by Rafael Lopez


By Rafael Lopez

Untamed skies swept over The Mountain as silken water flows upon submerged stones. Streams of clouds caught the wind on their voyage across the land. The air was gold with the morning glory gilding its soul. Strings of fragrance drifted upward from the beds of meadows, where flowers grew and opened their hearts to the sky. Sunlight shone on the pale summit of The Mountain and glistened as white gold does when finely polished.

Being the only spire in the land, The Mountain was sacred and only traversed by Staff Keepers who maintained the border of peace "" a boundary that could not be broken by the soldiers of evil.

A new dawn settled over the quiet world of Dathzon, and with it spread a new terror from The Land of Dark Dirt. A new beast unlike anything in the land. The only creature that could fly. And it spread its wings as the ill feeling of its presence spread toward the hearts of people.

Twenty small villages surrounded the foot of The Mountain. Ten large castles lay scattered after the edge of a forest. These citadels stood erect upon grasslands extending beyond the trees.

At the top of The Mountain rested an old temple, built before the coming of humans; old as The Mountain, yet strong nonetheless. 'Twas the long-forgotten place whence The Dark Dirt was produced and sown on the land to smite all. A large waterfall graced the entrance, tumbling over green marble walls to roar in a flurry of froth at the foundation of the peak.

There was but one way up The Mountain. A long and dark stairway commenced at the base, behind the great waterfall's curtain of rushing glass. It climbed through The Mountain's core and surfaced near the temple. All other slopes were too high, too graded for any to climb.

Sheer height secured the safety of Temple Berghope, which maintained the border of Magic, defending against monsters that prowled the perimeter along The Land of Dark Dirt.

Morning mist hovered above the villages and castles, finally beginning to cast down its fogged walls and dissolve into the day's new light. But there was no more mist at The Mountain's top. There, the warmth of day was cradled.

Heavy silence clung to a moist marble causeway leading into Berghope as two men strolled from the temple lawn. A lethargic breeze blew trees into a sway. Gilt leaves drifted to the floor around the Staff Keepers. Their eyes had the flame of youth still ignited within, and their wide open hearts were imbued with the feelings far adrift the wind.

"A very lovely dawn it seems. Dost thou agree, Kelpreen?" said one to his companion.

"Indeed, 'tis a fine morn upon The Mountain. Beauty hath awakened hither." The second monk hesitated though, his face worried. "A fine day, yet it has a sense of something amiss. Something hides in the folds of the clouds." He carefully judged the winds and sunlight, poised on the uppermost step. "Something comes. I will return."

"And I will be here."

Kelpreen walked around the corner of Berghope's main building and peered at the passage to the woods below. Everything was still for a long moment. The Keeper's eyes gazed down like a watching father upon his family. But the forest thence lent no secrets to his searching vision.

Kalpon, the other lad, stood listening. His head tipped to a side, feeling the air's voice against his cheek. Behind the deep murmur of the wind, banter in villas yonder and the trees' rustle, there was another sound. A great flapping, hard and fast, that became louder as he listened.

"Something comes, indeed, Kelpreen. Ill-fated noise, not of this land, nor of the land beyond. 'Tis a new sound that finds my ears. It brings dread to my mind." Kalpon squatted down in the shade and turned his sharp gaze skyward. Clouds sailed forth, and the Sun turned their dew to rainbows. "What evils hide amid this beauty?"

Kelpreen, too, cast his eyes to the sky in hopes of catching the sound with a glimpse of its creator.

"I see naught, my friend," said Kalpon after a bit of watching.

"Neither do I. But something is about. Something rides this way. I think we should shelter ourselves, as this ill sound may be coming hither for The Staff."

"Let us go then." The watchers quietly stole inside Berghope and bolted the door. As the entry was closed, the room grew dark. Calmness resided in the air.

"Let us have some light, Kalpon. What do thee say?"

"Blaze those torches, brother!"

Kelpreen ambled to the other end of the room, his feet guided by the soft glow of The Staff of Hope in the center. He removed a crimson stone from his pocket. The jewel had a flame at its core that did not go out, but flickered as a candle would in the wind as his breath brushed its surface. He touched it lightly to a torch fastened to the wall. Light sprang and leaped and slowly crawled around, lighting any torch it fingered until a bright light enveloped the circular room.

