Purl Kilmor stood grinding the rough granite from the surface of a small gemstone. When he looked up, he saw a lone rider on a muscular stallion trotting up the path to his workshop. As the rider neared, Purl put down the tools and walked out to meet the dragon doctor.
“There haven't been any blood thirsty serpents in these hills for some time. What brings your talent this way?”
“Actually, Purl, I have an appointment with a wiry young dragon just a day and half journey from here, but that's not what brings me to you. For a comfortable seat and a pleasant drink, I'll fill you in on information that I have a hunch you will be interested in hearing.”
Inside Purl poured the two of them a drink.
The small wooden house, built a good morning's ride from the small village town of Quicksilver, gave Purl Kilmor his privacy.
“So, what's been happening out there, Pendence?”
“Much of the same as there has been for the last few thousand years but more recently there have been some interesting goings-on, some of which include your brother.”
Purl's eyebrow rose at the mere mention of his brother but he did not move his head. Through frazzled white hair, he looked up from his cup and stared at the dragon doctor.
Pendence could see the newly generated interest in his blood-shot eyes.
“Purl, do you remember the time of our childhood when the three of us rode together as friends – your brother, you and I?”
“Of course, I do. Get to why you are here, I am a busy man.”
“Yes, I imagine you certainly are,” Doc said, looking around at the rundown cabin, dust stirring in all areas.
“And just what do you mean by that?” Purl asked.
“Some years back now I had a run-in with your brother and he told me some interesting information, some things that would be better kept under the rose.”
“Aye, sub rosa. What did Mulhurt tell you?” Purl asked.
“He told me of your secret quest handed down to you by your father.”
“He would never tell you any such thing.”
“Ah, but he did, well sort of,” said the doctor smiling. “At first he was reluctant to talk about it, just as you are now, but after I put a couple of facts together for myself I was able to get all the details of the secret that your father had passed on to him.”
“If this is true, what was the name of the powerful wizard to leave behind this secret legacy?”
Purl bolted upright on the bench, shocked. He reached for his drink and downed it in one swig. “Tell me all that you know.”
“That I will soon enough. But not for nothing.”
“What do you want?” growled Purl, slamming his fist on the table.
“I'll get exactly what I want or you will not hear your brother's half of the secret.”
“Go on then, go on.”
“First tell me more about this Alaric,” Pendence said.
Purl sat back in his chair, suspicious as to just how much Pendence really knew.
“I've had to do a bit of digging to get answers to that question myself,” said Purl.
“The people I've talked to have never heard of a man that goes by the single name of Alaric,” said Pendence.
“That's because he hasn't been around for hundreds of years. But when he was he held high powers and controlled the Living Lands.”
“The Living Lands?” Pendence asked.
“Yes, it's the name the old people gave to the lands inside the dragons’ borders.”
“Fools,” said Pendence, shaking his head. “You are not living unless you are in the presence of dragons.”
“Back then those lands remained unexplored. Some of their outlands are the same lands you chase your dragons in today. The Living Lands were not as great as what we would call the Living Lands now. People of our time have explored far into the hot sands, well past the snow-topped mountains to the place where land ends and water rises to the horizon.”
“And, Alaric – besides controlling the Living Lands – what of him?”
“A king of sorts and it's said he was a bit of a spell caster.”
“A spell caster,” said Pendence, with a deep disbelieving harrumph.
“That's what they say. You know how the ancestors believed that some fortunate few had extraordinary powers.”
“Powers,” said Pendence. “I've never once come across anyone more powerful than me and I've got no extraordinary powers.”
“Agreed,” said Purl. “But they say Alaric had powers and he was a visionary of great hope. They say he had a knack for getting people to follow him. He controlled all the Living Lands right up to the moment he vanished.”
“Yes, all of sudden he was gone. Disappeared and no one knows what happened.”
“So much for his power,” said Pendence.
“He also had a passion for the winged horse, Pegasus. He spent much time hunting for the creatures. Apparently, Pegasus Stand was rotting away then as it does today. He wanted to know why. Some think his disappearance was related to his passion for hunting the Pegasus. So he disappeared just as the Pegasus disappeared.”
“He just disappeared? That's how Alaric's story ends?” asked Doc.
“Now tell me what you know of my brother's secret,” said Purl.
