Is The

High in the mountains of lost land of Mu, Evora climbed from the waters of the bathing pool in her crystal castle. Her lean, muscular body glistened as the water clinging to her soft curves caught the glow from the light crystals. Her slightly pointed ears and the magenta shade of her hair hinted at her unique heritage. Her father had been a full-bloodied mountain elf. Her mother, on the other hand, had been the high priestess of the Eco Witches. This was why Evora had been granted the position of Warrior Queen. She was responsible for using her formidable prowess for the magical and combative arts to protect the land and all who lived within it. Evora was a powerful force on the side of life, and it was a responsibility she took very seriously.

Her dedication to her duty was what made Evora so intent on her preparations today. Today was the kind of Day of Power that happened only once a millennium. There would be an eclipse on the day of the Spring Equinox, and the planetary and stellar alignments formed perfect geometric patterns to focus and enhance the energies. Normally, a day like this could come and go without anybody even noticing. If anything, they might feel a little luckier or more energetic than normal, but that would be it. It should just be a day like any other.

Evora, however, feared that this was not going to be the case today. One of the Seers of the Order of Eco Witches had contacted Evora about a vision. The Seer had seen Malgur, a powerful necromancer, capturing and channeling today’s powerful energies day into a massive spell that would rip the veil separating the land of the living from the land of the dead. This necromancer could then use the power and beings of the Shadow Realm to make himself ruler of BOTH worlds. Only the Warrior Queen of Mu could stop this from happening.

Evora slid her long, shapely legs into her silken hose. Then she donned a black leather top that cupped her firm breasts and hugged her abdomen, while leaving her arms and shoulders bare. Evora preferred to rely on her speed rather than on bulky armor, and liked as much freedom of movement as she could get. The black leather miniskirt matched her top and allowed her legs to move freely. She slipped her feet into her knee-high black boots. Finally, she completed her outfit with some golden jewelry, including a circlet of golden mail on her brow. This band not only was the symbol of her position, but it also kept her flowing reddish hair from her eyes in battle. It was matched by her golden belt, which had a mystic amethyst, the Gem of Life, set in the buckle. The Warrior Queen studied her reflection in the glass before she picked up her sword and left the room, determined to find the necromancer and stop his evil plans.

* * *

Late morning found Evora deep within the wilds of the Forest of Fear. Malgur’s keep was somewhere in this dismal place, which was inhabited only by the most foul creatures of Mu. Evora had ridden hard to get this far so quickly, and had left her mount in the care of some soldiers stationed near the Forest. The beast would only slow her down, and would be in constant peril. The shapely half-elf had decided that she would be best on foot from this point on.

The Warrior Queen’s musings were cut short by a sound. It was the softest of rustlings, and any human would have easily missed it. Evora’s hearing, like that of her elven kin, was more acute. She slowly slid her right hand across her body, until it grasped the hilt of the sword that hung on her left hip. Her pace quickened slightly. She hoped to avoid trouble, if possible. Her only interest lay in reaching Malgur’s castle.

No sooner had she had this thought, however, when five hulking forms dropped from the trees, surrounding Evora. At first glance, they looked like large men in horned helmets. It soon became apparent, however, that the horns were natural, not decorative. Evora drew her sword as she faced the hobgoblins.

“You’re a long way from home, little one,” the largest of the hobgoblins said. Evora easily picked him as the leader of the group; hobgoblins tended to base their rank on strength and size.

“It’s such a nice day,” Evora said, “that I thought I’d take a stroll in the woods.”

The hobgoblin leered. “Too bad. People get hurt in these woods. You should come with us…unless you want to get hurt!”

Evora sighed as she dropped into a fighting crouch. “Let me give you some advice,” she said. “Hobgoblins aren’t smart enough for subtlety. You’d be better off making your threats directly.”

Anger flashed in the creature’s beady black eyes. “Really? Then how’s this: Get her!”

Evora dropped to the ground and rolled as a huge battle-axe swung through where she had just stood. Hobgoblins are faster and stronger than they look, so she didn’t dare let them touch her. However, they weren’t terribly bright, and Evora was a skilled, highly trained fighter with decades of experience. She figured the odds were just about even.

The Warrior Queen ran at the leader. Before he could react, she stepped on his waist and chest, using her momentum to literally run up his massive body. Her third step came down, HARD, right in the center of the monster’s face.

As the hobgoblin dropped, Evora did a back flip that carried her over the heads of her other assailants. While sailing over them, her sword arm swung out. In this way, she relieved one of the creatures of his weapon, along with the hand that had held it.

