“Here we are at Steffer
Pass.” Corin said with confidence. “We can’t go much higher than this!”
Cafania, Fingal and Gorbal walked a few steps ahead of
the two larger men, stopping at t he edge of the pass. Gorbal stopped
abruptly and folded his arms over his chest. “I am not crossing over that.
You must be nuts. The drop must be five miles deep on each side. I can’t
even see the bottom and let’s not forget this tiny tidbit, the path is
only about three feet wide. Why, I can hardly fit my body on that. Nuh
uh. I am not going. Phooey on the wizard.”
“It’s a Lord, Gorbal; the Lord of the Heavens, not a
wizard.” Fingal stuck his tongue out at the gnome.
Corin grabbed the gnome by the back of his filthy
shirt. “You have no choice. We’ve all been summoned. Stop being a coward.”
Corin walked on, dragging Gorbal along with him.
“Let me go! Let me go, you brute!” Gorbal tried to
kick Corin, but his legs were too short.
Fingal walked next to him, keep his distance so Gorbal
couldn’t kick him over the edge. “Stop being a baby, Gorbal. Baby, baby,
Corin dropped the gnome. “Here are your choices. You
can go with us, or you can go over the side, right now. I don’t think
you’ll like the last choice. At the bottom of one side of the pass is the
Valley of Eternal Suffering. If you fall, or get pushed, or dropped, you
will never hit bottom, but fall, and fall, and fall, forever; your body
burning, getting all black and crispy and blistery as your drop through
scorching heat.” Corin sneered. The others in the group gulped with
horror. He continued. “On the other side is the Valley of Pendricles. On
the valley floor are thousands of jutting, pointed rocks. They say if you
look down you can see the bodies of many impaled on the points.”
Fingal crawled on his
hands and knees to the edge to look down. “Ugh.”
“Uh, Braden, Corin, I don’t think I want to cross the
pass either; no matter how angry the Lord of the Heavens gets,” Cafania
said, frightened by the danger ahead.
“That goes for me too,” whispered Fingal.
“Who’s the fraidy cat now, Fingal? All right. I’ll go,
but let it be known that the only reason I’m going is because you
threatened me.” Gorbal stood and brushed himself off.
“Okay you three, listen good. We are all going and
that’s that! We’ll help you and we’ll be very careful. I’ll go first.
Fingal, you will follow me, then the gnome, the woman, and then you,
Braden will be the last. Is that all right with you all?” Corin didn’t
want to cause further tension by being bossy, but he thought it would be
best for the group.
Braden, being of pleasant nature, agreed, and the
group began their trek across the dangerous dirt path. Braden, in the
rear, noticed that the three in the middle kept glancing from side to
side. In exasperation, he sighed. “It is going to be a long five miles. I
hope nobody loses their balance or trips.”
Mist seeped into the valleys, filling them inch by
inch. It was impossible to see any thing in the Valley of Eternal
Suffering, and on the other side, all that could be seen were a few jagged
pinnacles jutting out from the clouds.
They’d only traveled a
mile when Gorbal’s clumsy feet caught and he tripped on a rock. He toppled
over the side, falling towards the Valley of Eternal Suffering, but before
he’d fallen too far, he grasped some clumps of weeds growing along the
edge of the path. “Help! Help!” The others made their way to the spot
where Gorbal hung for dear life. “Help me! Please help me!”
Cafania tried to grab
Gorbal’s arms, but all she ended up doing was scratching him. “Braden,
please help him. Corin, save him!”
Having a six foot four
body of pure muscle, Corin used his strength to grab Gorbal by his red
tuft of hair and pulled him up onto the path.
“Oooowwwww! My hair!” The
gnome shouted in pain.
Corin dropped him on the
dirt and snarled, “Why you ungrateful gnome! I ought to toss you back
over the edge; whining and whimpering about your hair?”
Gorbal whispered, “No,
please don’t. I’m sorry. You hurt my head though.” He rubbed the sore
“Be more careful, you
clumsy gnome.” Corin snapped as he pulled red hairs from his fingers.
Cafania and Fingal didn’t
say a word. Both were dealing with the shock of Gorbal’s near-death
encounter. Braden slipped his muscular arms around Cafania’s shoulder.
“Take a few deep breaths. Now, let’s all slowly and with care, make our
way across Steffer Pass. Watch your feet on those loose stones.”
