The sky, that had looked a little more cheerful earlier, was looking truly ominous with dark clouds covering the sky. Flashes of lightning could be seen behind the clouds and it was soon, almost instantly followed by a loud crack of thunder. The air reverberated with the booming of the thunder. Large rain drops started to fall down to the earth below, preparing to soak everything that had just started to dry off from the previous downpour. It was truly a time to be indoors with a good book, television show or computer game with a hot and steaming mug of tea. Not everybody was so fortunate to find themselves in such comfortable circumstances.

"NOOOO!!" Alicia called out as the goblins serrated blade plunged down.

She immediately closed her eyes and started sobbing, not waiting to see the blade complete its' downward descent.

"Oh Paul!" She moaned as the tears began to flow freely.

The purple goblin that had been wielding the knife frowned, a puzzled expression on his face. When the blade had plunged down he was expecting to feel some form of resistance as it normally would when entering a body and tearing up flesh, hitting bones and ripping up internal organs. But he felt nothing. He could just as well have been stabbing a pillow.

"NOOO!!!" The goblin roared in rage as he extricated his knife and saw that it was clean.

Alicia, wondering why the goblin was roaring in rage opened her eyes and stared at the angry goblin who was now jumping up and down on a clearly flattened trench coat where Paul had been lying.

"What?" Alicia muttered as the rain increased in intensity and washed away her tears.

"You two! You've hidden him! Where is he?!" The goblin roared in anger at Alicia and Anne after he was done stomping on Paul's trench coat.

Anne didn't say anything as to do so would only cause the blade to slip a little forward and into her throat, but a smile of relief crept over her features. Poor Alicia looked truly miserable, not truly knowing what to think at the moment. Meanwhile the purple goblin kept on advancing on the two that were currently being held hostage. A loud bang rang through the air as another clap of thunder exploded in the air and the goblin that had been standing over Anne with his knife pointing at her throat was thrown backwards and fell to the ground.

"What?!" The purple goblin exclaimed as he stopped in his tracks.

Everybody froze. None knew what was going on. The purple goblin cautiously approached the fallen goblin and bent over him. With a puzzled expression on his ugly features he scratched his chin as he stared at the fallen goblin. A wicked grin was still plastered on its' face and there was small hole in the left side of its' head where a greenish substance oozed from. Now, goblins, while not being the smartest of creatures, are smart enough to realize that when one of their own is struck by lightning the entire body would have been burnt to a crisp. Yet, all the leader could see was a small hole and some blood. Something wasn't right. Kicking the prone goblin in the side, thinking that this might just be an attempt at fooling around, the leader waited for the still goblin to get up and admit to his foolhardy act.

But there was still no reaction from the goblin on the ground. Getting frustrated the purple goblin kicked his comrade even harder, so hard that the goblin half rolled over. It gasped as it saw that the other side of his subordinates head was a bloody mess and not entirely there. Another bang rang through the air, this time it wasn't as loud as the boom of thunder and the purple goblin heard a whizzing past his head. This was soon followed by another bang and as the purple goblin looked up his right shoulder exploded in pain. He fell to the ground and looked down at his shoulder to try and figure out the heck was going on. To his complete and utter surprise he saw that his right arm was attached to his shoulders by only a few strands of sinew. Trying to flex his right hand he found that absolutely nothing seemed to be working right.

There was another bang followed by something falling from the bushes. At the same time another goblin that was near Alicia jumped up in alarm and pointed at what had fallen from the depths of the bushes.

"It's him! It's big hum….." the goblin stopped abruptly as a bullet to the chest ended his life.

"Paul?" Alicia stammered looking at Paul who was flat on his stomach on the ground pulling the trigger of his now empty gun.

Two more goblins, that were still standing unharmed, were totally undecided as to what course of action to take. Goblins, well trained or not, are actually a very cowardly lot and known to run away should they be faced with any form of danger in which the odds weren't strongly in their favor. These two had just witnessed most of the group that had had to subdue this 'easy' target get killed or maimed. They were just about to run away when the cruel, but pain filled, voice of their leader yelled at them.

"Gets the humans you yellow skinned idiots!" The purple goblin yelled as he tried to hold his dangling arm in place with his left arm.

The leader, while also cowardly, was slightly more intelligent than those placed under his command and realized that, failure to carry out their mission, would most likely result in their deaths. And while the prospect of possibly dying here was very real, the horrors that might be experienced at the hands of the 'big boss' were unthinkable. He was sure he would find a way out of this and save his own skin.

Alicia was still rooted to the spot where she stood and it was Anne's voice that brought her back to her senses.

"Alicia! Now isn't the time to be standing about and doing nothing!" Anne yelled.