Two of the remaining three hobgoblins rushed forward and grabbed Evora by the arms. They sought to prevent her from fighting through their superior strength. Evora was prepared for such a strategy, however. After all, she controlled vast magical powers. “Tlaloc Anu,” she said as she pointed her fingers at her would-be captors. Powerful lightning bolts flew from her hands, burning the hobgoblin’s grayish green flesh and hurling them across the clearing.

There was only one opponent left. He gripped his battle-axe more tightly and his eyes narrowed in anger, but he took a step back from Evora. She grinned as she advanced. The fancy stuff was nice, but now she could indulge in some simple swordplay! She leapt forward, her sword cutting a wide arc in the air. Soon, the sound of metal ringing on metal filled the woods.

Evora was enjoying herself, dodging all her opponent’s blows and slipping past his defenses to add to his growing collection of cuts. However, she remembered that she had more important things to worry about than teaching a stupid hobgoblin a lesson. She moved in to deliver the coup de grace. It was at that moment that she was hit from behind – and above – and all around. She dimly realized that a tree had fallen on her, the branches buffeting her to the ground, before she passed out.

* * *

Evora groaned as she awoke. At least, she tried to. What came out instead was a soft, muffled noise. The elf-maid’s eyes flew open when she realized that she had been bound and gagged. Being in such a state at the mercy of hobgoblins was NOT a good thing!

At first glance, Evora felt relieved. The hobgoblins were gone! Then she studied her situation a bit more closely and realized that she was still in danger.

The hobgoblins had tied Evora’s hands behind her back. They were pinned there by ropes that encircled her torso. They had even tied a rope around her waist, fed it between her legs, and lashed her wrists to it to restrict her movements even more. Her long legs were tied together at the ankles and the knees. The villains had also bent her knees so that her ankles could be fastened to her ropes around her thighs. A heavy gag covered her mouth, preventing her from speaking any spells. Evora seemed helpless, but that wasn’t the worst of it.

The hobgoblins had bent a large sapling double and staked the top to the ground. A length of rope ran from the upper branches of the tree to a noose that fit snugly around Evora’s neck. A lit torch had been pounded into the ground so that it would burn through the line holding the tree down. When that happened, the tree would spring back to its normal upright position. If Evora were lucky, the jerk would snap her neck. If not, she faced slow strangulation, some fifty feet above the forest floor!

The Warrior Queen knew she had to work quickly; the rope holding the tree was not that thick. It wouldn’t take long to burn through once it caught fire. Her sword, she noticed, was on the ground, some 30 feet away. There was no way she would be able to cut herself free. She knew her best bet lay in her magical abilities, which meant removing the gag. But first, she had to keep from being hung.

The awkward position in which she had been bound prevented Evora from moving fast or far. She couldn’t roll, and there was little leverage. Still she had to reach the torch, which was only five or so feet from her. It seemed like miles.

Evora tightened her stomach muscles, drawing her knees forward as much as she could while she shifted her weight forward. This lifted her buttocks up in the air. Then she put her weight back on her knees and pushed. After a few seconds, during which the beautiful elf feared that her plan wouldn’t work, her torso slid forward. When she was flat on the ground again, Evora shifted her weight forward and pulled her knees up again.

In this manner, she slowly slid along the ground, but a sultry, leather-clad snake. Inch by torturous inch, she moved toward the burning torch. Her muscles ached. She felt like her skin, where it touched the ground, was being dragged over a hot file. Sweat rolled down her brow and burned her eyes, which she kept locked on the flame.

It seemed like forever before Evora saw the edge of the torch right before her face. She craned her neck as she turned her head, hooking her chin around the base of the torch. A slight acrid smell filled the air, indicating that the tips of her hair were being slightly burnt. However, the Warrior Queen couldn’t worry about that now. She locked her chin to her shoulder, trapping the torch. Then she rocked back and forth, loosening the torch in the ground. Finally, it pulled loose and dropped to the ground, extinguishing the flame.

When she looked at the rope, Evora saw that it was partly burned. That meant that she was still in danger, and had to hurry to free herself. For that she needed a tool. Luckily, she now had one: the torch!

Using the same slow, frustrating movements that had brought her this far, Evora shifted herself and tried to catch the edge of her gag on the bottom tip of the torch. Then she pulled her head forward so that the gag would be pushed downward. Instead, the torch slipped forward.

Evora cursed into her gag as she slid forward to try again—and again—and again. Evora was afraid that she was doomed as she prepared for her fifth attempt. Once again, the torch started to slip. This time, however, the top of the torch caught against a stone and stayed fixed in position. The bottom edge pressed against the curvaceous captive’s cheek before sliding under the gag and forcing down, past Evora’s chin! She was then able to spit out the cloth that the gag had held in place and lick her dry lips before she said, “Ego Nimbus.”

