|Disclaimer: The characters and story are based on the series BeastMaster: The Legend Continues are property of Tribune Entertainment Company. There is no intent to infringe on their rights, this is only for pure enjoyment.|
Part 1 (Epilogue)
"We’re almost to the top, Tao." Dar looked below to find his friend struggling up the steep slope. Suddenly, telepathic words entered his thoughts and he gazed skyward at the majestic eagle soaring above. He waited for the aerial vision to fade from his mind before he continued climbing the steep bank. "We have to hurry."
Tao needed his full concentration on the task at hand--loose rocks and dirt trickling beneath his feet caused him to slide. He grabbed onto a root jutting out of the incline, which stopped his tailspin. As soon as he caught his balance, he looked up to see how much farther they had to climb before reaching the top. Tao envied his taller, more agile friend. The Beastmaster's every movement seemed surefooted and cunning like the animals he lived amongst and studied. The Eiron smiled, forever grateful the day his strong friend had rescued him from sure death by the Terrons. Since then, Tao stayed and journeyed with Dar to other lands. He found there was more to learn during their adventures than being on his own. Most of all, Tao enjoyed teaching his wisdom, but found, at times, Dar wasn't willing to change his ways.
"Tao? Do you need help, Tao?"
Dar's words snapped the young Eiron scholar back to the present. "Sorry, just catching my footing." Tao started upward at a faster pace, knowing his friend was slightly anxious. "If Sharak's as old and wise as he claims to be, you'd think he'd have picked us an easier path than this rocky terrain."
The Beastmaster smiled down at his newfound companion and shook his head because Tao was always complaining about something. With his fingers, he brushed back one of the long tendrils of blond hair that fell across his eyes. Thunderclaps echoed from the forest behind, alerting Dar. It was the forest demon. "We don't have much time, Tao. Take my hand. Curupira's upset."
Tao gratefully grabbed the extended hand and relaxed his weight as Dar hauled him upward to stand side by side. Before he had time to catch his breath, the shorter man found he had to run in order to keep up with his long-legged friend. Tao stubbed his toe on several overgrown roots as they entered the forest. Hopping to favor the injured foot, he soon ignored the pain and ran normally.
"I see her," Dar spoke without being winded. He froze in his tracks when he spotted the magnificent bird Curupira was holding. It was huge and pure white. Its head spun around upon hearing the intruders.
Tao slammed into Dar's back not realizing he had stopped. He grabbed hold of his friend to steady himself. His mouth dropped at the sight ahead. His eyes widened when the green forest demon he knew as Curupira started blowing on the broken wing of a huge owl. Its wing mended as her breath touched the surface. Tao, like Dar, was awestruck by this elegant creature, known to be the wisest of all birds. Several seconds passed before he uttered a word. "What happened?"
Although captivated by the beauty of the bird, Dar quickly scanned the surroundings and noticed the large net tangled between several trees above them. It looked tattered and damaged on one edge...most likely where the bird had injured itself.
"I'll tell you what happened," Curupira barked. She squinted as her temper rose. When the owl she was holding became startled, her mood shifted and she soothed the creature instantly. "I didn't mean to upset you, dear friend. Fly home now." Curupira lifted her arms upward, releasing the owl that eagerly flew to its freedom.
"Magnificent," Tao whispered under his breath as he watched the large bird vanish into the woods. Suddenly, the green demon whose feet were on backwards whipped around and approached the two men, hands on her hips.
Curupira's stern frown warned Dar she wasn't in the mood to socialize. Then again, had she ever been? He swallowed hard as he wondered how he could soothe her ruffled feathers. For once, he was hoping Tao would say something...anything.
"People," she spat. "People and their waste. They're useless."
The man with the silver tongue finally came through. "It's a fruit collector." Tao had been studying the large net that now expanded across to three trees, the fourth side broken free of its hold. He paced back and forth, as he described the purpose of the net, demonstrating with his hands. "You see, when the fruit ripens, instead of falling to the ground and becoming bruised or spoiled, it rolls within the net and gathers in the center. I'm sure there used to be a small basket tied to the middle for the fruit to drop into. Very, very clever."
"They should have taken it with them when they left." Curupira did not marvel over the net's design the way Tao did. "I want you to remove it, Beastmaster, before another creature gets tangled in it."
"Of course," Dar answered. "Tao, it looks old and worn in places. I don't think the people use it anymore." He pulled his satchel off and placed it carefully on the ground, releasing its contents.
Podo and Kodo scrambled out, darting and dashing over one another in search of food. Their attention was soon diverted when Dar spoke telepathically to his ferret friends. They understood their mission and Kodo ran up the nearest tree and started chewing on the rope that held one corner of the net in place. Podo headed off towards the opposite tree, stopping at a small berry bush to grab a quick morsel.
Dar smirked at his furry friend and then looked up at the last tree holding the third corner, his hazel eyes reflecting the green leaves. He was midway up the tree by the time Tao answered.
"You're right, Dar. The tribe was most likely nomadic. I just don't understand why they would leave such a well-crafted net behind. Unless…unless something prevented them from removing it...like Terrons." Tao picked up the end that had already fallen loose from its hold. He studied the heavy twine and recalled the familiar woven pattern. "I know this weave. I believe the people who made the net were called Varkins--a tribe of nomadic scholars. It's presumed they were wiped out by Terrons long ago."
"The Territories border this side of the Mydlands. It's possible," Dar surmised as he tugged the stubborn knot holding the net. Both ends that Kodo and Podo gnawed at fell to the ground. Completing their task, they scrambled in search of mischief.
"You're just making excuses for their mistakes. People always destroy, intentionally or not...they just do!" Curupira exclaimed as she paced around Tao.
The green demon made Tao nervous for she had a temper that ignited as quickly and unpredictably as lightning. He wondered if she controlled the lightning. One could always hear a clap of thunder whenever she was upset. "Curupira, you're wrong--" Tao stopped short, wishing he had never used the word 'wrong' trying to defend the ways of people.
Too late. Curupira waved her arm and the scrawny man went flying backwards. His foot became caught in the net, yanking it loose from its last hold.
Tao landed a few feet away when they both heard a thud behind them. The force of Curupira's strike and Tao's foothold of the net threw Dar off balance. The unexpected tug sent him tumbling to the ground, knocking the wind out of him. He didn't stir.
Worried, Tao scrambled to his feet and rushed over to where his friend lay. "He's not breathing."
Curupira was now standing above them, curiously tilting her head. "Stand aside," she ordered as she knelt beside Dar's body and leaned over placing her lips on his. Tao became worried, recalling the time he had witnessed the forest demon suck the life from Ketzwayo's body through his mouth. She had always warned them not to sleep with their mouths open. He wanted to protest her actions, but her ferocity of late convinced him to remain silent. Curupira blew her magic into Dar's mouth and soon he began to breathe on his own.
Tao released a grateful sigh. Then he remembered the young boy they found in the woods claimed Curupira had breathed life back into the dead boars they had hunted. He wondered if he could do the same thing. Perhaps forcing air into someone's lungs would revive them.
Dar blinked several times before opening his eyes. His hand went straight to the back of his head. "Ah, that hurts..."
Proud of her accomplishment, Curupira smiled as she looked from the Beastmaster to his sidekick. "You can both thank me later. I've wasted too much time here waiting for you to show up." She turned her attention back to Dar. "At least the net is down. Make sure you burn it. Got it?"
Dar had trouble focusing but soon the green blur staring at him transformed into that of a woman's face. Although mostly green, her blonde hair and beautiful human features made her attractive. He smiled. "Hello."
Curupira scrunched her nose, unsure of what to make of his gesture. "What's wrong with him?"
Concerned, Tao asked gently, "Dar, you all right?"
Dar turned his head towards the man's voice. The fast movement made his head spin and he clenched his jaw. He opened his eyes again when the pain subsided.
"Dar?" Tao repeated.
"Who?" Dar replied. "Who are you?" Slowly, he turned his head back to the woman. "And you?"
Curupira's eyes met with Tao's bewildered expression.
* * * * *
"Dar, how many fingers do you see?" Tao asked holding three fingers in front of his friend's face.
Counting to himself, Dar finally answered, "Three."
"That's good. Perhaps your mind's starting to clear. Now, who am I?"
Dar studied him carefully. "I'm not sure."
"My name's Tao."
Tao's examination wasproceeding far too slowly for Curupira. She pushed him aside. "You must know who I am. I gave you the power to communicate with my animals, Beastmaster."
"Sorry-- Beast what?"
Frustrated, Curupira stomped away from the downed man. "What's wrong with him?" she asked the young scholar.
Tao rose from Dar's side and moved closer to the demon. He spoke softly so his friend couldn't overhear. "I've heard of this before. Dar hit his head pretty hard when he fell. Sometimes trauma to the head can make one lose his memory. It's usually temporary, rarely permanent."
Kodo and Podo made their way back to Dar and began crawling all over him. "Hey little guys, where'd you come from?" He tried to pet Podo when the ferret bit his finger believing he found something tasty to eat. "Ow!" Dar yelped, pushing the critter aside. "Get out of here, you little rats."
Tao glanced back and chuckled, never thinking he'd see the day Dar calling his friends rats. A frown quickly replaced the smile when Curupira grumbled.
"I don't find this amusing. He can't protect my animals this way." She looked over at Dar, who was smiling at her. For a moment she found his innocence charming. "Is there anything we can do to get his memory back?"
Tao scratched his short dark hair as he tried to recall what the older scholar had told him years ago. "Yes, sometimes another blow to the head will jolt one's memory back."
Curupira found Tao amusing, the excitement in his voice when he talked mesmerized her. The words 'another blow' got her thinking. "Easily done," she said, finally smiling. Confident one of her special jolts would make him remember, she started to raise her hand. Tao grabbed hold of it. She turned to face him, "Unhand me!"
