Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Chapter III A Council in the Land of Noal "The Search for the Black Stones"

As the unicorns, centaurs, and elves slept peacefully in the night, a great evil was brewing in the mountains of Insignia. Through the course of three days, Darkly made the journey to a mountain in Insignia with other Antars. The group patently waited in the shadows of the deep wilderness. The night was quite humid from fallen rains and their feet sunk in the mud as they hid in giant trees. They were not sure what was going to happen, so they stood ready for battle. As the moon rose high above the sky, the ground shook violently. The Antars scared for the moment, but they stood steadfast in the dark night. Soon in the darkness of the deep woods, just beyond an open area of tall trees, a bright light opened a wavy image of another world. The image grew larger and larger and more visible as the ground continued to shake. Within a few seconds, the portal once again opened. In the distance of the other world, a group of humans both males and females marched through the portal. The humans seemed to be in a dazed state of mind without any sense of consciousness. It was as though the humans had been sleep-walking. The humans appeared starved by their world, maybe neglected by poverty, so they were eager to eat fruit. Darkly waited in the trees for the humans to crossover into Noal. He watched the human heading towards the poisoned berries. “Go ahead and eat my poisoned berries…. Eat! Eat like hungry little rats,” whispered Darkly as he hugged a tree limb. The humans ate their fill of berries as their legs sunk in the dark mud. The ground pulled the humans into the dirt like plants being planted. The humans screamed and moaned in pained as the ground consumed their lower bodies. The humans were transforming into horse-like creatures with pointy ears and fangs. They were beginning to resemble the centaurs, but with dark hair and black eyes. The new centaurs rose from the ground with newly built bodies, strong muscles, and four sturdy legs. Darkly revealed himself to the new centaurs with a rough dictating voice. “I am Darkly, the lord Antar! You are in the land of Noal. I am your master! I will teach you how to fight with your new bodies. Follow me, and we will take over the land of Noal. NOW, MARCH MY ARMY OF CENTAURS!” ordered Darkly. The centaurs gathered together and march forward like solders. They marched without any question or dispute. The other Antars followed behind them with their spears at hand ready to kill any centaur that did not submit to being slaves. Almost every human that passed through the portal was transformed into evil centaurs, but in every source of evil, there is a small light of goodness. Early in the morning, the rain fell steadily throughout the land. Yuno, Sherrea, and Suro woke up to a peaceful cave thirty years after Suro’s abduction by the Antar. Suro’s horn developed half its size to meet adulthood. The horrors of being abducted by the Antar still remained in Suro’s dreams like bad memories. Sometimes Suro slept throughout the night, but other times his body would twitch and fall as he slept. Yuno and Suro would often take long walks in the forest. This would ease Suro’s mind as they talked about the wisdom of ever day life. Suro, now considered a teen unicorn, would often ask, “Why do Antars hurt weaker animals?” Yuno would answer in a stern deep fatherly voice, “You see son, animals must eat other animals for food so that they can survive. The dead creatures go on living in that animal until it dies, and then it grows into the land and it is reborn in plants or other living things. We are all a part of this world forever. We eat the berries. We grow, and then over time, we will die.” Suro walk through the forest. The nightmares from the night before made him fearful and sad. “I don’t want you to die!” His heart sank at the mere mention of the word death. Suro’s scars from being abducted seemed to follow him as he grew older. Yuno felt Suro’s sadness in his heart. The bond between father and son was strong in their relationship. Yuno tried to coax his son’s fears by bringing play and laughter to their long walks in the forest. “Don’t worry, son, your old dad isn’t going anywhere for a long time! I’m a big, fast unicorn! Let’s see if you can catch me!” Upon their return to the cave, Yuno received a visit from Dane and Jo Anne. They entered the cave with wet bodies and hair. Dane and Jo Anne now carried a bow and arrows across their chest with a single sharp spear in one hand. Centaurs learned how to make bows and arrows by reshaping green tree limbs. They cut the limbs to the appropriate size, and then bent them into the shape of a bow. Centaurs then tied a thin strand of vine from one end to the other. The bow was set to dry while the arrows are made from long sticks with sharpened heads and bird feathers. Weapons made by centaurs to guard against evil, not to murder innocent animals. Dane was especially accurate with both the spear and the bow and arrow. He could knock a small berry sitting on a tall tree from far away. “Dane. What brings you to my humble home?” Yuno takes a bite of several berries lying on the ground that they had stored for a rainy day. Dane scratches his forehead. “We are gathering a group together in a form of a council. We need to have a council so that the land can have guardians to locate the twelve black stones. The stars have given me a dream that they will give us twelve acts of compassion to help guide us against the destruction of Noal. Once these acts are given to us, we must use these acts to guide us during battle times. As long as the black stones remain on earth, there are high risks of invasion from humans. We need the council to keep watch over the land until the stones are found and returned to the stars,” Sherrea and Suro watch from a distance. “What is the plan to find the stones?” Yuno turns towards his wife and son because he knows that Dane wants him to lead the council as the first unicorn. Yuno is unsure whether to accept the pending invitation or just be a father to his troubled