January 16, 2008
By Jonathan Gradstein, Omer, ZZ

Chapter 1
Heragon stumbled on a thorny root. He groaned. This happens when you wander unsupervised into hostile or unexplored parts of the forest, he thought. Well he couldn’t help it. Staying with his dull “friends” might be safe, but it sure bored him. Heragon’s subspecies, particularly violent and unintelligent, found picking fights their only interesting activity. Heragon, on the other hand, adored exploring the boundless forest that constituted the whole Eastern part of Runika. There existed so many languages to learn and use creatures with whom to socialize, and Concentrated Magic Circles to discover.

Heragon spotted a little wooden elf passing by him. He’d had an unpleasant experience with a wooden elf, and learned that punching them will leave you with splinters for a considerable amount of time. This one seemed small. Definitely a suitable victim to his jabbering. Heragon loved his job as a translator: he could jabber in any language he chose and, more importantly, it operated as a rare source of knowledge. He called to the elf in his newly acquired elf speech.

“Hi there. Oh a wooden elf, I see. Hmm... Did you know that wooden elves are relatives of the immobile family of trees? It’s interesting to note that…”
Darn, thought the elf. Heragon’s endless lectures never seized. He looked Heragon over. It looked to him like Heragon closely resembled an enlarged grasshopper, about the size of a human. Except that Heragon could stand on his hind legs, the elf offered a very accurate description.

Heragon came from a line of different enlarged and slightly altered insects. They stuck together because an increase in numbers also increased in power. And they need power all right. With very powerful and predominant magic everywhere, insects had a disadvantage. All the forest dwellers--except a small minority—could barely hurt a fly, and so living in the relatively safe forest seemed like a reasonable plan. The forest dwellers, not very productive magic casters anyway, rarely encountered Magic Circles, and almost never found a capable mage to guide them in their magical studies.

The spiders, enlarged of course, provided the dwellings with neatly spun tents. Vegetation in the forest provided food.
Overall, these large insects populated about a third of the forest. Elves and predators controlled another third. Flying creatures occupied the last third.

Heragon, continuing on his way, grabbed a newspaper from a stand nearby.
Forest dwellers had accumulated enough knowledge (except the grasshoppers and goblins) to publish a newspaper, and in that they had grown unique. The other creatures did not know how to write anything but magic books (not that Heragon encountered such creatures; he never stepped out of the tremendous forest). All he knew came out of vivid reading, an unusual skill for the rude and dumb grasshoppers. Even if he did exit the forest, what next? Thousands of miles separated Heragon and the nearest civilization. The only other option would have been to teleport there, but a glance at Teleportation Magic textbooks had discouraged him completely.
The newspaper contained the usual: new potions discovered, some more crimes committed by goblins, etc. Heragon found the logic puzzles and completed them swiftly. He possessed a talent for logic and strategy. Be it war or games, Heragon would be an expert opponent. Heragon flipped to the politics now, something that also interested him. Something caught Heragon’s eye: a request for a brave someone to end the escalating tensions in Runika. The newspaper ended with an attached form with a space for writing your information, if anyone decided to be this brave someone. The requirements excited Heragon: A knowledgeable creature in languages and geography, excellent leadership skills, and strategic thinking. Hmmm…He filled out the attached form and with a reassuring glance from the newspaper stand owner, sent the form on its way to meet the King of Runika.
Chapter 2

The King of Runika paced back and forth. This situation spiraled out of hand, he thought. Not that he understood it, but that is what his assistant had informed him. Maybe I should resign now instead of risking being blamed for causing a war later.
“At least I have you,” he muttered under his breath at the clever assistant before him. This assistant, who acted as the brains behind the king’s handiwork, skimmed the various forms of volunteers, and at that specific moment reading the information of someone called “Heragon”. He raised his eyebrows.

“I think we have our volunteer!” he exclaimed.

“Wait a minute. Explain to me what this conflict thing is; I don’t understand any of it” the King admitted.
“Well, ok. Look, you know how there’s regions in Runika? For example, there’s the East, where all our scholars and magic inventors come from. This is also the home of this “Heragon” creature. And the South, which contains our expert armor and weapon craftsmen. Then there’s the West, where we get our experienced mages and useful potions. The North, where all these vile Barbarians come from, and from there we get…ummm… well nothing really if you don’t count stupid creatures as something.”

“O.K. so what’s the conflict?” the King scratched his head.

“It seems that the Barbarians are revolting. You know, they are very strong but magicless creatures. They are rebelling because they want to ban magic--out of jealousy, I think.

“So what? We get some magic from the West, and armor from the South, and give this all to some goblins in the East, and we have an army. We could kill all those Bar..Barb…”

“Barbarians, sir”

“Yes, that’s what I meant.”

