[Image that inspired this at bottom.]

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=   F.U.C.K. - Fucked Up College Kids - Born Jan. 24th, 1993 - F.U.C.K.   =
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                            Loving Solitude
                            ---------------

        The gavel clapped against the podium a third time, and the
room fell silent. Glancing around to make sure everyone was paying
attention, the auctioneer motioned for the two assistants to bring
out the next piece. From the left of the small stage, two ladies 
dressed in black carried out a covered painting. Lifting it up a 
little more, they deposited it on an awaiting stand, and quickly
moved off back to the left. 
        With a final look to the audience, the auctioneer moved over
and quickly removed the velvet cloth that hid the painting. As the
cover dropped off, a few people shifted to get a better look as
it became fully revealed but immediately moved back to their previous
position, apparently in disappointment. With a reluctant sigh, the
auctioneer moved back to the podium and cleared his throat.

        "This piece of work was recently donated to our foundation
         by an anonymous donor. Nothing is known about the artist,
         and little is known about the history of this piece beyond
         a few years. Since it's age and artist are unknown, bidding
         will begin at two hundred dollars."

        It took a few seconds before an elderly lady raised her hand
to offer the small amount. No one really seemed interested in the
piece but everyone knew that if no one bidded on it, the charity would
not do as well as it had the previous year. After a few minutes, the
bidding reached three hundred and forty two dollars. A small smile 
crept over the auctioneer's face when the bidding slowed down, because
he knew that the next piece would be much more exciting and fetch a lot
more money.

        "Three hundred forty. Do I hear three hundred and fifty?
         Going once....Going twice..."

        As the gavel started it's downward swing, a tall gentlemen 
who had been standing in the doorway stepped forward and spoke up.

        "One thousand dollars."

       Looks of astonishment and surprise hit every face in the room
as people craned their necks to see who had bid such a ridiculous 
amount on this piece of art. Strange looks and questioning glances
spread around the room like wildfire as the man slowly approached the
front of the room. As he reached the podium he slowly turned to face
the room full of people and spoke up in a deep voice.

        "I can help put a more accurate price on this work and tell
         you the story of the painting if you wish. Believe me, after
         this story, you shall deem this piece priceless."

        Disbelief could be seen on each and every person's face as
he finished. Turning to the auctioneer he looked him dead in the eye 
before turning back to the crowd seated before him. No one spoke up
to stop him so he continued.

        "I shall now relate the tale of Daryth and Aryn as I promised
         the artist after he finished the piece. Many of you will
         be skeptical of my story and if so, it is your loss. Know
         that I tell this....as it truly happened."


                              =-=-=-=-=-=-=

        "Our story takes place in the foothills of the mountains
         in Eastern Kriandia in the year 1056, Year of the Crescent.
         At the mutual base of the two tallest peaks, a stretch of
         forest ran through on both sides of a cleared trail. To both
         sides of the trail, the forest gradually rose to cover each
         of the peaks and continue beyond. It was several miles from
         peak to peak and the valley was well over ten miles long. Just
         over a fortnight to the south was the town of Camishal, the 
         largest trading center this side of the continent. The
         outlying town of Britania was just under a fortnight to the
         north, and the only other civilization in the area. Traffic
         between the two cities was quite heavy, especially during
         the later fall months, with everyone trying to get to one
         place or the other so they could settle in for the harsh 
         winters that always came.

         This valley between the two peaks was well known as a natural
         resting place amongst the beautiful trees and open forest.
         During the more recent years, brigands and bandits had used
         the place as an ambush sight for weary travelers who were
         not armed. Rumor had it that for years, the valley was inhabited
         by a guardian who protected innocent travelers and saw to the
         safety of the road but years ago, the protection people had 
         relied upon disappeared. It was believed that the man died at
         the hands of brigands, although some people still maintained
         that he moved, to take residence in other parts of the land.
         Regardless, the roads had not been completely safe for years."

                                =-=-=

        Looking around, the man saw that everyone was becoming more
and more interested in the story as he told it. Some of the patrons
had leaned back to get more comfortable, and others had leaned forward
in their chairs to hear the story better. Either way, he was fulfilling
his promise made years ago.

                                =-=-=

        "Eight miles to the north of the valley was a small community 
         of farmers and a few merchants that had settled in a quiet grove.
         Although more and more people settled there until it had grown 
         into a small town, it was still considered peaceful compared
         to most other cities. Protection for this town was provided
         by the Duke of Carolina who had built a keep to the east.
         Bandits and brigands kept their distance from this town because
         of the keep and the small army that dwelled there in his keep.

