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stories & literature

the crest

Part I

by Kruser

Editor's Note: Each time you see something in green text, hover your mouse over it to see Kruser's footnotes! You may want to make sure you have a LOT of time to read this story (or be able to keep your place somehow)!



Two arrows in his right shoulder, a sword cut at the left-hand side of his torso and feet bruised to bleeding from heavy running were not enough to stop Cryssalid from striving further. Hot on his trail were the two Cerberi, the so-called Twins, as Rawbbie liked to call them. Each of their three heads had claws strong enough to strangle a bull. Cryssalid, all bloody and wounded, would serve as their breakfast.

But Cryssalid ran on. He knew that he must run, he must hide, he must somehow protect his precious Crest and he must, by all means, carry the Crest beyond the mountains and to MystiC-DarKneSs. But the Twins were gaining on him. He had not even reached Crimson Bridge...

He could hear their diabolic breathing getting closer. Cold grips of fear began seizing his more than battered body. He prayed to God that the Crest would reach MystiC-DarKneSs, even at the cost of his own life. In one moment, he denied all of his wealth, possesions and knowledge and put it as a price for safe arrival of the Crest.

As he finished his prayer, he stopped running. He turned around and drew his sword. He swore he would not die without a fight. If he would have to fight the Cerberi, he promised himself that he would slice off at least one of their heads. He put on his helmet and prepared to face his doom.

Suddenly, he felt something pulling him from behind. He had no time to react: one hand dragged him backwards, while another was put in front of his mouth. "Silence!" he heard a whisper in his ear. "Don't make a sound and you'll live!"

Everything happened with a lightning speed. Before Cryssalid could react, he found himself completely covered with leaves, along with some other man. He could not tell what his appearance was like - he was too exausted and the leaves blocked nearly all sunlight. "Don't move!" the man whispered.

The Cerberi were almost here. The two men could hear their demon-like breathing closely. Cryssalid wondered what good could come of being covered with leaves. But the man next to him created a bird-like sound:

"Tweeeet! Tweetweetweeetweeeeeet!"

All of a sudden, Cryssalid could hear a lot of bird wings flapping eveywhere. The Cerberi stopped breathing for a second and ran off in an unknown direction.

"15 minutes" the man whispered. "If they don't come back, we're safe".

Cryssalid spent those 15 minutes thanking God for heeding his prayer.



The man emerged from his leaf cover. "It's okay now," he said. "You can come out".

But Cryssalid did not move. The man started removing the leaves from him, but Cryssalid said: "You don't want to do that".

The man stopped. "Why?" he said.

Cryssalid saw the man trough his leaves. He would recognize that face anywhere. The head, now completely shaven, except for a horsetail, could not alter those eyes and expression. The monk's wardrobe and staff could not erase this man's past, nor Cryssalid's connection with it. "That way you would be trying to save my life, but putting your own in danger," Cryssalid said.

The monk set a questioning look towards Cryssalid, but nevertheless removed the leaves from him. When he removed his helmet, he was shocked. "YOU!!!" he shouted, dropping the helmet on the ground.

"Yes, me," Cryssalid said. "And of all people, it's ironic that YOU saved me from the Cerberi..."

Cryssalid started coughing. He coughed heavily and at one point he spat out blood from his mouth.

"Oh no," the monk said. "This is serious! I must look at your wounds immediately". He wanted to take off Cryssalid's armor, but Cryssalid stopped him:

"No. Don't. I'm finished. This must be fate. Listen, for these are my final words and wishes..."

The monk could not believe. He was kneeling in the pinewood and here, in front of him, lying and ready to die, was his nemesis, the one that destroyed his life and all it stood for, the one that exiled him from the city and into the monk's life, the one that is responsible for his life-long solitude... "You want ME to fulfill your last wishes?!!! You ruined everything I stand for and now you want ME to do something for YOU???!"

But Cryssalid did not listen: "I trusted Inferno45. I let him have his own realm, Hell, all for himself. I never thought, that he would want to make BUSINESS with it.

He started renting part of his realm to other vile creatures. MystiC-DarKneSs would warn me repeatedly to put some sense into Inferno45, but I did not listen, since I did not see the point of interfering. After all, if we would not have problems with Hell, we would not bother with their business.

But it turns out that the last 'guest' of Inferno45 is some very evil creature called Rawbbie. He is able to shake the grounds and literally raise mountains or flatten them. He has even raised a circle of mountains around MystiC-DarKneSs' Castle, so she and her army are unable to move out of it. Huge mountains have risen to disrupt the roads between ModArchive and Crimson Kingdom. Crimson King blames us, ModArchivers, for this, since it was us who initially gave Inferno45 permission to roam free in Hell. We never figured he would attract some ghastly creatures and even RENT them parts of his realm.

Rawbbie, apparently, has an idea of conquering our land. He has taken Trax, our sister city, by surprise. People there were not prepared for the invasion of his demonic hordes and Trax was quickly run over and ruined. Seeing that, ModArchive set up its defenses, but they too were shattered. It was a short fight. We had no way to call our dragon friends for help; Rawbbie raised mountains that blocked those passageways as well.

The only hope that remains is that the Crest of ModArchive be somehow transported beyond the mountains and to MystiC-DarKneSs. She would be able to use it and harness its powers to overcome the mountains and lead her army to defeat Rawbbie."

"You bastard!" the monk spoke in anger. "The Crest holds no powers! It is you who holds love in your heart for MystiC-DarKneSs and it is she who holds love in her heart for you! And of all people, you tell ME this??? It destroyed my life! I don't want to have anything to do with this!"

Cryssalid was calm. "It is only when two who are in love that come together that the greatest strength is born. Since there was no way for her to reach me, I had to get to her. I felt that I might die on the way, so I told my sorcerers to place all my emotions, all my desires, thoughts and everything I feel for MystiC-DarKneSs in the Crest. So, if I die, as I will, the Crest would hold what I am and what I feel for her. So when she recieves it, it would be the same as me being with her."

"NO!" the monk yelled, tears rolling down his cheek. "I will NOT accept this! You have taken her away from me once! I won't let you drag me back into this! I accepted that she loves you! I left the city! I let you have your peace! I joined the monastery to forget! I did everything I ever could to never ever have any contact with this matter! NO! You will NOT make me do this!"

Cryssalid's eyes were closing: "You are not in the monastery anymore. You could never forget her, as she is all you ever wanted. You could never survive the monk's life, not wanting anything. The other monks must have seen that, so now you are out of the monastery, as a wandering monk."

The monk was crying, now very apparently. Cryssalid took out the Crest and put it on his lap. "Without me, she will fade out in old age. Rescue her soul. Blessed be your deeds".

Cryssalid's hand dropped on the floor. His eyes closed. His breathing stopped.

"YOU BASTARD! I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU!!!!!" the monk yelled, shaking Cryssalid's dead body.

It was a beautiful sunny day. A man died. A monk cried. The dead man's soul was given to the monk, his nemesis, to be carried over a long distance, to rescue his true love.



The monk did not know how to climb montains, nor was he prepared enough for a long trip. He also knew that he could not face all the dangers alone, so he realized that he must find some allies in order to succeed. Also, crossing the Crimson Bridge would cost money, and he had none. St3vor, the guardian of the bridge, was known as somebody who would not accept anything other than money as a bridge tax (they offered him women, food, government positions, weapons, armor, music, toys, guns, cars, drugs, computers, free Internet... but no - he would only take money). Since he needed to cross the bridge, he needed money. Since he needed money, he had to go back to ModArchive and search for some.

Figuring that Rawbbie knew of the Crest, the monk covered his tracks of going back to ModArchive. Being an experienced ranger and knowing the forests like the back of his hand (and leg), he could move anywhere without being detected in the woods. The trouble was, when he approached ModArchive, there was no way to enter the city without being detected. He started looking for some ways of entering through hidden passages (he knew ModArchive had several of them, but he had never actually seen them).

Suddenly, he noticed something very unusual. A strange creature, half human, half dragon, seemed to simply emerge from the northern walls of the city. It then put its hands on the floor and started running with 4 legs towards the mountains to the north of the city. Guards shot arrows at this strange creature, but the arrows simply broke when they hit its spiky armor. Before long, the creature was already out of reach of the arrows.

The monk memorized the place where the creature emerged and waited for the night to fall. Then he approached the passage (with his noiseless, forest movement) and pushed his hand against the wall. To his surprise, he saw that the wall moved to the side and then returned to its place, in just enough time for somebody to pass through it. So, before he knew it, the monk was inside ModArchive.

What he saw was not nearly the ModArchive he used to know. He saw grimly looking buildings, armed police marching down every street, a lot of homeless people being beaten by the policemen and dragged to prison... In short, a sort of a place where you'd expect the criminals to be found, not the most advanced and civilized people in the region.

Hiding in the shadows of the buildings, the monk noticed that a single unarmed man was battling several policemen at once. The man had an impressive physical appearance and was definitely a warrior, even though he had very little clothes and no weapons or armor. He could defy a small squadron of five policemen at once, which he did. The leader of those five unhappy, beaten policemen sounded a whistle, which attracted more policemen, which also had trouble with this great warrior.

The monk saw an ally in this big man, so he rushed to help him. His quick and soundless legs caught the policemen by surprise and his aptitude in staff combat made the policemen even more beaten than before. It was not long before all the policemen started running away.

The warrior was on the floor, with bloody whip trails. Nevertheless, he stood up and said: "Thank you, whoever you are. I owe you one," and reached his hand towards the monk.

The monk took the warrior's hand and shook it. "Don't mention it. I feel you have a disagreement with the local authorities, huh?"

"Yeah," the warrior made an unhappy face. "I can't stand it the way it is now. One day everything is great and the next day they take all your belongings and place to live and they throw you on the streets!"

"I guess it is pretty nasty (let's move away from this main street, shall we?) Is this Rawbbie's idea of controlling the area?"

"Yeah, the idiot! I wish I'd just strangle him with my bare hands! His cops took away my best sword... ARGH! I hate his guts!"

"Well... Would you like to help in removing him from these areas?"

"OH YEAH!!!! How?"

"Join me," the monk said.

The warrior eyed him suspiciously. "Do you have a quest to destroy Rawbbie?"

"Not really... I have a quest to reach MystiC-DarKneSs' Castle, so SHE would destroy Rawbbie".

"Oh..." the warrior seemed a bit disappointed. "Swell, okay... Anything to remove this Rawbbie jerk!"

"Okay," the monk said. "We need some money to cross Crimson Bridge. We also need to equip you with armor and weapons... You are impressive in hand-to-whip combat, but what we're up against is a LOT deadlier than that".

