Black Stone

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Elvod and Lettie are a pair of young adults who live in the village of Claywood. Elvod runs the village stables while Lettie runs the village inn along with her fiance Vinod. Their's is a peaceful existence with little contact with the outside world.

Then suddenly they are accosted by dark forces and forced out into a world of danger and intrigue. They learn that they are brother and sister and that Elvod is the heir to throne of Allansia, the continent on which they live.

Join Elvod and Lettie on their perilous journey across Allansia as they try to reclaim their birthright. Will they succeed or will they be defeated by the Black Circle, a dark coven of sorcerers and witches?

Table of Contents

Prologue

Submitted: August 18, 2016

Prologue     Madame Hawkwich sighed and rose from the set of tarot cards laid out in front of her on the ornate oak ... Read Chapter

1

Submitted: August 18, 2016

There is a prologue before this chapter.   Chapter 1     Elvod felt a tingle of excitement as he finish... Read Chapter

2

Submitted: August 20, 2016

Chapter 2




Elvod looked out into the pouring rain to see Vinod trundling slowly towards him. He felt a touch of amusement because he looked soaked to the skin but had a look of contentment on his face.
"What are you looking so happy about ?" asked Elvod. It was the first time he had seen him smiling for weeks.
"Well, while I was at the market I just happened to remember it was Lettie's birthday. Come to the back of the cart and see what I bought for her," laughed Vinod.
Vinod walked to the rear of the cart and pulled up the cover. He glanced down and a look of bewilderment crossed his face.
"It's gone!" he exclaimed. "It must have fell off somewhere on the way in. What the hell am I supposed to do now ? It cost me thirty grints, I'm nearly broke! I've no time to get her anything else."
"Calm down, Vinod. What was it you bought her anyway ?" asked Elvod.
"It was the most beautiful black stone you've ever seen. It seemed to have a mist swirling inside of it," answered Vinod.
"Well, I'm sure she'll love it, if we can find it. It's not her birthday until two days after the carnival is it ?" asked Elvod.
"No it's not, but..." stammered Vinod.
"Well, first thing in the morning after the carnival we can backtrack your route and see if we can find it. Now, have you any idea at all where it might have rolled off ? If we start from there it'll make it a damn sight easier than backtracking the whole route," Elvod responded.
"No I can't remember anywhere in particular... but, no wait, I stopped to cover Urd when the rain first started about a mile out, it could have rolled off there," Vinod answered.
"Well we can start there and look for it. Nobody's likely to be out that way until after the carnivals finished anyway. I suppose I can drag myself out of bed to help you to find it," said Elvod.
"I just hope it's where I think it is, if not it'll be difficult to find if this rain keeps up much longer. And I suppose I can put up with you tagging along," Vinod replied.
"Don't mention it," said Elvod. "I'm quite looking forward to getting up first thing in the morning to trudge through mud and grass looking for something you lost."
"Seriously though, thanks, you know that I've always been good with money and business. But I'm not so good with practicalities," replied Vinod. "I suppose that's why I put up with you, you're better than me with that side of things."
"Well it's a good job I am then, or I'd never have the pleasure of your august company would I ?" laughed Elvod.
"No I suppose not, you're not much use for anything else," answered Vinod. "You know, Elvod, I can almost see a glimmer of intelligence in you at times."
"Well wonders will never cease, an almost compliment from Vinod. I feel blessed, thank you m'lord," said Elvod, trying not to laugh out loud. "Right that's enough for now, I've got to finish up here and you've got to get your lazy arse back to the inn to help Lettie, even though you're shut tomorrow."
"Alright, alright I'm going. And really though, thanks, Elvod," Vinod responded, turning away to walk back to the inn.




