In his study, Nadir Payne sat and watched scenes flash by in has mirror of neighboring Farcross. He saw Tobias Gara as he went for place to place talking with the high ranking noble of that city. He knew Tobias was plotting against him. He was building a force to come to Bellshore and attack Nadir. They wanted his secret, his power. His ring.
[Yes.] Said the voice in his mind. [Tobias his always been jealous of you. He never liked you.]
"That's not true." Nadir said. "He's my friend. I have nothing he wants."
[You have me.] It said. [He wants me. He wants my power. He's going to come here and take me unless you stop him.]
"NO!" Nadir got up and waved his hand in front of the mirror cutting off the images. He turned and went to the window and looked out at the sleepy city of Bellshore. There were very few people out on the streets of the city except his guards. Nadir had set a curfew on the city a little over a year ago after his sister Celia had betrayed him and went to Farcross to plot with Tobias to over throw him. But he had caught her when she was trying to sneak back into the city. He knew she had come back to make sure the gates would be open for the attack. Now she lay in the dungeon with all the other traitors he had caught in the city. The mayor and the city council, all of them were down there in the dungeon.
[That's right. you can't trust anyone but me!]
"Quiet!" Nadir yelled. "I need peace and quiet to think!"
[All you need is me.] Said the voice. [I know what's best for you.]
"I said SHUT UP!" He screamed sending a bolt of energy out to crash into a wall and blowing a hole through it. With a groan, Nadir walked out of his study. He was tired of all this. The voice and the responsibility of the city and its people. He just wanted to sleep. Sleep for a thousands years.
"BUT THEY JUST WON"T LET ME SLEEP!"
[You can sleep when our work is done. Right now we have to much to do, to many enemies to defeat. Like the Vampire in the dungeon. You know he is only the first. Soon more will cone. Mark my words.]
Who is he? Nadir thought. Why is he here? Could he be here as an advance for an attack? But why would the Vampires want to come all the way out here when they have their own lands to rule over?
[BECAUSE THEY'RE AFTER ME!!!]
"SHUT UP!" Nadir screamed pulling at his hair. "JUST SHUT UP!!!"
From his upstairs hall, Nadir stormed his way down through his tower to the lower floors then down into the dungeons below. The smell down there was horrible from so many unclean and unkempt people. He kept his prisoners fed but that was about all the care he had given them. Care for the prisoners had been Jukal and Celia's responsibility until they had become prisoners themselves. Now with them in cells, the only attendant down in the dungeons were a small team of men from Bellshore's guard force.
As Nadir walked through the halls, he was disgusted but the conditions down there. It was cold and dirty. It was dark, wet and crowded. This was no place for humans to have to live, even if they were prisoners. Nadir stopped and looked around. He hadn't been down here in more then three years. He had sent prisoners here, but he had no idea that the conditions were so bad. What was he thinking?
[All these people deserve to be right here.] The voice said. [They are your enemies. Why do you care what conditions they live in. They will all die soon anyway.]
Ignoring the voice, Nadir moved on until he found the cell they guards had put the Vampire in. He took a key from the nook at the side of the cell and went in. There he found the Vampire along with his sister Celia and his ex apprentice Jukal chained to the wall. Celia didn't look well. Her hair had gone gray and was matted, she looked thin and pale. And so did Jukal. He looked like he was starving to death. This was his family. What had he done?
[What have YOU done?] The voice screamed. [They did it!! They betrayed you! Have you forgotten both of them were plotting against you! Stop being so weak!!]
"SHUP UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!!"
As he screamed, Celia pulled herself into a ball and tried to hide herself in fear. Jukal also pulled away.
"Who are you Vampire?" He asked Ranjer." Why are you here?"
"My name is Prince Ranjer Dragomir Zlenka Tyr." Ranjer stood up. " I am the second son of King Valkar Zlenka of Yadessa and ward to King Drake Tyr of Tir Na and I want to know why you locked me here in this dungeon?"
"You are here because I caught you spying on be out near the river." Nadir said. "Why were you there?"
