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By Rob Diaz-Marino
(Grade 10: 1996-1997)

    Pure, unbroken white could be seen to every contour of the horizon, where the gray sky continued the gloomy journey upwards.  Flakes of snow flittered downward, silently and effectively smothering all traces of hope and happiness. In the center of this nothingness, a great mountain, and nearby, the small town of Colrah.  The furthest northward dwelling of people on the entire earth, where only those accustomed to the year-round chill could live: not a town for the weak. The buildings are cracked and crumbling, left over from the time of the ancients. Still standing, but little more than shelter.  The town where the only way to survive day to night was to steal from others.  Plunder or perish.

    Two specks appear on the horizon. Two people, trekking toward the village. The ants grow larger and larger; two weary travelers approach - their quest unsung as of yet. Only one looking for warmth, the other for redemption...

*    *    *

    The moment we stepped through the gates of Colrah, I felt relieved. My limbs no longer gave feeling, and my face was frozen into a snarl of determination.  Darrock, becoming quite animate, peered about himself. He scrambled up the fire escape of one of the nearest buildings to get a view of Chimkay mountain, our ultimate destination.

    "How can you be so energetic, Dar? I can hardly move!" I called up to him.  Of course, I knew the answer.

    Alerted from the sound of my voice, a group of thugs came about the corner of one of the alleys. There were four: one large and stout man, wielding a chain; two lanky ones carrying wooden clubs; and the last, short, brandishing a broadsword that seemed almost too large for his use. All were dressed in thick brown snow-mammoth hides, and wearing Bole-skin boots.

    "Ah, travelers," said the short one in a sinister tone. He seemed to be the leader of this small mob. "If you wish entry to Colrah, I'm afraid you must first pay a toll." All the time, they slowly paced closer toward me, trying not to be too conspicuous in their movement.

    "What toll?" I asked through stiff-frozen lips, feeling Darrock's eyes peering down at the scene, unbeknownst to the hostile troop. It gave me a faint sense of security.

    "ALL the gold in your pouch," the thieves chorused.

    "What if I don't carry a pouch?" I inquired, becoming increasingly alarmed at the closing gap.

    The head man paused in his stride, forcing the others to stop as well. "Oh...then we'll just have to ask you to leave," he answered, grinning evilly as the two tall ones beat their clubs in their palms, in case I hadn't already perceived their meaning. Their bloodthirsty eyes stared intensely at me, like wolves approaching their cornered prey.

    "Any time now, Dar," I mumbled anxiously to myself. Darrock landed on the ground a meter in front of me, crouched for a moment until he rose. The scoundrels were taken aback at the apparition of a second person.  They all glanced around in anticipation of more, but none came to our aide.  They decided enough was enough, and charged.

    Darrock wasted no time ploughing into the crowd and knocking a few into the snow. He leaped onto one of the lanky thieves and angrily made what looked like a light strike with his hand across the scoundrel's face. The enemy was stunned when he realized that his cheek was dripping with blood from three deep claw marks.

    The stout one swung his chain which caught Darrock across the back and wraped around his torso. The foe sent Dar flying with one yank of his tree-trunk arm. Dar hit the ground hard, while the injured one, no longer trapped, abandoned his comrades. Darrock managed to stand up, the chain still about him. With his face buried in his hood, he seemed uncannily calm as he gripped the chain with both hands and broke the link in two. The section around him made a muffled CHRICK as it plummeted into the snow, and the hulking mugger stared in disbelief at the stub left in his hand.

    "Behind you, Dar!" I bellowed, as the remaining tall one charged him.

    Dar paused, facing me for a second before he met the ambush head on. At first, I though it was a glance of thanks, but then I caught on to the sense of urgency in his stance, and the brief moment he had his arm outstretched in my direction before engaging the crook. Where had the leader, the short one gone. My eyes widened with sudden realization.

    Painfully I leaped to the side, rolling in the snow as the broadsword came crashing down on the snow-buried pavement at the spot I had just been standing. Feebly, I got up, and moved just in time to avoid the next swing. The third attempt, I crouched under the blade, and launched myself at my attacker,  low, managing to push the swordsman back and away. I collapsed in the ankle-deep snow, and the thief-leader stumbled back further, before regaining his balance. I forced myself back to my feet, though every muscle, tendon, and bone screamed "Give up!"

    Darrock was suddenly beside me, having finished off the other two. "Hi, Dar" I said simply, in my state of stupor. Darrock didn't advance. Instead, he slowly raised one hand to the brim of his hood, and pulled it back. The leader, in fascination of what sort of attack Dar could possibly launch against him, suddenly dropped his sword in horror. "In the name of the Lord," he cried, "what unholy demon are you?"

    The bluff lunge Dar made was the finishing touch, and the mugger ran off, yelling for his life.

    Darrock tuned towards me, and stared at me expectantly.  "I don't think it's horrible," I mumbled through chattering teeth.

    "Of course you don't, despite the obvious, you've known me like this for three years," he said bitterly, pulling his hood back up.

    I nodded, folding my arms around myself to try and keep warm.