Cafania felt shivers go
through her body at Braden’s touch. She smiled at him and thanked him for
They made their way across
the pass. The only other problem they encountered was when Cafania and
then Fingal screamed. “Look! A man is pierced on one of the pinnacles
jutting up from the Valley of the Pendricles. The rock has gone right
through the center of his body. Gross! His intestines and his other
innards are hanging out.” Fingal gagged when he saw the man’s tongue
dangling to the side of his mouth and two giant bats eating the eyes. The
legs were nothing but bones and what was left of him was covered with
large purple ants the size of Fingal’s fist.
The sight even caused
Braden to feel a little ill.
Corin had seen worse. It
didn’t affect him. “Nothing we can do for him now,” he muttered, and kept
* * *
The rest of the walk across Steffer Pass was problem
free, until they came within twenty feet of the end. Something, or
someone, had knocked out the last part of the path. It wasn’t there.
“Great! Just great! Now
what do we do?” Corin turned around and looked back at the path they’d
just taken, running his hands through his long hair.
“We can’t just stay here, and I’m not going back!”
Gorbal moaned and sat in the dirt. “I’m not going back!”
The silence, full of despair and tension, weighed
heavily on each of them as they tried to think of a way to resolve the
problem. Disrupting the quiet, Fingal’s high voice sounded. “Look! Look
over there, Corin. Look at that big black thing flying towards us. What is
it Corin? Is it a giant bat?”
All the others turned to look. Braden said, “It’s a
dragon. I haven’t seen one in years, but I know it’s a dragon!”
“A dragon?” Gorbal asked, not quite sure he heard
right. “Do dragons eat things, like us, for instance? Never mind. Don’t
answer that. I don’t want to know.”
“Yes, they do, and they especially like to eat clumsy,
fat gnomes,” Corin said.
“What are we going to do?” Cafania glanced over at
“Did any of you bring weapons?” Corin interrupted with
a loud voice.
“I brought my bow and arrows,” Cafania said.
“I brought my dagger.” Braden pulled it out of his
“Well, I’ve got a sword
and a knife,” Corin added. “My I suggest we get them ready to use, right
The dragon swooped down on them. Fingal and Gorbal
fell to the ground, lying on their bellies. The dragon, a glossy black
color, swooped at them over and over again; its rubbery wings longer than
its scaled-body length. Huge, sharp claws stuck out from its three-toed
feet. Its lime-green eyes glowed with fury. Its teeth were covered with
chunks of rotting flesh and filth. The dragon blew fire through its
nostrils, most of it roaring over the sides and avoiding them. Cafania
shot arrow after arrow. A few pierced its thick hide, but did little
damage. It never got close enough for Corin or Braden to use their
After an hour of dodging flames and sharp claws,
Cafania ran out of arrows. The dragon swooped down for the final attack.
The group curled up in a tight ball, awaiting their doom, when suddenly
they found themselves in a dark room and no longer on the lofty path
facing them menacing beast.
* * *
“Hey, what happened? Where
are we? Just a second ago we were fighting a dragon and now here we are,”
Fingal rambled on, taking deep breaths.
“Shut up, dwarf,” a
familiar deep voice ordered.
The room was as dark as a
moonless night. Braden stomped on the floor; a cold slab of rock. A
whispery draft seeped from an airway. He crawled on his knees towards the
cool breeze. Reaching up, he felt a piece of damp wood. “I think I found a
At almost the same
instant, the others asked, “Where are you?”
“Follow my voice over
here,” Braden said. Within a few seconds they had gathered around him.
“This seems to be a door. Corin, Gorbal, help me push. Maybe it will open.
I feel a draft coming from underneath.”
For several minutes the
men and the gnome agonizingly pushed. It didn’t budge. They made a second
attempt to open the door and this time they succeeded, though totally
exhausted. The door creaked open. The one foot thick wood rotted away from
dampness. A gush of cold air flowed into the room, causing Cafania to
Fingal was just about to
run out through the small opening but Corin stopped him, grabbing him by
the neck. “Not so fast friend,” he whispered. “Let me draw my sword and go
through first, just in case.”
“Just in case of what?”
Darkness devoured Fingal’s words.
Corin squeezed through the
opening. It led into a long dark hall with many similar looking wooden
openings on each side. He walked on a few steps and checked the first few
doors. After attempting to open others, only to find them also locked,
Corin said, “Come on, it’s safe.” One by one they left the dark, damp
room. High up on the wall, were several slotted windows that allowed a
little sunlight to filter through. The hall, drafty and bitter cold, at
least offered enough light to see where they were going.
From behind him, Cafania
softly spoke to Braden. “Where are we? How did we get here?”
A confused Braden shrugged
his shoulders. “I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.”
