Y'Zark the Apprentice Ch. 4byrexfelis©
Y'Zark the Apprentice, Chapter 4
As we continued out of the Dead Zone, which would come at another time to be known as the Great Ashen Desert, I found myself growing more and more weary. Finally, I called a halt.
"Getting tired so soon?" he chided. His voice was different - I turned to look at him. "Yes indeed, as we come back to the magic, my spells of youth are taking effect once again." He smiled. "And of course, I can walk now. Just don't give me too many stairs, eh?"
Walking proved slow, though, so he once again glided while I continued to walk. The ground was no longer ash covered, and here and there grasses survived and green entered the landscape once again. Even the sky seemed healthier somehow. A few more hours trek we started seeing animals again, and trees, and I was gladdened to the point of tears. So desolate had the gray wastes been that I actually hugged the first tree with green leaves.
Presently, we were facing the outline of a great bear up ahead. It wandered out into our path, and then stood on it's hind legs watching us. We stopped, and respectfully waited for it to move on. It eyed us, sniffed the air, and then fell to it's paws and began to make it's way toward us. The distance was not great; perhaps a hundred yards, at most. I began to back away.
"Hold, Y'Zark, we have no reason to fear."
I was not sure what he was thinking that for, as the massive brown bear approached. But it struck me as odd, suddenly, that such a beast should be casually making it's way toward us, instead of ignoring us, or moving away - or attacking! But no, it seemed to be casually approaching, as though to speak with us. I waited, uneasily, but Yaaron simply stood in wait, leaning on his staff.
In the span of a few moments, the bear had approached to within a stone's throw. It hesitated momentarily, sniffing the air again, and eyed us. My nervousness grew, until Yaaron spoke.
"Come on," he said to the bear, with characteristic impatience. "Get on with it. We haven't got all day, you know."
At this the bear cocked it's head to the side and squinted a bit, in an almost human gesture of question at his words. Then, before my eyes, that bear began to shift and change, until it was no longer a bear, but a man in robes like Yaaron's, but of patches of green and brown!
"What is it, then?" called Yaaron.
"I am Grazebuell, the druid of this land. You are traveling out of the area that has been destroyed in these last few days. Who are you, and what are you doing here? What knowledge have you of this destruction?" demanded the man-who-had-been-bear.
"I am Yaaron, and this is my apprentice, Y'Zark," began Yaaron. "I carry cargo precious to the world."
"Yaaron? Y'Zark? Precious cargo? Of what do you speak?" replied the druid, suspiciously.
"It is the Staff of Delrhynne," came Yaaron's reply.
The druid seemed to pause for a moment, and then turned his face a bit to the side and spoke quietly, as though to someone who we could not see. He never took his eyes off us. Then he came back to the conversation.
"The Staff of Delrhynne is no precious cargo to the world, old man. Make yourself clear."
"The Staff of Delrhynne is indeed precious cargo to the world, my good druid, because it is the last functioning Staff of Power. And with it, my apprentice is going to bring magic back into the world, in full force!" Yaaron was putting a good deal of theatrics into his speech, so that his drawing out the last two words almost made him fall over as he overextended his balance. I saw him start to fall, but he grasped the staff and it held steady while he righted himself.
"I do not believe you, old man. The Staff of Delrhynne is a mage's staff, and requires a wizard to operate it. Mages have long since vanished from this world. That much is common knowledge,"
"It is equally common knowledge that Empowered priests and druids are long since gone, but yet here you are, shifting to human from bear. Explain that, Grazebuell." Yaaron challenged.
After a moment's pause, and apparent consultation with some unseen entity, Grazebuell gave his reply.
"You said your name was Yaaron, then was it? Did you have an epithet, Yaaron?"
"Indeed, I did, when I was known. I was called Yaaron the Great. Not terribly original, but then one's epithets are rarely chosen, are they not?"
"Ah, Yaaron the Great." The lack of enthusiasm in the druid's voice was almost dripping with sarcasm. "Tell me, then, Yaaron the Great, in what year was the Staff of Delrhynne created, and by whom?"
"The Staff of Delrhynne," bellowed Yaaron with renewed vigor, "was created in the year 638 of the Second Era of Magic, when the elves were at their strongest upon the world. It was first ensorcelled by a wizard named K'zamus, who perished shortly thereafter in a magical battle. The staff was claimed by the victor, Mo'erill, and then sold in the markets of Caden to Gareal the Black Hearted, who used it more often than not to beat his apprentices. When those apprentices rose up against him and he was killed, the strongest of them, Hergraff, took the staff as his own, and gave it as a gift to an Empowered priestess, Kaliil, whom he met and fell in love with a few years later. She did not return his love, but he would not take the staff back, so she offered it to her church.
