Vanguard Oakenfold: Mage Dwarf

††by m. james moore

The following chapters are an unfinished novel(la)-length story currently in the works that frequently gets taken up again then set aside as the muse prompts. The entire story has already been contrived in great detail as far as down to individual chapter-like scenes, whereas all is needed to do is merely write each scene. Even written in any order, the scenes would fit when merely arranged in their outlined formula. The scenes below are those that have been written and run from beginning to the next sequential scene is written -- that is, scenes that skip ahead are not included (as the ending is already completed) but only up to the point at which a cohesive story is presentable.

Introduction

††It was running right for him, and it didnít appear happy to see him. Rosenbo, not accustomed to running, decided to dash for it-having never dealt with a twelve-foot Master Ogre barreling upon him in a fit of fury.

††Rosenbo whipped behind a tree, removed the ring from his hand and threw it to the ground. The thick surrounding of narrow trees helped disguise his dwarfish figure and aided him in his escape, but the Master Ogre seemed to have no problem toppling them over with his seven-foot, oval, iron shield and equally fearsome five-foot spiked club.

††Rosenbo himself only a hair shorter than half a man, peered around the tree hoping his brown leather armor-surely no match for his opponentís club-would at least hide him amoung the color of the surrounding bark. The tall green grass didnít help.

††Then Rosenbo had an idea. If he could get at least the club or the shield out of the way, heíd have a much better chance of taking the beast down, despite their obvious size difference. For Rosenbo was no ordinary dwarf, but a High Made Dwarf, spoken of by many a storyteller and sung by many a bard. He decided to enchant the club.

††Cupping his small callused hands together if making a snowball, he brought them to his lips and whispered, "Mercy.." into the pin-point of light now beginning to glow. He uncovered the light, called a kyrie, and held it close. It twinkled brighter and brighter, and seemed to grow even more as the sun began to set, the sky gradually growing a deep purple.

††The Master Ogre, meanwhile, being as dumb as they are to begin with, was confused, and scratched itís large head with the narrow end of its club wondering where the munchkin he was headed toward had burrowed off to.

††Being a Master Ogre is, as it may sound, an honor--that is, if you are another ogre hoping one day to become one, but Rosenbo felt no particular good fortune of being nearby such a warrior.

††In a fit of frustration, the Master Ogre drew the massive club diagonally upward and took a powerful swing, toppling a great number of trees in one fell swoop. One of those trees landed near Rosenbo, giving him quite a spook. He fell to the side, loosing the kyrie, which floated away like a daffodil seed in the soft breeze.

††Now kyries are a special sort of ability, as they tend to do as they please, depending on what you whisper to them. They do still have some aspects you can control, as they are obligated to follow the mageís instructions.

††Rosenbo pointed to the kyrie of mercy and it stopped in midair, as if paying attention. He gestured to it to enter the club, without saying it aloud. The kyrie knew what he meant and floated about once again, being rather cautious.

††Rosenbo wasnít fond of kyries, as they sometimes didnít understand exactly what he wanted. The Master Ogre caught sight of him, though, and came charging again.

††Rosenbo put his hand upon a nearby fallen tree, used an energy-draw technique and it withered immediately. Rosenbo was rejuvenated slightly. As the Master Ogre came rushing up to him, Rosenbo vanished and reappeared quite quickly nearby another fallen tree, to perform the same energy-draw technique.

††He did this a number of times more.

††Soon the Master Ogre was growing weary of charging and missing so many times. Rosenbo was just as strong as ever, and now stood face to face with the weary warrior in the clearing the ogre had made moments before.

††The hairs on Rosenboís neck stood on end, and it felt as if they were trying to jump off his back and arms. Both arms outstretched and fingers spread wide, he concentrated on his purpose and his Creator.

††The beast before him grew restless, especially as Rosenbo inhaled deeply, holding it tight.

††Trees began to rustle. Bushes swayed without wind.

††Blades of grass shivered beneath him, and pebbles began to float in midair.

††Despite being a dwarf wearing basic, stout brown-leather, a tall, pointed, wide-brimmed hat, and simple black leather shoes, he knew at once the Master Ogre would be no problem.

††His closed eyes opened to reveal two sparkling orbs with a great grey fire within. Teeth clenched but lips closed, he cracked a smile, and knew heíd reached the point in his preparation he needed to be. Bark began to fly from nearby trees.

††His aggressor stood ready to block anything Rosenbo had to deal, gigantic club and shield at the ready, but soon demanded action.

††"For what do you wait, scrunch?" boomed the deep hollow voice.

††Rosenbo did not move, but to wide his stance slightly. His hands began to glow.

††"Parlor tricks are nothing to me. Move, or I will." Said the smelly brownish-gray Master Ogre. Sweat dripped from its head, bearing proudly the crown-like bones out of his skull.

††Rosenbo simply stared at the Master Ogre towering over him at least nine feet more, looking directly into its eyes. The Ogre grunted.

††With lightning fast speed, the ogre slammed its spiked club into the very spot Rosenbo stood. He withdrew it, seeing nothing but a depression in the grass-some soil tilled up from the spikes.

††Rosenbo had not been nailed into the ground. He was quite safe, for the moment, floating, upside down, to the ogreís right, near the arm that held the shield.

††Rosenbo put his wrists together. Grey color churning in his eyes, he felt the familiar build-up of energy within and set forth a blast of light and power into the Master Ogre, whoíd just realized his miniature foe had moved.

††Hardly getting a chance to block, an edge of his shield had melted white hot, and quite spooked from the sudden flare of heat, the Master Ogre wanted to clobber Rosenbo with the seven-foot disc.

††A block would have been mostly unsuccessful, as much of the Master Ogreís shield had begun to bubble like a melting marshmallow, its owner now furiously shaking a burnt hand. The rest of the scalding oval soon resembled nothing more than a heap of glowing muck of yellow and orange, searing the grass underneath. The ogre took another swing at Rosenbo with the only remaining defense, the huge club.

