21 A Secret Revealed

Chapter 9

A Secret Revealed

The sun had not yet risen when Briseis woke us the next morning. I rolled out of bed and dressed quickly. I entered the bathroom to wash my face as Alex dressed. I came out to see that Dameon, Cassius and Star had arrived. Dameon and Cassius were dressed in standard Ki’miri amour while Star wore the classic blood-red amour of the Blood Elves.

“Brandon and Hawkeye will meet us at the gate,” Briseis explained in answer to my questioning look. I nodded and she led the way out of the royal quarters. It was so early in the day that on one else was awake. When we arrived at the back gate on the lower level we found The Queen, Lara, Orion and a squad of seven Elven Hunters waiting for us. Brandon clad in red and grey amour, followed by Hawkeye in a black vest and long black pants and boots appeared a second or two later.

“It is time, much too soon for you to leave.” The Queen sighed, “but first there are some gifts I wish to give you.” She gestured and the Elven Hunter’s stepped forward to place mottled green cloaks around our shoulders. “These are Elven camouflage cloaks,” the Queen explained, “the fabric will change colour depending on what environment your in. May they help shield you from unfriendly eyes.” She stepped forward and walked down the line giving each of us a gift. “For you Brandon I have the Shield of the Kaldorei. Forged with magic and bound by the blood of Alex the First this shield will never break so long as a son of the blood of Alex is alive.” Brandon bowed and took the shield with both hands. “For you Hawkeye,” the Queen continued moving on, “I give the bow of Ariel, the first Wood Elf Queen. Trust in this weapon and it not fail you.” As Hawkeye gently tested the bow The Queen turned next to Dameon, “To you Dameon I give the Blade of Asrai, the Wood Elf god of battle and protection. May it protect and serve you well.” Dameon took the sword in bath hands and admired it for a few seconds before sliding it through his belt. She turned to where Alex and I were standing together, “to you Alex I give the blade of the Dragon and you Serah the necklace of the Rider. These two talismans of the Ancients give great power to their wielder but only if they work together.” She leaned in closer, “If your love is strong enough they will bind with you.” At last she turned to Cassius and Star. “For you Cassius and Star, I give you both DireWolf hand claws[1] that can be used in both human and wolf form.” Star glanced at Cassius but his face was impassive, giving nothing away. The queen stepped back after giving Cassius a long searching look. “The quest you have chosen will be hard but the rewards will be worth it. Good Luck.” She bowed and turned to walk away. The rest of us turned toward Briseis and Brandon gestured for her to lead the way. Lynx padded out in front, shouldering her way through the gate. Briseis followed taking a quick look left and right to make sure no enemies threatened. Alex and I followed her out, Cassius a step or two behind us. Star, mounted on Lightning padded past while Brandon and Hawkeye brought up the rear, Brandon carefully closing the gate behind us.

We set out, the rising sun quickly burning away the early morning mist. Alex and I walked side by side, studying the gifts we’d been given. Alex’s Sword of the Dragon was simple yet elaborate. The hilt was a single piece of carved wood, slightly curved and wrapped in leather. A circular piece of gold metal served as a hand guard. The blade was made of black obsidian and slightly curved, strange letters in a slanted sliver script run up and down the blade. My Necklace of the Rider was a simple silver chain that supported a strange peacock feather charm. The middle of the charm seemed to pulse with a steady cadence and I could feel the power radiating off it.

Lightning padded up next to Cassius and Star dismounted to walk beside him. She had already equipped the gloves and was wearing the claws retracted. Cassius had thrust both gloves through his belt.

“Want did the Queen mean saying we could use these in Wolf Form?” Star asked.

Cassius shrugged, “No idea.”

Star looked at him sensing he was hiding something. After another moment of silence she sped up to talk to Alex and I.

“Have you two noticed anything strange about Cassius recently?”

“You mean the way he’s been unusually silent ever since the Wood Elf Queen said you said you could your Hand Claws in Wolf Form? Alex asked.

Star nodded, “Also two days ago he was telling about his life and he said he missed the feeling of the ‘wind in his fur’.

Alex and I exchanged a glance. “You do remember he was raised by wolves?” I said cautiously.

“What does that have to do with it?” Star asked.

“Well,” Alex said slowly, “there are legends that say people raised by animals can take the form of that animal.”

I went to reply but at that second my pendent gave a sudden burst of energy and Briseis threw up a hand forcing us to stop. Lynx faded into the undergrowth as my pendant returned to its steady pulsing. A few minutes later Lynx reappeared next to Briseis who knelt down beside her for a minute. I couldn’t hear anything but could tell they were talking to each other. After a minute Briseis stood and turned to beckon us to gather round.

“There is a gold mine ahead that has been abandoned for about sixty years but it seems that a small group of Mind-Benders has taken up resident in the abandoned control houses.”

