Return to Nurrengaard (Part 1
David J. Duncan
Originally Written 08/96 Revised 06/02
Notes: All characters from the Dubois Chronicles are mine. The characters from Forever Knight belong to Sony Tri-Star. Please send questions and comments to email@example.com. Thanks to Emily, Jarvinia, Lucie, and Judy for their comments which have improved what you are about to read by leaps and bounds.
Prologue [Somewhere in the mists...]
The Faerie Empress speaks....
As the greater realms prepare for the strife to come, it seems that I need to tell you about what happened before. You have already heard David Dubois mention his previous encounters with Lousain, the Wizard-Lord of the Dark Lands. What you might not know is that from this struggle came several things...most notably, the seed of darkness already within David developed further following his encounters with LaCroix and the Enforcers two and a half years earlier.
Before you see what happens next, you must know what happened before....
Chapter 1 [The Dark Lands]
Deep within the Inner Realm, an evil patch smoldered within the landscape. Despite the flowers, milk, and honey, which seemed to cover most of the land, a dark cloud floated over one particularly large area known to all only as the Dark Lands. Due to the inherent wickedness, nothing grew in this barren desert, earthquakes shook the ground, plumes of bloody red fire shot upwards and the sky was always jet-black.
In the heart of this forsaken realm lay a giant crater. The rocky slopes were carved as if in a honeycomb of mines and various rooms. Once these rooms had been busy with the hammering and preparations of the evil Trolls, however now, all remained ominously silent. A few of the wicked creatures had taken refuge within their former work areas, waiting for their lord to return.
At the Pit's bottom lay a throne room with only a grand chair against one wall and a dark ruby in the area's center. The wizard who had ruled there had waged a great war against the forces of good only to lose by the narrowest of margins. His name was Lousain and he was dead. Or was he?
Suddenly, a bolt of lightning penetrated the Pit, striking the jewel, and sending shockwaves throughout the complex. Light bathed the room and a cloud of mist formed in its center.
The trolls who had gathered there heard a familiar voice from the cloud. "I...I am Lousain!"
The wizard stepped out of the cloud, fully reformed and bent on vengeance. "Followers, attend me!" he commanded, invoking a spell.
Suddenly, where there had been only a few, six hunchbacked trolls stood before him. Bowing before him, they indicated, "Yes, Master?"
Lousain stood tall, bellowing, "I WANT REVENGE! The outworlders who bested me before will be destroyed. I need three new sacrifices: a pure soul, a maiden, and an infant." Turning to the scorched ruby, he conjured up the images of Karen Montoya, Angie Blackwell, and Miranda Dubois. "Take them! Go!"
The trolls disappeared into the mists about to cause chaos in the world beyond.
Chapter 2 [Columbia, SC]
It was a quiet day at St. Benedict's Hospital where many patients awaited treatment from the nurses making their rounds. Fridays were fairly busy and this one was no exception as most of the beds were full.
Karen Montoya studied medical charts, field reports, and prepared medicinal doses as per the doctors' instructions. "Whew!" she thought.
"Karen!" a voice called to her.
Turning, the nurse saw Diane Redbacker, her supervisor, approaching her station. "Yes, Diane?" she inquired pleasantly.
"There's nothing new. I was just seeing how everything was going," the older woman explained. "Anything interesting with you and your husband for this weekend?"
"Mike's got a cottage booked just over the state line in Tennessee. That is if I survive the next three hours."
"Oh, you will," her supervisor reassured her. Then, she shivered. "Who turned down the thermostat in here?"
Karen grabbed a sweater, feeling the chill as well and noticed the lights dimming. "Now what?" she complained. "Can't Maintenance fix this?"
Then, a banging came from the secured doors on the outer edge of the ward. Two blows later, the wood began to buckle. Two more blows caved them inward.
"What?" Diane wondered, starting to go for the phone. Hopefully, security could deal with this intruder.