“When I met up with Mulhurt on that day so many years ago,” said Pendence, “I accidentally gave him some information of which he had been searching.”
“What? What did you tell him?” Purl leaned in closer to the dragon doctor.
“I must tell the story in proper sequence so that all the facts come together. You must remain calm and patient. Now, where was I? Oh yes, you see, I was just coming off a sad misadventure when I met upon your brother that day. I had just buried a fine young dragon. The hunters killed him for its horn. Sadly the poor. . .”
“Enough of this dragon business already, get to the point,” Purl interrupted.
Pendence Pantheral Providian did not take kindly to those who took the lives of his treasured dragons so lightly. He, too, began to feel the heat of anger welling inside. Aware of this, he took two deep breaths and continued.
“Fine, if I am to cut out the guts of my story I only hope you can follow along. This dragon had a lair hidden in a cave with only one entrance, under water and beneath a lake. The dragon had hoarded a small treasure to himself. I inventoried what he had collected as I normally do. I then attempted to secure a small bit of the cache for my services, but in transport some of the items accidentally became lost to the bottom of the lake. When I met your brother we sat around the fire telling stories and when I came upon this account, it intrigued him, causing him to attack me with a barrage of questions. When one question hit on a particular golden cast head of an ancient wizard, he turned ugly and mean, similar to your deportment at this very moment.”
Purl straightened with a grim smile. “Go on.”
“He demanded of me to give him the whereabouts of the golden bust. I told him it was at the bottom of a lake, but I did not tell him which lake or where to find it and I wouldn't until I understood why he wanted to know. He soon started to spill the story of the secret. When he finished telling me everything we agreed that I would guide him to the bust if he would promise to set in place a protection act for all dragons shielding them from the hunters in the territory of his control.”
“That's all. That's all you requested for your part?” Purl asked, not believing it.
“I live a happy life and it's fulfilling only with the dragons in it. I do not need much, but I did ask for one other thing. I asked for a seat in his court when his full power is realized.”
“How dare you come to me taunting of Mulhurt's powers. He may have answered his secret but he has not found the answer to my half. He is not in control just yet.”
“True, but his power is growing. You see, before Mulhurt could search the lake for his prized possession he had to defeat the people who populated the area around the lake. This proved to be more than he bargained for but eventually he did remove the people of Lake Gygax from their homes. He has been searching the bottom of Lake Gygax ever since. All that time he has also been growing an army, mostly consisting of death bats and Day bats.”
“Day bats?” Purl said, surprised. “So, indeed, it does appear that his power is growing if he can enlist the services of the Day bats.”
“Yes, Day bats. It is said he controls the Walkers of the forest as well. They feed him the information they gather.”
“Just as you do, yourself, I'm sure,” said Purl.
“I am my own man and I control my own destiny. Mulhurt has no control over me.”
“Not yet he doesn't, but he may one day or maybe I will control your destiny one day,” Purl said with a maniacal smile twisting across his face.
The dragon doctor responded with a wider smile and said, “That is why I am here to see you.”
Purl's smile vanished and he leaned forward on the table. “Yes, why are you here?”
“I have a friend who is dear to me and she has somehow befriended the people who were overthrown by Mulhurt. They have asked me to help, so here I am. I'm going to help them.”
“Just what do you want?” Purl asked with greater interest than he had shown so far.
I want to know your half of the secret and pit you squarely against your brother, but I can't rightly tell you so, thought the dragon doctor.
“Mulhurt has found the golden bust of Alaric,” said the doctor. “He believes he has also found a stone image of the body of Alaric carved into the side of a cliff in the Hills of the Moon. He believes that all he has to do is pair the two together and his dream of unchecked power will finally come forth.”
“Huh,” grunted Purl Kilmor, “that's only half of it. He needs what I have for it to work. Our father told us so.”
Pendence figured this to be true. “And what is it that you have?”
Purl looked cynically at the doctor as if he were debating whether to tell him.
“What if I tell you? What then?”
“I don't need to know. My job is done. You now know what I know and I expect protection for my dragons from you in return.”
“Then how are you helping your friend?” asked Purl.
“That is the second reason I am here. First, swear to me your protection over all dragons in your domain if, I mean when you gain control.”
“Yes, yes, your dragons will no longer be allowed for hunt. You have my word on that. Now just how do you plan to assist your friends against Mulhurt and his slime-ridden army?”
