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    Sword of Serenity

    As posted on our Facebook page...
    Sword of Serenity
    "a fantasy adventure story"
    By Darrel Vanwinkle (Lord Pouchlaw)
    September 17, 2010

    Sword of Serenity - Chapter 1

    The red-breasted robin stretched his wings when the morning sun came, shining forth like the brightened expression of a hopeful young student before his learned elder. Darrel had just finished his morning chores and entered the small farmhouse which was his home.

    Darrel, a slender fair-skinned, raven-haired boy, lived with his mother and father on a small farm in a forested valley on the continent of Ostrogauld. His mother, whom everyone called Maye, was an aging old woman who knew many stories and legends of times gone by. His father was an aging woodcutter named Hugh. Hugh still had most of his dark hair, while Maye's hair showed her age, like flowing white cream. Darrel's father had taught him important skills that would help him achieve self-confidence later in life.

    As Darrel entered, he was almost bowled over by a large stranger storming out of the farmhouse. Darrel picked himself up and brushed himself off.

    "Who was that?" Darrel inquired of his mother Maye.

    "He claimed to be a soldier, but he had the stink of an ogre." Maye replied.

    "Ogres don't exist!" Hugh proclaimed stiffly. Darrel's father didn't believe in the faery tales that his wife Maye swore by. "He was a large smelly soldier!"

    "Just the same, my husband." Maye retorted, and then, to Darrel she said, "He was from the kingdom to the lower west, and... he wanted your father to take up arms once again." Maye carefully eyed her husband.

    "It is a closed matter, Maye." Hugh glanced at Darrel. "Are you ready to go to the village, son?"

    Darrel hefted his pack and smiled. Darrel then spoke in his heaviest tone, "Five and a half miles, isn't it? The day's a'wasting and there's still much to be done!"

    Maye quietly laughed, then asked, "Was that supposed to be an imitation of an old woodcutter I know?"

    "How many do you know, mother?" Darrel asked, in return.

    Hugh just grumbled.

    On the trail, sometime later, Darrel was striding happily beside his father. "Isn't mother wonderful, father? She's funny, crafty, a little sly, and she knows some great stories."

    Hugh stiffened, stopping in the middle of the path, his fists clenched in rage. "Darrel! Your mother is old! Her stories are just faery tales! Make-believe to entertain a young child! Look around you! This is reality! This is all you need to know! The forest, this path, this axe, the village, and hunting!!"

    Sword of Serenity - Chapter 2

    Hugh's voice, a deep baritone, echoed loudly throughout the forest. Birds and animals fled the area in all due haste, and the forest became strangely quiet. Hugh, having vented his anger, calmed down and cautiously glanced around.

    "Who needs faery tales of old, when we have the reality of an angry woodsman?" Darrel said loudly. And then, in a more quiet tone, Darrel said, "You scared all the game."

    "Yeah. Let's get into the village." Hugh quietly responded. "I just don't want you chasing a quest or fantastic myth like a knight of old."

    "No worries there, father." Darrel responded, as they continued down the path. "I don't want to be no hero, I just want to be me. And the day when one of mother's myths comes knocking on our door will be the day that I'll actually become a knight in the service of this valley. If mother's stories are just faery tales, then we will never have to worry about that day ever arriving. Right, father?"

    Hugh gave Darrel a half-smile, and resumed his stride. "If you ever see one of this myths, Darrel, make sure that it is the real thing."

    Darrel glanced at his father with a look of puzzlement and disbelief. Hugh usually never gave even the slightest indication that myths were real, let alone, Maye's myths. "I thought myths weren't real." Darrel cautiously exclaimed.

    Hugh replied, "There are wicked men in the world who would have innocent people believe that certain myths are real. Once suckered into these beliefs, the poor people are usually robbed of their very freedom."

    Hugh and Darrel continued onward towards the village. Soon, they both arrived in the village proper. Evidently, there was a bit of excitement brewing among the villagers.

    Hugh spoke to the smithy, a friend he had known long, and asked, "Smithy! What's with all the astirment?"

    "Hugh! In the tavern..." The smithy pointed toward the Green Manticore. "'s a minotaur! Decked in arms and armour... the whole deal! And... it's asking for you!"

    Darrel sternly glanced at Hugh. "One of mother's myths or a wicked man in disguise?"

    "Let's go find out, Darrel!"

    Hugh led Darrel across the street and boldly into the Green Manticore Tavern. Sitting at a central table, fully attired in silver arms and silver armour, was a very large minotaur wearing the holy symbol of Torm-Khattalos. Also seated at the table was a female light elf, wearing black robes and clutching a glowing quarterstaff. Sitting on her shoulder was an amythest pseudo-dragon who wore an eyepatch over the right eye.


