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Merentha : Eyes of Fire
Chapter Five

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Prologue
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
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Mish-Rak walked slowly down the lonely street, his sheathed sword clanking noisily against his armored leg. He rubbed his gloved hands together and blew on them for warmth. It was very cold on the desolate street; the sun had not yet risen, but the stars were slowly beginning to fade. Mish-Rak stifled a yawn. He had been up most of the night, patrolling the streets.

So far, he had seen nothing any more suspicious that a couple of stray cats. But if Abbess was right, and Rijer really had been attacked by the Drow, then the city demanded protection. Two dozen men were stationed around the city with another dozen patrolling the streets. All were armed for combat.

The Drow had a nasty habit of attacking at night. They seemed to appear, rather than arrive, and dozens were already inside the city before anyone even noticed something was happening. Mish-Rak shook his head. He had heard the stories of the Blood Wars. That was the last anyone had seen or heard of the Drow. Their kind had been exterminated in the conflict, or so everyone thought.

He doubted it, himself. The Drow were dead; now nothing more than a bitter memory. Rijer was probably just muttering from his subconscious. But still there was that part of him, deep down, that wondered: could he be right? What if the Drow really were still alive? Mish-Rak thought back to the stories he had been told as a child; he had no recollection of the conflict himself.


They appeared out of nowhere long ago, and attacked a village on the slopes of Mt. Xen. It was an old town, full of miners, mainly, with a few farmers to provide for them. Legend has it that one day, the miners uncovered tunnel that wasn't their own. A few men went down the tunnel to investigate, but never returned. Days later, an armed party was sent to search for them. They, too, never returned.

The villagers awoke the next morning to find the heads of the missing men piled in a bloody heap in the town square.
Fearing what they may have uncovered, the people of the village sealed off the new tunnel, blocking its entrance with a huge mound of dirt and rock. Armed men guarded the mine's entrance at night. The miners continued their work, but stayed away from the blocked up tunnel.

One morning found the guards dead, the flesh stripped from their bodies, and the tunnel entrance open once more. People panicked. Some left the village, disappearing into the forest below the mountain. Others stayed, unwilling to give up their lives and home. The entrance to the mine itself was closed off and the people lived in constant fear.

They came like shadows in the night: masked warriors with clothes as black as the starless sky. They burned the village to the ground, and killed everyone in it. Other villages were soon destroyed, and countless people killed. Word spread throughout the land, and people began calling these vicious creatures the Drow. Their wave of carnage spread throughout Cardania. Terror reigned.

The people of Cardania, fearing for their lives, bound together in an effort to stop the evil masked warriors. Battles raged across the land, as the people fought to defeat the Drow, and end their destructive onslaught. The fighting was fierce, and many lives were lost as war engulfed the continent. Eventually, the people of Cardania drove the Drow into hiding. Holy warriors scoured the land, killing any Drow they met. At last the plague upon their lives had been lifted.

There was much rejoicing, and people were happy with the newfound unity they all shared. They dubbed themselves the Kingdom of Caradania. The Kingdom saw only a few months of peace, however. The distinguishing element of a Kingdom is, of course, a king. People from all over the continent stepped up, claiming their right to the throne.

A bitter political conflict erupted and factions were formed as old alliances surfaced once again. The "Kingdom" eventually split up into three groups: the Kingdom of Hiemelia, the Kingdom of Xenora, and the Queendom of Jewel. Realizing that true unity could never be achieved, the Kingdoms distanced themselves from one another. Hiemelia ruled the icy North, Jewel settled in the thick forests of the interior, and Xenora built its palace on the top of Mt. Xen in the south.

For years the Kingdoms still quarreled, until peace was bought at Lanerell, the meeting place of the Kingdoms. While peace had been achieved, unity had not, and the Kingdoms still remained stretched across Cardania. The Drow were thought extinct.


Mish-Rak sighed and looked up at the purple morning sky. The glow of a new day could be seen creeping into the heavens. He yawned again, and looked down the street. No Drow in sight. He chuckled reassuringly to himself. There were no Drow. The Drow were dead. Rijer was suffering from nothing more than a sorcerer's prank. He would be glad when this was all over; pulling night guard duty was a pain.

Mish-Rak strolled slowly down the street towards the docks. It was still very cold, but he found it less of a problem if he didn't think about it. The stone street on which he walked was wet and small puddles formed near the edges. He could smell the sea. A little ways down the street, he met another soldier. Like himself, the guard was dressed in combat armor and armed with a sword.

Mish-Rak walked up behind the soldier, who was staring blankly down the street. "See any Drow yet?" he asked in a loud voice.

