The next day they began traveling, four diverse members in the group. Ramel, after getting over the shock of seeing a Sylph when he awoke, suggested that they travel south following the river, moving farther away from the Caves. Nobody had any disagreements, and so they set out.
After a week, they had traveled a considerable distance, and had met none of Jalome or his men. They hadn't seen a single person. Now they were coming upon a town. Aerynne had shown them how she could become invisible at will, and had taught Indrene more about magic. She could now control small spells quite well. Creating a small field of protection around all of them was now quite easy for her. Ramel was beginning to understand his magic, though he couldn't do much with it yet.
Now, as they approached the tiny town, Aerynne disappeared. Koreen would wait for them at the fringes of the town, waiting for them to come back out. She had almost completely healed by now. Ramel and Indrene were the only ones that appeared to enter the tiny village.
The town was bustling. They headed straight for the inn. They hadn't slept in a decent bed in a week, and they were tired already. Aerynne whispered in Indrene's ear, "I don't like this. Something doesn't feel right."
"I know. I feel the same way." They now stood at the entrance to the inn, The Boar and the Hunter, which was depicted quite nicely on the sign that had begun to fade from age. Indrene walked in first.
Just as they walked in the door, they knew what was wrong. Sitting at the table farthest from them was the one person they'd hoped to never see again. Jalome was quietly enjoying his ale, with two of his friends sitting across from him. He looked up and saw them, and his expression changed. A scowl appeared on his face. His friends, noticing this, turned around, and then stood when they recognized who was standing in the doorway. Jalome stood and walked over to them.
"I see you made it this far. I didn't think you would. Well, you'll be traveling no further." Jalome paused, looking at Indrene. "My, you look nice for someone who's been living in the woods for awhile. Pity I'm going to kill you now." Then Jalome stopped again, and looked at Indrene. She was infuriated, and when Jalome observed that he smiled. Indrene's eyes became dark as night, and Jalome's smile dropped.
"You… you, have magic? How…." He never finished his sentence. Indrene held out her hands and grasped Jalome. Then she concentrated, and Jalome caught fire.
"You have tortured us enough. I will destroy you for what you have done to us." Jalome's two friends tried to help him, but when they touched him, they caught fire too. Indrene let go of Jalome, but the spell was complete. There would be no escape from the magical flames. Then, the spell dissipated. Indrene jumped back in horror at what she saw. Ramel stood where the inferno had once been, and his eyes were black. "What… who are you?" she asked him quickly. He smiled again. "My real name is Tarone. I don't know why I tell you this, but I feel that you should know that I am not a normal person. I've been alive for nearly four hundred years now, and I'll not allow any person to stand in my way. I've come too far now to be stopped by two weaklings such as you." A new inferno swathed him, but this time it grew. Ramel stood behind her wife and waited for the inevitable. Aerynne, who had never encountered a power in a human that was nearly at her level, was momentarily surprised. Indrene could stop him if she wanted to, but it wasn't going to be easy. The sylph thought about stepping in to end this situation now, but decided to wait. The less people knew about her, the better. She might still have to step in. The rate that his power was growing made her more than a little suspicious. She felt that this was only the beginning of what he could handle, but he was limited by something. He'd certainly felt more power than he was currently wielding. It was then that she noticed the staff. It was different, somehow.
"You're never going to make it. I don't even need the staff to destroy you both. You should feel lucky. Not many people are destroyed by my own hand." Indrene and Aerynne both noticed as he hit an apex. Then he unleashed. Indrene blocked the first flame wave easily, and the door of the inn might as well not have been there. It was instantly incinerated. The fireball that followed after was barely blocked, and the one after that was whipped aside by another small blast of energy. It barely missed. Indrene pulled Ramel down to the ground as another fireball flew past, and then Indrene struck back. Instantly throwing a thread of energy at him, she quickly threw a large beam of water around it. Tarone ignored the thread, and his next fireball caught the water. Both were destroyed, and steam filled the damaged inn and wafted outside. Indrene took the chance and moved away from the inn.
The streets had been cleared of the people by now. The commotion inside the inn had given them a reason to be somewhere else. "You have to end this quickly," Aerynne whispered to Indrene.
"I don't know if I can. He's too experienced. I barely fended off his fire. They seem to almost penetrate my shield. I know that you can help."
"I might very well have to. He has to be stopped." She began to think of ways to stop him.
Not one minute later Tarone sauntered out of the mist of the two cancelled spells, and he was carrying his staff. "I really do have things to do now, and I don't have time for this." Even Ramel, who had so far been only an observer of the duel, could feel the power in him rising even farther. If it got much stronger, nothing was going to save them. Ramel started looking for something to use as a weapon. He was good at something, and he was going to help. He spotted a bar leaning against the side of the inn. He moved over to it carefully, trying to avoid the attention of Tarone, who appeared to be trying to amass all his power for one killing stroke. He reached the bar and grabbed it.
Aerynne threw a few flicking threads at Tarone, but all they did was bounce harmlessly off Tarone's own shield. She increased their strength and again threw them at him. His shield wavered, if ever so slightly. He appeared not to notice.