††Rosenbo again, in direct line with the club, vanished in a squealing blur, reappeared in his original place and reach back around his waist as if grabbing something from his pocket on the wrong side. He wasnít reaching for anything you or I could hold, but unleashed from his palm a light so blinding he had to turn his head.

††The Master Ogre, whose limited intelligence only now revealed the short fellow had moved again, stood with mouth open wide and arm still swung over, which is how it remains today.

††Rosenbo froze him into rock, and the Master Ogre now stands as a sculpture along the wall in the Great Oak Inn.

††The kyrie, it turned out, never did get a good chance to fulfill its rightful duty, and diving into a stone club would do little good. Frustrated, the kyrie floated nearby awaiting new orders.

††Relieved from battle, Rosenbo sighed deeply, and released all his excess energies back into the air, collecting into the kyrie, which grew brighter.

††A young oak sapling still stood nearby, despite the rummaging around of battle, and Rosenbo, having a keen interest in great and majestic trees of all sorts, directed the kyrie to enter it.

††"Many praises and thanks for another successful battle, my Lord," Rosenbo spoke to his Creator, and had much respect for It. He owed his very presence to It, and knew It well over the many years heíd spent training to being up to the ever-elusive rank of High Mage.

††Rosenbo knelt on one knee, crossed his arms, and was glad to be alive and survived another day.

††This is the story of Vanguard Oakenfold, descendant of Rosenbo and keeper of the Great Oak Inn.



Chapter One

††The continent of Gelbruthe had much to offer any sort of creature. Large forests, sweeping plains, raging rivers, swift streams, desert wastelands, vast mountain ranges, marshes, and of course, villages and cities.

††The larger villages and its capitol, Arrkynus, congregated toward the northeast, while the smaller establishments remained scattered throughout. If given a tour, one might be shown any of the dozens of old wasting castles dotted along the forest and plains.

††One particular large, dense forest, so large as to be called the Gelbruthe Forest, contained the very tree young Van Oakenfold lived in with his father Sarvin.

††Some have said a thousand dwarves could have fit in the tree, and so it probably could. The top of this tree stretched far into the sky, and was so wide it seemed to take almost 15 minutes to walk completely around its base.

††As you may have guessed, this tree, also know as the Great Oak, was rather out of the ordinary. It was enchanted once by a great and powerful High Mage named Rosenbo. Its actual history is somewhat of a blur, and many say it was originally a potato vine, but just as many say it was merely a sapling of oak when it first gained consciousness.

††Yes, consciousness.

††Inside this gigantic growth was an Inn, said to have been carved out by the descendants of Rosenbo, but the tree itself had more to contribute than any cutting tool that might dare chop it. The tree, out of gratitude for the Creator and those who tended it, granted visitors stay in its trunk and branches, taking a special liking to dwarfs, as its founder, Rosenbo, was such a creature.

††The Great Oak Inn, as it was named, was a cheery place and was fun for all of the patrons who slept there or even came to visit.

††Being a live oak tree, and enchanted of all things, it almost had a sense about it, that it knew what certain patrons were up to and didnít let them get away with pranks or blocked them off from certain routes within its structure of sloping hallways and rooms.

††The Great Oak also had a full array of helpful lightning bugs, called Zibs, that kept the Inn in tip-top condition and never let it fall ill due to insects that wished to do it harm or by the changing temperatures. They kept the tree well and in exchange the tree made the Zibs a hotel of sorts about in the middle of the trunk where they could all stay.

††The winding staircases and ever-changing passageways kept the place looking new, and on some nights, as the wind changed and tree needed more support on one particular side, a patron might wake up with a room suddenly more smaller than it was the night before, or have to travel down a different route to get to the main hall for breakfast. The dark passages on the inside were lit by the courteous Zibs that even tried to lighten heavy luggage by grabbing on and flapping furiously. They all worked together, and in the cool evenings the patrons would gather around the base of the tree or look out their large green-leaf shutters and see the fantastic Zib light-show they performed nightly.

††One might have expected a fairly steep price to visit such a place, but in fact there was no real cost at all, except perhaps to help with the chores of the day, most of which were done by the Zibs and dwarfs. For the most part, every patron left from the Great Oak Inn happy and refreshed, and not a single ounce was required from their gold pouch. There was even a large sign painted into the sign-in desk near the door that explained this:

††††††Wonít cost you a nickel of a silver dipped wyrk,
††††††Not a ruby or a diamond or the tooth of a smurk.
††††††Do your part well to ensure a nightís sleep,
††††††And all will be happy to stay here for free.

††Donations were accepted, of course, and many patrons did give quite generously to the always-busy staff of dwarfs and Zibs for their generous and most respectful service.

††Most found other ways to contribute like the sign said, making sure everyone had a nice stay. Some mothers always volunteered in the nursery with young ones, and some young ones would usually help by keeping quiet at night or sharing their toys and trinkets with each other.

††Patrons had few complaints. There was the occasional night of too much buzzing of the Zibs outside someoneís window, or not enough clean towels in the cabinets, but everyone remained generally happy and the dwarfs kept the tree happy and the tree kept the dwarfs happy, which made the patrons happy. Some even reported they could hear the soothing sound of the water flowing up through the walls into the tree for replenishment, which was more relaxing than irritating. Some rooms had extremely high ceilings, enough to accommodate a grotter. Some had very short ceilings, which suited the gnomes quite nicely.

††The Great Oak Tree itself seemed generally pleased itself with the whole Inn idea, and tried to keep things in order the best it could. It had broad leaves that thrilled many a patron and dropped many a cupful of rainwater on misbehaving youngstersí heads quite intentionally, which kept them in line once they learned of its all-seeing eyes.