“How many do you call a small group?” Dameon asked.

“About Twenty-five,” she replied. “They seem to have some captive Ki’miri and LightningCats working in the mine.”

Alex, Cassius, Star and I exchanged a glance.

“I thought you said it was abandoned?” Star pointed out.

Briseis nodded, “It was. They must have found a gold vein we missed.”

“Or they found something else.” Cassius added ominously.

Briseis frowned, “Like what?”

Cassius paused, sniffing the air and an instant later Star exclaimed, “Firerite.”

“Fire-what?” Briseis asked.

“Firerite,” Cassius explained shortly, “is a highly flammable mineral that is a basis for many of the Mind-Benders power sources.”

“The highest concentrations are found in Mind-Bender land where they mine it in great quantities.” Alex added.

“Dameon?” Brandon growled from behind us, “What do you want to do?”

Dameon stayed silent for a minute before turning to Briseis, “How close can we get without being detected?”

“There’s a small corpse of trees about two meters from the mine entrance that should provide us with more than enough cover,” Briseis informed him.

Dameon nodded, “Let’s move.”

We moved forward slowly. As we drew closer I picked up the scent of smoke and a few moment later we reached the edge of the trees. Two meters in front of us the land dipped down in a large valley that housed the control houses and the small equipment room that contained the entrance to the mine. The main control house was the largest, double storied building set apart from the other at the bottom of the hill underneath which the mine was located. The other two were set closer together towards the entrance to the valley. The equipment room was just a small two metre long archway covering the entrance to the mine. As we watched two LightningCats appeared from the mine pushing a cart piled high with chucks of a light red mineral that pulsed slightly.

“That’s Firerite, alright,” Cassius said stumbling over the similar sounding words a little.

The two LightningCats heaved the cart onto flat ground and relaxed for a minute leaning against the cart. Both were dressed in sleeveless, torn vests and tattered shorts. One had bright red hair that was swept backward and layered in dust. His fur-covered arms and legs were a light orange with barely discernable stripes. His facial markings were similar to mine only one side was patterned in stripes. The claws on his hands and feet were broken and I could see from this distance a thin trail dried blood running from the tip of one finger to the wrist. The other one had pure black hair, also layered in dust and fur with two lighter grey streaks running down both sides of his face. The claws on one hand were broken off which meant he was most likely a stonecutter rather than a digger.

“We have to save them,” Alex hissed in my ear.

I gripped his shoulder, “We will. But lets wait and see what Dameon says.” Alex glanced and me and I could see the conflict in his eyes. I leaned closer, “I won’t abandon them. I promise you that.”

After a few more minutes of silent watching Dameon motioned us to move back into deeper cover. We formed a rough circle facing one another. Dameon looked around the circle, noting our facial expressions before speaking. “I can’t leave them,” he said. “If we help them it could grant us favour in the eye’s of the LightningCat King.”

“Do you have a plan?” Briseis asked.

Dameon and turned to Alex and I. “Could you two disguise yourself as prisoners?”

I exchanged a glance with Alex before nodding, “shouldn’t be two hard.”

‘Good,” he turned to face Briseis, “How many Mind-Benders did you say there were?”

She shrugged, “Twenty-five to Thirty. Why?”

“If Brandon and I led Serah and Alex in pretending they were prisoners that we caught attempting to mount a rescue, would we be granted access to the mine?”

Briseis nodded, “Most likely. They generally put newer prisoners to the back of the mine,” she hesitated of a minute, thinking it over, “Or front depending which way you look at it.”

Dameon nodded before continuing, “Then once inside we can overpower the guards and free the prisoners. Once that’s done, Serah can you send a signal of some kind?”

I nodded but it was Alex who replied, “You should hear her Eagle Call, it’s unnaturally like the real thing.”

Dameon nodded, “Good. The rest of you, that’s your cue to storm the guard house.”

“I could do that on my own,” Star said stepping forward, “The rest of you can wait outside to cut them down as they emerge.”

Dameon nodded and looked around, “Agreed?”

We all nodded, “Agreed.”

“Then lets move.” Alex, Dameon Brandon and I moved back so we could start our transformation. I ripped one sleeve off and let one wing unfold slightly as if wounded. I pulled a knife from my boot and asked Dameon to cut my hair short. Alex, meanwhile pulled both sleeves of his shirt, cut numerous scratches in his breastplate with his own knife and grabbing a handful of dirt rubbed it through his hair. I noted this and did the same with my newly shortened hair. A few meters away Star was meditating, gathering her energy. Cassius, Hawkeye and Briseis sat a little way away off watching.

Dameon seeing us finish our transformation nodded to Brandon who pulled several lengths of rope from his pack. I rolled my eyes, “Do you have too.”

