Chapter 3

"...Hey kiddo..." the angelic voice cooed into her ear. The words barely registered within her sleepy head. She was lost in the foggy maze of a lazy doze, somewhere in between slumberland and the world of consciousness. Lina didn't mind being here. It was rather cozy, actually. Snuggled up in the warmth of the cocoon provided by her blankets, the child felt she could stay there without another care in the world.

"...Time to wake up..."

There was the voice again. Couldn't it just let her sleep? Maybe if she continued to ignore it the voice would go away.

"...Come on, sleepy head..."

Something pricked at her ear, not like a sharp wooden needle, but rather something soft tickled it like a silken piece of thread. Whatever it was, it refused to let up. Her initial response was to roll onto her side so she was facing the other way, protectively sandwiching her ear between her head and the pillow. That did little to discourage her assailant. Now the other ear was under attack.

"Go...away..." her hand came out from beneath the covers to swat at the pesky thing.

"Don't you want any breakfast?" the voice pouted.

"Sleep more important," she mumbled back.

"Even more important than pancakes?"

That caught her attention. "Pancakes?" she rolled over, popping one lazy eye open. An image of a beautiful woman with deep red hair pinned up in a bun and brilliant green eyes that sparkled like emeralds in the sunlight focused in her line of vision. "What kind of pancakes?"

Her mother leaned in closer over the bed. "Your favorite."

The child instantly bolted upright in bed, tossing the wool covers aside. Her nose sniffed at the air, taking notice of a particularly pleasant fragrance. A mask of profound delight radiated from the junior sorceress as all thoughts of sleep were left behind. "Blueberry?" she beamed. "With melted butter and gobs of maple syrup?"

Katrina's thin red lips curved up in a smile at her daughter's enthusiasm. "Don't forget the applebutter topping," she laughed. "I went to the market early this morning and bought all the ingredients fresh. If you hurry and get cleaned up, by the time you make it downstairs I should have breakfast ready."

"You're the best, Mom!" Lina reached over to wrap her in a great big hug.

The mother's smile widened as she enjoyed the sensation of the hug before she finally had to let go. "Thank you, dear. Don't linger for too long." She rose up from the edge of the bed. "I'm sure you would hate for your food to get cold before you made it downstairs."

"Yes, Mom." She wasted no time in heeding her mother's advice. Burrowing into her dresser drawer and grabbing a handful of clothing, Lina bolted towards the bath, leaving a trail of socks and other clothing in her wake.

Soap. Lather. Rinse. A quick scrub behind the ears, a cool dunk in the water, and a little toweling off. She threw on her clothes and pulled her hair up in a ponytail. It was breakfast time!

Breakfast was hot and ready and waiting for her on the table. Three healthy stacks (healthy being at least eight inches tall by Lina's standards) of pancakes were neatly heaped atop her plate, fresh from the stove. Alongside those was a chilled glass pitcher of orange juice and toppings for the pancakes, all ranging from maple syrup to her mother's acclaimed applebutter.

Needless to say, Lina wasted no time in devouring her share of the meal.

Katrina glanced up in time to see her daughter shovel one of the stacks into her mouth. "Did you happen to see your sister, or is she already gone?"

"Nouph," Lina mumbled around a mouthful of pancakes. "Ie fimfth shee if gomph. Thiff is gref mumph!"

"Thank you, dear, but don't talk with your mouth full. You might choke."

"Yef, Mumph." She swallowed and washed it down with a glass of the tangy orange juice. "I think she already left for work. I didn't see her upstairs." Thankfullly.

"What am I going to do with that girl?" Katrina sighed as she watched the second stack disappear from Lina's plate, then the other. "Would you like some more, dear?"

She held up the empty plate with an eager smile. "Yes, please!"

Thundundant ... the series of three quick, heavy knocks from the hallway signaled the arrival of an early morning visitor.

"Lina," her mother asked, taking her plate, "will you please get that?"

"Yes, Mom." She jumped down from her chair and headed for the door. Out from the kitchen, through the family room, and into the main hall she went, ready to clobber whoever it was that was keeping her from her morning meal.

Thundundant ...

"Hold your horses!" Lina replied to the insistent knock as she approached the door. Pulling on the door she found it to be locked, which was a bit unusual. No one ever locked their doors here except at night. Mom must have set it out of habit when she came back from the market this morning.

Finally, she unhooked the latch and opened the door. "What do you -- ACK!!!"

"Look out!"

