“Time to wake up,” a voice said. Jorn stirred in the light of the morning that was coming in through the windows and door of the building he was sleeping in. Jorn sat up from his bedroll and looked around and saw Tachol standing in the doorway.
“Do you ever sleep?” Jorn asked.
“Yes, just not as much as humans do,” Tachol said. “Besides, I needed to tend to Ahavah. She was pretty worn from yesterday’s grueling flight from Neuasut.”
Jorn got up and put on an extra layer of clothes, feeling the chill of the air on his skin. He then got his cloak and wrapped himself in it and ate a bite from his provisions, and took a swig of wine from a bottle that he had opened already.
He then reached for his sword and tried to lift it with his one good arm. He was able to hold it but moved it around some in the air and held it out straight. “I’m not going to be able to use this without my other arm,” he said.
“You should try a scimitar or something light,” Tachol suggested. “And I think I know just where to get one. Follow me.” Jorn put on his boots and followed Tachol out of the building, where he walked through the maze of streets. They came to a larger building, and Tachol opened its double doors, revealing a hall that was empty except for a stone chair at the other end of the room. Light came in through the room’s windows, but it was otherwise dim and strewn with debris. Tachol led Jorn near the stone chair and then went into an antechamber off to the left of the chair. In the corner, there was a large stone box, sealed shut. Tachol placed his hands on the cover and whispered a word. Jorn could hear the sound of stone grinding on stone as the cover of the box lifted and then slid off.
“This stash is leftover from when we had a presence here,” Tachol said. “Come. Have a look.”
Jorn walked over to the box and looked in and saw a cache of different artifacts, including a few blades of various sizes. He pulled out two of them, a one-handed sword with a mirror finish on the blade and a golden hilt about three feet in length and a curved scimitar, slightly shorter but thinner and lighter. He picked up the one-handed blade and moved it about, swinging the blade and thrusting it. He then repeated the same exercises with the scimitar.
“I’ve never been much for a curved sword, but this one is remarkably well balanced, light, and incredibly fast. What is this made from?”
“It’s elven steel, the same stuff the Paladin’s sword is made from.”
“I’ll take it,” Jorn said.
“You don’t need to sharpen it. Just remember to wipe the blade when you’re done with it, and it will last a lifetime.”
“How is it that it doesn’t need sharpening?” Jorn asked.
“That’s the secret of the steel,” Tachol said. “We elves imbue the blades with magic, so they hold a form, and should they lose that form, they will return to it, including the edge.”
“Is there anything that you don’t use magic on?” Jorn asked again.
Tachol thought for a moment, “Clothes. We don’t use magic on clothes.”
“I guess I can forgive that then,” Jorn smirked. He placed the straight blade back in the box, and Tachol resealed it. As they went back to the building where Jorn had slept, Jorn slashed the air with the blade, taking stances and working his feet to get accustomed to the new blade. They got back to the building, and Komir was their standing.
“I see you have a new sword,” he said. “It should serve you well. You’re a master of the craft.”
“I hold my own,” Jorn said. “Now, about Camon. When can we be underway?”
“Eagar to leave?”
“I figured it would be best to get there sooner than later. The Inquisitors will want to make a spectacle of him, and they will parade him through the countryside, bragging about how they captured a mighty Paladin. If I can spare him the humiliation, I think he would appreciate it.”
“You seem confident, and though haven’t done much to hone your new abilities,” Komir warned.
“You sound like the Paladin,” Jorn said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nevermind,” Jorn said. “Am I confident? No. Far from it. It’s just that my friends are in trouble and need help, and Camon is counting on me.”
“I understand. I just think it’s brash to rush into things,” Komir said.
“I’ve never been one for ceremony. When I was studying the sword, my teacher had a hard time getting me to do exercises. I appreciate them now, but I learned by sparring. I sparred every chance I got, and that’s how I learned the craft. If I’m to learn how to use this magic, then I need to use it in battle.”
