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stories & literature

the crest

Part II

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)!



"How long do we have to wait for an answer?" said Schabuda.

"One day, the mage told me," said Libris. "We agreed that I, or us three, would not wait for him to reply in person, but via an exchange message".

"I wonder how did you think of hiding it inside a woodpecker's hole in a tree's core..." said Kruser.

"Ah... Those magi are highly unconventional," said Libris and smiled. "But let's go to sleep now, shall we? It's been a long day and we've hunted enough food for today and tomorrow"

"I'll keep guard for the night" said Schabuda.

"Then wake me up in the middle of the night and I'll replace you," said Kruser.

As they put out the campfire, Kruser and Libris laid down on the floor and fell asleep. Before falling asleep, Kruser took a deep breath of the frest forest air. He has spent all his life in the forests and could get along in any and all forest-covered area. He felt at home in the woods; his ranger upbringing seemed to suit him well in his new role as a wandering monk. The forest was his home, and he felt uneasy knowing that, in some time, he would have to leave it and travel far away from it, to complete his quest. He knew, though, that this was something he had to do; so he forced himself to sleep, knowing that after the quest is done, he would find his peace of mind.

Schabuda, standing straight on guard, was used to woods. His primary "education", though were the mountains. He thrived in climbing them up and down and was known to hop around dangerously steep cliffs with ease. He preferred mountaneous regions to flat land, but did not really mind any sort of terrain. He has learned to use all of his natural talents to become a great warrior and, although he has not learned how to use mana, his physical and mental strength, as well as his knowledge of the mountains, were his greatest allies.

Libris fell asleep at once and started snoring. He had no education - nobody bothered to teach him anything, knowing his manners. Everybody gave up on him as a "lost case". He was completely self-taught; he has mastered his barbarian skills all on his own. As such, people looked at him quite differently: some could not bear his very presence, while others had the utmost respect for his fighting skills and determination. Some even said that Libris could be the finest gentleman ever, if only he would not snore, burp or fart so much. But oh well, nobody is perfect, as Libris liked to put it.

The morning found Kruser on guard, while Schabuda was taking his turn of sleeping (Libris was still snoring heavily, so it helped keep Kruser awake; Schabuda was really tired from his guarding shift, so he did not mind). As the first sun rays emerged, Kruser started waking them up: "HEY! Wakey, wakey! Time to meet the magi!"

Schabuda woke up and started stretching his arms and legs. Libris was still snoring.

"Good morning, Schabuda," said Kruser, while looking at Libris with half an eye. "The breakfast is on the table".

Almost immediately afterwards, Libris was up on his feet, looking around for a table. Finding none, he returned to his sleeping bag and started snoring again. "Let's go, Schabuda," Kruser said. "If we hurry, we'll meet the magi when they have their meal," Kruser said grinningly.

As you might have guessed, Libris was up and shouting: "Come on, you ladies! We haven't got all day!"

As they were travelling the place where the mage would have put his message in response to Libris', Kruser and Schabuda were laughing out loud. Libris did not understand why, but he laughed too.

As they approached the marked tree, Libris indeed found a new message there. It said: "Follow the route you're on and turn right on the next turn. We'll meet you there. P.S. Please, take care of your physiological needs before that, Libris, as we have no bathroom that you would be able to use. Thank you and sorry for the inconvenience".

As Libris folded the message, Kruser was astonished: "How did they know that the first thing you always want is to go to the bathroom??!!"

"I guess the mage I saved kinda figured it out... After saivng him, I felt the urge to let go of some liquid, so I did, right there".

"Apparently, you've not socialized with Libris long enough, heh Kruser?" said Schabuda, winking and smiling.

Kruser did not respond. Instead he carried on walking, along with the others. After a while, he asked: "If the magi don't have a bathroom, how do they get rid of their waste?"

"They don't," Libris said. "I asked the very same thing to the mage I saved... He told me that they recycle it, that is, they use it as a natural fertilizer to grow their plants and stuff. Apparently, they have this huge Recycle Bin, which serves as a public dump place. From there, they take whatever they need to help develop their agriculture. The mage told me that they mostly grow corn... Corny people," he said and smiled. "But look, here is the turn to the right. Now if you'd excuse me, I'll just do my thing in these woods right here. To spare your eyes, ears and nose, I'll just go a bit deeper in it".

"Be careful not to harm the eyes, ears and noses of the magi that are probably waiting for us there" said Schabuda and smiled, as Libris was entering the forest, until he went out of sight.

Kruser and Schabuda waited. Schabuda knew that Libris enjoys reacning nirvana through indulging in the "good riddance", so he said: "Let's wait for some 5-10 minutes. He should be back by then".

5, 10, even 15 minutes have passed, but Libris was not coming back. "Maybe he forgot toilet paper and is searching for leaves with his pants down?" said Kruser and giggled.

Schabuda also smiled. "Yeah, probably. Let's wait up a bit more".

Half an hour has passed and Libris was nowhere in sight. "HEY LIBRIS! IS EVERYTHING OKAY???!!!" Schabuda shouted out loud.

There was no answer.

Schabuda and Kruser looked at one another. Immediately afterwards, in the same time, Kruser raised his lance and caught it with both hands, as in a defensive stance, while Schabuda drew his sword and prepared his shield.

As they entered the forest, they could see the tracks of where Libris had gone. "Follow me," Kruser whispered. As he followed Libris' tracks step by step, he and Schabuda were led to a place not much as different than the rest of the forest - trees all over and no clearance.

"The tracks end here," whispered Kruser. "But where is Libris?" There was no evidence that he had released his fecalies on the spot; it did not even stink, so, if he had released his waste at all, it had not been around where his tracks ended.

As soon as Kruser and Schabuda started looking around, there was a hissing sound and Schabuda and Kruser found their faces covered in some sort of a gas. They could not breathe, so they gasped and started flapping around their hands reflexely. They were losing consciousness.

In less than two seconds, their worlds turned black.



Schabuda was the first to wake up. He found himself in a tent, alongside Kruser, who was still unconscious. The tent was of blue color, and the sun rays, as they went through it, scattered and gave an impression of a pale blue neon light. Also, they seemed to actually lower the temperature, when passed to the blue material from which the tent was apparently made. This must have been the Bluetent Effect of cooling down the atmosphere that Schabuda had heard of before.

As soon as he got back to his senses, Schabuda started shaking Kruser up: "Hey! Wake up! We are alive".

Kruser opened his eyes and got up. "Where are we?" he said.

"Let's go out and find out," Schabuda said. They took a step outside the tent.

They saw a vast meadow bustling with activity. People wearing white robes were walking in all directions, carrying potions, pergaments, books, staves, plants and all sorts of things associated with magic. Near the place where Kruser and Schabuda stood, there stood two magi, conversing. One of them said: "I'm hungry". The other said: "I'll get the lunch". And he removed his hat and pulled out a rabbit from it. "It'll do," the first one said. "Let's cook it," and they got lost in the crowd.

Kruser and Schabuda followed that conversation and then looked at each other. "Being a mage is a secure profession," Kruser mumbled. "At least you'd always know how to pull a rabbit from your hat and have food at any time".

"Heh... If I were to pull out anything from my helmet, it would probably be a turtle with a thick shell," Schabuda smiled. "Speaking of which, do you notice that our weapons and armor have disappeared?"

"Yeah... Apparently they disarmed us. But nobody seems to be paying any attention to us. They go on their own ways... As if we don't exist to them. Look around; nobody even notices that we are here. They're either too busy to be paying attention to us, or they cannot afford to pay attention, since it is too expensive for them..."

Kruser stopped at mid-sentence, surprised at what he just said. Schabuda turned to him and looked him with a strange look. "You could belong here," he then said. "You are corny enough".

"It must be the air filled with magic... But what do you say we look around this place? Libris is probably here somewhere as well".

"Well... When you talk about Libris, you can be sure he's either in a battle, or eating, or in the bathroom. Apparently there are no sounds of war anywhere around, as there is no panic or something... Perhaps one of these other surrounding tents serves as an inn, so it would be wise to check there. But look! What is that huge thing?" said Schabuda and pointed to a structure that looked like a gigantic trash can.

"If I remember Libris correctly, he said something about some Recycle Bin... That must be it! Let's go there," said Kruser.

As Schabuda and Kruser found their way through the crowd and came to the Recycle Bin, they found Libris arguing with one mage. "But please, you MUST let me use it! You have such lovely stairs to the top, what bad could possibly happen?"

"No, no, NO!" the mage said with a strict voice. "The mere fact that you're standing this close to RB is a potential risk. You are well known everywhere as BMP, so it is likely that you'll KO the RB if you even get close to it ASAP. So don't even think about it!"

"What are RB, KO and all that stuff?" Kruser asked Schabuda. "And why do they talk like that?"

"RB stands for Recycle Bin, I think... KO probably means knock out or knock over, I can't be sure. And they talk like this because magi tend to minimize their conversations and focus on practicing magic instead. I'm surprised that this mage talks even THIS much," said Schabuda.

The mage overheard Schabuda and Kruser and turned towards them. "Oh, you woke up" he said and smiled. "Good that we all found each other. The Head of the Council would like to talk to you".

"I'm known as BMP?" said Libris. Apparently, it took him a while to figure out what that could mean. "Oh, I got it... It means Bloody Mary's Patron, right?"

"No, it means Bathroom Mayhem Personified," the mage told him. "Follow me, please".



They entered a huge, circus-like shaped tent. There were several rounds of circular seats around it, and in the middle there was a sort of a roatting circular pole, with a small round table on top of it, rotating along with it. It was covered with a bell-shaped metallic cover, which was also rotating with the whole system.

"Oh, Head of the Council, here are the brutes that I was telling you about," the mage said loudly.

The rotating system stopped turning around. It was now motionless. The mage and the three "brutes" approached it.

"What do you mean by 'brutes'?" asked Kruser, feeling a bit offended.

"We call 'brutes' all that are not magi," the mage said. "All that can not handle mana".

"I CAN handle mana, you know..." Kruser said.

The mage turned to him in surprise. "You can???!!!"

"Of course!" Kruser pouted. "Maybe not as spectacularly as you probably can, but I know some".

The mage smiled. Just then, they approached the platform and the mage pulled up the metallic cover. There, on the circular table, stood a simple head, without a body attached to it.

There was a brief moment of shock on the faces of the "brutes", but Libris was the first to break the silence. "The HEAD of the Council! AAHAHAHAHAHA!" He started laughing hysterically. "Aw, Head, you must be a really very nice bloke. Here's for a handshake".

Libris thrusted his hand towards the Head, but in his laughing euphoria he forgot to actually stretch out his fingers from his fist. As it turned out, the Head received a straight jab so strong, that it was thrown out of its piedestal and fell on the ground.

"Head! HEAD!" the mage ran towards it. The Head just laid on the floor, motionless.

"Whooooppps! Sorry!" Libris said, with a surprised voice.

"You JERK!" Schabuda slapped Libris in the back of his head.

"The Head is not moving! What will I do??!! WHAT WILL I DO??!!!" The mage started panicking.

"Hey, hey, HEY!" Kruser raised his voice and caught the mage by the shoulders, shaking him up a bit. "We may have lost the Head, but let's not lose our own heads, okay? Take it easy".

The mage seemed to slow down his reactions a bit. Still, his face was all white from worry.

"Listen now. Listen very carefully. Do you remember what the Head told you before you came to meet us?"

"He said..." the mage was still very upset. "He told me to check out your characters and see if you are worthy of our help... And help you out if you are".

"Well, are we?" asked him in the face.