         That year was the Duke's daughter's twenty first birthday, and
         a huge celebration was in preparation. Since birth, attendants
         and maids had taken care of the young woman, and had seen to
         her every need. The maiden had never left the walls of the city
         since she was born, due to her father's orders. Her father had
         always been protective of her, but she had grown accustomed
         to living inside the town. Even her trips into market or other
         places in town were always cut short by her father's orders
         and worrying about her well being. When she awoke the morning
         of her birthday, she quickly ran through the castle to find her
         father in hopes of catching him before he left for town. In the 
         dining hall she found him and begged to talk to him before he left.
         When she told him that she wanted to leave the city for the
         day in order to explore the fields and woods near the castle,
         he immediately began laughing. He thought it the most foolish
         request, but he slowly realized that she had turned twenty
         one and had never left the town.

         The sun shone high above head and the noise of the marketplace
         carried to the front gates of the castle as the massive doors
         swung open to reveal the maiden. To each side of her was a burly
         soldier armed with more weapons than a bird has feathers. It
         was under her father's orders that if she decided to leave the
         castle, she would be under heavy protection in case something 
         happened. Running full speed away from the gates and down toward
         the market place, the two guards struggled to keep up. Seemingly
         tireless, the young girl wandered the market for hours before
         heading farther into town to explore even more. Late afternoon
         approached and the girl hadn't stopped for one bit, not even to
         eat or drink, and not a sign of fatigue crossed her face. Her
         two guards had long ago given up looking rigid and stolid, for
         the weight of the afternoon sun was almost as great as that from
         the weapons covering their bodies.

         Needless to say, they were not surprised, or happy, when
         she announced her intentions of taking a walk through the
         woods to the south of town. Sprinting out of the town gates,
         the two guards jogged and tried their best to keep up with
         the young girl, and prayed to their gods that she would
         grow tired very soon. A cool breeze blew through the forest,
         cooling off everyone and everything after the long hot day,
         and the guards felt as if their prayers had been answered.
         As the sun slowly approached the western peak both men
         realized they were a good ways from the castle, and that
         it was getting late. And even worse, should something happen
         to the daughter of their liege, they would be thrown into
         prison if they survived their punishment. 

         Catching up to the energetic girl, both guards quickly spoke
         up and told her that they should be returning to the keep
         before it got too dark out. Mock cries of protest rang through
         the valley as she complained about how much fun she was having
         and how much she enjoyed being out here. A small but friendly
         argument ensued and it was finally agreed that they would go
         back after she took a brief swim in a stream they had passed a
         few minutes ago. Heading back to the stream she lead the two
         men on smiling the whole way. Once there she ordered them to 
         head on back a little ways, that she wanted to have some 
         privacy. Slowly removing a strap from her gown, she stopped
         until they had turned around and left the immediate area.

         Sprinting through the woods with no shoes on, her happiness
         was apparent as her smile shone through the woods, almost lighting
         the way for her. The sun had almost completely left the woods
         engulfing it in darkness. What had minutes ago been beautiful
         trees had now turned into vile monsters intent upon catching her
         as she ran on. Direction meant nothing to her as she fled the
         guards behind her and the shadows pressing down and her only
         thoughts were of getting back to the keep in one piece. The
         brilliant smile that had adorned her face fled as fast as she
         did, and a pure look of terror took shape on her lovely features.

         She didn't know how much time had passed, but she knew that she must
         have been running for a good fifteen minutes in the same direction.
         Despite the running the woods still looked unfamiliar to her.
         Stopping to catch her breath and get her bearing it took her
         a minute to realize that it was now almost completely dark out.
         The only trace of sun was a deep lavender in the skies above
         providing just enough light to give the trees a sinister 
         appearance and frighten her. Adding to that fear she began to
         recall the stories from merchants and travelers that had passed
         through the woods inbetween the peaks. The only other recollection
         was that the protector of the woods had left years ago, leaving
         merchants on their own, fair prey for any highwaymen that may
         be in the area. Trying to push those thoughts from her head,
         she quickly thought of pleasant stories she had heard growing
         up in the keep while forcing herself to smile despite the 
         fear that had taken ahold of her.

         Hours passed of walking in what appeared one direction before
         she sat down to rest. Blisters had formed on her feet over an
         hour ago and the pain from them slowly traveled up her legs
         and began to fatigue her. Sitting with her back to a tree she
         began to look around at the trees again once again trying
         to get her bearing. A single tree caught her attention and
         thinking back a little, she recalled passing the tree almost
         two hours ago. A small tear rolled out of her eye and continued
         down her cheek. With an audible sigh, she pulled her legs
         closer to her chest and lowered her chin to her knees in
         resignation. Sleep took her almost instantly.

         Time had no meaning while she slept, but no matter how much
         time had actually passed, an eternity had passed in her dreams.
         Sometime later a loud snap sounded somewhere nearby. It took
         her a minute to realize that she was awake, and that the sound
         had not been in her mind like all of the others. Hesitating,
         she opened one eye and looked up. Although it was still night,
         the forest had taken on an odd glow from some light source
         that reflected off of a fog bank that had appeared while she 
         slept. Opening the other eye while looking up brought her
         a startling surprise. She was not alone. Around her, five
         figures had taken position to cut off her escape. Each
         figure was wrapped in the fog standing about twenty feet from
         her and after a little closer scrutiny, each was carrying a
         sword. Terror gripped her and her heart began beating like
         a rabbit on the chase.