"Spying?" Ranjer said. "Was I really? You caught me standing in the river. I WAS coming to the rescue of those children that Gator thing attacked. I would have introduced myself had you not attacked me and given me a chance."
[He lies!] the voice said. [He's after me!]
Ranjer stepped back his eyes narrowed at Nadir as he smacked himself in the head. Ranjer knew what was going on. It was the ring.
"Who is he talking to?" Celia asked terrified of her own brother. Jukal tried to get up and limped out a few feet.
"Why are you here Ranjer Tyr?" Nadir asked. "I have no quarrel with with the Vampires or the Werewolves. What do you want?"
"I want that." Ranjer pointed to the ring on Nadir's left hand. "I know what it is."
[SEE!] The ring screamed in his head. [I TOLD YOU HE WAS HERE FOR ME! KILL HIM NOW!!]
Nadir raised his hands ready to fight and blast Ranjer. Ranjer just spread his arms with his palms up.
"I'm not here to fight you." Ranjer said. "I'm here to save you, to keep you from becoming as bad as the monster that the man that owned the ring was. Do you know who owned that ring before you? I'm here to take it and put it some place where it can never hurt anybody again."
[HE LIES!] The ring screamed! [KILL HIM! KILL HIM NOW!!]
Nadir grabbed his head and staggered back away from Ranjer to the wall near Celia. As afraid of her brother as she was, she still loved him very much and wanted to help him. She got up and wrapped her arms around him and tried to comfort him. When she touched Nadir, the ring reacted. It sent out a pulse of power that threw her away and back against the wall. Celia hit the wall, screamed and fell to the floor.
[KILL HER!!!] The ring screamed to Nadir. [KILL HER NOW!! DO NOT LET HER TOUCH US AGAIN!!]
"NOOOOO!!" Nadir yelled. He grabbed the ring and tore it off his finger and threw it against the wall and ran to Celia. "Take it! Get it away from me!"
The second he took off the ring, the spell on the cell dropped and Ranjer and Jukal felt their magic return to them. Ranjer shifted to mist and the chains on his legs slipped off. He turned to go pick up the ring and realized Jukal already had it in his hand. Jukal stood there staring down at the ring as it glowed brightly. He could already hear it trying to talk to him.
"If you put that ring on." Ranjer looked deeply in Jukak's eyes. "This will all start again, but this time it will be you hurting people. I know your mad with Nadir but the ring caused all this, not him. But if you put that ring on, you may become even worse then he was. Is that what you want?"
"No." He reached out and put the ring in Ranjer's hand. "I don't want anything to do with that damned ring. I'd give up my magic before I let it do to me what it did to Nadir."
"I'm sorry Jukal."Nadir sat there hugging Celia. "I didn't know it would turn me into a raving lunatic. If I had known, I would never have put it on. Who's ring was it anyway?"
"It belonged to a warlock named Bram Thorne." Ranjer told them. "But it was made by another warlock who he killed to get it. It's still possessed by the warlock who forged it. My friends and I, were trying to collect all of his rings before he gets them and turns Taggitia into a wasteland of death."
"Then take it please." Nadir said as he helped Celia to her feet. "And get it away from Bellshore and let us heal ourselves from the madness it put us through."
[Ranjer] Quynn sent. [We're here. Do you need help?]
[No Cousin. I'll met you at the river in twenty minutes.]
With the ring of light in his pocket, Ranjer said good bye to Jukal and Celia and made Nadir promise to release all his prisoners from the dungeon. He accepted Nadir's apologies and followed Jukal out to the court yard of the tower, shifted to his condor form and was off to meet Quynn and the others. His flight took less then ten minutes and he was flying in to join his friends.
As he touched down and shifted back to his normal formal, Ranjer went to meet the others. Quynn grabbed him in a big hug.
"You had me so worried when I woke and found you were gone."
"Well I got this so I guess it was a good thing," He held out the ring to Myor. "Where do we go next?"
