The Pomeran I woke up in a cold sweat after the worst nightmare I had ever had: a dragon killed my family and roasted my arm to a char. I knew I had to leave Hudson Hall, where I was born and raised. I had very fond memories, but it was time to leave. I grabbed my set of throwing knives; Golkan, the owner of Hudson Hall, had been very wise in teaching weaponry to his sons. Old Miroll had known everything there was to know about fighting. "Jodan," he used to say, "they's tree wys uv foiting: bay haynes, blides, ind wyth cluhb-toipe thins." He was almost unintelligible at times. There was Maglas, the arts master, who gave us music lessons and taught us how to play various instruments. He always used to say, "Torquo, ya siang frahm yer gowt, nowt fruhm yer throwt!" When he had a cold, he just stopped teaching for a while, partially because he felt lousy, partially because he knew we wouldn't be able to understand him. Then there was Acera. She was smart, cynical, and my best friend. When Maglas scolded me for singing off-key, Acera was always there for me. And when Miroll berated Acera for punching wrong, I was there for her. "Acera, I'm leaving. Will you come with me?" I asked. "I guess," she replied, suprisingly, with very little reluctance, "But we have to talk to Golkan first. We need to discuss some things." "Okay," I agreed,"But I hope this doesn't take too long." * * * * * "So. You're finally leaving. I knew you would. Jodan, I have to tell you something." "What?", I asked, dreading the answer with bated breath. "I'm not your father," Golkan said quietly. "WHAT!?!," I screamed. "I'm not your father," Golkan repeated,"and Kalla isn't your mother. I found you by a river, nearly dead. I took you in and told only Kalla about your origin. I never told you before because you were too young, but you are growing to be a man. I know why you must leave, but you must find out for yourself. I will give you packs and weapons, but the rest is up to you. I have faith in you. You must go to a place called Forlain, in Sacris. Go now." Acera and I left Hudson Hall. I spared one last look, before it disappeared beyond the bend. Suddenly Acera held her finger up to her lips and said,"Shh! I think I hear something beyond those bushes." We crept behind the bushes and saw a centaur saying, "I am Malach Olghan, the greatest woodsman in the kingdom. I must have faith. He will not desert me." I said, " Excuse me, but we couldn't help overhearing you. Who was supposed to meet you here?" "Be warned! If your purpose is robbery, it's useless. I have nothing of any value to anyone but myself. But if you must know, I was expecting Mecknor Kosp, a great friend of mine," Malach said. Suddenly a man with a battleaxe jumped out of the bushes. With one smooth movement, I slipped a knife from my belt and fired it with deadly accuracy. With an agonized scream, he collapsed. "The next one goes in your back if you don't tell me who you are and what you were trying to do," I said coldly as I retrieved my knife from his leg. "NO! I'LL TELL YOU! DON'T KILL ME!", the man screamed, "My name is Hiram Jonner. Igron Mottner hired me to kill Malach Olghan." "Ah, yes, old Mottner," Malach said through gritted teeth, "He and I have a lot of catching up to do. He was an old friend of mine, but we had a disagreement and parted ways, although I wouldn't have expected him to try and kill me." "I only went along with him because he threatened me! I would not have killed a fellow countryman otherwise! Please don't kill me! I'll help you any way I can!" Hiram cried pleadingly. "All right, Hiram, you can join us. Do you know anything special?" I asked, distrusting him. " That battleaxe was hollow,"he said ruefully," I carry it just to intimidate foes. I'm actually a sorcerer." "A sorcerer? What magic do you know?" I asked skeptically. "I know fairly advanced spells in most fields, but my specialty is war. Big surprise there. I trained at the Fellowship of Orientational Linguistics." "You went to a school named FOOL?" Acera asked. "Oh, shut up. That was our cover for the Academy." Hiram retorted. "You don't know the lay of the land around here, do you?", I asked doubtfully. * * * * * "No, I'm afraid I got here using magic. I have no idea what the local topography is," Hiram said regretfully. "Boy, you just love using big words, don't you?" Acera muttered. "I know what's where around here," Malach said suddenly. "Wonderful! You wouldn't know where Forlain is, would you?" I asked hopefully. "Yes, it's fifty spans north of here. Why?" Malach said, puzzled. "I need to go there. Golkan, the man who was like a father to me, told me to go there and I trust his judgment." I said