“That would have been fine, before we caught a messenger from the West, going to the North. The letter revealed that the West has teamed up with the North, and are giving them some strong potions to help them succeed in overthrowing you.”

“Why would they do that?! Don’t they know that if the Barbarians succeed then they’ll ban all magic? The king there must be so stupid. At least they have me to settle all this,” the King declared.

“That’s the point, sir. They agreed to surrender some magic potions to the Barbarians, on condition that the Barbarians will let the West keep their magic when they seize the throne.” explained the assistant.

“Only the West will have magic? That’s disastrous; they will use it for their own evil purposes.”

“Exactly,” sighed the assistant.

“So what do you propose we do?” The king counted on his fingers. “That’s two regions versus two regions. And the West and North are the most powerful regions. What’s your plan?”

“I thought I told you the plan yesterday and you consented to it.”

“Well, we were in public. You can’t expect me to admit I don’t understand the plan in front of the public! Now explain it to me again!”

“OK: the Barbarians have a weak point. They are so dumb that they cant even think of a strategic battle maneuver!”

“Ha, so we can beat them!” the king shook the assistant in triumph.

“Nooooot quiiiiiiiite.” The assistant stepped back. “Luckily for them, they have a smart king. Without that king we could surely win. I think an assassination would ensure us victory. So I put a page in the newspaper to find such an assassin. ”

“You published our intent to assassinate?!” the king fumed.

“No, I just published the requirements for such a creature. He will get rough directions via a letter.”

“Smart thinking. Go on.”

“I think the assassin should be able to take a small team of three to assist him, as more would attract attention and allow for a bigger chance of betrayal.”

“Very nice plan. I consent.”

“This time you understand the plan, right?”

“Yes, yes. Now send this assassin his instructions to assassinate the King of Barbarians!” exclaimed the king.

“Very well, sir.” The assistant smiled and went off to complete his task
Maybe there’s a chance of this succeeding, thought the king. Oh well, if it doesn’t I could blame it all on this assistant.
A knock on the door awoke Heragon from his marvelous dreams of trekking across the depths of Runika; of seeing the deserts of the South, the jungles of the West, and harsh, barren, winter lands of the North; each region had a signature climate and type. He really hoped he’d get to go on this mission. Reading about Runika made him ever the more curious to see the authentic places. He put on his shoes, and headed toward the door.

“Message from the king!” the pigeon messenger who he found at his door announced formally.
Heragon felt his spine tingle. Could it be? Had the king chosen him? He took the message, bade the pigeon good-bye, and eagerly opened the letter. His dream mission hadn’t included an assassination, but this mission would have to do.

Chapter 2

Heragon clutched the note in his hands. With this ticket, no region would be left unexplored. The invaluable note read:

Congratulations Heragon,

You have been chosen to go on an extremely important mission concerning the fate of Runika. Your task will lie in rendering the Barbarian army useless. You will do this by assassinating the King of the Barbarians. You may choose three people whom you trust, to go along with you on this dangerous journey. Once you have chosen your companions, arrive at my castle for detailed instructions. Think carefully. This is a very dangerous mission.

With regards,
King IX of the Runikan Empire

Heragon decided that at least one member of his team would be courageous and strong to supplement the defense of the team. Another would be small and sneaky for stealth and message-carrying. The last member would be a knowledgeable Barbarian expert who knew the North like the palm of his hand.
The last member seemed easy enough to find. Who would know more about Barbarians then a Barbarian himself? Heragon had heard of a village of ex- Barbarians lying in the outskirts of the forests. Exiled Barbarians lived there. Most of them had opposed the law that forbids magic in the North. Therefore if they had practiced magic in secret, they would probably be adept magic casters.
Trekking to this village took Heragon quite a while and he almost fell in exhaustion when he found a cabin. Taking a deep breath he opened the door and entered.
“Yes?” growled a voice.
Heragon felt immediately relieved for two reasons. One: the ex-Barbarian had not killed him the second he stepped in meaning he did not have a Barbarian personality. Two: the ex-Barbarian knew how to talk.

The room seemed plain, not lavishly decorated like a typical forester’s home. In the middle of the house stood the huge ex-Barbarian, in the middle of casting a spell.

“Who arrre yew?” he growled in a heavy Barbarian accent when Heragon entered.

“Well, I was wondering if you could help me…” Heragon started.

“How?” the ex-Barbarian asked suspiciously.

