Nora slowly approached a fallen and charred tree then poked her head over and glanced quickly around before ducking back down. Al’ev and Mel carefully made their way up to where she was and waited for her to say something.
After a few moments of concentrating, Nora looked at Al’ev and made another hand gesture indicating he should take a look. He nodded and cautiously poked his head above the remains of the tree.
Al’ev suddenly had the urge to draw his blade for there by the entrance of a cave about twenty feet from where they were now, were two cloaked individuals. Those individuals, clearly on sentry duty, wore the garb of the Disciples of Zorebane. Zorebane was clearly being careful as a wide area around the cave entrance had been cleared of all foliage using his choice method. Several husks of once enormous trees stood smoldering, smoke rising slowly with the slight afternoon breeze.
Taking one last glance in and noting that both sentries appeared armed for close quarters combat, Al’ev ducked back down and whispered “This is the place.”
“Are ye certain? They could be some other fire worshiping cult just hiding in the woods.” Nora said sarcastically.
“Did you see my father? Was he there?” Mel whispered as she drew The Halarian Blade from the sheath on her back.
“No, just a pair of guards who are clearly expecting company.” Al’ev replied. “They are likely holding him inside the cave. I don’t think we have much choice but to get in there and get him out.”
“There will be others within the cave aside from Zorebane and Mr. Rolovir, Sergen…Reldin.” Nora mentioned correcting her error.
Al‘ev, for his part, let it pass. “Possibly. Only way to really find out how many is to get in there ourselves. Mel, I want you to…Alright, where did she go this time?”
The sound of metal penetrating flesh from near the cave entrance as well as a deep throated yell answered him. Both Al’ev and Nora quickly looked back to the entrance and saw Mel locking her blade with the second sentry’s blade. The first Sentry already lay on the ground behind her, unmoving.
Al’ev and Nora quickly made their way to the entrance, Al’ev preparing a spell as he ran, but his words stopped in his throat as Mel knocked aside the second sentry’s blade in a very showy full body spin that concluded with her opponent missing a portion of his head.
“You couldn’t just wait?” He said quickly, as he drew his blade and watched the entrance carefully, fully expecting flames or more men to come charging out.
“I will not let my father suffer any longer than he needs to, Al’ev. Sometimes you just need to act and deal with the consequences later.”
“Feisty woman you have there Reldin. I be liking her more and more.”
Al’ev turned to look at Mel and stared into her eyes for a short time.
“Mel, you need…”
“You need to know when to keep silent.” She cut him off. “I have already told you I will not hesitate to act if it means getting my father back sooner.”
He was about to reply when a familiar voice echoed out from inside the cave somewhere.
“Then you should act now, young lady. Your father probably won’t last much longer at this rate.” A ominous chuckle followed the words. “He unfortunately seems to be less fond of fire than I am.”
“Zorebane, if you so much as cause a heat rash on him, I will skin you alive and use you as my rug for the next decade.” Al’ev threatened.
“Come now, Sergeant. That’s no way to talk to an old war buddy. I see you brought your cleric friend.” They all started to look around for him as he could clearly see the entrance where they stood. “No no, I’m not out there. Believe it or not, I do know other spells than those that burn. To be honest I’m surprised the cleric hasn’t tried to take your head off for what I hear you did back in Dorn.”
“The only one of us who’ll be losing his head to me axe is you, Zorebane.”
“Not so happy to hear from me either, huh? Well come inside and we’ll see if we can’t change that. Don’t worry, it is only young Mel’s father and I inside. You already took care of most of my people back in Dorn if you don’t recall.”
Al’ev looked over at Nora and Mel, then the three made their way into the cave. As they continued deeper, the cave seemed to consist of little more than a long winding hall that was lit only by sconces every fifteen to twenty feet. They walked almost painfully slow for the next couple minutes, fully expecting to run into a trap or an attack at any moment.
Finally they saw an opening up ahead which turned out to be a large circular room with a walkway ringing the outer portion and an inner portion that was sunken down a few feet. From where they entered, Al’ev noted several things.
