Medievia Mudslinger

December 5, 2000

The Treacherous Trial of Two Twins in a Trading Trek, Told by a Tiny Tale-Teller in a Tavern - By Ralu

"My goodness, sir, you look terrible! What happened?" A short man with a handsome, boyish face and silvery-black hair leaned over the bar, peering down at a frazzled bartender. "Are those... ah. Well, if you were more hospitable to the gods, they wouldn't gag you like that. Oh well, a bartender should be a good listener anyway." Ralu stood a mere five and half feet tall, a man of average build and casual posture. His arms were always kept compulsively crossed, or at his hips. He had an energetic personality, and a certain innocent charm that made him quite loveable and, at the same time, quite frustrating to talk to. Ralu could be very naive, and this was annoying. He shuffled from one foot to the other. "No nectar today? Oh don't look at me like that, I was only asking."

"I don't spend a lot of time in the bars, as you probably have guessed, but I need to pass the time somewhere, and Medlink can be so bewildering this time of night." As he began to relax, Ralu allowed his hand, which would normally be snugly crossed into the opposite arm, to run slowly through the short curls of his graying hair. The bartender's social vulnerability at that moment made it easy for Ralu to leap into one of his "entertaining tales of adventure". Ralu loved to entertain. He saw this opportunity, and didn't waste any time. "As long as you're not saying anything, sir, let me tell you a little tale," he began, grinning, "that my son, Rayu, shared with me the other day. He's growing up to be just like his father, that little monster." Ralu chuckled for a few seconds, enjoying the paternal moment, and then regained his composure. "He and his sister Taya are starting to become adventurers, like their dear old dad." Another few seconds of chuckling gave the bartender time to sigh in resignation, as a bead of sweat appeared on his forehead. "Oh, I couldn't have adopted a more adorable set of twins.

"Rayu had been spending most of his days at the guild, training in the clerical arts. He was progressing quickly, but his guild master had expressed to me some concern over what he called 'Rayu's little problem with... concentration'. The pause before saying the word concentration is typical of the guild master, he tends to speak very slowly, and with great consideration. That guild master is quite a character. Oh I'm sorry, am I getting off track? You look bored. Are you?" The bartender snored softly to himself. "I'll take that as a no, and continue. So anyhow, Rayu was working on his conjurations for the Bless spell one night, and having a bit of trouble staying focused..."

"Soft eyelids closed over blue eyes, sealing off the warm light of the candles in the guild room. A spark of blue light flashed out a few feet from the child's face, and grew into a round ball the size of an orange. Euphonic mutterings, the voice of a boy, took physical presence from his mouth, swirling as mist around the blue light, giving it shape. 'The bird,' said the guild master, gently, 'concentrate on the bird.' Smooth, blue feathered wings sprouted from the ball, extending, then folding up against what was becoming a body. Rayu felt the spell taking shape, aware that he should then ask the gods to fortify his conjuring. 'Holy gods of Medievia, give this bird the power of Blessing, the power of...' Rayu's thin blonde eyebrow twitched. 'Flight. A bird must fly. FLIGHT!! Make the bird FLY!' The blue glow melted again into the orange-sized ball, then enveloped Rayu's body. Oblivious, he continued to pray. The guild master put his hand over his face and shivered with frustration. Rayu was being lifted off the ground by the glow, his head now only a few inches from the ceiling.

"'RAYU!' cried the guild master, breaking the boy's concentration. The blue vanished from around Rayu's body, and he crashed down onto an empty table. Groaning, he looked up in disbelief. 'You were close that time, boy. The gods stirred to answer your prayers. But you MUST start concentrating on your goals! We're sharpening your blessing spell today, not levitation.' The features of the man's face then softened, as he saw the disappointment in the angular, young face of his pupil.

"Rayu slid off the table and looked down at his feet. He felt small, and while looking down, realized that he was, in fact, very small. He let out an angry laugh, the frustration of a little child who is hurt that he can't grow faster.

"'I'm sorry, master. I just can't train any more today. My eyes hurt, and I'm... I'm tired' He was ashamed, and embarrassed. His master could tell that this was what he meant by tired.

"'Well, Rayu, I would suggest that you take some time to exercise the skills that you have, and get some more practical experience. Then, when you return, you will have the patience for more practice. Take your sister and find a way to train together. Two minds together grow faster than two minds apart." These instructions sent Rayu into a fit of eager excitement, and his eyes widened as he stepped hastily forward. The holy man knew that his pupil loved to go out into the world. He wanted to be like his father, Ralu."