“Tell me a little about Barbarians, please.”
“HA! Barbariansh, shuch despicable fellowsh,” he snorted. “Barbariansh are so uneentelligent they can’t even casht a shimple bruise-healing shpell. Magic cashting requirers great conshentration you know, and patienshe sho magic cashting is out of the question for them. They are pretty shtrong unlike me. I gave up shtrength long ago for magic. Ash you know they caused warsh in Runika for ash long ash anyone can rememberer. They have long sharp hornsh and even sharperer teeth protruding from their mouthsh like me. Otherwise, they look like humansh. The Barbariansh gatherer in groupsh and exshept for hunting, they fight each otherer all day long. You couldn’t meashurer a Barbariansh’ IQ, becaushe they are too dumb to undershtand the IQ questionsh. HAHAHAHA.”

This Barbarian might be smart in comparison to Barbarians, but he sure is as rude, Heragon thought.
“Well, fellah, what elshe did you want?”
“To be frank, your accent is impossible to understand.”
“I’ll try to talk so that you can understand, but no guarantees.” From then on, he had only a slight slur on the “r”.
Heragon continued, “The king selected me to organize an expedition; a dangerous one, at that.”
Heragon related to him the day’s events, and the conflict in Runika. The ex-Barbarian considered carefully.

“You say we’re going back to the North?”

“Yes,” Heragon replied.

“Will I be rewarded?”

“Not that I know of,” Heragon replied. Heragon would receive several rewards: the knowledge, glory, and sightseeing offered by this expedition. The thought of payment nagged at him, though.

“No matter. Revenge against those retched Barbarians and their king will suffice for me. So I guess I accept the invitation. Anyway, we need someone to protect us, because I don’t use my magic for defense so well yet.”

“Yes that’s part of my plan:” Heragon related to the ex-Barbarian his future plans.

The ex-Barbarian thought for a second.
“Well for the sneaky creature, it looks to me like we need a bird. From here, that is a walk of about an hour, but my magic can get us there right now!” he uttered and cast a teleportation magic on Heragon and himself, sending them to the home of the flying creatures in the treetops.

“Ta da!” the ex-Barbarian grinned.
Hmm… thought Heragon. This Barbarian might speak rudely, but he surely will come in handy. Heragon looked around the room. He could not spot anything, except for the wooden floor that seemed to go on for miles. Where did everyone go? A gruff voice interrupted his thoughts.

“Who goes there?” it commanded.
Heragon looked around him, but saw no one.

“Answer!” it commanded.
Ohhhhh, Heragon thought. We’re in the flying creatures’ kingdom! Creatures fly here! He looked up and took in a marvelous scene. All kinds of creatures scurrying around, all using their efficient wings. Who did I expect would walk on the ground here? he muttered to himself. Then he looked at the owner of the gruff voice. A guard probably. The guard hovered, charged with defense magic. Heragon thought he should answer before he got zapped.

“Well, we came looking for a certain someone…” He explained to the guard what kind of person they needed.

“Come with me! I know who would be willing to accompany you.”
Heragon and the ex-Barbarian (who didn’t have a name, Barbarian tradition forbade names) followed the guard. They came to a clearing.

“What are you waiting for? Enter!” the guard commanded.

“But where?” Heragon didn’t see anything.

“Look.” The ex-Barbarian pointed up.
WOW! Even the houses fly. Heragon looked up and glared at the object above him. It seemed like a hut. But what supported its flight? Heragon looked more closely and answered himself.

“The house has a propeller!”

“That’s right. Lemme get us there.”
With a woosh of his magic Heragon could feel himself hovering above the ground. The ex-Barbarian explained to Heragon that in order to maneuver in the air, one must first imagine himself at his destination. The magic would fulfill the thought. They reached the house easily, and stepped in through the door.
As with the ex-Barbarian’s house, this seemed also quite plain. A very curious creature that looked precisely like a bird the size of an owl, greeted them. He didn’t have wings. Instead the bird transported in the air by means of a propeller! It appeared natural —this particular species of bird obtained its propeller a few months after birth. The creature hovered a few feet above the ground, like them.

“What have you come here for, my friends?” the creature asked.
Well, at least a decent greeting for a change, Heragon thought. “We came here seeking help, and the guard directed us to you,” Heragon answered.

“A very impatient guard,” the ex-Barbarian added.

“I am quite free, so I may assist you. By the way, you may call me Zorgord.”

“Well actually it might require more than a few hours of your time, Zorgord,” the ex-Barbarian admitted.
Heragon explained to him all he knew of the situation with the upcoming war in Runika. The ex-Barbarian added a few words describing Barbarians. He also decided to tell them more about the North.
“The North is a very foreboding place. It is a cold, barren place covered with a never receding layer of snow. Few creatures can survive there. The Barbarians survive there by wearing thick coats, which they were smart enough to buy. There is a constant threat of vicious wolfs and evil witches. Are you sure you are willing to go?” the ex-Barbarian asked.
“I am.” Zorgord remained confident.

“Good, then let’s get down from these infernal trees,” the ex-Barbarian complained.

