One

By
“He is our youngest son,” the Queen of Minoka was telling her husband, King Toya. They sat beside each other in the throne room, and before them at the bottom of the small steps was their youngest son, Prince Camden, at the age of twenty-three.
“So we should just let him go gallivanting around the country?” Toya inquired of his wife, not looking at his son. Of the three older princes who stood nearby—they had all wanted to know what their parents thought of their youngest brother’s plans to, as he put it, ‘find and adventure’—Camden was the black sheep of the family. The Queen and King were both sandy-blondes, and their oldest boys and two young daughters were as well; but Camden had jet black hair and darker skin, along with the most unusual green eyes in the family—everyone else had the lightest blue eyes—that tended to change shades with his moods. Camden was as tall as his older brothers, six foot five, and he was as strong and skilled as them. But somehow he was different.
“He doesn’t want to gallivant around the country,” the Queen told her husband. “He wants to go to the seas and discover new things.”
“Gallivanting all over the world then!” Toya exclaimed, correcting his earlier statement. The King turned to his son. “Why don’t you just get married, like your brothers? That should be an adventure for you!” he told Camden.
The three older princes laughed lightly; they were all for Camden going on his little adventure. He needed something to do, and there was nothing in Minoka that seemed to please him. Surely there was something out there that could satisfy Camden’s adventure needs.
“Father, why not let him go? He needs to do something; there is nothing here for him to do, us older ones have all the responsibilities here,” Camden’s oldest brother Chris told their father.
“Have you heard of the Explorer Abraxas?” King Toya asked his wife and children. They all shook their heads. “Exactly! He went out some three hundred years ago to explore the world, and he never came back!”
Camden laughed at his father, “That doesn’t mean he didn’t find anything.”
Before the King could reply to his youngest son, the Queen put a calming hand on his arm. “Toya, let him do this,” she told him. “What harm could it do? No one else in history has explored the world; no one has dared to, because they don’t know what’s out there! What hypocrites some are! The point of exploring is to find something you didn’t expect. There could be wonders out there!”
“Are you sure you want him to go?” Toya asked his wife. “He is our youngest son.”
“And he is the one who is not like us. Look at him,” Queen and King both turned to look at their youngest son. “He is destined to be more.”
The King pondered over this for a couple minutes, and the four princes in front of him waited patiently. Finally, after another look at his wife, he turned to his youngest son with a smile on his face.
“You have my blessing to go and explore,” he told Camden. “You may take our fastest ship and what ever crew you like.”
“Thank you Father,” Camden walked up the few steps separating him from his parents and hugged then both with excitement.
The Queen laughed and kissed her son on the cheek. “When do you leave, my son?”
“As soon as everything is prepared,” Camden informed her. He turned to his older brothers. “Do you care to help me with a few things?” he asked them.
“Of course!” Chris answered for himself and his other two younger brothers. “Just lead the way Camden, and we shall help you with what ever it is you need us for.”
With a last ‘thank-you’ to his parents and another hug, the three older princes followed their youngest brother out of the throne room.
“You’re sure you’re sure?” Toya asked his wife once the door to the throne room was closed.
“He needs this,” she answered him. “And I know he is destined for more.”


Camden stood with his bodyguard and friend, Ajax, on the royal dock. It was almost a fortnight since the King had given his consent to the exploration, and they were finally ready. Before the two men lay the kingdoms fastest ship, The Maelstrom.

The ship was being loaded with cargo for the journey, and the sailors who he had picked were boarding. Camden knew all of the men he would be sailing with, and counted them all as friends. There were no other men he would rather go on this exploration with. Even having his faithful bodyguard and long-time friend with him made the thought of the journey less daunting.

Ajax was much like Camden; he had very dark hair (though not the same deep shade of black), and green eyes (though they were lighter and did not give away his feelings). They were the same age, having grown up together and trained together. Ajax and Camden were matched with skills of fighting, and even though Camden could take care of himself, he still needed a bodyguard. Ajax was trained a little more in battle situations than Camden was, but they each had knowledge of things that the other didn’t that seemed to balance them out quite nicely.

Behind the Prince and his bodyguard stood the royal family to see them off. The two princesses hugged their older brother goodbye with tear filled eyes, and they each gave him something that they had made for him for this journey. Jesa, the twenty year old, had made a cloak for her brother; it was an earthy brown color, and stitched into it were runes of protection and runes that would protect from harmful magic in golden and green thread. Keali, the eighteen year old, had fashioned a staff for her brother; it was his height, and when she showed him how to twist the ends, a two-foot long very sharp blade came out of the top end. The staff itself was made of strong oak, one of the most magical trees in their land, and there were runes etched in the bark for strength.

The older Princes also had things for their brother. Chris had fashioned his favorite brother a sword with the help of the royal blacksmith, an old Elve. The sword was made of a blue light—but strong—metal, with the hilt made of silver; Chris even showed Camden that it was perfectly balanced, and that the runes on the blade were especially strong because he didn’t want anything to happen to him.

“There’s even a bit of you in the blade,” Chris informed Camden. “It’s an old Elven trick. You see if you lose the sword, you can call out to it and it will come to you because it is part of you.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, what did you use to bind the spell?” Camden wanted to know.

“Some of your hair,” Chris laughed.

“Ah, I thought my hair was a bit shorter last week than it should have been,” Camden teased.

Camden’s second oldest brother, Parley, had made a longbow for his brother and many arrows fletched with eagle feathers. It was made of willow, and the string was magicked so as not to break or get too loose. Again, there were runes in the bow that would keep it from breaking. Mik, Camden’s final brother, had a couple things for him: a few daggers, a telescope, and a necklace with the royal seal on it—an eagle. The daggers Camden was able to hide on his person, while the telescope would come in handy for searching. But the necklace…?

“It’s so we’ll know you’re still alive,” Parley informed him when he asked about it. “In the throne room there is a crystal ball with a flame in it, representing your life force. This necklace, once you put it on, will never be able to leave your body afterwards. If you die, the spell on the necklace will break and the flame in the crystal will extinguish.”

“How handy,” the Queen said with a weak smile. “Let’s just hope it won’t come to that.”

Camden gave his mother a reassuring smile before putting the necklace over his head.

The King and Queen had no gift for their son that their other children had not given him. They each kissed him on the brow and wished him luck with a hug before he and Ajax followed the sailors onto the ship.

“So this is it,” Ajax commented to Camden as the walkway was drawn in and the ties that kept the ship at the dock were undone.

“Yeah, this is it,” Camden exhaled slowly.

“You still want to do this?” Ajax wanted to know. “Your family will not think wrong of you if you don’t.”

