• Chapter Five: Blood in the Fountain

    Laeon walked somberly alongside the others as they left Jason behind in the map room. He was reliving in his mind the moments when the accursed stalker had bested him and taken on of his fangs. YoU fAiLeD! the voice within him shrieked. It was his own voice. The 'Rogue's Nightmare' was foaming at the mouth in the back of his mind where he could not reach it. He felt like an old alleycat: worn out by time and trial and clawless.

    Fangless!!! he fumed inside himself, No not fangless. He gripped the hilt of his remaining dagger tightly, I have one fang left, and, if necessary, I'll dig it into my own chest to kill the one who took my other fang.

    "Laeon?" a voice said questioningly behind him, and he spun around his eyes darting wildly. Lily stood there her face a picture of shock and sadness. Laeon regretted his inward monologue and sudden reaction. His face contorted in the pain she must feel.

    "Lily, I need you to leave me alone. I know these words must hurt you, and they hurt me too, but I'm in no state to be the object of anyone's attention. Be it through pity or otherwise. I don't want to hurt you worse than I am now so I'm asking you to leave me be," He looked at her and she nodded. Good she understands, he thought as they entered the dinning room where their dinners were already sitting covered on the large table.

    The atmosphere was that of a funeral throughout the meal. Laeon didn't like it at all. He ate his food and didn't complain, but it was beginning to eat at him the way they were all walking about defeated this way. Finally he could no longer stand it. He got up mumbling some excuse for leaving that nobody heard, but they didn't dispute it either.

    Laeon went first into the armory. Slipping past the guards was no difficulty for the skill at assassination he had burried beneath the nightmare. We looked through the weapons till he found a dagger that was of acceptable weight and size to counterbalance his remaing fang for now. He looted an entire knife drawer so that he could have a little backup to his fang and dagger combo.

    The next step was more difficult. Laeon had to let Jason know what he was doing without letting himself be stopped. He realized that if he went off without telling Jason about what he was doing Jason's plan would suffer and all would be lost. He could not risk that for his own selfish desires.

    He entered the map room to see Jason frantically scratching notes on a sheet of paper at one of the desks. As he approached Jason looked up and smiled.

    "I have a plan Laeon I'm just putting the finishing touches on it now. Would you like to look over what I've got? I could use the extra in-" Jason cut off when he saw the look on Laeon's face. Jason lowered his head then looked over at the sketch of the rogue's compound.

    "Jason, I have to do this. There's nothing left to me, but to do it," Laeon said backing a solid tone with eyes set as if frozen by the icy realization that what he was saying was true and what, in the end, it implied for him.

    Jason didn't shake his head, or slam his fist in denial, or say anything to try and stop him. Instead after a long moment of silence his smile returned and he said, "Well then? Cursed well better get going because if you don't we'll be sure as death's call to beat you to it you numb, blinded fool."

    Laeon returned the smile and a few oaths himself and hurried out of the compound. Jason may play-act that he's not much more than lucky, but that cursed boar of a mapmaker is the smartest village brat I've ever met myself included, he thought as he raced out to the east and the compound.


    When people began to wonder where Laeon had gone Lily simply continued to eat and drink-wine for once she needed it-and took some small amount of pleasure in watching the others start to fret over the once-assassin. Shortly before everyone would have gone into a complete frenzied panic-herself excluded-Jason showed up with several rolls of parchment and canvas cloth.

    "Jason, have you seen Laeon anywhere?" Martin asked as the questioned person began spreading the papers out on one end of the table.

    "He's gone ahead of us. Before you start getting mad, excited, or otherwise negatively influenced I'm going to tell you that I told him to go. If he gets there before us it'll work out perfectly. If we beat him there then all the worse for him though I plan to give him time to beat us there," Jason finished spreading the papers and called them all to come and have a look while he explained his plan.

    "While I was looking over the sketch for the rogues' compound I noticed a few key details. First off these three dominant buildings. I'd say that the two that are closest in size are the barracks and the mess. This third dominant building is probably the commander's manse or the keep where the stalker would be residing. Next I'll draw your attention to the more important detail. This cluster of smaller buildings and this circle here. These are more than likely the more utilitarian buildings like storerooms, private chambers, and most intriguingly holding cells," the room nodded as they began to ponder what he might say next and he waited for someone to come up with the pertinent question.