A white marble floor glinted. The black marble roof twinkled as light reflected off certain parts, like stars in the night. The curving wall glowed of jade-colored marble.

"That is much better," said Kalpon as he felt the warmth of light enter his being.

"Indeed." Kelpreen stowed the red gem and stood there, but did not see the fire's performance. His friend's words of an ill sound lingered to trouble him. "Let us sit and absorb the aura of The Staff to get rid of this foul reflection." Kelpreen led the way to the middle of the room.

There rested a column of water that rose to the ceiling. It suspended The Staff of Hope in the center of the pillar. The Staff shone and their moods elevated. As the music of the wind blew through the cleansing walls, their ears were deaf once again to the discord that bothered their minds earlier.

Tranquility comforted the monks, poised motionless beside The Staff and column of water. But the feeling of danger had taken hold inside Kelpreen and refused to retreat. It kindled there, a great torrent of fear. A moment later, The Keeper stumbled back and his form left the blue glow.

"Art thou okay, my friend?" asked Kalpon after his friend paused outside The Staff's light.

"That ill feeling hath returned. I cannot shake it from me. I am afraid, Kalpon. I am afraid something comes."

"Step again to the warm light of The Staff. You will be made serene."

Looking hopeful, Kelpreen took his friend's advice and advanced into the glow. His negative sensation diminished but did not entirely withdraw. It grew a second time and thrust him out.

He slid across the polished floor, finally stopping at the wall. His head hung down in dismay. It hurt him to think he had been tarnished by evil. "I cannot be healed," he muttered. "This feeling consumes me entirely. The Staff will not allow me entry. I should not stay any longer. May the Magic guide thee well, Kalpon. For me, I fear I must leave the temple room. I have been touched by the darkness."

"But wait! Give the Magic time to heal thee. Give it time, my friend. There is nothing that hope cannot heal."

Kelpreen stumbled toward the hard door, scarcely discernible from the wall. "My hope has gone. There is nothing that can banish this horror I feel within. I must go. Farewell."

"Fare thee well. May you find strength again to be at peace."

Kelpreen opened the door and sunlight coursed into the large round room, as if the wind had turned to gold. The Staff glittered and its glow became even more brilliant. Kelpreen strode outside and gazed aloft.

Kalpon peered from the door with concern.

"Oh! 'Tis terrible!" cried Kelpreen, his eyes growing wide.

A shadow passed over their heads. The feeling within Kelpreen at that moment could only be imagined by the depth of wordless thought. If any were to try to write in word the horror, it would be but a slight mockery of truth. Yet, as he cowered there with darkness coming, he screamed a last phrase, the words known to few: "Opon-Hul!"

Kalpon listened in confusion. While he watched, the shadow bore down upon Kelpreen and consumed him. The Keeper was gone.

The shadow condensed into a great flying beast. Its long thick wings spread, like the night spreads over the land. A night with no stars or moon to bring hope of light.

The wings folded as the creature approached where Kalpon stood frozen. Its silver-glazed eyes stared at him, and then the beast hissed in a foul breath that darkened Kalpon's hope.

"Zafthic," it hissed through jagged teeth.

Kalpon ran quickly away from the door and the ghastly beast that loomed there. He stepped lightly and trod ground with much haste as he made his way to the entrance of the stairway leading to forest below.

He descended the long shady stair but then paused, as if a sword was horribly thrust into his stomach. He cried and tears flowed his face. A dark deed had just been performed at the summit; Kalpon could feel it. The Staff had been disrupted from its resting place "" the only thing that kept all the evils away from humans. The Keeper continued his decent toward Ettron Forest in fear. He could not do anything about the creature alone.

At long last as the day waned, Kalpon beheld the gleaming facet of the waterfall through the doorway of the staircase. Evening's grasp clutched the current but could not remove the crystal sheen that danced its droplets.

Upon any other day, Kalpon would have smiled in delight to see the mist-covered landing of the falls, but this eve he leapt out and silver water-needles pricked his back. Wet and cold he took to the road, bent on finding a town. He heeded the falls no more.