Camden turned a curious eye on Ajax. “Do you not want to go?”

“That’s not what I—”

“Yes it is! Ajax, if you don’t want to come—”

“No, I do—”

“Well that’s settled! Now, Captain!” Camden turned to the man at the helm. “Please, let us set sail at last!”

“Yes sir!” the Captain called out orders to his sailors, and the fresh afternoon breeze that traveled West—the very direction they were going—caught in the sails and took them out of the harbor.

Camden looked around the deck. There was a spell section of the deck that was magically enchanted into a garden; fruit trees grew there, along with vegetables that were necessary for eating healthy. They would not run out of food on this journey, and for meat they could always catch fish or lobsters.

The Prince’s thoughts were interrupted by his bodyguard. “So it begins,” Ajax was saying.

“What?” Camden turned to look at his friend.

“Our journey. The people will call it ‘The Prince’s Grand Exploration of the Unknown World’ or something ridiculous like that,” Ajax teased.

“That’s a little long, don’t you think? Too many syllables for me,” Camden commented. “No, it should just be the ‘Exploration of the Unknown World’; I am not the only one who is going on this. Every name of every sailor here will be recorded in the history books, not only mine.”

“I like that idea,” one of the sailors nearby said, for he had overheard. “My grandchildren will remember my name more easily if I were famous.”

Camden laughed. “There you go Marin, something to look forward to! Let’s just hope that we actually find something.”

























Two







Six Weeks Later…

Camden looked at the seagull that had landed on one of the sails. He had been sitting at the bow, writing in his journal for the journey, when he heard the bird squawk.

“It’s a seagull!” Camden cried out.

The sailors on deck looked up at him with mild expressions of interest. They had all been bored for more than a couple weeks, and had taking to playing card games to the point where some of them who had not been very good at the game were now some of the best.

“Sir?” the Captain asked as he came on deck from below, having heard him. “A seagull you say?”

The Prince pointed the bird out, and the Captain clapped his hands together.

“Ajax!” Camden called out to his bodyguard who was up near the helm teaching a couple sailors how to use a sword—they had been practicing for weeks. Ajax called a time-out on the practice and looked down from the helm at the Prince.
“Where’s my telescope?” Camden asked him. Ajax nodded and went to the stern where he had left the telescope the other day after watching a group of sea fish jumping out of the water. With a skillful throw, the bodyguard threw the collapsed telescope to Camden as a quicker way to get it to him before walking down slowly to join him and the other sailors near the bow.
Camden was looking off into the horizon, where the sun had just started to sink down. The sailors around him waited patiently as he looked, and they all jumped when he yelled out, “LAND!”

As they got closer to the land Camden had spotted, the entire crew could see that it wasn’t just an island, as a couple of them had thought, but rather a continent—it stretched as far as they could see. The beach was covered with very white sand, the whitest sand that any of the sailors had ever seen. The trees beyond the beach were maples, pines, oaks and any other kind of tree that they would have found back home in Minoka; but there were also many kinds of trees that they did not know.

“Look at the sand,” one of the sailors said as they drew up to the beach in a long boat, the Maelstrom anchored just off shore. “It’s so pure and white.”

“Look at the fish!” another sailor exclaimed. “They’re so colorful and large!”

Indeed, there were many fish swimming around the long boat as they got closer to shore, and they were of all size and shade of color. There were large shells the size of a human head in the reefs, and a couple of the sailors were able to grab some. As they pulled the long boat out of the water and farther onto the beach, the sounds of the forest reached their ears. There were birds of many colors, and large animals that howled.

All nine sailors along with the Prince and his bodyguard, looked around themselves in awe.

As they set up camp, Camden tried to describe the scenery in his journal, but what ever he wrote down didn’t seem to do it enough justice. Using the best words of description as possible, Camden finished off the entry. While the sun started to completely vanish from the sky, Camden and a couple sailors caught some fish for a small feast, to celebrate the finding.

It was dark. The sky was clear, so the eleven men who sat around the large campfire could see the different constellations of that part of the world. One by one all the men grew tired, and they drifted off into sleep, dreaming of colorful fish and shooting stars.


The next day found them exploring into the forest along the coast to the north. All of them carried weapons: swords, daggers, bows and arrows. None of them knew what they would possibly find out there, so they were all on their guard.

The creatures that were howling they recognized. Though there were none quite like them back in Minoka, they were monkey’s none-the-less; they earned the name Howler Monkey because of the way they called out to each other. There were many creatures they saw that resembled other creatures from home, which caused a slight homesickness with the men, but the idea that they actually found a New World pushed that homesickness away.

As they stopped to take a rest, Camden found a patch of colorful flowers that he had never seen before, and he began to draw them in his journal. Taking his journal out of his bag, he saw the cloak that his sister had made him.

“Do you think there is magic in this land?” Camden asked Ajax, who sat nearby. “Like ours? We have Mages and Court Magicians; but do you think there could be magic here that we do not know?”

“It’s a possibility,” Ajax answered. “Our magic is fairly strong though.”

“But our mages needed to learn how to use their magic; there’s a school for magic! Here, what if there isn’t? What if the magic is completely different from our own, more powerful, and able to channel itself in different ways?”

“You’re thinking too much,” Ajax complained. “You’ll pull a muscle in you’re head soon,” he teased, tapping Camden on the brow. Camden swatted away the hand and began to draw the flowers.

The sailors, Marin, Arzi and Wilford sat together under a tree that they did not know the name of, but it cast a nice shadow down on them; the day had grown warm, and they had been walking for a while.

A small monkey climbed down the tree and sat beside Marin. The big sailor laughed and reached a hand out to pet the creature. It let him, and then responded in turn by climbing up onto his shoulder and combing through his hair. The two men around him laughed at this, making the other sailors look to see the sight.

Arzi gave the monkey a fruit, which is took and ate quickly. After giving it a couple more fruits, the monkey went back up into the trees, only to return with more monkeys like itself. This amused the sailors, and they fed the monkeys, petted them, and made friends.

Camden watched this all with amusement from his spot near the flowers. Ajax even had himself a little brown monkey on his shoulder that he was feeding fruit to. Looking around and up into the trees, something quickly moved behind a grouping of branches above him as his eyes roamed over them. Pretending he didn’t see it, he turned back to the flowers. It hadn’t been a monkey he had seen; they were being followed by humans.

Looking up into the trees above him, he caught a glimpse of sandy-blonde hair and light blue eyes before Ajax brought his monkey over to see him.

“Ajax,” Camden whispered, drawing his friend close to him. “There’s someone following us. A woman, in the trees.”

“What?” Ajax started to look up, but Camden stopped him.

“Don’t look!”