Karen stared at the cloud of dust rising from the entryway. Then, as the trolls came into view, she froze, remembering the last time she had seen these creatures. She had been kidnapped to the Inner Realm. She tried to make her way for the fire escape, but a six-foot monster blocked her path.
"Master will be pleased," it chuckled, producing an aquamarine jewel and pointing it at her. Suddenly, a beam shot out of the bauble, striking her.
For several long seconds, she quaked in the light, feeling her soul being separated from her body. Finally, as the beam retreated, she dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes.
Looking to the ceiling, the troll proclaimed, "Master, I've got the wench!"
In response, a booming laughter shook the facility and the trolls vanished.
For several minutes, Diane shook and wavered on her feet. "Oh," she moaned and fainted.
Chapter 3 [Scituate, MA]
Summer on the Massachusetts shoreline was a beautiful time of year with the warm sunshine and ocean breezes providing an inspiring environment for introspection and helping him or her to think.
On his way to Provincetown, Randy Dubois and his infant daughter, Miranda, had stopped to see the former's brother, Dave. The Alvarez home was full of warmth and visitors on that day. Besides the other two, Dave's girlfriend of a year, Angie Blackwell, sat in the corner, admiring the scene.
Just after 3PM, the group had just finished their big meal and was sitting in the parlor. Randy and Angie were watching as the enthusiastic uncle bounced Miranda, or Miri as they called her, on his knee.
Despite the fact that they had only been dating for just over a year, Angie had gained a sense of her deepening relationship with the librarian. Somehow, she had known from the beginning that they were meant for one another. Looking at him with Miri a feeling of tenderness overcame her: "Someday, he'll be a great father in his own right."
Randy tapped her shoulder. "He's something with her, isn't he?"
She smiled whimsically. "Yes, he is. Hopefully, if things keep going along as they are, he'll bounce a child of ours like that."
He smiled at the thought. Since Dave had broken up with Karen, his older brother had been so solitary. Now, as he saw Angie's effect on him, he could find some hope, "Believe me, nothing would make me happier. Dave needs that stability and you two will be very happy together."
She flushed pink, slightly embarrassed that he knew what she was thinking. Then, as the lights flickered and a slight chill crept into the air. "Do you feel cold?"
Randy nodded. "Yeah, I do. Dave, did you turn down the AC?"
The librarian cradled his niece in his arms and walked over to the thermostat. "It's still 70 degrees. Why is it this cold?"
Miri shivered fretfully.
Dave handed her off to his brother. Turning, he saw the mist forming under the door, and a chill unrelated to the temperature, crept up his spine. "Shit!" he growled, bolting for the bedroom.
"What? What is it?" Randy inquired, his nerves on edge.
"Give Miri to Angie and get ready! Something mean is about to come through that door! Get your gun! NOW!!!" his brother advised, readying his quiver and bow.
Randy passed his daughter to the young doctor and ran out the door toward his truck. Looking up, he noticed the sky was dark for some reason. "What in the?" he wondered, grabbing his shotgun and pistol.
The banging had started on the backdoor.
"What...What is it?" Angie fretted, scared out of her wits and desperately trying to comfort the baby.
Dave came back into the room with his weapons prepped. "Get yourself to cover. Trust me, you don't wanna see this."
She shook her head fretfully. While she knew Dave was a crack shot with the bow and arrow, she had no idea why he had that setup prepared. "I won't leave you," she told him.
A flash of anger shot through him. He asserted, "GO! Please!"
At that moment, the back door exploded inward, allowing the trolls to spill in. The leader considered the scene through its cruel yellow eyes before ordering, "Attack!"
Following their leader, the other demons raced into the room.
"Dave, what is this?" Angie fretted.
"Not now, Princess," he directed, firing a volley of shafts into the oncoming horde. Six of the creatures dropped to the floor, allowing their comrades access.
"What did you do now, Dave?" Randy pushed, firing a round from his gun and taking down another troll.
"What did I do?" the older brother countered as he fired still more projectiles. "I didn't do anything!"
