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Introduction:

This contains all the chapters
Chapter 1

Opening my eyes

I had always been different than others of the clan, I was faster and have better endurance. I was better with weapons or my hands, I was also better at solving problems. What I was not was a full clan member. I had been bought in a market by the Quirrin Master and adopted.

My name was Quillan or Clan lost as the clan called me. Most of the clan ignored me and called me Lan. The ones that did not learned to respect my abilities and stayed out of reach. In eighteen years I had learned and passed all the tests of a clan warrior. I had even past tests that most masters could not, only the Quirrin Master was my equal. Other people called us assassins, but we only killed to protect the clan… or so I thought.

I had been given the job of beast master and spent my time looking after the horses or drama. Drama are a huge, light skinned lizard like animal we used mostly as pack animals. Like many in the clan, we were always practicing stealth. I was the best, even masters could not find me if I did not want them to. Several of the younger men and women had come to me for instruction.

I went over how to move or behave and before I knew it they had started making wagers. The clan masters were meeting shortly and it was supposed to be a closed meeting. It was to be held in the Quirrin Master’s quarters. Several of the clan young tried to slip in, I managed to because I came through a little known vent.

The vent was not used because the Quirrin Master put cave vipers in the vents. I had quietly captured the three vipers and released them. Now I lay and watched as the clan masters gathered. I listened as the Quirrin Master nodded to a blood soaked bag, “The duke sent this instead of our payment.”

Master Jerome shook his head, “I told you he could not be trusted.”

Master Palio nodded, “Killing the old duke was not wise.”

The Quirrin Master waved his hand, “That is past. He owes us for a killing.”

Master Celmins sighed, “I am getting to old for this. Kill the fool and have the new duke pay his dept.”

Master Jerome nodded, “Agreed. Kill him and let the next duke pay. We have other business. The Travelers are headed north once again. We all know they pay high prices for killing the human chiefs at the wells of Tara.”

Master Quirrin shifted, “Perhaps they do, but you know they always search for our own wells.”

The other masters nodded and Master Jim stood, “Send Quillan to kill the duke. You know they will blame the Travelers and we can make money from both sides.”

Master Quirrin shook his head, “Quillan will want to know why.”

The masters only shook their heads, “Why do you play at this, bring Quillan into the clan.”
The Quirrin Master folded his hands, “The time is not right and he is not ready. He still thinks the clan is like others and not assassins.”

As they left I remained and waited while I thought about what they had said. We were paid to kill, that was what the clan did. When a shadow suddenly shifted and moved to walk out of the room I smiled. I continued to wait and a few minutes later Master Saris suddenly appeared and walked out. I quietly moved back and started the long climb up.

At the top I started out of the vent opening only to freeze as I felt movement close by. Turning my head slowly I saw two large cave viper coming nearer. I hissed and they stopped to coil. As their heads slowly began to weave I gave a longer softer hiss. The two vipers hesitated and then uncoiled to start crawling away. I grinned, they were the Quirrin Master’s pets and I was the one to feed them everyday.

I slipped the rest of the way out of the vent and walked away. I came back into the clan caves from a different direction and quietly went to the pens. I tended the animals while I continued to think. I did not like the thought of killing people for money. The other thing that bothered me was the Quirrin Master. He wanted to use me for something and I was sure I would not like it.

I sighed as I finished scratching an egg bound drama and turned away. There was only one thing I could do, leave. I walked away and went to the tiny cave that was mine and began to pack. I was only just finishing when Master Jim came into my cave, “So… where do you think you are going?”

I tied the top of the pack and began dressing in my clan clothing. When I finished and turned to look at him, I could see his anger because I had not answered, “Leaving. I am not an assassin and want no part of it.”

The blurred movement of his striking hand met mine as it slapped the back of his wrist. This was a deadly dance that would leave only one of us alive. I spun to the side as his other hand flicked a small poisoned dart. I pulled the fighting knife from my left thigh and blocked a strike from his dagger as I shifted sideways.

The sharp hissing behind him had the master suddenly springing forward. A solid flat punch into his chest stopped him in mid air and he staggered back. He spun sideways as a large cave viper emerged from its hole and began coiling to strike. I let a thin dagger drop into my right hand as my left swept forward. Master Jim blocked the knife easily and tried to move away from the viper.

The slim dagger came up into his blocking arm. I twisted and the dagger in his hand fell as he jerked back. That was a mistake, the viper struck and his eyes went wide. I struck as his eyes went to the viper attached to his leg. My fighting knife swept across his throat and he stumbled before falling to the floor. I moved back and turned to a small box. Inside was a large rat and I grabbed it before turning back to the fallen man and the coiled snake.

I tossed the rat to land right in front of the viper. Before the rat could even get to its feet the viper struck. It wrapped its body around the rat as I picked my pack up. I slipped out, leaving the scene behind, it was not the first time I had killed. In the pens I pulled out a special saddle I had made and put it on one of the bigger drama. I tied my pack onto another and led them out of the clan caves.

Escape

I slipped onto the drama and headed into the desert. I knew they would be searching for me and wanted some distance between us. I was quiet as I thought about my life and where I could go, most cities hated or feared us. All the other clans would try to kill me on sight. The only ones that would not care were the Travelers. Once every decade they made their way around the continent, looking for something lost long ago.

It was almost dawn when I saw the sand spider’s trap. A sand spider is huge, six or eight feet across. I looked around and dismounted to lead the drama to a small outcropping of stone. I unsaddled them and removed the face harness, “Just wait girls.”

I picked up a piece of stone and moved out towards the trap. I weighed the stone and tossed it to land in the center of the trap. With a slithering hiss the sand erupted and the huge spider came out fast. I stood still as the spider spun around. Before it could do anything else, the two drama charged. They all crashed together and dropped into the open pit that was the spider’s home.

I moved to the lip to watch as the two drama tore the spider apart. I grabbed my pack and jumped down into the musky pit. In a far corner was a huge egg sack hanging from the ceiling. I prodded one of the drama and was treated to an angry hiss. I hissed back and slapped her shoulder. She looked over her shoulder at me angrily and I nodded towards the corner.

She turned her head and growled before rushing to attack the sack. The other drama joined her as I moved to an opposite corner. I sat down and leaned against the wall, it was only a few minutes before I fell asleep. I woke to the dry shifting of the drama and looked around the pit in the gathering dusk. I stood and stretched before picking up my pack and vaulting onto one of the drama, “Up!”

Almost in one move the drama leaped up through the hole in the roof of the pit. It was a moment before the other joined us while grumbling. I grinned as I slid off the first one, “It is not my fault you gorged on the eggs.”

The drama hissed lightly as I put their saddles back on and swung into the saddle. I only had one water bag left and the next well was a long way from here. Some clouds had begun to move in and almost at midnight the two drama slowed, we were in a dry ravine that I did not like. The drama were looking around nervously as I heard the loud explosion of thunder.

I saw a large opening in the side of the ravine ahead and up one side before a wall of rain blocked my view. I slapped the shoulder of the drama I was on and pointed. She hissed and broke into a rush that went straight up the side of the ravine and into the opening. The other drama followed and I jerked in surprise when several wild drama turned to look at us.

I heard a rushing roaring sound from the ravine and slowly slid off my drama. I moved towards the hissing crowd of wild drama and hissed back. The wild ones stilled and seemed to look at each other before looking at me. I scratched one behind his ear hole as I moved past and he shivered and hummed. I slowly moved through the crowd and scratched a drama here or there on my way.

By the time I was done, I was back at the entrance staring at the rushing water in the ravine. I used a large cloak to gather water and refill all my water bags during the storm. It was almost an hour before the rain stopped and we were able to leave. The wild ones went with us and gradually the group broke up into couples or singles. As the sun peaked over the horizon I made camp in a cluster of large rocks. I used my cloak as a roof between two boulders.

The drama sighed as they settled in front of me. I woke a couple of hours before the sun had set. I ate while considering the way before me, it was another four days to the harbor city of Sumurst. The desert went on for only a day and a half before turning to farm land that was rich in water. I was well off the normal path of the clans and knew they might only be a day behind me.

I saddled the drama and started off as the sun began to sink into the desert. It was after midnight when I heard the siren. I quickly stuffed my ears and wrapped a scarf around my head. I turned the drama to head closer, it was another chance to let the two drama feed. I stopped before I reached the group of rocks and dismounted, I swiftly unsaddled the two hissing drama.

When I hissed they were off at a run. They did not go between the rocks, they went over them. Almost as soon as they vanished the screams started. I picked up my pack and the two saddles and started for the rocks. I came into the blood smeared center and waited while the two drama finished devouring the remaining sirens. They were almost a quarter the size of the drama and had large heads with mouths full of sharp teeth.

When the two finally moved away with a hiss I began saddling them again. I searched around where the sirens had been and found four large bloody stones. They were called Siren Stones and were very valuable. Since I was on my own now, I would need money. I swung into the saddle and the drama headed out. They moved slower now that they were full.

I did not stop when the sun came up and the drama began hissing. I slapped a shoulder, “Soon, we need water.”

She shook her head and the other almost growled. I shook my head, “You two are babies. You just got a good meal and now you want to stop and sleep.”

They grumbled but kept going until we finally entered a green glade. I made camp in a clump of brush beside a quiet brook. The drama dropped to the ground beside the brook and hissed as they rested in the way of their kind. I filled my water bags and made a small cup of cinnamon tea. I pulled the small blow gun from my pack and walked into the brush.

It did not take long before I found two rabbits nibbling grass together. I returned to camp carrying the two rabbits and knelt by the brook to clean them. I tossed the refuse to each drama and kept the skins and meat. I started a small fire and began to roast the rabbits slowly. When the drama hissed softly while looking towards the greener side of the brook, I went still.

Two men stepped through the brush and stopped to stare at me. I realized they were not men like the rest of my clan, they were Travelers. The drama shifted and I hissed to calm them as I continued to look at the two, “Well met.”

They looked at each other and the one on the right nodded, “Brother.”

I looked at them and finally looked away, “I only have a couple of small rabbits.”

The other Traveler grinned and pulled two more rabbits from behind him, “We have a couple as well.”
I gestured to the fire and they joined me. It was a tense afternoon but they did not ask any questions. I had some but kept quiet as they left headed up the small brook. That night we rode for only half the night. Several times the drama darted to the side to snatch an unsuspecting rabbit. We spent the rest of the night beside a small bridge.

I was up at dawn and saddled the drama, I turned onto the narrow road and started off. It was almost noon when I saw the four men. They were in front of us trying to hide in some brush, I stopped short on the road and waited. After a minute they burst out yelling and rushed at me waving old rusty knives.

A flick of my wrists sent two throwing knives into the throats of two of the men. The drama lunged and grabbed the other two. I slid out of the saddle as they began tearing the men apart. I slapped their shoulders and they released the two dead men. I led the drama past and mounted again.

I did not even think about leaving the four men lying on the road. I stopped in a small wooded area for the night and the drama sank down with a growling hiss. I smiled as I gathered dry sticks, “It is your own fault. No one told either of you to rush off and eat every rabbit that we passed.”

They hissed and put their heads down. I had only been this far from the clan caves a few times and the sounds of the night time always fascinated me. I rested and let my senses reach out to the area around me. I felt it when the two men slipped into the area. In one moment I was lying back resting and in the next I was gone.

The shadows held me as I drifted around the outside of my camp and the two sleeping drama. I knew what the men were and who. As they split up and moved apart I moved through the shadows after the larger of the two. He suddenly stopped moving, “Lan?”

He stood still as the other moved further away, “Why Lan?”

I stepped forward pressing the tip of my dagger against the back of his neck, “They pay us to kill. To waste our honor on innocents or kill those that are no threat to the clan.”

I felt him nod slightly, “That is what we do. Why Master Jim?”

I moved back as I felt the other moving back, “Master Jim attacked me when I told him I was leaving.”

He slowly turned to face me, “But any of the clan are free to leave.”

I smiled, “You should know better Harasis. Those that choose to leave never reached the other side of the desert.”

I spun and my wrist flicked towards a shadow as it rushed towards me. There was a cry as I shifted back to Harasis. He had not moved and only held his hands up, “The kill order is out.”

I nodded, “I expected it. Tell the others I am leaving Denob.”

He nodded and looked past me at the body of our brother, “I always disliked Petri.”

I grinned, “Live well Harasis.”

He nodded before turning and walking away, I waited and sighed when he left the area. I turned to Petri and moved to kneel beside his body. I pulled the throwing spike from his throat and then started removing his weapons. I moved into the night following his trail until I found the two horses and his pack. I brought everything back to my camp and put the horses across from the drama.

Before the sun was even up, I had packed everything on the horses and went to the drama. I rubbed both on their leathery necks, “Hararis will take you home girls.”

They hissed as I turned and went back to the horses. I rode away and did not look back. It was almost dusk when I reached the low walls of Burka. I walked the horses into the stableyard of an inn called The Blue Horse. I paid the innkeeper and carried both packs into the inn. Inside Petri’s pack was a small pouch of gold coins.

I checked everything and lay back to relax, I left before dawns light. I was a day away from the port city of Sumurst when I saw the group of armed men approaching. They carried a banner I recognized as the Duke of Sumurst. They spread out as I drew closer, a couple held naked blades. I stopped a few paces away, “Good day.”

One man in a fine tunic with the duke’s crest moved his horse a step closer, “What business do you have?”

I smiled, “I came to take ship to Amgree.”

He kept looking at me before looking at another man. He finally looked back at me, “Strangers are not welcome in Sumurst right now, not even Travelers.”

I blinked as I realized they thought I was a Traveler, “As I said, I came to take ship to Amgree.”

He leaned forward, “Go elsewhere to take ship.”

I looked at the six men and then looked back at the man in front of me, “I do not think so.”

His face went dark as he reached for his sword. I dropped to the ground, two daggers dropping into my hands, “You wish to face a Quirrin master?”

The men had all started dismounting and froze at my words. The young well dressed man swallowed and carefully put his sword away. “I… find your ship and leave.”

I nodded, “Listen well, duke’s man. The clan is coming for your duke. He bargained for the old duke’s death and refuses to pay now.”

I looked into his face for several moments and he finally nodded, “Thank you.”

He jerked the rains around and led the others off at a quick pace. I swung back into the saddle and headed towards the city. That night I camped within sight of the port cities walls. I was the first through the gates the next morning and went straight to the docks. I took a room at one of the dockside inns and headed out to ask about a ship.

It was afternoon when I found a captain that was heading towards the northern port of Amgree. I sat and bargained for an hour before we struck a deal. I headed to the marketplace and found a gem merchant. He was getting ready to close his shop when I came in. I set the four Siren Stones on the counter and unwrapped them.

He stared and then hurried to the door and looked out before coming back. It was an hour before he finally agreed to my price and even then he said he would have to bring me the money and could only afford two. I told him what inn I was staying at and he said it would be a couple of hours. I expected him to try and send thieves for me but two hours later he appeared at the inn with the money and paid me in gold coins.

It was very early when I slipped out of the Inn with my packs. I had given the innkeeper a good deal on both horses. The ship was already alive with men stowing things away when I came aboard. Captain Darrius met me at the side of the ship and showed me to a tiny cabin, “We will be leaving in an hour.”

An hour later I watched the port slip away behind the ship.

Chapter 2

An Ocean Voyage

It was the first day of our voyage when I found out that traveling the oceans was not exactly safe. The sailors always carried wicked curved swords in their waist sashes. I thought it was because of me, but as we began moving they immediately started ignoring me. No matter what they were doing, some of their attention was always on the sea around us.

I learned the reason shortly after we reached deep water. I was by the side rail watching the sea when a large fish broke the surface. I did not think anything of it since it did not come all the way out of the water but the sailors nearby drifted away from me quickly. The fish was about fifteen feet long with a wide head and lots of teeth. It was only a few minutes later that it leaped. It came out of the water headed straight at me.

I have been training all my life. Traps and suddenly attacks were something I lived with. I spun and crouched as the long dagger from my right thigh slipped into my hand. My left hand smashed up to grab the fish behind its head in the gill slots. I spun again, my dagger striking straight through the side of its head before it even landed on the deck.

I jerked the dagger out and spun it in my hand so that the blade was down. The fish was flopping around as I brought the dagger down behind the head and into its spine. I yanked the blade free and released the gills before stepping back to watch the fish go through its death throes. A crowd of crewmen started gathering around the fish and the big first mate pushed his way into the center.

He looked from the fish to me and grinned, “Well, you have talent.”

He slapped one of the crew on the shoulder, “Cut it up and get it down to the cook.”

He glanced at me and turned back to the sailor, “give the stones to the captain with Mister Lan’s complements.”

He turned and pushed his way back through the crowd while I stared after him and then looked out at the sea as it rushed past. I spent the rest of the day wandering around the ship, staying next to the rail while watching the sea. I saw a few more of the large fish the crew called criskin, but none attacked. The large meal of fish steaks was something I never dreamed of. In the desert, things that attacked you were poisonous to eat.

It was two days later that the crew started a game. They opened part of the side rail and one man was dropped into the sea. The rest would wait and then pull him out. Another man would wait at the side of the ship, ready to dive away to safety. I was on the other side of the ship watching. Even though the sailors were playing a baiting game it was me that the leviathan came for.

There was a sudden break in the water behind me as it came almost all the way out of the sea. I rolled and spun as this huge forty foot sea monster crashed down on the deck. I had pulled a short sword that was hilt down on my back and took two large running steps before leaping. I came down just behind the head, my sword led the way as it easily slipped through the tough skin. I yanked it back and forth even as I was thrown off the creature.

I rolled when I landed and spun to face the creature. It was thrashing around in its death throes as the crew closed on it. The big first mate lunged, stabbing a javelin into the side. The javelin was not necessary the leviathan thrashed around some more and finally stopped moving.

I walked forward and leaped up on top of it and pulled my sword out before dropping back to the deck. The whole crew was watching as I carefully cleaned the blade. When I finished, I looked at the first mate, “How many of these were you planning to play with?”

The crew laughed and the first mate grinned, “We will look for another one in a few days.”

I shook my head and looked at the monster lying on the deck, “At least I hope its eatable.”

Everyone laughed as I headed to the prow to clean my sword. While I sat, I watched the crew cutting up the huge beast and could only think that the sea was very like the desert in some ways but unlike it in others. It was only two days later that a serous attack was made on the ship. It was pre dawn and I was on deck practicing when I saw the other ship slipping out of the semi dark heading right for us.

It was lower and looked much faster as it closed. I looked at the first officer on the wheel to see him reaching for the alarm bell. I slipped into the shadows by a mast and waited with both short swords drawn.

As the other ship tossed grapples over the side and men began climbing over, the crew of my ship rushed out onto the deck. I moved forward striking and blocking before they even knew I was there. I did not even bother staying on the ship as I vaulted over the rail onto the enemy ship. I struck those around me and started towards their captain and the helmsman.

I think the shocking danger I presented sank in as I cut a huge man’s throat and used him as a shield. I let him fall and stabbed a thin pocked face man before I stabbed a thick bearded man and left my sword stuck in his chest. My hand dropped, flicked and then snapped out. The silver throwing spike slammed into the captain’s throat as he yelled for his men. I shifted and cut down another man as he leaped from the ships deck above.

