Authors: Jonathan Casif,Sneer Rosenfeld
"So this is it. You have decided," smiled Logan.
"My young maid, aye, you can bet," said De-Stik, "but our name was not decided yet."
"Tigertief, that was your name, isn't it? Your old party's name," said Logan.
"Tigertief?" Krunch was excited. "Tigertief is back?"
When they exited from the tavern, they looked again to the spot that Achtisanor sat in.
"I pity about stubborn Claude," said De-Stik, looking sad. "Wait, maybe I'll try to arrange some accord."
"Leave him, De-Stik," said Krunch. "Don't waste your time."
"Yes, De-Stik, he looks quite determined," said Logan. "Gather your things and meet me in the enrolment office at the yellow tree hour, one hour before the competition announcement."
And so we have surprised ourselves and without hesitation,
We enrolled without fear to this competition.
Renowned Tigertief was back to life,
But without our friend the knight, deep in thoughts of strife.
No time – to the square! To hear our king's words.
Have we chosen correctly? Will we prove our worth?
Special Issue – First Part
The renowned Tigertief adventuring company made its name a long time ago during its campaign against the dread Klaxes (boo!) and his dark forces. Not long after the tragedy that befell the royal house, the murder of the princess Carinian, Tigertief was disbanded. The founder of the king's guard and its leader, Claude Achtisanor, resigned his commission and disappeared from the face of the earth.
Earlier today, the famous king's guards Sir Claude Achtisanor, the troubadour Francois De-Fontain, also called De-Stik (only to his friends!) and the Mage Choop Krunch, currently a professor in the Sorcerer's Academy, were seen in the Three Dimensions bar accompanied by a young and unknown elven maiden.
The king's guards and the elf talked at length, and afterwards Sir Achtisanor left the place in a huff. Not long afterwards, this reporter learned from the enrolment office that the Tigertief name was given for an adventuring company that will participate in the competition.
Earlier today, the city guard released an announcement that Sir Achtisanor was arrested yesterday after attacking one of the other competitors, and was discharged this morning.
Is Tigertief returning in all its former glory? Why was Sir Achtisanor in a hurry to leave? And why did he seem so angry?
On all of these questions and more, we will try to answer in the second part of this issue, which will be published soon.
Hundreds of Nature denizens filled the clock square, where King Domarwink was about to address his people and announce the beginning of the adventuring parties competition. Competitors, spectators, and of course, journalists and painters from all over the continent came to cover this exciting event. Outside the clock circle, behind the night candles, a lavishly attired stage was erected, adorned with colourful flowers and orange-yellowish leaf strings. The king's guards stood on the stage, three on each side, dressed in the traditional attire, holding golden trumpets, to which the kingdom flag was attached.
Among the myriad crowd, De-Stik's brilliant pate shone above all else. Krunch sat on his shoulders and smiled broadly. Logan stood next to them and waited impatiently for the beginning of the ceremony.
Four bistons, wearing the "Iron Fist" name on their armour, roughly pushed people aside in order to get to the first rows. Small and squeaky applause was heard for the "Brain Power" team from dozens of jumping squabs. Four squabs wearing white coats rode on their shoulders.
In the right corner, sitting cross-legged on the ground and meditating, were four clerics, three men and one woman, dressed in golden robes with the name "Gods' Spirit".
On De-Stik, Krunch and Logan's left, four black-robed wizards stood in a circle. They flew a black dove from their hands, to which they attached a big cloth ribbon announcing their group as "Arcane Might".
"Look at them, I know them," said Krunch to his two friends, "they are from the college."
Krunch followed the dove and burst in laughter when it released its unwanted cargo on De-Sniff's nose, standing with his bullies, not far from them.
Van-Sniff was startled and started to roar in rage, while two of his friends tried to wipe the smelly substance from his nose with a torn sleeve taken from a poor farmer that stood nearby. Van-Sniff's third friend held a black sign, on which, with big red letters, announced their name as "Dragon's Breath" and looked at his hands to see which held the sign higher.
"It seems that Longnose is not having the best of days," called Krunch to De-Stik.
De-Stik smiled, but a hint of worry creased his brow. "It will not be simple or easy," he said to his friends. "I certainly hope we do not act in stupidity,"
"I believe in us," shouted Logan so her words would be heard above the racket.
"Me too," called Krunch from above De-Stik's head.
"Excuse me!" De-Stik recognized Dunlop's voice in the crowd. "Excuse me! Ouch, oo, hi, let me through!" The sound was getting closer. "Yes, I was just looking for you."
Dunlop reached the trio, his hair a little dishevelled and his tie was placed on his shoulder like it tried to quietly run away. "Hello again, Mr. De-Fontain Fantastick, and hello up there Mage Choop Krunch. Will you be able to answer several questions for our readers?"
