..by Jon Simonds..


In a forgotten time, still to come, Sandrell Lempekin stares up at the darkness gathering over the Ridgewood Forest. Thunder drops from the sky and the forest floors tremble with impact. Streaks of lightning spark the darkness, wildly dancing through the air. Sandrell shades her eyes. Embers glow, fade, and die. Even the wind howls, forcing the mightiest of trees to bow before her fury like a beaten warrior in the face of an adverse king.

Terror grips the forest dwellers. Deer run blindly through the woods, stumbling carelessly over branches and crashing aimlessly into trees. Raccoons, half crazed with fear, leap from tree branch to tree branch. Some of the branches snap and the frightened creatures plummet helplessly to the ground below. Skunks run circles around one another. Their black, furry tails point accusingly up at the heavens while the foul smell of their nature mingles with the fresh smell of the rain, the pine and the crisp morning dew.

In spite of the rage unleashed by natural forces, there is a small clearing in the southern region of the forest, unmoved by the storm. The wind does not caress the blanket of soft, colorful leaves spotting the ground. Not a drop of rain disturbs them. There are peach colored leaves and leaves of sunset orange, bothered only by the buckskin boots of Sandrell.
Sandrell shakes her head.
The bangs of her light, brown hair fall away from her bright, green eyes. She folds her arms around her stomach and gazes fearfully up at the sky.
"My God," she utters, but God lay hidden somewhere behind the wall of darkness above. "I've never seen so vicious a storm."
The storm is not the only thing occupying her mind. There are others. She can hear them screaming. Shrill cries stab at her from every direction. Their empty voices pierce her heart and when she can no longer stand to hear it, Sandrell presses her hands over her ears, hoping the madness will go away.
"What's happening?!?" she cries, but the only response is a swell of thunder.
The ground beneath her feet trembles. A breeze slips across the clearing, tugging at her hair.
"You're losing it," she thinks.
She locks her sweaty hands behind her neck.
"Concentrate. Concentrate!
She is pleading with herself, now. A knot of fear tightens in the pit of her belly. Her confidence shrinks. A drop of rain slaps her on the forehead and her eyes grow wide.

"No," she whispers, clenching her fists and dropping them against her thighs. Her voice trembles as she recites a small poem, an incantation, once taught to her by the very wizard she has been sent to find.

"From all that is good, from all that is kind, strengthen my power; my peace of mind. May all that surround me, quickly find the calm the quiet the silence of time."

It has been years since she last recited the verse.

It was childish. Time and again, she has told herself to steer clear of such silliness. Now she stood, repeating the verse over and over again, until the ground beneath her feet stopped its ugly quivering.

Sandrell relaxes her hands. She walks within the perimeter of the clearing where the rain no longer assaults her, but her heart grows heavy, still.

It has been well over a month since she and 25 of the Queens finest warriors first left Lormalorian. Their mission had been a simple one; find the wizard, Medra, and persuade the masterful magician to return home with them. He was needed in Lormalorian. A panic had gripped the tiny kingdom when it was learned that goblins had swept down from the mountains of Orcon in direct violation of treaties signed decades ago. In less than a week, they had successfully invaded the Urchin kingdom of Adava.

Of course, the downfall of Adava was hardly cause for alarm. As far as anyone in Lormalorian was concerned, if the urchins and the goblins were to finish each other off, the world would be a better place for it. But they hadn't. The goblins had triumphed and they weren't stopping there.

Fifty miles south of Adava, stood the kingdom of Shalomar; an enormous nation of dwarves. There was, in Lormalorian, all the confidence in the world that an army of dwarves, sent to drive the goblins back to the mountains of Orcon, would succeed. By the end of a month, goblins would be running with their tails between their legs -- not that goblins actually have tails, mind you. Unfortunately, in seven weeks time, Shalomar was besieged.

Lormalorian trembled. Tales were told of goblin and urchin fighting side by side. Gone were the clubs and stones once serving as a goblins sole weapon. Now, they marched with sword and knife; bow and arrow; in uniform. It was unheard of and the elders of Lormalorian feared the worst.

In the weeks following the downfall of Shalomar, the Princess Li, came to Lormalorian with the young and old of her kingdom. The elders immediately called council and listened to her foreboding news:

"There is something, or rather someone, brilliant guiding the goblins and make no mistake about it, they are on their way."

It was then that the council called upon Sandrell. They begged her to find the wizard. Lormalorian was no place for bloodshed. Their army was more for pageantry than for fighting. If something brilliant stood at the helm of the goblins, then only Medra would know how to stop them and who better than Sandrell, their very own Sorceress, to find him?

Sandrell kicks a pebble from the clearing.
"Some sorceress," she mumbles.