Crystal Prison of Kyr

By Bob Moats


This page contains chapters 1 to 4 only out of 10 chapters.





CRYSTAL PRISON OF KYR
Written By Bob Moats


CHAPTER ONE

JUSTIN LAID HELPLESS on the ground, not able to move a muscle as the dark figure came over him. The sinister being paused a moment, raised it's arms toward the boy and then as the demon's face glowed, radiant energy shot from it's hands. Justin could feel his body being enveloped in the painful rays and could feel his soul going numb. As his brain fought the torturous pain, his mind went back to the events of the last week that brought him to this agony. In a small part of his mind he could see himself sitting safely in his home reviewing his school books and, for a brief moment, re-lived it.

************

"What are you doing, Cheek?" inquired Justin of his furry friend.

Cheek, a tiny white mouse, looked up from the even tinier piece of paper that he held in his paws and said in a deep voice, "I was studying this note left for me by Edan. It is a new riddle that he sent to challenge me with."

Justin set aside the book he was reading, slid out of the chair and approached the shelf where the red-eyed creature sat engrossed in the piece of parchment. Justin tried to look over the non-existent shoulder of the mouse but could not read the minuscule writing.

"May I hear what it has to say?" asked Justin, always interested in the battle of wits between Cheek and Edan, the wisest elder of the Myrah Clan.

Cheek looked up at his life long companion and shook his head. "Justin, my friend, I have always desired the need for mental stimulation, and between yourself and Edan I have had enough to last many lives. This puzzle has me wondering if Edan may be getting senile." Cheek studied the paper once more and read out loud:

"It's glass but it's not, it's water, it's air,
 Five sides to it's form but only four will compare;
 The answer found within to the problem you shall seek,
 Belongs to the gentle one, who will conquer the oblique."

Cheek once again looked toward Justin and sighed, "Maybe I've played this game once too often to be interested in racking my brain on them anymore." He placed the paper in the pocket of his vest and got down off the thread spool he used as a chair.

"It sounds more like a statement, or a warning, than a riddle to me." ventured Justin.

"Whatever it may be," yawned Cheek "it is not going to be solved by me tonight. I desire sleep now and you have lessons in the morning. Extinguish the candles and don't forget to lock the doors."

Justin smiled "I may take a brief walk in the garden before I retire. Sleep well my old friend. I'll be back shortly."

Cheek mumbled something unintelligible and waddled off into the dark of the shelf. Justin quietly slipped out the door and headed toward the center of town.

The evening air was still, yet there seemed to be a small amount of movement in the trees that lined the path to the garden at the center of the town. Justin approached the entrance and turned toward his favorite thinking spot. He laid down on the freshly trimmed grass and wondered who had gardening duty this week. It was the law that every able bodied person shall take turns maintaining the garden and Justin had always enjoyed working around the flowers and trees.

As Justin relaxed, he thought back to when he first met Cheek. Edan, the Elder of the clan, had just returned from a long and perilous journey to a place that he would not reveal and he had brought back many amazing souvenirs to give to his friends. When it came time to present the five year old Justin his present, Edan took the youth aside and handed him a small hole-filled box. Justin opened the box to find a small white mouse inside which Edan explained was a magical mouse that could be taught to speak. Justin smiled as he remembered the long and tedious hours that he spent coaxing the mouse to speak. There were times that he wished he hadn't, for Cheek had became an adopted father to Justin when his real father was killed in the Malvan colonial wars and Cheek took the task too seriously. With Cheek's encouragement, Justin grew into a well educated youth and now at twenty five years old, Justin mentally thanked Edan for his little friend.

A Heram moth flew past Justin's head on it's way toward the huge lamp lighting the garden, waking him from his thoughts. Justin had no dislike for the large ugly creature but would have preferred that it would go elsewhere. As he watched the bat-like beast circling the flames of the lamp he suddenly felt a shiver run through his body.

The leaves of the trees were turning upwards towards the rising moon in the North as they always had, but as the moon rose higher, Justin noticed that the familiar blue color had turned to a deep red. This startled Justin as he had never seen this color before. It seemed as though the light were coming from another source, reflecting off the huge orb. As he watched in fascination, the red hue flickered between yellow and orange reminding Justin of a camp fire.

Justin could not move as he watched the moon now overhead. He imagined that he was seeing the reflection of a huge Northworld fire reflecting off the face of the moon, but since he had heard stories that the Northworld was nothing more than ice and many dead stone-cold trees, a fire would be out of the question.

Justin was alone in the garden and he wondered if anyone in town was still awake to witness this phenomenon that surely could not be natural. The moon rose higher in the sky and as it did, the flames faded from it's face. Shortly the dancing colors were gone and Justin scolded himself for not waking someone to verify what he had witnessed.

Rising from the grass, he suddenly felt as though someone were watching him from behind. He turned toward the darkness at the outer border of the garden but could not see anyone there. Justin felt that his normally peaceful existence was being touched by unknown forces and he was now feeling quite uneasy.

