The pitched battle seemed to rage for hours to Brendan, but he knew it had lasted only a few minutes. They had come upon the tunnel to the BloodHeartCave, and were slowly moving down the dark and gloomy way. There had been a small cave that they had entered, and the group could see three tunnels leading away. While they stood debating where to go, a group of armored men had entered from a side tunnel. Both groups had looked at each other in stunned surprise. Before the humans realized they were the enemy, the dragon soldiers had attacked. Then with a cry, both human and chaos warriors charged together. The fight was as bitter as it was quick. The sides were pretty evenly matched but the chaos soldiers were tired and some were wounded. They chopped and slashed at each other. The dragon soldiers died quietly, while the other warriors breathed harshly, and were yelling and screaming. The warlord chopped with a killing frenzy, trying to reach Brendan.
Soon, Brendan and the warlord were paired against each other. They stood staring at each other trying to steady their labored breathing. Then Brendan raised the hilt to his lips, blade upwards. The warlord’s eyes widened slightly at the sign of respect for a valiant foe. Yaren stood undecided as what to do. All the other soldiers were dead, and Yaren was breathing as harshly as the two silent combatants were. Blood ran down his arms. Five dragon soldiers stood ready, four were dead, and two had been mangled but were still on their feet. The rest of the dragon soldiers were in the bag that hung at Brendan’s waist. The fighter took the bag, and threw it to the young man.
“Go, finish the job. This is where my destiny lies.”
Yaren caught the bag.
“Tell Dervla, I have always loved her.”
Yaren nodded, and shoved the bag in his tunic and headed off down the last tunnel.
Both men still stared at each other; the warlord sagged with weariness. Brendan hooked the water bottle and tossed it to the man. Again his eyes widened slightly, but he uncorked it and nodding thanks took a deep drink.
“Rest if you need,” Brendan said.
“Why?” The warlord asked.
“The war is over, we’ve won. Once the Cold Stone is destroyed, everything will be repaired. You can’t stop the Stone so I can afford to give you a break. Even if you kill me now, I still have won. If you want, we can both walk away.”
The warlord actually looked pained. “I can’t, as long as the gate is open, the ties to the Chaos Plane are to strong for me to fight. I was once like you, but I was taken as a lad. The realm twisted and corrupted me. I serve a harsh and thankless master.”
Brendan nodded. “Well then, if you’re ready, let’s get this over with.”
The two men stood and took the preparatory stance, and then both lunged. The men shuffled across the uneven floor trying to keep their footing, and not trip over the dead bodies. It didn’t take long before both men were breathing harshly again, sweat rolled down their worn and tired faces.
* * *
Ey-leen jumped when Tilly finally stirred and the rebel princess moaned. The djinn looked at both, and panic momentarily flashed across her face. She calmed when they made no move against her. She sat upright holding the sheet over her naked body.
“Thank you, you have helped me more than you know, but we must go. Things are happening even as we speak. We must get to the slave compound. Please help me dress.”
Neither Tilly nor Ey-leen argued. The princess moved stiffly and awkwardly as if she had been asleep a long time. Even as the two women helped her dress, they could see the pain in her eyes as she relived what had happened. She was wearing the same clothes as the woman in the port city had worn, the same type Tilly had put in her bag to wear for Thomas. The djinn’s were a blue color around the waist, and the baggy pants were almost white, as was the halter-top. She wore no veil or jewelry. The woman had an unearthly beauty, but she still was a frightened woman in a dangerous land. Ey-leen took her arm and pulled it over her shoulder. Tilly opened the door a crack expecting a guard but for some strange reason there was none. The three women moved as quickly as they could down the deserted halls.
“Where is everyone?” Ey-leen asked.
“At night the slaves are locked in the compound unless that pig wants one for the night. The dao return to their barracks. Only those who have proven their undying loyalty are allowed to stay.”
The trio moved quickly and as silently as they could. They encountered no one; the vast palace was deserted. Again Tilly wondered why the three of them were left unguarded. They carefully squeezed through a partly open door. None of the guards were here either. Something was up and Tilly wasn’t sure she liked it. They arrived at the slave quarters; again the dao guards were gone. Without stopping the women moved inside. There must have been over two hundred women here; all wore the collars, many coppers and a lot of silver with a few gold ones. A murmur broke out as the djinn appeared. They cowered back fearfully. Tilly was appalled at the conditions they lived under. Straw mats for bedding, no blankets a single pot for cooking, and a door leading out to where the drop pits were. Most were beaten and all had the haunted look Tilly had come to recognize.
“You must get all these woman to come with us. There is great danger and we must flee,” the princess whispered urgently to Tilly.
Again the two women didn’t argue.
Tilly cried out, “Listen all of you! We have to leave and escape this place. There is great danger here and if we are to live we have to flee now.”
One from the back called out, “She is a djinn, like that beast that uses us and allows the soldiers to hurt us.”