Tao released her hand instantly and covered his face in a protective stance, fearing retaliation. After a few seconds, he peeked between his arms and relaxed. Curupira was smiling at him, but soon had that impatient look about her. Tao continued to explain, "Another injury to the head could do more damage. There's another way. Sometimes familiar surroundings will do the trick. I'll take him back to the Sanctuary."
"You do that and in two suns, if the Beastmaster doesn't have his memory back, then maybe I'll make you the next Beastmaster. Understand?" Her face pressed close to Tao's for she loved the thrill of making humans shake where they stood. As he nodded, she found him quite entertaining and somewhat sweet for a human. Curupira looked over at Dar who was still rubbing the back of his head. He smiled at her. She knew Tao would have his hands full and hoped the Eiron would be able to help their friend. "I have other matters that require my attention. At least the net is out of harm's way. Remember to burn it."
"Don't worry about a thing, Curupira, I'll take good care of the net and Dar. I'm sure his memory will return. If it doesn't by tomorrow, I'll take him to the Shaman. He's helped Dar be--" Tao's words trailed off as Curupira ran quickly into the woods like a flash of lightning. She amazed him. He rolled his eyes and turned around to face his injured friend. "Now, to burn the net and then go home."
Dar asked, "Where'd she go?" He had been fascinated with the way she handled herself as if she were the one in charge. Uncertain of where he was never mind who he was, Dar became concerned. "Are you leaving too?" He started to rise, but swayed slightly.
Tao ran over to support him. "Dar, sit for a while why I dispose of the net. I'll take you home afterwards, all right?" He held his arms until his friend settled back safely onto the ground.
Dar nodded. "Tao, why can't I remember anything?"
Keen eyes observed the twosome through a hollowed out amethyst geode. Their images appeared smooth in the liquid-filled basin surrounded by purple crystals and unusual glass bottles. Tao's voice was clearly audible as he struck the flint to start a fire. "You hit your head and the injury is preventing you from remembering. In fact, you weren't breathing for a while. I almost took you for being dead, but Curupira breathed life back into you. I'm quite certain that once you're back in your own habitat, you'll regain your memories."
"I wish she stayed."
"I assure you, she'll return in two days."
"That's good, she's beautiful."
Tao paused for a moment to look at his friend. "Dar, I never...never mind. You don't remember anyway.
The Ancient One encircled the basin where the Sorceress spied upon the pair of mortals. His voice echoed throughout the cavern, "So, the Beastmaster has lost his memories…"
Her tone softened, "In a way, I understand what he's going through. He's lost so many experiences."
"No need to feel sorry for him, my dear. One can't regret what they've lost if they never knew they had it. He's better off...new like a babe. No troubles. No worries. In time, he'll regain new ones...trust me, we all do."
She frowned at his logic. "How can you be so heartless. Memories create the person. Our life's experiences are what makes us whom we are...whether they be hardships or joyful events. Memories mold us."
"Memories lost…memories found. So many memories, it's hard to keep track of them all. Mortals are so lucky to deal with only one set of memories." The older sorcerer touched the crystallized growth implanted within his skull with his finger tip. It glistened as if it contained millions of memories.
"Memories stolen…memories returned," the Sorceress answered, her tone sharpened. Her memories of Sharak had been stripped away from her long ago as punishment for expressing her feelings of love--only recently returned in a single thrust. Memories she longed to rekindle. She waved her hand over the crystals and the image of Dar and Tao faded.
"Still bitter, my dear?" he asked his pupil.
"Of course not. It's just one can be so vulnerable without the memory of experiences."
"You have a point." He thought of what turn of events could take place, but then decided to let his student play the game. "Although his clumsy friend is clever, he won't be able to help him remember. If you feel it necessary to help the Beastmaster, then do so."
The Sorceress was already scheming. "Perhaps if I take the Beastmaster while he can't remember, he'll give me the power to communicate with the animals."
"Are you still harping on that? Really, why don't you just change an animal into human form and then talk to it? Why bother with the Beastmaster?"
Surprised by his suggestion, she studied her teacher carefully. Her eyebrows raised as a shrewd thought race through her mind. "I never thought of that. I've changed humans into simple animals before, why not vice versa?"
He started to leave the inner chamber, rambling about why anyone would want to talk with animals anyway. "Creatures have such an unadorned life: eat, sleep and mate. Never creating, no illusions…just surviving." He faded out of sight.
The Sorceress waved her hand across the crystal basin as soon as he vanished. "Perhaps you'll talk to Sharak for me now, Beastmaster."
"There!" Tao exclaimed as he smothered the last of the burning embers. "The net is gone. Such a shame, what craftsmanship." He kicked some more dirt over the ashes, just to be sure. "I'll grab Kodo and Podo. Are you up to traveling yet, Dar?"
Dar had been studying his staff weapon. The two-pieced hand-carved bone weapon fascinated him. One end was carved into a sharp blade, the other a knotted bulk forming a club.
Realizing his new friend was calling his name, Dar looked up. "Yes?"
"Let's go… we have a ways to travel before nightfall." Tao placed the pouch containing the ferrets around his shoulder. He watched as Dar tried to return the staff weapon to its rightful holder. "Here, let me do that," he offered as he took the weapon. Tao placed both pieces of the staff inside the quiver on Dar's back. "Like that."
"Thanks," Dar replied. "Which way?"
"This way," Tao answered. "Once we reach the Sanctuary, I'm sure your memory will return…I hope."
"What did you say? There's danger?"
Tao swung around just in time to see Dar wobble to-and-fro, trying to maintain his balance. He grabbed hold of his shoulders to steady him. "Maybe you're not well enough to travel yet."
Dar swayed again, this time bracing himself by hanging onto Tao. "What's happening? I'm...I'm soaring above the trees."
"That's Sharak!" Tao reasoned. "He's trying to show you something. You mentioned danger. Dar, listen to him. What's he saying?"
Dar looked to the sky, still balancing his weight with the help of his friend. "I see men on horses, riding fast."
"Terrons! That's not good. Can you see where they are? What good would that do?--you can't remember where anything is!" Tao suddenly heard the screech of the eagle flying above them. "Oh, great! They're too close for me. Where's Ruh when you need him? Let's go! This way!"
Too late. Five Terron warriors on horseback galloped into the clearing, their weapons readied for action. The leader jumped off his stallion. "Beastmaster? How fortunate for us to cross paths. King Zad has promised a hefty reward for you and your slave's heads."
Instinctively, Dar withdrew his staff, holding each part in separate hands. "King Zad?" Dar mumbled the name, looking to Tao for answers.
Terrons always made Tao nervous. Under different circumstances, he'd normally feel safe in Dar's company; however, with his memories lost, he felt completely defenseless. He ignored Dar's question; curious as to how the Terrons stumbled on their whereabouts. "How did you manage to find us?"
"We saw smoke. We hoped it would lead us to more slaves, but this prize is better." The leader raised his battleaxe and waved it overhead as he spoke. "I hear you fight like the animals, Beastmaster. Women have been known to call me a beast, so this should prove interesting."
With one swift swing, the Terron warrior struck Dar's side, sending him toppling sideways to the ground. His weapon flew out of his hands. Dar's knowledge of his fighting techniques had also gone astray. The downed man shook his head and attempted to stand up.
"Kill him, Ratax!" One of the other Terrons cheered.
Another strike sent Dar back downwards. Tao begged the warrior to stop, but his voice was drowned out by Terron laughter.
"What's wrong, Beastmaster? Can't tame me?" Ratax mocked. More laughter filled the air as the huge warrior lifted his battleaxe for the final blow. "Say your good byes, Beastmaster!"
Tao lunged forward onto the Terron's back. "Noooo!"
Suddenly, both men froze in place.
Bewildered, the other Terrons glanced around for the culprit. The Sorceress appeared and soon placed the rest of them in a frozen state as well. She strolled past the Terron leader named Ratax with Tao upon his back. She mused at the Eiron's heroic attempt to save his friend. This one need not die...his loss would mean too much to the Beastmaster. Besides, she found mortals like Tao intriguing, curious about their varied emotions and actions. She waved her hand and Tao, the ferrets and Dar's staff weapon disappeared. Next, she moved closer to where Dar lay wounded on the ground. "Now that I've saved you and your friend's lives, perhaps you can grant me one request."
Throwing sparkles of dust into the air, both she and Dar disappeared.
* * * * *
Part 3Tao plunged into the small pool located in the middle of Sanctuary--a safe haven for the Sula tigers. Dar had made this place his home since the loss of his tribe when he was a young boy. The cool water broke the magical spell. Tao splashed around frantically, but quickly reached the edge and surveyed his predicament. Sure enough, he was back home…but how? Kodo and Podo swam to the pool's edge and climbed out, shaking their skinny bodies free of the water. "Dar?" Tao didn’t see any sign of his friend, only his staff weapon lying nearby. It had to be sorcery. He dragged himself out of the water and tried to squeeze the excess water from his clothes. Dripping wet, he searched the cave, hoping to find Dar. "Dar?"
Suddenly, a tiger entered the clearing from the surrounding trees. It stopped, lifted its head and sniffed the area. "Ruh!" Tao blurted. "Boy, am I glad to see you. So much has happened. Where have you been?" The tiger snarled and sneezed at the same time in response to Tao's greeting. Unsettled that his human friend was nowhere to be seen, Ruh called to Sharak.
"Dar's not here…he’s in trouble; we have to find him." Tao stopped conversing with the tiger when he realized he was talking to him as though he could understand. He knew animals had a more acute sense of perception than mankind. Hopefully, Ruh would sense his edginess was due to his concern for Dar’s whereabouts. "Why do I keep talking to you as if you know what I’m saying? Well, you're the only one I can turn to right now. Besides, there may be a chance you understand. I believe the Sorceress has taken advantage of Dar's loss of memory. She had to have taken him." He stopped, puzzled by the whole ordeal. "For some reason she saved me from the Terrons. Of that, I am grateful."