“If Mulhurt gains control I cannot guarantee the safety of the Lake people. He has bitterly resented them since the battle, yet he has left them unbothered, secluded in the walls of Granite Valley.”
“Then what's the problem?” asked Purl.
“They are planning to raise arms against your brother and his mercenaries. They wish to return to Lake Gygax.”
Purl thought about his half of the secret. He knew he held in his possession the ruby that Mulhurt needed but he did not know how it worked with his brother's half of the secret – this golden cast of Alaric.
He thought back to the words of his father.
“My son, you seek a Ruby gem. A gem of untold powers. A Ruby, which has a twin. When the two are held in place and aligned at just such an angle with the sun a hidden heart of energy will be activated. This source of energy is the seed of all power planted by the great wizard, Alaric. The sun, at a certain time of day, needs to shine through the twin and alight on the Ruby you seek. But this gem, you must first find it and embed it in the half of the mystery your brother seeks. Once your Ruby is set in its proper place it will align itself with Alaric's hidden gem. When the task is readied, the power will be to the beholder.”
These words have long mystified Purl. What did his father mean by ‘Once your Ruby is set in place?’
It took him many years before he found the Ruby. He had held it in his possession ever since, not knowing what to do with it. Pendence's arrival came as Purl was beginning to lose faith in the legend his father had told him.
The dragon doctor knew he had Purl thinking. He watched the man he had known since childhood struggle with his own thoughts.
“OK, I will show you what I have,” Purl said, as he stood from the table and walked across the room returning with a small black box.
In front of Pendence, Purl set a rectangular wooden box fastened tight by two silver padlocks.
The dragon doctor watched as Purl unlocked the box with two different keys. Whatever was in that box, Purl obviously held it in high regard, Pendence thought.
“What I have here is my half of the secret,” said Purl, carefully pulling out a bundle of silk cloth from the velvet-lined box. Unfolding the silk, Purl pinched a reddish colored gem between his forefinger and thumb, holding it up for Pendence to see.
“That is one fine ruby you have there. You're half of the secret, you say?”
It all started to make sense to the dragon doctor.
“That's why you've driven yourself nearly mad all these years digging up every hillside in the country?”
“It is,” said Purl. “Isn't she beautiful?”
The dragon doctor shook his head in pity, wondering how a grown man could marvel at a little gem no bigger than his own thumbnail. It was just a lifeless object and this man wasted most of his life searching for it.
“All these years I thought Mulhurt's secret was to find the twin ruby,” said Purl.
“There's a twin?”
“Yes, the two rubies must align to bring about the. . .” Purl stopped short, not wanting to give the complete secret away.
“They must align how? And to bring about what?” Pendence asked.
“The power, but never mind that. If Mulhurt doesn't have the twin ruby, then it still needs to be found.”
“Mulhurt has the golden bust of Alaric and the stone bodied statue to match; I don't think he has a ruby.”
“No, of course not, but it should be easy to find the twin ruby once I meet with Mulhurt,” said Purl.
“Why is that?” asked Pendence.
“The marvel of this ruby,” said Purl, placing it back in the box, “is that she came from the rock in the hills just as beautiful and clean as she is now. Cut perfectly, not a flaw in it. That is how I knew she was the one. Every ruby crystal has some inclusion of rutile, but not this one. It was just sitting in a perfect habit of crystal.”
“It is peculiar that you found it like that. Now what?” Pendence asked.
Purl knew what he had to do. He thought he knew how to do it, too, but one thing still bothered him. Why was Pendence telling him all this? Just what did he hope to gain? Why does he care if the Lake people wish to battle Mulhurt? What am I missing here? It can't be just about the dragons.
“I must meet with Mulhurt in person,” said Purl. “But before I go I need one more thing from you, Pendence. I need you to describe, in detail, the golden bust of Alaric.”
“Describe it? Well, it's big. It starts with a crown and works down to the neck and shoulders,” said Pendence, animating the outline of a human head and shoulders with his hands.
“A crown?” asked Purl. “A jeweled crown?”
“No. This thing is solid gold. It's a casting. There might be jewels replicated in the crown, but if so, they're cast as gold. I don't know. I didn't look that closely.”
“Is there a place holder for my ruby?” Purl asked, getting straight to the point.