The young Raelokh chalon watched, silent and unmoving, as the
wooden arm, pulled downward by the heavy sand-filled box hanging
from it, swung upward, pulling the rope sling behind it. He was
completely attuned to everything that was happening at that
particular moment. He could hear the soft purl of the river, feel
the slight breeze that was coming from the west, smell the
dampness in the air. It was as if he was one with the world. The
trebuchet released its projectile and sent it flying straight at
Baron where he stood in the tall grass on the riverbank.
��������� Working with the graceful fluidness of the wind, he
swiftly reached back, plucked an arrow from his quiver, drew it
out, and set it to the string of his bow without taking his
crimson gaze away from the flying projectile. He drew his bow to
the full, aimed, and released. This all took place in only a
second. Thunnn! The bow sang as it released the arrow.
Hssss! The arrow sped toward its target.
Thwock! The arrow struck the small wooden ball square in
the center and the ball, having an arrow now protruding from it,
was whipped off course and landed harmlessly to Baron's left with
a sodden thumph. Before the ball could even hit the
ground, however, Baron spun left, nocking an arrow as he did, and
let fly at another wooden projectile that was coming straight at
him. Thunnn! Hssss-thwock! The arrow struck true and the
ball, knocked off its course, splashed harmlessly into the water
to his left, to be carried away by the swift current of the
Quartz River, westward toward Quartz Lake.
��������� At a mere five feet tall, Baron was not an intimidating
creature, even though he was one of the taller Raelokhs. But when
he spun about and bolted north and east he moved faster than any
Man, Dwarf, or Elf. Baron raced through the long grass along the
shoreline of the Quartz River for about three hundred yards, his
long blue hair flying out behind him as he ran, his breathing
quick and even. And although he made no efforts toward stealth as
he ran, he still made little noise as he ran through the tall
grass, if any, for he was a Raelokh, the stealthiest of
creatures. He stopped by a spruce tree and turned north and west,
only to see not one but three of the wooden projectiles hurtling
straight at him. Baron let fly three quick shots in such rapid
succession that just before the first one hit home, the third was
already in flight. Thock! Shock! Shock! All three arrows
struck true, but before the first oaken ball hit earth, Baron
spun south, nocking two arrows as he did, drew to the full,
aimed, and released. Thunnn! Hssss-Sshocckk! The two
arrows spread apart slightly as they flew, and each one hit a
target dead center. Thumph! Thumph! Whack! The first two
balls hit earth, while the third one strayed just a bit wide and
hit a boulder, and the force from the impact shattered the arrow
that was inside it.
��������� Baron turned and bolted north and east along the
riverbank, and ran headlong into the dense forest of Borderwood.
Once he was within the trees-oak, maple, pine, spruce, cedar,
birch, elm, sequoia, ash, walnut, butternut, and many other
kinds-his senses were assailed by the forest; the soft, cool
shade of sunlight filtered through leaves and needles, the sweet
aroma of the different types of wood; the muffled gurgle of the
river. He stopped to gain his bearings, nocked an arrow to his
bow and, slowly and stealthily, began walking through the forest.
Baron moved deliberately and with total caution-his tilted
crimson eyes scanning and darting back and forth for anything out
of place; his pointed ears listening intently for even the
slightest sound that did not belong; his nose searching for any
scent that was not right; but he sensed naught of danger. It was
still there, though. That much he knew. He was walking into a
trap, and he went willingly, knowing as he walked through the
forest that there would be no turning back.
��������� With the silence and stealth of a wraith, he flitted to
and fro among the trees. A slight scraping sound from above and
to his right, a sound that was barely audible to Raelokh ears and
inaudible to all other ears-which he recognized at once as the
sound of a boot rubbing against the bark of a sycamore tree-told
Baron that an archer was taking aim at him. With the speed of
lightning he spun around and loosed his arrow at the source of
the sound. Thunnn! Hss-thudh! His arrow hit the archer
in the chest and the foe fell from the tree and landed with a
thumph on the forest floor. Baron heard a rustle of
leaves from above and directly behind him, and he knew that a foe
had just leapt from a maple tree to bring a sword down and
through his skull. With such swiftness as could be seen only by
the eyes of Elves, Raelokhs, and Morlen, Baron shouldered his bow
and spun around, drawing his sword as he did, to meet the enemy.
With deadly speed, he sidestepped and raised his blade as his for
landed and brought their blade smashing down against Baron's
sword. Baron swung his sword down, back, up, forward, and down
upon his foe in one swift, fluid windmill-like movement. But the
unknown enemy had brought their scimitar upward to deflect the
blow, and his attempt was in vain. His foe brought their blade up
and around in a wide, powerful arc and Baron ducked the blow and
swung back, only to have it deflected again. The unknown foe
brought their blade back and thrust it forward to plunge it deep
into Baron's gut. Baron sidestepped the enemy's thrust and
brought his sword smashing down onto his foe's scimitar, and the
force of his swing was so powerful that it knocked the enemy's
blade from their hands and sent it plunging deep into the earth.