    "Now we press on to Chimkay summit," he announced.

    He gave me a puzzled look as I sat back in the snow.

    "Dar!" I cried, "I can't even move any more! Every joint in my body is frozen...and you expect me to climb Chimkay tonight!?"

    "Oh," Darrock replied. "You're cold, I apologize." He picked me up by the arms, raising me back to my feet, but I only flopped to the ground once he let go.

    "That is the greatest understatement I've heard for the 23 years I've lived!" I gasped.

    Dar slung me over his shoulder with ease, and began to carry me further into the town.

    "Alright," I struggled, "Enough, I can walk, I can walk!" I pushed away from him and stood on my own. I squinted at him, and could barely distinguish the outline of his dragon-like face.

    "Greetings," a vagabond dressed in shabby furs said.

    "You're not going to try and take our money, are you?" I asked, staggering toward him, my knees buckled and I fell right into him.

    "Easy friend," he grunted, stopping my fall, "Why don't you two come with me?  We have hot tea, and a nice warm fire."

    The man pulled me through the snow and down wooden stairs; he was the only thing that guided the feeble push of my legs.  All the while, though incoherent with fatigue, I sensed Darrock's presence, lurking close behind.

    For an instant, I opened my eyes. A dark room, small torches on the wall, a staircase, and Darrock was now the one propping me up. The room beginning to droop and spin, I closed my bleary eyes to avert intensifying the sick feeling in my stomach.

*    *    *

    " life is expendable...," I heard Dar say. All of a sudden, we were back on Cyprus hill, our carry-packs mounted on our shoulders, and just setting off. Dar turned to me and said,

    "Firok, remember: On this journey, my life is expendable. The least it will do is put me out of my misery."

    Dar collapsed to the mossy turf. The shadows from the trees all around blurred his figure. I ran to where he was, crouched at his side, "What happened?" I hollered.

    "Don't you see it? Can you not see what it's done to me? I found the Emperor's pearl by the waterfall. The Elf...the dark elf, he twists the wishes to something horrible. I wanted to know dark magic, and he molded me into a demon!..."

    "Darrock? This is not Darrock, this monster isn't my son," The voice father roared, and Darrock became smaller.

    "This is your school, Henry: You run it. Use your sense, how can we let an unholy creature walk among our children as if it belongs there?..."

    "Aha, monster-sympathizer. Maybe this'll knock some sense into you. Still no? Then I shall have to kick you again..."

    "I think I'm in love Firok. She's so beautiful...but...I can't risk getting involved, I mustn't spawn any more demons like myself..."

    "It's time to rid this village of you once and for all youuuu fiend! Your skin is red like the fires of hell, which is where you will reside soon enough!..."

    "Why did you defend him, Firok? You have slain me to save Satanís child? ...Grrrr! You're just like him on the inside, a grotesque freak! May you both be damned a thousand times for the rest of your villainous lives!..."

    "You cannot pursue the power of the divine, Firok, if you have one foot in the realm of evil. You must choose one or the other. You must not associate with Darrock, for he is no longer the friend you knew, he is a minion of the dark now."
    "But Father McGillis, Darrock is my best friend, nothing has changed except his form."
    "No, he is trying to deceive you, child, don't you see, to recruit you to his side."
    "You are wrong, Father. He is still my best friend inside, and it is you who is deceived by his appearance..."

    "Firok, You are hereby banished from the town of Cyprus for associating with the monster Darrock, and for taking the life of one of our town members, Yarud, god rest his soul. You have one hour to pack your belongings and leave, before we hunt you and your fellow evil-spreader down and slay you. This concludes our hearing..."

*    *    *

    With the crash of the gavel, I awoke to the smoke scented premise. A large room, small cooking-fires lit every corner with an enormous amount of derelicts crowded around each one.

    "Dar?" I moaned, glancing around.

    Darrock leaped up from the floor beside the primitive cot I lay in.

    "You're finally awake," he said from under his hood.

    "Yes," I replied, confused. "Where are we?"

    "An old abandoned factory basement. All of the homeless use it as shelter. That man on the street brought us down here, don't you remember?"

    I nodded vaguely. "I'm feeling a lot better. I'm just a little hungry though...actually, very hungry."

    "Wait here," Dar said, "I'll go get you something to eat." He got to his feet and plodded over to a line up. He waited there for a while, a patient wraith under his cowl.

    As he trotted back, a steaming bowl in one hand and a chunk of bread in the other, someone broke from the food-line and followed him. I vaguely recognized him as the man on the street.

    Dar set the food down on my lap, and returned to his place, aware the whole time of the hobo's approach.

    "Ah, I see you've woken up," he said warmly, "And your friend has gotten you something to eat."

    "Yes," I agreed, downing a sip or the hot broth.

    "The fires don't ward off all of the cold," he said politely to Darrock, "So I understand you keeping your winter-hides on, but you can at least take off your hood, show your face, it won't hurt anyone."

    A stream of hot soup somehow escaped between my mouth and the bowl, dripping on the mammoth-hide blankets.

