Her father was a well-off swordsmith, and he took an instant liking to his prospective son-in-law, Patrick, and Moon was most happily received as well. After they had spent several weeks with this man, nuptials were agreed to and a date set. Not much later Patrick and the girl were married and settled in a cottage not far from the establishment of the sword-smith. Moon, being reluctant to leave the town, looked for gainful employment, for Patrick had already established a school for weapon-use in the village. In due course Moon joined the local militia, and he was soon appointed chief of the local watch and Captain of the Militia as well. For these services he received ample compensation and was quite content. Eventually he too found true love with a cousin of his friend Patrick's family, and was soon married and raising children.

Far away in Hardby, Deirdre returned. Although she had taken no part in the quest for the Artifact of All Evil, or an insignificant part at best, she was received as a heroine by the Matriarch (Despotrix no longer being a fashionable tide, the ruler of that place styled herself thus). Deirdre was given the post of Justiciar of the Realm, and her brother Oscar was appointed as Dweomercrafter of All Hardby. Neither found the offices or their lives totally satisfying, but then few mortals are given such satisfaction anyway. They were pleased enough, and received much honor and accolades in their offices.

A dark-skinned warrior took service with a caravan going east from the frontier of Furyondy to the Shield Lands. It was a long, slow trip. He left word at many villages and towns, and sought information too, but none knew of the ones he sought. In the process, though, he met many other men-at-arms who earned their bread by offering their swords for hire. The best of these he recruited – some for positions with the merchants' train of goods, others personally. He was now called Captain Incosee, and the company he commanded was to be known as the Bronze Band. Incosee himself was the color of old bronze, and he chose for a device a bronzewood tree. Deep brown and green were the homely colors of the company's cloaks and tabards.

Although they had but small repute, Incosee and his new free company found employment in the Shield Lands, for the robber lords to the north were active, and many reaving parties were being sent down to harry the lands around. The Bronze Band proved itself repeatedly against brigands and vicious humanoids alike. Soon its renown was such that the brown and green of its emblem were a byword throughout the whole of the territory. Great deeds were done by the company, and powerful fighting men and spell-workers were proud to serve with it. Incosee was knighted by the Earl himself, and the Flan captain sat in council with lords and generals.

The half-elven ranger and druid, Greenleaf, called Curley by his friends because of the anomaly of being baldpated and having elvish blood, strived to enable the faction he served to gain the second portion of the artifact that would enable the unchaining of the greatest Evil imaginable. Although the druids and the Cabals above them were as neutral in their philosophy as Mordenkainen, they were, at least for the time, totally disinterested in the item itself. They desired most of all to retain the balance, not to gain the power of die artifact for their own ends. Despite the best efforts of them all, they failed. In the process, however, Greenleaf worked with dedication and a self-sacrificing that did not pass unnoticed.

Upon returning to his master to relate what had transpired, the half-elf was made to rest and to spend many weeks in study and meditation. Thereafter, Greenleaf was elevated to a position of rare honor and great responsibility. He became one of only three who directly served the Grand Druid of the Flanaess. Greenleaf was now an Archdruid, and he roved the lands around as the great priest of Nature directed.

They waited for two days, but no trace of their lost friend Gord could be found, and there was no sign of him. Gellor decided it was time they must leave. Chert was reluctant, but he also knew that the bard was correct. Duty demanded they be elsewhere, and tarrying two days was near dereliction. When Thatch and Shadow asked what had happened, neither of the men was able to explain.

The devil-in-boar's-form was dead; of that, there was no question. They skinned it while they waited, and saved its huge head for a trophy. What was left they burned, and even the ashes of that fire were buried thereafter. This the lads knew and understood. All that remained of Gord, however, was the enchanted spear with which he had slain the devil-pig. Not even a trace of his blood was discernible after an hour. It was as if it had been absorbed by nature. That the black stain of the rakshasa's blood remained only added to the mystery. They all agreed that somehow things must not be as they appeared, because all traces of their young comrade could not disappear without some causative agent at work. Gellor did not mention to the others that the agent could be diabolical.

"I'll keep the spear, Gellor, and if Gord ever returns it will be ready for his use. Otherwise it is a memento mori which the dogs of Evil will wish to forget as they die!"

"Chert, I find that most fitting," the one-eyed bard told him. "Where will you go with the spear?"

"Back to the hills of my homeland and the fair trees of the Adri. And both of the lads will like it there, I'm sure!"

"You'll have company then, my friends," the bard replied. "I must ride all the way to the distant walls of Radigast City, and this seems a good hour to set forth on that journey!"