“I can tell you for a fact; this woman was as much a victim of the prince as you are.”
They still wouldn’t move; the rebel princess was still too much of a threat to be trusted.
Ey-leen came running forward from where she had been keeping watch at the door. “We have been found, soldiers are coming.”
They both looked to the djinn. She waited calmly. Soon the dao lord arrived. He walked up, and looked around in confusion. He saw the three women standing together.
“You called, but how?”
“The girl here healed me, my mind as well. I have been able to gather my power. You have to choose now, who do you serve?”
The dao lord stared speechless. “No dao has ever betrayed their master in a thousand years.”
The princess stepped forward. “Yes I know, but do you know the reason I have been subjected to what pain and torture I have.”
The lord shook his head.
“My line comes down from … the Great Tarbo.”
“The greatest Sultan of our race. The father of us all,” the lord said reverently.
She stood tall, proud and regal. “My lineage allows me to do what most male djinn have taken as a right for centuries.”
The lords eyes widened in understanding. “My prince, didn’t chase a rebel prince but a rebel princess with a noble and ancient heritage.”
She bowed. “Correct, now I exercise my right and as Royal High Princess, and ask you for your allegiance.”
The man didn’t hesitate, he dropped to his knees and touched his head to the floor. She touched his head signaling acceptance of his oath.
“Did you bring your men?”
“Yes, my princess.”
“How? I have seen no one but him,” Ey-leen said.
“The royal bond. If we are within a limited distance I can communicate my will to a dao lord with simple commands.”
She went outside flanked by the dao lord and followed by Tilly and Ey-leen. The tiger man spoke out loud and clear, “BEHOLD, A PRINCESS FROM THE LINE OF TARBO.”
The soldiers murmured among themselves, and some of the guards who had taken her stood stiff with fear.
“She has asked for our allegiance. I have freely given mine. You must all choose as your consciences demands.”
Tilly could see the awe and reverence come over the soldiers as the dao lord had shown. Almost with one movement, hundreds of the soldiers dropped to their knees and bowed their heads to the ground. Now the earth started to tremble.
The princess called out, “The time is short. We must move the slaves to safer ground.”
The dao lord spoke in his language, and ten of the purple vested soldiers trotted up the stairs and formed around the djinn woman. The other soldiers quickly hurried up the stairs and disappeared inside the woman’s quarters. The women inside started screaming, and wailing, but soon they began to emerge into the evening twilight. The princess pointed, and the soldiers started the women in the direction she meant. The princess with her bodyguard followed as soon as the slave quarters were clear. Tilly was halfway across the cavern; already most of the soldiers and women had left the cavern, when she heard thump, thump of running feet. She looked back at the palace and could see more soldiers running with the djinn prince. The princess stopped and turned to wait. Her soldiers spread out in front. When the oncoming dao saw the purpled vest twin sword soldiers in front waiting calmly with folded arms they slowed and faltered and began stopping. The prince pushed through angrily forward.
“Lord Ad-jen, arrest that traitor.”
The dao lord stepped forward. “I have been shown the true way. My past is forgiven. No dao in a thousand years has ever betrayed their rightful master.”
The man’s face twisted. “So you know, then you will die with the traitor.”
The princess stepped forward. “NO, there has been enough death in this pointless struggle. Your men can swear allegiance to me if they want to live. We are in great danger, and we must flee.”
The djinn princess looked at the one hundred soldiers who stood with him.
The dao lord called out. “She is a Princess of the Great Tarbo. Swear allegiance and be spared.”
Over half of the men looked stricken; they had been ones who had taken her by force. Most dropped to their knees and touched their heads to the ground.
The princess pointed to the now empty tunnel. “Go, already it may be too late.”
Then she, and her bodyguard and friends turned to leave. There was a great crack of shattering rock and earth and stone blew outward. Billowing smoke and sulfur gas followed, and the very rock itself seemed to turn to liquid as the fire from below burst upward.