The next morning Lettie was smiling as she hung the sign on the outside of the inn, "Closed all day for Carnival business". She was happy that the business of running the inn could be put aside for a day, and she and Vinod, along with Elvod and Bilal, could just relax and enjoy the carnival for a day. The rain had stopped during the night though it was still muddy. She pushed open the front door of the inn, letting it slam shut behind her as she walked through the bar to the kitchen in the back. Elvod and Bilal would be joining them so she had four breakfasts on the go. She examined the four pans on top of the wrought iron stove, filled with a solid helping of eggs, bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms. Elvod will probably eat most of this but there should still be enough for all of us, she thought, smiling
to herself. She didn't really enjoy cooking for the patrons of the inn day after day, but didn't mind this morning as it was for friends only. She was quite content with her life really. Although she complained about Vinod to Bilal she did truly love him, she just needed to feel glamorous once in a while and modelling for Bilal was the closest she ever came to feeling anything remotely like that.
A loud banging came from the front door of the inn as Vinod came through from the back, where he'd been seeing to Urd.
"Get that would you, Vin? While I start dishing the breakfast up," asked Lettie.
"No problem, Lett. I hope you've got enough for about ten people there because you know what Elvod's like," answered Vinod.
"Don't worry, there's plenty here, even for Elvod," laughed Lettie.
Vinod pulled open the front door to see Elvod standing in front of him, a look of impatience on his face.
Vinod bowed elaborately.
"Welcome my lord, to our sumptuous feast," greeted Vinod, trying to suppress a burst of laughter.
"Out of my way, fool of a peasant, and let me attend to my breakfast," answered Elvod through a fit of giggles, pushing past him contemptuously. "You haven't let that idiot do any of the cooking have you, Lettie? I don't want to be rushing to the jakes all day."
"Don't worry, Elvod. I never let him near the stove, and besides I've got to eat it myself as well, you know," answered Lettie, giggling.
"I take personal affront to m'lord's and ladies comments on my culinary skills. I shall expect a full and sincere apology upon my return," Vinod responded, striding past them through the back door in a mock huff.
"He gets worse," said Elvod, sitting at the table. A look of delight appeared on his face as Lettie placed a huge steaming plate of eggs, bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms in front of him.
"Well you're as bad for encouraging him, and you don't do too badly yourself," scolded Lettie. "Anyway shut up now and get that down you, I know you love my cooking."
"Thanks, Lettie. This is great," spluttered Elvod through a mouthful of bacon and eggs.
A soft knocking came from the front door of the inn. Lettie walked over and pulled open the door.
"Hi, Bilal. Go and sit next to Elvod and I'll bring your breakfast over," she said.
"Thanks, Lettie," replied Bilal sheepishly as he walked over and pulled out a chair to sit beside Elvod. "Hi, Elvod. How's it going at the stables?"
"Fine, thanks, Bilal. How is the painting going?" Elvod responded.
Elvod always felt slightly uncomfortable around Bilal, the conversation always seemed forced and there was something slightly strange about the way he looked at people, as if he was sizing them up for something, but he was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, unlike Vinod.
"It's going great thanks, I've got a really good one going at the moment of Lettie, it could be my masterpiece," answered Bilal.
As Bilal finished the back door swung open and in strode Vinod. There was a moments silence as he and Bilal sized each other up.
"Don't worry, Bilal, I won't start anything today. Let's call a truce and just enjoy the carnival eh?" said Vinod, offering his hand across the table.
"Alright that's great, Vinod," answered Bilal while shaking him by the hand, a look of relief spreading across his face.
Elvod and Lettie looked at each other in surprise, grins spreading across both of their faces.




"Vinod quick...quick come over here," shouted Lettie excitedly.
"What is it this time, Lettie?" answered Vinod wearily as he trudged over, followed by Elvod, Bilal and Seber, who had decided to come along after all to keep an eye on them. They had been at the carnival for over three hours now, and Lettie had dragged them from stall to stall until they had covered almost every square inch.
"You've got to win me one of those," exclaimed Lettie, pointing to a row of toy bears, each around two feet high, on the stall next to them. "It can be my early birthday present seeing as you've probably forgotten."
"Does madam truly believe I would have forgotten the most important event of the year?" asked Vinod with an elaborate bow. "I shall use my meagre talents to win her a bear forthwith."
Vinod approached the stall holder, who stood at around five feet five with thinning hair, a pot belly and a look of naked avarice on his smirking face.
"What must I do to attain one of your admittedly handsome looking pieces of merchandise?" asked Vinod grandiosely.
"Eh?" asked the stall holder with a look of puzzlement spread across his face.
"What must I do to win a bear?" asked Vinod, smiling.
"Oh right! See that target yonder, young un?" the stall holder replied, pointing back over his shoulder to a small circular target around fifty yards away. Vinod nodded. "Well you must hit the gold spot in the centre with an arrow to win one of them there bears. Would you like a try, young un?"
"Where are the bows and arrows?" asked Vinod.
The stall holder reached into a basket behind him, pulling out an extremely decrepit looking bow with an arrow to match. He handed them to Vinod with a broad smile across his face.
"Quality merchandise, I see," remarked Vinod. "And how much must I pay to attempt to win one of your bears?"
"It's one grint per shot," remarked the stall holder. "Would you like more arrows?"
"No thanks, one should suffice," answered Vinod, handing the man one grint and striding up to a white line next to the stall.
He pulled back on the string of the bow testing it's strength.
Mmm, better than it looks, he thought.
He pulled a padded leather glove from his belt, pulled it over his left hand and flexed his fingers, testing the fit. Then in one fluid motion he placed the shaft of the arrow against the grip of the bow between his fingers, placed the nock of the arrow in the nocking point, pulled back on the string and fired. The arrow flew through the air and thudded unerringly into the centre of the gold spot, fifty yards away.
The stall holder stood with his mouth agape, as did Lettie, Bilal and Seber. The only one not showing much surprise was Elvod, he had seen Vinod shoot before, but even he was impressed with the ease with which he had hit the target.
Vinod joked his way through life due to a lack of confidence. His life had been tough, he had never known his mother and his father had died three years past. He had learnt to care for himself since then but had a tendency to distrust people until he got to know them really well. The one thing that lifted him above all this was his archery. His father had been a master bowman and Vinod had inherited his skills, plus a lot more besides.
"Here is your bear, young sir," said the stall holder, handing one of the miniature bears to Vinod. "I've been doing this for twenty years and that was the best shooting I've ever laid eyes upon. My compliments, young un."
"Thank you," answered Vinod solemnly, with none of his customary playfulness.