As the night gathered strength, Kalpon could see what had happened high up the slope. The familiar glow of The Staff that would shine outward from the temple was not in sight. Berghope's walls remained dark green, no light emanating from their core. The creature stood atop the temple's roof, shrieking a terrible yell and stretching its dense wings. It would guard the summit from humans to ensure none replaced The Staff.

"Alas, The Staff has fallen. What a disaster this is becoming," he muttered in the chill breeze. Kalpon stepped lightly, and through the night he arrived at a town. While the moon shone on his tired face, he called with all his might.

"Opon-Hul! Opon-Hul!" Over and over he did shout until a large crowd ringed him in the dark. These villagers stared with wonder and bewilderment. None knew the phrase he spoke.

"Opon-Hul? Why, that is not our language," one remarked.

"He is just saying nonsense," accused another.

"Indeed, 'tis easy enough to see, the man is a loon!" laughed a third.

Even though they jeered and he himself did not understand what he said, Kalpon knew the words must be uttered if ever peril came.

And in this town, only an old man knew what the words meant. His name was Guthuahn. He came hobbling from a house, eyes ablaze with surprise and dread.

"Clear the way, you fools!" he cried at the people assembled. They scowled in anger but obeyed him, for he was one of The Word Keepers. Guthuahn walked right up to Kalpon and peered into his terrified eyes.

"Repeat that which you said," requested Guthuahn, his voice commanding. He had heard the words, yet needed to make certain.

"Opon-Hul! Opon-Hul!" cried The Staff Keeper in a terrible fright, not knowing of anything else he could do.

Guthuahn had no idea what the danger was, but now realized what needed to be done. He turned to the amassed town population and gazed off into the far trees of the forest. Their boughs blew with the echo of menacing noises.

"Tonight The Words of Old have been uttered!" he proclaimed. "Opon-Hul!" Guthuahn peered at the bewildered faces around him. "Now go to bed, all of you, for 'tis my job to carry these words to those who must listen. Good night, my fellow people."

"But what does this mean?" asked a villager.

"It means you should all lock your doors tonight and hide your sheep! It means danger is about. I must tell these words to the castles yonder so we can prepare for what comes!" The elder turned to The Staff Keeper. "You should follow as well, I need your help." He then quickly headed for Castle Greensky, not even bothering to close the door of his house, leaving everyone with an anxious visage.

Guthuahn traversed the forest floor with speed unseen in an old man such as he. And at his heels remained Kalpon, who sought answers for his misery and the death of a fellow monk, and for the meaning of the words.

"Wait there, Word Keeper!" called Kalpon as the two neared the shadow of a castle.

"Yes?" Guthuahn paused and turned.

"I must know what they mean. The words. Please tell me."

"It is not for thee to know. I am a Word Keeper, and thou art a Staff Keeper. Let us keep it at that."

"My friend Kelpreen died upon that summit! His last words were those which I spoke earlier. Please, I shan't tell anyone else. I must know."

Guthuahn thought a moment, his face twisting with impatience. "Why did your friend die? Is there some true peril for all of Dathzon or did he merely tell you these words on his deathbed?"

"A peril you could not imagine. I demand to know what those words signify."

"A peril, eh? Very well. Come closer."

"Thank you kindly, sir." Kalpon bowed low, then leaned closer to hear.

"Opon-Hul means 'We Summon'," whispered Guthuahn into Kalpon's ear. "It must be chanted in the Bergwarn tomb to bring forth Lastenberg."

"Lastenberg? I have yearned to see this archer who comes to save Dathzon from destruction. Many call him a myth."

"He is not a myth, he is real. His tomb lies in that castle yonder. If there is a great danger as you claim, we should summon him quickly. However, in order to do so, there must be a certain five people present."

"Why? Can you not summon him?"

"Nay!" The elder shook his head, but the thought was planted in his mind and he could not help but ponder it. "Well, perhaps I could. No one has ever tried to do it alone. We do not know what would happen. Frankly, we have not the time to spare for any delays. It was five he foresaw in his chamber last time he was awake, and thus, it is five that must be there now."