Ruh's questions were answered, not by Tao, but by Sharak. The eagle communicated telepathically to the tiger informing him where Dar had been taken. Ruh turned to leave the camp, looked back at Tao, growled and then moved towards one of the trails. He stopped and looked back again.
It finally registered to Tao that the tiger wanted him to follow. "Wait! You understood what I was saying! Wait for me!" He called for Kodo and Podo, but the tiger had beaten him to it. Both ferrets scrambled into the pouch, ready to rescue Dar. Tao snatched up the pouch. "Good boys, at least you're learning to behave." With no time to spare, the clumsy man started after the tiger, tripping over Dar's staff weapon. He quickly jumped back to his feet. "Don't worry, Dar, your friends are on their way!" Collecting his wits, Tao scuttled into the woods.
Below the Sorceress’ dwelling, the Terron village buzzed with activity. One of King Zad’s hunting parties, led by a Terron named Koth, returned with captured slaves from a nearby land bordering the Territories. Amongst the terrified captors was a young woman full of spitfire. Zad examined the prize more closely.
She was clad in a simple woven dress and plain sandals. Her reddish hair attracted the king. Zad removed his black cloak as he spoke, "What’s your name, my lovely?" The late afternoon sun now toasted his body as it beat off his bald head.
"Cimma," she answered, looking him directly in the eyes. Her eyes studied the scars on his face and then drifted downwards until they came to rest upon the skull and bones decorating his breastplate. She feared him. His reputation as a murderous king was well known amongst her tribe.
"I’ll take this one for myself." Zad laughed at his sinful thoughts and then addressed his warriors, "Koth, you may have your pick of the litter next. The rest of your men can fight over the rest. Those who aren’t selected…kill them." The evil king chose his words carefully so he could observe the reactions of his latest concubine.
She didn’t give him the satisfaction of showing her true feelings and stared straight ahead, fighting the urge to cry.
King Zad ordered her to be taken away, promising to visit later. He whipped around as more Terrons rode into camp--this party appeared empty handed. "What’s this, Ratax? Where are my slaves? Where are my treasures?" he demanded. Zad circled the men now dismounting their horses.
"My lord," the Terron warrior replied. "I almost had the greatest prize of all in my clutches…the Beastmaster’s head." Like his king, a myriad collection of bones attached to the skins he wore indicated that he, too, was a great warrior.
"I see he managed to evade you." Zad approached Ratax and stood only inches away, poring over the man to see if he was lying.
"He was cowering for his life and just as I was ready to finish him, the Sorceress appeared and took him. She took his slave as well."
Zad scrutinized the other men…they all seemed to be in agreement. "Well, if the Sorceress has the Beastmaster, then I’ll demand she give him to me. If you’re lying, Ratax…I’d run far from here if I were you." Zad’s bloodthirsty smile broadened as he gazed up the mountain jutting towards the sky. He always enjoyed paying the Sorceress a visit.
Dar couldn't move. Confined within the supernatural material, he felt cold. He opened his eyes to discover he was standing upright, surrounded by a crystal fiber that instantly dissolved into nothingness. Once free of his prison, he spun around, marveling at the peculiar cave. Someone lived here by the looks of the crystal basin in the center and several lit torches aligning the walls. He turned towards the light at the entrance.
The silhouette of a tall woman blocked the opening. Dressed in a blue gown that accentuated her voluptuous shape, the Sorceress moved closer stirring the mist coursing through the cavern. The fabric glistened as she stepped into the light.
"Are you an angel?"
The Sorceress couldn't help but giggle. "No, just a friend."
"You're my friend?" he asked. He concluded his friends were definitely getting better looking. "Have you seen my other friend? His name is Tao."
"He's safe…I've sent him home. It's you I want to talk with." She stood in front of him, her stance almost as tall as his. Seductively, she nuzzled the Beastmaster’s chin with her nose, then brushed her lips close to his.
Dar found her provocative. The curls of her long blonde mane softened her appearance. He also liked her smell. His knees weakened as she traced her finger down his chest and across his firm abdomen. He needed answers. "Do I know you? Are you my woman?"
A pleasing smile highlighted her face. His gullibility attracted her. "I'm your friend, Beastmaster." Taken aback, Dar moved away from her. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"Those men--the Terrons--they called me by that name and they were no friends."
"I'm sorry... Dar," the Sorceress cooed. Even with his memories lost, the Beastmaster seemed hesitant to trust her. "I saved the lives of you and your friend, Tao. All I ask in return is one small favor."
Dar relaxed somewhat. One small favor didn't seem like much to ask. After all, she saved them from the Terrons. "What is it?"
"Tell me your secret. How do you communicate with the animals?"
Dar wrinkled his brow. "What?
She leaned closer and purred softly in his ear, "Your gift…how are you able to talk with the animals? I'd be very pleased to learn."
Wisps of her long hair tickled his neck and he smiled. The smile faded. "Someone else is here. I heard him call me."
"I assure you we are alone, Beast… Dar," she corrected herself. The Sorceress surveyed the chamber expecting to find the Ancient One, but there was no trace of him. However, she thought she saw a shadow near the entrance.
Concerned for Dar's well being, both Sharak and Ruh communicated to their human friend. Dar covered his ears and fell to his knees. "Stop it…make the voices stop!"
With a wave of her hand, the crystal imprisonment formed a barrier around the Beastmaster. In this state, he would be free of what was torturing him. Her curious nature drew the Sorceress towards the cavern's entrance. Perched upon the outer crystal basin, the Beastmaster's eagle cocked his head as she approached. "Sharak, I mean him no harm. In fact, I saved his life. Can you understand me?" Silently, the bird stared back. "The voices Dar heard were yours as well as his other animal friends. I'm sure you're all concerned. Without his memories, he doesn't know he can communicate with you. Wait here…don't leave." The hope in her voice that she may be able to talk with Sharak via the Beastmaster resonated throughout the cave. She returned to the kneeling man encased within her spell. Another twirl of her hand and the fibers released their hold.
Dar's eyes traced up the Sorceress' body as he stood to his feet. "What happened? Whose voices did I hear?" He felt unsettled by all the strange events that were happening to him. Why couldn’t he remember anything?
"Come with me, Dar. Another friend of yours is here. His name is Sharak." She led him to the opening where the magnificent bird lingered.
Awed by its noble nature, Dar eyed the eagle carefully as they neared the cave's entrance. He stopped short when he felt the sudden rush inside his head. "He spoke to me…"
The Sorceress smiled. "Only you can communicate with him. What is he saying?"
Sharak understood his friend's injury, so he transmitted his telepathic words slowly to the Beastmaster. "He says my ability to communicate with the animals is a gift. It cannot be taken away except by the one who gave it to me." Dar paused, absorbed more and conveyed it to the Sorceress. "He also says that if you've ever loved him, you would help me…help me to remember."
The Sorceress marveled at how easily the Beastmaster could communicate with the man she once loved. She envied his gift.
"He also asks that you send me safely back to Sanctuary."
The feelings that moved her now had been forbidden by the Ancient One. The last time she and Sharak had crossed that line, they were severely punished. She dared not push her luck. In time, she'd find a way to be with Sharak again. The Sorceress moved closer to Dar. "Tell him I'll do what he asks." Her smile was tender, not wicked as it sometimes appeared.
Dar stared at the bird, focused hard with his eyes and tried to force something. "Nothing's happening--he didn't respond." Dar looked at her with such innocence, surely not the same man who didn't trust her. "I’m sorry, I don't know how to talk to him without speaking."
She reached for a small flask in the pocket of her gown, opened it and poured the powdery contents into her palm. As her fingers passed over it, the powder sparkled. "Memories are never lost…only misplaced or hidden. This will draw your memories to the surface." The Sorceress gently blew the powder into Dar's face. He sneezed. An onslaught of memories crammed his head and he swayed to catch his balance. As soon as he realized whose company he was in, he reached for his staff weapon only to find it missing. Dar stepped back. Sharak’s voice soothed his troubled mind, letting him know that he was in no danger. Without taking his eyes off the Sorceress, he moved closer towards the exit.
"Beastmaster, I'm not going to hurt you. In fact, I’ve helped you. I saved you from the Terrons and have now returned your memories. All I ask it that you relay a message to Sharak for me."
"Memories? Where's Tao? Where am I? What kind of game are you playing now?" Dar battered out the questions, confused because one moment he was falling out of a tree and, the next, he was in a cave somewhere with Sharak and the Sorceress.
She preferred him without his memories…he now reminded her of a jittery rabbit. "Your gangly friend is safe at home, which is where I plan to send you when you do as I ask. Tell Sharak I did this for him. He'll understand the message. Trust me."
"Never. I'll never trust you, not after what you've taken from me. I want nothing to do with your dark magic and neither does Sharak."
"I think you should let Sharak be the judge of his own wants and needs." The anger inside drove her to clench her fists, the long nails nearly piercing her own flesh. The man was definitely stubborn. "You're not going to grant me this one small request, are you?"
Dar stared straight in her face and replied, "No."
Infuriated by his tenacity, the Sorceress flung both hands in the air. Her spell changed the Beastmaster into a small bird. "Fly home little one before I change my mind." The little bird took off out of the cave's entrance. Sharak spread his wings, cawed and flew after the bird. The Sorceress watched them fade into the distance, her heart heavy with a sorrowful longing.
"Pity the Beastmaster wouldn't relay a message to your precious Sharak," the Ancient One taunted as he abruptly appeared behind her.
"You needn't gloat," she snapped. He picked a bad time to visit; she wasn't in the mood.
"He has the manners of his beasts...not even a thank you… Why you should--"
"Sorceress!" King Zad shouted as he approached the entrance.