The mage's face was pale, but he tried to focus on the "brutes". He saw Kruser's resolute face, with a look determined to push through whatever hardship to accomplish his goal. He saw Schabuda mad at Libris, with a look that could disarm and a body that could kill, but also a strong sense of pride, responsibility and dependability. He saw Libris, scratching his head from Schabuda's slap, as well as in wonder of what actually happened and how it could happen, and inside he saw a true barbarian, one totally uncivilized, but also with a strong sense of loyalty, friendship and genuine care, able to do anything for his mates, and ready to do so at any time.

The mage calmed a bit. "Yes, you are worthy," he said quietly.

"Good! Thank you! Now, all you need to do is say that to anyone that ask us, and they will help us, right?"


"So, now we will leave. You put the Head back on his place and close him with the cover, so nobody would suspect anything. We'll act quickly and ask for help expressely. Before anybody knows, we'll be out of the camp. Okay?"


"Promise you won't tell anybody what happened!"

"I promise," said the mage. "What's more, I'll join you on your quest. Because when the rest find out about this, I'm dead," the mage sighed. "Let's get all you guys need".

Quickly, our heroes retrieved their weapons and armor. Kruser even found a lot of magic books and scrolls. He could use only low magic, so he read and learned all of the low magic spells. The mage, on the other hand, equipped himself with all of the magic books, scrolls and potions he could carry, and also put up a light leather armor, kind of like Kruser wore.

"It's a neat thing nobody cares what happened," said Libris, cheerfully. "What's more, you folks seem to keep EVERYTHING at one place... What is this, a warehouse?"

"Shut up!" Kruser said angrily. "Nobody cared because our mage friend knows how to handle tough situations. Now arm up and let's get out of here!"

As the party of four left the Mage Camp, several magi followed them. "What is going on? Do you think they found out?..." Kruser wanted to finish his sentence, but the mage that would follow them in the quest stopped. "Pray that it is not the case. But I think they'll just put you unconscious again and carry you out of the camp where we first found you. By the way, Libris, your waste was extremely useful when we analyzed it. Thank you for wasing yourself on our territory".

"Anytime, mate" Libris smiled. Then he turned around towards the Recycle Bin, which could be seen from quite some way out and waved to it: "So long, Recycle Bin. I guess you and I were not meant for each other".

Soon afterwards, they were unconscious again. When they woke up, they were in the forest,on the same place where they first went unconscious. Only this time, there were four of them.

"Okay, let's go," said Kruser after all were back on their feet. "By the way, mage, what is your name?"

"Safyre," the mage said. "I'm at your service now".

"No, you're our friend now," Kruser said.

The four of them started walking back towards ModArchive.



After camping through the night, Libris started shouting whet the first sun rays emerged from the horizon:

"Wake up everybody! It's breakfast time! I'm hungry!"

Schabuda, listening to it and still in a sleepy mood, mumbled: "If we are supposed not to sleep whenever you get hungry, we'd end up suffering from insomnia".

"Come on, come on! Rise and shine!" Libris kept shouting.

"The sun does exactly that! Leave us alone!" Kruser said and turned around, still laying in his sleeping bag.

"If you don't get up, I'll take some extreme measures!" Libris threatened.

"Like what? You'll pour water on our heads?" Safyre said, smilingly.

"No, but I'll release myself right here and now!"

Within five seconds, everybody was up and ready to travel.

After they had their breakfast (and Libris released himself some 500 meters away, in the nearby forest), they continued their journey. They could see the walls of ModArchive rise in front of them, as they approached it from its north side. To the west was the Mage Council camp, from where they came. To the north were the mountains that Rawbbie has erected. To the south stood ModArchive, once a brilliant town, nowadays reduced to a slum city.

As they turned towards it, they heard some noise coming from the city, which gradually became larger. It was a noise of feet stomping and voices shouting, gradually becoming louder and louder.

Within several seconds, they noticed a strange creature carrying a heavy bag, running towards them. Behind it, there was a large police force chasing it.

"Hey!" Kruser said. "That is the same creature I noticed when I first came near ModArchive. It was runnig from the police then as well".

Schabuda drew his sword. "Any enemy of Rawbbie is a friend of ours, right?"

"RIGHT!" exclaimed Libris and Kruser and prepared for battle.

"Indeed," Safyre acknowledged. "But we don't really stand a chance against the entire police force of ModArchive facing them head-on. Instead, let me handle the matter".

Safyre took a few steps forward and started mumbling some words. About a second later, it seemed as through a wall of fire emerged from the ground, right behind the creature that was running away, and seemed to stretch about a kilometer to each side. Apparently, the creature did notice anything, as it kept running forward.

"Wow! Nice thing, Safyre!" Kruser said. "How did you do that?"

"It is called Fire Wall" Safyre explained. "I learned it when I took a trip in another dimension. People there seem to have this thing called Internet, from where they draw most of their knowledge. But some tend to abuse it and spread certain diseases through it via some viruses. They use this magic to protect themselves from those viruses".

"Really? Fascinating!" said Kruser. He was too embarassed to admit that he didn't understand a thing about what Safyre said.

In the meantime, the creature approached the party, as they stood on his way towards the mountains to the north. The creature stopped, looked all four in the eyes and said: "Fffriendsss or fffoesss?"

"Rawbbie sucks!" said Schabuda resolutely.

"Fffriendsss!" the creature exclamated. "Quick, hhhelp me hhhide. I ssswear I'll hhhelp you back"

"This way!" Kruser said and they ran towards the nearby forest.

"Say, do you draconians all talk like that?" Libris asked, with a terrible sense of timing.

"Ssshhh!" everybody whispered. They hid themselves in the forest: some climbed trees (the draconian and Kruser), some entered the nearby cave (Schabuda and Safyre), while some just kept hiding behind one tree and then the other (Libris), hoping that whoever may be looking, will not have time to search behind all the trees that he had visited.

After some two minutes, they heard the police run past them. There were several seconds of silence and they heard them all running back, this time in panic. After that, all was quiet again.

Soon enough, they heard Libris' voice: "Hey! You can come out now! They won't be coming back in a while!"

As all four emerged from their hideouts, Schabuda said: "Libris, what did you possibly do to scare them off so much?"

"Nothing... I seem to have caught a cold, so now I have diarhhea, and I just..."

"ALLRIGHT! I got the picture!" Schabuda said, apparently very upset. "But how do you suggest WE pass your stink barrier?"

"I have some plants that can help us protect our nostrils," said Safyre. "We can breathe through them and no stink can ever harm us".

"Yesss, pleassse come," the draconian said. "My people will be glad to sssee you. And I thank you".



After they passed Libris' stink barrier, the mountains were just about a kilometer away. As they kept walking towards them, Kruser asked: "Say, how are we going to cross the mountains? They are way too high for us to climb..."

"We hhhave dug a lot of chanelsss thhhrough thhhem" said the draconian. "Asss sssoon asss Rawbbie errected them, my people ssstarted pushhhing their way through. We hhhad dug enoufff tunnelsss to connect ourssselvesss with the dragonsss and the gargoylesss. We all worked together to become able to communicate with each other onccce again. For eksssample, the dragonsss would hhheat up the rock, and we would break it. The gargoylesss, on the other hhhand, usssed all the rock to increassse their populaishhhion. Thusss, Rawbbie had actually done them a favor, while they enabled usss to hhhave lesss ssstone to break in order to reachhh them".

"So... I heard you and the dragons live well together. But I didn't know that you used to live with the gargoyles as well..."

"We don't!" the draconian exclamated. "We really can't ssstand them! They ssseem to enjoy ssspending all their time in sssome sssteam-filled areasss, to 'increassse their durability', or ssso they sssay. What a wassste of time! I can't underssstand how they manage to sssurvive at all! But they do... They are hhhere, ssso we hhhave to live with them. And we do".

"Maybe they feel the same way about you, huh?" Kruser said, teasingly.

"It wouldn't sssurprissse me..." the draconian said, smilingly. Thus he revealed his sharp blue teeth, capable of braking any bone with a strong bite. Kruser saw him thoroughly: muscular body, covered with a flexible, yet tough, armor. He noticed that his back and the outside ouf his arms is covered with some dark spots. He asked: "Why is your skin covered with dark spots?"

The draconian looked at him with his glowing yellow eyes and grinned. "Ssstand away," he said.

As all took two steps away from him, the draconian released his bag on the ground and spread his arms and legs. And then, spikes emerged from the entire back of his body, like when a trigger has been released. Within a moment, spikes were all over his entire back and the back of his arms. Also, deadly looking claws emerged from his fingers.

The four humans were amazed. "Woah!" Libris exclamated. "I think Bloody Mary loves you".

Kruser started thinking that this draconian could be a good ally for their quest. "What is your name, draconian?"

"Ralesssk," he said, pulling his spikes and claws inward. "We're almossst at the entranccce to the cavesss. Prepare yourselvesss".



All five stood before a wall of stone, erected artificially by Rawbbie. Climbing it would be very hard, if not impossible, Schabuda concluded; there were almost no extremes in the rock, so nothing to grab on while climbing. There were also no apparent paths through it, or at lest none apparent for humans.

Ralesk said: "Now, let usss ffform a queue. You, take my hhhand. You, take hhhisss hhhhand. You take hhhisss hhhand and you take hhhisss. Then sssimply fffollow me".

Kruser, Schabuda, Libris and Safyre had no idea which "you" referred to whom, so they just formed a queue in order of appearance (as they have just been presented). Kruser then took Ralesk's hand and he started walking. He seemed to walk directly into the wall.

"Ahem," said Kruser. "Don't you think we'll end up with bruised faces? Or at least that you will?"

"Trussst me," Ralesk said. Then, just as he was about to hit his face in the wall, he took a sharp right turn and seemed to disappear in the rock! Kruser was bewildered, but he followed Ralesk's hand. It turned out that the entrance in the caves was skilfully camouflaged; it would take quite a lot of searching to find that certain place where to enter. He then entered the cave, and Schabuda, Libris and Safyre followed.

Quickly, total darkness overcame them. "You may clossse your eyesss, asss you will sssee nothing for sssome time asss we walk along".

"How will you see, then?" the voice of Libris was heard.

"Did you noticcce that my eyesss are yellow?"

"Yeah... So?"

"Ssso, that meansss they hhhave a light sssource on their own. I ssshine light fffrom my eyesss that getsss reffflected fffrom the sssurrounding environment and my brain then procccesssesss it. Very sssimple".

There was a short moment of silence. "So how come WE cannot see your light?" Sayfre asked.

"Becaussse you can only procccesss visssible light. We can procccesss infffrared light asss well. Being born and raisssed in cavesss hhhasss cccertain advantagesss, you know..."

The answer was satisfactory for Kruser, puzzling for Safyre, interesting for Schabuda and irrelevant for Libris. Nevertheless, all kept quiet for the next five minutes, until the first specks of light seemed to appear in front of them.

As they "entered" the light, they witnessed a spectacular sight: a vast area under an open sky, from where the rock seemed not to have emerged. It was the size of a small city, and draconians could be seen going about their ways. Still, when Ralesk appeared, he seemed to attract a lot of eyes upon him. One draconian in particular, about Ralesk's size but a bit larger in size, approached him and said something like: "RALESSSK! Zzzdravozhhhivo. Kakosssiti?" They embraced. "Dalinigi donessse sssite potrebnosssti?" the other draconian said in a question-like manner.

"Ahhha. Inessshhhto plusss," Ralesk seemed to answer. "HEY, GUYSSS! Come over here! Don't be shhhy".