Alicia, seeing the two uncertain goblins advancing towards Paul realized that she had not been dreaming, and that that was indeed Paul who was lying on the ground, although he was no longer firing off his empty gun. His head had slumped forward and he was lying face down in the dirt. With the agility that is akin to all elves, Alicia leapt forward and with a singly fluid motion, ended the threat of the final two goblins. Her knife cut deftly through the thin neck of the first goblin and had then pierced right through the body of the next, completely severing the spinal cord and puncturing the heart. Both bodies hit the ground at the same time and the first's head rolled a little forward.

Looking around Alicia saw that there appeared to be no further threat in the vicinity. Wiping her knife clean on her clothing (she would take much disgust from this later on) she ran to Paul and knelt beside him.

"Paul! Paul! Are you ok?" She asked as she rolled him over and cradled his head in her hands laying it on her leg.

Paul's eyes were closed and his breathing fast and shallow. His face was covered in patches of dirt that had stuck to it. Alicia gently wiped the mud off (the rain had not yet subsided) of his face and looked on with concern. His eyes opened and they had a wild look about them. They darted left and right before finally focusing on Alicia. His pupils were dilated and it appeared as if he was struggling to focus on her.

"Hey, you ok?" Paul finally asked as he managed to focus on her.

Alicia didn't know what to say. Her throat seemed to constrict and she was at a loss for words. She had been so worried and had thought she had witnessed the murder of Paul.

"Well, how is he dear?" Came Anne's voice from behind Alicia who jumped up in fright and dropped Paul's head which landed on the ground with a dull thud.

"Oops!" Alicia said as Paul groaned and closed his eyes again.

"Come dear, let's move him out of the rain." Anne said as she made her way over, finally stopping when her cane tapped Paul's head.

Between Alicia and Anne the two ladies pulled Paul under cover the cover of a tree with thick foliage. Looking around, Alicia saw Paul's, now wet, trench coat lying off on the other side of the clearing in a puddle of water. Running towards it, she picked it up and then stopped. The rain cascaded over her figure yet she remained unmoving as she looked at the newly ripped hole in Paul's trench coat. She ran her elegant fingers over the torn material and shuddered, not from the cold of the rain, but from the thought that that hole could have also been ripped open in Paul's body. Then she remembered that the reason she had come over was to get his trench coat to cover him with. Running back to where she had left Anne, who was now sitting on the stump of an old tree long ago cut down near Paul.

"Sorry for taking so long Anne, and for not helping you up." Alicia said, not looking Anne in the face even though she knew Anne was blind.

"Don't worry about it dear, you had more pressing matters on your mind." Anne said and placed a reassuring hand on Alicia's arm.

The young elven maiden looked at Anne, shame covering her delicate features as she battled to try and express her feelings. So much had happened in such a short span of time and Alicia found that she was more confused than ever.

"Dear? Are you ok?" Anne asked, her arm still on her shoulder.

Alicia didn't answer immediately, for she truly didn't know the answer to that question. So much had happened, so many emotions experienced and so many new questions raised with not a single answer to be found for any of them.

"I don't know Anne. I guess, well, this attack was a revelation." Alicia said with a sigh as she looked at Paul who had started to shiver.

"In more ways than one I think." Anne said cryptically as she felt Alicia's shoulder slide out from under her hand.

Alicia had gotten up and was now spreading Paul's trench coat over his shivering form. She took the Desert Eagle, which was still in his hand, out and held it in her own hand for a few moments. It felt heavy and awkward to her and she couldn't help but wonder at the way humans put their fate in metal things that would quickly end anybody's life within a second. Placing it in one of the inner pockets of Paul's trench coat she looked down at his face and only just managed to stifle a gasp as she looked at his face.

"Is anything wrong dear?" Anne asked hearing Alicia gasp.

"I think the right thing to ask is that is there anything right." Alicia said as she tentatively put her hand forward to Paul's face.

"Well now, that's not something I would expect to hear from you, especially seeing as you're an elf." Anne said, a small grin on her face.

"What do you mean?" Alicia asked, turning her face to look at Anne, her hand millimeters away from Paul's face.

"Well dear, elves are normally a more optimistic people. You sounded a lot more like a human there. Well, not just any human, a lot like Paul come to think of it." Anne said, a look of innocence and speculation on her face

"I am cheerful! Well, normally, but at the moment I can't think of anything to be cheerful about." Alicia said looking at Paul again as her hand continued to hover over his face.

"Again something I would've expected Paul to say. Listen to yourself Alicia! There's plenty to be cheerful about. We're all alive aren't we?" Anne said, speaking true words of wisdom that always seem to come so easy to those experienced in life.

Alicia heard what Anne said and a soft smile touched her face, a smile of resignation. Finally she moved forward the last few millimeters and her hand came into contact with Paul's face. She ran her hand over his brow and felt the heat emanating from it, indicating the fact that he was still running a high temperature. She ran fingers softly down to his cheek and felt the soft resistance from the stubble in random places on his face.

"You're right Anne. There is a lot to be grateful for." Alicia finally said, her voice soft and subdued.

"You know dear, you still hadn't answered my question before the attack. The one about how you feel about Paul." Anne said, a mischievous smile on her face.