    "Believe me, friend, you do not wish to see my face, nor any other part of me," Darrock replied, grim and unmoving.

    "I have seen people with three eyes, people with an ear grown on their forehead, half of their face lacking features, no fingers on either hand, only two toes on each foot, an extra digit-"

    "Aye, but you haven't seen anything like me before," Darrock interrupted.

    The man sighed, "There has to be a first time for everything. How can you accuse me without first giving me a chance."

    Darrock paused for a moment. "Very well," he finally sighed, extending his hands out of the sleeves of his cloak. The skin was red and scaly, and each of the three fingers ended in a sharp black talon. The hobo's scruffy eyebrow raised a bit.

    Darrock removed the cowl, and slowly opened his icy blue eyes, sharp and cold in contrast to his fiery skin.

    A squeak escaped from the man's mouth, but he remembered himself and cleared his throat to cover it up. " are right," he stuttered, "Your deviation is quite...unique. If I may ask, were you...born like-"

    "No," Dar mumbled in reply, more to himself than to the man.  "I wanted power, and I got it. I will regret it for the rest of my life, but I must endure it, until we reach the summit of Chimkay mountain. That is where the Emperor's Pearl lies, and that is my only chance of reclaiming my life."

    Darrock pulled the cowl back over his face before he called any other undue attention to himself. "The cold here does not bother me, for the blood in my veins run much colder."

    "We have three days to get to the top," I cut in, "otherwise-"

    "Firok," Dar glared at me. "There's no need to disclose our whole quest to a stranger."

    "I'm sorry," said the man, "I didn't mean to pry. You two are welcome to stay the night and gather your strength for your journey. I wish you luck on whatever quest you have taken up. As the ancient ones used to say, 'Cya'," and he left, eventually becoming uniform in the crowd.

    With no further distractions now, I downed my half-warm soup and chewed the stale bread. I offered Darrock half, but he told me he'd already eaten.

    "It'll only be two days then," I said, looking to Dar for agreement.

    "Yes, only two," he replied, putting his arms around one raised knee, "If we stay the night."

    I nodded, staring forward. I watched a small child play around the fire, poking dry branches into it, eyes gleaming as the wood caught aflame, and then dancing around with the lit torch until it died to smoke and cinder.

    "Story time!" an elderly woman's voice called. The child instantly looked up, left the stick to the mercy of the flames and gathered in a half circle with several other children. The woman's face was smudged with dirt, her body looked decrepit and withered with age, yet her eyes shone with life and vitality.

    "Gramma, Gramma," the children pleaded, "Can you tell us a really good story, like the one about the rabbits?"

    "Of course, of course," she laughed. "Sit down, and I'll tell you about the ancients. In some parts of the world, it is forbidden to talk about the ancients because their ways are so different from ours, and that those ways had lead to their own destruction."

    It was quite surprising, but I could hear the grandmother's voice across the entire room of bustling people, as if I were sitting amongst the children. I lay back, closed my eyes, and continued listening.

    "The ancients were an amazing people. They mastered the magyk of the physical world, 'Cyense' they called it. They saw the logic, and even managed to heavy a ball was by how long it took to hit the ground, or what would happen if you mixed Red Ichor with Jauna powder, things like that." Though the children must have had confused expressions on their faces, the grandmother continued.

    "But their ways were misguided. They feared death, so they found methods to live longer. That was their demise. There were too many people alive at one time. You couldn't imaging the number of people that lived on the earth. Food became scarce, as did their 'Medysin', and they could no longer cope with the strength of death's grasp without it. 'Only the strong survive,' A rule that they thought they had long ago left behind had finally caught up with them. The few that remained began to build the world as we know it today."

    "Gramma," one child whined, "'Medysin' is like Elixir, right?"

    "Yes, that's right."

    "Then, if they ran out, then why didn't they use magyk to heal themselves?"

    "Jarod," she explained, "That was their main flaw. They didn't heal themselves because they didn't know how. They relied so much on their 'Cyense' that they didn't believe in the existence of magyk at all. Though some could summon magyk, it was very weak, and didn't always work. Others knew something was strange with these people, but were too scared to accept it because this power didn't follow the logic that they clung to so strongly. And so, their ill-doings slowly vanished as nature was set right again, and that is how we live today."

    "Gramma," another asked, "Were there little boys and little girls back then? What did they look like?"

    I couldn't help but flinch at the obviousness of this question, but the voice sounded younger than all the others.

    "Back then there were lots of little boys and girls who looked just like you, but they weren't as strong or smart as you. And like us, they grew up, they had more children, and then they went to visit Eden for a while before returning to earth again."

    "Gramma, what's Eden like?"

    She laughed heartily. "You are not satisfied until all is revealed, are you. Very well, I shall tell you about Eden...but not today, you have tired me. Tomorrow you will know a lot about Eden.

    "Goodnight Gramma," 10 little voices chorused.

    It seemed a long time before the silence woke me.

    "Did you enjoy my tale of the Ancients?" the Grandmother asked at the foot of my bed.

