Daughter of Benik [Chapter 2 - part 1]

            Place: Underground of Aven’s Dome.

            Aven’s Dome was originally where King Ephesus’s palace stood, until the Order burned it and built their place of gathering there. The dome was made of bricks that remained of the castle, all polished and painted black to give a black lacquered appearance. Beneath the dome was a maze of passages where the members of the Order entered and left when they made secret raids upon those on the surface. A petite figure in black slipped through one of the passages that led to the gates of the dark underworld. Shyaina, wearing the Order’s hooded cloak, found a tall space near the hall leading the dungeon; a narrow and uneven wall snaked up nearly hidden from view. She looked around to see that no one was watching, carefully began to make its way upwards. Once at the top, she could peer into the bowels of the Dome where the High Oracle of Beliar made his incantations without being seen.
            Please, Ishual, may it be that I will not be seen, she silently prayed.
            The place was stifling and dark thanks to black marble and the damp, smoky air. Shyaina brought the edge of her hood over her mouth to avoid inhaling the irritating fumes of incense.
            Two guards, dressed in their black armour, entered the great hall. Through the dancing shadows and smoke, Shyaina could see at the far end towards her right a giant writhing creature. It was fat and glistening, its skin nearly transparent as its insides shifted at each movement the strange creature made. Torchlights threw red-gold accentuating the monstrous figure; its colour was so dark that its skin appeared to devour the light from the torches. Shyaina shuddered at the hideous sight as she continued to watch. Then another figure appeared into the scene – the High Oracle himself. The oracle wore a white cloak that nearly covered him completely; his sleeves are folded up to reveal the black silk lining inside.
            “How may I serve you, my lord?” asked the oracle as he bowed before the giant worm.
            Somewhere from beneath the bulking shape of fat and flesh, a deep gurgling voice echoed through the hall. I…ammm…hungry…, it hissed.
            “The dungeons are filled for you.”
            Iiiittt…bettttteerrrr…beee…fuuulllll…, the hulking worm slowly moved from its dais and glided down with a grace that belied its heavy form. It then melted and shifted into long tentacle-like limbs that released small scurrying things that slid into crevices and cracks on the floor. Not long after it absorbed itself into the floor, a high pitched screech tore through the place. Swiftly, the small black things retreated. It buuurrrnsss! It buuurrrrnnnsss! The monster cried out piling its bulk back onto the dais like a cowering child.
            “What is it, my lord?” the oracle asked.
            The liiiight! The bllaaade! Ittt biiittes! Ittt freeeeezzzzes!
            Two young men in white robes with designs of the black worm and black belts appeared.
            “Someone has hid a stone sword amongst them. Find it and kill its owner.”
            The stewards bowed and left.
            Shyaina silently slid down the brick ladder and made her way to the dungeon. Now she knows where to find what she was looking for.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Place: The Woods of Lemuel, in the Kingdom of Korda.

            Irene, led by Caleah and Pine, found herself walking for quite a while until she heard a voice calling close by.
            “Pine! Caleah!”
            “Papa!” cried Caleah as she released her hand from Irene and ran towards the voice.
            Within a few moments, there were voices followed by the sound of people. Irene looked up to see a clean-shaven man who appeared to be in his early thirties. With him were two other men and two short men, whom Irene thought were dwarves.
            “Papa!” cried Pine with joy.
            “Why did you do this to us?” scolded the man to his son. “We have told you many times not to wander into the woods alone!”
            Tears began to pool in the little boy’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Papa, but Caleah and I just wanted to pick flowers for Mama.” The boy began to sob.
            The father, unsure of how to respond to this, gently put his arms around his son and said, “There, there, I’m sorry for losing my head. We were all worried that you my have been taken away by the members of the Order.”
            “We were about to, Papa. We were about to be killed for Beliar,” piped up Caleah who was held by one of the tall men.
            “And a huge man with a big sword was about to kill us until she came along.” Pine sniffed pointing to Irene.
            Everyone looked at Irene.
            “She was very strong. She had a sword and defeated him,” said Caleah excitedly.
            “Could she be Ishual?” asked Pine.
            The father looked at Irene and held out his hand. “Thank you for saving my children.”
            “I – really didn’t do anything,” Irene replied nervously, shaking his hand. “I just saw them in danger and wanted to save them.”
            But the man took no heed to the response. “Please, stay at our place. We want to show you our gratitude for what you have done.”
            The men brought her to log cabin quite a ways away from the woods. The father of the twins introduced himself as Mito Ben-Duek, the other tall men he introduced as Rayn Kyte and Sinde Mendd. Mito had soft dirty blond hair that glowed to a golden hue in the light, a trait Irene assumed Pine and Caleah received from their father. Rayn also had blond hair, yet appeared to be a much more of a quieter man that Mito. Sinde appeared to be a black elf, with a dark handsome face and pearly white teeth. He was the one who entertained the children with many stories of the old.
            Robin Burrows, one of the short men (whom Irene later found was called a rilud), was an old family friend. Robin had curly copper hair with streaks of grey, one of the signs of his age – eighty-three to be exact, over the hill in rilud age. He was the one who makes funny expressions on his beardless round face, another man who entertains the children. Irene noticed that Robin had hairy hands and short stubby horns, the common traits of a rilud.
            Glenn Gleenwood, the other short man, was a dwarf. His black hair was streaked with some grey. Irene later found out that he was one hundred ninety-one in age. Glenn appeared to be a grim person at first, yet she later discovered that he was actually a pleasant person. It was when he was deep in thought that made his dark bushy brows sink down making him look grave.
            Mito’s wife, Treenah, was a lovely woman with brown hair and laughing blue eyes that the children also shared. She served them some roasted grouse with spicy herbs and a special sauce. There were also fresh homemade bread, a garden salad, boiled carrots and potatoes; berry juice and milk to drink with the meal.
            When everyone ate, Irene introduced herself and learned about her host and his friends. However, she did not tell them where she came from or how, for she did not feel that it was the right time to do so. After the wonderful meal came their favourite time for them all, the time of stories and tales of the old, legends of forgotten places and great kings who had done great deeds for their peoples, and tales of castles built inside trees and mountains.
            “Tells us of how we received the stone sword,” said the children.
            “Let Glenn tell it,” Sinde suggested, “He could make the story come to life with his lyre.”
            Irene felt a nudge as Robin, who sat beside her leaned over to whisper into her ear. “You are very privileged; Glenn is one of the best storytellers amongst us.”
            “Eh, what’s that?” asked Glenn gruffly, as he lifted an eyebrow suspiciously. “Mr. Robin Burrows! I should have known, you trouble-maker!” he said mischievously, “And trying to impress our lovely guest with local gossip, I see. Well, wait’ll I tell April! She will not be happy with what you are doing!”
            Did that guy just call me lovely? Irene wondered.
            Robin only laughed in return.
            The men laughed at the light bickering, Irene felt a smile creeping up her face as she watched the warm atmosphere. How long has it been since she had moments like these? Glenn’s grim face lit up as he left his seat to get his lyre. Once he took it into his hands, he began to tune it as he approached his seat. Once he sat down he began to play.
            “I will tell you a story I have made up. This story is called, ‘The Dragon Slayer’.” Glenn began to sing in a deep yet, gentle voice.
In the beginning was a king
Who made things come to being
A world of love and righteousness
Where all creatures lived in peace.
Then appeared Dragon of Death
Who devoured and killed with its destructive breath
The king saw his people die
And wept for the injured and the dead.
Then, the king removed his crown
As well and his rich cloak and gown
All his kingly glories were laid down.
Then in his nakedness he stood
Before the dragon.
The dragon looked at the king and open its mouth
Swallowed the king whole!
But wait! In the dragon’s black belly there glowed a light
A mysterious shimmer like a star at night.
The dragon hacked, coughed, and gagged
Finally it twisted and turned in pain
Then in the worm’s belly appeared a hole!
Out came the king all safe and sound
Leading the people out clean and whole!
The dragon died from the painful slice
(I would be too -- an experience that’s not very nice).
From then on the tale is told
Dear children, keep this in your heart where it will always hold,
And you shall live long until very old!

