THE GOOD, BAD & GOLD: THE PURSUIT

S. K. R. & TONY D’URSO

The Good, Bad & Gold: The Pursuit. Copyright © 2013 by Tony D’Urso. All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews. For information about promotional, business, or educational uses please use the Contact form at TonyDUrso.com

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Prev: The Good, Bad & Gold: The Pursuit

Prev: The Good, Bad & Gold: Genesis – Introduction

The Pursuit

In a dimly lit chamber with walls of rough-hewn stone, throaty gurgles and mumbles filled the room. The damp walls of the chamber glistened as light from the lone torch flickered and danced about its uneven surface. A large brewing cauldron sat in the corner perched upon a steady fire blanketing the chamber with its warmth.

Bomo hovered over the cauldron lustfully stirring the top of the mucky contents with a long thin stick. He mumbled and gurgled alien spells in a crazed frenzy. At times, his thick protruding brow furrowed at the bridge of his nose and his yellowish tan eyes burned with rage as his incoherent mumbles turned to loud grumbles, thundering out of his cave-like mouth. Yet, at other times the thick furrows in his brow relaxed as the rumbles transformed back into garbled mumbles. He lustfully coveted a delicate and mystical creature with animal desire.

He chanted her name, “Roni” over and over, and at times threw his thick arms up in the air and arched his back.

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A sick desire streamed through his thick veins intoxicating every living cell of his awkwardly disproportioned body.

The ogre continued babbling impatiently until the desired moment finally arrived. He slowly unraveled the fingers of his left hand that clutched a teardrop shaped glass bottle. Bomo unfastened the stopper and skimmed the open end along the surface of the muck with great care.

The vessel was nearly filled with the strange substance that had precipitated to the top and glowed different colors. It was as if he had magically captured a rainbow and forced it into the bottle. He quickly capped the top and proceeded towards his desk with an awkward gait.

The room appeared ransacked. Volumes of ancient tomes lay scattered amongst broken furniture. He negotiated around and over the clutter, and with a thud threw himself onto the chair behind the wooden desk. He hunched his thick unshapely body over the desk, opened a drawer, and impatiently rifled through its contents occasionally hurling things into the air with great frustration.

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Finally, he found the object he had been searching for–a small block of blue wax. He placed it into a small copper container with a long handle and lit a stubby candle beneath it.

Bomo moved the copper container impatiently over the flame. Eventually, the block melted and he blew out the candle with enough force to knock it over. He used the molten wax to seal the top onto the bottle to ensure the contents were safe and secure.

The creature held the bottle up to his face with great satisfaction. He grinned widely as he stared piercingly at its contents with complete amazement.

Bomo rose from the wooden chair and kicked it out from under him and moved toward an over-sized hutch upon which sat a heavily ornamented carved wooden box. The ogre opened it carefully and placed the glass bottle into the softly cushioned velvet-lined niche. His rough calloused fingers closed the lid and with an about-face he vacated his disheveled chamber.

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# # # # # # # #

A recluse woodcutter, he lived in the forest south of Jasper in the nation of Carron, and seldom ventured out of his self-set boundary except to make the journey to Jasper to sell wood.

The ogre cared only for the silver coins he received in return for his cartload and promptly exchanged the silver pieces for a few gold coins at the end of the day.

A small leather pouch containing the gold pieces rested in his pocked firmly pressed against his throbbing bosom. He tied the drawstrings of the pouch to a tether inside his pocket lest he lose his precious earnings. The gold remained close to his heart. Occasionally the logger patted his pocket to ensure its presence.

His desire for gold was stronger than that of a mother’s bond with a newborn child. Bomo’s obsession for gold was maniacal. One could not imagine it being replaced by anything else.

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Then the day arrived when his primal lust for the golden metal splintered when he set his eyes upon a beautiful and mythical creature that not only enthralled the ogre with her beauty, but there was far more to her than that.

Bomo was wild with desire to capture this gem and take her into his possession. To think it was just a mere month or so prior when he had stumbled upon her, yet he remembered the day with absolute clarity. The circumstances that led to the event began with a hunt…

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Deep in the forest a boar hunt was afoot. The hunters waited patiently for dusk to arrive before setting out as it was the best time to hunt boar.

Eyvind, the son of King Audun, ruler of the kingdom of Carron, was a tall, young, handsome prince with hair of spun gold, and deep blue eyes. He was passionate about hunting, trapping and tracking–he had mastered them all–as well as a master archer and an unmatched swordsman.

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Eyvind set out on the hunt with three of his most experienced hunters who were also Imperial Knights. Camp was set close to the outskirts of the forest.

The men set out in search of their prey leaving the horses at camp. A gentle breeze blew through the forest filling the air with a spectacle of colorful falling leaves. The men trod on the ground with caution and care. Their discriminating ears searched for any sound indicating a boar within their vicinity.