I yanked my sword out of the man’s chest as my other sword swept across the throat of a man that had slipped on the bloody deck. By now the pirates were back on their ship as I cut through two more to reach the helmsman. I sliced down across the wheel and turned to catch a blade aimed for my back. The helmsman screamed behind me as I thrust into the other man’s gut.

I shifted to hold both swords in one hand and threw a spike across the deck and into a man that was trying to cut the rope holding the ships together. I threw three more before the pirates all seemed to give up as the crew of my ship began to throw sea javelins down into them. The helmsman was on his knees behind me holding the spurting stump of arm. As men began jumping down onto the deck the captain waved down at me.

I nodded and moved around retrieving my throwing spikes before climbing back onto my ship. I nodded to the captain and first officer before moving to the prow. I sat and cleaned my weapons before finally going to my cabin to find a basin to wash my body in. When I was clean, I dressed in clean clothing and went back on deck. I stood with the captain by the wheel as the first mate stripped the other ship of anything of value.

When they were done and had taking every weapon from the other ship they cut it loose. I watched as it drifted behind us and the few crew aboard it managed to raise a sail. It turned away and slowly sped back the way we had come. The captain grinned at me as his helmsman took the wheel, “You are lucky assassin. At this rate you will make all of us rich.”

I bowed slightly and moved down onto the main deck. It was a week before we sighted land. During the week I had killed two more of the criskin, the last one had been almost twenty feet long. The crew seemed to be betting everyday on whether I would be attacked, on how big the fish would be and on if I survived. Land turned out to be a large island where the captain would get fresh water, sell the valuables from the other ship and get any news about our planned path to Amgree.

I stayed aboard ship and let the captain and crew handle everything. I still had two Siren stones which were blood red. I spent the day carefully cutting and polishing the stones. When the crew came aboard later that night they were drunk. The captain seemed sober as he walked quietly aboard and moved to the stern of the ship.

He glanced at me in the shadows, “The rest of the way is perilous assassin. They say there have been leviathan bigger than ships and several ships have been destroyed. Even the criskin have more courage.”

I waited and he turned to look at me, “Either you will bring us great luck or great misery.”

I smiled as I walked out of the shadows to stand beside him, “Is not that the life you enjoy?”

He looked at me for a minute and then laughed and clasped my shoulder, “Yes.”

He left and went below as I sat and meditated. We left early and I stood in the prow, I had borrowed a sea javelin and held it easily. Within moments of entering deep water I saw a ripple far out and moved to the side of the ship. I glanced amidship at the first mate as he bellowed orders, “We have a leviathan headed towards us.”

The first mate looked at me and then started barking orders. I moved to the rail as they removed it and waited. I stood alone as the crew moved back and got ready. When the huge beast broke the surface heading towards me I rolled away and spun when I came to my feet. The sea javelin flashed out towards the huge creature’s head and then I was taking running steps towards it.

As I leaped up the side I drew a sword and stabbed it into the creature’s side. I used the sword to pull myself up higher as the leviathan flopped backwards and began falling back into the ocean. I was on top by then and drew my other sword and stabbed down into the spine as we crashed into the water. I rode the back of the thrashing creature as it died.

When it stopped moving and began to roll I pulled my sword free and sheathed it before I splashed into the water. I looked up expecting the see the ship still heading away and was rewarded with the site of it still there. Several crewmen threw sea javelins with ropes attached into the leviathan and then began pulling it closer to the side of the ship.

A rope was dropped over the side and I climbed up to see the crew slapping each other on the back. The crew only cut the best pieces from the creature before retrieving its gems and cutting it loose. I had stripped on the deck and then gone below to change. When I came back on deck I sat in the prow and began the long task of drying, cleaning and oiling all my weapons.

I was gratified when the big first mate brought my other sword from the leviathan’s side. That night they had a big party on deck, (not that they used any light since a light would attract criskin). That was the first night I noticed the lights under the water. The captain was looking out from the stern and smiled when I joined him. He gestured to the lights in the ocean behind us.

The next day a criskin attacked unexpectedly. The crewman it went after was lucky because he had seen it leap and dropped flat to the deck. My javelin hit it several seconds before the other three. The captain issued a warning to the crew and put up watchers in the rigging. That was where I was a week later. We had two sometimes three criskin attacks everyday and the crew were beginning to get worried.

I was on the large center mast taking a turn at watch when I saw the huge shadow moving under the ocean. I called out and pulled one of the many javelins they kept in the watch nest. The shadow became more defined into a leviathan just under the surface. It was huge, easily as large as the ship. I took aim and threw the javelin, before it struck the water I was throwing a second and reaching for a third.

The leviathan broke the surface suddenly and thrashed around. The crew rushed to the side as I threw a forth javelin and then a final fifth. My javelins were spaced around the back of its head in a tight group and most were buried halfway into the creature. The two that were not had struck the spine. The crew stared and then began cheering. This leviathan was easily twice the size of the others we had killed.

After that I was the one in the watch nest everyday. We only had three more weeks before we reached Amgree. In the first two I killed three more of the huge leviathans and seven criskins. We were four days out from Amgree when I spotted the two fleet schooners as they closed with us. The captain called for weapons and everyone was grim as they began gathering on the deck.

When I dropped to the deck the captain was waiting, “They are Amgree pirates.”

I nodded to the one that was closing on the port, “I will take that one.”

He looked at me and then spun to the first officer and began barking orders. I picked up a waiting javelin from the mast rack and as the boarding hook flew over the rail I ran. From one step I went to the rail and then I was leaping through the air. I could see the surprised faces as I flew towards them and threw the javelin. I did not have to watch its flight to know I had hit their helmsman.

I crashed into three crewmen and my hands and feet began a deadly dance. The pirates had forgotten all about trying to board the ship as a devil was suddenly among them. When my swords entered the dance, the screams began. I grabbed a sailor and yanked him in front of a javelin before cutting another’s throat. In the few minutes I had been aboard, the pirate’s ship had gone from a packed deck to a bloody slaughter house.

I finally looked around for someone else and realized they were dead or dying. I turned to the boarding rope and used it to climb back aboard. Pirates and crew were mixed in a fight to the death across the deck and I joined the dance. I made my way across the deck killing any pirate in reach as I went, including a big man that had been yelling directions. On the other side of the ship I went over onto the other ship and attacked the few men I found.

When I climbed back aboard my ship only a couple of pirates remained. They were fighting desperately and I ended their fight with throwing spikes. As quiet returned to the ship the crew gathered itself and then cheered. We had lost a few and several more had been injured. Cleaning up was as easy as dumping bodies over the side. The captain put the schooners on lines, one behind the other and we towed them behind our ship.

Strangely enough we did not see any more leviathans and only one criskin. We sailed into port on the morning of the fifth day and the crew cheered as we finally docked. I had placed my packs on the deck to get an early start. I was more then ready to leave the ship but the captain and crew had other plans. On the deck they brought out two chests and a cask of rum. The first chest was full of milk white stones and large rainbow colored stones that seemed to sparkle.

The first officer read off a number for the white criskin stones and the first mate counted them out into another smaller chest. When the first mate was done, the first officer read off the number for the rainbow colored leviathan stones. The first mate added the stones to the small chest and nodded to the captain. The captain read off the amount of gold earn by each crew member and then nodded to the first officer.

The first officer opened the second chest and I saw that it was full of coins. The first mate counted out a share and then looked at the captain again after adding it to the small chest. The captain grinned and looked around, “Since our passenger (the crew bellowed and broke out in laughter) is leaving before we have sold the two ships we took, I think a second crew earnings is in order.”

The whole crew cheered and the captain nodded to the first mate who put a second bunch of coins into the small chest. The chest was completely full as the captain ordered the rum opened. Wooden mugs were passed around as they were filled. Finally the captain raised his mug, “To Master Quillan, may his swords always strike true and his keen eyes never fail.”

The crew cheered and drank, I sipped the rum and set the cup aside. I bowed to the crew and captain, “May you always see the leviathan before he sees you and may your arms always strike true.”

They cheered as I picked up my packs. The first mate picked up the small chest and put it in my arms after I had shouldered one of the packs. I walked down the narrow plank to the dock and for the first time in months set foot on dry land.

Chapter 3

Land – Port city Amgree

The city was full of color and sound as people shouted and called out trying to get someone to buy their wares. I slowly made my way across the city and stopped at a large inn by what they called the caravan gate. Inside my room, I filled a large purse with gold coins and then dumped a dozen stones into a large pouch.

I got directions from the innkeeper and headed out the gates. Outside the gates were huge pens and corrals that held a variety of animals. When I came upon the isolated pen of drama I stopped. There were four in the pen and only two of those were adults. The desert tribesman stood and walked to where I was standing, “They can go for days with little water young sir.”

I glanced at him, “And only eat meat.”

He blinked as I walked to the strong bars and hissed softly. The drama turned towards me slowly and I could see that they had been drugged. I glanced at the tribesman, “Why did you drug them?”

His eyes widened, “All know young sir that the beasts can not be tamed.”

I snorted and vaulted over the bars and he gasped. The drama hissed a warning as I came closer and hissed back in a softer tone. I scratched the male behind the ear hole and he hummed as I moved to the female. I hissed softly as I scratched her and checked her carefully. The two adolescents hissed softly as I walked to them and rubbed or scratched them.

I walked back to the bars thinking. The male was in good enough shape, the female was newly pregnant and could carry a light pack. The two adolescents were not related and were both female, (that could be good or bad). I vaulted back over the bars as the tribesman stared at me wide eyed. I looked back and we started bargaining, when we finished they were mine.

I paid him extra to keep them and not give them anymore drugs. Next was a trip back through the city. I had walked through a large market place after leaving the ship and headed there. The merchant I wanted was easy to find, I could see the array of stones from criskin and leviathans and knew he would not pay top dollar for more.

I pulled out the two Siren stones and set them on the counter. The merchant tried to act like they were something he saw everyday but I knew better. I shook my head and pulled the two back. The merchant gasped, “Wait!”

I looked at him and he nodded to the guard by the door. The guard turned and locked the door. I did not even glance back as I pulled one of my swords. The merchant raised his hands, “NO!”

My other hand dropped and then flicked back and the guard that was reaching to pull his own sword froze as the spike slammed into the doorframe next to his head. I continued to stare at the merchant and he licked his lips, “We can bargain.”

I turned sideways and pointed the sword at the guard, “Leave.”

The guard looked from me to the merchant. The merchant nodded and the guard walked to the back of the shop and into another room. I put my sword away and the merchant began bargaining. He was smart enough to start at a good price. When we finished, the merchant reached under the counter and pulled out a metal lock box. I left after he paid me, heading back into the market place.

It took awhile but I finally finished as the shops were closing. That evening I sat in my room and began the task of making a riding pad for the male Drama and pack saddles for the females. I filled the pack saddles and set them beside the door. My next task was to study a map I had managed to find. It was of the area between here and the next city inland called Sin-Haree.

Sin-Haree was a trade city on the other edge of the desert and my next stop. I heard footsteps in the hall and when they stopped at my door I looked at it. They started pounding on the door and I walked to stand beside it. I flipped the locking latch and let the door swing open. There were two men in the hall and they started into the room and then stopped as they realized where I was standing.

One was a city guard and the other was a merchant by his clothes. The merchant cleared his throat, “We heard that you are… very good with your weapons.”

I waited and he shifted from foot to foot before clearing his throat, “We have a serious problem just outside the city walls. A creature has nested in some rocks and attacks anyone that tries to enter or leave by the western gate.”

I smiled and moved away from the wall, “What does that have to do with me?”

The merchant and guard stepped into the room and the merchant shook a heavy purse. I bent and lifted the lid of the chest to show both the sea stones and the gold before looking at the merchant, “I do not need your gold.”

The merchant was staring at the chest and finally looked at me, “We will pay for everything. I was informed you purchased four dramas. We will pay for their upkeep.”

I nodded to the packs behind them, “I had planed to leave in the morning.”

The merchant looked desperate and the guard finally cleared his throat, “We need your help assassin. I will guarantee your belongings will not be touched. You will have the city guards support when you face the beast. You will be paid a hansom sum for your services and leave with our gratitude and we will be in your debt.”

I turned away to think and found myself curious about whatever threatened the city. I turned back to face the guard, “Describe the creature.”

He bowed slightly, “Big, maybe thirty paces long and ten high. It is like the drama but smarter. It drags its kills into the warren it has created in the rocks. We have tried sneaking up on it but it never works. Even an arbalest bolt can not seem to penetrate its scales. The front feet have claws as long as my arm.”

I could not even image the beast and sat on my bed to think. I finally looked up, “How far from the walls?”

The merchant snorted but the guard ignored him, “At first it stayed away but now it comes over the wall when it gets hungry. The warren is about three hundred paces from the walls and it is never gone from the warren long.”

I nodded, “it is nested and probably laid eggs.”

I stood up and walked to the single window to look out, “I would need to see the creature. Send out an animal and let it feed.”

They looked at each other and the merchant cleared his throat, “You will do it?”

I looked back at him and then at the guard, “yes.”

I looked around at my packs and sighed, “Just after first light. I will need a long spear with a thin bladed head.”

The guard nodded and looked at my chest, “I will send a guard to watch your chest.”

I smiled thinly, “I am clan Quirrin and a master. The thief that touches that chest will die a long agonizing death and never even make it to the door.”

He looked at me and the merchant’s face paled. I gestured to the door and the guard nodded and let the merchant leave before he finally turned and walked out. I followed them and locked the door before going to the large common room to eat dinner. I lay in bed that night relaxed as I thought about what the next day would bring. I had already taken some precautions with my chest and packs. I had also taken out the tiny pouch of powder I would need.

I was up early and waiting for the guard in the common room. When he stepped into the room I smiled to see him in heavy chain. We walked to the western gate where twenty heavily armored guards waited and a very nervous looking bull. I looked around, “My spear?”

A tribesman got up from sitting against a wall. He carried a spear with him and I knelt and pulled out the tiny pouch, “I will need a damp rag.”

I took the spear from the tribesman and started checking it from the butt to the blade. When a guard handed the rag to me, I wrapped a finger in the rag and dipped it into the tiny pouch. I rubbed the tip on both sides and then along the edges. I rolled the rag up and stood holding it out, “Burn this.”

I watched as he went to a nearby brazier and just dropped the rag in. I headed for the stair leading up to the top of the wall, “release the bull out the gate.”

When I reached the top I moved to an outer crenel and looked out. The boom of the gate was loud as it was slammed shut and then the bull bellowed and turned to run away. The creature that came out of the rocks was large and moved with surprising speed. When it caught the bull and turned to start back I saw what I needed to. I turned and headed down to the gate, the guards there were wide eyed as I approached, “Stay inside the gate.”

The gate was opened just enough for me to slip out and then slammed closed. I started walking as I moved the spear so my right hand held the base right next to the butt. The huge head that suddenly appeared around the rock was blood smeared. It was suddenly rushing towards me and I kept going.

As the huge head snapped forward my left hand went up to grasp the top of the snout as I vault up. I brought the spear around with my body and thrust it straight through the left eye. As I continued over the side of its nose as there was a loud roar. I backed away watching as the huge drama like lizard shook its head and then staggered.

Soon it was falling onto its side and the whole body was shaking and writhing around. Its roars grew weaker as I stood and watched until finally there was nothing. Gradually it stopped moving and I nodded before pulling my two swords. I heard the shouting as the gates were opened but did not bother to look back.

I moved carefully into the rocks and saw the wide mouth of the tunnel. I used a powder from a pouch I carried and wiped the blades of my swords. As I entered the tunnel my swords began to glow. I had not gotten very far when I heard the hiss of anger. The lizard charged and I slipped aside at the last second.

I was not surprised when my sword stabbed through its young hide and killed it. I pulled the blade free and moved on, passed the convulsing body of the baby. A second sprang from the side and I back stepped and brought the blade of one sword down through the back of its head.

The third came at me silently from the back of the cave. One sword slashed across the nose and then I shuffled closer and stabbed straight through one of its eyes. I jerked my sword free and raised my swords to look around. I finally turned and walked out. I came out to guards trying to stab the dragon lizard. I shook my head as I started walking towards the gate.

Somehow it did not surprise me to find the two dead guards in my room. A third was standing over them and looking at my chest. I smiled as I moved into the room, “Stealing from a Quirrin master is not a wise thing to do.”

He spun as his hand reached for a dagger in his belt. I slid closer striking with my fingers stiff. He gasped and grabbed his throat before staggering to a wall. I watched him for a moment and then walked to the chest and knelt. It only took a few seconds to remove the tiny needles and make the chest safe. I packed the small chest in a packsaddle. I looked at my other gear to see if they had touched anything else.

I looked up as the guard that had been with the merchant stopped in the doorway. He looked at the three dead guards and then looked at me as his eyes narrowed. I shrugged, “I warned you about anyone touching my belongings.”

He looked at the guards again and then nodded before pulling a heavy purse and tossing it. I caught it while still watching him and he just turned away. It took a couple of trips to get my saddle and pack saddles downstairs. I hired a cart and led it to my drama. It only took a few minutes to put the pack saddles on. The drama were all alert and seemed drug free.

I hissed softly as I scratched each one and then climbed into the saddle of the male after opening the pen. As I headed away from the city I saw the tribesman watching.

Chapter 4

Traveling to Sin-Haree

Traveling in one desert is much like traveling in another, you always need water. Each desert though has its own dangers to be aware of. I was only a half day away from Amgree when I saw the large rocks. I had put my assassin’s bow together earlier and slowed the drama to look at the rocks closely. At the base of the rocks were the bleached bones of animals.

When the creature came out it was large. It had six legs and two pincher like arms. It held a wicked looking tail up behind it that looked sharp and pointed. It danced back and forth and chattered while the drama hissed angrily. I pulled the bow back and aimed carefully before releasing. The scream it made when the arrow struck was high pitched and almost painful.

The drama all growled until I hissed a warning. They quieted and I watched the creature as it lay on the ground and jerking and twitching. I slid out of the saddle and set the bow down before moving forward carefully. I skirted the spider like creature and checked the rocks before coming back to lead the drama. I unsaddle them by the rocks and then used a sword to break open the shell of the spider thing.

As soon as the drama smelled the insides they came forward. I headed to the packs and moved things around before stretching a large gauze sheet from the rocks over my packs. I ate some dried fruit, drank a small bit of water and waited for the drama to finish eating. When they were finally done I hissed and moved out to scratch and rub them.

I led them back to the packs and had them lay down before hissing softly. I moved back to my nest under the gauze and watched the male and female shift and move together before putting their heads down. I closed my eyes and slept lightly, I woke to the sun setting and moved to get the drama up before saddling them.

I went to look at the scattered remains of the spider thing and found two fist sized blue stones. I used sand to clean them and tucked them away in a pack. I scratched the male behind his ear hole, “Water.”

I wet my hand from my water bottle and rubbed his nose before climbing into his saddle. It was semi dark as we headed into the desert. There was a half moon looming over the desert so I could see. It was almost dawn when the male hissed a warning. I was looking around and could see an area in front of us that might be a small spring.