"Very well, let us seek them in haste. The Staff of Hope is out of its pillar. Soon the evil things will come past The Land of Dark Horizons, as soon as the magic wears off. Those lands shall be of Dark Dirt, and this spot we stand on shall see a horizon of evil shadows."

Guthuahn hesitated for a moment, pondering this new information. "The situation is very bad. How could such ill things have happened? What use are you Staff Keepers if you allow it to fall out of its place?"

"It did not just fall out! Something came. I do not know how." Kalpon paused. "It walked through the air. Unlike anything I have ever seen. And it hissed something to me. Perhaps thou might know what it means. The being hissed, 'Zafthic.' That is all. Is it too an old word?"

"No, I do not know what that means. Come, we must locate the five people." As they continued towards the castle, Guthuahn asked, "Walking through the air, you said?"

"Yes, some strange creature The Land of Dark Dirt conjured."

Guthuahn was now troubled with the images, and quickened his pace for the castle.

They had journeyed until a brilliant sun glimmered through the tree cover. Before them were the low walls and deep trench of a castle.

"Who art we coming for? If I may ask." Kalpon stood gazing at the imposing palace.

"The king. He is one of the five we must collect. A Staff Keeper and the three Word Keepers are the other four. You shall be The Staff Keeper and I am one of The Word Keepers. Thus, we will have three of the five needed once the king joins us." Guthuahn shuffled to a bridge over the trench.

Two guards stood in gleaming green armor and white capes that flowed behind like the wind blowing. The soldiers recognized Guthuahn and let the men through. Boards rattled while they walked, crossing to the castle.

Guthuahn strolled to the base of the wall, shouting the old words again. "Opon-Hul!" His voice echoed beyond the gateway, into the high and hidden chambers of the central keep. Ears all round heard the words with wonder.

Moments passed. Kalpon waited uncomfortably as townspeople stared at them wondering why Guthuahn had yelled so strange of words so loudly.

Then the doors to the keep opened and out marched a king. Many years and many a difficulty burdened the monarch's visage. He stepped alone and silently as if he had been mustered by Guthuahn's cry. Indeed, he did not stop walking until he faced Guthuahn no more than a few feet away.

"Welcome, my friend," he heralded in a soothing voice. "Or perhaps I should not welcome thee, for I shan't enjoy your company this day. Why have you said The Old Words?"

"Greetings, Lord Nofflore. How hast thou been?" asked Guthuahn.

"I know you come to me not worried for the troubles of my days past. And I know that thou would not articulate The Words without reason. Be hasty to the point, my friend. There may be no time to delay. Let us hear the trouble."

"Well, troubles are nigh. Perhaps greater than any you have faced before. The Staff of Hope has been disturbed," said Guthuahn.

"Disturbed how?" Nofflore asked.

"Thrown to the floor! And The Staff Keepers are being slain in their temple!" exclaimed Kalpon. Then, remembering he spoke to a king, he added with a slight bow, "My lord."

"Slain? Who is there, Monk? I will send my military."

"Nay. It is a new creature from The Dark Dirt. No one can defeat it!" Kalpon cried.

The king's face turned southwest, toward the black horizon. "They will come, is that not right, Guthuahn?"

"Indeed, all of them will come and destroy until naught is left. Devour all that shines and all that has life. However, we could summon Lastenberg to save us. He has never failed to rescue those who call upon him."

Nofflore's eyes glanced at the keep, then settled back upon Guthuahn. "Lastenberg has never fought all of the darkness at once. Last time he gave us The Staff to protect us from those ill shadows, and we cannot allow The Staff to fall, then call upon Lastenberg and think he will fix all that is wrong on Dathzon. If he could, do you not think he would have destroyed The Land of Dark Dirt long ago, so that no one would have to live in this fear?"

The other men were silent. The king continued.

"We are very selfish if we think Lastenberg will repair the rifts that we create through carelessness."

"We did not make this problem, my lord. A creature that swam through the air caused this," argued Guthuahn. "'Twas out of our hands to prevent."

"Nonsense. To be in the air is impossible."

"The Land of Dark Dirt crafts new things to infiltrate the magic shield. It has made things that fly. We can call these new fiends Zafthics," said Guthuahn.