Meanwhile, they used the remaining light to search for tracks. The men moved though the dense vegetation stealthily and blended with their surrounds. They proceeded deeper into the forest with their loaded bows outstretched in front of them, ready to strike their prey at a moments notice. They moved through the forest like specters. The men fanned out and by means of hand signals they combed through the patch of forest in search of boar.

They knew areas where boar tended to forage however, there were none in sight this day as they continued to move about searching for clues and keeping their ears in tune to the sounds.

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Eventually, Eyvind’s eyes caught sight of boar tracks and with quick hand signals the men repositioned and followed his lead.

The quiet serenity of the forest was finally broken by a faint grunt. The men simultaneously halted and froze in their steps as they waited and listened for the sound to repeat. They remained frozen and waited but only silence persisted. It was not long before darkness would shroud the forest and time was of essence. They did not want to fall victim to their prey in the dark. They waited a few moments and then searched once again.

It wasn’t long before they heard the grunt again. Eyvind knew he was close and had to be prepared to strike first or else disaster could ensue.

The silence was once again broken by grunts and snorts, and with lightning precision the men closed in on the sounds. In a distance they saw the shadowy outline of their prey. The boar was completely consumed in the task of foraging the dense forest floor for fallen fruits, berries, grub and whatever else it could find. The swine was unaware it was being stalked. The men took position and remained as silent as they could.

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Eyvind slowly emerged from behind the tree and brought the swine into his sight. With his eyes fixed on the target, he pulled the bowstring taught, and steadied himself to take the shot. Light faded fast. The tip of the arrow was aligned with the swine and just as he released it, the ground beneath his right foot gave way causing the prince to lose his footing and stumble.

The arrow became misdirected but hit the boar nonetheless. It missed its vital organs and instead became embedded in its thick skin. The boar squealed in pain and looked around frantically until its wild eyes locked in on Eyvind, who was trying to steady himself and keep from falling.

Before he could reload his bow or draw his sword, the boar came charging towards him. Within a flash he felt a sharp pain in his right thigh as bore tusks embedded deep into his flesh and tore a gaping wound. In an instant the boar fell at Eyvind’s feet.

Eyvind collapsed to the ground as the others rushed over to help him. The large gaping wound bled profusely.

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One of them quickly tore a strip of material from his cape and tied a tourniquet above the wound to help stop the bleeding. The forest was quickly becoming enveloped in darkness and they needed to get out and back to their camp.

Eyvind was losing a lot of blood and getting weaker. He became pale and started to fade in and out of consciousness. The men tried to carry him out with haste as they stumbled over fallen trees, rocks, ruts, and deformities. It was a race against time. They had to get the crown prince out of the forest as fast as they could.

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They were thought to dwell in the forest but their world remained secretly hidden from everyone. Unbeknownst to the hunters, an ancient civilization existed beneath the forest floor. This was the magical world of Imen- Hera, a subterranean land bustling with life. It was home to the Imen, who were “magical” beings, but they were not truly magicians per se, rather master alchemists and healers.

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The Imen were known to possess the gift of healing and magical potions; and rarely seen by anyone. They were summoned from Imen- Hera by signals sent below to their world by special trees. The trees communicated by signals when any injured being (man, animal or bird) was sensed in the forest.

It was the duty of the Imen to aid those in need of help. They were bound to this duty as penance for their evil ways in the past having long abandoned those ways in exchange for a chance to live and eventually rejoin the Creation Force.

The trees sensed the injured man in dire need of urgent help. His life hung from a frayed tether that was about to break and release his spirit into the afterlife. The trees carried the signal deep below and summoned the Imen to come to his aid.

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The signal was soundless but sensed by all Imen who answered it by harmonizing with it. Anyone closest to the origin of the signal would harmonize with it and proceed above through secret portals that lay within the Boad trees. These trees opened their portals only to the Imen and no one else. Even if one were to follow an Imen through a portal, it would cinch close to disallow further passage.

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It was an ordinary day in Imen-Hera and everyone was involved in their daily routines. Roni, the emperor’s only child, layered on colorful regalia for the big dance performance– a dance that was captivating and mesmerizing lending to both the performance itself and ornate, colorful costumes.

The dance props were mock replicas of ancient weapons that were once used by the Imen to kill, maim and capture others. At that time they were a powerful race that captured and dominated every nation and territory until none were left.

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War was a form of sport and no one presented a challenge great enough for them. It wasn’t until they had reached the final conquest when a divine intervention personified as a messenger was sent by the Creation Force to offer an ultimatum.

The Imen were given the choice of setting down their weapons forever in exchange for the gifts of healing and alchemy. Most accepted and those who refused perished as predicted.

The only remnants of the past were the dances that replicated elaborate fight scenes in colorful costumes resembling battle armor along with mock weapons.