“Equipment?” Zorgord asked.
“To be supplied by the king,” Heragon answered.

“The king?!” both the ex-Barbarian and Zorgord asked astonished.

“Why yes, and soon we shall even be visiting him in creature.” Heragon smiled.
When they had climbed down the trees they discussed their choices as to the third comrade, and reviewed the events of the day while pleasantly walking in the forest. Suddenly, a large creature blocked their path.

“I couldn’t help but overhearing,” the creature said smiling. Heragon immediately recognized it as a goblin. Goblins’ shape clearly resembled one of an ape but an object that looks like shiny metal covered their whole bodies. The “metal” protected the goblin; it served as very tough skin, and it served the purpose of scaring just as much. So goblins were well defended and, because of their ape-like composure, very strong too.

“I think you could use someone like me.” The goblin grinned. They decided on the spot to take him-- partly because he would be very useful—but mostly because they knew that goblins do NOT like to be rejected.

Chapter 4

“So what now?” Zorgord asked.

“We travel to the king,” Heragon replied. “There we’ll receive further directions.”

“I hate the king,” snarled the goblin. Goblins despised everyone and everything except destruction. They excelled in causing it too.

“Well anyone up for tele?” the ex-Barbarian asked. Tele abbreviated teleportation. Of course, the ex-Barbarian did not expect a rejection. If they wanted to travel by foot, the journey would take years. Furthermore the castle floated. Strong magic by ancient mages held it up in the sky making it inaccessible by foot.

“I’m ready. I have already visited the castle to receive several Science Awards. The magic that keeps the castle up is truly amazing,” Zorgord bragged.

“I’m in, but make sure you get us to the right place, Barb-” the goblin started.
Just then Heragon felt the familiar whoosh of teleportation, of his body materializing in a new location.

And lo and behold Heragon and his team arrived right near the castle, floating in the air, a marvelous place to examine the palace. It really looks wonderful, Heragon thought. The huge palace had a sort of Arabian touch to it like the palaces in Saudi Arabia on earth that Heragon often viewed through a magic lens. A magical golden aura surrounded it that held the palace in the air. And right before them a huge door slid up to reveal the marvelous grand hall. As they entered, Heragon could see the paintings of the past kings of Runika all hung up neatly on the solid gold walls.

They walked up to the throne room where they saw an intelligent-looking creature in conversation with the short and nervous king. As they entered, the king looked up at them.

“Ah, there you are. Come with me.”

Heragon and his team followed the king to the dining room. The king gestured for them to sit.

“And you must be Heragon,” the king put out his hand.

“Correct, sir.”

“And what shall you be eating?”

“Fresh vegetables if they are available.” Heragon answered.

“They are”. Heragon noticed a plate of vegetables materialize on his plate, but hesitated a little before eating.

The king continued. “So what do you want to eat…?"

“Nice to meet you,” the king greeted.
“I will have vegetables like Heragon”
“Very well, next-,” the king stopped.
“Heragon, I see you brought a Barbarian with you…” the king stopped again.
“I have, but I assure you that he isn’t dangerous. He probably knows a lot about Barbarians.”

“Well ok… so what do you eat?”
“Meat,” answered the ex-Barbarian quickly. “The type I like is-”
“We don’t need to know. Whatever you like will be on your plate,”
The food materialized. The ex-Barbarian frowned. He had not learned that spell yet.
“And goblin, what would you—,”
“Nothing. Whatever you have is probably not for me,” the goblin snarled.
And so they started. The king reviewed the parts they already knew: their task lay in assassinating the king of the Barbarians. The king resided deep in the North, safely hidden in his palace, which they could access only by passing Barbarian security. The King of Runika also mentioned that before they could undertake the assignment, they would have to collect equipment in the West and South.

“And unfortunately,” the king started, “you have to go now.”
Everyone looked up astonished. And they found themselves not in the palace anymore.

Chapter 5

After recovering from the teleportation, Heragon and his team searched around the room to try to identify their location. To Heragon it looked like a decapitated, abandoned armor shop in the middle of nowhere. The rusty armor looked like it had stood there since the Separation of Runika.
“Howdy-do everyone!”
An armor craftsman entered the room from the back door, and his filthy clothes confirmed that he had been busy.

“Feel free to look around the store. And please buy something. No one’s bought from us in years. Costumers say we’re too expensive.”

Looking at the price tags, who could blame them?

Heragon asked: “Sir, we seem to be lost. Could you please inform us of where we are currently located?”

“You’re in my armor shop, which is about twenty miles south of the Peaks of Sand,” the craftsman answered.

Heragon mouthed, “That’s in the south,” to Zorgord, the goblin, and the ex-Barbarian. At the same time he wondered why the king would send them to such a withering armor shop.