"We head for the next ring." Myor told them. He sat down and closed his eyes to orient himself on the next location. His mind traveled up and out of the valley of Bellshore. It flew out over the mountains then turned south east deeper into the tall peaks of Roann. There, Myor saw a cave carved into the side on a mountain and he streaked straight toward it. From there he dived down into the cave and moved through a tunnel into a cavern where he found a series of structures carved into the side of the cave walls. There he stopped. Myor knew the ring was somewhere in this cavern. He opened his eyes and looked up at Quynn, Ranjer and Yarden.
"I know where to go." He climbed up on his feet. "We go southeast. We're going underground."
The sun had just risen as the clocks in the enchanted high towers of Mystwinter chimed 6 am to started the new day. The priest of Ayduin were out as usual saying their prayers to the morning sun while the adepts worked to make sure all altars and temples were set for the days activity. In the royal palace of Mystwinter, breakfast was on a tray and being served to the royal family as Eldar the oldest brother of King Tarron made his way through the city and into the palace. He greeted the guards at the families private entrance, then stopped in the kitchen and ordered his breakfast to be sent to his office. From there he went to the kings office and spoke to the kings secretary and issued orders for the kings visit to Fay Shrea later in the week. He was to visit Eventide, Nacnar and Bellas before going north to Winterhaven and Yadessa. It would be Eldar's job to set up travel arrangements and organize protection and make arrangements with each city for his visit and housing.
Once in his office, Eldar started work going over the weeks reports on trouble around Mystwinter's borders and any and all matters of criminal activity. Once he was done with the reports, his decisions and advise would go to King Tarron for his final decisions and judgments. With breakfast finished and all the reports for the week read, Eldar went to see his brother the king and his wife for their daily visit.
"Quel amrun tan." Tarron smiled as he finished his breakfast and pushed his plate away. "How fares the empire today?"
"All is well." Eldar smiled. He came in and kissed the Queen good morning then took a seat at the kings side. "We had a problem with Gremlins raiding in Aesar and Halfar but I sent troops to round them up. Both cities report the problem has been taken care of."
"Very good." King Tarron smiled. "Those Gremlins can be such a pest. Anything else?"
"Well, Baron Erlan of Conell and his neighbor Baron Ievos are fighting again." Eldar poured a cup of coffee and took a sip. "Those two can never seem to agree on anything."
"What are they fighting about this time?" Tarron asked.
"Land of course." Eldar said. "They both claim that small piece of land by the river that runs right between their property's. One runs cattle and the other sheep. Neither wants the other to use it to water their livestock. I had to stop them from dueling over it last week."
"I will take care of it." Tarron said. "I'll declare the river as royal property so they both have no reason to fight over it. They either agree to share it or go find another way to water their animals."
"Good idea." Eldar nodded. "I'll have a decree ready for you to sign later today. Oh, before I forget. You should have a talk with Sir Jhaarteal. Lady Mavrel came to see me yesterday."
"Stop." Tarron held up his hand. "I know what this is all about and she's right. I can't allow him to continue acting in such a manner. But I'm not quite sure what I can do other then demote him for conduct. And if I do that, he will be completely humiliated."
"I understand." Eldar agreed. "But something must be done before this situation is really knocking at our door. We have to protect Lady Mavral and her children's honor too. I don't want to see that house fall from this."
As they talked, Queen Marissa had gotten up and walked to the window and noticed the gray skies and a storm moving in. She looked hard at the sky thinking this wasn't right.
"There's a storm moving in." She called to her husband and his brother. Then she turned to look at the Elemental globe that sat on the mantle over the fireplace on the other side of the room. It glowed bright and golden indicating clear and sunny weather. She looked again at the storm. It was dark and rumbled with lightning flashing through the clouds. Then, as she watched, a lightning bolt flashed down and struck a tower causing it to explode into flames. Tarron and Eldar jumped from their chairs and rushed to the window.
"By Rimnar!" Tarron stared out as the tower burned. "What in the world happened?"