I leaned forward to hiss softly and scratch his neck before slipping out of the saddle. I had the drama kneel and we waited while watching the spring. Just as the sun began to rise I saw the tiny shifting of small bodies near the spring. I waited and then pulled my swords and moved forward, leaving the drama behind. I was almost to the small pool of water next to a large rock when the sand shifted a few feet away.

I stopped and waited, I did not concentrate on the one place where the sand had moved. When the sand moved suddenly from both sides of me, I shifted and slid back. Two snakes came out of the sand and coiled. They almost looked like cave vipers but were longer, fatter with a slightly different color. I kept watched and a third and then a smaller fourth joined the other two snakes.

One seemed to yawn and right then I knew they were something other than vipers. The teeth I saw were meant for eating and they almost looked hollow. I put my swords away and pulled out small darts. I put one in the head of the largest snake and as it died the rest hissed and rose up. I killed a second one and the last two began a hypnotic sway. I killed a third and the last began backing away.

I killed the last one and slowly moved closer to the water. I checked around the spring and then knelt to skin the four snakes before bringing the drama closer. The male nudged the snake bodies to the female and she hissed softly before snatching them up. I let the drama drink and filled my water bottles before mounting again. It was an hour before I stopped against the side of a ravine.

I unsaddled and fed the drama dried meat before having them lay down. I positioned my gauze tarp and moved under it to sleep through the day. I woke to the shifting of the drama and looked up to see dark clouds. I quickly broke camp and put the packs on before moving out of the ravine. I led the drama up the side of the ravine as lightning crossed the sky.

I kept to high ground and moved slowly as the heavy sky opened and rain poured down. The drama shifted and the male turned to lead the way along a narrow ledge. I glanced down at the wet ravine below and then up to look through the curtain of rain. The male turned and entered a wide overhang and the females crowded around.

I slipped out of the saddle and scratched behind his ear hole before walking to the edge of the overhang. I could hear the distant grumbles of thunder and sighed knowing this would be a wet night. I moved through my drama rubbing and giving each a little attention. I heard a clatter of rocks and spun as I drew a sword. The drama hissed as a huge wide bodied toad like creature appeared, it was four foot tall and twice that long. Before I could do anything the drama lunged.

I did not recognize the creature but the actions of the drama were those of a hunter attacking prey. I put my sword away and watched as they tore the animal apart and devoured it. I checked the rest of the area under the overhang and squatted by the edge. The drama finally left the shredded remains and moved to the back before dropping to the ground with a satisfied hiss.

I smiled and looked out as the ravine filled and a flash flood roared down. It was several hours before the rain stopped and I prodded the drama up, I kept to high ground as I moved out. Dawn found me looking at the broken expanse of a bright yellow shale. I finally hissed and the male moved forward leading the way and seemed to spread itself wider and get lower to the ground.

The shale shifted and moved as we went over it and the drama began moving as if to go around something. I did not ignored their unspoken warning and let them make their own way. We were almost all the way across when the shale off to one side began sliding as if into a huge sink hole. The drama hissed in anger as a huge spider rose out of the shale.

I slid off the male as it shifted and then they were all attacking the spider. The fight spilled down into the now open shale pit and I moved closer with my swords drawn. I watched as first one female would attack and then back off as the male lunged in. It was finally over and the spider was being torn apart as I dropped into the pit. I glanced around at the bones scattered along the walls.

I found several human remain as well as animals, there was no egg sac and no young. I walked into the drama hissing to get their attention. One at a time I stripped their saddles off and let them finish eating. When the drama finished with the spider I prodded them into laying down.

The day was muggy and hot but I felt the electricity in the air and knew another storm was coming. I dozed off and on throughout the day and then woke a few hours before the sun set. I saddled the drama as they woke and stretched. We moved out of the pit and I headed towards a ridge to one side of us. The sky was again overcast and lightning flashed through the clouds.

When we came to the jagged crack through the ridge I sat on the nervous drama and looked around for a way across. I finally turned and headed down one side, we were almost down when I saw the huge rock column. I stopped to stare and had a bad feeling as the drama started acting hesitant about going any closer. I do not know why but I slid off and stripped the packs and saddles off the drama.

I had just finished when the rain started. In a crackling flash of lightning I saw the rush of bodies. They were small and I had the impression there had been lots of them. I pulled my swords and hissed an angry sound of challenge as I moved out in front of the drama. The swarm of small furry bodies came out of the rain and gathering darkness.

I let my senses go and spun into the dance of blades. This was a whirling dance of slashing sword strikes. The dancer had to continuously move in sliding twisting steps as his swords swept out to cut and slice anything that came close. As the swarm struck I slid through them. The one or two that managed to live after passing me died as the drama tore them apart.

When it ended the whole area around me was littered with small bodies. I had never seen anything like these creatures and knelt to check them as the drama started eating. They almost seemed like people or Sirens except they were covered in fur. Their mouth went half way around their heads with hundreds of sharp teeth and they had tiny eyes.

In the body of one I saw a small orange red stone, it almost looked like the stone was on fire. I pulled it out and the two others that were with it to look at it. They were like gizzard stones a bird uses. I started checking other bodies and some had gems and some had regular stones. It was dark and the rain was coming down harder.

The drama hissed in satisfaction and I moved to saddle them and put the packs back on. I stayed on foot and when I reached the tall stone column a flash of lightning showed a narrow stone arch across the narrow crack in the ridge. I led the drama across and swung up on the male. The rain stopped an hour later and the air seemed to get crystal clear.

As dawn peeked over the horizon we had come to the end of the ridge. There was a narrow ledge the drama had led me to and I saw a clear pool of water in the back. I took their packs off and let them drink before pulling out some dried fruit. It was a few hours later that the drama shifted about.

My eyes had snapped open quickly but it was a while before I saw the other drama. They slipped around the edge of the overhang and hesitated before heading towards the water. I rose and hissed softly and they froze before there was a return hiss. I moved towards the two led by a mature female.

I smiled as I realized her state of readiness. I moved to the wild drama scratching and hissing. The younger drama headed for the water but the other female went towards my male. I knew nothing would enter the overhang with two drama mating and went back to sleep. The wild drama were still there when I saddled up that afternoon.

I filled my water bottles and swung up into my saddle expecting to leave the wild ones behind. As we left the ledge the wild drama shifted and then just fell in behind us. I glanced back and then grinned as I leaned forward to hiss softly to the male. Since it was a clear night with no sign of rain, I put my bow together.

The country around us had short sparse looking grass and it was midnight when we reached a low ridge. I slipped off the male and hiss for them to wait. I looked around a boulder and saw what looked like a long narrow pool of water. What drew my attention was the toad like creatures. I used my bow to kill one and then turned to lead my drama over the ridge.

My drama seemed disinterested but the wild ones headed towards the fresh kill quickly. I hissed at my drama and watched the others feed. It almost looked like they were starving. It was awhile before they finally moved away from the remains and I swung up into the saddle. I used more concealed ways when we left and it was just after the sun had come up that I stopped beside a dry stream.

The bank we were on was well above the dried stream bed so we were safe from flash floods. The wild drama hissed softly as I scratch mine and rubbed them and I grinned before hissing back. They shifted and moved closer and I spent extra time scratching and rubbing them.

When I woke it was early afternoon but all the drama were on their feet facing up stream. I did not move but let my eyes look in that direction. Three tribesmen were trying to move stealthily and I waited until they slipped behind the last group of small boulders before rolling and dropping into the dry stream bed. A dozen fast silent steps and I was coming out of the stream bed with both swords drawn.

The three were looking around not five feet away and jerked back. I was moving quickly as the first tried to swing wildly. I swept his sword up and stabbed into his guts as I continued into him. My other sword struck straight over his shoulder into another tribesman’s throat as I shoved the first man’s body into the last man. I followed it and sliced the last man’s throat as he tried to get untangled from the dead man.

I looked at the three dead tribesmen and returned to saddle my drama. I rode out keeping to the shadows when I could, the wild drama had again followed. It was turning dark when I rode around the boulders and stopped to stare at the four spider sting creatures I had encountered the day out of Amgree and I readied my bow. So far the four had not noticed us but that would change.

A pool of water beyond them explained why they were here, to feed on any animals that came to drink. I took the one that was on the other side of the group. My arrow struck true and it dropped to the ground jerking. I shot a second one next it as it turned to look at the fallen one. The other two were facing towards the two chattering. The last one I had shot had given out a scream that echoed off the rocks.

The angry hiss of the two wild drama brought the two remaining creature spinning to face us. I shot a third just before they charged. The scream as it crumple brought the other to a stop. It turned slightly to see the third one jerking on the ground and I put an arrow in it. I slipped off the male and walked forward.

I retrieved my arrows and cracked the bodies open before going back to the drama. I slid the packs and saddles off and they headed towards their meal. I headed towards the pool of water and looked around. I was not surprised to find the remains of men and pack beasts. I looked through the torn packs and salvaged bolts of fine silk, I also took the time to alter two saddles into pack saddles.

When the drama had eaten their fill and I had filled my water bags, I saddled them. I hissed at the two wild drama who quietly hissed back. I carefully saddled them and they only turned their heads to watch me. I swung into the saddle and headed out. The land we traveled through became less arid and just after midnight I stopped in a small clump of trees.

Sin-Haree was only a few hours away and I wanted to arrive during the day.

Chapter 5

Fartoo

Sin-Haree was a city of mostly tents. I went around to the far side before finding a vacant pen for the drama. As much as they had been eating lately they would probably just go to sleep. I stripped everything off and left the saddles and packs near them. I took a few stones and the small pouch of fire stones as I called them.

The whole city was merchants, in a central marketplace I showed an older merchant one of the firestones and watched as his eyes went wide before narrowing. He looked at me craftily and asked how much I wanted. I smiled as I put it away, “What it is worth noble merchant.”

He looked at me and I glanced at the other man as he shifted, “The moment you touch the drop knife, I will kill you.”

He froze as he looked at me, I looked at the merchant as he licked his lips. Before he could say anything I turned and headed towards the only solid buildings in the entire city. There were only three, one was a large building with a lot of windows. I walked through the open door and looked around.

Around the outer edge of the single large room were tables with merchants behind them. I crossed to one with a tall thin merchant. He was talking to another merchant at the next table and glanced at me when I stopped. I saw the way his eyes took everything in before he straightened, “Master, how may I help one of the sidhe.”

I looked down at his small display of gems and dropped a single fire stone. His eyes dropped and then froze, “You are very lucky to have found a swarm stone noble sidhe.”

I smiled, “I did not find them merchant. I cut them from the bodies I killed.”

I heard the other merchants around us but watched as the merchant on the other side of the table jerk and looked up into my face. His glance took me in once more and he finally smiled, “Quirrin.”

I nodded and he reached to pick the stone up. He spent several minutes looking at it and glanced at me, “Do you have more?”

I smiled and he grinned before starting to bargain. When I walked out it was with a promissory note for supplies that were to be delivered to my drama pen. When I approached the pen there were six tribesmen standing just outside the pen. The drama were bristling and displaying their combat stances. I walked up behind the tribesman holding a long thin blowpipe.

I let a slim stiletto drop into my hand and stabbed up into his skull. I drifted past him as I drew my two swords. I sliced across the throat of one and stabbed another through the neck. I shifted sideways as the other tribesmen began to react. I blocked a sword and took the hand with my other sword.

The last two were looking around for away out as I closed. I fainted and then knocked his sword to the side before stabbing him through the gut. The last man had turned to run as I let the other man fall with my sword still in him. I pulled a small dart and threw it, the running man only stumbled slightly as he continued to run. It did not matter though, he was dead, he just did not know it yet. I looked around as people from other pens stood watching.

I cut the one man’s throat that was still moaning about his lost hand and retrieved my weapons. I hissed to the drama and went over the bars of the pen. I moved through them checking and reassuring them. It took awhile to calm them and get them to lie down. When I climbed out of the pen there were several official looking men waiting. I bowed and one stepped forward, “You are asked to leave assassin.”

I looked at him and then smiled, “I had tribesmen trying to kill my animals and killed them. Now you want me to leave.”

He frowned but nodded, “The tribes are many.”

I looked at each of them, “When I have my supplies I will leave.”

They looked at each other and then the one I was talking to nodded. It was not long before several men rushed to the edge of my pen ignoring the bodies on the ground beginning to bloat. They each had packs they set down before turning to run off. I moved to each pack and checked my supplies before saddling the drama and opening the gate.

The rocky rolling hills I headed into were called the Fartoo. The streams were small but ran clear with drinkable water. There was also a short tuff brown grass that covered everything. I saw a lot of wild goats and tall ugly looking animals that stood on two legs but had heads like goats or sheep. I stopped before it got dark and set up camp beside a small creek.

I relaxed in my half sleep while the drama sighed and settled for the night. I came fully awake at the soft shush of grass dozens of feet away. I watched as two tribesmen stalked closer in the dim moonlight. I did not know why they had chosen to make me their enemy but it was one mistake they would regret. When they slipped into camp the drama shifted in their sleep and they stopped moving.

I rose as quiet as smoke and drifted closer before they even knew I was there. I cut the first man’s throat as the other spun to face me. He hissed something in a language I did not understand and lunged with a curved sword. I turned and took a half step back before slicing his arm. I slid in as he jerked back and hissed in pain. One dagger blocked his sword as the other slid between his ribs.

I stepped back and let his body fall before kneeling and wiping my weapons clean. I saddled the drama and replaced the packs before starting off. It was a couple of hours before dawn colored the sky. The drama were growling and I smiled and hissed softly. It was only a little later that we crested another small ridge and I saw two goats eating beside a fast moving creek.

I slipped off the drama and moved closer before drawing the bow back and firing. I pulled another arrow before the first had even struck. As the first goat bleated I aimed and shot the second arrow at the other goat as it started running. It dropped to the ground with the arrow through its spine. I moved forward and knelt to cut the throat of both animals before pulling my arrows out.

I went back to the drama as they shifted and pulled their packs and saddles off. I hissed and touched the male and he rushed towards the two dead goats with the females behind him. I looked around as the drama ripped the remains apart. The huge six legged spider thing I had first encountered crossing the desert rose from a tall grassy area not far from the drama.

I stood quickly and pulled an arrow as it silently stalked towards the drama. It was only twenty paces away when my arrow struck it in the head. It spun and dropped to the ground before convulsing and screaming. The drama spun to face it hissing and then they looked towards me as I started walking. I hissed to reassure them and after a soft hiss from the male the others turned to go back to eating.

I waited until the spider creature had stopped moving and moved closer. I looked it over and glanced at the long tail. I hesitated and then cut the tail off before breaking the shell and hissing to the drama. I had barely turned when it rushed the body, I sat on the ground by the saddles and examined the tail. I smiled when I found the venom sack near the tip. I used an empty vial from my pack and carefully drained the venom into it.

When the drama were done I saddled them and started off. I continually watched around me and as I was thinking of stopping late that afternoon we came around the side of a ridge. I was looking down into a small valley with a wide fast moving creek. What drew my attention was the rock column beside the creek.

The drama hissed and I was remembering a similar rock formation before the swarm of small creatures attacked. I hung my bow as I saw them pour out of the bottom of the column. I slid off the drama and they hissed angrily as I quickly moved forward to meet the rushing swarm.

I pulled my swords and slid into the dance of blades in time to slice through the first two creatures as they reached me. After that it was a whirl of steel that spun into the ravenous beasts. I continued to kill the mindless animals until I took the head from the last one.

I looked around at the littered bodies and then at my drama. They had pulled together in a defensive fighting position and were hissing. I smiled and hissed in reassurance before walking towards them. I led them around the bodies and down to the creek before unsaddling them. I cleaned my swords and headed back to the dead. I gutted each one and found a few more of the swarm stones.

I looked at the stone column and walked towards it. Around the base were remains of many, many animals. There were also a lot of swarm remains and I picked up over two dozen stones from the ground before looking into the small opening at the base.

Around the base of the column or tower as I called it after looking inside was flowering plants that gave off a lovely scent. I collected all the flowers and buds as well as a couple of bulbs. I headed back to the drama and the wild female hissed inquiring about more food. I nodded to the bodies and she hissed happily as she started for the dead swarm. She was joined by the others before she reached the first one.

I stripped and wadded into the cold water of the creek and began washing. By the time I was done and had cleaned my clothes, the drama were back by the saddles. They had lain down content and sleepy. I made a light dinner and moved away before resting in my half sleep. I woke at the first hint of dawn and went back to the sleeping drama.

It was noon and I had stopped by a cool stream. I glanced around as the area became silent. I pulled my bow from the saddle as the drama shifted, the attack came suddenly. Six riders galloped around a nearby ridge and headed straight for me. My first arrow took the lead man in the chest and he twisted before falling under another rider’s horse.
The second took a man in the throat and he went over the back of the horse. I only had time for a third and it struck him just under the ribs. I rolled sideways, tossing the bow clear as I came up and threw two spikes.

One went into the throat of a man as he spun the horse to come back. The other went through the mouth of the man welding a spear as he galloped towards me. The third man turned the horse and tried to run but another spike struck him in the spine and he slid off his horse as it continued on without him.

I looked around and the drama hissed angrily. I hissed softly to reassure them before retrieving my weapons and the belt pouches of the six tribesmen. I cleaned everything and then swung up into the saddle. It was the next afternoon that I ran into another swarm tower. This one was larger, towering above the ridges that surrounded it.

I slipped off the drama and drew my swords as I walked closer. Like before there must be a boundary that triggered the swarm. They boiled out when I crossed it and headed towards me. This time the fight was a long one as I killed the mindless eating machines. I moved closer to the tower and as I danced, the ground I left behind was littered with blood and bodies.

It was a long time before I pulled my gory sword from the chest of a dead beast. I was splattered with blood and other things as I began the task of checking the dead or dying swarm. By the time I drew closer to the swarm tower I was already carrying three dozen of the bloody swarm stones.

The base of the tower was a huge mass of bones consisting of both animal and people, mixed in with them were thousands of swarm bones and hundreds of stones, the reddish ones I picked up. I checked the tower and then went back to lead the drama to the nearby stream. I released the drama to feed while I made camp and stripped before walking into the stream to wash.

After cleaning I headed back to the tower and the ground littered with bones and swarm stones. I spent an hour checking the stones and stopped when it started getting dark. I went back to my camp and ate a meal of dried fruit, jerked meat and a small chunk of cheese. I relaxed against my saddle and thought about the swarm towers, they almost made me think of ants.

I was up early and moving when the drama hissing grumpily. I shook my head, “It is your own fault for eating to much.”

It was only a few hours later that I knew I was being followed. Tribesmen sat on horses on the ridge tops as I went by. As the day passed there were more of the tribesmen. That evening I made camp in a dead end valley with three cliffs around me. The tribesmen had followed and lined the entire entrance sitting on horses to watch.

Finally two rode forward as I sat eating a cold meal of cheese and dried fruit. Since they were not threatening I waved and they dismounted and walked closer. One looked much older with grey in his hair and beard. He looked at me with black eyes, “You have killed many of the tribe.”

