|Disclaimer: The characters and story are based on the series BeastMaster are property of Tribune Entertainment Company. There is no intent to infringe on their rights, this is only for pure enjoyment.|
Part 4The 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."
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My Fanfic is based on the BeastMaster: The Legend Continues Series
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