As they watched, lightning stared to streak down, striking again and again all over Mystwinter. In a matter of minutes fire raged all through the city. Wind exploded, blowing like a hurricane, fanning the fire to an even higher degree as the people of Mystwinter ran trying to find cover. In three quick strikes, the road out of Mystwinter exploded sending people flying all around. Eldar pulled Tarron and Marissa away from the window just as the wind sent a piece of rubble crashed into it.
"This is no natural storm!" Eldar said. "There's magic behind this. Quick, you have to get out of here to somewhere safe!"
"How?" Tarron asked him. "The road out of Mystwinter is gone! We can't ride in this with the wind tossing everything around!"
"You go like this!" Eldar stepped back and raised his hands and started gathering his magic. "Take care brother, I'll come find you when this is over!"
FROM HERE TO THERE.
AND PLACE TO PLACE.
FROM MYSTWINTER'S PALACE.
TO SOMEWHERE SAFE.
I SEND YOU NOW WITH SPEED AND HASTE.
I SEND YOU NOW AWAY FROM THIS PLACE.
As Marissa and Tarron hugged each other, Eldar's spell swept them up in a swirl of light and took them away. With a final prayer for their safety, Eldar turned and ran as rocks and debris rained down through the palace. He ducked and he dodged as he ran through the palace. He used his magic to levitate a heavy beam off of two guards and helped them out of the palace, then headed out into the front courtyard.
With his shields protecting him from the wind and lightning, Eldar looked around to see if anyone needed help. Off in the distance, he saw a group of people hiding in the remnants of one of the gate houses from the palaces front gate. With the wind blowing like it was, there wasn't anything he could do. They were trapped for now. He had to think of some way to stop the storm or Mystwinter was doomed.
Thinking quickly, Eldar went through what he knew about storms. He knew that warm moisture rising into cold clouds caused storms. So if he sent a strong enough blast of heat up into the storm, he should be able to disrupt it's rotation and put an end to the storm. He himself didn't have the power for such a blast, but he knew something that did,.
Reaching in his pocket, Eldar pulled out a golden ring that had a huge bright red ruby set in it. He rarely ever wore this ring because of who it once belonged to. This was one of Bram Thorn's possessed Elemental rings. Eldar slide the ring on his finger and before he could do anything, a voice rang out in his head.
[Aiya Elf.] Eldar felt a cold chill run through his body. [I knew one day something would drive you to put me on. I will obey your command and work for you, but there is a price.]
"I don't have time to make bargains with you." Eldar shouted as the wind sent a wagon wheel to crash into his shield. "Mystwinter is being destroyed and this is my only hope to save it."
[Then agree to my terms.] It said. [They are very simple. Kill Bram Thorn.]
"Bram Thorn is already dead!" Eldar. "He died many years ago!"
"Then you have nothing to worry about. Just agree to those terms. If he should even find a way to come back, you must kill him.]
"I AGREE!!" He said. "NOW BLAST THIS STORM!!!!"
Like a streak of lightning, a bolt of heat blasted out from the ring and went up straight to the heart of the storm. The clouds rumbled and boiled as the heat of the blast evaporated the moisture rolling through the storm cloud. As Eldar watched, the winds died down and the lightning stopped. The dark clouds cleared and sunlight shined through the parting clouds. As Eldar dropped his shields, the Elves hiding in the gate house stuck their heads out and looked up at the sun. All around the devastated kingdom, Elves started coming out to start searching for anyone hurt in the storm. It took all day but by nightfall, most of the fires were out and though there were still many ruined buildings to search, people started to relax.
Eldar returned to the palace and made his way in to the throne room. Half the castle had been blasted to rubble and the household staff were still busy cleaning up. Eldar stood at the throne and looked at the blasted out walls. Precious family heirlooms lay scattered everywhere burned by fire. He sat on the throne and sat back and looked out through the hole in the ceiling. He didn't understand what had happened. He knew they had enemies, but who could be strong enough to control such a storm.