    "What is the circle that all these buildings are clustered around?" Lily finally asked.

    "Good, at last," Jason said, "that circle is more than likely a well or water basin. and what's more it is most likely fed by an underground stream. Which in turn is fed by a river of some sort. Which I believe is the Callin River that is to the east about halfway between here and the rogues' compound," Jason looked to Salvear and Nathan for answers and Salvear gave one.

    "The Callin River is known to branch off underground in hundreds of places along it's length. I would like to ask how we are supposed to find the branch that runs to compound."

    "That would be where I come in," Lily said glancing at Jason to get his corroboration as to that being the nature of his plan.

    "Enough fussing over the by-the-bys," Martin said impatiently, "What's the plan?"

    "The plan is to find the underground stream providing water to the rogue compound. We then find a spot along it's course that is no more than five spans from the compound and well hidden. We'll dig the ground away from above the stream and dam it up. That way two of us can sneak in through their well, get Ken, and bring him out through the trash gate that would be near the mess," Jason pointed to the wall that stretched along where the two similar sized buildings were, "While the two are going into the compound from underground we will have two distractions. The first, of course, will be Laeon looking for Nateous's blood. The second will be our remaining number and, hopefully, some of the skysabers," Jason looked at Salvear who nodded consent, "launching a heroic rescue assault from the west side of the compound and above. This may seem an obvious distraction to them, but they cannot afford to ignore such an obvious distraction because if they do you will mow them down just that much more simply."

    Jason concluded and took another drink of the miraculous tonic that the cooks had brought him a third flask of just before he'd left the map room. The others began mulling over the plan in their minds. Politely, Jason waited in case one of them found a problem with his plan.

    "So, who will be the two to enter the compound by way of the well?" Nathan asked Jason. The look on the man's face almost made Jason want to rethink his answer, but the look also held a resigned quality to it. Nathan wasn't going in first and he knew it.

    "That will be Martin and I. We are the only ones here who cannot either ride a dragon or use a long ranged form of attack," Jason caught Lily's angry eyes, "I'm not leaving you out because you are a girl that would be suicide," he said to her getting a laugh out of all present including her.

    "All right then!" Martin said easing his lance in the straps that held it against his back, "when do we get started?"

    "We get started right now. We need to find that branch of the river and we need to look by land. If we used the dragons and fly over the compound for a second or third time in the same day they'll figure out, if they haven't already, that we've spotted them."

    "Common sense," Salvear said nodding his approval of the young mapmaker's skills.

    "Then let us prepare our horses and make for the river," Nathan said heading out the door. Martin, Lily, and Salvear followed suit.

    "Sir, would it be possible for me, when I leave after this successful operation, to purchase a number of casks or flasks of that beverage you had the cooks bring to me?" Jason asked catching Salvear's sleeve as he passed, "I appologize for the timing, but it's easier to remember something when some one else is too."

    Salvear laughed and patted Jason on the shoulder as he said, "Of course no need to appologize, I've done the same thing to people a number of times. I'm afraid we'll have to consult the head of the kitchens about that when we get back. If they've just harvested a batch it should be no problem. I will have to explain my meaning on the word harvest another time." He laughed again as they walked out the door of the room.


    From his hiding place in an enlarged animal's den, Laeon watched Jason and the others digging in a spot not too far from the rogues' compound. It was nearing nightfall now and Laeon decided it would be safe to approach them before heading in. Jason had probably incorporated his assault into his plan and he was curious as to how they were planning to tunnel into the compound in the dark, then he realized that perhaps Jason had not intended for him to make contact with the group. He more immediately vetoed the idea when he saw that one of the people in the group was Lily.

    Laeon had finished fooling himself. He did not expect to leave the rogue compound after going in. He knew he could not make it without the nightmare and he could already feel that part of his psyche dissappearing into the abyss from which it had arisen. Then it gave out a cry to him and he knew it was now his time.

    Heading toward the compound he felt his adrenaline filling him. He felt the nightmare pull itself out of its fading state for one last reaping. He was baring his fangs one last time for a purpose. He had to help his friends free Ken.


    It was cramped, dark, and damp in the stream-tunnel. For a stream feeding an entire compound of rogues it was a pitiful thing. Martin and Jason were making their way down it as quickly as the could counting the paces. One hundred left to go, Jason thought taking the four-hundredth pace.