"I'll take care of this," said Logan to De-Stik, looking more angry and miserable.
"Yes, ma'am," Dunlop excitedly pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, wiped his brow and combed his hair. Afterwards, he pulled a small notebook and a graphite stick. "If you can, ma'am, tell me your name?"
"Logan," she answered, "Logan Marsh."
"Marsh?" Dunlop's eyes got a lot bigger. "My oh my! Marsh!? Are you the daughter of Patrick Marsh? The sister of Kiril Marsh?"
"Yes," admitted Logan.
"Oh, it is a great honour," said Dunlop excitedly. "If so, can you tell me if you have enrolled yourself and your friends as Tigertief for this competition?"
"Yes, we are Tigertief," answered Logan.
"I understand," said Dunlop and he wrote ferociously in his notebook, "and you are here to continue the tradition of your late father and missing brother?"
"I am here for Nature and for myself," answered Logan in a determined voice.
"Okay, so let's return to Tigertief," said Dunlop. "Where is legendary Sir Claude Achtisanor? Why is he missing? Is it true that he refused to take part in this reunion? Is…?"
"Why don't you ask him yourself!?" interrupted angry De-Stik. "Before I draw my sword and cut you in half!"
"Oh, Mr. De-Fontain Fantastick, I did not mean to anger you again," said Dunlop with great fear, backed away from him, and fell on a fat bistoness that stood behind him. "Oops... excuse me, my lady," he murmured in embarrassment.
"Pervert!" the bistoness yelled and threw him away. "I'll show ya the meaning of excuse me!" She stood, drew a folded fan from her belt and started hitting the fallen reporter. The crowd covered poor Dunlop with the laughter of Krunch and Logan.
"Reporters are a breed to themselves," said De-Stik angrily. "From this morning he is getting on my nerves."
"Be calm, De-Stik," said Logan, "everything will be forgotten soon enough."
"You are right, my lady, for my short temper and me being mad," said De-Stik. "It is just funny that Tigertief is reforming without Claude, my friend."
"I understand," said Logan, "but on the other hand, you cannot but understand him. Everybody heard about Carinian's murder. He came back here, to the place where it happened, to the place that he avoided all these years. Well, at least we've tried."
"Look," said Krunch and smacked De-Stik's bald head, "Longnose is gone."
They looked toward the place where Van-Sniff stood only a moment ago and only his three bullies stood there, looking at the stage, looking menacingly at the people around them.
"I wonder what mischief this nose is ready to propose," thought De-Stik.
"Maybe he decided to quit early," laughed Krunch from above.
Clarions were heard from the stage. "The ceremony shall begin in several minutes!" the guard commander said from a metal funnel that he pressed to his mouth.
"The ceremony shall begin in several minutes!" Achtisanor heard the guard commander's voice from the clock square. He still sat at the bar's entrance, holding in one hand the golden medallion and the blue handkerchief in the other hand.
"You are for Nature, and she is beside you," he murmured again and again.
Achtisanor rose and marched uphill to the royal abode. He put the medallion and handkerchief in his bag. He noticed six even circles on the ground, marked with rings of fire, and beyond them, among the colourful cypress trees, the gathering crowd in the clock square.
The guards opened the gates of the royal abode and he went to the stables. The fresh hay smell hit him when he entered beneath the wooden thatch roof. Achtisanor passed from stall to stall until he found Rood, munching hungrily.
"Come on, Rood, we are going home," he said, entered the stall and took his saddle from the heavy wooden rack.
Suddenly, a black figure passed across the stall, and hurriedly approached the other side of the stable. Even though the figure rushed hurriedly, Achtisanor recognized him easily by his long nose.
"Van-Sniff," wondered Achtisanor. "What is he doing here?"
Van-Sniff stood at the edge of the stable and whispered. Another figure, short as a lutin and covered in a black robe, appeared behind one of the pillars.
Achtisanor quietly left his stall and approached them stealthily, moving along the walls and leaping from pillar to pillar. They talked quietly, and he heard only a few words at a time.
"…We cannot hesitate… he must be… rule…" the lutin said.
"You can count… will be ours… promise…" said Van-Sniff.
"Do not let… even if… Tigertief… sword…" continued the lutin, "…Hubris."
"Achtisanor will not… do not worry… they are mine…" answered Van-Sniff.
"Dismissed," said the lutin.
"Aye, sir," said Van-sniff. The lutin covered himself in his cloak and left hurriedly from the postern gate.
Van-Sniff approached and Achtisanor jumped into a bale of hay, and covered himself. Van-Sniff passed him and exited the stables.