"Impeccable timing as always," the older wizard noted as he vanished from view.
Zad marched inside and stopped when he saw the Sorceress standing alone. Her beauty usually struck him hard, but not this time…he was committed to his cause. "Where is he? Where is the Beastmaster? I demand you hand him over to me!"
"If this is your way of charming me, I'm afraid it's not working." She turned her back on him and smiled mischievously to herself. A visit from the Terron king was always entertaining and her spirits needed to be lifted. "Why would you assume the Beastmaster is here, King Zad?"
"Do you deny it? My men claim you robbed them of the pleasure of killing the Beastmaster and his slave. His head would have been mine!"
"Why do you want him?"
"We have unfinished business, he and I."
"Killing him won’t resolve your problems. Besides, I'm afraid he's no longer a threat to you." She stopped and wondered why she was protecting the Beastmaster from Zad…perhaps to appease Sharak.
"He's never been a threat to me!" Zad insisted. "Why? Have you done something to him?"
The Sorceress turned to face the Terron king. "He’s completely helpless. In truth, I prefer him this way…I even admire his innocence. As of now, he’s no match for you." She wasn’t lying…the Beastmaster was a helpless bird at the moment.
Zad’s twisted mind mulled over her words and the way she spoke them. "You find him more pleasing…don’t you? Granted he’s younger…his physique…well, different than mine, but I’m just as strong, just as vibrant and just as handsome."
His visit was proving to be very amusing. She laughed at his suggestion. Zad continued to compare himself with the Beastmaster, "He’s nothing. He has no kingdom, except for the beasts he rules. He has no treasures, no power..."
"No memories…" the Sorceress interrupted.
"What are you talking about?"
She decided to play him along, bored of his demands. "He suffered an injury, which left him with no memories. He lost the knowledge of his fighting skills, so your men nearly killed him. I intervened. While he was here, I found he couldn't even communicate with his animal friends. The Beastmaster didn't know who he was, so I let him go." She made sure her words were in the past tense...no need to tell Zad she cured him.
"You witch! He was mine, I tell you!" Zad hollered without thinking. The infuriated king hated when things didn’t go his way.
"Witch?" she curiously repeated, her tone a bit disquieted. The Sorceress calmed down when she heard the Ancient One's soft chortles. She started chuckling herself.
Zad didn't know what to make of her good nature. He took it the wrong way. "You're playing games with me. Give me the Beastmaster now or so help me I’ll--" He raised his hand, ready to strike when he froze, trapped within her spell.
"So help you what?" she mocked as she encircled the arrogant man. "Can you believe the audacity of this mortal?"
The Ancient One emerged into sight. "I surely wouldn’t let this go without punishing him." He walked towards the opening of the cave and continued talking as he vanished into thin air. "I'll let you ponder on how he should be reprimanded. Be creative, my dear. Make your teacher proud."
"A creative punishment…hmmm," she murmured.
* * * * *
Tao wasn't positive, but he swore the hollow log he'd just passed was the same one located near the camp. The only thing, it had been on the left-hand side instead of the right. "Ruh? Are you going in circles? No, if we were traveling in circles, the log would still be on the right." He quickly put two-and-two together. "We're going back to the camp. Why?"
The tiger had started backtracking the moment Sharak informed him of Dar's release from the Sorceress. Ruh picked up his pace and headed towards the Sanctuary. "Wait! Do you know something I don't? Of course you do!" Tao chased after Ruh and finally made it to the clearing. He heard Sharak screeching high above. Ruh stood above Dar’s body, smelling his hair. The Beastmaster was laying face down, completely nude. Satisfied his friend was okay, Ruh parted ways.
Tao ran to his side and fell on his knees. "Dar? Please be alive…" He rolled him over to find his friend breathing heavily.
Dar opened his eyes. "Tao? I…made it," he said panting between breaths. "I was flying."
Tao smiled, relieved Dar was all right. "That was Sharak speaking to you again."
"No…I was really flying. I was a bird. It was so…" Dar never finished his sentence, exhaustion overwhelmed him and he fell into a deep sleep.
"Not only have you lost your memories…now you've lost your mind." Tao knew he should move him inside the cave so he could sleep peacefully. "You'll need your rest. We have a long journey tomorrow. I'm taking you to see the Shaman."
* * * * *
Still imprisoned by the supernatural spell, Zad remained immobilized. The Sorceress stood off to the side by her crystal basin, mixing a potion. She had plenty of time to brood over the king’s foolhardy demands and the Beastmaster’s disrespectful behavior. Irritated by the Beastmaster's unwillingness to communicate with Sharak drove her to believe he deserved a rightful punishment as well. She had been smiling contently since she thought of the perfect deed.
"Back home with you," she commanded. With a whisk of her hand, Zad disappeared. The Sorceress strolled to the entrance of the cave and stared at the stars. She threw the contents of the container into the air. "Sweet dreams, Beastmaster. Sleep restful, King Zad. For when you awaken you'll both be living your worst nightmare."
* * * * *
Part 4Dar rolled over in his sleep, pushing off the heavy fur blanket. In a semiconscious state, he suddenly became aware that his bed was softer than usual. Had Tao done something to soften it? Although he had good intentions, his friend was always looking for a way to change things. Beginning to stir, Dar noticed the scent was also unfamiliar. His eyes shot open. He wasn’t at the camp. Scanning his surroundings, Dar immediately recognized the inside of Zad’s yurt. Worse yet, he was in Zad’s bed.
His mind raced. "Tao?" he called out, but heard Zad’s voice. Dar swiftly leapt off the bed and ducked behind it. He peaked over the top wondering where Zad was hiding within the room. He swore he had heard the man. Voices outside alerted him to unwanted company. Dar stood up seeking an escape, but became distracted when he discovered he was wearing pants. His clothes and staff weapon were nowhere to be found.
Two Terrons entered slowly. The tallest one spoke, looking straight at Dar. "King Zad, sorry to disturb you, but Ratax asks to speak with you."
Dar whipped around expecting to find the evil king lurking behind him. Nothing.
"Are you all right, sir?" the concerned messenger asked. "You seem edgy this morning."
Dar turned slowly to face the two men. They were both still staring at him as if they were waiting for something. Confused, he moved across the room—they’re eyes traced his every step. Why weren’t they attacking him? Dar passed the mirror and stopped. Zad’s reflection caught his eye. He spun around again, but no sign of Zad…just the two guards at the entrance. He returned his gaze back to the mirror. Zad's mug stared back at him. Dar cocked his head and raised his arm. The reflection mimicked every movement. He reached out to touch the mirror wondering if Zad was imprisoned inside. Zad's hand simultaneously reached out…their fingers connecting at the tips. At that moment, Dar knew Zad hadn't been imprisoned at all. He lifted both hands to cover his face and slowly answered the Terron guard, "I don’t think I’m quite myself." Zad’s voice startled him again…but they were his words. Somehow, Dar was trapped inside the king’s body. There was only one explanation—sorcery.
He didn't bother to face the two men. Instead, Dar tested the guise by shouting, "Leave me!"
Fearing his mighty king, the shorter Terron scurried through the exit, while the tall one hesitated. "What of Ratax?"
Dar quickly thought how Zad would respond. "I’ll deal with him in my own time." He waited until the other Terron ducked out of the yurt. "What am I supposed to do?" he spoke aloud. "If I’m in Zad’s body, where’s Zad?" Dreading the obvious answer, he closed his eyes.
* * * * *
Something was tickling Zad’s nose. Could it be the delectable slave girl he had planned to bed? His groggy thoughts suddenly cleared--he would have remembered such pleasure. Opening an eye and focusing on his bed partner, Kodo’s wet nose brushed his cheek again. Zad sat upright and shooed the critter away. Kodo became confused as to why the Beastmaster would treat him so. The dejected ferret decided to find Podo instead. He darted out of the cave.
"Guards!" Zad yelled. Wait--the voice sounded different--not as hoarse. It was a familiar voice, yet he couldn’t place it. "What is this?" he demanded when he noticed he was in a cave, sheathed in a pile of hay. That’s when it hit him. His body was different—younger and more muscular. He picked up the loincloth bundled on a rock nearby. Seeing no other clothes, he stood up and wrapped the primitive outfit around his magnificent new body. There could be only one explanation and he had been visiting her last night. "Sorceress!" he barked. Again, the voice was not his. Perhaps it had changed as well, younger and softer in tone.
He stepped outside the cave into what he considered paradise. He inhaled deeply, sucking in the crisp morning air tinted with the remnants of an early morning rain. "If this is your way of seducing me…it’s working," he wooed, but the Sorceress was nowhere in sight.
"What's working?" Tao asked as he came into the clearing carrying a variety of fruit using the front of his shirt as a pouch. "I thought you'd be up by now…you slept like a bear."
Startled by the man’s voice, Zad whirled around to face the adversary. "You!" he exclaimed. "What trick is this, slave?"
Stunned by Dar’s choice of words, Tao stepped backwards, almost dropping their breakfast. "Y-you okay, Dar?"
"Dar?" Zad questioned.
"Oh, no. Don’t tell me you’ve regressed. This is not a good sign." Tao relaxed and emptied the fruit near the pool. "Let’s go over this again. You lost your memory yesterday when you bumped your head after falling out of a tree. Your name is Dar. My name is Tao and I’m your friend. This place…" he paused, waving his hands around, "…is your home." The talkative man continued rambling on about how they first met.
Baffled, Zad moved closer and leaned over the edge of the pool. Sure enough, the Beastmaster’s reflection stared back. "What kind of magic is this, Eiron? Where is the Sorceress? Is she here?"
A surprised Tao smiled. "You remembered I’m an Eiron…that’s some progress." He stood next to his friend, trying to see what he was staring at so intensely in the water. "To answer your question, the Sorceress isn’t here. She did, however, take you yesterday. Do you remember anything that happened after that, Dar?" Receiving only a puzzled look from his friend, Tao continued, "Well, for whatever reason, she returned you later in the day. I’m not sure what she wanted."