    "We're almost there eh, Jason," Martin said more that asked, "He already had his lance out and was ready to go leaping out of the well.

    "Another ten paces and we'll hear," As he finished they hit the tenth pace and on cue the sound of fire and steel on steel reached their ears.

    "The music of success," Martin crooned as they hit the ten-paces-left mark. The dam would only hold until they got out of the well then the water would be at their backs.

    "Not yet if we don't get out of here in time we can still drown," Jason said only half joking. Martin nodded and then they were at the well. Martin drove the butt of his lance into the ground and leaped up through the well and into the compound. The boy had walked around with baskets of rocks on his back and wagon-weights on his ankles for a full year to attain the strength necessary for leaps like that.

    A few seconds later the roap hit the ground and Jason climbed out the well. Once out they began searching the surrounding buildings. Their search, however, came up fruitless. Ken was nowhere to be found.

    "Black Sun! What sort of thing is this?" Martin asked.

    "It's expected is what it is," Jason said calmly.

    "What do you mean?" Martin asked as he spun to face his friend. Jason simply stood there a smile slowly spreading across his face, "Blind the Heavens, Jason! You didn't tell me the real plan!"

    "I told you the real plan, just not the last stage," Jason said now unsmiling, "Had I revealed what I knew then Nathan, awash with emotion, would have gone right to where Ken is. Instead, as soon as he can get away, he'll come here and search for Ken and us."

    "So you planned not to tell him so that his fatherly protectiveness wouldn't cause him to rush recklessly into the rogues' hands," Now it was Martin's turn to smile.

    "We'd better get going; to the keep,"


    Laeon ducked behind a statue that depicted a pair of skantily clad women drawing water out of a well. Typical decorating habits of perverse, low-level, Chyran scum, he thought agitatedly. It didn't benefit his mood, or make him feel any less perverse, that he was forced to peek between the legs of one of the marble women to see the guard dissappear behind a corner.

    Once the man was out of sight Laeon jumped away from the repulsive decor and ran toward the junction of the halls. He was met with the choice of whether to go left or right. He hated no knowing the layout of a place where his target was.

    At the very moment this thought crossed his mind he heard a shreik followed by a louder melodious peel of laughter. So the scum has a harem too, Laeon thought grinning to himself, and a new acquisition to it. It will be his lust that will cause his downfall. AnD yOuRs! the nightmare chided from its corner of his brain. Somehow the cursed partitioned psyche had got it into its head that Laeon was here to deliver their remaining fang to Nateous.

    He followed the sound of the the girl's cries of rejection to the room which must be where Nateous was that very moment. Without a second thought he burst into the room and was relieved to note that all the women present were fully clothed though a few of them were still a bit revealingly clad. Laeon's eyes immediately found Nateous and the fighting girl. Laeon burst forward and cut a swathe across Nateous's face.

    "Keep your filthy hands off the girl!" he said wildly. Nateous leered at him from behind the blood and his hand then laughed.

    "Why!? Is she important to you? You don't realize who you saved do you?" Nateous laughed again.

    "Laeon..." the girl, Lily he now realized, said tentatively.

    "You won't even let me end my life the way I want, love?" Laeon asked feeling less angry than guilty for intending to die.

    "Not so long as I'm alive," She said her voice fixed with determination.

    "A pity, Rogue's Nightmare," Nateous said drawing the stolen fang from the wall of the room, "a bit longer and she'd not have been here to stop you."

    As the stalker said these words an extraordinary thing happened within Laeon's mind. The sight of the fang having been hung in this vulgar room and the words Nateous said as he drew it forward raised the fury of both of Laeon's psyche at once. This had not been done since the night he'd snapped so long ago and the Nightmare had first awakened. However, that time the Nightmare had been in control. This time Laeon was the master. The power that suffused his muscles was amazing. He felt the Nightmare's power fill him and yet knew now how to control it.

    "You will not be holding that much longer Chyran scum," Laeon said gripping his remaining fang tightly.

    "You would need the Nightmare's power to take it back from me and you need the both of them to call it forth. What's more I've bested the beast once and can do it again," Nateous charged slicing for Laeon's throat with the fang. There was a ripping sound as the hanging cloth that had been behind Laeon was sliced through.

    Nateous laughed in hysterical triumph, "I'VE DONE IT!!! I'VE DEFEATED THE NIGHTMARE!!!"