Lina was forced to jump back, flattening herself against the wall or be squashed by an out-of-control Lazlore. The runaway child whooshed pass her down the hallway, his arms wheeling about in an effort to keep his balance.

Delly wasn't far behind either. "Good morning, Lina," the elf smiled smugly to herself.

"What are you looking so smug for?"

Her Cheshire grin only widened. "Today, we're going to uncover what that namagomi is up to!"

"Oh give me a break," Lina sighed. "You're still hung up on that idea?"

"Haven't you noticed the way Master Rune looks at her? I bet she must have him charmed with some sort of glamorie," Delly said with a tone of certainty.

"A glamorie?"

"Honestly, Lina! Don't you know anything?! A glamorie is a spell a woman casts on men to bend them to their will or even make them fall in love with her!" Delly snapped. "We certainly don't want to have Master Rune fall in love with a wicked drow Temptress, do we?"

"From what I know of Master Rune's classes...they're called Charm Spells, Delly." Lina replied blandly. It was too early in the morning for Delly's 'I know more than you do' ego trips.

The young elf paused and flushed as she realized that Lina was right. "Technicalities! What's important is that we must break her spell and reveal her true intentions before she is able to fulfill her plan." She waved it aside impatiently.

"And that would be...?" Lina cast a suspicious glare.

"" Delly shyly scratched her head. "I haven't quite figured that out yet. But I know she and Master Rune are supposed to meet later today. That'll be out chance to see what she is up to."

"You've been scrying on them again?"

"No! I just... overheard them talking this morning," Delly twiddled her fingers and looked away.

"Overheard?" Lina asked suspiciously, raising one eyebrow.

"You don't think Shadowdancer infected Master Rune with any cooties, do you?" Lazlore asked as he came back to the pair in the foyer. He made for a strange sight standing there with his arms crossed deep in thought while moving in a circle around the girls without moving his feet. "Or maybe she's using some of that 'Woman's Magic' my father is always talking about."

"Women's Magic?" This was news to Lina. How come Rune had never mentioned it around her before?

"I've only heard bit and pieces about it from my dad," Lazlore continued to explain. "He's never said for certain what it was exactly, but I'm guessing it's almost like cooties. Speaking of which, I've noticed that cooties seems to be particularly infectious this season. Maybe we had better warn Master Rune that they are especially bad this year. I saw Jerome getting some the other day."

Delly peered around her flame haired rival at the boy. "And what makes you the expert on cooties?"

He puffed up his shoulders and chest to complement his pride-filled smile. "As I am the youngest artificer in Magical Constructs, the other students tend to forget my age. I've seen cooties get passed around plenty of times, and I know when the guys look at the girls THAT way I know they've got cooties bad."

"Ewww..." both girls chorused as a duet.

Lazlore circled around the girls again. "And just think if Shadowdancer has infected Master Rune with them. She could have him wrapped around her little finger. My father always complained how many of the world's greatest mages were ruined by women."

"See?" Delly nodded in agreement. "This is why we need to keep an eye on her. Who knows what she's up to."

The notion of cooties did give Lina a few thoughts of concern for her mentor. What if what Laz and Delly said was true? This could mean big trouble for them farther down the road.

"Guys, I think you're right," Lina looked to her two companions. "Maybe we should watch over Rune. We can't...Laz, would you stand still!" Constantly trying to follow him around the room was getting annoying and it hurt her neck. With him moving in his never-ending circle she had to keep craning her neck so as not to lose sight of him. "You're making me dizzy!"

"Whoops! Sorry. Just give me a second."

"What is he doing?" Delly asked as she watched him move farther down the hall.

Lina began tapping her foot against the floor as she waited impatiently. "Why are you asking me? Do I look like I know what goes through his head?"

"Well, you both are human," came the snide remark.

"I'm sorry. Did you say something?" Lina snorted.

"Don't act like you didn't hear me."

"You're assuming I even listen to you in the first place."

One pointed ear twitched at the irritating remark. "You little -- "

"Look out!"

The girls were forced to jump to either side or be squashed as the Lazlore came speeding down the hallway again in the opposite direction. With a loud THUD the blond haired boy crashed face-first into the wall behind them.

"Itai..." he slumped to the floor, clutching at his flattened nose. His glasses followed him a moment later.

They rushed to their teary-eyed peer's aid.

"What did you do that for?" Lina asked while she grabbed his shoulders, forcing him into a sitting position while Delly started a healing spell to prevent any bleeding or bruising.

"To stop..." he rubbed at the sore spot. "I haven't decided where to put the brakes on these things yet. Itai..."