"From there the staff came to be part of a payment from that church to a druid in exchange for dealing with a problem the church was having with a creature known then as the sand shark, sometimes also known as the land shark, alternately known as the G'vuu-tarr by the orcs who lived in the forest of Therilm, where the creature was notably present. The druids ensorcelled the staff to greater power, giving it the ability to turn into a great living oak, which would defend the user. This creature would be better known to you by the name of 'trentenant', sometimes shortened to 'treant'.
"But the staff was lost when the Great Druid who carried it was taken by surprise by a black dragon in the year 716 SEM, and it was ingested along with him. Thus it's distinctive coloring. The magical acid of this dragon, one K'th'huuark'taeluna'strweryn'flaaretnyss by True name, commonly known as BlackShadow by the humanoid races, stripped most of the powers from the staff as it resisted corrosion in the dragon's stomach.
"It wasn't long thereafter that a large contingent of knights from Cadendale did battle with this very same beast, and were slaughtered to a man, but severely weakened it, so that the master thief Tuyundes was able to sneak into it's lair and finish the job with stealth, luck and a good bit of his most puissant poison. Tuyundes somehow managed to bring the dragon's body back to his secret hideout, where it was dissected and the parts sold far and wide for various uses. The staff was discovered in the dragon's stomach. It was washed, polished up, and sold for a ridiculously low sum to a man of little interest, who left it in an inn because he thought it was a normal staff and had no further use for it.
"From there, it was taken by an elf who took a fancy for it. That elf's name was Saeouthis, I believe, and he realized it was magical and was prompt to sell it to an elven wizard, who researched it's history and decided to enchant it to his own goals. Eleven years he worked to enchant it, and when it was finished, he gave it to the Queen of the elves at the time, Delrhynne.
"This is where the staff acquired it's current nomenclature, but it is not the end of the staff's history. Have I shown myself sufficiently knowledgeable to perhaps be who I say I am, or do you require further proof?"
After a moment of pause, the druid smiled. "What was the dragon's True Name, one more time?" he asked.
"K'th'huuark'taeluna'strweryn'flaaretnyss, of course." replied Yaaron, without the slightest hesitation or difficulty in pronouncing the monstrous name.
"Well met, then, Yaaron the Great, and-quite-the-story-teller-indeed, but I do not yet understand how it is that you come from the direction of the Destruction?"
"Ah, the Destruction. The Destruction was caused by the collapse of the magical forces binding the last Tower of Power together. Instead of exploding in a ball of energy, it seems to have been inverted somehow and simply absorbed the life forces of everything in a wide radius. We survived only because I possess this staff, and we had a moment's warning.
"However, if we are able to complete the task we have before us, that destruction will be undone, and your lands will once again know the True Life. You are familiar, I presume, with the so-called Oddysey of Kahlmunar? Or at least his Prophecies?"
"I have heard of the prophecies you speak of, but I have not read them. What importance are they to me?"
"They are of importance because this boy is the One who is come to fulfill them! And I am on my way to a place of safety where I can instruct him safely in what Art he needs to know for his journey ahead."
"This is the K'haal? HIM?!" said the druid with surprise.
"For someone who has not read the Prophecies, you seem to know a lot about them, don't you? Tell me, Grazebuell, how is that?" asked Yaaron, with more than a hint of suspicion in his voice.
"I know some lore of the topic." came Grazebuell's too-calm reply.
"More than some, I would say," came Yaaron's sarcastic reply. "The One is only called the 'Khaal' a single time through all seven hundred eighty three pages of the Prophecy, and yet you know and use this title, but expect me to believe that you have never read the pages? There are only two who would have reason to know the One by this name, and that would either make you one of them, or a minion of one of them. Which is it?"
"Hmmm, a good question, though one I do not see being answered anytime soon. I sense you are dishonest with me about how this destruction came to pass, and I will ask you once more to answer my question. If you do not, and do not answer me honestly, we are going to discover which of us is the better suited to battle. I think it was you who destroyed this area of my land, and I think you did it on purpose. If that is the case, you have committed blasphemy in the eyes of Sylvanus, to such a great extent that I must kill you or perish trying. What is the truth, old man? I grow impatient."
"You shift the conversation in an effort to avoid answering my question by countering with a question I have already answered. If you do not believe me, then use whatever means you have to find the truth yourself. I have little patience with pompous asses who play games when there is serious business to be taken care of." replied Yaaron.