"Money, you say?" said the warrior, with a thinking face. "There is a man on the other side of the city who might be able to help us raise money... I don't know about weapons and armor, though... All war material has been sacked and pillaged by Rawbbie's boys".

"Oh well... Money is good enough for a start. Let's visit this friend of yours. What is his name?"

"Christofori," the warrior said. "By the way, my name is Schabuda. What is your name?"

"My name is..." the monk stopped. After a second or two, he said: "I never believed I would need to speak out my name again..."

"Why is that?"

"Ahem... I'd really not talk about it..."

"Okay, okay" said the warrior. "But can you tell me your name?"

"My name is... My name is Kruser".



Using Kruser's ability to avoid being seen (and with the help of the night), he and Schabuda arrived before "Christofori's Magic Shop". "Let me do the talking," Schabuda said.

He knocked on the door three times. A voice spoke from inside: "The sign to the left of the door says 'Knock an EVEN number of times'. So, you are either odd, or illiterate, or a beggar! Go away!"

"I figured you'd say that... Why don't you use your crystal ball and find out?"

"That is witch's business! I don't use crystal balls! I'm a businessman, damnit!"

"Well, why doesn't your assistant?"

"He is not using it either! No witchcraft here!"

"And what about the crystal ball displayed in the window of your hut?"

"That is just an ornament... It is for sale as well, you know".

"I can tell that it has been used... And recently, even".

The voice from the inside was silent for several seconds. "Erm... Okay, my guests like to toy around with it..."

"Yeah, right! Only a skilled witch could leave such well-distributed hand marks. So there is only you and your assistant in the store who may know how to use a crystal ball... So which is witch?"

There were several more seconds of pause. After that, the locks of the hut started to unlock.

"How did you know that the crystal ball has been used?" Kruser whispered at Schabuda's ear.

"I didn't. I bluffed," responded Schabuda, smilingly.

As the door of the hut opened, the voice carried on: "Look, if you're going to report this to the police, I'll..." and he stopped.

The door was now fully open. A man stood in front of Schabuda and Kruser, with an opened mouth, speechless. It was only for a second - he found the following words in his mind after that: "Schabuda, you sneaky bastard!" They embraced.

"How are you, Christofori, old crook?" Schabuda responded, laughing out loud.

"I could be better, you know... You just shortened my life for a day. Don't EVER do that to me again, will you?" Christofori said, with a relieved smile on his face, wiping his forehead. "Oh..." he said, glancing at Kruser. "And who are you?"

"I'm Kruser, a friend of Schabuda's. Glad to meet you," Kruser said and shook Christofori's hand.

"Hello. Please come in. It is not too safe to stand on the streets for long".

After they went in, the light of the lanterns revealed Schabuda's whip trails. "Good Lord!" Christofori said when he saw them. "What in the world happened to you?"

"Ah... The police tried to take off my clothes as well!" Schabuda said angrily. "My best sword and armor were not good enough for them, they wanted even my clothes! Damn them! I wish I could just kill them all!"

"Ssssh! Take it easy. Let's just take care of those wounds of yours," said Christofori. "Hey Slam! Come here! Let's just see what you have learned so far!"

A younger man appeared from the door in the back of the room. "Yes, master?" he said.

"Slam, take these two in the back room and give them food and a bed for the night. Take care of Schabuda's wounds. I'll be there as soon as I close the shop".

"Yes, master. This way, please," Slam said and led Schabuda and Kruser to the back room.

There were only about ten minutes until closing time. Christofori could not help feeling that seeing Schabuda in blood, with a stranger by his side, meant new trouble, but also a new adventure.



Ten minutes later, Christofori, wearing a druid's robe, entered the back room and saw Schabuda bandaged, laid on his back on one bed. Slam, Christofori's apprentice, was sitting on a chair by his side. On the other end of the room, on the other bed, Kruser was laying on his back, with his eyes closed.

Slam turned to Christofori and said: "He will be all right, master. The wounds will heal completely in just a couple of days".

"Very well, Slam. You may retire for the night," said Christofori.

"Yes, master," said Slam and left the room.

Christofori approached Schabuda's bed. "This is one great young man you are teaching, Christofori," said Schabuda. "He took great care of me".

"Well... Actually, the healing skills are his own," said Christofori upon sitting down on the chair. "I am supposed to teach him combat magic. I promised his mother that I'd pass all my knowledge on to him. He is a very talented young man, and we badly need more skilled druids these days".

"His mother? Do I know her?"

"Maybe... Grl the rogue... Have you heard of her?"

"GRL??? The greatest archer in ModArchive? THAT Grl?"

"The very same. She also has some medical skills that she taught her son. I am supposed to extend his knowledge. That much I owe her... After all, she did save my life a couple of times".

"That is good to hear. But tell me, do you have some trouble with the police? After Rawbbie's takeover, all weapons and armors were confiscated... There is no way that we can organize a rebellion. All we can hope on now is magic. And since you're the greatest druid in the region, is there anything you can do?"

"Alas, my friend... I am not all-powerful. I am actually the only druid left in the city. The Druid Rank, our headquarters, was in Trax, which is now destroyed". Christofori stopped for a bit. He let go of a deep sigh and continued: "Only the pure chance wanted me to be sent to ModArchive to gather potions for my fellow druids. Rawbbie knew what he was doing, apparently... As his armies attacked Trax, the Druid Rank was the first to be struck. All the druids were killed. All the knowledge was lost. I am now the only one left. I must hide my true identity. I present myself as a magic items merchant. If the police ever found out that I am a druid, I'd be hunted and executed. I present Slam as my shopkeeping assistant; if they found out that he was learning druid magic, they would have him also killed, or even worse, converted to serve Rawbbie".

There were several moments of pause. "How long will it take Schabuda to recover?"

Schabuda and Christofori turned to Kruser. They did not even notice that he was now sitting, rather than laying, on his bed.

"A couple of days, at most," said Christofori. "Tell me, how come you are also here?"

"I brought him," said Schabuda. "He saved me from the cops. If it were not for him, I'd probably end up in jail by now".

Christofori smiled at Kruser. "Any friend of Schabuda is a friend of mine. Schabuda will be fine, don't worry".

"I am not worried," said Kruser, with a surprisingly emotionless look. "I am only asking because I need him to join me on my quest. I must reach MystiC-DarKneSs' Castle by all means. I figured that Schabuda's fighting skills would be more than welcome".

"MystiC-DarKneSs' Castle?!!!" Christofori asked in astonishment. "Are you crazy, man? After MystiC-DarKneSs and Cryssalid had their quarrel, MystiC-DarKneSs imposed a restriction on all ModArchivers. No citizen of ModArchive is welcome in her Castle anymore".

"No?" Schabuda was surprised to hear this. "Why did they quarrel? Last I heard they were about to get married".

Kruser felt an inflow of pain in his chest after this sentence, but he displayed no emotion.

"Yes, they were engaged. Their marriage was going to bring peace and prosperity to the region," Christofori said. "But MystiC-DarKneSs could never forgive Cryssalid for setting a deal with Inferno45. She could not bear the thought of a demoniac living close to her, even if it would be across the river from her Castle and in a totally different realm she has no contact with. She said that problems would arise from this and she was right - Rawbbie came. After Trax was destroyed and ModArchive was taken over, she could no longer trust ModArchive people, fearing that they ALL served Rawbbie. So she imposed a restriction - any stranger would have to be inspected first. If they would come from ModArchive, they would be imprisoned at once.

This made Rawbbie extremely angry, since he would not be able to infiltrate his troops across the river. After he raised mountains to the north of ModArchive to cut out our contact with the dragons, he erected a huge circle of mountains surrounding MystiC-DarKneSs' Castle. That way, he isolated her; and she and her people are slowly dying from starvation. They can last up for about a year with their supplies, but after that the Castle would surely fail to defend itself from any attack".

"Why don't the dragons fly over the mountains now?" asked Schabuda. "They must have noticed that something very wrong happened... Aren't they at least curious?"

"The mountains are way too high for their flying capabilities," Christofori explained. "The dragons are massive creatures and cannot fly very high. They need a lot of air and if they would try to fly over Rawbbie's mountains, they'd suffocate; the air is much less dense at higher altitudes".

"Wait... Are you talking about the mountains north of ModArchive?" said Kruser.

"Yes. Rawbbie raised those, artificially," said Christofori.

"I saw a strange creature when I entered... It was half human, half dragon. It could run very quickly and it ran towards those mountains to the north".

"Really? Did it have spiked armor?" Christofori asked anxiously.

"Yes... The guards shot him with arrows from the towers of the city, but the arrows simply broke apart when they hit him".

"A draconian! My, my, so I guess we do have some contact with the northerners after all," Christofori said and smiled, apparently relieved. "This one was probably sent here on business, on behalf of the dragons".

"Draconian, you say... And not dragon?"

"Yes. There is a difference. Dragons and draconians live in a sort of a symbiosis. Dragons need gems to be able to breed. While they hunt for food, they hunt some for the draconians as well. The draconians visit the city and exchange the food for gems. Draconians have no need for luxuries, but they trade the gems for food with the dragons, which also offer them protection from external invasion. And so it works out".

"Gems? Hmmmm..." Kruser started thinking. "Could we find those gems anywhere? I need to raise money to cross Crimson Bridge," he said.

"Aha... You were talking about this... Why would you need to go there? Why would you risk putting yourself in prison even if you managed to cross the mountains that surround MystiC-DarKneSs' Castle?" asked Christofori.

"If I cross the mountains, MystiC-DarKneSs will want to see me," Kruser said and pulled out the Crest of ModArchive.

Christofori and Schabuda were looking in awe. "Cryssalid's Crest! He never gave it to anyone! What have you done to him?!" yelled Schabuda.

"I heard his last words. My quest is to fulfill his last wish - to give this Crest to MystiC-DarKneSs".

"His last wish?" Christofori asked. "You mean... he..."

"He died before my very eyes," said Kruser.

Nobody spoke anything for a while.

"This Crest holds Cryssalid's soul, or so he told me," Kruser carried on. "If I carry it over to MystiC-DarKneSs, she may gain enough power to overcome the mountain barrier and ultimately destroy Rawbbie".

"So why did you accept, monk?" asked Christofori. "Cryssalid was our town mayor, but he was well known for his bad relations to the monastery and the Monk Order. How come it is you that he asked to fulfill his final wish?"

"For one, he had bad relations with the Monk Order because of me," Kruser spoke with his head down. "After MystiC-DarKneSs chose his love over mine, I left and joined the Monk Order. To make sure I would not be around him or her, he exiled the monks from the city and into the woods".

