The Story Thus Far Part 8

The Never Ending Quest - Episode 7012

"Of course," Dragon Sigin smiles through the magical mirror. "I can't very well become a Prince of Ethiopia and all that.....and still have Probe as my liege lord! It's not....proper."

Alicia smiles, remembering she and her sister suggesting such an arrangement to the dragons when it became evident that such an event would happen if the Regent decided to insist that Dragon Sigin become King of Ethiopia. This way, Malachi Dronocis still got to marry her true love, not alienate what was left of the aristocracy back there, AND be able to have Sigin be able to carry out what draconian honor dictated.

The role of Consort carried no real political power....any more than an average citizen would have. Thus, Count Probe could both dragon mages (albeit one would spend most of his days by the side of the Regent). Dragon Synizn would do most of the travel with their liege, though since Sigin Dronocis, Protector of the Realm, couldn't pass over the borders now.

However, while the Golems WERE within the borders, the Consort would bend over backwards to aid them!

"I feel like I'm being nibbled to death by ducks," Alicia hears Probe whisper softly to his daughter, who nods in agreement. The Palace servants were doing their best to look after all their needs......

Hmmmm, Alicia thinks to herself. That was actually one of the things that I didn't like about the Palace life, because the servants sometimes had a tendency to....swarm over you. Now there's yet another advantage to having renounced my title of Princess! (re: 1723)

"And what of the other things there?" the shefox asks the Consort of Ethiopia.

"Well enough I guess," Sigin sighs. "That tidal wave and such (re:5401) only knocked out a few boats...shipping won't be up to levels they were....for a LONG time."

Ironically, according to Belboz, the coastal towns destroyed by the wave were just necropolises. The dead were GLAD that their last ties to this world were smashed to bits by the water. Yes, some living had been killed, but you do what you can...

"My Malachi keeping track of the small things," Sigin sighs. "Making sure that crops are being harvested....and using a bit of magic here and there to make it easier for the farmers. Going out on wing to personally assure local would be Caliphs that starting up old bad habits with Ethiopia would be an EXTREMELY bad idea.....backed up with a few troops armed with the latest of your and your sister's brainchildren....."

"Yes, I guess that would do just that...wouldn't it," Alicia chuckles to herself. Envisioning a way to convert the present industrial foundation to put out those little "toys" (she now wondered just WHY she hadn't seen how much potential they had had before now) had taken a few weeks of careful consideration. At the time, she had felt ashamed at devoting so much time to what had seemed such an idle hobby....

Her ears twitch in annoyance, and then changes the subject.

"Who came up with the idea of these new pens?" Alicia asks. "Was it my sister? They are better by far than the quill ink pens I'm used to, and the INK! I'm still not used to having ink that dries within seconds of applying it to a page!" "Actually....it was a gift from the Alliance," Sigin says....glancing over to the side at somebody out of view of the mirror. "You remember how Probe and Inquirer were a bit ticked off at some guests that they'd rescued? That strange ship called the Voyager? How Dr. Vincent magically donated some of his darker memories - from what he'd gleamed from his ghostly brother's magical thought reading caps - to that one demifox Solomon?"(re: 5873, 5874, 5875).

"How could I forget?" Alicia says, rolling her eyes. "Inquirer was beside herself!"

"Well, he complained that it would be perfect except for the fact that the blood samples he had taken of Solomon would be difficult to preserve as mundane ink - it kept clotting - and....." the dragon mage shrugs. "Well, they gave him a special fountain pen that held blood inside it instead of the usual substance....."

Well, it sure was better than just killing him.... Alicia thinks to herself.

"I DO trust he won't do anything quiet as stupid again," Alicia sighs. Not reading something on Terra was more than stupid, it could cost you your VERY much (rumors even said your soul could be in danger...).

"Actually, he's turning out to be quiet the apprentice," Sigin says. "And after a crash course in the basics, as my Love now likes to say....I think our young demi-fox will be fine."

"Good," the shefox nods. "On another note, how is that Alliance Camp of the Boot coming along.....Camp Underhill?"