I shrugged, “When you attack someone that is something you should expect.”

He smiled faintly and nodded. The other man shifted and I glanced at him, “You do not agree?”

His eyes narrowed, “No.”
I shrugged, “Than you should find something else to do besides being a brigand.”

I looked at the other man, “Do you wish to continue your vendetta?”

He gestured to all the men behind him, “You will lose.”

I smiled faintly, “I am Quirrin. The numbers against me mean nothing.”

The old man tilted his head, “A sidhe is Quirrin?”

I waited and he turned, “Do not return to our lands clansman.”

I watched them leave and after it got dark, saddled the drama and left. I rode another two hours before making camp again. I was up early and almost as soon as we started I noticed a change. There were fewer animals and I saw a lot of skeletons littering the ground. When the swarm attacked it was sudden and at a distance from any column of stone. It was a small group of about thirty that crested a low rise and rushed towards us.

As the drama hissed and turned to face the danger, I slipped off and quickly moved forward pulling my swords. I slipped into my dance with the first slice and continued into the rushing swarm. A minute later it was over and they were dead. I relaxed and hissed at the drama to reassure them before looking around and checking each body.

I walked to the low rise but did not see a column nearby. In the same direction the swarm had come from I could see the very top of something. It was a distance off but I decided to head for it anyway, I led the drama after they fed lightly. We were attacked a few minutes later from the side.

Again it was a small swarm and I killed them quickly before checking them and moving on. Twice more we were attacked by smaller groups, when I crested the ridge and looked down at the tower I was amazed at its size. It was at least a hundred feet across and maybe four hundred feet high.

The swarm that rushed towards me was three times the size as the others. I realized this must be a very old swarm or hive and they had started patrolling away from their tower for more food. The bones around the towed had to be ten feet deep in places. I moved forward to meet the rushing swarm.

I slipped into my dance as I moved further away from the drama, pulling the swarm with me. It was a long time before I turned away from the last body as it dropped to the ground. I glanced at the drama before moving to check the swarm bodies to make sure none lived. I led the drama down to the water before stripping and washing myself.

The tower was so large I was able to bring the drama inside even though they hissed their displeasure. My next task was the careful check around the tower and through the bones. I picked up hundreds of stones and realized the swarm must kill and eat each other when there is no other food. I returned to the drama and led them out and swung into the saddle.

I headed away from the tower and stayed on the high ground of a ridge. We were attacked once a league away from the tower and then the area around us started showing signs of life. I took that to mean the swarm was not patrolling this far from their… hive. I stopped beside a large rushing river that I could not cross.
I had been thinking about the drama and knew I would have to let them go at the next city, the high pass and the cold mountains would kill them. When I started off in the morning I was headed up river. It was just before noon that I reached a high point above the river. Spanning the river was a wide rope bridge and couple of men resting beside it, they stood as I came closer.

On the far side I saw two men pick up crossbows. I dismounted and walked forward, “Good day.”

The older of the two men that faced me nodded, “A silver for each of your beasts.”

I looked at the river before pulling out a single swarm stone, “How about one of these?”

I saw the look of greed as it crossed his face and then he looked down, “I do not give change.”

I shrugged, “I picked it up off the ground.”

He looked up at that and I tossed the stone. His hand snatched it out of the air and he nodded to the other man. He turned to hang a small white piece of cloth and then moved aside. The men on the far side relaxed and set the crossbows down as I started across. They nodded when I passed them. I continued riding on a wide trail and just over the next ridge was a small town with tall walls.

I rode in and the first thing I noticed was the pens of both drama and horses. The drama were alert and hissed as we passed them. A small bright eyed man stepped out in front of me and the male I rode hissed. The man smiled and hissed reassuringly before looking at me, “You would not consider selling the drama would you?”

I looked at him and then smiled as I sat back, “And how would I carry my packs?”

He grinned, “Well, the lookout said you came from the east and are going west, so perhaps a horse?”

I gestured, “Except I do not have a horse.”

He gestured to an empty pen, “perhaps we can bargain?”

I thought about it and dismounted. I scratched the male behind the ear and led the way into the pen. I unsaddled the drama, setting my packs in the middle of the pen before walking out where the man waited. He smiled, “The female is pregnant.”

I nodded, “Do you drug them?”

He looked at me angrily, “No! Those stupid tribesmen do that.”

I glanced back the way I had come, “Do you head back to Sin-Haree?”

He shook his head, “I travel south to Tremolyn.”

I nodded, “Why do you need drama? This is not a large place…”

He snorted, “Miserable little merchant trap is what it is.”
I looked at him and he shrugged. “I bought another merchant’s goods. He came over Travelers Gap and lost all but two assistants.”

I was interested, “What happened at Travelers Gap?”

He looked at me and hesitated, “Wolves have infested the pass.”

I looked at him and he shrugged, “It should not be long before they leave and search for food elsewhere.”

I nodded and we turned to look at the drama. We bargained quietly as if there was no hurry. When we finished the drama were his and six young sturdy mares and a half wild stallion was mine along with the pack saddles. I watched him reassure the drama and feed them sweet meat before leading them away and knew they were going to a caring person.

The horses looked sturdy and fit as I checked them and saddled them. I pulled the stallion’s head down to look into his eyes, “I lead and you may have the mares.”

His ears flicked and then stood up. I nodded and saddled them before I led them out of their pen and down to the largest building in town, I tied them and walked inside. When I came out I had spent almost two full gold pieces. I slipped a bundle of arrows over a mares pack and placed another on mine. I secured the small pack of supplies on another horse and then swung up and turned to head out.

Chapter 6

Travelers Gap

I rode out following the path towards the distant mountains. I had purchased a detailed map and glanced at it until I had memorized the way I needed to go. I had thrown the bridles for the horses away and replaced them with halters. I rode slowly and the horses fed on grass as we went. I stopped beside a small stream a couple of hours before nightfall.

I placed the horses on a long picket line and ate a warm meal by a small fire. I was up with the first hint of sunlight and saddled the horses. It was noon before we passed the first real tree. I was not worried about time and continued slowly. I watched everything around us as I rode and a few hours before the sunset I saw the perfect spot to stop.

I dismounted and watered the horses from a nearby stream before leading them into the enclosed boulders I had seen. I picketed them and then went out to cut several thick thorn bushes. I used them to block the one other entrance into the boulders. After gathering enough wood for the night, I sat to eat. I stripped and went to the stream to wash before changing into clean clothes.

I started a fire in the one opening before relaxing with my bow beside me. I fed the small fire every so often to keep it going. It was late when the horses stirred, I had not really heard anything but stood and moved back towards them. I stopped when the thorn bush seemed to slide out slightly. I stepped closer and pulled my sword as I saw two wolves on their stomachs pulling on the bush.

They growled and I spun as two more wolves came passed the fire. I sliced across as one lunged towards me and drew a dagger as the other leaped. My sword cut the first wolf’s throat and I side stepped and struck up into the chest of the other with the dagger. The night quieted as any other wolves retreated into the darkness. I moved to calm the horses and then cleaned my weapons.

I pulled the bodies beyond the fire and quickly skinned them and pulled the carcass to the side. I began cleaning the skins as I relaxed by the fire. When the sun came up, I rolled up the two skins and saddled the horses. After letting them drink, I climbed into the saddle and started off with my bow in my lap. It was not long before I noticed the wolves.

They seemed to watch me as I passed but stayed at a safe distance. A single howl made the horses dance and the stallion snort almost angrily. I patted his neck and kept watch as we rode. It was noon before they seemed to disappear. I stopped beside a clear brook and let the horses drink. I filled my water bottles and swung back into the saddle.

I turned to leave and stopped as a bush that was not there before sat close beside the trail. I looked at it and then looked around before lifting my bow and fitting an arrow. The wolf fled as I aimed at the bush and howls rang out from the brush and small trees. I watched as the wolves moved away and put a hand on the stallion’s shoulder as he snorted and jerked, “They are just testing us.”

I led off thinking about what the wolves had just tried to do. They seemed more intelligent than other animals. I found a large cave an hour before the sun set and dismounted to check it. The horses snorted and at first did not want to go in but I had seen that it ended a short way in and the roof was blackened from many fires. I unsaddled and picketed the horses before moving out and looking for wood.
I saw a few glimpses of wolves as I brought several arm loads of sticks back to the cave mouth. As it started getting dark I started the fire and ate. I pulled out the wolf skins and went back to working on them, out of the night came a low growl. I smiled showing my teeth, “You do not like it, stay away.”

A huge grey furred wolf moved into the fire light to glare at me. I looked back calmly, “You do not like me killing your kind than find other game.”

The wolf lay down and watched me as I went back to work on the skin, “Normally I hunt other men.”

The wolf’s ears almost flicked at that and then he was still. I shrugged, “I think you understand me wolf. My name is Quillan. Like you, I am hunted. My clan seeks my death for leaving.”

The wolf watched as I finished one and used ash to rub the inside down before rolling it up. I glanced at the wolf as I heard the faint click of claws to each side of the cave, “So you do not care if I kill more of your kind.”

His head came up as I tossed a couple of sticks onto the waning fire. He growled and turned his head left and right before standing and walking off into the night. I kept working on the other wolf skin as I heard the retreating wolves outside the cave. I finally rolled the skin up and placed it with the other one.

I added wood to the fire before relaxing in my half sleep. I stirred during the night only to add wood to the fire. With the hint of dawn I was fully awake as slight scrapping sounds moved closer. When the wolves leaped out of the dawn’s light I was on my feet with both swords drawn, one plunging into the chest of one wolf and the other slashing sideways to cut the throat of another.

Even as they fell, two more took their place. I stabbed through the mouth of one and into the throat of another, as sudden as it had started it was over. I looked at the four dead wolves and then went to reassure the horses. I saddled them and then went back to the mouth of the cave. I quickly skinned the wolves and dragged them off to the side.

I rolled the skins and placed them on a pack before leading the horses out and climbing into the saddle. I held my bow as I headed up the trail, it was not long before I came to the huge grey wolf sitting off to the side of the trail. I stopped the horse as I looked at it, “I warned you wolf.”

It looked around and I saw others hidden in the brush. I shook my head, “How many die before you start seeking other game?”

The other wolves moved back as I started on but the grey wolf rose to trot along beside the trail. It disappeared before noon but was back in the early afternoon. A few hours before the sun set I came to a thick walled log cabin. One look inside told me it had been long abandoned. It did not have any windows but there was a back door that was barred with a thick beam.

I watered the horses before leading them into the cabin. Since the floor of the cabin was dirt I did not have to worry about the horses falling through. I glanced at the wolf before closing the door and moving to start a small fire. I cooked a hot dinner and then began to work on a wolf skin.

I heard a wolf on the roof but it was not there long before jumping down. I smiled because the roof had several feet of dirt on it and the smoke from the fire would drive the wolves away. I slept against the front door and woke early. I listened carefully before saddling the horses in the dark. The sun was rising when I opened the door and led the horses out.

The grey wolf was laying a dozen feet away and rose up. It turned to pad away but stopped at the edge of the brush. I ate some dried fruit as I rode, twice I readied my bow and pointed at a hidden wolf. I stop beside a tall waterfall for lunch and a dozen wolves lay across the pool at the foot of the falls.

I watered the horses and then led them as I ate some of the smoked meat I had bought. I absently tossed a huge chunk towards the grey wolf and it snapped the piece out of the air. I swung up into the saddle to start off again. It was only an hour later that I came to the slaughter, I shook my head and rode wide around the grisly remains. After that it was every couple of leagues that I would find more.

That night I stopped early under a large overhang. I gathered wood after putting the horses in the very back. I had just started the fire when a small group of men appeared on the trail. It looked like they had been having a hard time and a few saddles were empty. They hesitated before coming closer. A thickly bearded man was in the lead and he nodded, “Mind sharing the fire?”

I shook my head, “No.”

They led their horses in and began unsaddling while I finished making a stew with some of the smoked meat. There were six of them and they told a tale of wolves hunting them and ambushing them. They went out in pairs and brought in more wood for the fire, I let them rest while watching.

When the grey wolf appeared to lay on the other side of the fire one man started to reach for his bow. I held a hand up and tossed a softened chunk of smoked meat, “Ignore this one.”

I was working on another skin and the man slowly set the bow aside. He watched for awhile as the others sat down and ate a cold meal. I worked on three skins before relaxing into my half sleep. I woke fully a few hours before the sun came up. The grey wolf stood and turned to walk into the night. I glanced at the man tossing a few sticks on to the fire, “Get your sword out.”

I did not hear them until they drifted out of the night. They were six very large wolves that were not normal. I surged to my feet as I pulled both swords, “I have warned you enough times. Leave or I will kill you.”

The pony sized wolves were in a semi circle facing the fire. They snarled and one stepped closer, I did not hesitate and walked towards them. One lunged and I shifted sideways as I slashed through its throat. I stabbed into another’s neck hitting the spine as it leaped over its dying pack mate. The other three started to circle me but I just walked into one breaking the circle.

There was a yelp from one of the wolves as I cut at another. A glance showed an arrow sticking out behind the shoulder of one of the wolves as it turned to snarl at the men standing with drawn bows. I stepped and lunged to stab a wolf behind the ear as it turned away from me and started for the men in camp.

I spun back to the wolf I had been attacking and jerked aside. I stabbed up into its chest as it leaped through the place I had just stood. As it fell to the ground I looked around to see all six wolves dead or dying.

I looked around and then absently started cleaning my swords as the men went to calm their horses. I knelt at each wolf and skinned it before dragging the carcass away. The other wolves stayed away as I worked. I rolled the skins and packed them away before toasting bread and cheese to break my fast.

As dawn’s light woke the forest around us I saddled the horses and swung up, I nodded to the men before riding out. That day I rode through the pass with the grey wolf trotting along beside me. I saw a few other wolves but they stayed back from the trail. I also saw the remains of many men and animals.

I actually stopped a few times to check torn packs. Just before it got dark several wolves started closing in but I found a log travelers way station. Way stations were nothing more then log enclosures with a covered area to get out of the weather. I unsaddled the horses and headed out for wood.

Dark was creeping in when I returned to the entrance and two wolves growled as they slowly moved away. I left the entrance open and made the fire right there. I made a stew with smoked meat and several plants I had found during the day. I pulled all the skins out and started working on them and several wolves growled from the darkness.

I only glanced across the fire once as I worked and it was when the grey wolf came out of the darkness to lay down across the fire from me. I fished a large chunk of meat out of the stew pot and tossed it before going back to work. After that the other wolves seemed to quiet or leave. I actually finished all the skins before relaxing that night.

I started down the other side of the pass early the next morning. The stallion seemed calmer and moved with a relaxed attitude. His head was up and his ears flicked at distant sounds. I did not see any sign of wolves other than the grey one that trotted along beside us. When its ears came up and it turned into the brush I was alert and ready.

The man that stepped out of the bush in front of me wore a long fur coat. I could hear wolves inside the forest on both sides of me as the horses became alert and bunched up. He looked at me calmly, “So you are the one that as been upsetting my plans.”

I continued to look at him and he frowned, “My beasts…”

I held up a hand before letting it drop back to my belt, “Move out of my way.”

His face reddened in anger, “You dare!”

He stepped towards me and started to gesture and my hand pulled the spike and threw in one smooth motion. His head snapped back and something that looked like a black cloud enveloped him and started consuming him. I waited as the wolves around me howled and then started moving away.

The horses began to calm down as I started moving forward around the shriveled up corpse of the mage. I glanced back to see the grey wolf in the middle of the trail and nodded before turning in the saddle and the trail ahead.

Chapter 7

The Vast Plains

I rode down the trail out of the pass and watched as the tall evergreen trees gave way to the trees with broad leaves. Many seemed to have nuts of some kind, the wolves stayed far away as I made camp that night in an old way station. I used ash from the fire pit to soften and tan all the skins. I was up early and moving as the sun rose.

A few times I got distant glimpses of the plains I was heading for. I was just entering the upper reaches of the foot hills when the bandits attacked. I had seen their scout a few times and was ready. I turned the stallion as they rode at me and brought the bow up. My first arrow took the leader in the chest. The second arrow struck high and hit one at the base of his throat.

The next I hit in the belly and the two behind him took arrows in the chests. I slipped off my horse, dropping my bow as the last two drew close. A spike slipped into my hand and I threw over the stallion as one reached for the lead to the horses behind us. The spike took him in the spine and then I pulled another spike as the last bandit turned to run. The spike flashed through the air before sinking into the thief’s back.

Silence returned and I moved to calm my horses before tying them to a tree. I went to each bandit and removed arrows or throwing spikes. I rounded up their horses and added them to my own before removing bridles and putting them on leads. I left the dead lying as I rode away. It was several hours before I came to a large log building with a corral beside it.

A large man stepped out wiping his hands on an apron. He waved to the empty corral, “Put your beast in there and come inside.”

I unsaddled the horses and put my packs and saddles into a three sided log enclosure. I walked in the open door and the big man glanced back and smiled, “Nice to have visitors.”

I nodded as I looked around what was plainly a trading post, “I had several men try to rob me a few hours ago.”

He glanced back sharply as I walked towards the table behind him. When I did not say anything else he turned back to the stove, “Chased them off did you?”

I sat down, “I killed them.”

He turned to look at me and then smiled slowly, “sidhe.”

He grinned, “Good riddance, saves me the trouble. Sooner or later they try me.”

I looked at another doorway as two young men and a woman came through. They glanced at the man by the stove, “He is alone pa.”

I smiled slightly as the woman moved to take his place. The two young men joined him as he sat across from me. I watched them but looked at the older man, “do you have a map of the land west of here?”

He nodded and gestured to one of his sons before clearing his throat, “We been hearing a lot about wolves up in the pass.”

I nodded as his son brought a rolled parchment to the table, “A mage was commanding them.”

He shook his head, “Bandits and thieves we know how to deal with but magic…”

I glanced up as I unrolled the map, “He is dead now and the wolves will probable move away in search of food.”

I traced the route over the pass and then across the plains before nodding and rolling it up and pushing it across the table, “Thank you.”

He had been staring at me and reddened before smiling, “Useful aren’t you.”

I grinned as I looked towards the stove, “Do you have enough or…”

He snorted, “My son Edward brought home a bison so we have plenty.”

I nodded and relaxed as his wife continued cooking. After a warm meal I went out to check the horses. I unrolled my blankets in the log enclosure and relaxed as the sky darkened into night. The trading post was two days behind me when I rode onto the plains. There was a narrow trail heading west that I followed. The plains grass was belly high on the horses and I went slowly so they could eat their fill.

I could see antelope and herds of large beasts the trader had called bison. The trail I followed led from one clump of brush and trees to another, winding its way across the plains. I picketed the horses inside the trees the first night and made camp next to them. I had just sat down when one of the horses snorted. I stood and glanced around before moving around the picket area.

The lion came out of the tall grass with a leap. I side stepped as I pulled a sword and cut up. The lion missed me and landed with a crash. Blood was pouring from the huge slice in its throat as it spun towards me. It shook its head and staggered as I shifted on the balls of my feet. When it dropped to its belly I knew it was over. I waited and watched as the large beast fell onto its side and a few moments later it was dead.

