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Dragon's Ring: Chapter Twenty Four

       Last updated: Wednesday, September 23, 2009 19:12 EDT



    On a cold mountainside, entirely too close to the alabaster city of the alvar and the lair of Zuamar, Fionn stared out from the ridge he’d gone up to, to scout from, and contemplated his next moves. Left to himself he would have transformed into a more useful shape for running, or even flying, and kept right on going. But the presence of the other two was an impediment. He was really not too sure what the merrow’s game was. On deeper thought, he was sure that Scrap hadn’t summonsed the merrow — he was less sure about the Nichor. He could, in all truth, simply be there by chance. The merrows had come as close as they could, any number of times, he believed . . . No he couldn’t believe! The soul-net proved the merrow was here, seeking the scrap of humanity in his care. He’d expected the sprites, demondim and alvar . . . and definitely the dragons . . . and possibly the centaur-folk. The horse-people got up his nose and itched a bit. He knew them least well. The dvergar . . . well, they had declared themselves solidly on her side. He still was not entirely sure why. That was a thing of great power that they’d made for her. There was usually a price to dvergar gifts, but they were clever about it.

    Events had come to a head entirely too fast back there. The alvar would all be seeking a human mage after her little accident with that princeling of theirs. Seeking her, if possible, more intently than they sought the merrows’ precious treasure. He had a difficult balancing act here . . . He’d intended the alvar to think it was one of their own who had stolen the Angmarad. That would have had Prince Gwyndar furious and angry — but unaware that the thing was back where it belonged. There were enough bitter factions and petty princelings to have made it possible that some other alvar had taken it for spite, merely to prove Gwyndar an unworthy custodian.

    But now . . . well, there was human . . . and, when they found the trail on the far side of the lake, dragon and merrow mage-sign. Fionn chewed his lip. He had planned to quietly secure the rest and ensure that they could be — as best as possible — used when he finished his work. The hell-flame he had already. And that gave him the alvar and the centaurs’ treasure in trade with the creatures of smokeless fire. They prized and feared their ancient glowing ball of strange energy. A trade of the Angmarad would have given him the dvergar treasure. The merrows returned that faithfully to the land each year anyway . . . and he was really not sure the artificers had not just made another. They were inclined to do that.

    Still, complications or not, he’d had a lot of entertainment out of it. Who would have thought shepherding a human around could be quite so fraught with disaster? Generally speaking, Fionn liked disasters. Chaos was his metier, after all. And right now, from here he could not see the pursuit. That didn’t mean they that weren’t coming. He walked back to the little camp. The merrow and his little Scrap were examining their feet. Hmm. He should have thought of that. Dragon-hide — even changed — was still a lot tougher than human skin, or merrow skin.

    It put limits on how far and fast they could run today. Fionn tasted the air . . . looked at the shifting clouds with a slight brownish tinge to them, and then grinned to himself. It was not a safe refuge, but the three of them might get out of it alive, if they were lucky. Merrows loved to gamble, and so did he. Scrap would just have to go along with them. He didn’t expect the untoward degree of cooperation he was getting from her to last indefinitely, if he was any judge of human character — and he should be. He’d spent a lot of time with them. He liked humans, and not just roasted.

    The place they were about to seek shelter was populated by one of those who preferred their humans raw, but would eat them cooked. Fionn wasn’t too sure how he’d feel about merrows. Groblek had a sense of humor. Maybe he’d think they tasted funny.

    “We’ll eat and rest,” he said, looking at their feet. “I don’t suppose you have anything sensible to put on those feet of yours, merrow?”

    He shook his head. “My feet are tougher than human feet . . .”

    Fionn looked at the cut he was attempting to clean. “But you’ve never walked more than a mile on them. Well . . . I’ll have to see what I can do. We need to climb toward the snowline. It’s going to be colder up there, and rocky underfoot.”

    “Where are we going?”

    “The house of dreams and shadows.”

    “Is it hard to get to?” asked the Scrap tiredly.

    “Yes,” admitted Fionn. “But it is not going there that’s the problem. It’s leaving again.”

    He let them sleep while he stitched. Cobbling was not his trade, but he’d learned a little about a lot of things over the years.

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