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  • #16
    Sword of Serenity - Chapter 16

    Minutes later, Hugh and Bovar's party were in the centaur's forest camp.

    Gonzal said, "We are pleased that the tunnel means us no harm, but at the same time, the stolen sword is a worry for all of the people in the whole world. We, the centaurs of the forest, will give you free passage any time you wish to travel through our home."

    Bovar nodded his head. "We thank you, Gonzal. And we promise not to despoil your territory as we travel through it."

    Hugh added, "And I shall make sure that they keep that promise."

    Marilith laughed. "Does that mean that you are coming with us, Hugh?"

    Hugh growled. "No! It simply means that I will escort you through their forest. Once you are beyond it, you'll be on your own."

    Bovar snapped at Hugh. "Give it up, Hugh! The real reason you're escorting us is because of Darrel! You simply don't want to let him go! Once beyond the forest, you'd find another reason to come along, and another reason, and yet another reason! If you are merely going to escort us through the centaur's forest, one of the centaurs could do that! You aren't necessary! Go on home to Maye, like you said you were going to, and quit making excuses!"

    In the next moment, Bovar was laid out on the ground, while Hugh was rubbing his now sore fist.

    Riptide chuckled, as he led Darrel away, out of laughter range. "Your father must have forgotten how tough minotaur jawbones really are."

    Darrel laughed a bit. "I'm still surprised that they haven't all killed each other yet."

    The pseudodragon, who was perched on Darrel's shoulder, said, "I have often wondered the same thing. They claim to be friends, yet they do this to each other almost constantly."

    Ryan caught up to the three. "Hope you don't mind my guiding you through the forest. I'll need to steer you around some hot spots where there has been trouble."

    Darrel smiled. "It's always good to have you around, Ryan. You know the best trails."

    Riptide grinned. "What sort of trouble, Ryan?"

    Ryan replied, "An orc encampment and a pooka's glen. The orcs care not for the centaurs, but they despise the elves even more. And the pooka is upset because someone stole it's egg. The egg of a pooka resembles an oval diamond."

    Suddenly, the large xaos worg, Majere the Forest Scourge, stepped out in front of the small group, and said, "We meet again, young ranger. Perhaps this time... you'll hear me out."

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    • #17
      Sword of Serenity - Chapter 17

      Darrel placed his hands on his hips. "And how did you get on this side of the river? I thought your forest was over where the keep was."

      Majere quietly laughed then said, "You should learn to pay more attention to your parents' lessons. The entire forest, regardless of waterways, is my territory. I cross that river constantly, therefore I know it far better than you do."

      Riptide exclaimed, "Majere, right? I'm sorry I pulled my weapons on you earlier. But Darrel IS my responsibility. Now... what words do you have for him?"

      The pseudo-dragon said, "And no funny business, either. Just because I am a familiar doesn't mean I don't know how to cast my mistress' spells."

      Majere silently laughed again, grinning. "And here I thought this little party was going to be more mature than the other. Fine, my words. Darrel, the archfiend doesn't have the Sword of Serenity; the orcs have it. But because it's in their hands, the archfiend is sure to know that the blade is no longer protected, and will be seeking it out for himself. In order for you to get the sword back from the orcs, you will need to find pooka's egg. And the egg is in the paws of the dragondog clan. They don't know that it's not really a diamond, therefore... you will have to find them in order to steal the egg away from them, to return to pooka, who will engift you with a reward that will enable you to steal the sword away from the orcs. Any questions?"

      Darrel was arching his eye. "How is it that you know all of this?"

      Majere grinned before turning to leave. "Because I am Majere the Forest Scourge. There is nothing that goes on within my forest that I do not know the truth about. And before you ask, I do not know where the dragondog clan currently is, therefore, you will likely have to leave the forest to find them." And with that, Majere vanished back into the dense undergrowth of the surrounding forest.

      Ryan flicked his centaur tail. "At least he told you where most of everything is. How would you like to handle this, Darrel? If you tell Bovar and Hugh where the sword is, they'll insist that you not go there and will go themselves to fetch the sword."

      The pseudo-dragon grinned. "I can attest that Ryan is telling the truth. That is exactly what they'd do."