"By all accounts, good!" Sigin says. "They say that the strange effects of that stretch of land out in the deep desert....caused by some Atlantian battle long ago.....is perfect. It speeds up time within to where only a week passes outside while the recruits experience something like six months within! And with six months of the training the Alliance gives...I hear....."

Nothing needed to be said about THAT.

"What about those three Manimal enclaves?" Sigin, Consort of Ethiopia and Harbor master of All of Ethiopia's remaining ships.

"When we were finally able - with the boats we could man - got to those island enclaves we'd contacted by Caradeen's and Manbear Synizn's magical efforts...." Alicia sighs. Between the excitement of trying to save the world from destruction and all, Alicia had hoped that this side event would have gone....better. She knew that the people that Fred had assigned to handle the task had done the best job they could do, but.....

With the apparent deaths of the other Enclave's dragon keepers, the Forsaken on those island enclaves had run amok, making the others Manimals lives.....hard. By the time the sailing ships sent out by an aghast Fred had reached them..... Well, let's just say that there wasn't a crowding problem as there had been on Katie's Smile. (re:1307). The survivors had been in such a disorganized mess that there was no talk about NOT accepting Fred as their new Packleader. At least now those unfortunates had a better life.....

"And what do you think about the Orcs?" Alicia sighs. Life wasn't always like a silly bard's tale...

"Right now....what Queen Astra told us leads me to believe that our old green friends are little more than a nuisance....surprisingly!" the Consort says in a befuddled voice. "Rifles and pistol bullets seem to not agree with them....."

."I just hope that nobody will be stupid enough to try to ally with them like they did a few hundred years ago!" Alicia sighs.

Well, so much for that wish!

Anyway....a month later, a very lucky set of orcs capture a handgun without being detected (and killing the young female Aqualarian ranger in the process...fun and pleasure for them). But now, let's change scenes to the Manimal Nation, where Trilling Blackfeather and his entourage (with the Aqualarian Ambassador) are paying a friendly visit. It wasn't too far to travel for the griffins and human. The nation of Griffin was down on the southern tip of what on Earth is the Nation of South Africa, presently (large portions of the griffin populous moved about during the summer and winter due to their avian heritage).

The land of what used to be called Nom Malbra is the north eastern upper portion of what would have been called the Nation of South Africa and Panaras - the home of the manimals - is located on it's eastern shore....

While Fred the Manfox is showing his guests around town, Loam is chopping wood......

Lord in heaven, I never expected this when they threw me in that cave back in Gelda, Loam thinks as he finishes splitting the last log with his ax. A rather large pile has gathered behind him, all for tonight's feast by firelight with the latest (if not one of the more unusual) visitors to the Manimal Nation. Free from the chains of Peasantry, a lab subject to Minestus, and.....other things!

Physical exertion always felt good to the seven foot tall silver furred manwolf, and the act of wood chopping always did have a way of centering the mind for Loam.

Loam, as per habit, dunks his head into a nearby water though. A fine spray was let loose as he shook his mane of silver hair. He then walked over to a book that the recently constructed printing press had cranked out, and again studied some of the more esoteric items that Manbear Synizn had revealed in his many years of study. Loam, like all the other Manimals, were in awe at what the former dragon knew....and bemused at how....much the dragon wanted desperately to learn from them!

Loam smiles as he takes up the book, and pauses in remembrance of how he'd initially been frightened and disgusted at changing from his original five foot nothing (but stocky and muscular) human body into the seven foot tall humanoid wolf he now wore! He'd feared that the years he'd spent learning the forbidden art of literacy (forbidden by the evil Duke Drederigo D'Honaire)...everything he'd struggled for....was forever denied him. He'd feared he'd be cursed to forever bay at the Moon at night and crave the flesh of man! Fortunately, he'd found out that while being on the Isle of Dragon Moreau (and initially being a manimal) had several bad thing about it (not being able to read had REALLY incensed him), he was more than relieved that he not subject to being a murderous beast. Eventually, he'd even grown to love being part of the Pack, and was happy to find out that it practiced a form of government that had.....fired his imagination (and eventually gotten him thrown into a dragon cavern to be eaten....just for being associated with those democracy rallies in the Kingdom of Gelda). His fiery temper had died down a bit (in part to the subtle property of the empathic nature of manimal lycanthropy back then), and in part to being taken into the inner circle of trust by the seemingly willing quisling and fool, Carradene.

