Sorry it took so long to post this. I'll try to stay more on top of things...
The man seated in the chair was clearly worried, his face buried in his hands. His dark hair fell downward, pulled by gravity but not falling far. He was dressed in dark red, with black pants and boots. A sword hung at his side, its scabbard beaten and worn from constant use.
The door on the opposite wall opened, and a slightly older man entered the room. The first raised his head. "How is he?" he asked.
The other smiled, brushing aside some brown hair falling into his face. "He will live, but he'll keep the scars." He smiled as his companion sighed in exaggerated relief. Taking a seat by the fireplace, he asked, "Are you alright, Nigal?"
"Not really, Neoman. And this recent scare has really done me no good." He shook his head, managing a wry smile. "And you, how are you?"
"I've been busy. The increasing spread of the Darkness brings greater and greater problems for us." Neoman stared thoughtfully into the fire, smiling at some inner thought. "Her majesty, Queen Ellenia is nearing the end of her pregnancy. Lyorn is thrilled." He smiled indulgently. "He hopes for a son, of course, but he would love a daughter just as well."
"Any clues either way, oh Grand Sage?" Nigal asked with a sly smile. Neoman winked at him, tapping a finger on his lip.
"That would be telling. All I told them, and all I tell you, is that the heir is healthy and thriving." He changed topics, looking troubled. "Why were those three all alone in the Darkness? I would believe it of the mischievous Janav, but Reisha and Asher? They know the dangers, why would they risk so much?"
"I wish I knew. But both sleep and Janav is comatose." He bit his lip. "But Janav did say something,w hen I found him. He said he 'got it'. But I never saw 'it'."
"Interesting. They did have a goal then..." Neoman sat back, pursing his mouth till it was a thin line. "And they succeeded as well. But what was their intent? And what is it?"
"Probably just the excitement of the forbidden excursion."
Neoman smiled faintly. "For a man not yet middle-aged, you sound more and more like an older man."
"And for an old man, you....mm." Nigal shook his head wryly. "Just how old are you?"
"Old enough to have seen you in your crib." He chuckled at Nigal's disgruntled expression. "Do you really think I'll ever answer that, old friend?"
"You'll slip up someday. I'll have you then."
The two shared a laugh, enjoying the friendly ribbing. With all the recent turmoil, such peaceful moments were few and so far between. All too soon, they would be interrupted by the needs of the current world.
"Excuse me, Master Neoman? Master Nigal?" A page entered the room, clearly awed by those whose presence he had entered. "His majesty requests your presence."
Nigal nodded, standing. "Very well, we will come."
Neoman glanced at the door before following.
Lyorn was a tall man, dressed in clothes of red and gold. He had a mane of golden hair and black eyes that shone with mirth. The smile on his face was natural, without guile or falseness. Nigal liked the forthright king, for he was strong in the Light. When he saw Nigal and Neoman coming, he came to greet them enthusiastically.
"Good to see you, friends. How are the boys?"
"On the mend, thank the Light," Neoman replied. Lyorn, grinning, clapped him heartily on the back.
"With a little help from you, Grand Sage." He turned to Nigal, missing Neoman ruefully rubbing his back. "Shall we spar again, Nigal, while we have a moment? I do believe I finally figured out a counter to that move of yours."
Nigal grinned. "Have you now? Lets find out." and they both moved to a more open spot. Neoman followed, interested as ever in watching them.
Nigal's weapon was a two-edged blade, held with both hands, though Neoman knew he could just as easily use it single-hand. Lyorn's weapon was a great broadsword. They faced each other, Lyorn grinning while Nigal was serious. "Neoman, if you would put the protections on?"
Neoman nodded, extending his hands towards the two swords. A small breeze stirred their clothes, and a visible swirl began on the blade, extending from the hilt to the tip, before disappearing. Neoman dropped his hands and stepped back. "There. Now yours blows, if they connect, will do no more damage than a bruise," he said.
Nigal smiled faintly. "Thanks Neoman."
"Then lets have at it!" and Lyorn flew at him.
Neoman sat back on a heaping haystack, watching. Nigal was fast, relying much on his superior speed and reflexes. His actions were strategic, each thought out and carried out to the letter. Lyorn lacked the same lithe figure, being a more broad, stronger, solid fighter. While he could not duck and weave as Nigal did, he blocked and parried just as fast as Nigal moved, adjusting position and stance as required. Though he seemed slow in movement, this was deceptive, for once he started moving it was hard to stop him.
"Grand Sage," a warm voice behind him greeted him. He smiled, face beaming as he turned to greet the petite woman.
"Queen Ellenia," he responded, inclining his head formally. Then he held out his arms, saying, "How are you, Elle?"
She returned his hug with affection. "I am well, dear one. The child is growing," she added ruefully, her hand resting on her belly.
