Chapter 23

Martell feigned sadness; she had an idea of what happened, but no proof. “May I at least have one of my swords? If there is anything lurking behind one of these doors I would like to stand a chance with it.”
“Oh very well, you look so sad darling. I know you could do harm to us with it, but that face and your teary eyes just cut me to the quick. So you may have one, but do not be daft about it. If I or any of my men see you raise it near us you will have more arrows in you than a porcupine has quills.” She motioned to one of the people to fetch her short sword. “Into the courtyard with you dear, we will toss it to you. Some nice distance so you may not be inclined to turn upon us in a rapid fashion.”
Martell chose to go to the path lined with canines. The realism of the carving was impressive and accurate as far as she could tell from the creatures she had encountered. She paused briefly at one that was the size of a pony, hunched over like an ape. She would have sworn its eyes followed her as she went to the door. When she looked again and nothing was different or out of place. At the door, she examined briefly if there was anything out of the ordinary to see. Nothing popped out at her and she reached down to open it.
The door swung open easily, there was a hallway going each direction with rooms leading off of it. The lighting was quite poor as little natural light made its way in. “It is open, and I am still alive,” She called back.
Lady Nattan and her men started to make their way into the courtyard. They looked around; a few headed up to the second floor and took position, training arrows downward at Martell.
“Good work, nice and simple. You can move to the next door now, you can choose again. This is getting to be fun. You know dear, a few of the men are taking bets on what the odds are you will safely open two doors here. Let us find out who amongst them has the winning bet.” Lady Nattan’s voice crackled with delight.
Martell went over to the second door. She bypassed the walkway through the statues and walked the perimeter of the courtyard. At this door, she saw it was locked with a seal of wax and an emblem of a manticore on it. Hanging down from the seal was a sheet of paper tacked across the door opening. The writing was not any language she had run across. Martell walked on after seeing that. She was going to deal with the other door first.
She stood at the third door and studied it. She could see no sign that it had even been moved by Oren. It was a good trick if he was now somewhere safe. Hopefully, he was either getting help or had a plan to save her and Tabia. She paused as she saw what looked like a wire going from the door, running back into the courtyard. She followed the taut line back down the pathway; it wrapped back up the far side of the courtyard to a downspout. She motioned for the people to clear out of the way, and then cut the wire. After hearing a feint series of clicks, three arrows shot from the wall opposite hitting the door followed by three more. Everyone waited another couple of minutes before moving. Martel felt confident that trap had been disarmed.
“Impressive work dear. You care to open the door now?” Lady Nattan teased.
Martell glared, it was far from hard work. She went over to the door and flung it open. It was a hallway similar to the other side and just as dark. The only difference was she saw that the floor had recently been walked upon. She quickly pulled back on the door to stir up more dust and at least hide the footsteps to anyone else who may peer inside.
“I will open the third door next,” Martell said. “However, I need her,” she pointed at Tabia, “to see if she can read something on the door before I do. There is a something written there and she may know what it is.”
“Very well, darling. It is the least I can do before I let my men take care of you. I shall think of it as a last request.” Lady Nattan stated, and then turned to Tabia, “Go, be close to your friend one last time.”
Tabia came over to where Martell was. As she got closer she saw what Martell was looking at. Tabia looked at the paper and immediately was able to read it. She whispered to Martell “Life for Drémore, Break the seal, Death to its enemies.” Tabia paused, “There is something bad locked up hear. Not just the wards and traps like Abbysta. These types of seals were written so that those who read the language knew not to open the door. The only people that would open them was either ignorant of the language or wishing death upon themselves. Someone from Drémore would know not to open because of the Manticore.”
“Well, we have to open it, any suggestions Tabia?”

Growth

planted with a future hope
through soil tendrils grope
In suburban cold it crawls
toward waiting winter squalls
peaking through the ground
in quiet nighttime sound
the first taste of morning light
energizes for the fight
comfort in warmth of spring
building strength for to sing
among so many kin
each fight without a din
wars to live each make
seeking out ground to take
pushing higher in the air
till bursting with color flair
a buffet of powder delight
to those in daily, darty flight
each in kind a need is met
till the hunger is now set
late summer starts the fade
leaves and petals then cascade
storing up for future years
off go children with no tears
showy fading as time goes by
quietly into the autumn nigh
next year to be reborn again
down in the valley glen

A moment

The day breaks before me
Blank pages to fill with melody
Yet I sit in quiet solace
Of yesterday’s that befall us

Something of great umbrage
Weighs in on my knowledge
Of action not taken for change
To venture outside is not so strange

And here I sit another day
Toiling in time for my pay
While news makes one weep
For loss of what can not keep