The boys rode double upon Gord's horse, while the huge barbarian and the bard carried their trophies, head and hide respectively, with them. They reached Tusham soon enough, and the whole village turned out to receive them when word was known of who was with the two men and what they bore. In exchange for two swift little horses, tack and provisions, they left a few coins and the monster's head in Tusham. The unusual aspect of the devil-boar was evident to all who saw it, so the gigantic head became the most famous trophy in the village. Soon folk flocked to Tusham to view the remains of the rakshasa, and the establishment it hung in waxed prosperous indeed.

Although neither of the boys had had a hand in slaying the devil-boar, mere association with the men who brought in its carcass was sufficient renown. Tusham would gladly have received both Thatch and Shadow as heroes, clasping them to themselves – at least for a time. Neither cared to stay despite all this, for even had Clydebo proved true and made them apprentice hunters as he vowed he would do, the lads wanted no part of it. They would see the world and remain with Chert. They rode away amid the tears of kinfolk and cheers from the rest of the villagers.

Although Gellor had used his art to heal the terrible wounds his comrade had sustained in the fight with the rakshasa, the bard insisted that the hide belonged to Chert for his part in the combat. A petty dweomercrafter in Tusham had placed spells upon the huge skin so that it would not rot before they found a place to have it dried and cured. In the course of their long journey, they had it preserved properly. Then Chert decided that the hide must be put to some proper use.

Nothing would do but for it to be worked into articles they would wear in battle. Gellor demurred, but eventually the bard accepted a broad belt made from a strip of the thing's hide. Chert wore acuir-bouilli jack of the stuff and thick bracers thereafter. The sleeveless cuirass was incredibly tough and could never wear out, it seemed, while it had a strange property of lessening blows. Both Thatch and Shad were given leather caps to wear, and the remainder of the devil-boar's huge hide covered shields they eventually bore.

The four made their long ride eastward with few incidents along their route. When they finally crossed the rolling waters of the Artonsamay, Gellor bid them farewell and headed south for the Palatine County of Urnst. Chert and his two young charges watched the bard until he was out of sight, and then they continued on eastward. Their destination was many, many leagues distant, but they viewed the journey still to come as a marvelous experience.

The quest for the Second Key of the Artifact of All Evil was ended.

Epilogue

A vaulted ceiling with beams of natural logs supporting it came gradually into focus. It was softly lit by sunlight streaming in somewhere, but there was no strength to allow an attempt to discover the source. A warm breeze played over his body, and this felt wonderful. It made him aware of the softness of the stuff upon which he lay. Gord gathered his strength and slowly blinked his eyes. Their focus was sharper now.

"Who am I?" he wondered. There was no answer in his mind, so he gave up and allowed himself to drift again into the comforting drowse that washed over brain and body as a soft little wave gently covers a sandy shore.

Time passed. How long a time he had no idea, but with its passage came a new awakening. This brought new alertness. His eyes could move, he felt every part of his body, and he knew his name. Suddenly a beautiful face framed by a mane of tawny Hair appeared above him. The eyes smiled, and the red lips spoke.

"Only seven remain to you now, so use them wisely," the voice said, and a pair of lovely lips kissed his forehead softly. “I… I…”

"Yes, Gord?"

"Where…" he started to ask weakly, but the beautiful female answered before he could finish. "Safe and… becoming… sound at the Manse of the Catlord, of course. Where else could you be after using one of the special lives he granted for you?"

"The devil-boar – it killed me! I remember now, the fear and the awful pain as…"

Again Tirrip silenced him, this time with her long, cool fingers placed gently on his mouth. "Hush, Gord. Don't think of that now. Later, when you are stronger, there will be time. I am anxious to hear all about it, too!" she said with real enthusiasm. "Catlord knows a little, but he wishes to hear the whole tale as soon as you are able to tell it."

"When do you think that will be?" Gord asked her.

"Now that you have awakened from the comatose sleep of your regeneration, I think you'll be up and around in a few days… even if you'll be weak as a newborn cub."

"Yes, I think you're right. I feel ravenous, Tirrip, and very thirsty too. Help me to sit up, and see if there isn't something for me to eat around here!"

"Just like a male!" Tirrip said with mock exasperation. "Always expecting the female to serve them one thing or another! " She gently helped Gord to sit up, placing fluffy pillows of down behind him and straightening the soft sheet that covered his scarred body. "Don't worry, those will fade into nothing more than little lines in a day or two," Tirrip said when she noticed him looking at the places where the rakshasa had torn open his belly and chest.

"Food!" Gord cried with feigned supplication.

"And some fresh milk to help your body regain its natural strength!" Tirrip said firmly. "You must eat and rest and…”

"And?" Gord repeated, wondering what else he could possibly do. Tirrip looked at him with a gaze that reminded Gord of a cat eyeing a mouse. "And then show me how you can turn into a huge panther, handsome!" she said. Then she was gone in a whirl.

Gord lay back and thought about that for a long time.