After his last remark, Ralu chuckled a bit, and then took a short break for a glass of imported Gdangus banana juice. He fiddled in the pockets of his cloak, pulling out random objects to play with while he drank. The bartender, partially awake now, watched with disgusted fascination as the little man before him acted out a short puppet scene on the bar between two small wooden banelars. Ralu noisily slurped the last of his drink through a tacky pink straw, then continued his story as though nothing had happened. "On the other side of town, my daughter Taya was also deep in training. Taya, as you have probably heard, is the top student in her class at the mages guild, and a very well behaved little girl..."

"'And so you see, Taya, the most important aspect of the Acid Blast spell is even coverage. Remember, even coverage. Even. Coverage. The coverage must be even. Yes, it is very important to pay attention to the evenness of your coverage.' Taya sighed, looking down at her well-organized notes, where the words 'Even Coverage' were written only once, and not seven or eight times as her guild master would have emphasized. When he was finished speaking, the tiny girl stood up, pulled her curly red hair from her face, and fastened it behind her head with one hand while she conjured a generous blast of acid with the other. The acid streamed instantly from her hand, and across the room to three practice dummies. The coverage was perfectly even. All three dummies melted away simultaneously, and were reduced to smoking puddles by the time she had finished tying her hair back. She yawned and sat back down in her chair as the guild master hopped and hooted excitedly at her performance. 'Your progress is astounding my dear!' he cried, examining the puddles with a grin. 'I can't wait to tell your father. Why, you cast just as well as he did at your age." Ralu chuckled briefly after quoting the guild master, but having had his fill of banana juice, he continued the story and spared the bartender another puppet show intermission.

"So with the recommendation of her guild master, Taya was sent out on her way to find experience in the world of adventuring. Knowing the benefits of fighting as a team, she immediately sought out her twin brother. With the telepathic link they both shared, they made plans with each other to meet at the city stables, off Windstrider road, to discuss their plans.

"It was late in the evening when they both arrived, with all of their adventuring equipment on, and their supplies packed. They each prepared a horse for themselves, and then rested while they discussed how they should begin adventuring.

"'I hear that there's great money in Trellor city, fighting pickpockets and perverts!' offered Taya, who had a particular disliking for lecherous old men. 'If we fight enough there, we can collect equipment as well, and sell it for lots of gold.'"

"'I want more than gold Taya,' Rayu replied sensibly, 'I'm in this for adventure. I want something more... dramatic than wandering the streets killing thieves. Don't get me wrong, thieves can be very exciting,' he stuttered, 'but I want something with more of a... A sort of...'

"'A... a... a... A WHAT? Spit it out bonehead!' she rudely prompted him with a whap to the head. Taya was well behaved in class, but she was very impatient. Perhaps this had something to do with her rapid advancement and organized study habits. 'I could be killing nasty old men right now...' she reflected with frustration.

"Rayu paused, not hurt at all by his sister's rudeness. He understood her, they had grown up together, and they were twins after all. 'I'm thinking. Give me a moment.' The boy cast a quick spell of Create Food, a ball of blue light appearing in his hand and becoming a large hunk of cheese. 'Damn, cheese again. Why can't I ever create God Nectar...' he muttered to himself as he sat down and reluctantly took a bite."

The bartender winced and rolled his eyes at the mention of the nectar, then tried to occupy himself by cleaning a spot on the bar. Ralu was too involved in his 'tale' to even notice the bartender's silent contempt. As Ralu continued, the bartender inwardly vowed to never again leave a God unsatisfied.

"After a few minutes of mulling over his mozzarella, Rayu looked up with a curious smile on his face. He seemed to be working something out in his head, and when he spoke he did so very slowly and with great caution. 'I was standing near the fountain today, teasing a janitor, and I overheard a conversation between two men. I didn't catch their names, but I could tell that they were both warriors, and seemed to be sort of... well, dull. One of them said something about a flood at the Hidden Valley, where banana prices had skyrocketed. Does that sound interesting to you?'