"Yeah, right," the other countered, knowing his brother's talent for finding trouble. Somewhere he remembered Dave's disappearance for almost a week from a decade before. Could this be related to it?
Firing blast after blast, he took out a few more, but eventually, ran out of bullets. Trying to use the empty weapon as a club, he battered another one. However, he was overwhelmed and knocked out.
Without help, Dave was surrounded as well. Although he had managed to take his ton of flesh from the invaders, they battered him as well, dropping him to the floor. As he blacked out, he saw them taking Angie and Miri with them, but could do nothing about it. After they vanished, he sank into the murky depths of unconsciousness.
Sometime later, Dave perceived flashes dancing in the darkness before his eyes. Slowly, he started to pull himself from the pit of unconsciousness. The flashes coalesced, and a picture blurred into focus. Looking around, he could see he was in a hospital bed, but the act of doing so aggravated his already pounding headache.
"Damn," he muttered. "Does anyone have anything for a headache?"
The nurse walked over. "So, one of the Dubois brothers is back with us."
"Yeah, but this one's in need of an Advil or a stiff drink," he laughed ruefully. Looking around the room again, he saw Mr. Alvarez, Karen's father, approaching him. "Mr. A...lvarez," he moaned.
The elder man nodded with a concerned look on his face. After taking a deep breath, he continued, "What happened?"
"I...I'm sorry," Dave reported. "We...were attacked by trolls. We...tried to stop them. Angie and Miri, where are they?"
Mr. Alvarez shook his head. "There were no signs of them, and I'm afraid that I have more bad news if you care to hear it."
"Go ahead," Dave advised half-seriously. "It can't get any worse."
The elder man sighed, "It has. Your brother is in a coma. Worse still, I got a call from Mike. Karen's in a coma too."
Hearing that, Dave popped two Advils. This sounded too familiar. "Let me...guess. She's...glowin', right?"
"That's right. How?"
"Don't ask," the librarian replied curtly as he added up the clues. Between the mists, the trolls, and now, the blue glow around Karen, it seemed to be one possibility. He hoped he was wrong. "Lousain. If he weren't dead, it would be him," he realized.
At that moment, the skies turned dark again and purple lightning flashed through the windows, burning holes in the linoleum floor. A ghastly laugh echoed through their ears.
"I have returned from the dead. This time, you will all die!" the voice indicated.
"LOUSAIN!" Dave bellowed. "This means war!"
The voice snickered and ceased. The skies brightened as well.
"What's going on?" Mr. Alvarez demanded. "Who is this Lousain?"
Dave sighed and shook his head. "Oh man, why couldn't I be wrong just this once? WHY?" Then, after collecting himself, he answered, "Remember when Karen and I disappeared in high school?" Seeing the other man nod, he continued, "This was the creep who kidnapped her before. I went and got her back."
The other man gaped. He had heard their sketchy reports, but hadn't taken them seriously. Now, the evidence was right in front of him. "So, what do we do now?"
"You'll do nothing. David will come with me," another familiar voice commanded from the mists collecting in the corner. From the cover, a wizened white bearded man stepped forth with a brown robe, and a gnarled walking stick. Despite his appearance, he had an incredible aura about him.
Dave bowed his head to the visitor. "Hail Grimwilkin, mightiest sorcerer of the inner Realms."
A smile cracked Grimwilkin's features. "And the same to you, David Dubois, master of folklore."
"Excuse me, but do you wish to be seen?" Dave wondered with concern.
The old man laughed, "As if anyone could do anything about it! Remember to whom you speak, my dear David! Still, your instincts serve you well. We will leave presently after I've attended to your brother," he instructed. Parting the curtain between the two brothers, he observed Randy's comatose form. "Yes, young one, the trolls inflicted dire damage on you. Still, for the Faerie Empress, that is a minor thing to heal. For you, a healing potion," he noted, producing a glowing vial from beneath his cloak. Invoking a spell in an ancient tongue, he sprinkled the glowing solution over the victim, closing the latter's wounds up almost instantly. "Now rest, my friend."