"Well, I'm sorry to bring it up, I know it still hurts you, but you certainly take after the old man with the bow. When me and him were your age I can remember him shooting acorns off of trees to win money for a night out revelling. I miss him too you know, not as hard as you do obviously, but..." Seber whispered quietly into Vinod's ear, his arm wrapped comfortingly around his shoulders, as they wandered down to the last few stalls.
"Thanks, Seber. I still miss him the same as you, but it was a few years ago now so the pains faded a bit. Do you think I'll ever be as good as he was with the bow?" asked Vinod quietly.
"Well, at the same age if anything I'd say you're probably a little better. Your dad was a great shot even then, but he couldn't do it with your ease, even as he got older. Just keep practising. That way it'll keep memories of your dad close as well. He was a good man, as you are becoming," said Seber comfortingly.
Vinod's father had died three years ago, scouting for the Andrassian army, many miles to the south in the land of Pyrassia, home of the lizard men. Although there had been an uneasy truce for more than a decade now, Andrassia still had to be vigilant. Vinod's father was one of the unlucky ones. The lizards had always been a war-like race and for as long as anyone could remember had wanted to conquer their neighbours to the north. It was rumoured that beyond the northern mountains of Andrassia lay what was left of the elven nation. Nothing had been seen of the elves for centuries now, and many in Andrassia believed them to be extinct, but they were the natural enemies of the lizards, and the lizards obviously believed the rumours to be true. Between Andrassia and Pyrassia lay the Beltway Mountains which stretched across the whole continent, and contained all manner of fell beasts. They were also rumoured to be the home of the Black Circle sorcerers, a group that were extremely powerful centuries in the past, but of which nothing had been heard for close to twenty years. The Beltway was the only thing stopping a full scale invasion by the lizards, but news of lizard raids on towns and villages which lay close to the Beltway was becoming common. The mountains were also the home of the dwarves, who, like the elves, had gone unseen for many years and were also feared to be extinct.
Seber was worried that if the lizard men were getting through the mountains in such numbers, then the Black Circle may have something to do with it. He sincerely hoped not, because if the Black Circle resurfaced then Andrassia was in serious trouble. There had been an uneasy peace now for over a decade, but Andrassia was not ready for an invasion by the lizards, if the the Black Circle was involved then that made matters all the worse. Magic had dwindled down to almost nothing and all that was left was the White Circle, which consisted of around twelve members, situated in the capital, Soldar.
Claywood was in the north-west of Andrassia, twenty miles from the coast. Soldar, the capital, lay around eight hundred miles to the south-east, in the centre of Andrassia. In between were numerous towns and villages, the dreaded Whickwood and the massive Lake Nesstor. The Whickwood was rumoured to contain foul denizens that feasted on human flesh, but not much was known for sure because not many dared to venture in, and even less made it out alive.




