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By Dan Tibbles A tale of Moonlands

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"Whoa! Dude, what's shakin'?" mumbled Yaki from around a mouthful of thick stew. Poad, seated next to him, had also stopped eating as frantic shouts started to drift to them from outside the inn.

"That doesn't sound good," said Poad. "You don't suppose..."

"Oooooh yeahhh! We got us some major trouble! Lets go, li'l dude!" replied Yaki as he stood and ran toward the door.

Panic greeted them as they stepped outside the Inn's double doors. The residents of Vash Naroom were fleeing past them, scared but not panicked, running from forces beyond their control. They all fled west. Yaki and Poad turned and ran as hard as they could to the east.

As they neared the source of the commotion, they saw Eidon franticly fling himself to the side as a bolt of black energy chilled the air beside him. Hrada, standing in front of him, flicked his finger and the bolt curved around to hit Marella's lascinth, sending it to the ground, writhing. Marella struggled to help the poor creature, but to no avail as it dissipated into the dream plane. Morag and Togoth stood on either side of Hrada, with Warrada behind the three powerful Magi. Battle raged around the small rise that the Core Magi had chosen for their stand. Sperri, Ohk, Pruitt, and Zajan were already there, taking up the defense of their homeland.

"Poad!" yelled Eidon, "Get Orwin out of here and take care of the children! Hurry!"

Poad turned and began to run the other way, amazed that Eidon could tell that he was there without even looking. Yaki lengthened his stride, eating up the space between himself and Hrada. Gibbering things jumped out at him, seeming to come from nowhere, attempting to bring him down. As he ran, Yaki's gem-topped staff materialized in his hand, a shimmering field of magical energy encasing both it and his gauntlets. He swung his staff in one hand while his other hand balled up into a fist. As the dark creatures neared him they met the end of his staff or the front of his fist. When either connected, whatever creature of darkness was unfortunate enough to be in his way was flung backward, flying over the combat to smack into the trees or the ground of the forest.

As he ran up the hill, his staff and fist flying at blinding speeds, he roared his challenge to Hrada. "Yo! I'm the guy that you want! Wooo! Dig it, betrayer! You are mine! Bring on your bad stuff, tough guy, and I'll beat you over the head with it!" He increased his gait even more as he neared Hrada, his animite rings glowing and a snarl on his face.

Hrada turned without a word and looked straight at Yaki's fearsome charge. Hrada's eyes flashed once and a shimmering, shadowy field began to form around The Naroom Magi. Yaki paid it no heed, but continued his charge, focused on his powerful enemy.

The blackened field around Yaki began to contract, forming a shell that matched his every move. Yaki seemed unaware of its existence as he neared Hrada. His ring of animite came up as he sent another creature of shadow flying with his staff. The force behind the blow pulverized the creature, sending it back to the dream plane instantly.

Yaki began to activate his ring, calling for the creatures of the forest to fight with him. Just as his ring began to shine, the shadow field around Yaki closed in on him from all sides. The piercing scream that emanated from his lips echoed through the trees. All eyes turned to see him stumble to his knees and pitch forward, his face hitting the ground with a thud.

A derisive snort escaped from Hrada's lips as he watched Yaki's shaking body attempt to fight off the dark influence that infected it. That pitiful Magi was done. He turned to the rest of the battle to see how his minions faired. The Naroom Magi, working in concert, were pushing back Morag and Togoth. Warrada was still to the rear, calmly watching over the battle but not yet taking part in it.

Suddenly the sun disappeared. Hrada looked up and turned around, readying his ring. Behind him, tall enough to block out the sun, was the biggest furok that Hrada had ever seen. It towered over him, huge firds fluttering around its head. Hrada jumped, tumbling in a somersault over the ground as the furok brought down one of its gigantic feet where the Shadow Magi had stood just a moment ago.

Behind the furok guardian, Pruitt fumed. She did not know what had happened to Yaki, but there was no way that she would let her love fall prey to this evil beast of a Magi. "Get him!" was all she could sputter to the guardian. "Get him now!" She knew that Hrada had seen the great creature and was avoiding it, but she didn't care. There was nothing that he could do to stop it. She started to run toward Yaki.

A faint, whispered voice wafted over to Pruitt as she ran. "Love is for fools." Pruitt started and looked around her, suddenly noticing Warrada leaning against a tree just a few feet away. "Naroom is mine, and so are you." With that, Warrada snapped her fingers and a pit appeared in the ground in front of Pruitt. Dark, misshapen hands emerged, grabbing hold of Pruitt and dragging her down. A single scream escaped the ringsmith's lips before the pit closed over her.

The furok guardian, still attempting to corner Hrada, heard its controller's scream and came running, only to be blasted on the back and side at the same time by Hrada and Warrada. After several pounding attacks, the giant furok stumbled to the ground and disappeared just inches away from where Pruitt had disappeared.

Pruitt's scream tore into Yaki as he knelt there on his hands and knees, shuddering. He looked up, seeing the conflict in front of him through the lens of the conflict inside of him, and saw Pruitt being pulled into a pit in the ground in front of Warrada. "Whatever it takes," he murmured to himself through clenched teeth, "whatever it takes." He took a deep breath and stopped fighting the darkness that encroached upon his very being. He embraced the cold energy, making it his own, letting it warp his body, mind, and spirit. He used his strength not to resist it, but to mold it. He rose.

Hrada snarled as he looked over the fading body of the furok guardian. He looked to Warrada and winked. Warrada looked back, and the smirk on her face dropped for a second as she looked beyond him. "Behind you!" she shouted. Hrada spun, ready for anything. Or so he thought. Yaki stood before him, but not any Yaki that he knew. Energy crackled around his body, dark sparks of glistening power. Everything else was normal, except for his eyes. They had been a deep green, but now were a dark, burning red.

