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Mor turned the cut gem carefully back and forth, letting its facets catch and reflect the firelight. It was not yet past midnight and Rieki had not returned from her hunting expedition into the sparse and scraggy bush of the wasteland surrounding the dragon’s former lair, so he was left to stand guard over his other companion, Cravan, who was snoring loudly from his bedroll on the far side of the camp. Unable to sleep, Mor had volunteered for the first watch. His attention focused on this single artifact recovered from the dragon’s treasure, he pondered the significance of his find.
To call the beast’s collection a hoard would have been too generous. It had consisted mostly of rusted and useless armor, weapons, goblets, cutlery, and the odd candlestick. Unlike what was told in most fables, dragons did not collect treasure; they made their nests like birds or lizards using whatever was at hand. Over the centuries, however, bones and wood turned to dust, iron rusted away to powder, and all that was left behind was the incorruptible precious metals and gems of legend. This dragon had been young and had not been in this lair long, much to the group’s disappointment. Still, the leftovers had yielded enough valuables to fill their pockets and saddlebags, with a couple of gunny sacks full of the better pieces of gear to pawn at the next blacksmith or merchant they met.
All it had cost them was the life of a farmer’s daughter. Mor felt a little bad for the girl. She hadn’t asked to be named in a prophecy or devoured by a monster, but it was what the Fates had decreed for her. If he and his companions should benefit from her demise, then who were they to question the greater powers that moved the worlds. After all, it would be a shame if the wench had died for nothing. Someone should come out ahead. That was how the universe stayed in balance.
His thoughts brought him back to the stone in his hand. Throbbing like a heartbeat, its power had called to him from the piles of debris. It was a relic of unspeakable power. He would have given his entire share of the treasure just to look at the stone. Indeed, he would have sold his companions into slavery to Alathanii pirates just to know it existed. Mor had expected it to weigh as much as a mountain when he had first reached down to pick it from the eye socket of a human skull, but it was light as though it were carved from bone.
The strange object was unlike anything he had ever saw. He twisted it to look at the strange runes inscribed on each of its twenty triangular faces. He couldn’t read them, and that worried him. He knew the something of all the languages written in the Seventeen Kingdoms as well as the basics of all the schools of magic. Even if he could not read the runes, he should at least be able to place them to a particular group, but these marking were completely unfamiliar.
A shadow passed by and snatched the stone from his hand. He yelped in surprise and leaned on his staff as he hurried to stand. He collapsed to the ground, landing face first as the shadow swept the support out from under him.
“What do we have here?” said a sweet elven voice. “Have you been holding out on us?”
“Of course not. Our deal was I get first claim on anything magical that’s not a weapon.”
“That goes for scrolls and staffs and such,” said Rieki. “This looks more like a gem to me.”
“And I saw you stuff that tiara down your bodice, you hypocrite. Now, give that back to me before you hurt yourself.”
“Why?” asked Rieki. “What does it do?”
“I don’t know,” said Mor, “and that should worry you more than anything else.”
The elf giggled and tossed the stone towards Mor, who reached out to grab it but missed. The relic struck the ground and rolled away from them. Mor scrambled after it, trying not to lose sight of it in the darkness. Crawling on his hands and knees, he found it again a few feet away. As he reached to pick it up, however, he found himself staring at the tip of a stranger’s boot. Mor snatched up the stone just before the man lifted him off the ground with one arm.
The soldier wore the emblem and armor of the Westwood Guard, as did his four companions who held their crossbows pointed at him. A fifth clad only in leathers held the reigns of their horses. “These are the ones, all right,” said one of the crossbowmen. “The tracks lead right to this camp, Knight Captain.”
“What have you done with the girl?” The man who held him must have been the one in charge as his armor was well polished and hardly dented, a good sign he was used to giving orders rather than following them.
“What girl?” asked Mor, making a faltering attempt at looking innocent.
“The one you kidnapped from the valley three days ago,” asked the Knight Captain. “Where is she?”
“Oh, that girl,” said Mor. “Dragon got her. Very tragic, that was. Took care of that monster for you, by the way. You’re welcome.”
“Look out.” called out one of the other Guards, raising his crossbow. “He’s got something in his hand.
The Knight Captain knocked the rune stone from Mor’s grasp and it went tumbling away back toward the camp. “We’ll take any treasure they’ve got as compensation for the family. Minus the obligatory taxes, of course.” The man threw Mor down on his backside and then he drew his sword. “Kill the mage first, then bring me the heads of the other two.”
“But which mage?” shouted Mor as he tossed a pinch of powder in the air. Instantly there were four copies of himself, all scrambling to get behind the cover of the nearby boulders. The Guard Captain took a swing at one of them, but it was just an illusion and turned to a cloud of vapor as he touched it. A crossbow bolt struck the rocks just as Mor clambered over them.
“Cravan!” yelled Rieki. “We have company!” She loosed an arrow which struck one of the guards in the shoulder, but the sound of snoring continued unabated from the other side of the fire. She nocked another arrow and let it fly. It struck Cravan’s helmet with a loud clang. “Cravan! You’re missing all the fun.”
“Cravan! Now would be a good time to wake up!” Crouched down behind the rocks, Mor sent out a sheet of fire that drove the men back and spooked their horses. He ducked down just in time to miss another bolt to the head, but now he was down to just two mirror images of himself. Two of the crossbowmen were keeping Rieki pinned behind a tree, but the remaining two soldiers and the Knight Captain had drawn their swords and were flanking Mor’s position behind the rocks. They would soon be upon him.
To be continued…
If you like this story, consider getting a copy for your self. The Problem with Prophesy is currently selling pre-orders at Inkshares. I’m publishing the first few chapters here as a teaser. If the book reaches 750 pre-orders before March 3, 2016, it will receive professional editing, design, distribution, and marketing. For more information visit Inkshares.com.