As the four of them came into the light, the other draconian said: "Ahhh, hhhomosssapiensssite!" He then turned to Ralesk and whispered something in his ear. Ralesk nodded his head in agreement.

"Ahhhem," the other draconian said. "Hhhello. My name isss Na-Klesssk. Welcome to our hhhumble domain". He reached out and shook all of their hands.

"Humble? You call THIS humble?" Libris said, shaking Na-Klesk's hand and watching the huge open space in the middle of the erected rock with awe. "Are you pulling my leg or something?"

"No, but I think my ssson isss," said Na-Klesk and smiled.

Libris looked downwards and saw a little draconian trying to climb his leg. "Ah, that is why I felt such a drag... Hello kid," he said, pulled the little draconian upwards with his hands and gave it to Na-Klesk.

"DragonBlood! Odam kajshhhefffot," Ralesk said, took his bag he was carrying and set off towards the crowd, away from Na-Klesk and the others.

"Sssegledame," Na-Klesk said.

Kruser noticed something unusual. "Did he just call you DragonBlood?" he said.

"Yesss. That isss my nickname. Ralesssk isss my brother".

"Why DragonBlood?"

"The fffather of mine and Ralesssk'sss isss a draconian, but our mother isss a dragon. I have recccieved our mother'sss blood vessselsss. Asss a resssult, I can alssso blow fffire, even though I am a draconian, while my brother cannot".

"Must be a pretty useful thing in combat..." said Schabuda.

"Ohhh, indeed it isss," said Na-Klesk, i.e. DragonBlood. "I am a member offf the Caveguard Ffforccce. It isss my job to protect our people fffrom outssside intrussionsss. Being a guard, blowing fffire comesss in very hhhandy, or, ssshould I sssay, nosssey," said DragonBlood and smiled. "Alssso, I ssspotted you when you were arriving with Ralesssk, ssso that isss why you hhhad no trouble reachhhing us; otherwissse you would hhhave been attacked".

Meanwhile, more and more draconians gathered around them, curious about the foreigners. The great hole in the rock above let the rays of the setting sun create a spectacular sight: the rock seemed to turn to gold, and all of the draconians' armors seemed to reflect different colors, giving a sense of livelyhood and coloredness in the midst of the rock.

"Now come with me. You attract too muchhh attenshhhion on the sssquare, and I mussst presssent you to my sssuperiorsss. You are ffforeignersss and our policcce mussst regissster your presssenccce. Fffollow me, pleassse".

As they found their way through the crowd, they entered a hole in the rock and ended up in a totally dark chamber. Once again, the humans could not see a thing, but DragonBlood assured them that he would get the job done. After several minutes of draconian talk, they heard his voice: "Pleassse, ssspell out your namesss, one by one".





"No, it is with an S at the end," said Schabuda.

"No way! It sounds like a Z, so it must be Z".

"Libris! Don't argue now. Please, trust me when I tell you..."

"It is MY name!!! I know what my name is! Don't YOU be telling me now!"

The atmosphere became increasingly tense and loud. It could have escalated, but suddenly a column of fire emerged from DragonBlood's nose up into the air. For a moment, the entire chamber was lit up and Kruser noticed that they indeed were at some office, with two draconians sitting behind a desk and a lot of drawers all around. As the flame went out, everything was totally black again.

"We will ussse the Z, becaussse I'm sssure that Librizzz knowsss hhhisss own name well enoufff... And besssidesss, it isss jussst fffor adminissstraisssion". He then spoke something in Draconian language and said: "Now fffollow me. I'll presssent you to our leader".

As they were going out into the light again, Safyre said: "Hey, Libriz".

Libris turned to him and said: "What?"

"Nothing," Safyre said and giggled, just like Kruser and Schabuda did. Libris just turned his head forward and followed DragonBlood.



After crossing through the square, as DragonBlood called it, they entered another hole in the rock. It seemed as though the caves were dug out in such a way that only creatures native to them could manage not to get lost. DragonBlood led the way, while the rest of the humans followed, holding his hand and each other's hands.

"Say, DragonBlood... How come rock has been erected everywhere, except on that place you call square?" asked Schabuda, to ease the tension from the long walk in total darkness.

"That isss the placcce where we draconiansss came into egsssissstenccce. Legend sssaysss that a hhhuman and a dragon hhhad hhhad a battle on that ground. They hhhad fffought long and hhhard and hhhad been all ekssshausssted at the end. Ssso when they hhhad tusssled for one lassst time, they hhhad been ssso worn out that they hhhad not been able to move fffurther and they hhhad remained in each other'sss grabsss for hhhours later on, without moving. It hhhad been a ssstormy night and a ligthing hhhad ssstruck, right where both offf them hhhad been ssstanding. It isss sssaid that they hhhad been ssso much at the end offf their ssstrengthsss, that they could not even move to try to put out the fffire that caught them both, fffrom the lightning. Legend hhhasss it that they hhhad literally burned to the ground, and their ashhhesss hhhad laid there intermingled fffor a long time. Then, another lightning had ssstruck on the sssame placcce, igniting the assshes. From them, the fffirssst draconian hhhad been born: Assscccender the Elder, He who hhhad risssen fffrom the ashhhesss, burned by the lightning".

"WOW! What an impressive way to start a life form!" exclamated Schabuda in excitement. "When had this happened?"

"Probably never... Asss I sssaid, it isss jussst a legend; the reality wasss probablty very diffferent. But it jussst sssoundsss cool when one tellsss it to ffforeignersss like you," DragonBlood said smilingly. Then he added: "Prepare yourssselvesss now. We are entering the Cave Hhhall".

It was a marvellous sight: a huge, semi-spherical dome was at the top of the hall, covered with some matter that glowed with fluorescent light. The walls were covered with drawings and murials, which gave the place a mystical impression. Even though the fluorescent glowing from the dome above was enough for the humans to distinguish detalis, the atmosphere made them somewhat half-asleep, and in a sort of a trance.

At the opposite side of the entrance stood a huge chair, sort of like a throne. Sitting on it was a draconian which seemed to sparkle as he moved; it was as if his skin and armor are made of the stars of the sky! At both his sides there were long tables stretching from his chair to the entrance of the hall, with draconians sat down and looking at our heroes. Apparently, they have been waiting for them to arrive. Kruser noticed Ralesk among them.

"Kakositi, Stary, shhhefffenashhh?" DragonBlood said. His voice seemed stunningly powerful, due to the strong reverberation from the walls and the dome above.

"Evefffino. Dobredojdovte," the draconian sitting on the huge chair said. Apparently, he was the Head of the tribe. Schabuda was thankful that Stary's head had a body, so there were not so big chances that Libris would do anything foolish (although the danger was ever-present). Kruser was still trying to understand the draconian language and felt that he could learn it, if given more time. But, as he thought, the quest is more important than anything.

All the draconians that were sitting on the long tables and were apparently memebers of the Draconian Government nodded at the foreigners. The atmosphere was ceremonial, but without any extravagancies or pompous welcomes. "Pleassse, hhhave a ssseat," Stary said.

"I mussst leave you now, fffor I hhhave to get back to my duty at the Caveguard Ffforccce. I wishhh you all the bessst in your livesss" DragonBlood said, took a bow towards the Council and the humans and left. Schabuda was pleased with such a ceremony, because he was not used to long speeches and protocols. Kruer tried to soak in every bit of information he could obtain about the draconians, thinking of a way to utilize their abilities to help him in the quest. Safyre was thrilled and enjoyed the mystical appearance of the Cave Hall, while Libris tried his best not to yawn and conceal his urges for food, fight and bathroom.

Four draconians carrying chairs ran towards the humans and offered them a seat. As our heroes sat down, Stary spoke: "You all come fffrom ModArchive. I presssume you know about the treatment offf draconiansss in ModArchive thessse daysss?"

The four looked at each other. "I know that I've seen them being chased and shot at. Why is that, I don't know," Kruser said.

"You hhhave raisssed a mountain offf rock and managed to ssstop our way offf lifffe altogether fffor months. During that time we were fffaccced with eksssterminaishhhion fffrom lacksss offf fffood and resssourcccesss. What'sss more, our raccce isss now placcced on the black lissst offf your cccity. Asss you sssee, we hhhave no reasssonsss to cccelebrate your presssenccce hhhere," Stary said. There was a general sense of agreement with his words among the members of the Government and they were nodding their heads.

"Hhhowever, we know that all of thisss isss the deed of Rawbbie. Your mayor, Crysssalid, hhhasss made a terrible missstake when hhhe allowed Inffferno45 to roam uncontrolled in hhhis realm of Hhhell. We know that Crysssalid hhhasss been overthrown by Rawbbie's ffforcccesss and that isss why hhhe hhhasss ssstarted a movement againssst hhhim. We are willing to hhhelp out the rebellion. But you mussst know that we will hhhave no ressspect for Crysssalid's own hardshhhipsss. We will help only asss muchhh asss we can, without jeopardizzzing our own sssafffety".

Kruser and Schabuda were looking down. Libris knew why, but he kept his head up, because he did not get carried away by emotions very much. Safyre didn't know what was going on, so he looked at the others, hoping he would get some answers.

"Sssso," Stary continued. "Give Crysssalid this messsage: we will hhhelp only in defffeating Rawbbie, not in his regaining the posssition as the Mayor of ModArchive. It isss hisss own problem..."

"He is dead," said Kruser, interrupting Stary's thought. This came as a shock to the draconians, as they had not known the news before, and also because they were used to not being interrupted when speaking, especially Stary. Safyre was also shocked from the news.

Stary took some time to settle down from the shock of the news and him being interrupted. "Lassst we heard, hhhe leffft the town and wasss hhheaded eassst, towardsss Crimssson Bridge. Nobody hhhasss ssseen hhhim crosss it, though, and nobody hasss ssseen him sssinccce hhhe left. Do you hhhave proofff offf your wordsss, hhhuman?"

Kruser reached in his inside pocket and pulled out the Crest, showing it to Stary and the rest. All let go sounds of surprise, amazement and sadeness. They knew that Cryssalid had carried the Crest with himself only when he had been in desperate need of help and did not allow others to have contact with it. He swore to protect it with his own life when he took the oath as a Mayor of Modarchive, so the Crest being in Kruser's possession meant either that Cryssalid is really dead and it trusted it to Kruser, or that Kruser had killed Cryssalid for it.

Kruser did not let the draconians wonder for long: "He died in my arms," he said. "He was bloody, weary and chased by two cerberi. He was prepared to fight to the death with them, but I hid him in the forest. Alas, his wounds were too heavy to let him live. He gave me the Crest and made me promise that I would carry it to MystiC-DarKneSs' Castle, so she would become powerful enough to defeat Rawbbie".

There were several moments of silence. "Hhhow would MyssstiC-DarKneSss become more powerfffull with the Cressst?" Stary asked.

Kruser found it very hard to explain, as he was fighting his emotions with every word he would speak. "The Crest contains Cryssalid's soul, as well as his love for MystiC-DarKneSs..." he stopped. He caught the Crest with both hands and grasped it tightly. It was as if he was keeping himself from bursting into tears.

Stary noticed this: "Hhhuman!" he shouted. "Approachhh!"

Kruser was a bit shaken by Stary's voice, just enough so he would not think anymore about what he wanted to say. He stood up from his chair, still holding the Crest with both hands and approached Stary. Stary then stood up from his chair and said: "Look me in the eyesss, hhhuman!"