Grazebuell's face flushed a deep, sickening purple with rage at having been spoken to thusly, and in his hand materialized a staff. He raised it up and struck the ground with it, shouting a Word, and the ground began to rumble. I found myself inexplicably pulled towards Yaaron by some unseen force, almost bodily lifed to fly over the ground at breakneck speed, and set beside him. Instantly, we were surrounded by a sphere of glowing light that flashed so brightly that I was forced to cover my eyes or be blinded. There was red, then orange, then yellow, then green, blue, indigo and violet, with the pattern repeating itself at short intervals. Each color flashed once and was gone, replaced by it's successor. Blinded by this light I could not see the goings-on around us, but I could still hear them and sense the rumblings.
Something came out of the ground, and I was trying to see what it was, but the light was too bright, though Yaaron seemed utterly unaffected by it. He simply stood waiting, as though for his opponent to throw himself upon a sword out of sheer stupidity. There was a strange sound, like huge amounts of earth being moved, almost dragged about, and Grazebuell shouted for whatever the creature was to kill us. There was a moment's pause, and the command was shouted again. Apparently this time, the beast advanced, but Yaaron commanded it to stop, and it must have by the shriek of rage that issued forth from Grazebuell.
"Begone, Elemental of the Earth, your services are not needed here." stated Yaaron almost regally. I heard Grazebuell shouting in a strange language that tickled my ears and sent a furry feeling to the pit of my stomach. About that time, there was the sound of a great mass of earth being dumped on the ground. Grazebuell was shouting so hard that it was as though he was manic, and lost to his mania.
"Grazebuell, your efforts against me will fail, one after another until your power is drained. Give up this foolishness and stand aside. I yet have no quarrel with you, but if you continue, I will change my mind. Be wise, as druids are supposed to be. Stand aside and let us pass. There is no time for this petty foolishness."
But Grazebuell did not stop his incantation, screaming like a madman the entire time. Remembering it, it's a positive wonder that anything came of his efforts, so corrupted were his pronunciations. I heard then the strange sound of liquid flames turning to cinders and ash as they fell from overhead, burning themselves up and everything else they came in contact with. But there was no effect on myself and my Master, for the flashing sphere held against the onslaught and the strange searing stuff which seemed amost to sing and tweet and mew as it burned up. The two most powerful attacks that he had to use defeated, Grazebuell completely lost his mind and rushed at us intent on skewering us on the end of the spear that had moments before been a staff. But when he tried to run through the sphere, it expanded into seven spheres, each of a unique color, none flashing, and instantly I was able to see again. Through the first he flew, shock written on his face. He seemed to be moving in slow motion now, and realizing his mistake in having rushed through the multicolored defenses Yaaron had erected, but yet could no more reverse the momentum of his body than he could fly without wings.
I watched these proceedings, as they happened in this slow motion. He passed first through the red sphere, and pain took the expression of madness off his face. In another step, he made contact with the second sphere, and the expression on his face went beyond pain to unmistakable agony. He had begun to try to slow himself, but was carried through the second, orange sphere, into the green third sphere. Here his face contorted such that it was painful to look at him, knowing that the strain of his muscles against the total misery he was feeling must be coming close to pulling them from their anchorings on the bones. Yaaron stood there looking sad, but did not move or speak, as the druid continued his ever slowing traversal of the expanded sphere of defenses Yaaron had brought into being. But upon touching the fifth sphere, his agony, contorted as it was and showing through his entire body, was frozen as he went in the blink of an eye from flesh to a statue of marble.
"It is sad to have had to watch that, but Grazebuell still retains his chance at life. The question now is, Y'Zark, what shall we do about yon beast?" queried my Master.
Being regained of my sight, I considered perhaps that the sphere would once again collapse onto itself and begin flashing so brightly that I would be blinded, but this did not happen, and I gazed about for what beast Yaaron had spoken of. I saw nothing.
"What beast? I see no beast." I replied.
"Reveal yourself, beast. You should not be here, and I see you plain as day. Reveal yourself, that my apprentice might gaze upon your countenance as well. And tell me, what is it you are doing here?"
Yaaron seemed alarmingly calm to me as he said this. I kept looking around back and forth from the statue to the area out where Grazebuell had come running at us from. I saw a shimmering form begin to show in the air where there seemed to have been nothing before. The shimmering seemed at first of some sort of vibratory nature, and then as though I was watching some liquid wash off of the beast Yaaron had spoken to. The thing was not what I had expected; as the invisibility dissipated, it became apparent to me what beast we faced.