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Fire and Ice
by Ruden Solic
Sat, 24 Feb 2001, at 1:21 p.m. CST

Ruden rode through the small village of Shadowmoor and felt a bit worried. The village was too quiet and empty. Where were the guards and the other rangers? Wasn't this the time Nathan had told him.

It was earlier that day when Nathan Longbow, one of the elders of the village and the Shadow Rangers, took him into the small druid tower where they could speak in peace. He spoke of vengeful mage Antarion who had devised the conversion crystals.

With these five crystals, placed in different villages across the land, including Shadowmoor and Winterfell, the mage could convert his evil magic into the summonings of creatures. Many times before he summoned the monsters from the crystals, but the villages had one advantage, an unlikely ally by the name of Lord Ventryn.

Ruden had heard of the name, but was not in the area when the name had significance. Lord Ventryn was a lich from the Deepwood crypts on the Felucca mirror plane, who had terrorized the city of Yew on that plane. Now the supposedly turned lich warned the very people who defeated him of Artarion's attacks.

Last eve, Ventryn had given another warning, directly to the village head guard, Okami. Artarion would release another attack from the crystal devices. An attack far more powerful then any yet seen.

Even with Ventryn's apparent good intentions, Nathan did not fully trust his former enemy. There was even suspicion among the people of Yew that Ventryn was truly working with Artarion and had even darker motives. Ventryn's warnings had not been false yet, however; and the Shadow Ranger had no reason not to heed him again.

Ruden promised he would provide all the help he could. He hoped his messages to the other Hearts would make it in time, but the notice was far too short he feared. And now, here he is.

In the center of the village, he stopped a village girl travelling by with buckets of water and asked her a quick question, since she was obviously in a hurry.

"Pardon me, lass, but where have the village protectors gone?"

"Alas, milord, they 'ad ta 'urry ta Yew an' 'elp defend against another deader attack."

"Ahh, by the Mother, this is bad timing."

"Indeed, milord. Ai 'ope they 'urry back. Rumors are spreadin' dat dat mad mage may strike at us again this eve!"

"Fear not lass, they shall not leave the village unprotected for long, especially with Artarion abouts, " Ruden said to her, reassuring himself as much as the girl. "Continue to your home, just in case the rumors are true."

The girl nodded curtly, picked up her load and moved but a few steps before the sky suddenly and unnaturally grew dark. The ranger's mare Thief fidged and whined nervously.

From the darkened clouds a bolt of lightning replaced the darkness and thundered shattered the quiet of the village. The bolt struck the mysterious crystal device that sat in the center of the village. One bolt after another struck the device producing a thunderous chorus that shook the ground.

The girl squeaked in fright and ran off, dropping her wooden buckets and spilling the water over the grass. Thief reared unto her back legs, with the ranger holding on for dear life and begging her to be steady and calm. With the Mother's gift of animal empathy, Ruden succeeded and backed the horse away from the powerful strikes.

After removing the parchment and inkwell from his saddle bags, he wrote a quick message in the trail code known to the ranger community, "Shadowmoor, Danger." He placed two fingers to his lips and let out a shrill whistle. From the treetops came a red-tailed hawk, whom Ruden focused on. Concentrating desparately through the sounds of thunder, he sent one image to the hawk, the image of Nathan Longbow. With a cry of acknowledgement, the bird dived at the ranger, stoled the rolled parchment from his hand and flew off to Yew.

The crystal began to glow and Ruden prepared for battle.

The lightning strikes ceased and the village was deathy quiet. The crystal device glowed quietly in the twilight cast by the dark clouds.

"What was that about?," Ruden said to himself.

"Artarion is powering up the crystals for another summoning," came an unexpected reply.