As Kruser looked Stary in the eyes, a ray of light seemed to appear from Stary's eyes and it struck Kruser's eyes. Immediately, Kruser stopped moving and was paralyzed by Stary's stone glare. Schabuda stood up, ready to draw his sword, but the four draconians who had provided them with the chairs stood before him and the rest of the humans, blocking their way towards Kruser.

Stary was able to read Kruser's mind and heart. He saw him born and raised in StarChat, a city to the far south, moving to ModArchive in his childhood and learning his fighting skills there, and meeting MystiC-DarKneSs. He saw MystiC-DarKneSs and Cryssalid get together and Kruser devastated by the news. He saw him leaving the city and joining the monastery, from where he had been dismembered due to his lack of discipline and concentration. He saw the High Priest's last words to Kruser: "Your heart is dark. Only if you let it shine fully, will you be able to live fully. Until then, you don't belong here, or anywhere". He saw Kruser holding Cryssalid's dead body, cursing him for making him face MystiC-DarKneSs again, even with his dying breath. He saw Schabuda, Christofori, Grl, Libris and Safyre, and the Crest above them all, shining its light, leading their way.

As Stary's eye rays stopped, Kruser collapsed on the floor. Before losing consciousness, he could hear Stary yell out some draconian words. He then felt draconian hands holding him by his arms and legs and carrying him out of the Cave Hall into a dark corridor, leading anywhere. Then, his senses were no more.



Kruser woke up at a place ablaze with light. As he turned around while opening his eyes, he could notice bright light in all colors and intensities coming from below him and his sides.

Just as he got up, resting on his elbows, he saw a big creature flying above him. He could not tell what is that creature exactly, but it circled around him once and then landed next to him. It was a dragon! And it looked straight into Kruser's eyes, apparently questioningly. Then, the dragon turned around and yelled out some screeching sounds:

"`/0, |\/|`/27iQ|_|3, 8r0! D4 d00d 607 |_|p, |\/|4|\|!!!"

Several moments later, another dragon, almost identical to the previous one landed next to him and stared at Kruser. With almost identical voice, it screeched: "\/\/0\/\/! |-|3 r|_|13220rX0r22! 3`/ 70|=|=3! `/4 k|\|0\/\/ \/\/422|_|p?"

"|\|0p3r2! \/\/422|_|p?" the first dragon replied.

"D4 d00d i2 |_|p!!!" the other one screeched. Soon both of them started screeching very loud and out of control, bursting flames in all directions. Kruser could not help feeling that they were actually laughing hilariously for some reason.

Soon afterwards, a bigger dragon landed behind them. He was almost twice as big as they were, which would mean some 5 meters in height and about as much at width. It had a terrifying appearance and yet there was some mystical beauty in this creature.

As soon as it landed, the big dragon let go of his deep, strong voice: "`/0 kid2! |\|0\/\/ 60 4nd p14`/! 13|\/||\/|3 <|-|470r2 0|\|3 - 0|\| - 0|\|3 \/\/id d4 d00d!"

"4\/\/ p0p2... \/\/3 \/\/4|\||\|4 574`/0r2 4 8i7 10|\|64|-|!" said the first dragon.

"<0|\/|'0|\|, p0p2, d0|\|'7 83 4 dr46! <4|\|'7 \/\/3 j|_|57 1i573|\|0r2? D4 14|\|6|_|463 0|= d4 |-||_||\/|4|\|2 i2 50 |_||\|1337... 7|-|3ir 5p34ki|\|' i2 50 p|-||_||\||\|`/, i7 0\/\/|\|220r5..." the other one screeched.

"Kid2! 60 |\|0\/\/ 0r I'11 <0\/3r `/3r r|_||\|\/\/4`/ 4|\|d `/4'11 83 6r0|_||\|d3d |=0r 4 \/\/33k! P|-|34r!" the big dragon said, with an even harder voice.

The two smaller dragons walked away and Kruser could sense disappointment in them. The second one said: "D4|\/||\|0r2! I|= 6r0\/\/i|\|' |_|p 7|_|r|\|20r2 j00 i|\|70 4 p4i|\| i|\| d4 455, i7 5|_|XX0r2!"

The first one replied: "`/34|-|... |\/|4`/83 p0p2 r34<|-|3d0r2 |\/|3|\|0p4|_|23 41r34d`/..."

Both of them then flew away, still screeching and bursting flames in all direction without control, apparently laughing again. After they left, the big dragon turned to Kruser and said: "Please excuse TOffe and MyztiQue. They are good kids, just a bit more livelily than usual. I guess having a kid dragon is hard enough, but I got twins... Just my luck..."

"How interesting..." said Kruser, still recovering from the huge amount of light his eyes had received at once. "Where am I?"

"You are in my nest. My name is AcidSoul. Welcome," the dragon said.

"Thank you..." Kruser said more reflexely than any way else. "But how did I get here? What happened?"

"You were brought to us by the draconians. Stary, their chief, said that it was imperative that we bring you back to life. You have been unconscious for a week now and it's good that you're back".

"A week??!!" Kruser was shocked. He tried to remember something of what could happen before his blackout. The last thing he remembered was approaching Stary at the Cave Hall. Nothing else.

"Yes. And we are happy you're back. Apparently, you are the One".

"The One?"

"Yes, the One that will overthrow Rawbbie," AcidSoul said.

Kruser suddenly remembered. "The Crest! Where is it??!!" he could not feel its presence in any of his pockets.

"Relax," said AcidSoul. "The draconians are analyzing it. Apparently it contains some magical properties. It is also unusually heavy - even the strongest draconian in their tribe could not stand its weight. They had to utilize machines to pick it up and carry it to their laboratories".

"Heavy?" Kruser was surprised. "What do you mean by 'heavy'? I could carry it with no problem; it is just a simple piece of metal with the symbol of ModArchive engraved on it. It must not be heavier than 100 grams, at most".

"It is all that... But it is also the resting place of Cryssalid's soul. He was a great man, greater than all in this area, because of his big heart. And all of that is now inside the Crest. And nobody is strong enough to carry it".

"But how come I was?" Kruser said.

AcidSoul looked him in the eyes. "You love MystiC-DarKneSs," he said calmly.

"NO!" Kruser shouted in remorse. "That is over now! It is over, you hear??!! She chose him and that is final! There is nothing I can do about it! Leave it alone!"

AcidSoul did not seem to hear those words. "You love her as much and as strongly as Cryssalid's soul was and is. You have as much strength inside of you as Cryssalid did. But you chose to keep it for yourself, fearing the responsibilities that it carries with itself. Therefore MystiC-DarKneSs chose Cryssalid, who was aware of his strengths and was not afraid to bear them".

"Okay, fine!" Kruser still rebelled. "I grew up in a slummy neighborhood, where you would get fooled by your best friend only for interest, whereas Cryssalid's character had been nurtured throughout all his life because he had better conditions and more resources! No problem! Of course MystiC-DarKneSs would choose a well-cultured young man instead of a bandit from the slums! And by the way, I have no idea what love means! What is that, some goods or something? Something you pay for? Something you enter in your schedule once or twice a week and then focus yourself on other, profit-bringing things completely? What is it, dragon? And what's the use of it, once the one you love leaves you, at best upon death? What's the use of spending some 20, 30, 40 years together and then have the one you love die on you, or you die on her or him? What good is spending so many years together, grow unable to leave without each other and then die, leaving the other one alone and unable to cope, or be left alone and unable to cope? HUH???!!! You tell me that!!!"

AcidSoul was calm.

"How do you feel?" he finally asked.

"You did not answer my question, dragon!" Kruser said with an upset voice.

"Answer me, human!" AcidSoul said, this time with a tougher voice. "How do you feel?"

"Allright... I'm okay".

"Any pain? Difficulty? Anything you may wish to complain about?"

"No... I feel a little dizzy, but I think I'm fine..."

"So, right now, you are feeling okay?"

"Yes, right now I am feeling okay!" Kruser repeated, acting like a little kid.

"And do you know how will you feel some 20, 30 years from now?"

There was a moment of pause. Kruser turned towards AcidSoul with a questioning expression.

"I didn't think so. So how do you expect ME to tell you what would your life be that many years in the future, when you don't know yourself?"

Kruser was a bit shaken. "My question was: why would anyone bother to get closer to someone, when after 20, 30 or so years together one will die and..."

"But you don't live 20 or 30 years in the future, do you, human?" AcidSoul interrupted Kruser's thought. "You live here and now. You are here, at my home, now, on this wonderful day. You have no health problems anymore. Why would you at all bother yourself thinking about some 20 or 30 years in the future, when you cannot predict how they happen?"

Kruser was silent.

"Also, you don't live some 5 years ago, when it happened what happened. It is over. No matter how much the things from the past hurt you then, they DON'T hurt you now. It is only in your mind that they happen. Look around: you don't see MystiC-DarKneSs anywhere. You don't see Cryssalid anywhere. You don't see yourself as the man you used to be 5 years ago. The past cannot hurt you unless you allow it, human! The past does not exist. It is only in your memory. Relax! Let the past leave".

Kruser could not speak. AcidSoul's words seemed to have sealed his mouth.

"I'll be back in a moment," AcidSoul said and flew away.

Kruser laid on his back, watching the sunny sky, as well as dragons flying above him. He felt smoewhat easier, noticing small details of this wonderful place. He noticed that he was laying on a bed of soft grain that seemed to sparkle in the sunlight. He got a handful of it and was shocked: it was dust from pulverized gems! He noticed that his bed was made completely of gems, scattering the sunlight and creating the most beautiful light show Kruser has ever seen.

Some five minutes later, AcidSoul landed back at Kruser's side. This time he was wearing a golden mask, one that covered the top of his head and had two very big red gems at the place of his eyes.

"Now look me in the eyes, human!" AcidSoul said.

Kruser turned to him and thought: "Oh no, not again..."

As Kruser focused on AcidSoul's eye-gems, he started visualizing whirlpools appear in front of him. Soon he saw the entire world whirl around in front of him, seemingly creating a disordered mass of images. But afterwards, the whirlpool seemed to gain a certain shape. In some moments, Kruser saw the entire world turn around and shape the image of MystiC-DarKneSs in front of him.

Kruser was laying on his back, asleep.



Soon after Kruser had been taken away to the dragons, Schabuda, Libris and Safyre had been carried away from the Cave Hall and left on the Cave Square, i.e. the place of the cave with the hole in its ceiling. It had become night, so soon they could see nothing but the stars in the sky, which gave them only a clue as of where they had been, not where they should be going. The draconians had seemingly forgotten that humans cannot see in the dark; apparently they thought that their guests felt like home enough to be able to find their ways on their own.

Fortunately, Safyre was around. "Wait a second," he said. "I'm going to cast a Magic Light spell".

Several arcane words later, Safyre's entire body seemed to light up as a lantern. The light thus produced was enough to reveal details in things up to 10 meters distance from Safyre.

"Safyre mumbled, and there was Light!" Schabuda said and laughed.

Libris was feeling uneasy. "Geez, how come there are no draconians around? Do they go home at night? This square is totally empty..."

"Maybe... or maybe the word spread quickly about Kruser's blackout. Something tells me there is much more power in the Crest than we know about. And apparently Kruser is the only one who can carry it, so if we're on a quest to carry it to MystiC-DarKneSs' Castle, we have to wait until he gets back," Safyre said.

Libris seemed to be turning around like a wild animal in a cage. "Uh... If there's nobody here, I might as well ease myself here..."

"NO!" Safyre and Schabuda shouted at the same time. "Never crap on a holy place, barbarian! You know the Universal Law! It applies for all life forms!" Schabuda said.