The rope holding the tree parted; the treetop hurled upward, carrying the deadly noose with it. However, the noose passed harmlessly through Evora’s slender neck as she dissolved into a fine mist. The mist swirled and coalesced in the center of the path, taking the form once again of Evora, Warrior Queen! She stooped to retrieve her sword and slid it into her belt.

When her hand was on her belt, Evora made the discovery. The Gem of Life was gone from her buckle! She realized then what she should have realized sooner. The encounter with the hobgoblins, despite appearances, was not chance. They had been minions of the necromancer, Malgur. He must have sent them to steal the Gem, hoping to use it in his upcoming Ritual of Dark Power. Evora looked skyward. The eclipse was only a few hours away, so she had to hurry. Turning down the path, she ran with the speed and nimbleness only possessed by someone with elven heritage.

* * *

Malgur’s castle sat atop Grave Mountain. It overlooked the surrounding countryside like a vulture, perched above a dying man, waiting to pounce. In actuality, the building of rough-hewn, jet-black stone was fairly small, as castles go. However, it seemed larger and more foreboding, due to the aura of evil that seemed to radiate from its dark walls.

Evora clung to one of those walls like a spider. The rough surface made it possible for her to claw her way upwards towards the top of the wall. This side of the castle faced out over a sheer drop, so few would be willing to risk the ascent. As a result, it was the least guarded area of the castle. Evora was counting on that allowing her to reach the top unseen. A troll guard noticed the Warrior Queen just as she eased her shapely form over the top of the wall. Before he could raise any alarm, Evora lashed out with a spinning kick that knocked the troll over the edge and down to the jagged rocks below. His cry of terror was whipped away by the wind; it was doubtful that anyone had heard it. Evora drew her sword and advanced into the depths of the castle.

The mystic maiden of Mu moved quickly and quietly through the hallways, checking in every room and avoiding confrontation as much as possible. The gods knew she wasn’t afraid of the trolls and hobgoblins; she fought their kind every day. Her concern was time. The eclipse was fast approaching, and she couldn’t waste a moment with unnecessary combat. She had to find a way to foil Malgur’s plan, or the earth would be enveloped in darkness for all eternity.

Evora found one door, near the bottom of the castle, tightly locked. The seductive sorceress slid a thin dagger from its hiding place within the hilt of her sword. She slipped the dagger’s tip into the lock and jiggled it. Her friend, Nedrak the Dwarf, could pick the most difficult of locks with barely a thought. Evora hoped that she had learned a thing or two as she wiggled and twisted the dagger. She was just about to give up and hack the door open with her sword when the lock snapped open. Evora eased the door back and looked inside.

The room beyond was a small cell, dimly lit by a small tallow candle. There wasn’t much furniture in the room, just the table that held the candle and a low wooden bunk. A figure stirred on the bunk, but didn’t rise or make much noise. Evora slipped inside, closed the door and carried the candle over to examine the room’s occupant.

Tied to the bunk, with a tight gag over her mouth, lay a pixie. Like most of her race, the girl was no more than four feet high, with a slender, perfectly formed body. She had platinum blonde hair that fell to her waist and wings, like those of a butterfly, which grew from her back. Pinned beneath the girl and encased in the ropes that encircled both pixie and bed, the wings were currently useless. The pixie’s wrists and ankles were tied to the slatted edges of the bunk, holding them out at an angle from her body. There were more coils of rope that encircled the pixie’s body and the bed, pinning her down at the chest, waist, thighs and calves. The lower portion of her face was covered by a heavy leather strap that ensured silence. Evora put the candle down and, motioning the captive to silence, eased the gag from her mouth.

“Who are you?” the half-elf heroine asked.

“Princess Anadria of the Shining Star Clan,” came the reply. “I was kidnapped yesterday and brought here. You have to help me; I think they plan to kill me in some kind of a ritual!”

Evora nodded as she used her sword to slash the girl’s bonds. Dark magic as powerful as Malgur was attempting this day WOULD require a blood sacrifice; she should have thought of that sooner. However, she realized that this would work well in her favor. If she got Anadria out of the castle, he would have no sacrifice available, and less than an hour to find one. She would have defeated him before the two even met!

Once Anadria was free, Evora led her down the hall to a window she had spotted earlier. “Are you strong enough to fly?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” the blonde pixie responded. “If it will get me out of here, I can fly to the moon and back!”