††It didnít really have any eyes, of course, but every once in a while, a patron would claim he could feel a presence within the room when clearly no one was there. It would never have been a Zib, as they never tricked anyone. ďIt would have served no good purpose,Ē they always said.

††The upper rooms were not the only living quarters available, either. Those that wished to, could just as easily request a room down within the root system, which was more used for storage and archiving of various books in the large library down there. However, each of the rooms below the ground level were just as pleasant. Some greatly preferred the lower levels because there was no buzzing of wings outside, for there were no windows. Dutiful Zibs instead sat on little platforms sticking out of the wall where they shone off their bright light so patrons coming down the hall at all hours of the night and day could see their way down tunnels and passageways without the use of a torch, which the tree wasnít particularly fond of anyway.

††All of the Zibs, which were quite mannerly, worked in shifts. Some always worked during the day, some always in the evening, and some always at night. Some worked half the night and half the morning, some half the morning and half the evening, and thousands of different little times all mixed up that seemed to work perfectly and no one ever complained. If a patron needed to send a message to the front desk, he would simply nudge the Zib on the nearby platform just outside the door and give him a note. When another Zibís shift was up, it would pass by each other Zib of the way up or down, taking all the notes if they had any.

††It got to be such a long list one time, a dwarf was chosen to man the front desk and only take messages, as there were too many rooms to count and that number changed depending on what day and how strong the wind was.

††A patron could nearly never get lost, even when the tree changed the passageways to strengthen itself during windy days, as the routes always either sloped up or down, or the wide steps always went higher or lower. Every so often a patron could be heard telling their party mates that they found a step going up when it should have gone down, only to discover a new corridor had opened up leading down just as they had passed it. These silly events kept the patrons wary and made the Inn the greatest place to stay.

††One might even go as far to say that such a place could never have a tragic night, and that person would be wrong. A tragic night did befall the comfortable Great Oak Inn, and a few dwarven employees, including Vanguardís mother, were amoung the missing afterward.



Chapter Two

††No one liked to talk about Ďthat tragic nightí as it was called, though everyone did miss the dwarfs that disappeared, particularly then-youthful Van, who lost his mother. His father, Sarvin Oakenfold, still lived in and tended the Inn, so Van was not without parent.

††Sarvin spend many a long night trying to keep Van company during the scary nights, as the youngster would often wake up after a dream of ogres raiding the yard as they had done. It was almost the same dream each time, quite like it had happened Ďthat tragic nightí:

††It was a rather peaceful evening, and few travelers were coming and most were asleep in their beds. Few Zibs were flittering about, which pleased the ogres hiding behind the outlying trees, preparing an ambush. Katna Oakenfold, Vanís mother, pushed open the large solid oak door to let in a little fresh air, then strolled outside to gaze at the stars that twinkled in the night sky, a soothing breezing blowing that brought in scents of cinnamon.

††The ogre standing nearby, next to the door, had been eating a cinnamon-spiced log that very night, but Katna did not notice him as she pushed the door open, being on the other side of it.

††The door slowly closed to, and the ogre leapt. In one fluid motion, the unclean but daft fiend swiped the dwarfess unawares, covering her mouth tightly and bumbling off into the darkness to meet up with his comrades.

††A dozen or so mage-race creatures who were just coming back from a stroll only caught a glimpse of a big ogre foot dashing away and the large oak door closing with a soft thud. Concerned, they spread out, and combed the area.

††Patrons were wakened almost immediately by bright flashes outside their windows and loud screeches as mages sent bright energy blasts and ogres wailed as the blasts took their mark. Four ogres were felled that night, but a crafty two did manage to escape somehow, off with the captured dwarfs.

††Nobody dared guess what the ogres would do to them, but the mage-race creatures had an idea, but didnít actually speak a word of it. Unfortunately, the patrons, who did actually get to sleep that night, were again awakened by sobs of Van out in the lawn, angry at the Creator for allowing his mother to be taken.

††Sarvin tried to comfort the young dwarf, but was not of much use. He did manage to stop crying but Van was still furious. A frustrated Sarvin walked into the entrance hall, down not only for his grieving son and the loss of his mother, but for the very wife he cherished, not to mention the other employees. Gristle, the bread baker who had stepped out the back to empty the garbage, Quimmy the bellhop, and Telly the loud-speaking Zib show host has also been swiped in the raid.

††Sympathetic patrons tried to ease the worries as well, trying to be as positive by saying theyíd be alright, and they were sure it was for a good reason. Sarvin wasnít so sure, and the mages were discussing it, now more engrossed in their current predicament and what this event meant for their doings.

††The Mages, in fact, were a police-type group who had mastery of the Arts of Kyrie and fought evil-doing throughout the land, traveling in bunches across the continent of Gelbruthe.

††A large group of them had stopped off at the Inn for an extended stay to examine the events that took place there, looking for suspicious creatures who might be involved in current issues they were investigating, such as the rumored uprisals in the capital and increasing number of ogre clans. Not many creatures knew what they knew, which was good, because frightened creatures meant gossip and rumor-spreading. The Great Oak Inn was a good place to research findings, and was even the headquarters of the mages for a time.

††The Arts of Kyrie was a skill that all creatures of Gelbruthe could use, but most didnít because unless one had trained in it or had the special knack for it, it often resulted in blowing up in oneís face or turning oneís dinner table into a giraffe by accident without knowing how to turn it back, if it even could be turned back. So, most left it well enough alone. The mages did have that special knack for the Arts of Kyrie, and were easily identified by their grey-colored eyes which came random throughout all races in Gelbruthe upon birth. There is a great history of mages, but more be told in the chapters to come.

††Sarvin was a bit discouraged with the world and the way it worked. After all, it was not at all like the pleasant atmosphere of the Great Oak Inn. Dozens of outlying villages were dotted along the area of the Gelbruthe Forest and while most contained relatively peace-keeping creatures. In some lived folks who didnít get along or generally caused trouble to other villages, which never made any sense to anyone else. With the plentiful harvests the trees of the forest granted the villagers, planted and tended by the Creator himself, what good thing could come from making trouble? Surely, it must have been the work of Auergris, they always said.