wistfully. "I do not know this Golkan of yours, but something in your tone says I must trust you," Malach replied. " You know Golkan? How's the old rascal doing? I haven't seen him in ages!" Hiram exclaimed. " Yes, we know Golkan. How is it that you know him?" I asked, puzzled. "Golkan was an old friend of mine. I met him at an academic meeting. We got to be friends, and we got to know a lot about each other. Eventually, the academic meeting ended, and we parted friends." Hiram replied with a faraway look on his face. "I'm all for finding out about long lost friends, but let's get this show on the road," Malach interjected. * * * * * "Hiram, could you take us to Forlain? . . . . . . . .Hiram, we're not going anywhere,"I said. "I know; my powers aren't working!"Hiram exclaimed with a frantic tone in his voice. "Wait a minute, what did you say your name was?" Malach asked excitedly. "I didn't, but it's Jodan. Jodan Torquo," I said with a puzzled look on my face. "That explains why Hiram can't take you anywhere," Malach said, his face shining. " Explains what?" I asked. "You're one of the Chor-Dan. Every male must go on a quest and magic transportation spells can't help him. He has to journey by himself." Malach answered. "Well, then, let's get journeying!"I exclaimed. * * * * So we finally set off for Forlain. Hiram conjured up some horses so we could travel faster, and it must have been allowed, since it worked. Malach seemed to be able to find food where there was none available. Hiram acted a little eccentric; we could overlook that in light of his magical prowess. Acera seemed to be very nice to me; I'd seen this kind of thing on the farm, but I wsn't sure that it was the same thing. Maybe Acera just wasn't around other boys her age, so she directed her attention towards me. I wondered what would be in Forlain; maybe more 'Chor-Dan' who knew what I had to do before I could get rid of this impulse to travel; it was so disconcerting not to have steady tasks, however, it was also kind of nice. Being a Chor-Dan was not all that exciting. Yet. Suddenly an arrow bounced off the air around Hiram. "Attack!" he cried. I located the source of the arrow, drew and threw a knife. During our trip I'd had Hiram put a truth spell on the points of my knives. There was a scream coming from the woods; I looked for the body and said ,"Fashl! I hit his heart! Now he can't give us any information! Unless . . . Hiram! Can you bring this guy back to life? I want to question him." I said. "I'll try, but I'm not sure I'm that strong magically," Hiram said doubtfully. "You can do it. Concentrate," I said quietly but forcefully. Hiram gritted his teeth and closed his eyes. Under his breath he muttered, "Eka mem jemoin ivok bbohr." Suddenly the man on the ground moaned."Hiram, you did it! You brought him back to life!" I exclaimed."Ohhh," he groaned. "I feel woozy." "No wonder. This guy just brought you back to life," Malach remarked sourly, "which I don't think was a very good idea. I suppose you're another hit man paid by Mottner?" "Mottner? No, I was sent by Anika Vestref. He said he'd give me and my crew five thousand teqans if we delayed Jodan Torquo's party two days. Somehow I don't think I'll be seeing that money. Not me, not Gristun, not anyone except that scoundrel Vestref." "That's the Lord of the Estefen! He has the most powerful army in the world and he's paying some two-bit assassins to kill Jodan Torquo?" Malach said incredulously. "We weren't paid to kill him, we were just supposed to delay him," the assassin said ruefully. "Why are you supposed to delay me?" I asked. "Real smart, Jodan. You just told him who we are!" Malach said angrily. "You're Jodan Torquo?" Kiske said, smiling evilly. "I had my friend give you your life and I can just as easily take it back," I retorted. "Oh, this ought to be interesting," Acera muttered. "Typical male egotism." "Hey, that wasn't necessary," protested Malach. "He's giving us information, and you insult him-and everyone else here-for no sufficiently good reason? "I'm not a very nice person," Acera replied sarcastically. "And now, let us return to something more important than not being nice," I interjected pointedly. "Like why anyone, let alone the lord of the Estefen, would want to kill you, I suppose?" Acera asked. "I'd like to know that as well, sirrah. Why is he so important? And what is your name?" Malach asked. "My name is Kiske Annule. And how many times do I have to tell you this?," Kiske exclaimed. "I and my partner were hired to delay him, not kill him. And my Lord wants him because he's Chor-Dan, of course. They're very dangerous, especially when they don't know how to use their powers. If