"Anne! Don't you think that we should get rid of the bodies?" Alicia said, her cheeks red again, in an attempt to divert the conversation.

"Oh, don't trouble yourself over them. They're not going anywhere." Anne said, thoroughly enjoying the moment.

"Anne! Your neck! Here, let me fix that." Alicia said looking at Anne and seeing that her wound had started to bleed again.

"Oh, I'd forgotten about that. It's only a scratch, don't trouble yourself over it." Anne said feeling at her throat.

"Don't worry, I don't mind." Alicia replied rather quickly and took her wand out.

Using her healing magic Alicia was soon able to heal Anne and the scar that was left was barely visible.

"There we go, all better." Alicia said, happy that this bit of healing went a lot smoother than the healing of Paul's ribs.

"If you can heal me, why don't you use some of that magic to heal Paul dear?" Anne asked feeling her neck again.

"Well, the thing is that magic isn't as easy as that. The type of magic I can perform is healing true, but it will only heal fleshly wounds and injuries. Sickness, illnesses and disease I can't heal. I wish I could, I really do, because then I would have healed Paul, but as I told him when I examined his head, that sort of healing magic is just beyond my skill." Alicia said and again looked at Paul, who now seemed to be more at ease.

"What do you mean what you told him when you examined his head dear?" Anne asked turning her gaze directly at Alicia who immediately turned her attention back to Anne having realized her mistake.

"Well, I don't really know if it is my place to say actually." Alicia hesitantly said.

Nobody knew about Paul's cancer other than himself and Alicia. Alicia believed that this would have been the way Paul would prefer it and knew that an outburst would be sure to come from him if he had to find out that she had told somebody, anybody, his secret.

"Well dear, I won't press you on the matter, but it would have been nice to know if he's ok." Anne said, a touch of hurt evident in her voice.

Alicia didn't know what to do. While she knew that keeping quiet was the right thing to do, the guilt that she was currently feeling at not telling Anne was nearly overwhelming. It wasn't until now that she realized just how much of a burden carrying this secret of his was to her. She looked at Paul and then at Anne, who had her head facing away from her leaning on the top of her hand on her cane. Alicia sighed.

'Why must life be so difficult? Is the purpose of life to just struggle to survive all the time?' Alicia wondered and looked at Paul again, his figure motionless, except for the slight movement caused by his breathing which only an elf could have easily seen.

Alicia had lived a sheltered and pampered life for most of her life and had only recently been exposed to the hardships of the real world. But it was as she was sitting there with this dilemma of whether or not she should tell Anne about Paul's cancer that she finally found that she understood Paul a little better.

'What is it like? To struggle with life everyday? To struggle with yourself to the extent that you feel as worthless as you do? From what I've seen you're a good person, and yet you feel you're not worth anything. Has a lifetime of hardship done this to you? Or has years of self doubt and being alone caused you to become as you are? Has past experiences taught you to have such a lack of trust in others? How many people have hurt you? What other secrets do you hide?' Alicia thought and realized that she was sitting next to Paul and stroking his cheek again.

Paul groaned softly and Alicia pulled her hand away, her gaze still fixed on him. Her cheeks had a soft shade of red to them, but she felt a little more at ease. It was there that she made her decision. It was there that she finally understood her feelings for him. It was not the sole emotion of pity or sympathy, nor admiration or loathing. This feeling was not a simple crush or puppy love. Alicia realized her feelings for Paul.

"I love him." She whispered and a small white wisp of vapor formed in front of her on the emphasis of the word 'love'.

She had never felt this way about anybody before, and there was just something about Paul that attracted her to him. She couldn't pinpoint it exactly, but she knew that it could not be any other emotion other than that of love. In a way, she guessed she had always known, ever since the first time their eyes truly met in his apartment, after he had saved her…

"I'll never abandon you Paul. Your secret is safe with me." Alicia said and this time she allowed her hand to move forward and rest on his cheek.

Bending forward, feeling her pulse racing and a tightness form in her stomach, she leaned forward and gently kissed him on the forehead. As she leaned back a gentle smile was on her face, her eyes filled with tears.

"And who knows, maybe one day you can love me too." She whispered.

"What's that dear?" Anne asked thinking that Alicia might have been speaking to her.

"Nothing Anne, nothing at all." Alicia said and a single and silent tear slid unimpeded down her right cheek before she wiped her eyes.

/--\

The following day I awoke and felt cold as hell. My body ached and my head felt like it was going to explode. Damned cold and my headache felt like they had conspired to keep me from carrying on with this trip. Well, so long as I had my painkillers I was all good. My stomach was feeling ill at ease so I refused all offers for food. I know people say that you shouldn't drink pills on an empty stomach, but at this point I didn't give a damn. To hell with all of the experts and their so called 'sound' advice I thought. Swallowing the pills dry, however, was not one of my brighter moments, because the capsules immediately caught in my throat and I ended up nearly coughing my lungs out before Alicia managed to get some water to me.