“All right then. She can’t mean us any harm, I mean, she’s a woman; unless she had a weapon.”

“No, no weapon. But clearly you haven’t wrestled with my sisters,” Camden commented.

“Not that you know of,” Ajax teased, ducking from Camden’s fist with a laugh.

“Go tell the men we have company,” Camden told Ajax, shooing him away with his hand. “But tell them to act normal.” Ajax nodded and went to do that.

They had stopped on the top of a hill that looked down on a marshland, which was on the coast; the blue sea crashed upon the sandy white shore. Camden marked the marsh down on his map as everyone packed up behind him.

“Where to now, sire?” one of the sailors, Erez, asked him as he joined him at the side of the hill.

“We’ll skirt around the marsh,” Camden informed him and the others. The monkeys were still with them, riding on the shoulders of the sailors. The Prince had no objection to this and one of the smaller, albino monkeys in the group chose his shoulder as its perch.

They traveled down the hill and made a wide berth around the marsh. Once they passed a large boulder that slightly resembled a giant skull, the monkeys began to quiet and look around nervously. Their antics did not go unnoticed by the eleven men they traveled with; Camden was the first to draw his sword, but the others were right behind him. They could all feel eyes watching them, but they couldn’t see anything or anyone.

“Do you think it’s the girl?” Ajax asked him quietly as he drew even with him; their strides were matched because they were the same height.

“No, this is something else,” Camden answered. He looked around with keen eyes at everything. The trees were all gnarled and old here, and the boulders looked ancient. The marsh seemed to touch a bit here on their path, for there was a bit of water to their one side that was covered with green slime. Looking back up to the top of the hill, he half expected to see the sandy haired woman in the tree; but there was nothing.

The monkey’s screeched as birds took flight to their right, where small bushes, boulders, and water plants surrounded the water. The sailors didn’t bother to try to calm their companions down, for the monkey jumped off of each of their shoulders and retreated to the trees a good twenty feet away, where they sat on a branch watching them, their fur erect with fright, beckoning to the men with their paws.

“Don’t you think we should follow?” Anker said.

“Yeah, they seem pretty smart,” Marin added.

Camden was about to answer when he saw something come out of the marsh. He couldn’t believe his eyes; the creatures he saw before him were like men, but their skin was as dark as night and their eyes…well they didn’t look like human eyes. The things wore loincloths around their mid section, but other than that they were not clothed. Each of them held a spear, and a couple of them had small reed-like objects that they put to their mouths and breathed out of.

Only after a small dart hit his neck did Camden realize that it was an ambush. He heard his men fall down around him, with darts in their necks, and the sound of the monkeys who had tried to warn them. The last thing he saw as he hit the ground was one of those dark men-like creatures kneeling over him, a stench like death breathing down on him.



















Three






Camden awoke as he felt something nudge his left leg. Looking around, he found himself in a cage made out of wood. Around him were twenty men; ten of them were his, but the others he did not know. Ajax and Marin were the only ones of his group conscious, and it had been Ajax who had moved Camden’s leg. The other ten men were awake as well. None of them had weapons.

“Where are we?” Camden asked Ajax as he stood up, his head swirling around him.

“In their camp,” one of the other men answered. This man was the size of a bear, with very light blonde hair and the eyes like the ocean. His muscles bulged beneath his shirt.

“You know our language?” Ajax asked him.

“Obviously,” he replied. “It was as much a surprise for me understanding the words out of that mans mouth as it was for you probably.”

“Who’s camp are we in?” Camden asked the man as the cage stopped spinning.

“The Cannibals,” was the reply.

“What?” Marin asked.

“Hold on a second,” Camden interrupted, “first, who are you?”

“My name is Cahir. These are my men; the Cannibals captured us last night. You and your men were brought here only an hour ago.”

“I am Camden, and these are my men. We are explorers from the East, a land called Minoka. We traveled for six weeks to get here.”

As he said the word Minoka the man named Cahir opened his eyes wide with surprise.

“Does that have meaning for you?” Ajax asked him.

“Indeed, it does.”

“Well, why don’t you tell us? It’s not like any of us are going anywhere,” Camden joked.

“You’ve got that right,” Cahir answered. “The only way we can get free is if the rest of my people come in time.

“Alright. There’s a place called the Forbidden Temple. It lies south of here, on the coast. My people are currently hiding there. From the writings on the wall, my leader found that it had been built by a man named Abraxas and his crew of sailors and explorers,” Cahir explained. “And that they were from a land called Minoka.”

“So Abraxas made it here,” Camden exclaimed as he began to laugh.

“Yes, he made it here. By the writings, he lived out the rest of his life here. He and his men married into some of the natives, and they founded the very first city to the west. The Forbidden Temple tells of his legacy.”

“So why are you and your people hiding in this Temple? And why is it Forbidden?” Camden asked him. Ajax and Marin were beginning to wake up the rest of the men.

“Our land, the very one that Abraxas founded, has been taken over by an Evil Sorcerer, named Barkha. Our leader knew of the existence of the Temple, which was guarded by many magics. But being a descendant of Abraxas, she was able to enter it. We are gathering forces to fight against this evil Sorcerer and retake our land.

“The Temple is Forbidden because no one could enter it, and the Kings who came after Abraxas knew not of what was inside it. They feared their history and what could be out there in the unexplored world,” Cahir told them.

The sound of drums caught all of their attention, and they gathered at the side of the cage. Camden saw the black men from earlier, and with them were women and children who looked the same. They had started to build a large pyre and the drums seemed to signal something.

“Who are these people?” Ajax asked.

“Cannibals,” Cahir answered. “They are an evil race who serve the King of the Underworld. They eat their captives, but not before sacrificing them to their god. Me and my men have made our way safely along that pass between the forest and the marsh hundreds of times; something must have drawn them out of their marsh.”

“So we’re to be sacrificed?” Camden commented as he felt around himself under his clothes; he had hidden daggers there, and it seemed that the Cannibals had not been smart enough to check for that; they had taken the weapons they could see.

“Yes we are…what are you doing?” Cahir noticed that Camden was feeling around himself.

“I have daggers hidden,” Camden responded. “What would they have done with our other weapons?”

“They would have just left them there where they found you,” Cahir answered with a grin. “But at least we have some people among us who are smart enough to hide some weapons on them. I wish we were as well trained.”

“Ariana has done her best to train us all,” one of Cahir’s men retorted.

“Who’s Ariana?” Ajax asked.

“I wasn’t implying that she hadn’t—” Cahir began to say at the same time as Ajax, but then stopped when he noticed something in the trees on the other side of the Cannibals camp.

“What?” Camden asked as he looked in the direction that Cahir was.