son. “We wait for now. Until we figure out a way to cross over to earth, find the missing stones, and bring them back to Noal. We cannot do much. There must be a way to cross over to earth, remain hidden, search for the stones, and bring them back.” Dane walks closer to Yuno. He senses Yuno’s hesitation to a part of the council. “You have a great family. You know that you can protect them better if you are a part of the council!” Yuno looks back at his friend. He knows the urgency of his words, but Yuno’s heart is with his wife and son. “I need to be here with my son!” Yuno returns his eyes towards his son. “I understand. Well, if you change your mind, the council can really use your wisdom and insight about the stars and the land.” Dane turns to face his wife as they both leave the cave. Later in the evening Yuno and Suro are practicing their running skills. Suro is almost as fast as his father, but he is still quite young for a unicorn. Suro sees the confusion in father’s eyes. Yuno wants to protect his family, but being council member would benefit the land. “Father, will you join the council?” Yuno stops running. “I don’t know son.” Suro jogs around a tree for a few seconds, he stops to take a breath. “Father, I think you should join the council. Dane is correct. You can protect us better if you help find the black stones.” “But joining the council could mean going into battle and time away from you and mom.” Yuno’s eyes turns to sadness. “Father, we will be alright! I do not want to be the reason why they fail to find the stones. They need you. The land needs you. Join the council for me and mom. Go and protect the land against evil, and maybe my nightmares will go away.” “Suro, my son, you are becoming wise. I am so lucky to have such a wonderful son as you.” Yuno and son return to running in the direction of home. In the warm night, Yuno and his family sleep soundly. The moon and stars were especially bright that night. Dane and Yuno are awakened by warm gentle balls of fire shooting from outside that seem to fly into their caves and hit a wall. These fire balls continued to hit the cave’s walls, but the sparks did not burn against the dry grass. Line by line the stars wrote their words on the walls of every cave inhabited by unicorns and centaurs. Yuno had the wisdom to read the pictures on his wall, as Dane could do the same with his own language. In the morning, Yuno went to visit Dane’s cave. Dane stood staring at the wall inscription. Jo Anne read the words out loud, and this is what she read: The Twelve Acts of Compassion for the Land of Noal 1. Unicorns and guardians must only kill in self-defense or when protecting innocent life in the land. 2. Guardians must never kill unicorns. 3. Unicorns must only use their magical powers for healing wounds or ailments. 4. All guardians and unicorns must show mercy to wounded or ill life. 5. All living beings must seek to serve one another. 6. Unicorns and guardians should always teach their children about the wisdom of the land. 7. Guardians should respect and learn from their older generations. 8. All should share the resources in the land. 9. War should only be implemented to protect life and the land. 10. No one should not dominate or enslave by other beings or group of animals in Noal. 11. All should have equal opportunities to do as they please in the land. 12. The land of Noal should always be defended against evil rudiments. “I think we need to organize the council as soon as possible. If the stars took the time to burn these twelve acts of compassion on our caves, we need to unite to make sure that all obey these acts. I’m sure that the stars are eager to retrieve the twelve black stones.” Dane turned towards Yuno. No words were spoken, but Dane knew why Yuno had come to his cave. Yuno’s stern look on his face spoke volumes about his intentions. “As long as the stones remain on earth, Noal is at risk of dangers from humans and other strange beings.” “Who should lead the council, and how many of Noal’s guardians should be a part of the group?” Dane stared puzzled at the wall. “Dane, I think we know the answered to your questions. You, because you are the leader of the centaurs. Toro, the leader of the elves, and me. I think we three should select two more nominees to make up nine members of the council. I will ask Adjuno and Lackia to join me. They are the wisest of my breed,” Yuno also stared at the wall. “I would like Jo Anne and Shane to be on the council,” Dane looked at his wife. She walked towards him. “Me, why me?” “You are wise, plus I would feel better if you were a part of the group to make rational decisions,” Dane puts his hands on Jo Anne’s shoulders and stares into her kind eyes. “I will do it,” Jo Anne replied with a hug and a kiss. “There is a large cave in the southern side of Enduro. We can use it until we build a hall for the council.” Dane walks outside of his cave. Yuno follows behind him. “I will send word to Toro to meet us at the cave tonight,” Meanwhile, as Darkly’s army of centaurs and Antars marched south away from the forest of Insignia, a single woman broke free from the group. The woman called herself, Mrs. Rohana. She was a young girl with blond hair and hazel looking eyes. She wore a dark-brown cape around her neck with sturdy pants and a western shirt. She walked with a staff in one hand. As she broke away from the group, she ran in one direction breathing heavy. With eyes wide open, she ran from tree to tree while looking back at the army as they marched away. Where was she going? She did not know, but she knew that there had to be other creatures in this unfamiliar land. Later in the day, the new visitor of Noal stumbled out of the wilderness into a river near the southern forest of Enduro. She fell forward onto the edge of water. With her face deep in the water, she quenched her thirst. She again stood up, looked around the land, and sat down on a large rock. “Where am I?” she thought as her stomach grumbled with hunger. She gathered a few logs and twigs. She mumbled a few words and a blaze of fire lit the dry pile of wood. With the pointed stick in one hand, she speared a fish that