      Darrel looked at Riptide, then grinned. "Then that is what we'll let them do. If they insist that I stay behind where it's safe, then we can go off and do the other things that Majere said needed done. Bovar and Hugh don't even have to be told about the rest of this. They really only want to know where the sword is."

      Riptide grinned back. "You do have a point there. I, for one, am not the foolish type who'd want to waltz into the encampment of over a hundred orcs just to fetch a sword."

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      • #18
        Sword of Serenity - Chapter 18

        Moments later, once Darrel had informed Bovar, Hugh and Marilith about where the sword was, according to Majere, and of Darrel's intention to stay behind with Ryan and Riptide with the centaurs where it would be safe, the three party leaders were soon heading out of camp toward orc territory. Darrel, Riptide, Ryan and the pseudo-dragon waved goodbye to them, before heading off on their own using the map of the Barkoni Wylds, that the pseudo-dragon had filched out of Bovar's backpack before the three adults had departed.

        Darrel said, "I can't believe how easily they bought our story."

        Riptide grinned. "I guess if Majere is the source, they'd believe anything."

        The pseudo-dragon smiled slyly. "Actually... I am Marilith's familiar, so what I know, she knows. And that's the main reason she was so quick to agree that we would be safer by not being anywhere near the orcs. Marilith knows what we are up to and she approves."

        Ryan exclaimed, "I don't get it... if Hugh Sherman's sole concern was for Darrel, then why did he accompany Bovar and Marilith on the trip to fetch the sword? Especially when it's obvious that Darrel would not be going with them..."

        The pseudo-dragon hummed. "You have a point there, Ryan. Bovar was 100% sure that Hugh was insisting on being along solely because of Darrel. Yet now... Hugh has no reason for accompanying them to get the sword... or does he?"

        Darrel stopped walking and was quiet for a moment. "Doesn't it strike you as odd on how my father's old DarkKnight armor could still fit him, even though he'd not worn it in years?"

        Riptide hummed. "If you're suggesting that the Hugh we've all met is not your father... then who is he? He looks like your father, acts like him, sounds like him... but... does he smell like him?" Riptide was getting this worried look on his muzzle. Then, he cupped his muzzle with his paws as he called out into the forest. "Majere! Are you still around?"

        Almost instantly, Majere poked his head out of the undergrowth, almost point-blank from Riptide's right leg. "Is this close enough?"

        Riptide just about leaped straight up and out of the canopy of the treetops! "Don't do that?!"

        Majere was laughing, for a short moment, then became serious again. "You called my name, sea rat. What do you want?"

        Riptide replied, "The person who is with Bovar and Marilith right now... is that indeed Hugh Sherman, husband to Dryad Queen Maye, and father to Darrel? Or is it someone wearing a disguise? I figured with your nose, no one could fool you in your forest..."

        Majere glanced over the small group, then at the pseudo-dragon. "Best tell your mistress to unobtrusively cast a true seeing spell upon herself, and have her look at the DarkKnight."

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        • #19
          Sword of Serenity - Chapter 19

          Then, Majere said to the others, "Had you allowed me to talk to Darrel earlier this evening at the keep, you would have learned that Hugh was not really at the keep. And Darrel... I'd suggest that you lose the so-called gifts from your mother. I smell magic on them, but it's not druidic in nature... it's evil."

          And with unheard of speed, the glowing gear was quickly coming OFF and being dropped into a pile to the side of the party. Darrel was panting as he looked at the supposedly magical, from his mother, gifts. "Evil magic? Can you tell what this magic was supposed to do?"

          Majere nodded his worgish muzzle. "Of course... it was designed to slowly infect you with evil. The more often you relied upon it, the more wicked you would have become." Majere was then grinning, showing all of his razor sharp fangs. "I just saved your life, young ranger. Remember that... someday, you will have to repay me." Then he sat back and calmly said, "A good ranger should not be wandering a dark forest without good equipment. Ryan? Take your friends to the Cavern of Spoils. Despite the name, it's not a refuse dump, but the booty cavern where the centaurs store the equipment of people who had been killed during their adventuring careers."

          Ryan smiled, snapping his fingers. "Of course! And there should be a lot of decent gear that we can suit Darrel up in that would not endanger his life. And Riptide can help select the gear that would be most useful."

          Majere nodded his muzzle, then did his vanishing trick again. "And spend the night at the cavern, too. Something tells me that you don't want to be caught out in the open tonight..."