    Startled, I shot upright in my bed.  "How did you know I was listening?" I asked in groggy bewilderment.

    She smiled mysteriously. "Tell me, Firok. Tell me of your journey, tell me of news from distant lands. Speak to me of the land from where you come, so that I have a story for another day."

    "Well," I began, and like exhaling after holding one's breath for far too long, I spoke to her of my feelings, my fears and my experiences...though I knew not what compelled me to talk so openly to a complete stranger...

*    *    *

    "I've found it!" I yelled my triumph to the trees and sky. "Firok won't be able to believe what I've done this time! Lost for over 100 years, at last, the Emperor's Pearl is found by Darrock Moonscythe, a boy from the small town of Cyprus...when many an experienced treasure hunter have tried and failed!"

    Savoring the moment, I reached for the tiny orb, and the sky grew increasingly fingers made contact - there was the flash and crash of lightning.

    "Someone's finally found me," croaked a voice.

    My hand tightened firmly around the artifact, I faced about. An elf, dressed in dark robes stood not far, with a smirk of irony on his face.

    "Aaaah, a young one. They're always the most fun...what may I call you, boy?"

    "I'm Darrock...from Cyprus. Who are you?"

    "I have no name, for I am only a spirit. A magycal spirit, that can grant any wish you can think of - thus is the legendary power of the emperor's pearl - but don't make it too convoluted, I do have...some limits to my capabilities."

    "I knew the Pearl possessed mystical powers, but I never...a wish granter!  I can't wait to tell Firok -"

    "Oh noo! No no no, don't tell Firok! YOU found me, why should you give wishes to any one else. I'm YOUR secret."

    "But Firok's my best friend...but...I suppose you're right-"

    "Of course I am. Now," he said, suddenly appearing behind me and speaking to me over my shoulder, "Why don't you choose a wish, it's been such a long time since I made anyone...happy."

    There was such maliciousness in that last sentence, but I, overcome with greed and fascination, did not notice.

    "Umm..." I thought.

    "Yes, tell me," The elf urged.

    "I'd like a new bow - one that always lands it's target and can fire really far, with lots of light arrows, and a quiver to carry them in."

    The elf seemed disgusted. "Think practically, boy. I can grant you anything, anything at all. If you really want a bow, then why not make it a magycal bow that shoots infinitely many magykal arrows. Or, better still, why carry weapons when you can know an arsenal of magyk spells. Think, carrying nothing, you can kill a deer by conjuring a lightening bolt, or spearing it with a lance of stone from underneath."

    With my lust excited, the prospect appealed to me. "Yes, that's what I want! Magyk!"

    "You must tell me exactly what you want - that you wish to be a dark magycian."

    "I wish to be a super-powerful dark magycian!" I bellowed in excitement.

    Thunder crashed as the dark elf raised his hands. A binding flash and deafening rumble, as the elf channeled the storm's energy.

    Then, my whole body began to tingle. Quite suddenly, the annoyance turned to pain, then excruciation-"

    I woke up from the dream with a gasp of horror. The cellar was otherwise quiet, and I eventually lay back again, on the cold floor.

    Slowly my hand made its way towards my face, and like every morning, I felt the leathery skin on the lizard-like snout, and the sharp teeth projecting from my lower jaw. Once again, I closed my eyes tight, while I strained to accept what I was - to accept the presence of my curse.

    That dream: Every night exactly the same, torturously accurate. My mind continued the story automatically, about the confusion afterwards, and then when Firok found me and brought me back to town, but I didn't allow myself to continue the timeline. I didn't want to remember the systematicism of how, little by little, my humanity, my life as Darrock Moonscythe was stripped away.

    Finding that I couldn't return to sleep, I propped myself up against the wall and sat, looking around and thinking to myself. Strangely, I was at ease with the prospect of climbing Chimkay, and reaching the foe that was waiting there. The more I thought about it, the more anxious I was to accomplish it. Firok lay soundly asleep on the cot, eyes twitching slightly. I wanted to wake him up so that we could go, but remembered that I was more resistant to the elements, and after what he had been through...I let him rest.

    As for myself, my skin was drenched in sweat: fear and anxiety from the nightmare.  My seemed so heavy. It felt like shackles, holding me down, holding me back. I tried to ignore it, and I managed to for quite a while, but finally I could stand it no longer. I tossed the cowl back in a devil-may-care fashion, but that wasn't enough. I took the entire cloak off, and left the burlap garment crumpled in a ball on the cellar floor.

    I stood tall and proud before the room of sleepers, although my human clothing seemed odd on a creature such as I...but...there was no gasping, no screaming, no running away...just the silence of acceptance.

    Gently I shook Firok awake.

    "Dar," he said sleepily, "Why aren't you wearing your-"

"I don't need it any more. I no longer care who sees me for what I am. They can tell stories for years to come about the great red monster, but it no longer matters, because soon, I'll be human again...I'll..."

Firok sat up suddenly. "Where's our pouch?"

"Our bag is gone too!" I hissed, breaking to panic. "The tablet! We won't be able to stop him unless we have the tablet!"

