Fantastic World Ch. 06byLady_Blackhawk©
Callia quickly scanned the remaining two paintings as she stood back from both of them. She surveyed the painting to the right of the one that held the Cave of Brilliance. Its contents beheld a lush green landscape within which an ancient forest full of towering oaks and a verdant sparkling glade were prominently featured. She stepped closer to it and studied it more thoroughly. She quickly noted how lifelike it seemed with its shimmering water and soft greenery. A smile brightened her face. She could hear the chirping of birds, and the rustle of the wind blowing through the trees. She felt warmed by the sunshine as its golden rays glistened upon the babbling flow of the water streaming through the heart of the woodlands. She drew in a deep breath, the pungent scent of raw earth tickling her nostrils. The untainted beauty of the forest called to the wildness of her elven soul.
"Home...," she whispered, "is where my heart lingers."
She felt the tug of the magic and immediately grabbed the hands of Jaz'rin and Ethilathain, pulling them into the forest with her. Once more the magic washed over her, transporting her and her companions. They found themselves standing in the forest realm. Callia let out a happy sigh and threw herself headlong into a dance to honor the peacefulness of her surroundings. It filled her with blissful joy to be engulfed by such grandeur.
"She is truly a child of nature." Ethilathain remarked as he watched her with hungry eyes, "So wild and unfettered."
Jaz'rin shifted his cerulean gaze from the frolicking Callia to the dragon who wore the guise of an elf. "That she is," he replied. "She is very special."
Ethilathain cracked a smile. "Is that a warning?"
"I would not presume to warn one of your kind, but if I must put it in terms that you will understand, I will. She is my treasure, the most beautiful possession in my hoard."
"Does she know you think of her as a possession? Do you not think that would go against her unfettered nature?"
Jaz'rin leveled upon him an unrelenting glare, his blue eyes turning vibrant red. He tensed his body, stepping closer to Ethilathain. "You presume too much, dragon."
Ethilathain snorted, blowing a tiny puff of smoke at the dark elf from one nostril. "And you presume too little. You need not posture in front of me. I am not impressed by your display." And with that, Ethilathain walked away, heading in Callia's direction. He joined her in her merry dance, reveling in her spontaneity. She embraced him, wholeheartedly giving in to the moment. She smiled and giggled as her cheeks flushed a pretty pink. She felt completely at peace. Nothing could take that away from her while she was here.
"This is what it feels like to be an elf...," she whispered to Ethilathain before motioning for Jaz'rin to join them. "Free your mind for this moment and experience what it is like to be this carefree."
Callia welcomed both of them into her embrace, softly nipping at both of their ears. She felt a shiver course through Jaz'rin and sensed its reciprocation in Ethilathain as well. She laughed softly, captivated by this wonderful place. "I could stay here forever."
Yet Jaz'rin was not. He sensed the aura that saturated this place. He knew it was meant to enthrall the seeker and distract her from her duty. His eyes searched the surrounding glade, hoping to spot the guardian.
He glimpsed a flash of movement near one of the massive oaks. "Callia," he whispered. "Listen to me."
"Dance with me, Jaz'rin," she cooed, winding her arms around him fully.
"Snap out of it, my sweet. Beware the illusion. The guardian is nearby." Jaz'rin pinched her hard on the arm and planted a hard kiss on her mouth. He hoped it would free her from the spell woven upon her.
"OUCH! What did you do that for?"
"The guardian of the key had you charmed."
Beautiful trilling bird song filled the air as a nut brown colored female stepped forward from the ancient oak. Her skin appeared almost wooden while her hair resembled green ivy. A soft swooshing noise filled the dell.
"I am Meridia and you must be the seeker of my key." Her voice mimicked the cadence of the forest.
"I am called Callia and yes, I seek your key."
"Have you come pure of heart?"
Callia stared at her, thunderstruck at her question. Pure of heart, she mused. What did Meridia mean by that?
"Do you come here in peace, sy faerie? Are you pure of heart? Or are you bent on my destruction?"
"I come in peace, nandin." Callia replied, hoping the dryad would find her words sincere and from the heart. "This place is wonderful and beautiful and I am honored to be in your presence, ary var en' i' lath. I am one with nature."