      Sword of Serenity - Chapter 3

      "Hello Hugh." the elven female whispered. "Sit down."

      "Marilith! Bovar! What are you doing in my forest?" Hugh boomed loudly. "And where is your resident rogue, Pauly? This is a law-abiding village!"

      "Hugh, sit down." Bovar muttered solemnly. "Pauly is dead."

      Hugh slowly sat down as if he had been boffed by one of Maye's frying pans. "How did he die?" Hugh quietly asked.

      "Poison crossbow bolt." Marilith answered. "He was protecting... THE sword. The dark ones showed no mercy."

      Hugh's eyes widened in disbelief! "The Sword of Serenity? Stolen? It can't be!"

      "We need your skills, Hugh." Bovar quietly said.

      "I'm retired!" Hugh rose to his feet quickly. "Did you think that I would once again take up arms and armour at my age? I am sorry about Pauly, and I'm shocked about the stolen sword, but the answer is NO!!"

      "I predicted that you would decline." Bovar exclaimed. "Will you at least provide us with overnight lodging? I promise you that we'll leave in the morning."

      "Well..." Hugh replied. "I suppose I can grant you that! Maye will be surprised to see the two of you! Let me finish my business, then we can go home!"

      Later that evening, after one of Maye's well-prepared meals, and with a hearty dessert tucked away, Marilith announced her exhaustion. Darrel was quick to pipe up.

      "Why don't you use my room tonight, Marilith?" Darrel glanced at his father cautiously. "I can sleep in the barn. I have chores in the morning and I'd be a step closer."

      "An excellent idea!" Hugh said, as he reached for his pipe. "Bovar, Darrel will show you where you can bunk down! And don't stay up too late!!" The last was directed at Darrel, but he was already out the door with Bovar following.

      In the barn, Darrel tidied up a portion of the hayloft for Bovar. "Looks like your trip was wasted." Darrel remarked.

      "Maybe not." Bovar replied quietly. "You are Hugh's son, are you not?"

      "Well, of course." Darrel mumbled. "Who else would I be?"

      "A young hunter who is good with both bow and skinning knife." Bovar answered.


        Sword of Serenity - Chapter 4

        Darrel stopped and turned toward the minotaur priest. He quickly saw that Bovar was standing silently and seriously - gazing directly upon him. Darrel cautiously said, "You and Marilith didn't come here for Hugh, you came for me."

        Bovar gazed out into the night. "Yes." He quietly replied. "You are old enough to be making your own fortune, yet your father keeps you here. Hugh is gruff and rough now, but I still remember a young carefree youth who begged me to allow him to join up with our questing party, to secure the Sword of Serenity from the grasp of the evil darkfiend, Kalthanatross. It was your father who struck the killing blow into the darkfiend, banishing him back into his foul dimension. But now, Kalthanatross has returned. He has re-stolen the Sword of Serenity. We need a hunter with Hugh's skills. We knew that Hugh had married Maye, and had sired a son."

        "My father will never consent to my going." Darrel said, as he bedded himself down.

        "We know that." Bovar quietly whispered, as he began chanting a sleeping power upon Darrel. "We never intended to ask Hugh for permission to borrow his son for this important mission."

        Darrel fell into a deep sleep.

        The next time Darrel awoke, he slowly realized that he was bound, gagged and sacked. Darrel judged by the bumpy ride that the pace was extremely fast. He could also tell by mixed scents that he was draped over the lap of Bovar who was riding a strong stallion. By listening, Darrel identified both Bovar's voice and Marilith's voice. The third, more child-like, voice was completely unknown to him.

        Several bumpy, fast paced hours later, the ride ended. Darrel's sack was carried a short distance, then set down. Then, he was unsacked by Marilith.

        "Why did you tie him up for?" Marilith said, as she unbound Darrel from the gag and ropes.

        "You said to hurry." Bovar replied. "Besides, he wanted to ask Hugh for permission to go."

        "I told you that the minotaur was a barbarian." The third voice proclaimed. Darrel could now see that it was the pseudo-dragon speaking.

        "How would you like to lose that other eye, dragon?" Bovar grumbled.

        "Hey! Don't threaten my familiar, or you'll wake up female!!!" Marilith hissed, having finished untying Darrel, and now glaring at Bovar.

        "How do you people ever get along?" Darrel interceded cautiously. "Where are we?"

        "This is Serenity Keep. Where the sword was kept." The pseudo-dragon replied.

        "It's been a long ride and we're on edge." Bovar exclaimed.


          Sword of Serenity - Chapter 5

          "I hope you can forgive the less than professional scene that you just witnessed." Marilith said, agreeing with Bovar. "We apologize for that outburst."