"I've found it!" Firok whispered, filling me with relief, "The tablet was under my arm." His brow furrowed with uncertainty, then raised with realization.

"That...witch! She waited until we fell asleep, then robbed us blind. How could a sweet old lady so something so...aggravating?!"

"Let them keep our things, it's the only way they can survive. As long as we have the tablet, and look here, our food, we can complete our quest," I calmed him.

"Fine," he spat, swiveling his legs off the edge of the bed and tugging on his boots, "They can have our money and our equipment, but they won't have your cloak as well. It was a gift, remember? From Chonak of Gladze, after we helped him defeat the Tai-kour beast. He said that the threads were magykal, so if you don't object, I'd like to keep it...I could use an extra layer anyway since it's only going to get colder the higher we go."

I sighed. "What a wonderful start to the morning."

* * *

The journey to Mr. Chimkay wasn't long, and before midday, we had already begun the assent. It started off simple enough, but the higher we got, the more the wind gusted, the more the paths iced and narrowed. Firok narrowly escaped a small avalanche that unquestionably would have meant his death.

We stopped in a small, sheltered alcove to eat our stale bread. The wine, although it had frozen crystals,  seemed to warm us from the inside.

As usual, Firok was getting the worst of it. Icicles were forming off the hairs on his face, and his skin was red as blood-ale.

"H-how much ffurther do you spose it's to the ttop?" He asked through chattering teeth.

"I'm not sure," I replied, feeling sorry for him, "I would guess we've already made half the distance."

He nodded shakily, and stared off at nothing as he hugged himself tightly.

"Alright, let's continue on," he said with a look of determination returning to his face.

The sun slowly set on the horizon and the cold pressed in on us like a hungry animal; finally free to claim its prey, sapping our warmth.

All the time, Firok stared at me, past his icy eyelashes, with envy. He was nearly frozen, while I wore only my armor and burlap pants.

After a while, an eerie glow came across the sky, and spectacular patterns rippled and danced on the clouds, tickling the stars.

"Help me up," Firok said, reaching both hands upwards to me. With ease, I lifted him up the large step in the path, and then the next three.

"I-is that smoke?" he asked, pointing.

We had arrived at the summit, a large circular plateau nestled among three sharp peaks that refused to be weathered by the constant etch of the wind.

The red splash of a small fire seemed out of place amongst the shades of night. Blazing in the center of the area and not a soul to be seen in its lit vicinity.

Firok hesitated, he wanted the warmth, but was aware of a presence. "Should we walk closer?"

I crouched, gathering snow in my hand and pressing it into a sphere. I launched the ball into the air. It sailed in a perfect arc, then sizzled when it landed in the fire.

"It doesn't look to be a trap-" I was cut short by the flare of five other fires, blue as ice, lighting around us. They were evenly spaced, flickering their ghostly light at us, confining us to the plateau.

Firok and I both spun around at the sound of laughter, chaotic and frightening.

There the foe Connuk stood, in the center of the fire, untouched by the flames. He stepped forward, toward us with confidence.

Adorned in a death-black cloak, wearing the symbol of darkness around his neck, he made a small bow in greeting.

"Welcome Darrock, Firok. I've been anticipating your arrival," he said in a tone that I desperately wanted to believe was friendly.

"Listen Connuk," Firok began, his voice on the verge of shaking, "We do not wish to have a battle here tonight. We will fight you if needed though, so please, just give us the pearl, and we can all walk away."

"Hmmm...a very tempting offer. Allow me to consider it - no!" he spat back.

He was toying with us. I bared my teeth in anger, "What you're trying to do is insane! Reviving the dark dragon -"

"- will return Chaos to this world. It will prevent us from making the same mistakes as the ancients!"

"We will be robbed of our minds, Connuk, we will all turn into mindless, savage animals!" I countered.

"We will no longer possess Magyk, we will no longer comprehend how to use tools!" Firok supported.

"Tools, inventions," Connuk sneered, "one leads to another, and then another complex machine, a better Medysyn. Then we become the ancients once again, and perhaps be completely purged from existence this time. Don't you see," he said, a devoted passion in his voice, "The monsters have survived through it all. They have adapted to the damage the ancients have done. They survived, without machines, without Medysyn, just by the laws of nature."

"But we are different. Machines help us accomplish many things, saving time, and tools allow us to do things that we could never do just with our bare hands," Firok hissed. "We are different from the ancients. We have Magyk, and we won't end in the way the ancients did, because we have their mistakes to learn from, to warn us away from the wrong paths!"

"Connuk, the only advantage that humanity has over monsters are our tools, which require our intelligence to use. Put a man up against a Krac-lath beast without a sword, and you'll see how well a human would survive in the wilderness. Nature gave us the ability to utilize objects because we are physically inferior to other animals. They don't have claws, they don't have horns, the most effective weapon a human has are his teeth, which are weak compared to all of the other beast's. As we developed our ability to use our hands, and our tools became more complex, we needed more intelligence than other animals to remember how to make it, where to find it, how to use it. If you take that away, we will be defenseless against the monsters, and the very thing that you are trying to avoid will be the result, the human race will die out!"