First, the lighting in the room was entirely dependant on the large fire that was burning in the pit‘s center. Second, Zorebane stood openly by the flame, arms crossed and smug look on this face. Passed out or, gods forbid, dead on the floor before him was Tanidor Rolovir.
“Welcome, Sergeant. I’m glad you could make it all the way here from your hidey-hole in Kassadin.”
Al’ev was taken by surprise.
How could he know where I was?
“Don’t be too surprised. Think about it carefully with that supposedly amazing brain of yours. You do not think word could filter down to a small town like that so quickly after my attack in Caori without my intending it to, do you?”
“But that means…”
“Yes, I did this for little reason aside from luring you here.”
“Why? Because ye be wanting revenge?” Nora asked.
“Actually I had no idea that the Sergeant here was the same one responsible for my setback in Dorn until recently. No. I was hired to do this by someone named Brelzic. It was lucky I came across a few letters of correspondence between Melesteil and Al’ev. Certainly sped the process up. As for the why I would work for this Brelzic well…a man needs riches to raise an army.“ His voice, and the flame before him, rose with those words before both became calm again. “After all, you did destroy mine and so I will be needing a new one.”
Al’ev quickly glanced around the cave again as Mel protectively put her hand on his shoulder.
“Judging by your reaction I would guess that that is a name you are familiar with.” Zorebane chuckled. “Don’t worry about him just yet. Brelzic has not been alerted to your presence and he is currently far from here last I heard. Still, you will be seeing him soon enough.”
“So why did you have to involve Mel? Why not just come for me in Kassadin? There was no reason to do what you did there.”
“Actually, there was. Even the best military strategist knows that fighting on your own terms is far more preferable than fighting on your opponent’s.”
“What’s so special about this cave?” Al’ev asked.
“Oh, the cave is nice. Let’s me really relax away from prying eyes. But the real thing you should be asking is why did I not just take the girl instead of taking her father. Hmm?” Zorebane grinned.
He knew I would be too much to handle if it were just me and him! He needed me distracted!
No sooner did Al’ev realize what Zorebane had been planning when the ifrit snapped his fingers and Nora was covered by a pale light emanating from the ground right beneath her. Al’ev quickly recognized the rune as one that induced temporary paralyses.
“Can’t have her pesky ability interfering like last time.” Zorebane laughed and Al’ev drew his weapon.
A few things happened just after Nora fell to the ground as though little more than a statue. First, the flame in the center of the room came to life and engulfed Zorebane, then the fire shot out from the center of the room to the edges in the form of multiple fire streams. The fire streams found the previously unlit sconces and the room’s perimeter now held no less than eight newly lit fires. Zorebane had vanished.
The second thing that happened was that Al’ev heard a blade swinging in from behind him, but it was aimed at Mel. His own blade intercepted the newcomer’s weapon before it could pierce Mel’s flesh then batted it aside, quickly turning his cut in the opposite direction and killing the man who struck at her.
The man was limp on the ground as Al’ev turned back to the room in time to watch as the nearest sconce let loose a bolt of fire that he would not be able to avoid.
But Mel saw it coming and was ready with her a spell to counter the magic flame. A couple words from her and the bolt of fire fizzled out a few feet from them.
A growl of frustration echoed through the room and Al’ev could not help but laugh.
“That was not part of your plan I take it? You dragged Mel into this so that I would be too worried about protecting her to fight to my fullest, is that it? Gods did you make a mistake. She can take care of herself!”
“We’ll see….” Zorebane’s disembodied reply seemed to come out from all of the sconces.
The room again erupted into flame and this time Al’ev weaved his own counter magic to protect their position. Holding his magical shield he looked to Mel and said “Mel, get Nora up again. A simple dispel should do it. Just don’t step on that rune.”
“Right.” She replied and knelt down next to Nora, carefully avoiding the glowing rune on the ground.
Once more the sconces launched their flame and once more Al’ev countered with his own magic. But this time, Al’ev could feel the drain on his energy. He knew he could not keep this up very long for Zorebane was the superior spell caster here.
Come on Mel, come on. We need Nora to cancel out these spells!