         Without a word, all five figures moved toward her brandishing
         their weapons. Using the tree as support, the maiden pushed herself
         up with her legs and reached back to grab the tree for support.
         Her breathing became more labored and her eyes darted back and
         forth between each of the brigands approaching her. Together,
         they formed a small ring around her, each pointing their blade
         toward her. A tall gruff man stepped forward and dropped the tip
         of his sword toward the ground a little. She thought about
         screaming but her body would not obey. All she could get out
         was a muttered gasp.

         "Well well. Look at what we got here boys! Seems the little 
          missy got lost and wandered in our woods. 'Guess tonight
          won't be so cold after all."

         The gruff man reached out toward her breasts but seconds before
         touching her a faint whistle could be heard followed by a dull
         thump. Looking down she saw an arrow sticking through the man's
         hand, apparently appearing out of no where. Screaming and holding
         his arm, he spun around looking for the person who had shot him.
         Almost as one, the four figures turned their back on the girl,
         totally forgetting about her, instead more concerned with their
         safety. She could see over the shoulder of one of her attackers
         and glimpsed a silhouette in the distance. The black figure
         was surrounded by the almost glowing fog that shrouded the rest
         of the forest. Dropping a bow, the silhouette advanced toward
         the brigands and drew two swords from sheaths at his sides.

         As the brigands advanced to meet their attacker, the girl slid 
         around the tree with intent to run away lest she be captured
         after they killed her temporary savior. She took one step toward
         her freedom and ran straight into the chest of another brigand.
         Grabbing her arm he led her back around the tree and held her 
         tight as he watched the fight. The brigand let out a snarling
         laugh and looked at his catch.

         "Looks like yer savior ain't gonna live long. Four against
          one means we is gonna win. Then we gonna take you back to our
          camp and have some fun."

         Tears ran like a river down her face and fell to the forest 
         floor as she realized the truth of the words. Glancing up
         she watched as the battle unfolded. A little over twenty feet
         away, the four brigands had surrounded the dark figure and 
         began taunting him and telling him of the painful death he
         was about to receive. Looking closer at the group of men
         she now noticed that each of her attackers held longswords
         and each wore armor of some kind. None of the bandits seemed
         to be new to the swords and fighting, and it even seemed that
         this group was used to fighting together from the way they
         split up and surrounded the single foe.

         Dressed in black, she could tell very little about her would-be
         savior except that he was tall and well built. He wore a long black
         cloak with blood red trim that seemed to have a mind of its own.
         As he moved, the cloak always seemed to stay out of the way of
         his moving swords, and never opened enough to reveal what
         was underneath. Despite being attacked from all sides, the lone
         figure fended off each attack moving in slow circles being
         careful that he never left his back to a single attacker.
         It was only a minute later that the brigands altered their attack
         routine, and began to attack faster and with more precision.
         With that many swords and that kind of skill, the girl knew that
         she was as good as dead.

         Dancing back and forth, the swordplay kept on for several minutes,
         with no signs that anything new would happen. The figure in black
         almost seemed at ease as his twin blades moved around blocking
         each attack, and seemingly appearing somewhere else to block
         another a half second later. Growling in frustration, the leader 
         of the group stepped forward intent upon killing this person in
         hopes of a quick battle. No sooner than he had taken a step,
         a loud clang resounded from his blade. The maiden gasped as she
         saw the brigands blade shoot upward and the tip of another sword
         appear on his back. Falling to his knees, the brigand dropped
         his longsword and held the wound with both hands as he fell 
         backward, out of the fight.

         Seeing their leader drop visibly shook the others attacking
         this figure. Hesitation by one of the brigands cost him his
         life as two long gashes appeared on his chest forming an 'X',
         spilling his life in his own hands. With a snap kick to the 
         face, he fell backwards out of the way of the remaining three
         fighting. A spark of hope flickered in the girls mind as she
         realized it might be possible for her savior to win the fight.

         As soon as the thought entered her mind, it was quickly forced
         out as the man holding her wrist pulled her backwards toward
         the tree. Turning her around, he pushed her face first against
         the tree and planted his knee on her back as he drew some rope
         from a pouch on his belt. He quickly tied her hands behind her
         back and then proceeded to tie her feet. Yanking her back around
         to face her, he growled once and slapped her across the face
         causing her to fall to ground. Sneering at the girl, the man
         then moved to join his two remaining companions.