The capsules eventually dislodged themselves and I was left with the feeling of a very raw and sore throat to add to my burdens.

'Man, am I glutton for punishment or what?' I ruefully thought as I looked at the clearing and the corpses of the goblins still lying in the positions they died in.

"How're you feeling Paul?" Alicia asked me, and I didn't like the look that was in her eyes, it made me really feel uncomfortable.

"Bloody fabulous, my throat aches and my head is killing me." I said touching my hand to my head.

Alicia visibly winced and I immediately regretted my words. I was irritated with life and myself and I hadn't mean to vent my anger out on her, nor had I understood the implication of my last four words really meant. I had just spoken without thinking. She hadn't meant any harm. For some strange reason, I actually felt like she meant it when she asked me how I was feeling. It wasn't the kind of hollow 'how are you' and 'fine' question and answer. She genuinely seemed interested in me. I frowned, for this made me question her motives.

'Stop it Paul, for once somebody actually is nice to you without ulterior motives and this is what you think?" a voice in my head said and I hung my head in shame, feeling like a complete wretch.

Yet at the back of my mind another softer voice spoke "does really not have ulterior motives?" I tried to ignore that statement, but it lingered in my mind.

"Sorry Alicia, I didn't mean to snap at you. Ignore me, I'm just a buggered up bastard that should rather be trying to help rather than hinder." I said trying to smile at Alicia, but I found that my gaze remained staring at the ground.

"Can I ask you a question Paul?" Alicia asked.

"Sure."

"What happened yesterday? I thought that that purple goblin was going to kill you." Alicia said, her voice unusually quiet.

"Hmm? Yesterday? Well, there was no danger in me getting killed, although it might make the world a better place." I said with a grin.

"Paul!" Alicia said and I saw that Anne had walked close to her and had a speculative look on her face.

"What? It's true. At any rate, you asked me about yesterday. Hmm, well, the nausea was just getting too much for me, so I crawled out from under my trench coat and managed to drag myself away from the clearing. I didn't want anybody to suffer the delightful stench or noise that is caused by fresh puke, so I got to a shrub and eventually vomited, although it wasn't as much as the nausea warranted I felt." I saw that both Alicia and Anne, who now was 'looking' at me as well, both had looks of disgust on their faces.

'Best not describe just what the puke looked like.' I thought and skipped this part of the tale.

"At any rate, I felt a little better and actually managed to get to my feet. Although, let me tell you, the place seemed to spin all around and not want to focus so well, so it took me a little while to find my way back here. As I was getting closer I heard a commotion and, luckily I had my gun here, I took it out and, as steadily as I could, staggered back. Well, I was shocked to see this strange thing about to steal my trench coat, but to make matters worse he then he started jumping on it, the bastard! Like hell that I was going to let what was going on to carry on! So I was about to shoot him when I saw one leaning over you, Anne, and shot him and he fell. I wanted to creep forward to help but then the world seemed to turn upside down and I found I was lying on the ground. At least I hadn't dropped my gun, so I fired and kept on firing. I don't know if I killed him, my aim wasn't that good and like I said, things around me didn't want to keep still. That's all I can remember." I finished and looked at the two who were staring at me now.

It was hard to judge their reactions and to be honest, I didn't really care at the moment, my head was far to sore for me to care about anything much at the present.

"Oh Paul! I was so worried! I thought you were still under your trench coat when that purple goblin stabbed it!" Alicia said, and she would have, I think, hugged me when what she had said sank in.

'Stabbed?'

I grabbed my trench coat and examined it. True enough, just as Alicia had said, there was a huge hole ripped in my favorite (and only mind you) trench coat.

"The purple slimy son of a …."

"Which way did he go?" Anne said interrupting my tirade before it really got interesting.

"What?" Alicia and I said in unison, although hers was more an exclamation and mine a shout.

"Which way did the purple goblin go? He wasn't killed Paul!" Anne said, the anxiety clearly evident in her voice.

"Oh no." Alicia said with her hand on her mouth.

"Shit." Was all I could say, I mean, what else could I say?

I was still pissed off with the fact that my trench coat had new ventilation and now this news. That thing was most likely going off to say to whoever had sent it, that we were still alive and well and which route we were most likely going to go judging on our traveling direction.

"We need to go, now!" Anne said in an authoritative voice.

Alicia and I didn't need to be told twice. Still fuming about my trench coat, I helped Alicia to hide the supplies we had used in the same place where she had retrieved it previously and I must be honest in saying, that even though I knew where they had been hidden, it would be impossible to find if you didn't know exactly where to look for it. I put a fresh clip of ammunition in my gun, felt the hole in my trench coat one more time, and did my best to follow Anne. Alicia stayed close to me, unusually close mind you, and we followed her. I had to hand it to Anne, for a blind woman she sure could move quickly.

/--\

Far away and far underground three figures were stumbling along in tunnels that had been darkened for centuries. No light had disturbed the darkness except the flicker of two lit torches that looked like they were on the verge of being extinguished.

