Chapter 6

Morning came with a small hangover for Oren.  It had been years since that much drinking had gone on.  He looked over saw he was alone in bed.  “Where is Martell?” he thought.  He then heard some humming coming from the library area.

“You overslept; your store will not be opening on time.”

“Maybe, what are you looking for in here?  More Sprite possessed books?”

“No, I need my blade for killing them.  But your bookcase looks clear of them.”  Martell removed a book and then tossed it to Oren. “Read that book.  It will bring clarity controlling the spirits.”  Oren looked down the book was titled Meditations on Umbra.  “You have a library that could open up your potential to great things if you read it.  Though I am not certain you know all the ancient languages you would need.”

“And you do?”

“I know most of the ones that would be useful, at least to read them.  Again, I compensate with other abilities for those that I lack. My knowledge is as strong a weapon as any of my blades.”

Oren’s library was half full of books he had read and the other half books passed on to him from his family.  Those he had read or at least tried to had been moved to the store for reference.  But his volumes here generally escaped his comprehension or just were so foreign he could not read.

“And are you planning staying here all day Martell?”

“No, I need to investigate the wards on your grandfather’s grave.  I need to find out who set them and let them know the business is settled.”

“I will walk you in to town.  We need to be alert. I would not put it past last night’s visitors to try something on the way.”

“I could not imagine doing otherwise.”

It was a comfortable morning for a walk.  Though they were both alert for the walk to town, the vigilance was unnecessary.  They bantered casually on the way to town, with a couple stops by Oren to talk with neighbors along the way.  Oren would ask if anyone else had seen the three men on the path last night, but no one had.  He would then say something along the lines of speaking to the town guard for a patrol through the area tonight and would move on.  Oren was not surprised by the fact no one else saw them, it was late to be on the road.  He did get a couple questions about the lady with him, but brushed it off as business related.  He knew gossip would follow, but politeness let the questioning end there.

They arrived at Oren’s shop without incident.  As he expected, no one had a burning desire to go to his store first thing today. He opened up the door and went in.  Martell followed as the two were discussing the duet that had been playing at the Cloak and Frog last night. It was when Oren got to his desk he noticed something amiss.  The desk was a mess with papers pulled out from numerous drawers.  Several books had been tossed about from the shelves near where he would normally sit.

Martell ran to the side room to see if anything was wrong there as Oren took inventory of his personal space.  All looked in order in there, Oren would have to confirm, but the place looked as tidy as she would expect from him.  She heard the door open and some people enter in the store.  Almost as a reflex she quieted down and hid against the wall.  She pulled out her dagger in preparation of what may follow.

“Good morning Oren.”  It was an older woman speaking; she had to men with her.  Her voice was slightly raspy, sounding weaker than she looked.  “I am here on behalf of Lord Casapan.  He sent a messenger on ahead who told you, maybe not in the politest of terms, that someone was coming.”

The two men had closed the door behind their entrance and barred it.  Oren understood his choices were few.  “Yes, I did get message someone was coming.  Here to buy something from my collection?”

“Silly man,” her laugh following crackled slightly.  “I am here to take what is Caspan’s.  Vargas stole many of these books just before Lord Casapan could complete his acquisition from prior owners.”

In the back room, Martell started focusing on her blade.  The blade started to have a light glow and a whisper of a hum.  If there were no noise they may have heard it, but a room away and conversation were enough to mask it.  She could sense that the lady speaking was using a talisman to keep Oren calm.  Without the rest of her equipment she was helpless against that.  But maybe the blade she wielded would be enough to get them out of this.

“Lord Casapan wants his collection.  You are to tell me where the missing books are.  As I can already tell, you have sold off a large chunk.”

Against his will and with clarity that baffled him, Oren started recalling the list of people he sold books to.  One of the woman’s escorts jotted down what he was reciting.  After fifteen books, he stopped.

“No young man, there is more than that missing.  Where do you keep them?”  Her calm polite manner was starting to shake.  Martell could tell the stress of using multiple talismans was taking its toll on her.

It was then that Evie appeared in the room.  “Madam you must leave.”

The elder woman looked over at her.  “And who are you?  This is a private meeting, you need to leave.”

“I think you are the one to leave,” She spoke while starting to waive a stone in the air. “Your talismans are incompatible and it makes you weak.”  She then muttered another word and the elder woman bent over in pain.

The two men with her picked her up and quickly departed the store at her demand.

Evie smiled at her son, and then was gone.

Martell came out from the back room.  “What was that all about?  Also do you know who that was that sent them on their way?”

“I know somewhat.  It’s going to take some time to explain.  But that was my mother; guess she is still looking out for me.”

“Yeah well, in a way, I did ask her to assist.”

Oren decided now was a good time to come clean about the Scry Sprite and how it may be related to the messenger.  Martell took the withholding of the information well, and agreed it would have probably been her reaction.  She relayed that she had been the one who reached out to his mother to assist.  The blade worked as a way to channel a message.  She had used it as a beacon for assistance, though had assumed it would have taken longer for help to come.  At some point she would have to let him try it to experience how it worked, though the effect might be different for a channeler.

Having had enough adventure for the morning, Oren decided it best to close up shop.  He was going to go talk to his parents after a quick stop to see Cid regarding the patrols.  He would meet Martell at the city gates as she had to pack up her belongings and get a message back to the Neffian temple regarding Allison. At Martell’s suggestion, he took down the lamp from the entry way and with her assistance and packed it back in the side room.  He would have it moved from here later on.  Speed was the plan for Oren. He didn’t want to let himself be ambushed again and was not certain how long it would be till Lord Casapan would send someone else to claim the library.

The two met back at the City gate an hour later. Martell was there dressed as she had been when the two had first met, with the addition of a backpack and bedroll with it.  Oren had run his errands, though he was certain Cid would do nothing with the patrol.  Oren had been less than happy with his suggestion that maybe if there was reason for the men to patrol all the way out to his place they would consider it. A trio on the road that had done nothing wrong was not a good enough reason.

From there they headed over to Oren’s parents.  His dad met them outside the house.  “Evie said you would probably come over today.  She expected you a little sooner than this though.”  The three of them went into the house and for the first time in what Oren could recall his father shut and secured the gate during the day.