Lettie came running over, clutching the bear to her chest.
"Thanks, Vin. It's beautiful," she said gleefully, giving him a big kiss on the cheek. "But come over here quick, Bilal's found something wonderful!" With which she grabbed hold of his arm, almost dragging him to the end of the row, where Elvod and Bilal were standing.
"Well, what do you think?" asked Elvod, pointing to a small tent at the end of the row, almost tucked back into the trees. A sign above the tent read "Madam Hawkwich, Mystic"
"It's got to be worth a go," answered Vinod with a grin. He leant over to whisper in Elvod's ear with a chuckle, "We might even find out where that stone is."
Seber caught up and looked at the tent with a look of worry on his face. Shall I stop them? he thought, they might find out.... No, it's more than likely a sham anyway, and it'll probably cause more trouble than it's worth trying to stop them. Let's see how it plays out first.
They entered the tent in single file through the narrow curtained entryway. Lettie first, followed by Vinod who pulled up short as he entered the tent and saw the withered old mystic. The old crone's image flickered before his eyes, to become a younger figure, still dressed in attire that one would associate with a fortune teller. He shook his head as if to clear it and stared hard at the mystic, she was still the younger figure. What's going on here? I
must be seeing things, I'm sure that was the crone that sold me the stone. He recovered quickly and sat down next to Lettie, placing his hand over his mouth as if to stifle a cough. The old woman coughed herself and winked at him while doing so. Damn, he thought, I think it is her, it must be some kind of glamour she's wearing so as not to put customers off. Elvod, Bilal and Seber entered the tent and took their places next to him and Lettie, in front of the
small oak table.
"So who among you would like to know what the future holds?" asked the mystic, spreading her arms with a flourish.
"I would please," said Lettie quickly. As she said this a pained look crossed Seber's face, no one noticed this but the old mystic, a fact which she kept well hidden.
"I'm glad it's you dearie, such a pretty young thing," said the mystic, smiling. "Just place your hands on the table, palms down, and I will place my hands over yours."
Lettie reached out and placed her hands on the table, palms down as the mystic had instructed her. The mystic reached out and placed her hands on top of Lettie's. Immediately she shuddered and stared at Lettie with a wide eyed look of fear.
She quickly recovered and said, "Sorry, dearie. That always happens when I first make contact, nothing to be afraid of."
The mystic began to hum, tilting her head back. Her head came forward and her eyes opened wide, the pupils tilted right back so that only the whites were showing.
"You are engaged to be married to a young man sitting at this table, this will not go entirely without strife as there is another who wants you," she told her in a hypnotic voice. A look of anger crossed Vinod's face, at the same time as a look of fear appeared on the face of Bilal. " I cannot get a sense of this other man, but wait....I sense that the other man is an artist of some kind, perhaps a painter," she added.
Lettie broke contact with the mystic, pulling away sharply, just as Vinod grabbed Bilal by the shirt and pulled him out of the tent. Elvod and Lettie quickly scrambled up and followed them outside.
Seber looked sharply at the mystic and said, "I don't know what you're up to, but when I find out we will meet again, witch."
"Maybe we will, but then again...." replied the witch.
He threw her a look of anger, and disgust before hurriedly exiting the tent to find Vinod kneeling over Bilal, pummelling his arms which Bilal had crossed in front of his face, with Elvod trying to pull him off and Lettie screaming at him to stop. He quickly walked over and roughly pulled Vinod off of Bilal, slapping him sharply across the face.
"Don't be a fool, Vinod! It was just the words of an old mystic and meant nothing. It's all just a con, she knows nothing!" shouted Seber.
"But...." Vinod seemed about to argue, then deflated rapidly, all the anger flowing out of him. "I'm alright now, Seber. You can let go. You're right I was being foolish. Sorry, Bilal, if it means anything," said Vinod, looking shamefaced. He didn't know what had made him act so aggressively, he was normally slow to anger and could keep control of his temper quite easily. But the way that Bilal stared at Lettie sometimes... and there was something about that mystic, she had seemed to be urging him to attack Bilal somehow. A shiver went down his spine as he remembered the look in her eyes while she was reading Lettie's fortune.
"It's alright, Vinod. I understand. But I'd like to be alone for a while, and anyway I need to get back and get cleaned up," replied Bilal, and turned away to trudge slowly back to the village.
Seber removed his hands from Vinod's shirt and turned to walk back to the tent, he wanted to give the witch a piece of his mind. As he entered the tent he gasped. It was empty apart from the table and the only apparent exit was the one he had just walked through. If the witch had come through there then he would have caught sight of her. He strode around the tent, checking all around for a tear or hidden panel but found nothing. He knew this meant trouble,
the witch was much more powerful than he had thought. He shuddered as he realised what this could mean. It smelt of the Black Circle and this put Elvod and Lettie in serious danger. It looked as though things were coming to a head, he had to get them to Allminster as soon as he could. He quickly strode outside the tent. "Vinod, are you fully calmed now? And, Lettie, are you alright?" he asked.
"Yes we're fine now, Seber," answered Lettie for both of them.
He nodded and turned to Elvod. "Elvod. I need you to come to the forge at first light. There is something I need to tell you. I should have told you long before now in all honesty. Just give me tonight to gather my thoughts."
"Alright, Seber. I'll be there," answered Elvod. He turned to Vinod and shrugged, they were meant to look for the stone in the morning. Vinod nodded as if to say he understood.
"Seber, wait a second!" he called as Seber turned to walk back to the village. He hurried over to place his mouth close to Seber's ear. "This is going to sound very strange but I must first ask you to promise to not say anything to Lettie about what I'm about to tell you." Seber looked at him strangely before giving a slight nod. "I've seen that mystic before at Allminster Market, she sold me a stone for Lettie's birthday. But the strange thing is that as I entered the tent she appeared as an old crone, the one that sold me the stone, then she seemed to shimmer and change into what she appeared as before us."
"Do you have the stone?" Seber whispered urgently.
"No," he replied. "I lost it on the way back. Elvod and me were going to look for it in the morning."
"Be careful! That stone may be more dangerous than you could ever imagine!" hissed Seber. "Come with Elvod to the forge tomorrow and then we'll search for it together."