Christofori and Schabuda were silent. Kruser continued: "At first, nobody blamed it on me. But I guess I could not bear the burden of silence forever. I became too loud, too clumsy, too demanding for monestary life, so our Head Master told me to leave the Order. So here I am, exiled from my home city and exiled from my way of life". Kruser put his hand across his eyes, trying not to cry.

Christofori stood up, approached him and put his hand on Kruser's shoulder. "You are back in your home town", he said. "You have been given a quest, one that our mayor has requested from you, as his final wish. Therefore, count on my help".

"I am already with you, friend" Schabuda said from his bed.

"Now go to sleep," Christofori said. "I'll wake you up in the morning to discuss what we are to do."

Three people were now on a quest to carry the crest from ModArchive to MystiC-DarKneSs' Castle.



With the first rays of the morning sun, Kruser woke up. He saw Schabuda still sound asleep, so, using his quiet pace, he entered the main room of the shop. There he found Slam cleaning up the store.

"Good morning," Slam told Kruser, smiling. "My master will arrive any moment now. Please sit down and wait for him".

As Kruser sat down, he looked around for anything interesting in the store. Most of the items could not be considered "magical": crystal balls, tarot cards, books of explained dreams, artificial palms with their destinies engraved on them, rabbits in hats with instruction manuals on how to feed them, self-help books of the type "How to set up your own psychic store and take people's money without even trying" and so on. Kruser sensed that Slam and Christofori have much more potential than to work in a store like this, so he asked: "Why do you do this for a living? You deserve a better life. You are an intelligent young man and Christofori is a capable druid. It seems unfair..."

Kruser did not finish his sentence. Slam immediately turned to him, put his index finger on his mouth and said "SSSHHHH!!! Please, sir, be quiet. Saying the word 'druid' is forbidden and punishable by Rawbbie's laws".

Kruser was a bit stunned, but continued: "Sorry... So, Christofori told me he is teaching you... How is it going?"

"Very well, sir, thank you," said Slam. "I am eager to progress as quick as possible, so I may help my mother and anyone else involved in anything necessary to improve the situation in the city".

"You will be a great dru... ahm... you will do very well, young man".

Slam smiled. At that moment, the stairs to the left of the back door started creeking. Christofori came down from the first floor, where, apparently, his bedroom was placed.

"Oh..." he said, upon seeing Kruser. "You're up. So we can start immediately. First of all, we need to find you some new clothes and change your appearance. Slam, please..."

"Yes, master," said Slam and disappeared into the back room. Quickly, he returned with some clean clothes.

"Hey!" Kruser was surprised. "What is this about?"

"After yesterday, all the police will be looking for a beaten up warrior and a monk who looks just like you," Christofori explained. "We need to disguise you. So if you want to say one last goodbye to that horsetail of yours, now is the time".

After fifteen minutes, Christofori and Kruser (now completely bald and with new clothes) stood in front of the shop. "It would be wise if you start growing your hair again." Christofori said and started walking. Kruser followed him.

"Erm... Shouldn't I take my staff along?" asked Kruser.

"No, better not. The police know that a man with a staff created problems so they'll now try to confiscate all staves in the city... Even canes from elder people. The bastards!"

Kruser felt a little ashamed and responsible. To ease the feeling, he asked: "So, where are we going?"

"To see Grl. We'll take the small alleys, to avoid being seen".

"Slam's mother? How would she help us?" Kruser did not like the notion of meeting a woman. It was a long time since he last did, and felt a little insecure about how he might react.

"She is a rogue, so she is used to travelling great distances. She knows this city inside out. She is also a capable healer and knows how to prepare various potions. On top of that, she is the best archer in the area. She IS somebody you'd like to meet," said Christofori and smiled.

"Hmmm... I thought Rawbbie confiscated ALL weapons? Including bows and arrows."

"True," said Christofori. "Now Grl earns her living from making and selling potions. Low magic is legal, because there is no way anyone can forbid it; ModArchive is at a certain place of the area, where there are lots of magic wells, freely available to anyone - just dig a hole in the ground and you have a magic well. Low magic spells are mostly for healing and not combat, so Rawbbie felt it was no threat for him if he let it exist".

"Do you still nurture your own, D-magic?" Kruser asked, winking.

"D-magic?" Christofori didn't get it.

"DR-magic." Kruser tried to explain.

"DR-magic?" Christofori still didn't get it.

"DRU-magic!" Kruser was getting annoyed.

"DRU-magic?" Christofori just could not get it at this time.

"DRUI-magic!!!!" Kruser was very upset.

"SSSHHHH!!!" Christofori finaly got it. Too late: four policemen turned towards them, eyed them suspiciously and approached them.

"Hey!" one cop said to the other. "Them said the D-word!"

"Are ye lookin' for trouble, peasants? 'Cause we gots plenty of it for ya!" the other one said.

"Excuse us, officers," Christofori started explaining. "My friend is from out of town and is not accustomed to our laws".

"Outlander, eh?" one cop growled. "Well, it's time ye learned our language, fella!" As he finished speaking, he hit Kruser with a fist in the nose. Kruser found himself on the floor, with a bloody nose. Christofori tried to stop the policeman, but the other three caught him: two held him by his arms while the third was hitting him in the stomach and face. "THIS is how we treat scum like you rats!" the fourth policeman said, the one who hit Kruser, and started approaching him.

Kruser was really angry. He spoke several words, turned his right hand in an arc around his head and pointed it towards the policeman. A missile of magic light seemed to form from his palm, which was then shot and hit the fourth guard directly in the head. The policeman fell on the ground, motionless.

The other three guards were VERY surprised to see combat magic performed in the city. How could this be? Low magic has healing spells, not combat ones, or so they thought... While all of these thoughts formed in the policemen's tiny brains, Kruser cast the magic missile spell again and struck the policeman who was hitting Christofori. Two cops down, two to go.

The remaining two, who were holding Christofori by the arms, were now paralyzed with fear. This is all that Christofori needed - he took a second to set his thoughts straight and said some obscure words. His arms then began heating up and reached a point when they ignited with a magical red flame. The guards who were holding him got severely burned up so they let go of him with cries of pain. This would never do: Christofori then directed each of his arms towards each of the guards and yelled a magic word. That very moment, a flow of flame was shot out of each of Christofori's arms, as from a flamethrower, which completely burned down the remaining two guards.

Kruser was thrilled. Not only have the two of them literally destroyed four policemen on their own, but he also saw an insight of Christofori's magic. He knew that they stand a chance against Rawbbie now. Christofori did not bother with it, though: "Quickly! Go back to my shop and tell Slam to evacuate the premises! Use these exact words!" Then he turned around and got ready to run in the opposite direction.

"Wait!" Kruser shouted. "Where are you going???!!!"

"I'll find you! Just follow Slam!" with these words, Christofori disappeared in the dark alleys of the city.

Kruser was left alone with four dead policemen around him, two of them completely burned to death. Suddenly, he had an idea. He searched the "unburned" policemen's pockets and found some money. He felt a guilty conscience for stealing the money, but he realized that they would have done the same to him if they had killed him instead (and if Kruser had actually had anything worth stealing). Nevertheless, he gained the starting amount of money necessary to cross Crimson Bridge. After he collected all the gold pieces from them, he turned towards Christofori's shop and ran.



"Slam!" Kruser said when he opened the door. "Evacuate the premises! Christofori said so!"

It took less then a second for Slam to react. "Follow me!" he said and entered the back room. Kruser followed him and found Schabuda on his feet, well dressed, ready for travel.

"Oho! Lots of running means showtime" Schabuda said, almost with a happy face. "Say, what happened to you?" he said, seeing Kruser's bruised eye and bleeding nose.

"I also have a problem with city authorities... What more can I say..."

"This way, sirs" said Slam. "Hurry!"

Slam opened a trapdoor in the floor, which lead to a stairway. Slam gave Schabuda a lantern and said: "Follow the stairs and the corridor. Eventually you will end up in Father Komsip's room. When you emerge on the other side, don't go out of the room, but wait for him to come in first. When you see him, say 'we're here for diurdal matters' - that is D-I-U-R-D-A-L. Please hurry and good luck."

As Schabuda, carrying the lantern, and Kruser came down the stairs into a dark underground corridor, they heard the trapdoor close and lock behind him. After several moments, to ease the shock from this swift course of events, Schabuda said: "What is diurdal?"

"Mayde it means 'druidal', but with altered words, to be some sort of a password... But nevermind that, we must go. The police will certainly be looking for me and Christofori now".

"Man, can't you stay out of trouble at least once?"

"I guess not... I'm very fond of you and I've recieved some of your traits," Kruser responded jokingly.

Nothing was said afterwards. Both of them walked quietly towards the end of the corridor. They may have walked for ten minutes without saying a word, when suddenly a stairway appeared in front of them. They followed it and reached another trapdoor, which could be opened with no problem. They emerged to see a modestly equipped room, with one bed, one chair and table, and some fruits on it. As Kruser closed the trapdoor quietly behind him, he said: "Are you hungry?"

Schabuda saw the fruits. Then he saw Kruser. Kruser saw the fruits and then Schabuda. The next moment, half of the fruits were already eaten.

Just a little later, the door of the room opened. A medium-height man entered, wearing a black robe. He was surprised to see two strangers, popped out of nowhere, eating his fruits. Kruser turned to him, and while he was still chewing a banana, he said: "We awe 'ewe vow wiuwdafl mafferfff..." and splattered pieces of the banana from his mouth on the floor. Schabuda saw that and started laughing hysterically, so the apple that was on his mouth dropped on the floor, along with some juice that Schabuda has chewed up from it.

The result: Kruser was embarassed, Schabuda was rolling on the bed laughing and the man in black shouted "WHO ARE YOU, FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE???!!!"

Kruser wiped his mouth and said: "We are here for diurdal business". Schabuda still had trouble trying not to laugh.

The man sighed. "I might have guessed... Christofori never ceases to surprise me. Welcome in my humble home. I am Komsip, the resident priest in this church. I can tell you men are hungry, so I'll go get some more food for you".

"Don't forget to bring a broom as well, because Kruser gets overwhelmed by food" said Schabuda and burst out in laughter again. Kruser then took a pear and threw it right into Schabuda's face. This shocked him a bit, so he took a pillow and threw it into Kruser's face, who, in turn, dropped the plate with the remaining fruits on the floor, making an even greater mess.

As Komsip closed the door from outside of the room, he looked towards the ceiling and said quietly: "God, why do you make me clean my room every other day? Have I been THAT filthy in my previous life?"



After they have completely messed up Komsip's room, Kruser and Schabuda remembered that they're still hungry. Several minutes later, Komsip entered the room, carrying a large plate of sandwiches. "This is for you," he said, somewhat uneasily. "Get well fed".