Oren’s mom met them in the main sitting area, “Oren so nice of you to stop by.  I see you have a new friend.”  His mom’s eyes were clear; she was definitely focused on the present.  “You know she may have saved your life this morning?  I don’t think the customers you had in there were keen on just having books.”

“No mom.  They were there on behalf of Lord Casapan.  Apparently he is also the one that sent the sprite in my dream.”

His father grunted, “Evie we have to do something.  Your father’s work cannot sit idle any longer.”

“What do you think I do all day?  I have been in touch with his contacts and there has been nothing on Lord Casapan or Dawsil for years.  I had not given up them for dead, but I hardly thought an offense like this would happen.  I don’t think they have put everything together yet or they would have come for me instead.  Dad’s wards and talisman are still strong and working well.”

Oren looked like he had been struck upside the head.  What were his parents going on about?  They were wealthy from the trading, he thought.   His mom never had done any enchanting he saw.  And his dad?  He was always out tending the fields these days or brokering a deal with caravans and the town merchants.

“Before you ask son we left you out of this because … well … it can consume your life.” His father was stumbling for words. “Your mother was brought into this from an early age to support and eventually take over from her father.  We were hoping to spare you this and have wrapped it up years ago.  And till yesterday we had thought we had.  Today just confirms we are not done yet.”

“What is your roll in all this father?”

“I provide an anchor here in the real world for her.  The contacting people and checking in on wards leaves her body here, but her mind is distracted.  She would lose track of time possibly starve to death.  Besides that there are few things I can get the spirits to do she cannot.”

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Chapter 5

Oren closed up shop and headed over to the Cloak and Frog.  It was a nice walk over to the tavern and there was still plenty of light and activity to keep spirits from being a nuisance to him.

The Cloak and Frog was in a wood structure, standing free of any abutting buildings.  They had stables around back and space for long term residence on the second floor.  The residences were rented by several trade houses and a few guilds and were almost always occupied. The main floor was relatively open with tables and chairs spread about.  Both sides of the room had a hearth and fire going with lively conversation abound.  Within moments Oren spotted at least ten people he knew.  He made the normal pleasantries and handshakes with each then excused himself as he looked to find Martell.  Oren’s eyes paused to see who was providing entertainment for the evening; it was a duet that he did not recognize.

There was a tap on his shoulder, and he turned around to see Martell.  He had to admit to himself she looked much better without the armor, and far less threatening without the swords.  Though there was probably at least one blade hidden on her somewhere.

“Well you showed up, I figured you had agreed to stop by just to get me out of your shop.”

“I did,” Oren smiled, “But then I realized you hadn’t answered me on why you are really here.”

Martell looked puzzled by the question.  “I was here to escort Allison to the city and make sure she stayed focused on her studies.”

“And then what were you supposed to do?  Someone of your skills is not often sent to babysit an initiate.”

“My skills?  Oren, you overestimate my seniority with the Neffians.  Though experienced in battle, I too am new to the order.  My knighthood has been mine since I could lift a sword, but my service to the temple was a recent chapter in life. I have had enough of marching orders to my Lord’s goals and thought I had found calling with them.”

“And what happens now that she is dead?  You let her out of your watch and harm came to her.  Do you go back to the Neffian temple and report?”

“I don’t know…”  Martell had not been thinking about that part and her face showed it.

Oren took the pause to excuse himself for a moment, and returned with a couple mugs of ale.  “A toast to her memory.”  They both took a sip.

“Did you find out who or what killed her?”

“Yes, apparently someone felt the need to setup wards on your grandfather’s grave to kill anyone that tried to contact him.  I am not surprised though, he was rather highly regarded by the Enchanters’ Guild.”

Martell took a sip of her drink then quietly spoke, “When I was looking for the Scry Sprite, I saw spirits lingering in the shadows of your store.  That itself is not odd as they are everywhere.  However what was odd is they were reaching out to you, as if you had called them there.  Are you an enchanter or a channeler?”

It was Oren’s turn to sit quietly.

“Not going to turn you in,” Martell quipped, “Besides always nice to know someone outside the guild’s control to consult with.”

“I am not an enchanter.  Parents wanted me to be one, but the guild will not have me.”

Martell nodded and whispered, “Channeler?”

“A what?” Clueless was written on Oren’s face.  The term was not one he had heard before.

“Oh then you have clearly never been north of Aleto.  Their guild has no presence here and south.  They are now in Gromdash.  But if we were to talk about them, we would need to do so in another venue.  Too many ears here.”  Her voice rose back to normal, “So how much of the collection in your store is your Armiger’s?  I would have thought he would leave his collection to one of the universities.”

“About half the collection is his; the other half was donated to the enchanter’s guild.  This is the half that my mother could hide from them.  Too much trouble for them to come and try to take it now.  Besides, they are reasonable people.  They periodically buy a book from me, and they occasionally send someone by to do research.”

The conversations turned on for several more hours, till both had more than their fill of ale.  It was late when they left the Cloak and Frog and finally started the slow stumbling walk back to Oren’s house.

Oren’s house was outside the city’s walls.  The path there was well lit by the moon this evening.  Looking up on the way back, Oren entertained them pointing out constellations in the sky.  He had learned the names of them as a small boy from his mother.  Mapping them out to Martell did little to speed their progress, though; she was impressed that the ale had not impeded his ability to recognize them.   He pointed out his favorite one of the Iseb Scorpion.  The Iseb Scorpion was originally just the scorpion.  However both Hannon the first and second had been born with it looming over head.  From then on everyone had taken it to be their sign.  Every couple years, when it looms high in the night people now speculate if the third Hannon will follow.

They finally arrived at his house in twice the time it would normally have taken.  The house was modest in size, three rooms. He had originally planned to add on to it, but single life had left him little need to. He had his bedroom, a storage room and then the third room acting as a sitting room, kitchen, and dining room all together.   The walls were stone halfway up and then wood to the roof.  Out front, he had a small garden that clearly was losing ground to weeds and a few berry bushes.

Oren could feel the effects of the drinking start to ebb as he got to the door of his house. As he put his key in the door he heard the shuffling of another set of feet in the distance.  His thoughts started to race as no one else lived in the direction of the house. He quickly opened the door and ushered Martell in then put his key in and locked the door behind.

“Did you hear that?  Someone else was coming down the road.”