* * *
Yaren and the dragon knights pushed on as fast as they could with the heavy chest in the twisting and turning tunnels. It was a short twenty minutes after leaving Brendan that they found the cave. He stood and looked in awe at the Blood Heart Pool. The water seemed alive. It sparkled and danced in the shimmering air. The colors ranged from blues to purples to reds. The air above the water seemed to shine with a myriad of colors that twinkled like miniature stars. The cave echoed with beautiful music, and although Yaren tried, he couldn’t make out where it came from. The lovely music was so faint, he wasn’t even sure it was really there. He felt all the anxieties and pain and weariness drain away. He had the four soldiers set the chest on the ground. He opened the lid and reached in to take out the blood red stone. He turned and moved to the pool not quite sure what to do. The water seemed to whisper to him. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye; a big heavy body headed his way. He turned awkwardly with the heavy stone in his arms. In his haste he overbalanced and fell. The lunging bulk of the myvir missed. The dragon soldiers rushed to attack. Yaren struggled to stand when the monster’s snake like body hit him a glancing blow as it turned to face the attacking soldiers. The youth flew through the air from the impact to crash into the pool with a great splash. Yaren felt the stone shatter. The water bubbled and frothed, the color of the pool turned a bright blue, and the pool exploded outward with the release of all the energy of the pool itself, combined with the stolen essence deep within the stone. The shimmering gate beyond the pool exploded with a deafening thunderous crash. Lightening flickered from the portal as it shrank back in on itself. A surge of almost solid air spread outward, gathering in strength as it expanded. The portal collapsed in a burst of leaping electricity. The power of the pool, and dying gate, and the shattered stone surged through the fire cave. The molten rock bubbled and a rumbling below began. Soon an earth-shattering explosion caused tons of rock and lava and ash to spew into the air as the place simply erupted into madness. Molten rock surged into the tunnels of the lower levels. Yaren staggered out of the pool. The myvir had gone, and the four soldiers left were slowly climbing to their feet. The youth felt movement against his chest. He fingered the leather bag and dropped it as it began to rip. With an oath he stepped back and fell into the pool again. All around the cave the mountain shook, tearing itself apart. But the one area they stood in wasn’t affected. Yaren looked at the gold knight as she struggled to her feet; her helm lay on the floor. She looked around in stunned surprise, then she felt the breastplate of her armor, the armor was configured, as it would have been for a woman. Soon more warriors emerged from the pool. Even the ones on the rock moved. Soon all of them began to remove their helms. The men and women stood in wondrous awe looking at each other. Yaren stood dripping water, but could feel all the pain and injures were gone. He could hear the pool whispering to him again.
The youth said, “The pool gives life back to where it was taken by the Stone. Since so many elven people have died the magic of the pool was given to you.”
The woman in the gold armor sank to her knee before Yaren. “Is this true, we will live normal lives.”
Yaren nodded. “The elven people are a long lived people so a lot of their longevity is now ours.”
Yaren looked at the medallion that was now being handed to him by one of the red knights. “I think this is yours, I found it in the pool and the whispers say it is yours.”
The youth took it; the metal was blue with a simple design. He slipped it over his neck. Now both the pool and the medallion whispered to him.
“It seems I have been picked as Defender of the BloodHeartCave. You who are its children are free to leave, and live your lives or you can stay and help me fight against everything the BloodHeartCave stands for.”
The gold knight crossed her heart with clutched fist, and the seventy-five other soldiers did the same. Yaren nodded as in a daze. He was just as confused as the newly born knights and felt a little fear as well. But what surprised him more was that each warrior had the knowledge of its kin. The only gaps in each warrior’s knowledge were over the last hundred years or so, since the death of the dragon host. All the ones from the same host looked to each other as brother or sister. Yaren took the medallion and touched it to each head. Then was a brief flash of light and the helm turned a blue color with the wave symbol above each visor.
* * *
Brendan and the warlord paused; the fighter leaned on the wall and the warlord leaned against a big rock. Both were covered in sweat, and their breathing was harsh and labored. They had been hacking and slashing at each other for almost twenty minutes. Brendan had a slight stab wound where the warlord’s blade had penetrated the armor but the soldier had been too far away for the blade to do more than the token scratch. Brendan moved the arm to ease the pain. While not serious, it still hurt. The warlord had a cut in his upper arm, and the blood had flowed freely making the sword sticky. As if by some mutual agreement, both men lunged again. Brendan tripped over a dead body, and the warlord moved in with upraised sword, when the world seemed to come apart as a massive explosion rocked the ground. The rock overhead split, and debris and smoke and dust blew through the cave. Then hard on the heels of the destructive blast, was a solid wall of energy. Both men were caught in it as it continued to expand. Brendan coughed, and spit the dust and grime from his mouth, and looked up still expecting the sword to come cutting down. But there was only the swirling of the dust trapped in the air. The fighter stumbled to his feet and looked around in confusion. He could see a red liquid running down the tunnel toward him. The heat billowing outward made him stumble back, and he lifted his arm in an automatic gesture. He scooped up his fallen sword, and raced off up the tunnel away from the red fire.
* * *
Yaren turned as Brendan stumbled into the cave. It seemed as if the mountain had waited for him to get to safety, before the true destruction began. Even though the cave was protected from the eruption by the pool’s power the ground shook from the sheer violence of the devastation. Brendan looked fearfully at the rock ceiling but nothing fell inside the cave.
“Soak in the pool Brendan, it will heal you,” Yaren shouted.
He nodded and waded into the water and ducked below the surface. He surfaced shortly and swung his head back and forth, the pains and aches were gone. He worked his shoulder in circles and found the stab wound healed. The look of surprise changed to one of shocked when he saw the armored figures standing in the cave.
Yaren saw his look. “I know, don’t ask, I’ll tell you later.”