"I’m beginning to have an idea. She favors the Beastmaster over me."
"Wh-what?" Tao asked. Maybe his conclusion that Dar lost his senses, as well as his memories, had been correct. "You're not acting like yourself, Dar. Last night you claimed to have flown home and now, this morning, you're talking very strangely. I thought being home would make you start to remember. Dar, I'm at a loss here. I think the best thing would be to take you to the Shaman. You'll need your strength, so you best eat something."
Zad took the plum Tao offered. "You call this food?" He tossed the fruit aside and it rolled to the edge of the trees. Podo immediately claimed it his. Zad breathed in deeply. "I find no need to visit your witch doctor friend, I feel better than I’ve felt in ages." He paced around the area and then looked back at Tao. "Where are the slave girls? With this physique, I should have no problem taming them."
"Slave girls? Tame them?" Tao couldn’t believe what his friend was saying. Could things get any worse?
Zad spun around to face him. He smiled wickedly…not Dar’s typical friendly smile. "Don’t tell me I was right in my assumption…no women, only beasts?" Zad snickered and stepped closer towards Tao. "And how do you fit in?"
Tao frowned. He didn't care for the way Dar was eyeing him like a hungered animal. "What's gotten into you, Dar? I know you lost your memories, but even without them you were still an honorable man. Exactly what did the Sorceress fill your head with anyway?"
"Wouldn’t you like to know--" Zad laughed.
A chill ran down Tao's back at the heinous laughter--so familiar. Anxious, he suggested, "Maybe we should head out now. It’s a bit of a journey. Do you feel up to it?"
Zad stretched and rubbed his hands down his chest and stomach, getting accustomed to his new body. It felt real, not an illusion. He stopped when the annoying pest addressed him again.
"Dar?" Tao looked worried. "The Shaman helped you before when you where in Valhalla. Remember?"
"See…you don't remember…he can help you. Come on, let’s go…you need your boots…where are they?"
Zad looked down at his bare feet. "I have no idea."
"You have an extra pair in the cave. I'll go fetch them." Tao started to move towards the cave when his taller friend grabbed hold of his shirt and yanked him closer. Tao looked Dar in the eyes and remembered another time when his friend looked this foreboding--the time Ketzwayo had made all the animals in the Mydlands go mad, which in turn affected the Beastmaster. "Dar, please don't do something you'll regret."
"My only regret is that I'm stuck here with you. Why don’t you go on your little journey…alone? Leave me, I need to think," Zad commanded. He pushed Tao away so he'd get the message.
"Thinking is what I do best, Dar. I can help you…remember?--that's what friends do for each other."
"I said leave me alone, you tiresome little imp!" Zad spit.
Hurt, Tao backed away slowly. His face contorted with disbelief. Finally, he nodded, bent over to grab a couple pieces of fruit and then started towards the trail. "I'll see if I can't find you something else for breakfast…maybe some fish. That might put you in a better mood." He walked slowly in hopes Dar would call him back. He never did.
* * * * *
The Sorceress bubbled with glee as she watched them through her crystal basin. She looked up at her mentor who seemed to approve of her deed.
"Quite ingenious, my dear. Switching souls--I've never tried that one before," the Ancient One mused.
She smiled sheepishly; pleased he endorsed her latest stunt. "I felt they both deserved punishment, so what better way than to make them become their enemy." She smiled smugly, delighted with herself.
"I see you're not worried about upsetting the balance of nature…a dangerous game. Good versus evil--who's to tell which is right and which is wrong. Nonetheless, becoming something you despise most, how dreadful. Which one do you think will loathe it the most?"
"The Beastmaster manages to make do with whatever's tossed his way. King Zad, on the other hand, is spoiled and arrogant. I would say Zad is being punished more so than the Beastmaster." She walked around the basin to stand opposite the Ancient One. "I think I'll pay Zad a visit…"
* * * * *
Dressed in the king's black robes, Dar exited the safety of the yurt. The morning sun had already baked off dawn's moistness and the temperature started rising. He felt warm and cumbersome beneath the heavy fabric. Slowly, he studied the village. Several slave girls were bathing in the water while Terron guards stood along the shoreline watching them closely. Dar spotted a number of Terrons gathered around the food yurt, scraping bowls of steaming slop with their fingers. More slaves tended the livestock across the way, while positioned warriors guarded the outskirts of the village. Dar took a deep breath--time for action. He stepped forward only to be blockaded by a large hulking man.
The Terron had a scar that ran down the left side of his face and neck. Earning his reputation as the bravest warrior, Ratax dared to confront his king. "What did you learn from the Sorceress? I presume the truth." Dar stepped back from the man's atrocious breath. He didn't know how to answer his questions without giving himself away. Best keep quite. "My king, did she have the Beastmaster like I said?" Ratax stood firm, demanding an answer.
Relieved to know something of the subject to pacify the Terron, Dar straightened himself and answered gruffly, "She let him go before I got there. You spoke the truth."
Satisfied he was still in favor with the king, Ratax bowed his head and stepped out of the way. "I'll take leave and lead another hunt today, with your permission."
Dar nodded in response, glad to be rid of the smelly brute. He passed the large group of warriors stuffing their faces with the foul-smelling slop. Dar grabbed a loaf of bread that looked somewhat safe. He ripped off a piece and greedily shoved it in his mouth. He was starving and never noticed the tray of food left for him inside Zad’s yurt.
A couple of guards were escorting a few of the slave girls back from their daily washing. Cimma was amongst them. The sun's rays glimmered against her reddish hair, catching Dar's attention. Out of respect, he bowed his head and smiled at the women. Cimma did not return the gesture like the others. Instead, she glared at him with such discontentment, Dar felt as if he had been stabbed.
"Wait!" he called out. The Terron guards held their arms in front of the women to block them from going any further. Dar encompassed the group. He observed Cimma's sideways glance to where her fellow tribesmen were tied upside down upon X-shaped crosses. A slow, but fatal torture--a favorite of the infamous king. Entrapped within Zad's body, Dar had the chance to help these people. He smiled again at the women. "Gather the slaves and prisoners. Bring them to the corral," Dar ordered. A couple of the guards seemed puzzled by his request, but nodded anyway. Within minutes, all those enslaved by Zad were brought just outside the corral. Cimma stood closest to the front, not from bravery, but curiosity. The king seemed different today, and she became mystified by his recent request.
Dar stood by the wooden posts and tried telepathically calling Zad's horse, but the huge steed didn't respond. Either Dar's ability to communicate with the beasts was lost being inside Zad's body or the Terron horse was trained to respond only to voice commands. "Saddle my horse," he ordered one of the Terrons. Dar turned to face the crowd gathered around the corral. "I'm granting you you're freedom…you may leave anytime."
Shouts of protest from the Terron soldiers were intertwined with confused gasps from the slaves. No surprise to Dar. "Silence!" he yelled. Fortunately, Ratax and several other hunting parties had left before his announcement. He could handle the remaining Terrons if need be.
Cimma stepped closer, stunned by his decision. "We're free to go? Is this a trick?"
Dar looked her straight in the eyes. "No tricks. Take what you need, but leave quickly before I change my mind." He didn't want to appear too much out of character.
Another slave woman approached him. "My lord, I am happy here. Must I leave? In my village, I never had the luxuries you offer me…the love you give me. Please, let me stay." She grabbed hold of his robe as she knelt before him with her plea.
Dar didn't know what to make of her wish. There was only one answer. "If you or any of you who are happier here than being free…then stay."
Smiling and wiping the tears from her eyes, the slave girl ran off to take care of her duties. Several others bowed their heads gracefully and followed suit. The number of people who chose to stay behind surprised Dar. Why would they choose such a lifestyle? Confused as well, the Terrons surrounded their king. Dar ordered them back to their posts or they’d face the consequences of his wrath. Mumbling protests beneath their breaths, the warriors resigned to Zad’s wishes.
Meanwhile, Cimma had gathered the others of her tribe and made sure those who were wounded were assisted. She noticed Zad now stood alone, so she approached the sinister king before departing. "You cannot be the same man you were yesterday. Whoever you are, I thank you…my people thank you."
"May your passage be as safe as your destination," Dar replied. He waited until she caught up with the rest of her tribe. Dar jumped on Zad’s horse, glanced around the village and then kicked the horse so it galloped up the trail leading out of the village. There was only one man who could help him out of this situation…he had to find Tao.
* * * * *
Zad wasn't exactly sure where he was…it had to be somewhere in the Mydlands. How would he find his way home to the Territories? His men would surely try to kill him believing him the Beastmaster. He had to think. Perched on a boulder, he pulled on his boots that he finally found in the cave.
The Sorceress appeared next to the pool. To Zad, she appeared lovelier than the surrounding paradise…her gown, a myriad of green hues. She smiled pleasantly at the Beastmaster who returned her smile. "I've never had the pleasure of you greeting me this way. Normally you'd jump up and prepare to defend yourself. I like you this way much better."
Zad rose and moved closer to the beautiful vixen. "You must know who I am…this is your doing, is it not?" Her giggle gave her away, which attracted the king. "This body entices you then? Is that why you've given it to me? You favor the Beastmaster's looks and my ingenious mind. Is this your idea of a perfect man? If it is…I could make you very happy."
To the Sorceress, Zad was an interesting mortal…predictable, but amusing at times. To have his mind inside the body of the Beastmaster, whom she found extremely provocative, seemed a likeable blend. She loved the thought of toying with him, but she had another purpose for her visit. "I've exchanged your soul with the Beastmaster as punishment."
"Punishment for what?" Zad asked.