"You are one of us now, Yaki," said Warrada from his side, "turn, and fight your old companions." Hrada had not even realized that she was there until she spoke.

"I will fight my old companions," came the reply. Without any sign of hesitation, Yaki raised his hands up to the Dark Twins. "I will fight and I will conquer!" His voice reached high into the sky as he boomed out his challenge clearly and concisely.

Hrada and Warrada stood confused for only a single moment, but that moment of time was all Yaki needed. Black power swirled around him, coalescing into a sheet of flames the color of darkest night. The flames flew at each of the twins, followed by bolt after bolt of corrupted energy. They attempted to dive for safety, but neither made it in time and both were knocked off balance by the dark flames that then enveloped them.

"You will bring back my love," commanded Yaki, each word punctuated by another blast of dark energy, "or I will find her!" Yaki raised his animite ring above his head and called on the creatures at his command. A great creature began to take shape, a tree that built itself up from the ground, vines and branches lashing together to form a great beast of wood, a giant carillion. Veins of dark, corrupted energy throbbed throughout the carillion, driving it higher and making it larger than any seen before, sending spikes and thorns out in place of the usual branches, and giving the wood a dark and sinister cast. Baleful red eyes glared down at the twins, each one slitted and glaring.

Yaki's cold voice carried over the now silent battlefield as he raised his fist in defiance. "This land is ours, and these people are free! You will not prevail here!" As the last words of his pronouncement boomed from his lips, his hand began to strike downward. As it did, so too did the enormous foot of the carillion standing next to him. Hrada, still sprawled on the ground from the impact of Yaki's spells, rolled to the side, his cold calm coming back to him as the creature attacked. The gigantic wooden foot slammed into the ground next to him, the force of its impact sending him several feet through the air. He rolled and rose to his feet warily, watching the great creature that stood before him. Dark energy crackled audibly up and down the length of the thing; power emanating from it as it moved with a fluid grace that seemed unnatural coming from something of its size.

Hrada wove from one side to the other, using his dexterity and agility to avoid the carillion as it tried to crush him. He made no effort to fight against it, and his face was calm and composed as he executed each movement with precision and fluid grace. He almost seemed to be waiting. On occasion he enhanced his abilities slightly with his Magic, but then only to move a bit faster or a bit further.

Yaki also had a serene calm about him. After watching the carillion attack Hrada for a moment, he turned to face Warrada as she stood there, hands at her sides, looking as if this battle were the most natural thing in the world. Even being flung to the ground had not misplaced a single strand of her hair, nor dirtied her clothes in any way. She faced Yaki, looking more curious than anything else.

"Do you actually think that you could defeat us, dear Yaki?" she whispered. "Come, join us. Be with your beloved. Save your power and your dearest love." With each word she glided forward, her hands out now, coaxing Yaki towards her, enticing him with her words and motions. "Do not waste your time here, protecting this worthless village." With her last word she gestured off to the rest of the battle. Yaki's eyes followed her motions and he saw that Morag and Togoth were pushing back Marella and the other Naroom Magi, slowly but surely winning the battle.

"There are grand places out there Yaki," said Warrada, "grand places and wondrous things. Come with me, let me show you all that there is to see, let me give you everything that you want." Warrada was now within just a few steps of Yaki. He stared at her, his red eyes glowing slightly.

Yaki's spirit faltered for a moment, trapped between the pleasure of Warrada's voice and the pain of accepting the darkness into himself. He saw his people failing; saw the flames beginning to erupt in Vash Naroom. Then he caught sight of Evu slowly hobbling toward the battle from the town.

Yaki's face broke into a grim smile. The arrival of his old friend renewed his courage. His resolve was set and he was ready. Warrada misread the chance in his face; her mouth perked up in a grin, sure that her words were sliding around his heart and turning him to her side.

As the smile turned up the corners of her mouth, Yaki struck. From the ground, vines and creepers launched themselves at her legs. From the air, the trees reached down to grab at Warrada and bind her. Bolts of black lightning burst from Yaki's closed fists, striking her in the chest. Warrada screamed as her body writhed with pain from the power of Yaki's strike.

"I will not fall to your twisted manipulations, you hag!"

"Then you will fall to mine!" came a strong, sure voice from behind Yaki. He turned to find Evu standing a short distance away from him, a cadre of twisted creatures already in motion and charging from Evu's ring directly at him. Yaki's face froze in surprise for a moment before he was overrun by the horde of creatures powered by Evu's dark dreams.

Hrada made his move as Yaki fell, summoning a mighty gorath next to the giant carillion. As the carillion turned on this new threat, the gorath reached out with its enchanted manacles and clasped them around the neck of the great tree-beast. The carillion stopped moving and stood placid while the gorath held its chain, magically bonding the two together.

Then, to the great surprise of all, Poad ran into the fray, bowling over Evu as he made a beeline to the fallen body of his friend, Yaki. "Eidon, Evu has betrayed us! Flee! Vash Naroom is clear and we have no hope of winning this now!" Even as he yelled this, he reached down and lifted the limp body of Yaki. With a strength and speed that belied his pudgy body, Poad tossed Yaki over his shoulder like a sack of mushrooms and ran to the forest. He left several snarling eebits standing in his wake to stave off pursuit, if only for a moment.

As they left the battlefield, they heard a wail of fear and despair, a tortured feminine voice crying out with an utter lack of hope. With the last of his strength, Yaki reached out one hand toward the black pit where Pruitt lay captive. The last thing he remembered was seeing the leaves of the forest conceal the sight from view.

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