he can get one, and train it to serve him, he would be extremely powerful." he explained. "Yeah, but what if I don't want to work for him?" I objected. "Well, I don't think he is going to give you any choice in the matter." he said. "However, all this applies only if he gets me, and I have no intention of letting him do that." I said. "How did you locate us?" I asked. "I used this," and he drew out a black stone with red and orange striations on the sides. Hiram gasped, "Is that what I think it is?" "That depends on what you think it is," he replied slyly. "I think it's the Pomeran, but how could he have given that to you?" Hiram said testily. "It belongs to Dunethan, the wizard of the marsh. Unless. . . He stole it, didn't he? I thought he was an honest man, not a power-hungry thief." he muttered. "You will talk of my master with more respect, although Han knows he doesn't deserve it. But he is a nobleman, after all." he frowned. "Well, unless you're going to go back to your master, I suggest you continue your journey with us. We could use some help, don't you think, Malach, Jodan, Hiram?" Acera said wryly. "I have no objections. Malach, Hiram, what do you think?" I asked. "I'm fine one way or another. I don't really care," Hiram said. "I don't really trust him-" Malach started. "I'm right here, man!" Kiske interrupted. "Then go away for a bit," Hiram suggested. "No, I think I'll stay here." he said. "Then don't complain when we talk about you in an uncomplimentary manner!" Malach exploded. "I'll complain if I want to!" he shouted. "I wouldn't be yelling if I were you, seeing as how our wizard here brought you back to life, and he can take it away just as easily. Come to think of it, we could all take it away single-handedly." Acera said, with a deadly calm voice. "Now I definitely don't trust him," Malach growled. "Who would, after him yelling like that?" I exclaimed. "Okay, okay! Calm down! It's not that big of a deal! I'll go away, and you can decide whether I'm going with you or not," Kiske said. "See, now you're yelling again," Hiram replied. "Wait a minute. If he goes away, couldn't he just run away?" Acera said. "You know, with all the trouble he's causing, I don't think it's worth it to keep him," I interjected wearily. "Hiram, I think you can go ahead and release your spell," Malach muttered. "Let's have a vote. All those in favor, say aye," I said. "Aye." "Aye." "Aye." "Aye." "All those against, say nay," I continued. "Nay! Nay! Naynaynaynaynaynaynay!" Kiske screamed. "And the ayes have it!" I exclaimed. "Hiram, go ahead." "You can't do this!" Kiske protested. "Yes, I can. See?" Hiram replied, and muttered a few harsh-sounding words, and seemed to saw the air with his hands. Kiske collapsed, with a sigh. "Wait a minute. . . Why didn't I think of this before? Malforesnt!" Hiram exclaimed. "What?" I asked. "It's a mixture of adrenaline and steroids. They'll be able to run at twice the speed, so we'll get to Sacris in 20 hours." "Um, wouldn't that be a long way in the saddle?" Acera asked. "Yes, but you do want to get to Sacris, don't you?" Hiram responded. "Well, yes, but isn't it going to be kind of hard?" Acera objected. "Yes, but we're going to have to do it anyway, so we might as well get there as quickly as possible," I reasoned. "Alright, okay...just give it to them and let's get there," Acera grudgingly accepted. Hiram administered the potions to the horses and they zoomed through the prairies. After half of what might have seemed like forever, I finally caught sight of what seemed like a group of huts. "Finally ... we're there," Malach groaned. "Kwitcherwhinin," I said. Suddenly a group of horsemen appeared and "escorted" us to their village. "Welcome. We have expected you," one of them said in a low-pitched voice. "I don't call that a welcome," Acera complained, trying to pull her arm from the grasp of one of them. "Acera, now is definitely not the time," I warned in a low tone so our captors wouldn't hear us. Acera stopped fighting the man's grasp and his "hand" loosened a bit in response. "I am Chor-Dan Marek. For now you will sleep in these huts. I see you are very tired. In the meantime my people will have a Council meeting," the leader of this group informed us. I wondered what happened to others who weren't worse for the way. "Just a minute! I may be exhausted, but I'm also a Chor-Dan. Any Council meeting you have will involve me. Period. I can go peacefully or forcefully." "What a surprise. A member of a rogue band of captured wanderers claims to be a member of the Chor-Dan. Color me surprised. Why of course we'll let you observe, nay, take part in our meeting! Why I didn't immediately 'know' you