Evora grinned. “Well, I think just over the wall and out of the Forest of Fear should do the trick. If you head due north until the edge of the Forest, and then turn east, that should take you right over your clan’s homeland.”

“Thank you,” Anadria said as she took to the sky. “If you ever need the help of the Shining Star Clan, we are forever in your debt!”

Evora watched until the feminine form had become just a dark, distant blur in the sky. Then she touched her belt buckle and tightened her grip on her sword. “Now, Malgur,” she said, “you have something of mine. And I want it back!”

* * *

The rest of the castle proved useless to Evora. However, in the center of the courtyard stood a small tower, similar in shape to the Rook on a chessboard. Malgur must have his center of power in there. At first she had thought that it was some kind of siege tower; it would be easier on the wizard to keep his power center close by, in the castle proper. She then figured that someone like this necromancer wouldn’t even trust his own minions too explicitly. Perhaps this kind of solitude was the only answer for him. She flattened herself against a wall as she peeked out the doorway into the courtyard.

Trolls and hobgoblins patrolled the area. As she watched, trying to formulate a plan, Evora saw the door to the tower open and a man stepped out. Although she had never seen Malgur before, she knew that was who this was. He was thin, almost skeletal. He appeared tall, but Evora quickly decided that he was actually of average height; his thinness just gave the illusion of being taller. His skin was pale, almost the color of parchment. It wouldn’t have surprised the Warrior Queen if this was the first time Malgur had been out in the sunlight in decades. Compared to his skin, the long stringy hair that hung from his head looked jet black, and almost blended into the black robe he wore. Clutched in his left hand was a heavy book bound in black leather.

“It is time,” Malgur said. While he didn’t speak loudly, his voice carried. This was the effect of the magical energy he had obviously spent the morning building. “Bring me the…”

Malgur’s voice trailed off, and he turned to look at the spot behind which Evora stood. His eyes were so bloodshot that they appeared like two black spots of ink floating atop pools of wine. “She’s gone,” he said softly. Then, more loudly, almost shrieking with anger, “MY SACRIFICE IS GONE!” He raised his hand, and a bolt of energy flared from it, striking the wall near Evora and causing the stone to vaporize. The Warrior Queen was exposed to her enemies.

“She’s responsible,” Malgur said. “But she can repair the damage she’s done. Take her!”

Hordes of the hideous guards charged at the leather-clad warrior witch. Evora cast a spell that gave her lightning-quick speed and ran between the monsters, who seemed to her to be moving in slow motion. She swung her sword at the necromancer’s head, prepared to separate it from his shoulders.

The sword stopped as if it had struck iron, and a powerful magical backlash was conducted up the metal and into the girl’s arms. Evora was hurled backwards by the force, which took her entirely by surprise. To erect a negative screen about his body so fast, the necromancer must be faster than she would have imagined. The Warrior Queen landed on her back several feet away, and climbed quickly, if unsteadily, to her feet. Then she found herself surrounded by trolls and hobgoblins, and the battle began.

Evora cursed as her sword flashed through the air. If it had just been her against these minions, she probably would have won. Many of the creatures fell to her blade as it was. However, she was outnumbered physically, and all of her magical attacks were countered by Malgur on the side. Evora was forced to fight a battle on two fronts, and it was a battle she was slowly losing. The half-elf heroine looked around for a means of escape; she had to regroup and try a new strategy. Suddenly, however, a heavy blow knocked her legs out from under her. Trolls and hobgoblins piled upon the prone mystic.

Malgur grinned evilly as he turned back towards his tower. “Now, bring her so the ritual can begin…”

* * *

The room for the ritual was pretty much was Evora would have expected. It was large, and composed entirely of the same black stone as the castle. The black was broken by occasional markings of red, obviously blood of some kind, painted on the walls. A huge cauldron bubbled away in one corner, and there were for iron braziers, from which a foul black smoke arose, dividing the magic circle into quarters. The circle itself was drawn with blood-red sand on the floor. In the center of it was sacrificial altar, to which Evora had been bound.

The altar was the same rough black stone, covered with a black cloth. Evora’s hands were pulled up and out, and tied to iron rings in the corners of the stone. Her ankles and thighs had been lashed together, giving her body the shape of a “Y.” A heavy cloth had been pulled between her teeth and tied behind her head, effectively gagging her and preventing the use of her spells. Hanging directly above her was the Gem of Life. Beyond that, there was a circular hole in the ceiling, through which she could see the eclipse coming closer to completion.