Dameon shrugged,  “Sorry but it would look slightly suspicious if you weren’t bound.”

I growled softly but let him bind my hands and feet anyway. Alex gently tested his bonds.  They held tight and he directed a frown in Dameon’s direction. Dameon simply turned away, “You ready Star?”

Star coming out of meditation jumped to her feet. “Ready. Just tell me what to do.”

Dameon nodded, “Wait in the tree line until your hear Serah’s Eagle Call.”

She nodded and Dameon continued, “Cassius, Briseis and Hawkeye, all attention will be on Star so move as fast as you can towards the guard house, right?”

“And don’t get in my way!” Star added.

Cassius, Briseis and Hawkeye nodded.

“Okay lets start Operation: Save Cats.”

Alex and I threw him a glance and he shrugged. A quick hiss from Hawkeye alerted us to something happening at the mine. We moved back to the edge of the trees and saw a small group of Ki’miri being herded into the middle of the clearing. A Mind-Bender appeared on top the hill underneath which the mine was located. He was a tall man with a black cloak covering a white shirt and long dark pants. His face was cruel and framed by long dark grey hair. His black boots were caked in a light red dust. He looked down at the new group of prisoners and sneered. “And just what were you fools trying to do?”

“We caught them trying to mount a rescue, my lord,” One of the Mind-Bender guards said.

Crouching in the cover on the trees we exchanged a confused look, we had been sure there was no one else around. I noticed that beside me Cassius had gone rigid, “Are you alright?” I hissed at him but he didn’t seem to hear me. His eyes were fixed on the Mind-Bender on top of the mine.

I gripped his shoulder then jerked my hand back with a surprised hiss, I could feel the muscles of his arms rolling and reforming. Cassius growled low in his throat, his eye’s flicking from brown to gold. The others were looking now. I heard Daemon hiss “calm down” but Cassius was beyond hearing.

We could see through his shirt the muscles of his back rippling and changing. His shirt split along his spine as spike-like fur came through. His hair was changing to fur and beginning to cover his torso. Whatever part of Cassius was still human reached down and ripped the rest of his clothes away. The fur began to grow at an alarming rate covering his body, his spine arched and a tail emerged, the arms and legs began to shift and reform. His face began to change, the jaw and nose lengthening, the eyes being pushed back, canine fangs sprung forth. With a soundless explosion mist swirled around and then blew outwards in a wave sending the rest of us skidding back. We caught a short glimpse of a huge, black furred wolf with gleaming golden eyes standing there before he bounded forward leaving a hole in the bushes.

“Well, there goes the element of surprise.” Dameon cried.

Star moved forward transforming as she did and bounded after Cassius. Hawkeye and Briseis went next, Lynx and Lightning bounding along beside them, hands moving in a blur as they rained arrows on the Mind-Benders spilling out of the mine. Alex and I, ripped off our bonds and rushed forward, swords unsheathed and disappeared into the mine. Brandon followed us a minute later. Dameon after a second’s hesitation moved forward to protect Hawkeye’s back.

Inside the mine we moved forward cautiously eye’s open. We heard the faint sounds of metal on stone and flattened our selves against the wall. Slowly we crept closer and peered around the corner. A group of five Mind-Bender Slave masters’ were overseeing a larger group of Ki’miri who were busy digging out more Firerite and piling it into cart that was standing nearby.

“What’s the plan?” Alex hissed in my ear.

I flicked the opposite ear in annoyance, “Kill the Slave Master’s and free the Slaves.”

“I know that. How?” Alex asked.

I shrugged, “I’m working on it.”

Alex pulled his flute out of his belt, “I can use this”

I raised a sceptical eyebrow. Alex silently twisted the mouthpiece and with a small pop it came out. My other eyebrow rose, “A Blowpipe?” Alex nodded.

I stepped back and gestured for him to take the lead. Alex fitted five small darts into the end of his flute and stepping out into the open took down the five Slave Master’s in about half as many seconds. I walked up and clapped him on the shoulder, “Well done.” Alex grinned at me. “Thanks.”

I moved past him toward the Ki’miri, “Come on, let’s free them.” We worked fast, my swords sheared through the chains like a hot knife through butter.

Meanwhile deeper in the mine Brandon moved forward eye’s searching the darkness for some sign of the Mind-Benders Slave King. Hearing voices ahead he ducked back.

“The excavations are coming along well, Master,” a high, wining voice reported, “We have nearly finished half the mine an…”

“That is too slow, fool.” A harsh voice cut in, “We should have finished half the mine two days ago.”

“I am sorry Master but with the number of slaves we…”

“I don’t want excuses,” the second voice cut in again, “I want results, if there aren’t enough slaves then take up picks yourself.”