Ruden looked around and saw a woman standing near by. She appeared to be one of the druid of the village. Soon came Okami, Nathan, a few other Shadow Rangers and village protectors. In rode, The Free Corps with their mounted knights and spell casters. The lightning strikes began again and drowned out the orders of the arriving defenders. The heavily armored Free Corps and village guards took positions nearest to the crystal while archers, druids and mages circled around them.At least the village had a chance now.

The Ranger of the Heart greeted Nathan and stood beside him with a arrow nocked and ready. Thief had calmed herself and pawed at the ground and eager for battle. Ruden wasn't so sure she was ready for this. She has had never been in such a large battle before, against what could be truly frightening foes.

Once again the lightning had stopped and time passed. As the tension grew too much, Ruden eased himself and stared absently at the wooden buckets dropped by the girl, now smashed by the hoofs of warhorses. Ruden shook his head and blinked for he swore he saw the damp ground begin to steam. A second look confirmed his suspicion that not only was there steam but the mud underneath began to boil. The wooden slats blackened, smouldered and finally combusted under some unnatural heat.

All around the knights and guards, fires rose from the ground and took vaguely human shapes. Eyes and mouths looking like bright red burning coals glared with an infernal hatred. Yells of "Fire elementals!" rose across the village center.

The archers' wooden arrows burned and the warriors' metal weapons heated in the elementals' fire and did little but hold the elementals at bay. It was the mages' and druids attacks of magical energies that won the first wave.

As the elementals were defeated, the sound of baying was heard through the heated air. A pack of hell hounds appeared among the heroes, lunging and breathing fire. The mounted knights blocked teeth and fire with their shields and armored steeds, and cut the hounds down.

The next wave composed of serpents composed of molten lava. Not only did they have the flaming breath of the hounds; these creatures were so hot they blackened the ground and scalded any being near them. The archers' ranged attacks ripped through their molten hides, piercing vital organs. In the effort to avoid the monsters' aura of heat, the defenders were scattered. They recollected again in time to face yet another wave.

Daemons and a powerful blistering wyvern appear this time. Warriors ran among the hellish beasts, slicing wings and legs. Mages cast spells of destruction upon them and druids aided the warriors with spells of healing and blessings. The archers' aimed for eyes and mouths hoping for a dibiltating hit. Their combined efforts worked and with every beast not a single ally fell.

More waves of elementals, hounds and serpents came at them and again the defenders defeated them and survived.

Ruden looked over the troops and saw the same fatigue that was coming over him. Some of the bowmen were low on arrows, the magic users' energies were running dry and the warriors' armor and weapons were damaged from the intense heat. The great battle Ventryn prophesised had came true. Reports coming from the village to the south reported attacks by waves of ice creatures.

Desperately needed reinforcements were not coming, and that gave an extra hard edge to the evil laughter Ruden heard.

Of the creatures from the elemental plane of fire, the Efreeti were the most cunning. They toyed with the defenders like cats with mice using their elemental magics to divide the heroes. Ruden saw the order of the group crumble around him as he tried to put an arrow into an efreet chasing a druid. The larger number of defenders eventually caught up and overwelmed the efreeti, but not without a few losses of their own.

Ruden applied a cooling salve to a burned arm preventing the bandages from sticking to the wound. As he wrapped it, he prayed for the battle to be over soon, else the protectors would fall from exhaustion.

When Ruden looked up from his healing work, he realized he should of prayed for the strength to continue as another group of daemons appeared. This group was lead by a great daemon, whose very skin burned and eyes, filled with hatred for all, glowed a brighter red then even that of a elemental. Ruden heard a close by druid whisper in awe of a fiery fiend. Again, the warriors closed in on these monsters as before, hacking and slashing at legs and bellies. The druids, mages and archers let lose magic and projectiles at heads, arms and wings.

Ruden focused on the fiend and earned a direct hit into it's eye. It screamed and reflexively backhanded a nearby warrior, sending him flying and screaming into a nearby home. It stared directly at the ranger with it's one good eye and roared, letting lose a fireball from it's maw. Ruden spurred Thief barely out of the way as the fireball exploded beside them. The force of the explosion sent Thief onto her side, spilling him hard onto the ground.