He'd mellowed over the five years (to this day) of wearing the skin of a wolf, and had even grown to admire (and love like a very DEAR brother), the son of House D'Honaire: Frederigo.

The young knight turned Pack Leader turned out to be a wonderful leader AND a daring young....manfox.

Loam's furry brows crease in consternation as he just remembers that he should be meeting Fred and the delegation of griffin over at the Chapel where Fred and Alicia were wed....months earlier!

Loam gives off a muttered oath, berating himself, and rushes as quickly as possible in humanoid form, to the designated meeting place. He could arrive their in Full Wolf form but.....

Unlike other beings who could shift their form, Manimals couldn't shift without ruining the clothing (as little as they wear) and other items upon their body! That's when he found Alicia......he thought!

This vixen was naked, and was bleeding in a corner of the church!!

Loam shouts for help, and Fred and Trilling come running (or flying in the griffin's case).

It's a difficult thing to tell just WHO got to the spot that Loam is standing next to where Alicia groans softly, clutching at various wounds upon her body. Trilling Blackfeather leaps forward and lands with wing swiftly with his ebony wings. Fred the manfox is driven not only by digitigrade feet, but also by fear. Fear for the life of his Leaping Stream!

But I didn't feel anything happen to her! Fred's mind yammered as he grabs for something to stem the flow of blood from his mate and wife.

Something was wrong about all this, but Fred was too much in a frenzy to examine his feelings. He feels his wife's feelings change from happiness (why in God's name is she Happy?! She was bleeding to death in front of Fred!) changes to panic and fear (as if in response to the fear that Fred is feeling)! Fred didn't have time to examine his feelings....and the feelings he detected from his wife. Now was the time for action...else he'd lose his wife and unborn kits!

"GET THE $@^*(* MAGES!!" Fred roars at the aghast looking Packmembers before turning back to lean over the pain racked Alicia. He leans closely toward her ear, and whispers so softly that not even Trilling....standing next to him....can hear what he says.

"Hush, little Leaping Stream," he whispered tenderly. "Tell Swift Foot what happened. Who attacked you and why, so I can go out and kill them!"

Alicia, having barely escaped a roving band of humans, had stumbled from shadow to shadow in this city that she had no idea where it came from, looking for a place to hide and recover! Her small band of were-folk had separated from the larger band of the Pack in disgust when the larger group had gone out and lynched Carradene (re: 2875)...only to end up weeks lost in a jungle that had appeared around them by magic! Then, when they had found a spot to rest for the night to make camp, crazed humans armed with silvered weapons had attacked fiercely, screaming about taking back what was their from the beastmen who'd "stolen" Panaras from them while they'd been out on patrol.....

Battle had been swift, and Alicia had been cut off from the rest of her group....and had been forced to flee or die.

Now, Alicia opened pain glazed eyes and looked upon somebody she'd thought never to see again....after she'd betrayed him to the Pack. His last letter to her had said he'd never wanted to see her again (not that she could find it in her heart to blame him) (re: 1382). She'd gone and turned on him for saving that dragoness. She still didn't understand exactly why he'd done that (re: 1364), but she now realized that the dragoness HAD been trying to aid the pack....and she, Alicia, had betrayed not only Fred....but that reptilian being who'd only been trying to aid her and the Pack!

Now Fred was mysteriously HERE, against all odds, and speaking tenderly to her!

Shame, love, and confusion wrestled for dominance in her pain clouded mind. She loved Fred, and he'd come back to him....despite her stupidity! But why did he call him by this name: Leaping Stream? And why did he call himself Swift Foot?

"Fred?" she gasped, feeling the room spin about her. "The dragoness? What? How...? Argh!"

She felt herself bearing down as she started to suffer from contractions! She whimpered in fear, for she knew that the injuries she suffered were causing her to go into premature labor!

Trilling Blackfeather recognized the symptoms, and instantly knew what to do! Somehow he had the knowledge of herbs and chemicals, and knew that a pinch of the bitter smelling incense at the alter, combined with the herbs that the old Shaman always carried with him.....