Baron grabbed his masked foe by their collar, slammed them up
against the trunk of a massive oak tree, and brought his sword up
to the enemy's throat.
"Who sent you?" Baron demanded, his crimson eyes filled with
heated anger. "Where does your allegiance lie?" But before his
enemy could even answer, the snap of a twig from behind told him
that he did not have time to ask questions yet. Baron threw his
disarmed foe aside and spun around to meet his next challenge. He
swiftly ducked a blow meant to decapitate him, planted his free
hand on the ground, pushed off, and kicked his foe full force in
the chest, sending the enemy flying back about ten feet to land
with a thud on the forest floor. He got up just in time to bring
his sword up to deflect a blow by a third foe.
Where do they keep coming from? He thought as he
continued to battle his foe and then the second one as well.
Swords rang, yet no blood was shed. Then Baron sensed something
from behind and sidestepped as his first foe, having retrieved
their scimitar from the ground, trust it forward to impale him
from behind. He then spun about and bolted away from his three
enemies, knowing that if he stayed much longer he would have been
killed. Baron fled through the forest, his enemies in pursuit and
gaining on him. He stopped suddenly and dropped to the ground as
all three of his foes shot past him. He leapt up and lunged at
the nearest attacker. The enemy raised their blade and brought it
down at Baron, who replied by swinging his sword at his foes
scimitar with such force that his sword sliced right through the
scimitar. Then, he kicked the enemy aside and turned to meet the
They came at him with deadly force, giving no ground over to
Baron's advantage, and he was forced once more to flee through
the forest. Baron pushed every ounce of his strength into every
stride, and he quickly gained ground on his enemies. He ducked
behind a great maple tree, and waited while he caught his breath.
He could hear them coming now, and they gave no heed to caution
or stealth, driven by their anger and fury. One of them came
running toward the very tree baron hid behind, and when he was
sure that the foe would rush right past the tree, he quickly
sheathed his sword. Gripping the bark, Baron swung around the
tree and sent a flying kick straight into his enemy's face. The
attacker flew back a few feet and landed on their back
unconscious. Then, Baron spun around and ducked a decapitating
blow by his last enemy. He jumped up, grabbed his enemy by the
collar slammed them against the tree, and brought his blade up to
"If you so much as twitch, I'll kill you," Baron said to his foe,
who then dropped their blade. "Now tell me, where does your
allegiance lie?" Then his masked attacker laughed.
"Bravo, Baron! Bravo!" The attacker laughed. "That's the best
performance I have seen in over thirty years! Now let go of me,
if you don't mind." Baron let go and lowered his sword as his
attacker removed their mask and Baron was looking into the eyes
of Phillip Darkwaters, his swords and arms trainer.
"Does this mean I passed the test?" Baron asked him, raising a
"Of course you passed the test!" Phillip exclaimed. "Top score,
too! Why, I was afraid that you were going to kill us! But dear
me, of course you would never do that," Phillip stopped himself,
and then he looked at Baron and smiled. "Dear lad, I am so proud
"Thank you," replied Baron.
"Walk with me, dear boy."
Phillip turned and together they began walking back the way they
"You know, lad," said Phillip. "Over the past thirty years that I
have been training Raelỏkhs in swords and arms, I have seen many
pass and many fail, and sometimes those who failed did so by my
blade. I absolutely hate it whenever someone fails the test, and
every time they do I weep bitter tears for them. I know in my
heart that everybody who makes it far enough through their
training to even have the honor of taking the test is a great
warrior, and that no good warrior should die by the hands of
those of his own kind. But the rules have been set in place that
those administering the test are to show no mercy for the one
taking the test. So remember this: everybody who passes could
have just as easily failed, and everybody who failed could have
just as easily passed. The only difference between those who
passed and those who failed is the conditions they fought in."
Baron thought about this, and then said, "So you're saying that
something as small as wind or rain can change your fate?"
"Exactly," said Phillip. "Think about it, dear boy. If you were
testing in the rain, would you have really discovered that archer
up in that tree? Would you have really heard his boot scrape
against the bark of the tree?"
Baron thought about this and replied, "No. What is your point?"
"I think I have already made it my point."
Baron pondered Phillip's words while they walked through the
forest and then he asked, "What of the others?"
"The others giving me the test with you."
"Oh, them," replied Phillip. "They are already on their way back
to camp. But don't worry about them. Kaishel, Alenora, and Alai
will be quite alright. This isn't the first time they have helped
me give a test, you know. But for now, let us enjoy this walk the
peacefulness of it, for you shall be seeing different scenery
Baron looked up through the trees, at the sky, which was
beginning to dim as the evening set in.