"Ah, ah, ah...let me finish," the Sorceress stopped him. "You need to learn that I don't take kindly to demands and the Beastmaster should learn to be more courteous. Therefore, I swapped souls…you are in the Beastmaster's body and he is in yours."
"You what? Are you mad? That savage is in my body?--ruling my Territories? This is madness! Change me back this instant, I demand it!"
"There you go again, making more demands," she mocked. "If I were you…that would be rather messy, don't you think?" The Sorceress giggled at the thought of everyone swapping souls…what a mixed up world that would be. "Seriously, if I were you, I'd find a way to appease me so that I'll forgive you for your insolent behavior last night."
"But, how? How can I do that as the Beastmaster? He has nothing!" Zad objected, losing patience with her games. What was her true purpose of giving him this younger, more attractive body? There could be only one answer--to appease her. "Of course, I'm beginning to understand." He grabbed her shoulders and pulled her close, his lips seeking hers.
Surprised by his sudden action, the Sorceress let him kiss her. Zad had kissed her before, but this was different…his body was different. The kiss lit a familiar fire, but she longed to be kissed by only one man. She pushed away and laughed.
"What's the meaning of this?" a baffled Zad whined. He held out his hands as if declaring his presence. "Isn't this what you want? Or have you changed your mind because you prefer the real me?"
"King Zad, as I said before, I've done this to you and the Beastmaster as punishment, not for pleasure." The Sorceress studied the beautiful man before her. Unnerved by the kiss, she turned her back on him. "There is one way you can make amends for your behavior and that would be to communicate with the Beastmaster's eagle for me. I need some information from him. Will you help me or not?"
"You want me to talk to a stupid animal?"
"It would be wise of you not to insult him anymore." Her nostrils flared and her eyes squinted with anger.
"Before I agree, grant me one more request…then, I'll talk to your bird."
"A request? What is it?"
"Another kiss," Zad answered, his smile twisting upward. Desperate to speak with the man she loved, the Sorceress edged closer to the Beastmaster. Soon she would be able to communicate with Sharak…soon. She closed her eyes and imagined how it used to be with Sharak as Zad kissed her more gently this time. Perhaps Sharak would be jealous.
Tao stepped out of the woods, but did a complete about-face when he witnessed the two kissing. He hid behind a huge tree. "Oh, no…she's got him under a spell. I have to think of something." Tao peeked from behind the tree and watched the two lovebirds finally part lips. "No wonder Dar's been acting so strang--"
Without warning a hand cupped over Tao's mouth while another strong arm grabbed hold of his torso and pulled him further back into the woods--out of sight. He struggled to free himself from his captor, but it was futile…the man was too strong. When they stopped moving, Dar spun Tao around but kept his hand over his mouth. "Shhhh!" he warned. From Tao's viewpoint, he was now King Zad's prisoner. He tried to call out for Dar, but the hand tightened its grip. "Listen to me, Tao. I'm Dar. You have to believe me," he pleaded. He needed his friend's help and had to get him to understand what happened, even though he wasn't sure himself.
Muffled sounds of laughter came from under the clasped hand. Things just got worse, Tao thought. Dar realized Tao was laughing at him. He released his grip and warned him to be quiet. "Tao, you're the wisest man I know. There must be a way to help me."
Tao's chuckles soon faded as he thought back at how strangely his friend had been acting this morning--even now--kissing the Sorceress. He licked his lips and stared at the evil king. "If you are Dar, there are several ways to prove it."
"How?" Dar asked.
"Well, first of all, you found your way home…that means you know where Sanctuary is. Then again, you could have learned of the location from the Sorceress." Tao thought back to this morning and then exclaimed, "I know! Do you know what Valhalla is?"
"Yes, it's a place where souls travel."
"Right!--but do you remember going there?"
"Yes, to seek forgiveness from my father," Dar answered.
"Okay…okay. Zad's a clever man and if you're him… then I need more proof…just a few more things to be certain."
"Tao, I know a way to prove I'm really Dar." Curious, Tao asked him how. Dar looked behind them and telepathically contacted Ruh. The tiger trotted out from behind some trees and lay down within the tall grass. Ruh didn't care for the Beastmaster's new body, but he knew it was his friend.
"Of course, Dar! You can still communicate with the animals." Tao smiled, content that this was truly Dar. He was ready to hug his friend when the sight of King Zad stopped him short. "Ah, now that we've solved that riddle…how do we get you back?"
"I was hoping you'd have an answer," Dar uttered. "How is it I can still talk to the animals?"
Tao's mind was racing with ways to swap their bodies when he answered Dar's question. "Curupira owns your soul. She gave you the powers to become Beastmaster. The Sorceress must have switched your souls without realizing you would still possess those powers." Dar nodded in agreement. Tao continued, "Perhaps Curupira can help us…she's due here tomorrow to see if you got your memory back. I still say the Shaman may be able to help…he's done wonders in the past."
"No, Tao, we don't have time. I think I know who can help. The Sorceress is our only hope." Dar ignored the look on his friend's face as he contacted Sharak. "C'mon…you'll want to see this." Dar led Tao closer to the camp, but still out of sight.
Fortunately for the two spies, the Sorceress' mind had been preoccupied with buried feelings that had resurfaced. "Have you contacted him or not?"
Soon the eagle flew overhead and then swooped down, landing on a nearby branch. The Sorceress was elated. "Tell him…" she paused, careful to select her words carefully, "…tell him that he and I will soon be together again."
Zad eyed the Sorceress as though she were insane. Why would she choose an eagle's love over his? Had he truly called the Beastmaster's eagle? Did he now possess the powers to communicate with the beasts? He tried, but nothing.
"Well? What did he say?" she asked, the anticipation getting the best of her.
"It doesn't talk to me. This is wasting precious time…time I don't have." Zad was tired of these childish games. "I have to get back to the Territories. I can't have that savage destroy my kingdom any longer."
"Your men will try to kill you, remember, you look like the Beastmaster," she replied, hiding her true feelings that were surfacing.
"Then turn me back…give me my own body!"
Sharak cawed and took off in flight. The Sorceress bent her head in shame for she knew Sharak was displeased. It angered her even more. "The spell will be broken by morning…I can't change that. Until then, suffer as the Beastmaster." Discouraged, she vanished.
"I'll be damned if I'm going to play with rodents waiting for your spell to be broken! I'll find my way back to the Territories if it takes me all night. Yes, I'll soon know the location of the Beastmaster's hideaway and then I'll return with my men and slaughter him, his scrawny servant and his furry friends!" Zad promised. " Now, where did that runt run off to?"
Tao exchanged glances with the man next to him, unable to adjust to the fact that Dar was trapped inside Zad's body. "Did you hear? The spell will be broken by morning…that's good news."
"You have to keep him here, Tao. Can you do it? Kyra used something once to make Zad sleep while she escaped. Can you make anything like that?" Dar asked.
"Yes, yes I can. If I mix--"
"Good. Use it, but be careful…he's dangerous. I have to get back to Zad's camp before morning. If what the Sorceress says is true, I don't want him waking up here. Make sure he's knocked out for the night…and, Tao…"
"Take good care of the body." Dar smiled and then winked.
* * * * *
Part 5The Ancient One waited eagerly for the Sorceress to return. As soon as she entered the main chamber of her dwelling atop the aerie, he started in, "You must tell me how your rendezvous went…was our favorite king beside himself?" He marveled over his trivial pun.
Infuriated that her plans went awry, the Sorceress stormed by and started up the steps to her private chambers. Midway, she stopped and slowly turned to face her mentor. She felt ridiculed by his jubilant smile. "I know you observed the whole scenario. Why do you torment me so?"
"Torment? On the contrary, my dear, I’m here to guide you in the proper direction…" The Ancient One turned towards the exit, knowing all too well he had her absolute attention. "You’ve become far too obsessed with this need of yours to speak with Sharak. My advice?--learn to subdue those mortal emotions that I’ve returned to you. Allow them to surface and they will be your undoing."
"Wait," she beckoned. "Human emotions fascinate me…is it so wrong to be curious?"
The Ancient One hesitated. "Perhaps you have a point." He walked back to the stairs and held out his hand where a single flame ignited from his palm. "Emotions are similar to a flame. It cannot be completely doused by water or earth, its embers still smolder. I’ve tried that by taking your memories away, but those feelings still managed to emerge. Nourish the flame and it grows into an inferno." The flame intensified, lapping upwards as it glowed brighter. "Hence, I dare not encourage you to explore them. Snuff it out…it dies." He snapped his hand shut and reopened his palm to show that the flame no longer burned. "Too final…we cannot have that." He smiled as the flame rekindled, dancing upon his palm. "There’s only one way to stifle this problem…fight fire with fire."
Interested in the point behind his demonstration, the Sorceress descended the stairs. "Fight fire with fire…I don’t understand."
"In time, my dear…in time. You wish to explore these fleeting emotions, then so be it. I shall fight fire with fire." The Ancient One fizzled away ‘til he was gone from view.
* * * * *
Tao swallowed back any apprehension churning in his gut as he stood just outside the camp. He mentally ran an inventory of the roots and herbs he had collected to make the sleeping potion. He watched the body of his friend, now occupied by their worst enemy, pace in front of the cave. He need only survive the night and by morning, Dar would be back in his own body. It was now or never. Carrying the bundle of provisions, firewood and tools needed for cooking, he stepped into the clearing.
Zad had been contemplating his departure, but more so, his return where upon he would kill the Beastmaster and his slave. These thoughts festered at his mind. He stopped in his tracks and smiled when he spied the Eiron exiting from the woods. In order for his plans to work, he needed to befriend this lowlife. "It’s about time you came back…what was your name?—Tao?"
Tao cleared his throat. "That’s right, Dar. Your memory seems to be improving. In no time, you’ll be back to normal." He plopped himself down and began placing the wood into a circle of stones used for campfires. Several whacks with the flint, he easily started the fire. "Let’s just hope I can make it through the night," he whispered below his breath.