“No, I just assumed you wanted something,” Martell was still intoxicated with the ale. She leaned in and kissed Oren.  When she leaned back from him she was wielding a dagger. “But I guess someone is going to try and stop us maybe?”  She leaned down and grabbed another blade from her boot.

“Do you have something to defend yourself or do you need to borrow one?”  She held out the recently drawn knife to him.

“I am good,” Oren spoke grabbing a staff by the door. He peaked out the window to see if he could see who was passing by.  There were three men walking down the path.

“They were at the tavern,” Martell hissed. “Maybe pretend we didn’t see them?”

Oren went over to the table and lit a candle.  “Then have a seat and hide your blades.”  He poured them each a half glass of wine and then went over to the fireplace to start a fire. With that started he went over to the window to look out. Outside he saw the three a distance from the house.  They were huddled up with one of them periodically glancing around and at the house.  Oren looked directly at them till they knew they were now the ones being watched.

He returned to Martell, “Well, we have time to kill.  They may take a while till they decide this is not worth it and move on to someone else.”

“No sleeping then?”

“No, but you can tell me about channelers and their guild.”

“Really? Nothing else to talk about?”  Martell asked.  “Ok then let’s talk about them.  They are a controlling guild.  Most notably, they seek out people to be members in their guild not the other way around.  The apprenticeship lasts for at least ten years and often involves people never being seen again in their hometown.  The services they provide are…unknown.  I know if your skills are refined a channeler can bypass the works of enchanters.  Somehow they can manipulate the spirits to suppress wards and talismans.  That I have seen first-hand.”

“How come the guild is not this far south?”

“Simple, there was no Channeler Guild till fifty years ago or so.  Most channelers were independent with whatever skill they developed or had been passed on to them.  That all changed when a channeler of some wealth started a school up north in the city of Fareson.  Needless to say, the Enchanters saw this as infringing upon their domain.  From what I hear the fight ended in a stalemate, but not sure if that was political or ability driven, it depends on who you ask.”

Oren got up went over to look out the window; the three men were seen heading back to town.  “They are going away.”

“I think give it bit, dim the lights, wait a little longer, and if they are not back we can rest easy.”

“Where do you know all this from, the stories of the channelers, the enchanters, all of it?”

“It was all part of the job.  The knighthood required I know this.  When you lack access to the skills and their benefits, you need a defense against them.  The Tethinger Order has always been knowledgeable and skilled at keeping the Enchanters in check.  Avo is home of the Tethinger Order, and that is why your grandfather knew to heed our requests.  But with the rise of the Channelers guild our tasks have gotten more political.  The push has been more for us to be assassins than respectable knights.  The choice was change or be out of the knighthood.” Martell broke down at this point; Oren chalked it up to the drinking.  Oren gave her a hug and then got up to check on the visitors.

“I think we can call it a night.”  Oren said walking away from the window.  “No one out there now.”

Chapter 4

“You? Are you Oren?”  The inquirer was a black haired woman a foot shorter than Oren.  She was wearing what looked like leather armor, and had a set of swords at the hip. The armor had the emblem of Neffian on it. “What did you say to Allison yesterday that made her go to the graveyard in the early hours of the morning?”

“I am sorry, but who is Allison?”  As the question was uttered, he had finally connected the association. “And who are you?”

The woman lowered her tone to a more civil level, possibly realizing the fright she may have caused in her initial query, “I am Lady Martell, Neffian Knight and guard to their travelers.  Allison was the Maiden in here all yesterday.  I have looked through all her notes and see nothing mentioning the graveyard of Aleto.  So the only person who may know why she went there is you.”

“Well Lady Martell, what I do know was she was looking up items on enchanters all day.  Then, before leaving she asked about Vargas Armiger.   I told her that he was dead and buried there.  She left before I could say another word.”

“Stupid Maiden, I would have warned her against such things.  They are given quests for knowledge and then they don’t think through the perils.  Books don’t hold everything…,” she trailed off, looking around the room for a moment. Something had her attention, like she had heard something talk or whisper. “Is there someone else in the store?”

“No, I am the only one here.”

She drew her shorter blade and held it pointed out.  She then closed her eyes, and her face took on a look as if she were focusing.  Slowly, she started turning the direction her blade pointed. She walked over to the Oren’s desk, eyes shut.  It was as if she knew the layout of the store by heart.  She reached into the bag.

“What are you doing with my stuff?”  Oren’s voice rose in concern, clearly hesitant to act, as he was in no position to stop her.

Lady Martell reached into the bag, pulled out the Lord Auben’s journal and thrust her blade through the pages. Oren could see a green aura form around the book. She held it in the book till a light snap was heard.  She opened her eyes and removed the skewered book.  “Oren you have the works of interesting people in this store.  Whatever did you do to gain their attention?”

“What was that you did?”  He muttered.  Her comments had not broken through his shock. “What is it you do again?”

“I have killed off a Scry Sprite.  They are not of this world, and only are servants to those that can reach beyond. Do you know where you got that book, as they may not be after you but the previous owner of the book?”

“The prior owner is dead,” Oren said, buying some time while trying to guess where her loyalties and trust lay.  His thoughts raced, lie to her now and she may refuse further help…but say too much…and she may be working for whoever sent the sprite. “But I do not think the sprite was in the book till more recently.”

“Why not?  Was this a book you gave Allison for her research?”

“No, it had been on a shelf for years till yesterday when I finally looked at it.”  It was now that Oren realized a distinct aroma.  He wondered how long it would be till something overtook him.

“Then why do you doubt the prior owner may be the target of this sprite?  Who was the previous owner?”

“Lord Auben, he passed on a couple years ago.  I got it in an auction, with the lamp over there.”  He gestured to the light hanging above the door.

Martell smirked, “You really have interesting dealings.  You have a book possessed by a Scry Sprite and then have the audacity to have an Invoker’s Lantern hanging casually above your entrance.”

An Invoker’s Lantern was used by enchanters and others inclined to practice the craft as a focus for crafting talisman. They cast a nice light clearly, but from what Oren could recall, when they were activated with the right incantation they would allow a talisman that had been placed inside to be enchanted, modified, or repaired.  Looking up at it he now saw that what he had assumed were ornate carvings and place to attach hanging chains from might also have a slightly more practical uses.