"Stop that!" the elf scolded, batting his hand away. "You mess up the spell every time you do that, and I have to start over."

"Brakes?" Lina glanced down at his feet. Tied to the bottom of each boot was a set of four small gray wheels. Each one was about two inches wide and two inches tall. What new toy was he tinkering with this time?

A minute passed and the healing for his nose was complete. He sniffed once and looked at Lina, immediately noticing where her attention fell. "This is my new invention," he wiggled his foot around to demonstrate. "They allow me to move about without having to strain myself with the burden of walking or running. All I have to do is give them a push every now and then, like I was doing earlier, and I can move around freely. But I still need to put in the brakes."

Silly boy and his crazy inventions... Lina grinned. She noted Delly was silent. It seemed she was even intrigued by the new discovery. "So how do these things work?"

With a smile he grabbed one of his feet, twisting the foot around so she could see the bottom of his boot. If Lazlore loved anything more than playing with his inventions, it was explaining how they worked. "See how there are two sets of wheels; one placed behind the other? They're all equally spaced out so my weight is evenly distributed when I stand on them. Right now I have them connected to these braces so I can simply strap them to my boots whenever I want to.

"Once all that is done I shift my weight onto one foot and then push off with it." He paused to replace his wire spectacles on his nose. "Last night I went out and practiced all over the town square. No one was there so I had plenty of room. I found out I can move pretty fast-not as fast as a man running his fastest, but I can still move pretty fast. And I can keep doing it without getting tired. It's really easy," he beamed. "Wanna try?"

"Maybe later," after you build the brakes, she added mentally.

"What do you call them?" Delly asked.

"Sandlewagons!" the boy beamed happily.

A giant sweatdrop clung to Lina's head. "Sandlewagons?"


"That's stupid."

"I like sandlewagons," Lazlore pouted.

"She is right," the elf maiden agreed. "It is a rather ridiculous name."

Lazlore's face heated to a bright red. "Oh yea? Why don't you two come up with a better name!"

"Okay," Lina smiled. "How about footwheels?"

"That name sucks!"

"Footwheels?" Delly arched an eyebrow toward her female companion.

"Yea, footwheels!" Lina continued on as if she never heard the two. "That's a cool name! And that's what I'm gonna call them! Footwheels! I am such a genius sorceress!"

"Hey, I invented them!" the boy protested as he tried to steal back the credit that was his. "I'm the genius!"

"I'm the genius! I came up with a better name!"

"They're my invention! I'm the genius!"

"No, I am!"

"I am!"

"Are not!"

"Are too!"

"Are not!"

"Are too!"

"Oh, would you two stop already!" Delly burst out loud. "We have more important matters of concern than who should get credit for creating those stupid...things."

"They are not stupid!"

"Alright. They're not stupid, but even so...we do have other things we need to be on the look out for. I say we sneak into you-know-who's room and find that mysterious box. I for one want to know what she has in it."

"You still want to do that?" Lina groaned, keeping her voice down low to ward off any unseen ears. "Rune has already caught you once. Keep this up and we'll all be in trouble."

"Lina, I think she has a point," Lazlore's voice breathed softly into her ear. "What if Delly is right? What if Shadowdancer does have Master Rune charmed with some type of Women's Magic? He could be in big trouble and never realize it. I've seen plenty of other students in the same situation. You wouldn't believe the strange things they do. Like yesterday, I saw Jerome buying all sorts of gifts for Venesa at the market. He must have spent nearly five gold on chocolate and flowers alone. Then she went shopping and made him carry all the packages she bought."

"Maybe we should check up on them." The thought of Rune under the control of someone else was unsettling in Lina's mind.

"Hah!" Delly laughed triumphantly. "My words of wisdom have finally managed to soak in through those thick skulls of yours! I told you drow can't be trusted." Grabbing each of her peers by the hand, she began to pull them toward the door. "Come on. First thing we need to do is sneak into Master Rune's study and open that enchanted chest of hers."

"Not so fast!" Lina snatched her hand back. "Just a second. I need to let my mom know where I'm going. Mom, I'm off to Rune's!"

"Already?" her mother's head popped out from the kitchen doorway. "I thought you wanted some more pancakes?..." Katrina's voice drifted off when she noticed Lazlore and Delly standing alongside Lina. "Oh, we have guests."

Delly curtsied then smiled. "Good morning, Lady Inverse."