          And Majere was gone after that.

          Riptide was looking at the evil magical gear. "If the gear's evil magic was designed to slowly infect you with evil, then the person who gave you the gear couldn't have known that you were something more than a human. They would have assumed that Hugh's son had to be human like Hugh himself."

          Darrel hugged Riptide. "How do you mean?"

          Riptide grinned at Darrel, pressing his nose to Darrel's nose. "Remember when I told you about the abilities of a half elf? One of your resistances has to do with charm and mind alteration."

          The pseudo-dragon suddenly said, "I think we better get to that cave, guys. Marilith just told me that the creature pretending to be Hugh is a Xaos Devil Lieutenant, and I think the devil knows that Marilith knows what he is, so the sparks are about to fly. Literally."

          And so, the small group of friends rode off at a gallop toward the cave. Darrel and Riptide were on Darrel's horse, while the pseudo-dragon rode on Ryan's back. Being a centaur, Ryan needed no horse.

          The four had just barely rode into the mouth of the Cavern of Spoils, when there came an enormously loud thunderous boom that echoed across the entire forest!

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          • #20
            Sword of Serenity - Chapter 20

            Darrel exclaimed, "What was that?"

            The pseudo-dragon grinned. "Marilith stepped outside of time, then she cast a Pain From The Gods spell, then she stepped back inside of time, and she cast a Force Clap spell. We heard the after effect of the Force Clap spell. The devil lieutenant must be tougher than I thought because he somehow survived all that damage. I don't want to try to give you a play-by-play, because the action over there is fast and furious."

            Riptide said, "If I recall correctly, a Pain From The Gods spell inflicts 99.9% of one's health in damage on the victim. So if this guy survived that, then he must have some backup power someplace. At any rate, let's see about getting Darrel suited up in something useful."

            Ryan led the way deeper into the cavern and into a chamber in the back of the cave itself. "Well, this is where we store the loot that we get off of robbers and bandits. None of it will be magical, like the evil stuff was, but it will help protect your butt from the trouble in the world. Help yourself to whatever you can find, Riptide. This IS for Darrel's benefit, after all."

            Riptide and Darrel began looking through the gathered gear, weapons, and armoring equipment.

            While the two did this, the pseudo-dragon began crafting a book for Darrel's usage. "Majere did call you a young ranger, didn't he?"

            Darrel replied, "Yeah, he said that several times. Why do you ask?" And he noticed what the pseudo-dragon was doing. "What are you making?"

            The pseudo-dragon replied, "I am sure Riptide will agree that rangers are partial spell casters. Therefore, I am crafting you your first spell book. Riptide may know half elves, but I do know something about rangers."

            Ryan grinned. "I, too, know something about rangers... and that something is that a good ranger is only as good as his weapons, his wits, and his companions. And also..." Ryan suddenly hefted up a short bow. "...a good ranger must practice with a bow, like this one. Now, let me find you a quiver of arrows..."

            Riptide smiled as he pulled up a nice looking long sword. "Try this out for balance, Darrel. Now I need to find you a good dagger..." And he began searching again.

            Darrel hefted the long sword, with a little difficulty, testing it's balance. "It's a bit heavy, Riptide. I miss the magic sword already. I know it was evil, but I'll manage."

            The pseudo-dragon brought over the new spell book and dropped it into Darrel's backpack. "When you have time to relax, you can read over the spells I've selected for you."

            Darrel sheathed the long sword and smiled at the pseudo-dragon. "Thank you, Dragon." Darrel then hugged and kissed the pseudo-dragon. "Though I am getting worried about the others now."

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            • #21
              Sword of Serenity - Chapter 21

              Sleep did not come easy for Darrel, even with his friends nearby. However, when he next awoke, he found Riptide sitting directly atop his mid-section, apparently mending Darrel's new impish leather armor. When Riptide finally noticed that Darrel was awake, he got off of Darrel with a grin and said, "It's still early, kiddo. Do you always wake up at this hour?"

              Darrel yawned, then replied, "Of course. Up one hour before sunrise to get morning chores done in order to earn my breakfast. Though out here... there's no chores to be done."