Suddenly he attacked. Even the Sylph's powerful shield, added to Indrene's own, barely stopped it. Both shields wavered and almost died before snapping back into shape. Indrene focused an ice beam into a razor sharp edge and swung the spell toward Tarone. It was countered with a thread of fire, but the second blade that Aerynne created whipped in on his other side. He reacted with an almost inhuman speed and brought his staff up to meet it. The ice blade clashed with the wooden staff… and the ice blade was shattered.
Ramel now had a weapon, but he was unsure of whether or not he could do anything. He had to try though. He moved toward Tarone, and he suddenly felt the full power of him focus on Ramel. There were only six paces separating them now. Stopping his advance, he looked right in Tarone's eyes and saw nothing. And then, with all of his power, he struck. Ramel's own shield, the only normal magical thing that he'd been able to produce so far, was suddenly much more powerful as Aerynne and Indrene both focused their energies in front of his. Their shields all but collapsed, but he was still alive. He ran at Tarone again, before he could do anything. The bar glowed white. He swung it around in a wide arc, aimed at Tarone's head. It passed right through his shield… and was deflected neatly by Tarone's staff. The air crackled as Ramel brought his staff around again. Tarone stepped fluidly aside it, but Ramel used his momentum to push it at him again. It struck the staff again, and the bar began to melt. Ramel dropped it in surprise, and ducked down as a fire wave washed over him. His shield was the only thing that kept him from frying. Rolling to his feet, he started running away from Ramel. Turning, he focused his shield on the thin beam of pure energy that was thrown at him. The shield collapsed, but the beam fizzled. Another fireball flew toward him, but he was gone by the time it got there.
Aerynne had had about enough of this. He was getting more powerful as he struck. He continued to strike at Ramel, never giving a moment's rest. She didn't think that he knew about her, and she flew behind him. Gathering up her strength, she began to form a ball of pure energy, careful to keep it invisible. Only a faint aura could be seen where it was.
Indrene could see exactly what was happening. She needed a diversion. The next fireball that Tarone threw, Indrene threw her own into it, and diverted its course. He threw two this time, and she shielded herself. The one aimed at Ramel she again diverted. Tarone looked at her again.
"Why do you insist on fighting me? You know that you can't win." He threw another fireball at her. She deflected it, but with a growing weariness. She wasn't going to be able to keep this up much longer. She looked over at Aerynne. She had a large orb now, and it pulsed with an orange-yellow light. She continued to increase it however. Indrene put her two hands together and sent out a large water beam that absorbed the fireball coming toward her. Steam arose again, but the beam continued. Tarone held his staff out, and dropped his shield. The water slammed into the staff. Two separate streams flew to either side of him as the staff sliced the beam in half. He was now stuck in the middle of two torrents. Indrene, focusing all of her remaining energy into this last attack, turned the two streams around and came at him again. Unable to divert the water and protect his back with the staff, he reformed his shield. The water blasted into it and pushed. He was now completely trapped. She continued to push. If she could distract him for long enough, maybe he'd slip. Then either she would get him, or Aerynne would. Throwing thin strands of water out of the main stream, she threw them at his face. With the shield focused in back, they slipped through in the front and hit him. He redistributed his shield slightly and stopped them. Then, Indrene gave a last shove on the two streams behind him. Tarone's shield, no longer concentrated on his back, flickered and then died. The full force of the water hit him. He fell to his knees, and the water continued to barrage him. Dropping flat on the ground, he lowered his staff. The water rejoined and now flew straight again. Indrene could no longer support the beam and it shrunk, finally vanishing altogether. Indrene swayed, but managed to stay upright.
Aerynne had held out for long enough now. With a ball of energy that she could no longer increase, nor keep invisible, she flickered into visibility. While Tarone was on his hands and knees, trying to assess the situation, she hurled it at him. Now it was too late for him to recover. Even if he noticed it, there would be no way that she could stop it. He did try though. Gasping at the huge sphere flowing toward him, he pushed at it with all his might. It barely slowed. Ramel and Indrene, both realizing what was happening, threw all their energies into a wall of air in front of them. Aerynne quickly flew over to where they were supporting each other and encompassed them all in a second wall.
The explosion was nothing like they'd ever seen. Closing their eyes did nothing to shield the blue-white light. The inn, which had already been damaged, fell completely to the ground with a crash that wasn't heard over the cacophony that the energy ball was creating.
When the dust finally did clear, the town was in shambles. The farthest buildings were still standing, though most everything near them was stone, mortar, and metal lying on the ground in heaps. Of Tarone, there was no sight. The only thing that remained was the staff, which was not damaged in the least. Indrene walked over to it. "We have to do something with this. I don't know whether it can be destroyed, but I doubt that any of us could do it. We have to hide it though. Tarone is a menace, and this staff is what's providing him with his power."
"I believe that I can help. We'll have to enchant it so that he can't find it, or retrieve it. I feel that there will be someone in the future who will need it, but Tarone is not that person. I know of a place where we can put it, but it'll be quite a trip. It's on the other side of the world. We must get going now." The sylph wondered if there would actually be any way for them to completely hide it from Tarone.
"I agree, and I'm ready," Ramel said quietly.
"I am too," was all that Indrene said. She picked up the staff. Immediately she got a surge of energy coming from it, but it was false. It wouldn't help her any. It was linked to Tarone and no one else. She ignored it and turned back to Aerynne. "Lead the way."