“You’re no good to Camon if you die trying,” Komir said.
“I know. But I have to try.”
“I understand, but heed the warnings the Paladin and we have given you. Ration the magic, and you won’t grow tired. It won’t take much to take down one or two men. Combine it with your blade, and I think you will have a chance. Use strategy, as Camon does.”
“I will,” Jorn said.
“Get your things. I will take you on Tzachor to the Northern Province, and Tachol will follow on Ahavah. We will wait for you. Once you have the Paladin, we can then bring you to Rhatsaan, where you can get a ship to find the Chozeh.”
Jorn sorted through his things, leaving the big sword behind along with many of the clothes Camon had left. He wrapped everything in a tight bundle and was ready to go. They all went down to the portico where Ahavah and Tzachor were perched. The great white bird was larger than the black bird, standing at least a head taller. Both were equally fierce, though. Komir adjusted his saddle and bags and brought out a set of goggles and a mask for Jorn. He then suited up in his cowl, goggles, and mask. He helped Jorn with the mask and goggles and then helped Jorn mount the bird on the saddle behind his own. Then as quickly as he had said a word, he was on the bird and patted her neck. The great creature whirled about, hopped, then dove off the portico, picking up speed. Jorn held on for dear life as she plunged earthward. She then spread her wings, and Komir leveled off far below the precipice of the cliff. Soon, Tachol atop Ahavah joined them in flight. The two great birds turned northwest soaring out over the forest below. Jorn looked down, seeing the world as he had never seen it before. Everything looked small and still, but he knew otherwise. The wind was brisk against his body, and he tried to stay hunkered as close to the bird as possible behind Komir, who kept his gaze forward as they went onward and upwards. Jorn looked back to the mountains, and he could see the Migdalor pulsing in the morning light, wondering how long it would stay like that.
They continued for the rest of the day soaring over the northern forest, this time choosing a route more south of Maenamsam. That evening, they landed in an open field to let the birds rest and regain their own strength. Jorn went on and on about the experience. The two elves listened but didn’t really pay much attention. Jorn, with their help, practiced his magic some that night, too, holding fire and learning to control its intensity. Finally, before going to sleep, Jorn ate from his provisions. He slept soundly through the night and was awoken the next morning before sunrise. Within fifteen minutes, they were airborne again out over the northern forest. By midday, Jorn spotted the highway threading its way through the forest, and the two birds turned north. When the Neuasut tower appeared on the horizon, the two birds went low, staying just above the treetops to avoid being seen. They then came to an open meadow to the west of the highway in the forest and then landed. The elves dismounted, then helped Jorn off Tzachor.
“It’s your job now to bring Camon back here,” Komir said. “We cannot help you beyond this point.”
“You’ve already done so much,” Jorn said. “We are in your debt.”
“Just make sure the Paladin gets back here alive,” Komir said.
“I will,” Jorn assured. “You have my word.” Jorn then unbundled his things and wrapped his cloak about his shoulders and put the sword at his waist. He then used a piece of rope to bind his bad arm in a sling before setting out. He walked through the forest to the east. After about half an hour, he came to the highway and turned north along the way. He walked resolutely, and as quickly as he could, favoring his bad leg. He came across an Imperial patrol and stopped them.
“What is it?” the lead soldier bemoaned.
“I heard a Paladin was captured, and they are bringing him to Rahtneua. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of him as he came by. Do you know when they are supposed to be by here?”
“You’re in luck,” the soldier said. “They will be passing by here later this afternoon if you want to catch a glimpse. It should be quite a spectacle. Those Inquisitors are quite proud of their catch.”
“It’s not every day you actually see a Paladin, much less catch one,” Jorn said. “Most folks don’t even believe they exist.”
“This is so. This one they’ve been after for a while now, though. And Inquisitors aren’t one for making up stories.”
“You have a point. Thanks for the information,” Jorn said.
“Yep,” the soldier said, then the company went on their way.