“Our people have arrived,” he told his men. Turning to Ajax he said, “You’ll meet Ariana soon!”

Camden was still looking in the trees to try and find what Cahir had been looking at, but he couldn’t see anything.

“I’m confused,” Camden said aloud. “What did you see?”

“A Jaguar,” Cahir answered. “Sitting on one of the branches.”

“What’s a jaguar?” Marin asked him. “And I’m Marin by the way,” he added.

“Well Marin, Jaguars are large felines. They are yellow with dark brown spots, and they can also be black. They eat meat, and they have very large teeth. Our leader, Ariana, can turn into one.”

Camden turned from looking at the trees to the large man who stood beside him. “He has Shapeshifting magic?”

“She has Shapeshifting magic, yes. But she can only turn into a jaguar. She has other magic as well, but even she doesn’t know the full extent of it,” Cahir told him.

“Well that answers your earlier question,” Ajax told Camden. “There is magic here in this land.”

“Oh yes,” one of the other men answered. “There is magic in everything here.”

Camden turned to Ajax. “Well I kind of figured that since there land was taken over by an evil Sorcerer,” he told his bodyguard.

Ajax blushed with embarrassment and turned to Cahir.

“So what will Ariana be able to do to get us out of here?” he asked the big man.

“She would have brought some of the men, and she would be able to get some of the animals to help free us,” Cahir answered.

“She can talk to animals too?” Marin asked in amazement. “We don’t even have mages who can do that.”

“Yes, she is quite a woman. And she can use a sword,” Cahir answered with amusement.

“By the look I guess she is pretty good with that sword,” Camden commented as he walked around the cage. He was about to say something else, but he saw a small albino monkey coming towards him from the trees, carrying his bag on his back.

It was the same monkey that had been riding on his shoulder earlier. The monkey handed Camden the bag and then turned around to see the rest of the monkeys bringing the rest of the men’s stuff. The men all exclaimed at this, and they promised each of their monkey’s fresh fruit once they were all safe.

“Was this Ariana’s doing?” Camden asked Cahir. The Prince was a bit disappointed that the monkey hadn’t brought him his sword along with his bow and arrows.

“It could have been, although I don’t know how she would have known that stuff was yours,” Cahir told him.

“She wouldn’t happen to have sandy blonde hair and blue eyes, would she?” Camden asked after a moment, recalling the image of the woman he had seen in the trees.

“Yes, why?”

“She saw us in the forest, just before we came down the hill along the path; she was in the trees.”

“Yeah, that sounds like it was her,” Cahir answered with a grin.

“If only you had your sword Camden,” Ajax commented to the Prince. “We could get cut this cage open and get out.”

“But I—” Camden began to say, but then he remembered the significance of the sword his brother had made him. “How stupid am I?” he exclaimed.

All the men there looked at him with small grins, not knowing what he was talking about but finding it funny that he would call himself stupid.

As if in answer to their unspoken questions, Camden reached out his arm and caught the sword that had just flown threw the air from the safety of the trees that the monkey’s had come from. Cahir’s men were not unnerved by the show of magic, but they were rather impressed.

“I bet Ariana had that sword with her,” Cahir told Camden. “She might have a word with you afterwards if it caused her any troubles getting away from her.”

“She should leave unknown weapons where they lie, some of them might bite,” Camden answered as he cut open the cage. The Cannibals were busy, for they had started to dance around the drummers and the pyre that they had built.

Cahir laughed at this as a couple dogs came out of the bushes in the direction that the monkeys had come from. The five dogs each had two swords in their mouths, and they seemed to know who to give them to. Once Camden had cut his way through the wooden cage, they made their way out of it and quietly towards the bushes. The eleven monkeys’s resumed their perches on Camden and his men as soon as they were free of the cage.

Once they reached the tree line, Camden looked back with relief to see that none of the Cannibals had noticed them fleeing. As he walked through the bushes, following Cahir and his men, with Camden’s own men between Cahir and him, Camden saw at least thirty fully armed men taking up the rear, and there were at least twenty others at the front. He couldn’t see a woman among the men, but he did see a flash of black in the trees above them that drew the gaze of him and his men. Above them running through the trees was a large black cat who had a quiver strapped across her back along with an unstrung bow attached to the quiver; the arrows stayed in the quiver as if a spell had been laid upon them to not move—it was Camden’s quiver of arrows and bow. This would be Ariana.
















Four






The group didn’t stop moving until they were back at the beach, the very spot where Camden and his men had left from early that morning. The sun had started its retreat to sleep a long time ago, and it was just fully disappearing on the horizon as they stopped. Off the shore the Maelstrom still lay anchored, and the long boat was still in its spot covered by branches and leaves.

The large black cat had disappeared once they got to the beach, and while the men began to make camp for the night, a woman entered the camp. It was the same sandy-blonde haired blue-eyed woman that Camden had seen; she wore a black leather breast-band and brown breeches that had been cut off at the knees. At her waist was clipped a curved sword, and in her hand she carried Camden’s bow and quiver of arrows.

She walked straight up to Camden and handed him his things. “They call me Ariana,” she told him. “And you, from what Cahir tells me, are Prince Camden from Minoka, an explorer.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Welcome to Sikanoba,” Ariana said to him and his men. “That is what we call our land. It stretches from this beach all the way west, and north to the Troll Mountains and Centaur lands, and south to the Highlands.”

“Thank you,” Camden said. He couldn’t help but take in Ariana’s bare bronze stomach and legs; she was fit, and was muscular—but not too muscular. She was a beautiful young woman; Camden didn’t think she was older than eighteen.

“Cahir told me that he told you about the Forbidden Temple. Would you like to come with us to it so you can see it for yourselves?” Ariana asked him.

“Yes, that would be great.”

“Good. We will leave at first light.” Ariana told them. With a small bow she went around to her other men to talk to them.

“So that’s Ariana,” Ajax commented. Cahir, who was nearby, chuckled at Ajax.

“She always leaves that kind of expression in her wake,” Cahir said, meaning how Ajax and the rest of the men were still watching the young woman. “But I should warn you, she has six older brothers.”

“What are you to her?” Camden asked Cahir.

“She’s my cousin,” Cahir replied.

“So are you one of Abraxas’ descendants too then?” Ajax asked him.

“No, her father was; my mother is her mother’s sister,” Cahir explained.

“How did she get to be the leader with six older brothers?” Camden wanted to know. All of his men had stopped watching the girl’s movements. “She can’t be older than eighteen.”

“You’re right, she is only eighteen. But she’s the only one in her family with the magic that was passed down through the bloodline,” Cahir told him.