††Chapter Three

††It was a bright and sunny morning in the Great Oak Forest, and a number of Vanís friends were talking of the events to come about that day.

††It was the second day of the annual Great Oak Games, held in the large flat and spacious patch of land behind the magnificent inn.

††The bright green grass was trim and various rocks served as markers like start and finish lines, goal boxes, and judging areas. Various flags of different colors also stood proudly in a row near the far end of the field, bearing the symbols of each team.

††Van was on a team with three of his friends, and was supposed to be competing in the five-legged race, but he hadnít shown up yet.

††"Where is that guy? He usually not this late," said the fellow dwarf, Shem. "We need to practice first!"

††"With our luck heís just waking up. The race begins in half an hour. I donít want to have to find a fifth leg," said another, Gizafred, or as her friends called her, Gizzy, who was an elf with shiny red hair. "I wonder if heís still fretting about his mother."

††"Wouldnít you be?" said the third, a boy elf named Jimbus.

††"Probably, yes... unless I had something to take my mind off it, like a race," said Shem, "I wonder where he is."

††"Over there," pointed Jimbus. Van was jogging over toward them from the large tree. Van looked a little glum, but he was glad to see his friends again.

††"Hey guys, sorry Iím late. I heard my father talking to some mages and I had to listen in. You know... top secret stuff."

††"Any news yet? I mean, if you want to talk about it. I didnít mean to..." Gizzy babbled.

††"No, itís OK. Iíll tell you after the race. We should probably practice first, though."

††"My thoughts exactly," said Jimbus, already tying cloth strips around his legs.

††The five-legged race required four teammates to tie their legs together and run side-by-side while other teams did the same. The had to make sure they all ran with the right steps, or someone would fall down and make the whole group lose.

††The four began tying themselves together with the cloth they were given to use, but not without some fuss over who was supposed to be where. They finally decided on a suitable order and tried to walk.

††They were lined up starting with Jimbus on the right end. To his left was Van, followed by Gizzy, then Shem on the other end. Van tried to step with his left, which was tied to Gizzyís right, but Shem tried to step with his right, which was Gizzyís left. Needless to say, the four ended up in a pile of little people on the grass.

††After a few laughs and exchanges of those fault it was, they all somehow managed to get up again, standing.

††"Jimbus, you step with your right foot. Van, you step with your left, which is tied to my right," Gizzy instructed. "Shem, since you right foot is my left foot, and I canít step with both feet, you start with the left foot, too. Everyone got it?"

††Despite agreeing to this plan, they all ended up in a heap again. They did manage to take a few steps first.

††"It doesnít seem that hard, but why did we fall?" Gizzy wondered aloud.

††"I think I was paying too much attention to everyone elseís feet," Shem admitted. "Once I tripped, I brought you down and everyone else on top of us. We need a better plan."

††"Weíd better hurry. Van couldnít you just cast us all the way over the finish line?" Jimbus suggested.

††"No, no cheating, Jimbus. Heís not that good anyway," Gizzy blurted. Van looked at Gizzy with a sour expression. "Well youíre not... yet."

††"Someday I will," Van said defensively.

††"OK look. Iíve got an idea. We each concentrate on our own feet, but start off in the right order. That should work."

††"I donít think that would do," Van spoke up.

††"Oh no? Thatís what brought Shem down. If we concentrate on our own feet then we shouldnít fall."

††"Thatís true, but we still need to know what each other is doing. Otherwise, itís just four people doing their own work. We have to work together. We ARE tied together, you know."

††"What then, magic boy?" Gizzy quipped. Van looked at her again as if to say Ďexcuse you?í. "Sorry Van, whatís your idea?

††"I say Jimbus step with his left and say Ďleftí out loud. Since you, Gizzy, step with your left, you say it too. Letís try that much first."

††They all agreed and tried to stand up, but not without nearly falling into a clump all over again.

††"OK. You two stepped with your left foot and said Ďleft,í while me and Shem stepped with our right and were silent. Now me and Shem will step with our own left, and say Ďleftí out loud, while you two step with your right and not say anything. Got it?"

††"I think so - so every time we step with our left we say left?" asked Jimbus, still a little confused.

††"Yes. That way, only two of us will say it at a time, and it will switch to the other two the next step," Van explained.

††"I donít know, that sounds complicated," Gizzy worried aloud.

††"Weíll go slow at first. Letís try - weíve only got about ten minutes until the race starts. Look! Some people are already lining up!"

††"OK, letís try it."

††"Gizzy and Jimbus, you first," Van said.

††Gizzy and Jimbus both put their left foot forward and said Ďleft.í

††"Now Shem and I step left."

††"Shem and Van took a step with their left foot and said Ďleft.í

††"Now you two." They did.

††"Now us." They did. After a few steps, with some forgetting to say left, they were soon walking at a pretty good pace. Shem began to laugh at their accomplishment, but forgot to put the left foot down when he was supposed to, and brought everyone down again.

††"Sorry guys!" Shem said.

††"Thatís OK, Shem. We did have it going pretty good," Gizzy beamed.

††The announcer, another loud-mouthed Zib replacing Telly, who was kidnapped along with Katna and Gristle by the ogres, stepped up onto the wooden box near the starting line and tried to get everyoneís attention.

††"Letís get in line, folks! The Five-Legged Race is about to begin!"

††The group hobbled over to get in place ,along with two other teams hoping to win this event. They all stood in one long line, separated in two places so they wouldnít bump into each other. A mage standing nearby cupped his hands together and held them near his mouth.

††"The race begins at the boom. First to make it to the line at the end of the arena wins! Are we ready?" called the Zib.