            “I don’t want to grow old, yet!” piped up Caleah.
            Glenn’s lyre string made a funny sound at the remark. He burst out laughing, “Not all of us do, Child. Not all of us do.”
            “And now, Irene, tell us about yourself,” Mito asked with interest.
            “Yes, tell us! Tell us!” the twins piped.
            Irene looked at them. “I – I don’t know where to start.”
            “Where you are from,” said Robin.
            Irene looked at everyone around the table. Pine and Caleah wiggled in their chair in excitement.
            “I came…” her words died off as someone pounded on the door.
            “Quick, children!” Treenah took each child’s hand.
            The men moved swiftly moving the chairs from the table. Treenah opened the trapdoor hidden beneath the table and lead the children down there.
            “You too, milady,” Robin told Irene.
            Irene looked at them in confusion. “But –”
            A pair of strong arms lifted her and dropped her into the floor. The moment her feet touched the floor, the trapdoor snapped shut above her.
            The last sliver of light disappeared as a rug was thrown over the door. More sounds of moving chairs. There were footsteps, then voices. The door opening and Mito’s voice demanding who it was.
            In the dark celler, Irene listened to what was going on above them. The children whimpered, but their mother hushed them.
            “You must leave…” Irene heard a muffled voice say in broken sentences.
            “Where…? How…?” one of the men asked, their actual words hard to hear.
            The sound of movement above them, the trapdoor opens making Irene and her new friends blink at the sudden light.
            “Mito?” Treenah’s voice was full of concern.
            “That was Shyaina. She said that they were coming. They’re two day’s journey away.” Mito explained, suddenly looking tired.
            “Then we must go,” Glenn said as he began to pack his lyre.
            “What’s going on?” Irene asked, “Why must we go?”
            “The raiders are coming for their hunt. The monster is hungry again.” Glenn explained, he brought out a short sword in its sheath and strapped it to his belt.
            “You do have a weapon, don’t you?” Sinde asked.
            Irene shook her head. “I don’t have a weapon. All I know is that I used this.” She brought out her jeweled pendant.
            Robin stared. “Where did you get that?”
            “My relative gave it to me.” Irene explained, “She said it belonged to my ancestor.”
            Glenn studied her for a moment. “Here,” he tossed her another something wrapped in a cloth.
            Irene caught the item and removed the wrapping, inside was what looked like a stone rod about a foot long with a handle. Into the stone script engraved close together were that Irene could not identify due to its small size, each letter neatly lined and wound up the rod creating an elaborate pattern.
            “What’s this?” she asked.
            “Something to go with that stone,” the dwarf explained.
            “Take it with you. You will need it to protect yourself.”
            Irene strapped the stone rod on her back.
            After they quickly packed their possessions, they loaded onto four horses that were kept in the stable.
            Irene looked and noticed the cloved shoes the horses were wearing. “Why are their shoes like that?” she asked Rayn, who stood beside her.
            “It’s to throw our pursuers off-track.” he told her lowering his voice.
            Treenah sat on one of the horses with Caleah. Pine went on the horse with Irene.
            “Us men could manage long distances.” Robin told them with a grin.

            In the cover of night, the group made their escape with Sinde at the lead through and Glenn at the rear.

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