"Damnation!" Libris was getting impatient. "Then let's just go into this tunnel and I'll do my stuff there. That is not a holy place, is it?"

"Geezz... Ok, let's go into the tunnel, but please, PLEASE, hold it until we find a place for relief, okay? We are lucky that the draconians let us stay alive at all, knowing that ModArchive is partly responsible for all this..." said Schabuda.

The three of them entered the tunnel and started walking through the corridor. They walked for about an hour, during which Libris had to stop, focus himself on keeping his waste within, and then continue. Finally, they reached a huge board, where there were written some messages. It was written in two languages: the top one was in Draconian, and the bottom one was readable to the humans:


"BATHROOM!" Libris yelled in extasy and ran ahead. It occurred to him, after a while, that he needs Safyre to light the way, when he hit full-speed into a wall of the corridor.

Anyway, they reached the border zone. Libris located the bathroom and ran straight towards it (he knew he could not ask Safyre to light his way; it would be impossible for both of them to enter at the same time, since the bathroom was for one person only. Libris was well aware of this and did not like to make indecent proposals. Besides, why would he deny his own luxury of waste relief? Why would he have to share it with somebody else?)

"Hmm... This cannot be the border with the Land of the Dragons..." said Schabuda. "Kruser was taken to the other side... This must be the border with the Land of Gargoyles!"

"But... If it is a border zone, why is it deserted?" asked Safyre.

Indeed, there was nobody around. It seemed that this place had been desolate for months. Furthermore there was a wall of stone ahead - the corridor had a dead end and Safyre and Schabuda were facing it (Libris was still relieving himself).

"Perhaps Rawbbie erected this wall?" Schabuda reasoned. "Maybe he deliberately cut out all the communications among the draconians and gargoyles, so he would make his conquest easier..."

"But if so, why does he not attack the draconians now, while they're still vulnerable?"

"I don't know," Schabuda said. "It makes no sense, really... He should have conquered the draconians by now, especially given the strength of his armies..."

"Wait a second," said Safyre. He closed his eyes and stopped moving. It was as if he was trying to receive some messages from an unknown source.

After a while, he opened up his eyes. "There are disturbances in Hell," he said. "I feel the vibrations beneath the ground... I would say that Inferno45 and Rawbbie have some internal issues... Their conflict of interest is what is stopping Rawbbie from progressing further".

"Wow! How can you tell all this?" Schabuda was amazed.

"I can't... I'm just guessing... Besides, it would be more fun if this were true, wouldn't it?" said Safyre and smiled.

At about the same time, Libris returned, apparently refreshed. But just as he was out to say something, knocking sounds could be heard from behind the wall that was blocking the corridor. The three humans turned toward the wall.

"Stand back! I don't like this!" said Schabuda and stepped several steps behind. Safyre and Libris followed.

In a matter of minutes, the knocking sounds became so loud, that it seemed as if the wall would collapse. And it did: eventually, the wall was cracked and huge blocks of stone that were once a firm stone wall fell down on the ground, letting go of a stunningly loud noise and a huge amount of dust.

The collapse of the stone wall, luckily, did not trigger a collapse of the entire corridor. Nevertheless, Safyre, Schabuda and Libris were standing too close to the place where the stone wall collapsed, which produced tremendously intense sounds, stunning them unconscious.

Several creatures emerged from the other side of the now-demolished wall. They saw the three unconscious humans and dragged them to the other side of the stone rubble.



As soon as Libris, Schabuda and Safyre woke up, they found themselves surrounded with lots of stone pillars. The pillars were very close to each other, so the three of them could not squeeze through. They were also quite high, so climbing above them was impossible. The three of them were like animals in a circular cage, with the open sky above them.

Despite that, Schabuda tried. "Darn! If I can't climb this, then all those childhood days spent climbing rocks were no good!" he angered.

"Uh... This place makes you feel stoned just by being here," said Libris.

"Ssssshh!" whispered Safyre. "I have a feeling we are not alone".

They all stopped moving. There was nobody around.

"How can you tell?" said Schabuda.

Safyre didn't answer. Instead, he came close to one of the pillars and mumbled some magic words. His hands then started glowing with a yellow-reddish light and he thrusted his hands towards the pillar.

Just as he was about to touch it, a strange thing happened. The pillar widened and suddenly, stone wings spread from its bottom, pivoted at its top. The pillar turned to a gargoyle that spread its wings and flew in the air before Safyre would touch it.

The other pillars had done the same. Soon Safyre, Libris and Schabuda found themselves facing some twenty gargoyles, flying before them, with red glow in their eyes.

"Smart move, smart move," one of them gnarled. "You wanted to soften the stone we're made of, eh? I don't think so! Now cancel that spell or we'll be forced to kill you!"

The gargoyles raised their spiked stone claws and prepared to attack.

"Gimme your best shot!" said Libris and took a step forward. He was unarmed, as well as Sayre and Schabuda, but apparently that did not discourage him one bit. Still, Schabuda grabbed him by the shoulder and said: "Wait! They must want us alive for some reason. Otherwise they'd have us killed by now! We don't want to die for no reason at all, do we?"

Safyre was silent. His hands stopped glowing.

The gargoyle's eyes glowed more intensely and his mouth created a diabloical smiling expression. "Hehehehe... You speak wisely, my friend. Now follow us. Our leader wishes to see you".

Unlike the draconians, the gargoyles did not live in caves on the bottom of the mountain. Instead, they had caves all over the mountain rigde, regardless of its height from the ground. As Safyre, Libris and Schabuda walked towards the mountain, they saw holes in the rock where gargoyles would fly in and out. There were surprisingly many gargoyles; Safyre felt as if this was a beehive and not a gargoyle colony.

"Now stop," their guide said. The humans stopped walking and the gargoyles that flew around them were now floating in air or circling around them. "Look in front and above you".

The humans saw a stone pillar, surprisingly thin, raised in front of them. As they watched looked higher and higher upwards, they could hardly see where the pillar would end; it seemed as if it was high enough to reach the clouds.

The gargoyle guide said: "Now we must carry you on the platform above. Please don't resist, or we will not be able to hold you for long".

Several gargoyles approached Safyre, Schabuda and Libris. Soon, the gargoyles were carrying the humans above, spreading their majestic stone wings, reaching for bigger and bigger heights, striving for the top of the pillar. There were problems with Libris, as usual, since he wanted to have a snack in mid-air, arguing that "if birds can do it, humans can as well"; the gargoyle guide did not bother to explain anything to him, as he was stoned, like all the other gargoyles.

They were flying so high, that the pillar seemed to stretch downwards towards infinity to them. Finally, they reached its peak and there was a large circular platform, maybe some 50 meters in radius. The gargoyles put the humans down on it. Then they took off and floated in mid-air above the humans, again circling around them. The blood-red cloudy sky from the rising sun made the gargoyles look even scarier, while circling around the humans.

More and more gargoyles approached the platform, flying above the humans. Soon the entire sky was filled with gargoyles, floating gloomily above the humans.

"So, we meet at last," a gargoyle voice was heard.

Schabuda, Libris and Safyre started turning around in circles, trying to locate the source of the voice. They did not even notice how one gargoyle had landed on the platform and stood behind them.

As they turned towards him, Schabuda said: "Who are you?"

"I am Gargoyle0, today's leader of our clan".

"Today's?" said Safyre.

"Yes. You see, we gargoyles all look the same, so we choose a different leader each day. That way, everybody gets to be the leader at least once, since there are no differences among ourselves and we are all equal".

"You choose randomly?"

"Yeah, sort of... Every morning we have a sort of a lottery which determines who gets to be the leader. The ones who may apply must not have been leaders in the past year, i.e. they must be ones that have not yet had their turn at leadership in the past year".

"So, this is your lucky day, huh?" said Libris.

"Yes! Today I'm the One!" said Gargoyle0 with pride.

"Judging from your name, you are the Zero, but who's counting..." Libris said and laughed. Schabuda and Safyre did their best not to laugh.

Gargoyle0 did not appreciate the joke very much. "You have been caught crossing the border zone without proper papers and a visa from Draconianland. What's more, you don't have even entry papers to Draconianland. You have thus commited a double trespassing violation and must now face the consequences!"

Libris sighed. "You're going to place us in prison again? Man, we just got out of one..."

Schabuda and Safyre wanted to shut Libris' mouth, but he had already said enough unnecessary things. So Gargoyle0 said: "No prison for you... We do not like you around at all. You are potentially hazardous - the smell from the border bathroom can be felt some kilometers into our territory, causing our stone to become softer and weaker. We will have to neutralize you!"

"How can you possibly smell when you are so stoned and have no sense of smell?" asked Schabuda.

Gargoyle0 was stunned (and stoned) by this question. The other gargoyles were stunned as well, so they forgot to flap their wings in shock. Several of them plunged into the abyss below the platform because of it.

"Erm... we can only see the effect on the stone... But that is irrelevant! The fact is that you are a danger to us and to the surrounding area!"

"So, now what? You're going to kill us?" Libris asked angrily.

"You bet your waste we are!"

"So may I have one last wish before I die, then?" said Safyre.

Gargoyle0 looked around at his other gargoyles. All seemed to nod in agreement.

"Okay, it's like this! You will fly my friends down to the ground unharmed. You and me will have a fight to the death, one on one! If you kill me, the next of my friends will also have a fight to the death one on one with you. But if any one of us wins, the survivors walk free out of here! Deal?"

Gargoyle0 smiled diabolically. "That hardly seems fair... And I really don't think you are in a position to set conditions".

"No, but I am in a position to request my last wish, and so are my friends. And you gargoyles, even being totally stoned, still have your own honor that you cherish. Or do you?"

There was a general sense of dissatisfaction among the gargoyles. Libris and Schabuda, on the other hand, were amazed at how Safyre managed to trick them all and give each a choice to fight for their lives.

At last Gargoyle0 spoke: "Very well, then. Take those two to the ground" and pointed towards Schabuda and Libris. Then, as he turned towards Safyre, he said: "You have just signed your death penalty, mage!" and took off, flapping his wings, looking scarier than ever. Then he attacked.



Gargoyle0 attacked Safyre in waves, rushing downwards towards him from above, with his stone claws ready to inflict massive damage. Safyre, on the other hand, did not move much and evaded each of the attacks with great skill, as a bullfighter evading the bull's charges. From time to time he would create a mana shield, which would deflect Gargoyle0's attacks.

This went on for some fifteen minutes. Safyre waited for some time, about the same amount that was necessary for all of them to be flown above, on the platform. He figured that if he could evade Gargoyle0's attacks long enough, his friends would be safely landed in the meantime.

And so it happened. At one moment, as Gargoyle0 was charging, Safyre mumbled some magic words. His hands started glowing with a yellow-reddish light and he was getting ready to take on another of Gargoyle0's attacks.

As Gargoyle0 flew right at him, Safyre ducked and leaned his body to the right, twisting it to the left. Then, as Gargoyle0's left claw just missed Safyre's head, Safyre grabbed his arm at the shoulder, with his hands glowing with a yellow-reddish glow. As Gargoyle0 flew away, Safyre broke off his left arm, and Gargoyle0 found himself flying out of control for several moments. As he regained control, he turned towards Safyre, floating in air, with his left arm broken out of his torso.

He turned to Safyre, raging mad. "The Soften Stone spell! You've softened my arm! You are dead, mage!"

Gargoyle0 then landed, at the egde of the platform. And then, he started flying directly and head-on towards Safyre, spinning along the axis of his body as he was flying towards him, with his remaining claw placed along the side of his head, facing upwards. Thus, he seemed like a gigantic drill approaching Safyre with great speed.

