looked young, but old at the same time. He had spiked black hair, and a short, sharp beard. His eyes glittered with a blend of malice and contempt, hidden by a disarming smile.

"Greetings, noble warriors," the lead Black Wolf said warmly. "I am Ragar. Am I correct in stating that you are one of the newcomers to the Greenfield Stretch?"

"I am," Derryn said simply, walking back to the steps of the inn to retrieve a towel. "Do you have an interest in us?"

"I have an interest in one of you," Ragar said, his smile remaining. "I am looking for the "Lord Spellweaver"." Derryn stopped wiping his face and turned to Ragar.

"And if you find him?"

"We will speak with him when we know it is he."

"I think you should leave, Ragar," Derryn said coldly. "You have no business here." Ragar's smile flickered for an instant, then returned as quickly as it went.

"We have business where it concerns us," he returned with an equally icy tone. "Especially when it is outlanders that question us."

"You have no right to be here—"

"Derryn." Valaan's voice came from the entrance to the inn. "Step down. This is not your concern." The swordsman twisted around to face the Spellweaver. Valaan was clad in his fiery red cloak, looking every bit the part of a magic-wielding lord. Derryn nodded, and backed off the road, along with Lanis. Slowly, deliberately, Valaan made his way down the steps and walked to where the Black Wolves were waiting.

"I am here," Valaan said calmly. "What do you wish to talk about?"

Ragar stroked his pointed beard with that insidious smile. "We hear that you are a powerful man, Lord Spellweaver. The townsfolk do not lie. I want you to join us, Lord Spellweaver. Join the Black Wolves." If Lanis' hackles rose now, they just skyrocketed. "You would attain a high rank, and become a most esteemed man."

Valaan put forth his own false smile. "As much an honour it would be to join such fine warriors, I would have to decline. I ally myself with those who support my cause." Ragar's smile instantly faded to a frown.

"And what cause would that be, Lord Spellweaver?" he asked curiously. The townspeople in Sonill had started to emerge from their homes, and view the spectacle.

"To liberate Greenfield Stretch from gutter filth such as yourself," Valaan laughed harshly. The growing crowd gasped in horror.

"So," Ragar snarled in open contempt, "you deny us. There are only two kinds of spellweavers: those who are Black Wolves, and those who are enemies." Without another word, Ragar raised his arm. As one, the Black Wolves sent a massed flurry of gleaming tendrils fluttering toward Valaan. As if he anticipated, Valaan chopped outward with one arm, and the tendrils were cloven in half. People screamed as fire began raining down from the sky, sizzling comets of molten death.

"Cowards!" Valaan roared, stretching out his arms. The fire bolts spattered into nothingness mere feet from the townspeoples' heads, as if stopped by an invisible barrier. "Attack me, not the innocents!" Casting forth multiple strands of magic, Valaan clenched his fists, and earth erupted from the ground, sending the black cloaked magi flying. Ragar traded magical assaults with Valaan, as the other Black Wolves rose to their feet. Soon, all seven were dueling against the lone spellweaver. Valaan was beginning to show slight signs of exhaustion as he wove his hands through the air, deflecting attack after invisible attack, and launching counter-strikes of his own. It seemed impossible, even to Derryn. The mage duel last for what seemed like hours. Every so often a Black Wolf was struck with a tremendous, unseen force, and was sent sprawling to the ground. When there were only three Black Wolves left, Valaan screamed, "Enough!" and threw forth a mental shockwave that brought everyone in the vicinity to their knees.

Derryn clutched his head as if a blacksmith's hammer had struck it with full force. His vision faded and blurred, and an intense ringing sounded in his ears. A pair of arms grabbed him and managed to drag him farther away. In a moment, the ringing quieted, and he blinked hard to regain his vision. Linnatiel was holding his head up as he lay on the ground, and was wiping his forehead with a cold cloth.

"Wha—" The swordsman began, as the elf hushed him silent, and pulled his shirt over his shoulders.

"Don't speak," she said. "It takes a few minutes to regain your speech." Nodding numbly, Derryn looked in Valaan's direction. The spellweaver stood over six fallen Black Wolves, and Ragar was forced to his knees. As Derryn was helped to his feet with the aid of Tareth, Nadia appeared at the top of the steps. She seemed to sway where she stood, then stumbled over the steps. Valaan quickly caught her before she hit the ground.

"I...I hope you won, Valaan," she murmured tiredly. Valaan stroked Nadia's cheek lovingly.

"You didn't have to do this, little sister," he said.

"I wanted you to win, Valaan," Nadia replied with a small smile. "You always win..." Her voice trailed off as she closed her eyes, her head falling back. Derryn was helped over to Valaan by Linnatiel and Tareth, trying to shake the last of the ringing sensations from his head.

"What happened?" The swordsman asked. "Will she be all right?" Valaan nodded sadly.

"She is burned out," the spellweaver explained. "It was a trick Mistress Velena taught me, a trick that was used against her a long time ago. If a spellweaver looped a strand of magic around a fellow spellweaver, the latter would feed off the energy of the first. Such a syphoning technique would be like drawing blood from someone for yourself. Like...like a leech."

"That was the only way you could have defeated all those Black Wolves," Linnatiel said softly. "To boost yourself with Nadia's power."

"It was never my idea," Valaan said, shaking his head. "She suggested it. But the power...it was exhilarating. To think that it cost Nadia so much...I hate myself for liking it at all." Linnatiel touched him on the shoulder.

"If it was her idea to begin with, then let her be," she said. "She'll live. There is nothing to worry about." Valaan nodded again. He handed Nadia over to Tareth, who bore her lightly, then walked to where Ragar had knelt. The Black Wolf had a sinister smile on his face, a smile that was wracked with pain and frustration.

"Finish me," he choked, as if a great weight was pressing upon his shoulders. "Finish what you started, Lord Spellweaver."

"You Black Wolves fight like backstabbing weasels," Valaan spat. "It makes you weak. I will offer you one scrap of advice."

"And what might that be?" Ragar sneered. Valaan's face shifted into a scowl, his eyes burning.

"When you fight against another spellweaver, there's only one place you aim for." The spellweaver raised his hand, and let it lightly fall. An invisible fist cracked against the back of Ragar's skull, and the Black Wolf fell face first into the dirt. "The head." The massed throng of townspeople erupted into deafening applause and cheering at the sight of the fallen Black Wolves.

"Lord Spellweaver has won!" "Glory to the Lord Spellweaver!" "We follow Lord Spellweaver!"

Valaan turned to the others, a small smile on his face. "It feels somewhat gratifying," he admitted awkwardly. Derryn stumbled a half step forward, making a slight, mocking bow at the waist.

"What do we do now, Lord Spellweaver?" He asked with a large grin. Valaan returned Derryn's grin with one of his own.

"We retake Tigran and Redbridge." The spellweaver turned to the people of Sonill. "We retake Tigran and Redbridge!" He yelled. The cheering rose even louder. Finally, Derryn thought to himself, we're getting somewhere.

-Tuesday, March 12, 2002