    From behind and above Nateous a hauntingly familiar voice came, "Your problem," Nateous spun around to see Laeon balanced on the broken off stubb of the room's central fountain. Water was spouting behind him. Laeon was bent over slightly from the waist and his head was lowered. Held aloft underhanded in either hand were both fangs. Laeon raised his head with an insane smile, "iS tHaT yOu BlInKeD."

    As the Nightmare finished the sentence started by Laeon, Nateous noticed for the first time the red doplets falling from the blades into the fountain's base pool. After that sight Nateous's sight went red, then white, then he never saw anything again.

    Chapter Six: Neopolis: The Royal City of War

    Nathan worried about his son. He worried about his friends who'd gone to get his son. He worried about Lily who'd run away to the compound as soon as no one's eyes were on her. Nathan was sick of worrying. So now he was leading the attack on the rogue's compound side by side with Salvear. It'd been a long while since Nathan had ridden a dragon yet he was able to pick up the skill immediately from those long-passed teenaged memories.

    Salvear swooped in close enough to be heard over the beat fo the dragons' wings without risking collision in mid-air. When he'd secured his reigns he said, "They'll all be fine, Sir. Jason is too good of a planner to allow one unforseen circumstance cause his plans to go awry."

    "And how do you know, Salvear, my old friend?" Nathan asked with a sigh, "How can any of us know?"

    "I know because he knew to put you here with me and not inside the compound where you would risk your life and theirs to find your son. You are too filled with anger to be good at sneaking right now. You would charge through every hall and room until you found your son alive or dead," Salvear's face grew stern as he looked at his friend and lord, "You need to come to your senses man! If you were there in the compound you would be killed because you could not keep a collar on your rage and worry. Control yourself and take control of this offensive." Nathan looked stunned at his old friend and then hung his head in shame.

    "You are right, Salvear, I have been acting like a fool. I need to be a commander and I've been a father first and foremost to the point of slacking on my other duties," He raised his head and a hard look came across his face pierced by a wicked smile that Salvear knew all too well. Nathan turned to face him and the fire of a ruler burned in his eyes as he said, "Forward all riders, lets give them a rain of fire."

    ~*.The Keep.*~

    Laeon and Lily ran through the halls looking for locked doors with guards posted outside. They'd so far managed to break into an armory and a number of loot rooms. At this rate they wouldn't find Lord Ken before morning. They rounded a corner and nearly ran into Jason and Martin.

    "So there you two are," Jason said with a smile, "Good, now we know we're going the wrong way. Come on there's a staircase back this way." He turned on his heel and ran back down the hall he'd come up and Martin was right behind him. It infuriated Laeon that Jason had acted as if he'd been expecting to run into not only him but them. Now was not the time to dwell on that however so he simply ran after the two with Lily keeping pace right beside him.

    They caught up with the two at a staircase leading down into the basement. They four of them exchanged a nod and headed down. Undoubtedly the basement would be where they had put Ken. They were not dissapointed. No sooner did they reach the basement than they were jumped by a group of strong-armed rogues. Lily elbowed one in the nose and jumped away from the tangle of bodies shouting, "Anima Inanima!!"

    Chains from the floors around them came alive and tangled themselves around their attackers. The four of them ran down the hall calling for Ken. It wasn't long before they found him. He was standing quite neat and even seeming impatient. He grinned when he saw them.

    "I knew you guys had reached me when I heard the pandemonium upstairs. Thanks for the help I was about to give up on finding a way out of this place," He said.

    "You're sure calm under pressure," Martin said admiringly. He was the same age as Ken and yet he thought he'd have probably gotten himself killed by now.

    "Its not that hard when you know people you trust are right on your heels. In fact you're a little early now that I think on it," Ken stepped back from the bars between them, "Lily if you'd give me a hand I'll come with you when you four leave. I know my dad probably wants to be the big hero but I want to get a sword and cut a few of these vermin open myself."

    "Sure thing, Ken." Lily said and held a hand out toward the bars, "Transmutar," she intoned and the bars melted together and formed a sword.

    "Thanks," Ken said picking up the blade. The five of them ran back out of the basement and through the maze of halls. They emerged from the keep their weapons a little more bloody than when they'd left the basement and saw that most of the compound was on fire and rogues were running about in panic. They cut their way to the trash gate and out.