Roni rushed to get dressed and when she was finally ready, her delicate face was artistically painted with frighteningly exaggerated expressions in heavy makeup. She picked up the zoon, a ten foot braided rope made of leather with colorful tassels at either end and waited her turn.

Her focus was concentrated on each movement and the moment her turn arrived she stepped onto the circular stage and took position.

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Her head bowed low and her left arm extended out in front over her head. She held the zoon at the center. Her left knee was bent while the right knee rested on the ground. The deafening silence was broken by a rhythmic ethereal sound animating Roni.

She spun the zoon and danced around it and with each movement the rattling and jingling sound of her anklets, bracelets, as well as the zoon, mesmerized onlookers. The percussion sound made by her ensemble was haunting. Her body contorted as the zoon made geometrical spiral patterns in the air as she spun it from side to side. At times it spun in the air and wrapped around her arms and then around her torso.

The fabrics from her regalia flowed and bellowed with each movement. This went on for a while until it built up to a crescendo and then came to a sudden halt. The crowd cheered and applauded. Roni bowed and departed, vacating the stage for the next performer.

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Suki greeted her friend after the performance and commented on its excellence. She was just as good as Roni in performing this dance; however she was forever “practicing” and lacked the confidence of actually setting foot on stage in front of a live audience.

Kenji played the key instruments and prepared the music for Roni’s performances.

Roni put away the zoon and began to remove the accessories.

Meanwhile, Kenji walked in to congratulate his friend on her flawless performance. Both Kenji and Roni encouraged Suki to participate next time and tried to build her esteem. However, it was not working because Suki stated she was focused on some “movement” she felt needed more work.

In the midst of their conversation the forest siren sounded. It was a soft gentle signal but unmistakably distinct.

Roni jumped up and harmonized with the frequency before anyone else could. Suki stared at her in horror.

“Why’d you do that?”

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“Because we’re supposed to,” replied Roni.

“Why do you always answer first?” she protested with sheer annoyance.

“You can stay if you wish. I like to go into the forest,” Roni replied smugly.

Roni looked over at Kenji who shrugged his shoulders and walked away with her.

“Wait! Wait! I’m coming. But next time let someone else go. Please,” she moaned and groaned.

“Alright Suki. Next time I’ll let someone else go first,” said Roni. There was complete insincerity in her tone.

Suki knew that next time Roni was going to do exactly as she pleased and the same argument would ensue again and again.

“You haven’t even changed out of your clothes. Aren’t you going to change? I really think we should’ve let someone else go.” Suki continued to protest as she followed closely behind.

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Roni stopped and looked down at herself and began peeling off the regalia as she walked to the changing room. She peeled off the top two layers, threw on her green cape and proceeded on her way.

Meanwhile Kenji waited patiently as Suki continued to think of reasons why they shouldn’t go.

The Imen trio approached the entrance point and the walls of the Boad tree began to widen to allow passage. Onward and upward they ascended to the top.

It would soon be completely dark; however the Imen had the ability to see well even in pitch-black. Upon reaching the surface they stood silently with their eyes closed, sensing and seeking direction from the trees.

They opened their eyes simultaneously and looked in the same direction and proceeded. There was no talk amongst them. In silence they made their way through the dense vegetation.

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The signal got stronger as they approached the scene of the boar hunt. It wasn’t long before they came upon the dead hog lying listless with several arrows sticking out of its flesh.

Without hesitation they proceeded forth as the signal was now intense and had an air of extreme urgency about it. They could hear voices ahead at a distance. Without much hesitation they moved quickly in its direction.

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Blood continued to stream slowly from Eyvind’s thigh painting dark crimson streaks as it dripped to the ground. He started to fade in and out of consciousness as the men frantically struggled to carry him to safety. Doom set upon their faces. How were they going to explain this accident to the king? And what if Eyvind died?

They forced their worries aside and tended to the task of getting him out of the forest as quickly as they could.

It was not long before they sensed a presence of someone or something watching them. They stopped dead in their tracks and gently laid Eyvind down on the ground.

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The three men surrounded him, drew arrows from their quivers and strung their bows ready to strike anything that moved.

They caught sight of something moving in their direction through the vegetation. Simultaneously they released arrows in its direction.

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The trio caught sight of the hunters hauling a badly wounded man and cut through the forest to intercept them. The Imen rapidly observed while approaching with little caution.

Although normally they would have been more cautious and chosen a different approach, they sensed a life hanging by a fragile thread that warranted an urgent response. They needed to act fast even if it meant endangering their own lives.

They quickly approached the hunters while their sights were fixed upon the wounded man lying limp on the ground.

The loaded bows aimed in their direction did not go unnoticed yet their focus remained on their dying subject.