          Bovar nodded his head, agreeing with Marilith. "Now for some details. I am Bovar Bowspirit, the eighth son of a captain of minotaur sailing lords. My people normally hail from Xaomyre in the far away southern hemisphere of this planet. I chose not to follow in the hoofsteps of my father and brothers, instead becoming a priest of Torm-Khattalos. I journeyed most of the world and eventually found myself here in Korteine, on the continent of Ostrogauld."

          Marilith nodded her head, and took her turn next. "I am Marilith Shining-Light-O'er-Holy-Seas-O'er-Ruling-Crystal, but please... Marilith is far easier to remember. I am the third offspring of the Duke of Aurorelia, who is brother to the King of Aurorelia. The usual education provided to our noble family did not appeal to my more lofty desires. Then one day, I chanced to meet a traveling warwizard named Al'Ghautoon, and he agreed to train me to become a spectral magician. Our travels also criss-crossed the world, until I found myself separated from my master here in Korteine. I knew I was on my own then, so my first task became to acquire a familiar..."

          The pseudo-dragon now butted in. "...and that's where I entered the picture. My hatchling name was Neon-Fracture. I hated that name, but there is honor is knowing one's past. So I remember it. These days, I am usually referred to as simply, Dragon. This is because I have not chosen my next stage name, as yet. When Marilith cast forth her Familiar Seeking spell, I was the chosen receipitant, and I suddenly knew that I had a calling. My clan bid me farewell, and I joined these two in their adventures."

          Darrel nodded his head to all of this. "And who was Pauly? How did he fit into this picture?"

          Bovar sighed. "Pauly Linton and Hugh Sherman were best friends who grew up in the Kingdom of Krassis on the continent of Kargonia. Kargonia is, for the record, the coincidental continent where most of this world's heroes and saviors are born, raised, and trained. Anyway, they both grew up in a village called Oxforge, which was located just west of Krassis City, though whether it still resides there is anyone's guess. The two friends stuck together through thick and thin, until the day that Hugh was chosen to join a local knighthood. Pauly was not chosen because he, if you can believe they'd give this reason, didn't look the part. Pauly was told, point-blank, that all he'd ever amount to was the role of a follower. Pauly got mad, and left Krassis, while Hugh received his training as a DarkKnight. Then one day, Hugh saw a fellow DarkKnight robbing a peasant, and the act pissed him off. He demanded that the goods be returned to the peasants. The other DarkKnight remarked that they were collecting taxes, which was, for the record, what was actually going on. Well, the way the taxes were being collected did not sit well with Hugh, and when he raised a complaint about it to the king, Hugh found himself signed up on a mission to establish a DarkKnight stronghold in Ostrogauld."

          Marilith continued the story, to give Bovar time to regain his breath. "Hugh and his company arrived on the shores of the Kingdom of Korteine, and they began clearing land to do as they had been commanded. Well, this did not go unnoticed. A very beautiful woman showed up and told them that they were defiling holy ground and were in danger of unleashing a destructive being. That woman was your mother, Maye. Hugh was ready to stop the construction, and was giving orders to that effect, when suddenly, his commanding officer arrived, and commanded everyone to resume working. Hugh and his superior had a fight, and Hugh killed him."


            Sword of Serenity - Chapter 6

            Darrel blinked his eyes. Now THIS was a tale he'd not heard!

            Bovar proceeded once again. "However, the damage was done. Defiling the land was only a trifle compared to shedding fresh blood on the exposed soil. The ground moaned and trembled, as frightened DarkKnights began scrambling in their attempts to flee the area. Most fell into the yawning crevice. Then, it happened... the evil darkfiend, Kalthanatross, arose from the crevice. He was powerful, but no amount of the power he possessed at that moment was enough to penetrate Maye's protective aura, and yes, Hugh was standing beside Maye, at that moment. Many of the DarkKnights fought Kalthanatross to their own deaths."

            Marilith nodded. "But Hugh and Maye were untouchable. Maye took Hugh back to her place, and... um... this is where the story gets hazy... so, we'll switch over to Pauly's life for the moment. After Pauly departed Krassis in anger, he swore that he'd show them all that he could be just as important as Hugh. Pauly eventually found himself at Kangaringo Port on the island of Bazarre. It was there that Pauly met a retired master rogue weaselman named Hadroniis. They struck a deal, after many rounds of ale were bought by Pauly, and Pauly became the apprentice to Hadroniis. This continued until a month before Hugh sailed for Ostrogauld. Word reached their ears that Hugh had gotten into trouble in Krassis, and was getting ready to be sent to Ostrogauld. Hadroniis declared Pauly ready to be on his own, and as a parting request, asked Pauly to kill him. Evidently, it's part of a very old custom among rogues of Hadroniis' people. Pauly killed him gently, after swearing that Hadroniis would not be forgotten."