I moved back to reassure the horses and then skinned the lion and pulled the carcass out of the trees. I made a dinner of roast rabbit and roots I had gathered while walking. I started cleaning the lion pelt before it got to dark. In the morning I saddled the horses and swung up with the bow across my lap. With all the wild game there would be plenty of predators around.

The horses took their time and snatched grass as we slowly made our way along the trail. That evening I killed one of the bull bisons that came to close and threatened the horses. That night I ate a huge steak and hung several in a brush made smoker. I went back to work on the lion pelt and then the bison’s. Over the next five days I had to kill two more bisons, one because it charged me.

It was mid afternoon when I saw the smoke ahead. I heard the distant yelling and screams even before I rounded the clump of trees and saw the wagons. There were twenty men riding around them shooting bows or throwing spears. I dropped off the horse and tied the rains to a nearby tree before nocking a arrow.

The range was extreme but easily within reach. I took the one raider that sat back from the others through the body. It was awhile before the rest noticed. I took three more before they even realized they were being attacked. After the fifth man they saw me and headed towards me fast. By the time they were halfway to me another five were dead. I took another five before tossing my bow aside and pulling two throwing spikes.

The first two men fell from their horses choking in their own blood. The last three turned quickly and leaned forward over the neck of their horses as they ran. Throwing spikes hit two men in the spine and they slid off their running horses. The last man was looking back when his horse stumble and threw him. I turned and walked to my bow, he was running after his horse when the arrow took him in the back.

I looked around and moved to the men with my throwing spikes in them. I did not bother with the arrows and gathered the loose horses grazing nearby. I swung up into my saddle and rode out to gather several other horses before heading towards the wagons. There was a small crowd waiting with maybe a dozen men in front.

I swung down by the leader I had shot and looked at him moaning with the arrow in his gut. I knelt and cut his belt to remove the long bladed knife with the jeweled hilt before standing and tucking it behind my belt. I headed towards the crowd and one man stepped out, “We thank you stranger.”

I nodded and turned to gesture to the spare horses behind mine, “I will keep a few of the mares. You might as well catch the others and take them with you.”

He smiled and nodded, “We will.”

I looked back the way they must have come, “How far to the edge of the plains?”

He looked back, “It took us three weeks to get this far.”

I sighed and shook my head, “I might as well stop early than.”

He grinned and the next thing I knew they were making camp too. I went through the horses and picked three of the best mares to add to my own. It felt strange to have all the people around me. The women seemed nice and tended the four men with minor wounds. As I started cleaning the bison hides others came to talk about the trail behind them.

I had the leader stop by with his wife. He was carrying six bison hides and set them on one side of the fire, “These may come in handy after you leave the plains.”

I glanced at them and looked back to him. He smiled, “They make a nice ground cover.”

I nodded, “Thank you.”

When I rose in the morning they were moving around getting ready to leave. I saddled my horses including the three new mares. The young stallion had been sniffing around them and was a little frisky when I put his saddle on. I swung into the saddle and glanced at the other camp as they waved and smiled before starting off.

It was the next night when I heard a slight noise in the middle of the night. I stood drawing both swords before moving into the darkness. The first lion that came out of the night was huge with two long fangs. I slid sideways as it leaped and stabbed behind the ear as it passed me. I dropped and rolled as another suddenly leaped towards my back.

I came to my feet quickly and spun to face the now crouching lion as the one I stabbed convulsed and died on the ground. I could hear my horses screaming and moving around as I began moving towards the big cat. It leaped again and I side stepped and slashed up and across its throat. I turned as it landed and then stood to walk to my horses to calm them as the lion bled out on the ground.

It took awhile to calm the horses down and then I built the fire up. I skinned the two lions and pulled the carcasses out of the trees and into the tall grass. I was not going back to sleep and started scrapping and cleaning the two hides. It was late morning when I rode around a large group of trees to find a dozen men waiting.

I had seen a couple of them watching so I was expecting it. I pulled the horses to a stop as they started forward, “That is close enough.”

They stopped but one man with a ragged looking beard grinned, “We will be relieving you of your belongings.”

I smiled, “What are they worth to you?”

He looked around at the other men and then back at me, “Your life.”

My hands flicked out and I was pulling two more spikes as the leader and another man fell. I twisted and threw a spike into a man running towards me from behind before throwing the other spike into a man’s throat that was reaching for the rains on my horse. I slipped off my horse, dropping the rains and pulling my swords. I moved into the men, blocking a chipped and rusty dagger and gutting him with the other sword.

They realized they had made a fatal mistake in stopping me and turned to run. I stabbed one in the spine and another through the back of the neck. I let the rest go and watched as they ran. I turned to clean and retrieve my weapons before swinging back into the saddle.

Late that afternoon I came to a group of trees beside a wide stream. Around the trees was a mud brick wall eight feet tall with sharpened wooden spikes angled out on the top. The thick wooden gates were open and I looked around before riding in. The group of tree only held a large roofed shed with signs of many camp fires. I unsaddled the horses and walked out to close the gates.

I left everything under the roof but put a bed roll by a tree. I woke in the middle of the night as the gate opened and several men slipped through. I stood in the shadows of the trees as they snuck towards the roof. There were only six men and they each held drawn blades. They were a dozen feet away from the shelter when I moved and one of the men seemed to stumble and fall.

The others hissed but he did not move and they stood frozen. Another spike sank into the neck of a man and he gargled as he grabbed his throat and went to his knees. They knew something was wrong and started to rush the shelter when two more spikes struck two more men. One was hit in his stomach and the other in the chest.
The last two turned to run and one fell with a spike through the back of his skull. The other tripped as a cord wrapped around his feet. I moved forward pulling one of my swords. The last man was struggling with the cord and never even looked up as my sword swept out to cut his throat. I moved to the man that was screaming with a spike in his guts and a moment later it was silent.

I pulled my sword free and looked around before kneeling to remove my spike. When I rode out in the morning the six bodies were hanging outside the gate. It was midday when I noticed the pride of lions heading towards me. I lifted the bow and aimed, one lion rushed towards the back of my line of horses and I released the arrow to strike it behind the shoulder.

It screamed and the horses panicked. I dropped off the stallion and stepped on the rains as I aimed and fired at another lion stalking towards me. I put another arrow in a rushing lion headed for the middle of my line of horses and then another in the lion behind that one. I drew and fired into a lion that was almost on top of me.

The rest of the lions had stopped and turned away growling. I moved to calm the horses before skinning the lions I had killed. The rest of the day I passed through several large herds of antelope. Late that afternoon I came to another stand of trees with a wall around it. A small group wagons was already there and invited me to share the protection with them. They were surprised and impressed when I started cleaning and preparing the lion pelts that evening.

I told them about the last walled stand of trees and the attack in the middle of the night. That made them think and they set guards. Every night for the next week I found a walled stand of trees. I killed two more of the bison but mostly I was living on the smaller antelope. I had stopped early at a walled stand of trees and planned to spend an extra day.

I killed a large bull bison and cut it up before making a smoking hut. The walls around this stand were higher than the others had been. There was a second wall around a smaller area for the horses that was higher with more sharpened stakes at the top. That should have warned me this was different.

It was dusk when the large band of men walked through the gate. A huge man with a graying bread smiled with rotting teeth, “Look what fell into our trap.”

I stood leaving my bow on my bedroll, “I will give you one warning human.”

He laughed as he looked at the twenty men, “The sidhe is warning us.”

I nodded and started moving as my hands flicked outward. Two men jerked, (one was the huge man) and then they grabbed the small darts in them, “What the hell is this!”

Two more jerked and then four. Two men fell with spikes in their throat as they all finally reacted and attacked. Two more spikes killed two more men before my swords were suddenly in my hands. I brushed a descending sword aside and gutted a man before stabbing another through the neck and ripping his throat out. The men that had been hit with the darts began screaming in agony as they fell to the ground.

I blocked an axe and stabbed through the man’s eye before spinning to slap a thrown dagger away. I parried a sword and blocked a dagger before stabbing both men in the gut. I moved away, never staying in one place. I side stepped a descending axe before slicing the man’s throat and moving towards the remaining men. The four were better dressed and carried high quality swords.
They moved apart and I shifted to face the man on the far left. He lunged and I knew they did not have experience as I brushed the sword towards another other man and took his hand. He screamed and fell back as I spun and blocked a descending blade with one sword as my other parried another. I turned the high block into a lunge as the tip of my sword dropped lower and took the man in the throat.

I moved towards the other man as the last one turned to run. The man I faced was wide eyed as he turned to follow and my sword stabbed through his spine. I left my sword in his back and pulled a spike before throwing it at the man running for the gate. After that I moved through the screaming moaning men finishing them. I was surprised when I took their purses to see they had both gold and silver.

The quality weapons I kept but I pulled all the bodies out the gates and went looking for horses. In the moonlight I found them not far from the walls, they were well cared for with good quality tack. I added them to my horses before closing the gates and relaxing by the smoking hut to think. I was up early and saddled my horses before tending to the others. I put them on long leads and swung into the saddle after packing the meat away.

It looked like wolves had been at the bodies I had left outside the gates. It was noon when I came upon a large party of armed men on foot. I drew up short and waited with my bow ready. A neatly dressed man came forward with a hand raised. He stopped in front of my horse and glanced down the long line of horses behind me, “Where did you find those horses stranger?”

I glanced at his companions, “Outside the walled way station where I was attacked by a party of men.”

He looked at me closely, “What happened to the men?”

I just looked at him and he finally nodded, “They stole the horses from my party.”

I smiled and glanced back at the horses I had found, “Go ahead and take them.”

He turned to gesture to his men and I cleared my throat, “You take them.”

He looked at me for a moment and then smiled and bowed, “Of course noble sidhe.”

I bowed my head, “Quirrin.”

He froze as he took a step, he looked back at his men and I laughed, “It is to late young noble.”

He looked at me sharply and I swung off my horse and headed back to the first horse that I had put on a lead. I undid the knot and led the string of horses back to the noble and held out the lead rope, “If you continue east you will find the bodies outside the walls of the next way station. Beware the lions and wolves.”

I swung back into my saddle and looked down, “fare well and good hunting.”

He smiled and bowed low, “And good hunting to you.”

I started forward and moved past the men as they turned to watch me. I stopped by the last man as I recognized the hilt crest of his dagger. I gestured to the last mare in line, “There is a bundle of swords on the last mare. You will find your sword with the others.”
He was young and blushed before nodding and giving me a bow, “Thank you.”

He walked stiffly to the mare and took the swords down before looking at me and nodding again, I started off and did not look back. Another walled stand of trees waited that afternoon and I sat by the small fire. The small man slipped through the gates after it got dark and moved slowly towards the fire. I kept working on the bison hide, “What took you so long?”

He squatted across from me, “I was not riding a horse.”

I smiled, “You are getting old Edger.”

He grinned, “What is your target kid?”

I shook my head, “I left the clan.”

He grunted, “So there are two of us.”

I glanced at him, “You are hunting the trade route?”

He laughed, “No. I was heading towards the coast.”

I shook my head, “Not wise. They will send at least one master if not the Quirrin Master.”

He jerked, “You pissed them off that bad?”

I shrugged, “I killed Master Jim.”

He sucked in a breath, “Not good youngling.”

I smiled, “He did not give me much choice.”

I turned and pulled a large pouch close before tossing it towards him, “Swarm Stones. I would go north or south.”

He looked at me and then grinned and stood, “Good hunting youngling.”

I watched him walk away and smiled. Edger had been a minor master that had taught me all about working with animals. He had just disappeared one night and left no trace of where he had gone. I finished what I was doing and let the fire die. I was up early and riding away before the sun was completely over the horizon. Every night for the next week I used walled stands of trees.

When I rode off the plains and into foothills a large town with tall wooden walls was my first stop.

Chapter 8

The Kingdom of Elgon

I rode into the walled town and everyone watched me closely. I stopped in front of a dry goods story and dismounted. I pulled each horse up and secured them to a hitching post before finally turning to go into the store. I moved toward the grain and dry goods and nodded to the old woman sitting beside a long wooden counter.

A couple of tall men stepped into the store and silently walked to stand beside the woman. When I carried everything to the counter the old woman smiled, “sidhe.”

I shrugged and opened my pouch and she laughed, “One gold piece, lord Sidhe.”

I looked at her, “A little high isn’t it?”

She nodded, “With all the thieving going on, it will likely cost more soon enough.”

I nodded and set a gold piece on the counter, “There were several sets of thieves on the plains.”

I looked at her, “I am afraid they will not be returning.”

She grinned, “Now, that is good news.”

I gathered everything and she nodded to one of the men who walked out ahead of me. I moved to one of the horses with the smallest pack and put everything away. I untied all the horses and swung into the saddle before heading towards the gate at the other side of the town. The hills were covered with trees and the signs of game were everywhere.

It was a few hours before dark, I stopped beside a stream and picketed the horses. I knew there had been watchers and ignored them. As the sun got lower, a man rode out of the trees and sat his horse looking at me, “May we share your fire?”

I smiled and nodded and he turned to gesture back at the trees. I was a little surprised at the number of people that rode out and swung down. They seemed to just keep coming and my camp quickly grew. I looked around as another fire flamed to life. Several men headed towards the stream with large buckets. Women moved around and before I knew it the smell of food filled the air.

The man that had asked to share my fire cleared his throat as he squatted across for me. I looked at him and he smiled, “You are not from around here. What Clan do you claim?”

I looked at him carefully, “I no longer have a clan.”

He frowned, “Clan is everything.”

I turned as a woman came to the fire and started placing pots and pans around it. I looked back and the man smiled, “sidhe. All sidhe have clans.”

I shrugged, “In my country they are called Travelers, but I have never been part of their clan.”

He just looked at me, ignoring the women that moved around the fire. I sighed, “I was a master in the Quirrin clan.”

He jerked as if I had just hit him and the women stopped what they were doing. I smiled, “I see you know what my clan was.”

He gestured and the women went back to work, “You said was.”

I shrugged, “I did not wish to kill for money.”

He nodded, “Honor.”

I sighed, “To protect the clan is one thing but…”

He nodded, “beware the Kingdom of Elgon. The clans here have many enemies.”

I shrugged, “I will not take sides unless attacked.”

He tapped his chest, “I am Craig, leader of the Cnoss clan.”

I nodded, “Lan.”

It was just before dawn that my eyes snapped open. I rolled out of bed ignoring the clan around me and the dying fire. I looked into the forest and turned to pick up my bow, “Craig.”

The whisper was more than enough since his eyes were already on me. I nodded to the forest, “someone comes with many horses.”

He hissed as he shifted away from the woman and suddenly a dozen men were on their feet. His hand gestures in the dim predawn light were swift and they nodded before moving away. When the hoard of horses charged out of the shadowy forest I was ready and began shooting arrows. The first was a big man in the lead and then the next man beside him.

The Cnoss clan seemed to find shelter before the riders could harm them and the other men Craig had warned began shooting arrows. Soon the raiders were turning to escape. When quiet returned a couple of women built up the fire as I moved to check my horses. Only two horses from clan Cnoss were injured and they were not hurt that bad. The only ones injured or killed were the raiders.

As I saddled the horses and packed up, a warrior brought my arrows to Craig who came to return them, “You are a worthy companion Lan.”

I smiled and accepted the arrows before checking them and then replacing them in the quiver. I swung up into the saddle and nodded to Craig before riding off into the morning. I rode and began thinking about what I had been told. First I knew I would have to avoid all the clans or I would end up fighting most of them.

I stopped at noon to water the horses, I was not going fast so they were eating the tall grass beside the trail. I glanced across the stream as two men walked out of the trees. They hesitated before continuing with the buckets they carried. When I started off again I was waiting, the four men that attacked an hour later never even reached me.

I put an arrow through the chest of each one and looked at the one standing next to a tree watching. He frowned and then turned away as I started moving again. That night I set up camp in a thicket after watering the horses. After cooking a rabbit, I put the fire out and moved into the shadows to one side. I relaxed into my half sleep and woke to sounds outside the thicket.

There were only two ways into the thicket and I could see both. Six men moved into the cleared space in the thicket. They were silent and from the bare knives I knew this was not a peaceful visit. I threw two poisoned darts and the two men I hit jerked and yelled, “ATACK!”

I threw two more darts and pulled two spikes as a torch flared to life. My horses were screaming and starting to panic when I killed the last two men. The other four men had begun to stumble around like they were drunk. I ignored them as I moved to calm the horses. After I had them calm I turned to the six bodies and moved to check them.

I pulled them to one opening before putting the sputtering torch out. When I rode out in the morning a man was back in the forest watching. I looked at him but he did not say or do anything. I rode into a small farming community that afternoon and decided to stay the night in the tiny inn. I was able to talk to several men and they drew a map for me.

The next day I rode out listening to their warning to stay away from the crazy clans. Unfortunately I ended up riding into the middle of one later that afternoon. They actually seemed to ignore me as I rode along beside them. When I swung away to stop for the night they paused and the next thing I knew they were setting up camp beside me.

It turned out the clans knew all about me and what I could do. They still ignored me as I cared for the horses and made a meal. I cleaned up and leaned back against a saddle and let myself slip into my half sleep. I rose an hour before the sun and saddled my horses. I packed up and swung into the saddle before riding away as several men watched.

Later that morning I saw the movement ahead of me on the trail and pulled the horses to a stop. Not that they minded, they drifted to the side of the trail to rip up the greener grass. I watched and waited with my bow in my lap and finally three men appeared and looked down the trail at me. The stared for a moment before another appeared leading horses. They mounted and turned to ride into the forest.

I rode out into a larger farming lane later that day. The houses beside the large fields were more like large walled forts. It was almost dark when I reached the small city of Elgon. It to was walled and the guards at the gates hesitated before allowing me to enter. Just inside the gate was a large tavern. I put my horses in the small corral and fed them. My packs went into a small stone room with a lock. The room in the tavern was small but comfortable.

At first everyone in the common room was quiet but they finally started talking again. As I ate a hot meal I asked if anyone knew how far it was to the next town. That earned me silence before a large breaded man turned to look at me, “Its two days away and two separate clans are between here and there.”
I shrugged, “I am not part of either clan.”

Everyone laughed and a thin man that looked like a farmer snorted, “Those stupid clans do not care unless you are part of their clan.”

I smiled and ignored their looks, “Is the road between here and there good?”

The breaded man snorted, “You will not have trouble with the road, it is overgrown but sound. The trouble will be the damn clans.”

I finished eating and stood up, “thank you.”

I was up early which earned me a smile from the innkeeper’s wife as she set a large bowl of porridge on the table. When I rode out several farmers watched me and shook their heads. It was not long before a man on a horse rode out of a small clump of trees and blocked the road. I pulled my horses to a stop and he came closer, “This is clan Bedal’s territory.”

I smiled, “I am only passing through.”

He shrugged, “Only clan Bedal rides here.”

I leaned forward, “I am riding through. If you or your clan wish to stop me they will die. This is a common road through this kingdom and I intend to use it.”

He sat back and his lips thinned, “Than you will die outsider.”