A night owl screeched from above causing Justin to jump. He decided that it would be a good idea to go home, so he started for the exit, but as he turned the last hedge he stopped, for before him was a cloaked figure. The two stood for an awkward moment before the dark form spoke.

"Are you Justin?" came an unusually squeaky voice from the large, sinister hooded person.

"I am." replied Justin mustering up bravely.

"Mandara wishes to see you." the hood spoke.

Justin had heard of the great magician but had never seen him and now for some reason Mandara was requesting his presence.

"Why does Mandara want to see me?"

"Follow me and find out."

Isn't it a little late for a visit?"

"Mandara never sleeps."

Holding back an urge to laugh at the hooded figure's high pitched voice, Justin had an image in his mind of a very wide eyed man in need of rest, and asked again, "Why me?"

The hood paused and finally, "You have seen the blood on the moon?"

Justin stiffened, "Does Mandara know the significance of this oddity?"

"You'll have your answer shortly. Follow me."

With that the figure turned to leave, but stumbled off the step and crashed to the ground in a heap. Justin stood there in amazement as the person in the cloak seemed to be fighting to get out. After a few seconds of rolling on the ground, a boy of about sixteen years pulled his frail body out from under the crumpled cloak. Attached to his legs were a makeshift pair of stilts. He just sat there looking rather embarrassed and annoyed at his blunder.

"All right I'm short, go ahead and laugh," whimpered the boy "everyone else does."

"Why would I do that?" replied Justin kindly "I was quite impressed by your masquerade. You aren't also by chance the great Mandara?"

"At great risk to my life, I would never admit to that."

Justin reached out his hand to the boy and helped him to his feet, which with the stilts brought them both face to face.

"My name is Pectin. I am Mandara's apprentice."

"Honored to meet you Pectin, you already know my name, is there anything else you that know?"

"I know that there is something powerfully wrong. I have never seen Mandara so worried since this afternoon and when the moon went red, so did his face. I was told to come to the garden to find you. He knew that you'd be here."

Pectin leaned against the tree and unstrapped a stilt, which left him unbalanced and so he came crashing down around the tree.

Justin went to his aid and asked, "Have you used these things much?"

Pectin ignored the comment and continued "Justin, I think that there is trouble coming. Mandara has been pouring over his books and consulting with Fog, the smoke spirit, all day. He sat by the window from sundown till moon rise, then he went hysterical. Please Justin, come quickly now or I'll lose my job. I wasted enough time trying to get here in this costume."

"Well Pectin, lead the way to Mandara so we shall get this mystery solved."

Pectin gathered the cloak and stilts and hurried down the path leaving the garden, while Justin followed as fast as he could behind the energetic boy. They left the eastern edge of the city and traveled out the Kayber Road toward the forbidden forest surrounding the Tarro Mountains where the magician was reported to have lived. Once into the forest Justin had no idea where he was going as no one in the Myra Clan was allowed to venture this far in. He could see the mountain face above the trees and a chill ran through him as they drew closer to the huge grey edifice.

After a while they came to a mountain wall of stone so smooth that it looked to have been made that way. There was no entrance to be seen and Justin wondered why Pectin stood staring at the wall.

From behind the wall came a low rumbling and slowly the stone slid upward revealing a hallway leading up into the hill. The two young men entered the opening and made their way up. Occasionally the path turned to the left or right and every so often it forked into other hallways, but Pectin seemed to know the right one to take. After what seemed hours of walking, Justin noticed a light ahead.

As they came up through the last pathway Justin could smell a strange musty odor that reminded him of old books. His eyes adjusted to the new lighting conditions in the room and he was surprised to find that he was in a rather large cavern. The furniture and other personal items were set up in the middle of the huge area as though it were a permanent camp site. In the middle of the organized mess was a tall bearded man reading a book held in his shaky hands.

The man paid no attention to the two young men as he paced back and forth. Pectin set his clothing aside and walked toward the man carefully and quietly. Standing just outside the circle of tables holding chemist tubes and bottles, Pectin gave a low cough, but the man did not respond. Pectin moved around the tables trying to get in sight of the pacing magician, but the man turned every tine Pectin stood in front of him. Pectin coughed louder but still no response. Wearily, Pectin leaned against a table to rest and tilted the top causing the glass bottles to crash to the ground. Mandara slowly looked up from his book toward the noise, and studied the situation before speaking.

"Pectin, I an not a rich man. If you insist on constantly destroying my equipment, you will need to get a real job to pay for it." Mandara looked over toward Justin, smiled a look of relief and spoke, "Welcome little savior, I have been awaiting your arrival."

The term 'savior' puzzled Justin and he stepped forward toward the magician.

"I am here at your request, Mandara. I am quite puzzled by the events of the night. My quiet world has been shaken tonight and I feel that I am in for more rattling."