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Suddenly the arrows pierced through the air towards them at lightning speed and precision. The trio’s concentration was unmoved by this minor distraction.

The arrows headed dead center for their foreheads.

Each of the trio reached up and caught an arrow in mid-air–a hair away from penetrating their skin, and threw them aside. All the while their gaze remained on Eyvind who lay in a pile on the ground.

The hunters were stunned by the sorcery and had never seen anything like it. The Imperial Knights instinctively drew their swords. However, there was a momentary hesitation, as if they were uncertain of what to expect next.

For a moment they wondered if the trio, clad in long hooded capes, were spirits from the afterlife that had come to claim Prince Eyvind, but they appeared too real.

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Roni approached the wounded man followed by Kenji and Suki. The hunters remained steadfast in their position not knowing what to do as the hooded trio stood over Eyvind.

“Who are you?” barked out Axel.

They ignored him and proceeded to take care of the dying man.

Roni knelt down and inspected the wound. It was deep and much blood had been lost. She reached for the tiny pouch hanging from her neck and opened it with her slim pale fingers. She carefully pulled out a dried plant of some sort.

From the ground nearby she picked up a fresh leaf large enough to cover the wound and proceeded to crush the dried plant matter with her hand.

“I said wh-,” the hunter was abruptly cut off mid-sentence by Suki who raised her hand in the air to communicate “Silence!”

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Although the hunters were compelled to carry out their duty to protect Eyvind, a strange feeling within assured them that he was somehow in safe hands. However, their blades remained dutifully pointed at the strange beings.

Roni sprinkled the crushed plant onto the leaf and then produced another tiny vial from the same pouch containing a silver liquid. She carefully put a few drops onto the leaf and the mixture immediately began to smoke. She held it out on her palm until the smoke subsided and then applied the poultice to the wound.

A weak grimace appeared on Eyvind’s face from the application. His eyes opened for a second and then rolled back into his head.

Roni pressed the poultice firmly against his wound and released the tourniquet. The men watched in horror, fearing the worse and uncertain of whether to trust the strangers or drive their blades into them while they had a chance.

Eyvind remained lying with no apparent change. His weak and flaccid body remained motionless in the same position.

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His companions began to wonder if he were dead.

Suddenly, Axel pointed his blade at Kenji and pushed its tip firmly against the back of his neck.

“Who are you?” he asked in anger and rage.

Kenji ignored him, as did the others.

“I’ll slice your head clear off unless you tell me what you’ve done to him,” he demanded.

Still, there was no response. It was as though Kenji could not hear him nor feel the tip of the blade embedded into his skin.

The hunter increased the pressure and pushed the blade firmly against Kenji’s flesh. Beneath the hood it had punctured the skin and drawn blood. He was about to drive it through Kenji’s neck when Raidon, the oldest of the three, noticed Eyvind’s eyes flutter open.

“He’s opening his eyes,” he stated with relief.

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Axel withdrew his blade and rushed to Eyvind who weakly opened his eyes and began to focus on his surrounds. He looked at Axel who knelt beside him. Axel held him against his bosom and tears of relief streamed down his face.

“You’re alive sire!” he exclaimed. He held him tightly and rejoiced.

Laris and Raidon returned their blades to their sheaths and huddled close to Eyvind in complete amazement.

Eyvind was slowly regaining consciousness and began to stir.

The Imen trio stepped back in silence and continued to observe him from a distance.

Eyvind’s strength improved with each breath he drew. He tried to sit up and look around. The last thing he remembered was falling to the ground and the charging boar. The pain in his thigh had subsided considerably to the point where he wasn’t even aware he had been inflicted with a near fatal wound.

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“What happened to the boar?” he asked feebly.

They looked at each other wondering what they should tell him.

Raidon spoke up and said, “He’s dead sire.”

Eyvind looked around to see where it was but there was no sign of it, but instead he caught sight of the hooded strangers standing at a distance.

“Who’re they?” he asked weakly.

He looked around again and noticed that it was now much later than he last remembered and he was also not in the same spot where the boar hunt took place.

The Imen remained motionless as they observed the hunters.

“Who are they?” he asked again looking over at his men.

“We’re not certain, sire,” replied Axel who was just as puzzled as Eyvind.

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Eyvind squinted his eyes and through his blurry vision, he tried to bring them into sharper focus. It was hard to make out the faces since the hoods concealed them. The forest was now thoroughly enveloped in darkness.

“Who are you?” he asked in a whispered tone.

There was still no response. Suddenly Eyvind felt a slight discomfort in his leg. He looked down at it and saw the appliqué on his thigh. He slowly reached down for it and began to peel it back revealing a scar that had now almost completely healed.

His men looked down at the sight in complete amazement and sighed. “Imen! You’re the mystical Imen,” exclaimed Raidon as he bowed down to them.