“Hey this is the infamous Sword of the Ancients!” Heragon cried, as he noticed the trusty sword of the Ancient Council of Runika. This sword almost single-handedly defeated a dangerous threat to Runika.

“The one and only.” The craftsman smiled. “If we didn’t have this baby, we would probably have never had any costumers at all. The founder of this shop belonged to the original council.”
Heragon somehow knew that the king had meant for him to buy this sword. But how?

“Sir I can’t pay that sum,” Heragon announced despairingly. “I’ll check my wallet, but I don’t even have half the money.”

Heragon checked his wallet and, in his amazement, almost dropped the money it contained. He had the sum needed for the sword, plus a lot extra; a present from the king. He looked up from the shiny gold and saw his friends also checking their wallets, looks of expectation on their faces.

“I’ll buy it.”

“OK, take it quickly and leave; I need to get a drink.”
And then everyone noticed the searing heat and thirst. Getting lost in the desert did not occur to Heragon as a rewarding experience.

Heragon took the magical sword and felt its ancient magic tingling his spine. This sword belonged to one of the most powerful creatures in Runika, and the sword fulfilled its duty well. Heragon felt shamed that he did not know how to use it better.

“OK, time to suit up,” Heragon instructed.

The goblin snorted.

“You think I need armor?” he asked. “My skin is tougher than any armor here.”

“Well I definitely need armor. One slice of a Barbarian and I’m dead meat,” admitted Zorgord.

“Yea, I think armor will be necessary for Zorgord and me,” confirmed Heragon.

“Armor will only disrupt my magic capabilities,” complained the Ex-Barbarian.
Heragon chose the least rusty armor he could find. Zorgord found a light weight set that suited his small body.

“Ha-ha that armor’s rust is greener than the trees you live in, Zorgord.” The goblin laughed.

“Hey,” exclaimed the offended armor craftsmen. “This armor has very ancient power.”

“Better than nothing, goblin,” added the bird.

“True, true, I was kidding.” The goblin glanced at Heragon putting on his armor and snickered. “Let’s go.”

They thanked the craftsman and left the store reluctantly, preparing themselves for the heat. The heat turned out to be unbearable. Heragon, who had never visited the South, felt as if he had been burned. Forest creatures suffered from the heat terribly.

“Teleport us to the West, Barbarian, before I catch fire,” snarled the goblin.

The ex-Barbarian looked up in despair.

“I can’t,” he revealed.

Chapter 6

The Ex-Barbarian explained that his teleportation abilities could only teleport them to places he had visited, and he had never visited the West.

“Hey,” the goblin pointed, “there’s a sign there.” They barely noticed an old, sand-covered sign. “It says…I can’t read it. I only know Elven.” In the east, almost everyone knew only Elven.

“It says the West is only five miles in that direction. How lucky we are. Let’s get going,” Heragon squinted.

They walked for about an hour in silence. Just as they started to think that the sign had misled them, they came upon a huge “Welcome” arc that everyone from any region could read; the natives had posted “Welcome” in all languages.

“Finally! I’m starving and thirsty.” Everyone licked their dry lips. In the distance they could see the winding jungles start. The houses seemed to be made out of magical vines. Because of the Jungles’ rich natural magic deposit, most of the magical businesses located themselves here.

They reached the gate and entered the first shop that sold water and food.

After they had eaten they started searching for a magic shop. When they had almost given up in finding one, a mage approached them. He wore typical attire: blue robes that seemed to be stuffed with potions, a blue bended hat, and a long white beard.

“Are you Heragon?” he asked.


“Then I am to supply you with these potions. Have you ever used magic?”

“No,” Heragon admitted.

“These potions are all healing potions. With one sip bruises, wounds, and splinters will disappear.” He sounded like he came out of a television commercial.

“As you can guess,” the mage continued, “you just need to drink it. Distribute the potions equally among yourselves.”

Heragon did so. “Is this all?” he asked.

The mage coughed. “Well, the king planned for me to teach you some offensive spells too. The problem is I, umm, misplaced the magical ingredients for these spells.”

The goblin muttered, “What an idiot. What are we going to do now?”

The mage ignored him. “Anyway, the jungles are rich with the ingredients we need. Maybe you would like to accompany me in getting the ingredients.”

They agreed. As they exited the town they had just been in, Heragon tried to confirm the information he remembered from history books he used to read.

“I heard that there were some, uh, instances in the jungles concerning poisonous insects,” he told the mage.

The mage nodded. “Some of the insects have magic poison. When tourists aren’t careful, they pay for it.”