Mandara chuckled to himself, then his face went serious. "I am afraid that you are underestimating your fate. Soon you will be embarking on a long and perilous journey to a land far away. You'll be required to perform feats of courage and daring equal to the great heroes of legend."

He placed the book on a table, came to Justin and led him to a large cauldron bubbling in the middle of the area. A strange glow emitted from the huge pot and Justin stifled from the foul odor. Mandara passed his hands over the surface of the pot and the glowing brew brightened as a strange green smoke formed over the pot.

"Justin, I want you to look deep into Fog, the smoke spirit, and you will learn the reason for your quest."

Justin leaned toward the mist hovering above the pot anticipating a vision of evil and danger but what he saw was not expected. In the wisps he could clearly see a young beautiful girl dressed in a gleaming yellow gown.

He turned to Mandara and asked, "This is my fate? A girl? Not too bad looking, I
must say. Is she in danger?"

Mandara smiled, "Justin, my brave friend, she is the reason for your dangerous journey to the land of Kyr."

CHAPTER TWO

JUSTIN opened his eyes and saw the ceiling of his room. He was flat on his back in his own bed and he lay there wondering if he had dreamt the events of the night. He remembered being told by Mandara to go home and rest and all would be explained to him the following night. Justin tried to pry more about the girl out of the magician, but Mandara had turned and headed off into the darkness of the cavern. Pectin was unable to provide any more information than what had already transpired, so Justin quietly followed him back to the edge of the city where they parted as friends. Justin slipped quietly into his home, careful not to awaken Cheek, who surely would have interrogated him till dawn. The last thing he recalled was lying on his bed, his head filled with visions of the mystery girl. It was the last image he had before he fell asleep.

It was also the first image he saw as he awoke that morning. He sat up and looked around for the room seemed unusually quiet. Cheek was normally scurrying around preparing to get Justin off to his agriculture classes, but he was no where to be seen. Justin went to Cheek's shelf but the mouse was not there and he started to worry a little, for his tiny friend would never go out without letting him know.

Justin opened the front door and stepped out into the sunshine. A cold breeze mussed his hair and sent him back in for his coat. Just as he reached the coat rack he heard a noise at the door, and hoping it to be Cheek, flung it open only to find no one there, but as he turned to re-enter, he noticed a note stuck into the cracks of the door. He pulled the paper out and took it to a candle on the table to read.

It was from Edan requesting Justin to come meet him in the garden. Edan was the wisest of the Myrah clan and Justin was sure that he would have some answers to his questions.

As Justin made his way down the narrow roadway toward the garden, he felt a strange eeriness in the now unusually deserted town. A sort of strange silence smothered the air and made the skin on Justin's neck tingle.

 As he approached the entrance to the garden, he wish that he didn't have to go in alone. He wished he knew where Cheek was since he could have used some words of wisdom right now. He had never been afraid of Edan, but had a great deal of respect for the man and since Edan was very reclusive, he usually communicated only through notes and letters, so very few people had ever came in direct contact with him, and now Justin was going to meet him in the garden of all places.

The sun was almost directly overhead as Justin wrestled with his feelings about all the commotion that had entered his life since the last evening. He wondered why he was becoming involved in the great mystery of the crimson moon and the beautiful girl, so he figured that he may as well face Edan and hopefully get some answers.

Justin took in a breath and entered the garden and since he had no idea as to where he would find Edan, he figured if he walked around long enough he'd find him, and as Justin turned a corner by a tall hedge, he just about had heart failure for there was Edan standing there on front of him.

"Welcome Justin, I'm glad you're prompt. Come, we have much to discuss." With that he turned toward the center of the garden and hurried away leaving Justin paces behind.

By the time Justin caught up with him, Edan was already seated on a bench by the pond. Justin stood for a few moments before Edan motioned to him to sit.

"Justin, right now you know nothing of what is happening to you and unfortunately I can not tell you more."

Justin's heart sunk and Edan could see this. "I'm sorry Justin, I am bound by oath not to say anything about the land of Kyr and what awaits you there. I can say that I have been there and have gone through the same thing that you will experience."

Justin looked to the old man in surprise, "Edan, you know what is going on with the moon and the girl and yet you can't tell me about it?"

"It seems to me Justin, that I just said that. Please pay closer attention to me, I have a lot of nothing to say before you go to see Mandara."

Embarrassed by his comment, Justin sat in silence as the Elder continued, "I was a young man like yourself when the moon went red and Mandara summoned me to his cavern and issued to me the challenge of Kyr. You are not obligated to accept the challenge, but I told Mandara that I felt you were the one person who could carry out the task."

Now Justin knew why he was involved in the mystery and felt a sense of honor that the Elder had recommended him.

"I have to warn you Justin, this is a very dangerous task and you will be faced with death often. I don't want anything to happen to you because I like you, but if someone doesn't go to Kyr, the rest of the world will surely die, all humans, animals and plants."

