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The following story was co-authored by Ernie and Vern. Many of you on the August game might appreciate the story and many of you on the September game might finally understand the Friday night drama...


Hadrian snapped out of his revere when a quite voice hissed from behind.
"Answer me this youngster, why do I find myself looking for you when it should be you who is looking for me?”

He turned and saw a dark clad figure causally step from the shadows of the dense wood as though walking through the door of an inn.

In the flickering light of the campfire Hadrian saw a lush blue long coat, black boots and… a face covered by a black hooded steel cage. The shadows seemed to hide the face inside. The dark figure stepped closer until it was illuminated by the fire light. The darkness behind the mask remained.

Hadrian’s hand moved to the hilt of his sword when he instinctively knew to whom the chilling visage belonged.

He swallowed the lump in his throat and stammered, “Z-z-adroz?”

The quiet voice continued, “Zadroz? I was led to believe you had a proper upbringing. ‘Zadroz’ is reserved for those who have my permission to address me in such an informal manner. They are few in number, and you are not one of them”. A small gesture stopped Hadrian before he could draw air to apologize. “None the less I am pleased to have finally found you. Yes, I am in fact, the Rynith Duke who has been waiting with diminishing patience for his DAMNABLE RING!”

Hadrian quickly distilled the list of excuses he had formulated during the last few weeks and decided to tell the truth, shaded to cast himself in the best possible light.

"Well, ah, Duke Zadroz, you see..."

"Green assured me”, The Court Mage interjected, “that you would be somewhat more reliable than you have proved to be". Zadroz spoke calmly but Hadrian could sense the anger simmering below the surface of the Duke’s practiced demeanor.

"Funny you should mention Green, Duke Zadroz…"

Zadroz broke in, “My Lord will suffice”.

"My Lord, of course, my apologies”. It dawned on Hadrian that he was seated while his unexpected guest remained standing. He jumped to his feet, looking about when Zadroz, as though knowing what the fighter was thinking, indicated that he should remain seated on the log near the fire. Hadrian continued, “Green didn't mention that others might be interested in the ring. If I had known it would be so much trouble, I would have..."

"Weigh your words carefully, courier", Zadroz suddenly hissed. "I am not in the mood for negotiation or pathetic excuses”.

At this point, Hadrian noticed that the elves had stealthily taken up positions behind Zadroz, each with an arrow nocked and tentatively pointed in Zadroz's direction. Hadrian quickly wondered if the elves would just as soon unleash their arrows into him and be done with the whole troublesome mission. It hadn't taken Hadrian long to figure out that his companions had other, more important business to attend to, but he was nonetheless glad that they were there. Oddly enough, Zadroz didn't seem at all concerned with them, despite the fact that he must have known they were there.

"Okay, my Lord, no excuses, no negotiation. Got it”. Hadrian recognized that Zadroz probably didn't care to hear the lengthy and sordid tale that caused the delay of his delivery. Zadroz was clearly uninterested in the extreme lengths that Hadrian had taken to retrieve the ring, which had been stolen, auctioned, resold, prodded and liberated at great personal risk.

"I must decide..." Zadroz paused to scratch his unseen chin through the steel cage as though he didn't already know exactly what he was going to do. "...What is a proper course of punishment for your tardiness?"

"Punishment?", Hadrian snapped, incensed at the notion that this journey wasn't punishment enough. "This journey was punishment enough!" Hadrian almost immediately wished that his internal editor operated as quickly as his mouth.

In response, Zadroz lifted a finger, and waves of searing pain coursed through Hadrian's body. As Hadrian writhed in agony, he noticed that the elves were still as statues. Actually, the elves were statues. As though in answer to the strangeness, two Rynith Guard, both wearing the distinguishing masks of the Rynith Elite, emerged from behind the elves.

"How did they sneak up on elves?", Hadrian thought as he fought back the pain. He barely had time to notice that one of the Elite was carrying a wooden staff with a large crystal embedded into its shaft before Zadroz spoke again.

"You have something for me”. Zadroz held out a black gloved right hand.

From his knees, Hadrian, still shaking from the effects of the magikally induced pain, struggled to remove the ring from its pouch. He dropped it into the Duke’s hand. Zadroz palmed the ring and slowly, finger by finger, pulled the glove off of his left hand. At first glance Hadrian saw shriveled, bone white fingers. Bone white… NO! Bones! He was looking at a skeletal claw of a hand! He took a step back and tried, without success to peer into the shadows behind the cage.

“Be so kind as to hold this for me”. Zadroz extended his hand, offering the loose glove to a hesitant Hadrian. “Come now youngster, if I wanted you dead you would be writhing in pain at this very moment”. Hadrian took the glove. “Excellent”, the Mage said and proceeded to slide the ring onto the bone of his index finger.

“By all the gods and devils”, Hadrian thought. This was more than he could have ever expected. He so desperately had tried to figure a way to get the Mage to don the ring and here it was, done without any fast talk. He hoped that the magik of the ring might work to save him by questing Zadroz to leave him alone, forever.