Lazlore quickly followed her example. "Hello, Mrs....Mom," Lazlore caught himself. He'd been in the Inverse household long enough that Lina's mother insisted that he call her "Mom" as Lina did. Katrina had taken the young mage under her wing, but Lazlore still had to fight the habit of calling her 'Mrs. Inverse.' Laz grinned at his surrogate mother and pushed his glasses up his nose.

"Hello, children," she smiled, holding a stack of blueberry pancakes. "We were having breakfast. Would you care to join us? We're having blueberry pancakes."

The other two looked at Lina. Lazlore's tummy rumbled at the mention and the sight of pancakes. Delly rolled her eyes, but looked back at the plate in Katrina's hand.

"Oh I guess we have time," the flame haired child replied. "Let's eat!"

Into the kitchen they marched. Within a few minutes Katrina had breakfast ready and waiting for them. Each of their plates were stacked high similar to the one Lina had eaten earlier. Pitchers of cool, fresh milk and fruit juices sat ready to be poured. Pots of yummy homemade toppings and sweet, golden honey waited to be dribbled. Lina and Lazlore instantly dug into the blue-speckled hot cakes while Delly stared dumbfounded at the plate that was piled high with food. Being the only member of the Terrible Trio who had not eaten at the Inverse household before, she was unaccustomed and unprepared for the amount that had been set out for her.

" this all for me?" the elf asked with a nervous twitch.

"Is something wrong, Delly?" Katrina teased. "Perhaps it is not enough. Would you like some more?"

Lina swallowed another mouthful and grinned. "Don't worry, Delly. Mom always fixes more than enough food to feed an army."

"Really? Gee...that's um..." Her eyes bulged out as Katrina added more pancakes to her plate, making each of the three stacks half again as tall. "All of this is really just for me?"

"More?" the pan was offered with another set of fresh hot cakes waiting to be claimed.

" thank you. This is plenty for me." Delly eyed the plate. She wasn't sure if she would be able to finish even half of it now.

"Better hurry and finish that, Delly," Lazlore snickered, briefly looking up from his plate. "We don't want to be late for class." He wolfed down a stack, gulped down a tall glass of milk and held out his plate for more, just as Lina did. Katrina beamed, ruffled their bangs affectionately, and filled the empty plates to overflowing once more. "Unless you need help," the artificer-in-training offered, before diving hungrily into his meal.

You'd think he hadn't eaten breakfast at the Guild already! She narrowed her eyes at the boy. "Pass the syrup, please." With a sigh, she set into the task before her.

His gentle fingers traced the length of the blade, marveling at the craftsmanship, both magical and non-magical, that must have gone into forging such a questionable item. It was a beautiful yet grotesque piece of work.

The hilt guard was composed of a dragon's skull with the crimson double-edged blade protruding forth from the open maw. A simple spine-like protrusion from the base of the skull served as the handle while a pair of reptilian wings stretched out to either side, providing further protection as part of the hilt guard.

The material of the magical weapon itself seemed to pulse with a beat of its own unnatural life. At his touch streams of magical energies shot forth, caressing at his fingertips with the intimate touch of a lover. It was an intoxicating feeling promising power and wealth, anything beyond one could ever dream of. All that was required in exchange was the fulfillment of one simple demand...

Surrender to me...

"It's sentient," Rune whispered breathlessly as he snatched his hand away. His ruby eyes were wide, having sensed the power that lay in the heart of the blade. "And it is also very, very evil."

His companion, the auburn haired drow female that barely came up to his chest, approached the table of which the sword was lying upon. Producing a small wool blanket from her sleeve, the dark elf carefully wrapped the sword within the makeshift sheath, being especially careful not to touch the blade itself. Once she was completely certain it was safely bundled up did she return her full attention back to the blue haired mage.

"A little over a week ago I relieved this, along with a matching suit of armor, from the hands of several human mages," Shadowdancer explained as she used a piece of twine to tie off each end of the blanket.

The mage cast a suspicious glare at his friend. "That wouldn't happen to have been around Elmekia, wouldn't it?" he asked, arching an eyebrow her way.

"It was," she admitted with a smile. "Has news of my little escapade managed to reach the ears of the mages all the way out here? So quickly too! Amazing."

"That 'little escapade' as you put it has netted a bounty on your head for about five thousand gold pieces," Rune scolded. "The mages that survived the destruction of the guild there must really want it back. What were -- "

"Five thousand?" Shadowdancer mused. "That's all?" For a moment, Rune felt like shaking her. She sounded so disappointed!

"Oh get over yourself." The true value of her talents was not something he wanted to debate at the moment. "What were you doing in Elemkia, and what were those third-rate excuses for wizards doing with something this powerful?"