††The mage opened his hands to reveal a glowing speck of light - a kyrie ball. It soared up into the air, turned red, and supped popped with a loud bang, sending speckles showering down. The race was on!

††Vanís team began one step at a time, slowly at first, each calling out Ďleftí as it was that personís time to say it. The team on their left had already taken off really quickly, because they had practiced days before, but it looked like they might fall over - someoneís boot lace was untied! The team on the right tried a different method - everyone hopped all at the same time, and were moving pretty fast. Vanís team gradually caught up to speed and were doing quite well when Shem began to laugh again. This cause the fellow on the end of the nearest team to look over, who then tripped and brought his whole group down. Shem hushed up and resumed calling out Ďleftí when he was supposed to. The other team was just about even with them when the untied boot lace was stepped on by another personís foot, causing their whole line to toppled over. Vanís team was sure to win, but the still had to make it to the finish line or else no one would win. The four trudged along, each alternately saying Ďleftí as it was their turn, in a nice rhythm that got the on-lookers clapping to their beat. The crowd started cheering as they neared the line, but Van looked up and saw his dad near the line, and he started to wobble and forgot his turn. The group began to stumble, as each became distracted with what was happening when the others werenít saying Ďleftí in the right time. Just tin time, they managed to keep it all together before falling into a heap once again, but this time right at the finish!

††The crowd cheered as the Zib flew over to help up the fallen teammates and award them with first place. Sarvin came over, too, and helped untie their legs.

††"You guys did a great job!"

††"Thanks Mister Oakenfold! We practiced just before the race," Gizzy said. "It was Vanís idea to say our turns."

††"Good thinking. How many more events?"

††"One more today, then two more tomorrow," Shem replied.

††"Oh. Van, I need to talk to you for a minute. Come inside when youíre done out here, Iíve got something for you to think about."

††"Iíll be right there, father."

††"Iíll see you inside. Excellent job, guys!"

††"Thank you, sir!" called Jimbus, as Sarvin walked away waving.

††The crowd eventually calmed down, and the group didnít have any more hands to shake for winning the award for the five-legged race. The group of friends walked over to the spot on the grass where theyíd practiced and sat down.

††"So tell me, Van, what did you hear your father talking about? Whatís so top secret?" Jimbus asked.

††"They were talking about forming a Sardan Band, like in the old times. A group of mages went from town to town helping people, but this time to look for the ogres that took my mother."

††"Iíve read about those," Shem said. "They only took the strongest mages, and were known throughout the land."

††"You should see if you can go!" Gizzy suggested. "Then you can learn with the best there is!"

††"Maybe thatís what your dad wanted to ask you," Jimbus noted.

††"Thatís true -- Iíd better go see," Van said.

††"Yeah, then come right back and tell us! That would be great!"



††Chapter Four

††A grotter, a very tall bluish creature with very narrow limbs slinked over to Sarvin, Vanís father, who was seated near the troll Rosenbo had defeated ages ago. He stood there for a moment, looking at the encrusted foe for a number of minutes before Sarvin realized the grotter was nearby.

††"Oh, pardon me. Did you need something, mage?" asked Sarvin, readjusting his seating to look up at the towering creature.

††"I did, yes. I need to speak with you about a matter the mages have been discussing. Weíve decided to leave the inn to further investigate this situation," the grotter said in a very deep, congested voice. He took a seat at the same table. He had to lay his shins flat on the ground while seated because his legs were so long. "I am Rynne, chosen to be second in command of the Sardan Band being formed, and I need to ask something of you. I felt it would be best for you to ask your son, rather than a stranger."

††"Is this about Vanguard?"

††"Yes, it is. He is a mage, obviously, and has developed certain kyrie skills that could be very helpful when matured. Do you know of the Sardan Bands?"

††"Very little. I knew they were a policing group that traveled village to village telling of stories and protecting the area. Were they made of mages?"

††"Yes. Mages only, in fact. Typically the most skilled mages were selected for them, but such groups have not existed for a great while since the new government of Gelbruthe enlisted its own service men. These creatures, while not mages, do a great service, but take orders from the government rather than the Creator. Neither does the Creatorís wisdom have any authority in government decisions."

††"I can see the problem there. Much possibility for corruption."

††"Quite so. We have received word from other mages near the capital of great disregard for the Creator and his ways that they are organizing a restating of the Sardan Bands despite the governmentís declaration. The citizens are becoming reckless, and the servicemen allow it, because they enjoy disobedience just the same."

††"Could this not lead to a war... again?"

††"We have considered that idea, but are more focused on the reasons for the kidnapping. Other villages have experienced the same. Ogres seem to be becoming quite common in other areas of Gelbruthe."

††"So youíre talking about taking Vanguard along?"

††"Yes.

††"Iím not sure I want Vanguard traveling with such events coming about."

††"I promise you, Mister Oakenfold, Vanguard will be in the best of care with well-skilled and Creator-serving mages to guard him. He will be trained in locations separate from the government controlled schools. Places that have been approved by mages to train."

††"I also worry about whether HE will go."

††"That is why I come to you, first. We have decided that you should ask him yourself instead of strangers. Is Vanguard nearby?"

††"I believe he just left. His team is competing in the five-legged race today."

††"He is involved in the games?"

††"Yes - is there a problem?"

††"This may make the decision more difficult. We are leaving tomorrow morning, before the games are finished."

††"I see," Sarvin paused, thinking. "I will ask him to talk with me after this event is done, and I will come to you with his decision."

††"I appreciate your help, Mister Oakenfold. Your help and your magnificent inn is a great service to the mages," Rynne said, standing up slowly. His small round head nearly bumped a candle fixture hanging above, but the ducked, smiled, and walked toward the staircase.

††Sarvin was sitting in the innís office behind the main desk when Van popped his head in the door.

††"You needed me, father?"

††"Yes, Van, have a seat. I have a question I need to ask you, but it will be a hard decision."