“Cahir, I need you,” Ariana called to her cousin from where she sat by herself at her own fire.

“If you’ll excuse me, my friends,” Cahir got up and went over to her.

Camden watched the two of them talking, Cahir showing Ariana a couple scrolls. The Prince fell asleep beside his fire long before the two cousins finished talking.


It took the group a day and a half by foot to reach the Forbidden Temple. The Cannibals hadn’t followed them at all. As soon as they walked into view, Camden and his men stopped in their tracks, with the monkey’s who had stayed with them looking at the massive white stone building before them with curiosity. It was a large domed building, with large steps leading up to it from the path that they traveled on. As they reached the bottom of the steps, the giant stone doors swung open from inside, and a group of soldiers and civilians walked out.

The Temple was on the southern coast of a small peninsula. Camden had sent his Captain and some of the sailors back to the ship to sail it to a small cove that Ariana had told them about that lay just below the Temple. Among the people who now came to greet them were the Captain and the few sailors who had gone with him, along with a couple of Ariana’s men who had wanted to go on the ship.

Cahir walked beside Camden, and he smiled at the look of awe on the Prince’s face.

“Do you not have such things in your land?” Cahir asked him.

“Nothing so large that isn’t a Palace,” Camden answered. Then he thought of something. “Cahir, if you and your men were captured the night before we were, and it took us a day and a half to get here, how did Ariana get to you in time?”

“Our men are trained to travel long distances in short time,” Ariana answered as she stopped beside him. “Cahir was able to send a messenger to me.”

“Where is he?” Cahir asked Ariana. Ariana pointed to the top of the steps, where there was a large white canine sitting there. Cahir took off at a jog towards the dog as Camden watched with curiosity.

“It is a wolf,” Ariana answered, guessing that Camden hadn’t seen the kind of creature before. “Cahir raised him from a pup, and he is valuable to us. He is a very swift runner.”

“This place just keeps adding more surprises,” Ajax commented from nearby as he took everything in. Ariana laughed at him.

“Wait until you see the great rainforest of The Highlands, they are truly magnificent, and some of the creatures there you probably haven’t seen. Tell me, do you have Centaurs or Trolls in your lands?” Ariana inquired of them as they walked up the steps into the Temple.

“Um…what are they?” Camden asked.

“Centaurs are half human and half horse; they are very wise creatures, and they are skilled in fighting. Trolls…well they are vicious large stone creatures that live in the mountains to the north,” Ariana told him.

“No, we have no such creatures in Minoka,” Camden told her.

“Pity, for Centaurs are a lively bunch. But come, I will show you the Temple.”

The stone doors to the Temple were massive, at least ten feet tall and three feet thick. The first inner chamber of the Temple was lined with large stone statues, Camden thought that the men who were engraved in stone were Abraxas’ men, and from the writing on the walls of the chamber he was right. Two of the statues were Elves, a female and male, which didn’t surprise Camden because before he had left he had read that these Elves were Abraxas’ mages, but when he asked Ariana if there were any Elves she frowned at him.

“Elves are creatures of legend here,” she told him. “The two Elves who are written in the History of this land disappeared shortly after the Skystone fell from the sky.”

“Skystone?” Ajax asked. He and Marin had stayed with Camden and Ariana in the first chamber of the Temple while the rest of their men went into the Temple where Ariana’s men were showing them where they would be staying. Ajax’s little brown monkey was still on his shoulder, and Marin also still had his; Camden’s was currently climbing on the statue of the female Elve.

“It was a magical rock that fell from the heavens. Abraxas and his men found it, and they were able to use it to build this Temple and start the first city. Half of the History of the Skystone is written in a language that no one here understands; from what we could tell of the words we could read, Abraxas hid the stone from evil. We believe the whereabouts of the stone is written in the language we can not read,” Ariana answered. “Come, there is more.”

Camden gathered up his monkey and followed the younger girl into the rest of the Temple. Many of the rooms had shelves of scrolls and old books, but they were occupied by the people Ariana had taken in. Many of the people were soldiers, but there were many women and children who ran around. All of the rooms had writings on the walls and pictures that were preserved very well, and Camden found himself in awe of it all.

Finally they came to a large room where Camden’s sailors were settling in with cots that Ariana’s men had made them.

“This is the room that tells of the Skystone,” Ariana told Camden. “The writing in gold is the only writing we can read in here; the writing in silver is—”

“It’s Elvish,” Camden told as he walked up to the wall with the silver writing.

“You’re sure?” she asked him.

“Yes; my teacher in magic was an Elve. She made sure I was able to read Elvish.”

“You mean you can understand this language, and these words?” Ariana asked him, starting to get excited.

“Yes, why?”

“Don’t you see?! We can find the Skystone! And we can use it to overthrow Barkha!” Ariana told him.

Camden’s men were now gathered around them, and Ariana told them all of the Skystone and of the legends it left behind and all the good that Abraxas did with it.

“So you’ll find it, and then start a war with it?” Camden asked Ariana once she was finished telling her tale.

“Well the way you just put it wasn’t at all pleasant,” Ariana retorted. “You haven’t lived in secret for the passed three years with an evil Sorcerer who has taken over the land!”

Camden’s reply was interrupted when six men entered the room looking for Ariana. With a large smile they all gathered around the girl to make sure she was safe. Camden could see the resemblance between the seven of them, from the sandy-blonde hair and the blue eyes to the fact that they were all enormously tall and had the same beaked nose.

Once the six brothers were sure that their only sister was all right did they take in the newcomers with the monkeys on their shoulders.

“Who are these men?” the tallest and seemingly the oldest asked Ariana.

“Winter, this is Prince Camden, of Minoka,” Ariana introduced Camden to her oldest brother. “And these are his men. They are explorers, following in Abraxas’ wake to discover our land.”

“Minoka you say?” Winter commented as he shook Camden’s hand. Camden judged that Winter was at least thirty years old.

“Yes; we arrived on your shores three days ago,” Camden told him.

“Well welcome to Sikanoba!” Winter greeted all the rest of Camden’s men.

“Brothers, I have some great news,” Ariana told the older men. “Camden can read the writing in silver!”

All six brothers looked at Camden with delight and excitement.

“Well then tell us what it says!” one of Ariana’s brothers exclaimed.

Camden turned to the wall with the silver writing on it and began to read.

“‘The Skystone was very powerful, but Abraxas feared that the evil which had awakened in the mountains of the Trolls would seek the object for itself. Though we had secured the mountain cave in which the creature was found, it is only a matter of time before it breaks free and wreaks havoc upon us all. We do not know what the creature is, but we know that is part human and that its veins are full of evil.