The drow sighed, putting on a tired smile for her friend. Where to begin? There was so much to tell. "The sword I have shown you is but part of a weapon known as the Dragonsbane Regalia. The matching armor, which comprises the rest of it, is safely locked away inside my chest. Together they form a formidable weapon created by one of the five Mazoku Lords, specifically Deep Sea Dolphin, to hunt Ryuzoku. The sentience you felt reach out to you was part of the essence of a Mazoku that was infused within the weapon to increase its power.

"As for the mage guild in Elmekia, I am not aware of how the Regalia came to be in their possession. I simply did not have time to uncover that information. When I received word they had it in their possession I immediately set off to retrieve the weapon."

"Well, we know the outcome to this story, don't we? So tell me, were you also responsible for destroying the guild?" Shadowdancer was more than capable of doing so, he knew. Rune also knew that in her mind, the lives of two hundred or more mages weighed against the havoc the Mazoku could wreak on the world with such a weapon was a very cheap price to pay.

She chuckled at his snide remark. "Sorry to disappoint you, but no. I'm afraid credit for that goes to a mid-level Mazoku. No sooner had I escaped from the guild did the Mazoku level the entire place." She grinned at him and winked. "I suppose it was very upset at not having been able to rescue the Regalia nor kill me."

That made him feel a little easier. A lot easier, actually.

"So why bring it here? I'm no artificer."

"I need your help to destroy it."

"You think I have the time to spare to research that thing and devise a way to dispose of it properly? Have you looked at my students? I have my hands full trying to prevent them from blowing up the guild daily."

Shadowdancer's midnight-blue eyes widened in shock. "You mean an occurrence such as the one yesterday is common place with them?"

"As if you never did anything destructive in your time, but yes, it is a daily routine for them. Just last week they nearly flooded the basement. Lazlore borrowed a Decanter of Endless Water from his father for an experiment. He ended up losing the lid to it, and by the time he told me about it there was three feet of water in the room he had left the decanter in."

Shadowdancer couldn't help but giggle.

"Oh that's not all. A few days ago Lina accidentally left a bottle of invisible ink in my study. I wrote nearly half a dozen scrolls before I realized the words would disappear a few minutes after I had finished.

"Then there is Delly. A month ago she managed to learn the enlarge spell. Tell me, have you ever had to deal with a fifty foot long rat?"

"No, but I have fought a fifty foot slug before..." the dark elf shook her head at the blue haired mage. "If they cause you so much grief why do you continue to teach them?"

Rune smiled. "Each of those children has a great potential for magic, so much that I believe they could even rival the mages of old. If they were tutored by anyone else their talents would all be put to waste by some old fogey who wouldn't want to be shown up by his own apprentice.

"I have actually taught those children very little, only what they needed to know. I taught them how a spell matrix works, and that is all. Whenever I give them an assignment I never tell them how to do things. I tell them what I want done and let them surprise me with their results. Even you would be surprised if you saw what they can do, Shadowdancer.

"I allow them this freedom so they may work to their full potential. Unfortunately, it does have its ill side effects as you've seen. I've already lost my dividends from the guild for the quite some time. If I were anyone else I wouldn't recommend someone do as I've done. Most mages have neither the funds nor the patience to support their activities."

The dark elf chuckled to herself. "You sound like the teachers I had when I was their age...with one fundamental difference. They don't have to come close to killing you to show they've succeeded."

Random images of the Terrible Trio throwing fireballs, mono volts, and other dangerous spells came to mind. It was a bit of an unsettling thought. "I should hope not," he replied with a sour tone.

"But that is why I am asking for your help -- "

"I told you I don't have the time," Rune snapped. "If you need the help of a good artificer I can recommend you to Laz's father, Lezard Ragandi. Well, being an artificer is more of a hobby for him. He mostly deals with research involving alchemy and homunculi, but he's still one of the best artificers around. His wife, Lenneth, even gives him a hand from time-to-time as she is a chimera specialist."

"You seem to misunderstand what I need. I don't want help from Lezard. I want it from you! I simply don't have the time to find this Lezard, and you, I know, I can trust not to be influenced by this thing," she gestured towards the folded up blanket. "The Regalia also has the uncanny knack for slipping into people's minds to manipulate their actions."

"Oh really? And how would you know so much about it?"