The witch cursed as she rolled the body of the real Madame Hawkwich into a hollow far behind the tent. "I'll just leave it here," she muttered under her foul breath. "By the time anyone finds it I'll be long gone. That fool, Seber, could be trouble, I'll have to sort everything out tonight."
She knelt and sent her thoughts out to the summit of Mount Lone, in the midst of the Beltway mountains.
My lord, it's Chartelle, she sent. She was contacting Lord Herrick, the head of the Black Circle.
Herrick was a tall wiry figure with jet black hair and a thin, though handsome face. He was pale skinned due to not having left the Black Circle's headquarters for longer than he cared to remember. He had been the leader of the circle for nigh on forty years, he was close to seventy years old now, but looked to be nearer forty. It was rumoured that just before he had formed the circle he had made a pact with the dark god Drakkan, although nothing was known for sure. Herrick believed that the less his underlings knew about him the better, he liked to rule by fear and a sense of mystery helped to keep them off guard.
He was sitting, discussing plans for the invasion of Andrassia with Mordaz, his assistant, when her thought came through. "Wait, Mordaz. It's Chartelle," he said in a deep, growling voice. What do you want witch? I hope you're going to tell me that everything is going to plan in Claywood. The two young ones must die, it is vital to our plans.
I've set everything in motion, my lord, she sent back. They should be dead within a day or two.
Should is not good enough, Chartelle, Herrick sent back. They must die, I cannot stress the importance enough. If you fail you know what will happen to you don't you?
Yes my lord, I'll stay here until they are both dead.
Make sure you do, Chartelle, sent Herrick, cutting the link.
As Herrick cut her off she began to hum to herself, calling on the energies of the Dark Moon, as she began to slowly change form, changing her appearance as to become unrecognisable.




Bilal was confused as he trudged back up the lane towards Claywood. On the one hand he had received a beating at the hands of Vinod, just over the words of an old mystic who was probably a fake anyway, which he resented. On the other hand Vinod had seemed genuinely sorry for what had happened, once he had calmed down. If only he could get Lettie out of his thoughts. He understood why Vinod felt the way he did, he'd feel the same if their positions were reversed, but he couldn't help his feelings for Lettie. Why must everyone always think the worst of him?
As he was mulling things over he heard a crashing sound over to his left, beyond the road amongst the trees.
"Help me, please!" came a thin, pleading voice.
He watched as the branches parted and stumbling onto the road before him appeared a vision of beauty, although looking very much the worse for wear. Long blond curling tresses fell down beyond her shoulders. Her homespun clothes, soiled and torn, failed to hide a buxom figure. He was immediately entranced, thoughts of Lettie quickly disappeared from his mind.
"Please, help! I've been attacked in the woods," she gasped. "Help me to get home, I'm begging you!"
"Do you know who it was that attacked you?" asked Bilal, feeling that his luck may be changing at last. He felt a surge of sorrow for the girl but quickly suppressed it, if he played this right he could present himself as a hero to her, and then who knew what might happen?
"I think it was workers from the carnival. They tried to....to rape me, but somehow I managed to get away," she answered.
"Where are they now? Are they close by?" asked Bilal, a tremor of fear running through him.
"No," answered the girl. "By the sounds they were making, I'm sure they headed back to the carnival"
"I've got friends still at the carnival," said Bilal, thrusting out his chest. "We'll go back and sort those thugs out."
"No, please!" pleaded the girl. "I just want to get home, my father will be worried sick. I was supposed to be back two hours ago."
"All right then, I'll escort you home," answered Bilal, feeling relieved that he wouldn't have to follow up on his promise. "Where do you live?" She couldn't be from Claywood, in a village that size he would surely have noticed her.
"It's east of Claywood, just off the road to Allminster," she answered. "I'm not sure how far it is from here though, I feel confused... if you could just take me home, I feel safe with you."
"Alright that's no problem, I understand, you've had a big ordeal. I'll make sure you get home safely," replied Bilal with a flush of pride, thinking that his luck was surely in. "My name is Bilal by the way, what's yours?"
"Chartelle," the girl whispered seductively into his ear.