"Taya stared blankly at her brother for a few seconds, then opened her mouth to speak. Not finding the patience to say anything lady-like, she closed her mouth again, and allowed herself a few seconds to calm down. When she felt she was ready, she said in a deliberate and controlled tone, 'You want me.. to... trade? I hate... trading. You just finished saying,' her voice was growing louder as she went on, 'that you wanted something more than money. What is there to trading... besides... money?' Magical fire danced in her eyes, as Rayu watched her stir herself into a fuming rage. 'Why do you do this to me Rayu? Don't you know by now that I have a temper? That I don't deal with ignorance well?'

"Now I should tell you," Ralu said calmly to the bartender, breaking the tension, "that Taya is not, by nature, a violent girl. And for you to believe this, which I hope you do, it is necessary for me to leave the ensuing 'conflict' between the two of them out of this story. I wouldn't want you to judge my poor daughter,' he explained after stifling a chuckle at the word daughter, 'based on one rocky incident between siblings." The Bartender, having long since rubbed out the spot on the bar, and the varnish under the spot, and a considerable chunk of the wood under the varnish, sat in mute helplessness, cursing himself for ever taking bartending school as a boy. "So let me just inform you now that the two of them eventually agreed that trading could have an element of excitement to it, and that they both met again the next day, this time at Gdangus, the best place in Medievia to find quality bananas.

"It was early in the morning when they mounted their horses, each of them leading a covered wagon full of ripe, delicious yellow fruit (paid for with money borrowed from yours truly)." Chuckling, "The sun was bright, and both children squinted and grumbled as they set out across the vast continent to the Hidden Valley trade post, far, far away. The two of them had never been early risers, preferring instead to sleep in the loft with the chickens until late afternoon. Knowing that there were probably thousands of miles ahead of them, Rayu decided to strike up a conversation.

"'Taya,' he began cautiously, still tender from the incident the night before, 'what do you think makes a good Hero? I see them all the time, running around in zones, doing... stuff. But sometimes I see heroes do awful things, and I wonder if they really deserve the title.' He fiddled with the pommel of his horse's saddle, looking up at the sky occasionally to check for bad weather.

"Taya gathered her thoughts and began to explain her opinion as they plodded steadily along. 'A Hero, to me,' she said in a scholarly voice, 'is someone who is brave, experienced, and who has wisdom to share with the younger generation of adventurers. A Hero should not be young, for this is unfitting of such a prestigious position. He or she should be someone with charm, inner and outer strength, and above all,' she over-enunciated, 'someone who will be willing to VICIOUSLY KILL ANYONE who tries to mess with us!' Rayu's gaze shot up from his pommel, looking at her with a startled and concerned expression. She merely grinned and turned her head to look at some birds perched on a bush nearby. The air was still, and Rayu's air of concern turned to one of suspicion, as he felt something stir deep in his gut.

"The silence was shattered violently by the sounds of a hundred flapping wings, as the birds in the bush suddenly took to flight all at once, obviously startled by something. As they flew hurriedly away over the canopy of trees, Taya and Rayu pulled their horses to an immediate halt, and dismounted with great urgency. 'It's an ambush!' cried Rayu, before rushing to a soft spot of earth, where he knelt and concentrated on a spell of Sanctuary for his sister. He said a quick prayer and a white glow enveloped her lithe body. He then did the same for himself.

"'I'd say bandits,' said Taya in a calm but firm voice, 'judging by the warning signs. We're lucky we got any warning at all.' She eyed her brother, who was hastily tethering their mounts and freight to nearby trees.

"'Good thinking,' she remarked. 'We'll leave everything here in case anything... happens.' The first tinge of fear struck her heart as she said the words and thought about the meaning behind them. In case anything happens... She suddenly felt vulnerable, but she knew that she couldn't let Rayu see that, or he would begin to panic. She had to remain in control. 'They'll be scouting for us, to set up an ambush. Our best chance is to surprise them, by making the first move.' She closed her eyes and, with a wave of her arms and a quick shout, she conjured a sparkling ball of yellow energy between her hands. Dropping the ball, she watched it expand as it hit the ground, growing to a large dome that shielded their horses and freight, and crackled with magical energy. 'Let's move.'

"The two set out along the road, keeping their eyes open for any signs of an ambush. Soon enough, Rayu put a hand on his sister's shoulder, startling her, and bringing them both to a halt. Pulling himself and his twin into a patch of bushes just off the road, he whispered to her, 'I see one. He's dirty and ugly. To the north, Taya. Man, he's ugly.' Taya squinted out from between the leaves, and spotted a bandit right away. He was a dark man, obviously part barbarian. His hair was matted and dirty, and he wore tattered skins, and a large curved sword at his belt. She shivered at the sight of it.