"It has been tempting me to take and use its powers to hunt Mazoku with." Shadowdancer retorted, impatiently. "It speaks to me, telling me to wield it..." her voice dropped to a whisper, and her eyes glazed over. "With it, I could sense the very presence of Mazoku in a city, and pinpoint their very locations...killing them would be easy...oh, so very easy..." A nearly feverish gleam overwrote the glaze of her eyes, dimming the star-like pinpoints in the dark blue irises. "I could more easily detect those who have been corrupted by Mazoku influence, and with a simple cut of the blade, sever their connections from their Mazoku puppet-masters..."

Rune froze. Even as she spoke, Shadowdancer's hand inched toward the wrapped and bound blade. Earlier, she would not have touched the blade with her bare hands. Now she spoke as though longing for a lover's passion, and the words of doom that tumbled from her lips turned his blood to ice. She longed for the pleasure of pain, of blood shed in murder... Rune snatched it from the table and held it out of reach. He gasped in surprise to feel the blade hot and alive even through the thick cloth of the blanket, felt it thrumming eagerly, shivering with a need to kill and destroy. Immediately, Shadowdancer turned on him with a snarl, her lovely hands curving into claws, eyes promising death only after she had ripped vengeance from his skin...

"WAKE UP!" he yelled, tossing the living blade behind his chair and catching her as she lunged for it. He stumbled backward as her face hit against his chest, and he held her up from the ground, expecting her to kick him or claw at his face.

She did neither, drawing a shuddering breath. Small dark brown hands went up to clutch at her tousled head. "No...lies...lies! I won't listen to you!" Shadowdancer said something in a tongue Rune did not understand, but recognized the chant as one of her disciplining mantras. She stiffened in his hands, then relaxed.

Warily, Rune set her back on his feet, but kept his hands on her shoulders, ready to fling her across the room if need be, should she try to get past him again. "Shadow...?"

"...Can I have some water please?" Rune led her over to a nearby easy chair and poured her cold, fresh spring water from a decanter. She gulped it hungrily as though she had just walked the breadth of the Desert of Destruction. Wordlessly, she held out the glass and he filled it again, his frown deepening as he noted the shaking of her hands. As the little drow drank, he looked at her with new scrutiny.

When she finally put the glass down, she looked up at him with haunted eyes. "I know what you're thinking. As a dark elf I should have far better mental shields than this, am I not correct? Especially a drow priestess-mage such as myself..."

Rune nodded. "Yet you nearly succumbed to the blade's spell." When she nodded, he looked even closer at her. "When was the last time you slept, Shadow? It's hard to tell with your complexion, but you've got dark circles under your eyes."

"I cannot sleep." Shadowdancer said softly. "I did, once...when I could not resist the need. I woke and found myself far from where I had camped, the Regalia in my hand, and I was heading straight for a lair of some white dragons I knew of..." she shook herself of the memory like a wolf shaking water from it's fur. "That was nearly a month ago. It had been whispering to me, even if I try not to listen. It is always in my mind, in my dreams and every waking moment..." She shook herself again, hugging her arms as though cold.

Abruptly, she stood, eyes stony with resolve. "And where," Rune drawled, "do you think you're going?"

"To take the Regalia far away from here." She replied. "It's created to destroy dragons, and I'm too close to Dragon's Peak..."

"Stop kidding yourself, Shadow. You wouldn't last another day with that infernal blade in your possession, certainly not without a good night's sleep..." Rune lazily waved his hand in the wrapped-up sword's direction, and sent it back into her trunk. When she looked at him, almost angrily, he held up a hand. "I should have known that you would ask for help only when you're desperate for it. And you're right...this thing shouldn't go to Lezard Ragandi. If the Regalia is cracking your mental defenses, I'd hate to think of how quickly it would make short work of Lezard's."

"You do not have time." Shadowdancer replied simply.

"I'll make time. You need rest. I don't fancy the idea of having to hunt you down and kill you after the damn blade's taken you over. That little hunting trip, I don't want to make at all...but I'll have to." He stood up and used the advantage of greater height to loom over her. "Especially if you hunt him down."

Whatever stubborn fight was left in the smaller drow woman fled at that statement. She let her shoulders slump in defeat and sighed. "If I were to die at anyone's hands, I'd like it to be at yours, my friend." She managed a wry grin.

Rune reached out and roughly messed up her hair some more. "Stone-headed drow." He rubbed his knuckles across her skull. "I'm a mage, not an executioner. I don't want to have to kill you, aren't you listening with those pointy ears of yours?" he pinched the tip of the nearest one. "Or are they just decorations after all?"