Heragon wondered if he, being a member of the insect family, had magic poison. In the meanwhile, they had entered the jungles. According to the mage, a few vines of the Tree of Enchantment and special soil from a region nearby would satisfy them for spells. As they continued further, they noticed a slight change in the terrain. This seemed to the mage like the correct soil.

“We just need a handful of this stuff,” the mage explained as he scooped some of the soil up. Heragon looked at it. It looked normal, but he knew it contained magical properties. They had almost headed toward the vines of the magical tree when everyone heard a hiss. They perked up.

“What was that?” Zorgord asked.

Suddenly a large snake came out of a nearby group of trees. The snake slithered toward them much faster than Heragon thought possible.
“No one move,” the mage whispered. He closed his eyes for about three seconds. Heragon spotted a small flare appearing from the mage’s palm. By now, the snake moved in so close that Heragon could see its large, venomous fangs. It hesitated in surprise. He probably expected a grasshopper for his dinner, but not one so large. It continued. Just then, the mage released the fireball from his palm. It struck the snake, whose body caught on fire. Everyone sighed as the mage examined the corpse and blew the fire away.
“That was close. One bite of that snake would have been fatal. Let’s continue in the direction of the tree,” the mage suggested.
Heragon’s face showed disapproval towards the mage’s move. “You didn’t have to kill the poor snake. The goblin could have just thrown it to a safe distance.”
The mage looked at the goblin and recommended “OK. How about the goblin goes ahead and clears out the path.”
“Sure, master,” grumbled the goblin sarcastically as he headed forward.
When the goblin disappeared over the horizon, the mage addressed the remaining group. “Finally that goblin left. If I were you, I wouldn’t trust the goblin.”
The Ex-Barbarian frowned. “Why not?” he asked.
“I’ve heard rumors about the treachery of goblins,” replied the mage.
“Well for now we have no choice,” stated Zorgord. “We can’t continue without a bodyguard, and we’re not about to recruit a Westerner. With the war about to start, any Westerner is a potential enemy.”
“Agreed,” expressed the mage as the rest of group nodded their approval. “Let’s call back the goblin and continue to the Tree of Enchantment.”
They found the goblin a few miles ahead, grumbling about being treated “like a slave”. Heragon, who had never heard of the Tree of Enchantment, decided to inquire:

“What is the Tree of Enchantment, anyway?”

The mage, looking content that he possessed more knowledge on the subject, explained:
“The Tree of Enchantment is a very important destination for magic casters and tourists alike. There are many “Trees” constituting the jungle, such as the Tree of Life, the Tree of Destiny, and others. Each tree governs a different subject; the Tree of Enchantment is the tree where most magical ingredients and powers are held. It is considered desirable for every mage to visit it at least once during his or her life time. Some apprentices even take their spells directly from the Tree. It has been rumored that the Tree of Enchantment was once the refuge of a bunch of ancient, exiled mages that transferred their magic into the Tree when they were about to die, thus giving it magic properties. Because it’s vines reach all the way into the depths of the jungle, this Tree is the main reason that the jungles are the most magical parts of Runika. So as you see, it’s no real surprise that for your spells we need a vine or two from the Tree.”

By then, they had reached a clearing. Tourists swarmed around that place like insects. Even the goblin realized that they had arrived. As they tried to push through, Heragon noticed the tourists move away and let them pass. Maybe the mage has some authority in these parts. Heragon immediately rethought; most likely, the crowd did not respect the mage. They moved away in surprise at finding a goblin, Barbarian, forester, and mage all together. His thoughts quickly dissolved as soon as he gazed at the humongous Tree. The bark had a glowing aura around it just like the king’s palace. They could barely spot the top, and the ends of the vines continued until they disappeared from sight. The mage apparently thought that he had acquired some authority, because he gazed superiorly at the crowd. The mage slipped out a pair of scissors and muttering something about the vine’s high quality compared to commercial products, cut a nearby vine. As he did this, a nearby guard approached them.

“Do you have a license?”
The mage held up what appeared to be a mage’s license. The guard nodded and walked away.
He held up the vine for Heragon to see. Heragon looked at the inside of the vine and noticed that instead of being hollow, some sparkly powder appeared to be inside.

“The powder is actually what we need. Now let’s get to my workshop and I’ll fix up some spells for you.”

Heragon and his team appeared just outside the shop where they had met the mage for the first time. The mage headed toward a nearby building inscribed with the words “Magic Gadget, Inc.”.

“Your spells will be ready in a second,” he yelled back.

“They better be,” muttered the goblin. “The sight of all these vines reminds me of snakes.”

The ex-Barbarian spoke up. “While we’re waiting, does anyone have a clue about our next destination? If not, then after we receive our spells I’ll teleport us back to the palace.”

Heragon nodded.

The mage returned.

“Okay, so for you, Heragon, I concocted a spell similar to the fireball I used on the snake. Here.”