He focused on drawing energy from his reserves as another wave of fire rapidly approached. This one nearly drained what vitality he had left and he soon found himself kneeling on the ground, panting.
“Is that all, Sergeant?” Zorebane’s voice came mockingly. “I expected so much MORE!”
An even more massive volley of flame barreled towards Al’ev and he knew he would not be able to stop it. He was just about to launch himself between the flame and Mel when Nora jumped to her feet and Al’ev found a intangible magic wall spring up to stop the flame.
She looked down at Al’ev and placed a hand on his shoulder, whispering a few words. Al’ev felt energy flood back into him.
“So you’ve managed to revitalize your friends and restore your energy. You and your friends are still no closer to getting out of this alive, Sergeant. You will be cinders, just like your comrades in Dorn.”
“Reldin, I’ll concentrate on canceling out his magic. We need to find him soon, though. Even my powers be having their limits!”
He was about to suggest going for the sconces knowing that Zorebane was hiding his essence within one or all of them when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw caught light reflecting off yet another blade. He lunged in front of this one, catching it on his armored torso before it could connect with the back of Nora’s head.
Al’ev quickly knocked the feet out from under this new assailant which appeared to be yet another Disciple of Zorebane.
“I thought ye said it be just us, Zorebane.” Nora shouted as she countered another flame wave.
The only answer was the same chuckle from earlier.
“Bad guy lies to our faces. Nothing new there.” Al’ev said as both he and the disciple got to their feet and locked blades. “Mel, you and Nora need to get those sconces knocked out. He is using them to hide himself. I’ll take care of this guy.”
“Sure Reldin. Try not to get singed.”
“Be careful!” Mel shouted over the sound of another series of flame bolts hitting Nora’s spell shield.
Al’ev again focused on his opponent. The man was wielding a longsword with the occasional fire emerging along its length. Clearly another of the enchanted blades Zorebane’s forces used during the Battle of Dorn.
He decided to go with a slow approach against this opponent as he already demonstrated skill the others had not. He traded a few attacks with the disciple then danced back as a ray of fire unexpectedly erupted from the man’s free hand. The man’s grin was quickly erased when Al’ev forced him to jump above a leg sweep and then quickly block a slash from the other direction.
This move allowed Al’ev a moment to see Nora and Mel knock out a few sconces then continuing around the room.
Zorebane will be making his move soon……yep.
Almost as if provoked by the thought, A massive fireball materialized off to Al’ev’s right and began rolling towards where the half elf dueled with the disciple. His back to the center of the room, Al’ev waited for the last moment before he shoved his opponent back into the hall. Instead of pursuing, Al’ev jumped down into the center of the room and watched as the disciple again emerged from the hall….only to be met full force by Zorebane’s spell. By the time the ball passed him, there were only cinders left of Al’ev’s opponent.
Al’ev took a moment to see where Mel and Nora where and watched as they knocked the second to last sconce from the wall. Al’ev cast a dancing light spell and watched as Mel did the same while she and Nora approached the final sconce. Glancing down at Tanidor Rolovir, he saw the elven man’s shallow breathing. Unsure of his condition, Al’ev began to move towards the captive just as Zorebane shouted out.
“Rrrrrah!” Something heavy slammed into Al’ev’s side and knocked him off his feet as Mel and Nora disabled the last sconce.
He thought he saw stars dancing before his eyes for a moment before he realized he was seeing his own dancing light spell and the flickering of the only remaining flame in the room.
No, not flame but hair! Al’ev raised his blade to ward off the flaming sword falling towards his face. His opponent was quite strong, Al’ev’s blade nearly flew from his grip.
Al’ev fought his way to his feet then engaged in a quick exchange of blows with Zorebane. The ifrit was panting fairly hard, but his blows did not seem to be getting any weaker as they went.
Al’ev caught movement out of the corner of his eye, apparently just as Zorebane did as well. A wall of flame shot out of the ground as the ifrit gestured, separating Nora and Mel from Al’ev.
“I will have none interfering in this. Even you will be hard pressed to disable that spell, cleric.”