"Thank you," Dave expressed.
"The Lady is with all living beings," he explained. Now come with me." With that, the mists surrounded the two men, leaving Mr. Alvarez alone and more than slightly confused.
When the mists parted, the two companions stood in the midst of the battle zone.
"Is this satisfactory?" the wizard asked.
"Absolutely," Dave replied. "Can I get you something?"
"A cup of tea perhaps," Grimwilkin indicated while filling his pipe.
Dave put the kettle on the stove and sat across the table from his guest.
"When you set out the cups, remember to put a third one out as well. We'll have one more companion," the elderly man directed.
"Who would know?" the librarian inquired. "Garth?"
Grimwilkin nodded. Then, hearing a knocking from the door, he told the young man. "That could be the door."
Dave stared at him perplexedly as he walked over to the portal and opened it. On the other side, a tall well-built man with dark, intense eyes and raven-black hair stared back at him momentarily.
Garth Singleton, Dave's classmate and best friend during their high school years, considered the other man. At their recent class reunion, he had noticed something different about his friend. Something had happened which weighed on the other man's heart. Having survived the first trip into the Pit unscathed, he wondered what could have affected him like that. "Dave, it's good to see you again. Is that invitation still open?"
"Of course! You should know better than to ask. Can I get you some tea?" Dave replied.
He nodded, accepting the offer. Turning to the wizard, he greeted, "Hail, Grimwilkin." With a slight bow of his head, he paid his respects.
"Thank you, my young friend," the other told him. "Now, join us to discuss our business."
"Thank you," Garth expressed, joining his friends at the table. Watching Dave pouring tea, he asked his host, "What's going on? The house seems okay and the kitchen looks great. Why is everyone so concerned?"
"Follow us," the wizard told him and walked into the living room with Dave.
Garth gaped in horror as he observed the damage around him. The scorch marks were pressed into the walls. Dead trolls lay in pools of their own dried blood. Furniture was ripped, chipped, and broken like so much flotsam. He turned to the others. "They were here?"
"Yup," his friend confirmed, shuddering slightly to fight down a spike of darkness within him.
Grimwilkin observed Dave's reaction with concern. Perhaps, the young one hadn't escaped unscathed, as they had feared. Still, they needed to worry about their current problem, and if they survived their perilous situation, that issue could be dealt with. "In the meantime, may the Empress keep you safe, my friend." Regaining his composure, he asserted, "The darkness spreads across the Inner Realm once again. Soon, it will threaten Nurrengaard once again. Therefore, I need you to return with me immediately."
Dave studied Grimwilkin intently. Anything powerful to worry him like this deserved their attention. Besides, he wanted payback against Lousain and the trolls.
"I thought we destroyed them at the base of the Pit," Garth supposed.
"He's back with full power," the librarian growled. "We fought them here."
"Why? Were you trying to get killed?"
Dave glared angrily at his friend. "Did we have a choice?" A bit of anger sparked in his eyes. "We were attacked! Garth, Karen's gone not to mention Angie and Miri! And I suppose you think I'm going to let them go without a fight? C'mon, you know me better than that!"
Garth shot Grimwilkin a sudden look. Again, he felt the menace radiating within his friend. "No, I guess not."
Dave collected himself again and probed, "Before we leave, shouldn't we call Karen's husband?"
The wizard shook his head. "No. He needs to concentrate on guarding his wife's body. Your concerns are Karen's soul, Angela, and Miranda. First, I must attend to business here." Raising his staff and murmuring a spell, he summoned the energies from beyond the pale. Releasing it into the room, he watched as the accoutrements regained their former state as everything was like new again. "There!" he commented. "Now, gentlemen, shall we?" Raising his staff anew, a bright light surrounded the trio. When it dimmed they were no longer on Earth, but in a familiar place far away.
Chapter 5 [The Citadel of the Four Winds, Nurrengaard]
When the light had dimmed, Dave and Garth looked around in amazement. All around them, the architecture and designs told them that once again they stood in the reception hall of the Citadel of the Four Winds, the central bastion within Nurrengaard.