He was old and wise enough to remember who and what they were. They were a sacred race of healers who could perform miracles and behold, they had.

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Eyvind struggled to his feet with the assistance of his men. He cautiously approached them but respectfully maintained his distance.

Standing before them he realized he had been inflicted with a serious injury and the mythical beings were responsible for saving his life. He could not believe he was standing before Imen.

Eyvind got down on his knee and bowed his head low and spoke, “I’m not sure how to thank you for saving my life. I’d like to repay this debt if I may somehow.”

At first there was not a stir or response until Roni stepped forth and peeled back the hood revealing a frightening but dramatically painted face with dark hair fashioned on the head in a loose bun.

This was not how Eyvind had imagined the Imen to appear. He was definitely shocked and surprised.

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Roni found him curious and was deeply interested in him. He remained bowing on his knee before her. She gestured him to rise to his feet and continued to study him. His face was blood-smeared. She stepped forward and peered into the depths of his deep blue eyes searching his inner fabric. He was different. They were all very different.

They had golden hair, blue eyes and were much bigger in stature than the Imen. They were all very handsome, especially Eyvind.

She searched deep into his eyes and peered into his life even though there was no reason for it since he was already healed. However, Roni was captivated by the fallen hunter; and was dangerously using her gift for selfish curiosity, her one and only vice.

It was a vice that was not tolerated by the Imen because the consequence of “searching” for anything beyond necessary healing purposes led to banishment from Imen-Hera and forfeiture of powers bestowed upon them.

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The severity reflected the importance of keeping their culture pure and untainted from the outside world and its influences. A simple glimpse into another world and its wonderment would eventually lead to coveting things viewed, and was considered as the source of decline of their sacred way of life.

Roni had crossed that line and committed the highest violation of the Imen law. She had abandoned her duty to remain within bounds and instead was driven by curiosity that lured her to proceed forth and peer deeper into his world.

Eyvind felt her intrusion and uncomfortably looked away in an attempt to break her concentration.

Roni was fixated on what she saw and tried to take in as much as she could. She immediately sensed his discomfort and broke her intrusive gaze.

Eyvind wondered what she was doing and why her face was painted in such a frightening manner. The brightly painted expressions didn’t serve as camouflage.

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Meanwhile his men whispered amongst themselves about the special beings and the powers they held.

“They’re master alchemists. They can turn things to gold and carry magic potions just like the one she used to heal the wound,” exclaimed Laris. “I’m going to ask for a potion,” he continued with glee.

Laris secretly loved to take chances and this was one opportunity that he was not going to let go of even though he knew of the consequences attached with it. It was his opportunity in life to regain the wealth his father had squandered gambling when he was young, and one that had put his mother and the two younger siblings out on the streets. His father committed suicide after shamefully losing his home and wealth in gambling debts. Although Laris spent the rest of his childhood living with his maternal grandparents, he vowed to regain the wealth and estate that had once belonged to them one way or another. This was his chance.

“You mustn’t!” scolded Raidon. “Don’t you know? You can’t ask them for anything! It is for them to give and not for you to ask,” he reminded him.

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“I’m not asking for much. Just a little vial,” argued Laris.

“I tell you, you must not!” rebuked Raidon.

Eyvind felt an awkward silence set between him and Roni.

This was broken when she clasped her hands in front of her and stated, “You’re healed now. You should go before it gets too dark.”

Eyvind noticed a unique ring on her right middle finger. A most magnificent blue stone ever to be seen sat nestled in the midst of a silvery vine that intertwined around the stone securing it in place, and then around her delicate finger. The stone was about the size of a thumbnail and ablaze with its sparkling beauty. It was hypnotic. He had never seen anything quite so beautiful in his life. Finally, he broke his gaze and looked up to thank her again and this time he did not feel uncomfortable when he looked at her.

“There must be a way to repay this debt,” he stated again.

“It’s not your debt. The debt is ours as well as our duty,” she replied.

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Eyvind accepted her answer graciously.

Just as she turned to leave, Laris timidly dared to ask, “My Lady, before you leave, would it be too much to ask for a small amount of potion that could turn things to gold?”

She stopped and looked at him with a penetrating stare before answering.

He felt uneasy and wondered if it were wise to have kept his mouth shut.

The others looked at him in horror and then back at her and anticipated her response with concern and apprehension.

Raidon was furious at Laris for proceeding against his advice.

Roni took a couple of steps towards him and came face to face. She reached into the little pouch around her neck and produced a glass vial and handed it to him.

“I’m bound by duty to oblige you and I’m sure you’re aware of the consequence of your request. However, I must warn you, this gold is not written in your destiny,” she warned as she handed him the vial.

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Despite the warning and his better judgment, Laris apprehensively reached for the vial in her porcelain hand and gently picked it off her outstretched palm without much regret.