Al’ev danced to the side of swing and ducked another. He attempted to dodge the third blow, but was unsuccessful. A loud clang sounded and a heavy pain erupted from just to the side of Al’ev’s spine. But the lack of moisture was enough to tell Al’ev that his armor had stopped the blow from penetrating skin.
He allowed the power of the blow to push him out of reach of Zorebane before he turned to face his opponent once more. But Zorebane had taken the brief break in their combat to cast another spell. An illusion stood where the ifrit was.
It fooled Al’ev just long enough to allow Zorebane to again get the drop on Al’ev. The pummel of Zorebane’s sword found Al’ev’s head and everything went black as he dropped to the ground unconscious.
Nora had just disabled the wall of fire when Mel saw this happen. She cast a spell to enhance her speed and soon found herself toe to toe with the ifrit. It was all she could do to hold him off long enough for their dwarven ally to catch up.
Nora reached the melee and joined in immediately. The ifrit, however, seemed fully capable of holding his own against both women as neither had the experience in melee combat that he had. He punctuated the difference in their skill when, seeing an opening in their defenses, he kicked Nora in the stomach, doubling her over while catching Mel’s sword arm in his free hand before she could follow through with her attack.
As the dwarf tried to recover, he grabbed Mel and threw her hard into the stone wall across the room. She was not able to immediately get back up.
Nora again engaged Zorebane before he could finish Mel off. She could tell his blows were coming less quickly, likely because he was tiring. But even still, he managed to knock Nora to the side with ease when she left herself open to a backhand.
She found herself on her backside and struggling to return to her feet as the ifrit, heavily panting by this point, slowly advanced upon her.
Nora was beginning to worry that this may be it until she saw Al’ev get back to his feet, and Mel do the same across the room. Al’ev, being closer, reached Zorebane first. It was obvious from the way the half elf wobbled as he advanced that he had not fully recovered from the blow that had knocked him out cold.
Zorebane must have heard him coming, for he intercepted the blade before it connected with his back and forced Al’ev away. He glanced over at Mel quickly, then at Nora who was now on her feet, then back to Al’ev.
“He wanted you alive, Sergeant. But given the trouble you and your friends have caused me here, I’m just going to have to explain that….” He swung his sword and knocked Al’ev’s blade to the ground. “you simply could not be taken.” Zorebane lashed out with a kick that brought Al’ev to his knees.
Mel started running as fast as she could to stop the ifrit from finishing Al’ev off, but as she lunged, she knew she would be too late. The ifrit pulled back his blade ready to take Al’ev’s head off his shoulders and swiftly brought it to bear.
The blade connected, but it connected with Nora’s shoulder as she jumped in front of it. The blade stopped, stuck in the dwarf’s bone.
Before Zorebane could tug it free and finish the job, Al’ev found his own weapon on the ground and shoved it around Nora and into the ifrit’s gut…just as The Halarian Blade found its way through Zorebane’s chest.
Shock was in Zorebane’s eyes as the flaming hair finally died with its owner. The body fell limp to the floor as Nora, already passed out from the loss of blood, finally came free of his blade.
Staring at the body for a few moments Al’ev finally brought himself back to the present. “Mel,” he started shakily “we need to get to Nora’s wound. We have to stop the bleeding. She cannot be another of his victims.”
Mel nodded calmly and placed a hand on Al’ev’s. “I would never allow that to happen to the woman who jumped in front of a blade to save you.“
She then moved to inspect the sword wound in the dwarven cleric’s shoulder. After a couple moments, Mel looked back at Al’ev. “He nearly took off her arm. If I’m not careful she may still lose it.” Al’ev watched in amazement as Melesteil Rolovir, the little girl who used to live down the street, cast a powerful healing spell that closed up Nora’s wound. “She lost a lot of blood, so it will be a few minutes before she regains consciousness.”
She looked back at him with an eyebrow raised. “You say that as if you’re surprised.”
“We should check your father.”
“There is no need for that. I’m quite alright, thanks to you three.”