Curious as to the bundle of goods the servant had been carrying, Zad asked, "What’s all that?"
"I thought I’d cook up a little something," Tao answered honestly.
Zad had other plans than eating. He must convince the scrawny man to help him. "Tao, I need you do something important. Some animal friends of mine are in trouble in the Territories. I need you to guide me there so I can rescue them. Without my memories, I can’t remember how to get there. We still have plenty of daylight left."
Tao was busy tossing a mixture of roots, vegetables and herbs into a carved-out wooden container filled with water that he had placed over the fire. He looked up, resisting to chuckle. "The Territories? You know I vowed never to step foot on that soil again. Sharak can show you the way."
Zad held back his anger. He needed this slave alive, otherwise, he may never find his way back to the Territories. He had to stay calm and remain cunning. "Sharak isn’t around. You’re the only one who can help me." The aroma of the simmering stew filled his nostrils. His stomach stirred and he suddenly realized he hadn’t eaten all day.
It wasn’t too often Tao felt he had the upper hand—this was one of those enjoyable moments. He’d love to play mind games with Zad, but remembering Dar’s warning of how dangerous the evil king could truly be, left him feeling edgy. Best play along. "Of course, I’ll show you the way, but you should eat something before we go. Have you eaten anything yet?" Silence was Zad's answer, so Tao scooped out a healthy portion and poured it into an empty gourd. "I thought so. Here, try this."
Zad greedily snatched the bowl from Tao and raised it to his mouth, gulping down the hot liquid and chewing on the vegetables. After swallowing, he replied, "Now I know why the Beastmaster…I mean…why I keep you around." Another slurp of the bowl finished its contents. "Is there any more?"
This was too easy. Tao smiled. "There's plenty, Dar."
Zealously ingesting the second bowl, Zad curbed his appetite midstream, wiping the runoff from his chin. Suspicious in nature, he wondered why the Eiron wasn't eating. "Aren't you hungry?"
"Actually, no…I ate earlier."
"You lying weasel!" Zad spat, starting to feel the effects of the elixir. "You poisoned me!" He tossed the bowl aside and started to lung for the culprit, but the sleeping potion overwhelmed him. Dar's body went limp and hit the ground with a thud.
"Ah…that's gotta hurt." Tao flinched. "Sorry, Dar…"
* * * * *
Twilight kissed the horizon as Dar rode into the Terron camp. He dismounted the huge steed and handed him over to one of Zad's obedient guards. As he walked towards the king's yurt, Dar could sense the uneasiness of the warriors lingering about. The Terron soldier who had informed him of Ratax's wish to speak with him earlier that morning now blocked his path. Dar had to stay in character, at least until morning. "Out of my way."
The man did not budge. "We want to talk to you, Zad. Your actions of late have angered too many of us. We demand--"
Dar cut him short. "Demand? You demand? How dare you!" His voice surprised even himself, still not used to hearing the harsh tone of King Zad. Dar smiled knowing Zad would soon have to face a mutinous crew, not to mention the loss of two thirds of his slaves. "I'll explain my actions in the morning…it's late."
"Now!" the Terron declared. He raised his skull club in a threatening gesture.
The Beastmaster could see no alternative course but to down this man. Without warning, his hands curved to form the shape of a snake's head and his right arm snapped forward, striking the man's chest as deadly as a cobra. The force knocked the wind from his lungs and the large man collapsed to the ground. "Tend to him," Dar ordered as he departed the motley group of surrounding warriors.
As soon as their king entered the safety of his yurt, the others started laughing at their defeated fellow Terron.
* * * * *
The immortal eagle landed on the outer basin of the Sorceress's dwelling. Instantly, she felt his presence and exited the inner chambers. "Sharak, why are you here?" She gazed up at the stars and moons painted across the heavens. The magical moment stirred a recollection of a time long ago now buried within her memories. She smiled at the thought. "If only I could tell you how I--" The Ancient One's company halted her words.
"You'll get your chance, my dear. I've been meaning to reward you for your latest masterpiece. I must say I've enjoyed watching King Zad as the Beastmaster and vice versa…rather entertaining, I'd dare say." He glanced quickly at his student. How uncomfortable she appeared. The Ancient One knew his next words would put her mind at ease. "Against my better judgement, I'm allowing you and Sharak--as a man--to spend a few moments alone." As the wizard vanished, the eagle metamorphosed into the man she loved.
The Sorceress was elated, her face lit up from her utmost inner emotions. "Sharak!"
The handsome young man cocked his head towards her, still possessing bird-like qualities. He smiled longingly at the sight of his beloved, trying to absorb the feelings now flooding his human body. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close as his lips sought hers.
"Sharak," she whispered softly as he kissed her neck.
Suddenly, he pulled back. With a sharp tone, he chided, "You must break this spell you've placed on Zad and the Beastmaster. It's a dangerous game playing with souls. The Beastmaster is my friend and the other animals depend on him."
The last thing the Sorceress wanted to talk about was the Beastmaster; however, she understood his concern. "Don't worry, Sharak, the curse will be reversed by morning." She remained proud of her work, after all, the Ancient One had rewarded her with this moment.
Pleased, Sharak smiled and returned his attentions back to his love. He nuzzled her ear and whispered her name, telling her he loved her still. He sensed her happiness and held her as though he never wanted to let her go, especially when he sensed the Ancient One's return. His moments were always too brief.
"You two are acting just like love-struck humans…it's disgusting. Enough is enough. Sharak, time to return to the skies. Don't look at me that way…if you're not careful, I might change you into a bat instead." The older wizard laughed at his power.
"No," the Sorceress complained, "It's not been long enough…I never got to say--"
Sharak backed away from her and let the transformation take place.
"Nooo!" she cried out as she watched the Sharak, the eagle, fly off into the night sky.
"A pity he wasted so much time asking questions about his friend the Beastmaster. Goes to show you where his loyalties lie." His scheme of feeding fire with fire worked. He could see the hate in her eyes--hatred for the Beastmaster…for Sharak…or for himself? He couldn't tell.
* * * * *
Tao had been up since dawn, anxiously waiting for his friend to awaken. He heard stirring within the cave but waited patiently outside. He smiled when the Beastmaster finally stumbled out, holding his head.
"What's going on? My head feels odd."
"Dar! Don't worry, that's just the side effects of the sleeping potion I gave Zad last night. Your head will clear in no time." Tao moved closer to help his friend.
The Beastmaster's hands easily grabbed hold of the scrawny neck, tightly squeezing his throat. "I'll kill you for what you've done!"
"Dar! Dar, you're… choking me…" Tao's words faded as his oxygen supply began to diminish. He recognized the piercing eyes above him--it wasn't Dar. Suddenly, Ruh's ferocious roar released Zad's grip. Tao fell to the ground. He rubbed his aching neck, hoping to circulate the bruised tissue back to life.
Zad whipped his head towards the direction of the tiger. What surprised him more was the appearance of what he thought was an exquisite wood nymph.
Satisfied the situation was under control, Ruh took off into the jungle. Curupira, on the other hand, approached the two humans. "Why were you trying to hurt your friend? Is that how you treat all your friends, Beastmaster?"
Tao tried to warn her, but only a groan escaped his throat.
"My, my, my…what a pretty sprite you are," Zad sneered as he stepped towards her.
"Don't tell me you still haven't found your memories!" she rebutted. Did he say pretty? Curupira stopped her attack and decided to toy with the Beastmaster. "You think I'm pretty?"
Tao kept coughing as he tried to speak, waving his hands to attract Curupira's attention. She had other things on her mind as she neared the human who called her friend.
Zad eyed her up and down. Green, but she had a few qualities he admired. "You'll do," he answered.
"Do? What kind of response is that? I don't understand you humans!"
"Shut up, you little tart. I'll show you who's boss." Zad reached out and pulled her closer--his last mistake. The Beastmaster's body flew backwards, slamming into the wall outside the cave. It slid down until it came to a rest, slumped against the wall.
"How dare you! Why I ought to--" the forest demon counterattacked until she noticed Tao struggling to rise. She extended her hand to assist him.
The near-strangled man managed to speak, "Is he alive?"
"Barely. And what of his memories?" She leaned closer and blew on his neck.
Her soothing breath eased Tao's pain and he almost felt normal again. She continued to blow, which tickled just below his chin. Tao's face flushed. "Thank you," he said in amazement. When she pulled away, he collected his wits. "Dar has his memories back."
Curupira's eyes widened. "Then what's gotten into him? Why was he so rude to me?"
"The Sorceress gave Dar his memories back, but she also switched his soul with King Zad's. I'm not sure why. Right now, Dar is in Zad's body."
"How dreadful… So, this is King Zad? I've heard of him." Curupira walked over to Dar's body.
"Yes, that's why he was trying to kill me. The spell was supposed to be broken by morning…I don't know what went wrong. Perhaps the Sorceress changed her mind. Sorceresses do that."
"Demons don't!" she declared smugly. Curupira leaned down closer to the Beastmaster's body.
Tao looked at her, hoping she wasn't planning to destroy his friend's body. "Is there anything you can do for him, Curupira?"
A rumble echoed throughout the camp from her frustration. "Unfortunately, I can't reverse sorcery…but there is someone who can. I'll take care of it. However, in case I can't call in any favors, get this evil human away from my Sanctuary."
"Where do I take him?"
Her face pressed close to his. "Anywhere away from here…understand?"
Tao nodded his head as she dashed off into the jungle. Fortunately, Zad would be out for a long time thanks to Curupira's attack. Within a matter of minutes, he had Dar's body tied to a stretcher. Tao dragged it behind him as they left the campsite. "Let's hope she can get things straightened out, Dar."
