The three gathered up everything and continued following Tabia’s lead. The conversation on the path was a mixture of Oren and Martell explaining their reasons for heading to Erridda. The following few days were less eventful. Oren and Martell spent time practicing fighting, improving Oren’s skill with his staff. Oren spent time reading though his books. He had moved back to reading Eitelwulf’s journal, as he thought a break from Penumbra of Nature was needed. Though dry in reading, Oren was hoping to figure out where the campaign had traveled and if it were anywhere near their destination. Martell spent time talking to Tabia, catching her up on history and changes in the world, as best she could.
Tabia meanwhile explained to Oren and Martell the songs and chants of Varelle. They were enchantment like in nature when done right. Songs had the effects to boost morale and courage at times while other times they could calm down and relax the listener. Chants, like the one she had used when the spirits attacked, were pleas for assistance or protection from Varelle. The manifestation of Varelle’s action was often unpredictable. She would not always answer either; this would often be if you were capable of acting yourself. Other times, you may ask for assistance and the response would be delayed. Tabia agreed that the goddess could be frustrating at times, but no more than any other aspect of life.
Oren asked Tabia, “Who are Latl and Dahl. I had not heard of any of the four gods that you mentioned prior to travelling to Avo. But Varelle and Casapaten had been covered in enough detail for me from others. In Aleto, those from the city acknowledge the existence of the spirits and they are a driving force of things, but their actions or being were not worshipped or talked to. There are also the Neffians from up to the north, but they are more focused on the acquisition of knowledge.”
“Latl was in balance of Varelle and Dahl was in balance of Casapaten. Varelle was patience, natural progression and life. Latl was about entropy, impulse, and accomplishment without consequence. Dahl was balance, contemplation, and preservation. Casapaten was about chaos, confrontation, and destruction,” explained Tabia. “I do not know if there still are priests or priestesses of the other gods. I am not out to oppose or suppress them. My job is to aid those who wish to know Varelle. I offer guidance to those that follow or are in need of her principals. Many soldiers of the Drémore Kingdom prayed to Casapaten for guidance and victory in battle. Each of the temples used to have a priest or priestess in the Drémore court. I would speak more on them if I could add more than that, but my focus on Varelle has come at the consequence of not knowing the others so well. The gods are not at war with one another. Though this does not mean fights cannot break out between followers devoted to separate gods.”
It was another day and a half till they saw a white stone structure on a hill top above the forest. The walls looked to be at least as tall as Abbysta. There was smoke rising from somewhere within the stronghold. Someone was using Erridda.
They were still at least a day of travel off from Erridda. That was assuming they did not have any setbacks in the forest between now and then. If this was an active stronghold, then who knows how long it would be till they reached the fort. Oren could feel his nerves getting to him as he ran multiple scenarios through his head. Would there be a large force present or would it only be the three who came to see him in his dreams? It could be a group like Devlin and Teman, just there to loot the place and cause no problems. Either way he needed something to occupy his mind while they closed in. Oren decided to pass the time trying to communicate with the spirits he had just bound to his staff. The task was tiring; the first step he had to do was figure out how many spirits he was dealing with. He knew at least two different personalities, but was uncertain if it meant that there were two spirits. Adding to the difficulty of understanding the spirits was his divided attention between keeping up with the women and trying to coax the spirits to communicate with him. This took about half the day until he finally determined that it was two that had occupied the staff. There was a certain dependence one had on the other to exist. Further, the two of them in conjunction were far more effective than each on its own, or at least that is what they lead him to believe. Oren was still trying to determine what their residency in his weapon actually meant. What benefit he would see from them being there was unclear.
There was less conversation as they got closer. The three assumed if the occupants of Erridda were who they expected it to be, then they would have patrols out in the woods. The last thing they wanted to do was to give a patrol a heads up to ambush them.
It was the prevalence of mistletoe in the trees that caught Oren’s attention. He pulled out Eitelwulf’s journal and flipped through to near the end. The fort near the final confrontation had a forest with a prevalence of it nearby. Eitelwulf’s diligence in descriptions finally yielded some method of tracking. After defeating Dawsil and the Wolves, the army had gone to the fort to investigate, but had found it sealed and warded. They found from the captives that Dawsil was trying to gain entrance to the place, but Eitelwulf and his forces had caught them prior to entering. Some of the Wolves were happy to not try entering the place as they had heard stories of a few scout groups that had died from the wards trying to gain entrance to the structure.
Oren relayed his findings to Martell and Tabia. This made Martell start to think. She whispered, “Maybe they have not gained entrance yet. The smoke may have been from near the building but not inside it yet.”
“Perhaps the smoke was from a trap or ward?” Tabia mused.
“That would make any confrontation easier.” Martell answered. “But I would not count on it. My guess is if it is a small enough group they would have shut the doors on the way in to keep people and creatures from following from behind.”
“The place is larger than Abbysta. Erridda also has a large underground structure. With being on the edge of Drémore they wanted it to house more soldiers and they wanted it to have supplies to stand a siege longer,” said Tabia. “Erridda also had a full functioning blacksmith’s workshop and stables within the walls. Unfortunately, there are no hidden ways into the place that I know of.”
“That is okay,” Oren smiled. “As long as there are no wards, and the gates are not too thick I can get past them and inside. I have been practicing certain skills during my nightly watch.”