was caught searching for food on the edge of the water. The stick was lifted and placed on the fire. Within a few minutes, she consumed the fish. She sat bewildered what to do or where to go. The suns now appeared to be setting for the evening. The visitor took another look around the forest before noticing a strange animal taking a sip of water just on the other side of the water. It was Adjuno on the other side of the river. The woman softly called out to the unicorn, but he wasn’t quick to be approached by the stranger. Adjuno watch closely as the visitor slowly walked towards him with one hand extended outward. “I am lost, young creature. Can you help me? I won’t hurt you. I need your help,” she said calmly in a soothing soft voice. Adjuno did not sense any hostility in her voice, and her sad eyes hypnotized the grey unicorn. “You’re a unicorn! I have never seen a real unicorn before now. You’re a beautiful! I’m not from this world. Can you understand me?” Adjuno nodded his head as to say, “Yes”. She stood a few feet away from Adjuno after crossing the water. “Oh my word! You can! How is this possible?” Her eyes widened in curiosity. “Where am I?” She scanned her inquisitive eyes around the land. “Will you take me to your leader?” Adjuno again nodded as he turned and neighed loudly. The visitor picked up her staff and followed the grey unicorn into the forest. Within a few minutes, Adjuno lead the woman to the cave where the newly formed council was preparing to meet. They waited silently outside the opening of the cave. Mrs. Rohana quietly observed the group’s meeting. She wanted to make sure that group might be friendly to a stranger in their land. Yuno, Dane, Jo Anne, Toro, and the members stood in a circle discussing the twelve acts of compassion and the location of the black stones. Dane and the council discussed the where-bouts of the stones as a fire burned in the center. “We do not know where the black stones are or if we can crossover to earth and grab the stones and cross back over before the portal closes.” “Someone needs to try to crossover to earth, grab the four stones, and the cross back over to Noal before the portal closes,” Shane stood next to Toro while eating some berries. “But, how? If the portal closes while one of us is on the other side, then we run the risk of being discovered by more humans,” Dane looked both ways and used his hands to express his comments. Adjuno comes jogging into the cave, “We do not need more humans invading the land of Noal,” Shane again responded as everyone watched each other for suggestions. Mrs. Rohana took the risk of revealing herself to the group. She believed that if she was going to back home, then she needed offer to help the group. “I can help!” the visitor slowly came walking in with her staff in her right hand. All eyes turned towards her with surprised looks. “Who are you?” Dane turned to approach the visitor with one hand on his spear. “I am Mrs. Rohana. I am human. I am also a practicing witch. I do not mean anyone any harm!” she sat on a rock just against the wall. “How did you get here?” Jo Anne stood next to Dane. She was not afraid, but she was suspicious of the stranger. “I was a part of a group of humans that crossover into a strange portal. The people are poor, homeless, criminals that were drawn-in by strange evil looking creatures. The humans were consumed into the dirt and then emerged to look like you. They ate some strange berries, their eyes turned blood-shot red, and then they turned evil. I escaped before eatting the berries and transformed into you. I walked until I found the river and then I saw that unicorn. I followed it here,” Mrs. Rohana sat her staff down. “Why did you crossover from earth?” Shane approached her. “I was curious of the portal. I wanted to see where it lead.” Mrs. Rohana leaned forward and turning her eyes onto Shane. “Where am I?” “You’re in the land of Noal!” Dane stood in front of her. “I’ll bet the stars or gods created Noal because of earth’s disastrous lands?” Mrs. Rohana adjusted her cape. Jo Anne glances at her husband. “Yes, how did you know that?” “Earth is pretty filthy. It does not take scientist to figure out that Noal is the new world, not meant for humans. I’m guessing you, centaurs, were once humans and the unicorns were once horses.” “Yes!” Dane’s eyes showed a surprised look on his face. “We chose to get new bodies after I lost my fight with Darkly. We were given the bodies of horses to stay in Noal and we kept our earthly names to remember our ancestors. I was a sergeant on earth, but here, I’m a warrior of peace.” “Well then, I think you have a big problem on your hands. The monsters that took the humans, now are centaurs themselves, and they are planning to attack you and the unicorns.” “How many were turned into centaurs?” Dane quietly listened. “A few hundred, but I think the leader has gained the power to create more centaurs.” Mrs. Rohana again grabbed her staff. “If he does, then the ground must have transferred some of its power to the leader, his name is Darkly. I fought with him when we saved some young unicorns. The other beasts are called Black Antars. They were created by the ground out of jealousy of the stars.” Dane turned away from Mrs. Rohana because the story made him miss his old body. “Why?” “Because the unicorns paid greater homage to the stars after they were turned from horses into unicorns. Now the ground seeks to destroy the unicorns, but it has to do so by creating new beings. The stars and ground agreed never to kill living beings on their own, so that’s why the Antars were created.” Dane explanation intrigued Mrs. Rohana. “How does the portal open?” Mrs. Rohana sat and waited for an answer. Dane returned his eyes back on to her. “There are twelve black stones on earth. If four black stones are place in a square, then the portal will open. Odd numbers of stones will not open the portal, but five stones will, but only in its original size. To make the portal larger, you must place even-numbered stones in a square. The largest opening would be the twelve stones placed in a square.” “How large would be with twelve black stone placed