"Let's stop." A sinister voice said, sounding a little out of breath and completely exhausted.

The other two figures didn't argue as, simultaneously all three figures slumped to the ground with their backs against a wall. All three were out of breath and definitely looked like they had seen better days. All had multiple cuts on their bodies and all were just on the verge of total exhaustion. Silence surrounded them as all focused on trying to catch their breath and consider their next move. The darkness was oppressing, and each one thought that it appeared as if 'things' were trying to reach out from the darkness.

"What do we do now boss?" Joe asked the figure seated to his right.

Out of the three of them, Joe definitely looked the worst, but, at least he was alive and that was all that mattered as far as he was concerned. He had a large cut above his left eye that was still dripping blood into his vision as well as many other smaller cuts all over his body. His head had also been singed of all of his hair and his left arm hung limply at his side twisted at an angle that no arm was ever meant to be.

The fact that Joe was there at all was amazing, for the creature with the red eyes had originally intended to get rid of the human muscle after his exploits in London, but he found that this human had some astounding moments of brilliance that defied logic. He had decided to keep Joe with him and the fact that Joe was still alive testified to the fact that he still had his moments of brilliance.

Two menacing red eyes turned their gaze from the darkness in front of him and on to Joe. While still looking like the personification of evil, the eyes had a quality in them now that few, if any, had ever seen before. They were tired. The creature didn't answer immediately, for that was the very question it had been considering. 'What to do now?' It sounded so easy and simple, yet never had a more understated and overused expression been used. The memories of the last several hours events was still fresh in it's memory and the screams of the dying echoed in its' ears still.

"Damn those dwarven and elven scum! They really are the bane of the world!" Xorav said banging his large green fist on the ground.

He looked better than Joe did, for his troll blood allowed him to regenerate from nearly all physical injuries. It was damage done by fire that he could not heal from. Especially when the fire is magic, for most of his shaggy hair was also singed off and his right eye was a bloody mess.

"Over a dozen of my best soldiers lie dead in these ruins!" Xorav said angrily and stared off into the darkness.

The recent experience was of such a horrible nature that words can hardly be used to describe exactly what the three figures had gone through, for Xorav shivered as he stared off into the darkness. It wasn't from the cold, it was from fear and it was a newly discovered emotion that Xorav didn't like very much.

"It was necessary." The creature with the red eyes said turning his gaze to Xorav who turned his attention from the threatening darkness to look meet the gaze of the creature without flinching.

"Was it?" The king of the trolls said his voice barely audible.

"Yes Xorav it was. And I have to admit, the elves and dwarves who designed this tomb were geniuses. They used powerful magics, deadly traps and ingenious methods to protect what we came to claim. I mean, who would have thought, that what appeared to be the crypt of an elf of the lower classes would house a powerful artefact such as what we have claimed. The fact that over a dozen of such highly trained soldiers and our barely escaping with our lives tells you just how powerful this artefact that we now have in our possession is." The creature said.

Xorav was about to argue, for he was loathe to sacrifice soldiers under his command. It was the fact that he believed they were comrades rather than subordinates which made him feel so bad about their deaths. The trolls nation had at first been hesitant about acknowledging him as their new king, but he had quickly won their trust and admiration with his leadership abilities and the fact that he never viewed any task, no matter how menial, to be beneath him. He was a king that could be both admired and respected for this mere fact and that he wanted to lead his race out of their current poor state they found themselves in.

"Is it really so powerful?" Xorav asked with a sigh, allowing his head to slump a little.

"Oh yes, and more. Joe, give it to me." The red-eyed creature said as Joe fumbled in his pocked with his good arm and handed the artifact to him.

In the creatures hand was what appeared to be a crimson red jewel. Roughly the size of a baseball it seemed to absorb all light around it giving off a soft dark hue that almost seemed to hum with power all around it. But the surface of the jewel was not smooth, for it had many etchings all around it and runes inscribed into its' surface. The magic that had been used to create such an item had not been seen on earth since the dark ages. Three pairs of eyes were now staring fixatedly on the jewel, two with apprehension and one with lust. The power that this object gave off was incredible, enticing and completely evil.

"According to all that I have researched on this artefact that I now hold, indicated that it played an instrumental role in the War of the Dark Ages, when the old alliances of Man, Dwarf and Elf stood united against the 'dark forces', namely the goblins, trolls and of course, the race that led them, the undead. It was in the possession of the dark forces, the forces which included our ancestors. This artefact was held only by the most revered and powerful leaders. From what I have been able to decipher this artifact is called 'The World's Bane'. Very appropriate I think." The creature said, choosing not to reveal any more of what he knew.