"'Here we go,' she warned, 'get ready for action.' Taya waved an arm high in the air, and motioned in a circle over them both. White dust shot up into the sky, and fell in a shower over the two crouching children. They both faded from vision. Stepping cautiously out onto the road, they crept towards the rogue, who was lightly dozing against a tree. He had apparently grown weary while waiting for someone to ambush, and Rayu smiled at the good fortune in this. As they came close to him, he stirred, sensing them there. To Rayu's shock and disappointment, the ugly man looked him right in the eye, and grinned as he pulled the sword from the belt at his waist. 'He can sense us!' cursed Taya at the futility of her invisibility spell.

"Wasting no time, Rayu sprang backward, and saying a loud prayer, conjured a blue ball of light. A thin beam of whiteness shot from the ball, straight into the eyes of the bandit. The cleric still couldn't get over how ugly that man was. 'He's got such bad teeth...' Rayu muttered as Taya jumped ahead of him and screamed arcane words at the man who was now flailing around in blind frustration. Razor-sharp shards of white and green ice shot forth from her palms at staggering speed, tearing into the clothing and flesh of the angry bandit. His screams of pain caused a stirring in the nearby trees, and two more bandits came running onto the road. 'Both as ugly as the first,' thought Rayu in disbelief. 'How could they let themselves go like that? I just don't understand. And the smell! By the GODS the smell...'

"'Stop standing there!' cried Taya, as she backed off a few steps, allowing the bandits time to size her up. They grinned when they saw that they were facing only two small children. The blinded, bloody bandit seemed less confident as he writhed on the ground, attempting to dislodge a long, thin icicle from his chest. 'We need a Tremor, Rayu. Knock them down!'

"The boy's blonde hair shook, and shimmered in the sun as he dropped to his knees and put a fist to the dry earth. Muttering a short plea, he lifted his fist again, and struck down on the ground with an open palm. A ball of blue light was crushed into the dirt as his hand touched down, and in a few seconds, the earth began to shake. Leaves fell from the surrounding trees, and small cracks appeared around the feet of the bandits, glowing blue. Confused, they stepped back, and shouted to each other in panicked voices. Suddenly the cracks spread out to great fissures, and one of the bandits, the wounded one, was swallowed whole. The sound was deafening. The other two staggered, and fell over each other, being tossed about by the shaking earth. When the shaking ceased, they were both in crumpled heaps on the ground, moaning in pain and cursing at Rayu and his sister. Rayu just smiled, and looked to Taya with satisfaction and pride in his eyes. He was confused when he saw fear on her face.

"'Rayu, behind you!' she cried in terror, and then screamed. Before Rayu could hear the savage howl that echoed in the distance, he crumpled to his knees in blinding pain as a large axe carved it's way deep into his thigh from behind. Taya screamed again at the hideous, hairy troll standing above her wounded brother. This scream was an angry one, and she leapt forward, ignoring the remaining bandits who were now beginning to clamber to their feet. As she continued to scream, her left arm began to change colors rapidly, reflecting a full spectrum against the metallic threads in her robe. As she took one last step towards the savage attacker, the color drained out of her arm through her hand, and took shape in the air as it sailed into the troll's face. In a chaotic dance of anger and confusion, the beast clutched at its eyes and howled in pain.

"Now Rayu hated trolls more than anything else in the world. He hated them more than Taya hated sooty old Trellor perverts. Rayu hated trolls with the fire of a thousand suns. This fire burned bright in his red face as it dripped with sweat. Healing his wound with astounding speed, he then stood up and began to chant a prayer so perfectly and with such concentration that even his prideful twin was taken aback.

"A second troll stepped out of the trees, grinning, its eyes full of bloodlust. Taya smiled back at it mockingly, aware of what was about to transpire from the familiar chanting of her brother. To buy him time she shouted, in a weakened voice, a few words that she had just learned in training. Knowing that they would not be powerful, she still managed to throw the last of her energy into the four thin bolts of fiery lightning that streaked down from the cloudless sky, sending the two trolls and each of the bandits into a short fit of rigid convulsions. Just as the second troll recovered and stepped forward, Rayu leapt from the puddle of blood on the ground, and thrust his hands toward the hideous target of his hatred. Small orbs of dark blue energy exploded from his palms, transforming instantly into white hot worms of burning light. As Rayu's hands clamped onto the shoulders of the startled troll, the worms dug their way in, tearing away large chunks of smouldering flesh. The boy yelled with rage as his powerful Harm spell removed the troll's arms almost completely.