in a square?” Dane’s eyes grew wider in size. He leaned forward with his arms spread apart. “Large enough to suck in the entire earth, the stars, and all the plants,” Mrs. Rohana understood Dane’s fear and the council’s urgency to find the stones. “On earth, we call that a black hole,” “Yes, I know. This is why we must find the black stones and return them to the stars.” “How do you think you can help us?” Jo Anne asked with her arms crossed and her eyes looking directly at the stranger. Mrs. Rohana explained her ideas about how get the stones back to Noal. “If we can get me back to the portal, I can cross back over to earth, and I collect the four stones and pass them to you and then I can search for the other eight stones.” “What if you can’t pass the four stones before the portal closes?” Shane turned sideways and crossed his arms. Mrs. Rohana stood up to relieve her sore back, “then, I will collect the four stones and hold them until I can find someone to crossover into Noal. I will give the stones to that person. The stones will be safe with me.” Dane retrieved backward. “Yes. But how would you know that you can trust that person?” “I will search for a person that will learn my craft, probably a girl that I can train the art of being a witch. I can keep watch over Noal by my wall of visions. When the time is right, I will tell her the story of Noal, and maybe she’ll want to join this land.” “What is a wall of visions?” Toro with his long beard stepped forward to ask. Mrs. Rohana took out a small draw-string grey bag from her inner pocket. She opened it and pulled out some dust. She threw the dust onto a wall of the cave. Images of a house on a street suddenly appeared on the wall. The images showed people walking along the street and other scenes. “This is my house and street. With this dust, I can see anything, any time, and anywhere I want.” Dane looked bewildered at the images. “Can you see anywhere in the land of Noal with the dust?” “Sure.” “Show us where the Black Antars and centaurs are gathering!” Dane leaned forward with curiosity. She demanded, “Show the Black Antars and centaurs in the land of Noal!” The wall of images shifted to show the Antars training the centaurs how to throw spears at targets. The army appeared large in number with anger and hatred in their red eyes. Dane grabbed his spear. He turned to face the young witch. “Wow! You have a powerful skill in your craft, but it does not look like we have much time. The Antars look like they are preparing for war. Are you sure that you can collect the stones, if we get you back to earth through the portal?” “Yes, I can do it, but how are we going to open the portal from this dimension?” Mrs. Rohana rose to stand up to lean on her staff. “ Yuno, do you think that you can ask the stars to open the portal when we get to the mountain?” Dane looks towards Yuno’s direction. Yuno nods up and down. “Then, let’s get moving! Yuno, Adjuno, Jo Anne, Toro, and I will be your escort. I’m guessing the portal last opened in the forest of Insignia north of Noal.” “I think so. It was on a large mountain!” “Yes! We must leave now!” Dane added. The five council members and Mrs. Rohana set forth on the journey to the mountain in northern forest of insignia. In the east lands of Noal, in some barron cave, just beyond the grassy edge of the forest, the army of Antars and centaurs were practicing their fighting skills and making weapons to kill all enemies. The east lands were bare without any colorful plants and flowers, no living trees, and no sweet fruits. This land was known as the dead-lands. The eastern waters were pitch-black with very little life. This was an area that not even the unicorns and centaurs cared to go. Darkly and the Antars were carefully at work making more black centaurs. The ground and Darkly had made a pack with one another to help each other to create dark beasts. It was during this time that Darkly formed from the dirt an evil looking monster. This newborn brute had scaly skin, wide eyes with cat-like features, a large snout with hideous fangs, bat-like wings, and a tail with pointy spikes. Darkly fed the newborn animal dirt with fire-lit ashes. The unsightly monster was given black water to drink. It was kept on chains in the cave to conceal it from others. Darkly stroke the ugly beast’s head and whispered in its ear, “You are Dag! My greatest creation… My fire-breathing dragon… In a few years, we will feed you the flesh of unicorns and centaurs with fresh blood. You will live with me forever.” Darkly grumbled and laughed as more centaurs sprung from the ground. In the meantime, Dane and the other group walked in the deep forest. The suns shined through spotty grey clouds that looked like they were ready to drop rain. The wind blew ever so gently towards the group. In the distant, soft clasps of thunder could be heard after a few strikes of lighting that lit-up the forest. Everyone marched toward the forest on Insignia. No one knew what to expect once they reach their destination. It would be the first time any human or being tried to cross back to earth. The stones were created to bring elements and beings to Noal, not the reverse. This was a journey with hopeful results. Everyone knew that Mrs. Rohana might have been chosen to be the keeper of the black stones. It was as if the stars had been watching what the ground had done, and in the silence of the night, they hid a bit of good inside the evil deed. It was true that Mrs. Rohana gave the land new hope for peace. A sudden noise stopped the travelers in the tracks. “What is it?” Mrs. Rohana’s eyes opened wide as fear entered them. Dane stopped and pulled off his bow and armed it with an arrow. Toro position his spear in both hands for battle. Jo Anne also drew her bow and arrow. They all watched the distant forest for danger. Yuno and Bluro shook nervously as they detected strange invaders just ahead of them. Dane kept watching for predators. “There’s something out there, but I don’t know now what.” Danes use all his senses to pick up the tracks of the intruders. Dane, Jo Anne, and Toro slowly moved forward as their eyes scanned the trees and