"Still kicking?" Neoman smiled, his gaze drifting back to the sparring pair. Nigal was pressing his advantage, and Lyorn was giving ground grudgingly. Nigal was moving faster now, striking harder; he was clearly going for the finish. Lyorn was slowing, struggling to keep up. Neoman leaned forward intently. Nigal danced around, feinting, and Neoman knew he was about to play a special move of his: a disarm that had confounded many different fighters, Lyorn among them. Of course, Neoman speculated, Lyorn had believed he'd figured out a way around it. Was he right? Nigal moved forward, striking fast.
Lyorn suddenly moved, so fast Neoman was not entirely certain of what happened, and Nigal was laid flat. Lyorn stood over him, staring. Carefully, he nudged his shoulder with his boot. "Nigal Azaga," he said, shaking his head. "I hit you only gently, and you're out cold?"
"Your definition of gentle is many's definition of very very painful," Neoman informed him with a teasing smile. "Nigal's going to demand a rematch when he wakes up."
"Good. The exercise will keep him young." Neoman chose tactfully to not remark on the fact that Lyorn was older than Nigal. Lyorn nudged Nigal again, a thoughtful look on his face. "I really didn't think I hit him that hard..."
"You did, Lyorn," Ellenia said with a smile. "At least, I think you did. You swordsmen always move so fast..."
He turned at her voice, and his whole face lit up. Leaving Nigal to lie there, he rushed over, catching her in an embrace that was eagerly returned. Neoman smiled, a slightly indulgent one. "Careful, your majesty, she really shouldn't be roughed up now."
Lyorn ignored him, holding her tenderly to him. It was interesting, seeing them together. Lyorn was a mountain of a man, and with Ellenia already a smaller size, she was dwarfed by him. Yet, there was no one else Neoman could see standing at either's side. They loved each other very much, still with the passion of those newly in love. It could be embarrassing sometimes, and Nigal preferred to play disgusted, but Neoman loved watching them and seeing how happy they were. Perhaps it was because they knew they could be parted at any time by the war, and so made the most of their time.
The war, the eternal war between the Light and the Dark, forever plunging their land into chaos and fear. The Dark, a great shadow that wove over the earth and devoured men's hearts. No one was alive who remembered where it came from, or who may have began it. Perhaps no one had ever known. The few records from the ancient Sages were old, crumbling and barely legible, most being in the Old Tongue and undecipherable. The few translated spoke of battles, of champions of Light or Dark fighting and conquering, but never of its sources.
Though one did speak of something. It spoke of a key that would aid in the war of whichever side claimed it. Beyond that had yet to be revealed, and Neoman had been searching a long time for any clues of this 'key'. So far, he was unsuccessful. Buit he had no intention of ever giving up. They needed help.
"Will you two get a room?"
Neoman blinked, coming out of his thoughts. Lyorn and Ellenia were kissing. Nigal was sitting up, scowling at them and rubbing his head; was that where Lyorn had struck? Lyorn mumbled something that sounded like 'get lost' and kept right on going. Neoman smiled and decided to excuse himself.
He needed to return to his search.
Janav blinked, sitting up slowly. He stared about groggily, uncertain of his surroundings. Asher was in a bed to his right, and Reisha in one on his left. Both were bandaged. Come to think of it, so was he. He puzzled over that, till his brain reconnected. Oh. Yeah. He'd been on the losing end of an interrogation. How could he have forgotten that?
And how was he still alive?
Probably the Grand Sage, that guy was a wonder. They were lucky to have him. Though, he wasn't so sure he was lucky to be alive after all. His hand crept to his chest, closing around a nigh unnoticeable bulge in the fabric.
He glanced over. Asher was staring at him, still lying down, but he'd pushed the sheets back. "What..."
"See? I told you we'd make it." Janav subtly released the coat, stretching leisurely. "Mission accomplished."
"Reisha's still out," Asher pointed out, propping himself up on his elbow. "So do I get to see the fruit of our pains or do you still intend to leave us in the dark?"
It was only a figure of speech, but it still sent a shiver down his spine. Funny, that. One would think it wouldn't bother him so much... "I've nothing against your seeing. But I will be completely honest, I'm not entirely sure what I'm holding." He reached into his coat and into a pocket sewn into the bulge, almost hidden. He pulled out a small orb, about as large as a child's marble, milky white and indistinct. He held it up for Asher to see. "Ta da!"
"We did all that for a marble?" Asher shook his head, falling back against the covers. "What does it do?"
"Just said. I don't know." He ran it between his fingers, admiring its smoothness. "They were pretty upset over losing it, though. So its definitely important somehow."
"Still don't intend to tell how you discovered it?" Janav shook his head, grinning. Asher's face took on a childish petulance. "You know, I wonder about you sometimes."
Janav stared at the marble, which had suddenly turned inky black. His face had paled slightly, before looking sad. "Yeah...so do I."
There, do you believe me now Claec?