“You are quite diligent in your studies Oren,” replied Martell, “that is just one of the many things I love about you. But we need more than just inside the place. Tabia, do you know what type of defenses might be holding the gate shut? We should have a plan of what Oren needs to do before he gets in there.”
The three agreed and held their position for the day. Oren and Martell questioned Tabia on the lay out of the stronghold. Her knowledge was sketchy at best. It would have to do as they had no other resources at their disposal. At one point Martell climbed up one of the trees and confirmed there was still smoke rising from what looked like inside Erridda. The night passed without incident. They were each restless on that night’s watch in anticipation and concern of what would be found tomorrow. Tabia was still having dreams of change or trouble coming in the days ahead; Varelle was no clearer as to what it would be. She was not certain if she should continue on with Oren and Martell. When she asked for guidance from Varelle, she received none.
The following morning, they resumed the journey; they left the horse behind to make quieter progress to the camp. Quietly they progressed till they were close enough to find a slightly worn trail toward the entrance. Martell paused looking at the path, “It looks like no one has passed for a few days. The snow has made the ground muddy, but I see no marks from movement in it. Let’s move along through the woods and see if we can get a good view of the entrance. Oren take the lead, I will be at the rear and try and cover our tracks as best I can from here.”
They back tracked slightly before heading back in the direction of Erridda. This time they went further along the walls, hoping to not cross the path. It took about an hour till they could start seeing the stronghold again. As they got closer they could smell the smoke, when the wind shifted to their direction. It also brought the aroma of someone cooking; Oren could hear his stomach grumble at the smell of a hot meal. It had been several days since they had cooked a meal, they had held off for fear that someone may see their fire from the towers of Erridda.
They finally spied the entrance to Erridda. The gates were sealed shut, a campfire burned amidst some tents outside the gate. Looking around a quick count yielded seven people. No leader that was distinguishable by clothing or actions. Looking further down the walls away from the gate, Oren spotted two more. That was nine, but still no leader among them.
It was probably some combination of talismans or other enchantments that prevented the three from hearing their adversaries surround them. The ensuing struggle was short lived. The offenders made their presence known first to Martell by trying to grab and restrain her. They only saw her armor and assumed an easy target to immobilize. The one who had first laid a hand on her now sat nursing a broken wrist. If it had only been the four that tried to restrain them, Oren and Martell could have handled things. But the assailants wanted them alive so had quickly motioned to the archers a small ways back. Also with the commotion the two men on patrol had now headed over to see if their friends needed assistance.
Oren, Tabia, and Martel now sat bound in one of the tents. They had been disarmed and relieved of their equipment. That said, Martell still had her knife hidden somewhere on her, a slightly easier feat since she still wore her armor. The leader of the offense had asked nicely for names and what they were up to, but none of the three spoke up. He made some threats, but in the end it would be their leader, Lady Nattan, who would make the call as to what to do with them.
When Lady Nattan entered the room, Oren went pale. Martell and Tabia were silent as they saw Oren go white. They were uncertain as to the cause of his distress. Thoughts of whether to fight or defend himself rushed into his mind. She was not who he wanted to see here. Lady Nattan was her, the woman that had been contacting him in his dreams. Now they were here, at her mercy, and he was uncertain as to what to do.
She looked at the trio; she was shorter than how she appeared in Oren’s dreams. “Oh Oren you came to me,” she said in a less annoying tone than Oren recalled from his dreams. “You brought friends…but only two. I do hope it is not because you only thought I would have had only two with me as well.” She paused, smiling to herself. “Katsutaka, help me out and bring me Oren’s belongings. I wonder if he brought me a gift.”
One of the guards handed his backpack to her. She riffled through it till she found what she was looking for, pulling out Eitelwulf’s Journal and dropping Oren’s bag to the floor. “You see dear, I did not need the whole book, but rather a part.” She undid a knot on the binding, pulling out the sinew that held the book together. “You see this sinew is from a stag that was used in the enchanting of the wards here, gods only know how Eitelwulf came into it, but regardless, I need it. The ward keeping the door locked here can only be opened with the right key. I have said key, I got it from Dawsil before Eitelwulf’s men killed him, but what Dawsil did not know was that the key alone was not enough. So many of his men died trying to open the doors, they tried other enchantments to open or other protect themselves.” She took the sinew and threaded it through the top of the key. “Well now, we have two of the components, the third one I cannot rush, but will be in place later today. You really are quite sweet handing it over with no fuss, and I do feel bad asking one more favor of you and your friends. I need one of you to handle opening the doors. I would be kind to the ladies and ask you to do it young Oren. However, the ritual is very specific that a person of the Drémore Empire must open it. I know you are not of that kingdom and nor is it likely the young lady in her armor there.”
“Please escort the robed lady outside, we will need her soon.” Lady Nattan motioned to Tabia. “If I did not feel like using you to trigger wards and traps inside the gates, I would kill you now. But then I may lose my loyal guards and that is bad for moral.” Lady Nattan moved to the exit of the tent. “I shall be back for you in about five minutes if all goes well and if it does not go well, I will be back for her.” She was smiling as she pointed at Martell and then turned to leave.
Oren looked around; he could not see Martell from where they left him in the room. He was taking stock of what was around and how to get out. From his seat he could see that there was one guard in the room along with their belongings. There was at least one more guard outside. Freeing himself from the chains he was bound with was not the issue. It was how to free Martell and Tabia that posed the problem.