"Are you certain that you can trust Chartelle to get the job done my lord?" asked Mordaz. He had always hated Chartelle. She was incompetent in his opinion, but remained the sole person above him in his lord's affections, scant though they may be. Although Herrick himself was a tall man, Mordaz towered over him by a good six inches, at over six and a half feet, with a high, sloping forehead and a body covered in masses of dark, thick curly hair, he was almost apelike in appearance. He was however a very different person behind his brutish appearance. He had a sharp, devious mind and was almost effeminate in nature. He felt sure that Herrick was blinded by her beauty, she always wore her most seductive form in Herrick's presence. Her power was that of transformation, she could change her appearance into that of any living form. All members of the Black Circle had one area of magic in which they specialised, Mordaz himself had the power of transportation, he could jump small distances and appear up to a mile away from his starting point, a good ability to have if you were in a tight spot. Only Herrick had multiple areas of ability, which was the reason for his leadership of the group. That and his utter ruthlessness, every member of the group knew that to cross Herrick would lead to an untimely, and probably gruesome, demise.
"Are you questioning my judgement, Mordaz?" asked Herrick in a cold, menacing voice.
"No, never my lord, it's just that well...." replied Mordaz.
"Don't worry, Mordaz. I'm not thinking of having you executed just yet. Chartelle's mission is more suited to her qualities than your's. Seber would be sure to recognize you, whereas with her he'll likely have his suspicions but not enough to push him into action," Herrick responded in an amused tone. "Anyway, I have agents in place at Allminster and in the palace at Soldar. If she fails and Seber realises what is happening, which he likely will, then I'll be sending you to the castle at Allminster. It's time we checked up on the situation there anyway. "
"That's good to hear my lord. If I could be of any help right now?" asked Mordaz.
"No, not for now, I'll wait and see how this plays out first. You may leave my presence," said Herrick curtly.
"Yes, my lord," replied Mordaz, bowing down as he backed away.
Herrick smiled to himself as Mordaz left his presence. He fully understood the situation between the two of them and enjoyed playing one against the other. It suited his egotistical nature and also made them strive all the harder to please him.




Bilal was feeling cold and tired even though he was still enthralled by Chartelle. They were now around a mile past Claywood, on the road to Allminster.
"Is it much farther to go?" he asked. "I don't mind, but it might be easier if we went back to Claywood and you could stop at my place, then I could bring you home in the morning."
"Wait! I can just see the pathway now," exclaimed Chartelle happily as they rounded a bend in the road. She pointed to a gap in the trees about a hundred yards away. "It's just over there."
She clapped her hands and ran off towards the pathway, with Bilal struggling to keep up.
As she neared the pathway she stopped suddenly and reached down to pick something up.
"Look at this, Bilal. It's beautiful," she said, showing him a black jewel with a swirling mist trapped inside, cupped in the palms of her petite hands.
He looked on, entranced by the jewel. The mist inside seemed to have a kind of hypnotic quality and he was strangely drawn towards it.
"Well, seeing as I found it I suppose that it's mine," said Chartelle coyly. "But you can have it as payment for escorting me home." She reached out, offering the stone to him.
"Thank you," said Bilal, gently taking the stone from her hands. "It's almost as beautiful as you," he continued with a big grin on his face.
Chartelle giggled.
"I'm sorry, Bilal. But I'll have to leave you here. If my father sees us he might think you were responsible and act before we can explain, he gets angry very quickly."
"But, when will I see you again?" asked Bilal beseechingly.
"Tell me where you live in Claywood and I'll come around to see you in a few days, once I've recovered," answered Chartelle.
"I live above the artist's shop just down the road from the inn. I'm the owner," responded Bilal proudly.
"Oh, you're an artist then. Most impressive," replied Chartelle.
"Yes, I'm a painter," continued Bilal.
"Well, I might pose for you then, you can do my portrait," said Chartelle in a purring voice. "I'll see you in a couple of days," she shouted back as she ran away up the track.
His mind was in a whirl as he turned and started the walk back to Claywood. He had travelled the road to Allminster many times, going to the market to sell his paintings, and had never seen or heard of a dwelling down the track which Chartelle had just run. But all this passed him by as he gazed down at the stone, falling into it's depths as he slowly trudged towards home.




While Bilal was leaving Chartelle, Elvod, Lettie and Vinod were just parting at the inn.
"Don't worry, Elvod. It can't be anything that bad or Seber would have already told you," said Vinod. "Maybe your parents have got in touch."
Elvod doubted this very much, his parents were wanderers who had abandoned him at a young age, barely beyond an infant, according to Seber. Why would they want to get in contact again after all these years? And anyway, he wasn't sure he wanted to meet someone that would abandon a child at such a young age.
"I doubt that, Vinod. I've not heard anything since I arrived in Claywood years ago," he answered. "I don't see how they'd want to get back in touch now."
"Well maybe they've heard what a clod their son turned out to be, and are concerned," said Vinod jokingly.
"Not now, Vinod," scalded Lettie.
"It's alright, Lettie. He may be simple minded but the mood needed lightening a bit," Elvod responded. "I'll see you both tomorrow after I've seen Seber," he finished, turning away to head back towards the stables. He felt a sense of foreboding about the coming meeting. Seber had seemed strangely pensive and that made him worried. Seber was normally very straightforward and there was something about that fortune teller...