“Now, my Lord”, the words dripped with sarcasm, “this is the way it’s going to be…”

Zadroz interrupted with a chuckle and raised his obscene claw. The ring was suspended around the finger as though the flesh was still in place. “Fascinating is it not? But time presses and time is of importance to me”. Something in the Mage’s tone gave Hadrian the sense of age, extreme and unnatural age.

"I see you have taken the time to solve the puzzle," Zadroz chuckled. "You are perhaps cleverer than you look. It is your misfortune that the ring has no effect. I have decided. You will make amends for your previous failure by delivering something for me”.

Hadrian took another step back, shaking his head.

“Enough of this”, Zadroz said bluntly, dropping all pretext in his voice. “Put on the ring”.

For a split second Hadrian pondered making a run for it. His mind flashed to his journey from Doro Y’del. "What of the elves", he thought. "Would Zadroz seek to 'punish' them as well if I escape? And does that matter?” He had slept easier with elves as companions, but they did further delay him. Elves certainly take their time.

"I can compel you with magik to place the ring on your finger”, Zadroz intoned without any emotion. "But I would prefer that you did it of your own accord."

"A-ha," Hadrian thought to himself. "The victim of the ring must voluntarily put the ring on his finger for the magik to work. I will never, ever place this ring on my finger, even if it means my death."

“Yes”, Zadroz said, “You do have to don the ring yourself.”

“Can you hear my thoughts”? Amazement rang in his voice.

Ignoring the question Zadroz spoke in amused voice, “Let me entice you..."

Hadrian felt a small itch forming over his body that quickly turned into a burning sensation. Instinctually, Hadrian attempted to scratch the itch, but Zadroz lifted a finger and mumbled some strange words. Hadrian had had itches that he couldn't reach before, but this sensation was a hundred times more painful. Not only was he chilled to the bone, but his skin was also on fire. He was frozen, literally a giant chunk of ice, but his very skin quivered and writhed down to the follicle, begging for relief that only a scratch could provide. The itch seem to last an hour, but Hadrian knew from personal experience that the fairy spell probably only lasted less than a minute, but he was frozen for far longer. The psychological need to scratch, to move his fingers over his once tormented skin, still remained. Hadrian felt the numbness in his limbs subside as the warm night air hit his frozen body. He could have stopped himself from hitting the ground by putting his hands out, but he was unable to control the instinct to itch himself first. The relief was disappointing, but entirely necessary for the psychological healing to begin.

"Put on the ring," Zadroz intoned with the same intensity as before. Hadrian had to ask himself how bad the torture could get. He had heard the rumors of the Rynith torture masters and now firmly believed that Duke Zadroz probably trained them all.

He should not have wasted time with thought. The smell of burning flesh was the first thing that Hadrian noticed before he became consumed in brilliant yellow and orange flame. The hair on his head sizzled as the flames quickly spread over his entire body. He tried to roll on the ground, but something, someone was holding him in place as the flames began to cook his skin.

“Would that I had all night child”, Zadroz said, “it is rare that I have such a stubborn and strong subject. Unfortunately, important issues press me for time.” Again Hadrian sensed extreme age.

"PUT ON THE RING!" Zadroz said with force, clearly enjoying the spectacle. Hadrian could tell that the Court Mage was exhilarated by it.

"Okay, okay", Hadrian heard himself mutter. The flames were suddenly gone. Hadrian wasn't sure how long it took him to discover that he wasn't burned to a crisp, but there was little relief in knowing that he wasn't injured when he considered his feeling of complete and utter defeat.

Hadrian, barely able to move, racked with pain and covered with sweat, suffering from the onslaught of emotions and tortures, slipped the ring onto his finger. "I hate this ring", his thoughts betrayed as he could feel the magik of the device take a hold of his mind. He could fight whatever quest he was given, but he also knew that to resist would mean a painful death. He looked up into the shadows of the cage, waiting. Zadroz stepped forward and reached down as though offering Hadrian a hand up. The fighter reached out, his mind too numbed to realize he was about to grasp the bony claw that was the Mage’s left hand. Before he could pull back his hand was grasped with icy cold bones. The obscenity of a hand held a shocking strength. Hadrian could not withdraw. He stood but the cold claws retained their grip.

In the next instant Hadrian felt a pressure behind his eyes and then the sense that something, somehow, was picking through his thoughts. He tried to resist and a blinding lime green light flashed in is head. He cried out as a sickening headache staggered him. Then the intrusion stopped, leaving him weak kneed and fighting the impulse to heave up his evening meal. Zadroz stepped back and released Hadrian’s hand. He chuckled with honest amusement.

“You saved an elf from being eaten by a tree? How utterly droll. But to actually borrow from the woman you were bidding against. Come now youngster, whatever were you thinking?” This was followed by hearty laughter. “This has been a most interesting evening but all good things must come to an end” Zadroz turned to the Elite with the staff and indicated that he should give it to Hadrian. This was done with dispatch.

"You will take this staff to the Silver Forest in Quivera before September's full moon is done", Zadroz said clearly. He turned abruptly and walked towards the woods. As he and the Elite faded into the darkness Zadroz made one last comment.

"And kill the old wizard who comes for it."

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