         The man in black kept in motion, blocking each attack that came
         toward him. With only two remaining it was harder to counter
         the attack since he had to turn 180 degrees each time an attack
         came in. Looking up from the ground, the girl saw that the 
         brigands had began a pattern attacking her savior that would
         lead to him wearing down and growing tired, while they kept
         a safe distance and kept some of their energy. Realizing
         this, and seeing another foe approaching, the dark figure leaped
         toward the man approaching him and stabbed outward with both
         blades producing two lines of red on the bandits neck before
         he could block either blade. Without hesitation the figure jumped
         over the body of the fallen man and turned to face the other two
         brigands who had moved to resume their attack. This time, she
         noticed that she was right behind him, and the tree right behind
         her. His move had cost him though, as she looked up she could see
         a deep cut in the man's left arm, and another on his right side.

         Rolling backwards a little, more in fear of getting stepped on,
         she hoped to get a better look at the fight and possible get
         a glimpse of the man who had saved her. With the loss of position,
         the two remaining attackers lost confidence, and in doing so,
         quickly lost their advantage. It was a minute later before
         another man dropped, blood pouring out of where his eyes used
         to be. Cloak swirling, the figure turned to face the remaining
         foe and quickly end the fight. Deciding to take his chances on
         his own in the woods he turned to flee but instead, ended up
         flat on his face as he got tripped from behind. Breathing
         deeply he turned over and tried to scoot backwards to escape the
         man that had just killed the only four friends he had had.

         With no expression, and no show of emotion the man in black 
         walked over and touched the tip of one of his swords to the man's
         chest. Holding it there, he mouthed something and stabbed downward
         ending the life of the enemy. Backing up as if in fear of the 
         dead man before him, the savior stopped and looked down at
         himself. Both swords clattered in front of him as he dropped them
         and moved both hands to cover his two wounds. An involuntary
         grunt escaped him and he fell to his knees, visibly hurting.
         The man in black tried to stay on his knees but could not,
         and pitched forward into the leaves in front of him. 

         A faint gasp escaped the lips of the maiden as she watched the
         figure fall face first, and she realized that he may be dead,
         because of her foolish actions. She quickly untied the rope
         bounding her legs and pushed herself toward the fallen man,
         her only interest in getting to him to help if she could. It
         seemed like forever before she was even near him and as she
         drew near she could tell his he was breathing, but it was labored
         and he was not moving. Cursing herself, the ropes bounding her,
         and the brigands, she kept moving toward her fallen savior,
         desperate to help in any way. Finally drawing near she reached 
         out with both hands to feel for a pulse but as her hand drew 
         near another voice sounded out from the woods nearby.

         "Do not touch him."

         From behind a tree stepped another figure dressed in similar
         robes and clothing. On his side were two swords as well. Moving
         toward her, the new man walked past her and kneeled down to
         examine the wounded guardian. He checked for a pulse, and then
         moved on to examine the wounds with his fingers. Wiping the blood
         on his cloak he rolled the wounded man over and spread his 
         cloak out revealing more of the man beneath. The maiden sat nearby
         watching the whole thing with a mixture of confusion and
         concern. Drawing a sword, the new figure stepped back and sliced
         downward with a quick stroke severing the ropes that bound her.

         "Leave us. Head north until you reach a small grove and then
          turn eastward. Keep moving until you cross a road. From there
          keep going north and you will be home. Never speak of what
          you saw here. It is of no concern to you."

         Frightened, the maiden stood up and backed away slowly in
         front of the armed man guarding his fallen comrade. Visibly
         shaking, she turned and fled north as instructed, not even
         looking back to see what was happening. Something in the
         man's eyes warned her that if she had protested, she may
         have ended up like the men who attacked her. As she fled
         to the north, despite her fear of what took place, something
         stopped her from running on. Slowing down she placed her
         hand over her heart and stopped everything. Something felt
         terribly wrong, she had to turn back. It was beating in her
         heart, and the compelling thought of returning to help
         the person who had helped her overwhelmed her.

         Slowly she crept back up and stopped behind a tree a good
         distance from the two figures. She crouched down and made
         herself as comfortable as possible trying to remain quiet,
         hoping to find out more about the two men. All thoughts of
         getting home had long since fled her mind and only the thought
         of learning more occupied her.

         The scene in front of her startled her more than anything else.
         She was used to such a simple life at the keep, with no worry,
         and to this day she had never seen a person die, and never
         even imagined someone dying in such a horrible way. The new
         figure was moving the bodies of the brigands and arranging them
         in a row a little to the side of where his fallen comrade lie.
         Moonlight filtered through the trees above and swept over
         the small clearing where everyone was, and using the little
         light from above, she could tell that her savior was still not
         moving. Perhaps he was dead already, and that thought made her
         sick to her stomach. Looking back up she watched the man finish
         moving the corpses away.

