By Lucas Hakken, Matt Holmberg A tale of Moonlands

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"You’ll have to do better than that, Tracker, I’m just getting started." Warrada strode through the raining sparks and shimmering animite that was all that remained of Yaki’s chaos jile. "Did you really think that you could master in the blink of an eye what I have spent years studying?" With energy gathering around her clenched fists, the forsaken daughter of Naroom continued to advance toward the groaning Corestalker, while her brother looked on; still resting from his bout with the angry Yaki.

Yaki was rubbing his head; he would rather be rubbing his behind, but he was busy resting on it at the moment. "You’re forgetting two things, Warrada" shaking the dizziness from his mind, the bruised Naroomese grinned. Next to Warrada a crackling sound heralded an explosion of fur and fangs. Yaki’s wasperine barreled into the Shadow Magi, knocking her from her feet before rushing to its master’s side. "I’m a better fighter than you are." Standing, Yaki quickly intoned a spell that he had cast hundreds of times in the presence of these statues. The simple words caused his wasperine to swell in size slightly, its lengthening claws biting deeply into earth that drank up excess energy to sprout little sparkling flowers. "And I still have the magic you traded for a black heart."

"Sperri, what have you done?" Orwin’s heart was broken with the loss of another of his trusted friends.

With a giggle reminiscent of her innocence, Sperri fixed glowing eyes on her old teacher. "I set myself free." Her eyes were painful to the Elder of Naroom. So many times had happiness sparkled where now there were only empty pools of light.

His voice straining under a heavy heart, Orwin could barely fight back his tears. "Child, there is no freedom in the Core, only madness." Pulling the hood of his gossamer cape up over his mane of hoary hair, the ancient Magi sighed. "You have only made yourself a prisoner." In the blink of an eye, the Elder was gone.

"He will not get far." Sperri turned her gaze to her darkwood furok. "Call the children - we are going hunting." The gigantic beast bowed its head in deference to its master before lifting its primeval muzzle to the sky. The forest shook with a howl not heard in centuries as a host of furok silhouettes began to move among the trees; each growling as they looked about with glowing yellow eyes.

Ungh - what was that noise? Chayla wavered slightly as she sat, still a little bewildered by what had happened. I must have passed out. Blinking she took in the dim morning light painfully, mist was beginning to rise as the air had become disturbingly cold. At least it stopped raining. Trying fervently to straighten out the swirling scenes in her mind, the young Magi stood slowly. Hmm. I do remember having been up in the trees, though. Looking around, she found herself on grassy earth that was littered with splintered wood and pieces of buildings. With wobbly knees, she took a few timid steps in a rough circle. About her laid the unconscious bodies of her friends - and a few of her enemies. Poad was amid the remnants of a broken barrel, but he was breathing. Woot’s feet stuck out from under a large plank. Atop the plank was a badly wounded wasperine, dutifully keeping watch over his unconscious charge. Chayla would worry about Trug, but she could hear him snoring in the distance like a plump balamant pup. Following the rumbling sound through the wreckage she found the old Underling, face down in the mud with his limbs sprawled in all directions. A stiff breeze reminded her that she was soaked to the bone, and she shivered violently.

Heading back to check on Poad and Woot again, Chayla was startled by a loud BOOM. Looking up, she saw that the fighting was still going on in Vash Naroom above them, but she was more interested in the platform that they once stood on. Barely clinging to the large trees that it was built between, the outline of the platform hung skeletal and splintered; it was all that remained aloft after Trug’s explosion. Awed by the destruction, Chayla almost forgot that one of those buildings was once her home. Scary. I could have been sleeping there!

Chayla’s somber reverie was interrupted when she tripped over an errant footstool. Stumbling to catch herself, Chayla came to a stop before the form of one of her attackers. Recoiling instinctively, she flung herself to a crouch a few feet back. Oh ancestors! She thought as she quickly drew a hand before her mouth. The poor Shadow Magi had fallen atop an upturned table and hung limply, impaled on one of the upright table legs. Dark blood seeped from the body, staining the once bright wood with the crimson colors of war. Chayla could barely think as she scurried backwards, trying to find her footing.

Scooping up a fallen branch, the Corestalker swung it hard with two hands. Splinters rained down as the wood connected with its target. The gorath was not amused. Yaki quickly scampered away from the monster’s reach.

Warrada’s condescension hung in the air, not unlike the cool mist that had crept in to fill the training grounds. "Using a stick?" she chuckled. "I have a better idea for you, since you seem to running out of them: give up now." Suddenly, a baleful howl shook the forest. Yaki snuck a glance at the dark trees to determine what new horror was coming his way. The gorath did not give him much time to worry. Its meaty fists slammed into the ground with thunderous force, forcing the Corestalker to roll to the left and then leap to the right as he dodged the deadly blows.

Turning to put a little more distance between himself and the gorath, Yaki found his retreat cut off by a burbling wasperine wearing one of the gorath’s dream-collars. A snap-kick sent the creature swiftly back to the Dream Plane. "Sorry, little dude," panted the exhausted magi as he sprinted for the walls of the training grounds.

Shooting from his seat, Hrada shouted: "Sis, he’s getting away!" Slamming his fist into his palm, he did not notice the disturbance in the mist that was moving right for him.

"I can see that, brother," Warrada’s tone was indignant as she turned her head to glare at her lazy twin, "I will make sur... BEHIND YOU!"