"Both of them too exhausted to fight on, the twins fled into the nearby wilderness, confident that the struggle they gave their opponents would be enough to keep them safe for a while. Taya collapsed into the grass, her chest heaving. Rayu sat down, still bewildered from the draining passion of his last-ditch effort. After a few moments, Taya stood up and put another magical shield over the area they were resting in. Rayu looked at her arm and his eyes widened a bit. 'Taya, your arm is cut,' he said softly, as he stood to examine her wound.

"'I'm fine, don't worry about it,' she tried to reassure him as she took her seat again in the grass. He just shook his head, dismissing his sister's pride, and knelt down next to her. He summoned another of his blue spheres, channeling this one gently into the wound on his sister's arm. Her eyes closed as a euphoria took her mind for the few seconds that the spell took to heal her cut. 'Ok.' She paused, reluctant to admit her dependence. 'Ok, thank you Rayu.' He smiled at her and went to finish resting.

"When the magical room shield sputtered out the last of its energy, the adventurers were well rested and ready. The yellow faded, and shrank back to the ground into a small sphere, which disappeared with a pop. As the kids had expected, the two bandits and two trolls were waiting outside to finish the battle. It was evident that none of the savages had taken any time to recuperate. They all were still battered and bloody, one of the trolls standing farther off with two dangling stumps for arms. Rayu giggled at this, but was silent when his gaze shifted to the ugly face of a bandit. He shuddered, and shook his head, still not able to deal with such a hideous countenance. 'I hate that mole on his face,' he grumbled. 'Would you look at the size of that thing. God he's ugly. And I don't think it would kill him to fix that hair.'

"As though sensing the message of Rayu's unintelligible grumbling, the bandits started forward with blades ready. One of them was walking with an awkward limp. Rayu, still in a state of near hypnosis over the homely bandit, stood in place, shaking his head. Taya took the first initiative, throwing her hair back and then showering the bandits with spray of thick, acidic slime. 'Even coverage,' she mused to herself as the faces of the men became even more gruesome to look at. When they became too much for Rayu to handle, he closed his eyes and made the decision to put them out of their misery. Taking advantage of their painful distraction, Rayu ran between the two bandits and behind them, placing a hand firmly on each of their skulls.

"As he began to pray, Taya was steadily giving ground to the nearest troll, who was swinging a bloody axe at her, and narrowly missing with every swing. A few shallow cuts were appearing on her arms and legs, and she began breathing heavily as she sprang back and forth, trying to dodge the blade. As Rayu finished his final prayer, exploding the heads of the ugly bandits in a shower of heavenly flame, the edge of the troll's axe finally made its mark, lodging itself in Taya's thin shoulder. She screamed in anguish, grasping the blade of the axe and channeling a staggering blast of electricity through the handle. Her shocking grasp sent the troll flying through the air to land in a smoking heap a few yards away. Rayu ran to her, almost in tears, trying to summon up as much energy as he could to aid his failing twin. His healing powers of blue energy were not enough to completely remedy the wound in Taya's shoulder, but he managed to remove the axe blade and heal the gash enough for her to be out of serious danger.

"The armless troll, the last survivor of the assault, made a hasty retreat down the road. Too battle-weary to pursue him, Rayu and Taya just sat on the road, trying their best to make a quick recovery. 'He's headed towards our freight,' said Rayu in a serious tone. 'Do you think we can beat him there?' Taya shook her head in defeat, glancing at the still-wide gash on her shoulder.

"'I'm sorry Rayu. Our freight is as good as gone. We'll have to find our way back to the city and tell our guild masters the bad-' Before she finished her sentence, a pitiful wail resounded down the road, and an eerie silence filled the road. After a few tense moments, the children heard cheering from the same spot, and then the thudding of horse's hooves. The thudding grew louder, and as they watched a cloud of dust at the horizon grow closer and closer, Rayu and Taya could make out two brawny figures on horseback barreling down the road towards them. The figures were followed by two covered wagons, and as they sped past, hollering and hooting excitedly, Taya saw bananas spilling over the sides of their wagons. She stomped her foot in frustration. 'They must have finished off our armless friend,' she sneered, 'but now they have our freight.'