After allowing his friends a minute to collect themselves, Grimwilkin verbally nudged them. "Excuse me, gentlemen, but we mustn't keep our friends waiting.
The two visitors nodded in agreement and followed his lead through the two massive oak doors to the Grand Hall.
"I don't remember it being this cold on our last visit," Dave remarked.
The wizard replied dryly as he shuffled into the room. "Indeed, the Dark pushes us even here. We must rush to insure that we'll have time to formulate an effective defense."
In front of the trio sat a long charcoal colored table. Around it sat the allies from the last battle fifteen years earlier. Ferrali, the burly gnome, and Harokin, the leader of the men from the distant mountains. At the head, sat Molori, the citadel's lord and Nurrengaard's administrator.
Dave greeted, "Hello, friends. I wish we would be meeting under better circumstances."
"That goes for me too," the other Earther agreed.
"Thank you," Molori accepted, motioning for them to sit beside them. "Tell us about the affairs of the Outer World?"
"Sure," Dave agreed and, for the next hour, he brought the others up to date on the evil doings going on of late. "Does this make any sense?"
Harokin looked earnestly at Grimwilkin and put his hand on the librarian's shoulder. "The events you describe mirror the ones going on in the East. Lousain has returned and has the second of the three bands on his wrist. His influence extends even up to the gates of this citadel, and the Lady of the Light will not be able to hold him back forever. As he strengthens, the Empress weakens. We must move quickly!"
Walking over to the window, he stared out over the walls, seeing the black stain stretching across the land, and feeling the icy cold reaching inside of him. Once again, his inner bile stirred. Ever since the night in Cambridge, he had felt these things. How he wished he could have remembered what had happened after the vampire attacked him. "I agree," he muttered, managing to collect himself and return to the table.
Grimwilkin raised his hand, opening the side door with a simple spell. Within it, Mike Montoya stood watch over his wife's glowing form. "The final piece of proof to David's story," he stated.
The nervous husband pushed, "Dave! Am I'm glad to see you! What are you doing here? And what does this have to do with Karen?"
"An evil wizard has taken her soul in addition to kidnapping Angie and Miri. With their sacrifice, he'll have ultimate power...or so he thinks."
"The story is more complex than that," a voice announced from behind.
They turned to see the Faerie Empress standing in their midst. Although she looked haggard from holding back Lousain's power, the benefactress seemed as beautiful as ever. Before her, she held an emerald watch crystal.
"M'Lady," Dave addressed her as they bowed. "Thank you for saving my brother's life."
"It was my pleasure," she indicated. "Please rise and turn your attention to the crystal. David and Garth, your friend is unfamiliar with the last adventure. Behold, Michael Montoya, the last battle with the Dark!"
From the depths of the jewel, a collage of images streamed in front of us, displaying the great battle of the Pit, the friends' desperate last stand, and their return to Earth.
"Now," she continued. "The time has come for us to stand up once again. Will you both fight anew?"
Garth spoke first. "I'll stand with Dave."
His friend spoke next. "For my lady, niece, and friend not to mention the souls of everyone everywhere, I stand once again with Harokin's standard. If he'll have me and Garth."
"Indeed, you shall fight beside me again, my knights," Harokin concurred. "You are still bound by your vows of fealty. Are you comfortable with that?" Seeing them both nod, he clasped them both on the shoulders, welcoming them back into his ranks.
"And I thank you," the Empress added, motioning for them to walk through the side door. "Now come, your weapons await."
Walking inside and past Mike, the two friends approached the case at the end of the room. Within it, two suits of elfin chain link armor were displayed. These were the suits from their last adventure. Beside them sat two special weapons. On the left was a silken cloak with a ruby clasp. On the right stood a yew bow and golden arrows.