Several minutes afterwards, Achtisanor left his hideout and looked around him. He approached the meeting place and spotted a small piece of parchment, old and worn, lying on the straw. Achtisanor opened it and a strange feeling shook him. It was not the first time he saw this parchment. His hands shook and his face grimaced when he looked upon the ancient dark text on the parchment; a text that was forsaken tens of thousands of years ago, since the dark denizens and the devil cults started to use the Lucifer Hand.
It was the ancient Graven Language written in the Korasim letters, which the scholars wrote the Black Book that only the most avowed dark hermits could read. The most holies have gained the privilege to study it. It was said that the Devil himself wrote the book.
"First the handkerchief, and now the parchment," he thought. The mosaic of events has been playing tricks in Achtisanor's mind. He left immediately and approached the clock square. The sound of the crowd grew louder with each step. When he arrived in the square, he turned to the outer rows and climbed on a rock. Up ahead he recognized Krunch sitting on De-Stik’s shoulders. He narrowed his eyes and tried to find the black-garbed longnosed figure. He saw one of the bullies lifting the "Dragon's Breath" sign, and beside him the other two bullies. Van-Sniff was gone.
"People of Nature," called again the guard commander, "our king approaches. The head of house Windrock, our royal highness, the king Domarwink!" and he pointed towards the sky to the right of the stage.
Silence fell on the crowd as a glinting point appeared in the blue and serene spring sky of Nature, and approached lazily to the square.
"Whew!" Krunch clapped his hands as all the audience.
The glowing point approached, and King Domarwink appeared from within, a golden haired and bearded Elf Lord, riding on a flying golden disk. Domarwink surrounded the clock square and landed gloriously at the centre of the stage, the crown resting on his hair, and holding a golden sceptre, adorned with a large greenish diamond.
"An impressive entrance, I am speechless," said De-Stik to his friends. "The king lacks no style, I confess!"
Four journalist painters, including Serdamus the squab, climbed on the stage, their notebooks open and their pencils scribbling furiously. They looked with adoration on the king. The applause lasted several minutes. They were stopped abruptly when Domarwink lifted his hands.
"Ladies and gentlemen," called the king. "People of Nature, we have gathered here today for a most important reason. A great shadow approaches our kingdom. The dread shadow of the eldritch dragon Klaxes – or as many of you recognize him, Darkear!"
The crowd booed loudly and screamed curses when the dreaded name was uttered. When the calls subsided, Domarwink continued. "The evil is a part of our world. It exists, and sadly, we must live beside it. Evil was born from good. They were born as brothers, balancing life between them throughout the universe. We cannot defeat it, and the gods’ conclave forbids us to eradicate it."
"I never understood this part," whispered Logan to De-Stik.
"In every aspect we can see this orderly separation between good and evil," called Domarwink. "The blooming evergreens, abundant with life that turned in more than one occasion to a death trap for the unwary travellers; the life-giving sun sometimes burns our fields to cinders; this raging fire, which warms us on the coldest of evening will succumb to the gentle touch of the water; and the water, our elixir of life, will continue to nurture us, and during a horrible storm, drown us.
"The cycle is endless, these are Nature's laws. Good and evil must coexist: water beside fire, creation beside destruction, life beside death. Only if we recognize evil, then we can be truly good!" The crowd applauded.
"Terrible tidings have arrived to my abode," continued Domarwink. "The tracks of 'The Scorpion's Sting', which were sent on a mission to Kolchis, have disappeared. Before we lost contact with them, the Scorpion's Sting had managed to send a word of the evil machinations of the dark dragon Klaxes, and his warlord, Hubris: They are calling for the destruction of Nature! To eradicate us!" The crows booed again. "Break the balance! Destroy the universe! To fight the laws of nature and ignore the gods' rules! This is a call for eternal darkness on our land!"
The sounds of anger rose in the crows.
Domarwink raised his hand for silence, "We must fight for Nature! We must fight for our existence!"
"Yes!" the crowd called.
"We must keep the balance in the universe!" called Domarwink.
"Yes!" the crowd shouted again.
"We must keep the Nature's eternal laws!" Domarwink roused the crowd and they started to sing the kingdom's hymn:
"Here between the Uruklip mountains to the abyss,
The night will sing on the morning bliss.
Between whispering ocean and Asador sea
The sun will praise the moon for all to see…”
A great applause was sounded after the singing of the hymn. Domarwink lifted his hand again and continued his speech.
"This competition allows us to choose the kingdom's guard, our elite force, which receives the most dangerous of missions. These missions' success allows us to keep our unique heritage, keep the harmony in our life and guard nature as it is, a life-giving source.
"Dear competitors, you have a special and difficult competition ahead of you," said the king. "A competition which requires determination, wit, strength, bravery, and the aspiration for perfection. I am proud for your brave volunteering."
The crowd applauded again. Domarwink opened the ribbon of the mission scroll.