"Rayu smiled at her. 'Impossible, sis,' he said cheerfully, 'the Gods of Medievia make it impossible for mortals to steal each other's freight. I learned that in my earliest year of study. We clerics have a profound respect for the fairness and charity of the gods.'"

Ralu took a short pause from his storytelling, looking wistfully above him. The bartender, curious to know what foolishness was taking place now, stared at the spot on the ceiling of the barroom that Ralu's eyes seemed to be fixed on. Ralu rubbed his neck longingly, imagining how much he would enjoy feeling the weight of a mystical talisman there. When he was finished dreaming, he continued.

"Rayu and Taya rushed back to where they had left their freight and horses, and were relieved to find all of their things waiting for them. As they sped onward, they had to swerve a little to avoid the armless corpse of a warrior-slain troll. 'Those were the goons from the fountain,' Rayu informed his sister while they tried to make good ground. 'They'll probably try to beat us there, and if they do, their bananas will be worth more than ours! It's a supply and demand thing, you see...' Rayu began to trail off as he explained to his sister the system of supply and demand.

"'Yes Rayu,' she muttered with an exasperated sigh, 'I understand the concept. All we really need to do is make our horses move faster than their horses.' Rayu stopped his instructive reporting and shrank back in his saddle, his face turning red with humiliated defeat. 'Well then, let's move!' she cried, and they dug their heels into the horses' sides. Two long clouds of dust streaked down the road, followed by a blur of yellow. A trail of bruised bananas was the only thing left on the road when the dust cleared.

"My kids," Ralu concluded, chuckling, "made excellent time that day, reaching New Genesia by sunset. They saw no sign of their brawny competition, however, and when the first white stars appeared in the infinite, Medievian night sky, they were beginning to lose hope that they could beat the warriors to the Hidden Valley." Fiddling with the pink straw and empty glass on the bar, the bartender was breathing heavily, trying to ignore the restlessness he was feeling. All we wanted in the whole world, he thought, was for this man to get out of his bar and find someone else to 'entertain'. Ralu mistook the bartender's look of mental strain as that of rapt concentration, and smiled as he began to tell the final leg of his story.

"The twins agreed that they could have an advantage over the warriors if they stayed up during the night, plodding down the darkened roads. So they ignored their bodies' ever-present pleas for a soft inn bed, and continued down the road, past New Genesia. They rode all night, exchanging training stories to keep their minds alert. When the sun began to rise in the early morning, their eyes, bloodshot and shadowy, caught the first glimpse on the horizon of what looked like a newly formed ocean. Where the road would have normally continued downhill toward the Hidden Valley trade post, a vast body of water lapped against a brand new shore, and stretched out to the clouds in the sky on the horizon. Sure enough, on the edge of the shore, two covered wagons full of ripening bananas sat waiting to be sold. Seated in front of the wagons were two very large, very frustrated and hopeless warriors.

"'Good day, sirs,' Rayu barked in a mocking tone. 'Interesting weather, wouldn't you say?' Taya snickered at him, and the warriors grumbled to themselves, wishing that they could swim. Rayu raised his hand and turned a blue ball of light into a soft, round bubble. Placing one hand on his chest, he guided the bubble toward his mouth with the other, and swallowed it whole. His chest glowed blue for a moment, and when it fade, he gasped deeply. The warriors looked on with envy as he conjured another for his sister to swallow.

"'I don't suppose you have a couple of those nifty bubbles for us, do ya boy?' one of the warriors said pleadingly. The children ignored the two men, and mounted their horses, preparing for an underwater trek into the valley. Just as they were guiding their wagons into the shallow water, a piercing scream, followed by the howling of several hounds, sounded in the distance. Rayu's blonde hair stood on end.

"'Anal Nothrok!' shouted an inhuman voice from a short distance away. Rayu's face scrunched up as he pondered the meaning behind the somewhat familiar syllables. Taya giggled, but was silent when the noises of approaching hounds sounded in the cool air.

"The warriors laughed at the frightened children. 'Didn't you hear? He said ANAL NOTHROK! Don't you know what that means?' one of the warriors shouted as the twins' heads sank below the water as they fled. The other warrior turned to him and asked, 'Wait a second. Do we?' The two warriors paced back and forth, chanting Anal Nothrok again and again, trying to grasp some meaning from their memory banks. Occasionally one of them would chuckle and shake his head, dismissing something obviously unrelated.