Safyre mumbled more magic words and spread his arms in front of him, waving them in circles. Then, as Gargoyle0 approached him at a distance of some 10 meters, Safyre thrusted both of his hands towards Gargoyle0. A glowing net was thrown towards Gargoyle0, which twisted him up badly due to his own spinning. He was unable to keep control of his own path, so he collapsed on the ground and slid towards Safyre, stopping right in front of Safyre's legs.

Safyre then uttered the maric words again and his hands started glowing in yello-reddish glow again. He approached the now tangled up Gargoyle0 and caught him by the head ant the neck. Less than a second later, Safyre broke off Gargoyle0's head and had it in his arms.

As he raised it triumphantly above his head, the surrounding gargoyles could not believe the sight: one of them lost to a mortal! The shock was so great that, again, some of them collapsed in the abyss below the platform, forgetting to fly.

One of those who had not lost his balance, landed in front of Safyre. "Mage," he said, "you have proven your worth. We will stand by our promise. You may leave unharmed".

He then called several other gargoyles and took Safyre to the ground. Safyre knew that the gargoyles would not violate their promises; it is something they were too stoned to do.

Schabuda and Libris each let go a sigh of relief when they saw Safyre being brought down by the gargoyles. When they landed him, one of the gargoyles (maybe the same one who spoke to him on the platform? They all looked the same to Safyre...) spoke: "You have demonstrated great skill, courage and nerve. You deserve our praise and respect".

He approached Safyre and put a simple piece of rock in his hand. He said: "This is a piece of rock. This is a piece of any gargoyle's body and soul. This is a token of our respect to you. Anytime you may need our help, bury this piece of rock in the earth and wait for us. We will know where to find you".

Then all of the gargoyles took off and started flying towards the caves in the rocky ridge. "Wait!" Safyre shouted. "I don't know your name!"

"I am the One," the gargoyle replied, flying away.

"I am the One," another gargoyle replied.

"I am the One," another one replied.

"I am the One," another replied.

This went on and on, like an echo fading out in the distance. Safyre was holding a piece of rock in his hand. Schabuda and Libris were bewildered and confused; even more so, when they discovered that all of their weapons, armor and belongings were laid on the ground behind them.

As they were putting their armor on, Schabuda asked: "Safyre, what did they mean when all of them said 'I am the One'? What does that mean?"

Safyre was silent. After some pause, he replied: "They come from the rock. They come from the earth. They come from the one and only place where all of us live. They are just a manifestation of the spirit of the rock, of the earth, of the ground..."

After a short pause, he continued: "This place where we live is alive. The earth itself is alive. Rawbbie has violated the earth by artificially erecting huge mountains. The earth is suffering with us and it wants to help us in any way possible".

The three of them walked silently towards the exit and towards the border with Draconianland. "Schabuda," said Libris. He did not want to talk to Safyre, who was apparently deep in his thoughts. "What did Gargoyle0 mean when he said my waste generated smell that made the stone softer and weaker?"

"I guess you have some magic within you, my friend, even if you excrete it through fecalities," Schabuda said and laughed. "It must have been the smell that softened the stone wall at the border, so it cracked open".

"But how come we were not affected by it? If the smell can crack stones, why are we still in one piece?"

"We are not made of stone. We are made of flesh, blood and emotions. Remember that".

The sun had risen completely, just when Schabuda, Libris and Safyre entered the tunnel that led to Draconianland. Safyre illuminated the way with the Magic Light spell and they walked into the deep corridor.

Upon leaving the corridor and entering Draconianland, the three noticed a crowd of Draconians. DragonBlood was in the crowd and he noticed and approached the three humans. "Ohhh, there you are," he said. "Come, our magi hhhave dissscovered what isss the ssstrength offf the Cressst. Pleassse join me".

"Won't you even ask where we were?" said Schabuda.

"Nahhh... No need. You've most likely visssited Gargoyleland, but we hhhave fffree border zzzone, ssso it isss no problem," said DragonBlood and hurried towards the Cave Hall.

"Shouldn't we tell him that you are now a friend with the gargoyles?" Schabuda quietly asked Safyre.

"Maybe later, if he asks," Safyre whispered back. "Let's just see what this power of the Crest is all about".



Kruser woke up again. He found himself in the same crystalline bed, under a bright daylit sky, with dragons flying above him. As he turned sideways, he noticed he was not alone, though; Ralesk and DragonBlood were sitting next to him.

"Good morning," Ralesk said. "It wasss about time you woke up".

"We don't hhhave muchhh time," DragonBlood said. "We have been sssent to essscort you back to Draconianland. You are to come with usss to claim ownershhhip offf the Cressst again".

Kruser, surprisingly, did not feel uneasy hearing those words now. After the revelation he gained from AcidSoul's glare, he felt more energized.

"Right!" he said. "I guess nobody else can claim it, so you want ME to carry it, don't you? Otherwise you would have taken advantage of it already, wouldn't you?!"

Ralesk and DragonBlood did not like the tone of Kruser's voice. "You hhhave a lot of anger within you, fffriend," said DragonBlood. "It isss due to your passst. Leave it alone. Relaksss. Leave the passst where it belongsss - in the past. Don't let it control your emoshhhionsss now".

"Yeah, right... AcidSoul told me exactly the same thing," said Kruser, still angry. "Excuse me, but I am like that. Maybe I was supposed not to be, but I made the greatest mistake in my life and now I carry the consequences from it. So if you don't like the way I am, I'm sorry, but you'll have to live with it!"

"Nobody isss ffforccced to ssstay around you, you know!" said DragonBlood with a bit more strictness in his voice. "We only take care offf you becaussse we need you to take the Cressst to MyssstiC-DarKneSss' Cassstle! No more!"

"Thanks for the honesty!" said Kruser and got up. "You're no different than any other creature I've ever met! Now let's go!"

"My brother isss not what YOU are, Krussser," said Ralesk.

Kruser was now standing up. He turned towards Ralesk, with a look that was a mixture of anger and confusion.

"My brother hhhasss a genuine care fffor hhhis fffriendsss. My brother isss the one everybody can count on in timesss offf need. That isss why hhhe earned hhhis placcce in the Cave Guard, becaussse offf hhhisss courage, hhhonesssty and resssourcccefffulnesss. My brother knowsss hhhow to sssee and ressspect the real valuesss in any creature. Those are jussst sssome offf the things that you are not, and could hhhave been. And shhhould hhhave been".

Kruser felt those words fall heavily upon his soul.

"There isss a proverb: 'It isss never too late to be who you could hhhave been'. Ssso you can ssstill be all that. And more. But fffirssst and ffforemossst, you mussst clear out your head fffrom all hatred, even ifff it wasss the only thing that kept you alive all these yearsss".

"Hatred?" said Kruser surprisingly. "What are you talking about? I have no hatred for Cryssalid or anyone else..."

Kruser stopped. Ralesk watched him with a smiling, yet sad face.

"Sssee, my fffriend? Nobody even menshhhioned Crysssalid, eksssept you, who ssstill carriesss hhhim inssside offf you asss your nemesssisss," said Ralesk.

Kruser stood still, with his head facing downwards. Apparently, Cryssalid and MystiC-DarKneSs have had a much greater effect on him than he dared to admit to himself.

Ralesk and DragonBlood stood up. "Now, all we can hope isss that you will defffeat your own doubtsss about how you fffeell about Crysssalid and MyssstiC-DarKneSss. Only then you can ever hhhope about achhhieving your goal," said Ralesk.

As they were about to leave, a dragon landed next to them. "So, you are finally ready? That is good news... Ralesk, remember, you may call me for help any time. If I can, I'll gladly assist you whenever you need me".

"Thanksss, AcccidSssoul. I'll keep that in mind".

As Kruser, Ralesk and DragonBlood walked away towards the tunnel that lead to Draconianland, Kruser asked: "Ralesk, what is this about AcidSoul helping you?"

"I hhhave been babysssitting hhhisss twin dragon kidsss, TOffe and MyztiQue, fffrom time to time, ssso hhhe kinda owesss me a fffavor," said Ralesk. "And sssinccce I'm going to join you in your quessst, hhhis hhhelp will be more than welcome".

"Join me?" said Kruser, somewhat pleased. "I'm glad... But why would you bother? What do you draconians have from this? Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have you with me... I just want to know".

"While you were out unconshhhiousss, we tried to analyze the Cressst," Ralesk said. "Our draconian magi detected a ssstrong ffforccce in the Cressst, that isss able to ultimately dessstroy Rawbbie, ifff sssome condishhhionsss are met. And draconiansss hhhave great interessst in wiping Rawbbie offf the ffface offf our realm, or any realm at all. Hhhe totally sssucksss!"

"What conditions?"

"Well... The Cressst mussst reachhh MyssstiC-DarKneSss in one pieccce, for one..." Ralesk then stopped.

"Yes? Go on," said Kruser.

"Well... Then shhhe mussst releassse her emoshhhionsss towardsss Crysssalid and they mussst be transssffferred to the Cressst, the sssame way Crysssalid transssffferred hisss emoshhhionsss towardsss MyssstiC-DarKneSss to the Cressst".

Kruser was calm. "Yeah, makes sense... Then their love will be complete..."

"And then, you mussst releassse your emotionsss towardsss MyssstiC-DarKneSss and thossse mussst be transssffferred to the Cressst wasss well".

Those words struck a nerve in Kruser. They sparkled the memory of MystiC-DarKneSs appear in front of him when AcidSoul hypnotized him. He could no longer doubt - he did harbor some emotions towards her, even though he was trying to dismiss them all along.

"Release my emotions towards her... Even though she does not have emotions towards me, but Cryssalid instead?"

"Hhhow can you tell hhhow shhhe fffeelsss, hhhuman?" said Ralesk. "Do you know fffor a fffact that shhhe hhhasss no emoshhhionsss towardsss you? Hhhave you asssked hhher about thisss? Hhhave you told hhher hhhow you fffeel about hhher? Hhhave you ever given hhher a chhhanccce to hhhave emoshhhionsss towardsss you?"

Kruser was silent.

"No, my fffriend. You hhhad simply run away and tried to sssufffocate the puressst and cleanessst part offf you, your true love, becaussse you thought that you are not worthy enoughhh. Now, at the cossst offf Crysssalid'sss lifffe, you hhhave been given a sssecond chhhanccce. And now, you mussst be true all along, fffor otherwissse it would mean the doom offf all lifffe asss we know it. Rawbbie hhhasss no mercccy - hhhe wantsss to dominate our realm and will not be ssstopped, unlesss dessstroyed".

After some pause, Ralesk continued. "And that isss why I'm coming with you. I am able to ussse my eyesss in the sssame way that AcccidSssoul can. My look can hhhypnotizzze anyone and make him or her drop all emoshhhional breaksss and barriersss, very muchhh like AcccidSssoul hhhypnotizzzed you. Plusss, I am well combat-trained, ssso you can count on me in timesss offf ssstrifffe".

Kruser walked on in silence. On one hand, he was glad he gained a powerful ally. On the other hand, he feared that his way of living for his own self would soon end, if it has not ended already.

After a while, he said: "Tell me, how do you know all of this? I mean, how could you tell what happened, how I felt, how Cryssalid and MystiC-DarKneSs felt? Is it all written in the Crest or something?"

