The Keeper’s Quest
Lightning split the night sky over Shuyle, and thunder reverberated through the energy-charged air. Lord Arbon sulked in his overstuffed chair in front of a roaring fire, savoring his foul mood instead of his food. Archidus was his younger brother—and his sworn enemy. One by one, Archidus’ Keepers had picked off Arbon’s Sniffers, rogue elves who had defected to Shuyle. Unfortunately, he had a limited supply of them at his disposal, since most elves were loyal to his brother’s pitiful cause.
On the old world, in roughly the last two hundred years, Lord Arbon had lost three Sniffers to the Keepers’ deadly blades. The most recent had left him seething. Balcombe had nearly taken a Keeper, when the Guardian stooped so low as to stab him in the back. Obviously, the Guardian had help, and Arbon suspected the Protector had come out of hiding. The counter bearing the name Protector had vanished for nearly 150 years, but all the signs indicated it had an active Keeper. Arbon tore off another chunk of venison with his teeth and mumbled, “Vengeance will be mine, brother.”
The magic flowing through Arbon’s veins endowed him with unusually long life, and he thought back over the last several centuries. As it had a thousand times before, the flashback of his mother’s death tormented him. A dozen soldiers and some priest, claiming to be an instrument in God’s holy work, had galloped into the town square and captured her. But the priest had been on the devil’s errand that day. Within minutes, they burned her at the stake for practicing witchcraft. Like the other witches at the market, she would have fled had she not been searching for her son. Arbon slammed his fist on the table. Why had he chosen that day to sneak off? His father had told him to stay with his mother. At the sound of her screams and the plume of black smoke, Arbon had run back and watched from behind the wagon of a peddler.
His father, heartbroken and lonely, had turned to the arms of another woman. That woman gave his father a second son—Archidus. Their father favored him, perhaps because the small boy was a seer and had the right answer to every question. But for whatever reason, their father’s eyes twinkled around Archidus, yet when he looked at his elder son, the man hid his scorn behind a false smile. Although the words never crossed his father’s lips, Arbon knew he was to blame for his mother’s death, and darkness soon filled his soul.
As the oldest and most experienced of the Keepers, Arbon should have been voted Master Keeper. But at the dawn of the new world, his conniving younger brother had used his influence to sway the others and had stolen the prestigious title. Thinking of it now brought Arbon’s blood to a boil faster than a blast of energy from an angry elf.
Archidus’ fondness for the human race was a disgrace to everything magical, and their father had displayed the same foolishness. The energy expended to create a new world would’ve been put to better use destroying humankind. If Arbon had his way, in the future every human would bend his knee in deference, or pay the price.
He caressed the gold counters dangling beneath his lavish robes—Propulsion and Creation were his. He needed five more, but his efforts to obtain them had been fruitless for many years. Following the death of Creation’s Keeper, the other Keepers had entrusted their counters to humans to prevent Arbon from obtaining the devices. He had thought it a fool’s decision at the time—humans were measly creatures, after all. But the sheer number of them on the old world had made locating a Keeper challenging. Not to mention, Arbon’s magical abilities and those of his Sniffers were compromised when they traveled to the old world.
Arbon drank his wine in great gulps, hoping to douse the hot wrath welling inside him, then slammed the empty goblet on the table as a knock sounded. “Enter,” he commanded.
His closest ally, Legard, swept into the room, pausing to bow. “Milord, I’ve found it.” The Sniffer’s face was flushed, his cloak dirty and tattered from his travels.
Arbon smiled. “Yes? Do tell.”
Legard turned to close the door behind him. “I’ve located the perfect time portal—a chance to entrap two Keepers, perhaps kill a third if fortune smiles on us.”
Arbon stood and pulled out a chair for the Sniffer before pouring a generous portion of wine into an ornate goblet. “Ahh, Legard, my most loyal friend, your news is cause to celebrate! Come, sit, enjoy food and wine and tell me more.”
Three goblets of wine later, as Legard prepared to return to his quarters, Arbon said, “We must tell no one. Archidus cannot learn of our plan. Safely lock your thoughts against his prying eyes. Recruit two more Sniffers and tell them only what you must. The less they know, the better our chance for success.”
Legard bowed respectfully. “As you wish, milord.”
Archidus could decipher the intentions of others, and Arbon did not doubt his brother would be looking. But Arbon was confident this secret—like so many others in the past—would remain hidden. For both he and Legard were well acquainted with the art of deception.