As soon as he put the plate down on the table, Kruser and Schabuda started eating with turbo speed. From the ten sandwiches that Komsip brought, all were eaten in five minutes. Komsip sighed again and mumbled something a priest would not normally say, but, as he figured, these two were not normal, so it was acceptable.

"Ahhhh, thanks, brother Komsip," Schabuda said after finishing his last sandwich. He burped.

"It is FATHER Komsip to you!" Komsip said angrily. "And let me be honest: I am not too thrilled with having you here! I will keep you here until Christofori arrives. After he picks you up, consider yourselves NOT welcome here!"

"Gee, dude," said Schabuda. "You certainly are frustrated for a priest".

Komsip did not react to that. "I have a sermon to perform. Christofori usually comes to pick up his drop-offs during this time. When I come back, if you're still here, I will personally throw you out. Goodbye!" he said and slammed shut the door from the outside.

There were several moments of silence. "Drop-offs. Pffffft!" said Schabuda. "This guy has issues with hospitality".

"And we have issues with hygiene," said Kruser and pointed to the messed up floor, bed and table. "Let's hope Christofori comes back before Komsip does".

Sure enough, some half an hour later, the trapdoor opened and a head emerged. "Hello guys, glad to see you. Hey! Is that an appricot on the floor?"

"Hey Christofori," said Kruser. "Yes, it is. Pretend it is not there, but try not to step on it, as Komsip is mad enough at us as it is".

Christofori climbed up from the trapdoor, along with somebody else, who said "Hello, guys".

"Hello" responded Schabuda. Kruser could not speak. It has been years since he last saw a woman and even longer since he actually spoke to one. "H-h-h-hell-l-o-o" he stuttered.

"So YOU are Kruser" the woman smiled and offered her hand. "I'm Grl. Christofori here told me quite some interesting things about you".

As Kruser shook Grl's hand, he felt her strong grasp and felt a bit better. He wondered if he would do something stupid to her, but now he was sure that she could take care of herself. "Erm, well, yes... Christofori's 'things' were more spectacular, you know..."

"Hehehee... I bet. Hello there, Schabuda. Let's see your wounds..."

For a couple of seconds, Kruser could not take his sight off Grl. That smile, that voice... She reminded him of MystiC-DarKneSs SO much... Maybe it was the lack of contact with women that did this... Yes, that must have been it. Kruser tried to shake off those thoughts. Christofori noticed that and said "Kruser, I brought you your staff. I felt you might need it".

"Ehm? Oh, thanks" Kruser was brought back to his senses now.

After a short while, Grl inspected Schabuda's back. "The whip wounds are peripheral. There is no inflammation or anything. Tomorrow you'll be as good as new, big boy," she said, and slapped him on the back, in a friendly manner.

"OOOOOOUUUUCCCHHHHH!!!!" Schabuda yelled. "Watch it, damnit!"

"Ooops! Sorry. I forgot the wounds might still hurt..."

Kruser found this hilarious. "Hehehehe! Schabuda, you have business with a physician, who physically makes her presence known," and he started laughing. Then Christofori started laughing and so did Grl. Schabuda cursed silently in pain, but he smiled in the end as well.

It was a pleasant atmosphere of creating a friendship and a party of four people. The atmosphere was disrupted with the reentrance of Komsip. "You are still here???!!!" he yelled. "Christofori, you take these apes back to your own place AT ONCE! I don't ever want to see them again! Hi Grl".

"Yup. It is about time we left," said Christofori and opened the trapdoor. He picked up his lantern and said: "Kruser and Grl, follow me. Schabuda, you take your lantern and follow us at the back. Thanks for everything, Komsip. See you later". He climbed down the stairs into the corridor.

Kruser climbed down next, and then Grl followed. Schabuda took his lantern, and as he climbed down to a height that only his head could be seen, he turned to Komsip and said: "Thanks for the hospitality, bro. Have you considered redecorating the room? I feel that the floor should be painted yellow, in a banana color..."

"GET OUT!" Komsip yelled and threw his plate at Schabuda's head. It was a good shot: Schabuda was hit in the head and then fell downstairs into the dark corridor. Komsip could hear him hitting each stair on his way down, followed by a "ouch", "ow", "uh", "aie", "darn" and several other words.

As he closed the trapdoor, Komsip looked upward towards the ceiling and said: "Thank you, God, for this small amount of justice in the world".



As the party strived through the underground corridor back towards Christofori's shop, Kruser asked him: "So, what is the plan? How are we going to raise money to pass Crimson Bridge?"

"Me and Grl thought about it," Christofori said. "The thing is that the more people cross the bridge, the cheaper it gets per person. That is what it USED to be like before Rawbbie messed up everything. Basically, we'll take that approach and take our chances. It is likely that St3vor, the keeper of the bridge, won't really care about the turmoil that has arisen in this region".

"How do you think he'll be asking per person? I have some 10 gold pieces already..."

"What???!!!" Christofori was shocked. "Where did you get those from?"

"The cops, remember? Call me a thief if you wish... That is better than murderer!" Kruser said without a single trace of a guilty conscience.

Christofori touched his face. The cuts on his mouth could not be seen because of Grl's intervention, but he still felt that his jaw is aching. "Blast! I wish I hadn't torched those other two bastards... We'd be richer now... Oh well". Then he continued: "In my opinion, the more people we can gather by our side, the better. We would have even more chances to win Citizenship Papers".

"Citizenship Papers? What is that?" asked Kruser.

"Well, to pass Crimson Bridge, you're required to pay some money, but also to show that you're a citizen of ModArchive. That is something Cryssalid introduced, after noticing that Inferno45's guests started strolling about in ModArchive. Since neither the Crimson King nor MystiC-DarKneSs wanted to have anything with them, Cryssalid issued Citizenship Papers to all the 'real' ModArchive citizens, so they would be able to identify themselves".

"How did St3vor take this innovation into account?"

"Oh, he was delighted. This meant that he would have the right to send back people who paid money, but did not have Citizenship Papers. This, in turn, meant that he would get richer if more 'non-citizens' of ModArchive tried to cross the bridge".

"So... Why would it be easier for us to get Citizenship Papers if we are more people? Do the clerks in the office like to process more people at once, so they would have more time for idleness?" Kruser asked, jokingly.

Christofori sighed. "What clerks, my friend? What office? The only way to obtain Citizenship Papers these days is to battle in the arena with the gladiators! If you win, you get the papers. If not, you get kicked out, provided that the gladiators don't kill you".

Kruser disliked this idea. "Sounds cruel. I believe this is Rawbbie's idea for fun"

"Precisely" Christofori said. "The worst part is that they take away all your money if you lose".

There was a moment of silence. Grl interrupted it: "You forgot the catch, Christofori: they take away your money, but let you keep your weapons"

"Ah yes, that is our hope" said Christofori. "I have really no hopes of beating the gladiators on the first try, but if we risk being beaten a bit, we will end up fully equipped and armed. Then we can practice on the local thieves and outlaws that roam the streets of the city. We can even fight some more cops to raise some more money".

"Allright!" Schabuda said. "Action ahead! Yesss!"

Kruser was not very enthusiastic about this thought. He disliked violence and was raised and trained to fight only in self-defense. Still, he saw that Schabuda would always be ready for a fight, as any warrior would. Christofori, the druid, accepted the fact that he would kill more people to achieve any goal of his; from the little that Kruser knew about druids, Christofori's mind was set towards accomplishment and would not tolerate second thoughts in himself or anyone around him. Grl, the rogue, has certainly travelled a lot and had more than enough experience in life-or-death situations; seeing her alive made Kruser sure that she was more than prepared to kill in order to survive.

"Monk," Christofori said and paused. Kruser's attention was now focused on him. "I need you to respect your own life more than anyone else's. You will see, smell and taste lots of blood, pain and death. You will learn to maim, mutilate and kill in order to survive. Because if you don't, it will be done to you, without second thoughts," he said, with an arcane, heavy voice.

Kruser was resolute: "I hear you, druid".

Christofori liked the sound of death in Kruser's voice. So did Grl. So did Schabuda.



As all four climbed up the trapdoor in the back room of Christofori's shop, Slam approached Christofori and said: "Master, Libris the barbarian came and left this for you". Christofori accepted a piece of paper and thanked him.

As Slam left the room, Christofori read the message aloud: "Come to the Compo Inn. Meet me in the bathroom. I will most likely be there, since I have this unstoppable urge to urinate every time I drink five big mugs of ale in a row. Libris. P.S. Please make this message self-destruct in 10 seconds, as I must run to the WC again".

Kruser was silently laughing, while others felt like a heavy burden fell on their shoulders. "Oh, that crazy idiot! What is he up to now?" Christofori asked, squishing the piece of paper.

"I think you should meet him, if he asks you to," said Grl. "After all, he only contacts you if he has something important to tell you".

Christofori sighed. "Oh, all right. Let's go to the Compo Inn. I have this strong feeling we'd be asking for trouble, but let's do it. Libris may have something useful to say, after all".

"Let's not forget to visit the dark alley behind it first," said Grl. "You 'magic' boys may need to recharge your mana".

As they stepped out of the shop and walked in the dark alleys, Kruser quietly asked Grl: "Say... You prepare potions? Are some of them magical?"

"Sure" Grl said. "Most of them are for restoring mana, but some are for individual or group healing, for increasing dexterity, strength, vitality and so on. Mostly I use mana restoration spells, though, as then I can cast low magic healing spells, which do the trick most of the time. The other potions are a bit more difficult to prepare, so I only make them upon request".

"Do you get well paid?"

"Well, sure. Rawbbie's customers are more than generous when paying their dues".

"You serve Rawbbie??!!!"

"Either that, or my shop gets demolished, I get sent to prison or killed and the same thing or worse happens to my son," Grl said, very calmly. "What would YOU choose?"

Kruser was silenced. He kept walking, with his head down.

As they kept walking, Grl told Christofori: "Hey Christofori. I don't think I've told you this... HyoCHAN has passed the rogue test. Now he is in charge of my potion shop, and I am relieved of my duties around it".

Christofori smiled with a broad grin. "WOW! Great news, Grl! Kruser, do you hear that? This means that Grl will also join us in our quest!"

Kruser raised his head and smiled. He didn't know what would expect from Grl, as he had not seen any of her combat skills yet. Still, he figured, having someone who knows how to heal at any time is more than great.

"HyoCHAN is now completely in control of the potion shop. I'm sure he'll be a great successor of mine," said Grl. "Oh look! We are here. There's the magic pool. Kruser, follow Christofori into the pool".

Kruser was a bit surprised to see Christofori simply enter the pool of magic water and come out completely dry. "How did you do that?" he said.