Justin felt a chill run through his body thinking that the fate of everything would depend on him. He never really had a lot of confidence in himself when it came to everyday decisions, so this would really put him to the test.

Edan could see the anxiety in the young man's face and put his arm around his shoulders and said gently, "Justin, I have been there and while it is dangerous, I have every confidence that you will return safely and unharmed so please set your mind to the task ahead of you."

Justin felt a fatherly warmth in the elder's voice and it helped to relieve the tenseness in his body.

"Edan, what is happening?"

"Well Justin, I am allowed to tell you a few details about the origin of the land of Kyr." Edan paused and looked wistfully into the reflecting pond. "It was nine centuries ago when the last two of the great magicians locked in battle over good and evil. The unusual thing about it all was that it was only one magician battling his alter-ego. It was Mandara."

Justin looked in shock at Edan, as he couldn't believe that Mandara was over nine hundred years old.

"Yes Justin, Mandara is now just short of 1200 years old. At one time there were about a hundred or so legitimate magicians an this planet. Most of them discovered that with power comes corruption. Mandara was the leader of a small group that advocated using magic for good purposes throughout the universe. He felt that magicians should be sent out to the backward planets and help the inhabitants there to develop into worthwhile civilizations. The corrupt factions wanted to rule these planets and enslave the life forms for their own enjoyment. Mandara tried to stop them from carrying out their plan but he was out voted by the evil faction. So Mandara and a small group of fourteen followers decided to meet in secret and plot to stop them. Unknown to Mandara, one of his followers turned the small group in and on the night they met, the evil group raided the gathering and a battle of magic powers ensued and lasted for hours until only Mandara and the leader of the evil group were left standing. The evil one was named Kyr and he, unfortunately, was Mandara's twin brother. When they were born they were joined together at the head, and after they were separated it seemed that Kyr had retained the evil part of the mind and Mandara the good. Mandara and Kyr had equal magic powers and they could not magically outdo each other. Mandara could not out of goodness kill his brother, so he tricked him and managed to imprison Kyr in a solid block of ice preventing him from moving and sent it to the north land, which at one time was a beautiful forest area. In order to prevent anyone from freeing Kyr, Mandara froze the land and booby trapped the surrounding area with all forms of death and terror." Edan looked out over the pond as though he were recalling something that bothered him.

He continued, "Unknown to Mandara, when the entire group of magicians had been killed, the power that they thought they individually had was diminished. It turned out that they fed off of each other and without the group, Mandara and Kyr had only a small portion of the power left. With Kyr imprisoned Mandara was almost, but not entirely, powerless. Every fifty years or so Mandara's powers go into a sort of recharging and he can not maintain his hold over Kyr. When the moon glows red it is a sign that Kyr's powers are growing over Mandara's."

Edan paused a moment giving Justin time to ask "If Mandara's powers are weak now, what about Kyr's?"

"Good question Justin, and I'm afraid that no one is really sure whether Kyr's powers are stronger being as he hasn't been able to use them for centuries. The main concern is that he will soon have the opportunity to free himself and possibly wreck havoc on the world."

"But Edan, I thought that without the other magicians around to strengthen him, wouldn't his powers be minor?"

"As a group they were invincible, all powerful. They could move planets and darken suns, so even one of them in proportion would have enough power to make life miserable for everyone and everything on our world. Mandara's powers over the ages have been devoted to holding the land of Kyr in it's frozen state, which is why he hides in the great cavern focusing his attentions to his evil half. Now that Mandara is temporarily weakening, Kyr will have enough time to escape and overpower Mandara which is where you will come in."

Panic tightened in Justin's chest as he realized that he was being asked to prevent a powerful evil from destroying everything he loved.

"Isn't there any way to destroy Kyr so he won't be a menace to our world?" inquired Justin hoping to find a way out of a situation that he felt unable to handle.

"Sorry Justin, but the only way a magician can be destroyed is by another magician. Mandara is the last and he will never do bodily harm to his brother. Mandara has agonized over the problem and since no harm can come to Mandara, this situation may go on forever. I've noticed a great strain on him in the last few years." Edan's face became sullen.

Justin was feeling a slight strain on himself but did not want Edan to notice. He was getting very anxious to know what his fate was to be and since Edan was not going to yield any of the gory details, he couldn't wait to visit Mandara again.

Edan returned from his deep thoughts and looked to the noticeably worried boy and smiled. Edan thought back to what seemed lifetimes ago when Doran, the Elder of his youth, tried to comfort him prior to his journey to Kyr. Edan knew what was ahead for Justin but was bound by his oath not to say anything. He knew that only one human, who was unspoiled by evil or corruption and with no knowledge of the deadly dangers ahead would stand a far better chance of getting through safely to Kyr. Mandara had safeguarded Kyr's imprisionment by casting an irreversible spell in which any human having any knowledge of the traps would automatically fail to get through and this included Mandara.