As thought a lighting bolt straight of the past had just struck him, Al’ev suddenly found the strength to stand up straight. He put his hands, shaking not because of the recent fight but out of fear, behind his back.
There was only one man in the world whom he feared almost as much as his father, and that was Tanidor Rolovir.
Al’ev did not fear what harm Tanidor could do to Al’ev directly, no. The man was strong and intelligent, to be sure but even under the terms the two had last seen one another, Al’ev knew he had little to fear physically from this man. Emotionally however…emotionally Tanidor Rolovir held a weapon more potent than any sword.
“I thought I told you that you were never to see my daughter again, Reldin.”
“I thought I said that if you ever came near her again, I would kill you.” Tanidor said, as he grabbed the blade that had recently been freed from Nora’s shoulder then leveled it at Al’ev.
“DADDY!” Mel started forward but Al’ev gestured for her to stop. Otherwise he made no effort to protect himself.
“Well? What have you to say for yourself, half-dragon?”
“What is there to say, sir, besides the obvious? I came here to rescue you because I knew how much you mattered to Mel. I love your little girl, sir. And because I love her more than anything else in this plane of existence or any other, I came here to rescue someone I would hope to call family someday.”
A small grin touched Tanidor’s lips before he quickly hid it away. “And you let her come with into this hell hole to hunt that monster?“ Tanidor gestured at Zorebane’s corpse. “What have you to say about that?”
After a moment Al‘ev replied, “Have you ever tried to stop her from doing anything before, sir?”
Tanidor looked over at Mel then lowered the sword and looked back at Al’ev. “You have a point there, half-dragon. Now what’s this ‘calling me family’ business? Last I checked, you were a bit old to be adopted.”
Al’ev looked over to Mel, then back to Tanidor. “Well sir, this is not exactly where or when I wanted to be asking this…”
Tanidor waited expectedly as Mel drew in an audible breath.
“Reldin” Nora said weakly as she sat up “Just spit it out already. We all know what you’re going to say anyway.”
“Nora, you’re okay!”
“You won’t be if you don’t finish that thought.” Nora warned shakily.
Al’ev couldn’t help but blush a bit.
No turning back now…
“Sir, I wish to marry your daughter.”
“Hah! Ha ha, ha ha ha, hahahah!” Tanidor stopped to gasp for breath. “And you think I would allow this?”
“I can only do what my heart is telling me to do so I have little choice if I want to do this right.”
“A half dragon with a sense of honor…and you kept my girl alive through a fight with the man who murdered my wife while I was helpless.”
For the first time in nearly five years, Tanidor Rolovir smiled at the young man who used to live down the street from him.
“I only wanted to hear you ask and to ask correctly.“ Tanidor sighed. “Al’ev, I know it was not you who destroyed Halar. I know you have been through hell since I last saw you, what with the mess in Dorn and all.”
Tanidor chuckled. “You did not think I let all those letters go to my little girl without my screening them first, did you?”
Al’ev turned bright red almost as fast as Melesteil did.
“You ….you read those?!”
“Of course! But that doesn’t matter. I know how you feel about my little girl. I can see clearly how good of a man you are, despite your father’s blood.”
Tanidor took a deep breath before finally saying “I would be happy to call you son someday.”
“Daddy!” Mel ran over and hugged her father.
“What is it? Don’t tell me you want to take it all back now. A bit late for that.”
“I want nothing more than what you are offering me, but…”
Mel had a look of concern on her face. “Al’ev?”
“I cannot get married to you, Mel, no matter how much I crave to be with you for the rest of my days. At least not yet.”
“But why, Al’ev?” Mel asked, sounding wounded.
“Reldin ye be talking nonsense. Did he hit ye that hard?” Nora chimed while slowly standing up again.
Tanidor simply said “Let him finish.”
“I cannot get married to you, Mel, until the day my father is no longer hunting me. If I did, I would just make you a bigger target than you already are and he will use you and your father to get to me without hesitation. If my father knew what Zorebane obviously did by using you, we would be in much bigger trouble. In that we got lucky today, but even being lucky it still cost us your mother. So until that day comes when my father has stopped hunting me, we cannot be together. I‘m…sorry…”
He could see the tears welling up in her eyes so he went over to her to hold her for a while and all was quiet except her sobbing.