"Lazy human, too lazy to kill me even if you wanted to." she chuckled. "Speaking of your students, where are they? Or have you no lessons this day?"

"I do have classes with them today," the mage turned to glance out the window. Using the position of the sun as a time indicator, he frowned. "They're late. I had probably better go see what is keeping them. But first, it's off to bed with you."

"I'll be fine," the dark elf tried to argue. "I can -- "

"Hush," Rune silenced her by placing his finger over her lips. "You can sleep in my room. You won't be disturbed there. I've cast a ward of silencing over the door so even if my students came in and blew up this room you would never hear a thing."

She gave him a funny look. "Has that happened before?" She looked around, expecting to see scorch marks on the walls.

He smiled. "I'll just say I don't like loud wakeup calls." One hand rose to point towards the bedroom door while the other grabbed Shadowdancer by the shoulder as she attempted to stifle a yawn. "Time for bed and no sneaking away. You've already martyred yourself for five hundred years. If you do it again I will come and hunt you down."

Shadow managed a small laugh. Relief washed through her at the thought of being able to get a decent amount of sleep. "I won't run away."

"You had better not. I have wards set around this place that even you have never seen."

"I find that hard to believe," she challenged, regaining some of the spark in her eyes.

A snide grin spread over his face, the one that reminded her of a cat playing with a mouse it had just caught. The mouse might believe it has a chance at escaping, but the cat knows better. "Just try it," he warned. "I won't be responsible for any lost limbs, deformations, curses, or other ailments that occur as a direct result of you trying to leave unexpectedly. Attempting to dispel my wards won't work either. I also have several mechanical locks in place that require a key, a combination, or even both."

"I am to be your prisoner?" she pouted.

"Consider yourself one until you've recovered your strength. Now shoo!" He opened the door to the bedroom, directing the dark elf inside. "Get some sleep, else I will be forced to use a spell on you."

"Thank you," she smiled, stifling another yawn.

"No problem. Pleasant dreams." He shut the door behind her. Once he heard the door catch he quickly double-tapped the handle with his finger, setting the magical lock to bar the door.

At the moment he had other things to worry about. Right now he was wondering where his students were and why they were late. It was unlike them to miss a lesson. Pausing to reset the wards on Shadowdancer's chest, the blue-haired mage realized he didn't know the command words for the warding spells that were woven into the wood of the trunk.

Well, I can't leave it lying open like this...Who knows what she has in here? His brow crinkled as he saw the more obvious things on top-clothes, random weaponry, some books and some cooking utensils. He knew that the chest was much deeper though, as he had once seen Shadow climb into and disappear completely inside. He also remembered that it had taken her a while before she showed up again with the item she had been looking for at the time. Rune smiled at the memory, then shook himself out of the past and into the present. He scowled for a moment in concentration, then cast in rapid succession a slew of wards and charms to protect the chest.

That will have to do for now...

Before leaving he rose and listened at his bedroom door for a moment. Hearing the thump of a body falling solidly onto the bed, he managed a chuckle. He made for the door, making sure as he left all the magical wards and the mechanical locks were set throughout the room. Even if Shadowdancer did attempt to leave it wouldn't be easy. There was even a specially made ward on the door that was triggered to go off as a last resort of sorts. Rune grinned. If anyone tried to go in or out without knowing how to disable the ward, they would get a very nasty surprise.

With a final glance towards the bedroom he shut the door, unaware of the three pairs of eyes that watched his movements from down the hall.

"Come on, Laz! We don't have much time!"

"I'm trying." Tinkering with the mechanical lock on the door was proving to be quite a challenge for the young artificer. He had already been picking at it for well over five minutes. Magical Constructs had given a brief crash course in lock picking for the future archeologists who would spend a fair amount of time digging through earth and hidden chests, but it had never covered anything this complicated.

They had been watching from around the corner of the hall when they spotted their mentor exit out of his room. With no sign of Shadowdancer they knew this would be their best chance of sneaking in to see what she had hidden in that magical chest of hers.

"Hurry up!" Lina whispered from farther up the hall. The girls had taken watch on each side of the hall should any of the guild's staff be prancing around inconveniently. Things would not go well if they were caught trying to sneak into Rune's quarters. They had already hid three times, after Lina had dispelled the wards on the door. They were lucky that no one had passed by for some time now.

Lazlore continued to work, trying to unlock the catch. "Why does Master Rune have a lock on his door anyway? He's a powerful mage. Why doesn't he just use more magical wards to keep people out?"