Raidon’s eyes were transfixed on Laris with anger and he couldn’t wait to chastise him.

The Imen trio vanished into the forest, leaving Eyvind and his men in the dark silence.

Laris relaxed the grip on his hand and stared at the vial twinkle in the starlight. It was beautiful.

The others looked at him with disappointment and just as Raidon was about to scold him, Eyvind held him back and let Laris enjoy the precious gift he had just acquired.

# # # # # # # #

Five years earlier…

A lone black ship sailed the Velvet Sea in the cover of night along the coast of Bodon, a hostile nation that lay north east of Carron.

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It wasn’t long before a sailor high in the crow’s nest cried out, “Captain! Man overboard at starboard!”

Korin, the captain of the ship and Eyvind’s younger brother, ran to the starboard side and peered through a looking glass into the dark night in search for the man. At first nothing was visible but then a large piece of debris washed by moonlight was spotted bobbing on the sea. Korin shouted orders to change course and head in its direction.

As the black ship approached the debris, a man’s silhouette clinging to a piece of wreckage became visible.

The prone figure was motionless.

Korin shouted orders to lower a vessel into the water as five sailors simultaneously jumped into it and began rowing towards the debris.

Korin watched from the ship with anxiety as the sailors maneuvered to the wreckage and pulled the man into their vessel who appeared to be limp as a rag.

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At first Korin presumed the man was dead but soon realized the sailors would not have pulled him into their vessel if that was indeed so. He became excited and wondered where the man was from and how he ended up so close to Bodon. Korin was always searching for information just to have an upper hand over everyone else.

The small vessel reached the ship and the limp man was hoisted up to the deck where Korin stood waiting.

“I think he’s still alive,” spoke one of the drenched sailors.

Korin nudged the man with his foot but there was no response. One could tell he was still alive from the shallow rise and fall of his chest. The men were instructed to carry him below to recoup.

Korin followed them down and watched from afar as his men tried to arouse the stranger back to consciousness.

Eventually, he came to and began to ask for water. Korin approached and positioned himself before him.

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“Who are you and where’re you from?” he asked sternly.

“Water, just let me have some water please,” the man pleaded weakly. “Please.”

Korin motioned one of the sailors to give the man a sip of water. He held the cup close to his mouth and the man began to take large gulps.

Korin kicked the cup away from his mouth launching the cup across the room. The man was startled. He looked at Korin fearfully.

“You can have more once you’ve given me answers to my questions,” he stated.

The man took a deep swallow and knew he was in trouble. He had just managed to make a treacherous escape, only to fall victim to another foe. He straightened himself and faced Korin.

“What’re you doing in these parts and where’re you from?” Korin asked once again.

“Sir, our galleon was caught in a fierce storm and it capsized washing just a few survivors on to that…that…shore,” he replied fearfully. His eyes were filled with terror.

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The man’s reaction caught Korin’s attention. He wondered why he reacted in that manner.

“What about that shore? Where are the other survivors?” he asked impatiently.

Korin wanted to know everything he could as fast as possible.

The man became catatonic and remained staring into nowhere with the fixed look of horror on his face. It was as though he was reliving the nightmare he had just been through.

Korin wondered if the man had been into Bodon and escaped from there. If so, this was a first because no one had ever escaped Bodon and lived to tell about it.

“Tell me, were you taken into Bodon?” asked Korin with force as he grabbed the man by his arm and tried to shake him back into reality.

The man remained transfixed and his eyes continued to blaze.

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Korin became increasingly impatient with him and jarred him some more. It was of no use. The man was in a horrific trance. One of the sailors cracked a whip on his back snapping him out of his catatonia.

“I said, were you in Bodon?” Korin asked again.

The man nodded in fear and pain.

“How’d you get away? No one’s ever gotten away from Bodon. Were you taken prisoner?” he fired his volley of questions.

The man uttered no words. He simply nodded “Yes.”

“Tell me everything you know. Were you taken prisoner by them into Bodon or did you remain hiding on the shore?” He demanded.

The man was terrified but at the same time he could sense he had information that Korin desperately desired. He used this opportunity to bargain for his life. He would be of no use to them dead and Korin would have to yield to his request.

“We were all taken prisoner but I managed to escape,” he replied.

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“You were in the caverns deep within Bodon?” reaffirmed Korin in complete astonishment.

“Yes captain. Deep within,” he replied.

Korin’s mind went into overload. He could hardly believe the treasure in his hands. He had heard rumors of gold veins running through the tunnels and caverns of Bodon but no one had ever seen them. He was going to do everything to keep the man alive and extract every last bit of information from him.

“You mean you escaped the labyrinth of tunnels?” he asked to verify again.

“Yes, from the labyrinth. That’s right,” he replied with confidence.