What he had failed to mention was the fact that this very artifact was actually controlled by the undead themselves. A powerful lich had controlled it and, using it, had almost won the War of the Dark Ages. But, a party of elves, dwarves and humans managed to subdue the lich, destroy its' body and escape with the artifact. The artifact had been secreted away in this very tomb and hardly anybody knew of its existence. One would reason why nobody had merely destroyed the 'The World's Bane' instead of hiding it away, but destroying an artifact of such immense power was not easy and only one who is proficient in the dark arts of the undead could do destroy it. The artifact was pure evil, and evil can never truly be vanquished.

Trying to piece together the information had been a long and arduous task, but the creature with the red eyes had been both patient and persistent. He doubted if many on earth were still alive to remember that 'The World's Bane' even still existed. There might be a few individuals amongst the elven and dwarven races, but surely none amongst the humans knew. And when he uses the artifact it will be to late for them to do anything to stop him. His ascension to power was so close he could taste it.

"Is that it? We risked our lives and good soldiers to get this artifact." Xorav said, still looking at the artifact.

"Well, if we can harness the power that it contains, then we can lead our nations out of their isolation in this world dominated by man and the filthy good races. Finally, we will be able to take our place in the open air and not be cast aside as something worthless and chosen to be forgotten." The red eyed creature said playing up to his audience in a perfect manner.

What he said made sense to Xorav and was completely above Joe's head. These were ideals that Xorav had had since he could remember and now it seemed that a dream that he had thought very distant was now within arms reach. The truth of the matter was that the creature holding the gem had no inclination of leading any race to glory and freedom. It was all about power to him and this artifact, as far as he knew, was the most powerful still in existence and he now had it in his hand. These fools had helped him achieve his goal and maybe he would allow them to live in the future, when he was ruler of all earth.

An evil grin crept over the creatures face and he started to laugh. Xorav, misinterpreting the laughter and thinking it to be a triumphant laughter joined in. Joe, not knowing what the hell was going on laughed anyway seeing as it seemed the most appropriate thing to do.

"If what you say is true, then my men died valiant deaths that will be forever remembered when the troll nation, along with the goblin nation ascends to their true place in the world." Xorav said.

/--\

Earlier in the tomb…

The red-eyed creature, Joe and Xorav stood at the entrance of a small room that was surrounded by intricately designed runes that surrounded the door that now stood open. They no longer glowed as they had done only a few moments ago. The last of the men that were being led by Xorav had died as he had hurled his body at the door and, with his momentum and the extreme force of the magical explosion had forced the door open. Magical blue flames had leapt out from around his body, as it seared away his flesh, and had managed to hurt the three standing by and watching. Already injured, they were now even more hurt and two of the three were wandering if this simple tomb would actually end up being their own burial place.

The red eyed creature cautiously stepped forward and crossed the threshold. All traps appeared to have been sprung and before him was an intricately carved image of an elf that was holding a round object covered in dust on a stone pillow. The elf was staring at the ground and stone tears could be seen etched on the face and its' mouth was open as if blowing something. Reaching out tentatively, expecting a surprise trap to be set off at the last moment, the creature grabbed the object and leapt back with amazing agility as a shower of acid spurted from the mouth of the stone elf and narrowly missed it.

The three figures ran off at the urging of the creature who had by now tucked the round object within the confines of its clothes. None noticed that as soon as the round object had been removed that the eyes of a nearby statue started to glow an eerie green color. The statue had the appearance of a gargoyle and, had the three examined their surroundings more closely, not just looking out for traps, they would have noticed that a statue of a gargoyle was completely out of place in a crypt constructed by elves and dwarves. The mouth, that was open, closed and stretched into a malevolent grin. It stretched its wings and then stood upright, causing centuries of dust to scatter into the air enshrouding it in a cloud of dust.

Suddenly it opened its mouth again and let out an almighty primordial roar that caused the very walls of the crypt to vibrate. It turned around and touched a stone that started to slide back the moment it had been touched. A grating sound could be heard and a secret passageway opened up, revealing a pitch black tunnel that seemed to stretch on forever. Flapping its wings, the gargoyle suddenly launched itself forward and propelled itself into the darkness…

/--\

Far away in a long forgotten mausoleum…

Night had descended and an icy cold wind blew, but the gargoyle did not feel it, for a simple cold of a wind would do nothing to bother a creature such it. Clouds were covering the moon and it seemed that their presence made the already oppressing darkness appear more ominous. A dangerous and lethal feel seemed to float through the air.

The gargoyle had spent the better part of an entire day to reach its destination and now it was standing before a large and ornately carved crypt. It was an extremely large and imposing structure and to the untrained eye, appeared to have absolutely no entrance whatsoever. Approaching the crypt the gargoyle seemed to be in thought as it looked at a particular spot on the wall of the structure that had many deep gashes in it.

After several more seconds had passed the gargoyle reached forward a large clawed hand over one of the gashes in the masonry and it fit perfectly. A green glow appeared in the gashed and a soft green glow emanated from between the digits of its claws. A large panel slid open on the crypt wall in front of the gargoyle to the right of the claw marks without a single sound. A large dark pathway opened before the gargoyle and it stepped into the darkness, the only light coming from the eerie glow from its eyes.