"Justin, I have complete faith in you that you will be able to handle the task given to you. I wish I could say more but I don't want to jeopardize your chances of returning. I won't say that it will be easy because it's not, but I would not have recommended you if I didn't feel that you were the one to succeed." Edan knew that no further words would ease the tension and anxiety in the boy and could think of nothing more to say.

Justin comforted the elder man by replying, "Edan, it is a great honor that you have given me. I will not disappoint you by backing down. I will take this one step at a time and try to think with a clear head. You won't regret your decision to recommend me to Mandara."

The old man felt a new closeness to the boy and put his arm again around Justin's shoulders. The two of them sat there not knowing what more to say, so they spoke to each other with their silence.

After a while Edan announced that it was time that he returned to his duties and wished Justin well. He told Justin to remain a while in the garden and left as quickly and quietly as he had came leaving Justin feeling more alone than he had ever felt before. He sat there sorting the events in his mind when he heard a noise from behind him. Turning, he found the noise to be Pectin. The small boy looked serious and spoke, "Mandara will see you now."
 

CHAPTER THREE

THE TWO YOUTHS made the journey in silence and Justin tried hard to remember any of the pathways from his last visit to Mandara's cavern, but none of the directions that Pectin took were familiar to him. He wondered if Pectin were taking a different route so that Justin could not find the way back again and since members of the clan were forbidden to enter this mountain range, Justin had no idea of where he was. His thoughts were interrupted by the sight of the smooth wall ahead. They entered the opening and he was sure they took a totally different way into the cavern than before. Justin mentally noted to commend Pectin for his care in the security of Mandara's hideaway. They finally entered the great cavern and when Justin's eyes adjusted to the lighting, he saw that Mandara was no where in the room. Pectin finally broke the silence.

"Mandara will be with you shortly." and after mumbling these words, Pectin ran off into the dark reaches of the cavern.

Justin wandered over to the circle of tables and felt a shiver run through his body as he entered the circle. The cauldron in which he first saw the beautiful girl sat bubbling furiously before him. He wished he knew how to summon Fog, the smoke spirit, so he could see her again, but figured all would come together soon enough.

After what seemed an hour of waiting, Justin started to pace nervously. What was Mandara up to? Was this part of the task ahead, to see if he could stand the pressure?

Justin was just on the verge of yelling out to see if anyone would answer when he heard someone approaching from the dark. Justin felt the blood pumping in his veins and thought his heart would explode as he walked cautiously toward the approaching sound, stopping short of the circle of tables. Mandara suddenly appeared out of the darkness before Justin. His face was grave and pale, looking every one of his twelve hundred years. Mandara said nothing as he walked past Justin on his way to the cauldron. The magician stood gazing into the mist rising from the huge kettle and looked as though he were going to cry.

"Justin," he spoke softly, "since the demise of my fellow magicians, I am as close to being a mortal than I could ever have known. It takes all of my energy to hold my brother in his imprisonment and like humans, I need rest from time to time. At first I rested every hundred years, but the moon turned red about fifty years too early. It's getting harder to use my energy since I am very old and tired, Justin, more tired than I have ever felt."

The magician turned toward Justin. There were small tears forming in the corner of his eyes and he looked more worn out than any man Justin had known. Mandara came to Justin and put his hand on the young man's shoulder.

"Justin, for my own sanity, this must end. I have wasted most of my life hiding here on a truly pointless mission. Out of respect for my brother, I have done him no harm. But if you where totally paralyzed, not being able to move, speak or touch, wouldn't you prefer death? I have killed my brother even though he remains alive, frozen in time. I can imagine the hate he must feel for me and even though he is evil incarnate, I feel grief for him."

Mandara again turned to the cauldron and continued.

"Justin, eight brave men have gone before you to stop Kyr from escaping and their task was dangerous, and although you are younger than the others, your task is no less dangerous."

Justin felt his spine tingle and his knees began to rattle. Sweat formed on the back of his neck and his palms and he felt a lump choking his throat.

"Justin, you have to accept this challenge voluntarily or you will fail from the start. If someone does not stop Kyr, this world will be a desolate place. You must go willingly or not at all."

He looked back at Justin and gave a faint smile. Justin looked into the old man's eyes and saw the agony of his pain. He saw the years of emptiness and solitude that the magician had endured being shut away from the world that he had been protecting all of these years.

A great change came over Justin as he realized that he could make a sacrifice in his comfortable little life to help those in need. He worried so much about the uncertainty and danger of the journey to Kyr, that he forgot about the uncertainty and danger that he faced in his everyday life. That never stopped him from leaving his house, so why should he turn down helping his world and saving this man from a slow lonely death. Justin felt pride building up in himself and knew that it was time to take responsibility for his life.

"Mandara, I feel the pain in your words and realize the danger to our world. I will take on the quest freely and relieve you of your burden. I hope that I will be worthy or your confidence." Justin said bravely.