Bilal was feeling exhausted, but was still entranced by the stone as he unlocked the door to his shop and headed through and up the back stairs to his room. He sat down on the bed and placed the stone beside him, while reaching down to wearily pull off his boots. As soon as his boots were off he picked the stone back up, holding it in his palms while gazing avidly into it's depths. His mind was awhirl with thoughts of the stone and Chartelle. He thought of himself as normally level-headed, but had become totally besotted with her in such a short space of time. Surely he shouldn't be so obsessed with the girl already, he had travelled a fair bit before arriving in Claywood and liked to think of himself as quite experienced in ways of the heart, having met more than a few women in his time. But these thoughts slowly began to drift away as he lay back, still holding the stone, and drifted into a deep sleep. As he slept a mist once again began to rise from the stone, this time coalescing and becoming solid, to form an almost exact replica of him, apart from it's almost totally black eyes, apart from red pupils that were mere slits. The image turned from his bedside and quietly pulled open the door to his room. It padded softly out and down the stairs, opening the front door to head towards the inn with a look of malevolence in it's black eyes.




Lettie was just finishing up in the kitchen, preparing for the following morning, when she heard a loud banging from the front door of the inn.
"Vin, get that could you, I'm just sorting out the kitchen for tomorrow," she shouted up the stairs.
"Alright, Lett. I'm coming," answered Vinod, hurrying down the stairs. "Who is it?" he asked through the door. "We're closed until tomorrow morning, come back then."
"Vinod, it's Bilal, open up please! I need your help," came a voice from outside the front door.
He turned to look at Lettie, a look of confusion in both their eyes. It sounded like Bilal, but the voice had a slight metallic quality to it, as if speaking through a tube made of tin.
"Better see what he wants," muttered Vinodto himself, opening the front door.
He pulled the door open and staggered back with a look of fear in his eyes, as Lettie looked on uncomprehendingly. In front of them stood a figure that looked almost exactly like Bilal, except for the jet black eyes with red slits.
The figure pushed Vinod in the chest, knocking him back into the room a distance of almost twenty feet, where he landed just beyond Lettie with a thump, the back of his head striking the floor. He sat up groggily and watched in horror as the figure advanced on Lettie, staring at her intently, it's intentions obvious from the evil gleam in it's eyes.
His head swimming, he looked around for something he could use in defence, and spotted a lit lantern on the table in front of him. He slowly crawled over and picked up the lantern, turning to throw it weakly at the creature, which was obviously not Bilal. The lantern landed just in front of the creature, bursting into flame and creating a wall of fire between them.
Lettie scurried over to Vinod, just as he sagged back, his eyes blurring as they slowly closed. She shook him by the shoulders.
"Vin, wake up!" she screamed. But it was to no avail as he weakly tried to get up and open his eyes, before slumping back down again, his eyes rolling back into his head. She turned to look hopelessly at the creature, which was trying to find a way through the wall of flames.




Seber was cursing as he and Elvod pushed their way through the watching crowd and ran towards the burning inn. As they entered the front door they saw what appeared to be Bilal, trying to find a way through a wall of flames which spread from wall to wall across the middle of the inn. Through the flames they could see Lettie trying in vain to pull an unconscious Vinod toward the back of the inn. They didn't have much time left, it would be only minutes before the whole place was consumed. She looked up and saw the pair and shouted, "Help! Vinod is too heavy, I can't get him out. Watch out! That's not Bilal, it's some sort of clone."
At this the creature turned around and hissed at Seber and Elvod.
"Elvod, try and get around the back to help Lettie," shouted Seber. "I'll take care of whatever this thing is."
Elvod quickly turned and exited the front door of the inn, circling to run around the back.
Inside the creature advanced towards Seber, who slowly edged back, his sword held out in front of him, gripped tightly in both hands. The creature swung a clubbing blow at him with it's right arm, catching him on the left shoulder with a mighty blow, sending him staggering to his right until his hip crashed against a table. He circled slowly to his left, limping, hoping to block the creature from the exit. He thought that it couldn't get through the flames and was trying to keep it from following Elvod around the back of the inn. He knew that he had to try to finish this quickly, he couldn't take many more blows like the last one.
The clone suddenly dipped it's head and charged at him, taking him by surprise. He just managed to get his sword up in time, piercing it's chest all the way through as it's head crashed into his chest. He heard his ribs crack as the charge sent them both crashing into the door frame. He looked into the clone's eyes and saw utter hatred as it gurgled and slowly dissipated into a black mist, before disappearing entirely. He tried to sit up but could not manage it. He coughed and a spurt of blood shot out of his mouth as he slid back down.