"The flying Zafthic," muttered Nofflore. His eyes clouded with worry. "Let us summon Lastenberg before 'tis too late, before The Dark Dirt covers all."

The fellows strode to the wall's rim. A blossoming new day glistened in their eyes, but they looked to the west where the dark horizon met a deep blue sky.

"What if it is already too late, my lord? What if Lastenberg cannot save us?" murmured Kalpon, watching black clouds amass.

"If The Archer cannot, we shall make a stand so powerful that no wind can ever uproot our kin." Turning toward the others, Nofflore added, "We will show Lastenberg, when he comes, that he fights not alone. He has friends in this world."

High over their heads the sky was being painted a brilliant light blue by gentle strokes of the air. Yet dark clouds blew closer from the horizon, threatening to wash away the picturesque morn.

The king's gaze strayed to a nearby guard. "Set ablaze the signal sentry! It is now the time we prepare for death, or a new freedom!" Nofflore guided Guthuahn and Kalpon to the stables while the guard climbed to the summit of the keep.

The torch carrier's hands trembled as he reached out to light the kindling that had never felt the warmth of a flame before.

Up stretched the fire into the unrestricting sky. One by one, the blaze spread by the eye of guards from castle to castle until all around Ettron Forest was a fire atop every stronghold's keep.

Back at Castle Greensky, Nofflore and the two Keepers had piled into a carriage and rode off to pick up the final heralds.

Iwan was the youngest of The Word Keepers. A fine woman of the northern town of Inbild, she wasted no time to join the three in their task of gathering the five who must summon Lastenberg.

The last member they lacked was also a Word Keeper, a worthy old chap of Castle Redmir named Kefra. In those northeastern dunes of yellow grass, The Dark Dirt drifted nearest. It was not a scarce wisp upon the horizon's palette but a dominant landscape view for the people who dared to dwell that close.

The king of the castle had been forming his troops ever since the signal fires rounded the forest bends. By the time the group of Keepers and Nofflore arrived thither, his army was ready for the battlefield and awaited the orders of their king. Nofflore stepped up with the king of Redmir to help kindle courage in the hearts of the people.

"This will be the first place to be assailed!" called Nofflore to the army who had gathered in the courtyard. "The shadows will come quickly and shall carry no mercy for our kin! If we wish to live, we must fight!"

"You, my fine warriors," continued the king of Redmir, Gildwin. "You will be the first steel these fiends shall encounter upon Gonith Plains! Let them feel the wrath your swords were forged to imbue! Let the first blood be that of the monsters! Fear will be riding with you this day, but do not let it ride against you! The Dark Dirt shall fear you for we shall fight today a battle worthy of remembrance!"

Dusk's shadows loitered upon the doorstep of the castle as the army marched to the plains to meet their foes. The red-trimmed silver suits of steel shone of bravery, and the red capes that flowed behind the soldiers were like their carpets into the field of conflict.

Hordes of creatures, hidden by the dense clouded roof that barred all skylight from feeling the grasses' fingers, crept forth from The Dark Dirt which blew ever closer to the walls of Redmir.

The golden fields turned brown and died a mile ere the coming of The Dark Land's tendrils. The dying land turned everyone's spirits bleak, for perhaps soon they would be lying dead like the plants around them. The soldiers drew their swords and stood shoulder to shoulder in defiance. Their king Gildwin stood before them all, watching the dust clouds advance "" huge walls of blackness where eyes and forms slithered from.

"This may be the last eve we stand upon these plains, but it shall not be the last night of man! For upon the morrow, wherever the sun rises again, life will spring anew! Life will live on!" Gildwin's words gave hope to his soldiers, whose eyes screamed with terror at the horrors that drew nigh. But he had no hope himself, for he knew within that no mortal-made weapon could withstand the fury of these evils.

While the valiant stood to fight, Nofflore led The Keepers in his carriage through the woods to Castle Greensky. Their journey was a path away from the battle commencing in Redmir, yet their hearts felt for those who bravely fought there.

Castle Greensky still had a sunrise to light its streets and the sky above its high wall, but Redmir in the north was already covered by the black clouds of the enemy's land. Spirits and steel were broken yonder in bloody conflict. Black grains of soil had begun to blow over the city and slowly strangle its glory.