"Since the last battle, these items have held a place of honor. Garth, once again the cloak will allow you to slip through the enemy's lines. David, I have observed your growth as an archer with pride. Therefore, I give you these golden arrows. They will strike fear into the hearts of evil for they will never fail to hit their mark," she indicated.
Taking the bow and stringing one of the fine shafts on it, he visualized the apple on the table at the far end of the room. Firing the projectile slightly wide, he saw it inexplicably curve back toward its target, striking dead center.
"You see?" she asked. "Even when you try to miss, you can't."
"Thank you for this wonderful gift," the librarian accepted.
"Same here," the other adventurer added.
She smiled warmly. "You're very welcome. Now, you must rest."
Leading us down the hall, she led us to a luxurious bedroom with two king sized beds awaiting us. "Sleep well."
As if by magic, sleep claimed them quickly.
For his part, Dave's dreams troubled him with disturbing visions. Most terrifying of all was the vision of the dark battle. He saw himself on the ropes caught between an unseen enemy and some inner force within him. The latter seemed familiar...very familiar indeed. From the depths of his consciousness, he heard a dark snarling noise as if a beast waited there for the smallest excuse to pounce. Fighting these feelings back, he fell into a deeper, dreamless sleep, troubled no longer for that night at least.
Early the next morning, Dave arose before the rest of the troops and girded himself for battle. Hearing an "ahem" from the door, he turned to see Grimwilkin watching him.
"The armor still does you justice, my friend," he complemented, cracking a warm smile.
"Thank you," Dave replied. "Good morning to you as well."
The wizard nodded and continued, "I came to you at the Lady's request. Your dreams were most disturbing to us all, David. Tell me, what do you remember of that night in Cambridge?"
"Not much," Dave admitted. "I rushed to my professor's house where I was attacked by this vampire. Beyond that, I woke up on the lawn in a driving thunderstorm next to my professor and his wife, his papers were scattered around us, the house was burning, and I had a pounding headache."
"Anything else," Grimwilkin pushed, obviously looking for something.
"Just a red haze," the librarian told him. "What is it?"
"The hurt within you is coalescing, David. You may not remember, but on the last quest, the darkness appeared. Since then, we have observed you falling deeper into it. Most notably, with the vampires, especially the ones called LaCroix and Dijon."
At the sound of those names, the younger man's head began to throb. He took a deep breath, trying to restrain himself. "What is it with those names? The former I remember a bit of. The latter, I feel as though I should know, but have no memory."
The older man nodded silently. Having already alerted Harokin to this fact, he felt that he had executed his duty to his friends. Clearing his throat, he requested. "Enough of that for now. You need to eat before the council meets this morning."
Dave sighed deeply, feeling the numbness in his head lessening. Food definitely would help him. Accordingly, he followed his friend out of the room while his head tossed the wizard's warning around inside of it. This was going to be some adventure one way or the other.
While they ate, the group awaited their presence in the Grand Hall.
"Typical Grimwilkin," Ferali groused. "Just when we're ready to go, he takes Dubois to fill his face. How long does it take the Earther to fill himself anyhow?"
"Grimwilkin told us to be patient," Molori countered.
Garth scratched his head. "I'm sure they'll be right back."
At that moment, Dave and the wizard walked through the door. The former rushed into his seat, his face flushing red with embarrassment for he hated to be late for anything.
"Our apologies," the sorcerer told them. "I wanted to talk with Mr. Dubois alone about some things."
Harokin studied the other carefully. If the matter concerned what he thought it did, he was glad that they were a bit late. Having a potential liability in his company wasn't something he enjoyed. Only the fact that he owed his life to Dave did he allow him to join the quest. "That is satisfactory to me."
For the next two hours, the group studied the giant map of the Inner realm, plotting a course between the twin peaks of the mountains, over the Floundering Flood, to the harsh Dark Lands and the Pit itself.
Finally, Molori stood and beckoned for the others to join him. "We're set," he announced. "May Fortune smile upon you all once more, my friends. You are the last great hope for us all."