“That’s impossible! No one’s ever escaped Bodon. You’re lying!” he shouted in complete disbelief.

The man became nervous and for a moment he felt Korin might just kill him.

38

“I’m tellin you the truth. I can draw you the map of the tunnels and show you how I escaped. We’re masters at directions and bearings. We have no use for navigation tools because we’re naturally aware of our directions. If you don’t believe me, I’ll tell you what direction we are facing and heading. I will also tell you where we lie in relation to the land mass.”

Korin was aghast, but had a feeling the man was telling the truth. However, he had him tell their location and bearings just to be sure. The man complied and identified the exact location accurately.

Korin was amazed at the ease with which the man did this and could not believe it, thinking perhaps he was guessing.

He had him blindfolded and threw him in a dark storage compartment. Then Korin went up to the deck and had the ship’s bearings changed several times until he returned and asked for the new bearing, location, and direction.

The man once again complied with ease and gave the correct answer each time.

39

Korin was now a believer.

“I’ll tell you anything you need to know in exchange for food, water and a vessel to get back home,” he man requested.

Korin had no interest in giving him anything more than food and water as long as he furnished information. He was not about to let him go anywhere.

He planned to hold him hostage until the map of the tunnels was verified as correct. But first he needed to know if the tales of gold veins were accurate.

“You’ll get everything you request once I’ve gotten what I seek. But first I need to know if you saw any metal ore in Bodon. Did you?” he asked sternly.

“Why, yes I did. There’s metal ore everywhere. The walls are lined with it. As well as veins of gold,” he replied.

Korin lit up, elated with the news and couldn’t believe his luck having found such a treasure. The only obstacle that remained was how to enter Bodon, defeat them and take the gold as well as the other metal ore.

40

The casualties would be enormous if they attempted this despite having a map of the tunnels. He also had to take into account that the man was only giving them a layout of the tunnels that he had seen and been through.

Carron could not afford heavy casualties because it would leave them weak and vulnerable to attack especially from Carthinia.

The Bodonians were a vicious and aggressive enemy with an advantage few challenged. The mountain dwellers chose to draw the enemy into their narrow tunnels and ambush them systematically. An attempt to invade Bodon was met with failure time and time again.

Korin wrestled with the dilemma but could not come up with a reasonable solution until an idea struck him and rushed back home to confer with his father.

The black ship headed for the only port city of Rune close to the delta of River Loki. They navigated the treacherous waters of the delta where River Loki emptied into the Velvet Sea and made port.

41

Korin wasted no time hastily heading towards Jasper with the prisoner. It was a long journey back and took at least two days.

Upon reaching Jasper, Korin rushed the prisoner into a secret cell located in the main castle where not many were allowed.

He imparted the news to his father as both men began to spin a devious plan to extract the gold and wealth that lay hidden within Bodon.

King Audun accompanied Korin to visit the prisoner and had him draw the map of the tunnels at several separate occasions to ensure it was consistent and not a trick.

The prisoner had replicated the maps exactly each time. Both, father and son were eventually convinced.

The prisoner demanded to be released for having kept his end of the bargain; however, neither King Audun nor Prince Korin had any intention of letting him go free. The prisoner was unaware that he would spend the rest of his life in confinement or face execution if they discovered that he had lied.

42

It wasn’t long before Audun and Korin came up with a clever plan that would not only deliver the gold and metal ore into their hands but also the control of three nations. They devised a strategy that would involve their arch rival Carthinia as a partner in their endeavor and if all went as planned they would kill two birds with one stone.

The plan involved formulating a “peace” pact with Carthinia to “end” the bitter rivalry that had persisted for hundreds of years.

Audun would approach them with an olive branch and seal the pact through the marriage of Eyvind, heir to the throne of Carron, with Adina, the heiress to the throne of Carthinia.

Upon completing this first phase, they would reveal information regarding a gold hoard in Bodon and would manipulate a joint attack led by the Carthinians.

They had planned on giving the Carthinians inaccurate maps that would trap them and bring heavy casualties prompting the dispatch of more troops.

43

Audun was willing to sacrifice a small army of his own men for the sake of keeping suspicions at bay. He was aware of the insatiable lust for gold the Carthinians possessed and giving them the honor to lead into Bodon would not be met with an unfavorable response, especially given control of it.

Audun’s strategy involved concentrating the Bodonians into strategic areas to fight the Carthinians, leaving other tunnels with minimal defense. Secret Carronite platoons would enter Bodon through the ill defended tunnels and attack from the rear and conquer Bodon. This attack would be launched after he felt the Carthinians had suffered heavy casualties rendering them weak and outnumbered in defending their own soil. After the capture of Bodon the focus would shift on attacking Carthinia and taking over their nation.

Audun was pleased and confident with his strategy. It seemed straightforward enough. They now had to set the wheels in motion, but there remained the issue of sharing the wealth with the prefects.