* * * * *
Curupira made her way to a solitaire region of the forest. Observing the Ancient One who was contemplating his next move, she announced her presence with a clap of thunder.
"What is it now, Curupira? Aren't you ever happy?" he spoke, not lifting his eyes to greet her. Instead, he moved a black knight, knocking over a white pawn.
"You know why I'm here. I need the Beastmaster to protect my animals. Your Sorceress has switched his body with an evil man named Zad--an arrogant human at that. I won't stand for this!" Curupira stood her ground, hands on her hips.
The Ancient One finally glanced up and smiled. "It's out of her hands as we speak. No need to worry…I've intervened."
"Then you've changed them back?"
"Not yet…I'm teaching my apprentice a lesson."
"At my expense? I won't stand for it!" Curupira released several more lightning bolts, their thunderous claps resonated the surrounding area.
"Is that a threat?" he gibed. "Don't fret. By now, Sharak has discovered that his beloved lied to him…thus, the fire feeds the flame." The Ancient One smiled vainly to himself. He glanced over to where the forest demon stood impatiently tapping one of her backward feet. "As you wish, Curupira, your Beastmaster can become himself once again, but in order to do so, the two must unite physically for the exchange to take place."
Curupira smiled, pleased to get her way. She nodded and moved closer, picking up the white queen and making her move. "Check mate," she gloated. Her distraction allowed Sharak, who had been perched in a nearby tree, to fly off to inform his friend.
"My next move precisely. Very good, my dear." His eyes traveled upward as he watched the eagle fade in the distance. He smirked at her efforts.
* * * * *
Dar wasted no time leaving the Terron village once he realized nothing had changed. He had to rescue his friend. The horse's hooves pounded the ground as he galloped towards Sanctuary. Suddenly, he pulled the animal to a stop when he heard Sharak's call. Dar looked skyward and sighted his friend flying above. The eagle telepathically gave him the answers he needed along with a vision--Tao and Zad were surrounded by Terrons farther ahead. Dar commanded the horse into full sprint as he headed in the direction Sharak had shown him.
Tao eyed the group of Terrons surrounding him. His predicament didn't look good.
"Untie me!," Zad ordered, struggling in the stretcher.
Ratax jumped off his horse. "I've been blessed with a second chance to kill the Beastmaster and present King Zad with his head." The large warrior encircled his captives like a great shark circling his prey.
Tao thought fast, wiping the sweat from his brow. "Wouldn't your king reward you more if you allowed him the honor of killing us?" He prayed silently to himself that the large oaf would take them to his king…at least in Dar's presence his life would be spared.
"Untie me, I said!"
Ratax moved closer to the Beastmaster lying prone on the stretcher. "You're in no position to give orders, but it will be a pleasure to set you free just so I can capture you fairly. I wouldn't want Zad to think any less of me." One swift movement, Ratax sliced the ropes free from the stretcher.
Zad jumped up. "I am your king! I'm Zad!"
The Terron warriors burst into laughter, Ratax laughing the hardest. "I thought the Beastmaster lost his memories, not his mind. The only kingdom you have is ruling over the savage beasts!"
"He's very sick," Tao offered, hoping to ease their situation. He kept surveying the surrounding woods, hoping Curupira or Ruh would appear. Instead, he saw another Terron galloping towards them. Above, Tao spotted the eagle…a beautiful sight. "Dar!"
The Terron warriors turned in the direction Tao was watching so intently. Soon, they, too, noticed their fearless leader riding to greet them. Ratax thrived on his glorious catch. This was his moment. "King Zad! You'll be pleased to know I've caught the Beastmaster and his slave. I was going to bring them back and give you the honor of killing them yourself."
Dar slid off the horse when it came to a complete halt. He approached cautiously. "This may turn into a great day after all."
Tao was amazed at how well Dar acted like King Zad…so much, it was scary.
Zad wasn't going to make this so easy. "Ratax, listen to me."
The Terron turned to the Beastmaster. "You know my name? I'm flattered."
"I am Zad! I'm your king, you idiot!"
Ratax laughed, "He's out of his mind!"
Dar walked closer. "I'm not so sure. Who wouldn't dream of being me?"
Tao's top lip curled upward questioning Dar's actions. The Eiron scholar was beginning to get confused…it seemed like there were two Zads and no Dar.
"I can prove it!" Zad yelled.
Dar inched his way even closer to his body. "No need. He speaks the truth, Ratax. The Sorceress placed a curse on us both, switching our bodies, our minds. I am the Beastmaster…watch." Dar called to Ruh and the great tiger made his presence known by roaring just beyond the safety of the trees several feet away.
Bewildered, Tao asked, "Dar? What are you doing?"
Dar held out his hand to shush his friend. "It's all right. This farce has to end."
Several Terron horses pranced nervously, as did the warriors themselves with the Tiger's appearance. Fascinated by the possibility of the transformation, Ratax decided he'd make another test. Anything was feasible with sorcery. "Zad, my friend, my king, how did I get this scar?" He looked to his king first.
Dar shook his head. "I don't know. An ill-tempered woman scratch you?" Dar's comment made the other warriors laugh. He chuckled himself.
Zad spoke up, "I gave it to you years ago during some games, before I became your king."
Amazed that the Beastmaster answered correctly, Ratax ordered his men to seize Zad. Before they had a chance, Dar grabbed hold of Zad. The two struggled until they were torn apart by the other men. Unbeknownst to the Terron warriors, the transformation took place--Dar was back in his own body and Zad in his. The men took hold of their king. Zad struggled against them, but there were too many. "No! I'm King Zad!" he proclaimed.
Dar looked at Tao. "Run, Tao…Ruh will protect you."
Spending no time arguing, Tao dashed off towards the woods in Ruh's direction. Once he was close to the tiger's side, he turned to check on his friend. He watched in awe as Dar took on Zad's men one-by-one with graceful ease, knocking the four men to the ground. Only Zad and Ratax were left standing.
"Get him!" Zad ordered.
Dar readied his stance as Ratax neared. The Terron warrior was taller and more muscular like Akili. Although glad to be back in his own body, Dar felt weakened after fighting the other men. Building up enough reserve, he leapt into the air like an eagle towards the oncoming foe.
Ratax swung his club, striking Dar in the stomach. The momentum sent the Beastmaster into a roll landing on his back. In a flash, he bounced back to his feet, his hands in a readied cobra attack. Ratax lunged forward, smashing head-on, and knocked Dar off balance.
Tao cringed, worried that the effects of the sleeping potion along with Curupira's strike had taken a toll on his friend's body. He could see Dar beginning to make mistakes that he normally never made. "Why didn't I bring his staff? Ruh, you have to help him…"
As if he understood, the tiger edged his way closer and roared. Zad quickly mounted his horse, as did several of the downed Terrons. Ratax ignored the fuss around him, focused on finishing the Beastmaster.
Dar tried one last move, spun in the air and kicked the Terron's chest. The move drained him and he dropped to his knees. Ratax stood as if untouched. He lifted his club ready to strike his victim when Ruh pounced on him, knocking him to the ground. One swipe across his chest, the mighty tiger claimed victory. Ratax lay motionless. The other Terrons and their leader quickly made their escape.
Tao ran over to help his friend. "Dar, are you all right?"
The Beastmaster nodded and gladly accepted Tao's support to help him walk. "Let's go home, Tao."
* * * * *
Part 6"So tell me what it's like being stuck inside another body." Fascinated with the soul swapping adventure, Tao zealously awaited Dar's answer now that they were safely back at the sanctuary.
Dar turned around and walked closer to where Tao was sitting. He sat beside him. "Tao, inside, I didn't feel any different, even when I thought to myself or spoke in my mind with the animals. It was every time I spoke aloud, hearing Zad's voice, I was reminded of whose body I was trapped inside. His body--different aches and pains that I had to get used to, but what made me more conscious of being inside his body was the way others looked at me. The looks of hatred bothered me the most. Can't Zad see that? Doesn't it bother him?"
"His mind sees differently than yours. I wonder if Zad learned anything while being inside you…" Tao smiled, glad to have his friend back to normal.
"With you as his only contact…" Dar paused and smiled at his friend. "Tao, even if he did, I’m sure in his anger he'll forget. The mess I left his camp in with the slaves free and his men up in arms…he'll have enough to contend with." Dar's smile turned to one of worry.
Tao wondered why the transformation and then a familiar clap of thunder resonated. He turned to see Curupira entering the camp.
"Beastmaster, I presume everything's back to the way it should be," she said as she moved to stand in front of the two men now rising to their feet.
"Thank you, Curupira. Sharak said it was you who found the way to get me back into my own body." Dar bowed his head in thanks.
Devouring every bit of his humbleness, Curupira slithered between the two and encircled Tao. "You did as I asked, and for that, I am pleased. You pick your friends well, Beastmaster." Dar's sidekick glowed with the compliment and she smiled pleasingly at him. Curupira now faced Dar. "Do you think I'm pretty?"
Taken aback by the question, Dar raised his eyebrows. "What?"
"It's a simple question? What don't you understand?" she spat. Her eyes squinted as her nose scrunched up in anger.
From experience, Dar knew how to tame the wildest of beasts. Would he be able to tame the demon before him? "Curupira, in my eyes you are beautiful."
Her clenched teeth relaxed and formed an enormous smile. "Really?" With a slight nod from the Beastmaster, Curupira stood proud, pleased with herself. She looked to Tao who was also nodding his head in agreement…mostly from fear and respect she surmised. Satisfied she'd gotten the answer she sought, Curupira twirled around and left the two men standing with their mouths agape.
As soon as the forest demon vanished into the jungle, Dar turned to his friend. "What's all that about?"
Tao couldn't hold it in any longer…remembering how Zad had called her a pretty sprite. His laughter drowned out Dar's repeated question of "What?"
~ The End ~
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My Fanfic is based on the BeastMaster: The Legend Continues Series
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