"Wha? Hrada tried to turn in time, but was again caught unawares. A staff arced through the air before thudding off his cheek. Finding himself on the ground once more, he watched hands, arms, and then a body beginning to materialize over the staff. "Still not paying attention, I see." The voice was uncharacteristically filled with venom.

"Uh-uh-ORWIN?!?" Hrada crawled backwards a few paces before shooting to his feet. Regaining his machismo, the Core Magi leveled his eyes. "You look older... weaker. You think you are up to this?"

"You would not have the breath to be so impudent if your sister hadn’t saved you last time, whelp." Orwin wrenched his hands on his antique staff. "You willing to take the chance that she will again?"

Hundreds of memories flooded through Hrada’s mind, but he could not place this one. "What are you talking about, you old fool? Has your mind wandered off with your youth?" Something stirred in his being at the notion however, and a disturbing sense of dread clawed its way up his spine.

"Harumph! Agram has not even left you your past?" With a disgusted grimace, Orwin stepped forward. "Perhaps we can jog that memory for you."

Nearing the training ground wall, Yaki skidded to a stop. He pivoted with measured speed, his glowing green eyes narrowing as he saw that Orwin had entered the fray. The old boy made it, just need to hold out a little longer... oh yeah. This thought was nearly stolen from him by a streaking shaft of sizzling light. Flicking his eyes to an approaching Warrada, Yaki scowled.

"I did not have to miss, Yaki. I still want you with me." Warrada held another blast at bay, fingers of dark lightning licking about her raised hands. "You and I could do such great things together. The knowledge of Naroom and the might of the Core, both ripe for our picking."

"You could offer me all of the moon and I would still stand against you."

"That is what I am offering." Still slowly approaching, Warrada’s eyes twinkled slyly. "Do you still refuse?"

Exploding toward Warrada, Yaki gave her his answer. He nimbly ducked her lethal stream of energy, shot past and stood up behind her. The Naroomese Tracker brought two gauntleted arms up and about her, pinning her arms to her sides as he squeezed.

"I already have a girl, Warrada," Yaki growled into her ear in mock intimacy. "And Pru’s a lady, not a hag like you!"

Fighting the urge to scream insanely, Warrada knew she lacked the strength to free herself from Yaki’s arms. Hag? HAG? Struggling against his hold, her thoughts raced angrily. Where is that idiot brother of mine? Flares of light and clashes of dream creatures ravaged the grounds behind them as Hrada and Orwin locked powers in a dazzling battle. She flailed frantically as Yaki lifted her feet from the ground.

Sorreah tightly turned the corner around Poad’s Inn. A less-skilled Arderian might have crashed trying to turn at that speed, and his pursuer predictably swung wide to err on the side of caution.

This was just what Zajan, lying in wait, had hoped for when he had described his plan to Sorreah. The Arderian shadow magi suddenly found himself entangled in a nest of groping branches, brought to life by Zajan’s magic, effectively trapping him.

"Just how long can you hold your breath?" Zajan strolled casually up to the creaking wooden web, chuckling as the captive threw a mistimed punch at him.

"Mmnrgph, frlmg zeriph u phbmn!" Unintelligible curses feebly erupted the prisoner as his blustering mouth was filled with leaves. The branches began to constrict him tightly with but a gesture from the Naroomian’s hand.

Floating slowly down next to Zajan, Sorreah stretched his strained guide-wings. "Excellent. A bit cagey for either of us to take alone..." Finishing Sorreah’s sentence for him, Zajan happily chimed, "but just a chump against a crafty pair."

The two shared a short laugh, admiring their now gently groaning catch, as the sounds of battle grew louder on the platform above them. With barely bridled anticipation, Zajan’s elderly voice cracked. "Ohk needs us. Can you give me a lift?"

"Indeed, my friend. Hold on."

A gust of air set the entangled prison rocking as the two took flight into battle once more.

Orthea had given Laranel a single name: Orwin. The Orothean said that this would be the king of Naroom that the Naran’s were looking for. It had been a whole day of travel since the Owtee clan had parted company with Orthea, and they had reached the end of their new friend’s directions.

"What of Orthea’s warning, my Queen?" Bronn’s weathered voice would have comforted the gathered Owtee Magi, had it not raised thoughts of the Orothean’s parting words and their uncanny semblance to the ancient prophecy.

The shadows own this forest now, she told them, and Vash Naroom no longer welcomes its own people - let alone others.

"When shadow owns the day," Koza solemnly echoed a line from the ancient prophecy. Amid an epidemic of grim nodding, the young seer let his words trail off. ?No one here needed be reminded of the foreboding words of the prophecy, and he did not want to think of the things destined to come.

Bronn picked up where he had left off, "How do we find a king who doesn’t sit on his own thrown?" All eyes present turned questioningly to Laranel, save those of Odavast whose intent eyes rested upon Bronn. Long years had Odavast walked the snowy plains with his old friend, and only the two of them had mettle to question Laranel.

"Old Bronn," Laranel’s attempt at addressing Bronn respectfully once again came across as condescension, "one must look for a bright star where the sky is the darkest. This is where its light is needed most." The old warrior took no offense, as he had long grown accustomed to Laranel’s ways; knowing that she meant well.

Peering down from the vantage the Narans stood upon; they surveyed the battle raging across Vash Naroom below them. The long dell that held Vash Naroom unfolded before them, scarred and broken from one and one half day’s constant conflict.

"If this Orwin is half the man that Orthea speaks of, he is a bright star indeed;" Laranel’s eyes hardened as she readied herself for battle, "and I can imagine no darker sky in all of Naroom."

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