A stunned silence followed this order and Brandon saw a light approaching. Stepping back quickly he wedged himself into a shallow niche in the wall and wrapped his camouflage cloak around him. He watched as the small procession passed his hiding place and moved on. The Slave King was in the lead, black cloak wrapped around him, the cowl pulled up. Two Mind-Bender guards came next, one carrying a lantern and trailing behind them a Mind-Bender Slave Master. Brandon shrunk back as they passed, trusting the cloak to hide his presence. Brandon moved silently, coming out of hiding after they had passed. He came up behind the Slave Master and clamped one arm over its chest and the other hand over its mouth. With a quick movement Brandon snapped its neck and moved on drawing a broad-bladed dagger from his belt.

Outside the Mind-Bender’s were in deep trouble. The two giant cats were taking a dreadful toll of the Mind-Bender’s. Star was taking down those who had managed to escape Hawkeye and Briseis’s rain of arrows. A small group of Mind-Bender guards had barricaded themselves in the guardhouse. Dameon was ramming the door again and again to no avail. Stepping back he enflamed his sword and slammed it into the door up to the hilt. The door slowly began smouldering. Once the door was fully aflame Dameon encased himself in amour-like water and delivered a spinning back kick to the door, sending it crashing in. He went through the guardhouse like a whirlwind.

On top of the mine Cassius carried the Mind-Bender to the ground and clamped his jaws around his neck. The Mind-Bender reached for his sword but Cassuis bit down harder, tasted the warm gush of blood and ripped his throat out.

Coming round a corner deeper in the mine Alex and I stumbled into the middle of a group of twelve Mind-Bender guards. Alex quickly brought out his other sword and enflamed both of them. I followed suit, flicking both swords in the Shien reverse grip. The Mind-Bender’s swarmed us, I ducked under two of them, came up, ran one through, rolled away from a second, shattered the knee of a third as I brought a fourth one to the ground. Alex jumped over an axe, beheaded the man wielding it, killed two as they came up behind him and cracked one man’s skull with spinning kick. After the first mindless rush the Mind-Bender’s retreated. They had lost about half their number. We moved to stand back to back as they surrounded us. They came in again. I parried a spear and thrust back striking one man in the chest. He fell and another instantly took his place. Alex cried out as he took a spear to the shoulder. He snapped the shaft and savagely thrust it backward, crushing the wielder’s throat.

“We can’t win this,” he cried, blood dripping from his shoulder.

I nodded, panting, “I have a plan…but it’s insane.”

Alex shook his head, “I don’t have a better idea.”

I nodded again, “Drop.” Alex dropped into a crouch, I spun in a circle, driving the enemy back a few steps and plunged both blades into the floor. Time seemed to stand still. With a sudden, sharp crack a globe of blue light surrounded us an instant before the floor broke apart as great sheets of black lightning fire erupted. The Mind-Bender’s didn’t stand a chance. The fire caught them up and burned them away. We stood slowly as the blue globe dissipated, fading back into my Necklace of the Rider. As we watched it soon resumed its steady pulsing. I quickly ripped off my remaining sleeve and, tearing it into strips wrapped it around Alex’s shoulder forming a temporary bandage.

Brandon stopped suddenly as a roar sounded up ahead. The Mind-Bender’s ahead of him suddenly turned and ran past him without pause. Brandon saw a large wall of lightning fire coming toward him. He swung his cloak around him and crouched down. After and minute the fire passed and Brandon stood slowly surprised to find himself completely unharmed.

Outside the mine everyone tensed as the ground shook, a second later great tongues of lightning fire erupted out of the entrances to the mine and dissipated in black smoke that quickly disappeared.

“What was that?” Dameon asked in a hushed voice.

“Serah just unleashed the full power of her chosen elf stones,” Star explained from beside him, morphing back into human form as she did. A minute later Alex and I exited the mine, Alex helping me as I limped along due to a leg wound I don’t remember getting. Brandon followed us out a minute later, brushing ash off his cloak.

“Where Cassius?” Dameon asked, looking around. The top of the mine was empty. A second later the bushes rustled and Cassius emerged, fully dressed minus his shirt that he was ripping into strips and using to bind a shallow wound on his chest.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Dameon asked.

“I didn’t know,” Cassius said, “or didn’t know for sure” he added.

“Remember what we said about some people being raised by wolves are able to transform into wolves.” Alex said slowly.

Star nodded, “I remember.”

“It the same with Cassius,” I finished.

“So he’s not a complete Werewolf,” Dameon asked.

I shook my head, dirt scattering from my hair, “No but he has the same powers as a Werewolf.” I stepped closer to Star and hissed in her ear, “But he can’t control the transformation so he needs your help.” Star shot me a startled look that no one else saw.

[1] Harvested from the huge DireWolves of Ezona’s forests and mounted on a reinforced glove the claws are about six inches long and wickedly sharp. The claws can be retracted back into the gloves itself.


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