         The job completed, the new figure once again went to his
         fallen comrade and checked on him again. The pulse was weak
         but he had been bandaged and the bleeding had stopped. It still
         didn't look good. Kneeling down the man pulled back his cloak,
         removed his sword belt, and placed his palm flat on the chest
         of the wounded swordsman. Closing his eyes he began to chant
         and slowly lifted his head toward the sky. A pale blue light
         engulfed his hand and spread outward over the chest and on to
         the arms, and eventually to the wounds. As the light from the
         healing spell faded the other man slumped down onto his knees,
         apparently weaker from the spell. Something made him jerk his head
         up though, and he reached down for his own blades.

         The maiden cursed herself for making so much noise. When the
         spell began, she couldn't believe what she saw and had gasped,
         not sure if this were dream or reality. She huddled down, hugging
         herself behind the tree praying to all the gods that he had not
         heard, but she knew he did. Footsteps sounded from the clearing 
         and she could tell he was moving toward her. Panic took her and
         she debated on running away from the man but she knew she was
         in no condition to run and no doubt, the man would catch her.

         Recalling stories she had read, and tales she had heard, she
         figured she should at least face any threat as brave as the 
         knights of old, and act like a mature women, which she was.
         She stood up and slowly caught her breath, and with a final
         shudder, stepped away from the tree. No sooner had she taken
         one step as two blades sliced through the air, falling
         a hair's width from her chest. The realization that she could
         and should have been dead hit her and she was a loss for words,
         however she didn't need to say a thing, because the warrior
         in front of her did.

         "What did you see?"

         The tone of his voice suggested that if she lied, he would
         know about it, and would kill her. Taking a deep breath
         and summoning all the courage she could, she whispered:

         "Almost everything."

         His eyes closed a little and anger flashed over his face. He
         held on blade to her neck and drew back the other as if to strike
         her down, and as he did, she closed her eyes, mouthing a prayer 
         to her god.

         Instead of the killing blow she heard a loud ring in front of 
         her face. Opening one eye she saw the blade poised inches from
         her face. She noticed her savior standing beside her, his own
         sword stretched out, blocking the killing blow. She realized
         that he had saved her life again. Relief flooded over her and
         she took a tentative step back. For the first time she heard
         him speak. He was leaning against the tree with one hand on
         the deep cut in his side, the other shaking, but wielding
         his weapon.

         "No Lyell. I can not let you kill her."

         His voice was so soft spoken, and so clear, she could hardly
         believe this had come from the same man who had minutes ago
         killed five men, and then almost fell to his own death.

         "You know of our vow. It is our way and you are breaking it.
          Hell, you already broke that vow again by saving her in the
          first place. You must be crazy."

         "I know. I understand what I have done and that is my decision.
          You have been my friend for just over two hundred years, all
          I ask is that you support my decision."

         A look of pure confusion hit her at the talk she had just heard.
         Two hundred years kept flashing through her mind, and she
         wondered what he meant by that. Not caring about interrupting
         their conversation she broke in.

         "What do you mean two hundred years? Who are you? Who is he?
          What vow are you talking about? What did he mean by killing
          me?"

         The one called Lyell that had been ready to kill her growled
         at her silencing her instantly. Lyell spoke up:

         "She knows too much and can't be allowed to live. If she told
          anyone, you know what the consequences would be. It just
          can't happen. No matter what you think of her. These foolish
          emotions of yours will get you killed, almost like they did
          tonight."

         The last comment hit him worse than any blade could have,
         but he stood there as if unaffected. Lowering his sword,
         he sheathed it and removed the hood covering most of his
         face. His gentle features matched his voice perfectly,
         and she questioned how such a person could take lives with
         the deadly efficiency that he had shown. That was only one
         of a thousand questions that flew through her mind each second
         that passed during their conversation.

         "I understand Lyell. All I can say is thank you, and you know
          that I will repay you one day. Lets sit down, rest and have
          something to eat and talk about this. Things will work out."

         "By the gods you know I owe you my life a hundred times over,
          but you know how I am.....fine....lets rest and get refreshment."

         From there they walked north toward the stream she had been
         at earlier the previous day. The maiden followed nervously
         not knowing what to do, or what to say, if anything. Following
         them at a small distance, the past few minutes replayed in her
         mind and she questioned whether she was dreaming or not. Looking
         up she noticed that the one called Lyell was staring at her.

         "You aren't dreaming."

         That was all he said before he turned his head and continued
         leading them on toward the stream. Once they arrived they 
         followed the winding water toward the west a ways, until
         they reached a small clearing nestling against the slow moving
         current. Tall grass and shrubs concealed this place well, and
         once closer, the princess could tell that it had been used
         quite frequently. The two warriors moved to separate sides
         of a small ring of stones, and each removed their sword
         belts and placed them within easy reach. Lyell began digging
         through a few belt pouches while her savior walked to the
         stream bank and knelt down.

         A few feet from the water, on his knees, he straightened up
         and clasped his hands in front of him. The maiden slowly
         stepped to the side and down toward the water to see what he
         was doing. From the side she could see his hands were not
         clasped, but rather one fist was pushed into the curved palm
         of the other. His eyes were closed and the gentle wind blew
         back his long brown hair. Moonlight cascaded off the water
         and presented the stream bank with a beautiful pale radiance.