"What?!" came the reply from the opposite direction. "Didn't you pay attention at all to his lectures? 'Never put too much faith into magic for there will always be someone better than you. Rezo, the Red Priest, may be one of the greatest mages of this time, but a mage of old such as Shazaard Rugandi easily dwarfs his abilities and understanding -- '"

He was tone-deaf to the rest of Delly's explanation, even if it did involve discussion of his distant ancestor's abilities. His focus went back to the task at hand. If he could just jiggle the pick this way and then move it that way... click...

The door swung open without a sound. "I got it!" he cheered. "I got it open!"

"Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go in!"

"Delly, wait a second -- "

She already had one foot in the door. "No time! Someone could come along any minute."

"But Delly, there's still one more magical -- "

"I bet I don't want to see this." Lazlore covered his eyes with his hand to hide them from the next impending misfortune that was about to befall the elf.

A muffled cry echoed from within the room of which Delly had disappeared into.

"I did try to warn her."

Lazlore dared a quick peek between his fingers. "What happened to her?"

"Take a look," Lina gestured. "After you."

Warily, he poked his head in. The sight that greeted his eyes was a bit unusual. All he saw was a pair of small feet standing in a growing puddle of water. Everything else was hidden from view beneath a giant overturned washtub.


A pair of gloved hands moved into view as they came out from beneath the wooden tub to grip the rim. The tub was flipped over and away, landing with a thump several feet away before evaporating into the air. Revealed before him was a shivering and blue-faced elf soaked to the bone.

"C-c-cold..." her teeth chattered out in response as her arms hugged each other, trying to retain as much body heat in as they could. Her usual shiny blond hair now clung to the sides of her face in soggy wet clumps. Water dripped everywhere from her, feeding the puddle at her feet. The green dress she had worn had soaked up a good portion of the water and now looked like a wet rag.

"What happened?" the confused Lazlore scratched his head.

Lina came up behind him. "That was the last ward on the door. Anyone who doesn't use a key has to watch out or have a tub full of water summoned from the icy north dumped on them. It happened to me once. It's not fun."

"Achooo!" Delly agreed.

"Wow!" Lazlore exclaimed, peering at their drenched elf friend. "You've got icicles hanging off your ears!"

"Here," Lina guided her over to the fireplace where a small pile of kindling had been neatly stacked on end, ready and begging to be used. Plopping the elf onto the bearskin rug in front, she spoke, "You sit here while I start a fire. Laz, you try to find that chest. I bet Rune went out to look for us so we won't have much time."

"Right." And off went Lazlore to immediately search around the room.

Several Flare Arrows later they had a small blaze going for Delly to warm up with. Meanwhile, Lazlore shuffled through the room, looking behind the chairs, under Rune's desk, and even behind the bookcase until at last he discovered what he sought hidden in the far corner of the room.

"Here we go!" he hefted the black oak chest onto the table in the main room. "I found it!"

"G-g-good job," Delly stuttered from where she huddled in front of the fireplace. With Lina's dry cape wrapped around her shoulders and the growing heat of the fire, she was slowly beginning to show signs of thawing out. Most of the icicles had melted enough to the point where they lost their cohesion with her skin, falling to the stone floor in groups. The cold numbness that had consumed her body was slowly being replaced with a faint tingling sensation as circulation began to work itself back into her limbs. But despite all of it her body still convulsed with the occasional shiver. "N-n-now we can expose that d-d-dirty namagomi for all that she isssssaaachooo!!!"

Lazlore's greedy fingers roamed over the smooth surface of the hardwood, trying to feel for a crack, seam, or even a hinge that might open, but he found none. "How do you suppose we should go about opening this?"

Lina walked over, pushing the young artificer out of the way. Using her mage sight she carefully glanced over the chest, giving it her own personal inspection. Strange. The magical weavings of the wards were very similar to those that Rune regularly used. There was only one major difference that separated these from his others: The weave of the spells used here had been made tighter as if they were set in place to seal away whatever it was they were protecting. It sort of resembled a cage more than the typical protection spell.

"Can you get it open?"

"I think so." Even with as tight as the weave was, she might be able to loosen the strands of magical energy enough so that with Delly's help they could temporarily disable the wards. It might take a little bit of time, but she was sure they could do it.

Lina smiled. She loved a challenge. Stretching both arms out with her fingers interlocked between each other, she popped her knuckles to warm them up for some heavy-duty spell casting. "Laz, stand back! Let the genius sorceress supreme do all the work. Time to crack this baby open!"

Chapter 4   |   Fanfiction