He put his hands on Heragon’s head and recited some magic words. Immediately, Heragon started feeling an odd sensation. When the mage finished, Heragon felt sure that he possessed the abilities to conjure a fireball, but he didn’t exactly know how.

“Try it,” the mage instructed.
Heragon’s hand somehow automatically made a fireball, probably commanded by Heragon’s will. The little flare grew stronger as time went by, until Heragon released it in a pond nearby.

“Cool, eh?” the mage boasted. “And it gets stronger if you wait. Well, off to you, little guy,” he turned toward Zorgord who hovered eagerly a few feet above the ground.

“To you I put a little thought in deciding the spell you should use. Seems to me if you weren’t so fragile, you could charge in with high speed and deal some real damage. So for you, I concocted a spell that can blind your enemy for a short time.”

He used the same ritual as with Heragon. He moved on to the goblin, who stubbornly refused to possess magic.
“That’s about as much as I can offer since the ex-Barbarian already has potent magic, and the goblin apparently doesn’t want any. Don’t forget the potions; try to keep them nearby at all times.”
“Thank you,” replied Heragon.

The mage didn’t hear Heragon, because by the time he thanked him, the ex-Barbarian had already teleported them to the palace. Heragon looked around and recognized that the ex-Barbarian had teleported them directly to their rendezvous spot, the dining room.

The king almost dropped his food in surprise when Heragon and his team appeared from nowhere.

“Who are you?” asked the king. “What do you need?”
Heragon exchanged questioning glances with his team. “I’m Heragon. We’re here about the mission, remember?”

“Mission? I have a million ‘Missions’ I have to deal with… Ohh, that mission! Yes yes, of course. Welcome back.”

Heragon sighed with relief. Then he frowned.

“Where is the goblin?” Heragon asked.

“Don’t know where he went, but he just told me had some ‘things’ to deal with, and zoomed away,” answered the ex-Barbarian.

“That’s odd,” uttered the king thoughtfully. “My assistant that talked to you earlier also disappeared. Anyway, I presume you gathered all the equipment you needed?”

“Yes, sir,” answered Heragon.

“I’ll wait for the goblin before explaining your directions.”

A few minutes later, the goblin appeared.

“Where have you been?” asked ex-Barbarian.

“I told you!” snarled the goblin. “I had something to deal with before we set out.”
Everyone quieted, because no one wanted to provoke a goblin. The king explained his plan: when they neared the castle Zorgord, the goblin, and the ex-Barbarian would try to engage the guards therefore distracting them. Heragon would sneak in and hopefully kill the king. After that, in the confusion caused by the death, they would attempt to sneak out and run a few miles south, where they would be meet by a few of the king’s agents. If only they could teleport to safety once they had completed the mission, instead of going all the way back to the king’s agents, Heragon though. However, he knew that since the Barbarian King enforced anti-magic measures in the North, he had almost certainly deployed magic-sensors. Magic-sensors, unfortunately, sensed teleportation very easily.

“Everyone ready?” asked the king. Without waiting for an answer, the king had Heragon and his team teleported to the entrance of the King of the Barbarian’s premises.

Heragon first noticed the cold. He could also feel snowflakes falling on his head.

“It sure is cold here,” complained Zorgord.

“Welcome to my ex-home,” grumbled the ex-Barbarian. “And right in front you is the security station protecting the Barbarian King’s premises.”

They entered the building. Everyone except the ex-Barbarian shivered from the below-freezing atmosphere; the temperature inside the building stayed the same as the outside.

“Welcome,” growled the guard in a tone that didn’t seem welcoming at all. “Tourists?”

They nodded.

“You may all proceed except this Barbarian. He was exiled from this land and will stay here to be questioned by the police,” pointed the guard, who seemed to have a memory too good to belong to a Barbarian.

Chapter 7
“Wait,” pleaded the ex-Barbarian, “let me talk with my team.”
Heragon and the team went to a distance where the guards could not hear them. Heragon announced the obvious, “we’ll have to leave you here. The guards outnumber us. The actual palace will contain fewer guards, a number we can defeat.”
The ex-Barbarian conceded. He shook their hands, “good luck.”
The guard came to them and led the ex-Barbarian into another room. The rest of the team continued through the exit, back into the freezing North. They spotted the castle up ahead, not nearly as impressive as the King of Runika’s castle. Then they took a few minutes to study the guard formation. Once ready, Zorgord and the goblin performed their decided-upon action: Zorgord flew up in the air and hooted like an owl.