Jorn went along the road a little further north, looking for a wide-open area that was relatively flat. He found one about half a mile north of where he met the soldiers, and he found a log at the edge of the forest near the clearing and sat down and waited. As the moments passed, he could feel the nervousness growing in him, but he used the void to help clear his mind and calm his nerves. He checked the road and watched farmers and other travelers going to and from the town. Nobody paid him much mind.
About an hour later, he saw a throng of people coming up the road in a grand parade. Jorn knew this was his cue, so he went to the edge of the road and watched many people ahead of a wagon lumbering down the road. The wagon was led by a horse, who’s rider would not let anyone between himself and the wagon. Jorn observed a company of a dozen Inquisitors, six on each side, and a driver who drove a team of four horses. Another rider picked up the tail. Jorn waited for the wagon to get closer. The throng hurried further ahead down the road past Jorn. The leader then hollered out, “Make way! Make way!”
Jorn backed off the road a ways as the leader approached, but then dropped his cloak and removed his new blade from his side and stepped into the road. The wagon stopped, and the Inquisitors unsheathed their swords. The leader wheeled his horse and stared at Jorn in disbelief, “What is this?”
“Give me the Paladin,” Jorn said. “And no one has to get hurt.”
The leader laughed aloud, “Are you a fool? Is this a joke? No! You may not have the Paladin. Now get off the road before I have these men cut you down!”
“I warned you,” Jorn murmured.
“Men!” the leader gestured. “Remove him.”
Jorn saw Camon looking out from the side of the wagon, and he nodded at him. The twelve men came at Jorn, and Jorn turned, keeping one shoulder to the leader and the other towards the Inquisitors who came at him with their weapons. When they approached, Jorn summoned the magic, pointed his sword at the leader, and unleashed it. The bolt jumped from his blade and struck the man on the horse who fell to the ground writhing. The horse reared, the turned and ran south. The Inquisitors stopped dead in their tracks as Jorn turned to face them. The throng that had gone ahead of the wagon heard the commotion and were now backtracking to watch.
“Let him go,” Jorn shouted.
The Inquisitors did not say anything, but then with new resolve came at Jorn. Jorn pointed the blade at them as they came closer and let out a bolt that struck two of the men in the front of the column, and they fell to the ground writhing as the power arced across their bodies. One of the soldiers commanded that they fan out, and they started to encircle Jorn. Jorn let out another bolt, and another one dropped, but the circle continued to form. Jorn then charged at the men between him and the wagon. He could feel his leg throbbing in protest, but he met the men with a clash of his blade against theirs. He parried one and slashed the man across the neck, and he dropped. Jorn then continued on towards the wagon. The Inquisitors came after him in pursuit. Jorn got near the wagon, but the driver snapped the reins, and the horses took off. Jorn sheathed his sword and leaped on the wagon as it passed. It stormed past the Inquisitors. The driver did not realize that Jorn had got on the wagon. The Inquisitor at the tail went into a full gallop to catch the wagon.
“You could have picked a better place to ambush them,” Camon said. “My sword is in the jockey box behind the driver.”
“I can’t get to it. My arm is bad. Take my sword, and you get it!”
Camon reached for the sword and pulled it from Jorn’s waist and then went over to the door of the prison wagon. “You’ve upgraded your blade to elven steel!”
“Yeah, now just use it!”
Camon struck the lock several times with the sword before it gave way, and the door flung open. Camon then got out of the cell and climbed on top of the wagon. By then, the tail rider had caught up and was signaling to the driver, who turned and saw Camon on the roof. He pulled the wagon to a halt and turned to face him. Jorn dropped off the side of the wagon and saw the footmen running to catch up with the stopped wagon. He ran to the front of the wagon and started to climb into the driver’s box. The driver drew his sword and went at Camon, who quickly parried the advance, but was unable to get an advantage. Jorn grabbed the reins and was about to pop them when the remaining Inquisitors caught up to the wagon and grabbed the horses to keep Jorn from driving off. Camon advanced at the driver and sent an upward cut intentionally at the driver’s blade. The elven blade cut through the driver’s sword, leaving him with nothing but the hilt. Camon then advanced again, knocking the driver off the roof onto the road below. Jorn reached into the jockey box and removed Camon’s sword and climbed on top of the wagon to join him.