         Not wishing to disturb the man, she moved back toward the ring
         of stones hesitantly. It was obvious that the man called Lyell
         did not care for her, and wished her dead, but she got the 
         feeling that now they were back here, nothing would happen
         until they had talked about everything. 

         Reaching the ring of stones she kneeled down and spread
         her cold hands over the fire that he had built. After warming
         her hands a little, she took some cheese and bread offered 
         by the warrior. Lyell then sat down and crossed his legs
         and looked at her. Taking the hint, she sat back and made
         herself as comfortable as she could on the rocky beach.

         "Since we are here, and we have time, I will tell you more 
          about us, so that your curiosity will not consume you. Know
          that what you hear now has never been told to another mortal
          and never will be again if it can be helped."

         Lyell finished off his piece of bread and washed it down with
         a small sip of some liquid he produced from a wineskin. Leaning
         back on his elbows he began:

         "You know of the legend of the guardian of this forest and
          the protector of the valley no doubt. Most people know about
          it, but don't know the whole story. Hmmph. Most people hardly
          know the tiniest bit of it. If you think back to the few
          stories told about the guardian you may realize that he
          has been around for as long as you remember. Yes, he. It is
          not a monster like some believe. That guardian is the man
          who saved your life. Daryth is the name he goes by now and
          he has been protecting this valley for just over two hundred
          and thirty two years. I am Lyell as you now know.

          I know you have a hard time believing that, as you should,
          but I speak the truth. When you look at him you see a human
          about twenty five years old. Don't let that deceive you.
          The cloaks we wear are magical, and change our appearance to
          whatever we need. If we wish to be shadows in the night, then
          that is what you would see. Nothing more. Anyway, he is
          the first guardian to keep the form he has always known. That
          is what he looked like when he lived a normal, mortal, life.
          That is truly him.

          Yes. We are both immortal by your standards. He is three
          hundred and eighty two years old right now. When he was mortal,
          he committed crimes that led to this punishment. When
          the town he lived in was overrun with clerics of evil, he
          did not convert to the new false religion like everyone else.
          He kept his faith and fought against the evil clerics despite
          what his goddess told him to do. He was to leave the town, and
          seek a new home, and to forget what had happened, but he couldn't
          live with himself knowing innocent people were being subjected
          to false and evil gods. Staying, he fought them every way
          he knew how. His goddess left him and when he was finally 
          captured, he was sacrificed to the new gods of the town.

          As the knife plummeted through his heart, he only remembers
          a bright flash of light, a second or two of what he calls
          a trial, and next thing he knew, he had been changed. He woke
          up in this spot with clothes, two swords, and the cloak next
          to him. The only thing he remembers is that he was to serve
          as protector of this valley for two hundred years. After
          that, he could lead his own life and do whatever he pleased,
          as long as he didn't come into contact with other people.

          I understand that is a little confusing, let me try to explain
          better. Two hundred years of protecting the travelers and
          innocent people was a punishment by the gods, but he didn't see
          it that way. He loved every day of it, and took his job more
          seriously than any other guardian in history. The true punishment
          lie in not being able to see anyone afterwards, including other
          guardians. Once the last day of the two hundred years guarding
          the valley passed, he was free as long as he didn't make contact
          with anyone, and if he did, he sentenced himself to another
          one hundred years of guarding the valley, and solitude.

          You see us together tonight, but that is rare. We may only
          see each other if one of us is hurt, and needs help. By morning
          I must be gone or we both suffer the consequences. So for the
          past seven years, he had been fulfilling his vow and staying
          away from people. He had done that perfectly until this
          afternoon when he saw you. As soon as you entered the forest
          he had taken up the responsibility of guarding you. He won't
          tell me why he did it, but I can see it in his eyes. Your
          beauty has taken ahold of his heart and seemingly won't let
          go. I do know that he has risked many a trip into town, disguised
          as a peasant so that he may see you and make sure you are safe.
          It seems that his love for you is deeper than you could imagine.
          Take that to heart though, for he has never loved before. Not
          as a mortal, or as an immortal. I am his only friend right now
          and that is why we look after each other.

          Part of our vow, like all guardians is this: No one can learn
          of us, what we do, and who we are. If it happens they must die
          or never tell another soul. Since you live a plush life back
          in town, and speak with too many people, I say you must die.
          That is how things must be in my eyes. He sees it differently
          though, and brought you back to this place to talk."

         She sat back in stunned silence, absorbing everything. Several
         minutes passed before she could even look up and look into the
         eyes of Lyell. She almost wished this could be all some cruel
         joke, or that she would wake up from a bad dream safe in her
         room, but that didn't happen. Looking over to Daryth, she
         couldn't believe that he had followed her through town on so many
         days, and couldn't believe that her beauty had captured him
         like this other man said, it just wasn't possible!