              Riptide grinned. "If you want to earn your breakfast, we could spar for awhile. Though I warn you, I am a lot better than you are. Or have you forgotten how I handled Bovar and the fake Hugh the other day?"

              Darrel chuckled. "Oh yes. I still remember that. And I appreciate your defending me." He then blushed. "Because I... I like you, Riptide. So, what kind of sparring should we do?"

              Riptide smiled back. "I would suggest swords, but you're not used to your sword, as yet. Therefore, let's spar with daggers. That should help you gain some confidence. But as you may recall, I had you dead to rights when we first met with my dagger." He winked and struck a pose.

              Darrel pulled his dagger and struck his own pose. "Whenever you're ready, Riptide."

              Ryan and the pseudo-dragon were awake and watching Riptide and Darrel spar. It was very entertaining. Unfortunately, Riptide was simply too skilled with his weapons to be a fair opponent, as he repeatedly punched holes in Darrel's untrained defenses.

              Finally, the pseudo-dragon announced, "That's enough, you two. We need to fix a meal and head off to find the dragon dogs to get pooka's egg back."

              At that moment, Bovar and Marilith walked into the cavern leading their horses. Bovar exclaimed, "Don't bother preparing a meal... Marilith and I brought the lot of you breakfast. And... thanks to Majere's warning to you all, we still live to adventure again."

              The pseudo-dragon pounced Marilith's shoulder, hugging her tightly!

              Marilith smiled. "I'm glad to see you, too, Neon Fracture. We defeated the devil lieutenant and let me tell you... I never want to have to fight one of them again with just Bovar supporting my powers. But... the fellowship has survived, yet again."

              Ryan stood up and said, "How did you find us?"

              The pseudo-dragon grinned at Ryan. "Open mouth; insert hoof."

              Ryan faceslapped himself. "Sorry. I keep forgetting that you two are linked."

              Bovar smiled. "Don't feel so bad about it, Ryan. I often do the same thing myself."

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              • #22
                Sword of Serenity - Chapter 22

                Darrel then said, "If that wasn't really my father, then what has happened to my real father? I am really worried about him now. I know I shouldn't be worried, but I am."

                Marilith replied, "Majere said he'd check into it and see if Hugh was okay. But aside from that, there isn't much we can do about it, unless you fancy a 2 day ride back to the tunnel going under the river, and then, a whole night's ride back to your farm in the woods."

                Darrel ohed. "I didn't know we were so far from the keep. Sorry, I wasn't thinking."

                Riptide grinned. "So what's the plan, Bovar? Are you and Marilith going after the Sword, or are you traveling with the rest of us?"

                Bovar growled, "You think you're funny, don't you? Majere told us about what he suggested the lot of you did to get the sword. And because it actually made sense to hear Majere tell it, Marilith and I decided to accompany you on this trip. Dragondogs are fighters of respectable worth, therefore, they may not be so inclined to just give you the egg."

                Marilith grinned. "And aside from Riptide and I, who all can actually speak the dragondog language?" She giggled as she went about serving breakfast to everyone.

                After the meal was finished, Ryan stood up and said, "As much as I would like to come with you all, I cannot. I don't have Gonzal's permission to go."

                Darrel awwwed. "We understand, Ryan. Maybe we'll see you when we return to the forest with pooka's egg."

                Therefore, once Ryan had departed back to his people, the fellowship exited the cavern and once again set off toward the edge of the forest.

                Bovar whispered to Riptide, "I just wanted to tell you... er... thank you for watching out for Darrel. Maye would have been devastated if anything bad had happened to her son."

                Riptide turned to Bovar and grinned. "I think you're starting to accept my actually being here."

                Bovar quietly replied, "You protected Darrel from Majere. More than once. And you've been right on more than one occasion since we started this journey. I didn't trust you at first. But now that we're past that part... You were right about another thing... this is Darrel's official introduction to the world and you will be the one who will escort him beyond this continent's borders. That's right, Riptide. I said you would escort him. Marilith and I have a sword to protect, and I am quite sure that Darrel will not want to guard a sword."

                Riptide chuckled, then slapped Bovar's horse on the rump pretty hard, which caused the warhorse to bolt forward pretty fast!

                Bovar yelped, as he quickly tried to get his steed under control.

                Riptide smirked, as he leaned back close to Darrel's ear and whispered, "Bovar apologized to me."

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