‘Abraxas decided to hide the Skystone. Using all of our magic we joined together with the use of the Skystone to create its final resting place. We created The Temple of Magic, deep south in The Highland’s rainforest. It is protected by a giant wall that is impassable, and is protected by magic.

‘I, Akhtar, and my wife Astra, both powerful Mages, volunteered to protect the Skystone till the time of the one prophesied. The prophecy came to Abraxas from the Skystone itself when he first touched it.

‘Abraxas saw the man who was to rule the Skystone, and we have built a statue in the Temple of Magic from the description he has given us, so we may know him when we see him.’”

“Well there you go,” Ajax concluded. “There has been a man prophesied to be the ‘ruler of the Skystone.’”

“But anyone of the men could be this man,” Winter protested. “It could be one of ours, or one of yours.”

“Does it have any hints towards who it could be?” one of Ariana’s brothers asked Camden; he had called himself Eirwyn.

Camden, who hadn’t read the whole thing to them because he feared what it said, turned back to the wall. “‘The man will come from across the ocean, of royal blood but not wanting to be a ruler.’”

“By the gods,” Ajax commented. “Camden, its you.”

“That’s nonsense,” the Prince retorted, not liking where this was going.

“No, its not,” Ariana told him.

“Yes, it is!” Camden said. “A prophecy that is hundreds of years old! A magical stone that fell from the sky? You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“It is our History,” Ariana stopped him. “It is our past, and our future.”

Ajax put a comforting hand on Camden’s shoulder, the one without the monkey on it.

“Your own mother said that you were destined for more,” Ajax told him. “She has the ability to see the future, she must have known.”

Camden turned to look at Ariana and her brothers, and then his own men. Even his own men had the same look on their faces as Ariana and her brothers; it was the look of adventure that was the same between them. Ariana’s face was full of hope for her people and the land that was theirs, and so was her brothers’.

The Prince sighed and looked at the albino monkey on his shoulder, who seemed to have caught the edge of excitement and was watching him as intently as the men in the room. “Alright, I accept the fact that it might be me in that old prophecy,” Camden told them.

“So you’ll help us?” Ariana asked him. Hope filled her blue eyes, and Camden found himself drowning in sweet water.

“Yes, I’ll help you.”






























Five






Camden sat on a small balcony that looked over the edge of the canyon that the Forbidden Temple lay on, gazing down into the water below and the Maelstrom resting down in the hidden cove. The white monkey, who earned the name Gwin, sat beside him with a bowl of grapes that Ajax had brought from the ship. The sun had long ago left the sky, and the only lighting was the torches and oil lamps inside the Temple, and the stars in the sky.

The Prince was just thinking over everything that had happened; him finding that Abraxas had made it there and that he had founded a new civilization there without sending word back to Minoka, and that there was some magical rock who he, Camden, was suppose to have…

“Camden?”

He turned around in surprise to see Ariana coming towards him with what looked like a small platter of roasted chicken. At least he thought it was chicken…

“What are you doing out here?” she asked him as she sat down beside him, offering him the meat on the platter. It tasted like chicken…

“Just thinking over everything,” he told her.

“And how is that going for you?” she teased.

“You sound like Ajax,” Camden informed her as he gave a bit of the meat to Gwin.

Ariana watched him give the monkey the meat, and giggled. “You and your men have made some interesting friends here.”

“You know how we made friends with them,” Camden told her.

“So you did see me?”

“Yeah; at first I didn’t know if what I was seeing was real, but then I saw you again, so…”

“Well I had seen you, and didn’t know who you were, so I had to investigate. When I saw how nice you were all being to the monkeys, I knew you couldn’t be Barkha’s men. But then when you didn’t know what to expect at the edge of the marsh, I knew you weren’t from around here,” she told him.

“Tell me about this Sorcerer.”

“He used to be a simple court magician,” Ariana began. “But then he went into the mountains, and came back…different.”

“What do you mean?” Camden recalled the evil that Abraxas and his men had stopped in the mountains, and wondered if something had happened. Ariana seemed to know Camden’s thoughts.

“Yes, he had stumbled upon the evil creature in the mountain that Akhtar spoke of. It possessed him, and gave him great power. Four years ago he killed my parents, the King and Queen. My brothers and I were able to escape without harm, and then we found this place and were able to use it.”

“I’m sorry,” Camden said, feeling her loss.

“It was years ago, why dwell on past losses? Besides, we have grown in numbers and been able to live safely here. We have magical guards in the forest that will warn us if any of Barkha’s men come near,” Ariana explained.

“What kind of magical guards?”

“They are called pixies. You see those small flashing lights there on the tree line?” Ariana pointed out what Camden had thought were fireflies. He nodded.

“Those are pixies. Have you ever seen one before?”

“I’ve never even heard of them before. We have fairies in Minoka, but they are rare and aren’t very sociable.”

“What are fairies then?” Ariana wanted to know.

“They kind of look like humans, except they’re the size of a hand and have pointed ears and wings,” Camden explained.

“Pixies are the same; except they like humans. At least, they like good humans.”

Camden laughed and started to tickle the little monkey that had just decided to throw a grape at him. Ariana watched with mild amusement as Camden allowed to monkey to throw grapes into his mouth.

“So you knew Barkha before he turned evil?” Camden asked between grapes.

“Yes, he was friends with Winter and Eirwyn, my oldest brothers. I don’t blame him exactly for the killing of my parents; it’s the evil entity inside of him that makes him do these bad things. He was my friend too,” she answered.

“Would you have me cast the evil spirit out of him when the time comes then?” Camden wanted to know. He knew that look in her eyes. “Since you were in love with him,” he added.

Ariana looked aghast at that. “How do you possibly come to that conclusion?”

“I can tell,” Camden said simply. “But you’re not in love with him any more. You would show compassion only because he was your friend.”

“No, I don’t love him anymore, and you’re right I would let him live because we were friends.”

They sat there in silence, Gwin returning to eating the rest of the grapes herself while Camden and Ariana ate the meat.

“This is delicious, is this chicken, or something else?” Camden asked her after a bit.

“Lizard,” Ariana answered with an amused grin. “It tastes exactly like chicken.”

“You’ll have to show me what a lizard is,” Camden commented as he continued to eat the meat.

Ariana laughed and assured him that she would before falling silent again and laying back on the rock covered ground to look up at the stars.

“Can I ask a question?” Camden asked her. She turned on her side to look at him, with her hand supporting her head.

“Sure.”

“What was Cahir doing that was so important that you had to rescue him?” was his question. “I saw him showing you something the first night.”

“He and his men were returning from a meeting with the Centaur Chief. We have a pact with them, and we have honored our side and now it is time for them to honor theirs. They are making weapons and armor for us,” Ariana answered. Camden knew she was telling the truth.