The group nodded and bowed to him and the Empress. Having done that, they left the citadel, heading for the stables below. There, Dave and Garth found their appointed mounts still fresh and eager after the last decade.
Climbing up, Dave felt as if he belonged on his mount's back. "Good boy, Streaker!" he complemented, rubbing the horse's neck affectionately.
For his part, the horse whinnied, returning the greeting.
Harokin watched as the group pulled into formation in front of his army. Satisfied that all was in order, he raised a great horn to his lips and blew a single long, loud note.
With that signal, the troops rode out, heading for the Twin Peaks in the misty distance. And with that, the next phase of the adventure had begun.
Chapter 7 [Somewhere on the Road]
The first few days passed without incident. The army's members alternated watches so that they would stay fresh and alert. Other than that, they ate and maintained their weapons.
Despite this lull, Dave's dreams kept coming with increasing ferocity. One night, he saw Angie chained in a dungeon. Beside her, little Miri was stuck in a cage. Worse of all, he saw mystical knives stabbing at Karen's soul and heard her scream in pain and terror. At this sight, he woke up, but somehow, he was still in the prison. Suddenly, as he reached for Angie, he felt a sharp pain across his face as if he were being slapped. The vision blurred and then, he found himself back in camp again.
"Hey! What's going on? Are you okay?" Garth wondered, shaking him.
"What happened?" Harokin added with Ferali nodding for emphasis.
"I...I saw them. Angie, Miri, and Karen. They were alive but in pain," Dave recounted.
"No doubt a sending from Lousain to provoke you," Grimwilkin confirmed. "David, you must keep your composure for the sake of us all."
For a split second, the young man said nothing as his anger smoldered. Finally, forcing it down, he nodded curtly.
"Very well," the wizard stated. "Everyone, back to sleep. Mr. Singleton, to your post."
The troops resumed their rest although a bit nervous about their companion's experiences. Despite the legends of his previous exploits, they wondered about his trustworthiness.
Likewise, Dave shared those feelings as well. After all, how could he fight with these men if he didn't even trust himself to do so? "Hopefully, I'll find some answers," he muttered, falling back into his slumber.
The night passed quickly and with the dawn, the troop headed for the mountains, watching for attacks with each step. As Grimwilkin and Harokin reminded them, they had many miles to go before the Pit. Stopping only briefly, they managed to average between 20 and 25 miles per day. Only after the moon had risen high in the evening sky did they allow themselves a measure of rest.
On the fourteenth day out, they made their way through the pass between the Twin Peaks. A week later, they forded the Flood. Having made it past these points, they headed for the Great Forest separating them from the plains beyond.
One night about a week later, Dave sat by the fire feeling particularly troubled. For some reason, he felt as if something was going to happen on that night. Walking back to his sleeping spot, he heard someone or something diabolically laughing. "I know that laughter," he hissed, grabbing his weapons.
"What now?" Garth wondered drowsily, awakened at his friend's latest mood attack.
"Trolls," his friend muttered low, preparing himself.
The other stirred from his rest and put on his cloak. The sword and armor were always on him in case of something like this. "Where are they?" he whispered.
Dave shrugged, feeling the battle lust rising within him. "How the Hell am I supposed to know?" he hissed low. Somehow, he received a flash of insight...as if he could sense them. "Over there," he indicated.
"I don't know. Call it a gut feeling," Dave retorted, running in that direction. About ten yards later, he stopped, finding the object of his search.
The troll who had attacked him and his brother on Earth loomed in front of him. On its left shoulder, a scar from one of Dave's shafts stood out as a glaring reminder of their previous encounter. "Well, well, we meet again. Now you die."
Dave snickered wickedly, "Pardon me if I don't lie down, faint, or plead for mercy like one of your trollettes."
That comment pissed the monster off. "Trolls, attack!" it ordered, bringing a dozen of them from the brush. "Kill his friend if you want, but I want Dubois taken alive!"
Garth stared at Dave, remarking, "Six apiece."