They made their way down
the hall, passing door after door, each being checked to see if they were
locked. All were. When they got to the end of the hall, they found steps
that obviously led to some other rooms. In single file they climbed with
caution, both Braden and Corin holding their daggers in front. A door
stopped their ascent.
Being in front, Corin
turned the knob and opened the door.
“Welcome my friends. I
have been expecting you.” A crackling voice called to them. “Enter.”
Corin turned and looked at
the others, who filed through the door. Once inside they stood in a
semicircle around a large wooden table.
Sitting on one of the
uncomfortable chairs sat the Lord of the Heavens. He looked to be about
ninety years old, had a long gray beard, and was dressed in a long, baggy,
dark blue robe with a loose fitting hood. His eyes sparkled as bright as
the stars that he ruled over. His fingers were bony and long, as were his
fingernails. His skin was wrinkled and a pale off white. “You, young
lady,” he said to Cafania, “do not let my looks deceive you. I am powerful
still in my years.”
She flushed, stepping
back, wondering how he knew what she was thinking.
“You are all here.” He
gazed at the group. “A dwarf? I didn’t send for a dwarf. Who brought you
Fingal ran and hid behind
“Ah, so Corin, it was you.
I only hope he doesn’t interfere with the plans I have made for you.”
“What plans?” The
frightened dwarf whispered.
“He won’t, Lord. He
won’t.” Corin assured him.
* * *
As the conversation went on inside the Temple, outside
the wolf lay, hiding in a thick bush. In his front paws he held what was
left of a large animal. He ripped a hunk of
raw, fresh meat off and chewed it voraciously. Blood-matted
fur lay all around, as did the horns of their owner. He was willing to
wait for darkness to fall so he could enter the building and prey on the
* * *
“You are all wondering why I sent for you. Please, be
seated.” The Lord of the Heavens pointed to several old and not too
supportive looking oak chairs. “Hundreds of years ago, in a far away land,
was a kingdom known as Pinea. Peace reigned in the kingdom for many, many
centuries. There was no evil, just peace and happiness. Princess Serba,
daughter of the king, was out walking in the woods alone and was attacked
by an unknown. He was a human, but had dark hair, which was an unfamiliar
sight to those of Pinea. Unfortunately Princess Serba became pregnant by
this human and later gave birth to twin boys. She named the first born
Kolin. His hair was as black as coal like his ‘father’.” The Lord of the
Heavens hesitated as he said the word ‘father’. “The second son was named
Kile. His hair was fair like his mothers.
“Kolin was always in trouble, even as a little boy.
Kile, however, was a delight. He brought joy and laughter to all he was
near. Everyone loved him. Because Kolin was so troublesome and so
irresponsible, the king ordered that when he died, his grandson, Kile,
should become the next king of Pinea. Kolin became very angry and slew his
twin brother. As a result, he was banished from the kingdom. One of the
boy’s cousins became king and peace continued to rule the land. Princess
Serba died, sad, alone, and heartbroken from the loss of her twin sons,
one to murder, the other to evil. Stories came to the land of how Kolin
had made pacts and signed covenants with evil witches and sorcerers in
return for everlasting life. Strange and horrible things began to happen
in Pinea. Children would disappear while outside playing. Animals vanished
too, but the odd thing is that it was always the first-born son of a
family that would turn up missing.
“In despair, the people of Pinea called upon their own
sorcerer for help. He came to their aid by tracking down Kolin and
returning him to the kingdom. The sorcerer gave Kolin a choice. He could
be killed now or he could have a curse put on him forever. The people of
the kingdom just didn’t have the heart to kill Princess Serba’s son, so
seeing this weakness, Kolin chose the curse, which was that he was no
longer to be a man. He was cursed forever to be an animal. If the body he
possessed ever died, he could simply enter another. Nothing could ever
stop this. He’d been given the choice of which animal he would be. He
chose a wolf. ‘So be it!’ The sorcerer called and Kolin ceased to exist as
a human being. ‘To tell you from the other wolves so no one will be
tricked, I curse you with eyes as red as the blood of your brother, Kile’s,
that you shed.’
“The sorcerer gave the Book of Spells he’d used for
the curse to his friend, a gnome named Andoor; no doubt some relation to
you.” He nodded at Gorbal. “The only way to ever have this curse released
would be through a spell in this book. The gnome swore never to reveal the
spell, nor to let the book out of his possession. When he died, he was to
pass it on to his son, and so on.”
Gorbal put his hand in his pocket and felt the Book of
Spells. He thought to himself, “Is this it? Is this that Book of Spells?”