Malgur slowly walked around the circle counter-clockwise, chanting in ancient languages as he did. To the casual observer, he almost seemed oblivious to his surroundings and the beautiful captive in the center of the circle. However, Evora knew that his senses, finely honed to magical use, were well aware of every detail of the area. At the exact moment of the eclipse, he would know and react. She had to have a plan by then, and she didn’t have long to think of one.

The eclipse was almost full. The thick smoke from the braziers gave way to rippling energy that flooded the altar. The energy from the eclipse was channeled by the Gem of Life into this mix. Evora felt the power grow around her, and knew that it was easily enough power to rip the veil separating the Living from the Dead. Malgur stepped up to the head of the altar and removed a ritual knife from within his robes. His chanting reached a fever pitch as he raised the dagger, prepared to plunge it into the breast of his supposedly helpless prisoner.

At the last possible second, Evora grabbed Malgur’s robe where it brushed the altar near her hand. She yanked as hard as she could, swinging her bound legs upward at the same time. As Malgur pitched forward, off balance from the tug, Evora’s boots slammed into his head. Stunned, the necromancer dropped the dagger and stumbled back from the altar in a daze.

Evora couldn’t believe her luck. She had counted on fouling up the timing of the ritual. For a spell this powerful, timing was crucial. Sure that she was going to die, the noble Warrior Queen sought only to prevent her death until AFTER the eclipse, which would prevent Malgur from opening the doorway to the land of the dead.

However, the gods seemed to have other plans for the mystic maiden. Malgur’s dropped dagger landed on the altar, inched from Evora’s left hand. Twisting and squirming, she was able to grasp the hilt and flip the knife around, along her wrist, and slash the ropes that bound her hand to the iron ring. She quickly rolled over and freed her other hand, then rolled off the edge of the altar before attacking the bonds around her legs.

Her move had been just in time. A powerful blast of sable lightning crashed into the altar where she had been just seconds before. Malgur had recovered from the blow.

“Damn you, witch!” he shrieked. “I won’t be denied! I still have time to perform the sacrifice, and I will see you die!”

Evora, now free, pulled the gag from her mouth and responded, “Only if you can watch me from the other side of the veil!” With a wave of her hand and a quick mystic phrase, she fired a blast of magical energy at Malgur. However, the beam splintered and faded about two feet from the necromancer’s body. His magical shields were much too powerful for Evora’s spells!

“Stupid woman,” the dark lord sneered. “I’ve spent three days raising my energy for this ritual. There’s no way that you can channel as much power as I am right now!”

Evora knew he was right. But if she couldn’t channel the necessary energy, she knew something that could…something that actually WAS, right at that moment! It was risky, but it was her only chance to defeat the power-hungry sorcerer.

Evora used every ounce of her strength to hurl the heavy altar at Malgur. She had no intention of actually hitting him with it. However, as he deflected the stone slab, in that split second that he was distracted, Evora leapt upward. Her right hand closed over the Gem of Life, and she immediately poured every bit of her power and will into firing a power blast through the Gem and into the evil Malgur.

Malgur staggered back under the mystic onslaught, but regrouped and fought back. A blast of evil energy from his hands intercepted the bright beam from Evora’s Gem and pushed it back. The two beams met in the very center, between the combatants, and cancelled each other out. Neither could overpower the other.

Evora had been ready to die to save the world, but given a choice she would rather live. She planned to destroy Malgur and spit on his grave. She just needed to figure out how! Then, almost as an afterthought, she realized that Malgur’s sacrificial dagger was still clutched in her left hand. Like most necromancers, he preferred to do things with dark magic. Physical combat would almost never enter his mind. So, while continuing to fire her energy blast from the rapidly weakening Gem, Evora hurled the knife, underhand, at her foe.

The blade slipped right past Malgur’s shields, which were against magical, not mundane, attacks. It bit into his chest and sank up to the hilt. Malgur, stunned, stopped his attach and just looked at the knife that seemed to have bloomed from his rib cage.

No longer held in check by Malgur’s will, the energy that he had built up began to run wild in his body. Dark cracks appeared along his flesh, starting at the wound and radiating outward. Malgur tried to halt the process, but it was too little, too late. His body exploded, literally vaporizing in the escaping power.

Evora stood for a second, unsure if it was all truly over. She only allowed herself to relax when she noticed that sunlight was pouring through the hole in the ceiling. The eclipse, and the danger that it represented, was over. Malgur was no more. The world was safe.

The beautiful Warrior Queen snapped the Gem of Life back into her belt buckle, straightened her skimpy leather armor, and picked up her sword from a shelf in the corner of the room. She knew that evil, soul-sucking monsters like Malgur could be found throughout Mu. However, whenever they appeared, the Warrior Queen would be there, to protect the land.