were such a worthy man is beyond me," he responded sarcastically, moving his robe aside slightly to reveal a belt lined with bone knives, the sharpest and most dangerous dagger I had ever heard of. They were marked with the sign of Achmed the Cursed. "I see you've done some corpse looting. Care to hold the weapon of one who does not meet death so easily?" I knew this stranger would balk at my flying knives, which had been imbued for me before my birth by Ventar the Bloody. "So then you want to die? No one battles a Chor-Dan and lives. I doubt you could cut your way out of a paper bag with your 'weapons'." "Care to test that theory? You win, we do as you say. I win, ... I'll think of something when I win." "Correction: if you win. And you won't; of that you may rest assured. I have faced women more gifted than you and they are naught but notches on my belt." "Well, if you're both done telling yo' mama jokes, can we get on with this?" Acera jumped in. Wordlessly, my opponent jumped off his horse and motioned to his cohorts to move aside. "Okay, guys ... and Acera. Go half a mile back, and Hiram, put an invisibility spell over the lot of you." "Are you ever going to grow up and realize fighting isn't the answer?" Acera joked. "Last one. I promise. Now run along, kiddies. This shouldn't take terribly long." I turned my attention back to Marek, who had disrobed and was now wearing a simple tunic covered with magic leather armor, complete with steel-toed boots, bracers, a battle belt, gauntlets, a winged helm and a shield as tall as he was, which he bore in his left hand. "Bet you're wondering how I have the strength to wear this stuff." "No, I'm wondering how it'll look on me when I kill you. If it's any good, that is. Many claim they are Chor-Dan." "Few are." With that, he took out his dagger and I armed myself with two yellow knives. He slowly advanced and looked at my knives as I began to think of my first two targets. "Some of us clean our weapons when we're not using them. Or are your knives so dull that you eat with them?" "Eat off these?" I laughed, as we looked each other up and down. "You may feel free. In fact, I invite you to." "No thanks. I'd rather make you taste my dagger." He advanced quickly, making a move toward my neck. I let a knife go from my left hand and it struck his right shoulder, where the poison on my knife bubbled and hissed. This was a less-than-pleasant sensation for my adversary. "Poison on your knives," he said bitterly, taking the knife out by the handle and briefly sniffing the blade. "And in your blood. Now we have two options. I can wait for you to die, which won't take but a few hours, or you can admit defeat and my friend will heal you." I smiled. "Or ... I can kill you, take your weapon and force your friend to heal me." "When was the last time someone drew blood on you?" "Before I was named a Chor-Dan." He paused. "Summon your friends. The duel is over." "Uh ... maybe you weren't aware of this, but neither of us is dead." I smiled. "Yet." "With a wave of my shield, I summon my minions and they kill your friends, save the sorcerer, who they bring, upon penalty of death—" "He'll die rather than heal you," I interjected. "Your friend is not the only one with skills. Either he comes, or he dies. We don't need him to heal me. It's just easier to do that, instead of getting one of my friends." "All right, fine. If that's what it takes to get me to the Council, I'll do it. Bring my friends, and we all go to Council." "Just you. You have proven your heritage. Your friends are not Chor-Dan. They cannot come." "Well, they're coming to the village, at least." "I won't argue that one." Malek's minions went to collect my friends, and when they came to the village, they stayed behind while we went to Council. "The Chor-Dan Council is assembled. Malek has news of a new Chor-Dan." the oldest man proclaimed. "Maoro, this man faced me in combat, and would have killed me had we not ended the duel there. You all know that Chor-Dan are not matched in combat. I move that he be admitted to the village." "I second," said a man clothed on purple. "Any opposed? No? Jodan, you are part of the Chor-Dan people." Maoro said in a moderate, but firm voice. "Will my friends be allowed to stay here?" I asked. "Yes, but they must stay with the outside village," he responded. "We'll stay, Jodan," Acera said quietly. "Acera! How did you get in here?" I exclaimed. "Let's just say I have certain talents," Acera said slyly. "Is this satisfactory to all of us? Then I declare that there is a new Chor-Dan, and that there are four additions to the outside village," Maoro said.
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