Oren felt a distinct calm roll over his body.  With the serenity came a flood of questions, “Lady Martell, how do you know so much about all this?  You say you are Knight of Neffian, but you know far more than just how to transport a scholar between two cities. That is a task easily assigned to a caravan.  What are you really after here in Aleto? How are you able to sense such things as a Scry Sprite, is it the sword or you?  And if you know so much about enchanters, why not just tell Allison, instead of having her spend hours here?”

“So full of questions suddenly,” Martell had not planned on going on the defense so soon, it showed in her eyes.  “Well to start, Allison was a low ranking maiden.  The first year as an initiate is spent as scholar, what you learn is dictated by your teacher.  The reason I said nothing, is I can only assist if asked directly by her and I did not know her topic till I found her notes.”  She took a pause and pondered why she was so willing to answering the questions. “But enough about the Neffians, you can always join if you want to know more.”

Oren felt a desire to ask more questions, since he was at least in control this time. “And what is the source of your knowledge?”

“That is not for me to share with you,” she replied, clearly raising her guard.  “But how does one end up with all these books?  There is quite a fortune here, yet it is only such to the right person.  The tomes you let Allison look through, she did not understand half the knowledge in them.  Are you an enchanter yourself? The son of one?”  Questions stopped flowing as in her mind she had come to realize the answers. Memories somewhere in her mind started to link up.

“Your name is Oren Velgrey.  You are grandson to Vargas Armiger.  I should have seen the resemblance sooner, your face is a little fuller and less wrinkly than his but otherwise I bet he looked the same as you when he was your age.  My knowledge comes from him. Well not directly, but he taught my mentor.  Your grandfather is well known down near the Drémore Vales.  He was the one who finally listened to the pleas of our village, Avo.  While there, my mentor volunteered to guide him and in exchange your grandfather taught him much about enchanting.  Not how to enchant, but how to spot it and the tools it required and stuff like that.”

Oren sat stunned, perhaps a bit much to take in before lunch.  Was his grandfather really this much the hero?  If so why had he died here in relative seclusion?  Why did his parents choose not to tell him of all that had happened, or did they not know?  More questions he longed to voice, but at least he had control over what he let slip out.

“I have to get on with my investigation.  Will you join me after you close your shop up at the Cloak and Frog tavern?  I have more to discuss with you.”

“I suppose I can.”

Martell left the shop and his mind drifted back to the lamp.  Maybe that was what the Sprite had been talking about.  But now with the Sprite dead would whoever his master come looking for him? Could he still have enough information to track down Oren? Finally Oren grunted in frustration, stupid spirit’s touch would have to be waited out before he could think again.

The afternoon went by quickly for Oren.  A brisk flow of customers help pass the time.  In between them, he sifted through some of his books for more information on the Drémore Vales and the surrounding history.  This region was historically used for farming and milling grains. Though the eastern edge of it disappeared into thick woods, the more mountainous sides to the west and south of it had been mined forever.  Relatively peaceful region as the only trace of trouble Oren could find about it was in regards to the Wolves or Dawsil.

It was in the last hours of the day, he found record of a series of strongholds in the eastern edge. This was from the kingdom of Drémore that had fallen several hundred years back.  They had been built to fend off the ogres and sprites of the forest, keeping the vales safe. The network had been built prior to the current system of wards the enchanters had set up to keep such beasts at bay.  Though from what Oren gathered, they had most likely been reclaimed by the forest with where his grandfather’s maps showed the wards to be located.

With the last of the customers gone Oren gathered up the maps and book he had been flipping through in to his bag.  He wanted to continue his research at home, and tomorrow would see his parents again.  Oren was forming more questions and wanted to tell his dad which caravan he would take in the spring.  Spirits seemed to be calling him to Drémore and he aimed to figure out what was calling him.

Chapter 3

Oren was on the road headed back to town when he heard a rustle in the brush.  He got ready to make a run depending on what hid there. Out emerged a small kitten, riding on its back was something resembling a small man but was encased in a green fire, a forest sprite.  In a high pitched voice he heard from the cat, “Oren, I will find you.  You have the pieces of my talisman and you will rebuild it for me”

Oren was petrified with fright and confusion.

The sprite jumped from the kitten and ran at Oren.  The kitten, free from its control, bolted.  Upon reaching Oren, the sprite ran up his leg.  Oren kicked to get it off, with no luck.  It ran up his torso into his backpack.  Oren threw off the backpack.  The bag jumped around for a bit then stopped.

Oren grabbed a stone from the trail, and walked to the bag.  He slowly opened the bag to find the book from Lord Auben glowing green.  It was then he thought about why the sprite did not try to control him.  Could they even possess objects, he pondered.

Oren woke up sweating in his bed, a rock in hand.  His bag was thrown across the room.  The bedsheets were twisted around his arms and legs like he had fought them for control of the bed. His father was at the door to the room with the most puzzled of looks.

Oren went over to his bag, looked inside, and everything was there and in as good of condition as could be from throwing it across the room. He handed the rock to his father and relayed the dream as best as he remembered.  It was a more vivid recollection than the average dream.  His father meanwhile was examining the rock that had appeared.

“Well,” Flynn said, after taking it all in, “I do not think that your spirit this morning was a chance encounter.  Nor do I think you are going to hear any more from it.”

“What do you mean?”

His mother entered, having been woken by the commotion.

“You know of enchanters.  There is a lesser known field of study amongst them that specializes in directing spirits through dreams.  Usually these spirits are directed as a stealth way to send messages.  The enchanter whispers a message and the spirit carries it to its destination.  However, when they are directed at someone with our ability, the interactions can be more complex. They can be sent as assassins or as parasites to block all other spirits from contacting us.  As a parasite they slowly gain a hold on us directing our actions.  This one however I think was meant to find you.  No idea for who though…” he trailed off.

His mother went over to his bag and sifted through it.  She pulled out the Lord’s journal, “This was recently touched by a sprite.  Definitely a forest sprite, held in servitude to an Enchanter.  It can’t escape from the world of dreams back to this one, try as it might…and it is trying hard.  It doesn’t know the master’s name, but then again, if it did it could free itself.  But you must be rid of this book, send it somewhere far away from here.  Do not read any more of it, just be rid of it…but keep the stone.”

Oren looked to her eyes; they were clouded over again. Was this actually true or was she of lost in her own mind again?  He took the stone back from his dad and examined it himself.  It was a dark stone, maybe obsidian?  Where had this come from?