A smile came to Mandara's face and he seemed younger as he replied.

"Spoken like a true hero Justin. Edan chose well in you, and I know now that you will be the savior who will go and conquer the evil endangering our existence and, as I said, my sanity. Thank you Justin."

Mandara embraced him and gave a sigh of relief. He released Justin and turned toward the cauldron, raised his hands over the boiling vapors and spoke in a language that was unfamiliar to Justin. Mandara's voice grew louder and reverberated throughout the cavern as the bubbling mixture glowed a bright lime color and a heavy mist formed over it.
After a moment of silence from Mandara, he turned to Justin and asked, "Well, my young hero, are you ready to learn about your adventure?"

Justin felt a slight shiver, but stood firm and replied, "As ready as I shall ever be."

"Good, then look deep into Fog and see your fate."

Justin moved to the cauldron and stared into the haze. He saw many colors swirling and forming into images of long ago. He saw the original coven of magicians lead by Kyr and the peaceful faction lead by a youthful Mandara. He witnessed the battle of magical powers finishing with the stand off between Kyr and Mandara. The image faded before Justin witnessed Kyr's imprisonment and Mandara explained that he could not see anymore as it would jeopardized his quest. The mist swirled back into a kaleidoscope of colors and Justin found himself back in the great cavern. He turned toward Mandara with a new understanding of the powers that had nearly destroyed the universe so many years ago. The threat that Kyr had posed in this present world was now evident to the importance of the quest.

"Mandara, when must I start and how long do I have to complete my task?" inquired Justin bravely.

"When the moon glows red there is a cycle of one moon to complete the task. The next full moon must rise normally as it has every cycle. Edan managed to do the job in twenty two days, far faster then his predecessors, who all just barely completed their goal. Had me worried, I must say. You do have the advantage of youth on your side. The others were much older in their times including Edan. It was Edan's sole responsibility to chose the next person to go as he knows what is ahead and has decided that you are the one to handle the situation. I have to put all my trust in his judgement and all my faith in you."

Mandara paused to let everything sink into the youth. Justin looked back to the mist hoping to catch a glimpse of what was ahead but knowing he could not.

"Mandara, what of the girl that I saw on my last visit here. How does she fit into all of this?"

Mandara smiled and seemed to hesitate at the question posed by the anxious young man. The old magician felt a bit embarrassed that he had used the vision of the girl as an extra incentive for Justin.

"Justin, the young lady that you witnessed in the smoke was a shadow of things to come. She is someone who you will meet in the near future, if our world is not destroyed. I can not tell you more about her until you return from your journey."

Justin was feeling very mixed and annoyed by all the secrecy involving his fate. He was still a young man and not experienced with women or danger and now he was being asked to deal with both and had no idea what to do with either. Mandara could sense the boy's tension and went to a tall shelf by the opening of the circle. He removed a sack from the shelf and brought it to a table by Justin.

"Come here Justin, I have something for you." Justin approached Mandara and watched the man remove a dark blue cloak from the sack. Mandara placed it around Justin's shoulders and continued, "Justin, this cloak shall protect you from the harmful cold of the Northland. Unfortunately, it will not protect you from harm. I was a little carried away by my spell to prevent my brother from having outside help. I prevented even myself from going there with what I know of it and you must have no knowledge of what is ahead or you will never make it alive. No human knows the danger there ahead and succeeds."

Justin felt warm in the cloak and was feeling ready to get the deed done and over. The thoughts of the girl helped his enthusiasm. Mandara strode to the opening of the circle and turned, "Justin, you are now to go home and wait for your guide. Good fates be with you as my fate will be in your hands." He turned and disappeared into the darkness. Justin stood there for a brief moment when Pectin startled him from behind and said to follow him.

They parted again at the edge of the city and Justin returned to his home. The house was again empty and Justin was starting to worry about Cheek. His little friend had never been gone this long and had left no notes as to where he was. Justin was tired and sat in the chair that he studied his lessons in. It was the one restful place where he could easily think. He sat there for what seemed hours and as he was deep in thought, he heard a voice from his right. He turned his head to see Cheek standing on the table. He was dress in an odd looking coat and he wasn't alone. Next to him was a smaller black mouse wearing a similar coat.

Before Justin could speak, Cheek said in a solemn voice, "Justin, It is time for you to go."


CHAPTER FOUR

JUSTIN JUMPED from his chair and knelt at the table putting his face just inches from his furry friend. "Cheek where have you been and have I got a story to tell you!"

Cheek approached Justin and smacked him on the nose with his tiny paw. "Justin, you will have to learn to let your elders speak first. I know the story you are bursting to tell because Edan has told me of your forthcoming ordeal. He has given me the task of getting you to the Northland without losing your way and my new friend here, Kigamsti, knows the fastest route and has agreed to get us there. So I hope you have prepared by packing some food and a change of clothes?"