Making its way through a labyrinth of passageways, corridors and secret entrances the gargoyle stood before a large arch that had no door, gate or any form of barring. It slowly stepped forward through the archway and a few stones made a scrunching sound as they were trodden into infinitely smaller pieces by the weight of the gargoyle. It stepped past large statues of long forgotten warriors and finally found itself standing before a large stone throne that sat atop a flight of stairs.

The gargoyle suddenly dropped to its knees and its gaze fell towards the ground. A shifting movement could be heard from the large throne. Creaking and a soft moan followed and suddenly two green slits, far more sickening in appearance than those of the gargoyle pierced the darkness.

"The orb has been moved?" A voice that sounded ancient but powerful voice sounded from the throne.

"Yes my master." The gargoyle hissed in reply.

"Who?" The voice asked with keen interest.

"A human, troll and troll goblinoid." The gargoyle hissed.

A loud and ominous laughter filled the air. It was a bone chilling laughter that would have stopped the heart of the living and caused the knees of the bravest soldiers to knock together. The laughter continued and reverberated off the walls of the crypt. Bats that were still asleep suddenly awoke and hundreds fluttered away in fright and filled the night sky.

"Excellent. Go and keep an eye on them and follow the movements of the orb. The World's Bane must be monitored at all times. Report back if the orb falls back into the hands of the accursed elves, dwarves or humans. If it is activated, I will know. Now go!" The voice commanded.

The gargoyle stood up straight, turned and then was making its way back to the surface. Once it reached the outside it leapt into the air and took flight. In the chamber underground the two green slits disappeared, and if a dwarf, with their darkvision, were nearby he or she would have sworn they saw tight skin stretched over a cadaverous face in the form of an evil grin.

/--\

Joe, Xorav and the red eyed creature had finally managed to make their way out of the tomb and were currently speeding their way to a nearby 'secret' hideaway. The sky was overcast with dark clouds and the air was humid. The scent of rain hung heavily in the air but for the time being it appeared as if the rain wasn't going to fall from the heavens just yet. As quietly as they could they made their way to a location that the average observer would never have thought to have looked for them. It was an old abandoned farmhouse that had not seen use in well over one hundred years. However, they were not being followed by an average observer.

Every now and again the creature leading the trio would look around and stare at a particular spot every now and again. He felt ill at ease, a feeling he did not like and he was sure that something was watching them. He would converse with his companions and soon would be moving again, all fears put down to the harrowing experience they had all just emerged from. The three entered a large broken down barn that had gaping holes in its roof and spider webs hanging in every nook and cranny. Paint that had once been red looked near white and was peeling off. The gargoyle did not like the fact that they had disappeared from its sight but dare not chance landing on the dilapidated roof for fear of it falling to pieces and revealing its presence. So it contented itself with secreting itself away in the shadows of a nearby group of trees. And so began its vigil, a task it was proficient with.

Time did not bother the gargoyle and boredom was not a factor because the sole purpose of its creation had been to be a subservient servant. Loyalty without questioning had gone into its creation and due to the fact that it was never plagued by the problems of creatures with flesh and bone, sleep nor food was ever required. It was an ideal guardian, observer and war tool. What the gargoyle had not realized was that the trio was currently underground in a bunker that had been built under the barn to hide refugees and hide from particularly violent storms. The creature had used his goblin scouts well and had been particularly pleased when they had reported the discovery of this barn and underground hideaway to him.

None of the three knew that they were about to set into motion plans into motion that were far more enormous and dark than they had ever realized. They had hoped for power, salvation and freedom. What they got, when they tinkered with the Bane of the World was…

/--\

I'd been walking along at a rather brisk pace set by Anne for some time. As was her custom of late Alicia was hanging back being a little too close to me for my comfort. But I didn't bother commenting on this as my head hurt like hell, as usual, and I was still feeling rather light headed. Not having fully recovered and forcing myself onward was not the cleverest of thing to do, but more was at stake, it seemed, than my comfort. And besides, since when did I count and allow people to know how I truly felt? Telling them I felt like crap wouldn't help much, although, judging from the looks I was getting I guess I looked like it as well.

At least this time male arrogance and bravado came in handy as opposed to just getting me needlessly into pain or trouble. I looked up and squinted as a cloud had just allowed the sun to peek out and half blinded me. Looking down and muttering under my breath I cursed as a strange 'm' shape from the sun had been imprinted temporarily on my eyes and flashed in a green or blue color every time I blinked. At least the sun could provide temporary warmth and maybe I could even dry out fully for a change.

"How far are we Anne?" I called to her as she nimbly avoided a large stone which her cane had just struck, indicating to her the potentially dangerous obstacle that lay in her path.

"Well, judging by the lie of the land and from what Alicia has told me she can see in the distance, I think that if we can keep this pace up we'll be there in a day or two. Hopefully a day though." She called back.