Meridia focused her sights upon Callia, studying her intently, before flicking her gaze upon both Jaz'rin and Ethilathain, "Chas kesir, how can you be so sincere when a darkling and a dragon accompany you? Are they pure of heart?"
"The darkling is not like his evil kin. And the dragon to the best of my knowledge does not desire destruction. He has pledged himself to my cause. I would not allow either to destroy such beauty. My words are true, but if you desire to know the truth from their own lips, you have but to ask them."
The dryad turned from the green elf and directed her question upon the dark elf and the dragon. "Are you pure of heart?"
Ethilathain bowed to her, speaking in the tongue of the dragons, "Si chiili ti ragarrl ekess jivviim wux. Shafaer sia tiichi, Si ornla eligne douta mlasup."
Callia poked him in the side. "Speak a language we can all understand."
Ethilathain leveled a haughty look upon her. "I told fair Meridia that it was not my intention to harm her and I would gladly defend her beauty."
Jaz'rin pressed himself to Callia and whispered into her ear,"Xun dos khaless ukta? Ukt wiles?"
"Good. Perhaps the dryad needs a formidable protector. A dragon should do nicely. Perhaps we could trade his services for your key, fair Meridia. What say you?" Jaz'rin offered, raising an eyebrow at the dragon and the dryad.
"It is something I may consider," Ethilathain replied. "I did make a pledge to see this quest through to the end. I have my reasons, but I may be willing to come back here and be that formidable protector. You see, fair Meridia, I am also a guardian of the key. I gave my key to the seeker in exchange for a boon. Is there a boon you would ask of her in exchange for your key?"
A pensive look crossed Meridia's face as she considered Ethilathain's words. "There is one boon I would ask."
Here it comes, Callia thought with a sigh. This dryad is going to be like Ethilathain and proposition me for sex. She is quite attractive, but I have no desire to be with another female at this moment. How can I say no and risk not getting the key? "What boon may I grant you?"
"Still your thoughts, sy faerie. You have nothing to worry about from me. What I ask of you does not involve pleasures of the flesh, not from you or your companions," Meridia began, setting Callia's fears at ease. "There is a troll king that threatens the sanctity of this hallowed ground. He seeks to burn my home and lay a scourge upon my existence. I charge you with seeking out Kagard and removing this threat. Bring me his head and I will bestow upon you my key."
"Defeat a troll king is all I have to do garner your key? Consider it done, nandin. The three of us will make quick work of that nuisance."
"Three? No, sy faerie, only two shall go." Meridia corrected. "Either the darkling and the dragon shall remain here with me."
"I don't think so!" Callia growled, her eyes narrowing, "They go with me."
"Then you forfeit the key. This is my world and these are the rules. To gain my key is to complete the quest as I have put forth for you."
"Very well, but Jaz'rin goes with me. He also seeks the keys. We are on this quest together. I shall leave Ethilathain with you. Perhaps you should become better acquainted with the dragon." Callia compromised. "Do not make me rip that key from your cold, dead hands."
Meridia tapped her foot impatiently as she considered Callia's threat. "Perhaps I will allow the dragon to go with you. You may need his firepower to defeat Kagard. I shall keep the darkling here."
Ethilathain bowed to the dryad, "Where can we find this Kagard? Do you know the location of his lair?"
"A day's journey past my forest haven dwells Kagard in the Blackened Mountains. You will know them by their desolate peaks, devoid of any green. He has lain to waste all that I hold sacred. Be wary of him, for he is sly and crafty. He has many allies at his beck and call."
Jaz'rin shook his head. "I do not like being left behind. I wish to go."
"Do you hear him, nandin? Jaz'rin, my darkling, wishes to remain by my side. We are a team. Jaz'rin is my scout. Ethilathain is the firepower and I am the muscle. My success depends on them. Or is the reason you wish one of them to stay so you can charm him into staying with you forever? Furthermore, I have not agreed to your conditions."
"Why must you be so difficult? There are rules!" Meridia cried.
"Set forth by whom?" Jaz'rin asked.
"By the creator."
"Who is not here, zhas xukuth elg'caress? What difference does it make if we all go? We will bring back to troll king's head. I have no doubt in that, but all our skill is needed to do so. The dragon has already stated he may be willing to come back to be your protector after the keys are gathered and the treasure is found. What more could you wish for? If you seek to charm one of us in hopes that we'll fall in love with you, know this. My heart is my own and I shall give it to no one. A darkling elf has no room in his heart for love. My kind does not experience such petty feelings. Therefore, there is no reason for me to remain here with you while the others go troll hunting."