Ariana lay back down on her back, and Camden lay back as well; Gwin settled herself on Camden’s chest to lay down, copying the two humans and looking up at the stars. Suddenly there was a streak of light across the sky that disappeared on the horizon.

“Shooting star,” Camden heard Ariana whisper in his ear. “Make a wish.”


Ajax awoke the next morning to find his own monkey curled up beside his head. Not wanting to disturb the little creature, he got out of his cot very slowly, and covered the creature’s body with his blanket. Most of the other men were awake, while their monkey’s remained in their cots sleeping. Ajax thought the sight of the little creatures in the cots was amusing, and joined his fellow Minokans in the main inner chamber of the Temple where everyone was gathering to eat breakfast.

As he joined Camden and the rest of the men in one corner of the inner chamber to eat, he found that they were all talking about when they would leave on their quest to find the Skystone. Ariana, her brothers and Cahir were eating with them also, and they all had things to say about when they should leave.

“We should have our armor and weapons before we leave, who knows what is guarding that Temple,” Avalon, Ariana’s third oldest brother, was saying.

“But the Centaurs won’t have anything ready for weeks,” Eirwyn argued. “Should we wait that long?”

“I don’t think there will be any danger,” Camden told them. “We have mages and powerful magic of our own that can protect us.”

“Our friends in the Highlands have done some exploring into the rainforest. The Wall that protects the Temple is surrounded by vicious creatures; the men barely made it out alive. They tell us that the only way to seemingly get in would be to climb the wall, or find and entrance in the section of the wall that goes in the water.

“With the water, we can turn to the Merpeople to help us,” Ariana put in.

“Merpeople?” Marin asked.

“They are half human half fish beings who live in the water between here and the Highlands,” Ariana’s youngest brother, Corentin, told Marin.

“Well there’s another interesting detail to this land,” Marin commented, making Ariana and her men laugh.

“We are friends with the Merpeople, and I believe they will be able to help us,” Ariana continued.

“But what if there is something protecting the water around the Wall?” Camden wanted to know. “What do we then?”

“We use our magic and your canons on the ship to defend ourselves,” Ariana answered simply.

“But what if it’s magical?” Ajax put in. “And it can fight back with magic?”

“I don’t believe there is such a creature,” Ariana retorted.

“We didn’t believe there were such things as Merpeople or Centaurs, but yet there are,” Wilford, one of Camden’s men, told Ariana. His friends agreed with him by pounding their cups against the table.

“Okay, so we put the possibility of a creature protecting the water into out plans. But what then?” Ariana sighed.

“We get word to Akhtar and his wife, who I assume are living in the Temple,” Camden answered.

“But surely they would be dead,” Raiden, Ariana’s fourth oldest brother protested.

“Elves are blessed with very long lives,” one of Camden’s sailors, Arzon, told them.

“They can live to be three-thousand years old,” Aster, another sailor, added.

“Okay, so we send them a message how?” Ariana asked, and they could all hear the doubt in her voice.

Camden looked at the albino monkey that sat beside him eating fruit. “Gwin,” he said simply, “can find them.”

Ariana laughed. “You think your monkey would be able to tell them? What if they can’t understand her?”

“We send a written letter in Elvish to them,” Camden replied.

“But that still leaves the question about when we should leave,” Avalon put the fact out there.

Everyone turned to Ariana to see what she thought. Camden was impressed to find that the pressure of the group did not affect her decision.

“I do not think we should wait for the Centaurs to have our armory full,” Ariana said. “Those things will be needed when we go to war against Barkha and his minions. It shouldn’t take us more than two days to gather what we need for our journey; on the morning of the third day we will leave.”










Six







It was afternoon of the third day. Camden and Ariana stood at the bow of the Maelstrom, the girl still with slightly wobbly legs because she wasn’t used to the movements of the ship, even though they were currently anchored and hardly moving for the sea was calm. Below them in the water was a small embassy of Merpeople who had surfaced only ten minutes earlier and recognized Ariana as she yelled to them over the side of the ship. The two merpeople, a male and female, had gone back under water as the ship dropped anchor to wait for them to return. Ten minutes later, and they had returned with three other merpeople.

Ariana, Camden, Ajax and Cahir went down in the longboat to talk to the Merpeople. The three who had come with the first two turned out to be royalty: the Queen of the Merpeople herself, and her two children, Mangeni, who was a beautiful blue haired female who wore a cloth breast band like her mother and the other female, and Matsendra, whom Camden could tell that Ariana found rather handsome—for a half fish. Each of the Merpeople had a light emerald green four foot long fish tail that began just inches below the bellybutton.

“Greetings Ariana,” Leitha, the Queen, said to the human girl. “And Cahir,” she nodded to Ariana’s cousin. “It surprises me to see you two on such a ship,” the green haired creature added.

“We are on a quest your highness,” Ariana informed her. “We seek the Great Wall that is down in the rainforest of the Highlands on the coast.”

“Such a grave and dangerous quest you are one,” Leitha answered her. “Why do you seek it?”

“There is a Temple hidden on the other side of the Wall,” Camden told the Mer-Queen. The green haired creature seemed to notice him at last.

“And who are you?” she asked.

“Oh, forgive me your highness,” Ariana said, “This is Prince Camden of Minoka. He is an explorer, and the one who has been prophesied to rule the Skystone.”

Queen Leitha’s green eyes widened with surprise.

“I take it she has heard of the Skystone,” Ajax whispered to Camden, who smiled slightly.

“Our people have been plagued by the Sorcerer Barkha,” Leitha informed them. “Are you, Prince Camden, going to retrieve the Skystone for yourself, or—”

“I am helping Ariana free her land from the evil,” Camden interrupted the mermaid.

“Good. Then we shall help you. There is, however, a creature guarding the waters around the Wall,” Leitha informed them.

“We thought there might be,” Ajax said. “Oh, I’m Ajax, Camden’s bodyguard.”

Leitha nodded to him in acknowledgment. “You would do best to skirt around the wall till you get to land; there you can send someone over the wall by way of some vines that grow along it.”

“We were going to send a monkey-friend over the wall,” Ariana told the mermaid. The merpeople looked at each other with amusement, and Cahir turned to Ajax and Camden with a grin.

“They think monkey’s are strange creatures,” Cahir informed them. “They don’t think they are very useful.”

“Well of course not,” Ajax retorted, “how can they be useful in the water?”

Camden and Cahir laughed lightly at this, and then returned to the conversation at hand.

“That would do well then,” Leitha was saying. “I will send these two,” she indicated the two merpeople who had been the first to surface, “to show you where to avoid the creature. It will be another two days journey for you on your ship before you reach the Wall.”