"Simple. This is a pool of magic water. When you enter it, you get 'wet' only with as much water as you have mana to recharge. The rest goes back to the pool"

Kruser then stepped into the pool and felt his mana increase. "Wow! Groovy! Feels like teen spirit!" He then turned to Grl. "Won't you enter?"

Grl said: "I had not spent any of my mana yet, so I don't need to. Now let's enter the inn. I feel that Libris is already in the bathroom".



The Compo Inn was as any other: lots of people on a small area, full of smoke and ale. The visitors of the Compo Inn were not what you could call "aristocratic" - thieves, crooks, criminals, murderers and bandits were the ones that called this place their home. So when Christofori, Schabuda, Kruser and especially Grl entered, they found all of the visitors in the inn staring at them. Christofori whispered to Schabuda: "I hope you guys won't get yourselves into trouble, as I don't see Libris anywhere. I must go to the bathroom to meet him".

"Don't you worry, Christofori" said Schabuda. "We're going to be just fine. You just leave everything to me".

"I was afraid you'd say that" said Christofori and headed towards the bathroom.

Christofori had no problem finding his way through the mob to reach the bathroom, since all of the audience's attention was focused on Grl. She did not really notice that, since she turned towards the bartender and said: "Three mugs of ale, please".

As the bartender served her, she took two mugs with her hands and wanted to turn towards Kruser and Shabuda, but some bearded, smelly, drunken crook stood in front of her, saying: "Ay, girlie! Nice pair of balloonies ye got there!"

Grl acted very calmly: "Why, thank you, sir. What is your name?"

"Theh... Call me BardCat," the crook said and burped right into Grl's face. This caused a massive euphoria in the inn and everybody started cheering BardCat's name. Kruser wanted to intefrere, but Grl looked at him and shoke her head sideways, moving her lips, as she was saying "No" to him.

She then turned to BardCat and said, very calmly as before. "Thank you for your compliment. Now could you please move aside and let me carry these mugs of ale to my friends?"

"Ye ain't goin' nowhere until I handle yer balloonies personally!" he growled. This created an even bigger euphoria and even louder cheers. Kruser felt very upset, but Grl still gave him asign to stay in place.

Grl then spread her arms sideways, holding the mugs of ale in her hands. "Okay... Get it over with and we may go our own ways".

BardCat's eyes glistened. He thrusted his hands towards Grl's breasts with open palms, but before he had time to react, Grl smashed both of the mugs full of ale at both sides of BardCat's head. Some two seconds after that, BardCat found himself lying in the floor with his face down, but had no idea how or why.

The people in the inn were stunned. Grl took advantage of this moment of surprise and jumped behind the bar of the inn. "Anyone else wants some?" she said out loud.

A second afterwards, there were bottles, glasses, chairs, tables and just about anything flying all over the inn. Schabuda yelled: "SHOWTIME!" and struck an elbow into the nose of the nearby character, unfortunate enough to be at Schabuda's side at the moment. Kruser saw a fist approach directly in his face, so he ducked instinctively and shoved his staff first into the stomach, and then into the chin of the fist's owner...



Meanwhile, Christofori entered the bathroom and said: "Helloooo! Anybody home?"

A voice was heard from behind the door leading to the room for heavy relief: "Christofori! Is that you?"

Christofori said: "Yeah, Libris, it's me... OH! FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, MAN! This is disgusting... Oh, my God! I'm opening the window... Holy Cow, it stinks SO badly!"

"Yeah... Sorry, mate. I ate some rotten sausages for lunch, and I guess my stomach can't take it... Wait, here it comes again! *gnnnngnnn*..."

(The author of this story reserves the right not to write down the sound effects that would follow afterwards, for the sake of under-age children, who may also read this story, by any chance).

"YOU STINKING ASSHOLE!" Christofori yelled and jumped upwards, caught the window frame with his hands and pulled his head outside, to be able to breathe more or less normally. He heard Libris' muffed voice from inside, but he was determined not to put his head back inside until the horrible smell clears up. Only after he heard the sound of flushing the toilet (ModArchive was the only city in the area to have the advanced water-loo sewage system), as well as Libris' words from below him "You can come down now... It is breathable again. You won't die or mutate, trust me," he let go and landed back in the bathroom.

Christofori breathed in and out fully. After making sure he is still the same old Christofori, he opened his eyes and saw Libris with a fierce look. "I knew you barbarians were uncivilized and dangerous because of it, but I never thought your waste could be THAT deadly".

"Would you please leave my waste where it belongs? I have some information for you," said Libris. "The Druid Rank has been completely destroyed, right? Well, apparently the Mage Council has evaded such a fate".

"NO WAY!" Christofori shouted in awe. "How could this be? Last I heard there are no magi in ModArchive!"

"Not IN ModArchive... OUTSIDE of it," said Libris and smiled. "Apparently some of them had a vision of these things happening even before they did, so he warned the others to evacuate. It seems that a night before Rawbbie attacked ModArchive, the complete Mage Council has been evacuated out of the city".

"So where are they now?"

"In a camp west of the city. I don't know the exact location, though".

"So how do you know all of this, then?"

"Yesterday I was hunting in the woods, for food and trade. I accidentaly saw a mage on one meadow, gathering some herbs. He was apparently inexperienced, so he did not notice the pack of wolves gathering around him until it was too late. He tried to defend himself with his magic, but it was apparent that he was outnumbered. Then I stepped in and rescued him (I don't want to brag, but 5 wolves were REALLY a piece of cake). In return, he provided me with this information. He said that whenever I may wish to contact him, I'd need to leave a message at a certain place near the one where we met"

Christofori's mouth spread in a broad grin. "Excellent, excellent! This means that we can consult the magi for help. They would surely help us in our quest".

"What quest?"

"Oh, you don't know... Me, Schabuda, Grl and a monk called Kruser are supposed to reach MystiC-DarKneSs' Castle and give her the Crest of Modarchive, the one that Cryssalid wore".

"Wore?" Libris said with a surprised expression. "You mean... He..."

"He died" Christofori nodded. "On Kruser's hands. It was Cryssalid's last wish that Kruser give the Crest to MystiC-DarKneSs".

"A quest, you say..." said Libris. He seemed uninterested in the fact that the mayor of his city is no longer alive. Christofori, though, expected this from a barbarian. "Does this quest involve a lot of fighting?" Libris asked.





"Most likely".




"Don't push it!"

"I'm in," Libris said. "Let's get together, right now, in a sweet harmony..." he started singing as he led Christofori out of the bathroom and into the bar.

The bar was completely demolished. There was no chair, table, glass or bottle that was not broken. The floor was full of bodies of people that were beaten up and unconscious. Among all those bodies, the massive body of Schabuda stood straight, with several bruises on his face and a tooth or two missing from his jaw, but with a happy smile. Kruser was also standing at the other side of the inn, mourning the fact that his staff was cracked in two. Grl stood behind the bar, wiping it with a cloth, feeling that she owed that much to the bartender, who also stood next to her, getting ready to clean up after another daily fight.

"You behaved yourself very well, ma'am," the bartender said. "Would you consider working with me in the inn?"

"Oh, thank you for your offer," Grl said, smilingly. "Unfortunately, there is a little thing I must do first. After that, I'll think about your offer. But thank you for asking," she handed him the cloth, as she finished cleaning the bar. She then joined the others at the other side of the bar.

"Ah, Libris, you old dog!" said Schabuda with a broad grin, revealing his missing teeth. "You have no idea what you've missed".

"Oh well... You guys don't come around here often anyway... So I figured I'd let you have this treat on me," Libris smiled.

Christofori was silent. It took him several seconds to accept the fact that Schabuda, Grl and Kruser, and maybe the bartender, managed to beat up an entire inn full of all sorts of crooks, criminals, thieves and the sort. "I think we may stand a chance," he said, more to himself than to anybody else.

Kruser looked bewildered. He saw all those unconscious bodies and, after he accepted the fact that his staff was cracked, he started inspecting each of the unscounscious people, searching for money.

"Hey, hey, HEY!" the bartender yelled at Kruser. "What are you doing?"

"Who, me?" Kruser seemed quite carried away in searching for money, so those words shook him up. "I need money to cross Cromson Bridge, and these folks happen not to need theirs at the moment..."

"Now wait just a minute!" the bartender shouted. "How do you expect me to repair all the damage you and your friends have done? The money that they lose in this inn is my only source of existence! Their money is needed to pay for all the damage here!"

"Now listen, you..." Kruser was ready to get into another fight, but Grl caught him by the hand. "Don't," she said. "He's right. We can get a hold of more money in different ways".

Kruser did not like the fact that he has to submit to anybody else's wishes, but decided to trust Grl at this time. Grl then turned towards the bartender: "Please excuse my friend. He took losing his staff rather personally".

"Did not!" Kruser said, in a surprise.

Grl looked at him and smiled ironically. Kruser felt like a little kid and a donkey all in one. Grl then turned towards the bartender and said: "Have a great time renewing your inn and may you make it even better than it was, mister..."

"Groove. PatrickGroove, at your service". He took Grl's hand and kissed it. Grl acted like a real lady and said: "Ah, there are so little true gentlemen left these days..."

Kruser didn't want to believe that things turned out this cheesy. Schabuda started laughing hysterically, but with his hands on his mouth, so he would not ruin the moment. Libris felt the urge to puke, and tried to put two fingers down his throat, while Christofori sensed that another catastrophe was at hand, so he told Grl: "I think we should be going now".

"Yes, that's probably a good idea," said Grl.

Upon leaving, Grl blew a kiss towards PatrickGroove, who grinned from one ear to the other. He has just had a great day in his life.



As Kruser, Grl, Schabuda, Christofori and Libris left the Compo Inn, Grl said: "Before you do anything else, me and Kruser must go behind the inn, to refresh our mana. We surely fired some nice magic missiles, didn't we, Kruser?"

Kruser's face turned gloomy. Christofori eyed Grl suspiciously, while Schabuda and Libris said, almost at the same time: "Ah, Kruser, you lucky bastard". Then they looked at each other and started laughing out loud.

Christofori watched Grl and Kruser disappear from his sight and expected them not to return in some time. Surprisingly, they were back in less than a minute. "Okay, are we going to this arena or not?" Kruser said, with a demanding voice.

"Erm... yeah. Follow me," said Christofori and started walking.

"Arena??!!!" said Libris, with an excited voice. "You mean, we'll fight the gladiators???!!!"

"Indeed," Schabuda said, who walked next to him. "I presume Christofori told you about our quest, right?"


"So, we need to reach MystiC-DarKneSs' Castle, and to do that, we need to cross Crimson Bridge, and to do that we need money and Citizenship Papers, and to get Citizenship Papers we need to win the battle in the arena. Simple, huh?"