Dark Trilling had been worried about the Manimal's ability to detect emotions in others, and had resorted to a tried and true method that had saved his neck....his human neck....more times than he cared to remember. He'd even been able to fool casual mage spells with this method. It only involved making himself BELIEVE the lie, assuming the role of HERO to such an extent that even HE fooled himself! The man he'd learned it from had called it " DEEP method acting."

Dark Trilling would have blessed the monk/assassin he'd learned that trick from, if he'd thought it would have helped the sorry SOB's blackened soul! Right now, though, he was too much "in character" to do such a thing! After all, the Hero shouldn't know dark things like that!

Of course, while he did this, he actually gave himself wholly over to Light Trilling (unknowingly). Noble Light Trilling's feelings were the only thing that Fred and the other manimals felt. It was Light Trilling, having no real idea where his strange knowledge came from (attributing it to a gift from his gods), that administered the correct dosage that halted the contractions. Too much of this tasteless powder would cause stillbirth (a vile technique that Zular had used on more than one political opponent's wife to devastate them).

Neither Light Trilling nor the rest of the adventurers knew this. All Fred knew was that his wife was safe!

Fred was about to thank the griffin when the mages finally arrived (only a few minutes later) when Alicia - who was a bit out of it from the wounds she still inexplicably had (inexplicable since her manimal nature should have healed it by now) awoke with a scream. It wasn't like she was still a lycanthrope, who needed to fear injuries inflicted by silver, but her injuries were still there....or had been there!

Alicia's head felt like it was going to explode! Suddenly, she knew what each and every person in the room was feeling, and she felt a bond form between them and herself. She felt an even STRONGER bond form between herself and the manfox known as Frederigo D'Honaire.

He is Fred....but not Fred? Alicia asked herself in confusion as she looks up at the startled looking Fred....who keeps looking back at her....and a mirror image of her (who looks VERY confused herself).

Before she faints from the pain, she suddenly realized who Leaping Stream was. Leaping Stream was HER, it also was the name of her mysterious mirror image....and both of them were bonded to Fred/Swift Foot's soul in a bond of love!

Later, Fred listens to accounts from a patrol of his Manimals, who tell of them rescuing a small group of....analogous manimals from a group of feral humans.

"Oh no," Fred moans as he places his furry head in his leather padded hands. "Not only am I in love with another Alicia....it's the Alicia that betrayed Dragon Fred....who's coming by on diplomatic rounds tomorrow!"

.The Alicia that was born on Terra Prime hugs her husband, and makes reassuring sounds. She too has been hit by all this, but only wants her husband to not be so heart weary.....

Yep, the fallout from the malfunctioning slipgate still are being felt, even after so long being gone!

An "eternal triangle" is complex enough; but here there is the risk of something akin to an "eternal pentagon". Thanks to his Manimal's gift of empathy, when Fred the Manfox had looked at the "other" Alicia under the impression that she was his wife, a bond had formed between them. Not only that, this Alicia carries the kits that Dragon Fred had fathered back in their shared "home" Terra. Thus there is the potential - indeed, it seems to Manfox Fred, almost the certainty - of great pain being caused to himself, his wife, the newcomer, Dragon Fred and his wife (Malachi D'Honaire).

Whilst Manfox Fred's wife tries to reassure him, we switch our attention elsewhere for the moment.

It had taken rather longer than they had anticipated, but the two wagon trains that Fred and Astra 3 and Fred and Astra 4 have organised have at last set off, heading for two different areas within the uninhabited countryside of what was once Allaria. (The country had been blasted by a nuclear weapon, but subsequently healed - as far as its flora and fauna were concerned - by the mages when the Crystallics had still been operational.)

There are about forty wagons in Fred and Astra 3's group, with Fred and Astra's own wagon taking the lead. They have an up to date map, courtesy of the Alliance. Once the border between Aqualaria and Allaria is approached, there are no longer any settlements or roads marked, of course, but just natural features such as hills, rivers and forests. In fact, the greater part of the country is forested, but fortunately there are areas of plain that allow access to the interior, since in the absence of roads the wagons cannot penetrate the forests. The forests and other impassable natural features do mean that they will have to take a rather zigzag route to the region they have in mind as a final destination, though. This destination has been chosen because it is known to have very fertile soil. Unfortunately, no navigable river leads into it, or travelling by boat might have been an easier means of transport.