"Sounds good," the other grinned and with a throaty chuckle, launched shaft after shaft into the horde with cruel efficiency. The guided missiles curved and bobbed, finding the enemies' hearts and dispatching them to Hell.
Garth, for his part, put on the cloak. Once invisible, he weaved and darted between the demons, dispatching them with ease. It seemed that their practice sessions had paid off after all. "Whew!"
Hearing the sounds of battle from the other side of the camp, Dave directed, "Over there! Let's go!" With that, he rushed off to engage the other troll contingent.
Ferali snarled, "Nice of you to finally join us. We were having all of the fun over here."
"And what do you think we were doing?" Dave tersely replied as he stuck his blade into another demon's chest. "We were killing those slime buckets over there too, ya know!" Glancing to the sides, he saw everyone locked in pitched combat with the enemy. After a while, the defenders seemingly gained an advantage.
Suddenly, Dave heard another sniggering crack. "How's your sibling, Whelp?" Turning, he saw the Great Troll looming in his path. Its cruel eyes seemed to bore into his soul.
He shook fiercely, feeling hot spasms rock his body, and the red haze settle across his vision. "No...not again..."
"Afraid are we?" it taunted. "Well, the wenches scream really nice when we torture them. The brat will look great with a spike through it too."
From deep within him, an almost feral growl escaped Dave.
"I'm getting a rise outta ya!" the troll baited, drawing its sword.
"GRRARRR!!!!" the enraged man screamed as they crossed swords. At first, the demon pressed its advantage. But as the fight wore on, Dave pushed it back, pressing his own advantage.
Although confident at first, the creature grew increasingly fearful as the fight went on. Swinging wildly, it left its flank open.
With a sinister laugh, Dave stabbed it, burying his blade deep into the enemy. After allowing it to taste the demon's blood, he yanked it back out and decapitated the corpse for good measure.
Alarmed at what he has just seen from his friend, Garth walked up. "Dave."
"Wha?" the other muttered.
"C'mon, it's over. Calm down," his friend asserted.
"No, not until we have 'em back!" Dave protested, stalking off for the river to wash the blood off of himself.
The leaders watched this display with alarm, shaking their heads. The darkness had surfaced in their midst again. Granted, Dave had controlled it here, but could he continue to do so?
Garth grew indignant as he watched their reaction. "He's our friend! You aren't going to desert him now! It's not his fault that Lousain's singled him out!"
"Indeed. The dark wizard has linked him to Angela so that he feels her pain," Grimwilkin concurred. "Mr. Singleton, please talk to him if you would."
"Absolutely," the Earther agreed and walked away from them, hoping to be able to reason with his friend.
Five minutes later, Garth trudged his way through the woods and toward the stream. There, he found his friend kneeling on the shore and staring into his own reflection as the tears rippled the water.
"Why?" Dave implored the image. "Why can't they leave me alone?"
"Nobody ever truly leaves us alone, Dave," his friend informed him. "I would think that you would know that by now. What's with the temper? In the past, you've usually been really level headed in a fight. Lately, I'm feeling this seething anger inside of you waiting to come out."
"That troll was asking for it!" the librarian snarled.
"Oh yeah, it baited you all right, jerking you farther down its path. And what happens the next time? Somebody gets killed? What if it's Angie, or Karen or your niece? I know you don't want to lose any of them to stupidity," Garth continued his lecture.
"I know," he realized, his blood shot eyes glistening in the moonlight. "It's so hard though. There's a part of me that agrees with you, but the other part wants to run off and break something."
"I know," Garth acknowledged, embracing his friend. "But just hang on a little while longer, okay? We'll get Angie back, but you need to balance your anger with rational thinking." Standing back up, he chuckled, "C'mon, I'm not your babysitter. Let's get back to camp."
As the two friends arrived back at the campsite, Dave noticed that Grimwilkin was gone. "Guys, where is Grimwilkin?"
They looked everywhere, but nobody knew where he was.
"This is a dark omen indeed," Harokin concluded, his nerves very much on edge.
(to be continued)
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