Elvod charged around the corner into the backyard of the inn, almost crashing into a stack of empty barrels piled just beyond the back door. He stopped himself just in time and turned to grasp the door handle, which he turned quickly. Damn! It was locked. He moved back away from the door and charged it with his shoulder. It shuddered in it's frame but did not give way. He stepped back again and ran at the door. This time as his shoulder made impact the top hinge gave way as the door splintered, most of it falling back inside the inn. He fell into the inn on his side before quickly righting himself and looked up to see Lettie vainly trying to lift Vinod and pull him towards the back door. He could not see how Seber was faring on the other side of the advancing wall of flames. He quickly ran over and hooked his arms under Vinod's shoulders.
"Lettie!" he shouted. "Move the door out of the way. Quickly!"
She ran over and pulled at what was left of the door as Elvod began to drag Vinod towards it. The remains of the door came away from the frame easily and she dragged them to the side, so that he could pull Vinod through without obstruction.
He lifted a groaning Vinod through the doorway and pulled him out into the backyard, a safe distance away from the raging fire inside the inn, with Lettie following after.
He turned to her and said, "Lettie, wait here with Vinod, you should be safe for a while yet. I've got to go and help Seber."
She nodded dumbly, looking from Elvod, to Vinod, and back to the inn with a vacant expression.
"Lettie! Snap out of it," shouted Elvod. "See to Vinod, I've got to go."
She shivered despite the heat coming from the furnace inside the inn. She stared at Elvod and a look of comprehension came back into her eyes.
"Alright, Elvod. I'm fine now, go!" she replied, scurrying over to Vinod.
Elvod turned and sprinted around the corner of the inn, in a state rapidly approaching panic.




Seber was still slumped against the door frame with blood running freely down his chest as Elvod came storming into the front of the inn.
"Seber, no!" screamed Elvod as he saw the crushed and crumpled figure resting against the frame.
Seber beckoned him over with his finger, too weak to speak out loud.
"What happened to the creature?" asked Elvod as he came over.
"It's gone lad, but it's too late for me, " whispered Seber. "You and Lettie must run lad....this was aimed at you....that witch....find Bilal....he's in danger....he'll have something....a talisman of some kind....destroy it....then go to Barrick's castle and speak to a man named Denis.... tell him that I sent you....you and Lettie....you're not who you think you are....you are brother and sister....your parents were...."
He gave a last shuddering breath as his eyes closed and his shattered chest stopped rising. Elvod closed his eyes to try to stop the tears. As he opened them he saw Vinod staggering into the inn supported by Lettie.
"Elvod. What's happened?" Lettie shrieked.
"Seber.... he's....he's dead," stammered Elvod, almost in shock.
"We have to get him outside at least. Wait here while I take Vinod outside," said Lettie.
"It's alright, Lett. I can manage myself," responded Vinod. "You and Elvod get Seber out."
Vinod straightened up and turned to stagger slowly out of the inn. Lettie looked at Elvod in concern and he nodded as if to say he was alright. They both took hold of Seber under a shoulder and pulled him out of the inn. They pulled him across the street to rest him gently against the outside wall of the bakers opposite the inn. As they did so the small crowd of villagers moved back, pointing and whispering among themselves.
"What happened to that thing?" asked Lettie urgently.
"Seber killed it, I think," answered Elvod. "He said it's gone, but said it was after you and me and we have to flee to the castle at Allminster."
"But why would it be after us?" asked Lettie.
"He said something about us not being who we think we are, we're brother and sister, he was going to tell me something about our parents, but then...." Elvod answered.
"Well, we have to get moving then! More of those things might be back," said Lettie in an authoritative manner. "Vinod, wake the baker and get him to look after Seber's body. Did he say anything else?"
"Yes we have to get Bilal, he might be in danger," Elvod answered. "He has some sort of talisman that we must destroy. Then we have to go to Barrick's castle and find someone called Denis, I suppose he'll be able to tell us more about our parents."
"No one's answering here," called Vinod, recovering quickly from the knock to his head.
"We can't just leave Seber here, we'll have to take his body to Lord Barrick, they will give him a decent burial, he was well liked there, unlike this place," responded Lettie.
The villagers of Claywood looked on all outsiders with distrust. Seber, along with Elvod and Lettie, were only accepted because of their association with Vinod, while Bilal was looked upon with scorn.
"What are you lot staring at?" she shouted at the crowd milling in the road outside the inn. "If you're not going to help then get away from us!"
The crowd slowly began to disperse, muttering amongst themselves.
"You two get Bilal," she continued. "Then hitch Urd to the cart and bring it here, we can put Seber in the back and then make haste to Barrick's." She looked towards the inn. "The inn's finished but at least there are no surrounding buildings, so we can just leave it be and let it burn out." She looked toward Vinod to see his reaction.
Vinod just shrugged and said, "It's alright, Lett. Once we find out what all this means then we'll find somewhere else. Come on, Elvod. Let's go and get Bilal and the cart. Are you going to be alright here, Lett?"
"Yes I'll be alright, Vin," she answered. "Just be as quick as you can." She took a deep breath and looked down at Seber with tears beginning to fall from her eyes as Vinod and Elvod hurried towards Bilal's shop. She had somehow managed to stay strong and take control while she was falling apart inside, but now that she was alone she let her feelings take control and began to sob.
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3

Submitted: August 25, 2016

Chapter 3   Bilal was entranced, sitting on the edge of his bed staring into the stone, which had slowly started to fill ... Read Chapter