Fred and Astra, and a few of the others, have examples of the new- fangled firearms, though they don't anticipate any trouble from the orcs. Their group is headed in a very different direction from the area where the orcs were encountered, and in any case after the heavy defeat that they suffered it is assumed that they have retreated to lick their wounds. However, there is always the risk of encountering dangerous wild animals.

A week into the journey, they pass into what was formerly Allaria, this is happening at the same time.....

"Get ball!" Teresa, the most energetic of Fred 3's brood, coos imperiously to Demifox Sigin.

"Magic word?" the demifox mage asks patiently, tilting his fox head as he looks from the barrel he was perched upon down at the little ones as his tail swished around. He was in full fox form, so as to best understand the little ones.

He had been delights that he was able to have a limited communications with Fred's beautiful children, and was amazed...but not totally surprised that such was possible. After all, though he HAD been able to give them human form.....there were bound to be residual effects from them being born (and conceived) as demifox kits! Their parents had been befuddled when it appeared that even their fiercest hunting hounds seemed unusually docile....and seemed so do certain things whenever one of the babies cooed or cried. Their suspicions were confirmed when magical examination DID prove that the hounds were obeying some type of orders from their children (re: 1764)!

All this was fine and well, but Demifox Synizn was going to at least try to teach these little ones a modicum of good manners!

"Please?" the peanut gallery (as Probe liked to call small children sometimes) said in chorus. Demifox Synizn nodded his shaggy head, picked up a small ball in his mouth, and flicked it at each and every bundle. Giggles come from each infant for a while, and the demifox sits back and basks in the glow of it all.

Tiamat's blood! Demifox Synizn thinks to himself. At this rate, I think I'll soon be over my....reservations that I built up during my rather...unfortunate time as a were-bear!

Indeed, both he and his newest "brother"....the one that now was the only "Synizn" to have full right to be called: Synizn Draconarysni.....had been heavily under the sway of their were-bear lycanthropic curse. This entailed that they.....well, let's just say that they'd sired a few bear cubs in their time.....despite having no real SAY in the matter when the beast was fully in control.

A warrior woman and a dragon slayer had freed him from that, and now....every day.....he and his brother were healed a little bit more from the terrible memories of that horrid time.

Little wonder why he and his brother had felt the need...no the DUTY and OBLIGATION....to swear eternal fealty to the ones who'd saved them from what was a living hell.

Little wonder why....both he and his brother secretly loved (something that denoted the hold his adopted new race....since only "true" dragons only fell in when Eye meets Eye) the humans that had saved them. Demifox Synizn loved both Fred and Astra 3 and their children, and thanked Tiamat for all this.

Later, after the brood fell into an exhausted sleep, Demifox Synizn has shifted back into human form......

Demifox Synizn and the others talk...and the conversation soon drifts to what rumors they'd heard of the Voyager, down in Ethiopia.

(Author's note: The Voyager watched in horrified fascination as the slammer ships rose off the Ethiopian desert floor, and went out and killed their assigned targets....just an FYI)

The speculation is a bit longwinded, but well on it's mark as the fox explains what he knows about the Voyager, the Federation and other star empires.....

In the end, we see that Astra 3 no longer wants to go out and gut a few Voyager crewmembers for what was said and done...and we leave them there for Fred 3's group, and switch to the rather unhappy Lord Sithe, after a less than stellar first run with some prototype guns.....

The demifox who calls himself Synizn was pivotal in saving Fred 4's wagon train from the orcs, and his self confidence has been bolstered by it all.....

Synizn looked out at the band of warg riding orcs, and felt a sneer of disdain form on his muzzle. As the green scum ride away on their large wolves, with their wolf mount tail between their legs, the demifox can't help but feel a sense of.... Satisfaction at being able to help.

Despite his light mood as he explained to his friends about his plans for the future, a small nagging doubt about his....usefulness still nibbled at the proud former dragon's heart.

His friends had explained over and over again that they didn't hold him accountable for NOT foreseeing the powerful opponent in Dragoness Moreau, sister to the vile Dragon Minestus in all but blood.