"Erm..." Libris took some time to figure out the exact plan. "You just give me the weapons. You can have the paperwork for yourself".

As Schabuda and Libris conversed, Christofori let them and Kruser move ahead of him. He stayed a bit behind to let Grl catch up on him. "What was that about, Grl? How did you come up with the idea of going behind the pub with Kruser all alone? Do you know what could happen to you?"

"You are not a man fully until you are able to communicate with a woman in the right way, Christofori... You know that well yourself. I wanted to know what is he like at this matter".


"He either does not know or does not know how to behave in situations like those. He simply ran away. I wanted to check if he was wounded or anything, but he just jumped out of the pool and ran towards you".

Christofori was silent for a moment. "Maybe his memories of MystiC-DarKneSs are still present in his mind, so he just won't let anybody else in... Maybe it is a good thing that it is him that will have to give the Crest to her".

"Provided that he reaches her alive," said Grl. "I have a feeling that he'd rather not face MystiC-DarKneSs if he does not have to. Mark my words - when the time comes for him to hand the Crest to MystiC-DarKneSs, he will ask you or anybody else to do it. That is when we must all reject that notion and force him to give it to her himself. Otherwise, the Crest would not reach its greatest power and Rawbbie would survive".

"How come you know all this?"

"I trust that what he has told you is true... If he was affected by MystiC-DarKneSs' wish to be with Cryssalid other than with him and if it made him leave everything he's had at the time and change his life radically, then the love between MystiC-DarKneSs and Cryssalid survived and was growing because of him. Their love may never have been possible if he had chosen to fight for it. His withdrawal was essential for their love. Thus, he has credit for it, even though nobody asked or paid attention to this".

Christofori was silent again. "So, you're saying that only if Kruser gives the Crest to MystiC-DarKneSs, the love of Cryssalid will fully cross over to MystiC-DarKneSs?"

"Kruser has let their love flourish once, at the expense of his own life. Now Cryssalid is letting HIM express HIS love towards MystiC-DarKneSs, at the expense of his own life". Grl paused a bit and then said: "Only if Kruser openly admits to MystiC-DarKneSs that he loved her and he still does, will the Crest grow powerful enough to be able to destroy Rawbbie".

Christofori and Grl walked side by side in silence. "How do you make a man remember his greatest pain and make him face it, once he's sworn never to have contact with it?" said Christofori, more to himself than to Grl.

"You don't," said Grl. "All we have to do is tell him to be true to himself and to everybody else. The truth never hurts anyone, but it sets one free. He has been imprisoned in silence for far too long. It is our job to make him see the truth and follow his own heart, no matter how painful it may seem to him".

Several meters ahead, Libris shouted towards Christofori and Grl: "Ahoi! There's the arena! Prepare for some action, you two!

At least for the time being, Kruser's fears would be useful when turned to agression.



As Schabuda, Libris, Kruser, Christofori and Grl approached the gate of the arena, the two guards, one at each side of the gate, blocked their way.

"We came to earn our Citizenship Papers," said Shabuda, almost smilingly.

The guards did not even change their facial expression, nor did they make any move. Instead, a small window opened above the gate and a man's head appeared from it. "Who are you and what do you want?" he said.

Schabuda wanted to speak, but Libris shouted instead: "There seem to be some papers in there and we seem to need them, but you guys won't give them up unless we beat the crap out of you. So, open this door if you dare!"

There were two seconds of pause. After them, the gate guards were on the floor, laughing out loud, and Schabuda, Kruser, Christofori and Grl looked at Libris, wondering whether there was any hidden meaning in his words, or he just did not think about it at all and just shot out whatever he thought was the truth. The gate then opened and the man from the window above stood in front of him, laughing hysterically.

"Oh, this is the best request I've heard in a LONG time... Come in," he said, wiping tears off his eyes from heavy laughter.

The man led the party in a room with a lot of beds. "I'll come back in a second to discuss the details". He then left the room, closed the door with all five of our heroes in it and locked the door.

Kruser was staggered. He tried to unlock or even break the door, but Christofori said: "Don't bother. We're in the machine now. No way out other than beating the gladiators".

"But you said that we would lose from the gladiators..." said Kruser, looking at Christofori with distrust.

Christofori smiled. "That was before I knew that Libris would join us. Now that he is here, and after I've seen what you, Schabuda and Grl can do on your own against an inn full of crooks, I think we may actually win".

Libris came to the nearest bed and jumped on it. "Let's just all get some rest. We'll need strength tomorrow, when the battle begins". With that, he fell asleep immediately.

"Oh? We spend one night in here and tomorrow we fight?" said Kruser.

"Yup. Today we'll sign some contract stating that the city of ModArchive claims no responsibility for our possible deaths in the arena, but that it will grant us Citizenship Papers if we win" said Christofori.

"And if we refuse to sign?"

"They take us into prison straight away".

"Beautiful," said Kruser, sarcastically.

"Oh come on, don't be down. Today we'll be given the best treatment and tomorrow we will be offered the best weapons and armor that this city can give. There is an honor in fighting to the death. Even Rawbbie cherishes that and admires those who risk their lives for higher goals".

"You call THIS the best treatment?" Kruser pointed to the beds and the floor.

That moment, the door unlocked open. The man that led our heroes to the room entered, along with a heavily guarded escort. "Hello again," he said. "I hope you found this room to your satisfaction".

"Well, the bed sheets have a dust cover about 1 centimeter high and the floor is full of cockroaches, but who are we to complain..." said Kruser and turned away.

The man turned his look towards Kruser and said with a cold voice: "This is the room where you might spend the rest of your life, if you don't sign this contract. Let's just be smart and set a deal, ok? You sign, you fight, and if you win, you get Citizenship Papers. Very simple".

"First of all, what is your name?" Christofori asked the man.

"Decibelter," he said.

"Okay, Decibelter. We accept. And I hope you'll stick to your end of the bargain and provide us with the best conditions once we sign".

Libris then started snoring heavily. All turned to him and Christofori spoke: "Well... All except Libris. He's a barbarian and is used to sleeping in all sorts of conditions... Even the WC. I mean, you won't BELIEVE how much he does not mind stinky and smelly environments. I swear, this guy could survive even in the sewer..."

Grl then shoved Christofori in the shoulders. "You're straying off-topic," she said.

"Uh, right," Christofori said after shaking his head. "LIBRIS! WAKE UP!"

The very next moment Libris was on his feet, flapping his fists around, saying: "Kill! Kill! Kill!..."

"WOWOWOWOW! Easy, buddy" Schabuda tried to ease Libris' hyperactivity. "That will come tomorrow".

"Oh... Well, I'll just go back to sleep then," said Libris and laid back on his bed, or he wanted to, but Schabuda kept him and carried him to Decibelter. "First you must sign this little piece of paper..."

Decibelter gave Libris the contract, a goose's feather and an open bottle of ink, wondering whether he'd know how to write. Fortunately, Libris signed with no problems and then went straight back to bed and started snoring again.

Schabuda, Christofori, Grl and Kruser also signed, and Decibelter said: "Now please follow me to your new suite. HEY BARBARIAN! TIME FOR FOOD!"

Libris jumped straight back on his feet, babbling: "Food! Food? Where? How? Let me first! I'm the youngest! I must eat! Where?"

All the people present, including Decibelter, Kruser and the armed escort, learned to accept this kind of Libris' behavior, so they simply started waling towards the new room without saying a word. After two or three seconds, Libris got back to his senses and started following them.

As Decibelter led our heroes into the new room, he closed the barred door and locked it from the outside. "Good luck," he said and left, along with the armed escort.

Our heroes found themselves in a much better room, with clean beds, a table with food on it, and even a separate room with a water-loo (Libris, of course, was the first one to use it). "Let's eat. I'm very hungry," said Grl.

All agreed and sat down at the table and ate in peace and quiet (except Libris, who joined them a bit later, because of his physiological needs, so he felt like he needed to catch up, and ate much quicker and louder). After they finished, they turned to their beds, ready to go to sleep, as night had already fallen. Kruser then said: "Blessed be our deeds tomorrow".

Libris, Schabuda, Grl and Christofori turned to him and smiled. Then they each laid down in their beds, ready for a well-needed rest.

Kruser also laid down, falling asleep, maybe for the last time in his life.



Kruser was the first to wake up. He saw the others sleeping and, with his quiet pace, he approached the barred window of this luxurious prison room and noticed the blood-red color of the sky. The dawn was breaking and Kruser tried to remember Christofori's words that he would need to maim, mutilate and kill in order to survive. Now was the time for just that.

Libris woke up next and stood up. He saw Kruser staring outwards through the window, but did not say anything. Instead, he stretched his arms and legs, and with it, let go of a loud burp.

Kruser turned around in horror, while all others jumped out of their beds.

"Ahhh, that was a nice meal yesterday night... I wondered why I felt so heavy during my sleep..." said Libris and yawned.

The others did not have time to be mad at Libris, because Decibelter appeared from outside the barred door and said: "Good morning. It is going to be a lovely day today. I've brought you your breakfast". He opened the door and placed five plates of deliciously looking foods on the table. "Make sure you eat well. I will come back in one hour to check out on you. Bon apetit," he said and left, locking the door.

Needless to say, Libris jumped straight toward his plate and started eating it with vigor. The others saw a good chance to use the bathroom while Libris was busy eating, so they did. At the end, Libris ended up in the bathroom and all others ended at the table, eating their meals.

"Monk," Christofori said as they finished eating. "Do you remember my words?"

"The sky was bloody red this dawn, druid," said Kruser. "And the day is known by its beginning".

There was a long period of silence, disrupted in the end by the sound of flushing the toilet. Libris emerged from the bathroom, still putting up his pants, saying: "All right, now we can kick some arse".

Right then, Decibelter arrived and said: "You are finished? Excellent. Now please join me as I lead you to the training grounds"

Decibelter led our heroes through dark corridors, with lots of iron-barred doors at both sides. There were wild animals behind those doors, some creatures one would not like to encounter at dark alleys at midnight, barbarians, gladiators... In short, someones you'd either kill or die from. He then led them in a large room, with a lot of dummy dolls, targets, obstacles and all sorts of training gadgets.

"The entire wall on the left side is full of weapons, while the wall on the right side is full of armor. After you enter, I will lock you from behind and open both walls. You have exactly three hours for training and accustoming yourselves with the weapons and armor. After that, the wall ahead of you will be raised and you will be led straight to the arena. Good luck".

As the metallic door behing them slammed shut, the walls on the left and right side of the room started moving, until they seemed to open up completely. On the left side were all sorts of weapons, while on the right side were armors and helmets. Libris, following his barbarian instincts, was the first to run towards the weapons and shouted: "MARY! Where have you been all this time, girl??!!!"