Justin felt a little embarrassed that he had not. He ran to his room and packed a backsack with clothes and then to the pantry for food. Cheek sat conversing with the dark rodent as though they were plotting something.

"I am ready, Cheek. When do we start?"

Cheek and Kigamsti came to the edge of the table and Justin bent down to allow them to climb into his coat pocket.

"Well, Justin the first thing we must do is go out the door or the journey won't begin." Cheek commanded "And don't forget to lock up."

They headed out the north road riding Justin's favorite horse, Canter. The stableboy had Canter saddled for him as though he knew the horse would be needed. Edan must be behind much the preparations, Justin thought.

"Justin, keep on this road till it breaks to the right and follow the left path." Cheek shouted from the pocket. Justin could hear the two mice chattering in his pocket and was sorry that the dark mouse could not speak human for he would have liked to know what they were saying.

They rode till dark on the twisting paths and roads as directed by Kigamsti through Cheek. Finally it was too dark to venture further and Cheek said to stop and bed down for the night.

As they sat by the fire, Justin looked over to where the two mice were sitting on the backsack, both just staring quietly into the fire. Their eyes glowed red from the bright flames of the fire making the two of them look menacing. Justin knew that his friend would never hurt him or anyone else, but at that moment he looked as though he could deal with any enemy to come along. The dark mouse looked like he came off one of the rough sailing vessels that brought goods from faraway lands. Justin felt that he could trust this strange creature, for Cheek would have never asked for his help otherwise.

Justin laid back and decided that sleep would be the best for him right now as they had a long journey ahead. While Justin drifted into sleep the two mice quietly started chattering and watched the fire. Cheek had cared so much for Justin that no amount of careful planning would be enough to take care of his safety.

The morning sun came brightly and they prepared to leave.

"How long will it take us to get to the Northlands, Cheek?" inquired Justin.

"About five days of uninterrupted travel and I hope that we are not interrupted." He said cautiously.

"What do you mean by that Cheek?" asked Justin, wondering about the comment.

"We will be traveling through some pretty rough towns and I would prefer that we could avoid them altogether."

"We'll deal with that when we get to it." comforted Justin. They were packed and ready to go, so Justin carefully loaded his tiny passengers into his pocket, mounted the horse and headed up the path to the road continuing northward.

Justin had never been this far north and the beauty of the countryside was overwhelming. As they journeyed further the land became more mountainous and the road was quickly becoming a trail. They had passed through a few small towns and at Cheek's insistence, they passed through them without stopping. Cheek said that there would be plenty of time later to sightsee. Cheek and Kigamsti were still squeaking to each other and Justin was getting to the point of reminding Cheek that it was not polite to converse when he couldn't understand them, but decided not to.

Finally the sun was very low on the horizon and the looming mountains made it seem darker. Justin called to Cheek in his pocket and the mouse peeked out and said that it would be a good time to rest for the night. Wearily, Justin made camp and the tired group stretched out before the fire.

Justin was quite worn out by the ride and bored by having no one to talk to. Cheek had been so busy conversing with Kigamsti that he neglected Justin, but since Cheek seemed happy to have someone of his own species to talk to, Justin didn't mind. Besides, it gave him time to think about what was happening and more so, about the girl in the mist. Was she a lonely princess in need of rescue or perhaps a vision of his future bride. Only Mandara knew and he wasn't saying anything until Justin proved himself by safely returning home.

 Justin's thoughts were interrupted by a crackling noise to his left. It sounded as though someone were approaching and Justin had no idea what kind of human or creature would be out wandering at this late hour. Cheek poked his head out of the backsack for he also had heard the noise.

"Justin," Cheek whispered, "Do you have your sword handy?"

"Yes, I have it." Quietly replied Justin. "What do you think it is?"

"We'll both know when it gets here. I hope you paid attention to all the sword training you had at school."

Justin was already up and crouching low with sword in hand, focusing his attention to the area of the sound. It grew louder and sounded as though a clumsy bear were lost in the dark. Justin moved around to put the fire between himself and the noise. Cheek and Kigamsti vacated the backsack and found a burrow to crawl into. The noise grew louder and Justin tensed as a shape came through the brush, stumbled and fell before the fire pit. It was Pectin.

"Pectin! What are you doing here?" Demanded Justin.

"Don't hurt me, sir! I have been trying to find you since you left. My horse threw me and ran off on the trail and I have been on foot since yesterday." Pectin shivered and moved to the fire to warm.

"When everyone left I was going crazy with worry and decided that I wanted to come help you save our world. If you permit me to?"

Justin didn't know what to say. The boy looked so sincere that he didn't want to turn him back, but was not sure if Pectin could accompany him to Kyr. Cheek and Kigamsti were chattering at the opening of the burrow so Justin moved over to them hoping Cheek may have had some instructions from Edan that may help decide the fate of the young apprentice.