"I gasped in air, having finished my statement, glaring at Connuk with defiance.

He didn't notice. His eyes seemed to be looking inward...was he actually considering what Firok and I had said?

His face relapsed into a malicious smile, " lie, you're lying to me, my way is the right way, my way is the only way."

The pearl appeared in his hand.

"Karukor! I summon you!"

"The dark elf coalesced, looking at Darrock with recognition. He was about to make a snide remark when Connuk yelled, "We are in a place of power, on a day of power, enough for you to do your work. You know my wish, carry it out while I eliminate these pests." His eyes became transfixed on Firok, who took a step back in dismay.

"But Connuk," Karukor pleaded, "I have to hear -"

"YOU HEARD ME!" Connuk boomed with such rage that the elf was taken aback.
Connuk slowly advanced on Firok. I ran in front of him, as I was the expendable life. I had told Firok that at the beginning of our journey.

"Darrock, what -" Firok cried with frustration. "It's my turn to fight, you've protected me the whole time!"

"Get the tablet ready," I growled to him over my shoulder, "It might be the only thing powerful enough to stop him."

"Dar, look out!" he hollered, dashing away. A large hand of magykal energy came at me, sending me flying backward into the snow. It raised up, and the came down fast in an attempt to crush me into the ground. The split second I had to act allowed me to invoke a spell of dark magic. The Magykal claw I had conjured fought against the other as I dashed out of the way. Coming to a draw, the spells cancelled each other.

I suddenly realized that the dark dragon had not yet appeared. An inkling of a memory sparked at the back of my mind.

"Yes, that's what I want!"

"You must tell me exactly what you want."

That was it! The dark elf Karukor could not grant a wish unless the person said it himself! That scoundrel had lied to me too. He had told me he had no name.

A wall of knives flew toward me. Not quite fully alert, I clumsily dove out of the way. One caught me, plunging into my shoulder.

"Pesky white magycian," Connuk snarled, stumbling around while clutching his eyes. Firok had cast a blindness spell on him! I took that opportunity to send a conjured clod of earth his way. That struck him square in the forehead, knocking him over.

"Dar, you're hurt!" Firok exclaimed.

"I am," I winced.

"Take the dagger out, I'll heal you!"

Pulling it from my shoulder, dark red blood instantly welled out. A blue glow appeared momentarily on my shoulder, and the wound was no longer there.

"Listen," I whispered to Firok, "Connuk didn't voice his wish. Karukor cannot grant a wish by his own power, he needs someone to define it."

Firok nodded, "The world is safe as long as he doesn't realize -"

"Karukor! You deserter, where have you gone to!? Connuk bellowed. "Why hasn't the dark dragon come forth yet? Karukor!!?...Very well, if you will not do it, then I will."

Connuk clutched the Emperor's pearl hard in his palm, his eyes closed with concentration.

He was going to harness the pearl's power, I had to stop him somehow! The first spell that came to mind was the Fireball, so I blasted one at him.

Connuk's eyes snapped open, a green glow projecting from each, and a magical whirlwind formed around him. The fireball sheered off as it hit the twister, and dissolved harmlessly. There was nothing either one of us could do.

"Dark dragon, lord of chaos," His voice flung around by the tempest, "I summon you, awaken, be free!"

The pearl dropped to the ground at Connuk's feet, the whirlwind dissolved, and quiet once again surrounded us. He was grinning, satisfied. "Now, you may watch as civilization crumbles, knowledge is lost, and all is forgotten. This is what is meant to be. I'm sorry, but this IS the only way."

The mountain shook, sending all three of them to the ground. There was blast of heat so intense that the snow melted and turned to steam in a matter of seconds, and then silence once again.

I glanced around fearfully, but saw no dragon. Sighing, I leaned back in relief, the spell must have failed. Firok still looked extremely uneasy though. I followed his gaze to the night sky. Stars from the constellations seemed to be, it was the outline of a large beast, long and sinuous like a snake. That made my fear return.

Two fiery-orange eyes opened in the sky, and the red glow of a mouth appeared as well, showing the silhouettes of long, crooked fangs.

"Welcome, dark dragon," Connuk whispered in amazement. The eyes turned on him.

"Where is my sacrifice?" A voice of gritted evil demanded. "Speak quickly, mortal, or I will take you all!"

"You may take that human," Connuk offered, pointing to Firok.

"No!" I cried. Out of pure horror, I could not move.

The dragon, even when seen against the mud of the mountain top, was undistinguished. It had no features, it was only a shadow.

Firok stood in paralyzed fear as the creature sniffed him.

The head reared up. I thought it was rearing up to strike its target, but it did not. Instead, the eyes shifted to me.

"What an interesting creature. I was planning to restore chaos to the human race by removing their minds might prove more interesting to change them all to creatures like this," it laughed to itself sinisterly.

"No!" Connuk shouted. "You must get rid of their minds! I summoned you, you must obey me!"