            Bovar nodded his head. "Oh yeah, and whenever Pauly would get frustrated, he'd swear by Saint Hadroniis!"

            Marilith laughed. "Yes, he did!" Marilith became serious once again. "Anyway, he caught a ship heading for Ostrogauld, though he didn't know where in Ostrogauld that Hugh was being sent. Some time later, Pauly was in Korteine, and met up with Bovar when Hugh was attempting to hire some people to help him fight Kalthanatross. I was the last one hired. I think Hugh was surprised that Pauly was volunteering to join his company. We were briefed on the event, then we received word that Kalthanatross had broken into a holy shrine and stolen the Sword of Serenity. Hugh made THAT our first mission. Reclaiming the sword."

            Bovar smiled. "And now you know how we got together. But Kalthanatross is free once again, but we also knew that Hugh was just too old to do this sort of job, being human. We needed Hugh's skills, though not Hugh himself. Then we'd heard that Hugh had sired a son. You. And we just knew that Hugh would have taught you his hunting skills. That was the one skill he was extremely proud of: his Ranger abilities."

            Darrel leaned back against the wall. "So that's why you came for me. I have Hugh's skills."

            Marilith mentally told her pseudo-dragon familiar, /He has something more, but now isn't the time to tell him./

            The pseudo-dragon nodded his head in agreement.


              Sword of Serenity - Chapter 7

              The next day, the party had entered a nearby port city to acquire supplies and rations. Darrel had never been to a city before. Bovar and Marilith could tell. However, Bovar gave Darrel permission to go see the sights, and maybe keep watch for someone who might make a good rogue. Without Pauly, they needed someone who knew their business. Marilith directed the pseudo-dragon to accompany Darrel without being seen. The pseudo-dragon nodded his head and went.

              While Marilith headed off to gather rations, and Bovar proceeded towards acquiring supplies, Darrel walked through the port city, alone. Or so he thought. The pseudo-dragon kept Darrel in his sights at all times. Darrel soon arrived in a run-down section of the dock district. It had been condemned, and was publicly no longer in use, but Darrel soon saw something unusual.

              Entering a wharf warehouse was what appeared to be a giant humanoid rat. But the rat seemed to have scales, as well as fur. It was wearing only a loincloth, and had a dagger strapped to one arm. It's tail was bare like a rat's tail usually looked. Darrel found the sight interesting enough to warrant a closer look. He proceeded over to the warehouse and peeked inside.

              The lighting was dim, and there didn't seem to be any sight of what had entered. But Darrel had Hugh's tracking skills! He quietly entered and found tracks that no one else would have been able to follow. Then, Darrel proceeded, deeper into the warehouse. As Darrel descended a set of stairs, he was tackled from one side, and pinned down messily into the muddy ground beneath the warehouse. He could feel the dagger to his throat, as he heard a deep, though young voice.

              "Why are you following me?"

              Darrel gulped, and carefully replied, "I... I saw you at a distance... and had never seen one of your kind before... I just wanted a closer look..."

              The dagger was carefully and slowly withdrawn. It was quiet for a moment; Darrel could still feel the weight of his attacker on top of him. Then, the weight moved for a moment, as Darrel was flipped over on his back, and the humanoid male rat quickly sat on him again, pressing his nose to Darrel's nose. "You're never seen a sea rat before? Everyone in this city has seen a sea rat. Our kind are common scourges on the seas. What kind of..." He smiled as he evidently started looking Darrel over admiringly. "...very handsome guy like you..." The rat was running a paw down Darrel's side, and caressing Darrel's neck. "...has never seen a sea rat before?"

              Darrel was blushing now. This isn't what he had expected. "Um... I... I'm not... from this city... it was my first time seeing the ocean too..." Darrel tried to explain where he was from, then exclaimed, "Um... I'm Darrel, son of Hugh and Maye. Who are you?"

              The sea rat continued to pet and caress his paws on Darrel's body. "Me? I am Riptide. Did you say you were Maye's son?"

              Darrel nodded his head, worried why Riptide was fondling him with care.

              Riptide smiled. "So you're the forest prince! No wonder you've never seen a sea rat! I know all about Maye. She's the Dryad Queen of the Diamondwood Forest." Riptide could tell that Darrel had never been told. "Oh... this is news to even you... they haven't told you... Well..." Riptide kissed Darrel on the mouth gently, then exclaimed, "I'll tell you all about it."


                Sword of Serenity - Chapter 8

                Riptide took Darrel back to his place, where he helped clean Darrel and his clothing of the shoremud, then, the two settled down in the kitchen, where Riptide made some tea and explained things.