“Eight of them, two of us. We’ve seen worse odds.” Jorn said.
“Indeed. But we can’t get to them from up here.”
“I can,” Jorn commented. He then proceeded to point his blade at one of the remaining Inquisitors, and he sent a bolt at the man, who fell backward writhing in pain. One of the remaining Inquisitors grabbed the side of the wagon and started lifting, and the others joined him. The wagon began to come off the ground on one side and then started to teeter. Jorn and Camon crouched as the wagon tipped, then finally went over. They sprang from the wagon as it crashed on its side. The horses at the front reared in fear, pulling fiercely at the tack and pulled the wagon away. Camon got to his feet, but Jorn was on his knee. Camon reached down and helped him up.
The two swapped blades, then Camon ordered, “Fall back. Use the lightning as a ranged attack. Just try not to hit me.” Jorn got behind Camon, who then, in turn, ignited his sword. The Inquisitors advanced on Camon and Jorn, and Jorn struck another one with a bolt of lightning. They fanned out and started to flank Camon and Jorn. Jorn let out another bolt striking one down. The remaining Inquisitors rushed in, three at Camon and three at Jorn. Camon rushed to meet the attack, but at the last minute, sidestepped the Inquisitors and whirled his blade at one of them who threw up his sword in defense. Camon’s sword cut through the blade and struck the man in the arm. The Inquisitor dropped the sword and grabbed his arm, howling in pain. Camon then turned to the others, who had retreated. He rushed them, but they continued the retreat back. Camon then turned to help Jorn, who was facing down the three Inquisitors. They circled about him, paying no mind to Camon, who attacked one from the rear. One let out a warning, but it was too late. Camon slammed the pommel of his blade into the man’s head, and he went down. Jorn then released another bolt, and the second one dropped. The third one retreated and joined his companions that were a ways off by now. Jorn unleashed another bolt at them, striking one before the final two went into full retreat.
The throng that had gathered around was silent, but then murmurs went through the crowd as they looked at Jorn and Camon standing next to one another, panting.
“You have to get back to the elves,” Jorn said.
“You’re coming with me,” Camon responded.
“My leg is busted. I can hardly walk, much less run.”
“We don’t have to run anymore. As long as you can manage a walk, we should be fine. Which way are they?”
“West, in a clearing about two miles from here. Those Inquisitors will be back soon, but with the entire company of Imperials from Neuasut.
“And they have to go all the way back to the town and return. We’ll be long gone by then. Now come on.”
Camon sheathed his sword, as did Jorn. Camon then went to the remnant of the wagon and freed one of the horses from the entangled mess. He helped Jorn on the back of the horse, then he himself went on foot in front of the horse, leading it westwards across the cleared land adjacent the road. The throng followed but did not dare to speak to them. Jorn and Camon then disappeared into the forest. Jorn helps Camon retrace his steps back to the clearing, reaching it faster than he had left it.
“Good to see you again, Kadoshkashim,” Tachol greeted.
Komir came to their side. “I am Komir,” he greeted Camon. “It would seem that you rescued Jorn, not the other way around.”
“It was a team effort,” Camon said. “Jorn definitely held his own. We’ll debrief later. These woods will be crawling with Imperials in curious onlookers soon. We’d best get going.”
The elves outfitted Camon and Jorn with the goggles and masks then helped them onto the birds, Camon on Ahavah and Jorn on Tzachor. The elves mounted up, and then as quickly as they had arrived, the great birds lifted off with Tzachor in the lead. They flew low over the trees south for a while before turning back to the southeast. They then gained altitude and soared on to Rhatsaan.