Logan looked at Krunch, who breathed deeply. The crowd's excited murmur subsided as the big-moustached commander of the guard stepped forward and called, "Competitors, prepare for the mission!"
Silence fell on the crowd as the king read from the scroll: "Most of you know the story of the birth of the first notime almost seventy thousand years ago. Kolchis dark forces have used the first notime periods in their attempts to conquer Nature and terrorize its inhabitants. The king Mitafolas and his army stood against them and fought. The war was long and bloodied. Throughout this time, our best scientists and mages, priests and rangers, have developed the new balancing tool that will restore the Nature's system to balance: the Re-alignment Horn.
"The horn has great powers, and the one who holds it may control the Nature's law and change them!
"During one of the notimes, when the dark forces attacked us, headed by Kolchis himself, the lord of the immortals, Mitafolas' soldiers used the horn and dealt a terrible blow on the enemy: Kolchis was killed, and the sun rose and banished the darkness.
"The re-alignment horn returned the Nature laws to their order, but not entirely. The scientists could not banish the notime itself. With the purpose that the horn will not fall into the evil armies’ hands, King Mitafolas has decided to hide it in an unreachable place: The City of Reflections.
"Many of you know of the city of Reflections, but none of you has ever seen it. Neither have I. But you, dear competitors, have won the chance of a lifetime, an opportunity that is not given to many.
"The city of Reflections, the lost city, rises above the surface of Asador Sea once every five thousand years. In exactly four days, the cycle of five thousand years will end."
"The lost city?" mused De-Stik, "by far this king is witty."
"The lost city will rise in the blue tree hour, the first hour of the day, and disappear after half a day, in the blue night candle hour.
"Based on the information received from the 'Scorpion's Sting' before they disappeared, the forces of evil gained the knowledge on the exact location of the horn a thousand years ago. She is hidden in the city's castle, the Castle of Mirrors. We believe that this secret was revealed by Sef, a spy that was caught by my grandfather, King Triborn.
"Klaxes forces are planning to infiltrate the Castle of Mirrors and steal the horn. You must retrieve the horn before them and bring it to me! But before you go on this mission, you must know what lies ahead of you." Domarwink's face darkened.
"Klaxes's forces will give you no quarter and you must hit them before they will kill you. But before you kill any living creature, you must confirm that he is a part of the forces of evil and not a magical creature. Our ancestors have laid many traps and riddles in the castle and put magical creatures as guards in it. You must not kill any magical creature or monster from the guards of the castle –"
"What? What does it mean?" Krunch looked quizzically at Logan, who looked back at him, the same puzzlement in her eyes.
"– because killing any of these creatures will cause the city to disappear with anyone that is in it before the end of the scheduled eleven hours!" continued Domarwink. "You must use caution and wit. Any of you that will fall to the castle's trap will be killed but reappear in Idrinian, the Forest of Life."
Domarwink rolled the scroll and tied it with the ribbon. The crowd was dumbstruck. Adventurers' competition were always less dangerous – bring back stolen treasures from marauding trolls, release magical animals that were caught in poachers' traps. The city of Reflections was considered a legend until now, and no one has ever asked them to engage with the forces of Klaxes. "And now," announced Domarwink, "this is a great opportunity to introduce a new lord in our kingdom!"
The crowd turned in surprise.
"In many years I have fulfilled the position myself, but due to the occurrences of the last years, I seem to have no choice," said Domarwink. "I am appointing a warlord to Nature, who will command Nature's armies and will be my first shield. Nature's denizens and my loyal subjects, please receive my right hand and confidante, Ser Alystus Sharpe!"
To the wild applause of the crowd, Alystus went on the stage, garbed in his royal lord uniform, a purple knight ribbon tied to this right arm and his sword shining in his scabbard. He stood beside King Domarwink, bowed as a knight and went down on one knee.
"Rise, my knight, for you belong to Nature and it is on your side," Domarwink lifted his green-diamond sceptre and sent a flash of light, which turned Alystus's purple ribbon to azure.
The crowd cheered. Achtisanor, standing and watching the spectacle from afar, also appreciated the gesture.
"Alystus will manage the competition," called Domarwink, "he will receive the groups in a camp that was erected in the western beach beyond Idrinian Forest, in front of the estimated location of the city.
"In the courtyard near the central stage six portals are ready to teleport you to various locations throughout the forest. You must traverse the woods yourselves and reach to the beach on your own.
"Remember, my heroes, you are forbidden from using the re-alignment horn! Whoever discovers it, will bring it to me personally. Good luck to you all!" finished Domarwink and left the stage.
"Magic's Might, gate number one!" called Alystus from a small parchment. "Dragon's Breath, gate number two! Iron Fist, gate number three!..."