Still, despite knowing in his mind that there was nothing that he could have done to counter the magic that the dragoness had used upon him and his friends....his family.....that had captured them and transformed them into demifoxs with an Atlantian artifact (which had ushered in a whole new set of complications that had delighted the vicious dragoness as demifox nature took it's course)....Synizn felt that his powers as a mage were slipping....that he was becoming useless. Self doubt of this nature was very foreign to the former dragon, and didn't relish the feeling.

The advent of the new fangled gun helped his self-confidence VERY little!

He felt useless no more!

Yes, the newest guns....the repeating rifle and the newer bullets called magnums had played their part, but he knew within the heart that thumped proudly away in his furry chest (furry since he kept slipping into his hybrid form).... That the orcs STILL could have taken this wagon convoy. The margin in battle had somehow been evened out, and some unknown villain ha supplied these monsters with revolvers.

"Fred, whould we at least try to take one orc alive for questioning?" a young man asks from the side, still crouched behind a barrel that had served as a form of shelter as gunfire had been exchanged.

"I'd advise against it, my lord," Synizn says formally, while scanning the woods for yet more green attacks. Synizn's hand weaves in a complex pattern, and a last lone, bold....but utterly idiotic orc burst into flame. "The regular orcen filth knows little more than how to hold and use his weapon....and it useless for getting any useful information form."

"Strong in back but weak in mind, eh?" Fred 4 chuckles mirthlessly while scanning the surroundings. Astra 4 smiles briefly up at him, and then goes back to try to quiet the crying children. Brave though her infants were, the loud noises had frightened them badly!

"No, just kill them and be done with it," Fred says finally, shaking his head. "Though I'd love to get my hands on the black hearted fiend who would put so powerful of weapons in those green monster's hands."

The dead are given proper religious burials, and the wounded tended to. In private, Lord Frederigo D'Honaire, Fred 4 to his friends and associates, places a thankful hand upon Synizn's shoulder.

"Synizn....we'd have been dead back their without you," Fred says simply. "Thanks I give you, and will continue to give you, for without you....I, Astra, my children, and those who trusted me to follow me in this venture would surely be roasted meat within some orc's supper dish without your aid."

Synizn feels his heart fly in happiness. He has found his nitch in life and is happy.

Sir Tisbitt can see that the Orc Lord known as Sithe is.....not happy at all!

Later.....

Balok personal servant smiled a condescending smile as the lord of the orcs stepped into the tunnel down into the home of the dwarves.

"I trust your little test run went well," the young dwarf smiled. "And how did the new armor do?"

BLAM!

The young dwarf dazedly looks up from the ground, spitting out a few teeth where the angered Sithe had pistol whipped him across the mouth.

Balok openly gaped at the set of armor before him. He then snapped his mouth closed, composed himself, and faced the livid orc.

"I said: 'Can ya explain dat?" the orc leader said in a quiet, rumbling voice as he poked a ham handed, warty finger at the large holes in the armor that denoted a small entry wound (and a rather large exit wound).

"The humans seemed have developed something....new," Balok says evenly. "But fear not....we dwarves have been developing new thing, also."

While that was true enough, it didn't denote the series of disasters, finger pointing, and screaming sessions he had with his head artisans.

It didn't denote the eldest artisan found hanging from a noose, with a suicide note bemoaning the shame that he couldn't....reproduce bra brass cartridges like the humans made in quantity.

It didn't denote the dwarves who'd blown their fingers off, trying various chemical compounds in their quest to make the "primer" for a bullet.

It didn't even come close to the anger searing fact that the head artisan could not, as of yet, reproduce the type of "gun powder" that the orcs had brought them within that human "revolver." Whatever it was, it wasn't black powder, and it didn't leave the gun smoking at ALL!

What the dwarves had been able to give the eagerly awaiting orcs was a series of....compromises. Instead of the brass cartridges that the human guns had, the dwarves had used a similar packaging that a human of the 20th century would have recognized as similar to that of a shotgun shell, but the cartridge was made of a thick,

  1. Stiff paper material rather than Plastic...Since the dwarves had no concept of such a substance!

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