“Thank you Leitha,” Ariana answered.

“It is nothing. Barkha has been poisoning my people and the water; to be rid of him will do everyone of Sikanoba good.”


Camden pulled the cloak his sister had made him close around him; the air had grown eerily chilly as they drew closer to the massive wall. The two merpeople had left them once they changed course for land where the Wall met with the rainforest. They had seen the creature that protected the Wall only from a distance—from what Camden could tell through his telescope, it was very large and had many appendages. He was glad the Mer-Queen had told them about it and had helped them avoid it.

The Wall loomed before the Maelstrom like some ominous threat. Camden could feel the magic coming off of it, and he wondered if Gwin would even be able to climb the wall. He could only hope.

He had explained to Gwin what it was that he needed her to do; somehow she was able to understand him, and when he gave her the pouch with the message in it, she eagerly put it over her shoulder and around her arm so she wouldn’t lose it. The sight of the little monkey with the pouch made some of the men laugh, but they all knew that this was important for their quest.

The Maelstrom was anchored just off shore; four trips with the longboat, and all the soldiers were on land. The rainforest lay twenty feet clear of the Wall for as far as they could all see. They all stood there, staring up the wall which looked to be a good two hundred feet tall.

“Do you think they used the Skystone to build the wall?” Camden asked, but no one answered; they all knew that the only way to build such a wall was by magic.

Just as Queen Leitha had said, there were vines growing all the way up the wall. Gwin jumped off of Camden’s shoulder to the vines, and with one last glance at him, she began to climb the wall. They all watched until she was little white dot on the side of the wall, and then they sat down to wait, half of them watching the tree line and the other half looking up the wall.

Camden and Ajax passed the time by sparring against each other. It surprised most Ariana’s men when they just suddenly jumped up in silently agreement and drew their swords. Ariana had anticipated seeing how good Camden was with a sword, and she knew that they had planned this; she sat with her brothers and cousin, watching the two friends.

Camden and Ajax seemed to be matched in strength and wit with a sword; they even knew some tricks that Ariana had seen among thieves in her city, which somewhat surprised her. It was sometime before either of the men began to tire, which just showed that their stamina was great. In the end, Camden and Ajax agreed to call it a tie when neither of them could gain an advantage over the other. By then it had been quite a while since Gwin disappeared from sight. The group settled down again to wait.

It was two hours later when Camden began to worry.

“I shouldn’t have sent her,” he said, worry evident in his voice to all the men. Some of Ariana’s men thought the Prince was soft for worrying about the little monkey, but Ariana set them straight; Camden had compassion that made him worthy of being royalty, and even more so for being the one to rule the Skystone. The men didn’t complain anymore after she had spoken with them.

A half hour later, Eirwyn stood up and asked Camden for his telescope. Camden threw the man the object—they were sitting twenty feet away from each other on opposite sides—and the older man put the smaller end to his eye and looked up the side of the wall.

“There she is!” he called out. Camden reached Eirwyn quicker than anyone thought he could move, and the older man handed the telescope over to him, pointing to the white dot that was getting bigger quickly.

Camden cried out with delight when he saw her, and when she was ten feet away from him, Gwin jumped down to him and he caught her swiftly. After he hugged the little creature, she handed him the pouch. He opened it with trembling fingers and found a piece of delicate paper with Elvish writing on it and a small clear crystal stone the size of his thumb.

“‘Greetings Prince Camden and companions,” he read aloud. “‘I am Akhtar, guardian of the Skystone. Gwin has showed me with her mind what you look like, and yes, you are the very likeness of the man Abraxas saw in his vision. The crystal will enable you to pass through the wall; I suggest that everything you want to bring with you is touching you.’” Camden turned to look at everyone. “I suggest we all hold hands,” he told them. A couple of the men laughed, but they all joined hands in a long line. Camden held the crystal in his hand, turned back to make sure everyone was touching, and put his other hand against the wall. His hand passed through.

Without a second thought, Camden closed his eyes and walked through the wall, pulling Ajax and the rest of them with him. He opened his eyes again and found himself and everyone else standing at the edge of a cobbled path that lead through a small rainforest. Gwin jumped off of Camden’s shoulder and began to lead them down the path.

As they walked, all of the soldiers kept on their guard not knowing what to expect. After a while they all seemed to relax, taking a hint from the monkeys who had all been calm the entire time. Ariana drew even with Camden, matching him stride for stride to keep up.

“For someone who didn’t want this in the first place, you are sure in a hurry to get to the Skystone,” she commented.

“I’ve seen and heard a lot to persuade me that I am needed here,” Camden answered her. “You and your people need me, Queen Leitha and her people need me.”

“Yes, we do,” Ariana told him.

They all traveled in silence from then on until they reached stone steps that were much like that of the Forbidden Temple. At the top of the steps on the side of a large hill lay a temple identical to that which they had left a week ago. Standing in the threshold were two people, a male Elve and a female Elve, both dressed in clean white breeches and tunics.

“They don’t look a day over forty,” Camden heard one of Ariana’s brothers commented.

“That’s the age they stop aging,” Camden informed the brother who had spoken. “From then on they just get older in years, not in looks.”

Gwin reached the Elves first, and they greeted her with fruits. When Camden reached the top of the steps, the two Elves bowed low to him.

“Prince Camden, you have been long expected,” Akhtar told him. “This is my wife, Astra,” he introduced the woman, who nodded gracefully to him.

“Please come,” both Elves turned and walked into the Temple, Camden, Ariana and the soldiers following in their wake.

“How long have you been in Sikanoba?” Akhtar asked Camden.

“Almost two weeks,” he answered.

“And how did you come upon the Temple?”

“Princess Ariana here brought me to it,” Camden told him. “It was there where I read the Elvish writing about the Skystone, and it was there where I found that I was the one to rule it.”

“Princess Ariana you say?” Akhtar stopped and looked at the young girl, taking her all in. “Ah yes, you have your forefather’s nose,” he said with a large grin. Ariana and her six brothers all put a hand up to their nose, making Camden and the two Elves laugh lightly.
“Why is you come seeking the Skystone so quickly after finding that you are the one to control it?” Akhtar turned to Camden.
“Sikanoba has been taken over by an evil Sorcerer,” Ariana answered him. “His name is Barkha. He was a simple court magician before his journey into the Troll Mountains. There I believe he uncovered the entity that you, Abraxas and the rest of your men contained there, and the entity possessed him.”
Akhtar flinched at the mention of the evil creature. “Abraxas was not with us,” Akhtar informed the Princess. “If he was, we probably would have been able





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