After a few minutes, they all made their way back out into the evening air of the forests of Quellion and, seeing night beginning to fall, they went a short distance from the cave to set up a makeshift camp.
“Al’ev, couldn’t we just run from him?” Mel finally whispered as they sat by a campfire later that night.
“No, he’d find us eventually. I could never risk you. Never.”
“Mel,” he put a finger up to her lips to silence her, “I know how much you want to be with me because I am the same way about you. This is tearing me up just to tell you this.”
She looked down at the dirt by her feet as Al’ev hugged her tight again.
“Mel,“ he whispered into her ear, “I promise that when the day comes that my father is no longer hunting me, I will come back and we will be married. We will be married and we will live out the rest of our long lives together happily.”
“Okay…but you had better come back or I will hunt you down myself.” She stammered out before the tears came again. She cried herself to sleep in his arms, no doubt the motions of the past few days finally overwhelming her.
Later that night Al’ev watched over the camp. Mel lay sleeping quietly, as did Nora who had nearly fully recovered from her wounds already. It was a moment before he located Tanidor. The elven man came up to him and sat down. He looked at his daughter for a while before he said “I will hold you to that promise you made to my daughter, Reldin…so. Take care of this problem with your father soon or else you will give me too much time to plan an elaborate wedding.”
Al’ev, despite the hardship that he would no doubt face in the days, months and years ahead, smirked before he looked up into the night sky filled with stars.
* * *
The next morning, the group awoke and Nora began to say her goodbyes.
“I expect to see an invitation to your wedding someday, Reldin.“ Al’ev chuckled at this. “And you, young lady. I am sorry you chose him. He is more than a handful.“
“Don’t I know it.“ Mel smiled and hugged Nora. “Thank you for everything.“
Nora turned back to Al‘ev, “I will let them know, Reldin, that you helped me get the scumbag, avenging all those we lost in the battle. It will not clear your name, not officially. But it certainly cannot hurt.“
“All I ask is if they send out people to come after me, you let me know before the dagger finds my back.“ He winked then hugged her. “Goodbye Nora. Say hello to Joshua and Nelya when you get back.“
And with that the dwarven cleric left for Dorn, hauling a melon sized bag containing evidence of Zorebane’s demise.
Later on that morning, after a quiet walk through the forest back to Caori, Melesteil, Tanidor and Al’ev found themselves outside the city’s entrance.
Al’ev let out a sigh before turning to Tanidor. “Sir, thank you. I’m happy you’re alright. Can I ask you to continue looking after Mel for me?”
“Try and stop me, not that she needs it…” The two men shared a quick laugh before shaking hands. “Take care of yourself Al’ev. Come back to visit from time to time.”
And with a slap on the back, Tanidor made his way back into Caori stopping only to tell his daughter he would be waiting.
Before Al’ev could say anything she locked him into a deep kiss. Several people passing by the entrance on the way into the city whispered excitedly as they went, but neither Mel nor Al’ev noticed. As far as they were concerned, in that moment, in all the planes of existence, there was only the two of them.
When they finally separated, Mel looked into Al’ev’s eyes and said “Don’t be gone too long or I will come for you, Al’ev.” She winked, then turned back to the city and walked away becaming lost to him in the crowds.
Al’ev found the first few steps back to his life in Kassadin to be very difficult. He wanted nothing more than to stay with Melesteil Rolovir. But he knew that his father was still out there hunting and he knew that every minute he was not doing something to end that was another he could have been with Mel.
The steps came easier as he journeyed back to the southern reaches of the human lands of Oskalon. A few weeks after parting ways with Mel, Al’ev was again looking through old books for any information that may help him someday end his father’s pursuit. But while his body and mind were in Kassadin, his heart and his future were in Caori with an elven girl who used to live down the street from him all those years ago.
Only his father stood in his way now and knowing that, Al’ev hoped it was only a matter of time before he could finally be happy again…