Nofflore knew he had little time to protect his own people, thus he hastened the four Keepers into the depths of the castle. Down they trod along stairways with no light, and seemingly no way out.

"The Bergwarn," whispered Guthuahn as the solemn five filed into a chamber where the eternal torches ever flickered.

"Long have I wondered of this room. Long have I desired to step upon its stones." Kalpon lightly touched the masonry that had been carved ages ago during a time that none knew of. For whilst the mountains, valleys and streams changed, The Bergwarn remained the same.

"Long have these stones stood hither, in this hidden abode, yet as with the sun, they still gleam like they were carven yesterday!" Iwan stood in awe, her eyes wide with astonishment.

"Long has this room been thought by many to be fable!" jeered Kefra. "And now I stand within its walls, within the very midst of a fantasy!"

"We have not much time," muttered Nofflore as he arrived near the center of the room. "If Lastenberg is to save us, we must give him time. Without time, even a hero cannot achieve victory. Now chant with me!"

Together they all chanted. Their words rang out like icicles plunging into a bed of steel.

"Opon-hul Lastenberg! Opon-hul Lastenberg!" they chanted, and the sounds broke upon the stone perimeter, falling into the floor. "Opon-hul Lastenberg!"

The surface of the rock chamber was smoother than anything which could be wrought by the meek hands of humans "" a room so finely crafted that not even Temple Berghope could claim triumph over.

Its white marble ceiling and floor were stained by the hue of gold. The absolute black granite walls had been fashioned in an elliptical length so smooth no creature could climb them. Gracing the center of the floor was a circular step, polished to a mirror glint. This was the base whence the mighty Lastenberg rose all the many times he had been summoned before.

As the five people chanted the words of old, they joined hands and waited for their hero to arrive.

The eyes of Lastenberg opened over the white gold step; six feet high they looked to his hailers. A light mist floated from the floor and gathered at the center. The Archer's ageless body was forming in front of the spectators.

Lastenberg stood before the group, a man not to be perceived as older than forty, with a bow in hand and quiver hung behind him. His bright clothing shone neath the links of a clear chain-mail vest.

"W-welcome, L-L-Lastenberg, sir, I mean, sire, my lord," stuttered Nofflore, the only one who barely found strength to utter a bit of words.

"My friends, it seems it was just the night ere I went to sleep, and now you summon me. It is so as I saw "" a king, two male Word Keepers, a female Word Keeper, and a Staff Keeper. Opon-hul courage, for there is peril lurking this land. How long has passed since last I woke?" The champion stepped from his landing yet still was an imposing height to the common man.

"I beg you pardon me, my lord," began Nofflore, a tad more composed of his kingly self.

"Lastenberg is my name, king. I am no one's lord."

"I ask forgiveness, Lastenberg. We come at a dark hour when

The Land of Dark Dirt is upon us! Time for talk is not amongst our pleasures. Please aid us!" King Nofflore bowed to The Archer. "We are at your service."

"If time runs to an end, then I must hurry. The Staff of Hope is tainted by the claws of a beast "" I cannot see where it is. All is dark around it," said Lastenberg with his eyes closed.

"It flies," croaked Kalpon.

Lastenberg peered at The Staff Keeper. "Flies? Then my arrow shall fly after it!" The Archer hastened up the stairway and, as if he knew already the lay of the world, made his way to the walls of Greensky. "There goes the creature." He pointed to the sky. Swooping into the shadow of the dark clouds was the Zafthic, grasping The Staff of Hope in its claws. The evil being had taken it from The Mountain's top when it sensed Lastenberg's summoning, seeking the safety of the vast unreachable skies of gloom.

"How did you know where it would be?" asked Guthuahn in surprise.

"I have more powers than to merely live forever, Guthuahn. I know all of what I need to know of. The world's secrets come to me when I need them." The hero urgently turned his attention back to the current danger that flew yon.

"It takes The Staff to The Land of Dark Dirt! Alas, it is too far! We can do nothing to it from here." Nofflore's gaze fell in dismay.

"Your arrows may not reach the fiend, but mine can." Lastenberg pulled back his bow with an arrow poised, and a ray of sunshine lanced the cloud cover above the beast, stunning its eyes. It hesitated but a moment.