                Riptide handed Darrel a cup of tea. "Your mother is the dryad queen. Your father is a human. Therefore, you are a half-elf. Because this is true, you have some special abilities that your parents never told you about. You're lucky that I am so worldly traveled and know about half-elves. First of all, you have your eyesight. It is better than any other normal human's eyesight. You have a form of nightvision that enables you to see things at a certain distance as if it were daytime, however, this ability must be turned on and off, by you."

                Darrel sipped his tea and nodded his head. "Okay."

                Riptide smiled. "I know it's hard to believe, but trust me on this. The variable distance is about 60 feet. Anything beyond 60 feet will appear to be in a cloak of night. The first time you experience it, you'll have a better idea on what I am talking about."

                Darrel nodded his head again.

                Riptide sat down with his tea, and sipped it. "Secondly, your eyes are so highly attuned, that you can locate hidden or secret things better than anyone else. You'll locate these things 33 to 50 percent faster than a common human, though, you have to be within 10 feet of the object you're trying to find."

                Darrel hummed. "That might explain some of the events from back home. Anything that was purposely hidden from me by my father was more easily found, than if my mother had hidden it."

                Riptide smiled. "Now you're catching on. Thirdly, you are 30 percent more resistant to magical powers that effect the mind. Sleep and Charm are extremely hard to enforce upon a half-elf."

                Darrel grinned. "I found that out when I was a kid."

                Riptide grinned back. "I'll bet you did. Next, your knowledge of languages. If Maye had any brain in her head, she taught you more languages than just the common tongue of Humans. You should have been taught the tongues of Shifter, Elven, Forest Sprite, Hobbit, Impish, Hobgoblin, Orcish, Gnoll, and Sea-Speak."

                Darrel blinked his eyes. "Wow! That's right! How'd you know?"

                Riptide grinned. "You're not the first half-elf I've encountered. Finally, because of the dryad blood in your body, I would say that you have an affinity towards animals and part-animal races. Don't be surprised. It's only natural. That's why you wanted a closer look at me. I am part-rat. It intrigued your curiosity. In a way, I am glad I met you. Why are you in the city?"

                Darrel explained the recent events, then replied, "Bovar said that we needed a rogue."


                  Sword of Serenity - Chapter 9

                  Riptide smiled and pondered the statement. "You know something, Darrel? I think I'll help you guys out. You need a rogue who knows what he's doing, and I'm a sea rat, so I'm not afraid of dying. What's the mission?"

                  Darrel told Riptide about the Sword of Serenity and the fiend, Kalthanatross.

                  Riptide's eyes got a bit wide. "A demon lord. Well... that is certainly a challenge... but if I do help and we win, I'll be famous here in Arenview Port. And even a sea rat like me can use some fame."

                  Darrel smiled. "That's great. Let's go find Bovar and Marilith."

                  Just as Darrel and Riptide emerged from Riptide's home, the pseudo-dragon landed on Darrel's shoulder. "Marilith asked me to tell you that they're ready to travel. Who's your rat friend?"

                  Riptide petted the pseudo-dragon's head and neck. "I am Riptide, a sea rat rogue. Darrel just hired me."

                  The pseudo-dragon eyed Riptide, then rolled those eyes. "Bovar is not going to believe this. Oh well, let's go. They are waiting for us at the Wet Lizardman Tavern."

                  The three soon walked into the Wet Lizardman Tavern, and Bovar did indeed examine the sea rat. "You are telling me that you hired a... a... sea rat? What were you thinking? Everyone knows that they can't be trusted!"

                  Riptide suddenly had a blade to Bovar's throat. "Look, pal! You need a rogue, right? I am a rogue! Besides, once the other rogues find out why you want them, they'll drop your party like an anvil sinking in quicksand! And... I know that Darrel is a half-elf, and... can help train him in his half-elf powers! Can you do that? No!" He retracted his blade and put it away. "Besides, you don't have a choice now. Darrel hired me. You're stuck with me."

                  Marilith just smirked. "I'd trust a sea rat over Pauly any day, Bovar. Besides, Darrel hired him; not us. Riptide is Darrel's responsibility. It'll give him a taste of what the world can do to him. Let the sea rat stay. If you want to hire another rogue, we will. But not here in Arenview Port. By now, everyone knows what we're up to. We're lucky we got Riptide."

                  Bovar sighed and grumbled. He knew that Marilith was right. No one in Arenview Port would join so foolhardy a mission as this. "Very well. Riptide, is it? You can stay. But you stay with Darrel at all times. I suppose you CAN teach Darrel SOMETHING."

                  Riptide grinned. "Indeed I can. Like how to protect his money-strings when visiting a city. You can't let him walk around without any money forever. I'll teach him the things I know he'll need to know. And if you'd like, I'll swear an oath to protect him. But by my gods, not yours. Torm-Khattalos does not favor sea rats, which is strange, because Torm-Khattalos does not favor any sailing lords. I'll swear by both Squerrik Wrathbone and Dryad Queen Maye."