44

Both father and son decided not to reveal the actual truth about the entirety of gold that existed within Bodon and instead impart partial information to the prefects. They wanted to keep as much as they could for themselves. However, they needed to reveal enough information to keep the prefects motivated and loyal to the cause. They would entice them further by offering to share the plunder of Carthinia.

And so the plan was set in motion and peace between the two nations was touted. Audun was careful not to draw any suspicion and devised the entire plan to take place over five years. This would give them enough time to go over every detail of his strategy and convince the Carthinians of the “genuine” interest in peace.

Meanwhile, the captured prisoner was moved back to the port city of Rune and secretly held captive there.

# # # # # # # #

Five years later (back to the present) …

45

Bomo, the ogre, combed the forest in search of the perfect tree that would yield the most firewood. He made his living as a woodcutter and sold firewood to the town’s people. When he wasn’t chopping piles of wood, he delved in amateur sorcery.

The art of sorcery was something he had learned at a very young age whilst watching in hiding as his mother, the cunning and conniving wicked wretch of a sorceress, brewed her potions. Although he was hardly as skillful as she, he knew enough to be deemed a nuisance more to himself than anyone else.

He walked the forest clumsily hacking a path with his oversized axe. Plant debris rained down on the maladroit specimen as he mumbled and cursed, slicing his way in search of the perfect tree. It was important to Bomo that the tree was of proper height and thickness to yield the adequate amount of wood.

The woodcutting bumpkin grunted and groaned loudly as he labored all day until his task was complete. He chopped the wood into large busted pieces and piled them high in a mound.

46

He would return the next day with his equally clumsy ox pulling his rickety cart to load it chock full, one trip at a time, back and forth to his lair.

He piled the wood against the outside walls of his cavernous habitat. Once the wood was transferred to his shack, he piled his cart high and headed into town to sell it to ultimately acquire his coveted gold pieces.

It was a sight to see the brute return home with his black leather pouch containing a few shiny gold coins that made a heavenly clinging sound as they collided amongst one another.

He was mesmerized by their golden glint as he held the coins up to his grotesque face. His yellowish eyes doubled their normal size and almost bulged out of their sockets with greed and lust for the metal. He whispered phrases that expressed his love and desire for the gleaming golden metal.

Not a single living creature was safe when Bomo prepared to stash away his gold pieces. His gigantic worn boots smashed down the tiniest of creatures should his eyes ever fall upon them.

47

The secret stash was located in the floor deep in his study. The floor was made of stone blocks that were worn with time and especially with the ogre’s daily stomping. The mortar between the stones had worn away over the ages and loosened them.

A large ugly metal tub filled with junk sat in the corner of the room on top of a stone block floor, and beneath that laid the secret compartment that held a two-foot long by one and a half foot wide by one foot deep ornate gold chest.

The clumsy ogre protected his stash with great diligence. Each time he made a deposit into the chest he made a mental note of how the coins came to rest on top of one another before closing the lid. This way he could tell if someone had dipped into it. He trusted no one.

# # # # # # # #

The night sky was dark and dusted with a million twinkling stars amidst a thin sliver of the moon which sliced through the darkness. The wind began to pick up and fill the air with a confetti of leaves through which four riders cut through with haste.

48

The castle guard could hear the distant thunder of the approaching horses and they immediately signaled the guard at the tallest keep to identify if it were friend or foe.

Although they had been expecting Eyvind and his company, no one ever assumed anything and they never let their guard down.

The guards used hawks to surveil anyone approaching the city. A loud squawking would signify a foe and a quiet retreat to their perch indicated a friend.

Immediately a hawk was released and it took flight in the direction of the galloping thunder and within moments it returned to its owner in the turret and calmly landed on his gauntlet-clad wrist.

The turret guard signaled the guard below to open the gate. Several guards took position to open it as the horses drew closer. The men had it down to a science: They waited until the horse’s breath was up against the gate before they opened them just wide enough to allow a single file of riders through and then quickly slammed them shut.

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The riders wound their way up to the castle and came to a halt in the courtyard. The men dismounted and gathered around Prince Eyvind to make certain he was fine.

The blood soaked tear in his pants leg was still there but there was no sign of injury. Only a faint scar remained. He exerted pressure on his leg by shifting his weight onto it and shook it to make sure it was fine. It seemed to be as normal as it had been prior to their departure. He was still amazed at the occurrence, as were the rest.

Raidon instructed a servant to bring a washbasin full of water for Eyvind to wash his face and a clean set of clothing before he made his way into the castle.

After washing and changing, they bid one another goodnight and departed.

The horses were led back to their stables. The men were weary and tired from the evening’s events and set off to their abodes.

50

# # # # # # # #

Next: The Good, Bad & Gold: The Pursuit – Section 2

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