ground. Suddenly, a spear flew between Jo Anne’s and Dane’s head, but it hit nothing. Dane returned fire by shooting his arrow. A soft thump sounded as it hit the ground. Dane and the others ran towards the body. As soon as they reach the area, an Antar lied dead on the ground. Dane looked to his left as an arrow just missed his chest. A black centaur stood a few yards away. Toro also spotted an Antar in a tree. The repulsive beast shot his spear at him, but it only stuck in the dirt. Toro quickly pulled off his slinger, added a stone to it, spun it around a few times, and shot the rock into the tree. A few leaves and branches with drops of black blood fell onto the ground as the Antar tumbled down afterwards. Dane drew closer to the evil looking man with four legs. He eyed the muscles of its body, the largeness of his arms, and the emptiness in the red eyes. Dane was looking for signs of human emotions in the eyes, but all he saw was anger and hatred. The two focus their eyes on each other trying to search for weaknesses in one another bodies. Dane knew that Darkly had sent the wild man-horse to test the strength of his new creation. It was the Centaur versus man-horse fight, for in Dane’s eyes, the creature was not worthy of their name. This was a fight of equal body strength, and the match for dominance. The man-horse moved sideways with Dane mimicking every motion. Dane pulled off his bow, armed it with an arrow, and shot at him. The foe turned sideways to dodge the speedy arrow. He then charge at him. Dane dropped his bow and returned the charge. The two centaurs collided in hand-to-hand combat. Dane threw a right hook that landed on the enemy’s jaw. The man-horse countered with a left hook, but he missed the face. Dane swung with several punches to the gut. The enemy drew backwards. Dane turned backwards and hind-kicked the half-man in the face. The man-horse opponent drew back again, and lunged forward to kick with his front legs. Dane caught a spear that Toro threw toward him. With the evil centaur still in mid-air, he thrust the pointed head into its heart. The evil beast howled loudly in pain, stumbled around the ground for a few seconds, and he fell to his death. Dane and the others stood over the dead man-horse. Dane felt a frustration and sadness in his heart. Although the beast was created for the purpose of war, Dane did not enjoy killing the living being. Noal was supposed to be a peaceful land, but now, evil threaten the calm land. Centaurs were warriors and guardians, not killers. Darkly created these man-horses to enslave the goodness of the land and to destroy its inhabitants. Dane’s heart sank as he pulled the spear from the ugly monster. The group took time to bury the dead man-horse. It was a sad day for Dane and Jo Anne. They both new that war and death was looming for Noal. Dane wiped off the bloody spear. “This is only the beginning of Noal’s dark times. This Centaur was sent to test our weakness. There will be more attack on us.” Jo Anne touched her husband’s arm. She gently caressed it and looked into his eyes. “What are we going to do? “We are going to get Mrs. Rohana to the portal. She has to go back to earth. We must have faith the she can collect the twelve stones. I must kill Darkly.” Dane hugged his wife and moved forward. The others followed behind him with fear and uncertainty in the journey. No one knew of the dangers ahead. It was a quiet walk through the forest as rain slowly began to fall. Later in the evening, Darkly was hard at work training his army. An Antar returned from the forest. Dane and the others neglected to detect him as he hid in a tall tree. The Antar’s job was to stake-out his small band of troops. Darkly yelled and snarled at the centaurs and Antars as they threw their spears at targets. He stood on high platform and watched as everyone threw spears. Some of the spears hit their targets in the dead center, while others missed the marks all together. The rain fell steadily in the dark forest of the dead-lands. Darkly waited for words from the returning Antar. He yelled, “Ready!” The other Antars and Centaurs aimed their spears. “Fire!” Darkly lowered his firing arm. The spears flew about thirty yards before hitting their targets. Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump! The spears struck their marks. “Again!” The returning Antar stepped up the platform. He stood face-to-face with Darkly. “Well! How did the centaur do against their leader?” Darkly looked directly in the eyes of the Antar. The Antar looked back at him. He nodded with “No!” Darkly lifted his right arm and swung at his messenger. The head of the Antar quickly fell off. It rolled a great distance as blood splattered everywhere. The body fell to the cold ground. Darkly turned to face the army again. “Let’s get to work! I want to see spears hitting targets. We will hunt-down our enemies, take them as slave or kill them, and drink the blood of the unicorns.” Darkly called another Antar to him. “Garr, take four Antars and two centaurs to the mountain in the forest of Insignia, and bring me the travelers. They are taking a human to try to send her back to the other world or they’re trying to bring in more beings. We cannot let it happen. They are searching for the stones. Now! Go and bring them to me or kill them all. And bring their bodies to me!” Garr turned and took the centaurs and Antars with him. Deep in the wilderness, the travelers sat around a warm-lit fire. The suns were setting in the eastern skies as a slow drizzle fell on them. Mrs. Rohana sought the comfort of a tall tree with thick leaves. The tree helped her to keep dry. Throughout the evening, fireflies and other insects flew around the camp. The air smelled of fresh fallen rain and the wind blew gently against the trees. The travelers shared in an evening meal of red berries and dry bread made by Jo Anne. It was a calm and peaceful night as though as no evil dwell in the land. Everyone wished that this night was just another journey to visit a new territory, but the travelers knew that Darkly was coming for them. Yuno and Adjuno stood behind some rocks resting peacefully. They watched the