"Movement was difficult underwater, but Rayu and Taya did their best to hurry along through the flooded wilderness, desperate to reach the trade post before the hounds could reach them. After a few minutes of urgently pressing onward, they paused to listen to the ominous sound of freight being destroyed. Gleeful howls echoed through the water, muffled and distorted, but intelligible. Taya glanced fearfully at Rayu, and they prompted their horses forward.

"As they grew closer and closer to the trade post, now visible to them as a large dome of magically supported air in the distance, the sounds of the approaching hounds grew dangerously closer. Finally, only a few yards from the safety of the dome, the hounds were upon them. Taya uttered a bubbly scream, and jumped back as vicious jaws snapped at her from almost every angle. Rayu swam a back flip, narrowly dodging a swipe from razor-sharp claws. Just as they began to think there was no hope, a shattering flash of yellow light blasted out in front of their eyes, startling and blinding them temporarily. Three of the five hounds curled up in convulsions, dying from the electric blast of a powerful shockwave. The last two hounds were promptly sliced in two, and thick black clouds spilled out from their exposed inner organs. Too shocked to move, the twins just stared at each other until the water was still again. Two mighty figures stood before them, proudly grinning and wearing shiny gear of the best quality.

Ralu's chuckling was now uncontrollable as he told the climactic entrance of the mysterious heroes. The bartender's eyes rolled back in his head. He groaned at the predictability.

"One of the shining heroes stepped forward and ran a delicate hand through her long, beautiful hair. She smiled, and her strong eyes darted from one child to the other. A wide grin appeared on her soft face, and she stepped forward again, opening her arms. 'Auntie Metis!' the children cried, running to her and tackling her with passionate bearhugs. 'We love you auntie Metis!'"

"You see," Ralu explained, "Metis is one of the best avatars in the world of Medievia. Of course she isn't actually my sister, just like Rayu and Taya aren't technically my children." The chuckling came back for a moment in full force, then died down. "Metis trained me when I was young, and I grew up with a loyalty and fondness in my heart for her that can never be replaced. Of course, I wanted my children to meet her. I am so fond of that immortal."

The bartender tried to avoid Ralu's glance, knowing what would happen if he showed the slightest interest in the story's conclusion. Instead of waiting for the bartender to look, Ralu bounded over the bar in a single leap, landing square in front of the bartender, and looked straight into his eyes. "I bet you're wondering who the other hero was, who cast the shockwaves and saved the kids? Right? Right?" The bartender gulped nervously, and nodded reluctantly, stepping back. "Well I'll tell you."

"The second hero stepped forward as Metis hugged her friend's children. His silvery black hair waved back and forth, its curls twisting with the flow of the water. He smiled mischievously, and began to chuckle. Standing only five and a half feet tall, the mighty mage hero ran towards the twins, shouting their names with pride and adoration. 'Congratulations kids!' he exclaimed, taking each of his adopted children into his arms and spinning them around. 'You finished your first trade run! I'm so happy for you, you're growing up to be just like your old dad!' He spun them around again, chuckling uncontrollably. Rayu and Taya beamed with pride and love as he set them down. There was a moment of quiet adoration between the four Medievians. It was such a happy moment."

The bartender did his best to hold back the gag reflex that stirred in this throat.

"As the four of us headed into the trade post to see what kind of profits were offered for bananas that day, each of us had something in our hearts that would never die. And today, as I sit here in this bar with you, sharing this precious moment... All I can think about is the warm, heavy feeling I get in my chest when... when..."

The bartender's tired eyes widened as he anticipated the sappy ending to an otherwise pointless tale.

"When I imagine the mystical talisman that I'm going to be wearing in a couple of weeks when this story gets published! God I can't WAIT!!! It's going to be sooo cool! Never mind that none of this stuff ever happened, it was a good story, wasn't it? Huh? Oh come on, don't look at me like that. You loved it! I saw the tears in your eyes when Rayu was healing his sister's wounds on the open road!" The bartender rolled his eyes and turned around, unable to explain that sentimental tears and bored tears can often look alike.

"Aren't you listening? Come on... Ok so you didn't like that story, well how about this one: A warhorse and an insect swarm walk into a bar... Ok ok so you've heard that one. How about: A Cleric a Mage and a Paladin are standing in the middle of the desert... Are you sure you don't have any God Nectar lying around here somewhere???"