                    Sword of Serenity - Chapter 10

                    The party was soon underway again. Bovar was still quietly fuming over Darrel having hired a sea rat. Marilith and the pseudo-dragon conversed mentally, with smiles. Riptide rode with Darrel, instructing him on what little half-elf abilities that could be taught on horseback.

                    When they re-arrived back at Serenity Keep, the party got a rather unexpected and angry surprise. DarkKnight Hugh Sherman had come for his son, and he was definitely not happy. He had his old armor on and his darksword at the ready. "BOVAR! You had no right to kidnap Darrel! What were you thinking?!"

                    Bovar was starting to dismount, when he saw that Riptide had beaten him to it. The sea rat was FAST! He was behind Hugh, with his dagger drawn and held to Hugh's throat. "Darrel is helping Bovar and Marilith. Now, put that sword away like a good boy, before something very bad happens to you."

                    Hugh had no choice. He slowly put his sword back into it's scabbard, and released it. "A sea rat. Has the fellowship come down to this? You hired a vile sea rat to help you?"

                    Marilith chuckled aloud. "Actually..."

                    Bovar finished for Marilith. "...your son, Darrel, hired Riptide. We had nothing to do with it."

                    Riptide grinned. "I am a rogue and I know the truth behind Darrel's heritage. And he knows it too. We've all told him. He's a half-elf, who is also the son of Dryad Queen Maye. You've taught Darrel your ranger abilities but no one has taught him to use his half-elf abilities. In addition to being the party's rogue, I have offered to teach Darrel about his half-elf abilities and heritage. And that's that." Riptide removed his dagger from Hugh's throat and quickly rejoined Darrel.

                    Hugh looked amused.

                    Marilith asked, "I haven't see you look that way in a long time, Hugh."

                    Hugh replied, "My son hired a sea rat without your consent? I almost feel sorry for you. Almost. This seems like the perfect yin yang for your kidnapping my son for this crazy mission."

                    Bovar grinned. "We never meant to ask you to help us, Hugh. We were after Darrel all along. You're too old to be of any use. We needed your tracking skills, but not you specifically."

                    Hugh hummed, starting to get the picture. "Now it all makes sense! You knew I was too old to help you, so you pretended to ask me..."

                    Marilith ahemed, "Correction... we NEVER asked you. If you took our presence as a request for your help, that is YOUR fault. We always meant to ask Darrel to come along."


                      Sword of Serenity - Chapter 11

                      Hugh and Darrel took a short walk out back of Serenity Keep, while Marilith and Bovar prepared a meal. Hugh hadn't seen where Riptide nor the pseudo-dragon had went, but he mainly wanted to get Darrel off alone for just a little while.

                      Hugh said, "What do you think of what small experiences in the world you've had, Darrel?"

                      Darrel replied, "I originally didn't come willingly, father. When I found out what Bovar intended, I wanted to ask you for advice and permission to go. Bovar cast some sort of sleep spell on me, then tied me and put me in a sack, and together with Marilith, they brought me back to the keep. The pseudo-dragon was sympathetic to my just being grabbed, hence why I trust the little guy. Then, after Bovar and Marilith revealed where they, and you, had come from, I sort of felt obliged to help them. We next went to the city of Arenview Port, where Bovar and Marilith let me off the invisible leash so I could explore. I ran into and befriended Riptide, and after he heard my story, he filled me in on the rest of the so-called big secret. Not even Bovar and Marilith had revealed that mother was the Dryad Queen nor that I was a half-elf. So, Riptide offered to come along, both as rogue, and as my teacher. Riptide has known other half-elves, so he knew the things that I'd have to know as a half-elf."

                      Hugh grinned. "And if I don't miss my guess, Bovar wants nothing to do with Riptide. Am I right?"

                      Darrel smiled. "Those were almost his exact words. Bovar said that Riptide was my responsibility. Did I make a mistake, father?"

                      Hugh patted Darrel's shoulder. "I don't believe you made a mistake, Darrel. What I think happened is that your affinity for animals got the better of you, and being that Riptide is a sea rat, or rather, a rat, you wanted to befriend him, though you didn't know what a sea rat was. You could have done far worse, for your first time alone. Far, far worse. But I think you've done well, if it annoys Bovar." Hugh winked an eye.

                      Darrel chuckled, winking back. "So you're going to let me help them?"