others talk to Mrs. Rohana. “How did you escape the fate of the humans that were lured into Noal?” Shane poked in the fire with a stick. “I was the last human to crossover into Noal. I saw what was happening with the other people, so I slowly slipped away as Darkly gathered his centaurs. I don’t know why the ground didn’t suck me into it, but I walked away without being noticed.” Mrs. Rohana sat on a broken log while her staff. “The stars must have protected and guided you.” Dane walked towards Mrs. Rohana. “I tell you Dane, I was pretty scared being in a new land. I did not know what those beasts were, and if they would kill me.” “So why did you crossover into Noal?” Dane popped a berry into his mouth. Jo Anne and Toro sat comfortably on the ground. “Truthfully, I don’t know…. I was sitting on the mountain with the group of campers, thinking about my husband, I saw everyone going through the portal, and I went through it without thinking about the consequences. I must have something to do or learn here.” “Where is your husband?” Dane fed both unicorns berries. “Oh, he’s no longer living. He was killed by a practicing warlock named Black Sun. They got into an argument about who should lead the group of witches and warlocks a year ago. They drank too much beer, and they pulled knives on one another. Bill was too drunk to defend himself, so Black Sun killed him. The son-of- bitch got off because the jury said that it was self-defense. I went camping to get away from the house. It was the one year anniversary of his death. I guess his fate is what brought me here. I don’t know, but maybe his death is what may save Noal.” Mrs. Rohana sat starring into the fire. There came a silent mood among the group. The fell off and on throughout the night as Dane and Toro watched for more attacks by the black centaurs and Antars. It was not a hard rain. The rain was more calm and warm, like a hard mist. This rain attracted all types of insects towards the campers. Mrs. Rohana was especially fond of the fireflies. They drew to her like bees on honey. The fireflies seemed to be able to communicate with her unlike any other insect. This was strange to the others because fireflies never spoke to anyone. Mrs. Rohana placed her hands together. A single lit firefly landed in her palm. The fly spoke in a high-pitch tone. “There is evil heading towards the mountain in Insignia. I came here to warn you. Be careful!” The firefly gently flew off as the group slept in the night. Dane, Yuno, and Adjuno stood quietly around her as they watched the firefly fly away. “I never seen fireflies so attracted to a person.” Dane knew that Mrs. Rohana received some kind of message from her little friend. Mrs. Rohana sat back and closed her eyes. “I can understand the minds of animals if they don’t close down on me.” “What did it say?” Mrs. Rohana leaned forward, opened her eyes, and put her hand on Dane’s shoulder. “There’s evil heading to the mountain. Darkly sent more centaurs and Antars to kill us. They did not say how many, but they want us to be careful. We must be ready for anything.” Yuno pumped Mrs. Rohana on the hand. “What are we going to do?” Dane and Mrs. Rohana spoke at the same time. “We are going forward in the morning.” Dane looked at Mrs. Rohana. He had forgotten that she could also speak to animals. He smiled, turned to looked at Yuno, and returned to his post for the rest of the night. In the morning, Mrs. Rohana and the other were well rested. Toro the elf stood ready to move forward. He shot a rock from his slinger at a tree limb. He believed that warriors could never practice enough with their weapons. Dane and Jo Anne stood watching as Mrs. Rohana ate her morning fill or red and yellow berries. Shane doused out the small fire while Yuno and Adjuno stood prepared to travel. The rain subsided and the suns was warming the cool air and wet dew. In the distance, birds sang songs of mating while the trees swayed gently in the wind. The day seemed peaceful, but everyone knew of the pending day. Dane picked-up his bow, hung it across his chest, swung his bag of arrows his back, and lifted his spears. “We are closed to the mountain, maybe by midafternoon or late evening, we should reach the mountain. Mrs. Rohana why don’t ride on Jo Anne’s back and Toro, you can ride on Shane’s back. We will cover more ground if we carry you two.” Mrs. Rohana rises up, lifts her staff, and walks over to Jo Anne. She giggles. “I never thought in a million years that I would be riding a centaur.” She climbs on, and balances herself. Jo Anne lifts her spears, looks back at her. “I never thought that I would be a centaur, giving a ride to another human.” Everyone broke out in laughter as they started their journey through the forest. Deep in the eastern forest, Garr the Antar with two other black centaurs ran towards the forest of Insignia. Along the way, they encountered a heard of goats feeding in a clear pasture. Garr and the centaurs were very hungry from their night-time travels, so they decided to take a small feast on goat meat. This was an ideal moment to practice their predator skills and fill their empty stomachs with fresh bloody meat. Garr and his centaurs slowly crouch down, drew their spears, and calmly walked towards the unexpected goats. Garr drew closer and closer. The centaurs spread five yards apart, slowly drew close to a single goat. As Garr position himself just a few feet away, he threw his spear at the innocent animal. The goat squirmed in pain, kicked around, and fell to its death. Garr pulled out the spear as the other goats ran away. “Meat is ready to eat. Centaurs! Eat quickly! We have other centaurs and unicorns to hunt.” Garr ate enough to appease his hunger as the band of hunters continued their evil journey to the mountain. Upon riding on Jo Anne’s back, Mrs. Rohana scanned the forest to take-in Noal beautiful flowers and tall trees. This was a land unlike earth. The air was fresh with sweet scents of wild flowers of reds, greens, yellows, and blues mixed with tinted light and dark colors of pinks and purples. Some of the trees were so tall that she could not see the tops of them. Sometimes she