         "I don't know why, but I believe you. It's just so hard to
          accept all that. To think that he did all that for me, and
          risked his own life for me is so crazy. I don't exactly
          have a lot of people that care for me, and especially not
          like that."

         She took more time to let all of it sink in, and Lyell cleaned
         up the area and added wood to the fire in front of them. It
         had been almost an hour since they had reached the clearing,
         and the night was about to fade into the morning hours. Daryth
         still sat at the stream bank, apparently praying or meditating,
         and he hadn't moved.

         "What is he doing? He's been there for an hour."

         "That is how we can sense danger. I guard a stretch of woods
          on the other side of the peak and have taken the night off
          to make sure he is not wounded too bad. Each of us has our
          own way, but we sit and meditate and pray to our deities
          in a special place to us. While we do it, we know of any 
          possible danger within twenty or so miles of us and that is
          how we can react and make sure nothing bad happens. He
          will be done in a minute though, and I will begin the 
          sequence while he rests for a little, else he would not get
          any sleep and that would not be good considering the night 
          he has had."

         The warrior and the maiden sat there for a few more minutes
         before Daryth dropped his hands and stood up. After standing,
         he immediately stretched his arms and legs and turned to face
         the others. Walking up to the fire he belted on his swords
         and sat down on his knees before getting a small snack of his 
         own. After he ate, he nodded once to Lyell and then turned
         to face the maiden.

         "I hope Lyell explained everything to you. I understand if
          it is hard to accept, and if you have any questions,
          please ask."

         "I do have one. What is to become of me? By what he said, I know
          too much and he wants me dead."

         "That will not happen. Trust me. It is hard to explain but
          let me try. Since I first saw you from a distance something
          about you reached out and took ahold of me. That first day
          in town I followed you from a distance, doing my best to get
          a good look at you, and wishing moreso that I could talk to
          you. But I couldn't, so I kept watch that night over your room.
          I sat on top of a building and made sure you slept as sound
          as possible. I prayed to Mielikki that you be well rested
          and protected from any danger. That night, I realized that
          you were the first person to do that to me. Never had I cared
          so much about a single person as that day I saw you. It was
          that day that I broke my one hundred year long vow of never
          loving another person.

          For days after that I followed you in town, watched you while 
          you slept, made sure no one bad got near you. I risked everything
          to be near you when you slept. One night I went as far as to
          go into your room, and sit in a corner to watch you. 

          I have prayed long and wished that you could someday meet me,
          and I wished even more that maybe, by some miracle you could
          talk to me. You are different Aryn. I can sense it in you from
          miles away, and now that you sit near me, it beats in my heart
          so loud. I know that you are different, much more than the
          people that surround you. Something in my heart tells me that
          one day you will become much more than you are now."

          He sat looking into the fire, not sure what to say next.
          Confusion had taken his heart and for the first time in
          his life, he was unsure what to do. The chaos played itself
          out in his mind, and finally released him so he could
          continue.

          "I know that you will want to go back to your life at court,
          and I will let you go. All I can do is hope and pray that you
          will keep what you know to yourself. I don't know if Lyell
          told you, but if you tell another person, we both suffer for
          breaking our vow. I have faith in you, and my life is in your
          hands whether you know it or not. Know that when you leave
          this morning you carry the lives of two guardians, protectors
          of the woods and nature.

          Also know, that I have complete faith in you. I trust you.
          And...I love you."

          Daryth dropped his head and looked back into the fire, not
          wanting to watch her face as she laughed inwardly at him. He
          knew that she would not believe him, and he had already
          accepted it. Not wanting to hear the answer that was to 
          come, he stood up and turned to leave. He could not bear
          to hear the word 'no' ring the small grove so he left.

          Half rising, Aryn extended her hand to stop him, but he had
          already moved to the edge of the clearing. By the time she
          stood up, he was gone, and only the gentle breeze was left
          to follow.

                                =-=-=

          Sunlight filtered through the balcony door, and displayed
          itself over the bed in the center of the room. The sound
          of people carried up and acted as a morning alarm to the
          sleeping figure. Aryn awoke with a start and sat up in the 
          bed, unaware of where she was. Putting her hands to her head
          she tried to remember what had happened, and what had been
          a dream.

          Unsure of what was real, and what lay in the land of dreams,
          she stretched before standing up. Without a noise, she moved
          to her nightstand to gaze into the mirror and brush her
          beautiful hair. Setting the brush down she noticed a single
          pendant in the middle that she had never seen before. On
          the end of a long silver chain, two crossed blades were
          fastened, a symbolic reminder of her night before.

                                =-=-=

          The hooded figure kept walking. He had been walking since
          the night before when he left his only friend, and the
          only person he had ever loved. He scolded himself for walking
          away, not sure of her response, but something in the back
          of his mind, and something deep in his heart told him that
          she would not understand, and would not accept him. It was
          almost an hour before noon, and he knew what was to come.
          He could not prepare for it so he didn't try, he simply walked
          his pattern until the time came.