The dragon turned on him. "Foolish human, I owe you nothing. Are you too ignorant to realize, I've been manipulating you from the beginning. I was trapped in the earth for thousands of years, and I used you to free me from that prison."

"No," Connuk gasped, "I...I -"

"Are you not aware that by volunteering another person, one automatically volunteers one's self?"
"No, you can't," Connuk yelled desperately trying to run away. The creature bore down on him, and with a loud crunch, he was dead.

"Firok!" I hissed. "We have to stop the dragon. Use the tablet, the spell might weaken the dragon enough for us to fight it.

Firok nodded weakly. He held the marble plaque in one hand, and raised the other arm into the air.

"Akar La-Barak mydlan coom," He began. The dragon turned its head to the side in curiosity.

"What is that you are casting, mortal," The dragon asked calmly.

Firok blinked, then continued, "Malapara fonaro wadara ka ma-nara fi Limaru."

The dragon laughed. "Are you trying to cast something on me. I warn you, it is a futile attempt."

Firok swallowed hard, "orinapa com fro-tah korkah vie durah le-mahra typiacam nos straila croma plun!"

A surge of white light rose along his upstretched arm, gathering as a huge ball with his fist in the center. He swung this forward, and the sphere of energy shot at the dragon like a comet, knocking it out of the air and sending it sprawling to the ground.

The dragon roared as it righted itself. "Now you have angered me," it blared, "You wish to fight me? I will teach you a painful lesson that elemental dragons cannot be defeated!"

With that, it brought a claw down hard to the earth. The surrounding cliffs crumbled, but Firok and I managed to stay standing.

"I could have sworn that the dark dragon had no limbs a second ago!" I shouted to Firok.

"It didn't!" He replied, then yelled in surprise as he was knocked into the air by the dragon's sweeping tail.

I stood ready, then leaped onto it as it came close. Brandishing my teeth and claws, I bit and gouged through the dragon's skin. The blood was black and acidic, stinging my eyes and face. I fell to the dirt immediately dousing myself with mud to soothe the burning.

Another appendage, probably a forepaw struck from behind, sending me soaring into the air, and crashing against a magical force-field. The blue fires that surrounded us were pylons for a magical barrier that Connuk had created to prevent us from escaping.

The dragon emitted a screech of pain. I rubbed mud from my eyes and turned to see Firok advancing on the demon.

He was making the cross gesture and yelling, "Bless you!"

Of course! A blessing to an evil creature would actually hurt it. Firok had thought to use opposite casting ice on a fire-creature. The closest thing I had to holy magic in my arsenal of offensive spells was lightning. I quickly cast the incantation.

Three bolts converged on the dragon, rotating clockwise, sending small electric boltlettes dancing across the demon's body. It retreated further until it became cornered by the magical barrier.

"Enough!" the creature boomed, swiping its paw through the air, not even close to hitting either of us. But that didn't matter, it harmed us anyway. A powerful shockwave, barely visible, flattened both of us to the ground.

"I no longer enjoy this world," the dark dragon snarled, "Thus, I think I shall destroy it altogether, and all of its pesky inhabitants!"

Instantaneously the ground began to rumble and rock. The clouds shredded in the sky, the air became stale...the oceans paled, the rising sun died on the horizon. A voice was mumbling something through this was Firok, reading the words of power from the second spell on the tablet.

Krodon's voice, the powerful magician who had given us the plaque, suddenly whispered in my ears, "You shouldn't need the second spell, but if Connuk is successful in summoning the dark dragon, this will put and end to any of his evil doings. But don't take it lightly, the reason why it is so powerful because it take the entire life force of the invoker...the entire life force!"

"FIROK!" I cried in devastation as he uttered the last word of the spell. He looked sideways at me, a controlled sadness across his face.

"Goodbye, brother," I heard his whisper over the deafening rumble.

A gentle aura of white formed about Firok, warm, like the glow of the sun. Slowly, the outline lifted from his body. The spirit paused for a moment, taking one last feel of the earth before erupting into a blinding flash of immense that it made the air feel tangible.

I felt as if I had spent a whole lifetime in the warm pleasance of the light, before my eyes opened once more, bringing be back to the cold mountain top, in this harsh world.

I dashed to Firok's side, shook him desperately.

"Damn you, Firok!" I bellowed. "My life. It was MY life that was expendable! I should be the one dying, I have no place in this world!"

His eyelids quivered, opened half way, his pupils thin, and irises pale...only the residue of his life force allowed him to say, "Don't worry brother, I'll protect you this time...this time..."

I anxiously waited for another word to come, but Firok's eyes no longer seemed to have anything behind them any more. They were empty, staring up, up at the stars, where his journey now lead him.

My knees were weak as I got up, stumbled, blinded by tears. Somehow I managed to find the Emperor's pearl, pressed into the mud, and exhumed it.

Karukor appeared, condolence on his face.

"Look at all the damage you have caused," I sobbed and snarled at the same time.