The following morning, Oren was left wondering what it was he should do with Lord Auben’s journal. It didn’t have any additional information on his grandfather and according to his mother he should not just toss it in with the rubbish, but should be rid of it.

He ran the idea of burning the book past his parents but was told it was no good, as the fire would release the spirit binding and would act as a bright beacon to whomever hurry along whoever was in search of it.

Oren was off to his shop as soon as the dawn light broke the horizon.  He didn’t fear the spirits today; they were not responsible for these troubles.  From what his mom had discerned the spirit had latched to the book after it had encountered Oren.  This may be its ultimate goal or an unexpected result as of the dreaming last night.  Either way, its presence would keep any others from approaching.

He then started wondering if there would be a sprite on his path like the one from his dream.  Normally, they were weak creatures physically, but once they touched your skin, they could control your body.  After they finished manipulating you to do whatever suited their whim, they would more than likely kill you.  Some enchanters had talismans to protect against such control, but it didn’t stop sprites from removing the talisman from you.  He brushed off the silly idea of such a creature being this close to the city.  They didn’t like human cities, besides, there were usually wards set on the edge of town to keep them at bay in the physical world.

Oren thought it weird that there were no birds on the way in to his shop, after their frequent sightings yesterday.  The path to town was rather empty too.  It wasn’t until he saw a man running from town down the path at him that he encountered another person.  Out of breath, he stopped next to Oren.  Oren recognized him but the name eluded him. “Oren, there was a murder in the graveyard last night.” He took a deep breath still winded, “A Maiden of Neffian, the guards are looking for you. The other woman traveling with her said she was with you all day.” He finally caught his breath and slowed down, “Doesn’t sound like you are in trouble, but you should know what you are stepping into before they talk to you.”

“Thanks, Cyril”, the name finally came back to Oren.  Cyril had grown up with Oren in Aleto.  They had been decent friends as kids but as adults they had gone separate paths.  He had gone on to take over his father’s bar in his late teens which left him little time for social life with Oren as they aged.  “Do you know who on the guard is looking for me?”

“I think it is Bover.  Cid is usually off by now.”

Oren frowned, “Bover has morning work again?  Never is too happy to be up at these hours.  Oh well, I had best go to the shop and meet him there.  It’s where he will be waiting; the man is too lazy to come outside the gates to get me himself.”  Oren had realized this was no friendly warning about the city guard looking for him.  Bover had sent Cyril to find him. Same hierarchy from when they were kids.  He figured there was some guy running out to his house with the same story in case he was there.  Cyril probably knew better than to reply he wasn’t in the town guard or an errand boy.

Town guard was good to you as long as you were good to them.  You didn’t pay in money.  With them it was just give what was asked for and they would back you when a pickpocket stole your money or a vagrant needed to be removed from your shop.  You snubbed them or were too busy to be a runner and the next time a drunk was picking fights in your bar you were on your own cleaning up messes and bodies.

Oren took a little longer than needed to get to the shop.  He felt no urgency to resolve the guard’s issues and though sad the maiden had died, there was a little relief that he would not have to endure her voice asking for books again.  He rounded the last corner to find Bover standing there shiny chest plate and all waiting with two of his men.  This was going to take some time.

“Good Morning, Oren.” his deep voice matched his calling. “Need to have a word with you about a patron from yesterday.  Hurry up and open the shop so we can have a pleasant word inside. ”

“Good morning to you Bover,” Oren returned in a genial tone. “Certainly have time for the boys of the guard.”  He opened the door, “Come in, make yourself comfortable.  Don’t mind my tinkering about with fires.  Feel free to ask me your questions.”

“You had a Maiden of Neffian in here yesterday, what was she here for?”

“Books on enchanters,” he replied stepping away from a now lit fireplace. “Wanted everything I had.  Never said why.  Had a bunch of notes with her when she left.”

“Nothing much left now if they were still on her.  Body burned, probably by whoever knifed her.  She say where she was headed when she left?”

“Not a word,” he decided to omit the conversation on the way out.

“Bah, you’re no help.”

“Sorry, she did say she was heading back here today. You know, for more research.”

“Right, well thanks for your time.”

And with that they departed.  Oren started wondering if this had anything to do with wards being place on his grandfather’s grave.  But he was quickly consumed with what to do with the book.

How to get rid of a book?  A problem that Oren had no experience with, and struggled with like anyone who spent their life collecting them.  He could just toss it in with the normal daily rubbish or out in a latrine but that would still leave it in town and bring someone to him directly.  He could always just turn over whatever it was this person was looking for to them and be done with the whole matter.  Yet the way his mom had talked, that may be a less than desirable action.

Chapter 2

His parents lived a ways outside the walls of Aleto so the walk would take him till dusk to get there.  Hopefully the spirits were still in hiding.  He would spend the night there, no reason to risk troubled dreams for his own bed.  Spirits outside the city were a little less predictable.  Not in concept but more in where they lurked.  They tended to hang out in places where emotions ran strong, which really could be anywhere.  But his dad had taught him some general guides.  For example, a place where animals hunted, or where something had given birth would call spirits to observe.  The sides of less traveled trails seemed to be appealing.  If there was war or plague then there were usually no spirits there. They didn’t long for reminders of death, like a graveyard.  Often they were skittish of places like caves or small, tight spaces.

Oren’s parents’ house was larger than most this far outside of the walls.  Its location was on some open land where his parents had livestock grazing.  The house itself was good stone construction in an L-shape, and two stories tall.  There was a one story tall fence connecting the corners resulting in a triangle shaped enclosure.  His parents had turned this area into a garden, and often used it for receiving guests.   From the main road a pathway lead to the gated entrance in the fence.  It was halfway down this path his father spotted his arrival. Oren’s father had been out at the shed returning to the house.

“Good evening dad.  Spirits have been giving me trouble today.  I had a few questions that you and mom may be able to help with.”

“Always glad to help when it comes to those spirits.  Today they have left me alone so I should be able to focus today.”  Oren’s dad was 62, twice as old as Oren. He had a full head of grey hair and emerald green eyes, the same as his son.  He still stood tall at six feet and a couple inches, just a bit taller than his son.  His full name was Flynn Velgrey; in his youth he had been far less home bound and wandered the kingdom of Iseb working for numerous merchants and even a small period in a mercenary core. This is where his current wealth, and therefore most of Oren’s, came from.