would notices bee-like insects pollinating the big flowers that grew next to the trees. The suns rays illuminated the entire land with bright colors. The ride made her wish earth had been such a paradise to her eyes. Mrs. Rohana softly spoke as they continued the travel. “What is it like to be a centaur?” She hoped not to offend anyone by the question. Jo Anne was the first to speak. “I was scared at first. Dane was the first to crossover into Noal. We later found out that we were stuck here for life. I wanted to kill Dane for luring us into the portal, and I blamed him for getting us into the war. But then, he got injured by Darkly, so the stars gave a choice, become a different creature or be killed. We chose the transformation.” “What was it like to be transformed?” Dane pulled back to meet his wife. He smiled in gratitude and in love for her forgiveness. “It’s like being reborn with the bright lights, but no pain. I was also scared at first, but I enjoyed the new body and the freedom of our land. Do I miss my old body? Sure! Centaurs are bigger, so the Antars have a larger target to shoot at. Whereas being human, I could hide in trees and swim under water. But as centaurs, we are stronger and faster, so it even-out in the end.” “Why doesn’t the stars like humans in the land of Noal?” Shane moved forward just on the other side of Jo Anne with Toro still riding on his back. The three, Dane, Jo Anne, and Shane were now trotting side-by-side one another with Yuno and Adjuno behind them. “We believe that the stars are afraid if they let humans into Noal, then they will destroy its beauty. According to human history, humans have always sought to create and destroy. We, as once humans, seek the destruction of our enemies, and we were willing to destroy the very land to do it. Here in Noal, we live of the land free from the political agendas of political people. Do we miss our human life? No, not at all,” Shane explained. Dane stopped for a moment. “I’m sure that there might be humans in Noal someday, but not now. I think Noal must need humans as protectors before the stars would allow them here. I believe that the stars are testing our skills before they seek the help of humans. If we fail to protect Noal, then the stars will give us human input.” “Well, I think the stars will see how some people are needed to keep peace in Noal.” Mrs. Rohana leaned forward and spoke to Dane. The wilderness was treacherous and bumpy for the riders. Mrs. Rohana and Toro held to straps created with tree vines. Dane and Jo Anne, especially her, never realized how heavy the human body weighed. The ride generated a feeling of sympathy for horses and unicorns. They never had to give rides to people. Horseback riding was just something everyone did. There were people the care for horses, but in most cases, they were just as cattle for transportation. With the evening coming soon, the travelers stumbled upon a patch of bloody grass. A heard of white goats stood near a river bank a few yards away. They appeared somewhat startled, but the animals kept still. Dane and the others circled around the pool of blood in the grass with remains of bones, organs, and flesh left behind. Mrs. Rohana and Toro sadly looked at the dead goat. Dane’s scanned the area and then he looked down at the mangled animal. “They’re ahead of us.” Jo Anne turned sideways with Mrs. Rohana still on her back. “Do we know how far they are ahead of us?” Toro scratches his head and repositions himself on Dane’s back. “My senses tell me that they are a few hours ahead, may be less.” Dane turned towards the river. “We will rest near the river for a few minutes and give the enemy a few minutes to move forward. The further the distance between them and us, the more likely we can surprise them. I just hope they don’t surprise us. Yuno, Adjuno stay alert, we need your senses to warn us when they are getting close to us.” Yuno and Adjuno nodded as the galloped towards the rushing river. Mrs. Rohana and Toro jumped off the backs of their carriers. The fresh cool water felt good running down the throats of the travelers. In the distance, hawks flew around the mountain and trees. A deer and her young doe drank water on the other side of the river. In the trees, birds tended to their nest of baby birds. The suns’ rays reflected multiple colors like a rainbow against the mist from the splashing waters. Mrs. Rohana rested on log. She had been there before a few days earlier. “I have never seen such beauty. On earth, I would never drink water from a river. I can see why the stars reject humans. I haven’t seen wildlife since I was a child. You have a beautiful land. It’s worth defending.” Dane turned towards Mrs. Rohana, he looks in her eyes. “You could stay here.” Mrs. Rohana lifts her staff and clears the mud from it, “I cannot… My husband is dead, and I need to be buried along-side of him. I miss Bill. Besides, you need to find the black stones. I think that I can better serve you and Noal by getting back to earth.” Her eyes began to water from sadness towards Bill. Dane and Jo Anne stood silent for few moments. “Well, Jo Anne and I are happy that you came to Noal, and we’re glad that you are on our side.” The others gathered around her. It was time to finish the journey. As Dane and the others traveled up the mountain, they could see a multitude of footsteps heading up the mountain. There were tracks leading up to the area where the portal last opened. Some of the prints were deeper than others. Dane’s mind sense that the deeper tracks were from the Antars and centaurs waiting for them near the portal site. Everyone remained quiet as they traveled ahead pass every tree, bush, and stone. They kept their eyes fixed on the road ahead, looking at every high tree and pass all tall bushes. The Antars and centaurs were out there somewhere, but where, no one knew. The only sounds from the group were the thumping of hooves hitting the ground. Silence was their friend and foe. It was good to be quiet to avoid detection, but silence also made their hearts pound harder when they heard a slight noise such as a falling branch or a bird pecking on a tree stump. Dane