He approached a huge two-handed double axe, removed it from its holder and started carressing it. "Ah, you are in a good shape. They took you away from me, but you are ok, I see. Remember that time when we killed an entire camp of bandits? Just you and me? Of course you do! Ah, Mary, Mary... They don't call you Bloody for nothing".

Kruser had a hard time digesting the fact that Libris was having intense and personal communication with his weapon. Others knew this, so they focused on choosing weapons for themselves instead. Schabuda chose a broad sword and a large shield, and turned to the armor section, where he chose a chain mail and a steel helmet that covered his entire head and face. Christofori chose a mace, light and quick, but with a huge spiked ball on top, as well as a short dagger to use with his other hand. He also chose a chain mail, but a lighter helmet, one that covered only his head but not his face; he would need to see without obstacles, to be able to use his druid magic. Grl took the biggest bow she could find, together with three arrow packs of twenty arrows, plus a light scale armor, to give her more flexibility, and also a light helmet to give her a full view. She also took a small dagger, just in case.

"Libris, don't forget to equip an armor on yourself," said Schabuda. "I'm sure Bloody Mary won't mind if you don't caress 'her' for a couple of minutes" he said and laughed.

"Very well... I'll be right back, my dear," said Libris and turned to the armor section. He chose the heaviest plate mail he could find and put a full steel helmet on his head. Then he returned to Bloody Mary and carried on caressing "her".

Grl turned to Kruser. "And what will you choose?" she said.

"No idea... All I know how to handle is a staff. I am not used to these heavy armors, helmets, shields and whatever..."

"Hey, look!" Schabuda said. "Check this lance. Could you use it as a staff?" He took the lance and threw it to Kruser.

Kruser caught the lance and inspected it. It was made of light, yet hard wood. The blade on the top could be used for direct stabbing, as well as for cross cuts. Kruser looked at Schabuda with open eyes and broad eyebrows. "Thank you," he said smilingly.

"You'll need armor as well, Kruser," Grl said. "Here, take this cloth armor, as I presume that you'll be much more mobile than the rest of us".

As Kruser put up his cloth armor, the party was finally ready to face whatever enemies they would be put up against. There was still time left, some two and a half hours, so Christofori said: "Let's practice a bit".

Tho and a half hours, several chopped up dummy dolls, shot targets and training duels, the front wall of the training room started raising.

"This is it, people. Good luck to all of us," said Christofori.

As the five combatants entered the arena, the wall behind them slammed shut.



The circular arena was full to the last seat with people cheering. Our heroes were standing in the middle of it, surrounded by doors that could open at any moment, revealing any enemy or wild animal.

"They love me! They LOVE me!!!" Libris was shouting in extasy and started parading, taking off his helmet and taking a bow to the audience and doing all other sorts of things you are not supposed to do when you expect to fight for your life.

"Those kittens to your right love you too, Libris!" shouted Christofori to him. Libris saw five tigers be released and immediately raised Bloody Mary and caught it with both hands, ready to swing and took a defensive stance. Schabuda drew his sword and prepared his shield. Christofori pulled out his mace and started mumbling some arcane words, meanwhile waving mystically with his left hand, which seemed to accumulate magical energy. Grl took an arrow, placed it on the string and pulled it, ready to shoot. Kruser took a defensive stance, holding his lance with both hands, ready to swing its blade.

The tigers formed a circle around our heroes, which also formed a defensive circle, with their backs turned to each other and their faces turned towards the tigers. At one moment, the tigers, growling and ready to attack, stood still, preparing to charge.

Grl took advantage of that moment and released the bow. The arrow flew directly towards the eye of one tiger. The animal started growling in pain and twisting sideways, flapping with its paw.

The other tigers then attacked. The one that jumped at Schabuda's torso was surprised to feel his shield in its face, which threw it off balance. As the tiger fell on the ground, it needed half a second to get back on its feet; more than enough time for Schabuda to swing his sword and strike it deeply into the animal's neck, killing it.

Another tiger attacked Libris. He simply swung Bloody Mary, which cut through one of the tiger's paws and literally broke the animal's skull, throwing it on the ground, motionless. The tiger's rage, claws and jaws were no match for Libris' strength and Bloody Mary's sharp double blade.

Christofori, apparently, took it the worst. The tiger that attacked him was able to scratch his arms with its claws, even though he put both of them in front of his chest facing upward, to reduce the space his body would occupy. As the tiger tried to bite him by the neck, Christofori, without ever changing his facial expression, put his left hand on the animal's face and shouted a magic word. What could be seen afterwards was staggering: the creature simply lit up as a giant light bulb and then "switched off". Even its motion towards Christofori stopped - it seemed to stand in mid-air for one second before dropping on the floor, motionless.

As for Kruser, he faced his enemy step by step. After "his" tiger attacked him, he swung the staff with the blade's side from down upward, meanwhile turning his body 360 degrees, pivoted at his toes on one foot. The animal was thus thrown sideways with a deep cut on its skull, but still alive. The tiger then got up on its feet and attacked low, with its jaw forward. Kruser jumped sideways and performed a cartwheel roll upon landing, coming up back on his feet, facing the tiger again. This confused the animal, so Kruser had time to start swinging his lance above his head with both hands, seeming like a helicopter ready to take off.

Apparently, this caused such a great interest that the entire audience, which was cheering wildly before that, suddenly became silent. Even Schabuda, Libris and Christofori were focused on Kruser's lance swinging and could not look at anything else. Fortunately, Grl was busy shooting at the other remaining tiger, the one with an arrow in its eye. Three more arrows in its chest and the animal was finally dead.

The fifth tiger did not notice anything special - only that its enemy was taunting it. As the tiger ran and jumped towards Kruser, he stopped rotating his lance above his head and instead caught it with two hands at the middle and swung it with its blade side towards the tiger, taking a step to the right and turning to the left. The swing was energetic enough to pierce deeply into the tiger's neck and pull it across Kruser's line of sight and downwards. As the animal fell on the ground, Kruser was standing above it, with his lance deep into the tiger's throat. The tiger did not move anymore.

The crowd started cheering wildly again. Our heroes quickly got together and asked about each other's health. Christofori stated that he's fine, despite the cuts at both of his arms, and said: "Remember, this was just the intro. Now comes the real battle against gladiators. We take our formation and stick with it at the first wave. After that, good luck to us individually. Understood?"

"YEAH!" Schabuda, Grl, Kruser and Libris exclaimed at the same time.

"What did you say?"


"I didn't hear you!"


Just then, another door opened and several people ran into the arena, wearing servant uniforms, and started dragging the bodies of the tigers away. Another man then entered, cheered and aplauded by the audience. It was Decibelter, who started speaking loudly: "Friends, fellow citizens and all of you who are not that, you have witnessed the skills of our new cadidates for Citizenship Papers. Now prepare yourselves for the REAL show today! Our candidates will now face our top gladiators and, should they win, will be given the honor of becoming true citizens of ModArchive. Please, give a big round of applause for our GLADIATORS!!!"

With that, the ovations reached their climax and Decibelter, as well as the servants, retreated back into the door where they came from. Just a second later, the "wall" where our heroes came from started rising again and there stood six gladiators, tough, strong, well armed and armored, with fierce looking eyes.

"This is it, friends. Good luck," said Christofori.

Libris walked up front and Schabuda stood on his right-hand side. At Libris' left, stood Kruser. Behind Kruser and Libris, right between them, stood Christofori, while Grl stood in the same line with him, to his right, behind and between Libris and Schabuda.

The gladiators started walking towards them and the wall behind them close down. The spectators were at the edge of their seats.



As the gladiators approached, Libris and Schabuda could feel something quick fly between them, which was repetitive. Grl shot about five arrows in two seconds, which, unfortunately, caused only minor damage to the gladiators, since most of them were deflected by their shields.

But the gladiators could not defend themselves from what followed. Christofori stepped up front, waving both of his arms in circles and figures of eight, saying loud, arcane words. After one second, he thrusted both of his arms towards the gladiators and shouted. A wave of flame seemed to rise from the ground, which travelled towards the gladiators and literally burned through them. They seemed to suffer severe burns, but still stood in place and kept walking forward.

It seemed that the gladiators were not very impressed by Christofori's powerful magic, since just a second later Libris and Schabuda found themselves in combat with two gladiators. Kruser managed to evade the sword of one of the gladiators by ducking and stepping aside. He inflicted a cut on the gladiator's torso with his lance, which apparently threw the gladiator out of balance. Kruser took advantage of this and moved behind the gladiator, stabbing him in the back with his lance. Thus one gladiator was already out.

Christofori once again took a harsh blow. As he was pulling out his mace, one of the gladiators swinged his axe towards him. Christofori had just enough time to take a defensive stance with his mace and block the axe's blade with the mace's handle. But the blow was strong - it literally threw Christofori's mace out of his hand and flew, along with the blade of the axe, into Christofori's lower chest. It was a heavy blow and, even though his chain mail saved him from certain death, Christofori ended up on the floor with several broken ribs.

As the gladiator was preparing to finish the dizzy Christofori, Grl turned towards him and shot three arrows at him. They seemed to work: two of them got stuck in the gladiator's chest and one in his right arm. So if the gladiator had not been killed, he was certainly disabled for some time and unable to swing his weapon. In either case, he collapsed on the floor.

But Grl paid the price: as she turned back towards "her own" gladiator, she found him just a step away, swinging his mace towards her. She instinctively raised her left hand, together with the bow, to protect herself. This resulted in her bow and her left hand being broken by the gladiator's mace. She fell on the groud, yelling in pain.

The gladiator raised his mace, ready to finish Grl off, when he was struck by a bolt of light from behind. Apparently, Christofori had enough time to cast the magic missile spell at the gladiator. But it just stopped him temporarily; he lowered his arm as a reflex from the strike from behind and then raised it again, without even wondering who struck him or how. He was ready to strike the mace again, when another magic missile hit him. The gladiator now teetered, but was still standing on his feet, holding his mace in his hand. He tried to raise it again, but Christofori struck him with yet another magic missile. And even though the gladiator's eyes were closing and he was losing consciousness, he still stood straight.

After the initial shock from the broken arm, Grl's mind filled with rage and hatred. She saw the gladiator being hit three times in the back and enduring all of the hits. She stood up, her left arm swinging lifelessly, and pulled out her small dagger with her right hand. In the meantime, Christofori struck the gladiator with yet another magic missile. This time, the gladiator let go of his shield and seemed to have lost his contact with reality. Grl swung her right arm in a great arc, dagger in hand, and struck the dagger right into the gladiator's neck, piercing his throat.