"You see, nandin, they wish to remain with me. We are a team." Callia gloated. "And you should remember what I've already said."
The dryad noted Callia's derisive tone and leveled a glaring look upon her. "Have it your way, sy faerie. You could risk the key."
"I'll bring the troll king's head back as promised. Does it matter how the quest is accomplished?"
"Very well, sy faerie named Callia. Bring me the troll king's head in exchange for the key."
The trio left Meridia's pristine glade and headed off into the forest. Jaz'rin took the lead, scouting ahead for possible dangers. Callia followed him and bringing up the rear was Ethilathain. They met in another clearing, stopping to discuss strategy. Each of them had an idea on how to go about it.
Jaz'rin opted for stealth and disguise as a way to infiltrate the troll king's lair. He pulled from his pack a few magic items that would make their surprise siege a success. While Callia agreed with him, she felt the best way would be to take out as many foes as possible in the shortest amount of time. An all-out assault perpetrated on Kagard's lair. Callia looked to Ethilathain to lay down the fire to scorch the trolls and hinder their regenerative ability. He bowed to her, agreeing with her completely. He then suggested they make their assault as quick as possible. Ethilathain quickly transformed back into his natural form, taking the shape of the magnificent Obsidian dragon that he was, and beckoned Callia and Jaz'rin to climb onto his back. He would fly them to the Blackened Mountains, taking out any sentries they came across.
Unbeknownst to Callia, Ethilathain possessed the ability to become invisible while in dragon form. Before his imprisonment in the Cave of Brilliance, he had often used this talent to stalk his prey. He swiftly launched himself from the ground, spreading his wings as he began to ascend into the sky. Flying higher and higher he rose, plunging through the pure clouds. He dipped and soared, giving his two passengers an exciting ride.
It didn't take long for them to reach the mountainous area. He concentrated momentarily while he hovered, turning himself and his riders completely invisible. He began to swoop in and out of the canyons of mountainous rocks, scanning for signs of the troll king's lair. Occasionally as he would swoop and dive, his large wings would almost touch parts of the mountain as certain canyons would get narrower then widen out again. A few minutes went by before he spotted several trolls milling around the entrance to a large cavern. He watched them intently as he entered the cavernous area. He circled overheard, making a large loop before he slowly descended to a flattened ledge of rock several hundred feet above their position. There he sat and waited, mentally hushing both his riders.
Ethilathain felt it necessary to watch their movements and attempt to ascertain their numbers. He felt it prudent to gauge their strengths. Even a dragon would not rush blindly into a troll's lair. They had the strength of numbers on their side and while his scorching gout of flame would eliminate many of them, he could only use it so many times. He knew preparation was their best hope to succeed.
Quickly he sprang from where he sat to a lower ledge, one wider and positioned opposite to the lair's entrance. Scanning it, he noticed the piles of bones and scattered waste littered about the outcropping of rock. Ah, a troll guard post...albeit a neglected one at the moment.
The dragon grinned. He knew he could use this spot to his advantage. Once more he scanned the area, mentally taking note of the trolls loitering around the cavern entrance. There were seven he picked out easily. He intensified his scrutinization and noticed two more hiding amongst the crags of rock.
Nine foes. Nine trolls. He gauged their distance from him, mentally going over in his head how many he could destroy with his flaming breath.
"If I attack now, I should be able take down all but two of the trolls."
"What if we tried a diversion tactic? Maybe try to get them all in one group?" Callia suggested to Ethilathain. "I saw some kind of a shaggy cliffscaler on the other side of the mountain. Why not entice the trolls with one of those? We could drop it into their midst and attack once they've taken the bait."
"That could work. If we attack and don't get all of them, there is a possibility that one will get away and raise an alert." Jaz'rin added. "My twin rapiers have enhancements of fire and acid, both especially harmful to trolls."
Ethilathain took flight once more, beating his wings rapidly to get himself in the air. He soared above the mountains and swooped down upon the curly horned cliffscalers. Reaching down he snatched one up in his massive left paw and squeezed, hoping to crush it in his grasp. Moments passed before a loud crunching noise sounded.
