A Rangers Tale
Part Eight
By: Jeff R. Young

It was not a lack of courage that kept Draven frozen in place or the fact that he could barely breathe after the hard run he just performed to get away from the goblin band; it was nothing short of complete and total awe. The Ranger now stood only meters from a man who just annihilated a handful of goblinkin by calling down a burst of lightning. One bolt is all it took to disintegrate the wretched beasts. Deep down, he wondered if he had ever seen something like this before, allowing for his lack of memory, or was it as new an experience as it certainly felt.

"Are you ok?" The man asked as he turned to face Draven fully, "You're not breathing, or blinking for that matter."

"I…" Draven stammered in return.

"You?"

"I…" The Ranger repeated, then swallowed hard. He had to work to peel his eyes from the piles of smoldering ash that used to be the creatures who had been chasing him.

"Yeah, you said that." The man stated with a slight grin.

Draven tried again to speak, but as he stood there, eyes tracking over the robed man, nothing his mind could conjure up seemed appropriate. Deep inside, the Ranger couldn't understand why he was acting like he was. Nothing was striking about the man, who was of an average build under his plain brown robe, although the rugged look of his facial features and the strange, dark green color of his hair spoke to things Draven could not figure out. Was he a traveling wizard who's seen too much sun?

"Look, this is awkward enough for me without having you stand there lost for words." The man started, drawing Draven's full attention. He leaned casually on the smooth staff of his as he continued, "So I'll start. My name is Kaylen, and you are?"

"Draven?" The Ranger said, answering the question with a question.

"Are you asking me or telling me?" Kaylen said with amusement.

"Both," Draven said with a little more certainty. With a sigh, he let himself relax enough to bring his breathing under control, but not enough to be able to react should this Kaylen be a foe and not a friend. "I honestly don't know."

Kaylen furrowed his brows in confusion while he kicked up his staff and walked easily over to the Ranger, "You don't know your name?"

Draven took a few cautious steps back and raised the crude sword he held in his right hand. Kaylen halted, cocking a single brow Draven's way. After a slight hesitation, the robed man nodded down toward the blade. When that didn't get a response, Kaylen arched both brows and dramatically motioned to the sword with his head while bringing his quarterstaff around to stand in front. That got Draven's attention.

"Oh," The Ranger barked as he tossed the sword aside. "There, now I'm unarmed."

"Settle down; I said you were safe," Kaylen frowned, "Now, you think your name is Draven?"

"Yes, I…"

"Wait," Kaylen interrupted, "Show me your teeth."

"My what?" Draven said, clearly caught off guard and confused.

"Your teeth, show me!"

Draven offered up a fake but toothy smile, clearly unsure where this was going. When he saw the man nod a few times with a genuine grin, he slammed his mouth shut and gave Kaylen his best scowl, "You want to look between my toes next?"

The laugh Kaylen offered was as authentic as the friendly smack he gave Draven's left shoulder, "I see you tried the glowing mushrooms. They may taste awful and stain your lips and teeth, but they can turn a boring night into so much fun, am I right?"

Kaylen backed off a few steps as Draven ran a finger over his lips, snorting at the humor, "Are you a wizard?"

The man furrowed his brows again, "What makes you think I'm a wizard?"

"Uh, didn't I just see you raise that magic staff of yours, which brought down a bolt of lightning on top of what used to be a bunch of goblins? Or are the mushrooms still working?"

"I did that, yes. But not because of this," Kaylen answered as he raised his staff.

"That's not a magic staff?"

"Nope."

"Do you have trouble walking or something?" Draven asked a bit sarcastically, "If it's not your magic staff, what do you use it for?"

Kaylen stepped in closer again and tapped the end of the staff off Draven's forehead. "I beat things with it." He turned and took a few steps towards the cliff, looking across the chasm at the land, and house, beyond.

After muttering, "ouch," and rubbing his forehead, Draven walked over to the remains of the goblins. He shook his head, again amazed. "Well, for not being a wizard, you sure are good at being one. I mean, there is nothing left of them but ash," He wrinkled his nose as he caught the smell wafting up from the piles, "Oh, that's horrible!"

"What's horrible?" Kaylen asked.

"It smells like raw sewage and burnt feet!" Draven exclaimed as he tried to fight the lurch in his stomach. Behind him, he heard Kaylen laugh, so he spun and shot the man a scowl, "So how do you know magic if you're not a wizard."

"Wizards don't own the magical arts, you know," Kaylen remarked as he glanced back at the Ranger, then added darkly, "This world could use a lot less of them if you ask me?"

"I'm so confused," Draven muttered as he palmed his forehead. He couldn't tell if he felt the bite of an oncoming headache or not, but the situation was defiantly making his mind spin.

Kaylen, seemingly ignoring Draven, walked to the edge of the cliff. With the wave of his hand, he muttered the word "Rulft," then stepped back as roots and vines grew from the edge of the cliff, flowing out across the emptiness towards another set that was coming their way. The two masses of vine and roots met in the middle, forming what looked like a surprisingly stable walkway. The man motioned for Draven to follow and walked confidently across the ten-meter bridge.

Draven took a few cautious steps as he first made the crossing but had to nod approvingly as he moved along. As he followed, he couldn't help but wonder where he had heard that word before. It was clearly a trigger to the magic that made the bridge, but it wasn't Elven as most words of power are. This was something different. Something familiar. For some strange reason, he suddenly thought of Arun, his dire wolf friend.

As soon as Draven stepped on solid dirt again, he turned to watch as the walkway flowed back into the cliff edges. As he looked all around him, he suddenly realized he was trapped. Even though the mass of land he stood on spanned more than a few acres, all four marks on the compass were blocked. The vast chasm cut off the north, east, and south edges, and the west ended at a shear walk wall that rose over sixty meters. Climbing that wall looked impossible. And jumping the chasm was suicide, so he locked that familiar-sounding word in the back of his mind, hoping that if he needed to use it, it would work.

"This way," Kaylen said, leading him across a grassy area towards the lone house that stood on the. Nothing seemed odd to the Ranger as he looked around. The home looked like a farmstead, surrounded by grass and gardens. There were no large animals he could see, but he could hear chickens and a rooster in the distance. The place seemed like a pleasant, cozy environment and one he could get used to if he didn't feel trapped.

As they walked up to the front door, Kaylen moved to knock but paused, glancing to his left, towards the cliff wall west of them. He hesitated for a moment, then reached out and opened the door and walk inside. Draven followed, scanning the interior of the building as he entered. Like everything outside, all seemed normal, except for the cobwebs dangling off various items and furniture.

"I guess he's staying in the cave again," Kaylen muttered.

"Who?"

"Your host," The man returned with a smile.

"My host?" Draven muttered.

Kaylen nodded, "Now, I have some things to tend to, so make yourself comfortable."

"Hey, wait!" Draven cried as Kaylen walked out the door. He made it to the doorway to watch the man walk gingerly towards the cliff, "You're not just leaving me here, are you?"

"Yes, I am," Kaylen answered quickly. He motioned towards the rock wall, "You'll be safe here."

"But does my host know I'm here?"

Kaylen started again, calling back, "Maybe, but I wouldn't scare him just in case!"

"Great!" The Ranger groaned.

"Oh, and Draven?"

"Yeah?"

"Take a bath!"

-

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