                      Hugh and Darrel sat down on the edge of a spring-fed pool of water. Hugh then replied, "As Marilith has already stated... it is not my life to judge over; this is your choice, Darrel. Whether I say yea or nay, isn't the point. The point is, what do you want to do? What would you like to do after this quest ends? Guarding a sword is extremely boring. And there is a whole world you haven't seen. Riptide is merely the icing on the world. You'll want to see and experience more. And I cannot stop you. Half-elves often get something called wanderlust, and it causes them to want to go forth to see and do more. That is why you weren't told that you were a half-elf. I believed that if you thought you were human, you wouldn't get wanderlust."

                      Darrel oh'ed. "You make it sound like a curse."

                      Hugh sighed and hugged Darrel closely. "It is similar to a curse. Ah, before I forget..." Hugh pulled the package off his back and handed it to Darrel. "You'll be needing this."


                        Sword of Serenity - Chapter 12

                        Darrel unwrapped the package, and started looking over the magical protection bracers, a magical protection ring, a suit of magical studded leather armor, some antitoxin boots, and a glowing magical long sword. "Wow. All of this is for me?"

                        Hugh nodded his head. "Maye and I were going to give you all this stuff on the day you officially headed out into the world. But because Bovar and Marilith jumped the crossbow, so to speak, you'll need these items now. Go ahead and suit yourself up."

                        Darrel nodded his head, and began getting into the magical gear.

                        Hugh smiled, saying, "Riptide will help you learn how to better use that sword. Maye placed an extra magic in that blade. Not only does it shed light on command, but it talks. I never hankered much for talking intelligent weapons, but as Maye said, better a talking sword, than a talking diaper."

                        Darrel laughed at that. "That sounds like something mother would say!"

                        Hugh inspected Darrel thoroughly, once all of the magical items were in place. "The good thing about magical items is that they grow or shrink to fit whoever wears them. You look fine, Darrel. Well... I've done what I came to do. I may not trust Bovar and Marilith that much, but, as strange as this may sound, that pseudo dragon and Riptide are your best allies on this venture. I think you can trust them with your life."

                        Riptide, as if on cue, made his appearance, carrying several quail and a string of fish. "Will you be staying for dinner, Hugh? The forest and stream yielded quite the bounty on this trip."

                        Hugh smiled again. "Riptide... I just told Darrel that he should only trust you and that pseudo dragon. I'm counting on you to keep Darrel safe."

                        Riptide grinned slyly, "You'd trust a mangy filthy sea rat over your old companions?"

                        Hugh laughed! "If you knew them like I do, you wouldn't have to ask!"

                        Riptide smiled softly. "You're okay, Hugh. Now, about dinner?"

                        Hugh smiled. "One meal can't hurt before I head back into Maye's forest."

                        Riptide smiled again. "Thank you. I'll try to make this meal the best yet!"

                        The three headed back into the keep, and Riptide began preparing dinner. Marilith was having a private and mental conversation with her pseudo dragon, while Bovar was looking over a map.

                        Hugh came over and looked at the map. "What's this, Bovar?"

                        Bovar snorted, then said, "This is a map of the Barkoni Wylds."


                          Sword of Serenity - Chapter 13

                          While Bovar and Hugh were both growling over the map, Darrel quietly slipped out of the keep and around to the back where Hugh had given Darrel the sword and equipment. Darrel unsheathed the magic sword, and took a stance with it. Then, he took a few practice swings at a non-existent foe. As Darrel was practicing with his new blade, a pair of red eyes narrowed and shined in the dark shadows of the trees.

                          Just as Darrel made a false parry and a forward lunge, a very gruff, slightly raspy voice spoke from the shadows.

                          "Your form is impressive, but your style sucks."

                          Darrel pivoted toward the shadows immediately, and about fell down.

                          The creature with the red eyes laughed quietly. "Is that the best you have? This is about the same as giving a carving knife to a man-cub."

                          Darrel was starting to get upset. "Who's there?"

                          The creature with the red eyes replied, "I am Majere. I'm a Xaos Warg."

                          Darrel took a step back at those words. "THE Majere?"

                          Majere chuckled again, and slightly stepped forward to where he could be seen more properly. "Why are you backing away, young ranger? Surely you do not fear me, do you? I have already fed once this evening. You are not on my dessert menu."

                          Darrel stopped backing up. "What do you want?"

                          Majere sat down and grinned. "What do I want? Often I have heard that question, and more often, I reply, to see and learn. I am even more often never believed. While it is true that I am Majere the Forest Scourge, in truth, I mean you no harm, young ranger."

                          Darrel wasn't sure what to reply to this. If Majere had wanted to kill him, the deed would have occurred already. No, this Xaos Warg wanted something. Something more than killing. "What do I have that you want?"

                          Majere hummed. "Now, you are assuming that because I am letting you live, you have something that I crave. What could you possible have that I, a non-morphic Xaos Warg, could make use of?"