"Yesss. Apparently, you hhhave hhhad sssome efffect on MyssstiC-DarKneSss befffore. Crysssalid'sss aura isss completely transssffferred to the Cressst, and it fffulfffillsss only one hhhalfff offf thhhe Cressst, while the other hhhalfff containsss isss partly fffilled with MyssstiC-DarKneSss' aura. But in hhher part, there are tracccesss offf your aura asss well, the sssame one you carry with yourssselfff right now. Ssso the power of the Cressst can be complete only ifff you take part in it asss well," said Ralesk.

Kruser knew that the draconians had met with Cryssalid, MystiC-DarKneSs and now with him as well. He knew that they could sense the aura of any being and detect their presence because of it (except for gargoyles, since, being completely stoned, they had no aura; which is why draconians generally disliked the gargoyles). Kruser therefore realized that Ralesk would always bother him to focus himself towards MystiC-DarKneSs, the way he used to be focused at her such a long time ago.

Kruser could not hide his emotions anymore; Ralesk's eyes would reveal them. Kruser knew and feared this.



And so it was decided: Ralesk would join Kruser, Schabuda, Libris and Safyre in their quest to carry the Crest over to MystiC-DarKneSs' Castle. Ralesk's task would be to help Kruser always have clear feelings about MystiC-DarKneSs and a clear objective in his head, without them being mixed with hatred or any other unwanted emotions.

As they were about to leave, DragonBlood told them. "There isss a large number of Rawbbie'sss troopsss at the front entranccce. We will need to sssneak you out through our sssecret passsagesss. Follow me, pleassse".

Through several small caves and corridors, our heroes emerged in the forest to the south, exactly where Schabuda and Safyre hid when they evaded Rawbbie's police when they were chasing Ralesk more than a week ago.

"Thisss isss where I leave you," said DragonBlood quietly and shook the hands of all the humans, while he embraced with Ralesk. "Chhhuvajssse, brate. Vratisssezhhhiv".

"Iti chuvajssse, brate. Kjessse sssretnemepak," said Ralesk.

As DragonBlood lost himself in the darkness of the cave, Ralesk turned towards Kruser. "Allright, monk. I've hhheard you know your waysss around the ffforessst... Now isss the time to ussse them. Take usss out offf hhhere and lead usss to ModArchive".

Indeed, Kruser led the party of five into the forest and as they were about to leave it, they saw the walls of ModArchive rise before them.

"Now follow me," Schabuda said quietly. "I know several hidden passages into the city. We're at its northwest now, so we'll just sneak to the northern passage".

"My fffavorite one," said Ralesk and smiled, hissing quietly.

The city of ModArchive seemed strangely deserted. There were hardly any police patrols in the streets, let alone other people.

"I don't like this," mumbled Schabuda. "Let's find Christofori and Grl and get out of here as quickly as possible".

As they approached the arena, they saw a demolished building, burned from the inside and outside. It was as if some giant riot had taken place inside of it and an outside force had intervened to settle it. In any case, the arena was now just a wreckage, lifeless and with a phantom-like appearance.

Before entering, our heroes quietly pulled out their weapons. Kruser prepared his lance. Schabuda drew his sword and set his shield. Libris prepared Bloody Mary. Safyre spoke some arcane words and a blue-white spinning orb appeared between his hands. Ralesk triggered out his claws and spikes on the back of his torso, arms and tail.

As they entered, there were no signs of life. They found the room where they had left Christofori and Grl resting and discovered that it had been completely burned out; as if somebody had flamed the entire room. They searched for their bodies, but they were nowhere around. The walls were completely black, covered in burned dirt and ash.

"So now what?" said Schabuda. "Their bodies are not here and the entire city is empty... Where do we look for them?"

"Wait a sssecond," said Ralesk. His eyes started glowing more strongly. He had focused his entire attention on one of the walls.

The rest watched him as he approached the wall almost hypnotically. He moved his head from the left towards the right and back towards left and back towards right...

Suddenly, he raised his hand and, using the claw of his index finger, started scratching the burned-out wall. It seemed as he was writing something, but in an alphabet unknown to most, even himself.

As he finished scratching the wall, his eyes stopped glowing strongly and returned to their normal yellow glow. "This had been written on the wall befffore it had been burned," he said. "My infffravission revealed it to me. I thought it might be ussseffful... Unfffortunately, I don't underssstand what it meansss".

"These are magi runes. I can read them, "said Safyre, much to the amazement of the others. "Let me try..."

As Safyre appproached the wall more closely, he started speaking slowly: "Problem... Crowd... Rawbbie police come... We run... You is good? We in Trax... We wait you"

"Aha! Let's go to Trax then. I haven't been there in ages," said Libris, who had been surprisingly quiet all until now.

"Say, what are those last two symbols, the onle that looks like a cross and the other one that looks like a girl?" said Schabuda.

"Well... A cross and a girl... I believe it means Christofori and Grl, respectively... I believe one of these knows how to write in magi runes, although his or her handwriting, i.e. runedrawing is terrible".

"I guess that would be Christofori," said Schabuda. "He used to keep close contact with the magi and I guess he learned some of the runes from there. I remember when he tried to teach me some of them... It was hilarious..."

"No time to waste!" said Kruser resolutely, interrupting Schabuda's sentence. "Let's go to Trax".

They left ModArchive as quietly as they entered it; it seemed that nobody even noticed that they existed. Rawbbie's forces were concentrated in the north, imposing a siege on all the main entrances to Draconianland.

"Drzhhhetessse, brakja!" Ralesk waved northwards, symbolically parting with the sight of his homeland in strife, before heading south towards Trax.



Trax was a nearby city, only about two day's walk to the south of ModArchive. Yet, even from far out, one could notice its ruins, sadly standing as a remembrance of what was once a magnificent city. As they approached its entrance, there was a sign written on a wall: "Weep for Trax".

"Truly a sad place," said Libris, who was unusually touched by the ruins of Trax, something not quite common in barbarians. "Why would Christofori and Grl run away to here? I have heard that there is no building left undamaged in the city..."

"I have heard that Trax has some catacombs below the city," said Schabuda. "Maybe they hid themselves there?"

"I have heard that those catacombs are not quite safe for ordinary folks... One could easily get lost there, and even killed by all sorts of nasty creatures inhabiting the place," said Safyre.

"I hhhave hhheard that in Traksss anybody could get adminissstrative privilegesss fffor any sssort offf op-eration hhhe or shhhe would require..." said Ralesk.

"I have heard enough!" said Kruser sharply. "Be quiet or we may not last long enough to share our impressions!"

The party walked on quietly for some time. Kruser searched for any signs where Christofori and Grl could be. Suddenly, he stopped walking and said: "Look! Tracks in the ground!"

The rest of the party looked downwards and could see only slim traces that somebody walked that way. For Kruser, who had roamed in forests for half of his life, that was more than enough. "Follow me," he said.

Following the tracks led them to a huge slab of stone. "The tracks end here," Kruser said.

"Probably there is a passage below the slab?" said Safyre.

"Let me try to move it," said Schabuda. Indeed, if anyone could move it, he could. His impressive physical strength was more than necessary at this time. Even for him, though, moving the stone slab required substantial effort. Neverhteless, after he moved it, a hole was revealed, with stairs leading downwards.

Safyre peeked downwards. "It's dark. Let me go first, to illuminate the way".

Ralesk was confused for a moment what did Safyre mean when he said "It's dark". Draconians didn't have the word "dark" in their dictionary, since they were able to see in the absence of visible light in their caves... In a way, this just confirmed his previous belief: "Lugjevossse ludi".

As soon as all of them descended and Safyre casted the Magic Light spell, the party found themselves a lot of human-shaped creatures surrounding them. "Please don't resist and we will not harm you," a voice was heard from somebody in the crowd around the party.

Ralesk did not pay much attention to the source of the voice, but was nevertheless ready to pull out his claws and spikes at once if he noticed that the situation would incline towards a battle. Safyre was a bit surprised to hear a female voice say those words. Kruser, Schabuda and Libris were even more surprised, because theythought that they had heard that voice before somewhere.

"Grl?" said Kruser. "Is that you?"

There were several moments of silence. Then the voice was heard again. "Come over here, you who spoke that!"

Kruser stepped up front, towards the source of that voice. He could soon recognize the faces and appearances of those who surrounded them. They were not very well armed, but there were A LOT of them, so any battle would result in certain death of all the members of the party. Kruser tried to recognize Grl's face in the woman ahead of him; no good, it was not Grl.

"The one you seek is here," she said. "Why would you need her?"

"She and Christofori are supposed to join us in our quest. We need to reach MystiC-DarKneSs' Castle..."

"Say no more! THESE ARE FRIENDS, PEOPLE!" the woman said loudly. There was a general sense of relaxement in everybody, like a giant sigh of relief. "Follow us," the woman said.

Soon they were lead into a vast area, which resembled a city square below the surface of the earth. There were all sorts of people: rich, poor, young, old... Some of them were eating and drinking on the floor, some were building sculptures, some were singing, some were fighting, some of them were having sex right there in front of everybody ...

"I am home!" exclamated Libris.

"I am not!" exclamated Safyre.

"I am neither, although I could be," exclamated Schabuda.

"I am not fffrom hhhere, it ssseemsss..." exclamated Ralesk.

"I am Kruser," Kruser said to the woman that was guiding them. "What is your name?"

"I am Grrlllii," the woman said, smilingly. "Grl is my sister-in-law".

"She is MARRIED?" Kruser said, quite surprised.

"Well, I guess she technically is... Even though my brother died while fighting against Rawbbie's forces in ModArchive".

"I'm sorry to hear that" Kruser said. "So, she is still unavailable to anyone, even though her husband has passed away?"

"Yes, until she decides she wants to have another man in her life, if she ever does"

"If she ever... what? Has another man?"

"If she ever decides... That is the tough part. The attraction part is easy once you realize that you WANT somebody else to be with you, instead of being alone... But look, we've arrived".



They stood before a door, above which was written "Grl's Healing House". "After you," Grrlllii said.

When Kruser entered, he noticed several chairs placed by the walls of the entrance room and a young man sitting behind a desk. The man was writing something down, and as Kruser entered, he started speaking, directing his sight towards Kruser in the process: "Yes, may I help YO! KRUSER! IS THAT YOU???!!!"

Kruser was a bit stunned. "HyoCHAN???!!!"

HyoCHAN approached Kruser and they embraced. The rest of the party then entered and HyoCHAN was thrilled to see each of them and embraced them all. Well, not really, since when he approached Ralesk, he stopped. "Eeewww..." he said. "You ARE ugly!"

Ralesk smiled: "Prove it!" he said.

HyoCHAN found himself unable to move, speak or think for several seconds; just enough time for all of the people who entered to find a chair for themselves.

"I'll leave you now," said Grrlllii. "I must go back to my patrol duties. See you"

"WAIT!" Libris shouted, running towards Grrlllii. "May I buy you a drink?"

"Uh, you may... But why?"

"Because eventually I'd like to have sex with you".

"Ah... You should have asked for THAT, and not if you were ble to buy me a drink... Waste of time. Wrong approach. Sorry. Bye".

Grrlllii left. Libris stood in shock. Kruser smiled. Safyre grinned. Schabuda was rolling on the floor laughing. Ralesk, once again, did not understand the humans' behavior. HyoCHAN had just come back from the shock imposed by Ralesk's request to prove that he is ugly.

After a second or two, Libris turned to the rest of the party and said: "Be right back!" He ran out of the door and into the square. Soon there could be sounds of women screaming, shouting "RAPE!" and other words (not suitable for under-age readers).

HyoCHAN (who was now completely back from the shock) turned around and walked behind his reception desk and opened the door leading to the back room. "Yo Grl!" he shouted. "Your companions have arrived!"