Lastenberg let fly his arrow. The snap of the bowstring was so sharp it would have gashed the hand of an archer less then he. The arrow was gone ere any could see its straight departure. It flew like a shooting star of sparkling white light across the sky, and before the Zafthic could again take off flying, the dart had pierced deep into the dark monster's cold form.

The Staff of Hope fell from the clutches of the Zafthic.

"No!" screamed Kalpon as The Staff landed in the dusty swirls of The Dark Land. "The Staff must never touch The Dark Dirt!"

"Do not fear, Staff Keeper. You, and even The Dark Land, do not know everything of The Staff's powers. Watch the horizon. It burns a new light."

And, indeed, Lastenberg spoke truth. Far away the horizon shone with strong light such as no one had ever seen, save Lastenberg. It glowed like the days of old, when The Land of Dark Dirt was but a grain of sand in the future's path. When Dathzon needed not The Staff of Hope to hold away evil.

The horizon beamed with the sun's light as it had done when humans roamed all the land "" all of Dathzon.

"The Staff shall cleanse the soil of evil," said Lastenberg. "By night's coming, there will be stars gracing the sky everywhere, and golden grass marching to the horizon's edge. Fear not the darkness, for it passes. Shadows can always be won by light, if you only have hope. What you must now fear are yourselves. You have the land once again. Do not release evils upon it which you cannot control."

"But if you knew The Staff you designed to keep The Mountain, forest and plains safe from those evils could rid the world of The Dark Dirt, why did you not tell this to the kings of old? Why did you allow The Dark Dirt to consume all but us?" questioned Nofflore.

"Last time I came, the world needed cleansing. Evil monarchs ruled over all those lands and magic-wielding men unleashed The Dark Dirt to kill their enemies. These war-mongers did not care for the safety of the world. If they could not control the weapon they brandished, they should not have used it. By the time I had forged The Staff to fight The Dark Land, there was hardly anything left to fight for." The Archer glanced to The Mountain.

"That peak was the only region untainted by the evils that consumed the rest of Dathzon. I let The Dark Dirt bury the wicked men in their own evils, for in the shadow of this mountain I gathered the last survivors of the rebellion of fair-hearted people. Do not worry, my friends, the land out there is new. A canvas for you to paint many beautiful memories and wonders upon."

Lastenberg strode from the wall into the courtyard. "Let this be the day of a world reborn. A day that you learn from the errors of an age long gone, and a day that shines like no other." The Archer bowed to the king and The Keepers. He then led them all inside The Bergwarn chamber, his tomb for a few hundred more years.

"Lastenberg? How did you know from your vision long ago that we are Word Keepers?" asked Kefra when they stopped in the illuminated vault. "We do not exactly have it written upon us."

"The same way I knew where the Zafthic would be. My vision sees more than the sight of an eye. However, I must admit, sometimes even my gaze cannot catch every detail."

"Can you not stay? To protect us always?" asked Kalpon.

"Nay, I cannot. I must rest now, for my powers need meditation. 'Twas short my part in this time, but long do I hope the effects will last. Now, before I bid thee farewell, I must give you my prophecy."

Lastenberg closed his eyes and saw to the future, to the next time he would open them. "Heed my words, for the future people of the land depend upon it. I summon a knight, a beggar behind bars, a queen, a bird, and a child. I summon these to The Bergwarn to summon me." Lastenberg then dissolved into the room's torchlight, whispering a farewell to the five.

Silence and stillness mingled in the air. The hero was gone. As quickly as he had come to save humankind, he left them to face the future. A future Lastenberg himself had helped sculpt.

"I will go write what he said." Nofflore left the four others and hastened to not forget those words the future needed.

"They are an odd bunch, the next group who shall summon Lastenberg," noted Kalpon.

"Indeed, and what is a bird?" inquired Kefra.

"Only the future will know what to make of his words." Iwan placed a hand upon Guthuahn's shoulder. "Come, let us ensure that the Old Words survive the trail of time as well. They who live in the future will need opon-hul one day."

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Copyright 2007 Rafael Lopez, All Rights Reserved.

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