The man jumped slightly in surprise, then turned slowly to face Mish-Rak. He was taller than the goblin, with a narrow face and a long nose. A few strands of blonde hair poked under his helm and hung on his brow. He grinned slightly. "Yeah. You just missed it. I saw a whole mess of 'em earlier. Musta been twenty of them. Came from over there." He pointed off toward the forest.

"Twenty, eh?" Mish-Rak said, grinning slightly. "So where are they?"

"I killed them," the knight said in a matter-of-factly sort of way. "It wasn't much of a problem." He made cutting and stabbing motions with an imaginary sword as he jumped and dodged madly across the street.

Mish-Rak crossed his arms and frowned at the man, who quickly stopped his swordplay. "I apologize, sir," he said solemnly, looking down at the ground.

Mish-Rak stared at the knight for a brief moment. "You should be, soldier," he said in a stern voice, then grinned. "Some of the other men have already killed fifty. Get with it. I expect at least seventy five from you before your shift is over, understand?"

The man looked up and grinned broadly, assuming an overly-exaggerated position of attention. "Yes, sir." Drawing his non-existant sword once more, he stalked down the street in a crouched stance, snapping his head to the left and right.

Mish-Rak chuckled slightly. Normally he would have frowned upon such behavior in his troops, but this was different. They had been called out of bed in the middle of the night and into the cold because some delusional knight had a bad dream. He was reminded of a child, scared about the monsters under her bed. Just as the child's obliging father, they were defending against an enemy that didn't even exist.

Still there was that one doubt, that tiny inkling in the back of his mind that kept him on his watch. He had heard horrible stories about the Drow, and if he had learned one thing from those tales, it was to never underestimate them. His scout party that had returned a few days earlier had found nothing at the scene to indicate anything about the attackers except that they were humanoid. That left a chance of them being Drow. Mish-Rak shook the thoughts out of his mind and walked back the way he had come.

Warming sunlight splashed over the streets and houses as the sun emerged over the forest. Mish-Rak continued his walk towards the palace. Surely the other guards could ward off the invasion force without his help. Maybe he'd go see how Rijer was doing before going to bed again. If the knight was thinking straight, maybe a little first hand information would put his suspicions to rest.



Cye'Ren opened his eyes slowly into the excruciatingly bright light. He closed them again quickly. He head throbbed. Shielding his eyes from the light, he tried to sit up. It was a big mistake. Immediately a wave of nausea ripped through him and he fell back to his bed. Wetting his lips with a sandy tongue, he squinted around the room. He recognized the bright white blur to be the hospital ward.

He turned his head to the side. The blurry image of an empty cot told him that Rijer must be recovering well. He coughed, suddenly realizing how thirsty he was. "Any one here?" he asked in a gravely voice. Only silence greeted him. He took a deep breath and sat up in bed, battling the vertigo that slammed into him. He forced himself to stand, and staggered against the blinding light to the water barrel in the middle of the ward.

Bracing himself against the rim, he drank several gulps of cool water from the wooden dipping ladle. Replacing the ladle, he rubbed his temples to ease the throbbing pain in his head and begged his weak knees to keep him standing. The large wooden door to the hospital ward swung slowly open and Abbess stepped through, clad in her usual golden white robes.

"Cye'Ren?" she said, squinting. "Is that you? You better get back to bed."

"No," Cye'Ren coughed, "I'm okay."

Abbess looked worried and, placing her arm around his shoulder, lead him back to his cot. "You should rest. I don't want you hurting yourself before you're fully healed."

"I'll be fine," he said as he sat down on the edge of the bunk. "I was just thirsty." He squinted at her and tried to smile.

Abbess frowned. "Well, I'm surprised you didn't trip and hurt yourself in the dark. Here, let me get some light for you." She turned.

"No," Cye'Ren blurted out.

Abbess stopped and sent him a strange look.

"My eyes," he said simply. "They're...very sensitive right now."

"Ah, yes. I understand." She nodded. "Considering what you've been through, I'm not surprised at a bit of light sensitivity." She bent down, lightly touching his cheekbones, and examined his eyes.

"They're a little red," she smiled sweetly at him, "but otherwise you should be fine." She looked at him for a brief moment. "Is there anything I can get for you?"

"No," he replied softly. "I think I'll just get some more rest."

She nodded kindly at him. "Okay. I'll be here if you need me."

Cye'Ren lay back down on his bed and closed his eyes to the searing light. Abbess lit a candle in the middle of the room so she could see a little better. It was odd, she though, to see such a degree of light sensitivity with no physical signs in the eyes. Especially considering it was almost totally dark in the room. She shrugged. Cye'Ren had a special gift. Magic was a strange and powerful thing.