"Cheek, I don't know what to say to him. Can we take him along or will it jeopardized our chances?" Justin asked hoping his wise friend would have an answer.

"Well, if the young clumsy fool doesn't care if he is killed and doesn't get in the way he may come." Cheek turned to Pectin and asked "Pectin, you must swear to us that you have no knowledge of what is ahead and have not overheard Mandara speaking of it."

"Master Cheek, I know no more than Justin does. I have been a failure as Mandara's apprentice and I hope to prove to him that I can be good for something." Pectin replied honestly.

Kigamsti said something to Cheek, who in turn asked Pectin "Does Mandara know that you are here?"

"I left him a note, so he probably knows by now. I hope I haven't angered him, but I had to do this."

"Well, Pectin, your help is welcome, but stay out of the way until you are needed or you will be sent back to face Mandara." Cheek ordered. "Justin, Kigamsti tells me there is a town down this road in the valley before the hills of the Northland. There we can replace the horse that Pectin lost. Now, I think that since it is almost day light, we may as well use this time to do so." Cheek and Kigamsti scurried to the backsack while Justin helped Pectin to his feet.

"Well my friend, may the fates be on our side, we will need it." Justin said with a smile and the two young men broke camp.

On the road, Pectin ran to keep up with the horse, too loaded down with Justin and the packs to allow Pectin to ride. The town was not far and there they would hopefully find a horse for him. Cheek did not want to stop at the town but this one time would be necessary.

They had just peaked the last hill before the town and looking down into the valley the small scattering of buildings didn't suggest much of a community, but Justin hoped they would be able to find a horse there. Beyond the town a road led to the beginning of the crystal white hills of the Northland and Justin could feel the chill, both from the cold and from what lay ahead.

They headed down into the valley and approached the south gate of the town. There were a few people milling around in the streets but it seemed more deserted than most of the small villages they had gone through.

"Cheek, I think that you and Kigamsti had better stay hidden. I don't know if these people would take to a talking mouse." Justin warned his friend.

"My feeling exactly, Justin. Be very careful here, these people know of the evil of Kyr and don't trust outsiders. They have had renegades come through in hopes of freeing Kyr, although none have ever returned from the frozen north."

Justin hoped that his mission would be better received by the townspeople but with the threat hanging over them, he wouldn't blame them if they didn't trust him. A freed Kyr would devastate their town first on his way out.

They passed through the south gate without any problems and receive a few dark stares from the men gathered in front of the tiny tavern. The five men turned toward Justin and Pectin as they approached and didn't act too friendly as Justin asked if they had a stable.

"Who wants to know and what's your business here?" inquired the biggest, dirtiest of the men.

"I am Justin of Freland with my assistant, Pectin. We are on a mission for the great Mandara and we need a horse if there is one to spare."

The men laughed and just stood looking Justin over.

"Maybe they're not smart enough to understand the question." mumbled Pectin.

The big man growled under his breath and said "So the little boy thinks he can speak for his master, who is just another little boy. We love to feed little boys to the Northland. Are you brave enough, little boy?"

"I'm brave enough to have volunteered to go there and stop Kyr!" boldly spoke Pectin, waiting to be smashed by the brute.

"That's enough, Pectin!" ordered Justin. "Our mission is none of their business."

The big man studied Pectin closely and said "The moon has shone red and two boy strangers appear at our gates. If Mandara has sent you, he is getting senile. Do you young fools think you can stop Kyr? Do you know what you're up against? The biggest and meanest of men and warriors have passed here to free Kyr for their own gain and never came back. but we have heard their screams from over the crystal hills, and we weren't fools enough to go help them. Yes, Mandara has sent brave men to stop Kyr during the red moon and they have returned, keeping our lands and souls safe. But they were brave men, not puny little boys." The man turned to his friends and continued, "Well, we may as well go dig our graves, for we are surely doomed."

"Dig if you will, but you'll be planting vegetables and not bodies." spoke out Justin. "But since you know that all is lost, then you won't miss one little horse or don't you have any."

The man looked up at Justin and fell silent. He turned to his companions and said something to the nearest man. The man ran of around the building and the big man turned toward Justin.

"We will give you our best animal and expect it to be returned on your way back, if you come back." he sneered sarcastically. The other man came around the building pulling at a very run down looking mule who seemed to want to go elsewhere.

"This is the best you have, an old mule?" demanded Justin.

"Yes!" hissed the man. "All our good horses were taken by the idiots who went to their deaths." He then looked like he was giving up. "I fear this is the last time we will have to worry about anyone coming through here again." He walked toward the tavern. "As for me, I'm going to drink until it's over. I don't want to face Kyr while I'm sober." He went in followed by the other men.

Justin knew nothing he could say would make any difference to the men, so he told Pectin to mount the mule and follow. As they headed out the road toward the crystal hills, the big man stood on the steps of the tavern with bottle in hand. He held it high in salute to them and softly said "May the Fates be with you, little boys."


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