††"Is it about the mages? Do they want to train me?"

††"Yes, I --"

††"When can we start? I can show Shem and Jimbus every day what I learn! That would be great!"

††"Well, the mages are forming a Sardan Band, and wonít be staying here. They want to take you along. Youíll get to travel all over Gelbruthe and learn of the Creator, meet new people and experience the fellowship of mages. You should be quite honored!"

††"I should be, I know. But I donít want to leave!"

††"Now I can see how you would miss your friends, and leaving the comfort of home is almost never a fun thing to do. Think of it as a really long camping trip like you and I used to go on."

††"Except you wonít be there, right?"

††"Yes, thatís true. I need to stay with the inn and keep everything running. Look, Iíve even set aside the drawer in this desk full of paper to write you letters every week."

††"How long have YOU every been awake from the Oak?"

††"Well, not for more than three weeks, perhaps, but then again, Iím no mage like you. You can learn great new powers. I spoke to Rynne earlier, the grotter. The tall bluish --"

††"I know what a grotter is."

††"Well, he asked me to see if youíd like to go. They are eager to train a new mage, since theyíve been without new recruits for a while now. There just hasnít been anyone with the Creator-given gift lately."

††"I donít know about this. It will take some thinking. When do they leave?"

††"Well, tomorrow. Morning."

††"Tomorrow MORNING? They couldnít wait until the games are done?"

††"Rynne said the matter was urgent."

††"The matter? What matter?"

††"There have been sightings of more ogres in the area. There is even word of trolls and ulrichs in the area. It would seem the situation us growing larger by the day, and after I talked with a few other mages about Ďthe matter,í it would appear theyíve already waited too long to start."

††"When do they need to know?"

††"Soon, Van. I really think itís a great opportunity for you. You should take it while itís there, before you lose it. I donít see something like this coming again for a very long time."

††"I still donít know. I donít want to leave - I like it here. Canít the mages that stay behind train me?"

††"I donít think the mages left behind are good enough. They take the best, you know. The main reason theyíre taking you is because you are a big piece to the puzzle - you know all of the people who were taken and can recognize their voices, plus youíre doing very well with your Kyrie arts. I donít think that those left behind will have time to defend the Oak and train someone new at the same time anyway."

††"I donít know. I canít answer yet. I need to talk to Shem and Jimbus."

††"Talk to them, then come back and see me again. I want one of the mages, a dwarf mage, to talk with you about what will happen. I think youíd really enjoy it. Plus, you can serve the Creator at the same time while defending the code!"

††Vanguard was not please with the mention of the Creator again, nor was glad the time before that. The feeling of security he used to feel in him dropped sharply after his mother was stolen away. How could the master of the world allow such a terrible thing?

††He wasnít sure he even trusted the Creator anymore, and began to wonder if the Creator wasnít just a way of thinking instead of really an all-powerful and loving creator of the universe.

††"Look, Van. I can tell youíre still having trouble realizing that mother has been taken. Iím just as sad as you are, and thatís why I want you to go. You can help them find her! I donít know what I would do without her."

††"But then Iíd be without both of you. Without the inn. Without the Zibs."

††"But you can become powerful in your Kyrie skills. You can become like the Nexors I read to you about.

††"The Nexors? Nobody believes in those, thatís a kidís story. Iím not a kid anymore."

††"I said LIKE them. Remember how they ruled the land in the stories? No one could hurt them. You can be like that if you train hard enough. You could stop all of this kidnapping nonsense."

††"But the Nexors turned evil because of their great power. Iím not sure I am worth all that. I couldnít stop an ogre if I had the chance."

††"But if you train, you CAN. You will. Iíll write to you every week, I promise."

††"I donít know. I gotta go."

††"OK. Talk to Jimbus and Shem, and to Gizzy. See what they think. Iíll be theyíll want you to go, too. Go see!"

††"Iíll be back later."

††Van hopped off the chair, walked to and out the door.

††"I donít know what Iím going to do, Lord," Sarvin said after a moment, praying to the Creator. "Give me the heart to make wise decisions, give me the strength..."



Chapter five

††The next event in the Great Oak Games was the Find-You-Friends competition. This one was considered the most fun because the crowds got to be involved.

††Three of the four-person team were blindfolded and spun around in circles, while hundreds of on-lookers mingled around in one giant mess of people. The fourth teammateís job was to locate all the members of his team in the shortest time.

††This event was tricky, since the crowd sometimes moved the other teammates around so the fourth person couldnít find them. Plus, the friends to be found were spun around so much then were dizzy and couldnít walk straight anyway.

††If the mages could use their kyrie skills to help, all teams with a mage would win quickest, so kyrie-use was made illegal. They could have just called up a kyrie-seeker to find the friends for him, and then just follow the glowing, twinkling balls of light. Vanguard didnít like being unable to use his abilities.

††Vanguard was the fourth person in this event, and had to count to fifteen while hiding his eyes, much like the game of Hide and Seek. Vanguard found two of his teammates fairly quickly, but had a very hard time finding the last one, Jimbus. Since Jimbus was an elf, he was easy to hide behind people, and the crowd knew this, so every time Vanguard would search one end of the crowd, they would direct Jimbus in the other direction. Jimbus finally recovered his sense of direction enough to go the other way that people were directing him, and Van found him at last.

††The other teams had much letter luck finding each other, and Vanguardís team go fourth place in the Find-You-Friends event. Disappointed, the four trudged off to their usual meeting place to discuss what happened.

††Shem was still a little dizzy, and say down holding his hands on the side of his head.

††"Oh, I donít like being spun around! Everythingís turning in circles!" Shem said, squirming around like a worm before falling over on his back.

††"I know what you mean," said Gizzy. "I still have a bit of a headache from it, and my neck is wobbly."

††"Everyone kept pushing me in the other direction! Whatís the deal with that? That game is fixed, I say."