I sighed and allowed my mind to drift to thoughts of a hug steaming mug of tea and could almost taste it. I found myself licking my lips and stopped as I felt eyes on me. Looking to my right I saw that Alicia was looking at me with a smile on her face.

"What?" I asked, irritated at being stared at, or maybe I was just irritated without reason, who knows.

"What on earth are you thinking about Paul?" Alicia asked and a chuckle escaped from her.

"Why?" I asked, demonstrating my incredible ability to construct incredibly long questions that was sure to get a desired answer without leaving the person who heard the question knowing exactly what to answer, yeah right.

Although blunt, my question got the same result.

"You had such a funny look on your face and then you started to lick your lips. The hint of a smile was even there." Alicia said giggling.

Well, to have said that I expected that answer was an understatement, because a number of answers and emotions, in a matter of seconds, ran through me. First off, I was pissed off that I had allowed myself to look so stupid, secondly, I felt like a fool for having such a stupid expression on my face (which led to me feeling more pissed off with myself) and finally I just felt very tired. I almost stumbled as we walked along and decided to answer her question.

"I was just busy thinking of a nice warm mug of tea if you must know. I miss it, it was like a comfort drink to me. Some people eat ice-cream, some drink alcohol and others get high on drugs. But me, well, for me tea does wonders." I said and was surprised that I had actually said that.

"Oh." Was all Alicia said as we continued to walk along.

"You know, I think it would be nice." She suddenly piped up, a wistful sound in her voice that was accompanied with a hint of cheerfulness, the kind that irritated the hell out of me.

"What?" Again that masterful questioning ability showed itself in my speech.

"A mug of tea, you're right you know. It would be rather nice right now." Alicia said.

"What? I mean, I'm right? Well, that's something I don't hear everyday. Hmm, I didn't know you'd taken to tea that much. I thought it was too strong the way I make it." I said looking at her.

I nearly stumbled as she turned and looked me in the eye. For a single moment in time, I found that I had no negative thoughts in my mind as we looked at each other. Her eyes were full of warmth and happiness. Her smile seemed to touch something within me that caused a strange and fuzzy sensation and I could only think that I was looking at the most beautiful person on the face of the earth. Fortunately for me the moment passed and my usual cynicism and negativity filled my very being once more. The strange sensation took far too long to disappear for my liking.

"Well, I like tea, especially the way you make it." Alicia said still smiling.

"I thought I made it too strong. Plus, I thought you hadn't had tea before. So if you like the tea you have no choice but to like the way I make it." I replied.

"I, uh, the thing is, hey! What's wrong with liking tea?" Alicia asked a red entering her cheeks.

"I didn't say there was anything wrong with tea, I think it's the nectar of the gods, I merely found a flaw in what you had just said and pointed it out." I said grinning a little.

Alicia fell silent, her cheeks completely blazing red now. She opened her mouth and seemed about to speak when she stumbled. I had to step forward and catch her; at least I wasn't too dizzy to do the right thing. Her breathing seemed to catch in her throat and I felt her start to quiver in my arms. A loud rumble followed but I ignored this as I was worried about Alicia (I was worried about somebody else? What is going on with me?).

"What's wrong Alicia? Are you ok?" I asked seeing her eyes look like they were filled with fear.

"Something bad has happened, I don't know but I can feel it. Something dark and magically powerful has been activated." Alicia said, her entire body trembling.

"Don't worry, it's ok, I'm sure it's not as bad as it may feel." I said and hugged her close to me, feeling her body still shivering.

"What's taking you two so long?" Anne's voice called and the irritation was evident in it.

"Alicia's not feeling so good." I called back, glad that if Anne came back she wouldn't see me hugging Alicia.

Her shivering seemed to ease and I mentally chastised myself as I realized that I had been stroking the back of her head. I removed the offending hand on her back.

Anne's cane could be heard clacking angrily towards us and I could only guess at her anger.

"Listen you two! We don't have any time to be messing around." Anne's angry voice carried to us as she neared where we were standing.

Alicia's head shifted against my chest and I looked down at her. Her eyes seemed a lot calmer and most of the fear had left them. All traces of fear disappeared into puzzlement as she looked past me. Cocking my head to the side I turned my head upwards trying to see what had caused the puzzled expression on her face and then my own mouth dropped open. The sky was rapidly filling with the blackest clouds I can ever recall seeing, but this was not the cause for my astonishment. The cause of my, and I presume Alicia's puzzlement or astonishment, was the fact that the rapidly disappearing sky was no longer blue and it had attained a sickly green color.

"Oh my." Alicia said.

"Oh shit." Was what I said.

/--\

Far away a sinister laughter rippled through the air as it ripped out of a long and forgottenmausoleum that was heard for miles around. Animals quivered in fear, babies cried for the protective arms of their parents and adults of all races found themselves wandering why they felt an incredible fear at the sound that they had just heard.

"And so it begins…" the sinister voice said before chuckling once more…

/--\

~End Book One~

Cheers

Lost in A World of Pain