The mercenary group had a chance encounter to fight for King Hannon. He was assigned to be part of the rear guard during a campaign in the Jacobo Plains. As such, they took a heavy beating as the main force retreated during a skirmish in the pouring rain.  Long story short, they eventually were able to turn the tables on the pursuing forces and the King’s forces were able to regroup and win the battle.  The pay was high and to be split by the mercenaries, but by the end of the day the company had shrunk from fifty men to only fourteen.  Flynn had taken this as a sign it was time to leave the mercenary life and moved into commerce.  From there, life had been quite good for him.

“These are questions about what would cause a second urge in desires to pursue something.  Also if mom can concentrate, Grandpa Armiger.”

“She is having a good day today, but first let’s go prepare dinner.  We can talk while doing that.”

Dinner was going to be a beef soup; the broth had been simmering most the day already. What was needed was seasoning and a bit more vegetable to make it a bit hardier.  As Flynn rummaged through some bins he asked, “So what were they causing you to think about today?”

“Well, something about a Dawsil of the Wolves, Baron Eitelwulf. Then it moved on to Lord Auben.  But I think the final goal was to learn something about Grandpa Armiger.  But it was like I was touched a second time by the same spirit.  Like he was not satisfied by my results and wanted me to try harder.”

Flynn continued to mess with the soup, “Well like I have said before there are many spirits and each is different. I had hoped you would never encounter a spirit that fixated on you.  This one sounds like it may have, at least for a short time.  I had never encountered one myself, but your Uncle was not so lucky.  He seemed to attract them all the time and in the wrong places.  One time, he scared away his dog for a week as he felt like he needed to bath him every two hours.”  He paused smiling to himself at the memory.  After setting the lid down on the pot, he continued, “But I think you are going to be fine.  If it left you be after the second book then it probably got its fill of following you.”

“Maybe, I hope it is not still in the shop tomorrow. There is a Maiden of Neffian doing research again, and this one was definitely a nobleman’s daughter at some point.  Only way she would have treated me like her servant and forgotten I had given her the privilege to do her work there.”

It was now that Oren’s mother, Evie, decided to enter the room.  She looked well for 63, no older than her husband.  If one did not know better they would assume, aside from being a little underweight, she was in better health than Flynn.  Her hair had not changed from the chestnut brown of her youth. Oren noticed the brown of her eyes was clear; she was working in the present today.

“Hello Oren, Did you say something about the Neffians?  They talk to the dead you know?”

“Hello mother, I hope you are doing well,” Oren said slightly surprised. “You did hear correctly, the where one of the followers doing research at the shop today. She also was asking about your father.”

“My father, I hope you said very little.  Besides I have said before you shouldn’t let them in your shop.”

“All I said was he was dead and buried in the graveyard, same as anyone in town would have. But you never say why I shouldn’t let them in.  Further, if I did kick them out then they would complain to the town guard and then I have to pay bribes or be harassed for not letting them in.”

“Oh, they may try to contact him.  No good will come from this.  After all, he isn’t buried at the grave marker.  No, the Enchanters would never let one with so much knowledge be buried in public like that.  I just hope they didn’t put up any harmful wards on the grave when they collected the body.”

“What?!”  This was all news to Oren.  He had been to the grave several times to pay his respects, often with his mother. “What do you mean wards?  And why didn’t you ever mention this before?”

“Oh, when you are an enchanter people always come to look and commune with your essence.  Sometimes, the dead reveal many secrets they would hold on tight to in the living world.  No, the Enchanters either burned the body or have him in some private cemetery that only they know about.  Even if I had tried to stop them from taking the body, they would have eventually found a way.  We should have cremated him, but that was not his desire.  He was worried we would not do it properly.  As for wards, they usually put something in so whoever sets them for the Enchanters Guild knows someone is trying to talk to the deceased.  Sometimes though, they put in traps as a warning to keep those who are looking away.  But like all enchantments they can also be done improperly and then someone ends up dead…or maybe that is them working properly.”

“Oh Oren, your grandfather would have loved for you to be an Enchanter,” The subject changed as though she had said all she would. “But you were like your father, with your controlling spirits.  The Enchanters do not take your type, always suspicious it may cause you to use the powers improperly.”

“I have another question though.  The spirits led me to some journals today.  And they brought me to the hunt for Dawsil of the Wolves, and a Baron Eitelwulf, and a Lord Auben.  He traveled with them, the Baron and the Lord.  What were they looking for?”

She smiled, “Oren you heard this twice before and do not remember?”  She paused thinking for a second, “Oh but you were a little child and asked for so many stories then.  I will tell you this one, one more time, as it is something you should know before encountering the Neffians again.”

“Now in his later years your grandfather was a respected enchanter.  Not only could he create all sorts of talismans and charms, but he was skilled at identifying others work and function.  He had some catalogs of the markings and brandings crafters used.  The catalogs were destroyed in a fire a few years before his death.  The lands along the Drémore Vales were subject to many raids, but he was not concerned with them.  What he noticed was that Dawsil was targeting specific manors that were known to hold talisman. Talismans can hold a variety of powers, some simply helping with directions when traveling.  Others can help give a slight edge to a craft; these are more frequently called charms.  There are also ones that will keep one safe or out of harm’s way.  But there are others which are used for less honest goals.  One such goal is cloaking your actions or intentions.  There are some that can even make you seem more charismatic or obscure your presence despite being under someone’s nose. ”

“Dawsil was tracking down such talismans that gave powers to himself and his men. In all, he had about thirty of them when he was caught.  Some of the worst were ones that gave him the strength of three men and another that allowed him to scry on his enemies just by knowing a name.  However, till the day he passed on, your grandfather assumed they had not found them all or the worst of them.  There was allegedly one that allowed him to control the mind of another person and one that allowed him to travel great distances in a single step.  But most were skeptical Dawsil had these as no one knows of any record of the craftsmanship of such items.”

“Of course the story I told you when you were younger was filled with more action and more beasts.  But you were young and that was what you hung on to. This version I believe has what you really want to hear this time…”

“Thank you,” Oren responded. “I wish I had gotten to know him.  He led an interesting life.  You had also said something about the Neffians.  What do you know about them?”