††"But everyone likes it, so they have it every time. Itís just a game, though," Shem replied.

††"Youíre being awful quiet, Van," noted Gizzy.

††"Whatís up? Itís just a game you know," Jimbus said, putting a hand on his shoulder.

††"Itís not that, itís the news my father gave me," Van finally responded.

††"About the Sardan Band? Do they want you to go?"

††"Yes. They want me to go with them on a trip around Gelbruthe. Iím not sure I want to go, though. Iíll have to leave everyone."

††"But youíll finally get to train like youíve been saying all these times!" Gizzy spoke. "The mages want YOU to go with them! This is your chance! When do they leave?"

††"Tomorrow."

††"Wow. Short notice," Shem blurted.

††"BEFORE the games are over," Van added. "If I go with them, that was the last game Iíll have played for a really long time."

††"Well, there goes the title for this year. Maybe next time."

††"If Iím BACK in time for the next Games. Who knows how long this will last - some mages train for their life and never become good."

††"But we know you can do great in this, Van. Youíve been waiting for this for such a long time! How could you pass this up?"

††"Every time I said that, I wanted to train here, at the inn. I donít want to leave."

††"Weíll write to you every week, Van. Itíll be like you never left," Gizzy said.

††"Thatís what my father said. A letter is just not the same. I donít even many mages. Just Wyndyll, but Iíve only known him for maybe a week. And the event-starter guy.

††"I think his name is Kobisho, or something like that," Shem added.

††This gave Gizzy an idea.

††"Rosenbo! You know Rosenbo, right Van? You always talk about how such a powerful mage he was, even as a dwarf. He grew great in his strength, with the Creatorís guidance. You told us that every day for four weeks .. why not follow his example?"

††"I donít think I could become as good as Rosenbo, but the idea does sound good. Iíll still have to think about it. I donít know yet."

††The four didnít notice someone walking their direction. Wyndyll, the mage dwarf Van had just spoken of, came to speak with Van after Sarvin had told him the situation.

††Van? How are you? Have you though much about it?" Wyndyll said, standing nearby.

††"What? Oh, sorry, Wyndyll, didnít see you standing there. Did my father send you?"

††"Well, he asked me to tell you about what youíd do on the journey. I think every young person should have an opportunity like this, but youíre the only one here of your group that has the chance. Have you thought much about it?"

††"Yes, he has," Gizzy answered instead. "We definitely want him to go, but heís still worried about it. Couldnít you zap some sense into him? Send a kyrie-something at him to make him want to go? I mean, weíre not trying to push him out the door, but heísÖ" Gizzy paused, turning to Van instead, youíve been just so glad to have mages around lately. I canít see why you wonít take them up on the offer. Go for it!"

††"I still donít know. I like it here so much. I just donít know what to do," Van finally replied.

††"Come take a walk with me, Van. Weíll talk about it, and see if youíre ready to go. Iím not sure if youíre skilled enough."

††"Oh, he sure is, mister," Shem piped up. "Heís GREAT at kyrie stuff. He could whip and old ulrich any day with a quick swoosh-swoosh!" Shem offered, gesturing with hands punching in the air.

††"Oh, can he? Iíd have to see that myself before it would change my mind. He looks much too plump to have enough energy for a real mage battle."

††"Oh, I could do it. I just donít want to leave," Van said in his defense.

††"Van. Walk with me. Letís talk about it."

††Vanguard got up and walked next to Wyndyll, waving at his teammates as the turned the corner behind a nearby sycamore.

††"Iím am SO sure he would make a great mage. He just has the right know-how to start off great!" Gizzy said.

††"But if you donít WANT to leave, what good would it be to try?"

††Gizzy sighed, and lied back on the soft grass, looking at the clouds passing over.

††The two strolled away from the group of friends for a new minutes before either said anything more. Wyndyll led their little procession into some lightly wooded areas with some nice walking space. The came to a nice big rock in the middle of a small clearing, and leaned up against it, looking at the branches extending over their heads. The huge solid oak arms of the inn stretched even further still, like giant pillars of some massive monument.

††"I can see how you wouldnít want to leave this place, Van. But I think something else is holding you back. What is it?"

††Van didnít respond immediately, but continued watching the slight sway of the gigantic oak he called home. Its great leaves wafted in the wind like a thousand people waving hello to him. Vanguard felt great peace watching the tree from time to time, and now was one of those times.

††"Do you hear me?"

††"What? Iím sorry, what were you saying?"

††"Van, I know youíre having trouble making this decision. The Great Oak Inn is a great place to stay, and I wish I could stay here as long as you have all these years."

††"I wish I could train here."

††"I wish I could have trained here, too, but thatís just not an option. Think of the real options at hand, not what you hope they could be. The choices you make are from real circumstances, not from the imagination."

††"I wish..."

††"Van. STOP wishing you could do something. Just DO something. Make a decision."

††Van sat there for a moment without saying a word. His attention appeared to Wyndyll to be worlds away.

††"You know, I can see youíre not ready to go. I donít think you were even as strong as your friends said. You canít be a real mage."

††"What? Why not?"

††"You donít even act like one."

††"Act like one?"

††"Have you heard of Rosenbo?"

††"Of course I have. Heís the greatest... I mean, yes. Iíve heard of him."

††"as you were about to say, he was ONE of the greatest mages who ever lived. He is even credited with starting the very inn you canít leave alone."

††"I CAN leave it alone, I just donít want to."

††"I donít think you can."

††"Yes, I can."

††"But you wonít."

††"I donít have to."

††"Rosenbo didnít stay in one place for very long. He kept moving on to new challenges. He once said, ĎDoing nothing is the same as moving backward.í What are you doing here, Vanguard?"

††"Well, Iím competing in the Great Oak Games..."

††"And what does that accomplish? I donít mean to insult the Games, but what food does that really earn? Is the world a better place because of the Games?"