Kynnaly walked purposefully down the tunnel that extended into the darkness ahead of her. A small glowing orb bobbed unsteadily a few feet above her head and just in front of her. She knew the way by heart and didn't require any light at all, but she found that this made the trip somewhat more interesting.

Silence filled the tunnel, except for the quiet sound of dripping of water that could be heard as it fell from the ceiling of the narrow passage and splattered lightly on the hewn floor. The rock all around her was bare, with no stalactites or other normal cave adorations to be found in the unnatural tunnel. A slight breeze toyed with her white hair, carrying with it a faint hint of sulfur.

Kynnaly continued on into the darkness, following the passage off to the left without even thinking. The Drow city was hidden deep underground, with an extensive maze of tunnels to protect it. In addition, guards were always patrolling the winding passages to deal with any creature that may have wandered in. Few people had ever found the Drow city. She grinned. And none of them lived to tell about it. They had many...inventive ways for intruders to meet their ends. The grin on her face broadened as she recalled some of those enjoyable occasions. It was interesting how much punishment a body could take before breaking.

The dark sorceress continued down the damp tunnel, taking countless turns without so much as a thought. Finally, the passage widened as she rounded a corner, and opened into a large cavern. The walls and ceiling glistened with moisture. A varying size of stalactites hung from the ceiling, but the cave floor was cleared of all rock formations. A number of tunnels, some natural, some hewn, branched off in all directions, and a large obsidian fountain decorated the center of the room.

Torches burned from higher up on the walls, bathing the room in a flickering red light. A number of other Drow-elves were moving about the area, some loitering by the fountain, others walking briskly from tunnel to tunnel. Kynnaly's gait faltered slightly, as if she were suddenly aware of her surroundings. She continued across the open room and entered a large, natural tunnel on the other side.

This tunnel was noticeably wider and taller than the one she had just come from. The walls of the passage were smooth and damp. Natural columns of rock lined either side of it at oddly equal intervals. Like the open room, the tunnel was lined with red-burning torches that didn't seem to give off any heat or smoke. Up ahead, she could see that the passage opened into a larger room.

Stepping out of the tunnel, Kynnaly found herself in a very tall room. Deep red light flickered on the walls, causing the shadows from the cave formations to dance eerily. She walked to the center of the room and looked at the empty seat at its far end. The throne was carved from black obsidian into web-like pattern that formed the shape of a chair. The Valsharess, queen Armrha, could usually be found here. She was just about to turn and leave when a voice came from behind her.

"Did everything go as planned?"

Kynnaly inhaled sharply and involuntarily straightened up. She turned slowly, her black cape rippling around her, to find a dark figure leaning against a column of stone. Kynnaly bowed deeply before her queen.

"Yes, Valsharess," Kynnaly said, returning upright after a moment. "They are all dead. All but one, just as you requested."

The figure walked forward into the blood-red light. She was dressed in dead-black robes, trimmed with silver. Shadows covered half of her face; she might have had pleasing features, if they had not been hardened with evil. Atop a waterfall of silvery hair rested an obsidian crown, adorned with black opals. Narrow red eyes, with just a hint of violet, stared back at Kynnaly and flashed in the flickering light.

"Good," she said simply. "Let them squirm. Disbelief will come first. And as soon as they let their guard down, we strike again. This time harder."

Kynnaly nodded. "I have been watching them. There are those who believe the centaur's words to be true, but most doubt their validity." She paused and looked down at her steepled hands. "Currently, there are guards all over the city, but there is strong resentment among them and I believe the scare will not last long."

Armrha smirked slightly. "I trust the guards were no problem for you."

"Of course not," Kynnaly said flatly. "The only problem was trying to keep myself from killing them all." She grinned slightly. "I did trick one of them into cutting off his own hand though. But I tried not to create too big of a scene."

"Good," Armrha replied in a chill tone. "The longer we stay hidden, the greater the effect when we show ourselves." She turned her back and walked slowly towards her web-throne. "Fear," she hissed, "is a powerful ally. Fear confuses the bold. Fear scatters the valiant. Fear destroys the mighty," she paused. "Fear...shall be our most powerful weapon." She sat lithely down on her throne. "We will strike when they think themselves safe: small groups at first. Slowly, their citizens will start to disappear. Scout parties will go missing. People will panic." She leaned forward and stared Kynnaly directly in the eyes. "That is when we will attack, when the entire world fears us. When people are afraid to even whisper the word...Drow." An evil smirk slowly spread across her face. She leaned back again. "Soon...we shall take what was ours so long ago. Soon...we will take our place as the masters we deserve to be. Soon...we will put those," she paused, her face twisting with disgust. "filthy surface dwellers in their place." Red firelight played over Armrha's rage-contorted face, her mouth warped into a snarl. "Soon...we will have our revenge."