The Lord of the Heavens continued. “I have summoned
you here because word has come to me from the stars that Kolin is roaming
our lands now. We don’t know where, but…..”
“The wolf!” Fingal interrupted. “The wolf you tried to
kill with your knife on the Plains of Marsol. Remember Colin? Remember? It
had red eyes. I saw them.”
“He’s right,” Corin said to the Lord of the Heavens.
“I have obtained
information that someone has the Book of Spells in their possession. One
of you four.” The Lord of the Heavens’ gaze moved from one to another.
The small group looked around at each other. Gorbal
swallowed hard and said, “Lord, Sir, it is I who possesses the Book of
Spells. It has been passed down from generation to generation for many
hundreds of years. I didn’t know until just now of its importance, nor do
I know of any spell like that.”
“Of course not, that is why I summoned you. Over the
years, Kolin has gathered strength and power, and gains more with every
drop of blood he swallows. We need to stop him. He does not yet know about
the spell and we need to destroy him before he finds out. The lives of
many now, and in the future, depend on you four. Gorbal, bring me the
book!” Lord of the Heavens commanded the gnome. Gorbal placed it on the
table. “Now, I will consult with the Lord of Nature, the Lord of Love, the
Lord of the Earth, and the Lord of the Seas. We will study this book and
let you know more in the morning of what we demand of you. Please, go and
rest now. There are cots and blankets in the next room. You will also find
food and wine. Be comfortable and we shall speak again when the sun
* * *
Nobody had noticed the hunchbacked man sitting in the
corner. He stood and at his master’s nod, led the five to a room that had
several cots lined up against the damp, moss-covered walls. As they left
the room, Gorbal nudged Fingal. “He is too a wizard.”
Each chose his and her cot
and lay down on it. Corin chose the one near the window, which was only a
narrow slit in the thick stone wall. Fingal, of course, took the cot next
to Corin’s. Gorbal took the cot in the other corner. Braden and Cafania
were left the cots next to the door. Cafania didn’t lie down in her cot as
the others did. She stood still, shivering, tears running down her face.
Braden jumped off his cot and took Cafania in his arms. He lowered her
next to him and held her all night as they both slept.
The five Lords sat in the other room. Candles
flickered and incense burned, filling the room with a smoky sweet smell.
“Nature, you may begin your dream. The gnome is your subject. He must be
tested for his worthiness. He is rightful owner of the Book of Spells and
only he can break the curse.”
“As you wish,” the Lord of Nature spoke, and then he
stood. His long, dark green cape dragged the ground as he walked to the
table. A glass ball sat in the center. It glowed as clear as the flowing
spring waters of a mountain stream. The Lord of Nature put his bony hands
on the ball and closed his eyes.
Gorbal’s cot rattled. His dream began. He found
himself walking through a grove of evergreens. The sun’s rays filtered
through, sending him streams of light. As he walked he came upon a nest
made of straw, feathers and grasses. Inside it laid five sky blue eggs,
speckled with various other colors. He reached for one, picking it up in
his chubby hands, thinking them to be robin’s eggs. The shell had a
velvety texture. He held it up to his face, caressing it. When he put the
egg back in the nest a crack appeared and a black beak pecked its way
through. The shell then burst into pieces and there lay a baby green
dragon. Gorbal’s eyes bulged in horror as he watched the other eggs crack.
Realizing this must be the nest of a dragon, much like the one the group
had encountered at Steffer Pass, he shook with fear, wondering what he
should do when the other four eggs broke open and four more small green
dragons appeared. Their soft screeches were non-threatening and innocent,
yet Gorbal was near tears. Should he leave immediately, before the mother
came back, or should he just kill the five creatures before they grew up
into big dragons? He looked around for a large stick to beat them with. He
found one about two inches in diameter, picked it up and walked over to
the nest. With the stick raised to smash one, Gorbal hesitated. His heart
softened. The squirming dragons were living creatures, so he let nature
take its course. He turned and walked away.
“He has passed the test of Nature. Had he killed the
baby dragons he would have failed. A life is a life, whether it be a
useful animal or not.” The Lord of Nature removed his fingers from the
In the other room, Gorbal lay still, sound asleep.
* * *
“You may be seated, Nature. Earth,” who sat with his
deep purple robe draped on the cold stone floor, “you are next.” The Lord
of the Heavens nodded. “You will be testing the one they call Corin. He is
a strong, mighty man with much power and force.”