          Minutes before the sun shone directly overhead, he walked
          into his clearing by the river. He kneeled down in front
          of the stream, and eased back a little, ready for what was
          to happen. The last thing he remembered was a figure approaching
          from the other side of the river.

          Centuries passed, or so it seemed, before Daryth awoke,
          and as he opened his eyes he regretted it instantly. The
          sun above him bore down onto him and blinded him quickly.
          He quickly raised a hand to shield his eyes and adjust to
          the light from above. As he did, he could feel the presence
          of someone nearby. He lay back down and closed his eyes before
          he spoke.

          "Hello Lyell. Sorry to bring you back like this, but it is
           always good to see you."

          "And you my friend. Do you remember any of it?"

          "A little here and there. The trial commenced, and my
           record reviewed. The judge sentenced me to another hundred
           years. But there was something else. I can't quite place
           it. Oh well. And you?"

          "Nothing. Yes, I was surprised too. I take it they realized
           I had no choice this time, and that in my case it could
           not be helped. I am sorry for you my friend, and I am not."

          "I know. I enjoy the solitude, and love my punishment.
           Anyway, I am all right. Thank you again for showing, but
           it is time we went our separate ways once again. Hopefully
           it won't be a full one hundred years, but I shouldn't think
           otherwise."

          "I am afraid so."

          "I remember. My faith is once again well placed. Our goddess
           has returned, and she will look out for us. Mielikki is
           back."

          Daryth sat up fully and stood before his friend. 

          "Mielikki granted me this one day to do as I please..
           I may do as I wish."

          The smile on his face showed his happiness, and Lyell could
          tell that his friend was in bliss. Lyell stood up and buckled
          his sword belt and prepared to journey back to his own
          territory. As he passed, Daryth reached out and clasped 
          Lyell's hand. 

          "Wait. I need one last favor old friend."

          "Anything..."

                                =-=-=

          Spiraling down the stairs, Aryn felt better than she had
          ever felt before. She could recall most of last night
          and remembered enough to make her realize how lucky she had
          been. The bizarre events still flooded her mind, and she
          thought fondly of her savior, and what he had sacrificed
          to help her. 

          As she entered the dining hall, her father was more than
          shocked to see her walk through. Jumping up, he rushed to
          her and buried her in a hug so big as to almost smother her.
          She hugged back, and they stood there for a minute letting
          him absorb that she was safe and unharmed.

          "What happened? Are you alright? What..."

          She cut him off and sat him down in a chair close by.

          "Father! I am alright. I will tell you what happened. During
           my walk I strayed off a trail and got lost in the woods.
           I wondered around for hours before it got dark, and finally
           gave up and rested in a small grove. I remember falling 
           asleep and the next thing I woke up here in the castle.
           That is all I remember."

          They talked more for part of the morning and she assured him
          that everything was fine and decided to go to the market
          place to buy some new clothes. A better part of the afternoon
          had passed before she returned home.

          With a loud bang the oak door to her room hit the wall
          and she entered. Setting down her new clothes she removed
          a few other necklaces, careful to leave her new one on
          and went to the balcony door. Throwing it open she startled
          herself as she walked out and almost hit something.
          
          As her eyes adjusted to the setting sunlight, she focused
          on a painting set up on a hand carved stand. Below the
          picture was a carved plaque that said "Daryth and Aryn"
          and below that "Sothi Nuinqua Tsalarioth". Slowly her
          mouth dropped down, as the beauty and clarity took ahold
          of her. She stood there an hour looking at it, studying 
          every detail before the sun set and she had to move it
          inside. It was the most valuable thing she had ever been
          given and she wished she could see Daryth again to tell
          him one thing.

          'Yes'.

                                =-=-=-=-=-=-=
         
        "And that is the story of Daryth and Aryn. Take it for what
         you will and know that this piece means a lot more to two 
         people of the past."

        The gentleman stepped back and leaned against the stage        
where the auctioneer was and let his story sink in. So caught up
in the story many people finally blinked and leaned back, unaware
they were sitting on the edge of their seats. A short heavyset man
stood up and walked out of the room, obviously disbelieving the 
story. He was the only one to leave the room though.

        "What became of Daryth and Aryn?"

        The auctioneer had voiced what was going thought everyone's
mind and a near silent murmur rippled across the room.

        "That, is a different story."

        The man pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to
the auctioneer and walked toward the back of the room. A stunned look
was all that registered on his face as he took the item and watched
the storyteller leave. Once the door had closed he looked down at
the card and turned it over. It said:

                           Lyell Razdyn
                        Ranger of Mielikki

=-=

This story inspired by the painting titled "The Diamond Warrior" by
Michael Parks. The story further inspired by a good friend.

                                                - d1s



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