“Hey, I saw something,” one of the guards noticed. “Come and help me check it out.”
He and two other guards headed toward Zorgord. At that moment, the goblin jumped out of his hiding place and struck one of them on his head. Zorgord flew over to help the goblin and gestured for Heragon to enter the castle gates. Crouching, Heragon ran in, only to meet another guard. Remembering the spell he had acquired from the mage, Heragon unleashed his fireball at the surprised guard. His way clear, Heragon climbed the staircase where the King of Runika had guessed the Barbarian King would wait. Upstairs, Heragon took a right into a shabby room. As expected, the Barbarian King sat on his throne. Heragon entered with his sword drawn, and charged. The unaware king immediately leapt off his throne and tried to make a run for it, but Heragon blocked his path.

“Who are you?! Let me go,” begged the king.

“No. You are under arrest for revolting against the King of Runika,” announced Heragon.

“Wait, wait. You have been set up. One of the King of Runika’s assistants and a goblin on your team have plotted to kill you. I’m innocent.”

Heragon frowned. “The King of Runika will decide about that. Come with me.” Heragon led the king out of the room. “If you try anything funny, I’ll kill you.”

The Barbarian King followed Heragon. When they reached the staircase, the king freed himself from Heragon’s grip and drew a dragger. At the last second, Heragon dodged the blade and thrust his sword into the king’s chest. By then, Heragon could hear Zorgord struggling outside and darted down to help him. When he reached the gate, he met the goblin and a familiar creature.

“Did you manage to kill the guards,” Heragon asked the goblin.

The goblin smiled, “I managed to do much more than that.”

“What do you mean?” Heragon backed away as he remembered the Barbarian King’s warning. “It’s true!” Heragon accused.

The other creature stepped toward Heragon, and he immediately recognized the King of Runika’s assistant.

“Yes, it’s true. I must thank you for killing the king. You made my job a lot easier. Now I can proceed with my plans. In the end, magic won’t exist anymore!”

Chapter 8

Heragon knew he had no chance. The goblin alone could easily defeat him. To his amazement, just as the assistant and the goblin had almost circled him Zorgord flew in so quickly that with a swing of his tiny sword he knocked the assistant down. The goblin glanced down at his unconscious master, but did not recede. The goblin thought he could take both Heragon and the annoying little bird whose name he had forgotten.

Heragon and Zorgord knew this would require good timing and excellent teamwork. As they continued to retreat from the goblin, Heragon whispered to Zorgord, “You use your blinding spell on him, and then we use all of our resources in order to kill him.”

Zorgord nodded, and unleashed his blinding spell. Immediately, a blue haze appeared near the goblin’s eyes. The goblin retreated a few steps in confusion, which Heragon and Zorgord exploited; Zorgord flew at the goblin with an immense speed and slashed at the goblin’s head. Heragon used his few remaining spells. To Heragon’s and Zorgord’s horror, their flurry of attacks did nothing more than scratch the tremendous goblin. Heragon knew that the blinding spell would run out very soon, and then they would be in an even worse predicament. The goblin realized this, grinned and, even while he could not see, stomped his foot so hard that it caused an earthquake. Heragon bounced helplessly on the floor, and finally hit the wall so hard his sight flickered on and off. If only I could reach my potions, Heragon thought. He tried to remember where he had left them when he noticed a small ball of a yellow substance growing behind the goblin. It is most likely just a dream, he thought. For now, Heragon felt worried about the grinning and patient goblin. A moment later, Heragon fell into unconsciousness.

Chapter 9
When Heragon woke up, he immediately recognized the surroundings of a palace. To him, it resembled the King of Runika’s palace a lot more than the Barbarian King’s. As he lay on the bed, all the events of the previous couple of days came back to him. He even made sure he was still alive. In fact, thought Heragon, it looked to me as if Zorgord and I had no chance with the goblin. What happened?

A sleepy-eyed Zorgord entered his room.
“Hey. Did you see how the ex-Barbarian killed the goblin?” Zorgord asked, suddenly excited.
“No. What happened? I was knocked out, and I couldn’t reach a potion,” replied Heragon.
“The ex-Barbarian sneaked up on the goblin while he was blinded and gathered a thunder ball, which looks like a yellow ball. And after it was big enough, he let it loose. It killed the goblin easily. After that came the hardest part; we had to drag you all the way back,” Zorgord explained, rubbing his sore arm.

So the yellow ball really existed, Heragon thought. But how did the ex-Barbarian escape?

As if reading Heragon’s mind, the ex-Barbarian came.

“So I guess Zorgord explained to you what happened,” he said. “I bet you’re wandering how I got free. Well, that was the easy part. I told the guard I wanted to make sure the keys were secure. Then I froze him and escaped. Ha-ha. Oh by the way, I tried explaining to the king all that happened, but it was too much for him to comprehend. And because his assistant still hasn’t returned, which I wonder why, he decided to nominate you, Heragon, as his assistant."

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