looked at Yuno and Adjuno as they began to jitter. “Do you sense danger ahead, my friends?” Dane whispered, he drew his eyes ahead. Yuno and Adjuno nodded with a soft neigh. Everyone drew their weapon of choice. Mrs. Rohana and Toro slowly climb off the backs of Jo Anne and Shane. Toro now walked ahead of Dane with a rock in his slinger, his eyes scanning high in the trees, his nose searching for the smells of Antars, and his eyes listening for unusual forest noises. As they drew closer to the site of the portal, the suns began to set for the evening. Shadows from tall trees loomed in every directions. A flock of birds flew off of the trees heading south as though they themselves sense dangers. Only the insects could be heard in the trees as everyone watched for the enemies. Dane made a quiet gesture by putting his index finger to his lips. He spotted a dark creature in a single tree. Everyone stood motionless as Dane took one step after another towards the tree. With his bow and arrow drawn and ready to be released, he stood under the tree. A single spear fell from the tree and hit the ground. Dane released his arrow upward into the tree towards the dark figure. There was a loud “Thump” as the Antar roared loudly, fell while striking every limb along the way down, and then landing on the ground. This Antar was dead as a dark centaur revealed himself from behind a large bolder. The sound of Toro’s slinger rang out, but the rock missed the centaur’s head. Jo Anne threw her spear at the centaur, but she missed his head. Toro flung another stone at him, but he was quick to dodge the flying rock. Dane rushed towards the centaur with his spear at hand. Toro and Shane attacked another Antar that was hiding behind a round tree. Toro flung another stone at the Antar and struck him on his head. The pain from the hit gave Shane enough time to throw his spear. The spear pierce the heart of the Antar as it fell backward against the tree. Dane engaged in spear-to-spear combat. Spears collided in a triangle, they swung downward blocking each other’s swing, a jab towards Dane’s chest was blocked by his spear, he countered by a bare right fist, and the centaur countered with a left hook. The fight continued for a few minutes as another Antar crept up behind Dane with a spear ready to kill him. A large bolt of lighting darted at the Antar and killed him. Dane looked back to find Mrs. Rohana with her staff pointed towards him. He nodded a quick “thank you” as he continued jabbing at the black Antar. Dane and the evil centaur circle one another with eye-piercing glares towards each other. They were searching for weaknesses in their fighting skills. One circle, and another, and then a third circle. The two again collided with fist blows to the body and face. A right hook was countered by a left hook from the enemy. Dane threw a left jab to the nose of the centaur as blood flew in the air. The centaur countered with a left swing to the stomach. Dane pushed backward and shrugged off the pain. He again threw a right hook towards the jaw of the centaur, it landed squarely in the mouth, and he fell backwards with his hair clinging to the sticky blood. Shane yelled, “Dane!” as another spear came flying towards him. He grabbed the spear in midair and thrust its pointy head into the chest of the black centaur. The centaur froze in motion, looked directly at Dane, and slowly closed his eyes while still standing. Dane remained watching the centaur as it finally fell down. Meanwhile, Yuno and Adjuno stood in an open area of the forest. They waited there for a few minutes. A small image of a wavy circle appeared out of thin air. As the picture grew larger and larger, the ground shook violently. The vision of the other land soon appeared from the portal. Mrs. Rohana walked towards the wavy image. She turned to thank Dane and the others before passing through the portal. Dane remained in front of her as she crossed over back to earth. She stayed on the other side watching into Noal as Dane waited to receive the four back stones on earth. Suddenly, a large cry rang out from the direction of Jo Anne, Shane, and Toro. Garr, the lead Antar, pointed a spear directly into the neck of Jo Anne. She remained frightened and motionless as the sharp edge pressed against her tender skin. Garr held the spear tightly in his hand ready to be thrust into her neck. “Back away centaur. Wrap your arms around the tree, or I will kill her and your friends.” Dane sadly walked towards the tree, throwing down his remaining weapons, and hugging the nearest tree. An Antar took some vines, tied Dane’s hands together, and walked back to contain the hostages. “I’m not going to kill them or you. I want to see if you are good at tracking us. I need to put some time between us. We are taking your friends to Darkly. I’m sure he will do as he please with them. I just can’t wait to drink the unicorns’ blood. I will be as strong as Darkly, and we will live forever. Question, will you follow us on your own or will you go seek more help? Either way we will kill all of you.” Garr face directly looking at Dane as he sadistically laughed out loud. The Antars and another black centaur wrapped a rope around the chest of Shane and Jo Anne, binding their arms around the breasts. Toro was tied-up and horizonally placed on Shane’s back. Yuno and Adjuno ran towards them to try to rescue them, but an Antar threw ropes around their necks and tied them to the hostages. “I’m going to enjoy hunting and killing you. I COMING… I COMING FOR YOU!” Dane yelled as Garr pulled the rope of the two unicorns. Mrs. Rohana watched in horror from the other side. Dane remained wrapped around a tree. “Will you be alright?” She said. “Can you escape the tree?” Dane yelled back from the tree. “Yes, go and guard the stones! I will find my wife and friends!” “I will take the four black stones with me. I will guard them until I find the other eight.” In that moment the portal again close down. Dane was left tied to a tree, tired from battle, and alone in the forest while his wife and friends were being dragged away to a dark land.

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