“Oh they are generally a harmless lot.  They are after knowledge and catalogue it in their records.  However, it is also just as easy to join and leave the order as it may suit your fancy.  Though once you are out you are out forever.  There have been many occasions they have been used for spying by governing factions.  But the order generally doesn’t care as long as you are contributing proper information to their collection.  Do not get me wrong, they will clean house as needed if their reputation is threatened or if they feel they are abused.  More than likely they know where their clergy’s’ loyalties lay.”

“In addition to knowledge, they do collect artifacts and talismans, so their interest in your grandfather is not surprising.  Most lords and ladies allow them limited operations in their realm, but expect a tribute paid and access to the Neffian’s resources.  Their temple in Gromdash however is still not officially sanctioned.  It will be interesting if King Hannon the second will let them stay.  His father never trusted them.”

It was conversations like this that lead Oren to question what was really going on with his mother.  He pondered if she was really losing it or up to other ethereal endeavors.  At times like this, he felt like calling her out to stop the charade, but feared if it was not an act it might be what pushed her out of reality for good.

“So enough on politics, Oren. When are you going to finally leave your book shop and go see the rest of the kingdom?”  Evie had clearly decided to move the conversation on. “Your father could easily set you up with a caravan to travel with to another city.  If you are going to take over the business, you will have to establish your own trade network.”

“Maybe it is time, this spring when the roads open up again.  I would rather not travel in the winter when the frost sprites roam the roads.”

“Glad to hear it,” Flynn said. “But not to worry, I can easily help you find someone to manage your shop.  I know you wouldn’t give it up as it is like your child.”  Oren and his wife had started the shop with funds given from Flynn. “It has been three years since Sonia’s passing and I was worried that her death was still weighing you down.  She was a good wife to you, and we all miss her.  But you do have to move on with things, and stop dwelling only among books.”

The conversation went from here to the normal ruts that family chatter ends up in.  It was several hours later that they called it a night.  Oren spent the night in his old room.  His parents had left it for him as his visits were still a common occurrence.  He went to bed with thoughts racing of happy memories of Sonia, her warm embrace on a cool night.

Chapter 1

Birds flew overhead, their presence accentuated by the street light reflecting off the morning fog.  The past few days of rain kept an aura of mystery around everything.  He was on his way to work, like every morning.  Like every morning, he saw the spirits hanging in the shadows waiting to reach out to someone with their memories, their desires.  He wondered what they would impart on him today.

Normally it was a flash of intense emotion that was lost as soon as he tried to focus and follow its meaning. Occasionally they connected with his own memories, leaving him lost for hours or days.  Reminiscing on what had been or longing for things, people or opportunity lost by a moment’s choice. On rare instances they inspired and made a world of difference to brighten his day.  But all these outcomes were up to which spirit he encountered in the predawn hours.

The spirits were always more clustered where activity wasn’t and yet held on to cities as if they could never leave them.  These early morning hours were when they roamed.  No longer huddled down in dark allies or under the overpass, they were out in the open looking for someone to share their burden.  Not malicious innately, there were some that would drive those with a weak mind.  When a corrupted mind encountered a strong urge, the urge too could be corrupted or take hold and that is when they were problems.

He, however, was not one such mind. Oren Velgrey was of a perfectly fine mind and today he would encounter a spirit like most mornings one that would both inspire and rouse.  As he walked into the bookstore, Oren was touched by one of the spirits.  He knew it by the acute musty smell that one would normally associate with old books.  Except Oren was a very tidy person and would never allow such a smell to be so engrained in the store that it would be perceived by any customer.  The individual books, however, were another story, with some tomes older than the stone building itself. It would still be sometime till the lingering effects of the encounter would take hold, so Oren went about opening his shop.  Lighting the hanging lamps, he changed out the wicks on a few and refilled oil, all the while wondering what today would bring upon on him.

Oren had come to know this experience well at an early age. His father told him the family had a propensity for encountering spirits.  He had learned the signs of the experiences weren’t easy to figure out.  Per his father for some they were smells, as in Oren’s case, or for his own father a feeling of Deja vu.  They had little consistency between different people but for an individual they were always the same. The sensation could be pronounced or subtle as a feather.  Most people would occasionally have encounters and may chalk it up to nothing.

The warmth of the store’s oil lanterns would soon attract someone in the city once they choose to venture out of their home; in the meantime, Oren went to the side room and started a fire to dry the air out a little.  Ms. Celia, the tenet above the store, would more than likely enjoy the morning fire’s heat radiating up. She was a more common city person, slept in late always had something to do and places to go.  She had been a bit spoiled by her now deceased husband, and continued to be such by having not a responsibility in the world.

The feelings started to creep in before the sun could cut through the fog.  It would best be described as feeling off from one’s normal self, but no identifiable feeling.  Then the emotions, which could be anything from laughing uncontrollably to curling up and thinking the world may end.  But today it was excitement, followed by an inclination to go over to the section of hand written journals and search.  Correction, not search, he thought, but hunt down.

Memories of a childhood story from his mother spoke of Dawsil of the Wolves and the vague recollection of some journal by a Baron Eitelwulf and his encounters in the Drémore Vales.

Oren would have to find it.  If he had been stopped by anyone at this point, he would have gone completely mad.  Kicking and screaming that he must find the journal. Lucky for Oren, there was no one to hold him back.  He sifted through seventeen stacks of books for the journal of Eitelwulf.  It was nicely bound with sinew, clearly originally done in the field and then cleaned up at a later date.

He began leafing through the journal; it contained mostly casual observations or comments or campaign progress, dry material by anyone’s standards, but the most exciting thing in the world to Oren at this moment.  He was looking for Dawsil or any reference thereof.  After about half an hour the drive started to fade, and Oren was gaining control again.  But try as he might he knew he would have to come back to looking for the connection or it would be a tormenting day and night with no rest or sleep.

Still engrossed in field reports from the Drémore Vales, Oren sat at his desk while the periodic customer came in to browse.  It was a simple business for Oren. A few coins to browse the store, for a few more or some collateral a book could be borrowed, and finally if you were wealthy enough you could buy the book.  Naturally, he was willing to consider buying from anyone.

As he flipped though the journals, Oren came to the realization that Eitelwulf was highly detailed when it came to the flora and fauna, but seemed almost indifferent to the campaign he was on.  It took a half the journal to reach the accounting of events in the vales. He skimmed over the theories on why the rabbits were nowhere to be seen but rats were abundantly under foot.