In the meantime, Libris was battling the most massive gladiator, who was also swinging a two-handed double axe. Libris had a lot of trouble sustaining his strikes. Even though the blades of the gladiator's axe could not break Bloody Mary and Libris was skillful enough to be able to block all the hits, the gladiator's strength was much greater than his. It was apparent that Libris would soon be worn out or tossed on the ground and then finished. So, as soon as the gladiator swung his axe towards Libris, he blocked the hit with Bloody Mary's blades facing downwards. As soon as he deflected the blow, Libris caught the axe at the base of its handle with both hands and rotated it 180 degrees in front of the gladiator's face. The gladiator thought that Libris was going to strike him in the head, so he instinctively put his axe in front of his face. But Libris continued swinging his axe downwards and struck the gladiator's leg on the knee.

The gladiator's knee was certainly broken and he teetered and fell on the ground. He instinctively stopped the fall by holding himself on the floor by his hands, while still not knowing what happened. Libris then simply swung his axe again and cut off the gladiator's head.

Schabuda had the most problems. His enemy was the exact size as him and had exactly the same weaponry and armor. Their battle lasted the longest - both inflicted strikes on the other one's shield, armor and helmet, both suffered flesh wounds and both had their arms and legs bleeding. It seemed as though they battled in a separate universe, without having contact with anybody else. In one moment, their swords and shields were crossed and they came so close one to the other that their helmets touched. They both could see the other one's look in their eyes, fierce and strong-willed.

Suddenly, things came to an end. Schabuda pulled his head backwards and, shouting with all of his strength, he struck his enemy's head with his own. The clash of the helmets was loud enough to be heard within the ecstatic cheering of the audience. The gladiator was thrown off-balance and took a step backwards, spreading both of his arms to retain balance and stand on his feet. He thus revealed his torso and Schabuda, more reflexely than anything, pulled his sword towards himself, with the handle rested on his stomach and the blade facing the gladiator. Then he took several quick steps forward, stabbing his sword into the gladiator's unprotected stomach, piercing through his armor, flesh and bones.

Kruser was left with the gladiator who was shooting the arrows. The only one he could shoot at was Christofori, since he was laying on the floor, with a broken rib, and there was no gladiator in front of him. So he shot two arrows at Christofori. One of them missed, but one hit him in his right shoulder.

Kruser ran towards the "shooter" to stop him from shooting others and attract his attention. It worked: the "shooter" was now shooting arrows only at Kruser. It took quite a while for Kruser to approach him, since the "shooter" would shoot an arrow and then retreat, thus keeping the distance between himself and Kruser. Therefore, Kruser started running in circles and zig-zagged towards him, so he would evade the arrows and approach him. This seemed to work until a point where the "shooter" stopped retreating and instead started shooting arrows at Kruser at full speed. Kruser had to move very quickly in order to evade being shot. Still, the distance was close enough: Kruser performed a forward sideways roll on the floor, approaching the "shooter" at striking distance, while still holding his lance. Before the "shooter" had the time to shoot another arrow, Kruser finished his roll and ended up kneeling on one leg and the other one's foot on the floor. Almost reflexely, he swung his lance at the "shooter"'s legs, tripping him on the floor on his back. Kruser then jumped forward and, swinging his lance in an arc with both hands, stabbed the "shooter" heart with his lance from above.

The crowd went wild. Still, the battle was not over: there was still one living gladiator, the one that was shot by Grl while protecting Christofori. Libris noticed him and, being in the best shape of all, took Bloody Mary and walked towards him. The wounded gladiator had no chance to defend himself, since he could barely breathe and his right hand was aching too much to let him move. So, he just laid on his back and put his left hand above his head. When Libris approached him, the gladiator dropped his axe and shield and his hand was above his head, shouting "I SURRENDER!"

Libris did not swing Bloody Mary at the gladiator. Instead, he raised "her" in the air, with a triumphant stance. The crowd erupted in wild cheers - ModArchive had just gained more citizens.



As Christofori woke up, he found himself laying in bed, with his torso and right shoulder bandaged. He turned around and saw Grl in a bed next to him, wearing a bandage on her left arm.

"You woke up!" she said cheerfully upon seeing him. "How do you feel?"

"I've been better," he said. "But where are the others?"

"Taking care of administration, I suppose... You know how boring was it for us the first time we did this".

"Yeah... They'll have to run all around the city to get the necessary paperwork... Only to receive more papers that does not guarantee them anything - neither safety, nor prosperity, while they're here".

"But they don't want to be HERE, do they? The quest is to travel abroad... It is a long journey. And..." Grl then paused. "The way it turns out, they may have to leave without us..."

Christofori was silent. His injury was sure to stop him from adventuring for at least three months, while Grl's broken arm would take her about that long to heal, plus some time for her to be able to use bows and arrows again.

"By the way," Grl said. "Thank you for saving my life".

"Don't mention it" Christofori said and smiled. "I owed you one".

Just then, the door opened and a young man walked in. "Mother!" he shouted and ran towards Grl. They embraced.

"How are you, Slam, my boy?" Grl said, smilingly.

"Good... How are you? Is it serious?" he said, looking at her bandage.

"Nah... Just an ordinary fracture. It will heal in some three months... Hey, HyoCHAN! How are you, kid?" Grl said, noticing that HyoCHAN also entered the room.

HyoCHAN approached Grl. "How are you, boss?" he said, in his typical joking style.

Grl sighed. "HyoCHAN, how many times do I have to tell you? DON'T CALL ME BOSS!!!! Call me Grl, for heaven's sake, or I'll lower your salary!"

HyoCHAN grinned. "Ok, so you shout at me... This means that everything is okay with you. So I guess I'll be going now... Cya Christofori," he said and turned toward the exit door.

"HeyheyHEY!" Grl said. "Where do you think you're going???!!!"

HyoCHAN turned towards Grl and started laughing. "Ah, you REALLY love me!" he said, smiling broadly.

"Now listen you..." Grl almost stood up from her bed and was ready to give HyoCHAN a manual lesson with her healthy hand, but Christofori started laughing out loud, and so did Slam, so she blushed and sat back in her bed, pouting.

"Actually," HyoCHAN said after he finished laughing. "I came to tell you that the healing potion you've been working on has a flaw, so that is why you were unable to make it work".

"What flaw?" Grl asked in surprise.

"It was supposed to be the Universal Healing Potion, right? So you wanted to put all possible nutrients and healing chemicals in it, so it would be able to heal ANYTHING... That just does not work. The chemicals react among themselves and even if you do manage to create a potion from that mixture, it would not have any healing effects".

"So what do you suggest?"

"I have a feeling that it is actually a matter of stimulating the body to heal itself, not to actually DO something to heal it. So I think that once we discover how to comply to the body's needs and help it focus all of its attention on the injury, it would be able to heal itself much more quickly".

Grl eyed HyoCHAN suspiciously. "Do you think you can discover some chemical like that?"

"No, because the body already has everything it needs to heal itself. All we need to do is give it the opportunity to focus itself on repairing the injury and not make it waste its time with breathing, seeing, hearing and all the bodily functions that may distract it from repairing itself".

Grl thought a bit about this and said: "Well, if you think you can do it, please. Me and Christofori would appreciate it very much if you could speed up our recovery".

As soon as Grl finished the sentence, the door opened again and Kruser, Schabuda and Libris entered. "Hello, fair citizens of ModArchive. It is such a pleasure to be a part of the club", said Kruser with a broad smile, displaying his Citizenship Paper.

"Way to go!" said Christofori. Grl cheered, while Slam and HyoCHAN applauded.

"Thank you, thank you. But you two have made a big mess just entering the arena" Kruser said, pointing to Christofori and Grl. "Apparently, you already have your Citizenship Papers; the officials told us that without them nobody is allowed to open a store in the city. But it seems that it had not been allowed for people to fight for Citizenship Papers twice".

"What?!" Christofori exclaimed. "Since when do they have this rule?"

"Since yesterday, apparently... Decibelter had not heard the news yet, so that is why he let you fight. It nearly cost him his head; they revoked all of his privileges and kicked him out of the city. He pleaded that he was not aware of this new state of things, so that is why they spared his life".

"Poor guy," Schabuda said. "He seemed so fair..."

"There is a price for everything... Ignorance among other things," said Christofori with a firm voice. "We were also not aware of it, so we entered the arena. Now we will have to wait some three months or more to be back on our feet!"

"Not if I succeed in my idea" HyoCHAN said. "It will take some research, but I think I can do it."

"I'll help you out, if you wish" Slam said and stood up. "Our friends will need all the help they can get".

HyoCHAN smiled. Grl said: "Excellent. You boys get going. We need to make plans what to do further".

As HyoCHAN and Slam left and closed the door, Christofori said: "Libris, will you be able to get in contact with that mage whose life you saved?"

"Yeah, sure thing, mate," Libris said. "As I said, I'll just leave a message on a certain place and we'll meet the next day. That is how we agreed".

"Mage?" Schabuda asked. "I thought Rawbbie destroyed the Mage Council..."

Libris turned to him and said smilingly: "It's a story on its own. I'll tell it to you on our way there". Then he turned to Christofori and said: "Will you be all right? Because we may be away for a while..."

"Don't worry about us, we should not be going anywhere," Christofori said and smiled. "You just go there and ask them for whatever help they can offer. As soon as you're done, come back and we'll start as soon as we are fit".

Grl added: "And if you feel like doing some other things that may help us, please do. We have all the time in the world now. If HyoCHAN succeeds in his effort and we get out of here before you arrive, we'll be waiting for you in our shops".

Kruser eyed Grl suspiciously. "What other things?"

"I have a feeling you'll need to do much more than just visit the magi".

"Like what?"

"I don't know, I have this feeling about it... Female intuition, I guess".

"We'll need to do female intuition? How is it done?" asked Libris.

Everybody looked at Libris and started laughing. Libris did not get it, but he started laughing nevertheless.

"Oh, go already!" said Christofori. "Good luck and bless you".

"Bless whom? Who sneezed?" asked Libris again.

Schabuda was laughing even more now and he literally dragged Libris out of the room before he would say something else. Kruser followed them, with a broad grin, waving a goodbye to Christofori and Grl.

"You're in charge now, monk. Follow your head, but most of all, follow your heart..."

The door closed. Christofori and Grl were alone in the room now.

"He didn't hear me..." said Christofori, a bit disappointed.

"Yes, he did," said Grl. "Now go to sleep".

Kruser had indeed heard Christofori's words. As he was leaving the arena, along with Schabuda and Libris, he felt the Crest's presence in his inside pocket. Before stepping out, he took a deep sigh and walked outside. The Crest's journey had begun.


End of part I
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