When he regained his senses, he saw Thief has gotten back to her feet and was watching him intendly, as if making sure her rider was alright. Ruden saw a distinct look of guilt in the horse's eye. He grabbed the horses mane, pulled himself up and reassured her there was nothing she could of done to avoid that. Seeing the horse's selflessness made the ranger even more determined to see to the defeat of this beast.

He mounted the horse and rode her closer to the fiend, who continued to fight strong long after it's demonic comrades had fallen. He fired one arrow after another to join with the swarm of other arrows and spells from his allies. The fiend had not forgotten the ranger's painful shot and on spotting him focused it's attention on him. The fiend raised a flaming finger at Ruden and spoke the words of a spell.

At the moment the words left the burning lips of the daemon, Ruden buckled over in horrible pain over Thief's neck. He knew he had been poisoned and in his fatigued beaten state, it would not be long until...

At first, Ruden heard the sounds of many feet on cobblestone, loud voices advertising various merchant goods and music being played far off into the distance.

"Your friend seems to be coming around, young one," said a aged flat voice.

"Oh good!," piped the familar voice of young girl. "Ruden.. Ruden, are you awake?"

The ranger groaned and opened his eyes. Through a fog, he saw the face of an old balding man in a brown robe and the face of Rei, an unusually talented girl of Shadowmoor who was skilled in magic and with forging great weapons.

"Where am I?," said Ruden blinking away the fogginess.

"Yer at da healers in Britian. I kin'na got me runes mixed up and sent you here, instead of a closer place. I'm sorry," she pleaded.

He chuckled and smiled, "Don't be sorry for me, lass. It appears I owe you my life for getting me to a healer at all."

"If yer feelin' better I can get us back to Shadowmoor, with the right rune this time," she grinned.

"Am I good to go, good healer?," Ruden said to the man.

"Aye, the poison should of run it's course by now. Just don't be bothering more fiends from now on," replied the healer, seemly bored of the whole thing.

Behind the healer popped a spirit who started in a chorus of "OOOOoooOOOooOoooOOO."

The old man turned to face the new patient. "Yes, yes, I'll get to you already. Hey, didn't I resurrect you earlier today? Looking at you, I'd say you strayed from the path of virtue, yet again! But you deserve, yet another, second chance. An Corp!"

After watching the spirit's flesh return to him in a blaze of light, and being handed a fresh white robe, Ruden got out of bed and dressed into some pants and a shirt. With a wave of Rei's hands and the proper words of power, she and Ruden returned to Shadowmoor.

"I'm really sorry for sending you to the Britian healers. They are just so rude!," said Rei.

"I don't blame you, Rei. If I had to put up with bank thieves all day I'd be sick of life too," laughed Ruden.

"Ruden!," yelled Nathan who came riding up to them. "I'm glad to see you are well. Your items are stored on Thief and Slayne is taking care of her in the village center. The fiend has been defeated and the defenders from all the villages Antarion has plaque have gathered here as well."

Ruden thanked Nathan and Rei one final time before meeting up with Thief and his fellow Rangers of the Heart, Slayne and Quej, in the crowded village square.

At this point the shade of a knight appears before the crowd. Many recognise him as Xenthyl the Phantom. With his aid the united people locate Ventryn in his lair. A place only accessed by a teleporter in a far off cave on the Felucca plane. Interestingly, the word to active the teleporter is 'frostflame.' Ventyrn's lair itself is a mix of icy pillars and lava pits.

Ventryn is found with a severe hole in his head. With a bit of healing, he is able to speak with Okami. The man is lead out of his lair on Okami's horse through a moongate back to Shadowmoor where he is now a prisoner until his motives are discovered.

After a few stiff drinks, Ruden settles down for a long night's rest in the Shadowmoor barracks.



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