Suddenly there was an explosion right in front of Eldar. He shielded his eyes and leaped away trying to keep from being blinded by the blast or hit by the flying debris. With the dust cloud billowing all around, Eldar stepped out to see who it was that had attacked Mystwinter. As the dust cleared, a tall man in dark robes with wild straggly hair stepped out into view. Eldar stared at him in shock, he couldn't believe what he saw.
"Hello Eldar." Bram Thorn smiled. "You have something that belongs to me, and I want it back!"
The hour was late and the forest was dark as Niro, Bly, Rowyn and Hoddie made their way down the road to Mystwinter. They had ridden hard all day trying to keep up with Bly and Rowyn up in the air. Now Akhrua was tired and they were hungry, so they had stopped for a short break before moving on. Bly and Rowyn had decided to scout ahead while Niro and had their quick lunch. Now it was night and they were back on the road. Bly was eager to get to Mystwinter. She had been having this terrible feeling all day that something was wrong and they should hurry. Now they were almost there. Mystwinter was only a few miles ahead.
As they walked, Sima started acting strange, scenting the air and growling. Niro reached out and run his hand over her back.
"What is it Sima?" He asked his feline companion. "What's bothering you?"
[Smoke.] She sent. [Something burns.]
"It could be the cooking fires of Mystwinter." Hoddie said. "We are close to the city."
[Not food.] Sima sent. [Me smell fear and smoke. And blood.]
"I don't like the sound of that." Niro unbuckled Stormfury. "Bly, you should go up through the trees to check on the city. There might be trouble ahead."
"I will be back shortly." She shrank down to her fairy form and zipped up into the trees for a look. She waved between branches until she made it to the very top of the trees and looked east at the city of Mystwinter.
[By Serina's sword!] She sent. [This can't be!!]
"What is it?" Niro called up to her.
[Mystwinter burns!! It's in ruins!]
They knew that couldn't be a coincident. It could only mean one thing. Bram Thorn had been here. Someone had to get to the palace and see how Eldar and the royal family was. Bly flew down and hovered before Niro and Hoddie.
"I'm taking Rowyn and we're going to the palace to check on Eldar." Bly said nervously. "You and Hoddie hurry. We might need help fast."
"Go!!" Niro said as he jumped on Akhrua's back and pulled Hoddie up behind him. Rearing up on his hind legs, Akhrua galloped off down the road toward the smoking city.
High up over the forest Rowyn and Bly sped toward the smoldering city. Down below they saw city wizards as the conjured and directed water from the river at various fires around the city. Elves in lines with buckets dowsing houses and shops that were burning. There was a big gaping crater that run through the city, Elves were using ropes to climb down and search for survivors. Rowyn had never seen such devastation before in her life. She so wanted to go and help the people but there really wasn't that much she could add to what they were doing. She had magic, but nothing she strong enough to do much good here.
[Bly.] She called to her companion. [Is there anything we can do to help here?]
[We can go and see how the royal family came through this.] Bly answered. [They may need our help. Look ahead, there's the palace in ruins.]
Ahead they saw what was left of Mystwinter's beautiful five tower palace. Only two towers were still standing. Lightning had blasted the other three towers to rubble. Scorch marks blackened the ground in the places where the lightning had hit. Dead Elves lay scattered and piled all around the gates of the palace.
As Bly and Rowyn reached the front gate, they saw palace guards and a few of the house staff running a make shift hospital out in the front courtyard. Any and all healers from around the area were they busy tending to all the wounded and hurt victims of the tragedy. Rowyn dropped down to land with Bly perched on her shoulder. They went to a guard they saw helping direct citizens to were they could find food, first aid and maybe even lost relatives.
"Excuse me." Rowyn said. "Can you tell me what happened here?"
The Elf looked up at them. His arm was bandage and there were bandages wrapped around his head and chest. They could tell he was in pain. Rowyn reached out and touched his arm sending warm healing strength all through his body. The look of pain faded away and he sighed with relief and smiled.
"Diola lle arwen en amin." He smiled and bowed to them. "Now I can breathe much better."
"I wish there was more I could do." Rowyn said with a small smile. "What happened here?"