They were tracking Dawsil of the Wolves due to raids on the Eitelwulf holdings. From what Oren could gather, the Wolves was the name of a mercenary group that had gotten hit by hard times and turned to banditry.  What made Dawsil annoying was the lack of trail to follow. He would appear, striking at random, and then disappear into the Drémore Vales leaving no sign of passing. There were rumors of enchantments being used.  If he had an enchanter working for him, then who knows what was at his disposal.  Eitelwulf believed it was only a charm or talisman in his possession and nothing more.

After reading this last bit, the excitement resurged inside.  This puzzled Oren, as normally it would have faded.  He started to worry if the spirit was corrupted and it had tainted him.  He would have to consult his father this evening if the feelings continued.  The desire to find another journal was setting in.

Oren got up from his desk to go retrieve the writings of Lord Auben; this was one he was familiar with.  He was a Lord of lands some 4 days travel south. He had passed away recently, a couple years back, maybe three.  Oren had been invited to the estate for an auction off to pay some of the Lord’s indiscretions so that the family would no longer be bothered with the trifles.  Overall the auction had been a slight disappointment from the book perspective.  All that he had managed to acquire was the journal and it had been mistakenly delivered with the lamp he had bought; now hanging in the front half of the shop. Oren was still driven to find something about Dawsil and the Wolves in that book.

Oren had taken but a few steps away from his seat when in entered a Lady…that or a well-dressed woman in a rather elegant dress with tan hair.  She had the proper bearing to go with the attire.  She clearly felt herself of great importance, possibly more than due.

“Hello,” she spoke in a slightly higher pitched voice than expected. “I am here to do some research on behalf of her grace Lady Selene.  I need a table to work at and some writing materials.  I expect not to be disturbed.  Do you have a page that can fetch my books for me?”

Lady Selene was one of the Neffian temple heads in the city of Gromdash.  Their temple was more a temporary structure at this point.  The Neffians arrived two years back from the north and in general seemed tolerant of everything.  Trying to convert new followers didn’t seem to be the goal they had in mind. Every few months someone would pop in claiming to do research.  Oren couldn’t make heads or tails of what it was they were hunting as there was no consistency in the requests.  One time they wanted anything with poetry and the next time they were so into ogres you would think they were mythical beasts.  They did pay well for the research but at times they were simply unbearable.

“I am sorry, no pages.  I can direct you to where the book is or help further if needed.  However if someone else shows up I must attend to them as well.”  Oren cleared out a spot for her to work, a nice out of the way place.

“Very well, young sir. I will tend to my own work” she spoke elegantly trying to mask a sigh. “Bring me anything you can on Enchanters and how their craft works.  Do not edit out anything you think is too advanced for me.”

Oren poked around form a few areas in the store and plopped down a stack of ten books. “Get through this and I will bring you more.”

Finally Oren could be free to go look up the journal and put a rest to the tension building inside.  He briskly walked over to shelves grabbed the book and went back to his desk.  Auben was no better a writer than Eitelwulf. His journal covered a wider variety of things from daily life, though far more random in topics than Eitelwulf.  This was the first in depth look Oren was taking at the journal since his acquisition.  It was obvious that Auben was no saint from the overly descriptive records he left.

It would take Oren a good hour, including breaks to fetch books for the Maiden of Neffian, before he reached what he thought was his goal.  Auben had been a young officer under Eitelwulf in the Drémore Vales. He recounted more the daily life and struggle in the forest.  The company lost one person to some wood sprite, and near the end of the campaign, they were questioning the real purpose of the man hunt.

Skimming through the details, it finally jumped out what he was looking for.  An enchanter was part of the party hunting down Dawsil.  Dawsil had stolen quite a few talismans from him, but the enchanter refused to go into detail as to the cause.  His words of doom and foreboding events if they were not recovered were reason for the chase.  The enchanter’s name was Vargas Armiger, Oren’s grandfather, on his mother’s side.

The Armigers were not from this city, Aleto, and Oren had never even met his grandfather.  Maybe this was what his memory of his mother’s story had stemmed from.  It was all so hazy like wisps of dreams you try to hold on to.  The harder you focus on them the faster they evaporate in to nothing.  Oren’s mother would not be the best resource; her mind had been slowly fading the past five years.  There were moments of clear conscious thought, but it was as if she spent most her time in another world.  Her conversations were with those not present or about events that were not transpiring.  Oren paused a moment to shake the gloom coming over his mind.

“Excuse me, but do you have any other books for me?  I am quite done with what I have here.”  The annoying female voice again raked through Oren’s ears, disrupting his stream of thoughts.

So went the rest of the day with a patron or two more at a time. Oren was left to wonder what his parents may be able to add to the story.  He went back to the journal from Eitelwulf to see if he could gleam any further information from it other than the biodiversity of the Drémore Vales.  He was able to tie the intersecting portions of the journals together despite their differing accounts of events and the author’s choice on what details were important.  Eitelwulf made no reference to an enchanter but rather mentioned a trusted advisor guiding the hunt, which maybe was Vargas.

As the day wound up, the Maiden of Neffian was still there.  She had now accumulated a pile of notes for herself and had been through every book on enchanters that was in the store.  She had paged through more volumes than any previous visitor and yet still seemed unhappy with what Oren had brought her. With Oren’s urging finally wrapped up her work.

“I will be back tomorrow.  You still have books I have not seen my way through.”  With that, she collected her papers and settled up her account for the used supplies.  “Perhaps you can tell me if a Vargas Armiger still lives in this city.  Our records in Gromdash indicate he lived here a while back.”

Oren thought for a brief moment which way to answer.  He knew way too little to have trust in her, but he also knew no reason to withhold his knowledge. “He is dead.  He passed on before my time, if you wish to pay your respects to him; he is buried in the graveyard outside of the city.”

“I see,” she calmly replied and then turned to be on her way.

“If I may, what is your interest in him?” Oren poked

“He was an enchanter.  I had hoped to learn some information on it if he was still around.”  She left without giving further pause for Oren to probe further.

What an odd day, Oren thought. At least the motivation from the spirit encounter this morning had passed without further surge.  Oren packed the two journals into a bag and slung it over his shoulder. He was now off to call on his parents.  Maybe get some answers to his family’s past as well.