There is still time to save
What is not lost in our wave
Overwhelming it may be
Beyond this murk I must see

Though clouds may abound in view
No longer each morn can I stew
Yet what path should I follow
So many lead to world hollow

Do I follow will-o’-wisp light
Or someone else to their plight
I find no one to lead the way
And still here I cannot stay

I stand here on the cusp of sun
Should to it I now run
Yet it not my beacon guide
And again I must soon decide

Is it on I go another round
Planted firmly to the ground
Careful in my choices made
As another hour has decayed

Chapter 22

There was some commotion outside. Oren assumed it was Tabia setting the key in the gate to open up Erridda. A few more moments of silence passed until there was an earth shaking boom and then more silence.

The guards outside came in and grabbed Martell and Oren. They said something but Oren and Martell’s hearing was still recovering from the boom. They got on their feet best they could and were then taken out of the tent. They saw several of the guards trying to shake off the noise’s disorientating effect as well. Things got better as they got closer to the gate. The two saw Tabia was ok and waiting there as well.

“Well that was fun, I guess even I miss some of the finer details at times,” said a grinning Lady Nattan. “Alright Oren you are up, just open the doors for me and I will let you have the privilege of gazing upon the courtyard inside first. Oh and if you refuse dear, I let your friends go and if all three of you refuse I cut you down here and now.”

Oren went forward and pushed on the door, slowly it budged open. Metal and rust shifted against each other, creaking, as the hinges remembered how to function. Oren smelled a musty scent as he made his way inward and the door retreated. The air felt as if it had not moved in forever. Looking around the courtyard, he saw several statues of beasts lining the walkways to the rooms along the walls. To the left was a path lined with various canines, to the right the path was lined with serpents and lizards and the middle looked as if it were lined with winged beasts. Each path started with a quadrupedal creature; slowly the forms grew in size and stature with the ones closest the doors being bipedal. The place looked almost frozen in time.

The effects of a spirit started to take hold on Oren. It was panic, fear, as if something ominous was to take place. He was in control, but the feeling was there. It wanted him to run toward the wall, to one of the rooms in the entrance way and hide. Slowly, Oren followed the compulsion, but without the reckless abandon he would have been slave to in the past. He opened the door and stepped in to the room. It was a five foot square, a small desk stood in the room with a ledger. It listed the comings and goings for the day. Oren was impressed with the clarity of the ink was and the integrity of the paper for something so old. The last name he saw listed was Casapan, with a destination of prison.
“Oren, are you still alive?” Nattan called out. “Dear, feel free to open anything you like; but after all if you die, do not fear we have two more to take over where you leave off.”

“I am fine,” Oren replied back as he stepped out of the room. Then in a very overtly sarcastic tone, “I wanted to see if there was any additional mechanisms to disarm for you is all.”

“Oren, that is very thoughtful of you. But I am not so worried as to what is in such a small room. Please go a little further and open one of the main doors off the courtyard.” Lady Nattan’s voice cut through the air.

Oren didn’t really feel a motivation to go beyond where he stood, and if his companions’ lives were not hanging on Nattan’s whim he would have probably stayed put for an hour or so. However, seeing them there helpless and unable to do anything otherwise to assist, he went forward. Oren went over to the door at the end of the pathway with lizards and studied it for a moment.

The door looked of sturdy wood; there were no visible mechanisms that he could see to indicate a contact trap. He tried best he could to see if there was any other trap that may be waiting on the other side. Then it occurred to him, a plan to at least get himself free. It did require their captors knowing nothing about his ability, which was possible. Oren started to focus on the spirits, drawing them in. There were quite a few in here as he sensed the rush. They had been without contact outside the stronghold for so long that something new calling to them was intriguing. He reached to the door as he felt them clamoring closer. His hand reached out in contact with the door itself, Oren disappeared.

Lady Nattan’s troops were silent as they watch this all unfold from the entry way. “Oh well, he was a brave soul.” Lady Nattan spoke. She then turned to Martell, “Very well young lady, it is your turn, I hope your armor offers more protection than his wits offered him. I will give you a sporting chance; you can pick any of the three doors. I would not choose the one Oren went through, but then again what are the odds the same trap is still rigged for twice the entrance. My darling, you have a moment to mourn the passing of your friend, but do not tarry long. I doubt whatever got him will leave much behind.”

Chapter 21

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.