"There was a storm." He said. "It came at us with no warning. One minute the sun was shining and the next, lightning and wind was blasting everything. We tried to run but it was already too late and there was no where to hide."
"What about the king and queen?"" She asked. "Did they make it to safety?"
"I don't know." He said. "I saw Lord Eldar out here helping people for a little while, but I haven't seen King Tarron or Queen Marissa. I hope they're somewhere safe. They will be needed to help rebuild."
"Lord Eldar." Bly said. "Did you see where he went?"
"Back into the palace." He told them. "But that was more then an hour ago."
"We're going in to check on him." Bly flew up to hover in front of the guard. "We have friends on their way here. A Human and a Goblin, please don't be afraid and let them pass when they get here."
"I'll send out the word to let them in." The guard said. "Be careful going in, the floors can't be very stable and there are a lot of blocked passages and fallen walls."
"We will." Rowyn said as they lifted off and flew up into the castle ruins. Together they went from room to room looking for any of the royals. They saw many bodies and a few wounded. Rowyn healed those she could, but there were some buried that they couldn't get to. Rowyn made a mental note where they were then sent a message to Niro and Hoddie to hurry. Niro answered telling her they were right outside and coming in. With Niro on his way, Bly took off to search while Rowyn stayed to help with the rescues.
From the third floor, Bly flew down and searched the second floor and the royal offices. There were dead guards and officers of the court but none of the royal family. Having been in Mystwinter castle once before, Bly knew the throne room was located on the main floor. She flew out a window and went down and in through a kitchen window. From the kitchen and into the pantry, Bly zipped into the main hall to where the great doors to the throne room were. She flew down to the floor to land then shifted to her larger size which had the strength to push open the doors. With the doors open, Bly carefully walked in. The floor in front of her had collapsed and had fallen down into the dungeon area. Bly spread her wings and sailed across the gaping hole and moved on into the throne room. As she looked around, she saw the devastation of the throne room. All the window were gone and the east wall had been blown apart. All the furniture had been swept all through the room and most of it was broken to pieces. King Tarron's throne was located in the rear of the room to the north. Bly flew on to the knocked over throne hoping that maybe Eldar and the king and queen had taken shelter in one of the protected rooms behind the throne.
When Bly reached the throne, she started for the back rooms when she heard a moan. There was someone's legs sticking out from behind the throne. She hurried over and pushed the throne out of the way and found Lord Eldar Mystwinter laying there his body all crushed and broken,
[Rowyn!] Bly called out as she got down and lifted Eldar's head into her lap. [I found Eldar. He's hurt, I need your help fast!]
"It's to late for me." He opened his eyes and looked up at Bly. She wiped blood from his mouth as he coughed. "Bly, he took the ring. He came and he brought the storm. Bly, he used it and he destroyed Mystwinter. You have to stop him before he can destroy everything."
"Eldar, where's the king and queen?"
"I sent them away." He said weakly. "Find him and destroy him....
Then Eldar Mystwinter let go of his last breath and died.
As Rowyn, Niro and Hoddie ran into the room, they found Bly sitting on the floor cradling Eldar's body.
"We're to late." She said. "Bram's been here and he killed Eldar and took the ring."
"What about the king and queen?" Rowyn asked.
"They're safe." She said. "Eldar sent them away before Bram attacked him."
"Now what do we do?" Hoddie asked.
"We do as Eldar said." She laid Eldar down and covered him with one of the Mystwinter tapestry's. "We find Bram Thorn and we destroy him."
On the outskirts of Mystwinter, Canius Regulas watched as the elves worked to clean up after the terrible storm. Word had gone out through the survivors of the death of Lord Eldar and how a Fairy, a Human, a Goblin and a Sky Elf were at the palace healing and helping with the recovery of some of the people trapped in the devastated city . Canius had no doubt that it was Niro and his friends. He was going to watch and wait and follow them. He would let them collect as many rings as they could find, and then he would strike and take them. All he needed was time, and that was on his side.