I smiled, “Clan Quirrin are born knowing they will die.”

He jerked and his eyes went wide as I started my horses forward and pushed past him. They had been right back at the inn, the road was extremely overgrown. The horses loved it though and I kept the pace down so they had a chance to eat as we traveled. I spent the night in a grassy turnout that had a large fire blackened pit in the center.

All day riders rode along on one side or the other. The sun was just finished setting as three older men rode in. They looked at me and then swung down and walked towards the fire. The oldest had a grey bread. They warmed their hands and the young one looked at me, “Turn back or we…”

I came to my feet, my swords sweeping out as I dove and rolled. Two arrows stuck in the ground where I had been. I sliced sideways as I passed the men and disappeared into darkness. One of the older men went to his knees with blood pouring from his neck. Now it was a time of silent hunting in darkness. Only, unlike them I could still see as I moved through the trees.

The first I came to was two bowmen, I stepped into them and cut out with both swords. As I moved away they were screaming as their bowels poured onto the ground. The next set was a swordsman with another bowman. I cut the swordsman’s throat and stabbed the bowman in the stomach before disappearing. One group after another I attacked, always leaving at least one man screaming.

The last two men standing were the two older men left by my fire. I walked out of the darkness and knelt beside the body of the one I had killed. I cleaned my swords as they held their swords in clutching hands. I gestured to the darkness, “If I see even one of your clan I will take you all, GO!”

They backed into the darkness and I swiftly packed and saddled my horses before swinging up and riding away. I rode until midnight and then set up camp again. The next day several men rode along beside me but at a distance. It was late afternoon when I rode into a small farming community. In the middle of the village was a small building with two men in two different uniforms.

The building was in the street and as I approached they got off the stools they had been sitting on.

Chapter 9

My new home and a new family

It turned out to be a customs post. I shook my head at the two and headed down the street to a small tavern. I took care of my own horses and then tossed my bedroll in with the saddles. The tavern did not have room and any guest just slept on the floor in the common room. I was able to get a hot meal before joining my horses for the night.

I guess by then the rumors from the clans had reached the village. Men avoided the tavern and I did not see any women. I was up early and riding out as the morning sun was just starting to come up. This kingdom was more open with large fields of grain. As I rode I also saw orchards and even a vineyard. That was something I had only heard about.

I rode through small villages and large farming compounds. That night I camped beside a stream that ran between a large field of corn and an orchard, it was peaceful here and I liked it. I ran into patrols of men each day. They looked for bandits or highwaymen but did not bother me. A week later I rode down into a wide valley with the biggest city I had ever seen sitting beside a wide slow moving river.

One thing I noticed unlike the rest of the country was the area around this city. It was mostly fields where cattle grazed but what drew my attention was that there were no houses outside the city walls. The only building outside the wall was a large stone building not to far from the gate. As I got closer I saw the old signs of fire and ruin.

The building was old though and something about it seemed to pull at me. I sat my horse and looked at it as other traffic walked or rode around me. Beside the huge old building was another with a half collapsed roof. It was made of field stone like the first building but by the look was a large barn. The corral looked strange until I realized the wooden posts and cross bars had turned to stone.

I grinned and swung out of the saddle to look around. A tall well dressed guard walked out of the gate and headed towards me. I looked in the barn and shook my head at the stone stalls. I turned towards the building as the guard caught up with me. I had just stepped in the empty doorway and looked at the large pillars and stone beams still in place. I glanced at the guard as he grinned, “It was once a great tavern.”

I laughed, “This was a great hall once.”

I gestured to the thick still standing walls, “They show no decay. It needs only floors, windows and a new roof.”

He nodded, “I come to look sometimes. The upper floors must have been something to see, the windows were wide and open. There is even a spring in the old kitchen.”

I glanced at him and then looked around making up my mind, “Would this place be available?”

The guard laughed, “Outside the gates?”

I looked around, “It looks safe enough.”

He snorted, “The sidhe migrate through here every year and creatures always follow, like drakes or dragons.”

I shrugged, “This is a sturdy building.”

The guard looked at me and then grinned, “You are sidhe.”

I smiled, “In my land they were called travelers, I was raised in a clan though.”

He nodded and looked around, “Well, if you need help, let me know.”

I started walking through the rubble and into the back of the building. I was surprised to find the kitchen area almost completely intact. The pantry was intact as was the huge bathing and washing room. I glanced at the ceiling wood and shook my head at the way they had turned to stone like the fence outside. I went out a back door and moved my horses into the overgrown corral before unsaddling them.

I moved all the packs into the stone barn and made camp. I filled a pouch with swarm stones and another with gold before heading towards the gate. It was not hard to get directions to the city property clerk. He was a large overweight man that sneered when I walked in. I walked to the counter in front of him, “I would like to inquire about the ruins outside the city walls.”

He spit across the counter and to one side, “I do not sell to sidhe scum.”

I smiled slightly, “My name is Lan and I was a Quirrin master.”

The fat man stopped as he was getting ready to spit again. He swallowed and looked at me with fear in his eyes, “I am sorry if I offended master.”

I waited and then leaned on the counter as I set a single swarm stone on the counter, “the ruins.”

He looked at me and then his eyes dropped to the counter and froze, “That is a swarm stone.”

I nodded, “I want the ruins and all the property that comes with it.”

He looked at me and reached under the counter. He brought up a large ledger and started flipping through the pages before stopping. He looked up with a wide grin, “You are in luck master. The ruins belong to the city and for a small fee…”

He looked at the stone on the counter, “they and fifty acres will be yours.”

I looked at him for a minute longer and then tossed a single gold coin onto the counter, “No more.”

He swallowed and bobbled his head, “give me one moment master.”

He began scribing in the book and glanced at me fearfully, “You said your name is Lan?”

I sighed, “Quillan.”

He hesitated and then looked down as he scribed my name in the ledger. He finally stopped and pulled an elaborate scroll out and started on it. When he finished he place a large blot of hot wax on the bottom and pulled a statue from under the counter. He placed it on the wax and pressed down. When it was done he handed the scroll to me and smiled weakly, “Welcome to Draconus master.”

I took the scroll and read it before rolling it up and turning to the door. I stopped at the door and looked back, “The next time we meet, it would be wise to remember what I am and not who.”

I walked out and headed towards the center of the city and hopefully someone that could provide workers. The huge marketplace was filled with people and smells. Many hurriedly moved out of my way as I walked through. I only stopped once to ask directions and the woman timidly told me where I needed to go.

I had bowed politely and turned away as a lad hurried into the booth. I walked away but heard her, “Did you see that? He bowed to me.”

I smiled and a few feet away my smile vanished as the crowd thinned and a large cage stood revealed to me. My growl had men and women near me turning to move away. I stalked towards the cage and a tall oily man came around the side of the cage, “Are you interested in my…”

He froze as he looked into my face and swallowed, “Master Sidhe how may I serve?”

I looked at the young pregnant sidhe woman and the small sidhe girl, “By telling me why you have my people in a cage.”

He took a step back, “master, her clan directed she be sold as a... whore and the girl with her.”

He was looking around hoping someone would come to his rescue. The large armored man that followed him seemed to be what he needed because he straightened, “I think you need to leave sidhe scum.”

I flicked a tiny dart that struck the large man in the forehead. He snarled and took a single step before beginning to convulse and dropping to the ground. The whole area around us cleared quickly as I looked up from the man dying on the ground, “Listen close human, I am a Quirrin master. You will release the woman and girl to me and you will do it now or you will join your friend.”

The man nodded hastily and spun to the cage door, “Of course master.”

As the woman slowly climbed out, the girl helped her and tried to stay as close to her as she could. I looked at the human slaver, “If I see you in this city again, it will be the last time.”

He swallowed as he backed away and then spun and ran. I looked at the woman and girl, knowing I had just made them part of my life and sighed, “Come.”

She nodded but did not look up as she started walking. I turned to continue on my way but slowed so they could keep up. I had not gone far when several guards appeared. I only glanced at them as I turned in at the large stone mason shop. I walked to the pile of cut stones where a short stout human stood, “I would hire workers.”

He glanced at me and then at the guards behind me, “For what?”
I smiled, “Do you know the stone ruins outside the walls?”

He grinned, “Yes. Very good stone work that.”

I nodded and set the bag of swarm stones on the cut stones near his hand. He looked at me and then turned to open the bag and look inside. He jerked and looked at me, “Where did you get all these?”

I shrugged, “I cut them out of the beasts that foolishly attacked me.”

He swallowed and carefully poured the gems onto the stone. He looked at me in amazement, “All this for…”

I smiled, “Repairing the ruins, both the hall and the stable.”

The man stuck out his hand, “Deal!”

I looked at his hand and took it in my own, “Your name?”

He grinned, “My friends call me Cutter.”

I nodded, “Will you come look at what needs to be done?”

Cutter nodded, “Let me grab a few of my crew bosses and we will come out.”

I turned to the guards by the large door, “Do you require something?”

One that was better dressed cleared his throat, “You killed a man.”

I smiled as I started for the door, “He should not have threatened me. A Quirrin master does not take that well.”

They looked at each other and stepped back. The finely dressed one cleared his throat, “Still a death is serious…”

I opened my pouch and tossed him a single gold coin. He looked at it in surprise and then grinned, “Thank you master, this will cover his death.”

They walked away and I glanced at the woman and girl again, “Are you hungry?”

The woman hesitated and then nodded, the girl continued to hide half behind the woman. I led them out and for the next half mark went from shop or booth to shop or booth. When I led them towards the gate they were both holding a large collection of bedding, clothing and other items. Cutter was waiting beside the ruins as I approached. I gestured towards the barn, “Wait in there.”

The woman nodded and led the girl towards the distant barn door. The next hour was spent with Cutter and three other men walking around the hall and barn. When they left Cutter was grinning, “See you in the morning lord sidhe.”

I shook my head and turned to the barn, I found the woman and girl waiting beside the stall with all my things. They were kneeling and had their heads down, I sighed and sat in front of them, “My name Quillan. You may call me Lan. What are your names?”

The woman looked at me, “I am called Winter’s Song.”

She looked at the girl, “this is my sister, Flower’s Bloom.”

I smiled, “how about Song and Flower?”

She bowed, “Yes master.”

I sighed and stood, “Come look at our new home.”

The next couple of hours were spent just walking through the ruins of the hall. I even helped little Flower up to the flower above. Song stayed on the lower floor but I walked around upstairs with Flower. It was surprising to find two large rooms turned to stone like the floor. The ceiling was gone but the rooms still looked good. When we returned to the stable Song quietly began searching through my things. I stopped her, “What do you seek?”

She kept her head down, “Supplies to make your dinner.”

I turned to my packs and pull everything out. I put everything dangerous together and looked at Song and Flower, “What is inside these would kill you, do not touch.”

Song nodded and I looked at Flower, she nodded and I gestured to the doorway, “Go play Flower.”

She looked from me to Song who nodded slightly. I watched her leave and sat to watch Song, she was the first woman of my race I had ever met and there was something about her. She moved with grace as she put food together and looked around. I smiled, “What do you search for?”

She looked down, “Someplace to start a fire.”

I stood, “Come, we can start one outside.”

She started gathering everything as I stood and walked out. I sent Flower looking for sticks for the fire as I made a fire ring. Song seemed to make it seem easy, both in starting the fire and cooking dinner before we ran out of wood. After dinner I smiled and stood, “now we need to find some place to bathe.”

Flower whispered and Song smiled softly, “Flower said she saw someplace.”

I looked at the shy girl, “Show us where?”

I did not expect the stone tank to hold clear cold water. It was behind the barn and stood twelve stones tall and twice that across. What surprised me was the stone pipe with water spilling out and into the full tank. Near the top another stone pipe let water flow out of the tank to drop into a smaller tank only a few feet tall and wide. Song smiled as she ran her hands through the water.

The water did not over flow the tank and I glanced into it to see a set of holes around the top edge that water poured through. After washing up I glanced at the gathering darkness and led the way back to the barn. In the stall Song had already spread the bedding out in the back next to mine. It was different having someone lying beside me.

An hour after we had laid down Song shifted and I tensed but all she did was put her head on my shoulder and sigh softly. The feel was like nothing I had ever felt and I was confused. I do not remember falling asleep and woke suddenly as Flower touched my shoulder, “Can I go to the bathroom?”

I lowered the dagger I held and shifted out from under Song, “Yes.”

I lit a small piece of candle and led her out and to a small stone building that was beside the stone hall. It was completely intact and I set the candle down, “Call me when you finish.”

She was shifting back and forth on her feet but nodded as I left. Having someone else to care for was going to take getting used to. The following days seemed to fly by as each day a huge crowd descended to rebuild the hall. Song went into the city each day to shop for food and gradually Flower became less shy. The one thing I was slowly getting used to was Song. Each night she would snuggle against me and put her head on my shoulder.

A month after Cutter started, they finished the Hall and started on the barn. I sold the horses by then and moved everything into an upper floor room of the Hall which was now a large tavern. I used a pouch of gold to shop for furniture and new equipment for the kitchen. When I was done I handed the pouch to Song, “Find supplies for the tavern.”

Chapter 10

Fire Drakes

Flower crossed the floor with the tray of food and set it on the table. The four guards grinned and one slipped her a coin before she turned away. She came back towards me with a huge grin on her face. I smiled and glanced at the two older girls that moved around the room serving a smooth sweet ale I had made. Everyone seemed to like it and they sure seemed to like Song’s cooking.

My eyes went to the door as the guard commander stepped in. He looked around and smiled before crossing the room. Several guards called out and a few of the traders nodded. He stopped next to me and looked back before looking into my eyes, “Fire Drakes have been spotted on the far side of the city.”

I looked across the room, “and?”

He smiled, “They will move around the city like they have in the past. Anyplace with people will be attacked.”

I glanced at Flower on her way to collect dishes from another table. I looked at the commander, “will the guards try to do anything?”

He shook his head, “The drakes will stay outside for a few days and then continue on their way. The city lords will not risk sending people out.”

I looked around at everything I had accomplished before sighing, “I will take care of it.”

The commander blinked, “What?”

I looked at him, “I will kill the drakes.”

He looked at me as if I was crazy, “But they breathe fire.”

I smiled, “Than I will have to avoid their breath.”

I moved away from the bar and headed up the stairs. The black clothing I wore was special because it did not burn. I placed my weapons carefully and then pulled out the small vial of poison. One by one I coated the tips of several arrows before putting the poison away. When I walked back downstairs most of the people were gone. I smiled at Song as she stood in front of Flower and the two new girls, “stay inside until I return.”

She nodded, “May the girls return to their homes?”

I glanced at the two and nodded before turning towards the door. I began a slow jog around the outer wall of the city. My eyes continued to scan the ground far in front of me. I was half way around before I slowed and watched a fire burn a little ways out from the wall. I knelt and slipped into the tall grass before moving closer. When I was a hundred paces away I placed an arrow on the string of my bow.

There were two animals that almost looked like drama except they had wings and narrower tails. From the size of the wings I doubted they could actually fly. They were at least as tall as a horse and twice as long. The fire came from the grass around the burned body of a cow. I watched and slowly pulled my bow back as I took carefully aim.

The release of the arrow was almost secondary and then I was putting a second arrow in the bow. The drake I was aiming for screamed and roared fire as the arrow sank into its eye. The other drake spun and roared as it searched for me. I released and pulled another arrow as they suddenly started charging. My second arrow slammed into the drake’s nostril and it jerked up with a bellow of rage.

The first drake stumbled and fell to its knees as I dropped back into the grass and began moving away. I could hear the roars and fire began to burn the green grass. A couple of minutes later I heard the answering roars of two other drakes. I looked through the grass at the first two. One was on the ground convulsing and the other was spasming as it staggered around.

I quickly moved away from the city wall and towards the direction the other two drakes were coming from. I was in a shallow ditch when they rushed past. I went to my knees and pulled the bow back as one slid to a stop with its nose in the air. I released and dropped down as the arrow struck in the ear hole. The drake screamed and roared as it rushed in my direction.

I dropped flat as it went right over me and the other unhurt drake began roaring fire. I lifted slightly to see the last drake looking around and its head froze. I knew it had seen me and came to my feet as it roared and rushed me. The other drake was already staggering and I ignored it. As the last drake shot a stream of fire at me, I dropped and rolled to one side before coming to my feet.

I pulled a small poisoned dart and threw as the drake leaped. I quickly moved sideways before leaping. I came down on top of the drake and grabbed its neck as it went crazy. It spun and tried to reach back to bite me but I slid down onto its opposite side. I pulled a dagger and stabbed down into the spine between its shoulders as I came back up onto its back.

As it screamed and dropped to the ground I sprang away. I rolled and spun back to face the drake as it screamed and convulsed on the ground. I moved around carefully with another small poisoned dart and then threw it into its eye to kill it so it would not continue to suffer. I went to retrieve my bow before heading back to the first drake.

I was at the second drake pulling out the arrow when something made me look back. I dove over the drake and rolled as fire exploded against it and the area where I had been standing. I came to my feet and threw a dart before diving aside. Another spray of flame washed over the area I had been in. I came to my feet with a dagger in my off hand.

A drake lunged towards me and I stabbed the dagger through the ear hole. Its momentum knocked me back and I rolled aside as it collapsed. The other drake was right there and its long snake like head struck towards me. I rolled straight back and stabbed up through the bottom of the head before rolling aside and coming to my feet. It was shaking its head as the other drake spasmed and convulsed on the ground.

I moved to the side slowly and it hissed before sucking in air. I spun and took a couple of running steps before diving over the dead drake. I scooted back against the body as flames washed over it. The flames cut off and I came to my feet quickly to see the last drake shaking its head and staggering around almost blindly.

I leaped to the top of the dead smoking drake and then leaped out towards the staggering drake. I came down on the neck and back and stabbed into the neck with the dagger. Even as I rolled off, the drake was crashing to the ground.

I moved back and looked around before going back to collecting darts and arrows. I barely glanced at the city walls as I began the long walk around and back home. When I walked in the front door Flower rushed to hug me tightly. Song walked to me awkwardly and embraced me, “We were worried Quillan.”

I squeezed Flower and kissed Song’s cheek, “Let me change and put these clothes out to be washed.”

The crowd of people that night was huge and stayed half the night.

Chapter 11

A visit from Relatives

Song’s daughter was born in the early morning and Flower spent most of her time with Song and her daughter I had named Autumn Sky. It was strange for me because before a week was out she was back to cooking and often she would just come out and put Sky in my arms, “she is restless.”

For being restless she was always calm for me but holding the child in my arms felt comforting. The guards seemed amused when she did it. I had hired two young homeless boys to care for my stables and they often helped in the kitchen. Flower was the darling of the people that filled the tavern. Every afternoon she would sing as she cleaned tables and the place would always fill up.

I was rocking Sky in a wooden cradle, Flower was singing as she worked and the tavern was full. The tall sidhe that stepped into the doorway was followed by two others. He was staring straight at Flower and frowning. I knew as he started walking towards her that he was trouble. I stood and started across the floor as everyone turned.

When he reached Flower she was just turning from the table she had been cleaning and his hand reached out to grab her. Mine closed on his wrist and I spun him to face me, “You do not touch her.”