"Because of you..." my voice wavered, "...I shall destroy you, so that nothing more will be corrupted...for what you've done to me...and what you've done to Firok."

"Don't be hasty!" Karukor grinned with confidence, "Listen, you can wish your friend back to life!"

Firok was at rest. Did I dare rob him of that release he deserved? Would he want me to bring him back?

"Well?" Karukor prompted.

"Why did you do this to me?" I asked with hatred, grabbing the dark elf by the collar. "I wanted magyk, not to become a monster!"

"Whoah, hey, listen, there's a perfectly logical explanation!" Karukor pleaded.

"TELL ME!" I roared.

"Why do you think that most Black Magycians are evil, huh? Because they have to sacrifice something for that power, and usually its their soul...if your soul had been...if your soul wasn't so powerfully good, then you would have become evil too...but you didn't. The only thing left to sacrifice was your appearance, to allow your physical form to be shaped by evil...that's why you became a monster!"

"You STILL lied! You promised me power, you did not warn me of what I would have to give up to have the desire that you put into my head!" I growled, shaking him.

"Well hey," he said, breaking free, "Then you should be more careful what you wish for, and not let other people tell you what to do...listen, you better hurry if you want to revive your brother, soon his soul will be too far off to be regained."

I sighed...debating whether I should risk making another wish by these twisted means...but if I worded it right..."I wish...for you to return Firok to life in the exact physical state he was in before he cast the second spell on the tablet.  No tricks.  No undead.  No reviving the dark dragon.  Just return Firok." My mind seemed at ease that I had left no room for interpretation.

"Done!" Karukor said, snapping his finger.

Firok began to stir. I rushed to help him up, and then gave him a tight hug.

He seemed confused. "What happened? I was just about to cast the second spell-" he looked down at the crumbled fragments of the tablet on the ground.

"You're alive, brother," I whispered, "That's the only thing that matters now."

I let Firok go, and turned to Karukor, removing my friendly air. "I'm going to wish to become human again, whether it means I lose my powers or not, and then I shall destroy the pearl. No one else will be at risk from your power."

"The pearl cant' be destroyed," Karukor smirked. "If you plan to take a hammer to it, or cast a magic spell on it, your efforts will prove futile. It can't be destroyed by normal means."

"We could bury it somewhere," Firok suggested.

"No," I said, "The last person who had it thought he could do that...but someone still managed to find it. I will wish for it to be forever lost. You will be able to do that, Karukor, even not by your normal strength...we are in a place of power, on a night of have no choice."

"The dark elf waved his finger and shook his head. " 'Fraid see, I haven't told you about the basic cosmic rule of all wish-granters: 3 wishes per individual, NO EXCEPTIONS. That means you only have one wish left, Darrock. Do you become human again, or eliminate me? Tough choice."

That put me back.

"Dar, I could make a wish for you," Firok volunteered.

The elf yawned. "You know, when Connuk harnessed my power, he really drained me. I could only grant one more simple wish...but that's only because you two have been such good friends to me. Then I'll rest for a couple of centuries to replenish myself for the next person who discovers me."

This completely cornered me. Human again, or take care of the pearl: these were my choices.

"Dar, wish to be human again," Firok told me, "We'll find some other way to keep the pearl safe, out of people's hands."

Karukor had his arms folded confidently. Ohh, he was so sure of himself, that he knew which I would choose...Human or banishment, banishment or human, the words rolled and rattled in my mind...but Karukor's smug confidence finally brought me to make my decision.

"I wish..." I sighed. "I wish for the emperor's pearl to be lost from this world, never to be found by another living being."

"Dar..." Firok said, astounded.

Karukor's eyes widened for a moment, then a look of pure hatred spread over his face.

"DONE!" he snarled, then both him and the pearl vanished into clouds of smoke.

I felt depressed. Had there been another way to accomplish both with a single wish that I hadn't thought of?

"Brother," Firok said, "Why? Why do you torture yourself? That was your chance to become human again, why did you not take it?"

I had no answer. I lowered my head and sucked in a deep breath. The sun, just peaking over the crumbled and ragged mountains on the horizon, killed the evil blue fires, and the barrier faded away.

I shivered. The air was becoming cold again. Firok handed me my cloak, and I gratefully put it back on.

Lets go home, I wanted to say, but we no longer had a home...we could never return to Cyprus. "Let's go someplace warmer," I settled on saying.

Firok nodded and lead the way back down the mountain...and once again, the two travelers became small specks on the horizon.

Somewhere, on this tiny earth, an old woman takes a breath. Her body is old and weary, but her turquoise eyes are vibrant with life. "That, children," she says in a crackling voice, "is the story of how two brothers saved the world long ago, from the wrath of the dark dragon."

"Gramma, gramma," a little girl pleads, "What happened to them after that? Where did they go?"

"Ahhh, child. They went where they said they would go, to someplace warmer. There they lived, found wives, had children, and died in happiness."

"Gramma," a little boy asks, "How do you know all of these stories?"

She sighs, pauses for a moment, and looks up toward the sky. A mysterious smile spreads across her face.  But she never answered.

The End