††"Some would say so."

††"I donít really think so. The disobedient government hosts their own Games. Does that make the world better? To play games in disregard of the Creator?"

††There was the mention of the Creator again. It wasnít as if Van was unfamiliar with him, but rather had lived most of his life studying the Creatorís teachings and code of obedience. Everyone he knew did the same thing, so he did, too. Except, Van wanted to be a great and powerful mage, something none of the other folks he knew could ever accomplish. Some that were even mages couldnít accomplish it because the lacked the real desire to get there.

††"Show me then, little boy."

††Van didnít like being called a boy, much less a LITTLE boy.

††"What did you say?"

††"I said show me your abilities. Youíre not even ready to try. Youíll never make it as a mage, itís too tough for you."

††This stirred a tremor inside Van to prove to this other dwarf mage that he was capable, and to show him he could really do it, if he wanted.

††"Youíre too weak! Look at your gut! Youíve had too much honeybread to even sprout a decent kyrie ball. Do you want to me known as the laziest mage?"

††"No. Stop saying that! Iíll tell the other mages you..."

††"Oh, so youíll squeal on me, is that it? Youíre too afraid to stand your ground. Why should I want to help a little boy train to be something he wonít even try?"

††Wyndyllís words churned the fire within Vanís mind to just punch Wyndyll right in the nose, but he instead decided to spawn the biggest kyrie ball he could. Van cupped his hands together like making a snowball.

††"Thatís it, little boy. Make your tiny kyries. Pea-sized kyries donít even hurt Zibs. What were you hoping for? Wishing for something? DO IT."

††The words of the similarly sized, but much older dwarf swirled a feeling inside Van that could not be turned loose. He couldn't let go of the flame he could feel building up inside himself. Vanís eyes began to boil and churn with color.

††"Go ahead, give me your best shot. How could the littlest greeter of the Great Oak of Gelbruthe possible hurt ME, a Mage of Sarda?"

††Vanguardís vision passed in and out of clarity, as he concentrated on the reaction Wyndyllís words were welling within him. Was he really just a little boy? Was greeting people at the door as a little child the best could ever really accomplish? No.

††Vanguard brought his cupped hands, now beginning to glow from the ball of light appearing with the night space, up to his lips and whispered, "Kyrie Blast!" into the light. He funneled all of his fire and vigor into the ball of light and opened his hands.

††Wyndyll was certainly impressed, but didnít let it show. He kept a disgusted look on his face to keep Vanguard focused on proving himself. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement being the trees.

††An ogre had been hiding nearby, listening to the conversation, all the time growing more hungry to munch on some tender dwarf flesh. The ogre pack would honor him for having caught a mage. The ogreís slow movement toward them caught Wyndyllís attention.

††There was a rustle some distance away in the other direction, when the ogre leapt, and swooped Wyndyll up before he could react. Vanguard was still in a fury, but was caught off-guard with the deft swipe.

††The ball of light was still shining, but it had floated off to the side, awaiting instruction. "Blast the ogre!" Vanguard called to it, directing it with two pointing fingers on the same hand. The ball zipped away at terrifying speed toward its target, and Vanguard was quickly running behind it. Despite being a short stumpy little fellow, Vanguard was fairly quick on his feet. He was almost able to catch up to the ogre, but the kyrie caught it first. The brightly glowing kyrie aligned itself with the fleeing ogreís ear and then went off with a huge boom.

††The ogre fell over in pain as the sound was so close to his ear it hurt him, and he dropped Wyndyll without thinking. The sound echoed through the trees - even people inside the inn, now a good distance away, heard the blast like a clap of thunder. An older lady-dwarf looked up to the sky to see if it was about to rain.

††Wyndyll looked for Vanguard and ran to stand nearby him, as the watched the ogre kneel over with his hands on his head.

††"Ready?"

††"Way ahead of you," Vanguard said, already knowing what Wyndyll had in mind.

††The two dwarves stood with wide stances, side by side. Wyndyll spoke the familiar words of "Erotahn Stream" with hands outstretched, and Vanguard soon repeated the same, facing the crouched ogre. An intense light came from both sets of hands, and blasted forward which seemed to rival a small volcano spewing sideways.

††After a moment of this, the two stopped the summon, and their eyes adjusted to the light of the forest after having been almost blinded by their own bright attack. The ogre lay flat on its stomach, arms out to the sides, but still breathing. They saw this, and stood back up straight for a moment to catch their breath.

††"Well done, Vanguard! I can see youíre ready to begin training. You may even have an advantage to the beginners!"

††A number of other footsteps were heard running their direction. The tow looked at each other and readied their hands in attack position again. Rynne appeared from the side, almost with an "Erotahn Stream" right in his face, but Wyndyll recognized him.

††"Who made the Firix Thunderclap?" Rynne asked rather loudly, although they were standing fairly close by. "Thatís only for emergencies, Wyndyll. I saw some Erotahn work here, too."

††Wyndyll, still catching his breath, pointed to the ogre on the ground a few yards away. Rynne looked at Van, next.

††"Showing off then, are we? Looks like you are ready. I told you he was, Wyndyll," Rynne smiled, which quickly turned into a frown. "Are there any more?"

††"This is the only one I saw. It might have been the one was saw snooping about yesterday," Wyndyll answered.

††After a little discussion of the matter with Rynne, the two dwarves began walking back to the inn for a well-deserved rest. Just before they reached the clearing that opened to the yard of the inn, Van tugged on a strap of Wyndyllís leather armor.

††"Wyndyll."

††"What is it? Is there another one?"

††"No, not that. I just wanted to tell you Iíve decided to go with you. With the Sardan Band I mean. I have DECIDED."

††Wyndyll didnít say anything, but smiled and wrapped his arms around the shoulder of the youngster, although he wasnít much shorter. The two walked up to the inn together to tell the gathering mages what happened.