His eyes met mine and widened before he tried to yank his hand free. It did not budge and the two other sidhe hissed and put hands to swords. I smiled, “You pull a blade in my house and I will kill you.”

They froze and I released the one I held, “There will be no violence in my house.”

He looked at a frightened Flower, “She was to be sold as a whore!”

I nodded to the door, “She is my daughter now. Leave before something happens to you.”

He looked me up and down, “You have no idea what my clan...”

I laughed and pointed to the door, “Fool, I was raised in clan Quirrin. What is your clan to me?”

He was still, “Quirrin?”

He looked at the two others who looked frightened. I nodded to the door, “leave.”

He spun and headed towards the door and the two others followed. I glanced at Flower, “Stay with someone while you work and never be alone.”

She nodded and I turned to see Song in the kitchen doorway. A guard cleared his throat, “If the sidhe clans are here there will be others.”

I shrugged, “Unless they bother my custom it is not my concern.”

The tavern filled for dinner and Flower was calmer. One of the stable boys poked his head in the door and crossed to me quickly, “A dozen sidhe are here. They are caring for their own horses.”
I nodded and he left quickly, a few minutes later the group of sidhe walked in. They chose a large table and sat. One of the serving girls took their order and left. They looked around and one by one they began watching Flower. I gestured when she looked at me and she crossed the room, “Father?”

I smiled, “sing something for me?”

She smiled and nodded before turning. She began a soft song as she walked through the tables. The room went silent, everyone knew this was a treat, Flower seldom sang in the evenings. I watched the sidhe and they smiled softly. When Flower stopped singing the room broke out in clapping. She grinned and bowed before turning to pick up her cleaning rag.

The room went silent suddenly as one of the sidhe stood. He crossed the room to stand in front of me, “I am Herald of the Sky Clan.”

I bowed my head slightly, “How may I help you?”

His eyes narrowed slightly, “You are sidhe?”

I shrugged, “I am Quillan.”

He sucked in his breath, “Quirrin!”

I smiled, “Once but no more. Now I am only the master of this tavern.”

He looked at me and then turned to point at Flower, “She was taken from her family.”

I glanced at Flower to see her with Song by the kitchen door, “Flower was sold by a sidhe to a human. She was to be made a whore for the humans.”

His eyes widened, “You lie!”

I smiled as the whole table of sidhe stood, “I have no need to lie. The one that sold her was here this afternoon.”

He glared at me and then looked at Flower. His eyes took in Song and he gasped, “Winter’s Song!”

I glanced at her and back to him as he spun to face me, “She was a maid promised to the Clan chief!”

I shrugged, “She was sold with the girl and pregnant. She is my mate now and Flower is my daughter.”

He turned as the other sidhe crossed to him. He stood silently before turning back to me, “We will return to talk of this more.”

It was late, I had closed up and the few guests staying with us were sleeping in their room. I caressed Song as she lay half on me, “They spoke of you.”

She lifted her head and then put it back on my shoulder, “I am your mate now Lan.”

I caressed her, “The other ones will try something.”

She only nodded and I sighed, “go sleep with the baby and Flower.”

Song looked into my face before slipping out of bed. I rose and dressed carefully before slipping into the shadows of the tavern. They moved well but not as well as a master of the Quirrin clan. I took the first by the low stone wall between the stable and the tavern. The second I took in the shadows of the kitchen. The third and forth I took in the common room and the last two I took as they entered my room.

They were bound and gagged when they woke, which was amazing. All six were in the tavern yard and I was placing the last of six posts in the ground. Two of the six had been with the first sidhe that had come into my Tavern. One at a time I put them against a post and tied them, I also added a cord around the throat. I stood in front of them, “If you struggle the cord around your throat will tighten.”

I looked at the six glaring sidhe, “For your trespass upon what is mine I will brand each of you. If you ever return and I see you, your life will be forfeit.”

I ignored their threats and shouts as I build a small fire. I used a thick copper wire I twisted into a glyph before attaching it to a stick. I heated the wire and moved to the first man who glared at me. I smiled and stabbed the glowing brand into his forehead. He screamed as I pulled it back and went back to the fire. One by one I branded each man before putting the fire out.

I ignored the two guards that came to see what was happening and sat facing the posts to wait. Song appeared after the sun had come up and handed me a plate of food and a cup of my favorite tea. She ignored the sidhe tied to the posts as I ate and took the plate and cup when I was done. A few minutes later two dozen sidhe arrived on horses. I waited as the horses milled around and then the sidhe swung down and started for the posts and I stood, “Leave them.”

The Hearld swung down as the sidhe hesitated. He drew a sword as he walked towards me, “No sidhe will be treated this way.”

I smiled as two daggers dropped into my hands, “My name is Quillan and this is my house and clan. Those that trespass and attack me or mine will receive MY justice.”

The Herald hesitated, “Trespass? Attack?”

I nodded, “These came to my house with weapons drawn.”

He stopped a few feet from me a frowned, “Why?”

I shrugged, “What matter is that to me? They will stay where they are for one day and then I will release them. If they return, I will kill them.”

The other sidhe hissed but the Herald nodded and sheathed his sword, “May I approach and speak with them?”

I slipped my daggers back into my sleeve, “Yes but do not touch them.”

He turned and walked to one of the men in the middle, “Who sent you?”

The sidhe looked at him defiantly and the Herald pulled a thick studded glove from his belt. He looked at me and I shrugged, he turned and slapped the man across the face hard, “Who!”

The man did not answer and the Herald turned and walked towards his horse, “Leave them!”

They swung up on the horses and turned to ride towards the city gates. Those that came to the tavern were nervous. I watched and waited and around mid day the band of sidhe returned. Unlike the others they smiled as the boys took their horses and slipped them small coins. Flower soft voice drifted out of the tavern and across the yard.

The Herald walked to me and I stood, he nodded to the men, “The clan chief will be here soon to judge these. He also wishes to have words with you.”

I smiled, “Winter’s Song is making something special for dinner.”

He looked towards the tavern, “He wishes to speak with her also.”

I looked at him, “If she wishes she may speak with him.”

The Herald looked at me and then nodded before heading towards the door with the others. It was a couple of hours before another large party of sidhe rode in. A powerful looking sidhe swung down and absently handed the reins to one of the boys and slipped a silver coin to him. The other sidhe followed as he crossed to me, there was something about him that seemed to hold my attention.

He seemed to take in the details as he walked and finally stopped in front of me. He looked me in the eye and his widened as if in recognition. He shook his head, “I was told you are Quirrin.”

I smiled, “Once. Now I am the master of this tavern.”

He smiled and glanced at the tavern, “A sidhe?”

I shrugged, “A man.”

He looked at the men against the stakes, “I came to speak to these.”

I glanced at the others, “They can stay where they are.”

He turned and gestured before walking to the sidhe tied to the stakes, “Who sent you?”

They shifted but did not answer and he finally turned to face the crowd of sidhe, “if these return to the clan they are to be killed.”

The men against the stakes hissed but the others nodded. He walked back to me calmly, “Now, the woman Winter’s Song. I was told she is your mate and has born a child?”

I smiled, “Yes. She was pregnant when I took her from the human.”
His eyes narrowed, “And she was to be sold as a whore?”

I nodded and he looked down, “She disappeared the night before we were to be paired.”

I shrugged, “Look to one of your own.”

He looked at me, “may I speak with her?”

I glanced at those against the stakes and walked down the line cutting them free, “leave.”

I walked towards the front door of the tavern and the Clan chief walked beside me, “I am called Kalib.”

He looked at me as I held the door for him, “You look familiar.”

I gestured and he stepped in ahead of me, I crossed to my table as the room quieted. Kalid sat across from me as his men filled the rest the room. Flower crossed to set a tankard of water in front of me. She smiled and looked at Kalid before looking down. He smiled, “hello clan daughter.”

She moved over beside me, “The clan forsook me and sold me to be the humans whore. I am Lan’s daughter now.”

Kalib’s face darkened, “Thieves took you young one.”

Flower trembled and I caressed her face, “Who took you and brought you here?”

She looked at me and bit her lip, “The clan heir.”

Kalid stood suddenly, “You lie!”

The room was silent as she moved completely behind me. I turned and pushed her towards the kitchen, “Go help Song.”

She ran towards the kitchen as I turned back to Kalib, “You will mind your manners or leave.”

He frowned and finally nodded, “My apologizes.”

I nodded and gestured, “Sit. Flower told only what she knew or thought she knew.”

He looked away and I looked at the door as Song stepped out and looked at me. She glanced around and straightened before shifting her daughter on her hip and crossing the room. She ignored all the whispering as she handed her daughter to me and bowed to Kalib, “Lord.”

He looked from her to young Sky as I held her, “You ran away?”

Song snorted, “I was taken by your brother. He said it was at your orders.”

Kalib opened his mouth and I shifted. He stopped and looked at me before nodding, “And the father of the child?”
She smiled, “You Kalib.”

His eyes widened and then narrowed, “How do I know?”

I laughed and held Autumn Sky out, “Hold her.”

He looked at me for a long time before taking the baby. His expression softened and he cradled her against his chest, Song leaned against me as he finally looked up. He smiled and slowly held her out to Song, “She is my daughter.”

Song smiled and took Sky before looking at me, “Dinner is almost ready.”

She crossed to the kitchen door and the serving girls began moving around the room. Flower carried a large tray to our table and set two plates down before turning. Kalib sighed, “Flower’s Bloom.”

She turned to look at him as she trembled and he smiled, “I am sorry for frightening you. What was done was not done for the clan.”

He looked at me, “If you wish to remain with this one you may.”

She bowed before turning to walk back towards the kitchen. It was barely a minute before I heard her singing in the kitchen and then Song’s voice joined hers. The common room quieted as the haunting melody filled the tavern. The serving girls moved through the quiet room easily and the few men and the sidhe only smiled. It was a little later that the outer door opened to admit the sidhe that had first come to the tavern.

Flower was singing as she cleaned tables and Kalib was absently rocking Sky as we talked, mostly about what I remembered of my life. I stopped talking as six other sidhe stepped into the room with drawn swords. I slid off my chair and started walking, “Put them away or suffer the consequences.”

Kalib’s voice further silenced the room, “What are you doing brother?”

The tall sidhe sneered, “taking what should have been mine!”

A couple of sidhe stood as both my hands flicked and then twisted before tossing two more darts. Two of the sidhe by the door gasped as tiny darts hit them. By the time the others had looked two more were hit and I was throwing two more as I reached the tall one. He jerked out a sword as I shifted sideways and slid past the sword as it came out.

The others began screaming as the poison took effect and I stopped moving. My right hand held the tall sidhe’s head tilted back and my left held a dagger against his throat. His eyes widened and he let his sword drop. The other sidhe that had stood were surrounded as Kalib stood and crossed the room, “I would have never believed you would betray the clan.”

The sidhe snarled, “That old fool had no right to another woman let alone one from another clan. I would never follow a half breed clan leader.”

Kalib stopped in front of him with a frown, “What are you talking...”

Kalib looked at me and his eyes widened, “It was you that stole the heir and killed Sapphire!”

The sidhe tensed and I moved around behind him as I struck behind his knee. He dropped to his knees as I yanked his head back, “He took Flower and Song and give them to a slaver.”

The sidhe gasped, “I was meant to lead!”

I looked at Kalib before cutting the sidhe’s throat and dragging his body past the twitching corpses of his men. I pulled him out to the gateway into the tavern yard. I tied his body to a pole and turned to walk back to my tavern. Kalib looked at me when I walked in but I ignored him to begin pulling the other bodies out.

Several other sidhe moved to help me and when I finished Flower was washing the blood that had been spilled. Kalib had moved back to my table and I sat across from him. I looked at the quiet room, “My clan, my laws. No one draws blades in my house without facing my judgement.”

He smiled, “It saved me from having to kill him myself... nephew.”

I looked at him and he shrugged, “My... brother admitted killing your mother and taking you. How you got to...”

He shook his head and I sighed, “It explains a great deal.”

Kalib glanced at Song as she came to hand me Sky, “She is restless.”

I smiled as she walked back towards the kitchen and absently began patting and rocking Sky, “She is never restless with me.”

Kalib snorted and then laughed as he stood, “Care for my daughter nephew. The clan moves tomorrow. We must stay ahead of the other clans to reach our winter lands first.”

Chapter 12

Dragon Minor

After the sidhe left everything returned to normal. The guards and other guests seemed to delight in watching Flower as she began to sing more. The few times Song joined her the tavern was always full with people standing around the walls just to listen. Flower even taught me a song and they seemed to listen to me as well. Of course they delighted in watching Song hand her daughter to me to get her to calm down.

It was a few months after the sidhe left that other news began. It started with word of a dragon minor in the western farms. Soon fewer people came as reports began telling of the dragon attacking the city walls and a few times inside the city. I was rocking Sky when the council walked in the door. Flower only glanced at them as she sang a soft lullaby that had grown men nodding.

They crossed to me and one opened his mouth. I nodded to the small cradle on the table and he stopped before whispering, “We want to hire you.”

I looked at the other men as Song walked out of the kitchen and joined Flower in her lullaby as she crossed the room. She hugged me and gave me a quick kiss before lifting Sky out of the cradle. She walked back towards the kitchen as Flower finished singing and then the door closed on the final note. The room stirred and Flower laughed a silvery laugh that made everyone smile.

As she began a lively song I nodded to the council and master Cartier cleared his throat, “we want to hire you to kill the dragon.”

I smiled, “It has not bothered me yet.”

They looked at each other and master Cartier sat in one of the chairs, “It is causing great damage and has killed dozens of people.”

I sat back and listened to Flower as the room full of men clapped and stomped their feet. I finally nodded, “not for money. You will owe me and my tavern a debt.”

They nodded hastily and I stood to walk towards the kitchen. Song was cooking and glanced at me when I came in. I waited and she looked down, “You will go after the dragon minor.”

I nodded, “It would come here one day.”

She nodded but did not look up and I crossed to her and turned her head, “I will take care.”

Song smiled and caressed my check, “Do not think of that. Do what you have always done.”

I smiled and nodded before leaving and going to our room. I opened my pack and pulled out a small vial. I left the tavern and headed into the city. By now the people knew who I was and nodded or greeted me. I stopped at a weapons stall and bought a spear. Next was a blacksmith shop where I used a rag to coat the spear blade and burn the rag.

The latest stories had the dragon sleeping in one of the warehouses. It took awhile to reach the area of the city with warehouses. Very few people were here except soldiers blocking the street. I saw the caved in ruin of a warehouse and started towards it. One of the guards stopped me and whispered that it had only been in there since early last night after eating a horse and a couple of people.

I stopped before entering to cover my mouth and nose with a thick scented shawl. I slipped into the ruined building silently and waited in the shadows for my eyes to adjust. The dragon was several times the size of a horse and reminded me of the beast outside of Amgree. This one had wings though and was smaller. I moved the spear until I held it at the very butt.

I slipped closer like a shadow and had almost reached the dragon when its head turned and its eyes opened. The head struck without warning, like a viper. I rolled to the side and came to my feet to thrust the spear into the closest eye. I yanked it back as the dragon roared and gas began filling the huge warehouse. I moved as the dragon stumbled to its feet until I was on the other side.

The dragon was searching for me as it began smashing crates and wooden boxes. I tossed a broken board across the space and the head snapped around and shot out. I lunged and stabbed the spear through the other eye before rolling backwards and away. I silently moved around as the roaring dragon stumbled and crushed everything near it.

I lunged in as the dragon turned its head to listen and stabbed through its ear hole. I dropped and rolled as the dragon spun and swept over me with a large clawed foot. A huge cloud of hot gas exploded out of the dragon and started to fill the warehouse. I came to my feet and moved back and finally out of the warehouse.

No one was on the street, not guards or soldiers. I crossed to a large horse trough and put my head in the water. I squatted and waited as the dragon continued to crash around inside the warehouse. I had lost the spear in the dragon’s ear hole and looked around. Down the street by the soldiers barricade was several spears laying in the street.

I walked to them as the dragon continued to rip the warehouse apart. I walked back as it started to get quiet and moved to the far side of the opening into the warehouse. I shifted into a half crouch and waited with the new spear. The dragon emerged with a rush but I was ready and leaped as I thrust the spear forward.

I was slammed sideways as the spear went into the dragon’s good ear hole and it roared. I rolled away and came to my feet as the dragon staggered and thrashed back into the side of the warehouse. I shook my head, the poison should have already killed it. I looked around and moved over to pick up a large piece of rag.

I looked around for a small stick and carefully wrapped the rag before pulling out the vial of poison. I watched the dragon as I carefully poured the poison on the rag. I moved around until I was in front of the dragon and then threw the stick when it roared and dove to the side. I was surprised when the dragon seemed to swallow and then raise its head as a huge explosion jerked its head.

The head dropped to the ground smoking and the body went with it and began to twitch. I waited until it went still and moved closer and listen for a heartbeat. I finally straightened and turned to start walking home.

Chapter 13

A Treasure Found

Young Henry, one of my stable boys ran into the Tavern, “MASTER LAN!

I turned from helping Flower with a large tray of dishes, “Henry?”

He swallowed, “Peter fell into a hole in the barn.”

I straightened, “What hole?”

Henry looked a little wide eyed, “The one a horse broke in the floor.”

I started moving quickly, “get me a rope.”

I came into the barn to see a small hole in the floor in front of the first stall. I knelt and looked down, “PETER!”

“I am okay master Lan!”

I could see him standing in what looked like a stone floored room. I laid down and put my head in the hole to look around. The walls were old cut block stones and there were stone torches on the walls. I could make out what looked like rubble blocked stairs leading up and on the other side a doorway. I glanced back as Henry brought a rope from another stall.

I made a loop and lowered it down into the hole, “Put the loop around yourself.”

I stood and braced myself as Henry looked into the hole. He looked at me and nodded, “he is ready sir.”

I pulled the boy up and out until he was laying on the barn floor. I glanced back at Song standing in the barn doorway and smiled, “Peter, why don’t you go with Song so she can check you.”

He reddened and stood dusting himself off, “Yes sir.”

I looped and tied the rope around a stone pillar and moved to the hole. I sat and put my foot in the loop while holding the other rope. I slide down and started letting the rope out lowering myself. When I reached the floor I stepped out of the loop and released the rope. I knelt and looked around carefully before going to one of the stone torches.

I could smell the old oil they had used for the torch and glanced at the open doorway. I walked to it and looked out. It was a small landing with stairs going down. I glanced toward the bottom of the doorway to see a thin piece of rotting cord. I turned and walked back to the hole, “HENRY!”

He face appeared looking down at me, “Master Lan?”

I smiled, “Bring me a lantern. Use the rope to lower it.”

“Yes sir.”

A moment later he was lowering one of the small storm lanterns. I turned and went back to the doorway and knelt. I looked at the landing stones to see a couple raised slightly. I stood and carefully stepped over the old cord trip wire. I moved to the stairs avoiding the two floor stones. I checked each stair as I began going down. I had to step over three before I reached the bottom.