Part 7 (Final)

On hobgoblin shoulders born
Elf slows the progress
Allies time has bought for all

But for Topaz time is forlorn
As life takes its egress
Dragon flies to goblin call

Landing in front of path
Topaz makes quotes in rasp
My kin will save the tree

They shall not exude wrath
Though pain is within grasp
Use tonic elf and none for me

My spell in one day cast
So seal the arbor safe
And reptile guard inside

Do not avenge our world past
Though the memories chafe
My final wish do abide

Hobgoblin, Elf, and Goblin heed
Upon this spot hospital do build
Granting aid to friend and foe

Show where final gate path lead
For those who are strong willed
The remaining arch will show

Part 6

Hobgoblin lead to second gate
Where manticore stood to defend
Vigilant like statue grand

Elf interrogated about Topaz state
Reply of flew to Emerald’s bend
There three look for strong stand

I am here for trespasser feast
And seal the gate once you pass
Hurry now I see them at river fjord

Goblin glanced past man beast
Army cut at river wall of glass
Only time kept moving onward

Gate clinked behind hiking trio
As distant crash rolled in ahead of storm
Slow progress up mountain was frustrate

Day wore on and fatigue did grow
Rest they made as stars tried swarm
Elf worried cure may come too late

Two days passed in determined ascent
Three making light enemy demise
For they were certain of lofty goals

Five flames from ground rent
Six times before the witch arise
Seven seconds before her tolls

Ate anger and rage at goblin
Nine steps charged elf with spear
Ten arrows from hobgoblin flew

Witch dodged like a darting robin
Shooting bolts of Elven fear
Brewing chaos in her stew

Elf fell in useless bloody pile
As Goblin hatchet hit bone
Of witch’s back with rage unmatched

Calm flowing like witches bile
And goblin now in solemn tone
The two tend to elf and patched

Part 5

Sylph flipped three cards
She puzzled in her eyes
Flipping out more fates

She hummed ballads
And though paused sighs
She began to speak the mates

Do you know of Snow Bear
The Legion of Vale Fall
Or Mercenary Queen Tir Lyre

Sylph answered before trio dare
All hear forest heart call
Riches from which they desire

They will storm the three gate
With plans to slay guardians grand
Goblin is now chink in scheme

Antidote for Topaz’s fate
Amethyst will brothers band
Your three fates still in dream

Beyond this repast
I will be no help
So I shall use my magic

Wall of water iced blast
Will leave them like whelp
Till its fall tragic

No harm may I do
Yet in delay I may aid
Make haste to yonder slope

My fate worry not you
I will stand not afraid
For your future is only hope

Part 4

Second watch elf was wake
Thoughts of day in mind raced
Trust and doubt battle fought

Quiet morning sun did make
Eager to head out elf paced
On horizon Topaz signs sought

Onward to mountain cave
Goblin by Elf lead
Hope rising of quiet morning

Topaz would soon be save
Protecting glen from outer greed
Sudden arrow without warning

Arrow pierced goblin arm
Elf searched for archer
Before second volley fly

Elf fired arrow in alarm
From sound of army marcher
Amethyst passed overhead in sky

Dragon let lightning loose
Down fell archer from his roost
Elf to Goblin wound did tend

Scouts in distance use
Direction of army deduced
Reckless abandon no safety spend

As duo made their haste
At bridge new ally met
Hobgoblin friend of elf

Relaying tale of army chased
Hobgoblin agree onward to set
Toward river of one more sylph

No rest would trio bind
On travels to Topaz mine
One day more till mountain climb

Cross river sylph they find
On fish and apples she dine
Urging trio to join in her chime

Part 3

At gate Amethyst paced
Over ashen bodies he trod
Spying distant two in rush

At attention dragon braced
As approached foe with rod
Ogre spell cast and fell a hush

Silenced Amethyst clawed
While elf and goblin pierce
Victorious lizard smiled at ally’s return

Goblin offered healing and laud
Amethyst returned fierce
Ogre body now to burn

Elf and goblin on ward went
Topaz next they seek
In no less harmless land

Across meadows time was spent
Goblin trailed feeling meek
Elf in growing confidence planned

The two stopped at fountain ruin
To drink each their fill
When from sky assailant flew

Down from Sky stones were strewn
As harpy onslaught grew intent on kill
Elf from back javelin drew

Hurling pole toward nearest foe
Harpy cawed and mocked
Goblin search pack for aid

Stone met armor in each blow
Goblin hand around hatchet locked
Turned and flung at assailant blade

Hatchet hit harpy wing true
While stones continued to fly
Elf chanted sacred spell

Goblin bid fallen harpy swift adieu
And Elven flame came from the sky
Harpy menace it did quell

As night fell shelter the pair sought
Another day till Topaz be healed
Bitter root stew no sate did provide

Goblin watched first with trust bought
Quiet sentry with lantern and sword wield
First moon set was night’s divide