In the other room Corin tossed and turned. In his
dream he found himself sitting on a large jagged rock. Sand surrounded the
rock, spreading thirty feet in diameter away from the boulder, where it
changed to the consistency of hard clay material. With a suspicious heart,
Corin searched his pockets for something he could toss. He felt a stone
that he’d picked up at Steffer Pass. He took it out of his pocket and
threw it into the sand, where it sank. Corin looked around. There was
nothing he could use to walk on or swing over the quicksand with. All he
had with him was what he was wearing. How was he going to get out of this
mess? He sat for an hour contemplating his problem and then it came to
him. He knew how to get to the firmer dirt.
Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a mouse. He’d
had Suska as a pet for a few months. None of the others, not even Fingal,
knew he had a pet mouse. “Sorry old pal to do this,” he said to Suska,
petting its forehead. He grabbed its tail and swung it above his head in a
circle. After doing this for about five minutes, a giant bat flew towards
him. It worked. The bat smelled the mouse. As it came closer, Corin
planned how he’d get it near enough to grab its legs. He put the mouse,
which was now dead, on top of his head. The bat flew down to pick up the
mouse. Corin noticed its fifteen foot wingspan, big enough to carry a big
man like him. Its claws came down to grasp the mouse and quickly Corin
grabbed them and held on tight. The bat shrieked in anger, trying to pull
itself free from Corin’s hold. It lifted into the air with Corin attached,
and flew back towards where it had come from. Corin let go as soon as it
had flown past the quicksand. He fell to the hard ground.
“He has passed the test of the Earth. I like the way
he used his head in those kind of circumstances; no pun intended; no
panicking, no fear, just thoughtful calculation,” said the Lord of the
Earth. “In reality, the mouse is running through the woods near Corin’s
home. He released it before leaving on his journey.”
“Very well done, Earth. Love, it is your turn. You
may test the female now,” the Lord of the Heavens said.
* * *
Corin once again slept peacefully. Cafania began to
fuss. As the Lord of Love placed his hands, draped in the red sleeves of
his robe, around the glass ball, she moved about in Braden’s arms.
In her dream she found herself lying in a field of
clover. In the distance she heard a horse riding in her direction and
looked up to see the long awaited rider. It was Braden, his brown hair
blowing behind him. He dismounted and she ran into his arms. “Braden, I’ve
waited so long. I feared you wouldn’t come.”
“My darling, nothing could keep me from you.” They
embraced and kissed with passion. From out of the nearby grove of trees
darted a large teeth-bearing bear. It moved towards the couple at
lightning speed. Braden saw it approach through the corner of his eye and
threw Cafania to the hard ground. The bear came upon him and tore at his
arm. In sheer terror, but more afraid for her lover, Cafania ran to the
animal and pounded her fists on its back.
“Get away, Cafania!” Braden screamed. The bear turned,
leaving a wounded Braden to destroy Cafania instead. As hard as he tried,
Braden couldn’t distract the bear. Soon there was nothing left of Cafania
but a few bones.
Cafania stirred in her cot.
“As I knew she would, Cafania has passed the test. She
sacrificed her life to save someone she loved.” The Lord of Love removed
his withered hands from the ball.
* * *
“That leaves only the one
called Braden. Though I am sure he will pass your test, you may proceed,
Lord of the Seas, with your dream,” the Lord of the Heavens said.
A nimble, but small man stood and walked towards the
other four. His gray cloak dragged across the hard rock floor. “I see no
need to test this one. He is as brave and as self sacrificing as the
others.” He nodded his head back and forth.
“Very well then, that is your choice. They are ready
for the quest. All are worthy and have the qualities needed to fulfill our
needs. A lot depends on them. Lord of Love, bring me the stone.” The Lord
of the Heavens commanded him. “They must get the Healing Stone to Princess
Jasmine before it is too late.”
The Lord of Love placed the round stone on the table.
It was about three inches in diameter and glistened as a diamond. “My
Lord, here it is.”
“Princess Jasmine will die if it is not given to her
within four days. The group must pass through many dangers to get there;
and now there is yet another danger, Kolin. He has grown more powerful and
more evil than can be imagined. Word has come to me that he is nearby. The
group will awaken soon and we will meet with them.” The Lord of the
Heavens dismissed the other four Lords.
In the other room, the group continued to sleep,
having no idea that it was the last good night’s sleep they’d get for a
* * *
The wolf lurked outside
the castle. He had searched for hours but found no way in. Up high, he saw
windows aglow with light. He could never reach them and get inside.
Growing angrier by the second, he walked towards a cave he’d spotted
Inside was dark and dam and it didn’t go back very
far. The wolf lay and slept, waiting for sunrise so he could once again
pursue the group.