The bottom of the stairs was at least fifty feet below the landing. It ended in what looked like a huge hall with stone fireplaces at each end. I could see across the hall from the stairs and there was another shadowy hallway. I knelt to look at the cut stone floor and realized most of the stones were tilted slightly or raised. I drew out a piece of chalk and started across.

I used the few stones that were lower and even. I kept stopping to squat and mark each stone. I looked down the hallway when I reached it to see thin barbed spears on the floor. I could see several old rotten cords that had broken so I knew they had been tripped. I grinned as I unwound a light cord from my waist and pulled out a dagger.

I tied the cord to the dagger and careful leaned out of the hallway. I threw the dagger down the hall and several spears slammed into the walls as old cords broke. I started pulling the dagger back and more spears started hitting the walls and small darts began hitting the floor around the dagger. Once the dagger reached me I threw it down the hall again.

I did it three time before carefully moving down the hall using only the stones I knew were even. Along the way I checked the walls carefully for hidden doorways. At the end of the hall was another landing at the top of a spiraling stairway. I moved to the far rail and looked down into darkness. I turned and knelt to look at the first few stairs.

One look and I knew just about every other stair was a trap. I looked at the rail and smiled before carefully moving onto it. I started down slowly checking the rail as I went and the stairs beside me. I also looked at the wall across the stairs, I could see the small holes for spears. Again the stairs seemed to descend about fifty feet before ending.

I looked at the floor before slowly standing on a stone. The room I was in faced the same way as the upper hallway, it was like a small entryway. I used my dagger and cord again to clear a way through to the other doorway. When I was done I was still carefully selecting the stones to step on as I moved across. I looked out on a huge throne room with tattered banners on the walls.

Along each wall was niches that the banners had once hidden. I checked carefully but did not find any traps. I still moved carefully into the huge room and along the right wall. I slipped into the first niche to stare at stone shelves and small pedestals filled with elegant jewelry. On the back wall was a sparkling set of chain armor with a slim jeweled sword and a sliver filigree crown.

I backed out and moved to the next niche to find it full of similar things. One after another I checked each niche. When I was done I went to the large throne. Sitting in the throne was a skeleton with a long dagger through its chest. I stood and looked at it carefully before moving to the left (its right) and bent to look at rows of small stone levers. Even when he was dying he had pulled them.

I reached out and moved the levers before looking around. I heard slight grating of stone before it became quiet again. I turned and moved back to the entryway and began checking the traps. They all seemed safe so I started checking up the stairs. At the top I checked down the hallway and then I began to check the huge hall with the two fireplaces, they were blocked of course.

I checked up the stairs and the landing, ignoring the boys calling my name. When I was done I walked back to the rope, “I am fine.”

I glanced up at Song’s worried face, “Come down Song. Put your foot in the loop and I will lower you.”

She looked doubtful but sat and did as I told her. I held the other rope and slowly lowered her, “You boys wait up there until I come back.”

I took her hand and held up the lantern as I led her to the landing. She was looking around wide eyed, “Our people once lived in great halls under ground.”

I looked at her as I led her down the stairs. She stared at the huge hall before grinning at me. I led her across and down the other hallway and then down the spiraling stairway. I led her into the huge throne room and she looked around, “no one has been here in a very long time.”

I nodded and started taking her to each of the niches. She was silent the whole time until I led her to the throne and the skeleton. She looked and then sighed, “This is the lost king. He died alone as all the sidhe princes left him.”

I led her back to the hole and helped her up through it before climbing up myself. I helped Peter and Henry cover the hole before walking back into the tavern. Over the next few days I had Cutter and several of his men check and shore up the ceiling of the room beneath the stable and clear the stairway up so that it came out between the stable and the tavern.

I explained that it was a tomb and Cutter was more than willing to place a strong stone tomb above and around the stairs with a thick door.


Chapter 14

The legend returned

It was a couple of weeks after the tomb was finished that fleeing people reached the city. They spread rumors of a huge dragon attacking and burning farms in the north. From the reports we knew it was slowly heading towards the city. There were old legends of real fire breathing dragons that spread quickly. Since the city still had the recent memory of the dragon minor they were more than willing to believe the stories told.

The description of this new dragon was much larger than the other dragon. The first attack came two weeks later, the dragon flew low over the north wall and breathed flames that melted even the stones of the wall. It dropped into a marketplace and grabbed a large draft horse before leaping into the air and flying away. The city council did not wait and came to me.

The tavern was packed as I fed ground up food to little Sky. Flower was singing as she cleaned tables and Song was echoing her as she leaned against me watching her daughter eat. The room was silent as I joined the melody and continued to feed Sky who liked listening to music or singing. I glanced at the door when the council came in but continued singing.

As our voices drifted away the men and women began to talk. I wiped Sky’s mouth as the council walked towards me and lifted her out of the handmade chair one of the customers had made and given me. I gave her to Song before turning to the men as they stopped. I expected them as soon as I heard about the dragon attacking inside the city.

This time I asked for my tavern to be exempted from the city taxes. They did not even hesitate and agreed. After they left I went into the kitchen, Song turned from the stove and smiled, “they want you to kill the dragon.”

I nodded and she sighed, “we will be waiting.”

I went up to our room and took the last vial of the only poison I thought might work. I slipped my short swords on before leaving. I stopped at a weaponsmith and bought a couple of long spears. I went to the marketplace the dragon had taken the horse from and looked around. I stopped one of the guards, “this square needs to be cleared. The dragon will return here when it get hungry.”

The guard looked around before calling to another guard. I walked across the square to a farmer selling a large oxen and started bargaining for it. I was not surprised when everyone almost panicked and fled the square after the guards spread the word that the dragon would return. I cleared the center of the marketplace and staked the oxen out with food.

I applied the poison to the two spears and sat to wait. The day stretched out and then the night slipped upon us. The sun was just rising when there was a cry from the distant wall and someone began beating an alarm. I was right, the huge beast came over the wall and right back to the marketplace. It landed and snatched the oxen as I stood and threw the first spear.

It hit the dragon’s eye and it screamed as it went to its back legs. It breathed a huge stream of fire as it roared and I ran towards it as it turned and crouched. I jumped and landed on its tail behind it rear quarters as it leaped into the air. I held on as the dragon continued to roar and breath fire while climbing higher. I barely held onto the spear as I started crawling hand over hand up the back of the dragon.

I was between its front shoulder blades when it twisted its long neck around and struck. I rolled to the left as I held onto a scale with my left hand. I jabbed the spear with my right hand into the dragon’s mouth and struck its forked tongue. The dragon screamed as it jerked back its head and dropped towards the ground. It spun and twisted as we fell and I rolled to the right and held on.

Our landing was more a crash as the dragon roared and spewed fire. It started to roll and I quickly stuck the spearhead between two scales covering its spine. As the dragon rolled onto its side I began slipping and angled the spear. The dragon rolled onto its back and there was a moment as the spear held it up. I rolled against the side of the dragon already on the ground.

The spear bent and then slammed through the dragon’s hide and into its spine before shattering. The dragon continued to roll but I was already free and coming to my feet. I ran straight for the head and pulled a short sword. The dragon was thrashing around and bellowing and I stabbed through its remaining eye before rolling aside and back. I ran towards its tail as it roared and spewed flames everywhere.

The huge dragon spasmed and kept jerking but the spear had cut the spinal cord so it could not move. Since I was by the tail I was safe from the flames. I glanced at the city walls in the distance and squatted to wait. It was a long time before the poison from the two spears took effect and the dragon stilled. It was growing dark when I moved and walked around until I was behind the dragon’s head.

I looked closely before slipping the point of a sword between two scales. I used all my strength and slammed the sword through at the base of its head and worked it back and forth. I worked all night like that and as the morning sun began to rise I finally managed to remove the head. I walked back to the city and brought back a wagon and Cutter with several of his helpers.

We put the head in the wagon and he took it to my tavern as I started the difficult task of skinning the dragon. When I was finished I cut it open and looked for a gizzard. Inside were a dozen huge fist sizes colored diamonds with hundreds of smaller ones. Cutter helped me put the rolled up skin in the wagon and I went home. I gave Cutter and his helpers some of the gems since they had been the only ones willing to help me.

Over the following weeks I cleaned, tanned and the mounted the dragon. I curled it up in front of the tavern. We had a lot more custom after that with people slipping coins into a large stone fountain Cutter had made beside the dragon.

Chapter 15

The Sidhe Host on the move

The tavern was half full of evening diners. Flower moved through the crowd easily to remove dishes or mugs as she sang. I was singing a counterpoint to her song as little Sky held her fist to her mouth and kept yawning as she fought to keep from going to sleep. I glanced at the door as three sidhe entered. They looked around and stared at me before moving to a table.

One of the serving girls went to take their order as Henry slipped out the kitchen door. Her crossed to me and I leaned over so he could whisper in my ear as I continued singing, “there are hundreds of sidhe camping all around us.”

I nodded and looked at the door as several more walked in, “watch the horses.”

I straightened and gestured to the other serving girl and she opened the kitchen door. Song walked out wiping her hands and picked up the lullaby as she walked towards me. One of the sidhe stood and reached out towards Song and I stood. Flower moved towards me quickly as the room fell silent, “let her go.”

He smiled and shifted to finger the handle of his dagger. I shifted and gave Sky to Flower, “you wish to face true death? Very well, I am Lan formerly of the Quirrin clan.”

I started towards him as people moved out of the way. The sidhe shifted and his friends stood, I barely glanced at them as I reached the arrogant sidhe and continued to move. He was totally surprised when I moved to the side smoothly and grabbed the hand holding Song. I yanked it back and twisted before bending it and bringing it back and down.

He screamed as his wrist snapped and he was slammed to the floor. I moved and twisted his wrist as I kicked out into the closest sidhe as he pulled a dagger. My kick struck true and his leg snapped back and he screamed and went down. I looked down at the one on the floor and started to snap his neck with my foot.

“HOLD!”

I shifted and turned to see a dozen more sidhe at the door. I looked down at the one at my feet before letting him go, “if I see you again you are dead.”

I turned to face all the sidhe, “this is my place. You will not touch those here.”

The sidhe that had spoken stepped forward, “we are not used to a lowly tavern keeper telling us what to do, not even one who is of our people.”

I looked at him carefully, “I am a Quirrin master who wishes peace. If you or anyone disturbs that they will pay dearly.”

I gestured to Song who had moved to Flower and her daughter, “Winter’s Song is my mate, touch her and I will kill your clan.”

The sidhe looked at me for a minute before nodding. He looked at the sidhe on the floor, “leave, go north and scout the way to the summer lands.”

He looked around, “we will honor the peace.”

It was several minutes before everyone began talking and most of those that were regulars left. Song kept her daughter with her and Flower moved carefully as even more sidhe came in. Word had spread but many kept watching me. When the elder sidhe walked in, it went quiet. He ignored those around the room and headed straight towards me.

He did not wait for an invitation and pulled out a chair and sat. I looked at him for a moment before gesturing to Flower. She moved through the tables, “father?”

I smiled, “water and a meal.”

She looked at the sidhe before nodding and turning to head towards the kitchen. I sat back and glanced at the elder, “well?”

He smiled, “you are much like your father, but tempered.”

He looked towards the door as more sidhe entered, “these city people fear and loath us but are more than willing to take our gold.”

I shrugged, “if you act badly people will despise you. Business is business.”

He smiled, “and you?”

I looked at him as Flower came out of the kitchen, “if you act badly here I do not care if you have gold.”

He grinned and then laughed and sat back. I gestured to him when Flower arrived and she slipped the tray onto the table. I pulled her beside me, “it is to quiet and still, sing something to sooth the beasts and calm the animals.”

She smiled, “you always say that about our guests.”

She turned and thought before beginning a song that brought instant silence. I watched as she let the music fill her and began moving through the tables. The elder leaned forward to listen as did every man in the room. The room almost breathed the song in and exhaled music that sank into the soul. Song stepped out with Sky and her voice began a counter point to Flower’s song.

It was but moments before the front door opened and sidhe women began walking in. Their voices joined Song’s as they moved along the wall and more women and then girls followed them. When Flower stopped she was back at our table and smiled, “I think that worked.”

I smiled but the elder laughed and stood, “come visit our camps and we can...”

I held up my hand, “I think the sidhe need to see and feel something they have lost.”

I stood and reached for Song’s hand before taking Flower’s. I looked at the elder sidhe, “send for all the clans.”

He stood slowly and looked at me almost warily, “why?”

I started for the door, “Because it is time the clans became one again.”

I stopped and turned to look at him, “we are called sidhe.”

He grinned and laughed as he strode after me, “what do you propose?”

I gestured, “bring the clans and I will show you.”

He barked orders and several sidhe ran as the others stood to follow us. I led them out and around to the tomb of the lost king. We waited for almost an hour as more and more sidhe gathered. I finally turned and unlocked the tomb and pushed the door open. I looked at Flower and Song, “a song.”

Flower was wide eyed but Song barely shifted before starting a song of passing. It was picked up quickly by the other women and I led the way in and down. Soon the song filled the air and each sidhe breathed it in. In the great hall they spread out until it was filled and then I started on. By the time I led them into the throne room they were all singing as if they knew what they would find.

I crossed straight to the throne and knelt. As the sidhe slowly filled the room they made room and knelt. Finally I stood and turned as the song died, “I know not why or who killed the king. I know only that he was left here alone. My mate has said he is our lost king and that may be true. What I do know is the sidhe are no more than nomads blowing in the wind.”

I looked around, “They say we are the oldest race but the clans act no better than wild beasts. It is time we had direction and purpose.”

I looked at the elder and a moment later he stood, “you propose?”

I smiled, “I propose the clans speak together once more.”

He looked around before gesturing and clan leaders stood. I gestured to the wall niches, “each of these tell me of the clans. Perhaps this place will remind you of the past you lost.”

I reached for Song’s hand and then Flower’s, “remember those that went before and created what we are.”

I led the way out and left the sidhe around the king. It was quiet when we came out and Song squeezed my hand. I sent her and Flower in as I started around the inn and stood looking at the sky that was so different than the one I grew up looking at. The shifting sounds of the night changed and I moved smoothly to the side and into the shadows.

Sidhe rushed me with daggers and I moved into them. I turned and grasped a wrist before twisting and snapping it back and around into his stomach. I pulled and side stepped to pull him into another sidhe before letting him go. My hand struck out and into the throat of another to crush his windpipe. I back stepped and brushed a lunging dagger away before catching the hand.

Twisting and pulling, I yanked him against me and shoved the dagger into his heart. I spun and twisted to avoid a striking dagger before moving into the sidhe. I twisted his arm to spin him as my left hand went around his head and grasped his chin. I let his arm go and grabbed his head and twisted and there was the familiar pop as the neck snapped.

I looked around at the bodies and glanced towards the tomb. These had been the sidhe that had first entered the inn, all except the one sent noorth anyway. I stayed in the shadows until the sidhe began to emerge. They saw the dead and moved towards them as I watched. When I moved out of the shadows the old sidhe looked at me as his eyes narrowed.

I glanced at the others, “I told you I am a Quirrin master. These returned to attack me and that is not a wise thing to do.”

The elder looked at the men on the ground, “so much for your fine...”

I stepped towards him, “arrogance? Do you not see what comes from that?”

There was a murmur and he looked at me, “and your boost about being a Quirrin master?”

I sighed, “it is not a boost, it was meant as a warning.”

He snorted and then nodded, “and in our arrogance we chose to see it as a boost.”

I shrugged, “sidhe are old but not alone in that.”

I turned away, “find a place to make your kingdom and show the world what being sidhe means.”

Chapter 16

The Quirrin Master

The sidhe stayed for two weeks before leaving. Everyday many would go down to look at the old king. After they left things returned to normal and a few months later Winter’s Song was pregnant again. Every time I saw her she seemed more beautiful. Flower was learning to cook and was spending more time in the kitchen. She took the time to come out and move through the room as she sang though.

Sky was growing and actually staying awake longer. We had a lot more women coming to eat with the men so the atmosphere was calmer. Winter was almost over when he came, the room was crowded as Flower and Song sang together when I felt his presence and looked at the doors. He stepped into the room and his eyes swept the room before locking on mine.

He crossed the room as I turned to put Sky in the cradle on the table. The Quirrin Master sat across from me, “you should have continued to run.”

I smiled, “I was not running. I left to seek a true home.”

He looked around, “the clan is your home.”

I looked into his eyes, “you are assassins that take money to kill. You sell your honor and thought to use me to make more.”

He shrugged, “true but you owed us...”

I stood, “I owed the clan for what was given and left instead of killing all for the lies and treachery that was done. You refused to acknowledge me a full master when you knew there was no other but you that could face me.”

He stood, “and that is why I have followed, to judge and sentence you to clan death.”

I gestured to the door, “than let us go out into the night. Clan business is clan business and not for outsiders.”

He smiled, “you have until the midnight hour to face me Lan.”

He stood before looking around the now quiet room. He glanced at me before turning to walk out. I sent everyone home and pulled Song out of the kitchen before giving her instructions in case I did not return. I knew the master would not just be waiting, I also knew where. I went to dress carefully and sat to think and let my mind center.

I stood at the midnight hour and smiled at Song and Flower before walking out. I walked to the tomb and opened it before starting down. When I entered the throne room it was dark and silent. I let my senses reach out as I took a step and brushed a thrown dart away with a dagger, “you can do better master.”

Silence answered my statement as I moved to the side and began circling the room. I deflected another dart, “you have become lazy.”
I kept moving and ignored and slight sound across the room as I turned and slipped a knife into my other hand. My dagger blocked a striking dagger and I sliced the forearm that held it before sliding back and sidestepping, “sloppy.”

I brushed two more darts away and moved after him as he faded back. I paused and then silently drifting into the darkness using the stealth I had master. I stopped to listen and shook my head when a dart hit the wall several paces away. It was several minutes before I struck out and stabbed into the master’s side before moving back. I continued to move around silently and stopped to one side of a niche.

It was a long time before I felt him drifting close. He moved as if to enter the niche and I sliced across his arm cutting deep. I slipped back into the darkness and moved away, this time I stopped in the opening to a niche and waited. It was a couple of minutes before I felt the master. He slid to one side and sliced to the side of the niche and I slid in to cut his inner thigh before sliding back and away.

This time I moved to another niche and then out into the dark room. It was several minutes before I felt him again. He drifted between me and the niche before I heard the dart strike the niche wall and then the wall on each side of the entry. I slipped closer and stabbed in and out before moving sideways and back. He spun with a hiss and threw several darts before going silent.

This time I moved to the entry into the room and to one side. It was a few minutes before the master tried to move past me towards the way out. I moved in a quick strike and my knife struck his spine below the neck and above the shoulders. He dropped to the floor and there was silence. I squatted beside him, “you should have let it go.”

He gasped for air, “kill me.”

I shook my head, “you will die soon enough.”

He cursed, “KILL ME!”

I looked into the darkness where his face was hidden, “A clan with no honor will not survive.”

I shifted and reached out to slid the blade of my dagger in under his ear and up into his brain. I stood and quietly walked out without looking back at the man that had been my mentor and father. When I walked into the tavern Song was waiting and walked into my arms.
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