Callia winced as she glanced down at the mangled cloven-hoofed beast. "What'd you do that for, you silly dragon?"
"Better it die now than fall to its death."
Circling back, he dived, his wings outstretched widely. His sudden drop caused Callia and Jaz'rin to hang on for dear life. Callia left out a growling curse and kicked him for his impertinence. The dragon swooped into the valley and dropped the carcass where all the troll guards would see it. Then he landed on the valley floor, waiting for the stupid giants to take the bait.
They watched as the beasts gathered around the remains, leaving their posts behind. He waited until they began to tear into the dead cliffscaler. His attack had to come at the right moment.
Callia could feel the intensity building. She could feel Ethilathain shake with anticipation and knew he was ready. She could tell the trolls were thoroughly distracted, heartily indulging in their bloody feast.
She kicked him again and hissed, "What are you waiting for, dragon?"
He looked back at her and blew a puff of smoke at her. With a quick lunge, he took flight once more and blew out a fiery blast of breath at the feasting trolls. The flames engulfed them, burning their flesh. The trolls writhed in pain. Their shrieks echoed in the canyon, the horrid sound reverberating of the stone walls before another blast silenced them completely.
Then he landed in front of the cave and shot a third searing gout of flame into its darkened depths. Callia peered in the cave, the burning flesh illuminating the cavern enough for her to see. The dragon's scorching breath had roasted everything alive, setting fire to everything flammable.
She gave him a hard kick. "What did you do that for?"
Tired of being kicked, he snatched her off his back and slammed her body to the ground before him. "Who are you to tell me what to do?" He growled at her as he dug his tremendous claws into her.
"Ethilathain!" she growled back. "Damn you! That HURTS!!"
The dragon snorted as wisps of smoke curled out of his nostrils, "There is no need for you to kick me."
Callia glared at the dragon, "Ethilathain? I...I'm..."
The dragon snorted, harder this time, as he let her go. "You would be wise to remember that."
Callia's temper flared, "Look here, dragon, if you think for one moment just because you're bigger than I am that I'm scared of you, you've got another thing coming."
She scrambled to her feet, favoring her injured side and shoved her thumb in one of its rather sensitive nostrils, her fingers in the other, and proceeded to take a three-quarter turn on them, "If you ever do that to me again, I can assure you that I am a warrior of sufficient power to make you regret it." She pulled the dragon's head down so that she could look him in the eye. The dragon blinked in surprise as she applied a bit of additional pressure to her grip on his nose, "DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?!"
Jaz'rin watched the exchange with genuine interest. He slid from the dragon's back and ran forth, stopping at Callia's side. He let out a chuckle as he watched Ethilathain's eyes watering in pain from his torqued nose. He glared at Jaz'rin to see if any assistance would be forthcoming.
Once he realized that none was, he shot a surge of smoke at both elves. "Your point is taken, Callia. Now let go!"
Callia released the grip on his nose.
He rubbed his hurt nose. "My oh my, what a temper the little elfling has. It's about time you exhibited some spirit."
She growled at him just before he transformed into the elven form she had come to know so intimately. Drawing back her fist, she slammed it into his jaw, catching him unaware. He stumbled backwards and let out a roar. Callia pressed her attack and pounced upon him. She flailed about, landing punches here and there upon his face and upper body. Grabbing hold of her, he deftly pinned her beneath him and reverted to his full draconic appearance. He covered her with one large paw, stilling her thrashing limbs.
"Are you done yet?" Ethilathain asked.
"LET...ME... UP!" She ground out.
"Something is not right here. Something sets its will against us. I know not if it is the dryad or the troll, but something has you vexed. My guess would be that dryad. You've angered her by defying her. Now calm down so we may be on our way."
Callia stared up at him, wondering how she'd gotten beneath his paw once more. "What? What happened? How'd I get here?"
"Something had you bewitched," He removed his paw and allowed her stand. She brushed herself off, giving him a peculiar look.
"Bewitched you say? What do you mean?"
"You attacked Ethilathain," Jaz'rin replied, holding back his mirth.
"You should feel lucky it was me she attacked. She might have killed you."
Callia sucked in a deep breath. "I don't like this one bit. Here we are at odds when before us lies the monumental task of slaying the troll king."