                          Darrel did a quick inventory of what he did have on himself. But there was nothing that Majere could truly use. Darrel looked to Majere once again. "Then, you must be needing my services for something, even if I am untrained. What is the request?"

                          Majere chuckled again. "You are highly amusing me to no end, young ranger."


                            Sword of Serenity - Chapter 14

                            Darrel hummed. "So you truly want nothing of me?"

                            Majere grinned. "I never said that, young ranger. Of course there is something that I want. But are you willing to give it? That is the great question..."

                            Just then, Riptide was immediately between Darrel and Majere. "Back off, Xaos Warg! This half-elf is under my care!" Riptide had his blades drawn and at the ready.

                            Majere tilted his head at Riptide. "A sea rat bodyguard, young ranger? We will speak another time, when the mothering rat is not around." Majere arose to his footpads, and backed up into the shadows. "Know you this, sea rat... I, Majere the Forest Scourge, will have my words with the young ranger sooner or later." Majere was then simply gone.

                            Riptide felt a cold bead of sweat drip down his back. "Was that really THE Majere?"

                            Darrel replied, "Y-yeah... it was... he wasn't threatening me... he said he just wanted to talk... which is highly unusual, considering his reputation. Is dinner ready?"

                            Riptide slowly turned to face Darrel. "Um, yeah. When I didn't see you in the keep, I feared the worst. You're my responsibility. Plus..." Riptide hugged Darrel gently... "...I like you."

                            Darrel mentally erf'ed. (Oh great... Riptide has a crush on me...)

                            Riptide stopped hugging, and escorted Darrel back into the keep.

                            Once they were inside, Darrel was served his portion of dinner, then, Riptide told the others about the encounter behind the keep.

                            Hugh hummed. "Majere... well, this IS his forest. He has the right to do as he likes. What did he want?"

                            Riptide replied, "Majere wanted to talk to Darrel. That's it. To talk. I interrupted them before anything could be said. I was protecting Darrel."

                            Marilith laughed. "I can just imagine what your reaction was when you found out that you had threatened Majere!"

                            Riptide sighed and muttered, "It isn't funny."

                            Bovar then spoke up. "He's right, Marilith. It's not funny. If Majere is this close to the keep, then something must be up in the forest. It's an ill omen."

                            Hugh stood up. "I was going to return to Maye's forest after dinner, but now, I think it would be better if I remained here and help stand guard against whatever may be lurking within view of this keep."


                              Sword of Serenity - Chapter 15

                              Bovar nodded his minotaur muzzle. "I was just about to suggest that, Hugh. Thank you."

                              Hugh made a face at Bovar. "I'm not doing this for your benefit, Bovar. I'm doing it because my son is here. You can keep your thanks."

                              Darrel again had departed the arguing without being seen. Though this time, Darrel did not go outside. He walked down one of the keep's corridors, and down into the lower chambers.

                              Just as he stepped on the bottom most step, Darrel noticed a large hole in one wall leading into a manmade tunnel. His curiosity getting the better of him, he stepped into the tunnel and began following it. Darrel was glad that Riptide had explained the night vision ability to him. Darrel understood better why he was able to see in the dark.

                              After walking a good distance, Darrel emerged from the tunnel into a clearing in a forest on the other side of the Wenzeline River. Darrel knew that's where he was when he saw some familiar faces. A group of centaurs were gathered here about to explore the tunnel they had just uncovered. The very tunnel that Darrel had just emerged from.

                              Darrel smiled. "Ryan! Gonzal!"

                              Ryan turned his head toward the voice, grinning. "Darrel! You were in this tunnel? Where does it go?" Ryan had fair skin on his human torso and face, and had long milk chocolate brown hair atop his head, as well as all over his equine body. Gonzal's human skin was copper colored, while his hair and equine body were ivory white.

                              Darrel walked over and shook their hands, replying, "This tunnel goes under the river and up into the catacombs of Serenity Keep. I just came from there. My father and some of his friends are there now. Someone stole the Sword of Serenity."

                              Gonzal said, "Ah, so the tunnel is not a threat to our forest. I am sorry to hear that the sword was stolen."

                              Ryan patted Darrel's shoulder. "You look good in that suit of armor, Darrel. I suppose you've finally left home, haven't you?"

                              Darrel smiled. "It's a very strange story, my friends. Mind if I sit with you and explain it over a mug of cider?"

                              Ryan nodded his head, inviting Darrel to sit with them.

                              Over the next hour, Darrel retold the story of his adventures thus far. When Darrel ended his tale, one of the centaur scouts alerted everyone to an approaching pseudodragon with a patch over one eye. Darrel knew it had to be Dragon.

                              The pseudodragon landed on Darrel's shoulder. "Here you are. Everyone is worried about you."