Grl came out of the door and shouted it joy: "KRUSER! SCHABUDA! Hello!!!" She ran towards them and embraced them both. "How are you?"

"Excellent, excellent," said Schabuda. "If you're looking for Libris, he's outside, raping women".

"Ah, so he's allright... Hello there. You must be a mage," she said to Safyre, embracing him as well.

"Yes, ma'am. Safyre is my name".

"Call me Grl, please. Are you coming with us on the quest?"

"Yes ma'am... I mean, Grl. I'm glad to be with you".

He thought to himself: "Even more glad that I'm not at home, now that the rest of the magi would have my head for knocking the Head off his platform and smashing him on the floor..."

"Well, hello there, big man!" she told Ralesk. "Or should I say, draconian. It's been a while since I've seen one of you... How are your people?"

"Hhhanging on, thanksss fffor asssking," said Ralesk. "It might not be long, though, sinccce Rawbbie isss invading usss thisss very moment..."

"Damn that bastard!" said Grl and spat on the side. "I really wish somebody would knock some sense in his head!"

"Or knock his head out of his sense!" said Schabuda.

All turned towards Schabuda to try and understand what he just said. Since nobody understood, they returned to their original conversation. "Right then! We must not waste time," said Kruser. "Grl, get your things and let's go. We must get Christofori as soon as possible".

"Right! Give me some 10 minutes," said Grl and ran to the back room. After 10 minutes she reappeared, completely equipped with a huge composite bow, lots of arrows and potions around her waist, wearing a scale armor and a light helmet. "Ok, let's go!" she said. "HyoCHAN, you're in charge of the store now. Please take care until we return".

"You got it, boss!" HyoCHAN said in his cocky way. Grl made a mental note to slap him for calling her "boss", when she would return.

As they stepped outside Grl's Healing House and on to the square, they noticed Libris embracing several women at once. "Wow! I feel good! I knew that I would!" he sang, moving his body in ways that nobody else had seen before.

"Libris, would you please leave those women alone? Come, we must get Christofori!" said Grl.

"Another woman! Wow! Wait, please have sex with me!" Libris started running towards Grl, dropping on the floor the other women he was holding.

Grl just extended her fist towards Libris as he was running towards her. As a result, there was a loud sound of Libris running face-on into Grl's extended fist and falling on the floor afterwards. Grl then helped him stand up and said: "I'll take care of that bruised eye later. Now let's get Christofori, ok?"

"Ok," said Libris, completely unaware of what happened. He could not explain why his face hurt so much.



They walked to the other side of the square and reached a shop called "Christofori's Combat Crucialities". As they entered, they noticed a similar environment as in Grl's place, except that this shop was a bit larger and there were lots of weapons and armor placed on the walls. They saw three men sitting at the front desk, having something to eat and conversing. One of them was Christofori, sat at left, and Slam, sat behind the desk, while the third man was sitting at the right.

One of them turned towards the five people and one draconian that have entered. "YOU'RE BACK!" he shouted, standing up from his chair and walking towards them. He embraced with Grl, Kruser, Schabuda and Libris.

"Hello, I'm Christofori. You must be a mage," he said as he shook Safyre's hand.

"Yes, Safyre is my name".

"And you, draconian? Will you be coming with us?"

"Yesss. My name is Ralesssk. I'm looking forward to sssome raw Rawbbie buttkicking!"

Christofori smiled. "I like you already. Now, all of you, please let me introduce you to Minomus," he said and approached the third man. He stood up.

"I'll be coming with you," he said. "Glad to be a part of the 'posse'" he smiled.

The rest of the members inspected the newcomer. Minomus' physical appearance was not very impressive, in a sense that he did not possess some great physical strength. Still, Kruser could sense that this guy has a lot of skills inside of him. The interesting thing was that he carried a lot of blades over his shoulder, sort of like ammunition. Kruser approached him and said: "What do you do for living, Minomus?"

"I'm a thief," Minomis said. There was not a shred of disgust or diminishment in those words; it seemed as the word "thief" carried some honor in itself, when spoken out of Minomus' mouth. Nevertheless, Kruser's past of dealing with thieves did not leave him with fond memories of such people.

"Eh... Sorry to be telling you this, but we need someone who can survive in all environments! That includes combat situations. Do you think you can handle any opponent, at any time or situation?"

"I can. Do you believe me?" he said. Kruser felt a slight sting just above his belly button. As he turned downwards, he was surpried to see that Minomus was holding one of his blades with the sharp end touching Kruser's stomach.

As he noticed the blade, his hold of his lance instinctively waned out a bit. The split-second was enough for Minomus to grab Kruser's lance and pull it out of his hands. He then took a step back, holding Kruser's lance in his left hand, and a blade in his right hand, ready to throw it at Kruser. Thus Kruser was disarmed and targeted at, without even being aware of it.

After several seconds of coming back from the surprise, Kruser said: "Yeah, right. I did not approach you with an intent of fighting and you took advantage... But can you battle somebody who WILL want to kill you?"

"Stand aside," Minomis said.

Kruser took a step to the right, while Christofori took the rest of the people aside to the left. "You're going to love this!" he said quietly.

Minomus then threw Kruser's lance above, in the air. While the lance was still flying upwards, Minomus started throwing blades at it in such a way, that they hit the lance at its edges, so the lance started rotating like a propeller in mid-air.

All of the present were completely bewildered, including Kruser. As the lance was about to fall down, Minomus caught it while it was still rotating. He grabbed it and threw it towards Kruser in a javelin-throwing way. The lance pierced through Kruser's sleeve without even scratching his arm. Nevertheless, it pulled him towards the wall and Kruser found himself tied to the wall by his lance piercing the sleeve of his cloth armor.

As Kruser came back from the shock, he noticed several blades flying towards his head. Minomus had thrown them in such a way to create an arc of blades, which struck in the wall around Kruser's head.

"NOW do you believe me?" Minomus said.

There were several moments of pause from the shock. Libris was the first one to break the silence and he started cheering, applauding and whistling. The rest joined in the applause. Kruser was stuck to the wall, still shaken and embarassed.

Minomus came to Kruser and pulled all of his blades around Kruser's head off the wall, as well as Kruser's lance. "What is your name, man?" he asked.

"Kruser... You ARE good, you know..."

"You should have said this BEFORE doubting me. Maybe then I would have thought of you as a friend," Minomus said, pulling the lance off the wall and stuffing it into Kruser's hand. Kruser was embarassed; he did not want the new acquaintance to begin in an unfriendly manner, but it happened.

"Right!" said Christofori. "I'll just prepare myself. Please hold on for abourt 10 minutes and we'll go right ahead".

In those 10 minutes Minomus introduced himself to the rest of the party, while Kruser sat aside, away from them. Slam saw him and approached him, saying: "Please, sir... You must have more faith in people. You must. It is for the sake of your quest".

"How does one have faith in thieves when thieves gave him a bad life in the past?"

"Minomus is NOT one of those thieves, sir! People change! If one had done some bad things in the past, he or she may do the greatest things in the present. Leave the past alone! Focus on the present! Focus on your quest!"

Kruser remembered similar words spoken by AcidSoul some time ago. He felt as if he would have to change his entire pattern of thinking in a flash. Otherwise, he and all that would follow him would fail in their quest quite likely.

"Ralesk!" he called. "Please come here".

Ralesk approached. "Use your eyes on me, please," Kruser said.

Ralesk was a bit surprised to hear such a request. Still, he remembered Stary's orders: "Pomogni muna Krussser dabide fffokusssiran tssselovreme". His eyes then started glowing with a reddish glow and he looked Kruser straight in his eyes.

Once again, the world in Kruser's eyes started turning and spinning chaotically. The image of everything soon coalesced into one image, that of MystiC-DarKneSs.

Kruser was still and calm. At that moment Christofori came out, wearing a chain mail and light helmet. He carried two maces at his waist, one at each side. Both of the maces were not ordinary: the one at the left-hand side glowed in a light grey light, while the one at the right-hand side glowed with a bluish-white glow. Schabuda was about to ask why does it glow like that, but Christofori, sensing his question, said: "These are magical maces. This one, to the left, is a Holy Mace - very useful against undead creatures. This one, to the right, is a Druid's Mace. It contains healing magic and is more powerful. I have also taken all of my gold, to cross Crimson Bridge. From now on, let me worry about our finances". Christofori pointed at the sack of gold, also tied at his waist.

"Are you ready?" Kruser said loudly.

"Yeah!" said each of the present people individually (except Slam).

"What did you say?!"


"I didn't hear you!"


"Allright, let's go!"

As all of them stepped outside, the ones left in the shop were Christofori and Slam. "Slam, my apprentice, you are in charge now. Take care of yourself and the shop. You have learned all that I can possibly teach you, so now you're ready to stand on your own".

"What are you saying, master?"

"This shop is yours now. I don't know whether I'll come back, but if I do, I'll open up a separate shop. I kept my promise to Grl and taught you everything I know. The time has come that you face the druid responsibilities alone. That also means finding an apprentice on your own".

Slam was bewildered. "What??!! You mean I may teach now??!!"

"Yes. You have earned the right to be a Master Druid. So from now on your name will be Ma-Slam, so you'd know that you have taken one step further in your spiritual growth"

They embraced. Ma-Slam could not stop his tears from running down his face. As they parted, Christofori said: "Renew our Druid Rank! Bring back the old glory to Trax, like the one it had while the Druid Rank was still present here! The future of this city is in your hands, Ma-Slam. Good luck and so long!"

Christofori stepped outside the door and closed it from the outside. Ma-Slam took several moments to compose himself and started organizing the outlines of the Druid Rank.



As they found themselves on the underground square, they found a lot more people having sex with each other, than doing anything else. Libris' eyes glowed and he ran towards the crowd, jumping right into the massive orgy.

"For some reason I feel that love is in the air," said Schabuda.

"And sex is on the ground," said Christofori.

"Now how in the world are we supposed to find Libris in all this mess?" said Kruser angrily.

"Let's just wait for some time," said Grl. "These things happen once in a while over here.

As they sat down, they waited for some five minutes and Libris returned. He was not alone, though; Grrlllii was with him.

"Hey mates!" Libris said with a broad grin. "Look! Grrlllii agreed to take us outside the city and direct us to our destination!"

"No, I did not AGREE to that!" Grrlllii said, very angrily. "It was either that or having sex with you. NO THANK YOU! I'd rather smuggle you out of here as soon as possible!"

"Aw, com'on Grrllliii, I know you want my body and you think I'm sexy, so why don't you just tell me so?" said Libris.

As they were climbing up the stairs to the surface of Trax later on, the morning sun revealed Libris' eyes, both of them bruised from punches in the face.

Grrlllii took the party to the exit of the city, aptly avoiding encounters with the beasts that had inhabited the ruins after the exile of the humans. Whispering, she said: "Now you just follow this road and it will take you to Crimson Bridge. I must go back now, as I am still needed to try and maintain SOME order in the city down under. Good luck," she said and disappeared among the ruins.

They stepped outside the borders of the city. "Now, monk, lead us" said Christofori.

The party of eight started its quest. Kruser the monk, Schabuda the warrior, Libris the barbarian, Ralesk the draconian, Christofori the druid, Safyre the mage, Minomus the thief, and Grl the rogue, all of them determined to take the Crest to its destination: MystiC-DarKneSs' Castle. A lot of mountains would need to be crossed and a lot of things do be done before reaching it, but the party was determined to succeed.

The sun was rising in the east, lighting their way towards Crimson Bridge.



End of part II
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